Spike stirred beneath the blanket. His eyes cracked open and followed the spinning ceiling fan blades. Heaving a sigh he settled into the couch relishing the climate controlled environment. Never before climbing back on the ship had he craved a cold shower. But after all that heat and humidity, more steam was the last thing he'd wanted to be subjected to. Even after the passage of time he vividly recalled the relief of the cold water against his scalp.
If only the numbness had lasted. It'd been a few days now, and not the first time the throb in his hand woke him from a deep sleep.
Which meant he knew what was coming. Half closing his eyes he pondered his options. Dinner had been several hours ago, the ship's lights now set on dim. So … Jet was probably sleeping in his quarters. He hated to bother him, since the poor guy had his own aching head to deal with, after all Spike's own head still constantly bugged him. That meant having to shift for himself and go round up something. But the fridge was quite a walk. He sighed, not thrilled about that prospect. Of course the med kit wasn't on the table anymore, and he didn't know where Jet had put it, only where it typically was. So chasing down some form of pain-killer could result in a wild goose chase from the kitchen down to the workshop where the medical scanner usually sat. Lots of stairs. That ordeal seemed unappealing. The other alternative was down in his own room where he had squirreled away a few alternative odds and ends. But his stomach turned at the work involved in attempting to boil a desiccated lizard into drinkable goo, even if the concoction might work.
Spike sighed and tugged the blanket up. Staying put and toughing it out, it was.
He'd just closed his eyes when the sound of gasped breathing opened them again. It reminded him of someone running. But there were no footsteps, and the sound's point of origin wasn't changing. It was close by, too. Surely they didn't have an intruder on the ship. And to the best of Spike's knowledge there had been no left-overs turned mutant monster, not after last time.
Sitting up slowly, as he still had to be careful not to move his head too fast, Spike caught the motion from the chair on the other side of the table. Curled in a tight ball, Ed jerked and shuddered, tears streaming down her face from her closed eyes. Her bare feet flexed in a pattern. Running.
Instantly he knew what was going on. So far she'd been quiet, he doubt he would have heard her unless he'd been awake. If this continued unabated she could very well wake the entire ship.
Spike crossed the room and couched down. He reached out his right hand and brushed Ed's shoulder. As he expected, she barely reacted to the touch. He pressed a little firmer against her shoulder and whispered her name in short intervals as her thrashing increased.
At last, her eyes sprung open, chest heaving she clawed at the chair.
Spike gripped her shoulder, holding her from falling. "Easy now, Ed."
Bloodshot eyes darted up to him beneath the bandage tamping down her mussy orange hair. Ed released a squeal before she practically climbed up Spike, startling him as she threw her arms around his neck. He caught her weight with his right arm, the left still useless. But he hardly had to do anything, she'd locked her legs around his waist like a vice. There she clung, shivering. Her tears soaking into his t-shirt.
This was going to take awhile, and Spike's knees weren't appreciating the position. Careful not to jar his own injuries, or Ed's, he stood and made his way around the table to sit back on the couch. It took a little doing, but he managed to extract himself from the frantic child enough to raise his knee, a touch of relief as he rested his left elbow on it, the aching hand safely out of the way.
Meanwhile, settled in his lap, Ed continued to muffle her sobs in handfuls of his shirt fabric. He rubbed her back, not saying a word as the minutes ticked by. Gradually she grew stiller. Hiccups replaced the sobs. She rubbed her face and lowered her eyes. "Sor … hic … sorry."
"It's ok. A nightmare, huh? I understand."
Ed turned her bloodshot eyes up at him. "You … you do?"
He nodded, his hand continued stroking her back. She was still shivering.
It seemed to dawn on her slowly. "Spike … gets … nightmares?"
The nod was almost imperceptible. "Plagued by them most of my life, kiddo."
Ed pulled harder on his shirt. "How do you make them go away?"
Spike shut his eyes for a moment. A flicker deep down he hadn't expected. He knew what most would say. It'll get better. They'll all go away. Everything is ok. They're just bad dreams that can't hurt you. For all their good intentions, those were all lies. With a deep sigh he met her desperate gaze. Tell her what she wanted to hear? Or … what she needed to?
"Truth is … they don't."
Ed stiffened, the fear welled.
He cupped her jaw and held her gaze. "Stay with me, now. We can't stop the dreams, Ed. They will just keep coming. Those old lines of 'scars heal' is a bunch of bullshit. They might, but there's a whole lot to deal with left behind that nobody ever talks about."
"What if Faye finds out? Faye will—"
Spike smirked. "Don't you worry about Faye's loud mouth. She has no right to say anything about this, kid. Not one. You just ignore her teasing. You got enough to deal with. Take a page from my book and just ignore her ass."
"I don't want the nightmares … the … fear … " She sniffled. "I just want to be me again."
Spike shrugged. "I didn't say you couldn't. There are ways. The scars remain. It's up to us to learn to shoulder the pain. Realize when its trying to claim us again."
Ed pounded a fist against his shoulder. "I don't like it. It felt real, like they were gonna get me!"
"Yeah. Believe me, I know exactly what you mean. Don't make my mistake and live in the illusions. You're a hacker, Ed. Recognize they're dreams, and hack them."
"You think I can?"
"You hacked and flew the Bebop." He cracked a grin. "If anyone can, it's you."
Ed's fingers brushed against his neck, she shivered.
He glanced around the living room, the familiar sight brought comfort to him. Who's to say it couldn't to her too. "This place is one sweet refuge, kid. Stay on the Bebop where you're safe."
A short silence stretched out before Ed's hand drifted up to the bandage around her head. "I can't close my eyes."
"You will." He squeezed her shoulder. "You'll have to. Remember, you don't have to face this alone. I'm kinda jealous."
Her eyes trembled. "You … you are?"
"You have an advantage." Spike held Ed back and met her shivering gaze. "I didn't have anyone. I had to rely on myself." He struggled to find the words. "But you don't have to. You have us."
Ed wobbled in his grasp. Then she collapsed against his chest and sobbed harder than before in a release Spike had been waiting for, all the pent up fear. He rested his chin on her head, well aware of the maelstrom racking the child. No words could be spoken, he just sat there for her.
It occurred to him, his own words spoken to offer her a shred of hope, if things had been different. If instead of trudging onward into a cocoon of numbed indifference, if he'd had someone who'd given a shit, some place he could have been himself and let it all out, … could he have found the strength to face Vicious earlier? To take control and the path he'd longed to chose? A tear escaped him. He'd never know.
Ed's sobbing quieted.
He stroked her head, careful of the bandage. "Better now?"
She clumsily nodded.
"Good. You're so lucky." Spike's throat tightened a bit. He paused to catch the hitching before he could continue. "You have a place where you belong, and a family that gives a shit about you." He caught his mistake a little late … after all, Ed's father had walked off without her after they'd only just been reunited. He hoped she'd catch what he'd intended, her chosen family. Swiftly he continued, "Gives you a chance to fight this and win."
" … win … " Ed murmured.
After a few quiet minutes passed, Spike glanced down to see her eyes closing. Something he was close to doing himself. His own head complained. "Right, kiddo, time to get some more sleep. We got healing to do."
As he attempted to adjust her to carry her across the room, Ed fussed. She continued to cling to him, inescapable as the coils of a snake. After a few attempts, and gripes from his head, Spike heaved a sigh. "Fine." Changing tactics, he clumsily scooted until he could lie on his side, Ed tucked up against his chest already falling asleep as her arm encircled his neck. There was barely enough room on the couch, but it worked.
Spike's fingers tangled in Ed's hair. "You and me, we're broken, kiddo … but that's ok. We'll fix each other."
He closed his eyes. Well … this is going to be hard to explain. Aww, screw it. Who gives a crap?
Down in the stairwell, Faye clung to the shadows having paused when she'd heard voices. Witness to the entire conversation, a pit grew in her stomach. Once the silence had stretched, she tip-toed up into the dim living room. The breathing slow and steady. But still, she approached with care in case Spike was faking it.
He wasn't. Faye stared down at the two nestled together beneath the blanket. Once more the desire slammed her. But Jet's words stayed any effort. Besides, she'd heard the fear in Ed's voice. She hugged her arms around herself feeling very isolated. Before she accidentally woke them, she retreated back to her room. She still owed Spike an apology, one she wasn't prepared to give.
Spike sat on the couch the next morning. Tendrils of smoke twisted up from the cigarette he savored. A scrumptious aroma wafted from the kitchen. Jet at last up to preparing a full meal, something Spike anticipated. They'd been eating, but it was the easy to prep stuff. Not that he'd complain. Food was food at the moment, anything was better than starvation.
On the floor, Ed sat with her back against the chair. Her knee rested against her powered down computer. The strange sack off to the side. Ein lay in front of her with his chin resting on her leg.
Leaning back, Spike inhaled and tried to guess what their meal would be while keeping an eye on Ed.
Faye wandered up from the crew-quarters hall, a bunch of small bottles in her hands. She made a show of looking for Ed. Bending down in front of her she smiled. "Oh hey, I was just looking for you." When Ed glanced up at her, she presented the bottles of nail polish. "I need a girl's opinion on what color to use. What do you think? Want to paint my nails for me, hmm?"
Ed blinked at the bright bottles, offering nothing more than a blank stare.
From the couch, Spike observed through half-lidded eyes. Something that did not escape Faye's attention.
No one moved in the uncomfortable silence. The grin on Faye's face grew tighter.
At last Jet called out from the door, "Come and get it."
Without answering, Ed teetered to her feet and wandered to the kitchen, Ein in tow.
Faye, at a loss for what to do, stood there, looking around for a graceful exit. It didn't present itself. All she saw was Spike watching her. She dropped the colorful bottles on the table in a huff and planted her hands on her hips. "Don't say what you were thinking, Spike! I don't even want to hear your snide ass remark!"
He stood slowly, and extinguished the butt of his cigarette in the dish on the table. Hand in his pocket, he leaned closer and whispered, "I was going to say, 'Nice try'. But if you don't want the compliment, s'alright with me."
Faye watched his back as he sauntered toward the kitchen. Slowly her face sank into her hands.
Warm winds stirred up the waters in Ganymede's bay where the Bebop lay at anchor. Jet had figured there was no sense in rushing things, so they'd taken the last weeks at ease. In the late morning he reclined on the flight deck lazily tending a fishing pole.
A news cast rambled on from a portable receiver. " … most recently the asteroid terraforma of Tijuana has been inundated with odd precipitation. Not of the watery kind. Reports of large robotic fish-like creatures falling in the streets have disrupted traffic. The source of these unidentified objects is unknown. They seem to be harmless, incapable of moving on land and thus do not pose a large risk to the population. As of this report the only known injury involved a drunk man who mistook the teeth for a bottle opener. Police recovered his fingers …"
Beside Jet, Spike toyed with the reel on his own fishing pole disappointed to find the hook empty, including the bait. Jet chuckled as his partner sourly grabbed a worm and stabbed it onto the hook.
At least Spike had two functioning hands again. He recast the line and nocked the pole back into the deck holder, idly waiting for the bobber. As he did, he absentmindedly massaged his left hand. Well, it was better at least. He wasn't ready for any prey tougher than reeling in mid sized fish, yet. But soon they could resume chasing bounties. Spike eyed the motionless bobber and took a swig from his beer bottle. "Why do we do this? We never catch anything."
Jet took a deep breath and let it out slowly, savoring the fresh air. "You got anything better to do?"
Spike's reply was little more than a grunt.
The clicking of small metal feet against the flight deck carried. Jet plucked up his beer bottle and saved it from the robotic compy ambling around. "Ed, I told you to keep them back from the edge. I'm not going to dive into the water if they fall in."
Tinkering with one of the six, Ed waved Ein toward the wayward creature. The dog dutifully picked it up by the neck and carried it back, safe from a watery grave.
"You're really letting her keep them?" Spike took another swig.
Jet shrugged, "Eh, why not?"
"Your ship, pard. Don't look at me when they start pulling it apart."
The doors to the hanger, already cracked open, rumbled all the way. In a short span of time the Redtail took off leaving a gust that knocked the compys over like dominoes. Spike and Jet barely spared a glance, instead they both reeled in their lines to find the bait stolen, again.
They reset the hooks, cast the lines, and cracked open fresh beers.
"Yo, Spike, has Faye apologized yet?"
Cleaning his ear with a pinky, he replied without a pause, "It'll be a warm day with the sun shining down on a Callisto beach resort before that happens."
"Really? The odds are that good?"
The news continued to drone on, " … in other news. Earth enthusiasts gather in record numbers as Whistling House is holding an auction for a highly unusual item. Today the bidding is expected to reach record heights as a bottle of Pasion Azteca Platinum hits the market. This bottle, covered in 6,400 diamond chips, and filled with a now rare premium Earth tequila, is rumored to be the most valuable in the galaxy starting at close to 4 trillion woolongs … "
Jet took a sip of his beer. "You don't think … "
Spike shrugged. "Don't look at me. I had no where to put that bottle."
Not even looking at one another, they watched the lines. "I guess it should come as no surprise, we are talking about Faye."
Taking out a cigarette, Spike lit it before side-eyeing Jet. "Exactly how much does she owe us?"
You're Gonna Carry That Weight... but not alone.
Author's Note: So we come to an end of this adventure. But not ultimately the end. More hi-jinks await the crew, and I promise not to shred them so thoroughly next time... at least physically. I must indeed extend a thank you to Luck Kazajian, whom you can thank for dropping the line amidst conversations after Ed's first scene going to Spike for support that he's probably got a lot of good advice once you can drag it out of him. That comment got me thinking and I went well beyond the first scene which was intended to be mostly a one and done.
Thanks for reading! Next up, a real "swinging" catch … and if you know my writing, that should give a huge clue where this is going.