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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

GOTG fic: (The Whole World) In Your Hands (1/3)

December 20th, 2017 (09:07 pm)
happy

feeling: happy

Title: (The Whole World) In Your Hands

Disclaimer: Nope, not mine.

A/N: Fills my self harm square for hc_bingo. No beta. Warnings for self harm and suicidal tendencies.

Summary: The light was gone, and Peter knew this beyond all doubt. Because it had taken a huge part of him with it.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

The night he buried Yondu, Gamora followed him to bed. She was soft and gentle and surprisingly open, and Peter had no reason to fight her.

It was no surprise that Gamora was a talented woman, and when she finally fell asleep in his arms a short time later, he had no reason to object.

In fact, he was getting just about everything he ever wanted. Part of him wanted to feel guilty for that, but it validated Yondu’s sacrifice. Yondu had wanted Peter to live, and here he was, the epitome of alive.

But the adrenaline faded, and sleep evaded him. Outside, the lights had dissipated, and there was nothing but blackness was Ego’s planet used to be.

And here was Peter, safe and secure and holding everything he ever wanted in his hands.

His fingers twitched, and he tried to hold her closer but he didn’t know how.

Because no matter how hard he held on, his hands had never felt emptier.

-o-

All things considered, it was supposed to be a pretty happy ending. Not, of course, the fact that Yondu had died, but that they’d won. Again. Rocket had made amends; Drax had made a friend; Groot had saved the day.

And Peter had finally gotten the girl.

When Gamora woke up in the morning, it was just like he’d always imagined it would be.

(Yes, he had imagined it. He’d been imagining it since he first met her on Xandar and saved her from a prison riot in the Kiln. He’d imagined it so damn much.)

Curling closer in his arms, she smiled. “Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” he said back.

For a moment, she nuzzled him before kissing him lightly on the lips. “This is good, isn’t it?” she asked, as if wanting reassurance. Her eyes were unusually wide -- vulnerable, somehow -- as she looked up at him. “Better than Cheers.”

It was exactly what he’d wanted, exactly what he’d been asking for back on Ego’s planet, and now that it was being handed to him, it wasn’t like he was going to say no.

Even if he wasn’t sure he knew how to say yes.

Numbly, he kissed her back. “Yeah,” he said woodenly. “Better than Cheers.”

-o-

In the shower, he swore to himself.

Gamora was out there, getting dressed in his room. He could actually hear her humming to herself. That didn’t even make sense.

After all, Cheers was just a stupid TV show.

This--

This was real life.

Getting up, doing the job.

When this whole thing had started, he had pitched himself as the responsible one.

He’d screwed that up more than once in the few short months since the Guardians came together. So he needed to prove it again.

Gamora was still singing, but she paused as she called through the shower enclosure. “I’m going to go get cleaned up,” she said. “See you at breakfast?”

“Yeah,” Peter said.

As he finished his shower, he tried not to think about the fact that once Sam and Diane got together, the show was over

-o-

Peter came late to breakfast. In fact, he skipped the food and snagged a cup of coffee. Gamora smiled at him, nodding for him to sit next to her but he acted like he didn’t have the time.

“I wanted to get started on things,” he said, trying to sound like a perfectly calm and reasonable adult.

“What kind of things?” Rocket said with a grunt from his chair.

Drax sat down heavily, his full plate of food clanking on the table. “I do hope you do not have any more fathers we have to kill,” he said. “It has been exhausting.”

Gamora slugged him.

Drax gave her a nonplussed look.

Peter forced himself to smile. “No, I was talking about the ship.”

“This one’s got enough fuel for a bit, but we might run a little low on supplies,” Kraglin said. He was sitting with them, but off to the side. Part of them, but not fully integrated yet.

“I am Groot!” the small tree chimed in.

“And that’s why I want to go back to Berhert,” Peter said. “I assume the ship’s still there.”

“In working order, too,” Rocket said. “I don’t think the Ravagers messed around with it, but they were kind of a bunch of assholes.” He looked to Kraglin. “No offense.”

Kraglin nodded empathetically. “None taken,” he said. “And we were so busy with the mutiny that we didn’t stop to think about the ship. Yondu had always planned to leave it for Peter when he got back, but…”

But that had gone sideways in every possible way.

“It’s a good idea,” Gamora interjected, and her face was kinder than the rest. “We all want to get back to it, resettle in.”

“I would very much like to spend more time on that ship,” Mantis said. “I can sense how strongly you all feel about it.”

“I want to make sure that Rocket’s repairs have not further damaged my quarters,” Drax said.

“I made a few improvements, but nothing you won’t appreciate,” Rocket said with a grin. “And hey, it sounds good to us, Quill. When you ready to leave?”

“Tonight,” Peter said, and he worked to keep his voice steady. “I want to make sure there’s nothing left we need to secure in this system before we just take off.”

“Sounds good,” Gamora said, and her smile turned up salaciously. “Captain.”

-o-

He let the others finish breakfast. In fact, he recommended that they each take the day to themselves, to hang out, have some fun, get to know each other.

“But what about you?” Gamora asked, sitting next to him in the cockpit.

“I’m fine,” Peter said.

“But you shouldn’t have to do this by yourself,” she said.

“I’m doing the boring stuff,” he reminded her. “The rest of you, the team bonding -- that’s the important stuff. Can you do this for me?”

It was the right tact, that much was certain. Gamora was smart, confident and independent.

She was also as much in love with him as he was with her.

He couldn’t reason his way into her heart.

But asking her?


She stood, squeezing his shoulder as she past. “I guess so,” she mused. “I’ll give you my full report later about how it goes.” She raised her eyebrows. “In private.”

Everything he’d wanted.

And Peter didn’t know what the hell to do with it.

“Great,” he said with forced enthusiasm. Then, he called after her. “I can’t wait!”

-o-

They left Peter alone, which was what he’d asked for. And, in some ways, it was what he really did want. Scanning the system, there was no trace big enough of Yondu to find. Peter hadn’t expected to find anything, but he’d still checked compulsively. But Yondu was gone.

Scanning for Ego -- now that was a bit trickier.

There were no known Celestial life signs to compare against. Not even the Nova Corps had known what to make of Peter’s blended DNA, which meant no database in the world would be able to tell him if all traces of Ego were well and truly gone. In the interest of certainty, it might help to check the other planets for any lingering sign of him, but all scans indicated that the system in front of him was dead.

Peter ran the scan half a dozen time, but the results were all the same.

Ego, his planet, the light -- it was all gone.

The fact was, though, that Peter didn’t need a scan.

He could feel it, the empty place inside of him.

He could see it, the dimness of his own hands.

The light was gone, and Peter knew this beyond all doubt.

Because it had taken a huge part of him with it.

-o-

That night, Gamora slept curled up in his arms, and Peter had a hard time sleeping. It wasn’t because he was uncomfortable; it wasn’t even because he was a romantic or something.

No, for some reason, the feeling of her heartbeat gave him pause.

He could still remember Ego talking about mortality; how life was so fleeting, so unsubstantial, so disappointing.

That should have been his first clue that the dude was a maniac, but Peter had been a little slow on the uptake. He’d done what he had to do, naturally, and Ego was dead because of it.

But…

He listened to the sound of Gamora breathing, counted the fluttering beats against his own hollow chest.

They were both finite, the two of them. All of them, everything. Peter had never had a problem with that before.

He looked up, turning his eyes to the stars outside.

That was before he’d had a glimpse of eternity.

A moment, a night, a lifetime.

Did any of it matter anymore?

Peter looked at Gamora and told himself the answer was yes.

If the got the hell out of this system, he might believe it, too.

-o-

Peter slid out of bed before Gamora woke up. He told himself it would be easier that way, and he took a long, hot shower until he heard her slip out again.

When he finally got out of the shower, his skin was shrivelled so bad that he practically looked decrepit. He wondered, if only briefly, if this would be what he looked like when he got old.

He wondered if this would have been avoided altogether if he’d kept the light alive.

Drying his face off, he refused to think about it. He cleared away a patch of steam on the mirror and looked at his own reflection with resolve.

“I can do this,” he said, nodding with encouragement. “I can totally do this.”

There was a time when he would have believed it.

That time was less than a week ago.

It felt like eternity had passed since then.

And Peter would know.

But now, here he was. His own reflection was tousled and weary. Weak and barely holding it together. Human.

He dropped his head, staring at his limp fingers.

Too damn human.

-o-

And humans, by nature, lie.

Like, a lot.

About anything and everything.

“Everything okay, Peter?” Gamora asked.

“Of course!” he replied with undue enthusiasm that made him want to throw up.

“So you’re really ready to go, Quill?” Rocket asked.

“Sure thing,” Peter said, and it was so pretentious that he actually flashed a thumbs up.

And Drax: “Are you quite certain that you are ready to depart?”

“Well, what else are we going to do hanging around here?” Peter returned, and the question was so rhetorical that not even Drax felt compelled the answer.

“I am Groot?” Groot asked, poised upon Peter’s knee.

Peter patted him on the head. “Always, buddy,” he promised. “Always.”

It was a lot of lies, even for someone like Peter.

He had sort of hoped that if he told enough of them, he might end up believing them, too.

Hope, though, wasn’t his to have.

All he had was the lies.

-o-

Lying was so exhausting.

Peter had never realized this before for some reason. Actually, it was probably because he hadn’t wasted much time on lying in the past. True, as a Ravager, he’d done many unsavory things, but that was the thing about being a space pirate: you knew what you were. There hadn’t been any need to lie. If he was going to rob, cheat and steal for a living, he had no point in lying about it.

Which meant that this nonstop effort he put into maintaining the idea that he was fine and dandy was really pretty tiring. He had to remember to smile; he had to remember the excuse he’d used last time for why he looked like shit. It was a lot of thinking and planning, and by the time Peter went to bed that night, he was out like a light.

Literally.

That was all he saw in his dreams.

The brightest light, the purest light, pulsing within his own touch. When he looked up from his glowing hands, he could see Ego smiling at him with extended hands.

Peter’s impulses told him to back away, but how could he? Not when the light was calling to him like that.

Unconsciously, he took a step forward, drawn like a moth to the flame. Ego’s hands beckoned him, and when he was close enough, Peter reached out with shaking fingers.

Their fingers touched, their hands locked.

The surge of energy that went through him was unlike anything he’d ever felt before. The light was no longer calling to him; no, now he was the light. The power of that built uncontrollably, and he heard Ego laugh in delight as the force of it rocked him to the ground.

In a tangle of sheets, Peter woke up on the ground, panting and terrified.

When Gamora asked him later, he’d tell her he’d had a nightmare.

The nightmare hadn’t been the dream, though.

The nightmare was waking up and realizing it wasn’t real.

He scrubbed his face over his hand, muttering an expletive. Miserably, he looked up at the stars through the window. “What the hell is wrong with me?”

-o-

The problem, as best Peter could figure, only occurred when he was sleeping.


The only logical solution, therefore, was to never sleep.

Okay, so it wasn’t a perfect fix.

But, Peter decided as he finished his own pot of coffee, what the hell.

-o-

Peter couldn’t fix his own problems, but he could fix them for the crew. The Quadrant was big enough, but it wasn’t theirs. More than that, sitting around in the system was starting to feel a bit like dwelling, and Peter wanted to get out before something else went horribly and inexplicably wrong.

Cynical? Yes.

But considering the fact that Peter had directly caused the death of both of his fathers within a single day, he didn’t think it was so outlandish.

And neither did anyone else.

“Thank goodness,” Rocket said with a sigh of genuine relief. “I mean, I know you’re grieving and all, but I thought we’d never get the hell out of here.”

Peter didn’t even have the heart to glare.

“I, too, was growing weary,” Drax said. “I was wondering if it was a custom of your people to spend your grief doing nothing. It seemed ineffective and boring.”

Peter nodded, knitting his brows. “Thanks.”

Gamora strode forward, a hand on his shoulder. “Still,” she said. “We’ll be okay to wait if that’s what you need.”

She gave Rocket a look that he rolled his eyes at. Her look to Drax was stern enough that not even he could misconstrue it.

“Relax, guys,” he said, easily stepping away from her touch. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Gamora hedged. “If you’re sure…”

He flashed a smile. “Oh yeah,” he said with confidence. “I’m sure.”

-o-

Peter was sure it was the right thing, no doubt.

He just wasn’t sure it was what he actually wanted.


Despite how enthusiastic everyone was about it, Peter found the trip to the ship long and miserable.

In theory, it was mostly in one piece and ready to fly back on Berhert. There was even a general, unspoken consensus that if they could just get the Milano back, things would finally go back to normal.

At the controls of the Quadrant, Peter knew better.

Normal didn’t really exist for people like them, and Peter was so far removed from normal that the idea was downright laughable.

Not that Peter was laughing.

Stony face, he double checked his course. His fingers felt wooden as he moved them over the control panel.

He’d taken on the majority of the flying since leaving the system, and as much as Peter tried to keep his eyes on the stars ahead, he kept found himself looking back.

It was stupid, and he knew it, which was why he planted his ass in the pilot’s seat and refused to relinquish any control. Because this dogged drive away, masochistic as it was, was really all he had left.

Adjusting course manually, he felt the wheel shimmy under his touch. He squeezed his fingers tighter, until the sensation in his hands died away.

He sighed, and contemplated breaking out the Rune again. Music always helped pass the time, but that was it. Peter wasn’t sure he wanted the time to pass. Every second was one where Yondu wasn’t there, where his father had ceased to exist.

Every second was a horrible second in which Peter was finally, well and truly, and orphan.

As a grown man, that probably shouldn’t have bothered him.

It did, though.

Peter had believed, for as long as he could remember, that finding out who his father was would fix things. Hell, he’d been seven years old and telling other kids that David Hasselhoff was his dad. And sure, it was because he was embarrassed, but it was also because he wasn’t quit ready to come to terms with the fact that he didn’t know his dad.

It was kind of hard to explain, what it was like to have part of yourself be so completely unknown. He’d always felt a little incomplete, and spinning lies about celebrities had made it easier when he was a punk ass kid who didn’t know any better.

Even after he’d left Earth, he longed for the idea of a dad. On all those bad days (and there were so many of those), he’d tucked himself into his bunk and dreamed about his father tracking him down across the stars and finding him. Up until a few days ago, he’d been so utterly convinced that if he could just meet his old man, then all the pieces would fall into place in his life. He’d finally be a complete and functional being.

That was, naturally, what it had scared the shit out of him, too. For as much as he’d wanted to run, he was still that dumb little kid telling dumb little lies trying to figure out who the hell he was. He had thought, finally, he’d figure it out.

Well, after meeting and promptly killing his father, he found that not to be the case.

In fact, if anything, things were worse than they had been. Sure, Peter knew that his old man was a Celestial, but that just opened up more questions. All that he’d thought was true had to be in doubt now, and the person he’d thought he was--

Well, that punk ass kid was gone.

No one would think it possible, but Peter knew even less now than he had before.

Was he Ego’s son? Was he destined to insanity and power?

Or was he Yondu’s boy? Was he destined to screw it all up until the very end?

Or was he some awful combination of both, taking on the negative characteristics of both?

It didn’t seem right, it didn’t seem fair. How could two dads as screwed up as his possibly make him feel this bad? Ego was a manic; Yondu had threatened to eat him. Losing them shouldn’t hurt that much.


Gritting his teeth, he wriggled his fingers but they still felt numb. He double checked the coordinates, and knew it would be another few hours before they reached their destination.

It shouldn’t hurt that much, he told himself again.

But it did.

-o-

Peter probably could have used some company. Some conversation to distract him from, well, everything.

What he got, however, was Groot.

The sapling had been unusually drawn to him since they’d left Ego’s planet, and Peter wondered briefly if this was his way of showing compassion.

No matter.

Because compassionate or not, Groot was still a mischievous little punk. Peter was staring aimlessly out at the stars when he swung in overhead, clearly having absconded with some of the bugs that they’d set aside for Mantis.

“Dude,” Peter said, wrinkling his nose while Groot munched on one. “Do you have to do that here?”

Groot looked up at him, wide eyes. He took another juicy bite, specks of bug guts splattering everywhere.

Peter nodded. “Great,” he said. “Thanks for that.”

“I am Groot,” the small tree chimed in.

“I don’t need a break,” Peter told him, but the question may him straighten himself, as though he wasn’t half-slumped over from apparent exhaustion. “I’m fine.”

Groot fiddled with the wings of the next insect, and then he eyed Peter dubiously. “I am Groot.”

“Fine is a relative expression,” Peter snapped, flicking a few switches that did absolutely nothing just for good measure.

Groot tilted his tiny head. “I am Groot?”

Peter sighed, unable to maintain any level of annoyance. Not just because Groot was young and in his care; but because Peter was too tired to do anything.

“Once we get to Milano, things will be better,” he said, opening and clenching his hands as he gripped the wheel. “You’ll see.”

Groot took another bite, and Peter was grateful for the distraction.

Hollowly, he adjusted the speed. At this rate, they’d get there about an hour faster. Expending their fuel supply would be worth it with a stop in a conjoining quadrant to stock up.

Peter blew out a breath, ignoring the way his chest ached. Nearby, Groot was no longer paying attention to him at all.

Closing his eyes, Peter tried -- unsuccessfully -- to fill his lungs with air. “You’ll see.”

-o-

By the morning, Gamora had gotten up and found him still in the cockpit. She didn’t seem pleased, but she also didn’t seem surprised. Instead, she plucked Groot’s small, sleeping figure from his shoulder, and pulled him up by the hand.

Peter compiled but groaned heavily. “What are you doing?” he whined. “We’re less than four hours out.”

“And that’s four hours of sleep you need,” she lectured him.

“I’m not tired,” he insisted, even as he yawned.

“You look horrible,” she told him.

“Well, I did kill my dad,” he pointed out.

“All the more reason to sleep,” she said.

“But Gamora,” he said, and he was aware that he sounded like a toddler.

She shoved him gently out the door. “Go,” she said, even as a small smile played on her lips. “I’ll wake you when we’re there.”

-o-

Clearly, Gamora had meant well, and to be sure, Peter didn’t have the heart to tell her that her idea was pointless.

Worse, it was sort of painful.

While there had been a time when Peter might have relished a little extra sleep, this wasn’t even an equivalent moment. How could it be? Because sleep was…

He sighed, flopping back on his bunk.

Sleep was messed up right now.

Gamora had been sleeping closer to him, just in case he had nightmares. Peter would have given just about anything for nightmares.

No, these days, sleep was long, endless and empty. The vastness of the darkness was unmarked by, well, anything, and the hollowness of his own petty thoughts against the expanse were exhausting. Whenever he did manage to fall asleep, he always woke up feeling less rested than he had before.

Listless, he turned his head toward the port above his bed. The views weren’t great from this hunk of metal, but the stars were always sort of impossible to miss. There was a time when he could have looked out and seen the possibility of each and every single light.

Now, all he could think about was the barren blackness between them.

He wondered if he could still find it, the dark void where Ego’s planet used to be.

He wondered if bits of Yondu were still out there, or if they had burned themselves out, too.

Stomach churning, Peter closed direct his gaze at the ceiling instead. This wasn’t doing him any good, this endless litany. It was time to move on; that was the whole point of this. He needed to put this -- all of it -- behind him and never look back.

After all, he’d been forcibly taken from Earth, but he hadn’t been tempted to go back there. He’d survived. Hell, he’d thrived.

He could thrive through this, too.

Wearily, he closed his eyes.

Maybe not thrive, but survive.

God help him, Peter had to survive.

-o-

He was still awake when they arrived a short while later, but Peter had the decency to pretend like he’d taken full advantage of the nap. It wasn’t so hard, really. Looking in the mirror, he was surprised by how hollowed out his own cheeks looked.

And his eyes -- ugh.

Peter splashed water on his face, but it didn’t do any good.

His eyes looked lifeless, like the spark inside them had died.

Patting his face dry, Peter gave a short, wry laugh to the nothingness around him.

It wasn’t just ironic how apt his assessment was.

It was painful.

Throwing the towel aside, Peter grabbed his gun and headed out.

It was time to move on.

-o-

Part of him had thought that getting back to the Milano would fix things. Or, maybe not fix things. All that shit; it wasn’t open to a quick fix. But getting back to the Milano, that had to make things better.

Walking through, Peter didn’t feel better, though.

Inspecting the bulkheads, picking up the stray items of the life he’d once lived, Peter could remember how it used to be. He could see a box of Rocket’s tool, still spread out over the floor. Drax had taken (and subsequently lost) most of his personal belongings, but his favorite chair was still positioned at a right angle to the dinner table. Gamora’s extra swords were stowed neatly in the armory. He saw his backpack, the one he’d had with him when he left Earth, still stowed in his locker.

No, Peter didn’t feel anything at all.

Paralyzed for a second, Peter thought he might cry. He thought he might kick and scream and knock shit over just because. He thought he’d break, he’d shatter, he’d spread himself thin like the countess stars in the sky.

It didn’t happen, though.

Peter took a breath, holding it in his lungs while he counted the beats of his heart. His mortal heart, ticking down day by day like one of Rocket’s bombs.

He’d always felt like part of him was missing.

Funny, back in the place he most called home with the people he counted as family, that part of him seemed bigger than ever.

He let out the breath.

The second had passed.

Peter went back out to join the others.

-o-

“Not bad, huh?” Rocket said. He was preening out front, clearly pleased with his own handiwork. “We’re lucky that those assholes were too busy figuring out their little mutiny to worry about leaving this baby behind.”

Drax came out, nodding in approval as he touched the paneling above him. “This work is not especially impressive.”

“Hey!” Rocket said. “I didn’t see you helping!”

“There was no reason to help,” Drax said, a little perplexed. “The ship was a piece of junk before. By maintaining the same level of craftsmanship, you have restored it to what we knew.”

Rocket glowered. “I suppose that’s a thank-you?”

Gamora came out, and she was beaming. “It’s perfect,” she said.

From her shoulder, Groot looked earnest. “I am Groot?”

“What?” Rocket said. “Of course it will run! What sort of genius mechanic do you think I am?”

“You really fixed this all yourself?” Mantis asked, looking intently at the ship.

“Ravager tech,” Kraglin chimed in. “Ain’t pretty, but it gets the job done.”

“It feels remarkable,” Mantis said, sounding enthusiastic. “Almost like...I cannot think of the word…”

“Home,” Gamora supplied for her. She smiled at Peter, slipping an arm around him. “It feels like home.”

With everyone agreeing so readily, Peter didn’t have to. That was good, because as much as he loved Gamora, he couldn’t stand the thought of lying to her.

Especially about something like this.

Because yes, the Milano had always been his home. It had been his, the legacy handed down to him by Yondu. He hadn’t understood it, then, but the meaning was plain enough to him now. No one else got a ship all their own on Yondu’s crew, not without paying a pretty price for it.

But Yondu had given him this.

This had been the place where the Guardians first came together.

Home used to mean something, it used to make him feel something.

Not today, though.

Peter watched the others go back inside, readying to depart, and he felt nothing at all.

-o-

Taking off was something of a big to-do, and Peter didn’t have the heart to disallow it. He drank with the others, shared a few good stories, but he was more than relieved to take his turn in the cockpit while the others settled back into life as normal.

At the controls, Peter at least had plenty to do, but it wasn’t exactly working as well as it used to. These distractions were bringing another, more pressing point to the foreground.

They had their crew; they had their ship. The whole damn galaxy was ahead of them, and Peter was at the controls.

But he had no idea where to go.

He skimmed over jump points, referenced countless systems, but nothing seemed to matter. Rocket had set them in a general direction away from Ego’s planet -- not a coincidence, Peter knew -- but there was no end point. No destination.

No purpose.

If this bothered anyone else, they sure weren’t showing it. And, really, why should it bother them? This was how they had lived the last six months of their lives, and even before that, they’d all be drifters in their own ways. They’d all gone where the tides of fate had taken them, and that had always been enough.

The aimlessness of it suddenly bothers Peter, though, in a way it never had before. Every time he tried to pick a course, each one seemed as vexingly simple as the last.

Anxiously, he flexed his fingers. For a second, sensation burned through him, flitting through his awareness like a memory he did not quite want to recall. There was a rooted jolt, which sparked through his fingers, and this time, he couldn’t ignore it if he wanted to.

In his mind, Ego’s face appeared, and he could still feel the energy of the ball as it passed from Peter’s hands to Ego’s and back again.

Letting out a ragged breath, Peter came back to the moment. Looking down, he couldn’t feel anything again. His fingers looked completely normal.

He blinked, mentally berating himself.

Of course they did.

Peter, after all, was just a normal guy.

And this was just a normal day.

He plugged in a course for the nearest system, and plotted a safe path through three jump points to get there.

The future ahead would be exceedingly, painstakingly normal as well.

-o-

Normal was a state of mind.

At least, that was his new working theory.

Therefore, he could logically conclude, if he went through all the normal motions of life, then he would be, by default normal, too.

Peter could be prone to bragging, but he honestly didn’t think this qualified. When it came to acting normal, he was pretty good. He knew the things that people expected of him, and he knew the obligations he had to fulfill. This wasn’t just about duty, of course. It was about being part of the team.

He could do that.

He couldn’t do a lot else, but acting normal?

Even a screw up like Peter couldn’t mess that up too badly.

So on a normal day, Peter did his normal dinners and planned a normal dinner with the normal jokes and stories. They drank the normal amount and fought about the normal things and it was all perfectly normal.

“I still find it so hard to believe,” Mantis enthused after another normal round of normal laughter. “That you have only known each other a few months!”

“I can promise you, sweetheart,” Rocket said, picking food from his teeth with one of his claws. “It usually feels like longer.”

“That is not true,” Drax said. “It feels exactly like the amount of time it is. Unless you count the periods we have been inebriated beyond reason. Then, indeed, those times feels faster.”

Gamora rolled her eyes. “I figure some things are just meant to be,” she said with her normal amount of wisdom. As normal, Groot waved at her. She waved back. “You’d understand it more than you think. It was a feeling.”

Mantis nodded readily. “I do,” she said. “Being here, with all of you, I do.”

Kraglin cleared his throat, acting as awkward as he normally did. “I’m still wondering if we shouldn’t hook up with another Ravager crew--”

“We are not Ravagers,” Gamora reminded him.

“I am Groot!” the little tree chimed in.

“The problem isn’t that they called you twig,” Rocket said, shaking his head. “But honestly, after seeing what the last crew did to Yondu and the others, I’m not sure I’m up for that.”

“Besides,” Drax said. “That many other men around makes me feel claustrophobic. They smell bad.”

“Well, I hate to break it to you, brother,” Rocket said. “You don’t smell like a picnic.”

“So is that what family is, then?” Mantis asked eagerly. “Making a choice?”

Gamora smiled at her, a little gently. “Even when someone’s blood, you still have to make a choice,” she said. “Where we are, what we’ve found -- you’d be crazy not to choose it.”

“I’ll drink to that!” Rocket said.

Drax guffawed. “I would drink to anything!”

“I’ll get another round!” Kraglin offered, reaching for a fresh bottle. As they passed around their cups for refills, Peter held up his hand.

“I think I’ll pass,” he said, trying to sound as normal as possible.

“But the night is early!” Drax said.

“Yeah, Quill, we’re just starting to get buzzed,” Rocket said. “The good stuff’s still to come.”

“No, I really should go,” he said, shuffling to his feet. He gave his best flippant smile. “Someone has to still be sober in the morning.”

As he passed by, Gamora reached up, her hand snagging his. The contact made him half startled, and he came to a stop, looking to where her fingers were locked on his.

The spark of emotion between them; that energy.

Then, her fingers squeezed, and he felt the coolness of her green skin against his.

Faintly, he smiled.

“You want me to come?” she asked, quiet.

He pulled his fingers free with a normal tilt of his head. “No,” he said. “I’m good.”

On his way back to his quarters, he could hear them laughing as Rocket told another story. Consciously, he flexed his fingers until the sensation died away. It had felt good holding her hand in his.

Almost enough to make him forget how empty they really were.

NEXT