Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Rating: General (some language, some violence, some creepy stuff)
Wordcount: This part, 2835
Characters/Pairing: Peter&Rocket; Peter/women in general
Summary: Peter has figured out how to break out of the Avengers' base of operations, for all the good it does him.
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.
If the young man behind the counter noticed or cared that Peter was laughing quietly throughout the entire transaction, he showed no sign of it. He looked up from his phone only long enough to get the requested item down from the wall and accept Peter’s money for it, and made no response to his cheerful thanks and goodbye.
The reason that Peter was laughing was that Rocket had been standing right next to him the entire time, but the store was so cramped that the clerk couldn’t even see over the counter unless he were to lean forward. “What’d I tell you, man?” he said when they were back out on the sidewalk. “Nobody’s even interested. Here, try it on.”
Rocket gave him a dubious look, but he pulled the garment over himself and wrestled with it until his head poked out. Peter immediately curbed his laughter. As a disguise it could have been worse; they were lucky the store had even had ponchos in children’s sizes, let alone a navy blue one with nothing more eye-catching than the letters “NYC” picked out in rhinestones on the back. When Rocket put his hood up, only his protruding muzzle and the tip of his tail were now visible to give him away. It looked like rain was coming, so that would help him blend in, too.
In other circumstances, Peter would have found it funny anyway, but the thin ice he was already on with Rocket made him summon up a little sobriety. He wished they could just move around at liberty here, have some kind of bonding experience to erase the pain of the past two days. He wished he could show Rocket something that would truly impress him, or just make him see this planet as more than a broken trap.
But here was the truth: they were a pair of fugitives wandering around an unfamiliar city at night, with nobody they could contact and not so much as a map to guide them. This wasn’t a homecoming, and since he had no intentions of detouring to Missouri before making their escape, it never would be. The thought of missing out on the chance to reunite with his remaining family members, if there were any, gave him a pang, but they had been getting on for this long believing him dead. It wouldn’t do them any harm to let it stay that way.
Oddly, Rocket didn’t seem nearly as somber as Peter felt. He was dispensing a steady stream of disparaging remarks about everything in sight, but for him that was just as likely to signify a good mood as anything else. When the rain began to come down, he pointed to a diner and said, “That doesn’t smell as bad as the rest of this place. They sell food in there?”
Peter grinned. It was just the kind of classic all-American burger joint that he would have chosen himself. “Have I told you lately you’re a genius?”
Caroline was taking an order from an elderly couple when from the corner of her eye she saw someone enter the diner and keep walking like he hadn’t even seen the “Please Wait to Be Seated” sign. People were always doing that, usually because they wanted to claim the booth with the walls on each side. There was nothing to be done about it, but it irritated her to no end - and sure enough, she saw as she finished up with the order, the new arrivals had gone straight to Table 6.
To make a point, she walked right past them on her way to the kitchen without greeting them, but as she did she realized she had just witnessed something very peculiar. The man in the red jacket on one side of the table looked normal enough, but what she had assumed was a child in a poncho on the other side was wearing some kind of animal mask. It was so lifelike that she would have thought it was actually a dog in a poncho, except that as she passed, she had also heard the man speaking to it in a dead serious tone that clearly wasn’t for the benefit of anyone listening in: “We need to talk about this.”
Fortunately, the Jack Flag’s staff knew something about Table 6 that the customers didn’t. Although the wooden dividers insulated the booth from the eyes and ears of other guests, they also made it easy to listen in, unseen, if one happened to know where to stand in the kitchen. Caroline headed there now, telling Jill as their paths crossed, “Dibs on Table 6, okay?”
Jill rolled her eyes. “Did someone seat themselves again?”
“Yeah, I’m going to let them sit tight a little longer before they get their menus.”
Caroline continued until she was right under the vent in the wall, and smiled in triumph as she heard the voice of Mr. Red Jacket coming through clearly: “Well, I’m guessing that’s the closest thing to a ‘thank you’ I’ll get, so hey, don’t mention it, Rocket, what are friends for?”
To Caroline’s surprise, there instantly came a response from a second voice, just as audible and definitely not a child’s. “It’s not a thank you. I mean it, Quill. You shouldn’ta come back for me.”
“Are you trying to make me regret it? Might be working.”
“They had what they wanted. They woulda left the rest of you alone. Little more time and I woulda got myself out, anyway.”
Burning with curiosity, Caroline went speed-walking out of the kitchen and grabbed a pair of menus. When she got back to Table 6, the man in the red jacket - Quill, she supposed - stopped in the middle of whatever he had been saying and turned to smile disarmingly at her. Sitting across from him, with the poncho now removed, was a raccoon in a jumpsuit. Not a small human, not a dog. It was definitely a raccoon, and definitely wearing a jumpsuit.
Caroline braced herself for the most unusual guests she was ever likely to serve. “Welcome to Jack Flag’s,” she said. “Can I start you out with something to drink?”
“Yes!” said Quill, beaming. He was, she noticed when she was finally able to tear her eyes away from the raccoon, about her own age and very cute. The low, argumentative tone she had heard from the kitchen was gone, and now he sounded boyish and exuberant. “Dr Pepper please! Wait, I bet you guys have milkshakes, don’t you? Wait. Can I have a coffee?”
Caroline blinked a few times before jotting it down on her pad and answering, “Coming right up. Anything for, uh…?”
She was dying to see if the raccoon would place an order in the voice she had heard from behind the wall, but it was Quill who spoke instead. “You should get a Coke, it tastes just like hishgar bark beer.”
The raccoon shrugged - so now she had seen a raccoon in a jumpsuit shrugging - and Caroline added the order for a Coke to her pad. She couldn’t bring herself to leave the table just yet, though. She took a deep breath and said to Quill, “You must get this all the time, but…”
He gave her that friendly smile again, over the menu he was now holding open in front of himself. “Yeah, he’s a talking raccoon. Neat huh? I’m Peter, by the way. He’s Rocket. You wouldn’t have heard of us, but we saved the galaxy one time--”
Rocket had just dropped his head into his paws and groaned loudly. “Do we have to go through this whole thing every time you meet a female of your approximate species?”
Caroline couldn’t suppress a little squeal of delight. “He does talk! And you’re, you guys are like, from outer space?”
“What gave us away?” asked Peter innocently.
She regained enough of her composure to return his sly grin. “Well, I’ve never seen anyone so excited over a cup of coffee before.”
“Just wait ‘til I get started on the food. We are definitely getting curly fries. Oh, and mozzarella sticks! Lots and lots of mozzarella sticks. Oh, but you also have chicken tenders, this is tough…”
Rocket unfolded his own menu with his dexterous tiny paws. “Is chicken that thing you keep sayin’ everything tastes like?”
“Yeah,” Peter mused, “but nothing does really.”
“Tell you what,” said Caroline, “I’ll bring you the appetizer platter. It’s got all those things plus jalapeno poppers. And...then maybe you can tell me a little bit about saving the galaxy?”
“Lady,” said Rocket, “you are gonna wish you had asked for anything but that.”
Caroline positively bounced back to the kitchen. This morning she had woken up burned out and angry at life, and now she was making friends with an intergalactic traveler and his talking raccoon sidekick before the rest of the world even knew they existed. She gave their order to the cooks and hurried back to her spot under the vent as soon as she had a chance.
The turn in the conversation that she heard going on at Table 6 raised her excitement to a new level. “I don’t think we need to worry about her,” Peter was saying. “Not every pretty woman is a homicidal maniac. She likes us.”
“You’re not gonna bring her back to the ship, are you?” came Rocket’s reply.
Peter made a noncommittal sound, presumably accompanied by a shrug. “If she wants…”
This was the part she definitely didn’t want to miss, but the manager had just caught sight of her from across the kitchen, and it occurred to her that she was standing idly on the clock and she had other tables waiting for her attention. Even if she did end up spending tonight in a spaceship, she would probably still need a job tomorrow.
By the time she brought Peter and Rocket their drinks, they were arguing again. “Hey, Caroline,” said Peter as she approached, as if he had known her name for years instead of reading it off a name tag five minutes ago. “First time in the city. Do we go to the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty?”
“Neither,” she answered immediately. “The lines are ridiculous and all you really get is some boring history and a view. Take a walk around Central Park and Times Square, see a show if you have the chance.”
Peter nodded along and raised an eyebrow in Rocket’s direction. Then he took a sip from his cup and gagged noisily. “This is Earth coffee?” he spluttered, banging it down on its saucer. “Do they make it with real earth, or what?”
Rocket ignored him, and showed no particular reaction when he tried his own drink. “By the time this rain lets up we ain’t gonna have time for walkin’ around anywhere,” he said.
“Did you get a signal from Ga - from the ship, yet?” Peter asked him, tearing open four sugar packets and stirring them into his coffee. Caroline wondered what he had been about to say; he had glanced at her very quickly as he edited himself, so she supposed he was trying not to reveal too much about himself and his companions.
“Nah,” said Rocket. “Still blocked.” He looked at Caroline. “What’s holdin’ up them chicken whatevers?”
She reluctantly went back to work, and, sensing that they wanted to discuss something privately, didn’t even stay to socialize the next time she came to the table to drop off the appetizer platter. Listening in on them from the kitchen was starting to feel unscrupulous, too. Maybe she should just slip Peter her number and leave him alone. If he never called, she could tell herself it was because he didn’t have a phone that worked on this planet.
A few minutes later, Jill elbowed her at the register counter and said, “The hottie at 6 is looking for you. What is that thing he’s got in the booth?”
Caroline blushed and thought quickly for an answer. “It’s an animatronic puppet thing. He’s been trying to sell me one, it’s kind of annoying.”
It sounded like a weak lie to her own ears, but it seemed to do the trick, as Jill quickly lost interest. Caroline made her way back across the seating area and smiled at Peter and the empty platter in front of him. “Well,” she said. “I guess you liked that more than the coffee. Ready for something else?”
Peter shook his head. “Actually I was - well, yes, we want another one just like that - but I was wondering if you could help us settle something. Were you here for the Chitauri invasion a couple months back?”
Caroline blinked. “The alien attack? Yeah. I’ve lived here all my life. I made it into the subways pretty early on in the battle, but I still saw...a lot of things.” Her uncle had died that day. Her high school biology teacher. More friends of friends than she could count.
Rocket was peering at her with an expression she could only read as skepticism, although she would be the first to admit she didn’t exactly know what a skeptical raccoon should look like. Peter nodded gravely. “So, what do you think of the Avengers?”
Just the name of the hero group made her break into a smile. Then her eyes widened, realizing that there could be a connection here. “Do you know the Avengers? God, why didn’t I see it, of course you do! But this is your first time in the city? Are you here to meet up with them? I can’t believe it, I’m like, witnessing history right now, my sister saw Thor once, I mean, we think it was Thor, the picture is kind of blurry, but I never thought I would actually talk to someone who, and okay I’m babbling, sorry.”
Peter smiled tolerantly. “So, overall impression is that they’re alright folks?”
“They’re the best folks there are. They saved us. This part of town wouldn’t even be here right now.”
Rocket exhaled in frustration. “Quill, one local who ain’t even met the chumps in question don’t prove nothin’. Let it go.”
“I think it does,” countered Peter. “Locals are the best source, you know that.”
Caroline nodded firmly. “Everyone you talk to is going to have the same story. Especially here, being right under Stark Tower.” She glanced through the rain-glazed front window in the direction of the tower. “I hope they open it up for tours once the repairs are finished. I’d give anything to see it from the inside.”
“Better hurry,” snickered Rocket, his voice partially muffled by the glass of Coke he was buried in.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He wiped a few droplets from his whiskers. “I just think if you wanna see that place, you better get there tonight.” He put down the glass and ducked his head, making a sound that she could only describe as giggles, his shoulders shaking along.
Peter was giving him a strange look across the table. Suddenly he turned sharply to Caroline and said, “Could we get some extra ranch with that next appetizer platter?”
“Sure,” she said, and rushed back to the kitchen, taking her place at the eavesdropping spot before she had even put in the order. Screw her scruples. Screw having a job tomorrow. This was important.
She heard Peter’s voice first, speaking to Rocket in a low urgent tone. “Be real with me, man. What were you talking about?”
“Nothin’,” Rocket insisted, but he was clearly having a hard time controlling his laughter.
"Rocket,” said Peter, anger coloring his emphasis. “I’m not joking. Look at me and tell me if you put a bomb in Stark Tower.”
Caroline’s heart was pumping furiously. For a long stretch, it was the only sound she noticed, though she pressed close to the wall and strained to hear any kind of hint about what was going on at Table 6.
Finally, there was the rustle of movement in the booth, and then Peter’s voice: “You are the worst wingman ever.”
She could tell he was getting up, and without a second thought, she darted out of the kitchen to intercept him. Instead, she was the one intercepted, first by Jill warning her that the manager had noticed her hanging around the kitchen, and then by the manager himself with a warning of his own. By the time she reached Table 6, there was no Peter, no Rocket, not even the blue poncho, just enough cash on the table to cover their bill three times over.
Caroline stood there in shock. Her shift would be over in twenty minutes. Maybe she should do as Rocket suggested, and go see Stark Tower before it was gone.