Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2086
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.
Waiting for evening before they could proceed with the meeting was hard, but it did have the dubious benefit of allowing them plenty of time to argue about the next stage of the plan.
“We should all carry weapons,” said Gamora. “We’ll submit to being disarmed, but I would rather make it clear that we're first and foremost warriors, not traders.”
Drax was listening from where he stood over the stove, but appeared to have given up on attempting to contribute to the discussion when he and Peter couldn’t understand anything the other said. He limited himself now to a vigorous nod in support of Gamora’s statement.
“And if need be, we can use them as bargaining chips,” she added.
Peter took a deep breath and tilted his chair back from the table. “Yeah. Great. Just one thing about that.” He rocked forward again. “You guys aren’t coming.”
For a moment there was no sound except for Drax’s spoon scraping against the bottom of a pan, while Gamora apparently tried to work out if she had heard Peter correctly. ”What?”
“I know it sucks, but think about it. You walk in there and your translator is probably going to fizzle just like mine did. Then it’s the three of us not being able to talk to each other, and the two of you not being able to talk to anyone. If anything goes wrong, we’ll fall apart. If nothing goes wrong, I won’t need backup anyway.” He lowered his voice. “Besides, someone needs to stay here and watch...the ship.”
He didn’t need to say what he really meant; her gaze followed his to where Groot was sitting silently in his pot at the other end of the table. Just after Peter had ended the video conference, Groot had wrapped himself up in his arms as if sleeping, and he was still holding the same pose now, beginning to show a five o’clock shadow of moss on his head and resembling nothing so much as a large stick.
“Groot?” Peter asked. “You alright, buddy?” Groot unfurled enough to show his face, nodded briskly, and then returned to bonsai mode.
Peter shrugged and turned back to Gamora, who had left her chair to consult with Drax. He said something back to her, gesturing with his utensils, then gave his full attention to his work. “Just take one of us, then,” she said to Peter, sliding back into her chair. “They won’t know anything is amiss if we simply follow without speaking.”
Peter shook his head. “What happens when someone in there raises his voice and Drax decides we’re being threatened? Uh, when you translate that, try not to let him know I don’t trust him to not kill everyone in the room, but between you and me, I don’t.”
Gamora considered. “I see your point. So I’ll accompany you, then.” After one look at Peter’s guilty face, she burst out, “Oh, for the sake of all the stars, what could you possibly fear I will do?”
“It’s not what you’ll do.” He reached across the table and touched her collarbone - tenderly, but deliberately drawing her attention to the metal augmentations just under her skin, invisible but unnaturally hard and angular on his fingertips. “We don’t know what’s causing our stuff to break down in there, but the stuff, we can risk. You’re not stuff, Gamora.”
She clasped a hand over his, eyes growing bigger. “If my cybernetics malfunctioned, I could lose the loss of my limbs or senses.”
Peter looked away, afraid he would choke up if they explored that train of thought too deeply. Besides, they couldn’t allow Groot to get any more concerned about his friend than he already was, so he simply repeated, “Yeah.”
Gamora slumped, pushing her fingers through her colorful hair. Unwillingly, Peter found his gaze settling over her shoulder and at the image of Rocket, unconscious in a cage, on the receiver screen. He had left it up there to emphasize the importance of their current mission, but now every time he looked at it, he wanted to vomit.
Checking Groot again and seeing no change, Peter stood up and turned off the screen. He left the kitchen, clapping Drax on the shoulder as he passed, and climbed up the ladder to the cockpit. They weren’t going anywhere, but it was the best place in the Milano to sit and think. The edge of deep space sparkled around him, and he could see the pale curve of Earth below. Both seemed to be issuing him an invitation, but it was Earth he had to choose. Terra, the siren who had lured him in and betrayed him.
He heard the clang of the rungs behind him, but neither he nor Gamora spoke until she had taken the co-pilot’s seat. “Peter, my enhancements affect only my body. Rocket’s mind was altered. He could have--”
“I know,” Peter cut in, more sharply than he’d intended. He sighed and softened his tone. “I know. He might be brain damaged, or...who even knows.” He twisted in his seat to face her. “But right now, that doesn’t make any difference. Whatever happened to him, he still belongs here with us. Once he’s safe we’ll figure out if he’s changed.”
Gamora looked down at the planet, as he had done, wearing a sad expression. “Do you really have to go alone?”
“We can’t take any chances. I’ll be fine, ‘Mora.” He fidgeted, realizing how much he needed her company right then. “I just want this over with. It’s weird, I mean I'm worried about him, but I also just miss him. Everything feels so wrong right now. And I can’t stop thinking, what if I had to miss him forever?”
She smiled. “If only he could hear you now...”
“Oh, God, I’d never live it down. Don’t you breathe a word of this.”
“I seem to be keeping a lot of secrets for you lately. Maybe I should start demanding bribes.”
Against his expectations, she got him to laugh. Eventually, she got him to rest for a little while, too, reminding him that he had been up all night waiting for word from Rocket’s captors. When he was done with that, Drax had a hot meal for him. And when it was time to go, Groot bloomed at last and held out a smooth round object that hadn’t been there before.
“Is, uh, that for me?” Peter asked.
Groot nodded vigorously, but as Peter was reaching for it, he suddenly pulled it back, sprouted one oversized leaf from his hand, and made a show of wrapping up the little sphere before giving it away.
Unsure of what to make of this gesture, Peter thanked him and placed the gift in his pocket, moving with exaggerated caution to show Groot that he valued it - or possibly that he respected its fragility. Groot seemed satisfied, so he must have covered the proper reaction.
“He put quite some effort into that,” said Gamora, amused.
Peter shrugged and grinned. “I’ll take all the help I can get. Okay, guys. Last chance to get your Terran souvenir requests in.”
Tony switched on a limited array of lights in the lobby to replace the dying glow of twilight. Natasha and Bruce were already waiting by the door; Clint had preferred to conceal himself on a walkway two levels up, bow in hand.
“Shame Thor couldn’t make it,” Natasha remarked.
Tony shot her a look as he equipped his right-hand gauntlet and sauntered over. “Exactly how tough do you think these space clowns are?”
“Hey,” said Bruce, “when you meet some aliens, don’t you want to introduce them to your alien friends?” Natasha laughed and nodded, and Tony allowed that it was funny. He wasn’t accustomed to thinking of Thor as an alien, but it was true he was the closest thing they had to an authority on the subject of extraterrestrial life, and it would have been nice to have him here now. They weren’t sure about what was currently occupying him, but the garbled email in capslock that Tony had received from him suggested that he at least wasn’t in mortal danger.
The outer doors slid open, and everyone snapped to attention. As the solitary figure approached, Tony could see it was the same one he had seen trespassing, and again in the video chat - same face guard, same red jacket, same sleek weapons adorning each hip. As soon as he was through the door, he held up both hands, although nobody had ordered him to or showed any aggression.
“Welcome to the fort,” said Tony. “Where are your buddies?”
“You tell me,” the man shot back. Then he hesitated and pointed toward Tony’s gauntlet without lowering his arm. “Hey, was that you in the garage being all shiny?” He started to laugh. “Dude, I thought you were a robot!”
Tony noticed Natasha and Bruce exchanging sidelong glances. He considered firing a warning blast to show their new acquaintance the less humorous side of his armor, but Bruce spoke up first.
“Maybe you could let us see your face now,” he said gently. “Hand over the guns, tell us about yourself. No games, just like you said.”
The stranger’s slow movements as he reached for his holsters made Tony think that this wasn’t his first surrender. He offered each weapon by pointing it at the ground, so that Natasha could take it by the hilt, which was set between the two barrels. She examined them for a moment, clearly interested. Tony was too, but as soon as they were out of his hands, the stranger touched behind his right ear and the mask seemed to collapse into itself and disappear.
Clearly this was the gadget that took priority, especially since it seemed to be immune to the barrier against alien technology. “Are we bargaining yet?” asked Tony. “Because I want that.”
Natasha rolled her eyes, Bruce muttered, and Tony thought he even heard Clint sighing from far behind and above him, but the unshaven man in his thirties that the vanishing mask had revealed took it seriously: he instantly removed a stamp-sized chip from the spot on his neck where the helmet had closed into, and held it out to Tony. “Here, it’s yours. You can keep the blasters, too, I mean you already wrecked them anyway. Back on the ship I got plasma spheres, gravity mines, stuff you’ve never seen before.”
Natasha cleared her throat. “How nice for you. But no, we are not bargaining yet.”
She was right, Tony had to admit. Regretfully he restrained himself from snatching the chip out of the hand of the other man, who scowled at the rejection. “Well then what do you want?” he demanded as he reattached the chip behind his ear. “You sunk my battleship, okay? I did the hands up thing, I disarmed way beyond standard protocol. My name is Peter Quill. I’m from Missouri. I’m not here to fight but you dickbrains took my friend and I’m not leaving until I get him back, so start telling me how to do that!” He looked at Natasha and added politely, “I’m sorry miss, I didn’t mean to call you a dickbrain.”
There was a long pause. “Oh, boy,” said Tony. “I don’t even know where to start.”
Bruce did. “We just want everything to be clear,” he said in that calming voice of his. “If you’re going to cooperate, thanks for that. Just a few questions. Who do you work for?”
“No one,” answered the alleged Peter Quill immediately with an undertone of pride, before backtracking in the next second. “Okay, kind of Nova Corps, but mostly we’re self-employed.”
“As what?” asked Tony.
“Who’s ‘we’?” asked Natasha.
“And who’s Nova Corps?” added Bruce.
Quill responded to the cascade of questions with a half-smile, but his response came out in an unexpectedly quiet, dark tone. “There’s gonna be a day you guys will wish you had our help. You don’t know Nova Corps but Thanos knows you. Bad combination.” He clapped his hands together and carried on in a stronger voice. “Alright, you got questions, I got answers. But first I need proof I’m not here for nothing. Show me to Rocket.”
Tony checked the reactions of the others. They seemed as genuinely confused as he was, so he went ahead and asked the obvious question. “What rocket?”