In which Yondu is not a role model after all, Isla throws another party, and Kraglin makes a marginally soberer choice of bedmate.
After their last conversation, Kraglin figures it ain’t right to booze with Yondu’s gang without inviting Morlug. He’s a bit awkward, shuffling over to Isla and inquiring whether she can join them, in a tone that’d be more suited to a Nova Corpsman than a Ravager; really, he deserves the wink and the coo.
“Course your lil’ lady friend can come along!” Isla snaps fingers in her wristwatch hologram to dredge up a face that matches Morlug’s name, then grins and claps her jangling hands. The knotted leather strings pinned to her cuffs clatter as loud as her studded fingers. “She’s the pink chick who’s always welding shit? Saw her yelling out Dagada a coupla days ago – girl’s got balls!”
Kraglin quirks a corner of his mouth. “That she does,” he says.
He knows Morlug’s flattered to be included – her voice doesn’t exceed its usual monotone, but the eye visible behind her curtain of waterlogged purple-black hair (she appears to be unblocking a showerhead, with great success) crinkles into a pleased crescent.
Kraglin exhales when the comm switches off. Another prickly path smoothed over. He hopes.
“She say yes?” asks Isla, searching through the boxy grey packing crates in search of one of a size for Yondu to use as a footrest. Kraglin nods. “Heck. I gotta admit, I’m impressed. That kid always seemed like a cold fish. Never thought I’d see the day when someone warmed her up.”
Kraglin will not look at Yondu. He won’t do it. “She’s just a friend,” he says. Isla’s chortle tells him she doesn’t believe him.
“C’mon – nineteen year old brat like you and a lass that pretty? You’d be nuts not to. Heck, I’d fuck her if she’d let me!“
Don’t picture it, don’t picture it. Damn, he’s picturing it. Kraglin slants his eyes to the opposite end of the storeroom, and chews on his thumbnail in lieu of an answer.
“Tonight’s your night, Isla. If you an' her fancy a threesome, I’m game,” Yondu says. Then swigs from the bottle that’s somehow found its way into his hand. Isla gawps and stomps over. She has to shake it before he’ll let go.
“I told ya, didn’t I? Don’t start til the others get here! I ain’t got much to go round.”
Yondu shouldn’t really be drinking at all, but Kraglin’s not gonna start that argument again. He pulls himself up to sit crosslegged on the crate-stack nearest the door, and tries to pinpoint why he feels frustrated. It ain’t like he’s looking for something exclusive, is he? As Isla so kindly pointed out – he’s nineteen. Last thing he needs is a relationship with a twenty-mumble year old. And Ravagers don’t do relationships anyway. Not as far as Kraglin can tell.
Yondu’s decent conversation when he’s not being a jackass. He’ll save Kraglin’s neck if it’s needed, and he’ll occasionally deign to let Kraglin fuck him, if he gives as good in return (although he still has yet to get around to that). That’s all they are.
…Shouldn’t that be enough?
Kraglin chews his lip to blood and checks the time. Morlug’ll be here any second. Y’know what? Perhaps he will try it on with her. Or Figs, or Isla – any of the girls. Whatever he’s got going with Yondu, it can’t be permanent and it can’t be serious. If nothing else, the job won’t allow for it – friends are all you get, fuckbuddies if you’re lucky, and even then you’ve always got to be prepared to see them spiral down in smoke.
He understands now, why they waited so long to ask his name.
Figs bursts through the door with the short guy with long stinky feet and another woman who Kraglin can only assume is the mysterious boot-thrower from the top of Yondu’s stack.
“Howdy,” she says shortly, allowing Isla to draw her into a hug before moving over to clap Yondu on the shoulder. She doesn’t look at Kraglin. Hoping that has everything to do with his strategically unobtrusive positioning of himself in the corner, and nothing to do with the bloody dustbin turning slow backflips through skrullspace, Kraglin turns his attention to the other woman and smiles.
“Hey. Don’t think I caught your name.” She’s short, but not as short as Isla, and in possession of a pair of shapely legs that make up for her face. Sort of. When she smiles, the wind could whistle through her cheeks. Kraglin balks, but not much. “Uh, what happened to your, uh?”
“I shot her,” Yondu calls. The girl points at him and nods, grinning. Kraglin blinks. His scarred chest throbs in sympathy.
“Is this some ritual ya go though with everyone you meet, or just your way of saying ‘hello’?”
Yondu’s bottle has found its way out of Isla’s pocket and back to his hand, despite that Kraglin could swear he hasn’t moved. Isla, from the way she’s chattering animatedly to foot-guy, has yet to notice. “Nah. Dixie here went on an undercover and blew it, so I had to prove I weren’t with her.”
Kraglin blinks again. “And that’s not… a little… extreme?”
Dixie, from the way she’s smiling, doesn’t think so. Yondu looks at him like she’s stupid. “Got us out, didn’t it?”
Of course. Permanently disfiguring bodily harm comes with the day-job. Kraglin makes a show out of shaking Dixie’s hand. “S'nice to meet you, Dixie. I’m Kraglin Obfonteri –“
Dixie’s hands form a complex shape, three fingers crooked on one, two on the other, left pinky extended. Kraglin frowns.
“That a shadow puppet or something?”
Yondu scoffs into his drink. “She’s saying you don’t gotta speak slow; she can understand you.”
“Oh – oh! Like… sign language?” Dixie nods. Her beam is relentlessly cheerful. Kraglin’s a little blinded by its kilowatt intensity, to be honest. But she’s pretty (bar a few extra wind-holes) and has accepted his less-than-sensitive opening gambit without making any threats on his life. Or perhaps he just hasn’t understood them. Kraglin tries to match her smile with one of his own, and feels woefully plastic in comparison. “Can you teach me?” he asks. “Just a bit?”
“That’s better,” he thinks he hears Yondu mutter. But Dixie’s already grabbed his arm and pulls him into the middle of the room. She seats him down on a box, settles beside him with thighs bumping, and starts to sketch pictures with her hands.
It’s… nice. It doesn’t take five minutes for Kraglin to engross himself completely, the rest of the room and its occupants paling. He thinks he hears Isla attempting to liberate her bottle from Yondu, but he’s too busy shaping out simple clauses that don’t require thumb dislocation to watch her fail.
They play the game of her pulling up words on her wristpiece, and demonstrating how the different aspects of a simple sentence – subject, verb, object and such – can be represented in a logical progression from finger to thumb. Kraglin’s hoping to work up to charades – but he might be optimistic. This shit’s fucking complicated. A different angle on the thumb changes the tone of the entire sentence from positive to negative, and before he knows it he’s ended up insulting Dixie about her non-existent split-ends rather than contemplating her on the luster of her sleek red hair. She laughs it off. Shows him how to cup his hands together to simulate a flirtatious tone. Kraglin’s proud when he finally perfects a pick-up line – If I had a star for every time you brightened my day, I’d have the whole galaxy in my hand.
Morlug arrives fashionably late. Kraglin, already crammed on the crate with Dixie and flushing every time her calf brushes his, sheepishly waves. But Morlug just pulls over a box besides him, and Dixie expands the language lesson to three.
“I can’t do this,” Morlug complains, after suffering through fifteen failed attempts at I’m a Ravager, and I spy a fine piece of booty in need of a ravaging. “I ain’t smart enough for this shit. Isn’t there a simpler version?” Dixie nods and whips out her wristpiece again. She’s guiding Morlug through her alphabet when Isla finally pries open the first bottle of moonshine – technically the second, but Yondu’s not sharing – and the room explodes into cheers.
“Shut up, shut up!” Isla hisses, holding the frothing bottle away from them. The fizz is an eerie luminescent green. “You want Dagada to find us?”
Yondu slurps noisily, smacking his lips on his bottle’s rim. “Sorry t'disappoint, but Dagada ain’t leaving the medbay for a while.” The way he says it is just ominous to insinuate. Everyone cheers again, Isla included.
“It was me who took him out, actually,” Kraglin tries to say. But they’re all too busy pressganging Yondu for details, who lounges back on the crates and smiles mysteriously, his cast-bound foot propped up like a trophy. Kraglin turns to Dixie. “How do I say ‘jackass’?” he asks.
It takes approximately thirty minutes for the lot of them to get to the degree of sloshed where they sit in a cramped circle and share stories. Isla tells a tale about a sweet Morag princess she seduced days before the cataclysm, and Yondu brushes off everyone’s requests for The Story Of The Bilgesnipe and regales them instead with some old adventure that, judging by the groans, they’ve all heard a thousand times before.
He’s good though. Kraglin can’t remember the details, but he remembers the telling; Yondu’s face a grinning blue skull as he sits over the light panel, his voice rasping low and steady. His fingers tap on the cast, drumming to a low crescendo, and he’s not afraid to pause to his advantage. Kraglin only notices he’s holding his breath when his head starts to throb. When Yondu delivers the climax – something about a crashing through a carnivorous forest to get to his ship with the stolen artifact before the star collapsed in on itself and dragged the entire solar system into a black hole – Kraglin sags like someone’s unstoppered his air valve.
The others aren’t quite so impressed. “That changes every time you tell it,” Isla accuses, licking spilt moonshine from between her finger-hoops.
Foot-guy snorts. “Heck, you've changed it so much that I can’t remember how it actually went down. And I was there!”
Yondu smirks around his next mouthful. “That’s the plan.”
Kraglin meets Dixie’s eyes. Signs Jackass. Makes her sputter from her arrow-holes.
“So,” says Isla, turning on him. “How’d a nice Nova kid like yourself end up a Ravager?” The question could as easily be turned her way – Miss Isla Lancia of the Lancia Trading Corporation and all. (Hypothetically. Possibly. Maybe one day he’ll gather the gonads to ask; but right now Kraglin’s enjoying himself, and doesn’t fancy being chased around the ship by a pint-sized woman filled with more metal than your average mod-addict.)
He puts on a scowl. “Hey – for a start, I weren’t never a nice Nova kid. Not like the ones you see on adverts, anyways.” Isla holds her hands up in mock-surrender. Kraglin looks around the circle of tipsy faces. They’re all looking. All listening. Isla, Morlug, Dixie, Foot-guy, Figs… Even Yondu, although he’s pretending to fiddle with his wristpiece. Kraglin’s shoulders lift. For the first time, he doesn’t cringe at the thought of being the center of attention – instead, he formulates the memory into coherent chronology, and begins.
“I was Hraxian, me. Born in the slum. Figured I’d die there too – and I very nearly did…”
“You assassinated the Cartel boss’s trophy wife?” asks Yondu incredulously. He’s been quiet for the most part, while the others have been chipping in opinions and snidely ribbing Kraglin for being dumb enough to set up an auction for a set of fake diamonds with the goddamned Hraxian Cartel, immortalized in legend for forging a passable fucking Infinity Stone. Which – yeah, okay. He deserves. But Yondu’s interruption is unexpected enough that the thread of the story stutters and stops, and Kraglin has to shake his head to clear it.
“What? No. No! I mean, you can’t assassinate someone by accident.”
“How’s shooting her in the head 'by accident'?”
Kraglin splutters. “Well, it ain’t like I expect pre-plasma age crap to actually work! I figured I was just gonna crack her with it, if they didn’t let me escape! I mean, who even keeps that stuff anymore?” Yondu suddenly finds the peeling label on his bottle a subject of intense interest. Kraglin recalls the convenient bullet clips that had been sacrificed to the acid shower, and the stacks of antique weaponry that’d been cleared out of the storage wing to make room for Baby. He gapes. “You ain’t telling me you keep live pre-plasma ammunition on your ship? That’s dangerous!”
“No more so than holding a pistol up to someone’s head and actin' surprised when it goes off!” Yondu retorts. His sneer sours, and he folds his arms. “Anyway, s'my fucking ship. I do what I want with it.” Including filling it with weird little souvenirs and vintage skrull bazookas. And, judging by the sheer amount of dents, flying it headfirst into walls. Heaven help whatever poor mechanic is assigned to keep it space-worthy. Kraglin rolls his eyes.
“Well, at least I’ll know what’s digging into my back next time we – uh, ah, lose a bilgesnipe.”
The others are too drunk to notice the slip. He’s sure. He hopes. At least, most of ‘em are. Morlug’s choking on her drink; it sounds suspiciously like she’s laughing.
Kraglin figures she deserves everything she gets. “Next!” he announces, leaving the argument over the semantics of Mrs Cartel Boss’s untimely demise for another time. “Hey Morlug – what’s the deal with you and Dagada? He an angry ex, or something?”
It’s meant to be snide, but Morlug – a surprising happy drunk – laughs so hard that moonshine streams from her nose. “In his dreams,” she gasps. “Asshole tried to get me into bed ‘bout ten times before he started assigning me to scrub-shift instead.”
Well, that explains… something. Kraglin redefines his already low opinion of Dagada – tool, prat, unrepentantly officious jerkwad – to include 'prick who can’t handle rejection'. “I’m glad I fucked him up so good then,” he says, with feeling. Pauses. “That me and Yondu did.”
“Thas right,” Yondu mutters. The amount of liquid remaining in his bottle is barely enough to cover its concave bottom, and when he upends it, most sloshes down his jaw. Kraglin, cursed to be watching at that precise moment, sternly warns his mind away from thoughts of licking it up with the memories of a certain failed kiss. And the rest of the Ravagers, of course. Yondu meanwhile shakes the bottle over his open mouth, and licks the rim once the last drops have fallen loose (most of which miss his target completely and splash onto Kraglin). “Alright. Booze’s gone. I’m off to bed.”
“Don’t break your other leg getting there,” says Isla. Yondu smacks her out of his trajectory with the tip of a crutch, and stands on the third try, hobbling to the door. He almost impales foot-guy on the way. Kraglin observes his stumbling passage, and starts to stand.
“Uh, should somebody –“
“I got it,” says Figs, pushing to her feet and following. She doesn’t look back at Kraglin, and she’s gone before he can protest. The door hisses closed behind her. There’s nothing to do but sit down. Kraglin does so, irritated, although he can’t put his finger on why.
“She ain’t gonna get much out of him if it’s a fuck she’s after,” Isla shares in a none-too-dulcet tone. “Not after one o’my bottles.”
There’s a crash from down the corridor, like someone’s swung wildly and punched a wall. Or potentially, bashed a heavy plaster cast into it. “Fuck you too, Isla!” Yondu yells. “You don’t know fuckin’ nothing, and I can fuck whoever I like so don’t ya go talkin’ shit –“ There’s the quick mutter of Figs’ voice. A sullen reply. The scrape of Yondu’s clumsy boot-cast-crutch combo, with an extra pair of feet pattering behind. Silence.
Kraglin breathes out. Studies his palms, following the swoop of the lines. He ain’t one for hand-reading, but he’s pretty sure his love line’s the one that branches confidently out, only to nosedive around his thumb and crash screaming and burning into the creases of his wrist.
Two small hands fold over his. Their nails are painted pastel-pink – too delicate a color for this ship. Sure enough, they’re plenty chipped at the edges. But when those hands fold into a spiraling flourish, they’re beautiful nevertheless. He picks out ‘your’, ‘face’, ‘good’ with the comparative, and ‘what’, the circle of the thumb implying a question.
You know what would make your face look better?
He’s too glum to do much else than shake his head. Then the fingers interlock, part, interlock again.
My legs wrapped around it.
His ears pink. Dixie smiles. And – well, that’s that.
Kraglin wakes. He pops his spine, leans over to kiss Dixie’s gaping cheek, and stands – forgetting that he’s packed between her and an overhanging tower of dusty carb-cube crates. After digging the ringing out of his ears, he attempts again – slower this time, pulling himself up the crate-mesh and rubbing woefully at his bruised cranium, then starts hunting for his pants.
That had been… what’s the word he’s looking for?
That had been nice.
Kraglin locates a shirt and a skirt, only one of which belongs to him. He drapes the latter over the crate besides Dixie’s head. Then startles as her eyelashes flutter, and he’s treated to a lazy morning smile. Dixie signs, simple alphabet spellings rather than compound – thank fuck, his brain ain’t in a state to decipher much else. It’s slow and clumsy and perfect.
Come, you, here.
When Kraglin kneels over her, a little skittish given memories of an arrow coming into close vicinity with his eyeball the last time he’d attempted something of this nature, she grabs his ears and indulges him in a long and stale kiss. Kraglin, mouth equally as fusty from the residue of last night’s binge – not enough to leave him with a full-blown hangover, although bashing his head off those blasted crates hasn’t improved matters – tongues back eagerly and wonders if she’ll be up for another round. He slips his fingers between her legs in a silent question. Dixie gives an appreciative moan, grinding drily up against him but already starting to slicken. Good thing he used a condom, he figures. Wouldn’t want to knock her up. Or give her whatever he might be carrying.
Or Yondu, for that matter.
Kraglin pushes that thought away, concentrating on the matter at hand. He’s with Dixie now – not with-with her, like in a relationship or nothing; but heck, if she’s up for it, he could foresee this becoming a regular thing.
It’s been a while since anything was as simple and pleasant as nice, after all.
Unfortunately, good things can’t last. The buzzer goes off on Kraglin’s wristpiece. He glances at it – then sees the time and stares. “We slept through first shift?”
Dixie, shoving him off, goggles aghast at her own watch. Frowns, but doesn’t panic. Looks so, she signs. No big deal. Kraglin drops his head into his hands.
“Well, that’s great. We’re gonna have to work through our downtime now – dang, I skipped inventory shift yesterday as well cause of that thing with the captain, and –“ There’s a message from Figs. Kraglin squints at it in suspicion, then opens it to reveal a neat square of text. “Shit!”
Dixie, watching his miniature meltdown with amusement, cocks her head. What?
Spying his pants draped from the tallest stack of boxes, Kraglin stands on his tiptoes to reach them. “I’m reassigned – supposed to help ship Baby to the Collector! Damn, why didn’t Yondu comm me…”
Maybe still asleep, Dixie signs. It’s possible. Kraglin nods at her, mouth tight and troubled, and remembers to do up his fly before stumbling into the dull red glow of the Eclector’s corridors. His jacket flies out and slaps him on the back of the head. Thankfully, no knives dislodge. Kraglin waves goodbye, one elbow caught in his sleeve, and the door whooshes shut with a gust of salty air. Kraglin sniffs himself. Groans. Moonshine and sex, with a delicate undertone of bilgesnipe-shit – fucking perfect. And no time to contemplate a shower. Hopefully, the Collector wears enough perfume to smother it. Or at least, Yondu smells just as bad.
Kraglin dashes into the M-ship bay. His long legs carry him through the crush. There’s a maintenance shift on, which is the busiest time of the hangar day cycle; all of the bog standard M-ships have been flipped in their harnesses and lowered to deck level. Ravagers rove their undersides armed with engine diagrams and spindly welding sticks, swarming like termites from a disturbed mound. By the time he makes it to Yondu’s bay he’s panting – not to mention smoldering from where a clumsy recruit had upended a quart of fuel down his jacket. At first he thinks he’s disorientated in the crowd – but no; there’s Dagada’s ship, in the space reserved for first mate. Yondu’s is supposed to be a place behind (no one having dared shift it down to rest with the other untitled crewmens’).
Only… it’s not.
There’s the hole, a fissure between Dagada and Isla’s M-ships that gapes like a pulled tooth in a full jaw. But of Yondu, M-ship, or Baby? There’s no sign.
Kraglin paces for a moment, stumped. He spots the packing crane, rolled to the side of the bay and abandoned until its next use, and sees that it’s been set to haul something heavy, floppy, and approximately the size of a baby bilgesnipe.
Apparently, Yondu left without him.
“Hey!” A big hand jostles him under the shadow of Dagada’s M-ship. Kraglin’s batted forwards with an oof, stopping himself from falling to his knees at the last second. “Don’t just stand in the gangway, greenie! You’re blocking the way!”
Oh. That’s a familiar voice. And Kraglin really ain’t in the mood to be dealing with this right now.
He straightens. Finds his balance. Then snarls, spittle peppering Lizard-guy’s breast. Lizard-guy stumbles back, hands raised. The welding tool looks ludicrously delicate clasped in his massive blunt claws; the flame that sputters from its tip is as impotent and weak as a penny-candle. “Shit! Shit, okay, shit, whatever…”
It should feel good. He should be elated, tripping on power. He’s not.
“Get outta my way,” Kraglin says. Lizard-guy does so. Glancing again at the empty bay, Kraglin shoves his hands in his pockets and slopes into the crowd.