Chapter 27: Uncommon Engagements
by Casey Valhalla
Quatre was fairly sure he could deal with this.
"Pirates," he muttered, low enough that only Chea could hear.
The cadet had fallen silently into the pilot's seat, and nodded numbly without taking his eyes off the viewscreen.
"Pirates," Quatre muttered again, to himself, scrounging through his mind for every speck of information he'd gleaned over years of thorough tutelage in diplomacy and interplanetary relations.
The results were unpleasant. Tentatively, he prodded the only other source of information his mind contained.
~*Don't look at me,*~ Zero grumbled.
On the screen, the half-elf's eyes narrowed, and he frowned speculatively. "Why are you not trembling in fear?"
"Maybe because you look like a punk-band reject from Absaloth," the blue-haired girl commented, settling in for a thorough examination of her fingernails.
"Silence!" the half-elf snapped, sniffing, then he made a display of clearing his throat. Between them, the gnome's scowl deepened, and he began smoking his pipe furiously. The girl rolled her eyes.
"Heave to, ye scurvy greencoats! Yer now in the capture of the Suicide King!" the half-elven pirate announced, once again leaning in over the console and grinning. "Prepare to be boarded! Declare all yer valuables, less we're forced to-" He paused, frowning, looking Quatre and Chea over critically. "Where are your valuables? How the hell are we supposed to loot you if you don't have any valuables?"
"The boss said no looting," the girl said, blowing out a puff of air that ruffled her bangs.
"Then hand over yer women!"
"Intelligence reports show no female life forms on board."
The gnome let out a particularly large cloud of smoke and snorted derisively.
The half-elf bared his teeth at the screen pleasantly and spun to face the girl, bristling. "D'Arcy, you are *totally* ruining my groove, here! Shut up!"
"Er - s'cuse me," Quatre ventured, approaching the screen.
The half-elf turned back to face him and sighed slightly through his teeth. "What can I do for ye, greencoat?" He blinked, and his face fell into an exasperated line. "Why aren't you a greencoat?"
"Uhm," Quatre straightened, casting a glance over at Chea. No help there. "If you don't mind my asking, what exactly is going on?"
"What - is - " the pirate appeared to be having some trouble breathing, because his face was turning red and his chest was puffing up with indignance. "We are the pirates of the infamous Suicide King! Terror of the lower galaxy free space!" He waved his arms wildly. "Quake with fear already!"
"Well, yes, I gathered all of that," Quatre said, far more bewildered than terrified. "But what is it you want with us?"
The pirate held his position for a moment, then deflated with a gigantic huff and fell into a chair. "I give up. The Captain wants to talk to Duo and his controller. Can you get him for me? Please?"
The blue-haired girl chuckled under her breath, and the gnome harrumphed around his pipe. The half-elf glowered at them.
There was a noise in the corridor, sounding through the open door to the cockpit, and Quatre felt something bump against his ankle. He bent down, smiling, to allow Yoko up to her preferred spot on his shoulder. This caused somewhat of an uproar on the opposite end of the com link.
"Kitty!" the girl exclaimed, her eyes suddenly bright behind her bangs.
The gnome jumped, coming to his full height of two feet standing on his chair. "Kill it!"
"Yeah, yeah," the half-elf huffed again, folding his arms and refusing to look at the screen. His voice was bored. "Hi there, Yoko, caught any good mice lately?"
The pirate's eyes darted sideways for a moment to observe the little red cat cautiously. "I don't know *what* you're implying," he announced, turning his nose up.
"Shut up! That's not funny!"
"Razz?" The voice was soft and surprised, coming from the doorway. Quatre turned to see Duo poised with one hand against the frame, still looking rumpled, but decidedly more composed than the last time he'd been standing in the same place. His eyes were wide and bright, lost for a split second, then a beaming smile spread across his face. "Razz, you half-bred little shit, you're still alive!"
"Well, well, well, if it isn't the cannon-fed Demon King himself," the pirate grinned and leaned back in his chair, kicking up his feet onto the console and folding his arms behind his head. "Yeah, I'm still alive, much to the despair of various law-abiding citizens."
"And various associates," the girl muttered, propping herself against a wall and crossing her legs. The gnome was eying Duo suspiciously.
The Relic, however, was too involved in his little reunion to notice. "So, what's the deal? How's the old man?"
"As licentious as ever. He wants a word with you and your boss," the half-elf, identified as Razz, nodded sagely to himself. "Thought we were gonna have to chase you through hyperspace, then we realized you were on a Corellian and just waited."
"Wait," a half-strangled voice said, and Chea suddenly came back to life in the pilot's seat. "Wait, wait, wait." He held up a hand and waved it idly through the air in front of him. "Are we *not* going to die here? Is that what's happening?"
Duo gave him a puzzled look, which he turned on Quatre. The Prime Operative shrugged.
"Die?" The demon chuckled. "Oh, please. Razz here couldn't kill a fly even if it were being humanely euthanized."
The pirate's face blanked, and he leveled a narrow glare at Duo. "Just go and ruin my reputation, why don't you."
"Too late," the gnome growled through his teeth, which were staunchly clenched around his pipe.
"What my esteemed comrades *mean* to say," the girl broke in, "is that we'll gladly haul your crappy space cruiser into our docking bay and make every attempt to repair the obviously malfunctioning hyperdrive while the Demon King and his clan master meet with our Captain, per his request. Are we in agreement?"
Quatre exchanged a glance with Duo, who was bristling slightly at the 'master' comment, but shrugged in response. "You're the one in charge here, Q. It's your call."
"Do you trust them?" the blond asked, pitching his voice low enough that only Duo could hear.
"With my life. Well, so to speak. They can't necessarily steal my existence out from under my nose, so."
"Meaning, they won't kill us, but we ought to mind our wallets?"
Quatre nodded thoughtfully to himself. "Right. I'll negotiate with them. Go get Heero up, he'll want to be sufficiently awake for whatever happens."
A flash of something Quatre couldn't identify passed over Duo's face before the demon quirked a smile in acquiescence, patting Yoko quickly before turning back to the screen. Duo said something rapidly to the half-elf, waving before he left the room. Razz pulled a face at his retreating back. It took Quatre a few seconds to realize that not only was whatever Duo said in the old language, but the pirate on the viewscreen had understood him perfectly.
Why the hell would Howard want to talk to Heero? Duo wondered, pausing in front of his controller's door. The metal plating was cool under his fingertips, conjuring tactile images of his back pressed against a similar surface, of hands and a mouth on his skin. He dismissed the thoughts, twisting the latch to the door almost savagely. It would be a mistake to think anything had changed, just because of a few heated moments against a wall.
The interior of the bunkroom was pitch black, but to Duo's eyes the light was merely dim. Heero's sleeping body was a high relief against the bunk, a thin blanket bunched around him, one slim, arched foot peeking out and hanging partially off the edge of the mattress. One arm was thrown over his head, wrapped around the pillow and clutching it tight against his cheek, the other rested lightly with his hand on his stomach, twitching slightly, causing the chainmail covering it to shift minutely with tiny, barely audible clinks. His shirt was missing, baring his perfectly defined shoulders and arms to free view.
Duo found himself pausing, with the door shut behind him, just to drink in the sight. A thought occurred to him, that there was just the right amount of space along the curve of Heero's body for someone else to lie. That thought inevitably led to other thoughts of that body pressed against him, sliding over him, grinding into him, and he had to pause and rip his gaze away from the bed, again dismissing the memories from his mind. For sure, that touch had been better than any dream, than any conjured shadow, than any other construct of his imagination, but he couldn't come to expect it. Couldn't allow himself to expect more.
He approached the bed and tried to distance himself from the vision before him at the same time, which didn't work very well. Heero's expression was slack, lips parted slightly, eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks as some unknown dream flashed over his subconscious. Without Duo's consent, his hand reached out to brush aside the messy tangle of bangs covering Heero's forehead.
Instantly his wrist was captured in a firm grip and he was yanked forward, landing half-sprawled with his hip propped on the mattress and his chest pressed against Heero's. The hand fisted around his wrist shifted, the chainmail grating against his skin, and a pair of slitted sapphire eyes peered up at him.
"I thought I told you to go to bed," Heero said, wriggling sleepily against the mattress. He lifted his free hand and slid it around Duo's neck. "Unless you'd prefer to sleep here."
"I just came to wake you up," Duo managed, but that was as far as he got. Heero closed the last of the space between them and kissed Duo deeply, rubbing his thumb gently over the soft skin next to Duo's ear.
All thoughts of resistance melted away. Heero's mouth was so hot, and Duo craved that, savored it, drinking in the heat like water, or blood. After several long, drawn-out moments, Heero released his lips and tucked Duo's head securely under his chin, wrapping his arms around the demon and sighing as though he intended to return to his interrupted sleep in this precise position.
Duo had several things on his mind other than sleep, and raged silently. Dammit! Every time I manage to get myself good and mad at him, he has to go and do something. *nice*, like this. Really nice.
"We've been captured by a pirate ship," he commented, the best revenge he could come up with at the moment.
Heero stiffened under him. "What?"
"They're old friends of mine," Duo continued, once he figured he'd let the tension sink in long enough. "The Captain wants a word with both of us, apparently, though I have no idea why. That's why I came to wake you up."
"Pirates," Heero murmured. His right hand began massaging a path through Duo's hair. "Define 'friends.'"
"I've spent large portions of my considerable lifespan among space pirates, Heero. Most of them consider me one of them, temporarily on leave from the network due to occupational demands." Duo heard Heero chuckle, the combination of that vibration against his ear and the fingers in his hair causing a shiver along his spine. Despite himself, he smiled slightly against Heero's bare chest. "This ship - the Suicide King - your parents and the rest of your clan and I lived onboard for a while. Maybe that's why the old man wants to see you."
The fingers in his hair faltered momentarily when he mentioned Heero's family. "Oh," was the only response, and Heero resumed stroking. "I suppose we should look presentable, then."
Neither one moved to enact that statement.
"So, this problem with the Bond," Heero said after a pleasant silence, "is there a way to fix it? So it doesn't get any worse, I mean. Whatever's wrong with it isn't so bad right now, but it wouldn't do to have it just break apart at a critical moment, right?"
Duo's face screwed up in contemplation. "The Ministry could give it a workover, they recommend it every century or so to keep the spell in tact. But you *really* don't want to do that right now."
"Remember what happened the last time we went to the Ministry for something?" Duo snorted softly, turning his face slightly to nuzzle the skin against his cheek. So warm.
Heero barked a laugh, which descended into a pleasant chuckle. "We don't have two months to spare, no. Is there another option?" The arm wrapped around Duo's waist tightened, and his breath ruffled Duo's bangs, dropping a few light kisses along the demon's forehead.
Heat was building in Duo's chest, and in the body he was pressed against, and he knew he needed to get away from this embrace soon or not at all. "I can give Kirin another call, he's made patches for some of us before, when we couldn't be bothered with dealing with the Ministry. And he's got nothing better to do these days - mmm-"
That mouth again, that hot, delicious mouth, that. annoying knocking on the bunkroom door.
"We're about to dock, you two!" Quatre called from outside.
Duo took that as his cue to break away and run, but one of Heero's arms was locked firmly around his waist, the other raised with fingers tangled in the base of his braid, holding his head steady while Heero urged his mouth open to accept his tongue. Instead of escaping, he found himself melting and moaning helplessly into the kiss in response to the voice on the other side of the door.
"I know what you're doing in there!" Quatre announced.
Heero growled and kicked the blanket aside, flipping Duo onto his back and grabbing his hand, pressing the chainmail-covered palm into Duo's skin. "Give me some magic."
"Why?" the demon gasped, extremely aware of the weight of Heero's body, pressing him down into the thin mattress. Which in turn reminded him of the last time he'd been in this position, in the shadowy netherspace of the Bond, and the brief but incredible feeling of Heero deep inside him.
"Because I'm going to kill him."
"Maxwell! Yuy!" Quatre snapped, voice switching suddenly from his previous mocking tone to the bellow of their commanding officer. "Front and center! NOW!"
"I think he's serious - ahhh."
"Mmm, don't care. you taste so good, Duo."
"Hells. want you. ohhh fuck, please. *ahh*. onegai, hitsuyo na. kudasai."
The door to the bunkroom swung open with a bang, admitting a sufficiently pissed-off Prime Operative. Duo was rather preoccupied with the mouth on his neck and the hands under his shirt and the knee between his legs, but shivered nevertheless when his half-open eyes caught sight of Quatre's furious expression. "Uhm, Heero."
"Mmm, Duo." the voice at his neck breathed.
"*Kindly* disentangle yourselves," Quatre ordered, folding his arms over his chest. A flash of gold passed over his eyes, and Duo figured it was probably a good idea to do what he said.
"Ten minutes," Heero murmured.
"NOW." The chill in Quatre's voice dropped the room temperature, sufficiently diffusing the mood with the effect of a bucket of icy water.
Grudgingly, Heero slid back into a sitting position to let Duo up, giving the blond a contemptuous glare. Duo got to his feet unsteadily and sniffed. "Azrael, Q, just cause your lover isn't around doesn't mean you have to make the rest of us suffer."
"I concur," Heero growled, looking for all the world like a sullen child denied his favorite candy.
Quatre smiled, and that smile was one of the most frightening things Duo had ever seen, which was saying a lot. "I would remind you both that we are currently in the middle of an interplanetary war, and that you are both soldiers. As your commander, I expect you to act like it. Now, both of you get yourselves in order and meet at the hatch in five minutes. Dismissed."
Deflating, Duo nodded and hurried out of the room to find his boots and trenchcoat. He found Yoko sitting in front of his bunkroom, and sighed resignedly in her general direction. "Don't you hate it when he's right?" Duo demanded of the little cat.
She blinked at him, puzzled, and licked her nose.
"I hate it when *you're* right, too."
No one was waiting outside the ship on the docking bay floor to meet them - as far as Heero could see, there was no order whatsoever within the confines of the pirate ship. The bay was circular, and spanned the entire height of the ship, the numerous floors sectioned off with handrails facing the open space of the bay. Intense fluorescent lights lit up the area as brightly as noon on any given planet, the artificial solar rays feeding various plants growing in pots and trays that hung over the guard rails on various floors, along with brightly colored flags, drying laundry strung on lines that spanned the width of the upper reaches of the bay, and brilliantly patterned rugs hung over the rails to air.
In fact, everything was bright and brilliant - the walls were a mess of paint, either in vast, complicated murals or splashed in random patterns with no apparent care to how the completed effect turned out. Dozens upon dozens of humanoid entities wandered the bay, and the paths behind the guard rails, some carrying bundles and boxes, some cleaning, some pushing carts of items apparently for sale, be it food, or books, or clothing, or toys. A group of children were bunched around the guard rail on the seventh floor, one of them operating a remote controlled plane that whirled deftly between the clotheslines above.
The people themselves came in every size, shape and color. There were humans, fair Outer Rim natives like Quatre and Chea, as well as bronzed and slant-eyed members the greater Modicum races, and black-skinned men and women from the spinward end of the Modicum. There were elves, halflings, gnomes, half-elves, dwarves, and a few other races Heero couldn't name, all of them dressed in loose, bright clothing, most boasting a variety of piercings and tattoos. The vast majority carried at least one unhealthy-looking knife within view, though it was impossible to say how many weapons went unseen.
The ship also had a networked sound system, because music was blaring loudly from every direction - fortunately, all the same song, though the sound of electric guitar bounced around the metallic walls enough to create mild cacophony. The singer's voice was all but incomprehensible in the background.
So, Heero thought, smirking to himself, these are pirates.
"There are three lesser demons onboard," Duo said softly in his ear, suddenly reminding him of his lover's presence - lover? Was he already thinking of Duo that way? "And five greater, and one Relic," Duo concluded, kissing the curve of his ear lightly. Yes, 'lover' was sounding more and more right by the moment.
"A Relic?" Heero asked, looking over and raising an eyebrow.
"He belongs to the Captain. We go way back. Well, obviously." Duo laughed lightly. "Sounds like Razz took control of the sound system again."
"That *is* the old language, isn't it?" Chea piped up suddenly from his other side. Heero listened closer to the pulsing music, and realized that he couldn't understand the words because they were in a different language, not because of the acoustic quality of the docking bay.
Duo nodded and drew a deep breath, as though inhaling fresh air after weeks in a cramped cruiser. "Ah, nothing like rock music from Sonata II. Shall we?"
Quatre snorted, somewhere behind Duo. "Do either of you have a clue where you're going?"
Almost instantly, three children materialized in front of them, perfectly in formation with an eleven-year-old human boy in front. "Ya lost?" the boy asked, grinning toothily. His hair was long and brown, tied back with a brilliant blue headband, and he stood with his arms folded like he was the same age and height as the young men he was addressing.
"We're here to see the Captain," Heero replied.
"What'll ya give us if we take ya there?" The boy shifted his gaze to the sword on Heero's belt, his eyes widening. "That sword there'll do nicely, I think."
"I think not," Heero replied coldly, narrowing his stare.
"Who do ya think you are, mister?" The boy met him glare for glare. "You ain't nothin' on this ship, not like you are when you're grounded."
"Well, kids," Duo announced, slinging an arm casually around Heero's shoulders, "meet the Dragon's Assassin. You might want to rethink that deal of yours a bit."
The boy looked mildly surprised, but then he turned his gaze on Duo and his eyes went so wide Heero thought they might pop, and his jaw dropped open. "It's the Demon King!"
"Aaah!" his two associates exclaimed, tightening their formation to huddle behind the brown-haired boy.
Duo allowed himself a dangerous smile. "So, feel like telling us where to go for free, now?"
"Razz knows where to go. He's on the fifth level swabbin' the east deck," the boy stammered, pointing away with a shaking hand. "You're not gonna-" he swallowed "*eat* us or anything, are ya?"
Duo made a show of considering the question. "Maybe tomorrow. Scat!"
The three children skittered out of sight just as suddenly and inexplicably as they had appeared. Quatre shook his head, rubbing his fingers over his forehead. "I didn't think you'd ever stoop to frightening children, Duo."
The demon chuckled and shrugged. "Are you and Chea standing guard?"
"You're the one who outlined just how far we ought to trust these people."
"Point," the demon agreed, waving over his shoulder and grabbing Heero by the elbow, leading the way to a dim-lit stairwell and the fifth floor of the monstrosity of a spaceship.
Razz was, indeed, swabbing a vast hallway of metal tile, if one considered dancing with a mop 'swabbing.' The music was clearer here, the painted walls containing the electronic thrum enough to appreciate the sound. The half-elf didn't register their presence enough to stop dancing, and swung the mop around to clutch it at his hip, strumming his fingers against the wooden handle to mimic playing a guitar, singing along with the music.
"Kike totta, sono yokan wa, kakusanakuta tte ii n da. oh, hi guys." The pirate straightened suddenly and held the mop still at his side, clearing his throat and shifting in place self-consciously.
"As you were," Duo grinned, striding forward to slap him playfully on the shoulder. "Where's the Captain?"
"One floor directly above," Razz said, indicating the location with a thumb. He blew a lock of multicolored hair out of his face. "He's in Steel's old suite. Last one had an encounter with one of Sven's experiments."
Duo made a face, and Heero gave him a curious look. The demon returned it with an expression that promised to explain later. "Who's keeping an eye on our ship?"
"Dash's crew is working on it. Don't worry, the old man's orders stand." The pirate winked. "Get. He's waiting."
Duo guided Heero back towards the stairwell, leaving Razz to continue his dance with the old ratty mop. Heero unconsciously kept one ear on the bizarre song the half-elf was singing until they were too far away to hear it anymore.
"Nani ga mieru tte iu n da." Twirl, swab, spin. "Nerau mae ni, sawaritai na."