I do not own Cowboy Bebop or any of it's characters. All rights to their respective owners.

Okay so...I said there would be some Spike/Faye interaction and...I kinda lied. Haha. Sorry guys but I got WAY too caught up in Spike's thoughts here. Sorry. But as you can tell from the end...there WILL be interaction in the next chapter. It will be ALL Spike/Faye interaction. Promise!

Chapter Two

The Stripped Cat Has Two Tales

The next thing Spike remembered was walking into the living room of the Bebop. It was one of those wide awake dreams when you get somewhere without knowing how you got there. Jet was asleep on the couch, Spike's favorite resting spot. Dual toned eyes watched the sleeping form, wondering how many times he let the old dog down. Guess it was a good time to wonder right, when you are living in a waking dream. The dream was fading into reality and Spike was slowly realizing the rain that had been pouring in his heart. The loneliness caused this. The dream caused this. Sure, he had been figuring it out lately. It started when Faye left. Then Ed and Ein. He had spent so long in his own past, wallowing in pain and loneliness, that he didn't realize how much he needed them until they were gone.

A long look at his old friend and the empty quiet space took him back there to that day. He stared out the window at the message that day, simple in words but complex in meaning. "Bye Bye" was all it said but for Spike it meant an end to all things. An end to yapping dogs, annoying kids, and complaining women. An end to the chaos he could almost call "family". That is, if he could ever use the word family. That afternoon he attached the pinwheel Ed had given him to the top of the Bebop. It was his own way of saying, "Come home" to those three members that had walked out of his life, possibly forever. Maybe it was for the best. He might die in the final battle and if he did, Vicious had no reason to go after them anymore. Maybe it would be better if he did die. He had waited so long that day, watching for any sign of their return from the circular windows. He almost prayed that Faye would call. Call me….he had thought. Call me, give me a reason to come get you. Where had she gone anyway? Didn't she care about him, or maybe he was wasting his time again. A fake smile crossed his lips, faint but thoughtful. Spike didn't go to die. No, that was hardly the point. He would go to live, to finally end the dream. To end the running, end his loneliness. The death of Vicious would mean an absolute end to the dream he called his past. It would mean a new life for him.

Jet stirred on the couch, rolling slightly until his eyes caught sight of Spike. Quickly he sat up, mouth agape in surprise.

"Spike you're...you're back." His surprise was humorous. Spike's smiled turned a little more real but he couldn't hide the loneliness in his eyes. Jet was a good man. A good friend. Spike was secretly glad to see such surprise. He knew it wasn't surprise in his ability to survive, that was rarely questioned, but more a relieved surprise. That was good. At least in the end he could say that someone cared for him.

"You got anything to eat? I'm really starving." Keep it as normal as possible. Besides, a last meal didn't sound too bad right?

He ate in silence, Jet sitting there on the stair platform, smiling and smoking a cig. Spike thought as he ate about why he had come back here at all. Maybe it was meant to be. Hell, when you wake up from a dream it's always harder to forget it if you aren't at home. The dream was finally settling, quietly, on his mind. Everything was wrapping itself up. Julia was dead now, the search for her was over. The closure was there but not in the way he wanted. He hoped she would live long enough for him to kill Vicious. Then he would sit her down and talk to her. Tell her how he felt. It was all so long ago...the love was just a memory to him. Hell, maybe that's why she wanted to run away with him. She wanted to see the love they had. Maybe she wanted to think that he would love her enough to take her away from that place. That he still loved her enough to make her free.

"Tastes terrible. As usual." He picked at Jet, trying to clear the silence. Jet had never been much of a cook but Spike appreciated the effort. This time anyway. Sure, he could have tried going out for a good last meal but it wouldn't mean as much as this half burnt meal that his friend cared enough to make him.

"If it's so bad you sure do eat a lot of it." Jet smiled, joking back, grasping for a hint of normalcy. He wanted to go back too. Go back to when the ship was full and their lives were easier. Until now it was just another bounty to chase, just another day of cigarettes, arguments, and empty bellies. Spike's life was on the line now. Now it was different.

"They say hunger is the best spice."

Jet smiled again, hoping Spike would say it was all over. Then maybe they could get back to their lives. Faye was here but Jet couldn't tell Spike. The old cop had noticed the two, how they were always at each other's throats, seeming to hate each other but willing to work together and protect one another. Jet didn't really want Faye to know that Spike was back, not now anyway. Not until he knew what was going on.

"Ever heard this story." Spike didn't look at his old comrade but he knew that the smile had faded. It was thick in the air…the tension that is. At that moment Jet knew something was up. Sure, Spike hadn't said anything yet that might lead to such an assumption, but Jet knew the dark haired man. Knew him well enough to know that stories were rarely a good sign.

"There once was a tiger stripped cat." Spike continued, eyes still on his now empty plate. "This cat died a million deaths, revived and lived a million lives and was owned by various people that he didn't really care for. He wasn't afraid to die." At that Jet snuffed out his cigarette, no longer feeling like a smoke. He knew where this was going and he didn't like it. "Then one day the cat became a stray cat, which meant he was free. Then he met a white female cat and the two of them spent their days living happily. Well, years passed and the white cat grew weak and died of old age. The tiger stripped cat died a million times, then he died too. Except this time, he didn't come back to life." Spike knew that Jet would think it was about Julia. It was…in a way. The white cat was more symbolic than anything really. The white cat was love. It grew weak and died long ago. Spike had cried his tears, died in that love, and was not reborn in it when he saw Julia again.

Spike waited and Jet smiled once more, probably more confused than he was letting on. Then again, maybe Jet knew exactly what Spike was talking about. The older man closed his eyes in quiet reflection before answering with a slight grin.

"Yeah. It's a good story."

"I hate that story." Jet looked slightly confused, stunned even. Spike did hate that story. The white cat should have never died. The love should have never died. But it had and that's why Spike hated it. "I never liked cats, you know that." His eyes held a small hint of mischief but his smile was still uneasy. No need to tell Jet the real reason he hated that story.

"Oh yeah, that's right." Damn this was uncomfortable. Like a giant pink elephant getting larger and filling the room with every second. Surely this had to come to attention soon. It did. Both broke into a forced laughter, spawning solely from discomfort and nervousness.

"Hey Spike." Jet spoke as his comrade stood to walk away.

"Yeah." The younger man stopped, not turning to face his friend.

"I just wanna ask you one thing." Jet's smile faded as he hunched heavily over to rest his elbows on his knees.

"What's that?" Spike's voice was quiet and calm, almost soft.

"Is it for the girl?" Jet waited for a response, never elaborating which girl he was talking about. He may be an old dog, but he wasn't a blind one. All this time he had noticed the way that Spike and Faye had warmed to each other, though they didn't show it in a normal way. Then again, neither one was normal. Both had reasons to pull the other close with one hand and push away with the other. Spike's response would tell him everything he needed to know.

"She's dead. There's nothing I can do for her now." That told Jet all he needed to know. This wasn't for Julia. This was to protect what he had grown to care about in the mean time. Jet ran his cold metallic hand over his bald head, worried, but unable to say anything. This had all turned to shit so fast.

A faint echo of Spike's boots on the floor as he walked down the hall came to a soft but sudden stop with the click of a gun. There Faye stood, gun cocked and ready to fire, and aimed right at Spike's temple. His dual toned eyes didn't look at her. He couldn't look at her. Not now. When he came back….if he came back, things would be different.

"Where are you going?"

To protect you.