Living with Rocket
Rocket was a tough little guy. Rough, tough, foul-mouthed, often angry and almost always heavily armed. You might not like him, but you had to respect him. Peter Quill had learned soon after meeting him how commanding the little raccoon could be. The prisoners at the Kiln had no trouble taking orders from a furry, three foot tall, fifty-pound creature. Stature wasn't everything; confidence and a willingness to use force counted for a lot. Rocket had both of those in spades.
You'd never know how hurt and vulnerable he really was under all that bluster. Not until you lived with him.
The first clue was where and how he slept. The Milano, designed as a multi-person fighter and transport, had half a dozen small bunk rooms. Each was no larger than a prison cell and contained little more than a bed with pull-out drawers under it, with the exception of the captain's room, which had a larger, more comfortable bed and a private bath instead of the communal one. The one lack was that only the captain's room had a door. It was a functional enough arrangement as long as you didn't agonize over privacy and as the Guardians grew accustomed to living on board each took a room and used it as you'd expect someone to use a bedroom.
Except Rocket. The first time Peter went looking for him he found the raccoon had pulled all the drawers from under the bed, stacked them on the bed proper and curled up in the dark little cave thus revealed, surrounded by guns and little Groot's pot. Peter had just smiled and went on with his day, not realizing at first what he was seeing.
Two days later he had to ask Rocket to put his room back together. The raccoon had somehow managed to pull the plating off the wall from the space under his bed and retreated further into the dark with Groot. It was a claustrophobic little burrow but though if anyone could safely do that to the ship it was Rocket the raccoon agreed, after a brief argument, to put everything back where he'd found it. He could sleep on the pillow he dragged under the bed, Peter told him, but please don't make a nest in the air vents again. It blocked the air flow and sometimes you could smell raccoon musk throughout the ship.
Instead Rocket installed a door to his room. How he did that Peter wasn't sure, but within two hours of their argument there was suddenly a sliding door between the raccoon's room and the hall. When Gamora and Drax expressed their admiration at that bit of engineering the raccoon grumbled good-naturedly and built doors for their rooms too. His strong little hands and innate mechanical skills were a marvel to behold but by then hardly a surprise, given what they'd seen up to this point. All seemed well with their odd little friend. It wasn't.
Two days later the raccoon woke up screaming and the whole crew burst into his room, finding him backed as far as he could go under the bed with Groot, the whites of his eyes showing around the feral irises and a huge gun in his hands. It took Peter five minutes to calm the raccoon down and get him to come out. Peter told the others he had it covered and sat down to talk.
"What's the matter, Rocket?"
"Whaddya mean? Nothing's the matter." But the furry little hand that pulled Groot's pot close to his hip was shaking. He'd been sleeping in just his pants, not the armored vest he wore, and Peter noticed once more the polished metal bolts protruding from the raccoon's collarbones. You couldn't see any scars under the fur but he was sure they were there. He'd only seen Rocket's back once but knew that it was far, far worse. Who knew what other horrors lurked under Rocket's fur?
"Were you in pain? Problem with your cybernetics?"
The raccoon let out a harsh little laugh. "No. No problem. I just woke up wrong, OK?"
"Okay pal. It's your business." But the seed of worry was planted and Peter insisted that Rocket not lock his door or, and this took a lot of arguing to get across, set any traps to keep people out. Eventually Quill had to point out that they might get hit with a breaching pod or have some weird organism crawling through the vents and have to get into any room to defend the ship. Even the captain's room wasn't locked, he pointed out.
A week later Rocket woke up screaming again and this time only Peter came running, but only because he waved Gamora and Drax away. Like last time he had to talk Rocket out of the fortified hole under his bed where he sat shaking, clutching Groot tightly and denying everything. Quill looked at the hand holding the pot and saw the unnatural knobbyness of Rocket's knuckles. There were bolts there under the fur, he was sure. And in how many other places?
"I didn't ask to be torn apart and put back together over and over," he remembered Rocket saying. He hadn't really thought about it before. How long had that hell been? What had they done to that poor little animal that eventually became Rocket?
During the day Rocket was tough and capable, easily angered but so useful to have around that no one gave it a second thought. He looked funny but he was part of the team. But at night the raccoon was alone, except for Groot, and that's when his terrors came.
Rocket spent all the next day working on something he called "aerorigs". He hadn't been impressed by Star-Lord's jet boots other than to comment he'd once used something called "rocket skates", and his clever little hands were soon at work making them all jet packs. Like Quill's mask they used mass displacement technology to hide most of their bulk and were half the size of Peter's Walkman when not activated. They would allow you to fly for up to two hours when he was finished, the raccoon said, though you could run out the fuel supply a lot faster if you overloaded them.
He was rough and tough and snarky but Peter was beginning to worry and that night he silently slid the door to Rocket's room open and peeked in. For a change the raccoon was curled up on the bed and Peter could see him shivering as he slept. His little furry hands twitched and he whined in his sleep as he tried to push some invisible tormentor away.
Groot was there, still in his pot though as of that morning he showed the ability to leave it for a short time, and Peter saw how the little tree was stroking Rocket's fur as he slept. Wide innocent eyes turned to Peter and Groot gestured for him to approach.
Quill grimaced as he stepped closer, seeing the inflamed flesh around the shoddily installed cybernetics on the raccoon's back. How much must that hurt? Rocket didn't like doctors, he knew. He didn't like to be touched in general and he didn't trust anyone who might jab him with a needle. His back needed care but he covered up his pain just as he covered his scars up with his tunic.
Groot nodded as Peter reached out and put his hand on the nape of Rocket's neck. He felt the awful tension in the sleeping raccoon and the shivers that ran through his body as the nightmare gripped him. Quill did what Rocket would never let him do when awake. He petted Rocket until the shivering raccoon finally relaxed and calmed down. A little human kindness did what no amount of bravery and bluster could do: it banished the terror, at least for a little while.
The nightmare seemed to come to Rocket at about the same time every night and soon Quill grew used to silently sliding the door open and creeping in on slippered feet to soothe the traumatized raccoon's sleep. Groot's eyes brightened each time he appeared and though the little tree could once more talk, albeit in a way only Rocket could understand, he must never have told the raccoon about Quill's nocturnal visits. One time Quill fell asleep before stopping by and woke to find little Groot tugging on his pants leg and pointing silently at the door. He was as worried about his friend as Peter was.
It helped. Quill hadn't noticed Rocket's bloodshot eyes until the whites cleared, and the little tremor that sometimes ran through his hands even during the day soon subsided. Gamora caught Peter in the hall a few nights later but a lifetime of training as an assassin had taught her to keep her mouth shut. She glanced in only long enough to see him petting the shivering raccoon before returning to her room. It cost Quill a bit of sleep but it was worth it and Rocket didn't know what was going on as he slept.
Until a few nights later. Peter found a tube of universal antibiotic in the ship's medical store and brought it with him during his nocturnal visit. Groot looked on approvingly as he calmed Rocket by gently petting him as he slept, then Peter applied some of the antibiotic to his fingers and went to rub it on the worst parts of the raccoon's back.
He should have waited for the creme to warm up. The second his chilly fingers touched the bare skin of Rocket's back the raccoon growled like an angry cat and rolled over. Before Peter could yank his hand away cybernetically augmented hands grabbed his arm and sharp fangs sank into his hand.
The breath hissed out of Peter as bones ground together between the raccoon's teeth. Either raccoons bit a lot harder than he thought they should or even Rocket's jaws were augmented. Blood dripped down his fingers onto the bedclothes and only a hard upbringing with the Ravagers allowed him to stay calm. Instead of trying to pry Rocket's muzzle open he used his other hand to gently scratch behind the raccoon's ears.
Slowly the bite loosened and Rocket's beady eyes blinked open. They flicked back and forth as he took in what was happening and only when he was sure he wasn't under attack did he finally let go of Peter's arm.
"Quill? What are you doing in here?" His ears went down as he saw the bloody state of Peter's hand. "Aw, man. Sorry about that. But what were you doing in my room?"
Groot patted Rocket's furry shoulder and piped out "I am Groot," and Peter, for the first time, was pretty sure he knew what the little tree said. He was going to bet he knew, anyway.
"Groot waved at me as I went by your room and pointed at your back," Peter said as he put pressure on his bleeding hand. Rocket's fangs had gone right through the thickest part of the meat. "I'm sorry, I should have waited until you were awake, but I thought if I put some antibiotic on it you'd sleep better."
"Oh," Rocket said. "Uh, thanks."
Gamora glanced in from the doorway but Rocket was looking at Groot and didn't see her. Peter frantically gestured her away. The raccoon was never going to open up if he thought they were ganging up on him.
Fortunately Peter had a pocket full of smart medical patches he'd brought in case Rocket's back was even worse than it looked and he was able to staunch the bleeding and kill most of the pain from the bite. If Rocket had bitten down any harder it'd take more than that to fix his hand but stab wounds through muscle were easy with Ravager medical tech.
"Rocket, I'm sorry I didn't ask you first," Peter said, "But your back looks really bad. I'm here anyway, could I smear some of this stuff on before I go?"
"But I bit your hand." The raccoon didn't apologize, but he didn't ask Peter to leave, either.
"And I'm gonna pay you back, because I bet this stuff is going to hurt."
That made Rocket grin cruelly, but Peter saw the gleam in his eye. Rocket really did like hurting people, but he was starting to appreciate having someone to trade barbs with. He was beginning to trust Peter. He hadn't even mentioned that he woke up to being scratched behind the ears. And his back really must have bothered him, because he turned away without another word and waited for Peter to apply the creme.
He'd never put the cap back on the new-bloody tube and this time Peter waited until the stuff warmed up on his fingertips before applying it. It was the longest look he'd had at Rocket's back and the scars were horrifying. Some were inflamed and the flesh around the largest implant looked infected. It must be agonizing but Rocket never complained. The little raccoon just sat there stiffly as Peter applied the antibiotic. There were two spots so nasty looking Peter slapped smart patches on them and a third that probably didn't need one but got one anyway.
"You have to take better care of yourself, man."
Rocket shrugged. "Augmented immune system. It wasn't gonna kill me any time soon. Groot used to put stuff on it but he's too little now and I don't like doctors."
"It has to hurt."
The raccoon grinned as he looked past his shoulder at Peter. "Everything hurts, humie."
That was all Peter got out of Rocket, who curled up on his side so the covers wouldn't get medical gel on them. Except for one last comment: "And close the door when you leave."
Gamora was waiting silently in the hall and Peter didn't say a word until they were all the way up in the cockpit. The Milano was parked next to a particularly pretty nebula, far from the nearest jump gate. There was no need of a pilot when they were just killing time until the next good assignment came down the hypernet.
"His hearing is better than ours but all the ship noise should drown us out if he's still awake," Peter said.
"He's broken," Gamora said without preamble. "I've seen this before in torture victims. Even when released they are weak." She'd been around Peter enough to know from his face that she shouldn't have said that and went on. "I mean, there's no telling how he will react if someone learns how to manipulate him. He's emotionally vulnerable."
"So am I," Peter said. "So is Drax. So are you!" He pointed a finger at her chest. "None of us are perfect. You can be manipulated by bringing up Thanos, Drax is a berserker and I've got Ravagers who want me dead. I'm not going to give up on a friend just because he's been through hell. Have you given up on Nebula?"
Gamora was silent and he went on. "You were turned into a cyborg to serve Thanos. You had parents and he killed them. Rocket didn't even have that. He was this poor little thing they turned into a weapon and cut open over and over until he was what they wanted him to be. Then he got loose and I like to think he killed every last one of them. He's never had a crumb of love or comfort his entire life and we're all the family he has."
Peter rubbed his bandaged hand. "We've all lost family. Rocket's had it worse than any of us. I know he's little, and he's mean and he plays jokes that get us in trouble. He made me go get that guy's leg right in the middle of our escape from the Kiln! But he's my friend. I'm not giving up on him and if nothing else you oughta appreciate how useful he is to have around. He got us out of the Kiln and made the weapon that helped kill Ronan."
Finally Gamora nodded. "I admit...he is useful. I've never seen someone as good with technology. Even if he couldn't fight he'd be worth having on board and he's a brave fighter too. And I guess he isn't any more immature than you are."
"Thank you," Peter said. "Sorta."
Drax had appeared silently at the stairs and stood listening, only to nod wordlessly and head back to his bed. There was a kindness and consideration in his giant frame you wouldn't suspect if you hadn't seen him gently petting Rocket when Groot died. He must already have suspected what was going on and shown up just long enough to confirm it before signaling his agreement. They would put up with their friend's issues because that's what friends did.
So things continued as they'd been, with Rocket sleeping better, Peter spending a few minutes a night petting him or putting antibiotic cream on his back, and the rest of the crew pretending they didn't know what was going on. And if Rocket was sometimes awake when Quill showed up he kept his mouth shut too.
He'd never admit he let someone pet him, it smacked of being treated as an animal. But he'd lie there pretending to be asleep, accept that crumb of human comfort, and then the next day he'd go to work on the ship or some weapon or the aerorigs or whatnot. And if he was a little happier, and smiled a little more often even when he wasn't being snarky or hurting someone, that was all Peter needed out of the deal.
Rocket turns out to be a high maintenance friend once you actually spend more time with him. The raccoon's hidden PTSD causes problems for the crew and Peter volunteers to help.