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What It Takes To Survive

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I.

"Daughter!"

(She doesn't remember what he called her. She was very young, and so much happened that day, and so much more since. She remembers the shout, but not the word. It might have been 'daughter' or her name or some diminutive endearment from the now-dead language of the Zehoberi. She doesn't remember. This is how she chooses to remember it.)

"Daughter!" He grabs her shoulder, pulls her into a sudden, too tight embrace. It’s odd, and it hurts, and she tries to pull away but he tightens his grip. "They're here, child. We don't have much time."

The sky grows dark before she can ask who or why or anything at all.

"No time!" her father shouts, and drags her and her mother away from the window an instant before it explodes into pieces. She screams.

"Whatever happens," her father hisses through his teeth, through his pain, as they wait for the end of the world, "fight."

When Thanos arrives she's half-wild and seething. Glass clings to her skin, tens of tiny cuts bleeding. He commands her parents to bring her before him and when they refuse he throws her mother against a wall. The crack of her skull echoes through the hall, joining the cacophony of terror.

Neither she nor her father make a sound.

Thanos raises a hand and her father flies backwards, neck broken before he hits the ground. She stares up at the giant, defiant and silent.

Thanos smiles.


II.

A collection of children raised to be weapons. Thanos calls them his family. Gamora calls it training. Nebula calls it prison.

She changes gradually.

Not the way Gamora does, not with purpose. Gamora works harder than anyone and she's learning. But as Gamora grows stronger, Nebula begins to disappear.

She changes gradually and then suddenly, all at once.

Gamora first notices her nails.

(For weeks after she arrived Nebula had scratched up her wrists every night. Their keepers cut her nails and forced her to wear mits when she slept, like an infant. She took to stealing knives from the cafeteria and drawing them across her arm. She did it to keep track of time. She did it to remember to feel pain. She did it to defy the people who held her. When she started refusing to eat they put her in lockdown and Gamora only saw her once a week. Her arms were sometimes bloodied, sometimes scarred, and sometimes bandaged after the doctors had covered the wounds with new skin. When her arms were bandaged she turned to her nails, biting them to nothing.)

It's interesting to Gamora. It did not occur to her to fight back this way. It's counterintuitive to make herself weaker. She watches and wonders. And one day notices Nebula's nails are intact despite her bandages. After that Gamora is not surprised when Nebula joins them for lessons and finally meals again. She is not surprised when the doctors turn from repair to enhancement.

She understands now. Thanos chose Gamora for her resistance. He chose Nebula for her rage.

 

III.

Murderer. Murderer. Murderer.

Walking through the prison the word is flung at her from every direction. Different voices. Different languages. Different inflections and emotions. Same intent.

Murder.

The human and the beast are chattering about her. He doesn't know who she is. Or didn't but now the crowd explains, she's a murderer.  

(Ronan is the murderer, she would argue, Thanos is the murderer. I am a survivor, I am a fighter! My father taught me to fight.)

"Whatever nightmares the future holds, are dreams compared to what's behind me," she tells him, her voice calculated to be cold, like a murderer, and he quivers as she knew he would. Then he's distracted by another inmate and she slips away from his curious and compassionate eyes.

She knows how to survive.  

 

IV.

"...dead."

The pod explodes around her.

(It reminds her of the window, when she was a child, and her whole world died. Her whole world except her. It feels the same. Her skin tingles with a hundred tiny cuts.)

Her mind races as time and space slow to nothing. Flashes of memory flood her mind as she loses consciousness in the vastness of space. Cooking with her mother. Sparring with Nebula. Quill's eyes. Her father's hands on her shoulder, his voice in her ear.

Fight!

Fight....

Breathe!

She feels the air before she understands it's there. Her eye flutter open to find a mask. Three thoughts fill her mind in that instant: I lost the orb. Nebula has the orb. Ronan has the orb.

That's when she remembers to breathe.


V.

Peter and Ronan run for the stone, both reaching, both grasping. Gamora shouts, "No!", directed at both, directed at the unfairness of the universe for asking her to choose. If Ronan reaches the stone, they've failed and the galaxy will suffer. If Peter reaches the stone, he will suffer, and die. She'd said she would be honored to die at his side. She didn't say she wanted him to die at hers.

Peter reaches the stone first, curls his hand, and then his whole body around it. Gamora's world explodes into color and noise and destruction once again, Peter at the center of the whirlwind.

"Take my hand!" She's spoken before she realizes she made a choice.

(She understands now. What resistance really means.)

"Peter!"

Daughter!

He turns to look at her, at her hand, outstretched, and her heart, hard, but strong, unbroken. Unbreakable.

In that instant she knows they will win.

 

I.

"Why is this so important to you?"

She avoids his eyes, they're too curious and compassionate.

"She's a loose end."

"And a loose cannon," Peter adds.

Gamora rolls her eyes. "You are not as clever as you think."

"I don't think I'm clever." She raises an eyebrow. He shrugs. "Charming, astute, nimble--"

"Nimble?"

"Totally nimble. And, of course, ruggedly handsome."

She smiles despite herself. “Of course.”

"Anyway, I'm not being clever, I'm being… cautious and protective. We're guardians and I am guardian-ing you." She stares. "That sounded better in my head."

"I'm sure most things do." She turns back to the map, covered in notes, her many failures to find Nebula thus far. No, she tells herself, the only failure would be to stop looking.

"Gamora." She ignores him, taps a finger on another starport. "Look, I'm just worried about you."

She waves a hand in dismissal. "Don't."

"She tried to kill you," he argues. "Twice!" Gamora taps the map. Peter grabs her hand. "And me. And a planet of mostly innocent people.... And kind of the whole universe!"

Gamora looks at his hand, rough and spotted with grime, covering hers. It's annoying, but not menacing. He wants to help.

(Nebula screeched in anger, disarmed, again. Gamora offered her hand but she shoved it away. She must have gotten another enhancement, Gamora's wrist stung from the slap.)

"How can you forgive her?" Peter asks, quiet, plaintive.

She looks at his hand, his broken fingernails, and gives him the only answer she has.

"How can I not?"