(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
He had to run. Sid had told him to run, to escape, that they'd meet again, and he trusted him. He'd trusted Sid from the moment they'd met.
A part of Joe knew that Sid had intended to sacrifice himself from the beginning, that he was splitting them up to draw the majority of their pursuers away, give Joe time to gain some distance or find a way to break or disable the tracking device around his neck.
Neither of them had been aware of how busy the mad geniuses in Research and Development had been. Both thought they knew well enough the purpose and the abilities of the collar. Neither anticipated that Joe would be the test subject for the new model with remote activation.
Electricity sparked from the collar and tore through Joe's body, momentarily blanking his mind as his limbs lost control and dropped him ungracefully to the ground, twitching and unable to keep from crying out in pain. When his eyes cleared enough to see again, Joe was surrounded. A sharp kick rolled him over onto his back and left him gasping. It was over. He was marked for execution. He closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable.
Joe sat up, gulping air and trembling in a cold sweat, magnified by the constant chill of the space-faring craft.
"Lights!" He choked out, the darkness of his quarters serving only to make him feel claustrophobic and a little sick.
The lights flickered on at his command and he took one last shuddering gasp before he lie back down, willing his heart to slow its frantic rhythm.
Joe was not having a particularly good month. Those damned pirates had been nothing but a constant headache for him, especially considering his personal past association with that traitor, that deserter, Sid Bamick. Every time the pirates came up in conversation, which was often, it invited pointed looks and hardly whispered questions about Joe and his loyalty.
It was common enough knowledge that Joe had been a part of a mercifully brief mutiny. The passionate overreaction of misguided youth. The Empire had retrieved him and taught him well the true meaning of loyalty. He had the scars to prove it, some of them even visible when he was in full dress uniform, which was distressingly often since he'd been stationed on Gigant Horse. Since they'd come to Earth.
But the scars didn't stop the questions, didn't alleviate any of the doubt. It didn't help that he hadn't yet been allowed to meet any of the pirates in direct combat, in fact hadn't seen any combat since arriving. He thought this was a huge mistake on Damarasu's part, but then, Joe wasn't the brilliant tactician that had finally allowed them to take Famille from it's proud warrior Queen.
Joe's room chimed, alerting him to someone waiting at the door, and he sat up again, reaching behind himself to pull a length of ribbon off the headboard of his bed and start the not altogether simple task of tying back the bulk of his hair.
"Enter!" He called, and the room obliged, his door unlocking and sliding open.
An ensign poked his head into the room, his eyes darting around nervously, and Joe briefly wondered when he'd gained such a reputation. "Officer Gibken, sir?"
"They need you on the bridge, sir."
Joe nodded. "Tell them I'll be there in five."
Joe stared at the boy for a long moment before he realized he was really waiting for clarification. Surely Joe hadn't been so dense when he was that age. "Five minutes, Ensign."
"Oh! Of course! I'm sorry, sir."
Joe waved a hand as he swung his legs out of bed. "It's fine. Dismissed."
The ensign saluted, somewhat awkwardly, Joe thought, and backed away. Joe returned the gesture half-heartedly, then ordered the door to shut behind him. "These recruits." He muttered to himself as he dressed. "Honestly, are they even training them at all anymore?"
By the time he was fully dressed and on his way to the bridge, the terror of his dream had completely left him.
There's an odd sort of silence on the bridge when Joe enters, and he figures he'd just missed another of the Prince's famous tantrums. All for the better.
"Gibken." Damarasu greeted him. "Good. Come in."
Joe paused in front of the Prince, dropping briefly to one knee and ducking his head in a show of respect, before he moved to stand at attention in front of Damarasu.
Joe relaxed, but only slightly, letting one hand fall to rest on the hilt of his sword. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"You're going planet-side." Damarasu never wasted time with unnecessary pleasantries, a fact which Joe appreciated.
Joe perked up a little, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword. "My orders?"
"Your primary objective will of course be the capture or defeat of the wanted pirates."
Joe couldn't restrain a smile at this. Finally a chance to prove himself to all who doubted him. "Excellent. I'll leave immediately."
"Slow down, Gibken. We have selected a partner for you."
Joe deflated slightly, tried and failed to keep from scowling at the old tactician. "With all due respect, sir, I work best on my own."
Damarasu huffed slightly, and Joe averted his eyes.
"Doubtless you do, but this is not a mission to be treated lightly. The pirates have bested many of our most accomplished Commanders. They are, regrettably, not to be underestimated."
Joe sighed, but he decided it better not to point out that most of the Action Commanders were single-minded idiots. He figured it wouldn't win him any favors, as the title was one appointed primarily by Damarasu himself. "Of course, sir. Who will be my partner?"
"We are expecting him shortly."
Joe raised an eyebrow at this, wondering why they'd bother bringing someone to Earth specifically for this. "Expecting?"
"He is a Privateer, by the name of Basco ta Jolokia."
"But sir," Joe protested, perhaps a little more vehemently than necessary. "A Privateer is little better than a pirate."
"True enough." Damarasu allowed. "This one, however, is a personal acquaintance, and he has a history with the pirate Captain. I believe this will prove particularly useful."
Joe heard the unspoken intent behind Damarasu's words. He was speaking not only of this Privateer, but of Joe's own history, his knowledge of Sid. "Of course, sir."
"You should go gather your things. We'll send someone for you when he arrives. Dismissed."
Joe managed not to sigh again. He saluted Damarasu, bowed once more to the Prince, and turned to leave.
"Is this wise?" Joe heard the Prince ask. "Considering his past?"
Joe didn't hear Damarasu's answer. He didn't need to. He was sure the old man was defending him, and he silently vowed to live up to his expectations.
Joe didn't have much in the way of personal effects. He was already wearing his dress uniform, and it was quick enough work packing his two suits of light combat armor. He laced a second sword belt around his hips, which took care of his off-hand sword.
Joe had never set much store by collecting trophies, even when he'd been seeing active combat. He was re-stationed too often, moving from ship to conquered planet to another ship as he rose in rank. He didn't need anything more than his clothes and his swords.
The room chimed at him, and he paused in his tight pacing. "Enter."
What Joe expected was another nervous ensign sent to retrieve him, or possibly Damarasu himself. What he got instead was, simply put, the most ridiculous person he had ever seen in his life.
And he had met Jealoushitto.
"Joe Gibken?" The stranger asked, sweeping a truly ostentatious hat off his head and making Joe a deep bow. "A pleasure."
Joe raised an eyebrow at him, examining the stranger's tall boots, tight red leather pants, long green tunic and especially his flowing shawl, red knit and white feathers. "You must be Basco."
"Charmed, I'm sure." Basco flashed him a smile that was really more of a smirk, a smirk that plainly said 'I know how to get what I want'. "Nice scar."
Joe scowled, one hand reflexively rising to hide the web of razor fine scars behind and beneath his right ear. "Hardly any of your business." Joe grumbled, his voice soft and warning.
Somehow, Joe wasn't surprised when Basco's response was simply to laugh. He leaned in the doorway, crossing his arms, perfectly at his ease. Basco's eyes scanned Joe's quarters critically. "Must be boring, huh?"
Joe turned around, shouldering his bag. "What?"
"Military life. Ugh." Basco gave an exaggerated shudder and Joe rolled his eyes. "Can't imagine. You don't even have any art. How can you live without art?"
"I live fine." Joe answered shortly. "Are we leaving?"
"Right to business, then. This is going to be interesting."
Joe scoffed. "Interesting."
There was that smirk again. Pretty self-assured for someone who Joe was quite sure was only alive by the minimal grace of the Empire. Basco stepped away from the door and made a sweeping gesture that was almost another bow. "After you, partner."
Joe put a hand to his head. Regardless of his supposed title, Basco was no better than the illegal pirates that caused Joe so many headaches. "How about you just call me Joe."
"Whatever you say, darling."
Such flagrant disregard. Joe marched past Basco and pretended like he didn't notice the way Basco's greedy eyes followed every nuance of his movement.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Marvelous was still completely dead to the world when Sid woke up. This wasn't unusual, Marvelous always slept like a corpse. Very little could wake the Captain before he was good and ready, and even an attack on the ship would invite more anger at being roused then at the ship, his pride and joy, being in danger.
Sid didn't feel particularly inclined to get out of bed, and he figured out why when he tried to sit up and the Captain's quarters started to spin around him. He lie back and closed his eyes, chuckling softly to himself. Marvelous turned over onto his stomach, pulling most of the blankets with him and mumbling something that sounded more or less like "Food!" Sid knew better than to think this meant Marvelous was any closer to being awake or functional. The Captain just talked in his sleep. Sid thought it was kind of cute, even when it got loud enough to wake him up.
The inside of Sid's mouth tastes like spice and something decidedly more like rot and he begins to remember bits and pieces of the night before. In celebrating the retrieval of another Grand Power, Marvelous had discovered with a nearly childlike excitement that Earth had rum. More specifically, that the bottle of the stuff that looked most like the Zangyack rum he was accustomed to had a portrait of a pirate on the label, complete with a coat that might have been modeled after Marvelous' own.
The rest of the crew had been lucky that Marvelous had the forethought to buy two of the largest bottles sold, since the Captain had easily finished one of them entirely on his own.
Judging the angle of the sun peering through the porthole window against the position of the moon when Marvelous and Sid had finally exhausted one another, Sid guessed he'd been asleep five, maybe six hours. Seemed good enough for him, and he rolled over to press a kiss between Marvelous' shoulder blades before he willed himself to get out of the bed.
Sid felt decidedly more human after a couple of painkillers, a long hot shower and fresh clothes.
The galley was already busy by the time Sid made it up there. He ducked in and had to quickly dodge Don bustling past with a hot pan. "Morning, Doc." He greeted him with a smile, then shot a little bow in Ahim's direction. "Princess."
Sid's well aware that he's possibly the only person in the galaxy that can get away with calling Ahim by her former title, but he truly thought she deserved it. She might call herself a pirate, she might even fight like one occasionally, but in poise and grace and especially personality, she was a princess through and through.
"Good morning, Sid-san." Ahim greeted him with a little curtsy. "Tea?"
Sid smiled. "Love some."
He crossed the room to sit at the small table tucked in the corner, considered putting his feet up but decided against it, being in the presence of a lady, and accepted the delicate tea cup Ahim pressed into his hands. He took a slow sip and savored it on his tongue, humming his approval.
"Captain'll probably be down most of the day," he said when Ahim joined him at the table. It only had room for two, but Don was well immersed in his cooking and hardly seemed to mind. "Maybe we can get some training in later? If nothing comes up, that is."
"I would like that very much, Sid-san."
He grinned and turned to look at Don. "You too, I hope?"
"Of course!" Don straightened up from where he'd been placing something in the oven, pulling a towel from a pocket of his apron and wiping his hands and his face.
"Is Lu up yet?"
"I believe she is in the crow's nest." Ahim told him. Sid wasn't particularly surprised, seemed to him that Luka was always in the crow's nest.
"How long until breakfast?" He turned to ask Don, who leaned back against the counter, his face scrunching up in thought.
"Little less than an hour, I'd wager."
"Excellent." Sid drained the last of his tea and handed the cup directly to Ahim. She treasured the trinkets, and he was always cautious of them. "I'll go see Lu, then see if I can't get the Captain up."
Sid never meant to get so attached to them. Personal attachment meant personal responsibility, and Sid's protective streak was as wide and obvious as the white streaks in his hair.
He'd discussed it with Marvelous, that very first night on the Galleon, as they took turns treating each other's wounds and drinking straight from a bottle of strong fine rum. How he'd grown attached to another, younger soldier, how he'd almost given his life to protect him. And especially how he'd failed. He never spoke Joe's name, it felt taboo almost, as if naming him would give him power, invite his ghost to haunt him. Like his memory didn't do a well enough job of that, the memory of Joe crying out in pain and fear and the knowledge that he'd kept running instead of turning back to help.
It was a conversation he and Marvelous shared a number of times with very little variation, every time someone new joined the crew. Sid had been wary when they'd first adopted Luka into their little makeshift family. The loyalty to Marvelous he understood, Marvelous was his Captain and it was Sid's duty to serve him faithfully. It was an attitude that didn't particularly suit a pirate, but the bond was already formed.
Luka was something else. Almost immediately Sid was driven to protect her, not because she needed his protection but because he had to give it. She was a part of the crew, and even more she felt like a sister to him, younger and decidedly less experienced in many ways.
His attachment to Don had come even more quickly, and Sid wasn't a genius but even he could see shades of the child Joe had been when they met in Don, and considering Don's woeful inexperience in the ways of combat, Sid's instinct to protect had been all the more fierce, and all the more necessary. Now he had someone to teach again, and while Don was something of a natural with a ranged weapon, he didn't shy from trying his best to learn the art and magic of sword play.
Ahim was another story entirely. A princess, certainly, but a princess of the planet Famille, heir to a long line of Warrior Queens. She could fight, she had been trained to fill her station, but still there was that compulsion to protect her. To keep her safe from harm.
Sid hated to admit that he loved them all.
"You're a pirate now, you know? Your only real obligation is to yourself. Your own dreams."
Sid shook his head as he taped the end of the bandage in place around Marvelous' shoulder. Then, in a possibly petty move, he prodded Marvelous' wound sharply with one finger. Marvelous yelped and turned to glare at him. "What was that for?"
"Aren't you being a little hypocritical? You got this by jumping in front of a bullet meant for Luka."
Marvelous frowned. "You don't know that."
"If I didn't before, you just confirmed it. So, hypocritical. You only put yourself first so long as it doesn't put anyone in danger."
"It's different for me." Marvelous insisted, rotating his shoulder carefully to test the bandage, hissing slightly.
"Oh, yeah?" Sid scoffed, leaning around Marvelous to grab the ever-present bottle of rum. He twisted the cork out and offered it to Marvelous. "Please, enlighten me."
Marvelous stared at him for a long moment before he grabbed the bottle and took a grudging swig. "I'm the Captain." Marvelous said simply, and Sid could tell from the distant look in his eyes that Marvelous was thinking about his mysterious past. Even Sid didn't know any of the details of Marvelous' past, and he had too much respect for the Captain to ask.
"Good, Doc, good." Sid smiled at him and turned towards Ahim, holding out his sword. "Now you, Princess."
Ahim bowed slightly and advanced on him with her cutlass. He sparred gently with her for a moment, slowly increasing the speed of his blocks to drive her to match him with her strikes. He was so fiercely proud of them both. They'd been more than capable of self-defense when they'd joined the crew, but now they were beginning to really think offensively.
Like soldiers. Like pirates. When it came to fighting, it usually came down to the same thing.
When Ahim grew breathless Sid relented, bowing to her and turning to pay the same respect to Don.
"How about both of you at once?" Sid asked after they'd managed to relax a bit. It was warm on this part of Earth today, the sun shining bright from its vantage point of nearly straight above them. Sid wiped his head with his sleeve and picked up a training sword for his left hand.
They agreed, each taking up their sword again and splitting up to come at him from opposite sides.
This practice was more for him, and they both knew it. He wasn't entirely blind in his left eye, but he'd learned after only a few fights that it was much easier to just wear a patch and deal with the blind spot then try and see through the haze.
Don and Ahim worked incredibly well together, a virtue of their equally cautious approach to close combat. Don even managed to disarm Sid on his dominant side, and only a completely blind reflex saved him from taking Ahim's cutlass to the stomach.
They fell apart, and Sid was the first to start laughing. He drove his sword into the ground and clapped. "Excellent."
Don giggled and Ahim tittered behind her hand shyly. Sid held out his arms and both of them pounced on him, knocking him to the ground in less of a hug and more of an awkward pile.
"Oi! What about my breakfast!"
Sid craned his neck to see Marvelous marching towards them, arms crossed over his chest. "Sorry, Cap, you missed breakfast." Sid teased, and Marvelous scowled. His hair was sticking up awkwardly in the back, so he had obviously not bothered to shower before coming down to yell at them.
Marvelous put his hands on his hips and cocked his head. "Doc? Breakfast, please?"
"It's lunch time, Marvelous." Don scrambled off Sid and to his feet, though, and headed immediately past the Captain and back towards the ship. "I was just about to go start it."
"Well don't take too long! And don't skimp on the meat!" Marvelous called after him, but Don was already out of ear shot. Marvelous turned around again. "You two coming?"
Sid stood up and took both of Ahim's hands to help her to her feet. "Right away, Captain." Sid shot a cocky salute at Marvelous, who laughed.
Ahim slapped Sid gently on the arm. "You are teasing him, Sid-san."
"Of course. Makes life interesting." Sid slipped an arm around her waist, and as they passed Marvelous he put an arm around her shoulders, and they went together to see about their next meal.
Joe had a number of reasons to want to get his mission over and done with as quickly as possible. There was pride involved there, certainly, a drive to prove himself. Revenge he dearly wanted to exact on his former mentor who had so tarnished Joe's reputation.
But mostly, Joe is learning very fast that he wants to finish this mission and return to Gigant Horse because working with Basco is absolutely infuriating. The privateer didn't seem capable of taking anything seriously. Joe couldn't figure out why in the hell Damarasu had described him as an acquaintance.
And then there was the monkey.
Basco had greeted her, such as she was, as soon as they boarded his ship.
"You have a pet monkey." Joe said, his voice sounding flat even to him as he struggles to keep himself composed. He wants to laugh at how ridiculous the idea is, but he needs to stay professional. He refuses to allow Basco to shake him.
"Her name is Sally," Basco informs him, patting the monkey fondly on the head. "And she's rather more than a pet. She navigates as well as any normal person I've ever worked with, and she fights better too. Plus she's completely loyal to me."
"I see." Joe said, eyeing the monkey distastefully. She screeched at him and lumbered away, and Joe was glad to see the back of her.
Basco led the way through the ship, past the bridge and deeper in. Joe followed, marching at a brisk pace to keep up with Basco's long strides.
"So." Joe said after a moment. "Do you have a plan?"
Basco turned to face him, walking backwards. He knew his ship well, had obviously had it a while. "A plan for what, darling?"
"To draw out the pirates." Joe let his exasperation color his words.
Basco laughed at him. Joe had a feeling he was going to have to get used to that laugh and its accompanying smirk.
"Work, work, work. Does every moment have to be about business?"
"I have orders." Joe scowled at him.
Basco stopped suddenly and turned to face a door, which opened at a silent command.
"And I have to have fun." Basco said flippantly, and gestured to the door. "I had Sally set up a room for you."
Joe's eyes narrowed slightly. "Just how long do you intend for this to take? It's not a game."
Basco smirked again. "Oh, for me it is exactly that. A game. I haven't seen my old friend Marvey-chan in years."
"Marvey-chan..." Joe repeated. Basco smiled and gestured again at the room.
"Make yourself comfortable, darling. I'm sure you're itching to fight, but be realistic. Brute force isn't going to beat them. Old man Damarasu wouldn't bring me in on this otherwise."
Joe just glared at him.
"Tch." Basco grabbed Joe's arm and Joe tensed, preparing to pull away. "Don't be like that. We're partners now, aren't we? I don't think the old man picked you out of everyone in the Empire because of how you fight."
Basco pulled on Joe's arm, backing into the room. Joe relented to glance around and found it plain enough not to offend his sensibilities.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Joe demanded as Basco's words caught up with him.
Basco looked surprised. "No offense meant, darling, I'm sure you're an absolute demon on the battlefield. But that's not how I operate. Damarasu knows that. He picked you for another reason."
Of course he had. Joe had been chosen because of Sid. Because he knew Sid.
Basco smiled, and the expression would not have been out of place on a large, fearless predator. "Relax a bit, Joe. Take your swords off, I guarantee you no member of Zangyack needs to be armed aboard my ship."
It wasn't a threat, Joe realized, but Basco's way of welcoming him. As an equal, Joe figures, and he relents, moving to set his bag down on the bed.
But only because Basco had called him by name.
Joe lifted his head slowly. The room was small, too dark, stifling and claustrophobic even without being lined with any number of witnesses to what Joe is sure is about to be his execution.
He recognizes the speaker, even in the half-light and with one of his eyes swollen nearly shut. A personal aide to the Emperor himself, the renown tactician Damarasu. Joe's heart lurches at the thought of the Emperor being here.
There's no chance of escape, they'd seen well to that. The collar still pressed against his throat, though he thinks it's just his imagination that makes it feel hot against his skin.
His arms have been cruelly bound behind him, not just at the wrist but at the elbow too, wrenching his shoulders back, forcing him into a sick mockery of a soldier's ready stance.
"You stand accused of mutiny against the Zangyack Empire. You defied a direct order, attacked a superior officer, and allowed the escape of prisoners. You attempted to escape your rightful punishment, with the assistance of Captain Sid Bamick, no longer of that title. The punishment for any one of these transgressions is execution. You are guilty of five."
Joe dropped his head. Someone in the room must hold the controls to the collar, because a shock tears through him and he falls onto his face as his back spasms. He hears someone chuckle and get swiftly silenced. This is not supposed to be funny.
Joe winces, but he struggles onto his side, turns his head to look up at Damarasu's hulking figure.
"By the infinite grace and mercy of the Zangyack Empire, your life will be spared."
Joe's eyebrows furrow, his mouth forms a question but his throat doesn't release even a whimper or whisper.
Damarasu steps back. Someone else steps forward. A medic, Joe has spent enough time in the infirmary to recognize the white bands on their uniform. The man is holding a syringe, and Joe's stomach turns to knots.
The medic crouches down beside Joe, plunges the needle into his pulse. Joe's throat manages to cry out this time as the plunger is pressed, as whatever drug this is courses into his veins.
"Witness the grace and mercy of the Emperor." Damarasu's voice echoes around the room as Joe's eyes close, as his mind goes sluggish and he realizes the injection was a sedative. "This rebel will be corrected."
Joe somehow isn't surprised when he wakes up with a headache, focused mostly behind his right ear. It happened frequently, more so since he'd arrived in Earth's orbit. He was too proud to go to the infirmary and ask a medic. Too proud, and maybe a little afraid of a diagnosis. If there was something seriously wrong with him, if he knew and kept it from his superiors, he could be discharged from active duty, excommunicated from the Empire, even executed.
He hadn't realized he'd fallen asleep, and he berates himself silently for it. Despite Basco's welcome, Joe thought it unprofessional to let his guard down so quickly.
Joe's stomach rolls when he sits up and he retches slightly at the sudden vertigo. He knows this feeling well, a reaction to rapid shifts in artificial gravity. Basco must be landing the ship on Earth.
Or Basco had kidnapped him for some inexplicable reason, and was now escaping this solar system at a lightspeed pace. Joe snorts at the thought, gains control over his rebelling body and climbs out of the bed.
Though Basco had assured him he need not be armed, Joe still swings his primary sword belt around his hips. He feels strangely naked without the familiar weight at his side. Regardless of what Basco said or thought, Joe knew he hadn't been assigned to the Crown Prince's flagship because of his past. It was his ability with a sword that had allowed him to rise in rank, despite his rebellious past.
Basco's ship is Zangyack in design, if not in designation, and Joe's been on enough ships similar to it that he easily finds his way back through the halls from the sparse crew quarters. He arrives on the bridge to find Basco perched in the captain's chair like it's a throne, his legs crossed at the knee. The monkey, Sally, is actually piloting the ship.
Out the view screen, Joe recognizes the vibrant colors of Earth as they break atmosphere. They're shooting for a particular chain of islands that Joe remembers has been where the pirates have apparently decided to put down anchor, such as it is. A heavily populated nation, Joe had read. Earthlings populated every one of their planet's land masses, but some areas had a greater concentration of people. They might be an awfully backward planet, but they weren't terribly unlike many Joe had been a part of the capture or destruction of.
"Our guest!" Basco greets him, though he doesn't stand, and his eyes flick almost imperceptibly to the sword at Joe's side. "Sleep well?"
"No." Joe answers shortly, crossing the bridge to stand beside Basco's chair. Basco laughs, and Joe scowls at him. "What are our plans?" He insists, and Basco waves a hand.
"Today I'm planning on landing and refreshing my larder. I've read many great things about Earth's cuisine, I hope you'll join me for dinner."
Joe stares at Basco for a long moment. "Dinner."
"Of course. Can't start plotting on an empty stomach, it's unhealthy and terribly heathen."
Basco rolls his eyes. "Are you a parrot now, soldier boy?"
Joe huffs at Basco, resting one hand on the hilt of his sword. Basco seemed positively intent on infuriating him, and he was frightfully good at what he did. "I'm a bit more than a common soldier. I am a Special Duty Officer under direct command of the Imperial family."
Basco snorts. "Relax. I was kidding. Besides, I don't believe in rank and privilege. You won't be getting any special treatment from me, and I'm certainly not going to be ordering you around, either."
"I would hardly take orders from you." Joe growls. Basco raises one eyebrow slowly.
"And I wouldn't want you to, darling. But there's no point in throwing your title around like it means something. So long as you're on this ship, you're the same as me."
"I am no pirate."
Basco gasped, pressing a hand over his heart as if Joe's words had been physically painful to hear. "Nor am I! Not at all, not anymore. I'm a privateer, Joe, it's an important distinction."
Not anymore, he said, and Joe's eyes narrow. He's beginning to notice certain patterns in Basco, particularly that he's clever enough to adjust the way he addresses Joe when he's trying to make a point or appeal to Joe's sensibility. Or distract him.
"Catch him! Stop the traitor!"
Somehow it's this, this shouted command behind him that finally causes Sid to lose his momentum. He'd been running all night and most of the day, running and fighting and running some more. His pursuers were like some mythical beast, it seemed that each of them he cut down was replaced immediately by three more.
Soaked through with sweat, his left eye swollen and half-blind from a flash burn, a laser shot he'd only barely managed to dodge, and even then only partially. But he'd kept going, the sounds in his mind deafening the sounds of the crowd closing in on him. The sound of Joe crying out in pain spurring him on. If Sid is going to avenge him, he has to survive first.
They call him traitor, and somehow this is enough to distract Sid, to catch him off guard. He leaps to clear a crevasse and lands awkwardly on a loose stone, his ankle twists sharply to the side with a wrench of pain, and before he can recover an explosion rocks the ground behind him, sends him flying into the air.
He lands hard on his stomach, knocking the breath out of him and sending his sword skittering out of his hand, just out of arm's reach.
Goumin sailors stream around him, penning him in, surrounding him. He crawls forward, focused on reaching for his sword though he knows he's probably hopelessly out numbered.
Two of them step forward, level their guns at him and Sid refuses to close his eyes, he faces imminent death with pride and regret and hopes he can find Joe in his next life to apologize.
The Goumin collapse suddenly with smoking holes in the back of their armor and Sid's heart leaps into his throat. Joe, it must be his Joe, his fierce devoted student come to turn the tables, reverse the tide. It's the desperate hope of a man doomed to death and he knows it, but he clings to it even though the logical part of his mind knows Joe is, has always been hopeless with ranged weapons.
The crowd of armor-clad warriors parts, and it's like some kind of divine miracle, all the soldiers shaken from their orders, distracted by this new presence. He's not a tall man by any means, and Sid's quite sure he's younger than Sid himself, but he exudes sheer confidence, drives the horde before him to spread and flee.
The stranger flicks his long coat, velvet the color of fresh blood flaps around his legs, and he fires off another few shots over Sid, taking down two Goumin who hadn't been awed by his arrival.
The man smirks, his mouth wide and his expression so free, so pure and excited.
Sid struggles up onto one knee, squinting at his red-clad savior.
"In-fighting in Zangyack? The galaxy's wonders know no bounds." He man laughs at his own joke as he moves forward, sticks the toe of one tall boot beneath Sid's sword and kicks it into the air. The hilt falls precisely into Sid's waiting hand as Sid rises shakily to his feet. Sid does not know this man, but somehow he knows exactly who he is anyway.
"A space pirate."
The stranger almost bows, flicking his coat behind him again. "I'll give you a hand," the pirate says softly, offering something he's obviously going to give regardless of how Sid feels about it.
Sid scoffs. "I'm no treasure, pirate."
"And what would Zangyack know of treasure?" The pirate laughs again. "Let me be the judge of that, if we get out of this."
The pirate fires off more shots, draws a cutlass with his right hand. Sid grips his sword and finds himself back to back with the pirate, whose sheer presence has rejuvenated Sid somehow, driving him to keep fighting.
For how long Sid had been running, how many had answered the call to hunt down the traitor, the fight seems over almost before it had begun. The pirate has his gun and is a frightfully good shot, but also reckless, driving forward into hopeless situations and shooting wildly to get himself free again. But he's graceful in a way that the militant ranks of Goumin can't compete with, and Sid finds he can fight beside him easily, as though they'd been at it for years.
When the force has been depleted Sid's exhaustion catches up with him and he falls to his knees, panting heavily to catch his breath. The pirate stands over him, looking entirely unscathed and perfectly at his ease. He crouches down, and offers Sid a hand bedecked with an ornate red-stoned ring.
"My name's Marvelous."
Sid stares at the pirate for a long moment and then, against all odds, he starts to laugh. The pirate seems used to this reaction, unflinching and he's laughing too as Sid takes his hand and accepts the help to his feet.
"I like the way you fight. Like you have something worth fighting for. You wouldn't belong with them even if they hadn't been trying to hunt you down, I don't care what that crest on your chest means. Come with me."
Marvelous shrugs one shoulder. "A captain needs a crew." He answers shortly.
"Captain." Sid repeats, and he's laughing again. "That's funny."
Marvelous tilts his head, a curious smile playing around the corners of his mouth. "Why's that?"
"That was my rank, before. Captain Sid Bamick," he introduces himself with a mocking salute.
Marvelous nods. "How'd you like to be first mate instead, Sid?"
"First mate of a pirate's ship?" Sid asks, as if there's any real question, as if he has anywhere else for him anymore, as if he's not marked for death. "Let's go."
Sid has a room on the Galleon, private quarters the same size as the four other rooms designated for the crew, but he can't remember the last time he's slept there. The bed is strewn with most of the wardrobe he's accumulated since joining Marvelous, some of it dirty but most of it clean, he's just too lax to bother putting it neatly away.
Mostly he sleeps in Marvelous' bed, which is fine by him, since the Captain's bed, like the Captain's room, is much larger and more ornate than the areas set aside for the crew. Sid had known nights where all five of them piled easily into that bed, drifting off to sleep usually with Ahim on top of him, Don squished between him and Marvelous with Luka on the Captain's other side, her head on his chest.
Those nights were among the best Sid had ever known in his life, but the nights that were just him and Marvelous, still awake in the quiet pre-dawn hours, those nights were often just as good. Truly, Sid could count on one hand the number of bad nights he'd had since joining Marvelous as his first mate.
Sid had never thought he could be happy as a pirate. When he'd been with Zangyack, he might not have believed in what he was doing, but he convinced himself well enough. He saw enough death and destruction to know, or think he knew that the only thing waiting outside of the Empire was a swift end.
Marvelous had shown him the reality of the flip side of the galaxy, the happiness that could be gained through freedom. It had taken time, certainly, for Sid to adjust to making his own decisions. It had been a month, at least, before Sid stopped waiting for Marvelous to give him orders.
Sid rolled over, slipping an arm around Marvelous' bare waist. The Captain wasn't as asleep as he'd seemed, as one eye squinted open. Marvelous tilted his head on his pillow, reaching up to brush his fingers against the curve of Sid's left cheek, the slight rippling of burn scar around his clouded eye.
"You're not sleeping?" Marvelous' voice was soft, a sleepy whisper for a dark room.
"I was trying." Sid admitted, propping his head up on one arm and smiling down at his young Captain. "But then I started thinking."
Marvelous smirked. "You think too much, you know."
Sid poked Marvelous in the stomach. "And you don't think enough."
Marvelous laughed, wrapping his arms around Sid and pulling the older man on top of him, pressing insistent kisses across Sid's cheeks and mouth. "What else do I have a first mate for?"
"Is that really all you keep me around for?" Sid shook his head, brushing his nose against Marvelous'. "Surely anyone could do that."
Marvelous turned suddenly serious, a small crease forming between his eyebrows as he frowned. Pouted, actually. "I don't want just anyone. I've got you. I couldn't imagine there being anyone else."
Sid lifted one hand, looking at the ring he wore on his middle finger. Black metal with a multi-faceted blue stone. A gift from Marvelous, who insisted that all pirates needed nice rings. He never took it off.
Sid cupped Marvelous' cheek with his palm and leaned in to give him a kiss.
He couldn't imagine it being any other way, either.
Navi squealed indignantly and took off from her perch to twirl around the cabin. "Don't call me bird!"
Sid looked up from the book he was reading with a little eyeroll. "Hey, Cap. Be nice to Navi, huh?"
Marvelous took a swipe at Navi as she buzzed over his head, trying and failing to catch her by the talons. "She's just a tool. She should act like it sometime."
Sid shook his head and returned to his book. "She's sentient enough to deserve a bit of respect."
"Then she should be smart enough to do what I say!" Marvelous roared, reaching for Navi again and managing to clip one of her wings. "Do a prediction, bird!"
"Mou!" Navi protested, spinning briefly out of control before righting herself and hovering over Sid's head. "Fine. Let's treasure navigate!" She took off again, tracing concentric circles around the room until Don walked in with a paper. Jetting up to avoid the mechanic, she struck headlong into the ceiling. Don dropped his paper to catch her before she hit the floor.
"Danger, danger, dangerous, terrible danger is coming towards you all."
Don immediately dropped Navi as though she burned his hands. "Danger?"
Sid looked up again. "Danger." He echoed Don with notably less fear.
"Dangerous." Marvelous frowned, crouching down to pick Navi up and hoist her into the air. "What's that supposed to mean? Can't you ever be clear?"
"They are what they are!" Navi flapped her wings hard, pinching Marvelous' fingers beneath the joints to make him let her go. "You're supposed to go find out!"
Marvelous started to chase after her again as she flew out of the cabin but Sid stood up, catching Marvelous around the waist and hauling him back. "Come on, Cap. We've always figured it out before. Relax."
"I don't think I like this." Don said, bending over and picking up his fallen paper. "More danger is the last thing we need." He spread the newspaper and turned it around, holding it out. "Look at this. Our bounties have gone up again."
Marvelous snatched the paper out of Don's hands and examined the spread of their wanted posters with lips pursed. Then, with a shrug, he threw the paper over his shoulder. "So what? Doc, go get the girls."
Don frowned at him, but he retreated towards the deck as he was asked.
Sid looked up from the paper he'd caught when Marvelous tossed it, folding it carefully. "He's got a point, Cap. Should we really go driving in with a promise of danger?"
Marvelous approached him, slipping his arms around Sid's waist and tilting his head back to look up at him. "What else do pirates do? Danger is our way of life."
Sid squeezed Marvelous around the waist, slapped his back with the folded paper. "Five million Zagins, Cap. And that's just on you."
"It's nothing." Marvelous leaned back and smiled cockily. "I'm not scared of anything. Especially not them."
"For the last time, Mister ta Jolokia, I am not here to have fun."
Basco pulled an impressive face in response, equal parts annoyance and disgust. "Don't call me that. Ugh, it sounds so formal."
Joe smirked. Basco narrowed his eyes at him. "Are you smiling?"
Joe shrugged. "Irrelevant. The point is, it seems like all you want to do is fool around. We have a mission."
"Correction, my dear. -You- have a mission. I'm just here for the treasure."
"Treasure." Joe repeated blankly.
"Of course, treasure. God, if I wanted to take orders and bow and scrape, I'd be military like you." Basco laughed as if his words had been a particularly funny joke. Joe simply frowned. "Don't you even know why the pirates are here? I guarantee you, it's not to stop Zangyack taking over Earth. I doubt they'd give two shits about this planet if it weren't for the Treasure."
Again with the treasure, but this time Basco spoke the word with a particular emphasis. Joe tilted his head a little, intrigued despite himself. "What treasure can a planet like this provide that they couldn't find elsewhere?"
Basco smiled, obviously pleased that Joe was beginning to show some interest. "Why, the Greatest Treasure in the Galaxy, of course. That's always been Marvey-chan's goal. Every pirate's goal, really, whether they know it or not. And most don't even believe it's real!"
Joe's eyebrows furrowed. "Why would something like that be here?"
Basco spread his hands. "Who knows? But it is, or so it's been said. And obviously Marvey-chan believes it is. I know the old man wants to see the pirates dead, and I admit, I'm fine with that. But not before I find out everything they know about the Greatest Treasure and how to find it."
"Is there a map? Or some kind of key?"
Basco smirked. "You're starting to sound like a pirate, Joe-chan."
Joe stood up a little straighter, folded his hands behind his back. A perfect soldier's ready. "Don't call me that."
Basco's eyebrows wagged mischievously. "Call you what? A pirate? Or Joe-chan?"
Joe hesitated. "Either."
Basco laughed and clapped Joe on the shoulder. "Just relax and have a little fun, okay? Your superiors aren't here to reprimand you. We're partners, right? So let's be partners. Just pretend to trust me for a little while, I promise you won't be disappointed."
"I promise you will not be disappointed."
Damarasu grumbled softly. "I had better not be."
The old tactician had very little love for the scientists that worked for the Empire. They were all geniuses, certainly, many of them hand-chosen for their stations by the Empress. Her Ladyship had a love for the more subversive side of her Royal Husband's Empire. But just because they were smart didn't mean they weren't all positively mad.
Only the Empress' plea had saved the wretched life of this pathetic excuse for a soldier that now lie in front of him. Pale and weak-looking, despite the reports Damarasu had read on the progress of his modifications.
"The reports made no mention of memory modifications." Damarasu intoned at the scientist. "The Emperor will be displeased if you took the trouble to strengthen the body without correcting the mind."
The doctor smiled. It was a curiously light-hearted expression. This man was truly evil, and obviously delighted in his work. "Oh, don't worry about that. We did do some modifications, but only slight. We didn't change anything, only erased a bit. The truly impressive thing is what other changes we made to his mind. There will be no single more loyal soldier in your Navy, sir, I guarantee that. It's quite fascinating, really..."
Damarasu lifted a hand to forestall the scientist's no doubt lengthy explanation. "We don't care, so long as it works. When can I see him in action? Remember, I report directly to the Royal House, and they are awaiting news of this experiment."
The scientist bowed. "Of course, sir. His current state his mechanically enforced. I can have him ready for examination within a week."
Damarasu's eyes were drawn again to the pale form, marked with scars and attached to any number of constantly beeping and whirring machines. He shook his head.
"Three days. I want to see a demonstration in three days."
The scientists eyes grew wide, but he wisely bit back any protests. "Of course, sir. I'll start preparing him right away."
"You do that."
The scientist moved immediately to a computer and began typing feverishly away.
As Damarasu turned to leave, he heard the boy on the table beginning to stir.
"Dangerous." Luka mused as she almost skipped along. Sid smiled, always somehow buoyed by Luka's enthusiasm. "What's dangerous?" She turned to walk backwards. "The Super Sentai we're looking for? Their Grand Power?"
Marvelous shrugged. "Don't know, she didn't say."
"Does she ever?" Sid pointed out, swinging an arm around Marvelous' shoulders and giving him a little shake.
"No." Marvelous grumbled, shrugging off Sid's arm. Sid rolled his eyes and laughed.
They walked on, waiting for some hint at the meaning behind Navi's prophecy. Don walked a little behind them all, still obviously wary about the promise of some kind of danger.
Don cried out suddenly, and Sid turned to watch the mechanic nearly falling over, his arms and legs flailing wildly in an attempt to keep balance. Sid moved quickly, grabbing Don by the wrist before he could tumble properly, holding him up until Don regained his feet.
Don blushed a little, looking up at Sid. "Thank you."
"It's nothing." Sid turned to find the others gathering around. Luka was holding something yellow, the distasteful look on her face implied she'd just picked it up from the ground.
"Something dangerous?" She asked with a hint of a laugh.
"Yahoo! Marvey-chan? You're looking well!"
Marvelous turned around, his eyes wide with disbelief and what Sid recognized as a barely bridled rage. The hairs on the back of Sid's neck stood up as he looked around, searching for the source of the strange voice.
"Marvey-chan?" Don and Luka echoed the voice curiously. Marvelous was almost shaking.
There was a set of concrete steps nearby, and half-way up them crouched what was unmistakably a monkey, resolutely chewing its way through another banana.
"Cap?" Sid questioned uncertainly. Marvelous swallowed and turned to face the monkey.
Sid was fairly certain that monkeys couldn't speak common tongues. There was something more to this than met the eye.
"Basco." Marvelous spat. "Still playing around?"
From behind the monkey, a man rose to his feet. He had an impressive tri-corner hat on his head, and was dressed in a very pirate-like fashion, but he was in no way familiar to Sid. Sid had thought he knew many of Marvelous' pirate acquaintances, those who commanded their own ships that they ran into from time to time. This man was completely unfamiliar to him.
"Cap, who is that?" Sid asked in an undertone. Marvelous seemed not to hear him, his attention was fully focused on the stranger, obviously not so strange to Marvelous.
"You remember me? After all this time?" The stranger purred, circling around his simian companion and crossing his arms. "I'm honored, truly."
Marvelous took a step forward. "How could I ever forget?"
The stranger laughed. "So I see you're playing at Captain now. My, how time passes. And a crew and all! You have been busy."
"What are you doing here, Basco?"
"Just what you are, I imagine. The Greatest Treasure in the Galaxy! You think I would give that up? It's here, isn't it. On Earth?"
Marvelous snarled and in an instant, drew his gun and started firing. Sid was almost surprised by his Captain's sudden action, but he was more startled by the speed at which the stranger's monkey reacted, standing up and deflecting the bullets easily with a small pair of shields.
Marvelous made a sound that was not unlike an angry cat and started up the stairs, swapping his gun for his sword.
Sid wasn't sure what was going on, but he'd be damned if he was going to let Marvelous fight without him by his side. He took a step forward, but that was as far as he got, as a streak of black and gray crossed in front of him and forced him back with a flash of sword.
Sid's heart crawled up into his throat. Up the stairs, the stranger called Basco took a few long strides down the stairs, unchallenged by Marvelous, as every time the Captain tried to break away to stop him the monkey got in his way.
"Hear that, Marvey-chan? My new partner knows some of your crew! Isn't that fun, like a play date!" He laughed, loud and piercing.
Sid wished he could see the joke. All he saw was a dream, a nightmare, a ghost. A haunting of ancient regrets and terrible guilt. A part of him wanted to draw his sword, drive aside the shadow and assist his Captain, but his body refused to respond.
"Joe?" The name, so long unspoken, was pulled from Sid's throat in a disbelieving croak. There was no mistaking him as he took a step back, two swords crossed in front of him. His beloved student, who he'd thought dead, stood before him dressed in an officer's uniform and glaring at him with pure hatred. It looked ugly and wrong on Joe's face, Joe who had been so shy and withdrawn, an awkward teenager when Sid had first met him.
Sid took a step forward and Joe reacted, lifting his lead sword and pressing the point to Sid's chest.
"I would very much like to cut you down." Joe's voice was nearly as Sid remembered it, but colder somehow, more mechanical and flat. "Don't tempt me. I promised to restrain myself, but I wouldn't test my patience, if I were you."
Sid lifted his hands slowly, held them palms out. He tried to swallow but his mouth was dry and his throat constricted as surely as if there were a hand around it squeezing. Some part of his mind could still register the sounds of Marvelous furiously fighting the monkey, cursing at it to get out of his way. But mostly Sid was stuck, his mind spinning out of control with sickening memories of the last time he'd heard Joe's voice, crying out in pain, in what Sid had been sure was death.
"You should be dead." He whispered. His hands were trembling and when he managed to blink, a pair of tears traced down his face. "Joe, I thought they'd killed you."
"I'm sure you would have liked that."
"No!" Sid's voice was shaking now, his feeble attempts at breath did practically nothing to clear his head. "Never. I wanted you to escape! I tried to draw them to me. Oh, Joe, what have they done to you?"
"They merely reminded me of my rightful place. With the Empire."
Sid shook his head. The entire planet might crumble beneath his feet and in this moment he wouldn't even notice. "Your rightful place is with me." Even to his own ears his words sounded more like a whimper than the scream he intended.
Joe laughed, a single harsh note of dark amusement. Dismissive.
Before another word could be exchanged, an explosion nearby rocked the ground beneath them. Sid's eyes were finally torn away from the dark specter of his former apprentice, as towering above them now were three giant Sugoumin, attacking the tiny collection of pirates on the ground.
Joe moved away, and before Sid could run after him Marvelous came flying down the steps, though whether he had leaped or was pushed was confused and unclear.
"Have fun with the rest, Marvey-chan!" Basco called out, retreating hastily up the steps with Joe directly on his heels.
"No!" Marvelous screamed, ready to chase them down but another attack came first, causing them all to duck and run for cover. Even Sid, who could hardly feel his legs.
"Marvelous!" Luka screamed, her voice shrill. "The Galleon. Marvelous."
Shaken from his furor, Marvelous pulled out his Mobirates to summon the ship to them.
Sid turned his head towards the stairs, but any hint of Joe was gone, along with the stranger, the monkey, and any hope of an explanation.
Joe's head was throbbing, a piercing pain behind his ear that came in sickening waves and made his stomach roll every time it returned. The pain must have shown on his face, because Basco was for once mercifully quiet, sitting in his chair and watching Joe with a carefully guarded expression.
Joe wanted to go to his room, lie down and possibly sleep off this headache that had plagued him since they'd returned to the ship. But the pain was too acute, and as the ship lifted off from the planet and accelerated to break atmosphere, the change in artificial gravity was giving him incredible vertigo, and he wasn't entirely sure he could even stand.
Basco sighed softly, shifting and leaning forward. "What's wrong, Joe-kun?"
Joe blinked and frowned. "Why do you do that?"
Basco tilted his head. "Do what?"
"Speak like that? Add those, what, honorifics."
Basco shrugged, sitting back in his chair again. "It's simply the way I was taught. I might be a privateer, but I'm perfectly respectful." He laughed, but softly, as if he knew exactly what was wrong with Joe and was eager to prove that he really cared. "Now tell me, partner, what's troubling you? You haven't stopped scowling since we boarded."
"I'm not scowling." Joe protested, to much smirking from Basco.
"Sure you're not." Basco shook his head. "Come on. We're partners, are we not? Something is bothering you. I didn't think meeting your old mentor would effect you so much."
Joe wanted to leave before the conversation could continue, but as soon as he moved to stand the pain returned and he dropped his head to one hand, wincing.
He didn't realize Basco had moved until the privateer was right beside him, resting a hand on his back. "You're in pain."
"It's nothing." Joe growled between gritted teeth. "A headache."
"You should have told me." Basco stood up, striding across the helm. He returned shortly with two small pills that he pressed into Joe's hand. "Take them."
Joe squinted up at him. "Why?"
"I'm concerned about you. Why shouldn't I be? Take the pills. Please."
Joe sighed a little, then placed the pills in his mouth and swallowed them dry. "You're a very strange person, Basco."
Basco smiled as if Joe's statement had been a compliment. "Now tell me, what vexes you?"
"Vexes?" Joe snorted and shook his head a little. "Nothing. Stress, I suppose."
"You really don't know how to have fun, do you, Joe-kun?" Basco seemed to have finally settled on a way to address Joe that was agreeable to them both, at least somewhat.
"What exactly was fun about that? It felt utterly pointless to me."
"Exactly my point. Causing strife amongst your enemies, or targets, whatever they are. That's fun. But you don't see it."
Joe rolled his eyes. Basco chuckled. "The look on Marvey-chan's face, you see. That's not just fun, it's funny."
"You find someone wanting to kill you funny?"
"I was a pirate for a long time, Joe-kun. Sometimes that was the only humor I could find."
Joe shook his head.
"You shouldn't worry so much. Makes your face go lined. Very unattractive."
"Why should I care about how I look?"
Basco laughed, a little louder this time, as if he couldn't help himself. "You're very handsome, Joe-kun. You could use that, if Zangyack had ever taught you how."
Basco's lips quirked, it looked like he was trying to smirk and frown at the same time. Very strange. "Has no one ever told you that before?"
Joe reflected silently on his question for a long moment, then winced again as a fresh wave of pain swept behind his vision. "No." He stated finally. "Never."
"You need to relax, Joe." Sid pulled the younger man against his chest, running a hand through his ponytail in a feeble attempt to calm the boy.
"What if we get caught?" Joe knew his voice was coming out as a whine, but he couldn't help it. He was scared. It wasn't the first time Joe had been in Sid's private quarters, and he was sure it wouldn't be the last, but that did nothing to ease his fear, his deep feeling of not belonging here.
Sid laughed softly and shook his head, shifting his grip to Joe's wrist and tugging him to the bed. Joe stumbled along behind him, let Sid pull him onto the tiny bed, stretching out on top of the taller form. "We're not going to get caught, Joe. These are my private quarters, no one's going to come waltzing in unannounced."
"You sound so sure."
Sid wrapped his arms around Joe's waist and held him close, took a slow deep breath to coax Joe into mimicking him. Joe couldn't help himself and took a breath, but it didn't do much to calm him down.
"I am sure. I can do whatever I want in here, Joe, it's my room."
"But if we did get caught..."
"What of it? It's down time, Joe, we can do what we please."
"You can, maybe. I'm just a cadet. I can't do anything without being told."
Sid laughed again. "And I told you to come here. As far as anyone knows, you're just my student. We could be discussing swordplay."
"We're not." Joe pointed out, and Sid shook his head, giving Joe's ponytail a playful tug.
"You worry too much. You're too young to look so stressed all the time."
Sid shifted, sliding Joe off himself and throwing one leg over Joe, straddling his hips. Joe tensed, and Sid's hands slipped up beneath Joe's starched uniform shirt to spread out on his back. He started to knead with his fingers, smiling to himself at the little sounds Joe made as he was forced to relax.
"You're going to be very handsome when you grow up."
Joe frowned, turning his head to look at Sid over his shoulder. "What do you mean, when I grow up?"
Sid leaned down, let his lips brush Joe's ear. A shiver ran down Joe's spine. "You're still a kid, Joe. You still have plenty of growing up to do."
"Who was he?" Marvelous demanded.
Sid ducked his head, unable to meet the Captain's fierce look.
"You're one to talk." Luka growled, pulling on the Captain's arm, hauling him around to face him. "Who was that Basco person?"
"Why does he know you?" Don added.
"It doesn't concern you."
"It does!" Don protested.
"He was talking about the Greatest Treasure. If he's after it too, then of course it concerns us!"
"It doesn't matter!" Marvelous shouted, turning the full force of his glare first on Luka and then on Don. Ahim sat quietly beside Sid, one hand on his knee. Sid hadn't spoken since the battle, and even during the fight he'd been monosyllabic.
Marvelous softened a bit at the look on Don's face. "It doesn't matter. He can't get the Treasure without the Grand Powers, right? There's nothing for you all to be involved in." He cleared his throat and moved to crouch in front of Sid. "I want to know who he was. He could have killed you, and you weren't even moving."
"Marvelous-san..." Ahim said softly, with a note of warning. Marvelous shook his head and grabbed Sid's shoulders, shaking him a little.
"Who was he, Sid? Tell me."
Sid winced and glanced up at the captain, then looked away.
"Joe." The name ghosted from his lips in a tiny trembling whisper, and Marvelous frowned. It was such a plain name, but still completely unfamiliar to Marvelous.
"My student." Sid bit out, a note of bitterness in his tone, and Marvelous released his first mate and took a step backwards, staring with wide eyes as he realized.
"Yes." Now Sid's voice was soft again, hurt, and Marvelous' heart ached to hear him that way. Sid had been his steady rock, his anchor for so long.
"You said he was dead."
Sid stood up suddenly. "I'm not talking about this, Marvelous."
The use of his proper name, Sid's serious tone of voice gave him pause.
"I don't need the reminder of how badly I screwed up." The bitterness was back in Sid's voice, and Marvelous realized it was directed not at the man in black or at Zangyack in general, but at himself. "Time and again, whenever he was concerned. I won't."
Sid crossed the room, but thankfully he ducked down stairs towards the quarters instead of up towards the deck.
"Marvelous, what is going on?" Luka demanded again.
Marvelous sighed and retreated to his chair. "It's a long story." He grumbled, aware that he was going to have to tell it. In the face of how Sid was acting, Marvelous felt almost guilty about keeping secrets from his crew, even painful ones such as these. He wished Sid had stayed in the room, so he wouldn't have to tell it twice. And he wondered if Sid even wanted to know, was going to bother asking, if he cared at all.
As badly as Marvelous wanted to know more about this Joe and why his typically unflappable first mate was acting this way, he knew the rest of his crew deserved to know the same about him.
Him, and Basco.
He settled in and began to speak.
"Basco and I were once friends. Partners, we served together on this ship under our Captain. AkaRed."
Marvelous shouldn't have been surprised when Sid missed dinner, obviously meeting his presumed dead student was bothering him more than he'd let on. And he'd let on plenty, that much was obvious in the way the rest of the crew was quiet as they ate. Sid wasn't just Marvelous' anchor, he acted as a foundation for the entire crew, and seeing him so out of sorts had left them all distinctly uncomfortable. Unless of course their discomfort had been caused by what Marvelous had told them about Basco, and his history with their very own ship. Marvelous understood that well enough. It made the ship feel less safe somehow.
Marvelous asked Don to prepare a plate for Sid, but the mechanic was already a step ahead of him, ducking briefly into the galley and returning quickly with a covered tray. Marvelous thanked him and carried the tray down to the crew quarters.
Sid's door was closed but light streamed out from beneath it, indicating that his first mate was actually there, and probably awake. Marvelous balanced the tray on one arm and knocked on the door. He could let himself in, certainly, even if Sid had locked the door, but he didn't like being so intrusive.
"It's open." Sid's voice answered, and Marvelous let out a little sigh of relief as he pushed open the door and slid inside.
Sid's room had been cleaned up, for possibly the first time since he'd started spending most nights sharing the Captain's bed. His bed was clear of its usual pile of discarded clothes, and neatly made. The closet was open, revealing that the clothes had been hung and organized.
Sid was at the round window, looking outside. He had a rag loosely in one hand, it looked like he'd been caught in the middle of dusting the sundry surfaces in the room.
Marvelous hadn't known this about Sid, but he knows that he's never seen Sid properly upset until tonight, if he was working out his feelings by cleaning, of all things.
"You missed dinner." Marvelous said dumbly, as the fact couldn't be any more obvious even if he hadn't been carrying a tray of food.
"I'm sorry." Sid offered roughly, turning around and tossing the rag towards his bureau where it landed neatly, practically folding itself. "Doc must be worried."
"We all are." Marvelous said gently, holding up the tray as he stepped towards the rarely used bed. "Come eat."
Sid sighed and crossed the room to sit on the edge of the bed, folding his legs and accepting the tray from Marvelous, settling it over his knees and lifting away the cover.
Don's plate was perfectly portioned to Sid's usual appetite, as ever, but Sid only picked at it, pushing the food around the plate more than he ate and paying more attention to the glass of rum Don had generously provided for him.
Marvelous jumped a little when his Mobirates rang and he frowned at the device as he flipped it open, knowing exactly who would be calling, with the rest of the crew accounted for up in the main room.
"Marvey-chan! So you made it out alright! Good."
Marvelous pulled the Mobirates from his ear and prepared to flip it shut, too frustrated and angry to listen to Basco gloat. He started when something crashed nearby, and he didn't have time to even react before Sid was beside him, snatching the Mobirates from his hand so fast it left the tips of his fingers tingling.
"Let me talk to Joe." Sid snapped into the Mobirates, and even from the distance Marvelous could hear Basco's infuriating laugh on the other end.
Sid scowled and crossed the room, pacing to the window and back again as he listened to faint, indistinguishable conversation between Basco and Joe.
Sid winced. "No. No. After all we've been through? Joe, this isn't you."
"You wanted to talk, Bamick. Now's the time. Are you giving yourself up? I can't guarantee your life, but I can promise you a painless death."
Sid stopped in his frantic pacing and sagged against the wall beside the window, hanging his head. From across the room, Marvelous watched Sid's knuckles turning white where he gripped the Mobirates like he was trying to crush the device. "Joe. Please."
A chill swept through Marvelous as he realized that this strange tone Sid was using was a whine. He'd never heard Sid so much as complain, and here he was, pleading with an agent of Zangyack.
"You don't want to kill me. Not Joe, not my Joe."
"If you're willing to deliver the rest of the pirates, Bamick, I could probably negotiate you back into our ranks."
Sid's face contorted into a frightening scowl, and with a sudden roar of rage he flung Marvelous' Mobirates across the room. As accurate as he ever was, it struck at such an angle as to flip it shut, and it clattered harmlessly to the floor.
Sid slumped down the wall until he was sitting with his knees drawn to his chest, his arms crossed over them and his face hidden.
With a jolt, Marvelous realized Sid was crying, soft choked gasps and the slightest shake of his shoulders the only indicators.
For one of the first times in the pirate's life, Marvelous didn't know what to do.
Joe rolled his eyes as the connection was severed, and he closed Basco's golden Mobirates and offered it to the Privateer. Basco took the device with a laugh and tucked it back away within his shawl.
"Not exactly what I'd intended, but you must have done an admirable job of shaking them up, so I'll let it slide."
Joe shook his head at the backhanded praise and moved across the helm, one hand subconsciously lifting to press against the scar behind his right ear. His head was throbbing again, and speaking with the traitor had done nothing for the pain.
Basco frowned a bit at Joe's slightly weaving progress across the helm.
"Joe-kun." He said softly. Joe paused and turned to face him.
"I have painkillers. You should take them."
"It's nothing." Joe snapped. "Don't trouble yourself."
"You're no good as a partner if you're in pain all the time. Why don't you do something about it?" Basco pressed, crossing the room to stand in front of Joe, reaching to wrap a hand around his wrist and drag his hand away from the scar, squinting at it. Joe pulled away with a growl.
"It's nothing, Basco. I've dealt with it for a long time, it hasn't killed me yet."
"Joe-kun, are you afraid of the old man finding out?" Basco asked as gently as he could, following Joe's progress across the room, keeping pace right at his heels.
"Why would I be afraid of that?"
Basco raised a disbelieving eyebrow at him, and Joe frowned.
"It's Zangyack, Joe-kun. They're not exactly known for their mercy."
"The Emperor is innately merciful." Joe responded mechanically. Basco shook his head.
"You're just full of their shit, aren't you, Joe-kun? Fine. Be in pain. See if I care." Basco snapped. "But know that the second it interferes with my plans, you'll know fear. The Emperor may be merciful, but I certainly am not."
Joe snarled at Basco as the privateer turned away, moving to the console.
"Basco." Joe said as he headed for the hall, intent on sleeping off a sudden rush of nausea.
Basco grunted in response.
"Don't tell anyone. Please."
Basco glanced over his shoulder at his temporary partner, and his glare softened somewhat because of the creases between Joe's eyebrows and at the corners of his eyes.
"Of course, Joe-kun. Go get some rest."
Damarasu flipped idly through the pages upon pages of information regarding the research behind, and development of, the Empress' pet project. The entire process was eating up his valuable time, time that would be much better spent on the subjugation of the stubborn planet Famille and its irritating Queen.
Still, he was expected to make a full report and judge the experiment as either a success or failure. If there was one thing Damarasu did not do, it was complete a task with anything less than absolute perfection.
One of the pages finally caught his eye and he paused to read, picking through the scientist's flowery words and self-servicing for the pertinent information. This section was dedicated to the mental modifications performed on the subject. The author seemed particularly proud of their apparent success at implanting false memories to modify the subject's feelings about his mutiny, which the scientists had for some reason decided to leave the memory of intact.
Damarasu nodded his approval at the snip of an interview that had been conducted with the subject on the topic of the traitor Bamick, whom had recently been discovered working as a partner with the lone survivor of the Akaki Pirates.
Damarasu set the papers aside and stepped nearer the observation window, looking down into the room downstairs. He hated to admit it, but he was impressed. He wasn't surprised that the lead scientist on this project had been given access to the surveillance footage that so damned his test subject, but he'd made a shrewd decision in demonstrating the boy's new status by setting him loose on a room full of prisoners of war.
The self-same boy who had hesitated and then openly rebelled rather than kill resistant captives was now cutting them down as efficiently as any soldier Damarasu had ever seen. He was glad to note that none of the extensive training the boy had undergone before his mutiny had been wasted or tampered with, only very obviously augmented.
As the final prisoner fell to the boy's sword and lie twitching, Damarasu nodded to the nervous scientist beside him. "I would speak to the subject."
"Of course, sir." The scientist bowed and scurried out of the observation room.
Lowly ensigns filed into the room below, shooting nervous glances at the boy with the bloodied sword before they judged him not to be a threat to them and began their assigned task of cleaning the room; removing the bodies and erasing any trace of the massacre.
Damarasu watched the scientist enter and approach the boy, who bowed and followed the scientist out, but not before snatching a cloth from one of the cleaning ensigns.
Damarasu turned back to the door of the observation room as the scientist reentered, the boy at his heels. His sword had been returned to its sheath and the cloth in his hand was streaked with sharp marks of blood where he had obviously wiped the blade.
The boy approached Damarasu and the scientist stepped aside. The boy looked up at the tactician briefly before lowering his eyes and dropping to one knee.
"At ease." Damarasu intoned, and the boy rose smoothly to his feet and crossed his arms behind himself. "Your sword work is impressive."
The boy ducked his head. "Thank you, sir." When he looked up again, his eyes were blazing with a fierce pride. "I have only the Empire to thank."
Damarasu glanced to the scientist, who was smiling despite himself.
The boy had been made into much more than a common soldier, or even an officer. He was now obviously an instrument of war.
Damarasu had little love for the scientists and their devious schemes, but he had to admit, if only to himself, that he looked forward to the ways in which he could use this boy.
Marvelous should have been surprised when he woke up cold and alone. He should have been surprised when he roused himself and went about the ship and came to the conclusion that Sid was gone. He should have been outraged, knowing somehow that Sid had most likely left in search of a meeting with his former apprentice, and was likely as not going to be captured for his trouble, turned over to Zangyack and executed.
But he wasn't. Somehow he couldn't bring himself to be angry at Sid for his rash action. He couldn't bring himself to curse his first mate for being so reckless, so stupid.
He seeked out Navi and asked the bird when Sid had left. She reported regretfully that Sid had disembarked nearly two hours ago, before the sun had even risen. Marvelous could hear Don bustling around in the galley and from the whistle of the tea kettle he guessed Ahim was with him. Luka was probably still sleeping, she rarely rose much earlier than Marvelous himself.
Marvelous wanted to be angry, but he took all of this information with a weary acceptance and a notable amount of regret. He doubted he'd be able to track down Sid before the man had got himself into trouble, but he told Navi to scan for him anyway as he swung his coat around his shoulders and headed out, with only a feeble hope that he hadn't lost his beloved first mate forever.
Joe woke slowly. Somehow the sound of rhythmic knocking and the sing-song voice outside his door, instead of rousing him, insinuated itself into his dream. It wasn't until Basco kicked the door in that Joe sat up, blinking confusedly. Basco set his hands on his hips and raised an eyebrow at Joe, his eyes tracking across Joe's bare chest and especially the multitude of scars there, scars that Basco recognized not as reminders of battle, but whose accuracy instead hinted at an extensive medical procedure of some kind. As Joe hastened to grab his shirt from the floor (revealing that his back was as equally scarred as his front), Basco made a mental note to find out everything he could about his enigmatic partner.
"What is it?" Joe asked, struggling to brush his hair back from his face and swinging his legs out of the bed. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing's wrong, so to speak. And a good thing, too, since you sleep like the dead."
"Not always." Joe grunted, gathering the length of his hair together with one hand and reaching with the other for the ribbon lying on the low table beside the bed. "So if there's nothing wrong, why did you come barging in here?"
"I thought you might like to accompany me down to the planet."
Joe squinted at Basco as he deftly tied his hair in place and brushed his fringe to either side. "You woke me for that?"
Basco smirked and shrugged. "It seems you did a better job of drawing them out than I did. Your old friend Sid is staked out where we last landed. I have a feeling he wants to see you."
Joe closed his eyes, choking back a curse at the sudden twinge of pain behind his ear. And he'd been feeling so much better, even despite his rude awakening. When he opened his eyes again, it was to find Basco perching on the edge of the bed beside him, leaning close. Too close for comfort. Basco searched his face with a calculating stare, and Joe suddenly felt undeniably exposed.
"The pain. Your headaches. They're because of him, aren't they? You wince like that every time his name is spoken."
"You're jumping to conclusions." Joe said, putting a hand on Basco's shoulder and pushing him firmly away. "I wince because he has been nothing but a headache for me for years."
"A literal one." Basco pointed out. "A very painful literal headache."
"If it bothers you so much, why don't you let me kill him?"
"Could you?" Basco asked innocently, standing up and moving back towards the door. "Well, that option is off the table anyway. I want the Treasure. I don't need Marvey-chan on a roaring rampage of revenge when I'm trying to figure out how to get that damn bird from him."
Joe squinted, but he reached for his boots nonetheless. He wasn't exactly going to let Basco go down there by himself, or with only Sally for support. If there was one thing Joe knew, it was that the traitor was an admirable fighter. He doubted he'd be reprimanded if he let something happen to the privateer, considering his tenuous at best relationship with the Empire, but the idea left him feeling distinctly uncomfortable anyway.
Basco paused in the doorway, turning back to watch Joe lace his boots. "It's a robot, it's a part of the operating system of their ship. Damn thing is practically sentient, and from the information I've gotten from the old man, it seems she's pivotal in their search for the Treasure."
"This really is all about this Treasure for you, isn't it?"
Basco shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, if they get in the way and my hand is forced, I'll gladly collect the rewards. But I'm not a bounty hunter. All that requires is brute strength. An ape could do it, excuse the expression."
Joe raised an eyebrow slowly, not entirely sure why he would need to excuse such an expression anyway. He wasn't the one who trusted an ape to be his navigator, after all.
"I prefer to think things through." Basco continued. "Call it playing games if you want, because it's close enough to the truth. But I always get what I want, and I don't always have to spill blood to do it."
"My mission is the subjugation of the pirates." Joe said slowly. Basco smiled and nodded.
"Of course, Joe-kun, of course. You think I don't know that? You repeat it often enough. Calm down. If things work out in my favor, I'll have their ship and a great part of their power. They'll be sitting ducks, then. We both win."
Joe stood up and retrieved his sword belts from the hook beside the door, swinging them around his hips easily. "Fine. We'll do it your way."
Sid rarely wore his full dress uniform. He found it unnecessarily restrictive, seeing as it wasn't really meant to see battle, plus he thought the Captain's capelet looked stupid. Still, he put on the whole thing and even combed his hair for this. Joe's squad was graduating from basic, and Sid couldn't be happier or more proud of him. Of all of them, really, seeing as they were technically his squad. But he'd taken a special interest in Joe from the start, and he never regretted taking the boy under his wing.
Sid stood at attention beside the other two captains assigned to this squad and looked at the fifteen boys it had been partly his job to train and prepare for life within the Zangyack Empire. Joe was one of the smallest among them, he looked even slighter in his ill-fitting dress uniform. Sid could tell by the look on Joe's face that he was fidgeting his hands behind his back nervously.
The ceremony was long, Sid remembers his own graduation. It hadn't been so long ago, when he thought about it. He'd been promoted so quickly, his talent always making him shine above his peers.
The commander of the ship gave a speech that mostly dealt with the power of the Empire, welcoming the squad of cadets properly into the embrace of the most powerful government in the known Galaxy. Then one of the generals spoke about the squad specifically, which held Sid's attention a lot better. It was always nice to know some of the highest ranking officials on the ship actually noticed their underlings.
Then came something Sid hadn't been expecting, though maybe he should have, since the same thing had happened at his own. A lieutenant from the Special Forces stepped forward.
"This squadron will move forward as a company of fourteen. One of these cadets has shown his competency to be a step above the rest."
Sid's eyes moved back to Joe, whose fidgeting must now be noticeable to others. He was biting his lip nervously, and he wasn't the only one. Obviously none of the squad had been informed of this in advance. Sid closed his eyes as the lieutenant cleared his throat, hoping against hope.
"Cadet Joe Gibken, step forward."
Sid opened his eyes, his breath catching in his throat. Joe looked like he might be about to faint, he'd gone pale and his eyes were wide. The cadet beside him nudged him hard in the arm and Joe took a stumbled step forward before he managed to recover and resume his attention stance.
"Cadet Gibken, you have made incredible strides since your enlistment. You are proficient in the art of battle, and you are also talented in the ways of critical thought. You are strong, intelligent, and exactly what the Emperor desires in his elite Special Forces." The lieutenant gestured towards the captains, and when Joe's eyes found him, Sid chanced an encouraging smile. Joe seemed to relax, if only just barely.
"Step forward, Special Officer Gibken, and join your now comrades."
Marvelous was pleasantly surprised when he found Sid, and found Sid was thankfully still alone, not to mention alive. He was pacing in the same public square where they'd met Basco and his mysterious companion the day before. He wasn't visibly armed, but Marvelous knew well Sid wasn't stupid enough to venture out alone without his Mobirates.
"Sid." Marvelous said. The man turned towards him, and Marvelous slowed in his approach. Sid's face was drawn, his gaze, mismatched with his eye patch missing, steely. And just as quickly he turned away and started pacing again.
"Sid." Marvelous repeated, chasing after him and putting a hand on his shoulder to try and pull him around. "What are you doing?"
"I have to see him." Sid answered, his voice tight.
"Sid, he wants to kill you." Marvelous thought he was being fairly reasonable, but Sid pulled sharply away and turned to look up towards the sky.
"That's not him. That's not my Joe. They did something to him, they must have. It's my fault. I should have gone back for him."
Marvelous sighed. Seeing Sid like this was upsetting him, and when he got upset he got angry. "Sid. If you'd done that, you'd be in the same place as him. Or dead."
"You don't know that. Together, we could have taken them. Together we could do anything." Sid sounded so sure, but all it did was frustrate Marvelous further.
"And you wouldn't be my first mate!" He snapped, grabbing Sid's arm again and hauling him around, shoving him back a step. "Where would I be without you?"
"You don't understand." Sid growled. "I have to save him."
"What makes you think he needs to be saved?"
Somewhere nearby, someone started clapping. Then a laugh, and Marvelous' blood boiled. He recognized that laugh. He turned his head, up above them on the stairs stood Basco, and beside him, Joe.
"How unseemly." Basco said loudly. "A lover's tiff in public. Wouldn't you agree, Joe-kun?"
Joe didn't respond, his eyes were focused solely on Sid, a hungry glare that made Marvelous' skin crawl.
Sid took a few halting steps forward, and then he launched into a dash, hurtling up the stairs. Basco stepped aside, his eyes wide. Sid tackled Joe to the ground before the younger man could draw his sword.
Marvelous might not agree with Sid's intentions, but he noticed an opening when he saw one. He had an opportunity to avenge his Captain, and he might help his first mate in the process. The Captain threw himself at his rival, drawing his cutlass.
Joe struggled under Sid's weight and growled at him, but Sid made no move to fight, he simply held Joe down and tried to catch his gaze. "Joe. Stop this. You don't belong with them, with him, you must know that. Your heart knows what's right, Joe, you've always listened to your heart."
"I have no desire for your bounty, Bamick, only your life." Joe gritted out, his teeth clenched. He tensed and shoved Sid up and off him, rising quickly to his feet and drawing one of his swords.
"Joe, no!" Sid yelled, but he had no choice but to draw his cutlass to defend himself when Joe came at him with a wide strike. Too wide, it was too easy to block. If Sid didn't know better, he'd think Joe was playing with him, but that was impossible. The look on Joe's face was too fierce.
"Your sheer existence has caused me no end of strife." Joe snarled, striking again, and again Sid blocked the blow, twisting his sword to wrench Joe's wrist to the side. Joe recovered and brought his sword back around. "You have no idea how much I've had to struggle, how much scrutiny I've dealt with because of you. How I've fought to prove my loyalty, because of you."
"Joe, my Joe, they were going to execute you! I saved your life!"
"The only thing you've ever given me is purpose. You're a traitor, Bamick, you deserve to be slaughtered like one."
"You started it! Joe, we never would have had to run, never would have known if it weren't for you!" Sid couldn't help his reflexes and when Joe faltered, his grip on his sword going slack for a moment, Sid took the opening and disarmed Joe, sending his sword clattering down the steps. Sid's own sword came to rest on Joe's shoulder, hinting at the strike that could take his head with enough force.
It wasn't fear that Sid saw in Joe's eyes as he fell to his knees. Not fear, nor anger or even hate. All Sid could read, and even after all this time, all that had changed, Sid could still read Joe's face, all Sid saw was pain. It fogged Joe's eyes and drew ugly creases between his eyebrows.
Sid faltered, hesitated a moment too long, and then he stumbled as a poorly aimed laser shot grazed his left shoulder.
"Back away from him, Patches."
Sid glanced towards the other pair and he felt cold. Basco was aiming an ornate gold gun at him, and behind him a strange ranger clad in red held a struggling Marvelous with some kind of blaster to his temple. Sid was torn. His Captain was in danger, but his oldest regret was at his feet, waiting for redemption.
"Quickly now, Patches. The bounty on Marvey-chan is good dead or alive."
"Sid." Joe corrected softly, with a trembling note of pain. His voice sounded so familiar to Sid, sounded like he used to, and it was enough to convince him to take a step away from Joe, moving his sword into his off hand and away from the boy, and he looked like a mere boy, on his knees.
Basco wet his lips, he seemed nervous for some reason Sid couldn't see. Basco obviously held all the cards in this moment. "Good." Basco breathed, striding forward. The ranger holding Marvelous followed in his wake, and Sid scrutinized this new enemy. The suit looked familiar to Sid somehow, quite like one of the Ranger Keys that Marvelous used occasionally, but not quite the same. "A few steps more now, Patches, that's it."
Sid frowned at the odd pet name that Basco kept using, but he did as he was told, retreating down the steps and away from Joe.
Basco swept down the stairs briefly to retrieve Joe's sword, then moved to stand beside his partner, putting a hand on his shoulder and gripping briefly. Joe looked up, and for a moment his gaze locked with Sid's. He looked so lost, it made Sid's heart feel like it was being right in his throat.
"Don't." Sid choked out as Basco's red-clad companion dragged Marvelous along. "Don't take him. Take me."
"You?" Basco scoffed. His hand didn't move from Joe's shoulder when Joe slowly rose to his feet and accepted his sword, though he made no move to attack again, simply sheathing the weapon and putting a hand to his head. "What would I want with you?"
"My bounty's almost as high as his." Sid said, taking a step forward and immediately back again as a blade emerged from Marvelous' captor's weapon and was held to the still struggling Captain's throat.
"Sid," Marvelous snarled, shaking his head as much as he could with the blade at his neck. "Don't."
Basco glanced at Marvelous and his lip curled with distaste. "You know what I want, Marvey-chan. I'll let you consider your options." Basco snapped his fingers, and the ranger immediately threw Marvelous away from himself, sending the Captain tripping ungracefully down the stairs. Sid dashed forward to catch Marvelous around the waist before he lost his balance completely.
Sid looked up in time to see the three forms phase and disappear, teleported back aboard Basco's ship no doubt. Then he looked back at Marvelous as the Captain righted himself and brushed off his coat.
"Damn it." Marvelous cursed, kicking at one of the stone steps. Sid had to agree with the sentiment.
Basco didn't trust people. He never had. He was good at pretending and play acting, he was a master of deception and trickery. He could convince anyone of anything, and he refused to let something stand in the way of what he wanted, hence the lack of trust. Trust bred betrayal, that he was living proof of. And betrayal was nothing more than an obstacle, an obstacle he could certainly overcome, but not without considerable effort, unnecessary effort.
So he didn't trust people. He had Sally, and as far as he was concerned that was more than enough. She could navigate and pilot, she could protect him when necessary, and most important of all she trusted him, implicitly. Basco had no use for trust until it was placed in him, of course. Then it was perfectly useful.
But trust another person, another person who could was completely sentient, capable of speaking for itself, and entirely independent of him? Unthinkable. Almost laughable.
Still, he was intrigued by the odd Zangyack soldier that chance had paired him with, with his chronic headaches and unwavering devotion to the ridiculous Empire. He wanted to know more, but he had himself perfectly well convinced that this wasn't out of any particular attachment to the boy, it was a simple desire for information. Information could be as valuable as treasure if used correctly.
Joe had retreated to his quarters as soon as they'd arrived back on the ship, but not before Basco had forced another pair of pills on him, subtly switching one of them with a sleeping pill to augment the painkiller. Again, Basco told himself this wasn't out of concern for his well being, but only because the boy was useless to him when he reached the point of collapsing in the midst of battle. Basco needed to find out why this was happening.
He sent Sally off to do some routine maintenance on the engines. He needed to be alone to focus, he didn't need her interrupting him. Then he made himself a cup of tea and settled himself before his console.
Basco was a fair hand at finding things out that he wasn't supposed to know, he had a talent for it. Zangyack didn't know half of the information Basco had filed away for future reference or possible black-mailing, should the opportunity present itself. He delved into their files and logs whenever he felt like it, but rarely with so much purpose as he had tonight. Tonight he had a goal.
Tracing the documented history of Special Duty Officer Joe Gibken was easy enough, from his registered birth on a backwater planet in the further reaches of the Empire's influence to his enlistment as a Naval cadet and his promotion to Imperial Special Forces. There were many annotations where a name had been removed from the logs of Joe's training, following them Basco learned without much surprise that one Captain Sid Bamick had single-handedly shaped Joe Gibken's military career.
On the surface there was very little explanation for the current state of affairs. Bamick's name had been thoroughly wiped from their records, except in regards to his current position as an enemy. The only information Basco could find without digging was an incident report discussing an act of mutiny perpetrated by his very own Joe, with a follow-up report explaining the boy's attempted escape and recovery. Basco made a note of the fact that Joe had escaped custody with Bamick's assistance. Bamick hadn't been recaptured, obviously, and any further information regarding his name was completely absent until his discovery as a member of the Gokaiger.
Still, Basco was left in the dark about the boy's unseemly reaction to someone who had apparently once been a respected superior, even a dear friend. He had to do some digging.
He traced back to the recovery of Joe and found a notice for execution that had been canceled by Her Ladyship, The Empress. Interesting. It was noted that the boy was to be rehabilitated, returned to the fold of the Empire. Basco had a feeling that he was finally getting somewhere, and he delved after this thread, tracing and hacking until a whole world of new information presented itself. Scientific reports, schematics and body scans.
Basco was engrossed now, he hadn't even noticed that his tea had long since gone cold. They hadn't simply rehabilitated Joe, they had effectively reconstructed him. Some of the blueprints and schematics served to explain the scars on Joe's chest and back. His bones had been augmented by an amalgam of metals and synthetics, increasing his strength and durability. Parts of his musculature had been similarly adapted to compensate, and Basco was beginning to suspect that his partner was little more than a cyborg cleverly disguised by living flesh.
Basco was not a particularly good man. He knew it, and he wasn't ashamed by it. He used people, he played them like pawns and treated them like treasures and toys in equal turn, cherished them when they were useful and quickly discarded them when they proved to have outlasted their use. He also knew well the depths of depravity the Empire had been known to reach, knew it better than many others. He knew that for however much he was a bad person, the Empire was truly evil. Still, knowing all of this, accepting it as truth, he felt a little cold when he read the next portion of documents, felt a little ill.
Joe didn't know.
He didn't know that his body, the very core of his being had been tweaked and adjusted, augmented and perfected. He didn't know that his bones had been strengthened, his muscles toned, and a good portion of his body mass entirely replaced by synthetic materials.
For as much as they had done to alter his body, they had taken great strides in effectively destroying his mind.
Basco read the reports feverishly, leaning forward till his face was nearly pressed to the screen, scrolling through one document and immediately opening the next.
Several parts of Joe's brain had been altered, there were notes explaining the purposes. Aside from the fact that they had increased his tolerance for pain, they had also somehow increased his sense of loyalty, and decreased any sense of empathy. They had completely wiped some portions of his memory, mostly those dealing with his recovery after these operations. Other memories they had changed, and in some places false memories had been implanted to shore up the work they had done.
Mental walls had been established somehow, blocking off any part of his being that might be tempted to rebel, or even question. A false trust in the Empire that had done such unspeakable things to him had been established.
Basco had his information, he had plenty of insight on Joe now. What Basco was still missing was an explanation for the headaches, headaches that he is almost certain are triggered by the mere mention of the pirate's name.
That was when he found out about the chip.
For all the damage the Empire's scientists had caused inside Joe's head, they had still insisted on going further. The Empire was cruel, they were evil, but even Basco could not say they weren't possessed of a number of geniuses. As a general rule, Zangyack as an organization, a government and a dictatorship, were not stupid.
The chip was a fail safe. They wouldn't create a super-human weapon, an elite perfect soldier, without being absolutely one-hundred percent sure that it could not be used against them.
All of this information overwhelmed Basco as it collected in his mind and began to piece itself together from a jumble of puzzling bits into a stark picture. He reeled away from the command console, stumbling back into the welcome embrace of his captain's chair.
The chip was designed to activate if Joe were ever to consider mutiny, contemplate harm against the Empire or any of its constituents. It caused pain, that much was obvious, enough pain to distract Joe, condition him away from any such possible mutinous thoughts. If any of the walls they'd constructed were to break, if any of the false memories faltered, if any of the erased memories somehow repaired themselves.
But it was obviously flawed. The scientists had not foreseen the possibility that somewhere, deep in Joe's subconscious and entirely beneath his own awareness, the mere mention of Sid's name would trigger an attempt to remember their past, a story the scientists had done everything in their power to erase. Which in turn triggered the chip to activate, to cause him pain, without him ever knowing why. Thoughts of desertion, of re-joining his old mentor, which never crossed his waking conscious mind, were slowly killing him.
The one thing Basco cherished most of all was his independence. He refused to be beholden to anyone but himself, answered to no orders, made no concessions that would not gain him due compensation.
And so, despite himself, he found that somewhere, deep inside, he had a small deal of compassion. All of this had been done to Joe against his will, without his consent, and subsequently hidden from him. He was completely loyal to an Empire that had gleefully transformed him into little more than a devoted guard dog. He'd made a desperate grasp for freedom and had it snatched from him before he could gain even the smallest taste of true independence.
And for that, despite everything Basco believed about life in the wider galaxy, everything he knew about himself, despite it all, he felt sorry for the boy.
Basco scoffed and shook his head, sweeping off his hat and running a hand through his hair. "You're getting soft, ta Jolokia." He admonished himself quietly.
"Are you sure about this?"
Marvelous looked up. He hadn't expected anyone else to be awake at this hour, and in his trip to the galley he'd thought he'd proved himself right, and settled in for a late night snack. He should have known better. Sid stood in the doorway with his arms crossed, frowning slightly at his captain.
"About what?" Marvelous asked, stupidly glancing down at his apple and the hunk of bread he'd torn off the loaf. He was sure Don would bemoan the ragged edge come the morning, but the captain's appetite was a powerful incentive not to care.
"You gave her a Mobirates. The last one."
"Oh!" Marvelous laughed and shook his head. "Of course I'm sure. She's crew now!"
"She's a princess." Sid said flatly, entering the galley proper and pulling out the other chair, spinning it around and straddling it, crossing his arms over the back. "And she just lost her family. Her entire world. She might be the only survivor."
"All the more reason for her to fight." Marvelous said simply around a mouthful of bread.
"Maybe." Sid said cautiously. "But, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if she was in shock. You're too impulsive when it comes to stuff like this."
"I want her. She's got to be more capable than you're giving her credit for. She escaped, after all."
"You can't just adopt every person Zangyack has displaced."
Marvelous frowned. "I'm not. We needed a full crew. Now we've got it."
Sid sighed, reaching across the table to steal Marvelous' apple and take a large bite. "So I take it you had another good feeling about her."
Marvelous snatched his apple back out of Sid's hand. "You have a problem with how I'm crewing my ship?"
"Don't pull rank on me, Cap."
Marvelous pouted a little, nibbling at his apple. "Just trust me on this. She'll be perfect. She already is. Don loves her. Luka's told me already she wished she had another girl around. It's going to be perfect. Have I ever been wrong before?"
Sid sighed and stood up. "No." He shook his head. "At least she's probably able to fight, being from Famille."
Marvelous smiled and spread his hands. "See?"
Sid moved towards the doorway. "You coming to bed?"
Marvelous hated that he had to stake himself out in the front room of the Galleon, hated how distrustful he was feeling of his first mate.
But his instincts were proved correct as he woke from his doze to find Sid striding confidently through the darkness towards the exit to the deck.
"Sid." He said softly. He cleared his throat. "Lights." The lights in the cabin flicked on at a low night setting at his command, revealing Sid standing still with his back to Marvelous and his head down. "Where are you going?"
Sid heaved a heavy sigh. He hesitated for a moment before he turned. Again, he wasn't wearing his eye patch. He was carrying his coat thrown over his shoulder. "Cap..."
"You can't go out there alone again. Sid, he wants you dead."
"He doesn't!" Sid snapped, shaking his head. "Not Joe. I know he's still in there somewhere."
Marvelous stood up and strode across the room to Sid, putting his hands on Sid's shoulders. "You don't know anything. Not for sure. He's Zangyack, you have to accept it. Not only that, he's working with Basco."
"I told you. He betrayed me, and our captain. Sold us out to Zangyack, all for the Treasure." Marvelous shook Sid's shoulders a little. "Even if he doesn't kill you, Basco would happily take you alive. You're a powerful bargaining chip, and he knows it. If he didn't before, he certainly does now, when you're offering to give yourself up in my place."
"Of course I did!" Sid snapped. "I couldn't let him take you!"
"But you'd let him take you." Marvelous scoffed. "And why?"
Sid looked past Marvelous, frowning, his eyebrows furrowed. "I have to save Joe. Why don't you understand? I know he's still in there. I know how he fights, I taught him everything he knows." Sid took a step away from the Captain. "He wasn't trying. When we fought, he wasn't coming close to hitting me."
"Sid, you can't. Basco will kill you. Or he'll capture you, try to use you."
"But if I could just reach Joe..." Sid said softly as he moved again towards the ship's exit.
"You're not thinking!" Marvelous shouted suddenly, lunging forward to grab Sid's arm and haul him around, lifting a hand, though he could barely imagine striking Sid. Couldn't imagine it would do any good. "Sid, please."
"Don't ask me to give up on him. What if it was your captain? And you thought he was dead and suddenly he's not. He's right there in front of you. Wouldn't you do anything to save him?"
Marvelous took a step back, his anger trickling away as fast as it had washed over him. He looked towards the floor. "Yes."
"It's my fault. Whatever they did to him to make him like this, it's my fault. He trusted me, and I let them catch him. If there's any way..."
"At least let me come with you."
Sid let out a soft growling sigh. "This isn't your fight, Marvelous."
Marvelous shook his head. "What's yours is mine. Forever."
Sid closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then shook his head. "Fine."
It wasn't often, but Sid cherished it every time he managed to convince Joe not to retreat nervously back to his bunk in the crowded barracks. Every time Joe spent the night in Sid's private quarters, whether it be because of an injury still healing, or a long night spent in training, or in other less scholarly pursuits.
Tonight had been special. In all the time Sid had known him, he had never seen Joe acting so freely. So, he hated to think it but knew it was true, so normal. The boy had always been so needlessly timid. Even being the best of every class had gained him little enough respect from many of his peers, as when Sid had first met him Joe had a tendency to apologize for winning.
The five-man squad Sid had trained was different, and far from being jealous or angry over Joe's well publicized promotion, Sid was fairly certain the other four boys were more excited for Joe than Joe was for himself.
Sid had accompanied them down to the bar, and supervised as the boys forced drink after drink upon one another, celebrating their own graduations and their comrade's promotion.
Joe muttered something in his sleep, rolling over onto his back. The ribbon that usually held his hair neatly back had been lost in the bar at some point, and now the length of his ponytail spread beneath him in a messy black halo, some strands sticking to his cheeks. His lips were still swollen from the certain pursuits Joe and Sid had engaged in upon reaching Sid's quarters earlier in the night.
Sid pulled the blanket up over Joe, tucking it around his shoulders to guard against chill.
Soon, they might not have to sneak into Sid's quarters. Soon, they could spend their nights together in the private quarters that were even now being prepared for Joe. Maybe Joe would be less frightened of the possibility of being caught and disciplined now that he was an officer, and the bed they'd be sharing would belong to him alone.
Sid tried not to think that Joe might only spend a few nights more on this ship before being assigned somewhere else.
Joe mumbled in his sleep again, but this time Sid was near enough to him to heard and recognize his name. With a soft smile Sid leaned down, pushing Joe's hair off his face and pressing a gentle kiss to his forehead.
"I think I love you." Sid whispered against Joe's skin.
Basco woke up with a painful yawn, and when he realized this sudden wakefulness was because of the familiar sound of Sally scratching at his door, he snarled and flung one of his pillows at the door before he flopped back and pulled a blanket over his head.
Sally knew he hated being woken, and he'd stayed up far too late reading about Joe anyway. She kept scratching at the door, which led Basco to believe this must be some kind of emergency. He growled again and pulled the blanket back down. "What is it, Sally?"
Basco heard her screeching and she sounded agitated, so he decided that yes, it probably was an emergency. He climbed regretfully out of his bed, grabbing his shawl from a hook by the door and throwing it around his bare shoulders to guard against the chill of the ship.
The door slid open for him and he fixed Sally with a piercing glare. "This had better be important."
Sally nodded her head and bounced a bit, spinning and loping off down the hall. Basco sighed and followed her, but she didn't lead him up to the helm. Instead she led him deeper into the ship. Right to the door of the crew quarters Basco had given Joe.
The door was open, and the bed inside empty.
Basco cursed and wheeled on Sally, grabbing her shoulder hard and shaking her. "Where did he go?"
The ape made a soft cooing sound that Basco recognized well enough meant that she didn't know. She'd probably merely noticed the door being open. Basco closed his eyes and released his faithful companion, taking a breath to calm himself.
"Damn it. That pill should have kept him down for ten hours." Basco growled softly. "Sally. Land the ship."
The ape gave an affirmative grunt and headed off towards the helm, and Basco returned to his room to dress.
As he did, he wondered helplessly at himself. Why should he be so concerned by what kind of trouble a Zangyack soldier was getting himself into? Even if he called him partner, it was only out of convenience to them both, and something Basco certainly could have done well enough without. So why did he care?
A few days ago, he might be worried that Joe acting on his own might result in unnecessary trouble with Marvelous and the others, considering his personal goal of the Greatest Treasure. But now, knowing what he knew, knowing there was no possible way Joe could face Sid without collapsing, Basco knew he was for some reason concerned for the boy's well being. Marvelous might kill him in his moment of weakness, or Sid might attempt to reclaim him, take him captive, which Basco was sure would only result in more pain, and possibly death if pushed too far.
Basco cursed at himself for daring to care, but he still swept his hat onto his head and moved off towards the bridge, intent on saving Joe from himself.
If only he could figure out why he cared.
Joe wondered why Zangyack hadn't conquered Earth yet. They were obviously not nearly as formidable an opponent as Famille had been. He knew from his own slightest bit of research that the planet didn't have a cohesive or encompassing government, much less an active planet-wide military. It seemed like the only thing standing in the Empire's way was those damn pirates.
The Earthlings were apparently a skittish people by nature. As he strode through the streets he noticed them shying away from him, backing against buildings or ducking through doorways as he passed, as surely as some of the younger cadets did on Gigant Horse. He wondered what it was that drew these fearful glances and gasps of obvious terror. He certainly looked no different from many Earthlings, not like some of the more gruesome Action Commanders in the Empire's ranks.
Could it be the uniform? Was the Empire so well known to the Earthlings now? Or were they shocked by the presence of undisguised weapons? He didn't understand, but it irritated him unreasonably.
He had to finish this. To hell with what Basco wanted, or his mischievous plans. The privateer would certainly be annoyed, but Joe had to remind himself that he didn't care what the privateer thought. It was easy enough. Joe had orders, he had to defeat the pirates. He had to kill that damnable traitor, and once he did that he could return to the flagship and maybe even escape this system and the headaches that had plagued him since arriving.
A shock of pain curled down Joe's spine, made his carefully measured march falter just enough to give him pause. He stopped, turning his head and casting around. He had been moving through a small crowd, but it seemed to part at his slightest thought, and there at the far end of this small grassy park was the traitor.
Another jolt of pain spurred Joe into motion, and the crowd of people around him gasped, screamed and fled as he drew his swords. Sid turned, his eyebrows furrowed in obvious concern for the Earthlings. Joe snarled, but he realized too late that of course Sid wasn't alone.
Joe only just managed to deflect the first few shots the brash pirate captain aimed at him. One of them escaped his defense and grazed his arm.
"Marvelous, no!" Sid shouted, grabbing his captain's arm and dragging his aim down. Joe slammed into them both, his focus purely on Sid.
Sid drew his sword, just barely in time to catch Joe's twin blades before they could scissor across his throat. "Joe!"
Joe winced, and the sudden surge of pain rolling through him was distraction enough for the captain to grab him and throw the soldier away from his first mate. The pirate captain was uncommonly strong, and Joe landed awkwardly on his left arm, his grip on his off-hand sword going slack.
Sid came into Joe's red tinged vision as Joe struggled to his feet, pushing his captain aside and tackling Joe back to the ground. Joe's breath escaped him as his back slammed into the ground.
"Please, stop this." Sid whispered fiercely. Joe shuddered, bringing his sword around, aiming weakly for Sid's neck. Sid grabbed his wrist and twisted just enough to knock his sword free. "Joe, I want to help you. They wanted you dead, please remember."
"No..." Joe growled, groping blindly for his sword even as Sid grabbed him by the shoulders and gave the younger man a hard shake.
"Sid!" Marvelous snapped. "He's gone!"
"Not until he's dead!" Sid shouted back.
Joe's back arched off the ground as a renewed wave of pain tore through his body. Black shapes bloomed behind his eyes and a shuddering gasp tore at his lungs.
"Sid?" The name fell from Joe's lips in a confused whimper. As the pain shooting through his head and body dragged him into blessed unconsciousness, Joe has only enough presence of mind to wonder what had gone so thoroughly wrong. All he had ever wanted was orders to dispatch the pirates and prove himself.
Why couldn't he?
Marvelous adjusted his coat with a huff as he approached Sid and the Zangyack soldier. Sid was shaking his old friend weakly and shouting at him. It made Marvelous uncomfortable, seeing Sid in this state and in public too. And when Marvelous got uncomfortable, he got angry.
"Is he dead?" He snapped, his boot sneaking under Sid's arm to nudge at the soldier's side.
"No!" Sid snapped, turning a glare on his captain. "And he won't be, if I can help it."
Marvelous took a step back.
"You're not bringing Zangyack on board my ship," Marvelous growled warningly.
Sid's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Then I'll stay down here with him."
"The hell you will." Marvelous hissed, glancing around, suddenly on edge. "You think Basco won't come looking for him? You're not putting yourself in that kind of danger."
Sid cleared his throat and stood up, cradling the unconscious soldier in his arms. "Then I guess he's coming with us."
Marvelous wanted to disagree. He wanted to put his foot down, be the Captain and set some rules. But he knew Sid was blind where this subject was concerned, and he had to chose between the integrity of his ship and the integrity of his relationship with his first mate, best friend and lover.
"Fine." He snapped, turning smartly on his heel. "But he's your responsibility. If he puts any of the others in danger, it's on your head."
"Of course, Cap."
Basco wasn't surprised when he tracked down Joe's last known coordinates to find the officer missing. Basco was fairly certain he wasn't dead, which was good news for both of them, considering the annoyance Basco would have to deal with if he had to explain to Damarasu what had happened to their devoted dog. This way, there was still a chance to get him back, and hopefully still in one piece, though Basco didn't have high hopes for Joe's mental state after spending an extended holiday with the one person in the galaxy whose mere proximity caused the organic and mechanical parts of Joe's brain to go to war with one another.
What did surprise Basco was that Marvelous had left Joe's swords. Obviously he wouldn't allow an armed Zangyack officer aboard his beloved Galleon regardless of his past, but even Marvelous shouldn't have been able to deny or ignore the fine quality and price of the Empire-approved weapons. But there they were, one sticking out of the ground at an angle, the other under a bush nearby.
Basco supposed Joe should count himself lucky that the Earthlings had likewise avoided the weapons, leaving them like that. They were missing their sheaths of course, it seemed neither of the pirates had considered wasting time enough to strip their new captive of his empty sword belts.
He sighed as he straightened, tucking both swords into his own belt. He didn't much favor swordplay himself, that had always been Marvelous' area of expertise. Basco preferred ranged combat when possible. As such, the weight at his hip was unfamiliar and annoying, and he wondered how Joe ever got anything done, marching around like that.
Basco really hated that he was so concerned about Joe. He couldn't help but think of the boy as his partner. He hadn't had such a thing in ages, ever if you didn't count Marvelous, which sometimes he didn't. Sally of course was special, perfectly capable of thinking for herself, she simply preferred to bow to Basco's obviously superior way of thought. She wasn't a partner, she was a tool, a pet, and in some ways no more than a supreme extension of Basco himself.
Joe was different, he was free-willed (after a fashion, or at least as free-willed as the Empire allowed their little guinea pig to be), he was intelligent and for anyone other than his ex-mentor he was surely dangerous and deadly. Basco couldn't really exercise any control over him, and usually this would result in Basco's extreme annoyance, and the privateer would have shunted him aside and gone about ignoring him and continuing to work in peace.
Against odds, Joe intrigued him. Basco was concerned about his physical and mental well-being. It was all very sappy and much more compassionate than Basco liked to admit he was capable of.
With a huff, Basco turned on his heel and headed back in the direction he'd come, back towards Free Joker.
He had a call to make.
"Just breathe, Joe. Breathe through it..."
Joe's face contorted in pain, and Sid tried to keep his face neutral, tried not to let his worry show even as sweat dripped down his temples and his breath seemed to hitch oddly in his chest.
There was no telling how long Joe had been lying there in the corner of the training room, shuddering in pain yet unable to get up.
Sid hated it when different squads were assigned to train together. Sid's squad was loyal enough to him and to each other, but there was a certain mob mentality that took over when certain exercises took a turn for the barbaric. And for some reason, it was always Joe who ended up on the receiving end of these brutal tendencies.
Joe's left shoulder had been dislocated, and judging from the way Joe cringed in pain when Sid's examination had turned to his other arm, his right wrist might well be broken.
"I'm sorry, Joe, I should have been here."
Joe shook his head, blinking rapidly, and Sid told himself it was sweat running into Joe's eyes, not tears that made them shine so brightly.
"I'm going to have to take you to the infirmary." Sid admitted softly, wincing as Joe made a piteous sound, but seemed incapable of putting his thoughts in enough order to form coherent words. Sid could only imagine how much pain the boy was in, but he also understood Joe's reluctance to get proper treatment from the medics. It was a stupid show of bravado among the cadets, showing themselves capable of dealing with injuries alone. Being seen in the infirmary got one labeled as weak, regardless of the circumstances.
Joe was too young for this.
"I have to set your shoulder first." Sid sighed, still trying to soothe Joe with a hand on his head. "Alright?"
Joe nodded, his face screwed up and his eyes shut tight, his breath coming in ragged pants.
Sid rested one hand high on the slope of Joe's shoulder, and gripped his arm tight with the other hand, halfway between his elbow and his shoulder.
"Breathe in, Joe."
Joe did as he was told, though his inhale was stuttered.
"And out," Sid coached him gently, and as Joe exhaled, Sid twisted his arm around until he felt the tell-tale slip of the joint sliding back into place. Joe stiffened, his face contorting as he cried out in pain, and Sid's heart ached as he took Joe into his arms and let the younger man cry against his chest.
"I'm not going to let this happen anymore," Sid whispered, though he doubted Joe could even hear him, much less understand. "I'm going to watch out for you, Joe."
There were six individual rooms on the Galleon. At the end of the hall lie the Captain's quarters, easily twice the size of any of the smaller rooms. Nearest to the Captain's quarters were the first mate's, which wasn't the second largest room but it hardly mattered, since Sid nearly never slept there. Beside Sid's room was Don's, and across the hall from the boys were the girls' rooms.
At the other end of the hall, at the foot of the stairs was the inexplicable sixth room. The rest of the crew followed Marvelous' example and referred to it as the silver room as, its sole defining characteristic (aside from obviously being the smallest of the rooms) was a shining silvery blanket spread over the bed, just like the blankets of a single solid color in each of the other rooms.
The silver room was where Joe ended up, but only after a heated argument in the cabin over his prone body.
Marvelous thought the Zangyack soldier should be chained up in the engine room, and Luka sided with him, both of them pointing out that not only was Joe Zangyack first and foremost, he had already loudly announced his intention to kill Sid, and further shown very little regard for the lives of any of the rest of them.
Sid wanted to keep Joe in his own unused quarters. He insisted, despite his uniform and even his recent history, that Joe was essentially harmless, and more than that, he was obviously ill, injured or both, and that he deserved to be treated. This at least Don agreed with, though he was judging only at a distance, as Marvelous refused to allow Don to get near enough to Joe to examine him properly.
After much shouting on both sides of the argument, Ahim finally intervened. Entering with a tray of tea to break the tension, she suggested the silver room as a midway point between the two steadfast camps, adding that the headboard on the silver room's bed would allow the soldier to be bound but still allow Don to examine and if necessary treat him.
That settled the matter. Once the tea was drunk, Ahim ordered Sid and Marvelous to work together to deal with the still unconscious captive, who was at least still breathing. Neither of them had ever been able to argue with the ex-princess, and so they agreed, if just to make sure that neither was getting away with skimping on their side of the deal.
Don came down shortly after to examine Joe, but Marvelous refused to leave Don alone even though Joe was bound to the bed by his wrists and yet still made no motion towards waking. Sid was reluctant to leave Marvelous in a room with Joe, even though Don was there, so both the Captain and the first mate sat in the corner, watching Don and occasionally glowering at each other.
"He's not a guest, Sid." Marvelous growled quietly.
Sid pursed his lips. "Why can't he be? I'm telling you, Marvelous, whatever they did to him can be fixed."
"He's a prisoner." Marvelous snapped. "That's all he is. You're setting yourself up for failure. You're being an idiot."
"We have to try, Marvelous. Why can't you just help me, instead of dooming him?" Sid sighed.
Marvelous opened his mouth to answer, to try and explain himself, though even he wasn't sure what exactly he planned on saying, but he was cut off by the ringing of his Mobirates. He frowned, and glancing up noticed that Don and Sid were also both looking at him curiously.
There was only one person who would be calling Marvelous instead of simply coming down stairs to speak to him in person. And truly, Marvelous wasn't entirely sure he wanted to answer. He was grumpy and annoyed with his first mate, the last thing he needed was taunting and threats from Basco.
Still, as the Mobirates continued to ring, Marvelous realized that Basco was very likely to keep calling until Marvelous answered, so with a growl he flipped open the device and held it to his ear.
"Marvey-chan! You sound tense. Calm down, I don't want to talk to you anyway. Let me talk to Patches."
Marvelous squinted, looking at Sid with a curious eyebrow raise. Sid blinked back at him, tilting his head slightly. "Patches?"
"It's awfully important, Marvey-chan. Just put him on."
Marvelous sighed, then with a shrug, held the Mobirates out to Sid.
"He wants to talk to you." He said with as much ease as he could muster, though inside he was burning with curiosity and frustration.
Sid took the Mobirates. "What?"
"Is that any way to greet a possible ally?"
Sid raised an eyebrow at Marvelous, who scoffed and shook his head.
"What makes you think we'd ever ally ourselves with you?"
"Okay, perhaps ally is too strong of a word. How about informant?"
Sid glanced across the room as Don turned away from Joe's prone body, shaking his head. He frowned. "Informant?"
"In a manner of speaking. I have some information that you might find interesting. Incredible, the things buried in the Zangyack archives. They keep track of everything, you know."
"Stop jerking me around." Sid growled, standing up to pace slightly. Don ducked quickly out of the way, taking his seat and leaning over to whisper something to Marvelous. Sid wanted badly to know what the mechanic was saying, but his attention was torn too many directions. "If you have something to say, say it."
"A question first, if you don't mind." Basco's voice was a dangerous purr, and Sid found himself flushing with barely suppressed rage.
"My partner. Is he dead yet?"
"Oh, yes. Joe Gibken is my partner now, you know."
"I will not allow him to be returned to Zangyack." Sid growled. He looked away from Marvelous when the Captain shook his head and rolled his eyes.
Basco laughed, but even over the Mobirates Sid could tell his amusement was forced. "If you'd rather he die, by all means, keep him. But I assume from your tone that he's not yet gone, which is good news for everyone, I think. I'll send what I know along to your computer, then, shall I?"
Sid looked over at Don and Marvelous again. They'd both stood up, but they were waiting for him. They had something to say. Sid grit his teeth. "Fine."
"Keep in touch, Patches."
Sid slammed Marvelous' Mobirates shut and tossed it at the Captain, who caught it easily and returned it to his inner pocket without a second glance. "Well?"
"He's sending some kind of information he hacked out of Zangyack's archives." Sid said tightly, turning back to look at Joe. He hadn't moved at all since they'd tied him to the bed, his head hadn't even turned during Don's examination.
Don headed for the door. "I'll go look it up, then."
Marvelous moved to follow him, and with one last glance back at Joe, Sid joined them as they left the silver room.
Sid frowned over the top of his book. According to his clock, it was late enough that the base should be relatively quiet. Yet there was some kind of ruckus going on in the halls outside his quarters.
He sighed, carefully placing a marker in his book and setting it aside. He wasn't particularly in the mood to throw his rank around, but he did have a certain amount of responsibility. He didn't bother putting his boots back on, but he did grab his uniform jacket from its hook by the door, shrugging it on as the door slid open.
He watched three soldiers run past before his curiosity finally got the best of him, spurring him into action the way his awkward sense of obligation to his rank never could.
The fourth soldier to run past lacked any sort of identification on his uniform, and Sid threw an arm out to catch the boy by the arm and haul him around. The kid stared up at the captain with wide eyes for a moment before he snapped to attention and threw up a poorly formed salute. He was lucky that Sid didn't really give a shit, since almost any other captain would have taken it as a personal offense.
"What is going on here, cadet? Aren't you breaking curfew?"
"Yes sir!" The boy squeaked. "I mean, no sir. I mean... don't you know? Sir?"
Sid pursed his lips and raised one eyebrow, crossing his arms over his chest. "Enlighten me, cadet."
"Didn't you hear about the S.O. that mutinied?"
Sid hesitated. He'd heard rumblings about some kind of skirmish, but nothing specific. "That doesn't explain what you're doing out here past curfew, cadet."
"They're bringing him in now, sir. He's slated for execution in the morning." The cadet hesitated, he wasn't meeting Sid's eyes. That would be another mark against him for anyone else. "I heard... I heard this S.O. was on his first mission."
Sid felt cold suddenly, and he didn't think it had anything to do with the frigid metal of the floor creeping up through his soles.
"Return to your quarters, cadet." Sid said softly, glancing worriedly in the direction they'd all been running, sure enough towards the main entrance to the base.
Sid turned his head sharply to give the cadet a steely glare. "That is an order, cadet. Dismissed."
A faint blush colored the boy's cheeks as he gave another awkward salute, then he turned tail and ran back the way he'd come.
Sid started off the other direction, his bare feet making hardly any noise on the steel floors, but he could feel the frantic cadence of any number of other, properly attired feet beating the path to the entrance.
A crowd had gathered by the time Sid got there. The prisoner was being escorted by an entire complement of Sugoumin, a few of which had to break away from their charge to clear a path through the crowd. A quiet muttering spread through gathered officers and cadets, some whispering with a tone of surprise, others obviously doing a poor job of restraining laughter. Sid moved forward, elbowing his way through the group until he was standing at the front, and he found himself with a clear view of the traitor.
Joe, who seemed disoriented, his steps awkward and forced as he was more or less dragged along by the much larger Sugoumin, lifted his head suddenly. Despite the rising volume of the crowd as more of them found out who the traitor was, Sid's simple pained whisper was enough to grab Joe's attention as if Sid had screamed his name.
Their eyes met briefly, and Sid felt a pang as he recognized that look of shame and guilt in Joe's eyes. It was the same look he gave every time he thought he had somehow disappointed Sid, as if Sid's feelings were the worst of Joe's problems somehow.
Joe's head turned, he was struggling to keep Sid in sight as he was marched towards the large door that led down into the bowels of the base, the holding cells. Sid saw his mouth shift, he recognized the shape of his name even if he couldn't hear Joe's voice.
Then he was gone, the door sliding shut behind the last of the accompanying Sugoumin.
"He's slated for execution in the morning." The cadet's offhanded tone seemed to be taunting Sid from inside his own mind.
Not if he had anything to say about it.
Sid had always preferred to read things in a hard format that he could hold in his hands, it was an odd little quirk of his. Don knew all about it, and so he'd already printed off a bulk of the information Basco had sent to their computer by the time Sid arrived in the cabin, and he handed it over to keep Sid from leaning over his shoulder while Don read the same information on the screen.
It wasn't terribly encouraging information, all told. Don tried his level best to read it from a mechanics perspective, from a scientific point of view, but all that dratted morality kept creeping in. As Don flipped from document to document, memos and observations, schematics and blueprints, requirements and intents, he found himself feeling very nearly sick at the thought. These weren't hypothetical simulations, it was all obviously true and real and every bit of it had been perpetrated upon a single person, the Joe that Sid was so violently eager to defend and protect. What was left was certainly not the student Sid remembered. Even on a conceptual level it made Don feel distinctly uncomfortable, but when related to the real life of one of his best friends, it was downright upsetting.
There was more, of course. Basco, presumably, had made notes on one of the last pieces of information, a long description of the actions and purpose of a chip that had been implanted in Joe's brain. It activates when they're near each other. It activates all the time, even just when his name is mentioned. It's probably killing him, and it might not even be a malfunction.
Don slowly realized that Marvelous was leaning over his shoulder, obviously reading along. "Is he serious?" The captain asked quietly, glancing past Don to where Sid was pacing, flipping through the pages of information, sometimes flipping back to re-read something or other.
"How do you mean?" Don asked.
"That it might kill him." Marvelous pointed towards Basco's note. "Just being here could be killing him. I don't... he's defenseless." The captain sighed and passed a hand over his eyes. "This is why I don't take prisoners."
Don nodded, then reached to touch Marvelous' arm gently to catch his attention. "I'm going to examine him now, alright? I think... I just, I want to know."
Marvelous sighed again, but he nodded his approval before stepping away from the console and falling down into his chair.
Don did his best to sneak away towards the stairs leading down to their quarters, but of course there wasn't going to be anything quiet about this entire situation. Sid threw down the stack of pages he'd been flipping through and immediately moved to follow Don downstairs.
"Wait," Marvelous said, causing both of them to stop at the top of the stairs, Don with a sheepish look up at Sid, who missed it entirely because he was too busy turning to glare at the captain. "Sid, stay here."
Marvelous heaved himself out of his chair, approaching the taller man with a steely look on his face. "I said you will stay up here and let Doc do what he has to do."
"I will not. He needs me."
"Sid..." Don said softly, touching his arm much as he had done to Marvelous a moment before. "Didn't you read the end?"
"I don't care." Sid snapped, shrugging away from Don's hand.
"Well, you should." Don growled back, his slight temper flaring up over Sid's misdirected anger. "Because if Basco's right, you could be killing him."
Marvelous grabbed Sid's arm and forcibly hauled him away from Don, nodding at the mechanic as he did so. Don took the hint and immediately dashed down the stairs before Sid could recover his senses enough to tear away from Marvelous. Navi, who had been following the entire situation, took flight from the back of Marvelous' chair and followed Don downstairs.
"Marvelous... I have to help him." Sid said softly, but the anger seemed to have gone out of him. Now his voice was tainted with a hopelessness, and Marvelous released him.
"Ahim! We need tea, please!"
Don wasn't entirely surprised when he let himself into the silver room to find their captive awake and half-heartedly tugging at the restraints holding him to the headboard. Navi fluttered in over Don's head to perch on the bed-side table, but she was quiet as she obviously started to scan Joe, something Don hadn't even had to bother asking her to do. She simply did it.
Joe jerked a bit when she landed, momentarily staring at the bird thoughtfully until Don cleared his throat.
"This is the bird?" Joe's voice was soft, not like the cold statements he'd directed at Sid that day they'd all met. With just a glance, Don took in the sheen of sweat on Joe's forehead, not to mention his bloodshot eyes, his pale skin, and the way his breathing was not quite regular. None of these were particularly good signs for someone of such obviously human stock, regardless of the number of modifications that might or might not have been made on him in the past.
"You know about Navi?" Don asked conversationally, trying to gauge whether he was causing the soldier any pain, or whether that reaction was entirely focused on Sid. It seemed to be safe enough, as Joe simply looked back at him, squinting.
"You're... Don Dogoier. Right? One of the pirates. Damarasu doesn't see much of a threat in you." He answered, obviously about as civil as he could get. Don couldn't help but smile slightly.
"I know. We're aware of our bounties, you know." Don ducked his head as he moved closer to the side of the bed, holding up both hands to show he was unarmed. He didn't need any tools to examine Joe, he wasn't planning on dissecting him after all. Anything he needed to know under the surface would be covered by the scan Navi was doing. "Can I examine you?"
A small frown crossed Joe's features, a tiny crease between his eyebrows and a nearly imperceptible downturn at the corners of his mouth. "Why?"
"We don't exactly want you to die." Don admitted. Joe tilted his head to one side. "Sid's worried about you."
There it was, the reaction Don had been waiting for, but it was so much worse than he expected it to be. At the mention of Sid's name, Joe's eyes shut tight and his mouth fell open in an obviously very sudden onset of pain. His arms pulled reflexively at the restraints, and Don took a shaking step backwards when the headboard of the bed creaked alarmingly. Joe's artificially augmented strength was obviously not something to be taken lightly.
It passed as quickly as it had come, and Joe's eyes flickered open. Don was a little daunted to find Joe staring at him with very obvious fear in his eyes, not to mention the shine of tears edging his lashes. He wet his lips as he stared thoughtfully at Don for a moment, and his voice was just a little rougher when he spoke.
"Well, Don Dogoier, can you tell me why... What is happening to me?" He tossed his head, and Don reached forward to push his sweat soaked bangs out of his eyes. "Can you figure that out, if you examine me?"
Don hesitated. He didn't want to answer, he didn't want to commit to anything he wasn't sure about. He might be able to find out exactly what was wrong with Joe, he might even be able to fix it, but he wasn't the type to offer false reassurance. He might just as well hit dead end after dead end, he might never know for sure without cutting Joe up, without digging into his brain. Which was certainly not a viable option for any of them (except perhaps for Luka).
"You'd count me in your debt." Joe said softly, looking up to meet Don's eyes. "You don't have to fix it. I wouldn't expect you to. We're enemies, and we will probably always be enemies. But I would be beholden to you even if you could just tell me why." He winced again, not as drastically as when Sid's name had been mentioned, but Don thought he was beginning to get a better idea of the mechanism inside Joe's head. "I need to know why."
Don took a steadying breath. "I'll do my best."
Don couldn't seem to stop thinking about the information that was slowly gathering, both in his mind and on the ship's computer. He hadn't meant to become such an important piece in whatever cosmic game was being played between the crew and their opponents, whatever ridiculous play they were being forced to act out.
He'd taken a break from the computer to make dinner, but even while he cooked he couldn't stop thinking about Joe, about what he'd learned from his own examination combined with Navi's scan, about what he was beginning to deduce. About what he could actually tell Joe, having promised the soldier something, some explanation for the recurring pain that he obviously didn't understand. Was scared by, and who could blame him?
It had broken Don's heart to see the look on Sid's face when he told him that it was in Joe's best interests for Sid to stay away from him for the time being, at least until Don had figured out whether he could disable the chip without rendering Joe brain dead in the process.
"I thought he was dead, Doc. I thought he was dead, and now he's not. He's here, on our ship, thinking, breathing... living. He's alive, and you're telling me I can't even see him?"
Of course he couldn't. Not yet. And for the same reason he couldn't promise Joe even a satisfactory explanation for it all, he couldn't offer Sid any words of comfort that wouldn't sound hollow, fake and untrue. He had to be sure, that was simply the way Don operated.
Don was beginning to think that there was most definitely something wrong with the chip in Joe's head. It didn't seem to be functioning in the way it was originally meant to, though it was anybody's guess whether this was an error on behalf of the scientists who'd developed the technology, or a problem with the sheer concept of conditioning in that way. The brain was too complex, it all made Don's head spin. Machines were simple, they could be taken apart and put back together, pieces from one could be substituted or augmented by bits of another. Humans were different, and the human brain and mind were doubly so. Don rather thought this might be part of the problem, Zangyack scientists had treated Joe like an experimental machine, and not like a living being capable of learning, thought and memory, growth.
By the time a week had passed, the situation inside Joe's head seemed to be steadily growing worse. Don felt badly about it, he felt like he was at least partially at fault. He couldn't help but talk with Joe, and he found the soldier quite intelligent despite the fact that what had started as fleeting fits of pain had bloomed into a steady constant ache. The shocks of pain still came occasionally, when conversation skirted too closely to the subject of Sid, even when Don did his best to avoid any direct reference to his comrade.
As far as Don could figure, Joe's mind was trying to heal itself of the extensive damages Zangyack had perpetrated inside his skull. Being away from the constant influence of the Empire seemed to be the main catalyst to this, but unfortunately it was also having the effect of keeping the chip constantly activated.
Joe had admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that the pain had started at a much lower frequency when he first arrived at Earth along with the rest of the forward fleet. Zangyack hadn't covered enough of their bases. Joe's brain wanted to be whole, and even his conscious waking mind wanted to know the truth, desired to know his past, and was willing to deal with the pain to find out. The problem was that Don was fairly sure that if he didn't figure out a way to deactivate the chip, the damage it was causing would kill Joe, or at least his brain, before he could ever know enough of the truth. Don had no doubt that Sid's version of events was the way it had actually happened, the problem was that Zangyack had done everything in their demented power to make sure Joe couldn't remember it properly.
After many long conversations in varying volumes and emotional peaks, Don managed to successfully argue in favor of untying Joe from the headboard, though Marvelous insisted they keep his wrists tied. It had been difficult, to say the least, especially when Don came upstairs one night with a large bruise blooming on his cheek. He'd explained that it was purely accidental, one of the shocks of pain had struck Joe while Don was examining the scars behind his ear, and in the throes his head fell back and struck Don in the face. Marvelous hadn't been willing to believe him, until Don explained that Joe was perfectly physically capable of tearing away from the headboard if he wanted to. He had the strength, but not the drive. His only desire was for information, and he was intelligent enough to know that it was not the sort of information he could get by force.
He was honorable if nothing else, and he had professed that he was already indebted to Don for merely trying to help him, an enemy. The enemy. Between that, and the fact that he was obviously a little fearful of the thought of running into Sid and being lain flat to the floor, Marvelous finally relented to lessening the security on Joe, which at least relieved some small amount of Don's guilt, mainly when it came to no longer having to hand-feed Joe every meal.
Now Don just had to figure out how to fix him.
It was one of the harder things Sid had ever had to do since joining Marvelous. Not that training Don was particularly difficult, or even technically necessary. He seemed to do an alright job of defending himself when they got caught in inevitable combat. It was just something Sid did, he considered it his main duty to the crew that Marvelous was constructing. Whether he was a soldier or a pirate, Sid had always had something of a tendency towards teaching. He was drawn to do it and he did it well, and so he kept on doing it.
"You don't need to put your whole body into every move you make," he patiently explained for what was probably the third time. "You're leaving yourself open to attacks from the side or from behind."
Don sighed and dropped his arm, the point of his sword sunk neatly into the grass they were sparring on. His hair was dripping sweat into his eyes, making him blink too much. "I know. I'm sorry, Sid. I'm trying."
There it was again. Even over a year later, the wounds still felt fresh when they were prodded like that. The look in Don's eyes, the soft, regretful tone of his voice. He looked nothing like Joe, but they were similar on a much deeper level, almost spiritual. Joe had been drawn irresistibly into Sid's protection, Don seemed much the same. And Sid was led to train them, and they made the same face when they thought they were disappointing him.
"I know you are, Doc. I think that's probably part of the problem." Sid finally said softly, holding a hand out. Don blinked and tilted his head, but he took Sid's hand.
"It's almost time for lunch, anyway." Sid smiled and Don managed to grin in return.
Don chewed on his lip as he faced Marvelous and Sid. He wished Ahim at least was present, since she did have a tendency to make everything more calm. But she was in the galley making tea, and Luka was up in the crow's nest keeping watch and counting her stars. And Marvelous wanted a report, and Sid had taken to asking Don twice a day whether there was any progress, and he was growing less accepting of Don's non-committal answers each time.
"So what's the verdict, Doc?" Marvelous asked. "Can you actually do anything for him?"
Sid shot Marvelous an annoyed glance, but he remained silent. Don was quietly grateful. He wasn't ready for Sid to start snapping again.
"I still don't know." Don admitted quietly. "It's... it's a very delicate situation."
"Well. I think his brain is trying to fix itself. He wants to know the truth, he consciously does. He wants to know his past. But his condition is... deteriorating. This chip Zangyack put in him, it's dangerous. They put him at great risk, bringing him to Earth in the first place. Just knowing that Sid is also here has been enough to trigger him." Don bit down on his lip again. He still felt guilty about the next part. "And now that he's not with Zangyack all the time, it's getting worse. He's told me it started to ramp up when he left the Zangyack ship to partner with Basco. And now," Don spread his hands helplessly. "Well, now. It's nearly constant, this pain he's in. It doesn't respond to any painkillers. It's dangerous. I don't know if it can do enough damage to kill him, but it might."
Don noticed the way Sid's jaw tightened slightly as he clenched his teeth. He quickly looked away from Sid and to Marvelous instead. His squinting look of contemplation wasn't much better than Sid's barely restrained rage, but it helped Don to know that at least Marvelous was considering their options as he was.
"So how do you stop it?"
"I don't know." Don admitted, hanging his head. "I'm not a brain surgeon, Marvelous. I'm just a mechanic. I don't even think just sending him back to Zangyack and getting him away from Earth would work now that he's gone and gotten curious."
"That's not an option anyway." Sid growled, and Don glanced at him apologetically.
"No, of course it never was. At this point, Zangyack would probably execute him whether he actually found sympathy for you or not. When he's not being... crippled by that thing in his head, he's designed to be incredibly powerful. They wouldn't risk that being used against them."
"Designed?" Sid sniffed. Don bit his lip again.
"Yes, designed. Sid, even if I figure out a way to stop the chip, I don't... he might not be the Joe you remember any more. They've... they've done too much to change him. He's hardly human anymore. You've read--"
"You didn't know him before. He'll remember, as soon as it doesn't hurt him anymore, he'll remember me." Sid sounded so convinced. Don restrained the impulse to shake his head and just turned to look at Marvelous again.
"The problem is that I don't even know if I can stop the chip without killing him." Don said plainly, and even Sid went silently brooding. "I've got theories. Possible angles of... attack, as it were. But each time I think I've figured something out, a very real very negative possible side effect presents itself." Don ran both hands through his hair, pressed at his eyes with his fingers. "I'm just not sure. But he trusts me, and I can't just do something that could hurt him without knowing for sure. The risks... they're too great."
Marvelous threaded his fingers, looking at Don over his hands for a long moment, considering. Then he glanced at Sid, whose eyes were red despite the defiant anger on his face.
"Doc. Is he... you know, is he still pretty coherent? Could you explain to him... well, everything you know? Or suspect?" The captain sighed. "Shouldn't it be his decision anyway? He might..." Marvelous put a hand on Sid's arm and gripped hard. "If he knew what Zangyack had done to him, he might prefer death."
Sid stiffened slightly, but he didn't pull away from Marvelous' placating hand. He just scowled at the floor, and tears edged his eye lashes.
"You're telling me... to, what, get his consent?"
"Isn't that what doctors do? Tell him the risks. But I'm not the person to make this decision. None of us are. It's his choice."
Marvelous had a point. Sid didn't protest, at least not audibly. He simply stepped away from Marvelous and stormed into the galley instead.
Don sighed. "Alright."
Joe didn't stir when Don let himself into the silver room with a tray of tea and some bread, though the entire concept was just a feeble hope. Joe hadn't eaten in nearly two days, and it was just about all he could do to drink some water. The last time Don had seen him, that morning, Joe's hands were trembling and he couldn't seem to keep his eyes open. Don was fairly sure he hadn't slept at least as long as he'd been refusing food. If Don wasn't hoping so fervently for it not to be true, he'd think Joe was dying.
Don observed him silently for a moment. He was just as pale as he'd been a few days ago, but the pallor seemed more pronounced due to the dark circles under his eyes. His face was contorted in easily recognizable pain, and now the only hint he gave that the pain had spiked was a grimace, his upper lip curling and showing his teeth. His breath came mostly in long slow gasps, but sometimes he started suddenly panting, short fast breaths like he was hyperventilating.
Don was sure that even if it hadn't been a bad idea for Joe, it would be worse for Sid to see him like this. Don barely knew Joe at all, and had only ever known him when he was either a committed enemy or already in pain. But still it bothered Don to see him like this. It made his stomach twist, made him feel sick. Zangyack was to blame for this, for a perfectly normal looking person slowly dying in his enemy's home and bed for the crime of wanting to know his own past.
Joe shifted slightly when Don let the door close behind him, stepping closer to set the tray down beside the bed. He lifted his head, and squinted one eye open. "Doctor." He greeted Don softly, and there was a tiny tremble in his voice. It made Don sad to hear it.
"You don't have to call me that." Don sat down in the chair beside the bed and picked up the cup of tea, clasping it between both hands and blowing slightly on the surface to cool it. "I've told you, I'm not a real doctor. It's just a nick name they use for me."
Joe shifted a bit, readjusting his head on the pillow beneath him, managing to keep both eyes open for a bit. They were bloodshot, and his gaze had a tendency to lose focus occasionally, but Don appreciated it all the same. Joe seemed just a little bit less... dead when he looked at him.
"Here." Don whispered, leaning forward to hold the cup of tea to Joe's chapped lips. The soldier smirked against the cup, but he did take a careful sip when Don tilted it.
"You're discouraged today." Joe observed after a moment of silence. "What's wrong?"
Don frowned and looked away, returning the tea cup to the tray. His attention was drawn back around to Joe when he felt Joe's trembling fingers grip his sleeve.
"I'm dying, Doctor, aren't I?" He sounded so resigned to the thought. As sure as Sid was that Joe could make a full recovery, Joe seemed just as convinced that he was already sentenced to death. "That was probably the idea from the start, huh?"
Don kept silent. He hadn't told Joe even half of what he knew or suspected about what Zangyack had done to him. He was afraid that the knowledge that he'd been lied to and used in such a way might be enough to trigger the chip into finishing the job. It was all very sick and wrong.
"Doctor, please." Joe pleaded softly. He'd closed his eyes again, and fine lines had appeared at the corners and between his eyebrows. His breaths were coming short and fast again. "Just. If there's nothing you can do... I'm useless like this. I can't stand it."
"There might be something." Don finally admitted. "I might have some ideas."
"To make the pain stop?" Joe asked, and the minuscule note of hope in his voice made Don's own chest ache.
"They might. But they could also make it worse. Or, or kill you. Or cripple you in some other way." Once the negative possibilities started presenting themselves, Don couldn't keep himself from elaborating. "If I try to destroy the chip itself from outside, it could explode and take your whole head with it, or maybe just part of your brain, probably a really important part. Or, if I could... I don't know, find some way to break down the chip itself on a microscopic level, it could go out of control and start attacking the other artificial elements in your body. Or I could maybe make the chip start functioning better, like it could get stuck transmitting at the same level as the spikes. Or..."
"Doctor." Joe whispered again, forcing himself to sit up a bit, his half-lidded eyes staring out past matted hair hanging in his face. "I didn't... I can't even understand half of what you just said."
Don bit down on his lip. "Sorry."
Don stood up from his chair suddenly. "What?"
"Do it. Whatever it is, whatever you think has the best chance. Of stopping this. I need the pain to stop. Even if the only option is a merciful death."
"Marvelous thought you might say that." Don muttered, wringing his hands.
"He must be pretty smart, for a p-pirate." Joe's voice trembled and broke at the end, and one of the spikes of pain spirited him away for a moment, his eyes rolling back till all Don could see was red-veined white. Even his breath seemed to stop for a moment, and his back arched up off the bed. This was one of the worst Don had yet seen.
When the pain subsided, Joe's eyes opened again, and they were shining with tears. "Please. I'll do anything to make it stop."
"I guess this is your permission, then. Knowing full well you might die. Or be in a coma or something."
"Any means necessary." Joe assured him softly.
Don steeled himself with a slow breath, then he leaned forward to brush his fingertips against Joe's forehead. His fingers came away wet with Joe's sweat, and Don nodded. "I'll do what I can." He stepped away from the bed. "I need to get Navi."
Sid couldn't relax. Since Don had come upstairs, grabbed Navi, and retreated back downstairs without so much as a word of explanation, Sid found himself incapable of settling down. He tried to sit at the table and have a cup of tea that Ahim graciously provided, but he drank the cup down in two blisteringly hot gulps and then he was back on his feet, pacing. He sat down on the love seat to try and play a few rounds of poker with Luka, but she was beating him in every hand without even cheating, and pretty soon they both lost interest, mainly when Sid ran out of spare change to bet against her. He tried to settle down to read, thankful that he'd brought his book upstairs with him that morning, since Marvelous wasn't letting him get anywhere near the stairs while Don was down there, doing whatever it was he was doing with Joe and Navi. But his book couldn't keep him occupied either, and he set it back down nearly as quickly as he'd picked it up. Then it was back to the pacing, tight circles around the main console, from the table past Marvelous' chair to the couch and back again.
"You're making me dizzy." Marvelous grumbled softly on one of Sid's many passes. Sid stopped in front of his chair and turned to face the captain, and Marvelous instantly regretted saying anything. His eyes were bloodshot and his bottom lip was trembling slightly. It made Marvelous feel bad about teasing Sid when he was obviously stressing himself past the breaking point over this entire situation. He regretted bringing Joe on the ship, though he'd never admit it aloud, not to anyone lest Sid hear. And Marvelous had to admit, he was a little worried about how this situation was going to play out in the end.
A month ago, Marvelous would have said that there wasn't a thing in the galaxy that could shake his first mate. That Sid could handle anything with a straight face and a calm response. That Sid was the strongest member of their team. But that was before Zangyack had thrown the one thing Marvelous didn't even know about into their laps, the one thing that could make Sid cry, make him tremble, and make him act... Well, not like Sid. At least, not like the Sid he knew.
Not like the Sid he loved.
What if Joe died? Would Sid ever forgive Don for letting it happen? Would he ever forgive himself? Would Sid be in this despondent state for the rest of his life?
That wasn't even the worst possible scenario for Marvelous, though it probably was for Sid. For every moment Marvelous spared worrying about how Sid was handling (or rather, not handling) the Joe situation, he spent twice that amount of time being his typical egocentric self, worrying more about how he would react if Joe survived. Not just survived, what if he remembered everything, remembered Sid and their past together that Marvelous was irrationally jealous of. Would Sid leave Marvelous for Joe? It seemed unthinkable, Sid had sworn his life to Marvelous and to their dream of the greatest treasure. And he'd never been anything but committed to it.
Until he found out that Joe was still alive.
Marvelous looked away from Sid's sad eyes. He couldn't stand it.
Sid started to pace again, and Marvelous was just considering getting up and foraging in the galley for something to eat when it happened.
A scream. Not either of the girls, who were both accounted for upstairs anyway. And it wasn't Don's voice either. It was a scream of absolute pain the likes of which Marvelous couldn't remember ever hearing in his life.
Sid's circuit had taken him closer to the stairs. He was halfway down them, taking the steps three at a time, before Marvelous even registered that the screaming had stopped, never mind that Sid was gone. "Sid!" He leapt from his chair and chased him down the stairs. "Sid, stop!"
Sid ignored Marvelous' shout, but it didn't matter either way. Marvelous slammed into Sid right at the bottom of the stairs, where Sid had slammed into Don as he stepped out of the silver room. All three of them tumbled to the floor in a tangle of limbs.
"No!" Sid's voice cracked as he struggled out of the tangle and to his knees. The door to the silver room was still open a crack, and as Marvelous disentangled himself from Don's legs and stood up, he caught sight of what it was that had stolen Sid's breath.
Joe looked very dead from this distance, his skin pale except for around his eyes, which was dark like bruising. His mouth was just barely open, his head turned to the side. The first thing Marvelous noticed was that the rope that had been binding Joe's wrists together was spread over his stomach in a few frayed lengths. His wrists were bruised and seemed to be bleeding in a few places, but he'd obviously torn the bindings just by struggling. His untied hands were folded over his chest.
Marvelous helped Don to stand, and just in time, as Don lunged forward and grabbed Sid as he tried to enter the silver room. Don hauled back on Sid's arm, dragging him away.
"Marvelous, shut the door please!"
"Let go! Doc, let go of me!"
"Sid, no. Please, trust me."
Marvelous shut the door of the silver room with a snap, and turned to face his wild-eyed first mate. "Sid. Stop it. You're acting stupid. Let Doc explain himself. Calm down before you hurt him."
Sid stopped struggling suddenly as Marvelous' words hit him. He sagged alarmingly, and Marvelous stepped forward to grab his arm and help Don keep Sid on his feet.
"Well?" Marvelous asked, meeting Don's eyes. "What happened?"
"He's sleeping." Marvelous realized now that Don was drenched with sweat and shivering slightly. "He's alive, he's just sleeping. Navi checked. He's alive."
Sid swallowed and nodded. Marvelous patted Sid on the arm awkwardly, and tried not to think about what this might mean for the future.
"Did you fix it? His brain, or the chip or whatever?"
Don blinked a few times and then turned away. "I don't know. I hope so. We'll just... we have to wait and see." He glanced over his shoulder to meet Sid's eyes. "That's why I couldn't let you in. If it didn't work, and you barged in there and woke him up, you could have made him worse."
"I'm sorry, Doc." Sid said softly, looking towards the closed door again. "I should have..."
"No. You shouldn't. You reacted exactly the way I expected you to, when he started... well. When he... When it hurt him." Don blinked a few times more, and now Marvelous could see the wetness there. "I'm going to make dinner now. I'll check on him after. As soon as I know anything, Sid, I promise you'll know."
Joe always preferred practicing out of doors when he was stationed on a planet. He wasn't sure why, he'd never taken the time to think about it. He just felt slightly more at ease to feel the natural elements melding around his body.
He really liked sand and snow both for the same reason, after he was done with his forms and his carefully regimented routines, he could leap from the scene of the imaginary battle and examine his own footfalls to his heart's content. Find the places where his foot had faltered or his toe had dragged, slowing him down unnecessarily. He could file it away for later practice, until his every movement was absolutely perfect. That was what he wanted, it was all he strived for. Perfection.
Joe scowled at the scene in the snow in front of him. With just a fleeting glance he could spot at least five places where he'd screwed up, five possible places where a well-placed lucky strike from an enemy could hit him, slow him down even more. Stupid. Imperfect.
Joe twirled his main sword and returned it to it's sheath, growling as he turned. He didn't really like the other ranking officer at this outpost, and he was more than consciously aware that the feeling was mutual. The other officer hated that Joe had even been stationed here, hated that his rank had been undermined. And he took it out on Joe at every possible opportunity, as if Joe could choose his own orders, as if Joe even wanted to be on this backwater planet in the first place, where the fighting was practically non-existent, any tiny uprising was quickly quashed by the forward force, the officers never seeing hide nor hair of battle.
"What?" He snapped.
"You're wanted. It's old Damarasu." The other officer smirked, a cruel expression that made Joe want to cleave his head from his shoulders. "You think he's finally come to strip your rank?"
The other had found out about Joe's tainted past, his once mutiny, and especially his old superior's place on that insufferable team of pirates marauding across the galaxy. He thought it was hilarious, anything that undermined Joe's authority. Thanks to him, the entire base knew about Joe's past.
Joe refused to answer the pointless teasing. So childish. He brushed past the other officer, possibly more roughly than necessary, and he felt a tensing between his shoulder blades as he waited, for a sword to strike him in the back, or for the brat to grab a hold of his ponytail and throw him into the snow.
It didn't come. Joe made it into the base unscathed. Damarasu was waiting for him in their office.
"Gibken. Good. Your orders have changed. Pack your things immediately." Damarasu said without waiting for any kind of greeting in return. He never bothered with such frivolities. Joe liked that.
"My new station, Sir?"
"You will be returning with me to the capitol first. Then we make for Earth. You've been selected for the crew of His Highness Waruzu Giru-sama's flagship."
Joe snapped to attention and saluted. "Of course, sir."
"I'm scared." Joe's whisper was harsh, echoing off the smooth steel walls of the maintenance room. He had less than five minutes to report for his first away mission as a member of the Special Forces.
"Don't be scared."
"I'm not ready."
"You have to be."
"And you can't come with me?"
Sid laughed at that one, shaking his head and taking Joe into his arms. The newly minted Special Officer wasn't lying or exaggerating, he was actually trembling.
"You're better than all of them, and you know it." Sid breathed into Joe's ear. "Just go show them."
"You're sure I can do this?"
"Joe, you can do anything."
He held Joe at arms length, and watched Joe slowly control his features until he looked like the officer he should.
"I'll be here waiting when you get back." Sid assured him.
"Shh." Sid leaned closer, pressed his warm lips to Joe's chilled and chapped pair. "I love you, and I'll be here when you get back."
Marvelous couldn't sleep well without Sid beside him. That was one of the reasons the thought of Sid abandoning him for his former student made him so crazy. He'd gotten so used to the older man's presence, he simply couldn't nod off without him. It was problematic enough these past days, with Sid unable to sleep, from stress and worry. Marvelous parked himself in his chair and waited every night, but Sid made no motion of going to sleep. He just waited.
So now they were both exhausted. Don also seemed to be not sleeping, trying to keep up with all of his typical duties as well as everything else. This morning's breakfast was awkward for a number of reasons. It was smaller and less extravagant than usual, Don was missing, and the Captain and first mate were still both difficult to converse with, as they had been for over a week.
Marvelous looked up at an unfamiliar small sound from the stairs, and he paused with his fork halfway to his mouth.
Joe stood at the top of the stairs, with Don at his side, holding his wrist, though whether this was an attempt to restrain him or steady him, Marvelous was unsure. Quite possibly it was both.
Joe didn't look like much of a threat, his illness or incapacitation, whatever it had been, had left him too thin, too obviously weak. Joe's overly long hair wasn't tied back in its usual ponytail, but instead cascaded smoothly over his shoulder. Don had obviously been busy helping him bathe this morning. His Zangyack uniform was replaced by a long robe that the Captain recognized as belonging to Sid, which also made sense, as no one else on the crew was tall enough to lend their garments to the lanky soldier. His dark eyes looked too big in his angular face, mostly owing to the dark circles around them.
He also looked lost, which was admittedly fair enough. He'd never seen this part of the ship.
"It's alright," Marvelous caught Don's whisper. That was when Sid looked up from his apparent deep contemplation of his cup of coffee. He caught Marvelous' eye briefly, then slowly turned around.
Joe licked his lips nervously, he tried to take a step backwards when Sid stood up, he would have tripped clear down the stairs if Don hadn't been there gripping his wrist and pulling him back to safety.
"Sid, wait." Marvelous said, dropping his fork in favor of Sid's wrist. "Give him a second."
"It's okay," Don repeated himself quietly. "It's just breakfast, alright? You need to eat."
Joe turned his frightened gaze towards Don, and Don nodded and smiled encouragingly. When Joe looked back towards the table, the fear had abated somewhat, though his eyes kept being drawn back to Sid like magnets, and the wariness there was plain to see. Sid might not be causing him pain anymore, but he was obviously still troubled.
"No one here is going to hurt you." Don said softly, but his eyes weren't on Joe anymore, they were on the rest of the crew, lingering on Marvelous in particular. The Captain shrugged. This, whatever was left of Joe, wasn't nearly the same threat he was a few weeks ago, partnered with Basco and obviously intent on killing them all. This Joe looked more like a scared little kid than anything.
Don led Joe to the table and sat him down at the foot of the table. Joe looked across the table and briefly met Marvelous' eyes before he looked down at his plate while Don filled it.
Joe retreated back to the silver room with Don as soon as he could. Ahim took up the task of clearing up after breakfast, Luka retreated to the crow's nest, and Marvelous retired to his chair, leaving Sid alone at the table to brood.
Joe hadn't looked at him hardly at all throughout the entire awkward meal. Mostly his eyes stayed trained on his food, occasionally drifting to one of the pirates, but Sid was rarely the focus of his attention.
Sid wasn't sure what to think. He had been so worried that Joe wouldn't survive whatever procedure Don was doing, and he'd briefly considered the option of Joe not immediately remembering everything, but he hadn't prepared himself for the possibility of Joe being left frightened of Sid's very presence.
Admittedly, he had more than enough negative conditioning toward that front, but Sid had been so convinced that as long as Joe survived, he'd have him back. That didn't seem too likely anymore, and Sid wasn't quite dealing particularly well with all of the things this idea was making him feel.
He didn't notice immediately when Don came back upstairs, notably alone, but he turned around when Don cleared his throat. "Sid? He... He's ready to see you, if you want."
Sid leaped to his feet and crossed half of the main room in three strides, but Marvelous caught him before he could make it the rest of the way.
"Marvelous," Sid started, but Marvelous lifted onto his toes and kissed Sid soundly to catch the protests.
"Remember you've still got me." Marvelous said, letting his frustration and his jealousy bleed into his words slightly.
Sid looked shocked for a second, then he gave Marvelous a brief hug. "I know that."
"I hope so." Marvelous sighed, releasing Sid and throwing himself petulantly into his chair.
Sid bolted past Don and down the stairs, but he managed to slow down before he barged right in, knocking instead.
"Come in?" Joe sounded so much more like himself, the Joe he remembered, the Joe he pined for. He'd heard that note of fear in Joe's voice a number of times, but it was all the more painful to hear and know that it was because of him. Joe was afraid of him.
As if Sid didn't have reasons enough to spare for wanting to destroy Zangyack and everything they stood for, here was another.
He opened the door slowly and peeked in.
Joe was sitting in the center of the silver blanket, still dressed in Sid's own dark navy robe. His Zangyack uniform was folded on the chair beside the bed, Sid wondered briefly when Don had managed to wash it.
They looked at each other for a moment, testing the tension in the room.
"Are you okay?" Sid finally asked, and then quickly shut the door behind himself so none of the rest of the crew could hear how pathetic his voice sounded.
Sid hesitated just inside the door until Joe looked away, towards the chair beside his bed. "You can sit down."
Sid nodded and tried to appear confident as he crossed the room and sat, but he couldn't get comfortable. Not with Joe right there, radiating fear.
"I'm sorry. The Doctor, he told me... He's told me everything. I am sorry I don't..." His voice faltered. The intervening years might never have happened. Joe sounded just like he always had, the stutter and all. It did take Sid a moment to realize that he meant Don when he said the doctor like that, but he figured now wasn't the time to correct him.
"So you... don't remember me at all?" Sid asked, enunciating each word carefully to make sure he didn't sound too desperate. Joe looked up and their eyes met briefly. Sid's heart ached in his chest at how lost Joe looked. He wasn't still the child recruit that had caught Sid's eye. Zangyack had changed him. But Sid was hard pressed to remember that when Joe looked at him that way.
"I remember things. Things about you." Joe answered finally. "But... They might not be real." He hesitated for a moment. "I don't know what to believe."
"I never wanted you hurt. I intended for you to escape, not me. You were better than Zangyack, you deserved better. But I failed, and they took you and twisted you, and I'm so sorry for that. I'm sorry I didn't turn back for you. I loved you." The words fell from Sid's mouth before he could stop them, and they hang heavily in the air for a silent moment.
"I would like to believe that." Joe's response was soft, almost a whisper. Sid knew that it was about the best he was going to get.
Their eyes met again, and Sid realized they were both crying a little. He threw cautions to the wind and moved from the chair to sit beside Joe. Joe didn't jump or make any motion to move away, even when Sid put his arm around Joe's scrawny shoulders and pulled him a little closer, offering him the kind of comfort Joe probably hadn't known since...
Well, since Sid himself last touched him.
"So, what are you going to do?" He asked softly.
"I believe... I need to speak with your Captain."
Marvelous couldn't say he was particularly pleased to have Joe back in his Zangyack uniform. He looked a lot more threatening that way, cleaned up and dressed up with his hair tied back, shades of black and gray, a pair of empty sword sheaths at his hip. Standing at attention too, like he was addressing a Zangyack superior. Marvelous didn't like it, but he wasn't about to tell the soldier (or, ex-soldier, as the case might well now be) to stand down or at ease or whatever.
Sid was there too, standing in his usual place just behind and to the right of Marvelous' chair. It felt good to have him there. Where he belonged, Marvelous thought.
"I owe your crew my life." Joe was saying. Explaining himself. "And for that reason, I cannot in good conscience remain on this planet. Harboring me as a fugitive will only bring greater forces down upon you. That is not something I will stand for. I cannot... I will not be responsible for one of your crew getting hurt." He cleared his throat. "Similarly, I cannot ask you to take me elsewhere. Your place is here."
Behind him, Sid made a soft sound, like bitten back protest. Marvelous chose not to look at him. He figured Sid and Joe had already discussed this.
"That's very honorable of you." Marvelous said carefully. "What else do you suggest?"
Sid made another sound, and Marvelous recognized that one too. He wasn't going to like the next part.
"I request that you give custody of me up to Basco ta Jolokia."
Marvelous frowned. Not what he was expecting. "I'm not sure that I can allow that. In good conscience, you understand. He'll return you to Zangyack."
"No, sir, I don't believe he will."
Sir? Marvelous' frown shifted into an expression of disbelief. Had this Zangyack soldier just called him sir? "Betrayal is all Basco knows. Trust me. If you can't offer him anything in return, then he has no use for you."
"He must see some use in me, sir." Joe returned. Marvelous wasn't sure if he'd ever get used to hearing that kind of deference. "Because if I were as useless to him as I very well should be, he would have already reported my capture to my superiors. Have you noticed any particular upswing in the number of attacks you've had to deal with?" Joe was smirking slightly. Marvelous thought the expression suited him better than the serious mask he usually wore.
He was right, of course, the question obviously rhetorical. There had in fact been no attacks since bringing Joe aboard the ship, and the only explanation was that Basco had somehow convinced the greater fleet to hold off. How, and for what reason, Marvelous had no idea.
"Besides," Joe said with a hint of self-deprecating that Marvelous actually recognized, it was something Joe had in common with Sid. Must be a soldier thing. "I'm worth much more to Basco than I am to the Empire, now."
Marvelous finally glanced at Sid, whose face remained impassive. He obviously wasn't going to comment. Marvelous wondered if he and Joe had already had some kind of argument about this.
"I won't have him on my ship, mind you. Or anywhere near it. If he's going to take you..." Marvelous sighed. "Are you sure this is what you want?"
Marvelous sighed again, and behind him, so did Sid. But really, he didn't have much of a choice. Marvelous thought they all knew it. He pulled his Mobirates out of his pocket and flipped it open.
For as long as the pirates had kept Joe, Basco had been beginning to wonder if maybe they'd just killed him after all. Except it didn't seem to square with Marvelous' usual style. Plus the blue one's obvious obsession with him, and the fact that there was absolutely no word either way left Basco hopeful that Joe might somehow escape them relatively unscathed.
And so he had.
They'd decided on neutral ground, a rock quarry decently far from anything that might be considered residential or populated. Two red ships hanging side-by-side in the sky, and seven people on the ground.
"This is a favor we're doing." Marvelous said. "For him, Basco, not for you."
"I expect nothing less from you, Marvey-chan." Basco purred, but his eyes were steady on Joe. He looked different. He didn't hold himself with the same sort of confidence he had when first they'd met, but he also didn't appear to be in pain any longer, which was a positive so far as Basco was concerned. He supposed the green pirate was more useful than he seemed when fighting. He made a mental note of that, for the future.
"We're still at odds." Marvelous further clarified.
"Of course. I still want the Treasure, you understand. Once the matter of Joe-kun is taken care of, I'll surely be back in your hair before long." Basco made a point of not letting on how fond he'd grown of his temporary partner.
There was a heavy pause between the pirates and the privateer. Joe broke away from the pirates, bowing slightly to each of them in turn, but that was it. No heartfelt goodbyes. No words spoken at all. Basco wondered whether they had already made their farewells aboard the Galleon before landing.
Joe crossed the dusty expanse at his usual march. Basco smiled, and was impressed when Joe actually smiled back.
"Sally," Basco spoke aloud, aware that his companion was listening in on the conversation aboard the Joker. "Bring us up, if you please."
The bridge phased in around them, and Basco turned to address Joe properly.
"Where are we headed, partner?"
"You're sure you're alright with this?" Joe asked softly. "If the Empire finds out you're the one who helped me..."
"I do a lot of things Zangyack never finds out about." Basco said breezily. "I'm not about to let you go back to them, and I'd really rather not see that lovely Galleon crash and burn before I get my Treasure. So, yes, I'm fine with this."
"Just fly." Joe answered, turning his words towards Sally. "Out of this system. I'll figure out where we're going in a bit."
"Alright." Basco nodded to Sally, who did as Joe said.
On a whim, he threw an arm and a fold of his shawl around Joe's shoulders. "I'm glad they fixed you, Joe-kun."
From the deck of the Galleon, Marvelous watched Free Joker streak into the sky. Sid stood beside him. The rest of the crew had already headed inside.
"Are you going to be okay?" Marvelous asked his first mate quietly.
"I'll manage. I already thought he was dead. Now at least... Well, I can hope to see him again. Maybe not like we were, but..." Sid sighed and ran a hand through his hair, wrapping the black and white strands around his fingers and tugging slightly. "Gods, at least I know he's still alive."
Marvelous wasn't sure what to say to that. He imagined how he might feel if he knew AkaRed was still alive, even if he knew he'd never see his former captain again.
He thought it would feel pretty good. He shifted a bit, leaning against Sid's side. Sid's arm went around his waist automatically, and Marvelous smiled to himself, resting his head on Sid's shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Cap. I've been... the worst first mate in history."
"I wouldn't say that."
"You still love me?" Sid had that hint of self-deprecation in his voice, the same hint he'd heard in Joe's. He couldn't help but smile, turning to look up at Sid.
"Marvelous! Sid! Marvelous!"
Captain and first mate turned as one to watch blankly as Don tripped and tumbled his way up the stairs onto the deck, unable to steady himself because his arms were full of flapping robotic parrot.
"What is it, Doc?"
"A prediction! Repeat it, Navi!" Don thrust the parrot at Marvelous and Sid, and Navi finally tore out of his grip to twirl around their heads.
"Find an amazing silver man."