Peter always skipped the first five seconds of every song. Even going so far as to stand beside the stereo in order to fast forward. Watching the little wheels turn round and round. Never missing the beginning of the song, so practiced was he at this strange ritual. At least, only when he played a certain side of the album. And the others had noticed.
Gamora was the first to notice; she had happened upon him during the night while on their way to Knowhere. She had said nothing because it was unimportant and she had better things to be thinking of. Besides, she didn't plan on getting to know the strange Terran well enough to understand. Let alone care. So she had dismissed the sight and continued on her way back to her sleeping area.
Groot had noticed next. Being a plant, he was privy to the vibrations and wind currents on the ship caused by the humanoids. He may be considered a dumb tree, but he was perfectly capable of understanding fleshling emotions... Kinda.
That didn't stop him from understanding that there was a pattern that Quill went through when playing one half of his music machine. Groot liked Peter's songs and would have told him, had he been able to speak like the other beings of the galaxy. But there was something different about the male when he played the certain plastic piece. He had noticed it when just leaving the Kyln Prison. Three days they had to travel to their buyer, so there were a few quirks that would be noticed.
Like that Drax did not sleep while laying down. A habit picked up from his incarceration. And before.
Which was understandable, but Peter's wasn't. It seemed to Groot that the Terran ought to leave the tape playing so more meaningful tasks could be accomplished as he listened to the sounds of Blue Swede and The Runaways. But Quill was the first Terran Groot had ever met and they were still far too young a race to be well known about in this side of the Quadrant. As far as they were concerned, the 'Earthlings' were the only ones in the galaxy and the Nova and Kree and other Empires were more than happy to let them believe it as they did not posses any valuable minerals or life forms, nor would they be an easy race to conquer or befriend.
So Groot figured it was just an odd quirk pursuant to the race. And he thought nothing more of it.
Drax was third.
He took pride in honing and polishing the blades of his knives. Keeping their metallic shafts defect free and always ready for battle. It calmed him and allowed his mind time to wander as his hands kept him focused on the task before him. So he assumed that the strange Terran who sat in front of his tape player late at night before they arrived to their destination was simply the equivalent for his people and thought nothing more of it as he made his way back to the chair he had claimed as his own. He didn't notice any sheen of water as the blue eyes began to glisten in frustration and panic and a profound sadness.
But Drax didn't notice and would not have cared.
Rocket was the only one to mention it. At first it had simply grated on his nerves: how could someone be so worried about their stupid tape-thingy when they were on the cusp of battle? Why did he sit there listening to something he had heard who knew how many times while they were trying to figure out a plan to get an incredibly powerful and deadly weapon back from a crazy, psychotic moron?
"Why are you listening to that crap when you should be getting ready?" He had actually asked him, only to be met with a blank stare and half a twitch of his lip.
"Helps me think," the strange humie had replied as his stone faced expression split and a goofy grin spread across his lips. Rocket noticed that it didn't reach his eyes, despite how good he was at pretending that it did.
The raccoon said no more and went back to getting himself ready. Damned Ravager jumpsuit was too tight in all the wrong places. He wondered if he would ever get used to it.
It wasn't until everything had finally been settled- the Infinity Stone was safely put away and the Milano was rebuilt and ready for take off. Quill was sitting listening to some new music that they had never heard before (they had listened to the other one enough to know them all by now). It was as the music began to fade away and the voices grew quieter that the frail one began to speak.
Faint and in a language they didn't understand, the woman (for it was obviously a female) said something softly in a warm voice that left Peter's face stoic and his posture slumping further and further forward. A deep twinkle in his eye alerted them to the glistening that had started. Tears of clear liquid and lids rimmed red, Quill remained entirely still. The voice finished and a second song began to play.
Entranced by the male's reaction, the others found themselves drawn further into what they were seeing. Peter being such a vibrant and childish person they sometimes forgot that he was a responsible and complicated being. Spilling only the smallest of details with no context about his past. They could guess; being raised by Ravagers was a unique occurrence and the way Peter had explained to Gamora about his Walkman made her believe that perhaps something had happened to his mother which lead to his adoption by the brutal and diverse crew.
The same voice came on over the speakers when the second track ended and streaks of water painted the male's cheeks. Yet he stayed still and quiet when she stopped speaking and played another song.
"Who is she?" Gamora asked softly, now sitting beside the Half-Terran while Rocket held Groot in front of the pair and Drax leaned against the wall a short distance off.
"My-" he coughed. Swallowing hard and blinking a few times in rapid succession. "My mom."
"She sounded like a kind woman," the green alien continued after a long while, listening to a couple of songs and soft voice once more.
"Yeah," Rocket said softly from his new position on the floor. "She made this for you after all."
Peter just nodded.
"Peter, we do not mean to pry. But, perhaps, it would be better for you to tell us what it is that hurts you so much?"
A long quiet fell amongst the guardians, broken only by the loud yet quiet music that only Peter could understand. In which time more tears fell with shorter intervals before he sniffled and began to breath a bit heavier as he tried not to sob. Finally he rubbed his face and hid it in his hands.
"She died. I knew it was happening; she was real sick for a long time. Dying sick. I tried to ignore it, pretend she would get better but-" he choked; the voice on the tape coughed harshly, weakly.
He swallowed again before continuing. "The night she died, I ran. I just wanted to get away from it all before it became true. Before it was real and she was never gonna wake up. That she died with me refusing to hold her hand as she did so," he trailed off again, unsuccessfully preventing a sob when a murmured word trickled over their ears.
"It's alright, Peter," Gamora whispered, awkwardly trying to comfort him by rubbing his shoulder with her calloused fingers. But he shook his head, ripping himself from the tentative support in favor of pacing.
"No, it's not! I ran and not two seconds later, Yondu nabbed me and here I am! A Ravager and a loser who was too afraid to comfort his mother before she died."
"And a Guardian, Star Lord," Rocket added. He had his arms over his chest and was smirking rather triumphantly at the Terran. Peter couldn't help but smile back a little. If rather sullenly.
"Indeed, Peter Quill. We do not blame you for the actions you made as a young child. You are older now and have atoned for your mistakes. Perhaps it is time you allow yourself to listen to your mother's voice without guilt." Drax finished his sentence with a gentle (for him) clap to the shoulder. Peter winced.
"Peter," the voice murmured over the speakers. He snapped to attention and listened with rapt attention to the soft words she spoke to him. The other guardians watched in fascination as his shoulders sagged, but his spine straightened. A burden lifted as relief ebbed from his person in great waves. More tears fell and the four watched as he sank to the floor.
"Every song. She tells me who preformed it, when they recorded it and what they named it. It's all I have left of her. For so long I just wanted to go back and fix everything; rewrite my history so I was never abducted and she didn't die thinking that I hated her. I guess I never really understood that she had already forgiven me," came his strangled whisper. They weren't sure if it was for their sake, or his, that he told them this. But they appreciated it all the same.
"I am Groot," the little potted tree hummed in the silence. Tiny smiles lit their faces when Rocket explained what he had said.
"Yeah, little buddy. I guess everything does work out the way it should."
In a few hours they were off, searching for a little of both to fill the space in their schedule and find ways of destroying Thanos all while exploring this new phenomena that was their new group dynamic. The Guardians of the Galaxy.
The tape and Peter's tears weren't mentioned again for many years to come. When they had learned what it meant to be a family and how to truly help one another heal from their pasts.
But Peter stopped skipping through the first few seconds of a song, letting her sweet and happy; her warm and comforting voice filter through the comms and warm the darkest part of the ship's corridors. Even as she lay dying in a hospital bed she was still there to warm the heart of her little Star Lord.