Peter could feel the wet grass slicking his fingers and soaking through the knees of his jeans. The cold fog made his hair stick to his ears and chilled the tears on his cheeks, but he didn't care. He struggled for breath between sobs.
A light fell on him, a warmth and a strong grip. He thought it was his Grandad and tried to shrug it off, but it grew stronger and he looked up to find a UFO hovering above him. A big, brightly lit, terrifying UFO. He screamed as the world went insane around him, and then he suddenly found himself indoors.
The floor under him was metal. So were the walls and ceiling... strange, futuristic metal and doodads that looked disturbingly like the ship from Alien (which he had managed to watch despite being repeatedly told it 'wasn't fit for children.'). Peter really didn't want to think about that movie right now.
He tried to stand, but the room was shaking and pitching, and gravity suddenly decided to disappear. He floated there, reaching out to try and grab onto something... anything, when it came back with a vengeance. He hit the ground so hard he blacked out.
Peter woke up to a scaly, blue face inches from his nose. He screamed.
The creature shrieked back and rushed away from the boy.
"Careful now." There was another creature in the dark metal room, only this one was human... or at least he looked human. He had a mohawk and tattoos and an unnaturally long and thin neck. Peter's Grandad would have a name for him that Peter would've gotten a mouthful of soap for repeating.
"I hear these planet-bound primitive types are savage," said the thin necked man. "Eat your face clean off."
"It doesn't look very dangerous," countered the blue creature in a strangely normal voice. There were twig things coming out of the back of his head...
Peter stared at them, tears clinging to his eyes, but too shocked to cry.
"What're you idiots doing down there!" This came from a hole in the ceiling that had a metal ladder leading into it. The voice had a scratchy tone that reminded Peter of the really grumpy old neighbour who was always shouting at him to get off his 'Damn Property!' A shadow passed over the hole and the voice was much closer. "Is the kid alive, or not?"
"It's fine, Yondu," said Pencil Neck.
"Then one of you keep an eye on 'em and the other one get your ass back up here. The damn Terrans hit the navigation array."
"How'd they manage that?" Pencil neck started up the hole, leaving the blue creature with Peter.
"Well I don't know... maybe they're a bit more advanced then you said they were." Whoever was up there, he did not sound impressed.
"Yeah... sorry about that..."
Their conversation drifted away.
Peter fidgeted uncomfortably and the blue Twig Monster bared its teeth. It pulled out what could only be a gun and pointed it at the boy. "Just try to eat my face off, tiny."
Peter put his hands up. "I won't," he squeaked. "I won't! I promise!"
The creature relaxed a little and took a seat on a nearby bench. He never took his aim off Peter.
It felt like hours later when they finally jolted to a stop. Pencil Neck's head popped down the hole and he said, "Take the Terran to its room. Yondu's orders."
The creature growled, but stood up and nudged Peter with his gun. "Get up."
Peter winced, and scrambled to do as he was told. He was pushed out the automatic hatch at the back of the room and into a large hanger filled with (totally cool) spaceships just like the one he exited. He had time to pause and utter a breathless, "Wow..." before he was shoved out of the open space into a still pretty wide hallway.
He froze in his tracks.
There was about a dozen more creatures standing there, staring at him. A few of them looked human, like Pencil Neck. The rest looked like extras from that cantina on Mos Easlie.
One of the human guys stepped forward. He was scruffy and bearded and normal. "This the Terran?"
"What do you think?" The blue creature (Bluey?) had a defensive edge to his voice.
Beard Guy grinned down at Peter. "I think it looks delicious. Never tasted Terran before."
Peter's heart jaw dropped. Was this guy serious?
"Piss off, Horuz," groaned the Bluey. "The Boss'll kill me."
Beard Guy (Horuz), attempted to put on a pleading face. "All I want is a taste. I'll leave it mostly intact."
"Hey, I wanna try it too!"
The others were piping up now. They crowded around Peter and his warden, arguing about the merits of eating him instead of following orders.
Peter was covered in cold sweat and breathing hard as panic settled over his eight year old body. Then something in him snapped.
He saw a gap in the legs surrounding him and he dove for it, sliding along the smooth floor. He was up again and running for dear life before most of the cannibals realized what was happening. He didn't know where he was going. How could he know where he was going? He just pushed himself forward, picking twists and turns on instinct.
His side was aching like he'd been stabbed, and he his legs burned. He slowed. Then he stopped. Slumped forward, hands on his knees, he fought to get air into his lungs.
Something grabbed his shoulder, and a voice he recognized as Pencil Neck's said, "How'd you get all the way out here?"
Peter screamed and struck out at the man, while at the same time throwing himself backwards. Before he could even try to muster up the strength to keep running, something wrapped around him from behind.
"Good catch Boss," said Pencil Neck.
Oh great... the leader of the cannibalistic monsters had him.
His arms were pinned so he kicked wildly and threw his head back in an attempt to bash the leader's nose (if it had one). It didn't work.
"Stop!" yelled that gravelly voice. "Stop kicking and calm down!"
"No! I ain't lettin' you eat me! I ain't!"
Peter was dumped on on his face and then pulled back up by a painfully strong grip on his arm.
"Why would I wanna eat you?" growled his captor.
Peter blinked his eyes open. It was another blue alien that had him, although this one had much more normal features... aside from the... thing that protruded from under his skin along the top of his head. His face was covered in stubble and scars, and his slightly bared teeth were crooked.
It was the eyes, though. He had eyes as unnaturally red as a Twizzler.
In Peter's experience (mostly from cartoons), red eyes always meant 'Evil Villain.' This guy honestly didn't look as scary as some of the others, but Peter couldn't breath, couldn't move. His eyes rolled back and he slumped against the alien's grip.
Yondu stared at the unconscious child that was now leaning against him. He knew the kid would be new to the whole 'you're not alone in the Galaxy' thing, but he wasn't expecting the raw terror he'd picked up before the boy passed out. He frowned at his first mate. "My face ain't that scary, is it?"
The man, Kraglin, knew better then to try and answer. Instead he shrugged.
The pounding of boots on metal caused them to turn and find a bunch of the crew running towards them. Yondu instinctively shifted to put himself between the child and his men. He didn't like the vibes he was getting.
"Oh good... you caught it," said the blue fellow who'd been left in charged of the kid.
Yondu straightened his back. "Hess? Why was the Terran loose?" he asked sweetly. He put on his best friendly smile.
The entire horde of aliens cringed and moved away from their peer.
Hess wrung his hands and licked his lips. "Well... uh... it was these guys, Boss. They crowded us and let the little thing slip by me. It runs real fast."
The others were protesting, but their leader barked over them. "Shut up! Now, explain to me why the hell he thinks I wanna eat him."
Hess didn't waste a second. "That was Horuz."
Those red eyes turned on the bearded Xandarian. "Horuz?"
Rather then look ashamed or cowed, Horuz shot a sour look at Hess before grumbling, "I just wanted a little taste."
"A taste?" One of Yondu's eyes twitched. "Of the Terran?"
"It's just cargo. Who cares if there's a bit missing?" Horuz shrugged. "And they wanted some too." He waved his hand at his arguing peers.
Yondu cut in with, "It's a higher life-form! You don't eat higher life-forms!"
"I'd hardly call a Terran..."
He pulled back the edge of his coat to display his Yaka arrow. It was a threat that no one took lightly, and even Kraglin held his breath. "This ain't a negotiable point. No one is eating the kid, and anyone who even thinks about doing so again... well... I don't need to describe what'll happen. Do I?"
He got a chorus of, "No Boss," and, "Sorry Boss."
"Good. Now get back to work before I put a hole in every one of your stupid, asshole, brains!"
They jumped and ran in different directions; off to do whatever they did when they weren't terrorizing children.
Yondu shook himself and turned to Kraglin. "Was that guy always that crazy?"
He grunted and looked at his captive. He was pretty sure Terrans weren't supposed to have a grey skin-tone, and passing out like that was never good. The kid was in shock. Some species could die from such a thing. So how delicate was this one?
He picked the boy up and cradled him carefully, like it was something he did all the time. He was afraid, he realized, and old instincts were kicking in. This was the first time in ages that he feared for another being's life.
Of course that was only because if the boy died, he wouldn't get his reward. He needed that reward. Still... he didn't like it.
"Uh... Yondu? You need help with that?"
Yondu snapped out of it. He was standing in a hallway, clinging an alien child to his chest like his life depended on it. Kraglin must've thought he'd gone insane.
But when he looked at the man, he found no judgement there, no suspicion of weakness, and only a smidgen of humour.
There was a reason Kraglin was his first mate.
"Naw," he said, not bothering to hide his gratitude. "I got this. You go make sure the boys don't do something stupid, like blow up my ship."
Kraglin chuckled and walked off.
Yondu went in the other direction towards the room he'd had set up in preparation for his 'guest.' He walked into the small quarters and laid the boy down as carefully as he'd picked him up. Maybe he'd been to rough before? Maybe this wasn't shock, but the result of damage? He took the bag off the boy's back and set it aside, then checked him over.
He was still breathing, so there was that. He had a purplish bruise over one of his eyes, but nothing was broken, or even swollen.
Yondu frowned. This kid was far too valuable. He had to be sure.
He went to the door and locked it. No one could see him do this. Not even Kraglin. They wouldn't understand.
Hesitantly, he walked back to the bed and crouched next to it. He reached out and brushed the hair from the boy's forehead before settling his palm there. His other hand he placed over the tiny creature's heart.
Yondu relaxed, his breathing evened out, he closed his eyes and allowed senses take over that most people didn't even know existed.
Anyone watching would see his crest glow with a brilliant red bioluminescence. His men thought this quirk of his appearance helped to control his arrow, and he encouraged that. No one needed to know what it was really for.
After a few seconds the light dimmed and he sighed, removed his hands from the child, straightened up, and backed away.
You wouldn't be able to tell by looking at him, but he was shaken. He didn't know what he was expecting, but this? This wasn't it.
One thing was for sure though; the boy took after his father.
Yondu snorted and rubbed his eyes. What was he thinking? He didn't care. The kid was just a means to an end.
He was getting what he wanted. No. Matter. What.
Yondu turned his attention to the kid's bag. He sat on the edge of the bed, opened it up, and started digging.
The first things he found were a brightly coloured package and a bit of paper with an unfamiliar language written on it. He almost opened the package, but something stopped him. An impression of a woman... holding her hand out... dying.
He shuddered and set the items beside him.
The next thing he found was a primitive device with a long cord and a curved wire attached to it... and there was that woman again. It wasn't a weapon of any sort so he set it with the package.
There was more stuff inside: food in bright wrappers, more papers covered in that language, writing utensils with images of strange creatures on them, odds and ends. He found dozens of little cylinders that gave off a tiny pulse of energy when he touched them. They weren't alive. Some sort of battery?
He put them in a pile and pulled out the last thing. It was a little plastic bobble made to look like a chubby, bipedal creature in light blue clothes. It had a dopey smile, big brown eyes, and a ridiculously large tuft of orange hair sticking out of it's little plastic head.
Yondu cracked a grin. This would go nicely with his collection. He started to tuck it into his breast pocket when he felt the bed shift behind him.
A young voice yelled, "Give that back it's mine!"
He twisted and peered over his shoulder at the boy, who was kneeling, glaring at him, tiny hands curled into fists. He raised his eyebrows. Was the kid trying to intimidate him? Without breaking eye contact, he pushed the bobble the rest of the way into his pocket.
One of those tiny fists connected with his jaw.
It didn't hurt, but Yondu was stunned. He turned to face the kid fully and said, "Did you just punch me?"
"Yeah," the kid said defiantly. "And I'll do it again if you don't give that back!" He was still afraid, but it was buried under a layer of righteous fury.
Yondu stared for a tense couple of seconds and then burst out laughing. He couldn't stop himself. There were tears in his eyes.
There were tears in the boy's eyes now too. "It ain't funny!" And he jumped on the big blue bully who was probably going to eat him, pounding on his head and shoulders.
He was easily shrugged off, sending the pile of batteries and pencils flying.
Yondu continued to chuckle and wiped his eyes. "You've got guts, Terran, but picking a straight fight with someone three times your size is not a smart move."
"My name ain't Terran..." The boy sniffed. He was starting to feel the fear again, and sadness; fresh, overwhelming sadness.
Yondu internally winced. This kid's emotions were jagged and all over the place, but Yondu was good at not letting on. He scrunched up half his face in confusion. "'Course it's not."
"Then why you keep calling me that?"
He snorted. "'Cause it's what you are, stupid."
"I ain't stupid! And I ain't no Terran!" the kid shouted. Then he settled against the wall, drew his knees up, and hugged them. "I'm a human. I'm from Earth." The tears were flowing freely now as he stared at nothing.
"Earth?" Yondu frowned. "You call your planet Earth? That's a terrible name. Might as well say 'my planet's a big 'ole pile of dirt.' Also, I'm pretty sure it's mostly water."
The kid buried his face in his knees and mumbled something unintelligible.
"What was that?"
"If you're gonna eat me, just do it. I don't care anymore." He was lying, but he was also exhausted and emotionally drained. He wanted this to be a bad dream. He wanted his Mom to wake him up and tell him he was late for school... but he knew she wouldn't... never again.
Yondu's hand twitched. He wanted to reach out and put a hand on the kid's head, offer some sort of comfort. Instead he chuckled. "No one's gonna eat you kid. I put a stop to that." To himself he grumbled, "Don't know how it got started in the first place..."
"Don't believe you..." the boy said miserably.
Yondu smiled. This Terran still had some spunk left despite everything that was happening. As a test, he took the bobble out of his pocket pretended to examine it like some prized treasure. "So what is this thing?"
The boy tensed, his eyes following the alien's movements. "It's a Troll Doll."
"Troll Doll..." Yondu tested the strange words on his tongue. "It's real cute."
The boy's head went up. "It's mine!" The fight was back in him.
Yondu regarded him. "It means that much to you?"
"My Grandpa gave it to me..."
Yondu frowned. Talk of the kid's grandfather wasn't firing nearly as much emotion. In fact, all he was getting was misery. Clearly something had happened to the mother, and recently. He sighed and held the doll out to the kid. A sort of peace offering. "Yondu Udonta."
"Huh?" The boy looked warily from the doll, to the alien, and back.
Yondu rolled his eyes. "It's my name. You're supposed to give me yours. Don't they have manners on your... Earth?"
Gingerly the boy took the doll and held it to his chest. "Peter Quill," he said softly. He seemed to think about something for a moment and then extended his free hand.
Yondu tilted his head. The kid's hand was empty. He wasn't offering anything. So what was he doing? Reluctantly Yondu opened himself up again. His crest only flashed for a split second - barely long enough for the kid to notice - but he got it. This was a gesture of trust and respect.
These were things he demanded from all his men, and rarely got. It was why he had to threaten so often, lead by fear, show no weakness, and here this frightened Terran was giving it away willingly.
He took the hand in a strong grip and the kid shook it once, then pulled away. Peter wouldn't meet the alien's eyes. He focused all his attention on straightening his Troll's hair.
When he looked up, he was alone.