How to Buy Happiness

Chapter 7: Hurt

It was dark, even to Rocket's usually keen eyes.

The pitch darkness was solid and suffocating around him. He could still feel the fine wires of the net digging into him on all sides. When those hands had come closing in on him, he'd reacted on instinct – he'd thrashed violently, managing only to make the net become so tight that it began cutting into his flesh. He was stuffed inside a windowless box not much bigger than himself. The aftertaste of that spray, sickly sweet on his tongue, made him queasy.

And that was even before everything started moving.

The world began shaking as the box he was in was jostled about, probably in the back of a vehicle. The sedative won out over his nausea and his mind stalled, went into a sort of dreamless trance he could not really have called sleeping at any time of day.

He was jolted into awareness when the box was opened and he landed unceremoniously in a tangle of limbs and wire on a grimy, tiled floor. He let out a pitiful squeak when a hand came down on his head. He strained with all his might to pull away.

"Rocket, it's me," a familiar voice whispered, "please, hold still so I can get this thing off you…"

"Kid…?" he sounded hoarse even to his own ears.

"Yeah," the boy said, "I'm going to cut the net loose for you, all right?"

Rocket closed his eyes and clenched his jaws shut as he felt the cold metal of a wire cutter make contact with his skin through the fur on the back of his neck. It took all of his self control to keep still as Timmy worked on freeing him from the net.

Timmy licked his lips nervously. He felt a pearl of sweat sliding down his left temple. He knew he had to get Rocket out of the net before he strangled himself in it, but he didn't want to hurt his furry little friend.

The armoured man with the rifle looming over him, watching his every move, was not making matters any easier. But he had to be brave right now, for Rocket's sake. The only reason they let Timmy work on the raccoon at all was that the men who had handled Rocket earlier – that traitorous Luke and the chubby man who later introduced himself as "Gibbous Bisonbait" – were both badly bloodied from the forearms down and it seemed none of the others had any desire to be scratched up. Rocket's nails were razor sharp.

So they'd handed Timmy a pair of metal scissors with the stern instructions to "make it quick" and "no funny business". Honestly, the only thing the boy really cared about at the moment was untying Rocket. The little guy could hardly move and the more he struggled, the tighter the snare pulled. There were a few places where the cruel thing was already drawing blood. People who designed guns that spat nets at dizzying speeds and thought they were being humane really needed a kick in the… the boy's mind groped for one of those creatively wicked words Rocket used all the time, but came up empty. He blamed it on nerves. Normally, Timmy was quite proficient at remembering swearwords...

He was very glad for the clothes Rocket insisted on wearing – Timmy thought it was funny how the raccoon had looked scandalized at the mention that he wasn't really naked and that he had his own fur coat all the time. He'd growled something about hairless fleshbodies not having any decency and had promptly shrugged into the borrowed clothes with visible relief. Necessary or not, the clothes were a blessing now. Timmy did not even want to imagine the net snagging on one of the raccoon's protruding metal parts. Thankfully, those were all safely covered.

"Get on with it, boy," the guard warned impatiently.

Timmy nodded. He needed to focus.

The raccoon tensed as Timmy eased the cutter in under the net where it was snarled against the back of Rocket's neck. Holding his breath, the boy cut the first wire and winced at the tufts of fur that fell loose with it.

The agonizingly slow process took all of the boy's concentration. He was almost as surprised as he was relieved when the net finally slid off the small furry body. Rocket was lying so still, Timmy wondered for a moment if he had fallen asleep. But then he saw eyes that had been scrunched shut tightly slowly blink open, as though Rocket, too, was surprised at the sudden disappearance of the weight of the net around him.

"Now take off the belt," the guard's voice was suddenly loud in the almost complete silence Timmy had been working in.

For the first time, as his eyes fell on the collection of grenades clipped to the belt Rocket wore, thoughts of escape entered the boy's mind. If Rocket had explosives, he could get them out of here. They could go home! The guard picked up on his hesitance, however. He made to reach out to Rocket and grab the belt himself, but seemed to think better of it. He'd seen how badly the others had been scratched. His pearl white armour would protect his chest and shoulders, but the thin black sleeves would do nothing to keep the raccoon's claws from tearing into his arms.

"Take the belt off, or I kill it," the man shouted, indicating with the rifle, "I'll shoot your freaky little pet, don't you think I won't!"

Timmy believed him.

Hastily and with trembling hands, the boy fumbled the belt off and handed it to the guard, not looking at it again.

Smirking, the guard walked off, his receding footsteps ringing hollowly. As the door banged shut behind him, Timmy risked a glance at the motionless raccoon beside him. Rocket's eyes were closed once more. The doze chemicals were really starting to get to him. It was a wonder his small body was able to cope at all with the amount of doses he'd been given already.

"Rocket," the boy whispered, scooting a little closer.

"Whazzat?" muttered the drowsy raccoon.

"I know it won't make much of a difference right now," Timmy began, "but I still have the key I programmed to deactivate that collar Father put around your neck... Let me take it off for you."

With visible effort, Rocket pried his eyes open to give Timmy a long, considering look. When his furred friend said nothing, the boy made to pull the card from his back pocket.

"No, wait," Rocket hissed urgently, "don't!"

Timmy frowned. Was the raccoon hallucinating? Rocket had been so eager to be rid of the collar before. Why would he suddenly want to keep it?


"Leave it on," Rocket explained wearily as his eyes drifted closed once more. "Knowing your flark ass crazy dad, d'ast thing's prob'ly got a frickin' tracking device installed."

Timmy opened and closed his mouth in astonished silence. Why hadn't he thought of that? For some reason, it shamed the boy that Rocket, a captive in his home for only a day or so, seemed to know his father better than Timmy himself, who had been living in the same house with the man for years...

"Hey, I think you're right," Timmy finally managed with a hopeful smile. "Maybe we'll be rescued after all! What do you think?"

But Rocket did not reply. The poor little guy was out cold, snoring softly.

Timmy ran his eyes over the limp, furry form curled up next to him. Rocket was a tough little creature, that was for sure. The boy tried very hard not to think about the metallic parts he'd seen in the raccoon's back. They'd looked raw and painful. Not for the first time, Timmy caught himself wondering if those were why Rocket could walk and talk. Certainly, if there were more raccoons who were naturally like Rocket, the articles the boy had read about the species would have mentioned them.

Something had made him this way – different. Was that why Rocket hated being touched? Would it be all right to try and comfort him by stroking the soft fur, or would that only upset the raccoon?

Timmy raised his hand and reached for the silky ears...

Just then, a gangly fellow burst into the room, followed by the guard with the rifle. The newcomer also wore a moon symbol printed across the breast of his black clothing like the other guards, but he was without the white armour. Timmy's eyes grew wide as he saw that the bony man wore thick gloves and carried a white case. Did they know about the wound in Rocket's side? Was he going to treat the raccoon's injuries? Somehow, Timmy didn't think so. What was the man planning on doing to Rocket?

"C'mere, boy!" the guard from earlier, who was suddenly standing beside him, ordered.

He grabbed Timmy roughly by one arm and dragged him back up into the wheelchair, an ancient thing with actual wheels. They'd left the boy's own wheelchair behind, probably for fear of getting tracked somehow. Good thing they didn't know about Rocket's collar.

"W-Wait, what is that man doing?" Timmy asked, trying to look the guard in the eyes through the visor of his moon-emblazoned helm.

"Following orders," the guard ground out, "which you ought to be doing, unless you want your little pet to suffer for it."

As if to prove the guard's point, Rocket suddenly emitted a strangled yelp as he was plucked into the air by the glove-wearing stranger. At the heart-rending sound, Timmy found himself reliving an unpleasant flashback of Rocket's feeble yet frantic struggles against him as he tried to inject that immunity booster into the sick raccoon's bloodstream. The little guy had been absolutely terrified of the syringe without even knowing what was in it.

"B-But that man's hurting him!" Timmy gasped.

"Boy, you don't do what I say, it'll hurt a lot more than it has to," the guard said maliciously, wheeling Timmy towards the door.

"What!? No!" Timmy cried, craning his neck to see what was happening to the raccoon as he was pushed out of the room. "Rocket!"

"You be a good kid and look nice and helpless for your dad's ransom vid," the guard offered conversationally, "and I bring you back here to check on your pet when he's done."

Timmy's heart sank as the slamming of the door behind him cut off the sound of Rocket's desperate struggles.

Rocket cracked his eyes open and wished he hadn't. Aside from getting that first faceful of dirty tiles that was the floor, he hadn't really had much chance to take in his surroundings. It was a great relief to finally be untangled from the net – in fact, he must have fallen asleep as soon as the thing was removed – but now he had other things to worry about. He clenched his claws into fists and willed his body to move. Being crammed in that cramped little box had been bad – bad, yet bearable – but what he saw now sent his heartbeat skyrocketing…

Rocket Raccoon's least favourite place in the world, any world, was a hospital. Whether they were hygienically clean and immaculate, or filthy and disused like this one, he loathed them. He never went near them. Never. So finding out that these gaboons were going to keep him and the kid in an abandoned hospital was like something that had clawed its way straight out of one of Rocket's more lucid nightmares.

Escape! He had to move!

Move, legs! Move! he thought at himself furiously. But he found that he could barely keep his eyes open, never mind get his wobbly little legs under him and run. Vaguely, he wondered just how much of that poisonous knock-out spray was in his system by now. Seriously, that prickly feeling was back in his throat and none of his limbs were responding the way they were supposed to!

The next thing Rocket knew, he was lifted into the air. He fought the huge pair of rubber hands as best he could, but his claws could not pierce the gloves properly. He managed to latch on, but inflicted nowhere near enough damage for them to drop him.

A moth-eaten hospital bed loomed into view. Desperately, he switched tactics and tried to bite the relentless fingers locked around him. The bitter taste of rubber filled his mouth. Instead of the desired reaction of flinching back in pain, Rocket found that, despite his sharp fangs, the hand retaliated by pushing his head back until his neck was at such an awkward angle, he thought it would snap. He was forced to look up into a pair of spectacles that reflected the lights so brightly, the man seemed to have no eyes except for those sinister-looking glasses. Below them, a row of blunt, uneven teeth smiled down at him.

"Master Gibbous said to have the runt de-clawed, he said," mumbled the mouth with the dull collection of teeth, "but there'll be time enough for that later. Don't have the right tools for that anyhow. Just clip 'em for now, I say."

No! Not my claws! Rocket's vision blurred as he tried to suck in a frantic breath around a mouthful of rubber. Not my claws!

When the big hand finally pulled back, rubber glove slick with his saliva, Rocket was pressed down into the old mattress. It smelled stale. He was flipped over roughly. He blinked rapidly against the blinding lights in the ceiling. He heard the clinking of the restraints and before he could take two breaths, his one wrist was strapped to the old hospital bed. He was too small for the huge bed and the opposite set of restraints wouldn't go all the way to his other wrist, but that did not seem to perturb his attacker in the least. Taking hold of Rocket's free paw in his one hand, the man produced a pair of clippers in his other.

Rocket stared incredulously from the clippers to the strap around his wrist and back. They were really going to cut his nails!

He fought with everything he had, but his struggles were futile. The grinning man had an iron grip on his wrist. Rocket resolved to swear and curse and threaten, and do anything except what he was feeling like doing right now… but as the first nail clipping fell, so did a single tear. Not because it hurt – it was completely painless – but because they were robbing him of his last line of defence and there was nothing, nothing he could do to stop them...

For a long moment, he lay stunned, staring at the stubs at the ends of his fingertips. What used to be sleek, deadly claws, were now ruined, useless.

The perpetrator had gone on his merry way, probably to report to his superior. Rocket half-heartedly wished the jerk choked on his next meal... or, better yet, tripped over nothing, impaled himself on something embarrassing and died from it.

Listlessly, Rocket tore his gaze away from his hands. He could practically hear his heart beating in time to the ringing inside his skull. His head had begun to feel oddly fuzzy and his every breath seemed to scald his sensitive windpipe. He hoped he wasn't becoming ill again. His eyes itched fiercely, but if he closed them, they would probably crust over like before.

He toyed with the idea of undoing the restraint around his one wrist, but that involved using his fingers, and he didn't want to think about those right now. Idly, he slid his free hand into the single pocket at the front of the jacket he'd borrowed from the kid... and nearly had a heart attack when his fist closed on a round object stashed inside. Blinking, he pulled his hand away and thought furiously. He couldn't remember purposefully secreting the grenade away as he lay trapped inside that horrible net, but the more he considered it, the more sense it made. He'd already unclipped one when he came to the decision that he could not to use the grenade to escape the trap for fear of hurting Timmy, that much he did remember.

A grim smile spread on the raccoon's lips.

He left the grenade tucked away in the folds of his jacket pocket. Let them think they'd stripped him of his last weapons. The surprised looks on their dumb faces would be a good start to the payback he would inflict on them for what he'd had to endure at their hands, rubber and otherwise.

With a renewed sense of purpose, Rocket Raccoon used his free hand to explore the strap holding down his wrist. His usually nimble fingers felt thick and ungainly without the long nails he was so used to, but if he was patient, he'd be able to undo the bindings.

He froze as the lock on the door jiggled. Were they bringing Timmy back? Now that Rocket thought about it, he'd lost track of the kid when that pair of clippers came into view.

The door opened to admit the fat man in the hooded cloak, the one who'd shot the net at him from behind. The one with the grabby hands. With a wicked grin, Rocket noted that the man's forearms were bandaged almost from the elbow down.

A low growl rose in his throat as the man with the hands came closer and he had to resist the urge to reach for the grenade.

"There now," the fat man said with an ugly smile as he reached to pet Rocket's head, "aren't you precious?"

"Don't touch me, jackass!" Rocket snarled, automatically lashing out with a claw.

The man chuckled as the raccoon's paw bounced off his hand harmlessly.

"You're quite adorable now that you're not using my arm for a scratching post," he said slowly, admiring Rocket like he was some kind of trophy.

"Lea'me alone, or I'll krutacking kill ya!" Rocket screeched acidly.

"Here, I know!" The man's unpleasant smile grew wider as his eyes lit up suddenly. "I had a pet cat when I was a boy... She always loved it when I did this..."

Rocket tensed as the pudgy hand began stroking the fur on his head, then went rigid as the fingers travelled up in the direction of his ears. He tried very hard to hold back an involuntary shiver as the fingers reached that certain spot behind his ear… Rocket hated losing control. He hated it. He was not just some mindless animal, acting solely on instincts. So he was mortified when those instincts told him to lean into the gentle strokes like they were a good thing.

Rocket shied away from the touch.

Stop it! he tried to say. I don't want it! Don't you frickin' touch me!

But no sound came out.

Rocket was about to loose another growl, but quickly strangled it in the back of his throat when he realized that that low vibration just might come out as something else entirely.

The spell was broken when the hand moved away from his ears to stroke his muzzle. The sentient part of his brain finally won out over instinct and he bit down on the man's hand with a vengeance. He bit down so hard, he thought he could hear bones cracking. The man howled. Flesh tore as he ripped his hand away from Rocket's maw.

There was silence except for the man's agonized panting and groaning as he tried to master the pain. When he looked up, there was murder in his eyes. Rocket threw caution to the wind and gave him a red smile.

"U-Ungrateful little beast!" the fat man spat. "I was going to keep you, give you a life of luxury!"

"Whoa, whoa, lemme stop ya right there, flaaknard," Rocket interjected angrily, "coz you got me all wrong! I ain't some stray lookin' for a frickin' place to stay! All you losers who think they can just buy me or keep me, yer all flarking bonkers! I got a home, I got a family—"

Rocket's hackles rose as an evil laugh cut off his tirade.

"See, that's where you're wrong, little monster," the man giggled harshly, "I already have a long list of buyers lined up, among them the Kree Secret Science Division! Even some obscure place off in the Keystone Quadrant wants you." Rocket was hard-pressed to hold back a shudder. "You see, I can do whatever I want with your mangy hide! Too bad they all seem to want you in full working order, or I could have sold you in little pieces! Either way, you'll never see your precious family again!"

Rocket's ears pricked up as an alarm suddenly blared off in the distance.

"What could possibly—" the fat man started, but was interrupted by the sound of the radio in his pocket spitting static.

"Master Gibbous!" the radio squealed.

He grabbed the device with his good hand and barked into it. "What's going on!?"

"Sir, we've got intruders!" the voice on the other end responded.

"Intruders? Who in the name of the Moons would know where to find us!?" the man raged at the radio in his hand.

"I don't know how they found us, sir," came the urgent reply, "but it's Star-Lord and his team! Star-Lord has turned on us!"

Star-Lord? Rocket felt his little heart beat faster. There was only one guy in the galaxy who was dorky enough to call himself that on purpose!

His family had come.

They'd come to take him home.

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