Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Rating: General (some language, some violence, some creepy stuff)
Wordcount: This part, 2419
Characters/Pairing: Peter&Rocket; Tony/Pepper; Peter/women in general
Summary: Peter has figured out how to break out of the Avengers' base of operations, and now he needs to get back in.
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.
Peter hadn’t gotten far when he heard Rocket calling behind him, but he ignored him and kept walking. The rain was coming down hard now, but if he cut through the alleys, there were awnings and fire escapes overhead to lessen it.
Then Rocket called out in a tone of sheer exasperation, “Come on, Quill, what’s the big deal?” and Peter’s temper left him. He whirled around to face Rocket, who was holding the poncho rather than wearing it and thus faring no better in the rain than Peter himself. His wet fur gave him an especially pathetic appearance, but Peter was in no mood to sympathize.
“What’s the big deal?” he echoed. “We left four unconscious people in there! If there was ever a good reason to blow up a building, I’d say that pretty much nullifies it.”
“They’re gonna wake up any minute. They’ll be out looking for us when it goes down.”
Peter clutched his head with both hands. “We’re not taking that chance! We don’t do this! What the hell happened to you, man? How are we even having this conversation?” He drew a deep breath. “Fuck. How long do I have before the bomb detona - you know what, forget it. Asking for your help is obviously the second stupidest thing I’ve ever done, right after telling the Avengers that you’re not a killer.”
Rocket’s eyes narrowed, his teeth just slightly bared, but for once, the dangerous side of him that Peter knew all too well wasn’t shining through. Without his weapons or tools or Groot, he was no physical threat to speak of, and it had cost him the confidence that let him swagger around like nothing could get in his way. He was a little wet raccoon with only his wits to rely on, and he knew it. “You want to know what happened to me?” he hissed.
“Yeah!” Peter fired back at him. “I do! I want to know anything about you! Yesterday I thought I did, and now I find out you’re the kind of guy who can take out a planet’s only hero group in a fit of explosive apathy, so yeah, I could use something to fill in the fucking gaps there!”
“Hero group?” Rocket spat. “Makers ain’t heroes. They ain’t even people.”
The contempt that he managed to inject into the word “makers” made it clear that it held some special significance for him, but this wasn’t the time to find out more. “Look, I don’t know what that means. But if it’s something you tell yourself to justify what you’re doing here, I’m calling it irrelevant.”
“I’m saving us, you idiot,” Rocket growled. “You got no idea what they’re capable of. You think you’re out, they haul you right back in. This is the only way.”
“This is nutzoid!” Peter knew he should just keep walking, but he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You don’t know who they are, what they’re like. You didn’t even talk to them!”
Rocket’s response cut right through the rain and echoed against the walls of the alley. "They put me in a cage!"
Peter turned away, took a few aimless steps, and turned back. “Rocket, the first time we met, you and Groot put me in a sack. Have I tried to blow you up?”
“That’s different! You know it is! You never got your brain rewired. Nobody ever left you in a vise for sixteen hours straight. Made you perform tasks A, B, and C before you got your d’ast two ounces a’ water…” He threw down the poncho and wiped his hands uselessly across his drenched face.
A wave of nausea hit Peter. He had imagined, perhaps naively, that if Rocket ever opened up about his past, he could offer him the support and catharsis that would guide him into a more peaceful existence. But that scenario was supposed to play out in a safe, private place within easy reach of music and booze and three other Guardians, not like this. Not with lives at stake and the clock ticking and Peter himself too conflicted to be sure about anything but the sob in Rocket’s voice.
“Jesus, Rocket,” he breathed. “Did you think you couldn’t tell me you were afraid? You think there’s anything I wouldn’t do to keep you from suffering any more? If I could find those pricks who did the experiments…” He squeezed his eyes shut, overcome. “Nothing would stop me, man. We would hunt them down if it meant crossing the universe. We’d make them pay. Sure as hell wouldn’t let anyone try to use you again.” The words were coming without any forethought, but he knew they were true as he spoke them, and he went on with new resolve. “But that’s not what’s happening here. You never gave me a chance to really help. And I’m not gonna let you murder these people just because you think it’ll make you feel better."
Rocket was staring at him silently, a small dark shape framed in asphalt and shadows. He sniffled. “Don’t go in there, Quill,” he begged in a hollow tone, then added a word that would have been astonishing coming from him under any other circumstances: “Please.”
Peter shook his head, unable to find any response. He told himself that returning to the tower was the right thing to do, but that only brought him to the crushing realization that he was choosing the right thing over his best friend. He had known all along that leading the team would mean making the hard calls; he had never dreamed that the hard calls would be anything like this. Slowly he turned away and took his first heavy steps down the alley.
There was no need to look back to know how Rocket would appear now, alone and helpless in this unforgiving city. Above the splash of his boots in the puddles, Peter heard an increasingly desperate cry behind him: “Quill. Quill! Peter!”
He kept walking. Sure, he could blame this on Rocket’s own deadly paranoia. But whatever had brought them here, he knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Rocket needed him right now more than ever. Peter was abandoning him. It was the right thing to do.
Pepper still felt like she was never going to sort out everything that had happened while she was gone, but it helped that much of it had happened on camera. Jarvis collected some footage for her and filled in the blanks with a summary of what he had witnessed himself, beginning with the video conference that the spaceship’s representative had initiated just after she left.
As Thor patrolled around the perimeter and rooftop, she alternated between watching the footage and checking up on the four prone figures in the room. Thor had carried them into the campsite two at a time, placing Clint and Natasha on the bed and Bruce in a comfortable chair, as Pepper had instructed him. Tony was lying on the floor not far from her feet, but she had slipped a pillow under his head. It was more than he deserved, she thought. The chemical agent that had done this to all of them must have been released mere hours from the time he had called to tell her that everything was fine and it was safe to return.
“Skip ahead to the breakout,” she said to Jarvis. He complied, and the monitor showed the raccoon, that same creature that Tony had fished out of the control room wall, now wide awake and manipulating tools with sophisticated movements far beyond animal intelligence.
Pepper shuddered, thinking of all the hypotheses they had made when they found it. “Now zoom in on Peter Quill’s face,” she said.
He stilled the frame at the moment just before Quill’s mask had gone back on. Pepper scrutinized it, but the man wasn’t familiar to her and she couldn’t fathom what his intentions might have been in coming here. “He’s the same one that Tony fought in the garage?”
“Yes, Miss Potts,” Jarvis replied. “By his own admission.”
“Which means he’s got his spaceship to zoom off in all over again,” she sighed. “We’ll never find him now.”
At that moment, Thor’s voice boomed out from the lobby, so powerful it barely needed to be amplified by Jarvis’s remote speaker system. “Lady Pepper! I have apprehended the trespasser Peter Quill.”
Pepper wished that Jarvis had a face, so she could exchange a dumbfounded look with him. Instead, she rushed out of the room and down the elevator, which opened to reveal a rain-soaked Thor using his hammer to prod along an even wetter Quill.
“You’re Pepper?” he said when he saw her, and followed it with a low whistle, his eyebrows raised. “Hey, I know this is the wrong time, but later on I have a great story about saving the galaxy if you want to hear it.” Thor gave him a warning poke in the back with Mjolnir. Quill, who was holding his hands submissively behind his head, half-turned to shoot him a glare.
“No,” said Pepper. “That’s not what I want to hear about. Let me get this straight - you just escaped from here, and then, what, instantly turned around and came back?”
“Yeah, it’s kinda my specialty.”
Thor didn’t look pleased by this explanation. “Do not presume to toy with me, little man. You would do well to answer this good lady’s questions, and remove the puerile leer from your countenance.”
As Pepper nodded along, Quill took a step to get away from Mjolnir and held up his hands in an exaggerated motion before dropping them. “Look, I’m not trying to toy with anyone, the leer’s just part of my face. We can make a nice long list of all the ways this looks bad, but I swear I’m telling the truth and I really, really need you to listen to me.” He paused dramatically. “There’s a bomb in the building.”
“Well,” said Pepper dryly. “There are actually several, but we keep them inactive and securely contained.”
Quill stared at her. “I’m telling the truth.”
“Yes, you said,” she answered. “And why shouldn’t I believe you, after you and your furry cyborg broke into my home and knocked out my boyfriend and three of our friends?”
“Boyfriend?” He looked crestfallen. “Aw man, don’t tell me it’s Tony. You could do so much better.”
Thor, apparently reaching the end of his patience, grabbed Quill’s jacket at the nape of his neck and forced him to his knees, a move made easier because Quill didn’t seem to be offering any resistance at all. “It’s cool, Hulk Hogan, it’s all cool,” he said. “Just here to deliver a message. Whatever you want to do about me is fine, long as you’re listening.”
“We’re listening,” she assured him, and meant it: no matter how outlandish the circumstances, a bomb threat wasn’t something to ignore. As soon as Tony was awake, he would be able to discern if it was legitimate.“Thor, let him up,” she requested. “We have to hear him out until we can make some kind of sense of this.”
“Oh,” said Quill, eyeing him. “You’re Thor? I know someone whose sister might have a blurry picture of you.”
Thor kept his hammer arm near Quill’s shoulders. “You may rise when you are outfitted with proper restraints,” he informed him.
“He’s cooperating,” Pepper protested.
“Then he shall not object to donning handcuffs.”
Quill sighed loudly. The elevator door opened.
Pepper gasped as Tony stumbled halfway out, leaning against the door, then shoved himself upright again and managed to stand unsupported for the few seconds it took Pepper to reach him. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders and showed her a brief, hazy smile, then pointed at Quill with his other arm. “Never shoulda. Pocket trick. Dammit.”
“You shouldn’t be up,” she scolded him. “We can handle this, just--”
His slurred speech transformed swiftly to match the fury in his eyes. "Cuff! Him!"
“Yeah, you know what?” said Quill. “I’m with them. Get some cuffs on me, and then can we please get back to the subject before this place comes down around our ears? I mean, does anyone else here not want to die?”
In a way, Rocket was relieved that he had to concentrate all of his attention on his own survival. Thinking about Quill, or the Guardians, or his future beyond the next few hours was too big to handle at the moment. Survival wasn’t easy, but it was simple, and he was good at it.
The first thing he did was find shelter from the rain in a basement stairwell. He gave his fur a good shake, wrung out his clothes and tail, and finger-combed himself into as much order as he could manage. The child’s poncho that he was carrying wouldn’t make him look like he belonged here, but it was dark in color and would help him vanish into the night, once he chipped away the sparkling bits on the back of it.
Now he just needed to find his way around. There was little chance of getting a scent trail to follow in this downpour, but he had already walked enough of the neighborhood to be able to accurately retrace his steps. The hard part would be staying off of the busy roads, where he would too easily be spotted.
So far, nobody but he and Quill had come down this alley, and if anyone did, there were plenty of shadows he could fit into until they passed. This was just another city underbelly, the same variety where he had spent much of his free life, scavenging for necessities and making deals with society’s rejects. Nobody decent was going to come through here to catch him.
He put the hood up on his poncho, left the stairwell, and crept along to the mouth of the alley. At the moment, the cross street looked clear to run across to the next darkened corridor. As he braced himself to run, he caught the sudden stench of Terrans behind him - two of them, adult males, unwashed except from the rain.
“Hey kid,” chuckled one of them. “You shouldn’t be out here alone. Let’s get you home.”