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the weight of the steel

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i.

Sometimes, under careful supervision, her mother allows her to help polish some of her most valued swords.

Those are her favorite evenings, the ones when it's just the two of them at the kitchen table, working methodically as the light starts to fade outside the window. Often, there is conversation, old stories and words of wisdom, but on occasion, there's only peaceful silence. Either way, she's happy; it's a big job for someone her age, and she treats it with the honor and care it deserves.

The sun is starting to dip below the horizon now, and she thinks her work is almost finished. It feels like the time to ask the question she's been sitting on the edge of for a while.

"When can I have my own sword?"

Her mother stops what she's doing, and glances in her direction. "You can have your own sword, little one," she says, hints of a fond smile creeping at the corners of her mouth, "when you know the weight of wielding it."

Gamora doesn't know what that means, but her mother is the smartest person on the whole planet, and is, of course, always right about everything; she has no choice but to be satisfied with the answer. Without a word, she returns to polishing.

 

ii.

There are some things, Gamora has come to realize, that are not easy to unlearn.

The most difficult is the result of years of meticulous forging - her body and her skills. Even if she can now regard herself as something other than a weapon, the foundations of that life are built into her, strong and nearly impossible to shake.

And her tendency is still to be hard, edges almost always bared.

Her muscles automatically tense when she feels a shoulder brush against hers one day on the Quadrant's flight deck, and she whirls around, prepared for an attack.

What she finds when she does causes her to freeze where she stands: Mantis, looking small, years younger than her actual age, and with an expression best categorized as terrified. Like a girl who knows entirely too much about being a cog in the machine of someone entirely too powerful.

Not unlike herself; the thought constricts in her chest.

"I am sorry, Gamora." Somehow, Mantis's voice sounds even smaller.
Gamora swallows. "It's fine, Mantis," she says a moment later, attempting a small, reassuring smile. She doesn't know if she succeeds; she wagers that she doesn't. "It's fine."

Her hands fall to her sides, heavy.

 

iii.

"Why did you tell me to come here, Gamora?"

It's the first thing that Nebula has said in more than twenty minutes, and it does no more to ease the heaviness in the air between them than any of the chatter or clamor in their surroundings. And there is certainly enough to go around; while this is one of the calmer establishments on Hyperion Six, it still attracts something of a rowdy crowd.

A tray flies over from the other side of the dining room, crashing into the side of their table before falling to the floor.

Gamora lets out a breath and twirls her fork idly in her hand. It's a beat, then another, before she finally speaks. "There was an attempted breach at the Nova Corps vault a month ago." She sets her fork down on the plate in front of her and lifts her eyes, searching for Nebula's in the process. "We've been trying to track him ever since."

Nebula scoffs and crosses her arms over her chest. "I have no use for this place, or for information I have already known for a month."

The reaction is nothing that Gamora hadn't expected, but something in her deflates all the same. Another stretch of silence passes, and when she breaks it, her voice is quieter, more tired than before. "I'm trying."

There's no response, but she notices a slight shift in Nebula's jaw, the line of it marginally less tight.

It's one more tiny step down a long path.

 

iv.

She looks out the viewport on the devastation of what was once Xandar, and in her mind's eye, she sees her homeworld going up in smoke. Chaos. Panic. Her people, unable to outrun a power they never had hope against.

That will be the fate of countless worlds, she knows, if no one tries to stop him.

She thinks of a mass of indistinguishable faces, one right after the other, that have long since been lost to time. She thinks, too, of her parents, of her mother in particular, and for the first time in well over a decade, her voice is clear.

"When you know the weight of wielding it."

She grasps the hilt of her Godslayer, and she thinks: she does.