Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy (not Vol.2-compliant)
Wordcount: This part, 2414
Notes: I've been having a really hard time getting myself to write, so I'm just going to go ahead with posting this now that it's reached my minimum word count, and I can't guarantee for quality. The transitions may be a little difficult to understand. If there's an obvious error, though, I really hope you'll point it out to me, and if something doesn't seem to make sense I'm more than happy to clarify.
The scientist adjusted the feeding tubes on the unconscious animal, then swiveled a camera over its back to project an oversized image of its current state onto the wall. He smiled when the image caught an up-close button nose before correcting, and gave the creature a gentle pat on the head. “If we could solve the temperament issues I would want one of these for my daughter.”
The other scientist in the room, younger and darker of complexion, looked up from his own readings. “Your disabled daughter?”
“Yeah. Can you imagine, a cute furry little helper that could talk and everything? She’d be ecstatic.”
The other smiled sympathetically, but shook his head. “They would never give us the budget for that.”
“I know.” His eyes stayed on the screen, fingers making the occasional gesture to scroll or focus, but his distraction was clear. “But I can’t help thinking, if we could produce exactly what they want just once... maybe that would get us a greenlight for variations. Something that isn’t necessarily a weapon.”
“Well, for that to work, they’d have to tell us exactly what they want.”
The older man exhaled in frustration. “We used the samples they sent us. As a prototype, 89P13 is pretty damn near perfect. If we don’t pitch them something new they’ll just have us keep replicating the same process on other species.”
“Most likely, but pitching new ideas is about the only thing we haven’t had any success in.” His tone was ironic, but when he looked up again and saw his colleague’s head hanging, he changed it. “Hey, look on the bright side. We’re charting new territory. We’ve done the impossible. And maybe you can’t get a service critter for your girl, but at least you’re providing for her.”
“Can’t complain about the pay grade,” the father acknowledged. “Alright, Thirteen’s set to hibernate for the next forty-eight hours. It’s still early, do you want to hit the pub tonight?”
“That’s it,” said Rocket. He turned off the video, shoulders sagging in relief when the picture of him on the table disappeared.
Peter reached out tentatively and laid a hand on his head, and then, getting no objection, began to stroke him in slow, even motions. Rocket wished this had started sooner, not entirely because he needed the comfort, but because he had only lately discovered how good it felt to be petted on his back, and he wasn’t sure he could bring himself to ask for it.
They were in Peter’s bunk, which was starting to smell as much of Rocket as it did of him, although Rocket supposed he was the only one who would know that. The part of the video that he had wanted to show Peter was only about ten minutes long, so they had spent the entirety of it sitting side by side on the bed, just within reach of each other. Rocket had already seen the video twice by himself, so he had mostly been watching Peter’s reactions: outrage, disgust, a deeply furrowed brow that probably just meant he was thinking.
His fingers pushed deeper into Rocket’s neck fur. “Pretty damn near perfect,” he murmured.
“What are you, tryin’ ta get my number?”
For a moment, Peter looked genuinely surprised, and then he forced out a brief laugh. “I get why you were confused by this part. These guys don’t know what they were trying to make, but they had instructions to follow, so someone knew. Thanos, I guess.”
“Why would Thanos want to make something like me?” Rocket asked quietly. It wasn’t rhetorical, but the question echoed back in his mind with a cruel twist -- Why would anyone want something like me?
Peter shivered. “Maybe to put you somewhere that a raccoon wouldn’t draw a second glance. Hide a weapon in plain sight.”
They sat in silence for a long moment. Peter’s hand had stopped, so Rocket inched closer and nudged it with his head. “Ya think they got some more raccoons where we’re goin’?”
“Hm,” said Peter, obliging him by rubbing up and down his back. “No clue. But if they took Astrans, they’re probably not doing exactly what they did on Halfworld.”
“Yeah,” Rocket agreed. His voice sounded glum to his own ears, although he was sure he didn’t care about finding any other animals of his own former species. “They’re gonna have records on me, though. If someone sees me I ain’t gonna have much luck tellin’ ‘em they got the wrong guy.”
“No one will see you.” It was stated with utter confidence. “Our cover is that Marwek and Wuul captured the Guardians, but it doesn’t have to be all the Guardians. I’m supposed to be dead already. You can be dead too. Anyway, subtlety isn’t the strong suit for the rest of us, either. We’re only gonna keep up the ruse until we get in the door.” He hesitated, then added, “And after that I’m going to be right by you the whole time.”
Rocket shot him a suspicious glare. “Why? Just ‘cause I don’t wanna be used as bait don’t mean I need a flarkin’ babysitter.”
Peter kept petting in spite of the jab. “No, you need a conscience. If I leave you alone you might shoot anything that moves. I can’t have a massacre on my hands while we’re trying to save people.”
Somehow, after delivering that sanctimonious condemnation, he was still stroking Rocket, and he hadn’t sounded the least bit angry while he said it. Rocket was at a loss. This would usually be when he bit back, sometimes literally, but he didn’t want to give up Peter’s hand on his back. “I only kill people who deserve it,” he said stubbornly.
“Yeah, and you decide on the spot who deserves it. Look, Rocket, I’m totally fine putting my life in your hands. Done it before, ready to do it again. All I’m asking is for you to follow my lead for this one thing so we don’t have an Avengers Tower redux if you get spooked by what we see in there.”
Rocket winced. He had already admitted, to both himself and Peter, that he had been in the wrong when he tried to destroy the Avengers’ base of operations while four of them were inside of it. He couldn’t go back on that now. But… “These ain’t confused Terran superheroes, Pete. It’s the real deal this time.”
The look that Peter gave him was very gentle and very wise. “Makers,” he said. “That’s what you called them, isn’t it?”
Rocket noticed his hands trembling, and he clenched them into fists to hide it. “They’re evil,” he pleaded.
“That one we saw just now. With the daughter…”
“I told you about him. He was the one who was nice to me. But it wasn’t real, he was just tryin’ to keep me calm so they could do their work, he told me that once, told me it wasn’t personal. You gotta believe me Peter, he was just as bad as the rest of ‘em, he was evil, they’re all evil--”
He didn’t even realize that he had been babbling until Peter cupped his face in both hands and made him meet his eyes. “I. Believe. You.”
Rocket didn’t try to pull away. “I never knew he had a kid.”
“Would it have mattered?”
“I don’t know.” That was a lie. He was looking straight into Peter’s eyes and telling him a lie. “No! No, it wouldn’ta mattered shit. I didn’t know nothin’ about families and sacrifices and whatever else that bastard was up to. I woulda killed him anyway. Happy now?”
Peter finally released him, but his hand fell back on his head and stayed there as Rocket wiped away something that had gotten into his eyes. Why couldn’t they just watch a video about his horrific past without having to talk about his horrific past?
“We’re all killers,” said Peter slowly. “Even Groot. I never murdered anyone who couldn’t fight back, but I never stopped to ask if they had kids, either. I don’t care what you did on Halfworld. I’m not shedding any tears over the bastard in question. But I do care about what this team does now, and this is too personal for you to be able to know when it needs to get lethal.”
Rocket had the odd feeling that a great weight was being removed. He wasn’t going to have to make any moral judgment calls. At the same time, he was faced with a kind of regret he hadn’t experienced before. “Do I really not have a conscience?” he asked, trying to sound like he didn’t care.
“You do,” Peter answered immediately. “It just needs some maintenance. You must have tinkered it into existence yourself, so it’s still pretty new.”
That made sense. Rocket had invented a lot of things by tinkering. He could always get them to work right, in the end.
A ship appeared at the jump point, and one of the two guards stationed there initiated the transmission protocol. “State your name, vessel identification, and purpose.”
The voice that responded was unfamiliar to either of the guards. “Marwek Yttulriok piloting, Wuul Yttulriok copiloting, Lotus Leaf, Class D-17 Transport. We have prisoners to turn in.”
The first guard exchanged a surprised glance with the other. “Identify the prisoners.”
“Gamora, Daughter of Thanos, and Drax the Destroyer.”
Both of the guards burst out laughing, leaving the transmission active so the occupants of the Lotus Leaf could hear it. “The Guardians of the Galaxy?” hooted the second one. “You two fellas captured half the Guardians of the Galaxy in your little punk commuter ship. That’s gold. Maybe you got a Celestial in there too?”
Yttulriok responded in a tone which had lost none of its sobriety. “Request a visual connection.”
“Why not?” said the first guard, still laughing.
He stopped when the image blinked on. Two Astran men were sitting in the pilot seats, and behind and between them, two humanoid figures were bound and gagged despite being clearly unconscious. One was a green-skinned woman and one was a large tattooed male wearing no shirt -- they fit the descriptions.
The guards put the connection on hold and exchanged a shocked look with each other. “It’s probably a hoax,” said one.
“Then the welcome wagon will probably cut their throats before they get to laugh,” said the other with a shrug. “I’m gonna buzz ‘em through.”
As the melee wrapped itself up, Peter holstered his weapons, took a look around for hidden enemies or fallen ones with the potential to get back up, and began a headcount of his own side. “That’s one,” he said as Gamora retracted her sword and flipped her hair. Groot emerged from around a corner, and Rocket emerged from out of nowhere to leap onto his shoulder and ride him back toward Peter. “Two, three.” Drax kicked a body out of his way as he returned. “Four,” said Peter, “and Star-Lord makes five. Good work, guys.”
“Six,” said Drax. He pointed back at Wuul, who was picking his way around the battlefield, eyes huge. “Don’t forget the wimp.”
“Six,” Peter agreed. He stepped over to Wuul to give him a hearty slap on the back. “Congratulations, you came out on the right side of your first curbstomp.”
The man gave him a skeptical look. “All I did was--”
“Stayed the hell out of the way,” Peter finished for him. “Just like we told you to. Keep it up. You’re with Drax from here, so do what he says. Within reason. Gamora?”
“Ready,” she said cheerfully.
“Rocket’s going to open the doors in the order you reach them. Show the captives where to go, but don’t look for trouble, just take out any thugs who happen to be in your path.” He waited for her nod, then went on, “Drax, look for trouble. The doors on your side won’t be unlocked yet, but guards will be patrolling. Try to get rid of them before they reach Gamora. You’ll meet up with each other halfway, so just help her with the rest of the captives from that point.”
They had gone over all of this already, but nobody was objecting to him saying it again now that they were inside the compound. Peter pulled up a holographic map so everyone could see where everyone else would be. “Pretty hard to get lost,” he remarked. “Every room opens into the corridor, and that goes in a circle so you’ll eventually get back here.”
He turned so that the corridor was to his left and right, and pointed straight ahead. “Rocket and Groot will be in the control room. I’ll be right here to guard their backs, and yours, if anything comes in the same way we did.”
Gamora went to the right, Drax and Wuul to the left. Rocket was already disabling a set of heavy locks on the door to the control room, and Peter barely had to pause before following Groot inside as the door swung open.
There were screens everywhere, each one showing the interior of one of the lab’s study rooms. A few other cameras were on the corridor, so Peter could see Gamora waiting by the first door and Drax picking his first fight with a uniformed tough. He didn’t seem to be in any danger, so Peter asked Rocket, “Can you work with this?”
“Yeah,” said Rocket absently from Groot’s shoulder, where he was opening up a sealed panel. “Won’t take long for someone to notice, though, so get ready to say hi.”
Peter drew his blasters and faced the door. “Did you see Drax pummeling that guard? I bet I can get one faster.”
Rocket’s voice floated down to him casually. “Oh, yours ain’t gonna be a guard. They don’t got a clue what’s goin’ on in the control room. The researchers, now. Sudden lock failure, and they come a-runnin’ to see what’s wrong.” There was an audible click as he disabled the door in front of Gamora, and Peter turned to watch her entering it from the monitor. On the next one over, a man in a white coat was running toward the control room from the main entrance.
“You said you’d know when to get lethal, Pete,” said Rocket grimly. “Time to meet the makers.”