The Usual Disclaimer Notice: Never owned it, never will: sucks to be me.
Author's Note: Can there be a true compromise between what is honorable and what is wise? Spike sure hopes so. This one is short… Thanks to my beta reader who generally pushes me to think outside of my comfort zone... I'm planning on returning the favor (insert evil laughter here - muwahahahahah!!!)
OTHER CHOICES (PART ELEVEN)
"He helped us. Without him, you wouldn't have been able to catch the traitor. I think it would be dishonorable of us to kill him." It was Mao's turn to sigh.
"This is what happens when you are hot-headed and impulsive. I told you to think of everything before you proceeded with this plan. I'm sorry if this hurts you, Spike, but you know the rules. He knows too much about internal Dragon politics, and about you in particular. If you want, I can send someone else to take care of it."
"No," Spike said numbly. "No. It's my problem. I'll take care of it," he said echoing what he had told Ansari earlier.
"I am sorry, Spike. I know you'll do the right thing."
"But I don't think that this is the right thing, Mao. There have to be other choices. If I can think of another way to deal with the bounty hunter…"
"If you can think of another way by tomorrow, Spike, I'll consider it. I won't make you any promises, though; and if you can't think of another way, then you know what you have to do."
Spike walked through the crowded Utopian streets deep in dark thought. "…you know what you have to do." Mao's words echoed unpleasantly through his mind. Yes, he knew what he had to do.
The rule wasn't an arbitrary one; it was for the protection of the whole Clan. This rule was the main reason Julia hadn't wanted to leave with him, why he himself, because of her, had come back to the Dragons. If some "civilian" knew too much about Clan business, everyone in the Clan could be put at risk. Killing such a one before any damage could be done to the Red Dragon was wise. Spike understood the rule, he even approved of it; but now the rule had become a trap, and it didn't make what he had to do any easier.
The day, in contrast to his thoughts, was sunny, warm and breezy: a nearly perfect spring day in Utopia City. The breeze, filled with the sweetness of honeysuckle from Utopian gardens and baking bread from a nearby bakery, however, couldn't quite overcome the damp, fishy, garbage smells seeping up from the canali. All too soon, he came to his destination at the heart of the wharf district. The Bebop, looking a lot worse in the bright sunshine than it had in space, floated at it's dock on the scummy water of the canal, surrounded by wheeling, hungry gulls. Spike could see Jet working on the deck, surrounded by his laundry. He took a deep, calming breath, ignoring both the flower and garbage smells, and hated himself for what he was about to do. It's necessary, he told himself.
"Yo, Jet, you up for company?" Spike called up. Jet peered over the railing in surprise.
"You again?" Jet asked, drawling gruffly down at Spike. "What do you want now?" Several pairs of paisley boxer shorts of various colors snapped like flags in the stiff spring breeze.
"I've come bearing gifts," Spike answered, holding up the two cloth grocery bags he carried for inspection. Spike silently thanked the nano-machines that had repaired the bones and ligaments in his shoulders enough that he could hold the bags up without much pain. Jet looked down at him with a bemused expression.
"Well gifts, why didn't you say so in the first place?" Jet asked as he lowered the ladder over the side of the ship. Spike was tempted to laugh as he handed the bags up to the bounty hunter and climbed aboard the trawler. Jet hurriedly grabbed the rest of his laundry off the line, and led the way down to the ship's galley. Spike, faintly amused, watched the realization creep over Jet's face as they emptied the bags and put away the food.
"Steak, ham, turkey, tuna, beef roast, pork roast, bacon, chicken…. Hey kid? Did you forget the vegetables?"
"From what I saw the last time I was aboard, you had too many vegetables."
"But…emu?" Jet wrinkled his nose and stared at the butcher's label skeptically. Spike smirked.
"It's the other red meat," he said authoritatively, quoting from the poster in the butcher shop window. "Believe me, I'm sure it beats meatless sukiyaki any day."
"Hmmmmm" Jet said, putting the emu in the freezer, not sounding at all convinced. "So, do you want to tell me what's up with all of this extravagance?" he asked as Spike took the smoked salmon out of the bag. "After all, I've gotten a total of eight million three hundred and twenty five thousand woolongs out of this deal already."
"What?! Do you mean to tell me that those assholes were only worth twenty-five thousand woolongs? I was going to ask for 90% of their bounty, except now I'm insulted. I knew they were small fry, but that's just ridiculous."
"Yep," Jet said, nodding in agreement. "Smallest of the small. I almost refused the bounty myself when I found out how much it was," Jet chuckled. "By the way, your friends were pretty efficient at mopping them up. You, on the other hand, didn't look so good coming out."
"I'll be sure to tell them you said so," Spike said, suddenly uncomfortable at the talk of his friends. If they had known that they had an audience, he wouldn't be here now having this conversation with Jet; the bounty hunter would already be dead. And if Jet found out anything else about them, it would almost certainly complicate matters even more. "What did you do with all of that money anyway, since I see you didn't take my advice about reupholstering the couch and chair?"
"Most of it's going to the Benevolent Society for the Comfortable Retirement of Old Bounty Hunters. So, you still haven't told me what's with all this meat. Are you avoiding the subject?"
"Actually, yes, I am," Spike said with a big sigh. "It's a long story. Why don't you cook something and I'll tell you over lunch?" Spike gestured towards all of the meat still on the counter. Jet pursed his lips before harrumphing and turning to the counter to pick up various butcher packages, as if he were weighing their contents.
"Maybe I should feed you that 'other red meat'…nah, since I'm going to be eating this too, I guess I'll make my specialty: bell peppers and beef."
"As long as it isn't meatless, I don't care," Spike said. Jet smirked.
"I seem to recall you eating a whole lot of that sukiyaki. Unless your legs are hollow or something." Spike snorted. He would never pass up a meal of any sort. "Now, get out of my kitchen. I've got food to prepare."
"What? It's a secret recipe or something?"
"Passed down from father to son in a secret ceremony to mark the son's passage into manhood," Jet said, grinning and making shooing motions with his hands. Spike, laughing again, let himself be shooed and went to the common room. There was a deck of cards on the table and Spike, plopping down onto the yellow sofa, began to shuffle them automatically, his thoughts elsewhere.
Damn it! This would be so much easier if Jet weren't actually cooking him lunch, Spike thought, as he dealt out a hand of Solitaire. He could hear the rattle of pots over the hum of the ceiling fan. He stared at the cards, losing himself in thoughts of honor versus wisdom. He didn't even hear Jet's metal boots against the metal steps.
"You should put the two there," Jet pointed out, placing a steaming plate of bell peppers and beef on the table in front of Spike. The bounty hunter sat in the yellow chair, balancing his plate on his knees. "So did you catch the traitor? I've been watching the news, and no one prominent has committed suicide as far as I can tell."
"I'm not sure," Spike answered, picking up his chopsticks and trying Jet's dish. "Mao says that everything is under control, and that I'm not to ask about it, but I feel that there's something that I'm missing."
"And why do you feel that?"
"Because this whole operation was almost too easy."
"What do you mean too easy?" Jet asked in disbelief. "If I recall correctly, your friends had to carry you out of that warehouse."
"Someone that I trusted absolutely gave that Vip some personal information about me; and the Vip let me know that he knew this information. It was like he was some moustache-twirling villain from a really bad TV show or something. I can't be sure if this was just a personal betrayal, or if it has ramifications for the entire Clan, but I do know that no one with that much power would give away an advantage like that if he could keep it secret."
"Wow, no wonder you seem preoccupied," Jet said around a mouthful of beef.
"That's the least of my worries right now," Spike said, dreading what came next.
"Oh?" Jet raised an eyebrow. "Does this have something to do with the meat?"
"Yeah, in a way. You see one of the drawbacks to growing a conscious seems to be guilt, and I guess my conscious is guilty. I've come to make you an offer you can't refuse." He watched as the bounty hunter's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"What the hell does that mean?" Jet said in a tight, deadly voice. Spike took a bite of the bell peppers and beef to gather his thoughts and avoid answering right away; it actually wasn't too bad, he silently complimented Jet.
"I'm sure you've seen that movie. You tell me," he said softly after swallowing. Spike watched as Jet drew his gun, flicked off the safety, and pointed it deliberately at him. He didn't let that stop him from calmly taking another bite.
"Take your ostrich and get off of my ship!" At any other time, Spike would have laughed at that sentence; right now, he didn't even smirk.
"Ostrich?" he asked before deciding not to get sidetracked. "It's not that simple Jet. It's already a done deal," he said in a reasonable tone of voice. Jet, it seemed, wasn't having reason at the moment.
"Get. Off. My. Ship," the bounty hunter ground each word between his clinched teeth.
"Look, just hear me out. Please. After that, me and the emu will gladly leave." Jet snorted despite himself.
"Smart ass. I knew I shouldn't have talked to you in that alley. What makes you think I'm going to listen to you now?" Spike smirked at him, and then sighed again, shaking his head. Now was not the time for levity.
"Because I'm trying to save your life?"
"Didn't you just threaten my life?" Jet retorted.
"Not really…well…yeah…Sort of," Spike let the words trail off in the face of Jet's closed expression.
"You can't have it both ways kid, and you know it," Jet said, lowering the gun slightly.
"I am supposed to kill you. You know too much about both Dragon politics and me. I still may have to kill you as a matter of fact. But I really don't want to."
"And this is supposed to reassure me?" Jet asked facetiously. "You don't have to do anything, you could just walk away."
"You know better. I couldn't just walk away. Both of our lives would be forfeit the minute I did that. No. What I can do is put you on the Dragon payroll. I think you might be safe then."
"I might be safe? You don't even know?" the bounty hunter's deep voice almost cracked. "If I took this offer, I might be safe, but I'd be without honor," he spat. "I left the ISSP, a job that I was good at, a job that I loved doing, because I didn't want to be on any Syndicates' payroll; what gives you the right to just waltz onto my ship and invalidate my life choices? What's to stop me from killing you right now?" he brought the gun up again.
"One: you're not a cold-blooded murderer," Spike said evenly, ignoring the muzzle of the Walther P99 leveled at his chest. "Two: I'm being watched, and if you kill me, you would definitely be a dead man walking. At least if you accept my offer, there's a chance to redeem your honor. If you don't, well, what good is honor to a dead man?"
"I've heard you out. Now, get off of my ship," Jet said coldly, lowering the gun again. Spike shook his head sadly; he really didn't want to have this man as an enemy.
"Fine. I'm leaving," Spike said, pushing his lanky body up from the yellow sofa. "I'll be in Utopia City for two more days, Jet. I need to hear from you before I leave, or I can't be responsible for what happens," he said softly, hating himself for the threat. He handed Jet a card from the place he was staying. "Don't make them kill you. Don't put me in the position of having to kill you." Jet gave him a look that seemed to be reserved for slime mold found growing in the back of a refrigerator. "Oh, and you can keep the emu."