Mission Report: Impossible


I own absolutely nothing—if the Guardians of the Galaxy universe were a kingdom, then James Gunn and Marvel would be supreme rulers of all, and I would be a penniless outlander, playing at being queen.

So, I really don't know where this came from. I was working on my Rocket origin story *cough*shameless plug*cough*, when this little idea popped up and just wouldn't go away until I addressed it. Enjoy!

"Really?" Rocket says, hovering over the page. "That's the best you could come up with? 'The mark was large and heavy'," he reads out loud. "'In fact, he was as large and as heavy as a 247-pound rock.'" He tries to hold in a snort, and to his credit, at least it escapes as more of a wheeze.

"I thought it was a good application of the 'metaphor' technique," Drax grumbles, pretending not to be hurt. He snatches the page back from Rocket, crumples it into a ball, and flings it into the rapidly growing pile of failed drafts in the corner of the Milano common room.

"Okay, first of all," Rocket says, ducking the paper ball, "I don't think that even counts as a metaphor, and secondly, why the hell are you writing metaphors, anyway? It's a mission report, not a haiku. Just write the frickin' thing."

"Our friend Gamora suggested that if I wished to better understand metaphors, I should practice using them. But if you are so invested in the quality of my report, then you write it," Drax says, pushing a pen and fresh piece of paper in his direction.

"Oh-ho no, not a chance," Rocket laughs, sliding the pen and paper back. "You drew the short straw, not me. Besides, this is the best entertainment I've had on this space-bucket since we convinced Quill his neck-mole was a sack of shnikra eggs."

"Still not cool!" Quill's voice booms through the Milano's loudspeakers, causing feedback. "Have you ever tasted the antidote for shnikra venom?"

"Yeah, yeah, cry me a river," Rocket says into the intercom, smirking. "That was hysterical and you know it."

Drax opens his mouth to ask how eye-duct fluid could possibly be produced in sufficient quantities to create a self-sustaining body of water, then thinks better of it. After having traveled in close quarters with the Guardians for the past three months, it was safe to assume 'metaphor' when in doubt.

Rocket grabs another page from the table. "Seriously, Quill, get off the intercom and come see this draft," he says. "It's so bad, it's almost a masterpiece, listen: 'The mark was as large and as heavy as a 247-pound rock. He carried more arms than an eight-armed globnark, except of course, the mark's arms were not arms in the biological sense, but rather weapons, since that is how the metaphor goes. We were not prepared for a diplomat to be so heavily armed; therefore, we were required to, as Star-Lord put it, 'make it up on the fly'. Except that we did not actually fly, since we had neither the wings nor the artificial equipment to do so.'"

By the end of the paragraph, Rocket is back to wheezing and wiping at his eyes. Drax seethes quietly, embarrassed by the criticism, and wishing he had drawn the straw for literally anything else—even emptying out the septic tanks.

Quill, meanwhile, is uncharacteristically quiet. Then, faintly, over the intercom—"That's our mission report? The one that's due in... less than six hours? The one that our future dealings with the Nova Corp depend on, if we want to keep up a steady, non-criminal source of income?"

"Yep," Rocket says, popping the p.

Quill gives a sigh, which through the loudspeakers, becomes a cosmic THWOOM.

"Plus he writes like a girl," Rocket adds for good measure.

"Thank you!" Drax suddenly brightens.

Rocket stares. "You... realize that wasn't a compliment, right?"

"Yes, it was," Drax says, confused. "On my planet, we teach our young to strive for perfection in all things, including the art of writing by hand. However, female students tend to attain a higher mastery of the art than do the males. So by saying I write like a girl, you are complimenting me."

"Never mind." Rocket rolls his eyes. "Anyway, Quill, what do you think?"

A beat of silence from their fearless leader. "Well," he says finally, "I think now's as good a time as any to use this." Before they have time to ask him what he means—

AROO. AROO. AROO. The alarm system slams to life. Red lights flash from the ceiling, safety lights race along the walls, and sirens blare at full volume. "All hands to the Milano common room," the loudspeakers sound above the chaos. "This is Star-Lord, I repeat, all hands to the Milano common room."

"What the hell, Quill!" Rocket shouts into the intercom. He covers his ears and shuts his eyes against the lights. Drax glances at him, unsure of how to respond to the alarms. After a long minute, the sounds and lights cut out, and Quill saunters into the common room with a grin.

"I've always wanted to push that button," he says casually.

Rocket is still tallying up all the possible ways he could dismember his idiot captain, when Gamora and Groot rush through the common room door.

"Perfect," Quill grins. He opens his hand to reveal a small device, and with a dramatic push of the button, the doors lock behind his confused teammates. All five of them are now trapped in the small room together, with nothing but two armchairs, a coffee station and table, a pile of failed reports in the corner, and a communications console at the far end of the room.

"Peter," Gamora says, her voice dripping dangerously, "what are you doing, and why did you sound the alarms?"

"I'll get to that in a minute, I promise," he says apologetically, putting his hands around her waist and pecking her on the forehead. Her hair is soaking wet, which means that he interrupted her shower. He'll probably pay for that later, but right now, he has more pressing matters to worry about. "Catch, Groot," he says, tossing him the device in his hand. "That's the door opener. Right now, it's our only way in or out of this room, and I want you to guard it with your life," he says dramatically. "Those doors cannot open. There will be no coming or going, other than that kind of 'going'"—he points to the adjoining bathroom—"until our mission report is finished."

"I am Groot," the tree nods sagely, tucking the device somewhere in his chest vines.

"I do not understand." Gamora frowns, wringing out her hair. "This is about the mission report? Drax was going to write it—it was assigned to him."

"Well... that was the initial plan, yes. Now, not so much," Quill hedges.

"Read this, you'll see what we mean." Rocket takes the page in front of him, crumples it into a ball, and tosses it over to Gamora. She snatches it out of the air and smooths it out in one fluid motion.

"Ah," she grimaces, scanning its contents. "Now I understand." The attempted wordplay involving 'guns' and 'puns' is particularly horrific. But notably, underneath the failed metaphors and similes, the paper is not that bad. "At least your spelling and grammar is immaculate," she tells Drax encouragingly.

Some of the tension in his shoulders loosens. "Thank you. I thought so myself."

"But where is the rest of the report?" she asks, flipping the page over. "This is only the part about securing the target."

"I... I haven't written the rest of it yet," Drax says. He is happy enough to write about knife fights, or hand-to-hand fights, or fights with explosives... but the idea of writing the narrative immediately before and after the action seems dry and uninviting to him. "I am not even sure what a mission report should look like," he admits.

"Okay," Peter says. "Then that seems like a good place to start. Gamora, can you fill us in?"

She shakes her head. "I wish I could, but no. Thanos never requested mission reports. I would simply receive my mission, see it to completion, and report back to him. I gave a verbal report of my actions, or more often, no report at all." Gamora looks to Rocket and Groot, hoping that the ex-cons know more about the subject than she does.

"I am Groot." Groot makes a stiff movement that, if you squinted, could be a shrug.

"Yeah, what he said," Rocket says. "In our line of work, so long as we delivered the mark on time, that was enough of a 'report' to keep the big man happy. We usually dragged 'em in, kicking and screaming, and called it a day. Not a lot of paperwork involved."

Peter blinks. "That's... absolutely terrifying. But yeah, that about sums up the Ravagers' M.O., too."

"Obviously, I am no more informed than any of you," Drax points out.

"So what I'm hearing is," Peter realizes out loud, "no one actually knows how to write a mission report."

A collective shaking of heads. Well, Groot doesn't shake his head so much as tip it vaguely to one side, but the intent is there.

Quill sighs. "Okay, this might be harder than I thought. Everyone bring it in, we're going to divvy up the work."

The team groans, but given the impending deadline and the locked doors, they don't have much of a choice. Drax briefly wonders what it is that they are meant to 'bring in', but follows suit when Gamora takes one of the armchairs. Quill straddles the arm of Gamora's chair, Rocket hops up onto the coffee table and sits cross-legged, and Groot sort of hovers over everything.

"The way I see it," Quill reasons, "there were four parts to our mission in Delta Cepheid: gathering intel, breaking in, securing the target, and breaking back out in one piece." He counts off the parts on his fingers. "The four of us can each contribute one section. And Groot can..." he pauses, considering the tree, who is chewing a sprout on his knuckle. "Groot can oversee or something," he waves vaguely. "While he guards the door-opener."

"I am Groot," the tree approves.

"I will rewrite the part about the fight," Drax volunteers.

"I'll take the break-out," Gamora says.

"Okay, and I'll write about the intel," Peter says, "which leaves Rocket with the break-in. Okay?" He looks to his teammate to confirm.

Rocket sighs. "Fine, whatever. Just let me grab a data-pad, and I'll be right back," he says, hopping off the table and walking over to the door. "Open 'er up, Groot."

"No," Gamora says, in that tone. The tone that could make any hardened killer dissolve into a puddle of quivering knees and elbows. Groot's fingers retreat sheepishly away from his chest vines, Rocket involuntarily takes a step away from the door, and even Quill sits up a little straighter. "If we let you leave this room," Gamora says, "I know for a fact that you will hide in the bowels of the ship until we've completed your share of the work."

"She's got a point," Quill says. "The way you avoid kitchen duty is an art—you'll have to teach me your ways sometime, Jedi Master."

Rocket squirms, looking trapped. "Look, I'll write my frickin' section, okay? But like I said, I'm grabbing a data-pad. Transcribing is faster."

Drax frowns. "I too doubt that you will return, if we allow you to leave."

Even Groot makes a shallow movement, that, if you squint, could be a nod. "I am Groot."

"Traitor," Rocket grumbles.

"Sorry man, majority rules," Quill says. "Let's just get this over with, okay?"

Rocket growls, frustrated. "Fine, hand me the frickin' paper. But don't say I didn't warn you." He glumly resumes his station on top of the coffee table.

Gamora passes out fresh sheets of paper, while Quill opens the coffee table drawer and pulls out several elementary school books that can be used as makeshift writing surfaces. He also pulls out a small box with a red, translucent top. "Here, pass these around," he says, opening the box to reveal a small collection of pens and pencils. "I left Earth on a school night, so these came with me. This one was my favorite," he grins, holding up a jumbo blue crayon. Normally, he is very protective of his remaining mementos from home. But tonight, his team is scrambling, and he doesn't mind making an exception.

Rocket grabs the first eye-catching thing he sees, which is an orange marker. Drax picks out a black felt-tip pen—he thinks that black is the strongest, most precise color. Gamora reaches for another black pen, but Quill stops her.

"Makes more sense if we all use different colors," he says, keeping a straight face as he hands her a green pen. She rolls her eyes at him, but takes it. "Interesting color choice," she comments, smirking.

"Oh, I know—I was impressed by my own subtlety," Quill says, making her laugh. He picks out a red pen for himself.

Groot looks a little left out, so Rocket tosses him a charcoal pencil, grimacing when his friend decides to swallow it instead of catch it. "Sorry 'bout that, Quill."

"Heh," Quill shrugs. "Art class was an experience I'd rather forget, anyway." He surveys the room, checking that his team has what they need. "Let's give ourselves an hour to write, then we'll compare notes. Everybody good?"

He listens to the chorus of "yes" and "I am Groot" and "do you mean 'good' in a moral sense" and "let's just frickin' get this over with".

"I'll take that as 'everybody's good'," Quill says. Then grinning, pen poised dramatically above the page: "Guardians... write!"

They are off to an auspicious start. In hindsight, he should have known it wouldn't last long.

Rocket looks up, scowling. "What's my section, again?"

"I am Groot."

"What does 'the third' mean?" Rocket demands. "It's not like I was keeping track of all the sections—saying 'the third' means nothing to me."

"Your friend is mistaken," Drax says. "The third section is mine. I asked for the break-out."

"No," Gamora frowns. "You asked for the fight scene, which I think is 'securing the target'. 'Securing the target' is the third section, but it is separate from the break-out. I am writing the break-out."

"I am Groot."

"Will ya quit saying 'second', 'third', 'eleventh', and just tell me what the hell I'm writing, already!"

Quill sighs. They're in for a long night.

Four hours to deadline

To the surprise of precisely no one, Quill's initial goal of an hour's worth of writing proves to be a bit optimistic. Between constant coffee breaks—which of course lead to constant bathroom breaks—not to mention complaints of writers' block, shameless procrastination, and short tempers all round, nearly two hours have elapsed before the first round of drafts is ready.

And, as is the nature of first drafts, they leave a lot to be desired.

Gamora only makes it about three-fourths of the way through Quill's first paragraph before she has to put down the page and rub at her temples. "Peter, I love you," she grinds out, "but your spelling is deplorable. Were you even trying, or was this your idea of a joke?"

"Hey, cut me some slack," he says plaintively. "Last time I set foot in a classroom, I was nine. And after that, I was raised by space pirates. Space pirate hillbillies. So sue me if I still have the essay-writing skills of a fourth grader."

Gamora's fingers dig even harder into her temples. "'Fourth grade' would be a generous assessment. Still," she adds in a softer tone, "you cannot be blamed for your upbringing." She would know, better than most.

By now, Peter can read her well enough to know that that was her version of an apology—he holds out his hand to her, and she takes it.

Drax gets up, walks over to Gamora, and peers over her shoulder. "The grammatical structure is correct," he points out after a moment. "It is only the spelling that requires improvement—I would be happy to edit this for you," he offers.

Quill blinks. "Actually, sure—that would be great, thanks." He grins.

Drax starts to go through the page systematically. He painstakingly corrects each error, using neat lines to cross off misspelled words, carets to indicate insertions, and cursive to substitute the proper spelling.

It's not until a full two minutes have passed and he is still only halfway through the first paragraph that he realizes the magnitude of the task ahead of him. Some of the words are so badly butchered that, even after studying their context, he will need to ask Quill to translate.

This is going to be a long night.

Meanwhile, Gamora has moved on to the next page: Rocket's section on the break in.

She imagines that the mechanic's writing style will more or less mirror his speaking style: tactless and crude, but capable enough in its own way. She further imagines that, whatever Rocket has written, his contribution to the mission report can't possibly be worse than Peter's.

She is very, very wrong.

The page is covered from top to bottom in illegible scrawl. Gamora squints at the page, as if it will somehow rearrange itself into coherent text if viewed correctly. She turns the page from side to side. Then upside-down entirely. Still no luck. She is about to be angry, about to ask Rocket why he has wasted their time with meaningless scribbling, when something catches her eye. Upon further inspection, she realizes that she can pick out some of the individual characters. She finds the letter I here, a letter O there... The scribbles are not meaningless after all, but it is still impossible to make out a single word.

"Rocket," she asks slowly, "what is this?" She pushes the page towards the middle of the table. Drax and Quill lean in to look, while Rocket instead looks at the floor.

"I warned you," he mutters. "I wasn't trying to get out of doing the work—well, okay, I wasn't just trying to get out of doing the work—I really did want that data-pad. I don't know how to write."

Three faces peer at him in horror. Groot, on the other hand, just looks sympathetic.

"I mean, I can write, obviously," Rocket clarifies, bristling. "Give me a data-pad and I can type. Give me a screen and I can read in eight different languages. But paper? Bleh. Why bother with that ancient shit."

Drax considers that for a moment. "But have you never encountered a situation in which it would be advantageous to write by hand?"

"Well I mean... Maybe. Yeah." He shuffles awkwardly. "But who cares, it's no big loss."

"But it is immensely satisfying to write by hand!" Drax protests.

"He's right." Gamora nods. "It can be very therapeutic."

Quill thumps the floor beside him, in a 'sit here' gesture. "Park it here, I'll teach you. We'll rewrite your page together."

Rocket snorts. "I'll pass, thanks. Got better things to do than take lessons from a third grader." He crosses his arms defensively.

"Fourth grader," Quill corrects, finger in the air, "and besides, you owe me one. Actually, if we're keeping count, you owe me about... fifteen, but if you let me walk you through the characters, we'll call it even. Okay?"

Rocket hesitates.

"Actually, Rocket has a point," Gamora admits. "I am sorry, Peter, but your attempts at handwriting are passable at best." She turns to Rocket. "I would be happy to walk you through the characters."

"My chicken scratch and I resent that," Quill grumbles halfheartedly, but doesn't argue—Gamora's neat print, gently rounded, with the perfect slant to the right, is legendary.

"If you are familiar with typing," Gamora continues, "then you already know what the characters look like. All you must do is practice how to draw them, until your muscles memorize each one."

Quill nods. "Yeah, think of it like sketching. Simple, repetitive sketching."

"I have noticed the weapon plans you sometimes draw for the Nova Corp," Drax adds. "Writing by hand is considered much easier than drawing a competent sketch."

"Gamora won't even change what you've written," Quill adds, looking to her to confirm. "She'll just help you make it a little neater."

Gamora nods in agreement.

"I am Groot."

Rocket glares at the tree. "Some friend you are. Take their side, why don't ya."

Groot looks at him reproachfully. "I am Groot."

Rocket pulls at the fur at the sides of his face and sighs. "Fine. But no guarantees this will actually stick." He puts on a show of dragging his feet and kicking papers aside as he makes his way over to Gamora. In truth, though, he's surprisingly okay with the idea of learning how to write. In fact, he's curious. He just hopes Gamora doesn't notice.

Gamora does notice, of course, and a smile tugs at the corner of her mouth, but she knows better than to rat out her stubborn teammate. Instead, she pushes a clean sheet of paper in his direction. Three months ago, he would have probably died before admitting a weakness—any weakness. The fact that he is willing to learn from her now—as opposed to blasting down the common room doors with a weapon slapped together out of coffee maker parts—speaks volumes to how far they've come. "To keep things simple," she tells him, "we should stick with capital letters for now. This is how I write an A." She draws the first character in large print for his benefit: up-down in the same stroke, then across.

Oh. That made more sense than what he'd been trying to do: he'd been aiming for a triangle, followed by two diagonal tails on either side. He lifts his marker, to copy her method.

"Wait," Gamora stops him. "Take this instead." In her outstretched hand is the jumbo blue crayon.

Rocket stares at her flatly, then starts to bristle. "You have got to be frickin' kidding me."

Quill considers taking cover behind the chairs, to wait out the inevitable explosion. Drax considers putting aside Quill's paper, to join the inevitable explosion. Groot plays with his finger vines.

"You were having trouble with the marker," Gamora explains calmly, tipping her chin towards the thin stylus in Rocket's hand. "Trust me—this will be better."

"That," Rocket growls, "is for a child."

"No," she says carefully. "This is for someone with small hands, who is learning to write."

"Yeah, or in other words, a child."

"You are becoming upset over nothing."

"Well, I'm sorry if people mocking me tends to upset me—"

"I would never mock you—"

"The hell you wouldn't!"

"Stop fighting me, and take the damn crayon! Or would you rather be stuck here all night, with us?" She gestures towards the figures beside them—one wary, one eager, and one sympathetic.

"I am Groot," Groot reprimands gently.

Rocket sighs, ears back, deflated. "Whatever. Only 'cause I want to get out of here." He whips the crayon out of Gamora's hand. "Can I go ahead now and actually write, oh great and wise instructor, or are there any other teaching aids you wanna recommend for me? Maybe some tracing paper? Or those little magnetic letters? Or a step-by-step video tutorial for the mentally deficient?"

Gamora grits her teeth. "You may write."

Drax looks a little disappointed that the ex-convict and ex-assassin have fallen just short of coming to blows. "If a fight is no longer imminent," he says, "then I am going to brew another pot of the beverage Quill calls 'coffee'. His spelling has given me a headache." He holds up the page for the rest of the team to see: the first quarter or so has almost as much black cursive as red print, and the rest of the page has yet to be marked.

"Heh," Quill says sheepishly. "Honestly, I didn't think it was that bad."

Gamora sighs. Disaster has been averted for now, but they have only one character down and twenty-five more to go, and her student is already on the edge. It is going to be a long night.

Three-and-a-half hours to deadline

Luckily, Rocket proves to be a quick study after all. And although he would rather die than admit it, the jumbo crayon does help. After fifteen minutes, he is able to duplicate the alphabet to Gamora's satisfaction. After another twenty, he has written a legible copy of his original page.

Drax and Quill, meanwhile, are still working together to correct Quill's section. Every once in a while, Drax looks up, exasperated, and demands a translation of 'i-m-p-a-r-s-h-u-n' or 'r-u-b-a-t-i-k' or 'i-n-n-e-r-s-i-p-t'. "Oh, impression," Peter replies, as if it were the most obvious answer in the galaxy. "Robotic." "Intercept."

Groot, on the other hand, is preoccupied with more important matters. He appears to have sprouted something new from his fingers—something that, oddly enough, resembles the tip of the charcoal pencil he swallowed earlier. He tests his fingertips, drawing them across his torso and smiling delightedly when they leave thick, dark marks, just like a pencil. He decides to put his newfound ability to the best possible use: sneaking illustrations onto the other Guardians' pages when they are on coffee break or otherwise occupied. So far, his artistic contributions include a stick figure of Nova Prime, a sketch of the drones that attacked them on their mission, and a passable layout of their target facility. Since Gamora's page has been left unattended, Groot is now decorating it with a sketch of the entire team safely back on the Milano. He is very proud of it.

Blissfully unaware of the unrequested additions to her own page, Gamora is inspecting Rocket's. "Huh," she says. Now that she can actually read the words on his page, they catch her off-guard. "We will have to recopy a word here and there, to improve legibility," she says, cautiously laying down her green pen, "but this is... surprisingly acceptable."

"Here, let me see," Peter asks, slipping an arm around her waist. She hands him the page.

Peter scans it, then gives a low whistle. "Wow. Didn't see that coming. I mean, I could do without the all-caps and the pointlessly confrontational tone, but other than that, yeah, this is fine."

"Told you," Rocket says smugly.

"Hey now, don't forget us little people," Quill says. "Gamora is an excellent teacher," he adds, waggling his eyebrows at his girlfriend, who smiles coyly.

Rocket wrinkles his nose. "Yeah, well, don't pat yourselves on the back too hard," he says flippantly. "Hunger is a better motivator than any of you assholes could ever hope to be. I'm starving—all I want to do is get those doors unlocked so I can clean out the kitchen from top to bottom."

Gamora rolls her eyes at him. "'You' and 'clean' and 'kitchen' in the same sentence. If only." But there is no heat to their words, and they are smirking playfully at each other, so this is probably as close to 'thank you' and 'you're welcome' as they are capable of getting. "We can put this aside for now, and revisit it at the end," Gamora decides. "I am almost frightened to see what Drax has come up with."

Peter grimaces sympathetically. "I'll get you another cup of coffee—you'll probably need it."

She smiles after him, gratefully.

Meanwhile, Drax snaps to attention upon hearing his name. He rifles through the pile of papers to find his draft, walks it over to Gamora, and declares proudly— "This is my best attempt yet!"

"That's not saying much," Rocket mutters under his breath.

"What was that?"


Gamora takes the page, smiling weakly. "I am sure it is a fine draft," she says, lying through her teeth.

Surprisingly, the metaphors within the draft are not as bad as she expects. They are much, much worse.

"I... This is... I..." She sputters, floundering for words of encouragement, while the light slowly drains out of Drax's expression.

"What Gamora is trying to say," Rocket says, finally taking pity on them both, "is that you suck." He takes the paper from Gamora's hands and speed reads it, drawing his finger down the middle of the page. He can't help but snort at some of the most pathetic attempts at wordplay, but for the most part, he manages to keep a straight face. "Well..." He coughs. "Lucky for us, at least you suck in an way that's easily fixable. I can work on your section, while you work on Quill's."

"Really?" Drax brightens a bit.

"Wouldn't've offered if I didn't mean it," Rocket shrugs. Internally, he is groaning at the mountain of work ahead of him. He wasn't lying when he said that Drax's mistakes were easily fixable—they are, but there are just so damn many of them that properly addressing each one will take time... maybe more time than they have left. He glances at the clock. Three hours to go. He trusts himself to churn out the edit faster than any of his teammates could—with the possible exception of Gamora, who is already overworked—but this could be a stretch, even for him.

It's gonna be a long and shitty night.

Two hours to deadline

Groot is pleased with his handiwork. His finger-drawing on Gamora's page now includes a recognizable outline of the Milano, and inside his Milano is the likeness of each Guardian—or at least a passable stick figure of each one. The Peter-figure has his signature headphones and Walkman, the Gamora-figure has long hair and is shaded green, the Drax-figure is tall and covered in scribbles that, if you squinted, vaguely resembled his tattoos, and the Rocket-figure is short, with pointed ears and a long, exaggerated tail nearly twice his height.

But then Groot realizes—he has forgotten an important element of the picture. Namely, himself. He frowns, unsure of how best to proceed. But after pondering for a moment, he smiles, walks over to Peter's pen and pencil box, and rummages inside until he finds his roll of sticky tape. He takes a piece of the adhesive, breaks a small sprout off of his kneecap, and tapes the sprout directly onto the page, next to the Rocket-figure.

Perfect! Now to show off his handiwork. Peter is the closest team member, so Groot takes the page and shoves it under his nose. "[Look what I made]!" he says eagerly.

"Not now, Groot," Quill waves him away, distractedly. Then, to Drax— "I'm pretty sure 'cyborg' is spelled with an s at the beginning, no?" It takes Quill's brain a while to catch up with his eyes, but when it does, he pauses mid-edit, poking his tongue into the pocket of his cheek. "Wait a minute, Groot," he says. "Come back with that." He takes the paper, and this time, he actually looks at it.

"[Do you like it]?" Groot asks hopefully. But Quill isn't looking at what he's drawn—he is looking at what Gamora has written.

"Upon securing the target in an infallible and timely manner befitting of world-class assassins and operatives, the alarming, disquieting revelation was discovered of the blockage of the initial entry point: the blockage being contrived by remote directive by the mark and composed out of advanced robotic units, that, once brought to light, were a distressing hindrance in preventing the team from traversing the predetermined route by which Star-Lord had schemed to have the team escape, impervious and intact, toward the vessel of interstellar transport commonly known as the Milano and thusly dubbed by the riders therein."

Heart sinking, Quill reads further down, hoping that the page will eventually unclog itself.

It doesn't.

Well, shit. "Er, Gamora?" he calls to her across the room. "We may have a slight problem."

She looks at him blearily from the coffee station.

"There's, uh, a good chance you'll want to dismember me after this, but... this is bad," he says, indicating her page. "Like really, really bad. It's just so awkward: no one would talk or think like this. You don't have to use a hundred words when all you need is a couple of small ones."

Up til now, he hadn't even thought about the possibility that Gamora's writing might be just as rough as everyone else's—maybe even more so. Gamora was the picture of precision and efficiency: he had no idea how she could have possibly produced the rambling, obtuse page of run-ons in front of him.

Quill is sitting with his back to the coffee table, so Rocket scrambles up behind him, peeks over his shoulder, and reads. "Holy shit, you're right," he says, nearly spewing coffee everywhere. "This doesn't even sound like you," he tells Gamora. "This sounds like a thesaurus vomited all over the page."

Gamora shoots them a death glare, and Quill could swear she was reddening, except she doesn't redden so much as turn a murky gray-ish color.

"I'm only saying this 'cause I care!" Quill scrambles, trying to salvage the situation.

Ignoring his plight, Drax glances at the page and shrugs. "At least her spelling is pristine."

Gamora nods crisply. "Thank you, Drax. I thought so myself. Although I am not sure how this pencil drawing got here..." she says, eyeing the charcoal artwork.

Groot makes a sheepish noise and points to the sprout taped on the page. "I am... Groot."

Rocket facepalms. "You are hopelessly weird, Groot—you know that, right?"

Quill senses the situation spiraling rapidly out of control. "Focus, team," he says. "We've got less than two hours left, and I'm sorry, Gamora—I love you—but we can't submit... this." He flaps helplessly at the page.

"So fix it," Rocket butts in. "Make it... I don't know, flow better, and shit. Gamora can work with you on the spelling."

Quill sighs, frustrated. "Do we even have time?"

"Do we even have a choice?" the ex-con shoots back. "You're the one who said it: our future with the Nova Corp is riding on this report. So unless you're looking forward to hitting the unemployment line..."

"Why would Quill act violently towards the people standing in an unemployment line?" Drax asks before he can filter himself. "As far as I know, they have not wronged him."

Rocket groans.

"'Hitting the unemployment line' simply means that he will be out of a job, now will you please worry less about metaphors, and more about our deadline?" Gamora explains in a single breath.

Drax grumbles, but complies.

"Okay," Peter says, eyes closed, trying to wrap his brain around all the moving parts. "Okay. So, in the next two hours, here's what's going to happen: Drax will finish correcting my spelling," he says, ticking off the tasks on his fingers. "Rocket will fix Drax's use of metaphors. Gamora will check that every word in Rocket's section is legible, and rewrite whatever isn't. That shouldn't take long, so when she's finished, she and I will make her paper... 'flow better, and shit'," he finishes lamely, when his brain fails to supply a better expression. "Everybody good?"

He mostly ignores the chorus of "not really, Peter" and "I am Groot?" and "I dunno about this" and "I still do not know whether you mean 'good' in a moral sense."

"Keep it together, team. We're good, we got this," he says stubbornly, determined to spur them on if it kills him—and honestly, it just might. "Guardians... write!"

Fifteen minutes to deadline

In the end, their hands are smudged in the strange charcoal substance from Groot, the blue crayon is mashed into the floor from when Drax accidentally stepped on it, Rocket is complaining of 'writer's cramp' while secretly mourning the loss of the crayon, and the ship's resident lovebirds are dotted in green and red ink from an intense argument over word usage. But no one is bleeding, and the ship is still flying, and most importantly, a passable draft of the mission report is finally, finally sitting in front of them.

"Finally," Drax says, after one last check for spelling and grammar.

"Finally," Rocket flops on his back, on top of the coffee table.

"Finally," Gamora echoes, sitting back in her chair.

"I am Groot."

Although Gamora would never admit it out loud, Peter's edits have vastly improved her section: he has somehow preserved her original intent, while making the sentences flow in a more conversational manner. "Now we type it up and submit it before the deadline," she says.

"Hell no, we're not typing up this beauty!" Quill protests. He takes the pages from Drax, taps the edges against the tabletop to line them up, and proudly holds up the resulting bundle in both hands. "And we're not transcribing it, either. We're turning this in to Nova Prime as is." He heads to the communications console at the far end of the room, bearing the report in front of him like a precious artifact.

Gamora and Drax stare at him as if a shnikra hatchling were sprouting from his neck-mole, after all. Rocket looks ambivalent, probably dreaming of that long-awaited kitchen raid. Groot plucks a sprout at his shoulder.

"We can't submit that," Gamora finally manages, rising to her feet. "Not for an official report to the Nova Corp."

Drax nods. "We have a professional image to maintain."

"I am Groot."

"I'm with Groot. Image is a moot point by now," Rocket says. "We're outlaws with longer rap sheets than education records—Prime knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she tapped us for the job."

Gamora purses her lips. "Look, we are not submitting that to Nova Prime. Just look at it!" The colors, the use of all-caps, the sloppily crossed out sections, to say nothing of the doodles—the issue wasn't even up for a debate.

"Aw come on, she's gonna love it," Quill grins. "She'll probably stick it up on her fridge and everything. Besides," he adds, stepping away from the console, both hands open, "I already sent it." He grins as the machine behind him emits an incriminating ping, along with an electronic voice: "File sent." After a few seconds— "File received."

Rocket sits up and looks at him incredulously. "You have a fax machine in your comm-console? Talk about ancient shit."

Drax agrees. "On my world, such machines have long been decommissioned. Or re-purposed as doorstops."

Gamora is back to rubbing at her temples. "You are all missing the point. When Nova Prime sees that report and realizes the depths of our collective incompetence, I guarantee we will never be offered another mission. Ever. And where does that leave us?"

The team lets that sink in for a moment.

"I am Groot," Groot says sadly, breaking the silence.

"Shit," Rocket says. "Groot's right—we're doomed."

"I too agree with his assessment," Drax mourns.

"I can't believe we just did all that work, for nothing." Rocket starts to seethe. "Whose stupid idea was this lock-in, anyway?"

"Come on, team, cut the melodrama," Quill says, although even he is starting to squirm uncomfortably. "Everything will be fine?" It comes out more like a question than a reassuring statement from their fearless leader.

"Doom," Gamora says, resigned to her fate. "Doom by fax machine."

Author's note:

Next chapter will show snippets of the final report, plus Nova Prime's reaction to it!

If you have any feedback or criticism at all, please let me know, so I can improve my 'team fics' in the future. I'm especially curious to know: Do you think I got the Guardians' voices right? Or do they seem off? (My brain has been stuck in angst-writing mode for so long that it's hard to flip the switch to something more lighthearted.)

As always, thanks for reading and reviewing!