When Yondu took the job to ‚return a wayward son‘, he assumed he’d be bringing some sulky, barely legal asshole with daddy issues home to his longsuffering father.
He didn’t expect the kid to be barely more than a babe, with a shiner and a crying jag to boot.
The kid screamed when he saw the crew and promptly scrambled into the farthest corner of the cargo bay, wedged in a nook no adult could follow into.
It took three hours to get him out and he bit Horuz twice in the process and damn near managed to kick Yondu in the family jewels. They threw him into an empty bunk and locked the door after shoving a temporary translator onto his neck, hoping he’d tire himself out enough to be reasonable.
And he did. Sort of. Once the kicking and screaming died down, they were left with a glassy-eyed mute who flinched every time someone tried to touch him and refused to move out from under the bed.
Yondu threatened. He bribed. He cajoled. He damn near begged and a Ravager Captain does not beg.
He’s dealt with all kinds of terrified kids before. Kraglin, skinny bastard, was a slave before he became crew. Mali was a war orphan. Hass was a street rat. He got them all to eat out of his hand and today, they’re the most loyal crew money can’t buy. Family, rather than subordinates.
But this damn Terran kid beats him. He’s been on the ship forty-eight hours and Yondu knows barely anything about him. Half-Terran, yes, obviously hurt and traumatized, yes. That’s all. Food doesn’t work. Toys don’t work. He stopped shivering quite so hard when they gave him back his bag, but he didn’t budge from under the bed.
Sure, Yondu could pull him out, but that’d only end in more screaming, he can tell. And he has no intention of traumatizing the cargo. The trip to get the kid delivered is going to take them at least four months, if they go in a straight line, and that’s too damn long. At this rate, he’ll either be delivering a gibbering wreck, or a corpse. And everyone knows, corpses only pay on Naroon.
Bad for business, for his rep as a reliable deliverer of good, and most of all, for his ability to sleep well. Yondu doesn’t know a whole lot about Terran young, but he knows enough to read this one’s eyes and they spell pain, grief and fear.
He saved Kraglin from slavers, saved Mali from prostitution or worse, saved Hass, too. Protected them from the dregs of the universe, from their worst nightmares. Yondu Udonta isn’t a good man, but he’s not the monster children dream about.
He needs to get that babe to trust him, if he wants him unbroken by the time they arrive at their destination. Needs him to trust that Yondu will not hurt him more than necessary. And for that, he needs help.
Damn it all to Knowhere and back, he needs help.
The first time Yondu Udonta met Buffy Summers, she was so new to the galaxy, her translation implant still wasn’t fully healed.
Two of his crew were about to rape her in a dark alley and Yondu had to pull them off and blast both of them in the gonads to get them to stand the fuck down before getting Krall and the others to drag them to the brig.
He offered the girl, blonde, tiny, humie-shaped, a hand up. She glared at it. “Right. Because you’re such a nice guy.”
Yondu shook his head and stepped back. “Never claimed to be. But I don’t tolerate what they just tried to do, sweetheart.” He added teeth at the end, lips pulled back taut.
Three rules among Ravagers. Only three. One: don’t harm crew. Two: don’t steal from crew. Three: Choice. No slaves, no whores, and damn sure no rape among Ravagers. Property of all kind is fair game. Bodies are not.
The scarred crest that was all that was left of his fin was a steady, aching reminder of that. Choice. Agency.
“They’ll regret their choices,” he assured her and she finally let herself be helped to her feet. “New around here?”
She shrugged. “Looking for a ship out of here. I need to go home.”
“And where’s that?” he asked, only mildly curious. For her implant to be this new, she had to be from the very edges of known space. Boring.
But then she went and said, “Earth.”
He laughed. “Girl, you’re trying to get all the way across the galaxy. Ain’t no-one gonna take you that far. Best you’re gonna get is a port or two at a time.”
She rolled her shoulders and sent him a wry smile, battered and dirty and entirely unafraid of a man who’d just almost murdered two of his own crew. Against his will, Yondu liked her. “Let me guess, you’re going my way?”
“I need your help,” he starts, as soon as the screen comes online.
Buffy… laughs. Then she stops, squints. “Repeat that.”
Yondu grinds his teeth. “You heard me.”
“Yes. And I want to hear it again.”
She looks good, the smug bitch. Still wearing Ravager red, years after having left his crew. Her hair’s longer, her skin more tan than when he last saw her, but she doesn’t have the decency to look even a little less hot than she used to. Yondu hates her.
He rolls his eyes. Sighs. “I need your help.”
She was useless. With technology. With hardware. With software. In the galley. In the engine room. In the cargo bay. On the bridge.
A week after picking her up, Yondu couldn’t wait to get rid of her. Pretty she may have been, spunky to boot, but he’d never met anyone as unfit for life in space as Buffy. She didn’t even know how to use a Unit card, for fuck’s sake! Nothing but the clothes on her back to pay with, and useless as a worker.
He fully intended to drop her at their next stop, halfway to where he’d agreed to take her. She was taking up air, space and food and he was getting nothing in return. She wouldn’t like him reneging on their deal, but since the alternative was firing her out of an airlock, well, she’d understand.
And then there was the screwed trade-off, the ambush, and the breathtaking beauty that was Buffy with a knife. Buffy in motion. Two dozen men against five and she took down half of them without more than a pocket knife.
Standing there afterward, spattered with blue blood, chest heaving and hands still balled into fists, she was the most beautiful thing Yondu had seen since his home world had gone up in flames, and the entirety of his tribe with it.
She looked at him, then, with her eyes gone dark and her cheek bleeding red, red, red, and despite the fact that half his men had aimed their weapons at her out of sheer reflex, she wasn’t the least bit afraid.
He kept her.
“So, let me get this straight. You abducted a Terran kid from his home world, locked him into a bunk and left him there. For two days and counting. With nothing but a blanket, some food he probably doesn’t recognize and the bag he had with him. And now you want me to come and fix it for you?”
He sighs, rubs at his face, regrets all the life choices that brought him to this point in his life, where he has to say ‘please’ to her of all people. “I didn’t know he’s a runt. But yeah. Pretty much.”
She smacks a hand flat on her console. “So bring him back!”
“I made a deal. He’s going back to his father. I just need you to get him to shut up for the trip.”
Because the kid is cargo. Don’t go forgetting about that, Yondu, now matter how the pathetic, sniveling sobs sound. Besides, what’s he going to do? Keep him? Space is no place for weaklings and the Eclector even less.
It’s her turn to roll her eyes. “Any parent who sends a bunch of mercs to pick up their young son from across the galaxy instead of going themselves? Not actually a parent, Yondu. Take him home.”
He scrubs a frustrated hand over his fin. The runt didn’t say much of anything, but some of the hiccupped hysterics were pretty clear, after an hour of listening to them on repeat. “He’s an orphan.”
Buffy’s gaze softens and the Captain hates her for being able to read him so well. “Aw, crap,” she mutters, hands already on her consoles. “I’ll be there in… two day cycles. Just feed and water him and leave it at that, yeah? And keep Krall away from him, he’s terrifying. Hell, keep everyone away from him. You guys aren’t exactly Care Bears.”
He doesn’t understand the reference, but he nods anyway. She snaps shut the vid with a negligent wave.
Kraglin immediately leans over the Captain’s console. “The Missus coming home?”
Yondu whistles. Just once. Sharply. Kraglin scrambles.
He didn’t mean to keep her.
Yondu never means to keep any of his strays, but especially not gorgeous, useless, violent girls who have no respect and no fear of him.
But there they were, a month after they met, at the port he’d promised to take her to and she stood on the ramp, staring out onto the busy loading docks. The few things she’d acquired – most of them won off the crew at cards before they wised up to her ways – in a ratty knapsack over one shoulder. The knife, the only thing she’d gotten fairly, by trading for it, was trapped to her left thigh. She looked wilder than when he’d met her, harder and older, like he and his Ravagers had already rubbed off on her, tainted her in their way. She smiled like Yondu now, all her teeth on display.
“You know,” she said, conversationally, without looking at him, gaze fixed on lazy dock workers, smoking a few feet away. She sounded scared. “I have no idea how to survive out there.”
Yondu said nothing, because Yondu knew.
“I fell out of a damn portal three days before I met you. The only reason I even had the implant was because of sheer dumb luck and a lot of violence. If you hadn’t found me, I’d have been in jail within the hour. If you hadn’t found me…”
He knew. She was harder now, dirtier than she’d been, but she wasn’t made for this ‘verse. She’d been something, before she’d landed in his lap, something good. Something too soft for his world.
“So don’t go out there,” he said. Made it sound like it was all the same to him.
She turned. Cocked her head to one side, smirking a little. “You know I’m not rolling over for you like your deranged fan club, right?” She hooked her thumb over her shoulder at where a teenage Kraglin and Hass were watching them avidly, even now. They thought they were well hidden, but they really weren’t. Yondu made a mental note to whoop their asses and have Mali teach them some proper sneaking.
He clenched his jaw. “Give it time,” he drawled. Smirked right back.
She rolled her eyes.
He’d never admit it, but the Missus is coming home. She’s not his wife, isn’t his anything, really, except for when she is, but the whole crew sure acts like she’s the queen of the hive.
Yondu’s death threats and occasional, well-placed kicks never seem to motivate his people to do much more housekeeping than not dropping their shit where they stand. But as soon as Kraglin spreads the word that Buffy’s coming, they all get to their knees and scrub the damn decks, like fucking cleaning fairies, or something.
He nudges one of them with his boots, asks, “What are you doing, idiot?”
It’s his First Mate, sitting on a crate and cackling, who answers the question. “Buffy gets cranky when things’re messy, Captain.”
“I get cranky when things are messy. Never seems to interest you assholes.”
Kraglin cackles some more. “You don’t aim for the squishy bits, Captain.”
Yondu gives up with an angry grunt, goes to check on the kid instead. Babe’s exhausted himself crying and hiding, but as soon as he tries to lay a hand on the runt, he’s back in full swing.
Best not to touch him.
He keeps a list of things about Buffy. Not anything specific, just things. The same way he keeps lists about all of his people.
Hass is allergic to certain nuts and Mali can’t swim. Krall has an entire laundry list of planets he can’t set foot on anymore and Horuz has a weakness for a certain candy he’d murder and die for. Useful things, good things, bad things. Necessary things.
Buffy is not from this galaxy. He doesn’t know where she comes from, but even after a decade here, she still sometimes acts like a little child, completely clueless. She ages too slowly to be Terran, even though she claims she is. She moves faster than most races, except perhaps Kree. She loves music, loves dancing and hates it when he puts money above morals, although she’s gotten better – worse – with that, over the years.
She used to cry at night and take stupid risks.
She doesn’t anymore.
At least, not where he can see and punch her for it.
She always punches back.
She thrives on violence and when she lets herself go, really go, she’s the most gorgeous, bloody thing he’s seen since his people used to go to war with their fins flared and their weapons glowing, teeth bared.
He thinks that if he were a halfway decent person, and she a little less damaged, they might be good together.
(He thinks that if he were a halfway decent person, he would have let go, that day on the station, would have sent her far away before her blood turned a darker, Ravager red.)
He never tells her that.
She arrives earlier than planned, punches him in the gut and then marches past, all golden-red fury in tight leather, never breaking her stride, even as he wheezes and holds his belly. She dumps her weapons belt on Krall, pecks him on the cheek and lets herself into the kid’s temporary bunk.
Yondu palms the comm to transmit and leans against the corridor wall.
“Hey there, kiddo,” she says, softly. He can hear her move, lying down on the floor. Krall slides down the wall, weapons in his lap, listens, too.
“The big, blue guy called. Thought you might be less scared of me than him and his friends.”
Silence. “He’s not so bad, you know. Once you’ve gotten used to his constant yelling, and threats and figured out that he’s got a huge, squishy heart inside. He pretends he doesn’t, but he’s all bubblegum on the inside. And he won’t let anyone here hurt you.”
Two minutes and the kid is talking to her.
Buffy laughs. “Course you aren’t. Big kid like you. You wanna come out of there?”
“They kidnapped me.”
Buffy snorts. “Yeah. That.”
She never went back to Terra.
He offered once, drunk, sentimental and fucking stupid, but she shook her head, something like fear in her eyes.
He left her alone, understanding that sometimes you can’t go back. Every Ravager had a past. He made a point of finding out about it and then forgetting all the details. Didn’t matter.
She accepted Ravager red three months later.
In the end, it’s Buffy’s inexplicable ability to sing something called ‘the Coconut song’ from beginning to end that gets the kid out of his bolt hole and into open space.
If the inside of her Ravager coat can be called ‘open’. He presses his face into her side hard enough that Yondu wouldn’t be surprised to find an impression there later, but he walks where she leads and occasionally peeks at his surroundings.
And when Kraglin tries to ruffle his hair, he bares his teeth and snaps at him.
Yondu is starting to like the kid.
She gets him to eat sitting at a table and when exhaustion finally claims him, she’s ready to catch him, something soft and tender in her expression that Yondu didn’t think she was capable of. Not because she’s cruel – he credits himself with most of her cruelty – but because after a decade of living in the black, she should know better.
She plucks the cargo up into her arms effortlessly, even though he’s not that much shorter than her, and gently cradles his head in the crook of her shoulder before making her way out of the main room that serves as their dining hall when it’s not their rec room, meeting room or observation deck. Pulled as on a string, Yondu follows, palming open doors for her.
The kid looks tiny against the bed she shoves him into, his ginger hair and weird skin spots – freckles – making him seems comical. He’s skinny and tiny and weak and presses his face into the sheets like he can make this all a dream. Buffy sits down next to him, stripping off her jacket and the knives she didn’t leave with Krall earlier. Settling in.
Yondu leans against the closed door, watching her scoot backwards until her back hits the wall, tugging the red mop of hair into her lap.
“He’s cargo,” he repeats, a warning in his voice that he knows she will ignore. She’s a Ravager now, but she was something else first and all the violence and brutality of their lifestyle never quite managed to erase that.
“He’s an eight year old boy who lost his mother only minutes before your kidnapped him from his home world,” she counters.
“To bring him to his father.”
“Who paid you to pick him up like cargo.”
“Who cares enough to fork over seven mil on delivery.”
She shrugs, tangling her fingers in the boy’s hair. “So he’s an asshole with money. Still an asshole. Just take him back home, Yon.”
“No,” he says, “Captain’s order.”
Green eyes cold, she hisses, “Asshole.”
The first time she kissed him was after he entered the ship of another band of mercs and killed every single living thing, right down to the ship’s pet, for trying to fuck him over. No-one cheats a Ravager and especially not Yondu Fucking Udonta.
Twenty-three sentient beings dead by his arrow in under ninety seconds. Not the first time he did something like that, but the first she watched.
She held it in until she was sure they were alone. Then she hauled back and punched him so hard, he thought he was five again for a moment, caught stealing food for a sick friend. He punched back, more reflex than actual intent and then they were fighting, banging each other into walls, and all the while she was screaming about how much of a monster he was, how much of an asshole, and how she should kill him, just goddamn kill him and rid the world of scum like him.
“Then why don’t you?” he barked at her, because they both knew she could have. She was fast enough to dodge his arrow and get him while he was still turning it around for a second attack.
She kissed him. Instead of answering, she kissed him like she meant to bite his face off and he hoisted her up, slammed her back into the nearest wall, fingers digging bruises into her thighs, and didn’t let her go until they were both naked, panting, sweating and fucking with teeth and nails and hate, still half-fighting, really.
He ended up with his shoulders scratched to hell and his hips bruised from her powerful legs, she bore a spectacular necklace of mottled purple from his lips and teeth, and when she bucked them off the wall and into the metal-grated floor he pulled on her hair hard enough to draw blood, even as his back protested with a flare of pain.
It was the best sex Yondu had had in a decade.
Afterwards, they lay flat on their backs, side by side, chests heaving, bruises smarting. They stared at the ceiling, both of them, like strangers on a shuttle, ignoring each other, nothing here to see. Scraped raw by each other.
After an eternity, she raked a hand through her rat’s nest of hair, sighed.
“Because you’re the only thing I know in this damn universe,” she finally whispered, tired and more disappointed than angry.
He almost felt sorry for her.
“I should just take him back myself,” she announces, three days later, watching Kraglin teach the babe how to throw a proper punch. He didn’t want to at first, cried and mewled about not wanting to hurt anyone, but Kraglin goaded him until his face was a red as his hair and off they were.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Yondu says, conversationally, leaning beside her by the airlock. He knows it’s true. Ravagers don’t steal from Ravagers, because when they do, they get outcast at best and dead at worst. And, let’s face it, it’s always worst. Except with Buffy, maybe, because she’s crafty enough to get away from a fleet of angry mercs, but she’d be alone.
For all that she likes to fly about in her M-Ship and pretend she’s all independent and on her own, she’s really not. She wears Ravager insignia and uses all the heft that affords her when things get dirty, slinging around names and threats with the best of them.
And she always knows where to come home to.
She kicks at the metal plating of the airlock with one foot, angrily. “Damn it, Yondu,” she snaps, loud enough to make the kids jump, turning weary gazes on her. She hisses under her breath and continues more quietly, “That boy is a living, breathing, sentient human being, and you are treating him like cattle. You are selling him, Yondu. Ravagers don’t sell people.”
He glares at her, looks away. “I’m returning him. Not the same damn thing.”
She finds him, that night, and it feels like the first time, with her all bitingly angry at him and him getting pissed right back, for questioning his authority, for daring to speak up, for being beautiful and wicked and almost entirely his creation.
Afterwards she falls asleep, but this time not beside him, but on top, around, under. Familiarity in every line of her and Yondu finds himself watching her sleep. His kind doesn’t sleep nearly as much as most others and usually he gets bored at night, but not tonight.
Her hair is darker than it was when he found her, her skin lighter from the endless darkness of space, despite her recent acquisition of something like a tan. Her face looks the same. A few more pounds on her bones, a few more curves. Many new scars, all fainter than they should be. Her left elbow is bandaged from a scuffle she didn’t bother telling him about. There is a tattoo on her left shoulder, a mess of symbols. Terran, he thinks, but not any language his implant recognizes. It’s new but it looks old. Settled in already. Peculiar things, tattoos. Never understood the point of them.
Her forehead furrows suddenly, as if in thought, in confusion. He tightens his grip on her waist, hums lowly. She settles. She trusts him.
Yondu doesn’t love her. He hasn’t loved anyone since his planet burned and slavers cut off his fin to make him docile.
“Dawnie…,” she mutters, a name he’s heard before, nightmare plea for someone long gone.
He doesn’t want to love her. Not anymore than she wants to love him. Unnecessary complication, love. He shushes her again, like a child. Closes his eyes.
Opens them again a moment later, when the soft pitter-patter of little feet outside his quarters draws his attention.
Only one set of feet that small around here. He untangles himself, stops long enough to pull on pants and then sets off to follow the kid into the rec room. He’s curled up under one of the tables, back to the wall, eyes red from crying.
“Get out from under there, boy,” Yondu says, not unkindly.
He gets a watery snarl in response, where, a week ago, he would have gotten only whimpers. “Where’s Buffy?”
“Asleep. Why aren’t you?”
The kid throws him the stink eye, despite the fact that he’s shaking like a leaf. He reminds Yondu of Kraglin.
“Nightmares,” is the answer, surprisingly straight forward. He thought he’d have to pull it out of the runt. For a moment, Yondu considers leaving him there and going to wake Buffy.
But she’s been looking after his cargo for the past week and the woman gets damn vicious when woken up too early. They’re not even halfway through the night cycle.
So he gives in to the inevitable and drops down on a nearby chair, slouching enough to still see under the table. “What about?”
“I’m not tellin’ you,” comes the mumbled response.
“Sure you are. Else I’m going to pull you out of there and leave you to sob in the cargo hold the rest of the night.”
The kid seems to consider that for a moment, before quietly admitting, “It was about my Mom.”
“She said… she wanted me to take her hand. But I didn’t. And then she…she…,” the kid hiccups, sobs, bites into the knee of his pants to stifle the sound. Practiced at suffering silently. The Captain closes his eyes, lets his head drop to chair’s backrest.
“She didn’t die because of you,” he finally says, too late.
“You don’t know that!”
A snort. “I know you’re tiny and weak and pathetic. Don’t have what it takes to save anyone. People die. Get used to it, boy.”
Peter sobs for a long time.
Just once, he asked about her life before. About who she was. They were covered in soot, dirty and hurting and running for their lives. They were being shot at.
“Me?” she asked, brushing hair out of her eyes as she peered around a corner, a weapon in each hand. Yondu hated fighting up close and personal, preferred to do his killing from the safety of a ship, but she thrived in the muck.
A flash of a grin, a raised gun. “I was a hero,” she told him, voice tinged with bitter amusement, right before throwing herself forward in a roll, shooting for all she was worth.
It was possibly the saddest thing he ever heard her say.
“I’ll keep him on,” he informs Buffy over breakfast, both of them watching Hass as he tried to convince the kid that the blue jelly was made from the Katharsian they’d dropped at their last stop.
Peter refuses to believe it. He rolls his eyes a lot.
“Not taking him back.”
Yondu fakes a yawn. “Nah.”
“Not delivering him?”
“Why bother. I raise him proper, teach him the trade, I figure he’s going make me more than that.” The kid is tough. Tough and malleable. “And he’s going to get me something else.”
She hums in question.
Startled, she shoots a look at him. “How’s that?”
One hand rising to twine into the hair at the back of her neck, Yondu smirks. She lets him. “You stay, the boy stays. You go, the boy goes. Right where he belongs, with his beloved daddy.”
“I could just take him and disappear.” Her smirk matches his, not entirely pretty. “You taught me all your tricks, Captain.”
“Yeah,” he agrees. “You could.”
But she won’t. She stays, boy stays. Boy stays, she stays.
She settles into the cradle of his palm, pushing against it just a little too hard and returns her gaze to the boys, trying to poke each other with their forks now. She’s gold and pale humie skin, Ravager red and at least a dozen knives hidden on her person.
She’s the only thing Yondu Udonta has known in over a decade.
“But I won’t,” she agrees, concedes, admits.
The kid is staying.