Disclaimer: nothing is ever mine. I'm such a poor, un-owning loser. Sigh.

A/N: this will perhaps be a bit OOC, but oh well. nothing's perfect. and Cowboy Bebop characters are so damn obstinate that sometimes people have to give for anything to happen at all.

Elusive Dreams

Part the Second (which wasn't exactly necessary, but I thought, what the hell)

From her position on the bed, Faye could see out the window, the steely gray sky mocking her, whispering that she should just quit, that she should not hold on to the faint hope she grasped so obstinately, the hope that tethered her permanently in the past. The hope that, despite all the evidence and all the truth, that Spike Spiegel was alive and out there in the world somewhere, waiting for her, searching for her, that he had discovered that he was truly alive. That maybe, just maybe, he actually cared. The silence of the apartment and the day hung heavily on her, holding her down against the bed like it had a will of its own, as if the silence itself were her prison; silence, which only reminded her that her life was empty and hollow, which in casting its mute blanket upon her, trapped her in this non-life. Faye tightened her grip on his lighter, her eyebrows contracting slightly with the inner pain that still smoldered deep inside her.

Shattering the oppressive silence, the doorbell rang shrilly. Faye half-sat up, her violet tresses falling across her jade eyes before she half-heartedly and futilely pushed them aside, surprised that her doorbell even worked, recalling that she even had a doorbell at all. Dully curious, Faye released his lighter, leaving it in its sacred place beneath her pillow, rising smoothly to her feet, pulling his yellow shirt from the top of her light gray shorts, where it had gotten stuck. And swathed in the memories of him, she padded silently over to the door, her bare feet skillfully navigating the debris of her life that was strewn haphazardly about the grungy wooden floor, and her delicate yet dangerous fingers closed about the doorknob, her other hand retrieving her Glock from the nearby small table. Sliding the various locks free on the door, she tugged it inwards, standing half behind it, her gun cocked and ready to be swept into firing position on a moment's notice, looking at her visitor.

Faye Valentine nearly dropped dead, her gun falling from her nerveless fingers to land uselessly on the floor by her feet, bouncing upon impact and skidding away; her jade eyes widened to their limit, and her lips parted in a silent gasp, forming his name.

Spike Spiegel looked no less surprised, his dark eyebrows lifting into his messy hunter green hair, his mismatched eyes growing wide, his mouth falling open. He composed himself quickly, plunging his hands deep into his pockets, assuming that stance she knew so well, that familiar smirk curling his lips. "Well, if it isn't Faye Valentine."

She gaped at him, her mind's gears all out of sync, spinning uselessly. She closed her mouth, trying to think of something to say, but when she attempted to speak, nothing came out.

"I wasn't expecting to find you here," he continued, either oblivious to or uncaring of her reaction. "I was actually after a bounty…my sources said he'd be in room 204 here, but there aren't any numbers. So it was then a gamble whether the rooms started with 200 or 201, and I guess I'm about as good at gambling as you were."

Faye didn't quite know what to say to that and finally managed, "This is 203…204's to the right…"

"To the right? Thanks," Spike said briskly, cheerfully, and went on his way.

Faye stood where she was a moment more, staring at the empty air where he had been standing, and convinced herself that she was merely hallucinating. She closed the door again with effort, tottering unsteadily over to her window, fumbling with her half-empty pack of cigarettes; she dropped the stick, her fingers shook so badly. She stooped to retrieve it, sticking it between her crimson lips, tucking her hand into the breast pocket of his shirt for her lighter, one that actually worked; his had long since run out of lighter fluid. Dropping the pack to the concrete sill, she lit her cigarette, inhaling the smoke as if it were life itself, and leaned on the sill, her gaze falling, once again, on the gate in the fence. At first she thought she was hallucinating again, but after several long moments of concentration, she realized that the gate was indeed open.

The lighter fell to the floor with a metallic clang as she rushed over to the door, pausing only to stuff her Glock in the back of her shorts for safekeeping and slip the key to her apartment into her shirt pocket. She yanked the door shut, flying down the cold, concrete stairs and running around the worn brick building, pausing on the top of the rutted, grassy hill, her cigarette nearly falling from her slightly agape mouth. Her haste ushered her down the hill, avoiding the holes and furrows that littered the hillside, stopping abruptly in front of the gate. The chain-link barrier, which she had always been able to see through but never pass through, was, at long last, breachable, but she paused, suddenly indecisive. Did she dare? She was free to leave her prison, but what lay beyond? Was it better than what she was leaving behind?

"Hey, Faye, you're kinda in my way."

Faye spun around quickly, saw Spike standing there, the bound and gagged bounty slung carelessly over one broad shoulder, and moved hastily to the side, her jade eyes meeting his mismatched brown ones for a soft moment that was all too brief. She expected him to stride right past, but he lingered, the smoke from his cigarette rising in evanescent tendrils to entwine with hers, and he shifted the bounty's weight.

"You don't look well," he finally commented, the barest trace of concern visible in his eyes.

Faye knew she did not look well; she did not eat or sleep much, most of her time spent brooding and wishing at her window, smoking another cigarette to pass the reluctant hours. She was, remarkably enough, thinner than when she had served upon the Bebop, and while her hair was the same length, it no longer possessed its former shine and instead hung limply about her haunted jade eyes, framing her pale face, unrestrained by an absent headband. She had not worn makeup since that fateful day a year ago; she had failed to see the point in applying it when her tears would smear it later. His too-large yellow shirt only seemed to make her appear smaller and more fragile, and she, Faye Valentine, who had used her beauty and body to get everything she wanted, had let that all fade and self-destruct. She had self-destructed that day, and she had never been the same since. Faye Valentine had all but ceased to exist.

"I know," she admitted quietly, and she saw dully that Spike was startled by her reply. After all, in the old days she would have engaged him passionately in a fierce argument, but now she was merely agreeing, looked so lost and tired. She wanted to be that girl again; she wanted to be Faye Valentine again. She even looked like Faye Valentine, but she had stopped being that girl a long time ago, and all that remained was a hollow shell, an imperfect parody of life.

Spike paused, adjusting the bountyhead again, scrutinizing her, as if by probing her with his eyes he could discern all that had gone wrong. At length he spoke, his tone soft and low. "I'm taking this guy back to the Swordfish II and cashing him in for the bounty. After that, maybe I could come back here, let you mooch off me for old times' sake. What d'ya say?"

Faye shrugged, a little surprised by this side of Spike that she had never seen before. "I guess," she said quietly, her slim arms hugging herself in the chill air. Then again, she supposed he was similarly surprised by this side of her that he had never seen before. So they were surprised together; and that mattered how? Deeming the conversation to be at its end, Faye turned and began trudging back up the hill to the building, glancing back to watch him walk through the gate. He could go through the gate; he could come and go as he pleased. The irony was sickening.

She let herself back into her apartment, surveying the dim room tiredly, wondering if she should make any attempt to clean up. She decided against it, as Spike surely would not care, and slumped onto her bed, her hand slipping beneath her pillow to close about the familiar shape of his lighter. As she drew it out and studied it as it lay gleaming dully in the palm of her hand, she realized that Spike was not just a memory anymore; he was alive and a person again, and she wondered if she would be able to handle it all. She sat there, waiting for him to return, and she mulled over the fact that she had always been waiting for him to return. To leave would have brought peace, forgetfulness…or that gnawing doubt that he might have come just one day, one hour later.

Half an hour later the doorbell shrilled again, and Faye got up slowly from the bed, her Glock still stuck in her shorts. She tugged the door open, and Spike brushed past her, carrying two paper bags filled with food stuffs. He went right over to the lumpy couch and sat down, spreading the food out on the nicked and unfurnished coffee table. He glanced up at her, for she had not moved from her position by the door, and gestured to the spread with an encompassing hand motion.

"C'mon, Faye, you look half-starved," he teased lightly, that smirk curling one side of his mouth.

Faye walked over to the couch, seating herself next to him but not touching him, reaching out a tentative hand towards the food. She began eating slowly, and as Spike joined her, munching away on everything within reach, she sped up gradually, putting away a decent amount of food before she leaned back against the tattered sofa, letting him finish. She watched him silently, wondering why he was even there at all.

Spike belched, slumping back, crossing his long legs at the ankles on the now-empty coffee table. "That was good, doncha think?"

"It was," she conceded, and after a moment's deliberation asked, "What are you doing here?"

"Eating?" Spike ventured, lighting up a cigarette and taking a long drag, exhaling the smoke almost lazily.

"You know what I mean," she said, her voice tired.

"'Fraid I don't," he replied evasively, spinning the white stick idly between two long fingers.

"You died," Faye said simply, her jade eyes haunted. "So how are you here? Why are you here? Why now; why not sooner?"

Spike sighed, puffing on his cigarette before speaking. "He didn't kill me. He thought he did. Even I thought he did. But apparently that wasn't the case. I've been in a coma for the past six months, and when I finally woke up and returned to the Bebop, you had left. Jet said you'd left before I'd been gone a week. It would seem you had raided my room," he added, eyeing his shirt on her slender frame.

Faye ignored his comment, waiting patiently for him to continue.

Spike let out another long exhale, running a hand through his fluffy hair. "I tried to find you," he confessed at last, staring at his smoldering cigarette. "But you had disappeared too well. Jet had no idea where you'd gone, and even Ed couldn't locate you, not even with Tomato. You had all but vanished from existence, and I gave up, thinking that with the care you had disappeared, you didn't want to be found." He glanced at her sidelong. "Perhaps that wasn't a good assumption?"

Faye pondered her interlaced fingers quietly before replying vaguely, "Perhaps."

He straightened his blue jacket, settling more into the couch. "I no longer had anything to obsess over, to even live for. Julia was dead, and so was Vicious; I woke up from my dream, I guess, and there you were, right under my nose, where you'd been the entire time, or at least, the thought, the possibility of you, even though you'd run off. And then there was this bounty…and then I ran across you. Fate works in strange and mysterious ways. C'mon, Faye, cheer up. It's not all bad."

She tucked a violet lock behind one ear, wanting to smile back but unable to remember how. When was the last time she had smiled? "I guess it isn't," she conceded. "But it sure seems that way."

"Way to be an optimist," Spike teased gently, touching her tentatively on the shoulder. She did not pull away, and so he slid closer on the couch, gathering her in his arms and moving her onto his lap, cradling her against his strong chest. He felt her relax, and he stroked her hair comfortingly, just holding her. As Faye lay against him, safe in his warm embrace, she knew that everything would be okay, and a small smile crept over her crimson lips, her hand clutching his shirt front loosely. At long, long last, her elusive dreams were fulfilled.

An hour later, Faye Valentine strode through the gate in the chain-link fence, Spike Spiegel at her side, his arm draped about her waist, there to always remain. As they walked along in the forest together, the fence was left far behind, the gate swinging open silently in the breeze, and she was free.

Fin

"Everything is clearer now.

Life is just a dream, you know,

That's never-ending.

I'm ascending."

—End Credits, "The Real Folk Blues, Part II"