Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2370
Notes: GotG2 will be in theaters in just a couple months, and I write slowly, and this story has a lot left to go before I'd call it finished. In the meantime, trailers and news about the sequel have Jossed it through the roof and it looks pretty outdated from every angle. Nevertheless, I thought I would give it a try.
My last update for this one was back in July, and I didn't at all expect to drop it, but all of my attention ended up going into "Wolfsbane" for a long time. I'm not sure it will help to even summarize the plot so far, since most readers have probably forgotten the entire thing, but the link to the previous chapter is below the cut, and you can use the "tick tick boom" tag to access both the entire story and its predecessor, "Detonation Imminent".
Thanks much to anyone who reads!
They landed on the medical satellite a day before the operation was scheduled, and Peter took the opportunity to scope out the facility and doctor in person before they had to bring Rocket there. He had never been to this star system before, and he looked around with interest as he set off on foot for the hospital. It was a terraformed moon, with no natives and no great variety in the resident races. Nobody looked askance at Peter, just another humanoid, unless they noticed that he was armed.
Dr. Shanthig’s office was clean and minimalist, and she barely made Peter wait at all before coming out to meet him. She was a willowy woman with rose-pink skin and dark hair pulled back into a neat bun, and she wore a white coat with a surprisingly similar cut to the ones used by doctors on Earth. “Mr. Quill,” she said in a crisp tone, extending her hand.
He shook it absently, not done yet with looking around and trying to imagine what this place would look like through Rocket’s eyes. “Thanks for seeing me,” he said. “There’s a couple things I wanted to talk to you about that I couldn’t from the ship.”
She nodded and showed him into a small private room overlooking the square which he had walked across to get to the office. Natural light was impossible in this place, and it was easy to see how everything had been designed to compensate, but he wished that high income worlds would get over their enthusiasm for glass walls. All this transparency made him feel like he was being watched.
“Why don’t you tell me a bit about my patient?” Dr. Shanthig prompted him, sitting down on one side of the large desk and gesturing at the other side of it.
He turned away from the glass and dropped into his designated seat. “Do you know what a raccoon is?”
She did, which he took as fortuitous. He told her about Rocket’s unique anatomy, how they had met, and what had caused his current injuries, and presently realized that he had been talking for almost an hour.
The doctor was taking notes and asking questions, but showing little surprise for any of it, let alone disbelief. Peter supposed the story had reached her already in some form, although it hadn’t come with the same sense of awe that it carried on planets closer to Xandar. He couldn’t expect everyone to be as excited to meet the legendary Star-Lord as...well, as Keelah had been. Impatiently he pushed her out of his mind and tried to wrap up his summary of Rocket’s condition and personal issues. “So the main deal is, he’s afraid of...people like you. I can’t just dump him here and come back to pick him up later.”
“No, you certainly can’t,” said Dr. Shanthig. “We’ll need you to be present for the operation, in person.”
“Huh?” Peter asked, assuming he hadn’t heard properly. Doctors always had all kinds of special rules. No way were they going to let him into the operating room without a fight.
“Mr. Quill, artificially uplifted animals aren’t so unheard of as you seem to think. Most don’t survive long, and I don’t believe I’ve ever read about one as self-sufficient as Rocket, but he’s regretfully not the only sentient creature to come out of an underground laboratory.” She paused, letting that sink in, then went on, “It’s only to be expected that he would have deep-set misgivings about medical science. If he trusts you, then you’re a resource we’ll need to tap to help him through any trauma he experiences during this process. He’ll remain conscious through most of it, so your role is especially important.”
Peter was nonplussed. Gamora had found an even better doctor than they’d realized. “So you’ve had, uh, ‘uplifted’ patients before?”
She shook her head. “Not as a primary. A scientist who has managed to create one doesn’t usually go around showing it off, especially to a doctor. Experiments don’t get healed, they get tested and observed.”
“Rocket is not--” Peter halted and took a deep breath. He had the feeling that the more he found out about Rocket’s standing in the galaxy, the uglier it was going to get. However angry that made him, he couldn’t take it out on Dr. Shanthig. “Aren’t there any who come looking for healing on their own? Without any scientists pulling their strings?”
“No,” she said sadly. “I can only assume that, if they’re out there, they’re as frightened of doctors as your friend is. But more likely, the ones that escape don’t live long enough to take charge of their own well-being.” She paused, then touched the surface of the desk, lighting up a two-dimensional display on it. “Which brings us to another question. Are you Rocket’s guardian?”
“We’re both...” The word was stuck in his head like a bone that he had to dislodge before understanding it in the right context. “Like, parental figure?”
The doctor looked up from the code she was entering on the desk, raising one wry eyebrow. In a few taps, a blank consent form appeared, and she spun it to be right side up for Peter. “Someone is going to have to take care of the paperwork, you know.”
Of course. This was a legal kind of place, they had a legal way of doing things. The Guardians still had mostly-clean records, but Peter wasn’t used to playing within the rules. In his professional experience it was dangerous to leave too much personal information behind, even if it was meant to be concealed from the public. “I told you I can pay. How much extra would it take to make this disappear?”
She fixed him with a steely look. “I won’t be putting my career on the line for your sake, Mr. Quill. There’s no easy way or hard way for this process. There’s only one way.”
Peter took a cursory look at the admittance form and groaned; it was full of text and questions, and it was probably just the first of many. “So I fill this in as Rocket’s, uh, guardian?”
“Unless you think he would rather do it himself.”
Apparently, that was enough of an answer for her. “Off the record, doing it on his behalf will actually be less complicated. If he boards with you and recognizes your authority as a team leader, there’s no hurdle to you claiming rights over him as a caretaker.”
Peter frowned. “Don’t you even need him to agree to that before it’s official?”
“Well, to be frank...” She trailed off, then flicked her pink fingers in an exasperated gesture. “It’s unfortunate, but technically, there aren’t any universally acknowledged rights for living constructs. Laws vary according to species as well as planetary citizenship, and Rocket has neither. On top of that, the kind of experiments which made him into what he is are illegal, which inserts a loophole into practically every regulation which would otherwise apply here. You could just as easily claim him as your property as your ward.” His distress must have shown plainly on his face, for she finished in an apologetic tone. “I thought you would prefer ‘guardian’ to ‘owner’.”
“Yeah.” It came out as barely a whisper, and he coughed to cover his floundering. He had too many questions, and not the kind that Dr. Shanthig could answer. Did Rocket know that he didn’t have any civil rights? Was it Peter’s place to inform him? “I, uh, I gotta take this form and do it in my ship. I’ll send it back to you when I’m done.”
She permitted it, fortunately. He didn’t want her to see him hesitating over all of the profile information for Rocket that he didn’t know. She probably thought he was a terrible captain already. A terrible guardian. He uploaded the form to a pocket device and confirmed the timing of the appointment for tomorrow.
“Don’t worry about Rocket,” Dr. Shanthig assured him as he was preparing to leave. “When he leaves here he’ll be as good as new.”
Peter frowned, still lingering at the doorway. “Okay, but...once he’s one hundred percent, isn’t he still going to have these loopholes threatening him? How do I get his legal status changed for good?”
“I’m afraid you would need a lawyer for that. I can find you a few referrals, but first let’s concentrate on restoring your friend to health.”
For the walk back to the Milano, Peter turned off his comm. He didn’t usually care to avoid interruptions when all he was doing was walking and thinking, but explaining that meeting to Gamora and Rocket was going to take some finesse.
That word, guardian, was still spinning around in his mind. He could not for the life of him figure out if he felt better or worse about making Rocket go in for surgery.
Rocket flinched when he heard someone coming into the Milano, then relaxed when he heard Peter’s voice belting out a song from his second mixtape, then flinched again when he remembered where Peter had been. The hours were ticking down. If a meteor didn’t blow them all away in the meantime, Rocket was going in for surgery tomorrow. So far, he had not been successful at keeping himself from hoping for the meteor.
There was no time to hobble back to his bunk from the common room, where he had been researching the “Phiggre” problem on the ship’s main computer console. He supposed it was better to face the music now rather than later, anyway, so he made himself look up and nod in greeting as Peter bounded through the hatch, still humming.
“Good news!” he announced, with a grin that Rocket suspected was just slightly exaggerated. “Your doctor says I can stay with you during the operation. The whole thing, she says. There’s no part where they kick me out and I don’t see what’s going on.”
Rocket had let out a curse and pushed himself violently away from the console before he remembered that he was trying to keep his composure in front of Peter. He steadied himself, taking only a quick glance at Peter’s confused face, and asked, “Do you have to?”
“You don’t want me to be there?” He sounded hurt, which Rocket had to admit was understandable. Nothing ever made Peter feel ashamed, least of all having friends around in a difficult time.
“Just not keen on you seein’ me like that,” Rocket muttered. It was only part of the truth, but it was the part least likely to dig him in any deeper. “I can deal with it, Quill. I’m not gonna smuggle a suicide bomb in there with me.”
“Yeah, and I’m not gonna point and laugh if you’re not at the top of your game, so just work with me a little.” He sighed and rubbed a hand through his hair. “I don’t think they’re giving us a choice, anyway. She told me it was important that I stay with you.”
Rocket shivered. This was shaping up to look a lot like his latest nightmare. “A’right,” he said quietly.
Peter didn’t react right away, just kept standing in the middle of the room, concentrating hard on Rocket as if he wasn’t fully visible and audible. “Just…’alright’?” he echoed at length. “You’re not going to debate me into the ground first?”
“No. All I want’s for this to be over with.” Even that much was hard to say, but he hoped Peter could tell that he wasn’t trying to get out of it anymore. He didn’t even want to risk testing the waters again. Any resistance that he put up at this point might lead to the ultimatum, as yet unspoken: get the surgery or leave the Guardians.
The makers had thought that they had tried everything to get him to comply. Amateurs.
“Yeah,” said Peter, with genuine sympathy. “That’ll be a relief.” He sat down across from Rocket and inserted a stick into the console, which lit up a holographic document, floating in front of him and angled so that Rocket couldn’t see any words on it. “Can you help me fill this out? Just some basic info. It’s okay if you don’t know all of it.”
Rocket answered with a sound just barely on the affirmative side of noncommittal.
“Okay. Let’s see, name, address, species, got that…” He raised his eyes over the form. “How old are you?”
“You want that in stabs-in-the-dark, or how-the-hell-should-I-knows?”
Rocket exhaled in frustration. It was beginning already; people wanted to get inside him and he had to allow it. “At least five.”
Peter frowned, his fingers hovering over the form where he had been about to key in the answer. “I think my translator mucked that up. I got it in Terran years. What measurement were you using?”
Translators really could be tricky things, but Rocket knew there hadn’t been an error this time. “Terran years,” he replied. “I can remember two in the lab and I know I had to be at least a year old before they started with the...y’know, and then after that it was maybe two more years with Groot. And you know the rest, so, five years and change, I guess.”
The silence was going on too long, and Peter still hadn’t entered an age into the form. “What?” Rocket demanded.
“You’re only five?” Rocket glared, but nodded, and Peter said, “You’ve only known Groot for two years?” Rocket nodded again. Peter was staring at him, his face half obscured by the translucent light of the holograph. His voice dropped to a hush. “You spent more than half of your life in that lab?”
Enough was enough. Rocket answered with teeth bared and a snarl behind his words. “Look, sorry if it skews your data but you asked a flarkin’ question and I’m givin’ you the only flarkin’ answer I -- what are you doing?”
Peter had just closed the incomplete admittance form and was pulling up the camera-comm to dial out. “I’m cancelling your appointment,” he said grimly.