Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Notes: Vol. 2 left me with so many feelings and a lot of those were devoted to Mantis. I'm utterly enraptured by the new girl and had to write something new for her, since my ongoing GotG fic can't acknowledge the new canon. If you have any feelings, please share them.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR GOTG VOL. 2! WATCH IT BEFORE READING!
On the third day of travel they landed on Xandar and deboarded the Milano to the sound of cheers. Peter wasn’t sure if news had already spread about their defeat of Ego, or if their heroes’ welcome from the first time they had saved the galaxy just hadn’t worn off yet, so he smiled and waved and didn’t stop to talk to anyone until they were inside Nova Corps. Personally, he was hoping the legends about Ego would take time to form, and that they would be distorted enough to play down his own part. Leading the team was enough. He didn’t need to be known as the wayward offspring whose birth had inspired a galactic takeover, too.
Mantis walked with quick, mincing steps to keep up with everyone else’s confident stroll. Since joining the team she had been staring in awe at everything around her whenever they left the ship, but she seemed especially overwhelmed by crowds. “These are all your friends?” she asked Gamora.
“They’re our allies,” Gamora confirmed as the group entered the Headquarters. “We try to return here when we can, to share news.” Her eyes darted around before she added, “And to explain why we’re not bringing them Nebula like we said we would.”
“And for the free hotel,” said Peter. “Wait til you see how comfy the pillows are here.” For once he was glad to be somewhere safe, where nothing interesting was likely to happen. All of them needed a rest.
In a way, though, he felt like the last few days had already rejuvenated the team. They hadn’t been arguing at all; as far as he could remember, there hadn’t been so much as a cross word exchanged. He and Gamora were holding hands frequently and dancing and almost kissing, and Peter was too happy about that to want to try pushing it any further. Drax was having the time of his life teaching Mantis everything he thought she should know about the universe. The only times that Rocket didn’t put on a song that fit the moment were when Groot got there first.
Yondu had settled into Peter’s heart as a memory of pride and love. After the funeral, he had cried once, but the next day it was as if years had passed to soften the pain.
“Nice weather,” he commented to nobody in particular. They were indoors now, but Nova Corps liked their huge windows, and sunlight poured in on them. He began singing to himself.
“What’s that?” asked Rocket earnestly. “From the Zune?” Rocket had been completely absorbed by Peter’s new collection of music, but, understanding of its symbolic significance, he had acted with restraint instead of stealing it whenever Peter was looking, so neither of them had discovered every track on it yet.
Peter had to stop and repeat the lyrics he had just been quoting before he recalled where they had come from: “‘Have you ever seen the grass so green, or a bluer sky…’ Nah, it’s from an old Terran movie called...huh. Called Mary Poppins..”
Rocket gave him an unreadable look and echoed, “Huh.”
Denarrian Dey was there to greet them with a complete disregard for formality before they were shown to their rooms. When Groot jumped from Rocket’s shoulder and ran across the floor, Dey went down on one knee to reach out and let the little tree climb up his arm. “Hello there,” he chuckled. “Look at you on your own two feet. I guess that superfood we put in your soil really did the trick, huh?”
He straightened up and introduced himself to Mantis, who gave him one of her awkwardly practiced smiles. “Thank you for offering us your comfy pillows,” she said, and he took that with his usual good humor and placed Groot into her open hands.
The quarters assigned to the Guardians were really much better than a standard hotel. They each had one of the sleeping rooms arranged like spokes around a common area full of amenities and decorative light, and the staff was attentive but supremely respectful of their privacy. Aside from one brief meeting with Nova Prime, they did little the first day except sleep and eat and talk and play games.
On the second day, Peter returned from a walk in the city to find Mantis on the loveseat in the sunken center of the common room. He thought she was alone, but as he came closer he saw what the swooping curves of the furniture had been hiding: Rocket was curled up next to her, and she was petting him -- two-handed, exuberant scratching and stroking all over his thick fur. Peter halted in his tracks, ready to panic. This could only mean that Rocket was mortally wounded, or Mantis was about to be.
But instead of sounds of rage or distress, he heard delighted tinkling laughter, underscored by Rocket’s mutters of “Oooooh” and “Right there”. Anyone would have thought he was enjoying it.
“Wow,” said Peter. “I, uh, didn’t expect you guys to hit it off so fast.”
Mantis beamed at him. “Hi, Star-Lord! This puppy is so nice to touch!”
Rocket looked up with a sleepy blink. “Pete, you gotta try this. She gets behind your ears and all the right spots…” He dropped his head back onto her knee, sighing in contentment. “There. There. That’s the stuff.”
Peter still felt that something was very, very wrong here, but he had no idea how to intervene. “Rocket, are you drunk?”
Mantis answered instead. “We are sharing emotions. If he were intoxicated...I would also be intoxicated!” She fell into another cascade of giggles, and Rocket joined in.
“Yeah, that doesn’t really debunk the theory,” said Peter. “Listen, I’m not one to butt in on anyone’s good time, but I know this guy and I’m thinking these emotions you’re sharing didn’t start with him.”
“Nope!” declared Rocket, rolling onto his back so she could pet under his chin. “I whacked her one, that’s what I started with.”
Slowly it dawned on Peter that whacking Mantis could very easily result in a complete change of attitude. Her empathy might even activate as a defensive reflex, and Rocket would be deep under her influence before he realized what was happening. “Mantis,” said Peter carefully. “How long will it take for this to wear off?”
“A few minutes after I stop touching him,” she replied, ruffling Rocket’s ears.
“Okay. How about you send him to sleep? I think he could use some sleep. Rocket?”
“Sure, sure, whatever.” He was limp and snoring as soon as the words were out.
Mantis lifted her hand. “May I continue to pet him while he is sleeping?”
“No.” Peter bent down and took Rocket into his arms, careful to keep from brushing against Mantis. “I’m going to put him in his bed. Stay here. We need to talk.”
The dark pools of her eyes lifted, antennae bobbing over them. “About what?”
“Mantis,” he warned her softly, looming over her with his arms full of Rocket.
She frowned and gave him a nervous nod, sitting up straight as if trying to take up the smallest possible space on the loveseat. “I will stay here.” She was too obedient, and that rankled him, but he needed her to listen to him right now. They could work on building her independence later.
Peter deposited Rocket in the oversized bed he had been assigned and shut the door behind him, leaving a “do not disturb” code on the handle. He paused to take a deep breath before returning to the common room, but before he had moved, a door opened from outside the suite and he heard the voices of Gamora and Drax.
They reached Mantis before he did, and he hurried over to explain. She was already telling them that she was in trouble with Peter and that she didn’t know what she had done wrong.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he said as he came back down the steps to the center of the room. “I just want to make sure we all understand how your powers work. Yesterday I heard Rocket tell you he didn’t want you to touch him, ever, and five minutes ago you’re suddenly all over each other? You can’t just change someone like that.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she said in a pleading tone. “I thought if he felt happy, he would like me and I could pet him.”
Drax nodded at her as if that made perfect sense. He turned to Peter. “That makes perfect sense.”
Gamora cast Peter a significant look that showed that she at least was on the same page as him. Groot was cradled in her hand and mimicking her movements as best he could manage; when she sat down next to Mantis, he sat down between them and crossed his legs just as she was doing.
“All of us like you, Mantis,” said Gamora. “But if Rocket doesn’t want you to pet him, you need to respect that.”
“But he did want it when I made him want it.”
Drax made a guttural sound of approval. “She’s right. If you disagree you should let her touch you so she can make you agree. Then there won’t be any cause for conflict.”
Peter narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Dude, how much of this empathy stuff have you been mainlining per day?”
“I send him to sleep each night,” said Mantis. “I give him laughter or relaxation when he wishes for it.” She studied her hands, folded in her lap. “I don’t think I did anything else. Not intentionally.”
Gamora stiffened, seeming to pull away toward her end of the couch. “Do you mean to say it can happen unintentionally?” Groot stayed where he was, kicking his feet and looking back and forth between her and Mantis, but his expressive little face was solemn.
Peter groaned. “Okay, we have to make some rules. And figure out if anyone else got accidentally Mantis’d. I mean for Rocket it was pretty damn obvious, but any of us could have touched her over the last few days and…” His breath caught, thinking back. “Holy shit. Is this why we haven’t been fighting?”
Drax and Gamora both took a few seconds of shocked silence. “I am Groot,” said Groot, and Peter wished he could understand.
“Ha!” said Drax at last. “Mantis is adjusting very well to our family. This is good.”
“No it isn’t!” Peter rebuked him. “I can’t believe you. All this time you’ve been spending with her and you never even told her that Rocket isn’t a puppy?”
“Why should that matter? Rocket isn’t what you call him either. A ‘raccoon’.”
Peter threw his hands up in frustration. “Yes he is a raccoon! He just doesn’t know it! And I don’t want Mantis replacing all our arguments with Care Bear Stares!”
Drax shrugged. “Maybe he’s a puppy and he doesn’t know it.”
Mantis’s distress was becoming more obvious. “You are all friends! You only fight when you are unhappy! Yondu’s death on Ego made you very sad. I felt it too. I wanted you to feel better.”
She was right about that. Yondu’s death had made Peter sad. It had made him very sad for about a day. Dazed, he looked at the empath and said in a voice just above a whisper, “You took my grief?”
Gamora jumped to her feet and turned away from the couch, hands at her face. “Oh, this is not good at all.”
Groot made a plaintive wordless noise, unable to follow her. He went to Mantis instead, but she seemed afraid to touch even him, so he pulled at her skirt to no avail until Drax came and scooped him up. “Be calm,” he said to Mantis. “You can feel it in me. I’m not subject to any form of weakness.” Hesitantly but gratefully, she placed two fingertips on the wrist he held out to her.
“Drax, you’re not going to solve anything like that,” Gamora snapped.
Peter stepped toward her, hearing the fear beneath her anger. “Don’t worry, babe, we’ll--”
“‘Babe’?” she cut in. “This isn’t the time for pet names, Peter.” She backed away from him, just enough for it to really sting, though she hung her head as if ashamed by it. “No more romance until I know that what I feel for you comes from me alone.”
Another piece of his heart felt like it was crumbling away. He knew that his feelings for Gamora weren’t planted there, but she had been uncertain enough without Mantis in the equation. Now it would be hard for her to ever trust herself when it came to Peter, and maybe she shouldn’t.
Mantis jerked her hand away from Drax. “I’m sorry!” she cried out. “I’m too stupid to be with the Guardians. You must leave me somewhere away from you.”
“No,” said Peter firmly. “We’re not leaving anyone. We just have to bitch and yell until we figure this out, like we always do unless someone is hijacking our emotions.”
Gamora huffed out a long breath. “Who’s got Groot?”
Everyone stopped talking and looked around, first at Drax, who Peter was sure had been holding him a moment ago. Drax was empty-handed, and Peter felt a stab of worry and darted around the room, calling Groot’s name. The others were doing the same, but Peter was the first to drop down to floor level and look under the furniture, and he was the one who found the little tree hugging his knees beneath an armchair set low to the ground.
It took some coaxing to get him out. He was sniffling a little and scooting back whenever Peter reached for him. Peter looked up from the chair. “Did Mantis touch him?” he demanded.
“No,” said Mantis, dabbing at tears of her own. “And if I did, his emotional state would not change. My empathy has no effect on him.”
Peter rocked back on his heels. “Oh. Didn’t know that.” He leaned forward enough to see Groot’s face without making a grab for him. “I guess just plain old bad vibes are enough to hurt sometimes, huh?”
Groot nodded, scrubbing a hand over his eyes.
“I’m sorry, buddy. We shouldn’t have gotten so mad. Come on out and we’ll play some music. Or you can go lie down with Rocket.”
When he stood back up, Groot was nestled against his chest. He turned to extend his apology to Mantis, but the loveseat was empty, and her bedroom door was closing behind her.
“So that’s why I let her pet me? I was under her mojo?”
Peter nodded, trying not to let Rocket see him wince. They were in Peter’s room at their Nova quarters, which he had arranged deliberately so that he could lock the door in the event that Rocket decided to go hurt Mantis after he had heard the explanation.
It didn’t seem like that would be necessary. In fact, Peter was starting to wonder if Mantis’s touch was still in effect, unlikely as that was after Rocket had been sleeping it off for hours.
“Damn,” said Rocket, not making eye contact. “I thought maybe I was just...gettin’ nicer.”
Peter, who had been meandering around the room as they talked, sat down on the bed to face Rocket in the chair he had taken. “Is that what you want?”
“I dunno. Yes. Maybe.” He fiddled with his claws. “I mean, it kinda made me forget why I don’t want anyone touchin’ me. She liked it, I liked it, maybe that’s just normal for nice people.”
“Well...nothing says you can’t let her do it again.”
Rocket shook his head vigorously. “It made me forget, while it was goin’ on. Now I remember.”
Peter didn’t ask for details. “But you’re not mad at her?”
“Sort of, yeah.” He sighed. “I don’t know how I should feel about anything anymore. Maybe I’m not as mad at her as I would be if she hadn’t diluted it. And that should make me furious, but I’m not, but maybe I can’t be?”
“You mean you’re not sure where the real you ends and the you that someone else made up begins?” Rocket’s voice had a note of sad amusement in it. “What’s that like?”
Peter blinked, then shook himself, and when that failed to clear his head, he fell backward onto the bed. “Geez, Rock, if you decide to be nice that’s one thing, but I don’t need you getting all...all...wise.”
Before responding, Rocket crossed the room and climbed up the bed to block Peter’s view of the vaulted ceiling. “Yeah, and I don’t need you wallowin’ in all the feelings you’re not feeling, so let’s call it even. Back to the bug. Is she why we haven’t been fightin’?”
Peter folded his hands on his stomach and turned his head toward Rocket, smiling vaguely. “I said the exact same thing.”
“Damn. I thought maybe it was contagious, how nice I was.”
“I think she did something, maybe not consciously, that cut me off from getting too depressed over Yondu.”
There was a pause. Rocket was still sitting by his head, but his eyes were wide. “Shit, Quill. Here I was wondering why it was takin’ longer for me to get over it than it was for you.”
Peter flinched and lifted himself up on his elbows. “You noticed?”
“I didn’t wanna say anything. Figured I was just doin’ grief wrong.”
It was hard not to reach out and touch him, especially when he turned his head as if embarrassed. After a few more seconds of hesitation, Peter stopped resisting, shifted position, and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. They sat like that for a moment of silence, and then Rocket discreetly wiped a drop of moisture from his mask, took a deep breath, and said, “Shame to lose that guy. Now I’m never gonna collect on that bounty he put on you.”
That kind of joke might have crossed a line under other circumstances, but Peter’s only thought was that Yondu would have laughed his ass off, and he said so. They both started with a chuckle, and then let the catharsis of a good laugh take over, and Peter could almost hear Yondu’s voice joining in, saying, “You tell ‘im, rat!”
Gamora came in as they were winding down and short of breath. She halted just inside the door when she saw that Peter wasn’t alone, but he leaned forward on his knees and gave her a welcoming smile. “What’s up?”
“I’ve been talking to Mantis.” Gamora wrapped her arms around herself, looking vulnerable. “She’s really upset. I don’t think she ever had to worry about her ability invading someone’s privacy before. She probably can control it easily enough, but she didn’t know she should try.”
Peter nodded, feeling more sober. “Imagine spending all your life on that jackass of a planet.”
“Sure beats dyin’ on that jackass planet,” said Rocket. “The bug got a pretty good deal, all things considered.”
Gamora shook her head. “Not if she thinks we should drop her off and forget about her.” She cocked her head quizzically at Rocket. “We thought you’d be angrier than anyone.”
“Eh.” He leaned back into Peter’s pillows, getting comfortable. “I’m nice now. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
Peter stood up and took a few slow steps toward Gamora. “Are we okay?”
“Why are you asking her that?” said Rocket loudly. “Is this a mating thing? Get a room.”
Gamora hid a chuckle in her hand as Peter half-turned back with an incredulous, “This is my-- oh, never mind.” He looked back at Gamora. “I’m not asking it in any personal private sense, I just want to know if I have to fix something before we’re back to our usual badass awesome selves.”
Her smile showed that it had been the right thing to say. “The only thing you have to fix is with Mantis. It’s important, Peter. Having her as a Guardian will change us, but rejecting her would change us too, and in ways I don’t like to consider.”
“I’m okay with Mantis,” he insisted, but when neither Gamora nor Rocket had any response, he sighed and said, “Mantis is part of the team.”
Gamora nodded and echoed, “She’s part of the team.”
They both unconsciously turned to look at Rocket, who raised both hands. “Ya think I’m gonna cast a nay vote? She’s a powerful weirdo without a family, that’s about as Guardian-qualified as you can get.”
Peter’s lip quirked. “Well, no need to ask how Drax feels, so I guess that’s that. So how do we make her understand?”
With boundless warmth and kindness in her gaze, Gamora lifted her hand, placed it against his cheek, and said gently, “That’s a really stupid question.”
When Drax brought Mantis out from her room to meet them all in the common area, Peter’s first thought was that she looked like she was on trial. He supposed it didn’t help that they were all sitting expectantly, waiting for her, although to his own mind it looked more like an intervention.
That wasn’t accurate either, so he spoke up quickly to dispel all potential misconceptions. “Hi Mantis. We’ve all been talking and I’m realizing I haven’t been totally clear about a few things. You saved our butts back on Ego. You were amazing. You have a place with us for as long as you want one.”
She still looked wary as her eyes flitted from him, to Gamora on the chair next to him, to Rocket sitting on the other side with Groot on his shoulder, to Drax, still standing beside her. “I am very sorry that my empathic powers have caused such a disruption to your family. From now on I will wear gloves at all times and never touch anyone unless it is at your request.”
“No,” said Peter, ignoring the attraction of that idea. “From now on you’ll be yourself, and if it takes some time to get the hang of knowing when to suppress the mood-changers, we’ll deal. This family is made out of disruptions. What we want is to show you around from the inside, if you’d like that.”
Drax cut in. “I thought your plan was for each of us to let her read our emotions so she would know that we care for her despite her outward appearances. How would we show her anything from the inside?”
Peter smiled wearily. “You want to go first, Drax?”
Once they both got the picture, they didn’t hesitate. There was something intensely intimate about seeing them stand together, palm to palm, knowing that she was reading his soul, but Drax was so calm about it and Mantis so humble that nobody in the room seemed to feel uncomfortable.
Within the space of a few seconds, her expression changed from nervous to elated. “You really think I am your family member.”
“We all do,” said Gamora. She stood up and approached Mantis with her hand out as Drax nodded in satisfaction and moved away. “Try me.”
Some of the worry returned to Mantis’s eyes, but she put her hand flat against Gamora’s, and her antennae lit up with a soft glow. “You feel such guilt. You miss your sister.” Both of them closed their eyes in the same instant. “You spent many years shielding yourself from all emotion. It was for your own protection, but it hurt Nebula. It frightens you to think you could hurt someone else. Someone like Peter.” Mantis slowly withdrew her hand as her eyes opened again. “I thought you didn’t want me to know your true feelings because you felt contempt for me.”
“No!” Gamora’s voice quavered, but she took Mantis’s hand again, holding it in both of hers this time. “No, I’m…I’m honored to know you. I needed to hear that. Thank you.” She squeezed her hand, dropped it, and hurried back to her seat.
Peter looked at Rocket, anticipation mounting now that his own turn was getting closer, but Rocket volunteered to go next with only one resigned sigh. He let Groot jump to Peter’s chair as he passed, and Peter held onto him like a talisman.
Mantis knelt to come down to Rocket’s level. He sized her up for a moment, tail twitching, before holding out his hand as Drax and Gamora had done. She took it lightly between her fingers, but immediately pulled back as if she had been stung.
“What’s wrong?” asked Gamora, but Rocket was still waiting with his hand outstretched, and Mantis repeated the touch, moving much more cautiously this time.
It took no more than a few seconds for tears to begin streaming down her face. She didn’t try to speak at first, just sobbed while clinging to Rocket’s hand. The connection wasn’t affecting him the same way; he gazed at her evenly as if this were exactly what he had expected, but without any visible signs of his own turmoil.
“I assumed you were a pet because you were so cute,” Mantis gasped out at last. “I thought, if I was also a pet once, we would have something in common.” Her shoulders shook with another sob. “But my master never hurt me. He destroyed so much, he had evil inside him, but he was kind to me. It’s not like your past at all.”
“Take it easy, lady,” Rocket murmured. “I ain’t livin’ in my past anymore.”
“There’s so much pain. Every time that someone touched you it was to subjugate you.”
Rocket did show a reaction then, his ears flicking back and a shudder running down his spine. “Enough. It’s over. I’m here now.”
“Yes,” she agreed, showing a valiant effort to pull herself together. “With the Guardians of the Galaxy. Can we be friends, Rocket? I know who you are now. I will respect you.”
He nodded, and though it seemed a little reluctant in Peter’s eyes, Mantis must have known from her vantage point that he was sincere. When he let go of her hand he gave her a kind of friendly salute before turning away, and then he stopped, looked back over his shoulder, and pointed at her. “But I ain’t cute.”
Drax, the very last person that Peter had expected to even have an opinion in the matter, answered, “That’s relative.”
“Relative?” Peter laughed. “Who even taught you that word?”
Gamora, who seemed to have recovered from her own ordeal, added, “You can’t very well call Mantis ugly if Rocket being cute is relative.”
Mantis gasped. “I didn’t think of that. If we say Rocket is cute he will never know if we love him for who he truly is. I didn’t mean it. Rocket, you are ugly too.”
Rocket rolled his eyes and hopped back up on his chair. “Your go, Quill.”
Peter hesitated. This was necessary, and the others certainly seemed better for it, but he didn’t know what Mantis would reveal this time and he couldn’t help being a little wary of finding out. He looked at Groot, perched on his knee, and got a big smile and wave from him. “Thanks,” he whispered, thinking about how moral support could come from the most unlikely places.
When he stood up, Groot ran up his arm to his shoulder instead of allowing himself to be handed back to Rocket, so Peter faced Mantis with company. She held her hand out flat, and he pressed his against it.
Like the last time, there wasn’t much of a sensation on his side, just a twinge that could have just as well been his own nerves reacting. He tried not to think of anything specific, trusting that she would find the relevant truths inside him. He did care about her. He did accept her.
“So?” he prompted when she didn’t say anything. “What do I feel?”
She gave him a smile very unlike the shy and inhibited ones she usually showed. “Love. Genuine, unselfish love, for just about everybody.”
Peter felt his cheeks flush. “Aw geez, you’re giving away my deepest secrets again.” She looked concerned, and he hastened to add, “No, it’s okay, you’re right on the mark.”
“I am Groot!”
Rocket snorted. “Groot says that’s obvious. He’s right, anyone coulda told you that. How ‘bout some real dirt?”
Peter raised a eyebrow at Mantis in a playful challenge, but she looked somber. “Peter, I knew many of your brothers and sisters. When they came to Ego, they were often scared, and angry, and lonesome.” She shifted her hand to interlace her fingers with his. “My master never would have allowed me to save them, but he said I could use my gift if I chose to. So I gave them peace. I let them spend their last days in happiness.” The touch ended with her hand sliding out and dropping to her side. “I often wished I could use my power on myself. I am very weak, and my grief was much to bear.”
There was silence in the room. Groot stepped over Peter’s shirt collar to lean against his face. Gamora whispered something unintelligible.
“I never thought about that,” said Peter quietly. “No wonder you went straight into Novocain mode when you thought we were too sad.”
“There is not very much I can do well. I want to use my gift to heal the hearts of my friends.”
Drax came over and put a hand on her shoulder. “We will show you a different way to heal a heart.”
Gamora stood up to come closer, and after a moment, so did Rocket. It occurred to Peter that he could easily manipulate this into a group hug, but there was something important to attend to first. “Mantis,” he said, “when I was grieving for Yondu, did you…take that away? You don’t have to feel bad about it. I understand. But I have to know.”
Mantis nodded meekly. “I didn’t realize until after I had done it. You helped me up to board the ship, and I could feel your pain, but it was soon gone.”
“Can you give it back?”
She frowned. “I don’t know. I change emotions. I do not have storage for them.”
Rocket made a sound of discontent. “Quill, you don’t need that. Yondu doesn’t need that. Just take what comes.”
What came was a rush of gratitude and love so intense that it hurt. Peter hugged Mantis, suddenly enough that he clearly startled her, but she returned it with timid affection and then a burst of vigor. “Thank you,” he told her, “for caring about my siblings. I’m glad they had you.”
“I like this!” she said when he released her. “May I hug someone else?”
Drax volunteered, of course, and Gamora got her from the other side, and Groot scrambled down from Peter’s shoulder to launch himself at Rocket. Peter crouched and rubbed Rocket’s ears, as Mantis had done, while everyone but Groot was occupied overhead and couldn’t witness it.
“Yer dead meat, Quill,” said Rocket fondly.
“You are kinda cute, you know.”
“Double dead. Little higher. Left side. Yeah…”
When they broke apart, they all seemed cheerful, and Peter was sure this time that touching Mantis had nothing to do with it – not directly, anyway. He cleared his throat. “I guess this is the closest thing we have to an initiation ritual. I should probably say something about how it’s a great and honorable duty to be a Guardian of the Galaxy and blah blah blah…”
“But you won’t,” said Gamora. “Say something that matters instead.”
He considered that. “It’s…hard work to be a Guardian of the Galaxy. Not because of the work. The work is usually a pretty good time. But you have to live with all these a-holes who get into a lot of trouble and have personal issues like you can’t even begin to describe. Sometimes we yell at each other. Sometimes we hurt each other.” He took a deep breath and met Mantis’s eyes. “If you’re one of us, you have to be able to look past that. You have to trust that a bad day doesn’t mean we’re giving up on each other. You have to let us work it out ourselves.”
“I am Groot,” said Groot.
Rocket flicked an ear at him. “He says you also gotta pick him up sometimes, ‘cos he wants to sit on your head and hold onto your forehead noodles like steering sticks.”
“You don’t actually have to—” Peter began, but Mantis was already stooped and had placed Groot on top of her head before he finished the sentence.
“Okay then,” he said, grinning at her. “Welcome to the family.”