Thanos’ ship is empty.
Gamora would have expected at least a battalion of soldiers surrounding it, and more inside to guard whatever lay within.
But instead the ship was left completely unmanned, the entrance locked but easy to bypass—it took Stark only a few short minutes to hack into the ship’s door controls and get them inside. She doesn't like this, and judging from Thor’s and Stark’s silence, neither do they.
“There’s likely to be nothing of value here,” she says, knowing they are both smart enough to have gathered as much. “Much less any of the stones. But we still have to be sure.”
“It could be a trap,” Thor warns.
“It could,” Gamora agrees, but she doesn’t look back at either of them as she steps into the ship.
They follow shortly after, as she knew they would. Between the three of them, they can probably handle whatever Thanos has left here, soldiers or traps or anything else.
“No one on board but us,” Stark speaks up, and she turns to raise an eyebrow at him. He isn’t looking at her, instead turning his gaze upward as if he can see through the ceiling and into the many halls of the ship. It’s only a second later that Gamora remembers he actually can, in a way. “No heat signatures, no pulse readings… Wait.”
He pauses, and Gamora wishes she could read his expression past that never-changing, always vaguely angry looking mask. She knows he needs it for protection—needs all of the suit for protection, given the fragility of Terran bodies—but that makes it no less off-putting.
“What is it?” Thor asks, and Gamora crosses her arms over her chest.
“There’s no heat signature, but I’m picking up a pulse,” he says. “It’s weak, but it’s there. Maybe another kind of alien without body heat?”
“You say it’s weak?” Gamora asks. The suit nods, and she sighs, her heart sinking with that too-familiar disappointment at another life lost. “It’s not a soldier. Thanos would never leave just one behind to guard the ship. It’s probably a prisoner. A dying one, if he left it here alone.”
She chews on the inside of her cheek. Her bedside manner is nothing to envy, but…
“Where?” she asks.
“Two floors up, starboard side,” Stark tells her, pointing.
“I’ll take care of it,” she decides. “Thor, you search the captain’s quarters and storage. Stark, the engine rooms.”
Stark sends her a fleeting look she doesn’t like because she can’t see it, and Thor gives her a look she likes even less because she can see it. But they both do as she says, and if Thor hangs back a second too long she pretends not to notice.
When they’re gone, she makes her way up to where Stark indicated.
She knows the two of them have good intentions, stupidly noble hearts. They’re like Peter that way, and she’s taken a liking to both of them in spite of herself because of it.
But that is exactly why she can’t trust either of them to make the decision that might await her upstairs. Thanos never leaves a prisoner behind if they are strong enough to even attempt escape, and in all likelihood, the creature upstairs was left behind to die. And that leaves her tasked with putting it out of its misery.
When she ascends the two floors, she finds herself at the head of a hallway lined with cells.
She slowly and silently walks down the hall, one hand on her sword as she glances into each cell, just in case this is some sort of convoluted trap. It’s not Thanos’ style, but Gamora is not one to make assumptions and take stupid risks.
When she finds him, though, her grip on her sword slackens.
She sighs. It’s not a soldier, or a guard, or anyone she has to fear. The prisoner that lies before her is most definitely a prisoner, and by the look of him, her suspicion is confirmed. There aren’t many creatures that could survive what this one seems to have been through.
She is going to have to take one more life today after all, and she is not thrilled about it.
Gamora can see him plainly through the glass cell wall, huddled in the back corner, and she quickly assesses him. He looks Terran, she thinks, though a lot of species do. He’s unconscious, his black hair wet with sweat and blood, matted and sticking to his skin. There are more cuts on him than she cares to count, one across his hairline and several all over his face, and more, she suspects, where she can’t see. His left cheekbone is broken. She can tell by the bruising, ugly black and yellow against pale skin.
Her eyes drift to the bruising along his neck where he has no doubt been choked nearly to death, and then to his visibly broken leg, and then finally to the real cause of his condition—a deep, dark red soaking into his shirt right at the center of his abdomen. His wrists are bound, and his hands lay over the wound as if he was trying futilely to stop the bleeding not too long ago. But she knows the stomach must have been pierced, allowing stomach acid into the abdominal cavity.
A slow death and, if he were conscious, a painful one.
Gamora sets her jaw and turns her attention to the lock. She’s familiar with a good deal of the tech on Thanos’ ship, but nevertheless it takes her a fair amount of effort and several minutes to crack it. Still, eventually the system gives way, and the sheer cell wall disappears, retracting up and into the ceiling.
She steps into the cell, slowly approaching the corner and crouching down in front of him.
His breaths are coming in slow and ragged, and it’s only now that she’s so close that she realizes he is conscious. His breath is too uneven for unconsciousness. Her eyebrows raise; this Terran-like man is stronger than she gave him credit for, apparently.
His eyes flutter open, but just barely.
“It’s alright,” she says, watching the way his fingers twitch. It’s a movement she knows well, an involuntary reach for a weapon or anything he can use to defend himself, but he’s far too weakened to actually do it. “Rest. I’m not going to hurt you.”
He still isn’t looking directly at her, either because he lacks the strength to lift his head or because avoiding eye contact is a habit after his torture under Thanos. He takes a shaky breath and says one word, his voice impossibly hoarse.
Gamora’s brow furrows. “Come again?”
“Know… a lie,” he breathes, “... when I… hear it.”
“You think I’m going to hurt you?”
He closes his eyes, apparently too exhausted to keep them open, but he gives a barely perceptible nod as he lets his head fall against the wall beside him. She frowns and looks down at his stomach, where his bloodied hands still rest over the wound that’s slowly but surely killing him.
“I’ll be blunt, then,” she tells him, though she can hear a gentleness in her own voice that betrays her words. “Your wounds are going to kill you, in time. It will be painful, and slow. Thanos wanted it that way.”
He doesn’t flinch at the sound of Thanos’ name, and she finds herself becoming more impressed with him by the minute.
His passing will be a shame, she thinks.
“But I am no friend of Thanos. I can end this,” she says. “I can end the pain, right here and now. I know how to end a life quickly and without pain. But I will only do it if you tell me that’s what you want.”
He doesn’t respond, and for a moment she’s unsure whether he has actually fallen unconscious now. His breathing is more even, more calm.
“Is that what you want?” she presses.
Finally, he responds. It’s a small nod, his head barely moving against the support of the wall, because she doubts he has the strength for anything else.
But again, he surprises her. His eyes open just enough that he can look into her eyes, and she feels a flicker of something ethereal reaching between them, something not physical, that she thinks is a sort of power like the kind that Mantis has. And then she hears the prisoner’s voice in her head, only slightly stronger than it sounded when he was speaking aloud.
Thank you , he says. You’re saving more than one life, doing this.
As much as she hates the feeling of having someone else in her head, she gives him a pass, given the circumstances. She offers him a small, sad smile as his eyes close again.
Gamora reaches out and moves some of the hair from his face. It’s a simple gesture, barely remembered from a time before Thanos ever found her, to give this man one last kind touch before he passes.
As she lowers her hand to reach for her sword, though, she hears footsteps approaching. Someone is coming down the hall, and there’s no loud clanking of metal on metal, so it’s not Stark in his suit. Damn it, she thinks. It’s either Thor, who will complicate this and draw it out, or it’s an enemy, who will also complicate this and draw it out but will at least give her something to take her aggression out on in the meantime.
No such luck. She looks over her shoulder and feels the static energy that always seems to hang around the God of Thunder before she sees him.
Thor steps in front of the cell, empty-handed, though Gamora expected that none of them would find anything in their search anyway. He looks first at her, and then his gaze falls to the prisoner.
… And he promptly looks like someone just punched him in the chest.
“Loki,” he says, and his tone leaves absolutely no doubt in Gamora’s mind that this is about to get much more difficult. Because Thor knows this poor man. He wastes no time in closing the distance between them, kneeling at Gamora’s side and reaching out to lay a hand on the prisoner’s forearm. His eyes scan over the man’s numerous injuries. His voice is so quiet when he next speaks that she almost doesn’t hear it. “Oh, Loki, what have they done to you?”
“He’s been tortured,” Gamora tells him, though that much is obvious. She hesitates before continuing, but decides nothing good will come of sugarcoating this. “I’m going to put him out of his misery.”
Without warning a spark of electricity arcs from Thor’s back and pops, loudly, in the air behind him. Gamora’s eyes widen.
“You will do no such thing,” he practically growls, his voice suddenly darker than she’s ever heard it, and out of habit she almost bites back at him, almost gets angry.
But by the look on his face when he saw the prisoner—Loki, apparently—he’s close to him, and she pauses, tries to imagine herself in Thor’s place, tries to imagine someone she cares for in Loki’s place. It’s not difficult to picture; she sees it enough in her nightmares.
“Thor, I’m sorry, but his wounds are going to kill him either way. If we do nothing, all it does for him is draw out his pain.”
“His wounds won’t kill him,” he says. “He’s Asgardian. He’s healed from worse than this.”
Gamora blinks. Asgardian? She shoots a confused look at Loki, who still has yet to reopen his eyes. If he really is Asgardian, than he must know his wounds aren't fatal, however painful they might be.
And yet he gave her permission to kill him, even thanked her for it.
Before she can voice any of that, though, again she hears someone else coming to interrupt them. And this time she does hear the clanking of Stark’s boots. She doesn’t even turn around as Stark approaches from the end of the hall, and neither does Thor—though Gamora doubts he’s capable of looking at anything other than Loki at the moment.
“So who do we…” Stark begins to say as he steps in front of the cell, but his voice cuts off when he catches sight of the scene before him. He lets out a slow breath and a muttered curse, followed by the sound of his faceplate opening up, and his voice is far clearer when he says, “... Well. Shit. Can’t say I saw that one coming. The hell happened to him?”
Thor hasn’t acknowledged Stark’s presence, but as he moves forward to continue trying to wake Loki, Gamora stands and dusts off her legs.
“Thanos happened to him,” she explains.
“But he’s already got the Tesseract,” Stark says, his brow furrowed. “What else could Loki have that Thanos needed to get out of him?”
“This wasn’t because Thanos had anything to gain from Loki,” Thor says, his voice low, still not turning to look at either of them. “This was retribution.”
Gamora frowns. “Retribution for what?”
“For keeping the Tesseract hidden as long as he did,” Thor says. He sighs, brushing Loki’s hair back like Gamora had done. “He’s not waking.”
Without another word he moves to lift Loki up, carefully avoiding the worst of his injuries.
“Thor,” Stark says. “Wait.”
Gamora doesn’t like the tone in his voice. She doesn’t like the way Thor’s entire body tenses up, either, nor the way the air suddenly seems to crackle around them, buzzing with even more energy than it usually does around Thor.
“Do not test me, Stark,” Thor warns. And out of all the people Gamora has met on this planet, Thor has the uncanny ability to pack his words more full of emotion than the rest of them combined. He doesn’t need to raise his voice past a whisper.
“I’m—I’m not, just… listen,” Stark says. “Think about what we're dealing with here. This empty ship? Thanos just… leaving your brother here, beaten half to hell, unguarded, where he should have expected us to come looking for the stones? I don’t like it. And you wouldn’t either, if you were thinking straight.”
“You’re saying it’s a trap,” Gamora says, and she has to admit, he has a point.
“I’m saying… we need to think about this,” says Stark. “We can’t afford to make mistakes here, and just scooping Loki up and taking him back to the tower really feels like a mistake.”
“Well, then, by all means, Stark,” Thor says, and he continues to lift Loki up as though he had never been interrupted. It’s awkward, Loki being nearly as tall as his brother is, but Thor manages to get one arm under his legs and another under his torso. He slowly stands, gently shifting his brother in his arms so that Loki’s head falls lifelessly against Thor’s shoulder. As he turns to face them, he sets his unyielding gaze on Stark and says, “Feel free to stop me.”
Stark frowns at him, and Gamora almost thinks he's going to take up the challenge. Her hand drifts to the hilt of her sword.
“You know I’m not gonna fight you,” Stark tells him.
“You’re not moving out of my way, either.”
There's a beat of silence in which it seems like this might actually come to blows if Gamora doesn't interrupt them. So she does.
“He asked me to kill him.”
That’s enough to break the intense staredown between Thor and Stark, and their shocked faces turn straight to her. Gamora doesn’t care; she avoids their stares and looks down at Loki’s unresponsive face.
“When I found him like this, I told him I could give him a quick death to end the pain, because—I thought, anyway, that his wounds were bound to kill him on their own. Thanos likes to give his torture victims a slow death when he’s done with them,” she explains. She glances up at Thor. “I asked his permission first, and he gave it. He… did something, got his voice in my head, and he told me I was saving more than one life by killing him.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Thor asks.
“Well that's obvious,” Stark says. “It means there's something up here we don't know about, but apparently he does. I'd put my money on Thanos controlling him somehow, but whatever it is, apparently it's bad enough that he thinks he's better off dead. He wanted someone to kill him. That doesn't ring any alarms?”
“If you intend to kill my brother, Stark, you'll have to go through me.”
“Seriously,” he shoots back, annoyance clear in his voice. “You think I want to kill him?”
“You have no business implying it if you can't do it yourself.”
“Jesus, I’m not implying any of us kill him!” Stark all but shouts.
“So what's the alternative? We leave him here to await further torture? Is that what you would have me do?”
“Of course not,” Gamora cuts in before Stark can answer and further escalate this argument that they already don't have time for. In truth, she’s not entirely sure that leaving him isn’t what Stark is suggesting, but whatever weird history is here between these three, Gamora has a feeling that Stark would sooner accept a better solution than leave Loki in Thanos’ hands. “We just don’t take him back to where the others are. We take him somewhere safe, where Thanos can’t find him, and where he can’t be of any use if he turns out to be… a spy, or whatever Thanos has made him into.”
“Where?” Thor asks, and he no longer looks angry as he looks to Gamora. All she sees in his face now is worry, and some hesitance, the same look he had when they first pulled him onto their ship.
“I don't know,” she admits.
“The tower’s got more security than you can shake a stick at, but Thanos would see that coming a mile away,” says Stark. “So the tower’s out, and any place connected to it is a bad bet, and any place he recognizes is probably a bad bet, too.”
Again both of them turn to stare at her. “You think that's safe?” Stark asks.
Gamora nods, crossing her arms over her chest. “It’s somewhere he wouldn’t recognize. So even if he has some way of contacting Thanos, he won’t know where he is or who anyone on the ship is. And the ship is heavily armed and manned and shielded in the event he tries to escape.”
“And if he's—” Stark begins to say. He shoots a furtive glance toward Thor before apparently checking his wording, and he asks, “If something's up with him? If he tries to attack you?”
“Does he really look in any shape to fight any of us?”
Stark pauses for a beat and then gives a little tilt of his head. “Fair.”
It's the first input Thor's given since asking where they should take him, and Gamora glances down at Loki again, still supposedly out cold in Thor's arms. She suspects he's not entirely unconscious—not that he's faking it, just that he is too exhausted and weak to indicate otherwise.
Maybe he can hear them, she thinks, and she wonders if maybe Thanos can hear them, too.
“I’ve been one step ahead of Thanos for years,” she says, eyes still on Loki. “If he thinks he can use this one to get the better of me now, he must be losing his edge. I’m sure.”