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Guardians of the Galaxy fic: According to Plan (1/1)

December 6th, 2014 (09:10 pm)
moody

feeling: moody

Title: According to Plan

Disclaimer: I do not own Guardians of the Galaxy.

A/N: Fills my serial killer prompt for hc_bingo. My card is here. Beta thanks to sockie1000. Set post movie.

Warnings: For some sexual content and partial nudity.

Summary: Peter can steal anything. He can charm a lot of people. He can even save the galaxy from time to time. But relationships.



-o-

Peter sidles up to the bar, nodding his head at the bartender. He gets a glass of whatever’s on tap, taking a sip as he turns out toward the crowd.

The place is hopping, and Peter can count two dozens species at a single glance. People are drinking and dancing, and although the musical selection leaves a little to be desired, Peter can’t deny that it has a beat.

Drinks, dancing and dirty work. There was never much about the Ravager lifestyle that Peter could call good, but that sort of thing has always been right up his alley.

That and taking whatever he wanted whenever he had the chance.

And never having to do actual work.

And being able to blow through town before facing any actual consequences to his actions.

And sleeping late, burping the alphabet and having it be a lauded skill, skipping his vegetables for, well, decades and okay, there are a lot of good things about that lifestyle once you get past the threat of death, arrest and a lack of moral fortitude.

Even so, this -- it’s always been one of Peter’s favorite things.

He takes another slow sip, eyeing the crowd for the right kind of action. Rocket and Groot are playing some kind of card game; Drax has found himself a line of people to arm wrestle. Gamora comes up beside him and shakes her head. “This is a waste of time.”

“No,” Peter replies, smiling at a well built woman with thighs that looked like they could crush his head. “This is a perfect use of time.”

Gamora purses her lips. “There are other, more effective--”

“Yeah, and they’re all boring,” Peter says, winking at a lithe woman with cropped blue hair. She winks back, and Peter gets the suspicion that she may not be a girl after all. But what the hell, he winks again anyway.

“I should remind you that you are a professional now,” Gamora says. “We have a responsibility--”

“To be heroes, I know, I know,” Peter says, rolling his eyes and turning back to the bar. “Of all the things you actually listen to, I don’t know why that’s it.”

“Because we are in a bar and you’re ogling women,” Gamora tells him snidely.

“Look, there are two ways to go about this life,” Peter says. “We can be all straight and narrow and be above reproach--”

Gamora nods. “Like you promised the Nova Corps.”

“Or we can bend the rules and have a little fun,” Peter says. He gestures out at the bar. “There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing.”

“And yet, it is still somehow repugnant to watch you flirt with everything that moves,” she concludes.

He offers her a salacious grin. “What? You jealous?”

“That you do not objectify me like some vapid space bimbo?” she asks.

“So a little jealous,” he says suggestively.

“There are women who have ideas and passions,” she tells him. “You could try engaging a woman in that regard instead.”

He makes a face, pretending to actually consider that. “Yeah, I could,” he says. “But that’s not nearly as much fun.”

Her gaze is level and unamused. “You really are a dick,” she says. “I believe I used that term correctly.”

Peter winces. “Yes.”

“Yes, you’re a dick? Or yes, I used the term correctly?”

Peter just nods, more resolute now. “Yes.”

Gamora groans, rolling her eyes. “And you’re our leader?” she asks in utter disgust. “I don’t know how you ever convinced me to follow you when you take nothing seriously.”

“Look,” Peter says. “I’m all for being a hero, and I think I’ve proven that I’m pretty good at it.”

“Questionable,” Gamora mutters.

Peter continues, heedless. “But even heroes can have fun, can’t they? Saving the galaxy doesn’t mean that everything has to be boring. This is a bar. I want to have a drink and smile at people. Strike up some conversation and see what happens. Some people call that being friendly.”

Gamora stares at him. “This is ridiculous.”

“I’ll even buy you your first round,” Peter offers. He waggles his eyebrows. “Maybe get you to lighten up a little.”

Her face hardens. “If it’s all the same to you,” she says. “I’m going to wait in the ship.”

With that, she turns, leaving the bar. Peter frowns, calling after her, “Your loss!”

He’s disappointed, but not particularly surprised, that she doesn’t respond.

That’s just as well. Peter likes being part of a team, but there are some things he’s better at flying solo.

-o-

Flying solo is all well and good.

Except for all the times Peter crashes and burns.

He doesn’t talk about that a lot, because, well, who really would, but it happens. It happens a lot. As a Ravager, that’s all sort of part of the territory. If you steal enough crap, you’re going to get yourself screwed over more than once, and Peter’s taken to failure with a certain kind of prowess. To him, it’s not the fact that you screw up, it’s how well you handle the aftermath of total and utter disaster that defines you.

At least, that’s what he tells himself with the cute blue haired girl at the bar rebuffs him, leaving on the arm of a much cuter red headed girl for some quality private time.

Turning back to get a refill on his drink, Peter checks the time. It’s only been about thirty minutes. The night is young. He still has time to pull this off.

At least, he hopes so.

The idea of returning in shame to the Milano, where Gamora is undoubtedly waiting to lecture him about the faults in his pelvic sorcery and his inability to engage a woman on a personal level, is, needless to say, not appealing. No, Peter has a reputation. Granted, it’s a complete farce, mostly made up of cherry picked stories and wishful thinking, but hey, Peter works with what he has.

Which is, basically, not much.

He has a ship, sure, which he shares with four crazy people. He has a walkman, but sadly most people are not impressed by antiquated Terran technology. He has good music, which appeals to a certain demographic, to be sure, and he has the dance moves to go with said music, and it turns out that hip thrusts are universally appealing.

That said, it turns out breaking out into dance isn’t a surefire way to get a girl to invite you back to her place. It does require a bit of context.

Not that Gamora’s right.

No, Peter can do this.

He’s done this countless times.

Countless.

He can pick up a girl, because he’s a nice, charming, moderately respectable, not wholly terrible person.

Downing his drink, he lets it burn down his throat and puts the glass back on the bar. This is Gamora’s fault, for messing with his head. Things were never this complicated before he became part of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Because now, even when he’s flying solo, he still has a team of psychopaths waiting back at the Milano for him.

In the past, he’d worked against the preconception that he was going to do everything wrong.

Now, as it turns out, he has set a pretty high bar for getting things right.

You save the galaxy one time, and all of a sudden, you’re supposed to know what you’re doing.

Which is shit, of course, because Peter never knows what he’s doing. The fact that he gets anything right is a testament to the fact that a stuck clock has to be right twice a day.

Sighing, he scans the crowd again, identifying a few more prospects. He needs a bit of Star-Lord charm, and he definitely needs to not go home alone tonight.

He nods to the bartender and gets another drink.

And then goes back to the very, very important task at hand.

-o-

It takes a while.

Peter will tell people later about how that’s all by choice, about how he likes to be careful and precise and to really make something work.

He will never admit that sometimes this sort of thing is not as easy as it looks.

In many ways, that’s because he’s so awesome at making things seem easy. He’s Star Lord, after all, and he’s legendary for more things than being an outlaw.

Not without effort, though. He is, after all, only human.

Or, half human.

Or whatever.

That’s not the point.

The point is that yes, it takes some time. But he finally finds her.

The one.

He uses his best smile, and he turns on his best charm. He buys her a drink and leans in close to her while he introduces himself.

“My name’s Peter,” he says. He shrugs, nonchalant. “But maybe you’ve heard of Star Lord?”

She takes a long drink, lifting her eyebrows. She swallows, shaking her head. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Well,” Peter says. “Maybe we can ring a few other things instead.”

So it’s a little crude. But the thing is, sometimes that works. There’s nothing wrong with two consenting adults -- consenting in an adult fashion.

In fact, that’s equality, right there. Peter may not ask about the meaning of life, but he doesn’t expect anyone else to care about his thoughts on the matter. No, this is entirely on the point: getting this woman to invite him back.

He winks.

She takes another drink, putting the glass back on the table hard. “Works for me,” she says.

Peter blinks in surprise. “Really? Just like that?”

He doesn’t mean to sound so surprised.

She shrugs, collecting her purse and getting to her feet. “You are virile, are you not?”

“Am I--” Peter falters. “Yes! I mean -- yes!”

She purses her lips, fluffing her hair. “I have a place not far from here,” she says. “Be a love, and get the bill?”

Fumbling for his credits, Peter cannot comply fast enough.

-o-

If anyone asks, Peter will tell that that flirting is not so much a science as it is an art. You can learn to be better, but you can’t fake raw talent.

Really, though, Peter knows that it’s mostly pure chance.

Half the girls will reject him outright.

Another quarter will reject him after a few drinks.

There’s another ten percent that will party with him but walk away on their own.

The rest, however. That final fifteen percent.

Well, they find him irresistible.

Either that, or they’re as much in need of a hookup as Peter is.

Whatever the case may be, Peter makes the most of what he’s got. It doesn’t have to be talent or skill; for all he cares, it can just be good, old fashioned luck.

And Peter is getting lucky tonight.

He doesn’t know her name, but he does know that she lives only a few blocks from the bar. He also knows that she likes her drinks straight up and that she’s a biter.

He flinches as her teeth sink into his lip.

Moaning, he curls his fingers around her shoulders, suppressing a shiver of pain and pleasure as he courses through him and he strives for self control.

She lets him, pulling back with a grin that almost looks feral. “Come on now,” she hisses seductively. “Don’t be shy.”

“Me?” Peter asks, his heart already racing while she runs her fingers around his waistline. “Never.”

Her eyes darken. “Good,” she says, slipping her fingers around the latch on his belt and giving it a pull. “Then show me what you’ve got.”

-o-

She strips him to his underwear, plying him with passionate kisses as she removes each garment. Her teeth nip at his ears, almost drawing blood on his neck, and he has to bite back a yelp of pain when she finds his nipples.

If given the choice, Peter actually prefers a softer approach, but he’s adaptable.

He kisses her hard, squeezing her arms so tight that he knows there’ll be marks there in the morning. He pants an apology, but she just laughs.

“You’re not going to hurt me,” she coos, flinging herself into his arms and almost knocking him backward with the force of her attention.

“Oh, good,” Peter says, hoisting her up as she fists her hands in his sweat-slicked hair. “That’s a relief.”

She growls, low and deep as she licks his cheek. “I, however,” she says, raking her fingernails along the exposed skin of his back, “can make no promises about you.”

-o-

It’s funny, really. Peter’s been exposed to a lot of different cultures in space. He’s met lots of people from a lot of different places, and he’s learned more than a thing or two about interspecies communication. He’s pissed people off with a simple handshake, and he’s accidentally gotten married by shaking someone’s hand. A lot of things get lost in translation.

But foreplay, he’s learned, is basically entirely universal.

When people are going to get it on -- they’re going to get it on.

And this woman -- well, she has no second thoughts about any of it. She’s surprisingly self possessed, and even though Peter was the one who came onto her, he gets the distinct impression that she’s the one calling all the shots. Peter’s fine with that -- honestly, he is. No matter what insinuations Gamora might make, Peter has no problem with women in positions of power. In his personal relationships, he’s more than happy to submit to the whims and wants of a strong imbued woman. Sometimes, he even prefers it.

But this time, he’s actually a little intimidated. He’s gone for rough before, but this is…

Well, Peter’s not sure what this is.

She’s fond of her teeth -- which seem unduly sharp, somehow -- and she’s also very fond of her nails. At first, he thinks it’s accidental when she scrapes him, a natural extension of the extensive bumping and grinding going on. But she runs her fingernails down his back and arms before keeping them poised on his chest and raking hard.

He bites back a scream, body shuddering as fresh lines of blood start to appear.

She grins at him voraciously. “Come now,” she says. “Be a man.”

Peter’s not sure how much more of a man he can be in his present condition, but he is always eager to please. He sits up, spinning her around and pressing her down to the bed before leaning down for a kiss. She half purrs at him, the kiss soft at first before she reaches up and grips the back of his neck hard enough that her nails break the skin. He stifles a grunt of pain, which only seems to encourage her more.

Nimbly, she latches onto him, pulling herself up. She’s not big, but the weight is enough of a strain to bend him at the knees. She seems to like this, and she laughs, quickly reversing their positions and throwing Peter down harshly to the bed.

He hits with a thump, and he’s getting his bearings when she’s already on top of him. Her hips grind against him, and when he reaches up she grabs his wrists, pinning them back to the mattress.

So she’s that kind of girl, he’s telling himself.

And that’s when he hears the clink of metal and something hard chafes against his wrist.

Craning his head, he looks up to see one wrist already chained to the wall. With another clink, his other wrist is chained as well.

Huh, he thinks. That’s a new one.

But really, he’s had weirder.

He looks back up at her, and she’s positively glowing.

“My, my,” she hums, teasing at the elastic of his underwear now. “You are fit to be eaten.”

Peter does his best not to squirm. It’s hard, though.

Her fingers dally lower.

He grits his teeth.

It’s really, really hard.

“Any second thoughts, darling?” she coos.

Chained and mostly naked, Peter doesn’t think it matter if he answers yes or no, so he goes with the only answer that will salvage his pride. “Hell, no.”

Her smile stretches seductively. “That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear.”

-o-

She’s good.

She’s really, really good.

She knows how to push him to the limits, how to challenge his self control but not quite break it. She tantalizes him until he’s not sure if he can take anymore.

This isn’t what he’d bargained for, if he’s honest. This isn’t what he’d bragged to Gamora about so rashly. Peter’s good, but this…

Peter may be in over his head.

She squeezes her fingers into the muscles of his arm with bruising force. “Is this what you came here for? Is this what you wanted?”

Peter almost convulses, and tears leak from the corners of his eyes. “Yes,” he moans, because there’s no other answer. “Yes.

Her eyes flicker. Her expression darkens.

She leans in as if to kiss him.

But then, something changes.

No, everything changes.

Shit, she changes.

The porcelain skin transforms into blackish scales. The golden hair turns blood red, and her eyes gleam with green. The tongue that flicks from her mouth is forked, and there are literal fangs over her deep crimson lips.

“Then I will deny you nothing,” she says. “I will pleasure you in a way you have never experienced in your life.”

Peter stiffens, pulling desperately at the chains.

She mounts him, lips turning up in a feral snarl now. “And in a way you will never experience in the rest of your very, very short life.”

And then she bares her fangs, pulling his head back to expose his neck.

Okay, Peter thinks as he struggles to breathe.

This is the weirdest he’s had.

-o-

“Look,” Peter says, trying to not so discreetly wrench himself free from the chains. “I’m pretty open minded and all--”

“What?” she asks, at least Peter thinks it’s still a she. Though at this point, he’s pretty sure it doesn’t matter. “Surely you are progressive enough to know that beauty is only skin deep?”

Peter laughs hoarsely, twisting desperate as the cuffs chafe against his wrist. “It’s not a question of beauty,” he promises.

She seems bemused by his struggles, using the hand not wrapped in his hair to stroke his neck cloyingly. “You seemed quite happy with my company a few moments ago.”

“Yeah,” Peter says, trying to push her off by bucking his hips. “When you weren’t trying to kill me!”

Her humor fades, and she hisses again, lowering herself until Peter can see the gleam of her fangs and the heat of her breath. “You would have used my for your pleasure,” she says. “Now I will use you for mine. Where is the difference?”

“Um, you said yes!” he says, struggling harder now. “And I’m pretty sure, no matter how you spin this, I’m going to have to say no to the whole ripping my throat out thing!”

She sniffs him, the weight of her scaled body immovable on his chest. “Men and women, creatures of all sizes and shapes seek fleeting companionship as though it can ease the emptiness in their souls,” she says hauntingly, tracing a sharpened talon along his cheek. “They trade physical pleasure for emotional connection, but it only leaves them hollow. Wanting more. Needing more. Until the desire seeks to consume them with raw passion that will not be denied.”

Peter half sobs, yanking as hard as he can. The chains clank but do not give way. He feels like he should be stronger, he feels like he should fight harder, but he can’t. “You know, that’s a compelling case for monogamy,” he chokes out.

She seethes, eyes lighting darkly. “I fear it’s too late for that,” she sneers coyly, fangs descending toward his throat.

Trembling now, Peter fights but it’s not going to be enough.

It’s not even close.

“Tell me,” she says, lips pressing against his mouth, tongue trailing long his lips while he strains in vain. “Any last words?”

His breathing catches, and he swallows hard against the gagging in his throat at the taste of her lips. This is it. This is it. “You know, it’s funny,” he says, laughing hoarsely.

Her brow furrows and she hesitates. “Funny?”

“Yeah,” Peter says, voice starting to pitch despite his best efforts.

She sits back slightly, eyes narrowed.

“You see,” Peter says. “I was about to ask you the exact same thing.”

Her glare darkens. Her mouth opens as she lunges at him, her lips crushing his, the points of her fangs slicing the inside of his lip as she kisses him viciously, tongue pressed up against his teeth.

Clearly, she doesn’t appreciate the joke.

Which is fine.

Because she also doesn’t get the joke.

Which is this: Peter never went into a bar to pick up a woman.

No, Peter went in to find a serial killer, wanted for killing more than two dozen people in the area. The Nova Corps had been tracking her for months with no luck, and with the hit list growing, they’d been offering handsome compensation to the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Which means this is all just an act. Peter’s bait.

And now it’s time for his team to spring the trap.

-o-

On cue, the door slams open. Gamora enters first, neatly knocking the woman off of Peter. She recovers quickly, however, and Gamora moves on the offensive even as the other woman lashes out. They trade blows until Drax comes in, growling as he storms over and joins the fray. Even two on one, it’s not a terribly uneven match, and the woman grows even more feral as she fights.

Until Rocket comes in with the gun.

He holds it on her. “Just give me a reason,” he says. “Please. This is the most painful mission I’ve ever been on. Sitting around listening to Quill get it on. Someone’s got to shoot something off here, and I’d love for it to be me.”

She flashes her teeth. “You insolent wretches,” she says. “You will never catch me--”

She moves to run.

Right as Groot walks into the door and envelopes her in his arms. She fights violently, but Groot remains unchanged even as Drax uses cuffs to subdue her and Gamora hits her once more for good measure.

On the bed, still mostly naked and completely chained, Peter grins. “Well,” he says. “That went according to plan, huh?”

Rocket snorts, shifting his weight but keeping his gun primed. “Oh, yeah,” he says with a discerning look at Peter. “Looks like it went peachy.”

Drax grunts, dragging their prisoner toward the door, oblivious to her struggles. “I hear peaches are a strange but delectable fruit,” he says. “Do we have some here?”

Rocket rolls his eyes. Groot drags the woman, who is still in her more feral form, another few paces with a nod at Peter. “I am Groot.”

With a half hearted smile, Peter nods back. “All in all, good work, team,” he says. “Although you cut it a little close, didn’t you?”

Gamora sheaths her sword. “You didn’t appear to be in peril,” she says coolly.

“Well,” Peter says. “That was part of the act. Remember? The plan was for me to lure a vicious serial killer to her den by pretending to be an unsuspecting victim?”

Rocket snickers. “Good job with that one.”

Gamora does not look bemused. “So it was all just a part of the plan.”

Peter gives the chains a shake for good measure. “Um, yes.”

“So the part where you were stripping her--” Gamora says.

“The part where you were moaning really badly--” Rocket interjects.

“And the part where you were conversing about your personal sexual preferences--” Drax adds, sounding genuinely curious.

Peter is not prone to shame, but seeing as he is mostly naked and sprawled on a bed, he’s feeling a little self conscious. “Yes, all part of the act,” he says. “I mean, I had to sell it, right? This chick has bagged several dozen people that we know about. Putting her away is a big deal.”

Gamora appears wholly unconvinced as she gives him an appraising look. “It certainly doesn’t look all fake,” she comments purposefully.

This time, Peter does redden but he’s unable to do anything about it. “Really,” he says, yanking the chains with a clatter again. “Do you think this is what I like?”

“You did say you’d had weirder,” Gamora reminds him.

Peter rolls his eyes. “It was an act,” he says. “Remember how I was the one who best fit the profile? How I was the only one who could probably attract her attention before she changed locations again? Does any of that ring a bell?”

“Indeed,” Drax says, making sure the muzzle is secured over their prisoner’s face. “You were very convincing as a seduced lover that was wholly at her mercy.”

Peter sighs.

“Hey,” Rocket says. “I don’t judge, okay? It tends not to work in my favor.”

“I am Groot,” Groot adds because he’s very helpful like that.

“See,” Peter says, looking at Gamora again. “They believe me.”

Gamora’s incredulity only seems to intensify.

Sighing, Peter gives up his pretenses and hopes for mercy instead. He is half naked and shackled to a bed, after all. “At least let me go,” he says as pathetically as possible.

Gamora just crosses her arms over her chest.

Peter groans. “Guys?” he asks, looking to the others. “Anyone?”

“We must take the prisoner as quickly as possible back to her holding cell,” Drax says.

“Sorry, Quill,” Rocket says. “I don’t put down my guns until she’s squared away.”

Groot merely hoists her up and moves out the door, Drax and Rocket not far behind.

Peter’s starting to feel a little desperate. Because yes, this has all gone perfectly according to plan, but it was a little close. And he’s not ashamed or embarrassed, but he feels vulnerable likes this, and having his throat almost ripped out has sort of been a recurring fear of his since the day Yondu stole him from Earth and threatened to do the same.

Really, it’s just not been Peter’s day because he’s made out with a serial killer and he’s mostly naked and crap, his heart won’t stop racing.

He blinks a few times; adrenaline is a bitch.

He really needs to get out of here.

And get some clothes on.

Finally, Gamora sighs. “Oh, fine,” she mutters, stalking forward.

Peter grins in relief.

Until she pulls her sword.

“Um,” Peter says. “I think there’s a key--”

Gamora doesn’t listen.

Instead, she wields her sword above her head.

“What the hell!” Peter cries out, flinching as it comes down. “Gamora--”

There’s a whiff of air and a clink of metal. When it’s over, Peter opens his eyes, half expecting to be cut in half. Her eyes are narrowed and intense, her expression stony. For a split second, Peter realizes why she’s one of the most feared women in the galaxy.

Instead, Gamora is pulling her sword back.

Peter shifts and realizes his hands are free with the chains sliced neatly from the ends.

He looks at the limp chains, then looks at her. “Seriously?”

She shrugs diffidently, putting her sword away again. “It was all part of the plan.”

-o-

Honestly, it had seemed like a good plan at the start. Stopping a killer had really been a no-brainer, and Peter had been the most viable option. And he wasn’t afraid of that kind of thing -- he picked up women all the time. He was a natural of this sort of thing. A mission that involved drinking and flirting?

Totally his thing.

In the aftermath, though, he’s starting to have his doubts.

It’s not just his pride that feels a little wounded -- though yeah, since he’s the one lecturing the others about privacy on the Milano, being found in his underwear is a bit untoward -- but it’s everything else. It’s the drinks in his system; it’s the adrenaline crash of almost dying. It’s the thought of making out with a serial killer who turned out to be a vile creature from the depth of hell.

He’s not actually sure what bothers him more -- that she was a serial killer or that she was a vile creature from the depths of hell. Either way, he can’t unkiss that and contrary to popular belief, Peter does have standards.

Not a lot of them, by any means, but not making out with serial killers and vile beasts is a pretty good place to start.

All in all, this whole thing has left him a little more drained than he anticipated, and he’s feeling sluggish while he gropes around her place to find his clothes.

At this point, he’ll settle for anything.

He finds his pants, which are a little hard to get on. When he bends over to pull his boots on, though, the world dips precariously and his vision dims around the edges. He huffs a curse, putting his hand out to steady himself.

“Come on,” Gamora says from the doorway. “I just got word from Rocket. They’ve got her secured back on the Milano.”

Peter nods, blinking rapidly. His stomach is getting in on the action now, and he feels nausea start to swell. Lifting his hand, he rubs absently at his burning lips, and he takes a few deep breaths before trying to stand again. “Yeah, okay--” he starts.

But doesn’t finish.

Being vertical is a bad idea, it seems, and the room is spinning worse than before. Black spots dance in his vision, and his heart is starting to hammer loudly in his ears. His fingers are tingling and his ears are ringing and what the hell--

“Peter,” Gamora says, stepping forward with a frown.

Peter staggers a step and then stumbles. He catches himself on the wall, but has to grope blindly to keep from going to his knees.

“The act is over now,” Gamora says crossly.

Peter wishes it were an act. It’s the drinks or it’s the adrenaline or it’s just crappy luck or--

He blinks again.

It’s just part of the plan.

He looks up, his head light. “The other victims,” he says. “They were tortured right?”

Gamora inclines her head. “That’s right,” she says. “That’s one of her the telltale signs of this killer. They all showed extreme signs of prolonged torture.”

“But not a single defensive wound,” Peter says, swallowing hard against the bile rising in his throat. “Did any of them get a tox screen?”

“None of them had enough blood left in their body to process,” Gamora reminds him.

“Right,” Peter says. “Drained of bodily fluids.”

“Another part of her signature,” Gamora remarks.

Peter’s breath is starting to catch now, his chest feeling tight as his heart flutters. The tingling is spreading up his arms now, settling coolly in his chest and stomach as he starts to shiver involuntarily. “So who doesn’t struggle when they’re being tortured?” he asks.

“Well, they might have been restrained,” Gamora says reasonable.

She sounds distant, though, and Peter’s vision is narrowing dangerously. Sweat breaks out on his forehead and his knees are starting to give out. “Or they might have been drugged.”

“I guess it’s possible,” Gamora says. “We won’t know--”

“Oh, I think we will,” Peter says with a strangled laugh. He’s feeling hysterical now, even as the tingling turns to numbness, which creeps into his chest and makes his heartbeat stutter. “Sooner than you think.”

He moves to take a step, but his legs don’t respond.

Gamora steps closer. “Peter--”

He’s struggling for air now, the simple act of breathing almost more than he can handle. He lifts his head, locking his eyes on hers even as everything starts to fade. “Kissing.”

Gamora’s forehead furrows. “What?”

“Her kiss,” Peter says, starting to wheeze. “Her kiss is toxic. That’s why no one fought back. That’s how she killed them without a fight. The kiss.

It’s a definitive statement, and Peter knows he’s right. He knows he’s right before his mouth is burning and his tongue is swelling and he can’t breathe--

Then, he’s falling. His reflexes are dead, and his limbs are numb. The ground rushes up but there’s nothing he can do.

There’s nothing--

Until something stops his descent. He chokes for a minute, unable to cry out as he’s hoisted into a seated position, propped up against the wall with Gamora kneeling in front of him. “Peter,” she says, sounding serious now. “Peter.

He looks at her through hooded eyes, and he can think of a thousand things he should say. That she’s an amazing fighter, the best he’s seen. That she makes him want to be a better person, and he doesn’t know why. That he’s sorry about what Thanos did to her, but she’s still a good person. That he’s so glad she’s part of his team, that she’s part of his life.

He can’t find the words, though.

He can’t find anything.

Gamora uses one hand to keep him upright, using the other to pull out her communicator. “You need a medical transport,” she mutters, pressing a few buttons. She glares at him. “This wasn’t part of the plan, you know.”

He inhales raggedly. “I know,” he wheezes. “I’m sorry.”

She raises her eyebrows. “For coming up with a stupid plan?”

“For being a dick,” he says haltingly, each word harder won than the last. “You -- were -- right.”

Gamora’s eyes widen, her fingers fisting into Peter’s shirt. “Peter,” she says, alarm in her voice now. “Hold on--”

Peter wants to. He has all the reason in the world now. He has a team; he has a job; he has a purpose. For the first time in his life, he has something worth living for.

So it goes to figure this is the one time he can’t.

“Peter,” she says again, more insistently now. “Peter!”

The numbness seizes his throat; his heart skips a beat. His eyes slip closed.

And Peter, not for the first time in his life, takes the easy way out.

-o-

“Peter,” someone says. “Peter, I need you to keep breathing.”

Peter considers this, but honestly, he’s not sure what to do about it. At the moment, he’s not actually sure about much of anything. Like where he is or what’s going on. He feels like this should be disconcerting, but he’s sort of too tired to care. He thinks maybe he had a plan for this, but at this point, he actually can’t remember.

These days, Peter talks a lot about the plan.

No one can deny that this whole thing -- the Guardians of the Galaxy -- it was his idea. Sure, he only had 12 percent to start, but if it weren’t for him, none of this would have happened. It’s his plan and his team. No one even wants to deny that. In fact, more often than not they’re all throwing it in his face.

And Peter’s okay with that. He gets it. This sort of thing, it isn’t easy. Going from outlaw to hero, that takes a bit of finesse. There are growing pains, and sometimes being the good guys just isn’t as much fun, even if they all know it’s the right thing.

“Come on, Quill,” someone growls. “You can’t go dying on us now.”

The irony is that none of this was part of the plan for Peter.

Hell, Peter’s never had a plan before in his life. He’d been a kid when his mom had died, and he’d been abducted from Earth before he hit puberty. He spent the better part of his formative years with Ravagers, wherein the only plan he ever had was not to die.

That’s not how it is anymore, though, and sometimes that’s hard to remember. Peter’s all about playing up his assets, but he can’t deny his faults either. Because Peter’s proud that he’s not 100 percent a dick, but he is quick to ignore the fact that he’s still part of a dick. He’s not sure the percentages -- 30/70, he’d like to think, in his favor, but he knows that’s wishful thinking -- but ultimately that doesn’t matter.

“Quill, please,” someone tells him. “You cannot perish in this manner.”

A dick is a dick is a dick is a dick.

And Peter’s a dick.

He’s a liar and a thief, and he talks a good talk, but has he changed? Has he actually changed at all? What kind of asshole makes the best friends in the world and then pretends like it doesn’t matter? He’s an overgrown child with trust issues, galavanting around the galaxy like he’s some kind of hero.

Crap, he doesn’t know how his friends stand it. Peter can barely stand it.

Peter can steal anything. He can charm a lot of people. He can even save the galaxy from time to time.

But relationships.

“I am Groot.”

They were never part of the plan.

Caring about people is a dangerous thing. Attachment makes you vulnerable. Committed partnerships mean you have something to lose. Listening to someone’s ideas means it hurts like hell when they disappear from your life. Getting to know someone is a great way to get your heart broken.

That’s why it’s easier to tell himself the Ravagers just wanted to eat him. That’s why he prefers a one night stands so he doesn’t have to know anyone’s name. That’s why it’s more convenient to act like he’s the long suffering leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

That’s why he prefers to be a dick.

Dicks don’t get hurt.

But then, they also don’t get loved.

This really, really was never part of the plan.

But Peter thinks maybe he can make it work.

“Oh, come on -- someone do something.

Assuming, that is, that he gets a chance.

Peter!

-o-

It feels like an eternity later when Peter finally wakes up. He feels drained, pretty literally, and every part of his body aches with a deep and pervasive pain. His mouth feels unreasonably dry with his tongue too large and stuck to the roof of his mouth. Worst of all, he feels hazy, like waking up with a bad hangover.

He tilts his head, cracking open his eyes. His head starts to throb and nausea turns in the pit of his stomach.

Not a bad hangover, then. Worst hangover ever.

He groans, too exhausted to even curl away from the pain. He’s about to just go back to sleep when he realizes something is wrong.

Namely, he’s not on his ship.

Peter gets stupid drunk sometimes, and he’s been down and out in some of the worst corners of the galaxy. Which is all the more reason the Milano means something to him. He hasn’t had a home since he was a kid, and that beat up spaceship is the closest thing he has. He makes a point, when he’s able, to crawl back there. Even if he’s drop dead drunk; even if he’s bleeding to death; even if anything.

Because if he makes it that far, things are okay.

If not…

Well, that’s what Peter needs to find out.

It’s only by force of will that Peter manages to keep his eyes open, and it’s a feat of self control he doesn’t often display that keeps him from hurling all down the front of himself. Weak as he is, he’s mostly lucid, and it’s not hard to put together the medical equipment and the scant comforts.

A medical facility.

Panic flares inside him, and it’s only because Peter’s still too tired to lift his head that he isn’t already out the door. He hates hospitals, and always has. People go to hospitals and don’t come out. It doesn’t matter what corner of the galaxy they’re in. He’s never voluntarily stepped in one, not even when he probably should have. Yondu’s never been good for much, but his haphazard field medicine has always suited Peter just fine.

So this, he decides, is wholly unacceptable.

Grimacing, he reaches to start pulling the leads off his chest.

“That would be stupid. Even for you.”

Peter cranes his head upward, noticing for the first time the figure perched in the chair near the wall. “Gamora?”

She doesn’t look up from the pad she’s browsing. “Your vitals are still experiencing irregularities,” she tells him without a single glance. “They think it’ll even out, but further observation is advised.”

He furrows his brow, the haziness starting to fade a little as he remembers what happened. “Our serial killer?”

Gamora is nonplussed as she taps the pad some more. “In custody,” she says. “Rocket is flying her in the Milano to rendezvouz with the Nova Corps. Between Drax and Groot, I think it’s safe to assume she won’t be getting out of her holding cell.”

Peter nods. “That’s good,” he says. Except… “Why aren’t we with them?”

This time, she does look up, one eyebrow arched critically. “Are you forgetting the part where you almost died?”

As a matter of fact, yes. If there’s one good thing about waking up in a haze, it’s that you don’t have to remember what put you there. Contrary to popular sentiment, Peter believes that denial is one of the best coping tools ever.

If only it lasted.

“The poison,” he remembers. Then he makes a face. “The bitch was toxic.”

Gamora inclines her head, looking back at her pad. “To say the least. Your throat had closed and you had a seizure before they managed to get your vitals stabilized.”

This is not something Peter wants to think about at all. So he doesn’t. Instead, he shakes his head. “That doesn’t make any sense, though.”

“That you would make out with a serial killer?” she ventures.

“No,” Peter says. “The other victims -- none of them died from a poison.”

“To be fair, they were exsanguinated,” Gamora says. “It was impossible to tell what they ingested.”

“But think about it,” Peter continues. “If they had died from the poison, they never would have survived torture.”

Gamora sighs, putting her pad down again. “The hospital analyzed the compound in your bloodstream,” she explains. “In small doses, it’s an effective paralytic. It’s nonlethal but potent enough to keep people fully immobilized and still conscious.”

“Well, that explains why no one had any defensive wounds,” Peter agrees. “But then why did it almost kill me?”

“You had three times the lethal limit in your body,” Gamora says. “Apparently, she liked you.”

Peter makes a face, sinking back down miserably. “That figures.”

Gamora sighs again, sounding more put out than before. “Or,” she says, as if she regrets her words. “It could mean that she sense it was a trap.”

“With my luck?” Peter asks. “Probably not.”

“Well you were lucky that the hospital had an antivenom that reversed the effects in time,” Gamora points out. “A few more minutes, and you wouldn’t have survived.”

“If you’re trying to make me feel better, then that’s really not the way to do it,” Peter tells her sullenly.

“Well,” Gamora tries again. “We are going to get paid. And the serial killer won’t be able to claim any more victims.”

Peter tries to smile, but he doesn’t exactly feel up to it. “Another job well done for the Guardians of the Galaxy,” he says, trying to sound enthusiastic.

Gamora’s expression is a sure sign that he’s failed pathetically on that one. Instead she smiles meekly. “Yeah,” she comments, picking up her pad again.

And that’s that. They completed the mission; they made the galaxy safer. They’re going to get paid, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s it. That’s everything. That’s all there is.

Except…

There’s something else.

It’s not just that things got tough, because that happens. Their plans are best forged under pressure, and their biggest successes are often improvised messes. They always fly by the seat of their pants, and it’s not like they’ve been strangers to danger and injury. This crap happens, and it’s always happened, so it’s nothing particularly noteworthy.

Yet, Peter remembers more than that. It’s more than almost dying, and it’s more than cutting it a little too close. He remember sitting in a bar, flashing a grin and ordering a drink. He remembers flirting.

He remembers the look on Gamora’s face when she left him there.

Not just her disgust or her exasperation. But the disappointment in the fact that Peter had the emotional capacity of a child.

He sighs. “I’m sorry,” he blurts. “I really am a dick.”

She snorts. “This isn’t some sort of revelation to me.”

“I mean, back at the bar,” Peter says. “You weren’t wrong.”


Gamora glances at him.

“I mean, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little consensual action with no strings attached,” Peter clarifies, just to be certain. “But my whole approach. I’m kind of a dick.”

Hesitating, Gamora seems to take this news cautiously. “So why?”

“I don’t know,” Peter says, shrugging. “I guess I’m just used to people wanting to kill me.”

“Well,” Gamora says. “They probably only want to kill you because you’re a dick.”

“Yeah,” Peter says. “But it’s so much easier to do the latter in order to avoid the former.”

Gamora stares at him. “That’s idiotic.”

Peter chuckles. “That really does about sum it up,” he agrees.

She stares at him for another long moment, as if she’s not sure what to say. It’s something of a feat, Peter thinks, that he can confound Gamora. She’s smart, and she’s clever, and Peter’s got more luck than talent or skill or anything else. And even that he doesn’t have in great supply, if the current situation is any indication.

No, the best explanation for everything is that Peter Quill, Star Lord the Legendary Outlaw, is basically a dick. Sure, he does the right thing sometimes. And okay, some people are charmed by his antics. But he keeps people at bay. He uses them and then forgets about them. He protects his own ass first and foremost. Working with a team is still contrary to his better inclinations, and he’s pretty sure that sometimes he’s just plain terrible at it.

A lot of times.

He’s just fortunate that he’s an asshole working with assholes or the whole thing would probably fall apart. Anyone else in the galaxy would see through Peter and demand better.

Finally, Gamora flattens her mouth. “I’m not impressed by your charm or your deflection,” she begins.

Peter winces, feeling suddenly worse than before.

“You are false with people, and you flatter them with smiles while you lie to their faces,” she continues relentlessly.

Peter swallows, shifting self consciously.

“You are deceptive in the worst ways possible, and you fail to give others the respect they deserve,” she says.

“Okay, okay,” Peter mumbles. “I already admitted that I’m a dick.”


“But,” Gamora adds. “I’m also not repulsed by these things. Your callowness does not surprise me, and it will not turn me away.” Her expression softens. “I’m your friend, Peter. And I’m always going to have your back.”

That’s not the turn he was expecting. In fact, it’s not a softness he’s come to expect from Gamora. She is, after all, one of the most deadly assassins in the universe. And yet, he knows instinctively she’s not lying to him. Not like he lies to her. “You know it was an act, right?” he ventures tentatively. “The whole dick thing.”

Her smile is small, but significant. “With you, most things are.”

It’s far more gracious than he expects. He swears, feeling crestfallen. “You’re being nice to me,” he says. “Like, really nice. After the way I acted. I am such a dick.”

“Yeah,” Gamora says, still smiling as she picked up her pad again. “But you’re learning.”

That doesn’t seem like much, but Peter realizes maybe it’s everything. He said it himself, life is giving him a chance. He saved the galaxy; he played the hero.

Now maybe he can be a friend.

Relationships are hard, and they’ve never been a part of any plan Peter’s ever made. But the good news is, Peter isn’t doing this alone.

No, Peter’s got a whole team to back him up, when he’s about to be tortured by a serial killer, when he’s suffocating to death, when he has no idea how to be a good friend.

Maybe there’s hope for him yet.