When he sees Marvelous stand up again, he knows it's over. For the first time, perhaps, Basco finally notices the exhaustion within him, deep and yawning. Even though he has more than enough energy to continue this....farce, he laughs instead and allows himself to fall back. Not for the first time, he's glad that his father's race is a race evolved through deception and deceit to survive; the cloud of red dust he disappears in should be more than enough to convince Marvelous that he's dead.
He doesn't manage to warp far, or, at least, not far enough that he can't not hear the cries of relief, even though he's out of their line of sight. Jealousy still stabs deep, but he forces himself to limp away as fast as he could, glad that the grass is green so that his bloody footprints don't leave marks.
Basco could have gone to the Free Joker immediately, escape into the deep comforting arms of space. But he finds himself stumbling towards the forest instead. It is uncharacteristic of him, but a strange relentless desire drives him to find Sally. It's a lie if he says he's never meant to hurt her, but Basco believes in contingency plans and paying the appropriate price. But the desire to bring her body home, if he can find it, that rings true.
Except he's surprised to discover her, sitting propped up against a tree and curiously examining the little pocket of space in her stomach. His broken charm is still hanging around her neck amidst the bandages, but she's clearly alive. He can't help but call her name, stunned and breathless and hopeful.
Sally doesn't run when she hears him, but she does flinch and scramble back a little, her blue eyes dark and mistrustful.
"Hey girl," Basco says. He's not sure if it's the right thing to smile, but it can't hurt. "You're okay." He suddenly remembers that he still has the banana, and fishes it out, slightly squashed for the wear. Dimly, Basco thinks that he probably cuts a sorry picture, pleading with a monkey. Sally stares back at him impassively, and when minutes pass Basco feels hope crumbling. He can't stay for much longer, and if Sally won't come...he wants to get angry at her continual defiance, because anything is better than this tired, abandoned feeling. The thought comes quickly, a vicious, Well, she can stay on this dirtball until she dies. before he squashes it and gives in to giving up.
"Okay then," he says, and places the banana down. It's difficult to stumble backwards; the old urge to keep an eye on a potential enemy even in retreat still sang strong, even though Sally's probably in no condition to attack. Eventually though, he thinks he's moved far enough to safely turn, and that's when something hits him, metal and fur and he thinks, Oh wow, killed by a monkey, what a stupidly embarassing way to die.
But then there's warmth too, along with the squashed banana sneaking into his hand and a muffled, "Ukiiiii..." in his mangled shawl. Basco doesn't quite know if this is what forgiveness feels like, because he's never begged for any and he probably never will. But Sally's freely offering this, just like she's freely offered everything else, like her loyalty and her devotion, and maybe he'll take a page from Marvelous' book just this once.
"Let's go home," he says, and Sally neatly picks him up. He buries his face in her fur as she bounds them both towards the Free Joker.
Basco catches up with the news.
It's six full space-cycles later when he drops by a refuel station and thinks of picking up the latest issue of the intergalactic times. He's lain low for the better part of time after earth, mostly to recuperate from both his and Sally's injuries. Marvelous' stunt seemed to have left him with a permanent injury; it's no limp, but he can't rely on it anymore to do things like run for an extended time or pivot. This makes his new venture as monster hunter a fair bit more exciting than it would have been, but then Basco had been looking for something to keep himself busy. And distracted.
He buys the local system newspaper first, and on a whim he asks for the Zangyack news, just to see just how much more trouble Marvelous had gotten into. The newspaper still costs just as much as before, and Basco flips through pages of colony revolt and putting down of uprisings and calls to arms. "Seems like the Zangyack are in a spot of bad luck," he idly comments to the shopkeep, who flares nose tentacles at him and slaps one on the wall behind to draw his attention.
EMPEROR ACKDOS GIL IS DEAD, the headline screams. LONG LIVE ACKDOS GIL.
"Huh," Basco says. Based on the Zangyackian calendar and what he remembered of earth's lunar cycles, he places the death about an earth month after he and Sally left. It would explain the sudden uneasiness that seemed to permeate the more developed worlds he ventured into, a feeling that the universe was holding its collective breath for something to happen.
He turns to the back of the news then, and the bounties are still there, although it appeared that nearly everyone had "Unlimited Reward" plastered over their faces, except the daft-looking green one. (Yes, it is a fairly respectable five million zagin, but honestly, how is that ever comparable to "Unlimited Reward"?) Still, the bounty charts are a great deal smaller than last time, as though capturing the gokaigers is more of an afterthought in the face of the fallout the Empire seemed to be having problems dealing with.
"Think you got any of those past issues?" Basco says. "Kind of got lost navigating the back-ends of the Nylar wormholes, you know how those things go." The shopkeep flutes an affirmative and kicks out a draw, nearly catching him in the chest. "Thanks," Basco says ungraciously, and goes to picking through the pile. He's somewhat surprised that there are still copies, but he supposes that even this little backwater stop is somehow affected by the Empire, to care about its going-ons. He fishes out about five issues back-to-back, judging by the dates, and haggles a little for a price-cut because, really now, it is old news after all.
Sally greets him at the door, chittering out a curious, "Uki?" at the stack of paper in his hand. "Got some juicy gossip to read," Basco announces cheerily, and spreads the newspapers on the table. The one with the announcement of Ackdos' death is rife with details on how Captain Marvelous of the Gokaigers had cut him down in a cowardly manner by resorting to using a giant robot with an assortment of other robots instead of honourable hand-to-hand combat, which made Basco snort because hadn't they done that for three space cycles? Besides, Marvelous is pirate through and through, though Basco admits that he is shamefully more honourable than most. He isn't surprised to read that they hadn't stayed long after; Marvelous has wanderlust in his bones and he's actually more surprised that they had stayed this long. He scours the rest of the news for any hint of the Great Treasure Marvelous was hunting for, but either Marvelous isn't inclined to flaunt his find or the entire Great Treasure thing isn't actually real after all.
He smiles bitterly at that thought. It will only serve Marvelous right, and he hopes that the Great Treasure had been a lie, damn AkaRed and his false promises. But thinking about the Red Pirates is beginning to blacken his mood, and Basco shoves the newspapers off the table.
Sally pounces on them the moment they fall. "Ukiki?" she asks, and Basco just waves a careless hand. "You can have them," he says, and she chitters happily, gathering the scattered papers in her arms. Out of the corner of his eye, Basco spots her smoothing out Marvelous' picture almost lovingly, slowly and carefully ripping the picture out to stow into her stomach, and he turns away.
If the universe is such a big place, how the hell does he pick the one place they chose to have a brawl at?
Sally is happily tucking into the bunch of bananas he's given her for a job well done; the Ubarian lizards may have been hell and a half to kill but their frills would have ensured at least three space-cycles of financial freedom. So he is content to turn a blind eye to the brawl brewing at the corner to nurse that well-earned pint of grog.
At least, until he realizes that names being shouted over the din sound increasingly familiar, as though he's unwittingly committed them to memory. He lifts his head in time to see one guy flying towards him, having been launched by a punch and there is an aggravated cry of, "Joe, why did you have to go and do that?!"
Basco neatly avoids the collateral damage, and because curiosity is a difficult thing to satisfy, he finds himself taking a closer look. At first glance, he can't seem to pick anyone out from the brawl, which is strange since he is actively looking out for the weird colour-coding thing Marvelous seemed to have assigned to the pets. He settles for personality quirks, or what he can dredge from his memory anyway. Which meant that the two noisy ones wildly flailing about trying to pull someone else from the fray could only be the ex-green one and the earthling, and the person they were pulling, long hair braided into tight whorled loops, that one could only be Marvelous' Zangyack pet. The women were slightly easier, in that there weren't many human women at the bar anyway. It's clear to see that the thief hadn't lost any of her spitfire, nor the princess her iron mettle, who is perhaps the only one whose face he bothered to remember.
He knows he should take his leave, because if Marvelous' pets are here, that means Marv is too. But he's quite perturbed that the crew has lost much of their idiotically convenient colour coding schtick, and even though he knows Marvelous' face like the back of his hand, it is easier to pick out a colour than a face in a bar-fight brawl. It's stupid, but for some reason he wants to see Marvelous again, maybe for nostalgia's sake. Still, he also risks being recognised by the crew, and that is more trouble than Basco thinks he can handle, and so he decides to leave.
He could use the warp, but the flashy effect, normally useful for distraction purposes, is the least he needs right now. In moments though, the pressing need to decide on the subtlest way to leave vanishes; he sees Marvelous at the same time Marvelous sees him. In that small space of time Basco notices that Marvelous had ditched the characteristic red coat (shame), instead wearing a subtle black vest. He looks the same as much as Basco remembers, and shockingly, it hurts. But there really is no time to dwell, not when he can see Marvelous' expression morphing quickly from recognition to shock to rage, his mouth soundlessly forming the shape of his name.
Fuck subtlety. "Sally, we're going," Basco says. He takes her arm and warps out of the bar, sending the customers shouting in alarm. Sally grumbles briefly about the loss of her bananas but she lumbers after him anyway, and when his foot tires she steps up and supports him on her shoulder.
They return to the Free Joker, and for a moment Basco wonders at the strange, incessant ringing that seems to be emanating from the storeroom. He sends Sally to look for the source, and when she emerges, he curses himself for not realizing sooner.
The last he remembers of the glittering gold mobirates is throwing it in the store the moment he got on board with Sally, right after the final battle with Marvelous. Then, he thought that even if it rang, he couldn't possibly have heard it, buried under all the miscellany that he hadn't bothered to clean out. But it was all too clear now that Marvelous hadn't even tried calling, not once.
He had really believed that Basco had simply died like that, a sorry pathetic death at the hands of a mere human.
Sally looks at him, the mobirates still caroling out its tune, oh, how Basco wishes to wreck it. But he can't bring himself to, not at this moment. He wants to hear what Marvelous wants so much to say, judging by the endless trilling. But it can wait. He's waited this long already.
"Bring it to me when it stops," he tells Sally, and heads to the helm to set them on a new course, quick and far and away.
Press 1 to listen to the first message.
What Sally actually does is to leave the mobirates in his room, on a desk littered with all sorts of hunting paraphenalia. He stares moodily at it, before biting the bullet and picking it up. It takes a while before Basco figures out how to operate the voicemail function, and he can't help but cringe when the clipped electronic voice informs him primly that, "You have 52 messages. Press 1 to listen to the first message."
The first makes him pull the mobirates away from his ear with a wince, Marvelous mixed with the loud sounds of the barfight. He makes out, "BASCO. YOU BASTARD. FUCKER. FUCK-" and decides to screw it and move on to the next few messages. After a while they seem to blend into the same, especially after the sounds of the barfight faded and there is only Marvelous' voice, still shouting expletives and demands for Basco to pick up. In the latter messages he thinks he can hear the pets in the background, sounding vaguely worried and Marvelous' words become more of a one-sided argument that often ran along the lines of, "I FUCKING SAW HIM."
In the last message, sent an hour after the second-last, Marvelous' voice has grown hoarse, soft and scratchy and Basco presses the mobirates close. It's a short message, just a simple, "I'm finding you. Just you wait." Basco listens to it, over and over.
"That's a promise then," he finally says into the speaker, as though he thinks Marvelous can hear it. With a sardonic smile, he deletes it, and is gratified to hear the electronic voice chirp again, not unpleasantly this time, "You have no messages."
Not that he gains a respite. The mobirates starts ringing again days later, sporadic bursts of music that startles Sally occasionally and makes Basco burn his food. He never stops to pick it up mid-ring though, and usually after waiting a few days, Basco settles down for a listen.
Mostly it's yelling, interspersed with the demand for Basco to pick up. Basco is a little surprised at the vitriol, because even in his memories Marvelous is never this vicious. One message sticks out in particular, long after he deletes it, a voicemail that consists of nothing but, "I hate you. I hate you. I hate you." He thinks Marvelous might have been drunk for that one, but he can't quite remember what kind of drunk Marvelous is. He had talked to that one too, softly.
"I hated you too."
Later on though, Marvelous' calls begin to sound as though he's striking up a conversation, as though he's never been horribly betrayed. It's a little creepy, really, how Marvelous complains about Luka calling him insane, how Gai keeps whining about getting back to earth so that he can buy him "five stages of grief, captain, it really works", how Ahim just brings him tea and sits with an expectant face for an hour every day as though Marvelous is going to spill his guts out over losing Basco and how he can't hate her for it but he's going to kill Gai for poisoning the princess with that weird "five stages" talk. Basco only gets the princess, the rest is a mess of names he can't put faces to.
"You are crazy," he tells Marvelous. "You're crazy for trying to talk to a dead man. For still talking to a dead man." He pauses for a moment, and then says, aghast. "Wait, are you telling me that you still call AkaRed on his mobirates?"
Marvelous can't reply, of course, but the realization stays with Basco for weeks, a horrific, niggling (and rather entertaining, actually) thought that distracts him from the fact that he's enjoying the feel of a simple conversation with another person again.
Chapter 5: Interlude 1
Another side, another story: After the barfight, the gokaigers regroup.
Navi isn't sure what's happening when the crew pour back into the galleon, having yet another argument again. They seem to be having more arguments lately, Navi reflected with a bit of sadness, mostly to do with treasure. Luka wants to secure their finances, make sure that they have enough to feed and clothe themselves and a little something nice on the beside, but Marvelous has been more interested in hitting the Zangyack where it hurts, and sometimes that doesn't necessarily mean treasure. Navi wishes she can help, but she's just a tiny robot bird. Doc reassures her constantly that he's grateful she's there to watch over the galleon when they're gone, but she wants to do more.
"I saw him!" Marvelous insists. He strides over to the captain's chair, sitting down with crossed arms and a stubborn tilt to his face. The rest of the crew gather around him. Luka's arms are crossed in a defensive posture, standing nearly opposite Marvelous. Joe takes point behind him instead, while the remainder bridge the gap semi-nervously. Well, Navi thinks that Doc and Gai seemed nervous, Ahim is as calm and unruffled as ever.
"Maybe...maybe you just saw someone who...looked like him?" Gai ventures, squeaking a little when Marvelous sends a glare his way.
"He had the monkey!"
"Many people have space monkeys! And Sally's dead, you know that."
"You guys didn't see him!" Marvelous says. It sounds like he's repeated himself many times, with increasing exasperation. Navi cocks her head, and finally blurts out. "Saw who?"
They all turn to look at her. Marvelous is the first to look away, angry and sulky and finally it's Luka who breaks the sudden silence. "Marvelous says he saw Basco." She drawls it, eyes and voice mocking in its accusation. Navi doesn't quite have emotions, but she can't help but simulate surprise in her voice.
Marvelous says, "Yes," at the same time almost everyone else says, "No!", and Navi flutters in alarm when that sends the captain standing up, face full of fury. She's thankful when Joe steps in swiftly, putting himself in front of Marvelous and catching his shoulders. "Cool off," Joe says. Marvelous gives him a mutinous look, and throws his hands off, but he does back down. This, however, doesn't stop him kicking the mast as he stomps off down to the engine room.
Joe's eyes follow him, and then he turns to address the rest of the crew. "Stop antagonising him," Joe says. Luka just snorts, but she stays her tongue. Gai looks around worriedly, hands flailing and finally decides to whisper animatedly to Don as they retreat into the galley. Ahim simply moves up to Luka, and takes her hand.
"Let's have tea," she says soothingly. "Maybe later Mr Marvelous will explain himself better, once he's thought things through."
"He'd better," Luka mutters. Still, she allows herself to be led away, and soon it's just Navi and Joe. He huffs, having forgotten that she's there already.
Not that Navi notices. She's used to disappearing from their attention as soon as it's convenient for them to do so, and besides, because she's hooked up to the galleon, always, she's more interested in hearing Marvelous rage below amongst the busy hum of the engines, loud and angry and alone.
Chapter 6: Interlude 2
It's a day after Marvelous insisted that he saw Basco, dropping the entire galleon into a state of confusion and unease. Marvelous had even challenged them once, tried to pull rank and insist that they follow him this time because they had followed him countless times before, but even Joe, normally the most obedient out of all of them, is balking silently. His lack of support sends Marvelous seething back to the captain's room like a reprimanded child, and Luka throws her hands up in the air in aggravation.
"I just can't with him!" she says, and there's real frustration in her voice, cracks lining the edges of her words. Everyone else looks similarly worried, or upset, and the galleon is suddenly too stifling in its self-contained existence. Joe hopes that they'll disembark soon on a planet, if only to clear the air and give everyone some space to think.
"Mr Joe," Ahim says, and he nods to her, but not without a sigh. Marvelous is usually easy to read, but never when it comes to Basco. As usual.
"I'll try," he replies.
"I saw him," Marvelous repeats sullenly to his first mate when he lets himself in. He's sitting at the side of the bed, the mobirates held tight in his hand like a comforting toy. Joe leans against the closed door, and wonders how many times Marvelous had called now. He wonders if Basco had ever picked up.
"So you say," Joe says. "But it's still hard to believe when none of us saw him."
"My word should be good enough."
"Normally," Joe conceded. "But this is Basco you're talking about." Marvelous snorts, and plays irritably with his mobirates. It's not a companionable silence, and Joe sighs before he can stop himself. "He hurt you. Many times. They...We were afraid."
"He hasn't hurt me now, has he?"
"That just means that he isn't alive now, Marvelous. Because he's dead. We all saw it."
He knows Marvelous is looking at him, lips drawn in a thin angry line, but Joe doesn't back down. He has to know, because if Marvelous wants him to back him up on this wild goose chase, Marvelous best damn well give him a good reason. Or two. Joe allows himself to smile, wry and disdainful and says, "I'll ask why though. You hated him."
"The same reasons you wanted your own superior back," Marvelous says, slow and silky and dark, two can play at this game and Joe can't help glaring back in hurt shock. "Even though he was Zangyack. Even though he hurt me. You wanted him, if you could.
"And I want him, because I can," Marvelous says. He leans forward, arms resting on his knees as he clasps his hands together. "He's alive, Joe. I know this. If your Cid were alive, I'd chase him to the borders, right behind you. What say you?"
Joe looks into Marvelous' eyes, trying to see if there's a trace of madness at the edge of desperate hope, but all he finds is calm and clarity. "Okay," Joe says finally. Marvelous smiles, stands up and moves close to clap Joe's shoulder.
"Good," Marvelous says, and then a "thank you," so soft, so quiet, that Joe nearly misses it, but doesn't.
Chapter 7: Interlude 3
Navi can't help eavesdropping, because as much as Navi talks and moves, sometimes she thinks she remains quite invisible to the crew on account of her size. Not that Navi says anything to Marvelous, because she's not a snitch, and Marvelous doesn't appear aware of the position she's often in to ask.
"Let him do this," Joe says quietly to Luka. "People need dreams. He needs a dream."
"I don't need a captain who insists on chasing after a ghost," Luka snipes back. She leans back against the arm of the captain's chair, arms crossed and gives Joe a narrow-eyed look.
"Maybe it's not a ghost." Joe says. Luka snorts.
"He's got you convinced already?"
Navi watches curiously when Joe doesn't rise to the bait. She knows them well, but it still surprises her when they do something that is different from her initial experience of them. As a robot Navi doesn't quite know the meaning of change, but she's pleased that Joe hasn't resorted to petty arguing, as he would have done before. He's grown into his role as first mate, a calmer, steadier presence ever since Barizorg died.
"News will travel fast if we sent them," Joe says in measured tones. "If we put out a call for Basco, you know people will try to find him. For us." Navi knows Marvelous hates admitting that they have actual clout now in the universe, even though they're pirates, all because they killed the emperor. It's not him who killed Ackdos, Marvelous had said, that's Gai, that's Earth's heroes. We're pirates.
But Joe's not his captain, and Navi's glad for it, because she wants to see Basco again too, even for all he's done to them, to Akared, to Marvelous. Luka frowns and puts out her lower lip, and Joe continues, "But if Basco's dead as he should be, then it'll make Marvelous give up. Easy as that."
"It'll take a lot more than hearsay to make Marvelous give up," Luka says. She gets up again, walking around restlessly. "Ahim's been thinking about going back to Famille, you know. To rebuild. She hasn't said anything to Marvelous about it, but now I don't even know if he'll even listen to her, if his head is full of that bastard."
"You know he's not that bad," Joe says. At that, Luka smirks. "Yeah, you're worse," she replies, but it's easy now, almost teasing, and Navi breathes a sigh of relief. Joe gives a wry smile and looks down, one hand slipping up his neck to scratch at the back of his ear. "Mmm," he murmurs. "So you'll back off about Basco?"
"Well, without Doc's help with the mobirates, it's not like there's any other way to track him down. If he's still alive." Luka says. "Doc's the one you should be convincing, really."
"One hurdle at a time," Joe says. He moves to one of the ship's cupboards and rifles through its contents before pulling out paper and ink. "Think you can remember enough of his face to draw up a wanted poster?"
Luka makes a face, but she sidles up to Joe. "Don't expect me to make it pretty," she says, and Joe just laughs.
Chapter 8: Chapter 5
Basco bears the brunt of Joe's bright ideas.
To Basco's annoyance, he begins to gain a fair bit of space notoriety without any effort on his part. At first, it's just the strange light of recognition in the eyes of hunting contracts, which he brushes off because Basco will take almost anything to pay for the upkeep of the Free Joker, and if he's getting recognised in the hunting circles then it meant that better paying jobs might just come his way.
But then he goes back to an old haunt, and he doesn't like the attention he gets immediately. He's always kept to himself as a personal policy, and as a result, he's sensitive to being watched. Some people do it so badly, stopping whatever they're doing and openly staring. Usually, he pretends not to notice, and eventually whatever had made them so interested in him in the first place peters out. Usually.
"Heard someone's looking for yer," one of them called. Basco can't be bothered to remember the name either, although the beaked face is very familiar. Then again, all of the Avarial colonists look the same, winged rats the lot of them. He contemplates whether he should even bother to reply, and then the Avarial comes closer. "Some hotshot human, calls himself Marvelous."
Basco settles for ignoring. He just wants his supplies and his information and he's out of there, probably for a good amount of time. He finds himself resenting Marvelous a little for making his life just that much harder, as though it isn't difficult enough already. Well, to be honest, it hasn't been difficult before, but Basco likes his human glamour and he isn't going to change it just because Marvelous likes inconveniencing him.
The Avarial still refuses to give up. "He says he's willing to pay for information," a feathered hand waggles fingers, to and fro, to and fro, "Good money."
Basco has had enough. He turns to the Avarial, and smiles, dropping the glamour just on the lower half of his face. He knows it's unsettling, the red ghoul's jaw appearing from under flesh, and it has the intended effect. The Avarial hisses and crosses itself, backing off immediately. Basco shifts his weight and calls for a drink. His contact is late, and he thinks he might ditch it too, if it starts being unreliable.
"Guess I'm not the guy this Marvelous person is looking for then," he says smoothly with a tilt of his chin, and downs the shot.
Sadly, news of his stunt doesn't travel far beyond the local system, and he finds himself "discouraging" more bounty hunters at various points in his travels. Basco doesn't want to attract more attention than he has to, which limits his options to brushing it off casually if he could or pointing a gun at the more enthusiastic pursuers. Going around as his true self isn't a wise move either; his father's race isn't welcomed on many worlds on account of them having a nasty vengeful streak when they believe that they've been slighted, never mind if they've actually been slighted or not (their words, not his, and he doesn't believe them, anyway). But really, mild annoyances aside, Basco thinks he can just take these new developments in stride until Marvelous loses interest.
Then he gets kidnapped.
It's his own fault, really. Normally, Basco takes nothing given to him unless he's asked for them himself, but he had been tired and the human woman had looked tasty. He buys his own drinks, but somehow in the midst of his inattention, she must have slipped something.
Very few things can hurt his father's kin, let alone kill, and that's what makes them so unwelcomed everywhere. But Basco's only half, and while he won't die, he's not entirely immune. Minutes after he drinks the spiked brew, the music suddenly becomes unbearably loud and he feels the urge to throw up. The human he's with immediately stops her banter and eyes him warily, while he stumbles from the stool. The world spins, and he does vomit. It strikes him then, the possibility of being drugged, but he can only croak out, "You..." before he loses control of his limbs, crashing ungainly against the floor.
In the moments before unconsciousness, Basco can feel the human poking him with a toe. The indignity of it all makes him want to get up and attack her, but nothing's obeying him. "Tha's a new reaction," she says, and then he passes out.
When he comes to, Basco is instantly irritated. When his kidnappers return, eager to harrangue their easy bounty while they wait to cash in, he stays his hand long enough just to find out who sent them.
"That Marvelous fellow," one says with an air of carelessness. Basco cocks his head curiously, and drawls, "So how much is my bounty then?"
He is torn between rage and dark humour when they look at each other, uneasiness written all over their faces. Another bravely ventures, "Well, he's killed the Zangyack Emperor, and he says he's looking for you. He's bound to reward us for finding you, right?" Basco knows then that he's been kidnapped on mere hearsay. The stupidity of his kidnappers are appalling, and it just galls him that he's gotten careless enough to get kidnapped by the likes of them.
Basco's transformation tears through the ropes like tissue, fast and red and violent and they don't even have a chance to run, or scream, or even breathe when he sets upon them. He leaves just one alive, barely, blind and mad and gibbering, as a warning. Basco would have dearly loved to kill the woman too, but he is more keen to leave this mess behind.
In the weeks and months to come, there are others who still try, much to his growing aggravation. Basco begins taking them out with cheerful violence when they get too persistent, too close, and soon it seems to escalate into whether his reputation or Marvelous' will win. The realization chafes, and when one of Marvelous' voice mails remarks, cool and amused, how Basco's doing such a good job of proving his existence, he wants to call back and scream at him to fuck off.
But that would mean that Marvelous would have won. And Basco refuses to give in to that.
Chapter 9: Interlude 4
A long-awaited proposal.
Navi is napping to the sound of Marvelous speaking to Basco for the upteenth time, low and rambling. The crew are going about cabin business, cleaning up after the remains of their personal activities while simulataneously setting up for lunch. Business with Basco has appeared to be integrated into the crew routine, Marvelous settling in the captain's chair to carry on his one-sided conversations, not caring if anyone heard. After all, Basco has proven his existence in spite of his stubborn silence, although Don still wrings his hands over the purported number of eyes Basco's removed from the unsuspecting bounty hunters. ("He's going to send them to us!" he tells Marvelous one hysterical, drunken night, when cabin fever got too much and Don breaks into the grog cupboard in frantic desperation to get out, mentally.)
Marvelous finishes mocking Basco with a final click of the mobirates, and rises lazily from his captain's seat with a jaw-cracking yawn. He watches as Ahim settles the last of the cutlery with Gai, who chatters at her about the menu and attempts to help her with the placement in spite of her gentle rebuffs. Ahim is especially particular today, and Marvelous knows why. He's a poor captain if he allows himself to be caught off-guard by his own crew, even though what Ahim is planning is far less insiduous than what Basco did to the Red Pirates. Not that Akared was ever a poor captain, but Marvelous finds that the old resentment never quite flares up the way it did before, after Basco faked his death.
"What's for eats?" he says, and gets his hand slapped away for reaching out for the food before everyone was ready. "Mr Marvelous," Ahim says primly, and he raises his hands in apology. "Okay, okay."
There is an air of tension and waiting, not entirely uneasy but for Ahim's unusual conscientiousness, much more than the norm. She makes sure that everyone gets their food, refills their drinks and practically waits on them. Marvelous sees Don rise off his seat, once, twice, until Ahim's gentle, firm pushes on his shoulder finally manages to settle him.
When everyone is sated, yes, even Marvelous, Ahim clears the table and ushers everyone to the captain's chair. On a low table she has placed a long wooden box, and she kneels before it. "Everyone," Ahim says, raising her eyes and smiling. "It would be my greatest honour if you would accept this gift of courtship and grant me the privilege of marrying you." She opens the lid and lifts the first of the daggers, snug in its silver sheath, and presents it to Gai. There is only a brief pause as Gai looks to Marvelous for direction. However, Marvelous simply shrugs, and when Gai takes it, his approving grin is wide and brilliant.
The rest of the crew follow suit; Don's eyes are overly shiny and his lower lip trembles, but he hugs the gift tight to his chest, while Luka accepts her gift with an expert weighing of her hand, although she hugs Ahim immediately after, enthusing "Yes!". Joe is somehow even shyer than Don, stiff and reluctant until Ahim presses the gift in his hand and he slowly kneels before her in response, pressing it to his lips. "I pledge allegience," Joe murmurs, low and serious, "and accept your gift of courtship. May I prove worthy."
Marvelous raises an eyebrow to that, although he waits for Joe to rise and move back before moving forward to take his gift from Ahim. It's a dagger, just like everyone else's, but he pays it no attention. Instead, he uses his hands to lift her up, and strokes his thumb over the ring he gave to her, many cycles ago.
"Let's make the wedding showy, shall we?" he says. Ahim smiles, beautiful and perfect even with her crooked imperfect teeth, and throws herself in his arms as the crew erupt in whoops and cheers.
He's buying things in the free markets of Illium, on a day blessedly free from the nonsense Marvelous had wrought on him. Basco may prefer keeping to himself most of the time, but he likes keeping ears open when careless mouths are talking. Information is freer that way, and sometimes much more precious. He's weighing the cost difference between getting Sally Qualiun melons (which he likes and can eat too but that would mean fighting with Sally) and just plain old bananas (which he detests, but which means that he has to buy something else to feed himself with) when he overhears the excited chatter of two women.
"Isn't it wonderful? I can't wait to be back on Famillian soil, and the princess marrying! Such good news!"
"Still, five consorts? I have nothing against marrying the captain, but shouldn't the princess take it a little easy?"
"Perhaps they'll actually make it better for her. Running a kingdom can't be easy after all, not from scratch, at least."
The first speaker shoots a dark look at her companion. "She chose them. We don't question our princess."
At that juncture, Basco decides to pry a little. The numbers just line up too nicely and he knows the name Famille, but the idea of Marvelous marrying is just a bit too incredulous to believe on hearsay. "I couldn't help overhear," he says, "Congratulations on your princess marrying. She wouldn't be Princess...ah, Ahim, would she? Of the Gokaiger Pirates?"
"Oh!" One of them raises her hand to her mouth. "Well, yes. I suppose the news hasn't quite gone around, it's mostly word of mouth at the moment, at least, until the wedding details are finalized..."
"Then that is good news," Basco says, and sweeps them a gracious bow. "Have a good day, ladies."
He's pretty much forgotten that he's supposed to do the shopping, and pays for it when Sally emerges at the doorway. Her expectant face causes him to smack his head in remembrance, and he ends up making the extra trip to get both the melons AND the bananas before Sally turns the Free Joker upside down in hungry disappointment.
It sounds incredible though. He's never really figured Marvelous for being one to actually settle down, but then maybe times have changed. "You've gone soft," he tells the mobirates. "But if that keeps you off my back, Marve, well, my heartiest congratulations."
Basco isn't entirely sure if the kidnapping attempts had tapered off as a result of the upcoming wedding, or if people finally got it through their thick skulls that he wasn't worth any bounty Marvelous may or may not have put up. Strangely though, he realizes that he misses the attention, just a little.
He finds himself making time when the week rolled around; docking the Free Joker on an offside moon and renting a lunar sail to the main colony. The aerospace in between is studded with battleships and the like, cobbled together from all over the systems in case of Zangyack attack. It's an impressive show of strength, at any rate, from a people scattered and a planet razed to the ground. The Famille princess would be proud.
Basco opts to dress down, even though he thinks it's unlikely Marvelous would ever spot him in the veritable sea of people. He's even brought Marvelous a celebratory drink. It's a blue little bottle, warm to touch. He remembers it as the first drink that Marvelous shared with him, stolen from the captain's wine cupboard of a Zangyack gunship they raided. He remembers Marvelous choking on the burn, dark purple liquid dripping from a corner of his mouth. He remembers darting forward on an impulse to lick it off, warm and sweet, and Marvelous laughing and pushing him away, saying that it was gross, he hasn't washed his face yet.
Basco watches the crowds roar and cheer in triumph as the Galleon appears in the sky. The princess emerges on deck, clasping a megaphone to her mouth. She greets her people, warmth and pride and sheer joy in her voice, her smile lovely and bright. If her eyes seemed a bit tearful, her words slightly wavery, well, one could blame it on the hastily constructed holo-viewers. She introduces the crew all over again, as though the galaxy doesn't know them already. Truth be told, Basco only has eyes for Marvelous, and he waits impatiently, fingering the edge of the scarf he's wrapped around his face as the camera pans over the pirates.
Marvelous looks...good. He still has that shit-eating grin, wide and smug and overconfident, waving one hand loftily at the camera. The princess has got him dressed up to the nines, all reds and golds like some garish tribute to AkaRed (and how strange, that thought) but he just...looks really good.
He looks happy.
The princess stands on her tiptoes and gives Marvelous a chaste peck on the cheek. Basco is mildly surprised to feel a tightness in his chest when Marvelous sweeps her up in response, his smile smaller and softer and he kisses her cheek, making her break into a fierce blush and the crowds scream.
You gave this up, he reminds himself. It feels oddly bitter, instead of that righteous satisfaction that he's always traded upwards. Not that he's imagined that he would marry Marvelous, but-
Basco barks out laughter amidst the joyous roar, laughs as Marvelous slides the ring onto the princess' finger, laughs as Marvelous raises both their hands in the air in triumph, and with genuine sincerity in his heart, wishes all of them well.
He sneaks into the galleon shortly after they rappel down to mingle with the masses. No one really notices the tiny lunar sail in the middle of all the other ships; and breaking in remains as laughably easy as ever. He still remembers the last time he was here, intoxicated with ill-gotten victory. Now, he just takes in all the changes made in the galleon, the objects and trinkets that litter everywhere. The only thing that still remains, really, is the captain's chair, solid and imposing as ever. Basco puts his gift down in the seat, complete with card, and turns just in time to get smacked with a face full of metal bird.
"INTRUDER!" Navi shrieks, and Basco grabs at her frantically, going, "Shhh! Shh!" She gives him two more smacks for good measure before her gears whirr and she chirrups, "Basco?", her head tilting curiously to one side.
"Did you call him?" he asks instead, and Navi pauses before saying, "They're not picking up."
"Good," Basco replies, and releases Navi. He tilts his head towards her, and on impulse, he wiggles his fingers before turning to walk away.
He keeps walking. In a way, the gift he leaves is a concession to Marvelous' bloody dog-mindedness in clogging up his voice mail inbox, but he fully intends to disappear completely after this. It's been a surprisingly nostalgic game of cat and mouse, Basco realizes, except it's clear that Marvelous hadn't been playing seriously. If at all.
"It was good seeing you," Basco says, the closest to an apology that he can manage, and gives her a brief smile. He jumps.
Back on the Joker, he unloads supplies on the table, letting Sally paw through the various wedding goodies and treats he picked up. She hums happily, a musical counterpoint to Basco's increasingly morose mood, although it still manages to lighten it a little anyway. He keys in new coordinates and sets the Joker on auto-pilot, before shuffling off to his room.
The mobirates is silent and still on his desk, although Basco suspects that it won't be for long. So he picks it up, opens the back, and neatly removes the battery. Then he sits down on the bed, and concentrates on breathing.