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Hello, World, I’m Your Wild Girl

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Look, Pete never expected a good thirteenth birthday present. Point of fact, she expected nothing at all, and nothing at all would’ve been a whole hell of a lot better than this. She cranks up the portable heater and bounces an empty can (Crazy Joe’s Triple-Gravy Refried Beans!) off the walleyed frost lizard scuttling too close to her tent.

“Scat!”

Camping on Contraxia sucks balls.

Blue balls, to be specific.

Shriveled blue balls.

One of the lizard’s dinner-plate-sized eyes twitches. Pete reaches for another can.

“I said scat, you stupid—”

It’s mid-arc when Mr. Lizard puffs out like a boil, unhinges his jaw, and shoots a stream of subzero green bile right through Crazy Joe’s drooling, triple-eyed face. A couple drops splatter Pete’s jacket just as she jumps back.

“—stupid, stupid lizard. Shit!”

She dives into the tent, peeling it off just as the bile eats through the inner lining. Great. If her luck holds out, the portable heater might just break down.

“Come on, man,” Pete whispers, shivering even as she cozies up to it. It’s not like Yondu to buy a new model—or even a secondhand one that actually works—before dumping her in the middle of the frozen wilderness. This one is as old as he is, and about as fuel efficient. “You’re all I have left.”

The heater whines. Pete feels its temperature start to drop.

“Seriously?”

Pounding it with her fist doesn’t work; her only option now is to try building a fire. Pete edges toward the tent flap. She unzips it slowly and silently. Smooth as butter.

Mr. Lizard hasn’t budged an inch. His eyes lock with Pete’s. She licks her lips.

“About what I said—”  

Mr. Lizard’s eyelid twitches.

Pete zips the flap back up faster than she’s ever zipped anything in her life, then scrambles for cover behind the crate of Crazy Joe’s.

+

The last thing Pete wants the crew figuring out is that she spent two weeks trapped in a Mexican standoff with a lizard. She tries everything. Lobbing cans, blasting the heater; she even tries some diplomatic negotiation paired with a food offering.

That costs her half of her snow pants and what’s left of her jacket, plus a full helping of Triple-Gravy Refried Beans. Either this lizard can’t be bought, or he’s really not a fan of Crazy Joe’s. Not that Pete can blame him. They waylaid a cargo transport four months ago and Yondu insisted on grabbing twelve crates of the stuff. He likes it. It gives everyone else the runs.

Truth be told, Pete starts to develop a soft spot for Mr. Lizard. He’s not exactly good company, what with being ugly as sin and toxic both inside and out, but the little bastard sure is determined. He hasn’t left his post, not even for food or bathroom breaks. It’s almost like having a neighbor.

Then the ship lands and Yondu spears Mr. Lizard through the eye with one shrill whistle. Well. That and the Yaka Arrow.

“He died a hero’s death,” Pete says as she kicks his corpse into the oncoming snowstorm. “Rest in peace, you crazy dick.”

Then she turns on Yondu. “What’s the matter with you? I almost froze to death!”

“Yeah, and there’s still time if you don’t get that tent packed up.” Yondu calls the arrow back to him with another whistle, then turns and strides back on board, his figure lost in a blast of snowflakes. “Stir those stumps, Red—I ain’t waiting more ‘n two minutes.”

The storm almost grounds them anyway. Pete stores the heater and what’s left of the tent in the cargo hold before stomping up to the galley. The whole place stinks like whiskey and spicy perfume; Pete might not be allowed in the Iron Lotus, but she’ll be smelling it for weeks.

You’d think that the crew’d feel, oh, just a smidge guilty for abandoning her on the tundra just so they could party it out in a whorehouse, but that’s seriously overestimating their capacity for decency, or even common sense. All Pete gets is heckling.

“Girl! I’ve got a bone to pick with you.” That’s Kraglin, breathing down her neck while Pete fixes herself her first non-triple-gravy smothered meal in weeks. “Two weeks and you’ve turned my tent into goddamn Swiss cheese!”

Dumbass. You’ve never seen Swiss cheese. She tears open a packet of freeze-dried soup.

“Where’s my sleeping bag?” That’s some supersized, ugly-ass Stark who joined the crew when Pete was ten. Hasn’t bothered to learn her name yet, so she hasn’t bothered with his. “Did you steal my sleeping bag, small fry?”

Pete slurps a spoonful of her gritty soup. “I didn’t steal it. I left it behind.”

The Stark glares at her, fists clenched and snorting through his nose like a bull. Pete leaves her bowl and books it to the hall before he breaks out of this temporary, rage-induced paralysis. She cranes her head around the doorway just long enough to say, “And don’t call me small fry, Becky,” before racing for the shafts.

+

She’s still just skinny enough to slot herself in. Supersized Ugly-Ass stays on the warpath for a couple hours; it gives Pete plenty of time to seethe. Seems like nobody remembers it was her thieving that got them the payday. The payday that got them two weeks in in a whorehouse and her two weeks in a tent.

Granted they were both in the frozen ass-crack of nowhere, but given the choice Pete would have taken the whorehouse.

But hey, when has she ever been given a choice?

By the time Pete slides down she’s seeing red. A red brewed out of every freezing cold, lizard-squirting night she spent on Contraxia, plus the two days before that, the grappling and crawling and jimmying, the squeezing into maintenance closets, soaked in sweat and (though she’ll never admit this) about ready to pee her pants while security thundered past the flimsy, unlocked door. Yondu puts her through all that, then thinks he can just boot her out into the snow? No. He owes her more. The whole crew owes her more.

She doesn’t quite realize where her feet have carried her until she slams open the door to the captain’s cabin and is greeted by the sight of Yondu stripped to the waist and snoring like a prize sow.

Oh, God.

But there’s no turning back now.

“Hey!” hisses Pete. Yondu rolls over, grumbling and snorting, so she kicks the bedpost. “Hey, old man. I’m talking to you!”

Yondu cracks an eyelid and growls. For a second Pete shrinks back, sure he’ll spear her through the throat with his arrow. Then he yawns and she regroups.

“No girly name this time, huh? You’re losing your touch, Red.”

“You don’t look like a Becky,” snaps Pete, “and I couldn’t come up with anything else.” She jams her hands into her pockets. “Must be the frostbite.”

“Girl, if you got frostbite it’s your own damn fault. We set you up warm enough.”

“You set me up in the middle of the Arctic!” But that’s not the point. Or at least it’s only part of the point. Pete stuffs her hands even deeper into her pockets (with any luck Yondu won’t notice that they’re both curled into fists). “I know you need a lot of beauty sleep,” she says, “so I’ll keep this short.”

Yondu scowls. But he hasn’t threatened to drop-kick her ass out the door yet; Pete takes the bait and plows on.

“I’m part of this crew, too. I should be going where the rest of you go.”

Yondu snorts. Then snickers. Then laughs harder than he has since Pete head-butted Tullk over who’d get the last can of gravy-free refried beans.

“I’m the one making you money!” she raises her voice, but it doesn’t matter. “It’s only fair.”

“Fair?” He actually wipes his eyes. “Fair ain’t got nothing to do with it, not till you’re old enough.”

“So when will I be old enough?” Pete’s palms sting as she digs her nails into them.

Yondu shrugs. “Ain’t no doctor, am I? How should I know ‘bout Terran biology?”

Now it’s Pete’s turn to snort. “I ain’t no doctor either, but I can tell you that leaving Terrans—” she stumbles over the word, even now, it just doesn’t sound right. Never has. “—out in the freezing cold for two weeks doesn’t ever end well. You’re lucky you got me back in one piece.”

“Tent, heater, sleeping bag, snow pants, coat.” Yondu ticks the items off his fingers. “We set you up warm enough,” he repeats.

“Yeah,” argues Pete, “until that lizard spit holes in it.”

Yondu cracks out one of his nastier grins. “Took one bitty frost lizard to bring you down, huh?”

He’s enjoying this, Pete realizes. “I didn’t say that!”

“Hell, Red, when I was your age I was spearing those suckers and eating them for dinner. So were half my boys, and none of them whined like you do.”

Not if she knows Kraglin anywhere near as well as she thinks she does. “How would you know?”

“Cause I know.” Yondu taps his temple with one finger, then settles back into his pillow. “My patience is about run out,” he remarks.

He’s been sidetracking her. Sidetracking her this whole time; not that she should be surprised. Pete tries to pull herself out of the boiling rage that only being accused of whining after two weeks spent fighting off a poisonous lizard can induce. Tries spinning Yondu’s head with some fantastic bit of reasoning that’ll fry whatever withered, straining brain cells he has left.

It doesn’t work.

“I’m part of this crew,” she repeats, hating how quiet her voice gets, how much she means it. “You can’t just leave me wherever you want to, whenever. I don’t deserve that.”

All Pete gets is another snicker. “What you deserve and what you don’t ain’t none of your concern,” says Yondu, talking to her as slowly as Kraglin did when Pete was laid up with a concussion after head-butting Tullk (at least she got her beans). “But the rest of us all need two things every once in a while: rest and contemplation.”

Like there’s so much to contemplate when your face is buried in a sex bot’s tits.

“Rest and contemplation,” he repeats, drawing out the last word. “Now how’re we supposed to get that if you’re trailing after us, whining and pissing all the way?”

It feels like her nails have dug through to the other side of her palm. “I’m not four.”

“You ain’t full-grown, either.” Yondu flashes her one of his sharp looks, the kind that used to root her to the spot and cut her to the core, all at once. Back when she was eight, anyway. “Beat it.”

Pete glares at him. “You owe me.”

The look gets even sharper. “What?”

“I stole the money you spent in that whorehouse,” she says. “You owe me.”

Yondu yawns again. “When I picked you up most of my boys hadn’t even seen a Terran before. Sure hadn’t tasted one. I was the only thing stopping them from serving you up with an apple in your mouth and a gut full of breadcrumbs. I saved your life.”

Pete unclenches her fists as Yondu rolls over, turning his back to her. She’s not grateful, even if you can be grateful for something that never actually happened, but she knows that Yondu’s heard all he wants to hear. She won’t be winning this fight now.

Not tonight.

“So the way I see it, Red—“ his voice is muffled by another yawn, “you’re the one that owes me.”

“That’s not true,” Pete says. Whispers. “And you know it.”

+

Turns out the one thing Yondu can’t argue with is engine trouble. Pete’s on watch duty the night, three months down the road, when not one, or even two, but three of their engines give out. Pop!—just like that.  

They end up docked in some backwater, black-market corner of Xandar. Finding a mechanic who can promise that the ship’ll be up and running any time soon ends up being the hardest part. There’s really only one place to stay.

“Try making me pitch a tent and I’ll break your toes,” Pete tells Kraglin.

“Why don’t you just shut up, huh?” He slugs her shoulder, but there’s no real heat behind it. The upside of getting kicked around by Yondu for five years is that everyone else’s blows start to feel like butterfly kisses. It’s all about intention; Yondu puts real thought into his punches.

Kraglin shakes out his hand, glowering. “Capn’s got me on babysitting duty. You happy now?”

“Oh boo-hoo, Sherry,” she says. “I’m a joy to be around.”

Monty’s isn’t what you’d call a classy joint. Pete’s not wild to see a bunch of half-naked women, and she’s sure not looking forward to watching the crew hook up with said women, but being there with the rest of them means something. And if nothing else, she’ll get to torment Kraglin—that’s always a blast.

“Come on,” she says, checking out the dusty jukebox propped in a corner. “This is so much better than getting laid.”

Behind her Kraglin grinds his teeth, but Pete’s not joking. Her eyes drop to the last song on the list and she claps her hands. “Holy crap! I haven’t heard this one in ages.”

The coin slot’s been altered to take galactic units; Pete pops a few in and presses the right buttons and as soon as the music starts she feels a lightness in her stomach and a fizzle in her nerves, because she knows.

It might not be on the mixtape, but this song is Mom through and through. Long and loud, joyful and bouncy. It glitters. And—maybe she’s kidding herself, but who cares—if Pete thinks back far enough she can just remember stomping and whirling across the kitchen of the galaxy’s tiniest house, her fingers laced through Mom’s, belting along to this same song.

That happened, right?

Right.

When the song’s over Pete feeds the jukebox the last of her units in order to replay it. Then she heads over to the bar. Kraglin’s nursing a murky glass full of what looks like drain cleaner, and he’s none too happy with her music selection.

(What a surprise.)

“The hell’s that racket?” He sounds half-sloshed already.

Pete swipes his glass, swigs, and, somehow, swallows. Kraglin smirks as she slumps against the bar, coughing.

“Dude! This tastes like shit!”

“Uh-uh. I just got a more refined palette.”

“I think you palette must be dead,” Pete wheezes.

“Girl, your ears must be dead. You just spent all your credits on something sounds like a drowning cat.”

“Starship,” says Pete, “does not sound like a drowning cat. I bet you’ve never heard a drowning cat.”

“Well…” Kraglin stops to chug down what’s left in his glass. Pete gags. Sooner or later that stuff’s going to melt his guts to soup. “…I heard a talking duck try to sing once. Sounded better than this.”

Pete rolls her eyes. Kraglin wouldn’t know good music if it shimmied right into his lap. Which is what a Krylorian girl in jean cut-offs and a spangled purple bra has just decided to do. She’s been eyeing him from the other end of the bar ever since Starship started playing. But Pete can tell from the way Kraglin starts when the girl slides up against him that he was more interested in the rotgut.

“Hiya,” says the girl. She smiles wide and curls a strand of dyed purple hair around her finger.

Kraglin’s eyes flicker between her and Pete. Pete’s about to tell him to go ahead (Yondu climbed the stairs with a woman on each arm five minutes ago; Pete doubts he’s in any position to come back down to check on them.) when Kraglin sighs, then stands up so quickly that he spills the girl off his lap and onto the floor.

“Sorry, ma’am,” he grumbles, “but I ain’t off the clock yet.”

“Nice bra,” Pete offers, because she feels a little bad for the girl—hooker or not, anyone willing to hit on Kraglin must be mighty desperate. She reaches out to help her up, only to have her hand slapped away. The girl hisses something truly unmentionable, even by Ravager standards, clambers up, and flounces off.

Kraglin orders another glass as the jukebox clicks to a stop. The song’s last few notes shimmer through the air like glitter. Pete almost cups her hand, waiting for them to fall down.

Mom loved this song.

Mom’s not here, though. And it doesn’t matter that she’s finally going everywhere they’re going; this crew is not her family, and not a single planet scattered through this tripped out galaxy is her home.

She jumps when Kraglin slams down his glass. “You best sort out whatever’s between you and the Capn’.”

“What whatever?” Pete asks, but she doesn’t look at him.

“Don’t go stupid on me. A thorn in my side is what you are—but you ain’t stupid. Sort it out,” Kraglin repeats, “Or else he’ll have me watching out for you for the rest of my days. And that’s his job.”

“Why?”

For a second Kraglin looks shocked, and Pete wonders if she missed something.

“Yondu’s the only one ever really wanted to keep you onboard.”

Only a second.

+

Okay, objectively, Kraglin’s right. Yondu had his reasons for keeping Pete aboard. The thing is, they were a lot more mercenary and a whole lot less sappy than whatever Kraglin seems to believe they were. She’s skinny, fast, good with her hands. That’s what Yondu saw. That’s what he kept.

There’ve been times when she thought there was something more to it. He ripped out her loose tooth, back when she was nine and too much of a wimp to do it herself. And the first time she hit a target with his castoff blaster—well, for a second there she thought his smile looked less smug than proud.

So, times when she was stupid. If Kraglin doesn’t believe her, he can just go and ask Yondu himself.

You never got to your daddy ‘cause I found a better use for you.

That was three weeks ago. The knot on her head’s gone down, but those words still feel mighty fresh. Not that they hurt. Hurting would mean that she cared about him in the first place. Which she didn’t. Maybe sometimes she wanted to, maybe sometimes she thought she could, but she never did.

Pete’s fingers curl around the Walkman in her pocket. He gave it back to you, some tiny pussy voice inside her squeaks. She doesn’t listen to it. If five years aboard a Ravager ship has taught her anything, it’s that those kinds of voices are full of shit.

+

Since she’s fresh out of credits, Pete has no choice but to pester Kraglin until he buys her a drink. It’s rum mixed with some kind of fruity syrup. Slides down a lot easier than the rotgut. Pete empties the glass in under five minutes, then slides off her stool, stumbling as she hits the ground.

“Lightweight,” Kraglin sneers. When she starts toward the door, though, he snags her arm. “Where you off to?”

“Gotta pee.” Pete shakes him off. “Don’t follow me.”

“Don’t you run off.”

Yeah, where, down the outhouse hole? By the time she clambers out, hitching up her pants, Pete’s head is swimming and she swears she hears the notes of her jukebox song still trailing through the air.

And we can build this dream together, standing strong forever…

She’s circling around the back of the house when she sees him, and the sight slaps her in the face like a bucket full of cold water.

Nothing’s gonna stop us now.

Pete doesn’t know the guy personally. He’s not much different from the rest of the fine citizens hanging around the yard. Scraggly, coyote-mean, drooling over the girls. But he’s got that look to him. Unmistakable, if you’ve been taught to pick it out, and she sure has. This one’s a bounty hunter. Kree to boot.

Fuck.

Yondu’s never been an open book, least of all about his past, but Pete’s seen the bounty notices, and his scars. She knows why, no matter how easy the mark, they stay out of the Kree provinces. Sometimes she’s stupid. But she’s no moron.

Pete turns on her heel, circling to the back end of the house again. She obviously didn’t bother checking which room Yondu went into, so this going to be the very max of painfully awkward. Awesome.

As you’d expect from an unlicensed cathouse in the middle of Hicksville, Monty’s is not exactly structurally sound. Pete shimmies up the waterspout, then onto the roof, all while the building’s practically swaying in a breeze. She darts from window to window, wishing she could bleach her eyeballs right out of their sockets.

Nope. Nope. Jesus—Nope.

When she finally knocks on his window, Yondu yells louder than both of the topless women still in there with him. Pete feels like screaming her head off—it’s truly a grisly sight—but settles for a low, disgusted whimper. She clamps both hands over her eyes and squints through her fingers until Yondu pushes open the window.

“Oh my God. Oh my Lord.”

He grabs her under the armpits and yanks her through, banging her head against the window frame on the way in. Under the circumstances, Pete’s practically grateful.

“Sweet Jesus,” she moans, blinking as the white-hot flash of pain mercifully explodes behind her eyeballs. “How I am supposed to get that out of my head?”

“Like this,” growls Yondu, doling out one of his patented upside-the-head slaps.

Pete cups her head in her hands. “It’s not working. You,” she growls, “are disgusting, old man.”

“Well now,” says Yondu, his voice thick as the fruit syrup with sarcasm, “without you yapping that in my ear day in and day out, I clean forgot. It was very restful, Red. Very peaceful-like.”

 Pete lets out a painful giggle. “Clean? You aren’t ever getting clean again.”

That earns her another slap. This one clears her head a bit, reminds her why she’s up here in the first place. She blinks, waiting until the sparks and floaters fade from her eyes before risking a look around the room.

The two women are backed into a corner, watching Yondu whale on Pete with the same kind of pie-eyed, disgusted fascination that she’s seen on pretty much everybody’s face when he scarfs down three cans of Crazy Joe’s like it’s the best thing since deep-fried moon worms.

“It’s okay,” she tells them. “You just can’t leave this room.”

Neither of the women looks very reassured. Yondu grumbles as he stomps back to the bed to grab his shirt. At least he got back into his pants before pulling her through the window—thank God for small mercies.

“Girl, you better have a damn good reason for interuptin’ the best nookie—“

Shutupshutupshutup!”

“—I was ever ‘bout to get.” Yondu tugs the shirt over his head. “And why these sweet ladies here ain’t allowed to hightail it.”

All of a sudden Pete’s stomach’s in knots. “I saw a bounty hunter outside,” she says. Her head throbs. “I think he’s Kree.”

Yondu’s expression doesn’t change, but, right before Pete’s eyes, a stillness runs through him. He stiffens in a way she’s never seen before, not even in the moments before he’s about to go off on some idiot, fists flying.

It doesn’t exactly help with the knots.

“You trying to fool me, Red?”

“No.” It comes out so strong she surprises herself.

“You sure he was a merc?”

She meets his gaze and holds it. “You taught me what to look for.”

He nods, glances out the window. Pete sees the line of his shoulders, stiff and tense as a board, and something inside her just twists.

(Not because she cares.

Because she really doesn’t.)

“I’ve got a plan,” Pete blurts.

Yondu glances back at her. His lip twitches; a single gold-capped tooth winks back at her. “Do you now.”

+

Let Yondu think what he wants—Pete is the best thief in the galaxy. One of the best, anyway. And a thief’s nothing if not a trickster.

She crawls out the window, slithers down the pipe, sprints around the house, back through the door, and crashes to a stop by the bar.

“Kraglin!” she screeches.

He’s so deep in his cups that it’s a wonder he’s not swimming. “Girl!” Kraglin yowls back, eyes rolling in two different directions. “I thought you must’ve fell in!”

Geez. It hasn’t even been ten minutes. How much of the stuff has he guzzled? Pete snaps her fingers and his eyes slowly wander towards her face.

“See this?” she wails, and points to the bruise purpling under her eye.

He almost falls off his stool. Before Pete can stop him, Kraglin’s grabbed her arm and pulled her close. He grabs her chin with his other hand, turning her face towards the light.

“Who?”

(“You’re going to have to punch me.”

“That supposed to be the hard part?”

“Just shut up and do it!”)

“Who?” Kraglin repeats. Underneath all the boozy fumes Pete detects a note of cold steel.

Perfect.

She turns (slowly, for maximum effect), and raises a wobbling arm to point out the door.

Him,” she whispers.

Kraglin’s face blanches as he sizes up the bounty hunter, who, by Pete’s calculations, weighs as much Kraglin, Yondu, and her put together. Maybe more. Kraglin swallows once. Twice. Then he staggers to his feet, clapping Pete on the shoulder.

“Sit tight, honey. I’ll take care of this.”

+

It ends up being one of Pete’s better distractions. The sound of Kraglin getting beaten to a pulp draws the rest of the crew down, and once they see her face (“He wanted to put his hand in my pants!”) all bets are off. She even gets in a couple kicks herself.

Breaking someone’s teeth is so easy it scares her.

The fight ends with the yard in shambles and Kraglin, the bounty hunter, Tullk, and Pete hauled in to the province’s only jail. Four days later, when the engines are finally fixed, Yondu arrives to bail them out.

“You took your sweet time,” says Pete.

“Had to lie low didn’t I?” The brawl left him with just enough time to scale the pipe himself and hurry away unnoticed. Pete had a heck of a time explaining her plan to Kraglin and Tullk, especially the part where pitting them against the humongous Kree was the only way to go.

Yondu leans back against the wall as a guard unlocks their cell door. “Y’all are lucky the sheriff out here’s as crooked as this girl’s teeth.”

“Yeah, sure, I’m the one with the screwed-up teeth.”

The stupidest part is, she’s still glad to see him.

+

The next time they make a pit stop in Knowhere, Pete combs through one of the outpost’s ten billion junkyards until she finds an almost brand-new pup tent. 

“’Least it ain’t Swiss cheese,” says Kraglin.

“I’ll take that as a thank you.”

“What about my sleeping bag?” asks Supersized Ugly-Ass. Pete smiles at him and shrugs.

“Sorry, Becky. I just couldn’t find any in your colors.”

That night she finds a new tape dropped on her pillow, the case cracked and the label scratched off so she’ll know that it’s barely a gift at all. The minute she puts it in her Walkman and presses play, though, the jig is up. It’s Starship.

+

They’re talking again. Some things you can’t walk away from unchanged, and helping a convict escape through the back window of a whorehouse is most definitely one of them. So Pete goes back to ribbing him, and Yondu goes back to reminding her of exactly how many different recipes for Terran he knows.

They don’t talk about what happened three weeks ago. Pete doubts he’ll ever bring up the Great Walkman Blowout, and that’s just fine with her. Though he’d want to talk about it, if he were halfway decent.

Then again, so would she.

“Hey.” She plunks down into the copilot’s chair, settles her feet on the dash.

“None of that now, Red.”

“None of what?”

“None of this blubberin’ heart-on-heart crap. I ain’t taking it no more.”

“Heart-to-heart.” Pete snaps.

“What?”

“It’s heart-to-heart, you idiot.”

“I ain’t dealing with it is what. And get your damn feet off my dash.”

Pete swings her legs down, then switches on the tape deck. Fleetwood Mac booms through the ship’s loudspeakers.

Yondu switches it off. “Girl—“

“I just want to sit!” she snarls. “Is that a crime?”

He doesn’t answer. For a good five minutes they both sit in a steadily thickening silence. They’re flying far north of Knowhere, waiting things out in the real back of the beyond. Pete’s pretty sure that the bounty hunter wasn’t specifically searching for Yondu, but the word will get back. Being nearby when it does would be beyond stupid.

Yondu pilots; Pete watches the stars. She remembers that this was one of the only things (well, besides biting, kicking, and hiding up the ducts) that made those first couple months on board bearable—she watched the strange constellations and stranger planets whizzing by, and pretended she was Han Solo on the Millennium Falcon. She still likes watching them, but the stars aren’t as strange as they used to be.

Finally she says, “I stomped that guy’s face in.”

“Did what you had to,” says Yondu. Grumbles, like he can’t believe she’s roped him into this again.

Pete can’t believe it either. After what he said, this blue dingbat should be the last person she’d come to for anything. But what the hell. She needs to get this off her chest, and he’s going to listen.

“That’s not true,” she says. “I broke his teeth. Probably his nose too.”

She fiddles with the headphones looped over her neck. Also almost brand-new, also rescued from the junkyard. She wraps the cord around her fingertips until they pulse red, then white. “I didn’t like doing that,” Pete says.

“Got the job done. Whatever you’re feeling ‘bout it now don’t matter.”

“No,” she says, “listen—I didn’t like doing it, but I didn’t hate doing it either. I wanted to do it. I really, really wanted to hurt him.”

Yondu steers the ship clear of a passing meteor.

“I don’t want that,” says Pete. “I don’t want to be like you.”

She expects a punch or worse but Yondu does…nothing. He keeps steering, she keeps sitting, and neither of them says anything more for a long time. It’s nice. Peaceful-like.

He grabs her arm when she gets up to go. “Planning on camping out next time we take leave?”

So “camping out” was all her idea to begin with? Pete’s too tired drag this fight out again, though. She snaps “Make me,” and leaves it at that.

Yondu settles back. “Seems to me you shouldn’t. What with being part of the crew—“

“Part of the crew, huh? What about all my whining and pissing?”

“I figure that might not be a problem no more, seeing as you haven’t pissed your pants in a few years.”

 “That happened once! Cause I got locked in a mausoleum!”

Yondu ignores her. “Anyway—“ the next few words sound like he’s talking through a mouthful of broken glass, “—you didn’t fuck up too bad back on Xandar. Way I see it, I owe you a little something.”

A smile tugs at the corners of Pete’s mouth. She doesn’t stop it. “Do you ever.”

Yondu flicks his eyes away from the controls just long enough to glare at her. “Don’t test me, girl.”

“Aww. When have I ever?” Pete says, skipping out of reach. But she’s raising up the cover on the exit hatch before Yondu speaks again.

“You did what needed doing. There ain’t no shame in that.”

Pete fumbles with the hatch cover. She loses her grip, and it slams down like a sack of bricks.

I don’t want to be like you.

“You hear me, Red?”

After all he’s done, all he’s going to do, why does she still care? When did she begin to care at all?

Because she does, all right? For crap’s sake, she saved him. Only an idiot would keep denying it at this point. But she can’t forget what he did three weeks ago, what he did five years ago; she can’t forget the Walkman or his smiles—his real smiles—either and how can she carry it all, how can she know what she’s supposed to feel?

She can’t.

She can’t.

Pete swallows back the lump in her throat. “Loud and clear.”

Yondu huffs. “Good. I figured you’d fell and cracked that thick skull of yours.” Then he steers their ship forward, farther and farther into the middle of nowhere.