Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Rating: General (some language, some violence, some creepy stuff)
Wordcount: This part, 3089
Summary: Impromptu dance party!!! and then things get sad again.
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.
Zoological pedantry break! There's a couple times in the movie that characters refer to Rocket as a rodent. This is fine, as the characters obviously either don't know better, or they're using it as an insult, but it also seems to have spread to the fandom here and there and I need to set it straight because that's my higher calling.
Raccoons aren't rodents, okay? They're procyonids, a family in order Carnivora which also includes kinkajous (so now you know why it's one of my pet peeves). Rodents are generally small and skittish with limited intelligence, and procyonids are clever and brash and just generally awesome. You can easily tell the difference by looking at their respective teeth: rodents' are designed for gnawing and Rocket has pointy sharp fangs, unless he's illustrated by that one artist who I can't stand.
So, the comics have a running joke about Rocket insisting he's not a raccoon. I hope the subsequent movie/s don't pick that up, but either way, it's not going to enter my fanon. Instead, I'd like to see him schooling everyone, accurately, on what he's not. This may help to explain a scene you're about to read.
Peter awoke to a sensation he was still getting used to: the Milano was lifting off, and he wasn’t in the pilot’s seat. He frowned, put his feet on the floor, and tried to rub the sleep from his eyes. His head hurt and his memory was foggy, but he didn’t get the sense that anything was wrong, per se. Someone had gotten him into his bed last night, and it was probably the same someone who was taking them into the sky right now. That was fine, that was something that happened when your friends lived on your ship with you.
Standing up made him groan, and he considered puking and then decided it wasn’t necessary. Another hour or so and he’d be back to normal. He should probably check on Rocket, though. He had a vague recollection of watching him creep quietly out of the bed last night and leave the room, but that was just as likely to have been a dream, jumbled together with hazy memories of accusation and painful confessions and eventual reconciliation.
Drax was the first one he encountered once he left his bunk, sitting in the cabin and poring over a holoscreen with Groot supervising from the table. Peter blinked. If he hadn’t known better, based on what he could see on the screen he would have thought Drax was researching raccoons - and so absorbed by it that he hadn’t even noticed him entering. “Morning,” said Peter, to avoid startling him and activating any warrior instincts.
His choice of greeting activated some confusion instead. “It’s not morning in our current position.”
“Okay, then, hello.” Peter approached the table to look over Drax’s shoulder. “What’s this?”
“I’ve made an error,” Drax said gravely. He pointed to an image on the right. “This is an animal native to my home. It bears some similarity to Rocket, do you agree?”
The creature was roughly the same size as a raccoon, with coloration and markings almost exactly like Rocket’s, down to the bushy ringed tail. “Yeah,” Peter affirmed. “But its face looks more like a...rat, or a squirrel...well, you probably don’t have those. Anyway, it’s not quite a Rocket.”
“Yes. Rocket informed us today that he is, or was, a raccoon. This means that he bears no relation to the creatures that I consumed in my youth.” Groot nodded along to the first sentence and shook his head at the second, and Drax fixed Peter with a solemn look. “I fear I may have offended him when first we met.”
Peter tried not to smile. “You know, Rocket can be a lot more forgiving than you’d think. I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Drax.” He held out his fist to get a bump from Groot, who gladly obliged. “Where is he, anyway?”
At Drax’s direction he headed to the cockpit next, taking a short detour for coffee. He grinned as the aroma filled his nose, thinking about the Earth coffee Caroline had served him in her diner. What made it so different from the mug of hot, dark liquid he was cradling in his hands now, he didn’t know, but if he ever spent any more time on this planet, he would be sure to bring his own roasted beans.
When he made it up the ladder, carefully balancing his cup, he found not only Rocket but Gamora, each in one of the piloting seats. They were arguing amicably - apparently, Rocket had used Gamora’s hair brush to remove some dried mud from his tail before showering - and Peter waited until they had each tossed out their final jabs at each other before greeting them.
“Thought we had a few maintenance checks to do before we were ready to fly again,” he remarked. They were still in Earth’s orbit, just above the cloud cover, but probably miles away from New York by now.
“Yeah, I did ‘em when I woke up like six hours ago,” said Rocket, tapping out commands one-handed without needing to look at the controls. “Can’t believe you left the ship docked on the ground this long, but she’ll pull through.”
“Uh huh.” Peter tried to match the energy in Rocket’s speech, and failed. The weary, vulnerable raccoon from last night had been replaced by this chipper version whose fur and clothing had never looked cleaner. “How are you not hungover?”
“I was when I woke up. Like six hours ago.”
Gamora added, “We were beginning to wonder if we would ever see you conscious again.”
Peter took a sip of his coffee. As he had predicted, he was beginning to feel better, but the coffee seemed fairly instrumental to that. “I guess I’m lucky nobody drew a penis on my face.” His eyes widened suddenly. He hadn’t actually looked in a mirror yet. “Nobody drew a penis on my face, right?”
“Your face is unblemished,” Gamora assured him, laughing. “We thought you could use some rest, so we didn’t wake you.”
He nodded his thanks. “So. This is something a captain should never be asking his crew, but where are we going?”
Before answering, Gamora and Rocket looked at each other, which made Peter nervous. He had assumed that they had simply grown impatient waiting for his directive, and were planning to determine an exact destination once they had left the solar system. But Rocket answered with no trace of a question in his voice: “Place called Missouri.”
Peter nearly choked. “What? Why?”
“Really, Peter,” Gamora chided him. “This may be your last chance for a long while. Your grandfather is in a care facility in Arcadia, but we don’t know how cognizant he’ll be--”
“You found my grandfather? How?”
“SHIELD,” she said simply. “Their resources are ridiculously limited when it comes to anything outside of this planet, but they had no trouble locating the surviving members of the Quill family.”
Peter didn’t know how to react. It wasn’t unlike Gamora to come up with a plan like this through the combination of her empathy, knowledge of Peter’s background, and budding friendship with the SHIELD team, but until last night he had been busy mentally fortifying himself for the confrontation with Rocket, and since that had been resolved there hadn’t been a chance to reset and fortify for anything else. “Thanks, I think,” he said.
Rocket looked over and up at him. “You can thank us by stockin’ up on pizza before we blast outta here.”
Peter raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you actually found something you like about Terra.”
“Not if it’s gonna have you fishin’ for compliments.”
There was a chime from one of the central communication devices, and a panel lit up showing that the incoming call was from Stark Tower. “The Avengers,” said Peter, looking at Rocket. “Do we want to get on video conference with them right now? I mean, the last they heard…”
“Was that Rocket’s part of our unit,” Gamora finished for him. “They knew we wouldn’t be leaving unless he was with us, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t see him here.”
“Eh, Pete prob’ly just wants to comb his hair before the ninja chick sees him,” said Rocket.
Peter examined himself: barefoot in his sleeping shirt and boxers under a rumpled robe. His hair felt like it probably did have a case of bedhead, though he trusted Gamora’s word on his unblemished face. He shrugged, downed the rest of his coffee, and turned on the screen which was set between the pilot seats. “What up, Earth’s mightiest?”
Only three of them were there, sitting in a room with a much more formal atmosphere than Peter ever wanted to match. Unfortunately, Stark was one of them, but his presence was balanced by the other two being Peter’s favorites. Stark was the first to speak: “Quill. Gamora. And...why hello there, Rocket.”
Rocket flicked a dismissive hand at the screen, as if he were above even answering. Peter replied instead, nodding at each Avenger as he named them. “Captain. Natasha. Buttmunch.”
Natasha took over, ignoring Stark’s humorously peeved expression. “Not for nothing, but radio control is going nuts with an undocumented ship in our airspace. A quick call to say goodbye would have saved a lot of trouble, unless you’re trying to be discreet, in which case you’ve failed.”
“I take responsibility, Nat,” said Gamora. “Our intentions were to stay clear of any Terran aircraft at enough distance that it wouldn’t be an issue. We’re not leaving the planet yet, or I would have let you know.”
“You’re calling her Nat?” Peter asked, not bothering to lower his voice. Gamora nodded, unconcerned.
“Just keep us in the loop as long as you’re on Earth, okay?” said Steve, making it clear that the request was aimed at Peter. “Little mistakes, well,” he smiled, “they can compound. Anyway, I’m glad you’re all back together. Rocket, we haven’t met…”
Rocket pointed one ear at the screen, then looked over his shoulder. “Quill, did you make some kinda flarkin’ deal where’s I gotta be nice to these clowns?”
“Funny,” said Stark. “I had basically the same question for Cap here.”
“The deal,” said Natasha patiently, “was that we all share information and offer each other assistance when it’s needed. I’d think our respective mechanics might benefit from that more than any of us, if they can get off their respective grudges.”
Peter couldn’t help laughing at the way Rocket and Tony reacted to that, both pausing as if this idea hadn’t yet occurred to them, then glaring at each other in suspicion and returning to tight-lipped silence in perfect unison. He shrugged at Natasha. “Our mechanic’s probably gonna benefit more from getting off your radar, no offense.”
Steve was beginning to look like he was under some strain maintaining his calm demeanor. “Will you at least tell us where you’re headed?” he asked, then added in a lower tone, “Do you at least know?”
Peter raised his empty coffee mug at him. “Hey, are you implying I’m not in control of my crew? I'll have you know everyone here obeys my orders STAT. Watch this. Rocket!” he barked. “Keep sitting there without murdering anyone! Good job, soldier! Gamora! Operate the flight stuff on our space machine!” He leaned back to hit the intercom button on the wall. “Groot, report for duty!”
“I am Groot!” came the answer.
“Well done, Groot. Drax! I have a very important command for you!”
“I am ready, Star-Lord!” Drax bellowed.
Peter turned on every speaker in the cockpit. “Flip the tape and hit the play button!”
The opening notes of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came in at full blast. Peter looked for a place to put down his cup, but there were no shelves in here, so he threw it over his shoulder instead. “I’ll tell you where we’re headed,” he said to the three baffled Avengers watching from the comm screen. “Anywhere we want!”
He struck a pose, hands behind his head, as the song’s vocals rang out with Rocket humming along and Gamora tapping out the beat on her armrest. Peter pitched his voice as high as possible to match the chorus, mimed a drum solo, then pointed at the screen with an imaginary drumstick just before Rocket switched it off.
The cemetery gates were wrought iron and tipped with spikes that towered high over their heads, but they were wide open, inviting mourners to enter a sunlit haven. Rocket liked the look of the place, so much more natural and sincere than the Terran version of high-tech that they had left behind in New York. Of course, so far he liked everything in Missouri more than New York. Peter’s origins explained a lot about him.
Before they went through the gates, Peter stopped and looked anxiously around himself. “Guys, I really don’t want to have a scene in here…”
Gamora looked offended. “Peter, we would never--”
“No, no,” he said hurriedly. “I know you wouldn’t. But this place is open to the public, and people around here, well, they’re not really used to seeing anyone who looks...foreign.”
Drax had consented to wear a long grey cloak with the hood up while outdoors on Terra, but Rocket couldn’t help thinking that he would still scare a child half to death if one saw him in a graveyard from a distance. Gamora was more likely to have someone try to follow her to get a better look. Rocket himself, well. He didn’t have to speculate on what would happen if he were revealed to the natives.
Gamora and Drax both nodded at Peter and agreed to keep a low profile, but Rocket took a glance upward and had a better idea. “I’ll keep watch,” he said, and scaled up the iron bars of the gate before anyone could stop him.
From the top, it was an easy jump to a tree which was tall enough to give him a good view of nearly the entire cemetery. The scattering of autumn leaves still in the branches meant that he would be hidden from anyone walking below, even if they chanced to look up. “Keep your comms on,” he called down at his friends. “If anyone’s comin’ in, I’ll buzz ya.”
Peter cast him a grateful smile, then said to the other two, “It might take a while to find her. Should we split up?”
As the three of them walked off in different directions, Rocket took a moment to appreciate the branch he was perched on. It had been a long time since he had climbed a tree without a mind of its own, and the scent and texture of it were unexpectedly welcoming. He stretched out on his stomach and easily found a comfortable position that kept Peter in his line of sight.
Much as the task of guarding the gate suited him, he had to admit that there was another reason that he had volunteered for it. The tradition of burying the dead and marking the spot to visit was far from unique to Terra, but Rocket had never been to a burial ground for visitation purposes. He understood that it would be an emotional experience for Peter to see his mother’s headstone for the first time, and that it was necessary. What he didn’t know was how to help. He was just barely getting accustomed to the idea of accepting support when he needed it; reciprocating was something else altogether.
Below him, his friends were ambling down three separate gravel pathways, each figure growing smaller but still recognizable for now. Peter walked at a faster pace than the other two, needing less time to check the names on the stones before he moved on.
Rocket wondered how it would feel to visit a grave for Lylla at a place like this. It was odd to imagine her name on a stone when he was the only one who had known it while she was alive, but maybe she would have liked the thought that he was still here to honor her memory. When he tried to imagine what he would say to her, though, he came up empty. What kind of apology could make up for the way she had died, alone and afraid and caged? Whatever intelligence he had been given, however sophisticated his embedded translator chip, there were some words that he would never be able to find when he needed them. That was why he was up here now, keeping everyone safe from his sharp tongue and damaged mind.
Looking down he saw that Peter had stopped somewhere near the center of the cemetery, and was now kneeling in front of a headstone that had no visible distinguishing features from this vantage point. He must have needed a moment to himself before calling out to the others that they could stop searching. Rocket leaned forward, trying to see or hear more detail. Was Peter crying? Was he talking to his mother’s ghost? What would he say to her? Maybe he was still burdened with the “personal stuff” he had described about his home and family and the distance from them he had developed over the years. Maybe Rocket’s old shame over failing to set Lylla free was not that different.
If Peter was crying now, it was the first time Rocket was witness to it, but it wasn’t for the first time today. He had emerged from his grandfather’s nursing home with red eyes and a hoarse voice, saying only that it had been “intense” and that he wanted to make a sizeable donation to the facility. Rocket had withdrawn as soon as possible to hide his jealousy. Peter had claimed that the Guardians were all he had, but that was less of a truth for him than it was for any of them. Rocket wished he had his own dying grandfather to visit on a home planet. He wished he was able to meet the dying grandfather without frightening him. He wished he could be the dying grandfather.
Gamora was first to discover Peter in his current location. She approached him slowly, respectfully, but he stood up as soon as he saw her and beckoned, and soon they were arm in arm, staring at the grave together. In a few minutes, Drax showed up in the same way and joined the silent vigil, one hand resting on Peter’s back. Rocket’s lingering resentment filtered out as he watched. They deserved some peace. That was all this was about, really. Finding people to love and wanting them to be happy.
His comm buzzed, and he saw Peter speaking into his. “Hey Rocket, is the coast clear?”
“Yeah,” Rocket replied after a quick look around the other side of the gate. “You ready to leave?”
“No, I want you to come down here.” Peter turned and waved toward the tree, though he wouldn’t be able to see Rocket himself. “It’s group hug time and you’re not exempt.”
Rocket hesitated, nonplussed. Then he answered, “Aye-aye,” and headed down the lowest-hanging branch. Before leaping to the ground, he snapped off a twig and tucked it in his belt for Groot. He didn’t understand why Groot would want a piece of Terran tree, but he knew he would.
He didn’t understand why the team still wanted him, why they were smiling at him even now as he walked toward them, but he knew they did. He was where he belonged.
Additional author's note: So that's effectively the end of the story, but since you're my friends I'll also let you know I'm planning on a short, single-scene epilogue with no essential content.
Not sure what else to say in farewell-to-the-story terms. I'll miss it but I'm really glad it's going to be completed by the end of the year.