What happened to the rabbit?
It wasn't the first time Thor landed in New York City. For a time it had even been home. But since his disastrous failure to kill Thanos at Wakanda he'd been very busy. The loss of half the world's population - seemingly at random - created a host of disasters that demanded his attention.
Over a thousand jetliners crashed in the wake of that incident. That was only the tip of the iceberg. Literally millions of vehicles were suddenly driverless on roads around the world. Millions of high speed crashes inevitably followed. The police, fire department and hospitals were all critically understaffed with no warning. Then there were the really big problems, like power plants without sufficient workers to keep them going - including nuclear power plants - unguided container ships larger than aircraft carriers, millions of fires from now-untended cook and campfires, and more.
Thor was now, it was commonly thought, the most powerful being on the face of the planet. The Hulk hadn't been seen in months. Even were the Green Goliath present, Thor won their last contest and his power had doubled since then. So when a volcano erupted or a dam crumbled and someone needed to respond, he did. His control of the weather - for he was more than the God of Thunder, the storm was his to call or dismiss - made his presence still more desirable. When natural disasters were absent, The Captain often called for his aid. Teleportation via the Bifrost meant he and his allies could be anywhere almost instantly...but there was only one Thor.
The many-headed hydra of disaster and near societal collapse kept him very busy. Luckily, he was indeed a god. He could go days without eating or sleeping with little impact on his health.
Three months flew by with hardly a break. Now, finally, he and the other heroes, along with various governments and civilian organizations had pruned back enough hydra heads for him to get a day off. Thor was left with one thought foremost on his mind.
What happened to the rabbit?
It nagged at him over the days and weeks. What had happened to his little comrade? The last he saw him the rabbit was shattered and grieving from the loss of his tree friend. Later, Thor learned that this was not the only casualty among the furry little warrior's moron comrades...and the rabbit knew it. The trackers he'd given each of his friends told him they were gone.
The little warrior was, if you didn't count the blue cyborg Thor heard about but never met, the sole survivor of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Every single person he knew and trusted was gone. Now his one friend on Earth had time to wonder what became of him after Wakanda.
Thor landed with great care not to crush anyone with his dramatic arrival. So softly did he land that the sidewalk barely cracked at all. Nevertheless you couldn't miss the clap of thunder that heralded his arrival and a crowd formed.
"Thor! Thor, it's Thor!" He smiled and nodded, pausing for a picture with an elderly couple who by great good fortune stayed together when The Snap killed half the world's population. Then, begging off any further photos, he made his way to the side door of Avengers Tower.
"Welcome, Point Break," Friday said, and Thor smiled as the door opened. Even in these dark days Stark was irrepressible.
A swift ride up the priority elevator - Tony warned him not to land atop the tower due to newly installed and as yet untested defense systems - and he was on the management floor.
"Mister Stark is out, sir," said the attendant. "He is not expected back until this afternoon. Problems at the geothermal plants in Iceland."
"That is all right," Thor said. He leaned on the counter, which creaked alarmingly under his weight. Asgardian flesh is denser than human flesh. "I am mainly here about the rabbit. I am told he came here after Wakanda."
'After Wakanda.' Which was to say, after the death of half the sapient beings in the universe.
"What rabbit," the attendant said, and just then Pepper Potts appeared.
"Ah, Mrs. Stark," Thor said. "I heard you survived. I'm pleased that not everyone suffered." He paused. "I apologize. That was poorly said."
Pepper smiled. The stress of the last few months, running Stark-Pott Enterprises in its ever-elaborating role as the hub of global technology disbursement - in partnership with Wakanda, of course - had turned the tips of her hair gray. She never seemed to find the time to dye it and with half the people in the world gone fringe industries like cosmetics were a lower priority for rebuilding than, say, agriculture, power production, food distribution, planetary defense....
Pepper hugged Thor. "It's all right. We're all just trying to get by. But I hear you didn't just stop by to say hello?"
"Yes. I am concerned for my rabbit friend." Thor indicated a height somewhere around his knee. "I only knew him briefly but he and his tree were valiant companions. Now I'm the only person he knows on Earth, unless he's made new friends."
"Rabbit," Pepper said thoughtfully. "You mean raccoon?"
"What's a raccoon?"
"Friday," Pepper said, but a screen was already popping up. On it was a grayish-brown animal with a ringed tail. It was busily feeling around in a stream, presumably in search of food.
"That looks like him, but that's an animal. He is not."
"I know," Pepper said, and waved the screen away. "He's here. Two floors down, south hall. See if he'll talk to you. Please. He won't talk to us. Tony wanted to get with Bruce, Shuri and Rocket - his name is Rocket by the way - about possible orbital weapons platforms, but he won't come out of his room."
"Thank you, Pepper. I'll see what I can do."
Technicians in the hall stared as he approached. A wide door stood open and a handful of men were lugging crates and cases out into the hallway, placing them on powered carts and driving away. As he rounded the corner he found a short hall behind the door with a second door at the end. Two techs were running scanners over this one.
"What goes on," Thor said, and a door tech jumped. What must be the supervisor explained.
"Every so often the raccoon lights that indicator," he said, pointing at a light outside the outer door. "To let us know there's stuff to pick up. Look at this." He opened a case. Inside were neatly racked weapons with a futuristic look. Another case held grenades. "The things he makes. These are gravity pulse grenades, they create a localized singularity that sucks everything nearby in. We're still not sure how they work. Or half of this stuff," he gestured helplessly at the crates. "This tech is just...alien. impossibly advanced." No two of the weapons were quite alike but all were sleek and deadly.
"Dark elves use grenades like that," Thor noted.
"Last time the door opened there was an antimatter bomb in here. Mister Stark said it would take out a whole country. Written on it was 'For Thanos'. They stored it on the moon with the rest of the really dangerous stuff."
"What are they doing?" The two techs at the door looked up. They were still running instruments over it.
"Trying to figure out what he did to the door. It was steel. Now it's harder than diamond. Even vibranium barely scratches it."
Thor ran his hand over the door. "It feels like crystal." He shook his head. "What does he eat?"
"We put food in every time he opens the outer door," the supervisor said. He pointed to a stack of food containers and a flat of bottled water. "He never touches it."
Thor took a moment to open a couple. They contained an assortment of food and smelled good. Naturally Stark wouldn't be cheap when feeding...what? An employee? "Are you saying he's starving in there? How long has it been since he came out?"
"He doesn't come out. He won't talk to anyone. He just sends out weapons to use against Thanos and his troops."
"How long." Thor said. "Since he came out?"
The supervisor backed away as Thor loomed close. "He went in right after he got here from Wakanda. He doesn't come out and he doesn't talk to anyone."
"He'll talk to me. Out."
"We're not done -"
"Out!" The lights overhead flickered as a spark as thick as a man's finger jumped from the Asgardian axe slung across Thor's back. Seconds later he was alone in the hallway. "Shut the outer door."
This time there was no argument. As it slid shut Thor looked at the ceiling. He didn't see any cameras or microphones but he was sure they were there.
"Rabbit...Rocket. Let me in. We need to talk."
Nothing. "Rocket. I know what it's like to lose family. You know this. You helped me when I needed help. Let me help you."
The silence stretched on. Stormbreaker slipped into Thor's right hand. "This door is very strong. It will not stop me, Rocket. I'm coming in whether you like it or not."
A moment later came a click and the door slid to the side.
It was dark inside, with pinpoint overhead light sources illuminating tangles of machinery, stacks of half complete weapons. The built-up animal musk of a raccoon who hadn't left the room in months filled Thor's nose. Music from unseen speakers almost drowned out the sound of machinery. Thor knew just enough about earth music to recognize Fleetwood Mac's The Chain.
To one side a series of machines hummed as they worked. Each was different, having a handmade look, but each continually dispensed shaped metal parts for weapons. Gangly mechanical arms collected the parts. Thor followed the assembly line, guessing the raccoon would be at the end doing final work on each weapon.
His path took him to the brightest spot in the room. Overhead lights cast artificial sunlight on a small table with three flower pots and a watering can. Dead, dry twigs protruded from the pots. Curiously Thor reached out.
"Don't touch that!" Out of the corner of his eye he saw a shadowy figure jerk upright. A shaking hand raised a blaster.
"Rocket," Thor said, and showed his hands. "It's me."
Slowly the blaster dropped. With a clatter it hit the table and small noises followed as the raccoon went back to his labors. Thor could just make out the tools and parts being worked.
For a moment Thor lingered by the pots. He recognized the wood, though dry and dead. Stormbreaker's handle was of the same material. When The Snap happened and the tree crumbled away, the desperate rabbit - Rocket - rushed over and demanded he bury the handle in the hopes his friend would sprout anew from this last remnant.
It did not work. Rocket thought it was because the tree broke the handle off himself some time before The Snap and that it was dead before the main plant fell. Thor wondered if it were due to the enchantment on the whole axe, handle and blades. Just the same they waited together for an entire day only to have the hoped-for green shoot not materialize.
It was the last he'd seen Rocket until now. "You're trying to grow your friend back. I'm sorry it didn't work."
"Not my friend," rasped out of the darkness. "I don't need friends. Just work."
"Rocket," Thor said. He eased closer, making no sudden moves. "I'm your friend."
"I don't have any friends," came out of the shadows. Thor was close enough to make out the skinny figure hunched over the table, hands busily assembling something. "You're just someone I know."
Rocket was ignoring him and Thor used the opportunity to move close enough to get a batter look. Rocket looked bad. Threadbare, grease stained clothing covered his chest and upper legs and the fur that showed lacked the healthy sheen it'd had in the pod and at Wakanda. Thor was certain that the raccoon had lost weight, and not a healthy amount of it. So much fur had shed from his tail that the colored rings were barely visible. For the first time Thor noticed the bolts protruding from Rocket's collarbones. He didn't know the raccoon's story but he knew cybernetics when he saw them. The bolts were signs of a large, maybe even body wide augmentation.
But even a cyborg needs to eat and he could see that Rocket hadn't, or at least not nearly enough. Thor remembered the boxes in the hall. "Rocket, when did you eat last?"
The raccoon shrugged as he worked. "Dunno. Last time I was hungry." He waved at a device in the corner. Thor moved over to have a look.
He'd seen things like this before in prisons. A relief system, a self contained power cell and banks of molecular filters and assemblers. Rocket had built a recycler that turned his waste back into food. Initially horrifying until you remember that practically all food has been not-food before, most likely many times. If done properly, this was a reasonable approach.
A reasonable approach in a prison...or for a hermit. Thor hooked a food pellet out of the dispenser with a finger and crunched it between his teeth. Bland was an understatement, but you could live on it.
"They leave you food in the hall," he said as he turned back toward Rocket. "It's much better than this."
Rocket didn't look up. "I have all I need here. I don't need anything from them but materials." He turned to a series of hovering screen set to such low intensity that even an Asgardian's keen eyes could barely make out the details. Each was covered with formulas, schematics. Weapons.
"Gravity bomb didn't work," Rocket muttered. "Shoulda known space stone would protect him. Nova bomb didn't work. Power stone absorbed the blast. I'll get him. Antimatter didn't work. Reality stone stopped it. I'll get him."
He looked up for a moment as he thought. His eyes were sunken into their sockets. His little clawed hands, so sure on the controls when Thor last saw him, trembled. "I'll get him. I just need to figure it out. Monowire? Maybe monowire."
"When did you sleep last, Rocket? Where?"
"Dunno," the raccoon muttered. His hands began snapping together parts though his eyes were vacant, distracted. "Somewhere."
The shed fur and dust bunnies under the workbench told the tale. Rocket worked until he collapsed, then rose and worked again.
He was a tough little creature. Even a cyborg has limits, though. Eating little and working until he dropped was killing Rocket. To keep from thinking about his loss he worked and worked but something had to give, and soon. Soon he would be able to work no more.
"Rocket," Thor said. "Open the door. I'm leaving."
"Good. Don't need ya anyway." Rocket waved absently and the inner door slid open. "Go kill Thanos for me, god man."
If it were that simple, the Mad Titan would be dead already. When the inner door was firmly shut the outer slid open and the waiting techs once again harvested the fruit of the raccoon's labors. Thor didn't have the heart to snarl at them.
Pepper waited outside the door. "How is he?"
"Killing himself," Thor said grimly. "Working himself to death to get at Thanos."
"I was afraid of that. Tony's like that sometimes. I talked to Nebula when Tony brought her by. She told me about Rocket. He was an experiment, tortured into existence before he escaped. He won't talk to us and losing the Guardians destroyed him. They are the only friends he ever had."
"No," Thor said. He slid a card out of his belt. "He has one more."
"Your Avengers stipend," Pepper said when she saw the card. Avengers were allowed a thousand dollars a week for personal expenses, more if she or Tony approved it. "You hardly use it."
"Only for ale, mead, beer," Thor said. He didn't smile. "But I won't use it for that today."
Ten minutes later he was on the street. The loss of half the population meant that until society adjusted - some towns would be entirely abandoned - there were shuttered stores even here next to Stark Tower. It was still New York City and he soon found a deli.
"I have a sick friend," he told the woman behind the counter. She was wide-eyed at the sight of him but nodded professionally as he went on. "He needs food. Good, healthy food to put some meat back on his bones."
"A care package," she said. "I know how it is. We sell baskets to put it all in."
Thor watched as she assembled the package. Sliced ham, potato salad, baked beans, fresh bread. Grapes, jam, cubed watermelon, packets of condiment for sandwiches. Cooked chicken, three small cherry tarts, a thick slice of lemon cake. Dinner rolls, pretzels for snacks. More. Enough food to satisfy a small family accumulated in the basket before he told her 'enough' and paid her twice what she asked.
"Now," he told the very attentive woman. "Where would I buy a bed for a small creature, say, yay high." He indicated a point just above his knee.
In the pet store he bought a round, padded bed big enough for Rocket. He chose the most expensive and was still not satisfied with the quality. It would do, for now. With a flat of bottled water under one arm, the pet bed under the other and the basket in his hand he returned to Stark Tower, ignoring the bemused glances following the thunder god gone shopping.
"Out," he told the two technicians still taking the pulse of Rocket's inner door. He didn't need to tell them to shut the outer one this time. They did it on their own.
"Rocket," he said to the ceiling. "You know I can come through this door if I choose. Then you would have to fix it. Open it."
And it opened. In the shadows of the work room he found Rocket at the bench, from all appearances not moved from his spot two hours ago. He didn't look up. "Is Thanos dead?"
"Then why are you here?"
The raccoon let out a startled yawp as Thor's fingers closed on his collar and lifted him from the seat. He was noticeably lighter than the time he stood on Thor's shoulder and as his shirt went tight his ribs showed. "Put me down! I got work ta do!"
"You can go back to work after you eat," Thor said. He kicked the round bed under the work bench and plopped Rocket down next to the basket.
"Can't eat now," Rocket said, and looked longingly toward his floating screens. "Gotta work. I got something new, I think it'll get him."
Rocket's teeth clicked together as Thor slapped the floor hard enough to make dishes jump. The thunder god had most of the food out of the basket. "You can work," Thor said firmly, "After you eat."
"Fine," Rocket grumbled. "But just for a sec'." His little clawed hand plucked a grape out of a bowl.
As though possessed by a separate being his hand went out for another grape even as the first popped between his fangs. And then another grape, then a chunk of sliced ham, and Thor watched as the raccoon fell on the food like a demon, eating with no thought of manners or moderation. Rocket ate with his hands and tore at the bread like the starving man he was. He ate and ate until Thor wondered if he'd indeed brought enough food.
When Thor began to worry that Rocket might actually do himself an injury overeating the raccoon finally sat back, took a long drink of water from a bottle and burped.
"'Kay," he muttered as he licked the strawberry jam from his fur. He had eaten it right out of the jar. "I ate. Happy now?"
"Not yet," Thor said as he reached out. Rocket protested weakly as he was once again picked up, cradled this time in Thor's great hands and slid into the padded bed.
"No," he complained as Thor kept him from crawling back out. "I can't sleep. Gotta work. Gotta find a way."
But willpower can only carry a man so far. With a full belly and days - at least - behind on sleep, Rocket was asleep almost before the words left his lips.
The music, always present, changed. Thor noted the little black device on the workbench, manifestly Earth-made unlike virtually anything else here. The new song was louder and Thor tapped the device. Sure enough a display popped up. The fast, jangling melody was by something called Five Jacksons. He found the pause button.
The result was immediate. With the music gone Rocket twitched and whined in his sleep, his claws scrabbling at the bed. As soon as Thor restarted the music he quieted. So. For whatever reason music gave him comfort. Music he would have. Thor leaned back against the wall and waited.
Asgardians are hardy folk, able to do without sleep for days if need be. Thor sat and watched as the raccoon slept lest Rocket wake and go right back to work. He needn't have worried. It was twelve hours before Rocket even stirred. Thor blinked awake from a brief nap of his own to find the raccoon had left the bed, presumably used the relief station, then crawled into the picnic basket and fallen right back to sleep. It made him smile to see the brave little warrior curled up in the basket, resting on a half eaten pie. Thor let him sleep.
Twice the raccoon shuddered in his sleep, his claws scrabbling at the wicker. Each time Thor reached into the basket and petted him until he calmed down. He'd had fifteen hundred years to learn to live with horror and death. He doubted the little raccoon had a hundredth that.
When Rocket finally woke his fur had the beginnings of its normal gloss and his hands less of a tremor than before. Apparently his augmentation allowed for fast recovery...when he ate and slept, that is. He unapologetically used the relief station again before speaking.
"Okay," he grumbled. "That food was good. Now I gotta get back to work."
"Certainly," Thor said as he stood. "I will leave you to it. But."
"But?" Rocket cast a worried look at the pet bed, afraid he'd be shoved in again.
"I am going to instruct the men to tell me if you don't take the food they leave for you, rabbit. If you don't, I will come back and we will do this all again."
"Okay," Rocket said with a suspicious lack of protest. Thor wasn't fooled for an instant.
"And the next time I visit - and I will visit, rabbit - if you haven't eaten that food I will know. And if that bed hasn't been used, I will know that too. Then we will have words."
"Why are you doing this," Rocket said. He didn't know what to do with his hands, one picking stuck-on cherry pie from his fur and the other reaching for the last few grapes in the bowl. "You're not my friend."
"Of course not," Thor replied. "How could I be your friend? We're hardly met. I just value your work." He waved at the stacks of weapons, bombs, grenades, and devices less obvious in their destructive potential.
"We need you, rabbit. We need your hands and your mind. If you starve yourself it's one less weapon we'll have when we find Thanos."
"Oh," Rocket said as he chewed a grape his hand popped into his mouth between words. "That makes sense."
"I have to go now, rabbit. I'll be back in a few days."
"Sure," Rocket said as he turned back to his work bench. "Have fun."
The inner door slid open as Thor approached. He knew what was happening. He'd done it himself a few times over the centuries. When you lose everything, you decide that the best way to never lose another friend is simply to have none. You push everyone away, lose yourself in drink. Or you work yourself to death.
That was not going to happen. Thor had lost people, too. His family, most of his friends. He wasn't going to lose this one too. If he had to come by every night to make sure Rocket ate and slept he'd do it. And when the raccoon finally broke down and let the grief pour out, he'd be there for him too.
It would take time to coax Rocket out of his hole. It would take time to get him to accept friendship again. That was all right. Thor had all the time in the world.
6 May 2018 at 07:35:17 MDT
Three months after The Snap, three months after the Battle Of Wakanda, Thor finally has a moment free from responding to disasters to wonder: What happened to his furry little comrade? He will not be pleased with the answer, but the God Of Thunder does not readily give up on a friend.