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No Place Like Home

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"You ever been here before?" Rocket asked Peter Quill as they walked the crowded, yellow-tinted streets of planet Tartoonla. It wasn't Rocket's first choice for shopping, but it was generally a lot safer than The Hub. A Bazaar World, it was what Quill had earlier described as "a planet-sized flea market," much to Drax's confusion as to why anyone would want to purchase fleas. Vendors of all shapes and colors littered the streets with wares from all corners of the universe.

"I think Yondu took me here once when I was younger, but I don't really remember." The Terran shrugged. "I've always been awesome at acquisitions and kinda awful at selling."

"This planet is quantity-over-quality when it comes to goods, there's a ton of it and most of it isn't worth buying, but few places have more in terms of sheer variety. You can usually find better deals here too." Rocket scrambled up his friend's leg and back, his destination was Peter's left shoulder. The small mammal rested a paw near the man's other shoulder for balance.

"Woah, hey buddy!" Peter exclaimed, looking surprised rather than angry.

"Listen pal, don't get the wrong idea. I don't wanna be on your shoulder any more than you want me to. But it's crowded and the tables are above my eye-level. I'd normally ride on Groot but that's out, obviously." The tree had grown almost to Rocket's height. Groot was still on the Milano, with Drax taking care of him.

"You take the left side, I'll take the right." Quill slowly walked in the center of the aisle of stands and tables, eventually stopping to point. His face lit up. "Is that a lightsaber?"

"Those are ancient history, nobody uses photon swords anymore."

"Gamora would." Peter said it as if it was obvious.

"Nah, she prefers physical blades. More reliable, better weight." Rocket pretended that he was brandishing an invisible sword.

"Since when are you so close with Gamora?"

"Jealous?" Rocket teased as he smirked and waggled his eyebrows. The Terran rolled his eyes in response, but his mouth formed a definite pout. He was too easy to mess with sometimes. "Geez Quill, I'm just kidding, she ain't my type. Speakin' of Madam Buzzkill though, where is she? Whenever we shop for supplies she's usually over our shoulders so we don't buy things 'irresponsibly.' And for the record, particle bombs ain't irresponsible."

"She told me she'd stay on the ship. Thanos took her here once when she was younger and something happened that she doesn't wanna be reminded of."

Neither of them wanted to discuss that can of worms, so they continued onward. The cyborg noticed a table covered with the strangest junk. It appeared to be totally useless. The table was littered with ugly figurines, silly looking items, and the most backwards tech he had ever seen. There were also cryo-pods with various food items. He snorted. "What kind of junk is this?"

Peter turned, and he wore a giant smile upon seeing the junk in question. "That's not just any junk, Rocket, that's Earth junk!"

"Oh no. Me and my big mouth!" Rocket exclaimed in genuine horror. "I'm not letting you waste your money on this garbage."

"One man's trash is another man's treasure."

"A man who treasures trash has shitty taste." The raccoon grinned as large as he could at Quill. He took a closer look as Peter approached the table. "That shiny thing, what does it do?" Rocket asked, attempting to feign disinterest as he pointed to a multifaceted metallic sphere almost as large as himself. He had always liked shiny things, especially if they blew other things up.

"That's a disco ball! You hang it from the ceiling and it reflects the light, sets the perfect mood for dancing. One-way ticket to Funkytown." Quill began to dance to no music, pointing his finger and moving his arm diagonally in front of him.

"Seriously? I'll never understand you Terrans." As much as Peter infuriated him, which was almost all the time, Rocket never called him a humie to his face.

"Lemme guess, you were hoping it was a bomb?" The man smirked and gave a knowing look.

"It's that obvious?"

Quill picked up a small device, and began to fiddle with the display. It was a small and orange colored, in the shape of a thin square with a touch screen on the front. "No. WAY. This is awesome! It's a Terran music player! Look at how many songs are on it!" The human's finger scrolled up and down the display as he shoved the torture device in front of Rocket's face.

"Kill me now." Rocket groaned.

"It doesn't look like any Earth tech I'm used to, looks a lot more advanced. I recognize maybe a third of these songs."

"Still primitive as shit. I could format my communicator to hold ten times that many songs. Not that I'd want to, but I could." The small mammal gazed at the other crap for sale. "HAHAHAHAHA! You named your ship after acookie? A cookie with chocolate? What little respect I had for you is totally gone. They ain't gonna believe this!" Rocket continued laughing.

"Ugh. I didn't name it after the cookie. On Earth there's a famous girl named Milano, I named it after her." Peter sighed and covered his face with his right hand.

"Yeah, I'm not buying it Star-Loser."

Quill's brow furrowed and his look hardened, staring intensely at nothing in particular. "Figurines…Milanos…music…" He mumbled to himself.

"What's a matter Quill?"

"Nothing, just a weird coincidence."

The merchant selling the Terran goods had been busy at his adjacent table with more desirable wares, but he finally noticed Peter and Rocket and shifted behind the Earth-junk table. His gaunt purple face seemed incapable of smiling.

"How did you get this stuff?" Peter sounded really interested. Rocket knew that was a bad thing. You sound like you really want something, they'll make you pay more for it.

"The more important question is why." Rocket crossed his arms. He couldn't imagine anyone else wanting this shit.

The merchant was unfazed by their questions. "Someone had retrieved these from Terra and sold them to me. As to why, that planet has become of interest ever since they repelled a Chitauri invasion."

"WHAT?" Rocket and Quill shouted in unison.

"Maybe they ain't so primitive after all." Rocket was dumbfounded.

"How much for the whole table?" Peter failed to mask his excitement.

"5000 units."

Rocket refused to let his friend pay that much for this crap, so after few minutes of haggling they had agreed upon 2500 units. The cyborg thought even that was way overpriced, but at least the seller brought the price down by half. He almost seemed too willing to haggle. Rocket chalked it up to Terran goods being shitty and hard to sell.

"Can you switch to my other shoulder? You're heavier than you look."

"Wimp." Rocket retorted flatly, but crawled to perch on Peter's other shoulder anyway. "I'm hungry, how bout we head over there for a lunch break." The human nodded in agreement and approached the plaza.

Upon reaching a tacky fountain and Quill sitting beside it, Rocket jumped off and dug through the giant bag of Terran junk looking for the food pods. He snatched one at random, and it contained a sandwich wrapped in yellow paper. The pod opened with a hiss and the mammal hastily unwrapped the sandwich. It was apparently called an Egg McMuffin. The supposed muffin portions were nothing like the kind of muffin Quill had introduced him to. Between them was an orange square of cheese, a soft white/yellow substance, apparently the egg, and topped with a thin piece of salty meat. Much to Rocket's surprise, it was absolutely delicious, even still cold out of the cryo-pod. He scarfed it down despite knowing it would be better to savor it.

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but this Terran sandwich may be the best thing I have ever tasted in my entire life." Rocket spoke slowly, as if the sandwich held the secrets of the universe. Peter raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm serious! I'm gonna make you go there and get more." The raccoon had always wondered why Peter never went back to Terra even though he always seemed so obsessed with it and his past, but Rocket didn't expect it to be a big deal.

"If you make me go back to Earth, I'll make you go back to Halfworld." Quill's tone and face were still casual, but his voice had a hint of seriousness to it.

"WHAT THE FLARK, QUILL!" The cyborg backed away, terror in his eyes.

"Wait, Rocket I didn't-" Peter appeared concerned, but Rocket didn't care. His instincts – no, he didn't have instincts, animals had instincts – had kicked in and he scampered away on all fours as fast as he possibly could. Being underfoot, the crowd, none of it mattered. The only thing that mattered was getting away from the humie he had thought was his friend. Rocket ducked into a quiet alley, and noticed a cloaked figure slowly walking in his direction. The being wore a hood to obscure their face, but peeking out from it was green skin and a bit of magenta hair, and the mammal knew exactly who it was.

Gamora noticed Rocket and frowned. All pretense of being a tough guy was out the window as Rocket was constantly shaking. He began to cautiously back up away from her. "Rocket, it's just me. Trust me as I trust you." She spoke gently while slowly presenting her hands in front of her to show she meant no harm. The frantic raccoon hesitated, but eventually calmed down. Calm wasn't really the right word, since he was still hyperventilating, but less rapidly. He could no longer trust Peter, but she would understand. It would be as if one of them told her they would take her back to Thanos. "Rocket, what happened?"

Rocket stopped shaking and he hunched over, paws on his knees, catching his breath. Gamora kneeled and softly rested a hand on his shoulder. They held there for a long moment, but he eventually spoke up. "Q-Quill, he…threatened to make me go back to Halfworld! I won't let them take me apart again!" What he said was true, but there was more to it than just that, he also couldn't face who he left behind.

"Peter is many things, but cruel is not one of them. You know he didn't mean it. Let's head back to the ship."

"Hell no. I don't wanna be anywhere near him, and he's gonna go back there. Unless you're suggesting we leave him stranded here and take the Milano, I could get behind that plan."

Quill ran into the alley they were in with a worried expression on his face.

"STAY AWAY!" Rocket hissed as his fur bristled and ears flattened. He pulled a small gun out and aimed it at Quill, wishing he had brought a larger one. "Take me somewhere, anywhere away from him!"

"Are you going to give me back to Thanos too?" Gamora sounded stern.

"Look, I didn't mean it. It was just a stupid, dumb joke. I'm sorry." The Terran sounded sincere.

She softened slightly. "I know that, but I suspect he will need more convincing."

Peter glanced across the connecting alley and his eyes got wide. "Shit. We have other problems right now. We need to get back to the ship, pronto!" He began running.

"What kind of problem?" Gamora ran with Peter, picking up Rocket who flailed but didn't have the time or energy to protest. He wasn't in any state to run anyway. Unfortunately he dropped the gun, at least it was only a small and unimportant one.

"Yondu," Quill muttered under his breath.

But it was too late. Whistling could be heard as the Yaka arrow hovered in the air and spun around the trio menacingly. Yondu and Kraglin approached them from opposite ends of the alley. The captain smiled his jagged smile, and Rocket knew that couldn't be a good thing. "Well, lookee what we got here." The smile quickly switched to a frown as he focused on Quill. "You're in a lotta trouble, boy."

Chapter Text

He should have known. Peter had been suspicious of the specific set of Earth items on sale, and in hindsight it was all too obvious. A bunch of figurines, one of them was even a Smurf, an orange music player, Milano cookies. The Earth goods were bait set by Yondu. The Centaurian had always done things in a roundabout way, but Peter couldn't understand why he didn't just put tracking devices in their Ravager clothes like a normal person.

Yondu and Kraglin had dragged the trio to an abandoned warehouse. They had been cuffed and were hovering mid-air via a weaker version of the Nova Corps capture technology. Kraglin left the room with a nod. Gamora gave Peter a look that suggested she was going to try something, but he quickly shook his head. He got them into this mess, and he would get them out of it. The fact that Yondu was alone was a good sign. If the blue man was going to kill them, he would make a spectacle of it.

"So Torture Smurf, What are you gonna do to us?" Peter had often called him a Smurf when he was growing up.

Yondu whistled and the arrow stopped mere centimeters from Peter's nose. "I said I'd kill ya for not givin' me that stone. But I'm not sure I feel like it. As for miss greenie, I'm selling her to the highest bidder. You best not try anything missy. You're worth more intact but I won't hesitate to ruin that pretty face a' yours." Another whistle and the arrow was in front of Gamora.

"Thanos will kill her." The Terran pleaded with his eyes.

"I don't care who buys her. It's just business, and what the customer does with the product ain't any of mine. You know that." The Ravager's red eyes turned to the raccoon. "Your pet looks mighty tasty."

Rocket growled. "I ain't nobody's pet." Peter decided it was best to not bring up the raccoon's use of double-negatives.

"I think I'll skin him first, he'd make a nice hat." Yondu whistled again to move the arrow to Rocket.

Rocket struggled against the restraining field. "Get that away from me you crazy backwater poucher." Peter and Gamora gasped. Centaurians had pouches like kangaroos, and poucher was a very derogatory term. Peter had only ever heard a few people call Yondu that, and it never ended well.

Yondu frowned, then whistled. The Yaka arrow quickly dove towards Rocket's left foot, and the mammal screamed. Peter couldn't watch. When he opened his eyes, the raccoon's little foot was covered in blood. "You need to learn respect." The blue man was pummeling Rocket with punches. "Gotta tenderize my meat first."

"Leave him alone! It's me you want. They have nothing to do with this." If only Peter could direct all the burden to himself. This was his fault, and his friends were getting punished for it.

"Nothing to do with it? Sure, you stole the stone and switched containers on me but they helped you stop Ronan. You got them involved. I even made 'em honorary Ravagers." Yondu said that like it was a high honor.

As the Centaurian swung his fist at Rocket's face, the raccoon bit hard. The bite ripped right through the gloves and into the skin. "D'ast. You're gonna pay for that, little fella." Yondu's communicator started making noise. "I gotta take this." He said it casually, as if he was stepping out of a meeting, and promptly left the room.

"Quill, on a scale of Groot to Thanos, how much of a dick is Yondu?" The raccoon made it sound like a perfectly normal question.

"Somewhere in the middle, a few levels above you, I guess." Peter was glad Rocket was still speaking to him.

"He's gonna eat me." What crossed the mammal's face was less a look of horror, but more an expression of defeat.

"Relax Rocket, the Ravagers have been threatening to eat me for 26 years, they'd never really do it."

"Easy for you to say Star-Bastard, you don't look like a d'ast delicacy! Drax has eaten whatever I am before and I'm apparently delicious."

"Rocket, panicking isn't going to help, we need a plan. Yondu is hesitant to hurt me, we should use that to our advantage. I can try dislocating my wrist." The green woman seemed unflappable sometimes.

"No, bad idea. I can usually tell when he's being serious. I honestly don't think he's gonna eat Rocket, but he's completely serious about selling you, or mutilating you if you try anything. I just need to appeal to his better nature, I have some bargaining chips left." Peter pleaded with his eyes at Gamora.

"I don't think he has a better nature. Anyway, why haven't you gone back to Terra? It better be a good reason since you threatened to take me back to Halfworld."

"Is now really a good time to be talking about this?" She had a good point.

"There might not be a later for me to ask." The raccoon also had a good point.

"I just realized, we're like a screwed up version of an Earth legend. The Wizard of Oz. A girl named Dorothy gets abducted from Earth by a storm and taken to a magical land with strange creatures. Dorothy just wants to go home, not knowing she had the power to go home the whole time. But that's where we're different. In the end, she wakes up and it was all just a dream. I don't want to wake up. Sure, I loved Earth, but I don't want the awesomeness of the universe to go away. To end up pretending that none of this was real, having to grow up and live a normal life on one of the most boring planets in the universe."

"Peter…" Gamora looked concerned.

Yondu walked back into the room and behind the raccoon.

The furry cyborg squirmed. "W-what are you doing back there?"

Yondu yanked Rocket's tail so hard that the raccoon was pulled out of the restraining field, crashing onto the floor with a thud and a yelp.

"Yondu, stop! Hey, let's make a deal." Peter wasn't sure this would work, since he was sure the Centaurian was behind the Earth items being for sale in the first place, but it was worth a try. "I just bought a bunch of Earth stuff, and there's lots of those cute figurines you like. Let us free, and they're yours."

"I thought I taught you better than that, boy. You're in no position to bargain." Yondu walked to the corner of the room where he had tossed his captives' belongings. He rummaged through the bag of Earth stuff and pulled out all the figurines, stuffing them in his own bag.

The blue man approached Peter and began punching him, but it didn't hurt as much as expected. It still hurt a ton, but Yondu was holding back. "Learn your lesson yet, boy?"

"If you kill, sell, eat, or do anything else bad to any of my friends, it's war and I will kill you." The human glared at the closest thing he had to a father. He was bluffing, of course, but hopefully it would be enough.

Yondu stepped back and frowned, his red eyes glaring back. Kraglin re-entered the room and swiftly approached his captain. "Boss." Then Kraglin proceeded to whisper something in the Centaurian's ear.

"You're lucky, son. I got more important matters to attend to. Now git outta here before I change my mind." His second undid the Guardians' restraints, and the Ravagers left.

Gamora bent down near Rocket, her arms moving around to pick him up.

"I can walk."

"Like hell you can. Haven't you noticed the HOLE IN YOUR FOOT?" Peter knew Rocket was stubborn but this took the cake.

"Just because you are physically capable of doing something doesn't mean you should do so." Gamora looked at him sternly.

"Yeah, like walking, flirting with Gamora, blowing up moons…" The terran counted on his fingers as he went down the list.

"Alright, alright, I get it." The small cyborg huffed, letting the green woman pick him up.

"Just a suggestion, Rocket, he wouldn't have hurt you so bad if you hadn't called him that. Anyway, just so we're clear: even if we end up having to go on a mission to…that place, I won't make you go. Either I can drop you off somewhere else or you can stay on the ship. Are we okay?" Peter made puppy-dog eyes at him.

"…For now." The raccoon didn't sound all that convincing, but it was progress.

Once back on the Milano, Drax and Groot greeted them. "Who has done this? I shall rip out their spine."

"I am Groot!" The tree's face went from giddy to horrified upon seeing Rocket in Gamora's arms. He followed the green woman as she took the raccoon to the medbay.

"Don't worry about it. What have you guys been up to?"

"I have been attempting to instruct Groot how to write in my language, but all he inscribed was 'I am Groot.' He was more successful at drawing, but he insists that this shape is a heart." Drax showed him a tablet displaying Groot's artwork. It was crude, but unmistakably the five of them holding hands, surrounded by a stylized heart.

"It is a heart."

"No, hearts typically look like this. I should know, I have ripped many out of people's bodies." Drax held up another tablet that showed a well-drawn, incredibly detailed sketch of an anatomically correct heart.

Peter shook his head and entered the common area. He opened his bag of Earthly delights and took a closer look at them. They were comfortable, familiar. Then Peter realized why Yondu would capture them in such a backwards way, to give him more things from Earth. He gleefully began affixing the disco ball to the ceiling as Gamora entered the room eating a blue kruna fruit.

She looked bewildered at the disco ball. "Tell me more about Dorothy and Oz."

"The rest of you guys are actually a lot like Dorothy's friends. The Wicked Witch has your skin tone, but you're more like one of Dorothy's companions, the Tin Man. He's made of metal and wasn't built with a heart, so he thinks he's cold and unfeeling but he is actually the one in the group that cares the most." Peter was a bit scared that she would take offense, but her lips curled into a small smile.

He continued. "Drax is like the Scarecrow, who doesn't have a brain, but is way smarter than he seems. Groot is like Toto, he's kind and protective, and most of the others can't understand what he says. Rocket is the opposite of someone. A talking lion. Lions are imposing Earth animals, the king of beasts. They're a lot like Ligrans but on all fours. Anyway this one is the Cowardly Lion and he's afraid of everything but he's incredibly brave when it counts. But Rocket is small and acts brave, but deep down he's actually scared. Don't tell him I said that." The raccoon had been the most afraid of Ronan, and tended to be the one to most often point out their mortality.

Gamora's eyes were wide. She always seemed to enjoy it when Peter told her about Earth stories. "That is fascinating, but I meant more pertaining to your worries about returning to Terra. I would hate to see you avoid your world because of an unfounded fear. If I still had a home…"

"It isn't my home anymore, not really. But now I'm thinking maybe visiting once-and-a-while wouldn't be so bad. So you don't think I'm crazy?" He gave her the trademark Star-Lord smirk.

She laughed. "You most certainly are insane, just not to that extreme." Well, no sane person would challenge Ronan to a dance-off, so she was probably right. Peter began to walk out of the room. "Where are you going? You require rest."

"I'm buying some things, we didn't get the chance to buy anything other than that Earth stuff. We still need supplies, especially medicine. Plus, I kinda need to make it up to Rocket."

"That is the most responsible excuse for you being irresponsible that I've ever heard. Allow me to join you, I know what he likes."

When they returned from their shopping, Peter snuck into the medbay with a sack of goodies over his shoulder. He felt like Santa Claus. Only it wasn't Christmas, the presents were weapon parts instead of toys, and all of them except Groot were definitely on the naughty list. Groot waved and the human smiled but shushed him. Rocket was sleeping peacefully for once. Peter piled the presents together while trying his hardest to not make any noise. The tree and Gamora silently laughed at his efforts. The final touch was a child-sized pair of crutches, set against the bedside table. Peter and the green woman went to the cockpit.

"Did you really need to do all that stealing?" Her expression was less judging that her words.

"What can I say? Old habits die hard. I paid for most of it." Peter held his new music player and smiled.

"What is that device?" Gamora sounded afraid to ask.

"Something awesome." He grinned ear-to-ear.

Chapter Text

Rocket's whole body ached as he awoke with a groan in the Milano's medbay. Groot perked up and smiled. "I am Groot?" The now-small tree asked worriedly.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." He wasn't fine, it hurt to move or even breathe, let alone his wounded left foot. The mammal noticed the short crutches leaning against the bedside table. "Hey Groot, can ya hand me those pills and get me a glass of water?" The tree cheerfully left to perform his duty.

Rocket swung his legs around to sit on the edge of the bed. Groot returned with the water and handed him the pills. "Thanks." Peter had walked in behind the tree, far too excited about something this early in the morning. As the cyborg carefully descended from the bed, a pile of shiny things caught the corner of his eye. He used the crutches to hobble towards the pile and couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"WHOA! Where did you get this? This is a Mantlon cortex! And a Valerian blaster! I'm gonna make weapons like you've never dreamed!" Rocket grinned ear-to-ear, just imagining what destructive devices he could create.

"In the market. Glad you like them." Quill pretended to be taking it in stride, but he was obviously giddy, though Rocket wasn't sure about what.

"We're cool Quill, just know that next time you screw up you can't bribe me like this every time…but it might help."

"So am I the best gift-picker-outer or what?" Peter grinned, proud and beaming.

"Don't push it." Rocket warned half-jokingly.

The Terran, bouncing with energy, assembled the group in the common area. They sat on the couch, speckled by the shine of the disco ball. "We should listen to the music on this and make an Awesome Mix Vol. 3! Everybody pick 2 songs you like. This screen'll show the song and band name so you can remember it." Rocket almost felt miffed that Peter had hooked the device into the Milano's sound system without needing his help.

The songs on the player were mostly of the genres Quill called pop, rock, and folk. The Terran's obvious favorites of the new songs were hardly distinguishable from what was on his mixtapes. Perhaps the affliction of nostalgia was much more widespread than Rocket thought. Quill and Groot danced like idiots to many of the songs, trying to get Gamora to join in, but she refused to do more than sway from side-to-side. Drax was confused by most of the lyrics as always, and seemed generally disinterested.

Rocket hoped no one heard him humming to If I Were a Rich Man, which was from a musical called Fiddler on the Roof. He didn't understand many of the lyrics, but the ones he got really spoke to him.

They quickly discovered that several of the songs had lyrics that hit far too close to home.

[Natives, Blink-182] I'm like a cat in a cage, fucked up and battered and bruised. I am the prodigal son, a shameful prodigy too. There is desire to fight, but I have nothing to prove…Do you have something to hide? 'Cause I think that we all do. I am a child inside, back up and give me some room. I'm just a bastard child, don't let it go to your head…So let me go, go. Just let me go, go. I'd rather go it alone. I'm never coming home.

One by one, the Guardians stared grimly at the floor as the song ripped their wounds open. "Skip this one," Gamora suggested to everyone's relief.

It almost became a game as to who would say skip next, or if they could get through a whole song without needing to skip it. Somewhat surprisingly, even the seemingly carefree music-loving one was saying skip relatively often.

[Space Travel, Yellowcard] Did I get lost while I was gone? I traveled space for much too long. But there's a planet I have found, and you are far away.

"Skip." Quill waved it off.

[Mixtape, Butch Walker] But you gave me the best mixtape I have, and even all the bad songs ain't so bad. I just wish there was so much more than that about me and you.

"Skip. I'll also be skipping any song that starts whining about daddy issues." The Terran could be a bit defensive about denying he had daddy issues. Rocket wasn't in the mood to push it at the moment, so he kept quiet.

"That reminds me friend Quill, I am disappointed by your lack of initiative in finding your biological father. Family is important, and if I had been separated from my relatives, I would seek them." Drax stated coolly and crossed his arms.

Peter shrugged. "He left us. As far as I'm concerned, Yondu's as much of a dad as I have."

[Rocky Raccoon, The Beatles]  Now somewhere in the black mountain hills of Dakota there lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon, and one day his woman ran off with another guy.

Rocket's ears twitched and he snarled, hopping on his crutches to the medbay. "I got bombs to work on." He barely masked the anger in his voice, but it wasn't directed at Quill, or any of them. Groot followed behind. He could still hear the rest of them from the other room.

Rocky Raccoon checked into his room only to find Gideon's Bible.

"What is Gideonsbible?" Drax's voice carried far even when not intentionally shouting.

"Religious book, you guys would hate it. 'Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet...'"

Rocket tuned everything out as he sat on the floor of the medbay, fixated on his tinkering. His injuries prevented him from working as quickly as usual, and his muscles were screaming, chest tight. This only managed to make him more defiant in trying to prove that he could work through it. Groot sat beside him, ever patient. Occasionally the mammal would ask for a tool, and the tree would get it for him. Groot was the only one he was comfortable asking for help from, and even then it hurt his pride.

The tranquility of constructing explosives was shattered when the tattooed lummox entered the room. Drax took a long look at his furry companion. "The song is about you, yes? I do not understand how a Terran song describes you. The song is older than both you and friend Quill."

"Hell if I know. I thought Quill made the song himself to make fun of me but it's not his voice."

"Is Lylla the woman spoken of in the song?" Drax asked softly.

"How do you know that name?" He glared at the large man and his ears flattened.

"You shout in your sleep." Drax made it sound like a simple fact. To Rocket, it was like he was airing out his dirty laundry for all to see, without even being aware of it. He had nightmares often, and he knew Groot heard everything, but didn't think the others did. "Would you like to discuss it?"

"No." He tried to go back to making his weapons.

"I have informed you much about Hovat. Among my people such knowledge is reserved as a privilege for close friends." Was that really the case, or was Drax being unexpectedly manipulative?

"So?" Rocket shrugged.

"I hoped the companionship was mutual, I was mistaken." Drax stood up and turned to leave the room.

"Wait." If it had been Quill, he wouldn't have given in to the guilt card. The Terran would never understand, he seduced every other woman he saw, he'd never been in love. But Drax understood.

The giant turned back around and sat on the floor. "When you said that we all have dead people…"

"No, she's alive."

"Then who?"

"Drop it, Drax." The cyborg bared his teeth.

"I am not holding anything."

"I mean shut up about that." Rocket huffed.

"Tell me about Lylla, then."

"…She's fierce, kind, brilliant, a great shot with a sniper rifle, beautiful. Well, you probably wouldn't consider her beautiful."

"I'm certain she is lovely." The man spoke gently.

"She's short and covered with fur." Drax let out a hearty, booming laugh. "What did you expect? I guess I'm just wired different, okay? Lylla is the heiress to a huge toy company. Don't ask me how 'cause the genetics there make no sense. Long story short, jerks were out to marry her for her company. One of them hired a merc, Blackjack, to kidnap her. Me and her were soulmates, ya know? But she married Blackjack. I got jealous and messed things up, she ain't speaking to me right now, hasn't for a while. End of story." Rocket wanted to give him the abridged version as quickly as possible and be done with it.

"I believe you should attempt to reconcile with her." The man's judging eyes gazed down at Rocket.

"I am Groot." The tree agreed.

He scowled. "Well I don't. Can we talk about something else?" Drax nodded slowly, his face expressionless. The ringtail absently scratched at his ear, and then exhaled large breath. "Yesterday some jackass tried to eat me, and it got me thinkin'. You said you've eaten…raccoon before?" Rocket struggled over that word, admitting he was some dumb animal. "Where do they come from?"

"They originate from Procyon. Friend Quill insists your species hails from Terra, but he is incorrect." The maniac seemed to wonder why his friend asked.

"Procyon." The raccoon repeated, memorizing it. He wasn't even sure why he cared. Maybe thinking of somewhere other than Halfworld as being his birthplace wouldn't hurt so much, or maybe having a species would make him less lonely. Or perhaps it was just morbid curiosity of what he used to be.

Drax had gone off to sharpen his knives or something, leaving Rocket and Groot in the medbay. The medicine was beginning to wear off, and it was probably a little past time for his next dose. Rocket felt a dull pain in his chest, and clutched at it with a paw. "Pills." Groot hurriedly grabbed the bottle and the glass of water, and after taking them the raccoon sighed with relief. It wasn't instantaneous, but he almost felt less pain just knowing the meds were in his system. They sat there in silence.

[Thistle and Weeds, Mumford & Sons] Spare me your judgments and spare me your dreams, cause recently mine have been tearing my seams.

He wondered what else he had screamed during his nightmares. Probably just yelling at the scientists to stop, or yelling at Groot to not sacrifice himself.

Corrupted by the simple sniff of riches blown, I know you have felt much more love than you've shown.

"I am Groot."

"You do? I'm surprised, this song's kinda sad."

But plant your hope with good seeds, don't cover yourself with thistle and weeds. Rain down, rain down on me.

The lyrics were Groot's kind of metaphor, and the meaning cut through Rocket like a knife.

"I am Groot." The tree pulled his best friend into a hug.

And I will hold on, I will hold on hope.

"C'mon ya big sap." Rocket protested, but didn't try to get out of the embrace.

"I am Groot." He said gently.

"I know. Me too." Rocket allowed himself to smile. Groot smiled back, freed his friend from the hold, and walked back into the common room.

[Survive, Rise Against] Somewhere between happy and total fucking wreck, feet sometimes on solid ground, and sometimes at the edge… Life for you's been less than kind, so take a number, stand in line. We've all been sorry, we've all been hurt, but how we survive is what makes us who we are.

Rocket never thought the lyrics of some Terran song would so accurately mirror his own philosophy. The song itself was up his alley too. Rock was his favorite genre, but the lyrics of the heavier stuff tended to remind him of things he'd rather forget.

Once they had skipped or listened to all the songs, they sat in the common room to actually put the playlist together. "I've put on Get Lucky by Daft Punk, and Treasure by Bruno Mars," Peter announced to the surprise of no one.

"I am Groot!" The flora colossus said cheerfully.

"Why'd ya have to pick those? The one's annoying and the other's mopey." Rocket frowned.

"I am Groot!" The tree wasn't angry, but definitely annoyed.

"Fine. You didn't have to bring my mother into it. He wants that stupid Happy song by Pharrell, and Thistle and Weeds by Mumford & Sons. For me, Survive by Rise Against, and If I Were A Rich Man." The others looked at Groot in disbelief.

"Survivor by Destiny's Child-" Gamora was interrupted by coughing.

It suddenly became harder to breathe, and the raccoon began coughing. When he pulled his paw away from his snout, there was some blood on it. "Shit," he whispered.

Chapter Text

Peter watched as Drax gently picked Rocket up and rushed into the medbay, followed by a concerned Groot. The raccoon wasn't even fighting being carried, which worried the human even more. The Awesome Mix Vol. 3 would have to wait. If only Rocket's face was shaped differently Peter would have put the mask on him to give him more air.

"We should get him to a hospital." Gamora's expression was hard for Peter to read. Something kinda like worry. Maybe.

"Could we have a doctor make a ship-call instead? You know how he is about hospitals. The last thing we need is him being frantic and refusing treatment. Honestly, I'm not good with hospitals either."

"We may lack the proper equipment, but I agree. I understand why Rocket would dislike them, but why do medical facilities bother you?" She sounded genuinely curious.

Peter looked away and sighed. "…Hospitals are where people go to die. And not the cool, go-out-in-a-blaze-of-glory-defending-the-galaxy kind of death. But a sad, weak death."

"I will arrange it." The green woman nodded and hurried off towards the cockpit.

Peter entered the medbay. Groot sat beside Rocket's bed, holding the raccoon's paw. The tree could do what he couldn't without a second thought. Even though they were on the cozy Milano, it still reminded him of his mom.

"You takin' me to the hospital?" Rocket's voice was soft and raspy. A few small spots of blood stained some of the fur around his mouth.

"Nah, we're gonna have a doctor come to the ship. Amazing plan, right?" Peter faked a smirk.

"That's good." The raccoon smiled weakly.

"Don't die on me." Peter whispered under his breath, but Rocket probably still heard it. He walked out to the common room. Seeing Rocket like that was too painful.

Peter imagined finding a doctor meeting their criteria on such short notice would be difficult. They needed a doctor that was willing to make house-calls, familiar with animal physiology without actually being a vet, and that they could afford.

Gamora approached him. "We need to fly to Maknex Prime, the doctor will meet us there. It's not far. I'll set the course." The green woman returned to the cockpit.

Peter nodded at her and walked into his little dining room, sitting at the table. He knew he should eat something despite not being hungry. A call appeared on the screen, and the human picked up. Yondu was wearing fancy, gaudy jewelry that completely contrasted his rugged appearance. He looked all too pleased with himself, but the smile dropped when he noticed the human's expression. "Hey, boy. Why the long face?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe it's that one of my friends is kinda dying right now from the injuries you gave him. Remember what I said?" Peter glared at him through the monitor.

"The rat?" Yondu obviously knew exactly who he was talking about, but clarifying made him sound more aloof.

"He's a raccoon, but yeah, him." Peter avoided looking at Yondu's red, intense eyes.

"I'll send him a get-well card." This was one of those times when Peter had no idea whatsoever if Yondu was being serious or not. "Where ya at?"

"Maknex Prime. What are you wearing?" The jewels looked familiar. "Wait, are those the Gramosian royal jewels? How did you manage to steal those?" He figured Ravagers wouldn't even be allowed on the planet after he "manipulated" their duchess.

"Hehe, wouldn't you like ta know?" Yondu smirked with pride. "But that ain't important right now. I called because ol' Kraggy was planning to take a trip to Terra soon and he wanted to know if you were interested in coming along."

That gave Peter plenty of questions. How long had they been going there without him? Why go now? Why bother inviting him after he's left them? Maybe Yondu thought Peter would stay if he went back to Earth. "I'll think about it." It would be much better to go with his friends, but that would be difficult. Thwarted Chitauri invasion aside, most humans probably still didn't know about aliens. Even if they did, the reaction would be hostile. On the other hand, Kraglin looked no different from a human so it would be easy. A brilliant plan began to form in his mind, but he filed it away in his thoughts for later.

"Right. Take care a' yerself, boy." And with that the Centaurian hung up.

The doctor boarded the Milano about an hour after the Guardians had docked on the planet. He was a stout orange man with receding green hair. It took everything Peter had to resist calling him an Oompa-Loompa. He, Gamora, and Drax all met the doctor and shared introductions before hurrying him to the medbay. "I'm gonna warn you, doctors make him nervous." Peter realized that was a bit of an understatement.

"What are his ailments?"

Rocket twitched upon seeing the man. The raccoon was visibly apprehensive, but made no objection. "Coughing blood. Hard ta breathe. Chest pains." He said quietly.

The doctor stared in awe at his patient. "Fascinating. Who created him?"

While the doctor was wise enough to not refer to Rocket as an "it," Peter still didn't like his tone. "Psychos on Halfworld." The human glared as he said it. The raccoon wasn't an animal or a specimen to be studied, he was a person.

"I see." The physician set his large bag down and pulled out a scanner, and held it out towards Rocket, asking him various questions.

Peter left the room, putting on his headphones and letting himself be swept away by the comforting sounds of Awesome Mix Vol. 1.

Peter woke up with a start, realizing he had slept though a few of the songs. The sound of the doctor walking out of the medbay was what had woken him. "What's up, Doc?"

"He has a pulmonary contusion." The doctor seemed to expect Peter to actually know what he was talking about.

"And that means what, exactly?" He asked, confusion written on his face.

"Bruised lung."

"Is he gonna be okay?" The human tried to not sound too worried, but it didn't work.

"He'll need to be kept on oxygen and closely monitored for a few days, but it will likely heal on its own. It would be best if you stayed here for now, I'll check in briefly each day."

Peter let out a sigh of relief.

The next day, Gamora and Drax informed Peter of their song selections so he could finish the playlist. Fighter by Christina Aguilera for the assassin, Bring It by Trapt and Nostalgia by Sungha Jung for the maniac. That last one seemed like a weird choice, being a soft acoustic guitar ballad, but Peter was sure Drax had his reasons. He plugged his trusty headphones into the music player. He only liked just over half of the songs, but it was theirs. That made it precious. Peter played the Awesome Mixes in order over the Milano's sound system. He had been avoiding the medbay, but eventually decided to check on Rocket.

Rocket was getting oxygen from a tube in each nostril. Groot was by his side, which was to be expected, but Peter was surprised that Drax sat at the foot of the bed. Nostalgia began to play. "This song has a similar melody to a lullaby from my planet. Let me sing to you the song of my people." The bedridden raccoon only mumbled complaints about Drax's singing for a few moments before drifting to sleep. The tattooed man sounded somewhat tone-deaf, but his low voice was soft and incredibly soothing.

The following day, Kraglin showed up and handed Peter a small box. "This is from the Captain, for the furry runt. By the way, if you're thinkin' about going to Terra on your own, I know a guy that'll give you a real good exchange rate on non-unit currencies. Here's his card."

"Thanks." After exchanging nods, the Ravager left as quickly as he came. The human looked inside the box to make sure the contents weren't a trap, and he smiled.

Once in the medbay, Peter sat on the edge of the bed. "Yondu sent you a present."

"Send it back." Rocket hissed.

"I thought you liked gifts."

"Not from him. It's probably booby-trapped."

"You'll like this one." He handed the raccoon a small gun.

"Oh, this my gun I dropped. Huh." Rocket seemed genuinely surprised.

"There's also this." Peter held up an adorable figurine of a raccoon.

"Set it on the floor, over there." The human did as asked, and without warning Rocket incinerated it with his blaster. Peter jerked back, the heat only missing him by a few inches.

"You almost hit me!"

"But I didn't." He smirked.

"Gimme a heads-up next time, okay?" As annoying as Rocket could be, Peter was glad that he was up to his usual antics even now. The raccoon's uncharacteristic behavior the other night had the man really worried.

That night, the whole group had stayed with Rocket in the medbay. Groot was beside the bed, Peter leaned against the opposite side of the bed, Gamora slept in the chair in the corner, and Drax was sprawled on the floor.

By afternoon of the next day, Rocket was feeling good enough to tinker, using various metal parts to make a cane rather than a weapon. Yet Peter bet the raccoon could weaponize the cane somehow, he could make a weapon out of anything. He imagined the cyborg making a coffee mug that doubled as a laser turret. The human was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching the fur-covered mad genius.

"So what are we doin' Quill?" Rocket stopped working on the cane, letting the pieces rest in his lap.

"Nothing till you get better. Then maybe look for some work." They had been able to do a number of jobs with Groot out of commission, but also counting out Rocket would make things difficult. And considering his stubborn nature, he'd likely try to be involved anyway.

"I'm pretty much fine. Doc said my readings look good, I can get taken off oxygen today. Foot's healing too."

"You'll need time to recover." Peter said sternly.

"I expected this lecture from Gamora and Groot, not you Quill. Now you all think you're my mother? I'm sick and tired of being in this d'ast bed." He huffed. "There's someplace I'd kinda like to visit."

"And where's that?" Peter wasn't about to let Rocket plan some ridiculous scheme in his condition.

The raccoon's eyes flashed with determination. "Procyon."

Chapter Text

The Milano landed on Procyon, on the outskirts of the Milky Way. There wasn't even a proper spaceport, just a few small landing strips. Gamora did some research and discovered it was a largely undeveloped forest planet. They decided that the air quality might help Rocket recover. The assassin was staying on the ship to look into possible jobs for them. The air was cool, crisp, and a little foggy. Rocket would have been quite cold if he wasn't covered in fur. He looked puffy, his fur expanding to keep him warm. Quill was in his favorite leather jacket which was probably insulated. Drax never seemed to be bothered by the temperature, or societal expectations to wear a shirt. Groot had told Rocket it was harder for him to grow when it was cold, but otherwise it didn't really affect him.

Rocket had ditched the crutches and was now using his custom metal cane. It doubled as a gun, of course, but the rest of the team didn't need to know that.

In front of them was a wide field of magenta grass with a forest in the distance, the trees' leaves were the same hue. A few low-tech cabins dotted the landscape. Groot was all smiles, clearly happy to be in such a natural area. Rocket wasn't so thrilled, being a city guy. He could handle nature fine but it was so messy and primitive. More than that, the wilderness tended to bring out those tugs in his mind he didn't want anyone to know about. The primal urges that marked him as a lowly animal. Groot was all the nature he needed.

"Don't let these trees give you any ideas, Groot. Your leaves should be green." Rocket shuddered at the thought of his tree friend with pink leaves.

"On Earth, trees have green leaves most of the time, but they can turn colors like red, orange, yellow, or brown before falling off." Leave it to Quill to be an encyclopedia on Terra.

Rocket was beginning to think that maybe Terra didn't sound so awful after all. "Well any of those colors would be okay, and I guess blue too, but no pink or purple." He wasn't even sure if Groot could alter the color of his leaves, but he probably could.

"I am Groot?" The tree asked curiously, seeming to be unfazed by a few colors becoming forbidden.

"Flowers are fine, it's just your leaves I'm worried about. But not until you're bigger, okay?" Groot nodded in agreement.

"I know Drax thinks this is where your species comes from, but I still think you're from Earth." Peter was quite smug about it.

"What difference does it make? Either way I'm from some useless primitive backwater." Rocket scowled.

"Home is where the heart is." Quill said with his usual goofy smile.

The cyborg rolled his eyes. "That has got to be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard."

"How can anyone possibly live within their own chest cavity?" Drax was perplexed as usual.

Quill motioned them to pause as they heard a rustling in the grass, but they relaxed when they saw what it was. A furry creature cautiously approached them, and it looked remarkably like Rocket, only on all fours and without clothing. A raccoon. The animal came up to Rocket and began sniffing him curiously.

He was in awe. "They, they do exist." The raccoon made chattering sounds that were completely foreign to the cyborg. He had a species. He was no longer unique, except he was. That being was just a dumb animal. What Rocket used to be, would have continued to be without those krutacking scientists. But he was different now, he was More. Seeing this creature in front of him both disproved and affirmed his uniqueness simultaneously. Rocket sat back, staring at his paws.

"You okay, buddy?" Quill bent down towards the cyborg, worried.

"Yeah, I'm just thinkin'. I guess I thought having a species would mean I wasn't unique anymore, but there's still no thing like me 'cept me." It was bittersweet. Rocket took both pride and loneliness from his nature. He hated what the scientists had done to him, but without them he really would be an animal incapable of higher thought or speech.

"I am Groot!" The tree was ecstatic.

"They are not. Because if they're cute, I'm cute. And I ain't cute." Rocket huffed.

"On Earth, raccoons are supposed to be nocturnal, so people think any of them out during the day have rabies."

"What's rabies?" People had accused Rocket of being rabid before, but he wasn't sure what that meant.

"It's a disease that makes animals and people crazy and foam at the mouth, then they die," Quill informed them.

The animal playfully swatted at Rocket's ear, and then began to walk away. It stopped, turning its head as if expecting him to follow. "I think she likes you." Peter laughed. "Go on, follow her."

Rocket and Groot slowly followed the creature. It wasn't far but it felt a lot longer since he needed the cane. They came to the edge of the tree line and entered the forest. It was a glade that was home to many raccoons. Most were in the trees, along with a variety of avian creatures.

The trees held small orange berries. Rocket picked and tasted one. It was sour at first, but gave way to sweetness. Groot laughed as his friend's face contorted. They watched as the rambunctious raccoons played around.

"I am Groot." He was content.

"Yeah, this is nice, isn't it." Something about this place was soothing, almost nostalgic, even though he couldn't recall ever having been there. The cyborg and Groot leaned against a tree to take a nice nap.

Rocket was jolted awake by his communicator. "Rocket, can you hear me?" It was Gamora. Night had already fallen and most of the raccoons were asleep. Maybe they weren't nocturnal on this planet because they didn't have as many predators to worry about.

He groggily pressed his communicator. "Yeah."

"I need to speak with you, it's urgent." She sounded somewhat worried, or possibly annoyed. Maybe a bit of both.

"You're talking to me now, ain't you?"

"On the ship." She made it clear that this wasn't something that people other than their fellow Guardians should hear. "I've sent Drax to meet you and Groot. Expect trouble."

Groot had woken up and heard most of the conversation, so the pair ventured out of the woods. Drax was waiting for them.

"Where's Quill? Why isn't he helping us if whatever's going on is so urgent?" If they were really in trouble, they'd need Peter too. Rocket was still recovering and needed his cane, and Groot was only at about the raccoon's height. Drax was formidable, but he could only take on so many opponents at a time.

"On the ship, fornicating with one of the locals."

"Too much info, Drax."

Several rough-looking men swiftly surrounded them, guns raised.

"We were just leaving." Rocket said as he tried to walk faster with the cane.

"It's the Bandit that Speaks!" One of the hunters shouted.

"Get 'im!" Yelled another.

Rocket figured the men were describing him, but still had no idea what they were talking about. The hunters began shooting. The raccoon leaned against Drax's leg and was shooting with the cane-gun. Seconds later, the tattooed man picked up Rocket in one arm and Groot in the other, running towards the ship.

"Do not tell me that you can walk. I know you are capable, but you will only slow us down." Drax glared at the raccoon in his grasp.

Rocket struggled for a moment, but then gave up, trying to shoot at their pursuers. He found it quite difficult since being held in a running man's arms made him anything but still. Barely dodging the enemy fire, they eventually reached the ship.

Once back on the Milano, Gamora gave Rocket a stern look, but then focused her attention elsewhere. "Drax, pilot us off this planet. Groot, follow him and make sure he doesn't crash the ship." Rocket knew they were desperate if Drax was piloting. "Peter, get your waif out of here, we need to leave right now!" She seemed more annoyed than usual at Quill, maybe she was jealous. She clearly wasn't in the mood for the raccoon to taunt her about it, so he left it alone. They stood silently until a disheveled blue woman ran by and exited the ship, annoyed.

"Can you tell me what's going on?" He demanded.

The green woman's gaze returned to the raccoon. "Rocket, why did you not tell us that you're wanted in this sector?"

"Huh? Why am I wanted? Nova Corps wiped our records, and I've never been here before." He honestly had no idea.

"For the assassination of several government officials, among other things. You really haven't been in this area before?"

"What? Sure, I like blowing things up and I cause significant collateral damage, but I don't go around stealthily murdering politicians. Ain't my style. I thought that was your shtick."

Gamora frowned. "You need to see this." She held a tablet that displayed a picture of a being completely identical to Rocket, wearing a black cloak.

"WHAT." He froze, eyes wide and jaw on the floor. "No. That's not possible!" There was nothing like him except him, or so he had thought. But this being wasn't merely like him, it was like looking at a mirror. Now he wasn't alone, and the other one was impersonating him, committing crimes in his name. Not that Rocket was any stranger to breaking the law, but he wasn't about to let himself get arrested for things he didn't even do. The raccoon stared at the picture of his double. The twin wore his hood up and the cloak covered any cybernetics, but the facial structure and fur pattern was an exact match to Rocket. "How the flark does he look exactly like me?!" He needed answers.

"Could the scientists have given you fake memories?" She offered the idea rather quickly. That was a scary thought.

He took a closer look at the tablet. "No, this image is only dated a month ago."

"You were genetically modified, correct? Is it that much of a stretch to think that they made a clone of you?" Gamora finally seemed to settle on this as the most logical explanation.

Rocket was more worried about the alternative, that maybe he was the clone. Not just a monster, but a stupid copy of one. His ears went back and he looked down. "Yeah, they tampered with my DNA and they'd probably be able to clone someone. At least I have better taste in weapons than he does, Rigellian rifles are outdated. And what's with that lame robe?"

"We will need to be careful in this area, your bounty is abnormally high."

The raccoon perked up at that. "Really, how much?"

"Almost as high as Peter's was. 30,000 units."

Rocket grinned. "Hey, why don't we turn me in and collect, then I'll break out." He almost couldn't be mad that Quill's bounty had been more, since that was still a ton of money.

Gamora folded her arms. "Not in your current condition. Anyway, if you hadn't already noticed, the heating unit is broken."

"I'll fix it tomorrow." He assured her.

It was the middle of the night, and Rocket refused to sleep before finding out what that thing was. He needed to know. He sat in the cockpit, paws dancing over the controls. A noise broke the quiet, startling him. Gamora, wrapped in a blanket, walked up and sat in the co-pilot's chair.

"What are you doing up at this hour?" She asked groggily.

"I could ask you the same thing." Rocket was tired, but it didn't matter. Even though he and Groot had that long nap earlier, he had been needing much more sleep than normal while recovering from his injuries.

"I could not sleep." She yawned.

"I'm hacking into the Nova Corps database to find out what that other me is. I checked their file on me first and they don't know anything we don't. They don't even know I'm wanted and being impersonated in this galaxy, and they don't seem to have all of the records of the lab on Halfworld." Rocket shivered.

"Are you cold?"

"A little." It was just their luck that the heater would break the first time they'd been near a cold-enough planet to really need it.

Gamora patted her lap, beckoning him to sit on it. Rocket wouldn't do so in normal circumstances, but they were both cold. Besides, he was too tired at this point to do any more successful hacking. He climbed into her lap. "May I stroke your fur?" She obviously knew better than to use the word pet.

"Yeah, if you promise not to tell anyone. If you do I'll bite your fingers off."

She began petting the raccoon gently on the head. His ear twitched and body stiffened before relaxing. He'd never admit it, but it felt good, soothing. She even scratched at that special spot behind the ears.

"Rocket, no matter what that doppelganger is, you are you. Nothing can ever change that," Gamora whispered in his ear. He smiled a little and drifted to sleep.

Chapter Text

The group gathered in the Milano's common area. Peter, Gamora, and Rocket were wrapped in blankets and sat against each other for warmth. The green woman and the small mammal looked very tired, and awkward around each other. They avoided eye contact but would steal glances when they thought no one was watching. Peter hoped he was just imagining things and that she hadn't hooked up with the raccoon to get back at him.

"Rocket is being impersonated and being framed for various crimes." Gamora couldn't help but yawn.

"Wouldn't that be im-raccoon-ated?" Peter asked with a smirk.

"Shut up, Quill." Rocket was not amused.

"The imposter was last seen yesterday on Deneb-7." She seemed hesitant about the location.

"Sweet, I've always wanted to go there!" Peter was rather excited. Yondu hadn't let him visit any pleasure planets when he was with the Ravagers.

"Deneb-7 and its infamous pleasure pods, I wonder why." The green woman continued before Drax could ask why she was inquiring something so obvious. "This isn't a vacation Peter, we're gathering intel on Rocket's double."

Rocket snarled. "What's all this 'we'? This is my problem and I'll take care of it."

They were a team, a family. Peter wasn't about to let the still-injured raccoon go off on his own about this. "We're the Guardians of the Galaxy, we aren't letting you do this alone."

"Friend Quill, something has been troubling me." Drax seemed serious, but then again he usually was. "Which galaxy are we the guardians of?" The others sighed at the impending argument with him over semantics.

Peter shrugged. "We spend a lot of time in Andromeda, and that's where we were when the name happened, but we're all over the place. Whatever galaxy we're in at the time?"

Of course, Drax wasn't satisfied by such a vague answer. "Would it not be more accurate to call us the Guardians of the Universe?"

Rocket laughed wildly. "Guard the universe? We can barely manage shopping for groceries without there being some minor disaster!"

"I am Groot." The tree nodded in agreement.

"Hey, I didn't come up with the name, but I like it and it stuck. Though personally I think Star-Lord and the Outlaws would have been cool." Peter grinned while the others scoffed.

Gamora sternly brought them back to focus. "It's not important. Rocket, when we get to the planet, you're staying on the ship."

"Like hell I am!" The raccoon glared at her, baring his teeth.

She glared right back at him, unflinching. "You are wanted and have a ridiculous bounty. People will be after you. This isn't up for debate."

The ship was finally not freezing anymore since the sulking raccoon fixed the heating unit on the way to their destination. Peter went to grab his bag. As he started to lift it, he noticed it was much heavier than normal. He poked the bag with his foot and something moved. A living creature had taken up residence within. Peter looked closer and the zipper wasn't fully closed. A certain black, wet nose filled the opening. The human pulled the zipper open.

"Nice try Rocket."

"Come on, Quill! If I hide in your purse, I'll be there but people won't see me. I gotta do this. Just keep it open a little so I can breathe."

"I've got a bad feeling about this."

Deneb-7, also located in the Milky Way, was like a mix between Xandar and Las Vegas. Pristine walkways, palm trees, and garish lights everywhere. Peter needed to find a place to gather information. Seedy bars were usually a good place to start, but this planet presented the illusion that nothing there was seedy, everything was bright and shiny. He picked a bar that looked slightly less shiny, making sure to sit at a stool as to not squish the raccoon in his bag. Peter ordered a weak drink. Entering a bar alone and not getting alcohol would be suspicious, but he needed to be alert. One couldn't just walk into a bar and show a picture of an outlaw, you had to mingle and blend in. Rocket preferred to skip this step by using his scanner, but that didn't work if the bounty was obscuring their identity or they weren't documented.

A diminutive being sat on the stool next to Peter. She had a conical, featureless snout and wild hair, looked like a Fraggle. "Never seen you here before, handsome. Got a name to go with that pretty face?"

Peter knew parading his name while trying to dig up info wasn't bright, but he couldn't help himself. "Star-Lord." He smirked proudly.

This got the attention of an attractive man in the corner. He had a woman on each arm, and was wearing a silly white uniform with red and yellow accents. His hair was the same color as Peter's, parted in the center and pulled back into a point on each side to almost resemble horns. The lothario kissed his ladies goodbye and approached Peter.

"So you're the one who stopped Ronan," he whispered. "I'd like to thank you for that. Call me Starfox."

"You've heard of me!" Peter grinned. "Most people just know me by Peter Quill."

Starfox froze. "P-Peter? Is it really you? I thought you were…"

"Uh, do I know you?"

"No, but…I'm your father." Starfox sounded like he was genuinely sad about the circumstances.

It didn't seem possible. Peter raised an eyebrow in suspicion. His supposed father looked at most only a few years older than Peter. He ignored the movement from within his bag.

"How's Meredith?"

That more-or-less sealed it. Peter never told anyone his mother's name. He wasn't sure what to think, wasn't sure what he had expected. Even though Starfox looked way too young, there was a strong resemblance. The human looked down at the floor. "She died a long time ago, cancer." He wanted to scream at his dad, blame him for Mom's death. If Starfox had spirited the Quills into space, maybe another planet could have cured her cancer. But he couldn't bring himself to. Peter felt good just being around his dad, he couldn't explain it. Starfox was completely focused on him, as if they were the only ones in the room.

"I'm so sorry." Starfox pulled Peter into a hug. It should have been awkward, but it wasn't.

"I have so many questions." Peter didn't know where to start. Why did he leave? Why didn't he take them into space? Did he really love Mom? If he's so powerful and knew about Ronan, why didn't he do anything? Why hadn't they met before now?

They were interrupted by a news bulletin on the video screens. "Authorities are in hot pursuit of the notorious criminal 89P13, also known as Rocket. The former Guardian has returned to a life of crime, and is currently evading arrest in the Sirius Plaza area. He is to be considered armed and dangerous. If you are in the area, please return to your hotels or homes."

Sirius Plaza was only a few blocks away. Rocket began flailing inside the bag, probably to get Peter's attention, but he thrashed so violently that the zipper came undone and he sat upright. Six men pointed their guns at Peter and Rocket. The human held his hands up in submission. "I guess the raccoon's out of the bag."

"Sorry for interrupting your sappy reunion." Rocket sounded not sorry at all. He looked rather silly since his fur was crumpled all over due to the bag.

"I'll hold them off, you get out of here lad." Starfox winked and nodded at his son.

Peter leaped onto one of the tables and jumped off, using the face of a bounty hunter as a platform. He shoved Rocket back into the bag as he ran.

"Quill, that thing with your dad was weird. You weren't actin' like you."

"Yeah that was weird. Let's just get back to the ship."

"No, we should go after my evil twin! We know where he is!"

"And people are going to be after me too. If you had just listened to us and stayed on the ship, we wouldn't be in this mess!"

The others met them when they got back to the Milano and the ship took off. "You should have stayed on the ship. Did you find anything?" Gamora made it very clear that she was disappointed in both of them.

"He was in Sirius Plaza but Quill was too busy meeting his daddy to do anything about it."

"WHAT?" Gamora and Drax shouted simultaneously.

This was followed by an "I am Groot?" that needed no translation.

Drax was obviously pleased. "This is great news friend Quill. How did it go? Who is he?"

"He calls himself Starfox," the Terran answered.

Peter had never seen Gamora express so much shock. She quickly composed herself. "I feel like an idiot for not seeing the resemblance sooner. The apple did not fall very far from the tree. I have met him a few times. I'm not fond of him."

They waited for Drax to make a comment about the apple thing, but he remained silent.

"Is he a bad guy?" Peter asked, hoping his life wouldn't become too much like Star Wars. To be fair, he loved Star Wars, but enjoying a movie and living it were two different things.

"No, he is not our enemy. His intentions are good, but he is a dishonorable man, wasting his time on pleasure planets. A master of pelvic sorcery, he uses his powers of pleasure stimulation to seduce women. It is a mild form of mind control." Gamora frowned.

"You weren't-"

"Don't tell me he-" Peter and Rocket both began voicing their concerns.

She gave a slight smile at their worry. "He did not have such intentions with me, though I was barely more than a child when I met him."

"I wanted to be mad at him but I couldn't. It felt good being around him. So you're saying my dad was seducing me?"

"Pretty much." Would it kill Rocket to attempt to be tactful sometimes?

"I think I'm gonna be sick." Peter didn't want to think about the possibility that Starfox could've used those powers to get with Mom.

"This explains a lot, though. Maybe Quill has those powers too but was using 'em subconscious-like. How else could this idiot get that many women?" Rocket snickered.

Peter thought his luck with the ladies was all his natural charm. "Thanks a lot." He smacked the back of the raccoon's head and got a half-hearted growl in return. "Wait, so what exactly is he?"

Gamora pursed her lips for a moment. "Starfox is an Eternal."

Rocket's jaw was practically on the floor. "WHAT? You're tellin' me that Quill is half Eternal? I thought they were just a myth!"

"What's an Eternal?" This was one of those times where Peter felt completely out of the loop.

"They are long-lived beings with a variety of abilities: flight, psionics, and so-on. Rumor has it they were made by the Celestials," the assassin explained.

Rocket snorted when she said 'long-lived.'

Peter wore a smug grin. "Awesome! I'm even cooler now!"

"Enough about you Star-Ego, what about my evil twin?" Rocket crossed his arms and frowned.

"Can't we just tell Nova Corps about it and let them deal with him?" Peter felt proud that the others, aside from the raccoon, nodded in agreement.

"And have them arrest me instead of fake-me? No thank you."

"We just need to lay low for a while." Peter was starting to get annoyed with Rocket's one-track mind and his insistence on doing things himself. Now every other word out of the raccoon's mouth was about his clone or whatever he was.

"I can't shake the feelin' that leaving him be is a shitty idea. Don't blame me when everything goes to hell." Rocket was hesitant, but he finally relented.

"We'll get him, just not now. After your foot's fully healed." The human assured him.

At this point they decided that any further discussion would turn violent and ended the conversation, leaving the room and going about their daily routines.

Gamora turned one of the Awesome Mixes on at a fairly high volume. "Peter, a word." She grabbed Peter's hand and led him to her room, closing and locking the door.

"You may want to sit down." The green woman was visibly worried, which was never a good thing.

Peter sat on her bed, perplexed. He secretly hoped for some action but it was obvious that was not where this was heading. "What's going on?"

She took a deep breath. "Starfox is Thanos' brother."

"You've gotta be kidding me. He isn't ugly or purple."

"I would never joke about such things. Thanos has a genetic illness called Deviant Syndrome, which is why he looks that way…We should keep this from the others, mainly Drax. I worry that he could betray you. While he has accepted me as a friend when I never expected him to, you are Thanos' nephew, not merely an orphan he created and adopted. Even if you do tell the others, we need to keep it quiet. You will become a target like I am…I don't dare to think what would happen if Thanos found out." She held her elbows and leaned against the wall.

He stared at her. "You're right, but I don't like it. Everyone has secrets, but this seems too big. Like the kind on soap operas that make everything terrible because people didn't know and find out at the worst possible time." Peter leaned back onto the bed and stared at the ceiling, thinking about everything. One minute he was fatherless and unaware of what he even was, and the next minute he had plenty of answers. But not all of the answers were what he wanted to hear, with being related by blood to Thanos being the worst of it. It was ominous.

"It is not my decision to make. I do suggest telling Nova Corps about the imposter Rocket. I've gathered footage of both Rockets at the same time."

Peter called up his friend in the Nova Corps. "Hi Dey."

Rhomann appeared on the screen and smiled. "How are you Quill? Staying out of trouble, I hope?"

"More or less."

The smile faded. "What did you do now?"

"I-we didn't do anything. Rocket's being impersonated and framed for a bunch of crimes outside your jurisdiction."

Dey raised an eyebrow. "And I'm supposed to believe that this isn't just Rocket trying to avoid getting arrested? I mean, how do you impersonate that? I thought he was the only one of his kind." Peter knew it didn't look good, but they had proof.

"Look, I'm sending you multiple vids of security footage showing two Rockets on opposite ends of the universe at the same time. It shouldn't be hard for you to tell which is which. Remember when we ran into you last month on Xandar? One of these is the same time as that."

Dey stared intently at the footage for a minute. "I'll look into it. Is there anything else?"

"Nope, that's it." The last thing Peter needed was 'nephew of Thanos' showing up in his file. "Just try not to arrest our Rocket, okay?"

"Keep in touch." Dey hung up.

Peter entered the cockpit where the raccoon was fiddling with the datastream. "Rocket, pull up an Earth calendar and a galactic standard calendar." Various planets told time differently, with galactic standard being the only universal system. Galactic standard used cycles, which were about 3 months longer than an Earth year. Matching up the dates showed it was early October on Peter's home planet, which was perfect for his master plan. He found the card Kraglin gave him. "Set a course for Pettoco." Luckily Pettoco was back in the Andromeda Galaxy where the raccoon wasn't wanted, but it was on the edge and not far away.

"Sure, but when we get there I need a flarkin' drink."

Chapter Text

Rocket and Drax walked into a bar in the middle of Starharbor on Pettoco. The cyborg had forbidden Groot from drinking until he was fully grown again, Gamora had elected to stay in and spend time with the tree, and Peter was off doing something or someone. So Drax would have to be his drinking buddy, as unwise as that was. It would be a miracle if they could make it through the night without getting into a brawl. The bar was quite crowded, being in a major spaceport. Dim lights hinted at unfinished metallic walls, but it was actually a relatively classy establishment.

As soon as they sat down at a booth, they were approached by one of the last people Rocket wanted to see. "Well if it ain't my favorite little fuzz-bucket!" Yondu smiled and sat next to the raccoon.

"Friend Rocket is not a bucket." Drax stated the obvious as usual.

"Go ta hell Yondu." Rocket glared daggers at the blue man.

"I take it you didn't appreciate my heartfelt gift." The Centaurian faked a frown.

"I blew it up." The raccoon grinned.

Yondu noticed the cane sitting next to Rocket. "Walkin' with a cane? Wimp."

"You shot an arrow through my foot like a week ago!"

That got the tattooed man's attention. "He was the one that did that? Shall I rip out his spine?"

Rocket quickly shook his head. "Nah. As much as I'd like you to, Quill wouldn't like it." Drax nodded, though Rocket didn't doubt that the man would very much like to rip out a vital organ or body part from someone before the night was over.

"I betcha 50 units I can out-drink you." The Centaurian dared him with a smug grin.

"You pickin' up the tab?" The raccoon felt that Yondu owed him at least that much.

The Ravager hesitated for a moment, but quickly relented. "If ya behave."

"You're on!" Rocket was at a natural disadvantage due to his small size. Alcohol affected him much quicker than the average man, but he couldn't deny a challenge like that.

They ordered a gargle blaster for Rocket, a pina colada for Drax, and Yondu got his 'usual.'

Rocket was perplexed. "I don't know what that is, but it's not a pina colada. Quill said it's a sweet, weak, frozen drink colored white. That is none of those things. Granted, he's only had it without the alcohol, but still." The supposed pina colada was an acidic yellow color, no ice, and the strong scent of alcohol attacked Rocket's nostrils.

The blue man was knocking back drinks like they were fruit juice. He didn't even seem remotely buzzed. Rocket on the other hand was significantly sloshed by his second drink. Yondu excused himself to use the restroom.

"Yo Drax buddy, does that Yondu have special drinkin' powers or summin?" He wasn't quite to the point where the room was spinning, but he was close.

"His species doesn't have an abnormal tolerance." Drax had been nursing his drink, probably afraid of messing things up royally like he usually does when drunk.

The raccoon leaned over and sniffed the Centaurian's drink. "That krutacker! There ain't booze in this."

Yondu came back to the table to find a furious raccoon.

"You d'ast cheater! You're drinkin' fruit juice!"

"I ain't a cheat. I never said it had ta be booze, just that I could drink more quantity than ya." Yondu smirked proudly.

"Bet's off." Rocket crossed his arms in a huff.

With the charade over, Yondu got the attention of a waitress and ordered another round, this time with his drink being very alcoholic.

"How bout we play strip poker instead?" The blue man waggled his eyebrows. The raccoon thought it was strange seeing him in a casual setting and acting like this. He had only previously seen Yondu as the eccentric-but-ruthless captain of the Ravagers.

Rocket had been surprised to learn from Quill that even Terrans played poker. There were countless variations and rulesets across the cosmos, but most planets with any sort of gambling had some form of it. "One, the last thing I need to see is your filthy blue ass naked. Second, on what planet is that fair? You got on like 20 layers, Drax is already half-naked, and I'm wearing a one-piece."

This elicited a boisterous laugh from Yondu. "Lighten up, I'm just pullin' yer tail."

"Sicko." The raccoon twisted his snout in disgust.

"This bar does birthday specials, when are yers? We should come back here n' celebrate." The Centaurian was obviously a regular here.

"Don't know, don't care. What those scientists did to me ain't nothin' to be happy about! ...Just reminds me that I have one less cycle to live." Rocket struggled to compose himself after the outburst.

"I have not celebrated my birthday since my family was taken from me. It only marks another cycle they have not been fully avenged." Drax not celebrating that either made the raccoon not feel quite so strange.

Yondu frowned in disappointment. "You two are no fun." He switched to a sly grin and turned to Rocket. "So I heard you've been up to some mischief. Couldn't stay a goody-goody fer long huh?"

"That wasn't me." The raccoon stared at his drink.

"Sure it wasn't. And I'm the Gramosian duchess," The Ravager teased.

"It wasn't me dammit! I got some evil twin or clone or somfin goin' around and I don't know what's what anymore. He's ruining my life and I don't know what he is or how he even exists. An' Quill doesn't seem to wanna go after him." Another outburst Rocket let slip through the cracks. He needed to keep it together.

Yondu scooted closer to Rocket and gave the raccoon a noogie. "Yer cute when yer angry."

"Get off me or I will shoot your delicate parts off." The mammal's lips curled into a snarl.

The blue man backed away. "You got spunk, I like that. Ya'd make a good Ravager."

"Not happening."

"Just think about it, will ya? Open invitation for when stuff don't work out with your little band of delusional heroes. I had ta give up Quill yanno, you fer him wouldn't be a bad trade."

Rocket stared at Yondu in disbelief. "Are you saying you ain't gonna leave Peter alone unless I become a stinkin' Ravager?" That was not something he wanted to hear.

"Pretty much."

"I don't get you Yondu. One minute you're tryin' to kill Quill, and the next minute you're bending over backwards for him. You beat the shit out of me, but then you let us go like it's nothing. And now you're drinking with us. What's your deal?"

The Centaurian grinned. "I'm complicated."

"If friend Quill had been younger, I might have adopted him. It wouldn't be the same as having my daughter back, but you are a terrible father figure." Drax stated it as an obvious fact.

"Say that again and my arrow will be through your skull. I'm still way better than the boy's jackass father." Yondu focused his intense red eyes on the tattooed giant, clearly displeased.

"You knew his dad the whole time, didn't you? Drax, let's keep that between us okay? Speaking of, Quill and I met the guy. Star something…Starfox, that's it. He seemed to be under the impression Quill was dead. Did you have anything to do with that?" The raccoon asked despite already guessing the answer.

"Maybe. Thanks for the warning."

"I gotta take a leak." The raccoon slowly left the table with his cane.

When Rocket stumbled back from the john, Yondu was nowhere to be found. His eyes darted around the bar, searching. "Where'd he go?"

"The blue annoyance left after asking for the check."

Rocket growled. "That krutacking Yondu left me with the bill! He said he'd pay if I behaved! I behaved, didn't I buddy?"

"Could we leave without paying like you normally do?" Drax's suggestion would have been welcome most of the time, but it wasn't viable at this point.

"I got enough fake charges; I don't wanna add real ones!"

Rocket reluctantly paid and Drax carried him back to the ship slung over one shoulder, the raccoon drunkenly ranting the whole way about nothing in particular.

Once back on the Milano, the raccoon managed to make it to his room, and he was greeted by a waving Groot. Rocket weakly waved back, but was muttering under his breath. He slumped on the floor and had a forlorn, distant look in his eyes. All the talk of birthdays, coupled with the revelation of Quill's long-lived nature, was really getting to him. The clock was ticking, his days were numbered. Well, that was an exaggeration, but his lifespan was still quite short. His life would be a mere fraction of even Drax's or Gamora's.

"I am Groot?" He asked with a worried expression as he sat beside his furry friend.

"Nuffin. I'm fine." Rocket wasn't convincing anyone, not even himself.

"I am Groot." The tree said in a demanding tone this time.

"S'not fair. Stupid Quill gets ta live for practically forever. Flarkin' half-Eternal. Well, he's an idiot so he won't last that long, but he'll prolly get to at least 200. But I'll be lucky if…"

"I am Groot?" He pulled back in surprise.

"I haven't told ya? I've got maybe a few cycles left. Not sure how old I am exactly but no one's expecting me to get much past 20. My enhancements might give me longer or shorter, no way of knowing." He looked down dejectedly.

He looked up as Groot's wooden tendrils curled around him. A blob of light, like the tree's usual lights but bigger, emerged from Groot's chest. It gently hovered in the air for a moment as they gazed at it. The orb of light floated down and entered Rocket's chest. An incredibly soothing warmth coursed through his little body.

"We are Groot." He said with a smile.

Rocket panicked. "You WHAT? Part of your life force?! Take it back! I don't want it!" He couldn't hold back the tears. He didn't deserve Groot. His claws dug into the tree's bark.

"I am Groot." The tree assured him.

"R-really? You'll still live for a super-long time and it's only prolonging my death from natural causes? You better not be lying and putting yourself in danger, shortening your life for my d'ast sake!"

"I am Groot." He was the best friend Rocket could ask for. They were a part of each other.

"Yeah, it wouldn't be the same without you either, buddy." They held there for a while until Rocket felt Groot place him in his bed. His implants didn't hurt quite as much, and one of the weights on his chest had been lifted. He felt like he would never be able to make it up to Groot, but there would be time to worry about that later.

Chapter Text

Peter was searching the ship high and low for the jet attachments for his boots. Either he misplaced them somewhere, or Rocket had swiped and dismantled them to make who knows what. He really hoped it was the former, though honestly expected the latter.

He walked towards the dining room to find Gamora and Drax standing by the entry. "Has anyone seen-"

The green woman shushed him, and nudged her head towards the screen. The pair was spying on Rocket's phone conversation. He was arguing with an otter in a blue jumpsuit.

"She's an otter! That's adorable. Does our little Rocket have a girlfriend?" Peter whispered as loud as possible that could still be classified as a whisper.

"They were lovers in the past," Drax informed them as quietly as he could.

Gamora shushed them again as they drowned out what Rocket and the otter were saying.

"I didn't kill Blackjack! As much as I would have liked to, I know you have feelings for him too. I called to warn you that I have an evil twin or clone or somethin' and he might be after you. He did it." Rocket sounded annoyed.

She crossed her arms and eyed him skeptically. "Do you seriously expect me to believe that?"

"When did it happen?"

The otter groaned, rolling her eyes. "You're really going to pretend that you didn't do this? Fine, I'll play along. Yesterday."

"Lylla, come on. With where we came from, this ain't all that farfetched. You should get off that rock right now."

"I have a life here. Unlike some people, I can't just leave at a moment's notice and go gallivanting around the universe. I can take care of myself."

Rocket gritted his teeth, but seemed to be trying to keep his anger under control. "Fine. Be careful." He hung up and turned around to see the group. "Why are you jerks watching? Can't a guy make a call in peace?"

A few hours later, a call came in. It was from the frequency of the otter's communicator, but she wasn't who appeared on the screen. If they hadn't known about Rocket's double and he hadn't been in the room with them, anyone would have thought it was him.

"Hello brother, or shall I say, 89P13. I hear you've been looking for me." It was unsettling, seeing someone identical to Rocket with a voice and speech pattern that was most definitely not Rocket. The imposter's voice was deeper, more refined, and menacing.

"That ain't my name and you know it, you've been using it enough. Is your name so bad that you gotta borrow mine?"

"Fine, Rocket. My name is 8- actually, call me Missile." The imposter raccoon wore a devious grin.

Rocket's eyes narrowed and his ears flattened. "Where's Lylla."

"She's right here." Missile stepped aside to reveal the captive otter. "I'll set her free if you meet me on Halfworld. We can have a nice chat. Come alone."

Peter shared a worried glance with Gamora.

"What kind of flarking idiot do you take me for?"

"I never said you needed to come unarmed. By all means, bring your entire arsenal. Until we meet again." The call ended.

"I'm going. Alone." Rocket sounded less confident than usual. The raccoon's eyes were dark and filled with determination, but also sadness and fear.

"I am Groot!" The tree was urgent and upset.

Peter understood that Lylla and Rocket used to have a thing, but for her to mean so much to the cyborg that he'd go back there to protect her was huge. "That's a bad idea. If you're alone, the Nova Corps might assume you're the evil one and probably arrest you."

"You told them! I told you not to!" The mammal looked ready to attack Peter.

"Take friend Groot with you." Drax butted in.

"What's he gonna do, dance my clone to death?" Rocket waved his arms mockingly. He had a point, Groot was still small.

"I am Groot." Groot slumped, looking disappointed.

"I will go with him," Gamora offered.

Another call came in, this time from Nova Prime. "Mr. Quill, we have an emergency, I am requesting the Guardians' assistance. Chitauri forces are attacking Xandar." She kept up appearances, but sounded worried.

Of course, everything had to fall apart all at once. "We'll be short a few members, but Drax and I will be right there."

They nodded at each other and hung up.

Peter turned back to his friends. "Let's split up, gang. We'll regroup on Knowhere. Try to meet there in a week or two. I'm planning a trip to Earth, but the timing's really important. We can only go on a certain day, so if this takes too long we'll have to wait a whole year."

"Egg McMuffins!" Rocket's excitement was quickly replaced with worry. "Wait, Quill. Terra? Are you sure? I thought-"

"Changed my mind. Thought it might be nice to visit." He smiled at his friends.

Peter and Drax were surrounded by Chitauri soldiers. He noticed that the maniac didn't seem to be enjoying this as much as he usually relished combat. Maybe he was worried about there just being too many. A few of the Nova Corps people were helping, but that wasn't making much of a difference.

If only Peter had his jet boots, he could fly up and get some range on them. Suddenly, he began floating in the air, around seven or eight feet up, guns falling to the ground. He couldn't find his balance and was flailing around as if the gravity disappeared, but it only affected him. "Uh, Drax, a little help here?"

"Eternal powers are derived from focus." Drax didn't miss a beat as he sliced his way through the countless enemies.

Peter closed his eyes, ignoring the enemy shots firing in his direction. When his eyes opened, crimson beams of energy hurtled out of his hands towards the assailants. It felt a little like using the infinity stone, the power surging through his body. Granted, it was much weaker, not painful at all, and completely controlled. It was invigorating. These powers had a disappointing lack of sound effects, but that was an easy fix. "Pew, pew! Pew, pew! This is so cool! Drax, are you seeing this? Pew, pew!" Peter was grinning from ear-to-ear.

"I am busy, show me later. I also do not understand what temperature has to do with anything, Xandar is quite warm."

One of the soldiers had a long whip, and threw it so it wrapped around Peter's neck. It was hard to focus on anything while being choked. Drax was being led away from him, taking down assailants in the other direction. A sharp jolt coursed through Peter's body as the whip suddenly electrified. He fell to the ground. "Drax!" Peter hoped he got his friend's attention, but a second later everything went dark.

When Peter regained consciousness, he found himself on a flat black plane against the infinite cosmos. The galaxy in the distance was an angry red color. Angular obsidian rock formations jutted out from the surface as if the floor had teeth. He attempted to move and immediately discovered that he was restrained. Someone gripped at the back of his neck and pulled him into a kneeling position, allowing a view of his captor. Directly in front of Peter, in a hovering throne, sat the giant purple ugly one himself with a malicious grin on his face.

"Thanos. Wow, you're even uglier in person." Peter scowled at him, hoping the false bravado wouldn't be taken as such. He was in serious trouble, and had no clue as to a method of escape.

Thanos was a cruel being responsible for countless atrocities, but Peter was more focused on a few. The Mad Titan killed Gamora's family and turned her into a weapon. He was the one who ordered Ronan to kill Drax's family. The whole mess with Ronan and the infinity stone was his fault too.

"Greetings, my nephew. Welcome to your new home." Thanos' voice was booming and intimidating.

"You found out awfully fast." It was probably someone in that bar on Deneb-7 that told Thanos. Peter hadn't told anyone, and had no reason to believe that Starfox or any of his friends had either.

"I have ears in all corners of the universe. Did you really believe you could hide such information from me forever? Rejoice, for you shall be my greatest weapon. Yet make no mistake, your power pales in comparison to my own." From what Peter had heard, Thanos was being totally honest. He was widely known as one of the most powerful beings in existence.

"And if I refuse?" Peter was afraid to ask.

"There are so many possibilities. I could effortlessly destroy everything you hold dear, your precious Terra, your little friends. But I do not have to worry about such trivial matters, because you will not refuse. You do not get a choice." Thanos stared Peter down. The Earthling had never felt so small before.

"Yeah, right. Basically everyone that works for you betrays you the first chance they get." Gamora, Ronan, and Nebula had all jumped ship as soon as possible. Peter just needed to wait for that opportunity, and hope that it would be sooner rather than later.

"That is why I have developed methods to ensure your loyalty. But do not despair, as I am not without mercy. You shall live comfortably because you are of use to me." Thanos smiled again, reveling in the man's impending suffering.

Peter felt himself being carried, seeing nothing but the ceilings of dark hallways. He was placed on a cold metal table and stripped to his underwear. They bound him to the table and injected him with something, probably anesthetic. No, if it were anesthetic, the knives wouldn't have hurt so much. It must have been a drug to prevent him from moving, as he could no longer struggle. Screams and pleas escaped from his mouth, even though he knew they wouldn't do any good. Every incision was ripping him apart. The only worse pain he had ever experienced was holding the infinity stone. This was what it must have been like for Gamora and Rocket. He acted like he understood what they had been through, but he had no idea, not really. Now he knew what it was like to be torn apart and put back together, foreign metal parts being forced into the body. After the operation, he promptly passed out.

Peter awoke sitting down, strapped to a chair, with some strange device on his head. Looking down as far as he could, he saw that he was wearing a sleeveless shirt made from parts of his jacket. Thin angled lines of exposed metal decorated his arms, just like on Gamora's face. Everything ached, but it didn't hurt as much as he expected. Thanos sat there grinning as the machine activated with an electrical hum.

Peter's memories flashed before his eyes as they faded away, leaving only darkness.

But in the cassette tape that was his mind, some memories were too strong to be overwritten.

Peter's memories quickly flooded back to him. He remembered his brief childhood on Terra, his mother's death and his inability to hold her hand. Immediately after that he had been abducted by Yondu and taken into space. His father was irresponsible, so he was taken in by his uncle Thanos and trained to be a warrior. Peter didn't take things seriously, but he was crafty, and eager to please his uncle.

He felt hollow. Finding himself in his quarters aboard Thanos' Throneship, many important things that belonged to him were missing. His prized possession was the mixtape from his mother, nowhere to be found. The Milano was the ship he stole from Yondu, it was not in the hangar.

He longed for the companionship of his adopted cousin Gamora. Without using his powers, she would easily best him in a fair fight, which is why he never fought fairly against her. Despite their differences, they had been very close until Gamora betrayed them and ran off. Peter wished to be reunited with his pet raccoon, it ran away. It could talk, and they argued constantly. Even so, things weren't the same without it. He missed the living tree that used to grow in his garden. The tree was one of the kindest beings he had ever known, but it found Peter too cruel and disappeared. Fighting was more fun with his sparing partner that took every word literally. He had no idea where that man went. They left him. Everyone always left him. Except Uncle Thanos.

He remembered who he was. He was Peter Jason Quill, The Star-Lord, one of the most powerful beings in the universe.

Chapter Text

Rocket was piloting a junker of a rented cruiser towards the last place he wanted to go. The vessel was silver and basic, equipped with little more than an emergency shuttle. There was barely enough room for him, Gamora, and Groot.

"Take over, I need to get ready." He climbed down from the chair and crawled around Groot.

Gamora nodded and slipped into the seat. "Rocket, is there any other way we can do this?"

"No." The raccoon retrieved his bag of supplies and began equipping himself with anything he could possibly need. His paws were covered in black, fingerless gloves. He strapped on a makeshift jetpack, which was actually little more than Quill's boot thrusters belted to his back and set up to be activated remotely.

"Aren't those Peter's?" Her chair turned around and she gave Rocket an accusatory glare.

"I am Groot." The tree chimed in, both of them ganging up on the raccoon.

"Yeah, and? Eternals can fly, he don't need 'em anymore." Since his foot got hurt, the idea of having a jetpack slowly embedded itself into his mind. He didn't have the right materials to build one, so this would have to do. It would certainly help make him more mobile and compensate for his height deficiency.

Gamora didn't appear to like that answer, but she stopped pressing the issue.

"My communicator will be on. No matter what you hear, don't swoop in to help unless I specifically say so. We need a code word or something. Oh, I'll start humming Hooked on a Feeling." The terms were to come alone, so having her as backup could endanger Lylla.

They approached Halfworld, so named because exactly half of the planet was verdant nature, while the other half was fully industrial. Rocket told her to land in a certain area towards the edge of the technological half. As he exited the ship, he turned to see Groot waving.

Gamora stood next to him with a slight frown. "How will you find him?"

"I know exactly where he is." Rocket stated grimly, walking away before he could see her reaction.

The cyborg slowly walked towards the home of his nightmares. He limped, but the cane would just slow him down. The letters on the building had all fallen off, and there were no lights on in any of the windows. Once inside, he grabbed a plasma ball from his pocket and shook it, illuminating the space around him. The facility had thankfully been abandoned and was in obvious disrepair. Thick dust clung to every surface. It looked as if no one had been here in cycles. His tail drooped towards the floor, the tip collecting dust. As he tread through the empty corridors, he kept expecting it to be a trap, for the scientists to come out of nowhere and get him again. But there were no scientists residing here, only ghosts and memories.

He entered an area of the lab that he remembered, the hallway between the cages and the operating room. Images floated through his head of being dragged back and forth in his hallway. Visions of what they did to him. Somehow, knowing that this place was empty made the memories less vivid, though they wouldn't stop coming to the front of his mind.

A noise shook him from his thoughts. Rocket pulled out one of his guns and tiptoed around the corner, only to find a small green rodent chewing on a disconnected wire. Nothing to be worried about. He let out a sigh of relief.

Eventually he came upon a room bathed in light from a gaping hole in the ceiling. The imposter stood under it as if it were a d'ast spotlight.

"Hello, Rocket." Missile grinned deviously.

"Let Lylla go." Rocket said firmly as he pointed his gun at the imposter. He didn't want to give his double the satisfaction of calling him Missile, since it was obvious that name was chosen just to piss him off.

"Patience, brother. Put that away for now, let's talk."

Rocket hesitantly complied, mostly because Missile didn't appear to be armed. "Are you really my brother?"

"Not exactly, but in a manner of speaking."

"Who the flark are you and why are you doing this?" Rocket had no idea and he deserved an explanation.

Missile's smile fell. "I have many reasons. First, when you and your friends escaped, you didn't take me with you. You left me here to rot."

"I didn't even know you existed until a few days ago!"

"Because of that, I continued to suffer. I endured. As a consequence, my enhancements are far more advanced and numerous than yours." Missile removed his cloak in a dramatic fashion, revealing his cybernetics. His scarring was severe, on both the front and back of his torso. The metal protrusions were similar in design to Rocket's, but much more complex and there were a lot more of them. It was like a robotic arachnid had merged into his back. "Take a good, hard look at what you did to me." Missile's voice was full of pain and resentment.

"I ain't them. They did that, not me." Rocket tried to imagine what his life would have been like if he had saved Missile. The identical pair combing the galaxy, leaving thefts and explosions in their wake. Maybe he never would have met Groot, or any of the other Guardians.

"The damage you caused as you left didn't hinder them at all, by the way. I brought this place down myself." Now his voice oozed with smugness.

"Whoop-dee-frickin'-doo." Rocket had wanted to be the one to destroy this place, but he didn't really care as long as the scientists suffered.

"Once I did escape, I found myself in your shadow. Everyone thought I was 'that trigger-happy rodent that fancies himself as a bounty hunter.' I can't even count the number of times I was attacked by people who you owed money." Missile put his cloak back on.

Rocket wouldn't admit it, but he was beginning to feel quite guilty. He wasn't sure how true the guilt trip was, but it made complete sense, between what the scientists did here and his endless list of debts.

"What I don't get is why you didn't involve the Nova Corps. If I was impersonating and framing someone, that's the first wanted list I'd get on."

"Putting you in prison wasn't my objective, you would just break out again like always. I wanted to discredit you, make you feel how I did, accused of crimes you didn't commit. But perhaps the biggest reason is this. I am 89P12. 89th wave, Procyon, 12th specimen." A cruel smile formed on Missile's maw. "My genetic material was used to create a clone: 8. 9. P. 1. 3."

"NO! Nonononono..." Rocket's worst fear was realized. He fell to his paws and knees. His sense of self was crumbling. It was bad enough that he was a freak, a monster. But now he was even less, just the copy of one. Missile was cackling with laughter.

"Rocket, don't believe him. He will say anything to keep you emotionally vulnerable. As long as you think he is your only source for answers, he has no incentive to be truthful." Gamora's voice came through the communicator. She was right, he had no real reason to trust anything the imposter had to say.

With his resolve restored, he stood up defiantly. "Prove it."

Missile was baffled, eyes big in confusion. "How? There's nothing here. The databanks have been wiped."

"Look, I ain't good at saying this, but I'm sorry. I really am. Can we just let the past be the past?" Rocket held his paw out.

"I don't want you to be sorry. I want you to be dead." The doppelganger scurried up a pole and onto the roof of the building.

Rocket heard an explosion, so he quickly activated his jetpack and propelled through the hole in the ceiling, fire and debris close behind. Billowing black smoke assaulted his lungs and obscured his vision. Flying out of the smoke, he could see that Missile had gotten into a small shuttle and was hovering at a slight distance.

Groot had given Rocket a new lease on life, he couldn't squander it by dying here. He needed to get to those years that were originally way out of reach.

"Are you alright?" Gamora sounded urgent. She must have heard the explosion.


"Try not to kill him. It will be far harder to prove your innocence if he's dead, especially if there's nothing left of the corpse." She made it sound like Rocket chose to cause more damage than necessary just for the fun of it. To be fair, he often did.

"Easier said than done!" The only gun he had with him capable of significantly damaging the ship would completely destroy it and the imposter within. Rocket flew over to the natural half of the planet and dove into the trees, avoiding the lasers shooting at him. The jets from Peter's boots weren't really meant for sustained flying, just for short bursts. One of the thrusters shut down with a fizzle, causing Rocket to turn sharply. He moved closer to the surface and shut the other booster off, falling to the ground. Then he picked himself up and remained in a crouch.

Missile's ship began to circle the area, searching for Rocket. Once the ship was overhead, the Guardian carefully aimed his best gun at the thrusters. Perfect hit. The vessel was sent careening to the ground. Rocket hurried to the location of the crash, wincing as every step on his left foot sent a jolt of pain through his body.

"Rocket, I know why he didn't release Lylla. She already escaped and is here with me now."

"Really?" He wouldn't put it past her to lie in order to keep him focused on the battle at hand.

"I'm fine Rocket, I told you I could take care of myself." Lylla's voice was music to his ears.

He was relieved. "You always were full of surprises. Gamora, get her somewhere safe, away from this planet."

"But how will you get out of there?"

"I'll figure somethin' out."

"We'll meet at the location we agreed on earlier."

Missile emerged from the wreckage unscathed, and began firing at Rocket. They traded shots. The imposter's claims of having more thorough enhancements were definitely true, since he was much more nimble than the Guardian. The d'ast bastard was dodging everything. Rocket had a gun that would shoot a wider area, but there would be nothing left of his get-out-of-jail-free-card.

"BLAM!" Rocket shouted as he fired, finally landing a hit on Missile's shoulder. But then his gun was hit, busted and shot out of his hand. He grabbed a large wrench from his bag. It was just an ordinary wrench, but in his paws it was like a sword. Missile was out of ammo and pulled out a pair of daggers. They rushed each other. Steel clashed against steel. Rocket felt a sharp pain as a dagger dug into his stomach. Suddenly, an electrical field enveloped the dagger, sending a painful shock through his body. Luckily he was wearing gloves so the current didn't reach the wrench. "F-flark. You krutacker." Rocket gritted his teeth. Some of the servos in his body shut down, hindering his movement. He managed to swing the wrench and hit the enemy's arm, quickly ripping the weapon out of the wound. It hurt like hell, but he could take it, he'd suffered much worse.

A familiar voice came through the communicator, bringing Rocket back to focus, but it wasn't Gamora or Lylla. "Rocket, it's Rhomann Dey. I'm here to help." A lone Nova Corps star cruiser arrived and hovered nearby.

"Oh yay, the cavalry is here, all one of him." He quipped dryly.

"My hands were tied. This is way out of my jurisdiction. I'm technically on vacation right now. Try to get away from him, I can't fire when you're that close."

"A friend coming to your rescue? How rude."

Rocket bit Missile on the neck, and received another stab in return. He pulled away and struck the imposter on the head, and the cloaked figure lost consciousness.

Rocket and a bound, unconscious Missile were aboard Dey's star cruiser. "Uh, thanks." The raccoon sat against the wall, exhausted and trying to not bleed all over the ship. The fur around his arms, stomach, and mouth was matted and dyed crimson.

"It's the least I could do." Dey calmly piloted the ship away from that horrible planet.

"Can you drop me off on Knowhere?"

"Sure, but I should probably take you to a hospital on Xandar first."

"No!...I mean, I'll be okay, just hand me a first-aid kit." After Dey did so, Rocket bandaged himself up. "So once you take him in, you'll find out what he is, right? Well, if we are clones of each other, will you know which one came first?" He needed to know the truth.

"We'd be able to detect a genetic match, but I don't think we'd know that unless there's a big age gap or something."

Rocket looked at his mirror image. He felt, against all odds, an unexpected wish that things could have been different.

Chapter Text

Gamora sat across from Rocket and Groot in the Boot of Jericho bar on Knowhere. It had been three days since she had gotten Lylla to Xandar, still no sign of Peter or Drax. She had made several attempts to reach out to the raccoon about what transpired on Halfworld, worried largely because he was heard crying that night, but he refused to speak of it. At least she overheard most of what happened over the com, or she would be even more in the dark. To be fair, Gamora was in no position to ask. Never being upfront about her own feelings, how could she expect him to open up to her?

To her surprise, Rocket had not made plans to meet with Lylla, or to even converse with her, after everything that occurred. Perhaps he was trying to move forward, but the assassin was concerned that he was just trying to push his feelings away as she had often done herself. This also was a subject the raccoon avoided.

It was still early, most of the miners were at work, so the bar was fairly empty. Even so, the trio of Guardians were being given an unusually large amount of space. Several minutes had elapsed since they were seated, but no one had approached to take their drink orders.

The green woman impatiently tapped her fingernails against the table in a quick rhythm. "They should be here by now. The Chitauri retreated almost as soon as they got there. Where are they?"

"Don't look at me. They could be out drinkin' for all we know. Speaking of, what does it take for a guy to GET A FLARKING DRINK AROUND HERE?" Rocket shouted towards the tentacled bartender who pretended they did not exist.

A rough-looking waitress cautiously approached their table. "Sorry sir. What're you n' your friends having?" She bit her lip.

"Bluelight Special for me, water for him." The raccoon gestured to Groot, who frowned in response.

"Water." Gamora was not averse to alcohol, especially when enjoyed with friends, but this was not the time to celebrate. Two members of the team were missing. Yet she could not blame her furry compatriot from partaking, after what he had been through recently.

"Y-yes sir. Right away, sir." The waitress made a hasty retreat.

Rocket rested his hands behind his head and leaned back, relaxing into a toothy grin. "Ya hear that? She knows how to treat me with respect, unlike some assholes I know."

"I do not like it. Something isn't right." She voiced her worry calmly. It was almost like the people in the bar feared them. This was not an establishment where people were generally treated with respect. Not quite a 'wretched hive of scum and villainy' as Peter had called it, no doubt quoting some Terran legend, but a dingy working man's bar frequented by the downtrodden and disreputable.

"I am Groot!" The tree pouted at Rocket as he crossed his arms.

"I told ya, not until you're big again. Oh fine, you can have a few sips, but that's it."

Several minutes later, Rocket had finished his first drink. "Gammy, if you see a loser kid with a prosthetic left foot, I need it. I mean it this time." He was not stifling laughter like he usually did when making such remarks. Instead his voice rang dark and genuine.

She was surprised by the nickname, but it was a welcome change from what many still called her. Bitch, murderer, whore. It was pleasant.

"Not this again." Gamora rolled her eyes and situated her elbow on the table, putting the weight of her forehead in her hand.

His eyes narrowed. "Ain't joking this time." Rocket turned his gaze down toward the floor. "The wound opened up again when I know...s'not healing anymore, if anything it's gettin' worse. Might be infected, could need ta be amputated."

She glared at him in disappointment. "You should have told me, and gone to a doctor. If it does come to that, make a new foot for yourself. It would fit your body better that way. There is no shame in asking for help." Gamora was quite aware that this was, as Peter would say, 'the pot calling the kettle black,' but she believed herself to be less stubborn than Rocket about such things.

"I hate it, being hurt and you guys taking care of me. Makes me feel weak, helpless. Reminds me of..." He stared off at nothing. She could see the self-loathing in his eyes and softened her own expression.

"I am Groot," the tree spoke sadly, reaching a tendril to Rocket's shoulder.

The tattooed oaf finally walked in. He seemed disoriented and his eyes were distant, as if he was somewhere else entirely.

"Drax, buddy! Over here!" Rocket, quickly broken out of his melancholy state, and Groot waved to get his attention. He lumbered to the table.

"Where have you been? And where is Peter? Deflowering some maiden?" Gamora demanded, glad to see him, but angry that his whereabouts had been unknown in the first place.

The man refused to make eye contact with them. "I...I am a failure. The Chitauri...they took friend Quill. He didn't have his rocket boots, his powers caused him to float, and they stole him. I have spent the past few days interrogating one of them. They work for Thanos." Drax's soft, shaken voice made it obvious that he was beating himself up about it. His determination to fix things was still heard.

Her heart sank. "No!" Peter being kidnapped by anyone would have bothered her, but him being kidnapped by Thanos was probably one of the worst worse-case-scenarios she could envision. Visions of Quill being killed, or worse, tortured by the Mad Titan like she was, flooded her mind.

"I am Groot!" He exclaimed in horror.

"It's all my fault." Rocket's voice was letting sadness and honest guilt through the facade, he was obviously devastated. He slouched, ears back. Seeing him like this bothered Gamora. This was about the thrusters from Peter's boots. If he had not stolen them, the Terran may not have been captured, but the raccoon would likely be dead. It was a most unpleasant scenario.

"Nonsense, it is mine. I did not protect him." Drax obviously put all of the blame on himself. "Why would Thanos be after him? Is it the incident with Ronan and the infinity stone?"

"If it were that, he'd've gone after Quill sooner," the raccoon pointed out.

Gamora pursed her lips and leaned over the table to whisper the painful truth to them. "Peter is Thanos' nephew."

"W-what." Rocket let his jaw hang open in shock.

"I am Groot?"

"And you did not feel the need to inform us of this crucial information?" Drax looked at her coldly.

Gamora did not intend to display it, but she looked downward out of guilt. "We didn't tell anyone. If the rest of you knew, it could get out and Thanos would know. But obviously he found out anyway." If they had told the others, maybe Drax would have been more careful and protected Peter.

A familiar blue man strode towards the table with purpose and pulled up a chair.

"Oh no." The raccoon pulled at the fur around his face, either distressed or annoyed by the Centaurian's presence.

"Who do I gotta blame for the boy working for Thanos?" Yondu glared at the group, the threat of violence in his eyes.

"Us. 'Cept Groot." Rocket admitted shamefully. "Wait, workin' for? I thought Thanos kidnapped him."

The blue man lifted an eyebrow in surprise. "You numskulls haven't heard? He's been killing mass quantities. I found him conquering some backwater planet in the ugly one's name. There's somethin' wrong with him. It's like he remembers things different."

Gamora's suspicions were correct. They were being treated differently now because everyone was afraid of them. "You mean to tell me he has been brainwashed?"

"I dunno, what would you call it if he thinks he's been livin' with Thanos since just after I picked him up?"

"Fake memories." It was unclear if Drax said this in realization of the situation, or as a literal answer to Yondu's sarcastic question.

The blue man suddenly hid behind a nearby column and he shushed them. Starfox had walked into the bar and headed directly for their table.

"If anyone starts acting strange, distract him so he cannot use his powers," she whispered to her companions.

The man gave her and the rest of the group an evaluating look. "Gamora, you've grown up into a fine woman."

Before anyone could blink, she had a knife against his throat. "Do not even try."

"Woah, I wasn't-it was just a compliment." She backed off, but continued to glare, keeping the knife palmed. "But onto the matter at hand, how could you let my son fall into Thanos' hands?"

The Centaurian emerged from his hiding place, deadly serious and his hands balled into fists. "I don't blame them, jackass." The implication that he instead blamed Starfox for some reason was abundantly clear to Gamora.

Starfox suddenly shifted his attention and approached, grabbing the man by the edges of his jacket and pinning him against the column. "Yondu. I hired you to deliver him to me. You told me my son was dead!"

"Maybe I did it to protect him. From you. It's no co-inky-dink that this happens right after he meets you."

"I would never-"

Yondu interrupted him. "That ain't what I'm sayin'. Him knowin' you is dangerous."

Starfox shook him against the column. "You had no right to keep him from me!"

"Don't dare pretend that you care about him." The Centaurian's eyes were more intense than Gamora had seen them in their prior encounters. "You're just pissy that your brother stole one'a yer toys."

Drax turned to them. "Both of you disgust me."

"You really do care about Quill, don't ya Yondu?" Rocket interjected.

The captain of the Ravagers frowned. "It ain't like that. Jus' he was one'a my men, an' I take care of my own."

"Give me one good reason why I-"

Gamora angrily interrupted Starfox, fed up with being the only rational person around. "Enough! You imbeciles bickering like children will not help save Peter. If you don't plan on helping us, leave." She was fully aware that Starfox would not, could not defy Thanos directly. Even if he was not a spineless philanderer, his lack of practice and training meant that his powers were weaker than even an ordinary Eternal, and Thanos was an anomaly.

"I must go. Deneb-7 needs me." He let go of Yondu and backed away slightly.

"Yes, I have no idea how that planet can possibly survive without your presence." Her voice seething with sarcasm, she crossed her arms.

"You have no idea, they should name it after me. Yondu, this is not over." With that, Starfox left the bar in a disgruntled hurry.

"You remain." Drax addressed Yondu flatly.

The Ravager sat back down. "If I leave this ta you nutcases, you'll fuck up and the boy'll end up destroying the universe. So what are we doin'?"

They all looked to Rocket. "Well we aren't attacking Thanos. Sorry Drax, Gammy, but look at us. There's no way. We'd all die. But we can try to get Quill back. There's only one thing that can possibly snap him out of it."

He was correct. Even with all of the Guardians at perfect health, challenging Thanos would be a fool's errand.

"True Love's Kiss?" Gamora offered. They had saved the galaxy with dancing and the power of friendship, so this was relatively plausible. Not that she knew who would need to deliver such a kiss to Peter.

"What? No!" The raccoon looked at her as if she was insane. "Has he been filling your head with more stupid Terran children's stories? Besides, none of us are in love with him."

The two of them eyed each other in suspicion. If she knew anything about Rocket, his being an asshole was sometimes his weird way of displaying affection. He acted this way the most toward Peter. The idea which Rocket was insinuating, that she loved the Terran, was completely ridiculous. Though she could not deny being more fond of him than she would like to admit.

"I am Groot."

"Not that kinda love, buddy. Anyway this is Quill we're talking about, the only thing that could bring him back to normal is the mixtape. Does he have it?"

"No, it is aboard the Milano, which is here with us," Drax informed them.

Rocket nodded. "Good. I have a plan. It ain't great, but it's just crazy enough to work."

Chapter Text

Rocket had fabricated a gun built around a Terran audio amplification device called a boombox. Because of the name, he had been severely disappointed upon learning that the only thing it could explode was someone's eardrums. Similarly, the armament merely shot sound waves. The cyborg had wanted to make it an actual destructive weapon, but that risked either it being too heavy (which it nearly was already) or reducing the sound output. He dubbed it the Boomgun. It was far from his best weapon name, but it was the best he could come up with for this glorified speaker in the shape of a gun. Admiring his own handiwork, the extensive modifications had mostly been to reinforce the shoddy Terran materials of the boombox to the point that it could withstand use.

Groot and Drax were in the common area with him while he put the finishing touches on the gun. He grunted as he heaved the literally-heavy heavy weapon off of the table.

"It that a weapon I can wield?" Drax offered, pausing from sharpening his knives.

"No way in hell. You as much as touch this thing the wrong way and we all go deaf." The raccoon took solace in the fact that it was still quite dangerous, if not in the ordinary way. "Just cover me so I can actually use this, alright?"

Drax had that perplexed expression he wore so often. "With what? A blanket?"

Gamora walked into the room with an uncertain look on her face. "Will this work? Do you have a backup plan?"

"I got a Plan B, but it's a last-resort, worst-case-scenario thing. If this don't work and we're still alive, we get to Thanos' ship and figure out how he did this to Quill, steal whatever or whoever did it and try to reverse it that way." Rocket turned to his best friend. "Anyway, Groot, you're staying on the ship."

"I am Groot!" He pouted.

"What does that have to do with anything? That was totally different. It's too risky." Well, Rocket's not staying on the ship when ordered to during the doppelganger fiasco was not much different at all, but he wouldn't hear it. Groot had lived through the Xandar incident to grow again, but would that work more than once? Rocket knew he had been acting like an over-protective mother, but that would only be until the tree was back to being big.

Yondu had sent his Ravagers to get a lock on Quill's location. They found him easily on Planet Craggo, which didn't seem like a planet Thanos would have much interest in. It was a desert planet, though not completely without water. There were many outposts and small settlements in the wasteland, but most of the cities were around and on the planet's single sea. The Ravagers were there, fighting Thanos' army of Chitauri, leaving the Guardians to save Quill.

That was not the only way in which the Centaurian helped. He had given Rocket a questionable 'miracle cure' that Kraglin swore by, teasing that it would either fix the raccoon's foot or the elixir would cause it to fall off. It tasted awful to the point of nearly inducing vomiting, but it really was working, no need for the cane anymore.

Dry heat enveloped them as they emerged from the Milano. The setting twin suns, one yellow and one blue, cast an eerie green glow against the orange clay. They were in the center of a vast canyon. The headphones and walkman hung around Rocket's neck, in case Quill needed a visual stimuli rather than audio in order to get his real memories back. His feet pads burned on the cracked ground.

Something felt wrong. The raccoon was filled with a sense of dread, like the terror he felt when he saw what the infinity stone really was. His sense of self-preservation kicked in, every part of him was screaming to run as far away as possible. But he couldn't. Much like then, this was partly their fault. They had to get Quill back at any cost. He couldn't bear the thought of not having the stupid Terran around, never seeing that goofy smile or having his dumb plans to poke holes in. Peter was an idiot to be sure, but he was their idiot.

There was Quill, not doing anything, just standing and looking out at the desolate landscape. He turned around and faced them. Rocket noticed the thin silver lines on the man's arms, they looked like the lines on Gamora's face. He shuddered. Peter had gone through what he and Gamora had, being forcibly turned into a cyborg. "What...did Thanos do to you?" The raccoon asked in spite of himself.

"He made me better." Quill outstretched his arm, palm up, as if wanting them to grab his hand. "Guys, let's go home." His face was determined and grim.

Gamora shook her head. "That is not home, Peter. It never was."

Rocket hit the play button on the side of the Boomgun, equipped with Awesome Mix Vol. 1. A drumbeat beckoned the guitar licks the group had become all too familiar with.

The Eternal glared at the raccoon intensely. "Come and Get Your Love, Redbone, 1974. Give me back my mixtape!" He flew towards Rocket, who kept his distance, flying with the thrusters on his back.

"Keep him away from Rocket!" Gamora ordered Drax as she attacked Quill.

Drax grabbed Peter from behind into a hug-like hold. Quill wriggled his arm free, and aimed his palm at the tattooed man's face. The maniac let go and dodged right as a beam of red energy rushed from Peter's hand. When the lasers shot, his eyes glowed a bright red.

It reminded Rocket of Yondu. "Whoa! Why didn't anyone tell us he can shoot lasers from his freaking hands now?"

"You did not ask." Drax recovered and rushed towards Quill.

Peter flew out of their reach and continued to chase the raccoon. "You stole my mixtape, ship, walkman, headphones, boombox, and even the thrusters from my boots. You were always nothing but a thieving rodent." Quill had never called him a rodent or vermin before. Rocket was used to it, but not from his friends. It hurt more than it should have. He reminded himself that this wasn't really Peter. There was no way that the Terran really felt that way. But a flicker of doubt lingered in the raccoon's mind. "Wait, I can fly, why did I even have jet boots?"

In Quill's confusion, Rocket aimed the Boomgun and pulled the trigger, sending powerful soundwaves at him. The half-Eternal put a hand to his head and his eyes softened for a moment, but quickly returned to animosity.

"It's not working!" Rocket pulled at his fur. He was beginning to get frantic, desperate.

"What if we dance?" Drax was completely serious.

"I do not dance," Gamora stated between dodging Quill's blasts.

"Me neither." Rocket and Peter were flying around in a circle.

"Singing?" The tatooed man suggested.

The raccoon pulled out an artificial gravity bomb and tossed it towards Quill. Unfortunately, he misjudged the distance and grounded himself too. "Oof!" Rocket muttered as he slammed into the ground.

"Peter, please, stop this!" Gamora pleaded.

The man glared at them. "You abandoned me."

"Snap out of it!" Rocket begged.

"Your memories are false." Drax chimed in.

Quill disarmed the green woman and grabbed her by the throat, holding her a couple of feet above the ground. She struggled, gasping for air. He turned his head to see Drax charging from the other direction, and shot a hand-laser into the maniac's stomach. It sent Drax flying, his eyes were closed when he landed. The man's attention turned to Rocket, and he aimed his free arm, also hitting the raccoon in the stomach.

The impact hurtled him backwards, crashing into the rocks. Looking at the sorry state of himself and his friends, it was over. They were done for. If Quill ever regained his real memories, it would be too late.

As Rocket wearily stood up clutching his stomach, fur caked with clumps of rock particles, the gears in his mind began to turn. He stopped the music and ejected the mixtape from the gun, pulling out a small pistol and pressing the barrel to the precious tape. He was panting. "Let her go, or I will destroy this." Mostly a bluff, but he would if Peter gave him no choice.

Quill's eyes were wide with shock. "You wouldn't dare-wait, of course you-agh."

"Just let her go, and I'll toss away my weapons and give the tape back to you." The raccoon rested his finger on the trigger.

Gamora was released from the hold and dropped to the ground. She rubbed her neck. The mammal knew that if she were fighting anyone other than Quill (save maybe Nebula), her opponent would likely have been dead by now.

Rocket's ears twitched as he heard the airlock of the Milano open with a hiss. The small flora colossus was walking fearlessly right to Peter. "Groot, get back to the ship, now! What are you doing?! He's too dangerous!"

"I am Groot." The tree calmly continued to walk towards Quill, and hugged the man's leg.

Peter smiled. "See, Groot misses me. He's not attacking me and stealing my stuff like you assholes." He didn't appear to notice as the tree's tendrils reached around to each other, gently encircling his legs.

Drax stirred, holding his gut and slowly standing up.

"Groot's right. Group hug time." Since hugging was so out-of-character for Rocket, he knew that they would realize that it was all part of the plan and to follow his (or rather, Groot's) lead.

As the others hugged Quill, the raccoon scrambled up him, placing the headphones over the man's ears and pressing the play button. Peter groaned and clutched his head. His friends caught him as he stumbled forward, collapsing on the ground.

When Quill's eyes opened, he appeared disoriented. His face looked softer. "Guys, what's going on? Where...wait, the last thing I remember was Thanos capturing me..."

They pulled him back into the hug, their Quill was restored. "Peter, he brainwashed you, gave you fake memories. Enhanced you." Gamora spoke slowly, letting him take it all in.

The Terran looked around him and at his companions, He started to panic. "W-what did I do? What was I going to-".

Drax interrupted him. "Do not worry about such things. You were not yourself."

As everyone let go, Quill grabbed Rocket and Gamora in for another tight embrace. "I'm so...sorry. I acted like I knew what you'd been through, but really I didn't understand at all, until now."

"Gamora and I'll help you, figure out how your systems work," Rocket assured Peter as he cursed himself for enjoying these hugs.

The friends let go and stood up.

"It'll be a long time, but I swear, I'll stop that California Rasin-I mean, Thanos, if that's the last thing I do. Who's with me?" Quill put his arm in front of him, palm down.

The first to place their hand atop Peter's was Drax. "Of course, though I would like to land the final blow."

Gamora put her hand in. "As if you needed to ask?" She turned her head to the raccoon and tree. "Rocket, Groot, we understand if taking down Thanos isn't part of your plans. Neither of you have been wronged by him."

Rocket huffed and crossed his arms. "So what? Him messing with you guys ain't enough reason for us to wanna help?"

"I am Groot!" He cheerfully nodded in agreement.

They crouched down so Rocket and Groot could reach their hands, making a pact to stop Thanos once-and-for-all someday.

After Quill was cleared of the crimes he committed while brainwashed, things quickly returned to relative normalcy. Well, normal for being in a group of misfit space vigilantes. The Terran was back to his goofy self. If what happened bothered him, he hid it pretty well. They were all worried about him anyway, particularly Rocket and Gamora. When unable to sleep in the middle of the night, often one of them found Quill at the controls, researching something or other on the datastream.

One day, Rocket was examining the cybernetics in Peter, starting with his arm. A section of skin was peeled back, and the raccoon carefully poked and prodded with tweezers. Awesome Mix Vol. 3 was playing through the Milano's sound system.

The Terran winced. "That hurts!"

"Shaddap ya big baby." Rocket stopped and looked his friend in the eyes. "But seriously Quill, are you doin' okay? You never sleep at night anymore."

"Like you do? I'm fine. I'm the 'new-and-improved Star-Lord' after all." Peter smirked.

That disturbed Rocket. Some people became cyborgs by choice, but usually it was out of necessity for medical reasons. And for the three of them, they had no say in the matter. It wasn't something to be proud of or happy about. They were freaks, some moreso than others. But at least they could be freaks together.

Quill pulled him from his thoughts. "Oh, I took the liberty of adding a song to the playlist, we must've missed it earlier. I'll always hold a special place in my heart for cassette tapes, but I really like that I can just add music whenever I want without having to overwrite something else."

"No fair, you said 2 songs each! If you get to add to it, we all should."

"Shh just listen."

[Human War Machine, TEAM*] I believe in rock and roll, I believe in kicking ass and middle fingers. I believe in slept in clothes and the stale scent of cigarettes sleeping on my pillowcases. I believe in making love, I believe in Bob Dylan. I believe in finding yourself in a smoke-filled room compliments of California.

Rocket wondered if Quill was just bragging about finding a song that fit so well.

We can be something other than machines. We can be human. We can be free.

Gamora walked into the room with a smile. "This song is pleasant."

Rocket tried to hide a grin. "It can stay on the mix."

Chapter Text

A few days later, it was time to visit Earth. Peter had been staying up late each night, trying to fill in the gaps of his knowledge. He wasn't about to let his friends think he was anything less than an expert about his home planet. The rest of the cosmos didn't keep close tabs on Earth, but a few of the other planets in the Milky Way had some history documented, as well as technological advancements.

Sleeping less also gave him more time to adjust to his body. At first he felt heavier, but quickly realized he weighed about the same, it just felt different. Hearing the occasional metallic whirring from within himself took more getting used to than anything else. Rocket had assessed that the cybernetic implants could potentially be removed, but it would be risky and excruciatingly painful. The decision would be held off until after their little trip.

Peter, attempting to hide his excitement under false seriousness, addressed the group in the Milano's common area. It was time for his brilliant plan. "The reason we're going to Earth today is because it's a holiday called Halloween. People, mostly kids but adults do too, dress up in costumes. They pretend to be monsters, aliens, heroes, and stuff. So everyone will just think you are in a costume and not actually aliens."

"What purpose do these illusory garments serve?" Drax questioned.

The human wondered what kinds of traditions The Destroyer's planet celebrated. "Well, kids in costume go from door-to-door and get free candy. Other than that it's just for fun."

Rocket's ears perked up. "Did you say free candy?"

"Isn't chocolate poisonous to you?" Peter asked, giving him a skeptical look.

The raccoon had the same facial expression. "Yeah, and?"

"Most Earth candy is made of chocolate."

At that, Rocket's lips pulled into a snarl and he spat on the floor. "That's disgusting, Quill."

Peter rolled his eyes and faced his tattooed compatriot. "Drax, do you own any shirts? At all?"

"I do not. They aren't necessary." The mountain of a man shifted his weight as he spoke. He seemed unusually guarded. There must have been another, more embarrassing reason for his constant shirtlessness.

"I'll have to buy you one. Most places on my planet have rules that everyone needs to be wearing a shirt and shoes. Bottoms too, but that's a given. Groot gets a pass because he looks like an elaborate costume. We need to be on our best behavior. Nothing illegal." Getting arrested on Earth would be a major problem, risking being discovered as aliens.

"I hate shoes," complained Rocket.

"It's either that or you get put on a leash," Peter warned. The raccoon folded his arms and huffed. "That's what I thought. Also, with your translator implants, you guys'll understand the humans, but they won't understand you. So just let me do all the talking." He wasn't completely sure that was how the translators worked, but he remembered not knowing what the Ravagers were saying until his own device was installed.

He sat alone in the common area, fiddling with a Rubix Cube. A call came in, Starfox's face shown on the screen. "Hello lad."

"Hi dad," Peter said bitterly as he glared at his irresponsible, absent father.

The puppy-dog-eyes look must have been hereditary, as Starfox gave a very pleading look. "Son, I owe you an apology."

"Damn right you do. Using your powers on me? That's sick."

"I only-"

"I'm not done," Peter interrupted. "When Thanos kidnapped me, Yondu helped get me back. That's more than I can say for you, you didn't do anything."

The father's face hardened. "Yondu is a terrible man."

"You're worse. He acts like he doesn't, but he cares about me. You don't."

"Of course I do, you're my son."

"If you really cared about me, you would have picked me up yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it. I don't even wanna hear your excuse, I'm sure it's something along the lines of 'I had to be on some pleasure planet.' You abandoned us, and I don't want anything to do with you."

"Peter, ple-" The call was cut before he could finish.

A few hours later, the human was steering the ship to the planet he came from. Rocket sat in the co-pilot's seat monitoring the area. "Quill, we're being followed. It's a Nova cruiser."

Peter called someone on the comm system and a familiar Nova Corps officer appeared on the screen. "Dey, there's a Nova ship tailing us. Wanna tell me why?"

"That's me, but I'm not -following- you, we just happen to be going in the same direction." Dey's gaze shifted around and his voice was slightly shaky. He was a terrible liar.

Quill raised an eyebrow. "You and I both know you'd rather be spending time with your family than stalking us. Is this about the brainwashing thing? Because you know I'm not dangerous."

The cop sighed heavily. "I know that, and Nova Prime knows that, but a lot of the others...they're scared of you. What if it happens again or something similar? Also, where exactly are you going?"

"Earth. You aren't gonna stop me. I need to go back, just for a day."

Dey reeled back in surprise. "Are you sure that's wise? It's not technically legal either. I'm sure Nova Prime would make an exception for you because you're from Terra, but the level of-"

"I've already got that covered. Today's an Earth holiday where lots of people dress up in weird costumes. No worries." He smiled, hoping his confidence would reassure their friend on the force. They were going to Earth whether the Nova Corps approved or not, but he didn't want to burn that bridge if he didn't have to.

Rocket jumped out of his seat and climbed onto Peter's lap, standing on the man's legs so he would be seen on Dey's screen. "Enough about that, did you find anything out?"

The human had gotten used to the small mammal invading his personal space by now. How ironic, the one who most hated being touched was frequently touching everyone else.

"Not yet. I'll contact you as soon as I hear anything. Anyway, don't go causing any intergalactic incidents, okay? I hope you know what you're doing. Be careful," the cop begged with insistence.

The call ended as Peter gave a curious look to the raccoon standing in his lap. "Rocky, what was that all about?"

Rocket turned around to face him, frowning. "Don't call me that. It's not important."

"Like hell it isn't. You never told me what happened with that imposter you or whatever. You went back to Halfworld and something happened, but you won't talk about it." They all had secrets, and even Peter had kept quite a bit from his friends, especially when it came to his mom. But for a team to work, they needed to trust each other, and it was clear that the furry one in particular had major trust issues.

"We fought, and he's currently in Nova Corps custody. Lylla's safe. That's all you gotta know," the raccoon insisted as he climbed down from Peter's lap.

"When you're ready to talk about it, I'm here. We all are."

After activating the cloaking gear, they landed in a large clearing in a forest on Earth. Peter hadn't really cared what state they landed in as long as it wasn't Missouri. He couldn't handle the inevitable lecture from Drax about finding whatever family he might still have, especially since he wouldn't know how to find them.

Many trees had already lost their leaves, but the ones that hadn't displayed vibrant colors. Fiery reds, brilliant oranges, earthy yellows, and verdant greens stood in stark contrast to the gray overcast sky. They all took in the sights, in awe.

Naturally, Rocket was the first to break the peaceful silence as they walked into town. "This place is kinda like Procyon, only not disgustingly pink. So where do we get Egg McMuffins?"

"I hate to break it to you, but they only serve them in the morning, we're too late. I promise we'll get some before we leave tomorrow." Peter was sure that he could hear low growling in response.

It was different, but not by much. Cars were sleeker, but they still drove on the road on four wheels. Cascading leaves drifted down in the breeze, littering the sidewalk.

Peter had seen enough fish-out-of-water comedies about time travelers or aliens to know that he needed to blend in, act as if none of this information was new. The others could be partially explained away as foreigners, and children in Rocket and Groot's case.

The time was around noon, too late for fast-food breakfast and too early for Halloween costumes, though that didn't stop some people. His plan was working. Most people regarded them with little more than mild disinterest, and perhaps some condescension for fully-grown adults to be so heavily costumed at this hour.

Gamora wore a slight smile. "It reminds me of Xandar. It is nice."

Drax, on the other hand, appeared to be unamused. "I thought you said this was a planet of outlaws. These appear to be peaceful law-abiding citizens."

"Looks can be deceiving, and the outlaw thing exaggeration," Peter admitted in a casual tone.

The assassin looked at him harshly. "How many other things that you've told us about Terra have been 'exaggerations?'"

Peter entered the store and bought a solid black t-shirt for Drax, one that looked almost the right size. That was still cheap, but prices seemed much higher than his time on the planet. Luckily, when exchanging his units for dollars, he knew to adjust for inflation. He didn't want to leave his friends unattended, knowing their penchant for finding trouble. His worries were for nothing, as the four of them were just standing outside of the shop, talking to each other. The shirt stretched around Drax's muscles, it was just big enough.

As they entered the store together and grabbed a cart, Peter read the signs to find the entertainment section. He had learned on the datastream that videocassettes had been replaced with discs. To his shock, many franchises from his childhood had been remade or had a new iteration. Robocop, Transformers, Ninja Turtles, Smurfs, and the list went on. Any movie he thought was interesting went into the cart, along with a cheap DVD player that he would coerce Rocket into hotwiring into the ship. Several of the movies were for kids, but Peter didn't care. Movies aimed at children would in theory be less likely to remind the group of their traumatic pasts, or at least do so in a less disturbing way. A welcome distraction from when things get rough, as they inevitably would.

"Peter, I am disappointed." Gamora glared at him as she held the DVD case for Footloose, her voice dripping with malice. He was terrified for his life. "Kevin Bacon is no hero. He is a mere performer."

"I didn't lie, exactly, I just stretched the truth a little. And he's still a hero. Come on, you can't tell me you guys haven't ever lied. Well I could believe it for Drax and Groot."

Rocket shrugged. "Even Groot lies. One time he told me he was a king, he ain't."

"I am Groot," the tree drooped as he spoke in an apologetic tone.

"Why are there two versions of Footloose?" Gamora held another case in her other hand.

"Let me see that." They remade Footloose. His childhood was officially ruined.

With a sizable movie collection in the cart, Peter looked at the audio area. The headphones were either oversized monstrosities or so tiny that they fit inside the ear. A few were similar to his, small with foam padding, but made of plastic.

They moved on to the clothing. After Peter vaguely explained the sizing to her, Gamora went to the ladies section on her own. Drax and Groot wandered at a short distance. In the children's section, the human picked out sleepwear in what looked like the raccoon's size, a zippered onesie in blue depicting rockets and stars.

The raccoon sneered. "I'm not wearing that," he said in disgust.

"Of course you are. You've been complaining about wanting new jammies, and these have rockets all over them. Also it's the manliest one they have." Into the cart it went. Peter was enjoying this a little too much.

Rocket held a few items against himself to guess his size. He tossed a pair of orange cargo shorts and a black hoodie into the cart.

Gamora returned with a cozy blue sweater and a pair of black skinny jeans.

Next they selected food. Peter picked items out while the others were curious to what everything was.

"I bet Terrans have stupid names for everything," Rocket said as they were in the grocery aisle. "What's this called?" He picked up an orange.

"An orange. It's a fruit." Peter fumbled through his mind trying to recall a food in space that had a comparable flavor.

"HAHAHA. I rest my case. You have fruits named after colors? What do reds, blues, and blacks taste like?" The raccoon had a smug grin plastered on his face.

"Just oranges, other fruits aren't named after colors. Actually I think here the color was named after the fruit. Everyone just lumped it in with red for a long time."

They returned to the Milano with their spoils. Peter instructed Drax on how to make hamburgers, since The Destroyer was the only Guardian truly capable of cooking a decent meal.

Gamora took a bite, and her eyes were like saucers. "This is most delicious."

"Eh, it's edible," said the raccoon. He took a swig from his bottle of beer and immediately spat it out onto Groot. "Sorry buddy. What is this swill? Tastes like watered-down svarlack piss."

Peter grimaced. "It's beer. I don't even wanna know why you've tasted that."

"Doesn't taste like any beer I've ever had. I lost a bet."

The drink did not have quite the same flavor as most space beer, and it seemed far less potent, but he didn't think it was bad or drastically different. Maybe raccoons had more sensitive tastebuds or something.

That evening, after Peter explained and showed many aspects of Earth to his friends and they enjoyed the town, the half-human walked down the sidewalk with Rocket. The rest of the group were back on the ship.

The raccoon looked down as he scuffed the pavement with his feet. "This planet isn't terrible," he muttered. His tail was drooped, gathering leaves.

"I knew you'd like it. But why do you look so miserable?"

Rocket stopped walking and stared at him. "Quill, Terra is doomed. It's been infiltrated by a dangerous alien race called the Flerken."

Peter sat down on the grass next to the sidewalk, putting himself closer to the small mammal's eye level. "Funny. I'll play along."

The raccoon began to fume. "I'm serious! They've conquered a bunch of worlds by pretending to be domesticated pets. They're vicious beasts with portals to pocket dimensions in their stomachs, and internal tentacles. They lay eggs in mass quantities. Normally I'd kill them on sight, but it's way too late."

"What, exactly, is a Flerken?"

Rocket rigidly pointed to a stray cat. "That. That is a Flerken."

"The planet isn't doomed, Rocket. Cat's don't lay eggs. Or have tentacles."

"You're positive?"

"As sure as my name's Peter. What's next, are you going to tell me that dogs are alien masterminds too?"

The raccoon relaxed somewhat and sat next to the man. "No, dogs are just evil incarnate."

Peter smiled. "Here we call them 'man's best friend.'"

"I take it back, this planet is terrible."

The earthling laid back in the grass, looking into the cloudy sky. "You know, when I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to come back here, to come home. You have no idea how many times I whined and begged to Yondu. Eventually, I didn't want to return. And now that I have, I know for sure that this isn't our home anymore. Either of us. We don't belong here." Being back was nice, but perhaps his obsession with old Earth objects was more due to his memories than the planet itself, and those memories he would never be able to live through again.

The raccoon opened his mouth as if to object to the notion that he was originally from Earth, but he shut his jaw and merely nodded.

They returned to the ship, the cozy Milano that had withstood more of their antics than anywhere else. It was the one location that they were truly free to be themselves. Drax was making pizza for dinner, and Peter had bought ice cream for dessert. Rocket was complaining as he was hooking the DVD player up to the ship's systems. Star-Lord smiled as he sat on the couch in the common area, between Gamora and Groot.

Their first-ever movie night was a mixed bag, as the others were thoroughly confused by Footloose, particularly Gamora. Even if they didn't admit it, they all seemed to take comfort in the fact that it was the first of many movie nights to come.

In the morning, the human went to McDonald's before they left and got Egg McMuffins for everyone. And extras for Rocket that would need to be put under genetic lock-and-key because the raccoon had a problem.

As they left Terra's atmosphere, Peter came to the realization that neither he nor Rocket needed to go looking for a home, literally or metaphorically. Where they came from didn't matter anymore. Halfworld, Procyon, Earth/Terra. The Milano was where they belonged. That ship had been their home the whole time, all of them. Dorothy was right, there was no place like home.

~The end~