Faye reclined on the table in Europa's general hospital. Her eyes drifted to the surgeon and his assistant prepping everything essential for the task. Their gazes kept flicking toward the doorway. Spike and Jet stood, waiting for their turn. But there was another reason. Tucked beneath Spike's folded arms the muzzle of his gun peeked out. No wonder the staff was worried.
In truth, Faye was too.
Spike cleared his throat. "This is a local only, right?"
The assistant holding the syringe froze and eyed him. A bead of sweat dripping down his forehead. The surgeon answered. "As I explained multiple times already, yes. The laser tattoos can be removed without it being essential for the patients going under. Now please, Mr. Spiegel, I assure you we are professionals here under the direct orders of President Brookridge. There is no need for … ummm … that." He pointed to the glimmer off the gun.
"Mmm hmm. We'll see about that." He locked eyes with Faye. "We're not going anywhere in case they try anything funny."
Jet nodded firmly as Faye exhaled a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding. "Thanks guys." Even though things seemed on the up and up, after their recent experiences, none of them were taking any risks. It's why they insisted on one at a time, so they could stand guard.
The surgeon closed his eyes and waved the assistant on. "Ok. Shall we get started?"
The fine needle stuck into her arm in various places around the tattoo spreading a strange numbness. After waiting a few minutes the assistant tapped a gloved finger all over it. "Feel anything?"
"Good. All set." The assistant moved out of the way.
Shifting the overhead light, the surgeon pulled a machine with a handheld nozzle closer. "Please hold still as possible. This will take a bit." Carefully he ran the nozzle back and forth over her marked skin. It produced a strange sensation, like a finger stroke. But it didn't hurt at all. When she glanced down she watched the device erasing the marks, her eyes widened. That wasn't at all what the other doctor had used on Spike. The removal had been physical. Then again, that was an unlicensed doc and Spike had been taken deep under a general. He didn't feel a damned thing and barely remembered that whole day. By the time he'd been brought out of it the doc had completed the fused lab-grown skin grafts so seamlessly no one would ever know. That doc had some impressive skills, all things considered. She often wondered what he'd done to lose his license.
A half hour later the surgeon finished leaving behind unblemished skin and the assistant numbed the side of her neck.
Spike still remained on guard as they waited the few minutes needed for the local to kick in. Still on the table, Faye didn't even dream of asking him to lighten up. He was keeping true to his word. No one was going to fuck with them today.
Fifteen minutes later, Faye stood up and looked in mirror. The mark was gone. The skin remained numb, but it was smooth as silk. The evidence completely gone.
The assistant looked to the guys. "Who's next?"
Spike tucked his gun away and approached the table. He removed his jacket and rolled the sleeve well up out of the way before lying on his back. His eyes locked onto the assistant watching his every move with that move wrong and it'll be your last needle stick expression. The assistant exhaled a deep breath, seeming to relax, until he looked up to spy Jet's gun now peeking out from beneath his folded arms. The color drained from him.
"Insurance." Jet tapped a finger outside the trigger guard. "Just do the same thing and we're good, pal."
The assistant gestured and hissed at the surgeon, "Are they gonna do this the whole time?"
"Just go with it."
"But … seriously? This is hardly … "
The surgeon slashed the air with his hand. "Do it, now. I really don't want to have to extract bullets today."
He sighed and picked up a new syringe working it into the marked skin. "I don't get the reason."
"Trust me, buddy." Spike muttered, "There's a solid reason."
Faye had joined Jet in the doorway, memories of waking up in the cell clung to her. No one was going to get their hands on them again.
Once they finished with Spike, Jet took the table under the guard of Faye's gun.
The assistant buried his face in his hands. "For heaven's sake!"
Spike laid his head back on the couch. Feet up on the table, he watched the spinning of the fan blades play with the rising pattern of his cigarette smoke. A program he was only vaguely interested in played on the receiver. Beside him, Ein snored away, his legs kicking once in a while in the grips of some dream.
On the floor, Ed messed around on her computer.
The music of a breaking announcement came across. Spike looked up. "Yo, Jet, Faye. Might wanna come here for this."
Jet emerged from the bridge as Faye came up from the hall below, hair still wet from a shower. "What is it?"
He pointed to the news.
"This is a special live broadcast from Europa. President Brookridge is about to make an official announcement concerning the sentencing of Whitecoff. We are just waiting for … oh, looks like he's ready."
Standing behind the same podium, an unsmiling Brookridge held up a hand to silence the chatter. "Citizens of Europa, the council has met virtually for an unprecedented task. The sentencing of a president for the deplorable actions of attempting the use of bio-logical warfare against another colony. This is a decision that the solar system has not faced before. This is why a formal council was formed from delegates representing every colony, including Io. We did not take this decision lightly. But the case must be shown that no one is above the law. And those who have been entrusted with the leadership, must act responsibly.
"It has been determined that Whitecoff has been neglecting the needs of his own colony for some time. He failed to act on more reasonable means to correct the food shortage issue. Furthermore, his plans to acquire suitable farming land on Europa cost millions of innocent lives if by nothing more than delaying the life saving vaccination.
"Today the council formally stripped Whitecoff of his position and sentenced him to immediate deportation to Pluto's Quidlivun Cavus. A man who is used to the desert regions of Io will live out the remainder of his days in that frozen cavern."
Spike laughed wickedly. "Ok, that's better than a firing squad. Do you guys have any idea how a yellow-belly like him is going to take to that accursed place? The inmates will dissect him inside a week once they find out he's a sleazy politician. The ice fever won't even get a chance to nail him."
Faye smirked. "Hope he likes stripes."
"Hope he's awake for the tattooing procedure. Man, this is some sick poetic justice." Spike exhaled a breath of smoke. "Speaking of which, Jet, can we head to Mars?"
He cocked an eyebrow. "Any particular reason?"
Spike eyed him with a sideways grin. "Just a little cordial visit."
"Anyone we know?"
"As a matter of fact … "
Ed grinned and took over the screen of the receiver as a horridly tacky decorated ranch house came into view. "Yes we do."
Faye leaned on the table, jaw hanging open. "I know that place."
"Course you, do. He's still listed as living there." Spike discarded his burnt cigarette.
Jet shook his head. "Spike, we just got out of trouble. Are you suggesting we land ourselves in hot water just to get a revenge shot? He doesn't have a bounty on him."
Spike waved a finger.
Ed pressed a button on her computer and laughed. "He and his girly do now!"
With a start, Jet leaned over her computer. "What did you two do? Holy shit! Spike, that's the same amount that we took from Callus's safe!"
Spike reclined with half-lidded eyes. "I know. Just putting it to good use. We don't need it anymore since Brookridge also unfroze our accounts for us. Now … if we hurry, we can even get paid to bust his ass."
"Spike! You can't claim your own bounty!"
Ed dissolved into giggles. "Sure the Bebop can! It was well laundered and filed under one Hanna Banana."
"Don't look at me, that part was her idea. I suggested Smith."
Faye raised a hand. "I volunteer to go with Spike on this one. We do owe the son of a gun."
Clomping back up to the bridge, Jet shot back, "I can't believe you guys. Spike, I'm not counting that as your owed bounty."
Grinning, Spike stretched and cradled the back of his neck. "I figured."
The door to the ranch opened. Andy walked in, shutting it behind him with a smile. "Oh my Sweet Sue, your wild ridin' Andy boy is ho—!"
Nothing else made it out. Spike's fist smashed into the side of his head from where he had been waiting in the shadows behind the door.
In the bedroom, Sue's muffled frantic cries echoed. Faye leaned against the door frame. "Look who has a glass jaw."
Spike picked up the rag doll and dragged him away from the door. "He'll wake back up. I figure, why rush this?"
"I almost feel sorry." Faye's smile grew darker as she eyed Sue's panicked gaze. "Almost. But you are the last link we need to tie up. Oh, and thanks for messaging Andy for us so we didn't have to wait so long, sweetheart." She held up the phone and grinned all the way into her eyes.
A short while later, Andy's head lolled to the side as he regained consciousness. He started as he discovered his hands cuffed behind his back. Blinking, he looked around the bedroom to find Sue bound and tethered to the bed, seated on the floor.
On their bed, Spike and Faye reclined playing a card game. She looked up. "Oh, hey, look."
Spike huffed a breath. "Let's finish this round at least. All in."
"Spike! Damn it, you know I can't meet that."
He grinned. "Then … you fold?"
She tossed the cards. "Guess so... Hey! You didn't have shit!"
Laughing, he rolled off the bed. "Yes, but you folded, so I get the first shots."
"Leave him breathing, Spike! Jet wants the payout, considering you didn't ask him."
"Yah yah." Spike leaned over Andy, watching him squirm in the bounds trying to scream through the gag. "We're just gonna have a little chat." He pounded a fist into his palm. "Only my fists are gonna do the talkin'. Bad enough getting picked up. But that happening because of a pain in the ass little shit like you? Oh, there's no way I can let that slide. Right, tenderloin?"
Andy's eyes widened.
"And when I'm done … it's her turn. I'll save your son of gun for her."
Writhing on the floor in a fresh wave of panic, Andy attempted to crawl away like an inch worm, until Spike flipped him over with foot to his hip.
Faye ran a hand across Spike's shoulder. "Awww, you do care."
He winked and eyed the petrified Andy. "Fair warning partner, you did ruin her fancy dinner."
The ship sat anchored at a dock on Mars. Spike and Jet leaned over the soft glow of the shogi board sliding the pieces around, having made peace after Spike and Faye brought back every woolong from his undisclosed gamble. There wasn't a plan at the moment. Just the crew kicking back between gigs.
"Faye-Faye, come on! Follow Ed! Up up! Hurry"
Spike cocked his head as they came up the steps.
"What is it, Ed?" she muttered. "I was in the middle reading a good chapter."
"Kissy kissy can wait." She danced around racing toward the shogi table tugging the guys up from their seats. "Ed has something neat. Come look! Come look!"
Abandoning the haphazard game, the guys wandered over toward the cockpit. Ed pointed at the photograph of young Jet standing with his folks. "See, see?"
Faye shook her head. "Yes, we all saw that earlier, Ed. What about it?"
Ed fwipped a hand from behind her back and showed Faye. The color faded from her face. She reached forward, cupping a hand close to it but not quite touching.
"Ed?" Her voice whispered. "Where did you get this?"
She pointed downstairs. "When Faye-Faye was in the hot bath Ed jacked the beta tape and took a screen cap. Heee!"
Faye's eyes strung, the tears welled at the photo. A young girl in a school uniform sat on her father's lap smiling to the camera. Her mother had a hand on her shoulder. Clear as day. Her family back when life was simple and happy.
"And!" Ed wriggled with glee. "Look what Ed found on the net by using father-person's name!" From behind Faye's photo she pulled out another one. A snaggle-toothed red haired toddler held in her mother's arms amidst the ruins of Earth, with the arm of Ed's father wrapped around them both. "Ed's father and mother persons! Ed found them both! Ehehehe!" Eagerly she handed them to Jet. "Here, hang them up. Bebop's family wall."
They gathered around the photos pointing and laughing at themselves.
Spike edged backward, hands in his pockets fighting to banish the hurt from his eyes. The Bebop family … but it was incomplete. They looked so damned happy. So happy it scorched him, but he didn't want to spoil it for them. This wasn't their problem. It was his. Silently, he wandered off the bridge haunted by their laughter.
Ed blurted out. "Almost forgot! For Spike-person … " She held up a crayon drawing of stick figures. "Spike?" Her excitement faded as she searched the bridge. "Where did Spike-person go?"
Faye heaved a sigh. "I think I know … I got this."
Out on the flight deck, she found Spike standing in the evening glow of the sky beside a pile of collected rocks. He reached down, indiscriminately grabbed one, and gave it a hefty flick of his wrist. She knew by the motion he was trying to skip them. But too much force tripped the stone. It hit the water wrong and sunk with a bloop.
He exhaled in a huff and grabbed another, muttering under his breath.
"What?" He threw the next one with even more force and less success. "Piece of shit!"
She held her arms. "What's wrong?" She had a feeling she knew, but she hoped he would say it.
"Nothing. I'm fine!" Another blooper.
When his hand went back for the next throw, her hand covered his. She met his gaze. "Ed wasn't trying to be cruel. She didn't know. In fact, if you'd waited you would have seen, she made something for you."
He tore his hand from her grasp and turned away. But it wasn't fast enough. She had glimpsed the glistening in the corner of his real eye. "It's not important. Who the hell cares?"
It couldn't be more obvious. Spike put as much force as he could muster in the next throw sending the stone far out until the darkening waters claimed it. He bowed his head and clenched his teeth. "They're long gone."
Her hand rested on his shoulder. "And you can't remember them."
He turned his head away further, a betraying twitch in his jaw muscles.
"Remind me, how old were you?"
"You're too hard on yourself, Spike. Most young kids don't remember much of anything. You're hardly superhuman."
He rounded on her. "They gave me life. We'd been a family, there'd been a future. I wasn't supposed to end up a criminal, Faye. I remember that much. But I can't … I can't …" he shook his head, "I can't remember their faces. They were real, they existed … but they're gone. Nameless, faceless."
Faye took a deep breath and planted a hand firmly on each of his shoulders. "I know what it's like to not be able to remember. It's a terrible void. But you know what I learned?"
He stared at her with a turbulent gaze.
"The more I tried to force myself to remember, the less I was able to. It came to me on its own. Spike, you were a traumatized little boy, you probably blocked it out so you could move on."
He extracted himself from her grip and turned back to the stone pile, picking one up and white-knuckling it. "I was an idiot for doing that! I want it back! I never should have done that! They were real, they were part of my life! Damn it, Faye, they were the only true family I ever had!" His words came at a faster and faster clip. "It's inside, somewhere. I know it is … I just can't … just can't reach them."
"I understand." Faye reached out and gently grasped his clenched hand. "They come back when we let them go … " Her fingers massaged against the knot of his fist. "This takes time and the more you push for it, the further the memories bury themselves."
Gradually the fingers relaxed and the rock fell into her grip. More lost than ever, Spike sunk down on the edge of the flight deck staring down at the rippling water.
Faye joined him, playing with the rock in her hands. "When someone thrashes, the water conceals everything below it." She released the stone and watched the circles obliterate their reflections. "When someone remains calm, all concealed within the depths become clear." Though the bay's water would never be truly calm, it did settle enough to identify themselves.
Spike blinked slowly. His eyes narrowed a bit. "Wait … that's from … "
She nodded. "I know I shouldn't have been borrowing your books without asking. But .. "
He studied her long and hard. "You remembered."
Reaching up, Faye ran a hand through his hair. "Stop thrashing, Spike. You're not drowning. You just think you are."
He looked up at the stars in the clear night sky. The telescope, a hopeful promise … and a father he could barely remember. He hoped Faye was right as he took a long breath and let it out slowly. He dearly wanted her to be right.
Author's Note: Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this crazy train ride and will join me for the next. Starting in "Alley Cat Shuffle" and into this one I began seeding the groundwork for "Diving Deep Into the Night", a story that will likely prove to be the darkest of all my Cowboy Bebop fics.
See You Space Cowboy