"I'm not sayin' you're a crappy pilot, Rocket. I'm sayin' we've been flyin' for, like, centuries and haven't really gone anywhere. Now, if you think that means you're a crappy plot, then you're being the judgmental one. Not me."

"Me? ME!? Judgmental. I'm judgmental?!"

"Hey, your words."

"I'll show you judgmental, you pudgy piece of space trash!"

"Whoa whoa whoa now! That is...hurtful. Like I said, I'm not say-"

"It's EXACTLY what you're saying!"

"Yeah, but I never actually said it!"

Gamora pushed from her seat and leveled a heavy glare at Drax in the corner as he crunched one kernel of caramel corn after another, following the tennis match between Quill and Rocket. Mantis perched beside him, her open smile aimed at everything and nothing at once.

"What?" Drax's innocent question followed Gamora as she moved out of the cockpit, the sounds of the argument replaced by the metallic chirps and chimes of Groot's handheld game. She squeezed her eyes shut as she passed him lying upside down in a corner seat, his trunk-sized feet tapping against the headrest as the leaves of his hair scraped the floor.

"I am Groot?"

Again, she let the question linger in her wake as she escaped further into the ship seeking rare, blessed silence. Someplace to clear her head of all the noise polluting a ship already drowning in grandiose, ridiculous personalities. Quill and his constant sarcasm. Rocket and his anger. Drax and…just Drax. Mantis with her wasted, golden heart, and a teenaged Groot stinking of hormonious rebellion. Silence barely existed. Drax even loudly poeticized the death of Thanos in his sleep. Only Rocket knew about the corner of the engine room where Gamora hid in moments like this. He also knew he'd get a boot to the snout if he gave her away to the others. Even to Peter

Especially to Peter…

He loved her. Didn't have a poker face at all. He said it often enough, but only in a whisper in their bed. Suddenly courageous because he thought her already asleep.

And perhaps she loved him back. Maybe could admit it someday. But she didn't have the luxury now of analyzing the unexpected feelings she'd developed since their escape from the Kyln. She just couldn't afford to give him true hope, not with her sister missing and Thanos hunting the stones. No, she refused to consider such silly things as love and family and happiness for more than a few seconds. Not with the secret she kept. A secret Thanos could never discover.

The engine room blasted heat against her skin, but even curled into the far wall of the room, arms wrapped around her bent legs, she shivered. She sat, unmoving on that filthy floor, begging - praying, really – to any god listening to watch over her sister, to find a way to stop her father, to somehow end all of this infinity stone madness and save the goddamn world, because Gamora desperately wanted to live and love and know what a family felt like without the weight of a sword on her back and a gun at her hip. A real family with her sister and Quill and the others, all safe and maybe not so manic as to lash out at everything and everyone all the time. Where the sisters would never again have to compete for his attention. His approval. His favor.

If Nebula was even alive…

She bowed her head and prayed to that nameless, faceless god for minutes, maybe hours, until a loud thud echoed through the ship and an alarm screamed above her head. She swatted at her damp cheeks and ran from the room, her boots pounding through the halls of the ship as she rounded the corner into the cockpit expecting pandemonium beyond the norm, but meeting only eerie silence as every head was raised to dark, empty space above them.

No. Not empty.

"What the…" she surprised herself by breaking the silence as debris and bodies floated like asteroids above them.

"No clue," Quill said. "We didn't hit any bodies. We hit whatever's around those guys there. Like bubble boys or something."

Mantis inched closer to the glass, pressing her hand toward the three figures floating just on the other side. "Magic," she whispered, no question in her voice. "These travelers are not dead."

"Yeah, right," drawled Rocket, pawing the controls to keep the ship close to the trio without bumping against the barrier surrounding them. "Nobody's just floatin' through space, bein' all alive and coated in magic bubbles. Plus, eyepatch there's got a hole in his chest. He's beyond dead. He's deeeeeaaaaaaddddd."

Drax perked up. "The length of the word is a comparable measure of death level?" He pondered that a moment, kernels rolling around his great mouth as he spoke. "Does that also apply to strength? If so, I am sssttttrrrrooo-"

"Yeah, Drax, you're super strong. Awesome. Got it," Quill snapped. "Let's stay on topic here. We have three potentially dead but maybe not so dead dudes blocking our way. What-"

"Bring them on board."

Heads snapped to her in unison. Gamora met each eye.

"Now."

She turned and headed for the tiny Med Bay to make space for three people. Big people from the looks of them. She supposed her moment of peace could wait a bit longer.

.

.

.

Peter leaned his hip against the doorway of the Med Bay, arms crossed and biceps flexed.

"He's not that much bigger than me."

Drax's jaw hung open as he surveyed the dreadlocked giant. "Even his hair contains more power than your womanly arms, Quill. This one and the holey, eyeless man are superior specimens to you." He threw a careless thumb toward the pale man in green armor. "I have not decided on him, though you are very weak. He could probably also kill you without effort."

Gamora sighed loudly. "Guys, really?" She stooped next to Mantis who was poking at the invisible barrier beside the head of the one she believed controlled the magic.

"This man," Mantis breathed, running a hand near his pale, blood-smeared face. "He is protecting the others, holding them in a kind of neutral stasis of sorts, but the effort has drained him. I may be able to break into the barrier, but it will revive him. I do not know how he will react."

Gamora and Peter exchanged a look.

"Hard pass," Peter said, shaking his head. "What if he wakes up and blows a hole in the ship?"

"What if he doesn't?" Gamora asked, more to herself than anyone else.

"Gamora." Peter stopped flexing and came to her side. "This has bad idea written all over it. What are you even thinking?"

Drax rushed across the Bay. "You see writing? Where? Where is this bad idea written?"

Rocket strolled over, groaning and cocking two guns, both taller than him. "She's thinkin' these guys might've pissed off Thanos, so they might want to help us."

Peter stiffened. "Help us? With what?" Gamora only raised an eyebrow. He flung his hands up. "Are you kidding me? You're not still set on going after Blue Valentine, are you? Because Nebula always tries to kill us, and news flash, she's really good at the killing thing. We are NOT going after-"

"Peter. She's my sister."

"Come on, Gamora. She's really not. Look-"

"No!" Gamora shouted, jabbing a finger into Peter's chest, wishing it was a gun. "She. Is. My. Sister. We're going to find her. End of discussion. So, if these guys can help us, so much the better. It's not like we have any leads, and I'm so tired of floating around listening to catchy music and hoping to get lucky."

Rocket coughed twice. "Kid, I don't mean to rain on your parade, but your sis might not even be in the land of the living anymore. She was hellbent on finding your pops when she zoomed off."

"I know, Rocket," Gamora snapped. She inhaled deeply and held her breath until her eyes watered. "I know."

Silence filled the bay, but it held no peace for her now. For any of them. She caught Peter's eye, begging without words for him not to question her, to help her, to support her in this. Even if she was wrong, even if this magical man opened his eyes and killed them all on sight, at least she could say she took action. That she did something to try to find Nebula. Gave some effort, if only small.

Peter held her gaze a moment longer, then dropped his head and walked back to the cockpit, his grumblings lingering heavy in his place.

"Rocket, Drax, be ready for anything. Mantis? Do it."

Guns, knives, and muscles engaged, and Gamora drew her sword as light blazed from Mantis' eyes, hands, and twitching antennae. The pale man lay still at first. Then, a groan. And one eye, then the other, cracked open.

Mantis pressed warm hands to his forehead as the barrier parted. Her musical voice drifted through the room. "We mean no harm. We only want to help you, magical one. Let me heal you."

The man's unsteady hand rose and covered her wrist, and both sighed heavily.

"You are…divided," she said. "So much fear and bitterness. Guilt. But there is love in you. Such great love." She looked to Gamora, eyes unfocused. "He will not hurt us. I know it."

"I am…" the man's deep voice cracked, gnarled and broken. "I am Loki. Of Asgard." He coughed, a fresh trickle of blood running from his nose. "Help me."

Gamora knelt beside him and covered his hand. She nodded to Mantis, and light blinded them all.

Mantis grit her teeth against the volume of the man's screams. "So. Much. Confusion. He is on fire. The magic…it is tearing him apart."

The man, Loki, sat straight up, pushing the hands off him and stumbling across the bay to slam against a corner of the wall. His wild eyes searched, landing but never lingering on anyone or anything. "Where are they?" He hissed, inching toward what he thought might be a doorway. An escape. Who were these…people? Where was Heimdall? Where was Thor?!

"Buddy, you need to stay calm."

Loki blinked twice, three times, his vision focusing on a woman with green skin, and then another with, what even were those, antennae? And a hulking knife-wielder and some kind of impressively armed rodent. He searched and searched, then sighed in relief. There was his brother and the guardian. Loki slouched against the wall and forced his eyes away, unable to bear the sight of Thor's ruined chest. Magic still pulsed against him, straining to keep Thor and Heimdall's lives in some kind of stasis. He did not quite understand how he was doing it. Only that his strength was fading by the second.

"Hey! Do you hear me? Huh? Speak up, magic man!"

Loki turned to the rodent – a large rabbit perhaps? - to the guns, to his flapping mouth spitting words, words, so many words. His eyes moved to the large one with the knives watching him, to the curious wide-eyed creature whose magic had revived him. Finally, to the green-skinned woman, and he stopped. She watched him steadily. Calmly. With a lowered weapon. Her stare was unfocused, mind far from this ship and this moment. He reached out to the empty space over her shoulder, and a double materialized behind her.

"What occupies your mind?" It whispered in her ear.

She did not move her eyes from the crouching man against the wall as his double watched her profile. The hard set of her jaw. The tension in her lips. The faint shine in her eyes. She was not surprised by his trick. At least, not outwardly. "My sister," she answered, ignoring the standoff between the rabbit and Loki's true self.

"Sister?" he asked.

Gamora turned to meet the double's eyes. "Not by blood. But that's never mattered. I wonder about her often. If she's alive. If I'll ever see her again. If Thanos has her. If-"

"Thanos!" both the double and the man himself hissed. "You fight against Thanos?" Weapons hesitated in answer. He raised his hands in the air, a white flag. "If Thanos is your enemy, we are allies."

Gamora pounced on him in three steps and shoved him into the wall by his leather lapels, ignoring his wince as she pressed into the purple, almost black, bruises around his neck. Bruises that looked sickeningly like the outline of giant fingers. He did not fight her.

"Did Thanos do this?"

"Yes."

"Then how are you still alive?"

"I survived at his whim." Loki swallowed with difficulty. "Use the girl," he said, eyes darting to the antennae woman. "She woke me. She can vouch for my honesty." He said the word as though it had never before entered his vocabulary. "But be quick. Things are in motion, and I must find a way to Midgard before-"

"Midgard? What's a Midgard?" the rabbit asked, guns lowering in his confusion.

"He means Earth," said a voice from the doorway. Loki watched a posturing peacock of a man as he ambled into the room, eyes burning with unveiled distrust. "Loki here wants to go to Earth." He chuckled, an unfriendly sound. "Yeah. I've heard of you. And Midgard. My mom used to tell me these wild stories about Norse gods. God of Lies, right? So, liar, what's on Earth?"

Loki did not hesitate. "Warriors."

The man nodded. "Okay, cool. Anything else?"

"Infinity Stones."

Gamora squeezed her fist and drew his pained stare. "Thanos will hunt them."

"Yes," Loki answered, grabbing her wrists. "Which is why each second here is a death sentence to every life on that planet."

A gun pressed to his cheek. "Take your hands off the lady."

This new person was testing Loki's patience. "I mean her no harm."

The gun tapped him twice. "Says the liar. You must have a hearing problem then, because I said to take your damn hands off her. Now."

The rabbit stepped close. "Quill, I don't think he-"

"We don't pay you to think, Rocket. I need this guy to get his hands off her!"

Gamora touched his shoulder. "Peter, he's not-"

He dug the gun deeper into Loki's cheek, pushing his face against the wall. "He lies, Gamora. He's the frickin' GOD of lying. Just let me handle this!"

She shoved him, the gun tapping against Loki's face once more. "I don't need you to handle this!"

Voices rose from all directions, yells of annoyance, anger, frustration, fear. All while a shaking gun tapped against the side of his face over and over.

"ENOUGH!" His voice boomed through the ship. The gun was torn away, Loki's dagger was at Quill's throat, and a wave of magic tossed the others off their feet. All except the green-skinned woman. Gamora, he remembered. He looked to her again, pleading, feeling bile in his throat from the meager bit of magic he had used. "I must go to Midgard, and I-"

"I am Groot?"

All eyes turned to the doorway where a yawning teenager stood stretching his arms to the sky. He scratched his head absently as he took in the scene, looking to Rocket for an explanation.

"You!" yelled Loki, stepping toward the tree. The crew scrambled up. Guns once again took aim, shouts echoed off the walls of the small bay. Loki stopped, pressing his eyes shut, and lifted his hands back into the air. "That Flora Colossus can send us to Midgard," Loki said to Gamora.

Groot pointed to his chest. "I am Groot?"

"Yes, you. You have no idea the power you possess, young one."

Rocket groaned. "Ah, come on. Don't boost his ego."

Gamora stepped to Loki, a hand at his elbow. "We can't go to Midgard. We have to find my sister."

"I had no intention of taking you. My two companions and I. We must go. Quickly. Now, will you help me?"

The peacock stepped between them once again. "Gamora, why are you even listening to this vampire? He had a knife, a big one, at my throat like four seconds ago, remember?" He turned to Loki with raised eyebrows. "By the way, where'd you get that anyway? Do you have, like, a hidden pouch or something. Great trick." He shook his head and turned back to Gamora. "Wait. Not important! Yeah, so big knife, and now he wants to use Groot for something probably not cool. And what do we even get out of all this?"

Loki's patience shattered. "You get to continue breathing, you obnoxious buffoon. I sense your humanity, the rank cowardice that pervades you and so many of your race. I've forced better Midgardians to kneel at my feet and-"

"SEE?! Gamora, oh my God!"

Rocket chuckled. "Obnoxious buffoon. That's classic."

Peter ignored him. "Gamora, this guy is like Collector meets Ronan crazy. Why are we still listening to him? He's all kneel this and blahblahblah that and-"

"The Collector?" Loki said, ignoring Quill and looking back to the only sane one among them. "You know Taneleer Tivan of Knowhere?"

Gamora did not move, but her jaw tightened. "Are the rumors true?" she asked.

"What have you heard?"

"What do you know?"

They stood silent, the son of monsters facing the daughter of the Titan.

"We are wasting time," he finally hissed.

Her temper flared. "Then tell us what you know!"

"Fine!" He sighed. "A stone is hidden there. A very important stone to the one I lo- to someone I know."

She watched the deepening lines in his forehead, the tightening around his eyes and mouth.

"Someone you know. On Midgard."

His look could freeze an ocean, and she knew there was more to his mission. More than stopping Thanos. More even than getting his companions to Midgard. There was one life out there more important than all the other lives in the universe.

She made a choice. "We'll help you if you help us."

"We do not have time for negotiations. I am needed."

"Stop talking," she said, stepping into his personal space. "You'll help me find my sister, and I'll help you get to Midgard. Then, we'll stop Thanos."

He narrowed his eyes. "That is implausible. I will help you, but there is one way this will work. The timing is crucial. Thanos could be on Midgard as we speak." He pushed past Quill to Mantis. "You have magic. Thus, you will help the young one."

Gamora followed him, sensing his plan but unconvinced he would help them once out of her sight. "Explain yourself. Now."

"You will send me and my companions to Midgard, and your sorry lot will go to Knowhere to retrieve the stone. It is the Reality Stone, and it is well protected. I will tell you where it is and how to access it without being seen."

Peter stomped to them. "And how exactly do you know all this?"

Loki gave him a chilly smile. "Because it was I who sent the stone there in the first place."

"GAMORA! Christ! See?! Where's my gun?! Dude has humans kneeling to him, and he's hiding stones around the universe. He's just like Thanos."

Loki launched himself at Quill and raised him off his feet with a hand around his throat. "I AM NOTHING LIKE THAT MONSTER!"

In the silence of his declaration, he watched the man he held, fingers clawing at the fingers around his neck, face pinched and turning red. A mirror of himself in that ship of death with Thanos' great gauntlet squeezing the life from his body. He, Loki, was the monster now just as this fragile mortal had said. He dropped Quill and fell to the ground, pushing and sliding away from the group that watched him. His wide, uncertain eyes glazed over as he replayed the scene, felt the cold metal against his knees, and watched helplessly as the great purple force barreled through his brother and stole his life.

Breathing was impossible. Peace and hope eluded him at every vile reminder that he wasn't the hero. He would never, could never, be the hero. He was written as a darkness, a plague. Always and forever the villain, as he had told Jane all those years ago. He pressed his forehead into the cold metal floor, unaware of how he came to be kneeling to these misfits in his utter panic. Where was Jane and her ridiculous counting? Her soft words and large eyes? Her hope in him?

"You still haven't told me who are you," she said, pulling at a string on her comforter.

He looked across her tiny living space. Such a hovel for one so bright, so miraculous as the woman before him. She deserved a gilded palace.

"You will not like the answer."

She laughed and reached for his wrist, her hand sinking through his projection. "You always say that."

"Because it is true." He dropped his eyes to her hand, wishing he could feel her touch against his skin. "I do not wish you to hate me, Jane. I am a villain."

She bit her lip, further unravelling the blue string until it pulled loose into her small fingers. She examined it, a vertical line slicing the smooth skin between her eyebrows. "I don't think you're a villain," she whispered, her bright eyes inviting his stare. "Everyone's a hero somehow. You just haven't found your moment. But you will. I know it."

A hand rested on his shoulder. Not Jane's. No. He shook away the memory and looked up into the large eyes of the healer with the antennas.

Peter stepped to the center of the bay. "Okay then. I think we can all agree that Lord of the Lies over there is bananas, so let's, I don't know, throw him back outside and forget this ever happened? Because he's eatin' up oxygen here, and I don't-"

Quill's eyes rolled back in his head, and Drax attempted to catch him as he slumped to the floor.

"I missed," Drax said to Gamora.

Mantis pulled her hand from the back of Quill's neck. "I am sorry, but we have no time for Peter Quill's arguments. Loki of Asgard is true of intention. I sensed it before he awoke, and I sense it now."

Rocket holstered his gun. "Fine by me. Anything to shut that guy up."

Mantis turned to Loki. "Your plan will not work. Your magic is weak, and Groot and I are not strong enough to send so many so far."

"I am not weak."

She knelt beside him. "Something is fighting inside you. I am unsure what, but you must see the truth. You must feel it to your bones. There is not enough power-"

"To send three," he finished quietly. Yes, he knew the truth. Had feared it all along. His plan was half formed at best. Insane really. To think he could just show up on Midgard at the doorstep of that arrogant waste of a sorcerer and beg for his help. Thor had mentioned the shining green stone he saw in his short visit with the caped man, and it might be possible to…Loki did not know for sure. And then to bargain with the Iron Man himself, of all Midgardians, to help his brother. The man was an arrogant, self-righteous idiot, but Loki remembered the technology that had bested him. He could not discount it now. To ask for help from people that so despised him while holding the body of his hero of a brother...

"So, you understand," Mantis said softly. "I am sorry. We cannot send all of you."

Gamora stepped forward. "Not all, but some?"

Loki looked up, glaring. "Some is worthless to me. I will take both of my companions, or I will do nothing. I cannot hold the stasis on their injuries from worlds away."

"You do not have to, Loki of Asgard," Mantis said, her palm resting on Thor's forehead. "Leave this one with us, and I will care for him in your absence."

Loki's voice was deadly. "Get away from him this second." He pushed by Gamora and was stopped a step from his brother by the large knife-wielder. While shorter than Loki, his shoulders were twice as wide. A meaty hand cupped his elbow like a horse biting an apple.

Loki stared down into the large man's blue eyes. "You will remove your hand from my person, and you," he turned his serpentine glare to Mantis, "will step away from my brother."

Gamora sucked in a breath. "Your brother…"

Loki, livid and exhausted, closed his eyes. "Not by blood." And when his eyes met Gamora's this time, they more than pleaded. "But that has never mattered." He laid his pride at her feet and begged her help with a look of such open devastation that she closed her eyes. She was perhaps the only one on this wretched ship who could understand him.

"Drax, back off. He's with us."

"Gamora," Drax said, not moving his hand, "I am very confused."

Rocket scoffed. "And that's new?"

Gamora cut him a glare. "I know, Drax. Everything's confusing right now."

Drax slowly released Loki. "We are helping this magical vampire? How?"

"Yes," Loki asked, "how?" His eyes tracked Mantis' hand on Thor's forehead.

Gamora stepped in front of Loki to Mantis. "Can you and Groot transport them?"

Mantis nodded. "I believe enough power will be available to send two." Her eyes and frown fell to Thor. "But not all three."

"Let us take your brother with us to Knowhere," Gamora said, words tumbling out. "We'll retrieve the stone and bring him and it to you on Earth. If there are stones there, that's where Thanos will go in the end. And if Nebula hasn't caught up with him by then, that's where she'll go as well."

"You assume," Loki said, "that Thanos is not on Earth now."

Gamora held his gaze. "I don't assume anything. I know. He needs all six stones, and he won't go where he knows they are if he's missing one."

"One?"

She dropped her gaze. "However many he's missing."

Loki sensed the lie by omission. This woman knew more than she was saying, perhaps more than she had told anyone.

"You cannot fool the God of Lies, but we are out of time." He held his hand out to her. "Transport myself and my guardian to Midgard. Go to Knowhere and retrieve the stone. Once you bring it and my brother to Midgard, I will help you find your sister. In that order. Do we have an accord? Choose now."

She looked at Mantis, who smiled widely and nodded. Then to Drax, Groot, and finally Rocket. He flashed her a toothy grin. "Quill's gonna have a lot to say about this."

She sighed. "What else is new," she whispered, then looked back to Rocket. "What about you?"

He shrugged and punched Groot's arm. "We're in. Hell, what else is there to do around here?"

Groot rubbed the bruised twig and scowled. "I am Groot."

"Don't be a baby," Rocket said. "You're about to make big boy magic."

The teen's eyes opened a little wider, and he puffed out his chest. "I am Groot."

The crew groaned in unison, and Loki sighed. "Charming," he said and nodded to the hand still held out of Gamora. "Make your choice."

She shook hard, twice. "Groot? Stand by Mantis. Drax? Rocket? Take Peter to the cockpit then come back for…" she faltered, checking her memory before looking back to Loki. "What's your brother's name?"

Loki startled at the abrupt question, the feel of a great phantom hand making speech impossible for a moment. He fought through his nausea, raised his chin, and spoke with reverence. "He is Thor, God of Thunder, son of Odin the Allfather, and the rightful Kind of the Nine Realms." His voice dropped to a whisper. "My brother is precious. Protect him." He searched the eyes of each of them – the giant, the rabbit, the tree, the healer, and finally, Gamora. "Please."

She looked at this man, this God before her, eyes guarded but pleading and holding so many secrets. Just as she held her own.

"Are you really a God, Loki of Asgard?" she asked him.

He hesitated, but nodded.

"And do you ever hear prayers?"

Confusion clouded his eyes.

"I pray sometimes. About my sister," she whispered. "We've been sailing through empty space for ages and then we stumble on you. Maybe you heard me. Maybe it's about time my prayers got answered."

He started to speak, but she held up a single hand. "I swear on my life that we'll return your brother to you."

Loki closed his mouth and bowed his head to her. "So do I swear on my life to find and protect your sister."

Rocket scratched first one ear, then the other. "Boy, that got real serious for a minute. Think we can stop swearin' and get to the hocus pocus?"

Loki took hold of Heimdall's wrist and looked to the healer and the young tree. "Loan me the power to travel to Midgard. I will direct our landing."

Mantis nodded. "Once you are gone, I will care for your brother as you have. He will be safe here."

He nodded, looking once more at the blank face of his new king. He thought of reaching out, of clasping his brother's hand, of touching his hair, something symbolic, but any action, no matter how grand or simple, felt somber, permanent, too much like goodbye, and he refused to consider that. He looked back to Mantis. "I am ready."

She touched his cheek once more, flooding him with healing energy. "Your magic remains unsettled. I can help only a little. It could react badly to the power needed to do this."

Loki nodded. "I will risk it." He took her hand and lowered his forehead to her knuckles. "I am eternally in your debt."

She gifted him a beaming smile. "Farewell, Loki of Asgard. We will meet again."

He closed his eyes and focused on the one person on Midgard who could protect him, who had the heart and the strength to fight for the villain against those still wounded by his sins against them. If he could successfully land at the feet of Jane Foster, no matter his condition, he vowed to survive long enough to say the words to her he had never been courageous enough to say.

Mantis' face glowed, antennae twitching, and Groot clenched his teeth as Loki drew from them every strand of magical energy they would allow and then pulled even more. His body flooded with pain - his magic, all of it, fighting him, fighting itself, fighting the intrusion of borrowed and unfamiliar chords of power. He was ripping apart as rainbows of light burst behind his closed eyes. No more ship, no more crew, no more Gamora watching him with doubt and dread and hope, so much hope. Black dots of unconsciousness floated behind his lids, an annoyance he had not known since he was thrashed around like a ruined rag doll by Bruce Banner's monster all those years ago. He wondered if Banner had returned to Midgard in Heimdall's final act. If he had already warned the Avengers of Thanos' coming. If Midgard's great heroes were rallying against the Titan even now.

But he pushed those thoughts aside and searched out the unique taste of Jane Foster's mind. He remembered the tang of the Aether polluting her magical signature, weak due to her Midgardian heritage but still a shining beacon for him. A rich, chocolate color the taste of morning dew and passion fruit. After the Aether stole her, she caught fire, a roiling blood red, and Jane's new magic tasted of honeysuckled ashes still with the sweetness of fresh fruit.

When he found her, his overloaded senses surged with a shock of pure energy, and he fell and fell, holding tightly to Heimdall's wrist, as darkness swallowed him just before his body slammed into a sea of rolling, green grass.