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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

GOTG fic: Changes (2/2)

December 18th, 2017 (08:56 pm)
exhausted

feeling: exhausted

Continued from Part One.



-o-

Having not slept, Gamora opted instead for coffee.

Lots and lots of coffee.

At the early hour, she had expected to be mostly alone in the dining hall.

It went to figure that she was wrong about that, too.

At first, it was some relief to see that it was only Kraglin who entered. He looked just about as tired as she felt, and he poured himself a generous cup of coffee.

“Ugh,” he said, rolling his shoulders as he sat heavily in a chair across the way. “You know, I don’t mind pulling the nightshift every now and then, but this is like the fourth time this week. How did you guys handle it without me?”

“Easy,” Gamora said, taking a sip. “It’s called autopilot.”

“Wait, so you didn’t stay up to watch the helm all night?” Kraglin asked.

“Peter’s always on call; it’s his ship,” she said, wishing that somehow the coffee was stronger.

Kraglin, for his part, put his cup down and gaped at her. “But Peter’s the one who asked me to take the shifts!”

She sighed, shaking her head in exasperation. She had worked hard to take a delicate touch with the rest of the team, but she still found it difficult to find Kraglin endearing. True, in the grander scheme of things, she supposed Kraglin was like a brother to Peter.

Somehow, that just made her dislike him more, because she could still see Peter as the scrawny little kid they sent into dangerous situations. Of course, she understood that Yondu had been keeping Peter from a worse fate. It could also be argued that returning the kid to Earth would have been too much of a risk; it would have left Peter vulnerable.

Still.

She’d heard Peter talk about the Ravager’s wanting to eat him. If she couldn’t hate Yondu, based on his final sacrifice, Kraglin was an apt if unfair stand-in.

“That’s because he doesn’t know what else to have you do,” she said. “Why do you think you’re being assigned to the ship for this job?”

“Because you need a trusted hand at the controls?” Kraglin asked, almost comically hopeful.

Gamora took another drink. “Once you figure out the arrow, I’m sure Peter will be far more flexible,” she said.

“Hey,” Kraglin said sharply. “I told you the thing with Drax was an accident!”

“And Peter probably doesn’t want Drax to retaliate,” Gamora pointed out. “With Drax, it won’t be an accident.”

At this news, Kraglin appeared vexed. He studied his coffee for a moment. “So it’s not because he doesn’t like me, then?”

The question wasn’t fair, and it certainly wasn’t becoming of a Ravager.

But then, Kraglin had already proven that he wasn’t a Ravager for the money.

He was a Ravager the same way in which they were Guardians: lost people, looking for family.

Tired and worn out as she was, Gamora would have sympathy for that. “Peter’s got other things on his mind,” she said. “Trust me.”

Kraglin nodded, sympathetic in return. “I keep waiting for him to flip out or something,” he admitted. “All that he went through? It’s not like he could possibly be okay!”

Gamora perked up. “That’s exactly what I’ve been saying.”

“Though, to be fair,” Kraglin continued. “I never thought Peter would survive this long. You didn’t see him, way back when. He was so scrawny that for a while we took bets on how long it was before he got himself killed.”

It was somehow a difficult image. Peter, as a child, his life in the hands of Peter who only cared enough to wager on his demise. “And that’s supposed to be reassuring?”

Kraglin seemed surprised. “Oh, well,” he said. Then he nodded, matter of fact. “Yeah.”

Gamora was more than the killer Thanos had trained her to be, but that didn’t mean that some homicidal tendencies were hard to shake. With effort, she strove to remain calm. “And how do you figure that?”

“Just that he must be doing something right, to survive all the things he did,” Kraglin said.

“He had a celestial gene,” she reminded him.

“And I think he still does? I’m no expert on biological matters, though--”

Gamora was preemptively shaking her head. “But when we destroyed Ego, he lost that.”

“Okay,” Kraglin said with a shrug. “But you really think that’s the only thing that’s kept him alive all these years?”

“It’s not like he’s been alone,” she argued. “Yondu and the others -- I won’t pretend it was the best upbringing, but I know it wasn’t the worst. He had a network that kept him protected, even when his own stupidity might have dictated otherwise.”

Kraglin snapped his fingers at her with an affirmative nod. “That’s it exactly,” he said. “And I mean, he was the kind of kid who did stupid, stupid things.”

Gamora took a drink of coffee to hide her huff. “That much hasn’t changed,” she muttered.

“And neither has the rest, has it?” Kraglin asked. “I mean, you and the rest of the Guardians. Seems like he’s still got a whole bunch of people, watching his back, to the point where I’m not sure anything’s really changed.”

Glowering, she drowned the rest of her coffee and resisted the urge to slam her mug down on the table as she growled out her response. “That does seem to be the consensus.”

Wisely, Kraglin did not respond.

Say what you would about the man, at least he wasn’t stupid.

She just wished she could say that about the rest of her team.

-o-

“So,” Peter said, rubbing his hands together. “Do we all know what we’re supposed to do?”

“I knew yesterday what we had to do -- and the day before that,” Rocket said. “It’s not like the plan’s changed.”

“Well, a few things have changed,” Peter said, and he purposefully skimmed past Gamora with his gaze as he addressed them. “We have two new team members, and given the way our last job went--”

“Do you mean when Rocket stole the priceless Harbulary batteries and nearly got us killed?” Drax asked.

“Dude!” Rocket said. “Though, for the record, the batteries also saved our lives. Without those stupid batteries, there wouldn’t have been any explosion, and we’d all probably be dead.”

“Well, not Peter,” Mantis said, being helpfully unhelpful. “He would have survived as one of the only two beings left in the galaxy.”

“That’s great to remember,” Peter said. “But maybe we can talk about it after--”

“I’m still wondering if we need a better call sign,” Kraglin said, far too seriously. “Maybe some kind of panic word in case things start to go wrong.”

“I am Groot,” Groot chimed in.

“No, I was thinking of something more subtle,” Kraglin said, stroking his chin thoughtfully.

“How about get-us-the-hell-out-of-here,” Rocket offered.

Kraglin nodded in approval. “That definitely works.”

Peter rubbed his forehead and drew a weary breath. “Okay, so any more questions?” he asked, forcefully inserting himself before the conversation devolve even further into insanity.

This time, when his eyes past over the group, they locked with Gamora’s for one, telling moment.

It was her turn to look away, swallowing in futility over the lump in her throat.

Gamora would ask no questions, not now.

That way, at the very least, Peter couldn’t tell her any lies.

Or worse, she knew, any truths.

-o-

They’d stopped an Infinity Stone. They had defeated interdimensional beings. They had even destroyed a god turned planet with aspirations to wipe out all specks of life in the universe.

After that, Gamora had thought that things would seem easy in comparison.

As it turned out, Gamora was wrong about that.

Just like she’d been wrong about so many things.

-o-

The ideal plan had been this: go down, liberate a mine and free the local mining population from the grips of tyranny. The band of pirates who had taken over had force but little nuance, and the plan was to take out the leadership and watch the others run for their lives. By restoring control back to the legitimate owner, they would be saving innocent workers and getting paid handsomely.

The actual events, however, went like this: go down, liberate a mine and free the local mining population from the grips of tyranny The band of pirates who had taken over had force but little nuance, and the plan was to take out the leadership and watch the others run for their lives. Unfortunately, the leadership structure was less predictable than expected, and apparently pirates who take over innocent mining colonies didn’t put much stake in running. Instead, they liked to fire lots and lots of guns at lots and lots of people. Which mean, of course, that restoring control would be a protracted fight, and that the legitimate owner would have to cover a lot of ammunition expenses for them when this was over.

Pulling her swords, she activated her aero-rig and got to work.

-o-

For as much noise as the pirates made, they weren’t overly talented. Under normal circumstances, Gamora would find their resistance to be nothing than a mere inconvenience.

Except for Peter.

Why was that becoming the story of her life?

Not that Peter was faring particularly poorly, as far as Gamora could tell, but the point was that she was trying to tell. That meant she spent more time tracking his movements than her own. She’d never been so sloppy in battle before, but honestly, it wasn’t her own well being that concerned her.

All those pirates, firing guns at him. Peter, slipping and sliding through the sky, dodging blows and absorbing others. She saw him fall several times, and when she saw another pirate lining up a shot, she couldn’t take it anymore.

“Rocket!” she yelled over the commlink. “You need to go back up Peter!”

Belatedly, she slashed at a pirate, paying no heed as he fell.

Rocket grunted over the line. “Um, kind of busy here, Gamora.”

“Oh come on,” she said, watching from afar while Rocket took on five pirates by himself. “I thought you liked killing people.”

“Sure!” Rocket said. “But not getting myself killed!”

“Ugh, fine!” Gamora said, expediently dispatching another pirate as she hovered in the air. “Drax!”

“I have no time to talk!” Drax said, and she caught sight of him, storming across a building and leaping into the air without an aero rig.

“But Peter’s vulnerable!” she yelled.

“I’m fine!” Peter voice came through, clipped and annoyed. “Everyone maintain your positions!”

“But--” Gamora started, but she was cut off by the sound of an explosion. Not one of Rocket’s, which meant it wasn’t controlled. It filled the air with a plume of black smoke, and for a moment she saw Peter disappear behind it. She heard him grunt over the line.

Her stomach twisted in what was becoming an all-too-familiar sensation.

“Peter!” she yelled. “Rocket, Drax, Mantis--”

“We’re professionals, Gamora, last I checked!” Rocket barked at her. “Quill’s fine, and if you don’t trust him, at least trust us!”

Gamora cared not to argue anymore.

No, this wasn’t something she could trust to the others.

This wasn’t something she could even trust to Peter.

His well being, therefore, was her responsibility. She would be, unquestionably, his personal bodyguard.

And she would stop at nothing to protect him.

-o-

By the time she arrived, Peter was gunning hard and fast. The blast had rendered his mask inoperable, but his aero rig seemed to be in order. Though, at the rate he was using it darting about, he would probably be running low on energy sooner rather than later.

Upon arrival, she quickly handled two combatants, and she blocked the blast of another with her sword as Peter landed hard next to her.

“Gamora,” he croaked, voice strained from the smoke. There was a cut on his face, only partially covered by the soot from the blast. “What are you doing here?”

“Helping,” she said, and she lashed out with her sword, running through another hapless pirate as he approached.

“Seriously?” he said, pausing to fire around her. “I mean, it’s one thing back on the ship, but out here--”

“Yes, out here!” she said, artfully disabling another attacker.

“I know I’m not powerful or strong or special, but you never thought I was before,” he argued, pausing only briefly to fire at another pirate. “So why do you suddenly not trust me?”

“Trust you!” she yelled, indignant. “Peter, I don’t trust myself!”

“I told you,” he seethed. “Nothing’s changed!”

Two more fell, on the same stroke of her sword. She drew it back with a growl. “Everything’s changed! Because the second we made this thing unspoken--”

Understanding dawned on Peter’s face. “--then we have to talk about it.”

“See,” she said, seething back at him now. “Everything’s changed.”

He reached out, drawing her close to him and their lips pressed together with a jolt so strong that it felt like electricity.

Pulling back, his voice was low over the sound of the battle. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Eyes burning (the soot, the soot, she told herself), she laced her fingers through his hair and pulled him back into a bracing kiss.

Blinking rapidly, she parted, looking him in the eyes. “And you say it like it’s not.”

It was a moment that matter; a moment that could define them.

A moment they didn’t have time for.

Another blast hit behind them, and Peter winced. “Look,” he said. “Just -- hold that thought.”

Before she could argue, he was off in battle again.

She scoffed as she followed him.

Hold that thought?

Like she could possibly forget it.

-o-

As a team, they had learned to fight together. They had naturally started to fill in each other’s weaknesses, and seamlessly complemented each other’s strengths. It had made them a powerful force that would demand to be reckoned with.

It wasn’t that she was fighting with Peter, not this time.

She was fighting to protect him.

She had thought that would be the best way to keep him safe.

Someday, Gamora would figure out how to stop making ridiculous predictions that would only prove her to be a fool.

Today, however, was not going to be that day.

-o-

To her credit, at least, she fought hard. Enhanced and trained as she was, she was a formidable opponent, and when she set her mind to something, her pursuit was singular.

If her goal was to save Peter.

Then she would save him.

Mirroring his movements, she used her enhanced eyesight to take in a wider view of the field. This allows her to feint on his behalf, moving seamlessly around him while he focused on the opposition. She parried, blocking an advance from the front, and then she tumbled through the air to fend of an attacker from the rear.

When she saw the blast coming, it was easy enough to predict its trajectory, and Peter had no way of stopping as she hurled him clear of the path.

But instead of finding safety, Gamora realized too late that she had been so focused on the intimate details of the fight that she had failed to take in the bigger picture. She could protect Peter from what was coming next, but not what was coming after that.

Because when she pushed him out of the way, she propelled him straight into the path of another blast.

And this one hit him, full on.

The electrical pulse had an instantaneous effect. His body contorted, writhing in pain. On her, the pulse would have hurt, but her enhancements helped control her heart. On Peter, fully human as he was, the pulse only hurt momentarily.

Before it stopped his heart.

She watched, paralyzed, as his body went lax and he plummeted to the ground.

Gamora did the only thing she could do.

And fell after him.

-o-

Rocket’s aero-rigs were designed to be fast and maneuverable, but Gamora still knew their limits.

She knew them, and she promptly ignored them.

The circuits whined and she could feel them start to overheat, but she didn’t slow down, not even as she came hurtling at the ground. At the last second, she reversed thrust, snapping up Peter’s falling form in her arms and jerking him upward, away from a crash landing that would probably break every bone in his body.

As it was, the force of her actions was enough to disorient her momentarily, and when her head cleared from the sudden rush, she adjusted her grip on Peter. Carefully, she lowered them to the ground, minding Peter’s head as she laid him gently on the rocky terrain.

“Peter,” she said, glancing anxiously around them. The tide had turned in the battle, and the Guardians were winning. That was supposed to be a good thing.

She looked at Peter, heart thudding in her chest.

It didn’t feel like a good thing.

It didn’t even feel like winning.

“Peter,” she said again, forcing her deadened limbs to move. Her fingers numbly deactivated his aero-rig, and she pushed his jacket open to get a better look. “Come on, come on, come on.”

Peter had taken the hit to the chest, and the charred mark had burned all the way through his shirt to the top layers of flesh underneath. She ripped the shirt clear open, gauging the severity of the wound.

Not deep; instantly cauterized.

But his chest wasn’t moving.

Frantic, she bowed her head, touching her ear to his chest. She readjusted herself, feeling a surge of frustration when she couldn’t hear anything.

It could be that her own adrenaline was making it impossible to hear. And it wasn’t like they weren’t in the throes of battle. There was ambient noise; Gamora was panicking; there were a thousand possible explanations.

Only one, though, explained why Peter’s eyes were dull and open, pointed sightlessly at the waning battle.

Peter was dead, she realized with a terrible suddenness that made her own heart stagger in her chest.

Peter Quill was dead.

-o-

For most people, death would seem like the final, ultimate failure.

Gamora was not most people.

Gamora didn’t lose.

Not ever.

And especially not now.

Because for as hard as she’d fought for Thanos?

Would be nothing compared to how hard she would fight for Peter

-o-

Gamora was trained to kill. Even as a Guardian of the Galaxy, she had used her skills to slay those who threatened the peace. She could identify the weak point on every body, no matter the species, and exploit it to the ultimate end.

Those same weaknesses, she could turn into strengths. True, damage to the head was beyond her skills, but Peter’s head wasn’t damage by the hit. No, this was her heart.

For a split second, her mind raced, and she tried to remember what she’d learned in disconnected ways about resuscitation. The heart had to beat to pump the blood; the lungs had to work to breathe oxygen.

The heart had to come first, though.

She straightened, poised above Peter, allowing herself one last moment of hesitation. She looked at him, the colors still rapidly draining from his lax face.

The heart would no longer be ignored.

Gritting her teeth, Gamora found the strength she kept tucked deep inside and she leaned forward, arms straight, as she pressed down hard on Peter’s chest.

It would have made her sick, to feel his rib cage move like that, but Gamora had no further room for indulgence. She pressed, again and again, because she was relentless in battle.

And there had never been a fight more important to her than this.

Grunting, she pressed harder, willing the stagnant body beneath her to respond.

“Come on, Peter,” she growled, feeling the exertion running like an electrical current up her arms and down her enhanced spine. “You’re fine. You said it yourself: you’re fine.”

She pressed, measuring her movements and perfecting the rhythm. It became nearly mechanical as she pushed beyond her emotions to the very core of what mattered most to her.

“You have to be fine,” she continued, feeling her throat start to close as tears burned in her eyes. She blinked, and could feel them spreading down her cheeks. “You have to be fine.”

She was asking now -- more than that, she was begging. Because that was the irony, wasn’t it? All these weeks, she’d been trailing after Peter, waiting for him to break, when it had been her own vulnerability that scared her. She’d been poised to watch him crumble because she felt herself teetering so precariously on the brink of uncontrolled emotion that she couldn’t even face it. All the times she had insisted, beyond all reproach, that he wasn’t fine was nothing more than a lie to obscure the fact that she wasn’t fine.

With blurry vision, all she could make out was the fact that Peter still wasn’t moving. His face looked almost waxen now, and the sob nearly choked her as she struggled to keep herself moving.

She’d admit it now. She’d admit it every day for the rest of her life. She’d stand in front of all of them and tell them how wrong, how very completely wrong she was. She’d tell them she wasn’t okay.

If only Peter would be okay.

She was faltering now, and the sob escaped her lips as her arms nearly gave way. “Please,” she said, and it was too much to even try to hold back now. “Please, Peter.”

This was it, Gamora’s last stand. If she lost this battle here, if she lost him...

Then she would lose more than she could bear.

So, she would fight, then.

Pressing harder, faster, with more precision.

Not for her own survival, though.

Her arms ached and her backed screamed, and she did not stop.

For his, instead.

-o-

Then, as suddenly as he’d been gone, he came back.

That was how it was with Peter, wasn’t it? He pissed her off right up until the point he scared her shitless.

He gasped, sucking in a grating breath as his body convulsed off the ground. Crying as she was, her reflexes were still fast enough to scoop him up, drawing him into her arms as he heaved for air once again.

After several attempts, he blinked his eyes and she saw a flicker of awareness. Collapsing back against her weakly, his body was racked with fine tremors, and she could feel the frenetic beat of his heart against her hands as she clutched him to her own chest.

“Gamora?” he asked, and her name was almost impossible to discern on his tongue. Garbled and airy, he sounded terrible, but she knew what he was saying.

That was something about the two of them, those unspoken words they both knew. They never had to say them.

But maybe they were better off when they did.

With a weak shudder, he visibly tried to gather himself. “What happened?”

This question was at least coherent, though the weak quality of his voice was still hard for her to hear.

Not as hard, she reminded herself, as his silence.

Choking a little bit, she managed a laugh and a sob all at once. Wiping her tears away, she sniffled loudly. “You went and died, you idiot.”

The way his forehead wrinkled in confusion was so damn childlike that Gamora choked on another sob. “Oh,” he said, and he was really thinking about it as he looked down the length of his body. He looked up at her again. “Really?”

“Yes, really!” she said, a bit more forceful than necessary.

Experimentally, he felt his chest with a wince. From the burn or from her determined compressions, it wasn’t clear. She was pretty sure that the distinction didn’t matter.

“Well,” he said. “I guess that whole mortality thing is legit, then.”

He was acting far too flippant for a man she had literally brought back to life with her own bare hands. “Yeah,” she deadpanned back. “I’d say so.”

Above them, the sounds of the battle were dying down, and the explosions were fading along with the blaster fire. Somewhere, she could hear Rocket, asking what the hell had happened, and Gamora knew that she would owe them an answer.

Not before she owed one to Peter, though.

“Peter,” she started, and now it was her own voice that sounded weak and halting.

He was watching her, more earnest than ever. “Gamora--”

For a moment, the words lay barren between them, ripe and ready and not quite realized.

It figured, he had the nerve to speak first. “I think you may have been right.”

Blinking, she was too surprised to know what to say. She settled for: “What?”

He nodded, a small, tight bob of his head as he continue to work on evening his breathing. “When you said everything had changed,” he continued, pausing to collect his breath. He smiled apologetically. “You were right.”

Of course he said it. Of course he managed to bridge the gap between them and put all the doubts aside. Of course he picked them over anything he might have wanted, even his own pride.

The emotions rose within her again, and as a fresh wave of tears ran down her face, she bent forward, kissing him. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Still cradled in her arms, he smiled. With shaking fingers, he reached up, pulling her down to him once again. She could feel her hot tears against the coolness of his flesh and the trembling rhythm of his heart finding solace with hers. When they parted, his eyes were glistening, too. “You say that like it’s not.”

That was how it was, Gamora knew. There were few absolutes in the galaxy, and it was just as easy to be right as it was to be wrong. In fact, sometimes, you could be both and neither at the same time.

It was such ambiguity that unsettled her. It was such vulnerability that put her on edge.

Closing her eyes, she denied herself no longer. Resting her head against his, she breathed him in. “Maybe it’s both,” she admitted, and it was impossible to tell now, who was clinging to who. Lifting her head, all she could do was smile as the tears continued unchecked. “And maybe we have to take it together or not at all. We have to take the bad if we want the good.”

His chest was still rising and falling with exaggerated motions, but he nodded quickly as he moistened his lips. “You know,” he said. “For someone who likes things unspoken, you’re sure doing a lot of talking.”

This time, it was a laugh that escaped her lips. “Oh, shut up,” she said, wiping her cheeks. “Or I’ll shut your mouth for you.”

Peter, weak as he was, still managed a cocky, half-shrug. “Yeah, your threats would probably be more convincing if you literally hadn’t just saved my life.”

It was a point she couldn’t deny, and, at this point, she didn’t really want to. That didn’t mean she wanted Peter to win this argument, however.

She smiled, hoisting him a little higher in her arms. “There are other ways to keep you from talking.”

He looked genuinely interested. For the love of all that was pure in this galaxy, he had no business looking that innocent. “Yeah? Like what?”

“I don’t know,” she said, running a finger gently down the side of his face. “But I can think of one.”

With that, she kissed him. This time, it wasn’t desperation or despair. It wasn’t fear or relief.

This time, it was an expression of the most unspoken thing inside of her.

Soft, gentle and finally sure.

When she was done, he stared at her in wonder. He seemed to be thinking of some kind of comeback, and his mouth opened, poised to speak.

Determined, Gamora kissed him again, effectively silencing his retorts. Under his touch, he had completely surrendered to her, once and, Gamora knew, for all.

That was how Gamora won.

All it took was losing everything.

-o-

It didn’t take long for the others to get there. In the past, Gamora would have been embarrassed.

There wasn’t much point to it now.

True, Gamora had said little of her relationship with Peter.

But, as it turned out, the unspoken things were the loudest of all.

“Dude,” Rocket said. “Did you just die?”

Peter sat up, Gamora’s arm still around him. “Yeah, that’s what I’m told,” he said, wincing. The wound on his chest was mostly superficial, but it had to hurt. To be sure, he would be feeling it now.

Drax looked concerned. “I still do not understand how human bodies are so breakable.”

With a grunt, Peter started to get to his feet and Gamora stood with him, supporting him the whole way while he got his footing. “Just hang around me a little more,” he recommended wryly. “You’ll figure it out eventually.”

“I am Groot!” the young sapling added enthusiastically.

“Yes, if I die, you can have my Rune,” Peter said. “But for the record, almost dead doesn’t count.”

Groot looked moderately disappointed.

Mantis stepped forward, tentative and unsure. “You are okay now.”

“Yeah,” Peter said, grimacing as he shifted his weight experimentally from foot to foot. “Heart’s beating, anyway.”

“No,” Mantis said, and she smiled now, eyes going between Peter and Gamora. “You’re all fine.”

Although Peter seemed steady enough, Gamora had no interest in letting go. “Yeah,” she said, offering a smile to Peter. “I think we all are.”

-o-

It took some time to tie up all the loose ends, but Gamora was more than content to let the others handle it. True, leaving Rocket and Drax to make sure that the miners were safe and control was probably questionable, but like Rocket said, they were two-time galaxy savers. They might pretend that didn’t change them, but Gamora knew better. Mantis had softened Drax, and as long as Groot was his responsibility, Rocket wouldn’t do anything too stupid.

Even Peter seemed okay with the prospect, though she imagined he wasn’t feeling completely like himself. He allowed himself to be helped back to the ship, and he even allowed Kraglin to run a few tests while he recuperated in the medical bay.

Gamora had no intention of leaving him.

She tended to the wound on his chest, applying bandages and gently wrapping it. The tests all concluded the same thing: physically, Peter was well and truly fine.

Watching him, she still questioned whether that was true emotionally.

On the cot, he yawned.

She patted him on the arm. “Go ahead,” she coaxed. “Get some sleep.”

He made a face. “Gamora, you saw the tests,” he said. “I’m fine.”

“That’s right,” she said, a bit sternly now. “You’re fine. No reason not to let yourself recuperate.”

“But the job--”

“Is taken care of,” she said.

“And the team--”

“Can handle themselves,” she said. “We’re fine, remember? All of us?”

Because fine wasn’t an absolute prediction of what was to come. Fine was a way of handling the moment. It wasn’t flippant; it wasn’t off-hand. It was an acknowledgement that weakness did not have to define them -- any of them.

Peter was mortal; that point had been made to her abundantly. There would be a day, probably, when they would all have to reckon with that.

That was all well and good, Gamora decided. Fate could try its worst and Peter might be vulnerable, but Gamora?

Gamora didn’t lose.

As long as she was breathing, she would stay right here, right by Peter’s side.

Because she was okay with Peter being mortal.

As long as they stopped testing that theory for a long, long time.

“You’re handling this better than I expected,” he murmured sleepily.

Her fingers tightened on his arm, and she smiled. “The past cannot be changed, and the future we can’t predict,” she said. “But here, in this moment, we’re fine, Peter. We’re just fine.”

He smiled back and allowed himself to close his eyes. She watched as his breathing evened out, and she was still watching as he slipped into sleep.

Whatever was coming, whether good or bad, they would face it together.

For everything she feared, that hope was stronger still.