Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy, His Dark Materials
Characters/Pairing: Primarily Peter&Rocket, as usual
Rating: Teen, for some language and one mild sexual situation
Summary: Peter's daemon takes a form unknown to (nearly) everyone he meets after leaving Earth.
Notes: Okay, this is a weird one. I read a few Daemon AU fics on Ao3 a while back and decided I'd like to try my hand at it. For those not familiar with the trope, honestly, there's not much to know but if you're curious and don't want to learn by reading, let me know and I'll give you the basics.
I started this at the beginning of the year as part of the Snowflake Challenge, but I've been hammering away at it for the past week just because I wanted to cross an item off of the New Year's Resolutions check-in post that I make tomorrow. DID IT! Quality uncertain but I'll just keep it on LJ for now and proofread tomorrow before sending it anywhere else.
It was as hard to look away from Zig as it was hard to look at Mom. The coyote daemon was glittering with Dust, wise and beautiful at the foot of the hospital bed where he lay. Death looked good on him, and Flare was comforted enough to sidle up to the bed and rest her chin on the mattress beside him.
But Mom was there in her body, too, reprimanding him gently and then taking up brand new topics with no transition, as if -- as if it were the last chance. Peter flinched, and Flare changed from a dog to a young female version of Zig, even as she was slinking backward away from him. He paid her no mind, but locked eyes with Peter instead and spoke his name in a low warning tone. “Come to us. Take her hand.”
Mom was reaching out to him with her last remnants of strength. “Child,” said her daemon, now almost pleading, “We love you. Don’t be afraid.”
Peter was afraid, and wondering why Zig was talking to him instead of to Flare wasn’t helping. The final flurry of golden Dust as the daemon vanished was too much. He hadn’t taken his mother’s hand, and now he was being forcibly removed from her bedside. Outside of the hospital room, the walls reverberated with Flare’s howl, and then they ran.
He knew, without needing a moment of conscious realization, that Flare had settled, and that when his emotions caught up to him somewhere in the next solar system, he would talk to her about her final form. He was young, but trauma led to settling early, so from now on, she would be a coyote, like Zig.
The moment they met Yondu, Flare shifted into a perfect copy of his daemon, the better to scream a challenge at her. Peter hadn’t even had a chance to process his onset of adulthood, and now it was revealed as a sham.
He couldn’t process that, either, because he was facing an alien on a spaceship, and the alien was all reds and blues and weapons and bad teeth, and if that wasn’t enough, his daemon was a horrible big flappy creature with fangs protruding from her beak and too many eyes. She was perched on his shoulder but it was more like draping, since she couldn’t fit without balancing herself with splayed wings.
Later, Peter and Flare would learn that the creature was a Centurian Eagle-Bat, and that Kxw’slth, like Yondu himself, was harmless if you showed no fear and outwitted her once or twice and had a violent streak and spent a few years earning her favor and entertained her and were really lucky. In the moment, though, Peter knew only that recent events had not been meeting his expectations, and the best he could do was follow Flare’s lead.
“You better not touch me you aliens you better watch out we’re really mad now and my daddy’s an angel and he’s gonna kick your butt--”
Yondu was laughing, hard, practically doubled over. Kxw’slth made a crooning sound at Flare and buffeted her lightly with one wing. One of the other crew members, one who looked less alien in Peter’s eyes, came close enough for Flare to see his four-legged scaly dog daemon and switch to mimicking her instead.
Before the night’s end, Peter had been outfitted with a translator chip and given an explanation that explained nothing. The night never actually ended, anyway. It stretched over lightyears and turned into day, but without ever getting the Terran sunrise that would have been its conclusion. Yondu made the occasional stop on Earth and always asked Peter if he wanted to take a walk on its surface, and Peter always said no.
As for Flare, she didn’t settle that night, or any night over the years to come. She tried out the shape of every extraterrestrial creature they encountered, be it a real animal or someone else’s daemon, but wouldn’t even admit to leaning toward one of them as a permanent form. She was never a coyote again. She was never any kind of animal that Peter remembered from home.
He confronted her about it often, especially as he grew older and it became more embarrassing to still be walking around with a child’s daemon. She compromised by switching with less frequency, and for nearly a year they faked it, Flare on his shoulder in the form of a fiery-colored bird they had seen on Xandar. It suited her, he thought, but one day he got into a tussle with a guy whose daemon was bigger than a moose, and Flare decided to one-up them. Peter and Flare won the fight, but the ruse was done for.
“If you like being huge you should just be huge,” he complained when they were alone. It was an old and tired argument by then.
“I wouldn’t even fit in your cockpit, fool,” she retorted. “Huge blows.”
The list of her rejects was longer than his arm. Huge blows. Tiny sucks. Flying reeks. Horns are lame. Can’t be hairless. Won’t be an herbivore.
Peter looked at her, vaguely feline and pinning her ears back haughtily. He wished he could talk to his mother about this.
Flare blinked slowly, then relented and put her head under his hand. “Wish I could talk to Zig,” she said.
His mother had taken him out stargazing sometimes, as far away from the neighborhood as they could go on foot. He remembered stretching out on the grass, Flare in the form of a weasel and using him as a pillow so she could look to the sky, too. Sometimes Zig would roll over on his back, laughing as he mimicked their poses.
Mom knew the night sky like an old friend, not just constellations but individual stars. She would help him find them by taking his hand and pointing it for him as she named them: “That’s Orion’s other dog, Canis Minor. There’s Gomeisa, and the bright one is Procyon. It looks like one star, but do you know what? It’s a binary system, Procyon A and Procyon B.”
At some point she would always mention Peter’s father. “He came from somewhere out there, and he’s somewhere out there now. I know it seems far away, but distance doesn’t matter when you love someone. Your daddy will come back for his little Star-Lord.”
Peter had tried his best to learn everything there was to know about the stars -- just in case. Flare agreed that they should be prepared to explore the galaxy, and helped him memorize the location of every twinkling light.
They had been too young to realize that the constellations were different on every planet. They had been all over the galaxy now, they lived among the stars, but they had never seen Canis Minor again.
It didn’t seem like an unusual day. Yondu had assigned him a task, he had started on it, and halfway through he had decided not to do it and came home to fight with Yondu about whether he still deserved another day of room and board and continued survival.
The only twist, he thought, was the reason that he had dropped the job this time. It wasn’t impossible or even too hard, and he hadn’t had a better idea for making the same amount of money. He had just happened to mingle with a few of the locals whose supply ships he was supposed to raid, and realized that they needed everything on those ships and that he and the Ravagers didn’t.
As usual, Yondu didn’t let him go to bed until they had shouted empty threats at each other for an hour and Peter had bested Kraglin in an impromptu but inevitable fistfight. He skipped dinner, thinking to have a liquid one in his bunk instead, but his stash turned out to be depleted and he threw himself into bed feeling angry at the entire universe.
“Peter.” Flare sounded urgent, shaking his ankle through the blanket. “Peter, look.”
“No. Shut up. Sleeping.”
"You shut up! Look at me!” Without waiting for a response, she wrenched the blanket off of him so that he sat up, muttering curses.
She was sitting at his feet, forelegs crossed against her chest like a little humanoid, but her face was densely furred and tapered to a delicate muzzle. Peter blinked a few times, his bad mood forgotten. “What are you, a raccoon?”
She looked herself over with a slight shrug. “I guess. I don’t think I’m shaped right. They’re supposed to walk on four legs, remember?”
“Can’t you give it a do-over?” he asked. He didn’t know why she had suddenly decided to turn into a varmint from his home state, but if the point was to distract him, it was working. He wanted to see more: maybe a bullfrog, or an armadillo, or a crow.
“No,” she stated, then went on talking as if she hadn’t just dropped a bombshell. “You probably remember raccoons wrong. On TV they always talked and walked around like people. Typical. You made me into a cartoon.”
Peter pitched himself forward onto his knees and grabbed her with both hands. “Flare! This is great! You settled! Finally!” Her body felt lithe and strong, though small. “I mean, not what I expected, but we can work with this, right?”
She let him lift her off the bed, but then hoisted herself out of his grip and climbed onto his shoulder, heedless of the scratches she left on his bare skin. “It’s not what I expected either,” she said, doubt creeping into her voice for the first time. “I’m not going to intimidate anyone like this, y’know.”
He flopped back onto his pillow, catching her fall and guiding her onto his chest. “I don’t care what anyone thinks about you,” he told her. “You brought me home.”
Now that her size and shape were no longer variable, it was time to equip her with a mask like his, so they could both breathe if they needed a few minutes of travel somewhere without oxygen. Hers required more customization, and the capsule that it collapsed into wouldn’t attach to her fur, so in the end, she ended up with a silver and red loop around her neck. She tweaked its design herself to make sure it looked more like jewelry than a collar.
The effect was enhanced by the red stone centered at her throat, shining like a ruby even in darkness. Peter liked the way it looked with her golden eyes and the reddish tinge in her brown fur -- more evidence that she wasn’t quite a match for the raccoons on Terra, but she was herself and he wouldn’t change a thing. Her name, which had at first seemed more appropriate to the orange bird form that she used to wear, fit well when one noticed the bright white streak between her eyes, illuminating her face like a comet.
Once she began to wear the necklace regularly, she sometimes hooked a cloak onto it and walked around like a little Jedi. She had found that she was just as comfortable walking on four legs, and could run faster that way if she had to, but she avoided it, thinking that with the jewelry it might make her look more like a pet than a daemon.
Back on Terra, Peter would have snorted at the idea of a daemon wearing accessories, but there was no standard out here. Flare did whatever she wanted to, and he followed her lead.
The Milano was parked on a moderately safe planet and Peter had taken home a moderately safe girl, who was sitting in his bed now, naked, while he was across the room, also naked, pouring them both some water.
“Ooooh, Peter!” she giggled. “Your daemon is tickling me!”
As if he hadn’t known. Even the light touch of Flare’s nose on the girl’s big toe sent an intense wave of sensation through him, more intimate than the orgasm he’d had ten minutes prior, and less pleasant. “Yeah,” he said through gritted teeth, trying not to spill the water, “she’s kind of a slut.”
The girl cooed sympathetically -- toward Flare, of course, not Peter. “Can I pet her?”
Oh God, no, he thought, but he didn’t want to upset her. Physically, she resembled a human very closely, but her kind had no external soul. All she knew of daemons would be what she had learned from people like him, and Yondu, and Kraglin, and she wasn’t to blame if nobody had ever explained what it was like to have one.
He braced himself for her hand on Flare’s head, but before it could land, Flare whipped around and darted under the bed. “Awww,” the girl complained. She brushed her hair back and leaned over the edge, trying to see, as he handed her the glass of water.
“It’s not your fault,” said Peter, doing his best to conceal his relief. “She likes being close, but she’s not a cuddler.” He maneuvered himself back under the covers and slid an arm around her waist. “I am, though.”
Her mouth found his willingly, and they made it through the rest of the night without Flare making another appearance. In the morning, the girl went home while Peter was still waking up, and Flare took her place on the bed.
“I’m not a slut,” she informed him even as she wedged her soft body into the crook of his arm. “I get bored when you fuck people who don’t have daemons.”
“So, what, you don’t want me to hook up with them? That’s racist.”
“No, I just want you to mind your own business if I find my own ways to participate.”
He stroked her meditatively, wondering how a part of himself could be so hard to understand. “What’s it feel like? When you touch them?”
She stretched, relaxed, and closed her eyes. “It feels the same for me as it does for you.”
When they first met met the raccoon, he had been trying to capture them for a bounty, and Peter had the niggling feeling that he would have succeeded if he hadn’t been so distracted by Flare. Well, until Nova Corp caught up and threw them all into the Kyln, anyway.
He also had a hunch that the raccoon usually talked more. The lovely green assassin and her little dragon were at the front of the line as they were marched down a seemingly endless network of corridors, but they never turned to look at them and said barely a word, so Peter and Flare dominated the conversation by bitching at each other about whose fault this was. Just ahead of them, the little bounty hunter kept stealing furtive glances over his shoulder at Flare, who was walking on her own unconfined by the handcuffs that the other bipeds wore.
“What are you?” he asked her when they had been ordered to halt for a few seconds.
“She’s my daemon, stupid,” Peter snapped.
“Wasn’t asking you.”
Unable to find a good comeback when faced with such blatant ignorance, Peter increased his volume and repeated, “She’s my daemon, so hello, yeah you were. And there’s no special raccoon club we’re gonna invite you to, okay, so--”
“Raccoon?” he asked as they started walking again.
Flare answered this time, cutting off another sarcastic remark from Peter. “It’s what we are. Why wouldn’t you know that? What’s your deal?”
“I’m Rocket,” he said, giving no response to the questions except a slight shake of his head.
“I’m Flare,” she answered promptly, just like it was completely normal to introduce herself instead of letting Peter do it.
“I’m up here,” he reminded them.
“I am Groot,” said a low voice behind him.
Peter sighed. “Okay, Rocket, can we talk about this tree you brought with you?”
The best idea probably would have been to proceed carefully with Rocket, maybe think about making friends once they had a better idea of what he was. Figuring out how to survive their first night at the Kyln was top priority, anyway.
But chaos set in quickly: Groot saved Peter from one of the inmates, whose caterpillar daemon fell out of his sleeve in the process. Flare, ever the opportunist, got hold of her, revealing to the whole prison that the bully had a daemon at all -- apparently, he had been hiding her for as long as he had been incarcerated. Rocket cornered Flare and told her off for making a spectacle, saying she couldn’t afford to make any enemies, and before Peter knew it, she had attacked him.
Attacked him. Physically. Peter nearly screamed, wholly unprepared for that kind of shock to his system right then, but he bit it off when he realized that they were already grappling with each other and he had felt nothing. He froze, unable to believe what his eyes were telling him. “Flare,” he managed to choke out, but didn’t know how to follow it.
Groot saved the day for the second time, leaning down and grabbing Rocket up off the ground and away from Flare. She shook herself and ran back to Peter, and they retreated together, wandering the prison until they found a quiet space to talk.
She was as dazed as he was, in spite of her own actions being mostly to blame for what had just happened. He held her close to his pounding heart, praying that nobody would see him and consider it weakness. “He must be Groot’s separated daemon,” he said in a rapid murmur. “It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“No,” Flare whispered back. “Groot touched me too. I didn’t feel anything. They’re both daemons, or they’re...something else completely.”
All of this was beyond Peter’s ken. Sentient races had daemons, whether in the form of an internal soul or a beast companion. There were no exceptions. Daemons, in some rare cases, could separate from an individual and travel away from him or her, but they weren’t born independently. There were no exceptions to that, either.
“What do we do?” he asked Flare.
“I’ll handle it,” she replied in a soft voice.
The image of her lunging at Rocket flashed vividly through his mind again; he had a feeling it would be with him forever. “That’s what I was afraid of,” he said.
He knew he was dreaming when he didn’t see Flare but felt no pain or fear at her absence. The setting was suspect, too; it was the labyrinthine interior of a hulking metal ship, but not one he could remember ever being on before.
A young woman surprised him from behind. She was heavily armed and wearing a black mask over her eyes, but made no sign of aggression, simply threw herself against his chest and embraced him. “I found you,” she sobbed. “Finally, I found you.”
Peter pushed her back gently, trying to get a good look at what he could see of her face. Her hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail, and she wore no jewelry or makeup, but his heart reacted the same way it did when he spotted a perfectly coiffed temptress. “Who are you?” he asked her. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t go!” she cried, equal parts command and plea. “We need each other. You have to understand.”
“I’m trying,” he said, and he really was, but then she pulled him down by his lapels and kissed him hard, and the only thing that mattered was the crushing revelation that if this was a dream, she would be gone when he woke up.
After the escape -- which, hand it to Rocket, went a lot cleaner than Peter would have anticipated -- they all ended up traveling together in the Milano. That came out to three humanoids, two daemons, and two beings of unknown origin. For the first time, Peter began to notice that the Milano was not that big.
“Scimitrax doesn’t like me,” Flare told him privately, not showing much concern. Scimitrax was Gamora’s little dragon daemon, and Gamora was the notorious killer who knew where to sell the Orb. Peter was just glad they had gotten as far as first name basis.
“Color me surprised,” said Peter. “Gamora doesn’t like me. Drax doesn’t like Gamora. Rocket doesn’t like anyone.”
“I don’t like Rocket,” put in Flare. Sometimes she said things like that, pretending that he couldn’t tell when she was lying.
Right now he didn’t have the energy to call her out on it. “That about covers it. We okay with Groot?”
“Yeah. Groot likes everyone.”
“That’ll take us far.” He let out a long sigh. “Five million units. Right?”
Flare nodded fervently. “Five million units. We’re gonna be totally rich and then no more Orb, no more Nova Corps, no more Scimitrax, no more Gamora or Groot or Drax.”
He couldn’t help smiling. “No more Rocket?”
“Yeah, I already said him, didn’t I?”
They had been hiding back here too long, Peter realized. Who even knew what Rocket had done to the ship’s mechanical features by now. “Sure,” he told Flare. “Let’s go see how he’s doing.”
Peter felt like it was just natural that Drax’s people didn’t have daemons, but Gamora was the one who articulated why that should be: “Daemons are too symbolic. The literal-minded don’t act through conduits like we do.”
They were standing together on a Knowhere balcony with all the cosmos as their backdrop. He had his Walkman, and their appointment with the Collector was coming soon to wrap up this whole adventure. Gamora even seemed to like him better than she had. Scimitrax was sitting primly at her ankle, watching Flare with no sign of hostility.
“Never thought about it that way,” said Peter. “I hear there are ways you can bring out your daemon even if you weren’t born with one. Seems like that might break Drax’s brain, though.”
Gamora laughed. “Some are better off keeping the soul within,” she agreed.
Flare tapped his leg, reminding him of where she wanted him to steer the topic. “We were wondering,” he said, “what do you think Rocket is?”
Her expression was blank for a moment, and then she looked pointedly at Flare. “I thought you would know better than I.”
“No, I mean, I know he’s a raccoon. But daemons can touch him alright, and he obviously wasn’t born like most races, so...where’s he fit in?”
“Raccoons are beasts from your world, aren’t they? Rocket is a talking animal, clearly. Whatever procedures he’s undergone have increased his intelligence, but they couldn’t have given him a daemon. Even one without an animal form. I’m not surprised your Flare could make contact without a sense of violation.”
The idea of constructing a sentient being without a soul made Peter feel ill, especially given Flare’s feelings toward Rocket. He tried to tell himself that she was merely interested in him for his species and not emotionally attached, but the way she was bristling showed she wasn’t taking this news well. It was definitely time to change the subject again.
As they talked, Scimitrax flew up from the ground to land on Gamora’s shoulder. His scales were exactly the same shade of green as her skin, though shining metallically, and Peter wondered if he could get away with an observation on his beauty.
He took what he thought was the safer route and played Gamora a song instead, but knew he’d gone wrong somewhere when he leaned in to seal the deal with a kiss and found a knife at his throat. Scimitrax dropped like a lightning bolt, pinning Flare on her back even though he was half her size. Peter heard him speak for the first time, in a strangely accented hiss: “Never try that again.”
Peter rushed into the bar to find Drax pummeling Groot and Rocket wielding a bigger gun than Peter would have wanted to lift off the ground. He caught fragments of their dispute, but it seemed to have gone off course from wherever it started. Drax was drunk. Rocket was drunk. If Groot was capable of being drunk, he probably was.
Flare was the first to act, weaving expertly through the forest of legs and furniture to get to Rocket’s side. Her hand on his shoulder was nothing but a gesture of comfort, but he twisted and swatted it away, leaving Peter stunned and hurt. “I’m not some meat puppet you can all just fuck with,” Rocket snarled. As he talked, the gun swung back and forth, its muzzle pointed vaguely at the floor. “You want a pet you go to the d’ast livestock auction!”
Peter’s head hurt just trying to make sense of it all. People were still muttering and sometimes shouting all around the bar, but he blocked them out and focused on Rocket -- and on Flare, who had given him space but hadn’t backed off. “No one’s trying to make you into a pet,” Peter told Rocket.
“You think I don’t hear? You think I don’t know what you say?” Tears were shining in the raccoon’s eyes. “Ain’t got a daemon, must be an animal, right? Animal, or robot, or, or, or some little monster…”
He knew that Rocket couldn’t have overheard the conversation he’d just been having with Gamora, but Peter still felt a twinge of guilt. “Rocket, no one’s calling you a monster.”
“I’d know,” Flare added quietly.
Rocket shook his head angrily and pointed at Scimitrax, who was balanced by his tail around Gamora’s neck, wings open. “He did! Well guess what, dragon, monsters don’t give a flark about cappin’ someone else’s daemon!”
The gun came up again, and Peter rushed forward into its path, hands held out, effectively halting Rocket’s trigger finger. “Think about the money, man!” he blurted out, desperate for something that would calm him down, but Flare came between them, placing herself to stare down the barrel of the gun.
Peter didn’t know if anyone but Rocket and himself could hear her through the din, but her words sent a chill down his spine: “Then start with me.”
Rocket didn’t shoot Flare, but she found other ways to put her life (and consequently Peter’s) in jeopardy. When Ronan’s troops attacked, Peter jumped into a pod, complaining about how it clearly hadn’t been designed for anyone with a daemon, but still fully expecting Flare to wedge herself onto his lap or shoulder. Instead, she took her own pod, closing the door and lifting off before he could do a thing about it.
“Relax,” she told him over the radio as he sputtered in panic. “I’ll fly so close you won’t even feel a pull.”
Rocket was in a pod with the same frequency, listening to everything they said to each other. He sounded impressed when he chimed in: “Quill, I don’t know how a knob like you scored a daemon like her. Keep your cool. I’m watchin’ your back.”
And he did, knocking enemies away from them so that Flare’s pod never had to move out of sync with Peter’s. It worked for far longer than Peter ever would have imagined, maybe five minutes, though Flare was wrong about the strain she was putting on the limits of their bond. The pull hurt bad, and all he had to make up for it was old-fashioned adrenaline.
Of course it all went to hell before long. Nebula forced Gamora to pilot her pod out of the atmosphere, and the rest of them followed in time to see the Orb taken by the enemy and Gamora floating helplessly in space. Rocket advised Peter and Flare to turn back.
Flare was having none of it. She had her eye on Scimitrax, who had scrambled into a compartment in the totaled pod to suck up the last of its oxygen. Understanding her intentions, Peter muttered, “Go for it,” then tossed the proverbial dice, called Yondu, and zoomed out into space to save Gamora, cherishing the way Rocket kept yelling his name and Flare’s until he could no longer hear it.
He couldn’t see Flare or know if she had succeeded in bringing Scimitrax to safety, but as the distance between them widened, he felt a sorrow as terrible as death, like a gaping hole inside him that kept growing until he had been turned inside out. He held onto Gamora, unable to do anything else, and hoped that he wouldn’t survive the exposure. Air was unimportant. Warmth was irrelevant. The only thing he wanted was his daemon.
Tears were flowing freely from his eyes as he and Gamora tumbled into the airlock. “Peter,” she said to him, weak but urgent through her gasps. “Peter, we’re alive. You saved us.”
“Flare,” he whimpered.
“She’s with Scimitrax, and Rocket. You’re severed now. I know it hurts, but she made it, and you’ll be back together soon. All of us will. Do you hear me, Peter? We will make it.”
The small part of him that could think at all was wondering how she could speak so coherently after what they had just been through. Later he would learn that she and Scimitrax had been severed all along -- since her youth, in fact, the very day that Thanos had taken them. She truly did know how it felt.
But for the moment, he felt so alone that he might have been the only living being in the galaxy. Gamora knelt behind him, rubbing his back, but he couldn’t stop crying or move from his curled-up position, and that was how Yondu and the Ravagers found them.
Kxw’slth spoke first, blinking her four red eyes. “What the fuck, boy.”
Landing the pod was the hardest thing that Flare had ever had to do. If not for Scimitrax, who had the right knowledge if not the dexterity to pilot, she thought it would have crashed. Then she would have dissipated into thin air, and Peter, wherever he was, would fall down dead.
But they made it back to Knowhere in one piece, and Scimitrax nudged her out of the pod, where Rocket was waiting. She forced herself to meet his gaze, waiting for the blame that she knew she deserved.
Instead, he reached out and embraced her. His motions were awkward, but she could tell that it wasn’t from any lack of sincerity -- he had simply never done this before.
Groot and Drax appeared, towering over Rocket and the daemons. “They’re going to help,” Rocket explained. “Can you manage? Dragon, how ‘bout you?”
“My name is Scimitrax,” he said, glowering. “And you can see clearly I am not incapacitated.”
“Manage what?” Flare asked. She felt like a compass taken off-planet, trying with all her might to point to a North that no longer existed. It came to her suddenly that this might be how Rocket had felt all his life.
Rocket’s voice was firm as he took her hand in his. “We’re going to get our people back.”
The reunion on the Ravagers’ ship was a strange one. Peter fell to his knees and reached out for Flare, barely noticing that Rocket was running in step beside her until both of them were clutched to his chest. “He’s ours now,” Flare whispered, and Peter didn’t know which of them she was talking to or what she meant by it, but he knew it was the truth.
Gamora, far more self-possessed, welcomed Scimitrax with a warm smile and a light touch as he flew to her shoulder. She also had the presence of mind to request that the seven of them be given some privacy to work on the plan that they supposedly had.
That was strange, too. The events of the last few hours had exhausted Peter, but having Flare back at his side made him feel almost omnipotent. As the team -- they were a team now, he had realized gradually -- made their preparations, he glanced down often to look for her. Before the separation, he had always known exactly where she was without looking, and it was distracting to find that had changed when he needed the reassurance so badly.
Half the time, his eyes fell on Rocket instead, but it gave him the same sense of relief. Rocket had brought Flare home. He was theirs now.
“Rocket will take the Milano,” Peter had just said, getting a nod in response, but Flare cut in to say, “I’ll go with him.”
Peter was speechless, and everyone was looking at them. “I am Groot,” said Groot, as if that was any use, but Peter couldn’t get annoyed. At least Groot always found something to say.
“We can separate now,” Flare reminded him. “It won’t hurt this time. I don’t like it, but Rocket needs a co-pilot more than you need another set of hands.”
If he was going to ask the others to sacrifice their lives to this cause, Peter thought, it was time to take the plunge himself. He nodded. “Take care of her,” he said to Rocket, and went back to the plan.
Flare regained consciousness first. Rocket had flown the Milano straight at Ronan, and now it was broken, and stranded on a larger ship, about to be broken too. She shook him feebly, but Peter was there in the next instant, speaking softly and unbuckling safety belts. “Can you walk?” he asked her.
“Yes. Carry him.”
“He’s only fainted, Star-Lady. He’ll be okay.”
“Don’t you dare lie to me. The ship is going down. Carry him here, to Groot. We’re all going to die.”
“Then we’ll die as one.”
They talked sometimes about the Infinity Stone: what exactly it had done, whether any of them had been permanently changed within, whether it would have worked if Peter’s bond with Flare hadn’t engulfed Rocket. They knew they would never find answers, though, so the Infinity Stone became just one of their stories, the origin of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Peter attracted a few funny looks, of course, walking around with a matched pair of daemons. He didn’t know if he was the first and only one who had ever gained a second soul, and he didn’t care. Neither did Flare or Rocket. They did what they wanted, and Peter followed their lead.
“This is where we belong,” said Rocket one day in a purely conversational tone. He and Flare were each sitting on one of Groot’s shoulders as he dozed in the bright sunlight of Procyon B. “It’s just stupid, you bein’ born on Terra, Groot on Planet X, Drax and Gamora way the hell out there on whatever planets you came outta. Doesn’t make sense we had to come so far just to find each other.”
“Distance doesn’t matter if you really love someone,” said Peter, gladly letting everyone spend the next few hours teasing him for the sappy remark. Deep down they’d know he meant it. The constellations were different from every planet, but the stars were always the same.