The practice music thrummed onward in a punishing rhythm. Spike kept his focus locked tight on the sensations traveling down his arm. He swept down and under, his hands securing the absolute perfect balance before he let the momentum carry up. He had to concentrate much more than he'd anticipated. But because he had …
Like clockwork the weight settled into the cradle of balance...
Until it didn't.
Faye let out a shriek and violently shifted in his grip. With the whole weight of a full grown woman squirming onto his right hand, only intended to brace her lower back, Spike struggled like hell to compensate. He swung her down in a sloppy save, rather than dropping her onto the living room floor's metallic decking.
Faye rounded on him, her fist flew above his head as he hastily ducked. "You lecherous asshole!"
Heaving from the effort of the dodge, Spike came back upright with clenched fists at his sides. "What did I do this time?"
"Your hand. You put it there on purpose, you pervert!"
Spike's chest rose and fell several times before he forced a mockery of a calm tone to his voice. "Of course it was on purpose. That's where it has to be for the lift."
With her hands on her hips, she leaned toward him. "Not that close, buster!"
"It's physics, Faye. Unless you want to go tits over ass, when I lift you I have to account for these." He reached forward intending to just gesture. But somehow he misjudged and his palm cupped something soft. He opened his eyes in shock and just barely managed to backpedal out of the way of her attempted slap. The air whooshed by his cheek swirling on the eddies left by her flying finger tips.
If anything that miss left her more livid. "So you're saying it's my breasts fault."
Her face grew redder, rage boiling over in her jade eyes.
Spike quickly caught his mistake, backing away. "No! I mean no!" He held his hands out, well away from her. "Look, Faye, it's one of the required lifts in several rounds, whether you like it or not. The physics determine where your center of gravity is. I can't break those laws."
Faye folded her arms. "Find another spot for that hand!"
Across the room, Ed queued up over a dozen videos of dance routines and played them side by side. "Umm, Faye-Faye. Spike-person is right. Look where the hands are. Tee hee!"
Faye stared at the videos, her jaw tightening as they proved the point. He saw her intention to turn on him and chose to walk away. "That's it. I'm taking a break from this shit."
To his relief, Shuĭ stood on the arm of the couch with a beer bottle waiting. Spike tore it out of his mouth, and cracked the cap off. Muscle sore, he stormed toward the door, passing Jet on the way.
Burdened with a load of groceries Jet arrived back at the Bebop eager to get down to the kitchen. The moment he opened the door, he took a step backward as Spike stormed out, sweat glistening on his brow and not even looking where he was going.
One glimpse into the living room to spy Faye leaning over Ed's computer analyzing dance moves for the eight-hundredth time was all it took. He heaved a sigh, knowing full well what had transpired—again. The precise details were irrelevant.
They were truly water and oil fire together. Setting the bags down, he once more reveled in no longer being the pawn in Faye's plan. He approached Faye and peered over her shoulder. "So … let me guess. Training is done for today?"
"He'll need to find another way to do this lift. I don't care what Spike says." The heat radiating around her wasn't purely from the practice.
Jet shook his head as he watched the footage of the other dancers. Immediately he could see where the problem lie. One hand balancing the weight in an overhead lift, and that palm got rather intimate! And yet Jet knew Spike enough to recognize when he'd pulled a smooth one. That was not what he'd seen. No, that was Spike one smart-mouthed comment from launching Faye out the airlock into outer space without her space suit. Jet eyed Faye, "You know what I think. I think you're just going to have to suck it up and trust the guy you all but begged to be your partner."
Faye spun, her cheeks flushed. "I did not beg him! And it doesn't matter. Dancing is a civilized sport."
With a shrug, Jet glimpsed the costumes on the screen, some more skin than fabric, and the hand placements in several of the moves. He'd seen Spike fight enough to know how leverage worked. Stood to reason if Spike could hi-jack an opponent's balance, he could manipulate a dance partner, a cooperative one might make his task simpler. Jet chuckled at the visuals on the screen. "You might have to lower your standards for this. Besides, you owe Spike the trust he deserves to get you through this. Seriously, the guy knows what he's doing if you just let him do it. Finding and manipulating the center of balance at speed is what he does, it's the core of his training."
Turning her cold shoulder to Jet she tapped her foot.
Jet groaned. "I'm serious, Faye. Are you truly ready for what this con entails? Once you two are on that ship an outburst like this could blow your cover wide open."
"Couples argue," she snapped, but Jet caught the hesitation.
"They do, but you're not actually a couple. And you're going to have to work together without us as immediate back-up." More importantly, without us to intervene.
Faye rolled her shoulder. "I'm a grown woman, I can handle myself!"
Jet turned away from her, rubbing the back of his neck, concerned that he was about to lose two partners to this scheme. "Just go easier on Spike and remember you asked him to do this. It's not his mark and you're already asking a lot of him."
Faye twitched. "That lazy lout isn't stepping up properly."
"He isn't? Exactly how many hours have you put him through the steps? Spike's a quick study. He's already managed to pick how many critical maneuvers in such a short time?" Jet knew full well what a slave-driver she'd been. "How many times have you tried to hit him in the process? How much can you demand in three days?"
At last she turned back to Jet, her eyes rimmed with worry. "But the entry round to make it on the ship is tomorrow evening."
Jet spread his hands wide. "Than you'll have to trust him." Jet turned and left her standing in the middle of the living room, dreading his next task. After all, just last night he had intercepted Spike out on the flight deck bristling with irritation. He'd taken the time to gather stones perfect for throwing from the bay's shore onto the deck. A rather large pile subjected to his pent up temper. And throw them Spike did, aiming at a distant buoy where they clanged against it before plunking back into the dark water. At least it was rocks this time, Jet cringed when he recalled the time Spike had been irately firing off the Jericho into the bay until the cops stopped by. Luckily they'd been old acquaintances, and Jet had been able to get off with only a warning. Last night Spike's patience clearly had grown rice-paper thin. His acidic rant filled the next hour punctuated by the collisions against the poor buoy. At least Jet could offer a sympathetic ear … now.
If she'd already gotten under his skin this deep, what would Spike do on the cruise ship? That was a question he didn't even want to ask as he wandered out to the flight deck.
What Spike wouldn't do for a fancy meal, the chance for his stomach to hi-jack his brain … for once it seemed they might have found the line on that particular motivation. Spike stood at the edge, sipping a beer and staring out into the lights sparkling on the bay. The darkened water reflected the faint outline of Jupiter filling the sky. The wind off the water caught Spike's jacket and tie, wiping them up and around.
Jet joined him, arms crossed over his chest. Staring out into the city lights so familiar to him from his youth, he took a deep breath. "I'm proud of you, kid."
Spike barely shifted. His reply was more of a noncommital grunt.
Jet eyed him. "The fact that you haven't hit her—"
"Any bruising would show with the clothing she wears." Without looking from the horizon Spike took a sip of the beer.
Jet jerked upright at that thought. His eyes widened. "That never occurred to me."
He shrugged. "Apparently that notion hasn't occurred to Faye either, as she keeps taking shots at my face. At this rate she's gonna blow our cover by giving me a shiner before we set foot on that ship."
Jet placed a hand on his shoulder. "This is her deal, kid. You're just riding shotgun."
Spike sighed and took another swig. "Yup, except without the shotgun. Guess that gentlemen aren't supposed to carry firearms. So, unarmed it is."
Good, it seemed he'd already managed to rein it in on his own. Maybe there was a chance this would work. "Who knows, if you two can't pass the elimination round, you may not have to go through with this charade."
Finishing his beer, Spike gave the empty bottle a rather savage spin out into the bay where it shattered against the dented buoy with a resounding CLANG! He tucked his hands in his pockets. "I can only hope that's what happens. I'm not real thrilled about this plan of hers."
"Oh, I bet you'll be able to pull this off. You've done just fine among the snobs in the casinos, well … until you start winning too much. But there shouldn't be any of that on board. Just watch the sarcasm." Slowly Jet realized the depth of that request. His shoulders slumped. "You're right, the odds are pretty bad."
Spike lit a cigarette. With both hands back in his pockets he looked up into the sky. "Now you're getting it."
A voice called his name, a touch too sweetly. Spike rolled deeper into the couch. Was it a dream? Only darkness danced behind his eyelids. Maybe if he kept his eyes shut whoever it was would go away. Occasionally that worked on Jet. A hand pressed against his shoulder. Faye's voice intruded a little louder, but maintained its saccharine tone.
Spike cracked open an eye to find Faye's smiling face. Yup, that was real. He rolled over and faced the couch, grumbling. "Faye, let's take the morning off. We've practiced enough."
She walked around the back of the couch, resting her chin on the cushion. "We're not practicing today. There's something else we need to do."
He huffed a sigh. "What now?"
She reached down and grabbed his wrist, pulling him up into a seated position and studying his hand with an appraising eye. Her fingers ran through his hair and snagged in the mass, tugging at the roots. A wrinkle of distaste crossed her features before she banished it, trying once more to seem overly pleasant. She pursed her lips and nodded. "Mmm hmm. I picked precisely the right place to fix all this."
Spike eyed her as she padded around the couch and brought him to his feet. Her fingers caressed the wrinkled lapel of his suit, traced the thin black tie. She snapped a nod. "Oh yes, we should have enough time if we hurry."
As she started to pull Spike toward the door, Jet peered out from the kitchen curiously. Spike raised an eyebrow as he was tugged along. Jet cleared his throat, "Where are you two off to before breakfast? Registration isn't until early this evening."
Faye waved from the top landing. "It's time to get Spike ready. I'm taking him shopping."
Panic seized Spike, he grabbed onto the door frame. "Jet, help!" His grip didn't hold. The last thing he saw was the pity in Jet's eyes.
See You Space Cowboy