~ Chapter One ~
Written: April 15 – 16, 2003
Rating: PG (mild swearing) – The rating will probably go up as this continues
Disclaimer: I do not own Cowboy Bebop. Other richer, more fortunate people than myself do. (Excuse me, now while I wallow in my misery over that fact…) The lyrics at the beginning are from Yoko Kanno's "Words That We Couldn't Say"—I know, its clichéd, but the words fit so well.
Summary: Takes place directly after the events of the movie. Spike's wounds are healing, but the fight with Vincent left him questioning the world around him even more. Faye also has misgivings of her own after having seen the golden butterflies of Vincent's world. Will their experiences widen the gap between them, or bring them closer together? (Gah, I'm terrible at summaries!)
Spoilers: Contains spoilers for the movie, "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", which takes place between Sessions 22 & 23.
Author's Notes: ' ~~~~~~~ ' indicates flashback sequences, or scenes that happened before the previous material (if that makes any sense). Dialogue in italics also indicates a flashback or memory.
Chapter 1: These Games of Tag
Funny, ain't it
Games people play?
Scratch it, paint it;
One in the same
We couldn't find them,
So we tried to hide them
Words that we couldn't say.
Faye cursed softly under her breath, slapping a palm angrily against the pop machine's flashy exterior. The giggling, scantily clad hologram that hovered over her spouted another pre-recorded ad for cold refreshing beverages and the gambler shot it an irritable glare. She pulled back her foot, giving the machine a swift kick, but to no avail.
Before Faye could fly off with another string of colorful curses, a slender, feminine hand not her own came to rest on the smooth, lighted surface. Just as Faye turned to its owner, the woman brought her knee up roughly, jolting the machine. With a mechanic whir, and a soft whoosh of the machine's hydraulics, the can popped from the vacuum tube and spun for a moment on the machine's tray.
Retrieving her drink, Faye turned and leaned lazily against the pop machine; popping the can's tab and taking a thankful swig of the beverage. A soft smirk crept across her face as she raised her eyes, observing the other woman curiously.
"Thanks," she remarked, eyeing the other woman's red jacket appreciatively. So this must be Electra…
Nodding at her appreciation, the black-and-red clad soldier took a seat on one of the stiff-backed couches situated across from the unruly pop machine.
"You must be Faye," she spoke up softly, her eyes on the floor; distant, as she propped her forearms on her knees, having obviously come to the same conclusion as the gambler.
She looked drained, emotionless. Faye felt a pang of pity for the woman.
Faye nodded lightly, taking another drink of her soda; remaining aloof.
"Mmm. And you must be Electra," she remarked noncommittally. She grinned again over her drink. "I like the jacket."
For a moment, Electra raised her eyes from the floor. "You too," she replied, also noticing the other woman's similar taste in outerwear. Her face looked empty, devoid of emotion or humor.
She returned her gaze to some distant point at Faye's feet, and the gambler felt a small rush of relief. The emptiness in the woman's face had been unnerving; the pain in her eyes made it difficult to meet her gaze, and at the same time, she felt she wouldn't have been able to tear her eyes away.
Electra released a small, unreadable sigh. "You and Spike… You're…"
"Partners," Faye cut her off unhurriedly, glancing at her nails calmly and maintaining her detached image. "I guess you'd say. Reluctant partners, more like it."
She frowned slightly, pretending to be interested in the unkempt state of her nails. It had been several days since she'd last painted them. They needed another paint job, she decided.
A small voice in the back of her mind, however, betrayed some worry. Why was this woman asking about her and Spike, anyway?
Electra's face scrunched up momentarily, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry," she murmured distantly, sighing wearily. "I don't mean to pry."
Faye shrugged nonchalantly, pushing off from the pop machine with the action. Giving the other woman an assuring grin, she plopped herself down on one of the adjoining couches with a careless air.
"Nothing to pry, really, so no harm done," she commented lightly. If there was a bitter edge to her voice, the other woman didn't catch it.
Sighing lightly, the gambler rolled her head, peering over her shoulder and the back of the couch at the small window that graced the hospital's small vending alcove. The rain was still falling in torrents, streaking the panes beyond visibility. It gave her the impression that they were actually underwater, trapped in this little box of a building amidst the breakers of a raging sea. Would they drown? Would the pressure of the rushing waves manage to overcome the barrier of glass; seeping through cracks and finally bursting the pane from its molding?
Amused by the morbid turn of her thoughts, a wry grin tugged at the corner of her lips. She reminded herself that it was only rain. Not everything was out to get her; not really. Even when it felt the entire universe wanted a piece of her, and she was but a speck of dust in everyone's eye…
She shook herself mentally. Her thoughts were turning far too maudlin, even for her standards. And she wasn't alone, as it were. It wouldn't due for her to get lost in the Sea of Self Pity with the soldier-woman sitting only a few feet away.
Resting her chin on her shoulder against the stiff couch back, Faye bit her lip thoughtfully. She suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to talk to this woman. How long had it been since she'd talked to another woman, honestly? Not on the pretext of a cat-fight, or a brief exchange of pleasantries over a purchase, but a real conversation? She wasn't even sure if she was capable of such a thing anymore; she wasn't all bitterness and witty diatribe, was she, really? What was it like to share your thoughts with someone?
Perhaps just about anyone would do; maybe it wasn't that it was this woman specifically, but that it was someone. When did Spike, or Jet, or even Ed ever really talk to her? Had they tried to, would she have honestly responded? She supposed Electra was as good as any; she preferred it to be a practical stranger anyway. When you talked honestly to people closest to you, you had to deal with the consequences. A stranger was someone you could spill your guts to, and when it was all over, you could escape and never have to face them again. What did a stranger care about your business? It was likely they'd forget all about you and your troubles in due time, anyway.
"Jet, Spike and I… I guess what we have couldn't be called camaraderie," she spoke up softly, breaking the silence. "I wouldn't go so far as to say our relationship is purely professional, but there also isn't really any fondness between us, either."
There was no reply from Electra, and Faye didn't bother glancing in her direction to confirm whether she was listening or not. She didn't really need a listener; it was the talking that counted.
A somewhat bitter smirk graced her lips as she continued once more. "Sometimes it almost feels like we're a dysfunctional family or something… I suppose there is a small sense of concern for each other in there somewhere, but by the looks of us, you'd never know it."
The rain was almost hypnotizing, the way it traversed the window panes; endless patterns of bending light and swirling rainwater. It made Faye cold just watching it.
She sighed softly, leaning back further on the couch back, ignoring the uncomfortably sticky, plastic material; the way it dug at her back and refused to conform to her body. It reminded her oddly of the dilapidated, old yellow couch on the Bebop, though somehow managing to be even more uncomfortable than the old fishing ship's overused furniture.
"In the end, none of us really know each other at all. We share a roof, we bicker endlessly, but we know nothing about each other as a person. Just a bunch of selfish loners in a vast ocean of selfish people."
There was another brief silence, and then Electra spoke up softly, asking the question that Faye had dreaded.
"So why are you here?"
"I need you, Faye. If you don't do this…"
Faye shifted where she sat, bringing her head back around to the room and away from the window. Taking a quick sip from the half-forgotten can of soda still in her hand, she closed her eyes thoughtfully, for all the world a woman at ease with her thoughts and surroundings.
But inside, she was riddled with doubt and apprehension.
"I could ask the same of you, you know," she countered coolly; as always, avoiding a reply with the bite of her tongue.
The other woman was silent momentarily, obviously weighing her words. Faye held a mental breath, hoping her stall would be enough to avoid answering. It didn't seem as if Electra was the sort to force a confrontation, but Faye was still wary that she would be pressed to answer something she didn't wish to divulge even to herself.
"This whole thing with Vincent…" Electra's voice finally broke the silence, "I can't help but feel some responsibility." Her words were heavy once again, dark eyes focused on some far point across the floor as she spoke. "Did I help Vincent become what he was? Was something I did, or said, in some small way responsible for creating that monster that chose killing an entire planet as the answer to everything?"
There was a beat of silence as Faye digested this, and then the gambler actually laughed. Electra looked up in shock, trying to discern the emotion behind the other woman's sudden outburst. It wasn't a cold laugh, merely amused; a bit taunting and low, but harmless.
Faye's green eyes, alight with amusement, flicked to Electra momentarily. "Don't get offended—Spike would've done the same," she informed the woman lightly with a faint smile. "You were planning on telling him that, weren't you?"
Electra continued to watch her, eyebrows narrowing as she considered the violet-haired woman with an unreadable expression.
The gambler chuckled again good-naturedly, climbing languorously to her feet and stretching her arms above her head, relieved to be off of the uncomfortable couch at last.
"I'll say this, for starters: it's never a woman's fault, how a man turns out. Regardless of what he tells you."
Gulping down the remainder of soda, she tossed the can into a nearby wastebasket; turning, her back to the other woman as she stretched some more, trying to ease the cramps out of her back and shoulders.
"People make their own choices," she continued, her tone righteous, but not exactly preachy. "No one can force someone into behaving a certain way against their will. A person changes because he chooses to change. It's as simple as that."
She threw Electra a grin from over her shoulder. "As for Spike… You don't need to take responsibility for that idiot. He throws himself into these suicide missions purely of his own accord, regardless of the advice of those around him, and he'll never change."
"On top of that, he's a bounty hunter. We almost always get ourselves involved when there's money to be had." Faye winked cheekily. "And that's why he would have laughed at you. It's just our way."
Electra continued to stare at her, expression unreadable. And then a sad sort of smile flit across her features, her eyes falling from the other woman's face. "I'll never understand you people," she began, her voice tinged with humor, "But perhaps…that's how it should be."
Placing her palms resolutely on her knees, she stood up gracefully, meeting Faye's questioning gaze. Her eyes had lost some of their harshness, soft with something almost affectionate. Faye could decipher the green in them now; a much darker, brass-toned color than her own. She was a beautiful woman, really, despite the initial harshness she conveyed at first glance and it was suddenly apparent to Faye just what had attracted men like Vincent and Spike to her.
That, and her strength. She could see that in her eyes, as well. This was a woman who didn't have to wear a mask of toughness to appear strong; she had strength all her own.
Faye felt suddenly small and insignificant next to such a woman, like a tiny bird trying to follow in the wake of a great bird of prey; the wind buffeting at her efforts and her unable to give any resistance. She struggled to bottle her shame, to keep it from coloring her expression as she watched the other woman walk past her; her strides confident and unhurried.
Electra paused momentarily in the hall, glancing contemplatively to the side, her back still to the other woman. "Even so… Tell him I'm sorry," she said finally, her tone surprisingly soft. "And 'thank you.'"
With that, she left Faye poised in awkward uncertainty upon the edge of her own doubts; the rhythmic clack of her boots fading slowly into silence in her wake.
The rain was so faint it was practically a mist, as they hurried from the cover of one street awning to the next. It clung like a sheen of cold sweat, freezing them through; they were just as drenched as if hit by a downpour, as they finally reached the parking lot where their ships lay in wait.
Once there, they parted ways, each hurrying to the welcoming promise of a dry cockpit, and once there, each sat for a moment in thankful silence, enjoying the dry reprieve.
Faye ran a hand through soaked, violet locks, squeezing out the excess water and ignoring the mess she was making of her ship. Shivering, she hurriedly switched on the heat, along with a flurry of other switches, preparing the Redtail for flight. Leaning back in her seat momentarily, she watched the fog slowly dissipate from her cockpit windows; watched the haze of rain just above her head, so clear she half expected to feel it on her face, bathing her in its cold, liquid embrace.
"Nice job with the rain there, Faye," Spike's voice over the intercom, sardonic as ever, broke into her thoughts.
Huffing indignantly, the violet-haired gambler leaned forward to flick on her end of the com. "Bite me," she retorted tartly, continuing her flight preparations, her slender fingers flurrying deftly over the control board.
Spike made a sound that seemed to indicate a sneer over the intercom. "Yeah, well, I'm dripping all over my instrument panel here. You're gonna' owe me for the water damage to my cockpit."
"Hey, I seem to recall being instructed to make it rain, and that's all. If you wanna' blame someone over this prolonged downpour, why don't you go bitch out the overzealous controllers at the Weather Control Center?"
She flicked off her com switch, then, scowling irritably into the haze of rain as she brought her ship up off the ground. "Ungrateful bastard," she growled under her breath, glancing momentarily behind her to see if he was following. She was rewarded by Swordfish II's backlash as the red fighter craft shot indignantly past her, the Redtail rocking slightly in its wake.
Her scowl darkened, green eyes taking on a malicious gleam. "Alright, you asked for it," she muttered darkly to herself, pulling the throttle back viciously and darting after him.
But as the two cowboys engaged in a fierce game of tag across the Martian sky, whirling and dropping through the city; weaving in and out of office buildings and skyscrapers, Faye couldn't help but smile to herself. There was just something indelibly satisfying about the thrill of good old, harmless competition.
And then Spike reopened his com link to make some snide comment about her poor piloting, and the moment was ruined.
Sometimes she wished reality would just quit rearing its ugly head…