Author's Note: Don't be fooled by the soft opening, to date this is my darkest plot line yet. My Cowboy Bebop works are all interconnected, it is not essential to read them all, but you will get more of the references and Easter eggs if you do. My works are focused on the feel of canon material and developing the characters past that. The craters mentioned, like Tharsis and Alba, Deseado and Mendel both exist on the surface of Mars and are in fact located in the southern hemisphere fairly close to one another. Thank you Wiki for the coordinates . This one is a psychological thriller, so fair warning there will be some twisted, possible triggery stuff. I will NOT be pulling punches on this, the foe is a real nasty piece of merciless work. This plot has had time to simmer on the back burner. It's been over a half year since I came up with the idea spawned by "Hotel California" and melded with "Enter Sandman", my sincerest thanks to Luck Kazajian for listening to my cracked ideas and being a great sounding board as I ironed out the details. Session releases will be less frequent than before, this project will rely on nuances I can't effectively speed write in.
Diving Deep Into the Night
Desire … not just something one wants, but a need so intense that existing without it amounts to sheer torture. God knows I have forced others to walk those harrowing halls. The most primal being the desire to draw one's next breath.
But … I was what I was. My life had denied me many desires early on, I always found my place among the ashes until I learned to bury desire, to banish it where it could not torment me. Or so I always believed.
The truth, bitter pill that it was to swallow, I've always thought myself far more clever than I actually was. The lasting poison of a treacherous youth. No matter how deep I dig the hole to bury it all, the bell continues to toll—year after year after damnable year! Behind closed eyes no one comprehends the depth of the burden I carry alone. Some think they know … but even a glimpse would find them drowning—like I pretend I'm not … don't look down. Don't look and it holds no power. I squeeze my eyes tighter, sealed behind that protective barrier. Denial, the bitter old partner I have courted at a terrible price.
I stood in the midst of the raging storm, the wind whipping at my trench coat. I've kept my head down as long as I could to keep from peering into the pouring rain. I know what I'll find waiting for me. It's the same every damn time I'm dragged into this private hell. And I am so sick of this shit.
Not again. I know what I have done. I know what my foolish decisions threw away. But above all, I know I can't go back and change the mistakes that haunt me. So what's the God-be-damned point of this repetitious bullshit? I shut my eyes and take a deep breath, summoning up all my strength.
Clenching my fist I concentrated on the howling wind. Calm, calm and tranquil. Stealing its rage, I overpowered it into my submission. The rain fell straight down now. Water, an element that flowed. I opened my hands and drifted my fingers through the droplets, fluid motions in a trained pattern, slow and gentle.
The storm tried to surge.
"No—" I snarled before I caught myself, softening my voice. "Be still. You have already passed years ago. You are already done."
As my hands passed through the rain it gradually turned to a harmless drizzle.
I dared not open my eyes. I knew it would still all be there waiting for me. Don't even think about it!
Sodden clothing hung on my limbs. My hair matted down over my brow. A true mess of a human being. Still, I could feel the presence all around waiting for me to acknowledge it. My resolve faltered for a moment, letting it well in.
Failure, traitor, … solitary beast.
"Shut up!" I hold on by a mere thread. Why won't the damn sun set?
"Not doing this. And you can't damn well make me!" This was gonna take a full dedication. I took a shuddering breath and sunk down into a meditative posture, I kept my eyes clenched tight. The words formed into a mantra falling from my lips like an ever increasing patter of rain. "I am alone. I am alone. I am alone."
I lost track of how many times I spoke it, but that is the way meditation works. Repetition becoming thoughtless second nature, until it becomes … reality.
When at last I ceased, utter silence stretched out, not even the whisper of a breath.
Cracking open my eyes I glanced to the sides before lifting my head. I gazed into a void. Endlessly dark, blessedly vacant.
I collapsed backward with relief. I had won the battle … for now.
Of course, dreams were far easier to control than reality, all it took was willpower.
Spike opened his eyes to a blurry world bathed in blinding green light and drowned in the thunderous cacophony of insects and bird song. Voices carried on from a distance tinged with laughter. He knew them, part of him felt something … sort of.
Feeling … there was something about that. What was it?
A hard object pressed against the palm of his hand. Spike rolled his head down and had to squint to see what it was. A bottle. Before he knew it, instinct had brought his hand up in a clumsy gesture, his lips were around the mouth of the bottle sucking down the blessed burn he could no longer even taste that would drag him back down to where he desired to be. To the stillness where nothing could reach him.
Back into the oblivion he had prematurely emerged from.
Dark, still, … silent.
The sunlight cut through the trees casting dappled rays onto a picnic spread out in the clearing. The weather in the Mendel crater nature reserve could not have been more perfect. After the long stint locked in Callus's prison side-show of horrors … and Spike's vengeful antics carried them to Mars, Jet decided it was high time for a little vacation. The forested glade of the park seemed like a good opportunity for a change of scenery and lingering in the warm breeze felt wonderfully refreshing.
Although, now Jet questioned the choice of camping. It had been quite the hike hauling the gear from the Bebop, left docked in the nearby lake. They'd been at the site for hours now, and had yet to get the tent unpacked, let alone up. Faye and Ed … heck, even the mutt, were more interested in eating.
Jet grinned and closed up his sandwich, listening to the girls bickering as he took his first bite.
"Ed, marshmallow fluff and mustard do not belong together."
Holding the jars up, Ed danced back and forth. "Yes they do. It's yummy."
"Maybe if you pinch your nose." Faye closed her own loaded sandwich and turned away as if to protect her precious lunch.
"Ehehe! Ed doesn't pinch her nose. Ed just nom noms it."
"You are never cooking for us."
Jet chuckled. "What, you don't like condiments?"
"As a main course? Not hardly. I like my meals with a bit more substance."
Ed pointed to the pile of wood. "Light a fire. Ed wants toasted mallows!" Of course, she was holding up the jar of fluff.
Faye rolled her eyes. "Just what she needs, sugar."
"Later." Still munching on another bite of his sandwich, Jet mumbled around it. "Once the sun goes down I'll get the bag out. You can't toast that. The glops will fall into the fire and burst into flames."
"Booom! Hehehehe!" She threw her hands in the air, as if proving Faye's point.
Heaving a sigh, Faye remarked, "Fire tending. Yet another duty on Ed's ban list."
But Ed continued to merrily run around making explosions in the air with Ein yapping at her heels.
Faye sat against a tree and eyed Jet. "Will this place survive her?"
"That's an interesting question. She certainly acts like a wild animal."
"Ed is wild! RAWR!" Ed leapt out of a tree and tumbled onto the ground dissolving into giggles as Ein licked her into submission. "Stop! Ein … hehehe! Ed is a wild beast and will get you."
"Well," Faye grinned, "we're certainly remote enough down here. I don't think anyone would notice if she burned the place to the ground. Oh, hey, speaking of remote places. Isn't Deseado near here?"
Jet raised an eyebrow in thought. "Yeah, to the southwest. Why?"
"I'm kinda curious to see where Spike grew up."
"Uhh, not so sure that's a good idea. He doesn't exactly speak fondly of it."
Faye gazed at him over her shoulder. "How about just a flyover, you wouldn't mind, would yah Spike?" Only the bird song and incessant insects answered her. "Spike?" Only now did she realize it had been hours since she had seen him.
At the repeat of his name, Jet started a bit. "Uh oh. I was so busy keeping Ed wrangled." He stood up and hooded his eyes, casting his gaze into the woods. A fair distance away a figure slumped against the base of a large tree caught his attention. It was definitely Spike. He narrowed his eyes … with a bottle of sake in his hand? Jet inhaled sharply. "Oh shit … what's the date today?"
Faye scratched her head. "Umm … June 27th. Why?"
Blanching, Jet covered his mouth. "I really should have been paying more attention to the dates. I know better than this."
"What is it?" Faye joined him watching the slow rise and fall of Spike's breathing, clearly in a drunken slumber. Her brow furrowed. "Doesn't he know that we came here to spend some time together? Aren't you going to thrash him for doing that again?"
"Not today." Jet lowered his head. "It's the day after Spike's birthday."
She gasped. "No wonder he's upset! We didn't cele—"
"Has he ever celebrated his birthday? Frankly, the only reason I know it is the record on his bounty hunter license." Jet eyed her. "That's not it. The day after, every year I have known him, he drinks until he passes out. If he wakes up, without a word he'll swallow more sake until he's out again for the whole of the day. It's the only time I've seen with it. Usually his choice is beer or whiskey."
"Odd. Why would he do this? Wait—every year? Why didn't I know about this?"
"Because the first year you dashed off." He shook his head, but there was no anger in his tone for her, only a deep concern as he watched Spike stewing in sake. "And after that … I always sent you off on a bounty hunt. The first time it happened after we first teamed up, when I did ask, he gave me that look. You know the one, where if you push it'll be the last thing you do. I backed off and just left him to his own devices the next year when I found him halfway there. I haven't been able to intervene on this … ritual, if that's what this is. He would never explain why, always changing the topic when I tried to get him to."
"Should we … you know, take that away from him?"
Jet put a hand on her shoulder. "No. Leave him. There is something about this day. Come on. Let's get back to our picnic. We'll keep an eye on him."
A half hour later a crack of thunder echoed in the crater basin. The crew froze and stared up just in time for the heavens to open up and break loose. They scrambled to grab the scattered gear as the mud began to swallow it. Burdened, Jet started to push them toward the trail, when he remembered. "Shit, Spike!" He dropped what he was carrying, "Faye, get what you can, leave the rest."
Scrambling through the mire and the bracken, Jet hefted Spike up over his shoulder facing front. All of him was limp, except for the death grip in the neck of the sake bottle. "Yeah, whatever you do don't let go of that. Come on, pard, do me a favor and wake up and walk, why don't yah."
Spike's head hung, lolling around with each hasty footstep. Jet caught up to the girls just as they started down the trail with most of the gear. Ein even carried a few things in his mouth. "Back to the ship for now. Once this passes, we can try again. Only this time we set up the tent first like I suggested."
They groaned, but continued to slog through the woods. The further they got, the more the storm raged, lightning splitting the prematurely darkened sky. It was mid-morning and yet it looked like dusk. The wind pummeled them and parted the sheets of rain. Ed shouted above the gale, "Look! Shelter!"
Jet squinted, lights shined warmly though the windows of a sprawling building with a tower that stretched up into the treetops. "Seems like a resort or a hotel of some kind."
"We're a fair way from the ship."
Readjusting Spike, Jet's shoulder ached. "Looks open, and dry! Let's duck in there until the rain eases."
"Don't have to convince me."
Ed dashed to the glass door and tugged it open passing into the welcoming lobby. Ein waddled in and shook off a cascade of countless drops. Faye and Jet paused long enough to glimpse the letters on the door, Somnus. Dripping, they entered the lobby.
Somnus gave a cozy air from the polished desk to the plush chairs waiting to be used by the fireplace stocked with wood. A plaque beside the elevator listed the amenities by floor. Outdoor patio, dining rooms both formal and informal, a pool, a game room, a ball room; this place had everything.
A clerk behind the desk glanced up and adjusted his glasses. "Oh my, look what the storm brought in."
"Our apologies, we're rather … making a mess." Jet glanced at Spike passed out over his shoulder and rolled his eyes.
"Oh no." The clerk smiled warmly. "It's no problem at all. Everything dries eventually. And you all look drenched. Please, come in, you are welcome to sit by the fire. Here, let me liven that up for you." He opened the door and stirred up the coals into a lively fire. "The name's Lyle, if you need anything."
Jet laid Spike out on a couch, frowning as even still the bottle remained clutched in his hand. He patting his cheek trying to wake him. Spike barely even moaned. "He's in for a helluva hangover."
Faye wandered over toward the growing fire, wringing her hair out. "It had been such a pleasant morning, is the weather here always this turbulent?"
Lyle brushed his fingers off and covered the fireplace with the spark screen. "Down in the southern hemisphere the terraforming towers were a little less resilient. They tend to have hiccups on a regular basis. We're used to it."
"This is a hiccup?" She cocked her head. "How long will this last?"
"Could be a few hours. Could be a week. There is a reason Mendel is mostly a reserve crater and not a more settled one. But it does make for a charming place to visit. The rain supports a lot of forest growth. That's why I can keep Somnus running. Everyone wants to get away."
"A week?" Faye glanced to Jet. "Maybe instead if camping we should just get rooms."
Holding his hands near the fire, Jet shrugged. "Let's see if we dry off before the rain stops. Fair?"
Ed danced before Lyle, "Can Ed roast mallows in the fireplace?"
Lyle pointed to a terracotta jar that held marshmallow skewers in it. "That's what those are for."
"You have everything here." Faye watched the man blush.
"Well, we do serve all kinds of clientele here. One never quite knows who will walk in. I'll be right back with some towels." He passed through a Staff door and left them in the lobby.
Sitting down beside the fireplace Faye savored the heat. "Mmmm, I have to admit. This would be a great place to spend a little downtime. And we can still get out into nature like you planned for little hiking and fishing. Besides, the music is much better than the chaos of birdsong. Don't you think?"
Jet blinked. "Music?" Now that she mentioned it, he noticed the artful patter of the notes. It was rather pleasant. So was the warmth of the crackling fire. The pattern of the flames flickering drew him in. He smiled softly, his head nodding to his chest. They could camp in the middle of nowhere and do all the work themselves, … or they could treat themselves to a stay at a resort and be served. Hrmm … it all felt so welcoming. Maybe a stay would be nice.
Spike's eyes cracked open. A fire burned low in the fireplace. He lay sprawled on a couch having no clue how he'd gotten here. Rubbing his eyes with his hands, he slowly sat up feeling a bit strange. What the hell was this place?
A man stood over him, smiling through his eyes behind wire rimmed glasses. "Well, good afternoon Mr. Spiegel."
Spike yawned and stretched, rubbing the back of his neck. "Spike is fine … uhh, who are you?"
He chuckled. "I'm not surprised you don't remember the check in. You were clearly tired, and we didn't want to disturb you. But all arrangements for your stay have been made. In case you had forgotten, my name is Lyle. If you require anything, just ask. I am here to address all your desires."
"Okkaaaay?" Spike stood up and scratched his side, looking around at the bustling lobby. Families and people of all walks of life mingled. Some waiting for the elevator, others chatting about which place to eat at. "Say, you got a bar in this joint?"
"Certainly. It's attached to the patio. We hold a number of events there, including our nightly karaoke. We have a world class bartender, anything you order will simply be added to your guest bill. We are full service here, Mr. … uh, Spike."
"Really? I might just take advantage of that." Spike followed where he pointed. The moment his eyes glanced down the hall, his heart caught in his throat. A familiar figure sauntered through the throng. Ringlets of gold cascaded down her back, the alluring scent of roses lingered in the air.
"It can't be … can it?"
See You Space Cowboy