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He's seen the guy around. Not a hell of a lot but enough, and it's not hard to recognize the people from the hotel. This guy's... well, shit. There's this air of command around him that reminds him a little too much of someone he killed not that long ago, although it's not fair to equate anyone to Vicious.

Maybe this is that Captain guy Julia told him about. It fits: tall, a little imposing, and how many other people here walk with a damn cane? The answer is none. None at all. Well, there's not a reason in the world two people can't have a conversation on their way to the spaceport. It sure as hell looks like where this guy's going.

"Yo."

New words one of these days, he promises himself. One of these damn days he'll buy himself a whole new box of them. Until then, he's stuck with the ones he knows how to use best.

5-14-74

At least he already had the tux, even if he can't remember the exact occasion he got it for. Some thing or other Jet made him go to where they lost the bounty -- again -- for whatever reason. He knows that much. It's been hanging in his closet in his room on the Bebop ever since. Hell, he thought he'd never wear it but here he is, all decked out, straightening the bow tie (too damn tight around his neck; there's reasons he wears his skinny black tie loose) and draping the scarf around his neck.

Like he could leave well enough alone and wear just black and white.

As usual, Julia looks fucking gorgeous in that red dress of hers. It always has been a great color on her. Kind of goes with the roses he keeps getting her every chance he gets. A long time ago, back when she was still with Vicious, he bought her a couple dozen red roses and he remembers thinking how he'd like to always be able to buy her roses. Keep her in them, because she likes them so much and she's so pretty when she smiles. It's just he never imagined that day would actually come.

Yeah, he has to be about the luckiest bastard in the star system. The tips of his fingers find the curves of her shoulders and play there like raindrops on a window.

She's beautiful.

"You ready for a party, Cherry Blossom?" It isn't planned, he swears, when he dips down to kiss that right shoulder of hers. Hell, her skin is right there.

As long as she doesn't call him Fernando in mixed company, he'll have it made.

August 16, 2066

As usual, there's a pile of smokes by his feet. Damn women, always keeping guys waiting. This is why he'll never settle down with one: he can't imagine waiting on one of them for the rest of his days. Anyway, he's only doing this as a favor for his partner because his partner, in turn, is off doing a favor for one of Mao's top guys. A pickup, he said, and yeah, yeah, whatever: it isn't like he needs to know. Anyway, now Vicious owes him, because he's pretty damn sure there was an evil smile on his face when he said Spike, I need you to do me a favor. Take Julia shopping.

For so many fucking reasons, his heart about dropped, although he's pretty damn sure Vicious couldn't tell. In fact, the guy was pretty consumed with his own shit as he packed his gun -- sword's too conspicuous for that kind of detail -- and sauntered off into the waiting car.

Vicious never drives.

She'll meet you on the corner of Herschel and 5th at 2:30. And Spike? Do not keep her waiting.

So now it's what, almost 3? Soon he's going to have to get himself a new pack of smokes.

Fucking women. Fucking favors. Fucking Vicious.

(He can't wait till she gets here. Like anyone gets to know that.)

2-16-74

There's silence, but it's not because they have nothing to say. It's the silence that comes with waiting around for the action to take place; he drums on the steering wheel a little impatiently waiting for the damn phone to ring. He glances over at Julia in her identical blue jumpsuit and baseball cap, her long hair tucked up inside it. Shit, she's beautiful as hell no matter what she wears.

The logo on the outside of the truck reads TORTOISE DELIVERY and the fine print says SERVING THE ASTEROIDS SINCE 2062. It was so easy to borrow this truck. All he did was wait until the guy brought it back to the delivery place's yard and went inside to check out for the weekend or whatever. Hid it overnight in the hotel garage -- who was going to look there? -- and as soon as that phone rings, it'll be about a two-minute drive to the spaceport.

"You ready, partner?" He can't help it: this is such a damn kick, getting to run a job with Julia. They never had the chance before, although he fantasized about it a whole lot just because he could. And this is about as safe as a heist gets. Until the intended Dragon realizes today's come and gone without his cargo, they can... basically do whatever the hell they want.

But after that, all bets are off.

Apr. 1st, 2009

Like some damn seesaw, he's been going back and forth on it. Look at it one way and Valentine's Day is a stupid holiday, just made up by the card companies. It doesn't have any real basis in much of anything as like... the official holiday of love or any of that shit. But look at it the other way and fuck, bounty hunter, shouldn't every damn day be a celebration of the single most precious, most loved, most wanted person in his entire life? Damn straight it should. And while there's nothing unusual about being in love, every time he looks at Julia he knows exactly how lucky he is.

Every time he looks over in the middle of the night to see her sleeping and relaxed, her profile perfect against the backdrop of the rest of the room.

Every time she touches him, wraps her arms around him, holds him close.

Every time they don't have to spend time in the hospital, either one of them.

Every moment they spend not running and hiding. Yeah, he appreciates the hell out of her.

And it's Valentine's Day, and the least he can do is let her know how much he loves her. He doesn't say it in words so very often; she knows how he feels. But every now and then he doesn't want to take that -- or anything -- for granted, and hell, why not do it today? That's why today, every drawer she'll open has a card in it, every available surface has a vase of roses in a variety of colors, every box she opens has chocolates or trinkets -- mementos of the trips they've taken, the places they've been, nothing big and earthshattering but there -- and every glance in her direction will come with a smile. And today, he won't skimp with the words I love you. Not for Julia.

What the hell. Maybe every day ought to be Valentine's Day. In his heart, every day always has been but like he wants anyone to know that about him.

Today, Julia will.

Mar. 2nd, 2009

All things considered, he's beginning to think there's no such thing as the perfect rose. It doesn't stop him looking, even if he comes up empty-handed more often than not. He likes the one he found earlier today, the one that's waiting by itself in a vase in his room for her. It's a velvety medium shade of red and it smells like... it smells like childhood and memories and the outdoors, and it smells like Julia's apartment in Tharsis and her bed there. Not that he ever had the luxury of filling the place with flowers like he wanted. Yeah, yeah, so sue him if he's some damn sentimental romantic at his core: a guy has to have something to believe in.

As far as he's concerned, believing in Julia is what's kept him going all this time. Even when he wakes up by her side, he still doesn't believe she's really there sometimes. Shit, he chased after her for three years without the slightest expectation he'd ever find her. And then she was here, and he almost lost her again but whether it was pure dumb luck or some fancy skill or fate or whatever, he didn't. And now his arm's around her as they head down the eighth floor hallway and if it's up to him, he'll never let her go.

They don't talk a lot on the way there because sometimes, words get to be saved for later and the moment's what matters. Just being together's what matters. Just breathing in the same air from the same space, and he glances over and for the millionth time can't believe his damn luck.

And he's never been a lucky guy. How 'bout that. Sliding the key into the slot, the door blinks green and he opens it, turns on the light, lets Julia walk in first because ladies first and all that shit, and the place isn't even too much of a mess -- he's not that kind of guy -- and he reaches into the vase and plucks out that solitary red rose, twirls it once between thumb and forefinger, and hands it to the woman of his dreams.

"Hey."

That means I love you.
For the first time in a long time, he feels really good after a workout. He knows he was off the hook as far as those doctors were concerned, but a guy has to listen to his own body to know when it's healed, when it's doing good.

And today he feels good. The only reason he stops, in fact, is because his phone rings. It's probably not Julia; she calls his comm. Maybe it's the front desk telling him his balance for the room is due. Hell, maybe it's Vicious, back from the dead, looking for his katana. Whatever the hell it is, he's ready for it. He feels pretty much on top of the world.

He grabs his towel, throws it over his shoulders and picks up the phone.

"Yeah?"
That last trip to the asteroid next door was... so damn much fun it ought to have been illegal. Who the hell knew that (021) Hephaestus was home to the biggest off-planet animation studio? He didn't: goes to show a guy that if he ever paid attention he might learn a couple things. It was cool, though: turned out it was a visiting day and he and Julia were able to join the day's last tour. Lucky for them, since they'd been a little... well... not lazy but just relaxed about their day. Relaxed and satisfied: it was a hell of a good day, and the asteroid was only about twenty minutes away and while that kind of shit really isn't his thing, he'd go anywhere with Julia.

The best part of it all, as far as he's concerned, was the content and smug little smile on her face the whole time. And they held hands. Like a pair of high school kids, they held fucking hands. Yeah, he loves her.

This time they've decided to randomly check out (023) Aphrodite. The name has promise and if he hadn't been a little preoccupied with the woman of his damn dreams, he might have looked it up to see what's there but fuck it: a guy has to take risks. it could be they get turned away from this one but if they do, they'll just head over to (020) Ares which he knows is one of the first asteroids to be explored after Mars was colonized. But that doesn't mean he knows what's on it now.

Accommodations on the Swordfish are as tight as ever for two but like he minds: all it means to him is that he gets to rest his hand on Julia's knee as they fly. The flight's also real quick, but he pretty much loves the fact that everything's so easy when he's with Julia. When he radios in for permission to land and it's granted, he turns to her and grins.

"Yo. Bonnie Parker, check this out. Welcome to 023 Aphrodite, home to the belt's largest gaming arcade." That's better than another casino, which... really could have been the case. "Featuring Pac-Man, Galaga, and other Earth classics including pinball. Who knew? How's your gaming hand? Feeling lucky?"

He is. He's been feeling lucky for... well, for a long time now. Even taking his little stint at the hospital into account, he's been feeling lucky since the shit at the import/export store.

Because that's when he got Julia back.

Aug. 14th, 2008

That's weird.

Three days in a row he's tried Beth's room and three days in a row there hasn't been any answer and three days in a row she hasn't called him back. Not that he expects her to or anything; he was just saying hi. So he figures maybe she's taken advantage of that money card and passport. After all, she did like Mars when they were there, and why the hell not? Out of all the women he's met over the years, Beth might just be one of the most capable, one of the strongest. And since he still has a few tricks up his sleeve, he heads to the business center and logs onto the Bounty Web -- he has to drop a note to his doctors anyhow -- and does a classified search of passengers leaving the Outpost.

There's no Mariko Yashida listed. Okay, scratch that: what did he do to piss her off, then? Weren't they supposed to be able to be friends? Just because they're not sweethearts -- her term, not his -- any more...

Well, a guy can take care of that. No reason for Beth to be avoiding him, unless she's even better than he is at keeping parts of their lives sepa... oh, maybe that's it, maybe she's found someone else. Yo. Why not? She's a great person, one of the best he's ever met, and maybe this time it will be someone she can actually love. Someone without his... uh... unsavory past. Someone who matches her strict Catholic schoolgirl standards a little more closely... is there anyone here who actually meets that definition?

Whatever: he heads to the front desk, grabs paper and pencil, and writes her a quick note of the hey, how are you, drink sometime? variety and asks that it be delivered to Beth in 1313. When the flatscreen flashes back no guest by that name registered, he does a double-take.

"Sure. Beth. In 1313." It isn't like he didn't spend half his nights here in that room: he knows he didn't get the number wrong.

No guest by that name registered.

"How about Mariko. Mariko Yashida." Maybe she changed it to match her passport. That'd be smart thinking, and Beth's a smart girl.

Woman.

No guest by that name registered.

Shit: looks like he's going to have to take matters into his own hands. And who said his background with the Dragons never came in handy? He's got the lock picked to that room just moments after arriving. The weird thing about it is the room... which he knows pretty well... is completely... unused. There's no sign of her.

"Beth?"

There's nothing in the drawers, nothing in the bathroom -- and he has fond memories of that shower, dammit -- but there's no sign she was ever even here, which is really a little bit disconcerting. There's one more thing he can try; setting the room more or less back in order, he pulls the door shut behind him with a little sorry 'bout that over the lock maybe kinda sorta not working like it should right now. Then it's one more trip down to the lobby, out the door, and into that computer room she showed him. And what the fuck, right? Last time he talked to the computer, it answered. He puts his hand on the screen and the usual shit blares to life on it.

"I don't want to go anywhere," he tells it. "I want you to tell me where Beth is."

For a moment the screen goes blank.

"Come on, MPU. I just want to know where she is."

PLEASE WAIT WHILE WE GATHER YOUR DATA

Yeah, yeah: patience has never been his strong suit. But his jaw kind of drops when the screen flashes a second time.

EARTH COOKSFIELD CA 8.16.04

She went back: why? Without saying anything?

"When's she coming back? Come on. I'll... oil your ball bearings. Bring you fresh pizza. Just tell me." Hey, bribery's a good skill for a guy to have in his back pocket. It's come in handy before.

NO RETURN DATE

"Huh?" It takes a minute for it all to sink in. "No return date? Why?"

The screen darkens; there's no more flickering to life, no more messages. No jokes about how he owes it pizza and oil: nothing.

Shit. That sucks. Nothing he can do about it, although for a minute he has a fleeting thought of demanding that MPU send him there, just so he can see if she's okay but... but... but she's not his woman and never really was and he knows it. He only got to borrow her for a while, and things all worked out for the best, right? He's in love with Julia, always has been, knew he was when he was hanging out with Beth, knows it now. Still, that doesn't mean he never had -- has -- the feelings he has -- had -- for her.

And he can keep hoping that some day she'll just... show up again, make his life difficult all over again. Hell, more than anyone, he knows how to wait.

It still sucks, though. Oh well... He turns to go, but stops. This little room hums with electricity and he remembers how it felt the first time he walked in here. That was a different kind of electricity, but it's all good. It's all good. It's all...

Fuck. He sinks to the floor in the corner; his leg only protests that move a little bit these days. He fucking hates goodbyes, especially when they're so one-sided. At least he has the damn sense to give himself a minute or two or ten or twenty sitting right here, knowing that this is as close as he can possibly be to her this one last time.

Feels like hours have passed by the time he finally gets up, shakes himself off, stuffs his hands in his pockets, and whistles his way back to the lobby.

Apr. 19th, 2008

It's while she's in the shower that he does it: sneaks out of the bathroom early, towel wrapped around his waist, hair dripping: he figures he's got five minutes, maybe ten if he's lucky. With the water still running -- she's singing a little song in there and damn, he hated stepping out while she's still naked with the water running all down her body like little glowing crystals -- he closes the door most of the way: sometimes, a thing just fucking has to be done.

Especially something three years in the making. Picking up the phone he makes his call, only being a little demanding or... maybe a lot. He tells the robot or computer or whatever the hell it is exactly what he wants, to the letter. "And get it here in five minutes." That taken care of, there's only one thing to do: have himself a smoke and wait.



By the time Julia opens the bathroom door he's still smoking, still dressed in nothing but a towel, his hair still wet. For all the world, he might have been doing absolutely nothing while she was in there except for one thing: in his hand, he's got a bouquet of red roses wrapped in white tissue paper. All his plans for staying calm and collected go right up in smoke the minute she steps through that door -- she's so damn beautiful he can hardly believe he's lucky enough to be standing in the same room with her -- and any words he might have been planning stick in his throat. He's smiling, though, and he knows it when he finally takes that step forward and holds the flowers out to her.

Beyond that, he doesn't say a word.

He doesn't have to.

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Just a Humble Bounty Hunter, Ma'am

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