Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2179
Notes: Fairly short chapter but I thought it would be neat to get it posted so quickly after the last one, maybe keep the momentum going. The song quoted is rumored for the Awesome Mix Vol. 2.
Something has changed, said a voice in the back of Rocket’s head. Find out what it is.
Last time, he recalled, it had been his translator, but he was thinking in words now, if hazily, and he knew his name. With that much established, he tried to dismiss his subconscious warning. He was comfortable and didn’t want to open his eyes.
No. You’ve been sedated. There was a procedure. You have to find out what changed.
There had been a procedure, he remembered now. He had felt this before, blacking out and coming back to himself murky, and it almost always meant that something about him had been artificially altered. Reluctantly he flexed his limbs and tail. All of them were there, and in the usual configuration. He wiggled his fingers and toes, opened his mouth, flicked his ears. Nothing felt wrong.
As his memory gradually returned to him, though, he felt more and more sure that there was some difference he had to find. Humanoid faces in surgical masks flashed through his mind, but all of them were strangers. They hadn’t made him. Why would someone other than the makers try to change him? He had to think, much as he wanted to just forget it and go back to sleep. If the alteration had been mental rather than physical, he had to pinpoint it now before he got used to it and lost whoever he had been before.
I really want to know you
Really want to go with you...
He was under a blanket, and he realized that the reason he didn’t feel scared must be that there was a strong scent of Groot in the air. Groot himself -- or anyone else, for that matter -- wasn’t in the room, but the relief that came with the smell was powerful anyway: it meant that this wasn’t Halfworld. Groot had only come into his life after the lab was gone.
What else? The fur was missing from parts of his body; that was a clue, but it only reaffirmed that the memories of an operation were real. Groot hadn’t been there. The doctors were strangers. Had they captured him somehow? It seemed unlikely that he would have allowed it to happen otherwise. And why did he still feel so sure that he was safe now?
Really want to show you, Lord, that it won't take long, my Lord...
The song had been drifting through his mind since he had awakened. Before that, actually. It was soft and melodic and he had the feeling that he knew it very well, but something was making him connect it specifically to the operation, as if that song itself was the reason that he had endured it. As if someone had been singing it to him, trying to make him feel better.
Now there was another flicker of memory. A Krylorian woman asked his name, and he gave it to her with “Raccoon” at the end, because a friend had coaxed him to embrace his animal origins, and he didn’t care about the animal but he did care about the friend. And then...yes. She had pointed to the singer. The friend. The one who had been worth going through it all again.
Everything else came back to him all at once. His injury, the Guardians, his entire past between Halfworld and now. Peter had healed him with the same resolute devotion that he had once used to band the team together and save the galaxy.
Now Rocket understood what had changed. He had undergone an operation and come out of it whole and safe and still himself. That had never happened before; no wonder he felt different.
He didn’t open his eyes. It was okay to sleep.
“Welcome aboard,” said Peter as he led Dr. Shanthig up the Milano’s entrance ramp, just as he had done with Keelah back on Knowhere. The thought made him suddenly concerned that Gamora would be dancing naked in the cargo bay, but he knew she was out planetside right now, stocking up on supplies before they launched.
“Charming,” she replied, with an undertone of irony more affectionate than fastidious. Ever since the operation had been declared a success, her mood had seemed as buoyant as his was, and nothing could bring him down right now anyway. He hadn’t expected her to board the ship at all, so the interior wasn’t in its best condition, but she’d said that it was important that she check up on Rocket before they left the star system, and agreed that it was better to come to him than to bring him back to the office.
Rocket was in Groot’s room again, and Dr. Shanthig hummed in approval when she saw that he was still sleeping. “Has he been up at all?” she asked in a quiet voice.
“Just for a few minutes. He said everything feels okay. Asked about Groot and when we can leave, and then went back to sleep.” The only thing that had seemed off about his behavior was that he hadn’t insulted anyone or complained about anything, and Peter didn’t think that was worth mentioning. The drugs hadn’t fully worn off, and they weren’t expecting him to act normally until they did.
Dr. Shanthig set down her shoulder bag on the bed, which had plenty of room for it with the small space that Rocket occupied. In the same brisk movements she had used during the operation, she lifted up the thin blanket that Rocket was wearing and studied him critically for a few moments without touching him. Peter dropped his eyes. There was nothing to be embarrassed about, but one of the shaved patches, the one on Rocket’s forearm, had revealed a tattoo that had apparently been there all along: 89P13. It was hard not to wince when he saw it. He wasn’t sure if Rocket knew about it himself yet.
“Very good,” said Dr. Shanthig, dropping the blanket back into place. She took up her satchel again and turned to leave the room.
Peter closed the door behind them as he followed her out. “Wait, that’s it?”
“The rest is just a few points I need to discuss with you.” She looked around the ship, then chose the living area to march into like she owned the place and put her bag on the card table. As she rummaged through it, she kept talking, but there was a barely discernable change in her voice; a little more caution and less satisfaction. “Cyborgs who were modified voluntarily don’t have such a hard time finding surgeon-mechanics, you know.”
“Uh.” Peter furrowed his brow. “Is that a real job title? Isn’t it easier to just say something like, ‘cyborg doctor’?”
She straightened and handed him her business card with a crooked smile. Altarahd Shanthig, it read, Licensed Surgeon-Mechanic. “People choose to get cybernetic implants for all kinds of reasons,” she went on. “It’s a thriving field with a lot of resources available for practitioners. But any kind of modification that affects the brain stem is a much different procedure with much different results, and most planetary systems have a blanket ban on that kind of activity. Information on patients like Rocket is hard to come by.”
Peter studied the card and slipped it into his pocket, hoping he would never need it again. “If it’s not supposed to happen in the first place, no one thinks about how to deal when it does.”
“Exactly.” She turned to look into her bag again, and came up holding an unmarked data stick, which she handled as if it were somehow dangerous or fragile. “Any professional with a shred of ethical fiber agrees that the Halfworld Experiments were a travesty, but it can’t be ignored that the research there must have uncovered some knowledge that most of us are desperate to have.”
“Hang on. You know about Halfworld?”
“It’s no secret. It didn’t make galactic news, but it’s still brought up as a cautionary tale at practically every cybernetic health conference.” She took a deep breath and held out the data stick. “Owning this isn’t precisely illegal, but it could mean a world of trouble. For me it was worth it to learn more about mammalian anatomy. For you...well, I’ll let you decide.”
Peter accepted the device, holding it as gingerly as she had, now that he had some idea of what it was. “Thank you,” he said in a hushed tone.
“You're welcome. Needless to say, this is at no additional charge, and you didn't get it here.”
“Understood. Hey, I'm a mammal too. You could, you know, study my anatomy.” He paused. “Okay, I can hardly believe this myself, but that wasn't a line.”
Dr. Shanthig snorted. “I’ll have to take your word on that. You’re not exactly the kind of study subject I’m looking for, though.”
“Good, ‘cause I just remembered I’m not all the way human. Now, if it had been a line…?”
“I’m married with three children. You forgot what species you are?”
She shook her head, grinning. “I’m becoming curious about these supposed ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. Just yesterday I heard about them defeating Ronan the Accuser on Xandar, but I have the feeling it wasn’t from a terribly reliable source.”
So she had been listening to him bragging for Rocket’s entertainment during the operation. He chuckled and agreed, “Not remotely. But to be fair, nobody really knows that much about the Guardians, except that they’re a bunch of misfits. Last of a species, or unknown parentage, or...lab creation...” He twirled the data stick around in his fingers, wondering what it would reveal. “That’s why they need each other so much. None of them have a people, just the team. Listen, all I’m trying to say is, you treated Rocket like you would any other patient. If there’s anything I can do for you in return -- aside from the massive amount of units I’m transferring...”
That was an exaggeration; the bill had been about what he had expected, and worth every penny. Dr. Shanthig knew it, and she smirked in response. “The units will be sufficient. We don’t discriminate at my practice. I’m a half-breed myself.”
Peter did a double take. “You’re not Krylorian?” He had never considered any other possible background for her.
“My mother is Kree. Believe me, I understand what it’s like to not know where you belong.” She raised an eyebrow at the surprise that was apparently still showing on his face. “Let me guess. You thought a Kree-Krylorian would be purple.”
“Well, you know, with the blue, and the pink, and us humans usually have skin color sort of halfway between their parents’...”
“I’m aware. Genetics don’t always work that way.”
He shrugged. “I guess that’s why you’re the doctor and I’m the cosmic adventurer.”
She rolled her eyes, smiling. She really was lovely -- proportionally older than him, sure, but that had never made much difference to him. He couldn’t place the reason that he wasn’t attracted to her. Even if she had taken his flirtations seriously and returned them, he didn’t think he would have followed through. The only thing he could see her as was Rocket’s doctor.
“I should be off,” she said, and went back to her bag once again. “Let’s go over these medications. He won’t have to take them for long, but don’t let him skip any for the next week.” She brought out the pills in three separate containers and gave him the instructions for each one, pointing out the same written on each label so that he couldn’t forget. “And this,” she added, handing him a squeezable bottle of ointment, “will help his fur grow back faster. It should work on his back too, incidentally.”
Peter stared at the text on the bottle, which was innocently advising him to apply as needed and not to eat it. “He doesn’t like being touched on his back,” he protested.
“You’re a smart man, Mr. Quill. You’ll figure it out.”
He sighed as she closed up her satchel and shouldered it again. “Can you at least stop calling me Mister?”
She nodded graciously and extended her hand. “Stay in touch, Star-Lord. If anything goes wrong with Rocket’s recovery I want to hear about it immediately.”
“Will do.” He grasped her hand warmly. “Thanks again. For everything.”
When she had gone, the ship felt a little too quiet. Gamora wasn’t due back for another hour or so. Peter moved around aimlessly, then gravitated to Groot’s room and sat down on the bed by Rocket. He thought about trying the ointment on his back while he was still unconscious, but it felt too much like a trick. He just wanted to be at peace, for once.
Without really meaning to, he began stroking Rocket’s fur as he had done in the operating room. “Things are gonna get easier,” he crooned under his breath, and believed it.