In which there is an accident, a confrontation, and a very conveniently located closet.
Only he does see Yondu again. And when he does, it’s a complete accident.
A terrible accident, in fact. Or at least, natural causes. Nobody’s fault – that’s what everyone’s saying.
Kraglin doesn’t buy it for a second. Neither, judging from how he’s champing his jaw – the only tell on an otherwise emotionless face – does Yondu. Kraglin falls in quietly besides him, all past sins if not forgotten then at least pushed to one side. “Who did it?” he asks out of the corner of his mouth. Yondu doesn’t look at him.
“Who d’you think?”
Of course. Yondu’d only had two days left before the promised fortnight was up. Two days before Jora promoted him back to first mate. There’s no way Dagada couldn’t have known.
Yondu exits the medbay at a brisk limp. Kraglin remains a while longer, gazing at the pallid yellow body on the gurney and wondering what he's feeling. Ravager captains don’t often get the opportunity to die old and peaceful in their beds. By all accounts, that’s what Jora had done. But Doc’s burnt the chemical read-outs from the autopsy, and Jora’s hipflask is missing from the inventory of items that the quartermaster had made. And when Shorro tiptoes in and inquires as to the meat situation, Doc balks and flaps him away with some lame excuse about proper send-offs.
Yeah right. Like ‘respect’ would keep Ravagers from good meat, even if it’s tough and gnarly and ancient as the stars.
Kraglin ought to feel something. Gladness. Sorrow. But all he can summon is a numb curiosity as he blinks down at Jora’s wizened cadaver, shrunken in death to that of a brittle Xandarian grandma, and wonders where all that fierceness and formidability has gone. Is it dissolved in the air he breathes? Floating formless through the abyss, adrift, left behind by the steady onward grind of her galleon’s engines?
There’s a buzz from his wristpiece. Bridge shift. Time to head. His boot soles are gummed to the floor from standing still too long; the medbay is always dubiously sticky, no matter how often it’s scrubbed, and Kraglin has to coax them off one grip at a time before walking out. Isla’ll be waiting for him, and the first mate – the captain – will be too. There’ll be more nav-training, more jabs to the leg nerve and cheerful banter.
Captain dies? Long lives the captain. Ravager life continues as normal, and when you’re on rationed water, no one’s got tears to spare for the dead.
Yondu should be heading to his night shift now. Kraglin doubts he’ll be going. In fact… Kraglin squints. Isn’t that him up ahead? Hobbling towards the Bridge? The Bridge where Dagada’s accustoming the shape of his ass to Jora’s still-warm chair?
He picks up his pace. Catches Yondu by a forearm, destabilizing the crutch. “Uh, hey. Where you goin'?”
Yondu’s eyes are always red. Today, they’re redder than usual. “You’re asking a lot of stupid questions, rookie,” he says, staring straight ahead. He resets the crutch and keeps walking. The curve of his elbow over the padded armpit rest is solid as steel. Kraglin tugs as hard as he can, but is dragged along seemingly without effort, a buoy that’s bashed into every other Ravager along the way.
The Bridge is up two levels and across a corridor. If he reaches the lift, Kraglin’ll lose his hold and Yondu’ll be away. And then… And then, who knows? Who knows what Yondu will do, or what’ll be done in retaliation? Who knows why Kraglin even cares?
Except somehow, he does.
He digs his fingers in, pinching to win a pause. Then flounders for what to say. Tell Yondu not to go after Dagada, that it’s a fucking stupid suicide mission and that if he kills him in cold blood in front of the entire Bridge crew they’ll deem him too unstable to be captain and shunt him off at the next Nova port to collect on his bounty? He’ll only make him more determined. “I think we oughta talk,” he settles for. Yondu’s eyes swivel to him, long enough to deliver a malignant sneer.
“Do we now.”
He drops one crutch – it clatters like a war drum. Then opens his trenchcoat.
The milling Ravagers scatter for the surrounding tunnels. Kraglin blanches at the sharp crimson glimmer of an arrow tip. Shit. Yondu really is pissed.
He forces his voice to remain steady. “Yes. About – about, uh, why you was gonna sell me to the Cartel!” It’s the only thing he can think of – and, to be honest, he genuinely does want to know. When he continues, the offence in his tone isn’t entirely feigned. “Cause heck. C’mon. I figured you was a jackass, but that’s just mean. Making me like you and all. Why’d you mess with me, if all I am to you is… what? Another bounty?”
Yondu’s eyebrows pull together. He almost looks as if he’s struggling for words – but then a decision’s made, and he wrenches away from Kraglin, turning his back. “I don’t gotta explain nothing to you,” he says. His broad shoulders are stiff and unyielding, and he leans heavily on his crutch as he walks. Kraglin, irritation rising, scoffs and pads after him. He halts in the mouth of the Bridgebound passage Yondu’s about to turn into –
“Look, if you didn’t wanna fuck me, you could’ve just said.”
Yondu growls. “That ain’t got nothing to do with it.” He steps around him, aiming for the next corridor. Oh no. He's not escaping that easily. Kraglin’s faster than him now he’s on one crutch; he darts round and blocks him again, swinging under his arm when it makes to deliver a smack. He’s met with a serrated yellow snarl. “I can’t be seen talkin' with you no more, so back off!”
That’s… not what he was expecting. Kraglin frowns. “Uh, what d’you mean, you can’t be seen –“
Apparently, Yondu’s more on edge than he’s letting on. He whistles.
Kraglin bows backwards, barely keeping his balance. The arrow darts an inch closer and his legs give out, depositing him hard on his ass.
“Let’s get this straight,” says Yondu from the other side of the corridor. “You an' me? We didn’t have nothing going on between us. But even if we did, it’s sure as hell over now.” It’s a struggle to ignore the radiation burn drying out his pupils, to look past the arrow and see Yondu standing behind it. But when Kraglin manages, he sees an expression that doesn’t quite match the harsh words.
“Something happened, didn’t it?” he says. “Someone saw something, said something… Was it Daga –“ He chokes and thumps his head back. The arrow jabs the tender skin under his adam’s apple. Red fire blisters when it bobs. It’s like Chinese water torture, only instead of water it’s hot oil, and instead of a drip it’s a twizzling knife-point.
Yondu steps further away, whistling again to lock the arrow in place. “I wish it'd been Dagada,” he grits out. From the metallic screech, his teeth are clamped hard enough to crack the few that aren’t already broken or gold-capped. “It woulda been a fucking pleasure to have it come from Dagada.”
So that removes one suspect. Kraglin, having suffered borderline extermination at Yondu’s arrowpoint so often that he can think clearly while having a puncture slowly screwed into his neck, starts sifting his memory for the rest. Who else knows? Morlug? He hasn’t pissed her off lately, not enough to warrant this in punishment. Isla and Jora? They’d suspected, he’s fairly certain; but one knows what gossip to keep to herself, and the other’s currently stripped and cold on a mortician’s slab, awaiting airlock-ejection. So that leaves…
“Figs,” Kraglin croaks. Remembers how she’d guided Yondu home after the moonshine-fest. How she’d as good as shoved Kraglin out the way. Remembers Varra, and kukris, and stinking wheelie bins piled with drippy raw flesh. A drunken mistake on some blue-lit supergiant satellite that’s apparently going to haunt him for the rest of his life.
The arrow’s too close for him to speak now – if he pushes his head any further, he’ll be burrowing through the floor-slabs. Kraglin cranes over his nose to look at Yondu instead, and finds a sullen stare.
After a brief meditation – it may take mere seconds, but sure feels like hours when you’re potentially developing throat-cancer – Yondu whistles again. The arrow, rather than impaling Kraglin’s trachea, whips off and scouts the surrounding corridors for eavesdroppers. There’s a few yelps and a shriek. Anyone still in the area makes themselves scarce. It returns, parallel-parking neatly in Yondu’s holster, and he tucks the trenchcoat over it. Stands for a moment, towering above Kraglin despite the floorspace between them. Then he exhales and feels for the wall, sliding down it and scooting out his crutch in jarring increments, until his bandaged leg rests adjacent to Kraglin’s.
“Ain’t nothing personal,” he starts. Kraglin pushes onto his elbows, wobbling a bit from side to side. He probes his aching throat for windholes before speaking again.
“Sure feels it.”
“Shut up. Anyway – look, there’s stuff… Stuff I’m involved in.” Yondu waves an inarticulate hand. The other’s rubbing his toecap, as if he's resisting the urge to pick at his cast. “Stuff that’s more important than you. To me.” He almost sounds convinced, too. Kraglin swallows. It’s like deep-throating a cactus.
“What – like gathering support for the captaincy?” He knows he’s hit jackpot when Yondu’s nails scratch the worn leather of his boot. He’s looking at Kraglin, direct and earnest – but it’s too blunt, too forced. Like he’s making himself meet his eyes, so he can close this door without regrets.
And damn it all, but this is one door that Kraglin does not want shut.
“I had a choice,” he says, eyes fixed on Kraglin while he picks at the stitches where the boot’s been patched. “Figs as my first mate. Bringing with her all the skrull-bloods on board. Or you. Because captains aren’t allowed to get compromised, not for nobody – ‘specially not for crewmen. I can’t be soft, Kraglin. Can’t ever be that.”
It makes sense. Painful, undeniable sense. For once, it seems, Yondu’s telling the whole truth. Kraglin can’t deal with his honest gaze any longer, so he relocates to watch the flickering ceiling light, rolling down to rest on his shoulderblades. There’s no point dragging the conversation out further. If Yondu’s made his choice, bugger all Kraglin says or does is gonna change it.
“So we – what, avoid each other? Until you overthrow Dagada and make captain?” he asks. Yondu shrugs.
“Something like that.” More like forever. If Figs doesn’t want Yondu fraternizing with the lower echelons while he’s just an ambitious no-ranker, she’s not going to let him tarnish his reputation once he’s made it to the top. Kraglin feels a headache gathering.
Okay. Okay, he can deal with this. He can be a goddamn adult. And if he’s boiling in his belly – anger at Yondu for not telling Figs to screw herself, that he can fuck who he fucking well wants to, and still be the best damn captain the Ravagers have ever seen; hate for Figs that’s in no way tempered by the knowledge that she’s only doing this because she sees him as a liability, a danger to Yondu and all the rest who've gotten themselves involved in this mess; and okay, yeah, a helluva lot of misery directed at himself – he can damn well keep his emotions under wraps until he’s in the relative privacy of his bunk. Or a bog. Wherever he can punch walls and not-cry in peace, and pray that he doesn’t get locked in because this time there’ll be no grimy blue angels coming to save him.
Kraglin squeezes his eyes shut. Opens them again.
“You still ain’t told me why ya lied,” he mutters. Then, at Yondu’s confused squint – “About the Collector. Why not say you were hired by the Cartel in the first place?” Because sure. He can imagine what happened after – Figs demanding that Yondu either deliver Kraglin alongside Baby or lose her and her colleagues’ support. Then, when he refused, giving him an alternative in the form of a new day shift, a blank slate from which to plot his mutiny. But this end still wants to be tied; it’s dangling loose in his mind and Kraglin knows that if he doesn’t get an answer, he’ll worry it until he goes insane.
From Yondu’s face, it’s a stupid question. “Would you have helped me?” he asks. “Would ya have hunted with me, done any of that shit – heck, would ya even have trusted me, if ya knew I was working for your old boss?”
…That’s also a stupid question. Kraglin sits up, arms folded, and glowers. “Yeah, of course! I mean – if you’d said something straight off, I wouldn't've considered that you were gonna hand me over. I know ya wouldn’t do that!”
Yondu’s jaw works around air. “How?” he finally asks. He sounds genuinely confused. Kraglin could shake him. Fucking space pirates and their fucking trust issues, thinking everyone else sees the world as bleakly as they do.
“Because you might act a jackass, but you ain’t a total asswad! I dunno – look, I just trust you, okay?” He stabs his finger at him, stopping short of jostling the cast. “I. Trust. You. Now respectfully, sir – deal with it.” Yondu’s gape isn’t especially flattering, but it’s one amusing part of a depressing-as-fuck conversation, so Kraglin huffs out a laugh. “C’mon, Yondu. You really doubt that? After everything? Fuck, you saved my life!”
“Multiple times,” Yondu can’t help but remind him. Kraglin’s lips twitch up.
“Yeah, and you’ll be reminding me of it every time you want something. I know.” They sit in silence. Yondu’s face has turned pensive. Kraglin clears his throat. “– Or not. Because. Uh. Never seeing each other again.”
“Right,” Yondu agrees.
There’s a little more silence. Kraglin’s throat’s dry, and not just because it recently escaped a brush with a radioactive arrow. Yondu seems to be contemplating the chipped plaster toe of his cast. He looks worn – smaller than usual, hunched a bit in his trenchcoat, not projecting personality and bad breath over any and all available space like he usually does. It is, Kraglin thinks, not a good look on him. He supposes it’s his duty to rectify that.
“Wanna fuck?” he asks. Yondu’s head jerks up.
“One last time?” Kraglin nods to the nearest storage closet, situated between two supply panels and, from the sliver he can see through the stained bulbous porthole, empty of all but ceiling-high columns of storage tat. And – aw, what the heck. He’s not going to get another chance. “You never claimed on that whole topping-thing.”
Yondu’s fingers curl around the handle of his crutch. This is, Kraglin thinks, glancing at the swaddled leg, going to be an exercise in logistics. But hell. He’s practically a navigator now. He can work it out. And they’ve faced worse odds than a busted femur and a cramped space.
“One last time,” Yondu repeats, just to be certain. Kraglin nods. He’s rewarded with a wide and infinitely wicked crack-toothed grin. “Shit, I thought you’d never ask.”
It is, Kraglin thinks, stumbling out of the closet and zipping his jacket over the newly-depleted tube of lube, not unpleasant. Kinda fun, actually. Shame he won’t be doing it again.
Yondu limps after him, smacking his sore ass with a crutch and smirking when Kraglin jumps and glares. “See ya around, Krags,” he says, turning away. Kraglin, stretching out his spine until it pops – riding someone on top of a stack of crates and having your head thunking repeatedly off the roof makes for sore necks – shakes his head and smiles sadly.
“No you won’t,” he tells him. Yondu acknowledges with a wave of the crutch. He creaks off into the bowels of the ship, red overhead light glancing from the implant and washing his blue skin purple. At least he’s heading away from the Bridge. Kraglin congratulates himself on a distraction well-orchestrated. Yondu doesn’t look back – at least, not until after Kraglin’s turned away, and then it’s only for a moment.