Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Rating: General (some language, some violence, some creepy stuff)
Wordcount: This part, 3149
Characters/Pairing: Peter&Rocket; Tony/Pepper; Peter/women in general
Summary: Peter's back in the Avengers' base of operations. Nobody's really that happy about it.
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.
The only thing that Tony did before getting Quill into a pair of cuffs - real, Stark Industries cuffs, not those flimsy things the police used - was to relieve him of his weapons, jacket, and boots. Pepper was giving him a disapproving look, like it was overkill, but if the asshole had managed to smuggle in a knockout gas bomb in his pocket, there were no guarantees on what he might be hiding in his footwear.
The first thing he did after getting Quill into a pair of cuffs was to reach behind his ear and remove the chip that contained the collapsible helmet. That much was definitely not overkill, and it wasn’t - entirely - about how much Tony coveted the device. They had all seen him communicating remotely with it, and the last thing they needed was more interference from anyone with a connection to Peter Quill.
Quill allowed all this with grudging tolerance, but when Tony took the helmet, he remarked, “You coulda just kept it when I gave it to you the first time.”
“Well, I don’t like having things handed to me.” Tony passed the chip to Clint, who had taken charge of the weapons, and looked at Natasha, who was searching Quill’s jacket. “Anything interesting in there?” he asked.
She frowned. “Snickers, M&Ms, snack-size Oreos, and a hefty stack of twenty-dollar bills.” She lifted an eyebrow in Quill’s direction. “I’m fairly certain none of those were there before.”
Tony thought he had reached the limit on how annoyed at Quill he could be, but this was a new height. He rounded on him. “Seriously? Drugging me and threatening everything I love wasn’t enough, you had to do it while spending my cash and eating my cookies?”
For once, Quill looked abashed. “The Oreos were for Rocket,” he said weakly.
“Let’s just go up and verify the explosives,” sighed Bruce. He looked tired - they all did, really, and Tony was still feeling it himself. The four of them had woken up around the same time, but Bruce, Natasha, and Clint had all done the sensible thing and stayed sitting down until they felt stronger. Of course, none of them had a girlfriend downstairs chatting with a psychopath from space.
Quill was nodding exuberantly. Tony hesitated, then motioned for him and Bruce to follow him into the elevator. Thor barely looked up from the conversation he was having with the others, apparently satisfied that Quill didn’t need his direct supervision anymore, but Pepper said, “We’ll be right up,” as the doors closed.
“So what kind of bomb was allegedly planted here?” Tony asked Quill.
“I don’t know.”
“How long do we have until the alleged bomb goes off?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who made the alleged bomb?”
At this, Quill leaned his head back and rolled his eyes at the elevator’s ceiling. “Do you really want me to insult your intelligence by coming up with a fib for that, or can you just assume the obvious so I don’t have to talk about it?”
Bruce took over as they returned to the control room where Quill had claimed they would find the alleged bomb. “Why would Rocket want to do something like this?”
“I don’t know.” Quill tried to make a pacifying gesture as they both turned to glare at him, though he could barely even rotate his wrists in the cuffs. “I really don’t. Something triggered him while you were holding him here. Or just the fact that you were holding him here triggered him.”
Tony opened up the panel in the central power bank and knelt down to have a look inside. “Hey, about that. I believe you now. He’s an independent entity with intelligence roughly on par with a human. But I hate to break this to you, pal: there’s still no way he could have figured out how to set a bomb with these materials in the space of a few minutes. Assuming you’re not in on it, I think Rocket punked you into coming back here.”
“But you’re going to make sure, right?” Quill persisted.
Tony gestured at himself. “Do you see me neck deep in it right now as we speak?” He returned his attention to the knot of cables before him. “I just need to get everything back into some kind of order and then I’ll know if he changed anything important. Bruce, you have anything for show and tell?”
Before Bruce could answer, he was interrupted by the door opening and the hurried clicking of Pepper’s heels. “Tony, we’ve been contacted by SHIELD,” she said before he even saw her.
“What do they want?” asked Bruce as Tony backed out of the gear compartment so he could ask the same question.
“They say there was an anonymous 911 call warning of explosives in the Avengers Tower. It was bumped over to SHIELD and now they’re sending us a bomb squad.”
Tony lurched to his feet, banging his fist on the metal countertop as he he came up. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Quill?”
“I didn’t call anyone,” Quill answered, wide-eyed. “I came straight here as soon as I found out.”
“Remember that video they sent us?” Tony said to Pepper. “All about how powerful and dangerous their leader is?” He pointed at Quill. “Here he stands, denying he has any clue about anything going on.”
Pepper cast a skeptical look at the man in question. “Wait. You’re Master of the Stars?”
“Star-Lord,” Quill sighed. “It’s okay, everyone gets that wrong.”
Natasha and Clint came in then, with Thor close behind. Tony tried to compartmentalize his myriad frustrations. “Okay,” he started, “nobody ask any questions or fill each other in until I’m done asking questions and getting filled in.” He looked at Pepper. “Why does SHIELD think I can’t disable a bomb by myself?”
“We haven’t even determined if there is a bomb yet,” Bruce cut in.
Quill spoke up again, louder this time. “Whoa whoa whoa, I didn’t come back here to tell you to disable anything. I came to tell you to evacuate this place!”
“Shut up!” Tony barked back at him, then said to everyone else, “Look, if there’s a bomb, which there isn’t, I’ll take care of it. I am a genius by the impartial standards of any rational thinker, and I’m the one who made everything that blinks or hums in here. If you think a crazed woodland creature can waltz in and use it against me, feel free to get out of my house.” He pointed at Quill. “Except you. You’re staying here.”
Quill scoffed. “So how do you think he shut down your security and busted us out of your safe room? Making a lot of lucky guesses?”
Pepper was giving Tony the side-eye paired with a wry smirk. “He has a point, you know.” Before he could try to come up with an argument, she continued, “Anyway, SHIELD already has those agents on the way and we won’t be able to change their minds, so you might as well accept their help.”
Thor came into the middle of the room and stood next to Tony, frowning at the power center. “The creature from the recorded film, he forced entry into this area?”
“I said no questions,” said Tony.
Pepper answered anyway: “He climbed in through the wall and cut the power in the lower levels. He even activated some of the armor to try to keep us from catching him while we were in here.”
“Wait,” said Quill. “Then how did you catch him?” Tony sighed and decided that the best idea would just be to tune everyone out. He went back to sorting cables.
“This is Tony’s workshop,” Pepper shrugged. “His voice overrides everything.”
Quill took a few steps toward them, silent in his socked feet. “Okay, Rocket would learn from that for sure,” he said. “Whatever he did, voice recognition isn’t going to make a difference this time.”
Clint and Natasha had been consulting with each other quietly in the corner. Now Natasha raised her voice with a hard edge of command to it. “Maybe you’d better stay out of this from now on, Quill.”
“Natasha, I’m trying to help!” he snapped back. “I don’t want this to happen, okay? To any of us,” he added, then went on in a calmer tone, “You guys should check in the hole in the wall. He jumped back in there after he fixed his translator, and I think he was holding something.”
Bruce obligingly peeked into the large gap where the control panel should be on the wall. “Yeah, this looks off,” he said. “Tony?”
Without needing any further prompting, Tony darted over to the wall and looked in the hole, just as he had done when he and Pepper had first discovered Rocket here. He could see right away what Bruce was talking about, and he almost reached in with his bare hand before he thought better of it and ran across the room for a gauntlet.
Everyone thoughtfully stayed out of his way as he ran back with it on his right hand. “Keep your distance,” he warned them. “Could be sparks.” He plunged his fist into the wall and yanked it out again gripping a small power box that wasn’t supposed to be there.
“Uh huh,” he said, holding it up for the room to see as he examined it. “Yup, uh huh, this is it. Yeah, I know what he did now.”
“Is there a bomb?!” demanded at least three voices at once.
Tony shook his head. “No. Just like I told you, he couldn’t do that.” He exhaled deeply, put the power box down, and rubbed his eyes. “He just programmed the building’s entire infrastructure to self-destruct.”
Rocket gave the unconscious Terran in front of him his customary poke to the face to be sure he wouldn’t wake anytime soon. Taking him down had been a simple matter of striking at his ankles to trip him up so that he knocked his own head on the pavement. The other one had stuck around long enough to engage in a five-second standoff, but as soon as Rocket had pointed the first one’s gun at him, he had apparently lost his nerve and dropped his own weapon instantly when commanded.
Then he had run. Rocket hoped that both men were going to feel extremely embarrassed about this later.
On the bright side, now he had two guns of his own. He removed the holster and belt from his snoozing enemy and managed to strap them around his shoulder over the poncho, so he could get around carrying one of the guns on his back. They were sized for Terran hands, of course, and used a powder-ignition mechanism that he hadn’t seen in years, but he felt comfortable enough holding them and didn’t think they would pose a problem if he had to shoot.
For a moment he grinned, imagining the way he would tease Quill later on about the primitive artillery of his people, before he remembered. The grin faded quickly. Peter had dashed back into danger, and Rocket had stood there and let him. There wasn’t going to be any jesting with the team in his future. For him, there wasn’t going to be a team.
The rain was finally slackening, but he shivered anyway and huddled up in the corner of the nearest wall and fire escape. He couldn’t run from it any longer: it was time to figure out what to do. The Milano was the only way off of this planet, and the Milano wasn’t going anywhere without its captain even if Rocket had wanted it to. He had to find Quill, and since Quill wasn’t likely to speak to him right now or possibly ever again, he would have to find him the old fashioned way.
That meant the Tower. Rocket felt his fur standing up, his breath quickening, all the usual signs of panic. Going back into a lab after escaping was bad enough, but by now, the makers would be conscious, too. More of them might have returned. He forced himself to ignore his instincts. After all, he wouldn’t have to go back inside the building, just get close enough to locate Quill and then follow him home. The confrontation that would inevitably come after wouldn’t be easy, but he didn’t think Peter would leave him stranded on Terra.
If he did, though...Rocket swallowed. He would probably deserve it. All the vows he had made to himself over the years to never be Subject 89P13 again seemed pointless in comparison to the friendship he had sacrificed to keep them. He wished he could have been what Quill used to think he was: a kindred spirit, a warrior, worth trusting. But that illusion was shattered now. There was no face he could present but the real one: an experiment gone wrong. Maybe it was better if they never saw each other again. The parting of ways had already happened; why prolong it by tagging along while Peter got himself into trouble?
Then he heard a sound, too familiar to be mistaken, yet still just about the last thing he had expected. It was a gentle electronic tone, close enough to his ear that nobody else would be able to hear it even if anyone else had been around: his communicator was ringing.
Incredulous, he pressed the button and spoke into the receiver. “Gamora?”
She sounded irritated. “Rocket, where are you? Why isn’t Peter answering his comm?”
Rocket felt a spike of dread in his chest. “He isn’t?”
“Where are you?” she repeated.
“Where are you? We been waitin’ for your signal all flarkin’ night!”
“We’re headed to the Avengers Tower. There’s--”
“What?” Rocket screeched. “Not you too! Don’t go in there! Turn around!”
She retained her tone of unfazed annoyance. “Believe me, we won’t be staying long. There’s been a bomb threat. We’re going to collect you and Peter and then be gone - unless you’re telling me you’re not there anymore.”
He swallowed hard. “No. He is.”
“Just him? Why aren’t you together?”
What could he possibly say to that? They weren’t together because Peter was better off without him. Because Peter knew what he was doing. He would carry his message in and save the makers and then come out and fly away in the Milano with those of his friends he could still count on. Wouldn’t he? But then...why wasn’t he answering his comm?
His silence had gone on too long, and Gamora drew her conclusion accordingly. Now she sounded outright angry. “Rocket, he surrendered to the Avengers to save you! How could you leave without him?”
“He’s okay!” Rocket insisted. “I mean, he went back, but he’s not stupid, he wouldn’t just walk in the front door and let them capture him.”
“That’s exactly what Peter would do,” she snapped. “I have to go. Keep your comm on so we can find you after we get him out of there.”
Before he could find a response, the signal went silent. Rocket stood up, cradling the gun in his hands, and started walking down the center of the alley. He had no clear idea of where he intended to go, but his feet didn’t seem to need instructions. It crossed his mind that he was in plain sight for anyone else who might happen this way, but he no longer cared. He was nobody’s property: whoever found him could keep him.
He didn’t know how much distance he had covered or how much time had passed when he finally chanced on some signs of life. It wasn’t human - something small enough to climb around inside a dumpster was doing just that, and a few seconds of listening made it clear that there were two of them.
Rocket stopped his approach a healthy distance away, but they had heard him too. A pair of eyes appeared at the rim and caught the light from the towering buildings to shine at him in curiosity without fear. They were joined by a second pair, and then the first creature hoisted itself up and over the edge, descending smoothly to the ground.
Rocket stood numbly, brandishing his gun in a half-hearted gesture he knew they didn’t understand. “Stay in there,” he demanded in a voice that sounded raspy to his own ears. “I’m not like you. I’m not one of you.”
Instead, the creature came closer, scurrying forward on four legs and then sitting up on two. It was almost at his eye level. He had never had any problem seeing in low light, but now he wished he did. The face that was examining him now was too familiar: the dark mask, the pointed ears, the whiskers. He could see the ringed tail on the other one as it climbed down from the dumpster to catch up.
So this was why Quill called him a raccoon. This was what he should have been, what he would still be if he had been left alone. A witless, dirty, scavenging beast, and still better off than he was now.
One of them moved toward him again, and he recoiled. “I’m tellin’ ya, get back! I don’t care what you are, I’ll blow your tiny brains out!” They both halted, and he sucked in a breath. “So this is it? This is how ya live, lookin’ for your food in the garbage? Do they kill you when they find you? Do you even fight back?”
He put his gun down so he could sit, arms folded over his knees, head low. The raccoons were sniffing him, making light chittering sounds, showing no aggression and taking no offense. His own words must have sounded like their own language to them, he realized, since it wasn’t actually a language and the translator would have no effect on them. “If you could talk back to me,” he murmured, “think I’d ask for directions. Looks like you’re the only locals that would wanna help me.”
The female - the first one was definitely a female, and Rocket didn’t want to know how he knew - licked his ear. He began to push her away, but ended up just patting her on the neck. “Here,” he said, unclipping his comm from his collar. “This won’t do you any good, but it ain’t gonna do you any harm either.” The device clipped easily onto the thick fur of her ruff, and she turned in a tight circle to look at it, but didn’t try to remove it.
“Good luck, guys,” he said as he stood up and kept walking. “Don’t let each other down.”