Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy (spoilers for Vol. 2)
Rating: Teen for language
Notes: Last one, at least for a while. This was based on a prompt someone gave me on Ao3, which seduced me by involving my two favorite characters and their relationship -- this time I actually ended up giving it a romantic vibe and I'm not really sure what to say about that. Afte all these years, do I have an M/M ship?
From his vantage point on an outcropping of rocks, Peter could see how the ravine split the world in two, with waterfalls coming down on the other side and his red M-class ship dwarfed by the cloudscape over the flat cliff where he had left it. The stony surface gradually gave way to dirt and grass, and finally trees and hills. From time to time, Peter looked over his shoulder at the forest’s horizon behind him, silently promising it that he would be there soon.
There was no real rush. He barely ever felt impatient anymore.
When the dot of a distant ship appeared in the sky, though, waiting for it to land suddenly seemed like it would be unbearable. The dot got bigger, and Peter’s smile grew along with it until he could make out the familiar contours of a steel-grey spacecraft much larger than the one that had brought him here.
It settled on the cliff with the light touch of an experienced pilot, and Peter got up and came down from the rocks just before he saw one small figure exit through the side hatch and look around himself.
They walked toward each other at a leisurely pace. When the other was close enough for Peter to see pointed ears and a waving tail, he cupped a hand to his mouth and called out, “Hey asshole.”
Rocket’s response rang out instantly: “Hey loser.”
“Hey nimrod,” said Peter.
As the distance between them closed, Peter dropped to one knee and folded his arms around Rocket. “Hey trash panda.”
Rocket hopped nimbly onto Peter’s thigh, giving him a return embrace that was strong enough to put him off balance. “Hey douchebag.” They both fell sideways onto the grass, still holding onto each other, Peter getting tickled by a faceful of whiskers.
Peter pressed his forehead to Rocket’s, breathing in his unique scent. A few heartbeats went by, and then he felt Rocket lick his cheek and let go. He sat up.
“Twelve goddamn months,” Rocket mused.
“The galaxy managed to hold itself together. We got our errands done. Guess that means everything worked out okay.” The year apart had been experimental; neither of them had thought that their relationship needed it, but Peter had been concerned that they depended on each other too much. The only way to test it was to see how they dealt with living on their own.
“Sure,” said Rocket, “but it sucked.”
“Let’s not do it again,” Peter agreed.
They both stood up, dusting grass off of their clothes and fur. “You been to the Grove yet?” Rocket asked.
“No. I was waiting for you.” He hadn’t known exactly when Rocket would arrive, but it was a half hour’s walk from the cliff to the Grove, and he hadn’t wanted to miss watching the ship land. “You were the last one to come here, I think. It’s been a few months for me.”
Rocket made an affirmative sound as he began walking in the direction of the treeline. Peter matched his stride, occasionally letting his knuckles caress the furry head beneath them. Before they had left the landing site behind, Rocket pointed over at the red ship and said, “Where’d you get that?”
Peter shrugged. “Spoils of war. I figured we could keep it here as a spare.”
“Is it any good?”
With Rocket that was never a yes-or-no question, and motors filled the conversation for most of the rest of the walk. When the trees first began coming between them and the sun, their responses got slower, and by the time they reached the old clearing in the heart of the wood, they were silent. Peter crouched to run his hand over the ring of smooth stones that he had arranged there around their firepit. The footpath was harder to find, being a little overgrown, but for the most part, nothing had changed. He smiled at Rocket, then faced the trees and said, “Hello?”
A deep rumble answered him, then the sound of an approaching footfall that covered more distance in a single step than Peter could have with five. Another came from a different direction, then there was the rapid patter of a smaller being, and then faces appeared between the trees, on additional trees, each one gazing at Rocket and Peter with kind and curious eyes.
Peter stood, grinning, and watched with amicable envy as Rocket darted over to the tallest one and scaled up to perch on his shoulder. Two others, one around Peter’s height and one that reached his chest, came to greet him in their earthy voices, and he embraced one with each arm and made remarks on their growth which seemed to please them. They were still young enough to ask questions, mostly ones that made little sense. They had never left this planet, and their understanding of Rocket and Peter’s stories about their travels was limited.
Peter could still hear the words “I am Groot” whenever they spoke, but he no longer needed Rocket to translate. Their meanings were always clear, though how or exactly when it had happened remained a mystery.
Now he was being told by multiple Groots that they had something to show him, and Rocket, who had leaped from shoulder to shoulder to be back near Peter’s side, had been getting the same message. Groot led them all in a procession, while Rocket rode up high on Groot, and Peter held hands with Groot and Groot.
The surprise that was waiting for them was a true surprise, and a wonderful one at that. Carefully planted in a patch of sunlight near the riverbank, a tiny sapling beamed up at them, waving miniature branches as if ready to start dancing. “Groot!” Peter exclaimed. “Welcome to the universe, twigster!”
He went down to his knees to get closer, and Rocket scrambled to the ground and let the baby tug his whiskers. “This makes sixteen,” he said with subdued pride. “I remember when we thought we’d lost the only one.”
Peter sagged a little, because he didn’t. There was some vague recollection of a terrible loss and an unexpected rebirth -- he thought it had happened when the original team had formed -- but details were constantly vanishing from his memory, consequence of a long life without any superhuman mental powers. Rocket had no such problem; he remembered everything as if it had happened yesterday, and he was the one who safeguarded the memories that they shared. There were times that Peter wondered if Rocket had the worse end of the deal, but he took on the burden without complaining, and supplied reminders whenever Peter needed them.
Searching his pockets for a treat that wouldn’t be too unhealthy, Peter came up with a piece of dried fruit and offered it to the little tree, who popped it into his mouth and squealed in delight. Rocket fondled his head gently and rose, and the procession moved back to the clearing after waving goodbye. One adult Groot stayed behind, Peter noted gratefully. There were no enemies here, but such a small plant could face any number of dangers. The others must be keeping a constant eye on him.
“I am Groot,” said a tree walking beside Peter, just barely taller than him.
Rocket overheard and looked down from his ride with a chuckle. “You want to leave the planet with us, huh?”
“It’s been a long time since we had a Groot come along,” said Peter, amused. “I don’t know, buddy. It can be scary out there.”
“I am Groot!”
Peter patted his shoulder. “I’m sure you’re very brave. Maybe when you’re a little older, okay?”
Rocket jumped over to put himself in the middle of the conversation. “We got a good lineup in the Guardians right now,” he said to Peter. “Been a long time since they had a Groot, too.”
Now that was an interesting thought. Peter mentally ran through the current roster of Guardians of the Galaxy: an android from Terra, a girl who boasted direct lineage from Starhawk and Aleta, a mutant Krylorian, and two hybrid siblings whose parent species were both unknown to Peter. They would take care of Groot, and there was a good chance that the android would even be able to understand him.
Peter was tempted to push for letting Groot stay with them instead of the Guardians, but he could see where Rocket was coming from. Life with a cosmic adventuring team was dangerous but undoubtedly fun, full of opportunity and friendship. Peter and Rocket’s life was grounded in the hard choices that they had made as a consequence of outliving everyone they had loved. They found fulfillment in their own way, but it had left them with errands instead of missions, allies instead of family. Peter’s happiest times were always here, the nameless planet where glory was impossible, the safest place in the galaxy.
Three Groots accompanied them back to the landing site and helped unpack Peter’s new ship, carrying some items to the old one and some to the Grove. Rocket did a preliminary walkthrough of the vehicle, pronounced it acceptable, and named it the Aorta. Peter poked his head into Rocket’s transport, but without much interest. Even after a year, not much would have changed within.
The last thing that he strapped across his back before they sealed up the ships was an acoustic guitar, obtained on Terra some decades ago. Rocket flashed him a grin when he saw it. “Was afraid you’d gone and smashed it on a stage after gettin’ weepy-drunk somewhere.”
“Aw, come on. I’d never do that if you weren’t there.”
“Don’t do it tonight. Unless you got a whole stash a’ guitars hidden in the Aorta.”
Peter laughed. “Hell, I didn’t even bring enough beer to get drunk on. Let alone weepy.”
Rocket walked beside him this time instead of climbing up a Groot. “Ya didn’t? Typical. I’m gonna set up a home brew.” He described the equipment he had brought and the process he was going to use, and Peter listened, smiling uncontrollably, not caring a whit about beer.
The sun was sinking as they reached the clearing with the fire pit again, and Peter was impressed to see that the Groots had gathered dry wood and piled it up for them. The generosity was normal for them, but they weren’t usually very good at anticipating the needs of mammals, and nobody had mentioned making a fire. Those that were still nearby reacted with pride when Peter thanked them, and he could tell there had been a lot of discussion and planning over it in his absence.
Rocket lit the fire using a humorously primitive device, and Peter settled down to tune the guitar on the log they had leveled out as seating. He had been playing now for as long as the entire musical careers of some of his old rock heroes, but had never bothered to hone his skills beyond what he needed for nights like this, entertaining the most limited of audiences. Rocket preferred listening to singing along, so Peter had gotten used to the sound of his own voice solo over the simple acoustic strains.
As he began to play, though, an otherworldly kind of accompaniment rose out of the forest around them. The Groots had vanished into the darkness, but they were humming on key, fading in and out from tree to tree, with no telling if it was subconscious or intentionally musical. They provided percussion too, softly tapping on themselves or each other or the real trees. Rocket, who had joined Peter up on the log, requested his favorite and then rested his head on Peter’s thigh and said nothing for the next five songs.
They cooked dinner over the fire, using food from the limited supplies they had brought from the ships to last until they could hunt and harvest. While eating, they caught each other up on some details from the past year, but when all that remained of the food was a drop of marshmallow that Rocket was trying to lick off of his palm, conversation yielded to the crackling of the fire and the rustle in the forest. Peter leaned back against the log and wrapped an arm around Rocket, contented but solemn.
“Do you remember my father?” he asked after a few minutes of staring silently into the dying flames.
“Yondu or Ego?” Rocket responded.
Hearing Yondu’s name still gave Peter a little bit of a pang, probably because he heard it so rarely. “Ego,” he clarified. “The Celestial.”
Rocket stretched and resettled under his arm, nodding. “What about him?”
Peter sighed. “This year has been...I’ve been thinking about him a lot. I would get so lonely and I would have these deranged ideas pop into my head, like, if I met someone I liked, I would start hoping they would die soon so I wouldn’t have a chance to get to know them first. Or, I thought it would be cool to have a son just so I could see what I would have looked like if I got old. Creepy shit. It didn’t get too bad, ‘cause I knew I’d be back here with you soon, but...” He shook his head. “I always told myself I was better than Ego. Maybe I’m just younger.”
“You won’t go evil, Pete. I know what it looks like. I’d tell ya.”
“I know,” said Peter immediately. “But now I’ve had a little taste of what life without an expiration date would be like without you. I don’t think I could do this alone.”
“So what?” Rocket’s voice had a tinge of its old snarkiness. “You don’t have to.”
Peter could only answer with a grunt of pained agreement. He knew Rocket wouldn’t leave him, and he understood why the implication of any other possibility would get his hackles up. They were in this together, and that was a truth so ironclad that they had long since stopped even referencing it. But that was exactly why the thought of losing Rocket was so terrifying.
His pause must have made something click for Rocket, whose tone turned gentle again. “Oh, I get it. You’re thinkin’ I could croak before you do.”
“You could,” Peter shot back. “We’re not indestructible. You could take a bullet or fall off a cliff or who even knows, and then what? Do I just kill myself right then to make sure I never turn into another Ego? Do I cross my fingers and try to keep playing the interstellar hero forever? It’s not fair to put that on you, on top of everything else, but I don’t know how else to prepare in case it happens.”
“‘’On top of everything else’?” Rocket echoed quietly.
Peter picked up a woodchip and chucked it into the fire. “You know.” He preferred to believe that the reason he never brought this up was because Rocket didn’t like to talk about it, but his own shame was telling him that was just a convenient excuse. “Even if you forgave it back when it happened, I’m still dealing with it. I can’t help that.”
“Idiot,” said Rocket with affection. He snuggled closer. “Nothin’ to forgive. You wanted to try out your cosmic godboy superpowers and I said yes. No way we coulda known about the side effects.”
Rocket’s faultless memory, Peter reflected, wasn’t immune to a perspective bias. This was one event from the days of the first Guardians of the Galaxy that Peter himself could recall with perfect clarity, and he knew he hadn’t been interested in testing his superpowers. Rocket had been sick. Aging. Suffering from constant pain and malfunctioning cybernetics. Peter had only recently discovered that Ego had left him a legacy after all, enough control over the Light to heal his own body and minor wounds on others, and he had all but begged Rocket to let him use it to restore his health.
Even then, blissfully unaware of his own eternal longevity, he couldn’t bear to let his friend go.
He rubbed his fingers through Rocket’s neck fur. “I thought if we were lucky, it would give you another fifty years or so. I thought that was about how much time I had too. All I wanted was for us to have matching lifespans. Wham bam, wish granted.” He shook his head regretfully. “You should have had a choice.”
“You didn’t get a choice either,” Rocket pointed out. “You pitched a fit when we figured it out. Bet you don’t remember that. We went to a shaman with a Celestial connection and she checked us out and gave us the diagnosis and you were havin’ none of it.” He laughed. “You said if the Light was doing this, you wanted a Lightswitch so you could turn it the hell off.”
He was right; Peter didn’t remember that. In this case he might have intentionally blocked it out, since he probably hadn’t found it the least bit funny at the time. “Did I talk about committing suicide?” he asked, genuinely curious.
Rocket flipped back to sobriety. “Yeah. I don’t think you woulda done it, but it was on the table once you knew your death was the only way to get the Light outta the universe for good.”
Peter didn’t need to ask what had taken it off the table. However he might have felt about his heritage, the Light was in his hands now, not Ego’s, and it was doing no harm. It kept him and Rocket alive. He feared a future in which Rocket died and he survived, but the reverse would never be the case. When the Light went out, it was over for both of them.
The fire was down to embers now, but Peter had been staring at it for so long that his eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness around it. He tilted his head back, drinking in the stars. The entire sentient population of this planet consisted of sixteen Flora Colossus and two migratory spacefarers, and its skies would never be touched by smog or light pollution. They had done this one thing right, at least. They had made a difference here.
“You used to be a jerk,” he said suddenly, chuckling. “I don’t remember everything but I remember that. You were always insulting everyone, making threats. Getting us into trouble.”
He could hear the smile in Rocket’s words. “So why’d you keep me around?”
Peter had to think about that. His bond with Rocket seemed like such a foregone conclusion that it was difficult to imagine any state of mind that preceded it. “I guess I just liked you,” he answered. “I was probably a jerk too.”
“Not like I was,” said Rocket. “But yeah.” His tail flicked, brushing against Peter’s hand. There was a long silence, looming larger now that the Groots had gone off to bed and the fire had died. Rocket’s voice sounded small and vulnerable when he spoke again: “I’m tired.”
Peter dropped his face to lean it against the top of Rocket’s head. “I’m sorry.”
“Tired a’ bein’ awake,” Rocket groused. “Not tired a’ bein’ alive. Cut the melodrama, we still gotta get the house set up.”
With a sigh, Peter hauled himself to his feet, kicked some dirt over the embers, and strapped his guitar on while Rocket packed up the remnants of dinner. The treetops blocked the meager starlight as soon as they stepped onto the footpath, and Peter was almost entirely blind, but instead of taking out a flashlight he let Rocket lead him by the hand through the forest. There was another, smaller clearing up ahead, and Peter didn’t even realize how close they were until it was suddenly illuminated. He looked down to see Rocket, now visible if shadowy, holding a pocket controller.
The light was coming from the windows of a structure about twenty feet off the ground, supported by a mighty tree at each corner of its quadrangle base. Rocket fiddled with the controls again. A roof folded out from the top of the house, and a wooden ladder lowered at an angle, rungs straightening into steps.
Peter felt the day catching up to him as he mounted the ladder; he hadn’t wanted to leave the fire pit, but rest was beginning to sound good too. Rocket took his usual shortcut up one of the trees, still entering commands into his device, one-handed. He had never used the ladder, as far as Peter could remember.
The treehouse whirred and clanked internally, but by the time they were inside, everything was moving into its position and a fresh clean breeze was circulating. They fell easily into an established routine: Rocket checked everything electronic and mechanical to make sure it was still working properly, and Peter unpacked and took inventory. He finished first, so he made up the bed and was sitting on it wearing his flannel pajama pants when Rocket came in through the window.
“Copacetic,” said Rocket. “You still need this light on?”
“No,” Peter replied, but then lay back and asked, “Do we still have that thing where the ceiling goes invisible?”
He couldn’t tell if the lights went off first, or if the ceiling disappeared, but now he was looking at an endless starscape, brighter than it had seemed when he was outside. His eyes were still fixed on it as he heard Rocket get out of his jumpsuit and then felt him hop onto the bed. His voice was amused. “Good luck sleepin’ with that overhead.”
“I like stars.” Peter rolled over and pulled Rocket to him in a tight hug. He had barely been touched in any manner more personal than a handshake for the past year, and the pulse of life against his skin felt wonderful. There had been a time that this position would have meant metal studs digging into his chest, but the regenerative healing that he had bestowed on Rocket so long ago had also transformed his bionic implants. He was one hundred percent organic now, though he had lost none of his strength or ability, and he retained the upright stance and every other visible sign of his experimental origins.
It helped to know that the Light had done him some good. The calm nature that Rocket had now seemed to have set in at the same time as the transition to his softer, more comfortable body, making Peter feel like his former acerbity had all been in the metal, and removing it had simply revealed the true Rocket.
That had all been so long ago. Peter supposed there had also been a time that he hadn't slept better when he was spooning a raccoon, but he couldn't remember it.
"We can black the ceiling out if you want," Peter offered.
“I’m nocturnal, doofus. I can sleep with the lights on.”
Peter smiled into the darkness, kissed Rocket between the ears, and turned his attention back to the stars. He blinked, or slept for a few hours, but when he opened his eyes, he was still on his back and the stars had faded into a backdrop of smudged dark colors.
Rocket’s back was still under his hand, but Rocket’s head had lifted from his chest. He was propped up on his elbows, his fur silvered by the light, his gaze steady and penetrating. “What?” Peter whispered.
“Don’t die, Pete.” He wasn’t speaking in a whisper, but in a low, clear voice.
Still half-asleep, Peter chuckled when he answered. “Them’s the breaks.”
“I mean it. You think you cursed me with some kinda burden, takin’ me along, but I ain’t tired a’ bein’ alive. We gotta see this through.”
Rocket’s fur was soft under Peter’s fingers as he stroked down his back. “As long as you’re here, I’ll be here,” he promised.
“Stay if I’m not here, too.”
Peter lifted his head off the pillow to come level with his eyes. “Rocket…”
“I wanna know you’ll stay. You can do it. You won’t go bad. A’right?”
It was exactly what Peter had asked for; Rocket was making the hard call that he couldn't make himself. It was still hard to accept. Keeping himself from succumbing to despair and evil inclinations was only part of the responsibility that going on alone would entail. He would have to continue to traverse the galaxy, finding people in need and jobs that only he could do, not hide away in this quiet paradise gardening for all eternity.
The future was always uncertain, of course. There were other immortals out there, and not all of them were like Ego. Peter also still had the power to imbue another with his immunity to aging, as far as he knew, and someday there might be the right person and circumstance to use it again. He could have other companions. But they wouldn’t be Rocket.
“Alright,” he answered, not bothering to mask the sorrow behind the word when he knew Rocket would see right through it. “I’ll stay.”
Satisfied, Rocket lowered himself again and tucked his head into the curve of Peter’s throat. When Peter woke up a second time that morning, it was to Rocket grooming his eyebrows with his tongue.
They swam in the cold river, picked a basket of berries, and introduced the youngest Groot to Terran music, played on a device that Rocket had salvaged and restored long before the oldest Groot had been born. Neither of them made any mention of how long they would stay planetside this time, but Peter knew it would be for as long as they could possibly justify, and then they would be called back out to the stars by a galaxy in need.
The sun stayed over them all day long. Peter watched the life all around him growing strong beneath its rays, and blessed it in his heart.