Yondu’s grip on Peter began to weaken as they burst right up through the atmosphere, even as the last remnants of that sorry excuse of a ‘father’ folded in on itself.
But Peter’s attention was solely focused on Yondu as they shot upward, until his aerorig ran out of gas, and then they were left floating in open, empty space.
“No,” Peter said, grasping Yondu with one hand as his other scrabbled against his space suit’s button. He couldn’t even form coherent words as the life seeped out of his real father’s red eyes.
Cold, Peter thought as he unleashed his fear, frustration, and pain all out in a single scream. He’s too cold.
He barely registered the sensation of a pair of arms, strong and familiar, wrap around his shoulders. Out of instinct, he squeezed Yondu closer to him as he felt them being pulled backward and out of the void.
When they landed on solid ground, the air was filled with noise and chaos, but Peter was only focused on one thing: Yondu’s freezing body. Hands tugged Peter’s shoulders, the familiar noise of the airlock shutting echoed around him, yet all he could think of was to keep holding Yondu. Peter couldn’t even bring himself to care whether he had been rescued or captured, or whether his suit had ended up failing and this was his brain’s last few desperate synapses firing, making him believe this was real.
Then he felt a small paw scrabbling around on his chest, searching for his suit’s button. The clicks of it decompressing resounded louder than all the commotion.
“Mantis, check Yondu’s pulse.”
“I am Groot!”
“Kraglin, get some blankets and an oxygen mask! With a tank!”
Green and grey hands pulled Peter apart from Yondu; soon afterward, there was a small, pale hand reaching down to touch Yondu’s neck.
No, Peter thought, reaching his hands out toward Yondu as if in slow motion, like they were still trapped in space, fighting against the tight grip that kept him at bay. No, don’t do that, you’ll —
“I can feel his heartbeat! It’s very weak, but he’s still alive.”
“Quill, stop screaming, you idiot! We’re tryin’ to help him!”
He shook his head wildly, continuing to strain and slide toward Yondu as someone draped ratty-looking blankets around hiss shoulders, and a pair of deft paws fitted an oxygen mask to his face.
“He’s not breathing,” someone said, and dark spots danced in Peter’s field of vision.
“Can you revive him, Mantis?”
“I am not sure if I will be able to. Or what his condition will be when he wakes. I have never—”
“— You’re the only one who can bring him back. Please.”
Peter had experience Eternity not too long ago. He had said he could see it, but ‘see’ wasn’t the correct word, not really. It was just the most adequate one. It felt more like he was strapped to the Milano’s windshield as it raced at top speed through stars for miles on end, shooting past moons, suns, and millions of planets that looked like multi-colored marbles.
This was nothing like that. This was the universe slowing to a crawl, fixating on a single solitary point.
And, after another moment that stretched longer than Quill had ever spent flying through the stars, Yondu breathed.
He jerked awake at the light touch on his shoulder, nearly tipping over onto the unwashed floor. He realized he was sitting on a chair right next to Yondu’s bed, not knowing how much time had passed.
“What - what happened? He awake?” Peter asked, his tongue moving around thickly in his mouth as he looked up at whomever had put a hand on his shoulder. After he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, Kraglin materialized beside him.
“No. Been out cold since your nice bug friend - Mantis, I think- brought him back ’round. But at least he ain’t too cold anymore.” Kraglin patted Peter’s shoulder before crossing his arms over his chest, looking down at Yondu’s sleeping form.
Peter had barely kept up with everything that happened right before blacking out on the deck of the Quadrant. Slowly, it all came back to him. As Drax wore one of the Ravagers’ old-school helmets, he had pulled Peter and Yondu inside just after the Guardians located them and sped over. Mantis had managed to revive Yondu, and Drax was about to start carrying Yondu to his bed when Peter slumped over on the deck in shock.
“Gamora carried you over here.” Kraglin continued. “We’ve got at least five hundred more jumps to go ’fore we get to Xandar, so one of them docs can take a look at him. ’Til then, we’ve been taking several breaks to adjust.”
Peter nodded, scrubbing his hand over his face. When he felt wetness on his palm, he couldn’t tell if that was his sweat or tears collecting in the creases.
He lowered his hand, refocusing on Yondu’s sleeping form. Half his face - which, as Kraglin said, didn’t look frozen over anymore - was nearly concealed with the oxygen mask Rocket had slipped over his face. It was an older model, Peter noted, not at all like Rocket’s modified, full-bodied suits.
But in that moment, Peter treasured the mask even more than his own, now broken, one.
“You hungry?” Kraglin asked, shaking Peter out of his thoughts.
He waved his free hand in response, not taking his eyes away from Yondu.
Kraglin sucked his teeth and said, “Boss’ll be upset if he wakes up and finds out you haven’t been fed and watered. Always got pretty ornery when you didn’t.”
“Yeah,” Peter muttered, realizing just how dry his throat was, now that reality was returning in clear, much-too-sharp focus. “Never said it, but I could tell it ticked him off.”
“I’ll bring you somethin’. By the time I get back, he’ll be up and back to his old self again.” Kraglin lightly clapped Peter’s shoulder again, and headed out of the room, whistling softly.
“Yeah. Thanks,” Peter said, not taking his eyes off Yondu’s rising and falling chest.
After refusing solid food due to a turbulent stomach, Peter sucked on a protein gel packet. It was flavored like Rajak biscuits, smooth and savory with a slight hint of citrus, but Peter could barely taste any of it. He gulped down almost half a liter of water before pausing to draw breath, then set the metal container down next to the empty packet. He barely wanted to blink, just in case he’d miss anything.
When he awoke again with a start - this time falling right out of the chair - Yondu was still sleeping. Peter cursed himself for having winked out, then cursed again when he realized he really, really had to take a piss.
Just as he started seriously considering his half-empty water container, Kraglin reappeared by his side, as if he had read Peter’s mind. Like the old days.
Peter bolted from his chair toward Yondu’s private head. After doing his business and swishing a mouthful of something from a corked bottle - which tasted way more like alcohol than mint - he raced back, only to see Kraglin shaking his head and Yondu still sleeping like a baby.
Sighing, Peter flipped the chair around and straddled it, resting his chin on his arms, Kraglin opened his mouth to say something, then shook his head again and headed out the room.
Not even five minutes later, Yondu opened his eyes.
Peter could only blink a few times at the abruptness, the lack of ceremony of it all. But then, he thought, it was only fitting for Yondu to return to him like that. He let out a loud, sharp chuckle, lifting his head from his chin.
“Welcome back, ya big blue bastard.”
After groaning a bit, squeezing his eyes shut, then opening them again, Yondu opened his mouth. Then he started to cough harshly, his hands shooting up toward his oxygen mask.
“Woah, hold on,” Peter said, his relieved laughter dying in his throat as he got up from his chair and leaned over the bed, pressing the mask back over Yondu’s mouth. “Easy, easy. You’re okay. We’re on the Quadrant, and you need this because you almost fucking died in space. Doofus. But you’re okay now.
“You’re okay,” he said again, tears blurring his vision.
The mask muffled Yondu’s next few words, but when Peter finally got a hold of himself and listened, he could only hear the same rasps over and over: “Water.”
“Right, yeah, okay. I can get you some.” Peter bent down and snatched up the water container sitting next to his chair, and, after murmuring for Yondu to be still for a moment – “It’s okay, I gotcha,” – Peter slid the oxygen mask so it hung around Yondu’s neck. Then, as Peter lifted Yondu’s neck with his left hand while his right hand tipped the container, being so gentle and slow he even surprised himself, he was glad he didn’t decide to end up using it for, well, something else earlier.
After Yondu drained the rest of the water, Peter eased his head back down on his pillow. Then, after slipping the mask back on and setting down the container, Peter said, in a hushed voice, “How’re you feeling?”
“Not so hot,” Yondu groaned, his voice still raspy and muffled with the oxygen mask, but he sounded better. “And at the same time, too hot for comfort.”
Peter laughed, full on laughed at that. Yondu could talk again. His heart was still beating, he was still here, breathing in and out, and Peter would not have to say goodbye to another parent.
Then, Yondu peered up at him, and asked, “Who the hell are you, anyway?”
Mantis held Yondu’s hand gently, her antennae glowing. For a moment, Peter allowed his imagination to run away from him: Mantis would somehow restore Yondu’s memories in an instant, and he would kick all his covers off, cursing at Peter and Kraglin and demanding to know where the hell his arrow was before stomping off to the flight deck.
But Yondu continued to lay there in his large, fur-covered bed, eyes glassy with confusion. As if he were a child.
Mantis’s antennae dimmed. She gently set Yondu’s hand back down on the blanket, then she looked up at Peter. A split second later, she averted her gaze, focusing on the floor as she folded her hands together.
“Okay, well,” Peter said with a sigh, “thanks for trying anyway, Mantis.”
Her large, dark eyes darted back up toward him. “You are not angry with me?”
“What?” His eyes widened. “No, of course not.”
Mantis gave him a slow, wide smile. It was crooked, and might have worried Peter if he didn’t know her. Instead, it soothed him a bit, despite their whole shitty situation. “May I go now?”
Peter shrugged. “Uh, if you want to, sure. But you don’t have to ask me that.”
“Yeah,” Rocket added from his perch on the opposite side of Yondu’s bed. “All you gotta do to be a part of this family is ignore everything Quill says.”
“As much as I’d like to say you’ve got a point,” Nebula said, standing at the foot of the bed with her arms crossed, “this really isn’t the time.”
“Yeah. What she said,” Kralin added, standing next to her and staring at Yondu as he closed his eyes and began to doze off.
Peter rubbed at his temple for a while. When he felt a light touch on his arm, he was about to tell Mantis again that yes, she could leave the room if she wanted, but when he lowered his hand, he saw that Mantis was gone, and Gamora had quietly joined his side.
“Could you all please give us a moment?” she asked the others, who remained crowded around Yondu’s bed as he slept.
Rocket looked like he was going to argue, then he looked at Yondu and said, “Sure. Need to check on the fuel levels, anyhow. But let me know the second anything changes.” Rocket picked up Groot, who had been sitting on the fur blanket, gazing up in awe at Yondu, like he was some kind of mythical being.
“Wait,” Gamora called out to Kraglin as he patted one of Yondu’s covered feet in farewell. “You should stay.”
“Yeah, man,” Peter said. “Rocket can take care of the ship by himself. It’d be good if you could talk to Yondu, let him hear you. Maybe it’ll snap him out of this.”
Kraglin shook his head and swallowed thickly, tears brimming at the corners of his eyes. Gone was the whistling and his general relaxed, upbeat nature, which had always been a point of admiration for Peter. He understood, all too well, how Kraglin was feeling.
He left about as silently as he’d arrived.
Nebula was the next to leave, slowing her stride as she neared Gamora. Gamora whispered that they would talk later, and to Peter’s surprise, Nebula nodded before heading out the room.
Drax also paused on his way out, but this time it was on Peter's other side, opposite Gamora. Peter tensed a bit, sensing one of Drax’s oncoming, signature blunt comments, soon to followed by a verbal sparring match with Gamora.
Instead, Drax said, in a quiet voice, “I’m sorry.” Then he, too, turned to leave.
Peter deflated with relief, then noticed Gamora had done the same thing. His eyes met hers and they exchanged a small, knowing smile, a gleam of respite in the dimly lit room.
Then, when Yondu had another brief coughing fit, they turned their attention back to him in an instant. Peter checked the oxygen tank next to Yondu’s bed as Gamora straightened out his blankets, smoothing them down after they had been rumpled a bit by the others.
“He’s much warmer than before,” Gamora noted as she placed Yondu’s hand back over his chest. “So the good news is, he’s probably not in danger of hypothermia.”
“Yeah,” Peter said as Yondu thankfully stopped coughing into his mask, settling back down again to sleep. “I’m not hanging my hopes up on ‘probably,’ though.”
Gamora nodded. “Xandar’s our best hope. We could find a doctor at A’askvarii since it’s a lot closer to us, but I don’t think they’ll be comfortable with his physiology. And I would suggest trying out Vormir, it would save us about fifty jumps and they have a growing population of humanoid species, but it’s too close to the Kree.”
“Yeah, well, fuck ’em,” Peter said, then chewed on his lip for a moment before adding, “Sorry.”
She smiled again. “It’s fine. I know you’re just worried about him. But, Peter...” She paused, touching him lightly with her hand. “I want to make sure you’re fine, too.”
Though he was grateful for her assurance, Peter hung his head and looked down at Yondu, who seemed to have fallen asleep. “I can’t stop thinking about it, Gamora. Being in space with him, just... feeling completely helpless, watching him die. I’m the reason he ended up on that miserable rock heap, and in space. I’m the reason he can barely breathe on his own and he’s scared out of his mind, looking at us like we’re gonna stab him, or gobble him up at any second.” Even as a tear trickled out of the corner of his eyes, he exhaled a sharp, curt snort. “Kinda ironic, when you think about it.”
“He was saving your life,” Gamora said in a fierce whisper. “Protecting you, as a real father would for his child. Nothing about his current condition can change that. And I’m sure he would’ve gladly done it again.”
Peter didn’t say anything for a long moment. Gamora stood with him as they watched Yondu’s chest rise and fall, his breath fogging up his mask on every exhale.
“I’ll tell Rocket to stay the course for Xandar.” When Gamora spoke again, Peter looked down, and it dawned on him that she was holding his hand. “We’ll have to keep spacing out the jumps, but as soon as we get there, we’ll request the best doctors they have. I’ll make sure that they will do anything they can to help.”
“Okay,” Peter said, because that was all he could say. He knew she was trying her best, and he was so damn grateful for her presence, her levelheadedness and honesty - not to mention that unquestioning sense of authority she carried, backed up by her trusty Godslayer - that he couldn’t quite articulate how he felt.
But he could ask her how she felt. “What about you and Smurf... I mean, your sister? I know things haven’t been easy for you, but —”
“— We’re okay,” Gamora said way too quickly, then it was her turn to sheepishly apologize. It made Peter smile, and then it made him glad he could still smile, despite everything. “I asked her to stay with us, and she hasn’t taken off yet. So, progress.”
“No more trying to kill each other, huh?” he said, and shifted closer to her. “That’s good to hear.”
“That’s the thing,” Gamora said. “I don’t know if things are good between us, not yet. But I’m hoping they will be. And for you both.” She nodded at Yondu. “In the meantime, try to get some rest. Somehow I know that even now, he would want you to take care of yourself.”
Peter squeezed her hand back in thanks, and she quietly left the room.
“She’s right, y’know.”
Peter jerked his head back around to look down at Yondu, his eyes open and his breath fogging up more of the mask.
“Did you stay awake this whole time?” Peter asked unable to hold back his accusatory tone.
Yondu shrugged, or at least made an attempt to shrug under piles of blankets. “S’like I said, don’t know any of you. Gotta keep my wits about me, in the event you decide I’d make a better meal than a nuisance.”
“God, what is up with you and the whole eating people thing? You know...” Peter took a long breath to calm himself, and ran a hand through his hair. “Can’t believe this. You have no idea who I am, much less who you are, and I’m still arguing with you like it’s five years ago.”
Yondu’s eyes widened, as if he were looking at a ghost. “Been five years since we met, then?”
“Longer,” Peter said, dragging his chair back to Yondu’s bedside and settling himself down on it. “Much, much longer.”
They sat together in near silence for a while; Yondu’s labored breaths were the only sounds that filled the spacious bedroom. Wishing he still had his Walkman, Peter glanced around as he let Yondu process the new piece of information about his life.
Near the communications panel was the bobblehead toy Peter had given him, a thank you gift after he’d been presented with the Milano. There was a waist-sized podium in the corner on which a wooden rack sat, specifically to hold the Yaka arrow. One of the few silver linings in this mess was Rocket’s reveal that he had swiped the pieces off that shithole planet before it started exploding, and he’d told Peter he almost had it fixed.
Behind the bed was a large, collapsible screen which Peter had jumped out from behind countless times as a kid, waking Yondu up and making him nearly fall out of bed. And there was the twenty-foot-tall wardrobe Yondu had nabbed off of Badoon. He stopped storing his clothes in it when he found Peter curled up against the back wall, sniffling and using any piece of fabric to wipe his face. Strangely, Yondu didn’t forbid Peter from using the closet. It was the best hiding spot on the ship when one of the senior Ravagers had it in for Peter. Though it still dwarfed him, he was struck by how it looked so much smaller.
“Lots of memories here, huh?” Yondu said, bringing Peter back to the reality of sitting at his amnesiatic father’s bedside.
Peter leaned forward. “Yup. Was like a second bedroom to me, growing up. Even when I was mad at you, I’d still find myself here sometimes.”
Yondu’s breath hitched on an inhale, and then he said, “Mad? For what?” It was so weird hearing Yondu sound that unabashedly concerned. Insecure.
“Oh, that’s not important. Usual dad parenting a teen stuff.” Peter waved his hand around dismissively.
“That so? Huh.” Yondu squinted at Peter. “That ferret of yours showed me my face in a mirror earlier. You don’t look nothin’ like me.”
“Long story short, you picked me up, adopted me, and I hope Rocket never hears you calling him a ferret. Be pretty funny if he did, though.”
Yondu stared at him, incredulous. “I did?... When? Where?”
Peter took a good long while to pick a speck of lint off the bedcovers and dropped it on the ground. “Terra. My homeworld - or it used to be. About twenty-some odd years ago.”
He felt Yondu’s gaze focusing on him with so much intensity, he had no choice but to meet his old man’s eyes.
“Why?” Yondu croaked.
Peter didn’t know how to answer, at first. He could’ve lied, said Yondu was capturing humans for food, but took a liking to Peter. He could’ve told the truth, and said Yondu was hired by that no good, dirty rotten crapcoil to deliver Peter as nothing more than a fucking battery. He could’ve said he didn’t know, changed the subject, anything.
“You saved me,” Peter said, and left it at that.
Yondu’s next exhalation was loud and laborous, and he squeezed his eyes shut.
“Makes no sense to me,” he muttered. “Don’t feel like a hero, ’specially now. Don’t look like one. Suppose it’s gonna take a while ’fore I start to believe it.”
“Well, we’re on our way to some of the best doctors in the galaxy – uh, at least their galaxy, I don’t know about this one.” Peter reached out to place a hand over Yondu’s. It was a real testament to just how far gone his memory was, because he didn’t snatch his hand away and berate Peter for being too sentimental. “In the meantime, just get as much rest as you can. You’re gonna need it.”
“And what about what your girlfriend said? Gemera?”
Peter chuckled, shaking his head a little as he tightened his grip over Yondu’s hand. “We’re really gonna have to start wearing nametags around you, aren’t we?”
To his surprise, Yondu started laughing a bit too – or, in his case, wheezing slightly, until he launched into another coughing fit and had to lift his head. He batted off Peter’s attempt to help him – that was more like the Yondu he knew – and when his coughs subsided, he rested back down again as Peter regretfully settled back down on his chair.
“’M all right,” Yondu choked out a few times, but Peter only relaxed when Yondu’s breathing evened out to a steady rhythm. “But you didn’t say she ain’t your girlfriend.”
“That’s what got you all riled up? And how can you not remember me, but you can remember what a girlfriend is?”
“Don’t know her any better than the rest of your crew, but,” Yondu paused, and Peter straightened his posture a bit at the words ‘your crew,’ his heart warming at that, “she got a good head on her shoulders.”
“Yeah, she does,” Peter said, starting to smile before he remembered their fight and how she’d insisted, twice, that there wasn’t an unspoken thing between them. He ran a hand over his face, literally wiping the smile from it. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know what we are. But I do know that she’d say getting you back to 100% is the most important thing right now, and I’m 100% with her on that.”
“I wasn’t sayin’ she was right about me,” Yondu said, a little irritably. “I meant what she said about you was right. Look like you need about three showers and a week o’ sleep.”
“No, I —” Peter reached out his hand again to clutch Yondu’s. “I need to stay here and be with you. Talk to you, help jog your memories again.”
This time, Yondu did snatch his hand out from under Peter’s. “Jog, what? What in the hell are you goin’ on about, kid? See, this here’s why you need to get your head back on straight. I ain’t goin’ nowhere, so you run off and do whatever it is you gotta do to stop that jibber-jabber, treatin’ me like a – now what you grinnin’ for?”
Peter was, indeed, grinning. In fact, his grin was so wide it could brighten the darkest recesses of the galaxy. “Oh, nothing.” He stood up again from his chair and stretched, taking as long as he could on purpose. “Okay, well, if you mean it...”
“You make yourself scarce now, else I make you,” Yondu said, sounding the most Yondu he ever sounded since he’d woken.
During the next few cycles on the Quadrant, it was like Peter was set on auto-pilot. He tossed and turned in his old bunk, then woke up in a cold sweat while trying to activate his helmet. His hand grasped empty air over the drawer next to his bed that was still missing a leg, searching for the Walkman that would never be there again.
He sped through his showers, toweling off as fast as he could afterward when the ship squeezed through its three consecutive morning jumps. Bracing himself against the wall, he kept a running count in his head: four hundred twenty two, four hundred twenty one, four hundred twenty...
After getting dressed, Peter would bolt to the mess hall, which appeared much smaller than he remembered, mostly due to its much smaller group of crew members. He sat next to Gamora and quietly exchanged a few pleasantries and updates with her on both Yondu and the ship. They shared the same shape: bruised, but still going strong – and Rocket would pretend to throw up his breakfast whenever Gamora and Peter brushed hands, or sat too close. To Drax’s credit, he didn’t join in on the fake vomiting.
Gamora would keep Groot from falling into one of the water jugs after the first time he did, splashing around happily while drenching everyone in a matter of seconds. Nebula sat at the far end of the long table, ripping her bread to little pieces before devouring them while glaring at Mantis and Drax every time they urged her to join the rest of the group. It wasn’t until Gamora would say, “Nebula, please,” in a much quieter voice, that Nebula would scoot closer toward the group, an inch closer during every meal. Drax had taken over the kitchen and appointed Mantis as his apprentice, and the food they presented to the others was actually not half-bad. He even seemed proud when Mantis put down a plate of sweet, sticky K'Lantian buns that vaguely reminded Peter of doughnuts.
There were only two people missing out on all the good-natured chaos. Yondu had been given strict bed rest, and he was only allowed to shuffle to his head, a tentative arm slung around Peter’s shoulders as he wheeled his oxygen tank behind them. Peter had only allowed it when Yondu threatened to go right in his bed, after he had been given another makeshift pan. Aside from that and two assisted showers from Peter and Rocket – which resulted in lots of swearing and a very close call with one of Rocket’s explosive devices – Yondu slept, sucked on multivitamin gel packets, and grumbled to Peter about his invisible sores.
Peter tended the flame of hope in his chest as he watched Yondu switch between grousing and looking ashen as Peter told him the whole story with the orb, the Ravagers, and Ronan. It was still too early to start talking about that sorry excuse of a sperm donor, or how Yondu got mixed up in his bullshit schemes. Peter’s decision was validated when he caught the look of guilt and horror cross across Yondu’s features, as he heard what he did after the Ravagers saved Peter and Gamora outside of Knowhere.
“I smacked you ’round in front of my crew?” he whispered.
Peter hesitated. “Oh, well, it wasn’t that bad. Could’ve left a bruise, but you didn’t. Think you were doing it mostly for show.”
“You said I punched you in the gut.”
Peter shifted around in his seat. “I got a strong stomach.”
“Still.” Yondu shook his head, but at least he was mindful enough not to dislodge his mask. “That ain’t right, what I did.”
“Aw, c’mon. It’s bygones. I gave as good as I got. Mouthing back at you, making you look small in front of your crew. I should’ve come up with a better plan to begin with.”
Yondu’s red eyes still looked haunted. “Maybe you would’ve had more time to think if I wasn’t threatenin’ you with that arrow you told me ’bout. Had it pointed at your throat and everything. Hell.” He turned to look at the opposite side of the room.
Peter opened his mouth, ready to keep going, arguing his point, making Yondu see it from his side. But then he closed his mouth, bowed his head and just looked at his hands twisting in his lap for a while. He mourned his missing Walkman as he heard Yondu draw longer, deeper breaths from his tank.
“Okay,” Peter said after a minute ticked by, “to tell you the truth? Yeah, it did hurt. A lot.”
Yondu turned his head farther away from Peter, wincing.
“And for years, I couldn’t get over the fact that you made yourself out to be some sort of saint, pretending like you saved me twice a week from being eaten alive, when none of you actually were cannibals.” Well, Peter wasn’t quite sure about Taserface and his clique - he always knew there was something off about them, and had his worst fears confirmed when Rocket filled him in on their mutiny - but he wasn’t about to get into that. “So yeah, maybe it wasn’t cool. And maybe it wasn’t cool that I played you all, didn’t keep up my end of the bargain with the orb. But that’s all behind us now, Yondu. We just gotta accept it.”
His throat thick and the corners of his eye pricking, Peter was breathing as hard as Yondu.
Then, when he looked up from his hands, he saw that Yondu was facing him again, his twisted look of horror gone.
Progress, Peter thought.
“What’s this about you playin’ me and my crew?” Yondu asked, and after exhaling a sigh of relief, Peter launched into the next part of the story.
Kraglin was on the flight deck with Rocket and Groot, punching buttons and tapping screens as Peter joined them. The place was just as grimy and worn-in as every other inch on the ship, which was oddly comforting. It was like he’d never left.
“Hey,” he said after exchanging a nod with Rocket and a wave with Groot. “Kraglin, I gotta talk to you.”
“Oh, we’re almost down to three hundred more jumps,” Kraglin said, not taking his eyes away from the panels in front of him.
“No, I mean – that’s great news, but I wanted to see if...” Peter trailed off and glanced over toward Rocket and Groot, who were staring at him. Turning back toward Kraglin, Peter said, “Aren’t you even gonna talk to him?”
Kraglin was silent for a long moment, his hands working away on the controls. He switched a knob and muttered, “Don’t see no point in it no more.”
“Aw, c’mon. You know that’s not true.”
“Wait, hold on,” Rocket called out. “Why do you two get dibs on quality time with Yondu, anyway? Maybe the rest of us wanna sit with him. Give him back his arrow, which, by the way, looks even better now that I got it all fixed up.”
“Well, after one of your bombs fell right in his shower and almost blew all of us to kingdom freakin’ come, I don’t think he’s too hot on the idea of letting you back in,” Peter snapped.
“I said it was an accident!”
“I am Groot.”
“Oh, sure, take his side.”
Kraglin flicked a few switches in rapid sequence and cleared his throat. He wouldn’t look directly at Peter, more like the air beside his head, but he said, “Okay. He awake now?”
“Yeah,” Peter said, ignoring the weird way Kraglin was looking at him. “Let’s go.”
It was an awkward walk back to the Captain’s quarters, but Peter didn’t want to start prying away at Kraglin’s strange behavior for the past several cycles. He used to get like that once in a while, closing in on himself while shutting out everyone else.
It wasn’t until they made it halfway across the ship that Peter realized the times of Kraglin the Sullen happened to coincide with Yondu letting Peter join the crew on a heist, giving him flight lessons, the usual - all when Yondu was in good spirits and Peter especially wanted to prove himself.
When Kraglin and Peter finally reached Yondu’s door, Peter rubbed the back of his neck, which was no longer covered by the band of his headphones. “He’s getting better and better, but I still don’t think we should tell him anything about... you know.”
“Yeah,” Kraglin said, his gaze trained on his boots as he shuffled them. “Not the best time to hash over that.”
“He likes hearing stories about the old days,” Peter said. “Stealing stuff and escaping from the guys we stole stuff off of. And you probably have way more stuff to tell about than me, y’know, about the other Ravagers —”
“— See ya, Pete,” Kraglin said before going inside the room, the door snapping shut behind him.
Peter stood there, not knowing if he should wait around. His hands itched to go to his belt, push ‘play’ on his Walkman and hear one of his mom’s favorite songs that would always put him at ease.
But he couldn’t do that anymore. He would never be able to.
Peter sighed, and headed off in search of the others.
After checking in with Drax and Mantis – who both turned out to be a great distraction, what with their meticulous plans for the crew’s next five meals – Peter looked around for Gamora.
He half expected to see her sparring with Nebula , like he had during their second cycle on the Quadrant, when he’d walked into the dingy rec area and nearly got impaled by one of Nebula’s knives. Instead, they had their weapons sheathed and were sitting on the large mat in the far corner of the room, cross-legged and speaking to each other in low, even tones. Not wanting to bother them, Peter turned around to leave, but before he did, Gamora perked up at the sight of him, and they exchanged a small, brief smile. Peter didn’t even care when he overheard Nebula groan, “You two make me sick. Get a room and get it over with, already.” In fact, he had a spring in his step while making his way back to Yondu’s quarters.
He returned just as Kraglin was letting himself out of Yondu’s room. He was wiping his eyes with the back of his fist, using harsh, sharp movements.
“Uh...” Peter said, slowing his bouncing stride. “You okay, man?”
Kraglin looked up and lowered his clenched hand, drawing shaky breaths. “Said he didn’t recognize me,” he muttered. “I did what you said. Told him stories. Even asked him questions. Cap’n didn’t know me at all.”
Then he brushed past Peter before he could think of anything to say.
Peter was still puttering around outside Yondu’s room, trying to decide if he should let himself in, when Kraglin announced on the loudspeaker that they would be making twenty more jumps, starting in thirty seconds. He advised everyone to hang onto something and hold on for the next several minutes.
“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck,” Peter chanted as he dashed into Yondu’s room, only to find him with his eyes shut and snoring softly. Peter didnt think this was a fake-out. Clutching a support beam, he cursed again softly, wondering what had set off Kraglin to push the ship through these many jumps, and off-schedule, at that.
Nearly ten minutes later, while Peter was still whoozy from his intestines being compressed while his eyes ballooned up – he considered it a small mercy that Gamora was never with him when they jumped more than three times in a row, and was treated to a sight of Bug-Eyed Quill – he staggered back to the flight deck, a hand pressed to his roiling stomach.
“Dude, what the hell was that?” he said, before noticing that Kraglin was gone.
Peter threw a questioning look over at Rocket, who was working double time on the panels. He hopped from seat to seat as Groot cheered him on.
“Not now, Quill. I gotta make sure this here rustbucket don’t tear itself apart, after all that jumpin’.”
“Where’d he go?” Peter asked Groot. “Wait, why am I asking you?”
“The engine room!” Rocket snapped. “Now get outta here and let me do my concentratin’!”
Peter found Kraglin exactly where Rocket said he was, twisting a large valve. His back was turned to Peter, and it wasn’t until he drew closer to Kraglin that he could see his shoulders were shaking.
“Hey,” Peter said, not wanting to sneak up on his – hell, he still wasn’t entirely sure. He hadn’t actively thought of Kraglin as a brother in a while, similarly to the relationship Peter had, apparently, been oblivious to with Yondu for the past twenty-odd years. But now, since he got a second chance with Yondu, Peter figured he had another one.
Kraglin let go of the valve. He didn’t turn around after a while. “S’all my fault,” he said, his voice cracking on the last word. “I went along with the others when they did their mutiny. Didn’t think it would end up like this.”
“Hey, man, c’mon,” Peter said, taking a few cautious steps closer to him. “Don’t blame yourself. We all made some pretty shitty decisions a few days ago.” Shit, had it only been a few days? Peter thought. It barely felt longer than one. “Let’s just focus on getting him back to his old self again, okay? I know you’re trying to help, but we gotta think about everyone else on the ship, too.”
Kraglin took a long, shuddering breath, wiped his nose on his sleeve, and turned around to face Peter. Even though Kraglin’s eyes were bloodshot and filled with tears, he still stood at attention and pounded his chest with his fist twice.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Peter said, putting a hand on Kraglin’s shoulder and squeezing it. “We’ll figure things out. One way or another.”
Before he turned to go, he heard Kraglin call out softly, “Pete.”
When he looked back at Kraglin, he was digging something out of his pocket. It was a small brown device, and had dark wires wrapped around it. He hesitated, but only for a moment, before holding it out to Peter. “Cap’n said he wanted you to have this. He nicked it off some junker, said it reminded him of that music player you always dragged around.”
Peter forgot to breathe for a second as he stared down at the device. Then, when he got back his bearings, he looked up from Kraglin’s outstretched hands and said, “You sure?”
Kraglin wasn’t looking at him; instead, he was staring down at the device, running his thumb over the screen. “I’ve done things I ain’t proud of. That mutiny I took part in, s’gonna stay with me for the rest of my life. And I’m willing to admit, I was gonna keep this for myself. I thought, if he ain’t comin’ back the way he used to be, he won’t know you were supposed to have it. So I was thinkin’ it’s mine... but it ain’t.” He took one of Peter’s hands, opened up his palm, and placed the music player in it, then closed his hand around the player with both of his. “It pissed me off sometimes, whenever he was protectin’ you against the others. But I know why he did it. And I know why he wants you to have this.”
“I...” Peter said, his throat closing up before he could get the rest of his words out. He stood there, in the engine room with all its chugging and clanging in the background, along with that damn squeaking sound that drove him nuts every time he had to come down here with Tullk for check-ins. He stood with Kraglin, their hands wrapped around the small device in his palm, and for a long moment, he couldn’t think of anything to say.
Then, it finally came to him.
Kraglin looked up. “Uh uh. This is your crew. I’m just lucky none of you kicked me out, after Rocket told you ’bout what happened.”
“Nah. No more of that. Until we get Yondu back, this is your ship.” Peter lifted his other hand and patted Kraglins’. “This is... Wow.”
“Yeah,” Kraglin said, standing up a little straighter, looking more like his new title already as they unfolded their hands and he moved to Peter’s side. “Pretty cool, ain’t it? It’s a Zune. That junker said it’s what everybody’s listenin’ to on Earth now. Lots of songs on there; I’d say ’bout three hundred, give or take.”
Peter opened up his palm, displaying the Zune fully as he looked back at Kraglin in awe. “That many?”
“I know. Here, let me show you how to work it.”
Peter didn’t know quite how long they stayed in the engine room, scrolling through Kraglin’s favorite tracks as they shared the earbuds.
And, in all honesty, Peter didn’t care how much time had passed - or about that squeaking sound.
“Hey, Quill. Quill!”
Peter jerked awake, glancing around only to catch Rocket’s small frame in the dim light. By now, Peter had mastered the art of not falling out of the chair at Yondu’s bedside, but Rocket was still snickering as Yondu kept dozing in his bed.
“Surprised you haven’t melded with that chair already, the amount of time you spend in it.”
After removing his earbuds and pressing ‘stop’ on the Zune, Peter stretched his aching limbs as he peered at Rocket, noticing he had his hands behind his back. “What is it? Something wrong?” His annoyance turned to concern in a split second. “Is it Gamora? Or Groot?” It only struck him after he asked about Groot, that he realized he didn’t use to do that.
“Calm down, nothing’s the matter with anyone. I just figured it was about time I put this where it belongs.” Rocket presented the Yaka arrow from behind his back, looking very proud, and maybe a bit earnest. “Told you I fixed it. In fact, I had it good as new the day after... Y’know. Anyhow, I kept thinking eh, not the best time. But I figured, when is it gonna be the best time? So...”
Peter sat there, blinking at him for a while. “You want to give it to Yondu?” he whispered.
“Yeah. Told him about it once or twice, but he looked at me like I’d grown a second head when I tried telling him what it felt like, watching him use it. Something else, I’ll tell ya that.”
“Like magic,” Peter said, nodding in agreement. It really was ‘something else,’ watching Yondu whistle his arrow clean through the biggest, toughest thugs in the galaxy.
Rocket held the arrow in his paws as if he revered it, almost as if it were one of his inventions. “Yeah. He couldn’t believe me, way I was tellin’ it. But I guess you had to be there to believe it.”
There was something about Rocket’s last sentence that struck Peter. It was like something caught on the tip of his tongue, but before he could dwell on it, the door to the bedroom opened, and a soft, high voice called out, “Rocket!”
“Aw, crap,” he muttered, glancing up at Peter. “Pretend I’m not here,” he whispered before darting under Yondu’s bed.
Moments later, Mantis padded over to Peter on her tiptoes as Groot sat comfortably on her shoulder. “Oh, hello, Peter,” she said. “Is the puppy here?”
He didn’t quite know what to say, at first. Glad to have something to hold again, his hands grazed over the Zune’s buttons as he said, “Haven’t seen him. Why, does Groot need him for something?”
“I am Groot!” he replied, kicking his little legs against Mantis’s collarbone. It didn’t seem to bother her, though, since she gave him her crooked smile, which by now was oddly endearing.
“Well... Perhaps,” she said, and then caught herself before she continued, folding her hands in front of her as she noticed Peter’s scrutinizing gaze.
“Mantis,” he said slowly. “You don’t want to try cuddling with him again, do you?”
“No!” she said, a bit too sharply, then glanced at Yondu’s sleeping form. “Yes,” she said more quietly, and looked down at the floor guiltily.
Peter sighed. “Okay, look, I know you think he’s cute and all, but you gotta understand how he feels about it, okay? He’s not like a regular animal, and he hates... Wait.”
Staring down at his hands as they moved over the Zune, Peter’s eyes widened.
He remembered holding hands with Gamora, as Drax held onto his shoulder and held hands with Rocket, as he held the Infinity Stone in his free hand and unleashed its full force.
He thought back to how he held hands with Gamora, again, as they looked at Yondu.
He remembered Kraglin’s hands on top of his hand, closing it over the Zune.
He remembered what Rocket had said just a moment ago.
And then, Peter smiled.
“I got it,” he whispered, sitting stunned in his seat, his smile growing wider and wider as Mantis looked at him with growing concern.
This was better than when he conjured a ball of light, when he first realized he was a god. This was better than anything Eternity had to offer.
“You got what?” Rocket asked, peeking out from under Yondu’s bed.
“I knew you were here!” Mantis cried down at him.
“I am Groot!”
“What in the hell is...” Yondu mumbled, groaning and shifting around in his bed. “What’s goin’ on?”
Peter stowed away the Zune in his pants pocket and jumped up out of his seat, taking Mantis’s hand in his. “I know what to do. I figured it out,” he said, the words spilling out so quickly, it was like he couldn’t get them out fast enough. “Can you help?”
Her antennae glowed, and she began to jump up at down. Groot slid about on her shoulder and gripped onto her hair as an anchor.
“Yes, I can help!” she said, her voice getting louder.
Peter started jumping with her. “Man, I am so glad we met you! And got you off that stupid planet!”
“Me too!” she yelled. “It was so stupid!”
“I need a drink,” Rocket muttered, crawling out from under the bed as Groot jumped from Mantis’s shoulder onto Rocket’s.
“Rocket!” Peter called out to him, “Bring everyone back here! They gotta see this!”
“See what?” Yondu said, rubbing his eyes. “You two actin’ like idiots?”
“No, Yondu,” Peter said, breaking away from Mantis and looking right at him. “They’re gonna see us help you get your memory back.”
When everyone was finally gathered around Yondu’s bed, Peter pulled his chair as close as he could near Yondu as Mantis stood on the opposite side. Just the mere sight of Yondu tugged at Peter’s heartstrings for the... hell, he lost count by now. Yondu was trying to look tough, as always, but there were hints of fear and confusion that shone in his eyes, a stark contrast to the confident, ornery, and yeah, lovable Yondu that Peter had remembered, but never fully realized until - well.
“Hope this works,” he whispered to no one in particular.
“Whatever happens,” Gamora said, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, “We’ll be here with you.”
He looked up at her, exchanging a warm, comforting smile.
Then, after her hand slipped off his shoulder, he turned back to face Mantis, and he nodded.
“Okay. Let’s get started.”
Peter and Mantis reached across the bed to hold each other’s hands. Then, after a moment of hesitation, Yondu slowly stretched out his arms to grasp onto Mantis’s with his left hand, Peter with his right.
“Concentrate hard,” she murmured to Peter. “Slow down your thoughts.”
Peter braced himself for one of Rocket’s snide insults, but to his surprise and relief, it never came. He closed his eyes, and breathed deeply.
“Focus on a single moment in time. Replay it in your mind, as if you were still there. Be there. Forget about everything and everyone around you. Let him feel what you felt.
“And please remember, don’t let go.”
After taking another long, slow breath, Peter Quill took his real father into the past.
There was green all around him: plants, thick moss that covered the red ground into which his small boots sank, and especially the leaves that slapped his face and arms as he dashed with all the energy his little legs could muster.
Light from the planet’s twin suns streamed down through cracks of the canopy, though he might as well not have needed the light since there wasn’t any path. Streaks of crimson gleamed through the dark green moss underfoot. He almost slipped a few times on the moss or tripped over a tree root, but his agile feet and spiked boots kept him from falling.
As he panted and his heart raced, Peter came across a clearing in the woods. Small, feathered reptiles that had been sunning themselves slithered away as he barged into the open area, a circular respite from the plantlife that seemed to engulf the entire planet.
Instead of continuing to race right through, Peter skidded to a halt, gasping for air and doubling over, splaying his hands on his knees. He spent a few minutes catching his breath as his vision blurred in front of him. Then, when his breathing started to even out despite the thick, humid atmosphere, he tenderly lifted one hand to his cheek, and winced. A whimper may or may not have slipped out. He’d never tell a soul if it had.
Get over it, Terran, he told himself, only the voice in his head sounded a lot like... him.
Right. Straightening again and wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, Peter took in his surroundings. He hated that voice, but it had the right idea. He had to get over it, and keep going.
Only problem was, he didn’t know which direction to take off in again. Suddenly, he wasn’t sure where he’d come from. The trees were so close together and the foliage was so thick, it was like he’d never trampled his way through the growth. He circled around a few times, trying to find his entrance path so he could go the opposite way, but no luck.
He was starting to feel dizzy after spinning around so much, and anyway, it’d be better for him to keep moving, rather than stay stuck in one place. He’d need to find a water source, and soon. The side pouch on his belt had a limited amount. Peter cursed silently when he thought about the backpack he’d left on the ship. He hadn’t been thinking about it when he fled from the ship, but he couldn’t waste time nursing his wounds and regrets.
Squaring his shoulders, he decided to pick a direction at random. Planting his boots firmly in the red soil, Peter readied himself, drawing in a long breath as he gathered his remaining energy.
Ready... he thought, set... And GO!
Peter took off again, aiming directly for an opening between two thick, hundred-foot tall trees.
But he never got to slip through them.
Before he could, an arrow zipped through the air right in front of his nose, embedding itself between the trees and followed by a blur of red, as well as a high-pitched shriek.
Peter halted right in his tracks, his eyes widening as he stared right at the arrow which barred his way. He nearly ran right into it – good thing his reflexes were fast.
What was not so good was that he knew what was coming next.
More specifically, who.
“Shit,” he muttered. He turned to sprint in the other direction. Maybe the Yaka arrow was stuck so deep inside the wood, it’d take forever to free itself and give him enough chance to give it the slip.
Peter barely made it two steps before bumping right into Yondu’s chest, and bounced right off it, landing on the forest’s green and red floor.
For a second, it was like those cartoons Peter got up early to watch on Saturday mornings. Like he was Tom the cat or Wile E. Coyote, his eyes rolling around in their sockets as a circle of birds danced above his head.
As he lay there, waiting for his double vision to return to normal, he was vaguely aware of Yondu striding around him to yank his arrow out of the tree. He got it out with one pull, putting to rest any hopes that Peter had of outrunning it.
Maybe things ain’t all that bad, he was starting to think as Yondu quietly, casually, went back around to face him. The ringing began to subside in Peter’s ears as he lifted himself up on his elbows, and he looked up at the tall, stark contrast Yondu cut against the halo of forest green surrounding him.
Maybe Yondu would give him a break, after all.
“What the hell you think you’re doin’, boy?” Yondu shouted, sending more small creatures scattering in all directions. “Got me chasin you through one of the most dangerous forests in the galaxy! Had me thinkin’ you’d gone and got yourself sucked up by one of ’em sinkholes ’round here. Shit don’t leave not even a hair on your tiny little head behind. Well? Speak up, then. What you gotta say for yourself?”
Peter hawked a loogie and spit it off to the side, trying to look tough even though he was this close to bursting into tears. “I’m done, Yondu. Don’t want to be a stinkin’ Ravager no more.”
As he threw his fiercest glare up at Yondu, the old man – who maybe wasn’t really that old, he just acted like it – shouldered his arrow, sucking his teeth for a moment.
“Is that right?” he asked softly, and Peter nodded.
For a moment, Yondu looked like he’d actually give in this time and let Peter run off to fend for himself. It wouldn’t bother Peter, nope, not one bit. He was hoping Yondu would finally get it through that thick skull of his to leave. Just like Peter’s daddy had left him, before he was born. It was only a matter of time, really.
Then, Yondu tilted his head to the side. His returning glare shifted away from Peter’s eyes, down toward his cheek.
“Who did that to you?” he asked.
Sighing, Peter looked to the side as he muttered, “That no good, rotten Taserface. He stole my Walkman, so I kicked him in the ’nads. Made him go down hard, but not ’fore he got me back.” Without thinking about it, Peter’s hand strayed toward his slightly swollen cheek. He wondered what color the bruise would be. “And he didn’t tell me where he hid it. Knew he’d kill me if I stayed on the ship, so I ran. ’N that’s why I’m done.”
Yondu was silent for a long moment. Peter started to get uncomfortable in his half-seated position on the forest floor, red soil getting all over his clothes. He began dusting it off himself, when he saw a large, blue hand extending out toward him.
“Get up, Mr. Quill,” he said. “Need to show you somethin’.”
Peter hesitated, then, out of sheer curiosity, he took Yondu’s hand.
Yondu cut an impressive path through the forest as Peter followed in his wake. Yondu periodically stuck out an arm to halt him before he was about to run into a giant arachnid’s web, a scorpion-like creature’s nest, or whenever there was an unusually large patch of red soil tinged with orange. It wasn’t until this trek that Peter realized that, while the place was beautiful in its own way, it was also super dangerous. He’d been lucky he lasted as long as he did.
Finally, Yondu stopped when they came across another, much larger clearing, and Peter drew up next to him.
Then, Peter gasped.
Across the clearing, there was a gigantic - well, Peter didn’t know what kind of animal he could compare it to on Earth. It was some weird mixture of a crab, armadillo, and badger. He’d never seen anything like it before - and he was glad he hadn’t. It was gross, is what it was.
More importantly, it was digging around the upturned roots of a tree stump. When Peter took a step closer, he could see that there were several small creatures inside, crying out as the crab-dillo-badger tried to get at them.
“Hey!” Peter yelled, but Yondu put a hand on his shoulder. Peter turned to look at him as he put a finger to his lips, and then, he unhooked his blaster and held it up for Peter.
He stopped breathing for a moment. “Really?” he asked, and he swore Yondu was smiling.
He took the blaster carefully. It was a lot heavier than it looked. Finger curling around the trigger, he aimed it directly at the beast trying to make its way toward the helpless babies, but Yondu put a hand over the top of the blaster.
“Oh,” Peter whispered as Yondu clicked the safety button.
“You’ll just piss it off if you go firin’ at it willy nilly,” Yondu said, so softly Peter could barely hear him. He lifted the gun a bit, adjusting it so that Peter was aiming at the one soft, vulnerable fleshy spot between the monstrous creature’s neck and its backplates. It growled and headbutted the tree stump, uprooting it even more and finally uncovering the baby animals.
“Make it count,” Yondu said as he stood at Peter’s side. “When you’re ready... Shoot.”
Everything seemed to slow down, all the forest’s sounds, the ferocious roar and subsequent cries of fright. His heart thumping in his ears, Peter held the blaster steady, keeping his aim true.
And he fired.
Then, reality seemed to catch up with itself, almost doubling in time to make up for the moment it practically stood still. The beast fell over, groaning, and picked itself up to make a beeline out of the clearing. Just as the last of its tail slithered through the leaves and soil, the babies’ mother, a spotted squirrel-cat combination, bounded over to the stump and darted under its roots.
A split-second later, she crawled back out into view, her babies clinging onto her back. She stopped, staring at Peter and Yondu for a moment, and then disappeared off into the trees.
Peter’s hand was starting to shake. He lowered the gun, then handed it back to Yondu.
He shook his head. “That’s yours now, boy. You earned it.”
Peter stared at him in awe. “Really?”
Yondu clapped him on the back. “Always gonna be bullies wherever you go. Sometimes runnin’ seems like the only option there is. Those times, though? They just might be the best time to stand your ground, and fight for what’s most important to you.”
“So I should’ve kept kicking Taserface ’til he told me where my Walkman is?” Peter ask brightly.
Yondu chuckled. “Nah, he would’ve turned you into puddin’ if you kept at it. But if there’s a next time – and I’ll have a little talk with our friend to make sure there ain’t one – now you got some leverage on the bigger guy.”
“I...” Peter swallowed thickly, blinking back tears. “Thanks, Yondu.”
Before, Peter had been scared shitless of Yondu’s teeth – especially with all that talk about throwing Peter in a stew if he didn’t stop running his mouth. But now, when Yondu was displaying his chipped, crooked teeth in a beaming gin, Peter didn’t think he looked so scary, after all.
“Come on,” he said, turning him around by the shoulder and guiding him out of the clearing. “Let’s get back that music box of yours.”
Peter slowly opened his eyes, transported back to the present. Everyone was still crowded around the bed, as still as a painting, watching him and Yondu.
Mantis dropped her hands and folded them neatly as her antennae slowly dimmed.
But Peter focused on only one person in the room, the person lying in his large bed with an oxygen mask strapped to his face.
His eyes were open too, and tears were streaming from it.
Slowly, with a trembling hand, Yondu removed the mask from his face. His breath was still ragged and carried a slight wheeze. He still looked too weak to walk, or whistle, or stride through forests full of death traps and walkways filled with mutinous crewmembers, like he owned everything in the galaxy.
But he was smiling that same crooked Yondu smile, and it outshone even the smallest sliver of Ego’s damned Light.
“I mean it,” Peter grumbled, “I don’t care if he’s Captain, Kraglin is so off jump duty.”
“How do you know that was Kraglin?” Gamora asked, walking with him side-by-side toward the flight deck of the Quadrant. “Could’ve been Rocket.”
“He said he knows better than anyone not to jump a bunch of times at once.” Peter rubbed his stomach. “It was definitely Kraglin. Nearly lost my lunch this time, and it’d have been a waste after all that hard work Drax and Mantis put into the soup.”
“I know, I saw your face afterward. And while it happened.” Gamora quirked one of her silver brows as they finally got to the deck’s entrance.
Peter’s face flushed with embarrassment. “Yeah, well, I saw yours, too,” he said a bit defensively.
“I didn’t mean it like it was a bad thing,” she said, rolling her eyes. “It’s a little funny, when you think about it.”
“Funny? To you? Who are you, and what’ve you done with Gamora?” he asked.
She shook her head, though he noticed she was smiling a little. “Trust me, I’ve seen a lot worse when you drank too much A'askavariian ale.”
“Oh,” he said, his face growing even hotter when he had a brief, vague flashback of getting up on a bar table and lip synching The Piña Colada Song to Gamora.
Her face grew serious again. “So... after that round, that only leaves twelve more jumps.”
“Yup. Then it’ll be doctors, and IVs, and hospital visits, and – yeah. Can’t wait for all that.”
Gamora took one of his hands and held it in hers. “Nebula and I still have a lot of things to work through, and I want to take Mantis around Xandar. But whenever you need me, just let me know, and I’ll be there.”
Peter nodded, looking down at their intertwined hands, marveling at how natural it looked, how she’d just reached for him like it was no big deal, and he was squeezing her hand back despite the fact that they had both just seen each other’s faces melt and turn into balloons. “Thanks.”
She gave him another smile - this time it was a small, comforting one - and then, after a moment of gathering herself, she said, “Peter, I - that ‘unspoken thing’ you talked about earlier...”
“Uh, yeah, that,” he said, lifting his hand up and out of hers so he could rub the back of his burning neck. “You know what, it’s fine. We can just forget it. I was being a jerk to you, and the whole place was getting to me, and that crapsack was making me think all sorts of weird things, and I —”
Gamora stepped closer to him, putting her finger over his lips. “— Peter. It’s okay. I was going to say you were right.”
“I was?” he asked, his words muffled around Gamora’s finger. “About being a jerk?”
She let out a small, soft laugh. “Well, that too. And we’ll have time to discuss it more later, but for now, yes. There is an unspoken thing.”
He grinned widely at her. His instinct was to make some stupid joke, or go in for a kiss like on Knowhere, but he squashed his urges and just let them be in the moment.
Gamora seemed to notice that, and basked in the moment with him. Then, shaking herself a bit out of her reverie, she nudged him with her shoulder. “Now, go check on your father. He’s been waiting for you.”
Peter watched her as she walked back toward her room, and he allowed himself a brief moment to sigh happily. He may or may not have fistpumped the air.
Then, he went out on the flight deck.
Rocket, Kraglin, and Groot were there like always, the first two turning knobs and tapping screens as the latter looked on from his perch on Rocket’s shoulder. Peter exchanged a tiny high-five with Groot as he passed by, going toward the front where Yondu was sitting in a makeshift wheelchair, wearing his oxygen mask and staring at the vast expanse of space.
“’Sfunny,” Yondu said, lifting his mask a bit as Peter stood next to him, “none of it looks familiar. But it feels like it is. Don’t make any sense, does it?”
“It does,” Peter said, looking out across the galaxy and noticing the patterns on a nearby planet that signaled just how close they were to Xandar. Turning to Yondu, he said, “How you holding up?”
After lowering his mask back in place, Yondu put both his hands on the chair’s giant wheels, rolling himself back and forth a bit. “Still tryin’ to get this blasted thing to steer right, for one thing,” he said. “Other’n that, I dunno. Figure it’s best that I take things one moment at a time. Rocket’s been doin’ all he can: fixin’ me up with this here chair, givin’ me back my arrow, and sharin’ his memories with Mantis’s help. Kraglin, too. Says him and Rocket are gonna send word out to all the other Ravagers I knew, so’s I can meet all of them when I’m good and ready.”
“Really?” Peter said, looking back toward Rocket as he shifted gears and had a running conversation with both Groot and Kraglin. “Kraglin doesn’t surprise me, but that’s... wow. I’m glad to hear that about Rocket.”
Yondu let go of the wheels fastened to his chair, and settled them on the thick blanket over his lap. “I know there’s things you been keepin’ from me,” he said, slowly and with a lot of weight to his words as he bowed his head. “Things I ain’t sure I’m quite ready to hear yet.” He lifted his head and looked up at Peter, his eyes still wide and vulnerable, though there was a hint of recognition there now. “But I’ll be ready, one day. And then, maybe I can understand why you didn’t give up on me.”
Peter opened his mouth to protest, to pour out a litany of excuses, to deflect. He was filled with so many words, none of them seemed right in the moment.
So, instead, he closed his mouth, took out the Zune from his pocket, and handed an earbud to Yondu. He took it with a curious, almost doubtful expression, then put the bud in his ear as Peter put the other one in his, turned on the Zune, and scrolled to a song he’d been listening to a lot lately.
Just as Cat Steven’s voice started to flow out through the earbuds, Peter felt something tugging on his pants leg. He looked down and saw Groot raising his arms toward Peter.
Yondu had turned around as well to look at Groot. Chuckling, he said, “Hey, Twig.”
Peter bent down to put Groot on his shoulder. He took out his earbud and let Groot hold it at an angle where they could both listen to it at once.
Then, Peter rested a hand on Yondu’s shoulder, and as ‘Father and Son’ played on the Zune, they looked out toward the stars.