Joe had once thought that he would never be able to associate properly with people. Maybe he still couldn't. He built walls, high enough to keep people out, but all it had really done was keep him inside, which in turn invited those inclined to climb up to see what he was hiding, when the big secret was that he was hiding himself.
That had been before Sid, and especially before Marvelous. Which led him here, watching the other members of the crew, of -his- crew, and actually caring about them, not just because their fates were directly tied to his own, but for their own sakes.
Joe didn't have a dream. Not of his own. But they did.
He struggled to his feet. He circled the cell once, pausing by Ahim to brush his arm against her shoulder. Nudging against Luka, touching his hip to Don's. His mind was made up. He approached the bars of the cell and pressed his head to them, staring out at the monkey.
Don trailed after him, stumbled and leaned heavily against his side. Nosing at his arm. "Joe?"
Joe swallowed. He didn't have the heart to shoulder him away like he would any other time. Not now.
"Oi. Monkey." The addressed creature lumbered around to face him and Joe jerked his head. "Yeah, you. Where is he? Bring me to him. He wants to talk, I'll talk."
The monkey tilted its head, scratched at its chest. Joe growled and slammed his head into the bars, kicking at them. Frenzied. He heard Ahim gasp his name behind him but he couldn't turn to look. He thought she might be able to figure him out, and he might lose his nerve.
"You understand me! Do it!"
Joe wasn't sure how, since the monkey hardly moved, but there he suddenly was in a flurry of red knit and white feathers.
"Oi, blue-chan. You're all worked up." He smirked, pushed aside his stupid shawl to draw a large golden gun. The bars of the cell parted at some silent command, but Basco had pointed the gun at Don's face before a one of them could move. "No false moves, now." He kept the gun trained on Don, but turned his dark gaze hungrily on Joe's face. "You've been thinking, then. You want to talk? Talk, blue-chan, I'm all ears."
Joe shook his head, walked slowly towards Basco. "Not here. Alone."
"Joe!" Luka growled, starting towards them. Joe spared her a warning glance, but it was Basco pushing the gun hard against Don's cheek that stopped her.
Joe didn't shrink under Basco's searching look, didn't quail when Basco's mouth turned up into a feral smile. "Oh, blue-chan." His free hand snatched a handful of the chains binding Joe, pulled him forward so suddenly he lost his balance, tumbled against Basco's chest. Basco's arm went around his upper back, holding him in a fierce hug, almost intimate. He dragged Joe away from the cell, and the bars slid shut again.
"Stay, Sally." Basco ordered. "I'll be at the helm with blue-chan, if they cause trouble." He laughed and led Joe away.
Basco kept his arm around Joe, held Joe against his chest through the narrow halls of the ship. Joe didn't struggle, stumbling along, every step feeling like it was his last, but never a once faltering in his conviction. It didn't matter what Marvelous was really like, whether he was right or whether Basco knew better. Joe had made the decision for him. If all went well, he could keep pursuing his dream and not have to risk coming after the crew.
Or most of the crew, anyway.
Basco dropped him at the foot of his chair and settled in, crossing his legs at the knee and sitting back. "Here we are again, blue-chan. I hope you'll be more agreeable this time."
"What will it take?" Joe looked up, met Basco's eyes. Even he, woefully inept as he could be at reading intentions, could see the hunger there.
Basco smirked. "You'll have to elaborate, I'm afraid I don't speak cryptic."
"To spare their lives." Joe stated. He didn't move and didn't shift his gaze in the slightest.
Basco clapped his hands like a child presented with a new toy. "Oh, I like this game already, blue-chan. Bargaining, is it? Do you know how much they're worth?"
Joe nodded once. "You said you wanted me."
"Oh." Basco leaned forward to stroke the bruise on Joe's cheek with his fingertips. "Oh, how noble."
Joe wanted nothing more in that moment than to lean out of reach of Basco's greedy hands, but he restrained the impulse. "My life for theirs. Return them to the planet. Keep the Mobirates, but spare their lives."
Basco's fingers curled under his chin, his eyes searched Joe's face for any trace of insincerity. He found none. "I'll need more than that, blue-chan. The magic word?"
Joe finally lowered his eyes. "Please."
Basco stood up suddenly, running his fingers once through Joe's long bangs and tucking them behind his ear with a slight tenderness that confused and frightened Joe. Then he started pacing, humming to himself and stroking his chin like a storybook villain in a stage play. Joe turned his head to watch Basco's progress, to the helm, around his chair then back again. Then, with a dramatic sigh, he stopped at the helm and entered coordinates that Joe couldn't see from his position on the floor. Then he was off again, shooting a glance and a smile back at Joe. "Stay, blue-chan."
Joe didn't miss the echo of Basco's instruction to the ape earlier. It lit a small fire of fury in his chest, but he stayed still and quelled it. His life was forfeit now.
He felt the ship shifting around him, the automatic changes in artificial gravity as it began its descent, back to the planet's surface. His heart soared, Basco was going to take the deal. They might not be Gokaiger anymore, but they would live. They could live on Earth, he thought maybe Ahim at least would more than live. She could thrive.
Basco's ship was fast, befitting its status as a Privateer's. Joe stayed put, kneeling on the floor before Basco's chair, his head turned to watch their final approach. He recognized the area at once, the self-same canyon where they'd fought, lost and been captured. There was no sign of the battle, and no hint of the Galleon or Marvelous. Joe found he wasn't surprised in the slightest. So Basco was right after all. All the better.
The ship landed. Joe turned back towards the hallway and watched the approach of the monkey, leading the captives along, strung each to the next and still tightly bound. And behind them came Basco. His smile was positively devious, and when he turned it on Joe he felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Joe reminds himself he chose this, reminds himself of why as he watches each of the crew, each of his friends file past him.
Ahim, last in the line, is the first to start struggling, turning back to look wildly at Joe even as she was dragged along towards the exit hatch, now open by unspoken command. "Joe-san?" Her voice trembled at the end, and he had to turn his head away.
Luka was the next to start pulling back against the monkey's force. She strained towards Basco as he walked close by them, within an arms length if any of them had been able to reach. "What are you playing at?" She screeched. "You bastard, what's your game?"
"Not a game, sweet thief, not at all. Just a deal. Go, Sally." Basco positioned himself beside Joe, placed a hand possessively on his head. Joe closed his eyes to hold back sudden tears. He'd done all he could, but he hadn't realized how much it would hurt. Of course, Basco wasn't helping, leading them out right in front of him like that. He wanted it to hurt.
"Joe!" Don's voice was frantic, Joe could still hear him repeating his name as they were led further and further from the ship. "Joe! Stop, why are you keeping him? Joe!"
A tense few minutes later, the monkey returned alone and empty handed. The hatch closed, and it, she went to the helm. The ship shuddered as it lifted off the surface of the planet and turned its nose back towards welcoming space.
Basco remained standing. The monkey disappeared somewhere, leaving Joe alone with him. Still he didn't move, simply took a steeling breath and opened his eyes to watch.
From somewhere beneath his shawl, Basco produced his golden copy of a Mobirates. He opened it and fixed Joe with a serious stare as he reflexively dialed a number.
"Hey, old man Damaras. I've done you a favor."
Joe's quite sure his heart stops. He struggles to his feet as Basco continues to speak.
"Three of the wanted pirates are on Earth's surface right now, bound and unarmed. Yes, just three, and you should be happy for it! I'm giving them to you, you know. I'm even letting you take the credit. Think, old man, three of five and the fourth is, ah, regrettably out of the picture. I imagine the Emperor will be very pleased, maybe even let you go back to a real position, instead of stuck as a lackey to his dear son. You're welcome, old man. Keep in touch." Basco closed his Mobirates and rolled his eyes. "Tch."
Joe lunged at Basco with bared teeth and tears blurring his vision. "No!" Basco lifted one leg, catching Joe square in the chest with his boot. Joe fell back, struggling to keep his feet. "You promised me their lives!"
"I promised you nothing, blue-chan, now please don't be tiresome. I have another very important call to make." He opened the Mobirates again, dialed another number.
"Yo, Marvey-chan." If Joe's heart had stopped before, now it had taken up residence in his throat, pounding painfully. "It would seem I've lost some of your comrades. I should think you might find them where last we met. I still have the Mobirates, though, so maybe if you want them, you should hurry. Zangyack's always looking, see, and I imagine they're awfully defenseless." Basco gave Joe a wink, as though they were conspirators. "Good luck, Marvey-chan." He almost sang his last sentence, closing the Mobirates over any protests or outbursts Marvelous might be making on the other end.
Basco spread his hands. "I am nothing if not fair, blue-chan. You'll learn. Equal opportunity."
Joe threw himself at Basco again. This time Basco caught him around the waist and held on, but he didn't try to subdue Joe's struggles. He seemed almost to be enjoying it.
"It's a trap! You've set them all up! They'll obviously be out numbered! You lied, you lied!" Joe's voice wavers and then breaks and he can't even try to restrain the sob that escapes against Basco's shoulder. "Why?"
Basco laughed at him, a giggle of pure glee that chilled Joe to the bone. "I always get what I want, blue-chan. You'll learn that too, I trust."
Joe tries to struggle, tries to fight, but Basco sweeps his legs from beneath him. Joe's back hits the deck, his breath comes out in another weak sob. Basco leaned over him, cupped his cheek with one hand. One thumb brushing, gathering Joe's tears. Then he stood, licking the salt from his thumb. "Sally!"
The monkey returned, never far from her master's call. "Take us to the edge of this system. We'll hang around for a while." Basco sat back in his chair, crossed his legs ankle-to-knee, and watched the galaxy spread in front of him.
Joe curled over onto his side, pressing his face to the floor. He sobbed once, then stopped, needing to focus on simply breathing.
Basco spared him a glance, and smiled.