1 Single Motherhood Is a Statistic (I)

"-. 10 November, 1988 .-"

It was a clear and tranquil night in Fulton, Missouri. The moon was shining, the stars were glinting, his guts had stopped spewing, and his mother was almost done dying of cancer on the bed in the room over there in the corner.

Which was good.

"Excuse you?" grandpa Jason balked, because he'd apparently said that aloud. "Boy, one more crack like that and I'm putting a stop to this here trip. Even if I have to let your mama go without fulfilling this last fool fancy of hers, I'll do it and that's a fact!"

It was good that she hadn't died yet despite them having taken her out of the hospital for this, is what he meant.

"Of course you did," Grandma Meredith the Older shook her head, because he'd apparently said that aloud too. Which, okay, is what he'd meant to do all along but he hadn't been sure. He wasn't all there at that point, even though it shouldn't have happened yet with what he'd already had. Post-vomit endorphins sure was a rush!

Grandpa frowned but left it at that. "Come on, Peter. Your mama wants to speak with you before it happens. Which will be any moment now if I weighed things right, and I always do. Now come on. Take these fool things off." His grandfather then took the headphones and mixtape off of him, turning off the Walkman and taking him to see his mother. She was lying sick in bed, weak and diminished. Also bald.

Not too out of it to notice the more obvious things about him though, unfortunately. "Have you been fighting again, baby?" So he had gotten a black eye. He hadn't been entirely sure. "How on earth did that happen? When did you even have the time between now and then?" He wasn't sure about that either, at this point. And he hadn't even taken the second brew yet!

"Now how'd you know about that?" Grandpa jumped on the latest of his slip-ups. "Have you been spying on your mama, boy? Now I've twice the mind to stop this right here, right now."

"Oh leave off it, Prince Charming," said grandma, taking hold of the one of mama's hands across the bed from him. "We all know you won't do anything of the sort."

"But I should," Grandpa grumbled, picking him up – hey! – and dropping him on the bed next to his mama. "And I sure as heck would if that fool Nixon wasn't full of it. Bad enough he botched things up with his first great 'war' that my girl doesn't have any more hope today than two decades ago. Now I won't even be seeing my daughter coherent in her last minutes because she's dying to fight against that fool in his second great 'war.' 'War.' Ha!"

Grandpa always managed to turn things to politics somehow. Or at least politicians whose jobs he felt he could do better. Which was all of them as far as he was concerned. Peter didn't roll his eyes at him as he usually did only because he didn't want to risk becoming queasy again.

"Who'd you fight, baby?" Mama asked him.

Peter shrugged. "Some kid who was beating on a little guy who ain't done nothin'. Kept smacking him with a stick."

His mama smiled weakly. "You're so like your daddy. You even look like him. And he was an angel. Composed of pure light-"

"Mer?" Grandpa interrupted her, same as he always did when she started to talk about his sperm donor. "You got a present there for Peter, don't you?"

"Of course." His mama touched a small wrapped present and card on her lap. Grandma helped her hand them over to Peter, who didn't have the chance to unwrap them because Grandpa took them and put them in Peter's backpack over there by the bed and when had that gotten there again? He always did carry it with him everywhere, but this time he didn't remember doing it. Weird.

"There. I've got you covered, Peter. But that's just half of the present, right Mer?"

"Sure is," his mom reached weakly for two large, lidded mugs on the bedside counter. Grandma pre-empted her though. She removed the lids and then handed one of the steaming cups to Peter, while she helped his mama drink the other one.

It smelled sharp and tasted foul as heck, but after the first stuff of an hour or so before this was nothing.

The minutes ticked by as all three of them waited for… whatever it was they waited.

"You open that package up when I'm gone, okay?" His mama told him after he watched tension and pain slowly seep out of her face like the last of the sunlight outside. She'd hummed and then sung their favourite pop songs all the while. Peter was surprised he couldn't feel his eyes start welling up with tears. "Your grandpa is gonna take such good care of you. At least until your daddy comes back to get you." Peter wondered what she'd say if he told her he didn't care. "What's that baby?" What, that he didn't want anything to do with his pop, whoever he was? Did she mean he hadn't kept it to himself like every other time? Shit! "Whoa! Foul things are a'comin outta that there mancave."

Peter could feel three pairs of eyeballs looking at him like he'd just spoken Groot.

"Ohh…" his mama finally sighed in the sort of relief he hadn't heard for her in weeks. "The stars. They're coming for us, baby." She reached for him then, half-blind already. "Take my hand."

Peter felt like this was the part where he should begin to cry, but whatever he'd been given had long since started to carry him someways. The world was turning strange colors that were the same as they ever were, but it wasn't falling away. Which was weird because the stars sure seemed to be falling closer. How weird! Wasn't there a ceiling and several walls between him and them? If not for his mama calling him from across light and space, he wouldn't know what to even do or say. But she was. And she did.

He reached back.

It felt like moving through the hypergravity of Hala, that's how slow he suddenly was. Bizarre as fuck, he felt none of the other signs. Then he just seemed to drift closer and closer to having no speed of his own at all, even as the Cosmos moved and changed around him until it slipped from under him.

"Take my hand," his mama's voice came again. Which is exactly what he was doing, didn't she see? It's not his fault that the Cosmos moved in its own time.

Most of the time.

"Take my hand, Peter!"

With tears he didn't remember welling in his eyes, Peter took Gamora's hand. Drax then grabbed his other hand and Rocket grabbed Drax's hand. And just like that, the power from the Infinity Stone spread between the four of them.

Whoa! What a weird hallucination to have in the middle of a life and death fight for the sake of the Galaxy! He'd already embarrassed his way into swiping the Infinity Stone from Ronan the Accuser. He really shouldn't waste the chance he bought with dancing another man to distraction by hallucinating about the future past. Refuge in audacity wasn't going to work the same way twice, especially without extenuating factors involved! No homo, man! He was shocked it worked the first time, when Ronan could easily have just dropped the hammer instead. It would even have been the low-effort option!

Events thereafter proceeded exactly as he recalled them, unlike the memory of his last day on Earth. He used the Power Stone to destroy Ronan, Gamora used the orb to contain the stone, Yondu coerced the orb out of their possession without realising Peter had switched it for a fake, and they all lived adventurously ever after until Thanos snapped him out of existence three years later.

All things considered, it was kind of a relief when it happened. Bad enough that he learned Gamora had been murdered beyond saving, but he'd also embarrassed his way into destroying their best chance to get the Infinity Gauntlet away from Thanos and winning the whole matter. That's what he got for not using his head when it counted, instead of his heart. As if he couldn't have wailed on the bastard to his heart's content after the last two seconds it would have taken to neuter the guy.

"I don't use my head to fly the arrow, boy. I use my heart."

Ha! He should've known Yondu was full of shit when he said that, like every other 'lesson' he 'taught' him over the course of his life. As if anything could be done like that. To think he'd rearranged his system of beliefs around that pirate's attempt to sound cool and suave. As if anything could be done without any sort of thought! Even when he was wailing on his space god father using his own power, there wasn't a moment when he didn't think of where and how his next hit should land. It was just a difference of which part of his brain did the thinking, not that it didn't happen at all!

The moment he was faced with the worst father figure in his life, he started treating the second worst father figure in his life like he'd done him no wrong. He was a real piece of junk, wasn't he? Like so much else that was left adrift in space. It was a wonder he hadn't ended up on Sakaar like so much else. Behold, the abductee and child soldier slash pirate forced to eke a life amongst the stars! He doesn't even know when to treat an absurd claim like the hyperbole it was!

Death equals absolution and don't your forget it, you dumb Earth boy. You got your life stolen away by an evil space marauder who threatened to eat you every day of your life. But it's okay because the one who hired him to do it turned out to be worse! Lie is truth, Evil is Good, and acting on impulse is most certainly not the opposite of wisdom everywhere you look!

God, he was a textbook case of Stockholm syndrome if ever there was one.

His pity party was suddenly cut short by the appearance of a bearded Asian man he'd never seen in his life.

Peter Quill did a double take. Where had he come from?

"So you're the biggest waste of life in this aborted time."

… Those words had no business at all being spoken by such a kindly old man voice!

The man's light/smoke/flaming cane swept up and poked him in right between the eyes.

Peter Quill zoomed. Peter Quill flew.

Peter Quill fell downwards into the stars above him, away from Titan towards a different Titan. A Titan that spun around a planet on the other side of three galaxies away, past interstellar mass and clouds and constellations. The gravity of countless stars and planets grasped at him but all of them loosed him just as fast. Until he was suddenly falling into a strangely recognizable planetarium and one planet suddenly didn't.

Pluto tugged at him despite that he felt like he weighed nothing at all. He felt it as the planetoid tossed him like a slingshot strait at Neptune, who pulled and spun and threw him at Uranus, their gravity acting bizarrely like a chain of gravity amidst substance, motion and consciousness that he could and couldn't fathom. The outer planets then loosened their hold on him without actually surrendering it, which suddenly gave him reason to start wondering if he could escape gravity entirely. He didn't seem to have done it despite being dead.

Through it all, Power Celestial seemed such that even the Fragments of Infinity couldn't unmake them. It expended behind him, filling and covering every inch of the space he tumbled through.

Jupiter had him then, the last and final waypoint of all celestial bodies that passed in and out of the Sol System. Peter Quill could see its entire function now, how the super planet decided whether a planet or an asteroid or comet turned further inward into the System of if it was slingshotted back out and away from Sol. Whatever death had done to his understanding, it was enough that he could see the part that the Outer Planets played in the great void. Their role in grabbing foreign bodies in their gravity and throwing them deeper in or back right out of Sol. They were the eternal protectors of the Sol System and Earth, the only planet in their scope that had ever given life naturally.

And he could also see their role in fertilising the Sol System and the globe, from the comets and micrometeorites that fertilised the world, to the superbodies that impacted on it in the far past, even if it meant ending and starting ages with each one that smashed into the world.

Then there was all the life that lived and didn't live around those worlds and their moons anymore. The entire history of Titan played before his eyes in fast-forward as he shot past it, even though it felt nothing like fast-forward at all. He fell past the Jovian moons, then, and saw life and lack wax and wane across history on them also, before he fell away from Jupiter entirely. Mars proved a mixed bag of death and history too, as he fell past and beyond it. There, the less and more he saw of the remains of primordial Earth's other half, the more and less he wondered. And so, soon enough he passed over Earth and its Moon as well, both playing forward and back across the loop of time, but uniquely not showing him any age where there was no life on them at all. Neither within written nor throughout fictional history, whatever its early eons.

That was when he realised that Jupiter hadn't tossed him into the Sol System, but across.

Without slowing from whatever passed for speed in this new no-thing, he shot past the historically inconsistent inner planets, felt as if he was being looked at as he fell through the Sun, then he was out the other side and flying/falling/dreaming his way out of system and star cluster, a long, expanding line/river/current of Cosmic Self spanning all the space and line of sight he left behind.

The only thing left for him, then, were the Constellations.

He fell past Perseus and Triangulum, slid between Pisces and Taurus, and could see Cetus loom gargantuan ahead of him as he descended all the way to the foot of Aries.

Maybe other newbies would have faceplanted, but not him. He was old hat at void stunts, and it was all the easier when he was already slowing down without having to put effort into it. Finally, he landed at the lowest end of one of them.

Aries.

Wasn't Aries his own star sign? The sign that he never cared about but always looked down on him no matter where he was, and wow, that was a weird thing to think all of a sudden. Astrology was never something he paid attention to, seeing as the stars in his sky changed from day to night and day again. All very odd things to think, now when he shouldn't be able to think anything at all seeing as he had died. He supposed it was nice that there was an afterlife, assuming this wasn't just the last hallucination while his brain finished not being a thing anymore, but this was just bizarre.

He touched down on a star. The furthest and last of the 49 SX Arietis to be specific. Which he shouldn't know enough to identify by its Terran designation, but okay. He'll just go with it. It was the size of a beach ball, or at least a giant beach ball, but it felt firm and almost flat under his feet. Huh.

A path of light stretched before him, from one of Aries' stars to the next and on.

The man was waiting for him right in front of his landing.

He was looking at him with the sort of calm dismay Peter would have seen on old hermits if he'd stayed on Earth more as a boy. He thought.

"You, boy, are a statistic if ever there was one."

The man then turned around, motioned for him to follow and set off on the path of light.

Well shit. His inner Wise Guy was an Asian Wizard Dude with a goatee, robes that looked way too dressy to walk in, and the most impractical headdress he'd ever seen despite visiting he didn't know how many worlds. Peter gaped.

Because seriously, what the hell? What issues did this mean about him?

But he had nothing else to do, so he followed.

And as he followed down the path traversing stars towards the apex of his Sign, he started seeing things again. A barbarian conquering the Hyborian Earth here. A convenient night-time assassination against a married couple there. A parentless genius and his next of kin being born into the world while skipping a generation. An implausibly familiar Abilisk shooting out form nowehere in pieces and being knocked away by a cane smack from the old robed Wizard Dude. Whoa! His inner Wise Guy was almost as badass as he was. It was almost enough to distract him from all the other stuff playing, sounding and hologramming its way in an out of being every time he stepped from one star on the path towards the next. He could have sworn he even saw that red-caped Wizard Dude falling sideways screaming at one point. Except he didn't have the cape and didn't look much like a Wizard Dude. Any Wizard Dude. And especially not his inner Wizard Dude, although the latter did seem to shoot the screaming guy a weird look as he fell sideways by. It was a strange – heh, Strange – cross between a teacher that was fondly embarrassed on your behalf even though he wasn't your teacher, and the way his mom looked at him on her deathbed back in the day just before he was abducted by aliens.

Peter felt queasy all of a sudden. It wasn't this that was supposed to indicate some hidden complex in his brain, did it? He didn't harbour a secret crush on a guy he barely met, did he? Or any guy! He wasn't into that scene, no way in hell or heaven or whatever this was. He was a basket case for sure, but he definitely didn't have those kinds of repressed urges, nu uh. No homo, man. No homo!

It was almost enough to distract him from the itchy feeling that bloomed behind his eyes, then grew and strong and out until it centred on the middle of his forehead.

Inner Wizard Dude stopped when they reached Alpha Arietis, turned around and waited for him to join him atop the widest and brightest of the stars they'd walked across.

Then he lifted his cane and hit the ground.

His footing broke beneath him and he fell up as he grew small then he fell down as he grew large and forth and out of universe, memory and time.

Suddenly, he could see Every-Thing and No-Thing from outside. Except not really because… because… because this was too much too fast too unfathomable as he fell and the part of him that was Some-Thing rose to take him and everything and not-time in a natural bid to become one with Eternity only to be pre-empted by someone who went and did that before anyone else he'd ever fathomed or run across in his death and life.

Then time looped forward down, forward back, backward up, upward forth behind him, then right back down and through the point in space and time that he'd fallen out of.

And away.

And back again.

And down again.

And back again and down again and forth again and through again.

And again.

And again.

And again and again and again until all left was a single point of undecided fate amidst a great snarl of aborted timelines. Only there weren't timelines. They all were just the same, single time looped and knotted on itself one, twice, a hundred, a thousand, a million, all fourteen million six hundred and five different times. All different. All similar. All wiped clean of their six core colors within years of their rewind reset. All with the barest tint of green left as the same dash of color jumped from one fold to the next, vainly looking for itself even as its holder didn't.

Until, finally, it did and the Cosmos rewound just once more.

The snarl shuddered and shook and seemed to break and pulverise in a motion so slow that he thought it would take an infinite number of his lifetimes to go on and dissolve. Then it got a good shake.

The Now split in two nows.

For an instant.

The they diverged in opposite vectors, looped up on opposite sides of that lone point of reference that wasn't, looped far past that last instant in the recent not-now that was his life, and came together far before along the not-line/sphere/universe that was and Was and IS all that there isn't in the No-Thingness.

The two nows plunged into the Now at the same time in the same no-Time, then out again.

And in again.

And out again.

And in again.

And out again.

And again and again and again like a weird spiralling seam in the fabric that never wasn't.

Then he fell back out of the No-Thing and everything that wasn't nothing just as the nows threaded through the Now the six hundredth and sixteenth time and didn't split again.

He crashed back on his mama's deathbed with an indignant huff an hour before dawn.

"Easy there, Peter," his grandpa said, startled awake but more than self-aware enough to steady him. Despite the exhaustion on his face and his reddened eyes.

Peter blinked and jerked in place, looking around in confusion as the dream became really unfamiliar in its familiarity.

"Peter? You with us?"

Star-Lord blinked stupidly. "… I, uh…"

"Wherever you were, you're back now. Took your sweet time coming back too."

He was dead and No-Where and he didn't mean Know-Where and wait a minute…

"Peter?" grandpa prodded. "You planning to leave your mama waiting?"

"Take my hand, Peter," his mom sighed softly, looking no more then and there than he was.

His hand – which he realised was extended just out of reach of hers again as if he'd spaced out for just a moment instead of a whole night's worth of uncanny hallucination – was poised to travel that last breadth. And wow, the words that came to his inner monologue these days!

That too fell away from him, though, when he noticed everything about his hand he hadn't noticed.

That's it! He knew what this was! Seems like it wasn't just his life flashing before his eyes, he got to live again his life except better.

"You're so bright, baby," his mom whispered, putting words to what he'd just noticed himself. "Just like your daddy, shining with white light."

Seeing her hand tremble under its own weight, he finally won against the slowness of everything around and in him and took it.

And Inner Wizard Dude overlapped him like a ball of light over his own and the light that spanned his self suddenly reflected the memory of a light distinct but similar.

"All that traveling the Cosmos and not one exposure to a proper shrub," Inner Wise Guy said, sounding bizarrely like a kindly old man even while he was lamenting the latest of his inadequacies. Which, okay, was what he sounded and looked like the other two times too, but it felt so strange with such rude lines! "It wouldn't even have taken anything blatant enough to rouse that Celestial side of yours. Humans have more than enough power on tap as it is. Pay attention, now, Peter Jason Quill. All it takes is Earnest Demand, Confident Expectation and Positive Will."

The words seemed strange for something told by his inner voice. He'd never been so optimistic. But that seemed to be the whole point here, wasn't it? Earnest Demand, Confident Expectation and Positive Will.

Earnest Demand. Show him what health looks like on her. Show him what Ego did to her. Stretch his astral body around and beyond until it overlapped hers fully.

Confident Expectation. The light that wasn't his painted her insides and the history of the tumour filled his mind with full exactness. Everything. The health of before. The sickness itself of after. The bio-etheric engineering Ego had not put in to make sure it ran its course even if humans discovered the treatment. What an odd thing to leave out. Or maybe it was that there was no such thing as a disease without a cure? A cure that was a painfully simple method only unknown because his grandpa was right about Nixon all along. But now he was just getting distracted and Inner Wise Guy Dude pointedly signaled him so. Somehow.

Positive Will. Mama. Be well.

And so she was.

This was turning into the best dream ever.

"Peter…" Grandma and grandpa both whispered, astounded.

"Oh baby," his mama groaned. "Just like your daddy…" she sighed, falling out of consciousness but not into death on account of being back to her pre-chemo weight and a full head of hair.

Dream all-powerfulness did good work, if he did say so himself.

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