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lighthouse (guiding you home)

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“—so my point is, one of us is bound to get separated eventually, and it’s just common sense.”

“I’m more concerned about you and common sense occupying the same sentence.”

“Aha, hilarious, you’re a real riot, ‘Mora— more like moron, ‘cause like — it’s a good idea, okay?”

“It isn’t the worst you’ve ever come up with, I’ll admit.”

“Taking that as a victory.”

“But still, Peter, really? How are song lyrics going to get whoever’s lost back?”

“Because they’re our song lyrics. Seriously, who else in space do you know that’s gonna be blasting the Pina Colada song all over galactic interspace? It’s like, the best homing beacon ever.”

“So we just follow the music until we find our way back together.”

“Yeah, just like that. S’like keeping a light in a lighthouse on, or something.”

“I’m assuming a lighthouse is some brilliant Terran metaphor.”

“Um, yeah it is. It’s mine, I’ve got tons of brilliant metaphors.”

“Fine. Music can be our lighthouse, then.”

“It’s a great idea, trust me.”

 


 

According to the universal laws of straight-up bullshit, everything’s gotta begin and end on earth.

Or that’s what it feels like, at least, considering earth managed to collect a grand total of three Infinity Stones and lure the actual worst person in the entire universe there for an admittedly spectacular battle.

The stupid thing is, Peter doesn’t even realize where they are at first.

He’s assumed that Strange — and what a name that is, he’s got about ten jokes about it that he bet’ll make Gam—

Anyways.

He’d just assumed that the wizard had brought them to another hellscape, some other random planet the purple bastard had ruined and burned and damaged and wrecked like he’s done every single other thing in Peter’s life.

It’s not until the dust clears and the smoke lessens and he’s helping another wounded to the medical camp that he realizes that he recognizes the type of buildings in front of him, the big green statue of the lady on the horizon. He recognizes the steady pull of gravity and the acrid scent of earth and oil and rain mixing on the breeze as the storm rolls in. It hits him a little like an ocean wave — a slow, steady pullback, that all of the sudden builds up to a hard, jarring shock to the face before it pulls him under.

I’m home, is his first thought, before — no, he’s not home. Earth is a lot of things, but it’s not home anymore. Home is — home for him is —

The undertow of his metaphorical wave finally grabs him, a memory, two, a cascade of things he’d kept close to his heart—

—you’ll show me what your earth looks like one day, promise—

—my mother would have liked you, too—

—one day you’ll stop avoiding it, and you can show me what a jukebox is—

And all of the sudden he’s drowning. Peter’s knees hit the ground smack in the middle of the dirty New York field, careless of the something-many heroes and royals and rebels around him, and he wishes, fingers digging into the dirt and tears flooding his vision as his throat burns hot — he almost wishes that he could erase those memories. If he could forget, if he could just forget, burn them from his memory before his heart burns out in his chest, go back to the hollow ignorance he’d lived in before, because it’d sucked but at least he could breathe then—

But he won’t. He can’t forget. She’s a part of him now, has been ever since she kicked him in the stomach on Xandar, and there’s her threaded and woven into every part of him, every piece of the life they’d built. She’s inescapable.

He’d die before he forgot her, anyways. The idea of forgetting her is a lot worse than dissolving into dust.

Or whatever happened, back there.

Peter doesn’t really understand the universe anymore.

 


 

 

“I was thinkin’, maybe, we could stay a little longer.”

Peter regards Rocket from where he’s half-slumped against the table in the room they’ve been given, his head aching. He’s older — you wouldn’t be able to tell it at first glance, but Peter sees it in his eyes. Rocket’s gone and grown a whole five years without them, and they’re never gonna catch that up.

It stings, but so do most things, these days.

“How much longer we talkin’?” Peter manages to get out, wearily, as the rest of his team remains unhelpfully silent.

“Not too long, just enough to see a few things through,” Rocket says.

“We are not leaving before the funeral.” Nebula’s voice is a rasping whip-crack, but Peter catches the edge of grief in her voice. What’s left of his heart twists. He knows, too-well, how many others they’ve lost. And he knows damn well how much they owe Stark, he’d talked and planned and snarked with the guy, he’d liked him — so screw Nebula for assuming they were assholes enough to skip out on his funeral in the first place.

“That’s a given,” he says instead, trying not to sound like an asshole. “Of course we’re going. You’re all dressing up, too. No more—“ he waves absently at the getup Rocket has on. “This stuff.”

Rocket scowls. “This is a uniform, you d’ast idiot. S’ten times nicer than anything you’ve ever worn.”

“Says the freakin’ raccoon,” Peter retorts. “And I’m the captain, so what I say goes, uniform or not.

“Yeah, sure, dusty, I’ll give you a few minutes to catch up on five years and then you can pretend you know anything again, ‘cause it’s not gonna make much difference to your dumb ass—“

“God, what is your problem?” Peter snaps. “Could you just — just for once, leave it?

“Quill,” Drax’s voice is a warning, quiet from where he’s been watching the match with tired eyes.

“Peter, Rocket, please,” Mantis adds, her voice hesitant. Groot makes a noise of distress. Rocket’s expression wavers a bit, before the tight anger wins out.

“Don’t worry ‘bout Quill,” he scoffs. “He’s just all pissy ‘cause Gamora gave us the slip instead ‘a sticking around.”

Peter freezes, and the ship goes dead silent. Rocket stiffens, something like regret crossing his expression. Mantis’ face crumples in utter misery, and Nebula looks at the floor. Peter can’t bring himself to look at anyone else’s face, partly because he feels like Rocket’s just sucker-punched him in the chest with the reminder.

“Shit, Quill, I didn’t mean…“

Five years, Peter reminds himself. Rocket’s had five years to adjust to the pain of losing not just Gamora, but everyone. Rocket’s had five years to get to know these people here, the Avengers, and now he’s lost some of them and is saying goodbye to the rest. He’s entitled to be bitter. He’s entitled to hurt. ‘Cause that’s what this is, this is how Rocket processes this shit, Peter knows this, he knows better—

“It’s fine,” he says, and his voice only wavers once. “It’s — whatever. It’s whatever. Sorry. Shouldn’t have gotten — I overreacted, I’m tired. Sorry.”

“We’re all tired,” Drax says, and he sounds it. “We should put these kind of conversations on hold until we’re rested again.”

It’s an order, not a suggestion, and both Peter and Rocket are left curling into themselves at the sternness in his tone.

“Yeah, I-I’ll turn in,” Rocket clears his throat. “Quill, you uh — you can take the master bedroom, if you want.”

It’s a peace offering, and Peter knows how to recognize an apology.

“Thanks,” he murmurs. “Jackass,” he then adds, for good measure. The edges of a smile quirk up on Rocket’s mouth, and Peter feels that guilt, at least, let up a bit.

This, of course, means that he actually has to turn in as well, which was…not in the plan, but whatever. He can take a shower, at least.

He regrets the shower almost immediately. Sure, it feels like heaven, scrubbing the layers of blood and grime and filth from his skin, washing his stiff, dirt-caked hair until it moves again — but it’s also a hideous experience of watching the water hit and waiting for his skin to dissolve under it, for his fingers and arms to start crumbling away like muddy dirt, the fragile lines of his body breaking into nothing.

He twists the water off with a ragged gasp, grabbing for a towel almost desperately. Even the warm fabric is harsh against his skin, rough and scraping like he’s peeling it away and right out of existence, and Peter’s never been happier when he finally gets the soft, firm t-shirt and sweatpants of his pajamas on. It’s a small comfort — as if the shape of his clothes will keep his skin in place — but comfort isn’t something he’s found easily the past days, so he clings to it the best he can.

He’s just settling into the bed when there’s a quiet knock on his door. He takes a moment to make a face at the ceiling, fingers tightening against the bedside before he pushes himself up. Even the few steps it takes for him to reach the door hurt, exhaustion crashing over him like the solid swing of a bat, and he’s not a little disgruntled when he finally pulls the door open.

“What,” he grits out, before blinking rapidly. Nebula stands in his doorway, dressed in dark pants and an odd, earth t-shirt, her eyes unreadable.

She shoves a bundle into his hands, and Peter belatedly realizes that it’s some sort of bandage, accompanied by a little bottle of what’s probably pills. “Here,” she says. “You were hit in the side during battle. This will help.”

Peter stares at her, briefly wondering if the universe got a little too messed up during all the snapping, and they’ve all been replaced with alternate versions of themselves who make ridiculously out of character gestures like offering to help him.

Nebula rolls her eyes at his silence, then brushes past him, jerking her head at the bed. “Sit,” she orders.

Peter complies, too baffled to do otherwise. He stays quiet, only moving when she gestures at him to lift his shirt, revealing — oh, yeah. What do you know. He did get hit earlier, didn’t he.

“Idiot,” Nebula hisses. “Were you planning on dying of infection?”

Peter blinks, staring blankly at his side. He hadn’t even felt it. That’s — weird. Also probably not good, but whatever.

Nebula shakes her head, and begins cleaning the wound with a record-breaking two or three irritated sighs. Peter, for his part, tries not to squirm too much, biting back yelps pf pain. He feels it now, geez.

She shoves the pill bottle at him, and Peter manages to choke them down dry, which is moderately impressive, on his part. It takes only a few minutes for them to kick in, and the pain eases out into a aching buzz. Nebula finishes tying off his wound with surprising care, and Peter notes curiously that she seems like she’s done this before. Not for him, obviously, ten minutes ago he’d have sworn Nebula would rather die than offer him a bandaid, but — she seems familiar with it. Huh.

“She’s still out there,” Nebula suddenly says, her voice quiet. Her hands fall to her lap, unmoving. “My sister. She’s in our timeline now.”

Peter sucks in a sharp breath, but he nods tightly.

He knows, okay. He knows that technically — technically — she isn’t dead. She’s not here, not with him, probably halfway across the galaxy by now, but she’s somewhere out there breathing, and that should be enough for him, shouldn’t it?

“Yeah,” he exhales. “We’re gonna find her.”

His voice is despairingly empty.

Peter’s always been a selfish bastard. It’s not enough. It’s not enough to stop the awful ache in his chest that feels like he’s been shot through with a blaster but ten times worse, because she’s not dead, but she is, it’s the worst kind of paradox and probably the main plot line of like ten romantic drama movies and god Peter get it together, Nebula just patched you up, that’s practically a lifelong bond of friendship offered from her there, return the gesture—

It doesn’t matter, he tells himself. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t remember even meeting him, much less everything they’ve shared. Gamora is Gamora no matter how she feels about him, no matter what she’s been through. Peter loved her under the stars of Knowhere that first time, and he loves her ten million miles away and lost to him.

“We’ll find her,” he repeats emphatically, and there’s determination from some part of him he didn’t know existed in his voice now. “We will, Nebula.”

“Of course we will,” she scoffs, but there’s an undercurrent of relief in her voice. “If you idiots don’t mess it up, first.”

Peter’s out of quips, out of snark, and out of energy, so he flips her off and collapses back in the bed.

 


 

“Is it strange?”

Peter glances at Mantis, eyebrows raised curiously. “Is what strange?” He realizes, belatedly, that this is a stupid question, because everything’s strange lately, not just that doctor’s name—

“Being back here,” Mantis says. “This is your home planet, right?” She gives him a curious look, one that’s tinged with something like longing, maybe. Peter’s not sure — he hasn’t trusted himself much on reading people’s emotions lately, not like he used to. He’s still too off-kilter, off-balance, like the haze of rage and grief that took him on Titan never quite left and he’s stumbling through this half-blind.

“Yeah,” he finally manages. He gives her a lopsided smile, because it feels like something he would do. It’s Mantis, after all. She deserves a smile, if anyone. “It’s a little weird, but it’s where I’m from, and I’m a little weird, so — yeah. Not exactly a five-star joint, huh?”

Mantis’ eyebrows dip, puzzling his words over as she does sometimes, and realization lights before Peter can clarify.

“It is not like other planets,” she says, her dark eyes roaming the grassy fields that surround the complex, the grey, mundane buildings that make up the base. “But I think it is nice. It is quieter, now.”

Peter nods. Earth is quiet, when certain bastards aren’t attacking with all the forces of hell or whatever. There’s no sky traffic of spaceships, no screeching of air regulations.

Then again, he hasn’t actually been in Manhattan yet, so maybe it’s just a locale thing.

“Is there anywhere you want to go?”

Peter has to repeat that one in his head, because it doesn’t quite register at first. Anywhere he wants to go? Peter doesn’t even know what he needs right now, much less what he wants. He constantly feels like he’s forgetting to do something, but he can never remember what, and can’t bring himself to care enough to remember, anyways. What does he want? The sweet unfeeling bliss of death, maybe.

“I dunno about me, but Rocket probably has some opinions,” he says. “Drax seems like he thinks the whole planet’s pretty lame now that all the big warrior teams left, but Groot might be interested in something.”

It’s not the answer Mantis was looking for, and Peter can tell. She’s getting better at seeing through his bullshit, which he might be proud of if it wasn’t so concerning.

“But this was your home,” Mantis says, softly. “Is there nowhere you want to see again?”

Peter pauses. There’s a place in Missouri that flashes across his mind, an old house and sprawling old roads, tiny creeks and little frogs that live in them. But the thought of that hurts like the thought of her does, so he pushes it away.

Is there nowhere he wants to see again?

Peter doesn’t know. Everything on earth he’d ever thought about sharing with someone was always with her. It hurts a little too much to think about that, so he digs his fingernails into his arm again and clenches until there’s enough pain there to distract him.

“No,” he says. “Not really.”

“Oh,” Mantis says quietly, sounding — aw man, she’s disappointed, now Peter feels terrible. Add that to his starting-to-get-way-too-long list of failures, disappointing his sister—

“But um —“ Peter racks his brain desperately. New York, New York, where can they go in New York that isn’t gonna be an overcrowded nightmare full of people way happier than them— “The coast is nearby? We could, uh…check that out while we wait for the others to get back, if you want.”

“The coast?”

“By the ocean,” Peter explains. “Lots and lots of salty water, and sand, and— here, let’s just go, I’ll show you. I bet we can see Coney Island from here, too, if it’s still there.”

They can, in fact, see Coney Island from the coast closest to them, though it’s a distant thing. It takes them a solid hour or two to get there, and an extra hour or so of Peter trying to remember (learn) how to drive earth cars, but he’s nothing if not a pretty darn good pilot, so he figures it out in time to get them there before dark.  The sun is already beginning to dip behind the horizon when they do, though, so Peter takes care to shoot the others a message over comms so they don’t freak out, or anything.

They’ve all been insistent about communication lately, and Peter’s one of the biggest culprits. He’s got reason, okay. Just — a lot of reason.

Mantis stares at the rocky coast with wide eyes, the lights of the city across the way reflecting in them, and the fascinated expression on her face is a vast improvement to the lost, heartsick look she’s been wearing recently. Peter feels satisfied with himself, until her stomach growls, and he realizes he’s totally forgotten that dinner and lunch and eating is a thing.

Food, that’s right, Peter forgot to eat today, that’s what he was missing earlier—

“We can head back if you want,” he says, a little guilty. “I bet there are some decent food places on the way back. McDonalds is definitely still around, worst comes to worst.”

Peter likes McDonalds, but it’s Mantis’ first time on earth. He isn’t gonna ruin her impression that quickly.

(Of course, the big purple bastard probably already did that for him, but — screw him.)

“No,” Mantis says, quickly. “I want to stay longer. I like it here.”

“Fine with me,” Peter shrugs. He messes with the Zune in his pocket, thumbing over the fancy little speaker that glowy woman — Carol, right, remember that— had given him before she’d left.

“Music’s important,” she’d told him, after they’d found themselves bonding over earth vs. space and being weird for a brief moment. “When you’re in space. I get that. It’s nice to have something that plays it right.”

Part of Peter had wanted to grumble that he had speakers that worked just fine, but the other half of him was too touched that she even cared enough to offer, much less to talk to him like he was more than just the idiot with the guns who almost (did) screw the universe over, so he’d accepted it with a crooked kind of thank you that probably looked like he was about to start crying.

Peter spares a thought of thanks for Carol, wherever she and her taste in music are, and flicks the speaker on, letting the familiar notes of his music drone across the windy beach. His fingers hover over the Zune, and something twinges in his chest. He spins the dial to the right, then reaches for the speaker, searching for — aha.

“What are you doing?”

Mantis is watching him curiously. Peter stills, then gives a jerking shrug, rubbing the back of his head.

“Nothing, ah — just being dumb,” he says, giving a hollow kind of laugh. “I, um — I was gonna project it, across space. The song.”

The why is obvious on Mantis’ face, and Peter hunches in on himself.

“We — me and, um, her — we had this idea, just in case any of us got lost,” Peter explains quickly, steamrolling through the words so his voice won’t catch on them. “To broadcast the music like a lighthouse you could find your way back to — a lighthouse is like a, um, homing beacon, kind of, except it’s this tall house on a beach, I bet I could find us one here, if you want—“

“You and…Gamora, thought of this?”

Well, frick. The name lodges a nice little spike in the tattered shards of his heart, and Peter tries not to flinch.

“Yeah. Me and…Gamora.”

“Oh.” Mantis’ voice is impossibly small and quiet, and something in Peter’s chest wilts at the sound. It’s silent for a beat, and then Mantis sniffles, gross and congested against the sounds of the music.

“Aw, Mantis.” Peter’s voice is thick, but so is hers, when she speaks up.

“I miss her,” she gasps, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. “I thought — oh Peter. I believed she would come back like us. I was stupid, but I believed—“ Mantis chokes. “I miss her,” she whispers, miserably.

Peter’s throat clogs up, and he wraps an unsteady arm around Mantis, pulling her close. She returns the embrace immediately, crumping into his chest and wrapping her arms around his frame, clinging to him like he’s about to slip away from her as well.

They sit there, overlooking the dark ocean before them, Peter’s stupid music playing, both crying until they can’t breathe right anymore, and Peter’s never been more grateful for a sister who’s as expressive as he is.

He really hopes it’s not just him projecting, though, because Mantis doesn’t let go of him once.

 


 

 

The funeral happens. It sucks.

Like, Peter guesses it’s pretty, as far as funerals go. It’s on a lake house, and everyone shows up, and honestly Peter thinks Stark would’ve liked a Ravager-type of funeral, fireworks and colors and lighting up the world in his name, because heck if Stark didn’t deserve it — but maybe he’d have appreciated the quieter type of funeral more, soft and personal and private, but not so private that it’s not obvious just how many people he’d touched.

It still sucks. There’s a little girl losing her dad that can’t have been much younger than he was when he lost his mom. So yeah. It sucks.

He’s relieved when they finally escape to the Benatar, goodbye’s said and promises made to come back if needed, or to call. By the time earth is a mere speck in the background, the vast colors of space stretching out before him, Peter’s never been more relieved to get a planet out of his skin.

“No, rabbit, I did not bring the cursed shooting game, I’ve sworn off it for life, you know this.”

Oh, and Thor’s with them. That is…unexpected. Peter’s not sure how he feels about that, but he’s got both eyes on him — which is a kinda dick statement in hindsight — sight, haha, man he needs to stop — since technically Thor’s only got one eye, but Rocket gave him a fancy new one and he helped Rocket undermine Peter’s admittedly nonexistent authority, so. Both eyes. On him.

Drax is in the lower deck with Mantis, sorting through the mess Stark and Nebula pulled up, Nebula is hiding out…somewhere, and Thor and Rocket are still arguing about some game, or whatever, Peter doesn’t really care. That leaves only Groot sitting with Peter in the cockpit, so he’s free to turn on whatever music he likes as they zoom past the Andromeda galaxy, aimlessly putting as much distance between them and earth as possible.

“…getting caught in the rain.” Peter hums under his breath, leveling the ship out of a sharp turn, his fingers dancing over the controls. Groot watches him from the corners of his eyes, bent over whatever fancy pad-thing the big green Avenger had gifted him. Clearly, he’s never been a father, or he’d have given him a more useful gift, like the Avenger with the bow and arrow had by giving Peter a whole stack of movies to try out.

Peter liked that Avenger. He liked him enough to remember that his name is Clint, which is a pretty lame name for someone who shoots a bow and arrow like Robin Hood, but he’s named Peter, so he can’t exactly talk.

…if you’re not into yoga…

The nebula outside the window turns green as they shoot past it, and Peter fiddles with the controls again.

…if you have half a brain…

There’s a chime from one of his screens, and Peter’s head snaps up, eyes scanning frantically. He swipes at it, grainy images blurring out of view, and his expression falls as whatever mangled thing that’s left in his chest does.

She’s galaxies away. How did she get that far already?

There’s a throat-clearing sound from beside him, and Groot gives him a look. Peter can’t really tell what he’s trying to say, but like — he gets the general idea.

“I’m just keeping an eye out,” he explains. “S’not like we’ve got anything better to do.”

Groot’s eyes soften, and he shrugs, his gaze returning to the pad, but Peter catches the flash of grief in his dark gaze before he does. He remembers a gentle hand wiping a tear from Groot’s cheek, an assurance that they’ll return, and Peter has to suck in a sharp breath.

He knows what they think about him. He knows that they talk about him, there’s a reason he hides his probably-getting-a-little-manic search for Gamora like he does.

But it’s just—

It’s not about him, he wants to scream. It’s not about their damn relationship, even though it is, it always will be, no matter how Peter tries to push it aside Gamora is in his veins and she’ll always be there, but —

It’s about Gamora. It’s about Gamora who said it would be an honor to die among friends, Gamora who picked her own clothes out with a fierce sort of defiance, Gamora who delighted in telling him no, you idiot, and Gamora who told him she thought he already had when he wanted to find his family.

Gamora deserves better than loneliness and a life on the run just because they screwed her timeline up, and if Peter can even offer her the chance to build some semblance of their family again then he’ll happily die doing it.

(He’d happily die if it meant bringing her back in the first place, but that’s pretty frickin’ selfish of him too, because then that leaves Gamora in his place, and his place sucks.)

(…maybe he should have stayed dead.)

 


 

 

In the end, she finds them.

Peter’s halfway through what’s probably the worst excuse he’s ever had for pasta in his life, because while Thor gets a lot of earth food and Peter appreciates that more than words, he does not get Italian, when the loading door to the Benatar is bust open so violently Peter nearly chokes on his pasta and dies.

Then she stumbles through the door, bloody and bedraggled, and Peter’s convinced that he has choked on his pasta and died for a second, because—

Gamora.

It’s her, she’s more beautiful than Peter remembered, and god doesn’t that suck that he has to remember

Or — it’s the her that doesn’t know who the hell he is, because she almost takes his head off with her sword when he runs to help her up.

“Woah woah hey, I’m just trying to help!” Peter yelps, hands thrown up placatingly as he jumps back. He hasn’t forgotten the last meeting he’d had with this Gamora, and — yeah, okay, this hurts a lot, and he’s not just talking about the little slice on his cheek where she got him.

“Nebula,” Gamora gasps, her hand plastered against the dark stain spreading across her side, her eyes desperate. “Sister. Is she here—“

Gamora.” Nebula is there, like she just popped out of frickin’ nowhere, grabbing for her sister and clinging to her like it’s some super sappy home video family reunion scene.

Which it kinda is, the idiot part of Peter’s mind tells him hazily — and no, his entire brain is not the idiot part, he’s — he can be smart, like he is right now, backing away and letting them have their moment.

…okay, they’ve had it.

“Is…is she okay?” he asks hesitantly, like that’s not the absolute love of his entire life on the floor right there, the love of his life who he hasn’t seen in for-freaking-ever, who isn’t even technically the love of his life but it’s Gamora so—

Nebula spears him with a withering look. Peter puts his hands up again and backs away.

To his somewhat numb surprise, Drax steps up to flank him, Thor on his other side, and Mantis lays a hand on his shoulder. It’s kind of like — protective, if he had to put a word to it, which is….nice.

“I was stupid,” Gamora is telling Nebula, as her sister surveys the damage. “I grew too confident. He still has people left out there, and I don’t — I don’t know this world, Nebula, everything is different.”

Gamora’s voice is anguished, lost and confused and angry at that confusion, and Peter bites his lip hard.

“It is different for you, that’s why,” Nebula says bluntly, but it’s clear the words are meant a comfort. “So stay with us for now. They’re not all complete idiots.”

“Kinda rude, comin’ from you,” Rocket drawls. Nebula spears him with a look too.

Gamora eyes them all suspiciously, her eyes lingering on Thor, then him.

“You were at the battle,” she says. “You fought against him.”

“Y-yeah,” Peter says, his voice unsteady. “We did.”

Gamora nods. Recognition dawns in her eyes, and she tilts her head in concession. “I could use a shower.”

Nebula snorts. “An understatement. You’re filthy.” She glances up at him. “Your room is the largest.”

Is it? Peter thinks blankly. Oh yeah, it is, ‘cause he used to share it with—

“Take it,” he blurts out. “There’s a shower attached, and — just take it. It’s yours.”

Nebula nods, and Gamora watches him carefully. Then Nebula’s hoisting her up and they’re shouldering their way down to the lower decks, to his room, which probably isn’t going to be his again for a while.

“That was unexpected,” Drax observes, but his voice sounds gut-punched. Mantis makes a wounded sound, and Groot reaches for her hand.

“That is Gamora, right?” Thor asks him, quietly. “Your Gamora?”

Peter shakes his head, blinking hard and fast as he watches them go, swallowing. Thor doesn’t mean it like that, he knows he doesn’t. He’s just making sure they didn’t let some evil alternate murderer on the ship, or something.

But she’s not his Gamora. She’s not anyone’s Gamora. Peter remembers how sick he felt on Titan when Thanos called her his.

He’s not stupid enough to pretend he has anymore right than the bastard did, especially now.

 


 

 

Having Gamora on boards turns out, somehow, to be almost as bad as desperately hunting down for any scrape of her across the galaxy. Somehow.

Part of this is because it’s a whole lot harder to hide the fact that he’s constantly crumbling to pieces from the others when she’s two rooms down the hall and he keeps tripping over his tongue and trying to talk to her like he used to, then promptly wishing he could bite off his tongue, ‘cause she just stares at him like he’s the biggest idiot in the galaxy and she has no idea what he’s talking about.

Which, to be fair. She doesn’t.

“The time she’s coming from is before you met,” Nebula tells them. “Not long before — she knows who Ronin is — but it’s enough that she doesn’t know any of you.”

“Just you,” Peter says, not a little bitterly. Drax gives him a look, and Peter curls inwards.

Nebula nods. “Just me.” Her expression turns downward. “But even then. I’m not the Nebula she knows. This is not the world she knows.”

Silence falls over their small group, huddled around the table in the upper deck. Drax is grave, his expression unchanging, and Mantis simply looks confused, in the worst of ways. Groot is paying attention for once, his wide eyes lost, and Peter scoots a bit closer to him — like Peter’s presence isn’t completely useless, or anything.

Groot seems to appreciate it, oddly enough.

“So…what do we do?” Rocket is the first to ask, watching Nebula.

She sighs, her fist clenching and unclenching where it rests against the messy table. “I don’t know,” she admits.

“She is lost,” Mantis says, her voice empty. “I felt her, but she isn’t — it’s not her. She doesn’t know me.”

Her voice quavers, and Peter takes her hand, squeezing tight.

“She doesn’t know any of us, ‘cept Nebula,” Rocket says, a lot bitterly.

“That’s not her fault,” Drax says. Thor nods, his eyes watching them all intently. Peter wonders how much of their dynamic he’s already picked up on.

He wonders if he’s missed the gaping hole in it.

“We can keep giving her somewhere safe, for now,” Peter finally speaks up, decidedly. “And she can — she can decide the rest.”

The other Guardians nod, seemingly all well and on board with this plan. Nebula just looks at him with sad eyes, her lips tightening.

“You may not like her decision,” she tells him later, as they all drift to bed, her voice weary. Resigned.

Peter bites back desperation. “Doesn’t matter if I like it or not,” he says, stiffly. “S’not my place.”

Definitely not anymore, he thinks.

Nebula nods, and Peter almost thinks she looks satisfied.

 


 

 

Gamora stays with them for a week, then two, and by the time they’re going on three, Peter can almost convince himself that he’s gonna be just fine about it. They don’t talk much, sure — she doesn’t really talk to anyone but Nebula, and just kinda stares awkwardly at the rest of them while Peter prays she’s not sizing them up for murder — but she eats meals with them and sits in the cockpit with them and goes on the one mission they pick up. Nobody dies, or tries to kill each other, or has a dramatic screaming breakdown, so Peter figures it is — going alright.

It’s going just fine, he tells himself. Gamora is back and it’s gonna take a while, yeah, but they have her, that’s what matters. They can go back to normal eventually, maybe, someday, and Peter’s gonna be just fine.

He gets away with this until he almost trips over Drax on the way to the cockpit.

“Woah, dude, why are you just — standing there—“

Peter’s mouth is half-open to make a joke about Drax being invisible, how standing perfectly still might apparently work after all, when he remembers abruptly what he was doing when Drax first brought it up. He shuts his mouth.

“You weren’t watching where you were going,” Drax says, but there’s no bite in his tone. “That isn’t my fault.”

“Well, no, but still—“ Peter sighs. “Just. Warn me if I’m about to plow into you next time, huh?”

“You would only hurt yourself,” Drax says, evenly. “Your tiny frame would crumble next to mine.”

Peter blinks. “What happened to putting on weight?”

Drax’s eyes narrow, and Peter realizes he’s put his foot in his mouth and walked right into this one. “You have to eat to put on weight.”

Peter’s lip curls. “I do eat. And I’m not — tiny, or whatever, geez—“

“You barely eat,” Drax corrects him, and Peter is suddenly in this weird alternate universe where Drax is his dad now. “All you do is stare at Gamora and look sad.”

“I do not—“

“And when you can’t do that, you stare out the window and look sad,” Drax continues. “Groot has noticed.”

Peter deflates at that. “Groot’s noticed?” he repeats, weakly.

Drax nods, his expression sober. “Mantis is worried. Rocket is, as well, except he’s also in denial, when he isn’t staring at us all and looking sad.”

“Ah,” Peter says. He opens his mouth, then closes it, then leans his back against the wall, sliding down until he sits harshly on the metal piping. “Well. That’s —“ He buries his head in his hands, laughing faintly. “We’re a mess, aren’t we.”

Drax’s head lowers, and his arms tighten where they’re crossed around himself. “We have been, for a while.”

“Right,” Peter exhales. “Right.”

Drax observes him, and his eyes soften. “After what happened, it’s to be expected,” he says. “We will recover eventually. Some of us quicker than others.”

Peter feels his gaze narrow on him again, and he cringes. “I’ll start eating better.”

“That’s a promise?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s a promise.”

Drax nods, seemingly satisfied. He leans back against the wall, and Peter hunches over on the pipe, twisting his fingers together and apart. “Drax?”

He glances at him, eyes curious, and Peter runs his tongue over his lips, wincing at how chapped they are. “D’you think…” he trails off, then starts again. “Do you think we’re ever going to be okay? Us and…her?”

Drax’s eyes are hollow. “I have lost before, Quill,” he says. “I had hoped I wouldn’t lose again.”

Peter stares back at him, pinned by Drax’s gaze, even as his eyes start to water.

Drax looks down, his fingers tightening around his arms again. “But hope isn’t much against the world,” he murmurs. “It is a poor weapon in battle.”

“I don’t think it’s half bad,” Peter defends, but his voice is pathetically weak.

Drax’s mouth quirks up in a humorless smile. “And I like that about you,” he says. “Sometimes it is what keeps us together.” His mouth falls, and his eyes harden. “But you are letting it kill you.”

Peter looks away. “That’s kind of dramatic, don’t you think?”

“Not when you hope for the impossible,” Drax says, and Peter flinches. Drax relents, his voice softening. “I want her back as well, Quill,” he murmurs. “I would murder countless to have her back.”

Drax looks up at the ceiling, and Peter realizes his eyes are glimmering from more than just the light.

“But some things can’t be undone,” Drax says, hollowly. “And some people don’t belong in times that are not theirs.”

Peter swallows back against the swoop of nausea. That’s not anywhere near the answer he was looking for, much less wanted.

But a part of him admits that it was the answer he’s been expecting.

 


 

 

Gamora is Gamora, no matter the universe. And Peter will love her regardless, until the tiny shreds of his heart give out and he’s got nothing left.

It sticks hot and burning and acrid in his throat, but — this Gamora does not love Peter. This Gamora never met Peter on Xandar, never stood beneath the lights of Knowhere with him, never took his hand as the Power Stone devoured him, never danced with him. Those experiences made up who they were, and while Peter will love Gamora in any form she comes in—

He can’t make her love him back.

And he certainly can’t make the universe one she feels she belongs in, when they’ve ripped her right out of the one she knew.

 


 

 

She approaches him four weeks after she arrives, on one of the evenings they’re grounded on a planet for fuel.

Her boots make a familiar tread as she makes her way over the hull of the Benatar, climbing over the wing to the top with more grace than Peter could ever hope for. She stops just in front of him where he’s sitting with his legs dangling from the back, staring off into the blurring lights of space.

“May I?” she asks, her voice even.

Peter stares at her for a beat — she’s a vision, her hair soft and curling where it falls loose over her shoulders, the lights around them dancing in her eyes. He shakes off the stupor, and nods, scooting over a bit.

“Yeah, ‘course.”

Gamora carefully takes a seat next to him, leaving enough space between them that there’s no fear of them touching, but not so much that he gets the impression that she’s utterly repulsed at having to be anywhere near him.

“I…owe you an apology, I think.”

Her voice is so sudden and unsure, Peter has to blink rapidly before her words make sense. “You — huh?”

The edge of her mouth twists. “When we met, back during the battle — I attacked you. I have since learned that I was perhaps…too aggressive.”

“You were what — oh. Oh.” Peter shakes his head, wincing at the memory. She’d kicked him in the balls, right. “No, uh, you were — you were in your right there,” he says, ruefully. “I mean, if I’d been beamed into the middle of some crazy, last-ditch war with my whack-job dad, and then some random person’s suddenly trying to hit me up mid-battle, I’d probably drop-kick them too.”

Gamora’s lips twitch, and her expression eases. “You aren’t incorrect,” she says. “But still.” Her expression falls, and she looks down. “My sister told me who you are. Who all of you are, and - and why you reacted that way. I can’t imagine it was easy.”

“Of course she did,” Peter sighs. He looks down, his stomach twisting. “It’s — its whatever, I guess.”

“I doubt that,” Gamora says. “I’m sorry. I’m sure that wasn’t the reaction you were looking for.”

Peter shrugs. “Ah, who knows,” he says. “She kicked me in the stomach when we met, too. Or — you did, the you who — met me then. Sorry, it’s—“

“Confusing,” Gamora finishes. Something like an actual smile touches her lips. “I can relate.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Peter says. “You’re what, nine, ten years in the future now? That’s gotta be rough.”

Gamora looks away. “It is,” she says, softly. “I’ve been slow to adapt to it.”

“I think you’re doing pretty great, personally,” Peter offers.

Gamora makes a sound that might — might — be a laugh. “Thank you, Peter Quill,” she says, and something in Peter’s chest wrenches.

Then he manages to meet her eyes, dark and lost and full of regret, and oh, this is gonna hurt even more, isn’t it.

“But this isn’t my time,” she murmurs. “I’ve tried to accept it, but…I’m lost here.”

Peter nods, not trusting his voice.

“I don’t think I belong here,” she says, her voice small. “I’m sorry, but I don’t.”

Peter, despite the actual razor blades being shoved in his chest at her words, blinks. “What do you — Gamora, you don’t have anything to be sorry for, why—“

“I’m not your Gamora,” she whispers. “I could be, maybe, but…”

Your Gamora. The something in Peter’s chest snaps.

“No.” Peter’s voice comes sharper than he means it to be, but he’s never been good with keeping these kind of strong emotions under wraps. “No, you’re not mine. But neither was she. You’re — you’re just Gamora. Your own person. You don’t have to be anyone, I don’t — I don’t want you to be anyone but yourself, and that’s — that doesn’t have anything to do with me. And it — you—”

Here it goes, the killing blow to what’s left of his heart, just admit it and get it over with—

“You don’t need to have anything to do with me, either.” He swallows, his voice quavering. “You don’t…have to stay.”

Gamora’s eyes are kinder than he thinks they’ve ever been, since she’s come to stay with them. “With you?” she asks, quietly.

Peter bites his lip. “In this time.”

Gamora stares at him, her eyes widening the slightest bit. “What do you mean?”

Peter’s fingers tighten, and for a beat, he wants to be selfish. He wants to be selfish so, so badly.

But.

Out in some other reality, there’s a whole Peter who’s never going to meet Gamora. A Rocket that’s always gonna push people away. A Groot that’s never gonna be seen as something so much more than a weapon. A Drax that’ll never find a new family. A Mantis that’ll never know how amazing she is, wasting away under Ego’s thumb. A Nebul—

Okay, that Nebula’s dead, but he’s got a moment going here—

Without Gamora, those other selves will never know what the Guardians of the Galaxy are. They’ll never have a family.

But this Peter, this Peter gets to have a whopping five members of his, and he’s still got the nerve to ask for more.

He’s an ungrateful, selfish asshole to the end, apparently, he thinks bitterly.

And yeah, okay, he knows what he should do. But heck. He doesn’t want to.

 


 

 

Rocket is pissed.

“Whad’ya mean, she’s going back?

Peter crosses his arms defensively — and maybe to hold the giant bleeding hole that used to be his heart together, who can say — and exhales tightly. “She doesn’t wanna be here,” he says. “She told me. This isn’t her time, and we can send her back. So she wants to go.”

“You’re kidding me,” Rocket stares at him. “You’re flarking kidding me.”

“Try me, Ranger Rick.”

“Don’t you dare pull out those stupid names now, you — you absolute asshole, how could you.”

Peter bristles. “How could I? How could I what? Listen to her?”

“Offer to send her back!” Rocket snaps. “D’you have any idea how hard — of course you don’t, you’ve got air for brains, you’re such a flarking idiot—“

“I know we can send her back,” Peter bites back. “They sent Captain-freakin’-America back. And don’t tell me about the consequences, because Cap screwed the consequences to hell and back and he turned out fine!”

“Send her back to what?!” Rocket barks. “Dead space? She was working for dear old dad then, and he’s dead now, what’s she supposed to do? Who are we sending her back to?”

“To us!” Peter cries. “To her time, her reality, and the us’s that are never gonna know anything about belonging if it isn’t for her!”

Something in Rocket’s expression splinters.

“Oh, screw them!” he snaps fiercely, but his voice wavers. “I don’t care about them, I care about us! The now us! And the now me can’t lose you guys again!”

Rocket sucks in a ragged breath, and — oh. Peter realizes, with a heavy shock, that five years was never going to be enough for Rocket to get over them.

“I got you guys back,” he rasps. “That’s — we worked so hard to get you guys back. I was s’posed to get all of you.”

Rocket.” Peter stares at him helplessly.

“We weren’t supposed to be like them,” Rocket continues miserably. “None of you were supposed to die all nobly or whatever — die for good, you were supposed to come back, all of you, so we could be — so we could be—“

Rocket shakes his head, scrubs his hands across his eyes, and thunks to the floor, sitting with his back bent and legs sprawled. Peter stares at him for a beat, then echoes the gesture, sitting across from Rocket, his posture defeated.

“I saved you,” Rocket croaks. “I saved all of you. If Gamora leaves then — I didn’t. And we’ve got a big stupid hole in our family.”

Peter feels more exhausted than he ever has in his life. “You can’t save everyone,” he whispers. “Sometimes you…sometimes you lose.”

Screw that,” Rocket bites. “This is - it’s bullshit, Pete, we got her back.”

But there’s a hitch in his voice, and Peter doesn’t need to follow it up.

Did we, though?

Peter grabs for whatever’s left of his strength, smacks it into a blender with the love he’s got for Rocket, and tries.

“You did save her,” he says. “You gave her a way out from Thanos, Rocket, and that’s half the world right there.”

Rocket stares at the floor, sniffling.

“But she’s not the same Gamora, Rocket,” he rasps. “She didn’t do all that stuff with us — she didn’t make the same decisions, the same choices. We gotta let her make the choices she wants to. And if that’s — if that’s leaving us, then…we gotta let her do it. S’part of saving her, y’know?”

Rocket is silent for a minute, the only sounds his quiet sniffling.

“I hate when you give big philosophomoral speeches. You’re garbage at them.”

Peter snorts wetly. “That’s not even a word.”

“Like you’d know.” Rocket swipes at his eyes, then exhales wearily. “This sucks.”

“Yeah,” Peter says, resting his head against the steel wall of the Benatar. “Yeah, it does.”

 


 

 

So like fine irony, Peter’s just managed to get the last of the New York topsoil out of his favorite shirt when they’re landing on the damn planet once again.

Typical.

They’re arriving in the dead of summer, too, so it’s not like it’s even a nice time to stop by, unless they’re heading to the beach, which they aren’t. Instead, they’re stuck getting yelled at by a bunch of panicked agents over comms and having Mr. Freaky Wizard Strange himself almost boot them to the mirror dimension before they manage to get it through that they’re the assholes that helped save your stupid planet half a year ago, Thor’s on board, here, talk to him—

Thor says three words and they’re immediately cleared.

Typical.

 


 

 

It’s his second time back on the planet since he was taken, and all Peter can think about is how completely screwed-up it is that earth is now apparently No. 1 Misery Spot for Peter Quill, because between battles and funerals and now this

Well. He’d prefer the battle over this.

“This is goodbye, then.”

“Yeah. This is — goodbye, I guess.”

The words feel like the worst kind of sandpaper scraping over his throat, and Peter’s eyes smart. He sort of wants to break down crying, but the Avengers are here — Bruce and the ant guy and then the army general-dude, making sure everything actually goes right, and Peter isn’t about to start crying in front of them.

…again.

So he swallows a few times, takes a shaky breath, and gives Gamora the best smile he can. It’s probably pathetic, given the way her expression seems to wilt at it, but she doesn’t sneer at him like Nebula might (or would have, she’s been scarily nice to him lately) and nods.

She glances behind him, where the rest of them stand. She’d already said her goodbyes to them all, save Nebula, who she’s saving for last.

Peter can’t begrudge her that.

“Keep them safe,” she tells him, as if testing the words on her tongue. “They’re all wonderful. You’re wonderful people, I hope — I wish the best for you. I really do. I’m sorry I couldn’t—“

Peter shakes his head, smiling through what feels likes knives. “It’s okay,” he says. “We’ll be okay. This is — this is your life you gotta worry about. Don’t worry ‘bout us.”

Gamora looks at him, her dark eyes softer than they’ve been, and for a fraction of a second, he sees the Gamora who stared up at him under the fireworks with that unspoken thing on her lips. The jagged pieces of what’s left of his heart smash up even smaller, and he swallows.

“I’m just glad I got to see you again,” he tells her, his voice ragged.

“I’m glad I got to meet you,” Gamora replies, after a second’s hesitation. “Hopefully I’ll meet you again.”

“You will,” Peter says, and he’s certain. “You’re Gamora. You’ll always find us. Just…don’t let me be too much of an asshole to you, if you meet him. You’ve got full permission to kick my alternator universe’s self in the balls, okay?”

Gamora’s nose wrinkles, and her lips twitch in what could be a laugh, someday.

“I do want to meet him,” she suddenly tells him, her voice fierce. “I want to meet all of you, to bring you together like this. I’m going to. That is a promise.”

Peter stares at her, experiencing what’s either cardiac arrest or the brief resurrection of his mangled heart deciding to remind him how much he loves her, will always love her, and is absolutely going to hurt like hell when she leaves him—

“I think that’s great,” he croaks. “Really. If anyone can do it, it’s you, so — you’ll do it. I know you will.”

Gamora smiles at him, soft and bittersweet.

“Goodbye, Peter.”

It’s final.

Peter swallows thickly, and gives her the closest thing to a watery smile he can.

“Bye, Gamora.”

 


 

 

All that’s left of his poor, dumb heart now is dust, really. It crumbled into ash like the rest of him did with the snap, and he knows better than to hope for a second miracle.

 


 

 

The day after Gamora leaves, Peter gets drunker than he can remember. And he can’t remember it, either, because he wakes up with the worst headache he’s ever had and a big giant space of blankness where his memories of last night should be.

And his mouth tastes gross.

“That’s because you spent half the night vomiting,” Thor tells him, cheerfully. “Thought you’d hurl your entire stomach out there, quite the show you put on.”

“Great,” Peter groans, throwing an arm over his face and curling up tighter beneath the thin blanket someone’s draped over him. Stars, he wants to die.

“I wouldn’t advise that,” Thor tells him. “Your crew is angry enough with you as it is. Actually dying might piss them off even worse, and while I don’t really know you all, I know the rabbit, and that’s terrifying enough.”

“Aw, shit.” Peter doesn’t even wanna know what he did to piss them off this time.

“You disappeared,” Thor says, and his voice has lost its humor. “We didn’t find you until three in the morning.”

Oh, shit.” Peter snaps up, wincing at the pounding in his head. “Damnit. How bad—“

“They were scared,” Thor says, and Peter almost flinches away at the honesty in his voice. “They’ve already lost one of their family. The idea of losing another—“

“Yeah, got it, already feel like shit, thanks,” Peter bites out, grinding his palms into his eyes. He’s an idiot. He didn’t mean to be gone for that long, but — god, poor Mantis, she’d been so teary after Gamora left, and then he’d just disappeared on her?

Yikes, Peter Quill. Yikes.

There’s a rattling sound, and Thor holds several pills out to him. “They’ll help,” he says.

Peter takes them. Thor follows it with a glass of water, and Peter immediately decides he prefers Thor as half-assed nurse way more than Nebula.

“Thanks,” Peter mutters, before draining the rest of the glass.

Thor nods. “Take a shower before you see the others, too,” he says. “You need it.”

Yeah. Okay.” Can’t he just leave Peter to rot in humiliation in peace, instead of trying to be nice and — what is this, caring? Peter doesn’t know anymore.

He doesn’t really understand the universe anymore.

“We’re drifting in space right now,” Thor says conversationally, as if they’re just discussing the weather, and he didn’t just spend half the night making sure Peter didn’t die in a drunken haze. “Rocket says there are a couple missions nearby we could take. Most of them look boring, to be honest, nothing too exciting, but they’re better than nothing.”

Peter squints at him through his ebbing headache.

Thor continues. “We’re waiting on you to make the decision, though.” His voice is easy. “You’re the captain, after all. And they need a leader.” His mismatched eyes pin Peter in place. “Badly.”

Peter stares at him for beat, feelings all weird and twisted up where they churn in his stomach. Or maybe he’s just gonna start puking again, but—

“You can be the leader, if you want,” he blurts out, unplanned and undignified like he always is, compared to frickin’ Thor. “I mean, it should be you,” he clarifies, at Thor’s confused gaze. “You should be leading us, if anyone. You’re — qualified, you have experience, you’re not a-a wreck — well you are a little bit, no offense, but not as much as — you should lead. Or Rocket, or anyone, just — not me. I shouldn’t lead. Anyone, anywhere, or anything really, I think that’s pretty crystal-fricking-clear at this—“

“Quill.”

It’s more the fact that Thor’s pronouncing his name right than it is his hand on his shoulder, or the heavy tone he uses, that gets Peter’s busted faucet’s worth of word flow to stem to a halt.

Thor looks away to the viewport, eyes finding the distant nebula off to their right that Peter should really make sure Rocket is avoiding. He exhales, blowing his breath out wearily, but his hand doesn’t leave Peter’s shoulder.

It’s almost comforting, in a weird sort of way.

“You’re an idiot,” Thor says.

Great, Peter thinks. Thanks for that, oh mighty Thor, king of motivational speeches.

Is it weird that that is almost comforting too? It is weird, it’s super weird, but it’s only because his family regularly calls him an idiot and someone else did too, and the tone they used is eerily reminiscent to the one Thor’s using, which is really weird because that usually means they don’t really mean that he’s an idiot, just that he’s—

Well, he’s not sure what they mean, but he doesn’t always mind it so much.

“I am as well,” Thor continues, and Peter blinks. “A big, colossal idiot, really, probably more so than you’ve been.”

His hand tightens against Peter’s shoulder, not enough to hurt, but enough to let him know that Thor believes the statement.

“But.” The edge of his mouth quirks up in a smile that’s almost genuine. “So are most other people I’ve met, at one point or another.”

Peter snorts at that. “A lot of people are,” he mutters.

Thor nods. “We’ve met a lot of them lately too, unfortunately.”

Peter eyes him. “You talkin’ about your team, or mine?”

Thor shrugs. “I was thinking more of the opposite team.”

“Ah,” Peter says, eloquently. “Yeah, okay. Big — big idiots there.”

Thor nods. He exhales once, then looks down at the bedspread, fingers kneading together.

“I’d like to believe,” he says, almost inaudibly. “That it makes you less of an idiot, if you’re acting stupidly on behalf of love.” He shakes his head. “It has to be better than being an idiot because you’re a remorseless bastard, right?”

Peter bites his lip. He thinks of his own stupidity, of crashing his blaster against Thanos’ face because how could he, how could he, Gamora deserved better than this, she wasn’t his

He thinks of Thanos’ cold expression, the condescending tone he took as he lectured Strange on why killing half the universe was such a great idea.

He thinks of Thor, staying up with him all night and still managing to be kind and genuine after every awful thing he’s been put through.

“I don’t think you’re an idiot,” he mumbles.

Thor’s mouth quirks up in a smile again. “Thank you,” he says. “But I didn’t come with you to lead.” His mouth twists ruefully. “I came for the opposite, actually. And you’ve led us fine so far. I’ve seen much worse, when it comes to teams. When it comes to…families.”

It’s Peter’s turn to look down, his fingers twisting in the edge of his blanket. His family. Right. His family that he’s still got.

“Well,” he says, bracing himself as he looks at Thor. “Guess I better start apologizing to mine.”

Thor snorts. “Yes, you should.”

Peter nods. “Sorry then, Thor,” he says, bluntly. “For being a dick."

Thor blinks rapidly. He stares at Peter in surprise, then in what looks so horribly vulnerable Peter’s eyes almost start watering.

“That’s — quite alright,” he says, his voice raw, and Peter feels a wave of relief that for now, at least, he’s finally managed to do one thing right.

 


 

 

Maybe their story was just supposed to be a tragedy.

Peter lives his life through songs and movies, weaves the stories and tales and gentle melodies of others into his existence until they’re his being. He knows genres like he knows the stars, and he knows what star-crossed lovers look like.

So maybe that’s all they were ever meant to be. Bright and beautiful like a dying star, flaring once and blinding you before it goes out, leaving you empty and dark and hollow with dark spots staining your vision the rest of your life.

Peter never even liked tragedies. Love stories weren’t supposed to break your heart and make you stuffy-nosed and miserable.

Maybe it just runs in the family.

 


 

 

Except he’s in a tragedy where only one person died. He’s the one half of a whole left behind, and doesn’t that just — how really frickin’ convenient for him.

One of these days, he’s gonna be the one to leave someone else sobbing their eyes out in a hospital room, or in the middle of space, or all over the damn place because he can’t get their memory out of everything, and won’t that show them.

But—

The thing is. Peter’s heart is broken. Peter is broken, probably has been for a while, and this was just the final nail in the coffin, if the nail was a giant spear the size of a house skewering him through. Gamora is his heart, his love, and his family, and he’s not getting her back.

She’s gone, just like his mom, just like Yondu.

But—

Gamora is not Peter’s only family. (The word was beats against his head like the most excruciatingly painful drum ever, but he refuses to let it in, not yet, it’s too soon.)

Thor sits at the window and watches the stars with dull eyes, brittle and broken, and Peter’s reminded that as much as he’s lost, he knows nothing.

He still has his family. He still has Rocket, has Drax, has Groot and Mantis and Nebula, now. Kraglin, even, somewhere out there and ignoring that one call.

Peter will not waste that. He won’t. He’s lucky, luckier than most, to have come through with so much of his family, and he can’t, won’t ignore that.

Because — he survived his mom. He survived Yondu. And maybe he’ll never recover, and he’ll definitely never love again because ha is that a joke, but — he can survive Gamora.

He’ll mourn her, forever, but he didn’t lose everyone. And like hell is he going to take the family he’s still got for granted.

Heck, he might even give in and admit that Thor really could be his his long lost twin from another dimension, if only because he’s the only one on this stupid ship who actually gets the intrinsic value of karaoke.

Rocket tells them it’s a piss-poor shame that out of everything they could’ve finally bonded over, they went with their crippling self-worth issues and traumatic depression from losing their loves ones.

Peter and Thor snap at him to shove it up his ass in such perfect unison that Peter skips straight to third-guessing himself over whether or not Thor really is his long-lost twin from another dimension. Or something.

“You heard them,” Nebula tells Rocket cooly, as Mantis giggles. “Shove it up your ass.”

Rocket sputters. Drax laughs hard enough to knock a beer bottle into Groot’s reach, and Peter leans back in his seat, running a hand through his hair as he grins.

“You should grow it out,” Thor tells him.

“You should cut yours,” Peter shoots back.

“Both your hair is horrible,” Rocket scowls.

He won’t waste this, Peter promises himself. He won’t.

 


 

 

They start taking missions again, because life goes on and savings go down, and they really do need to start making bank again because apparently, just because your recent addition to the team’s got king or prince or whatever as a title, it doesn’t mean he’s got the funds to back it up.

“The royal treasury blew up with the planet, sue me.”

“I’m trying to, we gotta pay for booze somehow.”

“You should try your luck on Sakaar. Ooh, we could arrange a match together.”

“Tempting, but Sakaar’s shut down.”

“No, really?”

“Yeah, did you miss the giant rebellion they had?”

“Of course not, I started it.”

“Bullshit.”

You’re bullshit.”

“I wish you two still hated each other,” Rocket mutters.

Peter and Thor ignore him, grinning unapologetically as Drax laughs.

But with missions comes action and with action comes people sticking hits on them again, and the galaxy’s finally started to get its shit together from the re-snap, so they actually have to start being careful again. Or at least Nebula insists they do, because they’re big damn heroes now, like really big damn heroes now, who took down Thanos, and they’ll never be safe again, yada yada yada, Peter tuned the rest of her tirade out but that was the gist of it, he thinks.

The latest hideout Nebula’s picked for them is smack in the middle of the nastiest mountain range Peter’s seen in his life, and it takes Peter a good three hours of tricky piloting to get them to the landing spot, and that’s without Rocket yelling at him every five seconds.

“You couldn’t have picked anywhere harder to land?” Rocket snarls at her, as another gale of rain pounds against the Benatar’s hull.

“You said you wanted out of sight,” Nebula says, crisply. “This is out of sight.”

“Yeah, including ours,” Peter grumbles.

It takes him a minute to make it out through the pouring rain, but he realizes that it’s a cabin, of sorts. If a cabin came with an artillery defense system enough to take out a battalion, but still. It’s got cute wood-looking walls and a sofa and beds and everything. It’s got a fireplace. By Nebula’s standards, they’re staying in a palace.

Mantis drags Groot inside, darting immediately for the bedrooms and making claim on whatever one has the softest blankets, probably — blankets, this pretty much is a palace. Rocket darts around the edges, setting up his tech and fiddling with whatever Nebula had in place before him, constantly dodging her grasp as she hisses at him to leave it alone. Thor smiles benignly at them all, helping Drax carry in their meager supplies before starting on dinner. Peter, for his part, takes a seat at the main panel of the security Nebula has set up, checks it about six times, then starts looking for music.

He flicks through the radio, finally giving up and syncing his own music, humming to the filtered sounds of Elvin Bishop as they come through. He fiddles absently with the switch, then slowly — just for old times’ sake — tugs the lever until the song is broadcasting through interspace.

It’s not like anyone in their sane mind’s gonna follow his dumb music here, anyways.

 


 

 

“Oi, dipshit.”

“What, asshole.”

Peter doesn’t even give Rocket the grace of looking up, his response as dull and bland as the rainy, freezing outside is. They’re so going to a tropical planet after this—

“There’s someone coming up on us.”

It takes Peter a moment for the sentence to sink in. When it does, he jerks up, blinking rapidly.

“Wha— why the hell didn’t you tell me sooner?” he snaps, scrambling for his blaster. Everyone else is in bed, but Peter can have them up in less than seconds, he’s gotten really good at screaming—

Rocket shrugs. “It’s only one life signature,” he yawns. “They ain’t got any weapons on ‘em either, from the scanner. Figured you could take them, unless you’ve put on too much weight to move now.“

“You’re just a saint,” Peter growls, even as he relaxes. He tosses the beaten sofa pillow at him as he moves to stand. “You’re the one getting fat.”

“Sounds like denial,” Rocket drawls, but there’s a smile at the edge of his voice.

Peter just sighs. He has put on weight, but it’s a needed kind. The kind that makes the worried edges at the corners of Mantis’ eyes ease out and Drax stop forcing seconds on him every night and Groot stop sneaking little colored candies into his bed, because Peter must not look like a starving vagrant now, or whatever.

Not that it matters that much, because the only person he’d really cared about noticing his appearance in the last four years is gone

Peter swallows. Right. Still hurts. Is going to keep hurting, will always hurt, forever and ever, Gamora’s probably going to be a giant gaping wound in his soul even after he’s dead.

“Hey, Pete, you don’t….I can get it, if you want.”

Rocket’s voice is tinged in uncertainty, which is a big-frickin’ warning bell if there ever was one, so Peter shakes his head. “Nah, I got it.” His voice is quieter than he’d wanted it to be, and a little rough. “How close are they?”

“Reachin’ the top of the trail,” Rocket says, frowning at his pad. “Rain’s too heavy to get a good look, but it’s definitely just one.”

“Great,” Peter mutters, flipping his blasters once in his hands before holstering them. “Be right back, then.”

“Don’t get blood on the carpet!” Rocket hollers after them. “Yours or theirs!”

“Yeah, yeah,” he huffs, pulling his leather-lined duster on as some sort of shelter against the rain. It probably looks ridiculous over the loose, faded t-shirt and sweatpants he’s wearing as pajamas, but, he thinks, as he tugs his boots on — it’s not like the person’s gonna be around long enough to make fun of him anyways.

It’s as miserable outside as it was earlier, if not worse, the rain having picked up into fat, stinging droplets, freezing where they fleck against his skin. Peter mutters out a curse as the wind nearly blows him off-balance, threatening to send him stumbling off the rocky path and straight off their cliff.

You know what, never mind, this place just screams Nebula.

He glances down at the pad Rocket shoved into his hands on the way out, squinting. According to the readings, their culprit is just ahead of him. They’re about half a minute from being on top of him.

Showtime, then.

Peter swipes rain from his eyes, and his blaster whines as he thumbs the safety off. “Only chance to start runnin’ before I fire,” he orders, voice flat. He’s already soaked through and half-frozen. He’s not in the mood for banter today. “I’mma start counting down. Five, four—“

“Peter?”

 

He stops.

 

So does the world. Kind of.

The raindrops that hit his skin feel like bullets now, sharp and piercing, like everything’s been sped-up then slowed down and blasted into high-definition.

It’s like — like a terrible vertigo movie scene, except he’s in it, and it’s also a roller coaster, or a free fall, or a drugged-up trip, or maybe he’s just dying. 

Because —

It can’t be. It can’t be, it’s not, he’s just lost it, that’s all, Peter Quill’s officially gone off the deep end and this is the fallout, folks—

A single figure steps closer in the wavering light from the cabin, coming halfway into view through the torrents of rain.

Peter.” His name ends on a sob, relieved and happy and familiar.

Gam—? He tries to croak, but it comes out more like “Hngh?

And then—

He brings the blaster back up. Then back down. Then halfway up again.

The figure stands before him, tall and slender and silhouetted by the misting rain. Her skin is dirty, streaked and splotchy as the rain drips the worst of the dirt away, and her hair looks like it hasn’t been washed in months, dark strands soaking where they’re plastered around her forehead. Her jacket is torn, dirty and covered in ugly dark splotches, and there’s a little hole in her pants above her knee that Peter can just see the green of her skin beneath.

He can’t look at her face. He can’t. He’s too stunned, too shocked, too scared, and he’s — he’s dreaming, obviously this is a wild dream or he’s just lost it completely, his brain gave out on him and he’s certified crazy, it runs in the family, doesn’t it—?

“You would not believe,” she blurts out, her voice wet and anxious and panicked in a way he’s never heard. “How damn-flarking hard it is to find a ship off of Vormir.”

Peter can’t even make sense of the words, because the voice — it’s her voice, and he’s missed it so much, but it’s also her voice, and that’s impossible, and holy hell is this what a heart attack feels like because it hurts

“Peter?”

“No.”

Peter doesn’t know how he gets the word out, because his throat is so dry it doesn’t exist anymore, but he does. He lifts his blaster a fraction higher. She goes still, stiff and unsure in the rain, her fingers twitching awkwardly at the edge of her frayed jacket.

“Please don’t shoot me,” she whispers, on an almost hysterical wheeze of a laugh.

“It’s not you,” Peter whispers back, because he won’t survive it. He can survive Ronin, he can survive Ego and Thanos and losing Yondu and his mother and — and torture, but he won’t survive this. “It’s not.”

He’s just barely starting to tape what’s left of his ravaged heart back together, he won’t survive this.

Her eyes well up, bloodshot and puffy, and she shakes her head. “It is me,” she rasps. “It’s me, Peter, I’m so —“ her voice cracks. “I’m so sorry it took me so long, but it’s me. This isn’t a trick — this isn’t him. I swear.”

Peter shakes his head, taking a step back. He’s going to be sick, he thinks. Violently sick, like worse sick than he was when he’d gotten drunk and Thor had picked his ass up.

Her face falls as he draws back, fracturing.

“No, don’t — Peter. Please, Peter, don’t let him take you from me too—“ She breaks off, her voice cracked and despairing. She runs her hands through her soaking hair, gripping the dark strands hard enough that it must hurt, her eyes screwed shut.

She looks heartbroken, devastatingly so, and Peter’s chest throbs.

He lowers the blaster.

“How,” he croaks, because he’s a masochist who’s never cared about his heart anyways. “You were — gone. How do I know.”

She looks up, her eyes still bloodshot, but there’s the slightest spark of life in them now — of hope.

She steps closer, and he lets her.

She’s inches from him, and he’s definitely going to die here, but he lets her.

“Peter.” Her hands are gentle against his temples, her touch blazing hot against the cold of the storm around him. Her fingers trace the lines of his face, circling down to cup against his cheek. “You promised,” she whispers. “I shouldn’t have made you promise.”

This close, Peter can see the silvery lines that trace her face in perfect clarity. Can see the warmth in her eyes, the wetness on her lashes, the tiny scar at the edge of her right eyebrow she got on that first terrible mission after Xandar.

After Xandar.

Peter blinks. His fingers shake as he takes her hand, pulling it slowly down. He runs a trembling thumb over her palm, his breath hitching.

It’s faded, obscured by the layers of dirt and dust and dried blood that cover her hands, but the small, oval scar that rests on her palm is unmistakeable, a perfect match to his.

“You were right,” she croaks. “About our song. It’s — I followed the lighthouse. I’d never have…found home otherwise.”

The blaster clatters to the ground. Freed now, his other hand finds her face, her cheek, the back of her neck. Finds the steady pulse.

Oh yeah, Peter’s heart is so screwed.

Gamora,” he sobs.

 


 

According to the universal laws of straight-up bullshit, the Soul Stone requires a sacrifice. A soul for a soul. Further proving that these laws are bullshit is the fact that the one getting the stone doesn’t even have to die, no, someone else’s gotta suffer. Bullshit.

But, amongst all the bullshit, there’s a fine loophole that if you hit the perfect combo of destroying the stone and really, really screwing up the timeline so two soul stones paradoxically exist in the same reality, then like — try to correct everything the first asshole did with the stones by snapping it away — then you might just hit the jackpot and undo one more wrong than you thought you could.

Okay, there’s a lot of other cosmic mumbo jumbo going on here that Peter’s eighty percent sure Stark had something to do with, but he really, truly, very much could not care less. Because if the universe asks him to accept that Blue Swede is terrible and Sam Cooke can’t sing for shit in exchange for getting Gamora back, then hell, he’ll proclaim it to the galaxy. He’ll sell the Benatar, torch all his mixtapes left in one go if they asked him—

“Don’t be so dramatic, no one’s going to ask you to do that.”

“I don’t care,” Peter mumbles raggedly into her shoulder, because his voice is gonna be wrecked for months, raw and hoarse and ugly and gross.

“They’re the mixtapes from your mother, Peter, don’t say things like that.” Gamora’s voice — Gamora Gamora Gamora — is not much better, rasping and creaking like a frog’s, but it’s still the most beautiful thing he’s ever heard in his whole sorry life.

“Mh-mh,” Peter shakes his head, his hair scuffing against her side. “I’ll say whatever you want me to, but I mean it. I’d do any— anything, Gamora, Gamora, Gamora—“

“She knows her own name, genius, give it a rest.”

Peter would flip Rocket off, but his hands are too busy clutching at Gamora’s own, holding them like he’s never going to let go, which he probably isn’t, they’re gonna go the rest of their lives linked together—

Besides, Rocket sounds as wrecked as he does anyways, all curled up around Gamora’s shoulders where he is, so he’ll let him have this one.

One of Gamora’s hand slips from his to card through his hair, and Peter almost dies, his heart singing. Gamora gives a wet, happy laugh.

“Do you need anything?” Drax is asking quickly from her other side. “We’re stuck here for the night with the storm, but if there’s anything—“

“I’m fine,” Gamora says. She still looks terribly gaunt, but she’s been dressed in one of her sister’s shirts and Mantis’ loose pants, Peter’s old sweatshirt topping it off, and Thor and Groot scavenged up enough blankets to bury her with that she almost looks whole again.

“I’m just—“

Her voice cracks, and Peter watches her eyes drift over them all, from Mantis where she’s curled against Drax to Groot where he’s at her other knee, to Nebula on her other side, to Thor just behind them, and finally to Peter half-lying in her lap, her eyes long and lingering, as if drinking them in.

“I’m just glad to be back,” she whispers, a thick sheen at her eyes.

Peter reaches up to wipe the water that escapes down her cheek, and Gamora leans into his touch, her eyes fluttering closed.

Peter is dead. That’s just. That has to be the explanation here.

Gamora smiles, soft and slow and familiar. “I’m just — I love you. All. So much.”

Peter can stay dead. There’s nowhere else in the entire universe, little as he understands it anymore, than right here.

 


 

 

It isn’t the end, of course. There’s pieces to pick up and wounds to heal and Gamora — god, Gamora is Gamora but she needs so much therapeutic healing Peter almost starts crying just thinking about it.

But.

Gamora knows who she is, knows that she’s free, and knows every last trick Rocket tries to pull on them. She knows how to play poker and make little cookies from her home planet and how to dance with him. Gamora’s fought for this life, bled for it, and she lives it, with a vicious sort of enjoyment Peter knows is a spite to Thanos’ very existence.

This Gamora remembers the lyrics to Elvin Bishop, blasts it to him across interspace even when they’re on the same ship together.

And that, if anything, is enough for him to start the duct tape on his heart, smile back at her, and live.

 


 

 

“So which one was it?”

“Hm?”

“The song you picked up, that led you back. Which one did you find?”

“Ah. Well. I didn’t — exactly remember that, at first.”

“What? Betrayal.”

“I was too busy reorganizing my head after being in the Soul Stone, Peter.”

“Right, yeah, um — sorry.”

“I actually went to Terra first, funnily enough.”

“You what — you went to earth without me?!”

“I though you would be there!”

“Well clearly I wasn’t, our timing just sucks—“

“We can go back if you want.”

“I mean — maybe. I really don’t care, I just wanna be with you.”

“Disgusting.”

“You love it.”

“Mmh.”

“…Peter?”

“Yeah?”

“It was the Pina Colada song.”

“I knew it.”