A/N: You guys...this is the end. And while I can't thank everyone for all their support (through the YEARS!) and for following me and being patient, I will say that I thank you ALL from the bottom of my heart and I hope you guys don't fall out of touch. Keep checking up with the website and my next endeavor is a Doctor Who fic so if you guys follow DW keep an eye out! Thank you once more, everyone! And take care!
Epilogue - That Song She Sings:
He didn't regret coming to the casino. He just regretted the fact that seeing it made him want to run again. Or at least disappear into a shadow and pretend he had never existed. Upon arriving and stepping from the Swordfish II he was aware of the changes. There was a refined air to the casino now and as he trailed over to the grand entrance he heard the soft jazz spill out, the sound of the machines a bit muffled. He paused as he neared and bowed his head at one point, hands finding their way into his pockets as he came to a stop.
This spot here. Black Jack had held a gun to Faye's head here. If he examined the floor he could convince himself his blood had left a permanent stain. Lifting his head to the night sky he found himself searching for her star but it was not to be found in that black canvas. There was a new star in its place, a brilliant white one and he wondered whose star that was. Who the owner was and if they were living a pleasant life, blissfully unaware that he had lost a friend for that star to exist. He hesitated for a long while in silence, merely standing there and staring. The jazz that floated out was soft and dreamy, the piano tinkling sorrowfully. But it was all in his mind, this somberness he thought he felt in the night. It wasn't real.
Jet Black came out to stand at the grand entrance of the casino and as he dropped his head he caught sight of the older man as he waved. He nodded and bowed his head, trudging on in silence.
He still had no idea why he was here.
"Nice place, eh?" Jet called to him as he neared and he found himself nodding once more in agreement as he climbed the steps slowly. Jet waved at the gilded entrance to the casino hanging over him. "Weird to see it and know it's in different hands now."
"Yeah," Spike murmured, seeing images of Ed in a white frilly dress once upon a time. Visions of Faye at his side, dressed in a stunning black piece, waiting to play her part in their plan to steal money from Jack. In the end they had been nothing but grifters, he thought with a pained inward smile.
Jet glanced at him, his narrowed eyes sweeping up and down Spike's lean frame. "You look good. Better," he corrected with a small shrug. When Spike didn't respond to that the older bounty hunter turned and began to lead, taking them into the lobby. And Spike saw where the music drifted from, why the sound of the jackpot machines seemed so far away. To the right, winding around large pillars there was a small area, a lounge, and the music drifted from there. Spike cocked his head a bit, peered as far as he could see and he was able to make out the pianist on a small stage, head bobbing slowly, eyes closed to the music.
That was the ticket right there.
The table area surrounded a grand sweeping bar, the bartender a tall man with a beaming smile for the ladies and what seemed to be a quick joke for the gentlemen. Classy place this had become. He would go the bar once he finally told Jet he wasn't in the mood to gamble or mingle, in the mood to catch up. Who really mingled anymore anyway?
He slowed, taking a deep breath. Jet looked good as well, holding himself straight and proud. Dressed in a cream-colored suit and his usual fedora. Stylish.
He wondered how Ed was, observing Jet.
The night Charles and Faye had passed away he had taken to his Swordfish and flown right back to the Bebop, content to sit in the hangar looking up at a night sky devoid of yellow stars. And the next morning, when Jet had finally dragged himself in to tell him the final news, he had shrugged it off. Well, he couldn't really say he had shrugged it off. He had packed up when Jet had finally gone to sleep that morning and he had left without a word. Simple as that. Jet had never known he had gone until he had done it. Ed had watched him go with something akin to sadness in her amber eyes but he hadn't bothered to turn around and look back to decipher the expression. He had seen quite enough. He had flown away that morning and hadn't looked back since. Except to check in with Jet periodically. A call here. A communication sent there, telling him he was fine. That everything was fine.
He didn't know if there had been a funeral held for Charles Parkerson. He knew there hadn't been one for Faye because that's just how things ran when you were part of the Bebop crew.
Jet led him on with a wave of his metallic arm and Spike followed quietly, feeling the need for a cigarette. The smoke had curled out of the lounge and had assaulted him in the last moment and he needed the cigarette then the way he needed another breath. He reached into his pocket as Jet led him down the lobby, past the reception area and the further they went the louder the machines became. He walked in silence, not wishing to speak and not having anything to say had he wanted to.
"Casino's been renovated. First floor's full of restaurants and lounges now. Casino's on the second floor. The crazy kid's been on a machine all night," Jet called back to him as they hopped onto an escalator, riding it up.
Spike didn't mention the fact that he had been in this casino before, that they all had, Faye with them. When they had swindled Jack out of some of his woolong. He merely wondered why Jet had called on him and invited him out.
They came to pause at the large entrance to the second casino floor and the room glittered with lights and money. Spike watched the servers bounce around, dressed formally, all smiles, and he would have liked to have smiled then. He didn't feel it inside, though.
And then he heard Jet. "Wait, what?" he asked with a frown, halfway through fishing out his pack of smokes.
Jet nodded to their right and sure enough, in a small corner machine, her bare feet kicking happily in the air and Ein cradled in one arm, Radical Edward was playing the slots like there was no tomorrow. Spike was sure his eyes bugged out of his head as he observed the ludicrous scene in disbelief.
"How is she here? And barefoot?" Spike asked Jet. "Why hasn't she been kicked off the machine?"
Jet was smiling and shaking his head at the scene himself. "It's all about who you know, Spike," he said to him and he clasped his shoulder for a moment, moving to say something more.
A man appeared at Jet's side then, hovering close, and he wore the uniform of the casino security. "Mr. Black," he said loudly and his voice was drowned out for a moment as, from the corner, there came the suspicious sound of a jackpot. And sure enough, Ed squealed happily, tossing Ein into the air as the machine began to spew tokens at the hacker.
Spike stared in utter incredulity for a moment longer, reaching out blindly to poke at Jet and as he turned his attention back, the security guard had leaned into Jet.
"-san would like to meet with you," the guard shouted to be heard. "Concerning reparations."
Jet looked at him. "Now?" he asked.
The guard nodded. "Yes, sir."
Jet nodded with him and then turned to Spike and clasped him on the shoulder once more. "Try out the lounge," he said to him over the racket. "I'll meet up with you in a bit. Get yourself a drink. It's on Ed!" And he motioned once more to the hacker as she tossed tokens into the air cheerfully. Several attendants had neared and they swarmed around the hacker, congratulating and clapping for her as they began to help her collect her winnings.
"Some kids have all the luck," Spike sighed and he nodded to Jet as the older bounty hunter followed the security guard. Shoving his hands back into his pockets he found his box of cigarettes and finally pulled it out, floating back out of the casino and trudging his way back down to the lounge. The box felt suspiciously light as he pulled it out and he remembered before he even opened the box that it was empty. He had smoked the last one earlier that day, in the cold morning hours, staring out as day had come. He had contemplated the issue all morning, the last few mornings, whether to return to the Bebop or continue to move on. Months now, he had been debating it, the pros and cons. And he was still at a loss. He sighed inwardly once more, tossing out the box into a shiny garbage can and he shoved his hands in his pockets, drawing close to the lounge and the sound of jazz. It floated around him, threatening to take him away if he let it. If he just let it. The pianist was winding down his song, and as he reached the lounge entrance he saw a saxophonist now climbing the stage, shooting the pianist a thumbs-up as he set up while the pianist played the ending strains of his song.
The ambiance was quiet and grateful, he noticed, as he entered and made a beeline for the bar. Grateful for a good song and a good player. Grateful for the elegant pastime that allowed them to leave behind their troubles. Spike entered, allowing the cool darkness to swallow him and he paused beside the bar as a couple just left. Stepping aside courteously, he leaned there at the bar for a silent moment, appreciating the music as much as the next person, just thinking and letting himself be in this dark place that felt strangely like a haven. The song came to an end after another moment and the bartender came to Spike with a slow smile, wiping a glass. "What can I get you tonight, sir?" he asked him politely.
Spike glanced at him wearily. "Anything you think I look like I drink," he murmured to the bartender and the sentence brought a wide smile to the man's face. "And don't call me sir. I feel old enough."
"All right then, mister," the bartender agreed and he fished a glass, setting it up with some ice and from behind him he pulled out a bottle of Venus Brandy, showing it to Spike for consideration.
Spike stared at it for a long moment in silence. Interesting he would choose that. Interesting that f he closed his eyes he could smell her, could feel her in his arms when they had danced. When he had surprised her with the ability to dance and the capacity to feel, even if only in the moment. He nodded to the brandy after another thoughtful moment and the bartender fixed him the drink, sliding it to him.
"Rough day?" the bartender asked.
Spike took the drink and plopped down on a barstool, ignoring the applause as the pianist bowed to the scattered audience. "Rough life," he replied and he took a sip of the drink, remembering the taste. Remembering the anger that one Faye Valentine had taken out on him in drunken weariness. He didn't blame her still for her anger. Especially not now.
The pianist settled down once more as the applause dwindled away and as silence filtered in for a small stay. And he held the glass in his hand, not understanding why, at that moment, he felt such sadness that it made him ache deep inside. He had felt something like that twice in his life. The first time he had lost Julia. And the second time he had lost Julia. And now he felt it again and he realized it wasn't so much because he had loved Faye, although perhaps somewhere inside he had. But because he missed her and her crazy ways, her very proud and arrogant ways. And he was sorry for it in the end.
He still didn't have it in him to love anyone else. Maybe he never would again. But perhaps Faye would have-
"You can find something new yet," the bartender said to him quietly and Spike lifted his head to look at him quickly. The bartender smiled at him gently. "This rough life of yours. There's always something new, something better, at the end of the road."
"Yeah," Spike said as if agreeing. And he took another sip of his drink. Behind him, at the stage the pianist began again, a gentle melody that brought such sadness it was palpable.
This had been a bad idea, he decided right then and there. This would be the last time he allowed Jet to convince him to go anywhere. He was happy with their small bursts of communication. He could continue to believe he had never come back after his second death, that the last year had never happened and that somewhere out there Faye was still alive and thinking he was dead. It was better if she believed him to be dead than vice versa. Easier.
And the thought forced him to clench his hand tightly around his drink. When had he become a coward?
The saxophonist remained quiet for the moment but with the piano came a gentle, husky voice, filtering out to fill the room with the somberness. Spike didn't bother turning around to look at the singer, instead caught by the amber liquid in his glass.
"I hate you, Spike."
Yeah, he would always drink to that. He doubted it would be the last time he heard a woman say that to him. Or a man. Or anyone, really. He bowed his head, caught by the gentle melody, caught by the woman's voice against his will. But he couldn't bear to turn to look at her. He didn't think himself strong enough to look upon her and discover that she had blond hair and an angelic face.
Or dark hair and haughty green eyes.
Even thinking it he took another drink, this one a bigger swallow, and he felt the cold liquid trail down his throat, coat him inside, still burning somehow. The piano made the room feel heavy with sorrow, the woman's voice just as painfully emotional. Without waiting a moment Spike drank the rest of the brandy, earning a raised eyebrow from the bartender.
"Might want to go a bit easier on that, cowboy," the bartender said to him. But Spike motioned wearily and he came forth with the Venus Brandy once more, filling his glass yet again.
I'm a space cowboy.
Yeah. Those days were over. Spike took the drink into his hand and hesitated, suddenly and not knowing why, needing something to drink to. He looked at the bartender wordlessly and as if the man knew he quipped, "World peace?"
Spike snorted quietly at that. "It's a pile of crap, my friend," he said to the bartender as he lifted the glass and merely gazed at it. "All crap."
With a smile the bartender reached out and clasped Spike's wrist, pausing him. Spike looked at him and the bartender motioned with his head toward the stage. Spike merely continued to look at him, his face drawn. He didn't need to look at the stage. With a shake of his head he turned his eyes back to his drink but the woman's voice pervaded his thoughts, the very air around him. She almost sang to him, he allowed himself to believe. To him and to his need for a toast.
So here's to life and every joy it brings.
Here's to life.
To dreamers and their dreams.
May all your storms be weathered.
And all that's good get better.
Here's to life.
Here's to love.
Here's to you.
With those last words sung, he suddenly wanted to know. Listening to her voice, listening to the raw sadness in her tone he needed to know what she looked like, if she was light-haired. Dark-haired. If she carried that sadness on her face or only in her voice. He turned on the stool, glancing over his shoulder as she sang and his eyes carried to the stage where the woman waited by the saxophone player. And she was dark-haired. Purple-haired in the light. With sad green eyes and a glass of champagne lifted in the air. He stared at her, his lips parting, and in the back of his mind it registered that perhaps she had been toasting him the entire song for the audience was looking at him as well, several smiling, others looking almost dreamy. She slowly lowered the glass as she sang, and he hadn't known her to have ever had a voice like that.
No. He was lying to himself now. He had known her to have such a voice. When he had slept and had dreamt of Julia, dreamt that it had been Julia singing to him. And it had been her, that woman there with the mischief in her green eyes and the sadness to her face. She somehow looked older then. She looked toward the saxophone player as he played a small bit, her lips lifting in a smile to him and he returned a grin behind his piece.
Feeling the hair rise on the back of his neck, Spike merely watched in silence as Faye Valentine sang, her lilting voice reaching out to the audience and he understood the sadness then, the somberness. He had seen it on her face before, had seen it caught in her gaze and then reflected twice as strongly whenever she had looked at a window or a mirror. An image of Faye at the window in her room on the Bebop, arms clutching her knees to her chest.
"The girl. In the video. With the purple hair and the pom-poms. She was there for a second. But she's gone now. Where does she go?"
He recalled the sorrow in her eyes and on her face at his words. But he would never have attached it to the woman onstage when she smiled like that.
And when the song ended gently to the melody of the sax the audience applauded, Spike turning in his stool and waiting for her. Carrying the champagne in her hand she brought it to her lips and took a small sip of it, saying something to the sax player and the pianist before climbing down the side staircase of the stage and making her way to him. She wore an evening gown, a long, low-cut black number with pieces that wound around her neck and tied at the back to display slender, white limbs. He watched her and when she came near he had a smile on his face for her, almost invisible but there.
Smiling also then, she set her champagne down and pushed it toward the bartender who took it with a nod and a smile of his own, making it disappear beneath the counter. And then she plopped down on the barstool beside him and merely grinned, gazing at him.
She looked, by all accounts, quite beautiful. And happy.
"Fancy meeting you here," he said to her quietly, his expression soft and bordering on blankness. The typical Spike Expression.
She nodded and tucked a bent leg under her as she shifted, almost resembling a little girl. "You, too," she replied and she glanced at the bartender thoughtfully. He looked back at her, drawing close quizzically but instead Faye glanced back at Spike and arched an eyebrow. "Buy me a drink, gaucho," she said to him and motioned to the bartender with a tilt of her head.
Spike blinked at her and then made a sweeping gesture to the bartender. "Anything the lady desires," he said to him.
Faye looked at the bartender once more, giving him a small nod. Wordlessly, he reached behind himself again for the Venus Brandy, extracting it from the numerous bottles on display and pulling out another glass. One piece of ice was added as he poured and he slid the drink to Faye with a small secretive smile all his own.
"Order that often?" Spike asked and he looked at her, gazing at her shamelessly. It was almost surreal, the entire moment. He was sure there was noise in the lounge but all he was aware of was the sudden ability to breathe deeply and to hear the breath shift inside him.
He hadn't known he'd been suffocating.
She didn't even seem to hear him as she faced him once more. Her lips parted as she caught him staring at her, her fingers slipping around the glass. Her green eyes shimmered and darkened in the cozy light of the lounge, meeting his and holding for a long, almost eternal moment. And when she spoke again her voice was soft, faint. "Why couldn't you look at me like that before?" she asked him in a quietly musing tone, returning his gaze for a long moment. And she bowed her head to the drink a second later, lifting a finger to trace the rim. Even if he had gone to answer her she was moving on, shrugging herself back to the question he had asked her. "I order it when I come here, usually. It's the one drink that comforts me."
Spike nodded that he understood because he did. Dancing with her, that time that felt so long ago, he had been comforted as well by that drink. He averted his gaze then, lifting his glass to his lips to take a sip of the cold drink. And he hesitated momentarily, the glass hovering before his lips. "You look good," he said to her almost inaudibly and he tilted his drink as if to swallow back his words. Or to mask them, drown them away somehow.
Faye continued to stare at him as he took a slight swallow. "You do, too," she said in kind. And she reached out to stop him as he went to take another sip of his drink, her fingers wrapping around his wrist.
Spike paused, his eyes sliding to look at her once more, questioningly. She held his gaze for a moment, a long quiet moment in which he only felt her fingers on his wrist. And he let his gaze drop to her chest, to the imperfections there on her breast. He lowered the glass back to the counter and left it, instead reaching out to her and sliding aside her dress a bit. She allowed her fingers to follow his wrist as he did so and when his fingers traced the scars there her lips parted, her breath suddenly hitching as her eyes fluttered.
How perfect. And how very unlike Faye, he realized, his fingers trailing across the raised flesh, those small flaws that on her were just right. "I thought you were one to hide scars," he murmured to her, his fingertips trailing the discolored marks where she had been wounded so long ago. A lifetime ago. "You always seemed the type."
She held his wrist for another moment, her eyes averted, before her grip slipped. "Yeah," she whispered and she lifted her eyes to him, her green eyes wide. "You always did get me wrong, Spike."
He smiled at that, meeting her eyes once more. "Yeah," he agreed. And he finally pulled away his hand, returning it to take up his glass once more. "I bet you don't carry your Glock anymore, though." And he went to take a drink again.
She stopped him once more, her smile turning mischievous. "Always get me wrong," she repeated and he let his eyes drop as she shifted her legs away from her body, parting them.
"Always coming on to me-" he began with an arch to his brow when he caught sight of the weapon half hidden against the inside of her thigh, concealed by the dress and shadow.
She arched her own brow at him. "Always, cowboy," she said to him softly.
He stared at her, his eyes shifting from one green eye to the other and she knew she had caught him off guard with her answer. All that time they had spent together that she had played, that she had downplayed their friendship, only to throw him now. He could only gaze at her, caught by her. Too easily had he slipped right back into his usual self with her only a moment before and it had been comfortable to be there with her.
With a low voice, unwilling then to always place himself into that safe comfortable place, he said quietly, "Let's blow this joint, Romani."
A pure thrill of electricity sparked the air around them. He felt it just as much as she did, of that he was well aware. But then a smile curled Faye's lips again as she dragged her knee back in against the stool. She spun around to face the counter once more, turning from his gaze. "I can't," she answered glibly, her shoulders just a bit too straight and Spike only too aware. "I'm working."
The bartender was smiling to himself when Spike glanced at him. Or perhaps smiling at them, except that his eyes were on the glass he was cleaning. "Does it pay as well as bounty hunting?" he asked her, turning his attention back to her and motioning to the stage. He didn't understand exactly why but he was not ready for this new feeling hovering over them to disappear right then. Not now that he was finally allowed to open a door to it.
Faye lifted the glass into her hand, swishing the brandy about. "Better," she answered. "No chance of accidental maiming and death. That's always a plus."
"But then where's the fun?" Spike asked her with a charming smirk, leaning against the counter and closer to her.
She was smiling as she answered, as she gazed at her glass of brandy. "The fun, Spike," she said, his name coming out in what came close to a purr, "is actually running the casinos."
Spike stared at her for a moment in confusion, the earlier haze fading away. "The casinos," he echoed in a flat tone, trying to wrap his mind around that. "Which casino?" And as she tossed him a glance out of the corner of her eye he uttered, "This casino?"
The bartender came forward once more, leaning into Faye. "This beautiful woman here is my boss," he said to Spike in a confidential tone, causing the bounty hunter to look at him in disbelief. "And she's pretty easy on the eyes, too."
Faye turned her head to look at Spike, an eyebrow arched. "I don't know where I find them," she sighed.
Spike held out a hand, shaking his head. "Hold on," he interrupted, and he caught the amused glance Faye exchanged with the bartender. "You own this casino? This one," he stated and as she nodded in the affirmative he uttered, "How in the hell did you manage that?"
"She owns a few, actually," the bartender cut in before straightening and sliding down the counter to attend to a male customer at the end of the bar.
"A few?" Spike repeated dully.
Faye nodded again, trailing her fingers across the glass of brandy. "Jack left me everything he owned," she replied quietly and she turned her head in Spike's direction but did not look at him. "The second guy to do it but the only guy to get it right. And mean it."
Spike blinked at her, rapidly. And then he settled rather numbly onto his rear once more, reviewing that piece of information. To own numerous casinos. All the casinos that Jack had owned. "And…your debt. Was it really wiped?"
Faye merely smiled once more, pulling her drink close and sipping it.
His breath whooshed out of him in a single burst. Turning back to the bar counter he merely looked down at his drink, his mouth suddenly dry. In a matter of moments his entire world had just been turned upside down. Swallowing thickly, wanting to drink down his entire glass, all he could do was breathe shallowly. Lips parting, he turned his head toward her and she was watching him, waiting for him rather patiently. Faye was never patient. It was unnerving. "I…"
Faye tilted her head, lights from the stage gleaming across her black hair as she shifted.
"I watched you die," he stated, eyes trained on the bar counter.
"Did you?" she asked him quietly and when she tilted her head further he realized she was doing it to catch his eye.
He obliged her, dark gaze darting to meet hers and he had never before noticed how green they were. He was much too aware of her suddenly, as if her presence caused sparks. He felt as if every part of him was alive and he had felt this way twice before, when Julia had been with him and when Julia had come back to him. Now, every part of him that her eyes touched upon sent hot and cold through him.
"The way I watched you die?" she continued, seeming unaware of his speechlessness.
He blinked at her. "You never watched me die," he replied with a small arch to his brow.
Faye's eyes saddened at that just the slightest bit. As if a shadow had passed over her face. "Yes, I did, Spike. From the very beginning. Before you even went away. Little by little I watched you die. Like there was nothing else for you." She swallowed and they both looked down at the counter before them to avoid staring into each other's eyes.
"Then yeah," he said after a moment's thought. "I did watch you die. Because ever since I came back it was like little deaths. Every fight we had was just one more notch."
She didn't reply to that, her fingers playing with her glass of brandy absentmindedly.
"They said you wouldn't survive if your body failed again," he continued, his tone softening. "What happened?"
When he looked at her she was hesitating, her lips parted to speak but her eyes trained on the counter and her drink. She had more than one scar, he noticed briefly as his eyes trailed up her arms and across her shoulders. Marks where she had taken gunfire. She rivaled him in scars now, it seemed. "I…um…had a visitor. At the end."
Spike didn't respond for a moment. "Like an angel?"
She looked at him quickly and the expression there was priceless, very much a Faye Valentine expression. "Like a lawyer and his goons, you ass," she said to him with a heavy glare. And when he suddenly grinned rather foolishly, turning back to his drink, she also allowed a small smile to curl her lips. "Honestly? An angel?" she echoed as if confused that he would even have thought of that.
"Hey, you said a visitor at the end. What was I supposed to think?"
Shaking her head, stifling a small chuckle, she went on. "He was a lawyer for Jack. Turns out right before it all went down, Jack rewrote his will. Like he knew he wasn't going to make it. Or maybe was just going to give up. He left me…everything. Including his laboratories. His research. Some…samples."
Spike whipped his head to stare at her. "The serum?"
She was silent for a moment. "Not a lot of it left in those samples. All that was really left of it was the research to recreate it." She didn't look up even as she felt his eyes boring into her. "I destroyed it. All of it."
"All of it," she said again, firmly. Her eyes lifted to stare straight ahead blindly and then quickly lowered back down to her drink. "I-It was right before you came to see me. And I knew I wanted to take whatever was left of it…to cure myself. So I had the lawyer administer it. And he wanted to see me after, wanted me to actually take everything that Jack had left me. But I was worried and so was Jet. I didn't know what it would do to me, if it would actually make me better. But I knew I wanted to…talk to you, before I took it. I wanted to…see."
Spike waited for her even though he knew what she was going to say.
"I wanted to see what your answer was going to be."
Spike nodded, understanding. It explained a lot of what had happened that last day, answered a lot of questions he'd walked away with. There had been nights he had woken up and started to think about that day, about who those men had been, what that conversation with Jet had entailed. And then she had closed down on him after he'd answered her question and the next day she had died. Or he thought she had.
"The serum…almost didn't work. Turns out the sample that had been administered to me was not a finished sample," Faye was going on. Movement from the bartender brought her attention to him but he was keeping back, looking from the end of the bar over to her periodically. "My body…was not prepared for it. And that's why Jet and me…why we were arguing that day. He didn't want me to do it. And I was too scared not to try."
Spike blinked, staring at her. "Scared of what? What if it had killed you? It did kill you! You flatlined there for a bit!"
She blinked her long lashes at him. "Made you nervous, didn't I?" she quipped, turning to him with a teasing smile.
Spike merely shook his head at her, at a loss for words. But then, as she looked back down at her drink, her smile dropping away, he registered that she was suddenly awkward. He hesitated before continuing, gauging her reaction. "You know…you act like you're tough. You always have. And you are tough, I'll give you that." He grimaced, attempting to understand. "But you were scared that day. And you're still scared now. And I just want to know what the hell is scaring you so much."
Faye's eyes didn't move from her drink. "I'm not scared."
Spike sent her a look, his lips quirking slightly at the corner. "Let's not lie to ourselves here, Faye. Not anymore. That whole thing that happened before, all the fights, all the arguments, let's just leave it in the past. Right now, it's just you, me and some drinks in a lounge. You died and revived because of a serum and all your problems are done and in the past. So…"
She remained silent, her hands playing with the drink before her, the amber liquid swishing about gently. "So…" she echoed quietly. And she inhaled deeply, holding on to the glass for a long moment. "What now?"
Spike pursed his lips. "What do you mean, what now?"
"What happens now?" she repeated. And she glanced at him, one small glance before returning her attention to her drink. "I mean…it's like you said. Everything is taken care of. No more debt. No more life-threatening bounties. No more of that stuff. Just…me. And life. Now what?"
Spike stared at her once more, an expression crossing his face that was half amused and half mischievous. "Now?" he questioned. He picked up his drink, swishing the small amount that remained in it. "Now, Romani, we toast to your new life. Your 'free-of-all-your-troubles' new life."
Faye contemplated that for a long while, her eyes shifting from his drink to his eyes as he waited for her. Then, a small smile crinkling the corner of her mouth, a smile of regret, she lifted her drink as well. "How about, here's to…saying goodbye."
Spike stiffened slightly at that, his amusement slipping. She didn't know what she read there in his eyes but he recovered after an instant, his eyes dropping to her drink and in that moment it didn't matter as she gazed at him. "Ok," he murmured, a note of finality to his tone. "Here's to…goodbye then…"
Faye dragged her attention away to the young man that had appeared at Spike's back. Spike also turned a bit, his drink lowering back to the counter.
The Japanese boy fixed cold blue eyes on Spike before looking back to Faye. "I finished the search you asked of me. All the details are here," he said in slightly accented English as he lifted a small palmpad out to her, a laptop clutched between his other arm and side.
"Oh, thanks," she said to him quickly, lowering her drink to the counter and taking the pad into her hand. She glanced down at the info that crossed its small screen in interest. "Spike, you've met Kazuo, right?" she asked, feigning an absentminded tone though she tried very much to hold back a grin.
Spike glared at the boy. "I have, actually," he responded. "How's the back of the head doing?"
The boy didn't even grace that with a response.
"Net diver lackey?" Spike asked, turning back to Faye. "Ed not good enough anymore?"
Faye lifted her eyes from the information on the pad in her hand to meet Spike's gaze. "No one replaces Ed. He's my personal assistant," she corrected coyly. "Inherited him from Jack."
Spike arched a brow. "Very nice," he said shortly, eyeing the hacker once more before he turned around to the counter and placed his drink back down.
Faye followed his stiff gestures with her eyes for a silent moment, her head still bowed to the palmpad. Then she looked back at Kazuo, her gaze shifting sideways toward another familiar person that had just entered the lounge. "Oh…" she sighed under her breath, frowning wearily. "She's going to bankrupt me."
Ed came up beside Kazuo, looking at him with hearts beating in her eyes unabashedly. "Will Kazuo help Ed carry her woolong?" she questioned him, balancing Ein under one scrawny arm and a bag of coins in her other hand.
"Of course." He was already bending a bit to the bag as Spike glanced toward Ed.
"Ed," Faye sighed, leaning her head on her palm as she propped her arm on the bar counter. She lowered the palmpad to her lap, staring at the red-haired hacker. "Why can't you play with credits? Why do you always-" And she cut herself off after a thoughtful moment, shaking her head with a small smile. "Never mind."
Spike looked at her once more, arching a brow in question.
"You two go get Jet for me. I was supposed to meet him upstairs in the office. Bring him down here," she said to the two of them and she waved them off lazily.
With a little giggle, Ed took Kazuo's laptop from under his arm and propped it on her head, instead taking his hand with her own. He glanced down at her, a small smile curling his lips and together the two turned and walked off, leaving the lounge and heading toward the escalators.
"What did I just miss there?" Spike asked Faye once they had gone.
Faye smiled sweetly at him, her head tilted on her palm still. "She plays with coins because she knows she's always going to win," she said by way of explanation. "Ed has certain jackpot machines in my casinos rigged. She thinks I don't know but I do. And when she wins she gets big bags of coins that she makes Kazuo carry back to the Bebop for her. I actually think that's how Jet's maintaining the Bebop, on the woolong Ed wins here." She shrugged easily. "Anyway, I was wrong when I said he was my personal assistant. These days he's her personal assistant."
Spike tossed her a knowing look. "Seems you taught her well. She's going to grow up to be a con artist."
Faye bit back the proud smile that threatened to break over her face. And she glanced down at the pad in her lap, her hand brushing over its small screen. "Anyway. Going back to…what we were talking about before-"
"About saying goodbye?" He looked back at the drink that waited before him still.
Faye nodded, her attention caught on the file on the palmpad. "Right. About that. How about we…hold off on goodbye," she broke off before adding, "for the moment."
Spike's interest was immediately piqued, his face questioning.
"For the night, maybe," Faye continued haltingly. And she raised her eyes, gazing at him with glinting green eyes through long black lashes.
Spike slowly turned in his seat once more, tilting his head slightly. "Are you asking me out for a one night stand, Ms. Valentine?" he asked her curiously. "Or should I say, Ms. Anami?"
Faye smiled impishly, her eyes dropping once more to the pad. "Actually," she purred, and she lifted the palmpad to him invitingly. "I was asking you out on a one night bounty, Mr. Spiegel. You and the crew, of course," she replied, a smile twitching the corners of her mouth. And as he took the palmpad, his eyes never leaving hers, she added, "But we can always see where the night leads after we bring that bounty in…"
This time, Spike didn't bother holding back the small smile. "A bounty, huh? A bigshot like you wants to come bounty hunting with lil' old me?" He looked down at the info on the palmpad, examining it. And his face shifted, a frown creasing his brow. "Hey, this is-"
"You and the crew," Faye corrected him swiftly. "Didn't I mention the rest of the crew? I guess I'm slipping these days…"
Spike pushed his drink aside, the toast clearly forgotten. At least for the moment. And maybe for longer than that. "What will you wear?" he asked her and he allowed his eyes to roam up her figure starting from her legs and clearing her entire frame.
"I'm sure I have some yellow vinyl somewhere," she sighed, unwilling to let him see what kind of effect that look was having on her. She also set her drink, and the toast, aside. For now.
Spike nodded, more to himself than to her. "This bounty…" he said thoughtfully, glancing back down at the pad. "This is small change for you these days."
She shrugged easily. "Not doing it for the cash," she said.
He knew that to be the very truth. But he chided her anyway. "That's a first." He waved the palmpad at her. "Scat Robinson. The RepairMan. Thought the ISSP had gotten him. That or at the very least Mars Police."
Faye glanced at the palmpad. "Maybe he escaped. Maybe someone let him go. Who cares? It's just one more bounty that needs to be brought in. Just happens to be personal."
Spike handed the pad back to her and she accepted it, dropping it on her lap once more. He motioned to it dismissively. "That should be a fairly easy bounty to bring in."
Her smile was contagious. "Yep. What ever will we do for the rest of the night?"
It took him a while to answer, his a muscle in his jaw shifting. "I could think of a few things." His tone was blank but she didn't believe it for a minute. Glancing toward the lounge entryway he watched as Jet came off the escalator, fixing his fedora. "So…did everyone know except me?"
Faye didn't even bring up the past for that one. She merely glanced toward Jet as well, narrowing her eyes. "If you had hung around long enough, you would have seen them revive me," she said with another shrug, this one more delicate. "Once Jet told me you had left that night, I basically told him to let you believe that it was done. I wasn't going to go back to the Bebop since I had decided to accept all of Jack's assets if I survived. I had things that needed to be taken care of right then and there and once Jet told me you had left for good I thought…well, here we are full circle then."
"You wanted me to believe you were dead."
She blinked slowly at that. "I needed to do things for myself. Same as you."
Spike didn't reply for a moment, musing to himself. He had to admit to himself that when he had died the first time, he had needed the very same thing. To go, to run away, and to figure things out for himself without feeling like he had let anyone down. It wasn't letting someone down if they thought there was nothing you could've done. And he had let her believe that. Why should he feel differently about it if she had done the same to him?
Jet entered the lounge, his eyes fixing on the two of them and a small smile curling his lips. "Fancy meeting the two of you here. Together."
Spike turned his head in his direction as the larger bounty hunter plopped into the stool beside him. "Did you orchestrate this whole setup?" he asked him.
Jet pursed his lips and shook his head, taking off his fedora and placing it down on the counter. Motioning to the bartender, he replied, "I only did what she wanted. Same thing I did for you." His expression clearly read, Neutral Party Here.
The bartender neared, wiping a glass. "Your usual, Mr. Black?" he inquired.
Jet shrugged. "Why not."
Spike sighed. "I can't believe you were both in on this," he said with a shake of his head.
They fell into silence as the bartender pulled forth a bottle of whiskey and added some to a small glass. "Another drink?" he asked Spike, his eyes darting to the remnants of his previous Venus Brandy.
Spike glanced at Faye.
Faye leaned forward and the bartender shifted his attention to her quickly. "Tom, why don't you clear away these drinks for me and bring two new drinks? The same."
The bartender nodded and did as she had asked, moving back down the counter to fetch new glasses. Spike looked at her as she leaned back once more and she read what his eyes said quite clearly. There went that toast then.
"What should we toast to?' Jet asked them, holding his drink and peering at them both curiously.
This time Faye glanced at Spike, meeting his mismatched eyes. "How about…to good friends?" she asked with an arched brow.
Jet shrugged in agreement but Spike was shaking his head. "How about to old friends?"
"Is that a crack at my age?" Faye asked, a shadow of her old self shining through with the remark.
"Old friends and things to come," Jet suggested, his eyes coming to rest on his drink, a note of finality in his tone.
Faye looked at Spike once more.
"Works for me," he shrugged.
The bartender returned with two new drinks, placing them before Faye and Spike with a gentle smile. "Here you go, ma'am. Sir."
Each of them taking a drink, they turned to face each other, Spike leaning back in his seat. "Old friends," Jet began, holding up his drink to them.
"Things to come," Faye added, her green eyes darting to Spike for a long moment before moving back to their drinks.
"Cheers," Spike finished with a nod. And he smiled.