How to Buy Happiness

Chapter 5: Out of the Frying Pan

"You cross me, we kill you all…"

The arrow twirled lazily through the air to the sound of hypnotic whistling. Then it zipped across empty space, straight towards him. And then it slowed down to drift forward sluggishly, before abruptly picking up speed again and darting at him once more.

His eyes shot open. The sinister blue face looming over him had Rocket gripping the sheets frantically, biting back a startled cry. He let out a long, shaky breath, realizing that it was not, in fact, Yondu, head of the Ravagers, staring down at him, but a hideously life-like wanted poster.

As Rocket's bleary eyes wandered from the distressingly accurate poster of Yondu Udonta in all his glory, he felt his heart rate pick up. The room was dim except for the lights emitting from the various Ravager wanted posters (old and new) lining the walls and a computer screen that was so huge that Rocket almost mistook it for a window, bathing the room in an alien bluish glow. Dark shapes set on the wall between each poster had the familiar, comforting silhouettes of guns of all shapes and sizes.

He found himself lying in a bed that was more or less humie-sized, which meant he had practically an ocean of bedding around him. Warm. Familiar-smelling… He noticed that he was still clinging to the sleeve of someone's old Ravager coat, wrapped around him under the blankets.

Where the hell am I?

This strange room certainly wasn't part of the Milano, and Rocket was sure, because he was probably the only member of the crew who could truthfully say that he'd seen every last crevice of the ship.

His throat was raw. Every time he swallowed, it was like forcing down handfuls of broken glass. His ankle and elbow throbbed in time to his heartbeat. There was an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, like something really bad had happened, or was about to happen. He wasn't sure why everything hurt, just that it did.

Was it that stunt they'd pulled with the infinity stone? Because it was either that or he really let himself go at the bar last night. Leave it to a bunch of crazy jackasses to hold hands with one of the super-powered cosmic fragments left over from creating the frickin' universe.

Did we win?

Well, he was alive, so obviously… Then he started remembering other things, things that had happened after the battle for Xandar – Nova giving them a new ship, Groot growing back, him making friends with Drax of all people… Lots of other weird things Rocket never thought could happen…

Then how'd I end up here?

And then it was as if someone opened the flood gates and the memories he'd subconsciously been hiding from himself came crashing through. The trap, the cage, the collar…

As it all came rushing back, his hand shot up only to find that that awful collar was still on him. Hot on the heels of this horrible discovery was the shocking realization that he was in no way restrained. Whiskers quivering, his fight or flight instincts kicked in.

Rocket Raccoon bolted.

He made it off the bed and as far as three short bounds before his legs gave way. He landed gracelessly on his belly, limbs spread out awkwardly on all sides. Chagrined, he imaged that, lying there, he probably resembled an exotic throw rug. He tried to push himself up on trembling arms, but the stubborn appendages kept sliding out from under him, his muscles like water.

"Flark it!" he cursed, fighting down an angry sob.

Here he was presented with the best chance at escape he'd had in hours – no cage, no bars, no thugs with KO spray or laser zip ties, not to mention surrounded by artillery of all varieties practically within his reach, and he was unable to move a d'ast whisker.

No use in giving up and lying on the floor in a puddle of self pity, though. Feeling sorry for himself would only slow him down. Rocket had learned early on that if he didn't help himself, no one did. He glared up at the grinning faces of the wanted Ravagers, set his jaw grimly and tried again. This time, he managed to make it halfway to his knees before smacking his chin on the floor again.

Rocket groaned. It was a frustratingly pathetic sound.

Ghostly fingers of frigid air crept over him as he lay out in the open, his small frame beginning to shiver anew. The bitter cold had a hold on him again. He was too late to stop a small whimper from escaping as his body convulsed and he was dry retching and shuddering in turns. When the sick feeling finally subsided, he tried to curl in on himself, but even for that, his strength failed him.

Something was not right! Had they drugged him? Was that why they hadn't even bothered to restrain him? Put him in a room filled with weapons, even? He tried to calm himself. It was getting increasingly difficult to breathe. When had his teeth begun chattering?

"You shouldn't be out of bed!" a voice exclaimed from far off.

And suddenly he was… flying? Floating? No, picked up – someone was carrying him. He supposed he should probably make an effort to feel undignified, but he was wrapped in warmth and found that he didn't really care about that right now.

Just let me go home…

Timmy carefully placed the limp creature – something called a "raccoon" that came from some backwater planet named "Terra", according to his research – back on his bed and pulled the covers over the shivering body. That the poor thing was still alive was a miracle in itself. A normal raccoon (or anything smaller than a horse, for that matter) would probably have died after more than two doses of the potent sleep-inducing chemicals his father and the staff had so liberally been using on this one.

But this was clearly no normal raccoon.

"'s this the part where you 'nterrogate me an' I tell ya I'm 'nocent?" it murmured incoherently.

The talking, for one thing, was completely abnormal for raccoons. As was the metal implants, the stunning level of intelligence and also the quirky personality traits.

"I think you watch too many cop shows," Timmy chuckled half to himself.

The very idea of a talking animal watching a television series was absurd enough.

"Quill's fault, n' mine…" the raccoon replied drowsily.

The very idea of having a conversation (however incoherent) with a talking animal about watching too many of said television shows, was beyond ridiculous.

However unreal the situation seemed, though, he was not about to let this marvellous creature die because his father did not know how to handle animals. Normally, Father despised them – that was why Timmy never had a pet before, aside from an unfortunate goldfish named Bubbles. He could not fathom what had inspired Father to get him a talking raccoon for his eleventh birthday, but it was this poor animal's bad luck that he was in Father's way when that inspiration struck.

Having looked up the harmful side effects of the doze chemicals, Timmy had gone out to collect the necessary supplies. He steered himself over to the box he'd nearly dropped upon finding the shuddering raccoon out of bed and sprawled on his bedroom floor.

The first concern was dehydration.

"Here, you need to drink some water," Timmy suggested, holding the half full glass of water out to the listless creature.

To his surprise, the raccoon immediately raised its paws to grasp the glass. Belatedly, Timmy thought he should have brought a smaller glass – the normal-sized one looked more like a small bucket in the hands of the animal. Gripping the glass, the raccoon eyed him up and down suspiciously for about ten awkward seconds before burying its snout in the glass. The pink tongue lapped up the clear liquid eagerly.

A coughing fit shook the small furry body and Timmy's hand shot out to steady the glass. The raccoon, still coughing violently, flinched away from the sudden movement and he instantly felt sorry for startling it.

The poor thing was going to like him even less for what he had to do next, he thought guiltily as he put the glass aside and reached for the next item in the box.

"N-No, no, no…!" the raccoon gasped in alarm as its wide eyes locked on to the syringe.

"This won't hurt very much, I promise," Timmy coaxed, inching closer slowly. "It's just a vitamin shot. I take them all the time."

In truth, it was probably a heavily watered-down version of the shot Timmy took every day. If it was too strong, the injection could do more harm than good, so he had ordered a diluted shot, along with some immunity boosters he'd had the vet deliver. But the squirming raccoon edged away from him, chest heaving, eyes becoming unfocused, as though it was not really seeing him anymore.

"P-Please, not that!" it cried hoarsely, struggling desperately to get up, to run, managing only to tangle itself in the bedding. "Get it 'way from me!"

"C'mon, please? You're sick, it'll help you get better," Timmy pleaded, taking one of the furry arms in his hand.

"No!" the raccoon wailed at the top of its lungs, clawing weakly at his hands, snapping with its teeth.

Wincing, Timmy thought he should have worn gloves. When he didn't let go, the frantic animal went limp, barely moving except for trembling slightly and shaking its head. Ever so gently, Timmy held the nozzle of the syringe to the raccoon's arm and pressed the inject button.

The low hissing sound of the syringe mechanism discharging made the creature recoil. Then it slumped back onto Timmy's pillow, eyes closed. The haunted look on the unconscious animal's face made him feel terrible. He checked the creature's pulse, which was stable, if a bit elevated. Its breathing, though laboured, appeared normal.

"…nna go home…" the raccoon moaned in its sleep.

He would put the rest of the treatment off and give his patient time to rest, Timmy decided as he stroked the furry head and the silky ears thoughtfully.

The legendary outlaw called Star-Lord eased the blasters holstered at his hips and ground his teeth. He could literally see the lights of the mansion blinking in the distance and he imagined that if he narrowed his eyes he might be able to see Rocket through one of those windows.

"I can smell your impatience—" Gamora whispered and frowned when she was cut off.

"I smell nothing!" an indignant voice interrupted.

"Not now, Drax!" Peter sighed. "You were saying?"

The green assassin, sitting cross-legged on the ground where she was sharpening her sword across her lap, nodded gratefully.

"I'm saying you should calm yourself. We can't afford to do anything rash," Gamora replied patiently.

Groot hummed his agreement. But he was a tree – the very embodiment of patience! And Peter Quill was a man with hot blood, used to diving into situations before forming even part of a plan.

The four of them were squatting a little off to one side of the rest of the expedition. The group of fanatics was dressed identically in tight-fitting black clothing covered in white armour. Their helms and breast plates were adorned with the symbol of a moon, painted in glow-in-the-dark yellow paint. If Peter didn't know any better, he would have said that these zany, moon-worshipping Storm Troopers were chanting some sort of prayer. They were just about as crazy as a bag full of cats.

Peter raised his eyes to the sky. The planet's first moon had already come and gone and the second was halfway up. He was itching to do something, anything. He knew Gamora was right – he couldn't risk jeopardizing the mission by going off on his own, but he just couldn't shake the feeling that Rocket was in peril and the little guy needed them, like, right now.

Rocket was inside a cavern.

It was a wide cavern, with tantalizing winds whistling down the tunnel, blowing into his face and down his throat. The air smelled crisp and clear.

He could feel the cool winds extinguishing the poisonous fire inside his lungs.

When Rocket opened his eyes to find a tube clipped onto the inside of his nose and some sort of breather mask covering his muzzle, hooked up to some big machine sitting on the bedside table, his first instinct was to panic. His paws shot up to rip the thing off his face when a hand stopped him.

"It's okay," the kid from earlier assured him, "This is called a nebulizer. It helps you breathe easier. It's designed for people with asthma problems, but it'll help clear up your airway so you won't cough so much."

Rocket narrowed his eyes at the stranger, but inhaled carefully, testing his lungs. His throat was still a little raw, but the lancing pain he'd been experiencing with every breath had all but disappeared. For a long moment, he closed his eyes and simply basked in the relief of being able to breathe properly.

Then his nose twitched. There was an irresistible smell wafting from somewhere beyond his view. Was that… ham and cheese and… pickles?

"Whazzat smell?" he murmured. "'m hungry…"

"Your appetite is returning," the boy enthused. "That's a good sign! Here, let me unhook you."

The kid was surprisingly gentle in removing the mask and the tube. Rocket lay watching him as he switched off the machine and disappeared behind it for a moment, returning with a bowl of thick-looking porridge.

Rocket made a face.

"Don't hold out on me, kid," he said with a sneaky grin, pushing aside the porridge, "I can smell that sammich yer hiding!"

Timmy could only stare as the small creature sitting on his bed wolfed down the sandwich he'd meant to be his own midnight snack. That the raccoon was ravenous was an understatement. Despairingly, he wondered if Father had even remembered to feed the poor thing. Watching it devour the sandwich, hardly pausing to chew, Timmy seriously doubted it.

"Careful," Timmy warned, "if you eat too fast you could make yourself sick…"

"Rocket," the raccoon muttered between bites.

"Rocket…?" Timmy asked, blinking.

"It's my name, dumbass!"

"You do have a name!" Timmy gasped before he could stop himself.

"'course I got a name!" Rocket the raccoon shouted, outraged. "You got one, doncha?"

"It's Timmy," he responded.

"What is?" the raccoon asked obnoxiously, eyes glinting mischievously.

"My name… 'dumbass'!" Timmy replied without missing a beat, testing the nasty word on his tongue – saying it out loud felt oddly liberating, actually.

Rocket stared at him in openmouthed silence, one ear twitching slightly.

"Okay, I walked right into that one," he admitted, shrugging. "You I like."

"Pleased to meet you, Rocket!" Timmy laughed.

"All right, Timmy, if we're gonna be pals, there's a coupla things ya gotta do for me first," Rocket began. He ticked the items off on his fingers. "One, get me some clothes, 'coz where I come from it ain't proper for someone to walk around butt naked. Two, get this frickin' collar off me and three, ya gotta let me contact my friends."

"I think I can do that," the boy said with a smile.

Samuel Kotze was doing his rounds.

He couldn't help but feel guilty about how the other Sams had been treating the kitty. He felt guilty, because it had been his idea to get the little critter for young master Brandt in the first place, and now they were mistreating the poor creature he helped capture.

Anyone could see that it hated being kept in a cage. It needed more space.

On the bright side, Sam had noticed the young master Brandt coming and going from his room a lot for this time of night, fetching food and water and other things. He had faith that the boy would take better care of the animal than his colleagues had. Master Timmy was such a nice boy.

He was about to report in that everything was secure for the night when he saw Sam #4 take the garden route. How strange… Thinking that that was usually Sam #9's area, Sam decided to follow #4 and confront him. If there had been a change of shifts, surely he would have known about it…

Rocket was sitting in the middle of the huge bed, the old Ravager jacket wrapped around him like a cloak (because that was better than going naked), surrounded by the insides of one of the most extraordinary guns he'd seen all week. He was still a little out of breath from clambering up the wall to retrieve it, regrettably ripping Yondu a couple of new ones on his way up, but Rocket could feel his strength returning slowly but surely.

And since he was still feeling a bit peckish, he'd followed his nose to a packet of puffy white sweets that seemed fluffy on the outside, but once he licked them, became formidably sticky. Anyway, they were pleasant. It was what he would imagine eating clouds would be like. After the first two, Rocket started stuffing them into his mouth without licking them first.

He heard the hum of the wheelchair's engine before the kid opened the door.

"What are you doing!?" the boy cried, aghast, probably at seeing his prized display gun arrayed in pieces all around the raccoon on his bed.

"'s it look like I'm doing?" Rocket shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm recalibrating this baby."

"Just please put it back the way you found it when you're done," the boy, Timmy, grimaced, wheeling himself closer. "I see you found the marshmallows. Help yourself."

"'anks," Rocket mumbled around another 'marshmallow'. He would have to remember the name – maybe Quill would know where they could find more. "Where'd ya get this, by the way? Order it off some weapons dealer?"

"The parts, yeah," Timmy replied, reaching for a marshmallow. Rocket resisted the selfish urge to swat his hand away. "I built that one myself."

"Hmm, not bad," Rocket grunted, impressed. He quickly revised his opinion of the rich kid for the second time since meeting him and reassembled the weapon with a new-found respect. "Now, how 'bout some clothes, huh?"

"About that…" the kid began, looking embarrassed. "I wasn't sure what would fit, so I just kind of… brought everything."

"Let's see 'em!" Rocket demanded, crossing his arms.

And so, Timmy proceeded to pack out his entire kindergarten and pre-kindergarten wardrobe on the bed for the raccoon to inspect. After going through every last item, Rocket finally settled on a pair of black sweatpants with orange racer-stripes and an orange hoodie with black sleeves that had a monster truck printed on the front. They cut a hole in the pants for his tail and he was all set.

"That's better…" the raccoon sighed, relieved to finally be decently clothed. "Why'd you keep all this stuff, anyway?"

"Father is very sentimental," Timmy replied, shrugging. "He's the one who kept all my old clothes. Oh, that reminds me – I still wanted to apologize on behalf of my father for treating you so badly."

"Wait, that asshole's your dad?" Rocket gaped. It made sense and probably should have occurred to him sooner – the dark hair, the pale pink complexion, everything fit. "Man, it's you I feel sorry for…"

"He… has his better moments," Timmy responded defensively. "Still, I can't blame you for feeling that way. Anyway, someday I'm going to run away from home and become a Ravager!"

Rocket stared. Well, this was still a kid he was dealing with, after all – silly, childish dreams were part of the package.

"Look, kid…" he said, scratching the back of his head and staring at the wheelchair the boy was sitting in, "I hate to be a gronad, but… to be a Ravager… well.. ya kinda need legs for that."

"Nope!" Timmy disagreed optimistically. "I could be the medic or the tech expert, maybe even the weapons expert! I don't need to leave the ship for that."

Well, the kid wasn't letting anyone dampen his spirits, that was for sure. Misguided as the boy probably was, Rocket couldn't fault his determination. After all, what would have become of Rocket, or any of the other Guardians of the Galaxy, if they'd decided that their flaws were too great to overcome and just gave up? Wasn't Star-Lord's band of misfits proof of Timmy's point, exactly?

"Guess yer right," Rocket conceded. "Next, ya gotta get this nasty collar offa me."

"Okay, this will be a bit tricky," Timmy admitted. "That thing requires a keycard, and Father still has the original with him."

"Wait, the original?" Rocket asked, frowning. "Meaning…?"

"I made a copy," Timmy said brightly, like it was nothing.

"Yer not bad, kiddo," Rocket remarked.

Timmy beamed at the compliment.

"I'll need to recode the copy for it to work," the boy said, turning to his state of the art computer. "It'll take about a minute."

Unable to sleep, Septimus Brandt was up checking the stock market when he noticed that Sam #2 had failed to report in. He scanned the security cameras, but could not see anything out of the ordinary. He hoped Sam #2 was not sleeping on the job like earlier today. Just to make sure, Brandt pressed a pink finger to the communications console. Strangely, he was greeted with nothing but static.

It was then that the door to his office burst open and four thugs stormed in. Brandt gasped when the lithe, green-skinned female pressed a cold blade to his throat.

"W-What is the meaning of this?" he spluttered, proud of how his voice only shook a little bit.

"I AM GROOT!" the tallest one announced loudly, sounding quite menacing.

"Show's over, Brandt," the man with the glowing red eyes declared dramatically, "now what did you do with my buddy, Rocket!?"

"Make sure you give us a good answer," a low voice agreed from a heavily muscled shadow in the doorway, "or I shall pull your living heart from your chest."

"Okay, it's all set!" Timmy said, disconnecting the keycard from his computer.

Rocket, who was sitting on the bed, finishing the last of the marshmallows, grinned at the boy. He could not wait to have the horrible device removed. Logically, he knew the collar could not start constricting by itself, but the sooner the thing was off, the better.

"You know, Timmy, for a rich kid, yer actually—"

An explosion shook the room. The door simply disintegrated. Blinking rapidly, Rocket picked himself up from where the blast had deposited him behind the bed. He shook his head, ears ringing.

"Hurry, grab the kid!" an unfamiliar voice barked.

"Wait, what are you doing?" Timmy cried. "No!"

There was a crash as the boy's wheelchair was turned over.

"Oh… You really shouldn'a done that…" Rocket bristled, claws closing around the beautiful killing machine that had landed on the floor next to him.

With a ferocious battle cry, the trigger-happy raccoon launched himself over the bed that was obstructing his line of sight and opened fire on the armoured men who were trying to kidnap his new friend.

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