Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2470
Notes: Too far in to incorporate any elements from the new movie but it does help one with inspiration!
Dawn was breaking on Blossomor as the Milano landed in the same grassy clearing it had the first time they were there. They could still see traces of their former path, the earth that Groot had broken as his feet tried to take root. This time, Rocket led the way, walking briskly with no sign of a limp. Peter and Gamora shared a smile as they followed.
Peter couldn’t tell who was the first to see whom. The end of a light morning fog evaporated, and they were suddenly facing Drax and Groot, who were heading out from the camp to meet them halfway. Everyone’s pace picked up at the same time, and then Gamora was clasping Drax’s hands, Drax was slapping Peter on the back, Rocket was up on Groot’s shoulder, Groot was stretching an arm out to Gamora and Peter, and Peter was laughing with joy.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Rocket fondly in response to Groot’s greeting. “A’right, fine, I missed you too. Eh? ‘Course I’m better. Didn’t hardly have nothin’ wrong in the first place.” He placed both hands against Groot’s head, looked down at him, and lowered his voice. “You’re okay too. Good.”
Recovering his footing after Drax’s hearty welcome, Peter took a long look at Groot. Rocket was right: he was fully healed and back to the height that towered over all of them. It was the first time since the team had formed that they had seen him like this, and Peter had to pause to let the bittersweet memories wash over him. “Good to see you, bro,” he murmured.
“I am Groot.”
Rocket chuckled, and Gamora looked up with a wide shining grin as if she had understood his meaning too. Then she turned back to Drax and asked, “What’s that smell?”
“Meat cooking,” he answered, as if it were obvious -- which perhaps it should have been, but Peter felt a slight twinge of relief that the savory aroma wasn’t coming from a pyre of surprise attackers that Drax had dispatched in their absence. “It’s good you arrived in time for breakfast.”
They all began heading toward the camp, and soon spied Drax’s handmade hut, and outside of it, a spit bearing some deer-sized butchered carcass. Peter’s stomach rumbled. He was completely ready to agree that a huge portion of red meat would make a perfect breakfast, but before saying so, he looked up at Rocket and asked, “Do we have time for this?”
Rocket checked a device he had stashed in his pocket. “Couple hours to kill, yeah.”
As they sat in a circle around the fire, cutting up the meat as best they could manage with the tools and knives available, Peter and Rocket explained the situation with the ship that had been chasing them. They had the exact coordinates of where it would make its forced landing, and it was too small to be holding more than a handful of passengers, so the Guardians had every advantage. “And then we’re gonna shoot ‘em in the face,” Rocket concluded casually.
Drax cackled and shouted, “YES!” so loudly that a few birds took off from the trees above them.
Gamora cleared her throat. “Only if they attack us. Right Peter?”
“Right,” he agreed hastily around a mouthful of ribs. “That’s like the entire point of getting the jump on them.”
He had to extract promises from both Rocket and Drax, but in the end they all chose their weapons and walked together to the spot as a team, nobody having much interest in arguments at the moment. Rocket scampered down from Groot’s shoulder and looked back and forth from his handheld device to the sky until everyone spotted a speck among the clouds, growing as it approached.
“Fan out!” Peter commanded, and they formed a loose ring to give the ship a wide berth. He turned his face guard on and drew his blasters.
During the seconds that the ship was clearly visible, but before it touched the ground, he saw Rocket typing speedy one-handed commands into his controller, which was probably the only thing that saved them from a lethal crash. The ship was smaller than the Milano and capsule-shaped, almost certainly meant for nothing more than interstellar travel.
A cloud of dust arose around its point of contact with the surface. Unable to clearly see his companions through it, Peter listened carefully and heard the clicks of Rocket’s gun expanding, the slice of Gamora’s sword being drawn, the accelerated growth of Groot’s tough carapace, and a eager mutter of anticipation from Drax. A few heartbeats passed. The dust cleared.
Two Astran men staggered out of the ship’s hatch, both of them coughing and holding their hands in the air. Peter waited until they were both looking around themselves and had seen each Guardian before taking a step forward, motioning the others to do the same. He held his blasters in front of him, but not aimed at either of the strangers. Yet.
One of the men laced his fingers behind his head, a pose of absolute surrender that reminded Peter, sickeningly, of the video of Rocket learning to walk. The other, having identified Peter as the team leader, kept his hands up high as he addressed him. “Please. We’re unarmed.”
“Yeah, get used to that feeling. We’ve got some questions for you, punk. Bet you can guess what they are.”
The two men glanced at each other, and the one who had spoken moved his hands behind his head as the other had done. Peter wished he could think of a reason to tell them not to do that. “Who sent you?” he barked. “Get talking, or Drax is gonna get bored.” He gestured with his head to be sure they knew which one was Drax, and grinned beneath his mask to see his friend flip his knives around in his hands.
“Star-Lord,” said the Astran spokesman swiftly, licking his lips. “You are Star-Lord, aren’t you? Please. Let me explain.”
“How did you...?” Peter holstered one of his blasters, freeing his hand to release his mask. “Wait, have we met?”
The man nodded cautiously. “On Knowhere. Not long ago.”
It all came back in a rush. “Shit, Marwek? And, uh, Wuul? Keelah’s brothers?”
Rocket, in position closest to Peter, let out a savage growl. “Ya mean these are the dirtbags who put us on this friggin’ death-job? Say the word, Quill, I’ll take care of this.” He hefted his gun to his shoulder, leaving no doubt about how he intended to take care of it.
“Stand down,” Peter ordered him, and waved to the others to carry over the order to all of them. “Gamora, search them so we can talk.”
“We’re not shooting them?” asked Rocket, sounding genuinely distraught.
Peter shook his head. “They’re surrendering.”
“We’re not shooting them even a little?”
“We talked about this, Rocket.” He slipped his other blaster back into its holster, hoping the example would help. “Why don’t you go check out their ship? Drax, go with him. Groot, if these guys try anything, I want them shish kebab’d.”
That seemed enough to satisfy Rocket, who put up his gun and disappeared through the ship’s hatch, Drax close behind him. Gamora had finished patting the Astrans down and confirmed that they weren’t hiding anything, so they were finally standing normally, with Groot looming nearby.
Peter crossed his arms and gave them a hard stare, then said, “What did you think was going to happen? This isn’t open mike night. You’re way out of your league.”
“We had no choice--” Marwek began, but Wuul cut in with a hiss. “Don’t tell them!”
Before Peter could point out the flaws in that suggestion, Marwek rounded on Wuul and snapped, “What good will that do? We already failed. Now they’re the only hope.”
Gamora cocked her head at them. “We’re the only hope?”
“This wasn’t the plan,” Marwek explained curtly, ignoring his brother’s heated glare. “You’re right. We’re not cut out for this. I’m an accountant. He’s a dentist. The only thing we were supposed to do was give you the map and get Keelah onto your ship.”
“But?” Gamora prompted.
“But you didn’t follow the map!” he exploded in frustration. “You took detours, you split your team -- and that’s after you all escaped Paragon Station! The only thing we had left to use was the tracer. We thought if we could at least pinpoint your location...”
Peter frowned. “You had dozens of people coming after us on Paragon. Even if it’s accountants and dentists all the way down, how come you’re the only ones still chasing us?”
Rocket and Drax came out of the oblong ship as Marwek was answering. “We were just the only ones with a spaceworthy vehicle.”
“That’s the best you got?” asked Rocket, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the vehicle in question. “Tough break.”
Gamora didn’t leave space for them to answer that. “Why bother following at all? Even if your employer was threatening you, it would have been easy to shift the blame onto the Paragon crew. They’re the ones who failed to kill or capture us.”
“Yeah,” said Peter, “exactly how much was someone offering to pay you for us that would make it worth putting this much work into something you clearly suck at?”
Wuul was the one to respond this time, his voice fierce and sharp. “That has nothing to do with it. Do you even realize what you’re dealing with here? There are laboratories” -- he spat out the word -- “where experiments are conducted on sentient beings, crimes you can’t imagine, innocent lives destroyed--” His mouth snapped shut abruptly, as if he had said too much.
All of the Guardians now had their eyes locked on him. Peter could see that Rocket’s hackles were raised, and Groot had sprouted a few more spikes that looked like they could have grown into a wooden cage. Peter took advantage of the silence to keep his tone soft and dangerous. “Seems like you just listed a few good reasons to not be working for these guys.”
Neither Marwek or Wuul seemed to want to answer that, but to Peter’s surprise, Drax spoke up for the first time, with one grave question that explained everything: “Who did they take from you?”
A breeze rustled through the trees, including Groot’s sparse leaf adornment. Marwek gave Wuul an apologetic look, then addressed Drax and Peter. “Our mother. Our friends. Keelah’s husband.” He took a breath and peered sideways at Wuul, then dropped the final stone. “His children.”
The anger drained right out of Peter, but sympathy hadn’t yet replaced it, just a kind of twitchy blankness. “So that was the exchange. You deliver the Guardians, they release your people.”
Marwek rubbed his hands over his face, but then met Peter’s eyes fearlessly. “There was no other way, and we had to move fast. You at least would have had a chance. Our families aren’t strong like you are. They could have-- they might already be--”
“Anyone else see where this is goin’?” Rocket cut in. He had collapsed his gun and was leaning on it, ears flicking with annoyance. “Puttin’ us up for sale didn’t work, so now you want us to volunteer instead, right? And you even got the sufferin’ innocents card to play, but it’s still our asses on the line.”
Wuul took a step toward him, hands clenched in fists, before Groot stopped him with a single light touch. “Of course we’re going to ask for your help, weasel. Would you expect us to just give up? You can kill us or strand us here, but at least listen to us first.”
“Oh, sure,” said Rocket, showing his teeth. “Let’s hear a lecture from the dopes who broke Groot and sent their sister to choke Quill.”
Peter blinked. He wasn’t surprised that Rocket made no mention of his own injuries, but it hadn’t really occurred to him that this was personal on multiple levels. He had practically forgotten Keelah’s assassination attempt himself, but apparently Rocket hadn’t.
Wuul returned Rocket’s glare and spoke in a soft tone that trembled with underlying fury. “So these are the greatest heroes of our galaxy.”
“Peter,” said Gamora. “I think our team needs to confer about this privately.”
Exhaling, Peter paused and then nodded. “You guys stay in your dumb ship until we come for you. Groot, can you keep an eye on them?”
Groot answered with an affirmative rumble and ushered the two Astrans away, and the other four Guardians walked off in the other direction. Peter cast a concerned eye down toward Rocket, but concealed it before Rocket looked up and didn’t speak until he was sure they were out of hearing range. “I understand if you’re still angry at them...”
“I’m not,” Rocket responded easily. They reached Drax’s camp and resumed their places around the cold fire pit, Rocket vaulting up to the top of the stump that made the highest seat.
Peter took the crate next to the stump. “Kinda sounded like you were ready to kick off a lifelong grudge,” he pointed out.
“I just wanted ‘em to sweat a little. ‘Course we’re gonna go through with the search and rescue, but you can’t let ‘em hustle you.”
“I’m angry at them,” Drax stated from the large rock where he was sitting, elbows on his knees. “They allowed their loved ones to be captured. Such weakness should not be tolerated in a father.”
Gamora gave him a disapproving look. “We don’t know the whole story. You can see they’re trying. But Rocket, do you really mean you’ve already forgiven them?”
”Forgive them?” Rocket spat. “Why the hell would I do that? We all could be dead thanks to them cowards. All I’m sayin’ is I woulda done the same. ‘Cept I actually woulda done it right and it woulda worked.”
Drax looked perplexed. “You would have sent your sister to have sex with Peter?”
“No, idiot, I--”
“You don’t have a sister. You would have seduced him yours--?”
Peter cleared his throat as loudly as possible. “I think,” he said, “that Rocket would have done what he had to do if he had family in that kind of trouble. And...I think I would too. I don’t know if that’s the right way. Probably not, to be honest. But, guys, does it even really matter if we understand where Marwek and Wuul are coming from?”
“Yes,” said Gamora instantly. Three inquisitive pairs of eyes turned to her, and she smiled. “It matters, because they’re coming from the supply line that we need to infiltrate if these prisoners are ever going to be freed. And now we have a way in.”