Gotg prompt: how did Rocket learn to speak Groot?
“Repeat after me, Quill: I am Groot.”
“I am Groot,” Peter said dutifully. He felt like an idiot, but there were only a limited number of ways to while away quiet nights on the ship when neither of them could sleep. If it was him and Gamora, or him and Drax, they could spar, but he’d only tried sparring with Rocket once. It took weeks for the bite marks to heal.
Rocket’s oddly expressive – for a raccoon – face wrinkled in an expression of disgust. “Do you even hear yourself? That is nothing like what I just said.”
“Dude, that is exactly what you just said.”
“No, I said ‘I am Groot’ and you said ‘I am Groot’.”
“Which is … the same?”
Rocket stared at him for a long moment, then pointed at his snout. “Read my lips: I am Groot.”
“Was I supposed to repeat that, or …”
Rocket showed some teeth. Peter shut up. There was a moment of silence and Peter was just about to put his earbuds back in and quit with the language lessons when Rocket said suddenly, “Quill, if I say, 'I am Groot,’ just like that, what do you hear?”
“Is this a trick question? Especially the kind of trick question that’s gonna end in you pissing on my bed?”
“That was only once, and you had it coming –”
“No, for the love o’ cheese, it’s not a trick question. Just say 'I am Groot’.”
“I am Groot,” Peter said. “I feel like a complete jackass right now, in case that was your intent – hey, where are you going?”
“Jus’ need to get a thing!” Rocket’s voice trailed behind him.
Peter flopped back down in the chair in the mess and put his earbuds in. He was actually getting sleepy, and considering going back to bed, when Rocket jumped up onto the table in front of him with something clutched in his paws.
“What’s that?” Peter asked, sitting up. He palmed off the Zune and took off the earpieces. He had to hand it to Earth tech: the new music player was a lot more convenient to carry around than his late, lamented Walkman.
Rocket’s device was a thin, flat screen about the size of a hardback book; he had it clutched with a paw on each side while readouts rippled quickly across it.
“Okay, now say 'I am Groot’,” Rocket declared, studying the screen.
“Come on, man, do we really have to go through this again?”
Peter sighed and slouched in his chair. “I am Groot.”
Rocket’s ears pricked forward. “I am Groot,” he said, and tapped the display with his paw, causing the tiny, scrolling lines and numbers to freeze. “Did that sound the same to you?”
“Well … yeah?”
The flat pads of Rocket’s fingers danced across the display, and he laid the screen on the table between them. “Know what you’re lookin’ at?”
“Squiggly lines,” Peter said automatically.
“Did your mama drop you on the head a lot as a baby, Quill?”
“No, but Yondu did occasionally.” Peter rested his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand. As much fun as it was to mess with Rocket, he did actually think he knew what the raccoon was getting at. “That wiggly line is some kind of … uh … noise – wiggle – curve, right?”
“That’s real precise.”
“I was abducted from Earth before we got to algebra in school. Cut me some slack here.”
“Excuses, excuses. I was raised in a cage and my mother had an IQ of 3.” Rocket touched the display, zooming in on it. “Point is, I don’t think it’s just that all a’ you two-legged bunch is too obtuse to understand perfectly clear speech –”
“– like I used to think. It’s more like, my ears hear at higher and lower frequencies than yours do, so I get different overtones. Put simply for the simple, I can hear things you can’t.”
Peter leaned forward, intrigued. “So, wait – you mean all this time, all his 'I am Groot’s sound different to you?”
He realized what he’d said as soon as the words left his mouth, and got the flat 'I am dealing with morons’ look from Rocket that he’d instantly realized he had coming. “How am I supposed to understand him if they don’t, Quill, I ask you?”
“Okay – point – but … so why does it sound like 'I am Groot’ to the rest of us?”
“It sounds like 'I am Groot’ to me too.” When Peter glowered at him, Rocket held up a paw. “No, I ain’t messin’ with ya. This time. No, that’s what the translation unit picks up, 'cause it ain’t so smart about some of the less humanoid languages. It’s just, I hear it like …” He hesitated and waggled his paw. “It’s like your music, right? All those up and down tones at the same time. Groot can do that. Your throat, my throat, can’t.”
“Singing?” Peter said after a minute. “Groot’s singing?”
“I refer you back to the part about bein’ dropped on your head.” Rocket pursed his lips and let out a sharp whistle, making Peter jump – there was still some part of him that couldn’t quite hear whistling and not expect a death arrow to follow an instant later. And he might not be the only one, because Rocket stopped abruptly, closed his mouth, and then said, “Quill, do this,” and hummed softly.
It wasn’t really a tune. “You just want me to hum?” Peter asked. “Like, generic humming?”
Rocket curled his lip and the hum became more of a snarl.
“Right, humming,” Peter said hastily.
The funny thing was, the instant his soft hum of response hit the right harmonics with the note Rocket was humming (and the raccoon did have a good sense of pitch; Peter had always suspected so) he understood exactly what Rocket was getting at.
“Ohhhhh. When Groot talks, it’s like a symphony. Is that what you mean? And the 'I am Groot’ part is the part in the human audible range.”
Rocket’s ears and tail went up cheerfully. “Yeah, ezzactly. He’s tryin’ to communicate, it’s just he didn’t get any farther than 'I am Groot’ when he was learning. It’s as hard for him to do the talkin’ part for the translators as it is for you and me to do his kind of talk. He can hear us just fine, though. Actually to him, understanding our talk is dead easy.”
“So how do we understand him?” Peter asked. “Can you, I dunno, juice up the translator so it picks up a higher range of frequencies, or something?”
“I dunno. That’s not a bad idea.” Rocket tapped his claw against his teeth before picking up the screen thing and hopping off the table. “Have to think on it. Don’t wanna explode your heads or anything.”
“Yeah, well, on that lovely note, I’m goin’ to bed.” He actually was tired enough now to fall asleep in spite of the inevitable nightmares (the bitter cold and darkness of space; Ego’s face dissolving in his hands; his friends crushed by rocks or blown apart). The music helped as it always had, a melodic bulwark against the dark, wrapped gently around his heart – but it could only do so much.
Rocket grunted absently as he trotted off, already engrossed in figuring out the problem.
The thought occurred to Peter as he wandered back to his quarters, thumbing idly through the songs on the Zune, that these sorts of mechanical puzzles served the same purpose for Rocket as his music did for him: something to make his mind go quiet.
The music did that … and so did letting Gamora beat the stuffing out of him in the ship’s small exercise area. Or getting language lessons from Rocket. Or –
“I am Groot?”
Peter jumped as small hands grabbed hold of his pants leg. Groot shimmied quickly up to perch on his shoulder.
“Hey, little buddy.” Peter opened the door to his quarters and left it open so Groot could come and go as he wanted. Or so he could hear if anybody got into a fight or whatever. He flopped wearily on his unmade bed, careful not to dislodge Groot. “You know, I’m not sure how much of this you can understand right now, but Rocket’s teaching me to speak your language.”
“I am Groot?”
“Well, to understand you more than speak it, I guess I should say.” He was lying on his back now and he couldn’t really see Groot except out of the corner of his eye, but he could feel the little tree shifting around in the hollow where the collar of his sweatshirt rested against his neck.
“I am Groot,” Groot said insistently, almost in his ear. Small hands patted at the side of his face and his earlobe.
“Yeah, yeah.” Peter pinched one earbud between two fingers and held it where Groot could get at it. The little hands took it out of his fingers. Peter settled himself comfortably as Groot squirmed somewhat ticklishly against his neck, and sorted through the songs. “How 'bout Elton John tonight, buddy?”
“I am Groot,” came the sleepy answer.
“You know, little guy,” Peter murmured, as the first strains of the music began to play and Groot snuggled comfortably against his neck, “whether or not Rocket can get his new gadget working, I think we understand each other just fine, don’t we?”
“I am Groot!”