In retrospect, looking back on it, Peter could see that signs had been there all along. But they were the kind of little incidents that just happen on a relatively small spaceship with seven people living on it, especially a group which included a curious baby, a tinkerer who liked to get his raccoon fingers into everything, and a woman who still hadn’t quite grasped the concept of personal property because she grew up on a world where everything was Ego and Ego was everything.
Little things like toys from his and Kraglin’s new-and-growing collection of trinkets (a sort-of memorial that neither of them talked about) getting moved around or turning up in different places. Little things like the playlists on the Zune spontaneously rearranging themselves (one time on the night shift it played that damned Cat Stevens song sixteen times in a row, which was creepy as fuck), or the powerpack in Peter’s blaster always being charged, or space suits turning up in their luggage on every single job even when they were just going planetside.
And in particular, there was that one time when a curious Groot somehow got into the cargo bay while Drax and Kraglin were putting it through its cleaning cycle after transporting a load of Hraxian slimefish, and it just stopped cycling right before the “vent to space” part of the cycle and absolutely would not proceed, even when Rocket tried to override it, ‘til they opened it and found out why. Given Groot’s unique biology, he probably wouldn’t have been hurt by getting accidentally vented into space, but it certainly would’ve scared him. Rocket thought they might have stumbled upon a safety feature nobody knew about, while Peter and Kraglin both insisted that if a safety feature like that existed, after twenty years they would’ve damn well known about it.
But it wasn’t until the LuXada job that things really got weird.
They were stealing an idol from a long-abandoned temple on LuXada, a disputed world along the Kree-Shi'ar border, and while the ancient security system was harder to deal with than Peter was expecting, things were going pretty well until the Kree battle cruiser showed up. And then they ended up with about a hundred Kree troops surrounding them. It was a fast, brutal fight that ended with Drax and Gamora down and hurt, and Peter on his face with a Sakaaran soldier digging a knee into his back and a pulse rifle grinding into the back of his skull.
“Trespassers!” the commander of the Kree troop snarled. She was a big, muscular type, sort of a female Ronan, and reminded Peter uncomfortably of an old Kree girlfriend he’d romanced briefly on a moon called Cindara. “You will be sold in the slave markets for your insolence in – what is that noise?”
That noise was a cascade of tiny rocks bouncing down from the hillside above the temple.
The Kree troops tensed; Peter felt his captor go rigid with alarm. Avalanche? Peter thought, raising his head as much as he could. But the rocks weren’t behaving as if gravity was drawing them down. As he stared, they swirled up into the air, a vast swarm of rocks ranging from fist-sized to sand. None of them were large enough to do much damage on their own, but they spun into a great whirling vortex of flying stone, and then swept down on the Kree, as if driven by the fury of the earth itself. They tore through armor, scoured flesh and bone, sent the Kree stumbling away in bleeding shock – and didn’t touch a single one of Peter’s crew.
And Peter wondered if he was the only one who had seen, right before the rocks ripped into the Kree platoon, that they’d formed up into the shape of an arrow.
It was some time later, with Gamora and Drax both doped to the gills in the Quadrant’s medbay, when Peter slipped off to the flight deck. He left Gamora sleeping, letting her fingers trail out of his hand as he ducked away. He needed some time to think. And there were a couple of people he wanted to talk to. Well, one person in particular.
He found Kraglin on the flight deck, sitting in the pilot’s chair and looking out at the stars. For awhile Peter just sat in the floor in a companionable silence, toying with a little figurine of a ducklike creature that he’d taken down from the console.
There were times when he really missed that damn troll doll.
“How are they?” Kraglin asked, finally.
“Asleep. They’ll be okay.” And he would’ve wreaked bloody vengeance on the Kree if they haven’t been. Some part of him would always be a Ravager.
After another little while, Kraglin said softly, “You – saw that, down there on the planet, right?”
Some part of Peter folded in quiet relief. He wasn’t nuts. “The arrow?”
He looked up to see Kraglin nod. He also saw that Kraglin was holding Yondu’s arrow, turning it over and over in his fingers, the way Peter was toying with the plastic duck.
“They tell stories, you know,” Kraglin said, and then lapsed into silence.
Peter didn’t answer; he’d heard stories too, all kinds of things. Stories of the Ravager afterlife, which was supposed to be mostly drinking and feasting (would Yondu be into that kind of thing? he wondered, thinking about how it sounded kinda boring to him, compared to all the interesting things to do here in the wide, wild galaxy). Stories, too, of the weird things that could have happened, maybe did happen, in the vast empty spaces between stars. Stories of things so close to magic as to be indistinguishable.
And one other time in his life, he’d seen an arrow he couldn’t explain – an arrow in the stars, against a backdrop of fireworks, glimpsed through his tears.
He wondered suddenly if Kraglin had seen it too, if it hadn’t been just a figment of his grief. But even in this moment of unusual intimacy between them, he wasn’t quite sure how to ask.
Instead he said quietly, holding out a hand, “Can I see that for a minute?”
Kraglin passed the arrow to him.
He’d had a few other chances to hold it, and as always, he was struck by how oddly alive it felt. He still didn’t know what it was made out of, something that didn’t quite feel like metal or plastic or anything else he knew of. Every time he’d held it, he’d found it ever so slightly warm to the touch. He had never quite been able to shake the feeling that it contained a little piece of Yondu’s soul, even back when he was alive.
Occasionally since Yondu’s death, and especially tonight, it seemed that the arrow glistened in a way it never used to, red light flickering like foxfire out of the corner of his eye.
Peter tossed the arrow into the air.
At the height of its trajectory, it seemed to hang for a moment – perhaps it was only a trick of his eyes, Peter thought … but then it spun slowly around once before it dropped back into his lap.
Peter grinned, though his eyes wanted to get a little misty. He carefully handed the arrow back to Kraglin.
“Thanks, old man,” he said quietly, and for a moment it seemed as if the silence on the flight deck was … listening. In a way.
They’d have to have a talk later about messing around with his playlists, though. ‘Cause, poltergeist or not, that shit just wasn’t cool.