There were no trees on the satellite where Gamora grew up.
That isn’t to say she hasn’t had experience with them: she’s been all over the galaxy, after all, visited hundreds of planets and worlds. Burned some of them to ash, killed people on… well, all of them, and never had much time to take in the scenery, but very few of them were as stark and barren as the place she couldn’t quite call home. Home, now, is an overcrowded ship with its randomly assorted crew who call themselves Guardians and everyone else calls just Failed Criminals – perhaps not Gamora; Gamora knows what they call her – and it even has a tree as part of it. The tree walks, and talks after a fashion, and is frankly the easiest person to get on with Gamora has ever met. It’s true that until recently Gamora’s social circle mostly involved assassins, warlords and psychopathic warriors, but even now, her new family seem to spend most of their time shouting at one another, even if they aren’t ripping one another’s arms off in retribution.
“No offense, Gamora, but your sister is a crazy bitch who tried to kill all of us and cut off her hand rather than hang out with you,” Quill says.
Gamora knows all of these things, still remembers her lungs crushing under the weight of suffocation, but some things are more important than that.
“If I don’t find her, our father will,” Gamora responds, while Drax observes: “it appears you did mean some offense, Quill.”
“I don’t want to run into your dad either, Gamora,” Quill points out, and Gamora grits her teeth. She is learning to compromise, learning to negotiate, but Nebula is out there somewhere, and she will not bend on this.
“I am Groot,” Groot interrupts quietly.
“What do you know about siblings anyway?” Rocket snips at Groot, the only one here who can actually interpret him; Gamora waits until the others have returned to bickering before she looks at him and smiles. He smiles back, wide and honest and so without a thousand other secrets that it startles her in its unfamiliarity.
“He can regenerate himself from almost nothing,” Nebula says thickly. “If that ability could be extracted-”
“It can’t be,” Gamora cuts her off, digs the screwdriver a little harder than necessary into the inner workings of Nebula’s arm. Nebula can’t feel it, of course, but it makes her feel better, anyway.
“Perhaps not by you,” Nebula responds. Even bloody-faced and strapped to a table in what passes for medical on Quill’s ship, half-crazed and half-starved, she’s as antagonistic as she ever was. Gamora wasn’t expecting anything different; she knows her sister, after all. “Give me a half-decent lab and a few weeks-”
“It won’t be,” Gamora interrupts again, reconnecting two wires and making Nebula’s fingers twitch. Her hand isn’t as technologically advanced as it used to be; stark metal and blunt shaping. Without their father’s machines, there’s no way to cover it in synthetic skin, to return it to anything as sleek and efficient as it was when they were Daughters of Thanos, golden murderers and engineered to be the best. Now, Gamora is left with her surgery scars that litter her like afterthoughts, and Nebula is more machine than flesh, broken parts and torn skin.
“Oh yes,” Nebula sighs, “your little band of petty thieves and would-be world saviours. Haven’t you tired of them yet?”
“They came to rescue you,” Gamora reminds her; she doesn’t expect gratitude from Nebula, and she won’t get it. That Nebula consented to being strapped down and healed is enough; more than enough. More than Gamora was expecting to get.
Her sister flicks her black eyes to the ceiling and says nothing.
“Anyway,” Gamora says, switching tack, “when was the last time anything organic interested you.”
She slides the hatch in Nebula’s arm closed, securing it with the ugly bolt that the makeshift appendage needs these days. Her sister huffs a sigh, petulant, and Gamora nearly allows herself a smile. She doesn’t let it leak onto her face, but she thinks Nebula senses it anyway.
That neither of them will ever return to Thanos goes without saying; they’ve spent most of their lives serving their father while he rebuilt them piece by piece and they dreamed silently of escape. Without an Infinity Stone, the chances of destroying him are slim, but Gamora assumes that their father has dismissed them in the way he dismissed so many other children who slipped and fell over the years. There will be a reward, of course, for anyone who can bring either of his daughters’ heads back to Thanos with a promise that they will not be around besmirching his name any longer, but Gamora isn’t worried about that: they grew up killing their father’s assassins by the roomful, after all.
“Can I shoot her a little bit?” Rocket asks over breakfast. “Not enough to kill her, just enough to make me feel better.”
Gamora doesn’t bother responding; Rocket likes casual violence and shooting his mouth off and Groot, perhaps not in that order, and it is not as though she hasn’t enjoyed inflicting a little violence on her sister from time to time. Nebula has always paid her back in kind. They’re an awkward balance, but one they’ve never managed to tip completely.
“I think that counts as prisoner brutality,” Quill says, frowning to himself. “Is she our prisoner? Do we even have anywhere to keep a prisoner? I feel like we haven’t thought this through.”
“I gave you ample opportunities to,” Gamora reminds him placidly.
“And at every opportunity I said ‘we’re not going to get your sister, you’re nuts’,” Quill tells her. “And then we had to have that whole discussion with Drax about edible foliage and I said we still weren’t going to go get Nebula, and you ignored me. Repeatedly.”
“Yes,” Gamora agrees, and takes her drink with her to visit Nebula, still restrained in the medical bay.
Groot is there already, filling the small metal room with little glowing leaf-lights. She reaches out and touches one with her fingertip; it’s warm, and shivers away a little.
“Is this supposed to be making me docile?” Nebula demands of her as she steps inside.
“I am Groot,” Groot says.
“You’ve never been docile, Nebula,” Gamora replies, “but they’re beautiful, aren’t they?”
They never had much time for the beauty of the universe when all they were supposed to be doing was crushing it. It’s still taking Gamora time to look at things and see them for something other than their vulnerabilities, major arteries that would need severing. Their aesthetics were never interesting before, or perhaps she just could not allow herself to look when it would never be fruitful to do so.
Nebula says nothing, which means that she agrees.
Thanos didn’t discriminate when choosing his children; a skin colour or a non-standard number of limbs or an unusual mutation made him more likely to adopt someone and modify them for his needs. Gamora lives now among the remnants of her father’s handiwork, as she always has; the scraps and remains of races he destroyed but kept just enough of to develop a new weapon. She understands that appearance means little, and that what is beneath the surface is the most important thing to excavate.
Groot grew from a sapling to his original, huge, size in a matter of a scant few weeks; humming to himself a song that sounded much like the wind through leaves, sitting and listening and watching for hours when he could not move from his pot. Who knows exactly what Quill filled his head with, his tales that sound half-fantasy and half-insanity, legend and truth and boastfulness spilling from his mouth in equal measure, and Gamora has never been given to loquaciousness when a handful of carefully chosen words would do. It’s much the same with her fighting style; a simple blade can slip in and achieve what a dozen gun blasts cannot. She is changing, but there are some truths that she cannot deny, after all.
She still says little, shares little, but she said more to Groot in the quiet of his weeks than she’s said to anyone in years. Perhaps part of her knows that he can’t repeat it to anyone but Rocket, and he almost certainly won’t; perhaps part of her knew that he would actually listen. It is a new novelty, actually being listened to.
Nebula loathes Rocket, actively tries to antagonise Drax, and refuses to speak to Quill at all. But Gamora watches, as the days flicker by and her sister regains her strength and could have escaped by now but hasn’t; she tolerates Groot’s company in a way that Nebula hasn’t tolerated anyone since… well, perhaps ever.
They are perhaps not conventional siblings, in the way that familial relationships generally form; Gamora knows the taste of her sister’s blood and her mouth too intimately for anything to be straightforward and ordinary, but they grew up being patched together by a megalomaniac with little interest in their emotional wellbeing, and what they have created helped them survive. It makes how Gamora feels about the sister who stripped her skin and kicked her down and yet still looked to her for protection or truth or something worse than that very complicated, but it’s a complicated universe, and they are but a small part of it.
Groot says nothing, but inclines his head like he understands, and curls fingers over Gamora’s wrist for the barest of empathetic moments. They feel like bark, but there’s something warmer and different beneath it, something more alive than the trees Gamora climbed for a vantage point or stripped down to burn. Groot is the last of his race as Gamora is the last of hers as Nebula is the last of hers; Groot remains what he was born as, while they are what Thanos made them, abominations of speed and death and endurance.
Groot is nothing like Gamora or like Nebula, is perhaps a polar opposite in intent and emotion, even before you consider that he is essentially a being of wood. Sometimes, Gamora feels like she should stop letting him come to visit her sister, stop spending time with him herself: for all that she has seen him burst through crowds of enemies like a berserking army, there is an innocence to Groot that neither she nor Nebula have ever possessed. Perhaps he will be tainted by their mere presence, the auras of murder that they carry.
Nebula has scoffed at that thought in the past, but she couldn’t meet Gamora’s eyes either, perhaps the only sign that she considers what she has done and finds herself wanting too.
In any case, she’s stopped crushing the flowers Groot grows for her in a misshapen metal fist.
It is a beginning; one that Gamora could never have expected, could never have predicted. The delight that comes from that nowadays is more than she could ever have imagined, when all that the universe contained was despair.