Note: Dunno exactly where this came from

Note: Dunno exactly where this came from. Saw a similar fic and got inspired, I guess.

Summary: Scotch and bad dreams just don't mix…

Fever Dreams & Other Things

"Have a seat, Mani."

Mani sat. Mostly because the old man had asked him to, and partially because the old man was the most powerful figure in organized crime today, and therefore the second most important man alive, just after Vicious. The old man was also very fat. His belly looked a lot like a barrel. Well, two and a half barrels. But only if you wanted to get technical about it.

"You wanted to see me, Don Renoir?" Mani asked.

"Yes." The old man wiped his damp forehead with a plaid handkerchief. "You know about Semfe?"

Mani nodded. Semfe had been one of the Syndicate's most wealthy trading posts on Venus. That is, until a couple of bounty hunters had torn the place apart looking for Vicious. Now it was little more than a crater. Lately, they'd been getting into more and more trouble because of people looking for Vicious. Usually, they were bounty hunters, and more often, they were the same four bounty hunters.

Good thing I took care of two of them personally, Mani thought.

"We brought down the Bebop last night. We have the two bounty hunters."

Mani grinned. "Knew they couldn't run forever. Not after gunning for Vicious that way for that long."

The old man nodded, his wrinkly face resembling a dried husk more and more by the moment.

"Something else, though. They talked."

Mani stopped grinning. "Talked? What do you mean?"

"It seems they were in contact with someone inside the Syndicate. A double agent."

Mani's eyes narrowed. "Impossible."

"Perhaps. But they were convincing."

Mani stood up. "No. Let me handle this, Don Renoir. I'll make them tell the truth. And if there is a leak, I'll plug it. Permanently."

The old man reached over and patted Mani's hand, almost affectionately. "My boy," he said in his quiet, raspy voice, "I have never, ever encouraged suicide."

Mani stared at the old man, and finally realized. "What…? No. You can't possibly think that-"

The old man shushed him and indicated he should sit.

Mani sat.

"My boy, I'm not angry, not at all. But there were…signs."

"Signs?" Mani repeated.

"Signs," the old man confirmed. "You've…been getting sloppy. Too sloppy, maybe?"

"No. I didn't-"

"You botched the Iglacia project. On purpose? By Accident? Who knows but you, my boy?"

"Don Renoir…please. I would never betray the Syndicate. That's crazy. I would never betray YOU. You're like a father to me, and-"

The old man patted his hand again. "I love you like my own, my boy. I don't want to see you go. Admit that the bounty hunters are right, and I'll see that you aren't harmed."

"No…you don't understand." Mani stood up and backed away from the table. "I would NEVER do this!"

"Calm down, my boy," the old man said, reaching for his hand.

"NO!" Mani's voice rose almost to a shriek as he whipped the gun out. "I won't! Don't tell me to calm down!"

The old man's hand lowered to rest on his knee. "My boy, put that away."

"No." Mani was laughing now. "I told you that I wouldn't do what they said I did. Never. I'm not that stupid. I just-"

The old man slowly pulled out his own gun. "My boy. Please. Put it down."

Mani thought for a moment, then fired.

The bullet tore through the old man's fleshy chest. He wheezed, then fell off his chair.

Mani walked over and pointed the gun at the old man's head. "I loved you, Don Renoir. I would've done anything for you. But if you're going to trust a damn Vicious-hungry bounty hunter over me…well…"

The old man slowly opened his eyes. "Aishiteru, Mani."

Mani paused, feeling a warm sensation around his chest. He looked down to see a slowly spreading red stain racing across his new white shirt. The pain came a second later, and he collapsed on his side. The last thing he saw was that the old man's face was starting to peel away, and that there was a smoking hole with no blood in the center of his belly.

* * * * *

The "belly barrel," as Ed had begun to call it, had been Spike's idea all along. As soon as he'd proposed it, she'd agreed to the plan, jumping at any chance to prove her worth to him. Not that she had to anymore, but she liked working closely with him, and you couldn't get too much closer than that without being downright indecent.

The night they'd turned in Don Renoir, collected his bounty, and killed Mani, Spike had been silent. Of course, he was always silent after they'd killed someone, but for other reasons. This time it was probably regret. Not for exposing Ed to danger, but for allowing her to have the kill shot.

She'd never done that before, and Spike was very aware of it. But she hadn't complained, hesitated, or even been at all scared. She'd done it like a good soldier would've: she'd done it right. And that was what worried him.

Ed was still a kid to him, no matter how much she'd grown. Spike didn't like the idea of having her kill people. Now that Jet was gone, he was a big influence on her (it wasn't like Faye had been a good influence when she had been around), and she was always like a sponge, soaking up everything he did. She'd even started practicing his moves in the morning, whether she got them right or not. One day she'd be able to mop the floor with him, if she ever got it down. He liked to think of her as his pet monkey. His wild, silly, strangely intelligent computer wizard monkey (or something to that effect).

* * * * *

"What's wrong?"

A simple question, really, with so many hard answers.

Spike settled for a more or less automatic response.

"My back's killing me. You were actually heavy this time."

Ed figured he meant it as a compliment, sort of. "Ed is sorry."

"Not your fault," Spike reasoned. "It was my idea."

"Was it better than the Backpack Buddy?"

Spike winced. That particular case had the situation reversed, where Ed had spent the better part of three nights clinging to Spike's back (disguised as the very disturbing hump of a hunchbacked old lady). Spike had gotten over the lousy makeup job Ed had done on his face, but not the pain in his back that seemed to return whenever she mentioned it. "Nothing's ever been that bad."

"So Ed did good this time?" she asked, her oddly attractive yellow eyes filling with hope as they peered up at him.

Spike hesitated, then affectionately tousled her fiery hair. "Yeah. You did real good, Ed."

Ed purred as a cat might've and latched onto his waist. It would be another ten minutes before he could pry her off, Spike knew, but he didn't mind so much anymore. With both Faye gone and his liquor supply dwindling, it had been years since he'd been hugged by a beautiful, drunken female. Of course, he would never get Ed that drunk. Just a shot or two of brandy before bed to keep her calm, but that was it.

* * * * *

Ed woke up around one in the morning. As usual, Ein was asleep next to her, his head resting on her bare belly. She stroked his back thoughtfully for a few moments, then poked his side.

Ein whined and slowly woke up.

"C'mon, Ein. We're going to check on Spike." Ed slid out of bed with the Welsh Corgi at her heels.

Ein trotted along beside her as they made their way up the hall. He glanced up and gave her a questioning whine.

"Ed has you to hug when she has a nightmare," Ed explained. "But poor Spike has no one."

That seemed to be good enough for Ein.

Soon they reached Spike's door, which was slightly open. When there had been five of them, he always kept it locked. Maybe he no longer had anything to hide. Maybe he'd just forgotten to close it.

Ed stuck her head in and waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.

Spike's body was half-hidden by the bundle of sheets around his waist. He was drenched in sweat, and every few seconds, he would mutter something unintelligible and roll over.

Ed watched for a few minutes, then slowly crept into the room. She stopped at the edge of the bed and leaned over, putting her ear level with Spike's mouth.

Spike grunted in his sleep and rolled onto his side, facing away from her.

Ed frowned and carefully crawled onto the bed.

Spike rolled onto his back, muttering again. Suddenly, he stopped and whispered a single word.

"Faye…"

Ein started to whine again, but Ed shushed him.

Spike groaned and gripped the sheets. "Faye, no…don't do it…"

Ed gently poked his cheek. "Spike?"

"You can't….Faye, stop…don't stand a chance…"

"Spike?" Ed leaned closer.

"Jet…gotta stop her…don't let her…" Spike's face twisted in sudden rage as his eyes snapped open. "VICIOUS!" he screamed, grabbing Ed and throwing her as hard as he could.

Ein barked loudly as Ed's thin body slammed into the wall and dropped to the floor. He quickly placed himself between Spike and Ed, growling at his master.

Spike grabbed his gun from underneath the pillow and advanced on the fallen girl and her dog. "Won't let you take them…you can't have them!" he shouted, aiming at Ed's forehead.

Ein leaped at Spike, sinking his teeth into the man's ankle.

Spike grimaced and brought his gun down on Ein's neck. Amazingly enough, the little dog still hung on, biting like mad. Spike was just raising his gun for a second blow when something crashed into the back of his head. He dropped to the floor like a stone.

* * * * *

It was the dull ache in the back of his skull that awakened Spike. He slowly sat up, wincing as his vision blurred and then corrected itself. A wave of nausea rolled over him, and he vomited into the convenient bucket he found on the night stand.

When he was done, he looked up to see Ed's silhouette in the doorway.

"Spike should not drink," she said.

He blinked a few times, then remembered the bottle of Scotch he'd saved. Judging from the severity of his hangover, that bottle was long gone now. "What happened?"

"Ed came to check on you. You were having a bad dream, so Ed tried to wake you up." There was a long pause. "Not one of Ed's better ideas."

Already dreading the answer, he asked, "What did I do?"

"You hurt Ed," she replied quietly, sadness dominant in her voice. "Ein stopped you. Ed helped."

Spike tried to recall the events, but there was nothing in his memory.

"You said her name. Faye. Then Jet. And then…"

"Vicious," Spike murmured, putting two and two together. He sighed heavily. "Oh God, Ed, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking, and-"

"You got drunk. Ed knows. So does Ein."

At her feet, Ein growled warily.

"Ed…did I…I mean, are you…okay?" Spike asked. He was beginning to wonder why she wouldn't come into the room, and the possible answers his recovering mind was providing weren't good ones.

"Ed will be fine. Ed is more worried about you, Spike."

"Well, stop it. There's nothing that can fix what's wrong with me."

"Ed doesn't believe that." She slowly came forward and stopped at the foot of the bed. "What did you dream about?"

"The same thing I always dream about, Ed."

"Trying to stop Faye from going after Vicious?"

He nodded. "She did it for me. But she shouldn't have. Vicious was mine. She didn't know what she was dealing with."

"You blame yourself?"

"Of course I do!" Spike snapped. "How could I not?!"

"You tried to stop her."

"Just forget it, Ed. Unless you can discover a way to turn back time, there's no point in talking about it."

Ed hopped onto his chest. "Ed can't turn back time. But neither can you, Spike."

Spike was considering shoving her when he caught sight of her eyes. They were yellow, as always, but different. Calmer. Wiser?

"Faye is gone. Jet is gone. Spike and Ed and Ein are not." She gently took Spike's face in her hands. "Live for now, for you, Spike. Leave the past behind."

"Don't you get it, Ed? I got them killed. Jet was my partner, and Faye was…was…everything…"

"Faye was Faye, Jet was Jet." She leaned closer, pressing her nose to his. "But they are GONE, Spike. From now on, Ed is your partner. Ed HAS been your partner for four years. And maybe Ed can't be your everything right now, but…wait until Ed is legal."

Spike stared at her for a long moment, and then he laughed. Until his stomach lurched and he grabbed the ever convenient bucket again. And when he was done, Ed was there to wipe his mouth with a damp towel.

"Why'd you come to check on me?" he asked.

"You didn't have anyone to hug," Ed replied, giving him a lopsided grin.

"And you thought you'd volunteer your services?"

Ed looked offended. "No way!" She slid into bed next to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, flashing him one of her more contagious smiles. "Ed requires thirty woulongs an hour."

"Damn, you're one sneaky cowboy," Spike chuckled.

"Of course. Ed had a good teacher."

Spike studied her face for a moment, trying to pick out the best spot for a kiss. He'd just decided when he spotted Ein crawling under the sheets. "Wait a second. You're paying me if he gets to sleep here."

"You can have half of Ed's salary," Ed mumbled into his chest.

"You're not getting a salary, and he's sleeping on your side."

"Ein, come to Ed," she called.

Ein burrowed his way up to her and claimed the spot beside her.

"There, see? Still on Ed's side." Ed yawned and closed her eyes. "Now, sleep. Ed needs beauty rest."

Spike smiled and closed his eyes as well. "Whatever you say, partner."

~ Life is but a dream, and working with children and animals brings wisdom and a buttload of funny memories. ~

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