Gamora does not tend to the sapling, but she watches its progress as they travel. Rocket carries the pot from room to room, setting it up carefully wherever he is. Drax and Peter help him water it, and touch their fingers to the softly curled leaves and the pith that is not yet bark, offering words of encouragement, telling the new Groot to hurry up and grow.
Gamora watches them fuss over the small Groot, and thinks, and finally speaks.
“I do not think a floral colossus can grow in such a small container.”
The others stare at her, eyes wide and mouths slack.
“I have done research,” she says, folding her arms across her chest. “Plants adjust their growth to the amount of space they have. In a small pot, on this small ship, Groot will never grow very large. And he requires much more nutrition. That is plain Xandarian dirt and you have added nothing but water. On his home world, the soil would be rich in humus from the dropped twigs and vines from others of his kind, and unique chemistry suited to the growth of colossi, the conditions must be highly--”
“Gamora.” Peter cuts her off, as he so often does. She must reprimand him for this. “What are you suggesting?”
It is so obvious. This crew is made up of simpletons. “We must take Groot to his home world and plant him in the soil.”
“We don’t know where or what his home world is,” Rocket says, clutching the pot to his chest. “And he can’t tell me now. He doesn’t have a full range of concepts yet. He’s still growing!”
Gamora sighs. “Then we will find it, and assist him in his growth.”
Pete is smiling at her, the wide, dopey smile he gets when she does something like dance, or refrain from stabbing a particularly annoying life-form they encounter on a job. It is supremely annoying.
It takes them nearly six standard months to find Groot’s home world, and by the time they do, the sapling’s health is clearly failing. They purchased a basic fertilizer on one of Xandar’s colonies, but as she suspected, the chemistry is all wrong, and it does little for him.
When they land on the planet that the interstellar database has designated X133-3, the smell of loam and rich green growth nearly knocks them back a step. The sapling waves his tiny branches, his leaves flushing greener from their sickly yellow tinge. “This was the correct path of action,” Drax says somberly.
“Of course it was.” Gamora gestures at Rocket. “Go plant him.”
“Where?” They landed on a narrow strip of rocky land, because Peter thought it would be rude to land on even the grasses of a planet full of sentient plants. What if we wipe out their version of Texas?, he asked, and then they circled X133-13 for another full orbit while he explained what a Texas was. It sounded interesting. She would someday like feast on their barbeque.
“Take him into the trees and find some clear ground,” Peter suggests. He points at the nearly solid wall of forest around them. “Just pick a spot. Make sure that it gets sun, though, you don’t want to suffocate him.”
The sapling hums in his pot, reaching his branches toward the treeline with visible yearning. Rocket gasps and hurries forward, his claws scrabbling against the rock.
Gamora scans the treeline, searching for any sign of danger. These colossi are either asleep or ignoring them, branches wound together, their general aura one of peace. That could change at any moment, and she will be vigilant; Groot was a fierce warrior, at his full growth.
“These trees must be hundreds of years old,” Drax says quietly. “It may take Groot as long to return to his full strength.”
“Don’t tell Rocket.” Peter runs his hand through his hair and squints into the distance. “He’ll get upset and pee all over everything. Hey, is that a bee?”
Gamora follows his gaze. “It is some sort of insect, I believe.”
“It’s the size of my head. Holy shit.”
“Large plants require large pollinators, Starlord.”
“I’m going back inside.”
He and Drax retreat into the ship, and Gamora stands alone, watching the trees. There is something here just beyond the range of her senses, something she wishes to identify and understand. As of yet it is beyond her, but she will track it down. Her skills at such are unparalleled. Thanos saw to that.
She experiences sorrow, quickly followed by anger. Unproductive emotions, a waste of time.
The trees twine their branches together and the wind sighs about them like a song.
They remain on X133-13. The Groot sapling puts down roots in the soil, and tilts his head back, and much to their surprise, begins to hum.
“Rootsong, he says,” Rocket reports. “That’s the first real thing he’s said since he started growing from the shoot. He says thank you, and then just ‘rootsong,’ over and over.”
Rootsong. This is, perhaps, the thing existing at the edge of Gamora’s awareness. The web of life and community among the floral colossi.
It bothers her, but she cannot find the words to explain why.
At first Rocket holds vigil beside the Groot sapling, but fairly soon he begins to divide his time between there and his various projects on the ship. Most of the projects are explosive and cause Gamora grave concern, but Peter insists he’s monitoring the situation.
“I do not trust your ability to monitor,” Gamora tells him.
“Of course you don’t.” He waves his hands at her in a dismissive way that she finds offensive. “Go away. I’ve got it under control.”
“And what am I to do with my time?”
“I don’t care. Spar with Drax. Do more research. Take a nap. Whatever. Just live, man!”
She does all of those things and finds them unsatisfying. She has an unsettled feeling, one of restlessness, perhaps anxiety; all unproductive concepts that should be purged from the mind. She finds herself unable to, through exercise or meditation. The hum of the rootsong all around them is the source of it, she’s sure. It is driving her mad.
She spits and curses at the trees when there is no one around to see her. They ignore her, eternal and serene.
“I should burn you all to ashes and dead soil,” she says. A slender branch unwinds itself from the rest, reaches out, and swats her cheek firmly enough that it stings for an hour.
When she can no longer stand it, she goes to see Groot.
Groot looks well; he is no longer a sapling but clearly a young tree. His pith is hardening to proper bark. Delicate shoots are beginning to weave together among his branches.
“I hope it does not take you hundreds of years to grow, friend Groot,” Gamora says.
A branch bends gracefully toward her, offering itself similarly to when Peter extends his hand and asks her to dance. She takes it and allows Groot to draw her closer.
Perhaps speaking the emotions coldly aloud will kill them, banish them from her thoughts. “I envy you your people, Groot. Your song. I will never have such a thing. Thanos took it from me.”
Groot hums and shakes his head, a recognizable gesture now.
“Yes,” she says, resting her free hand against his bark. “They are dead and gone, and I have nothing. There is no song, for me. There is no home.”
Groot hums more loudly, and she feels his branch dividing into delicate shoots, no thicker than her fingers, winding their way around her shoulders and twisting delicate light-blossoms into being.
“You will tire yourself,” she says. “Stop that.”
The tone of Groot’s hum changes, then is amplified, as if from a thousand beings at once, from all around her. The rootsong, she realizes; he is allowing her to hear it. And oh, how wrong she was; he is drawing on all of his people, all of them together, he will never tire. And he will grow as fast as he wishes to grow, so that he can return to them, his chosen family, his small-forest, and travel the galaxy with them again.
Gamora closes her eyes and feels the light-blossoms falling against her skin. “You are very kind, friend Groot.”
The soil is kind, the rootsong whispers. The sun is kind. Breathe the air, taste the water, all is well, tree of flesh, tree in young Groot’s small-forest.
She stays with Groot perhaps another standard hour, then returns to the ship, where Rocket and Peter are frantically rushing to defuse a miswired bomb before it kills them all. These are the trees of the forest she has chosen. Their rootsong comes from Peter’s small rectangles. She may yet be forced to confine them all in restraints and dictate their movements to keep them from finding their way to trouble.
For good or ill, they are hers.