Title: Roots before Branches
Characters: Gamora/Peter Quill, Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer, Groot
Word Count: 2800
Rating: M (violence/gore/language)
Summary: Because sometimes you end up taking one for the team
I gotta have roots before branches/ To know who I am before I know who I wanna be/ And faith to take chances/ To live like I see a place in this world for me
Gamora had imagined freedom differently.
Reality is far less lonely and far more ridiculous: she no longer blinks when plans include a small, potted (but very eager) tree as getaway driver or lovingly cooked meals followed by cheesy Terran entertainment.
But she feels a certain aimlessness- she’s always had a role to play, a hierarchy to follow. Even the way she refuses to use her skills makes her wonder: can resisting a direction determine a course?
“You’re kidding, right? Normal people don’t need their friends to be anything. And it’s not like you don’t pull your own weight- you know obscure starsystems and geopolitical stuff like none of us do; you do all the crazy gymnast stuff on missions. I mean, do you even care that Groot mostly sits in cockpit looking cute?”
She sighs as she checks the magnetic release on the shovel strapped to her thigh. “Of course not. But he gave his life to save ours, and the rest of you have…specialties. My role is vague at best. I can’t excel at what isn’t defined.”
Peter smiles wryly as he checks the charge on his guns. “Hey. You were the first one to reach out, Guardian. We’ve got your back, no matter what. And you’re a person, not a… tool, so just… try not to worry about how sharp or hard or whatever you think you should be. Maybe just try to figure out what makes you happy.”
She smiles and inclines her head, leaning against him for a moment. They’re both hesitant to examine their relationship too closely, but she doesn’t mind reflecting on their “family”. They’d shared the burden of unlimited power; defeated an invincible foe. Running and hiding may have been far more prudent, but despite the vague nature of it, having a place among them feels earned and right.
She often wonders how Nebula is faring out there on her own. That Thanos isn’t actively hunting them is both reassuring and unnerving: she desperately hopes that his inaction shows that his power is waning or already greatly reduced. After all, he recently lost Loki, the Chitauri and his bid for Terra and the Tesseract. And now the Orb has also slipped from his grasp, several of his most powerful agents lost in the process.
But she knows from bitter experience that it’s always harder to gain your feet again when you aren’t braced for the blow; recognizes that her vigilance is starting to slip as time passes.
After all, there are more immediate concerns to face day-to-day, such as Groot’s stall in growth and constant complaints of hunger. They’ve seen all kinds of botanists and doctors and tried supplements and different kinds of light. When the proposals for invasive procedures started coming (“Well, he is a scientific curiosity, and the more we know about his biology…”), they privately decided to try a more basic solution before getting more “professional opinions”: Rocket suspects that there must be something about the bacteria or mineral content on Planet X that allows Flora Colossus to mature and blossom properly.
Gamora raises her brows. “Nova Corps will not be happy if they discover what we’ve done. ”
Peter spreads his hands, exasperated. “It’s just a bit of dirt and water, and it’s not like we can ask since he’s been outlawed and exiled. We can just blast our way back into space if hostile locals show up.”
“I don’t disagree- we must help our friend. I’m merely observing that what we desire conflicts with what makes our allies happy.”
He smirks and shrugs, unrepentant. “Story of my life. How do you think I got so good at negotiating?”
“Quill, Gamora- get up here!” Rocket calls.
They join the others in the cockpit. Groot is craning as far out of his pot as he can reach, fronds plastered to the window as he peers outside. There’s a certain wistful hunger in his demeanor that tugs at all of them.
“I’m putting the Milano down here- that’s freshwater. Drax and Peter: you two muscle-bound lugs grab the H2O and then hustle back. Then we switch pilots so Gamora and I can sneak into the woods to get the soil- it’s lighter, we’re lighter on our feet, plus we can see better in the dark. There’s a gunman on each team, but keep the Milano guns ready too- Groot says if we get company, it’ll be coming from the wooded areas.”
“Watch the friendly fire,” Peter warns, grabbing a container, turning on his mask and jerking his head at Drax. Drax nods and hefts the other container and pump.
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll try not to singe your butts,” Rocket grumbles. “Let’s just try to do this quick.”
They watch pensively as Drax and Peter clamber out, crunch over the rocky waterfront and start pumping water into the storage tanks. Peter watches the surroundings warily, guns drawn, as Drax single-mindedly focuses on filling containers and switching the pump. They lug back the full containers without issue, and the teams swap as planned.
Gamora and Rocket make far less noise when they exit the ship and steal into the wooded area. There’s a low hum coming from insects calling for mates and the air is redolent with the scent of moss and leaves. It tugs at memories long buried, but they have a purpose here and she’s too well trained to be distracted into examining them now. As soon as Rocket finds a good spot with the scanner, Gamora sets down the backpack, extends the shovel and starts filling it.
Rocket’s fur stands up after a few seconds, and he immediately stows the scanner.
The woods have gone quiet- too quiet.
“Bad vibe, Gamora,” he mutters urgently.
“I am aware. But surely we should get more than a scraping of topsoil and detritus. Do you sense movement?” she asks quietly.
Rocket’s whiskers tremble as he searches the surroundings, digits on the trigger before he jerks his head. Negative. She raises a brow, glancing at the shovel in a silent question and he waves his paw to urge her on, aggravated. They’re in for it no matter what now- might as well finish the job.
The muffled sound of her digging seems obscenely loud now but there’s still no concrete threat, just a malevolent sort of watchfulness.
Rocket despises feeling like prey and he bares his teeth in a silent snarl, searching the dark for any sort of target.
Gamora focuses on getting as deep as she can: this might be their only shot at this, so the more soil layers she can get, the better.
Soon enough the pack is full, and she closes it up briskly before retracting and re-stowing the shovel.
Rocket jerks his gun impatiently, wishing Gamora would quit being so unflappably precise.
It’s not until she hoists the backpack onto her back that the sullen silence snaps.
There’s a rumble underfoot accompanied by several furious roars of “I AM GROOT!”
They both sprint for the Milano.
Rocket knows what’s coming, and he’s ready when Groot limbs come shooting at them out of the dark. Gamora hacks off the ones attacking from the front, leaving him to guard the rear. There are still no Groots in sight though- Rocket’s never seen their Groot get that kind of range when extending his limbs, and it’s both scary as hell and confirmation that whatever Groot needs to flourish has got to be here.
The Milano lights up and its engines whine to life: their friends have heard the gunfire. Just a little further… hopefully Peter doesn’t shoot them when they come barrelling out of the woods.
They’ve almost made it out when Rocket turns back and wheels the gun too late. “Dast-!”
Gamora cries out when she’s impaled through the gut, and she buckles and grabs at the limb reflexively even as it lifts her aloft.
Rocket sheers it off an instant later with a concentrated burst of gunfire, and she stumbles and falls to the ground with it. He stands next to her, blasting the follow-up limb and keeping anxious watch. He can hear movement in the forest now- the Groots are closing in.
“I was just checking behind us! Aw shiiit.”
She grimaces, ruthlessly pushing past the pain as she takes stock of the wooden limb protruding from her front. Her ocular implant has been relaying a list of warnings and her regeneration implant is already flooding her system with nanites and ramping up her oxygen intake.
“Through and through. Multiple perforated organs. Missed the spine,” she gasps. She staggers back to her feet, grips the limb and hacks off as much excess as she can while Rocket provides cover. “They come. We must get back to the Milano.”
Rocket curses and they move as fast as they can. Gamora is hunching over the injury, but her determination is stronger than the pain- survival demands it, and she’s had a lifetime of practice. At least the number of limbs coming at them has fallen drastically.
Drax jumps out to give them a hand as soon as they are in view- she’s obviously wounded.
Peter’s panicked voice comes over the comm. “Gamora’s hurt?! What the fuck- you didn’t call for backup?!”
“Just keep an eye on the treeline, Romeo- we’ve got company!” Rocket snaps, firing randomly into the trees as Drax supports Gamora in that last stretch to the ship.
The climb up is more painful than the race back, and she doesn’t look at Peter when she clambers clumsily into the ship and slumps against the wall- he and Groot are outwardly focused on covering their retreat but the smell of his fear is like a slap in the face. As soon as Rocket leaps inside after Drax, he blasts the engine.
Limbs shoot out of the treetops, but their ascent is fast enough to avoid getting snagged,
“Gamora? Tell me what happened,” Peter says before whirling back when the computer flashes a warning. “What the- they have drones here?!”
“I simply need to get this out,” she says through gritted teeth. The pain is harder to ignore as the adrenaline surge wears off- time for damage control.
“Just get us out of here, Quill! We got her. Drax, cut the pack off and help me get her downstairs onto the table. Gamora.” Rocket hesitates and she opens her eyes and nods.
“Regeneration implant is in my breastbone. Standard FO interface.”
“It connects to the others?”
“Yes, but the password changes in ten second intervals,” she says, turning her head so Drax can get a better angle with the knife. She exhales with relief when the weight on her shoulders eases.
“Keep her conscious. I’m going down to prep.” Rocket disappears down the stairs.
“This is a fearsome wound,” Drax says as he lifts her, navigating the stairs carefully as the ship swerves. “Your endurance is commendable.”
“I seldom fall short of my objective,” she replies.
Drax gives her a curious look when she smiles suddenly. “Is this situation amusing?”
“No. And yes. I might not be here if not for the last time I failed a mission.”
Drax raises his eyebrows in wry acknowledgement as he lays her on the table. Rocket’s cleared it by shoving everything onto a chair and he’s hurriedly connecting a tablet to a FO cable. “What, you reminiscing? Not planning on kicking it, are you?”
She gives him a contemptuous look and he smirks back, satisfied.
“You know much about her body, companion,” Drax says, quickly looking away as she unzips her jacket.
Rocket shrugs, getting the FO cable and tablet ready. “No time for modesty, Drax. Grab the tweezers and get ready to pull back her skin so I can find the port. Me and her- we got mods. Hurt like hell going in but they keep us alive in these kinds of situations. Well- mostly.”
She raises her brows in grim agreement as she grips her sword like a scalpel, exhaling steadily as she slices the skin above her breastbone.
Drax grimaces with distaste but he obediently spreads the skin so Rocket can insert the fiber optic connector. The tablet beeps and Rocket hands it to her soberly.
“I trust you. All of you,” she reassures him, entering the password.
The tablet obediently mirrors the display in her ocular implant and Rocket grimaces as he scans it. “Didn’t want to say it in front of Quill, huh?”
“Alarming him could affect his piloting. Then we all die,” she says defensively. As if punctuating her point, the ship shakes and they can hear the guns blasting.
He sighs and shakes his head as he opens the command input. “Drax, get a couple packs of drip saline and an intravenous unit from the replicator- this is going to be messy.”
As soon as he judges them safe, Peter bounds down the stairs. He pales at the sight that greets him: Gamora’s unconscious on the table, there’s blood everywhere and an IV tube in her arm hooked up to a jury-rigged saline drip hanging off the ceiling. Drax is holding the branch while Rocket taps furiously at a tablet connected by cable to the center of her chest.
“You cut her open more?! And why haven’t you pulled that thing out yet?”
“Because she would have bled out, you dast idiot! Get back in the cockpit and pilot the goddamn ship!” Rocket snaps.
“They’re no longer in pursuit and what’s going on here is pretty fucking important to me!”
Rocket doesn’t pull his eyes from the screen, typing as fast as he can. “Quill: we need to focus on fixing her, not calming you down. So do us all a favor, get back up there and re-pot Groot if you want to do something useful. It’s what Gamora would want, and hopefully it’ll make this whole operation worth something!”
“Rocket. This is her mate and our friend,” Drax says, frowning. “His concern is not unwarranted.”
Rocket seethes with frustration. “Look, we all get it! You’ve been banging, you’ve got all these feelings for each other! But her mods don’t think- they don’t know that we’re going to remove this thing, just that it’s there. I’m doing the best I can to redirect her nanites- every time we pull out the limb a little further the bleeding and reconstruction start all over again. This isn’t some simple fix.”
Peter shakes his head, feeling nauseous and helpless. “She survived being blasted into space.”
“Not the same kind of trauma. You’re making me type slower, Peter. Shut up and let me concentrate.”
He swallows hard and looks at her. Feeling like this again wasn’t part of the plan. “Fine. I’ll be upstairs with Groot.”
Rocket sighs, sparing him a sympathetic glance. “I’ll send Drax up with an update as soon as I can.”
When she wakes, she’s aware of a hand in hers.
She smiles, but as soon as she squeezes it her eyes fly open in surprise. Peter’s snoring on his bunk- Groot is the one next to her.
“I am Groot?”
She smiles weakly.
He’s already gained inches in both girth and height and the colour in his leaves is far more vibrant.
She swallows and struggles to speak- her throat is so dry. “Fine. A little thirsty.”
He checks her readings on the tablet and nods. Then he carefully steps out of the pot before releasing her hand, his gait cautious at first before he moves more confidently to the bottle placed at the end of the bunk.
He’s so proud and pleased with himself when he brings it to her.
“I am Groot!”
She laughs low. “Yes, I see that. I am also pleased.”
She takes his hand and helps him settle back into the dirt in his pot before relaxing and taking a sip of water.
All is well.