In which Kraglin is cunning, Dagada is desperate, and Yondu just wants to go the fuck to sleep.
Dagada’s gaze prickles his neck throughout his nav-shift. Kraglin works as surely as he can, but he’s never at his best when he’s being watched, and he fumbles the engine controls until Isla fusses him off and sticks him on route planning. There he can lose himself in space’s drifting scattergram, where constellations and star-systems are stratified one over the other in a glimmering three dimensional maze.
Each pinprick has a name. It scrolls through the air when Kraglin hovers his finger over it – he recognizes none of them. They’re in the outworlds now. Beyond Empire control. Circling out past Knowhere – the furthest from home he’s ever been. And yet home’s all around him, as certain and unyielding as the steel beneath his boots.
Kraglin paints them a spiraling path around a twin-star schematic, dancing from gravitational field to gravitational field to minimize fuel requirements. The apex of each elliptical orbit can be broken with a pump of the thrusters, and they’ll sail his course practically on momentum alone. Isla casts an approving eye over his work when he’s done, fingers flexing in the heart of the galleon’s holographic engine display.
“Nice job, tall stuff,” she says. There’s one positive about Isla handling the navs – she can’t slap his ass when her wrist movements are coded to the steering. Kraglin grins at her. He’ll never have Isla’s talent for the manual controls, or her gift with the charts. But if he can be a damn fine apprentice, that’s good enough for him.
“Obfonteri,” says Dagada. His voice is quiet, but it sizzles through the general burbling hubbub of the Bridge like plasma through flesh. Kraglin’s spine tenses, every vertebrae clicking to attention.
“My cabin.” Dagada stands, and strides out. Kraglin and Isla boggle after him.
“You really are sucking him off,” Isla says. Kraglin swats her head.
“Nah, he’s just promoting me to your position. Catch ya later.” He hops off the platform, waving behind him, and scurries to trot on Dagada’s heels. The captain’s taken to wearing a fitted set of armor under his jacket; the chestpiece is visible beneath the threadbare edge of his shorn-off sleeves. Skrull battle gear. Flexible and light, giving its owner a full range of motion while providing protection against stabs, shots, and a low-grade plasma bolt. It won’t do much against radioactive arrows, but Kraglin figures Dagada’s wearing it more for the mental comfort.
Not that Yondu would actually assassinate him. He doesn’t think. He hopes. Kraglin hasn’t seen him in a while: and let’s be honest – with Yondu, it’s kinda hard to tell.
But if he’s got any brains in him at all (Kraglin’s fairly certain he does, even if he hides them half the time and acts on impulse for the rest) Yondu’ll know that the main dampener on his popularity is his penchant for violence. Any guy who’s got a different threat for every hour of the day and who cheerfully sticks arrows in anyone who dares insinuate he’s soft, is gonna have a hard time convincing his crew that he’s not a despot-in-the-making. Nope. Killing Dagada ain’t gonna see Yondu through this.
Sure, the Ravagers love a good punch-up – but that’s entertainment, not how the command hierarchy’s determined. Can’t have the captain’s seat occupied by thugs alone; there’s got to be a sliver of cunning thrown into the mix. If Yondu offs Dagada without fitting cause, he’ll be stabbing himself in the back on the way. But perhaps, Kraglin thinks, as Dagada punches open the door to his quarters and strides on in, there’s another resolution. A peaceful one. If he can only get them both to agree to it.
Yondu shouldn’t be a problem. He hopes. Even if he were to be, it’s Dagada who he’s got in front of him now, and it’s Dagada he should be concentrating on. And so, Kraglin gets to it. He walks over to the desk, set up in the middle of the available floorspace to create an office-like atmosphere, and slams his palms down on it flat.
“You gotta talk to him,” he says. Dagada frowns at his hands like he’s not sure what they’re doing there; Kraglin hastily relocates them to his pockets. “Udonta, I mean. You gotta show you ain’t afraid of him –“
“Of course I’m not afraid of him!” Dagada fingers the creases where the jacket’s drawn tight over his armoured belly, glare just daring him to comment. The flames on his arms bulge over biceps and coolant scars alike. Kraglin relents.
“I know that, sir. But the crew don’t. If you don’t confront him, they’ll think you’re a… well, I don’t wanna say, sir.”
A coward. Dagada’s expression darkens. “Talk to him? I should throw him in the brig, here and now. Or better yet, overboard. Solve the problem permanently.”
Kraglin shakes his head – “Bad idea.”
“Because he ain’t done nothing yet.” He exhales noisily and starts to pace, turning slow circles around the interior of Dagada’s cabin. “Can’t be a tyrant – not even against Udonta. Crew won’t stand for it. They’ll mutiny, and then that dim guy you’ve made first mate – whassisface?”
“Thrabba,” Dagada mutters. Of course. The fella who’d first recruited him, who’s as big as an i-beam and about as bright.
“Thas right, Thrabba. He’ll be in charge. Then we’re all fucked.”
That, at least, they can agree upon. Heaven knows how Thrabba’d ended up as Dagada’s second – Thrabba himself certainly doesn’t, and what little confidence he’d once possessed has swiftly withered under his newfound sense of undeserved authority. The big lug creeps around the corridors like he’s terrified of stepping on anyone else’s toes, rather than the other way around. He’s probably the only crewman dumb enough for Dagada to trust.
Dagada’s eyes thin. “Very well. I see your point – but talking? You believe Udonta would listen to me?”
He actually sounds hopeful at the prospect. Kraglin cuts him off. “Course not. Guy’s as arrogant as he’s hot-headed – but we can use that, y’see?” He takes a breath. Leans forwards, resting his hands on the desk again – this time, Dagada doesn’t stop him. “Have it somewhere public-like,” he says in a low voice. “Canteen. On the Bridge. Show the crew that you can handle things straightforward and honest – well, honest as Ravagers get. Like you’d have to with a client, y’know? And let Udonta fly off the handle and show ‘em all how useless he really is.”
Dagada... considers it. “Do I have to let him shoot me?” he asks. Kraglin shrugs.
“He ain’t gonna do that. Not when there’s crew all round. Might get in a punch – but it’s for a good cause, right?”
Dagada considers some more. “One punch,” he says.
“That’s all it’d take.”
“Then I can hit him back?”
“If ya want. Drag him off to the Brig an’ all, so long as he swings first.” He holds up a hand. There’d better be a contingency, just in case this all goes tits up… “I’d advise against the airlock though, sir.”
There’s genuine bafflement on Dagada’s face. “Why?”
“Because…” Kraglin racks his brains. Punching out the captain could be construed as mutiny, after all – and once that accusation’s been levied, there’s no bars set on what Dagada could do. Have Yondu whipped. Sold to the Collector as a rare specimen. Served up in canteen. Thankfully, inspiration hits – with the memory of putrescent bilgesnipe meat-breath and a hypodermic needle jammed in a black-bleeding eyeball. “Udonta’s an earner. Remember how much Baby – uh, the bilgesnipe, brought in?” And please don’t remember how you tied me up for bait. And how I repaid the favour and used you as a convenient counterweight. Kraglin swallows and continues. “S'good business t’keep him around. Sure, it’ll take you a while to beat him down, show him who’s boss. But it’ll be worth it, once the credits start rolling in.”
“Hm.” Dagada strokes the hair he’s cultivating on his yellow upper lip. “Talking though… What should I say?”
Oh, this is too easy. Kraglin scrunches his brows, as if in deep thought, then snaps his fingers. “Tell him… tell him that you’ve noticed he’s after your post. And ask him why he thinks he’ll be better than you.”
Dagada blinks. “What, in front of everyone? But won’t he answer?”
Far, far too easy. “And he won’t have anything to say, will he?” Kraglin smirks. “C’mon, sir. Udonta’s all bite and no bark – he just wants your seat. He ain’t got the first clue of what to do once he sits in it.” Except take on more challenging jobs. Expand the enterprise. Make the Ravagers a force to be reckoned with. Kraglin leans in. “Ask him that, flat out. He’ll be stumped. Crew’ll realise he ain’t half the man he claims to be, and you walk out with – what? A bruised face? And a secured captaincy in the belt, and an excuse to dump Udonta off in the brig. Two chitauri, one plasma shot, yeah?”
There’s a pause, as Dagada runs over what he’s said and repeats it to himself within the confines of his mind, solidifying the plan, teasing out the holes and finding them negligible. “This could work,” he says slowly. Kraglin could clap.
“It could,” he agrees.
Dagada stands, fiddling with his wristpiece – “I’ll summon him to the Bridge now.” And – no, shit, Kraglin’s gotta find Yondu first, tell him what his part’s gonna be in all of this. Otherwise he will punch Dagada in the gob like the bastard deserves, and all his hard bootlicking will have been for nothing. Kraglin hastens to block the captain, going as far as to grab his wrist before he can scroll through the speed-dial. He receives a sharp wrench and a snarl, but ignores them both – this is more important than pandering to Dagada’s wounded pride.
“No! No, that ain’t right. He’s on his night-shift now. Wouldn’t seem fair, would it? It’d look like you was, uh, taking advantage of the situation. Think of the crew – think of what they’re seeing!”
The muscles in Dagada’s forearm remain clenched a stubborn moment, then soften. “When?”
Kraglin wets his lips. He can’t ask for long. That’d be suspicious. Dagada wants to deal with the Udonta-problem as soon as possible – and, as far as he knows, Kraglin does too. “Tomorrow?” he hazards. “Get. Um. A good night’s sleep on it?”
Dagada mulls it over, his nail tapping rapidly on the wristpiece’s leather strap. Kraglin’s heartbeat revs to match. Then, finally – finally – he acquiesces. Snatches Kraglin’s arm in turn and reels him in close, lathing rancid breath over his cheeks like the lick of a gaseous tongue. “Very well. The canteen. Our lunch hour. Be there.”
Kraglin nods. Fights to remain still and stone-faced as Dagada grunts in satisfaction and releases him, and manages to take the path to the door at a walk rather than a sprint. As soon as the latch clicks to behind him, he’s off. Figs is gonna be midshift somewhere unspecified – probably the engine-room, buried in the ship’s churning belly. Yondu’s been asleep five hours, but Kraglin convinces himself that his natural inclination to skewer any unfortunate soul who rouses him will be diminished in favour of gratitude when he hears Kraglin’s plan.
After all, it’s foolproof, right? All Yondu has to do is keep his cool. Dagada’s gonna as good as invite him to tell the crew every one of his visions for the future of the Ravagers. He’ll speak and they’ll listen – and with the majority on his side, Dagada will have no choice but to abdicate. If the man’s lucky, Yondu’ll let him stay on as a midshipman rather than delivering him straight to the Kyln.
Kraglin’s boots thud off the grill-plates. Unlike in the less populated hallways, the flooring in this part of the ship is kept clean and actually rewelded to its molds once in a blue moon – as a result, the usual ringing clang has been muted to a dull thwack. The rebound reverberates through Kraglin’s calf muscles. He shoves aside a bunch of Ravagers lounging around on break and vaults an unfortunate rookie who’s been assigned to scrub armed only with a toothbrush, and who is too busy scowling at the fizzling remnants of a fuel spillage to notice.
The canteen’s down a level. Kraglin levers himself over the ladder shaft. He considers the drop. Then props his boots one on each side of the rungs, hollers once – “look out below!” – and slides the next ten meters at half-freefall. He hits deck hard enough to make the light panels spit.
“What’s the hurry?” growls a thin Kree. Another Ravager aims to cuff his head, but Kraglin ducks the swipe and keeps running, yelling “Sorry!” as he goes. He barges into the canteen queue, surrendering himself to the tender mercies of elbows, knees, bootcaps, and accusations of pushing in line, and staggers to crash and breathe against the L-block door. Canteen’s rowdy as ever. He’s steamrolled by sound on all sides. Fuck. Remind him to keep the chat down next time he goes to nab one of Shorro’s bowls; how anyone in this dorm isn’t a raving, sleep-deprived madman is beyond him.
With that in mind, he really hopes that Yondu gives him time to explain himself before whistling.
Kraglin sighs. Scrapes his messy hair into something resembling a Mohawk, and pokes the pressure pad to release the door.
The dorm is dark and warm. The ship can be frigid one day and broiling the next – there’s little rhyme or rhythm to it. Figs had explained it to Morlug, who had in turn explained it to Kraglin, who had promptly forgotten every word, but it’s something to do with solar energy collection batteries glitching and overcompensating output to the heat generators. As it is, their leather jackets either absorb the cold or keep in the sweat. It’s like being garbed in a plastic binbag. Kraglin wouldn’t swap ‘em out for the world though – he’s survived too many coolant leaks for that. Walking into Yondu’s dorm, the wash of humid breeze from the rust-stippled fan vents is positively balmy. Kraglin tips his neck back and basks, letting the warmth seep into his skin. The gooseflesh prickling his forearms slowly settles. Okay. Maybe this ain’t so bad.
There’s a scuffle outside. Someone crashes into the doorframe, and every bunk block sways from side to side with the vibration of the walls. There’s a low groan from overhead. Kraglin winces. On second thoughts…
Yondu’s been lucky enough to nab a bunk on the far side of the dorm. It’s not the one he’s assigned to – Kraglin almost shakes awake a querulous-faced rookie, whom Udonta must have elected to swap with. He wonders how that conversation had gone. He scans the rookie’s features with his wristpiece, cross-references name against allocated bunk, and finally locates Yondu in the corner furthest from the door, curled on his side with brace-bound leg poking out from under the blanket, a set of noise-cancellation buds wedged deep enough to tickle his eardrums.
Well. Whispering’s not going to get him anywhere. Only one option left.
Kraglin prays Yondu’s not practiced at whistling through gags. He rubs his hand on his pants – which, being just as grubby as the rest of him, serve as a poor towel. Then steels himself, and plasters his palm firmly over Yondu’s mouth.
Yondu snaps awake. Eyes and implant glowing like the mouths of miniature volcanoes.
He flails, but only for a moment – then his fingers lock round Kraglin’s wrist, skin rough and navy in the dimness. One twist will snap the bones. Kraglin yanks his hand back – then, working only on panic, replaces it with his face when Yondu makes to yell.
“Hey! Hey, hey, hey, just me!”
He’s bundled himself half-onto the bunk, legs left behind on the ladder and torso hunched over Yondu’s. It’s dark, but Yondu’s eyes are glowing bright enough that Kraglin can make out the sharp high wedge of his cheekbone and the roughness of stubble over his jaw. He wonders if Yondu can see the same on him – harried eyes, pupils marooned in the white; cheeks pinched and sallow.
The stress of the last couple of days: playing Dagada, piloting the ship… It’s taken it out of him, Kraglin knows. Add to that that his quest for hairgel had been unsuccessful – remembering Jora’s wispy grey-yellow bun, he doesn’t know why he’d bothered looking in the first place – and he’s more scarecrow than man: a tight-wound bundle of sticks and string, running on willpower more than energy. He doesn’t feel tired though. He’s buzzing. Buzzing with the hope that this might actually work.
His enthusiasm isn’t contagious. Not at Yondu’s version of four in the morning. But it’s a clear enough symptom of an underlying plot to prevent him being shot straight away; Yondu sits in his bunk, fishes out his earbuds with a wince and a grunt, and gestures for Kraglin to join him. Kraglin dutifully crawls into the warm space. He smells sweat and leather and something solely Yondu as he leans on his pillow, and can’t hide his smile.
Fuck Figs. This, right here? She can’t take this away from them. Heck. Perhaps Kraglin oughta fuck him now – an early celebration. Or a goodbye, because tomorrow’s make or break; and while Kraglin’s optimistic, he’s well aware of the danger that they’ll both be courting. He scoots along the mattress, close enough to brush his thigh along Yondu’s calf, and wonders if he can reproduce a blowjob as decent as the one Dixie’s given him last time they’d –
Yondu rubs one eye and yawns into a dry fist, scratching at the brace. “What you want, rookie?” he asks.
“Kraglin,” Kraglin says, patient as ever. Yondu accepts the correction with a humph.
“S’the middle of the fuckin’ night –“
“Can’t wait til morning.”
Thankfully, the majority of the folks around them have invested in earbuds. They sleep as silent as coma patients – bar the occasional snore. If any haven’t been lucky enough to find plugs in their possession, through means legal or otherwise, they know better than to lob boots at Yondu for the heinous crime of after-hour noise. Yondu yawns again, wider, showing off every last molar. There’s as much metal in his mouth as there is enamel. Those that haven’t been capped are either chipped or filed, and the sharp incisors are crooked. He runs a navy tongue over his lips – for a moment, Kraglin thinks he’s going to whistle, but he only licks at the chaps and pulls his eyebrows together like his body’s still deciphering why it isn’t asleep.
“Get on with it then,” he grumbles, waving at Kraglin. Kraglin pulls himself crosslegged, knee bumping the ladder, and begins.
“M’sorry,” says Yondu halfway through. That declaration in itself is surprising enough to snap Kraglin’s mouth shut. Then Yondu scratches his nose and swallows another yawn, eyes twitching open. “Think I dozed off. Can you repeat the last bit?”
It’s too dark for him to tell if Kraglin’s coughing or snickering. Kraglin makes the most of it. “I said, sir – Dagada’s gonna challenge you to tell the crew what you’d change if you was captain. So that’s your chance. All those things you’ve told me about, all them grand ideas to make us bigger and better, a name worth fearing –“
“Hold on a sec.” Yondu frowns. “You sayin' I can’t just punch him in the face?”
It’s gonna be a long night.
Kraglin has to explain the whole thing twice for it to sink in. And then he’s hardly met with the praise and approval he’d been expecting. Yondu stares at him blankly. “Ya want me to make a speech?”
It sounds weird when he says it like that, but he can’t fault the logic. Kraglin grimaces. “I guess?”
Yondu shakes his head. “Won’t work.”
“Ravagers don’t do diplomacy.” It’s a fair point. But not one Kraglin’s willing to concede – he pushes forwards, resting on his knees.
“Only because they never try! C’mon, money’s the way to all our hearts, right? And you’re better at making money than Dagada could ever hope to be. With you at the helm, Ravager fleet could be biggest in the dang quadrant – and anyone who’d pick Dagada over you has gotta be blind.”
Yondu doesn’t let himself be flattered. “It ain’t about choice though. You’re asking me to ask them to go against what they know – to mutiny on a captain that ain’t done them no wrong…”
”But if they only heard what ya had to say,” Kraglin presses. “If you could only tell ‘em…”
Yondu looks up. “What d’you know about how this works? Rookie?” This time, that nickname isn’t so fond.
Kraglin wants to push onwards. This is important. This is needed. Not just for his sake, or Yondu’s – or even poor Morlug’s. The Ravagers could be so much more. He sees that now. He believes it. And he wants to make it happen – he’ll drag Yondu to the captain’s chair and nail him there by force if he has to.
Although he’d rather. Y’know. Nail him. There. Or here. He ain’t fussy.
Kraglin bites his tongue. It’s been a while, that’s all. A whole goddam week. But in this case alone, needs must that his cock comes second-place to his brain. “I know I ain’t a Ravager born and bred,” he starts, spreading his hands in appeasement. One cracks painfully off the bunkpost, so he buries them in the blanket instead. “I mess up. I piss people off. I make a new mistake every damn day – but I learn from it, sir. Y’know I do.” Yondu’s watching him, expressionless. Kraglin takes it as a cue to continue. “And what I’ve learnt is, we got a helluva lot of potential. And we deserve a captain who knows how to tap it. So you’ve got my vote. And I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll bet you – I’ll bet ya a whole crate of Isla’s moonshine – that they’ll listen. They’ll listen to you. Will you listen to me?”
Yondu’s red eyes are hooded with something other than sleep. They glimmer dimly, fireflies in the dark. The shadows swim and shift as he bobs his head once, just once – that’s all the answer Kraglin needs.
“Thank you,” he breathes.
The tension relief is physical, a bolt that surfs him head to toe. Yondu’s undamaged leg is stretched out on his left, the braced one on his right, and the space between them is dark and inviting. Kraglin crawls forwards, Yondu’s unreadable gaze following him the whole way.
He pauses closer than he’d intended. He expects Yondu to jolt away, like they both tend to when faced with anything resembling intimacy; but this game of chicken has no clear victor and they wind up nose-to-nose, breathing each other’s air. Kraglin can feel the difference in their body temperature through Yondu’s thin black sleeping shirt.
“Can I –“ he starts. Blinks down at Yondu’s blue lips, the chip of a tooth glinting between, and ghosts his fingers over them, rubbing them apart. “Can I kiss you?”
Yondu doesn’t answer, but he angles his jaw away. Kraglin’s fingers slip. Skid over stubble and bone. He sighs.
“Okay. I’ll. Uh, I’ll go. See you in the morning, sir – sir?”
A hand settles over his neck. Yondu pulls him in, slow so as not to spook. Kraglin tilts his head on instinct. But Yondu freezes, eyes narrowing, and Kraglin sheepishly sets himself to rights. He’s rewarded with the sight of Yondu’s relaxing face, close to the point of out-of-focus, and the cool press of a forehead against his own.
It’s… it’s not exactly romantic. In fact, Kraglin remembers making the same gesture with a fellow gutter-rat after a heist-gone-right, spurred by the victory-high and the promise of full stomachs. Yet somehow, in this place, this situation, it means so much more.
A promise. A declaration. A silent bond.
It’s more than he could ever have asked for in words, and more than Yondu would ever give in return. Suddenly, missing out on his kiss isn’t such a disappointment. Kraglin leans into the pressure. Yondu’s hand is heavy. His thumb moves in tiny circles, honing on the sensitive patch under Kraglin’s ear, and there’s a miniscule vibration, so infinitesimally small that Kraglin wouldn’t notice under any other circumstance, which emanates from Yondu’s implant and thrums through both of their skulls.
“Goodnight sir,” he whispers. Yondu nods, moving him in tandem.
“Night,” he replies.