"And you're sure these are unopened? Fresh? Intact?"
"Of course they're intact, sir." The alien, who looked rather like an upright squid complete with tentacles, waved one irritably. "This is a reputable establishment. We track our shipments and use reliable suppliers. This is an expensive enterprise and we keep our customers happy."
"All right, dude," Star-Lord said. "It's just that the last two boxes I bought, there was something wrong." He reached out for the purple box inside the opened stasis cube.
"Sir." The Askavarian held up a tentacle. "No touching unless you purchase. You will put your smell on it."
It was Peter's turn to gesture irritably. "Fine. Six hundred Units."
"The price is one thousand, sir," the askavarian puffed herself up in outrage. "Stasis boxes are not cheap. Paying others to covertly go to a primitive world to retrieve these goods is also not cheap."
"C'mon. Who is going to buy it besides me?". Peter waved at the assortment of Earth goods. The music CDs he'd already bought, the magazines, the toys. "Some of this stuff sure, but who's going to buy the cereal?"
"We support a range of clientele," the Askavarian said. "Terran food is exotic. We are one of the few suppliers licensed by the Watchers to visit that world, thanks to our discretion. If you cannot pay, someone will."
"I suppose I could go as low as nine fifty..."
Five minutes later Peter was suffering buyer's remorse. Nine hundred Units for a box of cereal? Then he shook the box and grinned at the rustle of flakes inside. It'd been so long. He still remembered the taste. It hadn't been his favorite, he preferred the one with the little marshmallows, but when his mother ate cereal it was this one.
"Successful shopping trip?" Peter jumped. Gamora had a way of just materializing next to him. She had a shopping bag that rattled as she walked, but somehow it didn't do that until he knew she was there.
"Oh you know." Peter gestured at the market. "I love these little spaceports. People from all sorts of worlds here selling their stuff. There's no telling what you'll find."
"I know." Gamora shook the bag, which clinked in a manner that sounded a lot like guns banging into each other. "Mantis bought a big bag of spices and Rocket and Groot came back with a whole cart full of junk."
"That darned raccoon. He's going to strew that stuff all over the ship again taking it apart for parts, isn't he?"
"Maybe," Gamora said with a smile. She kicked a chunk of unidentifiable metal junk off the ramp as they reached the ship. "He said 'Its cheap and I can use it'."
"It's cheaper than buying new parts, I'll give him that. And if he wants to do the work scrapping all that junk, also fine. I just wish he'd sweep up afterward. If I step on one more screw..."
Peter cursed as he tripped halfway up the ramp. The M-Ship small craft attached to the Quadrant all had their idiosyncracies borne of repair and modification and this one had seams and welds where they had no business being. “I miss the Milano.”
“We could still repair her,” Gamora said as they went in.
"Greetings, friends." Drax looked up from the common room table. A great chunk of machinery bowed the table in the middle and Drax had a wrench in one hand. Three foot tall Groot had sprouted half a dozen tendrils, each holding a detached part of the thing or a tool.
"Aw, he's got you doing it too?". Peter pinched the bridge of his nose. "Give me strength."
"Is that you Pete?" A voice emerged from inside the chunk of machinery and Star-Lord spotted the tip of a ringed tail poking from a hole in the side. "Hand me a cutter, will you?" A clawed hand emerged from the hole. "Type two."
"Okay Rock, I'll help if you clean this mess up afterward.". Peter took a moment to stow his very expensive box of cereal in a locker, locked it, and turned back to the table. "Deal?"
"Yeah yeah, sure," said the distracted voice from inside the engine, or whatever the chunk of metal was. "You wouldn't believe what people throw away. This thing has iridium injectors. Iridium! Worth twice what I paid for it!"
One thing led to another and it was hours before Peter remembered the cereal. Hungry and tired from work and chasing some sort of vermin that got on board with Mantis's vegetable shopping trip, he unlocked his personal locker and got out the box of cereal.
"Mm." Alone in the little dining nook he fetched a bowl, spoon and bottle of 'milk.' (Best not to inquire too closely.) He pulled open the box top, savoring the rare pleasure of repeating an action he remembered from before he was abducted. Inside was a sealed plastic bag and inside that, the raisin bran.
A terrible suspicion snuck up on Star-Lord as he pulled the top of the bag open. Surely not this one. Not this one too. But he couldn't see any raisins, just flakes.
"Dammit dammit dammit!" Peter dug into the brown mass of cereal, spilling handfuls onto the table. "Where are they?"
"I am Groot." The little tree walked in just as Star-Lord upended the box of cereal onto the table and watched wide-eyed as Peter tore into the pile. "Where?"
But there were none. In the entire box Peter found not one raisin.
“This has happened before?”
Peter nodded as he morosely chewed his cereal. It just wasn't the same without the raisins. It was still Earth food, he wasn't complaining, but it wasn't the cereal he remembered. “Three boxes now, Gamora. You wouldn't believe what I pay for real Earth food. It brings back memories, you know. My mom loved this cereal. It's worth every Unit to remember having breakfast with her, back before it all went bad.”
“And when you buy one it's always missing the raisin?”
“Raisins, right. Not a one in the whole box.”
“What does a raisin look like?”
“Sort of a...well, look.” He spun the box around. The smiling sun, the bowl, the zoomed-in view of the raisins, milk and flakes. “But they aren't this big. They're about as big as your fingernail and taste like...” he shrugged. “Raisins. I'd remember what they taste like if I ever got one.” He poked his spoon into the cereal in disappointment.
“I'll be right back, Peter.” Gamora disappeared down the hall, presumably headed to her closet-sized cabin. She came back a moment later. “I found this in the hall and threw it in the trash bin. I thought it was a dropping from some vermin. Luckily no one hit cycle yet.” She put one perfect, sugar dusted raisin on the table.
“That's it! That's a raisin!” Peter snatched it up and the only reason it didn't go in his mouth was Gamora grabbing his wrist, quick as a flash. “Hey, I just want to remember what it tastes like.”
“Fine. It's been on the floor, though.” She sat down across from him and didn't change expression as he chewed the raisin. She'd seen much worse things. “Let me see the bag.”
Still savoring the taste of one lonely raisin Peter slid the empty bag across the table. The bulk of the cereal was spread out between them. Gamora looked at the bag, tilted her head and ran her fingers along the seams.
“This was resealed with a medical sealer, Peter. Recently. Since it's been on the ship.”
Peter's eyes narrowed. “Where is Rocket?”
Rocket wasn't in his little nook under the workbench. He wasn't in the cockpit. Groot just shrugged and moved a piece in the board game he was playing with Mantis when Peter asked. “I am Groot.”
“Super helpful, bud,” Peter muttered under his breath. The ship (he really needed to name the thing, but the Quadrant M-ships just didn't have the personality of the Milano) wasn't that big and he passed by Gamora again. Groot was munching dry Raisin-less Bran and Gamora just raised an eyebrow as he went by.
Drax was asleep in a hammock and his snores almost drowned out the incriminating sounds emerging from a locker. Munch, munch, munch. Rocket ate in a distinctly noisy, feral way and Peter yanked open the spacesuit locker. There sat Rocket between the legs of the hardsuit every ship carried, cross legged with one hand in a jar of -
“Raisins! You thief!” Peter's hand darted out but he yanked it back when Rocket bared his fangs and snapped at him!
“Mine!” Rocket backed as far as he could into the locker, his tail bristling as he instinctively tried to make himself look bigger. It didn't work, he was still three feet tall but he hid the glass jar of raisins behind himself. “Get lost Pete, they're mine!”
“You stole those out of my cereal! You know how much I paid for that you little – urk!” Star-Lord's eyes went wide as thick fingers grabbed his collar and pulled him back from the locker.
“I am sleeping,” Drax rumbled. “I would like to continue sleeping. Please fight elsewhere. Both of you.” When he'd had his say he let go of Peter's collar and he went back to snoring.
Peter rubbed his neck and glared at Rocket. Rocket glared back, arms wrapped protectively around the jar of raisins. Peter pointed his thumb down the hall and Rocket reluctantly emerged from the locker, but only after Star-Lord backed away. Gamora shot them a look as they went by in the hallway but Groot barely looked up from his game.
“I am Groot,” he commented, and Mantis nodded.
“Yes, they do,” she said, and moved a game piece the number of squares the spinner indicated. “But they always make up.”
“All right.” Peter gestured toward one of the M-ship's tiny cabins but Rocket glared at him, refusing to be boxed in. Star-Lord glared back and just plopped himself down right in the hall. It was as far from the rest of the crew as they were going to get without leaving the ship. “Explain.”
Rocket sat down a wary distance away, one clawed hand digging into the raisin jar. Peter's mouth watered just watching it. “Dude, don't bogart all the raisins. I like them too.”
Rocket's ears went back. “Well get used to not having any, because they're mine.”
Peter opened his mouth to yell, but firmly shut it. He was the captain of the ship and leader of the Guardians. It was his job to keep his temper. Sometimes. And this was weird behavior even for Rocket.
“Rocket, I spent a lot of money getting that cereal at the market. You hardly ever find Terran food out here and I remember that from when I was there. I was looking forward to eating my cereal and now it's not the way I want it to be. You know what it's like when someone moves one of your tools, right? You like them all just so?”
“Doesn't matter,” Rocket growled.
“So it won't bother you if I go down to your workbench and turn all the wrenches so the handles are away from you? And out of size order? And maybe misplace one or two?”
Rocket gritted his teeth at each word but he wouldn't relent. “No. Go ahead.”
“God, Rocket. They can't taste that good. And if you eat all of those at once you'll get the shits.”
”Yeah,” Rocket grunted. “That happened last time.”
“And you're still sitting there eating them,” Peter observed, for as though it possessed a mind of its own Rocket's left hand kept feeding raisins into his muzzle.
“Rocket,” Peter said, falling back on emotion since reason wasn't working. “I remember those from when I was a little kid. My mother and I would eat breakfast together, before she got sick and had to go to the hospital. That cereal was her favorite.” His hand went to his belt where the Walkman used to hang, before his asshole father crushed it. “I don't have much left of her, Rocket. Just memories, and things like those raisins.”
Rocket muttered something as his ears sank. In a few seconds he went from combative to sad, his whiskers drooping.
“What was that, Rocket?”
“It's all I got too, Pete.” He studied another raisin, gripped between his claws, but didn't eat it. “I don't remember much of her. Just...warm fur and safety. But I remember, when she was good, they'd give her a treat. Before they killed her, I mean. And when I smelled these...it's the same smell. This is what they gave her. Sometimes, even when she was hungry, she gave them to me instead of eating them. That's why I took 'em, Pete. Because when I eat them, just for a second, I remember my mom.”
He met Rocket's gaze from ten feet away, and each nodded. “Share?”
“Share,” Rocket said, and this time he didn't retreat as Peter sidled up. And there they sat, side by side, eating one at a time. Making the raisins last.