“So, I’ve been thinking,” Gamora began as she strolled up the loading ramp of the Milano. It was a somewhat overcast Saturday afternoon, the school year was beginning again (which meant very little at the academy, being year-round regardless), and there was a sense of anticipation for new beginnings in the air.
“That’s good to hear,” Peter mumbled from where he was face-planted into the couch, limbs dangling over the edge. He had his ass kicked in fight training just a little over an hour ago, and had no intention of moving, no matter how bad the cushions smelled.
She frowned, dropping her bookbag with a loud thump right by his head, folding her arms over her chest. “Peter, we’ve only been dating for one week. Don’t let that be our record.”
He scrambled up into a sitting position like someone had lit him - or at the very least, the couch - on fire. “Right. Yes. Go on. Did I mention how nice your hair looks today, because wow - ”
Gamora let out a slow exhale of complete and utter exhaustion. They were all of sixty seconds into the conversation and she was already tempted to give up. “I’ve been thinking,” she huffed, “that we need to start talking about how to share space on the ship. We’ve never really talked about it before, and now that we’re romantically involved, it kind of...complicates things.”
“Complicates things?” Peter was confused. “I thought it would make things easier. Y’know, since we’ve been sharing a bed since before we started dating.”
She took a few steps back so she could sit across from him in the armchair, neatly folding one leg over the other, her face set in defiance. “Right. But doesn’t the change in our relationship heighten our emotional volatility? Do you really think we’re never going to fight again? Never going to want to sleep separately at any point in time?”
“We’ve got the dorms,” he protested.
“Only if we’re grounded. But what if we go on a mission, and we argue, and we have no desire to be in each other’s presence? Then what? Someone has to sleep on the couch?” He winced. The cushions really did smell kind of more than, well, absolutely terrible. He was eighty percent certain that Rocket had been experimenting with toxins in here. It would, at the very least, explain the suspicious oil stains. “And what if the fight lasts for more than a few days, or what if we break up?”
Peter deflated near instantly, hurt. “One week, and you’re already thinking about breaking up?”
Gamora reached to squeeze his hands reassuringly, her gaze softening. “Peter, I’m just trying to be practical. As much as I’d like to move into your room permanently, it’s not a good idea. There could be all sorts of complications in moving our relationship forward too quickly, and think of how it would affect the rest of the team if we spent too much time in each other’s company. It would give us more opportunities to clash. We wouldn’t be very good influences on Groot if he saw us fighting more than usual, and going back and forth between sharing a room and sleeping out here in the common area. We need to get used to being separate when we’re together.” Noting the storm beginning to form in Peter’s cloud-colored eyes, she leaned forward to rest her forehead against his. “And I’m not saying we’re anywhere near breaking up. The complete opposite, in fact.”
“I agree,” he murmured, pecking her briefly on the lips, pleased to feel her smiling into the kiss. “But what’re you suggesting?”
Still grinning, she pulled away. “A trial run. For this week, at least. Friday and Saturday, we share a bed. It’s the weekend, nothing stress-inducing should be happening - in theory. The rest of the week, we sleep separately, whether we’re here or back at the dorms.”
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try,” Peter allowed, gently tugging Gamora by the hand so she would join him on the couch. He slung an arm over the back of her shoulders, pulling her into him. She automatically moved to rest her hands on his chest, smiling up at him encouragingly. “So...that means we’re sharing tonight, right?”
“Did you have other plans?” she teased.
He lowered his head so his mouth was by her ear. “Plans for you, maybe,” he whispered. She shivered a little at the implications, leaning in to kiss him again, when -
“Can you two stop mackin’ for a second, and one of you get up here? Twig’s got himself tangled in the wires again,” Yondu called from the cockpit. Peter let out an annoyed groan, pressing a quick kiss into the crook of her jaw before standing up.
“My turn, I guess,” he grumbled. “It’s like we can’t go five minutes without being interrupted.”
Dinner, as always, was anything but peaceful, especially with the entire team sitting down together. Drax was convinced Groot had stolen one of his favorite knives, Rocket was out of bullet casings for at least three of his guns and wouldn’t stop bringing it up every two minutes, Yondu had somehow failed his very first quiz of the semester despite it being a “getting-to-know-you” icebreaker, and Nebula had found out about Mantis having a crush on a mysterious someone, and was, oddly enough, teasing her about it.
“And you can’t figure out if she feels the same way? Some empath you are,” Nebula snarked.
“Who even told you?” Mantis whined, burying her face in her hands.
“Leave her alone, Nebula,” Gamora sighed. “Drax, Groot had nothing to do with your stolen knife, I found it under the couch where you dropped it after our last sparring practice. Rocket, I don’t know how you managed to run out of bullet casings since we haven’t had a mission in two months, but you can make the trip to SHIELD quarters yourself. Yondu, I...have no words. You couldn’t even answer what your favorite color was?”
“Who has a favorite color?” Yondu exclaimed. “Is that a thing Terrans think about in their spare time? Seems like a waste of time t’ me.”
“Peter’s favorite color is red,” Gamora retorted easily. Peter smiled privately to himself, pleased that she had remembered.
“Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out,” Rocket snorted. “Just ‘cause you’re dating Quill now, don’t mean you’re the leading expert.”
“Anyways,” Gamora said a little louder than necessary. “If we can move past all of our petty problems, the Director has informed me that we’ve been taken off the mission roster until the month is through, aside from galaxy-wide emergencies. Apparently, Janet has been putting in a little too much effort into planning more school events since prom was so successful, so she has something called homecoming week starting soon. She doesn’t want anyone to go out of town unless it’s urgent. We should be financially covered though, since we came into quite a bit of money from the yearbook contest.”
“Yeah, and you won’t let nobody actually see it,” Yondu complained, tossing his fork down onto his plate with a loud clatter. “Where you hidin’ the money, Gamora?”
“I would speculate it is under Quill’s mattress,” Drax said thoughtfully.
“Why’s that?” Rocket asked, cocking his head in confusion.
“Because no one wants to go near Quill’s room, now that he and Gamora are...copulating,” Nebula smirked, leaning back in her chair triumphantly. “Who knows when he last washed those sheets?”
“I am Groot?”
“I am not telling you what she meant, Groot. Trust me, you don’t need the mental images I got going on right now.”
Peter turned to Gamora, a deadened expression in his usually mischievous eyes. “I have never wanted to bash my head into the wall as much as I do in this exact moment.” She only shot him a warning glare in return.
“No one’s getting their hands on the money,” she said as calmly as she could, though mentally she was writing a list of what order to punish the others in, and how exactly to do it. “We have to be responsible. It’s a lot of money, more than we’ve ever had at a time, but it’s not endless. We can’t afford to be frivolous.”
“You’re no fun, girl, you know that?” Yondu drawled.
“Hey, come on, she’s right,” Peter interjected defensively. “The money can go a long way if we spend it right. Long-term investments, you know?”
“Someone’s been paying attention in econ,” Nebula muttered.
“Thank you, Peter,” Gamora exhaled, relieved. It was comforting to know Peter was becoming more financially responsible, especially after the incident from when they had first arrived on Terra. (He may or may not have gotten too excited at discovering the advances in Nerf Blaster technology since he’d left Earth, and invested in about five too many toy guns. Gamora had to hide them in her dorm’s private bathroom cabinet, behind her tampons. To this day, she still couldn’t understand why boys were so afraid of feminine hygiene products.)
“But if I had to make one request…” he began. She immediately slapped a hand over his mouth.
“No,” she said firmly. “No toys.”
Sullen, Peter gently pushed her hand away and turned to Nebula. “And another thing,” he continued. “I mean, copulating? First of all, who even uses that word anymore, and secondly, we’ve been pretty polite about it since you guys also sleep on this ship - we’ve been sticking to the dorms. Mostly. Sometimes, the mood just hits.”
“Peter, I will do more than ‘just hit’ if you don’t stop talking right now,” Gamora hissed.
“I am Groot?”
“Seriously, I’m not explaining, so stop asking.”
“Oh, for the love of everything!” Gamora groaned, slumping forward onto the table.
“I am scared to find out if she feels the same way because I cannot handle that kind of stress!” Mantis wailed very suddenly, causing Nebula to jump. “I would not know what to do with myself if she does not, or worse, if she does!”
Drax reached across the table to pat her on the hand, a little awkwardly, but otherwise quite gentle, a stark contrast to his usually brutish way of showing affection. “I hope she finds you as disgusting, yet endearing, as I do,” he said sincerely.
It took another minute before Gamora recovered her composure and joined the conversation again. Honestly, they couldn’t even get through a single meal without it turning into dinner and a show.
After tucking Groot into bed (and reading him Goodnight Moon for the third time that week), Peter returned to his room to find Gamora lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wide awake. “Hey, you alright?”
“Of all the things I have been through, I don’t think I’ve ever been as exhausted as I am when I’m with the team,” she said slowly, causing Peter to chuckle. “And don’t think you’re off the hook just because you’re my boyfriend.”
He smiled goofily at her as he climbed into bed, immediately snuggling into her side. “I love it when you say that. Uh, the boyfriend part, not the other - you know what I mean.” He slid his arms around her waist, squeezing her hips affectionately. “I’m gonna miss being able to hold you like this every night.”
“It’s only an experiment for this week,” she relented, turning onto her side to face him, her gaze softening as their eyes met. “I just think we need to consider establishing boundaries before it complicates the team dynamic, so sleeping separately is a good start. And I worry about what might happen the next time we go on a mission, how much will change now that we have an added layer to our own relationship. Can we be objective anymore?”
“Um, I’m never objective,” Peter said, looking oddly proud of that very fact. “I care about all of you, and maybe this is selfish of me, but other than you know, me, I tend to put you first regardless. Well, depending on how Mantis or Groot are doing.”
“And that’s my point,” Gamora said softly, cupping his jaw, though she couldn’t help but smile at how easy it was for him to admit that he was looking out for her the most. She wasn’t sure how to vocalize the same sentiment in return, though he probably already knew she felt the same way. “Maybe we’re already too codependent to begin with. We need to not rely on each other to the point of being unable to function alone, you know?”
“I get it.” He bent to kiss her on the nose, causing her to scrunch up her face so adorably that Peter’s heart melted a little. He maintained she was both one of the deadliest and one of the cutest women in the entire galaxy, her reputation be damned. “I don’t want to be like that either. But I also don’t think that sharing a bed is what’s gonna make it or break it. There’s other stuff that are signs of dangerous codependency, like…” She interrupted him with a sudden yawn, stretching, letting out a soft mewl like a kitten. Peter was pretty sure he was a puddle at this point - he really did love her to no end. “...maybe we can talk about this when you aren’t exhausted,” he chuckled.
“Sorry,” she laughed. “I promise that wasn’t in response to what you were saying. But yes, we can talk about that another time. And I’ll concede by the end of the week if you’re right.” She pecked him quickly on the lips. “Goodnight, Peter.”
He couldn’t resist chasing after her mouth for one last kiss, enjoying the feel of her arms around his neck, pulling him in close. “Night, honey.”
Sunday passed by in a rather lazy fashion - the start of a new semester was always relatively slow - with the Guardians dispersed across campus, going about their day. Rocket took Groot with him to SHIELD so he could pick up his bullet casings, Drax went to the gym to get in some combat practice with Thor, Yondu holed himself up in the Milano’s cockpit so he could chat with Kraglin, and Mantis found herself being dragged around by Nebula who was strangely insistent on seeing who it was she liked.
Gamora managed to get Peter to go to the library so they could get a headstart on their homework, promising she would make out with him for five minutes on one of the plush leather couches in the secluded study area if he finished. (“Can I make a case for ten?” “No, Peter.”)
She could feel eyes on them as she sat closer than usual, laying her head on his shoulder after she had been long done, while Peter was still struggling through his abstract on psychological warfare. For some reason, she felt more self-conscious now than she had been when they were fake-dating and playing up their physical affection, despite the new emotional security in knowing that they really did love each other. Janet had slowed on her insistence of Snapchatting whenever they held hands in public, and Kamala no longer shrieked every single time she saw them kiss, but it was still unnerving to be watched, and to be known as the so-called cutest couple in school.
Peter’s voice broke her out of her reverie. “Hey, you wanna go grab an early dinner?”
Gamora glanced down at his laptop screen to see his word count was only half of what he needed. “But you haven’t finished.”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “Yeah, but you’re clearly uncomfortable. It’s the staring, right?”
She nodded, biting her lip in worry. “It’s like the beginning of our ‘relationship’ all over again,” she muttered, downcast. Then, a bit louder, “I could go for some food. But you better not hand in that abstract late, or Madame Hydra will kill you. And with her, anything’s a possibility.”
After a much more pleasant dinner than the previous night’s, on account of being completely alone, the two of them stretched out in a leisurely manner on the lawn by the quad, watching other students pass by every now and then, breathing in the crisp air of early autumn. Already, Gamora felt much more at ease, though there was a knot forming in the pit of her stomach at knowing she and Peter would have to separate by the end of the night. And maybe that was a sign, the kind she’d been dreading - that she already spent too much time with him, had become too reliant on his presence.
“Question number I-don’t-know-what-we’re-on,” Peter said, grabbing another fry from Gamora’s take-out container and getting a playful punch in the shoulder for his efforts. “If you had to pick one person on campus to be Nebula’s significant other, who would you pick?”
Gamora laughed. “Oh, that’s awful. I’m not sure, maybe Barnes? They both have metal appendages and long, regretful histories of assassination. That sounds like a match made in Hel.” She smacked Peter’s hand away before he could steal more of her food. “By the way, do you have any idea who Mantis has a crush on? I was unaware she was even spending time with anyone but us.”
“My baby sister’s growing up,” he sniffled dramatically, putting a hand over his heart. Gamora gave him a look that he was pretty sure translated to “you are ridiculous, please stop”. “No, I haven’t gotten any hints or anything. I wanna help her, though. I want her to be as happy as I am with you.”
“Your overly sappy nature is incorrigible,” she said fondly, moving a little closer so their shoulders were brushing. She laid a hand over his, fingers splayed across his chest, delighted to feel his heartbeat speed up a little at her gesture. “But you will hear no complaints from me.”
“Now can we make out?” Peter asked hopefully.
Gamora rolled her eyes, leaning in closer. “Find us somewhere quieter, and I’ll acquiesce.”
Apparently, the spot Peter had found them wasn’t quite secluded enough, as thirty minutes later, they were shooed off by Pepper, who gave them a stern talking-to about public displays of affection, but then admitted she was glad they had won Cutest Couple (“I’d never hear the end of it from Tony if Steve and Peggy won, trust me.”). They walked back to the dorms, feeling light as air, with Peter in particular letting out hysterical little giggles at recalling the murderous expression on Pepper’s face.
It was a little sobering, however, when they stopped outside her room, fingers loosely tangled together, as he slowly pressed her against the door, kissing her languidly, wishing he didn’t have to let go. “Peter,” Gamora said in that half-stern, half-affectionate manner she usually reserved for him and him alone. “You can’t come inside tonight.”
“There’s a dirty joke in there somewhere,” he mumbled, reluctantly pulling away.
“Remember how I vaguely threatened to break up with you yesterday? I’m getting that urge again,” she deadpanned, patting his chest. “You’re meeting me at the gym tomorrow, right?”
He sighed, apologetic. “I can’t, I have to meet Cindy at the café after class. We have a presentation on Friday.”
“Cindy Moon? What’s the presentation on?”
“Whether superhero origin stories have a positive or negative effect on the psychological health of said superhero. It’s actually a debate - I’m for positive, she’s for negative. Obviously.” He smiled teasingly at her. “Why do you wanna know if it’s Cindy Moon specifically?”
“Your insistence on turning my curiosity into jealousy is exhausting,” she frowned. “Anyways, I guess we won’t be seeing each other after all. I’m having dinner with Natasha and Elektra after sparring practice, so I won’t be going to the Milano tomorrow.”
“Aww.” He pulled her in for one last embrace. “Then I’ll text you after class?”
Gamora took a few steps into her room before turning to cast him a glance over her shoulder. “If you text me and leave poor Cindy to do all the work, I’ll just text her and have her yell at you on my behalf.”
“You have Cindy’s number?” Peter asked incredulously, but she simply gave him one last smile and shut the door in his face.
“Peter. Peter. Peter. Hey!”
“I didn’t do it!” He practically flew out of his seat upon being prodded in the arm with a pencil eraser. He looked around wildly before his eyes landed on Cindy, who didn’t look particularly impressed.
“Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, did you?” She handed him a Starkbucks napkin (how Stark hadn’t been sued by Starbucks yet was beyond Peter) so he could wipe the drool off his sleeve.
“Your spidey sense tell you that?” he snapped a little louder than he meant to, though he accepted the napkin regardless.
“Wow, okay. You don’t get to talk to me like that,” Cindy retorted, narrowing her eyes at him.
Peter held up his hands in surrender before running them through his hair, sheepish. “Shit. Sorry, Cindy, that was mean of me. You’re right, I didn’t sleep well. Uh, me and Gamora, we’re trying this thing where we sleep separately, but I guess I’m not really used to it yet.”
She chewed thoughtfully on her pencil, confused. “What for?”
“She thinks we’ve been spending too much time together and wants to establish some boundaries before we get too codependent,” he said, glancing down at his laptop screen. Apparently, he’d nodded off on his keyboard and had typed about a hundred rows of zeroes in the process. Whoops.
“And she thinks sleeping in separate beds is gonna change that? Interesting,” Cindy hummed.
It was Peter’s turn to look at her suspiciously. “What?”
“Nothing, I just…” He waved a hand, indicating he wanted her to continue. “...maybe in another life, where you and her, or really any of us, aren’t the people that we are, it might be kind of weird to be around each other all the time. Like, there’s stories about people who get weirdly obsessed with their SOs and stop talking to their friends and family because they’re too busy being with them. But it’s not another life, it’s this one, where we’re so-called heroes, with varying degrees of messed-up backstories. And honestly, where else are you going to find someone who can love and understand you the way that she can? And I’m not trying to be nasty when I say that, Peter, but I’m saying it’s hard for us to be with someone who doesn’t get it. There’s a reason you feel everything so deeply about her, even moreso because you run a team together. I think it’s natural, and it’s not unhealthy, which I’m guessing is what she’s really worried about."
“So...you’re saying it’s justified,” he said slowly. They fell silent for a moment as he mulled it over - admittedly, there was a lot of truth in Cindy’s statement. Before becoming a Guardian, he had found it so easy to be around others that were nothing like him. Now, he was finding it harder and harder to have conversations with people that didn’t also spend their time saving the world. “Wait, are you just trying to get me to see your side of the argument so I’ll lose the debate?”
“Damn, you saw right through me,” she said sarcastically, snapping her fingers in defeat. He stared at her for a second before they both dissolved into laughter. Still, maybe Cindy was onto something.
Peter: hey, how was dinner with nat and elektra?
Gamora: good, we actually had some pleasant conversation for once instead of elektra telling us about her latest outing with ‘matthew’. also, no one stole my food this time
Gamora: you get lots done with cindy?
Peter: it’s not stealing, it’s sharing :p
Peter: yeah, we’re basically ready to go but we’re gonna do a runthrough during lunch on friday
Peter: k honestly i’m super tired right now but i just wanted to check to see how you were doing
Peter: so i’m gonna head to bed now and i’ll see you in class tomorrow
Peter: goodnight - love you :)
Gamora: goodnight, love you too
She plugged her phone into its charger and set it on her side table, rolling onto her back to fixate on the ceiling. It was still somewhat foreign to her to see and hear Peter declare his love for her so easily, like it was as natural as breathing, but she tried her best to return the sentiment whenever he did. She did love him, of course, and he knew that she did, but being the first to say it, however, was a different story.
The first week of their relationship hadn’t been the smoothest - after all, they had gotten pretty angry at each other only a couple days ago, when Peter didn’t want to go on a mission for the sake of keeping the team safe - but it surprised her how easy it was to be with him. Maybe it was because they had been faking a relationship for three months beforehand, or maybe it was the fact that it changed very little about their existing relationship.
Either way, Gamora still couldn’t help but worry that they were already too attached at the hip. She had no basis for what relationships were like, aside from those she witnessed on campus, and that of her mother and father (the little she could remember of them, anyway), but she wanted to be sure they were on a healthy road and not a downward spiral. There was no harm in being cautious, after all.
She settled down into her pillow, burying her nose into it and realizing it still smelled a bit like Peter’s shampoo. They had slept here a few nights ago when she had gotten a little desperate (she may have unbuckled his pants in the hallway, it wasn’t her proudest moment). Smiling to herself, she slowly drifted off to sleep.
Gamora was running - no, sprinting - through a thicket of tall grass, if she could call it that. It was nearly twice her height and incredibly dense, scratching her face and hands, but she didn’t care, couldn’t afford to pause, not when she could hear the desperate cries of poor Groot in the distance.
Still, it seemed like the grass was endless, dizzying to the point of causing hysteria. She stopped to rest, hunching over to support her hands on her knees, panting, nearly gasping for air, the atmosphere becoming thicker by the second. She had only been running for a minute, how could she possibly be tired already? Was there some poison making its way through her veins? An airborne virus, perhaps?
Another moment passed before she realized everything had gone silent. Not silent in the way a classroom fell quiet after a teacher hushed their students, but like her ears had been clamped over by an airtight seal, not a single whistle of wind or hum of a fly to be heard. Or, more importantly, the whimpers of an injured child, desperate for help. Gamora twisted around, nearly tripping over her own feet in desperation, longing to hear something, anything again, when she found her surroundings being whisked away like some twisted house of mirrors gone mad, replaced with something familiar, and yet all the more eerie.
She now stood in the quad of the academy, but the campus was empty as far as the eye could see. There was no rambunctious laughter, no loud conversations, no students whizzing by with their super speed or magic powers or whatever it was that made them so quick on their feet. It was clean, too - sterile, almost. No chewed gum stuck to the pavement, no buildup of food wrappers in the garbage cans. It also smelled too fresh, like someone had taken a can of pine-scented aerosol and doused the entire area with it in an attempt to hide something.
Gamora was almost mesmerized by the whole ordeal, entranced, even, when she heard a wheezing noise from behind her. Whipping around immediately, she was horrified to find herself looking at Peter, tied to the bulletin board, head lolling about like he no longer had any control of his neck, and judging by how the rest of him had gone limp, had no control over his motor functions, period. He was devoid of any visible injuries - bruises, cuts, scrapes, not even a drop of blood, but there was a blankness in his eyes that made her heart stop.
She was by his side in an instant, hands grasping at the ropes that bound him there, trying to find a knot or an end to pull him free. “Who did this to you?” she said frantically, tugging with every last bit of strength she had. It seemed like a very simple rope - the kind they used on Terra to teach young children how to tie knots - so she would usually be able to snap it like it was nothing, but it had no give at all, no slack anywhere for her to slip her fingers into.
"Th...Th…” His voice was frail, lacking the energy she’d come to expect of him, but she didn’t need him to complete his sentence to know who he was talking about.
“He’s here?” She tried her best to choke back the bile rising in her throat, burning hot. “Why is there no end on this rope?!”
“G...G’mora,” Peter panted, his fingers grasping at her but not quite finding their hold. “I...I love you.”
With a final raspy breath, hollow, echoing about in his chest, his chin dropped downwards, every last bit of posture he’d been struggling to keep going slack. “No,” she breathed, her hands moving to grab his jaw. “No, Peter...no...you can’t be...no…”
“NO!” Gamora shrieked, bolting upright. Gasping, she clutched at her own chest, thrashing about, legs tangling in her duvet as she tried to get her bearings. You’re in your dorm room, she told herself sternly, once the pounding sensation in her throat had ebbed. Even the voice in her mind seemed to be shaking. Her eyes flickered over to her phone. You fell asleep, it’s midnight, Peter went to bed two hours ago on the Milano. He’s okay. You’re okay.
Am I okay? Gamora wondered, shoving her bedsheets aside. Despite the cold sweat beginning to form on her brow bone, the rest of her was burning up like a furnace. She stripped off her hoodie and sweatpants - it seemed like a good idea at the time since it had been quite chilly outside when she returned to her room, but now it felt like she was drowning in excess fabric.
After turning on her bedroom light, she tentatively made her way over to her closet. She was hedging on whether to just sleep in her underwear when she found one of Peter’s T-shirts on the floor by her bookbag. She deliberated for all of ten seconds before picking it up and pulling it over her head, staring contemplatively into the mirror. She could practically hear Peter’s voice as he explained its significance to her (“Oh man, I should really show you Flash Gordon sometime, it’s incredible”), cracking a small smile as she did. “Screw attachments,” she said to herself, making eye contact in the mirror. “It’s just one night.” Her breath finally evening out, she climbed back into bed and settled back under the covers, managing to close her eyes once again.
Peter strolled into Professor Pym’s lab, whistling idly to himself as he settled down on one of the benches, when he felt fingertips grazing his bicep. Flinching slightly, he turned towards the perpetrator and relaxed instantly when he saw it was Gamora. “Hey you,” he said cheerfully. “You’re wearing my shirt.”
Gamora had indeed worn the shirt she slept in over her usual leather pants. “Do you want it back?” she asked as she sat next to him.
“I told you, I like it when you wear my clothes. Just don’t take literally everything I own,” he chuckled.
She nodded absentmindedly as she began unpacking her bookbag, laying everything out on her desk. “I think I’ll be sleeping on the Milano tonight,” she said as nonchalantly as she could. She hoped Peter wouldn’t notice the slight tremor in her voice, though he was usually pretty observant when it came to her. “My dorm room was oddly cold last night.”
“Did you check with your RA? The thermostat could be broken. Or maybe the boiler,” he suggested.
“That was the first thing I did,” she lied, neatly lining up her pens alongside her notebook. “They might need to bring in maintenance and see if there’s a draft anywhere. Regardless, I’m not taking my chances on freezing in my sleep.”
“Well, it’ll be good to have you back. Groot missed you at dinner last night. So did I, obviously.” Gamora bit her lip to hide a smile, though Peter’s shy grin in return only strengthened her fondness for him. She leaned over to quickly kiss his shoulder, just as Professor Pym strolled to the front of the room.
“Alright, students, there was a little mishap in the computer lab last night, and I don’t want to point any fingers, but there’s one student with a hankering - hankering - for arson and skulls, am I right, Mister Reyes…?”
After classes were over, Gamora convinced Peter to go to the gym with her before heading to the Milano for the rest of the evening. There was something peacefully domestic about being on the treadmills together despite not having any conversation, Peter with his headphones on as always, bopping his head enthusiastically and nearly falling off twice, while Gamora was listening to a TED Talk on her phone (Natasha had gotten her hooked, and it was her alternate way of learning about Terran knowledge and culture outside of Peter’s admittedly narrow influence). It almost made her forget about the sudden terror she had experienced last night.
“So, what’d you get up to after I went to bed?” Peter asked as they moved over to the weight benches. It was like he read her mind.
“Going after the paperwork from past jobs that you haven’t filed away yet,” she replied. It felt like every lie she told was making her tongue feel heavier in her mouth, She hated keeping things from him, but she wasn’t ready to admit defeat just yet, and she knew the moment she vocalized that something was wrong, Peter would start to fuss. “I didn’t realize the Director would require so much documentation.”
“I think that’s more Pepper’s doing than Fury’s,” he laughed, sitting on the floor in front of her. “I’ll spot you. Ready?”
To their relief, when they returned to the ship, the only ones on board were Rocket and Groot, the latter being a little sad, now that he was starting to shed leaves instead of grow them. The four of them had a surprisingly pleasant dinner, with minimal teasing from Rocket when Peter kissed Gamora in the kitchen. “You two are ridiculous,” Rocket said, waving a fork at them, though he didn’t look as put off by their romantic display as his tone would suggest. Groot was staring up at them with wide, puppy-like eyes from the kitchen counter, his mood instantly brightened at the sight.
Once the meal was over, Rocket went to put Groot to bed, and then was off to spend his night working on some weapons he didn’t want the others to know about that were stashed away in his room. Peter, on the other hand, requested Gamora spoon him on the couch while they watched a couple episodes of Happy Days on his holo-tab.
“You look tired,” she commented quietly, reaching around his back to gently pat his face. “I thought you went to bed early.”
“I did,” he protested, turning around to look at her. “One good night’s sleep isn’t gonna suddenly make me more awake.”
“Alright, I’ll concede,” she chuckled. “How was your day?”
“Good, good,” he nodded, resting their heads together, his eyes twinkling with warmth. “I had lunch with Mantis, I’m no closer to cracking the case on her crush. But asking questions makes her uncomfortable, so I’m not gonna be an ass about it. I also stopped by Avengers Hall to check out the announcements since Janet said something about peer tutoring. Figured I could use all the credentials I can get, you know? I didn’t sign up for anything yet, but I got a pamphlet if you wanna check it out. Oh, and…”
Eventually, she laid her head on his shoulder as he continued to talk, the even lilt of Peter’s voice rumbling through his body and keeping her heartbeat steady. She inhaled slowly, taking in the smell of his sweater. In all honesty, she had hated it the moment he had first put it on, having bought it last autumn - it was the sort of open-weave knit that snagged on hooks and corners, and made everything it came into contact with quite itchy, such as her own skin - but now, it just felt like home.
Gamora didn’t realize she had nodded off until Peter was shaking her shoulder, having set the tablet aside and was now supporting the entirety of her body weight, one hand on the small of her back, the other running through her hair. “Speaking of tired,” he chuckled. “Bedtime?”
“You’re quite comfortable,” she replied, yawning as she got off the couch. “I’ll see you in polisci tomorrow?” He nodded, patting her on the hip and kissing her goodnight before letting her go. Peter made a few last paces around the Milano, checking the doors and appliances, before heading back to his room.
He let out a somewhat disappointed exhale at the sight of his empty bed. Of course, he knew not to expect Gamora to be there, but he was half-hoping in her drowsy state, she would have returned to his room like she had been doing for weeks, acting on pure instinct. He turned off the light and climbed into his bunk, hating the way it felt to spread his limbs outwards and never brush against another person, to hear only the sound of his own breathing, the sheets cool to the touch at the presence of only one body.
Peter turned over onto his side, realizing he was occupying half of the mattress in the way he had become so used to, and promptly planted his face into the pillow, where he could smell the faint scent of Gamora’s shampoo. That, at the very least, gave him some comfort, allowing his muscles to relax as his eyes slid closed.
It was warm, the sort of warm that one only felt on a beach in the tropics. It made everything a little hazy, the air rippling with the lack of humidity, making one’s limbs feel oddly light, like it would be easy to lay flat on one’s back and float away into nothingness. Peter opened his eyes to find Gamora sitting cross-legged beside him, leaning over his prone form. “Hey.” He was disturbed to find that his voice sounded disembodied, as if he weren’t physically present. One glance down at his own hands relieved him of his fear, though they were a little cleaner than he remembered. Peter wasn’t a slob by any means, but he often had blisters from the way he gripped his dual blasters, and he had scraped knuckles after his latest combat training session. These hands - his hands? - were free of flaws.
“Good, you’re awake.” Her voice was sharper than his, blunt as the edge of her sword. It reminded him of the way she spoke to him when they first met - irritable, no-nonsense, condescending, almost. “We need to talk.”
“Uh, sure. What about?” He sat up, looking around. They appeared to be in some sort of sterile white room, the kind that made him think of evil lairs in futuristic movies, where they did unethical experiments on animals and humans. Shivering, he turned back to look at Gamora, noting the lifelessness in her expression. She had been so warm as of late, with her teasing grins and gentle smiles, that the utter blankness of her face made him feel colder than the room ever could.
“About breaking up.” She wasn’t meeting his eyes, instead electing to pull out her phone and start scrolling through...something.
“I - what? I thought you said we weren’t anywhere near - ”
“Your persistence may have won me over, but now I’m realizing how wrong you are for me,” she continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “Remember when you asked me what I looked for in a partner? Discipline, intelligence, level-headedness. You may have fooled me into seeing those qualities in you with your thoroughly detailed plans to pursue Thanos, but now I realize you’re still the immature, self-absorbed, impulsive child that you were when we first met. Not to mention your surprising lack of confidence in your own abilities, and your reliance on me to make yourself feel good about the decisions you’ve made. I’m supposed to be your girlfriend, and yet, you treat me like both your child and your parent. I’m not your pet project, and I’m not your mother, either. Your attempts to both take care of me and get me to take care of you are tired, your constant pursuit of physical intimacy with me is unwelcomed, and your crude sense of humor offends me. Therefore, I wish to be in this relationship no longer.”
It was like she had taken the Godslayer and pierced it straight through his heart. Frankly, Peter wished she had done that instead. “Gamora,” he choked. “You said I was different than how I was before - I’ve been trying so hard to be more responsible, for all of you - so I can take care of the team and be a good leader - but I know I failed you - please - “ He could feel his face growing hot, tears brewing in his eyes, his fingers trembling as he reached for her.
She got to her feet, looking away from her phone briefly so she could glance down at him like he was a particularly uninteresting bug she’d squashed beneath her shoe. Without another word, she turned and began walking away. He moved as if to stand as well, but found that he could not - his feet were now glued to the floor. Crying out desperately, he began tugging at his ankles, wondering why he was without shoes, and where they were, and what had happened, and what to do - when suddenly, something dropped out of the ceiling in front of Gamora, causing her to leap backward in shock.
It was Awesome Mix 2, the cassette tape that Ego had broken before Peter’s very eyes.
Brandy, you're a fine girl...what a good wife you would be...but my life, my lover, my lady is the sea…
“Gamora!” he yelled. He changed his strategy instantly, beginning to claw at the floor in a futile attempt to drag himself towards her. He could feel his fingernails breaking from sheer force, the pads of his fingertips starting to bleed. Peter froze when Ego suddenly appeared in a cloud of nothingness, crushing the tape under his foot into dust. “GAMORA!”
“Remember, Peter,” Ego said, his voice just as charmingly affable as ever, the sort of kindly voice that had gotten his son to follow him to his planet in the first place. “The girl is temporary.” With one swoop of his arm, he picked up Gamora by the neck and squeezed. Peter could only sob helplessly as she dissolved into ash, crumbling beneath Ego’s fingers.
“You already killed my mother,” he wept, slumping against the floor. “And now...my best friend...the girl that I love more than anything else...why? Why would you do this?”
“You’re letting the human side of you win, Peter,” Ego sing-songed, wagging a mocking finger at him. “We’re Celestials. Everything is temporary. We can’t let emotions get in the way of our one true purpose. If you don’t obey me, I’ll go after ol’ Yondu next. Or maybe Mantis. She did betray me, after all. And for what? Love?”
“You leave them alone,” Peter panted, struggling to prop himself up on his hands. “I don’t wanna be a Celestial, not if it makes me a maniac like you. Small ‘g’ or not, I ain’t playing god.”
“Shame,” Ego said, stroking his beard like he was in deep thought. “I always did like Yondu. Only met him a couple times when he was still with Stakar, but he was a feisty kid.”
“NO! DON’T HURT HIM!” Peter hollered, but Ego disappeared once more in a cloud of smoke.
His eyes flew open in shock, choking violently as he did, despite his mouth being bone dry. Peter began grasping around desperately until he found his Walkman, and with trembling hands, slid the headphones over his ears, hitting play.
And I love you so...the people ask me how...how I've lived till now...I tell them I don't know…
“Shit.” He began running his fingers through his hair, tugging at the strands like they’d offended him somehow. “That’s three nights in a row now.”
And yes I know how lonely life can be...the shadows follow me...and the night won't set me free...but I don't let the evening bring me down...now that you're around me...
Despite being more tired than usual, Peter practically sprinted to his morning class like he was going to be late (and he wasn’t, not this time). An unusual sense of relief flooded him upon seeing the telltale red fin, bobbing over the heads of their other classmates.
“Yondu,” he exclaimed, sitting down beside him and nearly tumbling out of the chair in his desperation. “You’re okay.”
Yondu’s eyebrows shot up immediately in suspicion. “Uh, yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I had a dream about Ego comin’ after you,” Peter confessed. “It’s stupid, but I was kinda worried I was gonna wake up and find that you were gone.”
“You’re right. That is stupid,” Yondu snorted. “I’m fine, boy, relax. Though you don’t sound so good yourself.”
“I mean, I’ve been better,” Peter said hesitantly. “Ego killed Gamora in the dream. That wasn’t so fun.”
“You two are ridiculous, you know that?” Yondu let out a hearty laugh like he was remembering a particularly funny joke, twirling his yaka arrow in a way that made the students around them look a little nervous.
“So I’ve heard,” Peter mumbled.
“I don’t mean no offense by it, honest. I still remember comin’ after you on Knowhere and gettin’ yelled at by her ‘cause you spent a lot of time talking shit about me. Guess she didn’t understand the...complicated parts of our relationship. But you been mooning after her ever since you met her, and now that you’re actually datin’, you’re still making a big deal outta everything.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean the whole sleeping separately thing,” Yondu said, brandishing the arrow at Peter in a way that even made him jump. “Ain’t gonna make a bit of difference. You’re gonna be crazy about each other no matter what. So stop making yourselves miserable to prove a point. Y’all already did that when you were trying to pretend you weren’t in love, and look how that turned out!”
In lieu of a response, Peter glanced down at his phone. “I should text Mantis,” he mumbled. “Make sure she’s okay, too.”
“Fine. You don’t wanna talk about your girl. What’s this about peer tutoring I’m hearing?” Yondu leaned back in his seat, folding his arms, kicking his feet up onto the desk in a rather precarious manner.
“It’s a new thing they’re trying out,” Peter said as he tapped out a quick “doing the big brother thing and saying good morning” message to Mantis. “Some students have more experience in specific areas than others, so they wanted to do like, group sessions. And Gamora is still trying to get her fight clinic with Nebula off the ground, but she has to get it approved by the Director first.”
“What were you thinkin’ of? Gun-slinging? Weird-ass improvised strategies?”
“Communication and leadership, actually,” Peter replied, smiling a little at Mantis’s reply of “good morning :D”. She was the only other Guardian who used emojis as often as he did. “There’s also a family component to it, and you know, considering Groot’s basically like my kid, I can kind of help with that part, too. But, uh, I dunno if anyone considers me a good leader. They probably want Captain America or someone like him to tutor that class instead.”
His mind wandered back to what Gamora had said to him in the dream, all the harsh barbs she’d thrown his way, like she had taken millions of tiny needles and dug them into every square inch of his skin. It wasn’t like anything she said was new to him - it was all variations of things other people had said about him, or worse, to him - but it was the way she had said it, like she’d been dying to say it for weeks and wanted to get it all out in as little time as possible.
“I didn’t run the Eclector for too long, but I spent enough time with Stakar to know the diff’rence between good and bad leadership,” Yondu said sagely. “Bad leadership’s when people follow you ‘cause they’re afraid of what you’ll do if they don’t. Good leadership’s when people follow you because they know they the best version of themselves when they do. And that’s you in a nutshell, Quill. We’re all good because of you.”
“Weirdly nice of you, but I’ll take it,” Peter chuckled, clapping Yondu on the shoulder. “Thanks, Yondu. I don’t know why you keep ‘dad speech’-ing me but I think it’s actually starting to make me feel better.”
“You can talk yourself into a frenzy real easy,” Yondu shrugged, though he looked pleased. “Someone’s gotta get you outta your funk.”
By the time Peter arrived at his last class of the day, the usual spring in his step had returned, his mind occupied with thoughts of potential lesson plans for peer tutoring instead of the way the nightmare version of Ego (though really, wasn’t every version of him a nightmare?) had taken hold of his brain. He happily kissed Gamora hello, and was relieved to find that she didn’t notice anything different about him. Maybe they wouldn’t have to talk about this - he didn’t want her to get mad, or worse, worry about him unnecessarily.
They returned to the Milano in good spirits, discussing the semester’s curriculum and what their favorite classes had been so far. When they approached the loading bay, they could see Rocket and Groot sitting on the ramp, working on Rocket’s chemistry project together. Well, Groot was watching in rapt fascination. Rocket was trying his best not to swear every five seconds whenever he burnt his claws with the Bunsen burner. “Hey, should you be doing that out here?” Peter called.
“Live a little, Quill,” Rocket smirked, holding up his test tube as if to toast him. “No one ever got shit done by following the rules.”
“Nothing you said just now was true,” Gamora informed him haughtily, though she relaxed as Groot came running to wrap his arms around her ankles in greeting. She knelt to pick him up, bringing him closer to her face. “Hi, Groot. You have a good day today?”
“I am Groot,” he answered happily, nuzzling into her cheek. Smiling, she sat him back down next to Rocket, and she and Peter made their way onto the ship. To their surprise, Mantis was sitting on the couch with Drax and Nebula on either side, looking oddly flushed, her hands twisting in her lap.
“What’s going on?” Peter said, frowning. “Mantis, you okay?”
“We have almost cracked the case of Mantis’s infatuation,” Drax said eagerly. He sounded just as enthused as he did right before engaging in combat. “Would you care to help?”
“Drax,” Gamora said sternly, as Peter groaned behind her, slapping a hand over his forehead. “Leave her alone, both of you. If she wanted to tell you, she would.”
“Such a buzzkill, as always,” Nebula hummed, getting to her feet. “I thought you wanted me to take interest in the other’s lives.” Before she could retreat to her room, Gamora stepped forward to grab her sister’s wrist.
“Not at the expense of their comfort.” Gamora gestured at Mantis, who had curled into herself on the couch, looking just as withdrawn as the day they met her, like she wasn’t entirely all there. “Do your homework together, or help her make dinner, I don’t know. But do not emotionally torture her for your own pleasure.”
“Whatever.” Nebula made to move again, but Gamora only followed her down the corridor, her footsteps getting increasingly heavy.
“Nebula! I’m serious,” Gamora hissed, trapping her against the wall with her arm. “Mantis may seem more well-adjusted than you and I, but she grew up with a grand total of one person in her life, and I don’t need to tell you how screwed up he was. At least we had siblings to socialize with, as much as we despised them. She’s already experiencing new emotions for the first time by having her first crush, you don’t need to complicate it with your insistence on being hateful to everyone who happens to bore you.”
“She doesn’t bore me. Frankly, her romantic drama is far more interesting than yours,” Nebula retorted, rolling her eyes. There was something in the way Nebula had said it that made Gamora a little suspicious, as if...
“You don’t...like Mantis, do you?” Gamora hoped she didn’t look as uncomfortable as she felt asking it.
“Gods, no,” Nebula spat. “I just want her to get this over with already, or she’ll turn into Quill. His mopiness when he was convinced you didn’t like him was insufferable.”
“You want her to be happy,” Gamora translated, a grin beginning to form on her face. “Your persistence is admirable, but the way you’re going about it is not. Just leave her alone, and let her tell you about it when she’s ready, okay?” Nebula only grumbled and shoved her sister aside so she could make her way into her bedroom, though she didn’t slam the door quite as loudly as she usually did.
Still smiling, Gamora made her way back into the common area, only to be practically ambushed by Drax, who looked woefully ashamed of himself. “Gamora, I would like you to know that I have apologized to Mantis. Once again, my blunders have caused great distress to someone I care about, and I wanted to rectify it. It seems I still haven’t mastered the expectations of socialization.”
“You and everybody else in the galaxy,” Peter called from the couch, where he had an arm slung around Mantis. She looked completely at ease now, her sweet (if a little unsettling) smile having returned.
“Peter’s right, Drax, you aren’t expected to be perfect. But I appreciate you apologizing,” Gamora said, patting him on the arm. He smiled at her, nodding silently before moving into the kitchen to begin making dinner.
It was then that Yondu strolled on board, his boots clattering loudly against the metal grates as always, whistling idly, though his arrow remained tucked into his jacket. “Hey, losers,” he said cheerfully. Gamora rolled her eyes as she joined Peter and Mantis on the couch. “Quill, you tell Gamora ‘bout that nightmare of yours yet?”
“I - no, I - Yondu!” Peter exclaimed, agitated.
“Nightmare?” Gamora asked, leaning around Mantis to look at him. “What nightmare?”
“Dude, why’d you have to say that?” Peter groaned. Yondu held up his hands defensively as he threw himself down into the armchair across from them.
“Y’ told me about it, and you tell your girl everything. Figured I could bring it up just fine.”
“That doesn’t mean - ugh.”
“Peter. Your room, now,” Gamora said firmly, getting to her feet once again. Letting out a reluctant whine, he followed her down the corridor, ignoring Yondu’s wolf whistle trailing after them, and shut the door behind him. “Listen, I only ever ask for two things in relationships with other people. Trust, and honesty.”
“As you’ve said before,” he grumbled. She only gave him another warning glare in return. “You also said we were entitled to secrets.”
“Not if Yondu, of all people, cares enough to bring it up.” She sat on his bed, folding her arms over her chest. “Peter.”
“I don’t need you babying me, okay? I’m a grown man,” he shot back.
“Then start acting like one!” she yelled, causing him to reel in alarm. Sighing, she pinched the bridge of her nose, falling silent for a full minute before looking back up at him, despondent. “Look...I don’t...I don’t know how to be a girlfriend. I don’t know what the difference is between being your friend and being your girlfriend. So if I’m being overbearing, it’s because I care about you in more than one way. Does that make sense?”
Peter sat next to her, resting one hand in her lap, and using the other to tilt her chin upwards so their eyes could meet. “I don’t know how to be a boyfriend, either. But from what I can tell, there really isn’t a huge difference between being a friend or a partner. After all, people always say, ‘date your best friend’, and that’s what we’re doing, right?”
“It is,” she said quietly, a rueful smile crossing her face.
“The only difference for us, really, is the physical stuff.” He paused, remembering one of the things she had said to him in his nightmare. “Gamora...I’m not forcing you to have sex with me, am I?”
“Like, you’re not just having sex with me because you think it’s what I want, right? It’s something that you want, too?”
“I thought I’ve vocalized my desire, my consent, and my enjoyment very thoroughly,” she murmured, squeezing his hand. “Peter, I just want to know. You’ve told me about your nightmares before, what’s different about this one?”
“They’re...not the kind of nightmares you want to be having when you’re trying to be independent.”
“You dreamt about me dying,” Gamora guessed. At his surprised expression, she added, “My nightmares are of your death as well. It wasn’t exactly a hard assumption to make.”
“You didn’t tell me you were having nightmares,” Peter said accusingly. “Come on, now.”
“You’re right.” She slouched a little, defeated. “I apologize. It’s hypocritical of me to ask you to be honest when I’m not being honest myself. I’ve been having a few bad nights in a row, the last two featuring your death.”
“How did I die?” He was almost scared to find out, though he could make a reasonable guess about what it would be.
“Thanos.” Exactly what he thought. “How did I die?”
“Ego.” He turned to lie on his back, gazing at the photos they’d taken over the course of their fake relationship that he’d stuck on his ceiling long ago. They hadn’t taken any pictures since they started dating for real, but neither felt like they had to - there was no need to prove their relationship anymore. Gamora laid down next to him, her eyes also traveling across the photos. He briefly wondered what she was thinking about. “There was some...stuff. That the nightmare version of you said to me.”
“Was it about me trying to baby you?”
“It was a lot more than that. It was stuff that hit really close to home, you know? And hearing it from you...so angry and tired…” His breath trembled slightly as he trailed off, unsure of what else he wanted to say. What else could he say, really, that wouldn’t make things worse?
“Like I was saying,” she whispered, staring almost unblinkingly at the ceiling. “I don’t know what it’s like to be in a relationship, but ours is only a week and a half old, and it already feels like we’ve put too much at stake here.”
“Comes with the job, I think,” Peter offered. “Cindy was telling me that she thinks it’s the life that we live that makes us feel everything more intensely. We’re still learning how to be together, so we can’t give up yet.” He turned to look at her. “New idea - Mantis used her powers to help my dad sleep, right? What if we got her to do the same for us, until we get so used to it that we can sleep without her help and without each other?”
“That’s quite clever of you,” she admitted, brightening. “We should try that tonight, then. But in the meantime…” In one fluid move, she’d rolled onto her side, gripped Peter’s shoulders, and pushed him down, her knees braced around his hips.
“W - what?” he stuttered dumbly.
Leaning in, Gamora murmured, “You’re worried that I’m not having sex with you because I want to, but because you want to. But ever since escaping Thanos’s clutches, I’ve never done anything I don’t want to do. Now, we’re in here alone, the others know not to disturb us when your door is closed, and dinner’s not for another few hours. But I’m already hungry, and I’d like to put your hesitation to rest.”
Peter let out a high-pitched squeak he wasn’t proud of, but once Gamora began sucking bruising kisses along the column of his throat, he was pretty sure he couldn’t be held responsible for any of the noises that escaped his mouth over the following hour.
“Your inclination to leave bites on Quill’s neck where others can see implies you think other girls will want to steal him away from you, and I can’t imagine anyone would find Quill attractive enough to do so,” Drax said to Gamora once they’d emerged from Peter’s bedroom for dinner.
“He has his admirers,” Gamora said dryly. At Drax’s raised eyebrow, she added, “I know, I was surprised, too.”
“Hey!” Peter exclaimed, but was immediately distracted by the basket of bread rolls Mantis had waved under his nose.
“Mantis, are you free tonight?” Gamora asked, wrinkling her nose a little at the sight of Peter stuffing his face with bread. “I was thinking we could do some homework together.”
Peter shot her a look of what are you up to?, to which Gamora answered with a cocked chin that clearly said trust me. “Oh,” Mantis said, a little surprised. “I did not have anything planned. Sure!”
After dinner was over, everyone slowly dispersed to their rooms, aside from Gamora and Mantis, who remained in the common area, set up on the couch, their books and papers spread across the coffee table. “I talked to Nebula about leaving you alone,” Gamora said after they’d been studiously quiet for about two hours. “She shouldn’t be bothering you anymore.”
Mantis let out a soft chuckle. “You and Peter are always trying so hard to protect me. I appreciate it, Gamora, but I am not that fragile.”
“Sure, but I also have the responsibility of taking care of Nebula as well,” Gamora replied. “She can’t go around thinking it’s okay to treat people like that.”
Hesitant, Mantis reached across the couch to lay a hand on Gamora’s knee. “You both had to be mean to survive, didn’t you?”
Gamora swallowed, but the lump in her throat that had suddenly formed didn’t seem to be going away. “Yes. Nebula more than me, since I was Thanos’s favorite daughter. If the others were cruel to me, Thanos would be cruel in return. It was not out of actual care for me, though, it was so I wouldn’t get caught up in fighting back.”
“I suppose that is where you and I differ,” Mantis said, smiling sadly as she leaned back against the armrest, removing her hand from Gamora’s leg. “You were raised to be ruthless, and I was raised to be submissive. But I do not think either of us are like that anymore. We are somewhere in the middle.”
“‘Ruthless’ is a generous word to use.” Gamora idly flipped through the pages of the article she was reading on her holo-tab, not really absorbing anything she was supposed to take in. “I agree, though. We’ve both grown substantially since becoming part of this team. It would be interesting to see who we become when we graduate.”
“I am secretly hoping we do not leave Terra once that happens,” Mantis confessed. “I know the Milano is our true base, but it has become so comforting here.”
“I always thought Peter wouldn’t want to come back because of his mother,” Gamora said thoughtfully. “You know, he hasn’t actually returned to his childhood home? To this place called ‘Missouri’?”
“Maybe it would be too painful for him. He could need time, or perhaps never return at all,” Mantis suggested.
“Or he’s waiting for the right time.” They both startled a little at the sound of Peter’s voice. He was descending the ladder from the cockpit, where he’d been running a software check for the past hour. “How’re my two favorite girls doing?”
“We’ve gotten quite a bit done,” Gamora shrugged, Mantis nodding eagerly in agreeance. “Milano’s okay?”
“She’s steady,” Peter replied, smiling. “So, Mantis, before I forget, we have a favor to ask of you…”
“Good morning!” Mantis said cheerfully as she practically skipped into the kitchen, stealing Peter’s multigrain bread from the toaster before his reflexes could kick in. She plopped it down onto a plate and began rummaging through the fridge for some strawberry jam. “Did you sleep alright?”
“Like a baby,” he beamed. He was in too good of a mood to berate her for toast-stealing. “I’ll bet Gamora would say the same if she were here, and didn’t leave for class super early like a crazy person. Thanks so much, Mantis.”
“No problem,” she grinned in return, settling down at the kitchen island, directly across from him. “You should have asked me earlier. I was not aware you were both having sleep troubles. I do not like seeing either of you in pain.”
“How did it work on my dad?” He leaned forward on his elbows a little. “You said he was occupied with the thoughts of his children and the so-called Expansion. How long could he go without your powers?”
The smile on Mantis’s face faded a little, her antennae drooping as she lowered her chin to fixate on her toast. She began picking at it, crumbling it between her fingernails, her appetite lost. “He did not need it that often at first,” she said reluctantly. “When I was a young girl, I could not do it as easily, so he only asked it of me when he was really overwhelmed. But as I grew older and stronger, he would ask me to use my powers every night. Sometimes, even more than once per day, if he exhausted his cosmic abilities and needed to take a nap. It was like a drug to him. He was addicted to what I could do, and I feel that if we had left him alive...who knows what he would have done to get me back.”
“So...it would actually be dangerous for us to ask you to do it every night?” Peter’s heart sank.
“I would only advise it perhaps once a week, and even then, it depends on the person,” Mantis said, apologetic. “If you have an addictive personality, then your reliance could develop by the third occurrence.”
“Dammit.” Peter stood and turned away from her, pacing over to the living area, rubbing at his temples, head bowed. They had come so close to a plausible solution - he should’ve known this was too easy.
“I am sorry,” Mantis whimpered, shoulders slumping in defeat. “I should have told you, but you both seemed so excited at finding an answer, that I did not want to turn you down. I did not want you to hate me.”
“Hey, no, Mantis, we could never hate you.” Peter almost half-sprinted back into the kitchen to put an arm around her shoulders. “It’s not your fault, okay? It’s our problem, not yours. You know, maybe this whole thing was a mistake to begin with.”
Mantis’s eyes widened. “You do not mean your relationship with Gamora is a mistake, do you?”
“No, no, of course not,” Peter said reassuringly, squeezing her shoulders one last time before stepping away. “But she might be right. We rushed headfirst into being together without talking about what it means.”
“For what it’s worth, I think you two are being very mature about it,” Mantis offered, smiling tentatively. “I do not think most couples would discuss these things until it is too late. But at the same time, I think you are both making it a problem before there is even a chance of it actually happening.”
“Honestly, that’s what I’ve been thinking too,” Peter admitted. “But you know how Gamora is about preparation and contingencies, and I don’t want to disappoint her.”
“Which is a sign you are very much in lo-o-o-ve,” Mantis sing-songed, the stiffness in her posture melting away in favor of playfully poking Peter in the cheek. Laughing, Peter swatted her away before moving to finally get another slice of toast going.
Predictably, Gamora wasn’t too pleased later that evening when everyone had returned to the Milano, in which Mantis confessed what she had been hiding from them. However, it was hard for her to remain mad at Mantis (it was hard for anyone to be mad at Mantis), and she forgave her by dinnertime. “Just don’t do that next time, okay?” Gamora said sternly. “Imagine the consequences if Peter had never asked.”
“I thought we was finally done with your relationship drama,” Yondu teased after the meal was over.
“We are never done being the ‘Quill and Gamora Show’, apparently,” Nebula sneered, kicking her feet up onto the length of the couch before Yondu could even consider sitting next to her. “Are you always going to be like this?”
“You know, for a bunch of people who tried really hard to get us together, you seem to have issues about us having issues, which, by the way - totally normal thing to happen for couples!” Peter exclaimed, accusatory.
“Let’s discuss something else,” Gamora said, joining him in the armchair, her eyes ablaze as she stared her sister down across the room, who seemed nonplussed, and as always, in a perpetual state of casual disinterest. “We’ve had a few jobs sent through the Director. We can put them off until October, but we should review them in advance and decide what to accept.”
“Whatever gets us units,” Rocket said gleefully, hopping onto the back of the chair to peer over Gamora’s head at her holo-tab. “Lemme amend that. Whatever gets us the most units. And none of them bullshit jobs with the Sovereign again.”
“Moving precious cargo?” Peter pointed at the one on the top of the screen. “That sounds a lot like ‘being shot at. Repeatedly’.”
“This one wants us to be bodyguards for a gala? That sounds vastly underwhelming and a misuse of our skills,” Drax said, hovering by Peter’s shoulder.
“What is this one about a duchess who claims to know you, Peter?” Mantis poked at the job in question, causing a profile to pop up. “Oh, she is very pretty.”
“Uhh - ”
“I am Groot!” A tiny wail caused everyone to jump, looking around wildly for the source of the crying. To their dismay, Groot had tripped over one of the metal grates (Peter really needed to make baby-proofing the ship one of his priorities) and gotten his hand stuck inside, and was now desperately tugging on his arm. Instead of leaping into action, Gamora found herself stumbling backward into the armchair. Peter shot her a perplexed glance before rushing over to help.
“Hey, it’s gonna be okay, Groot, just stop movin’ for a second,” he said soothingly, cupping his back. Rocket was already by Groot’s side with a screwdriver and a tub of grease he had grabbed at seemingly lightning speed. They worked in tense silence for a couple minutes, coating Groot’s arm with the grease and using the screwdriver to loosen the grate and ease him out. The others hovered nervously, except for Gamora who had seemingly frozen where she was. Finally, Groot was freed, immediately turning to bury his face into Rocket’s belly.
The others moved closer to console Groot - even Nebula was nearby, straining her neck to see how he was doing - but Gamora continued to remain seated until Peter kneeled in front of her, ducking his head slightly in an attempt to make eye contact. “Hey,” he murmured, reaching for her, but making no actual physical contact. “Can we talk? My room?”
Nodding wordlessly, she followed him down the corridor and, once again, sat on his bed as she did last time. “I dreamt that Groot was dying as well,” she said quietly, before he could ask.
“You don’t have to tell me - ”
“But I do,” she interrupted, letting out a hysterical laugh. “Because that’s what people in relationships do, right? They talk about their feelings, and spend all their free time with each other, and - ”
"Gamora.” He knelt in front of her again, cupping her face in his hands. “Breathe.”
They fell silent, aside from the steady, slow inhales and exhales as they took deep breaths together. “I feel like I’ve become an entirely different person, these past two years. But what kind of person am I?” she muttered, once the tremble in her chest had subsided.
“I can tell you what I think,” he offered. She nodded, wanting him to continue. “I think you’re someone who went from having to take care of herself to someone who wants to take care of others. But if I’m wrong…”
“That’s an apt description, if a little generous.” She smiled, bending to kiss Peter briefly. “I just feel like I’m not in control lately. Like I’ve turned over my emotions to be handled by everyone else, and I hate it.”
In all honesty, Gamora was angry at herself for being so emotionally volatile, and Peter could tell. She wasn’t used to losing control like this, to put it all out there for everyone else to see. She had gotten so used to watching Peter being so open - laughing, crying, making faces so full of expression, so full of life, that she had started to do it herself. Hell, they had all picked up so many of Peter’s mannerisms in their short time together, vocabulary that hadn’t existed to them previously, little quirks or habits that they had once thought to be annoying, and now had become subconsciously ingrained in their minds. It was like Nebula often said - Gamora had become too attached to ever let the others go, found it extraordinarily difficult to imagine a life without the team, and deemed it impossible to leave them behind.
“Then talk to me about it,” Peter said imploringly, his hands moving to rest on her lap. “Because you’re right. People in relationships talk. And somehow, we’re still really terrible at it. We never continued our conversation about signs of codependency, you know, the one we were trying to have on Saturday night?”
“Then what are we doing here? Are we healthy, or are we cause for concern?” she asked.
He didn’t respond immediately, instead electing to stand and then lie down on the bed, gesturing for her to join him. They rolled onto their sides, face-to-face, though didn’t touch. “Let’s find out.” At her furrowed brow, he chuckled softly and said, “Question. Do you think of me every minute of every day?”
The bluntness of his question caused her to snort. “What? No.”
“Do you always want me to be around?”
“Not necessarily, though I don’t mean that negatively,” she said slowly.
“Am I the only person who can make you happy?”
“You might make me the happiest, but you aren’t the only one.” Gamora was starting to catch on, another smile beginning to form on her face as she did so.
“Am I the only person you can talk to? About anything?”
“No. I have my sister and your sister.”
“Can you go an entire day without seeing me? Can you sleep without me being there?” Peter continued, determined.
A crease had formed between his eyebrows, and Gamora had the urge to reach out and smooth it away. “Yes to both,” she said quietly. “I wasn’t aware you were taking psychology this semester, Peter.”
“My answers are the same as yours,” he said, grinning. “So I’d say we’re fine. We’re co-leaders who happen to be a couple, but we don’t get weirdly obsessive over each other or fall apart without the other person around. That sounds perfectly healthy to me!”
She couldn’t help but grin back, relieved. Once he put it like that, it all seemed so simple. “So should we stop this stupid experiment of mine?”
“It’s not stupid.” He reached over to push her hair out of her face, tenderly tracing the silver in her cheekbones with the pads of his fingers. “You had good intentions. I just think we got ahead of ourselves here. I think we’ve just been worried about spending too much time together because we already hung out so much. But that’s because we were friends first.” He leaned in closer, their eyes locking. “Also, for the record? I’ve loved you for much longer than the three weeks it’s been since we first kissed.”
Gamora bit her lip, shuffling forwards so she could wrap her arms around his waist. He really did have a knack for throwing out casual statements of unfiltered sentiment like no one else did. It was the way he was in combat as well - catching people off-guard, throwing them off their game. But unlike his quips at villains, his words for her were always simply intangible tokens of affection. “Same,” she murmured, unable to form prose of her own. Maybe someday. “But what do you suggest we do now?”
“You said one week,” he shrugged. “So we’ll try it one more time tonight. No Mantis or anything. Let’s see what happens.”
“But you have your debate tomorrow,” she protested. “If you don’t sleep well…”
“One more time,” he repeated, kissing her forehead. “We’ll be okay. Also, I’ve been meaning to ask if you’ll come watch the debate? We’re the last pair to go, and you’d only have to leave class, like, ten minutes early - I mean, if you don’t want to, it’s not gonna be that interesting, but I just thought if maybe - ”
“Please stop,” she chuckled. “I’ll be there.”
“Sure.” She gave him a mischievous grin. “I’m curious to see how adequate you’ll be at making speeches under six minutes.”
Gamora stretched leisurely, yawning as she did so, rolling over onto her side and grabbing her phone off her side table. She hadn’t slept this well since Saturday night, even noticeably better than the previous night when Mantis had used her powers. Her back ached a little from the stiff mattress (they really needed to get a start on buying new ones), but she was otherwise well-rested, the dull strain in her eyes and sinuses from yesterday’s little meltdown having gone away with sleep.
She got dressed, grabbed an energy bar from the pantry, and made her way off the Milano to her first class, wondering what had changed. She had drifted off the minute her head hit the pillow, and only woke up once to get a drink of water. Her mind had been utterly clear, devoid of visions of a dying Peter or the horrid sounds of Groot’s pain, despite him being in very real pain yesterday. It was like her brain had forgotten about the whole ordeal in the first place, as if it hadn’t been plaguing her for the past three days, but that couldn’t have happened, could it?
Gamora went through all of her classes with relative ease, and received permission from Ares to leave combat class early to watch Peter’s debate (“You’ve already at the top of the class, just go already.”). She was weirdly nervous for him - he could make a damn good speech when the situation called for it, but a structured one could be cause for concern. He had come a long way from the rambling, oversharing, foot-in-the-mouth boy he had been when they first met, but she would be lying if she said she wasn’t still worried about him going off-script.
She arrived at the lecture hall just in time to see Cindy sitting down after receiving polite applause for her opening statement. She scanned the room for open seats and was surprised to find one next to her very own sister. “I didn’t know you were taking this class,” Gamora whispered, slipping in beside her.
“I’m not,” Nebula replied, rolling her eyes. “Nothing good was on television, so I was hoping to get some entertainment out of watching Quill crash and burn.” Gamora could only shoot her a warning glare before the debate started again.
“The superhero origin story,” Peter began, taking his place at the center of the whiteboard. “It’s the kind of stuff that writers and creators can only dream of - and they have. At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s where we all started. And really, what determines where it ends? We carry so much of it with us, with every job we take, with every one person that we save.”
“Crash and burn, huh?” Gamora murmured, a sense of pride beginning to well up in her chest.
“I want to tell you a bit of a personal story. My origin story, if you will,” he added. “I don’t know how much you guys know about me - I’ve been told I talk a lot of crap - sorry professor - but I was kidnapped when I was a kid. Taken in by a bunch of super cool space pirates, just minutes after my mother died right in front of my eyes.” The room seemed to have sobered up, everyone falling silent as they watched Peter slowly pace around the front. “I managed to grow up pretty well-adjusted, pretty happy, all things considered. But what I wasn’t, was good.”
“I was never really concerned about being good. I didn’t think it was as important as being happy. I know, it sounds super selfish. But my priorities changed when I met the other Guardians, and after we did the whole save-the-world-and-be-awesome thing, I realized the kind of heroism I was capable of,” he continued. “You might be like, ‘what does this have to do with the psychological effects of your origins?’. ‘How does this prove that it’s a positive thing?’. ‘You’re just one example of a so-called good outcome from a bad history.’ But let me point out my teammates, and what they’ve also had to go through. I’m not saying that tragedy is a good thing - I don’t wanna romanticize trauma, because that shit’s not fun - sorry, professor - ”
“It could go all downhill from here.” Nebula sounded way too delighted for Gamora’s liking.
“I’d like to single out one person who really brings it home for me,” Peter said, trying his best not to make eye contact with the teacher, who was getting increasingly irritated. “My co-leader and best friend, Gamora.” He waved at her - she wasn’t even aware he’d seen her come in - causing several heads to turn. She sank a little deeper into her seat. Oh god, what was he doing? “I don’t think I have to tell you guys what she’s been through. I’m also not gonna tell you about her motivations, or her goals, or any of that stuff, because I don’t speak for her. That’s what gets me in trouble in the first place.” Laughter rippled through the crowd. Even Nebula looked somewhat pleased at the joke. “What I can tell you is who I saw when we first met, and who I see when I look at her now.”
“I saw a girl who suffered, and lost her family.” His voice broke a little on the last word. “I saw someone who had to take care of herself, and only herself, because that’s all she had left. But then she saw an opportunity to save other people, and she took it. Not because she wanted recognition or money, the way that I did, but because she knew despite all the awful things she had done in the past, she knew that this was the right thing to do. And that was it, really. She just happened to pick up a bunch of losers along the way, myself included.” More laughter rippled across the lecture hall. Gamora had leaned forward in anticipation at some point in Peter’s heartfelt story, gripping at the edges of the desk as it creaked, threatening to break under her fingers. “She was fierce and fearless. Diplomatic but headstrong, determined beyond belief. A real fighter, you know, and not just in combat. And guess what? She’s exactly like that now. The only difference is that she’s fighting for more than her own life. She’s fighting for the lives of everyone in the whole galaxy.”
“Quill is so incredibly gone for you, I may vomit,” Nebula commented.
“You might argue that her quote-unquote ‘backstory’ was finished when we arrived on Terra and joined this school, but I disagree. I think, like all of you, Gamora takes it with her every day of her life. The stuff she’s gone through, the life-changing moments that she’ll always remember. I think all of us carry a piece of our past with us because it’s what makes us who we are. Sometimes, it’s a physical item.” Peter turned to pick up his Walkman form the table, holding it up high for everyone to see. There were nods and smiles of recognition throughout the crowd. “Sometimes, it’s a memory. Or maybe it’s both, I dunno. And yeah, sometimes we need counseling, or therapy, or to beat up some bad guys to get us through the next day. But being able to wake up from a nightmare and still keep going is what makes us heroes.”
Gamora might have been biased, but she was pretty sure Peter’s applause was louder than Cindy’s as he sat back down at his desk. Nebula was quiet for the rest of the debate, and though her expression was relatively neutral, her silence spoke volumes to Gamora - she was impressed.
Cindy countered with several strong arguments of her own, the entire lecture hall tense with anticipation as they watched the two go back and forth. It was a spirited debate, though they kept it professional - Cindy and Peter were casual friends, there were no heated remarks made whatsoever. By the time they reached their closing statements, Gamora was smiling into her hands, attempting to hide it from Nebula before she could tease her further.
“There’s no denying that a lot of us have gone through some of the worst kind of pain to get to where we are now, and we probably don’t wanna remember it ever happened,” Peter said, making one last lap around the front of the room. “I’ve done things that I’m not proud of. I’m sure all of us have. But it’s naive to pretend that everything’s black and white - that we can divide every single event in our lives into good and bad. Which is why, in the end, I believe that where we come from isn’t something we just forget or shove aside. It shaped us, but it doesn’t define us. We can’t write off our histories and pretend we’ve been the people that we are this whole time. We can’t deny the things that have happened so we can be just a little bit happier now. We can talk to people about it, we can get help, but that’s where it all starts. Because we have to learn from our past - ” he waved the Walkman once more “ - to take charge of our own futures.” Peter smiled bashfully, almost shy. “Thank you.”
The lecture hall burst into polite applause - many students were starting to get bored by this point - as the professor approached Peter and Cindy to congratulate them on their successful debate. She then dismissed the entire class, causing most students to practically sprint out the door, hoping to catch the last rays of sunshine before early sunset. Gamora, on the other hand, made her way down to the front to approach Peter, who had his back to her as he packed his bag.
“I’m impressed,” she said, leaning against the table. Peter turned, his expression immediately softening upon seeing her. “I know you like to talk, but I have to admit - I didn’t think you would be very good at debate. You have a tendency to ramble.”
“I still do,” he chuckled, closing his bag and throwing it over his shoulder. He took her hand and began leading them out of the lecture hall. “I got a B minus.”
She frowned. “What, really?”
“Yeah. Prof was expecting me to look into more case studies to back up the facts, but there aren’t any on superhero psychology specifically - I mean, frankly, this school is the one writing those papers - which is why I went for real-life examples,” he replied, pausing to glance at her. “I had a pretty great muse.”
“Incorrigible,” she repeated, though she was blushing somewhat. “Your arguments. Were they part of what made you so confident about us being okay?”
“Sort of.” They passed through the rest of the campus, silent, as there was too much typical rowdy chaos happening around them - students chatting, showing off their powers, swapping study notes - the kind of noise that Gamora found herself glad to hear. Despite the occasional stare from other students, eyeing their clasped hands, she found she couldn’t be bothered by it anymore - she was pleased to be surrounded by people again, after knowing how eerie the school could be when it was utterly vacant.
The two of them didn’t get a chance to pick up their conversation again until they returned to the Milano, where the others were milling about, also engaging in rambunctious behavior. Sighing, Peter once again led Gamora to his room, ignoring the identical shit-eating grins on Rocket and Yondu’s faces that followed. “I think talking about everything that was bothering us and the kind of nightmares we were having literally made us sleep easier. When you first brought up sleeping alone, we probably got so stressed out about what could go wrong that it did go wrong. We didn’t have nightmares because we weren’t together, we had nightmares because we thought we would have nightmares.”
Gamora let out a defeated sigh, sprawling face-first across his mattress, unusually pliant. “I really don’t know what I’m doing,” she mumbled into his pillow.
“Hey, come on. Like I said, we’re learning together,” Peter said reassuringly, resting a hand on the small of her back. “We both have - or in my case, had - crazy homicidal dads, a laundry list of insecurities, and zero experience in relationships. Look how much we have in common!” He winced. “That was too much, wasn’t it.”
“Your sense of humor is odd and sometimes crude,” she began, turning to look at him consideringly. “But don’t tell anyone that I actually find you funny. I have a reputation to uphold.”
“So rude to me,” he faux-whined, laying down next to her, his entire arm now slung across her back. “Let’s make a deal. We stop talking about how bad we are at relationships, and instead talk about our actual relationship when stuff’s bothering us.”
“Okay,” she replied, smiling. “But I’m still terrible at being a girlfriend.”
“You help me deal with my crap, you’re really fun to hang out with, and you’re generally just a super cool, badass, all-around awesome person. For the record? You’re an amazing girlfriend.” Gamora chuckled, patting him on the chest affectionately. “By the way, this is the part where you tell me the same thing.”
“You’re adequate,” she responded teasingly. Her eyes flickered to meet his, holding steady, before leaning in to quickly peck him on the mouth. “And I love you.”
If he was surprised at her saying it first for the first time, he didn’t show it. “Love you too,” he mumbled, cupping her face. “Okay, so, here’s my plan for the rest of the night - we go back out into the living room, make out on the couch until the others get grossed out because it’s funny, then come back in here after dinner, we do homework like a bunch of bores until we fall asleep, and figure out the next step in our sleeping arrangements tomorrow.”
“Or we can determine it right now,” Gamora shrugged. “We share your bed, but I keep my room the way it is, for whenever we have fights. And I do mean ‘when’, and not ‘if’. I also get to steal your clothes whenever I want."
“I’m certainly not complaining,” Peter laughed, leaning in for another kiss. When they pulled apart, he looked oddly inquisitive. “Though I do have to ask about where you found my Flash Gordon shirt, because I swear I lost it, like, the week we got here…”