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Red Herring

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The first time Yondu calls him ‘son’, it’s in passing after Peter’s just done something clever with a gun, and his heart does something quite strange. It’s like a squeezing and a swelling at the same time, almost painful but not really. It’s warm too. His chest, his neck…his face.

Peter is mortified to find that he’s blushing. It’s embarrassment, he tells himself. (He lies.) It’s shock.

There are two men dead on the floor. It’s adrenaline hitting him.

Peter says something bratty back and Yondu takes a swipe at him with one massive paw of a hand, which he easily dodges. Peter cackles with demented glee as he races away, ducks under Raksha’s half-hearted block, and sticks his tongue out at Yondu’s scowl.

Later, curled up in his bunk, Peter covers his face with his pillow as he flushes again just thinking about it. It’s still embarrassment. (Not pleasure. Not even close.)

Maybe, he thinks, wondering. Maybe.

(Not hoping. He’s not hoping. Yondu is violent and psychotic and he doesn’t care a whit about Peter beyond what he can use him to do and there is nothing to hope for. It would be a disappointment if it were true. Horrifying. Peter doesn’t even like Yondu most days.)

Peter spends a large portion of that night telling himself that he’s insane and an idiot and reaching. This is pure desperation and daddy-issues talking.

Yondu would be so disappointed. Except not. Because he doesn’t care and Peter’s just going to tell himself that over and over until he believes it.

He falls asleep exhausted, still wondering.

*

He dreams of a Fourth of July picnic. It had been the last year before he left Earth, maybe the year previous.

Mom is still healthy and she’s packed them all lunch. Him and Grandpa and all his aunts and uncles and cousins. She’d started cooking the day before in the morning like she had something to prove. The kitchen had been transformed into a bustling hub of activity.

I wanna rock with you, Michael croons from the radio, melodic and soothing. Dance you into day. I wanna rock with you. We’re gonna rock the night away.

Blackberry cobbler, fresh and steaming out of the oven, a double batch. It’s smell fills the whole house as it cools.

Beans, cooked on the stovetop, and then slid away into the bowels of the fridge. Followed by chicken – or maybe turkey, or perhaps ham – sliced into lunchmeat sizes, wrapped up nice and snug beside the butter. Platter after platter of hand tossed rolls.

Peter had helped as much as he could, but mostly he just watches in awe of his Mom. Super Mom. Greatest of Moms.

He tells her this when he hands her the whip and she laughs, bright and lively, and dabs a spot of flour on his nose. Peter moans less than he giggles, grabbing her leg and rubbing his face hard against her shirt. Presto, he’s clean.

Mom grins at him and flicks more flour. “Baby, hand me some more aluminum, please.”

Peter runs to the right drawer, pleased to be useful.

The next day, everything is perfect. The sky is blue and the place Mom selected for the Quill and Co. gathering is nice, wide open space with lots of grass and room to run around in. She spreads an old checkered blanket over the ground and lays all the food out.

It’s a feast fit for kings. Mom’s long hair flutters around her face and sticks to her lips as she smiles, proud of her efforts and the end result.

(This is what happens. Peter eats more cobbler than food and feels sick as a dog later. Mom strokes his forehead and sighs.)

This is what happens. The grass in the clearing flattens in a sudden wind, the blanket nearly flies away and upsets all the plates and platters and people. A beam of translucent light, blinding in its intensity.

Then the light is gone and Yondu and his crew are there. Yondu smirks that smirk of his, the one that makes him look in complete control and confident.

“Let’s go, boys!” he shouts and the others roar back confirmation of the order and then there is chaos.

Peter’s aunt Cammie shrieks so loudly his ears hurt. Kraglin laughs as he shoots her. The screaming gets louder. The riot gets wilder.

Peter is frozen on the ground, still sitting criss cross applesauce, a spectator to the show. He watches his Mom stand, graceful and sure, watches her go over to where Yondu waits with his arms folded, higher and better than all of them or so he thinks.

Cheesy romance music plays from nowhere. His mom and Yondu are posed like the cover of a romance book Peter never cared to read, kissing passionately. Fireworks go off. There are crowds cheering.

Kraglin pats him on the shoulder. Peter’s eyes, the only thing not frozen, flick over to him.

“You know how they procreated, right?” Kraglin smiles kindly. “You don’t actually believe in that stork bullshit? Cause, kid, I got some bad news for you…”

*

Peter comes awake like a madman, clawing at his face, howling and gagging on hysterical laughter.

“Keep it down,” somebody grunts in the dark. Peter’s too out of it to tell who.

“Nightmare, kid?” Paxil asks quietly with a bit more concern. Paxil sleeps directly above him and had once slipped Peter contraband candy, which Yondu no doubt knew about because Yondu knows apparently everything. Paxil is a good guy. Peter likes him.

“Yeah,” Peter breathes, heartfelt. He swallows hard. “A really freaky one.”

He doesn’t elaborate. It’s enough.                                    

*

Peter scrounges up a mirror for the express purpose of looking himself dead in the eye.

“You are crazy,” he tells himself. “This whole thing is ridiculous. You’re overreacting. There’s no way.”

Himself isn’t so convinced. His own eyes seem to stare back at him, mocking.

“Mom used to call Dad,” he can’t stop his lips from twisting at the word, it fits so poorly in his mouth, “an angel of pure light. An angel. Does sound like Yondu to you? Huh? Does it?”

Peter shakes the mirror. There is no response. He had sort of been hoping for one.

But the timing, Peter can’t stop himself from thinking. He picked me up right after Mom died, just like she said he would. He didn’t let the crew eat me. He knew my name even before they stuck the chip in my neck.

“Shut up,” Peter says out loud.

“You shut up, brat.” Flayu shoves him aside as he meanders past. “And stop talking to yourself. People’ll start to think you’re crazy.”

Peter sighs. “Them and me both.”

*

Yondu calls him ‘son’ again, very casually. He’s showing Peter how to pilot, pointing at controls and buttons and attaching to them names and purpose.

Peter, also very casually, pretends not to notice. He asks what the big, red button does.

Yondu snorts and tells him that if Peter ever touches it and they don’t all die, he will break Peter’s fingers twice over and cut off an ear for good measure.

(Despite the, probably real, threat he answers the question. Turns out, it’s an emergency oxygen kill switch. Very bad news.)

*

Then the damning words are spoken.

Yondu’s in the middle of a somewhat aggressive negotiation – watch, he’d said to Peter, maybe you’ll learn somethin’, and Peter had absolutely not thought that giving advice and life lessons was a paternal thing to do – and he’s smirking his smirk and threatening the buyer and generally acting like a terrible person when he says, “I may be pretty like an angel, but I sure as hell ain’t as generous as one.”

The buyer folds like wet tissue.

Unnoticed, so does Peter.

Yondu grins, triumphant, and Peter believes at last.

Fine, he thinks. Fuck it. Fine.

*

He doesn’t tell Yondu that he knows.

Peter figures that if he wanted some kind of father-son-bond-what-the-hell-ever then he’d fess up himself.

But he had kept Peter for a reason. Out of dreaded sentiment maybe, or because he really is that much of a jackass that he thinks his son will bring him profit in the future. Whatever. Peter doesn’t care. (Much.) He’ll take what he’s given and be grateful for it.

That, at least, is one lesson that sticks.

Funny thing is, though, he can’t remember where he heard it from. His mom. Or Yondu.

He doesn’t pause to consider why he’s already mixing the memory of the two even though they remain separate entities in his head, as different as fire and water. Peter is…fond of both. For different reasons.

*

Peter messes up.

He messes up something Yondu trusted him to do and now they’ve got nothing from this job.

The crew is staring at him like they’re wondering what he’d taste like and they haven’t done that in a while. Kraglin is frantically trying to salvage something from the clusterfuck and Yondu just stares at Peter with cold red eyes and he wants to melt into the floor and die because shit.

When did he start thinking of Yondu’s eyes as warm? Why did he only notice how much that put him at ease after it was gone?

“Get out of my sight, boy,” the leader of the Ravagers says, voice hard and just edging over into violent.

Peter, clutching his bleeding arm and swaying where he stands, goes.

He moves fast. To his bunk, grabs his walkman and tape, and then up and into the ductwork where he knows no one can follow. It’s a tighter fit than he remembers – it’s been a while since he’s been pushed to hiding in the shafts and they’re as grimy as ever – but it suits him fine.

The darkness isn’t claustrophobic. It’s comforting. Everywhere. Like a hug. A great, big bear hug. One that hums with a steady vibration from the engines, but that only makes it better.

Peter slips his headphones on and presses play. Then he stretches out on his back and clamps sticky fingers over his wet arm and hopes the pressure does something helpful and he doesn’t die. He closes his eyes and mouths the words of Awesome Mix: Vol 1.

It soothes the raw edges of him, just like always. But this time, no matter how many times he fumbles it over and rewinds, there’s something that refuses to be washed away by the music.

It’s sharp, like pain. But it isn’t radiating from his arm.

Peter doesn’t cry. Yondu says men don’t cry.

He still kind of wants to. He wants to hate Yondu too.

He doesn’t.

Instead, he lays still in darkness and filth and thinks about apologies he will never make. Yondu would be more disgusted by them then the failure in the first place.

Peter thinks, randomly, that he might be twelve. Weird thought to have. It doesn’t mean anything.

*

Peter stays where he is for hours, listening, second-guessing, regretting mistakes.

Eventually, he starts moving to keep the worst of the stiffness away. He migrates around the ship, down vertical drops, and avoids the thin places where sound travels too well and would give him away.

He goes out, swipes something to double as a bandage, stops by the bathroom, grabs some food, and hauls ass back in. Shake, shake, shake. Repeat as needed.

*

No one sees him for three days. No one seems to particularly care either.

Peter tells himself that this doesn’t matter. Tells himself he deserves it. (He can’t even believe his own lies. What’s the world coming to?)

*

Peter is screwed. This is probably going to be what kills him.

He’s sweating more than he’s ever sweated in his life and there’s a fire consuming him from the inside out. He can feel his heart pounding in his arm where the cut is, where the flames burn hottest.

He’s wearing the earphones still but listening to nothing but silence. The tape had run out and he hadn’t been able to wind it back – moving hurt too much. Everything hurts too much.

Shadows sway in the dark of the shafts, sinister one moment, familiar the next.

Can’t go to the doctor. While Yondu’s still pissed, he won’t help.

Can’t ask any of the crew. While Yondu’s still pissed, they won’t risk it.

Can’t tell Yondu that he needs…he needs…

Peter blinks wetly. What does he need? He has a terrible feeling that the answer is forgiveness, but he knows better than anyone that Yondu doesn’t forget and he doesn’t forgive. Not anyone.

He can’t move anyways. Doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Why does it have to be so damn hard to breathe? It feels like his heart is trying to explode out of his chest.

Fever rages through him and his thoughts go wavery and loose and scatter. Licking at the heels of every lucid period is the word, Infection.

Peter is so screwed. He really doesn’t want to die here, like this. Yet.

(He’s never even gotten to call his dad ‘Dad.’ He sniggers. Lucid period definitely over.)

*

He wakes up. It’s a surprise.

The light – even dim as it is – after his prolonged stint in the bulwark sears his eyes. Spots dance across his vision.

When they clear, Yondu is glaring down at him. He doesn’t look happy. His mouth opens.

Peter decides that he’s not mentally equipped to deal with this at the moment (or ever) and blacks out.

*

Peter has a real funny dream.

It goes like this:

He’s in the infirmary, flat on his back with a semi-familiar beeping in the foreground. Yondu’s there too and he is, rather obviously, pissed.

“What the fuck you mean he didn’t get his damn arm fixed?” Yondu shouts like an accusation.

“Well, I –” Peter knows that voice. It’s the doctor, or the closest thing they have to one, Scioto. He sounds hesitant, defensive, and Peter is impressed. Most people don’t have the balls to defend themselves to Yondu in a temper, they just take the yelling and the punishment and then scuttle away, relieved to still be alive.

“Why didn’t you fix him?” Yondu snarls.

“I never even saw him, Yondu, honest,” Scioto says. “No one has for days. Not since you told him to –”

“Shut up!”

Scioto shuts up.

“Here’s what’s gonna happen now,” Yondu starts, low and dangerous. “You’re going to make him better.”

“But the infection has already progressed –”

“I said,” Yondu talks over him, “that you are going to make him better. You don’t really want to disappoint me, do you?”

“No, Yondu,” Scioto mutters, cowed.

“Good. Get to it!”

Peter squints his eyes open and isn’t surprised that the world is a blur of colors. He reaches with his good hand for the blue smear and catches fingers. He squeezes.

“Hi, Dad. Mom says hi too.” Peter’s voice is thick and slurred, but comprehensible. He’s pleased.

Dead silence.

Then Yondu is roaring, “WHAT THE FUCK KINDA DRUGS IS HE ON, DUMBASS?”

At some point, Peter’s eyes slip closed and he doesn’t really mind. He imagines Scioto cowering. His lips twitch in something that might, with effort, be called a smile.

“Er –”

“THE GODDAMN KID’S DELUSIONAL, FUCKING DO SOMETHING!”

“Okay, okay, okay!”

Then things get fuzzier. Darken to black again.

Pretty weird dream, huh?

*

Peter wakes up to Scioto staring at him, yellow lizard eyes slitted in worry.

“You idiot.”

It’s instinctive to sneer back and rasp, “Takes one to know one.”

The offense on Scioto’s face is almost worth the coughing fit that it sets off.

“Am I still dying or can I get up?” Peter asks once he can breathe again.

Scioto scoffs. “If you can, please, by all means. It’s not like I slaved away for hours to save your worthless hide or anything.”

Peter scowls. Swings his legs over the edge of the bed and tries to stand up. He falls flat on his face and moans, cradling his jaw.

Scioto laughs at him and makes no move to help. “Oh, by the way, Yondu wants to see you when you can walk again.”

“Ugh. Shit,” Peter says to the floor. He considers not getting up and just rolling under the bed. Surely, they wouldn’t bother to drag him out?

Unsympathetically, Scioto nudges him with a foot. “Well? Ready to start dancing already, princess?”

“Fuck,” Peter grumbles and then drags himself up and staggers towards the door. “Don’t suppose you know where he is?”

“I might,” Scioto hedges.

Peter glares at him. His legs are trembling. The only reason he’s upright is his deathgrip on the wall. He feels like puking and passing out for a week. Instead, he’s apparently going to have to go on a quest, the treasure at the end of which will probably be a beating.

“Are you going to tell me?”

Scioto blinks at him, wide-eyed and terribly amused, and cheerfully asks, “Now, why would I want to do that?”

“Asshole,” Peter accuses, relatively mild, and then limps out.

*

Yondu isn’t in the hallway outside of the infirmary. He’s not in the next hallway over either.

It’s unfortunate because that’s as far as Peter gets before his hindbrain takes a long look at the situation and makes the executive decision that this is complete bullshit, I’m out. His eyes roll back and he isn’t conscious by the time he hits the ground.

He really needs to stop doing this. Especially in public where anyone can see.

*

Peter wakes up (for the second time in five minutes) on the floor, which is pretty much exactly where he expected to be.

That it is not the same floor takes longer to register.

“Awake, are we?” The voice is unexpected.

Peter rolls over and realizes (ohshitohshitohshit) that he has somehow managed to wind up in Yondu’s quarters. He doesn’t even have to wonder what it says about him that his first thought is someone’s trying to get him killed by dumping his carcass in Yondu’s personal, private area.

His unreliable spine chooses now to collaborate with his lack of brain-to-mouth filter. It’s the only plausible reason – well, that or insanity, which is beginning to disturb him with its frequency – why he retorts, “Well, I know I’m not dreaming that face.”

Yondu, lounging in a chair, grins. It is, as usual, only a shade away from terrifying. He stretches and thumps a boot down on Peter’s back. Peter’s seen where those boots have been, okay? He makes a noise of disgust and shrugs it off, squirming away.

“Son,” Yondu starts and Peter, traitorously, perks up and automatically pays closer attention. “That was damned stupid of you.”

“Yeah, folks keep telling me that.” Peter flops back down. He doesn’t need to be sitting up to take a dressing down. Heh.

“Don’t do it again.” It’s said in that special tone of voice Yondu was probably born with, warning and intent. It’s a command that will be followed.

“Sure,” Peter agrees easily.

“I mean it, boy.”

“I said ‘sure’, old man,” Peter grumbles. “Can I go?”

He doesn’t wait for approval, just heaves himself up and makes for the door under Yondu’s steady gaze.

It’s a seamless return to their old rhythm. No apologies, no talking of feelings. It’s the best thing he could have hoped for.

Peter ruins his smooth exit when his legs turn to jelly and he sprawls out on the floor. Again.

Yondu snorts and mocks him for his Terran weakness and general lack of coordination, which is absolutely not true.

But.

But Yondu gets to his feet and then drags Peter to his, giving him a – rather gentle – shove to send him on his way.

It feels frighteningly similar to a hug. An awkward, rough hug under the guise of uncharacteristic helpfulness.

Peter doesn’t have to glance back to tell that Yondu’s eyes are warm again and a fraction softer than usual.

He smiles all the way back his bunk and only feels a little bit like an idiot.

Yeah, so Yondu’s a jerk most of the time and a nightmare when he’s not, but Peter could have done worse for a dad.