Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: 2958 (wow!)
Characters/Pairing: Peter&Rocket; Tony/Pepper; Clint/Natasha; Bruce and some other guys show up here and there too
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.
Notes: I looked up "whump" the other day after seeing it in some story summaries on Ao3, and then today I finished this chapter and thought, whoa. I write whump. I wouldn't say I'm proud of it but this is what Rocket does to me.
Overall, though, I've gotten attached to this story and it feels good to have picked up another fandom I can confidently write for. The reviews have been enthusiastic, and on FF.net it's recently overtaken "Let Me In" (which has been up for nearly seven years!) for follows. So, to all readers and GotG fans, I mean this from the bottom of my heart: go whump yourselves.
Everything was going to hell, but after Quill arrived in the cell, unaccompanied and not visibly harmed, Rocket had to admit the situation showed a few improvements, too. For one thing, conversing with him seemed to lend some structure to the primordial deluge that had engulfed Rocket’s mind since he had come into the tower. He didn’t have his language back, but he could have a thought and make a sound and Quill would know the word that it meant, and that helped Rocket solidify the concept in his own mind.
It also helped that Quill still had those big comforting hands and that obnoxious habit of prattling on about some inane topic in his big comforting voice.
Rocket hadn’t yet tried to articulate their latest problem, but he knew he would have to sooner or later, because Quill wasn’t going to get it on his own. The poor d’ast idiot had come back here freely, surrendered all of his defenses, and even let these hobgoblins use their foreign instruments on him, inflicting damage that Rocket could only speculate about until he had the proper tools to take a look himself. Ten minutes of submission to an advanced scientist could have consequences that most people would never imagine. Tracking implants, mind control devices, time-release poisons...any of them could have been installed in Quill’s stupid neck and he’d have no idea.
Yeah, everything was definitely going to hell.
There was the temptation to be angry with him, but truthfully, Rocket understood. Peter Quill might just be the bravest person he had ever met, and he was strong and resourceful enough to come out on the better side of most of the risks he took, but he was also trusting. He believed in the good in people, from the women he invited into his bed to the Ravagers who had let him talk his way out of certain death at their hands. It wasn’t simple naivete; it had clearly served him well and it was what had brought the Guardians together, but there were some things Quill just couldn’t see. He didn’t know what kind of people the dark corners of the galaxy held.
Rocket knew. After he and his friend (he still didn’t remember her name, he noticed with chagrin) had failed their escape attempt on Halfworld (that name came back to him easily now, it was so literal), he had spent a full day in a new cage in an unfamiliar room without seeing anyone: not a maker, not a subject. The cage was self-cleaning, but food and water had to be manually refilled, and he was wondering if they were leaving him hungry as punishment when someone finally came in and flipped the lights on.
It was the one who sometimes spoke to him. Rocket stayed cowering in the corner of his cage, too afraid to even drink from the water bottle after the maker refilled it. During the experiments, he had never seen them lose their composure, but now? He had disrupted them, broken their equipment, fired guns at them. If they could find ways to make his life any worse, he felt certain that they would do it, and this one, who had made the effort to show him kindness, would be angriest of all.
The maker went on to put some dry chow in his bowl, moving unhurriedly but without showing any signs of suspicion. He was tall for his species, middle-aged with a healthy, wholesome appearance. At the time, Rocket had known a name for him, but he had learned that they all preferred to be addressed as “doctor,” so that was what he did when trying to be well-behaved, though the word seemed wrong to him. He knew the definition of a doctor; they were healers, not this.
“Go ahead, you can eat,” said Doctor in his usual amiable tone. He sat down before a panel on a nearby countertop and began adjusting the light and temperature in the room, and Rocket hesitated a moment longer and then went for the water bottle, sucking hard to relieve his dry throat.
“You’re a lot smarter than we thought,” Doctor remarked a few moments later. “I’m impressed that you managed to hide it from us so well.”
Rocket froze, a pellet in his hand halfway to his mouth. “Nobody asked,” he said, and instantly regretted it. He had to be insane to be snarking at his captor at a time like this.
The captor only laughed, though, and it sounded genuine. “You got me there. We should have. I don’t think anyone could have foreseen what you and Twenty-Four pulled off, though.”
That was what they called her. Short for 89P24, like they sometimes called him Thirteen. “Is she dead?” he asked.
Doctor stretched out his legs in front of him, folded his hands over his stomach, and gave Rocket a long look. “Why would you think that?”
“We were bad. Got away. Thought you would be mad.”
“Let me explain something, Thirteen.” He sighed and leaned forward. “Nothing is personal. That’s the first thing we learn here, it’s our mantra. If we hurt you, it’s not sadism, it’s the side effect of a goal. If you hurt us, we learn from it just like we learn from the experiments. We gave you the means to escape and that was our mistake; of course you’re going to fight for your freedom. That’s why we’re not angry - because nothing is personal. You understand that?”
It was more than anyone had ever said to him at once, and the first time that his comprehension of concepts like sadism and freedom had been acknowledged. Still afraid, but sensing this would be his only chance to learn more, he nodded and said, “Won’t get away again.”
He meant it more as a statement of fact than a promise, but Doctor replied, “I’ll say you won’t. You trashed the neurolab, so you’ll be in here from now on. We won’t handle you directly anymore, but we might be able to let you run around in a bigger space once in a while.”
Rocket shuddered. More time in the cage, and never being touched again. “What about surgery?” he asked. The room didn’t seem to be equipped for it.
“There won’t be any more surgery. You’re a finished product, pal. You have been since last week.”
The thought was barely comprehensible. His entire life up to this point had been composed of brief lulls between modifications of his mind and body. “Finished? But...why not kill me?”
Doctor barked out a laugh. “You have no idea how much money we’ve sunk into you. We still have a lot of research to do, but it’s mostly testing your intelligence, seeing what you’re capable of and how you’re affected by the enhancements as you age.” He smiled. “This is interesting, being able to hold a conversation with you. Are you having any difficulty keeping up?”
Rocket shook his head. He had been standing at the front of the cage, hands on the bars, but now he dropped back to all fours and returned to his food bowl, hoping that occupying himself with eating would give him a chance to process everything he had heard. He knew he should be glad to hear that he was off the operating table for good, but without his friend or any hope of escape, the idea of being a “finished product” was itself alarming enough. “You were nice,” he said suddenly. “Said nice things, pet me. Why?”
The maker looked faintly surprised. “It helped to keep you calm.”
An involuntary sound bubbled up from Rocket’s chest, and the translator released it as laughter. “Nothing is personal.”
“That’s right.” Doctor stood up and put his hands in the pockets of his short white coat. “But your mental stability is important for our research. We can’t let you near any other communicative subjects anymore, but we’re collecting specimens from your planet of origin soon. I’m going to put in an order for one of your species, to keep you company. We need a control group, anyway.” He tapped the top of the cage as he passed it on the way to the door. “So that’s something you can look forward to.”
Indeed. Over the next twelve hours of solitude that followed, Rocket considered the implications of having company. He had seen the “control group” animals come through before. They were left alone for the most part, but the conditions distressed them and their lifespans were brief. When exposed to Rocket and the other altered creatures, they showed only fear.
Occasionally, one would be promoted to replace a test subject who had died prematurely. That might even be part of their purpose; it wasn’t easy for the makers to get their hands on animals suitable for experiments, and if Rocket came to an untimely demise, he expected they would start over on the companion that Doctor had just promised him. Maybe he had started out as the control group, himself. With the haziness of his memory of life before Halfworld, there was no way to know.
One thing was for sure: the cycle never ended. The makers held all the cards, and as long as they were able, they would continue their experiments. It wasn’t sadism. They had goals.
The Terrans who had locked him up and captured Quill, they had their goals too, no doubt. He didn’t know what they were, and he didn’t care. He was in a sealed-off room in a tower being guarded by at least four powerful humies, with his suicidally valiant friend petting him while talking about candy, and he had no idea how they were going to get out, but they would. Quill would, anyway. He had done his part; now it was Rocket’s responsibility to get Star-Lord back in the sky where he belonged, even if the biggest obstacle to it was Star-Lord’s own innocence.
“Quill,” he said, interrupting another digression that one would probably have to be Terran to appreciate. “Are they listening in?”
The answer came reluctantly, but without an attempt to conceal the truth. “Only on me. They can’t understand anything you say.”
“A’right, so if I lay down a brilliant plan to get us out of here, and you say nothin’ but ‘Sure, Rocket, that sounds great,’ they’ll be none the wiser?”
“Yeah, but…” Quill took his hand off of Rocket’s head and scratched his own. “Look, they fixed my chip and let me come in here because I told them we wanted to cooperate. We’ve got some backwards progress to make up for, but they’re hearing us out and I think it’s our best shot. But I can’t do it without you, buddy.”
Rocket groaned. “That’s all you came up with? Cooperate?”
“I’ve seen you do it before so don’t pretend you can’t.”
“Yeah, and then what?” His tail twitched in irritation. “We make nice, promise not to blow ‘em away or nothin’, and they say it’s been a pleasure and show us the door?” When he got nothing but silence from Quill in response, he huffed, “Thought not. How’s a brilliant escape plan sound now?”
Quill promptly turned the tables and called his bluff. “Do you have one?”
It was still hard for Rocket to share a plan before putting it into action, partially because he knew the team wouldn’t understand half of it anyway, and partially because his favorite part of a successful escape was the moment that it all came together and he could see the realization dawning on everyone’s face. Not having the details ironed out first made him feel weak. Not having any details to iron was a serious blow to his pride, but today he had taken enough of those already that this one hardly mattered. “Walls are bombproof. I can rewire the door and get us through, but then your new pals are just gonna pop up and throw us back in. So no. I don’t.”
“Okay,” said Quill, not sounding terribly concerned. “Stop worrying about it for a little while. We got nowhere to be.”
Rocket leaned back into the couch, hugging his knees. He wasn’t about to stop worrying about it, but arguing wasn’t going to get them anywhere either. “And everyone else is alright?” he asked.
“Yeah. You want to call them? I told Gamora not to worry if we didn’t check in, but we might as well.” He looked up toward the screen where his own face had appeared earlier. “Yo, Avengers! I’m just saying hi to my ship, don’t wig out.” His helmet appeared with a touch of his fingers behind his ear, hiding his face from Rocket’s view but hopefully bringing them into some much-needed contact with the world outside of the tower. “Star-Lord to the Milano.”
Gamora’s voice came in thinly, even after Quill set the speaker to external audibility. “Peter? Are you alright? Did you find Rocket?”
“He’s sitting right next to me. We might be a while yet. Everything good up there?”
There was a pause. Rocket’s heart began to race. There should not have been a pause before she answered that question. Quill looked at him, and although any expression he was making was concealed, Rocket could tell he was thinking the same thing.
Finally she answered, “Yes, we’re fine. We’ve...been contacted. By someone on Terra.”
Quill’s voice was undeniably alarmed. “Bad news ‘Mora bad news do not get mixed up in anything while we’re still in debt for the mistakes I already made here, do you copy?”
“I’ll have to shut down all communications to cloak against this. They’re asking us to dock, and if they can keep us on the radar they may be able to force it.”
“Whatever you have to do,” said Quill. “Just stay up there where you’re safe. Find us when you can.”
Rocket raised his voice to add his own message. “And if you have to fight anyone there’s a crate of home brew grenades in the storage by the engine room, just twist ‘em to get the pin out, blue dot means double strength -”
Quill had signed off and collapsed his helmet again before he finished. “I don’t think they need to know about that.” He glared. “But I should have. Why do you have a crate of grenades on the ship?”
“I was bored.” He glared back. “So everyone else is alright, huh?”
Quill stood up and started to do his pacing thing. “Yeah, that was a lot less reassuring than it was supposed to be.” He ran his hands idly over the fallen and crooked furniture around the room. “Look, I know you don’t want to hear this, but we’re gonna have to parley with the Avengers. Even if they’re not the ones trying to contact the Milano, they might know something about it.”
“Don’t they got an ear to the wall? Yell some more, maybe they’ll yell back.”
“Rocket…” Quill sighed. He had just found one of his blasters on the floor and was aiming it at the wall to check if it was still broken. Now he put it back on the shelf of the rack that Rocket had attempted to tip over during the brawl, and turned to face him. “We’re never going to convince them we’re straight up if you won’t meet with them.”
Meet with them. Convince them. Be on your best behavior and you might get what you want.
Until the end of his time as a finished product at the Halfworld research facility, he had always been on his best behavior. If all they wanted to do was study him, he reasoned, all he could do to rebel was submit absolutely in the hopes that that would interfere with the results. He still kept his eyes open, ready to seize an opportunity if they gave him one, but they understood his intelligence and dexterity too well now, and they never made another mistake.
He remained the sole occupant of the secondary room, but he overheard that a female of his former species had contracted an illness en route and was euthanized upon arrival. So apparently they had tried.
One day, as he was being walked on his restraint pole, the screams of pain coming from the next room over got to be too much. He wrenched the pole away from the maker on the other end of it, bludgeoned him until he fell, and took his keys. It wasn’t a plan. It didn’t need any intelligence or dexterity. None of their precautions had accounted for it.
Rocket didn’t run for the woods this time. He didn’t look for any fellow victims to release. He went to the basement, the boiler room, the computer room, anywhere with a power center or a fuse box or a circuit breaker. As they searched for him overhead, he worked for hours to make the connections he needed and to conduct a few experiments of his own, and in the end, a single point of ignition was all it took.
He also, unexpectedly, found a vent from the basement that let him crawl through to the open air, dragging along an improvised wick that he then lit and dropped back in. He didn’t know what made him decide to survive this, but when he climbed a tree a safe distance away and watched the flames consume the facility, gradually but completely, a pleasing thought occurred to him: he had accomplished a goal of his own. “Nothing personal,” he said to the inferno, then ascended to the treetops to find out what the rest of the galaxy was like.