Portrait of a Shattered Woman

Chapter 9

Something Short of a Family

"Someone has to be the adult around here." - Jet Black




"You've really gone and done it this time!" Jet Black's thundering words could not pull her to even glance up at him; instead they forced her to focus more intently on the air between them, ignoring his heavy footsteps, a clomping testament of his anger. "You've finally gone and done it!"

Faye was no longer hearing the words he roared let alone understanding them. They had a meaning, though she couldn't find it. It was like groping around a dark attic for the table's edge, knowing it was there, and that if it wasn't found first then it was going to be a painful meeting. Each time she'd try to focus on the words to sort out their meaning, they'd just become more garbled, fading into a rising and falling roar like that of the angry ocean as it awaited a storm's arrival.

"What were you doing?" Jet flung himself into the chair across from her, shifting several times like a rattle on a snake, warning of the beast's lethalness, then snapped back to his feet – the forewarned strike. "What did you think you were doing? Did you even think?"

Perched on the edge of the couch with a hand on each of her knees, Faye said nothing in her own defense, her eyes riveted on the air between them. Almost out of vision, to her left was the tall form of Spike with one hand in a pocket, he was propped against the wall as casually as the day they had quite seriously considered leaving Ed on Mars. His head was turned so that he was looking out the great window into the dark reflections of the water.

To anyone else, even herself, she couldn't have been real, just a malfunctioning hologram frozen in time. The feel of the air in her lungs and the occasional rise and fall of her eyelids were the only clues to her being real, physically. She didn't feel real anymore. She knew. To be real one had to live and laugh and have thoughts and memories and love and cry and all resentful words that Jet could spit at her could not make her real for all those long months spent as an invisible woman for hire had bled the life from her.

In an instant a large hand slapped down on the back of the couch, despite the foot or so between them, the power of the blow stirred the hairs framing her face, but she did not jump. Jet growled bear like above her, his eyes were like black stones dancing under a muddy stream. They were locked on her. "What the hell's the matter with you?" He hovered expectantly, but when silence answered for her, he fell into the chair across from her. He ran his good hand along his jaw and over his mouth, no longer watching her.

The man let out a long slow breath and fixed her with his gaze. "Of all the things for you to go and do, Faye. I never thought you'd do something like this."

She let her vision become unfocused blurring his shape and the slumped form by the main window.

"You're a liar and a cheat." He nodded folding his arms. "And a whole lot of other things. But a cold blooded killer?" Jet's vision bore into the top of her head. "I didn't know you had it in you."

Tanned arms flipped over the side of the couch, palms together and index fingers extended in the shape of a gun. "Faye-Faye's the Raye-Raye!" Ed slithered forward, closed one eye and pivoted over the arm of the couch, aim landing on Ein who dropped his ears and whined as he backed under the coffee table. The girl giggled, growling before singing out her shots, and wincing playfully at the recoil. Ed laughed as she blew the imaginary smoke away from the tops of her fingers. "An assassin extraordinaire!"

"Ed you're not helping." Jet said flatly.

Faye finally lifted her eyes from the spot on the wall. "So what do we do?"

"We?" He laughed sharply. "I can't fix this!"

She nodded. It wasn't a ship. She hadn't brought the Redtail back damaged, low on ammo and out of fuel again. Jet couldn't fuss and give her an invoice for all the hours it had taken him to complete the repairs disguised a present. No, she was not a ship. Besides, her debt was already too high.

Again Jet moved no longer giving her the respect of watching her, the table suddenly a more valuable and interesting individual. Despite the times she had spent teasing him, Faye had never really thought of Jet as old, but in that moment, in the soft glow of the lamp he looked utterly worn, as though the life he'd held had slipped away in the sigh of the heavy shadows that scurried across the room. When he spoke, his voice seemed so frayed, but mostly it seemed tired. "How long?"


His eyes sparked. "How long Faye?"

That night in the blistering shadows of an evening not to be forgotten, she had disappeared along with the darkness, not even bothering to leave a note, because after all notes where left to people who cared. Then there was the initial days of sleeping in the Redtail, huddled, waking with the sting of cramping muscles as she drifted through the emptiness of space with crumbs and an empty stomach and an even emptier account, before she started to accept odd jobs. She almost came back, once during those first days when the difficulty of loneliness and working on one's own began to pour from her skin, but then the anger returned and with it strength; it was the anger and strength to leave.

"A year and a half. Give or take a couple weeks."

There was no movement. Jet was slumped in the chair, his silence tickling her ears while Spike gazed out the window. Somewhere, Ed was undoubtedly clutching Ein to her chest, eyes wide as she tried to make out the conversation. Something in the muddy furnace of her belly stoked up slow, calling, at the sight of the large man broken, for his voice booming out over her in a shower of animosity. He'd always seemed less of a shock when he was angry.

"Shit." He muttered at last, and then his mouth bobbed open and closed, flapping between the two positions like some sort of fish, like a dying fish. "Goddamn mess." He mumbled rising and then he stomped out the manhole. He would turn her in. It would be his final gift to her.

For a few minutes she thought Spike was going to follow him and leave her in isolation and the insanity of time there, though he simply turned taking a few steps further away and looked out the window. There was a flicker of a memory as she glanced down at her hands clasped together. Above her with his face tight and strained her father appeared and then there was a tuft of colorful confetti behind her eyes and the image was gone. Her voice sounded tiny, strangled out by the remaining hostility that clawed and bit at her skin like fleas. "He's really upset."

"No kidding." Spike huffed, giving her a flat look over his shoulder. It was the one normally reserved for the syndicate.

She stood moving to gaze out the window as they were all prone to do during rough times as though all great thinking must be done while staring out into the abyss. Though now it seemed that the abyss stared back. (1) Belatedly Faye realized that he was no longer watching the stars. Refusing to meet his gaze, she began to pick shapes from the vastness outside.

"I knew." He said.

A breath caught in her throat and the world around her came into sharp relief as time would not continue; the hiccup of the fridge as it came to life and the silvery glint that swept across the window distorting his reflection that loomed in its thin clear prison. It was all so clear, and still. When she turned to him his eyes hardened.

"Don't think you fooled me." He tilted his head forward, chin tucking under as his voice swept over the silence like a wave uprooting trees and houses in its path. "I knew."

"Then why'd you pretend?"

"Why did you?"

Faye pressed her lips into a thin line, rolling them inwards while the question crackled up in her mind, sizzling between her ears like bell peppers and beef. "That's different."

"Is that right?" He lifted the cigarette from his lips and let his hand drop. "And here I thought pretending and lying were the same thing."

Arms folding over her chest, she leaned against the window and a lifted a heel of a boot to press against the glass. "Not really."

"I knew." He said turning back to look out the great window, pausing only briefly before continuing. "I just didn't want it to be true."

Hastily he added. "For your sake." Spike swung back to face her, moving as though to go around her, though he slumped, eyes hardened and level with hers. "You see, you didn't have a past." There was an uncharacteristic pause as he seemed to search for the right words. "And now you don't have a future."

One of her fingers twitched, and then she felt it echoed in her lips. "That's an interesting thought coming from a man that couldn't stop living in the pas-"

"He's regretting it." Spike broke in, a threat that didn't allow questions lingering beneath the words. Though he continued with his uneven eyes still flashing harshly now just inches from her own. "Jet I mean."

Suddenly there was too much hollow space in her chest.

Finally he moved around her, seating himself on the couch she had abandoned moments before and let a hand drape across the back. "I know what happened."

Faye planted her gaze on the door Jet had left through, its iron frame shrinking away like her voice. The world was slow to return to focus, and even slower was her voice, it having been sucked away by some vacuum. "Is that so?" When she glanced back to the window, her pale face was made even more so by the glow of the lamp.

Spike titled his head forward and like a song at a burial, morbidly fascinating, his voice drifted sullenly across the room. It was her eulogy he was singing, she knew, just as clearly as footsteps echoed in a morgue. The verse was shrill, stretching even to the corners of the room blanketed in shadows. "He told me what happened between you two."

"Then you know why I moved on."

"I know that you ran away."

The reaction was instantaneous, as though a rubber band snapped. She turned to him like a predator, eyes almost made luminous in the darkened room. "What?"

Even with her hardened gaze on him, Spike did not appear unnerved; rather he seemed pleased by the way he stretched, placing his feet on the coffee table. Each harsh glare she sent towards him, he met. "Things got the slightest bit difficult and then you left."

"I let go." Faye said thrusting her chin forward for emphasis.

"It hurts doesn't it?" She saw him disappear for a moment as he spoke and knew where it was he had gone. She knew what he saw; what image he could see lifting up from his memories, because she had seen it too, perhaps not the same memory, but she had seen her. There was no doubt what slip of gold flickered through his mind.

Barely audible over the humming silence, her words that followed may have well been chanted through the ship's loudspeaker by Spike's reaction. "It's not the letting go that hurts, it's the holding on."

There was a humorless laugh. "You finally became heartless, huh?"

There wasn't enough left inside her to force a smile, so she tightened her lips. "I earned it."

"Do you feel privileged?"

The abrupt and odd question caught her breath, and she found that it made her sick. Then her forehead crinkled and she knew that he was aware that despite her refusing to look at him, she was listening. "I don't have to answer that."

"The hell you don't!" There was a clomp of shoes on the floor as he snapped to his feet, snatching the paper from the table and shaking it for show. "Tell me why I shouldn't turn you in for the bounty right now."

Disgust was easy to feign. "Don't get all holy on me Spike. You were part of the syndicate."

Four quick steps were all it took for his tall frame to growl down at her. "I never killed for money."

"How admirable." The words suddenly came to her without bidding. "What do you want me to do, turn myself in? They'd kill me."

He shrugged. "I fail to see where that's my problem."

And suddenly she was in a chair at a sidewalk café' where the sun bleared through the umbrella sending swirls of colors across the table cloth. There was the distinct sound of ice shifting against each other, while a breeze tugged at the hairs framing her face. And there were those same brown eyes fixed intently on her.

She couldn't breathe. There wasn't enough air in the room. Each breath slipped from her like the first. It was like snatching at minnow in the pond behind her house and watching them dart away to safety, and each time she'd reach for them, fewer would return. There wasn't any air. Then, in a sudden rush, it flooded into the room. "It's not Jet's either. Besides, what's he going to do, take away my keys and ground me?"

"He wanted to apologize." The paper cackled at her. "That's why him and that girl went looking for you." He was moving again, this time to the hallway, the letter slipping from his fingers like a cigarette he was too lazy to trash.

"Before or after he found out?" She asked tartly.


Barely discernable through the shadows just inside the door was Jet Black, large body stooped as he stepped better into the room, Edward shadowing his moves. "It was guilt that came after." He cleared his throat and shifted his weight to a side, then shifted it back.

"We waited." Jet rested his eyes on Ed who now sat with her long legs folded over one another in the center of the room her goggles swinging around her neck, occasionally tapping against her chest as she rocked herself on her heels. The girl nodded back up at Jet and he continued. "You always came back, so we waited. But when you didn't, we started looking, but all we found were rumors, shadows, and then Spike."

Her gaze was on him in a second. Spike was watching Jet with a strange expression that the shadows whispering across his face distorted and she could not quite place the emotion. "And when he did, well time just…before we knew it a month had gone by and then a year and…"

Bitterness was the first to appear, snaking its think head between the cracks and twisting its way to the surface. "How long have you been here?" Everything within her, everything about her from the twitch of her lips and the tilt of her head was focused on the lean form of Spike that now gazed back, lips parted as though he for once had no answer. "How long were you here before you decided to come find me?

He didn't move, just kept those dark eyes focused firmly on her. "Oh." The small word lingered on her lips, slowly falling away as she allowed them the briefest twitch downwards. "That's right. You didn't." She said whisperingly.

The walls were closing in on her, pushing in on the folds of her mind. Faye hadn't the strength to push back. She knew she needed to, had to, because if she couldn't, if she couldn't push back, then it would swallow what was left of her.

To her side, Jet was already beginning to step between them. "Why are you doing this? We deserve that much."

"Do you?"

His sigh roared treacherously. "I know that things got out of hand. Hell this rusted can isn't much, but she's home." One of his large round fingers pointed to the thin bounty hunter that was once again leaning against the wall. "You came back." Then he pointed to Edward, who giggled and bobbed her head, the flat of her palm forcing Ein to nod as well, his ears twitching upwards between her fingers. "You left your dad, you're real home."

And then his finger found its way to her. "You're here too." Before she had a chance to spurt out another icy remark, he waved her silent. "It doesn't matter what brought you back. You're here on this ship." As though she were well aware of the conversation, the Bebop swayed lightly, a low moan issuing from inside the hanger. "That counts for something whether you believe it or not. This isn't really a family, god knows why we're all stuck here together, but we are."

"Family?" Glancing away, in a not quite rolling of her eyes, Faye laughed. "That's just an idea, Jet, and everyone falls in love with ideas."

"Maybe." He said. "But ideas are what start everything."

From his place on the wall, Spike shook his head lightly. "Why do you act like you have all the answers?"

"Because someone has to be the adult around here." It was quiet at first, the low rumbling almost the same as the drone of the refrigerator, and then it deepened, the chuckle within Jet's throat fizzing over like as he let his head drop. "Can't even trust you two with that." There was a hitch of breath and then Spike's voice began to rise and fall along with Jet's.

They were mad.

They were mad, or she was. She knew they were all mad not half it was always the entire way with them, this ship, this home, this houseful of crazies, all mad and gone. Someone could put them in place with a large iron gate like the one her house had out front to keep the crazies away, but it would keep them in. It would be tall and black and there would be brass angels molded out from it, like the ones in cathedral stained glass windows, tragic and serene.

They needed someone to come and guide them to their rooms with large blearing white walls, and very gently tell them it was time for bed so that they would not start into lists of tears, because they were all really just puffs. They needed someone to run ahead of them and slide furniture and coke bottles and shoes and anything out of their way that had edges even if they weren't as sharp as glass. Since they could not leave they would be forced to write letters to those that they knew, except that they couldn't, since they weren't allowed anything sharp to write with.

They were mad. They were all mad and locked inside some ship, some home, some old gate except it had fish molded on it instead of angels, and that was just silly because the Bebop did not have fish, and this made her laugh. They were mad.

"Alright." Between his chuckles, Jet managed to cough out the words, and quite suddenly everyone was silent. "I may have a plan."

"A plan! A plan!" Ed chanted from the floor, flopping her feet on the floor to the rhythm of her voice. "A p-l-a-n plan!"

There was suddenly a plea in the older man's eyes. "Does anyone else besides us know?"

"That note came here." Spike said as though to remind the room of his presence.

"Who sent the note?"

Faye shook her head, "Giles." As though the motion would shake her memories back into place. "That's all I know him as."

Turning to the child at his feet, Jet asked. "Can you find out anything else?"

"Roger!" And the girl was to her feet, hands outstretched like a plane as ducked behind the couch and the click of keys began. "Giles, Giles, lots of files!"

"He's not our top priority. I don't think he'd turn you in if there's any risk of incriminating himself." Then, as though it had been a decision requiring much effort, he nodded swiftly. "I'm going to call in a favor. We're going to be on duty."

Spike was suddenly in the center of the room. "Lilan and Ostin?" When no one spoke, he turned to Faye and grinned as though he were the child that had finally found the legendary needle in a haystack. "That was you at Lilan and Ostin?"

She had barely nodded when Jet raised a hand and pointed between the two. "Then that's where we're going to start." And then without ceremony he spun on heel and went back through the large steel door.

"I'm sure I'm troubling a lot of different people."

The clatter of fingers on keys and the occasional rhyme from Edward held off the encroaching silence, though Spike would only meet her eyes briefly, before he too began down the hall.

"I will always be cheering you on."

They would help her anyways, and she had failed them. It was like finding that video and seeing that girl, knowing that somehow, with all her hopes and dreams about life, with all the pieces she was, she had failed her.

"Don't lose, don't lose! Me, me, me!"

Sorry girl, there's no doctor here just a shell of a woman of who she could have been. Jet. Spike. Ed. She had failed them too, and that's what left her empty. She turned back to the window and this time she knew the abyss was staring back.

"Cheering for you, my only self."





1) Okay so I'm a Silent Hill fan. I didn't even realize I had wrote about the abyss until I was doing a reread and then I just had to point that out. The actual line I'm referring to is:

He who is not bold enough to be stared at from across the abyss is not bold enough to

stare into it himself.

2) A wolf passing by saw some shepherds in a hut eating a haunch of mutton for their dinner. Approaching them, he said, "What a clamor you would raise if I were to do as you are doing!"

A cookie to anyone that can find the connection.



Author's Notes: I have little to say for my absence, which is of course a lie. I had meant to do so much writing over the summer, but this was probably the worst summer, including the worst birthday ever. My grandfather was in the hospital, and then I was, and now that everyone is fine and dandy and I've gone off to school I do not have the internet. After waiting patiently cough yeahright cough I finally got the internet and after having it for a mere night, my computer got a virus and keeled over. So it's difficult to type things up or post new chapters.

All of that said, my alter ego has run off finally and is currently working on Final Fantasy stories at the moment. This author's note has gone on far too long. My humble thanks go out to all of those three or four people that may still be waiting. God how I've missed working on this.