The Guardians had decided to stop on Xandar to rest and get back up on their feet after the disaster with Ego. Drax and Rocket had decided to go out and get some fresh air (and why not, some booze as well), eventually convincing everyone else to tag along.
Hours later, when they had made it back to their ship, Kraglin was patiently waiting for his friends to fall asleep.
It was almost dawn when he pulled out the bag from under his bed. He made sure he’d gathered all his belongings, then he headed for the hangar, making a physical effort not to look back.
The only thing he could hear was the sound of his own light footsteps echoing in the corridor, and he hated it. He was used to the noise, to his old crew being loud without a pause, dozens of people being awake at different times of the day. Being alive.
The quietness sounded wrong. Kraglin wondered if that was the reason why Quill always carried that old music player with him, to keep that silence at bay.
He kept walking, trying to forget that he’d lost everything at once. That all of his teammates were dead. That half of his home had freaking exploded.
And knowing that he could have come to terms with everything that had happened, as long as he’d kept following Yondu… it was tearing him apart. Yondu wasn’t there to lead him anymore.
The Guardians were awesome, he knew that, but at the end of the day, Kraglin felt like an intruder in their little family.
He didn’t know where he’d go yet, but he couldn’t seem to find a good reason to stay.
He was about to hatch the door open, when a voice from behind him made him freeze.
“What are you doing?”
Oh no. No, no, no. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Kraglin was supposed to sneak the heck out of there without anyone noticing, and maybe contact the Guardians in a few days to let them know he was… if not okay, at least still alive. And that would have been it.
Apparently, he’d missed the memo that classified Rocket as the lightest sleeper in the whole galaxy.
A hint of panic surged through Kraglin as he slowly turned around, trying to hide his satchel behind his back. A move that made the object even more obvious.
Rocket eyed him with curiosity.
“Uh. Going somewhere?”
Kraglin stared at him, then at the at the wall, and eventually lowered his gaze to the floor.
“Maybe.” Was all he could say. Rocket nodded.
“Does anyone else know you’re leaving?” he tried to sound nonchalant, but Kraglin managed to gather something else in his tone, something he couldn’t quite decipher. Was it disappointment? Sadness? Worry?
Kraglin shook his head, ignoring the pang of guilt he was feeling.
“You weren’t supposed to know, either.” He confessed.
“Not your lucky day.” Rocket humored him. “You should know by now that I know everything that happens around here.”
Kraglin didn’t answer.
“Do you want me to tell Quill something?” Rocket asked, this time completely serious. Kraglin stared at him, dumbfounded. He didn’t know why, but he’d somehow expected the raccoonoid to put up at least a bit of a fight before he’d let him go. Instead, Rocket was just standing there, seemingly relaxed, asking him whether or not he had anything to say before leaving the Guardians for good.
“I…” Kraglin trailed off, shaking his head. He had no idea what he was supposed to say. He just wanted it to end.
There was no judgement in Rocket’s features. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but refrained a second later. Kraglin could almost hear him thinking.
Eventually, Rocket grinned.
“Before you go, I still have a bottle of that Contraxian scotch somewhere. How about a nightcap?”
“You miss him a lot, don’t you?” Rocket asked in a hushed tone. Next to him, Kraglin took another long swing directly from the bottle. Rocket stared at his own empty hands, frustrated with himself; he shouldn’t have let Kraglin snatch the liquor from him so easily, especially because the ravager didn’t seem interested in giving it back anytime soon. Which left the raccoonoid dangerously, almost painfully sober. And very unhappy about it.
Grunting internally, Rocket turned to his friend. Kraglin was a complete wreck: messy hair, red eyes, a face that didn’t even remember what a razor was. The guy needed the alcohol more than he did, Rocket decided.
“I do.” Kraglin admitted after the beat of silence.
He briefly wondered why he was having this conversation with Rocket, of all people. It didn’t make sense; instead of doing all this, he could’ve sought Peter and mourn Yondu next to someone who actually grew up with him.
But somehow, Kraglin was convinced that Rocket could understand his grief better than anyone else.
On his part, Rocket wasn’t so sure he could, but he would’ve tried. If anything, he’d listen. Even though he was terrible at feelings and a small part of him just wanted to drag Quill out of bed and deal with Kraglin on his behalf.
Honestly, Rocket’s way of dealing with emotions mostly consisted in bottling them all up, shooting the bottle and calling it a day.
But Kraglin was a friend. Rocket could make an effort, for a friend.
He crossed his arms and took a deep breath.
Ah, screw it.
He’d never be dunk enough for this, anyway.
“When I lost Groot-“ he started, and both him and Kraglin knew the conversation was now moving on uncharted territory. Despite the little Groot being the light of Rocket’s life, the raccoonoid never talked about his predecessor.
“- I didn’t know how to handle it. And I’m not gonna lie, I still don’t.” because how could he deal with the loss of his best friend, when he had never even treated Groot like a friend? How could he cry for someone he’d treated like crap for years, only carrying him along because he needed a partner in crime to increase his own chances of survival?
How could Rocket forgive himself for calling Groot an idiot, for making him do such terrible things, for brushing off his kindness, for screaming and yelling at him that he was wrong, that there was nothing else in him beyond pain and rage, that the beauty Groot saw in him was nothing but an illusion, a blatant lie.
“I never showed him that I cared, but Groot didn’t mind. I never had to make an effort with him, he always did as I told.” Even when he didn’t like it, Rocket thought.
“I was okay with that. I knew I could rely on him. I guess he just grew on me over time and I didn’t truly notice that until…” he trailed off and made a weak gesture with his hand that could mean everything and nothing at all.
Kraglin observed the raccoonoid out of the corner of his eye, not sure whether Rocket was thinking about what to say next or was done talking altogether, with Kraglin completely missing the point of the speech.
Just in case, the ravager let the silence stretch for another while.
Eventually, Rocket started talking again.
“I know it wasn’t the same between you and Yondu.” he murmured “It was probably the opposite; no one ever doubted your loyalty for him. It must be hard.” Rocket didn’t know what was worse: to mourn a loved one or someone you never allowed yourself to love until the very end.
Kraglin just nodded. The concept of Rocket’s loss mirroring his own was a strange one, but it somehow made him feel less alone.
Maybe he was starting to see Rocket’s point, after all. The raccoonoid might not have known how to help him, but he could understand his pain even though it was different. He could understand him even though he was different.
As they both stubbornly pretended to not have noticed the tears streaming down each other’s cheeks, Rocket’s eyes were drawn back to Kraglin’s satchel.
Oh, right; he had a goal to reach.
“You shouldn’t leave.” He blurted out, adding a quick “yet” when Kraglin turned to stare at him with a – frankly - too surprised expression.
Rocket groaned inwardly. Why was this so difficult?
Kraglin face softened. When he’d first sat down, an eternity ago, he thought this was goodbye. Now, he wasn’t that sure anymore.
“I-I didn’t think you cared.” Not this much. Kraglin was no idiot; he could tell that Rocket liked him, he just wouldn’t imagine he’d try to make him stay.
“Maybe I don’t.” Rocket remarked, not unkindly.
Maybe I don’t want you to be alone because I know what it feels like, is what he couldn’t bring himself to say.
“Look, if there’s anything I’ve learned lately, it’s that you shouldn’t face stuff like that on your own. It’s not pretty.” He admitted. He didn’t know where he would have been – or what he would have done – had he parted ways with the Guardians after Groot’s death.
Kraglin briefly dwelled on the same thought. The image was, indeed, as Rocket had described it: not pretty. In the end, he was glad his friend gave himself another chance.
“I mean, no one will hold it against you, if you decide to leave at some point-” Rocket went on “-but… You probably need to have people around, for now.” He explained slowly.
Kraglin considered him. Maybe letting Rocket and the rest of the Guardians in was not the worst idea ever. Maybe he should have listened, take the hand that Rocket was offering him. Maybe…
“I’ll think about it.” He conceded. For the briefest second, Rocket’s face lighted up with the largest smile ever, before he schooled his feature into a light smirk.
“Think fast.” He mused. “Drax and Gamora will wake up for training in twenty minutes top.”
Kraglin snorted, then finally relaxed against the wall.
“So, uh, thanks.” He uttered. He would’ve said something else, like “nice talk” just to fill the silence, but that would’ve sounded pretty dumb, given the situation. So, instead of talking, he just awkwardly patted Rocket’s shoulder.
“Don’t mention it. Groot likes you too much, anyway, so I need you to stick around. Can’t have his favorite babysitter missing.“
At that, Kraglin actually laughed.
With Yondu gone, he thought he’d lost everything. And he knew he wasn’t going to be okay overnight just because he got drunk and cried with Rocket by his side. But Rocket knew that much, too.
Kraglin knew he didn’t want to stay forever. He was a ravager, he’d always been a ravager, and there were plenty of factions that would’ve been happy to take him in. Heck, he knew he could create his own crew if he wanted to.
But now, to face the immediate future knowing that someone got his back – even if that someone was a sassy furry creature with trust issues – might have been just what he needed.