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Promised the Past

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Joe was beginning to adjust to life on board the Free Joker. There was a certain sense of routine to it, even when he took into account the rapid fluctuations in Basco's mood and demeanor.

Some days, most days Basco was as kind a master as one could hope for. He would bring food for them both to the cell and sit down with Joe for a simple dinner. Basco liked to ask questions, get Joe talking. He seemed truly interested, though his ever-present smirk tended to make Joe uncomfortable. He tailored his questions to avoid the greatest part of Joe's past, his time as a pirate, instead focusing on Joe's short childhood on his home planet, and his time in Zangyack.

Occasionally, Basco turned petty, avoiding speaking to Joe for an entire day and night or longer, only stopping by the cell for a silent rough encounter and leaving behind a paper, folded open to a multi-page spread about the wanted pirates. Joe's poster was no longer being printed, there was simply a throw-away line at the bottom about Joe Gibken no longer among their company and being presumed dead. Joe discovered that he didn't even care, in fact he preferred it this way. Marvelous and the crew were sure to see the papers, they always did. He hoped they'd believe and keep searching for the Greatest Treasure instead of fostering some false hope about getting Joe back.

At some point, Basco had begun to let Joe out of his cell during the day, brought him up to the helm or let him wander about the ship. They were often in dead space between planets, and Joe unarmed and not even fully dressed, obviously not particularly a threat. Still, Basco never trusted him fully, always locked him back up before retreating to his own room to sleep.

Only very rarely was Basco violent. Eventually, Joe figured out that Basco's violent fits somehow corresponded to the times Joe became lost in thought and reminiscence about the crew. Basco would strike him across the face, occasionally kick him, and with a wave of his hand and a single command, the monkey would drag Joe back to his cell and lock him up. Joe imagined his face must somehow be betraying him, and he learned to save those thoughts for when he was alone and the ship was dark. Of course, exactly as Basco intended, the less time he was allowed to remember those best years of his life, the harder it became to remember Don's endearing panic or Marvelous' Cheshire smile.

Basco often worked. His ship was fast and effective, and Joe would be alone in his cell, alone on the ship for several hours while Basco took his monkey to board their target. Joe didn't doubt that Basco ever left survivors, and befitting his status as a Privateer Joe knew that the ships they attacked weren't Zangyack, full of soldiers and sailors prepared for death. It was probably mostly merchants, judging the bounty Basco brought back with him. Basco's saving grace, the one thing that kept Joe from demanding he be held accountable for these actions was a single conversation they'd had once.

Basco had taken to braiding Joe's hair. He insisted it was simply more convenient, and while Joe was fairly sure Basco meant this was more convenient for him to pull on during their trysts, he didn't argue. He had to admit it felt good, Basco's long fingers running through his hair. It took effort not to think of Ahim during these times, and so he threw himself into focusing on the conversations Basco wanted to have. That time, Basco had asked him why he had defected from Zangyack. Joe had told him everything, or nearly so. That he hadn't been a defector in the traditional sense, that he'd already been marked for execution for disobeying orders, attacking superiors and allowing prisoners to escape. Basco had paused in his careful combing of Joe's hair and asked him what orders could ever be asked of such a loyal soldier that he would refuse.

So Joe had told him. They weren't prisoners. They had been children. Defenseless.

Basco had leaned close against Joe's back, his lips brushing Joe's ear, his hair tickling Joe's shoulder. "You may not think highly of me, blue-chan, but I too have limits. I can't even imagine hurting a child. You made the right choice, I think."

His words had been such a serious and unintentional echo of Sid's assurance before their parting, and Joe found he actually believed him.

The first thing Basco had given Joe was a blanket. Luxurious and completely ostentatious, as though Joe would ever expect anything else from Basco. Black silk on one side and some silvery fur on the other. Joe avoided it like the plague at first, but he had to admit that it was cold sleeping in the cell particularly after Basco took his jacket and shirt away, and eventually he took to it. It was large enough to wrap around Joe completely, and the soft fur reminded him of the varying streaks that had been in Sid's hair. Basco seemed to know more than he ever let on, played his cards ever close to his chest.

One night their conversation had revolved completely around swordplay. Basco didn't need to press much to get Joe speaking freely of this one greatest passion. From his childhood through his time on Earth, the sword had been his one most constant companion. And while Joe had slipped up and mentioned how difficult it had been to teach Luka to fight properly, how frustrating that she still insisted on fighting dirty, Basco hadn't struck him, simply stood up and left before they'd finished eating. Punishment in and of itself, but the next morning when Joe woke there was a blunted practice sword in the cell with him. Joe accepted this, both as a gift and as a reminder, and after berating himself for becoming so complacent, he began to use his lengthy free hours alone in the cell to resume training as hard as he had on the Galleon.

Basco brought him clothes. Much like the blanket, Basco seemed to favor him wearing blacks and greys, but Joe accepted it. The clothes weren't as flashy as Basco's own, in fact they were quite plain, but they fit well, were more comfortable than the armor he'd been made to wear incessantly as a Zangyack soldier. And while he missed his jacket, Basco continued to make good on one of the first promises he'd ever offered and never took his necklace from him.

Joe never got used to the monkey, but she never seemed to respect him. Joe refused to call her by name, and Basco never pushed the point, and was in fact very conscious of the tension between them. He laughed at Joe about it sometimes, teased him for their silly sibling rivalry. Joe would grow very quiet when Basco did that, and Basco would play with his braid and pull him into a familiar hug. But he never apologized.

Joe had taken to wearing the practice sword at his side when he was allowed out of the cell, which he was slowly beginning to think of more and more frequently as his room. There was something comforting about the familiar weight on his hip. He spent more time in the helm than anywhere else, standing a respectful distance away from any of the consoles so Basco wouldn't accuse him of trying to change their course or take them back to Earth, or whatever Basco might imagine him capable of. He mostly stood near the view screen, looking out into what was more often than not dead space and distant stars.

He was there when he realized that they were approaching a system, not just that, but a strangely familiar system at that. A young star blazing blue over a small system of maybe three planets. Joe glanced over his shoulder at Basco sitting in his chair, legs crossed and hands folded. Basco wasn't looking at the screen. He was looking right back at Joe.

Joe turned back towards the view. Had he been here before, with Zangyack? With Marvelous? The first planet in the system was tiny, very close to their sun. It seemed hardly capable of sustaining life, and yet Joe somehow knew that was where they were heading.

It struck him suddenly, when they came in close enough for him to see the detail of what he had assumed was a moon. The planet had no moon of its own, the satellite was a station, well marked as belonging to Zangyack. Joe had seen those before, remembered them from the classes he'd endured as a recruit in the Zangyack navy. An orbiting military base, placed with a planet that had been colonized rather than destroyed.

"Home?" The word caught in Joe's throat, choking him. He moved closer, pressing his hands to the view screen. He didn't think he could breathe, and he couldn't tear his eyes away as his home planet drew ever closer.

He didn't notice Basco's smile.