"So the tree talks. Big deal." Rocket shrugs and knocks back another gulp of beer. "I can still take its boss out. I'll modify a flamethrower, add in some kick, and it'll be down in seconds. Fwoosh bam slam, little bit of an explosion, and I'm collecting credits before that mug of yours gets any uglier."
"This isn't some half-grown sapling, dumb ass," Treja snarls, her purple hair bouncing as she slams her own glass onto the table. She is nursing a broken arm and some thin, tendril-shaped bruises around her throat. "It's huge even by humanoid standards. And it grows fast. What makes you think that you can take it out when I couldn't, short stuff? I'm at least closer to its weight class than you are! If it knocked me out, you won't stand a chance-"
"Who you calling short? I'm Rocket, baby, and a fucking tree ain't nothing on me!" He scoffs. "There's a reason the corps called me in to fix your mess, sweetcheeks-"
"Arrogant little rodent!" She snaps back, shoving away from the table. Her chair clatters to the ground, tipped over in her haste. "I hope the tree uses your corpse as top soil!"
"Yeah yeah, rot at the core of a supernova to you too, toots." He ignores her as she storms off, pretending that he hadn't heard her use the r-word that never failed to get his blood boiling. He's toeing the line between pleasantly buzzed and drunken anger, and tonight he doesn't feel up to fighting.
His eyes linger over the wanted poster for Kore T'a, infamous for his underground cage fighting rings. The Nova Corps, desperate for his capture, had gathered up a painfully ridiculous sum of credits for his capture, and if Rocket finds somewhere to lay low after bringing T'a in, he would never want for anything again. Meaning that he would, at the very least, have a pleasant vacation where he could pay people to be decent to him and break people's noses if they didn't.
Rocket knows that T'a was actually a frail old man who would be easy to bring in. It's the damn bodyguards he managed to always have surrounding him that posed a problem. Treja was good at what she did, and if she couldn't get past the tree, that meant trouble for Rocket. The Nova Corps, as stated above, was desperate for his capture, meaning that they shared information with a few bounty hunters they usually tried to capture, meaning Rocket has a plethora of information he usually did without, meaning he knows that the tree bodyguard has countless kills underneath its belt and has a reputation as a merciless mercenary that T'a barely kept in check.
With that in mind, Rocket pushes away the rest of his drink, slaps a couple credits down for a bottle of water, and starts sketching out a plan.
The Nova Corps generously supplied him with a map of T'a's base, and T'a apparently didn't get the memo that Securitex 500 is not Rocket-proof, even with the gold premium upgrade from Retinast.
* * * * *
So apparently, the tree really is fucking huge. And it doesn't talk nearly as much as Treja made it out to.
Rocket landed on Xandar that morning and spent the day wandering, checking that the Nova Corps's information wasn't horribly out of date. And lo and behold, Rocket found the tree a couple blocks away from T'a's HQ.
It's really fucking huge, which can't be emphasized enough. Rocket tends to feel jumpy around people with more than a couple feet on him, but the tree's a plant, not a person, and it seems to be decent folk. Its limbs and body are all branches and bark, but Rocket can't see if it has any leaves or not. There's a moss-covered necklace (collar?) held against its neck-bark that it maneuvers around awkwardly, seemingly forgetting about it and trying to turn its head before remembering that it can't. He eventually goes to turn its body instead with an odd emotion scribbled across its face, maybe disappointment or sadness. Melancholy, Rocket corrects himself.
It's pathetic, watching the big bad bodyguard look all sad and mopey, until all of a sudden it's not and Rocket's heart hurts in an unfamiliar way.
And then it's REALLY not because the tree lights up when it sees a small children running up to him and chattering happily. The kid, red-skinned and young, seems to be asking if the tree's seen a bouncy ball anywhere. The tree shakes his head, and when her face droops in disappointment, the tree kneels down next to her and holds out a hand. The kid, curious, looks and gasps when a small, tiny sprout grows and blooms before her eyes, blossoming into a daisy the size a humanoid thumbnail. The tree plucks it off with a kind smile and hands it to her before standing up and waving goodbye, without a word.
Though she lingers for a few moments before running off, flower secured in her shirt pocket, the tree's kind smile lingers in Rocket's memory and leads him to follow the tree again.
Each time Rocket thinks that he has a good chance to catch it unprepared, to take it out before he even starts the job, the tree does something ridiculous. Like helping someone fix their hover car. Or picking up a fallen fruit stand and dusting the owner off with a smile. Or easily grabbing a man's arm to stop him from getting hit by a police vehicle. Or growing little berries in his palm to feed a homeless, skinny kid.
It is a genuinely nice tree. Rocket can't think of the last time he met a genuinely nice person, but now anytime the word "Nice" pops up, he'll have a mental image of this walking tree angel-thing.
It pisses him off, because he doesn't want to care about a plant, and he still has a job to do, but at the same time his insides feel gooey and he can't stop smiling to himself because it's so damn cute, alright? It shouldn't be because it's a god damn tree but this fucking tree is the cutest and nicest thing Rocket has ever seen and he can already tell he's infatuated with the thing.
It only ncreases when the tree fucking appears right beside him, holding out one of those little palm-daisies (shyly, like he wants to impress Rocket or some shit like that), and says, with a tiny smile, "I am Groot."
Rocket sputters, suddenly glad that he doesn't blush like most humanoids. "What the fuck-?"
The daisy palm is shoved more insistently into Rocket's face. "I am Groot."
"So I heard," He drawls, eying the tree warily. "Name's Rocket."
"I am Groot."
Rocket's face scrunches up when the dissonance in Groot's voice fully hits him. He shakes it off and mutters, "What would you want to give that to me for? Save it for some kid or something."
Groot's face brightens instantly and it presses its palm, inexplicably, further into Rocket's space. "I am Groot."
Rocket sighs and plucks the daisy. "Fine, fine. Don't know why you're being so nice to the guy creepin' on you all day, but fine." He jumps when Groot plops onto the ground to sit with its legs curled up against its chest.
"I am Groot."
Rocket freezes. Groot just smiles more.
"Whaddya mean by that? I barely even know T'a, what would I be here for him for?"
"I am Groot."
Rocket's hackles rise the more Groot susses out his plan. "So what're you gonna do about it?"
Groot points at the moss around its neck, and it parts to reveal a silver and black collar with a little red light on the back of it.
And Rocket understands, suddenly with painful clarity, why a gentle giant like Groot would have so many kills next to its reputation. It reminds him too much of his own time of captivity, and a nice, sweet thing like Groot shouldn't be trapped like he was.
"Yeah, I can work with that."
It's easy, disabling the explosives in the collar and removing it. Doesn't take Rocket more than five minutes, which is still on the slow side for him. It's not his fault that Groot keeps squirming with excitement and almost dislodging Rocket from his position on its lap.
"Hold still, idiot. They weren't kidding around when they put this on you, it has enough kick to take out an entire planet. If it hadn't been waterlogged by you, of course."
It beams when Rocket clicks the release for the collar and tosses it to the side.
"There, now it's your turn-" He's cut off by thick, brown arms encircling him and tugging him to a solid chest, a gentle crooning noise reverberating through his skull. "For fuck's sake, I didn't do anything, let go!"
Groot squeezes him tightly for another second before putting Rocket down and, once more, beaming at him like Rocket's the best damn thing it's ever seen.
Rocket's heart skips a beat, and he snaps, "Now come on, tell me T'a's codes and you can be on your merry way and enjoy freedom, plant seeds or do whatever the fuck trees do."
The codes are given freely and easily, but when Rocket goes to leave, Groot's footsteps echo his own. Rocket speeds up, and Groot lengthens his strides.
"Listen, Groot, I got it. Go, be free and whatever. Somewhere else. Go grow daisies for the locals until someone gets you a shuttle ticket and you can go home, I got work to do."
"I am Groot."
"I'm not kidding! Get outta here! I'm not a nice guy and I don't need someone like you holding me back."
Groot looks at him haughtily and says with a matching tone, "I am Groot."
"Like fuck I'm giving you half the reward! I just saved your ass, I don't owe you shit!"
"I am Groot."
They argue all the way to T'a's HQ. Back and forth, and Rocket feels warm and happy because no one ever talked to him this long before without calling him something unforgivable. Groot, even when being cutting and snarky, will smile or apologize if it thinks it has said something rude and Rocket just laughs because he's bantering with a goddamn tree.
Somehow, Rocket finds himself pointing a gun at T'a within a half hour, having had Groot to take care of the heavy lifting that usually takes Rocket at least three times as long. The henchmen, some dead and some unconscious, are all tied up, courtesy of Rocket while Groot continued to take on the rest of them. Rocket shot a handful that tried to sneak up on the tree, ensuring that he received just as many grateful grins from said tree.
Groot has also, helpfully, brought a rucksack big enough to hold T'a in.
Rocket grins widely, teeth sharp and on display. "Well, you heard the guy. Get in the sack, asshole. Or would you rather Groot make ya?"
He never really cared for a partner before, but the way Groot looks at him makes his blood pump faster and his heart ache real good, and Rocket's smart, but Groot's got enough muscle for the both of them and that's where Rocket's weaknesses tend to lie. So maybe he could convince Groot to hang around for awhile, help Rocket wrack up some credits when the Nova Corps inevitably stiffs them.
Groot seems satisfied to have its captor as its prisoner, but when Rocket jokes with, "Hey, you can bang him around a bit if you want. He probably deserves it," Groot looks scandalized and Rocket howls with laughter, because of course the tree who just /wrecked/ at least twenty guards would be offended by the idea of injuring the man who ruined its life since he can't fight back.
Rocket thinks that the moment Groot smiles widely just because Rocket's laughing is the first time he uses the word "love" in a non-ironic way, even internally.
And if Groot pulls him in for a hug and then carries him on his shoulders after they get screwed over by the Nova Corps as expected, and the word pops up again, Rocket can blow it off and curl around Groot's neck tighter because he doesn't know how long Groot will stay with him.
But then it happens again.
Rocket stops thinking of "Rocket & Groot" as a temporary, finite relationship sometime around the fiftieth time Groot grows him a daisy to press into the little Groot-specific journal Rocket keeps in his jacket pocket. He accepts that "Rocket & Groot" is permanent the first time Groot presses dry, bark lips to his forehead before falling asleep with Rocket in its arms underneath the stars.
The galaxy is better with Groot in it, Rocket thinks privately. He'd tell everyone else that essential fact if they weren't all such assholes. As long as he has Groot, though, he's good.