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Come A Little Bit Closer

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Chapter One

Because…

Wait until its dark outside, then go somewhere secluded and as far from city lights as possible. Find a place with an open view of the sky. Lie on the ground and put on some headphones. Listen to ‘Because’ by The Beatles as you gaze up at the stars… Did you feel that? That catch in your breath as you stared at the immense sky and realized that every single one of those stars is another world…

The galaxy never ceases to amaze me. It also never fails to pull a real humdinger of a surprise on me either. Like how I got roped into becoming a Ravager, or how I helped raise a little boy who became a part of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Oh, that last part got your attention, huh? Shall I start at the beginning? Heh. Okay, here it goes.

My DNA and bio scans have me registered as half Terran and Threxian. Both species are similar in appearance which has lead to many misidentifications, trust me. I spent the better half of my life on the planet Threx, my mother’s home world, but as for Terra I’ve never been. Dad said it was too dangerous for anyone non-Terran to be there (although the word he used was ‘hew-man’, I think I’m saying that right). He tried to explain it to me a long time ago and from what I could understand it sounded to me like Terrans are scared of anything unlike their own kind. So how did my parents meet and end up being a happily married couple who traveled about space? I have no scarrin’ clue. They never got around to telling me about it.

Dad died when I was a squig of a girl, barely eleven years old. By that time in my life, my family had left Threx on a journey to Xandar where my parents were sure to find great jobs but along the way our ship sustained major damage and needed repairs, so Dad docked us at the nearest space station; Knowhere. It scared the sprek out of me the first time I saw it. Somehow the station had been built inside the severed head of a Celestial being! Knowhere’s notorious for being the trading post, hideout, and haven for misfits, runaways, unsavory characters and the worst of the worst, Ravagers (think space pirates).

“We’ll be here only long enough to get the parts we need,” Dad had said. Unfortunately, our ship was far too damaged for a short stay. That ended up being the death of my dad. We’d been on Knowhere for about a week when some thug killed him for a part he’d just bought for our engine. I didn’t just lose my dad that night, I lost my mom too. It was like a part of her died on the spot. She got to where she barely spoke and was rarely lucid enough to take care of matters. At age eleven, I had to become her care-taker. I had to find work among the seedy populous. I had to learn to survive. And I did.

…………………………………………………………….

Seven Years Later

My time keeper let out a trilling sound, waking me from a surprisingly restful slumber. I’d probably gotten about six hours of sleep which for me was a very good ‘night’s’ sleep. I say ‘night’ but honestly there’s no day or night on Knowhere. All there is is dark skies and thousands of lights illuminating the space station. Sure the inhabitants have a way to keep time but we usually don’t refer to anything as ‘day’, it’s always ‘night’. That’s one of the many things I learned on this sprek-hole of a station. Once I realized Mom and I weren’t getting out of there, I adapted real quick. The ship was beyond repair, so it became our home. I held a tiny flicker of hope that one day I’d save enough units to buy us passage off of Knowhere. I didn’t have any destination in mind, anywhere was better than this place.

Groaning a bit as I sat up from my bunk, my head thunked on the ceiling and I cringed as a throbbing sense of pain spread along my skull. “Sprek,” I hissed, rubbing the crown of my head. Lowering myself onto my stomach, I eased my upper body over the edge of my bunk to peak at the lower bunk’s occupant. My mom lay sleeping, undisturbed from the noise.

Being a Threxian, Mom aged slower than Terrans. Some would confuse us for sisters and not mother and daughter. I looked a bit like her my mom. We both sported red hair, had a similar Cupid’s bow mouth and both stood at 5’ 8”, but the rest of my features was all me. Green eyes, a slightly turned up nose and freckles all over my body. Sometimes I wish I looked a little bit like my dad so I could see something of him in the mirror, ya know?

Taking care not to make any additional noise, I crept down the short ladder from my bunk to the floor and tip-toed about the room, picking up my pack, my boots, my jacket, and my compact spear. The spear was something I’d been working on since I was fifteen. One push of a button and it would spring into a full-sized spear or with a twist here or there it would down-size to fit my needs. It did have a bit of a weight to it but since I’d been practicing with it for a few years so it felt second nature to me. At the moment, it could easily fit into my pack among the various cobs and bwabs I kept inside.

Sneaking out of the room, I quietly slid the partition into place so I could fix myself breakfast without waking Mom. I glanced over at the charger on the table and grinned to see a little blue light blinking at me. My music device was all juiced up and ready for me. I’m sure music device isn’t the correct term but I forgot what that Terran wares peddler called it when he sold it to me about two years back. Despite knowing next to nothing about my Terran culture, I’ve found I have a deep love of its music. Since discovering it I’ve gone about collecting music and tinkering on the device so that it can contain more songs for me to enjoy. Sometimes when I’ve got nothing planned for the day and I’m hanging about the ship, I play some music on speaker for Mom to hear. I think she listens to it because she seems to go really still, as if she’s trying to catch every squig note.

Today – heh ‘day’ – I put in my earphones (headphones?) and clipped the device to my belt. I pressed the play button and music blasted out of them, just the way I liked it. I scrounged around the ship’s kitchen to find something to eat, my movements synchronizing with the beat.

“I am immortal; I have inside me blood of kings
I have no rival, No man can be my equal
Take me to the future of your world!”

Grabbing a bowl and a whisk, I may have used them as props for the next verses as I passionately mouthed the words.

“I'm a man that will go far,
Fly the moon and reach for the stars,
With my sword - ,”

So what if it was a whisk?

“– and head held high,
Got to pass the test first time – yeah!
I know that people talk about me I hear it every day,
But I can prove you wrong cos I'm right first time, yeah!”

I happened to glance at the time keeper on my wrist and winced. No time to dally. I had to get some food in me and hurry off to where I was to work for the day. I scrambled up some prelk eggs and shoveled in as much as possible, making sure to leave enough for Mom when she woke…if she woke before I returned. Mom was sleeping more and more often. It had me worried.

About a month ago, Mom’s condition had gotten worse. I’d done all I could but she needed real help. I needed to get her to a medical station, not the sprekken med stalls this recycle heap of a station had to offer. She needed to leave Knowhere, but that would require units that we didn’t have. Passage off of the station was pricey; I couldn’t even begin to guess how much medical care would cost.

A slight shuffling sound caught my ear.

“Mom?”

She stood in the opening of the partition, blankly looking around the room. I had been in the process of tugging on my boots and I remained hunkered over my knees as if the slightest movement my scare off my mom.

“I was just about to leave for the garage,” I said. Her eyes didn’t focus on me when I spoke. A sinking feeling in my gut made itself at home. She was having one of those spells again. She probably wouldn’t say a word all night. “I cooked some eggs. There’s some left for you.”

She was like a proux, or a ghost as my dad called them; she floated into the room as if I weren’t there. Her hands brushed the small table as she passed by. I knew where she was heading. The cockpit. She’d taken to sitting in the chair and just staring out the window. I sighed and finished putting on my boots, scrapped the leftover eggs onto a plate and carried it with me as I followed her. She was exactly where I thought she’d be.

“Here, Mom.” I gently took her hands and closed her fingers over the plate and an eating utensil with blunt edges. Her gaze never wavered from the window as she slowly brought a bit of egg to her mouth and chewed. I felt a rush of relief seeing her eat. I was constantly worried that one night I wouldn’t be able to get her to eat. Sometimes she’d forget to.

I didn’t want to leave her alone when she was like this but I needed to get to work. There was no win in this situation. “I’ll be home right after work,” I told her and kissed her on the cheek. I got a slight hum from her in response. I felt a little better at that.

I left her a note about where I’d be and what time I’d be home, on the off chance she might read it, and double-checked I had everything I needed on me before I left the ship. I took a moment to scan the area, seeing the familiar sight of the station, its buildings and occupants. I shrugged into my brown leather jacket, placed my ear phones so that they hung from my neck and cranked up the volume so I could hear my music but also my surroundings as well. No need to get run over by some contraption because I had my ear phones on, right? With a sigh and Sam Cooke singing ‘Wonderful World’ near my ears, I squared my shoulders and descended the gangway from my ship and into the milling crowd. I glanced at my time keeper and smirked. If luck was on my side then I’d make it to Malek’s garage just in time.

Malek was a six-armed, red-skinned and black-haired creature that reminded me of the trolls Dad once read to me from a book of Terran stories called ‘fairytales’. Malek had known me since I came to be on Knowhere, but he was far from being a father figure to me. He was more of a ‘better show this kid what’s what before she causes me any trouble’ kind of guy. I think I’ve grown on him within the past seven years though. I’m too cute for him to dislike me. … Yeah right, ha!

His business consisted of spare parts for almost any ship you could think of. He was also one of the few who did honest work, no illegal or stolen parts, he went by the book. Not because he believed in integrity but because he viewed dishonesty as too much of a hassle. What a guy, right?

Since I began to work with Malek he taught me how the parts we sold worked on the ships and how to identify what kind of ship it would go to just by looking at it. He taught me which were worth the most units, which were in demand, how to spot a faulty part or a fake and any other tidbits of information he felt like imparting to me if the mood suited him. The thing I was most grateful to him for teaching me was the knowledge I needed to build my gadgets like my spear. That came in handy more often than I care to admit.

“Lydia, you’re late,” Malek growled at me the moment I entered the garage. It’s not that he was being unpleasant, per say, his voice just naturally came out as a growl. At least that’s how he sounded every time I’ve heard him talk. I think it has something to do with his species.

I held up my time keeper. “By two minutes!” I yelled over the sounds of machinery from the back of the building.

“Two minutes of work gone!” he shouted back. I rolled my eyes and removed my jacket as I walked to my locker. I felt Malek’s black eyes on me but I said nothing, waiting for him to speak. “You wore that outfit yesterday,” he grunted as I passed him by.

Whirling around, my jacket clutched dramatically to my chest, I feigned an expression of awe. “Malek, you noticed what I was wearing! I’m flattered, really I am!”

He snorted, unamused, and turned to his work. “You’re hair looks like a reshk nest.”

I frowned ever so slightly and lifted a hand to my tangled hair. Okay, so I’d slept with my hair in the braids I usually styled my hair in. So what? I can’t be bothered to refresh them every night. Plus I was so exhausted when I got home I went straight to bed without even thinking of changing into my sleepwear or unbraiding my hair.

“Planning to leave the junk business to be a fashion consultant, Malek?” I asked testily. A few workers who managed to overhear my comment snickered until Malek threw a glare their way and barked at them to get back to work.

He returned his gaze to me and pointed one finger at me while the hands of his other arms continued to sort various engine parts. “You make trouble, little girl.”

“Oh, Malek, I know it must be difficult to hide your true feelings from me, but you must resist! What would people think?” I quickly ducked into the hall to my work station before he could either explode or throw something at me.

“Cheeky she-devil!” I heard him shout. Ah, he went for exploding. His words were followed by a metallic bang that prompted me to step up my pace. Alright, exploding and throwing.

“You’re gonna push your luck too far one day,” Zeg sing-songed at me as I joined him at our shared station.

“Ah, never; he loves me too much.”

Zeg smirked and shook his head, refusing to take the bait.

Zeg was a K’aitian with green skin and yellow eyes. He and I had worked together for almost two years and we flirted often with each other, but we both knew nothing would happen. It wasn’t that I found him unappealing, being raised among various beings of differing cultures had taught me to be open minded about the diverse standards of beauty. Zeg and I both knew that we weren’t attracted to each other to go any further than playful flirting.

“How’s your mother?” he asked me.

The smile on my face was a bit strained. “She’s … okay.”

Zeg winced. “My apologies.”

We worked in silence for nearly twenty minutes, my mind on my mom’s health and how even with the additional jobs I had taken on the side since she got sick, I still wasn’t earning enough to get her out of Knowhere any time soon. My thoughts must have shown on my face because Zeg nudged my arm and looked around. “How desperate are you for units?”

“If Mom doesn’t get out of here soon…”

“Would you consider a job that may be …shady?”

My head twitched sharply but I refrained from showing any additional surprise in case someone was watching. “How shady?” I asked.

“Thieving.”

“…Depends on the haul,” I whispered.

“M-ship parts are in high-demand these days, but shipments aren’t being delivered fast enough.”

“And?”

“Aaand I happen to know from a friend of mine at the docks that a Ravager flagship carrying several M-ships will be arriving on Knowhere tomorrow night.”

“A Ravager ship?” I hissed. Was he insane? Ravagers were dangerous! Everyone knew that! Yet, I couldn’t turn it down without hearing all the details. “How much are M-ship parts going for now?”

“About 30,000 units for most engine parts, 5,000 each for fuel containers; the list goes on. Nothing is less than a thousand units.”

I did the math in my head, figuring in a passage for two and doing broad guesswork for medical costs. I’d need to steal engine parts.

“Zeg…”

“Hm?”

“Don’t tell Malek.”

“You have my word.”

………………………………………………………

The Next Night

I had the next night off. For the past month since Mom got sick, if I found myself with a free night, I’d go searching for a small job that would pay units immediately after completion. Not this night though. Tonight I’d be observing the Ravager ship and waiting for the opportune moment.

I made sure to put on a change of clothes and re-braided my hair into one long red braid instead of having several like I usually do. I washed my face, glared at the explosion of freckles that didn’t have the decency to limit themselves to just my cheeks, and fixed something to eat for Mom. She was a little more lucid than yester night. When I set her plate down on the table before her she actually looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back and looked away before that ache in my chest could grow any bigger.

Just as I was withdrawing my hand, Mom grasped it between both of hers and kissed it. “My girl,” she mumbled, giving the top of my hand an affectionate pat. If I’d had any doubts as to whether or not I could actually go through with stealing from a Ravager ship, it got kicked square in the face just by those two words.

I squeezed hers back and leaned over to kiss my mom’s forehead. “I love you,” I whispered before leaving my home that night.

I had my pack and spear with me as well as my music device and time keeper. I loitered around the vendor stalls near the docks as I waited for the Ravager ship to arrive. In my opinion it came too soon, I hadn’t had enough time to properly psych myself up for what I was going to do. It huge! I think I probably stood there gaping at it for a few minutes before I realized my mouth was hanging open. It was a flagship with paint so faded I could barely make out the name on its side. The Eclector.

My mouth twisted into a perplexed line. What the sprek kind of name was the Eclector?

Just as I was beginning to think (and hope) it was the wrong ship, a gangplank was lowered and a group wearing Ravager red exited the ship. Well, so much for hoping.

I tracked the group with my eyes and waited until they thinned out, all going their separate ways for whatever reasons. One being in particular stuck out. He struck me as the type who’d have the answers I needed. I don’t know why exactly, he just had that air about him. I couldn’t pin-point what race he was. He was blue-skinned and bald but sported some sort of a red, metallic … okay, there was no other word to describe it – it looked like a shaved metal Mohawk embedded into his skull! There, I said it!

He traveled with a man whose humanoid appearance made me wonder if he was Terran. He could have been any number of species too, though. They laughed loudly, not at all concerned if their volume bothered anyone. If I managed to lose sight of them I was pretty sure I could locate them using Blue’s laugh alone. It wasn’t just loud, it was boisterous.

I tailed them until the two parted ways and Blue was alone at the vendor stalls. In fact, he seemed to be interested in a Terran wares stall that I frequented.

Hm…Do I need more Terran music? I smirked and headed for the stall. Yes. Yes I do.

“Back again, Red?” the vendor asked when I approached. Blue paused in his observing a little figurine of a woman wearing a grass-skirt to look up at the vendor and in turn at me. His eyebrows lifted ever so slightly, red eyes giving me a once over.

I nodded and stopped right next to him, my music device in hand for the vendor to see. “Got anything new?”

The vendor hesitated, glancing at Blue to see if he was about to lose his attention but Blue seemed a bit interested. His eyes had fixed onto my device for a few seconds longer than someone who had only a passing curiosity. He played it cool though, setting the figurine down to pick up another. “I just got a case of the latest music on Terra,” he said excitedly now that he knew Blue wasn’t going anywhere.

“Nice. Got any more of that Deaf Leopard group?” I asked, lifting my brows playfully.

“I think it’s actually pronounced Def Leppard,” the vendor said, smiling. I knew how it was actually pronounced but sometimes the best way to put someone at ease is to show you can make mistakes and be open to correction.

“My bad,” I said with a laugh.

He turned go dig up the case and left me alone with Blue. I drummed my fingers on the stall’s make-shift counter, inspected an item or two, and then glanced over at him. He was older than me, at least appearance wise. Who knew how his species aged compared to me? He had the beginnings of lines at the corners of his eyes and a weathered look to his features. I caught him looking at my device and our eyes met. I held my music device up. “Weird looking, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Ain’t the weirdest thing I’ve seen,” he commented.

Leaning back on the counter, arms folded over my chest, I offered him a smile. “Oh yeah, like what?”

I caught a glint of metal from his sharp teeth as he grinned smugly at me. “Girly, I’ve traveled the galaxy back and forth for years. That little gizmo ya got there ain’t even on the list of weird stuff I’ve seen.” His voice was raspy and he had a drawling accent that I’d never heard before. I kinda liked it.

I nodded, pursing my lips a bit in thought. “Well I guess you’ve got me beat there.” I let my eyes scan over his outfit and acted like I’d only just noticed the flame insignia on the left side of his long leather coat. “Sprek, you’re a Ravager,” I said, letting a hint of nervousness slip into my tone as I straightened up and took a step back. Well, if that didn’t please Blue something special. That grin of his widened and I got a nice view of those sharp teeth.

“Nervous, girl?” he asked, leaning towards me.

I kept up the uneasy act as I said, “From what I’ve heard about Ravagers, shouldn’t I be?” Maybe it wasn’t all an act. I’m not saying I wasn’t scared at all, oh no, far from it.

Blue leaned his right elbow on the counter, his body now facing me. I could see several crisscrossed shaped scars on the right side of his face. He tilted his head from side to side as if thinking over my question then fixed those red eyes on me again. “Ya should,” he admitted. “But I reckon a pretty thing like you ain’t gotta worry bout me right now. We’s just two customers lookin’ at some wares, ain’t we?”

The grin had remained the whole time he spoke but there was a slight shift that happened, maybe how he’d changed the angle of his head, and suddenly it became a bit more flirtatious than I’d expected. My heart skipped a beat and I cleared my throat to cover up the momentary lapse of a response from me. “Uh, yeah, sure.”

“Found the music!”

I nearly jumped a foot away from the stall at the sound of the vendor’s voice. Blue chuckled at my jolt of surprise. I turned to look at the vendor. “Do you mind if I browse a bit?”

“Take your time, I’ve got another customer,” he said, indicating over his shoulder. He went away.

“You like Terran music, eh?” Blue’s raspy drawl asked, he sounded like he’d taken a step closer to me. A glance in his direction confirmed it.

I made it a point to be digging around the cassette tapes. “Yep. Have you ever been to Terra?”

“You could say that,” he answered evasively. “Recently got a,” he hesitated as if to find the right word, “crew member on board who carries around a device like yours.” His eyes flicked from the device to my mine. “Got green eyes like you too. His ain’t as pretty though,” he muttered as an afterthought.

You flirt, I thought with amusement. Well, that’s what I was aiming for anyway. Time to start steering the conversation where I really wanted it to go.

I gave his compliment a playful hum of acknowledgment, not really an answer but I wasn’t telling him to back off either. Let him decide how to interpret it. “So, Ravager,” I kept my gaze on the tapes while I spoke. “You’ve been all over the galaxy and you came to this station of all places?”

“It ain’t a beauty to look at,” he paused and blast it, I could feel his gaze checking me out, “but it’s got its perks. Good tradin’.”

“If I had a way off of here I wouldn’t be sticking around long.”

“Is that right?” I decided his smile was rather nice, despite the sharpness and the glint of metal. It did something pleasant to his eyes when he grinned. “You tryin’ ta sweet talk me into taking you away from here, girl?”

I widened my eyes when I looked at him, giving him an exaggerated look of shock. “I would never try to do something as coy as that.”

He chuckled appreciatively and took his time looking me over again. “So if you ain’t wantin’ a flight out of Knowhere, what’chu doin’ talking so nice to me for, hm?” His smile changed again. A subtle shift that gave a warning. He suspected I wanted something. Might as well confirm his suspicions.

I sighed. “Alright, you caught me.” I held up a cassette of Def Leppard. “I’m a bit short on units and thought I could charm you into buying it for me.”

Blue threw back his head and laughed uproariously. “Darlin’, I’ll buy ya two if you’ll keep up the act,” he said.

I lifted my eyebrows. “Buy me two and it might not be an act.”

He laughed some more at that and hailed the vendors attention. “Gimme two of those tapes and this cute little bugger,” he told him, putting a figurine of some creature with wild neon orange hair on the counter.

I eyed the figurine and he caught my look. “I like to stick ‘em all in a row on my control console.”

“Control console? Are you someone important on the ship?”

He paid for our purchase and gave me a sly grin. “You could say that, girly.”

I put a hand on my hip and smiled back. “How long are you staying for, Ravager?”

He stepped quite close to me as he handed me my tapes. “Long enough for a good time if that’s what yer askin’.”

The shiver that went down my spine wasn’t one of revulsion. I didn’t find him necessarily attractive, but he had a way about him that I was quickly coming to like. Remember what you’re after, Lydia.

I took the tapes and kept eye contact with him. “I might be. So long as your absence won’t get you in trouble with your captain.”

That seemed to tickle him for some reason. “Oh it won’t, trust me.”

“Trust a Ravager?” I said with a tiny smirk. I might have been enjoying the conversation a bit too much, I’ll admit it. Otherwise I probably would have guessed what was coming.

“Well we Ravagers got a code we keep to,” Blue informed me with an almost serious expression.

“Uh-huh.” I reached out and tapped him on the chest. “And I’m sure you’ve always kept to the code, right?”

His expression became a bit stony. “What’s that suppose ta mean?”

Okay, touchy subject there. Reel him back in…

I shrugged and brushed a strand of hair that had escaped my braid away from my eyes. Holding up the tapes for him to see I smiled and started to take a step back. “Thanks for the music, Prince Charming.”

I saw his brow wrinkle in confusion just before I turned away. “Prince Charmin’?”

I turned back to face him. “You know, from Cinderella?”

“Cinder-what?”

“You know, glass slipper, clock-strikes midnight, fairy godmother….Nothing?” At the continued blank look he gave me, I walked back over to him. “Cinderella’s a Terran fairy-tale about a girl who’s forced to be a slave to her evil stepmother and two stepsisters.”

Something glinted in his eyes. “A slave, huh?”

“The King invites all the eligible women to a grand ball for his son, the prince, to pick a wife from and Cinderella’s step-family forbids her to go.”

“Bet she went anyway,” he said with a bemused lift of an eyebrow.

“Her fairy godmother gives her a magic dress and glass slippers that will only last until midnight and sends her to the ball.”

“Called it.” He smirked smugly.

I giggled and continued. “The prince dances with her all night, she loses track of time and has to run back home, leaving behind a glass slipper. The prince vows he’ll only marry the woman whose foot will fit the glass slipper.”

Blue’s brows knitted together. “That’s stupid.”

“He’s a prince; he’s got stuff to do. Anyway, his emissary travels all over the kingdom with the slipper so that every eligible woman can try it on.”

“Hate to be that guy,” he chuckled, scratching at the stubble along his jaw.

“When he finally makes it to Cinderella’s home, her stepmother doesn’t even bother to bring Cinderella to the emissary when he asks for all the eligible woman in the home to meet with him. In some versions of the story, the step-mother figured out that Cinderella was the one the Prince danced with and she locks her up.”

“So what happened?”

I couldn’t help but grin. My telling of the tale was nowhere near as good as how my dad had told it and yet Blue was still interested. It was kinda enduring, this tough Ravager letting me tell him a fairy-tale.

“Some versions go that Cinderella’s animal friends helped her escape from the locked room, others say the emissary asked if there were any other women in the home and she casually mentions the servant girl and he insists on seeing her. But my favorite version is that the prince had made the journey along with the emissary’s group in disguise and hears Cinderella singing. He follows her voice to where she’s locked up and breaks down the door. Course he doesn’t really recognize her because she’s all filthy but he asks her to try on the slipper which of course fits perfectly.”

“Whole kingdom of women tries to wear it and it only fits her?” He ‘tsked’ his disbelief.

“It’s called a fairy-tale for a reason.”

“So where does calling me Prince Charmin’ come in?”

“The prince whisks Cinderella away from her cruel home and they lived happily ever after.” I shrugged once again. “You mentioned me trying to sweet talk you into taking me away from here and it reminded me of the ending of that story for some reason.”

Blue snorted. “Been called lots of things but I ain’t never been called ‘charmin’ before.”

I made a face. “Pity. Guess no one’s bothered to talk to you like I have.” I winked and turned away, walking with the determined stride of a one who thought the conversation was over.

“Girl, get yourself back over here!”

I stopped and twisted at the waist to look at him, an expression of confusion on my face. I pointed a finger to my chest. He nodded. “Yeah, you.” He crooked a finger at me and I caught a hint of a sly smile turning the corners of his mouth. “Come ‘ere.”

Taking my time, I lazily strolled back over to him. “Is there a problem, Ravager?”

“I ain’t said I was done with you yet.”

“I thought you were limited on time.”

“It ain’t midnight yet. And seeing as how I’m the captain, darlin’, I got as much time as I allow myself to have.”

Captain?! I blinked. “Huh?”

“Told ya it wouldn’t be a problem.”

Uh, yes. Yes that was a problem. Ravagers were thieves, smugglers, criminals, bandits, mercenaries, bounty-hunters and pirates. So imagine a large group of those. Scary, right? Now imagine finding someone who can lead that group. You’d have to find someone who could scare respect into a group of men like that. Ravager captains were not to be taken lightly. And here I was flirting with one so that I could steal from him!

“What’s yer name, girly?”

“Lydia,” I said without thinking. I nearly smacked myself. Sure, tell the Ravager captain your name, idiot!

“Lydia,” he repeated, drawing it out as if tasting it. He flashed me a metallic smile. “I like the sound of that.” His leather-clad arm wrapped around my waist and pulled me to him. “What’s say you and I go somes place a bit more private, yeah?”

Suddenly that flirtatious gleam in his eye looked a bit more predatory to me. “My place is too far,” I managed to whisper still a bit thrown at the turn of events.

Blue looked away from me and stared off towards the docks. A second or so later he returned his gaze to me. “My ship. Promise I won’t whisk you away,” he added with a conspiratorial wink.

Some part of my brain remembered that the ship was a part of my plan’s destination and I nodded. Get a hold of yourself, Lydia! The plan’s the same. Get him to take you on board, find some way to separate yourself from him and steal those engine parts!

Yet, despite finding out he was a Ravager captain, I had unfortunately begun to like him. I didn’t want to steal from him.

“My girl…”

But I’d let this station fall into a black hole before I threw away this chance at being able to help my mom.

I forced a smile on my lips and leaned into him. “You sure about that, Prince Charming?”

His arm pinned me flush against him. “I might could change my mind.” He glanced around at the crowd as if we were in the middle of an illegal transaction.

“Something wrong?”

“Lookin’ fer your pimp.”

I felt a wave of fury wash over me and I slugged him in the face. He gave a shout of pain and let me go, a hand reaching up to his bleeding mouth as he swore up a storm. I had probably just kissed my chance of getting on that ship good-bye. Great, just perfect! I thought angrily. I’d find another way to get the money. Turning on my booted heel, I made to storm off when I felt a hand grab me by the upper arm and whirl me around. My hands came up to brace my fall but instead I crashed into a rather solid chest and my hands were pinned in between me and the owner of said chest. Blue grinned down at me, blood trickling down from his mouth. When he chuckled, I felt how it made its way from deep in his belly and up his torso.

“Darlin’, that just settled it. You’re comin’ with me!” His arm went round my waist and the next thing I knew we were on the move.

He didn’t exactly drag me along with him to the ship; it was more like he was the one who was keeping us moving while I lagged in absolute confusion. But really, what was I supposed to expect from a Ravager, right?

“You still want me even after I slugged you?” I couldn’t help but ask him as we approached the entrance of his ship.

Blue glanced at me and gave me a toothy grin. “I like a woman who’s got fire in her.”

A crew member stood at the entrance and beat his fist twice over his chest in salute to his captain. “Who’s the girl, captain?” he asked a glint of lewd curiosity in his eyes.

“None of your dang business,” Blue snapped, not bothering to stop. He guided me deep into the ship; all the twists and turns really put my memorization skills to the test. I was so focused on trying to keep my bearings that I hadn’t said a word since we entered the ship. “You’re awful quite,” he commented.

“I’ve never been inside a ship this big before.”

“Then what did you come to this station in?”

“Nothing as big as this.”

We came to a stop outside of a metal door and Blue suddenly twisted me around and pushed me against it. His hands came to rest on the door at both sides of my head as he leaned in. “Now before all the nookie-nookie starts, I want to give ya one last chance to tell me why you bein’ so sweet on me.” There it was again, that easy-going smile with a threat beneath it.

I actually wanted to tell him. I actually wanted to tell him. But he was a Ravager and Ravagers aren’t known for their bleeding hearts. He wouldn’t just hand over the engine parts and let me go about my night.

I drew in a shakey breath. “Geez, Blue, hasn’t anyone ever been nice to you?” I asked as gently as I could. His head tilted towards mine just a little bit and hesitated, his eyes on my mouth. My gaze landed on those crisscrossed scars on the side of his face. I felt like the worst being in the galaxy.

“Yondu,” he said.

My heart lurched. “Hm?”

“You told me your name, only fair I tell ya mine. It’s Yondu.”

His head ducked towards me and he kissed the pulse point on my neck. The gasp I gave was a combination of two reasons. Reason number one; it just clicked in my head why that name had caused my heart to lurch. I was coning the one and only Yondu Udonta of the Yondu Ravager Clan. Scarrin’ Yondu Udonta! Reason number two; how the heck did he know to kiss me right there!

Chapter Text

I may often flirt with a guy but to be honest, that’s all I have ever done. I’ve never gone all the way. A girl in my position can’t afford to. You also couldn’t appear to be too innocent either. Living on Knowhere I learned real quick what happened to girls who were innocent. Innocence and naivety was seen as prey to the scum that infested the space port and so, in order to protect myself from being taken advantage of, I put up this flirty act to throw off any predators. I’ve laid down a line for myself and said, “You can’t cross this. This is as far as you go, no further.” But sprek if I wasn’t in danger of crossing the line right at that moment.

He had one hand at my waist, the other wrapped my braid around his wrist and his mouth was working straight up miracles along the pulse point of my neck. The slight gristle on his chin and jaw scraped lightly against my skin and sent waves of tingles over my body. Oh yeah, I was tempted. I was very tempted. For a moment I completely forgot I had even set up a line that was never to be crossed. My arms moved of their own accord and encircled his neck. All I wanted was to be closer to him.

Apparently, he had the same idea because all of a sudden I was being lifted up; my back braced against the metal door of his room and my legs wrapped around his waist without a second’s thought. Um, what the sprek, Lydia! He held me pinned against the door, every inch of him pressed against me to keep me in place, and it was like electricity buzzed beneath my skin, begging to be released.

“Oh sprek,” I moaned.

Yondu chuckled, his mouth still attached to my throat and I felt the sound of it vibrate against me. For some reason I found that little sensation hot. Don’t ask me why, this was my first make-out session, I was just finding that out myself so how can I be expected to explain it!

“You like that, darlin’?” he asked, his raspy drawl coming out smug and confident. Sprek yeah, I liked it. He drew back his head enough to look me in the eyes. The red of his irises seemed to gleam with mischievous satisfaction at whatever it was he saw on my face. A hoarse sounding laugh escaped him. “Yeah, ya do.”

I couldn’t think of what to say. I opened my mouth, waiting for a witty reply to come but it remained lodged in the back of my throat. I closed my gaping maw. Why were words failing me now? That was a betrayal of the highest kind!

He chuckled again. “Well, darlin’ ya ain’t gotta look so scared. I ain’t gonna eat ya.” A slow grin worked its way onto his mouth, revealing those sharp teeth. “Not just yet anyways.” Considering I had no idea what his species was I didn’t know if he was being serious of not.

I barely had time to widen my eyes when he dove back in to kiss me. As first kisses go, I have to say…. Wow. He wasn’t gentle. It was all rough and demanding and promised me an exciting night ahead. That buzzing energy under my skin transformed into molten liquid that pooled within my belly and left me nearly limp. My eyes drifted closed as my lips began to follow his rhythm. I wanted to let myself get lost. Couldn’t I just once … just once…

Mom grasping my hand in both of hers and giving it a kiss. “My girl…”

The memory was as effective as a bucket of ice cold water being poured on me. My stomach twisted at the thought of what I had to do. When Yondu’s lips began to trail down my neck and further south, I forced myself to get back on track. It was a struggle, lemme tell ya.

“Um, Yondu,” I began, my voice wavered. I’d never received this kind of attention before and I gotta admit I sprekin’ loved it. “Yondu –,” A sudden gasp escaped me when his pelvis bucked against mine. It was like stars exploded in my head. Hundreds of ‘em.

The arm wrapped around my waist shifted so that his forearm supported some of my weight and his other hand quickly disentangled itself from my hair. “Better get in here quick before we give my crew a show, huh?” he sniggered as his now free hand reached for the panel next to the door and pressed his palm to it.

The door opened, which meant I no longer had anything for my back to be braced against. We fell with him on top of me and I once again felt all of him and I gotta say I was not about to complain. Our sudden tumble struck both of us as hilarious and we lay there laughing uncontrollably.

“You alright?” he asked when speech was possible again.

“I thought you promised you wouldn’t sweep me off my feet,” I giggled. Yeah, that’s right. Giggled.

Yondu lifted his upper body onto both forearms as he aimed a look of feigned perplexity down at me. “Nah, darlin’, I just promised I wouldn’t whisk ya away.”

“There’s a difference?” I snorted and succumbed to a giggle fit again. Yondu’s toothy grin returned and he lowered his mouth to the hollow of my throat. With him on top of me, I was in even greater danger of crossing the Line and I couldn’t allow myself to indulge in the pleasurable jolt that shot through me at the new positions we’d found ourselves in. Just feeling his weight on top of me was oddly comforting. I felt his fingers reach for my belt buckle.

Get a move on, Lydia!

Um, how about get a move on, Yondu?

Lydia Christine Brosh, you get your tookum off that floor and get those engine parts like you came here for! Remember your sick mother at home?Hmm?

Sometimes my brain can be such a marg.

I grasped Yondu’s wandering hands and smiled when he looked at me questioningly. “I hate to do this to you, Prince Charming, but could you spare me a few minutes to freshen up first?”

His brow furrowed. “What’s that?”

“I’ve been out and about all day and I’m not exactly presentable –,”

“You look temptin’ enough tah me, darlin’,” he said. His head dipped to pick up where he left off kissing me just above my cleavage.

My hand darted up to his chin to stop him. “But I won’t be able to enjoy myself if I’m feeling like all kinds of grimy and yuck,” I told him.

His red eyes glanced towards his bed then back at me. “Ya picked the darndest timin’,” he grumped.

“I know, I know; I’m really sorry.”

He pushed off from the floor, deliberately brushing his pelvis against mine (and I know he did it on purpose because the blue jerk scarrin’ smirked at me when he did it!) and extended his hand to me. “Ya better not take too long, girly.” He hauled me to my feet and pulled me so close that our faces were barely an inch apart. “Cause if ya do I’m comin’ after ya and dragging you in here.”

I smiled. “Promises, promises,” I whispered and gave him a peck on the nose. I went to walk past him when his grip on my hand tightened and he reeled me back in.

“Ya didn’t just pick-pocket me, didja? Makin’ a run for it now?” His tone was only partly serious as he patted at his coat pockets with his free hand. Twist the knife even deeper in my heart, why don’cha?

“Geez, Blue, have a little faith in me, huh?” I leaned in and kissed his lips as gently as possible. It was a complete opposite to the kisses he’d given me. His were charged with lust and mine …. I was trying to apologize for what I was about to do to him through that kiss. “I’m so sorry,” I wanted to say. His grip loosened on my hand as he became receptive to the softness I was giving him. I sensed the uncertainty in him as he tried to match me. Had he never been kissed like this before?

I was in danger of loosing focus again. I slipped out of his hold and sashayed out the door. “Mind telling me which way to the showers?” I think I might have momentarily broken the Ravager. He stared blankly at me for a moment and didn’t respond until I cleared my throat. “Um, showers?”

He shook himself. “They’re, uh –,” he leaned his upper body out the doorway and pointed down the opposite end of the hall we’d come by. “Go all the way to the end of this hall and take the left.”

“What’ll happen if I take a right instead of a left?” I asked with a teasing lilt and pressing up against him.

He grinned down at me, arms wrapping around my waist while his hands wandered below my belt. “I’d be mighty curious to see you try taking a shower in the hangar bay.”

As my father used to say; bingo! I reached behind me and took hold of his hands, bringing them between us. “I’ll be right back,” I promised.

As I made my way down the hall, I glanced back at Yondu. He was standing in the door way with his hands gripping the upper metal frame as he leaned forward to watch me. “Walk faster, woman! I haven’t got all night!” he called out with another toothy grin.

Stifling a laugh, I began to jog to the end of the hall and turned to the left just as he instructed. I slowed my jogging and tiptoed back the way I came until I was just at the edge of the hall opening. I counted to ten and peeked around the corner at Yondu’s door. He’d gone back inside his room. Dashing across the hall to the right corridor entrance, I put my back to the wall and listened for any signs that I’d been spotted. I heard nothing. Once again I peered around the corner at Yondu’s room and felt sick to my stomach. “I’m so sorry, Blue,” I whispered. I turned and ran down the hall to the hangar.

I know what you’re thinking. Okay, maybe I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking but I’m pretty sure I know the gist of your thoughts on the whole. And you know what? I’d have to agree with you. The whole time I walked I mentally called myself every degrading thing in the galaxy and then some. I hated myself. In such a short time, I had genuinely come like the Ravager captain and there I was about to steal from him. Great way to meet a guy, right?

Maybe I was just fooling myself? Maybe I only thought I liked him because he was the first guy I’d kissed. Like I said before, I flirt to protect myself but I don’t like to think of myself as a tease. I try to stay away from that kind of behavior because it could get me in trouble if I got a male too riled up. If I let on just how innocent I was to sex then that would put me in even more danger on Knowhere. So let I let them think I’m on the same level of worldly knowledge, let them think they can’t fool me cause I don’t seem naïve, don’t engage too much but don’t act timid. Be bold, be daring, be flirty, be safe. That was how I learned to act in order to survive and take care of my mom. But this was the first time I had ever taken flirting to the point of conning a man into thinking I’d have sex with him in order to steal. I felt dirty and the lowest of low. Even if he was a Ravager, he didn’t deserve to be tricked like that.

The way to the hangar bay wasn’t as simple as you think. It wasn’t a straight run there, I had to guess a few times when I came upon some splits and once I had to double back. How the heck did the crew find their way around? Where were the signs! With each passing minute I knew I was closer to the moment when Yondu would be expecting me to arrive in his room or he’d become impatient and keep his playful threat about dragging me back. Only if he did end up finding me the threat wouldn’t be so playful. Time was not on my side. Then again, it hardly ever was. Time was scarrin’ biased against me.

I guess most of the crew was off the ship because I only came across one other being while navigating my way down the halls. I had to duck into a corner to avoid detection and that was really my only near encounter. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. What do I mean? Heh, you’ll see.

When I arrived in the hangar, I was floored to see just how many M-ships the Eclector carried. Enough for a small army it seemed! And it wasn’t just M-ships, there were two Nova Corps Star Blasters, and two other ships, both different types, that I didn’t recognize and that’s saying something because when you live on a space trading port you see all kinds of ships.

Snapping out of my momentary awe, I ran to the closest M-ship and slid beneath its belly. From my bag I pulled out my spear and gave it a little twist near the base. It click-clacked a bit as its size adjusted to easily fit in my hand and the metal spear-head gave a hiss as it separated and reshaped itself to resemble a ratchet. I was like a scarrin’ proud mother of my gadget. I silently thanked Malek for showing me how to replace parts on M-ships as I got to work on loosening some bolts. Without the experience in Malek’s garage I never would have known what to do, but because I did know what I was doing, it didn’t take me long to locate and disassemble the necessary parts I needed. I stuffed them into my bag and was about to crawl out when I heard the echoes of boots on the metal gangway over my head.

Sprek, I thought, scooting further beneath the M-ship. I moved as quietly as I could so that my upper body faced out so I could see while lying flat on my stomach. The metal floor chilled me through the material of my yellow tank top. I could see the gangway, but I could still hear whoever it was walking about up there. Could I make it to the door without being seen? There was no way of telling without sneaking a peak. I slid myself to the side, intending to use the M-ship’s wing as cover. Once I was out from under the ship, I lifted my gaze to the gangways and spotted the crew member. His back was to me.

Okay, one shot at this. I took a deep breath and darted towards the door.

Beep beep! Beep beep!

I froze in the middle of the hangar bay as my time keeper announced my presence. I’d forgotten to erase the alarm I’d set to go off at midnight to rouse me in time for a temporary side job I picked up last week that involved unloading crates. Uselessly I slapped my hand over it to muffle the sound.

“Hey!”

Didn’t I tell you that Time was biased against me?

I gave the crewman a wave. “Hi, I’d love to talk but I gotta run!” I sprinted for the door.

“Hey! Hey!” I heard the sounds of his boots rapidly hitting the stairs. “Captain! We have an intruder on the ship!”

The crewman must have had a communicator on him because I heard Yondu’s scratchy voice respond. “Is it a woman?”

“Aye, captain!”

“She’s a guest –,”

“Why is your guest running when I caught her in the hangar?”

“She WHAT!”

I doubled my speed.

Remember when I was trying to memorize the path Yondu took me through? I remembered squat! I was totally lost, running blind, guessing at each turn. Apparently, Yondu still had a skeleton crew on board because more men had joined the first in chasing me.

“Got’cha!” A voice growled next to me as I came upon a hall to my right. I yelped and leapt out of reach when a hulking figure with marred flash and terrible body-odor lunged at me. He fell flat on his face and ended up tripping two of his crewmates which caused a slight delay and gave me a bit more distance.

I nearly tripped myself when I neared a corridor that my instincts told me to take. I grabbed the hall’s corner and propelled myself inside. The hall looked vaguely familiar. I turned another corner and stopped dead in my tracks. Yondu leaned against the wall on one broad shoulder, arms folded over his chest, legs crossed at the ankles. He picked at his teeth as if he had nothing better to do. Despite his casual pose, he still managed to scare the sprek out of me.

His crimson eyes looked at me with a predatoral intensity that made me want to back away nice and slow. “Looks like we ended up givin’ the crew a show anyways, huh, darlin’?”

“Oh well,” I said, trying to sound friendly and backing up a step at a time, “we tried.”

Yondu snorted and this time it wasn’t one of mirth. He straightened up and put his hands on his hips, his right hand moving aside the edge of his coat to reveal a holster of some kind. “Wha’d ya steal?” he seethed, his jaw twitching.

I’d successfully back to the very edge of the corridor. One side step and I’d be blocked by the wall. “Your heart?” I replied with uncertainty.

Yondu. Straight. Up. Growled.

I screamed and ran for it. I took the next passage and nearly whooped with joy when I recognized it. If I continued on this path, I’d reach the entrance that Yondu and I had gone through and I’d be out of the ship! Hope gave me the extra energy I needed to keep running even though my lungs were beginning to ache.

Rounding a corner, I saw the entrance was still wide open and no one there to stop me. I thanked whatever deity had blessed me. That relief was short-lived.

“There she is!”

The Ravagers had caught up, but I was too far ahead for them to catch me in time. Once I was past the threshold, I’d be lost in the crowd.

A shrill whistle pierced the air and something whizzed by me in a blur of red light. My steps faltered a bit in confusion but I forced myself to keep running. “You missed, captain,” I heard Halvi say.

“Did I?”

That red blur of light hit a red button on a panel at the end next to the doorway and then whizzed by me again as if returning to it’s sender. From opposite sides of the door, thick sheets of metal began to slide to the middle. “Spreeeeek!” I growled as I forced my steadily tiring limbs to move faster.

“Where ya goin’, Cinderella?” Yondu called out mockingly. “We ain’t even had a dance yet!”

My chance at escape was narrowing with each second. “You still want me that bad!” I hollered over my shoulder. The exit was dangerously narrow by the time I reached it. I doubted I could fit but couldn’t afford to waste a second hesitating.

“She’s goin’ for it!” a crewman screeched. Yondu swore and I heard them quicken their pursuit. With a yell, I threw myself at closing door and tumbled to the gangway on the other side just as the entrance sealed closed. Fists slammed against the metal door and Yondu’s muffled angry shouting could be made out above it. I chuckled, picked myself up and hurried towards the sea of beings in which I could blend in and vanish. My next stop? Malek’s garage.

When the door reopened a minute later, Yondu pushed his way past his crew and scanned the crowd for a flash of red hair. Unfortunately there were so many damn colors everywhere it made it too difficult and the girl was probably long gone. With a growl, Yondu tore his gaze away and glared at his crew who were currently slumped in a pile, panting like dogs.

“Ya let ‘er get away, you assholes!” he held back the urge to kick at the nearest ribcage at his feet.

“How’d she get on the ship in the first place?” Halvi asked, not meaning to sound accusing.

Yondu’s face grew hot and he gnashed his teeth. “That ain’t the point!” He turned and kicked at the ground, unable to control his desire to lash out anymore. His foot connected with something metallic that skidded a few feet along the ground. He looked down and saw something that looked like a ratchet but unlike any ratchet design he’d come across before. He bent over and picked it up, turning it this way and that. There was an L engraved at the base of the handle. Lydia. A big, wolfish grin spread along his face. “Looks like Cinderella left me a glass slipper after all.”

Zeg met me at the back entrance of Malek’s garage. I’d checked to make sure my tumble hadn’t damaged any of the parts I’d swiped from Yondu and was relieved to find nothing wrong. Although I felt like something was missing from my bag. Had I dropped a part?

Zeg promised he’d take care of the transactions at the black market. I offered to go with him but he insisted to go alone. “I’ve done this before, Lydia. There is always the risk of the Nova Corps sending an undercover agent in and busting the whole operation. If you were to be arrested, who would care for your mother?”

I saw the truth in his words. I felt a bit cowardly letting him go alone but he’d made a point. After bidding him goodnight, I went home and greeted my mom with a big hug and kiss on the cheek. I was bursting with excitement. I turned on my music box and connected it to the ship’s sound system. ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley expressed my mood perfectly.

I grabbed my mom by both hands and she laughed as I spun the two of us in circles. “We’re going to leave Knowhere, Mom! We’re leaving really soon! It’s only a matter of days! And then we’ll get you to a hospital and you’ll get the help you need and –,”

I was like that for hours. Prattling on and on about how our new life would be, how we could go to Xandar like we’d planned from the start. Mom didn’t say a word but she beamed at me the whole time. I think she understood in some way that things were going to be different in a good way.

As I got Mom ready for bed, my excitement had begun to wind down and Yondu entered my thoughts. My mood shifted and suddenly I didn’t feel like singing along with Bob Marley. Mom liked it when I sang so I hummed ‘Three Little Birds’ instead while brushing her red hair. She took hold of my hand, stilling my strokes. “My girl,” she said, her Threxian accent thickening the vowels. “Sad?”

I smiled at her and squeezed her hand. “No, Mom. Everything’s gonna be alright now.” She hummed happily and let me continue brushing her hair. I tucked her in to bed and got myself changed in some sleepwear. I kept seeing that look on Yondu’s face when I ran into him in the hall. The look of fury when I’d jokingly said I’d stolen his heart. But I also remembered how he reacted to my kiss. He’d tensed up and then seemed to slowly accept that gentleness as if he weren’t used to it. It broke my heart.

When I lay down in my top bunk, I held my pillow close to my face to muffle the sobs that wracked through my body as I replayed that kiss over and over again. Maybe I really had stolen more than a few M-ship parts from Yondu….

Chapter Text

BANG!

The metallic explosion that shook our ship jolted me awake. I was disoriented, my vision blurry, and I couldn't quite identify all the noises I heard. There were raised voices and boots stomping about, and then the door to our room was blasted away. Mom let out a terrified shriek in the bunk below me. That seemed to snap me out of my confusion. I attempted to clamber down the ladder to get to her, but hands latched onto my arms and legs and started pulling me out of the room. I struggled to get free. I caught a glimpse of Mom being dragged from bed and roughly shoved along behind me. "Lydia!" she cried out. My gut twisted.

My brain hadn't registered the red apparel of the men who had invaded our home but by the time it did, I was being shoved to the floor in the kitchen where a familiar figure lazily lounged at the table, his booted feet propped up on the small table-top. His right arm lay on the back of the booth-like seat as his left hand held up an object he was inspecting. My spear!

"Well, well, well. Looks like I managed to find Cinderella after all," Yondu drawled. His crimson eyes slid away from the spear and fixed on me, a smug grin revealing those crooked, sharp teeth.

"Hello, Prince Charming," I greeted without enthusiasm.

"Aw, now is that any way to greet visitors?"

"No, but I believe it's the appropriate response to those who scarrin' blow up my door and drag me out of bed!"

Yondu's smirk turned up one corner of his mouth as if he found my response adorable. "I take it you ain't a mornin' person?" He began to fiddle with my gadget and I couldn't help but ask.

"How did you get that?"

"You left it behind when ya dove out the portal of my ship. I used it to track you down, princess."

"How?"

He glowered at me. "I'll be askin' the questions, darlin'." His eyes shifted to my right, momentarily focusing on Mom. He pointed the spear at her. "Who's this?"

"Let her be," I snapped. I got a knee in my back as a result.

"Watch your mouth, girl!" a scaly-skinned Ravager hissed at me.

"Lox," Yondu growled. Lox glanced up at his captain and didn't say another word to me.

"If you're here for the parts I took from you, you won't find them. I already got rid of them."

"Oh you mean these parts?" Yondu hauled a large bag up from the seat next to him and dropped it on the table. He grinned as he watched the shocked expression on my face morph into dread.

"What did you do to Zeg?" I asked, my voice quivering.

"The green-skinned fella? See, when you ditched me with nothin' but this here gadget, I went back to that Terran wares seller and asked him 'bout you. Said he didn't know much concernin' you just that ya came to his stall often." Yondu held up my spear, jiggling it back and forth a bit between his fingers. "But this little piece had a few parts he recognized came from a Mr. Malek's business."

I briefly closed my eyes as I imagined what happened next. Malek probably didn't waste any time telling Yondu everything about me.

"That Mr. Malek was a tough-nut. Me an' the boys held up his whole place and all he did was acknowledge that ya worked for 'im."

My mouth fell partially open. Malek didn't sell me out? The guy who dropped employees if he so much as heard a whisper of them being involved in dirty dealings? That Malek? "Are you sure you were threatening the right Malek?" I couldn't help but ask.

"Dang sure. He wouldn't talk, even when I told my boys to ready their weapons to shoot everyone in the place."

My heart leapt into my throat.

"That Zeg fella piped up before I could even finish givin' the order. He was mighty cooperative, wasn't he, Kraglin?"

A skinny humanoid, the one I'd seen with Yondu the night before, leaned against the wall to my left and smirked at the question directed at him. "Sure was." I tossed him an annoyed glare and felt a bit surprised when I noticed just how young he looked. Probably a couple of years older than me.

"He nearly tripped over himself when he gave us back our stolen parts," Yondu went on, grinning at Kraglin as if they were recounting a hilarious story.

I clenched my fists. "Are they dead?" I asked, sharply. Yondu's attention went back to me, a blank expression on his face. "Are they dead?" I repeated more forcefully.

"No, they ain't dead. Zeg told me yer name, where ta find ya and I left it at that."

I let out a sigh of relief, despite knowing that Zeg, the only being I had considered a friend on Knowhere, had given me up.

"What's she lookin' at?" Kraglin suddenly asked from his corner. Yondu and I glanced at him and followed his gaze to my mom who was staring slightly to her right, eyes unfocused.

"No…" Not now. Not now! "No, no, no, no – Mom!" I tried to stand and Lox's hands firmly pushed on my shoulders to keep me in place. "Mom! Stay with me, allright?"

Yondu's brow furrowed. "That's yer momma? She don't look old enough to be yer momma – sister maybe, but –,"

I sent a snarl in his direction. "Now's not the time to be charming, Charming!"

He glared right back at me. "I ain't flirtin' I just –,"

I ignored whatever else he was going to say. Mom wasn't acknowledging my cries at all. The situation had upset her greatly and she was leaving me, going inside herself. I was being left alone to deal with the danger. "Mom, please, stay with me!"

"What are you talkin' about, girl? She ain't movin'."

I shook my head, not looking at him as I answered. "She's sick, she – she goes away in her head." I reached out a hand to grasp Mom's arm and shake it. No one stopped me. I guess they were all curious about what was happening. Mom didn't seem to even feel my grip on her arm. I felt my chest constricting, my breaths becoming painful. Through it all I could feel Yondu's gaze on me, watching me, witnessing the panic etched on my features and listening to the pleading tone in my voice as I begged my mother to snap out of it and stay present. I hated being so vulnerable in front of the Ravagers but I was so scared because I was alone. I wanted my mom to hold me and tell me it would be allright.

Yondu's raspy voice cut through the pounding in my head. "You didn't steal those parts for yourself didja, girl?"

I refused to look up at him. Tears had gathered in my eyes and I didn't want him to see. Drops of water splashed on the metallic floor. So much for hiding it.

"Get out," Yondu growled. There was a moment of confused silence among his crew. "All of you, but Kraglin, get out. Wait outside." No one moved. "Did I stutter!" Yondu shouted angrily as he stood to his feet and moved the right side of his coat away to reveal something that made everyone go tense. "Get movin'!"

The crew hurried out of the ship and Kraglin moved to stand behind me and Mom. Yondu waited until the last Ravager was gone before he settled back into the seat. "Kraglin, take her momma back to their bedroom an' keep an eye on her." I clung to her arm, opening my mouth to protest but Yondu spoke before I could. "He ain't gonna hurt her unless ya do somethin' stupid, princess. I want to talk to ya alone."

Kraglin was surprisingly gentle as he helped Mom to her feet and led her away. I watched them until they disappeared behind the ruined portal door. Yondu cleared his throat. "Look at me, girl." Tears were still in my eyes and I kept my gaze turned away. "Hey!" His fist slammed on the table and I flinched. "I ain't gonna ask ya again. Next time I'll come over there and make ya look at me."

I looked at him, hating that he was seeing me cry. Something about his face seemed to soften a bit. I think it was the way he clenched his jaw, like he eased up on it as he took in my tears.

"I gave you a chance back on my ship – hell, I gave you plenty of chances to come clean to me –,"

"And I wanted to," I whispered.

"What's that?"

"I said I wanted to."

"Then why didn't ya?"

I gave him a half-hearted, sardonic smile. "Because when have Ravagers ever been known to be charitable?"

He didn't answer that. His jaw twitched again as he clenched and unclenched it. "Give it to me straight, girl. This is yer absolute last chance and if I get the feelin' you're bein' false with me," he pointed towards the hall leading to the bedroom, "ya ain't gonna like what happens. Got it?"

I swallowed and nodded. "Loud and clear."

He settled back in his seat. "What's yer story, Cinderella?"

So I told him. I gave him a brief summary of how I came to be on Knowhere and the struggles I faced since. I told him how Mom's illness had gotten to the point that I knew I needed to seek professional help fast. I told him about Zeg's tip-off about the Ravager vessel full of M-ships.

"I've never stolen before in my life. I didn't want stuff like that to come back and haunt me but when my mom started to go days without talking I knew I had to get the money quick." I tilted my head at the bag of parts on the table. "Those parts alone would have provided enough units to get two tickets out of Knowhere and at least get us a head start to pay for some sort of medical treatment for my mom."

Yondu stared at me, his face unreadable.

"I'm sorry," I said and meant it. "I didn't want to steal from anyone, but when I heard it was a Ravager ship it kinda made the guilt a little more bearable since you guys steal all the time." I chuckled a little to try to ease the tension. Yondu didn't so much as crack a smile. I cleared my throat and went on. "But then you and I got to talking and…" It was hard to look him in the eye, but I didn't dare avert my gaze now. "I ended up liking you. I enjoyed bantering with you and it made me sick to my stomach when I left you to sneak off to the hangar bay."

I was met with silence. It was so quite I could hear the ship creak as it settled. He hadn't moved from his slouched position and those crimson eyes never wavered from me. It made me nervous being the center of such unyielding attention. Finally, after a few more seconds had ticked by, Yondu tilted his head to the side as if to study me at a different angle. "Ya got any younger siblings?" he asked.

The question made me wrinkle my nose at how off topic it was. "Um…no."

"So it's just been you and yer momma? Ya ain't got anyone else to help ya take care of her?"

"This is Knowhere. The only person I trust on this glom space mine to take care of her is myself."

Girl's got some smarts,Yondu thought. He pursed his lips as he looked her over once more. She's also got a nice rack but let's not get too distracted now. See, Yondu had an idea he was considering. He was weighing the pros and cons of it.

Two months ago, he'd acquired a young Terran boy on his ship. The kid was too young to let run around the Eclector and he didn't trust half his crew enough to assign one to watch him. Hell, even if he did trust them he doubted any of them had a shred of parental or care-giving skills to do the job. During the first few weeks Yondu tried to talk to him. He wasn't exactly sure why, but he figured that since the boy was going to be a permanent addition to his crew, he might as well get some necessities out of the way. It didn't go too well. The kid clamed up and flinched every time someone went near him.

After about a month, Yondu decided to just ignore the kid and let him be which seemed to suit the little Terran just fine since he somehow found a way to scurry about the ship without being seen. It was around the beginning of month two that on the occasions Yondu did happen to catch a glimpse of him, he may have gotten a bit concerned with the kid's health. The boy was starting to have a wired look to him and dark shadows were developing under his eyes. He'd been skinny when Yondu picked him up but the Ravager was fairly sure he'd noticed the kid's clothes seemed a bit baggier on him. After asking around amongst the kitchen crew, no one could say for certain if the kid ever came to the mess hall for food. After that, Yondu knew something had to be done, he just didn't know what. That was until a certain little half Terran red-head appeared who just so happened to have been taking care of people since she was eleven. She'd shown some skills in conning people and she had almost been successful in getting away with the theft….

I was getting real nervous with the way Yondu was staring at me, not moving or saying anything, so when he suddenly got to his feet and loudly spoke up I just about squeaked in surprise.

"Tell ya what, girl." He leisurely strolled away from the kitchen table and went to circling me. Since I was still kneeling on the floor I didn't like this very much. At all actually. He picked up on my discomfort and smirked down at me. "Seeing as how I'm in a bit of a forgivin' mood, I've got a proposition for ya."

I eyed him suspiciously. He didn't strike me as the type to forgive so easily. "What is it?"

His attention was on my spear again. He tested the sharpness of the tip with the pad of his thumb before returning his gaze to me. "Remember that Terran I told ya about?" I nodded. "Well, he needs some looking after."

"Is he sick?"

Yondu hesitated. "He might be. Won't let us get too close to 'im to find out and none of us is real knowledgeable 'bout Terrans an' their health. Since you're half Terran and ain't so mean-lookin', he's liable to let you help him. Bottom line, sugar, I'm offering you a spot on my crew to be his care-taker until he no longer needs to be look after."

I snorted. "Riiight. And the moment my services are no longer needed you shoot me in the head and dump my body in the nearest black hole."

Yondu shook his head. "We'd go our separate ways; no harm done. Give ya my word."

It didn't sound too bad, but then again I'd be on a ship full of Ravagers until the Terran was well. And what if the Terran wasn't a pleasant guy to be around? I'd seen how being ill could affect the personality and turn people cranky and mean.

"And what if I refuse?" I asked, testing the waters.

Yondu let out a familiar, shrill whistle. A flash of red light momentarily blinded me and I blinked away the spots swimming in my vision. An arrow made of some unidentifiable metal and a glowing-red tail was hovering near my face. Yondu crouched down to my level, a smug smile curling his lips. The red fin on his head was pulsing with red lines within the metal-work. "I don't take to being made a fool of too well, princess," he answered in a low tone. His lips formed a small 'o' as a very short whistle made the arrow move an inch closer to me. He grinned. "So what'll it be?"

What's a girl to do, right?

"Okay, but on a couple of conditions."

Yondu chuckled. "You ain't in no position to be bargaining, darlin'."

"Yet you're the one forcing me to say 'yes' to your deal so just how badly do you need me to take care of your Terran friend?" It was a risk, I'll admit it, but when his smirk turned a bit sour I knew I was right. "I get paid for this job." He sneered a bit and I plowed on before he could interrupt. "Half of my pay will go to my mom to cover her treatments at the best hospital suitable for her condition; which you will take us to. Also, if anything happens to me while I'm with you and your crew, you'll make sure she's properly taken care of."

The whole time I spoke, Yondu was frowning. Oddly, I found myself missing his smile. You know the one that didn't look like he was plotting my demise.

"Fine," he finally ground out. Another short, shrill whistle sent the arrow back where it came. He extended his hand. I held out mine and we shook. He grumbled under his breath as he straightened to his full height. "Little connivin', schemein'…."

Less than an hour later, Yondu was escorting the two women onto the Eclector. He'd already sent word to the crew about the new addition to their numbers and to prepare for a quick stop at the planet Threxia. Back at her home, he and Lydia had spent five minutes entering Ms. Brosh's symptoms into Kraglin's info disk to find out which hospitals specialized in her condition. Among the top five hospitals listed two of them were located on Lydia's home planet.

After she chose which one to take her momma to, Yondu sat back and waited impatiently for the girl to pack for herself and her momma. At first he'd barked at her to hurry up but soon found himself observing how Lydia went about the task and conversed with an unresponsive momma.

"Should we take the blanket, Mom? … I guess not, they'll have blankets where you're going anyways. I know you'll want your blue dress with you so don't worry I'll get it for you. … You're not partial to any of the mugs are you? … Nah, I didn't think so. I was more of the coffee drinker between us…Where's your necklace – oh, you're wearing it. Good. …Momma, stay right here, I need you right here."

Hell, just listening to her prattle on as if it was normal made his chest twinge a bit. An unexpected pang joined the tightness in his chest when he realized that this was normal for her. She'd had to do everything since she was eleven. From making breakfast in the morning even to making conversation between her and her momma.

The girl was efficient with her packing, didn't spend much time over choosing what to take either. Not like they had much in the first place. He'd gotten a look around the ship they'd made into their home and saw how bare it was. Yondu got the feeling Lydia had glossed over just how badly she needed units to survive. Of course she was scrapping by; it was all on her shoulders to earn the units, wasn't it. You had to be the momma, didn't ya, girl? Yondu stomped down on the little pest called sympathy and kicked it to the curb.

Two travel cases held everything Ms. Brosh needed and the girl carried only one, granted it was a bit larger than her momma's cases. She also had the bag he'd seen her with at the market slung on her shoulder. As Yondu led the women to the ship's bridge Yondu thought that Ms. Brosh would have the same reaction as her daughter did upon seeing the enormity of it, but was slightly miffed when not even that broke her unresponsive spell.

The crew who were stationed to work on the bridge all saluted their captain when he arrived. The sounds of fists pounding twice over their hearts were heard. A few cast curious looks at the Brosh women trailing behind him. He jabbed a finger at a spot near his chair. "Stand there," he growled.

Lydia set her case down where he'd indicated and pointed at the floor. "Right here?" She shifted one step to her right. "Or did you mean here?"

Yondu bared his teeth as he sneered and pointed the gadget at her. "Don't push it, girly."

"Any chance I can have my spear back soon?" she asked him.

That earned a short burst of sardonic laughter from him. "Not likely."

"It's not like you even know how it works," she mumbled.

His temper flared and he turned towards her, eyes sparking. "What's that?"

She pulled an innocent face. "Nothing."

"Ship's ready, sir," Reagan, one of the Eclector's pilots, announced from his co-pilot chair.

"Get us out of here," Yondu ordered and turned away from Lydia to observe the ship's departure. Five minutes in and so far so good.

"Mom, no, he said to stay here!"

Hadn't even said it aloud and already he'd jinxed it! He jerked his head around to see Lydia hurrying after her mother who was running towards the bridge's windows. For a brief moment he thought the crazy woman was going to fling herself against the glass in an attempt to escape. Not that he would have had to worry about her breaking the glass since the material it was made with could withstand a hell of a lot more force than what the scrawny Threxian woman could inflict. But she didn't keep running, she halted just a few steps from it and gazed out at the sights.

When she'd caught up to her mother, Lydia seemed to hesitate a moment but then steeled herself and placed her hands on Ms. Brosh's shoulders. "C'mon, Mom."

Ms. Brosh shrugged off her daughter's hands and made noises of protest, her eyes refusing to look away. Yondu ground his teeth in annoyance. He didn't have the time nor the patience for this. His boots thunked against the metal floor as he stomped over. "What's she doin'?" he asked harshly.

Lydia turned to look at him and shrugged helplessly. There was confusion in her green eyes and he didn't like seeing it there. He also didn't like the fact that he didn't like seeing her look so uncertain and scared. "I don't know, she's –,"

Ms. Brosh suddenly lifted a hand and pressed her fingertip to the glass, pointing at the retreating space mine called Knowhere. "Leaving," she said, cracking a smile.

A tiny sound escaped Lydia prompting Yondu to glance at her. She gave a tight smile, ignoring his narrowed eyes, and stepped next to Ms. Brosh. "Yeah, Mom…just like I promised we would."

Yondu rolled his eyes. Sentiment. "Ya'll get back to yer spots an' sit down."

Lydia frowned. "On the floor?"

"Yeah on the floor, you see any seats there?"

"You can't offer us a place to sit?"

"Just did. The floor."

Lydia scoffed and shifted her weight so that her left hip jutted to the side as she folded her arms and glared at him. His attention briefly flicked from her hips to the way her breasts were pushed up by her arms. He told himself he was distracted by all the freckles the girl had. When they'd met at the market she'd been wearing a jacket. Now she was bare-armed and Yondu discovered she had freckles all over, not just her face and neck. He'd never seen skin like hers before. If the previous night had progressed like he'd wanted it to, he probably would have said that to her. A brief image of what could have been flashed in his mind.

Their clothes scattered about the floor, the two of them lying in his bed afterwards, her red hair splayed out on the pillows, his fingers tracing her bare back as he marveled at all the speckles – Aw hell…

"Reagan, how many space jumps to Threxia," Yondu suddenly barked. He turned on his heel and marched to the captain's chair.

Reagan saw the look on his captain's face and was already typing the code to transfer navigation control to Yondu's consol. "About twelve, sir," he answered promptly.

"Let's get started then, boys." Yondu grunted as he plopped in his seat and placed his hands on the well-worn controls. "Ladies," he called out in a sickly-sweet fashion. "Would you be so good as to sit yer asses down like I done told ya to!"

Lydia flinched and quickly took hold of her mother's elbow, pulling her away from the windows. "C'mon, Mom. We can't stay right here. C'mon."

She resisted a little a first but after a second attempt, she reluctantly backed away and followed her daughter. Yondu waited until Ms. Brosh was seated. He may have put more force than necessary on the thrusters before Lydia had a chance to sit down. She stumbled and fell to her side. An icy green glare was fired his way and he met it with a cheeky, crooked grin.

Yeah, baby, I'm gonna make yer life hell and I'm gonna love every minute of it.

To say I was having second thoughts about accepting the job would be pointless because to have second thoughts would imply that one was at ease with the decision at some point. May I remind you I was forced into this? By arrow point!

I sat by Mom, rubbing my sore elbow after a rude introduction to the metal floor. Just my luck to have ticked off a Ravager captain with a petty streak. We'd been traveling for about two hours and Yondu was either very focused on flying the ship or he was pointedly ignoring our presence. Others were having a hard time doing so. I kept catching quick glances being tossed in our direction; saw some exchanging whispers with each other. I suppose they were wondering which of us was going to be their newest crewmate; the crazy woman or the younger, freckled chick who had stolen from them.

All too soon we exited the final space jump and Threxia loomed into view. Seeing it again after so many years made my heart clench. We'd finally made it home and I wouldn't even get to spend one night there.

"Kraglin and Halvi, you'll be joinin' us."

"Aye, captain," Halvi's voice answered.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when a shadow broke off from a far corner to my left. My mouth fell open. Apparently I had been too busy trying to escape the ship last night to have noticed the appearance of the one who had caught me. This guy was huge, I mean scarrin' huge! He had to have been nearly seven feet tall! He was all muscle but not in the bulky sense, he was built like a warrior. His skin was black, blacker than ink, blacker than an abyss and his eyes were colored to matched. When he spoke, his teeth shone like pearls.

"Nice to see home again," he said, gazing at the planet fondly.

My jaw ached from letting it hang open but that didn't stop it from attempting to widen at his words. "You're from Threxia?" I finally managed to ask.

He turned his head to face me. "I am. I once was a member of the Niktanyas tribe in the southernmost part of the planet."

The southernmost part of the planet? That was where most of Threxia's caverns were located and the people who lived in them were mysterious and rarely seen. They didn't socialize with outsiders very often but those who were come across were hospitable. Most Threxians referred to them as whole as darkness dwellers. I'd been fascinated with stories of darkness dwellers as a child. I couldn't contain my excitement. "Dude! I'm from here!"

Halvi quirked an amused eyebrow at me. "Really?"

"Stop chattin' an' get movin'!" Yondu shouted, already halfway out of the bridge. I hurriedly stood to my feet and was relieved when Mom got up without my prompting her. I grabbed her cases only to have them taken from me by Halvi. He held them as if they weighed nothing.

"It'll be faster if I carry them, squig girl," he said.

"Squig? I'm not squig," I protested, a bit insulted.

"Don't make me come back there and get you!" Yondu threatened.

I couldn't help it. "Promises, promises!" I shot back. The rapidly approaching thud of his boots got me moving forward. I met his angry scowl with a pleasant smile as I walked past him. "I thought we were in a hurry, captain?" Yondu spat a few curses at my back as he changed directions and swiftly stalked by me to be in front again. I glanced back to check on my mom. Kraglin was leading her by the arm behind us. There was something about the way he held her elbow that struck me as a bit sweet. Maybe Kraglin wasn't as rough as the rest of the crew?

Sitting in Yondu's M-ship was awkward. It was a thirty minute flight from the Eclector to Threxia's surface and no one had said a word. Well, I had jokingly suggested for some tunes to be played but all I got was a sneer from Moody Blue so I didn't attempt to make conversation after that. We'd already contacted the hospital and were informed a small medical team would be there to meet us. Yondu had only brought me along because I needed to be present to sign for my mother's care.

When we landed, Kraglin and Halvi were the first to their feet and were quickly moving towards the exit. I sat up and stretched, arching my back as I did so. Yondu moved to exit his chair, his torso twisting to his right and his hand gripping the side of his chair's backrest to pull himself up, when he suddenly paused. Those crimson eyes of his were fixed on me. Or more specifically, they were focused on how my breasts where thrust out while I arched my back. I stayed like that for a few seconds longer than necessary, waiting for him to realize I'd caught him staring. When he did, the scowl returned and he grumbled as he pulled himself out of his chair.

The ramp was lowering when Mom and I made it to the back. Halvi and Kraglin held their guns at the ready and Yondu moved the right side of his coat to reveal a holster. The metal arrow from before rested snuggly inside.

"Are you expecting trouble?" I asked, already positioning myself to shield my mom.

Yondu glanced back at me, his taking in my defensive stance, and then returned his attention to the ramp. "We're Ravagers, princess. We always expect trouble." He then proceeded to confidently swagger out of the ship. "Hey, there, ladies," he called out. Kraglin gestured for us to follow him and Halvi covered our backs. I grasped Mom's hand and threaded our fingers together as we descended the ramp.

The sunlight nearly blinded me. I shielded my eyes until my sight returned. Looking around I saw to my left a vast metropolis with towering buildings that reflected the sun's beams. The hospital appeared to be located at the very outskirts of the city. Yondu had landed us on the hospital's roof and looking to my right I saw a large garden with patients sitting on benches or walking its paths.

Mom spotted the garden and started to walk towards it. I held her hand tightly and tugged her back. "You'll get to see it soon, Mom," I promised her. She shuffled back to me but still kept her gaze on the trees and flowers. It killed me seeing the longing in her eyes.

The ladies Yondu had greeted were the two nurses of the medical team. A few other personnel stood off to the side, watching us warily. Yondu had cozyed himself up to the side of a female nurse as he and the male doctor were engaged in discussion. He had an arm slung around the petite nurse's shoulders. "You the one who's gonna be lookin' after Ms. Brosh?" he asked, giving her a sly grin.

"M-me or Nurse Drissella over there," she stammered. The poor woman looked like she couldn't decide if she wanted to run away or giggle. I couldn't blame her. Yondu looked scary and intimidating but once he flashed that smile he was down right charming.

Yondu thrust an arm out towards us. "Well there she is, yer newest resident!" he announced. He disengaged from the nurse and strutted towards us. I could tell he couldn't wait to get back on the ship. "Get the girl to sign those documents and we'll be gone."

It felt like a knife was nicking away at my heart as he said it so carefree. I was about to leave my mother all alone to be looked after by strangers. I had no idea how long it would be before I saw her again. Another thought, more painful than the last, shoved its way maliciously to the front of my mind. What if she doesn't even notice you're gone?

I barely registered the doctor standing in front of me, holding a holo-pad to me. "Just press your thumb on the scanner at the bottom and we'll take it from here."

Surely there was more to do than that? Had we really gone over everything before we got here? I'd been so insistent about going over every detail with Yondu, he'd been surprisingly accommodating about that, now I know why. It was so he would be able to make a quick drop off and whisk me away. But there was no happily ever after waiting for me on the Eclector.

My hand trembled as I pressed me thumb to the scanner and it gave a chime once my print was accepted. The doctor offered me a comforting smile. "Your mother will be well looked after and you'll be given progress updates weekly."

"Only weekly?"

"Well, if you're traveling constantly it may be a bit difficult to always be in reach of a signal, yes?"

"I … guess."

"Ya got what ya need, doc?" Yondu broke in. I wanted nothing more than to slug him again.

"Yes, Captain Udonta. Will you be leaving now?"

"Just as soon as this li'l thing get's a move on."

I whirled around and glared at him. "Could you have a moment of decency and let me have a chance to say good-bye?" I hissed. He held up his hands in mock surrender and backed away a few steps. I turned to my mom and felt my heart grow heavy. "Momma?" She was still looking at the garden. I gently took hold of her chin and made her look at me. "Momma, I need you to try to understand, okay?" She kept eye contact with me so that was a good sign.

"Momma, I have to go away for a little while but you're going to be safe here. The people here are going to take good care of you and help you in ways I couldn't." My throat constricted painfully and I swallowed. "I'm going to try to keep in touch. Don't…" It was silly to say it because I knew; deep down I knew that she wouldn't. "…Don't worry about me, Momma." I kissed her cheek and hugged her tightly. "I love you." I almost thought I was imagining it when I felt her arms encircling me back.

"My girl…be safe."

I nearly broke down right there. By some miracle I didn't. I felt her pull away and I hastily wiped away my tears. When I looked up I was shocked to see my mother wasn't standing in front of me. She was approaching Yondu.

The Ravager stood with his hands on his hips and caught the petite nurse's eye. He gave her a wink and grinned when she quickly looked away, her cheeks turning bright pink. When he turned his attention back to Lydia and her momma, he got a slight surprise. Ms. Brosh was walking straight towards him with a peculiar expression on her face. He quirked an eyebrow at her when she stopped less than a foot in front of him.

"Can I help you, missy?" he asked sarcastically.

"You," Ms. Brosh said, her accent making the vowels sound heavy. It suddenly occurred to him that Lydia didn't sound at all like her momma. "You," she repeated, poking him hard in the chest, "keep her safe." Yondu noticed her eyes didn't look as dazed as before, they actually looked a bit determined. She jabbed her finger into his chest again, not at all bothered that he towered over her and looked like he could snap her in half. "Promise."

Looking over the woman's head, he saw Lydia watching with a mixture of apprehension and wonder. She held herself as if she weren't sure whether or not she needed to come over and guide her momma back to the doctors or see how it played out. He received another sharp jab when he took too long staring at Lydia. "Promise." Ms. Brosh repeated, a bit more urgently this time.

A wave of annoyance came over him as he redirected his gaze to the little woman before him. How dare she demand he protect her thief of a daughter who had conned him? The woman really was crazy! He owed these women nothing; they were the ones who owed him! And yet…

He couldn't help himself. He snuck a peak at Lydia. It had been her eyes that suckered him in the first time and even at a distance, when she wasn't even looking at him, he felt that little pest called sympathy rear it's squashed head and he wasn't quick enough to kick it down in time to stop him from doing what he did next.

He met Ms. Brosh's stare and nodded. "I give ya my word."

She narrowed her eyes searchingly at him and after a few seconds she 'hmmed' and gave a single nod of approval over whatever it was she saw there. Without another word she turned and walked unhurriedly back to her daughter. Yondu twisted around to look at Halvi and Kraglin. He gestured at the woman as if to ask, "What was that?" The two men could only shrug in response.

I was a bit too confused to ask what had happened when Mom returned to me. She smiled at me, her head titling to the side as if inspecting my appearance. Her hands went to the back of her neck and unclasped the blue-stoned pendant she was wearing. She transferred it onto me then stepped back and gave a giggle and bounced on her toes as she clapped happily at the sight. The necklace held no importance. I honestly can't even recall when we came by it but in that moment it was the most precious thing in the galaxy. I quickly embraced her and kissed her cheek. "I gotta go, Mom," I murmured. I let go and started walking as quickly as possible towards Yondu's M-ship. I didn't look back. I couldn't risk the possibility of seeing confusion on my mother's face as I left her behind. It would break me.

Yondu opened his mouth as I neared him. "Not one word," I spoke harshly, not even bothering to slow down. Yondu's jaw clamped shut and a scowl appeared as he fell into step with me.

"Halvi! Kraglin! Load up!" he ordered.

I climbed the ramp into the ship and crumbled into the nearest seat, my head dropping into my hands as I fought to hold back sobs that threatened to overwhelm me. Not in front of these men. Crying was a sign of weakness to men like these and they already saw me as such. I had to start changing the way they thought of me or else I wouldn't last. I may have left Knowhere, but the games I had to play in order to survive were still going to be in my life.

It didn't seem to take as long to get back to the Eclector, but then again I did have my head down the whole way there. I didn't even realize we'd docked in the hangar bay until Yondu's raspy voice jolted me out of my stupor. "Quit yer nappin' and get a move on, girl!" My head jerked upright and I saw the three men had already risen from their seats.

I quickly stood and followed them out.

"Kraglin, get to the bridge and give orders for us to put some distance between us and this planet. Halvi, tell those idjits in ventilation to get their thumbs out their butts and get to fixin' the AC! It's hotter than hell in here!" The men hurried off to carry out their duties, leaving me and Yondu alone. "And you!" He whirled round and stabbed a finger at me. Rude. "You have got quite the responsibility on yer shoulders, girl."

"So you tell me," I sighed.

"Don't take this lightly, girl –,"

"Uh, I have a name. Remember, I told you what it was the other night and I recall you stating that you liked the sound of it."

"Shut up."

"Just reminding you," I said, shrugging.

His jaw twitched as he kept his eyes fixed on me. "If I don't see any improvement with Quill within -,"

"Quill?"

"The Terran's name. If I don't see any improvements within a week, you're getting shipped back to Threxia. Let's see how long those folks at the hospital will keep yer momma in her treatments when ya ain't got the money to pay 'em."

"What did she say to you?"

"…What?"

"My mom, what did she say to you?"

"Some crazy crap, I couldn't understand it."

"…Oh. Sorry about that."

"The only thing you need to be feelin' sorry about is if you slack off in this job. I might decide not to send ya back to Threxia if you end up being more trouble than you're worth." There was a mischievous glint in his eyes as he said this and I inexplicably felt the corner of my mouth twitch upward.

"Oh yeah. And just what would you do to me instead?"

He leaned in. "I'd let the crew eat ya."

I blinked. "What?"

A sly, devilish smirk spread his lips and revealed those sharp teeth, reminding me of what he'd said when he had me pressed against a wall the other night. "Well, darlin' ya ain't gotta look so scared. I ain't gonna eat ya. … Not just yet anyways." Sprek had he actually been serious about that!

I wasn't aware I'd been backing away until my lower back met the platform's guard rail. He had me trapped between it and himself and his grin widened maliciously as he leaned into my personal space. "My boys ain't never had Terran before or a Threxian. You bein' combination of the two, well," he clicked his mouth, "You look miiighty temptin' to them, darlin'."

It's moments like this where my brain stops working so my mouth figures it has to step in until the brain decides to resume control. "You should know all about that, right, Prince Charming?" I asked in as sultry a tone I could manage. Nice, Brosh. Real nice. Let's antagonize the Ravager captain who may also be a cannibal.

I felt the bar dig painfully into my spine as Yondu pressed in on me, making me lean as far as I could without toppling over the railing. I needn't have worried, his hands clamped down onto my wrists, effectively pinning my hands to the rails. Something hungry sparked in his eyes and before I could figure out if it was desire or appetite, he paused and the hunger in his eyes dissipated. Anger flared within his crimson eyes and it was like seeing two tiny flames residing in his gaze. He gritted his teeth and pushed off the rail, storming away.

I straightened up and shouted at his retreating back. "Hey! Where's the guy I'm supposed to be looking after?"

He partially turned round and gave a vague wave of his hand. "He's somewhere's."

Apparently my mouth was still calling the shots. "Oh, very helpful! If that's how it's going to be then you may as well tell the crew that Terran a la Threx is on the menu! I hope you all choke on my bones!"

Yondu didn't even turn this time when he lifted his hand and flipped me off. Unbelievable. I heaved an overly loud sigh and crossed the platform to solid floor and found a crate to sit on. My head fell into my hands.

"He told me the same thing when he brought me on the ship."

My head shot up. I looked around in confusion. Why was I hearing a little boy's voice on a Ravager ship?

"Up here."

I titled my face towards the metal piping that snaked all along the ceiling of the pathway surrounding the hangar. A small human face peered down at me.

"Hi," he greeted.

I slowly lifted a hand and waved at him. "…Hi."

"Is the blue guy gone?"

"Yondu? Yeah, he's gone."

"Cool." He shifted about and then dropped to the floor in front of me. He had curly reddish hair and looked so young; he couldn't be ten years old yet. The clothing he wore was odd and sported several grease stains. He wore some sort of a travel pack on his back and a contraption hung from his neck with a wire that dangled down and connected to a – no way! Was he carrying a music box!

I pointed at it. "I've got one like that," I said.

The kid's nose wrinkled in confusion then he followed where I was pointing. His hand went to where he'd clipped it on his belt. "You have a Walkman?"

Now it was my turn to scrunch up my nose. "A what?"

"That's what this thing is called."

"A Walkman?"

"Yeah. So you have one too?"

"Yeah, I got mine from a guy selling Terran merchandise. You?"

"I got mine from … my mom… back on Earth."

"Earth?... That's another name for Terra, isn't it?"

"I guess."

"So you're from Terra?"

"I was until that mean blue guy snatched me up."

It all started to click in my head. "What's your name?"

"Peter Quill."

Sprek! A kid! Yondu said nothing about the Terran being a kid, and a very young kid at that! Too young to be letting wander around a ship without supervi…. Oh heck no! Nah-uh! Nobody said anything about me being a scarrin' baby-sitter! This wasn't a simple job where I'd be taking care of an ill Terran and be delivered back to my mom in a matter of months; this was going to be years! I was going to be raising this kid!

I jumped to my feet and shouted out at the top of my lungs, "Yondu Udonta, you son of a marg!"

Peter blinked at me. "Are you okay?"

No I was not okay! I was the furthest thing from okay! "I'm fine."

"Oookay…. So what's your name?"

"Lydia Brosh." I stuck out my hand. "We're going to be hanging out a lot."

Peter had shadows under his eyes so when he told me I looked tired I nearly laughed. I didn't though. The fact that my first impulse was to laugh instead of voicing concern over his sleepless appearance was a sure sign that I really was exhausted, mentally and physically. I followed him down many hallways which I was too tired too even take notice of until we came to a stop in front of two doors. The door to my right opened at Peter's approach and he leaned against the frame. "This one's my room, or at least that's what the giant smurf told me it is when he shoved me in here after I kept kicking his crewmates' legs."

I smiled at the mental image of him bringing Ravager's low after a swift kick to the shins. "Anyway," he pointed at the door beside his, "that room's empty if you want it. Nobody uses it."

"Thanks." I stepped towards it and the portal door slid open.

"Hey, Lydia?"

I paused. "Yeah?"

"Could we be friends? You seem nice and I could really use one around here."

I really hit the jackpot on the number of heartbreaks I could receive in the span of twenty-four hours. "Yeah, Peter. We can be friends."

"Cool. Well, good night."

"Good night."

He ducked inside and the portal closed after him. I did the same. The room was surprisingly spacious. Or maybe it seemed that way to me after so many years of being in the sleeping quarters of a ship that was never meant to be lived in for as long as I and my mom did. The room had two oval windows, giving me a view of the stars. The bed had no sheets but there was a mattress with very minimal stains. I slowly lowered myself onto it and all the day's event came crashing down on me. There tears poured out of me and I wanted a pillow more than anything so I could drown out my sobs. No, not more than anything… I dug into my satchel and pulled out my music box. Hey, Peter could say they were called Walkmans all he wanted but I'll keep calling mine a music box, thanks very much.

I stuck in the ear buds and pressed play. The opening notes of a piano trickled out.

"I'm sailing away set an open course for the virgin sea
I've got to be free, free to face the life that's ahead of me
On board I'm the captain so climb aboard
We'll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I'll try oh Lord I'll try to carry on…"

My eyes drifted to the windows, at the stars glimmering outside. All those worlds and galaxies…

"I look to the sea reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we'll try best that we can to carry on…"

"Anywhere but Knowhere," I'd said…and here I was stuck on a Ravager ship.

"A gathering of angels appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said
They said come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me…"

Chapter Text

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Didn’t I wake up to that sound the other night?

BANG! BANG! BANG! “Wake up, girl!”

Raspy voice. Odd accent. I like that accent. It’s kinda hot. Where have I heard that accent?

“Do I have to blast this door down too, girl!”

It suddenly came rushing back to me. Oh sprek…

BANG! BANG! BANG!

I tumbled off the mattress, my brown leather jacket sliding off my chest and tangling between my legs which caused me to trip and face plant on the floor. More resounding ‘bangs’ vibrated against my door. I pulled my jacket free and tossed it aside to lunge for the control panel. Slapping my palm at it blindly, I felt a mixture of satisfaction and dread when the portal door opened. Yondu’s hand was lifted in the act of delivering another bout of banging. A scowl was etched onto his blue face. Just like I left him.

I drowsily leaned against the frame, the side of my face pressed to the metal and my eyes struggling to stay open. “Hey, Yondu.” I covered my mouth as a large yawn overtook me. “What’s up?”

His crimson eyes flicked up and down at me, eyebrows raised. Oh glom, I must have looked a sight. My hair likes to do this thing where it expands over night and it’s a battle to brush out in the mornings. Since I’d left my travel bag in the ship’s bridge I slept in my clothes which were now sporting fabulous wrinkles. Yondu’s gaze drifted to my right shoulder. I glanced down to see my tank top’s strap had slid uselessly off my shoulder. I hastily pulled it back in place.

“Um –,” I began but Yondu seemed to have snapped out of whatever disgust my appearance must have incurred because he cut me off.

“If that’s how ya would have looked the night after I guess I should be grateful you conned me instead.”

Ouch. I schooled my features to look unimpressed. “Charming as ever.”

“I take it you met the kid seeing as how you ended up in the room next to his.”

I opened my mouth to deliver a tongue lashing for leaving out the important detail of Peter’s age but he got a great big yawn instead. “You could swallow a planet whole with that big mouth,” Yondu said. I was in mid-yawn so I was unfortunately unable to tell him where to shove it. It’s probably for the best I couldn’t.

When my yawn passed, I fixed him with the best glare I could manage so early in the morning. “You failed to mention how old he was.”

“Did I?” He shrugged. “Oh well.”

“Oh well? That’s all you have to say? I thought I’d be on this ship for a few months!”

“I told you you’d be his care-taker until he no longer needs to be looked after.”

“You twisted your words to make it sound like he was ill and it would be a temporary job!”

“It is temporary. You ain’t gonna be here yer whole life. Just a couple of years is all.”

“A couple of years? Do you know how old he is?”

“Young.”

“He’s eight. Eight years old. I found that much out from him last night. He’s going to need me around for at least five years!”

Yondu leaned his shoulder on the wall and folded his arms. “Hm. That’s a shame. Too bad you had a lot goin’ for ya back home – oh wait,” he snapped his fingers in feigned recollection, “Ya didn’t really have anythin’ to look forward to, didja? Except lookin’ after yer momma. Ain’t that right, princess?” He bared his teeth in a cruel grin, his red eyes practically glinting.

A sharp pang sliced at my heart and I swallowed back any retort I had. It was harsh, but true. I had nothing. Yondu gave a lop-sided smirk at my silence and pushed off the wall. “Get dressed; I’m gonna show you around the ship.”

I finally managed to form words. “Isn’t that something a captain would task a crew member to do? Ya know, since the captain’s busy captaining and all?”

Yondu placed his hands on his hips and bared those crooked, sharp teeth at me in a stomach churning grin. “I wanted the pleasure of showin’ you around myself, darlin’.” I eyed him suspiciously and made no move to pull myself away from the door frame. “Get a move on, girl! I ain’t got all day!”

I didn’t break my gaze from him as I took two steps back and pressed the button for the door to close. Even after there was a barrier between us I continued to stare at the same spot. Whether it was because I didn’t trust Yondu or my brain was still waking up and hadn’t registered the closed door, I’ll let you decide. I finally pulled away my gaze when I spent about thirty seconds feeling around for my travel bag next to the bed and I remembered that I hadn’t brought it with me.

Well this is going to be awkward, I thought, slipping on my leather jacket and running fingers through my tangled hair.

When the door revealed me again to Yondu he furrowed his brow. “You look the same.”

“Yeah, well,” I grunted as I stretched and gathered my hair in one hand to start braiding, “I forgot my bag on the bridge last night and –,”

“Night cycle.”

“Huh?”

“On this ship we refer to them as cycles since there ain’t no real day or night in space. We keep to Xandarian time ‘round here, so ya best adapt to it quick.”

“Right. Gotcha.”

“As for your bag, I had it taken to my quarters last night so no one would nose around in it.”

I blinked in surprise, my hands going still. “That was actually thoughtful,” I said.

Yondu rolled his eyes and turned, walking away. “I did it so ya wouldn’t whine about yer stuff being messed with,” he grouched.

“Ooof course you did.” I sighed. I looked to the door next to mine. “Hey, what about Peter? Shouldn’t I have him with me for the tour?”

“He already knows his way around. Stop yappin’ and walk!”

I narrowed my eyes at the back of his head and lowered my voice so he wouldn’t hear me. I pitched my tone to sound like an air-headed princess. “Why yes, I do find a lack of manners to be a major turn on and I will readily follow any man who orders me around.”

“Brosh! Move!” He was losing patience with me. I grumbled and followed after him.

I finished my braid and secured it with a twice broken hair tie. “So, where do we get the grub around here?” I asked, picking up my pace so I’d be at his side.

“Mess hall. It’s on the level above us.”

“Is that our first stop by any chance?”

He gave me a side glance and smirked. “You hungry?”

“Starved.”

“Too bad. Ya missed breakfast.”

“Whaaat,” I whined.

“Told ya, you best adapt quick.”

Tsk, yeah, no kidding.”

The rest of the day – excuse me, day cycle – didn’t get any better. Yondu was an absolute borga the whole time. For those of you who haven’t gotten a translator implant yet, borga in Threxian loosely translates to mean ‘jerk’ in Terran. But borga really doesn’t even begin to cover how insufferable he was. Oh, he showed me around the ship alright, but it was how he conducted the tour that really grated on my nerves.

The Eclector, as I’ve said before, is a huge ship. Ginormous! But he didn’t treat it that way. Ooooh no, he made us practically fly by everything and gave me the bare minimum of explanations and descriptions for it all. For example, when he showed me the way to the training room, I had barely gotten through the entrance when he said, “This is the training room, it’s where you train. Moving on.” Then turned on his heel and began to walk out. I can’t even tell you what all was inside the room because I didn’t even get a proper glimpse. He grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me after him. He let go once we exit the hall, as if he didn’t want to be seen touching me.

It was about the time I was climbing the seventh staircase within less than two hours that I caught the devilish grin on his face and realized that he was making the tour overwhelming on purpose! That son of a marg!

By the time we made it to the bridge, I was worn out, famished, parched, and thirty seconds away from strangling him with my bare hands! I probably would have done it if I hadn’t been so out of breath.

“Didja get all that, princess?” Yondu asked, smiling smugly.

My eyes bugged out of my skull as I fought the urge to slug that near-perfectly square jaw out of alignment. Maybe that’s why his teeth were so crooked; he’d earned one too many punches to the mouth?

At my silence and intense staring, Yondu chuckled maliciously and turned to approach his chair. “I got a few tasks for ya ta do before you hunt down that boy.”

“And that would be?” I asked through clenched teeth.

“Oooh, just a few small things.”

 

It was not just a few small things. The giant piece of engine equipment I was lugging around in my arms was nowhere near small! It seemed to gain weight with every second I carried it to the engine rooms at the very back of the ship. I became fairly certain that Yondu failed to mention the locations of any convenient lifts or zero-gravity equipment that would have made my trips – yes, yes I’d made the trek twice already – easier.

The first two times I’d made the trip down to the engine room was with a blue-skinned alien named Aerin. He and Yondu were not the same species though. Aerin’s skin wasn’t as deep a blue as Yondu’s, nor did he have the broad and muscled build of his captain either. Instead of being bald, Aerin sported a head full of thick black hair. He also had pale gold eyes. He was part of the engine team and after making the trip with me a second time, he had to stay and work with the rest of the engine crew, leaving me to navigate my way back to the cargo hold and un-box the final piece they needed. Unfortunately it was the largest one and I didn’t have Aerin to help me carry it. Not that he would have been much help since he was a bit on the scrawny side.

A glance around me revealed no nearby crewmembers to ask for assistance so I sucked it up and heaved the hulking metal object into my arms and thought, I got this, no sweat. Ten minutes later and sweat was dripping down my back. I was also very, very much lost. How can a ship that big not have signs posted at all the hall entrances and exits? How did the crew know where to go? How did anyone find anything in this place? Was I going to forever wander the ship, lost and hungry?

“Where are the signs! Why are there no signs! I need my signs!”

I came upon a three way cross section and paused. I had no memory of being here when I followed Aerin. Had we come here? Wasn’t I paying attention? I was paying attention! I’m sure I was paying attention!

As I stood there, turning this way and that at the various entrances and wracking my brain to remember which path to take, the engine part gradually began to pull me down with it. I struggled to remain upright but the strength in my arms was running out and I soon realized it was a losing battle.

“Oooooh, spreeek,” I groaned, feeling my upper body succumb to gravity. “No, no, no!” I was about to be acquainted with the floor. I had to get moving again. Picking the passage directly in front of me, I dragged my feet forward. My leg movements started to resemble a waddle and my descent continued. I hadn’t even made it past the threshold when my body said, “Nope!” and I fell to the floor with a thud. “Ooooouch…”

 

It was Aerin who drew the short straw to come and find me. I’m being serious here, the engine crew literally drew straws to decide who’d come and find me. I was still lying on the floor, too exhausted to move except for rolling onto my back. I preoccupied myself by counting the number of tiny squares in the grating above my head and had gotten to the upper two-hundreds when I heard foot steps coming my way. I was saved!

“You want me to do what?”

“Go back to maintenance and help them fix the AC,” Yondu stated, grinning.

“I was just in there! Why couldn’t you have told me that while I was there!”

“Do you have a comm-link yet?”

“…No.”

“Then that answers yer question, doesn’t it?”

I stared daggers at him but it only seemed to amuse him to the point that I could tell he was holding back laughter. “When do I get one?” I asked with forced calmness.

“Weeell, it won’t be ready until the end of the day cycle I should think.” He stuck the tip of his tongue behind his front teeth, not even bothering to disguise the petty glee he was experiencing at my frustration.

“Fine,” I said through clenched teeth. “Will that be all, captain?”

“For now. Lunch is in two hours.”

I gave him a stiff nod and stomped off to maintenance.

Nobody in maintenance had a clue what they were doing! No wonder the AC wasn’t working! I ended up having to teach those numbskulls how to do everything! I also ended up streaked with oil stains and remembered that my clothes were being held hostage by Yondu. Could my day get any better?

When lunch time rolled around, I nearly plowed over anyone that got in my way and collapsed with my food tray at an empty table. I went to grab my fork when I caught a glimpse of my hand. It was nearly covered with black smudges. I could only imagine how my face looked. Soooo attractive. Phft! I took out a rag I’d stuffed in my back pocket and tried to rub some of the black off of my hands.

I caught many crewmen looking at me, some sneaking glances, others blatantly staring. I searched their faces, looking for one in particular and not finding him. Peter wasn’t there. A bellow of laughter that was fast becoming familiar to me caught my attention. Yondu sat at a table among members of his crew and was regaling them with tales of past exploits. I watched him as he spoke. He smiled as he divulged amusing moments in the story and yet … it didn’t reach his eyes. Not like it did when he and I had first met and he thought I was an ordinary girl for him to flirt with.

Shaking off my ruminations, I returned to eating and scanning for Peter. He should have been in the mess hall by now. Finished with my food, I dumped my empty tray and made my way to Yondu’s table. I scrubbed at my face and hands one more time before I wadded up the rag in my left fist and stood before him.

“Captain, if I may have a word?” I asked.

He spared me a passing glance. “Ya look like crap, Brosh.”

“I have to disagree,” one Ravager interjected after getting a look at me. “Even all smudged up she’s still hot.”

Yondu shot him a warning glare and turned back to me. “What is it?”

“I noticed that Peter isn’t here. Do you know where he might be?”

“Isn’t that the job I gave you? To be keepin’ an eye on him?”

That was it. I’d had enough. “Oh, you’re right, captain. When exactly did you want me to split myself in two so I could accomplish half the tasks you gave me as well as watch the kid?” I threw the dirty rag onto the table. “Next time you should give me fair warning cause splitting in two is a rather long process, but thanks for the clarification, Captain Udonta.” I turned on my heel and stormed out, not the least bit concerned of what Yondu would do to me later. I was going to find Peter.

I decided to check his room first. Knocking softly on the door, I called out to him. “Peter? Are you in there?”

“Yeah,” came his muffled voice.

“Can I come in?”

It was quiet for a moment then the door opened. Peter gave me a passing glance before heading back to his bed and flopping onto it. He had on his headphones and held his music box – Walkman – in his hands. I entered the room and smiled at him.

“Hey,” I greeted. He didn’t verbally answer, just gave me a faint nod. I ventured to sit next to him on the bed. He tensed for a moment but when I didn’t make any sort of move to do anything else, he relaxed. “Why weren’t you at the mess hall? Aren’t you hungry?”

As if to answer me personally, his stomach gave an audible growl. Peter clutched at his small belly and winced, embarrassed. “Yeah,” he said.

“Then why didn’t you go eat?”

Peter slid the headphones off and sighed. “I’m too scared to go in there.”

“Scared? Why are you scared?”

“Because I’m so skinny and – and what if they try to eat me? Yondu said they wanted to eat me.”

“So when do you eat?”

“I go to the kitchen when they’re all gone. The food’s usually put away by then but I find something else to eat if I can get to it. Most of the time I don’t know if the stuff is something I can eat because it’s alien food and what if I could die from eating it?”

This kid was scarrin’ adorable. Part of me wanted to giggle at the look of anxiety on his face but worry won out as I realized that for two months Peter had barely eaten a full meal. I leaned in as if I were going to share a secret. “Well, if it’s any help, I’m part Terran and I’ve eaten plenty of different food from other places and I haven’t keeled over yet. The food they serve in the mess hall may look deadly but I’m still kickin’.” I widened my eyes comically. “I am still kicking, right? I’m not a ghost, am I? Hang on; let’s see if my hands go through you!” I began to tickle him without mercy. Peter laughed as he wiggled and flopped about as he tried to escape.

“Well look at that; I’m solid,” I said, withdrawing once I felt that I’d succeeded in brightening his mood. “So, not a ghost then.” I pretended to wipe sweat away from my brow. “Phew.”

Peter’s eyes seemed to regain a spark in them and I noticed that his had a small ring of brown around the pupils. I remembered Yondu’s remark about Peter and me having similar colored eyes. "Got green eyes like you too. His ain't as pretty though…” Had it really only been two days ago that Yondu had been charming and flirting with me? It seemed like a different person.

Shaking off the memory, I glanced down at his music device and smiled. “So, what were you listening to before I came in?”

His hold on it tightened. “‘I’m Not in Love’ by 10cc.’”

“Never heard it before. Mind if I listen?” I didn’t reach for the headphones, I merely turned my hand so that my palm was open and waiting if he decided to give it to me, but the way his fingers went white-knuckled around the box you’d have thought I’d just tried to snatch it from him. I closed my hand and let it fall to my lap. Did he think I was trying to steal it? To be fair, he’d only met me yesterday and I’d visibly gotten excited when I saw his music bo – Walkman.

“Look,” I began, gently, “I have my own music box. So you don’t have to worry about me stealing it, okay?”

Peter cringed, but his grip didn’t let up. “Sorry. Some of the aliens on the ship tried to take it from me before.”

I smacked my left fist into my open right palm. “Want me to bust some noses?”

He smiled and shook his head. “Nah. I already bit some of their fingers when they tried.” Oh, I liked this kid. His thumb continued to stroke the buttons.

“It must be really special to you.”

“Yeah.”

“You said your mom gave it to you?”

“For my seventh birthday.”

“And the tape?”

“It’s a mix tape.”

“I’d love to hear it sometime. I’ve got quite a few mix-tapes of my own if you ever want to listen to them.”

“That’d be cool.”

We sat in silence for a moment.

“You want to listen to that song?” Peter offered hesitantly.

“Sure.”

I made sure not to reach for anything, only moving when the headphones were offered to me. The beat started off slow, almost laid-back, not at all like the barrage of electric guitar and drums that I was accustomed to listening to. After about a minute into the music, I glanced at Peter and smiled. “I like it,” I told him.

His posture relaxed, as if he’d been afraid I wasn’t going to like it. “I was listening to this song just before…” He swallowed and looked down at his Walkman. “Before Yondu took me.”

I slid the headphones off. “Taken?” Now that I wasn’t completely exhausted, I remembered Peter mentioning the other night that Yondu had snatched him up.

“Yeah, I was kidnapped by that blue jerk.”

Kidnapped! Oh things were getting more interesting.

“Yondu says they wanted to eat me but he stopped them because he saw how quick I was and that I could be a good thief.”

That just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Why would Yondu kidnap a kid in the first place?

“How did he manage to kidnap you?”

Peter told me how he’d been alone outside of a hospital that night when a bright light blinded him and wind nearly deafened his ears.

“Where were your parents?”

“Never met my dad.”

“And your mom?”

Peter’s lips pressed into a thin line and his eyes became watery. Oh… So that’s why he was outside of a hospital. She must have been very ill to be at a hospital. I could just barely hear the music coming from the headphones but I made no move to put them back on.

“My mom’s sick too. I would play music for her cause it seemed to help. The one she liked the most was ‘Unchained Melody’.”

“What do you mean music seemed to help?”

“There’s something…wrong with her head.”

“Cancer?” Peter’s voice warbled.

I frowned at the foreign word. “I’ve never heard of that illness. She’s mentally ill. The units I make with the Ravagers is going to help pay for her treatments at the hospital.”

Peter’s eyes lowered to his shoes. “Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did.”

“What do you mean, Peter?”

I stormed through the halls, distantly surprised I was able to find my way back to the bridge without getting lost. I was a woman on a mission, my blood boiling with fury that was directed at one person.

“Yondu Udonta!”

He looked up at me with a scowl as I entered the bridge. “Woman, the only time my full name is used is whenever I announce myself.”

“You absolute loxtranti!” I doubt I have to tell you what loxtranti translates into. It certainly doesn’t mean ‘sweetheart’. “How could you kidnap a child right after his mother died!”

Yondu faltered only a moment before the scowl returned with a vengeance. “It ain’t yer concern, princess.”

I was only marginally aware that we weren’t alone on the bridge. Kraglin, Halvi, and two others were there. At a twitch of his head, all but Kraglin left the room. “If I recall, captain, you put me in charge of Peter’s care and last I checked, his emotional state of mind falls under that description; so yeah, it is my concern, Yondu! You took him less than a minute after his own mom died! He hasn’t had a chance to process that!”

“It’s been two months; he’s had plenty of time!”

“No. He’s been hiding out in his room, too scared to even come out to eat because he’s trapped on a ship full of space pirates who want to eat him. He’s been trying to figure out how to survive, not processing his mother’s death.”

Yondu rolled his red eyes. “Yer exaggeratin’.”

“Am I? Do you know who he called out for when you zapped him up?”

“I suppose you do?” he responded sarcastically.

“His mom.”

Yondu was silent.

“Peter told me that he was so scared when your ship showed up, that he forgot he’d just seen his mother die and so the first person he screamed to come and save him was his mom…. Yondu, her death was so fresh, barely a minute had passed, and you came and snatched him away before he could even accept that his mother was gone – is any of this getting through to you at all?”

Yondu’s jaw twitched as he glared at a spot near my shoulder, not even bothering to look me in the eye. When it became apparent I’d be getting no answer from him I scoffed in disbelief and turned on my heel.

 

He lifted his eyes to watch her leave the bridge. He’d felt her anger, seen the rage burning in those green eyes. Hearing her question him like that, he’d nearly grabbed her and shook her right then. She didn’t know the whole story. She only had the boy’s side of it and it wasn’t the complete picture. He was her captain now and she had no right to barge in and yell at him. Yet a tiny voice whispered at him that he’d deserved it. Yondu quickly strangled that tiny voice and sneered at Lydia’s rapidly retreating back. He’d punish her later for such behavior. That was the second time she’d bowed up at him in the presence of his crew and that just wasn’t going to be ignored. He couldn’t let his men think he’d let her get away with it.

“Cap’n?”

He could hear his young first mate cautiously approaching him. He’d made him his first mate less than two years ago after the last one thought he’d start calling the shots himself. That had ended with a whistle, a flash of red, and a hole through the man’s skull. Kraglin had shown remarkable loyalty and promise in the past, so he’d made the boy his right hand man. Yondu knew the boy was still wary of getting his job wrong, making him walk on eggshells around his captain, but he still tried.

“Cap’n?” Kraglin tried again when Yondu didn’t answer.

“Hm?”

“Should we fill her in? Ya know, since she’s gonna be takin’ care of the boy an’ all?”

“We ain’t tellin’ her a thing, Kraglin.”

“But, cap –,”

Yondu whirled and fixed him with a glare. “Not a thing!”

Kraglin swallowed and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Chapter Text

‘Only You’ by Yazoo is my favorite song. I don’t know why, I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s the one song among my music collection that I’ll find myself humming or singing a couple a times a day. I know nothing about the band that plays it. I only have one other song by them on a mix tape I randomly purchased a few years back. It’s been my song ever since.

I was softly singing said song’s chorus as I got ready for Day (Cycle) Two on the Eclector. “All I needed was the love you gave/ All I needed for another day/ And all I ever knew/ Only you…” I’d managed to reclaim my travel bags and arranged my belongings the way I wanted them in my room. I was brushing my hair in front of a cracked and cloudy mirror on the wall when I detected the sounds of Peter moving about in his room next to mine. I grinned in amusement. The boy stomped about like a goolow in the mornings.

“Wonder if you'll understand/ It's just the touch of your hand/ Behind a closed door…”

After I finished braiding my hair, I shrugged on my brown leather jacket and tucked the blue stone pendant of my necklace beneath my shirt. I’d caught a few crewmen sneaking curious glances at it the other day-cycle as if they were trying to gauge if it was valuable enough to steal. It wasn’t but if anyone came at me to try taking it, I’d pull a page out of Peter’s book and bite some fingers.

I left my room and wrapped my knuckles against Peter’s door. “Hey, short-stuff, you ready to get some breakfast?” I called. Last night-cycle – oh screw that, I’ll call it day and night if I want! Last night I was able to get Peter to agree to go to the mess hall, but he made it clear that I had to go with him and sit at the same table as him. I was going to do that anyway; as if I’d let that child go into a room full of Ravagers alone.

The door slid open to reveal a haphazardly dressed Peter with his reddish hair sticking up in all directions. “Morning, Lydia,” he greeted, smiling.

“Morning,” I replied with a chuckle. I reached out and ruffled his messy hair. “Did you get in a fight with your pillow or something, cause you have got an extreme case of bed head, kiddo.”

Peter grunted as he tried to pry my hand away from his head. “Knock it off,” he whined as young boys do. “It’s not that bad.”

“Do you have a mirror in your room?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you look in it?”

“No.”

“Let me show you a thing. It’s called a reflection.”

I gave him a playful push back into his room and my eyebrows rose as I got a look at it. “Kid, your room is just a messy as your hair!”

“It’s fine,” he insisted.

I sighed and scooted him to the mirror. It was a bit cleaner than mine and had only a minor crack near the left corner. “You see this thing on your head?” I said, ruffling his curls again. “This is called hair. It has to be maintained in order to not frighten away other people.” My gaze briefly flicked to my reflection’s braid as I remembered the many times my own bleary-eyed self had been startled by the unruliness of my hair in the mornings. “I should know,” I added under my breath.

“I don’t have a brush,” Peter said as if it excused him.

“You have fingers?”

“Yeah.”

“The ya got a brush; and if you have any particularly stubborn hairs that refuse to cooperate,” I ran my fingers through his hair to tame it down, “then what you do is you hock up some spit –,” I cleared my throat and was not disappointed with Peter’s reaction.

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! I’ll do it! I got it! No need!” He wriggled out of my grasp and swiftly ran his own fingers through his hair.

“See? Not so hard, right?” I asked, smiling mischievously. I glanced around. “Now about your room…”

Peter gazed sheepishly about him. “Just so you know,” he began, meeting my eyes, “the room was already really messy before I moved in.”

I barked out a laugh. “Fair enough,” I conceded, “but that’s no reason why your bed should be left looking like you had a fight with it. Seriously, Peter, do you thrash around in your sleep or something?”

“No, it’s just that my bed was never made when I got the room. One of the aliens tossed some bed sheets at me and that was it. I never learned how to make my bed without help.” He gazed sadly at the unmade bed. “Mom was going to teach me.”

My chest ached a bit at the sight of his face and I cleared my throat. “Well, I know it’s not the same buuut…” I approached his bed and gestured at it. “Would you be okay with me showing you how my mom taught me?”

He seemed to consider it a moment and then nodded, a small smile appearing on his lips. “Sure.”

“Okay.” I grabbed the base sheet. “Come on over here.” Peter did as I said. “So the first thing you do is –,” I flicked out the sheet so it would billow out and cover the mattress only to discover … “A fitted sheet!” I squawked.

“What’s wrong with a fitted sheet?” Peter asked.

“Everything,” I moaned. This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

Where is that girl, Yondu wondered, scanning the faces of his very ugly crew for the one person who was actually attractive. The tongue lashing Lydia gave him the previous day-cycle still stung, but he had a particular reason for wanting to find her. Kraglin informed him that during the ship’s night-cycle someone had snuck into the armory and stolen an item from the holding. ‘Holding’ was where weapons the crew came across during raids that they hadn’t tested yet or didn’t know how the machinery worked, so it would be set aside under lock and key until a time came that they could properly examine it. For a Ravager a proper examination usually consisted of asking, “What’s this one do?” while pressing buttons and pulling triggers and seeing the outcome. That was how Vorker lost his eye actually.

Yondu drummed his fingers on the table, red eyes locked on the mess hall’s entrance. The moment she walked through that door he was going to tear into her. This was the final straw.

As the minutes ticked by and Lydia remained a no-show, Yondu’s glare intensified and he began to grind his teeth. The crew subtly began to vacate the table, opting to eat their breakfast at a safer distance. When ten more minutes passed with no appearance from the red-headed vixen, Yondu slammed his fist on the table with such force that every crewmember in the hall went silent and apprehensively watched their captain. Yondu, not even sparring a glance at anyone, stormed out through the open doors and it was a full ten seconds before anyone dared to so much as move.

“Weeeelp,” one blue-skinned Ravager said loud enough for all to hear. He turned his spiked head to look around at the majority of the crew. “She’s dead,” he announced.

“Don’t speak so soon, Rixh,” Halvi spoke up.

“She may be pretty but she pushes his buttons too often for her own good,” Rixh insisted. He picked up his fork and fiddled with it as he went on talking. “Just you wait, Halvi. That little girl is going to go too far and – wham!” He stabbed his fork into his breakfast. “She’ll be skewered like the others before her.”

Halvi stood from his seat and carried his empty tray in one hand. He paused next to Rixh who beamed smarmily up at the seven foot tower of night. “You know I’m right, big guy.” Halvi lifted his tray and swatted Rixh on the back of his spikey head. The blue alien grasped at his spikes and cringed into his seat. “Gah! Halvi! Geez, man!”

Halvi was already moving on, depositing his tray with the others waiting to be cleaned. A pearly smile was aimed back at Rixh. “Perhaps you’ll learn to keep your mouth shut if given the proper motivation, yes?”

Rixh sneered then winced at the pinch of pain that caused him. “Giant ink blot,” he mumbled.

Either the girl was purposefully avoiding him or she’d gotten lost on her way to mess hall. A quick trip to the observation room didn’t turn her up on any of the screens so his next stop was her room. The scowl on his face warned away any Ravagers who came across him in the halls. Some men would take one look at their approaching captain and wisely take a different route to get to their destinations. Of course, Yondu didn’t notice this – well, he did but it vaguely registered in the back of his mind. His heavy footfalls rang out, announcing to all, “Here I am, and I’m about to whoop some ass!” Those purposeful strides began to falter once he rounded the corner to the hall that Quill and Lydia’s rooms were at. His ears picked up on Lydia’s voice but she sounded … odd.

“Why won’t you fit; glom it!”

This was followed by lots of grunts that made Yondu’s eyebrows raise and his filthy mind jump to attention. His dirty thoughts came to a screeching halt when he realized Lydia’s voice was coming from Quill’s room and the door was open.

“I will make it fit!” Lydia’s strained voice hissed.

“You almost got it that time,” Quill said.

There was a grunt and then the frustrated growl of Lydia. “Glom it!”

Yondu got to the door and was greeted with the rather fetching sight of Lydia’s fine backside prominently stuck up in the air as she coiled at the end of Quill’s mattress. She’d kicked off her shoes and socks and curled her toes around the bottom edges of the fitted sheet and gripped the upper corners in her hands.

“Are you sure about trying it that way?” Quill questioned uncertainly.

“Kid, there is no win in a situation that involves making a bed with fitted sheets that are a smidge too small to properly fit.” Lydia inhaled deeply and readied herself, which hoisted her butt higher in the air and Yondu shamelessly appreciated the view. That girl could fill some pants.

“Alright, here I go,” Lydia announced.

“In five,” Quill began, “four, three, two, one!”

She sprang from her coiled position, arms and legs extended, and she flopped face first onto the mattress. “Get it!” came her muffled cry.

Quill dashed forward and tugged the right corner from her foot. His face scrunched up with effort as he tried to make it cover the corner of the mattress. Lydia, meanwhile, attempted to do the same with the upper part of the sheet. Yondu couldn’t hold back any longer. “If it weren’t for the presence of that boy this might could be the opening for a very questionable erotica.”

Quill, startled by the sudden sound of Yondu’s voice, jumped back and let go of the sheet.

Lydia twisted her head to look back at him. “Peter, grab –,” but it was too late. The lower half of the sheet slipped off the corners and snapped back, curling inward and encasing Lydia’s feet. The upper corners slipped from her hands and repeated the incident, which enveloped Lydia’s head and torso and now had her trapped in a cocoon.

Yondu roared with laughter as he watched the girl struggle to free herself. Quill bit his lower lip and moved to help her but a large, blue hand settled on his shoulder and pulled him back. “Not just yet, boy; I’m enjoyin’ this too much,” Yondu chortled.

Borga!” Lydia shouted. “I’ll kick your glom tookum, you blue-skinned loxtranti!”

Quill tugged at his ear while frowning with confusion. Yondu nudged his shoulder. “What is it, boy?”

“I think my transmuter-thing is broken.”

“It’s called a translator. The one I had our medic inject in you was brand new so it can’t be broken.”

“Then how come some of her words sound funny?”

“Like what?”

“What’s a tookum?”

Lydia broke off from her tirade long enough to shout a rebuke at him. “Watch your language, Peter!”

Yondu chuckled. “It ain’t broken, boy. I thought the same thing when I hired Halvi,” at Quill’s questioning look Yondu paused and offered, “the big black guy?” At the boy’s nod of recognition, Yondu continued while also keeping an amused eye on Lydia’s ongoing battle with the blanket cocoon. “Halvi and Brosh come from the same planet but Halvi’s people got a slightly different way of speaking from the majority of the Threxians. His tribe didn’t want to register their language with the verbal data corps so their lingo don’t always translate with the devices.”

“Freedom!” Lydia shouted as she successfully uncovered her head.

“I think the blanket over yer face was an improvement to your look, Brosh.”

“Screw you.”

“Not in front of the little one, honey,” Yondu responded with a smirk. Lydia opened her mouth to retort then quickly shut it after a quick glance at Quill. Yondu’s smirk toned down a bit as he gave the boy a little shove towards the door. “You go on an’ get yer breakfast ‘for the foods all cleared up. I got somethin’ tah say to Brosh.”

“Lydia’s got to come with me.”

Yondu’s crimson eyes narrowed at him. “You hear what I said, boy? Git!”

Quill cast a worried glance at Lydia. She nodded at him and he nervously went away. Kicking the blanket to the side, Lydia picked up her boots and socks before plopping onto the mattress. She tossed him a grin. “Fitted sheets? Really? Does the depravity of Ravagers know no bounds?”

Yondu grunted, watching her as she bent over to tie up her boots and unknowingly giving him a good view of her cleavage. “Kraglin tells me there was an item stolen from Holding. You wouldn’t happen to know anythin’ ‘bout that, wouldja, princess?”

Instead of a guilty look on her face, Lydia’s expression was the picture of calm as she straightened up and fluidly produced her mysterious gadget from wherever she’d been keeping it. “Oh, you mean this item?” she asked.

Yondu exploded with rage at her blasé attitude towards his intimidation tactic. “Ain’t even been on my ship for two day cycles an’ yer already thievin’ from me!” He made a move to swipe it from her but she just as swiftly pulled it out of his reach.

“If anyone’s to be accused of stealing it should be you, considering it’s my property to begin with.”

Yondu lunged for the gadget and she nimbly leapt aside. “Hand that thing over, girl,” he growled.

“No.” She lifted her nose in the air playfully and affected a high society accent. “I shan’t.” She clipped it to her belt. “Besides, I needed it back so I can do some repair jobs on this ship that your tools are ill equipped to handle. Plus, I’ll need it to help me emphasize my point if some of your crew gets a bit too friendly.”

A growl rose in his throat. “I don’t trust you with that thing.”

Her head cocked to the side and Yondu got the feeling that she was observing him. “You don’t know what my gadget is, do you?”

Yondu’s jaw twitched.

“You’ve had it in your possession for forty-eight hours and your men still don’t know how it works?”

“I know it’s a weapon and I don’t trust ya with it,” Yondu growled.

A tiny spark of interest flared in her green eyes. She briefly looked away, considering something. She lightly bit down on her bottom lip and Yondu’s mind instantly jumped in the gutter. “What if,” she began and he dragged his attention away from her mouth. “What if I showed you how it works? Then you could determine if it’s too much of a threat for me to keep on my person? You can’t be biased though – I’m asking for a true assessment from my captain.” She lifted her eyebrows as if to ask, “What do you say to that?”

Yondu eyed her, their gazes locked and assessing. A smirk slowly lifted the corner of his mouth and he gave a single nod.

“Alright, I get that it’s more of a multi-functionin’ tool,” Yondu was groaning. He rubbed at his forehead and gave me an impatient glare. “Now show me how it can be used as a weapon.”

I guess I can’t blame him for being short with me. I’d been showing him every little thing about my gadget for the past hour and a half and I may have been stretching out my explanations over the mundane features.

“Fine, fine,” I sighed and proceeded to make a few twists here, push a button there and a full sized spear sprang from the compact machinery, prompting Yondu to take a surprised step back.

Once he saw no other surprise was going to jump at him, he moved closer and looked it up in down. I couldn’t stop a proud smile from curling my lips as he inspected it. “Is that the only weapon it can turn into?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I answered.

“Hm,” he grunted. My brows knitted together. It wasn’t so much his grunt as the way he’d made it sound. It was as if he were saying, “That’s it?”

“What wrong with it?” I asked defensively.

Yondu shook his head and pulled a half-hearted face that did nothing to hide his skepticism. “Nothin’,” he said, circling me and giving my spear those insulting looks of doubt. “It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“It don’t look too intimidatin’.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” he added, giving me a pointed once over. I frowned, unimpressed. He wasn’t going to get away with that little jab.

Looking to his lower right side where his holster was I said, “I’m sure the same could be said for your flying arrow of doom, right, captain?”

He came to a halt on my left and lifted an eyebrow. “You got somethin’ against my arrow, girl?”

I shrugged and pulled the same face he’d made a moment ago. “No, not at all. It’s just that at first glance it doesn’t make people shake in their boots.”

He stepped around so that he was right in front of me and placed his hands on his hips. “The moment my fingers even brush against that side of my coat these boys start quakin’ and look for cover.”

“Yeah, now they do, but I’m sure there were a few snickers the first time you threatened them with it, right?”

He hesitated and I knew it was true. “They didn’t snicker for long,” he quickly responded.

I held onto the spear with both hands as I leaned towards him, a teasing smile created just to prick at his pride. “Face it, Yondu. Between your weapon and mine, I think my spear wins in the intimidation round.”

I swear the man’s face was turning purple. His crimson eyes sparked and that calculating gaze fixed itself onto me. “Is that right?” he asked, his raspy voice lowered to a near whisper. My skin startled to crawl at the intensity of those red eyes. His left hand reached out and grabbed hold of the spear just above my own hands, and he leaned in so that our faces were inches apart. “Just how intimidating is yer spear when facing men with guns, darlin’?” he asked, his words coming out like a low rumble.

I licked my suddenly dry lips as I maintained eye contact. “I’ll admit that would be a problem but I’ve been in tough spots before and my weapon served me just fine.”

“That was on Knowhere, darlin’. You’re facin’ the whole galaxy now and not everyone is gonna be cowed by this metal stick.” He emphasized his words by jiggling the pole and I tightened my grip.

“I worked with what I had.” I lifted my chin defiantly. “Perhaps if I was given a weapon –,”

Yondu’s laugh rasped out but it didn’t rise above a chuckle. “Oh-ho-ho, princess, that ain’t gonna be happenin’ any time soon.”

“Alright, then I keep my spear.”

“I didn’t say ya could.”

“You really expect me to let you take away my only defense against your crew?”

“They ain’t gonna do anything to you –,”

“They’re men, Yondu,” I snapped harshly. “I’ve lived on Knowhere, so don’t goolow sprek me.”

He gritted his teeth and drew back from me, still keeping hold of the spear. I sensed more than saw the white-knuckled grip he had on the pole above my hands. I realized that I wasn’t exactly warming him up to the idea of letting me keep my gadget or issuing me a gun so I changed tactics.

“Okay, how about this. A competition between you and me; my spear against your arrow. I bet that I can hold my own against it.”

“What’ll ya wager?”

“If I win, not only do I keep my gadget, but you register me with a gun.”

He chuckled and I caught a glint of metal peek out from his teeth. “And if I win?”

I couldn’t really think of anything. I knew what I wanted, why should I have to think of what he got? “I don’t get a gun?”

He gave me a condescending tilt of his head. “Ya gotta come up with somethin’ better than that.”

I sighed. “Fine. You decide.”

The slow, predator grin that curled his lips and revealed sharp, crooked teeth made me instantly regret the mistake I’d made. “Oh, sugar, you got a lot to learn about makin’ bets. You just gave away some power there.”

Oh, sprek he was right! “I take it back!” I blurted.

Yondu released the spear and resumed circling me. “Too late, princess.” He tapped his chin. “Now, when I win, ya gotta turn over yer gadget and…” He stopped and grinned at me. “Well, I’ll have to come up with somethin’ real good, won’t I?”

“Screw you and your cocky self.”

The tip of his tongue poked out from between his teeth as he kept grinning confidently at me. “I’ll take that into consideration.”

I turned on my heel and stormed off.

Somehow word got around about Yondu and Lydia’s competition. A majority of the crew had gathered in the hangar bay and Peter fidgeted nervously where he sat perched on top of a large crate. The crew was rowdy, waiting to see the showdown. Peter clutched his Walkman, focusing on the music and not on the jeers and shouts surrounding him.

Hello, daddy! Hello, mom!
I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!
Hello, world! I’m your wild girl!
I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!

Halvi stood next to him, a silent presence who’s crossed arms and unflinching stare sent out a warning to anyone who was even thinking about approaching the boy. Despite being a member of the crew who kidnapped him, Peter decided he was okay with Halvi being near. The giant had yet to threaten to eat him, so that made Halvi alright in his book. It was Halvi who brought him to the hangar and lifted him effortlessly with one hand onto the crate.

“What’s going on?” Peter asked for the third time.

Halvi had finally answered him after taking up his crossed arms position. “The captain and your guardian have made a bet with one another.”

“What kind of bet?”

Peter couldn’t get anything else out of the ink-black giant and settled his headphones over his ears. He was nearly to the end of the song when the roar of the crew drowned out his music and caused him to slip the headphones off and looked around. “They’re here,” Halvi told him.

Peter quickly scrambled to his feet atop the crate and saw them, Yondu and Lydia, entering the hangar. Yondu swaggered into the clearing and made gestures to encourage the crews’ cheers. Lydia did her best to hide her nervousness as she tagged along after him. She didn’t draw any attention to herself as she did a quick check up on her spear for probably the hundredth time.

Peter cupped his hands near his mouth. “Lydia!”

Her head lifted up from the spear and glanced around. He called out again and she spotted him. He gave her an energetic wave and she smiled as she waved back. Halvi tapped at Peter’s leg. “Enough. Let her concentrate,” he said without being harsh. Peter frowned but settled back onto the crate. He could see them fine now that they were in the center of the clearing.

Kraglin entered the circle and stood in between Lydia and Yondu. The captain stood with his legs apart, hands at his hips, a wide grin plastered on his ugly face. Peter fought the urge to ‘boo’ at him. Lydia also stood with her legs apart but bent at the knees, ready to run, to jump, and to move at a moment’s notice. Peter saw Kraglin’s lips moving but couldn’t hear him over the din of the crew. He wished they’d all shut up.

Kraglin raised his arm, glanced back and forth, and then swiftly lowered his arm as if he were slashing the air. He quickly jumped back and happened to shuffle over to Peter’s crate. “What did the captain decide?” Halvi asked. “Blood or life?”

“Blood,” Kraglin answered, not looking away from the circling pair.

Halvi gave a solemn nod. “That’s what I thought he’d choose.”

The hair on the back of Peter’s neck stood on end. Yondu was going to kill Lydia?

I watched closely as Yondu lazily moved aside the right edge of his leather coat and began to whistle. The arrow began to glow red and languidly lift out of its holster. I’d briefly seen this thing in action before and –

Yondu’s warbling tune suddenly changed to a sharp whistle and I barely saw the red blur heading straight for me.

“Ah!” I dropped to the floor, felt the swift breeze pass over my back, and quickly rolled onto my feet to face the direction the arrow had gone. I had no idea he could make his arrow move so fast! What the sprek! I heard Yondu chuckle behind me. Borga.

A series of staccato notes were the only warning I had before the glowing red blur zoomed around and a stinging pain presented itself on my right calf. I looked down to see my pant’s leg was thinly cut and a trickle of blood was visible. He ruined my best pants! I jerked my gaze back to Yondu. He grinned then whistled again. By some instinct, I thrust my spear to my left and twirled it as fast as possible. I felt it jar in my hands from a collision. I just blocked that sucker! Yeah!

If I could just get close enough to Yondu then I might could disrupt his whistling long enough to –

The arrow was coming back. Yikes!

I jabbed the end of my spear’s pole against the ground and used it to propel me out of the way as the arrow flew past. I twisted around and attempted to lung at him but the arrow changed course faster than I expected and cut me off, causing me to give up the ground I had gained only moments before.

“He’s playing with her,” an older man with piercing blue eyes and a scraggly brown beard hissed at Halvi.

Halvi shrugged. “So what if he is, Horuz?”

“He should be making a lesson out of her,” Horuz growled.

“He will,” Kraglin assured him with a bored tone.

Peter’s breath hitched in his chest. No. Not her – not Lydia. She’s nice – she’s real nice! She’s my friend!

Peter shook Halvi’s muscled shoulder. “You have to make them stop!” he said once the man turned to look at him.

Black eyes blinked at the boy. “Can’t do that, boy. It has to play out.”

“But –”

Halvi turned away to continue watching the fight.

Peter shifted his weight back and forth from one leg to the other as he watch and scrapped his brain for an idea but came up with nothing.

I was running low on energy. Yondu’s arrow moved with such speed that it was nearly impossible to keep track of. I’d only managed to deflect it a couple more times and came to the realization that it was because he’d let me do it. I gained two more cuts, one at my right arm, another on my right hand. They weren’t deep cuts, just grazed the skin enough to draw blood.

The arrow whizzed by close enough that I heard it whoosh near my ear. I flinched away, swinging my spear clumsily at the already vanished threat.

Yondu’s arrow hovered by his side as he chuckled at me. “What do you say, boys? Should we bring this to a close?”

The crew roared wildly. I could have sworn I heard one voice scream ‘No!’ but I probably imagined it. Yondu’s eyes glinted as he resumed whistling and released that sharp note that sent the arrow slicing through air right at me. I was too exhausted to move, my muscles trembled, and that glowing red blur kept getting closer.

I squeezed my eyes shut.

Nothing happened.

I eased open one eye. The tip of the arrow head was less than an inch from my nose and it hovered there as Yondu strolled over to me with a lofty expression on his face. At a trill from him, the arrow retreated back into his holster.

He snapped his fingers at my spear and held open his hand. “I win, darlin’.”

Sighing with defeat, I twisted the spear’s pole and glumly watched it shift back into a travel-sized gadget.

“Huh?” Peter said, confused. “I thought he was going to kill her?”

“Nah, Pete,” Kraglin said, guffawing. Peter wrinkled his nose at the shortening of his name. “He chose ‘blood’. He’d draw blood from her to teach her a lesson. Now, if he’d chosen ‘life’, he’d have taken her life.”

Peter released a sigh of relief. Thank you, he thought to whoever was listening.

“Most men that cross him aren’t that lucky,” Horuz grumped.

“Well in case it’s escaped your attention, Horuz…” Halvi placed a hand on top of the man’s head and turned it so that he’d look at Lydia. “That is most certainly not a man.”

“Sure ain’t,” Kraglin snorted. “Cute little red-head like her? Psh! Cap’n ain’t gonna kill her.”

Horuz scoffed and jerked his head out of Halvi’s loose hold. “Just because the girl has a pretty face shouldn’t prevent the captain from disciplining her as if she were a man.”

“Horuz, how old would you guess the girl to be?” Halvi asked. He leaned back against the crate and noticed from his peripheral vision that Peter was trying to get down. He didn’t even bother to look as he reached over and plucked up the boy by his backpack and lowered him to the floor. Peter blinked in surprise then hurried off to push his way through the crowd to meet Lydia.

“Judging by Threxian standards, I’d say she can’t be twenty yet.”

“Exactly. She’s a pretty girl who pushes the captain’s buttons but she posses no true threat to him. If she did, then you know the captain would have killed her without hesitation.”

Horuz sniffed as he narrowed his eyes at the girl. “He shouldn’t have let her off so easily.”

“This is why the ladies don’t flock to you, Horuz,” Halvi teased.

“Alright, you won,” I fumed. “So what do I have to do?”

As the crew continued to make a ruckus, Yondu pulled me by the sleeve of my jacket and whispered, “My quarter’s tonight.”

My stomach churned. Surely he didn’t mean…

“Lydia!”

I glimpsed Peter trying to push his way through the crowded bodies. He looked so happy to see me; you wouldn’t have guessed I’d lost the fight.

“Don’t come until most of the crew’s asleep, ya hear?” Yondu’s gruff voice rumbled in my ear. I gave him a numb nod. He released my jacket and turned away. The crew parted for him and Peter slipped through the opening to rush at me.

“You’re okay!” he cheered. He collided into my legs as he hugged me and I let out an involuntary hiss when he bumped the cut on my leg. Peter stepped back and looked down at it.

“Do you need to see a doctor?” he asked worriedly.

“Nah, kid. I’m good. Just gotta clean these cuts with some soap and I’ll be fine.”

Or at least I will be until tonight…

Later that night, just as he’d requested, I left my room when I knew that only those on the night crew would be about and stealthily made my way to the captain’s quarters. Just as I got to the door, I froze. What would be waiting for me behind it?

I began to pace the hall, biting my thumbnail until there was nothing left. I could only think of one reason why Yondu wanted me to visit his quarters at night but I desperately tried to come up with other reasons. I prayed to whoever would hear me that it wouldn’t be what I was dreading. It’s not that I found Yondu unappealing, far from it; it’s just that I’d never been with a man and I kept remembering the intensity of my first encounter with Yondu. Would he be like again?

Knowing I couldn’t stall any longer, I went to the door and knocked. It opened and I drew in a breath before walking in. I’d barely gotten a proper look at his room the last time I was in here due to being – er – preoccupied. I took a moment to look at my surroundings. It was much larger than I or Peter’s room. Much larger. The bed was large too, covered with blankets and one that looked made of some sort of fur. Despite the untidiness of the rest of the ship, Yondu’s room was fairly clean but it was most definitely a male’s room.

A small electric spark caught my attention and I directed my gaze to it. Yondu was at work bench, fiddling with some sort of device I couldn’t make out from where I stood. He didn’t raise his eyes to look at me but remained focused on his work.

“Come ‘ere, girl.”

I swallowed and warily made my way over to him. As I got closer I saw that the device he was working on was small enough for a child. “What is that?” I asked.

“It’s a gun.”

“Never seen a gun that looked like that before.”

“I swiped it from the armory of the last town we raided a few weeks back.” He paused in his tweaking and eyed the sightline. “It’s an older model. Needs some upgrades.” His gaze shifted to me as he held out the gun to me. Take a look at it and tell me what you see?” he asked.

I inspected the weapon, turning it this way and that. “Wasn’t made for lethal attacks, it doesn’t have a big enough power cell for it and the shot wouldn’t get very far either.” I squinted at the rim of the barrel. “A stun gun?”

“Yep.” Yondu leaned back in his seat, watching me. “Can you tell what I’m trying to modify it to do?”

My eyes skimmed his work table, flicking from the various parts and tools he had spread about the surface and the settling on the gun in my hands. “From what I can figure, you want to up the stun voltage so that it gives the target more of a kick and than a tickle.” I quirked an eyebrow at him. “You don’t exactly strike me as the type to use a stun gun.” I looked meaningfully at his holstered arrow.

“I ain’t, but for a little boy who’s barely got any meat on his bones it could be useful in case an enemy comes along.”

I blinked. “You’re re-modifying this for Peter?” That was almost worthy of a squeal of ‘aaaw’ from me.

“Nope. You are.”

“…Okay, you lost me somewhere.”

His blue fingers drummed on the table twice. “My crew can’t know about this. I got myself a reputation to uphold and gettin’ accused of bein’ soft for the boy ain’t something I’m aiming for. This project’s provin’ to be a bit more difficult than I thought and I’m hitting a few snags with the reconfigurations. Seein’ the work you did on your gadget, I think you got the know-how. You help me fix up this gun and when it’s done, you give it to Quill as if this was solely you. That’s my wager’s winnings.”

I grinned mischievously. “A reputation, huh?”

Yondu smirked back like he’d been expecting me to try using this against him. “Ya might wanna hear what I’m gonna offer you in exchange for your silence.”

“Oh.” I pulled up an overturned bucket and sat down, chin in hand; the very picture of an attentive listener. “I’m all ears, captain.”

“You do this for me and I let you keep your spear-gadget.”

I nodded. “Alright. Deal.”

I turned so that I was facing the table and laid the gun down. I started to really look at it now that I knew what was expected of me. Speaking of which… I was so relieved that Yondu hadn’t ordered me to his quarters for what I’d feared that I started to giggle to myself.

Yondu gave me a funny look when he heard me. “What’s got you so tickled?”

I shook my head. “Nothing, I just –” I snickered a bit and cleared my throat. “I thought you wanted me hear for a completely different reason.”

“After what happened last time!” He barked a single, sardonic laugh. “Ain’t happenin’ again, princess.”

It was such a stupid thing for me to do. I don’t know why I thought it was okay in the first place. I leaned in so that my lips were close to his ear and placed my hand on his thigh. When I spoke, my voice came out in a sultry whisper, “You wanna bet on that?”

Yondu bolted up from his chair so fast that it fell back with a loud clang. His red eyes glared at me as his nostrils flared. I could feel anger and something else mixed with it radiating in waves off of him. I’d gone too far. I cringed into myself as I met his furious stare with my most apologetic expression.

“Um…” I stammered. “When do I start working on the gun?”

He was quite for a long time and I tried to muster my courage to slip out but that harsh glare kept me pinned on that scarrin’ bucket.

“…Tomorrow night,” he said. “Same time, in here.”

I licked my dry lips. “…Okay.” My muscles regained their movement and I carefully stood to my feet. A lock of hair brushed my cheek and I tucked it behind my ear while avoiding eye contact. I heard Yondu inhale sharply. “Um, well…Uh… Goodnight, Yondu.” I told myself to start walking. Thankfully I listened.

As I hurried to the door, I found I’d begun to hug myself. I felt awful. That had been a rotten move on my part.

“Brosh,” Yondu’s raspy voice called out. I froze. “You’ll be wanting this.”

I looked over my shoulder. Yondu held out my gadget. The anger had lessened in his eyes but he still held himself tensely. I hesitated at first then quickly walked back and took it from his outstretched hand. “Thank you,” I said softly, looking at his boots, then scurried out the door.

Chapter Text

She's A Beauty

A Week Later

"So she's showing signs of progress?" I asked the doctor on the holo-screen.

"Like I said, they're very small things but I still thought it was worth mentioning to you."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Can I speak to her?"

"I don't see why not. Wait a moment."

As the doctor stepped away, Kraglin nudged my elbow to get my attention. "If ya hold that thing any tighter, yer gonna break it," he said.

I winced guiltily and I relaxed my grip on the info disk Kraglin had lent me. I could have asked the captain's permission to use a computer in Communications but things between us had been tense since that night in his quarters. I still cringed every time I thought about how stupid it was of me to mess with him like that and my gut would twist when I recalled the look of fury on his face. I still had to see him every night to work on Peter's stun gun but there was no denying that the captain kept himself at a distance from me. So when the day arrived for me to be updated about my mom's health and I was in need of a holo-screen, I had left my room with the intention of seeking out Yondu but chickened out and asked Kraglin instead. Hey, he was first mate so that counted for something, right?

"Lydia?" my mom's voice called from just off-screen.

"She's on the holo-screen, Ms. Brosh," the doctor informed her.

A moment later my mother appeared and a giant grin broke out on her face. "Lydia!"

"Mom." There was a definite catch in my voice. I knew it had only been a week but it felt like eons since I'd seen her. Even back home on Threxia I'd never been away from my family for more than three days.

"You…safe?" she asked.

I blinked back tears in surprise. There was clarity in her gaze that I hadn't seen in a long time. "Yeah, mom." I sniffed back a sob and heard Kraglin clear his throat and shift around behind me, uncertain of what he should do.

"Mom, how are you? Are you okay?"

She hummed a happy noise and her focus slide past me even though she was looking right at me. Soon she was humming a familiar tune.

"Um, I've been meaning to ask you, Miss Brosh," the doctor said, stepping into view behind my mother. "Do you know this music? She hums this tune a lot but none of the staff recognizes it. I feel like it we knew the song and could play it it might help her."

I sniffed again, wiping my nose with the back of my hand. "Yeah. I know it. It's called 'Unchained Melody' by The Righteous Brothers. It's a Terran song."

"Is there a significance about this song concerning your mother?"

"My father was Terran. They used to dance to this song."

"I see. Thank you, Miss Brosh."

"Lydia, sing?" Mom asked suddenly.

Kraglin looked back at me curiously and my cheeks colored in a way that looks absolutely unflattering on a girl cursed with red hair and freckles all over her body. "Mooom," I groaned under my breath. "Not now."

Her mower lip protruded in a pout. "Sing."

I sighed. "Fine." I glanced over at Kraglin who was doing an unimpressive job pretending to be focused on something else. No one else was around. I took a deep breath and began to sing very softly. "Oh my love, my darling/ I've hungered for your touch/ A long, lonely time..."

Yondu stomped his way to the bridge because he was in a stomping mood. Stomping was like punching the floor and he'd woken up wanting to slam his fists into something. He hadn't gotten much sleep and it was all because of dreams. The first one had been the nightmare he occasionally still had as would anyone else who'd been through what he had. He'd woken with a jolt and tossed and turned as he waited for sleep to claim him again. While waiting, he happened to glance at his work table and see the almost finished stun gun he and Lydia were working on a few hours ago. She was on his mind when his eyelids finally fluttered closed and it was possibly why his dreams took a turn in the direction they did. When he woke up at the proper time, he was frustrated and irritated at himself for having such a dream.

That night he'd told Lydia to meet him in his quarter's remained fresh in his memories. The instant reaction he'd had when she'd placed her hand on his thigh and whispered in his ear like that. When he jumped up from his chair and turned toward her, he'd clearly seen the regret on her face as she stared up at him. She'd only meant to mess with him; she hadn't known how dangerous a move like that was. He knew he'd startled her – hell, he'd scared her, he knew it – and judging by the way she carried herself into his room every night since, she probably thought he was still angry at her. But it wasn't her he was angry at. It was himself; because when he jumped up from his chair, he'd very nearly scooped that girl up and carried her to his bed.

He shouldn't want her anymore now that he knew she'd only been conning him but that didn't stop the fact that Lydia was a damn good lookin' girl with a fine backside and a nice set of tits. His dreams certainly hadn't stopped noticing. He took a cold shower and Yondu hated cold showers, so the day started off with him in a bad mood.

"Time goes by so slowly/ And time can do so much/ Are you still mine?"

Yondu's pace slowed to a halt. "What the hell?" he muttered.

"I need your love/ I need your love/ God speed your love to me."

Moving quietly to the upcoming hall, he peered around and saw Lydia softly singing to her momma via holo-screen. Kraglin stood off a bit to the side to give the girl some privacy but he was obviously listening. The dang-blasted kid was even swaying in time to the song! Yondu gave a muffled grunt and kept hidden.

"Okay, Mom. I have to go now. I'll talk to you again next week."

Her momma hummed in response and the doctor took over, telling the girl some medical mumbo-jumbo that made her squint as she tried to process it all. She thanked him and the holo-screen winked out.

"Thanks for letting me use your info disk, Kraglin," she said, handing it to him.

"You sing real pretty," his first mate told her. No hint of being smitten, just stating the facts.

Lydia's skin turned bright red with embarrassment. "Shut up," she said and turned to go, only to see Yondu standing in the way. She yelped and jumped back.

"What'chu jumpy for?" Yondu asked, slightly grinning.

"There is no reason why a big man like you should be so light on his feet," she said placing a hand over her heart. It briefly drew his attention to her chest. She tried to pass him but he shifted so that he was once again blocking her path.

"Where you goin'?"

"Back to my room. I've got laundry that needs taking care of."

She quickly darted to the opposite side before Yondu could react and walked purposefully away.

"Do ya even happen ta know where to take yer dirty laundry, Brosh?" he called out smugly. Lydia's steps faltered. When she turned around to face him he chuckled at the sight of her thinly pressed lips.

"If I asked, would you tell me?"

Yondu examined his blue fingernails. "I might could be persuaded."

Lydia set her jaw and marched back to him. "What do I have to do?"

"My laundry."

Kraglin started to chuckle and turned it into a cough.

"I'm sorry, what?" Lydia asked.

"Is yer translator not workin'?"

"It's working fine," she hissed.

"Then ya know what I told ya. I'll tell ya where the washroom is if you'll do my laundry too."

Lydia studied his face. "I can't tell if you're joking or not."

"Oh he's being fully serious," Kraglin informed her.

Lydia's brow wrinkled with disgust. "You really expect me to do your laundry?"

"If ya want to wear clean clothes of yer own, then yeah."

"Of all the – Graaah! Fine!"

Yondu chuckled and rubbed his hands together. "Follow me, Cinderella."

The washroom was about medium sized and featured a row of five machines against the back wall that I assumed were the devices used to clean clothes. Along the wall to my left were small crate-sized metal containers with chutes that were attached to the wall and ceiling.

"The high-ranking crew members have a laundry chute in their quarters and it deposits their dirty clothes into these containers," Kraglin explained, wrapping his knuckles on a crate. "This one's the cap'n's."

Yondu smirked as he lifted the latch and let the door fall open.

"Oh sprek no!" I shouted.

The mound of smelly laundry before me was too awful. And it was mostly leathers too! I'd have to hand wash those!

The tip of Yonud's tongue poked out as his lips pulled back in a grin. "Ya already gave me your word, princess."

"Please tell me those machines are designed to clean leather?" I begged.

"They are," Kraglin answered. Yondu 'tsked' in disappointment as he threw a frown his way. Kraglin looked down at his feet as an apology.

Seeing that he couldn't fool me, Yondu sighed and crossed to the machines. "The settings explain themselves, but don't over-load 'em. I want my clothes smellin' fresh as a daisy and in my room in three hours, got it?"

"I'm surprised you even know what a daisy is."

Yondu's jaw twitched. "Three hours," he repeated. "Got it?"

"Loud and clear, Captain," I answered sarcastically. I heaved my sack of laundry off my shoulder and slid it to the nearest machine.

"Mine first, sugar."

"Nuh-uh, Yondu. I've been wearing this outfit for two days straight because I've been too busy to wash clothes –,"

"An' 'cause ya didn't know where the washroom was," Kraglin added.

"That too," I conceded. "But I need to wear so clean clothes."

"Tough luck, princess. I'm captain and I say my clothes get cleaned first."

I clenched my jaw and muttered, "Has anyone ever told you that you can be very petty?"

"Among other things," Yondu said, signaling to Kraglin that they were leaving. "I've even had someone call me 'Prince Charmin'." He gave me a crooked grin and turned away.

"I have it on good authority that that person takes back saying that!" I shouted at his retreating back. I heard his cackles fade away the further he got.

With a frustrated chuff, I turned on my heel and viciously yanked out every article of clothing inside Yondu's laundry unit. I managed to get most of it into a pile near my own sack of clothes and kicked the rest into the group. Separating the leathers from the rest of his wardrobe, I tossed them into the wash machine and followed the instructions to a 'T'. Just to be a bit spiteful, I added a little more smell good detergent than necessary. Don't look at me like that; he said he wanted his clothes to smell like a daisy, didn't he?

I muttered and grumbled under my breath as I shoved on my headphones and cranked up the music to drown out the sound of the machines then got to work separating the remaining clothes by colors. None of the other washers were being used so I figured I could use at least three at a time and leave the other two in case a crew member came in. Judging by the constant smell of the men I doubted I'd run into anyone.

With one arm full of clothes, I opened the third machine and promptly fell back with a surprised screech. Peter looked equally surprised with his green eyes wide and mouth open in a scream that was drowned out by my music. I tore off my headphones in time to catch the tail end of his cry putter out.

"What the sprek are you doing in there, Peter?"

Peter slid off his own headphones. "Nobody really ever comes in here so I like using it as a hideout."

"Inside a washer?" I asked incredulously.

"Have you smelled these guys? I doubt any of them even know how to open one of these."

I chuckled and sat up. "Geez, kid." I ran my fingers through my already messed up pony-tail and tugged it free. "Come on out of there, okay. I gotta get these clothes done."

Peter leaned back, hands behind his head, and smiled boyishly. "Nah. I like it in here."

"Oh you do, huh?"

"Yep."

"We'll see how much you like it when I wash you along with Yondu's underwear, won't we?" I held up a stained pair pinched between two fingers.

"Wait a minute!" he yelped. Peter scrambled out and flopped beside me. I noticed his clothes were even grimier than they were last week.

"Don't you have anything else to wear?" I asked.

"I didn't have a change of clothes with me when Yondu took me."

And why should he? He hadn't known he was going to be kidnapped by aliens and taken into space.

"Yondu said he'd take me to the Tailor, but I guess he forgot."

"They have a tailor on the ship?"

"That's what it sounds like to me."

I nodded. "After I get through with the laundry, we'll find this Tailor guy and see what can be done for you."

Peter's face screwed up with distaste. "He's just gonna put me in a uniform. I hate uniforms."

"Well it's better than what you're wearing now. Peter, I'm saying this out of love, but you stink, kid."

"I've been taking baths," he argued.

"But your clothes haven't. A bath isn't going to do squat if your clothes are ripe enough to make eyes water."

"Okay, okay," Peter grumbled.

"Good. You can help me with the laundry."

"Whaaat?" he whined.

"The faster it gets done the sooner we can get to the Tailor." I held out Yondu's underwear to him. "Here."

He stepped back, hands held up. "No way! I'm not touching that and neither should you!"

I rolled my eyes. "And why not?"

"Look at them."

I did.

"They look like toxic waste," he said.

I giggled. "That's enough. Help me."

Peter slouched over and started gathering a pile of Yondu's clothes.

Once all of the captain's clothes were cleaned and folded, we set to work on my sack of laundry. There wasn't very much to begin with and except for my leather jacket, nothing else needed a special wash setting. I was closing the machine door on a load of darks when I heard Peter call me from behind.

"Hey, Lydia, guess who I am."

I turned to face him and flushed scarlet. Peter had one of my bras on top of his head, the cups over his ears.

"I'm Princess Leia."

"Peter Jason Quill, you take those off right now!"

Yondu laughed himself silly as he watched the surveillance feed from the washroom. Lydia was chasing the Quill boy around in circles, trying to get her bra from off his head and proving to be a slippery little guy. That could come in handy.

"Cap'n?" Kraglin called.

Reluctantly, Yondu looked away and turned to face his first mate. "Yeah?"

"You're needed on the bridge. We're nearing Tuloc's port."

"Be there in a minute."

Kraglin beat his fist twice over his heart and left the surveillance room. Yondu looked back at the screen that showed the washroom and saw Lydia tackled Peter to the floor. Both were laughing. Something in his chest twinged at the sight and he grunted before turning to go.

"So what should we say to the guy?" Peter asked.

We were on our way to the Tailor – or at least I think we were. Peter swore he knew the way, but I wasn't so sure. He certainly looked like he knew where he was going.

"We just tell him we need a suit for you. Plain and simple."

"Oh."

I glanced down. His head was hanging low but I could still detect that something was bothering him. "Hey." I nudged him. "What's wrong?"

"It's just –," he stopped himself and shook his head. "Nothing."

"No, come on. What is it?"

"Do I have to throw away my old clothes?"

So that's why he had been reluctantly to visit the Tailor. I got it though. Those clothes were a link to his home world.

"No, Peter. You don't have to throw them away. You can still wear them, but they need to be washed once and a while. In your case, often."

Peter nodded. "Okay." He pointed ahead. "Here it is."

An open doorway sported a sign next to it that read 'the Tailor'. We walked through and found a room over-flowing with fabrics and leathers and a monstrous machine that took up the whole back wall, but no 'Tailor' could be seen.

"Hello?" I called. "Um… Tailor?"

No answer. We moved further inside and started to look around. I went one way, Peter went the other.

"Hey, Lydia, look at this."

"I swear, Peter, if you're wearing one of my bras –,"

"No! Look at this thing over here."

I went to him and saw he was pointing at a metal plaque welded to the wall beside a series of controls. "What is it?" I asked.

"I think it's the Tailor," he said, scrunching up his nose.

Bending down to take a closer look I quickly read what was on the plaque and discovered Peter was right. The monstrous machine was called 'the Tailor' and was an automatic clothes maker. All you had to do was load the fabrics, chose the design, press 'start' and step inside.

"Let's try it," Peter said excitedly.

I quirked an amused eyebrow at him, one hand at my hip. "Look whose eager now," I commented. Peter grinned back at me. I turned to the fabrics. "Okay, let's get some Ravager reds for ya."

Running the machine went surprisingly easy and Peter wasn't the least bit nervous when he stepped inside and thin laser beams scanned every inch of him to take his measurements. Within seconds of stepping out, a miniature Ravager uniform was rolling out from a side slot.

"Cooool," Peter said, holding up his leather jacket. His fingers traced the flame design before his green eyes turned to me, shining. "Lydia, ya gotta do you now!"

"What?" I sputtered.

"Well, you said yourself that most of your clothes have gotten ruined by grease and oil stains."

That was true. During my time on the ship, my already sparse amount of clothes had dwindled with alarming speed. Pants got snagged on sharp metal, scorch marks ate holes through my shirts, etc. The work I did on the Eclector wasn't playing nice with my clothes. Since I had no idea when the Ravagers would make port, or if the location would even have clothes for sale, I only threw out an item of clothing if it wasn't possible to wear anymore. I currently had four shirts, and three pants as well as my sleepwear. I needed sturdy fabric, but I wasn't crazy about wearing leather pants considering all of the movement I required doing my various jobs about the ship.

"Okay," I agreed. "But no leather."

"Not even a jacket?"

"No."

"Why not?"

Because I didn't feel like I should be wearing the Ravager red or flame crest. I was an outsider.

"Look, I just don't want one, okay?" I snapped.

"Okay, okay; yeesh."

Peter hurried over to the fabrics and began to bounce on his toes. "So what are you going to wear?"

I ran some ideas in my head, scraping the ones that would prove to be cumbersome and keeping in mind that I wanted clothes that would last, not make me sweat like a pig when working in the sweltering parts of the ship, and not hinder my movements.

"I think I got something in mind."

The girl was never around when he needed her. She wasn't answering her comm-link, so Yondu resorted to stalking the ship to look for her. He and his ground team were about to go planet-side to Tuloc's capital which just so happened to have a pharmacy that kept all medicine from all over the galaxy, including Terra. Him and his crew were going to snag and bag the pricier and rarer meds as well as re-stock what they needed for themselves but Yondu wasn't sure when an opportunity to acquire Terran medicine would present itself again and wanted to be prepared in case the boy fell ill. He figured Lydia would know by now where the similarities between Terran and Threxian health lie.

"Halvi!"

The giant tower of midnight and muscle jumped to attention. "Yes, sir?"

"Ya seen Brosh?"

"Erm, yeah."

"Recently?"

"Very."

"Where she at?"

Halvi shifted his weight nervously. "I think she was heading to the boiler room. Some of the crew was complaining of a loss of heat in the mess hall."

Yondu fixed his crimson eyes on the fidgeting man. "Why do you look like that?"

Halvi's movements ceased. "Like what?"

"Like you're hopin' I don't go lookin' for her."

"No reason."

"Oh there's a reason," Yondu insisted, stepping closer to the man. Halvi towered over him but he didn't feel the least bit intimidated. "What's she done?"

"…She went to the Tailor."

It occurred to him that leather would enhance Lydia's curves to perfection. Keeping his annoyed expression, Yondu shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "So?"

"She didn't go with the basic uniform design."

A crease appeared on Yondu's forehead. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"She… um…"

"Aw, hell," Yondu growled irritably and pushed past Halvi. He was getting nowhere with him. He stormed down the corridor, his boots clanging against the metal floors until he came to the steam-filled doorway of the boiler room. He went inside, already prepared for the noise and the heat, and called out to the first blurry-shaped crewman he could see.

"Is Lydia in here?"

Yondu thought he saw the man smirk and point towards the back. Yondu nodded and headed that way. A loud hiss of steam billowed into his path, blocking his vision as he rounded a corner of pipes. "Lydia!"

"Here, Captain!" her voice answered.

"Girl, why ain't you answerin' yer comm?" Squinting through the slowly thinning steam, he could just make out her form moving about.

"What are you talking about? I haven't heard you try to contact me at all?"

He was almost through the steam. "Is it turned on?"

"Of course it's turned – oh…" An embarrassed pause followed and he saw her make an adjustment. "Now it is." She bent over to resume her task. "What were you hailing me for?"

"I need ya to –," the words died on his lips as his heart nearly gave out on him. He'd cleared the mist and could now clearly see just what Halvi's nervousness and the crewman's smirk had been about.

She was in the process of tightening a bolt and bent over in a way that displayed how well her new, curve-hugging, short pants showed off her thighs. A utility belt encircled her hips, the spear gadget hanging within easy reach. Her yellow tank-top was damp with sweat and stuck to her skin like – oh sweet mercy …

Forget what I needed ya for before – I need ya now, girl.

"Ground Control to Captain Yondu," Lydia called, waving a hand in his face.

Yondu snapped out of it and glared. He let it happen again! "What the hell are you wearin', woman?"

"Clothes, duh."

She turned to walk towards a tool box on the floor a few feet away and Yondu's mouth began to water. How was it possible he hadn't noticed just how much sway those hips of hers had?

"Those ain't clothes. Those are – are –," he swallowed and tore his gaze from her butt and determinedly focused on her pony-tail, "a distraction."

Lydia let out a laugh as she crouched and returned some tools into the box. It took everything in Yondu to keep his attention on the back of her head. He didn't think his heart could take another hit. And I thought I knew what cruelty was.

"Just who is being distracted by my clothes, hm?" she asked, thankfully rising, and turned to him.

He was about to snap at her but stopped as he closely studied her face. She didn't have a clue. She wasn't messing with him; she honestly wanted to know who was being distracted by her choice of clothes. She must think I hate her so much I've become immune or somethin'.

"From the looks of it you're the only one my clothes seem to be distracting," Lydia said with a playful smirk. It wasn't meant to be flirty but Yondu's reaction was the same as if it had been.

In order to divert her attention from his own problem, Yondu gritted his teeth into a snarl and roughly pushed past her. He snatched up the tool box. "Just who gave you permission to be usin' these tools?"

Lydia's brow wrinkled in confusion at his sudden change of subject. "Um, I didn't exactly ask, I just –,"

"Took it," Yondu finished sharply.

Her features took on a mixture of hurt and frustration. "Don't start that again."

"Start what – the fact that you've stolen from me before?"

"I've said I'm sorry."

"Is that supposed to mean somethin'?"

Her green eyes became closed-off. "No. I guess it wouldn't to someone like you." She wiped her hands on a dirty rag and tossed it aside. When she spoke again there was a tremor in her voice. "I'm done in here, so you can take those tools where they belong without worrying I'll filch them." She gave him a wide-berth as she marched past for the door.

"Cap'n!" Kraglin's voice shouted through his comm-link.

"What is it, Kraglin?" Yondu answered.

"It's about Quill, sir!"

Lydia stopped in her tracks and fumbled with her communicator, still new to its workings. "What's happened? Is he hurt?" she asked, fearfully. Even Yondu was a bit uneasy about what Kraglin's answer would be.

"He's – uuuh – he's – um –,"

"Spit it out, Kraglin!" Yondu barked.

"Quill's currently trying to strangle Brahl in the cargo hold."

Both Yondu and Lydia exchanged looks of surprised bewilderment before taking off out the door.

When we finally arrived in the cargo hold, I nearly ran smack into Halvi's back. He and numerous others were gathered around where I assumed Peter and Brahl's confrontation was taking place.

"Ah, Lydia the Guardian, you made it," Halvi said cheerfully over the mass of shouting. Yondu was already pushing his way through the ring.

"What happened?" I asked loudly, partly to be heard over everyone else and also because my voice had to carry farther up to reach Halvi's ears.

"I happened to see it get started. Peter was sitting in that corner," he pointed towards a collection of crates that I could just picture Peter favoring as a hide-out, "and he was holding a little package wrapped in some colorful paper. He was just staring at it, making no move to open it. Brahl must have seen him too cause he headed straight for the boy and swiped it out of his hands. Quill demanded Brahl give it back and when he laughed in the boy's face Quill jumped him."

I blinked. "Peter jumped him?"

"Yes."

"Actually jumped him."

"That's what I said."

"I know what you said, but I still can't picture it."

Halvi parted the bodies in front of us and gestured. "See for yourself."

I gaped. Peter was straddled on Brahl's back, his little legs wrapped around the Achemonian's waist and his arms looped 'round the neck. Brahl's scared and leathery face was quickly turning from its normal pinkish-tan color to bright red as he struggled to sling Peter off his back while clawing at the kid's arms. Yondu was inside the circle of men and instead of trying to break up the fight like I expected, he was observing them.

"Do something, you borga!" I yelled at him.

Yondu gave me a 'just what am I supposed to do about it?' look when he knew good and well what he could be doing! I glared daggers at him until her rolled those red eyes and started hollering at Brahl and Peter as he stepped forward and pried Peter off the Achemonian. Peter swung his fists, kicking his legs, and squirming with all his might to try to get back to fighting Brahl.

"What's got yer blood boilin', boy?" Yondu shouted, keeping a firm grip on him.

"He took it from me!"

The crew began to simmer down in order to hear.

"Took what, son?"

But it was obvious that Peter was so focused on getting back what was his that Yondu's question fell on deaf ears.

"A small package, sir," Halvi answered. "I saw Brahl swipe it from him."

"Snitch," Rixh mumbled loud enough for those near him to hear. Halvi lifted one unamused brow at him and the blue alien redirected his gaze to the floor as he gave a light cough.

"Yarov," Yondu called, and spun Peter into the arms of a human-looking man with messy black hair and wearing what looked like eye-liner. Yarov held Peter back as Yondu approached the still gasping Brahl lying on the floor. His boot pushed Brahl onto his back and then he crouched down to peer down at him. "Did you steal somethin' from the boy?" he asked.

Brahl shook his head fervently.

"Liar!" Peter shouted and his squirming intensified. Yarov adjusted his grip so that one arm was crossed over Peter's chest.

"I got's two people sayin' that you did," Yondu went on calmly. "Ya wanna rethink what ya said?"

Again Brahl shook his head and reached up to massage his neck. The movement dislodged a festively wrapped parcel from his jacket pocket.

Yondu poked at it and pretended to be curious. "What's this?" He pulled it out and gasped. "Well lookie here." His face clouded over with silent anger and he narrowed his eyes at Brahl. "Ya sure ya don't wanna change yer answer?"

"Oh, uh – I was gonna give it back, captain, I – ack!"

Yondu grabbed him by the throat and lifted him from the floor in one fluid movement. Brahl's feet dangled off the floor. Was it wrong of me to suddenly find myself thinking, Woof; Yondu's got some muscles. Not the time or place? Okay, moving on…

Yondu's mouth was drawn into a stiff scowl as he sneered at Brahl. "Ravagers don't steal from each other. That's part of the code, Brahl. You know that."

"But – but," Brahl choked.

"But what?"

"He ain't a Ravager."

"Is he wearing Ravager garb, boy?"

Brahl's beady eyes flitted over to Peter then back to Yondu. "Well now he is, but –,"

"But nothin'!" Yondu hissed, flexing his hand and causing Brahl to garble. "That boy's a part of this crew now an' that means the code applies to him." Without taking his eyes off of Brahl, Yondu's free hand extended out, holding the parcel. "Boy."

Yarov released Peter and gave him a light push towards the captain when he displayed some hesitation. I couldn't blame the kid, I was nervous too after seeing Yondu haul a full-grown man up with one hand and dangle him off the floor for an extended amount of time. His arm wasn't even trembling! I should have been wary but … like I said, woof.

Peter seemed to think that Yondu was going to yank the package away once he reached out for it from the way he was looking back and forth at it and the captain. "Well, ya want it back or what, boy?" Yondu snapped, prompting Peter into action. He snatched his parcel back and hugged it to his chest.

"Peter, come here," I said, motioning towards me. He hurried over and I placed both hands on his shoulders as he turned to watch.

"Alright, show's over!" Yondu barked. "Back to work!"

"Ya heard the captain! Back to work!" Kraglin echoed.

Yondu set Brahl on the ground and jerked him close. "You ever think about stealin' from anybody else on this crew, I'm gonna show ya what it's like to have one eye stolen in the dead of night. Are we clear?"

Brahl nodded quickly.

"Alright, git!" Yondu roughly shoved him away. Brahl stumbled, righted himself and scampered off.

"Kraglin, gather the ground team so we can go planet-side. I want them ready in fifteen minutes."

"Yessir!"

"Thanks," Peter's voice softly said once the noise level had died down.

"What's that?" Yondu asked, turning to him.

"I said, 'thanks'."

"Oh." He stood there awkwardly, unsure how to respond. "Don't let it happen again."

"I won't," the kid assured him.

"You're going planet-side?" I asked.

"That's what I said." He adjusted his coat and started walking only to halt and look back at me. "The place we're goin' to hit, it's got a well-stocked pharmacy includin' some Terran medicine. I was looking for ya earlier to ask if you know of any types I should grab for the boy and yerself?"

My eyebrows knitted together in surprised confusion. He was concerned about me and the kid's health? At my expression Yondu rolled his eyes. "I ain't got no use for a sick or dead crew, Brosh. Ain't that hard to figure."

Of course.

"Got an info-disk on you?" I asked. He patted his pockets a moment then produced one. I reached out and he snatched it back. I frowned. "Oh please, Yondu, where exactly am I going to run off if I tried to steal it from you?"

He grudgingly handed it over and I brought up an article I'd been researching over the past week about Terran health. Since I didn't have my own info-disk, I'd had to often borrow Halvi's. I guess being from the same planet kind of endeared me to him because he was proving to be an ally of sorts to me and Peter. I showed the article to Yondu and tapped the screen to highlight the list of medications at the bottom. "I've cross-referenced these to make sure this article wasn't bogus and it's reliable. And over here," I swiped my finger to the right of the list to reveal another. "This shows an equivalent to the brand if a Terran made one can't be found." I swiped further down the article. "And this shows similarities between Terran and Threxian remedies."

Yondu's brows rose and he looked at me appraisingly. "You've done your work, Brosh."

"Do my ears deceive me or do you actually sound impressed?" I teased. He grunted and tucked away the info-disk. "Will you be back late?"

The look he gave me was comical. "What are you, my wife?"

"I'm only asking because…" I glanced down at Peter who tilted his head up at me and smiled. I smiled back and proceeded to cover his ears. "Because of a certain little project."

Recollection sparked in Yondu's eyes. "Ah." He glanced down at the kid. "Ain't you got somewhere to scurry off to?"

Peter shrugged. "Not really."

I screwed up my mouth to hold back a giggle. Yondu's brows furrowed and he lightly shoved Peter aside. "Go find somethin' useful to do. Yer wearin' Ravager red now, you should start pullin' yer weight round here."

"Like what?"

"Why don't you go and find out?" Yondu said unhelpfully.

Peter looked at me as if to say, "I'm supposed to do what?" I gestured for him to go. "Okaaay," he said, uncertainly.

"Go on, git!"

Peter took off. I had no doubt he'd find some place to crawl in and hide instead of seeking work.

"We shouldn't be gone long. Eight hours tops."

I nodded. "Right. Well, if it's alright with you I could just get the gun from your room and find somewhere to work on it."

Yondu quirked an eyebrow. "Did you just suggest going into my quarters without me there to supervise you?"

I sighed. "Forget it. I'll wait for you."

"That's more like it." His eyes scanned me up and down. "Wear somethin' less 'showy' when ya show up." He turned on his heel to go.

"Be safe," I blurted.

He twisted his head around, baffled. "What's that?"

"I said 'be safe'."

"That's what I thought you said, but why'd you say it?"

Because I still like you a teeny-tiny bit even though you're being an absolute borga and for some confounded reason I don't want to see you get hurt.

"A dead captain isn't in the best of interests for me or Peter is it?" I said, shrugging off-handedly.

"…Right…"

I rocked back and forth on my heels a bit. "Okay, so – um, right. I'll see you later then." I quickly turned and began to walk away.

That girl's got too fine an ass for her own good, Yondu thought as he watched her go. If she showed up in his quarters still dressed like that –

He took a steadying breath and closed his eyes as he exhaled. Focus on the job. Kinda hard to do at the moment but he'd find a way to block her out. As Yondu made his way to the hangar, his thoughts drifted back to Knowhere and the night their paths crossed.

Being a Ravager, people automatically feared you. Looking the way Yondu did, his intense red eyes, the scars on his face, the muscled build, and the sharp, jagged teeth; people were instantly wary and thought twice about going up against him even before they realized he was a Ravager. The moment Yondu entered a room people took notice and they put distance between them and him. You don't want to mess with me practically exuded off of him; which was why he'd been a bit caught off guard when Lydia walked right next to him and started chatting him up. She'd shown no fear of him, the only time she acted nervous was when she'd seen his Ravager crest but it had been brief and they'd gone back to flirting. Sure she'd only been conning him and had known all along he was a Ravager but… She still hadn't been scared of him, his appearance.

She sure looked scared a week ago.

She thought I was angry – furious at her.

It had happened so fast, the instant – what? Connection? Yondu shuddered at such a sentiment but it was the closest phrasing he could think of to describe what happened that night at the Terran wares cart. Conversation flowed easily between them and she wasn't throwing herself at him like some common prostitute would do, but he was so used to those being the only kind of women to blatantly show him any attention that he'd thoughtlessly made the comment about looking for her pimp. Because he was so intimidating, Yondu usually had to make the first move and after he showed them what he could do for them, the ladies loved him. So for a pretty little thing like Lydia to have strolled up and smiled at him without a hint of fear, that had got his attention and he'd upped the charm in return.

His past taught him not to get attached to anyone and yet he'd allowed himself to make a very big mistake that night. He'd fallen fast in such a short amount of time and it infuriated him to such an extent that Yondu wanted to kick in the faces of a hundred Kree soldiers. She'd felt so damn good against him and those kisses were so right. He should have known better. He should have known better! Had his past taught him nothing? Getting attached to someone only ended up in pain and it had proven to be right. When it turned out she was playing him, the pain had been completely unexpected. Watching her run off with the M-ship parts had hurt. She was a perfect stranger to him; how the hell did she manage to burrow herself into him so fast?

"Cap'n?"

Yondu looked up from his M-ship's control console. Kraglin was hailing him from his own ship as they neared Tuloc's atmosphere.

"Everythin' alright?" Kraglin asked.

Yondu blinked in surprise. He'd barely registered the transition from the Eclector to flying for Tuloc. He flicked on the comms to answer Kraglin. "Everything's fine here. Why do you ask?"

"Well, we've been waitin' for ya to give the 'okay' to move forward."

"Guess my comms are actin' up," Yondu lied. He made adjustments to his instruments and forced himself to focus on the task at hand. He switched his comms to link with the whole team of M-ships. "On my lead, boys…"

"You gonna tell me what's so special about that box?" I asked when I caught up with Peter. As I'd predicted, he'd found someplace to hide instead of doing work. This time it wasn't an empty washer machine I found him in, it was a ground ventilation shaft that he'd managed to unscrew the cover of and crawl inside. I lowered myself onto the floor, legs criss-crossed and peered through the vent's slating at him. He sat at the entrance, the box in his hands, headphones around his neck but the music loud enough for me to hear.

But then I fooled around and fell in love…

At first I thought he wasn't going to answer me. He was quiet for almost a minute. "Mom knew she wasn't gonna be around for my ninth birthday so she had it with her at the hospital when I came to see her…" His bottom lip trembled. "When I came to see her for the last time." A sniff echoed in the shaft and he wiped his nose with the back of his sleeve. "She told me to open it when she was gone."

"Why haven't you?"

"…I can't. If I open it…"

I hesitated and chose my words very carefully. "Peter… not opening that box isn't going to change the fact that she is gone."

Peter lifted his eyes to me. Judging from the expression on his face I'd hit the nail on the head about his thought process.

"I don't want to say goodbye. Not yet."

I looked at the tiny box and at his damp cheeks. "I get it. But one day you'll have to face it. I'll let you decide when the time is right."

"What if it's a long time from now?"

"I honestly hope not, but I'm not gonna push it. It's not for me to say. But from now on, how about we leave that in your room where no one can find it, alright?"

Peter sniffed, wiped his nose again, then nodded. "Alright."

The job went off without a hitch. They'd gotten away with nearly a quarter million units worth of pharmaceuticals; so why was the captain being all broody and not celebrating with the rest of them? He'd been like that all day-cycle and it was becoming a bit worrisome. All around Kraglin was the cheering and slapping of backs from his fellow crewmen and yet the captain didn't even crack a smile. If Yondu's constant glancing at Lydia and Peter across the room was anything to go by then Kraglin figured he had an inkling what his captain's current mood was all about. The captain had been a bit out of sorts ever since the girl joined the crew.

"You should talk to him."

Halvi's deep voice nearly made Kraglin jump out of his seat. Lydia was right. There was no reason why big men should be so light on their feet. Covering up his startled reaction with a stretch, Kraglin shifted in his seat so that the table was to his back and he could lean his elbows on it and face Halvi.

"Talk to who?" he asked.

Halvi tilted his head at Yondu. "The captain. I sense it too. There's something weighting on his mind."

"Yeah. But why should I be the one to talk to him?"

Halvi grinned, his pearly teeth glinting in the light. "You're first mate. You've got the delivering and carrying out orders part down but now it's time you started working on the other half of that position."

"What other half?"

"The captain trusts you to carry out his orders and handle things when he's not present, but being first mate also means that he trusts your judgment and advice. And sometimes he needs a second person's perspective whether he asks for it or not."

Kraglin mulled over that for a bit. "What if he don't want my advice?"

"Then that's on him. A wise captain takes heed of the one he made his right hand man."

I'm still a bit shocked he chose me in the first place, he thought.

Of all the men of Yondu's crew, Kraglin could have named at least five others whom he'd been certain the captain would make his first mate when the last one turned against him. Horuz, Tullk, Garim, Halvi, and Qip. Those men had been with the captain far longer than Kraglin and were older and experienced too. Until Peter came along, he was the youngest member on the Eclector so it never crossed his mind that he'd be considered for such an important job. He was so floored when Yondu called his name and promoted him that he couldn't move or speak for several minutes. The captain assured him it wasn't a mistake that he'd been picked and since then Kraglin pushed himself to prove it to everyone else too. But he was young and still learning and sometimes needed some pointers.

Kraglin took a big gulp of his drink and nodded. "Right."

Halvi slapped him on the back hard enough to make him slip from his seat. "Don't worry; if he bits your head off me and Tullk will make sure you have a decent funeral."

Kraglin swallowed nervously. "You really know how to erase all the confidence built up from a pep talk, don't ya?"

Halvi displayed his pearly teeth and tipped his beverage at him in a toast.

Turning away and directing his feet towards the captain, Kraglin took a deep breath and started walking. He tried out opening phrases in his head and quickly scrapped them. He was almost at Yondu's table; he had to come up with something quick! Yondu looked up from his bottle and squinted at him.

Here it goes…

"Hi."

Well, it's a start. Can't go wrong with that, can ya?

"Kraglin, sit down."

"Yessir." He quickly did so, banging his knees in the process. He held back a curse and ignored the stinging pain.

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-one, Cap'n."

"You got a girl back on Xandar?"

Kraglin guffawed. "Nah." He'd only been sixteen when he joined the Ravagers.

Yondu nodded distractedly and shifted his bottle around a bit. "It's better that ya don't. I tell that to any new recruits that if they got a girl they either gotta drop 'er or not join my crew. It could be months or years between visits."

Kraglin remained silent, glancing at the four empty bottles at Yondu's elbow and the half full one currently in his hand. He'd seen the captain guzzle down three yirshmas before feeling any side effects. A bottle of yirshma could make most men as drunk as if they'd downed half a keg. The liquor they had on the ship wasn't near as strong as yirshma but still had some kick. Yondu had a much higher alcohol tolerance, probably something to do with his species.

The was the slightest hint of slur to his words as he spoke again. "Don't get attached to any girl, Kraglin. It's only gonna get ya in trouble."

"Um, okay."

"Don't argue with me about it, I know what I'm talkin' about."

"Sure thing, Cap'n."

"You're just bein' stubborn now."

Kraglin recounted the bottles. Apparently he'd missed the two that rolled onto the floor. Okay, so maybe the captain was a little drunk.

"Sir, has this got anything to do with Lydia?" Kraglin asked cautiously.

Yondu gave him a side-long glare. "Why ya bringin' her up?"

"Well, um…" He scratched the back of his neck, trying to figure out where to go from here. "Ya been a bit, well, off since she was brought on board."

"Off?"

"Just a bit. Kinda distracted, ya know? A little more…irritable."

Yondu's head slowly turned to face him. "Is that right?" he asked in a flat tone.

Kraglin felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. "Just a bit," he repeated in a wobbly voice.

After several long seconds of staring at him, Yondu finally sighed and looked down at his bottle. "You might be right."

Kraglin released a sigh of relief. "How come she got you so distracted, sir?"

Yondu's eyes flitted about, checking that no one was close enough to listen in. He fixed his red gaze on Kraglin and lowered his voice to a threatening rasp. "If you tell anybody what I'm about to say then I won't hesitate to put this here arrow through your eye." He patted his holster, eyes never straying from him. "Ya hear me?"

Kraglin gulped. "Loud an' clear, Cap'n."

Yondu studied him a moment to be sure, then took a long swig from his liquor. "I did a fool thing when I met Lydia on Knowhere. I let my guard down. Didn't think she was anything but a regular girl lookin' for some excitement on that low-down space mine. All we did was talk but…" He gazed at his hands, studying the scars and callouses. "I ain't had no woman talk to me like that in –," His brow furrowed in thought. "Hell, I don't think anyone's just talked with me before without wantin' somethin' in return."

Kraglin winced.

"She fooled me and then she goes and tells me she didn't wanted to do it 'cause she ended up liking me. Part of me still wants to believe her but the galaxy didn't exactly deal me a good hand so it's more likely she was tellin' me a load of crap just to get out of being killed. But then," he snorted bitterly, "then the girl tells me to be safe just before we left for the job." His eyes were distant as they focused on the table top. It was like Kraglin wasn't there anymore.

"She got under my skin and didn't even have the decency to let me get her outta my system. Now every time I see 'er…there's this itch – a constant buzz in my skull whenever she's around me."

Kraglin waited to see if Yondu would go on but apparently he'd said his piece. He processed the captain's words, putting it all together, and came to one conclusion. "So ya wanna have sex with her really bad?"

Yondu lifted the bottle to his lips. "Oh hell yes."

When the smell of alcohol started to fill the air of the mess hall, I decided it was time for Peter to head on to bed and scooted him out the door. It was getting late anyway for an eight year old. At least that's what that article about healthy sleeping routines said for boys his age. I cast a backward glance towards the captain. He was deep in conversation with Kraglin and looked to have had quite a few drinks but I hoped he wouldn't forget or be too drunk to keep our final meeting later in the night. I bid Peter goodnight and changed into some dingy cargo pants that I dared Yondu to complain about and a leather vest I'd gotten from the Tailor. No flame crest on its surface.

I lay I bed listening to music for about an hour and a half, waiting for the majority of the crew to disperse from the mess hall and go to sleep. When I felt I waited long enough, I slipped on a leather hip holster pack I'd also had the Tailor make for my music box. It also had strip of leather with a snap on the end so I could hang my headphones at my side instead of around my neck. To provide extra security, there was a strap that encircled my left thigh so the pack wouldn't bounce around.

Before leaving my room, I checked my reflection. Honestly if Yondu had issues with this outfit then that was his own problem. I still couldn't understand what his deal was with the shorts I was wearing earlier. I'd had those pants made with working in places like the boiler room specifically in mind because of the heat. Sure I had still sweated like a pig but not as badly as I would have in long pants that would soak up my sweat and cling to my skin unbearably for hours. Yes, exposing my legs was risky, like say if I brushed up against a hot pipe but I'd been trained to be very cautious around machinery and trusted the skills that Malek taught me.

I realized with a sudden pang that I missed that red-skinned, eight armed, always in a bad mood troll. He'd risked his life for me and I never even got to thank him for it. I only had Yondu's word that Malek and the others in his garage had been spared. And Zeg… I couldn't really bring myself to hate him for what he'd done. If I'd been in his position I would probably have done the same. It still hurt though.

When I came to Yondu's quarters I went through the routine of shaking away any tension and told myself that after tonight it would be over. I wouldn't have to go through the awkwardness of being alone in semi-close quarters with him again. And this was all for Peter.

I lifted my hand to knock and the door slide open before I even got the chance. "Finally showed up, huh?" Yondu's gruff voice slurred.

Greeeeat. Ornery and drunk. Lovely combination.

I stepped inside and found him already at the work bench, the tools laid out and waiting for me. "I wasn't sure how long Ravagers like to celebrate their victories," I told him.

"It died down about an hour after you left," he mumbled. He was handling the stun gun but I noticed he had to squint a lot and bring his face close to it.

I picked up my pace and casually took the gun from him as if I wanted to inspect what work was left to be done. He didn't complain. He sagged into his chair and let out a tired sigh. "Would you rather I didn't play any music tonight?" I asked him, observing him. Over the week I'd gotten Yondu to reluctantly allow me to play music while I worked because I told him it helped me focus which was partially true. Music helped direct my attention on a task but I could work without it. I mostly played the music to fill the silence that developed between us.

Yondu grunted and limply waved a hand. "Go ahead. You said it helps ya focus, didn't ya?"

"Yeah, but if you need some quiet –,"

"Then stop yappin'."

I smirked and removed my music box from its pack. "Sir, yes, sir." I plugged it in and was glad the tape I'd brought wasn't one that featured the loud, drum pounding, guitar riffing music I favored. This tape comprised of some fairly mellow songs that I'm sure Yondu's drunk self would appreciate.

As I worked on the weapon, tweaking and making final adjustments, I was aware of Yondu's eyes on me. Trust me, men like Yondu have such intense stares that you can feel it the instant it's turned on you. I ignored it the best I could until I became so engrossed with what I was doing that I barely registered Yondu's presence.

"Yer pretty good at this stuff. Tinkerin' and all that."

Lydia gave an unintelligible grunt as she eyed the site line of the gun and set it down to make a note.

"You don't half-ass a job yer given either."

"Hmm."

"Woman, I'm tryin' ta tell you somethin'!"

Lydia jumped in surprise, snapping out of her focus. "Wha?"

"Have I got yer attention?" he slurred a bit. She nodded. "Kraglin tells me we've got an issue with things getting broken and nobody ever gets around to fixin' 'em. Stuff like weapons that glitch or need alterations, crap like that. It just gets set aside and no one gets around to repairing it so we got a room full of junk. If I were to clear out a room as a workplace and assign you as the ship's tinker gal of sorts, would you be opposed to it?"

Lydia's cocked her head to the side. "You're asking me?"

"Thought I used the right amount of inflection in my tone, but yeah. I'm askin'."

"Would I still be given random assignments?"

"Your time'll be taken up with repairs and watchin' the kid. I'll probably dump those jobs on him."

She peered at him, her green eyes narrowing. Yondu found himself studying the freckles on her nose and cheeks. "You don't look too drunk to not know what you're saying," she mused aloud.

Yondu grinned. "Honey, if I were drunk you'd certainly know it."

She sat back in her seat and pursed her lips in thought. "Okay."

"You'll take the job?"

Her mouth curled into a pretty smile. "Yeah. I'd like that."

A pleasant warmth seeped into his chest at the sight. He told himself it was just the alcohol messing with him.