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They wear shiny green coats. A week ago, you did not know what green was. A week ago, you did not know what a week was, or a coat.

Some of them are kind, except they’re not, because if they were, you wouldn’t be here.

Some of them are kind, except they’re not. What they are, you learn, is guilty.

You learn who will give you extra food if you beg, and you learn that you hate begging.

You learn that they have names. You learn that you do not.

You try not to learn the series of numbers and letters assigned to you. You try not to give them that satisfaction.

In your head, they do not have names. In your head, you are watching through the glass as Green Coat #6 and Green Coat #3 type things into their computers, and you take notes on them. What is their motive for creating a sentient creature and keeping it locked up? What instinct drives this strange behavior? Why does #4 look away whenever the needles come out? Why doesn’t #6?

#4 sneaks you extra food whether or not you beg. You are very careful not to like him for it. You are very careful to remember that if he was truly kind, he would get you away from this place, where food is a reward and a threat and a variable to be observed. They feed you something sweet and dark and wrongwrongwrong for five days, take their notes while you vomit and prod you with something that feels like fire when you try to refuse.

Electricity, you learn.

There is no danger of forgetting yourself and liking #6. He stares at you impassively while you writhe under a scalpel and too little anesthetic, asks you questions and grunts impatiently when you fumble over all the new words they’ve tried to put in your mouth. The noise that comes out instead is one you recognize from a time you remember in hazy patches, surrounded by Others in crates and cages, a trilled, chittering sound that means nothing to him. He frowns and you are on fire again, but what bothers you more is that it meant nothing to you, either.

The idea of different languages takes too long for your own liking to settle into your skull. You wonder what languages they are all speaking and you wonder what language you think in. You try not to wonder what it means that you understood nothing of the high, useless chirps that still come so easily.

Natural, you think, and you feel cold.

If you don’t make that noise, you reason, things will be better. You’re not sure how. But you hold your breath when the sounds build in the back of your throat, and don’t breathe again until they go away.

#3 tries not to look at you at all. Sometimes you try to imagine that she is here against her will, that someone is threatening her. That you are in this together. But she keeps typing her notes and she cheers with the rest of them when you spit out your first words, under the simple threat of not getting what you need unless you ask for it: Please more water.

They fall all over that ‘more,’ yowling about your ability to conceptualize quantity and connect the present to the past, and #4 is the one who actually remembers to give you the water. #3 and #2 crash their hands together above their heads in what you’ve learned from your body language education sessions is a common expression of victory among species with the necessary appendages. You have hands, you think. You have hands but they would rather congratulate each other and pretend this is something they have done without you. You feel angry and sick and you think maybe if you hadn’t made up all those stories about #3, this wouldn’t be happening.

You try to find your own logic in this thought, but a step is missing, and you are thirsty, and it doesn’t matter. You drink your water and you stop creating the stories.

Most of the Green Coats call you an it. You learn that this serves to let them keep their emotional distance, to categorize you with the petri dishes and the radiographic imager and all the other lab equipment that doesn't feel pain. #2 calls you a he, and you hate yourself for clinging to it.

Sometimes you are led away from your observation chamber, down white winding corridors, to other rooms better equipped for surgical procedures or educational videos or physical conditioning. You learn that #1 will engage in conversation on these journeys, if you start it.

(You did not give them their numbers in any particular order, but you have since learned that #1 and #6 are the oldest. Sometimes this amuses you.)

"What’s in there?" you ask lin, nodding your head towards a door because your arms are shackled in front of you.

The plate on the door says only Project 89P12. You have long since given up on the refusal to memorize your own designation, so you can’t help but wonder.

Le glances at the door and nudges you to keep walking. “Guns,” le says, and you say “oh” and ask lin where you’re going.

You start paying more attention to what they’re doing to you, careful outwardly to keep up the same quietly angry resignation. You start listening to them when you can, and you close your eyes and picture words and letters and shove away the questions of what language, practicing your reading so you can catch glimpses of things on their screens. Things like lifespan significantly increased by procedure f18b and owing to success of procedure c9a subject 89P13 has reached full adult size; no further replacement cybernetics will be needed barring physical damage.

You never ask if you’re supposed to learn how to use the guns. You never ask about that room again.

Your escape is not clean.

You want to leave #5 out of it because xe went for solitary confinement more often than the electrical prod as punishment. You want to claw out #6’s eyes because you can see them boring into you when you close yours. You want to leave a bowl of the disgusting food pellets on #4’s desk, the most sarcastic thank-you possible.

You want to run down the maze of hallways and free anyone else you can find.

#4 corners you in room 89P12. You have a gun in your hands and no idea how to use it.

"Hey, buddy," he says, both hands out in front of him, palms open, and you know that gesture, and you know the word buddy, and you know he could have taken you away from this place months ago.

You hiss at him. It makes something in your stomach twist; it makes you want to hold your breath; most importantly, it makes #4 stop moving.

"Get out of my way," you snarl, finding what you think is the trigger. "I’m not afraid to use this." They had a field day when they first realized you could lie.

#4 takes another step forward.

"Look," he says. "I’ll talk to someone about - about getting you transferred out of here. Okay? To a better facility. More space. More freedom."

"You wouldn’t know freedom if it shot you in the face," you snap, and raise the gun higher.

There’s shouting in the hallway. Your heart is pounding, hands shaking too close to the trigger of this weapon you’re afraid to use and don’t know how to use, and you’re acutely aware that every second of this standoff is a second closer to being strapped to another table.

#4 takes a step back. “Here!” he says, raising his voice. “It’s in h–”

You shoot him in the face.

The gun does not fire the ammunition they showed you in the videos. It fires electricity. It fires too much electricity. #4’s skin turns the wrong color and he hits the ground screaming and this is wrong, wrong, punishment was never his job, there is nothing poetic in this but the shouts are getting closer and you bolt out the door with the gun still clutched to your chest.

In the end, you have to shoot #2 and #5, and a dozen security guards.

#6 is slower. You could easily outrun him. You shoot him anyway.

They never taught you vengeance. They never cheered and congratulated each other while you etched out you deserve what you’ve done to me in the clumsy handwriting that they always fawned over.

You taught yourself the concept of revenge, and in the end, it’s nothing but an old man writhing on the cold white floor.

In the end, you still feel sick.

-

You give yourself a name.

It's a name that changes depending on what language someone is speaking, because it's also a word. It all ends up meaning the same thing in your head, but you can catch the nuances, the tiny differences in connotation and inflection, and it's enough to remind you that there is no such thing as a clear line of communication. It keeps you on edge, but the thought that you might forget about it is worse.

You learn new words. Words far removed from cold clinical hallways and glass boxes and neatly typed notes. Words you wish you could have spat at the Green Coats instead of please.

You learn how to fly ships – really fly them, not the improvised shit you pulled in your escape.

You learn how to improvise better.

You learn how to survive in the most dangerous parts of any given city, any given planet, the parts where you have to stay if you don't want to be caught. You think, probably, what was done to you was illegal, but you also think there are bounty hunters who won't care. You think maybe they have the right idea.

Mostly, you learn guns.

You learn the classes, the subclasses, the brand names and the knockoffs and the ammunition they're supposed to take and the ammunition they can take in a pinch, the logistics of every firing mechanism, the weights and shapes and what you can run with and what you can't and how to minimize kickback. You take them apart and put them back together and take them apart again and scavenge the pieces to build your own and if you just keep learning, if you just keep building, if you just get better and better and better at guns, #4 will get off the ground and stop screaming and you will be able to sleep.

-

Sometimes you have nightmares while you're awake.

It's the closest you can come to describing it, even to yourself, and you're the only one you're trying to describe it to, so it's good enough.

You'll be on a job, and you'll think, if I jumped off this roof--, and you'll shake your head and keep running and your heart will beat faster and faster and you will see yourself falling, falling, falling.

Under the closest scrutiny you're willing to give it, you're pretty sure you don't want to jump off a roof. You fought for this life and you're going to fight to keep it. You shrug off the occasional impulse to overload a weapon, to stop running, to pitch forward into unprotected heating coils. Or – it's not an impulse, you don't want to do it, but something takes you through the entire scenario, takes you through how it would feel and what it would mean and how you would do it, and eventually you shove your own questions away and laugh at yourself. It's not like you didn't know you were fucked up.

You're rescuing some spoiled rich brat, perched unhappily on his shoulder and firing at the guards as he runs and doesn't listen to a word you say, takes every wrong turn, and you think, if I sunk my claws into his throat--

You get the kid home.

You stick to cargo jobs for a long time.

-

Sometimes you're not fast enough. Sometimes you get caught. The officers and the guards sneer at you and you sneer right back, secure in your relief that it's only them.

After your third prison break, it starts coming up in conversation with new clients, sometimes even before the ever-present question, so what are you supposed to be? You're earning a reputation and you like the idea that it has nothing to do with the metal built into you. You make a show of your next arrest, wave to the crowd, and make sure you're seen browsing the shops on that same street two weeks later.

You meet Groot on the first job after your sixth jailbreak. You've just ducked into the courtyard (courtyard) to get away from security and suddenly there's a friggin' tree, walking towards you, and your first panicked thought is that the Green Coats have sent one of their other projects after you.

By some miracle, you don't shoot him.

As it turns out, he doesn't exactly belong in the courtyard (court.yard.), and as it turns out, he's there to liberate the same kid you are. Through a carefully thought out method of communication(“If it's more than 300 units, tell me your name again.”), you figure out you've been offered a much higher payoff, so he helps you out and you report in and then give him a cut a little higher than what his solo pay would have been, and you figure, hey, good job, you didn't piss off a potentially dangerous rival, everybody wins.

Then he kind of follows you home. Not that you have a home, at the moment, but he follows you to your current ship, and, well, he produces oxygen and he's pretty damn big and he doesn't eat, so you don't exactly mind.

What actually seals the deal, though you won't admit it, is the conversation. He's bad at it, but that's fine, because so are you, and what it all really boils down to is that neither of you is used to anyone listening.

Groot's language is so much more than those three words. There's meaning in it, in the way he says it, in the way he stands and the way he moves and the way, somehow, he exists. It sinks into your mind more clearly than any words in any other language, no room for misinterpretation, and your name does nothing to ruin it because he does not say your name, you just always know when he is referring to you.

You don't get all that right away, of course. For the first couple of weeks, your understanding is crude at best and complete guesswork at worst, but Groot seems delighted that you're trying, so hey.

You start feeling bad about calling him a he in your head just because it's what most other folks around you say, when they're not saying it. You rejected it out of angry, burning reflex, but the fact is your own feelings on the subject don't matter. You ask him about it, point blank, once the language barrier has broken down a bit more, and he is confused by the entire thing and finally says he doesn't mind and hasn't noticed.

In trying calmly to explain the concept of gender, and trying with a quiet and ridiculous undercurrent of panic to understand how he must process spoken language to have not even noticed differing pronouns, you realize two things – one, that you are the first one who has bothered trying to lay this out for him; two, that it must be as hard for him to understand you as it is for you to understand him.

And maybe it's terrible of you, but that makes you feel a little better about life.

-

The sick feeling never really goes away. It spikes and it wanes and during the waning periods it becomes a background noise that you learn to live with.

When it spikes, you take your guns apart, one by one or first-step-by-first-step, until it starts to die down.

If you put the pieces of this one far enough apart for long enough, somewhere, an innocent won't get shot.

If you put that one back together fast enough, the ship's stabilizers won't fail.

If you clean each piece individually, you won't die in your sleep.

If you do it twice, neither will Groot.

-

if I put the bomb in him--

-

The one thing you never had to worry about before your escape was contamination. Say what you would (and you would, and you have, and you will) about those bastards, they knew how to keep a sterile lab environment.

The first time you're injured, really injured, bad enough to break skin and tear away fur and leave you bleeding and exposed, the sudden threat of infection is what hits you harder than the pain.

The first time it happens when Groot is there, he tries to pick you up and you dart away, terrified, thinking only of dirt and bark and moss and when you get back to the ship you disinfect the wound along your arm and wrap it clumsily with one hand and stare at the wrapping like it's going to fall apart.

Groot reaches for the roll of bandages and you leap up, backing away and holding your breath against the panicked noises you want to be making and Groot drops the bandages and doesn't come any closer.

“I can't,” you get out. “I can't let you – can't let anyone – you can't touch it,” and you stop talking because you've learned by now that sometimes you just – you just have to do things, because you do, and sometimes there's a thought process to go along with them and usually that process is missing a step or two or five and you can't touch it or it'll get infected and I'll die might make more sense than you can't touch it or the engine will explode but both of them are true (but they're not) and you don't know how to make the first one less insulting and you don't know how to make the second one less ridiculous.

You're trembling and your stomach hurts and Groot backs away, confused and apologetic, and he didn't do anything wrong, and you babble something to that effect at him and then treat yourself to a sleep aid and curl up under the control console.

(You don't dream when you take the sleeping pills. You don't take them often.

“They're expensive,” you tell Groot, when he asks why, on an okay morning after a bad night. “An' addictive, and I don't need that shit on top of all the other shit.”

And if I take them whenever I want, all the food will go bad.)

-

For a long while, Groot never completely gets it, because you never completely explain it, because when it gets right down to it you're too embarrassed to try.

“I don't fuckin' know, okay?” you grumble one night as he carries you away from a bar, because you had more than one drink which meant you had to have an even number of drinks because if you didn't – and that one didn't come with a concrete or else, but it did come with that same sick, warped feeling, so you had four drinks instead of three, and nothing went wrong, you're just not completely steady on your feet and Groot worries too much. “Stuff just – I get ideas an' they don't make sense, like, like, like – like I gotta clean the guns or we'll die, an' it's not even, like – I gotta clean the guns or they won't work right when we need'em, it's just, if I don't clean the guns, we're gonna die, an' that's all there is to it.”

Groot doesn't say anything to that. You press on before you can make yourself stop. “An' it's like, I know it doesn't fuckin' work that way, but I also don't know it doesn't work that way, so I clean the fuckin' guns, and then I clean'em again, and then I put'em back together so there won't –” you start laughing, and can't stop. “– so there won't be a hull breach. Fuck. Somethin's wrong with me, man.”

You can't stop laughing. Groot still says nothing, but you've learned to interpret his silences just as well as his words, and this doesn't feel like a judgey, what-the-hell-did-I-get-myself-into-with-this-asshole silence, and you pass out in his arms and wake up on his shoulder the next morning.

He asks how you feel. He doesn't ask anything else.

-

You want to pretend That Conversation never happened. Groot does not pretend That Conversation never happened.

He checks in on you every once in a while, when you're being too quiet or too loud or haven't eaten since yesterday because if you eat, the backup generator will fail (because the main generator failed right after lunch and you're pathetically glad that there's at least some slim line of reasoning for this one). He never tries to offer solutions, or reminds you it's all in your head; he just asks if you need anything, or if he should be there or leave you alone, or stands and glares until you choke down some fruit and a ration bar and then waits patiently while you check and re-check the generator.

The night that you really, really want to pretend never happened is the night you spend curled into a ball, shaking to pieces in a small cocoon of Groot because the thought has just occurred, cut out all your cybernetics or they're going to find you.

That, at least, he never brings up, once you're both sure you've successfully waited it out.

You try not to think about what might have happened if you'd ever had that one before Groot came along.

-

“I am Groot,” he says, and you roll your eyes and promise that yes, of course you'll do your best to minimize bystander injuries, ya bleedin' heart, and your client laughs and asks if you can really understand him or if you just make up his side of the conversation.

-

“My head is killin' me,” you say, and it's not, but that twisting anxiety has spiked. Groot stops walking, and you consider the gun strapped to your back and how fast you could have it in six pieces and back together again, but it's been a good day and you feel like pushing some limits. You wave for him to keep moving. “Nahh, it's cool. I can wait 'til we get back to the ship.”

Chapter Text

Laughter doesn't work the way you want it to. It bubbles up only when it absolutely shouldn't; when genuinely funny shit happens, you can never summon the real thing.

And then again, maybe you're half lucky. Maybe it's good that you don't have to fight it down whenever you're amused – your sense of humor is just as fucked up as the rest of you.

You learn to put it on deliberately, and that doesn't mean it's not real.

-

You look down at the charred stick in your hands and you think, if I laugh--

You weep.

It's much more startling, and you can't stop, and Drax is approaching you but you can't stop, and what the fuck is he doing? Is he petting you? He's fucking petting you.

You should be angry, you should be furious, you should be tearing his face off for daring to treat you like an animal. You try to drum up some indignant rage but it catches in your chest and you resign yourself to what's happening.

Only, maybe, you think, he's not treating you like an animal.

Maybe, you think, he's remembering his own losses. Maybe he's remembering being left to mourn alone.

(Maybe he's remembering the awful shit you said to him and choosing not to throw it back in your face, because maybe not everyone is a complete and utter asshole, selfish fuck like you are, you--)

Maybe, you think, he's treating you like a friend.

-

if I don't drink anything today, he'll grow back.

if I don't sleep tonight, he'll grow back.

if I destroy this gun--

if I talk long enough without breathing--

if I bite my hand until it bleeds--

-

Groot grows back under a sun lamp, and a careful schedule of water and nutrients, and his own miraculous strength.

(Groot grows back because you made yourself bleed.)

(Groot grows back because you listened.)

-

“So when you say twenty-three prisons,” Quill begins over his late breakfast, in one of his many, many tones that never bode well (you're learning them fast), “are you counting, like... the place you came from?”

You're impressed enough by his sheer gall that you don't kill him, which you're guessing he was counting on.

“No,” you say, not looking up from your work – which he still, adorably, disapproves of like it's going to stop you. “I don't.”

Penitently, Quill offers you half the chocolate bar sitting beside his bowl of actual food. The smell makes you gag. "Poison?" you say, and push it back across the table. "For me? Gee, thanks."

(You do notice, though, that he offered you half.)

-

You end up spending a lot of your time in the engine room. You drag enough equipment in there for a makeshift workshop, and makeshift is the best you've ever been able to have, so you don't really mind the tight space or the proximity to all the thrumming, vital machinery. The shielding keeps you and your work from melting and that's good enough for you. Groot doesn't like it – it's the wrong kind of heat for him, and being apart for too long sets your nerves on edge, so you do it as often as you possibly can without hurting his feelings because you have got to get over that.

Sometimes Gamora comes in and you don't talk to each other. There's not enough room for her to practice much of anything, but sometimes she brings a tablet to read and sometimes she meditates. You didn't know she meditated. You wonder if it helps.

Sometimes she just sits and watches you. You have a habit of humming under your breath while you work, and this doesn't seem to bother her, which is good, because you're not always aware of doing it.

(You made the mistake, once, of being glad nothing told you to hum.

Now, of course, it gets caught up in the pull of cause and effect and or else just like, it sometimes seems, every other damn thing you do.

You don't really mind, most of the time. You still like it.

You just hate when it makes you stop.)

She's better at this unspoken agreement shit than you are, and you want to ask roughly a hundred questions – it's the cybernetics, right, that's why we do this? am I supposed to come sit with you like this while you're doing your own stuff? have I fucked this up yet? is this what bonding is?

You don't.

She never asks you anything, either.

-

You have all alternately mortally endangered and saved each other's asses more times than any of you can keep track of, so you don't worry too much about whether you're pulling your weight.

Some bastard throws you, which, all right, you know it's the middle of a fight and everything, but that's just rude, and Drax catches you and you think, if I bit him--

You work in the bunk room that night, Groot dozing happily under a sun lamp beside you.

(The bunk room is three extra beds bolted haphazardly to the walls and floor in what used to be Quill's room. It's not a big ship. Everyone complains, and no one suggests upgrading.)

Gamora stops just outside and watches for a few minutes. She doesn't ask why you're not celebrating with the rest of them.

She does, eventually, ask if you're okay.

It's not the kind of question you should laugh at. It's especially not the kind of question you should laugh at when it's being asked by someone who you happen to know has been working pretty damn hard lately on this whole friendship thing.

You don't laugh. You swallow it back, and shrug, and tell her you have a headache.

She nods, and lingers in the doorway for a long moment before rejoining the others. In the back of your head, you appreciate everything about what just happened.

In the forefront, you're surrounded by pieces and parts, weapons broken down to their smallest possible components, and you know exactly where all of them go. It's an appeal, an apology, a demand; to whoever, to whatever, to these thoughts and wherever they come from – what more do you want from me? just leave me alone.

-

Later, you will allow yourself a moment to think that of course they found you as soon as you stopped worrying about it, but the truth of the matter is, you never did.

It fell into the background, behind everything else you've learned to worry about, and that's as close as anything ever gets to being off your mind, so when the familiar voice rings out behind you in the crowd, that letter, those numbers

– time slows down and crashes into itself but you're not really caught off guard. You never are.

You turn, and #3 is staring down at you.

She looks unarmed, but you know better, and you're glad it's obvious that you're not.

You're also not alone, and you feel that fact in every heartbeat. The others stand back but stay close, waiting to see what this is.

You wonder how long she's been following you. You wonder how you didn't notice.

“My name is Rocket,” you tell her, and it's every bit of poetic justice that your escape wasn't. “Can I help you?”

She just keeps staring. You're waiting for the sudden movement to grab a weapon or signal to backup, but she just stands and stares and you won't for a second believe that this is a chance meeting. You won't.

“Rocket,” she murmurs, and takes a step back. “Hell. Hell.”

“Ohhhh, right!” You fold your arms, look her up and down, where is she hiding the weapons? “I was wonderin' where I recognized you from.”

“Altrin died, you know,” she says, like she's been wanting to say it for a long time. “The day you left.”

“Good,” you say, and you don't ask her who the fuck Altrin is. You'll look up the records later and then you'll know whether you meant it or not. “Is that why you're here, just felt like catchin' me up on things? That's nice. I'm a hero now, you might'a heard. What've you been up to? I would'a thought, y'know, jail.”

“I broke out,” she says, and, give her credit, that throws you for a second. “My best option with parole was still twenty years.”

You wonder what it was without parole. You wonder how much of it was for what she did to you. You wonder what her name is. You say, “And the others?”

She shrugs. Bites her lip. “They split us up. Some of them might be looking for you, I don't know.”

You snort. “And I'm s'posed to believe you're not? Galaxy's a pretty damn big place for this sort'a coincidence, pal.”

She backs away, shaking her head. “I didn't – I heard you were in this system. I just. Wanted to see.”

“Admirin' your handiwork?” you ask, and, fuck, you're shaking. Not cool, you didn't okay that. Groot takes a step closer and he's barely taller than you, but you catch your breath. “Taking notes on – on the subject in a more open environment? Field test'a the century, huh?”

She looks at the ground. Shuffles her feet. “I... wanted to see how you were doing.”

“Wellll, how thoughtful. I'm pretty great. Eating whenever you want and not gettin' cut open all the time does wonders, I guess.”

In your peripheral vision, on either side, Drax and Gamora are starting to look dangerous.

#3 lets a beat of awkward silence pass and then bravely pushes forward. “I've been doing some underground work. People who need help and can't afford it. Prosthetic repairs, mostly.”

You tilt your head. “What're you expecting from me, a thank you? I forgive you? You did some good in the world and now all the shit you put me through is canceled out? Y'know, I get it, everyone fucks up, so you – you do whatever you have to to live with yourself, but stay the hell away from me.”

She steps back again, catches your gaze and holds it and takes a sharp breath. “I'm sorry.”

“Fuck off,” you snarl, and turn, and walk away.

Your friends follow you.

She doesn't.

-

Altrin was #6. You try to be glad. All you are instead is nauseous.

-

Gamora asks, “How many did you leave behind?”

You don't ask her what she means. You don't put down the cloth, or the gun. You keep cleaning and you say, “I don't know.”

You glance up at her, and she is looking at something very far away. “Neither do I,” she says, and closes her eyes. She sinks back into her meditation and neither of you speaks again until dinner.

-

You wish you could just have Groot explain the whole – the whole thing to everyone else, but they still haven't figured him out, and you feel like scum for being glad about that until he says he sort of is, too.

Which still leaves you living with three people who get kind of concerned when you do weird shit.

You decide you'll tell one of them, and then that one can tell the other two, and you decide it's going to be Quill, because you've already had your weird emotional moment with Drax and you don't want to fuck up whatever arrangement you've got going with Gamora, and because Quill walks in on you methodically shredding one of your old shirts in the bunk room and asks what the hell you're doing.

“I'm tearin' this shirt into twenty-three pieces,” you say, calmly, “so you an' Drax won't stab each other tomorrow morning.”

He looks worried for a second, like he's trying to figure out if he should be afraid for his life. You motion to his bunk and say, "Siddown, Quill."

if I don't make eye contact, you think, he won't call me a freak.

(You don't.)

(He doesn't.)

-

A few days after you've let Quill loose with strict instructions to use his gift of never-shutting-the-fuck-up for your benefit, Drax walks into the engine room and waits quietly while you line up every detonator you own.

“Yeah?” you say, when it starts to feel less like something you have to do and more like you're putting on a show. “What's up?”

“Friend,” he says, venturing further into the room and watching you closely. He barely fits in the small space. “Quill has told me –”

“I know what he told you,” you say, and turn away to begin reassembling the explosives.

Drax is undeterred. “I will not speak of this again if you do not wish me to,” he says, quietly. “All I mean to do is ask – do you know that there is a name for it?”

You don't drop the mass of wires in your hands, because you're good at your job and you don't want to kill everybody on the ship and that's not a thing, that's what would actually happen if this hit the floor. You set it down slowly and take a deep breath. “No.”

“On my world,” Drax says, still quiet, “this manner of thought is called Innate Driving Fixation.”

The words try to settle over you but you can't take it in, you can't – you can't. “It's a thing?” you say, and your voice – well, fuck, apparently weird emotional moments with Drax are going to keep happening, regardless of what you want. “It happens to people? I mean – I mean, people?”

“It happens to you,” Drax says, sitting down carefully beside the line of detonators on the workbench, “and you are a person. But it happens to others, yes.”

“Shit.” You wipe your eyes, and take a large step back from the half put-together bomb in front of you, and think it's extremely unfair to bring your fucked up sense of identity into this. “Shit.”

Drax keeps talking. “I do not know its other names, or how widespread it may be among other species. But for my people, it is a relatively common affliction. It most often begins to develop in childhood." He lowers his head. "...Prospective parents must prepare themselves to help their children.”

“Your daughter,” you rasp, and wonder if you're asking too far. “Did she –”

“She did not,” he says shortly, and takes a breath and turns away from you. There is a long pause. You try not to move.

He sighs. “Nor do I. But others do.”

Others do. Others do. Other people feel like this, other people do ridiculous shit to stop other ridiculous shit from happening when it wouldn't happen anyway, other people –

“Do they – do they think about doin' things they don't wanna do?” Your voice is wrecked and you're beyond caring, beyond mortification, you need to know this. “Like – like hurtin' people, or, or hurtin' themselves, or... Or just, just bad stuff, stuff they don't – don't wanna think about?”

Drax looks at you again and you hold your breath and you fucked up, you fucked everything up, no one else has those thoughts, no one else thinks if I cut this wire--

no one else imagines opening the airlock while their friends are asleep.

Drax says “Yes.”

You can't stop laughing.