Chapter 1: Chapter One
Frowning at the amount of units it cost, Peter Quill paid for refueling the Quadrant. The planet Cassiar was located at the edge of Nova Corps territory and had the outrageous fuel prices typical of remote locations. But it was a good place to stop. The distance from Xandar meant laws were not strictly enforced and the main city was a thriving port filled with all sorts of people buying and selling all sorts of goods and services, legal and illegal. Quill had visited often during his time with the Ravagers. It had always been a good place to gather information, find employment, or sell a thing or two on the black market. He just hoped he could find a decent job for the Guardians of the Galaxy, preferably one that paid well and was legal.
Leaving the docks, Quill walked to a familiar bar. Inside, he immediately heard Rocket’s voice.
“No! With cards like that, you should be bluffing!”
“Oh?” Mantis looked confused.
“A bluff is when you make the other players think you’re gonna win,” the raccoon explained. “It can help you actually win, if they believe you.”
Drax tossed his cards on the table with disgust. “This gambling game is filled with deceit!”
“I am Groot!” the small plant declared from his perch on Rocket’s shoulder.
“You’re right,” the raccoon agreed. “This is definitely not their game.”
Returning to the gaming table from the bar with a mug of some sort of foamy ale, Kraglin suggested, “Maybe Centaurian Two-Ups would be better. They’re playing it over there.” He gestured to a table in the corner.
Rocket nodded. “Worth a shot.”
“Let us try that game!” Drax declared enthusiastically. “But first let us get more of this delicious beverage!” He held up his empty glass. “Mantis, you also need more.”
“I am not sure,” she replied. “It makes me feel… different.” She giggled.
Gamora, who had been leaning against the wall watching the game, stepped forward and said, “Don’t get Mantis drunk.” Her slightly exasperated expression changed and her lips curved into a small smile when Peter approached.
“Make sure she gets back to the ship safe tonight,” Quill ordered as he stopped next to Gamora.
“Of course I will ensure her safety,” Drax assured.
“You are not coming with us?” Mantis questioned. “We are going to learn a new game.”
Quill and Gamora shared a look. “I’m going for a walk,” he said.
“I will join you,” Gamora quickly added.
“Oh, I see.” Mantis nodded, her antennae bobbing. “You wish for time together.”
“Yeah… walking,” Rocket commented. “So that’s what they’re calling it these days.” He winked theatrically a few times.
Quill opened his mouth to say something, but Gamora grasped his hand and pulled him away before an argument could begin.
“Annoying little trash panda,” Peter grumbled.
“Yes,” Gamora agreed, “but he is our annoying trash panda.”
Quill knew exactly where he wanted to go. He led Gamora away from the busy streets and bustling marketplace to a park where dark rocky cliffs overlooked a bay of the planet’s vast ocean. Although the sun had set, the twin moons of Cassiar cast plenty of light. For a while, they walked in comfortable silence together along a path atop the cliffs. Their friendship needed no words for understanding.
“This is beautiful,” Gamora finally said as she stopped and looked at the silvery moonlight dancing on the waves. “How did you know it was here?”
“The Ravagers stopped at the port pretty often. I got lost and stumbled down here once when I was a kid.” Quill leaned against the thick trunk of an ancient tree growing next to the path. “No one seems to come here, especially at night. I thought it would be a nice, quiet place for us.”
“It is.” She gazed over the water and spotted a group of glowing lights across the bay. “What’s that?”
“Some sort of resort.” Quill smiled, but the expression held a touch of wistful sadness. “Every time we came here when I was a kid, I would ask Yondu to take me there. I wanted a vacation, but he’d growl that Ravagers didn’t take vacations.” He paused, gazing at the distant lights and into the past. “Last vacation I was on was when Grandpa took me and Mom to Colorado when I was seven years old.”
“Perhaps we should go to that resort,” Gamora suggested. “Do you think we can afford it? We did just earn 80,000 units.”
“That depends on if Rocket, Drax, and Kraglin drink it all away in the bar.” He glanced back towards the city. “Or destroy the bar in a brawl.”
She smiled, but nodded her agreement. While Quill had said it jokingly, his concern was valid. She turned to see him watching her, his green eyes soft in the shadowed moonlight. She treasured the way he always looked at her. It was a look that made her forget she was a “daughter” of Thanos, made her forget the darkness of her past. Peter made her remember what it felt like to be unconditionally loved. And what it felt like to return that love.
Her feelings for him were deep and strong, but after so many years of suppressing her emotions, Gamora still found it difficult to reveal them. Fortunately, Peter was patient and accepting. He was not demanding, didn’t force her into anything she found uncomfortable, and appreciated every small token of affection she offered.
She stepped closer to him. Quill recognised the invitation in her dark eyes and pulled her into a gentle embrace.
“Thank you, Peter,” Gamora said as she leaned into him.
“For being you.” She tilted her head up, stood on her toes, and pressed her lips to his.
Quill returned the kiss with sweet enthusiasm. Gamora loved the way he kissed. He treated each as though it was the best moment of his life while he opened his heart and revealed all of himself to her, all of his strength and vulnerability and love. Surprising Quill, she deepened the kiss, pulling him closer and tasting him as one of her hands slipped up his neck and into his hair. Peter matched her intensity, running his hands up her back. After a long moment of savouring each other, they breathlessly broke apart.
Quill was about to say something, but Gamora’s fingers found a way under his shirt and traced a path across his abdomen, making him suck in a breath at the sensation. Her fingers moved upwards and lightly traced the tender skin of a fresh scar on the right side of his ribs.
“Has this fully healed?” she asked.
“Yeah, it’s good,” Quill replied, but discovered he couldn’t lie to Gamora. “Well, mostly good.”
Gamora instantly became serious. Her expression reflected concern, but also demanded an explanation.
“Sometimes if I twist or turn too quick I feel it’s there, but it only hurts if you push on it.”
Her expression saddened as her fingers gently rested on the thickened scar tissue. “I am sorry… for what happened and what I had to do.”
“I’m not,” Quill quickly replied. “You saved my life.”
“You were hurt saving mine.”
He flashed an endearing, lopsided smile. “I’m not keeping score. We’re both alive and I’m mostly better now. That’s what matters.”
“I… When you recovered…” Gamora’s words faltered.
Quill cocked his head and studied her intently. He was not used to her being anything but strong and confident. “Gamora?” he prodded softly.
Taking a deep breath, she ran her fingers over the strong muscles of his abdomen as she reminded, “I promised I would do something with you when you recovered.”
Quill’s body instantly reacted to the sensual touch of her fingers and the mention of her promise. He made a soft noise of both pleasure and desire as the rational part of him tried to calm his body’s surging response. He cupped her face with a warm hand and gently brushed his thumb over her cheek.
“Are you ready for that? Is that what you want?” Peter asked softly. He knew it was a big step for her to admit her emotions. He wanted to make sure she was truly ready to show them on the physical level. He did not want any regrets that would damage the special friendship they shared.
Gamora hesitated briefly as she looked at Quill. His expression was intense. She could see the passionate desire he felt for her. But she could also see the unselfish care and love he offered her. She trusted him like she had never trusted anyone else. She trusted him with her heart.
“Yes, Peter, I want this. I want this with you.”
Quill kissed her tenderly, amazed at how lucky he was. “Let’s get back to the ship.”
Peter was certain he was the happiest man alive. And the luckiest. Gamora held his hand as they walked back to the ship and talked about what they would do if they actually went to the resort on the other side of the bay. Neither of them had ever really had a vacation, other than Quill’s one trip to Colorado as a child, so neither was certain what one did at a resort.
“The ads I’ve seen show people eating at fancy restaurants, drinking, getting massages.”
“You and the others already drink too much,” Gamora observed. She added, “And I would prefer it if I gave you a massage.”
Images of Gamora’s hands roaming over his body flashed through Quill’s imagination. “Uh… Yeah… Me, too.” He wasn’t sure if she knew what she was doing to him with a comment like that. But then he saw the gleam in her dark eyes. She knew exactly what she was doing. He tried to cool his body’s enthusiastic reaction, slowing his steps as his pants seemed to be getting way too tight. He tried to focus. “Um… There’s supposed to be dancing in clubs, too.”
Gamora stopped walking and looked up at Quill, meeting his eyes. “Could we just dance alone, to your music. It makes it special, when it is just the two of us.”
“Yeah, it does,” he agreed softly. “I don’t think I want to go to that resort anymore. I just want to be with you.”
Smiling with just a hint of mischief, Gamora said, “Then we best hurry back to the ship, Peter. I am getting impatient to be alone with you.”
That made Quill grin. So he wasn’t the only one whose body was coursing with desire.
The marketplace had quieted somewhat, but it never really closed. The clientele, however, got a bit rougher and the deals a little shadier. Quill pushed past one persistent vendor hawking some sort of glowing green moonshine. A glare from Gamora sent another scurrying away before he could even begin a sales pitch.
They were about halfway across the marketplace to the docks when they heard the voices.
Quill’s hand dropped to the grip of his blaster as his eyes surveyed the crowd for a threat.
“I tell you, it’s them! The Guardians of the Galaxy!”
Placing a hand on his wrist, Gamora stopped Peter from drawing his weapon as she spotted who had called their names. “I don’t think they mean us harm.”
Quill had to agree. The two Xandarian men hurrying towards them did not belong in the disreputable marketplace. The older one, grey-haired and stoop-shouldered, limped behind his younger companion. They dressed like farmers, but their patched and ragged clothes, hanging loosely on their gaunt frames, suggested extreme poverty.
“What do you want?” Quill demanded.
“Help. Our village needs help,” the younger one, only a teenager, said.
His older companion placed a hand on his shoulder. “Manners, my boy. Remember your manners.” He looked at Gamora and Quill. “I am Thaal. This is my grandson, Garthen. We heard this is the place to hire men.”
“But I saw you!” Garthen said excitedly.
Thaal nodded. “Surely the gods have favoured us by sending you into our path.”
“I know the Guardians of the Galaxy can help us!” the younger farmer added confidently.
Quill sighed. He never thought he would regret being recognised as Star-Lord, but being known as a hero definitely had some disadvantages. Like interrupting his plans for the night.
Gamora glanced at him. Her expression mirrored his disappointment at being interrupted, but she was practical. “We do need a job.”
He nodded. “It is why we came here.”
Squeezing his hand briefly before letting go, Gamora flashed him a look that spoke a silent promise that they would pick up where they left off later. Then she was all business. “What did you need help with?” she asked the farmers.
“A bandit is raiding our village.”
“Sounds like something we might be able to take care of,” Quill stated. “But we need to know more about the situation and talk about price.” He glanced around the market and spotted a tavern. “Let’s go in there and discuss it.”
The interior of the tavern smelled of spilled alcohol and was loud with drunken conversation. Quill pushed through the crowd to a table in a dark corner. After moving a man who was passed out at the table to an adjacent table where two other men were already sleeping, Peter sat down with his back to the wall and Gamora at his side. The two farmers looked uncomfortable with the surroundings, but finally sat across from the two Guardians.
“Tell us about your village and this bandit you’re having trouble with,” Quill began.
“Our village is fifteen clicks west of here in the grasslands at the base of the mountains,” Thaal described. “It is a good land that supports fine crops. But this bandit, he comes with his men and takes all we have of value, leaving just enough for us to survive. Worse, he steals our children to sell into slavery when he can. We try to hide them, but… too many have been taken.” Tears misted the old man’s eyes.
Gamora’s impassive expression darkened. “Why have you not gone to Nova Corps for help?”
“We have!” Garthen exclaimed.
Thaal resumed his explanation. “We are far from Xandar and they are distracted by their issues with the Kree. A small farming village on their border is very easily ignored. When they did not help, we tried fighting him ourselves, but we are farmers, not warriors. We have few weapons and are not skilled in their use. It ended badly.”
“As punishment for our ‘rebellion,’ he killed one in every ten people,” Garthen explained. “Including my mother.”
“This is the place to hire men,” Thaal resumed. “We hoped to hire some to free our village. We had just arrived when we saw you.”
“Does this bandit have a name?” Quill asked.
“Tarbet,” the old man answered.
Peter’s expression sharpened and his body tensed. Gamora doubted the farmers noticed the subtle change, but she did and wondered what the name meant to him.
“How many men does Tarbet have?” Quill questioned.
“Thirty. Maybe forty,” Garthen answered.
“What kind of weapons are they equipped with?” Gamora asked.
Thaal said, “Guns.”
“Could you be more specific?” Quill prodded.
Garthen and Thaal looked at each other. Neither knew much about weapons.
“Pistols and rifles?” Quill suggested helpfully.
Both farmers nodded. Thaal added, “And their ship has a gun, too. They used it to destroy a house where he thought we were hiding children.”
Gamora and Peter looked at each other in silent communication. She stated, “It is a large number and will not be easy, but it does not sound impossible.”
“So you will help us?” Garthen asked excitedly.
“Let’s talk about price,” Quill replied.
“We have 2000 units,” Thaal stated.
Peter frowned and Gamora flashed him an unhappy glance. It was a ridiculously small sum of money, especially considering the danger involved.
“Tarbet has stolen everything from us,” the old man excused. “He even emptied our temple of all but the wooden benches.”
“Excuse us,” Gamora said as she stood up. “We need to discuss this.”
Quill followed her past a trio of drunken patrons exuberantly singing out of tune. He wasn’t actually sure they were even singing the same song.
“I know we would be practically working for free, but we should take this job,” Gamora argued, turning to Quill when they reached a relatively quiet corner. “No one else will help them for that price. They will continue to suffer and more children will be sold into slavery.”
Peter knew her own traumatic childhood made her especially sensitive to the suffering of children. And to his surprise, units weren’t quite as important to him as they once had been. He didn’t need to be convinced that this was just the sort of job people called the “Guardians of the Galaxy” should do. “I’m with you, Gamora. But Rocket…”
“Will complain. But he will follow your lead.”
After a long moment, Quill nodded. Returning to the farmers, he told them, “We need to talk it over with the other Guardians. Our ship is the Quadrant, at Dock 12. Come see us at noon tomorrow.”
Garthen looked disappointed.
“It is the money, isn’t it?” Thaal asked. “We collected all we had of value… heirlooms carefully hidden from Tarbet. The 2000 units is everything we have.”
“It’ll be enough,” Quill assured. “Come to the ship tomorrow.”
I'm back from fieldwork! Hawai'i was great. Jetlag... not so great. I'm not sure if I should be having breakfast, dinner, or be asleep right now. So instead of doing any of those, I'm posting this chapter.
“What does the name Tarbet mean to you, Peter?” Gamora asked as they walked back to the Quadrant. “You looked disturbed when they mentioned it.”
Quill was silent just long enough that she thought he wasn’t going to answer. “I wouldn’t say disturbed. More like… curious.” After another long pause, he explained, “When I was a kid, there was a Xandarian on Yondu’s crew named Tarbet. Mean as hell, even by Ravager standards. When I was twelve, Yondu was gone for a few days and Tarbet decided to sell me to slavers. I tried to fight him-- slashed him across the face with a knife-- but I was a skinny little kid and he beat the shit outta me. I don’t remember much after that, I was hurting bad, but before Tarbet could get me to his buyer, Yondu came for me. He told me I was trouble, took me back to the Eclector, and I never saw Tarbet again. I thought Yondu killed him, but I never actually saw it, so I don’t know for sure. Then these farmers describe a bandit and slaver with the same name… Makes me wonder.”
“If it is him, do you want vengeance for what he did?” Gamora asked.
Quill shook his head. “No. What happened to me was a long time ago and can’t be changed. But I know what it’s like to be helpless. Yondu rescued me from that. Now we can rescue these farmers and their families.”
Gamora smiled. Under his roguish façade, Peter had a big heart. It was one of the things she loved most about him. She grasped his hand. “We can talk to the others about this in the morning. My plans for tonight do not include spending time with Rocket or Drax.”
“It’s your fault I could only collect half my winnings, Kraglin!” Rocket complained as he walked with the others back to the ship.
“My fault!” the former Ravager exclaimed indignantly as he wiped some blood from his nose with an already stained cloth. “That asshole spilled my drink. How was I s’posed to know he would start a fight when I said, ‘Hey, you spilled my drink.’”
“It was a good fight,” Drax commented with satisfaction. “Exhilarating, but over too soon.”
“You did throw that guy who called me vermin out the window,” Rocket stated. “That was pretty good.”
“I am Groot!” the small tree added with a smile.
Rocket nodded. “Yeah, and funny.”
Mantis laughed, then stopped and looked at Drax in confusion. “Why are we so happy about this?”
She didn’t get an answer as Rocket spotted Peter and Gamora walking up the gangplank of the Quadrant. “Hey! I thought you two would already be on the ship! I thought you would be, you know…”
Drax bellowed, “Rocket bet me you would be copulating by now!” He looked down at the raccoon. “I told you they would not. There are many steps to proper courtship. Quill has not done any.”
“Dude! You bet on me and Gamora having sex?!” Quill looked seriously disturbed. “That’s wrong!”
“I didn’t have no part in it, Capt’n,” Kraglin declared, wiping his nose again.
Baffled by Quill’s reaction, Drax asked, “Why do you have such an issue speaking of this? Copulation with the right woman…”
“Stop! We are not gonna talk about this!” Peter looked at Gamora, his expression one of embarrassment and apology. She simply sighed with annoyance and rolled her eyes. Drax was just being Drax.
Mantis looked from Gamora to Peter. “I do not need my power to know how you feel,” she announced proudly with an inebriated giggle.
“Quill, you do not want to disappoint Gamora,” Drax stated seriously. “If you need advice on proper courtship, I…”
“I do not need advice! I need people to stop discussing and placing bets on my sex life!”
Rocket laughed. “Or lack thereof. I don’t know about you, Gamora, but I’m disappointed. I lost 50 units to Drax because…”
“Just get on the ship!” Gamora ordered impatiently. “All of you!”
The rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy obediently obeyed, trudging up the gangplank into the Quadrant.
Quill sighed and shook his head. “I love ‘em, but sometimes…”
“You want to kill them,” Gamora finished. “That’s family,” she observed. Taking his hand, she flashed him an affectionate smile.
The galley ended up being the room where everyone typically gathered when they weren’t in their own quarters. Despite the late hour, no one seemed interested in sleep. Drax sat at one end of the large table, took out his whetstone, and began sharpening one of his knives. Kraglin fished an icepack from the freezer to hold against his face. Rocket opened a bottle of beer and sat at the table with Groot and a box of random parts and tools.
Wringing her hands nervously, Mantis approached Gamora and Quill when they entered the galley. “Please do not be upset with them. It was not their fault. It was the angry man who punched Kraglin who started it.”
Quill smiled reassuringly at Mantis, then looked at Kraglin. “You OK?”
“Yeah.” The former Ravager adjusted the icepack he held. “Bastard just surprised me.”
“Hey! You gotta watch your language around Groot!” Rocket admonished. “He’s learning all kinds of bad words.”
“I am Groot!” the tiny tree exclaimed.
“See what I mean!” The raccoon looked around the room at the rest of the Guardians.
Quill ignored Rocket’s indignation and asked, “Do we have to pay for damages?”
“No,” Kraglin replied. “We were just asked to leave.”
“You missed an enjoyable fight,” Drax stated, sheathing one knife and drawing the other.
“Yeah, where were you two?” Rocket demanded. “I was sure you would be…”
“Getting us a job!” Gamora interrupted before he could complete the sentence.
“What sort of job?” Drax asked.
Gamora glanced at Peter questioningly.
“Might as well tell them now,” he replied. “They’re sober enough.”
Mantis hiccuped and giggled.
“Well, mostly,” Quill amended. Together, he and Gamora explained the situation at the farming village.
When they were finished, Drax proclaimed, “It will be a worthy battle, liberating this village from the bandit Tarbet.”
“I thought Tarbet was dead,” Kraglin noted.
“Might not be the person we knew,” Quill replied.
“Sounds the same. Never liked him.”
Peter nodded his agreement.
Rocket focused on something else. “You want us to face thirty or forty heavily armed bandits for 2000 units?! That wouldn’t even pay for the charges in my blaster.”
“We’ve been offered a lot for our work,” Gamora stated gravely, “but never everything.”
The raccoon rolled his eyes.
“I am Groot!” the small flora argued.
“I know you don’t like bullies, but to fight thirty or forty of ‘em, we should get paid more than 2000 units.” Rocket turned to Quill. “You know, for someone raised by Ravagers, you’re a terrible mercenary.”
Peter flashed Gamora an I told you so look. She chose to ignore it and instead looked at him expectantly.
He sighed. “That’s exactly it. We aren’t mercenaries. We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy. This is exactly the type of job we should take.”
“Guardians of the Galaxy have to eat and pay for fuel, just like everyone else,” Rocket countered.
“You know, every single one of us has been in the exact same situation those farmers are in now.”
“I was never a farmer,” Drax stated, almost indignantly.
“No, not farming,” Quill replied patiently. “Every one of us knows what it’s like to be at the mercy of someone bigger and meaner and stronger. To have people we loved taken from us and be powerless to stop it. What if someone had been there for us when we needed it most? It’s too late for us, but it’s not too late for us to make a difference for those farmers now.”
“I am Groot!”
“Of course you would say that,” Rocket grumbled.
A look of admiration and approval on her face, Gamora set a hand on Quill’s shoulder. “You know I will be with you.”
Drax stood and declared, “It will be a worthy battle.”
“May I join you?” Mantis asked.
Quill nodded. “Of course.”
“Just tell me what the plan is, Capt’n.” While Kraglin wasn’t as enthusiastic as Drax or as determined as Gamora, he wanted to be part of the fight. He had never liked Tarbet. Anyway, Quill was a good captain and he would follow his lead.
Everyone turned to Rocket. The raccoon’s expression soured. “Fine, fine. I’ll go with you. Someone’s gotta keep you out of trouble.”
“Good. Our clients will be here at noon tomorrow. We’ll get details about the village and come up with a plan then.” He turned to go to his quarters, but paused and looked at Gamora with an expression of wistful longing in his eyes. Their gazes met and he could see the look of promise and anticipation in hers. After a long second, Quill turned away and walked down the corridor to his room.
Gamora immediately followed.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Rocket stated, “Don’t count your fifty units yet, Drax. The night’s not over.”
Quill smiled when Gamora entered his quarters. “It’s good to finally get you alone,” she said as she closed the door behind her.
“Yeah,” he agreed, almost disbelieving this was actually happening. He watched her approach, his green eyes filled with that special emotion he only ever showed her, the one that revealed his heart to her.
“Is that all you have to say?” she asked teasingly.
“Yeah.” After a long pause, he added, “Don’t know the right words to tell you… to let you know how awesome you are. How much I love you.”
“If you cannot tell me, perhaps you should show me,” Gamora suggested.
His eyes holding hers, Quill tucked a stray hair behind her ear and leaned in for a tender kiss. They broke apart for a moment, smiled at each other, then kissed again, this time with growing passion. With her hands in his hair, Gamora pulled Peter closer. His fingers found the hem of her top and slipped underneath. She hummed her pleasure at the feeling of his hands gently caressing her sides as they teasingly crept up her body.
And then the door to Quill’s quarters burst open.
Jumping apart, both Peter and Gamora glared at the cause of the interruption.
Mantis looked around in confusion. “This is not my room!” she exclaimed and hurried away in embarrassment.
Rocket, who was standing in the hall, commented with dejection, “Both idiots still have all their clothes on.” He stalked away angrily as Drax’s hearty laughter filled the hallway.
“You owe me fifty units!” the big man declared between guffaws.
Quill slammed the door shut. “I’m sorry,” he said as he turned back to Gamora.
“Peter,” she said softly with a whisper of disappointment. “Perhaps now is not the time.”
As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. Although muffled, Rocket and Drax could be heard laughing and arguing in the hall, which was not setting a very romantic atmosphere. And knowing those two, they wouldn’t give up trying to prove who had won the bet. Frowning at his luck, Quill nodded his agreement.
Gamora stepped close and ran her fingers along his scruffy cheek. “After this job, we should get a room at that resort across the bay.”
The thought made Quill smile. “And leave these idiots here.”
“That is one of your better plans.” Gamora kissed him lightly. “Goodnight, Peter.”
He tried not to look too disappointed as he watched Gamora walk out of his room. Turning towards his bed, he heard her voice raised in the hallway.
“Peter does not need courtship advice, Drax! And go to bed, Rocket!”
I know this is building slowly, but we'll get to some action soon.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
Gamora rolled over. Again. Sleep was elusive. She fluffed her pillow and tried to get comfortable, but it was a losing battle. There was nothing wrong with the pillow. Or the bed, except that Peter wasn’t in it. It was an unusual feeling for her, just wanting to be with someone.
Five minutes later, she was quietly walking down the corridor to Quill’s quarters. Gamora couldn’t imagine him being upset, even if she did wake him.
A soft red glow added its illumination to the dim nighttime lighting in the hallway and she could hear whistling. The Yaka arrow rounded a corner and flew towards her. She ducked, but the whistling stopped suddenly and the arrow dropped with a clatter to the metal floor just in front of her.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Kraglin said as he appeared in the corridor. “Didn’t know you was there.” A bruise was forming under his left eye, but otherwise he looked unharmed from the bar brawl.
“You’re getting better at that,” Gamora observed.
Kraglin picked up the arrow and shrugged. “I guess. Haven’t shot Drax in a while.” He shifted uncomfortably, his eyes flicking from Gamora to the door of Quill’s quarters and back. “I ain’t gonna tell them,” he said, briefly glancing down the hall towards Drax and Rocket’s rooms. “I’m glad you and Pete have each other.”
“Thank you, Kraglin.”
“Welcome, ma’am.” He nodded, then walked away and disappeared around the corner at the end of the corridor.
Gamora knocked softly on Quill’s door. When there was no response, she knocked louder. This time she heard a muffled reply. A few seconds later there was the crash of something being knocked over and a curse of pain.
Holding a stubbed toe in his hands, his hair more mussed than usual, Quill growled angrily as the door opened, “She’s not here, thanks to you idiots…” Then he realised who was standing at his door. He dropped his foot and ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up even more. “Gamora, sorry… I wasn’t expecting you.” His eyes filled with concern. “Are you all right?”
She nodded. “I…” Suddenly self-conscious, she hesistated before admitting, “I couldn’t sleep.”
He flashed a lopsided smile that was oddly reassuring. “Yeah, I know what that’s like.” After Ego, there had been far too many sleepless nights. He stepped aside to let her into his quarters, then closed and locked the door.
Turning to Gamora, Quill held his arms open in an invitation. She couldn’t hide the admiration in her expression. He was dressed in loose-fitting sweatpants and a wrinkled t-shirt that fit just snugly enough to show off his broad shoulders perfectly. But he was so much more than a handsome rogue who loved dancing and spoke in strange Terran expressions. He had a good heart.
She sank into his embrace, filled with reassuring strength and tenderness. It was nice not to be facing the trials of life alone, but it was also frightening. She had lost all that she had loved once before.
Quill lifted her chin with gentle fingers so she looked him in the eye. “Are you OK?”
“Yes,” she replied honestly. “I just couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to be alone tonight.”
“Then stay with me.” His soft smile was one he only ever gave her. “No sorcery, just… let me hold you?”
Gamora nodded. “I think I would like that.” Peter expressed affection through touch, something she had not had much experience with but was beginning to truly enjoy.
Stretching out in bed together, Gamora rested comfortably against Quill’s warm, solid form as he wrapped an arm loosely around her. Before they knew it, both had slipped into a peaceful sleep.
Gamora woke unable to remember a time she had slept so well. Her head resting on Quill’s chest, she could hear his regular breathing and the soothing rhythm of his strong and steady heartbeat. When she shifted slightly, he mumbled sleepily.
“Peter, we have to get up. Those farmers are coming and we need to plan how to save their village.”
Groaning, Quill complained, “Can’t we just stay in bed? Save the world tomorrow?”
“You are the one who made the great speech about why we should do this job.”
“I never knew being heroic would interfere with my personal life,” he grumbled, but kissed Gamora lightly and rolled out of bed.
“Fifty units says Quill will be grumpy because he didn’t get any last night.” Rocket’s voice could be heard coming from the galley.
“Stop placing bets on my personal life, Rocket!” Peter demanded as he entered the room.
“Quill!” Drax boomed. “Mantis has a headache. Be considerate!”
Cringing slightly at the noise, Mantis rested her head in her hands as she sat at the table. Her antennae drooped, making her look miserable.
“I told you not to let her drink too much,” Gamora reprimanded as she entered the galley. She handed Mantis a bottle of pills. “Take two of those. You’ll feel better.”
“Thank you,” She whispered in reply. “I am sorry about last night. I was… confused about my room.”
“It’s all right,” Gamora said reassuringly. “Rocket and Drax probably helped confuse you.”
“All is well, Mantis,” Drax confirmed. “You helped me win fifty units.”
“New rule,” Quill declared. “No wagering on my personal life.” He glanced at Gamora. “No wagering on anyone’s personal life.”
“You just don’t know how to have fun,” the raccoon complained.
Kraglin interrupted. “Capt’n, we got company.” He pointed to a viewscreen that showed the two farmers standing on the gangplank.
“Look alive, people,” Quill said. “Remember, we’re professionals. We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy.” He glanced around the galley. One hungover bug-girl, a muscle-bound whack job, an ex-space pirate, a sarcastic talking raccoon with a sentient baby tree perched on his shoulder… His eyes settled on Gamora. And the woman he loved. They might not look it, but they were one hell of a team.
“Bring them up here, Kraglin,” he ordered.
Kraglin escorted the Xandarian farmers into the galley.
“You must eat something!” Drax exclaimed upon seeing how thin they were. He immediately stood up and began spooning some leftover lunch into bowls. He ushered them to the table and set the bowls in front of them. Garthen and Thaal looked surprised, but grateful.
“We’ve agreed to work for you,” Quill announced. “But we need more information about your village and what Tarbet does when he arrives so we can figure out a plan to beat him.”
Three hours later, Rocket no longer looked grumpy. “So I get to blow up the ship?” he asked.
Quill nodded. “You have to take out that ship. We won’t stand a chance if they can use their heavy weapons.”
“I am Groot?”
“No, you can’t come with me,” Rocket replied. “You have to stay at your position and keep Tarbet’s men from getting behind us.”
“I am Groot?”
“Yes, you can push the button as many times as you want as long as Tarbet’s men are around.”
The small tree grinned gleefully.
“I do the same?” Mantis asked, looking much less hungover than earlier.
Quill nodded. He pointed to a viewscreen with a map of the small farming village. “Yes. Keep Tarbet’s men here, in this central area of town, where we can face them. If they can flank us and surround us, we’re in trouble.”
“It will be a good battle,” Drax assured.
Peter and Gamora’s eyes met. Neither was as enthusiastic as the Destroyer. She could see the worry in his expression. Thirty to forty men against seven was not good odds. And he was no longer immortal with Celestial blood, as she had learned all too well on a recent misadventure.
“All right. Any questions?” Quill asked as he stood at the head of the table, looking at the rest of the Guardians and their employers. When no one said anything, he looked at Rocket and Kraglin. “Get the Milano ready. We’ll take that to the village.”
A patchwork of fields surrounded a village of simple white houses. Some were green with growing crops, others had just been harvested. The fields surrounding the village ended in some low hills that quickly rose into tall, snowcapped peaks. At first glance, the scene was idyllic. But looking closer revealed a village in trouble. Some patches of ground were blackened by heavy weapons fire. Some abandoned homes lingered on the edge of collapse while others were burnt ruins.
Rocket landed the Milano in a charred field near the village.
“Where is everyone?” Gamora asked as she stepped off the ship.
“They are hiding. A strange ship is reason to fear,” Thaal excused. “We have been living in fear far too long.”
Garthen ran into the village. “We brought help! Stop hiding! We brought the Guardians of the Galaxy!”
Slowly some ragged, half-starved people trickled from the houses. They were disbelieving at first, but it was easy to see the hope beginning to swell as they realised help truly had arrived.
A balding, stoop-shouldered man with bushy eyebrows who looked to be even older than Thaal approached Quill. “You are not a moment too soon,” he said. “We have just finished the yaro root harvest. Tarbet always comes just after the harvest to steal our food and feed his men.”
“This time, we’ll be here to stop him,” Quill stated. He looked at the rest of the Guardians. “Let’s get set up so we can give him a good welcome when he gets here.”
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
“You suck at getting us jobs, Quill,” Rocket growled as he sat at the table in the Milano and fiddled with some sort of invention.
Three days had passed with no sign of Tarbet and everyone was getting restless.
Drax paused from sharpening one of his knives. “Rocket is right. We have had no battle yet. This waiting grows tedious.”
“At least I got us a job. You were busy starting a bar fight.”
“That was Kraglin, actually,” Rocket blamed.
“I am Groot!”
The raccoon amended, “Fine, it was the guy who punched Kraglin’s fault.”
Mantis paced nervously, feeling the restless energy building among the group members.
“Relax, Mantis,” Gamora encouraged. “They always get like this when they have to wait.”
“Capt’n!” Kraglin called from the flight deck. He practically leapt down the steps to the main cabin. “Ship approaching!”
“Finally!” Rocket said as he tightened one more thing and stuffed his invention into his pack.
“Showtime!” Quill exclaimed. “Everyone get to your positions!”
Gamora clipped her sword to her belt. She caught Quill’s hand before he could follow the others outside. “Be careful, Peter.”
He smiled at her, a soft smile filled with admiration and love. “You, too.” And then he was gone, jogging towards the village square.
The heavily armed ship landed just outside the village in a recently harvested field. Flanked by two of his men, Tarbet strode from the ship towards the centre of the town. He was a big man, standing nearly six and a half feet tall. His long, greasy hair was pulled into various braids; his crooked and rotten teeth were capped with shiny metal. A livid white scar cut down the left side of his face from cheek to jaw. His expression showed a particular pleasure in inflicting his cruel will upon those weaker than him. The two men at his side were not quite as tall as him, but looked just as vicious. Men carrying various sorts of weapons poured from the ship behind them.
“Don’t hide from me!” Tarbet bellowed. “You know what happens when you hide!”
Quill stepped into the street. Drax, holding a large rifle Rocket had made him, walked at his side. Rocket followed a few steps behind, fiddling with some sort of device.
Tarbet stopped. “Who are you?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, recognition dawned in his pale grey eyes. “Peter Quill. Yondu’s precious cargo. I heard you’re playing the hero now. Wait… These farmers… They hired you for protection?” He looked from Drax to Rocket and back to Peter. “You’re the Guardians of the Galaxy?!” he said incredulously as he began to laugh heartily.
“That’s a fake laugh,” Rocket stated with contempt. “I’ve laughed enough at his plans to know,” he added, pointing at Quill.
Tarbet glared at Rocket, then returned his attention to Peter. “My mistake was to be generous. I left them a little and they hire you. Just remember, you didn’t do so good the last time you tried to fight me,” he growled menacingly. “You’re lucky Yondu came when he did.”
“I was a skinny twelve-year-old,” Quill replied. “And you were lucky Yondu didn’t kill you.”
Surprisingly, the big bandit nodded. “He thought he did, but I got lucky. Missed my heart by that much.” He held up a hand, his index finger and thumb almost touching. “So where is the old bastard now? I figured someday you would be the death of him.”
Quill lunged forward to punch Tarbet, but Drax grabbed his shoulders and held him back.
Tarbet’s laugh was genuine this time. “So he is dead. Good. Now take your friends and go home while I’m still feeling generous.”
“Not gonna happen,” Quill growled as he shrugged off Drax’s hands.
“I have thirty men,” Tarbet stated, gesturing to the men assembled behind him. “You have two… if you count the rodent.” He gestured dismissively towards Rocket.
Snarling, Rocket tensed, but Drax stopped him with a firm hand.
“I have a few more here and there,” Peter warned. “And don’t forget, I defeated Ronan. I held an Infinity Stone. I killed a Celestial… Your thirty men are nothing.”
“But, Quill, you did all that when you were immortal,” Drax observed. “You do not have such power anymore.”
Rocket facepalmed. “Remember when I explained bluffing…”
Chuckling heartily, Tarbet said, “You always were more mouth than brains, boy.” His pale eyes surveyed the village square, looking for the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy. “You should’ve taken my offer to leave,” he said as he took a step back.
And then all hell broke loose. Weapons fire began somewhere to Quill’s left. Rocket took off with his aerorig as he pressed a blinking red button on the device he was holding, triggering a fireball behind the bandits. They scurried for cover towards the edges of the village square, where Gamora and Kraglin held them in a crossfire from protected positions behind thick stone walls.
Tarbet’s men tried to split up and surround the Guardians and his ship’s engines fired to life.
Mantis watched a group of bandits approach her position as they tried to get behind Peter and Drax. She was hidden on the second floor balcony of the village temple. She glanced at the box in her hand with an illuminated yellow light and a single black button, then looked at the marker Rocket had put in the street below for her. It was a small pile of stones, easily overlooked, but the bandits were almost there. Just a few more steps. They approached warily, searching for adversaries, their weapons ready.
The first one stepped beyond the small pile of stones. Mantis didn’t hesitate. She pushed the button. Bright blue electrical sparks danced between the buildings, striking Tarbet’s men and instantly dropping them.
Stone chips exploded from the corner of the building Quill and Drax had taken cover behind as a burst of weapons fire hit it. Peter returned fire with both blasters. Drax laughed heartily as he moved to a new position where he had a better view of targets. He was thoroughly enjoying the new high-powered rifle Rocket had made him.
Peter saw a group of bandits flying into the air to his left. At least Groot was following instructions and using the antigravity mine to keep Tarbet’s men from flanking them. Hopefully they could keep the fight focused around the centre of town and away from the where the farmers and their families were taking shelter.
A blast from Tarbet’s ship levelled a house. Quill cursed under his breath. Rocket had to take out that ship. They wouldn’t last long against its firepower. Moving quickly, he darted to a new position behind the trunk of an ancient tree just seconds before the building he had been using for cover was destroyed in an explosion of flame and rock fragments.
And then a bright fireball consumed Tarbet’s ship. Debris from the blast landed in scattered places, dark smoke billowing from flaming pieces and spreading the sharp smell of burning oil into the air.
Rocket flew by, slowing just enough to say, “Told ya I’d take care of the ship, Quill.” Then he zipped away, happily blasting at bandits with his rifle.
A grenade exploded to Quill’s left and pelted him with clods of dirt. As he reloaded his blasters, he tried to see where he was most needed in the fight. From the corner of his eyes, he could see men periodically airborne. Groot was definitely enjoying his assignment. He caught a flash of green and was reassured Gamora was all right. Drax had lost his rifle somewhere and was battling with both blades. He couldn’t see Mantis or Kraglin and had to trust that they were fine. Moving again, Peter fired both his blasters as he tried to even the overwhelming odds against the Guardians.
A shot from one of the bandits hit Rocket’s aerorig and it sputtered out with a burst of sparks. Fortunately, he wasn’t too high, but he still hit the ground hard, stunning him for a moment.
And then a black grenade rolled in front of him.
Still shaken from the fall, Rocket could do little more than exclaim, “Shit!”
Quill reacted instantly. He darted forward and grabbed Rocket by the collar of his clothes. He had only taken one step when a searing blow hit his left leg and it buckled. Before he hit the ground, Peter tossed the raccoon over a low stone wall surrounding a kitchen garden.
Pushing aside the pain, Peter staggered to his feet and lurched to the waist-high wall. Normally he could have leapt over the wall with no trouble at all, but his wounded leg was making everything more difficult. He managed to drag his leg over the wall and was about to drop to the ground behind it when the grenade exploded in a ball of fire and shrapnel.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
Quill groaned as he landed hard behind the wall a few feet from Rocket. His ears were ringing and he was momentarily disoriented. The raccoon appeared in front of him, saying something he couldn’t understand and tugging at his jacket. After what seemed like far too long, Peter’s ears began to work again.
“Your coat’s on fire, Quill!” Rocket shouted frantically, trying to pull it off the Terran.
Quill quickly shrugged out of it and tossed it aside. “Damn, I liked that jacket.” He slumped against the rough stone wall surrounding the small garden. “You OK, Rocket?”
“Yeah.” The raccoon wasn’t going to ask a stupid question like if Quill was OK. He was bleeding from multiple places and that was never OK, although the idiot would probably claim to be “fine”. Not only had he taken a blaster shot to his left leg just above the knee, shrapnel had carved several deep cuts into his skin. One sliced across his chest and more marked his left shoulder and arm, where bits of dark metal were still embedded.
Shock and adrenaline were great painkillers, but Quill decided they wore off far too quickly. “This sucks,” he groaned.
“Tell me about it,” Rocket replied as he fished a roll of bandages from his belt pack and began to wrap the gauze around Quill’s leg. “Gamora’s gonna be pissed at me if she finds out you got hurt trying to save my ass.”
“Actually saving your ass,” Peter retorted. “You’d be roasted raccoon if I hadn’t grabbed you.”
“Don’t call me a raccoon!” Rocket growled as he knotted the bandage tight enough to make Quill wince.
“Ow! OK, OK!”
“Don’t have any more bandages for the rest. Try not to bleed too much.” Rocket hefted his rifle and moved to rejoin the fight. As an afterthought, he paused, looked back at Quill, and added, “Thanks, Star-Dork.”
Quill smiled. It was more gratitude than he expected from the furball. Letting out a soft groan, he pushed himself to his good knee and looked over the low garden wall. His blaster ready in his right hand, he searched for targets but found none. The only bandits he could see were moaning on the ground or dead.
Rocket called to Quill, “Did we get ‘em all?”
“I hope so,” he replied. His numerous wounds were really starting to hurt and he didn’t feel like fighting anymore.
Gamora’s voice was always the best thing he could hear, even better than his favourite songs. Her firm hand settled on his right shoulder as she knelt beside him. She encouraged him to holster his weapon and sit back down against the wall. The expression on her face was one he had come to recognise as annoyed concern.
She looked questioningly at the raccoon.
He reluctantly explained, “Saved me from a grenade.”
“I would’ve made it over the wall with Rocket just fine,” Quill explained. “Except I got shot in the leg. Slowed me down.”
Gamora’s dark eyes softened. She couldn’t be upset at Peter. Part of the reason she loved him was his endearing yet annoying selfless bravery. After glancing at his leg, already bleeding through the bandage, her attention moved to his other wounds. She lifted his torn and bloody shirt. Her lips set in an unhappy line when she saw his damaged skin and bits of black shrapnel lodged in his bleeding flesh. “It could be worse,” she conceded. “Nothing looks too deep, except possibly your leg.”
“Still hurts like hell,” he complained.
“We have vanquished all our foes!” Drax proclaimed enthusiastically as he approached.
From the corner of his eye, Quill saw a group of bandits fly into the air again. And again. “Rocket, go tell Groot he can stop now,” he said tiredly.
The raccoon grumbled something Peter couldn’t quite hear, but he jogged off in Groot’s direction.
“I will check on Mantis,” Drax stated before striding away.
Quill moved to get up. “I need to find Kraglin. I haven’t seen him since this started.”
With a firm hand on his uninjured shoulder, Gamora held him in place. Her eyes glanced to his torn and bloodied shirt before returning to his face. “I should really get you back to the ship and see how bad these are.”
“Not until I know everyone’s OK.”
She nodded, knowing he would be stubborn about that. “Stay here,” she ordered unnecessarily. “I’ll find Kraglin.” Gamora hesitated briefly, touching his stubbled cheek before hurrying towards where she had last seen the former Ravager.
Quill closed his eyes and rested the back of his head against the stone wall behind him. He was pretty sure none of his wounds were serious, but he did want to get back to the Milano and sleep until they stopped hurting. But first he needed to know everyone was safe.
His eyes snapped open at the sound of Tarbet calling his name from the street.
“Peter Quill!” Tarbet repeated. “Don’t celebrate! I’m not dead yet. Get out here and face me. I have something of yours you’ll want to see!”
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
Fearful of what he would see, Quill drew his blasters. He frowned when he discovered one was useless with a piece of shrapnel embedded in the trigger mechanism. He holstered the useless one, held the other in his right hand, and pushed himself to his feet. Despite his numerous wounds protesting the movement angrily, he straightened to his full height. Looking into the street, he frowned at the scene.
Tarbet held Kraglin by the arm while pressing the barrel of his pistol against his skull. Blood ran down the right side of the former Ravager’s face from a cut high on his forehead.
“Let’s talk, face to face!” Tarbet announced. “Or this one dies.”
Quill limped into the centre of the street, his left leg dragging badly as every step stabbed him with a jolt of pain. As he stood in the hard-packed dirt street, the wind stirring slightly and spreading the smell of smoke, he was reminded of the old Western movies his grandfather enjoyed watching. He and Tarbet stood facing each other like gunfighters at high noon.
“Sorry, Capt’n,” Kraglin apologised.
Quill’s eyes met his. “We’ve survived worse.”
“You won’t survive this one,” Tarbet growled. “You’re the reason I lost my place with the Ravagers.”
“More like you lost your place with the Ravagers because you tried to sell me to slavers. Let’s keep the blame where it belongs.”
“And I had a good thing here!”
“Until you and your men got their asses kicked by the Guardians of the Galaxy.” Peter kept talking, hoping one of the others would return. “You know the only way you get out of this alive is if you surrender to us. I’ll make sure you get a fair trial on Xandar.”
“Well, I’ll give it to you, boy, you’re no coward,” Tarbet grudgingly admitted. “But Yondu always was too soft on you. You never learned how to be ruthless. Should’ve shot me instead of talking, even if it did mean your friend here dying. Now you’ll both be dead.”
Kraglin didn’t wait to hear more. He surprised Tarbet with an elbow in the gut as he ducked under the pistol. The bandit pulled the trigger and a burst of hot blaster fire came disturbingly close to Kraglin’s ear, but he lunged for the weapon and grappled the much larger man for control.
Quill hesitated to shoot for fear of hitting his friend. He waited and the instant he had a clear shot at Tarbet, he pulled the trigger of his blaster…
And nothing happened.
Tarbet finally pushed Kraglin aside, levelled his pistol at him, and fired. The former Ravager fell to the ground with a grunt of pain.
Quill did the only thing he could think of. Despite the fiery torment in his left leg, he launched himself at the bandit. They hit the dirt hard. Tarbet’s blaster was knocked from him grip and skidded out of reach. Both men staggered to their feet. The bandit lunged for his gun, but Peter stopped him. He caught an elbow to the ribs and a punch to the left shoulder that drove a piece of shrapnel deeper into the muscle. The abuse should have stopped him or at least slowed him down, but Quill brushed aside the sharp pain and fought on. Yondu might not have taught him to be ruthless, but he had taught him how to fight.
Throwing a punch with all his strength behind it, Peter’s fist connected with Tarbet’s jaw. His knuckles were split and bleeding and he knew his hand would hurt in the morning, but the blow staggered the bigger man. Tarbet stumbled to his knees, but still managed to lash out with a wicked strike to Quill’s wounded leg. The sudden explosion of agony made the world darken for a few seconds as he collapsed.
When his vision cleared, Quill saw Tarbet’s blaster laying just out of reach. Growling as he forced himself to master the pain, he tried to scramble for the gun, his left leg dragging and leaving a trail of blood.
But somehow Tarbet was already back on his feet. He kicked Quill’s leg viciously, laughing when he cried out and collapsed again. The bandit picked up the blaster. He landed a sharp kick to Quill’s ribs, then used the toe of his boot to roll him onto his back. “Yondu ain’t here to save you this time.” He aimed the blaster at the centre of Peter’s chest.
A sharp whistle sounded.
With a flash of red, the Yaka arrow struck Tarbet’s hand, making him drop the weapon. The bandit had just enough time for surprise to register on his face before the glowing arrow circled gracefully and ploughed a pathway through his heart.
Kraglin caught the arrow as it flew back to his side. Blood seeped through the fingers of his right hand, clamped tightly against his ribs, but he was smiling with a look of happy disbelief. “I finally got it right, Capt’n.” He swayed, then sat down hard with a groan.
Quill grimaced as he propped himself up on his elbows and too many parts of his body complained at the movement. “Thanks, Kraglin. You OK?”
“Been worse. ‘Member that time on that moon off Contraxia? Yondu was pissed at us.”
“Yeah.” Peter smiled. Memories of his dad no longer stabbed him harshly. Now, while bittersweet, it felt good to remember.
“Peter!” Gamora shouted as she ran towards him. She dropped to her knees at his side. “What happened?”
“I found Kraglin,” he replied. He tried to flash a charming smile. “And you missed all the fun.”
She rolled her eyes, but couldn’t keep the affection from her expression, although it was shaded with concern for him.
Drax appeared with Mantis at his side. “You have fought a mighty battle!” he declared upon seeing Tarbet’s body. “You are surrounded by the blood of your enemy.”
“I’m pretty sure most of it’s mine,” Quill clarified. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, the pain and weakness were getting harder to ignore. He slumped against Gamora. He was grateful for her strength supporting him, but also for the gentle way her fingers brushed against his cheek and neck, trying to soothe away all the hurt.
Mantis looked between Quill and Kraglin. “Oh, my… you are both injured.”
“Check on Kraglin,” Peter requested. “Tarbet shot him.”
“I’m fine,” the former Ravager mumbled as Drax and Mantis leaned over him.
“I am Groot!” the small plant declared from his perch on Rocket’s shoulder as they approached.
The raccoon glanced at Tarbet’s lifeless form. “That was a good shot. Took you long enough to figure out how to use that thing, Kraglin.”
Quill smiled as he looked at the rest of the Guardians. They were unconventional, a bunch of misfits with a tendency towards being a-holes. But they were a great team and one hell of a family.
Quill lay on his bunk in the Milano. His right arm was tucked behind his head and he stared at the ceiling. His left leg throbbed mercilessly under the fresh bandage Gamora had wrapped around the blaster wound after she had cleaned and treated it. He gritted his teeth and tried to imagine more pleasant reasons she would now be leaning over him in bed.
“Don’t flinch!” she reprimanded as she closed the deep laceration on his chest with a neat line of stitches.
“It’s hard not to when you’re jabbing a needle into me.”
“Someone forgot to restock the medical supplies on his ship with local anaesthetic.”
“This definitely sucks as a reminder.”
“And you didn’t want Mantis to help you sleep."
“It’s sleep, but I don’t like it,” Quill explained. “It feels strange and it… it reminds me of him.”
Gamora nodded her understanding, but asked, “Then why did you refuse the numbing tea the farmers offered?”
“It looked like pee and smelled… well, worse. Did you actually expect me to drink that?”
She conceded he did have a point. While the farmers had promised it was very effective, the tea had looked and smelled quite disgusting. Taking mercy on Peter, Gamora paused her stitching for a moment and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips.
When she pulled away, Quill let out a soft sound of disappointment.
“If you weren’t hurt, we could be doing more together.”
“Not with everyone else upstairs on the flight deck,” Quill pointed out, his words ending in a groan as Gamora resumed stitching. “So this is my reward for being heroic.”
Gamora smiled indulgently. “I will make sure you are well-rewarded, Star-Lord.” She tied off the last stitch. “We are going to spend a week together at that resort when we get back. I don’t care how much it costs. Now sit up. I need to bandage that.”
Grimacing, Quill obeyed. Gamora’s fingers were gentle as they wrapped the clean bandage around his torso, brushing against his warm skin. Despite the pain he was in, he also felt desire. He leaned in for another kiss.
She stopped him with a firm hand. “You still have other wounds that need tending.”
“I know. And it hurts. A kiss would make it better,” he said hopefully.
Gamora flashed a look of exasperated affection. “Peter, I’m serious. I do not want you getting an infection and fever from this.”
That reality focused Quill’s attention. He admitted, “Yeah, that did suck last time.”
He quietly submitted to Gamora cleaning his arm and shoulder and probing his wounds for bits of metal. She felt his muscles tense as she pulled out a jagged piece of shrapnel that was lodged particularly deep in his flesh.
Taking mercy on his as she worked another piece of metal from a wound, she promised, “I will kiss it better when I am done.”
Quill smiled and looked as though he truly believed that would take his pain away.
Gamora taped the last bandage in place on Quill’s upper arm. “Finished,” she declared.
“Good,” he replied as he let out a long breath.
Although he had borne everything stoically, Gamora knew it had hurt him. She gently brushed her fingers down his bearded cheek and watched the hard lines of pain in his expression ease a little. As she had promised, she leaned in and kissed him. It was soft and sweet and Gamora could feel him relax just a little. Perhaps he was right, a kiss could make things a bit better.
“You should rest now,” Gamora stated.
Quill didn’t argue. The pain and blood loss had left him exhausted. He gingerly lowered himself back down on his bunk. Gamora continued to sit next to him and tucked his blankets around him. She smiled softly and ran her fingers soothingly through his hair.
Closing his eyes, Peter savoured the feeling. “You’re so good to me, Gamora,” he mumbled as he drifted to sleep.
Soft footsteps on the metal stairs announced Rocket’s arrival.
“How is Kraglin?” Gamora asked.
“Blaster shot grazed his ribs. Nothing too bad,” the raccoon informed. “Drax got the units from the farmers. We’re ready to leave if you are.”
“I am definitely ready.”
Rocket turned to return to the flight deck, but paused. After a moment of hesitation, he asked, “How is the idiot?”
Gamora glanced at Quill. His chest rose and fell with deep, regular breaths of peaceful sleep. “He should be fine. He needs rest, but none of the wounds are serious.”
“Good. But don’t tell him I asked.”
Limping slightly, Quill walked with Gamora down the long, brightly lit hallway to their room. As promised, they were spending a few days alone at the seaside resort.
“Stop worrying, Peter. They won’t get into trouble.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Rocket, Drax, and Kraglin won’t get into trouble. Seriously?”
Sighing, Gamora amended, “They won’t get into trouble they can’t handle. And they promised to find us a job.” She stopped at a door. “Here’s our room.”
Quill unlocked the door and pushed it open to reveal a large, richly appointed room. Moonlight from the twin moons spilled through a sliding glass door leading to a private balcony.
After dropping her bag near the large bed, Gamora opened the sliding door and stepped onto the balcony. Several storeys above the ground floor, the balcony offered a perfect vantage point of the broad beach of white sand and the water reflecting the quicksilver moonlight. “It’s a very nice view,” she observed.
“Yeah, it is,” Quill agreed. “Better than nice.” His eyes never left her form, admiring every aspect of her graceful beauty.
When she turned around and noticed his gaze, a soft blush coloured her cheeks. His green eyes were filled with desire, but also with respect, trust, and a deep sort of love she had not believed existed. Thanos had tried to make her forget love, to believe that caring was a weakness. But Peter had proven Thanos was wrong. His strength and fortitude came from his heart, from the love he felt for others. And Gamora was grateful he shared that love with her.
She smiled as she stepped closer to him. Taking his backpack, she tossed it next to hers on the floor. “We’re finally alone.”
“Yeah, but I keep expecting to hear an ‘I am Groot’ or have Drax or Rocket come barging in at the most inconvenient moment.”
“That won’t happen,” she replied. But just to make sure, Gamora double-checked that the door was locked.
Quill’s pulse quickened as Gamora turned back towards him. He felt sweet anticipation, but also a surge of self-doubt and anxiety. It was so strange. What he had desired for so long was now so close, and he was worried.
Gamora paused. Quill’s expression was filled with love and that special look in his eyes that was hers alone, but she saw something else, as well. “Are you nervous?”
He could be nothing but honest with her. “Uh… yeah… yes.”
She searched his face curiously. “Why?”
“I’ve never done this before.” He looked embarrassed and contrite. “I mean, I’ve never done this when it actually means something. I love you, Gamora. I don’t want to disappoint you. Or screw up what we have together.”
Gamora stepped closer, laying a hand on his chest and feeling his warmth and strong heartbeat through the thin material of his shirt. “I am… uncertain as well,” she confessed. “This is all so new to me, and I am not sure I deserve it.”
“You deserve as much happiness as possible,” Quill replied adamantly. “And I will do everything in my power to make you happy. You mean the world… the universe to me, Gamora.”
She knew those were no idle words. He had given up the universe—and immortality—for love. When he cupped her cheek with a warm hand and leaned in to kiss her softly, with no demands and only reassuring love, she momentarily lost herself in the sweetness. It was still such a foreign feeling, she savoured it and the honest emotion Peter poured into it.
When Quill broke away, he gently gathered Gamora against him. He hummed a slow song softly and they swayed together.
Still swaying to nonexistent music, her head resting against his chest so his voice sounded like a deep rumble, Quill said, “We can wait, you know. Not that I don’t want to do this with you, but I do want you to be…”
“Peter,” Gamora silenced him as her fingers tugged at his shirt. She untucked it and pulled it over his head, tossing it behind her.
“But… yeah… This is great, too,” he stated.
“It definitely is,” Gamora agreed as she appraised his chiseled form. She traced a fingertip over the solid muscles of his abdomen, leaving a path of fire that made Quill suck in his breath as he felt himself instantly harden. Her fingers stopped on one of his fresh scars as concern filled her dark eyes.
“Everything’s mostly better,” Peter assured. “Please don’t worry about it. Let’s enjoy our time together.”
Gamora nodded her agreement.
His lips quirking into a mischievous smile, Quill looked down to where she still rested her hand against his naked chest. “You know, this is hardly fair.” He reached for the zipper of her top, pausing long enough for her to stop him if that was what she wanted.
She didn’t want him to stop. She watched his face, the almost reverent expression in his green eyes as he ever so slowly unzipped her top, revealing more of her smooth skin. Once the zipper was open, he pushed the black leather top from her shoulders and let it drop to the floor. She wore a black bra underneath.
“You are so beautiful,” Quill whispered as he reached behind Gamora. His brows knitted as he fumbled with the clasp of her bra and couldn’t get it open. He growled in frustration.
Gamora began to get impatient and reached behind her.
“No, I got this,” he said with determination as he turned her gently so her back was towards him. He quickly unhooked the annoying garment and let it fall. Tentatively, he reached around her and cupped her breasts while trailing kisses down the side of her neck. His facial hair tickled her sensitive skin as his thumbs brushed over her nipples, making them harden. An unfamiliar spike of warmth and desire pooled between her legs. She tilted her head to give him better access as she moaned softly at the exquisite sensations he evoked with his hands and his lips.
Quill smiled against her skin, pleased by her reaction. His hands moved slowly down the taut skin of her abdomen and worked to undo her belt while he continued to tease her with kisses.
“Boots… We need to take our boots off.”
Quill let out a relieved breath. Gamora was just being her practical self. She wasn’t upset with the direction the evening was taking.
When she bent over to take her boots off, he couldn’t help but look at her ass. It was right there in front of him to admire. Quill wondered if she knew what she was doing. Straightening back up, she turned towards him. Now he had a perfect view of her perfect breasts.
“Peter, you need to take your boots off, too.”
It took his brain a moment to process what she said. “Oh, yeah, right.”
Hopping awkwardly on his right leg, he managed to tug his left boot off. But when he placed all his weight on his left leg, he was quickly reminded of his recent wound. He would have fallen on his face if Gamora had not caught him.
Smiling sheepishly as he tossed his boots aside, he mumbled, “Sorry.”
After making sure Quill was steady on his feet, Gamora began unbuckling her belt.
Peter stilled her hands with his own. “Let me,” he whispered.
As he unbuckled her belt and undid a few buttons, Gamora had to admit there was something very sensual about having him slowly remove her clothing. He pushed her pants and underwear from her hips and they fell to the floor, pooling around her ankles. Surprisingly, she did not feel uncomfortable standing completely naked in front of Peter.
Stepping out of the puddle of her clothes, Gamora made Quill take a step backwards towards the large bed. “Now who is being unfair?” she asked, reaching for his belt. She made quick work of the buckle and buttons, then pushed down his pants. She appraised the prominent bulge in his underwear before carefully sliding his boxers off his lean hips and allowing his erection to spring free.
Gamora reached for it, stroking its solid length with gentle fingers.
Quill made a sound somewhere between a growl and a groan. He stilled her hand with a touch of his fingers on her wrist.
“Not good?” she asked with a hint of worry in her dark eyes.
Shaking his head, he explained, “No, too good. I don’t want this to end too soon.” Before she knew what he was doing, he swept her into his arms and cradled her against his chest. He limped to the bed, where he gently laid her down.
Gamora pulled him on top of her, finding his lips and kissing him passionately. When they finally broke apart, Quill began to explore her body with his hands and his mouth, arousing all sorts of exciting feelings in her. He carefully noted her reactions and what brought her particular pleasure. While enjoying Peter’s attentions, Gamora was not idle. Her fingers and lips whispered against his warm skin, caressing and teasing.
When neither could stand waiting any longer, Peter entered her. They moved together then, relishing the sensations they shared with each other. Never before had Quill cared so much about bringing pleasure to his partner, but never before had these intimate acts expressed the deepest emotions in his heart.
Their movements became faster as a desperate need for completion built in their bodies. Gamora begged Peter not to stop and he gazed into her eyes as he brought her closer and closer to climax. Closer and closer to the apex of release.
Gamora called out his name as waves of intense pleasure swept over her. Peter followed an instant later, tumbling into paradise with the woman he loved.
After a few moments, their breathing began to return to normal. Quill rolled onto his back, gently pulling Gamora with him so he could continue holding her. She rested her head on his shoulder as they savoured the afterglow of their lovemaking before drifting to sleep together.
Gamora awoke early but had no intention of getting out of bed. Her back was pressed against Peter’s broad chest; his arm was wrapped loosely around her waist. There was still so much uncertainty swirling around their lives, from the mundane concern of finding a decent job to the ominous threat of Thanos and his plans.
But at least there was one definite in the universe, one unwavering constant. Peter and Gamora knew they shared that rare sort of steadfast love that lasts beyond eternity. Quill tightened his hold on Gamora and she snuggled closer into his embrace as rays of the rising sun spilled into the room.
I’m supposed to be working on a non-fiction book I am contracted to write, but while I was away doing fieldwork, I was also trying to write an outline for one of my novels that ended up prodding another Guardians of the Galaxy story into my head. I would rather write that. I wonder if the responsible or fun-loving side of me will win. I better ask my husband when that contract is due…