You know the expression, a deer in headlights? Yeah. Well, that was me. A deer in headlights. I don't think I have ever seen anything in my life get so bad so quickly, and coming from me, that's impressive.

I couldn't even spit out what was going on to Jet on the comm. He must of thought I was crazy. Hell, I thought I was crazy. There I was, shrieking and carrying on like I've never seen blood before. Like I've never drawn it before. But there was something different about this particular display of violence. This wasn't just the spilling of blood, this was the spilling of bad blood. And oh, the difference that made. I had never seen him look like that before. True, I hadn't known him for very long. I bet there was all sorts of looks he hadn't shown me yet. But nothing he did choose to reveal to me on my brief stint on that ship even hinted that he was capable of that. Of looking so focused. So angry. So...well...vicious.

Who were those guys, anyway? Was I supposed to believe that Spike was a gangster? Spike? I'm usually pretty good at sizing people up but I would have never pegged Spike, the guy who cheerfully let me cheat him in a casino, to be a gangster. A thief, a hustler, a grifter...maybe. But a gangster? The kind of people who cut the heads off of horses and give people the kiss of death?

I hadn't moved from my hiding space behind a rock in a good twenty minutes. I don't know why I just didn't take off completely. I think I was sort of rubber necking. Hey, if it was a complete stranger who decided to take on a room full of thugs then it would have been an interesting show, let alone a...uh...guy I knew. And didn't exactly hate. But I couldn't see much of anything. I basically just heard it. There was all sorts of gunfire coming from the church (the church!) which I took as a good thing. If they were still shooting at him, he was alive.

That was when I realized I would prefer him to be alive over dead, which was significant cause I never really had a preference either way when it came to anyone since Whitney. But I pushed that out of my head because it was an irritating thought, and went back to being a slack jawed gawker. Then...it was quiet. Really, really quiet.

Then I saw him fall. I saw his long body toppling backwards amongst the glistening shards of painted glass. But as surreal as that moment was, what came next was even more so. The entire church went up in a huge explosion, slamming Spike back into the ground with authority and sending debris in every direction. Then it was quiet again, except for the sound of police sirens in the distance. I should have gone.

I should have fled the scene. I was not the person to be hanging around a crime scene with cops on the way. If I were smart, I would avoid cops all together. And I turned to run. I was running. But something stopped me.

He came for me. It might not have been expressly for me, but he did take the time out to save my ass. No one had ever done that for me before, not even Whitney, not really. I had become a lot of things since waking up in that hospital, and most of them uncomplimentary. But somehow, the girl inside me wouldn't let me leave him. It wasn't right. "We're supposed to be comrades," my own voice rang in my ears.  

***

He fulfilled his side of the deal, no matter how begrudgingly. I had to return the favor. I sighed as I crept along the perimeter of the building, avoiding falling bits of church and making sure there was no one left to shoot at me. I paused about ten feet from his body because it was exactly that. His body. He didn't look like Spike; he looked like a cadaver. Odd, but the thought that he might not have survived his plummet from the church window did not even occur to me. It hit me then like a Mack truck, and for a moment I thought I was going to throw up. I had seen my share of bodies, but never a guy I knew. And didn't exactly hate.

I stood there shaking for a few moments until I crept slowly up to him and...poked him with a stick. Not exactly the most tender of moves but I wasn't sure what else to do. I just knew I didn't want to touch it. The stick got no response, and I felt a wave of nausea wash over me again. Nausea and a huge lump in my throat that curiously resembled a sob. I swallowed hard and poked again. And he groaned.

He groaned! Dead men don't groan! I actually made a little yelping sound that was half shock, half delight. Good, I could go near him now. I dropped to my knees and crawled over to him, checking his body for...I had no clue. I didn't know the first thing about first aid. Heartbeat was a good place to start, I decided. But oddly, I couldn't find one. I started to get freaked out again. Maybe the groaning was like his last gasp for air. Maybe he had said "rosebud" or something and I had just misunderstood. At a loss, I shrugged and asked out loud, "Should I do CPR?"

I looked around as if someone somewhere could give me conformation, but there was no one, so I leaned forward and put my hands on his bleeding chest. I was about to crack down when his hand suddenly darted across his body and grabbed mine. I yelped in surprise, thinking it might have been a muscle spasm until I looked and saw his eyes were open. He was shaking his head no. "You don't want CPR?" I asked him.

More shaking of the head.

"You mean like...in general or from me?"

It looked like he rolled his eyes. The man was knocking at deaths door yet he still had the energy to roll his eyes at me. Then he choked out, "From you."

He seemed to be looking at me for some sort of indication that I would abide his possibly final wish. "All right," I snapped at him, yanking my hand forcefully out of his. "But if you crap out before help gets here, don't blame me."

It looked like he sort of smiled a little bit, but I couldn't be sure because he lost consciousness immediately after. "Lunkhead," I snapped. I wondered what could have possibly went down to have this stupid man-child I thought I sorta knew get himself into such a state. I wondered if I ever would find out. I sighed deeply and grabbed his hand. "Don't die, all right?" I mumbled. "You've got me curious now."

Jet showed up soon after that and I quickly tossed Spike's hand on the ground as if it had cooties. He didn't need to see that. I had established a reputation on that ship that I was only going to ruin in the company of unconscious men. Jet paused a bit, just as I did. "Is he still alive?" he asked. It wasn't really in a sad way, but more in a disbelieving kind of tone. Like he didn't think it was even possible.

"Yeah," I huffed. "Whatever this stupid bastard is made of, they should sell it," I mused. "Takes a lickin' and all that."

Jet sighed. "Woman, you don't know the half of it. Well, come on," he shrugged, as he attempted to hoist his partner's lifeless form off the ground.

"What, you mean carry him?"

"No. I was thinking we could levitate him with the power of our minds. Of course, carry him!"

I narrowed my eyes at the unwarranted sarcasm. "You're not supposed to do that. What if he's got like a broken back or something? And then he'll be a paraplegic and we'd have to feed him and dress him and wheel him around in some little..."

"Jesus, you talk a lot," Jet cut me off. "Just grab his legs and help me out, will ya'? With the two of us, it'll give him a little support. I don't want to be around when the cops show up and Lord knows you don't."

OK, that was a good point so I rolled up my proverbial sleeves and helped drag Spike into the Bebop. I waited until we took off before I asked Jet, "We are taking him to a hospital, aren't we?" I was still covered in his blood but I didn't want to change. I might have to do some more hoisting and there was no point in ruining two outfits.

"Nah. I've got my own guy for that sort of thing."

"What you mean like a mob doctor?" I put my hands on my hips.

"Maybe," he said shortly.

"Were you in the mob?"

"No."

"'Cause if you were, I think I have the right to know. All these trained killers running around this ship and I don't have the slightest clue. It's not right for a woman to be keeping such degenerate company, you know."

"I'm not in the mob, Faye!"

I bit a cuticle, not quite sure if I was prepared to believe him. Two things I do when I'm nervous. Talk a lot and bite cuticles. I wasn't really threatened by their shady dealings. It would be pretty dumb if I were. I was just upset that I was so out of the loop. We were both suddenly distracted by some moaning and groaning coming over from where we left Spike.

I just watched as Jet ran around a bit, applying what limited first aid he knew. When he seemed to exhaust his own resources, he came trudging back over to where I stood. "You worried?" I asked.

"Hell, no. Kid's got no sense. If he wants to bang the hell out of himself every week it ain't my concern."

"Yeah..." I sighed. "Me too."

Jet rubbed his head sheepishly and smiled a bit. But he shook out of it soon enough and focused the rest of his energy on getting to their super secret medical technician in time.

***

The Doc did not look pleased at Spike's condition, nor at the fact that we brought him there. "What the hell are you thinking?" he snapped at Jet. "He's lost way too much blood, which, by the way, I don't have here in mass amounts. It looks like they made a lovely kebob out of his vital organs. I've got some stitches, a scalpel, ACE bandages and a Ziploc baggie of IV fluid. What the hell do you want me to do with him?"

"Try," Jet shrugged. "It's all I could ask you to do."

Both men seemed to silently square off for a second, a phenomenon I hadn't really noticed until I started hanging around these guys. Jet happened to be very good at staring at people. There were times that I had seen him stare at Spike so hard that I caught a bit of peripheral guilt. Spike's staring abilities didn't seem like anything to sneeze at either, but The Doc didn't stand a chance. He sighed, ordered us out, and began to work on his new project.

So there was nothing for Jet and I to do but smoke cigarettes on the stoop and wait. "So what's that guy's name?" I asked him. "Guido? Giovanni? Tony "The Knife" Calucci?"

"Will you knock it off?" Jet snapped at me. "He's not in the mob."

"So what, are you trying to tell me he's EMO?"

"He takes in strays, all right?" Jet said flatly, indicating that this was the last time he would indulge me with a response. "He doesn't ask questions and neither do we. Maybe you should take a hint."

I waited for a couple of beats, finished my cigarette, and then asked, "So does Spike do this sort of thing a lot?"

Jet practically growled at me. "What did I just say?"

"I'm not asking about Dr. Cannolli in there," I said in my defense. "There was no ‘don't ask, don't tell' deal struck between us, you know. And don't tell me to mind my own business because I was just knee deep in his business a few hours ago. So? Does he do this a lot? Do you make frequent trips to see this guy?"

Jet sighed deeply before admitting, "I've never seen him this bad if that's what you mean. But, yeah. He kinda does this crap a lot. Like, pulling stupid stunts and things. Tonight, though, was different."

"How so?"

"You were there. You tell me."

Well, OK. He was right. I did know how it was different. At least intrinsically. I just wanted to know why it was different, but I was suddenly doubtful that Jet could tell me. I think there was a lot of stuff even those two didn't know about each other in those days.

"You know," I hazarded after a few minutes. "I'm in now."

"What do you mean?" Jet said through a yawn.

"I mean I'm in. In this little boy's club of yours. I helped drag his butt to a mob doctor, I ruined an outfit with his blood, and I saw a whole lot of shit that I could have frankly done without. That's it now. I'm one of you. You can't act like you're ready to throw me off every two seconds ‘cause I just did my time."

Jet seemed to consider this, which I didn't really expect. "You really want in that badly?" he asked after a time.

"It's not a matter of want, Jet. I don't wake up every morning thinking, Gee. I hope my day goes exactly like this. It's a matter of need. I need money. I need food. I need shelter."

"You need to get a job," he snapped. I imagined he sounded a lot like my father. It sounded like something a father would say, and they all probably sound the same.

"Tried that. Didn't work out. And you?"

He looked like he wanted to hit me, which, I came to learn, meant I had a point. He obviously chose this life over gainful employment himself. "All right," he threw his hands up in defeat. "You're in. But you're in the same way Spike is in, which means you can still be out on my say so."

In a rare moment of restraint, I decided not to say what I was thinking at that instant. And what I was thinking was, if that boy is still in after tonight, he ain't ever going to be out. But I didn't want to draw attention to that since it wouldn't really be beneficial to me. So instead I just nodded, and we waited out the rest of the time in silence until we were summoned to pick up a very mummified and still unconscious Spike.  

***

It took Spike about three full days to wake up and it took me about three full seconds to hit him. As rough and tumble as I can be sometimes, I think he is the only person in the universe who can move me to beat an invalid. And he can do it instantly. To this day, there has never been another who can invoke utter rage in me as easily as flipping a light switch.

***

"So..." Jet said in an overly conversational tone a few days after Spike had woken up. "Have you heard, Spike?"

"Heard what?" Spike peeked over the book he was reading.

"Faye's in now."

"She's in?"

"Yep. Officially, bona certified, IN."

"Is that right," Spike's eyes narrowed and his smirked widened, a look that I would secretly come to dread. "And what, exactly, does IN entail?"

I glowered at the two of them, feeling like I had suddenly been thrown into the boy's locker at the public high school. "IN means you cut the crap, that's what," I snapped. "IN mean you stop acting like you're gonna turn me in every five minutes cause I know you're not. IN means I get some information from time to time, like which bounties happen to have secret vendettas against you, for instance." I shot Spike a look, just to make sure he knew that was in fact directed towards him. "IN means I'm not OUT. Pretty simple concept, if you ask me."

"No one ran any of this ‘in' stuff by me," Spike mock pouted. "I never signed anything."

"Well, you should think of that next time you decide to get tossed out of a cathedral window. He who gets knocked unconscious misses important business decisions," I pointed out as I stood up to get my nail file.

"She's got a point there, Spike," Jet admitted.

"It wouldn't hold up in court!" Spike yelled from the couch, as I had then wandered into what I staked out as My Room.

I emerged brandishing a nail file and a renewed sense of confidence. Your own room will do that to you. "Fine. You don't want to acknowledge my in-ness? Turn me in," I snapped, holding my wrists out in front of his face so they could be easily cuffed. "You can still get some decent money for Poker Alice. So do it, you little shit. Turn me in."

Spike and I just glared at each other, and Jet at us, daring someone to make a move. It turned out I had some considerable staring skills myself. We stood frozen in time like that for I don't know how long, and then the theme song for Big Shot rang through the cabin.

We attempted to maintain our High Noon mentality, but eventually, all three of us found our gazes shifting slowly to the television. We were all sitting comfortably in front of the set by the first commercial break, not one of us even mentioning what had just transpired moments before.

When the show returned, Punch had a decent little bounty for us who was supposedly staked out just a few miles from where we docked the ship. "You think you're up for it, Spike?" Jet asked.

Spike shrugged and then wiggled his fingers around. "My trigger finger still works," he reasoned. "I could hobble around and shoot at people. Besides," he nodded his head in my direction. "Your legs work, don't they?"

A sly grin tugged at the corner of my mouth. "Yes, Spike," I spoke slowly, deliberatly, and overly sexy. It was my way of speaking to him when I had him cornered. "They work just fine."

"Well, I say we go for it," he said, looking away from me. He was speaking to Jet now. "We're kind of low on funds, anyway, aren't we?"

"Yeah...turns out stained glass windows are on the pricey side," Jet grumbled as he turned to get the ship in gear. I noticed Spike shrink down a bit in the cushions of the couch and I found that to be strangely satisfying.

"So," I shoved his legs off the sofa to allow room for myself, and he winced in pain. "I guess this means I'm in, huh?"

He shot me a sideways sort of glance before he focused his attention on stretching some of the exhausted muscles in his arm. "You're not out," he said. "Be satisfied with that."

Not about to reveal satisfaction in any capacity, unless it was at their expense, I huffed disinterestedly and retreated back to my room in order to trade my nail file for my Glock. I paused and glanced at myself in the mirror, brandishing my own weapon in my own room. For the first time that I could remember, I suddenly didn't feel like I was superimposed on a scene. For once, the girl in the mirror with the bruised knees and mussed hair blended quite nicely into the equally mussed background. I fit, even if it was for purely aesthetic reasons. I couldn't decide if that was comforting or terrifying, decided that it was somewhere in between, and went back into the lounge to join my new partners on our quest to bust shit up.

Somehow I knew it was the beginning of a beeeaaaauuuuutiful friendship.

 

 

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE



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