They win. In the end they win. There are losses of course, how could there not be, but their crew is intact and for that Mantis is grateful. When they win they find themselves still on Titan. They need to take Doctor Strange, Iron Man, and Spider-man home and Star-Lord is eager to explore his planet of origin. She isn't sure how this leads to all of them journeying to Earth, she'd rather find Rocket and Groot. Still, victory should’ve been a joyous time, but they're all solemn as they travel on the Milano. No one remembers where they were between the time they were destroyed by Thanos and when they were brought back by the Avengers, except for her and Spider-man. He lies about that and so she follows suit.
“We’re the only ones that remember.” she reassures Peter Parker, not Quill, when she finds him in her room looking at her plants. She keeps her door open since they’re sharing space, the plants are soothing, and everyone’s been raw since Titan.
He’s standing in front of a hanging basket studying the plant’s waxy purple leaves. He smiles wistfully. “I’m not ready to talk about it.”
“Neither am I,” she agrees as she sinks onto her bed and hugs herself. She knows destroying Ego was the right thing to do, but she misses that he wasn’t afraid to touch her. Everyone is careful not to touch her. She knows part of this is that they’re afraid they’ll hurt her, but part of it is that they’re afraid she’ll hurt them. She takes a large sighing breath and informs him. “Drax knows, but only because he knows me so well. I won’t tell anyone.”
Peter stares down at his shoes as he wraps his arms around himself. He asks quietly, “What do you remember?”
“There was no plant life there,” she manages slowly. “I was stuck, and fear. So much fear.”
The fear from everyone had been palpable. She’d practically been able to taste it. She’d nearly drowned in it, lost herself. For a moment there she thought that’s all she’d ever know.
“All I could think was that my Aunt May had lost all her family,” Peter whispers so softly she almost doesn’t catch his words. “She’s still recovering from losing my uncle, her husband, and then I run off playing hero.”
She wants to proclaim him a hero with conviction. She wants to stand and join him, reassure him. She stays on her bed, legs dangling, and fingers digging into the comforter because as much as she misses touch, she’s not ready for what she’ll feel if she touches him, touches anyone. They’re all so raw, even her. She is barely containing her own pain and isn’t ready to take on anyone else’s.
Mantis scoots back on the bed, pulling her legs up so she can hug her knees as she tilts her head to regard Peter. She ignores the memory of Ego telling her she’s selfish when she sits like this. They’re both still for a moment, then Peter joins her on the bed. He wipes at his face. She hand him a container of tissues she keeps on her nightstand.
“I don’t think you’re playing,” she offers.
“Thanks.” He smiles through the tears.
They sit there silently for a while. Mantis closes her eyes. She wants to find questions that will help Peter see he is a hero, but the words escape her. “What’s it like to have a family?”
She’s not even touching him, but she can almost feel him weighing how to answer.
“I thought the Guardians were your family?”
Mantis opens her eyes to stare at him. She blinks slowly as she considers this. Drax compares her to his daughter occasionally and checks in with her. He does his best to answer her questions, even if she has many. He’ll even get other members of the crew to help them find her answers. Gamora trains her to fight. Peter checks in and makes sure she’s at every meal that they take as a team. He’s even told her about his favorite Earth movies. She understands Groot. Rocket gets grouchy when she gets hurt. She’s part of their plans when they take on jobs. Mantis blinks again. She manages to smile crookedly before she rests her chin on her knees.
“They are not a family I was hatched to, but I think I see what you mean.”
“Sometimes your friends are you family,” Peter agrees. “For the longest time it was just my aunt May, my uncle Ben, and me, but then I met Ned. Now I have a brother.”
She tilts her head towards him again. Is that what she has with the Guardians, several siblings she’s picked for herself?
“You can ask,” Peter tells her softly.
“What’s it like to have a brother you chose?”
Peter stares at her, then grins.
“May I?” she asks as she raises her hand slightly and wiggles her fingers.
“Let me think about him for a moment,” Peter agrees earnestly.
Peter closes his eyes. A smile comes to his face slowly. He scrunches his noise as he slowly extends his hand towards her. She reaches out, presses their palms together and…warmth, excitement, and love mix with some frustration, and lurking underneath it all is the pain and fear of having died, but not died…of…but she can actually feel Peter holding up his love for his friend, focusing on that feeling and trying to contain all of his pain. She threads their fingers together and leans in. She pulls him into a hug. He clings. She lets go of his hand to hold him just as tightly and that helps ease some of the ache.
“Yes, they’re my family,” Mantis decides.
She suggests Drax talk to Peter when she runs into him in the hallway later. After she explains that Peter remembers as well Drax agrees and heads towards where she last saw him.
When she gets to the bridge Peter Quill is arguing with Rocket. “The plan was to go to New York, then Missouri. How are you even on Earth?”
“Cause this is where the fight was?” Rocket grouches. “Look, we’re in Wakanda so come to Wakanda.”
“The people we’re returning are from New York!” Quill reminds loudly.
“Look,” Rocky suddenly sounds tired. “Who’s with you?”
“It’s me, Gamora, and Mantis,” Quill answers. “Why?”
“Groot, he…I lost him for a while.”
Gamora’s shoulders draw back and she moves closer to Quill. Mantis sinks into the nearest chair.
“I just need to see all of you with my own eyes,” Rocket confesses.
“We need to see him and you,” Gamora agrees.
“Yes,” Quill agrees. “I’m just not the one who’s explaining this to Stark.”
“Explain what?” Tony asks as he joins them on the bridge.
“We need to make a pit stop in Wakanda…is that even a real place?”
“Rocket just said that’s where they are,” Gamora grits out.
“Yes, but I don’t remember there being a Wakanda,” Quill grouses.
“It’s real,” Tony tells him. “If we have an invite, we’re going.”
Wakanda is breathtaking, Mantis has no other words for it. After Rocket reassures himself that they’re all safe and they all reassure themselves that Groot and Rocket are safe they settle into exploring Wakanda. Or everyone else takes off to explore Wakanda, both Rocket and Groot insist that she and Peter meet Shuri. When they get to Shuri’s lab she’s talking to a woman she introduces as Natasha. Mantis tries not to stare and shifts to stand behind Peter. She’s not sure she’s ever seen someone so beautiful and yet compartmentalized.
While Shuri talks Peter into a medical scan so that she can explore how his Spider-man powers actually work she also pauses to ask Rocket several questions about the Milano.
“Problem?” Natasha asks her.
She shakes her head and stares at her feet.
“She was kept captive by Quill’s dad, give her a break,” Rocket cuts in, then pushes out the stool next to him. “Want to sit down?”
“I don’t need a break,” Mantis objects as she sits down.
“You’re allowed to be shy,” Rocket shrugs, then goes back to looking at the weapon schematic he and Shuri had been working on when the Milano arrived.
Natasha sits near her. “I wasn’t trying to be rude.”
Mantis is about to acknowledge that she knew this, the words feel stuck in her throat and she can’t bring herself to look at Natasha, when the other woman touches her hand. It’s pleasant, a pressure, but that’s it. There are emotions there, but they’re distant, almost boxed up. Mantis stares at Natasha and takes her hand turning it over, her fingers rubbing over Natasha’s palm.
“How are you doing that?” Mantis gasps.
She aware that Rocket stops what he’s doing and stares, but she can’t take her eyes off where her skin touches Natasha’s skin. With horror she realize she’s touching someone without explaining her powers, without asking. Mantis recoils back apologizing.
Natasha tilts her head, concern on her face, when Mantis explains her powers.
“I don’t mind if you read me at a surface level,” Natasha tells her. “I won’t forgive you if you manipulate me.”
Mantis agrees while fervently hoping the Guardians don’t ever end up fighting the Avengers. She relaxes when Natasha reaches out and threads their fingers together.
“She held my hand the whole time,” Mantis groans at Drax. “I could barely talk to her.”
“Rocket said you should ask her to spar,” Drax tells her.
“Spar? I’m only just learning!” Why does she want to impress Natasha so much?
“Gamora already said you’ve advanced quickly. Spar. Have her evaluate you and see if she can teach you to fight in a way that Gamora can’t,” Drax advises.
“You think that’ll make her…” Mantis trails off, she’s not even sure what to ask.
“She held your hand for two hours,” Drax reminds.
“It was amazing and nerve wracking,” Mantis agrees.
“Spar,” Drax nods.
“Spar,” Mantis groans.
After breakfast Mantis seeks out Natasha. She’s in the gym, talking to a man sitting on a high platform that spans the length of the room. They’re talking with their hands. Mantis stills near the doorway, but Natasha beckons her over. Then the man presses something on the platform and the piece he’s sitting on lifts up, then brings him down to floor level. Once he’s steps off the piece rises and fits itself back where it was.
“I love this place,” he shakes his head.
Natasha introduces her to Clint. She’s wearing gloves, but he doesn’t offer to shake her hand, just waves and says Natasha already explained.
Then he grins. “I’ll leave you to it.”
“To what?” Mantis asks.
“You, me, alone,” Natasha explains. “Clint is…”
Mantis gives her a moment, but Natasha seems reluctant to find the words so Mantis asks, “Your brother?”
Natasha blinks at her, startled, but agrees.
“Peter Parker, not Quill, was teaching me about family that you can choose. It’s reassuring,” Mantis explains, hoping she didn’t overstep.
“It is,” Natasha agrees.
“Drax suggested I ask you to spar,” Mantis tells Natasha before she loses her nerve.
Natasha’s lips curl up. She looks Mantis up and down. “May I take your gloves off?”
Mantis nods and sways closer when Natasha steps in and catches Mantis’ gaze. Without breaking eye contact Natasha raise Mantis’ hands and slowly removes each glove. She tosses the gloves aside and presses their palms together. Mantis smiles and Natasha echoes her.
They break apart to spar and Mantis knows Natasha is accessing her.
“You’re anticipating my moves,” Natasha says when she finally steps back.
“I’ve always been able to do that,” Mantis shrugs. It’s one of the few reasons she’s managed to keep up with the fighting that Gamora has been trying to teach her.
“No, the way you’re reacting to my moves is more than anticipation, its muscle memory.”
Natasha’s words sting and Mantis feels her legs buckle. Natasha rushes forward, then sits with her. Mantis stares at her hands and takes several deep breathes.
“Ego,” she finally manages to say. “He’d take things from me. I know he’s wiped my memory in the past.”
She growls in frustration at how much of her life she’s hasn’t gotten to live because of Ego. She’s glad he’s gone. She’s glad she turned against him. She’s crying against Natasha shoulder, shifting closer as Natasha rubs her back in slow soothing circles.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers.
“Crying,” Mantis manages.
“One of us should be able to cry for our lost youths,” Natasha sooths.
Natasha squeezes her hand. Mantis smiles against her shoulder.
“Let’s get some food?” Natasha suggests. “We can swap stories about our lost childhoods.”
“Did you want to invite Gamora too?”
“No,” Natasha shakes her head. “I’d like it to be a date, just the two of us.”
“Rocket said you’d understand when I asked,” Natasha explains.
“Peter Quill, not Parker, made us watch Earth movies with dating in it.”
“He was a kid when he left Earth.”
“Yes,” Mantis agrees. “There are better movies?”
“There are better dates,” Natasha smiles.
“I’d like a better date,” Mantis smiles back. “If it’s with you.”