Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Rating: General (but this is one of the darker chapters)
Wordcount: This part, 2134
Characters/Pairing: Peter&Rocket; Tony/Pepper; Clint/Natasha
Summary: Peter's trying to figure out how to be a leader. He decides that breaking into the Avengers' base of operations is a good place to start.
Disclaimer: None of this is mine.
In a dark corner in a small space, a creature who didn’t know his name pulled a blanket over his shoulders and lay down. His brush with liberty in the big room with all the shelves had been an illusion all along; he never would have found a way out of there. Still, he wished they had left him to climb and find solitude and starve, rather than putting him back in the cage.
Something about the arrival of the three other humans had made a difference, though. For one, the cage was now draped in a sheet so that he wasn’t exposed; a huge relief. The animal chow had been replaced by a plate of food more like what humans would eat. The bedding was still there, but with the addition of the blanket, which he needed now not for warmth but for the comfort of having something over his bare back.
None of it answered any questions, but he didn’t think there were many questions left to ask. He had been struggling to block out his earliest memories of captivity. Now, with all other options exhausted, it was those memories that he needed.
His first escape had been from a cage much like this one. He had made it as far as the floor, and then the makers had recaptured him and replaced the lock with a more complicated one. A few days later, he mastered the new lock and got several feet farther from the cage, to underneath the table, where a hand in a thick glove had grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him out.
The cycle was repeated many more times, and he came a little closer to leaving the facility with each attempt, but as he learned, they learned, too. Eventually, they made him an enclosure which was truly secure, opening only for a positive retinal scan of the laboratory staff.
By then he could talk, but as they paid no attention to anything he said and wouldn’t say anything of importance to him, his voice seemed like a fairly useless addition. He hated the humanoid sound of it, and didn’t like being able to understand the running commentary about his own operations that carried on overhead as the surgical knife slid into his skin.
That was until he made a friend. She started out in the cage next to him, and always remained in the same room, because the ways they were changing her brain were the same as they were for him. One night he heard her talking to herself, and was thunderstruck by the realization that their voices were no longer useless - they could communicate with each other.
He began to initiate conversation whenever they were left alone in the room, and she welcomed it with the desperation of the frightened little ex-animal she was. Neither of them had a word for their respective species, but they knew that they were different. He had a longing for trees; she spoke wistfully of swimming, although she couldn’t articulate when in her life she had ever been in the water. He noticed that they didn’t bother reinforcing her body as they had his, and theorized that it was because she was aging too rapidly. She said she didn’t care, and she would die gladly in a minute as long as it could be outdoors.
They ignored the codes they had been assigned, and chose their own names. He never found out where she got hers, but it had a sound to it that he could almost recollect even without language.
Gradually, he understood that he had found another tool that could be used in the art of escape: cooperation. Every time that either of them was removed from the cage, it was an opportunity to add to the foundation for a plan: read the warnings on the panels throughout the room, locate the power box that controlled the doors, chew on a cable to weaken it. They began to hold their nightly talks at a whisper, although they had never seen any evidence that anyone knew about it or cared. The final escape was coming together, and if it failed the first time, he knew that there would be no second chance. He and his friend would be separated, and she would die in the lab.
Picking locks, he saw now, was a valuable but ultimately minor part of the skill set he needed. Teamwork, too, was just the beginning. Timing was absolutely crucial.
It was the same thing now. He knew he couldn’t get out of his cage again; just like last time, they had reinforced the lock and closed every door in the room. He would have to wait: sooner or later, they would take him out to prepare for transport or a fresh round of excruciating medical procedures. Little by little, he would learn enough about his environment to be able to use it to his advantage.
Involuntarily, he began thinking about his new friends, who all had names which he had forgotten. He tried to accept that he would probably never see them again, but that thought was almost harder to bear than the promise of more experimentation in his future. He allowed himself to picture them. There was the first one, who smelled like a home long forgotten and had become as much an other self as he was friend. There was the one who understood how it felt to have a body full of metal and silicon thanks to someone else’s bright idea. There was the one who had known when it was okay to show kindness through silence and touch. And there was the one who had never, ever looked at him and seen an animal.
That was the one who really worried him, because he was just the kind of jackass who would barge into a lab in a doomed rescue attempt, and, well, there was a memory deep down in the vault that showed pretty clearly how that kind of thing worked out.
When the right moment had finally come, his friend in all her courage squirmed away from the makers’ hands before they had her strapped down. He drew their attention away from her, adjusting his voice controls to imitate a distant cry of law enforcement officers. She made it to the switchboard and powered down the cage doors. He leaped out and skidded across the operating table. She killed the lights. There was uproar, but he could still see. She tossed him a drill. He used it to remove a floorboard. She scurried into the hole. He spilled out a case of vials to keep them busy. She came up holding the ends of two wires. He pried the siding off of the operating table to reveal two more. She squealed and whipped around to bite the hand that had just grabbed her tail. He connected the wires.
The doors opened.
His memory became hazy around this point. There had been a lot of running, trying to find the right corridor through scent, and she had been unable to keep his pace. They found a room full of guns before they found an exit, and he told her to go on while he covered her escape. The weapons were easier to figure out than the locks had been, and he found he didn’t even need to score a hit to keep the makers away - he just fired in their general direction, and they went running.
There was an eerie stillness when he put down the gun and followed his friend’s scent trail to a cracked-open window. She was waiting for him outside, the real world outside. They were close to a river, she told him excitedly, and she thought they could both survive in the woods if they got enough distance from the lab so as not to be found.
They never did. The makers were right behind him and came out with stun guns almost as soon as he had squeezed through the window. His friend, who had found her river but come back for his sake, was stuffed into a carrier, and he had never seen her again.
He hoped his new friends would fare better. Maybe they would keep soaring, keep guarding the galaxy. Maybe they would look back on him fondly.
Bruce stepped into the lab with a folding chair under one arm and a tablet under the other. He set up in front of the cage, turning on a voice recorder and finding and calibrating the heart rate monitor as Tony had instructed him. It would be more accurate if it was closer to the subject's heart, but he had no intention of opening the cage door, let alone reaching in. That would disrupt the readings, anyway.
The raccoon was at his eye level when he sank into the chair, but hiding in the tent of sheets that he had made to offer it some privacy, so he could just barely see its eyes peeking out at him. He spoke as calmly and clearly as possible: “Hello, Rocket.”
There was no discernible reaction, which was more or less expected. The story that Peter Quill had given them was that “Rocket” was as fully intelligent as a human being, but currently unable to speak or understand any language. Bruce found that a little too convenient, and as he wasn’t the only one with suspicions, they agreed that he should do some hands-off analysis before the two intruders saw each other.
He continued, “I know you don’t know what I’m saying, but if it’s true you’re sentient, you should be able to recognize that I’m speaking to you. Even if you’re not, my tone of voice may help to put you at ease. All I’m going to do here is show you some images and see how they make you feel. Nobody is going to hurt you. You can stay back there if you want to, but I hope you’ll at least show me you’re curious.”
He turned on the tablet and began with a few simple pictures that were unlikely to spark any intense emotions: a bicycle, an apple, a pencil. The raccoon kept his eyes on the slide show, but didn’t budge from his cover until Bruce opened a picture of a tree. Then he came closer, one hesitating paw at a time, and didn’t stop his approach when the image changed again, this time to a car.
“Alright,” said Bruce. “If you were a hundred percent animal you wouldn’t give a crap about two-dimensional images, so we’re getting somewhere. Now let’s take a look at something a little more topical.”
The next image was a computer. The raccoon’s gaze flicked from the screen to Bruce’s face, almost as if he were running an analysis of his own, but his heart rate as shown on the monitor didn’t indicate any change in mood. Bruce swiped to the next picture: a gun.
The readings shifted just slightly, but that was enough to count as a strong suggestion that the subject knew what a gun was. Bruce noted as much out loud for the sake of the recording, and continued to an image of a rocket. The reaction was even clearer this time.
Holding onto his level tone despite his own rising wariness, Bruce said, “Here goes nothing,” and opened a photograph that Tony had taken of Quill’s spaceship.
The monitor showed Rocket’s heart rate increasing far beyond any chance of coincidence. Bruce waited until it had calmed slightly, then showed him Drax the Destroyer and Peter Quill wearing his mask, both pictures taken from the video messages sent from the ship before Tony had invited Quill for a meeting.
Rocket’s agitation was now showing in his pinned ears and posture as well as in the monitor’s readings. Bruce didn’t want to prolong this, but he had to finish the job. With bated breath he opened up the most recent photograph: Quill, mask off, standing in the tower’s lobby.
It only took a second for his hunch to be confirmed by the dramatic increase of Rocket’s heart rate and the look in his eyes, which could only be described as terror. Bruce pushed his chair out, switched off the monitor, and spoke into the recorder. “Subject shows signs of familiarity with modern tools and weapons. Reaction to the extraterrestrial spacecraft and its occupants could indicate either excitement or apprehension, but the subject appears to recognize the entity identifying himself as Peter Quill, and to comprehend and fear his current proximity.”
He turned off the recorder and sighed, watching the trembling cyborg retreat backward to the shelter of his blanket. “For what it’s worth, Rocket, I am so sorry.”