Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2350
Notes: No, this is not the product of a sudden influx of inspiration. It was already written and I was saving it for when I had stored up a fair amount of words beyond it - I haven't done that, but I promised Ao3 I'd update, and anyway sitting on it hasn't been helping.
Knowhere Central Office picked up on Peter’s third try, testing his already frayed patience. “Thought you were taking this job seriously,” he snapped when Cosmo’s face appeared on the monitor.
:Cosmo is beink very busy,: the dog replied, his long-distance psionic voice as clear as it had been in person. :Comrade Quill, signal from you is farther away than expected, have Guardians left Knowhere so soon?:
“Yeah, that’s why I’m calling. Yesterday I met up with three Astrans from Xandar to make a mutually beneficial deal, and they apparently have it in for us. Can you tell me anything about them?”
Before answering in words, Cosmo gave an audible wuff to express his concern. :You are havink names for Xandarian scoundrels?:
“Keelah. Marwek. And...one other guy. The girl tried to assassinate me in my own ship, then they led us into a trap on Paragon Eleven-Zero Astral Station. Two of my people are hurt.”
:Cosmo will investigate. What is theory about new enemies?:
Peter shrugged regretfully. “Just that someone more important than them paid them a lot of money to take us out. Kind of genius in a way. They were the last people I would have suspected.”
:Disloyal behavior, hard to predict. Call Cosmo if you are havink news.: The dog’s paw appeared in the screen briefly before the image winked out.
Gamora was coming toward him down the corridor as he switched off the console. “I found a surgeon for Rocket,” she announced as soon as he saw her.
“Oh thank God,” said Peter, rising and falling into step with her.
“She specializes in cyborg anatomy and she has experience with mammalian patients. I don’t think we’ll find better, so I’ve already altered our course and set an appointment for him.”
Peter agreed wholeheartedly, but she raised a cautionary hand as they walked. “It’s a long way off, and out where we won’t have any favors to call in. And no, she doesn’t do house calls.”
“Even if it’s a matter of life and death?” Peter snapped, feeling a sudden bout of resentment against their newly hired medical professional.
“Frankly, Peter, it isn’t.” They had come to the door of the infirmary, and she stopped before opening it and faced him. “A few more days won’t make a difference to Rocket’s condition, and I know of very few doctors who are willing to leave their own solar systems.”
Peter closed his mouth, unhappy but at a loss for a countering argument. He checked the time. “He’s due to wake up soon.”
“I’ll sit with him. Drax asked if you could bring him the strangle-silk to analyze.”
It took Peter a moment to remember that this had started with Keelah’s floral scarf, which was still in his bunk. He left Gamora with Rocket and headed there. Reluctant to touch the scarf again with his bare hands, he began by knotting the end of it around a rod before untying it from his bedpost. It didn’t move, and it didn’t look or feel like anything but a length of decorative fabric. Nevertheless, he kept it on the rod to carry it into Groot’s room.
Drax looked up and nodded when he entered. Groot was sitting on the bed, which he had now outgrown, though it had accommodated his full recumbent length just yesterday. His limbs sprawled out so far that Peter had to step over a thin branch as soon as he came through the door. Drax was cross-legged on the floor, inserting loose bits of twig and leaf into a portable scanning unit as Groot watched and occasionally handed him another piece.
“Here you go,” said Peter softly, making his way over with careful steps. He held out the rod with the scarf attached. “She must have programmed it to only attack me, but Rocket said Groot rubbed some coating off of it. Maybe that weakened him.”
Drax reached out and accepted the fluttering wand, peering closely at the fabric before maneuvering it under the scanner scope. “Groot has been attempting to retract his limbs,” he told Peter, his eyes still on his work. “It was using more of his energy than seemed to be safe. I advised him to stop.”
Now that Peter was looking for it, one of Groot’s arms was noticeably shorter than the other. It was also evident, under the solar lamps in this bunk, that the color of his bark was off: more grey than brown, and it had an aged, brittle appearance. Peter found himself remembering the old porch behind his house in Missouri. Unable to afford repairs when the wood began to rot, his mother had forbid him from standing on it or touching it. He had learned to pick the splinters out of his own hands so that she wouldn’t know he had disobeyed.
He sat down beside Groot and brushed his hand down his shoulder to the joint where his arm split into several branches. Groot’s eyes followed him silently, full of patient kindness. “Maybe this is typical,” he said around the lump in his throat. “A little time and he’ll pull himself back together.”
Drax didn’t deny it, but he sounded grave. “I have no familiarity with his race or any like it.”
“Neither do I,” Peter admitted, silently resolving to put an end to that as soon as possible. He looked up to address Groot instead. “But don’t worry. Whatever happens, we’ll be here for you, buddy.”
When he returned to the infirmary, Rocket was still asleep, and Gamora had pulled up a chair to his bedside and was scrolling through readouts on a tablet. There was a sheet pulled up to Rocket’s chest, but just outside of it, a flat silver chip rested on his chest, with a light that blinked in sync with the device that Gamora was holding. Peter looked over her shoulder, but could make no sense of the densely packed text and numbers that appeared on the screen.
“What are you getting from that?” he asked.
She brushed a lock of hair back from her face. “Little enough. Many of Rocket’s implants serve the same functions as mine, but the technologies used are completely different. This wasn’t meant to be interpreted by any but the ones who originally devised it.”
“As long as everything’s online,” said Peter. He dragged another chair over and sat beside her. “I was just thinking, we should all get to know each other better. Physically, I mean. There’s gonna be times like this that we need to take care of each other, and since we’re five different species without a lot of countrymen to be found, basic first aid is gonna vary.”
Gamora nodded. “You think like a captain these days,” she remarked.
“Heh. Now I just need to have my captainy thoughts in advance so we can be prepared for shit like--”
A sudden movement from Rocket cut him off. Gamora put her tablet aside and touched him on his one unharmed hand. “Rocket, are you awake? Can you hear me?”
“Nnnngh,” said Rocket, sending a chill down Peter’s spine until he followed it with, “What. Huh. Whazz goin’ on.”
“Hey man,” said Peter, a natural smile coming to his face for the first time that day. “It’s okay. You’re on the ship. You got pretty banged up in the battle, though, so don’t try to sit up or anything.”
As he spoke, Rocket’s eyes fluttered open and focused first on him, then Gamora, then around the room and down at his own body. He tried to sit up.
“You’re infuriating,” Peter sighed, laying a hand on top of the disc on his chest to keep him down. Rocket looked like he was going to bite him again, but stopped when he saw the bandage on Peter’s forearm. His ears twitched uncertainly, and he licked his lips.
Gamora’s fingers drummed along the tablet, and she held it up to show Rocket his own skeleton. Peter knew that it wasn’t a real x-ray, but she had manipulated the image to mirror Rocket’s injuries, which she pointed out for him. “The alloy bonded to your bones makes them virtually unbreakable, but the impact to your joints put them out of alignment. There may be some damage to the cybernetics on that side of your body, too.”
“Yeah, yeah.” His voice sounded stronger this time, much more like himself. “Let go a’ me so I can start fixin’ it.”
Peter moved his hand but kept it close enough to thwart any further attempts at rising. “It’s not gonna be that easy, Rock. I know it sucks, but you have to stay put until we can get you to a doctor.”
“I’m not goin’ to any doctor,” said Rocket, as if that put an end to it.
“This is outside of your expertise,” Gamora cautioned him. “I have no doubt you can handle the repairs to your implants, but flesh and blood can’t be fixed the same way.”
“I can fix it,” Rocket barked. He pushed himself back, bracing against the pillow until he had gained a little bit of lift for his head, and fumbled around with his good hand until he had managed to tilt the nearest monitor so he could read its display. “Barely got a ding on me and everyone freaks out. The hell is my stuff and Groot?”
Peter tried not to exchange a silent, worried look with Gamora before answering, but apparently neither of them could help it. Before Rocket could read too much into it, Peter hastily touched the intercom and said, “Drax, can you and Groot come into the infirmary?”
It took a painfully long time for Drax to help Groot along for the relatively short distance through the ship, but they all heard him bellow out, “I am Groot!” before he got to them.
Rocket shouted back, “I’m fine. Get in here,” but if the fear in his voice was clear to Peter, Groot must have heard it magnified a hundredfold.
When he reached the bedside, aided by everyone as best as they could manage, Groot didn’t seem to have had any further success in pulling himself together. He smiled anyway, reaching out to Rocket with a long tendril that wasn’t quite a finger. Rocket grabbed it with his free hand, which was quivering visibly, and cried, “You idiot! What’d you think you were doing? You know you can’t push yourself when you’re small! Stupid pile o’ sticks throwin’ yourself away like that, I oughtta--”
“Rocket, stop,” Peter cut in, unable to keep quiet any longer. Groot was taking the abuse with his usual passive acceptance, which somehow just made it worse. “Groot saved all of us. Again. He pushed himself because we needed him to.”
“Then you’re the idiots,” Rocket said bitterly. “Ain’t right it’s always him takin’ the fall.”
“Not right at all,” Gamora agreed. “How can we help him?”
Rocket’s head fell back down to the pillow. “He needs to take root. Real dirt. Sunlight from an actual sun. It’ll take a few weeks.”
Peter cursed under his breath. He had hoped the cure would be something they could manage on the ship without slowing down. “What kind of star system is that specialist at?” he asked Gamora.
“Specialist--? Quill, I told you I ain’t seein’ a doctor!”
“It has three hours of daylight annually,” said Gamora. “We’ll have to find something on the way.”
Drax, who had been standing a bit behind the crowd around the cot, spoke up. “There are habitable planets along this route, but none where we have any connection. We cannot safely leave Groot while he is healing.”
Rocket’s objections grew louder and fiercer the longer he was ignored. “Nobody’s leaving Groot! If you guys would shut your flarkin’ face-holes and listen for two seconds you woulda heard me sayin’ I don’t need a krutackin’ doctor!”
“Okay,” said Peter quickly. “I’m listening, Rocket, you’re right.” Drax looked like he was about to take issue with this obvious untruth, so Peter clasped his arm to warn him and continued to address Rocket directly. “One thing at a time. Groot needs sunlight, so we’ll get him some. Gamora?”
“I’ll see what’s nearest,” she said, and stood up to go. Then she paused, turned to Groot, and said, “Would you like to help me choose the right planet?”
“I am Groot,” he affirmed, and she helped him get through the door with her.
Peter knew he had to tread carefully now. They still had to get Rocket to a doctor, but mentioning it again would only upset him further, and if he tried to treat it like a non-issue, Drax wouldn’t understand to play along. “Tell us what you need to work on your implants,” he said to Rocket. “We’ll bring it in here for you.”
Rocket rattled off a list of tools he kept in his room, and Peter sent Drax to get them. It was a deliberate move to allow him a moment alone with Rocket, but once he had it, he wasn’t sure what to say.
So it was Rocket who spoke first: “You told me not to get into that mech. I shoulda listened.”
Peter had a vague memory of suggesting caution, though he hadn’t expected Rocket to take it as an order even if it had been an order. He shrugged. “You’re not in trouble, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Fat chance,” Rocket replied quickly. “Anyways, it ain’t so bad. I can still work a control panel. Little slower with the one hand. Prob’ly fire a gun, too…”
“Can we please not find out? There’s no combat in our to-do list right now. Your only job is to get better.”
Rocket gave him a steady look, as if Peter was the one laboring under a misconception that needed to be compassionately dispelled. His spoke in a low, soft voice. “I’m not gettin’ better, Peter. This is it.”