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5 times Gamora appreciated Loki and Nebula's growing friendship and 1 time she schooled someone else.

Chapter Text

1.

They were sitting at the table that passed for dining table during meal times, as a poker table during game nights, and doubled as round table during strategy meetings. There were quite a few of Rocket’s half-made and possibly explosive weapons lying on it. Nebula had pushed them to a side to make space for the map of this corner of the galaxy, and was marking the possible paths Thanos’s army would take through it.

Gamora wanted to kill Thanos as much as anyone else, but this—these quite moments of strategy discussions that Nebula involved her in—she didn’t take as moments fueled by revenge. She just… enjoyed having her sister around. She also knew if she ever told Nebula that, she will end up with a knife pressed to her throat.

Then suddenly, something in Nebula’s demeanor shifted. Gamora didn’t exactly know what tipped her off, but one minute Nebula was sitting as relaxed as she allowed herself to be, and the next moment she stiffened, her back so straight that if there wasn’t more metal than bone inside her spine, Gamora would’ve worried it would snap.

She looked ready to run. Or ready to kill. When you grow up playing Thanos’s games, there isn’t a lot of difference between the two sentiments.

Unconsciously, Gamora reached for the blade she kept in her shoe, waiting for the danger. A few moments later she heard it… the sound of Peter talking loudly to someone, and relaxed. Any other day, Nebula would’ve teased her about her inferior hearing – “Should’ve lost a few more fights, sister. You could do with some advanced hearing.”—but today her eyes were glued to the door from which Peter was walking in with two men.

When she saw who it was, she frowned in confusion. Before she could comment, the blond Asgardian stepped closer and spoke in that boisterous voice that filled the room as much as his presence did.

“Lady Gamora! How are you doing this fine evening?” He placed a kiss to the back of her hand, which she allowed. Royalties. They were always a little strange, with their courtesies and the fake pleasantries.

“Fine enough.” She shrugged.

“Excellent,” Thor boomed. “Your friend, Lord of Stars, was giving me a tour of your ship. It’s… magnificent.”

Gamora shot a look towards Peter at the name, who preened and clapped Thor on his back. The two were getting along like an M class ship on fire. Peter patted the metal wall fondly, saying. “Yep. Quadrant is a beauty. But you should see it under blue light.”

“I should? What is blue light and how is it different from…”

Gamora tuned them out, turning back towards her sister who she noticed was still sitting like she expected to be attacked any moment. The way her hands were clenched tightly was at odds with an almost blank expression on her face and that’s how Gamora knew Nebula was truly afraid. She looked back at the bickering Peter and Thor, noticing Drax stumbling into the room at the noise, and then back at Nebula. Thor had been coming and going ever since they came across the Statesman three days ago, and Nebula had never shown overt hatred towards him—barely restrained contempt and hostility? Yes. But not this.

And then she noticed it.

Him.

The guy clad in black and green leather armor, with his black hair slicked back, and a billowing green cape. It was the look on his face that made Gamora’s fingers itch to reach for the concealed knife in her sleeve, alarm bells blaring in her head. Then, all at once, she froze. She knew what that look. She had seen it on her own face whenever she failed a task and had to answer to Thanos. She had pretended not to see it on Nebula’s face every time she defeated her in a fight.

It was a look that spoke of horrors inflicted on your person, and the helplessness about more to come.

Oh.

She looked back at Nebula and realized that the look of utter hatred on her face wasn’t just for the man in front of her, but for herself as well. Oh Nebula, she thought achingly, what have you done?

But she already knew the answer to that: survived.

Thor must’ve noticed both girls’ focus on the guest he had brought, because he wrapped an arm around the man’s shoulder and said. “Oh. How careless of me. I forgot to introduce the guest to the ladies.” He pushed the guys shoulder until he stepped forward, as if presenting a specimen. Gamora’s lips twitched at the look of pure loathing the guy threw back at Thor. “This is Loki. My brother.”

Loki. The name was familiar, like a distant memory that she couldn’t place, but she saw the table crack under Nebula’s grip. She obviously was more than distantly familiar with the name.

“And these fair ladies are Lady Gamora and Nebula. They and the rest of the crew have been gracious enough to accept our aid in pursuing and fighting the Mad Titan.”

Loki nodded at Gamora, a slight incline of his head that showed he meant the gesture more than Thor’s words did, and then he turned towards Nebula, his eyes watching her like a hawk. Like he was afraid Nebula would jump from her seat and slit his throat. By the tension in Nebula’s frame, even Gamora was afraid of the same.

“We have met,” he said, nodding at her. Gamora watched how much it cost him to pull his lips into a smile and continue. “You look good. New ear-job?”

Nebula obviously wasn’t expecting that, because the chuckle that tore out of her chest was half sob and half scream. Gamora wondered if she will ever hear her sister’s laughter again, wondered if Nebula even remembered how to.

“You’re looking better as well.” Nebula loosened her grip on the table. “Which isn’t much, considering the last time I saw you, you were strapped to the Other’s torture device and screaming for mercy.”

Gamora covered her mouth with her hand, wishing she could’ve covered Nebula’s. Everyone froze in their spots, and Gamora noticed Thor’s face going from shocked to ashen to murderous. Gamora’s eyes were fixed on Loki’s face though, which was pale, and his eyes haunted.

Drax laughed suddenly, loud and inappropriate, and very welcome at the moment of frozen stillness. “That… that was good.” He laughed again, making Thor shoot him an angry yet confused glare, and Peter trying to hush him. “Other’s torture device. Brilliant. Your sister is very funny,” Drax told Gamora and then left the room still chuckling to himself.

Gamora looked at Loki again, who now looked like he was back in present. While his eyes still had that haunted look, he had plastered on an affronted expressions, and somehow Gamora could tell that he was also hiding a smile behind it.

“I didn’t scream,” he objected.

“You did.”

“I did not.

“You did.” Nebula slapped her hand on the table. “My victims always scream. Always.

“Okay, then. Maybe. But only a little, right?” Gamora was right. It was a smile.

“Yes.” Nebula deflated. “You were a formidable target. I almost lost. I don’t know how father would’ve reacted if I had gone back saying I failed to crack you.”

“Well, you were a formidable tormenter.” Gamora gaped at the genuine sincerity in his voice. “But I am afraid to tell you, you did fail.”

“What?” Nebula stood up, angry at being lied to, and yet curious. “How?”

Loki smirked. “It’s a long story.”

“Does it contain foiling Thanos’s plans?”

“It does indeed.” Loki moved closer, still wary, but his body language open and unthreatening.

“Then we have time.” Nebula decided, pushing a chair forward with her leg and inviting Loki to sit. Gamora watched in awe as Loki deliberately loosened his posture, and Nebula mimicked it. Loki pulled the chair an adequate distance away, respecting Nebula’s boundaries—or maybe just looking after his own—and sat down.

“Start from the beginning,” Nebula ordered, but Loki didn’t seem to mind.

“From when I was strapped to the metal harness and a lovely blue skinned Luphomoid started cutting into me, or should I fast forward.”

“Do you want a repeat performance? Because I would love to remind you.” Nebula threatened, and Gamora saw Loki flinch at the words.

She felt a growing respect for him when he turned that flinch into a chuckle, strained as it was. “As tempting as the offer sounds, I will have to pass…”

They started speaking in low voices. Gamora didn’t try to listen in. Her eyes did linger on Loki’s frame, and she wondered about what happened between them. She had seen victims of Nebula’s interrogations before, with their spirits damaged even more than their bodies, and yet Loki sat with his head held high… unbroken.

“I am sorry about my brother,” Thor came closer to her while she was watching the two of them talk. “He went through some terrible things and isn’t quite right in his mind. I am afraid to say that the fates have done him no kindness.”

Gamora didn’t even turn to look at the guy —King of a realm or not—who couldn’t even see his own brother. “I disagree with that, your Highness.” She smiled at the way Nebula was watching Loki with avid attention. “He is quite alright.”

Chapter Text

2.

“Are you…” Gamora flopped down on the floor, surprised at still being surprised by stuff like this. “Are you grinding on me?”

Peter paused in whatever it was he was doing that was not sparring and gave her an innocent look. “Am I?”

“You are!” Gamora pushed at his shoulder and flipped them around, holding her—blunt—knife to his throat.

“Should I not have been?” Peter threw his hands up in surrender. “I thought that was the point.”

“We are training for battle! What about it made you think that…” Gamora made a disgusted face that conveyed what she was trying to say better than words could.

“I thought with the whole fighting being your thing… isn’t this basically foreplay for you?”

“No.” Gamora withdrew her knife and pushed herself up.

“No?” Peter sat up too, looking at her liked a kicked puppy.

“No!”

“That’s no fun then. I’m out.” Peter dusted his hands and stood up. “Call me if you’re interested in the other type of sparring.”

“In your dreams, Quill.”

“Yes.” Peter grinned. “But I wouldn’t say no to it becoming a reality either.”

“Ugh.” Gamora turned her face away. It wouldn’t do to encourage Peter with the smile threatening to break through her scowl. The man was growing on her… like a fungus.

Peter just laughed and left the room they were training in. Originally they had a small area reserved for exercise and sparring sessions on the Quadrant, but ever since pairing up with the Statesman they had relocated the combat training room to the bigger ship. Gamora appreciated the extra space.

She was still reeling from half disgust and half horrified fondness for their ship’s dubious captain when she heard someone pick up the stick Peter had thrown on the ground a minute into their sparring session. She was completely unsurprised to see Nebula standing across from her.

“What do you say, sister? One for the old times?” Nebula swung the stick around her expertly before taking battle position.

Gamora deliberately kept her posture open and unassuming. It was hard, when all her instincts were telling her to prepare for a fight, prepare to win, or she will suffer pain beyond her wildest imaginations. She pushed away the flashbacks and smiled. It must’ve looked strained but Nebula didn’t notice.

“I am not interested in a repeat of old times, Nebula.”

“What about making new memories then?” She attacked, telegraphing her movements but still lightening quick. Gamora ducked and evaded purely on instinct, and then raised her hands.

“I don’t want to fight you.”

“Why? You don’t think I can win? Or are you scared you would lose?” Gamora shook her head, but it seemed to infuriate Nebula even more. “Has the human made you soft… no longer able to wield a blade that was extension of your arm? What would father say when he finds out!”

“Nebula…” She warned, her body stiffening as the old instincts that were ingrained in her since she was a child started taking over.

“What would he do if he comes to know you bowed out of a fight; do you think it would be more or less painful than that time when he—“ Gamora didn’t wait for her to finish, screaming at the sense memory of all the punishments of lost fights and lunging forward, the blades out of her sleeve jacket and into her palms in a second.

Nebula blocked the attack with the stick and shoved back. “That’s more like it, sister.”

They always fought like this… savage, with the edge of desperation to it, because what awaited at the end was pain, always more pain. Whether they won or lost. But winning meant the pain would be a little more bearable than if they lost. So they used every skill every dirty trick they knew, every jab and kick and bite they could land, to escape the agony that was their existence for a few more moments. The years, decades, of training overtook Gamora’s mind and she returned every one of Nebula’s attack just as viciously, their voices reduced to grunts and shouts and screams, and she forgot that now the only pain they were going to suffer was the one they inflicted on each other.

The reality came back to her the moment Nebula was holding her hair in a grip tight enough to be agonizing, and had a blade pressed against her throat. “I won. I won… I won!” Nebula chanted, and Gamora realized she wasn’t the only one who had forgotten this was just a friendly sparring session.

She took a deep breath, bringing her emotions under tight control, and then jabbed her elbow in Nebula’s ribs and ducked out of her grip. She screamed at the pull of her hair, but managed to pull herself free.

“Not yet,” she shook her head, circling Nebula again. If she lost this fight, it would be on her own terms.

Something settled in her heart then. And the next time when Nebula attacked, she breathed through her nose and saw the desperation in her movements, before countering it. It was still nasty, and ugly, and more brutal than a fight between sisters ever should be, but for the first time in her life Gamora saw it through something other than a haze of red.

So when she ended up in a chokehold on the ground, with Nebula’s arm pressed against her windpipe, she didn’t feel any remorse at tapping the floor and accepting defeat. There was no pain waiting at the end of it. She desperately hoped one day Nebula would see it too.

When Nebula loosened her grip, Gamora sat up, coughing. Nebula stared, eyes wide, as if unable to believe this was it… the end of a fight without any consequences. Gamora tried to speak, but ended up coughing again.

“You might have a point about being rusty,” she croaked out in the end.

“You’re worse than I even expected,” Nebula returned, but there was less hostility in her words than usual.

“Yeah. It just means I need more practice.”

“Practice?”

“Yeah. Do you think we can do this again? Sometime. With, you know, less intention of wanting to kill each other, and more wanting to get better?” She smiled tentatively, extending that olive branch, hoping Nebula would accept.

Nebula’s face was going through a series of complicated emotions at that, but before she could answer, they were interrupted by sound of someone clapping.

Gamora whipped around to see who it was, almost having forgotten that they weren’t alone. She found Loki leaning against the wall, slowly clapping his hands together. He was trying to look relaxed, but she knew a forced casual posture when she saw one. Next to her, Nebula snarled.

“Are you making fun of me, Asgardian?”

“Why would I make fun of you?” Loki frowned, and Gamora knew he meant it as a genuine question. Nebula though, thought of it as further goading.

“You think you can do better? You think you can beat me? Need I remind you of the times you begged me for relief from the pain?”

Loki’s posture stiffened at last, his façade dropping, and he took a step forward. “I was strapped to Other’s contraption, after being lost in void. I couldn’t really fight back. I am afraid to say you had an unfair advantage back then?” There was a grin on his face that was pure venom.

“So that’s it then? You want to take revenge? You won’t find me an easy target.”

“I don’t doubt it.” There it was again: sincerity, where Gamora wasn’t expecting it. “But you aren’t my target.”

Nebula looked utterly baffled. Loki moved closer, and Gamora stopped herself from covering her sister defensively. Nebula would stab her for that if she did. Instead of attacking though, Loki picked up Gamora’s discarded blade from the ground and flipped it in his hand, observing it rather than look at the two girls. “I know a pawn when I see it, because not too long ago I was one as well.” He looked at Nebula then, no smile on his face now, but there was a determination there that Gamora could admire. “I intend to go for the game master.”

“Thanos is mine!” Nebula stood up, glaring. “I will be the one to show him a taste of the pain he has inflicted on me, every day of my existence.”

“We will see about that, won’t we?” Loki held the blade securely in his hand and said to Nebula. “In the meanwhile, it will be my honor to spar with someone as skilled as you. With your permission of course, Lady Gamora.” He inclined his head towards her.

Gamora shrugged her shoulders and stepped away from the fighting mat, letting the two figure it out among each other. Invested as she was in her sister’s wellbeing, this was a matter between the two of them and she knew she wasn’t welcome to get involved.

On the mat, Loki took off his shoes, and took battle stance, and they started circling each other.

“Oh, you are going to regret this,” she informed him.

“No, I won’t.”

Gamora leaned against the wall where Loki had been a few minutes ago, and watched the fight unfold in front of her. She had never been an objective observer of a fight between herself and Nebula—or an object observer of any fight at all. All fights were a battle for survival in her memory. So this one was fascinating to observe.

Nebula’s attacks were violent and ruthless; Loki’s defense was calm and calculated. He didn’t lose his cool when Nebula had him in a chokehold, waiting for the right moment to turn the situation to his advantage. In turn, Nebula realized her own unplanned attacks weren’t going to be effective, weren’t going to faze her opponent, so she slowed down, her mind working as fast as her limbs could move. Loki’s grin shifted then, more entertained than concerned, and the fight in front of her transformed into what she imagined a sparring session should look like.

But Nebula was still herself, so she started using every single cybernetic modification in her body for her advantage, calculating and strategizing, and when she landed a punch with her bionic arm on Loki’s face, she could hear the way the bones crunched under the impact.

Loki laughed. And it sounded only slightly deranged. Then he spit out blood to a side and grinned, his teeth stained cherry red. “That the best you can do? I expected better from Thanos’s daughter.”

In a split second, the smug look from Nebula’s face transformed into one of fury. Loki grinned wider and opened his arms in invitation. “Well, what are you waiting for?”

Gamora stiffened at the way Nebula was poised, knowing her next attack wouldn’t be gentle or contained. Loki seemed unbothered though, letting Nebula scream and lunge at him, not even bothering to defend himself.

A moment later Gamora understood why, because as soon as Nebula touched Loki, he disintegrated, vanishing in front of their eyes. Then he materialized behind Nebula, folding his hands at his back and clearing his throat. “Over here.”

Nebula whipped around, and Gamora could see her expressions from here. They were a mixture of rage and disbelief, and something like wonder. “How did you do that?” She barked out the question, but the curiosity behind her words was unmistakable.

“You have your special abilities. I have mine.”

Nebula grinned at that, and for a moment Gamora thought Loki and Nebula looked more like siblings than she and her ever had. “Now, it’s finally becoming worth my time. Again.”

“With pleasure.”

This, Gamora thought. This is what she was looking for, between herself and her sister. Attacking for the sake of refining one’s skills, and maybe even a bit of fun, rather than the unstoppable need to hurt the other, to win. Watching Nebula and Loki fight, both not hesitating to use their most underhanded, unfair skill to their own advantage and laughing every time they were flattened to the ground, she felt a hope bubble in her chest for their own future. All might not be lost between them, just yet.

“Ah. I see my brother is up to his usual tricks again.”

Gamora startled at the voice next to her, and she saw Thor walking towards her, with his red cape and his eyepatch, looking royal and composed. In his voice, she heard something that reminded her of herself, not too long ago.

“It’s not tricks when he can use them to his advantage.”

“Aye. That’s true. But they aren’t allowed in a fair fight?” Thor nodded, glancing at where Loki had created three illusions of himself and all three were fighting Nebula.

“When is any fight ever fair?” Gamora shrugged.

“Back in Asgard, when we trained, magic was strictly forbidden on the training grounds. And yet, Loki would always find a way to trick his opponent, despite knowing he would be punished for it.” Thor kept speaking, unaware of the discomfort he was causing her, unaware of her flinch at the word ‘punished’.

Did she ever sound like that? So sure of the fact that the way she fought was the right way. No wonder Nebula had hated her so.

“Let me guess,” she said instead, reigning in her disgust at him, and at herself. “You always won.”

“When it was a fair fight, yes. The Allfather ensured it be so, whenever he was around.”

“And what happened to Loki when he lost?” She turned around to look at Thor, who seemed confused.

“I suppose he was made to go through another training regime to make him be better prepared next time.”

Gamora thought she might be sick. “Was he?” She asked, and when Thor looked even more confused she added. “Was he ever better prepared?”

Slowly, Thor shook his head. “I suppose he never tried hard enough. He did always love his tricks.”

Gamora couldn’t bear to look at Thor for another moment, and instead turned to watch the fight again, both Nebula and Loki unaware of their audience. She saw Loki use his magic—because this must be magic, and did nobody know how rare it was for someone to be born with the ability to bend the cosmic power to their will, how hard?—like it was child’s play, creating illusions and energy pulses, challenging each of Nebula’s attacks with one of his own.

In a fair fight. In a fight where Loki was allowed to use his strengths just like Thor was allowed to use his own, Gamora wasn’t sure Thor would win. That was why they had always crippled him, made him feel inferior because he couldn’t win a fight where the scales were always tipped against him.

“Maybe you should’ve loved his tricks too,” she said, letting the ‘maybe you should’ve loved him,’ go unspoken.

At least Thor knew when he was dismissed, because he didn’t speak again, both of them watching their siblings fight each other, with all the ferocity they were used to, and none of the malice.

Chapter Text

3.

Sometimes, Nebula screamed while she slept.

It happened more often than Gamora was comfortable with, but it was still rare enough that it took Gamora off guard and made bile rise in her throat, making her choke, until she felt like screaming herself.

Nebula always sounded like she was in agony; like someone was tearing the skin off of her bones and pulling the teeth out of her jaw. It was a sound Gamora was sickeningly familiar with. She had muffled that sound under her hand many times.

It was late according to the chronometer, but Peter and Loki were still bent over a map. Gamora had given up on them retiring for the night anytime soon, and she didn’t trust them alone in a room together. Last time they had been left alone, the water filtration system had taken 48 hours to clear the florescent dye out of it; the skins of all the unfortunate souls that had taken a shower without realizing it had taken much longer to stop glowing. So now Gamora and Thor had a pact not to let these two be left to their shenanigans without someone else keeping an eye on them.

She watched them out of the corner of her eye while flipping through a book she wasn’t actually interested in reading. She wondered if they were actually planning a battle strategy against Thanos, or were planning world domination. Peter definitely had the fanciful aspirations, and Loki, the ambition. She snorted at the idea of them actually succeeding to dominate the world: the universe wouldn’t survive the sheer ridiculousness of the venture.

Gamora was startled by the sound of the scream, jerking into upright position. It rang through the metal walls and settled into the base of her metallic spine, making it shudder and shake. Before her mind caught up with the fact, she was already on her feet and rushing towards residential quarters, the scream ringing louder in her mind than it did through the ship. Halfway there, she spared a thought about their guest, but by now Peter was accustomed to occasional nightmares one of them seemed to have every now and then. He had a few of his own as well. He would handle Loki.

The door to Nebula’s quarter was locked, but she had broken through it the first night she had woken up to Nebula’s screams, so it didn’t take her long to find the panel that triggered the door release, and then she was inside and by Nebula’s side a moment later, staring at her thrashing sister.

Gamora felt as lost as she did last time, and the time before that, and before that… as helpless as she felt the first time she had broken into the quarters.

She knew better than to touch her. She had learned that when she had ended up with a broken wrist when she had tried to shake Nebula awake. So she sat by her head, trying to whisper soothingly, hoping her voice reached her.

“Its okay,” she said, “Its okay. You are safe. You are here. Nothing will happen to you. I am right here beside you. I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”

Nebula’s back arched under imagined pain, another scream like broken glass emitting from her chest and Gamora flinched. She wondered if she was just making it worse. Her voice couldn’t really be comforting to Nebula, considering how many times she had been the cause of the torment that she was suffering through at the moment. She couldn’t just stay back and watch though.

She wished they could call Mantis to help, but the one and only time she did, Mantis had spent the next few days flinching whenever anyone got close to her, and Nebula hadn’t spoken to anyone for a week.

“You escaped Nebula. It’s just a dream. You’re safe.” A tear spilled through her eyelash and splashed on Nebula’s face and she convulsed as if it was acid. Gamora clenched her hands into a fist and pulled herself under control. It wouldn’t last long, she reminded herself. It never did. No body, human or luthamoid could tolerate so much pain for too long. Soon Nebula would pass out because of it. Gamora could stay here with her until then.

“You’re okay, sister.” Gamora caressed the pillow under Nebula’s head because she couldn’t caress her face. “I am sorry. I am so sorry.”

“Move.” Gamora hadn’t realized even realized she wasn’t alone anymore. She looked up, her fingers clenching on the fabric of pillow, too surprised to move, to heavy with heartache and guilt to understand.

She could see Loki come closer, obviously having found the door open after following the screams. Peter was standing in the doorway, shrugging. Maybe he had tried to stop Loki, but by the look on Loki’s face, nothing would’ve stopped him at the moment.

He was too close, getting closer, and between Nebula’s continued screams and Loki’s intense eyes, when a hand moved towards her, Gamora felt a scream of her own lodge in her chest. She shrank back in fear, and closed her eyes, wanting to hide under the bed like she used to when she was a child. It never helped. Thanos always found her.

She didn’t know what she was expecting, but a warm and gentle hand on her shoulder wasn’t it.

“Gamora,” Loki said and the ice in his voice did not burn; it soothed. “You aren’t helping her. Can’t. You need to move. I can help.”

Gamora kept her eyes squeezed shut, and the scream transformed into a sob halfway up her throat, the tears breaking through the barrier of her eyelashes and squeezing out. “Nebula.”

“Just… Let me. Here we go. Here we go…” Loki held her by her shoulders and slowly pulled her away.

Another set of arms wrapped around her then, slowly helping her take a step away, and the familiar scent of Peter unknotted something inside her, letting the tears flow freely. “He’s going to help, Gamora. It will be okay.” Peter soothing voice made her bury her face in his shoulder, shaking with repressed anger and hurt and helplessness.

After a while, when her own breathing evened out, she turned slightly to see what Loki was doing, and clenched her fingers tightly in Peter’s shirt at the sight.

Loki had climbed on the bed and had maneuvered them both so that he was at Nebula’s back, his arms wrapped around her torso in a way that restrained her arms as well, and murmuring soothing words into her ear while she thrashed. Nebula managed to free one of her hands and gripped Loki’s wrist. Even from this distance and through the screams, she could hear the sound of bones breaking under her metal fingers. Loki didn’t even make a single sound of protest, and continued to soothe her.

Or at least, that’s what Gamora thought he was doing until she calmed down enough to hear what he was saying.

“Hush, child,” Loki murmured, low and cold. “Don’t scream anymore. You have screamed enough. It’s his turn now.” He managed to extricate his wrist from Nebula’s grip, and raised his hand to her head, a green glow of magic shining bright under his palm. “He will pay for this. The Mad Titan will regret every single pain he has caused to your person. Thanos will long for mercy before this is over. I promise you, child. He will wish he had never met you, never touched you. Thanos will suffer as much as you are suffering. You are going to—”

Gamora gaped as his words, but whatever he was doing with his magic made Nebula’s screams muffle down, until they stopped, replaced by wracking sobs instead. Loki stopped hovering his glowing palm over her forehead and wrapped her in the hug again, rocking her gently. “That’s it. That’s it… give in to the pain. Don’t resist it. Feel it, and let it build, and keep it close to your heart. The day you will deal it all back to your father is close. Remember this pain, and take your revenge. Make Thanos pay.”

Gamora didn’t know how long they stayed like this. She in Peter’s arms, her own tears long forgotten as she watched in awe how Loki cradled Nebula like a child and she sobbed into his chest. Eventually, Nebula’s sobs winded down as well. Loki slowly lowered her in the bed, and then without looking at Gamora or Peter, he stood up.

“She will sleep for a few hours. Don’t disturb her,” he said, walking towards the door.

At the door he turned, and Gamora noticed he was cradling his wrist with his other hand. He had not even shown a moment of hesitation despite the pain he must’ve been in. Gamora didn’t know what to say, the words of gratitude stuck in her throat just like the sobs had. Loki didn’t wait for her to speak.

“Don’t tell her about this. I have tried to persuade her memories of pain into becoming something that fuel her, rather than break her down. It’s the best I could do, without invading her privacy. But… I would rather nobody told her about what happened.”

“I…” Gamora opened her mouth.

“And especially about this.” He glanced down at his broken hand, and his tear soaked shirt. “She will feel bad about it.” He smiled then, and it was as fond as Gamora has often found her own smile to be.

“You got it, Lokes!” Peter replied instead of Gamora, and she was grateful for that. “We won’t tell Nebula about your magic voodoo.” His voice grew more sincere then. “Thank you.”

Loki nodded, and then turned around and left without further comment. In the silence of the room, Peter’s breath seemed strangely loud, and Gamora realized he was still hugging her. Suddenly embarrassed, she pulled away, hoping her cheeks were not flushed, or if they were, Peter wouldn’t comment on it.

But when she looked up, Peter’s own cheeks had a tinge of red on them, and his eyes were glued to sleeping figure on bed rather than her.

“So…” he said, swinging his arms like he did when he was nervous. “That was weird.”

“Weird?”

“Your murder sister can be soothed by her murder friend’s promises of torture and revenge. Huh. Who knew?” Peter said it casually, but Gamora’s eyes found Nebula’s face, more peaceful than she had ever seen it.

“I should’ve. I should’ve known.”

“What?”

“She doesn’t fear the pain.” She turned around to look at Peter’s confused face. “She fears failing in exacting her revenge. I should’ve realized it, but I didn’t. Loki did.”

Peter looked thoughtful then, the way he rarely did. “They’re really quite alike, aren’t they?”

Gamora smiled, and it was bittersweet. She was glad Nebula had found someone who understood her, but she had always wished that person would be her. She couldn’t deny that those two were a positive influence on each other though, helping each other through horrors they had experienced, so different, and yet so very much alike.

She did worry about what they were both doing to each other’s thirst for revenge, but only slightly. Because she did share that thing with her sister wholeheartedly, felt it in her marrow: Thanos needed to pay for everything he had done.

Chapter Text

4.

Gamora was in her room when she felt the Quadrant lurch violently. Cursing under her breath, she made her way to the cockpit.

“Hey, Rocket! You better not be asleep while playing pilot.”

“I’m not. I’m not—” Rocket randomly pressed buttons in front of him until the ship stabilized. “There we go.”

“What was it?”

“How am I supposed to know? I am a weapons specialist, not a space anomalies specialist. Seriously woman, I know I’m good, but I can’t be expected to know everything.” Rocket shrugged, giggling nervously.

“I am Groot.”

“See? He agrees that I am fairy dumb—Hey!” Rocket turned around to glare at Groot who was busy with his game, and didn’t look up. “Kids these days,” Rocket sighed. “When I was your age, I respected my elders.”

“I am Groot.”

“I really did!”

“I am Groot.”

“Now, control your tone young man, or I will dismantle your game and use the parts in building a brand new—“

“Rocket,” Gamora interrupted before the two friends—or was it more like father and son now—resorted to frankly cursing at each other.

“I don’t know, alright.” Rocket threw up his hands, which told Gamora this whole thing was just him trying to avoid admitting it. “Best I can say, some kind of magnetic storm… but it felt more like an energy barrier instead.”

“Huh. Anything we need to worry about?”

“Not that I can tell, but hey, what do we know. It’s space—anything can happen.”

“I am Groot.”

“See, the teenager thinks so too.”

“Alright, alright,” Gamora placated, stepping out of the cockpit. “Just let us know if you find anything.”

Two hours later, she had forgotten all about it. That’s when she heard loud banging sounds coming from outside her room. Curious, she came out to investigate, finding no one in the rec area she localized the sound to the inner airlock door. That was weird. The only people who could enter through the outer airlock were the princes aboard the Statesman, and they wouldn’t need to bang on the inner door to open it.

Maybe one of them had forgotten their pass key.

Cautious just in case, she pulled out a knife from her shoe and made her way to the door. Thor was visible through the viewing window, shouting something. Sighing, she lowered the knife and made her way to open the airlock.

“Please, don’t.”

The quiet voice startled her enough to make her drop the knife and let out a tiny scream that she would never admit to.

“What…”

Gamora turned around, ready to fight the intruder, her heart beating loud. She spared a moment to think about the fact that somehow without her knowledge she had started feeling safe aboard this ship; that somehow she could be taken off guard like this.

It was a dangerous path to tread. As long as Thanos lived, nowhere was safe. She had to remember that.

Even though she was looking for it, she still almost missed the figure hiding in the corner. Once she did, she let out the breath she was holding and relaxed.

“Loki?” She stepped closer, but stopped when she noticed him shrink in on himself. “What are you doing here?”

“Please stay where you are.” Gamora was sure the words were meant to sound threatening but they just sounded scared. She raised both her hands to show her harmlessness.

The inner airlock door rattled again and Gamora glanced at the viewing window and back at Loki. “Have you locked Thor outside? Why?”

“My brother doesn’t know the meaning of personal space.” Loki’s words were bitter. “Or of the phrase, ‘leave me alone.’”

So, Loki was here to escape from his brother. Gamora understood that. Sometimes she needed space too, to clear her head. But something about Loki still hiding in the darkness bothered her.

“Loki, can I help you? Is there something wrong?”

“Wrong,” Loki chuckled, mirthless. “Don’t worry yourself, Lady Gamora. Whatever went wrong happened at the moment my soul was forged by the Norns. Sometimes one cannot hide from its consequences.”

“Are you hurt?” Gamora took a step forward again, unconsciously.

“I’m not hurt!” Loki shrank back, panicked. Gamora watched him wrap his cloak tightly around him and not look up. “Statesman is my brother’s ship. I can find no privacy there. I request you, please let me stay here until the effects of the Cosmic Barrier we encountered fade, and then I will be out of here.”

“Cosmic Barrier?”

“You must’ve felt it a few hours back. At least the physical aspect of it.” Ah, so that was what Rocket couldn’t figure out. If it was something linked to magic, it was no wonder. “I am sure it will only be a few hours… if isn’t too much trouble.”

Loki sounded more unsure than she had ever heard him, and she hated to admit it but it worried her. “You can stay here as long as you like, Loki. Just, tell me what’s wrong.”

“I suppose it’s better here than in front of all of Asgard,” Loki sighed. “You are no doubt going to find this distasteful, but remember, you did insist.”

“Distasteful?”

In answer, Loki let go on the robe around him and sat straighter. It made light hit the exposed skin of his face and arms, showing a deep blue color instead of Loki’s usual pale complexion, and marred with ridges that looked like scars.

Gamora couldn’t help the startled gasp.

“So you see, I wear the skin of the monsters, and now I can’t even hide it anymore.” Loki slowly raised his head, his red eyes meeting Gamora’s and she had to stop herself from stepping back in shock, or from rushing forward in concern at the pain in those eyes.

Neither would be welcome here.

“You are not of Asgard.” It wasn’t a question, but Loki answered it anyway.

“Oh I am. I am of Asgard, raised like a prince, doomed to be a failure because of the cold blood running in my veins. My father just neglected to mention my true heritage.”

The poison in Loki’s voice was directed at himself and Gamora didn’t know him enough to know how to handle it. There was history there that Gamora wasn’t privy to. And as much as she recognized and identified with the self-loathing Loki seemed to be a victim of, fifteen hundred years of self-hate wasn’t something she thought she was capable of erasing.

Still, she wanted to help. Anything to remove the shadows of pain from Loki’s red eyes.

“What are you then?”

“A Frost Giant.” Loki spat, like it was a curse. For him, maybe it was.

“Loki, I…”

“You’re blue!”                                                                                                                                  

They had both not noticed Nebula entering the room, and she stood now, beside Gamora and stared at Loki without any subtlety.

Without warning, Loki laughed. “Indeed, I am.”

“Why are you blue?” Nebula was all curiosity, and no tact. Gamora thought Loki was to blame for it. He had always encouraged her bluntness. Had said he found it refreshing.

“I am afraid to say I’m always blue.” Nebula opened her mouth to ask something but Loki continued. “It’s a glamour. Magic. The Asgardian skin I wear is just an illusion.”

Nebula ignored Loki’s flinch and walked closer. Gamora wanted to grab her and pull her back, but wasn’t sure how either of them would react to it. “Why do you do it?”

“To pretend to be normal, why else.”

Gamora looked even more confused. “Why?” she asked again, and this time Loki didn’t answer. “This is your real form, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is,” Loki’s voice was harsh. He looked away, and it was clear he didn’t want to talk about it. Gamora knew Nebula had a question she wanted to ask, and she barely resisted the urge to tell Nebula off. Loki had come here seeking privacy, and instead he was being bombarded with questions he wasn’t willing to answer.

Nebula tilted her head, watching Loki curiously, and then surprised Gamora by not prying.

“I am blue too,” she said instead.

Loki laughed again. Maybe he had a point about finding Nebula’s bluntness refreshing. He looked less pained somehow, than he did just moments ago. “You are.”

“You don’t look like a Luthemoid.” Nebula peered at him, observing a specimen, and Gamora could tell Loki wanted to hide, but still allowed Nebula to observe him. “We don’t have the markings, and the eyes are different.”

“I am a Jotunn,” Loki explained. Gamora noticed how he had said frost giant before. Somehow this seemed less personal; more… academic.

“I have never seen a Jotunn before.” Nebula sat down next to him, unafraid.

“You’re lucky then.” Self-hate was dripping from his voice, but either Nebula didn’t notice or, or didn’t care. “We are the monsters parents tell their children about at night.”

“I have lived with a monster,” Nebula said, cutting his monologue short. “You don’t look like one to me.”

“Give it time,” Loki looked away, a sneer on his lips.

Nobody said anything for some time. Loki stared at his hands, Nebula stared at Loki, taking in the markings on Loki’s skin, and Gamora shifted on her feet wondering if it was ruder to stay, or to leave. Then Nebula twisted her lips and it almost looked like a smile.

“One thing is for certain,” Gamora had rarely seen the playful glint in Nebula’s eyes. “I am the hotter blue.”

Loki’s chuckle was soft this time. “Quite literally.”

And then, before their eyes Loki, touched the metal near his hand it frost grew over it.

“That’s so cool!” Nebula exclaimed in excitement. She seemed to catch herself soon, her expression going through a sequence of complicated emotions and settling on embarrassed. “I mean… Ah.”

“There’s a reason we are called frost giants—“

“What else can you do?”

Gamora stood for a few more moments, watching Loki change from his defensive position and shift into something resembling a mentor—a role he often seemed to take around her sister—showing Nebula his palm and letting her touch it, and talking in a low voice. He seemed to have forgetten about the fact that a few minutes ago he couldn’t bear to face himself. He must’ve been expecting hatred and avoidance, or at best sympathy. He had all but begged Gamora to leave him alone, had cringed away from the worry in her voice.

And yet, Nebula’s unadulterated curiosity seemed to get through to him.

Gamora felt strangely like she was intruding. So she turned around and walked away, planning to talk to the rest of the Guardians about the Loki situation, and somehow convince Thor to leave Loki alone until he was ready to go back.

She couldn’t help Loki with his self-image, but she could do her part.


 

Later, when Loki was once again wearing the skin of Asgardians, he explained that the lurch the ships had felt was because of coming across some sort of cosmic barrier, harmless for most of the life forms, but it messed with the beings who channeled the power cosmic like Loki did. He said something about Heimdall feeling blind for the first time in his life, and there was an amused tilt to his lips when he mentioned it.

Nobody mentioned the incident for the days following it, other than Thor who grumbling about being locked outside which nobody paid heed to. Loki looked guarded for a day or two afterwards, flinching when someone came too close, looking at them like he was waiting for them to ask the questions he wouldn’t answer, but slowly, when nothing happened, he unwound.

When the passengers of the two ships woke up to the speakers blaring a loud and obnoxious song which was obviously one of Peter’s terrible Terran music choices, and enhanced and broadcasted across the ships with the help Loki’s magic, Gamora thought Loki was finally truly over the incident of him turning blue.

That is, until she walked into the common area one day and saw a large virtual mirror in the middle of it, shimmering like a mirage. A white-skinned girl standing in front of it and studying herself in the reflection. Gamora squinted at her. She was vaguely familiar, in a way she couldn’t put a finger on. None of the other Asgardians other than Loki and Thor had stepped onto their ship until now, so this was new.

“Can I…” The girl spoke and Gamora froze in her spot. That was Nebula’s voice.

“You control the glamor that’s on you right now, so the answer is yes. You can.”

Now that Gamora could see past the white skin, she saw her sister right away, in the frown in her face and the twist of her lips.

Nebula seemed to sense her gaze, and turned around to meet Gamora’s eyes. Then, right in front of Gamora, her image rippled and shifted, and Gamora’s mouth opened without a sound at the result.

The girl in front of her might be another Zehoberei, with green skin and dark hair fading into red at the tips. She looked like a sister Gamora never had. And yet, her eyes were still the same, full of the pain they always held, and the love they always reflected for Gamora. No matter what else changed, Gamora knew she would always be able to recognize her sister because of her eyes.

“Do you prefer me like this, sister?” Nebula asked, and even her voice was different, less like there was metal in her larynx.

Gamora couldn’t speak for a while, but Nebula waited her out, her face tilted curiously and her expressions so achingly familiar even on that unfamiliar face. Then, Gamora shook her head, and mouthed, “No.”

The image rippled again then, and this time Gamora did make a sound this time. Something between a gasp and a sob.

“Or is this more to your liking.”

Gamora was lost for words. So she did the only thing she could—the only thing she ached to do. She took a few steps forward and wrapped her sister in her arms.

It spoke to how much Nebula had gotten used to Gamora’s presence and affection that she only stiffened a little. The first time she had hugged her, Nebula had reacted like she expected to be attacked and hurt. Now, she never actively sought it out, but she was comfortable with Gamora’s touch and receptive of her hugs. Gamora hugged her tightly, hiding her face in her shoulder.

When she pulled back, her eyes were full of unshed tears and her heart brimming with love. She looked at the blue skinned Luthemoid in front of her, skin unmarked, dark blue hair framing her face, and blinked back tears.

This was the Nebula she had been made to fight the first time. This was the Nebula who was all flesh and no cybernetic modifications. Then Gamora had beaten her in a fight and she had lost her eye.

She cupped Nebula’s face in her hands and spoke with conviction. “I love you.”

Nebula still jerked back at the words, unable to believe the love she had always given so freely. Gamora firmed her grip. “I love you, and the skin you wear has no bearing on it. I love the sister that’s inside this shell.”

Nebula’s lips twitched in almost a smile, and she stepped back. “You’re far too sentimental, sister!” she said, and turned around to the mirror again, flipping the hair that had once belonged to her. Gamora could tell she was pleased though. It was there in the set of her jaw, and the slack of her spine.

“I could craft a spell that would settle this form around you, for as long you want.” Loki offered all of a sudden. Gamora looked up, having been too caught up to remember his presence.

He was not looking at either of the sisters, and his avoidance told Gamora a lot more than his expressions would have.

Nebula didn’t say anything, so he glanced at her. “It really is quite a nice look,” he complimented. “It will be tricky, because my magic comes from within myself, but I think I could figure out something for—“

“Thank you,” Nebula said, softly. Then Gamora blinked and in front of her Nebula was once again looking like she usually did, with shaved head, bionic arm and eye; the cyborg Thanos had made her into. “But no.”

Loki turned around completely now, looking confused. Gamora couldn’t blame him. There was no mistaking the look of distaste Nebula had on her face when she looked at her reflection. And yet, she held her head high and her shoulders straight, a fierce warrior through and through.

Loki just stared at her incredulously. Nebula must’ve learned to understand other people’s emotions while Gamora wasn’t paying attention because she turned around and answered what Loki was too polite to ask.

“It helps me remember what I am, what I’ve been through.” Nebula raised her hand and glanced at its reflection in the mirror. “Helps me remember what I have to do.”

Something like awe was evident in Loki’s eyes, and Gamora knew he was impressed. She was too. Then Nebula’s serious expressions changed and there was a smirk on her lips that Gamora could bet she learned from Loki.

“It also instills terror in the hearts of my enemy. That helps.”

Loki chuckled. Then he waved a hand and the magical mirror vanished, making the room look smaller all of a sudden. “You are an incredible woman, Nebula. Thanos will regret making an enemy out of you.”

“Oh he will.” Nebula nodded, not even a hint of doubt in her tone. “I will make sure of it.”

“We,” Gamora said. “We will make sure of it.”

Loki inclined his head, looking at the two sisters standing shoulder to shoulder with fondness and, if Gamora was reading him right, a hint of envy.

“Indeed.”

Chapter Text

 5.

Gamora stepped into the corridor of Stateman that housed the training room and stiffened in alarm.

While it was usual for the corridor to echo shouts and grunts from the training room as the Asgardians sparred with each other, it was never as loud as it was right now, or as violent.

Then she heard what was distinctly a stifled scream—a very familiar stifled scream— and ran the rest of the way to the room.

The door was closed. A scan of her hand opened it and she stopped short. Whatever she had been expecting, it wasn’t this.

Nebula was in the middle of the floor, with three Asgardian men circling her. That in itself was unsual. Nebula preferred to train alone; her only partners were Gamora and Loki. Even more unusual were the knives in Nebula’s hands. They were not the training implements she used during sparring; that much was obvious by the gash on the tall Asgardian’s arm, and the blood on the blades.

But it wasn’t like the men were holding back either. Nebula’s right arm was clearly broken, her lip split, and her eye bruising already.

This wasn’t training. This was a fight.

“What the hell…” she murmured to herself, confused and unsure how to handle the situation.

She had seen the three Asgardians before; they were usually accompanied by a girl. Thor had introduced them as Sif and the Warriors Three. Gamora had also dueled with one of them, Fandral, and he had been a good fighter, if a little too polite.

There was nothing polite about him right now, as he snarled and lunged for Nebula’s broken wrist. She cried out in pain and lashed out, nicking him across the face with her knife. It was a blur in front of Gamora’s eyes then, everyone moving faster than she could follow, the fight as messy as it was personal. She usually kept out of the battles Nebula picked, but this was obviously one of the situations where she must intervene.

“Stop,” she shouted, trying and failing to get their attention. “Stop it. Nebula, stop.”

She stepped forward to intervene, getting into the middle of the fight, trying to block the punches and knock some sense into the four of them. “Hey! We are on the same side. STOP.”

It didn’t work. She tried to grab Nebula and ended up with an elbow to her chest. The other three weren’t doing much better, reacting violently to Gamora’s attempt to calm them. Soon she became a reluctant participant of the fight more out of self-defense than any real reason, their violence fuelling hers.

She was busy fending off the blows from Fandral’s stick, so she almost missed the guy with orange beard charging towards Nebula with an axe. Even blunt, it looked heavy and Nebula was distracted. A warning stuck in her throat, watching the Asgardian swing it, unable to stop the attack or defend her sister.

She didn’t have to.

A hand shot out and held the descending weapon, unwavering against the attacker’s angry yell. It took Gamora a moment to realize it was Loki blocking the blow. She breathed out a shuddering sigh of relief, suddenly coming to her sense. The other two warriors didn’t, still snarling and charging towards Nebula, when a voice bellowed across the room, loud and commanding.

“What in the name of Asgard is going on here?”

Thor stepped forward, glaring at them all. There was a sudden hush in the room, and then the three warriors drooped to their knees.

The guy with the axe dropped his weapon, and pressed his fist to his heart. “My King!” They all muttered, almost in sync.

“Fandral, what is the meaning of all this?” Thor walked closer to them, stepping in front and looking distinctly unimpressed.

“My Lord, the girl, she incited us… I don’t know what came over me.” Fandral lowered his head.

Gamora winced. If Nebula incited them, she could understand the violence. The girl had a tongue as sharp as her knives.

“Hogan? I expected better from you. I didn’t take you for someone who started fights without just cause.”

Gamora almost snorted. From the tales Loki had told of Thor and his friends, and their penchant for picking battles, she found that statement hard to believe. Even so, the guy looked chastised. “We didn’t start it, Thor. It was the girl. We were just talking when she eavesdropped and challenged us to a duel.”

“He’s right!” The one with long beard agreed. “We tried to calm her down but she was… she called us cowards. She insulted you as well. We had to…”

“You had to… what, Volstagg? Attack a girl who is less than your son’s age?”

“I…”

“Enough. I have heard enough.”

Thor turned around and walked away, obviously angry. Gamora noticed that he hadn’t asked them what they were talking about when Nebula had walked in on them that made her provoke them like that. There was very little that angered Nebula so, and Gamora was sure that Thor’s friends could not be praising Thanos, or talking about torturing children.

As the three warriors hurriedly scampered off, probably to make nice with the king, Gamora saw Loki walk closer to Nebula where she was standing straight, even thought it was obviously costing her a lot to keep doing so.

“They are not your friends,” Nebula muttered, dark and venomous, as she stared at the backs of the retreating warriors.

“No, they are not.” Loki smiled. Gamora could hear the bitterness in his words. “They are Thor’s.”

There was quiet in the room for a while, unsettling after the ruckus before. Loki broke it. “Now, shall we get those wounds of yours looked at, little one?”

“I’m…” She probably meant to say she was fine, but Loki’s raised eyebrow quelled that. “I’ll be fine.”

“Yes.” Loki agreed, already walking ahead, and expecting them to follow. He didn’t try to help Nebula walk, didn’t offer to pick her up. Gamora wondered if it was because he underestimated Nebula’s injuries, or because he knew she was prideful and wouldn’t want to show weakness.

Somehow, she could bet it was the latter.


 

“You foolish child,” Loki muttered, his voice gentle, as he helped Nebula situate herself on the table.

They were in the infirmary aboard the Quadrant, and Nebula had finally let herself be vulnerable. As soon as they had stepped on board Peter’s ship, Loki had turned and held Nebula’s arm. Nebula had breathed out a shaky breath before collapsing. Loki’s arm had been the only thing keeping her up.

The sensors showed multiple bruises and contusions, two broken ribs, a broken wrist, ruptured tendon in her ankle, damaged circuitry of her bionic arm and spine, and an intra-abdominal bleed. Despite the fast healing and super human strength of a cyborg Luthemoid, this was too much damage to be sustained by a person.

Gamora was furious, and was trying to quell the urge to go hunt down the three bastards who had hurt her sister like that. But she also knew Nebula had been the one to pick this fight. She was trying to understand why.

Loki was calm and focused while he treated Nebula, with a combination of equipment in the infirmary and with quickly muttered spells. He knew what he was doing. Gamora stared, wondering when did  the prince of Asgard learn how to treat injuries.

Loki noticed her scrutiny, because he looked up at her and shared without prompting. “Thor used to get into a lot of fights.”

“I find that easy to believe,” Gamora said. It made Loki’s eyes crinkle, fond and sad.

“Yeah. Arrogant and reckless. It led to a lot of battles he couldn’t win. While the all-father didn’t have anything against starting fights, he didn’t approve of losing them. That’s why I learned this… to hide the evidence. It’s a skill that comes in handy, every now and then.”

“Oh.” She didn’t know what to say to that. And she had always thought her childhood had been dysfunctional.

Nebula was beginning to doze off, but woke up with a scream when Loki set her broken wrist. She calmed down immediately when she saw Loki. There was nothing but trust in her eyes, even as she let him hurt her. Gamora had tried to help set her broken bones enough time to know how unusual this was.

It wasn’t easy for her. Gamora could tell. Nebula was gritting her teeth; there was tension around her eyes and her unhurt hand was clenched into a tight fist. But she didn’t move even as Loki moved her broken joint into position, wrapping it in a splint.

“What were you even thinking,” Loki scolded, far too gentle to have any heat behind it. “Taking on three Asgardian double your size and three time your strength.”

“They aren’t that strong,” she scoffed.

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

Nebula pulled back her hand and folded it across her chest, a picture of stubbornness. Gamora couldn’t help her smile. Nebula had learned that from her. So she knew how to break through to her as well.

“Did you eavesdrop on their conversation?” she asked.

Nebula’s mouth dropped open, her eyes indignant. “I did not.” Bingo. “My auditory implant doesn’t give me a choice to block out asshole-speak, and they weren’t exactly being subtle.”

She knew it. Nebula might be quick to anger, and volatile, but she never started fights without a reason. “Did they say something about you?” Gamora will have a conversation with Thor if they had. Nebula snapped her mouth shut and closed off, as if realizing her mistake. “About me? About the guardians?”

There was a blank mask on Nebula’s face and just like that, Gamora knew. She meant to confirm it anyway. “Were they talking about Loki?”

There it was, the flinch. It was barely there and gone, but she knew how to read her sister. Apparently, so did Loki.

“Nebula,..”

She cut him off before he could say anything. “You are not jealous of Thor.”

It wasn’t a question. It was a statement, a fact. And it explained everything all of a sudden, the fight, the livid looks towards Thor, the stubbornness now. Nebula has never taken to anyone insulting the people she called her own.

Loki sighed audibly, and dragged a stool to sit beside her. “No I’m not,” he agreed. Even though it hadn’t been a question, some tension seemed to drain from Nebula at the confirmation anyway. “At least, not anymore. There was a time when I wasn’t so sure.”

“What do you mean?” Gamora asked, curious. Then suddenly closed her mouth, not sure if her interference was welcome.

“I mean… Thor is Thor, the rightful King of Asgard-that-was, earning loyalty of all his friends. And I am…” his lips twisted in a bitter smile. “Well, me. I couldn’t command their loyalty even when I sat on the throne.”

“You would be a better King,” Nebula stated, her eyes furious.

Loki laughed, and then patted Nebula’s hand. “Now, that’s not true at all. Despite his faults, and his blindness towards certain things, Thor is a good king.”

Present tense, Gamora noticed, just like she noticed the fondness in his voice. Nebula did too.

“You love him.”

“He is my brother.” Loki shrugged. “I tried to fight that before, but learned you can’t win from something like that.”

Gamora looked at Nebula, and found her looking back. Their gazes met, and she knew Nebula was feeling the same things she was. They had fought it too, tried to run from it, and it all only served to lead them here. So they understood what Loki was saying. It still didn’t excuse Thor’s behavior.

“Thor is a fool.” Nebula concluded, making Loki laugh out loud. “And he needs better friends.”

Loki shook his head, still chuckling. “And you, little one, need to pick your fights better. It wasn’t worth it.”

“I’m not sorry.” Nebula glared at him, daring him to argue.

There was a brightness to Loki’s eyes, wet with unshed emotions as he looked at Nebula. Then, without warning, he bent down and kissed her forehead, making her stiffen for a second before relaxing.

He held her hand then, softly in his grip, and looked at her the way Gamora had seen him looking at Thor when he wasn’t paying attention.

“No. I don’t suppose you are.”

Heart strangely full, and throat closed, Gamora turned around and walked away, giving the two of them a moment of privacy. Thor, Gamora concluded, did not know what he was neglecting. He had no idea about his actions—his friends’ actions— being a source of pain to his brother. If he knew, Gamora was sure he would do better.

He had to.

Because if he didn’t, Gamora was going to adopt Loki as her own sibling, and then Thor would have lost something very precious indeed. Loki deserved better. Suddenly, fiercely, she was determined she would make sure he got it.

Chapter Text

+1.

Peter suggested it.

It was apparently a Terran game that he had learned as a child, and then exploited at numerous questionable moments of his life. He guaranteed it as an excellent team-bonding exercise.

So here they were, sitting around a table aboard the Quadrant, and playing ‘Never have I ever.’

Rocket insisted there can be no team bonding without liquor, so they all had a flask in front of him.

“One of us says something… something like maybe… never have I ever stabbed anyone, and then everyone who has ever stabbed a person drinks from their flask.”

As one, almost everyone around the table drank from their glasses. Mantis looked around for a moment, then her eyes widened. Slowly, she raised her glass too.

Gamora smirked at that… they were all a bunch of misfits, so she wasn’t even surprised. She put her glass down and cleared her throat, “Never have I ever been stabbed.”

Thor was the first one to raise his glass this time, passing a nasty look to Loki who shrugged and grinned. Everyone except Mantis, Rocket, and Groot drank as well. When Gamora looked meaningfully at Rocket he visibly bristled.

“Like I’ll let anyone get close enough. Now, if you had said something about being shot at… Hey, there is an idea. Never have I ever been shot at.”

Mantis spoke up before people had even finished putting their glasses down. “Never have I ever cried alone at night.”

There was a shocked silence for a moment, everyone staring at her. Then, Drax picked up his glass and drank a large gulp. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and his eyes were glistening. Gamora was sure it was not the sting of alcohol causing his eyes to water. “After Thanos killed my wife and daughter, I cried in my bed every night for a month, until I vowed to find him. And to kill him.”

That made it easier for Gamora to pick up her own glass too. “I have lost my whole planet, and Thanos is my father.” She shrugged.

Peter drank too, his smile far too strained as he said, “A real man isn’t afraid of admitting to his softer sides.”

Loki and nebula didn’t look at anyone, while they silently picked their glass.

Thor though, Thor took a while doing so. Loki had told them about Asgardians and their need for being strong. He ran his finger along the rim of his glass, playing with the condensation on the sides. They all waited for him. Then he looked up at Loki and whispered, “I thought I lost my brother.” Loki met his gaze, his eyes wide, as without breaking contact Thor raised his glass to his lips.

For a few moments, nobody dared to breathe.

“Okay…” Peter clapped to break the tension in the room. “My turn now. Let’s make this game really interesting. Never have I ever had sex with three people at once.” Without waiting for anyone to digest the information, he raised and drank to his shamelessness.

Loki raised his glass almost at the same time, and they shared a look of camaraderie afterwards. Gamora was slightly surprised to see Thor raise it too. So apparently was Loki, because he raised his eyebrows at him. Thor laughed. “You don’t know everything about me, brother.”

“Obviously not.” Loki shrugged. “You were right, Quill. This is a good bonding exercise.

Drax laughed and leaned back, not touching his cup. “My people are monogamous by nature,” he said, but he didn’t look appalled by everyone else’s promiscuity. Gamora supposed that was fair. He had been flying with Peter for years now.

Then, when everyone had considered it over and before someone else could start their turn, Gamora picked up her glass. She could see at least two pairs of eyes boring into her as she took a small sip, hiding her smirk.

She put her glass down and winked at Peter. He sputtered, and looked like he was having an aneurysm.

“Really?” To her surprise, it was Nebula who asked the question.

Gamora grinned, nodding. Peter seemed to have recovered from his temporary muteness because he interjected, “Who?”

Gamora deemed not to answer the question, partially because she wasn’t sure if she would be able to keep a straight face. Instead, she looked at Loki, who gave her a nod.

“I have to say, I’m impressed, Lady Gamora.”

“Men don’t have monopoly on brazenness.” Gamora flipped her hair.

“No we don’t.” Peter agreed, excited to get more information out of her in other ways, “So… Never have I ever kissed a—“

Gamora interrupted before he completed that sentence. “—I believe it is my turn now.” There were no turns, but Peter had the last one. Nobody argued. “Never have I ever danced like a maniac.”

This was an easy one, and everyone picked up their cups and drank, even Groot. And he was a tree. A tree who went the next round.

“I am Groot.”

Gamora laughed, but quieted down when Rocket glared at him. “Really? That’s a low blow.” Then he took a sip from his cup aggressively. Thor and Loki followed suit.

Gamora stared at them, until Rocket met her eyes. She raised her eyebrow in question to which Rocket shook his head. “You would rather not know. Teenagers…”

“He’s right.” Thor nodded, and there were twin spots of color on his cheeks. Gamora was curious, but graciously let it go.

Nebula went next. “Never have I ever strangled someone with their intestines.” Gamora didn’t know if she wanted to snort or face palm. Her sister had no people skills. Gamora was appalled to realize she found it endearing.

So apparently, did Loki. Because he drank to that.

The game went on, until Rocket decreed it was too much for a young, impressionable teenager and that the spaceship needed its pilot, and shuffled out of the room.

Mantis looked well on her way to being drunk, so Gamora suggested getting up and figuring out something to eat. Mantis looked at her with so much relief in her eyes that Gamora almost laughed.

On the other hand, Loki and Nebula was extremely into the game, the topics shifting from the ways they had tortured others, “Never have I ever ripped a person’s heart out while it was still beating,” to the ways they had been tortured themselves. “Never have I ever had all my nails pulled out one by one.”

Of course Mantis felt queasy, but was too polite to interrupt. Even Thor was beginning to look more and more baffled.

Mantis went to the Quadrant’s kitchen, and Gamora took a moment to lean against the wall and just watch Loki and Nebula interacting. If they had noticed the fact that almost everyone else had left the table, they showed no sign of it. Peter was still trying to interject every now and then, alarmed and intrigued by the direction the game had taken, but Thor seemed to have given up. Nebula was almost sure that the expressions on his face were of distaste.

Gamora smiled. As dysfunctional as it was, this was how Nebula bonded. She had never claimed to be sane. Neither of them were. But talking about the horrors you have been though, even in jest, was cathartic… maybe even cleansing. And knowing someone was listening, the fact that someone may even share it, must feel like a weight off your chest.

No wonder the game seemed more heated than ever.

It helped that neither of them were all that sober any more.

“Never have I ever been drained of half my blood.” Nebula looked at Loki from under her eyelashes, looking almost nervous.

Loki picked up his glass and drank to it, and then side eyed Nebula, whose fingers were twitching around her glass. “Oh, wait a minute, you were the one who did it to me.”

Ah. So that was why her sister was acting the way she was. That was… new. “So I did,” she said, and then abruptly picked up her glass. Gamora wondered if Loki realized this was her way of apologizing, of showing she has been there as well. By the soft warmth in Loki’s eyes, she was sure he did.

“For the first time in my life, I am glad I don’t have to drink more.” Peter exclaimed, but barely broke through the bubble the two of them were in. He tried to share a look of baffled camaraderie with Thor but he was frowning too much, so he looked at Gamora instead.

Gamora didn’t have any answers for the questions in his eyes, so she shrugged and smiled. It was their moment, she meant to let them have it. Somehow, peter understood, and got up to join her.

“Don’t get me wrong, I know you love them, and so do I, but they are weird,” Peter mumbled.

“Aren’t we all?” Was all she said.

“Yeah. No. They are talking about pulling out eyeballs now. I’m out. I’ll help Mantis with lunch, if I can still manage to stand the sight of food anything after hearing all that.”

Gamora waved to him, and looked back at the table, where Loki had taken Nebula’s hand and was squeezing it lightly. She tuned out the sound, because that wasn’t the important part here. It was the easy slump of Nebula’s shoulders, and the way Loki seemed to look broken and composed all at once. She was so busy watching Nebula put a comforting hand on Loki’s shoulder—Nebula, who would sooner strangle someone than comfort them, reaching out to help—that she didn’t even notice Thor had come to stand beside her.

“I am sorry about that,” he said, startling Gamora.

“What?” She glanced at him before glancing back at the table. Whatever Nebula had raised this time had Loki grinning. She was sorry she had missed it.

“About my brother. I see he has not been a good influence on Lady Nebula.”

This time, Gamora turned completely, baffled and insulted. Did Thor really mean that? Was he really that oblivious?

Thor misread her distaste, and continued. “My brother… you must excuse him. He is troubled. Always has been. I can limit him to the statesman if you so desire. Someone with issues like his is not good company for impressionable ladies like Nebula. I am sorry for the harm he has already caused and I will—“

Slap.

The sound rang through the room loud enough to startle Gamora herself. She had not planned to move, but something in Thor’s words and tone had made her hand move unconsciously.

She wasn’t sorry.

Well, she was sorry for how her hand throbbed, but wasn’t so for slapping Thor. Thor raised a hand to his face, shell shocked. She didn’t let him say anything.

“Are you blind? Deaf? Or are you just that stupid? Have you ever taken a moment to hear what your brother is telling you, to see what he is showing you? I can’t even believe it.”

She quivered with anger, ready to turn around to walk away, but something stayed her feet. She looked at Thor again, who looked confused and a little hurt. She softened a little, the anger draining from her. She had been where he was. She only hoped he would move forward, like she had eventually managed to.

“Listen, it’s not like I don’t understand. I do. I have a sister much like your brother. And a distance between us that I thought I’ll never be able to bridge. But I realized that I wanted to. That was when I realized that so did she. It starts by listening. So, listen… will you?”

“I don’t understand what you mean, Lady Gamora.” Thor said.

Gamora huffed, frustrated. She wasn’t the best person to explain this, but apparently, she was the only one who could. “People like Loki, people like my sister. They have been hurt. By the Thanos, by the world, by us. And no, don’t give me that look. You have hurt him, more than you realize. And that’s how you start. By realizing how you have hurt him. And making amends.”

“He has hurt me too.” Thor looked furious. “I have been stabbed by him more times than I can count. He ruined my coronation. He almost killed me.”

Gamora shrugged. “And Nebula has hurt me. It is unfair. But after all she’s been through, I suppose it boils down to the question… do we want them to pay, or do we want them to heal?”

“I…”

“Look. Loki loves you. Is he sorry for the ways he has harmed you? Maybe. Will he ever admit to it… I don’t think so. But if you listen, if you pay bare minimum attention, I am sure you’ll find the answers you’re looking for.”

Thor looked away from the intense staring match they had going. He swallowed, glancing at the table and quickly turning his gaze. “You have given me much to think about.”

Gamora nodded, but before Thor could leave, she grabbed his arm. “And Thor?” She waited until he looked at her, questioningly. “Don’t you ever apologize for him again. Be sorry for the role you played in his downfall, but never be sorry for him.

She waited until Thor nodded, and then let go of his arm, turning around in obvious dismissal. She closed her eyes and leaned against the wall, trying to calm her heart down. When she opened them, Thor had left, but she could see Loki and Nebula staring at her. She smiled, and knew it was shaky.

Loki raised an eyebrow at her. And then, when he had ascertained that Gamora was okay, he pouted. “You slapped Thor.”

She walked closer to the table and sat down on a chair. “Yeah. Sorry about that.” She raised her throbbing hand and looked at it, already seeing it swelling. Damn Asgardians and their strong muscle densities. “I don’t think it’s broken.”

“I thought I was your favorite.” Loki had an almost whining note in his voice. When she looked confused, he added. “And you slapped Thor.”

Gamora still wasn’t sure what the point was, until Nebula laughed. The sound felt scratchy and strained from disuse, but Gamora had heard it often enough recently, ever since Loki came aboard, to be surprised by it any longer. They both looked at her, as she explained.

“You’re thinking about me, Loki. I am the one who displays affection through violence, not Gamora.”

“Ah. My mistake.” Loki inclined his head magnanimously.

“If it is any comfort, I will never slap Thor.” Nebula added, and it made Loki grin. “Gamora has… questionable tastes in men.”

“Hey!” Gamora protested, but it was drowned out by Peter’s voice, who had entered the room while they hadn’t been paying attention.

“Hey! She likes me.” He sounded offended.

Gamora was about to tell them that she most certainly did not, when Nebula spoke.

“My point exactly.”

“Did she…” Peter’s eyes widened as he looked between Nebula, Loki, and Gamora. “Did she just make a joke?

Gamora couldn’t help it. She started laughing. It was all so messed up; they were so messed up. Peter was right, they were weird. All of them.

But they were her family. Loki included. And she wouldn’t trade it for anything. If Thanos tried to steal it from her, she would feed him his own intestines. Loki and Nebula would help her. If today was any indication, they were quite adept at that sort of a thing.

She wasn’t alone anymore.

Neither of them was.

It wasn’t the life she had imagined, not really. It was better. Because it was real, and hers.