Title: Through the Glass, Darkly
Rating: R for language, violence and adult situations
Timeline: Directly following Session 26
Spoilers: The entire series (including the movie) and general Matrix info
Summary: Matrix x-over. Spike didn’t die; he was just unplugged. How will everyone’s favorite Bruce Lee-loving Space Cowboy deal when he is thrown into the "real world" without a net?
Disclaimer: There was once a girl who wrote a story about some characters and places that weren't hers. But she added this little disclaimer to make it a tad less illegal. (i.e. Cowboy Bebop isn't mine and never will be. Neither is The Matrix. As if you hadn't already figured that out.)
Feedback: Look! It's secret mail-mail from Mars-Mars! (i.e. I want any and all feedback. Good, bad, indifferent? Doesn't matter. Still want it. *g*)
Author's Note: This one's a bit depressing and I'm afraid that my Spike's a little OOC. What do you think? Terrible? So-so? Actually decent? Please tell me. I can only get better if I get input from all of you, my faithful readers! (Of which there seems to be 4! *g* And my thanks for your reviews!)
They painted up your secrets
With the lies they told to you
And the least they ever gave you
Was the most you ever knew
And I wonder where these dreams go
When the world gets in your way
What's the point in all this screaming
No one's listening anyway
("Acoustic #3" -- Goo Goo Dolls)
Chapter 3: Where These Dreams Go
Spike looked down at the bowl of slop masquerading as food that sat in front of him on the table and sighed. "Three months."
The petite blonde who sat across from him raised one eyebrow questioningly. "Three months since what?"
Spike made a face. "Three months since I've had anything decent to eat." Spike found himself actually missing Jet's bell peppers and beef without the beef, even if they'd only been in his mind.
Lifting a spoonful of his "dinner" up, he turned it over and watched as it plopped off the spoon and back into the bowl with a wet splat. He dropped his spoon down with a clatter and stood up, pushing his chair back. "Well, I'm full," he remarked, one hand absently picking at the row of circular scars that marred the pale skin on his arm. He shrugged and headed for the door. "I'll see you later, Mac."
Mackenzie frowned. "You don't eat enough, Spike. I know it's not fillet minion-"
Spike snorted. "Not even close."
His dinner companion continued speaking, undaunted by his interruption. "-but it's the best you're gonna get out here. Better that than dying of starvation, right?"
Spike smirked. "I don't know, compared to this shit, starvation's starting to look pretty good."
"Spike..." she started, exasperation written all over her face.
"Sorry, gotta go," he replied with a grin, slipping out the door before she could protest.
As he made his way down the depressingly dull hallway, Spike thought about the wreck that was his life. It hadn't just been three months since he'd eaten decent food, it had been three months since he'd done a lot of things. Flown his ship, chased a bounty, smoked a cigarette (they pretty much didn't exist out here, so Spike had been forced to go cold turkey)... hell, he hadn't even been able to work out and practice his Jeet Kune Do. He was still recovering from the injuries he'd gotten during Vicious's coup attempt on the Red Dragon Syndicate.
The fact that it hadn't been real and yet he still had all the wounds was one of the more frustrating aspects of this whole reality/Matrix issue, in Spike's opinion. After all, if none of it was real, then why was he being forced to suffer through all the pain? Annie had explained to him that, while everything that happened to him in the Matrix was all in his head, his mind somehow "made" the wounds real and they would manifest on his physical body. So if he died while "plugged in" then his body would die back here on the ship. Spike had simply smirked and told her that it figured. That was his life, after all, one long run of fantastically bad luck.
Spike turned a corner and headed for the cockpit. He had a case of itchy feet, or so he called it, and there was only one cure. Find Ginny and ask her to run him through some training simulations. His body might not be ready for the strain of combat, but his mind was more than up to the task.
Actually, in a way, that was one of the things that bothered him most about this whole deal. When he'd asked Annie why they'd chosen him to rescue, she'd told him that they hadn't. She'd said that Ed had taken it upon herself to locate his neuro-signal and then had hacked into the machines' mainframe and forced them to eject his body from the "fields" so the Absalom could come pick him up, something that Ed herself had confirmed. Apparently she'd been keeping an eye on all of the Bebop's crew ever since her own release from the Matrix. And that, Annie claimed, was why he hadn't actually been given a choice about coming to the "real world" like the others had. Ed had made his choice for him.
Now, while that was aggravating, having Ed impose her will upon aspects of his life without bothering to ask was almost expected at this point. Just like she'd commandeered the Bebop so she could come onboard, she'd commandeered his life in order to save it. Add to that the fact that she was the only familiar face onboard this entire ship and Spike had gotten over his initial anger at her actions rather quickly. Besides, it wasn't as if he couldn't cope. Spike had always been good at picking up the pieces and starting over. He'd already done it twice before.
However, the strange part was that, once he'd begun the training simulations under Ginny's supervision, they'd discovered that his brain functioned on a higher level than most people's. This didn't make him smarter or anything, but it did allow him to move faster inside the construct (and also, presumably, the Matrix). According to Ginny's best guesses, Spike had been somehow subtly manipulating the Matrix for years without even being aware of it. That was how he was able to pull off some of the crazy stunts he had and how he was close to unbeatable when it came to hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship and piloting the Swordfish II. He could do things while plugged into those computers that it took most people on the outside years to learn, if they even managed to learn it at all. And he was doing it all out of some natural instinct on his part, without any training whatsoever. Ginny was convinced that, with a proper training regiment, he would become a nearly unstoppable force inside the Matrix.
Now, the fact that Spike seemed to be more suited for these people's quest than almost anyone else alive was a mighty big coincidence, especially when they'd basically kidnapped him into their cause without bothering to ask him if he was even interested. And Spike was never one to believe in luck and coincidence. He had his suspicions about this whole operation, but he hadn't voiced them yet. After all, it wasn't like he could really do much about it. He was stranded on this ship until their next trip back to Zion for supplies, not to mention the fact that he was still recovering from his injuries. So he would bide his time and wait for the right moment. And when that moment came, he and Annie were going to have a little chat.
Until then, he would play their little games like a good boy, make friends where he could, and try to figure out who he could trust. He already knew that, no matter what had happened, Ed was just a pawn in it all. The girl couldn't keep a secret to save her life and she was a damn terrible liar. Yes, she'd been the one to bring him out of the Matrix, but Spike suspected that had been all part of Annie's little plan. This was, of course, assuming that there was a hidden agenda, which Spike was sure that there was.
He reached the door to the cockpit and knocked lightly. A female voice called out, "Spike? That you?"
Spike slipped inside and made his way over to where the young brunette sat behind a large console. "Yo," he said, crossing over to sit in front of her, his arms draped lightly over the back of his seat.
Ginny grinned at him. "Spike, sometimes I think you've perfected lounging around into a bona fide art form."
His only reply was an answering smirk, which denied nothing.
"So, what's up?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Thought I'd take a spin through the construct, try out that new training exercise Mac cooked up."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Why am I not surprised?" she replied, reaching down into a box of data cartridges and pulling out one in particular. "Here it is. Mac promised that it was modified to your precise specifications."
Spike grinned wolfishly. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's fire that baby up."
Ginny grinned back and gestured for him to take a seat in one of the six chairs that sat in a semi-circle on the far side of the room. She got up and followed him over, carefully inserting the jack into the plug on the back of his neck and flipping the metal restraints over his hands and feet after he was seated. "If you spend much more time jacked in, we'll have to start feeding you your meals through an IV," she remarked while she worked.
Spike chuckled. "Ever think maybe that was the whole point?" he shot back, one eyebrow arching in wry amusement. "Or have you forgotten what that shit they try and pass off as food around here tastes like?"
Ginny shook her head at him fondly. "Sounds like somebody just finished up in the mess hall."
Spike grimaced. "Called it in one."
Ginny sighed. "Spike, you really need to just learn to deal with the food around here. You're not going to get anything else this far out from Zion."
Spike couldn't help it. He sulked. "A man can't live on that stuff. He needs protein, damn it."
Ginny smiled. "It has protein in it, silly. All the essential vitamins and minerals are in there."
Spike scowled. "Not the same. In my book, if it didn't have to be killed at some point, then it's not protein. Beef, chicken, fish... Now *that's* protein."
Ginny rolled her eyes at him as she took a seat behind her console and began pressing different buttons. "All right, beginning download."
Spike closed his eyes and braced himself for the jolt as the training simulation began. The feeling of his body in the chair was overlaid on the feeling of his feet touching the ground in the construct. It took a couple of seconds for his brain to adjust and center itself in this new reality. Once it had, he opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by a sea of white as far as the eye could see in any direction. He heard Ginny's voice in his head. "Starting simulation... now."
He was suddenly surrounded by a rush of images that slowly coalesced into a familiar room. Dirty brown walls made of metal hull plating, cigarette butts crushed out amidst the oil stains on the floor, and a row of ships that Spike would recognize anywhere.
The Hammerhead, the Redtail and the Swordfish.
Spike closed his eyes and took a deep breath before opening them again and looking around him more closely. Walking forward, he found himself standing beside Faye's little zip craft and he reached out and placed one hand on its light gray hull. The metal was cool beneath his fingertips and he could feel each dent and slight imperfection on the surface.
God, it was all so real.
If only he didn't know better, he'd swear that he could hear Jet puttering around with his tools and Faye playing some annoying pop song on her ship's radio. He could almost picture their faces. And if he waited for very long, he could almost imagine that Ed would come running inside, Tomato perched on top of her head and Ein barking at her heels, screeching something about a new bounty for them to find and then demanding "something good" when they returned.
Spike sighed and walked over to his old MONO racer, running his hand along the faded red hull. It was just as he remembered it. It's sleek lines and deadly grace calling to him, as it always did, despite the numerous dents and scratches it had acquired over the years. He'd spent ten years of his life in this ship, counting on it to get him out of one scrape or another. There were a lot of memories invested in it, just like there were a lot of memories everywhere he turned in here. Three years spent wandering around in this hangar. Three years of Jet's quiet strength providing him with the closest thing he'd ever had to a home. All gone in an instant. All never really his to begin with. All just a figment of his imagination, part of his endless waking dream. All just a bunch of numbers and codes in the monstrosity known simply as the Matrix.
It was ironic, really. He'd spent so much time trying to escape from his life. And now, when he'd finally done it, all he wanted was to go back.
It really was true what they said. You can never go home again.
Spike really fucking hated irony.
He swiped at his eyes with the back of one hand and whirled around, putting his back to the Swordfish and what it represented: everything he'd lost.
"Operator," he ground out from between clenched teeth.
"What's up, Spike? Something wrong?" Ginny sounded worried.
"Get me the hell out of here," he demanded, fighting to keep his supposedly unflappable calm. Ha, that was a laugh. He was anything but calm.
"Spike, why? What happened?"
"Nothing happened, god damn it, just get me the fuck out of this thing now!"
There was a dizzying rush of air across his face and he experienced that sense of being in two places at once: standing on the deck of the Bebop and sitting in a chair in the cockpit of the Absalom. Then it passed and he was back in the real world once again, all ready tugging at the restraints and clawing at the plug in the back of his neck to get free.
"Spike, wait!" Ginny jumped up and ran over to his side, trying to still his frantic movements. "Let me do it."
He subsided uneasily, letting her remove the plug and cuffs, remaining still throughout the process through sheer force of will. Once she'd finished, he practically leapt from the chair and headed for the door.
"Spike, please, will you tell me what's wrong? Was it the program? Did Mac not get it right?"
Spike shook his head as he ducked out the door. Looking back at Ginny for a brief moment over his shoulder, he replied, "No, that's just it, she got it exactly right."
Ginny frowned, worry and confusion written all over her features. "Spike, I don't understand."
Spike gave her a grim smile. "Neither do I, Ginny. Neither do I."
All he knew was that, after a life spent thinking he was trapped in a dream, he now found himself in the real world. And it was like being trapped in a nightmare.
"You can never go home again, Ginny," he said softly, so softly that he wasn't even sure if she could hear him. "Never."
Coming Soon: Chapter 4. Spike learns a few home truths about life in the "real world" when he wants to pay a visit to his past. And speaking of the past, what's going on back inside the Matrix? How are Jet, Faye and Ein getting along without Spike and Ed? And what will they do when they get a mysterious message from a ghost? A message containing only one sentence: "Death is not the end."