Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia
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Detonation Imminent - Chapter 22

Title: Detonation Imminent
Author: Kairos
Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Rating: General (some language, some violence, some creepy stuff)
Wordcount: This part, 2850
Characters/Pairing: Peter&Rocket
Summary: Peter's been invited back into Stark Tower.
Disclaimer: The matter of who actually owns these characters and this world is getting pretty complicated, but I can say with confidence that it's not me.

Aaaand we're back. Sort of. Don't know if anyone noticed my absence, but it's temporary and nothing's wrong, I've just been busy with stuff like cooking, riding my bike, watching flamenco dancers in Barcelona. Also coming up empty for fandom inspiration lately.

Mostly, I'm bummed about any important events in your life that went by without any comments from me, so that much, I'll try to improve on. Sorry for tacking this onto an update to a fic that most of you aren't reading; I just wanted to have at least something new to post, or what am I, a self-referential apology machine?


Peter straightened his jacket, smoothed his hair, and made a snappy turn to face the others. “I gotta say, I like us in uniform,” he announced. “Gamora, you’re the most dangerous woman in fashion. Drax, nobody pulls off that bare-chested look like you do.”

“There is nothing to be pulled off a bare chest,” Drax replied.

“So that’s the secret. Groot, do you want a uniform?”

Groot rustled. “I am Groot.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Peter assured him. He took a deep breath. “Right. Time to see if we have the power to make a good impression.”

For the past two days, they had been working closely with Agent Coulson and his team, sharing their information on Thanos and learning as much as they could about Earth’s defenses. Now it was time to open the lines of communication with the Avengers. Peter was doing his best to put on a confident attitude for the sake of his team, but beneath it he was nervous, and beneath that, he had the vague sense that they had already been defeated and no amount of damage control could make a difference now. It was the first time the three of them had donned their uniforms since leaving Xandar, and it might be the last.

The Milano was parked, securely cloaked, in some giant secluded field that Coulson had told them was just outside of New York City, so they lowered stairs to walk outside. Peter frowned at the ship’s points of contact to the ground; it wasn’t designed to support its own weight, but of course Earth lacked the right kind of gravity fields for hover-docking. It was going to take some wear and tear from this, which made him think about how Rocket would complain, which made him wince and resolutely turn his eyes away from the Milano.

Their ride was already waiting, a van with tinted windows, driven by a devastatingly beautiful SHIELD agent with a perpetually stony look on her face. Peter had considered flirting with her the first time they met, and found himself afraid to try it. He wasn’t in the mood lately, anyway. The only thing on his mind was diplomacy, and he wasn’t even sure why he was bothering with that.

***


Pepper had set up a meeting room to receive the Guardians, holding little more than a large table, where most of the Avengers now sat as she showed the guests in. Natasha watched with great interest as the frosted double doors opened and Peter Quill strode in flanked by a proud pair of alien warriors, but like the rest of her team, she remained silent. She also kept her gaze exclusively on Quill and his companions, but she could see the others from the corner of her eye: Tony with his designer clothing and steepled fingers, Bruce in his slightly less stylish suit and slightly less threatening expression. The rest of them were wearing their standard battle outfits, and the Guardians, Natasha noted, were all in matching uniforms, an apparent nod to the formality of the occasion.

Thor looked grave and immovable. Clint was the only one with any part of a smile on his face, but it was amused rather than welcoming. Good. She wanted to see Quill sweat a little.

“Thanks for having us here,” were Quill’s first words, with a tone of humility that was either genuine or cultivated well. “This is Gamora, daughter of Thanos. This is Drax the Destroyer. I’m Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, and we represent the Guardians of the Galaxy.”

As she was introduced, Gamora made an elaborate salute, and Drax, the tattooed behemoth, bowed deeply during his turn. Quill looked self-satisfied until he seemed to realize that nobody had started speaking when he had stopped. The silence had to be awkward already from his perspective, and getting closer to disturbing the longer it stretched on.

Natasha wasn’t about to start pitying him, but she was quietly impressed by the way his expression congealed as he adapted to the cold atmosphere in the room. “Alright, I get it,” he said. “Everyone knows we came to make a formal apology, so you figure you’ll make me fumble all over it until I just go along with whatever the mighty heroes want.”

He didn’t turn to look when the door opened behind him, probably assuming that Pepper was returning. Clint’s grin widened, and Natasha cast the new arrival a raised eyebrow to say, Where have you been?, but nobody gave the game away.

“Well, I’m sorry,” Quill went on, tossing out the words like a challenge. “I am more sorry than I can say about everything that happened. But don’t expect me to be ashamed. When my friends are in trouble, I’m in it with them, end of story. They’re my heroes, not you, okay? I mean this guy’s alright” he noted, waving an arm at Thor, “since he wasn’t there for most of it, and Natasha was really nice when she interrogated me, but mostly--” he took a deep breath “--I’m pissed as hell at all five of you.”

Gamora and Drax were both looking at him in open astonishment, but for the rest of them, the diatribe only served as a good icebreaker. Clint released a light chuckle that he must have been holding in for some time, and Tony followed suit. “What?” demanded Quill.

“There are six of us,” Tony explained succinctly, and pointed with an open hand to the sixth.

Slowly, looking as if he knew he was about to spring an unavoidable trap, Quill turned. The way his face transformed when he saw the super-soldier behind him, clad in stars and stripes and a look of infinite patience, removed any doubt that Natasha might have had that Quill would be familiar with the legend of Captain America.

“Pleased to meet you, Gamora, Drax,” said Steve, extending his hand just enough that it wasn’t too conspicuous when he dropped it again. Neither alien appeared to know the handshake ritual. “Star-Lord,” he continued. “My name is --”

“Steve Rogers,” Quill completed for him in a breathless rush. “Captain America. My mother--” his voice hitched. “My mother adored you. She used to say that every generation that came after you was missing something. We had this picture hanging in the living room, you signed it for my grandmother. I didn’t think it could really be true that you were still alive. Oh, geez. You must think I’m a complete -- I’m sorry, sir. I mean it. This changes everything. ”

Nobody was laughing anymore. Steve looked touched, but his voice had a stern undertone when he answered. “You can stop apologizing, son. Sit down. You came here to talk, that’s what we’re doing.”

With the four remaining seats at the table filled, it was time for the meeting to begin in earnest. Steve managed to ease them into it by summarizing the story he had heard about why they were here, taking care to present an unbiased view of events. Those who had been present made a few minor corrections, and then Steve gave the floor to Quill and asked him to talk about his own team.

The tale that Quill spun would have felt fabricated to Natasha if she had heard it before meeting Rocket and the others. As it was, though, the impression she took away instead was of the almost fervent sense of unity that held the Guardians together, filling the gaps left by family members throughout their respective lives. She had sometimes felt a similar bond with the Avengers, but had more often wished, without any real hope, that it were stronger. Her own losses had granted her independence; Quill’s must have continued to affect him until he had found these friends to ease the pain.

When he finished speaking, Steve thanked him and said, “Now we have a better understanding of each other, but we’ve also discovered an urgent matter that might be asking us for more than just mutual respect. If this information on the ‘Mad Titan’ is factual, our best hope is to join forces. The question is, are we prepared for that?”

“And I’d add,” said Bruce, “are we prepared on an individual level? An agreement between the teams isn’t worth much on its own. If anyone’s hanging on to some personal doubts, I think now is the time to air them.”

Tony coughed. “Uhhhh, yes thank you venerable doctor, that’s exactly the opening I was looking for. I am hanging onto some personal doubts.”

There were some scattered groans overlapping Quill’s quick response: “And they’re enough to make you want to be the one to get in the way of this? Look, you didn’t want to believe me when I told you this building was going south, and I was right. Now I’m telling you it’s this planet, and I hope to God you’re paying attention this time because you need us. We could be getting as far away from your solar system as possible, and instead we’re here trying to save you from Thanos. Air those doubts, man. Air them good.”

“Well that makes another good opening. You’re telling us we don’t have any choice but to accept your help? This is a basic principle of business: need is worth more than want. Once we hear about the price tag you’re planning to stick on your magnanimous offer, I’m guessing I won’t look like the one who’s getting in the way.”

Natasha had been holding herself ready to shoot Tony down, but he did have a point. She looked at Steve, who furrowed his brow and nodded, so she went ahead and asked Quill, “Do you have a price tag?”

Before answering, he looked to each side of himself to exchange glances with his friends, then sighed. “I did,” he stated. “But that was before...I mean, I thought we were just dealing with…”

“Who are you, Captain America?” Gamora asked suddenly. “Star-Lord never said that there was a Terran authority he respected so much.”

“I didn’t know,” Quill mumbled at his hands. Natasha marvelled inwardly at the difference that Steve’s mere presence made for him; Gamora’s remark had been very apt.

Steve answered her, “I have a long history, ma’am. I would be glad to tell you more about it later. For now, what I’m hearing is that you, Star-Lord, didn’t expect to be treated fairly by my team.”

Quill nodded. “I was pretty much prepared to lay down my terms and walk out if they weren’t accepted.”

Sounds of incredulity and derision came from more than one person around the table, and Thor boomed, “A guest who is unsatisfied by his hosts can sooner leave their hospitality than expect them to change it for him.”

“We’re not guests,” Quill protested. “Hey, maybe ‘former prisoner’ doesn’t sound a lot better, but you’re already spinning this like you’re doing us a favor, and that’s not going to work. I think we’re all on board with joining forces to stop Thanos. That doesn’t mean the Avengers are absorbing the Guardians of the Galaxy.”

“Nobody absorbs the Guardians of the Galaxy,” announced Drax, speaking for the first time. Natasha had been wondering if he would at all; she knew that the translator devices were no longer malfunctioning in Stark Tower, but she had also heard that he hadn’t had one in the first place. That must have changed. In any case, he and Gamora had clearly both agreed to let Quill do the talking.

“Nobody’s trying to,” said Steve, and then, addressing Quill directly, went on to say, “If all you’re asking is to be considered equals, I can promise that you will be.”

“Thank you,” said Quill. “And sorry, sir. That’s not all I’m asking.”

Tony gave everyone around the table a look that said, See? I was right, but didn’t verbalize it, apparently feeling it was self-evident. Quill missed it anyway, as he was still watching Steve for some kind of indicator of approval.

“Okay,” said Steve. “Then let’s hear the rest of your terms.”

Natasha was still affronted by Quill’s audacity, but she could also see from his breathing that he was on edge, and when he answered, she could see why: “Nobody touches Rocket,” he said firmly. “You don’t put him on trial, you don’t investigate his origins, you don’t even try to find him. I’m talking complete immunity.”

This time, the reactions were audible from all of the Avengers, ranging from Steve’s sigh to Tony’s unstifled cursing. Natasha, capitalizing on her position of favor in Quill’s eyes, took it upon herself to explain to the Guardians exactly what they all found so objectionable. “After what that little loose cannon did to us, not to mention your utter failure to foresee or prevent it, you’re telling us we can’t even keep tabs on him to protect ourselves?”

“Everyone is still angry at him,” Gamora observed in an aside to Quill.

“We have a right to be angry,” Clint contributed.

Quill held up his hands over the tabletop. “You have every right,” he said. “That’s why I’m making it a condition. I can’t expect you to trust Rocket, or to trust me to keep him on the side of the angels -- Drax, that means good morals. But if you try to contain him or control him, we’ll be back to square one -- Drax, that means the beginning -- and I can’t leave Thanos on the back burner while I keep surrendering to you every five minutes. Drax, that means Thanos is our top priority and that I’m sick of surrendering to these guys every five minutes.”

There was a long moment of silence. Natasha paid close attention to Bruce and Tony, knowing that they knew something that she didn’t. After she had left Stark Tower that day with Pepper, both scientists had stayed behind to try to reverse the self-destruct virus, and then, as she understood it, Rocket had made another appearance. Both Bruce and Tony claimed that the raccoon had cancelled the implosion in exchange for Quill’s freedom, but neither could explain what had happened to him after that. Bruce said he had escaped, but his story was suspiciously vague, and every time the topic came up, Tony would scowl as if he had guessed the missing details and didn’t like them at all.

Point in case, they were now casting glares at each other that they probably thought were subtle. Natasha made a mental note to ask Pepper to squeeze the secret out of Tony.

Steve picked up the discussion again promptly. “If we agree to this, you have to accept that our alliance is with the three of you - and, presumably, ‘Groot’.” His face scrunched a bit in confusion as he said the name; so far, they were all going on secondhand reports of the sapling Guardian. “Rocket is immune, but he’s on his own.”

Neither side seemed quite satisfied by this solution, but after another ten minutes of debating it, the conclusion came out in essentially the same shape as Steve had proposed. Since everyone’s patience was wearing thin, he swiftly moved on to ask the Guardians if they had any other terms.

They did, of course. Quill didn’t want to be held on Earth, which would have gone over better if he hadn’t phrased the request, “We’ll stay for as long as we’re needed and leave when we feel like it.” This time, Steve handled the compromise before another argument erupted, asking for a way to get in touch with them when they were outside of the solar system. Natasha was sure they would weasel out of it by insisting it was impossible, but Gamora offered to obtain a long-distance communication device for the Avengers as easily as if it had been a burner phone.

The rest was just administration. It took another two hours before everyone around the table ran out of things to demand of each other, but at that point Drax wrapped it up neatly by stating, “I have lost interest in this palaver.”

Thor peered at him for a moment, then shrugged one shoulder and nodded. “It’s boring now, yes.”

Quill seemed to relax a little, leaning back in his chair. “This is the part of the day when we usually find a seedy bar and brag to strangers about saving the galaxy.”

“I think we can arrange a variation on that theme,” said Natasha.

A sense of relief was gradually spreading to all of them; Natasha could see the way stiff postures began to sag and suspicion turned to weariness. Steve evidently saw it too, and before anyone stood up, he took charge again long enough to say, “A little less seedy, a little more bragging, I think. But Peter, I’d like a chance to talk to you alone, if you don’t mind.”

For a moment Quill looked amusingly intimidated. Then he laughed. “Hey,” he responded. “You know what I was taught - follow the Captain to victory.”

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