Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy (not Vol.2-compliant)
Wordcount: This part, 3477
Notes: Oh man this is a long one. And guess what? For once I'm actually happy with it. Or maybe I'm just happy that I finished writing this chapter, meaning that there's only ONE LEFT TO GO.
Nova Prime received the Guardians with ceremony, although they had haggled it down beforehand so that it mostly consisted of some applause in an audience chamber. Peter made sure that Rocket was standing front and center to show that he deserved the lion’s share of accolades, but he also couldn’t stop glancing down to check on him, anxious that he wasn’t ready to be walking without support yet.
Rocket said he was, though, and there was no use fighting him on it, so they all stood in their places to accept the gratitude of Nova Corps. Rocket showed no outward sign of weakness, although Peter knew he was still feeling it, and he shifted restlessly through Nova Prime’s brief speech, bored as ever by formalities. As soon as he had an opening, he surprised everyone by responding, “Yuh huh. You guys got a pilot missing, name of Tetrouni Raas?”
A ripple of exclamations came from the gathered officials, and Denarrian Dey stepped forward to respond, all protocol gone from his manner. “What do you know?”
“He’s dead,” said Rocket curtly. “But he helped me. Tell his family they were on his mind.”
Dey had the grace to keep his next few questions as impersonal as possible, and the ceremony concluded swiftly. It was followed by a feast, but before they had sat down at their table, Rocket stumbled over nothing and caught himself on Peter’s leg, then stayed leaning on it while he caught his breath. The table blocked him from view for most of the guests in the ballroom, but Peter tried to look nonchalant about lowering to a crouch beside him, as if looking for something he had dropped on the floor. “What’s wrong?” he said in a low voice, holding Rocket steady with one hand.
“Nothin’. Just got dizzy for a sec.”
Peter scowled. “That’s it. I’m calling Dr. Shanthig.”
“Now?” Rocket gave him an imploring look. “I’m hungry.”
The standoff lasted until Peter realized that for once, Rocket wasn’t refusing medical attention, just attempting to put it off a little longer. They did need to eat, and it was bad form to leave a feast in their honor, after all. On festive occasions Peter usually spent the evening trying to match Drax drink for drink, which inevitably led to Drax removing him from the premises in a fireman’s carry, but this time he limited his intake and held himself ready to carry Rocket out instead.
In the end, Groot ended up carrying Peter out, with Drax carrying Rocket and Gamora hovering around them telling them how stupid they were to let this happen.
“I don’ get it,” Peter slurred, trying to point his eyes somewhere besides the bobbing floor. “I had two glashes. Jus two.”
“Telpup...teplapo..tel-uh-por-tay-shun sicknesh,” said Rocket, nodding sagely from Drax’s arms. “One-beer drunk.”
Gamora’s step turned to stomping. “If you knew that,” she scolded Rocket, “you shouldn’t have had any alcohol at all!”
“They’ll both vomit so much tomorrow,” said Drax with a hearty laugh. “Their entire room will smell too foul for anyone else to enter.”
“Shut up!” Gamora ordered, and Peter had just enough awareness left to hear how genuinely upset she was. “I’m not leaving them to drown in their own sick even if they’re a pair of idiots who deserve no better!”
“‘Mora,” ventured Peter, trying to reach a hand out to her but missing by at least a yard. “S’okay…”
She moved toward him and caught his hand, only to place it back on Groot’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine,” she promised him icily. “Now don’t test me any further.”
Before his heaving stomach commandeered his full attention, Peter caught one last glimpse of Rocket, head lolling back, grinning like a fool. He raised both arms in an unbalanced shrug, then began singing in a loud and completely off-key voice: “We could be heroesh! Jus’ fer one day!”
Framed in the holoscreen, Dr. Shanthig pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head in reprimand. “Are you telling me you made a ship-to-ship jump, through a teleporter you built yourself, while you were still exhausted from a battlefield situation, and you never even considered that you might not have been fully recuperated from your surgery yet?”
“Sorry,” said Peter, lifting his haggard head. He really was.
“I was talking to Rocket, not you,” the doctor snapped.
Rocket was sprawling right next to him on the oversized bed in their Nova Corps accommodations, but he was barely listening, and Peter in his misery responded first again. “But I’m his guardian. I was supposed to be looking after him.”
That got a reaction from Rocket, although a glare and a tail-twitch seemed to be all he could muster. “You’re my what?”
Gamora was the only other person in the room, pacing around the small area on the floor where she could see the holoscreen without blocking Dr. Shanthig’s view of the invalids on the bed. This was the longest she had gone so far without berating them, but now she broke her silence, bursting out with, “All of us are supposed to look after each other! That’s why I’ve been in here all day checking your vitals while you puke your guts out! That’s why you should have stopped each other drinking last night! That’s why we had the plan we had to escape the compound together! As a team!”
In perfect unintentional synchronization, Peter and Rocket looked at her and then at each other. Rocket shrugged and let his head fall back to the mattress. Peter said, “You don’t have to stay in here but it was really nice how you brought us those hot towels and that hangover remedy which hasn’t actually helped at all but…”
Dr. Shanthig cleared her throat loudly. “I’m sorry if your team is having interpersonal problems but I’m not that kind of doctor. Rocket, take a full body scan tomorrow and send me the results. You should stop feeling the effects of the displacement syndrome within a week, but give yourself a chance to heal this time. Quill, you’re practically over the syndrome already, so don’t act like a baby.”
Peter gave her a sulky look, but otherwise ignored the comment. He prodded Rocket’s tail with his toe. “She’s right. You were supposed to rest for longer.”
Rocket made a grumpy sound. “I was limpin’ around in those braces long enough. I ain’t gonna spend the rest a’ my life recoverin’ from one thing or another.”
Frustrated beyond caring who else was listening, Peter retorted, “You are if you get killed in the middle of recovering because you’re doing it wrong! Come on, man! I keep telling myself I can’t force you to stay alive but is that gonna have to be what I write in your obituary?”
“I can’t force me to stay alive either, tool.” Rocket’s voice was getting angrier. “Learn to live with it, ‘cos I ain’t gonna let you keep me in a hamster ball for the next ten years.”
“Ten...? Rocket, you’re talking like you’re already on your deathbed.”
“Doc,” said Rocket, addressing the holoscreen directly for the first time. “Be honest. Rough estimate, how much time I got left? If old age wins?”
Such frankness was too much for Peter to handle at the moment. He couldn’t even make himself beg Rocket to stop talking about the short lifespan he anticipated for himself, so he cast a helpless look at Gamora, then at Dr. Shanthig when Gamora failed to notice. The doctor, for her part, had an expression of uncertain wariness, and instead of answering Rocket, she said, “Quill, that...research material that I gave you?”
Peter remembered just in time that she had asked him to be discreet about the Halfworld video, and kept his response to, “Yeah, we’ve been, uh, studying. Didn’t get through all of it yet. What about it?”
“You didn’t see?” She frowned. “Maybe it wasn’t clear. Rocket, the footage of several of the experiments implies that your cell regeneration was improved. I can’t offer you any guarantees, but my own observations on your anatomy back it up. I believe that if you keep your cybernetics properly maintained, you’ll outlive us all.”
Peter and Gamora both went from staring at her to staring at Rocket, though he hadn’t moved and looked more dazed than anything. “Dude...” Peter breathed.
Gamora’s voice cut the tension with a sharp cheer of triumph. “I knew it!”
“How did you know it?” demanded Rocket.
“The records from the compound--”
Dr. Shanthig cut in. “What records?”
Rocket pawed Peter’s ankle. “You tell her.”
“I’ll tell her,” said Gamora authoritatively. “Dr. Shanthig, we’ve obtained another source of information on the Halfworld Experiments. Some of their scientists were still active until last week, and we’re looking into finding their patron to take down the operation permanently. I wonder if we could ask for your testimony.”
“Huh?” Peter interjected. “What’s this about?”
Gamora went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “We’d like to update Rocket’s legal status, and I think that may require your professional assessment that he’s an independent and sentient person. You told Peter that you could refer us to a lawyer, is that right?”
Startled, the pink woman tapped a finger against her lips. “Yes, although it may be an uphill battle unless you can find proof of his base species and its native planet.”
Peter heaved out a sigh. “Earth.” It looked like he wasn’t going to get out of this, but on the other hand, Gamora had a brilliant idea, and Rocket had a long life ahead of him. Things could be a lot worse.
By the time evening fell, Peter and Rocket had managed to put on clean clothes and move out to their quarters’ balcony, and the other Guardians joined them, sipping cold tea from a pitcher under a patio umbrella that Peter could almost pretend was on a beach planet.
Gamora refused a beverage and stood at the railing, bowing her head to look down at the expansive view of the city, her back to the table. “Gamora,” said Peter, but she didn’t move. “Gamora. Come sit down.” He thumped the cushioned chair beside him.
“Close enough to smell you?” she said without turning. “I think not.”
Rocket and Drax laughed raucously. Peter lost some cool. “It’s been like four hours since either of us upchucked. We don’t smell. Just come over here and tell me what you’ve been so worked up about.”
She finally faced him, and he saw the anger melting away from her as she moved to take the empty seat. “It was just me and Groot on the Milano,” she began.
“I am Groot,” said Groot, and she nodded.
“I was there,” said Drax. “I would have helped you if I was conscious.”
Gamora nodded again, this time with less patience. “But you weren’t, and those Astrans...I thought we could trust them, but they had their children there, and they were afraid they would be caught again. Then there were the others, the Gramosians who knew who I was, and they swore I was up to something, and soon everyone was fighting. Groot didn’t understand. He kept them away from me when they tried to attack, so nobody got hurt, but I couldn’t explain to him that we had to stop Marwek from activating the teleporter.”
“We made it, though,” said Rocket, making both Peter and Gamora blink in surprise. He hadn’t even looked like he was paying attention. Groot’s face had contorted with sadness at Gamora’s story, and Rocket was giving him a reassuring pat.
“No thanks to me,” Gamora answered bitterly. “I was helpless. I haven’t felt like that since…”
Peter put his hand over hers on the table, hoping she understood that she didn’t have to tell them about the last time she had felt like that. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen like we meant it to.”
“At least you had your eyes open,” Rocket added. “Unlike these bozos. I was lucky you kept the Milano in hover, or me an’ Pete coulda been ported outta the atmosphere in a billion itty-bitty pieces.”
Drax grunted in agreement. “And you and I were lucky that Groot was there while I was unable to break anyone’s bones.”
Peter wondered momentarily how the events would have played out if Drax had been in bone-breaking condition, but he didn’t want to dwell on it. “And all of us were lucky that Rocket had the balls to--” He stopped, feeling his cheeks heat up. “I mean courage. Rocket had the courage to save everyone.”
Of course it was useless to try to cover up the slip when Drax was there to ask, “Why don’t you want to say balls? You’ve already explained to me that it’s a metaphor for courage. We know you aren’t really referring to his testicles.”
Fortunately, Rocket was the first to laugh, the sound of it resigned but genuine. “That’s ‘cos I don’t got any, Drax,” he said, then raised an eyebrow at Peter. “She toldja, huh?”
“I apologize,” said Gamora stiffly.
“What for? You don’t got ‘em either!” He was still laughing, and Peter couldn’t help but join in.
“I am Groot!”
“Ahahaha, that’s right you don’t!”
Drax was laughing too now, and Groot was grinning widely, and finally Gamora cracked a smile and then broke into giggles, dropping her forehead into her hand with her elbows on the table. “You’re all a bunch of vulgar bums.”
“And you’re bursting with pride to be one of us,” said Peter. He raised his glass of iced tea. “To the best bums, losers, a-holes, and jackasses in the galaxy.”
Cosmo looked as happy as any dog that Peter had ever seen, wagging his tail a mile a minute and positively bouncing out of the comm screen. :Guardians have survived great adventure! Please tell Cosmo, will heroes of galaxy now be returnink to Knowhere?:
Peter shook his head apologetically. “We’re on our way to Terra. Don’t ask, it wasn’t my idea but I guess we’ve got more work to do. I just wanted to let you know you can stop investigating that ‘Phiggre’ thing.”
:Da! replied Cosmo cheerfully. :Conclusion of thrillink tale has reached Knowhere already. Cosmo has familiar faces here to see Star-Lord.: He looked offscreen and said, :Speak!:, and the view of the comm panned off of him and onto three faces which were, indeed, very familiar.
“Keelah,” said Peter, taken aback. “Oh, wow. Marwek. Wuul. The family’s all back together, huh?”
“We’re being detained here,” said Marwek by way of greeting. “Our crimes weren’t heinous enough for interstellar law to take notice, apparently, and Nova Corps didn’t know enough to chase us, but this, uh, security chief dog says he’ll carry out any sentence the Guardians of the Galaxy see fit to lay on us.”
:Da!: said Cosmo again, his psionic voice still somehow carrying over the connection though he himself wasn’t visible.
Peter blinked. It had only been a day since they had left Xandar, and he still felt a little physically out of sorts, but he had already put the Yttulrioks out of his mind. He certainly hadn’t expected to be designated the arbiter of their destinies. He picked up his handheld comm and touched a button. “Hey Rocket?”
“Yeah?” came the answer from somewhere deep in the ship.
“Should we punish those Astrans who strangled me and put you in the hospital and chased us all over and roped us into doing their dirty work and tried to run off with our ship and friends?”
There was a very slight pause, then, “Nah.”
“‘Kay, thanks.” Peter ended the call and shrugged at the three siblings, who were watching him with varying levels of incredulity. “Looks like you’re off the hook.” He winked at Keelah. “I won’t tell your husband if you don’t, deal?”
None of them smiled, and Keelah’s eyes widened and glistened. Wuul’s voice was grave: “Most of our friends and families came out of the laboratory safe and sound. My brother-in-law did not.”
“Oh shit, I’m sorry,” said Peter, stricken. “I didn’t think…”
“Never mind,” said Wuul. “We’re grateful for your help in rescuing the others. And for your mercy.” All three of them exited the frame, Keelah lingering long enough to cast him a tearful look and a kind of graceful bow.
Cosmo returned. :So scoundrels will be released. Is good. Cosmo would be sad to inform nice children that parents are criminals.:
“Anything else I can do for you, Chief? It’s gonna be pretty hard to get in touch with us once we hit the Milky Way. Again: not my idea.”
:Da, one thing, yes.: He sat on his haunches, ears perking up. :Please tell story of freeink prisoners from evil laboratory. Include details!:
Peter hesitated, but he had nothing better to do. Anyway, this story would probably be in high demand later, so he needed some practice in telling it. “Okay. So. It’s looking grim for the Guardians. Star-Lord is KO’d, the beautiful and dangerous Gamora is in the hands of the, uh, Astran spies. Then this utter maniac saves the day...”
Going into his bunk, Peter heard Rocket’s voice before he saw him, although it wasn’t the voice of the Rocket he knew. The Halfword video had shown that he was given a voice box programmed with the accent and speech patterns of a young Cockney male, and Rocket had apparently changed it to suit himself at some point after his escape. It had been strange at first to see his face but hear someone else’s voice, but now Peter found it a relief to be able to use it to separate the Rockets of past and present in his mind.
Now the present Rocket was sitting on Peter’s bed, watching himself bristle at his makers and demand to know what he had once been. Peter hadn’t seen this part before, and he wasn’t sure what Rocket would want out of it right now. He sat down behind him instead of beside him, one leg on each side, and Rocket leaned back against his chest almost automatically.
“Are you looking for something in particular?” Peter asked when Rocket began skipping ahead.
“Was. We missed that stuff about cell regeneration that the doc was talkin’ about ‘cos it was in a part with Lylla, not me. She was agin’ too fast, so when they made me they tried out a different thing.” He stopped the footage for a few seconds, then fast-forwarded again. “I don’t like lookin’ at her,” he confided. “She deserved better.”
Peter offered what comfort he could using his hands rather than words, and Rocket leaned into the slow strokes while keeping his eyes on the video. He sounded calm enough when he said, “Plus I figured, if I got any other secrets, I oughta be the one to know about ‘em first.”
“Heh, yeah. Since Dr. Shanthig found out about your lifespan, and Gamora found out you’re a Terran, and I figured out you were a hero before you even had a clue...”
Rocket chuckled softly and sighed. He paused the feed on a stillframe that didn’t have him in it. “I figured out what to do with all our money.”
Peter feigned surprise. “What, no guns and aerorigs and personal rock n’ roll minstrels?”
“Blossomor.” He stretched his neck up and around to see Peter’s face. “I checked it out and we can afford the spot where Groot and Drax stayed, plus about another two thousand acres. We can keep it safe. Go there when we need somewhere to rest.”
“You mean someday I might actually get my vacation?” Peter smiled and rubbed Rocket’s ears. “That sounds great. Let’s talk it over with the others tomorrow.”
They sat together in silence for a few moments, Rocket showing no inclination to start playing the video again, and Peter feeling the kind of sleepiness that made him consider the merits of going to bed against the pleasure of holding Rocket like this a little longer.
Rocket’s voice was hesitant. “Is this...y’know, normal life? Good stuff breakin’ up all the bad stuff? Talkin’ about what to do tomorrow?”
Peter yawned. “Yeah, I think so. Can we go to sleep or are you still watching this?”
“No, I’m…” He shook his head, and finished his sentence sounding like he was realizing something for the first time. “I’m not gonna get anything else out of it. Am I?”
“No,” Peter agreed. After all, the video was nothing but Rocket’s past. “Let’s put it away.”