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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

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

December 20th, 2017 (09:12 pm)
energetic

feeling: energetic

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Then, he opened his eyes.

Okay, he thought, blinking up into the blinding lights above him. Maybe not for real this time.

Confused as he was, it took him a lot longer than it probably should have to realize that he was back on the ship.

It was a later revelation even still when he concluded that he was, in fact, not radiated to a crisp. Holding up his hands to the light, they appeared pretty damn normal. A little red on the outside, but there were no obvious deformities. They hadn’t melted off.

They were just normal human fingers.

Normal.

Human.

“I should have let you die.”

Peter startled, tipping his head to the side to find Gamora sitting in a chair. She was rigid, staring him down as though he’d just done the most horrible thing in the universe.

“I swear to God, Peter,” she seethed. “I should have just left you there to die.”

He blinked. Once and then twice. Wetting his lips, it took some work to get his throat working again. “I’m sorry?”

The words were strained and a little garbled.

Even so, Peter wasn’t sure his apology would have counted for much either way.

She damn near exploded. “What were you thinking? Charging into the core like that? You know, you’re lucky that Rocket’s tech is good and that my enhancements allow me to endure radiation or I would be lying in a bed next to you.”

Peter frowned. He hadn’t considered that. He’d made a choice to save the galaxy again. He sort of figured the others would just let that be.

He had failed to consider the depth of their devotion.

Like father, like son.

Ego had underestimated the Guardians as well, and he wasn’t here anymore.

This time, he tried to look sincere. Alive, though he appeared to be, he was still weak. He may not have radiated himself into a oblivion, but whatever exposure he’d had was still working its way through his system. “I really am sorry.”

She gave a snort that sounded borderline hysterical. “You’re sorry? You almost got yourself killed, you idiot. And all you can say is that you’re sorry?”

“I didn’t think you’d come after me,” he said in his defense.

“So you thought we’d let you die? That I’d let you die?” she demanded.

“I…,” he started, but he couldn’t come up with the words. It had seemed pretty self explanatory to him before. Now, in the aftermath, he was starting to question his own judgment. “I just didn’t want anyone else to get hurt.”

Her looked pure incredulity. “So you thought, what the hell? I’ll kill myself instead?”

“Well,” he hedged. “Yeah. I mean, manual shutdown would make the parts useless. With the upper sections stripped, what would the pirates need to stay around for? The job would be over, the system would be safe, and the Guardians would live to fight another day.” He lifted on shoulder feebly. “It made sense at the time.”

“Made sense? Peter,” she said, voice cracking somewhat. She sat forward, studying him intently. “The Guardians are nothing without you.”

This time, he was the one who was incredulous. “Oh, come on,” he said. “I’ve got no special powers. No strengths. I’m not enhanced. You are more than good enough to handle negotiations. Rocket’s got the tech under control, and Drax is all you need for military strategy. And hell, with Kraglin and Mantis on board? You’ve got a built in pilot who knows how to follow orders and an empath. Me? I’m just human. Completely expendable.”

There was a mixture of rage and hurt in her eyes. She scratched her chair closer across the floor. “You’re more than that,” she said. “You’re the one who has held us together. It’s not just your intelligence or your capabilities in battle -- it’s your compassion, Peter. It’s your heart. It’s that part of you that Ego could never touch and that Yondu, for all his flaws, protected. It’s the thing that your mother gave to you and that you’ve never let go.”

Shit, his eyes were starting to burn. Blinking hard, he looked away.

Gamora didn’t let him, though. Reaching out, she wrapped her fingers around his and squeezed. “Peter, what were you really trying to do back there?”

He had no choice but to look up; her grip was unyielding. “I don’t know,” he said feebly. “I was just trying to figure out who I was, I guess.”

“Who you are,” she repeated.

He nodded. “I didn’t know anymore what I was made of,” he admitted. “I have Ego’s DNA and Yondu’s teaching. I’ve lived my entire life thinking I was mortal, and then with two days of power, I almost help destroy the universe. Everything I took for granted, everything I thought I could count on...none of it is the same anymore. I lost Ego; I lost Yondu. And somewhere along the line, I lost myself, too.”

At this, Gamora sighed and the anger drained from her features. “You should have told us,” she said. Her voice lowered. “You should have told me.”

“I didn’t know how,” Peter said. “I didn’t know how to explain how everything was just...different.”

She shook her head. “That’s not entirely true.”

“Gamora--”

“No, listen,” she said, gently now. “A lot in your life has changed, Peter. I know that. I know how hard it was to lose Yondu and Ego and the idea of David Hasselhoff. I know that you don’t know who you really are right now, but one thing is still the same.”

Her fingers tightened, and her eyes brightened. Peter felt his chest swell with something like hope.

“Us,” she said. “This team, you and me. We are the same.”

“But what do I really have to offer?” he asked, unable to control the tremor in his voice. “Without powers, without skills -- what the hell good am I?”

“What the hell good are any of us?” Gamora asked. “We’re liars and criminals and murderers, but we’re good one way -- and one way only.”

He swallowed, unable to bring himself to speak.

“As a team, Peter,” she said, more earnestly than ever. “We’re only good as a team.”

With a hoarse laugh, he could feel a hot tear slip down his cheek. Embarrassed, he didn’t have the heart to pull his hand free to wipe it. Instead, he smiled. A thin, watery smile. “I’m still not sure how I’m going to get over this -- any of it.”

“I know,” she said. “And we’re all willing to wait with you while you figure it out -- under one condition.”

He lifted his eyebrows.

“If you promise to stop trying to kill yourself,” she said. “Because we can forgive anything, but purposefully getting yourself killed? That crosses a line, Peter.”

He nodded, starting to smile wider. “Right, no suicide.”

“Or general self harm,” she lectured. “You eat; you rest; you attempt to sleep.”

The thought of the dreams made him start.

“And if that’s too hard--”

He braced himself, waiting for condemnation.

Her smile, though, turned sweet. “--then that’s fine,” she said. “Because we’re here to help you, Peter. Human, Celestial, whatever you are -- you’re always going to be our jackass.”

This time, his chest filled. Weak as his fingers were in her hand, they had never felt stronger.

Possibly, this was because he had sustained severe radiation poisoning, but at this point, beggars didn’t get to be chooser.

As Gamora drew closer still, he felt his heart lurch toward hers.

He didn’t know who he was, sure.

But he knew who they were.

He’d have to trust their judgment for now.

-o-

Emotional closure was one thing.

Physical recovery, on the other hand, was entirely another.

True, neither one was easy, but considering that he had profound cellular damage after his little fiasco, the physical part was kind of pressing.

The good news was that it was, by and large, reversible. The radiation levels had not been as bad as the Edelsonians had feared, and while Peter’s Celestial DNA was useless to him now, his immune system had been built up by spending years with the Ravagers. All of those old ships had had some amount of radiation leaking; over the years, Peter had built up a resistance thanks to Yondu’s continual reminder about booster shots.

And, really, maybe Peter was just lucky.

Or maybe, just maybe, fate had bigger plans for him yet.

Peter had no way to know for sure.

But what the hell.

He might as well live to find out.

-o-

Recovery was slow, mostly because Peter let it be. Even with the technologies they had access to in the Milano, radiation poisoning was still sort of a thing and cellular regeneration took time.

Who knew?

Okay, so everybody knew. But Peter would endure it.

It was embarrassing, sure, but he hadn’t really been thinking clearly about the consequences. After all, he had been intending to die.

The hard part was that everyone knew that, too. His choice to take a job so soon, to run himself right into the line of fire -- it wasn’t exactly subtle. They’d all been hedging around him for weeks, waiting for him to break.

And what had he done?

He’d gone and broke.

In the most spectacular fashion imaginable.

For as hard as that part was, he’d endure that as well.

Mostly, Peter knew, he’d endure.

With the support of his team -- and a whole lot of medical help -- that might just be possible.

-o-

Possible.

Not easy.

“I really don’t think this is necessary,” Peter said, stony faced.

Drax grunted, hoisting him higher in the air. “Gamora was most specific. You were not to exert yourself in any manner.”

Peter sighed. “I’m pretty sure that doesn’t apply to bathroom breaks.”

Drax maneuvered them into the shared bathroom off the medical bay. “You lie around and do nothing all day? Going to the bathroom is the only exertion you face!”

Yeah, in moments like these, Peter did think about how it might have been easier if he’d just fried himself to death. “This isn’t humiliating at all.”

Drax gave him a look of consternation. “Accepting help is never humiliating,” he said with surprising ferocity. “Sometimes, it is your weakness that makes you truly heroic.”

That almost sounded like a compliment, which meant that Peter was immediately skeptical.

“It reminds me of a man back in my village,” Drax began.

Peter groaned. “This better not end up with anyone having sex -- especially you!”

Drax gave a good-natured guffaw. “To the contrary,” he said. “This is a battle story.”

Peter allowed Drax to set him gingerly on his feet.

“There was an old man in my village who was crippled in battle, and the healers insisted that he would never again ride out with our war parties,” Drax said.

“That must have been terrible,” Peter said, far too seriously. “To have to retire to a live of quietness without violence.”

“Terrible indeed!” Drax said. “That is why this man, crippled as he was, refused to stay home. He would train with the soldiers, and when we were called into battle, he was right there, fighting on the front lines to prove himself worthy and able.”

Peter was at least curious now. “And did he? Prove himself worthy and able?”

“Worthy, yes,” Drax said. “But able, of course not. He died a horrible and painful death, and his body was split upon the rock within minutes.”

This left Peter mildly vexed. “Gee, that’s really reassuring,” he said. “Great.”

Drax looked far too pleased with himself. “Very good!” he said. “Now, let me help you further--”

He reached out to pull down Peter’s pants.

Sick and weak as he was, Peter couldn’t move away fast enough. “Whoa, handsy,” he said, holding his own hands up in defense. “Easy there, what you and I have is totally platonic.”

Drax creased his brow seriously. “But Gamora said any exertion--”

“And I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean this,” Peter said.

“I do not know,” Drax said, truly contemplating it now.

“Then you know what?” Peter said. “You should go ask her.” He stepped back defensively. “Now.”


Drax nodded astutely. “I will,” he said, turning to leave. “Gamora!”

Peter let out a sigh of relief.

For the privacy.

But more for the company.


-o-

He was watching a few bootlegged movies from Earth -- nothing more recent than 20 years old, by explicit choice, of course -- and he was really having a pretty good time. He’d moved back to his own room for the time being. The others said it was because he was making progress.

Peter was pretty sure they were just tired of watching movies featuring the Brat Pack.

He was surprised, therefore, when a knock came at his door mid-morning.

He was more surprised when Kraglin came in.

Kraglin looked about as awkward as Peter felt.

“So,” Kraglin said, trying far too hard to sound like this was something they did regularly.

They had been crewmates longer than any of the others -- that much was true. But Peter had spent most of his time on Yondu’s crew being a general pain in the ass. He’d run away, stolen shit and generally done everything he could to piss people off. Now, seeing as they had threatened to eat him, it was probably fair. But it didn’t mean that all those years together had particularly made them friends.

Not like the last few weeks might.

“How you doing?” Kraglin asked, rocking back on his feet.

“Regenerating, I guess,” he said. “It was always much more dramatic on Doctor Who.”

Kraglin didn’t understand the reference.

“Anyway,” Peter said. “Can I do something for you?”

“Me? No,” Kraglin said, and he lifted his hand and looked half surprised to see something in it. He looked at Peter again. “But I thought I could do something for you.”

“Oh,” Peter said. “Okay.”

“7up,” Kraglin said, delivering it with jerky gestures to Peter’s bedside table.

Peter picked it up, vaguely impressed. “Where’d you get a fresh bottle?”

“Oh, there are a few systems that seem fond of Earth’s weirdest products,” he said with a shrug. “I picked up a few dealers over the years who can hook me up when I need it.”

Peter unscrewed the lid, listening to the hiss with a smile. “You need soda pop?”

“Not me,” Kraglin said. “You.”

Peter snorted, taking a drink. “Me?”

“The first time you got sick, back after we picked you up, you wouldn’t eat or drink nothing. So Yondu sent us off -- all of us -- to find something you’d eat. People, they brought the strangest things. But I found a case of this stuff--” Kraglin beamed at the bottle. “--and you drank it right away. Every time you got sick after that, Yondu made me find you some more.”

The fizz almost died on his tongue.

Because damn it.

He expected from the others, but Kraglin?

Really?

Peter put the bottle down, nodding. “Well, thank you,” he said. “For this -- for all of it.

“Well, Yondu did threaten to shoot me once if I didn’t comply,” Kraglin said.

Peter chuckled, but there was a lump in his throat. “Still,” he said. “Thank you.”

There was a moment of silence, heightened by the awkwardness neither of them knew quite how to deal with.

Finally Peter drew a breath and lifted his head. “I never told you that I was jealous of you when we were younger,” he blurted, too far gone on this path of sentimentality to step back now. He knew how much it hurt to be denied the chance to say the things that mattered. He couldn’t make that mistake again.

Kraglin looked genuinely taken aback. “Me?” he said. “But you were always Yondu’s favorite!”

“He treated me like I was a kid,” Peter said.

“You were a kid,” Kraglin reminded him.

“I know, it’s just--” Peter started, and he searched for the words. “It’s just that you and Yondu, you spoke the same language. He didn’t need to explain things to you. He didn’t have to coach you or punish you. You were his equal, right there by his side by choice.”

Kraglin reddened, kicking absently with one toe at the ground. “He was always trying to protect you.”

“And you were the one he trusted to do it most,” Peter said. “And I gave you just as much shit as I gave him.”

Kraglin laughed. “You were a real pain in the ass.”

Peter laughed, too. “And look at us now.”

Letting out a breath, Kraglin seemed more comfortable now. “You mean with cellular regeneration?”

“I mean with being a team ourselves!” Peter said.

“Oh, right,” Kraglin said, swatting his hand through the air. “That too.”

Peter shook his head, but he was smiling as he reached for the pop again.

That too.

-o-

Talking to Kraglin was awkward.

But Mantis.

Peter wasn’t even sure what to say to her half the time. Given that she was empathic. And given the fact that his dad had literally been her master.

Did that make her his responsibility?

Or did that make him hers?

Neither of them knew, and since Mantis had been raised in isolation and Peter had been raised by damn space pirates, it was going to be a little slow going between the two of them. Not, as it would turn out, for a lack of effort.

He could see why his father had wanted to keep her around. She was keenly aware of one’s needs, and she was almost eager to serve whenever she could. Having never met her species before, he couldn’t say if this was a universe tendency or if Ego had messed her up like he’d messed up everything else.

Still, for as weird as it was to be around her, he couldn’t send her away.

Even when he really, really wanted to.

“I can help you with your feelings,” she announced to him. She tended to visit at night, since she didn’t seem to need sleep as much as the rest of them.

Peter needed the sleep, but he still had his reservations about it.

So, really, her company was a nice way to not sleep and not think about why he wasn’t sleeping.

“If you permit me, I can ease your pain--” she said, reaching toward him.

Instinctively, he pulled away.

“No, no,” he said, a little too quickly. He gave a self deprecating laugh. He knew that Gamora had been serious about him not avoiding his issues, but having them drawn out so bare? Peter was not ready for that any more than he was ready for a trip through a radiation belt. “It’s a nice offer, but I probably shouldn’t let you hide my feelings from me, even for a little bit.”

Her eyebrows raised as realization dawned on her face. “Oh! No! That is not what I meant!”

Peter gave her a critical look. He wasn’t sure what she meant, then.

She laughed. “Gamora said you are not to forget your feelings.”

Yeah, that sounded like Gamora. Peter managed to not roll his eyes.

“But I can help you focus them, understand them,” she continued earnestly. “If you take the time to separate the emotions, one by one, you can better understand what parts of you are grieving and what parts are healing.”

That was pretty rational, and Peter knew it.

He also knew he had no intention of doing it.

With Mantis, he could make a quip to throw her off. She wouldn’t fight him on it.

Which was why he had to tell her the truth.

“Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know what I’m feeling,” he told her. He gave a small shrug. “All the things that have happened -- I’m not sure I’m ready to piece it out.”

She looked concerned. “But you are struggling.”

He chuckled, finding himself relaxing. He folded his fingers together, easing back against the pillows again. “My dad, back on his planet, did he let you sort his feelings?”

“Yes,” she said. “We did it from time to time. He liked to be able to clearly identify each emotion in order to keep it in its controlled place.”

Hence: maniac.

Peter’s lips tweaked into a smile. “For Ego, the light was his reason, right?”

“I suppose,” Mantis said.

Peter shrugged. “Maybe for me, the light has to be emotions. All of them, all at once. The good, the bad, the downright ugly.”

Mantis nodded along as she clearly worked through what he was saying. “Very well, then,” she said, adjusting herself and sitting up primly in her chair. “Than I shall sit here and keep you company while you experience your emotions.”

It was as simple offer, almost too simple. Childish, really.

Yet, that was probably what made it mean something.

He hardly knew Mantis and yet, here she was. Willing to sit with him while he essentially did nothing. In their line of work, friendship means sometimes you die for each other in a blaze of glory.

It also means, almost in contradiction, that sometimes you sit there and do nothing together.

He nodded, feeling suddenly more reassured than he had all day. “Okay yeah,” he said while she beamed at him. “That might just work.”

-o-

Peter still dreamed of the light, no matter how hard he tried.

The emptiness when he woke up haunted him.

Until he heard the sound of his friends laughing in the other room. Gripping onto his bedpost with weak hands, he pushed himself up to join them once again.

-o-

It was funny. For two months, he’d barely paid attention to Baby Groot and now he was sort of Peter’s favorite recovery companion. The fact that Groot could only say three words was kind of helpful, to be honest, and at least the little dude had a decent interest in music.

They could sit for hours, just the two of them, listening to the music on Peter’s Zune. He cycled through familiar favorites, and it was a kick to see Groot’s face light up when he heard a rhythm he liked. Groot swayed and moved, and Peter sat back and smiled. He couldn’t find his own rhythm yet, but Groot’s wasn’t half bad.

The little baby tree swirled and clapped, running up to Peter when the song ended. “I am Groot?”

Peter recognized the tone, because he could hear himself saying it to his mother when he was just a kid. He hadn’t thought about it, then, what it must have been like for her to listen to the same song again and again and again.

But the look on Groot’s face gave him a pretty good idea of what she must of felt.

She never said no to Peter, not when it came to music.

Just this one, he decided, like mother, like son.

She was proof, after all, that you didn’t have to be a Celestial to shine brighter than anything in the whole damn galaxy.

“Okay, okay,” Peter said, bringing up the viewscreen. “We’ll listen to it one more time.”

-o-

When Rocket came around, he always tried to see put out. He made a point to remind Peter of all the better things he could be doing, and he always blamed Gamora for forcing him to come. Then, instead of keeping any kind of conversation, all Rocket could do was muster up insults.

Some were veiled.

Some were as subtle as a damn hand grenade.

He made fun of Peter relentlessly. He made fun of Peter for being in bed. He made fun of Peter when he tried to walk. He made fun of Peter’s clothing, and he mercilessly mocked the way Peter ate. Anything Peter did, Rocket managed to find a way to twist it into a personal insult.

“Seriously,” Rocket said. “Have you ever heard yourself breath? In and out, in and out--”

“Yeah, that’s called living,” Peter pointed out.

“But do you have to do it so loud?” Rocket said. “And through your mouth, man? It’s called a nose.”

“You would know, given the size of your snozz,” Peter quipped.

“You’re just jealous because you almost nuked yours into oblivion,” Rocket said.

Peter rolled his eyes. “Yeah, because losing my nose was my primary thought when I walked into a nuclear generator.”

“I think we clearly established you weren’t thinking when you went in there,” Rocket said. He shrugged. “All in all, it was pretty typical for one of your yahoo plans.”

Peter took most of the ribbing with a good nature.

But still.

“Did you really just come here to insult me?” he demanded.

“No,” Rocket said. “I came here because Gamora made me, but if I’m going to be stuck with your sorry ass, I might as well try to have fun with it.”

Peter folded his arms over his chest. “That seems pretty stupid.”

“You’re stupid, Mr. I-Lost-My-Daddies-So-I-Tried-To-Off-Myself,” Rocket returned, not missing a beat. “I mean, suicide, Quill? Self-harm? Even for you, that’s something.”

“It wasn’t about you,” Peter pointed out. “So why the hell are you so mad about it?”

Rocket mustered up enough emotion to be indignant. “Because it’s a waste, man!”

“Of my life? Since when did you care,” Peter shot back.

“Your life -- I don’t,” Rocket said. “But a mission? You almost wasted a perfectly good mission by being stupid.”

Peter shook his head, studying Rocket more keenly. He knew better, and he played along with Rocket a lot of the time, but the little furry bastard had been kind of a jackass.

And if Rocket wanted to play tough.

Then Peter would play tough.

Or, as tough as he could while still recovering from radiation damage. “I think you were worried about me.”

Rocket scoffed. “I worry that you’ll leave us a hand short.”

Peter tsked his tongue, lifting his chin. “Nope, because if I died, there’d be more shares for each of you,” he said, feeling triumphant. “I think you’re still worried about me.”

“I think you’re an idiot,” Rocket muttered. “And this nonsense proves it.”

Rocket was sulking, which just made Peter beam. “Sure, I guess,” he said with a sage tilt to his head.

It was a nasty sort of thing to do, but whatever. Rocket had spent the last few weeks insulting him endlessly. This sort of thing needed a give and take.

Rocket gave.

Now he’d take it, too.

And he took it as well as Peter would expect.

Face contorted, Rocket managed to appear genuinely incredulous. “Oh, no,” he said, holding his hands out and shaking his head. “You don’t get to pull that shit with me.”

Peter feigned innocence. “What shit?”

“Where you’re some kind of special little victim and I’m some super-mean aggressor,” Rocket whined.

“You’re not an aggressor, that’s what I’m saying,” Peter exclaimed. “You’re a friend!”

“Dude!” Rocket said. “You keep turning this into something that it’s not!”

“No, I’m pretty sure this is exactly what it is,” Peter said with a matter of fact nod.

Rocket scoffed. “I come here every day to insult you. That’s it.”

“But you still come here when it’d be just as easy to stay away,” Peter said. He tilted his head toward the window. “Or there’s a whole galaxy out there.”

“You morons would still find me somehow,” Rocket muttered. “And you know? I’m not going to sit here and listen to this kind of slander. I’m out of here.

Peter would have been worried except, no, he wouldn’t have been. Before, he might not have even given a damn. Now, after all they’d been through, he knew better. He knew Rocket stole batteries instead of trusting people. With Gamora, things went unspoken. With Drax, things were said too much. With Groot, no one knew what the hell was going on.

With Rocket, he usually said the opposite of what he meant.

They were all looking for light in their own ways. Rocket it found it in obfuscation.

Peter had tried suicide, so he wasn’t in much of a position to judge.

But he sure as hell wasn’t going to let it go.

He settled further back into his bed, unable to control the smugness of his expression. “Suit yourself.”

At the door, Rocket tried to scoff again, but it sounded more forced than before. “If I come back tomorrow -- and that’s an if -- it’s because Gamora is a crazy woman who sleeps with knives.”

Peter nodded. “And because you love me.”

“No, because you’re easy to insult,” Rocket stressed. “That’s the only reason why, Quill. Don’t get all confused with sentimentality here.”

Peter tried to make his expression serious.

Not really, but whatever.

“Of course,” he replied.

“I’m serious,” Rocket said.

“Of course!”

Rocket shook his head in dissatisfaction. “You’re something else, you know that? Proof that you don’t need to have superpowers to make a difference.”

“It might have helped with the whole radiation thing, though,” Peter observed.

Rocket laughed without laughing. “Yeah,” he said. “It probably would have.”

Peter shrugged. “See you tomorrow?”

Rocket rolled his eyes, turning to leave. “Idiot.”

Peter grinned as the door slid shut behind him. “Asshole!”

-o-

Peter still dreamed, though.

He could make peace; he could make amends; he could make friends.

But he still dreamed.

And the light, it was still there.

It was always going to be there, he knew.

Close enough to see, to want.

But never enough to hold.

In the dark expanses of his dreams, it was that light that called to him. He was pulled after it, propelled almost against his will, some insatiable need that he would be forever in pursuit of. This was Ego’s legacy, more than anything else. It wasn’t the legacy Ego had dreamed off, and it sure as hell wasn’t one that Peter wanted, but as long as he didn’t use his desire for more to destroy the universe, he was probably doing okay.

That wasn’t the only light, though.

No, the more Peter explored it, the more he saw other lights. He saw Yondu, splayed out in the stars. Sometimes, the old blue face was grinning at him, teeth twinkling in the heavens as he asked for Peter to join him.

There was his mother, too, and she was holding out her hand, beckoning him closer. Even back on Earth, his grandfather kept his picture on the wall and drove through the town once a week, just to be sure Peter wasn’t wandering out there, looking for a way home.

It was tempting, all of it was, in its own way. Peter could be a god, he could be a space pirate, he could be an only son and a beloved grandson.

That wasn’t his life, though.

Not really.

Because Peter was here now. With his team.

This time, he stopped short and watched as they drifted away. They disappeared, one by one, their lights fading into the eternal black while Peter remained.

Peter, despite all odds, still remained.

These weren’t good dreams, to be sure.

But they weren’t nightmares anymore.

-o-

The recovery was important, all of it. All the visits; all the treatments.

But then there was Gamora.

“It’s okay, Peter,” she murmured, her voice barely more than a whisper as she faced away from him in the bed. “You don’t have to worry about it.”

Her reassurances were genuine, he knew that. Still, he found himself hesitating.

“It won’t bother me,” she said, not even opening her eyes.

Peter considered this. It was well past midnight, probably closer to morning. Gamora had been pulling longer shifts with Peter’s absence, and he knew she had to be exhausted. He knew it because he watched it, night after night, where she crashed on his bed with him when her last duties were fulfilled.

They had all been there for him, but not like Gamora. That wasn’t some insinuation, either. Seeing as Peter was still semi-radioactive and he had just tried to kill himself, having sex really hadn’t been a primary concern for him.

Fortunately, it didn’t seem to be for her either.

To be clear, that wasn’t because they were better off as friends.

No, to the contrary. It was because they loved each other.

He watched, measuring the weight of her breaths as she settled back toward sleep. It would have been enough, he knew, to have her as a friend. He could have done this with her to stand and fight by his side, platonic and nothing more. After all, Cheers had been an excellent show for five whole seasons, and Sam and Diane had never had to say anything about anything.

So that would have been okay.

His arms ached as he unconsciously clutched her close.

This was so much better.

Spooned against her, Gamora’s body didn’t twitched. She seemed utterly comfortable there, curled up against him. She knew he couldn’t sleep -- she’d been there too many times when he woke up for the dreams to pretend like it was all going perfectly.

“You’re still thinking too hard about this,” she said, still not opening her eyes.

“I just don’t want to bother you,” he said, nuzzling against her ear.

She opened her eyes this time, rolling over enough to look up into his eyes. “Peter, I told you, it’s not a bother.”

“Eh,” Peter said. “You seem more like the type who likes to sleep by herself. Definitely not a cuddler.”

“And probably not a dancer,” she said. “But you bring out things in me I didn’t know I had.”

Peter nodded thoughtfully. “So I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t actually kill myself.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Good thing.”

He drew a breath, holding it for a moment before letting it out. Finally, he nudged her. “You should get some sleep.”

“And you?” she asked.

He gave a small shrug, smiling. “I’ll just hold you,” he said. “If that’s okay with you.”

Her smile in return was small and more girlish than one might suspect from a trained assassin. “I can work with that.”

With that, she settled herself back down, nestling herself against him all the more purposefully. Close as they were, he found himself holding her closer still, clutching the fabric of her nightshirt in his otherwise empty hands. This close, he could hear her heartbeat as it gave rhythm to his own.

At his touch, she was alive.

In turn, he couldn’t deny that he was still alive at hers.

The last few weeks, the mission, all of it -- it hadn’t been easy for Peter. He’d lost more than he thought he could in that span, and it had left him reeling. Part of him had been lost, and he suspected he wasn’t going to get it back.

The light inside him, after all, it was gone.

And it wasn’t coming back.

He held his mouth closed, eyes burning and lips turning up, watching as Gamora’s breathing evened out.

There was other light in this galaxy, however.

Not as bright, maybe.

But just as pure.

And, as he held Gamora in his idle hands, Peter was starting to realize it was more than enough to go around.