In which there is a tense-shift that hopefully works to effect, and Yondu is not a happy bunny.
If there were birds in space, they’d be singing.
Morning did not break through the portal. It encroached. Light was a creep of supergiant-blue, inching across the stew of leather pants, discarded bottles, dirty boots and dropped glass oddities that carpeted a bare metal floor. Its advance was synchronized to the satellite station as it swung about its axis. Outside, the early trade ships slid across space like silent glow worms over the roof of an unlit cave, paths crisscrossing and intersecting in a glittering tapestry. Inside however, everything was still. Everything was silent, barring the even snores. Light continued to fill the room horizontally, as if someone was pouring cerulean vodka in dodgy gravity; it drenched the leather trenchcoat dangling half-off the arm of the bedside chair, glided across the dull steel floor, and finally spilt over the sides of the circular blanket-filled bed-nest to thoroughly saturate its occupants.
The glare’s blinding – quite literally. Or it would be, had it not been for the space station’s thoughtful inclusion of tinted glass for the sake of any guests stupid enough – or drunk enough, as in this case – to leave their shutters open before bed. The amount of photons pouring into the dingy little room is still more than enough to lance hot needles through Kraglin’s eyelids.
Groaning, he gives the morning a one-fingered Xandarian salute. Then scratches at the drool caking the left side of his chin and rolls to press his face into his pillow and nurse his pounding skull, tasting nausea and unbrushed teeth.
His pillow does not approve.
At first, with a flash to his cell on Hrax, Kraglin assumes he’s getting shanked. Possibly disemboweled. It’s understandable. His nerves are hyperwired, as they always are post black-out binge, and the pointy thing jabbing him in the belly sure feels like it’s carving up his intestines. In the half-dazed horror of the still mostly-asleep, he waits for the sloppy slither of entrails hitting sheets. Fuck, he thinks. Fuuuuck. Ain’t been a Ravager two weeks and I’m already on someone’s hitlist.
His fears are averted soon enough. The stabs become punctuated, first with a growl, then by a rough rasp, like sandpaper drawn over iron, which eventually evolves into speech.
Speech in a very distinctive backwater Xandarian dialect. Kraglin might be as green as a Ravager gets; but even he knows that first mates demand a little more respect than, say, Morlug. He rolls off. Winces as his temples throb.
“S’rry sir,” he slurs. Somehow though, his brain doesn’t quite catch up to his words.
The knife is now revealed to be an elbow – blue; could’ve been a trick of the light, or Kraglin’s itchy hangover-eyes, but heck, what’s it matter, he don’t discriminate. Its retreat is followed by a distinct lack of Kraglin’s gory innards (for which he is inexpressibly relieved).
There’s another grunt. Then a slide of dry skin as a leg disentangles from his. Kraglin hadn’t noticed it was there in the first place, but he idly scrubs a foot over where it rested, working the numbness from his calf.
“What time’s it?” The other guy heaves himself along the rumpled mess of sheets in a half-plausible attempt at rising. He makes it halfway. Then flops onto his back with a defeated sigh. He doesn’t seem to expect an answer. Kraglin, twitching like a Taser victim as every vibration of the mattress judders through him, is left to massage his tender crown in the hopes of coaxing out a comprehensible thought. Not that thinking’s the easiest when your brain’s being wrung by the bones of your skull like a sopping scrub-sponge. Any attempts to dredge up the memories of last night result in ringing ears and a reminder that all he has in his stomach is alcohol.
Kraglin blinks and licks his lips.
Musta liked the guy. Or he’d been too drunk to give a shit. Least he hadn’t gotten fucked – damn, but if Morlug found out about that, he’d be a laughing stock for weeks.
Nah. This is okay. Bit sticky, bit grimy, but okay. The ache in his jaw ain’t nothing compared to the one percolating in from behind his eyes, and his stomach-muscles have that pleasant laxness that comes after a damn good orgasm. A fortnight’s a long dry spell for a young adult Hraxian (Okay, teenaged, but only just!) Kraglin figures he shouldn’t complain. He’s comfy – comfier than he’s been in memory. There’s a mattress under him that ain’t made of lumpy springs, and the blue light washes everything in watercolor.
Five more minutes – maybe ten; fifteen maximum. Then he’ll go make sure Isla hasn’t blasted off without him.
He scratches the drool-patch again, stretching. Then drapes a sinewy bicep over his eyes to ward off the godforsaken glare, and smiles. Apparently, he’d had a good night.
It’s around this time that he realizes the silence from the other side of the bed has become… well, a bit ominous.
Silence – noise: the lack thereof. It’s a funny thing. An absence, an abscess of words. And yet it can say so much. Kraglin’s heard his fair share. He can differentiate between comfortable, bored, tense, and relaxed; can read the nuances of whatever situation he finds himself dropped into. Adaptability and gut instinct. Good fucking traits for a petty-pickpocket-come-conman; excellent traits for a Ravager.
This particular silence has the hairs curling on his shins.
He snuffles a comforting nose-full of armpit guff. Then slowly unwinds his arm from around his face, and peeks out from under it.
Not a trick of the light. Nope. Definitely blue. Definitely… Fuck.
Kraglin’s throat works around a dry swallow.
Blue. Red-eyed. Red-implanted. Bandage over the new bullet scar on his side. Crooked teeth capped with an assortment of metals, all of which are currently bared in a confused grimace as Yondu fucking Udonta kneels on the bed next to him, naked as the day he’d been fucking born, and reaches behind himself to probe experimentally at his ass.
“Ow, fuck! Why the fuck’s my –“
His voice trails off. Realization dawns. It’s a truly harmonic moment, marked by Udonta’s narrowing eyes and Kraglin’s rapidly widening ones.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit…
Perhaps it would’ve been better to have been shanked, after all. At least he’d’ve died quick-like.
“Uh,” says Kraglin. The silence is withering. “Sorry…?” Udonta’s flat mouth clenches into a full-on scowl. Then – oddly – purses. Kraglin has a moment to be confused before Udonta whistles.
The arrow hovering in front of his face burns brighter than the supergiant suspended in the aether beyond the porthole glass. Possibly because its tip is approximately five centimeters from his eyeball.
Migraine thrumming, Kraglin struggles up and away, shoulders thumping on the headboard of the circular nest. As if distance is gonna make one bit of fuckin’ difference. He lifts his hands in universal appeasement as the arrow follows. The whistle doesn’t waver. Not for one second.
“Right! Right, gotcha! Nothing happened; nothing at all, not one thing to be sorry for, nope. I was never here, you was never here - or if I was here, you fucked me! You fucked me so good I can’t fucking walk back to ship; in fact, heck, why don’t you just leave me here on this station and I’ll pick up another crew heading to the ass-end of the galaxy –“ Very poor choice of words. “- And I’ll never, ever speak of this, ever again. I swear!”
The arrowtip surges closer. Kraglin, head slammed back as far as it can get without busting through the space station’s flank, is too terrified to do anything other than stare at it in the vain hope that it might be more amenable to pleas for mercy than its master.
“You think we’re bartering, boy?” Udonta grates. Kraglin’s shoulders twitch in a desperate shrug. “No. You’re trying to think of one good reason why I don’t take the easy way out.” What exactly ‘the easy way out’ entails, is enunciated as the arrow makes another menacing thrust. Kraglin, nails biting into his upraised palms, whimpers.
What the hell kinda a weapon is that anyway? He’s never heard of a Kree battalion breaking out into whistles.
Udonta scoffs and lurches off the bed. He refuses to wince – and while Kraglin doesn’t remember much of last night, he doesn’t remember stowing no lube in his jacket pocket neither. Which, coming to think of it, ow. He rubs his knees together. Friction burn where friction burn ain’t meant to be.
If Udonta’s face is a little too stoic though, heck, Kraglin ain’t gonna call him out. The Kree bends at the knees, huffing loudly between his teeth in something that could’ve been aggravation, and grabs the first set of pants he finds. They’re Kraglin’s. He’s debating whether pointing this out will be the last thing he does, when Udonta notices, swears, and lobs them in his general direction. The aim’s off. Kraglin’s sure they’ll go sailing by – but at the last second the goddam belt flicks out, nicking the arrow right on its fletching. Kraglin’s neck-crikking jerk is the only thing that saves eyesight and pre-frontal cortex alike, as the arrow buries itself in the headboard next to his ear.
“Whoops,” said Udonta, not sounding especially sorry. He picks up a small figurine – where the heck’d that come from? – and rubs dust from its belly with a grimy blue finger. “You can pay for that.”
Kraglin hasn’t yet been paid period. His bank account’s dryer than a Morag desert.
But there’s more pressing concerns – his pulse thunders loud enough to give him tinnitus, and the adrenaline coursing through his petrified body must be seconds away from bringing about full cardiac arrest. Still, the arrow’s lodged somewhere other than his skull. Some bright side, given Udonta – First Mate Yondu Udonta, fuck – can whistle it there at any time. But any relief is worth something. Throat contracting around dry tonsils, Kraglin tries to muster the spittle to talk without sounding like a sand-filled engine.
“Sure. Sure, anything.” He’ll promise to buy the whole fucking galaxy. The next glance Udonta tosses him is not so much livid as disdainful.
“And yer a fucking coward.” Udonta stomps another paperweight as he struggles to get his second boot on; it crunches under his heel, and he bursts into a violent spiel of clicks that Kraglin’s translator can make neither head nor tail of. Vocabulary re-emerges at around the same time that Udonta yanks fiercely on the bootstraps and forces his toes into place with an audible thunk. “The hell was I thinking? Scrawny lil’ bottomfeeder like you.” He gives Kraglin a once-over, the closest he’s looked at him since this whole fucking mess began, and groans. “Thanos’s ballsack. You ain’t legal. I fucked a fucking kid. A kid who ain’t never used his dick before. Kill me now.”
Indignant, Kraglin shoulders himself up the headboard and crosses his arms. “Oi, I’m nearly twenty! And ya obviously didn’t mind my dick last night!”
The arrow rips from the bedframe with a skin-crawling screech, and introduces its sizzling aura to his nose.
It’s like sunburn. Bad sunburn, the peel’n’congeal variety. But Kraglin doesn’t have no shade to escape to. He grits his teeth and tries to stare past the quasar-bright glow, to fix his watery vision on the blue figure beyond. “You really gonna kill me over this?” he asks, feigning bravado where he’s got no more to give. “What, the chance I’m dumb enough to go blabbing I fucked Yondu Udonta to the Xandarian Daily Times?”
The shudder that passes through the arrow informs him that possibly, just possibly, acknowledging the nature of the crime isn’t the best approach to paying penance. Udonta proves him right, picking up the second figurine and scowling at its broken arm before pushing it into his pocket with surprising care.
“You thinking that thought’s not helping yer cause none, kid.”
Kraglin shrinks. “Aw, c’mon…”
“I’ve yet t'hear a good reason why I oughta let you live.”
Kraglin racks his brains; turns up blank after blank. Why should Udonta show him any sort of leniency? He’s a nobody. A Hraxian greenie they picked up from a refill station, who left his homeplanet for undisclosed reasons (a better-sounding way of saying ‘fenced some fake shit, shot a cartel boss’s trophy wife accidental-like’). He’d only taken the Ravager reds because his junkship had coughed up its last, and it was a better alternative to being lynched by mob goons. Nope, Kraglin’s a man of precisely two talents – cutting good deals at markets, which is useful, and aggravating big fish in progressively bigger ponds, which is less so.
Sure, he’s virtually mastered that special wrist-twist that severs spines from cerebral vertebrae, so you can yank it out of a neck to the lumbar. But while that old Hraxian trick is flashy, and makes for good showmanship, it ain’t much use for practical scuffling. Kraglin’s not powerful enough or important enough to need to leave messages of that sort. Udonta… is.
“I can do that funky thing with the spines –“
Udonta, not expecting an answer, looks taken aback for the slightest of seconds. Then he yanks his shirt collar over his implant, rolling the material over his scarred chest and that weird second flap of skin on his belly – since when are Kree marsupial? – and snorts out a laugh.
“Yeah? Skinny little asshole like you?”
Kraglin’s tempted to point out that, while on the svelte side, he’s a damn sight taller than Udonta. Kraglin’s also not wholly devoid of common sense.
“Yeah,” he answers, in hope. It’s dashed when Udonta shrugs, stooping to fish for his trenchcoat.
“Good for you. Shame I got ‘bout sixty other Hraxians in the fleet who can do the same.” Kraglin winces. That’s the problem, being one of the galactic species listed in the Nova encyclopedias as ‘common’.
“Alright – alright,” he says. “Look, you got me. I ain’t all that special. I can’t whistle for arrows or, or turn invisible or teleport or whatever other magical shit might be of use to you. I’m just another gun, right? Cannon fodder.”
“At least you ain’t retarded,” Udonta says.
Kraglin wets his lips. “So really, there's nothing stopping you from shooting me. ‘Cept you.”
At that, Udonta’s face darkens so rapidly it could’ve been mistaken for an oncoming cosmic storm. Still, Kraglin’s just insinuated that he’s holding back, and he hasn’t been impaled yet. Kneeling, he spreads his arms in a lanky crucifix. He tips his head back; the stipple of radioactive heat transfers to the tender skin of his neck. Needles jab his voicebox. He croaks out the next words on willpower alone – “So, if you’re gonna do it... For fuck’s sake, get on with it already.”
There’s an endless silence. Face tilted at the ceiling, it drags into a blind eternity, Kraglin’s unable to gauge Udonta’s reaction. He can, however, interpret the soft click as Udonta’s arrow holster settles over his hip, then the whistle as the first mate calls the blazing instrument into it.
“Not one word,” Udonta warns. He taps his arrow twice to hammer the point home.
Kraglin, arms trembling, bites his tongue and nods. But not before sending out a silent prayer of gratitude. Someone up there must be looking out for him. Udonta on the other hand, now that he’s made their stances clear, isn’t inclined to hang around. Swinging his coat over his broad back, he checks the bag of credit-chips tied to the inner lining – as if Kraglin’d be dumb enough to rob him – grunts to himself, and promptly marches out. Not a glance, before the door whooshes shut.
Kraglin waits a whole minute before letting his hands flop onto his lap. They fall heavier than anvils. His breath is coming in shaky bursts, and his headache has amped to the point he suspects it’s prepping to supernova. An inch from his ear, the gouge sliced by the arrow stands out in the blue light like an unstitched scar.
“Fuck,” whispers Kraglin, drooping until his forehead kisses the blankets. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, double fuck…”
Then remembers that once the Ravager shuttle has first mate on board it’s got no more reason to hang around in dock, and scrambles for his pants.
True to Isla’s word, his wristband doesn’t buzz for the rest of the day-cycle.
Kraglin makes it to the shuttle only a minute before Isla and Figs stumble on board and Thrabba punches in the decoupling sequence. Varra shoots him a dirty look when he first totters up the ramp, but a subtle insertion of Figs’ bootcap into his shin prevents any comment. If anyone else was sober enough to notice him and Udonta sneaking off, they keep it to themselves. Kraglin is glad. With only a shell between them and gristly death via depressurization, one misfired arrow could kill them all.
He sits beside the M-ship’s rear window, legs tucked under him as he memorizes the name of yet another station that he can never return to (having tossed the key into a waste duct and abandoned the room before the barman could assess the damages).
It’s a ten-minute trip to the Eclector’s docking bay. Those ten minutes are infinitely lengthened by the fact that Udonta’s nursing his hangover opposite and making an artform out of pretending he doesn’t exist. Speaking of Udonta, and arrows… That’s one weird fucking weapon. He’s too scared of its owner to study the tip sticking out the flap of Udonta’s coat, so he spends the journey counting the seconds, rubbing his burnt throat, and contemplating how he’s going to avoid the man for another fucking month. And listening to Isla puking, but they all have to suffer through that.
He’s still berating himself for his stupidity when the shuttle wobbles through the hangar entrance and magnetizes into dock with a bone-rattling clank. Once the Eclector’s atmosphere-preserving forcefield has reformed, Thrabba shoves the hatch open, his gait impossibly less linear than his flightpath, and ushers them out. Isla’s busy using Udonta’s arm as a stress-ball; Kraglin takes the opportunity and makes a dash for the cold red gleam of the galleon’s interior.
Safe, he thinks. Then: home.
Fuck. When did that happen?
It must be the alcohol, he tells himself, as he staggers to a greenlit lift and fumbles out the code that’ll take him to Level C. The same alcohol that made him think it’s be an excellent idea to fuck a superior officer who can kill him with a whistle, and who may or may not be plotting a fucking mutiny.
And who’s twice his age. Fuck.
That is, decides Kraglin miserably, stumbling along the corridor and presenting his middle finger to anyone who laughs, the story of his fucking life. One catastrophe after another. Most fueled by spirits, peer pressure, or general recklessness. He’s on a downwards spiral, and can feel himself sinking further with every stupid-ass decision that pops into his head. If he doesn’t get his act together, he’ll never get the chance to tell Morlug his name.
And to top it all off, his head aches. Damn it. He’s never drinking again.
He leans on the dormitory door until it falls open, then drags himself to the far bunk stack, toeing off his boots and tying the laces so they dangle on either side of his neck before starting the climb. He almost nods off halfway – but is urged on by growl from the bunk below, for him to stop fuckin' creakin' about and go the fuck t'sleep.
That’s one order he’ll willingly obey.