"Pirates of the Cassiopeian"

Written By: Asymphototropic

Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam wing.

Author: Asymphototropic (attracted toward the light, but never quite arrives there)

Summary: The officers of starship 'Coruscate Cepheus' kidnap an astral pilot from a pirates' crew. The new navigator proves to be quite a handful. Can he be tamed?

Warnings: language, violence, yaoi, bondage

Pairings: 2 x Everyone in the galaxy, maybe?


" Pirates of the Cassiopeian"

 

Part 10.

"This is unendurable. I won't permit it to continue."

"I don't see what else we can do," Sawbones declared adamantly.

"Captain. What alternative do we have?" Zechs stared at Treize, the challenge in his glittering ice blue eyes.

"Its not too late to cut and run," Khushrenada retorted. "We'd catch the pirates utterly off guard, since they believe we intend to participate in the collective tribunal."

"There are too many of them. Even young Duo can see that. Eventually they will catch us again. We only delay the inevitable by running. We have to do this. The sooner the better, and be done with it, say I," Sawbones responded briskly.

"Let me summarize. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong," the Captain glared at the doctor with something very akin to hatred in his eyes. "We eight officers are to attend this tribunal. Each of the pirate ships will also send eight officers. So we will be vastly outnumbered by enemy miscreants. We are to carry only such weapons as can be well concealed on our persons. We are to be on trial, condemned or exonerated by the opinions of the most unscrupulous criminal minds in the galaxy. We are required to enforce our status simultaneously as dastardly villains as well as poor innocent victims. The chief strategy of the opposition will be thoroughly to intimidate Duo Maxwell, as they question him, a boy who is physiologically incapable of lying. And if our case survives all of this. Young Duo will be required to demonstrate before the bloodthirstiest congress ever assembled, his willing fealty to the Coruscate Cepheus. But his merely swearing allegiance is not enough. Oh no, not by a long shot. Carry on, Sawbones. Do inform us of the nature of this piratical ceremony of indenture."

"Well, sir, its got to be something to impress their devious rapscallion minds. As proof of willingly joining a ship, I've seen men allow things to be dissected off their bodies, a strip of flesh from an inner thigh, or a joint or two off a finger or toe, for instance. Or ritual circumcision, if a man has his foreskin still available for cutting. Branding the ship's insignia with a hot iron is very popular, particularly upon the buttocks. You perceive my drift, sir. The evidence is generally permanent and painful, else its not considered binding."

Khushrenada stared coldly at the doctor. Then he studied his young third officers. Their features were uniformly pale and drawn. Winner looked quite ill. And Yuy especially seemed ready to attack and kill, if only he could determine a specific target.

"This is for Duo's benefit as well." Merquise's speech cut the silence. "He now has a reputation as a brilliant young navigator. Worth a ship's weight in valuable coinage. Where can he hide in the galaxy where he wont be at continued risk of abduction? You see how fragile the Dawg's claim to him is. Their having no formal contract for his services has lost him to them forever. Rogarth will side with us on that matter. At least this way, Mr Maxwell can choose his ship. An indenturing ceremony will free him from further assaults upon his freedom."

Khushrenada replied bitterly. "It seems he was better off where he was, before we stirred up all this mess. If he were simply, secretly to shuttle back to the Dawg Black Hole, on the understanding they would withdraw from the field..."

"No. I wont go back there. Not now. Not ever again. I'd rather die fighting them. I'd rather be cut to ribbons in some gawdsdamned ritual. If anyone tries to send me back to the Dawg Black Hole, I'll just shoot myself and be damned, tha's all," Duo retorted, his voice calm and solid with conviction.

They stared at him, surprised at his level of determination.

"I have a suggestion." Now they turned their eyes toward the Commander. "The ancient Cygnean Ritual of Submission. If performed correctly it is very melodramatic, very theatrical. I don't doubt it will appeal to the lurid imaginations of these so-called Gentlemen of Fortune. It will adequately demonstrate Duo's sincere indenture to the service of Coruscate Cepheus. Without damaging the boy physically."

"I don't like it, not a bit." Khushrenada scowled at Merquise. Clearly he recognized the suggested ritual, and considered it thoroughly reprehensible. "However, I shall yield to Mr Duo Maxwell's wishes in this matter, whatever they may be. Duo, tell me what you want. And I shall support, protect and direct you to the best of my abilities as your Captain." Treize stood, and added an elegant nod of his head toward the boy.

Duo looked relieved at this. "Well, hot damned. What more could I ask for? Erm, sir, that is. Er, Captain, I mean. Thank'ee mightily, and whatevah more poetryish I should'erve said but can't think straightly right now, cuz my head is whirling." And Duo gave his best imitation of the bows he had seen recently. Which gesture looked in no ways courtly, but rather adorable on his small puckish frame.

Quatre covered his mouth with his hand, smothering a chuckle. Trowa and Wufei both sounded laughs before they could stifle them. Heero glared at them. And Duo grinned, effectively breaking the stern iciness amongst the senior officers.

"Let's to it, then. I believe extreme costumery is the next order of business. And gentlemen. Don't forget as much lethal weaponry as is covertly possible," the Captain ordered, as he swept out of his ready-room.

xXxXx

The Collective of Brethren mustered aboard an old hulk of a wrecked starship that had been towed a sufficient distance away from the pirates' vessels, such as might be deemed neutral territory. The frame was a hollow, cavernous, echoing hall, offering life support, but no other amenities.

The officers of the Coruscate Cepheus, under the astute advisement of Didjer Maxwell, buccaneer extraordinaire, arrived late to the festivities. They swept regally through the main entry way with a rustle of personal finery.

Captain Khushrenada and Commander Merquise each wore their most formal ancient court attire complete with jeweled signets of their imperial families, representing the Cephean and Cygnean Empires' resplendent wealth and power.

Sawbones was dressed as if for attendance at the Traesky opera house, including top hat, white tie, vermilion lined cape and ebony walking stick.

Yuy wore the elegant dress uniform of the Cygnean Army. He was in possession of all his father's older insignia. And since the elder Yuy had arrived at the rank of five star General, Heero had quite a selection of braid, epaulettes, ribbons and medals at hand. This evening he wore, quite modestly, but with a whimsical tilt of his hat, the glorious insignia and decorations of a full Colonel.

Barton was clad in the festival attire of a Sweeper, including a rose satin blouse, embroidered sleeveless cutaway surtout, yellow and green striped leggings, and thigh high boots.

Winner wore the robes of a Sandestiny Prince, over tartar pants with buff suede ankle boots. He had a chain of solid platinum dowry coins for each of his twenty-nine sisters, hung upon his neck and sparkling over his chest.

Chang was attired in the pale gray silks of the most regal Kherekein ninja warrior, wearing carven jewelry of ivory, jade and emeralds. His hair fasteners, earrings, torque, vambraces, sword belt and ankle bracelets reflected light off a hundred mirrored gem facets.

Duo, who, it may be remembered, originally had arrived nude onboard the Cepheus, had gotten into a pair of tight black velveteen trousers that Quatre had outgrown. Trowa had contributed a glossy black satin shirt, the width of which was cinched with a violet sash. Heero had added his deceased mother's earrings, gold hoops set with amethysts, which he insisted were to be a gift and not a loan to his friend. And Wufei, whose feet were quite small for his height, completed the boy's attire with a pair of soft black leather knee boots. Duo's hair had been brushed to a glossy flame-like quality, braided, and set with an amethyst clasp that matched the earrings.

Altogether, the officers of Coruscate Cepheus made quite a resplendent sight as they swaggered into the piratical assembly.

Rake Redbeard Rogarth appeared suddenly and dramatically upon a high dais. "The principals in the matter being now all arrived, this tribunal is in session," he announced in clarion tones.

The crowd responded with an uproar of voices, which the pirate leader suppressed with a wave of his hand, yielding a small explosion. The pyrotechnics quieted the onlookers far more effectively than a gavel.

Rogarth continued. "We, Gentlemen of Fortune collected before all the stars of the galaxy, gather to consider the concerns and welfare of our united calling. We are here presented with complaint and counter claim. The officers of Dawg Black Hole declare they were attacked by Coruscate Cepheus, resulting in damage to their vessel, and injurious abduction of their navigator, one Duo Maxwell. Is said navigator Duo Maxwell present in the hall?"

"Yurp, sure thing. I'm here," Duo waved his hand cheerfully, allowing his ultraviolet eyes to trail a brilliant beam upon the crowd. An excited murmur arose over this extraordinary display.

Rogarth again demanded attention with a percussive flame. "The officers of Coruscate Cepheus respond that the Dawgs were the original aggressors. I will here state that I have viewed the log recordings of the conflict and concur with this recounting of events. Since the Cepheus was responding in kind, therefore battle damage claims from the Dawg Black Hole are herewith struck down entirely."

The Dawgs shouted angrily over this pronouncement and the crowd once again became unruly. A cherry bomb stifled the noise.

"Does Cepheus wish to demand recompense from the Dawg Black Hole?"

"Damage was minimal at best. We do not require anything from that vessel, other than their sustained absence from our attention," Treize declared grandly with a negligent sweep of his elegant hand.

The crowd roared with laughter. The officers of the Dawg Black Hole writhed.

"Good, very good," Sawbones muttered aside.

"I may take it, you are Captain Khushrenada of the Cepheus?" Rogarth demanded haughtily.

"Your servant, sir," Treize sneered, his tone indicating he was anything but that.

"Likewise I'm sure," Redbeard chuckled. He seemed to be reveling in the proceedings. "But now to more serious matters. The officers of the Dawg Black Hole lay claim to the skilled services of navigator Duo Maxwell, present here and available for questioning. Come up, boy, where you may be seen by all."

Merquise stirred restlessly at this proposed separation of the youngster from the protection of their fellows. Yuy looked like he might attempt personal flight in a lethal assault on Rogarth. Khushrenada swallowed anxiously, looking to Sawbones for advice. The old physician merely shrugged and nodded.

The crowd suddenly split, allowing a passage for the boy up to the podium.

Sawbones gave him a small shove, and with this impetus Duo boldly walked away from the comparative security of his friends' company.

Two muscular sergeants-at-arms grabbed him and handed him bodily up to the stage. As soon as he was within reach, Rogarth grabbed the glistening length of Duo's braid and held onto it with a death's grip.

"Now then," the pirate leader's cruel voice sounded loudly. "Let's have a look at you, lad. What a pretty thing you are, too."

Duo took his bravery in hand and grinned cockily back at the hulking pirate.

"I'm given to understand, in addition to your strange eyes, that you are also able to read minds. Tell me, m' dear. What am I thinking now?"

Duo gulped. "Somethin' to do with a roll in the hay. Erm, blindfolded. And licking honey off of, uh, someone."

"How extraordinary!" the old man leered. "And the purple light from your eyes, amazing."

"His mother was Andromedan. My side of the family is, alas, far more ordinary," Sawbones announced loudly.

"I'm told by Bezter of the Dawgs, that you cannot lie. That even trying to fib a little makes you quite sick. Is that so, boy?"

"Yes, sir, that's the strange case, sure enough. Makes it damned difficult to play poker, yer know?" Duo nodded vigorously, as much as the pirate king's paw on his braid would allow.

Merquise suddenly hoped that Rogarth hadn't also heard of Duo's ability to amplify orgasm, lest the pervy old man might want to test it on the spot.

"So, now m'dear, I have a few questions for you. And I needn't add that you must answer honestly. That order is quite superfluous in your case, eh, my boy? Hmm, what first? Do you want to go back to the Dawg Black Hole and serve as their navigator?"

"No, sir, I don't," Duo shook his head.

"Are you indentured by any agreement to serve as navigator for the Dawg Black Hole?"

"Nurp, nor that neither," Duo stated emphatically.

"Did those nasty Dawg brutes snap you up and carry you away from the bosom of your family?" Rogarth asked, chuckling while he stroked Duo's braid.

"Something like that, yurp," the boy responded, with a cheeky wink to the mob.

"Would you like to come on board the 'Cassy' and serve under me?" Rogarth leered. "I'm extremely rich, and you'd live like a little prince, I do assure you. I should enjoy spoiling you. Come lad, what do you say to that?" The hulking pirate caressed Duo's ass with one large paw.

"No. Sir. No thank you," Duo answered as bravely as he could. "I want to stay with Coruscate Cepheus."

"Whatever Khushrenada offers you, I'll double it." The man's voice became strident now.

"Sorry sir. But they do say blood is thicker than water."

"Do you mean to tell me that old reprobate Didjer Maxwell really is your grandfather?"

The officers of the Cepheus held their communal breath. Some of the younger ones secretly crossed their fingers.

Duo Maxwell gasped, trying not to choke over a lie. His head spun and his stomach churned. He desperately envisioned the paper that Sawbones had signed mere hours prior. The document issued by Captain Khushrenada which formally announced the physician's adoption of Duo. The Captain had solemnly sworn to Duo that Didjer Maxwell was now legally the boy's grandfather. But Duo had never before possessed a relative of any variety whatsoever, and it seemed to him very strange, an almost unnatural condition. Sweat gathered on the boy's forehead and dribbled down his cheeks. His knees trembled and seemed scarcely able to support him. The boy opened his mouth and said "Dr Maxwell is my grandfather."

Khushrenada and company let out a group sigh of relief.

Rogarth scowled at Duo Maxwell. "Boy, are you prepared to indenture yourself to the Cepheus, now, and in front of these witnesses, brave and true comrades of the calling, Gentlemen of Fortune all?"

"If tha's what it takes to stay with the Cepheus, tha's what I'll do," Duo declared.

"Khushrenada, the stage is yours," Rogarth snapped.

xXxXx

They were all upon the stage now, a small platform set slightly lower than Rogarth's dais. The officers of the Cepheus crowded together upon it. The uproar of the mob was a tangible wall of noise, which the pirate king made no effort to stifle.

Heero placed his hand between Duo's shoulder blades in solid support. He desperately wanted to grab the boy and run, steal a shuttle and escape. But even if they succeeded in that endeavor, they would soon run out of fuel and be overtaken by pursuit, or freeze and suffocate for lack of life support. There really was no shelter for them to seek.

They had to go through with this.

Duo gulped down hard. Maybe he should change his mind and just whip out the dagger hidden in his hair. Use it to whack off one of his pinky fingers. He wondered forlornly, how painful could it be?

But the ceremony was starting now. Captain Khushrenada was given a chair at one corner of the platform. His two second officers flanked it in defensive mode, as he sat upon it. An utterly regal mien was expressed in his handsome face and mannerisms.

A small explosion burst over them. Rogarth spoke. "Captain Khusrenada of the Coruscate Cepheus has the floor. Hearken to him and take his measure as you will."

Silence, as cold and deadly as space, descended.

"I am Treize Khushrenada, twelfth son of Emperor Khushrenada of constellation Cepheus. By my own rights and efforts, am I sole owner of the starship Coruscate Cepheus. She is mine. By virtue of my best ability, am I Captain of the Cepheus. If anyone here mustered contests this claim, let him speak now."

Silence, still.

"These are my second officers. Know them if you dare, fear them if you are wise. Zechs Merquise, imperial son of ancient Cygnus, fierce warrior and true friend, sole Commander of the starship Cepheus. Doctor Didjer Maxwell, of First City, Traeskavelon. Loyal ship's surgeon of the starship Cepheus. Diplomate graduate of the Imperial Medical College of Cygnus, Fellow of the Galactic Society of Surgeons."

Merquise next spoke, his regal tones icy as the infinite night sky. "I am Zechs Merquise, sole Commander of the starship Cepheus. If any man here mustered contests the claim of the second officers of Cepheus, sound his voice now, else hold his peace. These are the third officers of the starship Coruscate Cepheus. Heero Yuy, only son and heir of General Yuy, on honorable furlough from the Imperial Army of Cygnus. Trowa Barton, of pure Sweeper blood and true, heir in harmony of his fellows, to the grandest flotilla of united starships in the Milky Way. Quatre Rebaba Winner, Sheik and first ruler of ancient Sandestiny System. Wufei Chang, seventh son of the seventh son, keeper of the fortunes of the Khan of Kherekein and all his galactic kindred, may he rule long and wisely. These are the presented third officers of the starship Coruscate Cepheus. If anyone within the sound of this muster contests these claims, let him offer his objections now."

Not so much as a whisper.

Khushrenada added a little optional flourish, as advised prior by Didjer Maxwell. "Let all those faithful to their respective ships give voice, themselves, now." It was an archaic phrase, remembered only by the oldsters in the mob.

The invocation was greeted with a moment's surprise, followed by a thunderous, cheering, "Aye!" Spoken first by the elders and then taken up by the younger officers assembled.

When the excitement settled somewhat, Merquise spoke. "The officers of the Coruscate Cepheus here renew their vows of fealty to their ship. Let any man who comes between us and our duty do so at his peril, and suffer the consequences accordingly." At which saying they all knelt, a knee and a foot to the deck, in the pose of ancient knights of the round table before a king.

"I receive your fealty, good fellows, and return my service to the Cepheus, her officers and crew," their Captain replied.

The officers rose to reveal Duo Maxwell at Khushrenada's feet. The boy knelt on both knees, forehead lowered right to the hard metal floor boards.

"Who abases himself before the Captain?" Merquise demanded.

"If it please our Commander, the third officers of the Cepheus do all petition warmly on behalf of their comrade Duo Maxwell, that he be taken onboard the Cepheus," Heero Yuy said clearly and sternly.

"Do you, then, Mr Yuy, on behalf of yourself and the other Thirds, acknowledge Mr Maxwell as your equal?" Merquise asked.

"Our equal, certainly, and perhaps our better. Duo Maxwell is an able pilot and skilled navigator."

Khushrenada waved his hand grandly.

"The Captain of Cepheus accepts the recommendation of his third officers in lieu of other credentials," Merquise declared. "Does any man stand as surety on behalf of this minor?"

"I do so stand. Didjer Maxwell, Duo's grandfather."

"And what forfeit do you offer, in case of default of service?"

"My feet, my hands, and my head," Didjer Maxwell replied with a sardonic grin.

The response took Merquise aback. The standard reply should have been "all my worldly goods." But the old codger was deep into his memories of the bad old days, when instantaneous dismemberment and beheading was the forfeit for a default of duty.

The crowd roared its approval.

Again Khushrenada gestured.

"The Captain of Cepheus accepts the attestation of Dr Didjer Maxwell," Merquise stated. "Duo Maxwell, do you agree and submit to your indenture in duty to the Coruscate Cepheus, to serve as her navigator all the rest of your days?"

"Yes, sir, I do." The boy hadn't stirred a muscle from his posture of abasement.

Merquise steeled himself for the next part.

But before he could proceed, Khushrenada leaped to his feet.

Sawbones stifled a curse. "Stop him, damn it," he muttered to Merquise.

Zechs was sweating, but he shrugged at the physician. Khushrenada was their Captain, after all.

"The Captain of Coruscate Cepheus accepts the word of Duo Maxwell," Treize declared, fire flashing from his eyes.

"Without demonstration of fealty? Unacceptable!" Rogarth snarled down at Khushrenada from on high.

"Sir, consider. The lad cannot lie. You have acknowledged the fact in front of the brethren. If Duo declares his acceptance of indenture, it must be so."

"He is merely a boy. He may well promise to do his duty, in all sincerity, in this instance. But how soon may he forget that duty? If he does not bear with him some reminder of certain retribution if he fails or falters. How soon may he forget? Continue, Captain. Or one of your Seconds may assume your post, if you are unable to proceed. Else I shall take the boy onboard the Cassy, and be damned to the rest." This last was said with a derisive sneer.

"That you will not!" Khushrenada declared coldly. "Commander, you may proceed." The Captain resumed his chair with a steely resolve in evidence.

"Duo Maxwell, rise before your Captain." Zechs took the boy by his shoulders and enforced the stand. "Do you swear faithful service to Coruscate Cepheus?"

Duo swallowed hard, then spoke with a clear voice. "I do."

"Do you swear obedience to Captain Khushrenada?"

"I do."

"Now face me. Understand you, boy, that this is not meant as punishment for any transgression?"

"Yes, sir."

"But rather, that this is to demonstrate submission to the will of your superiors?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you submit willingly?"

"Yes, sir."

"Turn away from me and undress."

Which action left Duo facing the crowd whilst he stripped to the skin. Or rather, not quite naked. As he removed his satin shirt, his nipples were revealed, clamped with small silver screws. A glittering silver chain united the two clamps, and another pretty chain dropped from the first, downward. The boy toed of his boots and dropped his velveteen trousers to the floor of the stage. Now he stood with the entirety of the contrivance apparent. His cock was encircled by two black leather rings, one fastened around the root and the other around the perimeter of the corona. These were linked by glistening chains, and another stretched from the coronal ring and fastened onto that suspended between the nipple clamps. A chain also descended from the root ring to a ballock restraint, fastened restrictively about the testicles. Duo wore black leather garters cinched above his knees, and silver manacles sparkling on his wrists. A leather collar was fastened about the smooth pallor of his neck.

The young third officers stared at the proceedings, since they had been instructed they must, as witnesses. Internally they writhed and squirmed at the sight, while externally maintaining a semblance of calm indifference. All except Heero Yuy, who appeared carved out of a block of ice, scarcely even breathing, heart and mind both seemingly frozen solid.

Merquise fastened a leash to Duo's collar. He handed the looped end to the boy. "Present this to Captain Khushrenada with the Commander's compliments."

Duo faced Khushrenada and handed him the leash end. "Captain, sir, from Commander Merquise, with his compliments," the boy managed to say without stumbling.

Merquise drew Duo back as many steps as the leash permitted. "Bend over, Mr Maxwell," he instructed. As he fastened Duo's manacles to the thigh garters, he kissed the boy's ear softly and whispered surreptitiously. "It looks like a riding crop, and the bastards will mistake it as such, but its much softer in reality. Now, lad, read my mind," he urged.

"Duo, do you acquiesce in your flogging?" Merquise demanded out loud.

"Yes, sir."

Merquise extracted the short leather whip from the inside of his dress coat. He swung it expertly so that it whistled through the air, smacking stingingly on the boy's buttocks and reddening them without undue damage. Still, Duo flinched.

The mob shrieked its appreciation.

"Duo, do you intend to do your duty always toward the Cepheus?"

"Yes, sir." Another smack of the leather.

"Good boy. Very good. If ever you should think about straying from your duty, you will remember the feel of this flogging and refrain."

"Yes, sir." Leather impacted against fine flesh.

Now Duo met Zechs in the Commander's imagination, reading the man's mind.

Merquise had often before wielded the leather to please a private chamber companion, and the scenario was very vivid in his mind's eye. A regal bedroom containing rich furnishings. A four poster, canopied bed, the burgundy spread bearing the intricate imperial family crest of Cygnus. But this time, he changed the scene.

This time, Treize Khushrenada lounged comfortably against the headboard. His glittering evening attire was already disarrayed, since he and Zechs had been indulging in many torrid kisses and caresses, as Duo stood by silently, enjoying the view.

The two handsome men broke from their embrace. "So, youngster. How did you enjoy your first visit to the opera?"

"It was very grand looking. And I liked the pretty lady star."

"Priscilla certainly was in voice tonight. A thoroughly bewitching noise she makes. The perfect Aida," Zechs agreed, pouring deep purple wine into two glistening crystal goblets, handing one to Treize, and sipping from the other. "You tried hard not to squirm, didn't you lad?"

"Yes, sir. But it was a damnably long show," Duo yawned.

"Punishment," Merquise decreed.

Treize began to object, but Zechs stifled the complaint by sticking his tongue, serpentine into his lover's mouth.

Then they separated, panting somewhat.

"Just a little discipline." Merquise tugged on the leash end, handing it to Khushrenada. Zechs then situated Duo's head in his lover's lap. Treize stroked down the soft braid of hair toyingly, while Zechs petted the boy's upraised ass lightly with his long fingers. "Five strokes for cursing just now. And five for distracting me at the opera." He laid the leather lovingly across the boy's buttocks, with a sweet whistling sound of impact.

"How charming, cherries and cream," Zechs declared, licking the enflamed flesh of Duo's ass cheeks. "Squirming again already?"

"Can't help it when you do that," Duo glared at him.

Treize drew the boy up to sit gingerly upon his lap. He enfolded him in a hug with one arm, and held the wine glass in his free hand, up to the boy's luscious lips. "Just a sip. Can't have you intoxicated, when the night is still young."

Zechs settled next to the two, stretching luxuriously upon the yielding mattress. He leaned over, taking Duo's mouth with his in a warm caress.

"Fifty, sir."

Merquise turned to stare at the speaker. The scenario in his imagination dissolved like a sprinkle of sugar upon his heated tongue.

Heero Yuy reiterated. "That is fifty strokes, sir. The count, as you ordered, Commander."

"Very good, Mr Yuy," Zechs replied briskly. As he stooped to free Duo's manacled hands, he whispered in the boy's ear again. "Make haste in dressing. Keep your eyes on the Dawg's officers, and be ready for trouble."

At the conclusion of the flogging, the crowd of pirates cheered their approval, with whistles, cat calls, and applause.

"Khushrenada, what will you take for the boy?" Rogarth shouted above the noise.

Treize retorted with a silent, frigid glare.

"Name your price, sir," Rogarth insisted.

"Duo is not for sale." Merquise's voice cut through the noise like a cutlass.

"A temporary loan then. Ever so brief. Come, come sir, I'll make it well worth your while."

"Not for any price, not for any time. Not for your entire ship, nor the rest of the others thrown in. For no consideration," Khushrenada declared emphatically. "Not now. Nor at any time in the future. No, sir, no."

They were all astonished when the hulking old pirate roared with laughter. "Oh, to be that young and vitriolic again. You wont reconsider?"

Khushrenada and Merquise had Duo tucked safely between them now. "No!" they retorted, nearly in unison.

The crowd was dissolving spontaneously, breaking into ships' groups, eying the exit to their shuttles.

This was a dangerous moment for all.

The officers of Cepheus pushed their way, elbowing through the crowd. Khushrenada seemed very volatile. Merquise was busy keeping his Captain from being jostled. Too much contact might spark a flame in Treize and an offer to fight, instantly consummated. Yuy had his arm firmly around Duo, with Chang, Winner and Barton quite ready to draw weapons. Sawbones jauntily brought up the rear.

They all jolted suddenly to a halt.

The snarling Dawgs blocked their exit.

"I want what's mine, and I'll have it now," Bezter went face to face with Khushrenada.

"Then take your slimy mates with you, and leave while you are still able," Treize retorted in deathly tones.

"Only after I've got the boy back."

"That will not happen."

Bezter seemed scarce to move, when a stiletto clicked onto his palm. His first slash came within millimeters of Khushrenada's throat. But Cepheus' agile Captain leaped back, drawing forth a dagger from inside the breast of his coat.

His single retreating step left Merquise alone in the midst of their enemies. That gentleman coolly flicked his wrists, and twin blades appeared in his hands. He drove them into Bezter instantly.

The brute howled, flinging his stiletto as he fell. It was an off balance throw.

Treize darted aside from the spinning projectile.

It caught Duo in the head. The boy dropped to the deck, blood running into his eyes.

Yuy, armed with Duo's amethyst stick pin, howled and flung himself into the midst of the Dawg's remaining officers, drawing gore with every stroke. Merquise stood back to back with his young Third, challenging their opponents, an ecstatic berserker smile curled upon his lips.

Treize angled an attack at the side of the group, causing them to split their attention from Yuy and Merquise. Sawbones assaulted the other flank with his walking stick, which had suddenly sprouted a razor tip at its nether end. Barton and Winner, handling a matched set of jeweled throwing knives, backed the old doctor's lethal foray. Chang went in support of his Captain, a rather large katana having emerged surprisingly from beneath his scant silks.

The melee became general between the Dawgs and the Cepheans. With Bezter and Duo Maxwell both down, the numbers were even. But Khushrenada's fighters were so finely trained, the fighting was over nearly before it had started.

Breathing harshly, in a laughing rage of spent anger, Khushrenada accepted the grudging surrender of the pummeled Dawgs.

Bezter sat up, groaning and groping to find the wounds in his somewhat corpulent flesh.

Heero was the first to think of Duo. He turned to locate his friend, and blinked at the sight.

Rake Redbeard Rogarth held the writhing boy in a solid bear hug over his massive chest. Duo was trying to scrub the blood out of his eyes with the backs of his fists. His dangling feet kicked at the old pirate's anatomy. The old man roared with laughter.

Keeping one eye on the Dawgs, who were mustering their bloody and bruised forces, Khushrenada confronted Rogarth.

"That would be my navigator you are holding."

"Ho, ho, yes. And very careless of you to have lost him so soon. Most negligent, sir."

"We'll take Duo back now, if you please." Khushrenada's determination not to retreat, regardless of the numbers arrayed against them, was readily apparent. The able support of his officers was equally evident. These men would go down fighting, taking many with them when they died.

"I imagine the boy is nothing but trouble," Rogarth leered.

"With a capital T," Khushrenada grinned.

It caused Merquise to start violently, and wonder who else might be using his surveillance devices for their amusement.

"Alas, then." Redbeard stuck his long slippery tongue into Duo's ear, and swiped it wetly against the sweet flesh. Then he abruptly dropped the boy onto his feet, slapped him resoundingly on his poor, much abused ass cheeks. "Off you go then, m'dear."

Merquise grabbed Duo and unabashedly ran pell mell for the exit. The other Cepheans followed with scarcely more dignity, as the collective pirates' voices echoed in laughter and excited swearing off the walls of the assembly hulk.
Khushrenada's group didn't slow until they were secure aboard the Coruscate Cepheus, and a straight line course had been engaged to flee that chunk of space.

xXxXx

"It was only just the handle that hit me," Duo explained, as Sawbones cleaned the scalp scrape for him.

"Superficial, trivial," the old man agreed, releasing the great mop of Duo's bloody bangs.

"My butt hurts a ton more," Duo wriggled upon his uncomfortable posterior.

"I can well imagine," the elder Maxwell cheerfully agreed.

"Yer know. We can probably get a divorce from ther Cap'n now. Or a whatcher may callit, annulment, since ther adoption weren't consummated," Duo winked saucily.

"Rather nice to have an heir, actually," Sawbones replied mundanely.

Duo blinked in surprise.

"Just as long as you don't intend to kill me in my sleep, for the sake of the inheritance," the elderly doctor stated serenely.

"Nurp, I wouldn't, sir. Yer can rely on me," Duo declared in an uncharacteristically somber voice.

"Very good. Carry on," Sawbones replied, smiling genially.

Duo next winked at Merquise, who had been silently watching the medical care. "A night at the opera, huh? I enjoyed our date," he declared wickedly up at him.

"Good. Don't let it go to your head, Mr Maxwell."

Captain Khushrenada followed this exchange with amused puzzlement. Merquise intended to fill him in, with graphic detail, later when they retired to bed.

"Not much," Duo chuckled to Zechs as the boy exited the sickbay.

"Congratulations, Mr Maxwell." In the corridor, Barton was the first to address him.

"Welcome aboard, Mr Maxwell," Chang bowed.

"Glad to have you amongst us, Mr Maxwell," Winner shook his hand warmly.

Heero grabbed Duo's arm and dragged him away from the others. "Are you all right?" he demanded brusquely.

"Dun think I'll be sitting down much in the foreseeable future," Duo grinned.

"And in the unforeseeable future?" Heero asked, looking suddenly very young and vulnerable.

"I want to travel to Andromeda."

"Andromeda? Are you serious?"

"Certain sure. I wanna see if its full of purple-eyed demon folk who never lie."

"As far as I know, travel to Andromeda is impossible with our current starships."

"Even with the finest navigator in the Milky Way? One who can hear the stars singing?" the boy grinned.

"Even then. Likely you would die trying to cross the uncharted void of deep space, lost between the galaxies."

"Maybe so. Still wanna try it."

"I'll go with you then."

"Terrific. Soon as we get enough money together to buy our own starship, we're off for Andromeda."

"Very well. Andromeda it is."

Heero wrapped his arms around Duo as if he would never let him go in a million light years.

The boy squirmed.

Then with a sigh, Duo settled into the firm embrace.



~ * ~

End


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