One important thing about this story. Although it's posted under my name, it's actually a full collaboration, written alternately between me and Tian Ning. She's obsessed with Jet, I'm obsessed with Spike, so that worked out great, didn't it? This first chapter is hers, and takes place directly after the events in the final Bebop episode.

As the summary suggests, we weren't willing to let Spike be dead, and that's how this story came to be. (Why am I always having to resurrect my bishies??)

We don't own Cowboy Bebop, Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed, or Ein. Other characters are our own invention. The story is rated PG13 for some adult themes, sexual content, violence, and language.

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Mercy, or Why I Didn't Marry the Shrew Woman

"I'm back." She leaned into the observation deck, hands pressed against either door jamb. A faint, red point cast by the end of his cigarette was the only light behind the domed window. The rest of the deck was sunk in darkness behind the glowing curve of Mars' horizon.

"I heard you come in."

She dropped her hands to her sides, sauntered a step forward, and wrinkled her nose. "What's with all the bleach? I nearly choked when I came in."

"It's called cleaning up." His voice was unusually low and quiet. "A foreign concept to you."

"Very funny," she returned. "But didn't you go a little over the top? I mean, from what I saw, I think you could eat out of the john now."

"Suit yourself. I'm not that hungry."

Wearily, she flopped down on one of the cushioned benches facing the window. "You're hopeless. I'm just trying to make a little conversation."

"Go right ahead."

She gave an irritated sigh. Okay, so he's as upset as I am, she thought. But that doesn't give him the right to be such a pompous jerk. She was quiet for a few moments before she ventured, "I couldn't get within a kilometer for a flyover. The airspace all around the site is declared a secured area, and the whole place is crawling with ISSP." As her eyes adjusted, she made out his silhouette. He was motionless, still in the same position as when she had left him eight hours before, staring out the observation deck window. A half-empty whiskey bottle stood next to the ankle of his wounded leg, propped on the short table in front of him. He was pressing the side of his glass against his lips, and didn't seem to be listening.

"But I did get close enough to intercept the ISSP vid crew's transmission."

This, at last, provoked a response. A blast of smoke curled around his head as he swiveled as far around as he could without moving his leg. His arm went rigid against the seat, his voice strained. "And?"

"Well, I saw him."

Jet leaned forward. "Are you sure? You saw Spike, for sure? Was he alive?"

She wasn't sure how to say it. "We've both seen a lot of dead people in our lives. Andhe looked a lot like that."

"You're sure it was him?"

"They scanned him up close."

"Did you record the transmission?"

" I tried. Haven't played it back yet. But I brought it." She lifted his black laptop. "It's out of juice. Is there someplace in here to plug it in?"

"That port's working," he gestured to an outlet below the window and crushed out his cigarette. Wincing as he swung his leg around, he got up and leaned against his brace.

"Still hurting?"

"Just stiff when I first move."

She had already plugged in the computer and was punching at the keyboard. "Damn. Where'd I save it?"

Jet shouldered her away and rapidly tapped in the commands. He lowered himself to the bench again, and as the noisy images began reflecting their flickering light over him, Faye moved away. She had already seen it live, and didn't want a re-run. It was going to be bad enough to watch it again on Jet's face.

His brow furrowed. "Sound card's messed up. Butokay. There's Bob. I figured he'd be on the scene. I can probably get the straight story from him." His eyes suddenly went wide. "Holy shit. Harvey Baum. He never leaves his office any more. Why the hell is he out there in the field?" He frowned, staring intently. "He must have known it was Spike. That's the only thing that could have brought him out. Ah, jeez" His face screwed up in dismay and disgust.

Faye glanced at the screen, and saw the replay of officers dragging half a corpse out of the wreckage, its entrails dragging behind. "When Spike goes in, he really goes in."

Bob's face filled the screen, and his hands waved the recording crew to the left as he mouthed unheard commands. The camera's eye bounced wildly about for a moment, then snagged a square, small-eyed face.

Jet's jaw dropped. "No way. Hitchcock. That's Hitchcock, the slimy bastard."

"You know that guy?"

"Wish I didn't." The corner of his mouth tightened. "He'd sell his own mother if it would buy a leather seat upgrade for his little Porsche zipcraft. Back when I was on the force, rumor had it he was on the Dragon payroll. But anyone who tried to investigate always seemed to have some unfortunate accident and end up in a nice, engraved ISSP urn. So his official record's as clean as they come."

Hitchcock mouthed something to the camera, which then panned away and came to rest on a dark shape sprawled across the blood-drenched steps. A body draped in a black trenchcoat. "Oh, god, Spike," Jet's voice was hoarse. "Ah, Spike, you idiot."

They had rolled him onto a bright orange body bag, tucked in his legs, and were zipping it shut. A hand motioned in the camera's eye, beckoning it to the corpse's face. It held there for a moment, while the hand held the bag open. The grey visage, eyes barely open, a string of blood trailing from the edge of the mouth, was unmistakable. Faye glanced at Jet again, and in the bluish light, he seemed to have gone even more pale. He did not look away as the hand slowly zipped the bag over Spike's face, and the camera panned up again to Hitchcock.

Jet blinked slowly and narrowed his eyes. "What's he got going here?" he whispered, as if to himself. "He's supposed to be stationed on Europa. He's got to have something big cooking to risk getting into a pissing war with Baum."

"Jet, you saw Spike. Even if this Hitchcock guy is involved in some shady deal, it's over now. At least for us. There's nothing more you can do."

Jet stared blankly at the screen, some part of his mind noticing that in the background, as the camera played talking head with Hitchcock, the officers carrying the bag containing his partner's body had broken into a jog, and quickly disappeared from the screen.

He slumped back against the bench and recrossed his arms, scowling with his eyes closed. "So. That's it, then," he growled. "He went out with the intention of getting himself killed. When he really wants to, he does have a knack for doing things right. I was hoping that when that list of casualties came out, that maybe it'd been wrong." His voice took on a hint of desperation. "Things get really confused at a crime scene like that, I can tell you. And when he was listed there, right there in alphabetical order, it just seemed toosimple."

He picked up the whiskey glass, filled it, and gripped it so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Faye absently thought it was a good thing he wasn't holding it in his robotic arm, or the thing would have shattered and flown all over the room. He slammed back the drink in one gulp. "Damn him!" he said hoarsely. "Damn him."

"I just thought you'd want to see for yourself," she said, almost meekly.

"I did." He turned and looked her in the eye. "Thanks."

She knew she probably shouldn't push it further, but heard herself ask. "You okay, Jet?"

"I'm fine!" he snapped so sharply that she flinched.

Sure you are, she thought. You're always fine. Always in control Never need anything from anyone, even when you're feeling like this. Why do I even bother to pretend I care?

And suddenly the sensation was on her again. The dizziness. She'd started to recognize the feeling that accompanied an old, returning memory swelling behind her eyes. What was it going to be this time?

It was Alice. That old lady with the purple hair whose house was so filled with cats that you could hardly breathe for the smell when you walked in the door. Alice's old, translucent parchment face was leaning into hers. What brought this on? she wondered. But she already knew better than to suppress the return of her old life, and so she blinked and let the thing run its course.

Old Alice. The nuns had always made her visit and bring Alice food and necessities once a week. Protest fell on deaf ears. "It cheers her up so to see you, so young and sweet," she could almost hear Sister Mary Bernadette's annoying chirp. "She's so lonely. She needs the company. And it will bring you grace."

She'd hated those visits. Those cats everywhere, with their big, mooning eyes, staring at her. Alice could never turn away a stray. The smell of stale urine and cat food was almost real with the memory. Every one of those stray cats had a name and a story, and the old lady's eyes would go all wet in the endless telling and retelling of those stories while Faye had sat helpless, holding her breath and trying to take air only through the slit of her mouth. It seemed to make Alice feel strong, to think that she'd saved all those worthless cats. But all it really did was suck her every last dime and cloud her every waking thought with worry. Faye had never understood why anyone would saddle herself with so much responsibility for so little reward.

Alice had been proud. She'd made a great show of not accepting the gifts from the nuns at the boarding school, but always taking them just the same. Faye remembered the look in Alice's eyes--eager and ashamed--as her knobby old fingers rattled through the jars of jam and crackled against the plastic-wrapped buns and fruit. Faye felt her face wrinkle with the disgust she'd always felt, but couldn't show back then. Alice was needier than her scrawny cats, and she didn't even know it.

A wave of nausea tensed the back of her tongue, and then came the shock of that last visit. The day she'd knocked on the door and gotten no answer. The windows were full of flies. Clouds of them. That cold looseness in her bowel came back, the terror of it. Why she'd opened that door, she didn't know. But the vision that assailed her was as clear now as the day she'd actually seen it: the corpse sitting upright in its big, lobed chair, its face and hands eaten away by desperate cats who'd had nothing to eat or drink for the week or more that their caretaker had been dead.

Faye moaned, and bent over her knees, crossing her arms over her middle.

"Faye!" His breath was hot against her neck, and the sharp tang of whiskey on it brought her to her senses. "You all right?"

"I'm fine." She rocked forward until her forehead rested on her thighs. "Just another bad memory coming back. I have no idea where that one came from, but it was nasty."

His hand was warm on her shoulder. His real hand. His other was close to her face, holding the glass, two fingers full. "Take it." The voice had lost its harshness, and was suddenly gentle. He stifled a burp. "I sure don't need any more than I've already had."

She downed it and gasped. "Thanks."

He slumped back against the bench a few arms' lengths from her. The angle of Mars' reflected light had changed with their orbit, and he was now faintly outlined in burnt amber. She took a deep breath and stared at him, realizing that she had not often looked at his face. She'd spent more time avoiding him than seeking his company. But in this light, he seemed different, somehow. His hard, chiseled features were haggard, and he looked far older than he ordinarily did.

"So," she said. "What do we do now?"

"Haven't thought about it."

She draped her arm over the back of the bench and studied him silently. "Will you go back to Ganymede? That's your home satellite, isn't it?"

"There's nothing for me on Ganymede," he said, propping his leg back up on the table. "Fifteen years there was enough. I wouldn't call it home." He paused before adding, "Anyway, I was born on Earth."

Faye's mouth opened slightly. He had never shared anything with her about his background or personal life, and even this small revelation seemed monumental to her. "Earth?" she breathed. "Like me?"

"Canada. New Toronto, to be exact."

"Will you go there?"

"Haven't thought about it." His tone said clearly that he wished to end the subject. For once, she respected his wishes and sat still, watching him. His eyes seemed unusually bright. Almost as if. No. That was impossible.

"Jet," she leaned towards him, squinting. "Jet, are you okay?"

He continued to stare soundlessly out the domed window.

She clambered across the cushions on all fours and brought her face close to his temple. Though he tried not to react, she sensed him recoil. "Jet, you're not"

"Don't be stupid." His voice was gruff. "I just overdid the damned bleach."

"You knowit's okay to be sad."

"Why should I be sad? He was nothing but trouble from Day One."

She gave an exasperated sigh. "Fine. Say what you want." She settled back against the bench and glared out the window. "But I'm not afraid to admit I feel like shit right now."

Jet seemed to consider this for a moment. "Yeah, well, it was pretty obvious how you felt about him."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Whatever you want to think it means."

Oh, no you don't, Jet. You're not turning this back around on me.

"We were comrades. Partners. All three of us."

"So you say."

She wasn't sure whether she wanted to put her arms around him or cold cock him. But she was tired of fighting. She almost surprised herself by gently dropping a hand on his shoulder. "There's just us to remember him now."

There was no reaction from him for a long moment. And then, amazed, she felt his hand close over hers. For a while, they sat motionless and unspeaking. She thought she felt tremors under her fingers, but couldn't be sure. And as she studied him, an odd feeling came over her, foreign and not unpleasant. Was it pity? It was an odd feeling in her to begin with, and even odder to feel it for him. He'd always been the silent, tough one--the one who took care of them all. He'd been their anchor, protector and savior whenever things went wrong. How must the Old Man feel now, to be so helpless in the face of Spike's suicide?

"Hey, Jet?" She gave his shoulder what she hoped felt like an affectionate tug. And then came the strange epiphany: some part of her wanted him to turn to her for comfort. She pondered this new feeling, and wondered how to act on it. Slipping her hand out from under his, she experimentally slid it across the broad span of his shoulders, resting her inner arm against the back of his neck. She had to suppress a smile when he uncomfortably cast a furtive, sidelong glance at her cleavage, now nestled close against his biceps. He drew in and let loose a long, tired sigh, and she let herself smile. She knew men well enough to know it was his way of trying to inhale her perfume and scent while pretending not to. So naïve, for such a battered old man, to think she wouldn't know. But again to her surprise, she found that even this subtle attention from him was pleasing.

She leaned her head on his shoulder, and let her free hand trace across his chest and rest on his hard, robotic shoulder. He stiffened and tucked his chin to look at her, but seemed at a loss about how to react. "Areare you sure you're okay?" he stammered.

"I can't believe this," she said, and meant it. " I can't believeSpike. I feel terrible."

"Yeah, me, too." The words slipped through his teeth, and he fell silent again, as if afraid his voice might betray him. She shifted, and all at once they were holding each other, their faces pressed hard, cheek to cheek.

"I'm.glad you came back," he mumbled.

"You are?"

"Yeah." He lifted his head so that hers was cradled in the hollow of his throat. She felt his Adam's apple working furiously against her forehead. When it finally stilled, a hoarse whisper. "This ship's too big and quiet for one right now."

A rush of warmth filled her. Had he almost said that he needed her? No one had ever needed her. Not for anything except money, anyway. Or wanting to get her on her back. Somehow, the idea that Jet, always so tough and self-reliant, needed just her companionship and comfort made her feel better than she'd felt in a very long time.

This was the first time she'd ever touched him. She'd come close enough to tease or heckle him as long as Spike was nearby, but had never offered contact, nor had he invited it. As captain of the BeBop, he had always seemed so distant, serious, and in control of every situation. He was too huge, too overpowering. She didn't like to admit, even to herself, that anyone or anything frightened her, so she had simply stayed away from him.

But something had just changed.

She drew a breath at his throat and tasted the tobacco, the liquor and the smell of the man himself. He was human. He wasn't invulnerable. His pulse against her temple was reassuringly real. He was flesh and blood, and grieving. Perhaps for the first time in her life, she felt empathy. Who'd ever have believed it would be for someone as untouchable as Jet Black?

She felt him loosen and try to pull away. Was he suddenly uncomfortable with this intimacy? Maybe. But this new taste of being needed was too sweet. She wasn't ready to let him wash it away. She wanted to know that he really did need her closeness--that she had something of value to give him.

She pulled him back firmly, and it pleased her that he did not resist. Her bracelets slid up her arm and jingled as she traced her hand back along the line of his shoulder. She'd never even imagined touching him. It was strange and somehow exhilarating to feel his bone and muscle, one as hard as the other, under her fingertips. She feathered a finger up one of the muscles forming the taut "V" at his collarbone. He drew a quick breath and stiffened. Quickly, she cupped the back of his head, drew his face down, and caught his lower lip in her teeth.

He did not respond immediately, but when he did, she nearly drowned in the enveloping power of his kiss. It was brief, and he pulled away enough to speak. "Faye," his voice was husky. She did not have to touch him to know the effect she was having on him. "You're upset. I'm not sure you know what you're doing here."

She turned and straddled his hips, rising so that her breasts barely brushed his chin. His eyes widened momentarily, and his breath quickened.

"Have I ever seemed like I don't know what I'm doing?"

She lifted one of his hands, which had dropped in shock to either side of his hips, and spread his fingers over the curve of her waist. She felt them flex and then go rigid. "Faye," he said, looking tortured. "I'm not Spike."

"I know." She led his hand down the curve of her buttock.

"FayeI'm not sure this is a good idea." By now he didn't sound sincere or convincing. "There are other ways we can get through this without straining what little there is of our" he lost his words with a small yelp as she fearlessly slid her hand down and gripped the hardness straining against his shorts. "friendship!"

He clutched her wrist, but did not remove her hand. "Faye" His teeth were clenched tight.

"How do you know it might not make our friendship stronger?" she whispered, and slid her hand upwards.

He signaled his surrender with a quiet groan, and pulled her hand hard against him. As she bent down to him, he brushed his mouth against her throat and exhaled a slow, warm breath. The thrill that shivered through her, knowing that she had so quickly made him forget his despair, was as delicious as anything she'd ever known. She could please him. She knew how to do that. And part of her that had until now been a stranger became wild at the thought that she could give him something that he could not give himself. He did need her, after all.

Her hands were under his shirt, lifting it as she spread her palms and ran her fingers over the sparse, coarse hair fanned across his chest. His hands mirrored hers, unfastening her clothes with such smooth ease that she briefly wondered how often he had fantasized about doing just this. It made her smile again, made her feel powerful, worthy, and aroused to the point of pain.

He shut his eyes and leaned his head back with a short sigh, letting her explore his contours. When she touched the edge of his chin and lifted his face up with a fingertip, he opened his eyes. The doubt tingeing the desire in them surprised and annoyed her. She didn't want him to be uncertain about this. She wanted him to lose himself in her, and not know anything else until she was done with him.

She took his lip in her teeth again and bit him, none too gently, and it was as if she had provoked a crouching lion. The pain in his leg seemingly forgotten, Jet rose up and met her bite, enveloping her with his mouth and arms, and she hardly knew that he had risen over her and turned her on her back. She made a small sound of protest and tried to push him away, but he surged over her, his fingers at once powerful and gentle, silencing her. His hands electrified her. Wherever he touched, he set her afire. She had never felt hands like this. And as quickly as she had aroused him, she felt herself lost in a wild swirl of pleasure of his design, not hers.

How long he played her secrets she had no idea. It was too long and too short a time before she could not bear the painful delight of it. Without a word from her, he knew. Huge, searing he came into her, moved with her rhythms, read her completely and answered her need until she screamed with release. Only then did he allow himself the same.

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Faye lay silently, her head on his arm, and felt his quiet, even breaths moving in her hair. She didn't know how long they had been asleep, but she was sharply awake now.

Incredible. How had he so completely overpowered her, made her forget her desire to master him and willingly give in to him? It wasn't like her to fall victim to a man.

His face was close and relaxed, and she could at last see that he really was younger than he seemed. His skin was unlined, his hair and beard dark and soft. He looked vulnerable again, asleep beside her.

But she knew better now. He would never allow himself to be controlled. Perhaps he didn't even know how to let someone else guide him, even sexually. Even when she had tried to give him pleasure--to comfort him without wanting anything from him except a moment of surrender--he had forced her aside and taken over. He had used her own body against her, made it clear that he was in charge.

She bit her lip, for a scant moment wondering if she was wrong to feel used. She had started it, after all. But did he think she was incapable of pleasing him on her own terms? Did he really think she was so helpless and worthless?

A surge of anger sliced through her. Selfish! He was so self-centered that he didn't even know what she'd wanted from him. She pulled out from under his arm and slid down to sit on the floor where he had dropped her clothes. As she groped around and pulled them on, she heard him stir. His hand found the small of her back, and stroked up to her shoulder. For a moment, the tingling memory of what that hand could do made her pause. The feeling angered her, and she roughly shrugged him off.

"Cold?" he said sleepily. "It's cold in here. Don't get dressed. Let's just go to your"

"Your bunk," she said shortly. "It's your bunk, isn't it? You've been sleeping on the couch ever since I got here, right? Maybe it's time you had your bunk back." She jerked the lace of her top tight, then felt around for her stockings.

As he watched her feel around for her clothes and yank them on, his half-closed eyes widened in puzzlement. "Faye," he said at last. "Are you mad at me?"

"Mad?" she said, glaring at him from above the curve of her folded leg as she pulled a silk stocking over it. "Why would I be mad? I should feel great, right? I mean, I've never had sex like that before. Why would I be mad?"

Slowly, he sat up, wincing as he flexed the wounded leg. "I have no idea."

She stopped dressing and sat staring at the ceiling. "That figures."

He fumbled for the tee shirt he had draped over the bench and absently covered his lap. "What did I do to make you mad?" He sounded almost plaintive. "It sure seemed like you enjoyed that as much as I"

"I wanted to give you something!" she snapped. "I wanted to make you feel better!"

He looked as if he had been slapped. "Youyou did."

"No I didn't!" she said. "You did! You made yourself feel better. I was just a convenient outlet."

His jaw dropped, and he gaped at her.

"I can't give you money, Jet," she said, her voice rising. "And I'm no good at helping around here. I can't cook or clean or fix things. Hell, you don't even like me. But I wanted to do something to make you feel good. I could have driven you as out of control as you just did me. But you couldn't accept that! Not even that! The one thing I can give you, you threw right back in my face!"

"You're not making any sense"

Faye narrowed her eyes. "No, you wouldn't get it," she smirked humorlessly. "I didn't think you would. I just felt sorry for you, Jet. Just for once, I wanted to help you."

Her tone and words had the desired effect, and she had to force back a smile as he crossed his arms and turned his face away from her. The baffled look in his eyes had become cold and expressionless. "Well. This is new. I don't think I've ever been the victim of a mercy fuck before."

She stood up and whirled on him. "It wasn't a mercy" She cut herself short and rocked back. "Well, what if it was?" she sniffed, lifting her chin. "How does that make you feel, Mr. Perfect? Not very good, huh?"

He slowly turned his glare on her.

"How do you feel, huh? Patronized? Weak? Worthless? How about that! You're getting a little of your own medicine for a change, and you don't like it!" The flash of anger in his eyes made her wonder for a moment whether she had pushed him too far. But he did not rise or make a move towards her.

"I don't understand this." His words were clipped. "You wanted it. And I'm going to have a hard time believing you didn't enjoy it."

"That's just it!" she snapped. "It was great! It was the best sex I've ever had in my life! But I had nothing to do with it!"

She felt a faint rush of triumph as his anger once again melted into confusion. But he quickly mastered his expression and made it an unreadable mask.

"Do you have any idea what it's like to live with someone like you, Jet? Someone who can't ever let go or lose control?" His stillness infuriated her, made her want to strike him. But she was not fool enough to touch him in violence, except with words. "You smother everyone who gets close to you. You're always in charge. No one is ever allowed to make their own decisions or take their own actions around you. It's your way or no way!"

She waited, watched her words pierce him despite his efforts to hide their impact. "Didn't one of us say this was a bad idea?" he said, his voice flat and emotionless. "Maybe one of us was right."

"Oh, you're always right!" she said, singsong and sarcastic. "That's the problem!"

"Are you finished?"

"No! No, I'm not. You know what? I'm going to give you something after all, Jet." She arched her back, crossed her arms and sent a haughty look down her nose. "An earful you don't want. You know what you need, Jet? You need to let someone else feel like they matter. You need to stop using me and everyone else like props to make yourself feel big and strong and important." His look of shock goaded her, and as she leaned into her tirade, her short, dark hair bobbed forward at him, taunting. "You know what else, Jet? You're not strong at all. You're weak. You're afraid to owe anything to anyone. Because you'd be so easy to control that way. Because inside that big, macho man is nothing but fear of being left alone."

He could not hide the wound that dealt him. "That'snot true."

"Then why are you alone again, Jet? Everyone you supposedly cared about has left you. Ed. Spike. Even Ein! What kind of man gets dumped by his own dog! We're probably just the last in a whole parade of people who got fed up with being smothered and controlled, and finally had the guts to leave you."

He stared stonily out the window. "I don't ask anyone to stay. And I prefer being alone."

Her laugh was sharp and derisive. "You really believe that. Maybe you're such an emotional cripple that you've brainwashed yourself into believing you like being alone! Smart move. If you're alone, there's no risk of getting in debt to anyone by actually letting them do something for you!"

"That's enough!" His brows were tight and low over his eyes.

"I knew it!" she said, throwing a slender hand in the air. "You didn't hear a word I just said. You'll spend the rest of your life taking in mangy strays and smothering them with what you seem to think is care." Her lip curled around the word. "In the end, you'll be alone. Eaten up by your own caring." Her voice lowered to an unsympathetic hiss. "Isorry for you."

"Keep that very sincere pity for yourself." His voice was lifeless. "I don't need it."

"No, of course not! You don't need anything from me! You don't need anything from anyone!"

He met her icy eyes steadily, but did not answer.

"So since you're fine on your own...." She waited, half hoping for some sign that he had understood her, and might break down. But there was no such sign. "then I'll be leaving. And this time, I won't be coming back. You're on your own, Tough Guy. At least until the next loser ends up on your doorstep. Just be ready to be left alone again after you've patched it up and fed it for a while." She spun on her heel and stalked away.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

He watched her sweep out of the deck, tall, graceful and strong. He closed his eyes, but blocking the sight of her retreating back only made the knifelike pain in his throat twist harder. He didn't need her. She was wrong. She was wrong about him. He hoped to God she was wrong.

It was too damned cold on this ship. He pulled his tee shirt and shorts back on, but was still shivering enough to make his teeth chatter. It had to be the cold. There was no way that crazy female had been able to upset him that much.

In the silence of the nearly empty vessel, it was impossible not to hear her banging around in her bunk--his bunk, he corrected himself--packing her belongings. And some of his, no doubt. He didn't care. He fumbled around the cushions for his cigarettes, lit one and dragged deeply. Slowly, he released the smoke in a narrow stream. He didn't care. It was the loss of Spike--not Faye--that was making that hard pain drill into his throat and behind his eyes.

About an hour later, the thrum of the bay door motors vibrated the Bebop's hull, and everything touching it. At least she was bothering to open the doors this time, and not simply blasting through them. It wasn't out of consideration, he thought wryly. She certainly wasn't going to come crawling back to him for repairs again.

The Redtail darted out from beneath the observation deck, hung in mid-space as the yellow-white of its afterburners sparked to life, and then arced out of his sight.

He shivered. How had he let himself fall into that trap? How had Faye managed to fool and humiliate him so completely? Was he really such a naïve idiot? This was the worst yet. For a brief, warm moment, she'd seemed human and caring, and in the next she'd become a shrieking harpy with a block of ice where her heart should be. He sighed silently. Maybe she'd just gone crazy from the grief of losing Spike. Women could go out of their minds over things like that, right? But she was gone now, and it was over. It was a good thing he didn't care. He rose and limped out of the observation deck, leaving it in a haze of blue smoke.

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As he'd suspected, Faye had pretty much gutted his bunk. Anything remotely of value had not-so-mysteriously disappeared. The desk lamp, two sets of ISSP-issue handcuffs he'd let her borrow, an assortment of lock-picking tools--he was sure she'd make good use of those--had all gone missing. She'd even taken the laptop, though she thoughtfully had left a disc lying on top of the bare desk. He didn't have to guess what was on the disc, though as he picked it up to toss it into the drawer, he saw the quickly scrawled label, "Spike." He didn't want to think about that right now.

Well, at least she'd left the sheets, a dirty tangle on the bed. A couple of hours ago, he would have happily tumbled into them with her. But now the thought of touching them was distasteful, and the smell of her perfume clinging to them was suddenly one of the most unpleasant sensations he could remember. Old Pavlov had been right about that aversion conditioning, he thought sourly. If he ever got near a woman wearing that perfume again, his involuntary reaction wasn't going to be pretty. He shuddered as he dumped every last washable thing down the laundry chute, and turned to collecting the trash strewn everywhere but in the trashcan.

What was I thinking?

That's the problem. You weren't. Not with your head, anyway.

An hour later, his old bunk was his again. And like the rest of the ship, it smelled of too much bleach.

The galley was picked as clean of supplies as his bunk. One forlorn can of liver-flavored dog food stared up at him from the top shelf of the refrigerator. Nice touch, Faye. He wasn't that desperate yet. He'd let the whiskey burn a hole through his gut before he'd eat that. A bit more searching unearthed a box of half-stale saltines that had fallen behind a shelf. Better than nothing. He washed them down with chlorine-flavored tap water just as his hangover started to kick in.

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He could barely hear Coltrane's saxophone wailing at him through the walls as the hot shower roared across his ears. The water had made his wounded leg burn hellishly at first, but it felt better now that it had gone numb. He stared down, letting the cascade of water from his head wash over it. The thigh was swollen and bruised, but the wound itself was clean, and already showed signs of healing. He wondered how long it would take the rest of him to follow suit, especially now that he'd have little to do but wander aimlessly on the Bebop until he was able to hunt again. It was far too risky to take on even a minor bountyhead in his condition.

He'd almost forgotten what it was like to hunt alone. For three years it had been Spike at his shoulder, the two of them working as smoothly together as a pair of wolves. He closed his eyes when the ache came back, and tried not to think. The water thundered against his back and neck. Momentarily, the thought of turning off the shower so there would be enough hot water for Ed and Faye automatically flicked through his mind. And then the reality slammed him again. He bent his head and let the hot water pummel him until it ran cold.