Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Rating: General (some language, some violence, some creepy stuff)
Wordcount: This part, 3310
Summary: Time to face the music.
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.
Probably the second-to-last chapter. Been working on it for quite a while. Wrap-up. Booze. Unabashed platonic shipping.
“I am Groot.”
Peter looked up from the interstellar route he had been mapping. It was a surprise to hear Groot break the silence of the past few minutes, let alone with such loud insistence in his thin voice, when he had spoken so rarely lately. It had drawn the attention of Gamora and Drax too, Peter saw, and he exchanged an alarmed glance with them.
“I am Groot!” There was no mistaking it now; he was trying desperately to communicate something important, and none of them had any clue what it was. “I am Groot I am Groot I am Groot!” His pot wobbled as he thrust out his arms to their full length, and then a few inches further, in the direction of the hatch, and finally Peter heard it: a scrabbling sound followed by the metal shifting to open the door.
Aside from the four of them, there was only one person who knew the code to enter the ship from here. Peter saw Gamora and Drax coming to the same realization and rushing toward the hatch, but Groot’s cries were getting even more frantic, and Peter turned back to him and saw with shock that one appendage had surfaced through the soil of his pot, and he was struggling now to wrench out the other one.
“Groot, stop it!” Peter ran to take hold of the teetering pot, lifting it and setting it down on the floor while simultaneously trying to hold the little tree back from exposing any more of his roots. “You’re not ready! You’ll hurt yourself!”
There was a hurried patter of light footsteps behind him, and Groot finally stilled as he and Rocket came face to face. Peter finished pressing the soil back over his roots and stepped back, heart hammering. Gamora approached cautiously, giving the pair their space, and Drax finished closing the hatch and followed.
Including the pot beneath him, Groot was now almost exactly the same height as Rocket. Peter wondered if there had been some new growth since they had last been in the same room, or if he had simply never had a chance to compare them like this, both upright, eye to eye, inches apart. Everyone was looking down on them, waiting, as if afraid to miss any word that passed between them, even the inevitability of Groot’s side of the conversation.
But Groot didn’t speak, and neither did Rocket. Peter had never understood exactly how their special method of communication worked; Rocket was always more likely to answer Groot directly, or relay any relevant information paraphrased in his own words, than he was to translate, so sometimes it was hard to even tell which one of them had originally had the thought which Rocket gave voice to. They might be speaking to each other right now, picking up on nonverbal cues or sounds outside of Peter’s register, or this might be no more than it appeared to be - a silent confrontation, with nothing that could really be said.
Peter’s heart was already breaking for Groot, whose face was an open book of sorrow and confusion. Rocket’s expression was harder to read, but Peter couldn’t help noticing that he looked thinner, his fur was matted, and his clothing was wearing out. Finally he put his hand on Groot’s shoulder for just a second and leaned close to him to say something too soft for anyone else to hear. Only then did he look up and around at the humanoids. “Hi,” he said.
Whatever spell had been holding them broke. Drax crouched down by Groot, Gamora relaxed her stiff pose, everyone muttered some kind of greeting. “Are you alright, Rocket?” Gamora added. “Do you want some food?”
Rocket shook his head and looked at Peter, who was standing back against the wall, arms crossed tightly. “First could I talk to you?”
Peter paused to take it in, staring first at sad little Groot and then bedraggled Rocket, until he realized that the tension was building while he was holding back his response. “Yeah,” he said, and gestured at the door leading to the main cabin. “I’ll be right in.”
Rocket disappeared through the door with no more than one more quick glance behind him. As the partition between the rooms sealed up again, Peter turned to lean face-first against the wall and let out a long breath.
Gamora spoke first: “Peter, let me go in with you. I won’t undermine anything you say, I’ll just be there for support.”
It was a difficult offer to turn down; if there was one thing Peter wanted right now, it was support. “No,” he said. “I got this, Gamora. It’s a...captain thing.”
Rocket hoisted himself up on one of the chairs at the table they usually used to play cards, fiddling with the controls until it fit his height. He hadn’t really been gone that long, he knew, but the smallest differences in the ship were standing out to him. Ordinarily he wouldn’t have had to readjust this chair, since he would have been the last one to use it.
The minutes that passed while he sat there seemed like hours, but he was in no hurry. It had been days since he had located the Milano, but in the meantime he had occupied himself with imagining any number of possible outcomes for this confrontation with Peter, and most of them terrified him. He strained his ears for some snippet of the conversation going on in the next room, despite knowing full well that the walls were soundproof, even for his sensitive ears. Were they deciding what to do with him? Which ones would favor punishment and exile?
The door finally slid open. Peter was holding a bottle of amber liquid in one hand, and something too small to see in the other. He didn’t pause or make eye contact until the room was sealed behind him once again and he had taken the seat at the table opposite Rocket.
Without preamble he set down the bottle and unscrewed its cap, taking a swig before sliding it forward. When Rocket made no move to accept it, he said, “Come on. We’re not getting through this sober.”
Rocket shrugged and took his advice. The alcohol had a flavor he couldn’t identify, but it was strong enough that he would have to limit himself for as long as he needed to remain coherent.
When he had finished and pushed the bottle back across the table, Peter reached out again and opened his right hand to slap down a little item like a poker chip. Rocket was startled to recognize his own comm, the one he had given away just after Gamora had told him to keep it on.
“We found this clipped onto a raccoon up a tree in Central Park,” Peter informed him. “If that was supposed to be a joke, I gotta say I still don’t get your sense of humor.”
Rocket was about to ask what had happened to his acquaintance from the alley, but it was a pointless question. Obviously they had taken the comm and let her go. “Somethin’ gets lost in translation,” he replied.
Peter emitted a dry chuckle. “Doesn’t that just sum it all up.” Rocket knew he was thinking about more than the raccoon. Ever since they had set foot on this planet, it had been one misunderstanding after another: the elimination of their common language, the Avengers treating him like an animal and Peter like an enemy, the seed of mistrust that had been planted when they couldn’t agree on how to get away. What they had lost in translation was beyond anything Rocket had bargained for.
Unable to bear it any longer, he burst out, “Fine. I get it. I’m gone. But Groot’s gotta stay with you, okay? When he gets big again he can decide himself if he wants to come after me, but I can’t take care of him on my own.” He swallowed a lump in his throat and plowed on, “And I don’t give a flark where ya drop me but if ya got a shred a’ mercy don’t leave me on this hellhole, I--”
“Rocket, stop.” Peter pushed his hand through his hair in frustration. “Just shut up for a second. We’re not kicking you out. Why would you even think that?”
Rocket was at a loss. “Kinda figured you’d still be mad about the whole attempted demolition thing.”
“You thought I’d be mad.” Peter’s voice was toneless, his expression completely neutral. Sensing an impending storm, Rocket flinched a second before Peter drew a deep breath and all but shouted, “I’m infuriated!” He half-rose from his seat, hands flat on the table. “You betrayed the Guardians, everything we stand for! You betrayed me! I’ve never been this angry at anyone in my life, and that includes Ronan, Thanos, and my DEADBEAT. ASSHOLE. FATHER!”
Rocket quailed, but Peter seemed to be overwhelmed by his own outburst, and he dropped back into his chair and went for another swig as soon as the last word came out. While he was occupied with the drink, Rocket took the moment to gather up his courage to respond. It still came out as a whisper: “I’m sorry.”
“I know you are.” And with that he was back, the strange not-quite-human Star-Lord, with pain in his voice and compassion in his eyes and a bottle in his hand, offering all of them to Rocket. He looked down before he continued, “But I need more than that. I need to understand why you did it.”
“What’s to understand? I know you wanna believe I just made a mistake and deep down inside I got a good heart like you got, but be real. I wasn’t built that way.”
For a moment Peter hardened again, and then a realization seemed to hit him. “Aw shit, you mean that literally, don’t you.”
Rocket nodded miserably. “Real piece a’ work here. They made me smart, they made me strong, but they left out all the good stuff. Maybe it just wasn’t in their budget.” He focused on the bottle to avoid looking at Peter’s stricken face. “Look, you’re better off sendin’ me on my way. We all made it out of this one alive, next time we might not be that lucky.”
“So you’re giving up on us?”
Rocket had only taken a small sip, but he nearly choked on it when he heard that. “What’s that s’posed to mean?”
Peter shrugged one shoulder. “You tell me. You’re messed up, Rocket. That happens to people when they spend too long being hurt and having their basic rights ignored. Everyone on this ship gets that, even if we wish we didn’t.” His voice deepened, eyes narrowing. “But if you’re saying you’re not capable of doing the right thing, I think you’re full of shit. I know what kind of heart you’ve got. So does Groot, so do Gamora and Drax. That’s why we’re the ones who can help you deal with whatever’s wrong with you. Unless you decide we’re not up to it and walk away from us.”
“I…” Rocket didn’t know why drinking always seemed to make his eyes moisten, but the thought of walking away from the Guardians certainly wasn't helping. “This ain’t personal, Peter, but what I got wrong with me, ya can’t fix. You said yourself, I betrayed the team. Ain’t really a lower place to go from here.”
“Yeah, but this isn’t just about the team!” Peter’s vehemence had changed character; now he was leaning forward, full of intensity. “I mean, it is, but it’s about our identity, who we are to each other. If all you want is a paycheck and some war buddies, you can join the Avengers, but goddamn, Rocket. You can’t still be thinking we’re just teammates. You’re practically my brother.”
He sounded about as distraught as Rocket felt, and he finished by fumbling with the bottle as if unsure if it was his turn. Rocket pawed at his eyes; the concepts of brotherhood and identity were stretching his comprehension, and he wasn't sure he could handle whatever was coming next in this conversation. Nevertheless, he desperately needed to find the right words to keep Peter talking. “What’s that mean?” he asked, quietly and sincerely.
“It means it’s personal. It means you let me help. And you’re right, there’s some things that can’t ever be fixed. There’s a lot you missed out on, coming from where you did. I can’t give you a childhood, or a homeworld, or, hell, a species. But you made it this far without those things, and whoever that turned you into, I can take it. I’m not here to run experiments and I don’t drop my friends when they screw up. If you’re in, you’re in.”
“Just like that?” Rocket didn’t want to be skeptical, but if there was any fragility to this deal, he would rather see it fall through now than later. “Clean slate?”
Peter exhaled loudly, shook his head, and stood up. He paced in a tight circle, ending near Rocket’s side of the table. “We can’t make a pattern out of this. You flip out and kill someone, feel bad about it later, I give you a third, fourth, seventeenth chance? Not gonna work.”
It was exactly what Rocket had been thinking. This was it, then. He couldn’t promise that he’d be able to control himself, and he couldn’t stay with the Guardians if he posed that kind of threat. Instead of answering he reached for the bottle, but silent sobs took him over as he held it to his lips.
He felt a hand on his neck, pushing gently through his dirty ruff. “Hey, listen to me,” said Peter. “Come on, like you mean it. I’m sorry too, okay? I’m sorry.”
“Don’t make me laugh,” Rocket snapped, glaring at him through a veil of tears. “Whaddaya think you have to be sorry about?”
“I never should have asked you to go in there. I didn’t even think about what kind of danger there could be, let alone how it could affect you.” He straightened up from the crouch he had been holding, but left his hand on Rocket’s shoulder. “After I found out about what you did with Stark Tower, y’know, and I was screeching at you about how you never told me anything about your history, that kinda wasn’t fair, ‘cause I never asked. Scared me, I guess. Hopefully you’re too drunk to scratch my eyes out for asking now, but yes or no - have you ever told anyone but Groot anything about what you went through in the lab?”
Engulfed in a brief lull between the waves of emotion he had been battling, Rocket answered calmly enough: “You got it all wrong. I don’t really tell Groot nothin’, he just knows.”
Peter sounded stunned. “So...no one?”
“Is this goin’ where I think it is?”
“Yeah, I want you to start talking about it. But first I want you to forgive me for being a piece of crap captain last week. And I also want something way harder than that - I’m going to ask you to trust me even though I failed you once. ‘Cause, see, I learned from it. I’m gonna do better now. How’s that sound?”
Rocket finally managed to take his sip from the bottle, then cleared his throat. “Okay, uh, Peter I forgive you.” He blinked woozily. He was never going to get used to navigating personal relationships. “That felt weird,” he stated.
“I bet,” said Peter, relieving him of the bottle. “‘Specially right on the heels of probably the first apology of your life, right? Anyway, here’s the thing - I trust you too. You made a mistake and you know it, and you’re gonna promise me it’s not gonna happen again. Which you can, because you’re not some creature someone cooked up in a lab. You are Rocket...Fuckin’...Raccoon, Guardian of the Galaxy.”
“I, Fuckin’ Raccoon, promise it ain’t gonna happen again,” said Rocket, raising what he thought was his right hand. It was getting harder to tell, so he must have had more of the drink than he’d thought. “We should toast.”
Peter looked at the bottle, which was down to a half-inch of liquid. “Yeah but I only got this one, so handshake.”
Rocket’s hand could barely enclose one of Peter’s fingers, which struck him as hilarious. He released it and swiftly snatched the bottle back. “What is this, anyway?”
“Just some Terran shit. Stark gave it to me.” Peter made his way back to his seat, balancing himself with one hand on the table.
“Last I remember you were callin’ him Tony,” Rocket noted.
“Last I remember you were calling me Quill.”
Rocket considered that and nodded. Apparently, something had changed. “Okay okay okay but wait. One thing. What you said, back in the alley...about how you’d go find the makers with me.”
Peter made a sound of affirmation. “You wanna know if I meant that? I did.”
“Thanks,” said Rocket. It was only fitting, he thought, that the first apology and first forgiveness of his life should be followed by the first word of gratitude. “But we can’t.”
“Because I killed ‘em all.”
This was it; no going back now that he was finally divulging the full truth of what he was. There was a deathly silence, followed by a deep breath from Peter. “Alright,” he said. “That’s as good a place as any to start. How did you kill them all?”
Gamora stood over the couch, arms crossed, a smile playing across her face. She was thinking about her distant childhood, when she would fall asleep with her arms around the family dog, a loyal beast of a breed now extinct from all worlds.
Drax stood beside her, arms crossed, his features softened. He was thinking about Kamaria in her infancy, settled on his chest and dreaming of a future that he hadn’t known would be cut off far too soon.
Peter and Rocket, objectively, looked like exactly what they were: a pair of passed-out drunks. Peter was taking up the entirety of the couch, on his back and snoring loudly at the ceiling, with Rocket draped lengthwise over his body, head pillowed on his knee. Every so often, Rocket’s tail would flick across Peter’s nose, causing him to snort and sputter until it flicked away again. A few empty bottles on the floor were the only visible clue to how they had arrived here, but the observers knew it had taken much more than alcohol.
“We’d better not leave them here,” said Gamora.
“We had better not disturb them,” said Drax.
“We’d better not separate them,” added Gamora.
They looked at each other and nodded, and Gamora leaned down and carefully scooped Rocket into her arms. His whiskers twitched and he made a sound like an irate kitten, but he didn’t wake.
Drax then lifted up Peter, deftly cradling his long figure as if he were no more than a child, and somehow even managed to do it without jostling him into consciousness. He led the way to Peter’s bunk, where Groot was already keeping watch from his perch on the dresser, and laid him down on the bed. Gamora put Rocket on top of him, reconstructing the pose they had found them in. After a few seconds of stillness, Peter’s snoring started up again, and Rocket stretched out his legs and then tucked them comfortably beneath himself.
“I am Groot,” Groot whispered, beaming.
“Sleep, wise little branch,” Drax told him. “All is as it should be.”