Spike stalked through the crowded ship muttering to himself. He wished he hadn't lost the argument with Jet to just let the victims wait on the asteroid for the ISSP to pick them up. The Bebop wasn't large enough to haul this many people. Everywhere he turned it was wall-to-wall people huddled in their Zerzura procedure robes, shaved heads with probe scars. It gave him the willies, made his own side ache. Of course, he'd screwed up and forgotten to keep the bandages over the tattoos. By now word had spread like the wild fire, and in droves they darted away from him like he had the plague or something.
Without taking the dark gates back, the trip to Ganymede lengthened considerably, at least til they could reach the TJ hypergate. Too long, he thought as he stomped up the stairs to the deserted bridge. Here he could relax a bit, not subjected to the eyes that feared him, even though he had saved their skins. That's gratitude for you.
An odd gait climbed the steps. Spike watched the reflection in the glass. Sergio. Spike folded his arms over his chest, still gazing out the front of the ship. "Yo, the bridge is for crew only. So scat."
The steps came a bit closer. Out of the corner of his eye Spike glimpsed the man's bowed head, stealing a nervous glance his way. Spike rolled his fingers over the tattoo bars of his arm. "Sergio, I knew you were stubborn, didn't peg you as deaf. Crew only—go!"
"I … I … " he stuttered, "I never even knew your name. They call you Spike?"
Blowing out a breath through his nose, he plucked out a cigarette and lit it slowly, exhaling again before he replied. "I guess that makes you slow, too."
He cringed, gripping the scars on his head. "I don't understand. It makes no sense. You knew, knew who I was and yet you released me."
Sergio's tear-rimmed eyes met Spike's dead stare. "Why didn't you leave me? Get your revenge?"
Half-lidding his eyes, Spike inhaled the smoke and held it for a moment before letting the breath go noisily. "Shows what you knew about me, doesn't it, Sergio. Now that you've had a taste of being powerless, how does it feel?"
His knees buckled, sending him to the deck. " … broken … "
"Imagine that lasting for months on end, now."
"How come you didn't break? How are you still so … so … "
Spike turned back to the stars skidding by in regular space. The true answer might take the whole of the journey to explain. And Sergio unlikely to have enough left in his rattled mind to absorb it. "Because I'm not the man you gauged me to be. I always fight for what I believe in. That belief was that you were wrong in how you treated me."
"I was … and I … I can't go back to the Quidlivun Cavus … I have to put in for a transfer somewhere else … if … " his voice cut off in a deep swallow, "if you let me live."
Heat burned in Spike's fist. It pumped, eager to drive right into him, beating him black and blue into the deck of the ship. Slowly the fist rose, trembling in the air. Before … an increment at a time he forced it come down and hang at his side. His head bowed. He loathed how haunted his voice was when he spoke, but there was no banishing the tone. "Humans make mistakes. You're human. In the end, you're no different than I am. Living on, bearing your regret will leave a deeper wound than any fist can inflict, Sergio. You will live to realize that. And you won't be thanking me for it."
Subconsciously, Spike's hand gripped his left side.
"I know this isn't enough." Sergio stared at his hands on the decking. "But I'm sorry, truly sorry for how I treated you."
"What about everyone else?"
He crumpled forward. "Oh, what have I done?"
Tucking his hands in his pockets, Spike turned toward the stairs. "Keep asking, one day you'll figure it out."
See you, Space Cowboy