Disclaimer: I do not own this series, or any of the characters, obviously.
So my dear friend AngesRadieux has been with me since the beginning for this two-shot. Originally it was to be a one-shot, but for stylistic purposes I changed my mind. This is my first foray into the Gokaiger fandom, and I am up-to-date with the episodes. And if you have never read anything of mine before, I might suggest at least taking a peek into other fanfictions. I pretty much detest mindless fluff and hate spoon-feeding plots, and like to have misleading details. My penchant for Joe/Ahim is not steadfast - and there are sprinkles of other pairings throughout (so no unnecessary 'shipping!panic, please).
Edit: 10/31 - Happy Halloween, everybody! I realized that the scene breaks I entered a couple days ago are still /not/ showing up. Cross your fingers and hope they stay this time!
That day, Ahim learned the sound of bones.
Snap, crackle, crunch.
He lands in a heap of limbs bent horribly wrong. Somehow the sound snatches her delicate ears and hangs on, a grip of terror that may be this man's only saving grace.
She knows even humans should not make those sounds. Logic deserts her promptly and without remorse, and she does not make an effort to retrieve it. The sword in her hand drops, and it falls forever – seconds slow, thicken, and bleed while the fight continues, and she is lost in the dust.
Tatters of red fabric fall slowly, silent crimson snow. Ordinarily she would cry out but she cannot breathe. Not while she stares into this man's eyes, a middle-aged man with a scruffy chin. A man being kicked as a stray dog takes abuse, rolling over and over, the source of a dizzying symphony of crunching, shattered ribs. Metal makes the rhythm; it is a mere Goumin with a towering temper and a desire to see the man fall from the sheer precipice.
The shout is lost to the wind in her ears as she sprints toward the minion. Vaguely, she acknowledges the searing heat, throbbing from her shoulder to her elbow. It is difficult to acknowledge. And still, time languishes behind.
Ahim nearly closes her eyes as her fist connects with the soldier's gaudy metal helmet: Her knuckles explode in pain, but in a removed, disconnected frame of reality. All she has eyes for is the man teetering dangerously at the edge of the precipice, a meager pile of flesh, blood, and
-broken bones. Her thoughts are those of startled deer – scattered. A second too late she has waited, for the minion has recovered. She has time for only one weak punch, which it parries and then grabs her by the arm, that same burning arm. It roughly swings her around and to the ground, and pivots to deliver one final kick into the human's crumpled rib cage.
"NO!" Ahim screeches, and throws her body weight, what little she has, at the knees of the Goumin; it topples over her as she stretches her arm as far as possible, to grasp the human's limb.
She is flat on the ground, but her injured arm cannot support him. He is on the verge of unconsciousness, about to become dead weight.
His eyes bore into hers – they are glittering coals.
"Sir," she whispers, "Sir, you will be all right now!"
Explosions breed and multiply in her torso, and she is waiting for the grotesque crunches of broken bones; thankfully, she cannot hear it over her own screams.
Dangling above an endless drop, the man closes his eyes.
She hears a disturbing, dull pop – he falls a few inches yet she has not moved. As her vision begins to blur and haze, her fingers undulate of their own accord.
And as she succumbs, he falls forever.
A hazy five minutes elapses, in which all Ahim can remember is faces and faraway sounds.
Luka's shrill voice fills the air to its brim; it is everywhere, all at once, echoing. "Ahiiiiim come on! Stay with me!"
She wanted to say she was fine.
"Someone needs to set her shoulder right."
"I don't know if – I don't think I can! I – I'm not – I'm a mechanic, not a doctor!"
"I'll do it. Hold her still, Luka."
"She's not even stirring!" Luka shot back. Her voice is cruel and frigid as ice. Still, Ahim felt her left side rise and steady. A hand grips her upper arm and an arm settles behind her neck and head.
"Well, she's about to. Put another arm behind her!" An angry, snappish command.
Ahim sharply inhales and chokes, the desperate breath of a swimmer breaking the surface. As her eyes flutter open, stinging, her nose is inches away from Joe's.
Pain begins to seep into her marrow, into her bones. He knows and distinctly swallows as his grip on her arm tightens – his face is etched with lines of pain, his lips drawn thin.
He nods at Luka, who also grips tighter.
Without pretense, Joe sets his chin on top of Ahim's head, her face cradled in the hollow of his collarbone.
"I'm sorry, Ahim," he murmurs.
Luka's horrified wail could not mask the sound of the dull pop that cut through Ahim's haze of pain – it was an echoing shot in darkness.
And so the princess knew the sound of bones.
Later, Ahim learns that her captain's coat was torn to tatters and shreds, left strewn across the battlefield as a glaring testament. Luka tells her sister tales of woe: Of the man's fall and various injuries, and the villains' escape.
Even later, Ahim sits alone in the dark, and the others have long bid her good night. With her arm in a sling and the sounds reverberating in her mind, she does not dare sleep.
A light flares from nowhere; Joe's expression softens when he sees her, silent without a stir.
His limp is slight, but she cannot stop herself. "Joe-san, your leg."
He crosses the room slowly, quieter than usual. No boots. The sofa dips with his wearied weight.
"Don't worry about me," he says gruffly. A pause, and then he adds, "please."
"Is everyone mostly uninjured?" she inquires.
Joe turns his head slowly, and she blinks in surprise as he fixes his gaze on her. Seconds pass, melting into surprisingly comfortable minutes, and still he does not answer. Dancing candlelight paints shadows on his skin, fills his deep, dark eyes with the warm glow of flame. He watches her watch him. How her eyes manage to be so sincerely concerned, he does not know.
"Yes." His late response shatters the silence. "We were fine. Your injuries were my concern."
Her smile could bring forth the dawn; too bad it was fake.
Ahim drops her gaze to the floor, to the lights and shadows playing tag on the wooden deck. To her tiny feet still clad in boots and the ivory, sick skin teasing her from beneath the hem of an equally pale dress. Exhaustion tugs at every limb and joint, weighing down her mind.
"I also do not want the crew worrying about me," she whispered. "I was a distraction-"
"No," Joe interrupted brusquely. "To be frank, Ahim, we were already losing. We decided to fall back. Don't blame yourself for this loss."
Ahim looks startled that he has asked, but manages a weak smile and nods. "Yes, thank you, Joe-san."
In minutes, he sets a steaming teacup on a small table in front of her and sinks into the couch again. It is not like him to relax or even, really, make so much use of the furniture. She hears his weary sigh.
"Tell me if, erm, this tastes all right," He looks away deliberately, embarrassed. "I'm no expert on tea."
"It's really very simple," Ahim giggled, and reached for her cup – only to draw back, a breath caught fast in her throat.
Joe takes a tentative sip and tilts his head slightly, contemplating the taste as Ahim winces, lifting her arm from the sling. Leaning forward with the most grace she can muster, her fingers find the hot cup and hold on for dear life. Tremors violently embrace her hand and arm, forcing pain through her shoulder –
She is folding her hands in her lap as he turns around. She's fast, he thinks. However, her face says it all. Her nose wrinkles as if there is an unwelcome scent in the air, but really, she is trying not to make a sound. Without expression, she reaches for it with her left hand, a steely gaze in her eyes. Her determination is absolute; fingers cradling the cup, she will not settle for anything less. Only her lips betray distress.
He inhales as if preparing to speak, but decides against it.
Despite her awkward grip she continues to bring it closer. Her unbending tenacity is as straight-laced as her posture, but it will not serve her well. She readjusts her grip but the smooth china slips from her fingers–
And Joe leans forward almost lazily as it lands in his outstretched and waiting hand. No shattering, no sounds, and no time for her to move a muscle.
A sound escapes, barely more than a muffled whimper.
"I shouldn't forget to be a gentleman," he sighed, moving closer until his shoulder touched her uninjured left one.
"You do not have to-"
"And I'm not doing it because I have to. As far as I'm concerned, you're a pirate, not a princess. That doesn't mean that someone can't take care of you, though."
Ahim is thunderstruck hearing so many words from Joe's lips – after all, that may have been more than he said all of the previous week. He clears his throat, ruffled, and amends, "Help you, I mean."
So she lets him awkwardly hold the tiny cup, his fingers slightly clumsy; he places his hand underneath her left to steady it. He gently presses the cup toward her lips, but she insists on placing her fingers correctly no matter how uncomfortable it feels. It takes him a second to realize she is adjusting his placement as well, and his trademark smirk emerges. Always proper. Every sip seems painstaking but he notices her absolute refusal to let him hold it. Silence. The room heaves a collective sigh: The wooden floorboards and walls bend in, out, ever-so-slightly with the winds swirling outside.
And the shatter of broken china echoes throughout the Galleon.
Joe taps her shoulder and murmurs something about a broom, but his words never truly reach her ears. As he is walking toward the kitchen she immediately stands, intent on leaving the room without another sound. Cheeks aflame with embarrassment and frustration, she looks toward the stairs. At this point, sleep is all she desires and tears are poised on her lashes, threatening to fall. She steps forward and hears –
-the sound of bones.
Muscles rigid, her body is prepared for fight-or-flight: Heartbeat is stuck on one frantic note like an old, broken record player. Those sounds echo so volatile, pressing on the walls of a frantic mind. Somehow she stumbles through the rest of the mess, but it continues.
One shard skitters across the wooden deck, lost to the long, flickering shadows. The darkness envelopes her and her lungs panic, airways constricting as she breaks into a run.
Her shins painfully collide with the bottom stair. She cannot control the noise she is creating, the heavy and frantic slamming of her booted feet on the wooden steps. Suddenly she stops, held steadfast by the waist, and though her feet leave solid ground the echoing still reigns.
In one fluid motion, Joe lifts her easily, swinging her tiny body from the ascending stairs to the landing and finally leaning her against the wall. Ahim's thin, pale fingers slap against her ears in a vain attempt to drown out the grotesque song.
"Breathe," he intones. He's not quite sure of the best course of action, but it seems like a good first step. His hands leave her tiny waist to press against the cool wooden wall, and he slides them up to rest on either side of her. After a painful eternity, she begins to breathe normally once more, and her lips begin to form words before she can speak.
"It's not fair." Barely spoken above a whisper, her companion strains to hear. She continues in a broken voice.
"It isn't. I am sick of being useless to those I care about. I am always lagging behind and failing. Why am I here? How could I have been the only one left alive? Good people were lost when my home was destroyed; talented, brave people. They weren't useless. They could handle this better and they had so much to offer. All I've proved so far is that . . . I'm not a pirate. I mean, look at me."
She's shaking now, words tinged with utter devastation.
"So . . . that's what this is about?" Joe asks quietly, subdued. He does not dare look her in the eyes.
"It's not fair that I lived."
He wants to tell her she is wrong, but the words stick in this throat. Now, tears are spilling from her lashes, leaving trails on her cheeks. He is too late:
"I couldn't save anybody."
Without warning she ducks under his arm and hurries toward the stairs, ascending them once more. This time he lets her go, waiting for the gentle "click" of a locked bedroom door while he stands in the dark.
Only then does he finally head up the stairs himself, wrapped in pensive silence. He reaches the top but does not move, and stands stock-still as his eyelids fall closed. Inhales, exhales. Inhales, and continues down the hallway past the uncovered portholes, dazzling blue moonlight pouring onto the deck.
Something stops him in his tracks.
His captain leans against the wall, arms folded and an eyebrow raised. An aloof expression graces his face, but the curiosity is unmistakable. Joe's exhale whistles through his nose and his steps resume, pronounced and angry. As he stalks past Marvelous, the captain's eyes are boring into the side of his skull, craving an explanation.
In a fleeting moment, Joe turns his head ever-so-slightly to stare at him over his shoulder. Long hair obscures his face and shadows mask his expression; the captain's eyes glitter with the intensity of an animal not yet sated.
Wind whistles, rattles the floorboards.
The questioner's only answer is stark silence – he watches his crewman stalk into the darkness, long hair whipping out of sight.