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All Our Fellow Mortals

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Peter woke up hurting. He hadn't felt this crappy since he caught some kind of alien fever when he was twelve and ended up in a back-alley hospital with tubes running in and out of him. His chest hurt, his throat hurt ... even his eyeballs hurt. He was too cold and too hot at the same time; he couldn't seem to get enough air. He couldn't move, and he was all alone, in the dark ... tied up, no, bundled up in something ...

"Peter?"

Gamora's voice. She was all right, she was okay, and that made him struggle back from the tempting edge of unconsciousness, fighting his way into a too-heavy, too-painful body -- because she might be okay, but he didn't know about the others, and he couldn't rest until he knew for sure -- and he couldn't see --

He struggled to raise a hand that felt like it weighed a ton, and tried to feel at his face, though all he managed to do was bat clumsily at himself with bandaged fingers.

"Peter. Don't." A strong hand -- Gamora; he'd know her hands anywhere -- closed over his. "You ... hurt yourself. A lot. Your eyes are bandaged and so are your hands. Just relax. Do you need anything?"

"What he needs is a swift kick in the ass for bein' a feckin' idiot." This was delivered gruffly from not too far away.

"... Yondu?" Peter whispered. Yondu's voice sent a warm rush of something through him, some emotion he couldn't quite name, except he was glad Yondu was there and (apparently) okay. "Is everyone -- did we --"

"Everyone's fine, 'cept for you, idiot."

"Why are you still here?" Gamora demanded, sounding annoyed. "Weren't you going to get some sleep?"

"I was sleepin' 'til y'all woke me up."

"I meant not in a chair. And not in this room."

Their voices faded to a mumble as aching exhaustion tried to drag him under. He fought against it; the oppressive darkness and feeling of being trapped (he couldn't even wiggle his fingers, couldn't blink his eyes) brought panic welling up in his throat, like being trapped under the earth ...

He couldn't feel Gamora's hand on him anymore, couldn't feel anything to ground him properly ...

"Sleep," a soft voice said, very close to Peter, and a cool hand touched his forehead.

He slept.

 

***

 

He jerked awake from a vision of his father's face crumbling into sand and sifting away between his fingers. It was Ego and then it was Yondu and then he was staring into darkness.

But slightly less oppressive darkness than before. Peter blinked, and turned his head slowly to the side. He was looking out at stars. They were a little blurry, but he could see again, and for a moment the stars blurred to a smear before he blinked his eyes clear of the involuntary tears.

He still felt like shit, but not quite as much. He was desperately thirsty -- hard to tell how much of the cramping ache in his throat was thirst, and how much was damage from trying to breathe in hard vacuum -- and he also needed to pee.

He reached out an arm and pushed off the rank-smelling fur he was buried in, made an effort to sit up, and flopped back down. His whole body felt like a wet noodle.

"Quit thrashin' around, you'll wake up your gal."

The rough voice was quiet, but Peter flinched anyway. He hadn't even known Yondu was there; now Yondu was sitting down on the edge of the bed next to him (Yondu's bed, in Yondu's quarters, he belatedly realized) and matter-of-factly sliding an arm under his back, helping him sit up. He had a vague realization that this might have happened before. His head spun; he clenched his bandaged fingers weakly on Yondu's arm and waited out the head rush that temporarily blotted out his vision.

When his head cleared and he could see again, he was half leaning on Yondu, sitting up on a pile of furs, and Gamora was slumped in a chair beside the bed, snoring quietly, with a sleeping Groot draped over her arm.

"See?" Yondu murmured. "Now be quiet, idjit. Green Gal don't need you wakin' her up."

"I have to piss, jerk," Peter managed in something like a whisper. His throat hurt like it'd had hot coals poured through it. "I could do it on you, if you don't get out of my way." He grimaced and made an attempt to get his legs off the bed, which didn't get very far.

"In your way, huh." Yondu stood up, and casually took Peter with him, which made Peter aware that he currently had all the strength of a limp dishrag. Yondu's firm grip on him was probably the only thing that kept him from slithering to the floor in a heap.

"Peter!" Gamora said, waking with a start.

"I got 'im," Yondu said.

"I see that." She yawned and got up, carefully transferring Groot to her shoulder. Her gaze lingered on Peter with a warmth that felt like the soothing brush of her fingertips on his skin, tactile without actually touching him. "That being the case," she said, "I'm going to find a more comfortable bed for this little one."

"Bye, Gamora." Peter fluttered his fingers and tried to look like he was casually leaning on Yondu instead of almost sliding to the floor with every step.

"I will be back," Gamora promised. Her smile was fond, before she left with swift strides.

"Is she wearing one of Kraglin's shirts?" Peter said, staring after her.

"Ain't much laundry on the ship ... what's left of it."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"This here's just the third Quadrant."

"Oh," Peter said. He couldn't quite grasp why they were in a piece of Yondu's ship, but everything would probably be clear sooner or later. "And she's okay, right? And Rocket's okay? And Drax?"

Yondu sighed. "Gamora's okay, rat's okay, big gray guy's okay, Kraglin's okay, twig's okay, bug kid's okay. Just like the last twelve times you asked about it. Even that sister o' Gamora's is okay, though she ain't stickin' around with the rest of us losers."

"Well, excuse me for being unconscious," Peter grumbled, gripping the edge of the bathroom door with a shaking hand. "I don't need help with this part, for pete's sake," he added, and shut the door in Yondu's face.

He did what he needed to do, and hung onto the metal edge of the sink while he drank brackish, rusty-colored water from a cupped hand. Ah, the good ol' familiar metal-and-mold taste of the Eclector's antiquated water recycling system. His fingers were plastered with vivid purple synth-skin, some of it peeling off in strips, and his face looked just as bad as it felt: bloodshot eyes, with a patchwork of synth-skin and peeling white-pink natural skin around them.

He lurched out to find Yondu leaning on the wall right outside the bathroom. "Was wonderin' if you fell in."

"No, I did not fall in," Peter said irritably, contemplating the vast distance (twenty feet, maybe thirty) back to the bed. He stifled a cough that tried to rip its way out of his chest. "I look like hell, don't I?"

"Yes," Yondu said, slinging an arm under Peter's armpits and taking some of his weight, in total defiance of Peter's feeble attempts to push him off. "Yes, you do. Glad you finally noticed. Terrans ain't the best-lookin' species in general --"

"Why do I even talk to you?" Peter wanted to know, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other; the floor had an annoying tendency to wobble in front of him.

"-- but yeah, throwin' yourself into the void of space makes you look like shit. Good to remember for next time."

"Look who's talking," Peter said. Yondu was suffering some facial frostbite himself; the tips of his ears and nose were peeling. "Look who's fucking talking; someone thought it'd be a good idea to go to space with only one spacesuit, and put it on the other person, so let's not do that again, why don't we --"

"Fine by me," Yondu said, dropping him onto the bed a little harder than necessary, to Peter's muffled "ow."

Peter ended up more or less in a sitting position, legs hanging off the bed, so he stayed that way, muzzily gazing at nothing. He didn't really want to fall back asleep, not yet. He was vaguely aware that he'd been doing nothing but sleeping lately, and he was tired of it, especially with the unsettled emotions of the nightmare still haunting him.

"You gonna stay awake a few minutes this time?"

"Guess so," Peter muttered. His face itched. He raised a hand to scratch at it, which Yondu promptly swatted down. "Ow! Jeez, man."

"You want somethin' to do with your hands, here, drink this," Yondu ordered, picking up a squashy, lurid green package off the top of the metal drawers beside the bed and shoving it into his hands.

As soon as he saw what it was, Peter laughed hoarsely. "You used to make me drink those things when I got sick when I was a kid too."

"Nutrient replacement," Yondu said, sitting down in the chair Gamora had vacated and folding his arms. "Works on most humanoid species."

"Most," Peter repeated, eyeing the green monstrosity in his hand. "You know it tastes horrible, right?"

"It's good for ya'."

"You used to say that then, too." Peter shuddered, squeezing the green pouch and watching the contents roil in an unsettling sort of way. "I remember one time you held me down and made me drink it. Still pissed about that, by the way."

"Seem to recall you puked on me."

"Yeah." Peter smiled briefly in recollection. "That was really satisfying. And then you made Kraglin take care of me for two days. He was a total asshole about it, too."

"You gonna keep talkin' and wreckin' your throat, or drink that damn stuff? 'cause I prob'ly can hold you down right now without half tryin', an' I might."

"God," Peter muttered. He had to struggle to pop the top off the pouch, with his hands as weak and patched-together as they were, but like hell he was going to ask for help. The stuff tasted just as horrible as he remembered, sickly sweet with a pungent aftertaste. "If this makes me puke, I'm aiming for you."

"Save the trouble of cleanin' it off the floor, then."

Peter drained the last of the awful stuff and tossed the package at Yondu, or tried to. It fell onto the floor and he stared at it dazedly.

"Right. Back to bed with ya."

"I'm in bed," Peter complained, stifling a cough. His head was starting to swim as weakness crept over him, but lying down now would mean giving in -- to his body's weakness, and also to the blue asshole sitting next to him, who rolled his eyes and got up, reaching for a tangle of tubes hooked over the back of the chair.

"Gonna sit up, the oxy-thing goes back on you."

"Wait, the what now?" Peter pulled his head back, trying to get a better look at it. Yondu wrapped his hand around the back of Peter's skull and unceremoniously held his head still to clip something to his nose. "Hey!" he protested.

"You froze your lungs," Yondu said quietly, and there was an "idiot!" lurking there somewhere, Peter could just hear it, but it died unspoken. Instead Yondu sat heavily beside him on the bed and pushed him down, forcing him to lie back on not-so-clean pillows.

"Is that why my chest feels like somebody filled my lungs with wet cement?" He didn't want to admit it, but the oxygen seemed to be helping with the dizziness a little.

Yondu didn't answer, and there was a moment of weighted silence between them, silence that felt like it should have been lightened with the half-playful, mostly-serious insults they'd been throwing at each other since Peter was old enough to figure out he could talk back without getting eaten. But it wasn't as easy to bat it away this time, for either of them -- not when Peter's head was still full of those all-too-vivid memories of watching Yondu's face freeze, the light going out of his eyes ...

Peter reached out for Yondu's hand, or any part of him in reach; he ended up grabbing his arm, holding onto it with aching, stinging fingers. "You were going to die, you were dying right in front of me -- I'd do it again, in a hot minute. Of course I would."

Yondu laid a hand on his chest, thick fingers curling against Peter's skin; he could feel the warmth of Yondu's hand through the thin shirt he was wearing. "I ain't worth it, Quill."

"Oh, the hell you're not. You literally tried to give your life for mine." Peter grinned. His dry, peeling lips cracked, but it was worth it. "You are the absolute last person who can give anybody advice about self-sacrificing heroics. And I was pretty damn heroic, don't deny it."

"Thought I raised you better than this."

His hand was still on Peter's chest, so Peter put his own over it, plastic skin-patches and all. "You raised me all right, old man."

Yondu started to say something, but caught his breath in a hitch that looked like his chest hurt as much as Peter's did, and then he just said, "Go back to sleep."

"Don't tell me what to do," Peter said, because you couldn't let some things go unchallenged.

"Uh-huh," Yondu said, and his hand vanished from Peter's chest, but a moment later, blunt fingertips ran lightly through Peter's plastered, sweaty hair. The sensation recalled a memory he'd all but forgotten: being a child, a sick child far from home, and having that same feeling of his hair being idly petted while he was so out of it he hardly remembered it. Just casual strokes like Yondu wasn't even paying attention much.

"You ever do something like that again, boy --"

"You'll end me, yeah, whatever," Peter mumbled.

He vaguely remembered that he used to bounce back more easily from being sick than this. Maybe that was just being a kid, with a kid's resilience. Or maybe it was a more permanent change. He hadn't known about the Celestial part of his heritage, and now he wished he had. He'd missed out on a whole lifetime of being functionally immortal. He could have ... well ... okay, come to think of it, he'd done just about every stupid thing he could possibly have done while he still thought there was a reasonable chance it'd kill him, so maybe the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

And being mortal wasn't such a bad thing to be. He was in good company, after all.