Peter Quill ran a hand down his weary face, scratching slightly at the scuff growing on his jawline as he put the Milano on cruise before he crashed his beloved ship into something on purpose just to cure himself of boredom. Of course, he’d never actually do that, but after flying for hours upon hours and listening to his Awesome Mix Vol. 1 until Drax had at least memorized and understood the lyrics to Hooked on a Feeling, he had to get up and do something.
Walking through the back of the ship, he passed a sleeping Gamora and after a few seconds of fantasizing about her, he realized she still looked like she could cut off a very sensitive part of his without even opening her eyes. He tugged uncomfortably at the crotch of his pants and quickly walked away before any harm could come to him and his undecided, way-in-the-future offspring.
Plopping down the stairs in search of Drax or Rocket, he ducked into the bathroom after not seeing them in the open space at the base of the steps. He was in the middle of relieving himself with his eyes closed and forehead resting against his arm propped up on the wall when a loud, uncharacteristically high pitched shriek came from down the hall followed by growls and hisses cut between Drax’s deep voice. Letting out a long sigh, he finished his business and zipped up, but groaned at the unmistakable sound of one of Rocket’s weapons locking into place.
“Guys,” he yelled down the hall as he exited the bathroom in search of his bickering teammates. “Rocket, I swear, if you blow up my ship with one of your harebrained inventions-”
“Eh, what’re you and your ashes gonna do, Quill,” Rocket shot back as Peter finally found the raccoon heavily armed with every intent of ironically destroying Drax standing tense in front of him.
“What’re you gonna do, Rocket?”
“Blow this tinker toy to bits if the dense guy here doesn’t get away from me,” Rocket snarled, revealing more of his sharp teeth than either teammate thought necessary.
“Tinker toy,” both Peter and Drax questioned simultaneously, but for different reasons.
“Not the issue here,” Rocket responded, cocking the makeshift weapon in his arms, causing both Drax and Quill to go on the defensive. Quill had held up his hands, trying to display that he meant no harm, but Drax stepped forward in exactly the opposite intention before Peter stepped between them, arms still spread hollering, “Woah, woah, woah! Guys, just hold on on a second.”
It took a few, but the raccoon and the Destroyer stood down a fraction of an inch, but it was good enough for Peter who took it as a miracle. “Now, what’s going on? What happened?”
“Guy tried to kill me in my sleep,” Rocket yelled, throwing a hairy arm out in Drax’s direction. “Nice try, pal! You’re nothing compared to the people that’ve pestered me!”
Quill’s, and Drax’s if he was totally honest, expression softened knowing full well ‘pestered’ was a weak word to choose to describe what people had done to their furry comrade, but neither could mention it for the torment swimming in squinted, defensive eyes glaring back at them.
“If I had wanted to kill you, I most certainly would not have attempted to do so while you were asleep. I merely stepped on your tail,” Drax responded, voice bouncing off the walls loud enough for Quill to wonder how long it would be before Gamora joined them and added her two cents even with Rocket tightening his grip around his weapon.
“You big di-”
“Woah, hey! I don’t think he meant to, right Drax? Just two left feet, yeah?”
“I do not have-”
“It’s an expression,” Rocket quietly responded before Quill could reply, but Peter turned to him, curious by the sudden change in demeanor and soft voice. He watched him drop his weapon in favor of massaging his forehead for a second before tugging at one of his ears and giving a wince and what he assumed was supposed to be growl but sounded more like a sharp hiss, or God forbid a whine.
Quill turned back, shocked that it was Drax’s questioning, soft tone that came before his own question of, “You okay?”
“Yeah, yeah,” the raccoon waved them off, turning back to his makeshift bed with slow, deliberate movements. He looked back at them, angry mask slipping ever so slightly and ears dropping back, although the one he had tugged earlier twitched uncomfortably. “What, you creeps? You’re not planning on watching me sleep, are ya?”
“I had twelve percent of a plan to,” Quill shot back with a satisfied smirk when all he got was a half-hearted annoyed eye roll in response. “Hey, Drax? Will you go check where we’re headed? I left Milano on cruise.” He shared a knowing look with the Destroyer and luckily, the man understood, giving a single nod before heading upstairs.
Peter turned back to Rocket who sat on the floor while absentmindedly tinkering with his weapon. He stepped forward and squatted down. “Where’d you get the parts for this one?”
Rocket tugged at a piece of metal that Quill could have sworn he had seen while working on Milano a time or two, and it broke off which the man figured was Rocket’s intention if the grinding of his teeth were anything to go by. “Here and there.”
“I’ll take that,” Peter nodded, deciding it was better not to know. He changed topics to their latest mission that they had completed. “So that last brawl was a pain in the ass, huh? Pretty sure I could’ve used that prosthetic leg you had me get in Kyln there for awhile.” He knew he was walking on thin ice, but when he didn’t even get a fake snicker, he knew something was wrong. “How’d you do?”
“Fine. Had worse,” Rocket responded, breaking another piece off a bit more forcefully and tossing it carelessly behind him. Quill would’ve rolled his eyes at the raccoon’s typical behavior, but Rocket went back to fumbling with his ear again and as much as he wanted to say something witty or sarcastic, he found himself remembering what he had said to Corpsman Dey about how he was going to look after his team, his family, and he couldn’t bring himself to do anything other than reach out to take a closer look at the animal’s ear. However, his fingers didn’t even brush fur before sharp claws dug into the skin on the back of his hand in one quick swipe followed with a venomous growl.
“Shit! What the hell man?!” Quill yelled, yanking his hand back and pressing it with the other to stop the small blood streaks from running.
“The hell?! Me? What’re you doing?” Rocket demanded, moving for his discarded and disassembled weapon, but Quill managed to be quicker and shove it off to the side before he could reach it.
“Stop! Just calm down, dude. Okay? No need to to blow anything to bits. Alright?”
Rocket wasn’t convinced, but whether he had somehow come to trust Quill more or he was more injured than either suspected, he backed off and sat down gingerly across from the man who still knelt in front of him. “Uh,” the raccoon cleared his throat and motioned towards Quill’s hand. “Is …it bad?”
“You got rabies?”
Rocket mustered a glare and ground his teeth a bit for show, “No.”
“Then, no. It’s not bad,” the man assured, returning a small smile. “How’s…the, uh, ear?”
Rocket tugged at it a bit more as if testing it again to see if its condition had improved in the last few minutes, “Fine.”
“Is that raccoon talk for shit? Fine?” Peter asked, raising an eyebrow at the small creature.
Rocket laughed, genuinely laughed, and looked up at Peter with the most unguarded expression the man had ever seen. “Yeah, pretty much. They used that word a lot working on me,” the animal confided, rubbing his ear again but this time it was more to have something to do rather than anything else.
“Well, how about we don’t use that word while we take care of your ear and then you show me how your newest contraption works?” Quill suggested, making sure to stress the phrase ‘take care of’ enough so that Rocket wouldn’t feel like he was being experimented on again.
“We? I can-”
“What happened to it anyway?” Peter cut him off before he could shut him out and stood to retrieve a first aid kit from the bathroom nearby. He returned, relieved that Rocket had remained where he was, and knelt down again with an expectant expression on his face as he dug through the kit.
Rocket sighed, “Just got nicked. Shrapnel, I suppose.”
Peter stopped rummaging through the medical supplies and held out his hand cautiously between them in show that he wasn’t going to hurt the small animal. Rocket swallowed and stared at him intently for a few moments before giving a small nod. Quill returned it and took Rocket’s injured ear between his fingers to inspect it. He felt the animal tense and felt himself doing the same as the cuts on the back of his hand stung in reminder of what happened when he had scared the raccoon moments before. However, he kept going, being as gentle as he could and even stopping his prodding to pretend he was just looking without touching when he thought Rocket was getting too uncomfortable.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. It’s a pretty nasty gash, but I don’t see anything a few bandages can’t fix,” Peter said as he slowly picked up the bottle of rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball. “Alright, I’m gonna clean it with a little of this, but it’ll burn a bit, buddy. Just letting you know.”
“I know,” Rocket replied, but it wasn’t anything like the defiant remarks Quill was used to. Peter blinked at him, trying to think of something to distract them both from what was about to happen. Sure they’d been through hell compared to a gash and some rubbing alcohol, but when Quill thought about causing the raccoon pain, well he just didn’t like it.
“So you know my Mix tape?” He questioned, trying out his distraction tactic as he unscrewed the cap on the alcohol. He suppressed a smile when Rocket’s uninjured ear wiggled to attention.
“Well,” the man began while reaching out towards his teammate’s ear and once again stopping midway to show he meant no intentional harm until the animal gave him the ‘go ahead’ nod. “Drax has finally learned the lyrics to Hooked on a Feeling and he actually sings it out loud!” He chuckled a bit forcefully as he poured the alcohol on the wound. Rocket flinched, but otherwise tried to remain still except moving his injured ear against the stinging. However, he was laughing along with Quill, albeit forcefully, and Peter’s distraction seemed to be working to some degree.
“This would be nothing compared to the pain of hearing that,” Rocket tested tightly.
Quill took a risk and rubbed the back of the ear gently to hopefully offer some relief or comfort and to his surprise it appeared that it worked or Rocket was just humoring him to tease him later, he wasn’t sure. “Oh, no! It’s awesome. I swear. We just have to get him to sing the Jackson 5, now. Could you imagine that high register?!”
He knew Rocket really didn’t know what he was talking about except that it was his beloved music, but the raccoon still remained focused on what he was saying, so he just kept rambling on and on, even saying he thought he saw the baby Groot dancing in his pot the other day, but he wasn’t sure. Rocket made sure to defend his friend and he was in the middle of the fifth “Groot doesn’t dance” when Quill leaned back and said “Done.”
“What?” Rocket asked, feeling his now bandaged ear. “Already?”
“Yep. Now, let’s go see if we can’t get Drax to do some karaoke,” Peter stood, not bothering to return the first aid kit, and waited for Rocket to follow him.
They were halfway up the stairs when Quill felt a small hand tug on the material of his pants. “Yeah?”
Rocket fidgeted a bit, then weaseled his way around the man’s legs to walk up the steps in front of him, but called over his shoulder, “Thanks.”
“Sure thing, buddy.”
Rocket stopped suddenly and Peter tripped on one of the stairs to avoid stepping on him.
Rocket didn’t answer, but Quill assumed it was because of the nickname. The raccoon had issues with nicknames. “Oh, come on. It’s nothing like rodent or varmint,” the man nudged him up the rest of the stairs. “It’s a good thing…like friend or-”
“I got it, Quill. That’s not why I stopped.”
“Oh. Well, what then?”
“I left my weapon downstairs.”
“It’ll be fine. No one will bother it and you don’t need it. You’re among friends here. Family.”
Rocket froze, but soon scrunched up his face, “Family that steps on my tail.”
“On accident,” Drax suddenly appeared around the corner, making sure that Rocket knew the distinct difference between him and all the other people that had hurt him.
Rocket gave a silent nod before turning back to Quill, “Don’t think I forgot that you said I could show you how my new weapon works, but I’ll need Drax for the demonstration.”
Quill smiled and swiped at Rocket’s head, careful of his ear, “Wouldn’t have it any other way, buddy.”
Drax furrowed his eyebrows and noticed Rocket smiling deviously at him. He yelled after Quill, “I hope that is another expression of yours that doesn’t actually mean what I think it means.”