After All

Disclaimer: Cowboy Bebop is copyright Sunrise/Bones/Bandai Visual. I am not Sunrise/Bandai Visual. Therefore, I don't own it.

A/N: This is my first attempt at a fic in the first-person present tense. Consider it an experiment. While it may seem like it at first, it will not be a typical SxF story. There will be character development in this story, so if you object to seeing changes in canon characters' personalities, I hope you'll forgive me. The title of this story comes from the song of the same name by Dar Williams.

10.24.05 A/N: This story was originally posted 5.03. It has been reposted with the song lyrics removed per terms.

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So. The son of a bitch is dead. Serves him right.

When I was growing up, people used to say you shouldn't speak ill of the dead. I can remember that now, but what good does it do me? All that time I spent reclaiming my past, trying to figure out who Faye Valentine really was-- none of it matters now. I found nothing. Sure, I can remember making that stupid videotape, and my classmates, my family... but none of that matters because I'd always assumed that I'd be able to merge that past with my present. I'd know who I was and that would tell me who I'd become.

I still don't know what I'd hoped to find. A home perhaps, instead of this empty patch of earth. A love, instead of this horrible emptiness. A family. Someone who'd understand.

Who was I kidding?

I had those things, but I was so damned busy chasing my past that I ignored what was right in front of my face. The Bebop was my home. Jet, Ed, Spike, even that damned dog Ein, they were my family. My comrades. They were even more important to me than a real family, because we chose each other. And although I'd never admit it to anyone, I had love.

Oh, I know he didn't love me. He was too wrapped up in his precious Julia to see me, but that didn't make it any less real. I loved him. I loved him and he walked away from me. I should have shot the bastard when I had the chance. At least then, he would have died for a reason.

I hate him. I love him. He's dead. Goddamnit.

There are tears running down my face. I hate crying. It's weakness, and Faye Valentine, whoever the fuck she is, isn't weak. OK, so I like to gamble now and then, but that's not a weakness. It's just a fun little pastime. I'm a bounty hunter, for christsake. I can handle a weapon better than most men. I can fight. I am not weak!

Even that lunkhead started to respect me before he died. I'd waited so long to hear him admit it, that I was worth something. When those words finally left his lips-- Faye, I need you!-- I would have followed him anywhere. I would have died for him, but I just stood there and let him walk away. I stood there, and he died.

He'd really dead. Spike's not coming back. I didn't stop him.

Jet told me later that there was nothing I could have done. I think he knew how I felt, and that just made it worse. He was so nice to me when we found out. It's surreal to me now, remembering that time. It seems like so long ago, instead of just three weeks. He told me I could stay there, on the Bebop, the only home I had, but I couldn't do it. Spike was still there. I'd hear his voice in my head when I was taking a shower, yelling at me for using all the hot water, or when I was eating, when he'd say I wasn't doing my share of the work. I'd see him sprawled out on that damned yellow couch. I'd hear him criticizing my clothes, my laziness, everything, until it was just too much. I had to leave.

Jet understood. He gave me more than my share from the last bounty we'd captured and wished me well. I told him I'd be back to visit, and then I left. I think about him sometimes, all alone with only his bonsai to keep him company, and the emptiness inside me gets a little larger, but I can't go back. Not yet, and maybe not ever.

Goddamnit! I don't know what to do anymore. I can't keep sleeping in the Red Tail on this barren land where my childhood home once stood. I can't keep waking up in the middle of the night because his face haunts my dreams. I can't keep watching the sky, hoping for a glimpse of the Swordfish II.

I can't keep sitting here, sobbing.

Fuck you, Spike Spiegel. Fuck you for living and fuck you for dying. Fuck you for walking away, for not loving me, for each and every thing you said that hurt me, for those lazy smiles that made me love you. If you were here right now, I'd kill you before you could ever walk away again.

Fuck you for leaving me.

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I limp back to the Red Tail, rubbing my shoulder where the bullet had skimmed. The damn bounty had gotten a few rounds off before I snagged him, but at least I was a few million woolongs richer. I feel myself smirking even as I climbed in the cabin of my beloved ship.

Thanks to several bounty heads and sheer luck at the casinos, my debt was a thing of the past. OK, so maybe it wasn't sheer luck, but hey, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, right? The debt was cleared and I'd started rebuilding my house on Earth.

Who would have thought I'd turn out just as good with a hammer as with my trusty Glock? I took pleasure in seeing my home rise from the ashes. This time, it wasn't just a vision of the past, or a memory, it was a reality that I was making through sweat and determination. It was home.

Jet had came by a few days ago to check on me. Of course, he said he just happened to be in the area, but we both know he was worried. I can't even begin to describe how that made me feel. Someone cared enough to make sure I wasn't laying dead somewhere. He'd stayed a few hours before flying off again to god knows where, probably off to find another bounty. He seemed well enough, although he still had that haunted look in his eyes. I recognize it well enough. I see it every morning in the mirror. Spike's death changed us both.

For the first time, I looked into Jet's face and saw an old man.

I aim the Red Tail towards Earth, zipping through asteroids and debris. Flying like this always reminds me of Spike, his lanky form folded into the seat of the Swordfish II. He flew the way he lived, with that odd laid-back intensity that would have been an oxymoron with anyone else. The lunkhead had class; I'd give him that if nothing else.

Gods, when will I stop missing him?

I almost went back with Jet. He didn't ask, but I knew the offer was there just the same. I could go back to hunting bounties with him, living on the Bebop. I wouldn't have to be alone all the time. I almost did it, but something stopped me.

For the first time ever, I'm doing it alone. I'm taking care of myself. I'm building a life for myself, if that's what you could call it. I'm not sponging off others. And damnit, that's got to count for something.

Maybe I'm growing up.

I can hear his voice in my mind, mocking me. 'Bout damn time', he says, before taking another lazy drag off his ever-present cigarette. I still want to hit him.

I'm still angry at him for leaving, but a part of me understands why he did it. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

I see Mars up ahead and decide to make a quick detour. It's been too long since I visited Ed. I'll pick up something nice for her and drop by to say hello.

Damn. I really am going soft.

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I put down the hammer, lean back on my heels, and take a long swig of beer. The sun is out today in full force, and sweat is running down my face. I hold the cold bottle to my forehead before taking another drink. My hair is escaping the elastic I used to pull it back this morning and my hands are covered in grime. I grimace and wipe them on my t-shirt.

If anyone were to see me right now, there's no way in hell they'd recognize me. Then again, only half a year ago I'd never have let anyone glimpse me in this state. My once manicured hands are now ragged, the nails broken off and the palms callused. My face is free of makeup and currently as dirty as my hands are. I'm dressed in simple Earth fare-- jeans, t-shirt, and hiking boots. Gone are the tight skimpy outfits from before. I don't think I even own anything yellow anymore.

None of that matters now. My home is almost done. I've been living in two of the rooms, the living room and the kitchen, waiting for the rest to get finished, and it will be done within a week. I've already asked Jet and Ed and Ein to come for a visit. They'll arrive two weeks from now.

I survey my handiwork while I finish the beer. The roofing tiles are neatly placed. I can barely tell where I've done the work, and where the professionals I'd hired had finished. I feel a sense of accomplishment I've never known before when I look around. The trees I planted are doing well, and the grass is thriving. Once all this plastic and insulation is gone, it will be a real home-- my home. At long last, I have a place to call my own, and I made it possible. I can't wait for my friends to see it.

Tomorrow I'm making a trip to Mars to buy furniture. I've been debating on whether or now I should go there, to the Red Dragon headquarters. Part of me needs to see where it ended. I need to know where Spike spent his final few minutes. Maybe I just need the closure. Maybe I need to let go.

I still dream about him. I wonder why I put myself through this torture, when it's obvious that had it been me who died, he'd probably only notice because there'd be plenty of hot water on the Bebop.

Why did I love Spike Spiegel? Why do I still? Why does thinking about him still cause a lump in my throat and these stupid tears to fall?

Julia. I can't even think about Spike anymore without thinking about her. It's fitting, I suppose, but how was I ever supposed to compete with her blonde perfection? I felt so cheap next to her, in my skintight clothes and overly made-up face. There were so many differences between the two of us to count, but only one mattered to me.

I needed Spike. She didn't. I needed him, and that dumb fuckhead had to go get himself killed.

I hope it hurt.

Why did he have to suffer? Gods, I'd give everything I have, if only it could have taken away his suffering.

Shit. I'm crying again. This has really got to stop.

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The building is empty, deserted, and as quiet as a tomb. How appropriate. Even in the early afternoon sun, there are heavy shadows lurking in the corners.

The Red Dragons are no more. That would have pleased Spike. The Syndicate collapsed without proper leadership, and I, along with other bounty hunters, cashed in on the easy catches in the weeks following.

I make my way up the staircase slowly, still not entirely certain why I'm here. I'm told it happened here, halfway up. This is where he collapsed. I crouch down, run my fingers over the smooth wood. There's no blood, nothing to mark this spot where he died. Damnit. There should be something. It looks just like all the other steps, and that's not right.

I set the rose I brought on the step above it and pull a knife out of my boot. Not really sure what I'm doing, I press the blade down into the wood and start carving. Several times I have to blow away the wood dust, and I almost cut myself once when the knife slips, but when I'm done, his name is carved into the step.

It doesn't seem like enough. I don't even know his birthday, but I can't forget the day he died, so I add that date below his name.

What next? An epitaph? I can't think of anything fitting, anything I'd want to say that I would leave for anyone to come across, so I put the knife back in my boot and place the rose next to his name.

There's no reason to stay any longer, but I can't leave just yet. I stare at what I've carved, letting my fingers trace the letters until they're burned into my mind. If I were the God-fearing type, I'd say a prayer, but I'm not so I just whisper, "Sayonara, Gorgio" before I stand and walk down the stairs and out of the building.

It feels almost as if someone's watching me as I leave. I force myself to wait until I'm in the Red Tail and on my way home before I let the tears fall.

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"Faye Faye!"

Ed bounces towards me, a wide smile on her face. Ein's following close behind, his short little legs a blur as he tries to keep up with his excited owner. He barks twice as Ed throws her skinny arms around me. I try to bite back a smile but it shows anyway. I ruffle Ed's hair and laugh.

Jet stands back, appraising the house I've worked so hard to build. I meet his eyes over the top of Ed's head. He looks pleased. "Nice work, Faye."

I can't hide the pleasure at his compliment, or the joy at seeing my family again. "Well, what are you waiting for? Get your butts inside already!"

Ed notices the house behind me for the first time. "Is this Faye Faye's home?" she asks, wonder apparent on her face.

"Yup. Like it?"

Ed giggles and throws herself into a cartwheel. "Whee! Ein, look at Faye Faye's house!"

Ein barks again. I swear that damned dog can understand us.

After I show them to their rooms, we gather around the dining room table for dinner. I'm still not the greatest cook around, but I can manage a meal when the urge strikes. I wanted to make something special for them, maybe as payback for treating them so casually aboard the Bebop. They stare at me in amazement when I dish up the food.

"Faye, you can cook?" Jet asks, his eyes wide.


I plop down in a chair and pick up my chopsticks. "What, you thought I was just a pretty face?" Jet grin and inspects his plate.

"Ah, bell peppers with beef," he says, pleased.

"Look, there's meat! Wheeee!" Ed starts shoveling the food and even Ein is digging in, his tail waggling happily.

We eat contentedly, swapping tales and laughing. Jet tells me about a bounty head, Roberts, that's been eluding him and we make plans to check it out together the next day-- "for half the bounty, of course," I wink at him. Ed offers her and Tomato's help. For a minute, it's just like old times.

No one mentions the empty chair tucked in the corner, but we all notice it.