Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2745
Notes: Can't remember if I mentioned before that I'm kind of using this story (and the first one tbh) to explore the idea of an "asexual romance". Also I would like to make you ugly cry.
As soon as he had the opportunity, Peter met with Gamora and Drax in the cockpit and silenced all of the intercoms. He didn’t like being secretive, but there was no productive way to talk about their current dilemma around Rocket or Groot.
“We can’t do this one at a time,” he said gravely. “If we all wait planetside for Groot to soak up the sun, Rocket gets worse. If we all stay on course until Rocket’s taken care of, Groot gets worse.”
Gamora looked down, crossed her arms, and spoke the hard truth. “We have to separate them. They won’t be happy.”
“Groot will need a companion to guard him,” said Drax. “I’ll remain at his side until you can return.”
It was the only configuration that would work, Peter realized as soon as Drax volunteered. The Milano would need two experienced pilots to alternate flying the ship and caring for Rocket, and Peter and Gamora were better suited for both of those roles than Drax was. He would be ideal as a stationary tree’s bodyguard, though, and he had evidently come to that conclusion before anyone else had even stopped to think about it.
Peter’s appreciation struggled against a rising sense of dread as he began to grasp that this was really happening. For the first time, his team had to split up, and there would be too much distance between them to easily reunite.
“Thank you, Drax,” he said sincerely. “And when you get back, you’re learning to pilot the ship.”
“If you wish it. In return, I will teach you to skin and butcher a night-elk.”
Peter nodded, his eyes down and his mind already elsewhere. “I think we better not mention the plan until after we get Groot settled. They won’t make this easy for us. Rocket told me he’s not going to get better. Like he’s not even planning to try.”
Drax made a low rumble of consternation. “Why is he so opposed to seeing a doctor?”
As one, Peter and Gamora turned to face him, her expression matching his own feeling of incredulity. “You’re kidding, right?” Peter said to Drax.
“I don’t kid. You know that.”
“Drax, Rocket was vivisected by people who called themselves doctors,” said Gamora. “I’m sure he hasn’t gone anywhere near a medical facility since.”
“Those were no true healers,” Drax protested, still sounding vexed. “Our friend should know that we would never allow him to come to any harm.”
Peter wanted to have a quick response to that, but it was too close to what he had been thinking himself. Much as he understood how a former lab experiment could develop a deep-seated phobia for all things surgical, part of him couldn’t help feeling a little hurt, wondering why Rocket couldn’t just trust the team to protect him.
Gamora answered instead, her voice gentle. “He knows. Fear doesn’t listen to reason.”
That seemed to make sense to Drax, who nodded slowly. “Then how will we change his mind?” he asked.
Good freaking question, thought Peter, but all he said aloud was, “Put together whatever you need to get by while you and Groot are on Blossomor. We’ll all come help you move in, and then maybe Rocket will feel okay about leaving Groot in your hands.”
The planet that Gamora had scoped out for Groot’s recovery was sparsely populated and had a healthy balance of weather patterns. It wasn’t far, but Peter had set the Milano to maximum speed anyway, hoping Blossomor would have a station where they could replenish all the fuel they were burning up. Groot’s unchecked new growth had left him stiff and ungainly, to the point where he was having a hard time just changing position, and Peter didn’t think they could afford to delay his recuperative retreat.
Groot was holed up in his bunk now with Rocket, who had spent the day devising supports for his damaged limbs while the rest of the team took turns helping him. Peter had worried that he would hurt himself trying to prove that he didn’t need medical attention, but the braces now adorning his arm and leg appeared surprisingly effective, although to Peter’s eyes they looked more like plate armor than casts.
Rocket was always calmer when he was tinkering, so it would have been a bad idea to stop him anyway. When Peter returned to Groot’s bunk to check up on them, Groot was asleep and the room was lit only by the glow of a holographic screen that Rocket was quietly studying. His eyes flicked to Peter, and he raised his good hand to beckon him over.
“You wanted to know if we were bein’ tracked,” said Rocket in a hushed but even tone. He pointed at the screen. “We are.”
Peter muttered a curse. “Gamora and I couldn’t find anything when we looked.”
“Yeah, big surprise.”
“Can you cut us loose?”
“Sure, if you wanna blow our only shot at gettin’ these guys.”
Peter frowned. “You want to turn it around on them? That’s seriously risky, Rock.”
Rocket shook his head. “No it ain’t. They don’t got the firepower to take us on, and if they get it, they can’t sneak up on us. Long as we keep movin’ all they can do is tag along.”
The light of the display pulsed gently. The tracer that Rocket had found was coded, but Peter thought he could see the disruption in the system’s pattern that had given it away. “Then what’s their plan?” he whispered. “They don’t even know where they’re following us to.”
“Prob’ly thinkin’ we’ll park on some out-of-the-way planet where they can get us on the ground again. Wait ‘til we get comfy, catch us away from the ship.”
“Good plan, seeing as we’re parking on an out-of-the-way planet in another ten hours.”
“Yeah.” Rocket looked over at Groot, a weirdly illuminated twisted wooden mass in the corner. “You’re gonna have to get off Blossomor soon as you drop me an’ Groot there. Try to lead ‘em on a goose chase until you can pick us up again to help out.”
Peter stared, wordless. Rocket was still speaking in a casual, muted voice, making plans that didn’t account for his own injuries at all. It was as if the possibility of going to a doctor had never even come up. Peter couldn’t talk around the truth any longer. “Rocket. If you don’t get medical attention, you could end up in constant pain. Or paralyzed for life.”
He was prepared for paroxysms, but Rocket simply turned his gaze back to the screen and answered, “I know.”
Peter rubbed his temples, at a loss. “Then…”
“It ain’t worth it.” Rocket sighed and blinked hard, as if to clear his vision. “Look, I know you’re thinkin’ about me flippin’ my lid back on Terra. I don’t blame you. But it’s different this time, Pete. I’m wide awake, and I thought about it good and hard, and I’m tellin’ you it ain’t worth it.”
“One day of surgery against your whole life isn’t worth it?” Peter took a breath to slow himself down. He didn’t want to wake up Groot, and he especially didn’t want to get into a shouting match with Rocket. “I get how hard this is for you. I’d never ask you to do it if there was any other way. But it’s not going to be anything like what you’ve been through before, I swear. You can sleep through the whole thing, and I’ll be right there to make sure you’re okay. Gamora, too.”
Rocket’s ears flicked back and forth, a movement Peter had come to recognize as a sign of frustration. “You don’t get it. You think it’s all about pain. Truth is, times I slept through it ended up bein’ just as bad. Worse.”
There was a silence. In the corner, Groot rustled softly in his sleep. “Do you want to talk about it?” Peter asked.
“No,” said Rocket. It was the only way he ever answered that question, although half the time, he would start talking anyway after a few minutes. It had developed into something of a ritual, and as Peter got better at reading him, he was learning to anticipate when no really meant no.
This time, Rocket’s tone and posture showed that it did. “You wanna get lost a little while, Quill?” he added, confirming it.
“Fine,” sighed Peter, standing. Before he opened the door, he paused and took another look at Rocket, who was poised in front of his screen exactly as he had been when Peter came in. Months of living together had built up a lot of tolerance among the team for each other’s quirks, but moments like this still gave Peter a feeling of rejection. “You know what, you’re right,” he said. “This is different than what happened on Terra. This is about your life, and if you say you’ve thought about what it means to be crippled forever, I believe you. I just wish you’d think about what it means for the rest of us.”
Without giving Rocket a chance to respond, he left the bunk and shut the door behind him so he could slump against the wall while nobody was there to see. He could put up a good front for as long as he needed to, but there was no clear way out of this mess and he knew it would be taking a toll on him.
They reached Blossomor ahead of schedule, though, and everyone put aside their doubts and arguments for Groot’s sake. It had been evening on the ship, but it was early morning on the cliff where the Milano touched down, and a cold mist greeted them as they stepped outside in single file. Peter sniffed the air, appreciating its clean fragrance, and saw that everyone else was doing the same thing. It seemed they had chosen the right place.
Gamora went ahead to scout, vanishing easily into the meadow before them through a combination of stealthy habits and natural camouflage. There was a dirt road, marked by the occasional wooden sign, but not much else indicating sentient life. The trees were more frequent as they got farther away from the cliff, and most were tall and strong.
Groot noticed and went for them right away, but his feet didn’t seem to be cooperating. Peter came closer and realized that each step he took was tearing up the ground, involuntarily sending down roots that made it difficult to detach from the earth. “Hey now,” said Peter, rushing to his side. “Let’s get away from the road a little before you pick a spot. Come on, bro, almost there, just keep moving.” Drax came up on his other side, and with one of them under each of Groot’s arm-branches, they managed to spread out his weight enough to keep him from planting himself where he stood.
Thanks to their dragging pace, Rocket almost managed to keep up. His braces were cleverly constructed to move with his body like robotic limbs, so he could walk upright without actually putting any pressure on his right leg. He had a pronounced limp and certainly couldn’t hurry, but every time Peter looked over his shoulder to check on him, he rolled his eyes and said he was fine.
When Groot came to a sudden halt and dug in both feet, Peter was afraid he had lost control, but then he realized that they were standing in a level, sunny space that made a perfect home for a tree. Drax nodded in satisfaction and went back to the ship for his supplies, while Rocket caught up with them and Peter called out for Gamora.
“I am Groot,” said Groot when they had all gathered around him. He smiled, giving Peter the thought that the language barrier had stopped mattering a long time ago.
Gamora laid a hand flat on his bark and assured him they’d be back soon, and Peter did the same. Behind him, he heard Rocket say, “Well, I guess this is goodbye.”
Peter flinched, sensing even before he turned around that Rocket wasn’t talking to Groot. Naively, he had hoped that Rocket’s mind would change before they got to this point. “Not for us,” he said gently. “Drax is staying with him. The rest of us are going back to the ship.”
“You need not fear for Groot,” added Drax.
“I won’t have to. I’m stayin’ right here.”
Gamora cast Peter an anxious look, and he tried again: “We don’t have time for this, Rocket. You said yourself, if we leave the ship parked here too long, the tracer will give away Groot’s location.”
Rocket bared his teeth. “So go.”
“We’re not leaving without you,” said Peter.
“We can’t leave without you,” Gamora insisted. “You’re the only one who can monitor the tracer. Don’t leave us vulnerable, Rocket.”
That seemed to make an impression. Rocket hesitated briefly, then looked at Groot and shook his head. “You can manage. Right Groot? They can manage.”
Groot tilted his head up, closed his eyes, and pressed his arms close to his body. Peter blinked. Everything humanoid seemed to be gone from the tree in front of him, aside from a suggestion of shoulders and a jutting chin. Even his face had smoothed into a featureless surface. If Peter hadn’t been looking straight at Groot when it happened, he didn’t think he would have even recognized him.
“Hey, moron,” said Rocket, “I’m talkin’ to you. I gotta stay here, right?”
There was a groaning sound from deep within the tree, and Rocket’s face fell. “Whaddaya mean?” He reached out and feebly scratched the burl that had been Groot’s knee. “Groot? Groot. Not funny. Groot! Talk to me.”
Rocket’s pleading grew more and more desperate, but there was no sound, movement, or further change from Groot. Peter knew better than to interrupt. He wished that there was a way to discuss it directly with Groot, but it was clear enough that the silent treatment was deliberate, and if it hurt this much to watch, it must have been even harder to sustain.
Finally, Rocket gave up. “Fine,” he snapped, and spat in Groot’s direction. “Who cares.” He turned back toward the ship and started walking at the fastest pace his metal cast would allow.
“We have to go,” said Peter to the others, alarmed. He held out a hand to Drax and met him in a quick embrace. “Make sure we can reach you, okay? Call us if anything happens. Once Groot can talk we’ll get him and Rocket to-- hold up. Is that really all you’re taking?” The bag that Drax had brought from the ship looked like it was designed for an overnight stay.
“Peter,” Gamora urged.
He turned to see Rocket was still hobbling away, taking no care to keep his balance and lurching dangerously every few steps. Peter was struck by an instinctive urge to run after him, which paid off when Rocket stumbled just in time to fall against his outstretched arm.
For a moment Peter stayed crouching there, frozen in indecision. He hadn’t meant to block Rocket’s path, but he was supporting his entire weight and couldn’t just let go of him.
Then he realized that Rocket was crying, face buried in Peter’s sleeve and shoulders heaving crookedly with each sob. Slowly, Peter laid a hand on his head and smoothed back the fur, then made up his mind and lifted him up off the ground.
Before now, he had only ever carried Rocket while he was unconscious, and he knew he had to proceed with utmost caution. He picked him up like he would a child, balanced against his hip instead of cradled in his arms. Rocket’s metal-cased arm and leg stuck out awkwardly, but he nestled into Peter’s chest right away and didn’t struggle. He was still in tears, but the only signs of it were his erratic breath and the occasional very soft gasp.
As he walked to the ship with the living load wrapped in his arms, Peter kept up a constant motion of rubbing Rocket’s neck and behind his ears. He even kissed the top of his head, barely thinking about it. Heartbreak could chase them across the galaxy, but he had the key to the only shelter that Rocket had ever known.