Disclaimer: Cowboy Bebop. Not. Mine. Don't. Sue. Thanks.
A/N: Yes, it's set after Ep. 26. Yes, it's Faye/Spike. Yes, yes, yes. But hopefully, I've made this an interesting, character-driven story chock full of what you love best about CB, and hopefully, I've also portrayed it in an interesting and original manner. You decide. Please give me reviews! Thanks!
Summary: Sex, violence, and drama. Old flames, old friends... it all comes together. Cats have nine lives. How many more left?
Prologue—Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Try as she might, Faye couldn't stop herself from shaking. It was ridiculous, really. Her entire body was humming—half from the aftermath, and half from what she could only describe as rising hysteria.
God. What had she done?
What had she done?
She noticed he hadn't said a word either. A few seconds earlier, he'd sat up to reach for his damn smokes, and now the bastard was just... just sitting there, his back against the headboards with smoke swirling around his head like a foggy veil. That bastard... that unfeeling son of a bitch!
She clenched her hands into fists, her nails digging into her palms until it hurt. She had to get out. She had to get out of here.
What had she done?
What had she done?
She swung her legs over the side of the bed and got up, cheering herself for how calmly the movement came out to be. He continued to smoke. She walked away, without looking back, and headed towards the bathroom. She closed the door and locked it with a resounding click.
For a few moments, she didn't move. She laid her head against the doorframe and stood there, trying to get her bearings and her breathing back to normal. She counted to a hundred slowly in her head. She was well aware of the silence inside the room, except for the inhaling and exhaling of the cigarette smoke from the other side of the door. In... and out... just like nothing had happened.
Out of sheer force of will, she forced her legs to reach the bathtub. With shaky hands she turned the shower on, wincing as cold water pierced her tender skin. Damn, she was gonna have bruises the next day... She blinked as she realized with horror that tears had gathered in her eyes. Shit. No. Not now. Not now! She quickly turned the water on to a higher setting, uncaring that the force was harsh but relishing the noise. Anything but this awful silence.
And within the thunderous onslaught of the water, he couldn't possibly hear her crying.
Chapter One—Buy Low, Sell High
Three weeks passed since Spike had appeared from the blue and scaring Jet shitless. At first, Jet had thought he was hallucinating. Spike had looked exactly the same way before he'd disappeared for that showdown with Vicious, with nary a scratch. Then, he'd become angry and suspicious. Perhaps the man had been simply an evil doppelganger sent in by one of a string of people wanting revenge from the Bebop crew. When Faye burst in the scene, the situation had gone from bad to worse. She'd screamed like a psychotic banshee and Jet had seriously thought she was going to collapse.
"What the fuck?" had been the first graceful words to escape the bounty huntress's mouth.
"Holy shit, woman, keep your panties on," Spike had snarled. "It really is me. What the hell do I need to do to prove it?"
Faye's response had been to grab her gun from her holster to point it straight at him. "Start thinking. You have five seconds to prove yourself. Five...four..."
Jet's gaze had ping-ponged back and forth during the exchange. Maybe there was a minute possibility that this was Spike. "Faye, just wait a minute-"
"This is ridiculous," Spike had sighed. "Put the gun down, Faye."
"Faye!" Jet had exclaimed.
The next few moments happened so fast, Jet wasn't sure exactly how they had transpired. A shot had been fired, but the man who claimed to be Spike was still standing. However, Faye's face had paled even further, and soon, she'd dropped down on her knees. Jet's heart had leapt to his throat, quite certain that Faye had been wounded. But as he'd rushed towards her, he noticed no blood. Faye's gaze had remained solidly to the floor, wide and unblinking. Faye's arm had still remained outstretched. Jet had followed his gaze and realized that her gun was missing from her grip. Looking up, Jet had been startled to notice Spike pointing his gun towards Faye's still figure. Jet had continued staring at him with shock as Spike replaced his gun on his holster, calmly walked over to somewhere behind them and retrieved Faye's gun. He walked past them again, plopped the gun on a nearby box and continued his way towards the kitchen.
"Hallelujah! Do I smell beef tacos?" Spike had called from the kitchen.
And that had been that.
The weeks that followed were similar to the first day he'd come in. Tension hung damply in the air, but everyone went about their daily business as if a year hadn't passed since they last saw Spike and thought him dead. Sometimes, Faye would have her strange "freak out" moments and Spike didn't seem to be... all there. But all in all, it was back to business on the Bebop. No one spoke about the past. The scant moments Faye would demand to know, and Jet privately ask Spike where the hell he'd been, Spike would clam up and Jet could almost physically feel a barrier erect.
In any case, they didn't have time for that. The reason Spike returned, as he'd explained that first day, was because of a bounty. Jet wasn't at all surprised. Spike mentioned he would have gone about it himself, if the bounty hadn't been so complicated and so large. Jet wondered if Spike would ever have returned or said anything if the bounty hadn't existed...
"Mr. X," Spike had explained. "That's what they called him. No one knows how he looks like, how old he is, where he was last seen. But apparently he's the ringleader in a secret high-end escort service, under the guise of a gentleman's club."
"How much?" Faye had asked.
Spike had ignored her and continued, "The club's in Venus, under the New Vegas strip. It's called The Garden of Eden, or just simply, The Garden."
"How much?" Faye had repeated. Spike had flashed her a look of irritation.
"300 million woolong."
"Shit," Jet had whistled and noticed Faye shifting her weight. Over the year, under Jet's constant influence and after what had happened to Spike, Faye had become a more careful bounty hunter, weighing odds and thinking ahead of herself. Faye had said nothing, and had rubbed her chin thoughtfully.
"Something's not right," Faye had countered, puncturing her sentence with a tap on her cheek. "300 million? For what, a no-name high class pimp from a glorified brothel?"
"Faye's got a point," Jet had agreed. For 300 million woolong, the man must be tied with mass murder, government conspiracy, or irreparable destruction. Or all three. The last man they heard to have such a high price had been Vincent with the virus fiasco—which, Jet remembered, he even considered was out of his depth. It had made him feel nervous.
"Does it really matter?" Spike had returned, relaxing against the couch as if it was the old days again. "We find the guy and get 300 million. Who cares what else he's into."
"For 300 million woolong, I care!" Faye shot back. "This is funny, I never heard of such a bounty. It wasn't even on Big Shot!"
Jet had to agree and glared at the relaxed bounty hunter, sternly. "Right. A 'Mr.X' with no stats and a freaking bounty practically worth the entire New Vegas strip and it wasn't even featured on Big Shot. It doesn't add up."
"That show doesn't know every huge bounty head. Doesn't matter where I heard it, as long as it actually exists. That's where you guys come in," Spike had explained, the first note of impatience entering his tone. "We figure out who this guy is, when and where he'll be next at. Then I'll bring him in."
He was already heading for the couch. He sat on it like he'd never left the place.
Faye had coughed at Spike's last comment. "Excuse me. You bring him in? So, what, we're just your fucking info rats? No, thanks!"
Spike's response to that was to roll over on the couch and turn his back towards them. "God, Jet, why didn't you kick this wench out at your first chance a long time ago? I'm going to sleep."
Faye had become enraged at that point and looked ready to pummel Spike to his real death but Jet had decided to let it slide for a while. "Let him go, Faye. We'll get more answers later."
And three weeks later, where they were presently, Jet wondered when they were gonna get said answers. At least, answers about Spike's goings-ons the past year, why he'd never contacted them to tell them he'd been alive all along, why... There were too many questions. Fortunately, the question of Mr. X had been at least partially solved. It only took three weeks of searching, hard detective work, a lot of manipulating and some lucky guesses. At first, Jet wasn't sure if Mr. X even existed and who was financing the secret bounty—Spike assured them Mr. X existed and that he knew who was financing the bounty and they didn't need to know. Jet didn't push any more, knowing how stubborn Spike could be.
Jet wasn't sure if any of them had ever worked so long on just one bounty. But it would be all worth it. Tonight, the Bebop crew was going to bag the mysterious Mr. X.
Jet stared at the long-lost bounty hunter and the shrew fixing up his tie, and sighed, hoping against hope that no one screwed up tonight.
Faye was nervous for more than one reason that night. One, this could possibly be their only shot at Mr. X. Two, it took them three weeks to get to this point. Three, they couldn't find any more information about Mr. X beyond the Gentleman's Club, so they still don't know what the man was really being hooked for.
And Four, Spike.
Spike, who was glaring down at her, impatient for her to finish fiddling with his tie. Faye dropped her hands suddenly, and stepped back, forcing herself to calm down. She regarded the lanky bounty hunter, but try as she might, she couldn't stop her pulse from increasing. Damn, but he did look gorgeous. Head to toe in a swanky suit ensemble, he looked devastating. In direct contrast, his hair was still in a wild disarray.
"God's sake. Do I have to do everything for you?" Faye huffed, rubbing her palms together and reaching towards the tangle he called "hair."
"You're not touching my hair," he warned, taking a step back. "How would you like it if I messed up your 'do?" And to emphasize his point, he reached a dangerous hand towards her well-done coif.
Faye swatted his arm away and glared, hopefully looking like she was really angry at him. Inside, she thought how silly they both were being about the entire thing. "Don't even joke. The difference between my hair and yours is like the difference between a beautiful Persian rug and a trampled on shag carpet."
"Oi! You two!" Jet called from the side. "We're leaving in five minutes. Think both of you can sit still until then? Faye, forget the hair. It's a lost cause." As he shuffled towards his room, Faye could hear him mutter under his breath, "Children."
Faye stuck her tongue out at Jet's retreating back in an old childish impulse she couldn't help but release when Jet was around. He was so serious and all-knowing all the time that it just seemed natural for Faye to rebel against it. All of a sudden, a prickly sensation tickled Faye's skin—the way it always reacted whenever she felt someone's eyes on her. She suppressed a shudder. And she knew exactly who was staring at her. She just had to pretend it didn't affect her in the least.
"Seriously, Spike," Faye began, proud at how natural she sounded. "You can't show up in The Garden with your hair like that." Boldly, she turned and stared right back into his eyes. He had to know she wasn't a weakling—that she wasn't prey to his false charms. His eyes narrowed ever so slightly, the same way it did that night—Stop it, Faye! she scolded herself. Forget that night.
"Faye." His voice was quiet, low enough for only her ears to hear. Faye would have killed him with her bare hands, if the urge to kiss him wasn't as strong.
"We don't have to slather on a lot of hair gook, either," Faye said brightly, abruptly making her way towards the bathroom. "Just a little, all right? Humour me, here."
Whispered words never held so much weight. Faye's steps faltered but she continued to walk towards the bathroom.
"Sorry about what?" A tinge of anger she couldn't control entered her tone, but she pasted the smile on her face as if nothing had occurred. It had been one week. One week of pure torture, of silences, of nonchalance, of her world falling apart. And it took one week for the bastard to say anything regarding... what had happened. And, just like Spike, he took the most important night of their careers up to this point to spring it on her.
She briskly walked back towards Spike, whose eyes were no longer playful. They were serious and piercing. She didn't care, she told herself. She dipped her hands in the pomade and rubbed her palms together. She proceeded to fluff his hair to a more manageable style with her fingers. She knew he was still staring at her, their bodies almost touching... Faye's hands started to tremble, their proximity finally taking its toll. She jumped back, as if burnt.
"Faye." This time, his voice was cooler, more detached. "We need to talk about it."
"What's to talk about, Spike?" Her voice was a hushed hiss. What would make the night more perfect would be if Jet knew what had occurred. She simply didn't want to talk about it, but Spike grasped her shoulder to make sure she was listening.
"No regrets," he said simply. Faye's emerald greens meshed with his chocolate browns. "All right? I have no regrets."
I bet you don't, Faye thought bitterly. He got what he wanted. Hell, she got what she wanted. Who had regrets? They were adults. Comrades, even. That night, they both knew what they were doing.
"It's never going to happen ever again," Faye said curtly, jerking away from his grasp. Spike's demeanor, if possible, got even more cool.
"That goes without saying," Spike returned, without changing the inflection in his tone.
"It'd been a while, you know," Faye went on, trying to feign the same nonchalance Spike had on his face, trying to regain her last remnants of self-respect. She envied his control. Or maybe there wasn't anything to control. He just didn't feel anything for her at all. "It was nothing. Women have needs, too. Case closed. Let's not make this weird, okay?"
"Of course," Spike nodded. All at once, he was business again. Faye hated him. "So, when we get to The Garden, you know exactly where to go. I'll call you over, and you do your big grand entrance."
"I know the plan, Spike. We went through it a million times already," Faye said. A loud movement on the side caught Faye's attention, and she saw Jet emerge from his room, looking elegantly dashing in his own way. Boy, they sure knew how to steal the right clothes.
"Wow. Jet actually looks like a human being tonight!" Faye proceeded to waggle her brows comically.
"I feel like a penguin," Jet sighed. As he came closer, Spike patted Jet's non-existent beer belly.
"You're already halfway to looking like one, my friend," Spike smirked. Jet glared at him. Faye wondered when Spike and her Oscars were coming in the mail. They had pretty much mastered the art of switching emotions at the drop of a hat.
"I think we should go over the plan just one more time," Jet told them. "Just to be sure."
"All right, all right, fine." Faye threw her hands up in the air. "Let's just rehash the entire scheme for the 'nth' time."
Faye was bored the entire time Jet went through the motions once again. Yes, yes. Spike and Jet would enter The Garden first. Spike was acting as her would-be pimp—oh, sorry,agent—and Jet would be a new patron to The Garden. Faye was supposed to enter five minutes after, hovering around and chatting up with some random men, working the ol' Faye Valentine magic. Blah blah blah... Both Faye and Jet were to gather information about Mr. X and his whereabouts. Spike was to gather a small group of men, after securing a meeting with Mr. X and introduce Faye like she was the best thing that has happened in The Garden for a while. Yawn.
Faye already knew The Garden by heart. She'd posed as a random waitress and walked around the grounds several times. The men were all of distinguished nature and screamedmoney. The women that hovered the place, Faye was surprised to note, were extremely beautiful. It was as if she had walked in on a model shoot—all of them were legs, and cheekbones, and ample busoms. Faye, even with her own admirable assets, caught herself with bouts of insecurity when surrounded by them. After listening in on some conversations, she also realized they were very educated and excellent conversationalists. The Garden wasn't just a high-class brothel, it was the brothel.
It was through various hours of listening in and chatting up with patrons that she found out certain facts about the mysterious Mr. X—the man was somewhere around his mid-to-to late twenties, possibly early thirties. He was known basically to turn a bottom-barrel whorehouse to a huge multi-million woolong enterprise. He was very mysterious and no one knew exactly how he looked—the descriptions varied and were vague—hardly showed up at The Garden except on random inspections. Spike had somehow found out that Mr. X was scheduled to be at The Garden tonight, which was why everything had to go perfectly as planned or else it could be their last chance. The man was brilliant, but apparently, he also had a weakness for tall, leggy brunettes with a nice ass, and a face preferably of Asiatic features. Faye learned that once in a while, when The Garden employed a woman of that description, the young lady was lucky enough to have a private meeting with the elusive Mr. X. Faye realized she was pretty much everything Mr. X wanted. The plan was basically to get Mr. X interested in Faye, where she will pretend to seduce him before hog-tying him on the bed, and Jet, after she reveals her whereabouts, will help gather both of them up. Spike was to keep the men outside company, or provide distraction if need be when the time came to make their exit.
"You got that?" Jet finished. Faye absentmindedly scratched her side.
"Got it. Don't worry, Jet, this guy is in the bag," Faye assured him, confidently. Their plan had to work. With that much money, Faye could finally say to hell with the Bebop. And to hell with Spike.
"You know what would make this plan even better?" Spike said, thumbing the exit. "If we actually get our asses in gear."
They proceeded to do just that.
Faye hated him. That was fine with Spike. He didn't much like the shrew at the moment, either. She could be such a huge bitch.
As they made their way through the New Vegas strip towards The Garden—they'd "acquired" a beautiful luxury vehicle, with Jet in another car—Spike stole a few glances towards Faye. The woman was a walking fantasy and a nightmare all rolled into one. Especially the way she was dressed tonight: head to toe in expensive black silk, strapless, and its hem hiked up definitely above scandalous inches over her knee. Her face was expertly painted that night—no overdone rouge in the lips, her face pale and creamy, to match her shoulders. She looked amazing. His grip on the steering wheel tightened.
It'd just been sex.
He looked over at her again at the same time she turned her head. Their gazes locked. She looked... she looked...
Stop looking at me like that!
Julia. Think of Julia.
At the thought of his fallen angel, he turned his head abruptly and focused it back on the road.
Faye hated him. That was fine with Spike. He hated Faye Valentine with all his heart.
Getting into The Garden proved to be no problem at all, much to Jet's great relief. However, Faye and Spike must have had another fight because the two of them were radiating tension like nothing else. Jet suppressed a sigh. Spike and Faye always got on each other's nerves, but these days it seemed as if one of them had crossed the line somewhere from playful bickering to... Jet didn't know where. But somewhere bad. Hopefully, they were mature enough too keep a cool head during the entire operation.
At times like these, Jet would think about Ed, and even the dog Ein. Whenever Faye and Spike went on their childish tirades, it was ironic that the most mature of the Bebop crew would be a strange young girl, and her even stranger dog. Well, technically, Ein was Spike's dog, but Spike would have none of that. Ed would keep him company whenever Faye and Spike went on their missions or some other, and without Ed, Jet realized how hard it was to get much-needed information that Ed seemed to whip out from nowhere.
On the side, Jet had been silently searching for the fiery-haired little imp but to no avail. Faye, at one time, was in on searching for Ed, too—apparently, despite Faye's constant declarations of annoyance towards the little girl, Faye thought she had a responsibility to find out if Ed had made it all right. "If she's still a freak," Faye had told Jet. But Jet had been "partners" with the bounty huntress too long to not know Faye had a soft spot for the girl and possibly missed her as much as he did. And the dog... Ein knew how to play a mean Shougi game.
Jet flicked a glance at his wrist, checking the time. Hm. In about ten minutes, there would be some live entertainment. It was prime opportunity for Spike to schmooze his way through the businessmen and somehow seal a meeting between Faye and Mr. X. And time for Faye and him to get more information out of these sex-starved men.
Faye was bored. No wonder the men had to pay women to bang them—even if they were good looking, they couldn't find a decent conversation if it ran and bit them in the ass! Thank God for money and desperation, Faye thought dryly. Faye hoped all this trouble for the night was worth it. So far, she couldn't get much concrete information out of any of them—besides their life stories and how their wives treated them so poorly, their children were all demons, blah blah... So sad. Faye resisted the urge to choke herself or the patrons, just so one of them didn't have to hear them yammering away about how sad and lonely their lives were and all they had were their bagfuls of money to comfort them.
Boo hoo hoo.
She smiled politely at the latest schmuck she struck a conversation with and decided to leave by making an excuse to go to the ladies room. When all else fails, use the classic escape line, Faye thought to herself, as the last guy just didn't seem to want to shut up. As she flew past the crowd, a bright color made her pause.
It couldn't be.
Faye twisted around towards the back of The Garden and—yes! Her eyes didn't deceive her at all. She watched with open-mouthed shock as Ed bounced happily behind a woman with wild, dark pink, spiky hair. Faye's eyes narrowed. All right. A punk girl, and her Ed inside a Gentlemen's Club...? What the hell?
Faye started towards Ed, who hadn't noticed Faye at all. Faye quickened her pace, determined to find out what was going on. In her haste, she didn't notice a figure in front of her and she managed to crash into him rather violently.
"Sorry," Faye said distractedly, brushing his jacket and her briskly. "So sorry."
When Faye looked up again, she saw Ed's retreating back as she disappeared right behind the huge stage in the middle of the ballroom-esque architecture of the building.
"Shit!" Faye snapped, angrily. The man she'd run into started.
Faye waved him away and proceeded to leave, but a large hand clamped onto her arm.
"Hey, let go of me, what are you doing?!" Faye exclaimed. She looked up and realized the bulky man didn't look like a patron—more like a security guard in "plain clothes" suit.
"Uh huh, mm hm," the man was saying, his hand pressed to his ear. Dammit. He was speaking to his authorities! She had to begin Operation Clueless Skanky Girl.
"I don't understand! What's going on? Did I do something wrong?" Faye asked, in a soft and high voice. She fluttered her lashes for emphasis. The security man loosened his grip but maintained his hold.
"No, I'm sorry, miss. Don't worry," he assured her. "We just need to speak to you privately in the back, if you will."
"I-In the back?" Faye's tone turned saccharine. "What do you mean? I... I didn't do anything!"
"Of course you didn't, miss. The boss just wants to see you." The offensive man paused and winked. "If you know what I mean."
"B-boss?" Faye suppressed a shout of glee. Did she have the charm or what?! "Would that be... Mr..."
"X," the man supplied. "Yes. He likes girls like you."
"L-like me? But I'm not all that pretty. I mean, in comparison to the others..."
"Of course you are, miss! Very pretty indeed. Sexy... if you will," he added, as if he'd stepped the boundaries now.
"Oh. Oh, my. Oh dear, oh my. I'm... I'm speechless."
"Yes. They told me to escort you to... one of the private chambers, miss," the man continued, after clearing his throat. Faye giggled girlishly. Well. Perhaps they didn't need Spike after all. So this was going against their dramatic and well laid out plans... but que sera sera, she told herself. It was time to improvise.
"Well, then, let's not keep him waiting, now, shall we?" Faye tittered, pressing herself lightly to his side. The man had the grace to blush.
This was going easier than she thought.
What the hell was she doing?
Spike watched in disbelief as Faye hooked her arm on some bumbling oaf and had him lead her through some thick wooden doors. Where was she going?
Spike turned his head and noticed Jet looking quite panicked as well. Jet gave him a helpless shrug and pointed towards the doors. Spike shook his head. He had to go get her. Great. The plan was ruined even before it barely started. Spike motioned slightly with his hands to tell Jet to stay put while Spike went to look for Faye. He'd never felt so disappointed in one person in his entire life. How could she be so selfish? Three weeks of actual hard work, and she couldn't stay put in one room! She was so oblivious to the danger she was in—even if she was aware, Spike decided she probably wouldn't have cared either way.
Perhaps if he got her before she did any more damage, they still could pull this off. A little delay never hurt... For Faye's sake, Spike hoped that was true.
"In here?" Faye was still using a kittenish voice, and pointing childishly towards the smooth doorway. The security guard—Stan, he'd revealed—opened the door for her and waited for her to step in.
"Right there," Stan nodded. "You just make yourself comfortable, miss."
"I'll try," Faye grinned. "Good-bye, Stan! it was a pleasure meeting you!"
Stan nodded, entering the room more fully and closing the door behind her. She listened until the sound of his footsteps disappeared, then started to laugh quite loudly. She'd been right all along. All that stupid planning had been useless. Nothing that a little Faye magic to fix a situation.
Faye gasped audibly and whirled around, shocked to see someone was in the room. Damn! Was it Mr. X? Did she make such a huge fool out of herself he wanted to kick her out? Well... whatever the case was, at least Faye was going to get a good look at the man . They could work on that.
"Did I startle you?"
The man's voice was warm and velvety, a little rough. Bedroom voice. Faye resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She squinted, because the room was dimly lit and he hovered over the shadows.
"I'm sorry." Faye decided to drop the Airhead Skank act and replace it with the Innocent Virgin facade. "It's just... this... I'm new to The Garden. You... you would be my first customer. Mr... Mr..."
The man started to laugh. To her irritation, Faye noted that the sound wasn't at all unpleasant. It was actually quite... nice. Faye clenched her hands to her sides, but continued to smile. Gee, all that bullshit with Spike actually came in handy now... "Is there something amusing to that, Mr...?"
"Faye, stop it." The voice was clearer, this time, but still as warm and smooth as velvet. "I don't have time for games."
At that, Faye knew her cover was broken. Her demeanor quickly changed. She straightened her back and crossed her arms. "Who are you, coward? Hiding behind in the dark. Real classy there, bud. If I know who you are, why don't you step out and refresh my memory?" She paused. "Where's Mr. X?"
"I had no idea you'd become a bounty hunter, Faye. Strong." His voice lowered. "Dangerous. It's sexy. I like it. When I found out, I wasn't at all surprised."
"Thank you very much, but why don't you," Faye began, then removed a small gun hanging on a garter under her dress. She pointed it towards the shadows. "Come out, so I can play bounty hunter and you play, do-what-Faye-says-or-she'll-shoot. Fun, hm?"
He laughed again. Faye removed the safety and cocked the gun for emphasis. Bastard. The laughing stopped.
"No need to become hostile," he said, slowly. He took a step forward and into the light.
The gun in her hand fell to the carpet with a dull thud.
He smiled at her, softly. "Hello, doll face."