“Guys… I’ve got her.”
Everything froze. Drax’s epic story to Mantis about his arena days. Mantis’ giddy yammering as she absorbed her friend’s excitement. Nebula grunting as she failed to get the high score in Arcade Defender. Groot’s backseat gaming. Thor’s never-ending questions about space. Rocket’s never-ending answers as he tinkered with something explosive.
It took a moment for the (As)Guardians of the Galaxy to process that they’d actually heard Quill say what they thought he’d said before the six nearly trampled each other to get a better view of Quill’s monitor and the odd life signal flickering in and out next to an old mugshot of Gamora.
“Are you certain?” Drax asked.
“That’s her,” Quill replied, his hands trembling and one slowly reaching towards his long-missing girlfriend’s photo on the screen. “Exact DNA scan. It took forever but this could only be her.” Quill shot back down into his seat and started working the Benatar’s controls. “Setting course now. Get ready for 3 jumps.”
“I am Groot?”
“I don’t know. Some mudball in the Helgentar System called Vormir.”
Nebula, Thor, and Rocket shared a look that Mantis didn’t have a chance to ask about before Quill continued. “Jumping in 5, 4-”
Quill stopped with his finger an inch from the jump button. He didn’t move it when he looked over at Rocket, perplexed. “What? What’s the problem?”
“That ain’t just some mudball; it’s where the Soul Stone is.”
Thor glanced between Rocket and Quill, debating if he should speak but knowing he could not keep such important information from his new team… and also knowing who else might yet be alive if his hunch was correct. “That would make sense. Maybe.”
Strange for this group, nobody interjected, so Thor continued. “There is a legend about the Soul Stone among my people, in which it can not only control souls but also house them. There is said to be an entire alternate world inside of that stone. If such a place does exist, it’s possible that’s where your friend has found herself.”
“So you’re saying that if we want to find Gamora, we need to go for Vormir,” Quill’s hand was now a centimeter from the jump button, “get inside the Soul Stone, and bring her out?”
“Assuming the legend is true, yes.”
“Well, I guess we’re going to Vormir to find ou-”
“Quill, would you slow down for a second, please?” Rocket pleaded.
Quill blinked at Rocket actually displaying manners. His finger was now close enough to the jump button that an accidental twitch could fling them across the Galaxy.
“This is an Infinity Stone we’re talking about. Remember? We all held one on Xandar and would have died if your mom hadn’t gotten knocked up by an all-powerful planet? One of those things that Thanos used to cause pretty much the worst day ever? The one that specifically got Gamora killed in the first place? Maybe you weren’t listening when we filled you guys in on how we saved your sorry butts, but the Soul Stone deals in lives. You have to off someone to even get your hands on it much less figure out how to get in and out of it. We could go there to pick up one person only to have to leave someone else there. Add some whole other world we know nothing about except for Thor’s fairy tale into the mix and we could all wind up dead.”
“...So you’re saying,” Quill glared, “ we shouldn’t try to rescue Gamora.”
“Oh for-” Rocket rolled his eyes. “I’m saying we shouldn’t mess with a crazy powerful cosmic object that could easily kill us all! Again!”
“Yeah, except that’s the only way to rescue Gamora,” Quill’s volume started increasing and he finally moved his finger away from the console to ball both his hands into fists, “so you’re saying we shouldn’t rescue Gamora!”
“We don’t even know if she’s actually there or if your stupid ‘upgrade’ of a ship is glitching out!”
“Yeah, but if it isn’t a glitch, you’re saying we shouldn’t rescue Gamora!”
“Fine! I’m saying we shouldn’t rescue Gamora! You happy now?!”
Rocket didn’t recognize the next expression on Quill’s face, but Mantis, Nebula, and Drax did. They’d seen it on Titan.
“...Are…” Quill chuckled in disbelief. “Are you for real right now? First you run with your tail between your legs from Thanos and now you’re afraid of one of his rocks?!”
Thor took a step forward, his eyes starting to glow faintly. Groot extended his arm as a barricade. “I am Groot.” No, let this happen.
“Watch it, Quill,” Rocket said through his teeth.
“You watch it!” He took a step towards Rocket, but he didn’t expect Rocket to actually take a step back in response. Quill paused for a moment at this but it only seemed to make him more angry.
“Gamora’s our friend! Our family! How could you not even care what happens to your family?!”
Absolute and instant silence. Quill realized his mistake before his last sentence had finished echoing across the bridge. Rocket stared at him with an expression of complete betrayal and his eyes started to water.
Surely, Rocket - of all people - would start yelling back before any actual tears could fall.
“...Rocket,” Quill reached a hand out towards his friend. Rocket has never looked so small before. “I'm s-”
“It’s fine.” Rocket said with a cracking, quiet voice as he stared at the floor. “I’m sorry. Of course I want to save her, I just… Just… keep working on the rescue plan without me, okay? I’m gonna go make sure our gear’s ready.”
Nobody said a word as Rocket left the bridge, and Quill was fully prepared for someone to all but murder him as soon as their friend was out of earshot.
He deserved it. He was ready for it.
He did not expect “someone” to be Gamora’s sister.
Nebula was on Quill the moment Rocket had left, punching him square in the jaw with a metal fist. Drax and Groot both stepped forward, ready to hold her back if she swung again. Mantis’ antennae glowed and she reached a hand towards her. Thor did absolutely nothing.
“Do not touch me,” Nebula warned Mantis. “I do not wish to be calm about this.” Mantis realized Nebula was going to stop at a single punch and complied; the fact that Quill was getting back up and was still able to talk was sign enough that she’d held back a little.
“Ow,” Quill said, groaning as he stood. “What the hell, Nebula? I thought you of all people would be with me on th-”
Quill’s eyes widened. Mantis, Drax, and Groot all looked between each other with varying levels of surprise.
Before that moment, there had been a silent agreement among the Guardians that the victims of The Snap didn’t need to know and didn’t want to know exactly how much time they’d lost. Measurable time in Space was barely a thing to begin with, seeing how every culture had its own system and trying to keep everything on a single calendar was a fruitless chore they’d long since abandoned in favor of pretending it was somebody’s birthday whenever the team felt like it’d been long enough and wanted something to get merrily plastered over. Quantifying just how long most of the Guardians had been “sleeping” seemed so pointless and depressing.
Until Nebula, with wisdom she usually kept under a cloak of violence, realized it meant absolutely everything.
“For five years,” Nebula continued, “he played your same paltry collection of music every day. Like clockwork. He’d tell me which song was each of your favorites whenever it started playing as if he’d never mentioned it before. For five years, in every free moment, he shared stories about every little thing all of you did together from idiotic space adventures to the tree learning how to walk to pointless verbal exchanges he found amusing. For five years, he complained about how hard such a large vessel was to maintain but protested violently at the mere suggestion of trading it for something befitting two people. For five years I pretended I didn’t hear him crying himself to sleep on the occasional night he tried to rest and for five years I pretended I believed him when he insisted he wasn’t having horrific nightmares.”
“He never got over it, not even once, and when he realized there was the smallest hope that he might regain even a fraction of what he lost he was ready to die, not because of any sort of altruism but because dying for the only people who ever loved him sounded better than spending another second alone with his thoughts and single companion who never had the words to help him with his grief in the slightest.”
She grabbed Peter by the collar. Nobody, including Quill, moved to stop her.
“Five. Years. And you have the absolute unshackled insolence to ask him if he cares about his family?”
She put him down and returned to her seat on the bridge without another word but kept an aura of animosity. He’d rather she just punched him again.
It took Quill several minutes to break out of his guilt-driven daze. When he did, Thor seemed to be examining Stormbreaker in a new light. Drax and Mantis has resumed their earlier conversation with less vigor and much more whispering. Sometime during Nebula’s tirade, Groot had left the bridge altogether. Quill wanted out of the crushing silence and hesitantly started the Zune back up.
“Southern Nights, have you ever felt a-”
He shut the Zune back off.