A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed and followed. Knowing that someone somewhere likes your work is the greatest feeling. So without further ado, onward to chapter 2.
Gamora winced as she pulled herself up into a sitting position against the tree. Her arms were covered in bruises and she was sure at least one rib was cracked. She'd found a few cuts which had stopped bleeding even though she didn't remember getting them. Her neck ached and she rubbed it, trying to massage the stiffness from her muscles. Her side twinged when she raised her arm and she winced again.
It didn't help that she was being stared at.
"What?" she said, lowering her arm.
"I am Groot."
She sighed. "I know, I know."
"I am Groot."
"What do you want me to say, huh? I don't know where we are." It was just trees everywhere and a constant breeze. The air was surprisingly warm.
Gamora looked down at her hands. Two of her fingers were dark with bruises and one of her nails was broken. Blood was caked under her nails and around her cuticles. The memory of Quill's face as she'd last seen him, came unbidden to her mind. The promise he couldn't keep.
Everything that had happened on Vormir came back to her in a rush and she gasped. Thanos. She hadn't thought he'd actually do it. She could still feel his hands on her, see the tears in his eyes, and then she'd been out in the air. A moment of breathlessness and a moment of pain.
Gamora realized she was crying.
"I am Groot," Groot said softly.
That meant that Thanos had the Soul Stone. And that made her wonder. Had he always known the price for it? Had he…had he adopted her for that purpose?
"I am Groot." Groot's eyes were large with concern.
"I'm fine." Gamora wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, trying not to wince with the pain of it. "We need to look around, get our bearings." She sniffled and pulled herself to her feet. Despite her aches and twinges, she could still walk and she still had a knife in her belt.
She didn't recognize the planet though. And she couldn't figure out how she'd gotten here from Vormir. The only thing she could think of was that someone had found her, resuscitated her, and dumped her here though for whatever purpose, she couldn't figure out.
Groot was no help. He'd found her lying in the forest and had no idea how he'd ended up there either.
"Do you hear that?" Gamora said. "I think there's water nearby." The sound was very faint but unmistakable. It was a start.
The forest grew thicker as they made their way, and the ground morphed into slopes bristling with tiny blue flowers and scrubby bushes. Her thighs ached with each step uphill and she imagined her body breaking on the rocks below the cliff, Thanos gazing down at her. She gritted her teeth and clenched her fists. That couldn't be what had happened. She'd survived. Somehow she'd survived. And she was going to find the rest of the Guardians. She was going to find Quill and then she would make Thanos pay for what he'd done.
"I am Groot," Groot said in a worried tone of voice.
Gamora looked out over the forest and her eyes widened. "Aw hell," she said and slipped the knife from her belt.
Flowing among the trees like water was a horde of silent, black figures. They were coming this way.
"That didn't feel anything like I thought it would. I mean, it was pretty scary and weird and I thought I was going to die but it actually didn't feel like much. Did it feel like anything to you? Where are we, anyway?"
"Peter," Mantis said. "I don't know."
"Right. Uh, sorry." Okay, just keep breathing. "Aunt May's gonna be worried sick." Peter had already checked his phone but it was dead. It probably wouldn't have mattered anyway because he didn't think they were on Earth.
So what had happened?
He saw himself dissolving.
I thought I was dying.
And Peter had seen something he never thought he'd see. There was fear in Mr. Stark's eyes. He'd thought Peter was dying too.
A sick feeling started up in Peter's stomach and he had to stop walking.
Mantis realized this and looked back, her black eyes wide with worry. "Peter, what is wrong?" She refrained from touching him. Probably because the last time, when they'd first run into each other here, Peter had freaked out a little.
"Oh, geez. I don't know if I can do this." This wasn't supposed to happen. They were the good guys, right? And good guys always win. "I should have listened to Mr. Stark. I'm way over my head here. I mean, I'm just a kid. I still have school…and homework…and, you know, kid stuff."
"Peter," Mantis said. "Breathe."
"Okay. Okay." Peter breathed.
"Calm," she said.
"I'm calm, I'm calm." I'm so not calm.
Mantis reached out to touch his arm. "Calm."
A wave of calm washed over him. "This is seriously freaky."
"You will get back home. But first we must find the others."
"The others. Right."
Mantis let him go and he opened his eyes, having not even realized he'd closed them.
"Do you think Mr. Stark is here?" Before Mantis could reply, he added, "Right. You don't know. Sorry." But the thought made him feel better. Mr. Stark would know where they were and he'd know how to get them back home.
But even so, he couldn't get that look out of his mind, the shock and fear on Mr. Stark's face. He only hoped he wouldn't be angry with him, using what happened as proof that Peter wasn't ready to be an Avenger.
He couldn't help but think Mr. Stark was right.
Suddenly, the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck rose and Peter was jolted out of his thoughts. There was a commotion to his right.
"Come on," he said and took to the trees without looking to see if Mantis was following. "Whoa," he added as the branches dipped alarmingly under his weight. But they held and he went higher, afraid they might bend too much and smack him into the ground.
When he reached the source of the sounds, he clung to a tree overlooking the area.
"Holy crap, what are those?"
A small army of black-robed figures had amassed below and he caught the glint of blades. That was evil if he ever saw it. A green-skinned woman was moving in an impressive display of defense, whirling and slashing at them with a knife. And snagging at the figures, dragging and tossing them with snaking tendrils…was that a tree?
Shooting a web several trees over, Peter swung from his perch and kicked one of the figures in the shoulder, sending it flying several feet.
"That's not very nice you know, ganging up on a girl," Peter said as he landed and several figures turned their attention on him. "Whoa, dude, I think there's something wrong with your face."
One of the figures swiped at him and he back-flipped over the blade and shot web into its face. "Seriously though, you should have that looked at." Aliens. They were definitely aliens. No need to dwell on the fact that they had no skin on their skulls. Another swiped at him and he leaped, kicking it in the face and it dropped its blade.
Yep, it was a scythe.
Mantis finally emerged from the woods but Peter would have been more relieved if she didn't double over, panting, right on the edge of the battleground.
Two more of the figures – Reapers – converged on him and he shot upward again, swinging around the perimeter of the battle. But the branch he'd attached to swayed and he realized it wasn't a branch at all, but the elongated arm of the tree alien. The movement shook him free and he dropped to the ground right in front of the green lady.
"Hi," he said. Oh, that sounded so stupid.
"Hi," the green lady said before shoving him aside and planting her knife in a Reaper's eye socket. When she removed it, the Reaper disintegrated into such a fine dust it floated and was whisked away in the wind.
Peter shot twin webs at two Reapers behind the green lady and bashed their heads together while she decapitated another.
"You a friend of Thor?" The green lady spun and kicked one Reaper into another directly behind it.
Peter shot a bolt of webbing at a Reaper, sending it reeling straight into a viny arm which lifted it and hurled it away. "Yeah, I don't know him." He shot upward and came down on another Reaper, turning it to dust. "I've seen him on Youtube, though. That dude's so cool."
Something smashed into Peter and he went flying, landing in a heap on the ground.
Okay, maybe he should start focusing.
A Reaper loomed over him and brought its blade down and he rolled out of the way, springing back to his feet. Another slashed his shoulder and he jerked away, realizing that there were simply too many of them. He shot webs into their faces but they didn't have eyes so it didn't seem to deter them. One slashed at his ribs and another went for his throat and he shot a web toward a branch, intending to yank himself out of danger, but a scythe flicked out, snapping the thread.
Peter pried at the hands around his throat. They were surprisingly strong for not having any muscle on them.
There was a shout and Mantis leaped onto the Reaper's back, grabbing its head in her hands. Her antennae glowed. The Reaper let go of Peter and threw her off.
"Mantis!" Peter shouted and took to the air. What he saw, circling the battle, brought his heart into his throat. The green lady had been disarmed and several Reapers had her, though she struggled and cursed. They'd also brought the tree down. Too many. There were too many.
Mantis tried to evade them but one grabbed her by the arm and towed her along. Her power was useless here. No brains.
Peter dropped down and kicked the Reaper holding Mantis. He spun and flipped as blades whirled but he took several blows, one of which knocked him down and winded him.
"Mantis." He shot a web upward and reached out a hand for her.
"Peter!" she cried as hands grabbed her, pulling her back. "Run!"
"I can't! Grab my hand."
The fear in her eyes was palpable. "Run. Please."
But he couldn't, not when someone was in danger, not even in the face of overwhelming numbers. If he could just reach her…
His gaze was locked with hers so he saw the moment she realized what was happening. Her eyes widened a fraction, her lips parted in a gasp, and then she was gone in an explosion of dust along with her captors.
He had no time to dwell on it as the green lady and the tree were also gone but a handful of Reapers remained, coming for him. He flew up into the trees, a thousand thoughts flitting through his mind. He told himself they weren't dead, they couldn't be dead, as he did what Mantis said. He ran.
And he didn't look back.
Wanda spun through the air and landed in a crouch, ignoring the cut on her cheek as she drew red energy into her hands.
She saw the face of Thanos as he bore down on her and the memory fueled the fire within her. With an enraged shout, she released the energy in a cone in front of her but something smashed her from behind, sending her flying. She quickly scrambled to her feet but instead of bearing down on her, the creature's attention was fixed on something else.
Wanda herself, lying on the ground and clutching at a wound in her side. Eyes wide, she tried to scramble away from the Reaper as it raised its scythe.
The real Wanda hit it in the back and it disintegrated. She glanced over her shoulder at Loki. Their eyes met for a second and then she ran back into the fray.
Thanos, coming to kill Vision. Anger boiled her blood and sent shivers running along her flesh and she lashed out, catching a horde of Reapers and reducing them to dust.
Above the battle, Sam swooped and fired his guns at the Reapers while Strange burned them to cinders with his energy whip.
The creatures had come out of nowhere. But if they thought their ghoulish appearance would frighten them, they were mistaken.
A Reaper came at her, scythe raised to slice through her neck. She grabbed the creature's bony wrist, hands crackling with energy, and used her other hand to break its neck.
An armored Reaper, bigger and stronger than the rest, swiped Sam out of the air and shot something at Wanda, a bolt of black energy which barely missed, singeing a hole in the ground. She fired back at it but a transparent shield materialized, deflecting and dissipating her energy.
Vision had looked into her eyes as she'd done it, told her that it was okay as tears streamed down her face. But she'd done it. She'd unleashed the full brunt of her powers, enveloping them both in white, dazzling light. She'd killed him and she'd killed a part of herself too.
Wanda charged at the armored Reaper. Its eye sockets glowed with a hellish light and its shield shimmered and she gritted her teeth and she ran.
A sparking golden portal flickered into existence and she leaped through, plunging her energy-infused hands into the Reaper's back. The creature toppled and she tumbled as it disintegrated.
Across the battlefield, Sam dove, wings slicing through Reapers and he snatched Loki who'd been cornered, pulling him up into the air. Loki sent two knives hurling at a pair of Reapers before vanishing into a portal. Sam spun in mid-air and shot a Reaper that was charging up behind Strange while Loki landed on the one Reaper Wanda hadn't seen, plunging a knife into the base of its skull.
Thanos had very nearly lost. But to Wanda's horror, he had the Time Stone and he'd used it to bring Vision back and he'd murdered him a second time.
Wanda's anger turned into white-hot rage. Red energy spread up her arms and her eyes glowed and a wave washed over the field, disintegrating all the Reapers it touched.
And then it was over.
Wanda lowered her hands and ran over to where Sam and Strange were landing. Sam gripped an injured but alive Reaper. One of its hands was missing and a crack ran across one empty eye socket.
Everyone gathered around to watch its struggles but Sam kept it in a firm grip.
"Who do you work for?" Strange asked.
The Reaper remained silent.
"Come on. The silent treatment?" Strange scoffed. "I think we've earned a little more respect than that."
"These guys are fodder," Sam said. "Whoever sent them considers them expendable."
"So is that it then? Whatever you are, you're not afraid to die? Or whatever it is that happened to your buddies when they turned to dust?"
The Reaper seemed to focus on Strange as much as a being without eyes could focus. Then it spoke and its voice was hollow and resonant, seeming to come from no particular source. "He is coming. No matter how many of us it takes, he will have you."
A deep sigh like lips blowing across a clay jug.
"Who?" Strange demanded.
The Reaper seemed almost like it was laughing at them and the crack in its skull spread. Bone began to flake and splinter and its face caved in and it crumbled to dust.
Sam took a step back, a disgusted look on his face, and tried to wipe the dust from his hands.
Wanda was almost disappointed. She would have liked to kill it herself.
"Is it just me or was that maddeningly unhelpful?" Loki said.