Disclaimer: Idon'townCowboyBeboporanyofitscharacters.
A/N: Long hiatus there. :blush: But I'm back. And, as a peace offering, I went over the chapters, corrected any mistakes, revised, re-revised, etc. So... forgive me?

Sixty Frames Per Second
3: Alyssa

I never really expected it, you know?

We were partners. Practically siblings. We ate each other's food, drank each other's booze, and wore each other's clothes. Half of the time we spent on the Bebop, we spent with each other, plotting ways to get more money, and ending up drunk most of the time. We were comfortable around each other, swore at each other, fought, bit, and kicked each other until we were both raw and red. And then we'd laugh it off and get another bottle of wine.

We never even really thought about one another… you know. That way. I was busy chasing my ghosts, and he was busy chasing his. So why bother?

Then I ruined it all.

Maybe it was that damned smile. Did I mention that it was truly gorgeous? Dangerous, unrefined, and with just a hint of steel. Or all that green hair, or even those long arms I'd always curl up in to stay warm when we were in some half-collapsed igloo in the Antarctica. Or even those stupid eyes, brown, mismatched, and almost always empty.

Whatever it was, I ruined it. And he didn't understand. We started having serious fights, where we'd be going at it from the break of dawn to midnight unless Jet wailed in between us with a machine gun. Which he did. Often. And we just didn't work anymore. Not like the way it was before.

Not when I was so uncomfortable around him.

And then… it happened. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse. One night on the coast, where we'd spent most of the day hauling pirated spare parts from an offshore shack to the Bebop. One sweaty, dirty night, where we got into another fight… and ended up in bed with each other.

We snapped back together the wrong way around. And guess what? It worked, and we were partners again. Partners with benefits. But it was only when he left that I realized how much damage I'd done.

I'd fallen in love with him.

And both of us… we'd just put it down to lust.

Wasn't that the biggest problem?

"It bit you."

Hearing it like that stung his pride in ways that he'd never imagined. Her lips never moved from that same infuriating grin it was currently wrapped around, but the amused barb just seemed to slide out of her wordlessly and completed the sentence:

'It bit you. You complete moron.'

A silent insult left him with no good comeback, so Spike just winced as he stuck another bandage on the bite wound, partly from pain, partly from the fact that he didn't know whether or not Ein had gotten his shots.

Goddammit, everything was going wrong.

Alyssa watched him calmly over the bar, pleased with his pained expression. She'd always had some fun at his expense, which was why she probably liked his visits to her bar so much: entertainment value, at Spike Spiegel's utter mortification.

It made him wince again.

"You know, things would just be better if you left Faye alone."

"So Jet says," he muttered, slumping back in his seat and lighting his third cigarette in the past hour. "Although in not so many words. He told me to quit the syndicate."

The music was going to his head, slow smooth jazz that made him sleepy after a long day of trailing Faye all over creation (after the catastrophe at the fish restaurant) and getting bitten by Ein, who, unexpectedly, had been guarding her apartment door.

Hence the 'wrong' part.

"He's right, you know."

"He wants me to quit the syndicate, Alyssa." He put a ladle of emphasis on the phrase.

"Oh, I know you've got your reasons. Julia, and all that." Alyssa leaned forward and, resting her elbows on the counter, tapped his nose once, twice. "S'far I've kept my mouth shut, boy, but Jet hasn't, so I'm saying this now: all those reasons? That stuff about Julia? That's bullshit."

He made a strangled noise of betrayal somewhere in his throat, but a dark eyebrow winged, silencing him. "You'd better start getting it through that thick head of yours, Spike-o. Julia's dead." She turned back to the bar, wiped it down. "And when someone's dead, it's not worth staying with a syndicate, ruining your life like this, just for her. Want more whiskey?"

"Jesus, Alyssa," he said, hoarsely. "Didn't anyone ever teach you to respect the dead?"

"I respect 'em fair enough." She shrugged, nonchalantly, and took his empty glass. "But if the world stopped turning for a moment of prayer whenever someone dies, I reckon it wouldn't ever start again."

"Julia's worth everything I'm doing."

The eyebrow lifted again, more prominently. "Ah, but you've gotta start asking yourself: is she worth Faye's life? You know they'll send you after her. She's got a bounty on her head, after all."

"How much?"

Her eyes widened mockingly at him, in a sort of I-can't-believe-you-just-asked-that way. "Five million yen, cowboy. Give or take a few."

"Well, shit." She waited, patiently, toying with the damp towel she'd used to clean the bar. She knew she was getting him angry, by that brooding, painful look on his face. Which may or may not have been due to the dog bite, but whatever. Then he looked up, scowling darkly. "They'd just send other bounty hunters after her when I quit."

"You can just look after her. Por favor."

"Hell, no. I could barely handle Tabitha on my own; you think I can handle a full-grown woman?"

"… You're seriously comparing your cat to Faye?"

"Not really. Faye's not a purring, just-give-me-milk-and-I'm-happy animal. An animal, sure, but more difficult. A cat wants milk where she wants dough, and whereas I can count on my cat for a little TLC at the end of the day, I'll be fighting and kicking with her for hours." He brooded. "Not that I want any TLC from that idiot woman, mind you."

Alyssa smiled. Goddamn, he was adorable when he was drunk and moody. And she was pissing him off. Maybe Jet would finally be happy about something she'd done for once, she thought, ruefully, reaching for another bottle of whisky and popping it open.

Just maybe.

"Faye needs you, Spike. More than the syndicate does. More than Julia does." She took a sip straight from the bottle and poured him some more. Nudge, she reminded herself, and nudge gently.

And perhaps get him even more pissed and drunk in the process.

"She can take care of herself," Spike muttered.

"Not anymore."

It was the truth after all; every single time that Faye had spent in her bar had been with a glass of tequila that she'd seemed content to stare at, pay for, and leave untouched. Misery, pure and raw as a fresh wound, made you weak.

And misery, Alyssa sighed as she glanced at Spike's surly features, loves company.

'If only they'd stop dancing the mamba around each other, they'd be living happily ever after.'

"Tell me, 'Lyssa." Spike peered up at her with mismatched brown eyes, dark, heavy, and dulled with alcohol. The kind of look that always bothered her because they were so… vacant. "Does Faye love Jimmy?"

"Call it infatuation. Obsession, if you will." She shrugged. "Look at it this way: if you kill Jimmy, she'll be after you with a gun and a few tanks… and with your kind of arsenal, I've no doubt who'd win." Her eyes found his, softened. "That's what Jet's worried about. You might kill her, Spike."

"I'll take that as a compliment." His eyebrows knitted together. "They're that close."


"Oh. Fine. Thanks." He stood up, suddenly, unexpectedly, so that she started, stared, as he fished a crumpled dollar from an inside pocket, handed it to her with a small, rather savage smile. He was drunk, and he was angry, and she had no idea why.

But she knew it would be wrong to press now. So she let it lie. Just for now.

"Thanks, Alyssa." The tone was sincere as he reached over the bar to brush a hand over her hair, almost tenderly. But he was still mad, and she could see it in his eyes, the tensed frame of his shoulders. "I appreciate it. But I'm not quitting the syndicate until I'm finished with this Jimmy fellow. If not for Julia, it'll be for Faye."

"If you did quit…"

He put a hand over hers. "I'm sorry." This time, it was soft, sad, and completely hypocritical. And it disappointed her. "But I'm not going to stop until Jimmy's dead. Until Faye's free."

And then he was gone.

And, as Alyssa watched the swinging doors of the empty bar, she thought she understood. Only a little. Not quite enough, she decided tiredly, and returned to her chores. But it would do. Just for now.