Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Rating: General (some language, some violence, some creepy stuff)
Wordcount: This part, 2722
Summary: This is where I stop summarizing by talking about who is trying to get in out of Stark Tower.
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 was still tugging his jacket on as he ran for the jet with Fitz and Simmons. He resisted the urge to check his blasters, knowing that there was little possibility they had been fixed since being taken from him. If this was a case of leaving the frying pan only to climb aboard the fire, a pair of weapons wouldn’t tip the scales in his favor anyway.
He was the last one to run up the ramp, and when it closed behind him he immediately turned around to look for a window, needing to know if an explosion would follow or if anyone else was evacuating. There was nothing but opaque walls around him, but Simmons had a comm to her ear and was saying, “Mr. Stark, do you read, we need an update on your position.” Fitz was rushing forward along with her, already focused on some goal of his own and nodding acknowledgement to the jet’s other occupants.
“Stand clear, Quill, we’re lifting off,” said Simmons, and Peter, realizing she was behind some divider that meant he couldn’t see her anymore, took a good look at his surroundings for the first time. It was clearly used as a base of operations as well as transport, and the decor was high-end and peppered with the same eagle motif that he had seen on the uniforms worn by Fitz and Simmons. There were a few strangers coming to greet them, but Quill ignored them, because they were accompanied by two others who were anything but strangers.
”Gamora!” he exclaimed as she dashed over to embrace him. He threw his arms around her and whirled her in a circle, knowing that he was one of the only people in the galaxy who could touch her like that and survive it, and treasuring the moment all the more. Amid her laughter, Drax placed a beefy hand on Peter’s shoulder, grinning with ferocious warmth as only he could, and Peter opened up the hug to get an arm around him too. “Drax. Boy, are you two a sight for sore eyes.”
Drax nodded. “It is good to see that you’re well, Peter, my friend. What caused the pain to your eyes?”
Peter found he couldn’t wipe the smile from his face, even with everything currently weighing on him. “It just means...you’re the first good thing that’s happened in way too long.”
“Groot is here too,” Gamora informed him. “Safe in the living quarters, but understandably nervous.”
Hearing that made Peter’s exhilaration begin to fade. “I don’t think I can face Groot right now,” he said. “Look, we have a lot to catch each other up on. And if these folks have been kind enough to, uh, to do whatever they did that made you trust them as much as you apparently do, maybe they’ll give us somewhere private we can talk.”
The strangers had been keeping a polite distance, although Peter could tell that they were listening, and didn’t hold it against them. Now, a middle-aged man in a suit jacket sidled a little closer and said cordially, “We’d be kind enough for that, sure. Of course, you’ll also be back at your own ship in a matter of minutes, so if you stay I might suspect you of trying to cash in on the refreshments we’d offer you.”
“Also!” called Simmons from across the room, holding up a finger. “There is the small matter of Stark Tower’s impending demise! I can’t seem to get a straight answer from Mr. Stark about whether Dr. Banner has safely left the premises…”
A young woman with long brown hair jumped up from where she had been perched on a nearby handrail. “Oh my god,” she said to Simmons, jogging over to her. “Are you on the phone with Tony Stark?”
Simmons flashed her a smile and replied, “Shall I put him on speaker?”
Peter stroked the stubble on his chin, surveying everyone in the room, then quietly asked Gamora, “Are we not even that interesting to these people?”
The older man made a courteous be-right-with-you gesture toward Peter and went to consult with Simmons and Fitz. Peter fell silent, thinking about the damage that the tower could be causing right now, and Bruce’s absence from the evacuation. Tony hadn’t given them any details and it was possible that there was another way out, but he and Bruce had both seemed so confident about their ability to reverse the self-destruct program that Peter feared they would dismiss the real danger until it was too late.
“It’s alright!” yelled Fitz suddenly. “It’s - yes! It’s past the deadline, the tower won’t fall!”
“How?” called Peter, but he was overlapping a cascade of questions coming from all over the room.
Simmons waved a hand, ineffectually, for silence. “Mr. Stark says...I’m sorry, I don’t understand. We were nowhere close to the solution when we left. Oh. I see. Yes, I - I’ll let them know.” She looked straight at Peter from across the room, then lowered her eyes and put on a cheerful tone that sounded false to his ears and addressed everyone else. “It was a decoy all along. A very convincing one of course, but Stark Tower was never in any real danger.”
There was a collective groan, but Peter turned instinctively to check the reactions of his own teammates. Gamora had one raised eyebrow on an otherwise serene face. Drax crossed his arms and said calmly, “She is lying.”
Without questioning him, Peter responded in the same hushed tone, “Do we need to get away from here?”
“No. They are honorable. But they’ve chosen to conceal the truth about what happened within the skyscraper. If we wait, we may learn more.”
Peter rubbed his head, trying to process all of this new information. “Where did you find these people?”
Gamora cleared her throat. “I’ll tell you everything once we’ve collected Rocket and gone back to the Milano.”
Drax backed her up with a firm nod, and Peter winced. “That’s one of the things we’ve got to talk about,” he said reluctantly. “And we’ve probably got to talk about it without Rocket.”
The man who had offered to take them back to their ship returned, slipping a phone into his pocket and holding his hand out to Peter. “Thanks for bearing with us while we get this settled, Star-Lord,” he said without a hint of irony in his voice. “We’ll be landing in Westchester before you can say what SHIELD stands for. Can I introduce you to everyone properly in the meantime? Is there anything else you need?”
“Just answers,” Peter replied. “And those refreshments you were talking about. And a complete spa treatment if you’ve got one, and some aspirin, and a way to go back in time a few days and do everything over.”
“Peter,” said Gamora, touching his arm, “we do have some good news.” She looked at Drax with a huge grin, then back at him, as if trying to build suspense but unable to contain her excitement. “...Kevin Bacon is alive!”
“And so is John Stamos!” Drax added, with equivalent enthusiasm. “Coulson the Agent has been helping us send them messages through the Terran method of long-range communication, ‘Twitter’.”
The SHIELD representative, who was apparently called Agent Coulson, affirmed this with no more than a placid nod and slightly wry expression. If he was at all dazzled by hosting a pair of aliens who wanted to contact 80’s celebrities, he was concealing it well.
Given the surge of hope he had felt when Gamora mentioned good news, Peter knew he should feel disappointed, or frustrated that there was so much more he had to explain to his friends than just Rocket’s status. But after one look at Gamora’s smile and Drax’s eager stance, all he could do was break down into laughter and hug them both again. It was good to be home.
Hours later, they reconvened at home in the more traditional sense, the living quarters of the Milano. Peter settled on the couch with one arm around Groot, trying his best to comfort him. Soft furniture made an awkward surface for someone who lived in a pot, but ever since they had broken the news about Rocket, Peter felt the need to keep Groot as close as possible. They knew so little about him that it was hard to say if his drooping limbs and sad little noises indicated a normal level of anxiety, or if he was in a bad enough condition that he needed to be protected from himself.
Peter had waited until they were alone to recount his story, beginning with his return to the tower and providing all the detail that he could until he reached his exit in SHIELD’s jet. Most of Gamora’s and Drax’s questions were unanswerable - where was Rocket now, why had he acted in such a way, how could they help him.
Other questions, like what now?, just needed more consideration than they could put in at the moment, and after he had heard the other side of the events from Gamora and Coulson, Peter had to wonder what should take priority.
“There’s just one thing I don’t get,” he said, tapping his fingers on Groot’s pot. “It looks like you were right to trust these SHIELD people, but back when they made contact, you didn’t know that. You said you were gonna shut down communications so you could cloak against them, and I figured that was that.”
Her response was somewhat frosty: “Are you saying I’m not authorized to make a judgment call when you’ve left me in charge?”
“No, dammit, but why? I know they couldn’t threaten you into docking, so what was it? What could they possibly offer you that would get your attention?”
“A chance to give a shit.” The words came out with vehemence, and they hung in the air for a moment before she continued. “They didn’t offer us anything. They asked for our help.” She stood up and turned on the ship’s audio log, which began to play an encoded sound pattern. “Listen. This is the signature of the preliminary probes that Thanos sends out to planets he’s targeting. I would recognize it anywhere. The SHIELD team picked it up on their sensors and transmitted it to us - they didn’t know what it was, but they deduced it was threatening and that we were not.”
Peter felt the blood drain from his face. “Thanos is probing Earth? Already?”
Gamora nodded gravely as she switched off the log, and Drax said, “This is why we came here, Peter, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Tucking Groot into the corner of the couch, Peter stood up and paced around the room. “Sorry, Gamora. You did the right thing. I just...we’re not ready. We’re so, so not ready for this.”
“We have some time,” she assured him. “This is the earliest stage in Thanos’s strategy.”
“And remember,” said Drax, “we will be stronger with allies.”
Peter leaned his head into his hand. “Drax, the thing about John Stamos…”
“I wasn’t referring to him. He hasn’t yet returned my ‘tweets’. SHIELD has professed a willingness to work with us, side by side, and they claim connections to the mighty heroes of Terra.”
“The same mighty heroes who now hate my guts?” Silence followed the question, which Peter took as an affirmative. “Not to mention we’re down a team member. I’m not saying we should back out, guys, but right now I have zero percentage of a plan.”
Gamora sat down on the couch where Peter had been, taking along a misting bottle. “Then a plan is the second thing we need,” she stated, spraying Groot at his roots and trunk until he stretched and showed some enjoyment of it.
“What’s the first thing?” Peter asked.
“The Guardians of the Galaxy.” She set down the bottle, folded her hands in her lap, and looked at each of them in turn. “All of us.”
Caroline came in through the front door of Jack Flag’s and headed to the office, only to be stopped by Jill, who greeted her with a breathless, "There you are!”
“I’m not late,” said Caroline crossly. “I’m not even on the clock for another half hour.”
“Yeah but your boyfriend’s back and he asked about you.”
“I don’t have a - oh.” She looked where Jill was pointing: Table 6, where a familiar hottie was sitting by himself and munching on an oversized order of curly fries. “Thanks.”
He looked up and smiled as she approached, although he seemed less childlike, more careworn, than he had been the first time she had seen him. This time was also less surreal, since he was just a human doing normal human things, so she slid into the booth opposite him with no trepidation.
“Sorry I skedaddled like that the other day,” he said, as if they had met on some casual social engagement.
“I always forgive a good tipper,” she answered with a shrug. There was a pause, so she prompted him, “Did you come back here just to say that, or is it all about the food?”
He gave an uncertain chuckle. “Actually, I was wondering if you had seen Rocket.”
Caroline pursed her lips. There was so much she didn’t know about Peter and Rocket. Were they the close friends they had initially appeared to be, or would she inadvertently end up choosing a side if she helped one of them out - and if so, which was the right side to take? Candor was safest, she decided, and told him the truth: “Last night, when I was in the alley taking out the trash. He asked about you, but told me not to say anything if I saw you.”
Peter looked rapt but sounded aggravated. “That asshole.”
“Have I earned a little bit of straight talk yet, spaceman?” She surprised herself saying it that way, but really, enough was enough. “If you and your raccoon are going to act like third graders, I’m not going to just blindly play along. Tell me what’s going on.”
He was surprised, too, but didn’t hesitate for long. “I wish I knew. I mean, we had a fight. I guess that much is obvious. But I thought he’d come back by now, like, maybe he’s still pissed, but he’s got nowhere else to go…”
“Did you split up before you went back to the Avengers Tower, or after?”
Peter’s eyes got big. “How do you know about that?”
“I was basically listening to your entire conversation,” Caroline admitted. It was easier than she had expected. “I’m not a spy or anything, I was just hoping you would say I was pretty.”
“Oh.” He pondered silently for a moment. “Do I owe you a date now?” Another thought seemed to occur to him right on top of that one, and he asked, “Hey, are you the one that called in the bomb threat?”
She blushed, not really sure which question had provoked it. “Yeah, that was me. I hope it didn’t screw up your plan.”
“No, I think you might have helped a whole lot. Check out that tower, still upright and everything.”
“Right,” she muttered, then blurted out, “You don’t owe me anything. But if you invited me, I’d come.” Having decided on candor, it seemed she couldn’t contain it anymore.
He looked dejected, occupying his mouth with fries while she waited for him to reply. “If we hooked up I’d still be hoping you would help me find Rocket,” he said. “And I do owe you more than that.”
Caroline nodded, neither relieved nor disappointed, and shouldered her bag to leave the booth. “He was alright,” she told Peter, “since I know you’re wondering. A little ragged around the edges, but nothing a good sleep won’t cure. I gave him some dinner and he ate it real fast.”
“Thank you,” he said with real emotion, following her with his eyes as she stood up. “You are pretty, Caroline. Gorgeous. An easy ten.”
The corner of her mouth quirked, not quite a smile. “Goodbye, Peter.” She tapped the tabletop. “Don’t short Jill on the tip.”
[Spoilerific notes here.] Hopefully this cleared up some of the hanging plot points, though there are still some left to resolve. If you felt like the reveal about Thanos was setting up for a sequel, well, sometimes resolutions will do that by nature. However, I can say with absolute confidence that if I ever write a sequel to this story, it will not be about Avengers + Guardians vs. Thanos. There are movies coming that cover that, even if they're not in my continuity, and it's not the kind of story I'm into writing anyway.
So why'd I bother adding that bit? Remember the beginning - Peter wanted to form an alliance with the Avengers, but everything that's happened since then has brought him further from that goal. Now it's suddenly more important than ever. That's the story I wanted to tell: the conflict that comes before the conflict. That's also why everyone's going to keep talking for a while.