So, it's a new series.
List of triggers for this story: Child abuse, murder, torture, kidnapping, slavery, general abuse
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Leaves on the Tree
Yondu is six years old when the people come from the stars.
At first, everyone is fascinated by them. The men from the stars bring things that are beyond words to describe. Yondu remembers his father trading a few pelts for off-world fruit. Everyone liked the sticky sweetness of the fuzzy red fruit, and Yondu begged Papa for another one, red eyes wide and earnest as only a child could manage. Papa tapped him between the eyes and told him he could have another on his name day. (Yondu wishes, when he's half-asleep and absolutely sure of his privacy years later, that he hadn't whined so much that day.)
Then things start to change. Papa comes home from the star-walkers market with an eye that's swollen shut and one of his ears is gone. He says not to worry, but Yondu sneaks down from his hammock in the branches of the family grove to listen to his parents talk. He's just barely past being a pouchling, but he understands the note of worry in Aba and Papa's voices. Aba wants to run to the south, where the Ukola clan lives under the waves. The Ukola are her people and hiding in the ocean with the sea monsters is better than… Yondu doesn't get to hear the rest because Papa's head swivels around and he fixes a scared, angry glare on his son. Yondu is returned to bed with a stern warning to stay there or he'll get nothing for his name day.
They don't run to the Ukola clan.
The star-walkers come the day after Yondu tried to listen to Papa and Aba talking about adult things. Yondu screeches in fear and grabs his little brother -he's a pouchling, Papa should be looking after him but Papa is missing and everyone is screaming and Yondu has to protect his brother - and runs as fast as his legs will carry him into the swamp. He can hide in the swamp. Even Papa can't find him when he's hiding really good. Yondu knows he can stay there until he can figure out how Aba got to the Ukola caverns under the sea, and then he can run there with Mordu…
His tree - his favorite tree, the one with the big hollow in the center that you can only get to if you climb down from the crown - isn't safe. One of the star-walkers peers down to where Yondu is hiding, clutching his brother to his chest and gestures for them to come up. Yondu hugs Mordu tight enough to make him start crying and shakes his head, eyes wide in fear. The star-walker says something in a strange language and holds his hands down the hollow. A fuzzy red fruit drops into Yondu's lap and the star-walker says something else.
Yondu bites into the fruit and chews it until it's softened up before pressing the chewed-up pieces into Mordu's mouth. His pouchling brother stops crying and begins sucking on the soft fruit, rubbing at his eyes with a tiny fist. Yondu looks up and catches a look of disgust on the star-walker's face. (The look vanishes pretty quick.) The star-walker is holding more fruit in his hand and is gesturing for Yondu to come up.
Coming up proves to be the biggest mistake of Yondu's life, not that he knows it at the time.
Aba and Papa are kneeling in the center of the village when the star-walker brings Yondu and Mordu back to the Udonta grove. Yondu falls to his knees and barely manages to keep Mordu in his arms. The star-walker smacks the back of his head with a stick when he tries to get up, and Yondu scurries over to Aba and Papa on his knees, tears pricking at his eyes.
They're put in a tent with five other Udontas, most of them younglings like Yondu. Papa takes Mordu and puts him back in the pouch where he's supposed to be and rubs the back of Yondu's head, humming a lullaby to make him and the other younglings calm down. Aba sings along, softly, because the star-walkers hit her when she spoke to Yondu and the other younglings earlier in their own language. Yondu falls asleep with his head in Aba's lap and two of his cousins curled against his legs.
The last time he ever sees Aba, she's being dragged into a big red tent next to the stump that used to be the family tree. She screams and never stops. Papa is dragged away next. The star-walkers rip Mordu out of Papa's pouch and Yondu receives a beating for trying to rescue his little brother that leaves him with a swollen eye and a broken arm. Papa is hung from the central tree in the grove and Yondu screams until he blacks out. Yondu never sees what happens to his baby brother.
Yondu and his cousins are taken to the star-walker's market, where they've never been before. If Papa and his uncles had been taking them, they'd have chattered like the tree-climbers that seem to have vanished like everyone else in the forest. Instead of it feeling like a treat, Yondu feels a sense of dread in the pit of his stomach and clutches at Ool's hand. The situation is dire enough that she doesn't even shake his grip off or chide him for behaving like a pouchling.
When they arrive in the market, Yondu's feet are cut and bleeding and the only reason he isn't whining about being tired is because the star-walkers have been hitting him and his cousins every time they say something in their native tongue. (Yondu repeats a few words he's heard from them back at them and gets a laugh. And then one of them smacks him hard enough to rattle his teeth and says something in a tone that Papa uses…used…when he was telling him and the other younglings not to do something again.)
Ool and the other girls are separated from the group and dragged away. Yondu does scream then, trying to run after her. She's Aba's favorite and he knows that Aba taught Ool her songs and that's a piece of Aba and he doesn't want to lose that… And the star-walkers kick him to the ground and that's Yondu's first introduction to a whip.
He spends the rest of the day in a tent packed with thirty other boys - an Ukola up from the south for the holy days, five temple boys, fifteen Kwi-lus from the west, and nine of Yondu's cousins from a grove five days walk to the east of the swamp - snuffling and muffling his sobs in his knees. The temple boys have spent the most time as captives of the star-walkers and can even speak of bit of their strange, garbled, un-musical language. One of them - Katiru - says the star-walkers are discussing the price each of them will fetch. Like they're animals. Yondu and the Ukola - one of his Aba's people, but not from Aba's clan - huddle together and whisper to each other in their own language, even though Katiru tells them that the star-walkers have a magic box that lets them spy on people from far away.
Yondu and the Ukola - Jisulo, he says his name is - wriggle out under the back wall of the tent one night and run for the edge of the market. Jisulo gives out a screech of pain and falls to the ground, twitching. Yondu freezes for one second too long, trying to help his yearmate get off the ground. The star-walkers catch up with them and then Yondu learns that the star-walkers can hold storms in sticks and that's what they hit Jisulo with. It's a painful lesson that he'll never forget.
Katiru hums a temple song for them when the star-walkers put them back in the tent, and doesn't even say "I told you so" as Yondu and Jisulo cry into his shoulders.
Jisulo is taken away in the morning. He never comes back.
Yondu misses the Ukola. Him and his cousins are from the same clan, but he's always been too shy to talk to them when it was a clansmeet and everyone was there. Plus, he's only been out of the pouchling stage for less than a name cycle and they're all so much older than him. He might as well still be a pouchling. He spends a lot of time crying, and even Katiru gets tired of him and won't hum temple songs anymore.
One day, its just Yondu in the tent. One of the nicer star-walkers gave him toys a few days ago, when Yondu had stopped crying for a stretch. Yondu misses his toys from home, except he's seen smoke from the direction of the grove and knows it's the grove being burned to the ground with all of his toys and his family's history and… He buries his face in his knees and sobs, hands clenching tighter around the cold toys he's been given. No one takes them away or tells him to stop being such a stupid pouchling.
A big star-walker with a furry face - Yondu thinks it looks like he's glued a pelt to his chin - comes up to the tent two months after Yondu was taken from the Udonta grove. Yondu is crouched on the ground, shoving the little metal boxes around on the hard dirt to make them crash into each other. He tilts Yondu's head up and uses the pad of his thumb to wipe away tear tracks from the child's face. Yondu closes his eyes and pretends that Papa is the one wiping his tears away, except then he remembers watching Papa twitch and jerk around on the end of the rope slung over a branch on the center tree in the grove and it prompts a fresh round of sobbing and half-sounded cries for his Papa in his home tongue.
The furry-faced star-walker doesn't smack him for making the aborted chirps of distress and rubs his back instead. Yondu's chirps of distress increase in volume until he's wailing into the star-walker's shoulder and clutching at the man's strange garments for comfort. Just like Papa would have, the star-walker rubs his back and just below the base of his crest, and Yondu eventually falls asleep in the star-walker's arms, toys dropping to the ground.
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So, what did you think? Good? Bad? Want to cuddle bitty!Yondu? Drop a line and let me know.
Also, I should add that this story - and every one of it in the series - has a list of triggers that is potentially longer than the story itself. There's nothing incredibly graphic, but I do advise caution when reading any of these.