Grow, grow, grow…
The little sapling knew very little at this stage, he knew that he was Groot, and the others, the bigger others, they were also Groot. They were his. Get strong, get big… He did not remember how, he, in fact, did not remember much at all. He was too busy growing, pulling strength from the soil, light, and water that they gave him. The smaller one, the one closer to his height, covered in something soft, was always with him, always making sure he was alright.
Dig deep, burry roots…
The soft one was his favorite, hazy images dancing just out of his reach as for why, but he did not have time to remember them. He needed to grow. He needed to get strong. He did know, though, that the soft one understood him. Understood his words behind the only words he spoke. In turn, Groot knew his.
Grow, grow, grow…
The others did not understand, but they listened, they tried. He liked them. He liked their care, their concern, their gentleness. He could feel them. He could feel their life, the color that belonged to each of them.
The largest one’s color was red. Warm, sturdy, and above all, powerful. It had been overwhelming for the sapling when he first encountered it, almost too much, burying him in his force. It took him a while to realize there was a loneliness to it as well, a hollow, empty ache that longed for something Groot did not know. He froze when the other looked at him at times, but that life began to comfort him when he realized that it reached out to his. It sought to protect, and Groot entwined his gold with the red, and no longer felt as frightened. If it made that hollow loneliness that much less, then it was worth it. He even let him see him dance. But only sometimes. It was a game now, and while Groot may not know much, he knew that he liked games.
Drink water, grow big…
The green one - of a color deeper than even his leaves- theirs was the color of deepest blue, calm, but impossibly cold. He had been intimidated by it at first, the chill seeming to be directed at him, at the gold of his life, at the others’… But he realized what it was doing. This was a color that had been hurt, that sought the warmth, and did not know its own chill. It merely wanted what they had and took for granted. It wanted their warmth. Groot took that blue, and wrapped it with his own, sought to warm, sought to comfort. If he wound the red with the blue as well… It gave them something to lean on, as he was busy growing.
Light, bright, warm…
There was another life, also bright, also warm, yellow and bubbling, instinctively seeking others, and Groot happily weaved that aura around the others, around his own gold. They were there to brace the others, giving them something to soothe. Give them balm to heal their hurts. He liked the yellow, the way it danced, the way it moves to the beat of the ‘music’ that he loves so much, the way it’s almost always cheerful. There was a brittleness to the warmth, sometimes, an emptiness that comes without warning, and lasted too long. He tugged the others close to the yellow, warms it when he can’t do it himself. These are the days when they dance.
Reach up, get tall…
The last life is like fire, orange and crackling, and while something instinctive warns danger, something deeper, something that sings from his roots to his crown, screams that this life is his friend, that this is a color he knows. He weaves this one to the others tightly, particularly when he finds that underneath the crackle, there is something deeper, something frightening. Underneath the fire, underneath the spitting, the sparks, it was lonelier than the red, more brittle than the yellow, and it was more frigid than the blue. Groot took this aura with the utmost care, wrapping it with his gold, wrapping it with theirs, keeping it in the middle of it all, but it remained the same. Spitting sparks for distraction, while all the while, underneath, it was lonely and broken. This must not be so… He tried to tell him often, but his words were ignored.
Must get big, must get strong…
Together they were copse, together they were…family. The word often building up in him and bubbling out in a soft: “We are Groot,” when he spoke.
Which they were, they were Groot, they were his, he was theirs.
Grow, grow, grow…
Then one day, something broke through the need to get strong, the need to grow. The orange, the one that was lonely and broken, screamed out, the link shrieking of pain, of fear. Wait… Groot opened his eyes, blinking in the light, looking around the ship for a sign of what was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong… Something was wrong, something was terrible. It grew and spread up the link, the other three rippling with the aftershocks. There was panic rushing through the other three colors, a frenzied sort of desperation, and suddenly Groot no longer cared that he needed to grow. He needed to know what was wrong.
Wait, wait and see…
That was when he noticed that the orange was being taken farther away from the other three, that that spitting, desperate color was being stolen…
He did not mind that the other four often left him alone. He knew that they must go, just as he knew that he needed to grow. They would always come back and he was never truly lacking for anything. Usually one would remain with him, but this time had been different. Their colors had crackled with unease in the beginning, but there was a fight and determination to them as well. He had trusted them to be alright, but it was becoming clear that they needed him.
He needed to wake up.
He needed to be big, he needed to be strong.
The one thing he did remember, the elders’ words of warning, chastising that they must be careful in their growth, lest they cause undue distress to their bodies, was finally and harshly ignored.
They were calling to him, to each other, to the orange, who was being taken progressively farther away…
He was needed.
He stretched his arms upright, absorbing the riches in the pot, taking in all the light, soaking in the water, gaining legs, spindly, green, but whole, good. More soil, more fertilizer, more light, more water. He was needed, and he needed in turn. They kept them all close, ready when for it was necessary, and it was necessary now.
Grow! Grow! Grow!
“I am Groot!”
Finally, finally, he stood, towering at a height that felt right, just barely starting to brown, bark still tender, still green in spots, and let his memory seek to fill in the gaps. He needed it all in order to help.
Remember, know, be…
The first to come were names, words that the other beings called themselves apart from him. Gamora, Drax, Peter Quill –Starlord, and Rocket. Rocket who was orange, spit sparks, and was in desperate peril.
More things came to him, many things, a tide that almost left him dizzy. He took a step and almost crumbled. There may have been truth in the elders’ warnings, but he had no time for that. He was needed. He took a step towards the door, willing his bark to thicken, willing his limbs to be strong.
Needed. He was needed, he was needed, he was needed.
He felt stretched, but it was nothing he could not handle. He felt dizzy, but it was passing. With every breath he took, with every memory he glimpsed, he found a new drive to continue.His copse needed him. He in turn, needed them.
Groot finally belonged somewhere, with an entire group of them, each a different color of the spectrum, each a different part of a whole.
They were Groot.
They had failed.
Peter was yelling, what, Gamora didn’t know. She believed that it must be the same thing that they were all feeling. The same thing they were all thinking. Blood-stained, battered, and torn as they were… She had never felt so vulnerable. So exposed. Not even the knives of the surgeons of Thanos had unmade her so… Her thoughts, her feelings, all torn up and ripped from her, shaken, laughed over, and left. But that was nothing, nothing compared to the pain of losing a member of their own.
She remained where she was, kneeling in the midst of a long strip of dirt, torn up from her body impacting the ground. Her shoulder was dislocated, having taken the brunt of the landing, her arm hanging limply, yet she couldn’t find it within herself to care. Not yet.
Gamora had felt the full force of their attention for only a few moments, enough to dig through her history, dig through her past, and rip everything to the forefront. Her parents, their screams, the flames burning the planet down around her.
The tests, the pain, the fear, the agony… Her sisters, Ronan…
All there, before her eyes to see again. They had left her more than a little numb.
She was aware of what facing them would be like. She thought she had been prepared. They all thought they had been prepared. It was agreed. Each of them had known the risks, they had all known the potential price…
It did not make it any better. It did not make their loss, their failure, any easier to cope with. She forced herself to struggle through the memories, struggle through the mire. She was needed, they were all needed.
She had faced them for but moments before she was discarded. Rocket would be stuck with them for much longer.
It was with this thought that determination finally coursed through her again, and she forced the echoes of the half-remembered voices in her brain to keep silent. She crossed her limp arm over, gripped her elbow, and jerked her arm back into place. It went back into position with a wet pop as she stood.
Peter had stopped yelling, his back to her, and Drax farther away than either of them. They stood still for a moment, immobile, and then Peter turned towards her. She noticed with a jolt that his eyes were wet, noticed with a further feeling of shock that hers were, too. Her hand moved up to her face, wiping away the tears that she had not seen in years, and she watched as he did much the same. The both of them looked at the wetness on their hands as though it was an object completely foreign to them, she noticed.
Drax didn’t turn around. Gamora could tell from the slant of his shoulders, the way his hands moved up to his face, that he was also suffering from the same effects of having his mind ripped open.
“What are we going to tell Groot?” Peter’s voice split the silence, cracking slightly due to his yelling, she was sure. Regardless, the question gave them pause.
There was a moment of silence, the vision of Groot, kind, loving, and entirely too good for them, Groot, and his reaction to this dancing in their minds. In that one moment Gamora had her answer.
“We tell him that we’re going to get him back.” Her voice was laced with steel, and the other two immediately looked over to her. She watched as Drax’s back straightened, as Peter’s expression finally fell into determined certainty. There was none of his usual cockiness, but she didn’t expect there to be. They were too aware of what they were up against. But it wouldn’t stop them. This was just a temporary set-back.
They would get Rocket back.
Rocket woke up to the smell of something he never wanted to experience again. His mind felt as though it was wrapped in cotton, his thoughts sluggish to the point that initially he didn’t know why this strange, clean smell would be something he didn’t like. And then something clicked and he knew what it was.
The sharp, acrid smell of anesthetic.
His brown eyes snapped open, adrenaline rushing through his system to banish the cotton. It did nothing to banish the sight around him. Harsh white light burned into his eyes, temporarily blinding him.
It was a situation he had found himself in too many times to want to count. His breathing sped up along with his heart-rate as he tried to move his arms and legs. It came as no surprise that he couldn’t.
Oh fuck, oh fuck, not again, not again, no, no, no, no, no…
His mind screamed, and he jerked again, writhing against his bonds, his eyes still attempting to get used to the light. He hurt. Everything hurt.
Rocket choked back a sound that wanted to escape, the kind of sound he quit making years ago, taught by pain and fear that it was not right. He forced himself to regulate his breathing, still shuddering. He needed to be strategic about this. He could escape. He was able to get out of many prisons, many traps, this would be no different. He was okay. It would be okay.
He wished his mind was better at lying to itself.
He laughed, a choked, half-hysterical sound, staring around at the white, the light, at the wires, the knives, the needles… Panic was a real thing, bubbling up in his chest and throat, and he desperately tried to tamp it down. That was when they came.
They were not them.
They were not the ones who had made him what he was, but that did not matter.
They were worse.
Rocket closed his eyes, turning his head away, gritting his teeth. He knew it wouldn’t do anything. They didn’t need to look into his eyes to know him. They already did. They already had. They knew what secrets beat beneath his breast and he hated them for it.
His ears flattened to his head, fighting against the odd intrusive feeling of a voice that was not just speaking to him, but was ringing in his mind. The odd clicking, gurgling of their actual spoken voice combined with the dry, hissing sound in his head was almost too much, made him cringe, his hackles instinctively rising.
Protests to the name rose up like bile in the back of his throat, but he knew better. He bit them back, quite literally, sharp teeth sinking into his tongue, not enough to draw blood, but most certainly a physical reminder to not say a thing.
“Stubborn, angry, violent, intelligent. Above all, proud. Proud of all you have done, proud of what you know, about what you can do. But underneath…” A clawed finger trailed up his belly to rest over his heart, and Rocket shuddered, jerking away from it. “Such fear you have.” The claw tore through his suit, pressed into flesh, running down his jumpsuit from his heart to his leg, tearing a long slit into both his outfit and his skin.
His teeth did draw blood then, welling up in his mouth. He swallowed, shuddering at the awful tang, but kept his eyes shut, kept his mouth closed.
Say nothing, think nothing, be nothing.
“Such beautiful, wonderfully appetizing fear.”
His breath escaped in harsh little pants, the rest of the jumpsuit cut from him, peeled away to leave him exposed before the bright lights and the eyes. He could not see them, but he could feel them, boring into him. There was one disadvantage to keeping his eyes shut. The feeling of a scalpel cutting into the flesh on his shoulder was both sudden and agonizing, and it finally made him open his mouth as his eyes flew open, a strangled scream managing to escape despite his best efforts. For as familiar as the feeling was, it was not one he had experience in a while.
It cut along the cybernetics in his shoulder, a line he was very familiar with, and that was the moment Rocket made eye-contact. Black, hollow, empty eyes stared down into his, and everything he was, was once again dissected, torn, and found lacking. In that instant, Rocket no longer cared.
“I’m not afraid of you!” he cried out, tugging at his restraints, looking up at them. Hate burned in his throat, lending him bravery. “You flarkin’ assholes don’t scare me!” He watched as those eyes tilted slightly along with the owner’s head, a head he couldn’t see, a body he didn’t recognize. All that mattered was those eyes, and he couldn’t look away.
“This is nothing! I’ve been through this. Nothing is new! Let me guess, after this you’re going to dissect me, you’re going to rip me open, see what happens, then you’re going to put me back together again, right? You literally think that that’s going to scare me?” He laughed, loud and long, regardless of the cut in his shoulder that went to the bone, the pain that tore into him with every breath. “But guess what, assholes, I’m not scared of you, because I’m not alone! They’ll find me! They’ll come for me!”
Rocket realized his mistake the moment the words left his lips. Their warnings about the ones before him, about their eyes, about the way they loosened tongues to spill secrets, to give them more fuel…
“Come for you?” The voice in his head dug deeper, that rasp of dry leaves across pavement almost laughing.
“Why would they come for you?” It asked, soft, insidious, the words accompanied by another slice in his other shoulder, one he writhed away from.
“Do you honestly think that they care about you?”
A needle came up, resting against his right arm, empty.
“Who would care about you?”
It was pressed into his flesh, harsh, filling with blood as Rocket tried to squirm away. Useless, pointless, the restraints too tight. Even so, he wouldn’t have been able to escape that gaze.
“You’re a freak.”
Another cut was made and he belatedly remembered that there was more than one.
“Nothing more than vermin.”
The words cut into him deeper than the scalpels, and before he knew it, he was screaming.
“You play at being the hero, but you know deep down what you truly are.”
But it didn’t matter.
“You know that it’s only a matter of time before they figure it out, too…”
He can still hear them, their words digging into his brain and refusing to let go.
The worst of it is, it’s not just their words they’re whispering in his ears and in his mind.
They’re his. His thoughts, his emotions, torn out and whispered back at him, and he found that he couldn’t find it in himself to contest them. They’re true. All true. Freak, vermin, monster…
“I’m not useless!” Rocket screamed out before he could stop himself, before he could force himself to look away from those eyes, and they bore into him forcing words from his throat. “I’m not useless,” he hissed, writhing, but his eyes are still locked, and he can’t look away, and he hates them. He hates them for the words that tear themselves from his throat. “I can fix things, I can create things. They owe me their lives a few times over ‘cause o’ that”
There was a pause as they stared at him, and he wanted to scream, wanted to writhe further, but his limbs have all been sliced into. They had avoided cutting into his stomach, into his vitals, and while the lines of blood were deep, very few of them were long. He would take a while to bleed out, but he didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. Rocket didn’t care about the incisions when hands slowly went out to his, clawed hands running their way along his much smaller ones. They traced each black-padded finger gently and then took his thumb between two of theirs. Before he could truly process what was happening, it was taken between their fingers, and snapped.
He screamed, and fear pulsed in him, the first bit of true fear that he has felt, and he knows they feel it, too.
And the worst part is, he knows it to be true.