"It's a candy apple," Peter said. "Try it."
Mantis cautiously stuck her tongue out and touched the tip to the apple before breaking into a delighted grin. "It's sweet!"
"Yeah, it's a seasonal Earth delicacy. From what I remember, it's hard to eat 'em without getting it all over your face, though."
From her enthusiasm as she crunched into the apple, he didn't think that was going to be a problem. Peter grinned and took a bite of his own. It wasn't quite like he remembered; in his memory, the apples were crisper, the candy coating was less cloying, and had much less tendency to glue itself to one's facial scruff ... well, okay, that last one was less surprising when you were eight than at the age of 36.
He looked around for the rest of his team at the Gopher County Corn Maze and Fall Fun Fair, where they'd stopped for the afternoon on their cross-country road trip of ... well, disaster and property destruction in a lot of cases, if he was going to be honest, but it was still nice to just be able to hang out with his team for awhile without anyone trying to kill them (well, except for that one time, and then the other time with the alien bounty hunter, and then that other other time, but that was totally Rocket's fault for picking a fight with that biker gang).
Anyway, minor mishaps aside, he was still having fun introducing his team to his homeworld. Halloween was just about the only time they could have gotten away with it, at least without complicated disguises. People just assumed that most of his team was dressed up for the holiday. Halloween itself was still a couple of days off, which Peter had decided made a natural end for their 'round-the-Midwest exploration tour of quaint North American autumn customs.
"Would you like some cider, little boy?" a kindly-looking woman with her hair tucked in a gray bun asked Rocket, leaning down from her cider cart.
"Dunno," Rocket said, taking the paper cup. "There any booze in this?"
"No," Peter said, swooping in to get between them before the nice lady (like the biker gang) could find out that Rocket's guns weren't plastic fakes. "Kids, huh? Little tykes say the darnedest things." Rocket kicked him in the shin. "-- ow! Dick," he hissed under his breath, and to the baffled cider seller, he added brightly, "... but I'd love some!"
In spite of the lack of alcohol, Rocket hung onto the paper cup anyway ("She gave it to me, Star-Wipe") and stuck his whiskered snout in it as they wandered off, Peter juggling his paper cup of hot cider and half-eaten candy apple, and scanning the crowd for, in particular, the members of his team most likely to cause trouble. It looked like Drax was still at the games tent, amassing a monumental heap of stuffed animals and assorted plastic junk. Finding him was simply a matter of following the trail of vendors with their merchandise wiped out.
"These games of skill are not very satisfying," Drax remarked as Peter wandered up to him. With his back turned to the booth, he casually tossed a ball over his shoulder into one of the target baskets, despite the frantic-looking vendor's surreptitious attempt to bat it away from its target.
"Yeah, that's 'cause they're for five-year-olds, buddy."
"Oh, is that so?" Drax looked momentarily pensive before calling out, "Small human child!" to the nearest passing family, causing the whole family to jump. "Small human child, would you care for an immature taxidermied meat animal?"
"Stuffed rabbit," Peter hastily translated to the mother, who was suspiciously eyeing Drax's tattoos as Drax held out a pink stuffed bunny in the child's direction.
"Okay!" was the chirpy response. Small hands snatched it out of his big ones.
Drax laughed. "This is fun. I will give all of these away! The human vehicle in which we are traveling is rather small. A perfectly normal human transport vehicle," he added for the benefit of the people around them.
Peter lowered his voice. "Probably want to leave off the 'human' part, buddy. Around here it's generally assumed to be the case."
Drax leaned close to Peter and said in something that was probably supposed to be a whisper, "Between you and me, I think some of these vendors are not very honest. I believe that one over there tried to cheat me."
"No!" Peter said in wide-eyed shock.
"Yes, it is a shame to find a dishonest man proctoring a game of skill." Drax picked up a stuffed My Little Pony. "The game animals of your planet are quite small."
"That's not actual size," Peter said. "Or actual colors," he added, frowning at the pastel fluff covering the toy.
"Not actual size? Doesn't that affect the taste?"
"Noo...oooooo. That's not an actual animal. I mean, we do have horses, but that isn't one. It's just a toy."
"How large is a horse?"
Peter held his hand about shoulder height.
"Ah! That sounds like excellent eating. Is there somewhere nearby where we might hunt these horses?"
"No," Peter said hastily, resolving to keep Drax away from the pony rides. "Look, I'm gonna go round up the rest of the gang so we can get out of here before dark. Meet you back here in a few?"
He left Drax tossing toys to a crowd of delighted children and went to see if Groot was still in the corn maze trying to talk to the corn (or, according to Rocket, actually talking to the corn, but Peter wasn't sure whether to believe him) and make sure Rocket hadn't stolen anything, at least not anything big enough to be immediately missed. He didn't see Gamora anywhere, but he was reasonably confident that she was capable of looking after herself for awhile without setting fire to anything or starting a bar fight. (Except that one time. And, okay, that other time ...)
Mantis found him before he found Groot, her nose and cheeks and, somehow, one of her antennae sticky with candy-apple coating. "I want another!"
She'd already had cotton candy, a deep-fried Mars bar, and an elephant ear, and those were just the things he'd actually seen her eating. Peter decided he didn't want to know what Mantis on a massive sugar high was like; they didn't need another repeat of the Coffee Incident. "Why don't you go find Drax instead? He's got stuffed toys. I bet he'd let you pick one."
"Ooh!" And she was off.
He was about to pay admission to the corn maze (for the third time) to go look for Groot, when a gruff voice behind him said, "If you want the twig, I got 'im."
Peter spun around with the mix of emotions (delighted? annoyed? little of both?) that always went along with the reappearance of his adopted dad, who wasn't even supposed to be on Earth right now, damn it.
Also, he wished he knew how a blue guy in a long red leather coat could have managed to sneak up on him in a crowd of pink and brown Earth humans, but the guy had a way of doing that kind of thing.
"You've got him where, exactly?" he asked, because Groot, now a five-foot-tall teenage Flora colossus, was no longer easy to tuck into a pocket. "Stuffed under your coat?"
Yondu smirked. "Back at my ship. Kid needed to get away from the humans for awhile."
"You landed an M-ship in the middle of Nebraska?!" That Coulson guy was gonna kill him, Peter thought.
"Sure, no problem. We've got some of that new cloaking tech y'all got from the Skrulls now."
Great, Peter thought. True, they'd all been teaming up against a greater threat at the time, but now it looked like he'd accidentally given the Ravagers cloaking tech. Maybe he wouldn't check back in with Nova Prime for awhile.
"Anyway," Peter said, shoving his hands in the pockets of the brown leather jacket that hung on his shoulders just differently enough from his usual Ravager-red coat to make him feel awkward, "what are you doing on Earth? More to the point, what are you doing on the exact same part of Earth we're on?"
"Can't just drop by to see you an' for no other reason, can I?"
"That'd be a first," Peter said, flatly squashing the warm, hopeful feeling that Yondu actually might have. "How'd you find us?"
"You gotta ask?"
"No," Peter sighed. "So where's the tracker this time? It can't be on the Milano, because that's parked at the -- in a secret location," he hastily amended, because Coulson really would kill him if he told Yondu about the Avengers base in upstate New York. "Is it in my boot? Did you have me microchipped?"
Yondu grinned wide enough to show most of his pointy teeth. It was the grin of a man who knew that Peter was going to spend the evening going through everything he owned in search of a tracking device.
And Peter couldn't help grinning back, because Yondu could be a real asshole and seemed to have made a game out of annoying him, but it was damn good to see the old blue bastard, as always.
"Is Kraglin here with you?"
"He ran into your green gal on the way over here. Last I saw, they were havin' a drinking contest."
Well, at least that explained why he hadn't seen Gamora in awhile. "Are you gonna tell him she can't actually get drunk, or should I?"
"He'll find out for himself eventually."
"True. It's just you and Kraglin, then?"
Yondu inclined his head in a brief nod. "Rest of the crew's too green to trust 'em on a planet like this one."
Thank God. Earth might not be his home anymore, but the idea of the Ravagers running around loose on its surface wasn't a comforting one. "So, I just need to finish finding the team and then I'll be free, more or less. Keeping track of them is like herding cats. Uh, that's an Earth animal that's ... famously difficult to herd."
"Yeah, don't know nothin' about that," Yondu said, looking amused.
Peter bounded on the balls of his feet. "We're making a bonfire later," he said hopefully. "Once I get everybody rounded up, and assuming we don't have to spend the evening breaking anybody out of jail this time."
"There'll be marshmallows."
"No idea what those are."
"Okay," Yondu said with his sharp-edged smile. "Got nowhere else to be."
Peter tried not to perk up too much.
"We can talk about this joint business opportunity y'all might be interested in," Yondu added.
"Yeah, see, I knew there was a reason you were here," Peter muttered.
"Yep," Yondu agreed easily, and to Peter's shock, slung an arm over his shoulders. "So what d'ya say we go find that crew of yours an' see if they want to get in on a cut of the action? While we're walkin' around, you can show me some of this Earth harvest festival or whatever the hell is goin' on here."
There were always about five different reasons why Yondu did anything, Peter reminded himself, and the important thing was that he'd come God knew how far to get here, when he could easily have commed them with whatever heist he was planning once they got back to the Milano.
"You can eat Earth food, right?" he said. "I mean, it won't poison you or anything?"
"Nah, if you could eat the food on the Eclector, it oughta be all right."
"Great!" Peter said. "Let me introduce you to an Earth delicacy. It's called a candy apple."