WARNING/S: Multiple references to self-loathing and –deprecation. If you are triggered by these things, I would personally suggest you not read this fic. Otherwise, enjoy.
It wasn't that Peter didn't like how he turned out. He knew for a fact that he'd turned out better than a lot of the people he'd met through the years, and he certainly knew Yondu and his band of merry men weren't exactly the prime example of good role models for an impressionable child. He just… wished he'd turned out better. Peter wasn't stupid, but he wasn't exactly the smartest tool in the shed either, or the most morally upstanding. He could work his way out of a scrap most of the time, and he was handy with a pair of tools when it came down to it. And he had plenty of street smarts; don't form attachments, keep your loot or trade it for something better, and most of all, don't get hurt, and if you do, it's your own damn fault, so you better fix it your own damn self before something worse happens.
Of course, he'd thrown all those smarts out the proverbial window when he met a bunch of misfit criminals and saved the galaxy. He'd gotten attached – he'd gotten too attached – and he wasn't allowed to loot anything anymore, and he'd gotten hurt plenty of times during the course of their quest to do good for once.
The fact of the matter was, he was the least useful of the group. That was just how it was when you were the only Terran (well, half-Terran) in a group of killers and conscious trees and cybernetically-enhanced animals. He didn't like to think about it, and when their ragtag band had formed he'd managed to ignore it by trying not to get killed. Now that everything was calm and he had his ship back and the Infinity Stone was safe and sound and kept as far away from him and any crazy alien with a plan for universal domination as possible, his stupid brain had decided it was the perfect time to contemplate his complete and total uselessness.
It wasn't fun, thinking about how worthless he was. It had happened enough when he was going through puberty, when he was too thin and lanky and inexperienced to help Yondu and his crew with their trades or with ship maintenance. He'd basically just been taking up space, eating their food, and breathing their oxygen. Those weren't exactly the epitome of great times for him, what with him being in the constant "I'm a useless sack of shit and always will be" stage of his life. This, not counting the fact that Terrans were a sought-after delicacy in most of the places Yondu and his crew liked to frequent, and the younger they were the more craved they were. "Fresh meat" and all that. It was why he was left on the ship most of the time back then. He was only allowed to come with when he bulked up and they taught him self-defense to beat back any flesh-traders that might decide they wanted Terran on their bracket.
But no matter how not-fun it was, it didn't stop him. His brain hated him like that.
Which was currently why he was curled up in his bunk while the rest of the team took some well-deserved time off and ate and drank and partied, as they usually did when they had some free time. They had docked on some moon with a mining colony that Rocket had claimed had the best pie, and since Groot was finally completely full-grown once again they had decided to visit to celebrate. However, instead of playing Rock-Paper-Scissors to find out who stayed back to watch the ship like usual (and man had it been fun to explain that to Drax and Gamora), Peter had volunteered, claiming he was allergic to pie. Technically, it wasn't a total lie, since he was allergic to cherries and, in turn, cherry pie, but he didn't know if the colony even had cherries to make pies with, which was where the bullshit had come in. He hadn't wanted and still doesn't want to mess up their dynamic – the rest of the team's dynamic, that is. His brain was telling himself he shouldn't get between that, because it was important that they didn't threaten to kill each other every five minutes in order to get stuff done. If he got between that, the friction would increase tenfold, guns would blaze, blood would be drawn, and they'd be worse off than when they started that day. He was a bitch when he was drunk, and when he wasn't drunk, and just most of the time in general.
So he'd stayed behind. Played it cool while they were leaving, assuring them it was fine, he had snacks here anyway, he wasn't so useless he couldn't watch the ship, for real, you guys go already, it's cool. Rocket had left with a huff of "we'll see" at the 'couldn't watch the ship' comment, and Peter had felt his gut twist painfully at the words, the cheery grin on his face faltering slightly before brightening up again, to make sure none of them saw it. As soon as the exit latch had closed behind them, he'd let out a heavy breath and rubbed his hand over the forehead, through his hair, tugging on it hard enough to make his scalp twinge. He knew, rationally, that Rocket was probably only teasing, because calling you insults meant he liked you. Most of the time, anyway. But Peter was an irrational human, and that irrational human part of him had decided to take Rocket's throwaway comment to heart like a fucking bullet.
After internally berating himself and shaking his head, he'd moved to the cockpit, where he locked all outside access panels to all non-registered fingerprints, in case he was asleep by the time they came back and couldn't let them in himself (a highly plausible possibility), then turned on energy saver and listened to the engine's purr die down to a soft rumble before lumbering off to his bunk. After changing into his softest comfiest pair of pajamas, he grabbed his Walkman, shoved his headphones over his ears, turned it on to the highest volume, and burrowed under his covers and curled into a tight little ball, trying to ignore the loud thoughts that pervaded his mind. With nothing to do to bide his time and too drained to watch a vid or do anything else, there was nothing to distract them from latching on and not letting go.
He didn't cry. Not at first. He just breathed heavily, listening to his music as it blared through his ears, using it as a desperate attempt to drown out the whispers of "useless" and "worthless" that screamed through him, at the fact that the team didn't need him, he was just making everything worse, wasting space and food and oxygen just like when he was younger, annoying everyone like a buzzing insect and getting on their nerves, not really serving any purpose but to fly the Milano and Rocket could do that without breaking a sweat. The amount of times he'd counted how often he wasn't actually needed on a mission, or that the four of them had it under control from the start and he was just making it take longer than it should, were more than he could remember, but it was enough that it had been ingrained in him like a brand: You're not needed here.
That kind of self-loathing wasn't exactly easy to deter, so the breathing exercises worked, but only for a little while. The next thing he knew, he was clutching his pillow to his chest as tightly as he could, hiding his face in it like that's what it was made for while he sobbed and dry-heaved into the coarse fabric cover, his sheets pulled up over his head and his music turning to white noise in his ears. They were dry sobs; he hasn't cried real tears since… since Then. But they burned his eyes and they hurt down to his bones as he shook and trembled and gasped for breath.
Stupid fucking emotions. Goddamn things could never work the way he wanted them to. Betrayed him at every turn. Fucking asshole emotions.
Peter didn't know how much time had passed when he felt the hand on his shoulder, all he knew was that it wasn't long enough for him to stop crying naturally. He'd jolted like a startled fawn and let out an undignified yelp that got caught in his too-dry throat, then shot bolt upright in his bunk, fumbling with the blankets to un-cocoon himself, his headphones falling onto the mattress as he held his pillow in his lap, clutching it tightly enough to crease the fabric with one hand and using the other to rub at his eyes. He knew they were red-ringed and puffy, despite the lack of moisture, knew his face was flushed and his heart was beating too rapidly to be normal, but he hoped that whoever had gotten his attention just ignored all that information and was here because of an emergency or something so he could hop into action and forget this ever happened.
But no. He wasn't that lucky. He was never that lucky.
It was Drax, because of course it had to be the one person who wouldn't ignore his current state and would bring it to Peter's attention, as if he didn't already know and wasn't already experiencing it. The man didn't look so much confused or annoyed, like Peter expected, but more casually curious and, for some reason, fretful. "You have been crying." Wow, it's almost like Peter hadn't noticed.
"No I haven't." Technically true; no tears were involved, therefore it wasn't exactly crying. But even he could hear the exhaustion in his voice, the way it wanted and nearly did crack on the last word. From the way Drax gave him a clearly disbelieving look, it was obvious he'd heard it too. "Just – I'm fine, I just need sleep."
That made Drax furrow his brow. "You were crying because you have not been getting a suitable amount of rest?"
Goddammit. "No, Drax, it wasn't… no." And he hadn't been crying, just… letting off steam. Yeah, that was it. It wasn't crying. It wasn't crying.
"Then why were you crying?" He hadn't been. "It is my understanding that Terrans cry when their emotions are too powerful to not release."
Peter squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, tucking his legs up under him and placing the pillow to the side while he scooted around to face Drax directly. "Yeah, well, that wasn't what happened, since I wasn't crying."
"But you were."
"No I wasn't."
"Yes, you were."
"Drax." Peter had tried to insert some kind of firm tone to make it sound like as serious as he felt, but it sure as hell didn't come out that way. It came out tired, defeated, with an undercurrent of a wobbly quality that made it obvious that he was in no way okay. "Just… stop. Please. I really am tired." Because that sounded so believable, even if Peter was horribly exhausted. Stupid gut-wrenching muscle-aching emotions.
Drax said nothing for a few moments, and didn't move for just as long, but just as Peter started to hope he would accept that excuse and leave him alone, the man lunged forward and lifted Peter up and into his arms, keeping him still when Peter let out a squawk and started flailing. Drax just allowed it to happen, but when he started moving back to the door Peter locked his arms around his neck and his legs around his waist so he wasn't accidentally dropped. If he was going to be carried, he was going to make sure his ass didn't come into contact with the floor in the meantime. That didn't stop him from making a face from where he'd hooked his chin over Drax's shoulder when the man wrapped one arm under his thighs and one around his back to keep him upright and closer to his chest than Peter was personally comfortable with. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?!"
"I am bringing you to my bunk," Drax stated, which refueled Peter's attempts to escape his muscly prison. Not that it did anything; Drax was too strong for Peter to actually accomplish anything, and he was still trying not to be dropped on his ass. "Then, you will tell me why you were crying, and you will sleep."
Peter could feel himself vibrating with anger, but he couldn't do anything about it until he was put down. Then, he could make a valiant attempt to either escape or just ignore Drax until he fell asleep so he could forget about it in the morning. "I hate you."
"You do not."
Neither of them talked again after that. Drax merely took him to his bunk and leant down to place him on his mattress, treating him as carefully as he would with something delicate or fragile. It left a bitter taste in Peter's mouth, that Drax thought he was something breakable. But, after setting him down, he just turned around and left. He literally just left the room. Peter was still for a moment in pure shock before he jumped into action and tried to sneak out back to his bunk as stealthily and as quietly as possible. When he poked his head out the doorway into the adjacent hall and looked side to side, it was empty, but when he pulled himself back into the room and then cautiously stepped one foot out the door, and then the other, followed by the rest of his body, there Drax was at the end of the hall. With Gamora. And Rocket. And their newly regrown Groot. And all four of them were staring at him pointedly with their arms crossed in an "I am so disappointed in you" way.
Peter stared at them for a few moments, then took off in the opposite direction. This side of the hallway may not lead to his room, but it was away from them and their looks, which was good enough for him.
I mean, Drax caught him, like, immediately, but he put up a noble fight nonetheless.
To him, anyway.
Drax had kind of nearly almost tackled him, but instead of following through and landing on top of him with his too-big bulk that probably would've crushed him at worst and knocked the wind out of him at best, he coiled his arms around Peter's midsection and lifted him into the air with no trouble. With a curse, Peter started to desperately try to scratch and claw his way out of Drax's grip to no avail, kicking and spitting out swears like it was his job. None of this fazed the other man, who merely carried him backwards back into his bunk, the door shutting behind them.
The rest of the team was already there, though they were milling about and looking bored and concerned and irritated all at the same time. Drax just sat down on the bed and placed Peter in his lap, the mattress creaking under their combined weight, while Peter continued to try to free himself. He knew it was a pointless endeavor, since Drax was probably ten times stronger than he was, but he tried anyway because he was not having this conversation, not now, not ever.
"Stop fighting," Gamora said, and Peter simply glared at her and upped his desperate wriggling by tenfold just to piss her off. It made her narrow her eyes, which gave him a short burst of satisfaction before the renewed wave of energy collapsed in on itself and he was left panting and leaning against Drax's arms for support as quickly as the adrenaline surged out of him as quickly as it had come. That put a look of satisfaction on her face, which made Peter grit his teeth and send her a glare, his nostrils flaring.
"Let me go," he demanded, still struggling half-heartedly, his bones too tired to bother trying anything more than some weak squirms and pulls. "And what the hell are you doing back already anyway? I thought you would've stayed out a little longer, what with the 'greatest pie this side of the galaxy' and all."
"Yeah, well, we would've stayed longer, if Groot hadn't come back in a tizzy after getting the unit-exchanger I left behind babbling about how you were bawling your eyes out," Rocket said, frowning. It was obvious that he was bitter about being forced to leave earlier than intended, which made Peter's chest constrict with guilt, but he sounded a little concerned too, which was new. He was also fidgeting uncomfortably, but Peter couldn't blame him for that; talking about personal shit made him uneasy too. It was the reason he'd tried so hard to get out of this very situation.
But Peter just scowled, even though he could see Groot trying to make himself smaller after being pointed out. Peter knew, from a rational stand-point, that Groot was the most compassionate and empathetic one of the group, so he'd probably only thought he was helping by getting the rest of the team to come back and confront him. But from an irrational stand-point Peter just wanted to maybe smack him repeatedly with a pillow. A pillow that may or may not have a brick in it. He knew it wouldn't hurt Groot, so he didn't feel as bad about fantasizing about it as he would've otherwise.
"I wasn't bawling –"
"You were," Drax interrupted.
Peter had no qualms about elbowing him in the chest, but Drax didn't even grunt, whereas Peter let out a hiss of pain as his elbow began throbbing. He rubbed the now tender area and pouted. It was like hitting a brick wall. Not worth it.
"There is no need to lie," Gamora told him, "We are your friends. If you are upset, we are here to listen."
"I'm not – " Peter made a face. " – upset."
He heard Rocket let out a snort of disbelief, and Gamora looked unimpressed. "Your eyes are still bloodshot."
Shit. Peter raised his hands to rub at them again, but Gamora just grabbed his wrists and pulled them away. She tried to catch his eye, but Peter pointedly stared at his lap and refused to look at her. "Quill." Nope, not gonna do it. "Quill." Not gonna look. "Peter." Goddammit. He squeezed his eyes shut to avoid the temptation, but Gamora just let go of his hands and cupped his jaw instead, lifting his face up from its bowed position. His eyes popped open purely out of surprise, because it wasn't often Gamora touched anyone of her own volition outside of battle, especially Peter. He should've known she was counting on that shock factor, because as soon as they were open she locked eye contact with him and stared through his soul with an unreadable but deathly serious expression. The Face of Doom, as he called it, because he'd been on the receiving end more than enough. Not quite so close-up, though.
"Peter," she continued, and her voice was soft but determined, as if she was trying to soothe a startled animal. "Tell us what's wrong. We can't help if you don't tell us what's wrong."
She actually sounded worried. She was worried about him. They were all worried. He could vaguely hear Rocket and Groot shifting their weight from foot to foot nervously from somewhere nearby, and Drax's own concern didn't need to be explained because Peter was still firmly locked in his arms on his lap and he knew Drax wasn't going to be letting go any time soon, but he didn't understand. No one was supposed to be worried about him. No one was ever worried about him. He didn't… he didn't deserve to be worried about. So why were they worried?
Peter felt his heart rate start to speed up before he registered anything else in his blank state of mind aside from confusion, and that was how he knew. He fucking knew. He'd lost the battle as miserably as possible and wasn't going to be able to get out of it with his dignity. Dammit. Goddammit. God-fucking-dammit.
He clenched his eyes shut when they started to burn, tight enough for bright colors to burst behind his eyelids, and raised his hands back up to rub at them. Well, not so much "rub at" as "make his hands into fists and press them into his eyes until his arms started to shake", but semantics. He could hear his breath coming out in short pants, his chest aching like a weight was pressing on it with all its might, and tried to calm himself down. He was not going to have an emotional breakdown in front of his team. He wasn't.
He totally was.
"Everything." The way his voice completely broke in the middle of the word made him wince. "Everything's wrong, everything's – god, why do you even care, I'm so fucking useless, Christ, why do you even keep me around, you should've kicked me out weeks ago, d'you think it's funny watching me bumble around like an idiot all the time and fuck everything up – oof –!"
He stopped in the middle of his rant when Drax started moving and, in turn, so did Peter. With a curse, his arms shot out to grab the sheets in case he fell or lost his balance or something, and blinked rapidly to clear his vision. It was blurry – either from how hard he'd been pressing his fists to his eyes or because his tear ducts had started to well up, he didn't know. All he knew was that now, Drax was laying on the bed and had brought Peter down with him, that the man was acting as an impromptu big spoon and keeping Peter in a surprisingly pleasant muscle-cocoon snug against his chest, and that a single, solitary tear was slowly making its way down Peter's cheek to barely dampen his stubble. The feel of it left him in a state of petrified shock, and he unclenched his hands from the blankets of the bed to lift one to his face to check to make sure he wasn't hallucinating.
But no. He wasn't hallucinating. His hand was shaking minutely when he'd brought it to his cheek, and the trembling just increased when he moved it away to stare at the now tear-stained fingertips.
Everything seemed to slow to a halt. He could hear something, someone talking maybe, but it sounded dim and not exactly like words, like the way the adults would talk in the old Peanuts cartoons he used to watch on Earth. He felt numb and over-sensitive and too-hot and freezing cold all at the same time and it was making his head hurt and his temples throb. He felt more tears leak out and trail down to get stuck in his stubble, one after the other after the other and they wouldn't stop they wouldn't stop –
"Shit," he whispered, wiping half-heartedly at his face and just smearing them even more and making it worse, just like usual. "Shit. Shit." He abandoned his admittedly pointless task in favor of burying his head in his hands to hide, only removing them when Drax loosened his arms and someone else carefully rolled him over and shoved his face into Drax's shoulder before the man tightened them again. It made Peter shuffle to tuck his own arms between their chests so he could wriggle and look back over his own shoulder to see who was responsible for their shift in position, but not only could his neck not bend that far, his eyes were still too watery and still letting out more than a few tears for him to see anything but blurry blobs of color in the now-significantly-dimmed lighting. The only good thing about not having full control of his eyesight was that he knew Gamora was the only one out of all of them that had green skin, so when the big green-and-black blob moved forward and made the bed dip under its weight to curl up behind him, pressed against his back, he knew it was her and not some weird hallucination or something equally disturbing. Then another, smaller dip followed by another, much bigger dip weighed down the end of the mattress before what he assumed was Rocket crawled up to settle on his hip with a grumble and what he assumed was Groot remained sat at the foot of the bed to simply rest his hand on Peter's ankle. While all this was happening, Peter remained remarkably still, allowing everything to move around him while his head buzzed with confusion and he sniffled like the pathetic human being he was.
"You are not useless," Gamora said, and she sounded like her mouth was right next to his ear, quiet but resolute in her words, as if they were fact. Peter knew better, but it was nice of her to try to convince him otherwise. "Who is it that told you this? I will find them and skin them alive."
"That would be too merciful," Drax said, speaking for what felt like the first time since this whole thing started. He was being casual about it, too, as he usually was when talking about murdering or torturing someone who he believed deserved it, despite the fact that he'd raised his hand from where it had been resting on Peter's waist and had begun using it to stroke Peter's hair instead. It felt wonderful, especially when he dug his fingers into his scalp with just the right amount of pressure to make Peter relax minutely from his statuesque position and let himself place his cheek on Drax's shoulder (and he felt bad about leaving his gross human tears on his shoulder. His nose hadn't started running yet, though, which was good, so he wasn't going to move until it did), but his gentle actions were the complete opposite of his words. "They deserve nothing less than to have their limbs ripped from them and their organs removed and sliced before their eyes for their words against you, Quill."
"Or a phaser blast to the gut," Rocket spoke up, accompanied by a grunted, "I am Groot" of agreement from the sentient tree still at the foot of the bed.
Peter let out a shaky sigh, and struggled to free one of his hands from where it had been trapped between he and Drax's chests to wipe at his eyes and cheeks. The conversation was making it easier to stop crying, which is why he was able to say, "No one said anything" with more or less no quiver in his voice.
"Then what's with the self-loathing?" Rocket asked, and he heard more than felt Gamora reach down to flick his forehead and Rocket's following yelp of pain and indignance.
"Stop being insensitive," she told him sharply, letting him mutter under his breath before returning to trying to comfort Peter.
But Peter started talking before she could. "That's just it – it's self-loathing. I don't want to be like this, okay? Do you know how fucking awful it is having your head tell you over and over day in day out that you don't deserve anything you have? To think you're not worth the dirt on the bottom of your own shoe and you're a worthless sack of shit who should just grow the fuck up already – " Yeah, remember when he said he wasn't crying as much anymore? That was complete bullshit. He latched onto Drax like a magnet and hid his face in his shoulder for lack of anything else to do, gasping for air in an attempt to mask the fact that he was bawling like a fucking baby. Even after Drax continued to stroke his hair, and Gamora began rubbing her thumb into his side, and Rocket consolingly patted what part of his thigh he could reach, and Groot squeezed his ankle reassuringly, he didn't stop – couldn't stop – to the point where it wore himself out enough that he cried himself to sleep.