The first time Yondu Udonta delivers Peter Quill to his father, the universe ends.
"What the -" Yondu wakes with a start. He is in his bed on the Eclector, alive and well. His console is blinking with an incoming call. His heart is still racing from the dream. It has to be a dream.
He gets up with a grunt and rubs his face. If Kraglin is messaging him again about some minor detail he told the boy to fix his damn self, Yondu'll -
His thoughts derail at the image on the screen. Somehow, a part of him is not surprised at all. His skin starts to prickle and if he still had his crest, he knows it'd be itching something fierce.
"Ego," he says, managing to school his face into something neutral. The being on the screen hasn't noticed at all.
"Yondu! I have another delivery I need you to make for me. I'm sending you the coordinates where you can find him and the first half of your payment. The rest when you get him to me. Agreed?"
There is something uneasy in Yondu's gut whenever he listens to Ego talk about his children. Something that reminds him of years and years ago that he never wants to think about. Still, the sum of money Ego is offering is enormous. It's enough to make him push down the uncertainty and accept Ego's offer once more.
It's not until he looks at the coordinates that he realizes they're the exact same ones from his dreams.
It's not until the third time Yondu wakes in his bed that he realizes something really hinky is happening and it's definitely connected with Ego. No one else remembers anything strange. But it always starts and ends with delivering that boy.
He's going to figure out what's happening even if it kills him. Again.
The fourth time, he tries declining the job. He spends the entirety of the next few months in a fit of anxious suspense, though Kraglin is the only one that notices.
The date when the other attempts reset passes. Yondu is just about to relax a day later when the first panicked distress calls start coming in - of a giant mass of something rolling across every planet in the sky, absorbing everything.
Yondu curses himself for a fool. Like Ego wouldn't have found some other sucker to deliver the boy with the amount of units he was waving around.
By all the damn stars in the sky, what was going on?
The fifth go around, Yondu is very close to losing his temper. He's sick and tired of making the same damn run so many times, so he doesn't. He accepts the offer, but fully plans on not actually going to get the boy or delivering him. Instead, he flings himself into ravaging, ignoring the quiet little voice in the back of his mind screaming that this is not over.
One night, unable to sleep, he looks up the list of previous kids he hauled Ego's way. Little twerps, all of them. Abandoned, sad, angry, and sullen and all of them very eager (if not necessarily happy) to learn their other parent finally came for them. All of them very very young for whatever their species is, but old enough to take care of themselves. All of them with mothers either neglectful or dead.
That last bit of info makes him pause. It hadn't been so obvious to him before, as he'd been blinded by units and the stretches of time between the deliveries. Whatever Ego is up to, it's not painting a picture he likes.
The thought nags at him even as he leads his Ravagers to their next big haul. It nags at him even as he joins the crew in some well deserved downtime. It keeps nagging at him until they happen upon another one of Ego's brats by pure chance.
It's a ragged little thing that's taken to doing odd jobs for a few units. Yondu wouldn't have paid her any attention, except the name and her location rang a bell for him. He wouldn't have even noticed if he hadn't looked through one of those files Ego'd given him. At the time, this planet had been too out of the way for the quick cash he'd needed, so he'd forgone the chit.
One look at her and he can tell she doesn't have anyone to take care of her, though she should. She looks far too young to be out on the streets, relying on pirates like him for odd errand jobs. How many more others like her are out there in the universe? How many more seeds has Ego sown and is going to pay to get back?
How many more that Yondu will never hear from again, no matter how many times he visits the planet to drop them off?
"Kraglin!" Yondu yells, "Gather up the crew. We've got another delivery to make. Make sure we've got enough supplies to last us."
He turns away from the girl, leaving her be. If Ego wants the Terran kid that badly, Yondu's going to figure out why.
Kraglin doesn't answer. Yondu is about to yell again when he notices the screams. Something is surging across the terrain towards him. Yondu can't tell if it's just moving towards him or growing.
He can't outrun it.
The sixth time Yondu wakes up in his bed, he is ready to murder Ego. It takes everything he has to keep up the act of a motherfucker too greedy for units to question transporting kids. But in the end, he's had a lot of practice, hasn't he?
He accepts Ego's offer and hightails it to Terra. The first few times, it had taken them a while to find the kid and then take him alone without anyone noticing. Now, he knows exactly when and where to find Peter Quill.
Of course it's while the kid is crying in a field after his momma just died. Of course.
The kid is surprisingly calm for being abducted by aliens. Peter hadn't been this calm the other times. It makes Yondu wonder whether anything has stuck with the kid, subconscious like. Either way, it's weird and Yondu has to do something before the crew gets nervous. He threatens the kid with the crew eating him. It works and Peter is now properly afraid.
The crew ain't going to really eat the kid, not when he's actually their meal ticket. But they have fun with it, and it's all that matters right now. The journey to Ego's planet is a long one and he needs to keep them distracted somehow.
Plus the excuse of saving Peter from his "ravenous" crew gives him a cover for hanging around with him. He's never tried to talk much with the other kids he hauled in, but there's something about Peter that's kickstarted this mess and he aims to figure out what it was.
"Where are you taking me?" Peter asks, for what has to be the hundredth time. Yondu sighs and sets down his food.
"Like I told you, we're taking you to your daddy. He has us making the delivery. Something about not being able to get away to go get you."
Now that Yondu thinks about it, that was strange as well. Ego's spread his seed around what feels like the entire galaxy, but can't be bothered to pick up his kids himself?
Peter's eyes widen and there's a wobble to his lips that makes Yondu fidget.
"My daddy's an actual alien? You mean momma weren't lyin'?"
"Naw, kid, your momma didn't lie," Yondu says. It feels odd to reassure the kid after he spent the better part of a day terrorizing him enough so his crew wouldn't question him. "Though hell if I know what she saw in him," he mutters under his breath.
Not quietly enough. The brat hears him and kicks his shin.
"Don't talk that way about my daddy! He's payin' you to pick me up so shut it! He wants me!"
Yondu growls and picks Peter up. The kid's as light as a feather, but feisty. His wriggling makes Yondu grip tighter so the kid doesn't fall and break something.
"You try that again, boy, and I'll feed you to my crew myself! Quit your whining! Your daddy didn't pay me to get you to him in one piece, after all!"
It's enough to make Peter stop kicking. There are tears falling down his cheeks, but Peter's expression is still stubborn.
"If you don't treat me right, my daddy's going to get you in a world of trouble once we get to him!"
"And who's he going to believe? The guy who brought his kid to him half a galaxy away or a little twerp like you?"
That's enough for Peter to subside into a sullen silence. Despite himself, Yondu feels a trickle of fondness for the kid. That was a good attempt at a bluff. Kid's got spirit.
Soon enough, Yondu is cursing that spirit. Peter's taken to scampering all around the ship, bugging all of the crew in turns. Threats of eating him stop working after the first ten times. Peter's fascinated by the workings of the ship, the stars, the technology, all of it. He takes to the Ravager code with a precociousness only a kid could have, imitating the biggest and meanest Ravager he can find. Which means he ends up imitating Yondu a lot.
It's annoying as all hell, but Yondu is also oddly charmed. The kid would make a great grifter with a bit of training. Yondu scowls at himself. What the hell is he thinking? The boy is just a means to an end, is all. Yondu just needs to figure out what's going on with his life rebooting. Then the kid'll either be on Earth, none the wiser about any of this, or he'll be with his daddy if this whole thing with Ego is just a wild coincidence. Either way, Peter won't be around much longer. No sense in getting attached.
Once they arrive on Ego's planet, Yondu goes through the motions of delivering Peter. Unlike the other times, the kid hugs him goodbye. Yondu is just really grateful none of the rest of his crew is there to see the kid do it. Yondu can't be getting a reputation for going soft.
Instead of leaving the planet, Yondu doubles back and starts scanning. Other than him, Ego and Peter, the planet is utterly devoid of humanoid life signs. It should be crawling with Ego's brats. None of them had been there to welcome Peter either and there is no sign of them now.
In desperation and growing foreboding, he narrows the scans to searching for genetic traces of the other brats. His scanner returns a faint ping. Whatever he's found, it's underground. There's a cave a few miles away and Yondu pilots his ship down the entrance. It just about fits inside, though the walls soon grow too narrow for his craft.
He exits it and continues on foot, arguing with himself. What does he care for a bunch of kids? About Peter? He's been paid for a job and he's done it. Not like he's been kidnapping the kids either; he's made enough thorough checks to make sure he was returning the kids to their father and not some random stranger. He ain't completely stupid for units.
He continues on into the cave, deeper and darker until there is a light ahead. His scanner is beeping at him frantically until it becomes a continuous whine. Yondu hits it until it stops.
"Damn thing's brok..." he trails off, staring at the sight in front of him. A mountain of bones, stretching back far deeper than he can see. Tiny bones too, far too small to be adult. And at the very front -
Yondu stumbles back, gagging. He's seen and dealt plenty of death. This is something else. He drops the scanner and runs back to his ship. He has to get to Peter and get him away from that madman. He has to make sure Ego's stopped, because this ain't natural.
Yondu might be a pirate and a smuggler, but he ain't no child killer. He'd thought he was reuniting families. He'd suspected, known something was off, but the money was too good to question it much.
But this? Who would have ever suspected this?
He has to stop it. Why else would time be repeating for him? He can't save the others, he's never gone that far back. But he can save Peter. Make sure Ego never gets his grubby hands on the kid.
Before he can reach his ship, Ego appears before him. He looks faintly annoyed, even though a smile is stretched across his face.
"I thought I felt something scurrying down here. You should have just taken the units, Yondu."
Yondu doesn't get a chance to reply before Ego kills him.
The seventh time, Yondu swears to make it right. To succeed where he's failed before. He accepts Ego's offer once more and then gets to thinking. There's a few options he hasn't tried yet that he thinks could work.
The most obvious one is just killing Peter himself. But even Yondu's not enough of a monster to kill an innocent kid that ain't done him no wrong. Besides, who's to say Ego just won't go and get more?
Yondu tries taking Peter and leaving him on Xandar. Those stuck up pricks are good with kids. Ain't no kids going hungry there, at least. Yondu could take him somewhere easier for a kid to get lost, but he's not about to take Peter from a loving family and then just leave him to fend for himself. He's done Peter enough wrong.
For a year, it seems like it works. There's no news of Peter, or Ego. No sign of anything wrong.
Except Ego still somehow finds Peter. The universe ends again.
The eighth and final time, Yondu resigns himself to the inevitable and just takes Peter along and never returns him. He never tells the boy or his crew why they take him. Only Kraglin suspects something. He never talks. That's why Yondu likes him. A good first officer knows when to keep his trap shut.
He scares Peter stiff once more, until it becomes something of a running joke that his crew wants to eat him. Peter settles down fairly quickly, taking to the Ravager life with abandon. He's more useful than Yondu realized, able to get into crawlspaces far too small for the others.
Still, having a kid on board is not easy. Yondu knows he's making plenty of mistakes of one sort or another. But he figures it's better than ending up dead in a cave somewhere. They keep moving and ravaging until Yondu is almost able to put that cave out of his mind and forget he ever repeated his days until he got it right.
Eventually, Peter grows up enough that Yondu lets him go his own way. He still keeps an eye on Peter, though.
Because if one thing's for damn sure, ain't no way that Ego's getting his damn paws on Yondu's kid.