Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Cowboy Bebop characters, places, etc.
The Pluto Waltz
"You know, you should just give up and be a nudist."
Faye looked up from her game of solitaire and saw the red head in the doorway. Her wild hair was shot with streaks of gray at the temples, and her brown eyes were situated seriously over a field of freckles. She was dressed in a black business suit, tailored to bring out a modest flare at her hips, and her tie was pulled loose with a few buttons of the starched white blouse open. Faye smiled wearily, and pulled the cigarette out of her mouth. She tapped it lightly against the worn ashtray.
The apartment was small, and Faye listened as the woman went into the kitchen. It was separated only by counters from the living room, with an ancient fridge and basic appliances. The walls were a warm shade of orange, with chili peppers and suns hand painted on it. Everything about the place was bright, even the bathroom. Faye had always liked this apartment, preferring to snuggle deeply into the worn couch and oversize chair before the fireplace and turn on an antique radio that only received a quarter of the stations broadcasting on this planet. Usually it was tuned in to the news, a country station, or classic rock from way back. Faye preferred the more modern songs of pop culture.
"White's all I've got," the red head brought over two long stem wine glasses and an opened bottle of Chardonnay. She poured for both of them, twisting the bottle to save the drops of alcohol. Faye took her glass and held it up. Her friend smiled, a few lines creasing along the sides of her face. They toasted, and Faye downed hers, asking with her expression for another glass. Red poured for her.
"Might be hard to catch a bounty naked," Faye mused, not allowing herself to touch the glass again just yet. She dragged a red eight onto a black nine and flipped an Ace up to the top of her playing space.
"Might be easier," Red replied, going to the radio and turning it on. She looked surprised that it was the news that came on, and fiddled with the dial. She settled on classical, and Faye, for once, didn't object to the incomprehensible tangle that was an orchestra. Red came back and pulled off her low-heeled shoes, before tucking her stocking feet beneath her on the opposite end of the sofa. Neither of them spoke as Faye finished her game, eventually coming to a dead end with three Aces up and missing the two of clubs liberating its own ace. Faye leaned back with a heavy sigh, and rested her head so that she could stare at the painted ceiling. This room was more of a yellow-orange, with an accent wall behind them.
"My life seems to always end up like that two of clubs," she said to Red absently. The older woman reached forward and flipped up the ace of clubs. She examined the card silently, taking another sip of her wine.
"At least you've progressed to the point of calling it a life," Red replied. She flipped the card over and examined the intricate back of the casino print. Faye smiled bitterly.
"Life: the state of prolonged decay before the body eventually gives up."
"Until you begin embalming corpses, you know nothing of decay," Red tossed the card down onto the coffee table. Faye laughed.
"Are all your mirrors broken?" she demanded with vengeful sarcasm.
"They called me Medusa back in my prime." Red didn't smile, but Faye recognized her deadpan humor.
"I'm sorry Bryce," Faye said miserably. "I don't want to snap at you."
"I guess I won't turn you to stone this time." Bryce took another sip of her wine, and Faye decided it would be okay for her to do the same. Silence stretched between them, until Bryce collected the cards and began shuffling them. They whirred quietly between her fingers, and after a while, she dealt them a hand of poker.
They played for three hours before Bryce's hunger put the game on pause. She never asked what was eating Faye, preferring rather to let the violet haired bounty hunter come out and say it. Faye listened to Bryce's movements as she rustled about the kitchen and began dinner.
"Do you prefer broccoli or asparagus?" she asked, and Faye selected another cigarette. Bryce waited with undue patience for the simple answer.
"Broccoli," she answered after the lengthy pause, taking the first pull on this cigarette. She heard Bryce behead the sprigs, and begin breaking them into smaller pieces.
"I assume you're still a fan of cheesecake?"
"Sure," Faye nodded. Bryce had legendary cheesecake.
Both women were silent for a while, until Faye eventually was lured to the kitchen by the smell of gravy and meat. Bryce was wearing a plain apron over her blouse, the jacket set on one of the chairs by the table. Faye pulled playfully on the loose ponytail of carrot-colored hair. Bryce stepped to one side so Faye could stand next to the warm stove top as she sautéed the meat. They gazed in silence at their dinner.
"It's been a long time since I came out to see you," Faye stated absently.
"I've learned to live with the heartache," Bryce replied, her voice remaining calm and factual. For all the changing tides and winds in Faye's life, Bryce had been a constant since Faye had awoken, displaced in time and lost to her world. It had been beneath Bryce's knife that Faye was given her second life.
"Bryce…" Faye frowned, her eyes boring into the egg timer set on the white stove. "Why did you become an undertaker? Why not medicine?" The wrinkles around Bryce's eyes and the lines around her mouth deepened. She considered the question seriously.
"I got tired of being attacked for helping," Bryce answered. "I didn't have the thick skin to ignore the persecution of families when I had done everything I could for their loved ones."
"But you were so good!" Faye contested.
"You of all people should know about luck and how she works," Bryce lifted the spatula in the gravy and gave it a stir. "I worked in medicine for twenty years, and all of it came down to luck. For all the knowledge and skill I had in the world, it meant nothing in certain cases." Faye leaned back and levered herself slowly onto the counter.
"You always seemed to me like you could fix anybody…"
"There are just some people you can't save," Bryce looked at Faye and gave her a weary smile, suddenly looking her age. The simple words hit Faye hard. Her eyebrows came together slowly, and she felt her stomach drop out.
A thousand images fell through her mind, exploding to the top of her consciousness like an endless game of 52 card pickup. The smell of gun smoke, a yellow couch, cigarettes and embers, lighters, arguments, a cathedral, stain glass, orange peels, a blonde, a girl and a dog, bonsais, a cyborg, a starving wallet. It came in a swirling rush, engulfing her mercilessly.
Vertigo demanded her attention, cutting and pasting past and present. She missed the blue suit and yellow shirt, she wanted to see the way the light reflected off his one inorganic eye, wanted the ember of his midnight cigarette to glow alone on the yellow couch, wanted his voice to grate on her nerves again as he said something mocking or playful. She wanted all of him to come back.
"Is that a fact?" Faye asked dryly. Bryce set her hand down on Faye's knee, and Faye felt the light calluses on her palms.
"Plates are where they always are," she urged gently, and Faye slid off the counter. She fell into her childhood routine of setting the table mindlessly, drawing comfort from the familiarity of the task. It was the first part of this new world that had seemed normal, after all the intensive operations, the shell shock of waking up and remembering nothing, realizing it was all gone.
Now, again, Faye felt vulnerable and rootless, set adrift in space. That sense of suffocation and alienation was closing in around her. It had driven her to this place of warm walls and worn furniture, a place that smelled like clove cigarettes and Bryce's rosemary perfume. These were her first memories, like being born again.
The high trill of a flute caught Faye's attention, and she turned to look at the radio. Suddenly, it irritated her to listen to the music of people so far removed from her world and time. She stalked to the radio and stood glaring in front of it as Bryce brought dinner to the table. Petulantly, Faye gripped the dial and twisted it to the only pop station the thing could receive.
"Just like old times," Bryce made a face as Faye returned to the table with their wine glasses and the bottle.
"You didn't sell my old bed, did you?"
"And what would I do with that room? Bring my work home with me?"
Faye smiled, and sat down in her place at the table. She watched Bryce lever herself into the chair with a sigh, something she never would have done some ten years ago. She was only in her forties, but time had passed.
"Bryce, why didn't you get married?" Faye asked. Bryce didn't look up.
"I have a soul, you know," she stated, licking gravy off of her thumb.
"I thought you'd petrified it and sold it as a gargoyle to the cathedral downtown," Faye answered.
"I got it back on e-bay," Bryce said without missing a beat. Faye laughed. "I divorced after four years of marriage, when I was twenty. I haven't bothered with marriage since. Why do you ask?"
"It just seems so lonely, you here all by yourself like this," Faye replied, some of the merriment draining out of her. Bryce looked moderately irritated at the radio and stood up to turn it down. Faye pushed a sprig of asparagus across her plate and drowned it in gravy, her head propped on one hand. The music, some wishy-washy love song with more chorus then lyrics, faded out of its mind numbing dominance of all thought and sound. Faye wrinkled her nose, able to hear again the whining grief gnawing away at her.
"Just because you don't have a wedding band, two point five children, and a break on your taxes doesn't mean you're unhappy, Faye," Bryce said gently. "You've always been too concerned with the idealistic picture of family they glue to our retinas."
"Wouldn't it be nice…?"
"What? Changing diapers, dealing with screaming children, arguing over what car to buy, deliberating over dinner, and being chained sexually to one person for the rest of your life?" Bryce snorted, eliciting a chuckle from Faye. "No thanks."
"At least you've got someone who loves you in spite of it and all that jazz," Faye sighed wistfully, annoyed by her own cheesiness.
"It's not only lovers who can do that for you," Bryce cautioned, setting her fork down now. Her dinner was only half eaten, but she turned her attention to the long stem glass. Delicately she plucked it up between a thumb and forefinger, lifting it from the tablecloth to better examine the faintly saffron liquid inside. "But it makes it easier to live, doesn't it," she stated more the asked. Faye gave her a slight nod, her fingers falling to the base of the cup. She fingered the stem absently. "My way of life never was to your tastes, was it? You're far too social to appreciate an old soul's routine."
"Careful, I'm older then you," Faye warned to lighten the mood. She didn't know if she could handle any somberness from Bryce.
"Only the number of years between our births and deaths will give you that measure," Bryce laughed. "Age means very little these days though. Wisdom comes in many forms, and usually from the most unexpected sources. We live in the age of graffiti prophets and star frontiers to rival the Old West."
"Why didn't you remarry?" Faye asked, her mind still stuck on the wedding band. "Did you find a lover instead?"
"They came and went," she shrugged. "I still date, find someone from time to time."
"Did they never measure up to your first husband?" Faye's mind turned to the blonde, those luxuriant locks and the elegant grace, that air of mystique and sadness hung over a competent and tender soul. Hers were the eyes and heart that had mastered him, which held him even in death. "Were they never good enough?"
"It's never the same, Faye. You know that even better then I do," Bryce startled her. Did she know about Spike? "It's just like poker, never the same game twice; different tricks, different hands, different cards. Love is just the same, only the bitterness of a loss might never completely go away." Faye relaxed, and at the same time felt her heart sink.
"People are that way too?" Faye asked. Bryce just shrugged.
"I never said it was painless, or easy. Life is one big poker game, and everyone wants the jackpot. You knew that, you've always known that."
Faye and Bryce were silent, each one focusing on her wine glass. Faye wondered what his jackpot was. What was it that Spike had been looking for? Vengeance? Love? Freedom? She wasn't sure, even though he must have said it. Faye had wanted so very badly to weigh into that jackpot, even if she was just a single poker chip, the smallest, most worthless coin in the grand scheme of things. But in the end, it hadn't mattered. She'd thrown her cards on the table, tore down her bluff, and had told him openly what she wanted. And he had refused…
Now he was dead.
Faye felt the sting of tears, felt the way her sobs built like a storm with the first warnings of tension in her chest and heat in her throat. Pressure built behind her eyes and exploded down her cheeks in a chaotic eruption of grief. She shoved the dinner backwards, spilled her wine, buried her face in the tablecloth and sobbed violently.
She hadn't meant anything, not enough to stop him anyway. He had gone ahead, gone running headlong after that angelic and magical woman he loved so dearly. She was his ideal, the one thing he had thrown all his cards in for. Faye had only been able to sit by and watch; to tear herself to pieces with worry and regret. He was as painstakingly untouchable as her past and yet she had dared to reach for him as the future. Every piece of her had been dashed to the rocks instead, cast aside as the pawn after being thrown into an epic battle not even her own.
"He was blind!" she screamed, molding into Bryce's tight embrace. Her hands fisted around the silky blouse, wrinkling it intensely. "Real or fake, he couldn't see out of either eye! The only thing he could see, all he wanted to see, was back behind him! Back there, over his shoulder! It's the only direction he would look! God damn him! God damn you! GODDAMN YOU…"
The monsoon shook her to the core, rattled her until her lungs and throat were raw and her face was chapped. It howled through her until she lay limp in Bryce's arms, as weak as those first days after the operation and rehab. Bryce had held her then, too.
They had been in the hospital lounge, seated together on an uncomfortable bench with afternoon sun pouring into the window. Next to them were magazines, all with foreign fashions and hair styles, exotic make up and news from Jupiter's moons, the politics of Mars, and Neptune's spring accessory list. It had been familiar in Bryce's embrace, too tired and weak to do anything but lean on the woman whose hands had pieced her together again, breathing life back into a body dormant for decades.
Here she lay again, wrapped in the same slender arms with the same light calluses, the same perfume and clove cigarette smell about her. This time, rather then a surgeon, it was an undertaker who held her tight, and it was Faye's heart that needed mending.
Pillowed on Bryce's shoulder, Faye thought about the words echoing in her head. "The only thing he could see, all he wanted to see, was back behind him! Back there, over his shoulder! It's the only direction he would look!" Funny…those were her crimes too.
Sitting up, Faye didn't look into Bryce's face. Instead she took the fine boned hands, dappled lightly on the back by a few freckles, and looked at them. They were white hands, the knuckles a little rough with light calluses on the palms. These hands had cut men and women open and bound them back together better then before, correcting both man made and natural accidents. Now those same hands which had gently convinced death to release others worked to ferry them back to the other side, handing into the great beyond where once they had denied it.
Faye put one hand up to her damp cheek and closed her eyes. She mused at the similarities of she and Spike's lives, almost laughable parallels in some instances. Each had been remade, Faye after the gate incident and Spike after he lost the sight in one eye. Each had taken this gift and looked over their shoulders, stumbling blindly ahead in an attempt to double back. Spike had just been unlucky enough to find the door leading back to his past and it had killed him. Faye could either follow his example or blaze ahead.
"I have to get going," Faye said at last, her eyes still closed. Bryce put her other hand on Faye's face. "I'll be fine. I just needed to cry…"
"No shame in that," Bryce assured her, kissing her forehead in a motherly fashion. Faye smiled. The ache in her chest wasn't gone. It would be a long time before that happened.
"He'd laugh," Faye sighed miserably. "He'd make me feel stupid and angry right now…"
"Then he wasn't always looking backwards, was he?" Bryce said with a smile.
"Probably comparing me to her," she hissed bitterly.
"Good," Bryce startled her. "That means he was looking, honestly trying to really see you for who you are and who you aren't." Faye thought about it a moment, really thought about the months together. They were a rollercoaster of emotions, almost too much to bear. "You've really got a place to go?"
"I wonder if he figured it out…" she nodded absently, releasing Bryce's hands and pulling her knees up to her chest. Her eyes detailed the wood floors of the place, studying the boards in much need of some polish. Bryce stood up and rustled around in the kitchen. Faye was too absorbed contemplating Spike and what his appraisals of her would have been. She wondered if he'd gotten any sort of accurate depiction, and decided immediately that he'd never given it the effort. But the thought was cruel and she soon went back to it, worrying over scenarios and moments like a neurotic Hollywood director.
"So?" Bryce asked, squatting suddenly and holding out a few Tupperware containers of dinner. "Here's a little something to go along with."
"I thought you didn't have any red wine," Faye looked at the bottle tucked under one arm. Bryce smiled.
"I wasn't sure if you'd need it," she said. "Do you think he figured it out? Think he scratched the surface?" her tone softened. Faye chewed on her lip.
"I think he tried," she looked up, her green eyes tinted by a rare moment of timidity. "...and he tried to help me see him, too." Bryce's smile widened a bit as she leaned in and gave Faye another light kiss on the cheek.
"Funny when you meet someone's shadow before his face," Bryce agreed. Faye stood up and accepted the offerings, pausing long enough to embrace Bryce. "I promise not to sell your bed or change the locks," the red head stated, making the standard invitation as Faye departed. There was a confused sense of calm as she left the warm light of Bryce's open door and faded into the shadows. It wasn't happiness or complacency, but it was a start.
- A Man's Shadow -
"I really hate Mars," Faye said. She could tell it startled Jet as he jumped up off the yellow couch. He swung around full of an unusual fire.
"You of all people shouldn't just waltz back in here!" he exclaimed. "You come in and out like I'm some dirt cheap motel! This makes a month, Faye! A month!"
The long ride home from Bryce's had been silent. There was no radio, just silence as she pored over the memories and interactions that had taken place. It had been a head on confrontation with the dual headed beast of grief and memory. Badly wounded, Faye had only wanted to slide in and collapse.
"It's nice to see you too, Jet," she sighed, stalking into the kitchen and setting the Tupperware and wine on the counter.
"I'm serious this time, Faye! I must have called you a hundred times that week, and nothing! You didn't even show up for his funeral!" Jet raged. "It was just me, Faye! There was nobody else there to say goodbye!"
She looked up at him and saw the irate cyborg before her with more sorrow then rage in his eyes. It startled her to see him so rocked, shook her up when she was already bleeding. They stood a moment, eyes locked, Jet still frozen with his hands on his hips. He had really been hurt.
"What's it matter to you anyway?" Jet looked away first. Faye looked down at the Tupperware. It had meant everything. The former cop turned away from her and crossed his arms, not quite able to walk away from the confrontation but unsure as to how it should progress. He apparently hadn't looked a hundred moves ahead in his stratagem this time.
"You didn't even call," he repeated.
"The only thing I've done is said my goodbyes," Faye told him. "About a hundred thousand times a day, that's all I do, is say goodbye." Jet didn't turn around, and she wondered if he was surprised to hear her talk with him seriously. They were usually fighting.
"I called for you too, you know. It wasn't just for him." These words jarred her. Faye had to grip the counter tightly as she looked up at him. Every time she'd seen his number on her phone she hadn't answered, convinced he had no idea of the depth of her loss. She had refused to speak with him because she expected reprimands for skipping out on the funeral or the list of bills she'd dumped on him right before.
"Funny when you meet someone's shadow before his face." Bryce's words came back to haunt Faye. She'd been looking over her shoulder again and not even bothered to think about Jet. He must have been upset too. He'd known Spike longer, had been better friends with him. Faye was almost moved by her own selfishness to cry again.
"I'm sorry," she said, honestly meaning it. She took a few wobbly steps and put her hands on the each of his arms. "I didn't even stop to think about you, Jet." Without thinking about it, she put her face down on his back and closed her eyes. She noticed first how warm he was, and then his heartbeat.
"I don't need looking after," he insisted hesitantly, a thread of weakness in his voice. "It's you guys that always get in trouble. I was looking after you. You don't worry about me." His voice seemed to get worse as he went, and she felt his back muscles tighten. She smiled to herself, her fingers gripping his arms tighter.
"Can I stay, Jet?" she asked.
"Aw Hell, it wouldn't matter if I said no," Jet groused, his voice regaining some of its gusto. Faye lingered a minute more against his back.
"I'll sweeten the deal with some Merlot and a pork and asparagus leftovers," she baited, feeling her spirits lighten some.
"What'd you do? Con some little old lady?"
"Old? Yes. Little? No," Faye smiled, releasing him and turning to the dinner. "Do you have any wine glasses?"
"We don't keep wine glasses. Tumblers are more useful," Jet answered dourly, almost stomping into the kitchen where he threw open a cabinet and pulled out a pair of them. Faye pushed the wine bottle towards him and popped the leftovers into the microwave. When the timer went off, she joined him in the living room with their steaming food and sat down on the old yellow couch. She crossed her legs and felt her knee brush against Jet's. She shied away instantly but he was too absorbed trying to find an unbiased news channel. He'd grown fond of politics recently. Timidly she relaxed and let her knee touch his thigh ever so lightly.
"Why's the news always so depressing?" Faye demanded.
"Hey, you pick up the satellite bill and we'll watch whatever you want," Jet groused, snatching his food. He dove into it voraciously. He apparently had not been doing much hunting either.
"That a deal?" she challenged.
"Doesn't matter even if it was. You'd never keep up on a steady bill, even if every shoe store in the solar system depended on it," he scoffed.
"Drink to it," Faye accepted, lifting her tumbler of dark red wine. Jet swung a wilting look onto her and she gave him back a fierce and patent glare. He took his glass and slammed it up against hers, so hard that Merlot sloshed onto both of them. "Hey! Now you owe me the first month in dry cleaning!" she whined.
"You don't even have enough clothes on to get anything on them. Besides, what happens if the drycleaners shrink that? Then what'll you wear?" He took a huge drink of Merlot, while Faye indulged herself in a smaller sip. The rich flavors melted over her tongue and were warm all the way down her throat.
"Someone very wise once suggested it might be easier to catch a bounty naked," Faye answered in mock contemplation.
"No nudity on the Bebop. This is a ship of principle," Jet took her seriously.
"Why do you have to be such an old man, Grandpa? Sheez!" she bent one leg and nudged him with her foot roughly. "Don't cramp my style of liberal thinking!"
"Why does everyone think I'm so old? I'm not old," Jet complained. Faye sneered at him.
"Because you walk around with a scowl all day and you're bald!"
"What? I don't scowl!" Jet scowled. "And at least I have the decency to wear some clothes!"
"Okay, dad," she rolled her eyes. "Look, your debate's on," she jibed, stabbing at the television with her fork. Jet was amply distracted in the next two seconds, just before a reply could tumble out of his mouth. Faye hid her smile behind her Tupperware dish and finished up her meal. Significantly tired, she finished her glass of wine and swung up. "I'm gonna hit the sack," she stated. "See you tomorrow."
"Faye," Jet stopped her. She looked curiously over her shoulder. "You brought this mess. You can do the dishes."
"And here I thought you were going to say goodnight," she snorted, collecting the dishes anyway and storming towards the sink. She rinsed them out, listening to debates over mining on some uninhabited moons. When she was through, she stalked directly in front of the television and put her hands on her hips. "Anything else I can do for you?" she demanded, fully intending to tell him he could stuff it.
"Yes," he nodded, looking up at her. She opened her mouth when he raised his glass. "I'm glad you're back." He drank to this, sending a warm shock of happiness through her. "Now you're between me and the satellite programming I paid for," he said when he was finished.
"I'll just go to my room then, grandpa," she sighed, although as she turned away she was smiling. As she passed down the hallway and glanced back at Jet, illuminated in that strange blue-white glow of the television in a dark room, she reflected that life would go on. It would not be the same, but it would grow and change in new ways. That was enough for her.