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Groot had been fighting it for a week.

Rocket was talking while chewing, specks of food flying out of his muzzle, gesturing with his free hand. Groot's head lulled in motion with the raccoon's voice, spiking and plummeting as he scattered through his story. At the punch line, Rocket's brows shot up, and he let out a rather unattractive belch of a laugh, even more food flying out. He slapped the table with his hand, drumming it and whining. The Flora Colossus felt warm. Just watching Rocket like this made him happy. The raccoon cleared his throat, leaning over conspiratorially and covering the left side of his head with his remaining sandwich, nudging his head delicately towards the family sitting by the table next to them. He talked about each member of the family in an unsavory way, pointing out tiny little details in their appearance and drawing information from it. Groot loved him especially in these moments. He knew what Rocket was doing was not acceptable; it made it feel intimate. The raccoon was sharing something private just with him. The Colossus loved it. How the raccoon drank from his skill of perception. He loved how Rocket had taken something horrible, something inexplicably violent, and used it to make Groot laugh. To make himself laugh. That kind of perseverance, that stubbornness, that fire.

Oh, he loved Rocket.

The Flora Colossus let out a deep, trembling blow of an exhale, basking in the small man's light. Rocket halted in his low muttering, glancing at his friend from under his brows. They arched sharply as he leaned back, lifting his head and setting his elbows on the table. Something playful ghosted his face.

"What? I'm sorry, am I boring you?" he teased. Groot's chest tightened with joy. He loved the tone Rocket said those things with. The raccoon scoffed, fighting a smile, whiskers twitching, and sunk his teeth into his food.

"Damn stump," he muttered loudly. Groot smiled broadly, making the short man roll his eyes and snort. The way he threw those names at him. Groot felt like he was catching kisses, tiny invisible kisses thrown discreetly at him.

Oh, he did love Rocket.

He had been fighting it for a week now, but it was starting to look grim. He was running out of places to hide at night. The raccoon would fall asleep in his arms, and the Colossus would feel the weight of the narrow little frame relax against him, and he would sing. The sound always started somewhere deep in him, somewhere low, and built, pinging against his insides, building and swelling, making his crown tingle. He knew it was a sound outsiders could not hear. He would sit in the dark, holding the raccoon in his arms, for hours, his body chanting silently. He knew what it was telling him. He still remembered when he had been told about these things as a sapling. The concept had sounded alien to him back then, uninteresting. He had observed it with mild curiosity, then pushed it aside. It didn't seem relevant at the time.

It seemed very relevant now.

He remembered the symptoms the elders had described to him. He was seeing all of them in himself. He had been fighting it for a week now, and he was getting tired. Rocket was his Branch. There was nothing uncertain about it. The raccoon could not yet understand him, but Groot knew. He watched Rocket stand up on the table, ball up the wrapper, hoist himself on his little toes, and aim towards the trash can. He spewed out a litany of horrible things he would be willing to do if he missed, and threw. The ball flew right in, and he jumped up, yelping victoriously. He planted his hind paws on the desk firmly, faced the tall man, and yanked his pants up dramatically, flashing tiny sharp teeth in a grin. Groot decided at that moment.

That night, while the raccoon was tinkering on the floor of the motel room, Groot locked himself up in the dark bathroom and started working. Flowers pushed out of his chest slowly, dark red and trumpet-shaped, as spores lit up around him. Other flowers felt like nothing at all, but growing these was slightly painful. He had never grown them before; he just instinctively knew how to. He held them delicately, intertwining the soft stems together. He had to get it just right, it had to be perfect. He worked deliberately, his body humming softly. Raising the floral oval, he turned it around in his hands, inspecting it from all angles. It was beautiful. It was the best he could accomplish. Raising up, he walked slowly to the entrance of the bedroom, watching. Rocket had a blindfold on his face, hands assembling parts quicker than Groot's eyes could keep up with. With a loud clack at the butt of the gun, Rocket yelled "Time!" and the tiny device on the floor to his left blipped once. The raccoon lifted the fold with one impatient tug, looked at the screen and turned it towards the Flora Colossus.

"Check it" New record!" he said, flashing what seemed to be every single tooth in his mouth. Groot smiled hopelessly, in awe of that white little grin. Rocket turned back to his gun, starting to dissemble it rapidly. Groot sat down next to him, feeling the nerves starting to spike. He took a quiet, deep breath, and stilled himself. The crown he'd been holding behind his back came out, and supporting it from the rims, very carefully, Groot laid it on Rocket's head, stilling the raccoon's motion completely. The Colossus pressed his palms over his thighs, biting his tongue, and waited nervously. Rocket sat unmoving, glancing very quickly at what was on his head. Then at Groot. He slowly put the gun down, straightening his back a little. His tongue darted thoughtfully in his mouth, and he looked at his friend, his gaze cautious and alert. He looked Groot in the eyes, then at the flower crown on his head. It seemed like it was very important to the Colossus. His mind was racing, thinking of different explanations. It was probably some symbol of friendship in Groot's culture. It had to be.

Rocket let out a deep sigh, his weight shifting back, and rolled his eyes.

"Fine, this once," he huffed. Groot jerked.

Rocket had said yes! He had Accepted! The Flora Colossus smiled like a sapling, unable to take his eyes off Rocket's face. Rocket was his! He was finally his! Groot tried to keep himself from trembling, he was so happy. Rocket frowned at his friend, mildly concerned, and pushed the flowers out of his eye.

"Alright, flark... I'm not wearing this outside, ya know. I got a reputation. This wouldn't look right," he jabbed gently. Groot's eyes crinkled with joy. It didn't matter what happened to the crown after The Acceptance. Rocket could toss it away; it was irrelevant. What mattered was their bond was finally official. He stared at the redness of the flowers glowing against the dark grey fur of his Branch. Part of him, the painful part he could produce only once in his lifespan, was on Rocket's head. It looked right. The raccoon had already turned his attention on his pile of junk parts, searching for something. Groot sighed deeply, settling in to watch his mate. Rocket worked for a few minutes in silence, randomly glancing up and seeing his reflection in the mirror. He tilted his head back, then to the side, checking himself out. He sniffed, grinning.

"I still look pretty badass," he said.

Chapter Text

Rocket slammed the door shut behind himself, turning to Groot, shoulders shaking.

"What the flark is wrong with you!?" he screamed, hands fisted, his voice trembling slightly. "Why did you do that!?" Groot pressed his head down, feeling calm inside. He understood why his mate was angry; he knew Rocket would need to get this out of his system. The raccoon was panting, stomping back and forth. He would turn towards Groot, open his mouth, eyes full of confusion, convulse like something was stuck inside him, then turn away without saying a word. The Flora Colossus had never seen him this angry. Worse, he had never seen him this scared. They had been on a mission, taking a convict towards their client, travelling in a vehicle with a few civilians. The vehicle had gotten attacked by the convict's associates, fire raining upon the passengers. Rocket had started loading his gun, and got tackled by Groot. The Flora Colossus had shielded the raccoon from the fire with his body. Amongst the civilians had been a woman and her small child. Nobody had died. They had managed to disarm the attackers, and none of the other passengers had gotten injured. But the damage was done. Groot had gone for Rocket instead of the child.

He had ripped Rocket's security blanket away.

The raccoon paced around, snarling and cussing at his companion. As fiercely as he protected his physical space, he didn't want anyone or anything rattling the invisible little cage around him. Groot watched his mate take out his aggression helplessly at every object in the room. Rocket hated being torn out of his comfort zone. In order to cope, he needed things to be a certain way. He needed his role, just like he needed Groot to have his. He was worthless, a piece of shit, and Groot was a saint. Other people were good, and he was scum. Nobody expected anything from him. He could never let anyone down. It was safe, it was convenient, it had helped him survive all these years. He could not let Groot shake him like this, to turn everything around. The Colossus looked at his bristling mate with sadness. He wished Rocket could understand him. That he could tell the raccoon he could never put anyone else above him, even if it were the right thing to do. Groot wished he could tell Rocket that he didn't need to stay in that little place, to keep fighting what was clearly already in him. And there was something quite beautiful within Rocket.

The raccoon hadn't come to terms with it yet, which was why he was tearing everything apart in the room, but Groot could see it was there. He had seen it from the beginning. The short man turned towards the Flora Colossus, taking deep breaths, glaring up defiantly.

"You are never doing that again," he growled. And since Groot could not speak to Rocket, he merely nodded his head, knowing fully he would go against his mate's wish. The nod seemed to calm down the raccoon slightly, and he straightened his jacket, looking down, his tail lowering an inch. Groot was sure Rocket was already concocting some alternative narrative in his head, something that would logically explain the course of events without scaring him senseless. The raccoon muttered something inaudible and left the room, his tail still fluffed up and swishing. Groot sat down on the floor next to the bed, and exhaled deeply.

***

Groot stirred as he heard the bed next to him creak. His chest tightened. Rocket shuffled and rolled around on the mattress uncomfortably; it was quite audible in the quiet, dark room. The Colossus listened to the sounds despondently. It had been months since Rocket had even attempted to sleep in a bed. Groot looked at the raccoon's frame as it shifted and twitched. The very thought that Rocket felt like Groot's lap wasn't his place anymore was too much for the Colossus.

"I am Groot," he said mournfully, extending his hand. The small man froze, and lay still for a moment. Then, wordlessly, he crawled over the bed and into Groot's lap. The Flora Colossus hummed approvingly. Rocket curled up, not looking at his partner, and pressed his face in the nook of Groot's elbow. Groot could feel the tension in the small man's body slowly starting to uncoil as the minutes passed, Rocket's breathing slowing down and deepening. Groot watched his mate, the narrow back rising and falling softly. He did something he had wanted for a long time; he laid his palm gently on Rocket's back, and stroked him. His hand caressed its way up to the slender shoulders, his fingertips ghosting light circles into the fur. A barely audible purr started to rumble from the minute frame. Rocket's claws dug into the bark of Groot's arm, and he stretched as his partner massaged his shoulder blades, the small of his back. The raccoon flipped around, eyes closed, rubbing his forehead into the bark as the large hand caressed his collarbones. Rocket leaned his head back, letting the long fingers stroke the soft fur of his throat. He pushed his cheek into the touch, his purring intensifying.

The was a loud sound outside, a pop as some young voices cheered, echoing down the street. Rocket's eyes snapped open, his entire body freezing. Groot looked at those white, alarmed eyes, gleaming in the dark. The raccoon looked wide awake, just now realizing the situation. His paw slapped on Groot's hand, pushing it off an inch. His whiskers were twitching nervously. He exclaimed something he was not. Groot wasn't familiar with the word. He rolled it around on his tongue, spun it in front of his eyes, waiting for color and taste. Waiting for a reference. Nothing came; the word remained flat, alien. The Flora Colossus looked at his mate's tense face, the lower lip being gnawed by teeth. It was obvious Rocket was waiting for him to agree; it was important to him that he was not that word. So Groot nodded his head solemnly. The raccoon exhaled silently, his body softening in Groot's lap, and he leaned back, closing his eyes again. Groot pressed his palm against the grey fur, coaxing the soft rumbling sound out once again.

Chapter Text

Groot twirled his finger in his water cup, listening to Peter's boisterous laughter. Gamora smiled into her glass. Quill was sharing stories about his past, sticking to the lighthearted variety. Gamora was a bit more reserved, and her anecdotes had clearly been carefully chosen not to cause the listener discomfort. It was obvious why she couldn't talk as much as the human, even if she had wanted to. Groot took a sip from his water. Now that they could finally understand him, he had so many questions he wanted to ask them, but he didn't want to seem overwhelming. So he listened more than he spoke. During the time on the ship, with the language barrier still in place, maybe assisted by it, the team members had started to slowly open up to Groot, all in their own ways. Drax had been the most open about his past, and the Flora Colossus felt he knew the tattooed man quite well. Peter was fond of his own voice, and he had mentioned some painful things in passing, when they had been alone and Peter drunk, but there was till much he chose to keep to himself. Gamora's communication with Groot was far more nonverbal than any other team mate's, and yet Groot felt a deeper connection to her than to Drax or Peter. Or maybe it was because of the nonverbal nature.

There was a lull in the conversation. Groot looked at his friends.

"I do not mean to be intrusive," he started, and Peter was already gesturing for him to continue.

"You do not have to answer if you wish not to," Groot said. "But I am curious. Do you... have you had mates?" Peter raised his eyebrows.

"Mates, like..?" he asked.

"Do you mean life partners, spouses?" Gamora asked, already knowing the answer. Groot nodded. Peter grinned, lifting his left hand and wiggling his fingers. Groot tilted his head, frowning. Peter rolled his eyes.

"I don't have a ring, do I?" he sighed. Then the tree understood. A ring on the hand must be a symbol of the bond. So his kind had objects on their bodies as symbols. Fascinating. He turned to look at Gamora. The assassin shook her head wordlessly, not looking at them, and took a sip from her drink. She glanced at the tall man.

"Do you have a mate?" she asked softly. Groot's eyes widened. They had not seen it? Was it possible? The Colossus straightened up.

"Rocket is my mate," he said gravely, his voice brimming with pride. A quick look got exchanged by his team mates, passing some information that wasn't shared with Groot. Neither of them seemed surprised. Gamora smiled at him.

"How long have you been married?" she asked.

"Three years, 12 days and 5 hours," the Colossus said. Peter's brow furrowed, and he set his drink down.

"Wait, didn't Rocket say... hold on.. how long did you guys know each other before getting married?" he asked, eyes narrowing.

"Nearly four weeks," Groot said.

"FOUR WEEKS!?" Peter screeched hysterically, jumping up and making his chair clash onto the floor. "Four... four weeks!?" The human started hyperventilating, pacing around, grabbing his face blindly. He bent over, making retching sounds, his body shaking. Gamora sighed, covering her forehead with her hand.

"Would you stop being so dramatic?" she muttered. The human clapped a hand over his mouth, straightening up a few inches, holding a finger up to them. He swallowed, chest heaving.

"It's... it's down, it's ok everyone, it ain't coming up again," he announced. Gamora groaned. Quill started to tremble, letting out a low wail and hugging himself as if it were cold. He glanced around the room quickly, in a panic, sweat starting to form on his forehead.

"Is it just me or is the room getting smaller? It's getting smaller isn't it. I think I'm claustrophobic," he panted. Groot frowned, observing the human's strange behavior. He had never seen anything like it before.

"FOUR FUCKING WEEKS!" Peter yelled in terror, starting a strange dance, hopping and squirming, as if his skin was covered by tiny dangerous insects. The Colossus watched his friend. Then it dawned on him. This was probably some ritual on Earth, a celebratory dance to express joy at news of his friend's matrimony. Perhaps it was expected of him to participate. Groot decided it was safer to assume so to avoid being rude, and stood up. He started stomping his heavy feet and hurling his arms around, letting out sounds that, unfortunately in his mind, didn't even come close to matching the high octave of the human's wails. But at least he was trying. Peter halted immediately, staring at Groot with wide eyes. Gamora gaped at him.

"What are you doing?" Peter asked. Groot halted, hesitantly, glancing at their expressions.

"I am participating," he said helpfully. Gamora closed her eyes, leaning back.

"There's no need for you to participate," she said softly. "You can sit down." The tree took the information in, and sat down heavily. The assassin shot a look at Peter.

"He's just being a giant idiot," she said. Quill gaped at her, spreading his arms.

"Excuse me?! Are you serious? Does that sound normal to you!? Four weeks!! I've had rashes that lasted longer than that!" he yelled. He turned to Groot with a gut-wrenching look of betrayal on his face.

"Why, Groot, why would you do that? Rocket says you're supposed to be some kind of genius! Why would anyone... what, did he knock you up or something?" he laughed, glancing at Gamora's reaction. She wasn't in the slightest amused.

"Oh come on, that's pretty funny! A raccoon knocking up a tree! Come oooon!" he tried. Her face was as cold and dead as ice. Peter turned to the Flora Colossus desperately.

"Groot, come on, seriously. That's too fast! How could you just give up your freedom like that!?" he asked. Groot's brows angled in confusion.

"I have no freedom without him," he said solemnly. Peter spazzed with visible nausea, hunkering down.

"Dude! Don't say that stuff out loud, it makes people uncomfortable!" he whined.

"You breathing is making me uncomfortable," Gamora muttered, downing the rest of her drink. Peter looked shocked to be alone with his reaction. It was moments like this he wished he had normal people around. He scrunched his face in disdain.

"What could he possibly do in four weeks to make you wanna marry him? I mean you're cool, but he's..." Peter shrugged, making a face. Groot had not been able to read much of what had transpired, but he knew what this was. His chest tightening, he leaned over, feeling the skin spike all over his tingling shoulders and back. Pressing his teeth together hard to keep his face immobile, he lowered his voice.

"You will not disrespect Rocket," he said. Peter's brows shut up along with his palms, and he instinctively leaned back.

"Woah! Nobody's dissing anyone! He's the coolest! The uh, the smartest, nicest, most kind and friendly, jovial dude ever!" he rambled. Groot's fingers cracked the surface of the table very finely without him even realizing it, and he started to tremble.

"Your tone is not sincere," he growled. Gamora leaned over quickly and smoothly, laying a hand over Groot's massive, fisted palm.

"He means nothing personal," she said lowly. "The idea of people meeting and committing quickly intimidates him. It has nothing to do with you two." Peter looked outraged. The Colossus glanced at the woman, his glare still intact.

"He mocked Rocket, and not the way he usually does. With a different tone," he said.

"Peter, like all of us, respects and admires Rocket and would gladly die for him," she said softly, straightening up and looking at Quill flatly. "Tell him." Peter's face twisted with distaste, then he looked at Groot and groaned, rubbing his face with his palms.

"Goddammit!" he exclaimed, turning away from them. He sighed heavily, rubbing his neck. Glancing at the tree, his face flushed and looked away.

"Fine, I didn't mean it," he muttered, pausing for a while to think. "I'm sorry." His tone was sincere, and Groot felt his body letting go, and relaxed back into his chair. Smiling, the tall man extended an arm and scooped a surprised Quill into his embrace.

"Hey! Woah! Ok, ok," he exclaimed, awkwardly patting the bark of Groot's chest, glancing at Gamora who had conveniently turned her face away. The human huffed, embarrassed, and pushed himself away from the smiling tree.

"I need another drink," he muttered, reaching for his glass. "Anyone else?" His friends shook their heads. Peter turned to the counter, pouring himself more. Groot's face lit up; he could sense Rocket approaching. The raccoon stomped into the kitchen, goggles on his forehead, a giant tool leaning on his shoulder, large splatters of grease covering his overalls and fur. Catching Groot's loving smile, he rolled his dramatically as he walked to the counter and plonked his tool on the floor. Pushing the kiddie stool next to the counter, he climbed up and started opening cupboards.

"We got anymore crunchy things left?" he asked, rummaging around. Groot stood up. Peter shook his head.

"Pretty sure I finished the last bag two days ago," he said. At the previous planet, they had stocked up on small bags of crunchy, tangy curly-shaped snacks of a questionable origin. They didn't know what they were, or how to pronounce their name, but they were addictive, and they were officially called crunchy things. Rocket groaned, slamming the door shut.

"Dammit, I wanted crunchy things," he muttered. The Flora Colossus had reached the sink, and his fingers were in the narrow space between the ceiling and the top of the cupboard. He reached his hand out, holding a bag of crunchy things for Rocket. The raccoon's face lit up with a toothy grin, and he extended his hands, catching the bag. Peter's face dropped in outrage.

"Come on, what the fuck is this!? Is that the last bag? That better not be the last bag! Dude!" he complained at the tree. "We agreed like a million years ago: no snack stashing!" Groot adapted his innocent expression and shrugged, making Quill groan in exasperation. Rocket pattered over to the desk, and hopped on it, not bothering with the bench and booster seats. Gamora sighed in distaste at the traces of oil the small man left everywhere. Peter glared wordlessly at Rocket elaborately ripping the bag open and very loudly crunching on the first curly thing. Groot had sat on the bench next to his mate, and rested his arm on the table, right behind Rocket's back, the raccoon's tail curving over Groot's wrist. Peter opened his mouth.

"And before anyone asks, no, you can't have any, they're mine," the begoggled man declared, crunching away. Quill's face puckered. Gamora smiled secretively, leaning over and resting her head on her palm.

"May I have one?" she asked sweetly. Rocket stopped chewing and glanced at her, whiskers twitching indignantly. Grumbling under his breath, he handed one to her, making Peter's mouth fall open. The human approached the raccoon.

"Nope," Rocket stated, raising his free paw. "Not for you." A stunned Peter looked around for support.

"Why not!?"

"You're not cute," Rocket said matter-of-factly. Peter looked wounded. Gamora leaned back in her chair, smiling; she wasn't even eating hers, she was just holding it. Quill looked at Groot for support.

"What's he talking about? I'm cute, right?" he asked. Groot nodded gravely, his fingers absentmindedly stroking Rocket's back. The raccoon didn't seem to notice.

"See?"

"He's just saying that to be polite," Rocket said, mouth full of crunching mush. Peter groaned, turning towards the door.

"You guys suck ass," he grumbled, walking away. Gamora was trying not to laugh.

"You can have mine!" she offered.

"Up yours!" the human yelled. Rocket snickered, his narrow back trembling against Groot's palm. The Colossus smiled, watching his mate eat.

Chapter Text

Rocked exchanged a look with Drax. They were honing in on Peter. The human seemed calm on the outside, but he was starting to demonstrate slight signs of nervousness. They were playing one of their favorite games to speed up the laborious task of cleaning blood and gore off their weapons. Their mission had been a success but the aftermath was exhausting. The game consisted of Peter telling a wild and imaginative tale of one of his sexual adventures, and Drax and Rocket tried, with deductive reasoning, to bust him for any falsities, to figure out if it was true or not. So far, Peter was still in the clear. He had stumbled slightly at Rocket's latest question about the inconsistency of the species of one of the three girls Quill had supposedly seduced, but the human had managed to weasel out of it. The last time they'd been stuck with repetitive labor, it had been Peter and Rocket competing over who had bedded the strangest-looking girl in their past. The question still remained unanswered. Gamora was in her room fine-tuning her arm which had taken damage in battle, something she liked to do in private. Groot was sitting against the wall with Peter's headphones on, not paying attention to the conversation. There was an open bottle of liquor and some glasses on the table.

Drax approached a subject lazily, almost absentmindedly, eyes on his now almost clean blade. Rocket could sense where he was going, and started cornering Peter from the opposing side, closing in his pathway with each question the human answered yes or no. Then Quill's eyes widened, his rag stuck in the crevice of a complex-looking device covered in gunk, and he glanced up quickly, his tongue poking his cheek. But it was too late. They had nailed him; there was nothing he could say that wouldn't expose him. The raccoon snickered and raised his glass at the tattooed man who smiled broadly at Peter. Flushing red, Quill muttered under his breath before downing his glass. He wanted to deflect the attention off himself somehow. He glanced over at Groot, who, as usual, was watching Rocket's back with a tender smile. Then at the tiny raccoon sitting on his make-shift booster seat of two pillows tied together. Surely there had to be something here to poke fun of. An abundance of potential, to be honest. Peter leaned over the table, nudging his head towards the Flora Colossus.

"So, I've been wondering. Does he have a dick?" he asked. Rocket froze, turning to his friend, brows furrowed.

"Does who have a dick?" he asked, genuinely confused.

"Groot."

"How the flark would I know?" Rocket asked, giving Drax a bewildered look. The tattooed man smiled, focus on his weapon. Peter's brows raised and he leaned back with a grin.

"Oh, I see. He's the girl," he said. Drax's shoulders twitched once, but he remained silent. Rocket's eyes narrowed.

"You wanna open up that statement a little, Quill?" he snarled. Peter gave him a surprised look, shrugging.

"Hey, it's all good. I don't judge. But you not even knowing if he has one, I mean, it makes you sound kinda selfish. And listening to your stories, you always gave me the impression you're supposed to be some kind of beast in the sack. Like, how can you tell if you satisfied him if there's no junk?" he said. Rocket's ears flipped back, his shoulders hunching over, and revealed his teeth.

"I wouldn't know, Quill, 'cos I don't have sex with him," he growled. Peter gave Drax a wide-eyed pout.

"Wow, you really ARE married," he said lightly. Rocket felt his hackles rise.

"Yeah, that's real original. Two guys are friends, so of course it's gotta be gay and they're 'married'," he spat. Peter's expression froze in uncertainty, and he stole a quick glance at Drax, who had now stopped his wiping motion, paying keen attention.

"Um..." the human mumbled. "I'm... I'm lost." Rocket snorted, straightening up.

"Damn straight you're lost, retard," he grumbled, emptying his glass. Peter searched Drax's face for help, and got none. He looked equally confused. Chewing his lower lip, Peter went back to cleaning his device, but after 4 seconds dropped it on the table, raising his hands.

"Ok, I'm sorry, but what?" he exclaimed. "What the hell, dude. Why are you mad? What did I say?" Rocket looked up in disbelief, his brows furrowing. He put his gun on the desk.

"Are you kidding me?" he asked.

"I didn't know it was such a sore spot for you guys! On Earth we joke all the time that marriages are sexless! I had no idea that it actually is! If I had known, I mean, you can't just ignore the problem, you know? Relationships take work!" he said. "Or so I've heard, I mean, I don't know from personal experience obviously, but... like, there are counselors for that shit, right? I mean, not on the ship, clearly, but like, the next time we land on a planet, maybe after the mission we can, I dunno, look up a marriage counselor or sex therapist or whatever for you guys. Stay there a week or so, take a little va-cay while you guys work on that shit. Like, it's supposed to be for life, you know? You can't just ignore the problem, it's just gonna get worse with time." Peter leaned back, cautiously observing the two other men. Rocket looked dumbstruck, his mouth gaping open.

"Are you high?" he asked. Peter's mouth puckered awkwardly, and he glanced around.

"Why? Do we have anything? I thought we ran out weeks ago?" he mumbled. Rocket winced as if with severe headache. He looked at Drax, desperate for reassurance.

"Why is he like this? Did someone knock his head real hard in battle? Do we need to give him a medical?" he asked. Drax looked very serious, quiet, observing the raccoon. Rocket swallowed and looked back at the human.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked.

"What!? You're married!" Peter said. Rocket's fur stood up and he grabbed the edge of the desk, lowering his head.

"WE ARE NOT MARRIED!" he snarled. Peter's face twisted with genuine bewilderment, and he glance at Drax, then behind Rocket. And he froze, eyes widening. Rocket felt his spine tense up, seeing the look on the human's face. Slowly, the raccoon turned his head back. They didn't know when Groot had turned off the player and taken down the headset. The Flora Colossus was looking into Rocket's eyes, his gaze full of hurt and confusion. Rocket felt his stomach lurching, and his grip tightened. Why did Groot look like that? Did he...

Rocket turned away quickly, his eyes darting around the room.

"Can we get a minute?" he coughed, not looking at anyone. Drax rose silently. Peter sat in his chair, completely dumbstruck. He looked at Rocket, then at Drax, who touched his shoulder, squeezing it lightly. Peter was opening his mouth, looking like he wanted to say something. Drax nudged his head towards the door. Sighing, Quill got up, glancing at Groot with a worried expression. Drax led him out of the room, closing the door behind him. Rocket wanted to exhale but he couldn't; he was a tight bundle of nerves. His mouth very dry, he kept working on swallowing, trying to brace himself before turning around. Inhaling slowly, he shifted sideways on his seat, seeing Groot's slumped figure from the corner of his eye.

Three years, and he still wasn't ready for this conversation.

Chapter Text

"Why does he think we're married?" Rocket asked quietly. He stared at the wall next to Groot's face, not daring to look directly. The Flora Colossus felt like his head was swimming. He didn't understand what was going on anymore.

"We are married," he said, his voice weak. Rocket jumped onto the floor. His eyes were wide and his ears flat.

"What are you talking about? Married? When did that happen?!" he asked. Groot's brows knitted together in confusion. His chest felt tight.

"But you Accepted..." he reminded. Rocket stared at him, mouth open.

"What do you mean, accepted? When did I do-" his voice cut off, an idea dawning on him. His cheeks heated up intensely, every hair on his head standing up. He pressed his gaze down quickly, paws sinking into his neck and squeezing.

"I, uh, I didn't, er, do or say anything while drunk, did I?" he muttered. "Cus, I mean, you know that stuff doesn't count, right?" His mind was already racing, trying to remember if he had incriminated himself in any way. But of course his ability to remember moments like that had never been great. Groot went very serious.

"You were not drunk," he said. "You Accepted my Crown." The raccoon's mouth formed an O. Crown said nothing to him. The only images that came to his mind were dirty ones. Then he remembered, and jolted as if punched in the gut. The red flower crown Groot had put on his head years ago. Right after they'd met, in the very beginning. Rocket sucked in deep breaths, hands on his knees, his vision sparking and darkening. Over three years. Groot thought they'd been married all this time. All the moments Groot had gently pulled him on his lap to sit on for hours, every time Groot's hand had caressed his cheek in passing, rewarded by the raccoon's playful snarl, all the nights he had... oh, Gods, all the nights he had slept in Groot's lap, letting the Colossus rub and stroke his purring chest, his shoulders, his back... Rocket sucked in air desperately, trying to blink the stars out of his vision. He glanced at Groot's feet; the tall man had stood up.

"How was I supposed to know what that meant? I couldn't even understand you yet! I don't do things with flowers!" he snapped. The hurt in Groot's eyes made the raccoon wince and press his gaze down. He had never seen Groot like this. He had always known, of course. There had always been such inexplicable love and adoration in his friend's eyes. Such soft, dark tenderness Rocket knew deep down he didn't fully deserve. Telling himself it wasn't romantic had always made him feel a little safer; that he was just a replica of the first furry little friend Groot had made as a sapling. And now, here it was. He was nothing like that first friend. He was something else entirely. He needed to focus on another subject, and quickly.

"Well, if we're married, why haven't we had sex?" The moment the words came out he realized this had not been the right distraction tactic. At all.

"Not that I care," he added too quickly. The Flora Colossus bit his lower lip; their lack of intimacy was a sore subject for him, and he didn't quite know where to look.

"But you have not Initiated it..." he said quietly. Rocket's brows shot up and his entire face prickled with heat. His tail fluffed up and he hunched.

"Why do I have to be the one who initiates it!?" he yelled, followed by an almost hysterical "NotthatIcare." Groot frowned, looking confused.

"I Proposed. You must be the one to Initiate. It is how it has always been done," he said. Rocket waved his little paws around in a frenzy.

"How am I supposed to know that!? How am I supposed to know any of this?!" he yelled. Panting, he stared into Groot's eyes. The Colossus was hiding nothing. He had never had Rocket's ability to steel his face, to dull the emotion away. Rocket saw everything. Groot loved Rocket. He felt hurt and rejected. He desired Rocket and felt he was not allowed to express it. The raccoon pressed his face down quickly, rubbing his eyelids with shaking fingers. Yes, there had been moments. Moments late at night, when he would be laying in Groot's warm, solid lap, cradled by a sturdy, safe forearm, Groot's hand massaging his neck and cheek, Rocket purring in bliss. And he would nip playfully at a finger, suddenly, without planning to, glancing up into Groot's face. Moments in which he might have not said no, had the Colossus proceeded. Groot would stare into his eyes in the dark, and Rocket's body would suddenly, with a jerk, make the connection between what he wanted, and what had been done to him in the past, and he would turn away quickly, rolling himself into a tight little ball, facing away from his partner in shame. Shame for wanting it, shame for connecting someone as beautiful as Groot to something so disgusting.

He couldn't help it; he'd never been good at controlling his body. It did so many things he wished it didn't do. And no matter how hard he tried, it kept doing those things with a vicious, hard mind of its own. Rocket looked up at Groot, into his eyes, his narrow frame tired and shaking. He had never been good at talking about his feelings. He had never had to be good at it when it came to Groot. He had never had to be good at anything. The Colossus always sort of saw him, even when he was trying not to be seen. Rocket chewed on his lower lip, staring at the solid roots in front of him. They shifted heavily, and moved towards him. The tall man knelt slowly, making Rocket's heart beat faster in his tense little rib-cage.

"Do you wish not to be married to me?" Groot asked quietly. Rocket jolted like being hit by lightning, his toes curling up and his hackles rising.

"NO!" he yelled before realizing it. He glanced up quickly, in panic, seeking Groot's reaction. The Colossus smiled, his warmth spreading all over Rocket's skin. Starting from the tip of his muzzle, down his cheeks, down his shoulders and arms. The raccoon tightened his fists around his shirt, staring at the ground. It was out now. There was still a lot he had to say at some point. He had to try to explain. Groot's hand rose to Rocket's cheek, touching it softly. Rocket's eyes closed helplessly, leaning into it. Groot ran his fingers through the stiff fur in slow, soft strokes. Rocket's face twisted, and he grabbed the palm tightly, hiding his face into it. Groot let out a low, ardent croon, and Rocket had no choice but to climb into his lap quickly. He sunk against the warm bark, arms and vines wrapping snuggly around him, pressing his face into Groot's chest. The Flora Colossus hummed softly, fingers caressing Rocket's shoulder blades and neck. The raccoon rubbed his face blindly into the bark, not sure why; he had to, it felt important. It was very important for him to rub all the oil of his skin into the bark. His mate. Groot was his mate.

Rocket opened his eyes, looking up at Groot's soft, crinkled smile. The square jawline, the strong neck underneath it. The neck. Rocket swallowed hard, feeling a need. He climbed up quickly, pausing at eye level with his mate's throat. He pushed his muzzle underneath the broad chin, into the soft, tender nook hidden at the juncture, an amused Groot leaning his head back. That little area, soft and vulnerable. Whiskers twitching and lips trembling, Rocket ghosted the exposed bit of skin with his mouth. He had a need. He took the flesh between his fangs gingerly, and bit. The tall man gasped, twitching once. Rocket didn't let go; he held it between his teeth, ears back, tail stiff, glancing up. His. Groot was his. Groot exhaled carefully, his tone full of surrender and joy. Reluctantly, Rocket let go of the skin, giving it a quick, apologetic lick. The holes were already starting to grow shut. Rocket didn't like that. For some reason he wanted them to remain visible. A strange little growl escaped his throat; he didn't know what it meant. Embarrassed, he pressed his face into his mate's chest.

"I dunno," he muttered quietly. Groot's chest vibrated with silent laughter, and he pressed his face into the fur of Rocket's forehead, nuzzling it. The raccoon pressed his head hard into Groot's face, rubbing and letting out little chirrups. The door creaked open and Groot froze, Rocket's eyes snapping wide open. They looked at the doorway. Gamora leaned into the room, Drax and Peter behind her in the hallway. Her face was unreadable.

"Everything ok?" she asked neutrally, gaze going between the two. Rocket felt his chest swell, and dug his claws into the bark.

"Mine!" he declared, wincing immediately. Why did he have to say that? Gamora's brows knitted together in slight alarm.

"Alright," she said slowly, observing their faces.

"So are you guys still married?" Peter quipped from the hallway. Rocket felt his fur stick up and tightened his grip.

"Yes!" he snapped.