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Brighter Than the Sun

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"The least goddamn thing you could have done, you enormous blue festering sore on the anus of the universe," Peter remarked conversationally as he worked on his face mask with a high-tech soldering gun he'd swiped from Rocket's workshop, "is tell me that your species can survive hard vacuum."

He was sitting beside Yondu's bed with his boots propped on the edge of it, or more like the middle of it, taking up enough space that Yondu was pushed over towards the edge. They had been waging an ongoing battle for bed territory ever since Peter had taken up semi-permanent residence in the room's only chair.

"It ain't a sure thing even for us. No point gettin' your hopes up." Yondu's voice was a croak. Despite his body shutting down automatically upon exposure to vacuum, he'd still flash-frozen his throat and lungs. Kraglin and Rocket had set up a complicated apparatus with a lot of wires and glowy crap beside the bed; it was supposed to keep his blood oxygenated properly until the medical nanites were finished repairing his lungs. Hastily cobbled together from a spacesuit and part of the ship's life support system, it was hooked to him through a series of uncomfortable-looking tubes, piercing the skin in a row of darker-blue bruised marks down his neck and across his chest.

Peter hoped they were uncomfortable. Peter hoped they hurt like the fucking end of time.

"We came this close to incinerating your so-called corpse, you know that? We would have, if Mantis hadn't touched your face as part of her saying-goodbye ritual and told us you were still alive in there. We had a funeral and everything."

"Hope there was drinkin' and whorin'. There better be booze and loose women at any party where I'm the star."

"It was a fucking funeral, you Smurf-faced sack of donkey dicks. They aren't supposed to be fun. They are, in fact, the opposite of fun. You know the entire Ravager fleet showed up to see you off into the goddamn wild blue yonder, right?"

Yondu's face crumpled a little at that. Peter had to look back down at his work for a minute, focusing on getting one of the fiddly little connections to hook up just so.

"Yeah, well, ain't too much of a surprise they came around to gloat over my death," Yondu rasped. "Sounds like something those assholes would do."

Peter glanced up to see that Yondu was fingering the Ravager flame patch again. He hadn't let go of it since he woke up all the way.

The Ravager who had left it behind, the only one of them who had managed to browbeat her way onto their ship, was a fierce-faced woman about Yondu's age with a streaming mane of dark hair. She had stomped into his medbay room -- at that point he'd been barely conscious, wrapped in warming blankets and buried in a snarl of tubes and wires from Rocket and Kraglin's MacGyvered life support rig, and had blinked up at her like he thought she was a dream. She had stared at him for a long moment, slapped his face, thrown the patch into his lap, and stomped out again.

Peter approved of the sentiment, the slapping part especially, though he'd had to chase her down and bitch at her about knocking life support wires loose.

Now Yondu was holding onto the thing like a goddamn security blanket. It pissed Peter off.

"While we're on the topic of your funeral, you ugly, half-witted, inflamed anal wart --"

The door hissed open and Mantis came in, bearing a tray of soup; Peter snapped his mouth shut. They all had a sort of informal, unspoken pact not to corrupt Mantis more than absolutely necessary, though Peter had a feeling it was a battle they'd already lost, unless they planned to lock her and Rocket in separate areas of the ship.

Mantis smiled at both of them. Her smiles were getting much better. Peter harbored a private theory that the reason she was so terrible at normal social interaction, even by alien standards, had less to do with isolation than with Ego deliberately failing to teach her anything useful in order to keep himself at the center of her universe, because Ego was the most aptly named bag of pus in the history of all creation.

Her cooking, on the other hand ... Peter winced at the smell coming from the tray, and Yondu looked even less happy about it. Mantis wanted to make herself useful around the ship, and she wasn't any good at fighting. Unfortunately she wasn't good at much of anything else either.

"I have made you soup," Mantis reported cheerfully, setting the tray beside the bed. "Soup is a traditional food for people who are sick. Three different people on the ship have now told me so, and I do not think all of them can be making a joke."

"Any booze in this?" Yondu asked, poking at the bowl with a fingertip.

Peter kicked him in the leg. "You don't put booze in soup, you dick biscuit. Well, you probably would. Wait, is that why all the food on your ship used to taste so weird?"

"No, that's 'cause we kept putting Taserface on galley duty. Shoulda spaced him when I had the chance."

"I am sorry," Mantis said, her antennae sagging. "I did not put booze in this. The cranky puppy and the talking plant didn't say anything about that. But I could add some next time."

"You done fine, sweetheart," Yondu told her. He picked up the utensil beside the bowl -- it definitely wasn't a spoon -- and pressed at the surface of the soup, which resisted in an unexpectedly resilient sort of way.

Peter sat up from his sulky slouch to stare with fascination at the gently undulating greenish surface. "What kind of soup is that?"

"There are different kinds?" Mantis asked, puzzled.

"Hey." Peter reached out to pat her arm, careful to keep his hand on the clothed part of it. "You did a good job. Next time maybe don't get the recipe from Rocket. He's ... not the best cook on the ship."

"Who is the best cook on the ship?" she asked, her antennae unfurling and standing up with interest.

"Uh ... me, probably. Or Drax."

"I will ask Drax then," she declared. "He is very funny. And he always explains his jokes, so I know when he is joking, which is very helpful. It is hard to tell otherwise."

"Since when do you cook?" Yondu asked Peter, putting down the not-at-all-spoonlike thing and settling back weakly against his pillows.

"Shockingly, you diseased dingo's testicle, I have learned a few skills other than the ones I learned on your ship, which were mostly about shooting people and stealing things."

Mantis patted Peter's hand as she turned to leave. He'd almost stopped trying to jerk away when she did that. Of course, he usually remembered immediately afterwards why jerking away was an act of self-preservation.

"He feels a great deal of anger for you," she told Yondu.

"Yes," Peter said, crossing his arms. "Yes, thank you, Mantis."

"He also feels love."

"What? No I don't!"

"A very great love. Not the sexual kind of love, but it is warm and deep and so near to the surface that it tingles when I touch him. He is very happy that you are not dead."

"Dude! Not cool! Not even remotely cool!"

"Everyone on the ship is very happy, although they are trying to hide it. They are happy for you, and it makes me happy. The whole ship feels so warm and nice." Mantis gave them another of her newly learned smiles over her shoulder as she left.

There was a brief silence.

"Anyway," Peter said sullenly, returning his attention to the half-disassembled face mask, "where were we."

"I think you were callin' me a dingo's testicle." Yondu, with a pained grunt, leaned over to rummage under the bed and came up with a squat, lurid green bottle. He popped the cap off with his thumbnail and sniffed at it. The alcoholic scent was as sharp as paint thinner.

"What the hell, man. That can't be good for you, in your condition," Peter protested as Yondu took a swig.

"My 'condition'? You make it sound like I'm pregnant. Anyway ..." He wiped his mouth and held the bottle out to Peter with a hand that still trembled slightly, the fingertips black with healing frostbite. "Can't be worse than the soup."

"You've got a point." Peter gave the bottle a cautious sniff and winced. It was even more sinus-stripping close up. "You sure this isn't poisonous to Terrans?"

"Only one way to find out."

"Fuck you," Peter muttered, and took a drink. The stuff was awful. It burned all the way down. He also knew from previous experience drinking with Yondu that he was going to have the mother of all hangovers in the morning.

It was worth it.

He took another sip of the horrible stuff -- it hurt less this time; his tongue was mostly numb -- and handed back the bottle.

"Y'know," Yondu rasped as he took it, nodding to the project in Peter's lap, "piece of advice here, you wanna wire the left power coupler through a second capacitor or you're gonna get a power surge right in the face the first time your armor takes a hit."

"Excuse you, I'm not taking advice from you anymore, you scrotal pimple. Dead people don't get to give anyone advice."

"Fine, don't listen to me. You think that green gal will mind if you get your nose blown off? 'course," he added, passing the bottle back to Peter after another gulp, "it couldn't exactly make you uglier, so maybe she don't care."

"Look who's talking. You look like a mangy, inbred warthog mated ass-first with a Proximian fart-beast and hatched the egg in a radioactive blue paint factory."

After a short, contemplative pause, Yondu remarked, "Good one. Gonna have to remember that."

"Thank you," Peter said modestly, and took another sip of bright green Centaurian paint thinner.