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A Study in Scarlet Sleeves

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“Aw, look, he’s scared.”“What do you think he tast’ like?” “How big do these things grow- he’s no bigger than a dog.” “Lets’a throw him the cargo hold, cargo like he is.” “What’s ya feed it?” “Huamn, what’s a huamn?” “Strange way to pronounce ‘terran’, I suppose.” “Yondu’s vouching for him?”

  

“What, what…are you? You’re BLUE-“

 

“What are you, littl’boy? What’s so special ‘bout being a pale-skinned like-a-rat?”

 

“I’m human.”

 

“You’re a terran, boy. And… well, let’s say I’m your new daddy.”

 

*

 

There’s a lot of rat holes on the Ravager homeship for small, cold, little earth boys. Under the pipes, behind the bunks, tucked up around the gallery windows, down the core air vents. Places to stay away from being underfoot. The hangers holding the solo ships have crossed beams, just big enough for a bed if you sleep with an eye open and a tether on your waist. Peter- thin-skinned, fragile-boned, slow-grower,- curls up often in the steel webbing. It is dark and chilled and huge, the solo ships’ orange-blue a washed out grey, and it is the quietest part of the ship. Quiet enough to let him breath Earth pop-music and pretend he’s back in a time when people still called it that. 

 

*

Kitchen assignments are made to toughen up the weak. It’s hot, it’s boiling, the graters scar his hands, carrying the trays strain his shoulders. He hasn’t quite gotten balance on a starship right and he’s rife with bruises, scraps, scratches. But he learns, like he’s meant to. Peter learns the perfect temperature to boil the deep red leaves of closh, can dice perfect cubes from the wooden fruit hulmnm-with-a-click-at-the-end, discovers that pilots have nothing on a chef’s bad mouth. 

 

The first time they kill a dog for the nightly stew, he cries. He punches someone. In his bunk, he tastes blood on his teeth and it takes days for the split-lip to heal. Nightmares warp from sickly coughs and medical displays to high-pitched whelps in the dark that cut off far too quickly. 

 

The second time, he’s handed the caracas to deliver to the butcher. 

 

The seventh time, he wields the knife. The stink of blood embeds itself into the crevices of his palm.

 

*

 

“You going to let him keep his shit? Ravagers are Ravagers, and nothen’ else.” 

 

“Aye, Kraglin, and most of us give it up when we come aboard. He’ll lose it when its ready. The price he’ll fetch with genuine terran crap on the backwaters should tempt him to it when he’s old enough to understan’ what credits mean. 

 

“Well, it better be quick. The noise that box of his makes is driving the lot in the shared bays up the deck. How fast do these terran spawn grow any how? It’s been weeks and he hasn’t grown a finger!”

 

“I think they grow in spurts.”

 

*

 

Three other kids are brought aboard the same year as him- two girls, one who can self-breed. By the time he gets his first ride on a solo, he claims the dubious honor of being the only graduating Ravager cadet of 1988. 

 

*

 

Tacked away in Yondu’s cabin are star maps. They’re holdovers from a more primitive era, each line hand drawn. Yondu boosts of taking them from a museum on a breaker job, and lovingly details what he spent the credits on. Peter stars at them during the lectures on Ravager tradition and family and law, desperately looking for a single star system. He’s too young to realize its a completely different section of the galaxy, and by the time he’s old enough to know better he doesn’t care. 

 

They get sold back to the same museum they were stolen from, Yondu spinning a tale of coming across them in some black-market in a backwater planet and being immediately moved by their beauty, a beauty that deserved to be protected. For a fee of course. 

 

The money buys Peter's first hangover. 

 

*

 

Ravager law number two: Get The Money. 

 

Ravager law number three: Share the Love.

 

*

 

He’s accepted that he’s to only get a translator after he manages a successful negotiation on a interstellar market, for loot he’s taken himself. Favors and small debts cross hands on the homeship as easily as credits on the black-markets and Peter, at twelve, finds the language as easy are breathing air. 

 

He’s accepted the cold of the ship- after all, he’s a single terran on a ship made for thirty species, and half of those need the cold, a third after that don't mind it, and the rest deal with it. The group spaces get warm enough. He’s filched enough blankets. Learning to manipulate his way to a spot near the heating pipes only took a year.

 

He’s even accepted the pot-shots at his music. When he gets his own solo, he’s going to retrofit a music player into the wall and play it as loud as he likes. He’ll only take partners who can appreciate the melodies. For now, the walkman stays under his blanket nest, carefully packed in a lock box. 

 

What he will not accept is shit food. 

 

“N’o’idon”, he says, desperately making the appropriate gestures for respect, “please? It won’t even be much of a difference. I even did all the research me’self, see?” He offers a page of terran nutritional needs, edited to jive with his weirdness.  He’s been experimenting on himself for a year, not eating this, eating that, logging everything during stolen time on a ship computer. He’s thumbed through dusty books in the Ravager library on deck six. Begged scraps from every terran-like person he bumps into at a fair. Even got a ‘consult’ with the ship doctor when he went in with a busted elbow. 

 

The ships’ cook glares down at him, fingers making the shapes for impatience and offense and business. “This thing you are asking for I to cook, what is it?”

 

“You don’t even need to cook it! I’ll cook it!  You just need to get it.” He fumbles for the gestures for sincerity but hopes its close enough. 

 

“Well, boy, what is it?”

 

“Beans,” said Peter, “I need beans.” He pushes his luck.  “And alfas- alfalfa, if you please?.” 

 

She doesn’t quite manage the alfalfa, but the plant she provides is close enough to fix his body’s yearning for the sun. 

 

*

 

Peter is ten when he’s let off the homeship for the first time. He doesn’t try to run. 

 

Yondu doesn’t say a word, but there’s a clap on his shoulder that sends him stumbling, almost into a garbage heap, and Peter returns to his nest to find a battered copy of Peter Pan on top of the blankets.The note read, roughly, “I don’t know what this means- a bit of much makigin’ for my tastes- but the seller says it be Terran. Rouk put a knife to his throat so it be the truth. Do what you like.”

 

Peter knows the story, knows the characters, knows the ending, even through the murk in his mind that his memories are decaying into. His mom read it to him once a week…Before. 

 

It goes out the nearest airlock. 

 

*

 

Ravager Law One: Ravager Means Family.

 

*

 

She laughs into his mouth, fingers leaving bruises on his shoulder blades and scratches down his back. She’s 100% gorgeous, three eyes, royally purple skin and hairless, taller then he is, leaner, and her species is so much stronger its not even funny. The wall creaks when they hit it, his fingers scrambling blindly behind him to get the stupid thing to read his fingerprints, and let them the fuck in. 

 

They fall and they crash into things, neither of them bothering to reach for a light switch that neither of them need. Peter could make out blurred shapes in the darkness if he tried, but he would much rather tie himself to a kiss that leaves them both gasping. And her, well, her eyes glow faintly, electrically. Tattoos he’d admired while almost drunk do the same; drunk, he traces them with his lips and hands and body, moving clothes out of the way to follow. She laughs. There’s something encouraging in the sound. 

 

Later, half buried under her weight, she traces scars with her fingers and asks him where his tattoos are. “Surely you’re a man,” she says, and the thing is Peter doesn’t know. What makes a terran a man? A ritual in the light of the man, like on Astrk? A first born, like on N/N/n/N? The rite of passage on Slom, where they stop your heart and wait to see if it beats again? Asking the right questions is so fucking hard, and the answers never make any damned sense. 

 

“I am,” he says, with all the confidence in the world in his voice, absolutely none in his head, “Terrans don’t have that ritual”, and rolls over to give her a kiss. 

 

He picks up a tattoo later, next to the club where he picked up the girl. In utilitarian black ink the coordinates of a small little world in the Nova-Beta-395 cluster got stamped across left hip. Green seas, beautiful beaches, ruins no one else else has gotten their grubby hands on yet because of the cave monsters that took over once the people were dead. Ships, they thought they were dreaming when they stumbled on platinum veins creeping through the rock. One of the monsters got Her in the leg, Viceroy got hit with poison that made him hallucinate dancing trees for the longest ass time, and he, Peter Quill, got to fly the solo all the way back to Yondu. What else could possibly make you a real Ravager?

 

*

 

They do runs on live planets sometimes, the smoke and the ash still hot in the air. They avoid the places were there’s still screaming but only by a little. Once there was a house, burned and broken; inside the house was a cage. The creature in the cage was alive, with clipped wings, and it called to him. 

 

Peter walked away. 

 

He came back. 

 

Back on the homeship it died quietly. Smoke damage, said Avaarad, it breathed in too much dirty air. Peter burns its ashes, quietly down in the heating center, and watches the ashes float quietly outside the solo mainshield. 

 

*

 

Kraglin looks human but he isn’t. Peter knows. Ages too slow for one thing, eats to little for another. It’s subtle but there and it takes years to learn not to hate him. 

 

It takes years longer to understand why he’s the only Terran wearing the red. 

 

*

 

The temple rocked, purple bursts of light exploding outside the windows. The crystal stone walls glitter, turning the red sights of weapons into orange rainbows. They danced and danced and danced, and they painted Peter’s hands with fire. The Ravagers scattered around the room were buckled down, uneasily solemn, shoulders pressed against stoney barriers. Their weapons whined. Peter, tucked carefully out of weapon sight at the smoking hole that used to be a door, stared resolutely out into the dust storm. Behind him was gasps and pain, and Yondu begging someone not to go. 

 

Tonsulululu, first of her name in the red, died with the color of her coat marred blue by her blood. Yondu snarled harshly, breathing labored from a bullet wound in his chest, and pulls his hand away from her neck. He was cold and angry, and his skin flushed white at the knuckles when he picked up his phaser. “Well, boys,” he said with an awful awful smile, “whaddaya think? Let’s blow these pieces of scum to the edge, hmmmm?” He laughed. “Let’s make my first day as Daddy count.” 

 

Tonsululu had been big in life, and big in dying, her whips splitting the air with sonic booms. She’d dragged half a platoon down with her. Now she looked too small, swallowed in a coat that used to make her look gigantic. Yondu stalked past him and stopped long enough to haul him to his feet and snarl, “Whattcha looking at, Peter? It’s a just a corpse; out there’s got guns and loot to be had.” Ravagers all around rose, the bloodlust coming in, the rage; grief had no place here. Peter, standing shakily, thought this was going to make them all big in death. 

 

First to charge were the war cries. Second went Yondu. Third went Peter, because he didn’t want to be a coward. Behind him came a red tide.   

 

*

 

Sometimes on the ravaged planets- treasure planets, says Yondu with a smile, gift-wrapped loot, says Kraglin- when the belly opens wide and all the solo ships drop loose, binary starlight igniting the hull, Peter ties himself to the edge of the edge, breathing in the exhaust fumes. 

 

He closes his eyes, 

 

rests his weight on only the tethers,

imagines what its like to fly. 

 

*

 

They’re laughing at him. Not subtly about it either. Peter grunts, cautiously touching a shaky feeling tooth with a finger, and glares furiously at Tons. Tons is big and bad; his planet hadn’t developed much past the age of throwing rocks at each other and calling it war, but that just meant that he was used to throwing his weight around. Plus a hundred pounds, two extra limbs, skin like rock, and Peter, pathetic pathetic 15-year-old Terran that he was, didn’t have much of a chance at a straight up fight. Which pissed him the fuck off because he was here first, damn it. 

 

Kraglin yells at him to get up from his seat as the crate king, two feet from the edge of the sparring circle. “Get up or get off this ship” he bellows, and Peter wheezes to his feet. No new alien from the backend of nowhere was going to take his spot. Not now. He’d fought too hard for his place. 

 

The other Ravagers lovelies were still laughing. 

 

Fuck you fuck you fuck you and fuck you too buddy

 

Tons lunges at him him again, reaching for his knees with him lower limbs and his face with his upper and Peter scrambles, throwing himself right into a curl, then goes for the pipe in the ceiling. The sparring ring is held in one of the lowest hulls, dark and old, the walls creaking with exposed pipe systems, circuitry, and strength supports. It lent character. It also meant that an enterprising, angry young being with opposable thumbs (and likewise) could get a good grip and kickdown on another beings weak points. On Tons, that meant planting both of his heels into his windpipe. 

 

He curled up reflexively, his four arms wrapping around as an impenetrable shield as he fell backwards to the floor. Peter wheezed and went the other way, lurching up. On the ceiling, revealed in the light of the fight on Peter’s third time on the ground, was a weak piece corroded steel. The ragged edges gleamed. Pain rattled him as blood splashed down onto his face but he let go of the pipe; his weight dragged him to the floor and the ceiling screamed as the sheet came with him. 

 

“Roak”, he croaked. The blood was warm on his face. The inside of his jaw throbbed. Something felt like a broken toe. Thump-athump-thumpa-athumpa. 

 

Tons was getting up. 

 

Peter got up. 

 

Much to his surprise, the steel actually went through Tons back. 

 

Much to his surprise, his blood was red and warm and smelled something like Peter’s. 

 

Tons screamed with different vocal cords than Peter’s but they pierced his heart the same. The room spun, a river of color bleaching away; his knees felt weak, his ears ringing thump-thumpa-thump-athumpa. They hit the floor at the same time. 

 

The party thrown afterwards was thrown for Peter.

 

Tons body had been discarded out the trash hole with the rest of the rubbish. 

 

*

 

He grins through the blood on his teeth as the Nova officer points the weapon at him. They grab him roughly, steal his phaser from him, and push him to his knees so they can slap the cuffs on him. They’re a little too tight, but his ravanger coat dampens the feeling of sharp edges. He spits some blood out. The sunshine of Nova’s sun makes it brilliant.

 

“Hey, I worked hard for that,” Peter protests as they they place the painting into a containment chamber. The light flicks red and any hope of him getting it out dies, unless he’s content with ashes, which he’s not, obviously. Damn, Yondu is going to murder him. And his first alone mission too! 

 

“Shut up, red scum,” snaps one of the officers and cuffs him in the head. 

 

“Don’t insult the coat,” snarls Peter, and ships, how he hates it when people spit on the red. What’s their business with it anyways, huh? None, that’s what. Before he can do some (another) thing he’ll regret, there’s another officer with rank tags shoving his way through.

 

Both of you shut it. Officer Vrik, do not abuse people within your custody. Get yourself under control. The redcoats are assholes but so’s most of the galaxy. You, Ravager, identify yourself. Haven’t seen you before- new in the area or new in the red?”

 

“I’m Starlord,” declares Peter, and around him the officers blink. Than they laugh. 

 

He does do something he regrets. And not a single credit to show for it, yells Yondu, later, after the prison fades from the view screens. 

 

*

The ship vibrates around him, softly, humming like a song. People rattle outside, their voices dull; in here he’s alone, his heart beating thump-thump-thump. Staleness was in the air and it was wonderful; the lights of the view screens illuminated his smile; in the depths of his eyes was a map.  

 

“This is the Raza. Ready to drop”, calls Kraglin, his voice filtering through the speakers.

 

“The Lovely is ready to drop,” calls Pietr. 

 

STRFR, Ready to drop”, calls Lnn-klv-pth

 

The others come through, loud, clear, foretelling their fortunes, singing their songs. 

 

Peter rans his fingers over the controls, pulling on a lever, flicking a switch, adjusting a control panel, rolls a shoulder. His coat settles firmly across his shoulders. “This is the Milano. Ready. To. Drop.” Calls Peter. He starts humming.  

 

“Ready boys!” Barks Yondu, and the belly opens. They fall. Below them is another world, small yet bigger then any other world that ever was, full of mysteries all its own. The star of the system curves over its horizon, illuminating the solos as they fill out across vast emptiness of space, lighting up the oceans down below, the swirling crimson clouds. What plunder, thinks Peter, what riches, what wealth, what adventure, what air to breathe, and never turns on the brakes. 

 

He whoops. He’s answered a dozen times over.