“He’s cold,” Peter says.
Rocket had started bungling the breathing apparatus together the moment they cleared Ego’s atmosphere. He had ripped wiring from the console, shredding the casing with his teeth while Kraglin cranked open the outside panel of the airlock, ready to jet over and grab his cap’n the moment Rocket gave the word.
The poor shuttle had been as good as scuttled. Kraglin could forgive the rodent though, because while he'd gnawed apart his ship, he'd also maybe, just maybe, saved Yondu's life.
The circle of space-tech looks so small, pinned over Yondu's Flame. It's shoddy work, by Rocket's standards; it barely lasted for the time it took to drag Yondu aboard. Wires jut in all directions, sparks whizzing as the circuitry shorts.
Kraglin’s eyes glue to that fizzling coil like it's a beacon. It means he doesn’t have to watch Peter cradle his cap’n, voice as lost as the little boy they’d plucked from a hospital lawn on Terra all those years ago. “Help me, Kraglin. He’s so cold.”
And he is. Frost clings to skin. Crystallized six-pointed stars glisten under the lights, losing their form as his temperature begins to rise. Yondu’s already thawing. Kraglin doesn't want to contemplate whether he’s gonna uncurl and open his eyes, like a tundra caterpillar after winter, or whether he's just gonna rot.
His hand hovers above Peter's shaking shoulder (because Yondu's the frozen one, but it's Peter who’s shivering). Then, determinedly, he squeezes it.
“So we keep him warm.”
Peter sniffs and nods. He clutches Yondu's limp, ice-slicked body like he thinks they're still out there, alone in the void. Like he has to cling to his father so he doesn't float away.
Kraglin kneels. He tries not to look at Yondu, gathered on Peter’s lap like a child. Just angles his bony body to slope against Yondu's side, sandwiching him between Peter's bulk and his ribcage.
The other Guardians cluster at a distance. They’re all damaged in their own special ways, from the gormless bug-girl to the green chick and her freaky sister, and the musclebound whackjob whose biceps could be mistaken for barrage balloons. And, of course, the rodent.
None of them want to overstep, none of them want to intrude. They don’t know how to handle the death of someone they care about, because they haven't cared for anyone but themselves in a very long time.
Not that that's what this is. Yondu ain't dead, and he ain't dying. So Kraglin tries to convince himself, like he stares at the sparking spacesuit capsule over the flame on Yondu's chest and convinces himself it's rising and falling with anything approaching consistency.
Yondu's alive, but he’s been through hell and back. (At his advanced age too, Kraglin would say; only the joke ain't so funny when there's no blue palm waiting to smack the back of his head.) Yondu’s breathing - just. But stars know for how long.
Rocket’s the first to break the Guardians’ self-imposed quarantine. He steps forwards, scratching awkwardly at his snout, Groot riding shotgun on his shoulder. “He's cold, you sayin’?”
It would be callous to call that an ‘icebreaker' when there's so much of the stuff clinging to Yondu's face. It dusts his lashes, fills his pores, smooths him to something creaseless and plastic.
Kraglin thumbs away the crystals that glue Yondu's eyes shut. He knows it's stupid to expect them to crack open immediately, or for his cap’n to treat him to that sleepy, discolored smile that's greeted him most mornings for the past two and a half decades. But that doesn't mean he's not disappointed.
Rocket, after shifting paw to paw, coughing into his fist, and shaking off Groot’s urgent tugs at his whiskers, finally gives in. He clambers up Kraglin's side to wind round Yondu's throat. He’s a scarf of fur, which will help reduce the frost-scarring on Yondu's airways, but the way he peers at his fellow human blankets informs them that he's liable to claw out their eyes if they comment. Kraglin swallows, and does so anyway.
“Thank you,” he croaks. Because Yondu can't say it yet, and probably wouldn't if he could. The dick.
Huddled around his captain from the other side, Peter’s nod is as jerky and short as Yondu's feeble breath. Rocket nods back, brisk and businesslike. Then nuzzles under Yondu's jaw, Groot crawling up to sadly stroke the bow of chapped, ice-hard blue lips.
There’s already meltwater forming. Yondu was exposed for what - thirty, forty seconds? More than enough time to die. But like Gamora, he has cybernetic enhancements under his skin, which kept the ebulism from swelling him up, his lungs from imploding, and his blood from boiling at the extreme lack of pressure. The void didn't kill him. Right now, Yondu's biggest enemy is the cold.
Gamora catches Drax before he can fling himself onto the pile. ‘We must take this slowly,” she warns them. “Any extremes of heat could shock his system.”
She’s right, but like hell are Peter and Kraglin going to move. Yondu's getting hugged. His homeostasis (and his pride, once he wakes up to find himself slumped over the lap of the boy he calls his own, arms and legs gathered in a loose foetal curl and head lolling babylike against the Kraglin’s shoulder) can like it or lump it.
Kraglin gathers a handful of frostbitten fingers. He rubs them, fast like he's trying to kindle a fire, until he realizes it's not just ice he's sloughing off, but damaged skin.
Yondu's hands are bruise-purple, blood leaking from freeze-thaw cracks in sluggish blue rivulets. The knuckles are chipped and raw. In between the inkblot spills of indigo, where capillaries have burst under the skin, he's a pinched and lifeless grey.
Nauseated, Kraglin tucks the nearest hand into his armpit. He rests his forehead on Yondu's nape, where the prosthetic swoops to kiss the first knobble on his spine. He breathes warmth down his ice-crusted collar until Rocket complains that the humidity’s making him frizz.
The other Guardians pace themselves gradually, taking Gamora’s warning to heart. Drax is first to approach, once he deems the addition of his heat isn't going to overtax Yondu's ailing body. He folds around the five of them, so that Kraglin, Peter, Rocket, Groot, and Yondu can all be embraced at once. Mantis and Gamora’s contributions are less direct, but no less important. Mantis piles herself against Yondu’s legs, over Kraglin and Peter, without caring that she's sandwiched between three men who are practically strangers. Gamora rummages through the storage hold until she finds a fold-out tarp.
It's designed to be tossed over smuggled contraband when passing through customs, but will suffice as a blanket. The tarp’s camo-software is glitching. It intermittently flashes, one moment translucent, revealing the Guardians as embryonic shapes, like sextepulets in the womb; and the next taking on the hues of the floor beneath, as if the ship has suffered a tectonic upheaval and grown a spontaneous fold-mountain.
Gamora crawls beneath the tarp’s corner, a cool heaped weight against Peter’s back. She doesn’t quite match their temperature. But the comfort offered by the cheek that rests against Peter’s shoulder, her eyelashes tickling his neck, is appreciated nevertheless.
Nebula is last to join. She sneaks glances at the hatch, furtive and fast, and Kraglin knows she wants to run.
Woman’s the definition of a lone wolf. She might have a ‘sister’, of sorts, but she ain’t never had a family. Their ring of Guardians and Ravagers must look nauseatingly cushy, to someone who’s never been taught that softness doesn't always equate to weakness .
Kraglin knows how to handle people like that.
“I should go,” Nebula begins. He cuts her off.
“Hell no. You shot him in the head. You’re owin’.”
Because if she won’t understand why they want her there, he’s gotta make her feel like she ain’t got a choice. Last time he spoke directly to Nebula, he suggested that she buy a nice hat. He also almost got a cybernetic fist through the throat. Kraglin ain’t good at standing up to people scarier than he is, not unless there’s a lil’ blue pitbull of a cap’n hollering away by his side. But this is for that same captain’s sake. His glare locks on Nebula, daring her to walk away.
Ignoring Peter’s shocked “You shot him where?”, she does.
She stalks back again ten minutes later, long after Kraglin’s given up hope and has concentrated his efforts on getting Yondu’s fingers to their normal shade of blue. He’s scared to check his boots in case there’s a few too few toes.
When Nebula presses another gift from a storage hold into his hand - a dual-pack of exothermospheres - he clicks them both on low and squeezes one between Yondu’s palms while the other rests on his toecaps.
“Thank you,” he says. Twice in one day - that’s a personal record. The Guardians and their goodiegoodie ways must be rubbing off on him. Why, next thing you know he’ll commandeer Yondu’s crest and save the galaxy alongside them!
...Or not. Because as Nebula rubs the back of her neck where plates poke through the skin, and hunkers down at the far edge of the group to watch, Yondu’s eyelids twitch and he rolls, just slightly, grumbling something a long way from lucid as he readjusts in his hammock of arms.
Kraglin’s breath catches. Over Yondu head (and Rocket’s and Groot’s, with Drax and Mantis close besides) he sees Peter mirroring his expression. Desperation. Pleading. Hope.
“Yondu,” Quill calls softly. “Hey, buddy. Hey d-dad. How you doing?”
Kraglin would free a hand to smack him, if his weren’t occupied keeping Yondu’s clasped around the heat-ball. “Let him rest,” he growls.
Yondu doesn’t wake up. But he huffs, and Kraglin swears that behind their bruised lids, his eyes are rolling.
Well, cap’n can bitch them out to his heart’s content, once he's awake. Doesn't change the fact that sentiment’s saving his life.
Kraglin hides his smile in Rocket’s fur. Then Yondu’s cheek, when Rocket vibrates with a snarl. He's grinning so hard that the kiss is less a peck and more a controlled graze of teeth. He only realizes the other Guardians are staring when Peter coughs and shoots him a pointed look. But by then Kraglin’s eyes are so damp - stupid, happy tears - that they’ve all misted together anyway. He ignores them, concentrating only on his cap’n.
Yondu spills across his and Peter’s laps, unfurling gradually as their heat seeps into him. By the end of that hour they’re all slicked with ice-melt.
It’s kinda gross to think that this is liquid from Yondu’s own skin, solidified and brought to the surface by the vacuum. But Kraglin’s transferred enough body fluids with him over the years not to care. This ain’t no worse than being sneezed on. Peter, judging by his expression, ain’t of the same mindset.
However, the captain’s alive. He’s come back from the brink - not even Kraglin's natural pessimism can deny it.
Groot clambers to the peak of Yondu's prosthetic like a proud mountaineer. He surveys his family from on high. By the time they decide the danger’s passed and it’s time to relocate Yondu somewhere more comfortable, the Ravager is breathing steadily and the frost on his face has thawed to the point where you can see blue.
“Finally!” exclaims Drax, as Peter and Kraglin peel away from him, Peter clutching Yondu to his chest while Kraglin, deemed too scrawny to help carry him, flaps and clucks and squawks about being careful . Rocket, still bundled round Yondu’s neck, turns to sneer at Drax. The big guy shrugs, shaking out his stiff arms and rubbing his pectorals. “You were chafing my nipples.”
Peter shuffles Yondu a little higher, Kraglin darting in to arrange the old pirate’s head so it doesn’t flop unsupported. “Good to know. Rocket - I know you wanna stay with him, but we do kinda need to get our pilot relays working. Preferably before we all starve out here.”
Rocket shakes his head. He burrows into the loose collar of Yondu’s underjacket with a glower that says they can pry him out at the expense of their fingers.
“Nuh-uh. Blue ain’t stupid enough not to keep his shuttle stocked. We got food for a month - and I say we use the time for R&R.” Then, when he catches their incredulous looks: “I ain’t putting Groot through another adventure like that. Not until he's big enough to hold a blaster without fallin' face-first.”
He gives the twiglet a mollifying pat when it begins spouting I am Groots. While Kraglin ain’t an expert, he suspects Groot is telling Rocket he can look after himself - which of course, makes the Guardians all the more adamant he can’t.
And if protecting Groot gives them the excuse to protect Yondu too, and give him time to recover to the point where his skin doesn’t break if you grab him too hard? Well, that’s coincidence.
“C’mon,” Kraglin says, leading the procession into the shuttle’s grumbling bowels. “Cabins are this way. Cap’n needs his sleep.”