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what do you need, a second-hand movie star to tend you

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There’s a part of this all that is a bit surreal.

Not the fact that she died -- she was prepared for that, expecting that, had made her peace with that more than once. Not the fact that she came back -- she was needed, Nebula told her, the job was not complete, and that was enough of an explanation.

It is not the looming threat of Thanos, either, nor the cold in her bones at the thought that he has the stones, more than one if no longer all -- that he is still out there.

No. What is surreal is the fact that she once again has him in her arms, real and living and whole. That they are finally alone after the shock of being brought back, after the hoarse emotion of reunion, after the sobering realization that their work is not yet done. What is surreal is that she knows his lips again, knows the reverent hold of his hands again, has the privilege of letting herself mold against him as Peter kisses her as though he’ll never have the chance to again.

He will , Gamora knows -- of that she is certain, determined, unwavering. He will. They will. She does not think her heart can be pragmatic any longer, does not think that she will do anything but cling to the belief that they deserve a gentle, kind ending until her second dying breath.

Peter is warm, as he always is.

Unnaturally warm for a Terran who’s lived his life in the black of space, a man just recently brought back from the dead. But Gamora is grateful for the familiar warmth, the familiar imperfections. His skin is rough with callouses where his hands press against her cheeks, down her arms, under the hem of her shirt and around her waist, never satisfied, almost panicked in their need to make sure every part of her is there. Their room is small, a spartan grey under the lights they haven’t bothered to turn on. It would be just different enough from their old bunk on the Milano to be unnerving were Gamora paying it any real attention, generously donated by their motley assortment of honourable allies.

And they’re here, just the two of them, at the end of a long day following a longer week in what Peter would call a long-ass life, left alone by their friends and family. They spent the better part of the morning commiserating, swapping plans and intel, strengths and weaknesses. The muted joy of recovering loved ones was weighed down by a bone-deep weariness that Gamora had wondered if they would ever shake. Quiet, mostly -- too quiet, for a group of people so large, for an assortment of leaders so strong-minded.

She had thought of this, of doing this, since the moment she touched him again, gripped him in a bone-crushing embrace in front of so many unfamiliar people, so emotionally spent that she found she had no more tears to shed. She hasn’t cried since Before, Gamora realizes, thoughts blurring as Peter’s mouth presses against her jaw. The door is smooth where Gamora’s back arches against it, her tired, worn body instinctually pushing herself closer to Peter’s embrace. He makes a noise against her mouth, hot and hoarse and desperate, and she pushes them to take a step backwards, vaguely aware of the bed behind him, of the need to get there and not be here, because she cannot fathom standing on her own two feet any longer but equally cannot bear the thought of letting him go.

It’s easy, Gamora thinks, to do this -- to push everything else to the back of her mind, compartmentalize, let herself feel only the realness of him and forget momentarily the cold hard press of trauma against her spine, the choking reality of what is yet to come. That they still might die again -- it is so, so much easier to not think of it at all, to let her jacket be pulled away from her shoulders by rough, uncoordinated hands that she has missed with a keen ache in her chest. Peter’s knees bracket her own, both of them half-sitting, half-kneeling over the smooth bedding of the unfamiliar mattress, and she’s half-gone already, so familiar with this that it barely requires thought, like slipping on a pair of worn, comfortable boots. It takes her a moment, a series of seconds, to realize that something is off; that the desperate tug of Peter’s hands across her limbs from a moment before is faltering, that there is a shudder to the gasp she swallows with her mouth.

He pushes his hands under her shirt again, fingers scrabbling at the clasp of the bindings around her chest, and she realizes with a jolt how badly his hands are trembling.

Gamora pulls away, throat immediate aching with the loss of contact, mouth open and gasping and wet.

“Peter --”

“No --”

Peter --”

His hands are still under her shirt, unsuccessful in their attempts to undo her undergarments. She can feel the tremors in his entire arm, now, and she grabs his forearm with her hand, unsure if the gesture will be alarming or grounding and hating herself for suddenly feeling so wrong-footed, but Peter ignores her, and leans up, kisses her hard again -- enough that she can feel the burn of his beard against her chin and the bruising of teeth against lips.

Gamora makes a vague sound at the back of her throat and lets him kiss her, hand still tight around his arm, and slowly, slowly she starts to feel the tremble in his jaw. Her cheeks are wet, suddenly, but she is not crying, and she pulls away --

“Peter --”

His responding gasp is already half a sob, head falling limply forward like all that was keeping it upright was Gamora’s kiss. She feels it before she hears it, the slow build of his shaking shoulders, tremors wracking through them with each silent sob. His hands are still shaking against her skin, hanging useless against her sides, and Gamora has seen Peter cry before, more than once, so so many times.

But this --

Oh ,” she hears herself say, the end of her voice catching, and the ragged, wet gasp he makes is all it takes, all she needs for her own eyes to fill with tears and her hands to move of their own accord, sliding up his arms and curling around his quaking shoulders. He’s sobbing audibly now, torso slowly crumpling along with his face in on itself and away from some invisible terror.

Her heart, with all its dwindling pragmatism, all the feelings and thoughts and trauma she has been pushing back into herself, cracks cleanly through.

“Baby,” she says, because she does not know what else to say, hands grabbing at the thin material of his t-shirt as though to hold him upright, her own voice wavering and desperate as she tries not to let her tears spill. “Baby, it’s okay, I’m here, you’re alright -- oh, God -- Peter, Peter , I’m so sorry.” She can hear her own voice as though it’s someone else’s, can barely think about the cracks and tremors and barely-audible volume or the tears finally spilling down her cheeks.

“Y-you w-were gone ,” he chokes out, the words barely coherent, “y-you were -- I couldn’t --”

She hates how hot and stinging her own tears are. She grabs his still-trembling hands on instinct, acting on instinct, desperate, and places one against her ribs and the other over her breast before she breathes in, deeply, feels keenly the shudder in her breath and hopes blindly that he does too.

“Feel me breathe,” she says, “Peter, feel me breathe, I’m right here, okay? I’m right here, it’s okay.”

He shakes his head and he’s still not looking at her, still barely coherent. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice breaking clean through, small and younger than she’s ever heard him, “I -- I c-couldn’t --”

Gamora feels the jagged swoop of guilt, the blunted edge of grief in her wrists.

Her fingers scrabble at his shoulders of their own accord, desperate, trying to keep him from keeling over with the weight of too many years of grief catching up to them; trying to keep him close to her, safe . Her palm finds the back of his head and in moments Peter is clinging to her, face buried into her neck, the wetness of his tears messy and ugly and making her loose hair stick to the skin behind her ear. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” she says, voice hoarse and broken, “I’m so, so sorry, I should never have asked you to -- I’m so sorry, Peter, Peter .”

She can feel him against her neck; the nod is imperceptibly small, but there, real , as his hold around her tightens and he continues to shake. Her own gasps, her own renewed tears sound in her ears, and she wishes that she couldn’t hear them. Selfishly, maybe -- wishes that this wasn’t happening, that they could move on and forward, could go back to being happy and comfortable and safe in each other’s arms more than anywhere else. Were she anyone else the press of Peter’s fingers into her back would leave bruises, but his crying has softened -- less raw, less heaving, slowly dwindling into silent tears that soak the collar of Gamora’s dirty undershirt.

She feels her own tears drip slowly down her cheeks, over the tip of her nose. Her hands have started stroking his back absently, movements less than rhythmic but something . She can already feel her own body crashing, the broken afterwards slowly setting in and injecting a tremble in her limbs. They have a plan, yes, but Gamora -- Gamora has no idea what to do.

“I love you,” she hears in the dark of the room, small and hoarse, a nearly inaudible whisper against her throat.

“I love you too,” she croaks back, perhaps the one thing she remains sure of in her life, and squeezes her eyes shut against the world.