“Peter! Thank god you’re okay! I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kick you to death, you stupid animal! Peter! Look at me!” It took Peter a few seconds to realise that she was directing half of the conversation at Rocket and the other half at him. “Peter! Are you alright? Nebula, kick the damn rat for me - no, wait, don’t - PETER! Talk to me!”
“He killed my mom,” Peter said. Somewhere in the distance there was a small yelp, as if Nebula had decided to compromise by kicking Rocket only slightly. “He killed-”
“I am Groot,” said Groot.
“Yes, he’s dead,” said Rocket.
With surprising gentleness, Gamora gripped Peter’s shoulders and moved him away from Yondu’s body. Peter had a vague recollection of people doing the same thing when his mother was in her final days, strangers in the hospital taking his hand and pulling him out of the room-
“He killed my parents!”
“Shh, shhhh,” Gamora said. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her head in his neck. She did it slightly robotically, but she did it. Peter ordinarily would have been self-conscious, surrounded by friends like he was, but he found himself sobbing into her hair like a child.
“Boy, it’s been a rough day,” Rocket said.
“I am Groot,” said Groot forlornly.
Slowly Peter pulled away from Gamora. He took in the rest of the room, feeling guilty that he hadn’t checked immediately on entering the ship that the others were all right. Mantis was propped up against the side of the far wall, Drax next to her, looking dazed but otherwise okay. Nebula was hovering over the scene like a curious wasp.
“I’m sorry,” said Peter, without the slightest idea what he was apologising for.
“It is not foolishness to weep for a loved one,” Drax said. “It is healthy to express emotion.”
Peter nodded and sort of pointed to him to indicate “that’s right.” As he stood up, Nebula walked over. She crouched over the body as if making sure it really was dead.
“It was a warrior’s death,” she said. “He should be buried with the ashes of his enemies.” A pause. “Someone should probably go outside and fetch some of those. Make the small tree do it.”
“He died saving me,” Peter said.
“Then that is a weakling’s death,” said Nebula, “and there are many cultures where you would be thrown alive into his grave.”
“I am Groot,” said Groot, which might have meant “oh my friggin’ god”.
“Sister,” said Gamora, “you should remember what you owe these people.” It wasn’t said in a threatening tone - or it sort of wasn’t - but somehow it was enough to shut her up.
There was a clattering in the distance and Kraglin burst in. He took in the scene around him as if he had already known what he would see, but was still devastated to see it. He turned and left.
“Kraglin,” Peter tried.
“I’ll go after him. We’re kinda buddies now,” Rocket said, and he carefully placed Groot on the floor and hurried off. Peter listened to try and hear what was said, but he couldn’t make anything out.
Mantis got up, with Drax helping her.
“I am sorry for your loss,” she said to Peter. “I have not experienced it first-hand. But it is… distressing.” Her pupil-less eyes didn’t quite meet his and Peter wondered if she was actually grieving too, in a different way, grieving for the only life she had ever known.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
“I think so,” she answered. “Is Ego gone? Forever?”
“I hope so,” Peter said, and at the same time Gamora said “Yes.”
Mantis’s expression was unreadable. She was about to open her mouth when Drax said, “She is staying with us now. If she wants to.”
Mantis nodded frantically.
“Of course,” Gamora said. “She can share my sleeping quarters.” She said this with such acceptance and ease that Peter was reminded, uncomfortably, that he was actually very much in love with her.
He turned his attention back to Yondu’s body.
“We need to have a funeral. That’s the Ravager way. You burn the bodies and you salute them and you carry on. That’s what I always…”
“I am Groot,” said Groot. Somehow, out of supervision, he had briefly scrambled off somewhere and returned with a bag of small candles. Why they were there, and how Groot had gotten them, Peter had absolutely no idea. But he picked the little guy up and gave him a hug.
“This is mawkish and unnecessary,” Nebula said.
“Go away, then,” Peter said.
Nebula sat petulantly down next to Mantis and Drax. Mantis reached a hand out to her and Nebula instantly, and so quickly it went unnoticed by the others, slapped it away.
Peter knelt down next to his father’s body. The sides of his face almost hurt, he realised, from where Yondu’s ice-cold hands had held him as he’d died. Even through the spacesuit he had felt it. Maybe that was what taking his mother’s hand on her deathbed would have been like.
“Peter?” Gamora asked. “Do you need my help?”
“I don’t know,” said Peter, far away. He had attended other Ravager funerals, he was sure of it. When he was ten or so. Yondu had held him up to see the fireworks. Ent that beautiful, boy? Maybe we’ll fly the colours for you one day.
“You burn Ravager captains in the engines of their ships,” he told the others. “Along with all their possessions that aren’t weapons.”
“He was not a Ravager captain,” Nebula spoke up. “He was exiled long before I shot him in the head and caused his crew to turn on him.”
“Thanks, Nebula. That’s a really touching eulogy.”
Nebula said nothing, and Gamora shot her a displeased look.
“I do not mean to disrupt or offend,” Mantis said, “but I am having difficulty telling who in this room is a friend and who is an enemy.”
“I am Groot,” said Groot.
“He said, ‘you and me both, sister,’” said Peter.
With the help of Gamora and Drax – not asked for, but given – he hauled Yondu’s body onto the engine’s machinery. While doing so, it occurred to him (not for the first time) that his mother must have had a funeral too, and that he hadn’t been there. Had his grandparents been there, or had they skipped the whole thing in favour of searching every dark place for him, figuring the best way to honour their daughter was to find her son?
He lit the first candle.
“Please keep those away from Groot,” Rocket said. He and Kraglin were back in the room. “Groot, come here.”
Groot did, and Kraglin moved wordlessly to help Peter. Drax returned to his place by Mantis’s side, possibly not wishing to leave her alone next to Nebula for too long.
“I caused this,” Kraglin said to Peter, lighting a candle of his own. “If I’d kept my damn mouth shut back on Berhart, none of this would ever have happened.”
“Right,” said Peter, “except that literally everyone in the galaxy would’ve been eaten by a god. That’d have happened.”
At the word ‘god’, everyone suddenly got incredibly downcast, as if the true enormity of what they’d done was finally really kicking in.
“I am Groot,” said Groot, which in his own tongue actually meant something along the lines of “godhood is a very abstract concept and it is nothing in the face of tangible humanity and their flawed mastery of ideals like freedom, honour and love” but no-one was quite sure how to translate that.
Peter drew a hand across his face wearily. Gamora put her hand on his shoulder, just for a second.
“You and me are gonna be the only living Ravagers at this funeral,” Kraglin told Peter hollowly. “We best make sure it’s a real good one.”
“We will,” Peter said. He supposed that Kraglin and Rocket had called the others and received only refusals. That stung a bit. It also stirred a vague memory in the back of his brain: Yondu whistling for his arrow and driving it, slowly, into the head of one of the crew. Peter had been twelve and witnessed it. The man had begged for mercy and found none. This one laid his hands on a lil’ child! Yondu had screamed at everyone. His bones can bleach and warp in the void out there!
“At my mom’s funeral there were flowers,” Peter said. He had no idea if there really had been, but surely there would had to have been. He hoped someone had gone by every once in a while and put flowers on her grave too.
“We don’t have any, Peter,” Gamora said gently. Peter was sure he had mentioned to her at one point that he’d never seen his mother’s funeral. “Sorry.”
“You know, I’d have said Yondu probably wasn’t much of a flower-type guy,” said Rocket, “but looking around at all these cute little dolls and stuff I actually don’t know.”
Peter noticed a small troll doll on top of the console and stared at it for a good few seconds.
“Should we burn those too?” Drax asked.
“Yeah,” said Peter.
There was a funny splintering noise from somewhere on the ground and everyone looked down to see that Groot had somehow grown a flower from his head. He plucked it and offered it to Peter. Everyone in the room, even Nebula, stared at him.
“I had no idea he could do that,” Rocket said in awe.
“He’s a tree,” Nebula said. If she was touched in any way she didn’t show it. “It stands to reason.”
Groot produced another one and Peter reached down and took them both. He looked at his friends with an expression that was very hard indeed for any of them to read.
“You know what,” he finally said, “we are really great parents.”
“That we are,” said Rocket.
The next few minutes were spent arranging the funeral pyre. It was done mostly in silence. Kraglin tore some strips off his uniform and placed them over his old captain’s eyes and mouth, a gesture that meant nothing to Peter but presumably meant a great deal to Kraglin. Only Mantis and Nebula stood aside, and they both regarded each other with equal wariness.
“I think…you have been betrayed many times and it hurts you,” Mantis said to her, quietly.
“I don’t know how you would know that,” Nebula said in an equally low voice, “but I would advise you to keep it to yourself if you value your life.”
“Perhaps it is because you are beautiful,” Mantis said perkily. “Drax told me that beautiful people never know who to trust.”
Nebula stared at her, opened her mouth and then closed it again. “Thank you,” she finally said, in as curt a tone as possible. “You are very pretty too.”
Mantis beamed, completely inappropriately, but no-one really minded.
Peter looked down at Yondu’s body. He sort of wondered if he should take his hand, but in a way he thought that might diminish his mother’s last moments. Also there didn’t seem to be much point seeing as he was already dead.
“Peter,” Gamora said, “it’s okay if you can’t think of anything to say.”
Peter raised his hand to his face without even realising he was doing it. It didn’t hurt anymore. He wondered if he’d breathed in any of the ashes as Ego had turned to dust in his hands, and what it might have done to him. He thought about his mother and how he’d avenged her and how she could’ve, should’ve lived for so much longer. And he thought he heard Yondu in the back of his mind, saying I may have been a vicious bastard, boy, but at least I never dressed it up in piety and prettiness.
“When I was a kid my mom took me to see a movie called Star Wars,” Peter told anyone who was listening, which was all of them. “Actually, there were three of them. S’pose there might be some more now. Anyway, the main bad guy was called Darth Vader, and halfway through the series you find out he’s Luke Skywalker’s, that’s the hero’s, father – what is it, Drax?”
Drax had raised his hand. “Do the stars war each other as in, magnificent armies of stars clashing across the sky, sending sparks flying across the galaxy, making battle-cries in star language? Because I would love to see such a spectacle or hear it described more.”
“I thought probably not,” said Drax.
“Anyway,” Peter went on, “Darth Vader wasn’t a good father. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Actually, at one point he cut off his own kid’s hand.” Nebula flinched, but nobody except Gamora noticed. “Obviously Yondu didn’t do that to me. Actually he taught me quite a few extremely violent ways to avoid having my hands cut off. But – anyway – at the end of the story, of the film series, Darth Vader has to watch while the real baddie, the Emperor, tortures Luke. And this Emperor guy is a real monster, okay? Like, a planet-sized monster. And Darth Vader… I suppose he can’t stand the idea of a world where people like him and the Emperor live and people like Luke Skywalker die. So he picks up the Emperor and kills him, so that Luke can survive, even though it kills him too. And all these little teddy bear things that live on the moon below the Emperor’s Death Star, I forgot to mention all of that, they have a big party with fireworks and stuff. Anyway… that’s what I was thinking about.”
Gamora nodded supportively, doing her best to hide the very confused expression on her face.
“I know probably none of you actually liked Yondu very much.” Peter said, “apart from Kraglin.”
“I liked him,” said Rocket, “the crazy blue asshole.”
“I had… a shred of respect for him at the end,” said Nebula, to the surprise of everyone.
“He spent twenty years of his life as a Kree slave,” Kraglin said to Peter, as if they were the only two people in the room. “Did you know that?”
“I did know that, yeah,” Peter said.
“I suppose that explains rather a lot,” said Gamora.
“When Stakar rescued him all that time ago, he was the nastiest son of a bitch he’d ever seen. Or so he told me. Before we all got exiled.”
“Yeah,” said Peter.
“I do not understand what Star Wars is,” Mantis said.
“It’s a made up story that humans think is real,” Drax said to her in a conspiratorial tone. “They have a lot of those things.”
Peter thought about correcting him but in a strange mixed-up way he was almost right. “It’s funny. When I was in kindergarten I loved Darth Vader. I wrote pages and pages of backstory about him. I made up a past for him where he was a slave all his childhood. Always having a master, people like the Emperor telling him what to do, until there wasn’t anything left of him...”
“I was a slave!” Mantis suddenly piped up, speaking in a louder, fiercer voice than they had ever heard from her. It made everybody jump.
“No, no,” Peter said automatically, before Gamora said, firmly and determinedly, “Yes, you were. But you’re not anymore.”
Mantis’s face settled into an expression that was half elated and half terrified. She looked at Drax, who nodded at her, and then looked out at the faraway stars.
“I am grateful,” she said, which was very obviously not remotely all that she meant, but it summed it up nicely.
The candles on the funeral pyre were burning low. “We were talking about stories we think are real,” Peter said. “I suppose I’ve had a lot of those throughout my life. I told Gamora that when I was a kid, I used to pretend David Hasselhoff was my dad…”
Many hours later, when the last fireworks had faded from the sky, Peter lay on the bed in the captain’s quarters. Everything was silent apart from the little thump-thump-thump of music, and then there were footsteps.
“How are you doing?” Gamora asked.
Peter looked up at her and took his new headphones off and he wanted to say an awful lot of things, but it just wasn’t the time. Maybe it would never be, now.
“There are a whole bunch of songs on here by someone called Taylor Swift,” he told her. “They’re good.”
Gamora nodded hopefully.
“Nebula will not be coming back for a while,” she said hesitantly. “I…I wished her well.”
“Good,” Peter said. Or he was pretty sure it was good. Suddenly his brain decided to remind him that Gamora was not the only one who had a sibling, that he himself had had thousands, and all of them were dead. For a second he wanted to retch, but he forced the thoughts down, he didn’t want to worry her.
“What about you, are you okay?”
“Peter, I want you to know,” Gamora said, putting aside all attempts at preamble. “I tried to get down onto the planet to save you. I would have rather died than left you behind.”
Peter wanted to reassure her, or rebuke her, or something, but he just couldn’t think of the words. There weren’t any that would work. Instead, he held out his hands to her, and she took them.
“Rocket stopped me,” she said, sitting down next to him. “He tasered me.”
“You were cockblocked,” Peter said, nodding sagely. “Rock-blocked.”
“I don’t know what that means, but what I’m trying to say here, Peter, is –“
“I know,” Peter said. “I know.” He desperately wanted to hold her in his arms and never let her go. They stared at each other for a few seconds -
-and it remained an unspoken thing.
“Nobody can sleep,” Gamora said to him gently. “Well, Groot is asleep. And Mantis too, I don’t think – I’m not sure she’s ever actually slept properly, you know. Her whole life’s purpose up til now was making someone else sleep and… But everyone else is awake. And I didn’t want you to be here, all alone.”
“Thank you,” said Peter. It was actually a thank you for about a million things and he hoped she knew that.
In the main hangar, Rocket and Drax were curled up on the couch passing a bottle of something or other between them. Groot was sound asleep on a desk.
“What’re you drinking?” Peter asked.
“Ravager’s brew,” Drax said. “Kraglin found it for us.”
“Don’t drink it,” Kraglin said. He’d been standing in the shadows watching the stars through the windows. “It’s poisonous to Terrans. It’s got some weird shit in it.”
“Noted,” said Peter, while also noting that he and Kraglin had never particularly liked each other very much. Or at least, not liked each other any more than amoral space bastards were supposed to like each other. “How are you doing?”
Kraglin shrugged. Peter sat down, and Gamora continued to hold his hand as she sat next to him. It felt weird and horrible when she let it go.
“I never understood what he saw in you,” Kraglin said to Peter. “You were a great little mascot type thing when you were a kid. But when you got older, you were a dick.”
Drax looked at Rocket as if to say “Are we going to let him talk to our friend like that?” and Rocket silently signalled him to let it go.
“Everyone’s at least, you know, fifty to ninety percent a dick,” Peter said. “Also, you’re aware we were pirates, right?”
Kraglin said nothing for a few moments, and Gamora took the brew bottle, and then over the sound of her drinking he said, “Exiled Ravager captains aren’t supposed to have an afterlife, you know. It’s in the code. The old code that everybody else still followed. If you went astray, and lead enough other people astray, no-one would ever see you in the stars after you died. You’d just be nothing. Forever.”
Peter thought about godhood and the terror of eternity. He felt it, too, right in his bones and in the hands that had held both his dying fathers.
“Anyway,” said Kraglin, “he must have really loved you, and –“ He cast a nervous glance at the other people in the room, “I know you’re my captain now, but if you ever do anything to disrespect his sacrifice, I’ll put a bullet through your brain.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Peter told him, and he meant it from the bottom of his soul. Gamora, Drax and Rocket all remained where they were.
Kraglin turned to go and Peter called after him.
“You know… the other Ravagers did turn up. They welcomed him back, they flew the colours. That probably qualifies you for an afterlife. And just because something’s in a code, it doesn’t mean it’s true.” He badly hoped that Yondu hadn’t thought it was true, but figured the chances were that he probably had. He must have really loved you-
“It’s another story people think is real,” Drax said. “Right?” He looked around as if hoping somebody would congratulate him.
“Probably,” said Kraglin, and he left the room. He was drunk, so he stumbled a little. Gamora set the bottle down on the floor with a quiet clunk.
“Nobody be too loud,” she said. “Groot won’t go back to sleep again once he’s woken up.”
Peter, lost in thought and strange things, looked around at his family.
“I think I should sleep, too,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to, but god knows I need it.” Small ‘g’ in the ‘god’. Wrong. He wanted to vomit out the word.
“Ya should,” said Rocket. Peter sort of expected him to make a joke along the lines of “Well, go wake Mantis up, helping people sleep has been her purpose in life so far,” but he didn’t.
“You sleep, Quill,” Drax said. “We’ll watch over you.”
With a grateful nod Peter lay down across the couch he was on, and was surprised when Gamora suddenly, rather decisively, pulled his head onto her lap and ran her fingers through his hair.
“Things will be better in the morning,” she whispered to him. “I’ll be here. We’ll all be here. Goodnight.”
Peter felt himself drifting away. It wasn’t remotely a pleasant sensation, as it only served to remind him of the last time he’d been drifting away. Hooked into Ego’s planet, he’d seen the whole galaxy starting to warp. He’d seen hundreds of innocent people die, and he hadn’t been able to do a thing to stop it. He would have happily have died in that moment to put things right, and he supposed that was how Yondu had also felt. But he wasn’t dying now.
“Shhhhh,” said a gentle voice that probably wasn’t Gamora and probably was his mother. “Let go, Star-Lord.”
“Listen to me, boy,” said Yondu. He couldn’t be nothing forever, nothing was nothing forever. “I believe fuck-all but I do believe this, I’d rather a universe with you, you and these ever-lovin’ assholes, than any shit an all-perfect god is trying to sell ya-“
“It’s all right. I know,” Peter said, and he wanted to say so much more to both of them, but maybe they weren’t so far away. He slept in Gamora’s arms, and as she gradually dozed off too the Zune fell out of Peter’s pocket and started playing the last song it’d been told to play.
“Don’t know how long it’s gonna take to feel okay,” Taylor Swift crooned, “But I know I had the best day with you today-“
“I hate it,” Drax said immediately. “Turn it off.”
“Just let it finish,” said Rocket, who would ordinarily have hated it too.
They watched Peter sleep to the sound of the song, and once it was done Rocket carefully picked up the Zune.
“Actually, I changed my mind,” Drax said. “I enjoy the sentimental Earth music.”
“Glad to hear it,” Rocket said, and with tremendous gentleness he slid the Zune back into Peter’s pocket. “There’ll be more songs to come.”