Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2489
As soon as Peter had announced he was going to cancel the surgery, Rocket’s face lit up with desperate hope, but of course his immediate response was, “Why?”
Peter couldn’t seem to get his trembling fingers to call up Dr. Shanthig, so he swiveled the console away from himself and laid both clenched fists on the tabletop instead. He wasn’t even sure he could articulate an answer to the question. He had been thinking about Rocket’s escape from Halfworld, how extraordinary it was that a creature born and raised in a laboratory could come so far in such a short time, and how none of the people responsible would have thought it possible, and then suddenly he was so full of rage that he could barely contain it.
“Because,” he said in the most level voice he could manage, “I don’t own you. Because you don’t want to do it. The end.”
“I toldja I was gonna cooperate, I dunno what your problem is now. They got a minimum age or something?”
Peter shook his head, staring at the floor. Beneath the snark, Rocket sounded nervous, probably thinking that he was about to be told that it was too late and he was off the team. Why had it taken so long to see? “That’s not the point. You’re not a kid. You can learn faster than any sentient species in existence, and those fuckers on Halfworld -- they thought they could control you? That they could give nature the finger and make their own slaves?” He heard himself getting louder. Angrier. “They thought you were disposable?”
Rocket was blinking at him in neutral astonishment. “Quill...”
The hatch opened just as Peter had stood up to start pacing around the room. Gamora set down a shopping bag and looked from him to Rocket with a quizzical expression. “Is everything alright?” she asked.
“Thought so a couple minutes ago,” said Rocket.
“No,” Peter snapped. “Everything is not alright. Get ready to launch.”
She took a few rushed steps toward him. “We came all this way!”
“Yeah, and now we’re leaving. I’m sorry guys, this was all my fault, but at least I’m not dragging us in any deeper. We’ll get back to Blossomor ahead of schedule, keep working the job from there.”
Gamora rubbed her forehead in consternation. “Rocket, what did you say to him?”
The raccoon threw his hands up, a movement somewhat hampered by the brace on one of them. “Lady, I got nothin’ on this.”
Peter still couldn’t stop moving, stalking back and forth and clutching his head as if he could hold himself together that way. “You know I used to think if I put one foot wrong Yondu was really gonna let the crew eat me? The kind of shit you can make people believe, just throwing your weight around.” He whirled around to face Gamora. “I had myself convinced, too. What did I say? That the situation justified me deciding for Rocket?”
Her eyes widened, but she nodded. “That we couldn’t go on without him.”
Turning again to look at Rocket, Peter punctuated his words with sharp jabs in the air. “That was weak and it was selfish and I’m sorry. Everything you were going through and all I could think about was how sad I would be if we lost you. Well, I would, and that’s my own damn problem, not yours.”
“But we do need Rocket,” Gamora insisted.
“Yeah, we need Rocket, our friend, our brother, this guy who is who he is and not what someone told him to be. We don’t need 89P13!” All three of them let out a little gasp at the same moment; Peter had never spoken Rocket’s identification code out loud before, and he had even startled himself doing it now. He didn’t slow down to think about that. “I bet they thought they needed you, too. Like they needed chemical samples and, and microscopes and shit to run their godforsaken experiments. Right?”
In other circumstances it would have seemed odd that Rocket hadn’t already started shouting back at him, but he still seemed more bewildered than anything. He nodded warily.
“I don’t know how you did it, man. Half a lifetime before you met someone who didn’t treat you like an object, but somehow you knew you were a real person. They had no right to hurt you. Neither do I.” Peter shook his head, feeling the thunderstorm of emotion roll away to leave him dazed and weary. “It’s not gonna be easy, but we’ll figure out some ways for you to get around. Jetpack, maybe. And you’ll have Groot. Just tell us what you need and don’t go pretending it doesn’t hurt ‘cause you’re too proud or something dumb like that.”
When only silence followed, he realized that everything had been said. He shifted his weight, feeling slightly foolish, and glanced around the room. Gamora was watching him with great interest, but the silence persisted, and he went back to the chair where he had been on the console and managed to key in the call to Dr. Shanthig without fumbling it this time.
The tone rang once, and Rocket said, “I’ll do it.”
There was a second tone, and Peter said, “What?”
Dr. Shanthig’s rose-hued face appeared on the screen, and Rocket said, “I’ll get the operation. My choice. Lemme talk to her.”
“Hello?” said the doctor. “Mr. Quill?”
At a loss, Peter could only say, “Rocket wanted to say something,” and swivel the screen away from himself to face Rocket.
The comm projected a translucent hologram, so he saw the same image reversed, though he knew he was no longer visible from her perspective. “It’s good to meet you, Rocket,” came her smooth voice. “I’m listening.”
It took a long time for him to make any response at all, but Dr. Shanthig seemed to accept that, and waited patiently while he stared at her face in the screen. Then he said, “See you tomorrow,” and switched off the comm.
Back when the team had formed, Gamora had been quick to set some ground rules for the Milano as their shared living space. She told Quill firmly that she had no intentions of spending all of her time cooking and cleaning up after three males and a tree, and also that she wasn’t going to resign herself to living in squalor if he kept up his old habits. It was a touchy subject for a while, but eventually they all learned to pitch in, and to hire cleaning help whenever possible.
The matter of food was a little more complicated. Throughout most of Gamora’s adult life, she had subsisted on whatever was available to buy or steal, punctuated by royally extravagant feasts that someone else had arranged. It wasn’t always possible for the Guardians to purchase fully prepared meals, especially when they were traveling long distances. Without Drax to cook for them, the remaining team had been eating irregularly and mostly on their own.
Gamora had noticed the isolating effect that these patterns had on them, but it took a few days to realize that she was the one who had to do something about it. It wasn’t about cooking or cleaning. Making the ship feel like a home was her responsibility.
So while Peter was visiting the medical office and Rocket was demanding personal space, she had wandered the city until she found a vendor who sold her three packaged dinners that prepared themselves. The drama she walked into on her return to the ship threw off her plan a little, but as things calmed down, she set up a table and switched on each plate to let it chop, mix, and heat its contents until they turned into a meal. She hunted through the kitchen until she found proper silverware, and even lit a candle, although she wasn’t sure why they had it and had to check first to be sure it wasn’t really a stick of dynamite.
“Are we celebrating something?” asked Peter when he saw the spread.
“Only our friendships,” she replied, already feeling more peaceful. She raised her voice. “Rocket! We’re having dinner!”
An indistinct mumble came from the common room, but Peter said, “It’s okay, he’ll come. He said he wanted to wash up first.” He took a seat, angling his face close to his hot plate to inhale its aroma with an appreciative sigh.
Gamora sat down next to him, balancing her chin on her interlocked fingers. “How did you know what to say?” she inquired. “This morning he was acting like a prisoner on death row, and now he’s saying it’s his own choice to have the procedure.”
Peter shrugged. “I wasn’t trying to change his mind. I just thought about what I was doing and I couldn’t go through with it. You remember what you told me about conditioning?”
Rocket came in then, so she couldn’t answer Peter or hear what else he had to say. She thought she understood where he was going with it, though. Rocket had been conditioned to fear surgical procedures, but beyond that, to associate them with people in power who hurt and controlled him. If Peter had forced this, he -- and Gamora, by extension -- would have undergone a subtle but permanent change in Rocket’s eyes.
She was glad that at least one of them had figured it out before it was too late, but she wasn’t surprised that it had been Peter. He had his roles on this team just like she did.
She had planned to come up with conversation topics that would keep them all distracted from any serious matters, but Rocket took a few bites of food and then said, “We didn’t get that legal form paper done.”
Peter looked concerned, despite having his mouth so full his cheeks were puffing out. He chewed rapidly and swallowed hard. “I’ll fudge the rest. I can leave out stuff like Halfworld if you want.”
“Don’t matter. Every prison I ever busted outta had it on record I came from Halfworld.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess they would.” Peter fidgeted with his fork, avoiding eye contact, then blurted out, “Do you still not want me to come in with you? Would it help if it was Gamora instead? I won’t get jealous, I swear.”
Gamora frowned. “Why would he want that? Not that I would refuse,” she added hastily.
“I’m not saying he would, just putting it out there. Maybe you guys get sick of looking at my face sometimes, how should I know.”
“This is quite a new side of you. I hope it persists.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Peter grumbled. “Can we get back to Rocket?”
Rocket’s ears pricked. “My thoughts exactly, ‘cept I was gonna phrase it, ‘shut up, imbeciles’. This ain’t got nothin’ to do with the ugly faces on either a’ you. Pete, gimme your arm.”
“Huh?” said Peter, but Rocket just motioned impatiently at him until he put down his fork and held forth his forearm.
Rocket balanced against the table with his armored side and used his other hand to push back Peter’s shirtsleeve, baring his arm up to the elbow. He inspected it for a few seconds, then found what he was looking for, tapped it with one claw, and sat back in his chair.
Gamora leaned forward, curious, and Peter didn’t seem to understand himself until he put his arm close to the candle’s light and peered closely. “Oh,” he murmured, and Gamora finally saw a pink, roughly triangular bite mark on the skin.
“Okay, but so what?” Peter pushed his sleeve back down and went back to his food. “Not exactly my first. Hey! What if sometimes I went by the code name Scar-Lord? It could be like my dark alter-ego.”
Rocket rolled his eyes. “Trust me, I don’t give a crap about messin’ up your dainty complexion. Only thing is...” He furrowed his brow. “I don’t remember doin’ that.”
Now that he mentioned it, Gamora didn’t remember this, either. It must have happened before she had joined them when they escaped from Paragon Station. Peter confirmed it by replying, “You weren’t really yourself right then.”
“Yeah.” Rocket’s voice had dropped low, and it was easy to see how much this was really troubling him. “I lost it. That’s gonna happen again.”
“You lost it and then you got it back,” said Peter. “That’s gonna happen again too. Let me worry about keeping my fingers.”
“Yeah but you don’t get it,” snapped Rocket, his tension giving way to sudden frustration. “I’m not gonna remember. It’s gonna be like I ain’t even there. Like...like someone else is at the controls.”
Instead of answering, Peter fell into a silent contemplation, staring at nothing while taking a deep drink from his glass. Rocket scowled at him and stabbed a morsel of food on his plate. Whatever progress they had made might have been about to go downhill, Gamora thought, and she decided it was her turn to contribute. “That’s the reason Peter is going in with you, Rocket. You won’t be able to understand what’s happening to you, but he will.”
Peter nodded vigorously, and Rocket’s hackles went down. He started to speak, stopped to think, and then said, “If they try anything shady, would you maybe, uh, shoot ‘em all for me?”
Gamora’s reflex was to point out how preposterous that request was, but Peter replied with a ready, “Yup!” and she censored herself. Nobody was going to die in the operating room, regardless of the promises Peter decided to make on the fly. If it made Rocket feel better to imagine the Guardians rescuing him in the event that the doctors turned out to be mad scientists in disguise, it was just lucky for everyone that they wouldn’t.
The rest of the evening felt strangely ordinary. Rocket didn’t want to talk about the surgery anymore, but the only thing that kept them all distracted was their need to find the enemies who had caused all this. They each went through all of their respective resources, plugging in the word “Phiggre” everywhere. Sometimes they found references to it, but all were virtually without context, and they didn’t feel any closer to an answer by the end of the night.
Still, it was good to have something useful to do with their time. Rocket and Peter both seemed especially determined to see the mission through, and she thought it might have something to do with needing a target for their vexation over the current situation.
For that matter, so did she. And it wasn’t displacement; Keelah and her cohorts really had been the ones to hurt Rocket and Groot and break up the team. Nothing would be as satisfying as the day the Guardians caught up to them.