How to Buy Happiness

Chapter 3: Chasing Tail

Over and under. Over and under.

It was a simple motion and he kept it up. Today, it was not out of necessity that Drax the Destroyer cleaned his knives. He found that, necessary or not, the chore helped him stay calm and focused. He was harbouring a great deal of barely contained rage at the moment and it would not do for him to unleash it on his comrades. While their green-skinned assassin was going over the city plans, locating their target, he was saving up his anger for the ones who deserved it.

Rocket could be a snide, obnoxious little show off, but Drax understood that most of the furred one's attitude was a show to cover weakness. There were times when the small one let his guard down, times when he had even allowed Drax and the others to see and to comfort. But these opportunities were rare and few. Rocket hated others seeing him as weak or helpless or small – hence his obsession with oversized weaponry. The fact that Rocket had called for help testified to his desperation. Well, his call would not go unanswered. If these kidnappers had harmed his furred friend in any way, they would pay for it with their blood.

Drax turned his gaze to the only person in the room Rocket seemed to trust invariably – the tree man. In Groot's case, Rocket was also the only one who truly understood him, and Drax knew that, besides being best friends, they were also inseparable because they needed one another. That Groot missed the furred one was evident – he had been exceptionally quiet since Rocket's transmission. Drax suspected that the tree blamed himself for not keeping a closer watch on Rocket. He wished he could comfort the big stump, but the best way to do that would be to get his friend back.

And wreak bloody vengeance if he has come to harm…

"I can't find it!" Gamora hissed, slamming the flat of her hand down on the control console, startling Drax from his thoughts. "It isn't anywhere on the maps!"

"Was there no address marked on the pink papers you recovered from their office?" Drax asked, frowning.

"Nothing!" the green female grunted in frustration.

"Well," Quill announced himself as he stepped back aboard the ship, "you could hardly expect a big shot like Brandt to advertise his home address to the world – a corporate tycoon like that?" He raised his one eyebrow and paused dramatically: "Bound to have enemies."

Quill did most everything dramatically. He did not walk anywhere, he swaggered. He never just talked, either, he declared. His friend Quill even snored dramatically. But often, Drax found that Quill was at his most dramatic when he was near females, dancing, or both. He supposed it was part of the man's strange culture. Like his collection of terran music. The music always made him behave very dramatically. Drax wondered if that was the purpose of music on Quill's home world.

Once, when Drax asked him about it, Quill's cryptic answer had been that that barely "scratched the surface". After searching the entire cockpit for the scratched surface Quill was referring to, he had given up and decided that his friend had been talking in metaphors again.

"I hope you had better luck," their green assassin friend sighed.

"Sure did," Quill grinned, proffering a data chip. "Tadaa!"

Drax got a whiff of their leader as he strolled past to insert the chip into the data module.

"You smell of perfume," he observed with a raised eyebrow.

Quill grimaced.

"I'll bet you anything it was that yellow secretary," Gamora said with a smirk, scanning the new information eagerly.

Quill opened his mouth to protest, but Drax forestalled him.

"I noticed the way you stared at her earlier," he pointed out.

"I was getting information!"

"Did she, too, stab you with a kitchen utensil?" Drax pressed, leaning forward in his seat.

"Oh, now come on," Quill huffed dramatically, hands on his hips, "I know how to charm a lady. Besides—"

"Never mind that," Gamora interrupted, motioning for them to take a closer look at the screen in front of her. "I think we're on to something, here."

"Told you~!" Quill declared with a crooked smile.

Rocket quickly found that stealth was out of the question due to the constant clamour of the bell around his neck. If the galaxy was a fair place, the first hallway he took would have led down a flight of stairs and opened into a foyer with a wide open front door, or at least a flarking cat flap. But as it was, the galaxy seemed to hate him almost as much as he currently hated it and he'd run himself into a corner. Forced to double back, Rocket had very nearly been caught by the blinking buffoon fumbling his way out of that room. If the big lug hadn't still been recovering from the effects of Rocket's makeshift flash bang, his valiant escape attempt might have been cut short right then and there. Despite his injured leg, he'd shot past the large man, dodged the grabbing hands and scurried off in a random direction at top speed.

Now, he found himself wedged between an expensive-looking cabinet and an overgrown potted plant that absurdly made him wish for Groot. Unable to move for fear the bell would give him away, he strained his ears for signs of pursuit.

The exhilarating adrenaline rush that had filled Rocket at being able to contact the others with his crude, less than perfect radio, was slowly seeping out of him, leaving behind only a hollow sort of exhaustion. Thanks to his sprint up and down the hall, his leg was throbbing anew. His breath came in short, grating gasps and his throat felt as though he'd swallowed a loop of barbed wire.

Rocket tensed as a pair of heavy feet plodded down the hallway outside and on past the doorway. Only when the footsteps receded did he close his eyes for a moment and allow himself to breathe again… He lurched upright dizzily, realizing with a start that he'd been on the brink of dozing off. Heart thundering, he clamped a fist around the bell, hoping that silenced its jangling in time. He swallowed hard, raw throat scraping. He must still be under the effects of that repulsive spray of theirs!

The scent of flowers hung thick in his nose, so he relied instead on his sensitive ears, twitching furiously as they scanned in all directions, to warn him of the sound of approaching enemies. He tightened the hold he had on the bell to dampen its noise and gave another experimental tug. It refused to budge. The d'ast thing was going to get him caught!

Blinking woozily, Rocket focused on his breathing. He could not afford to sit around and wait on Quill for backup. If there was any ass-kicking to be done today, he would have to go it alone, before the sedative completely muddled his capacity for it. Evidently, it was still in his system, but he did not have the luxury of sleeping it off.

Drawing on the blurry mental map he had of the mansion so far, he hurriedly counted his remaining weapons and calculated his route to freedom.

Samuel Kotze, the only one of Mr Brandt's employees who really was named Sam, trudged down the hall with a dreadful frown on his face. He had just updated his superior on the situation and received a tongue-lashing that the other Sams would tease him about for weeks. Somehow, they always found out when he messed up. Everyone already seemed to have forgotten that he was the one who managed to catch the kitty in the first place.

Pouting unprofessionally, Sam wondered how they thought he could possibly have known that this kitty spat lightning. His eyes were still a bit spotty after that unexpected blast of white light. The unfairness of it all aside, the entire household was now on high alert and he was determined to redeem himself by recapturing the furry little animal. The poor thing must have been spooked, running off like that for no reason.

He was just about to broaden his search to the east wing when a short "jing!" noise, sharply cut off, sounded from somewhere in the hallway behind him.

Grinning eagerly, Sam bent down and undid his shoelaces. As quietly as his bulk allowed, he stepped out of his shoes and crept down the hallway on tiptoe. Sure enough, his patience was rewarded when a fuzzy button-nosed snout poked out from the doorway to the billiard room.

"Here, kitty, kitty," he crooned, taking another step forward.

With an alarmed squeak, the ring-tailed cat practically jumped, and in the same movement it raised something high in its one paw. Sam smiled slyly and lowered his heavy duty goggles. The bomb of exploding light flared uselessly against the dark lenses that covered his eyes. The small, furry being let out a frustrated string of ugly curses that did nothing to diminish its cuteness, in Sam's opinion anyway, turned and bolted, bell tinkling hysterically.

"Wait! Not that way!" Sam called, chasing after the fluffy blur. "Come back here!"

"Screw that!" the kitty yelled back gruffly, racing on.

"Well," Sam muttered with a shrug, "I tried to warn you…"

Useless! The carefully constructed flash bangs were frickin' useless! Ditching the extra grenades and hoping the great gaboon behind him at least tripped over them, Rocket ran.

He had one real bomb and he was saving that as a last resort. If he had had a choice in the matter, all of them would have been cluster bombs. Of the big bang variety. The kind you fling hopelessly wide of the target and still decimate every enemy on the field with extreme prejudice… But beggars can't be choosers. So he had one.

He was on all fours, now, or technically, three, cradling the last of his creations against his chest with his right arm.

He could hear his pursuer huffing and puffing behind him, big and slow. Rocket was quick and agile – he knew he was even fast enough to lose this clown. But his lungs were labouring, threatening to cripple him with another coughing fit. Every time his foot touched the ground, a spike of pain shot up his bad ankle. His heart was trying to hammer its way out of his rib cage and up into his throat. His head spun…

All of which was why he noticed that all too familiar twinge two beats too late.

Even as he tried to stop, his momentum carried him into a net of blinding pain as more laser traps triggered and pulled taut around him. His left wrist, the elbow on his right arm, both legs, even his tail burned as he was jerked harshly to a standstill.

"Krag my life, not again," he wheezed, gritting his teeth against the bands of pulsing fire encircling his limbs.

He dared not move or even turn around, for the slightest motion would pull the snares tighter. Behind him, he could hear the breathless brute's footfalls, finally catching up. Time was running out. Rocket pinpointed the anchors on the wall, five of them with blinking green lights. He was not completely unprepared this time around. His eyes flitted to the gadget in his right hand and back to the green-lit anchors. He wet his lips.

This was going to sting.

Taking a deep breath, he reached down, careful not to move anything else, and lowered his right hand to the level of another nearby laser tie – the one on his right leg. The consequences were immediate. He bit back a strangled yelp as his arm flared white hot hurt. Pushing the pain to the back of his mind with a sharp wince, he edged his hand closer until he could touch the device he clutched in his claws to the laser tie trapping his leg.

Refusing to let himself hesitate, he flexed his thumb down on the trigger. A whining noise came from the tool in his hand, sending a jolt of electricity racing through the laser tie. The electricity danced up and down Rocket's spine, locking his jaw and sending his limbs into painful spasms. It also shorted the anchors on the wall. With a shudder, he picked himself up off the floor. Disintegrating black wire was all that remained of the laser tie traps that had held him.

Gratefully, he sucked in a shaky gulp of air. He was sore everywhere the laser traps had touched him, with an especially tender spot just above his right elbow. His coat and implants buzzed with the aftermath of the electric jolt. To use the famous words of the illustrious Peter Quill, he was going to pay for this in the morning.

But he was free.

"How did you do that?" asked the voice of his pursuer, aghast.

"Oh, here, you wanna try?" Rocket offered flatly, zapping the witless oaf with his custom-made taser. "That's right, ya big bully, dance!"

And since Rocket Raccoon was in a punishing mood, he was only satisfied when the creep finally lay twitching in a heap on the floor. Limbs trembling, Rocket tottered over to his victim and undid the goggles, readjusting the straps to fit his own head. They would at least provide some protection for his eyes if someone managed to get close enough to use that spray on him again. Rocket turned out the guy's pockets. Now, if only this jerk had some decent weapons on him…

Flanked by Sam #4 and #7, Septimus Brandt strode down the halls of his stately residence with a vigorous sense of purpose.

This unpredictable little beastie was running loose in his home and doing a great deal of damage to his bodyguards. It was costing him no small amount of danger pay. Not to even mention the damages his bodyguards had already suffered at the hands of the animal's previous owners. If this kept up, it would not be very long before Septimus G Brandt began running out of Sams, which was unthinkable. He was starting to wonder if one creature, however exotic, was worth all this trouble. He even caught himself wondering if it would not be simpler to just put the strange mammal out of its misery and forget all of this ever happened. But Brandt was not an unreasonable man.

He was sure there was some way to salvage this situation without having to resort to the unnecessary putting down of out-of-control talking animals.

So it was with all of his self-control that Brandt faced down the furry little beast standing over the body of a semi-conscious, shoeless, smoking sock-wearing Sam #2. It was pointing a standard Sam Blaster at them and clutched a grenade it must have built from scratch out of the scraps of domestic electronics. The creature looked almost comical with a pair of Sam-sized goggles atop its head.

But there was nothing funny about the feverish light in its eyes as it clung to the weapons like they were its last lifeline. Its chest heaved with each panicky breath, its teeth were bared in a vicious snarl and its ears lay flat with aggression.

Brandt was prepared to be civil towards the understandably confused creature… up to a point. He kept his hands clasped behind his back in a very gentlemanly fashion, all the better to conceal his trump card.


Rocket grinned triumphantly as he hefted the pulse blaster in his paw, testing its weight. It did not have the solid, reassuring mass of the first weapon he'd pilfered from this very same goon, but it was a real weapon, at least.

Now all he needed to do was reach the ground floor and find an outside wall to use his grenade on and he would be home free.

"Over there!"

Of course, the universe wouldn't let him off that easy.

Cursing violently, Rocket latched on to the half conscious bodyguard's weapon and aimed the gun at the three approaching men. One of them was Septimus flarking Brandt himself. Rocket felt his hackles rise at the oily man's approach.

"Stay away from me or I'll put a hole in yer face," he warned, indicating the blaster in his hand. "What d'you want!?"

The pink man smiled a cold smile.

"Firstly, I would like to make your exact situation as clear as glass, my puny talking mammal," said the slime ball who had attempted to purchase him what seemed ages ago. "You're expected to be flawlessly polite while you are an honoured guest inside my extravagant abode. So I would ask you—"

"I'm afraid Quill forgot to mention," Rocket cut in sarcastically, "I ain't housebroken!" He glared at the man, who was puffing up his cheeks like some pompous pink toad. "And I ain't yer d'ast pet either, so gimme back my frickin' clothes!"

"I'm afraid you're in no position to be making unreasonable demands," Brandt said softly.

"Think again, Pinkie," Rocket laughed, flashing canines and taking pleasure in how the pink man's face paled at the sight, "I got a gun! I could shoot yer two gaboons before they even draw theirs halfway."

"Very well…" replied the business man, shifting his hands behind his back.

"Good!" Rocket grinned. "The first thing yer gonna— ack!"

His hand flew to his throat as the collar around his neck constricted without warning, cutting off air. He forgot how to speak, he forgot how to think. It was too tight. He couldn't breathe!

"Nice trick, wouldn't you say?" Brandt asked from somewhere ahead of him.

He remembered the gun in his hand and pulled the trigger, but the world was spinning and the shot went wide. He clawed wildly at the thing around his neck that was closing off his windpipe.

"I designed that collar to train attack dogs," the man lectured casually, ignoring Rocket's desperate battle for air. "They're awfully tenacious when they decide to bite someone."

Somehow, he was on his back on the ground, fighting for breath. He'd lost the gun.

"Did you know," the disembodied voice continued somewhere above him, "that the only way to get an enraged dog to let go, is to cut off its air supply?"

Rocket's vision was dissolving around the edges. The man was still talking somewhere in the distance, but the words no longer made any sense. Darkness threatened to swallow him. Then the pressure around his throat eased abruptly and he gulped in greedy mouthfuls of air, filling up his lungs eagerly. He heard the hiss of the aerosol and tasted the sickly sweet tang on his tongue, but he could breathe again.

He could breathe.

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