Chapter 1: Guns
Great big gorgeous guns.
It would have been so much easier to blame all of this on Quill (and mind you, he still might!), but if he had to be completely honest with himself, Rocket Raccoon was pretty sure the whole thing had started because he couldn't keep his claws off a great piece of artillery, especially if said artillery was of the unfeasibly large variety. To Rocket, there was no better way to proclaim to the world that you meant business than carrying a weapon so big it dragged behind you when you walked and stuck out at least an arm's length above your head. Of course, the weapon in question belonged to someone else at the time. That had been at least twelve percent of the problem. The rest of the problem originated directly from the identity of the weapon's previous owner.
Basically, what it boiled down to was that the guy was stinking rich and had his own personal army of bodyguards. He also had the local law enforcement in his pocket, dealt under the table, cut corners, had bucket-loads of personal issues, didn't wash his hands after going to the bathroom and seemed to own half the planet - the latter of which making escaping from this rather convoluted situation a bit tricky for certain heroes of the furry kind.
Plus, the bastard had a kid. Now that he thought about it, he supposed that was really the main reason the whole thing was a little too complicated for Rocket's usual crowd-controlling methods.
Meaning this wasn't going to end well…
Three Days Ago...
Rocket tended to hum while he worked. This was quite amusing to the man known as Peter Quill (although people were actually starting to call him Star-Lord after the events on Xandar, thank you very much). He was even more amused when Rocket's normally tuneless drone started sounding more and more like the songs on Peter's Awesome Mix tape. He wasn't about to point this out to Rocket. The little guy might take offence and stop, which would be a shame, because Peter found it endearing… you know, in a weird, talking-raccoon sort of way.
So he knew Rocket was working on something when he found the raccoon sitting on a box, humming away at his own version of Come and Get Your Love. Lying in front of his furry team mate was what Peter could only describe as a bazooka cross-bred with some sort of laser cannon, its exposed belly trailing wires and various other mechanical parts as Rocket's quick little fingers tinkered away.
"Whoa, did you build that?" Peter asked before he could stop himself, eyes already searching the interior of the ship for missing pieces.
Rocket's ear twitched and he shrugged nonchalantly before answering: "No. I lifted it off some jerk who didn't want it as much as I did."
"'Lifted'? No offence, but I don't see you sliding that thing out of someone's pocket without them noticing," Peter remarked. The oversized firearm was half again the size of Rocket!
"He didn't notice – he was too busy kissin' the concrete," Rocket snickered, flashing him that annoying toothy grin.
"You mugged him!?" Peter exclaimed. "Rocket, we've been over this – you can't go around hitting people over the head to steal their stuff!"
Rocket didn't reply, but his tail bristled and a hint of a snarl was showing at the corner of his muzzle. His dark eyes glittered dangerously. Clearly, he didn't feel the need to explain himself. Peter opened his mouth to say more, when a big hand enclosed his shoulder. He turned to see none other than Drax the Destroyer standing next to him, a frown etching his tattooed brow.
"Quill, I was the one who hit the man," Drax admitted bluntly. "I really wanted to remove his spine, but this one stopped me."
Rocket smirked. He gave his tail a much too casual swish and seemed to dismiss the conversation altogether, turning back to his liberally borrowed gun.
"Okaaaaay," Peter sighed, "then how about explaining to me why you thought you needed to kill the guy?"
"He was accosting our friend." Drax said plainly, pointing at Rocket, whose whiskers quivered even as he pretended not to hear. "The villain was making strange noises and looked to be attempting to bait him into a cage using a piece of meat."
Peter's hands tightened into fists as his mental image of an innocent man getting mugged by a maniacally grinning raccoon was dispelled and quickly replaced by a sinister goon trying to kidnap his friend. That also explained why Rocket, the loud-mouth, ever ready with some snappy remark, suddenly had nothing more to say on the subject. Rocket could take care of himself, that much was a proven fact, but if Drax had seen the need to intervene, "accosting" was probably a mild term.
Peter gave Drax a nod and went to crouch beside Rocket. He knew the little guy found it degrading when people treated him like an animal. So it was in his "man-to-man" voice that he said: "Sorry, buddy. Guess I didn't have all the details."
"Yeah, yer an idiot," Rocket grunted, but punched Peter's arm playfully.
Peter stood. He knew that was as close to "apology accepted" as he was likely to get from the feisty ball of fur.
It wasn't a big surprise when, later that day as they stepped off the Milano, they were confronted by half a dozen intimidating men equipped with blank faces and intimidating guns. What was surprising, however, was that the men were not demanding their stolen weaponry back. Even the one sporting the lump on his head, which a valiant bandage-job did nothing to hide, and several severe bite and claw marks on his hands and face, seemed to be all stoic professionalism.
Rocket took a step back, snarling. He had his hefty new weapon strapped to his back and looked just about ready to use it. The semi-circle of men did not seem to pay the bristling raccoon much attention. In fact, they were all so intent on studying Peter's ship that he began to wonder if they did not have designs on stealing something bigger back. As casually as possible, he changed his stance, moving his hands to his hips so that his blasters were within easy reach. Peter had already lost his ship once during the whole drama with the infinity stone. He was not about to lose it again, and to a bunch of thugs, at that.
He ran his eyes over his companions. Groot, no doubt having sensed the danger just from Rocket's body language, tensed and stepped in front of his small friend, his bulky wooden fists creaking. Gamora had not moved a muscle that Peter could see, but she suddenly seemed to radiate deadliness. Compared to her, Drax, though no less deadly, was about as subtle as a billboard – his knives were out and gleaming, blood lust shining in his eyes.
Their rather impressive stand-off was broken up by a posturing business man.
His skin was the palest tinge of pink Peter could imagine and his short, dark hair was oiled and impeccably combed to one side of his head. His pristine white suit was a stark contrast to the unrelieved black of his bodyguards, for that was what they were, Peter realized.
"This appears to be the one, boss," the lump-headed bodyguard supplied meekly, earning the barest nod from his superior.
"Good sir, are you the kind owner of this lavishly-painted vessel?" the pale-pink business man asked loftily.
It took Peter a couple of beats to figure out that the man was addressing him. He cleared his throat, but Gamora intercepted him.
"Who wants to know?" she countered icily.
The business man seemed taken aback by her hostility, as if he was not the guy responsible for all the armed guards surrounding the Milano and her crew! He blinked several times and Peter had the strange feeling the man was formulating and reformulating his next sentence very carefully in his head.
"You, dear madam, are having your very first meeting with the stylish tycoon known as Septimus G Brandt!" the business man pronounced with a flourish. If he had a hat, Peter was sure he would have tipped it.
Gamora wrinkled her nose.
"Tell the coward to show himself, then," Drax demanded, unimpressed.
This elicited another round of blinking from Mr Septimus G Brandt. Peter thought he had better just save everyone the trouble and stepped forward.
"This is my ship," he assured the nonplussed Brandt. "What do you want?"
Brandt perked up visibly at this and eagerly replied: "Why, to purchase your marvellous property, good sir!"
The Guardians of the Galaxy shared a long look among themselves. Rocket was obviously wondering when the man was going to ask the gun back. Drax was clearly assessing how fast he could dispatch all six bodyguards. Gamora was no doubt wondering if the poor misguided fool knew how filthy the new Milano had already become under Quill's care and Groot was most likely thinking something along the lines of "I am Groot".
Peter caught himself wondering how much he might score out of the deal. Sure, he was a bit attached to the Milano, but he figured he could at least hear the guy out.
"What are you offering?" he asked, cocking his head innocently.
He felt Gamora's hand on his sleeve, saw the unspoken "Peter, what are you doing?" shimmering in her eyes. He sent her a roguish wink.
"I will start at the moderate sum of 10 000 units," the business man replied instantly.
"Don't make me laugh! I couldn't even buy a half a new one with that!" Peter scoffed. "Do better!"
"How does a judicious 35 000 units sound?" Brandt offered.
"Not even close, bro!"
"How would the tremendous sum of 500 000 units strike you, good sir?"
Peter turned on his best swagger and shook his head sadly, sighing: "Sorry, man, I know places I could make twice that much…"
Peter could see Rocket's eyes light up with mischief as he caught on. Mr Brandt, on the other hand, was by no means enjoying the exchange. His lips thinned until it seemed he had nothing more than a straight line for a mouth. The business man was too polite to show his frustration openly and too dense to realize he was being messed with.
"The extreme sum of 6 million units," Brandt ground out, "is my final offer! Good sir!"
For a few stunned seconds, the only sound that would come out of Peter's mouth was a low whistle. Gamora's hand had tightened painfully on his arm. A very thoughtful look was crossing Groot's wooden features. Drax's mouth hung open.
And it was into this shocked silence that Rocket Raccoon cried out: "He'll take it!"
A smile grew on Septimus G Brandt's pasty pink face. It was not what Peter would describe as an altogether pleasant smile. The man held out his pale pink hand for Peter to shake and he promptly backed away.
"Wait, wait, wait!" he panicked. "Rocket, are you crazy!? I can't sell my ship!"
"Oh my…" Brandt muttered, suddenly blushing a zany shade of pink. He shook his head, slowly regaining his composure. "There seems to have been a comical misunderstanding, good sir. I am uninterested in purchasing your glittering space craft. What I want is that loquacious pet of yours."
"So, do we have a mutually beneficial agreement, good sir?" Brandt asked confidently. "I am willing to adjust the agreed price to 6.5 million if it has been properly housebroken."
"Say what!?" came Rocket's angry roar.
The enraged raccoon whipped out that brand new cannon-zooka of his and everything seemed to happen at once. All six bodyguards raised their weapons in the same instant Gamora's sword came up. Drax leaped into action, knives biting. Groot was on top of two enemies before Peter could even wince. In a matter of seconds, the bodyguards were strewn across the pavement in various stages of downed, dying or dead (Peter couldn't really say they hadn't asked for it…) and Mr Septimus G Brandt found himself alone facing a group of really protective, infuriated individuals.
Rocket seemed almost disappointed that he had not had a chance to test fire his gun.
The business man swallowed hard and raised his hands in surrender.
"Might… Might I offer you the disproportionate sum of 9 million units, good sir?" he ventured hopefully.
A sharp intake of breath drew Peter's attention to Rocket. He felt a stab of pity when he saw the shadow of dread cross the face of their smallest team mate. The raccoon's eyes darted, as though he were suddenly sizing up more than just one assailant, and his claws gripped the handle on his weapon so tightly, they trembled. Nine million was an unearthly amount of units, and trust was still a frail and fairly new thing for Rocket.
Seeing his friend like this, Peter Quill felt the righteous fire igniting in his gut. Time to set this right…
"Read my lips," he said coldly. "Rocket is my friend. You can forget about buying him from us, 'coz we wouldn't sell him for all the units in the galaxy."
This was clearly the best thing Peter could have said, for he was rewarded with a decidedly wicked grin from Rocket.
"But, good sir, I—"
"You heard 'em, prim suit! I ain't for sale!" Rocket spat. "Flarking creep!"
The Guardians of the Galaxy turned away from the business man who stood surrounded by his fallen bodyguards and walked off without a backward glance… which was why they did not see the ugly expression on Brandt's face.
Rocket had to admit that, for someone who was having one hell of a bad day, he was feeling absurdly good about life.
It wasn't so much the fact that his friends (Hmm, he had friends! And not just one, a whole group of losers who wanted to be his friends! He wasn't sure he would ever get used to that…) had come to his rescue. Him and his sweet new gun would have made short work of any scumbags wanting to buy or sell this furry badass who was certainly no one's pet, thank you very much! No, what made him feel shamefully warm and fuzzy inside was the way they all stood up for him, how they had all become incensed when his dignity was insulted.
Not that the Guardians of the Galaxy were a bunch of saints – not a day went by that they didn't have to update the high score table on who dealt the lowest blows to whose ego, and no one was above it. But this was different. This was someone from the outside offending one of their own. This was like a pack standing together… like… a family.
Rocket shook himself. He had to keep a reign on his thoughts. The last thing he wanted was to stand around on the streets grinning like a moron.
Still, it wasn't every day a guy got informed in so many words that he's worth more than nine million units, or all the units in the galaxy, for that matter…
So, grinning like a moron, he turned to see what his big tree buddy was up to.
"C'mon, Groot, move your bark!" Rocket urged when he finally spotted the wooden man where he was trying to start a conversation with some slender, pink-leafed tree.
"I am Groot," was the exasperated reply.
"That's just a regular tree, ya idiot," Rocket retorted, rolling his eyes. "You can flirt 'til yer blue in the face, she ain't gonna notice."
"I am Groot!" Groot protested, sounding scandalized.
"Suuuuuure you weren't." Rocket shook his head. "Now c'mon," he added, beaming as he caressed the handle of the gun sticking up above his head, "I gotta see about getting this baby some explosive ammo."
"I am Groot…"
"So what? If you don't think it's weird to flirt with some frickin' pink tree, I think I'm entitled to cuddling unfeasibly large weaponry."
"I am Groot."
"Yeah, yeah… wait, no that's gross!"
Their banter stilled abruptly as Groot became aware of the one thing Rocket was hoping to distract him from. The tall tree man's dark eyes lit up with childlike wonder when he saw the fountain gurgling merrily in the centre of the square. Without a second thought, Groot turned and gleefully lumbered on over in the direction of his quarry. Rocket dragged his palms over his eyes and tried to bite back his annoyance.
The thing was, ever since Groot came back from the whole Dark Aster disaster, Rocket had promised himself that he would try to be more patient with the wooden lout, even if it meant letting him drink fountain water like a big doofus every once in a while, so today he would let him be.
Maybe Groot liked to guzzle down water that smelled like stale feet, but it would be a cold day in hell if Rocket stuck around to watch.
Drinking fountain water! Yuck!
Scoffing, he made his way to the Munitions District. Yes, the Munitions District. If Rocket had to pick a favourite planet or just his favourite corner of a planet, it would probably be here. Guns, gun parts and upgrades all changed hands as freely as bubble gums at a candy store, and they had everything from frickin' quarnyx batteries to extra barrels for your double-barrelled shot gun. If he was going to find what he needed for his custom explosive rounds anywhere, this place would be the cheapest, with no questions asked.
He was just about to enter a store when his whiskers tingled. He took a few steps back and, sure enough, there it was: the most glorious ion cannon in the history of Rocket's armoury-emptying days sat in an enormous glass case on the wall. He itched to run his pads over the smooth surface of the colossal weapon. Trying to seem inconspicuous, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching. When the coast was clear, he set to work. The display case was wired with a formidable security system, but nothing too challenging for Rocket's ingenuity.
Quill was so going to kill him, he thought as his nimble fingers disabled alarms and safeguards almost automatically. Well, if he played his cards right, he might be able to pin this one on Drax, too.
He felt a faint twinge in his ankle, but then the glass was swinging outward and the beautiful killing machine was within his grasp. Grinning maniacally, he lifted the weapon from its stand, only to stagger back in shock at a loud hiss as a blast of cold something sprayed in his eyes. The force of it made his eyes burn. Blinking rapidly, he tried to get his bearings, but his vision refused to clear. Panicked, he spun and made to dart back the way he had come, only to have that small twinge from earlier spike to an excruciating blaze around his ankle.
He tripped and the paving rushed up to meet him.
Desperate, he twisted and tried to pull free of whatever was holding him, but this only aggravated the inferno. Breathing heavily through his nose, Rocket lay still, looked down and focused on what his blurred vision told him. Through the haze, he could make out a radiant band of blue light encircling his leg. His heart leapt into his throat, but for all its frantic pounding, he lay very, very still. Going by the burning sensation and the way the pain intensified with his every struggle, what had him by the ankle was the laser equivalent of a zip tie. He might have been able to remove it, if only he could see properly.
Another thought struck him – in order to hold him, the laser zip tie trap had to be attached to something solid… like the display case on the wall!
With a wild laugh, he reached for the gun strapped to his back and aimed it roughly in the direction of the wall. Shooting a wall at point blank range with the biggest gun in your arsenal was a sure fire recipe for bodily harm, but even if Rocket was thinking clearly (and he was almost certain that he was not) he would have opted for blowing himself up over being caught in a trap.
"Sorry, kitty," a voice behind him said as the weapon was wrenched from his hands, "but this is mine."
Rocket's heart plummeted as he was plucked into the air by a meaty hand. The pain in his leg sizzled before winking out as the trap was removed. Instantly, the fear-crazed raccoon started biting and clawing and kicking to free himself from the hand's iron grip on his collar.
"Lemme go, ya big hairless gorilla!" Rocket screeched. "Put me down or I swear I'll kill ya! I'll—!"
His struggles were interrupted by another wet hiss. This time, the blast hit him full in the face. It tasted sickly sweet and smelled much too clinically sterile. Rocket's frenzied thrashing grew weaker as the fight gradually drained out of him.
His head swam as he was deposited unceremoniously into a metal container.
You fell for it.
He remembered the trap with the cage and the meat. He remembered feeling offended at seeing such a simple trap aimed at him. But this was the same thing, just with different bait.
You fell for it like some dumb animal.
Bars. He saw bars.
No! No, no, no!