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GOTG fic: Changes (1/2)

December 18th, 2017 (08:54 pm)
productive

feeling: productive

Title: Changes

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: Unbeta’ed, set after GOTG2. Fills my bodyguards square for hc_bingo.

Summary: That was how Gamora won. All it took was losing everything.



-o-

So, things were going better than Gamora had expected.

To be fair, since joining the Guardians of the Galaxy, she had largely learned to suspend her expectations. They were an unpredictable group, to say the least, and you never knew when Rocket was going to blow something up or Drax was going to pick a fight or Groot would start flowering.

And there was no point in getting her started about Peter.

As far as the team went, he was probably the most reliable. That cut both good and bad. Yes, he could be expected to perform certain necessary tasks. You could also expect him to be a generalized pain in the ass, because apparently being raised by Space Pirates sort of did that to you.

That was the kind of unpredictability that Gamora had come to expect.

This, however.

She had to admit, she was somewhat vexed.

Because, after leaving the system where Ego’s planet used to be, she had expected things to be difficult, especially where Peter was concerned. The man had, after all, killed one father and then had another die in his arms all while discovering that his mother had actually been murdered all those years ago on Earth.

Not to mention the fact that he had, in rapid succession, discovered he was immortal just to turn around and give up said immortality to save the galaxy.

That was the sort of thing that made one drastically evaluate the meaning of life, and it had ever potential to send anyone, much less Peter Quill, into a massive tailspin that destroyed him. She had expected a lot of drinking, possibly sexual promiscuity, music blasting through the speakers and long days without showering or shaving.

Instead, as it turned out, life went on pretty like it nothing had changed.

True, Peter had grieved in his own private ways. He had cried, and she found him sometimes staring vacantly at the wall. But when she touched him, came up close to him, he smiled and got back to work. There were no flashes of anger; there was no hint of ongoing depression.

As she had observed, things were going very well.

Which was why, naturally, she was convinced that something was about to go very, very wrong.

-o-

“It just worries me, that’s all,” Gamora explained, trying to be patient. She smiled at Groot, who waved at her. He at least seemed to be listening, though his comprehension level was about as minimal as to be expected.

The others, however, were less helpful.

Rocket made a face and scratched himself. “A lot of things about Quill worry me, but that’s not kept me from sticking around. The way I figure it, with all of Quill’s issues, he needs me.”

Gamora decided not to explore the obvious faults of that argument -- or its relative virtues. Rocket had too high of an IQ to be allowed to miss the point so obviously. “We’ve all got issues, and we’ve all gone into this with eyes wide open,” she said. “But what Peter’s been through recently--”

“I know first hand how hard it is to recover from the death of a loved on,” Drax said earnestly.

Gamora let herself be hopeful.

But then the large man shrugged. “But seeing as I was consumed by vengeance for years before I allowed myself to grieve, I do not see the concerns you are talking about.”

“No kidding,” Rocket chimed in. “So he’s a little bit sad? So he drinks a little bit too much? So he wants to play with big guns and make explosions.”

Gamora leveled him with a look. “That last part is you,” she said. “And the other things -- that’s exactly what I’m talking about. He’s not that sad, and he’s not drinking at all.”

At this, Rocket sat up, eyes narrowing. “So, let me get this straight,” he said. “You’re worried because Quill’s not acting in a way that makes us worry?”

Drax appeared to be studiously considering that line of thought. “It could be a sign of maturity,” he suggested.

“Yeah, or it could be anything -- who the hell cares,” Rocket said. “Saving the galaxy, being part of a team -- fine. I’m here for that, even if it’s all kind of stupid a lot of the time. But worrying about Quill being okay? That’s your boat, sister. Not ours.”

With that, he hopped off his chair and went back to his work in the engine room.

Drax stood as well, offering her a stoic nod. “I once told Quill that you were not the right woman for him,” he said. “While your inherent differences still perplex me, I will admit, you talk about him like you share his passions.”

She sighed. “I’d be the same about any of you.”

Drax wrinkled his nose. “You crave all of us sexually?”

Gamora groaned. “No, Drax -- just, no,” she said. “You can go help Rocket, okay?”

Nodded, Drax left her. Chewing her lip, Gamora looked to Groot. He smiled.

She barely smiled back.

“I am Groot?” he said.

“I know,” she said, patting him gently on the head. “I know.”

-o-

She didn’t know, however, what to do about the situation. Talking to Rocket and Drax had been her first step in addressing the issue, but she had to admit, it was probably not the most strategically viable one.

Not when there was an empath on board.

It was true, she had taken some time to warm up to Mantis. She had trouble trusting the other woman, due to her association with Ego. It was impossible for Gamora to overlook the fact that Mantis had played some role in supporting Ego -- and that her obfuscations had nearly cost Peter his life.

Still, Gamora understood what it was to be used. She knew what it was like to be molded to someone else’s plans. Ego wasn’t sadistic in the same way that Thanos was, but that didn’t make him any less of a monster.

That didn’t make it any easier, however. No matter how hard she tried, she still flinched when she was around the other woman. Not because of anything she had done with Ego, but because what she had done to Gamora. One second, and Mantis had seen all the feelings inside of Gamora.

That was more terrifying than anything Drax or Rocket could ever do.

It was also more powerful.

“Your ability to sense emotions,” she said, finding Mantis alone in the galley. “How powerful is it?”

Mantis blinked her wide eyes up at her. “What do you mean?”

Resolved, Gamora sat down across from her. The galley was one of the few sections not currently under construction in the Milano; not that that made it inviting or pleasant. It did, however, make it relatively unoccupied most of the time, given the amount of work needed on the other parts of the ship.

“When you sense feelings, do you always have to touch someone?” she asked.

Mantis looked a little thoughtful. “That is how I can get the clearest reading, yes,” she said. “But….”

Gamora raised her eyebrows. “But?”

Mantis drew a breath. “I do not like admitting this,” she said, lowering her voice. “It makes some people uncomfortable when they know how the extent of my abilities.”

Some people: in other words, Gamora.

Wetting her lips, Gamora did her best to appear nonthreatening. “I don’t like the idea of you knowing what I’m feeling, it’s true,” she said.

Mantis nodded. “But you would like to know about Peter.”

That was so spot on that Gamora frowned. “I thought I didn’t read minds.”

With a small smile, Mantis blushed. “Some thoughts you don’t need to read.”

Gamora was glad that her skin tone did not blush easily. “What have you sensed in Peter?”

Mantis seemed to focus herself, taking a deep breath. “He has experience many emotions over the last several weeks, most of which you would expect,” she said. “His grief has been so overwhelming that sometimes I find it difficult to sleep.”

It was nothing more than Gamora had already known, but somehow the confirmation of it still made her heart clench. Willing herself to control those emotions, she pressed on. “What else?”

For a moment, Mantis appeared contemplative. Then, she tilted her head. “Nothing else, really. Some anger, yes. Some frustration. Regret. But then…”

Gamora sat forward anxiously. “But then what?”

“But then hope,” she said. Her entire expression lightened. “Love. Belonging.”

Taken aback, Gamora shook her head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Feelings rarely make sense,” Mantis said.

“I know, but all he’s been through, all he’s lost,” Gamora pressed. “And he feels hopeful? About what?”

This time, it was Mantis who was taken aback. “I cannot read minds, just feelings,” she said.

Gamora let out a short huff of frustration.

“If I touch him,” Mantis offered. “I could probably get a stronger sense of his feelings. But that would require his knowledge--”

“No,” Gamora said, flitting her hand through the air. “No, it’s fine. I just -- it’s fine.”

Mantis, perched on the chair across from her, clearly knew better.

Before she could make any kind of deal out of it, Gamora got to her feet. “Thank you for your help,” she said. “And if Peter asks, we didn’t have this conversation, okay?”

Mantis smiled sympathetically. “If you want to talk about your feelings, Gamora--”

Gamora shook her head, curtly moving to the door. “Not necessary,” she said. “I’m not the one who needs the help.”

“You could ask him, you know,” Mantis suggested.

In the doorway, Gamora paused.

Mantis lifted one shoulder. “He likes that, when you talk to him,” she said. “More than anything.”

Gamora nodded. “Thanks,” she said. “I’ll take that under consideration.”

-o-

Gamora considered it.

And promptly concluded one, simple truth: how was she supposed to talk about this?

It wasn’t like she hadn’t tried. She’d been there for him. She’d held his hand when he cried, and she’d listened to all his stories about Yondu. She’d held him when he slept, and she’d told him, every day, that she was there for him, no matter what.

How could she talk about a problem when no one else recognized that said problem even existed?

Defending the galaxy was hard, in its own.

Feelings, though?

They were damn near impossible.

-o-

It proved to be a marginally moot point. As she agonized over how to bring it up, Peter took the matter into his own hands and brought it up for her.

“I told you,” he blurted one morning as they were getting dressed. “I really am fine.”

Gamora had the presence of mind to look confused. “What?”

“I’m fine,” he said, giving a shirt a quick sniff before tossing it in exchange for another. “I mean, I know some heavy shit went down lately, and that’s not easy, but I’m going to be okay, Gamora. Really.”

She opened her mouth, a little wider than was necessary. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He pulled the next shirt on, trying to flatten out the wrinkles. “Oh, come on,” he said. “You’ve been stalking me for a week now. Every time I turn around, you’re there. And, you know, for a trained assassin, you’re really not all that subtle.”

Her incredulity was overly pronounced. “We live on a small ship, and if you haven’t noticed, we have been sharing a bed--”

Peter was shaking his head. “Nope, this is different.”

“How is it different?”

“Because you’re following me around with that look.”

Gamora put her hands on her hips. “What look?”

That look,” Peter said. “That look like you think I’m going to break.”

Her instincts were to deny it, but the emotion was too strong. She pressed her lips together, and tried to make her expression neutral. “Well, you have been through a lot lately.”

It was neither denial nor admission.

Either way, Peter wasn’t buying it. “Uh, duh,” he said. “We all have. I mean, look at us. It’s not like I’ve got the market on messed up childhoods.”

“This isn’t your childhood, though,” Gamora said, and gentle as she wanted to be, she was arguing now. “This is now. We’ve all lived through saving the galaxy, but what you went through--”

“Um, are you forgetting that you fled from Thanos less than six months ago?” he asked. “Not to mention the fact that Nebula went from trying to kill you to wanting to be your sister.”

She shook her head. “This isn’t about me.”

He gave a short, amused snort. “Isn’t it?”

Stepping forward, she tried to placate him. “I’m just worried, Peter,” she said. “I think this is going to bother you more than you’re letting on.”

You think,” he said, shaking his head stubbornly. “LIke I said, your problem.”

Her compassion flagged, and glaring at him was the only alternative. Their familiarity made it easier for her to do this.

It also made it easier for him to ignore it.

He sighed, turning away while he reached for his Zune to clip it to his belt. “I’m fine, Gamora,” he said, turning back toward her. He met her eyes, steadier than she would have anticipated. He grasped her by the forearms and smile. “Honestly, nothing’s changed, and the sooner we get back to business as normal, the better off we’ll all be.”

-o-

Business as normal, Peter said.

She had a feeling he didn’t mean that they should start stealing priceless batteries. She was also fairly confident that he didn’t mean that they should start sleeping separately again. Indeed, back to normal would include many changes to their lives. In addition to Mantis, Kraglin had stayed on, and though Rocket was still insufferable and far too fond of explosive, he occasionally expressed himself without being a complete asshole. Even Drax had found a softer side when it came to Mantis, and Groot seemed to be moving out of infancy into childhood. Either that, or he was skipping straight to teenage rebellion; Gamora could not be sure.

What was sure was that normal depended on one factor: having a job.

They were, after all, the Guardians of the Galaxy.

“So, I don’t know,” Peter said. “I think we should save shit.”

“Yeah, sure,” Rocket said. “But to be clear, this is a paying job, right?”

“As much as I detest the idea of working only for causes that provide payment, I would like credits,” Drax said. “Many of my personal decorations were destroyed when the ship crashed.”

“Your decorations were knives,” Peter said.

“My knives were exquisite,” Drax said. “I still do not understand why one couldn’t have served as the mantlepiece of our dining hall.”

“Because our dining hall hardly warrants a mantlepiece,” Peter reasoned. “And we have enough weaponry lying around; we don’t need to make it more prominent.”

Mantis seemed to be watching the exchange with a combination of fascination and confusion; Kraglin alternated between being vexed and bored into sleep. It was telling that Gamora almost wished Nebula was here for a voice of reason.

“I don’t know,” Rocket said. “I kind of like the idea of having something on hand in every room.”

Groot nodded sullenly. “I am Groot.”

“I know!” Rocket said. “We wouldn’t have lost so much inventory if Quill had let us display our weapons all over.”

Back to normal, it appeared, had another connotation Gamora had neglected: everyone had to argue like complete idiots.

She cleared her throat, leveling a cold gaze at Peter. “So you got us a job?”

“Yes!” Peter said, clearly grateful at her interjection to put them back on track. “I got us a job.”

He seemed proud; he seemed pleased. He even seemed relieved.

For a moment, Gamora wished that she believed any of that. But she couldn’t get any of it out of her mind, the way they’d found him adrift in space, clinging to Yondu’s body with his own oxygen levels bottoming out. It was impossible not to remember how he’d looked impaled and helpless while Ego’s energy controlled him. She hated to remember that he’d nearly died in the caverns, that he’d nearly given up his life along with everything else to save the galaxy.

Nothing about that was normal.

Unfortunately, she was the only one who seemed to notice.

“Well, it’s about damn time,” Rocket said.

“I, too, am quite relieved,” Drax said.

Mantis perked up, shyly inserting herself into the conversation. “What sort of mission?”

“Yeah,” Kraglin hedged. “And just how much will we be making?”

Peter’s smile widened and the pit in Gamora’s stomach deepened.

Back to normal, her ass.

-o-

In most other contexts, she would have probably consulted the others, but they had already dismissed her concerns, and she knew that there was no way they were going to second guess a job.

That just left the less palatable option: direct confrontation.

In these moments, she knew it was good that she was a trained assassin.

She knew how to pull the trigger, so to speak.

Timing, however, was paramount. She did not want to ambush Peter in public; the fear of humiliation would drive him more than anything else, and there would be no honest exchange. No, instead she waited until they were alone together. She had just curled into bed next to him when she rolled over and looked him in the eyes.

He smiled, pulling her closer. “I love this.”

She smiled back, a bit fainter. “Me, too.”

Turning himself, he moved to kiss her. She allowed it, but did not return it.

“It’s different, though,” she pointed out.

“Yeah?” he asked, clearly not picking up on her hint.

This time, she actively resisted.

He stopped, taking notice.

She pressed her lips together. “Yeah,” she said. “It’s one of the many things that have changed.”

This time he got the insinuation. With a groan, he extricated his arm from around her and flopped back on the pillows. “Ugh, this again?”

“You’re putting yourself out there too soon,” Gamora said.

“Too soon?” Peter asked. “Gamora, you and I have never done anything too soon. Our show is blowing Cheers out of the water.”

“This isn’t about us--”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s about me, right?”

It was her turn to sit up, the well planned monologue almost falling from her lips. “Even if I believed that you had coped with Yondu’s death--”

“It’s a process, Gamora--”

She did not let him interrupt. “--I certainly don’t believe you’d fully addressed Ego.”

“Um, I blew him up,” Peter said. “I think I dealt with him pretty definitively.”

“And you blew up your connection to the light,” Gamora said. “I mean, you were going to be immortal and now what? Have you even run a medical scan? Have you considered how this will affect you now?”

“I lived my whole life thinking I was mortal,” Peter said. “It’s not exactly a change.”

“But I saw you down there,” Gamora argued. “I saw that it made you happy. You liked it.”

“Sure, until I realized he was using me and my connection to the light for mass murder,” Peter said. “I mean, sure, I’d love to create planets and stuff, but I’d rather save the ones that exist first. That’s what we do, right?”

“But what if there are other celestials? What if Ego’s not actually destroyed? Why not go to Earth and meet the rest of your family again?” Gamora pressed.

Peter groaned, slumping down and throwing an arm over his face. “And why not just get to work?”

“You need closure, Peter,” she said.

He lifted his arm. “No, I need to work.”

“But you’re not okay!”

“And here we go again,” Peter muttered. “You know, I’m starting to miss the part when all this crap between us was still unspoken.”

“You’re still avoiding the question, Peter,” she said, because she wasn’t one who lost. Nebula was wrong about many things, but not that. Gamora had become the best assassin for Thanos because of just this reason: she was, in all things, absolutely unyielding and relentless.

“I’ve never been okay, all right?” he exploded. “I mean, my mom died in front of me! I was abducted by space pirates! I thought I was going to be eaten for most of my adolescence! Why -- for the love of all that is good in the galaxy -- why should this be any different?”

“But isn’t that it,” she said. “With all that, you’re still sure you just want to get back at it?”

“Uh, yeah,” Peter said.

She gave him a nonplussed look. “Okay.”

“I am!” he said.

She threw her hands up, her frustration boiling over. “Okay!”

With a huff, he slipped out of the other side of the bed, reaching for his pants.

“Where are you going?” she demanded.

He hopped into the pants, pulling the drawstring shut. “To sleep on the couch!”

She sat up, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed. “I thought you were fine.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” Peter said, throwing his shirt on again. “But us? That one I’m not too sure about.”

Watching him go, a flush of emotions washed over her. Shock, fear, anger, frustration.

And, more than anything else, concern.

Because it was as she had expected.

Peter was not fine.

And much more of this, he was going to break.

Settling back down, Gamora resolved this much.

She would be there to break his fall.

If it was the last thing she did.

-o-

Normal or not, Gamora indulged the pretense that it was. She prepped with the others, making sure that the ship was in order and that all their equipment was refined for the mission at hand. She double checked Rocket’s failsafes; she went over the details with Drax; she coached Mantis on hand-to-hand combat. She even gave Groot a pep-talk and assured Kraglin that being the good guys had its advantages.

During all of that, she kept a dutiful eye on Peter. They had slept separately ever since their last fight, but she still was keenly attuned to his every movement. She measured how much he slept; she monitored how much he ate. She watched his weary movements at the helm, and she noted his meager attempts housekeeping.

What she hated, though; what she found she could not stand was just how normal it was. He betrayed no weakness, and he acted like he always had with the others. The rapport, the preparation: he went above and beyond to make it normal, excruciatingly so.

And everyone else seemed intent to let him.

Just like old times, just like everyone wanted.

Nothing had ever felt more wrong to Gamora.

-o-

“Gamora,” Mantis said. “May I have a moment?”

She stopped what she was doing -- the mission was tomorrow, but she could spare this moment. “Did you want me to show you how to use a blaster again?”

“No,” Mantis said, eyes flitting to the weapons. “I just…”

“You can tell me,” Gamora said. She smiled gently. “Really.”

“I have some...concerns,” Mantis ventured.

Gamora leaned forward, stepping toward the other woman with a surge of hope. “About Peter?”

Mantis wrung her fingers, clearly wanting to get away. “No,” she said. “About you?”

Gamora frowned. “What?”

It was so sharp that Mantis flinched. “I just…”

“Has Peter talked to you?” she demanded.

Mantis’ eyes grew wider as she shook her head. “No, of course not--”

“Then what could possibly--”

“You,” Mantis said, looking almost apologetic as she speaks. “I can feel the emotions, and I try not to, but they’re so strong--”

Incredulous, Gamora made a face. “Me?”

“I wanted you to know, that if you are having troubles after what happened--”

“Me?” Gamora repeated, almost aghast now.

“The things we all experienced--”

The anger that flared was stronger than she expected, and Gamora found herself clamping her teeth together to keep from lashing out. “This isn’t about me.”

“But you’re the only one who’s worried about it,” Mantis pointed out, shuffling her feet.

“You’re wrong,” Gamora said, her entire body going rigid. Her eyes burned into Mantis, daring the other woman to argue.

As would be expected, Mantis looked away, studying her hands. “Of course, I’m sorry,” she said. “I should not have pried.”

“No,” Gamora said coolly as she stalked from the room. “You shouldn’t have.”

-o-

Fuming, she reminded herself that Mantis was young, sheltered and inexperienced. What the hell did she know? Her complicity had nearly gotten them all killed -- had nearly destroyed the whole damn galaxy?

What right did she have?

At the dining hall, Gamora hesitated. She saw the hallway to Peter’s quarters, and the door that led to the other sleep areas. Gamora had been in her old room again, ever since their fight. Not that she’d done much sleeping. Indeed, she’d often stayed up late, listening for any sound of Peter, retracing all his movements throughout the door, looking for weakness.

What right did Mantis have?

What right didn’t she have?

She was an empath, and she was a part of this team. The emotions running under the surface -- they had to be pretty hard to ignore.

And pretty hard to misinterpret.

Mantis had said nothing to Peter, and who had she confronted instead? Gamora.

It was a small detail, one Gamora had willfully overlooked all this time. Peter was fine.

She just couldn’t be sure, after all that had happened, that she actually was.

-o-

This time, when she approached, she did so without pride or bluster.

This time, she wanted -- she needed -- to talk.

Peter regarded her skeptically when she entered the cockpit, but they had existed in amicable if uncomfortable silence since their last conversation.

She did not insult him with pretenses. “I’ve missed talking to you,” she admitted.

He glanced at her, but kept at his calculations. “Not sure we have much more to talk about,” he said. “We’ve gone over the mission plan.”

“Not about the mission,” she said.

This time, he didn’t even spare her a look. “There’s nothing new to say about it.”

Her shoulders fell. “Peter--”

Sighing, he spun around. “I get it, you’re worried about me,” he said. “And I know, okay. I know your heart is probably in the right place.”

“It’s not just that,” she said. “I mean, it’s not so simple. This thing between us -- your Sam and Diane -- worrying about you is part of it, I think.”

His expression softened. “But are my plans really that bad?”

That wasn’t the question she’d been expecting. “What?”

“For the mission,” he said. “If you’re that worried about it, then my plans must be bad or something.”

“Your mission plans are fine--”

“It’s not an unnecessary risk?” he pressed.

“No,” she said. “If anything, this mission is better planned than our previous ones--”

“Then, what?” Peter asked. “Am I not meeting the needs of the team? Have we not come together well enough? Is Groot to contrary to take into battle? Is Mantis too inexperienced? Should I be keeping Kraglin around at all?”

“No,” Gamora said. “You’re dealing with the others just fine.”

“So, then, what,” Peter said, shrugging. “I’m doing everything right?”

Her mouth opened, but she could find no protest.

“And you’re concerned because of what exactly?” Peter asked. “Because I’m doing really well?”

“But you found your father and killed him in a matter of days!” Gamora said, her composure slipping now. “Not to mention the fact that you had immortality for about five minutes before going off and making yourself mortal again. You were willing to die down there, Peter. You were willing to blow yourself up without as much as a goodbye. So yes, I’m concerned that you’re doing really well, Peter. Because I don’t understand, not for the life of me, how you could possibly be okay!”

Standing now, Peter left his calculations half finished. He looked weary to her suddenly; older than before. “I’ve told you this, Gamora,” he said, shaking his head. “All that shit, it’s a lot. I get it. But it just doesn’t change anything.”

“How?” she demanded, feeling tears burn at her eyes. “How could it not change anything?”

“I’m still the same asshole you met back on Xandar,” he said. “I’m the moron who saved the galaxy with a dance-off. And what you told me, back on Ego’s planet, you were right. Losing Ego -- what does it mean to me? It’s not like I needed the family. You were the one who reminded me: I already had found it, and it’s still right here.” He paused, wetting his lips sadly. “And I’ve lost enough family for one lifetime. I’m going to do everything I can to keep us together, to keep us happy -- to enjoy what I have left. Because for all that I went through? You know what I feel most? Grateful.”

He moved closer to her, and Gamora’s chest felt so tight that she almost couldn’t breathe.

“Grateful,” he continued. “Because I lost a lot back there, but I didn’t lose you, not any of you. So, I don’t know. In the grander scheme of things, that really isn’t so bad.”

It was more than she’d expected, and yet nothing that she’d anticipated. His rationale made sense; his logic came to the proper conclusion.

It was the right answer, the one she had coaxed him toward before all this went wrong.

So why did it not satisfy her?

Why was she struggling?

Drawing a breath, she tried to calm herself. “That’s...surprisingly well adjusted.”

He offered a small, half smile and a flicker of dry humor danced in his eyes. “It only took about 35 years and fratricide for me to figure it out.”

She sighed, the last of her defenses falling. She reached out for him. “Peter….”

He pulled away from her though, taking a step back. “Just forget it,” he said. He tentatively met her eyes again. “Maybe some things really are better left unspoken.”

And with that, he pulled away.

She watched as he left, watched as he disappeared down the hallway. It took her a good two minutes to collect herself, dabbing at her eyes as she left the cockpit and retreated to her own quarters once more.

-o-

That night, Gamora went to bed early, but she did not sleep. At first, she occupied herself by going over the details of tomorrow’s job, but when she had rehashed those details several times, she accepted the inevitable true.

Peter could be right. Maybe he was fine.

But Gamora was not.

She stared wearily at the ceiling.

She wasn’t okay at all.

That wasn’t to say that Peter was right about everything. Because, of that, Gamora was still certain he wasn’t. He kept insisting, despite all available evidence, that nothing had changed since they’d left Ego’s planet.

Technically, he had a point. Their purpose, their mission, their solidarity -- that had been unaffected by Ego.

At the same time, however, everything had changed.

There was a nuance to it that Gamora struggled to identify -- and she was loathe to admit her role in it. It was the issue she had been trying -- unsuccessfully -- to pinpoint in the aftermath, and the more she pressed, the more she knew that she could not deny that it affected her more than she had anticipated.

It started with immortality.

When Mantis had said Ego had won Peter to his cause, she had been more afraid than before. Not just because she feared for Peter’s safety if he resisted, but because she knew how tempting the offer of infinite power would be to a man like Peter. Peter, who was so well intentioned. Peter, who was always willing to put himself in harm’s way. Peter, who had always been the most vulnerable among them from biology alone.

Why wouldn’t he want to be strong? Why wouldn’t he want to be powerful?

Those were the things Gamora had learned to strive for, even from her youth. It was that sense of innate competition that had made Nebula grow to resent her so much.

But this wasn’t resentment.

No, Gamora had not felt envious of Peter’s abilities.

If anything, she had felt overwhelming reassured. When she had thought he’d been blown up, her world had shattered.

When she saw what he could endure, she had thought that maybe -- just maybe -- this could work out.

The realization was, of course, two-fold. When it came to combat, she had never given it much of a second thought. Fighting was simply a part of who they were, what they did. They had met in conflict, and had not stopped pursuing it ever since. It had been taken for granted, among all of them, that serving on the Guardians implied certain risk and peril on a regular basis. This had never bothered her.

Until the unspoken thing became too loud to ignore.

Peter, for his part, had always taken measures to mitigate his own weakness, and she had assumed, partially correct, that it was because he felt responsible for the team. However, it was also clear that he had done so because he knew his own vulnerabilities. The frailty of human life had been a punchline for Rocket and a source of endless wonder for Drax, but Peter had always taken it with a certain common sense approach that made it easy to assume, often wrongly so, that he had it entirely under control.

That much had not changed.

But Gamora’s perception of it, however, had been drastically heightened.

Therein was the flip side of her understanding of Peter’s mortality. It was not until she had realize what an impenetrable Peter was capable of that she realized his true limitations as a human. Because, for the love of all that was good in the galaxy, he was breakable. He had no enhancements, and his natural strength was unimpressive. His special talents were being a smart-ass and firing a gun faster than anyone else around him. Given that they had set out to save the galaxy on a semi-regular basis, this approach was nothing short of absurd.

All of this could have been acceptable, of course, because Gamora had always ardently embraced the free will of her companions. It was a necessary thing for her, as a child who had had so much of her free will taken from her. She respected her team enough to make their own choices. It wasn’t as if they didn’t understand the risks -- Peter more than the rest. His choices were, ultimately, his choices.

Which led Gamora to a much harder revelation on the eve of battle. This revelation, admittedly, was more vexing than all the rest, because it was not so much a matter of nuance this time -- but more a matter of self-awareness. The unspoken thing between them was not completely unspoken anymore, and while this allowed her to open herself up to Peter, it also meant that she had to open herself up to Peter. She had to acknowledge feelings, the good and the bad.

Naturally, this had certain benefits, and she did appreciate those benefits.

But the drawbacks were worth noting.

To the point: his free will aside, the thought of seeing him in battle now terrified her.

Hell, seeing him do anything terrified her. If they flew too close to an asteroid belt, she felt like flinching. When he swallowed water the wrong way, she felt herself go into high alert. Ever since she’d watch his ship explode back on Ego’s planet, she couldn’t shake the feeling of how easy it was to lose him.

The ultimate conclusion, unchanged as Peter said it was, was still impossible to see in a fresh light.

Peter was mortal.

Gamora was in love with him.

Therefore, his mortality was not as much his weakness as it was hers.

She clutched at the blankets, struggling to control her breathing and still the pounding of her heart as it echoed between her ears.

All her life, she had trained herself to hate weakness. It had been necessary, as a daughter of Thanos. It had been all she could do to survive.

But she could not hate this weakness.

She could not hate Peter.

Which meant…

Gamora wiped at her eyes, squelching the tears she would not cry.

Truthfully, Gamora wasn’t sure what it meant.

Letting out a staggered breath, she turned to her side and forced her eyes to close.

She wondered, as she sought the refuge of sleep, if Sam and Diane had had it easier on Cheers.

NEXT