Chapter 10: Desperado
you ain't gettin no younger,
One eye saw the present and one eye saw the past. In all his hours of not talking that night, Spike realized he never once had his eye on the future. When you have no future, the present is inconsequential. The Bebop was always his present. It wasn't that he disliked the crew or his life with them. Quite the opposite, if he would ever just be honest with himself. It was that the whole thing seemed temporary. He was just biding his time with those guys until his real life came knocking, the life he could never truly escape. It might have been a doomed life, but it was his life. He thought he had a future with Julia, though he could never quite see it in his mind. He remembered a conversation he had with her once. After the first time he had ever told her he loved her. Her response was not exactly ideal, but it was very Julia.
"So what?" she had said. "Does that put us in a different situation than before?"
Spike shrugged. "Did you expect it to?"
Julia shook her head. "Maybe. I just...what the hell is the plan here, Spike? Are we gonna run away together? Get a house with a dog and pop out a few kids?"
"No kids. And I'm not a fan of dogs."
Julia smiled in spite of herself. "I just have a hard time believing that's possible. When we joined...or at least, created these situations for ourselves, it wasn't really with the future in mind. The others won't care about our plans. They aren't just going to let us go because it's right or because we've earned it or because love conquers all."
"So essentially what you're saying is, the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world," Spike summed up. "Here's looking at you, kid."
Julia gave him that look. It was a look that she had invented solely for him. It indicated she wasn't sure whether she wanted to laugh or smack him upside the head, and so decided to do neither. She had never felt compelled to look that way at another human being and she knew she would miss it some day. "Well..." she said in a low voice. "We're hardly kids anymore."
"No," Spike said as he flicked his lighter compulsively. "We're not."
Julia reached out and grabbed his hand, both to make him stop flicking the lighter which was very annoying and also so that he'd pay attention to her. "Vicious won't stop until you're dead," she said quite seriously.
"So then I'll kill him," Spike replied, not quite as seriously.
"You say that like it's an errand you have to run."
Spike leaned back in his chair. "It's on my list. Right after get my oil changed," he smiled at her, but she didn't seem too amused. "You know, Julia, not every love story is tragic. Sure, the good ones are, but there are some out there that end quite happily. With a jolly jaunt into the sunset."
"You mean happily ever after," she said.
"Well, sure. Why not?" "Nothing can end happily ever after," she said matter of factly.
"Oh really? How so?"
Julia drew herself up the way she always did when she was about to make some grand point. "Something can't end if it's supposed to be ever after. Ever after is forever. Forever doesn't have an end."
Spike considered this for a moment before asking, "So what?"
"I guess my point is that ever after is a long-ass time, Spike," she sighed and ran her fingers through her hair in that sad way of hers. She always moved with a melancholy grace. "I love you too," she smiled softly. "But I'm on my last pair of glass slippers."
That was Julia. She knew her fate as well as he knew his and she never apologized for it. She denied it occasionally in weaker moments, just as he had. But one of them always knew. The world could fool one of them from time to time with false hopes and promises but never the two of them together.
The Bebop was more easily duped. Faye had some crazy ideas that her past would give her the answers. She let life convince her that her past would make her happy. That it would make her whole. There was Jet, who probably understood Spike the best, but still didn't quite buy into fate and destiny. He let go of everything in his life with a sort of stoic grace, thinking this left him better off than the others. But he was as lost as the rest of them and less willing to admit it.
So they didn't understand. Spike didn't think his past could make him happy. Not really. And he knew that there were some things in life that you can convince yourself to let go of. But they won't let go of you. He didn't see his past as some cure all for his present predicament, or the cause of it. He just knew, plain and simple, that his past would kill him. Julia knew. He knew. And deep down, the Bebop knew. But they didn't want to hear it, so Spike told them nothing.
But things were different now. There was something almost miraculous about the exchange with Faye under the bridge. Ravi was right about that. Without even knowing it was him, she treated him the same. They immediately picked up the easy rhythm of their relationship; the rapid-fire exchanges that were always about bullshit but still contained that sort of subtext. That reluctant admission of friendship and trust under all the wise ass remarks. The trust they had, at least when it came to important things, was the reason neither one fired. There wasn't a ski mask or stupid accent on the planet that could disguise that. The same with Jet.
He never really thought about them before. But then, they weren't his past before. One eye saw the present and one eye saw the past, and now the past included the Bebop. He saw waking up on the couch each morning only to have one of them staring at him. Jet, Faye, Ed, the dog...someone always wanted something. He saw the crooked little smile Faye would have when she discovered a bounty, or did something clever, or managed to piss someone off. He saw Jet getting downright giddy when they could afford some decent food and he saw how he cooked it as if he was some culinary marvel. He saw Ed. Crazy Edward flying in a crazed sugar high around the cabin, who despite talking in sputtering firecrackers of actual language, managed to be the most honest of the bunch. He saw the conversations they could have with their eyes. He remembered being able to sit in a room with the three of them in total silence and not minding at all. He remembered how they would almost never, ever, say what they meant, but knew he what they meant anyway. He realized how valuable that all was. He realized that they were quite the formidable team when they had to be. When they wanted to be. He also realized that they didn't want to be a formidable team all that often, and he didn't mind that either. When it came down to it, there was very little in his life that he regretted, but maybe, just maybe, there were certain things he missed.
But maybe that was bullshit. Maybe he lived his whole life like the world was going to end. And now that it hadn't, he was grasping at straws.
Spike opened his eyes to see Ravi still staring at him from the floor. She hadn't stopped staring at him since they got back from the hospital. He did his best to ignore her but it was four in the morning and it was becoming about seven kinds of creepy. "What?" he snapped.
"Nothing," she snapped right back.
"If you think you're gonna get something out of me, you're wrong," he added for good measure. The way that girl interrogated him each night, you would think she was his shrink.
She said nothing for a long time. Then she stood upright, paced around once or twice, then took a position in the far corner of the room. This roused his interest because it was the first movement she had made in a few hours. "Why are you here?" she asked him at last, but her tone was more saddened than accusatory. She asked the question as if the fact that he was here was the most tragic thing in all the universe. It was her tone that made Spike hesitate in his answer. And he resented the fact that it made him hesitate. All this talk of feelings was making him nauseous. He had once acted on every impulse the second he had them, with no time for explanations. But all impulses had led to Julia and she was gone.
But whatever he was feeling, he was not about to reveal it to this kid. So he summed it up in one simple sentence. "I wanted to see what it was like to be dead."
His tone was flat and emotionless, but his face told a different story. Ravi narrowed her eyes.
"And?" she asked him after a pause.
Spike sighed and repositioned himself on the couch. He was now laying belly down, his long frame spilling over the sides. His head was resting quite ponderously in his arms, draped awkwardly over the side of the couch. It was obvious he was in some sort of emotional distress, and even more obvious that he was trying to hide that fact. "I found out I was never alive to begin with," he said sadly, and more to the floor than to her face.
Ravi did not respond. Her face scrunched up for a brief moment, and then relaxed. She gazed at the wall as if it could explain all this to her. Funny how people turn to staring at architecture when all else fails. But the wall didn't help her out. So she burst into tears.
Spike did nothing. He just lay there and watched her, past the point of wanting to help but not so past it that it didn't affect him. He just sat. Slowly but surely, the choked sobs slowed down and Ravi took a breath. "You kept asking me why I chose you over anyone else to speak to. I never answered you. Mostly because I didn't know why myself. It wasn't a conscience decision that I made," she said. "It just happened. And now I know why."
She paused, as if she wanted Spike to ask her why. For Spike, the "why" was understood. He would wait for her to speak when she was ready. And eventually, she was.
"You are my future," she said.
Spike took in a short little breath and sat upright. He was her future. So that would make her his past. The angry young thing with a thousand chips on each shoulder, daring the rest of the world to fuck him again. He didn't know what her story was, but in the end their stories would be the same. And she knew it.
She wiped her eyes, suddenly self-conscious of her outburst. "That's why I've been asking you so many questions. I was really asking myself. But I never had any answers, and I was hoping you did." She laughed a bitter, mirthless laugh that seemed inappropriate in the darkened room. "You know when I was 13, I used to hold my hand over a Zippo to see how close to the flame I could get before I wussed out. Someone asked me why, and I told them it was to see how much I still feel. I look at you now, and I know it's not a phase. It's not something to get over. Time will pass and I'll be 27, lying on a couch somewhere utterly alone, trying to figure out if I still feel something."
Spike sighed and looked away from her. One eye saw the past, one eye saw the present. But never had the past come so vividly alive in front of him. In this girl, his own history was a tangible thing. Something he could touch, something he could talk to. Something that could listen. "You...you don't have to be like me," he said softly.
Ravi looked up at him with damp eyes. "Neither do you."
"You're right," Spike agreed. He sighed and leaned back into the couch. "When you're right, you're right." He stared up at the ceiling, wondering where in the hell he should go from here, when he suddenly thought of something to make him smile. "I'm gonna tell you a story," he said to Ravi.
Spike shifted position on the couch again. "There once was a tiger striped cat," he said in a lilting sort of narration. "And he had a million lives and a million owners, and he cared for none. Until one day he met another cat. A white one. And he thought he wouldn't mind a thousand lives or a thousand deaths if only he could be with her. But the white cat was killed."
"So what happened?" Ravi asked.
"Well, the tiger striped cat cried a million times and he died, never to come back."
Ravi raised her eyebrow. "That story sucks," she offered as feedback.
"I know. And it's not even the true story," Spike admitted.
"OK. So what really happened?"
Spike cleared his throat. "The misconception about the tiger striped cat is not that he just stumbled upon this pretty white cat and fell head over heels by chance. The tiger striped cat had loved the white cat in his very first life. But when he died, he couldn't find her in the next one. And so he kept searching. Life after life, owner after owner, all the while thinking, "Maybe the next one, maybe the next one." Maybe in the next one they would be happy. Maybe in the next one they would find peace. You know what, Ravi?"
"What?" she giggled slightly, taken up in this sudden flight of fancy.
"Fuck the next one," Spike smiled and flopped back into the cushions of the couch. "Fuck the next one. That asshole cat should worry about this one. Cause there's no point in chasing after dead cats."
Ravi seemed to consider this before coming to her conclusion. "I don't like cats."
"Yeah, me neither."
They both smiled. It was different from other occasions where they both smiled, because this time it was at each other. "So, I guess the question is what to do with this one," Ravi said as she leaned back on her elbows.
"Well...do you like it here?" Spike asked her.
"So that's a start."
Ravi snorted at the childish yet infallible logic of what Spike had just said. What was she waiting for anyway? She decided it was something worth sleeping on. "It was nice chatting with you, Spike," she said in a surprised tone of voice, as if it just occurred to her that it actually was nice chatting with him.
"Yeah..." Spike said in a similar tone. "Kinda weird, huh?"
Ravi nodded gravely. "Seriously. Let us never speak of it again."