Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2766
Notes: Hoping to draw more eyes to this on Ao3 and FF.net; maybe it's just due to it being a sequel, but in any case, this chapter's gonna bring the pain and angst so I hope that helps. :)
“Rocket, what are you doing in here?”
“Takin’ a nap. Ran into some snafu while I was stockin’ up on engine parts. That dog from the Collection, he thinks he’s Head of Security now, how d’ya like that? Chased me halfway around Knowhere, the mangy mutt, wore me out. Anyways. How’d you make out? Got the lead you were goin’ for?”
Peter cast a significant look toward Keelah. “We’re a little busy to talk right now.”
“Oh.” Rocket peered at Keelah hugging the pillow to her chest, then repeated, “Ohhh! I get it. So you want me to take up less of the bed, right?”
“I would like you to leave the room entirely.”
Rocket huffed, but didn’t make much more of a fuss before he made his exit, tail twitching. Peter closed the door behind him manually, then sat down on the bed again, next to Keelah but not touching her. “I wouldn’t, um,” he began awkwardly. “I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to leave right now instead of riding with us to your station.”
The floor lurched suddenly. Recognizing the feeling of the ship lifting off, Peter rubbed a hand over his face. Drax must have told Gamora that it was time to go. “Okay, never mind. But it shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes or so to get there.”
“But can’t we still….you know?” Keelah had loosed her hold on the pillow, and her pose was seductive once again. “Don’t you want to?”
Peter was at a loss for words. Of course he wanted to. He didn’t know much about Keelah, but she was petite and lithe and eager, and it wasn’t as if he was holding her to any special standards. But why did she want to? It had always been his experience that finding a third party hiding in the bed was a buzzkill for women. She certainly hadn’t seemed happy about it a few minutes ago.
“Were you born on Xandar?” he asked.
Keelah recoiled, as if the question hadn’t just confused but offended her. “Why?”
“I just feel like, it’s a shame we don’t really know anything about each other. I mean, are you related to Marwek and...that other guy? What do you do for work? What’s your favorite kind of music?”
She frowned. “I’m not so interesting.”
“We could talk about me,” he suggested, grinning.
“I don’t want to talk.” She reached out and ran a hand up his thigh and into his shirt.
He caught her wrist and moved it gently away. “Keelah, this doesn’t feel right. I’ve, well, I’ve been with a lot of girls and I wasn’t always Captain Chivalrous about it. I don’t know for sure I’ll even remember your name a week from now.” She was looking at him like he had three heads. Floundering, he said the first thing that came to mind, which unfortunately turned out to be a quote from Drax: “A union without commitment is lacking in trust…”
Keelah rolled her eyes. “This isn’t what I heard you were like.”
“I’m not! I mean, I’m usually not, but I think maybe I should be?”
“Fine.” She reached for her clothing and began dressing in quick, efficient motions. “Then how do you suggest we spend the next twenty minutes?”
He would have pointed out that he had just offered a few topics of conversation to occupy them, but she had thrown down the question like a challenge. He had the feeling that the night hadn’t yet reached its pinnacle of awkwardness. “Do you….want to hear my mix tapes?”
She snorted derisively, but then brightened. “I know. Put the data pocket we gave you into your computer, and I can show you the information we have.”
Peter shrugged; he didn’t really need her to walk him through it, but he wasn’t sure what else to do with a woman who wasn’t interested in music. He fished the information stick out of his jacket and plugged it into his bunk’s console.
“See?” said Keelah as the screen lit up with figures and maps. “This is where you go next, and these are the access codes, and you’ll meet him there, and these are all of the captives.”
It was as simple as Peter had expected. All that remained now was to see if it would be comprehensive enough to keep them on the right path, and only time would answer that. “Thanks,” he said. “I’ve taken this route before. Shouldn’t have any problem.”
Keelah insisted on paging through all of the files and adding her own descriptions to them, though Peter thought privately that she was mostly pointing out the obvious. She stopped in mid-sentence when Rocket’s voice came over the intercom, “Pullin’ up to Paragon Eleven-Zero Astral Station, five minutes.”
“Finally!” said Keelah, switching off the console. She turned to Peter with a cheerful smile. “Before I go...one last kiss?”
After the way things had been going so far, it was a confusing request, but Peter was glad she was giving him a chance to make her happy in some small way. He took both of her hands in his and gave them a squeeze, and she responded by taking the floral scarf from around her neck and looping it around his to draw him closer.
Peter chuckled and closed his eyes. The tip of his nose brushed against hers. She reached up, draping her arms over his shoulders, and her lips met his.
Less than a second later, it seemed, she broke off the kiss, but her arms were still tightening around his neck. He opened his eyes, wondering if he had missed something.
Keelah was across the room from him. He clutched at his neck; what he had felt there was not her embrace at all, but her scarf, which was wrapping itself around and around him, rapidly cutting off his air.
“Bye, Star-Lord,” said Keelah, disappearing through the door. It closed behind her as Peter managed to suck in one more gasping breath and fell to his knees, clawing at his throat. The narrow length of fabric, or whatever it was, constricted like a snake around its prey. He wondered how it had seemed like such a normal piece of clothing while it was tangled up with Groot, and more importantly, how he had managed to get it off then.
More out of luck than design, he fell against the intercom button as he flailed. He couldn’t speak, but he tapped a quick SOS, said a prayer, and then returned to pulling at the scarf with both hands. Almost...almost…
The door opened and Gamora’s voice, like a ray of sunshine, cried out, “Peter!”
She seemed to have no trouble at all in tearing the scarf off of him. Maybe it was their combined effort, but she also had no trouble securing it in a knot around the bedpost while he was still panting and wheezing on the floor. “What happened?” she demanded. “Where did that come from?”
“My date’s trying to kill me,” Peter explained weakly.
Gamora immediately pressed the button on the intercom and announced, “Everyone gear up, we have a Code Quill.”
Peter staggered to his feet. “We have a Code what?”
She ignored the question and began checking her own gear, so all he could do was follow her out into the ship. “Do you need to recover before we go into battle?” she asked.
“Hell no.” He said it before he’d thought about it, but after a moment of sincere examination, it was still true. He holstered his blasters, fastened his helmet in its place behind his ear, and tugged on his boots and their jet attachments.
The other three Guardians showed up promptly, each already loaded up with his favorite weapons. “Was wonderin’ why he was goin’ on about an evil vine,” said Rocket sheepishly, tossing his head to indicate Groot. “You alright, Pete?”
Peter’s lips quirked into a smile. “Gettin’ there. What can you tell me about where we are?”
This would be their first time on Paragon Eleven-Zero Astral Station, but they were mostly all the same: ships the size of cities, home to thousands. The Ravagers’ base was a similar concept, but with greater mobility. Civilian stations didn’t need to move quickly; everyone on them was simply living there. Hopefully, Rocket would have something more specific pertaining to this one.
Rocket pulled up a map on the display screen as he answered. “We’re parked in a drop-off zone, probably don’t see a lot of traffic. Your girlfriend coulda slipped away pretty easy, but the faster we get out there, the better chance we got of roundin’ her up.”
Drax waited until Rocket had finished, nodded, and then said, “Nobody has asked yet why this woman would want to kill you.”
“And someone really should,” said Peter. “So that’s gonna be my first question when we catch her.”
“I am Groot!”
Peter tried to address him sensitively: “You’re sitting this one out, okay, Groot? Won’t be long before you’re tougher than all of us again, but until then we need you to stay right here.”
Groot wilted and made a sad sound, but Rocket, unmoved, told him to quit whining and then looked up at Peter. “He saved your ass, you know that? Rubbed the coating off the strangle-silk so it only gotcha at half power, and that butterface witch didn’t even know it.”
“Thank you,” Peter said to Groot, lowering himself to a half-crouch to meet his eyes. “And I’m sorry. I should have listened to what you were trying to tell me.”
Pacified, Groot retreated a step, showing that he was letting them leave without him.
“Let’s move,” said Gamora.
“That’s my line,” Peter protested as they filed out of the hatch and set foot on Paragon Station.
It looked much as he had expected. The docking area was through a wide landing portal, sealed off so that they were in an open space so cavernous and empty that the ceiling overhead might as well have been the sky. A few vehicles of transport and construction were parked to each side of them, but they saw no people.
Rocket led the way, not seeming greatly encumbered by the Hadron Enforcer he had slung over his shoulder. Drax and Gamora instinctively fanned out to either side of him, and Peter hung back, searching for an exit that Keelah was likely to have taken.
“We could split up,” Gamora suggested. “It will take a long time to search the station, otherwise.”
“No,” said Peter. “This place may be civilian but that doesn’t mean everyone here is gonna mean us well. If we find a bar or something we’ll mingle, chat up the locals. But stay within shouting distance of each other.”
As if in answer, a shout rang out from overhead: ”Now!”
Peter reacted before he could see anyone, firing both blasters in the general direction of the voice. Rocket’s reflexive reaction was a little more effective: he aimed his giant gun at the narrowest part of a beam supporting a higher level walkway, causing the entire structure to come crashing down in front of them. They all had to dodge the shrapnel, and Peter saw Drax catch and throw a chunk the size of a king bed, but when it had settled, they had plenty of cover.
They needed it immediately. The initial cry had been followed by gunfire from above, and now there was movement from the machines that had appeared empty a moment ago. Peter ducked behind the wall that Rocket had created to take stock. Drax had run in the other direction and was dismantling an earthbound dogfighter with his bare hands, evading its cannons easily by standing in between them. Gamora wasn’t visible, but before he could worry about her, she called down from a perch against the wall behind and above him. “There’s no more than a dozen of them. They’ll stay hiding in the machines, so target those.”
“Did you see uniforms?” Peter called back without trying to locate her exact position.
Rocket, crouched against the same blockade as Peter, answered instead. “Nah, these ain’t professionals. Add this to your list of questions for Killer.”
“Keelah,” Peter muttered, but Rocket’s version of her name was starting to sound just as accurate. He followed the direction of one path of laser beams and focused on its source long enough to stand and return fire, then went back to his knees.
“Gotta say, Quill,” said Rocket, “this is way better than your last plan.” He released another lightning bolt from the Enforcer and grinned as a bulldozer stopped advancing.
“This isn’t a plan. This is us being ambushed.”
“Yeah, maybe we should just not make plans anymore.” He lowered the weapon’s scope from his eye as he noticed something outside of its field. “Ooooooh. They got one of them rooster mechs.”
Peter looked. The rooster, so named because of the way it walked on a pair of digitigrade legs, was moving slowly and hadn’t yet fired on them, probably piloted by someone who wasn’t experienced with it.
Rocket set down his gun. “Cover me. That poor thing needs a new master.”
“I don’t think you should--”
It was too late; Rocket had already disappeared into the piles of wreckage, instinctively finding the path that concealed him best as he moved toward the mech. Gamora, from her higher vantage point, offered him more cover than Peter could, but it only took a moment before they saw the rooster stop altogether. The pilot was tossed out of its rear, yelling, and then the machine did a little dance, hopping from one leg to the other. Its lights blinked a code in Peter’s direction.
“He’s in,” Gamora laughed, stating the obvious. The flashing lights had spelled out “FUN”.
“Drax, get clear!” Peter shouted. “Rocket’s gonna go to town! I mean, he’s gonna shoot everything!”
One way or another, Drax must have understood. He sheathed his knives and hauled himself up to the next level, like Gamora had done on the other side. Peter sat back, chuckling. Every vehicle and machine that had shot at them was now getting paid back with interest. His ears were ringing with the sound of gunfire and small explosions, but somewhere underneath it he thought he could trace a strand of maniacal laughter.
“We should take one of them for questioning,” Gamora called down to him.
“If we can grab someone before they all rabbit,” Peter agreed. He checked in each direction, but nobody was trying to fight at close range. The rooster’s guns had taken over the battle so completely that there wasn’t much left for anyone else to do.
At least they were winning. He couldn’t say it, given his position of leadership and all, but Rocket wasn’t the only one having fun. If it wasn’t for his annoyance with Keelah and concern over what her intentions could mean, he would have counted this a pretty good day.
That reminded him. “Hey Gamora. What’s a Code Quill?”
He heard her snort derisively. “Do you really think we wouldn’t have planned for the contingency of your date trying to kill you?”
Peter was coming up with a good retort for that when everyone - friends, enemies, and occupied machines - stopped what they were doing to look at an incoming flying object. He hadn’t realized until now that the portal they had flown through wasn’t the only one: the lot was tube-shaped, and this was coming in at the other end. As it approached, he almost laughed, seeing that it was a pod not even built for open space travel, let alone fighting.
“Are those their reinforcements?” he asked Gamora wryly. The pod couldn’t possibly hold more than two people, and it was destined to break down the second it touched the surface, at the speed it was keeping.
And then all of a sudden he realized what that could mean. The vessel wasn’t trying to land and it wasn’t here by accident. Without regard for his own safety he left his cover and started running toward the pod as fast as he could. Gamora and Drax, he saw from the corner of eye, were swinging down from their respective hiding spots. None of them were anywhere near the pod yet when it came smashing down onto the rooster mech.
Just as he had predicted, the pod fell apart on impact. The mech fell apart, too. Everything around it fell apart. The world fell apart.