The Joker and the Thief
A fighter pilot and an alien find love in the midst of a war between their two peoples. Zemyx, AkuDemy, XemZex. Spiritual successor to "Tainted But Beautiful."
Warnings: AU (sci fi space opera setting), violence, yaoi, language, explicit scenes, noncon, light S&M, discipline, semi-mpreg (it makes sense in story), seme!Demyx and uke!Zexion, badly written space battles, possibly inaccurate military procedures, character death, melodrama
I don't know if any of you remember, but in the final chapter of Tainted But Beautiful, I wrote that I might one day write a story involving a soldier Demyx falling in love with an alien Zexion. Well, lo and behold, here is that story. It's not necessary to read Tainted before reading this one, because the story isn't "Tainted in Space!" nor Tainted in the future; it's an alternative universe tale that shares some similar themes to Tainted. And will undoubtedly be better written. So if you enjoyed Tainted, even if you don't usually like sci fi, please give Joker and Thief a look.
I guess I was inspired to write this because I was in a sci fi mood. I blame that on watching Star Trek: First Contact (awesome movie, btw!) and attending a Muse concert. Yes, Muse, live. They are fucking epic, one of the few bands that's actually better live. Anyway, listening to Muse always gets me into a sci fi mood, although song-wise this story takes more inspiration from "All Along The Watchtower."
Log I: There Must Be Some Way Out Of Here
Demyx hated space.
He hated seeing all the little pinprick-stars swallowed up in that black expanse. Black, black, and black, everywhere he looked. No matter what level of Starbase 13 he stood on, whenever he looked out the viewports he saw the same identical vista of white sprinkles on an endless black cake. He could tilt his head or look at it sideways, but all that changed was that a few of the stars - maybe - shifted position. He could float upside-down in the antigrav viewchamber, watching the panoramic space turn and turn around him, but that just made him nauseous.
More than anything, Demyx ached for land. He remembered his childhood home on the beautiful watery planet of Aersu. Instead of endless blackness, there was an endless beach. Miles upon miles of soft white sand, and waves that whispered as they rose, then retreated. He missed that sound the most. The waves' soft, lulling voices His mother had never had to sing him lullabies because the surf comforted him so much better. Sometimes he imagined it speaking. Hush...I'm here. Sleep...Demyx. Sometimes it said his name, and he liked that the most.
Aboard the starbase, the only sound during the night was the perpetual low growl of the life support systems, and the occasional tramp of boots upon metal.
Nobody else would understand, least of all Axel. Axel had, like most of the residents of Starbase 13, been born spaceside. He remembered nothing but the inky void outside the viewports and the cold embrace of metal. Demyx had never told Axel about Aersu because he was sure Axel would just laugh in his face. Demyx could just imagine him: "Aww, homesick, are you, Dems? Don't cry!"
It wasn't that he was homesick, really...okay, maybe he was. But who wouldn't get homesick after living in a metal trap for three years?
And before Starbase 13 had been the Academy. At least the Academy had been an orbiting space station, so he could watch the slowly turning curve of the planet from the viewports. Not that there'd been much to see; Nebulon-XV was just an orange gas giant. Demyx had gazed upon it so often he'd memorized the pattern of stripes covering its surface.
He longed to see land, but more than that, he longed to see the cool, gentle blue of sea.
Demyx sighed and leaned his forehead against the wall. What the hell was he thinking about. When his thoughts turned this direction, his head started hurting and his heart ached like an unhealed bruise. He was going to homesick himself to death, he felt. Why couldn't he just put up and shut up and follow his orders and wait for this tour of duty to end?
Not that you even know when it's going to end, he thought grimly.
Outside this viewport, he could see something besides dull space, though. One of the station's many arms was visible, slashing across the space vista like a huge, blunt knife. The arms connected the various modules of the station; this one led to Quarters Module D. Demyx pressed his nose to the cold viewport and stared at it just for something to stare at. A couple of fixer robots crawled across the arm's flat metal surface, spraying it with bursts of colorless steam. Reinforcing the hull to keep the vacuum out.
Maybe he should do something more interesting than this. Find somebody else. Axel and Xigbar, maybe. Except they were off on a mission, those lucky bastards who were part of Radiant Squadron. Radiant was made up of the Fleet's best and brightest so no wonder they got to go on so many missions. Demyx's own squadron, Hollow, did little besides clean up Radiant's occasional messes. So far, in three years of serving the Fleet, Demyx had taken part in a real battle only twice, and both those times he'd survived by the skin of his teeth.
Oh well, if he was part of Radiant, he'd die quickly anyway. He wasn't brave like them; he couldn't fight the vamps. Demyx remembered that today Radiant's mission was to scout out a drifting, abandoned vamp scouter. "Probably a trap," Axel had said, "but who cares?" Spoken like a true Fleet flyboy, Demyx thought sourly. Don't give a shit about danger. Look forward to it, in fact. Well, whatever, Demyx sent a little prayer in Radiant's direction anyway. He knew Axel and Xigbar and the rest didn't need it, but all the same, Demyx couldn't help but worry whenever they left for too long. It had already been almost half a day after they'd first departed. He could only hope that they'd survived the vamp trap.
Not a very good flyboy, are you? snickered a voice in the back of Demyx's mind, which sounded a little too much like Axel.
"Oh, shut up," Demyx told it aloud. "Some flyboy I am, anyway. Last in his class in Flight School, remember?"
Great, now he was talking to himself. He was glad that the corridor was deserted; he couldn't handle anyone walking in on him while he was feeling sorry for himself. Once again he pressed his forehead against the viewport -
Only to jerk back up when he caught a flash of motion out of the corner of his eye. Barely daring to breathe, Demyx fixed his gaze beyond the arm, into the uniform blackness of space. It was hard to judge distances, but he was sure he saw a group of little, gleaming objects growing steadily bigger. Little gleaming objects in a familiar V-shaped formation.
It's them! Radiant!
Demyx exhaled, releasing a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Had he really been that worried? Yeah right, he'd spent most of his time feeling sorry for himself. He could never worry too much for Axel, not just because Axel didn't like it but because the man was fucking invincible. He'd survived being blasted clean out of his own fighter, for God's sake. Surely he could handle whatever the vamps threw at him.
The formation came closer, so Demyx could discern their individual shapes. Some were sharp-nosed and sleek-winged: Valkyrie fighters. Others were boxier, larger: Siren scouters. Most were scuffed, and the golden stripes proclaiming them members of Radiant were faded, but that was just regular battle damage. They didn't display any major, new damage. Leading the formation was Axel's particularly beaten Valkyrie, so close that Demyx could make out the callsign painted on its side in shining red letters: Flurry.
Well, Axel was back, so Demyx supposed he'd go welcome him. Like a wife reuniting with her husband after he'd been away at war, Demyx thought sourly. He tried to banish such thoughts from his mind, but they dogged him even as he pounded down the corridors, heading towards the hangar bay.
The hangar bay had been repressurized, so it was safe to enter without a space suit, but it didn't possess gravity, so Demyx found himself floating. He clung to the railing surrounding the balcony of the hangar's second level to keep himself from drifting into nowhere as he watched the ground level.
Most of the Radiant Squadron members had already disembarked their fighters and scouters, and now technicians were busy securing the ships to the hangar bay floor with special magnetized strips. The squadron members had gathered in tightly huddled mass around Axel's Valkyrie; Demyx could see little except their heads and their shining black flightsuits. They spoke softly, so he couldn't hear them.
Something seemed a little odd about this. Radiant usually engaged in a little powwow (what Axel called them) after every mission, but it didn't last long; usually just long enough for them to exchange fist bumps and share a laugh. Already, Radiant had been huddled for over a minute. Nor was it common for the commander of the starbase himself, Colonel Ansem, to join them. In his duty dress uniform, he looked odd amidst all the flightsuits. Worry began to churn in Demyx's stomach, especially since he couldn't see Axel's crown of red spikes. Shit, what if something had happened to him? Unconsciously, Demyx gripped the railing tighter and leaned forward, desperate for a glimpse of Axel.
As he leaned forward, he caught a drift of the others' voices - in particularly, Colonel Ansem's rich Capital accent.
" - oh my, it truly is so - I must commend you, Lieutenant - '
"A ha ha ha, it's really nothing, sir - "
Demyx's heart lodged into his throat. That snarky, slightly nasal voice - it could be no one but Axel. So he's okay...
"I say we send it to Capital, dude!" This was Xigbar's loud drawl. "Could make a ton of cred off this, I swear - "
"You kiddin'?" Axel again. "No way we're selling it, right, Colonel?"
"Of course not." Ansem's firm voice invited no argument. "It is of too much strategic value for us to relinquish it."
By this point, Demyx was starting to wonder what this 'it' was. Had Radiant found some treasure during their mission? Or maybe an important piece of vamp technology? Demyx itched to know, but he couldn't see through the mob of Radiants pressed around Axel in the center.
Demyx tried leaning forward, but his feet left the floor. Gasping, he doubled his grip on the railing and flailed, trying to plant his feet on the solid metal again. More people, technicians and white-uniformed flight controllers included, drifted towards the crowd; when they squeezed into open spaces, they reacted with shocked gasps and hands over mouths. Their reactions annoyed Demyx more. Just what were they gawking at? He wanted to see!
"Okay, okay, back away, you've all got a good look," This was Axel. "C'mon, clear some room for a guy to move, got it memorized?"
The people did move, but more slowly than Demyx would have liked. None seemed able to tear their eyes from Axel, or rather, this mysterious 'it' he had. Still, they did thin out, until Axel's lanky form, bent at the waist, became visible. Demyx's eyes moved from Axel's distinctive hair to...
To the person on the floor.
Someone lay curled up at Axel's feet. From this distance, Demyx couldn't tell if it was male or female, but he could make out its slender build, the deathly pallor of its skin, the strange loose gray garments it wore, and black liquid, some half-dried and crusting up, everywhere. In its hair and torn clothes and skin...
Demyx's heart stopped. That liquid was...blood, wasn't it? But why was it black? Why was this person so pale? Like alabaster...or a corpse. And why were their hands cuffed? Were they a prisoner? But an ordinary prisoner shouldn't amaze everyone so much...
"Lieutenant, Captain," Colonel Ansem was saying to Axel and Xigbar, "gather a team of four - arm yourselves with blast rifles - and escort our...guest...to the brig. Maximum security chamber, if you please."
"Geez, you seem pretty damn paranoid," Axel said, rubbing his head. "C'mon, it's passed out, what harm can it do?"
"Hey, even when it was half-dead, it did a good number on us, y'know! Better safe than sorry, I always say!" Xigbar shouted. Demyx noticed that his midsection had been crudely bandaged; blood had already soaked through the bandages. At the same time, he realized that a ragged gash ran down Axel's arm; Axel, true to form, didn't seem to register it.
Sick panic spiked inside Demyx. Just what had happened?
"Captain Xigbar is right," Colonel Ansem said. "We must take every available precaution so long as the enemy is aboard this base."
What? The enemy? Does he mean...is that...
Demyx focused harder on the prisoner, whom Axel and a small contingent of Radiants had surrounded and aimed blasters upon. The pale skin...the black blood...the strange garments... Could it be that the prisoner was a vamp?
Demyx had never seen a vamp before. Of course, he knew that the Alliance was at war with the mysterious aliens, but all he'd seen of them were their massive motherships and bizarrely designed fighters. Only ground fighters on the colony worlds ever got to see vamps. Even there, the vamps always hid inside armor suits that self-destructed when the soldier died. Nobody had ever captured a vamp alive.
Until now. Demyx could hardly breathe through his awe - and jealousy - of Axel.
Axel and his team had dragged the unconscious vamp to a standing position, though they held it at arms' length with looks of disgust on their faces. As Axel and Xigbar dragged it, three men behind them prodded it with their blast rifles - which were set to kill. Demyx watched them float out of the hangar, then released the railing and floated off after them.
"I still can't believe it," Demyx breathed, leaning towards the force shield. "A real live vamp..."
"Haha, aren't I awesome?" Axel smirked and leaned against the wall, ever the picture of infuriating confidence. "We had no idea we'd come across anyone alive - ship seemed to be one of those vamp scouters, yeah? Except it was totally wrecked, couldn't extract any useful tech from it, what a shame. But we did find the vamp!Hiding inside the vents - leapt out all snarling and tried attacking us with one of them knives. Took me and Xigbar to bring it down, but it was already pretty much half-dead anyway. Gonna have to get the damn thing back for my arm, though, got it memorized?"
Demyx didn't, because he wasn't listening to Axel. He only had eyes on the vamp. Starbase 13's brig wasn't very large, only big enough to hold a row of three cells. The other two were empty, but the one in the center was occupied by the vamp. It lay atop the bench jutting from the metal wall, still out cold. Water dripped with painful regularity from its hair and clothes onto the grooved floor; rather than waste time cleaning and disinfecting its injuries, Axel and Xigbar had simply hosed it down until they'd washed all the blood off. Now that it was clean, Demyx could see that its skin really was pale - the same hue as arctic ice, with a blue tinge as well - and its hair was an astonishing shade of slate blue. It reminded Demyx of the ocean on a stormy day, which made him horribly homesick again.
He was astonished by how human the vamp looked. It had a head and hair and a torso and two arms and two legs. In the old days, people either believed aliens would be little gray men with big heads and eyes, or bizarre nonsensical blobs, but this youth, aside from its skin and hair color, looked normal enough. And okay, maybe its fingers were unnaturally long and tipped with claws, and fangs protruded from its shut mouth, and angular purple markings emanated from the corners of its eyes to its temples, and its shirt, ripped open in the back, revealed two bluish, veiny stubs over its shoulder blades. Okay, maybe not so normal.
Now that all that black blood had been washed away, its injuries stood in clear relief against its skin. Several great ragged gashes on its back, grayish bruises on its face, an ankle bent at an awkward angle. Demyx felt a little sick ,though he reminded himself that this wasn't an injured human, just a vamp.
"Pretty amazing," Demyx said. "It looks so human, doesn't it?"
"Don't forget it'll suck your blood out if you give it any openings," Axel said in a deadpan.
"I wonder if it's a boy or a girl?" Demyx continued, barely hearing Axel's words. "How can you tell?"
"Why don'cha ask the doc those questions, I sure as hell don't know," Axel said. "After the doc's finished fixin' Xigbar, of course."
Demyx cast a glance back at Axel - or rather, at Axel's injured arm, which he'd bandaged with a length of gauze. "What about you?"
"Nahh, this is nothing." Axel waved the injured arm as if to demonstrate. "Still can fly with this, yeah? So it's fine, got it memorized?"
Demyx sighed and wondered if he would ever be as singlemindedly devoted to flying as Axel was. Mayeb that was why Axel was in Radiant while Demyx was just a shitty Hollow.
"Whoa, look out, you two!" shouted one the brig guards, hefting his blast rifle. The other guard followed suit. Demyx's hand, too, automatically flew for the blaster tucked into his belt.
The vamp was stirring.
It groaned a little, a tiny sound that Demyx couldn't hear through the force shield's crackling. Its eyelids begin to flutter, slightly at first, but it managed to crack them open. Demyx froze when he saw the vamp's eyes. Even though they were bleary and unfocused, they compelled him in a powerful way. Maybe it was their color: a deep, midnight blue, almost as dark as the void of space and just as unforgiving...just as inhuman.
Demyx's arm ached; he didn't know why until he realized he'd drawn his blaster and had aimed it at the vamp. The four human soldiers stood in a row, all pointing weapons as the vamp moved its head, darting its eyes back and forth, from the ceiling to the floor to the bench, to the cuffs around its wrists -
And then to the soldiers.
Its eyes locked with Demyx's and the breath vanished from Demyx's lungs. He couldn't look away - not from that entrancing darkness - and to think he'd always thought of space as shallow, flat, boring...
The vamp held Demyx's gaze for less than a second. Its expression grew wild, and then it leapt forward and hurled itself directly into the force shield.
Axel yelled an expletive and the guards cried out as electricity, blue and crackling, blazed down the vamp's body. With a shout it flew backwards, slamming into the floor with an impact that made all four soldiers wince. For a moment Demyx feared that the vamp had died, but then it sat up in a too-fluid motion, glaring daggers at the humans.
"Morning," Axel said, sardonic as ever.
The vamp snarled something in its own language. Its voice was low, chilling - a male voice, Demyx thought.
"Same here," Axel snickered.
The vamp staggered to his feet - he had to lean against the wall for support, since his hands were cuffed - and leveled his glare upon Axel. He said something else in his language, more sibilant. Axel just laughed.
"Whatever you say, pal."
Demyx wondered about the wisdom of goading a dangerous alien, but he reminded himself that the alien, in his current injured state, wasn't much of a danger.
The vamp swallowed hard, but it was less a fearful swallow than a steeling-himself-to-face-danger swallow. When he spoke next, his voice was harsh and rasping, and he was unmistakably speaking Alliance Standard.
Axel raised an eyebrow but otherwise took things in stride. "Yeah, that's right, that's what we are. Want a gold star?"
"Re...release me." The vamp narrowed his eyes.
"Nahh, don't really feel like it." Axel spun his blaster before pointing it at the vamp's face again. "You're our prisoner, you get?"
'I...will be nobody's prisoner." The vamp's speech was heavily accented, with emphasizes on odd syllables. "I will not...betray my kind."
"Hahahaha, like you've got a choice - oh, fuck! Stop that!"
With a look of determination on his face, the vamp brought his claws to his throat. Was it Demyx's imagination, or had they lengthened an inch? They now looked like needles, sharp and deadly enough to plunge into the trembling column of his throat - and spill his lifeblood.
The guards and Axel lifted their guns again, but Demyx thought it was pointless - what, were they going to kill the vamp before he killed himself? Before he could think, he dashed up to the force shield, though he stopped before he could actually touch it.
"Hey, wait, wait," he yelled, waving his arms like an idiot. "Wait, don't do it!"
"I will protect my people." The vamp gazed coolly at Demyx. He pressed one needle-like claw to the side of his neck and sank it in millimeter by deadly millimeter. "I will not have you humans make a game of me."
"Nobody's trying to do anything like that! Hey, don't kill yourself, okay?" Demyx shouted. He heard Axel shouting something else behind him, but paid him little attention. "Come on, if you die now you'll never see your home again!"
The vamp laughed, a soft sound that brushed over Demyx like an icy breeze. "You are...ignorant, human."
"Shield down, weapons on stun, hands on triggers, and out of the fucking way, Demyx," Axel shouted in one breath. "In three - two - one! Mark!"
He snapped his fingers and one of the guards dashed forward and slammed his palm against the force shield control pad - just as Axel and the other guard fired. Demyx yelled and ducked, and the vamp swung his hands away from his neck and surged forward as if to attack -
Only for two yellow bolts to strike him, one on the chest, the other on the side. He staggered back, his mouth open in soundless surprise, his eyes huge and indignant. Seconds later he had collapsed into a heap on the floor.
"Whew." Axel wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "Fuck, I thought we almost had a situation there...well, we gotta be careful. Watch out for suicide attempts, got it memorized?"
I guess it makes sense...we all know vamps don't like to be captured, Demyx thought. He was still shaken by the incident. No, didn't find almost being stunned that bothersome, those kinds of near misses happened unfortunately often to him. For whatever reason, he though the vamp's attempted suicide was more disturbing.
Because it showed just how far vamps could go? Or because he didn't want the vamp to die?
What kind of nonsense was that? Of course he didn't want the vamp to die; it could be a source of tremendous information. Demyx shook his head to clear it, wondering if he'd somehow been affected by the stunner bolts too. Now, that was nonsense...
"And hey, next time dodge quicker, mmkay Dems?" Axel was saying.
"Yeah, yeah, sure. I"m sorry," Demyx said.
"Pretty dumb of you, just running up like that and trying to stop the vamp. You should've just stepped back and let me handle it, you always know I have a plan, hmm?" Axel grinned, teeth showing. Demyx tried to return the smile, but his face muscles hurt.
He knew that Axel wasn't deliberately trying to be mean; he was just a thoughtless person. But the worst thing was that Axel was right. He could handle everything, that man, because he was...Axel. The prodigy, the genius, one of the best pilots Starbase 13 had known. Demyx was already lucky that a guy like Axel considered him - a mere Hollow - a worthy friend.
That didn't stop Demyx's stomach from churning in disquiet as he followed Axel out of the brig (after Axel had bid goodbye to the guards and the guards turned on the force shield again). It always turned out this way. Him and his stupid, nonsensical impulses. They always lost to the force of Axel's cunning and charisma.
Yay for Firefox's spell check feature. Hopefully that means there will be less stupid typos riddling this story than there were in Tainted. If you do notice some mistakes, please point them out; I'll try to edit them.
Enjoy a preview of the next chapter, titled "Said The Joker To The Thief" (candy corn to whoever can figure out the chapter titling theme):
"So," Demyx said, clapping his hands together. "I figure we should start with names, hmm? Whadda ya think? I mean, it'll get tiresome to call you 'vamp' all the time, yeah?"
The vamp had adopted his usual position tucked in the corner of the bench. He was really quite small, Demyx thought. Well, small for a boy, but tall for a girl. It was still a little hard to tell what sex he was supposed to be; his features were delicate and perfectly androgynous, and his body wasn't visible through the baggy surplus jumpsuit he'd been dressed in. Looking at him, he could really go either way. If it wasn't for his voice, in fact, Demyx might be more inclined to think him a girl.
"Vamp. That is your name for us."
One last note: Most of the time, I find Ansem damn near impossible to write. Not so here. Somehow, all of his lines ended up flowing naturally and sounded good. Only when I was rereading did I realize that was because I was imagining Jean-Luc Picard while writing him. So yeah, in this story, Ansem is Captain Picard with hair.
Hope you enjoyed it, and please do review. I'll try to update soon, no promises.