Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy (not Vol.2-compliant)
Wordcount: This part, 2100-something, I don't know I already closed the doc
Notes: Chapter after a cliffhanger means I can half-ass it because all the value is already in resolving the cliffhanger. (I know that's not how it really works, but guys, writing is hard.)
Peter felt weaker than he could remember ever being, but the pressure in his head was subsiding, and the pain in his muscles was fading into mere weariness. Rocket was a comfortable weight on his chest, completely still aside from his breathing, and Peter found just enough energy to stroke his head, leaving his other hand settled on his back. Everyone had said that Rocket would be okay, that they both would, but it was hard to take that on faith before seeing him wake up.
As if the thought had carried over to him, Rocket began to stir, then pushed himself up on one hand to look at Peter with bleary eyes. He blinked four times, rubbed a hand across his face, and said, “Pete?”
“Hi,” said Peter, smiling. “You feel okay?”
“Like I been put through a meat grinder,” Rocket grunted. He let his head fall back down to Peter’s chest. “We’re...not dead, huh.”
“What tipped you off?”
“Heaven would hurt less. Hell you wouldn’t be here.”
He said it so casually, as if it were an immutable fact that Peter deserved better than he did, even now. Of course, he probably didn’t comprehend everything that had happened, yet. “We’re on the Milano,” Peter informed him. “In my bunk. Gamora and Drax and Groot are out there, ready to wait on us hand and foot until we get to Xandar and Nova Corps takes over. You did it, Rocket. You saved us.”
No response. Hesitantly, Peter began petting again, rubbing circles on his back through the soft fabric of the pajamas that Groot had dressed him in. Maybe it was time to call Groot back in, but Peter had a feeling that Rocket wasn’t ready for his happy reunions yet. “You want to go back to sleep?” he asked softly. “I got some painkillers over here.”
Rocket’s voice was even softer, and muffled against Peter’s t-shirt, but Peter made out the words, “I murdered some of ‘em.”
“I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have had to go through that alone.”
“Yeah but…” He made the effort to move his head, which Peter didn’t envy him, remembering how much it had hurt when he first woke up. “You didn’t want me to do that. You said I couldn’t decide who deserved it.”
Peter’s heart fell. “Is that what’s bothering you? Dude, those guys were the root of all evil. And you couldn’t have gotten us out any other way. You did all the deciding you had to do.”
Rocket kneaded a handful of Peter’s sleeve, his claws just barely poking through to scrape the skin. “I killed animals, too,” he said, with the air that he was making another confession. “They were innocent. Whole room full of ‘em, all scared and brainless in their cages, and I just...wiped ‘em out.”
Of all the regrets that Rocket could have been harboring, this one was unexpected. Thinking about it, Peter realized that he didn’t really know how Rocket felt about animals, aside from his fury whenever anyone classed him as one of them. Maybe he still felt some kinship, or just a soft spot. Maybe, in his eyes, euthanizing the non-sentient victims of the laboratory was akin to mercy-killing an entire community. Peter couldn’t find the words. “Oh, Rocket,” he sighed, hugging him to his chest.
They took a few minutes for Rocket to cry, while Peter stroked him and whispered words of comfort. Considering how tired they both were, Peter was surprised when they both stayed awake through it, but he had too much on his mind now and he supposed the same was true for Rocket. “If you think it would help,” he ventured, “we could do a ceremony or something for them.”
Rocket rubbed his face with the back of his hand before answering. “I just want that place gone. Blown to smithereens. I woulda done it myself but I didn’t have the time or explosives...”
“Oh. Good news. Gamora gave the coordinates to Nova Corps and they got there before the stragglers escaped. There’s plenty of evidence, so they’re all getting life imprisonment and the facility’s gonna be purged. Not to mention, their records gave us a ton of names and operations connected to Thanos. Nova Prime was real excited about that one, since it means they can finally get on the offensive.” He smiled. “How’s that for smithereens?”
“‘Splosives would be better,” Rocket muttered, but it was clear he was pleased. “We still got a ship full a’ freeloaders?”
Peter furrowed his brow, trying to remember. He had only been out of bed once since waking up, and Gamora and Drax had been trying not to overload him with information. “Like...six left, maybe? Most got dropped off already. All the Astrans, thank God. I was just about ready to kick their asses when I heard they teleported without us.”
“Hrmph,” Rocket agreed. “Did those dog things die?”
The two beasts that Peter had freed from the lab had only been mentioned in passing -- Drax had disposed of their bodies out the airlock, apparently -- but they had stayed in the back of his mind. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“It’s a’right. Least they got out.”
The weight of Rocket’s body was starting to feel cumbersome, and Peter tried to shift him a little off to the side, reasoning that the emotional support of close contact wasn’t as vital anymore. He got nipped on the wrist for his trouble, but too lightly to hurt, and then Rocket slid himself off and nestled his head comfortably in the crook of his arm. It was amazing, Peter reflected, how intuitively they seemed to understand each other since the surgery. There was no need to discuss how they would spend their recovery; it would be in this bunk, together.
“Hey,” said Rocket drowsily. “How ‘bout that reward you promised me? Did we cash in?”
“I never promised you a reward.”
“Pretend like you did and then answer the friggin’ question.”
Peter feigned ignorance for a few more moments to build suspense. When he had Rocket glaring and swatting at him, he finally revealed it all: “Hell yeah we cashed in. Turns out some of those prisoners who hated Gamora so much were bona fide Gramosian nobility. The ransom for the least important one was eighty thousand units.”
Rocket wheezed out a triumphant laugh, the first genuinely happy sound that Peter had heard from him since he had awoken. Peter didn’t squander the chance to tease him for his greed, but the truth was that they were of the same mind in this. Money meant that they could do whatever they wanted next, and it felt good to know that their hard work and sacrifice were getting acknowledged. It was time for a break: no missions, no jobs, just five Guardians sipping overpriced cocktails on some tourist planet with a lot of beaches.
“‘M gonna buy all the guns,” yawned Rocket. “An’ the stuff to make some aerorigs so we can go flyin’. An’ I’m gonna buy you a music.”
“A music?” Peter echoed, as charmed as he was amused.
“Y’know, some Terran dorks with guitars or whatever I can hire to follow us around doin’ the music we want. Don’t worry, they’ll do it if I pay ‘em enough.”
It was clear that Rocket was going to fall back asleep soon, but he had just reminded Peter of something that he didn’t think he could hold back. “Rocket. There’s one more thing you should know.”
Rocket’s eyes opened and locked on his, the question in them as clear as words.
“They uncovered some records in the lab. Your records. Stuff that was never public, and I think there’s going to be some of it that you never knew about.”
There was a pause before Rocket spoke, sounding much less sleepy now. “Did...did ya see any of it?”
“Not myself, but Gamora was going through the files, and she said she read through a lot of yours before she realized what it was. Some of it didn’t make much sense to us. You might have more luck with it, when you’re ready.” He took a deep breath. “One thing was for sure. It had your planet of origin listed, and, well...it’s the same as mine. You were a Terran raccoon.”
“Oh.” Rocket remained silent after that one solemn word, and Peter couldn’t decide if he should prompt him for more of a reaction. Maybe he needed to contemplate it internally, or maybe it just wasn’t important to him. After all, he was more than a raccoon now, and it wasn’t as if he had family to find anywhere.
Peter resumed petting his head, vaguely hoping it would help Rocket sleep but help Peter stay awake. Gamora deserved a full report on their status, but he didn’t want to call anyone in here until Rocket was either asleep or willing to receive company.
“You should rest. We’ll talk about it later.”
Rocket ignored him. “Why was Thanos experimentin’ on Terran raccoons?”
Peter hesitated. He had only thought about this revelation in terms of what it meant for Rocket. The bigger picture hadn’t even crossed his mind. “I don’t know. Does it matter?”
“We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy,” said Rocket, quiet as a breeze. “It matters.”
So it had finally happened: Rocket was putting him to shame in the heroism department. Peter nudged him with a bent finger. “What are you, some kind of a saint all of a sudden?”
“I been hangin’ around people like you too long,” Rocket complained, but he managed a tired smile at Peter. “Hope you’re ready for another trip home.”
Peter’s face dropped as he saw the curtains closing on his visions of relaxing in the sunshine with the team. “You want to go to Earth again?”
“Not really, but we gotta get on this fast. How long was I out for, anyway?”
“Not long enough, apparently. Go back to sleep.”
Rocket attempted to bare his teeth, but seemed to realize that it was a pathetic attempt and covered it by licking his lips. “You go back to sleep.”
Peter stretched, just enough to make him decide that stretching was not at all what he needed right now. The answer to Rocket’s question was at least a day and a half, but Peter had first woken about eight hours after the teleport, so he knew his body had endured the shock of it better. It concerned him that he didn’t know why. It might have been something as simple as their relative body mass, but Rocket hadn’t explained enough about how the device worked to know if there was any danger specific to cybernetic anatomy. Not to mention, Peter barely knew anything about what had happened beforehand. Rocket might have been hurt in other ways that he was still concealing.
Well, bringing it up now wasn’t going to get anywhere. “First can I tell the others you’re up?” Peter requested meekly. “They’ve been worried about you.”
Rocket hesitated, then said, “Yeah but...I don’t wanna talk yet. Just pretend I went back to sleep, okay?”
Peter agreed and pulled a blanket over both of them, then reached over to hit the call button. By the time a stampede of footsteps had stopped outside the door, Rocket was curled up against Peter’s chest with his eyes closed.
Gamora entered first, making her steps slow enough to be silent but big enough to move quickly, in a comical exaggerated tiptoe that Drax and Groot both copied in their own ways. Peter grinned broadly at them and put a finger to his lips, then pointed at Rocket and shook his head to indicate they shouldn’t wake him up.
“I am Groot,” Groot whispered, and something about it twisted Peter’s heart a little. He couldn’t remember ever hearing Groot whisper before.
Whatever he had said, it was spoiling Rocket’s ruse for anyone close enough to see that tears were seeping through his closed lids and collecting in his fur. Groot knew better than to call him out, though. He simply brushed his fingers over Rocket’s head, wiping away the teardrops with one tendril, and repeated his whispered words.
“How long was he conscious?” asked Drax. His quietest voice still had a booming quality to it, as if it were a distant echo of a shout, but it wasn’t disruptive.
“Not long,” Peter fibbed easily. “He just woke up long enough to ask if you were all okay, then he went back to sleep.” He looked down at Rocket, a peaceful lump of fur and pajamas and steady breathing, and knew it was no longer a fib to add, “Yeah. He’s asleep.”