Not a Love Story
Spoilers. Set post-series. A Faye short.

Faye doesn't know what's more disgusting: a cabin smelling of old coffee, or the gross nutrient bars that they'd stolen -- redistributed -- from their last bounty. Composed of nuts and flour, the packaging claimed that each bar contained all the vitamins and minerals needed to sustain an average human being, but Faye can't make it through one without retching. They look like tree bark. They taste worse.

Whenever Jet waves one at her for dinner, she tells him she has special needs. He serves them to her anyway.

The mark they skimmed the bars from wasn't big, just chump change. Catching him was textbook-easy. Faye went in first. Sammy Wilson had been running a scam deal where he'd been filching from various entertainment companies and repackaging the goods before official release. It was a normal bootleg operation, and Faye had posed as a potential re-distributor looking to invest in a partnership.

Cheap goods, cheap work. Jet didn't even make her change her clothes for it.

They'd caught up to him when he was filching a string of fresh holovids, skimming the production databases of MultiVerses Pictures. The active datalinks were more than enough evidence to pin the case. While Jet tightened the cuffs, Faye rooted through the cabins looking for anything to sweeten the reward. All that turned up were recordings of a latest galaxy-star pop singer's B-tracks (which Jet later confiscated, claiming them as evidence,) granola bars, and two advance seasons of the popular romantic award-winning sitcom, Venus Beyond.

Sammy Wilson was a tall man, but thin. His wrists were no bigger around than a sparrow. All the way back to the ship, he wailed pleas about how he'd needed to steal in order to support his wife and six children in their luxury lifestyles near Mars.

"Even if you want to provide for your family, this isn't the way to do it. You can't buy affection, you know," Jet rambled as he latched the bounty's cuffs to the walkway, firing up a transmitter to send news of the catch.

"Can't sell it either," Faye commented dryly as she passed by, hefting plaswood crates in her arms. "Not enough high bidders."

Jet popped the lid of the top box before she could escape, peering inside. "Wha?" Fumbling around, the man produced a slipcover and held it up. The red heart-logo leered condemningly. "Isn't this one of those romance vids? You're taking these?"

Faye looked away before she could stop herself, before her gambler's reflexes could kick in to hide the reaction. "It's just useless fluff, Jet. You know," she added lamely, "for when we're out of fuel again and there's nothing else to do."

- - - -

Venus Beyond plays decently with the sound off and subtitles on. Faye goes through half the first season in one week as the Bebop drifts in orbit around Jupiter, waiting for jobs, cutting the playback whenever Jet comes knocking on her door. In the privacy of Faye's cabin, Simon and Angela break up and get back together and date each other's siblings for a while, mimicking real life on the tinny screen in her bedroom.

She stops watching permanently three-quarters of the way through the second season. Simon and Angela are quarreling over ownership of the chateau on Mars when Faye realizes she's been fastforwarding through the episodes, impatient. She's only been watching the show for one character.

Who isn't a guy.

Sarah has long fingers and a delicate nose. Her hair is smooth and pale. It doesn't look artificial (nothing about Sarah looks contrived) which only makes matters worse. Sarah is a natural beauty, born elegant, always composed. Her voice in Faye's imagination is as smooth as summer brandy. With the sound off, Faye doesn't know if the character talks loudly, but she prefers to think that Sarah only speaks in a low, husky whisper -- the kind she heard only once before, from a woman dressed in black and grace and mourning.

Faye's mouth shapes the name aloud. "Julia."

She puts the discs away. Eventually, Faye brings them down to a cargo hatch, planning to deep-space them when Jet isn't looking, but then her sense of frugality kicks in and she shoves them back under the bed, telling herself she'll pawn them at the next planetary stop.

What Faye wants isn't to be in love (she tells herself, because she's a big girl now and a con-artist, even though the one thing she's never baited is someone's heart. It's a kind of honor, maybe the only one she has now after getting her hopes broken and her life sold for collection.) Faye doesn't crave romance and kisses and the sweet way Julia's hands would taste after holding a snifter of cherry liquor; what Faye finds herself missing is the ideal of something so eloquent that not even the man who fell for it could stand hearing its name.

Faye was a grabby child, or at least that's what she thinks she could have been. There are parts of her memory which are still fuzzy. Undetermined. What she doesn't remember in facts, she recalls through emotions. And above all, Faye knows that she likes having things, but hates needing them.

The latter has probably cursed her life forever, judging from how easily the ache sits in her chest and giggles.

Love's a horrible feeling, a brother to hunger. Faye knows it too well, which doesn't make the emotion any better. No matter how many times you tell yourself to stop, it doesn't erase that hollowness, that helpless starving that rejects all substitutes.

Faye doesn't know what (who) she's in love with anymore. She just knows that she doesn't want to be.

Faye's not queer. That's the word she remembers for it; times have changed enough that she's picked up other slang, gay, on the other team, tong zi. She's not, you know. Shady. Whenever Faye tries to think of herself with Julia, naked in some cheap, seedy motel somewhere, part of her mind recoils. The idea offends her sensibilities on a gut level. It wouldn't work out.

Even so, she can't stop thinking of Julia by herself, alone, how her body must have moved with each step. Julia clothed. Julia by the window. Julia picking up a cigarette between two fingers. Faye's good at extrapolation; she's familiar in poker and she can easily imagine how the other woman's shoulders would have sloped during a rainy evening somewhere, blonde head tilted against the back of the chair while she drowsed.

At night on the Bebop, Faye finds herself thinking about how Julia might have laughed, softly as a raven flying.

They'd waited for days on Mars for Spike to come back. The ships had needed repairs, and that occupied Faye and Jet for a while, getting parts together and a long-haul delivery. Days turned to weeks. Weeks into searching, and rumor-hunting, and ignoring the papers that screamed of renewed gang violence, until both she and Jet realized that (after all those narrow escapes) Spike wouldn't come limping home at all.

Faye never learned the whole of Spike's past, and it's too late now to ask.

Julia was the root of that. Some golden goddess shrouded in mystery: amazing, dangerous, and utterly mythological. She was too perfect to live; she knew everything about Spike that Faye didn't. And though it might have been appropriate to be jealous, Faye only finds herself padding around the Bebop with a familiar pain nestled against her lungs, missing the days when Julia had been only a figment for Spike to chase after. Missing life before Julia. Before she'd known that people like that could exist.

Before there was something to want that badly to be a part of.

Spike wasn't coming back. Julia had taken him away. Julia had taken herself away after only a brief car-ride, and when Faye closes her eyes, she can remember the smell of vanilla perfume and gunpowder, mixing together with the leather of the seatcushions.

- - - -

Two weeks after the Granola Bar Love Bounty (as Faye had privately nicknamed the mark) Jet brings up the issue of funds again. They're both sitting in the main bay, couches and chairs drawn up around the dinner-lunch-everything table and the whirr of machinery behind. It's cup-noodle night. They're all out of Beef flavor.

"We're going to have to hire more bounty hunters to work with us." He forestalls her protest by holding up a hand, the metal one. The joints look dull in the cabin light. "The only jobs we can land with just the two of us are much too small to keep all three of the ships in action, and you yelled at me the last time I borrowed your keys to the Redtail. Like it or not, we need more woolongs."

Faye's nose wrinkles up. "Don't tell me they'll be staying on the Bebop with us," she whines. "Can't we just make them live somewhere else?"

"Human beings need each other, Faye," Jet rebukes her, in that terrible know-it-all sensibility of his. "In space most of all. Even long-range exploration ships prefer having more than one man on crew. And, let's face it -- there's enough room in here. It's quiet with just us two. I think maybe I got used to having more company around."

"And maybe I'm fed up with having to meet new people. I'm an independent at heart," she tacks on defiantly, pushing back her styrofoam dinner and curling up on the couch with her knees to her chest. "I might take off again if it gets too crowded here."

Jet makes a rumble of laughter in his throat at the routine threat, neither denying nor accepting. Tolerant. Any other day, she might have sniped back, just on principle, but right now she's too tired.

The question comes out before she can stop it. "Why do people fall in love with things they shouldn't, Jet?" Her voice is wheedling, and she tries to ignore it, embarrassed enough that she spoke. Blame it on granola.

If the former cop has any guesses about her dilemma, he doesn't say. "I don't know, Faye." He sounds more regretful than she expects, and when she props herself up to glance across the table, Jet's face is as sober as the grave. He puts down his chopsticks and picks up the television remote, moving very slowly. Very carefully. "I don't know."

She drops herself with a sigh, pressing her cheek into the cheap plastic of the couch. Spike's aftershave still lingers in the cracks. When Faye inhales, she swallows chemical tang and traces of male sweat. "Like Gren and Vicious," she mumbles. "Gren spent the last years of his life trying to find that guy. And look how that turned out. It would have been better if he'd never liked Vicious to begin with. Vicious was... " Her words trail off, and she stuffs something in place like a verbal rag. "Too dangerous. For anyone. He drew people in."

The television comes on. Jet cycles through the channels. The audio is turned all the way down and she's facing away from the screen, so the only way Faye can tell what's playing is to watch reflections of the commercials in the furniture around her. Distorted bodies stretched across the table. Ghosts of sitcom shows.

"So if we're both still alive," she tries to laugh after a minute, "it means we're immune from love, doesn't it? Right?"

"No," Jet replies quietly as he continues to channel-flip, flashing colors on the walls with the sounds muted. "We're just the ones unlucky enough to be left behind."