When Peter was seven, his mom asked him to make a list of all the things he wanted to be when he grew up.
He didn't know it at the time, but she was already sick when she asked. She hadn't told him yet. She hadn't told anybody. Grandpa and all the aunts thought it was cute, Peter's crayon-scribbled list of potential future occupations. They didn't get it either. Not yet.
Peter thought it was just another one of Mom's games, like lying in the backyard and making up stories for all the stars, or going through the leftovers in the refrigerator and inventing disgusting fake ice cream flavors like pickle-juice-and-meatloaf. He didn't realize until later that it was her way of reassuring herself that there was a future, even if she wouldn't be there to see it.
It was a pretty impressive list: Rock star. Soul Train dancer. Secret agent, duh, every kid wants to be a secret agent. Veterinarian.
(Aunt Deb's golden retriever had puppies and for two weeks solid Peter was certain he would be a veterinarian when he grew up. Many, many years later, when Peter is trying to stitch up knife-wounds on a genetically-engineered raccoon who won't put his gun down long enough to sit still, he will remember, and he will laugh. A sort of high-pitched hysterical laugh that gives away their position. That kind of laugh.)
Stunt man. Professional skateboarder. Competitive Nintendo player, which might not even be a real thing, but Peter decided to believe it was. He added Cookie Monster to the list and, in case Mom wouldn't allow that, the person who wore the Big Bird suit on Sesame Street. Seven-year-old Peter thought that would be a pretty cool job, being Big Bird. Everybody liked Big Bird.
Mom read his list and smiled at the stick-figure drawings and she said, "Anything you want, sweetheart."
Not on the list: astronaut. The Challenger disaster had given Peter nightmares for weeks.
Never even considered, because Mom had raised a good kid, not a juvenile delinquent: thief.
Peter knows his mom loved him enough that she would love him even if she knew he grew up to be a thief, but he's still glad when he can add "who totally saved the galaxy from certain destruction at the hands of a psychotic madman" to his list of accomplishments.
He tries to keep that in mind after they leave Xandar. Saving the galaxy from certain destruction doesn't pay very well, and they still need to eat.
Okay, to be fair, most of them need to eat, and one of them needs to absorb water and nutrients and carbon dioxide and photosynthesize sunlight, which is like eating, except for how it's not like eating at all. Plants are really weird. Peter has spent most of his life on spaceships, which don't tend to have many gardens. He never really thought about how weird plants are until he became friends with one. Now he finds himself thinking about all the trees he used to climb as a kid and all the fields he's trashed with bad landings and that time he had to cut himself out of those vines in that cave, and he's wondering: Did they all have feelings? Did they have friends? Angry furry foul-mouthed little friends who would show up after he was gone and commiserate over the wreckage he left behind?
It's messing with his head a little bit, now that he has time to think about it.
The point is, they need work, and their options are limited.
So Peter makes a list. He doesn't have any crayons or construction paper on the Milano, but when you live on a spaceship millions of light years from Earth, you have to make compromises.
The lists look like this:
stealing other shit
crushing domination of rhythmless maniacs in life or death dance battles
saving the galaxy from certain destruction
"That's more the result of a combination of skills, not a skill in itself," Gamora points out. "The last one."
"Yeah." Peter studies the list thoughtfully. He notices that she isn't commenting on the second-to-last item. "But it's a really short list otherwise. I think it should count."
Rocket jumps on the table to add "+ assrt. weapons" to "building bombs."
"Drax," Peter says, hesitantly. "What did you do before, you know, all this?"
Nobody is born a vengeance-seeking space gladiator, no matter how well that path suits them, but every time Peter tries to imagine Drax doing something normal and peaceful like farming or teaching or repairing ship engines in a cluttered mechanic's shop with a pin-up girl calendar on the wall, his mind screeches to a halt. He can't see it.
"I will not return to that life," Drax says.
Right. No sense wasting time on that avenue of inquiry.
Groot, four feet tall now and awkwardly pollinating over everything, wriggles and says, "I am Groot."
Rocket snickers and adds "+ artificial limbs" to "stealing other shit."
That may not be fair, because it was only the one time, but Peter is feeling a little short of non-galaxy-saving skills right now, so he'll let it stand.
They go back to contemplating the list in silence. Well, Peter contemplates the list, and everybody else goes back to doing whatever they were doing before he told them they needed to make a list of their skills and abilities. No one wants to be the first to bring up the obvious predicament their recent experiences have left them in. They're all thinking it, but nobody has said it out loud.
The problem is this:
That whole saving-the-galaxy-from-certain-destruction thing has convinced them they kind of want to be good guys, but they pretty much only know how to be bad guys.
It's a conundrum. But Peter has an idea.
Most of an idea.
Enough of an idea to start talking, anyway, and that's all he needs.
"There's an old legend on my world," he says.
Rocket rolls his eyes, but Gamora looks interested. She won't admit it, but she likes to hear stories from worlds she's never seen. All kinds of stories, doesn't matter what they are, happy or sad, real or made up. Peter doesn't imagine growing up with a death-obsessed megalomaniacal psychopath for a mentor led to many cozy bedtime stories.
And one expression of vague interest is good enough for Peter.
"It's about a man named Robin Hood," he says. "He was a criminal and an outlaw, but he only used his powers for good. To help people."
Nobody throws anything at him or tells him to shut up, so he tells the story of Robin Hood. Soon enough, just like he expected, they're all listening.
"Wait," Rocket says. "Are they both foxes? Robin and that Marian lady?"
"Uh, yeah," Peter says. In retrospect it may have been a mistake to emphasize that foxes are kinda small and furry and have fluffy tails and are considered sneaky little pests by some people. He was only trying to provide some perspective. "That's not important. What's important--"
"But a fox is different from a lion," Gamora says. She's studying the animals Peter has drawn in the margins of their list.
"Yes, totally, very different, but that's not--"
"Lions are royalty," Drax says. "And bears are holy men."
"Well, only in this story, yes, but--"
"I am Groot," says Groot.
"No, the sheriff is a wolf," Rocket says. "Whatever the fuck a wolf is. This blob thing here. See? It has five legs."
"Look, guys, it's doesn't matter--no! It has four legs and a tail. That's a tail."
"It doesn't look like a tail."
"It's totally a tail."
"Hey, asshole, I'm the only one in this room who actually has a tail, and that is not a tail."
"The tail is not important!" Peter says. "What's important is that Robin Hood and his merry men--"
"Do the holy men also have tails?" Drax asks, peering closely at the drawings.
It has been a long time since Peter has been on Earth, and even then the only bear he ever saw was asleep in a zoo. "Uh. I don't think so. No. Definitely not."
"But the royalty do," Gamora says. "I had no idea your planet's species were so rigidly stratified by caste."
"It's not--they're not--"
But then Peter catches the glint in her eye, the twitch of her lips, and he knows she's fucking with him. Her sense of humor is like an ambush: just when he's convinced himself it doesn't exist, it waylays him when he least expects it.
He shakes his head and smiles, resigned to the chaos he and his inability to draw have brought upon their quiet evening. "Yes. The royals have tails, the holy men don't. That's the way it's always been. It's weird but, hey, tradition."
"I am Groot," says Groot.
"Nah, he doesn't care about that," Rocket says. "See, he told us they were hiding in the forest, but he didn't bother drawing it. Typical."
Peter snatches the page back and obediently draws several stately, towering trees around Robin Hood and Maid Marian and all the rest. He labels it "Sherwood Forest," because recently he's turned into the kind of guy who thinks it's really important for trees to have names. He also tries to make the Sheriff of Nottingham's tail look more tail-like, but he mostly just makes it look like the wolf has a snake coming out of its ass.
"Still not a tail," Rocket says, watching critically from his new perch on Groot, whose branches are big enough now to hold him, if he sits close.
Sort of clingy close.
Sort of affectionately clingy close.
The only reason Peter isn't calling it cuddling is because Peter does not have a death wish.
"Look," Peter says, finishing the ass-snake-tail with a flourish. "It doesn't matter if they're foxes or bears or trees. What matters is that they were outlaws, and they all came together--"
"To steal a bunch of shit and give it away for free," Rocket says. "Like idiots."
"To give to people who needed it more than they did," Gamora says.
"To overthrow their cruel and oppressive rulers," Drax says.
"No," Peter says. "I mean, yes! Yes! That's the point. That's what they did. Steal from the rich and give to the poor. They were criminals, but they were also heroes."
"I am Groot," says Groot.
Rocket snorts. "No, subtlety is not his strong point."
Peter gives up. He drops his head down with a thunk. "It's just a story," he mutters, but his face is squashed into the table so it sounds like, "Mfffmwfy."
"I have heard of such a place," Drax says.
Peter turns his head to look at him with one eye. He's pretty sure there is no Sherwood Forest in space. He's not even sure there's a Sherwood Forest on Earth. Sometimes in his memories everything on Earth looks like it did in the movies of his childhood: bright primary colors, alarming characters with exaggerated facial features, sudden outbursts of song.
"What place?" he asks.
"It is a station in orbit around a moon of Synda III," Drax explains.
Gamora nods. "I know it. I have been there." She says it in the same voice she uses to say things like I have encountered that army or I have fought those people. The voice that says it's not a nice place. "It's controlled by a small group of very wealthy individuals."
Peter picks his head up off the table--it's kind of sticky, he hopes there's nothing on his face--and says, "Well, that doesn't seem very fair. What do they need a whole space station for anyway?"
"They have enslaved the moon's inhabitants," Drax adds.
"That is the worst kind of small group of very wealthy individuals."
"I am Groot," says Groot.
Rocket slaps one of his branches. "Don't encourage him. It's a terrible idea."
"It's not a terrible idea," Peter says. He's pretty sure it's a terrible idea. But he doesn't care. "It's a great idea. What, do you think it's too hard? You think we couldn't do it?"
Rocket narrows his eyes. "I didn't say that."
"Weren't you just bragging yesterday that nobody has ever built a ship that you couldn't steal?"
"I am Groot."
"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Rocket says. "Those were ships, not a space station."
It's all Peter can do not to make a that's not a moon, that's a space station joke, but he's been saving that one for more than twenty years. He can save it a little bit longer.
"A station is kind of like a ship," he says. "Only bigger."
"Less maneuverable," Gamora says.
"Difficult to land," Drax says.
"You're all fucking insane," Rocket says. "Fine. Fine! Let's go steal a space station. What the hell are we going to do with it once we get it?"
"Oh, that's the easy part," Peter says. "I don't want a space station. Do you want a space station? Anybody?"
"I am Groot," says Groot.
"Precisely," Gamora says. She's smiling. It's a little bit terrifying. "We'll give it to somebody who needs it."
And just like that, they're making a plan. Apparently the last time Gamora was on the station she spent the entire time sabotaging its environmental regulation system, and apparently the last time Drax was on the moon he spent the entire time proving himself in hand-to-hand combat against a bunch of fearsome warrior-priestesses, which is the kind of thing that's more fun in theory than in practice for normal people, but probably not for Drax. Put it all together and it's the beginnings of a plan. Just a little one. Enslaved moon, decadent rulers, the usual. Something to keep them busy until the next time they have to save the galaxy from certain destruction.
It's not as cool as Soul Train, but Peter thinks Mom would have been proud anyway.