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TITLE: Empty Glass
AUTHOR: [livejournal.com profile] anzila
FANDOM(S): Cowboy Bebop, The Dresden Files
CHARACTER(S): Faye Valentine, Harry Dresden
PROMPT: Free
RECIPIENT: [livejournal.com profile] tigerzahn
RATING: PG-13 for some strong language and mild suggestive content
WARNINGS: A very angry Faye with a gun.
SPOILERS?: Some very major spoilers for Cowboy Bebop. No spoilers for the Dresden Files
PREVIEW/SUMMARY: For Faye Valentine, her latest bounty was supposed to be a nice simple lining of her pockets. The only problem was, this particular bounty has turned being frustrating into a fine art.
WORD COUNT: 3,046

The best part about waking up in the wrong century, Faye had always told herself, was that there wasn’t anyone who could pretend to understand you. After all, everyone who could possibly have pretended that they could relate to you before were long buried under the dirt, and even if they weren’t dead or a wrinkled old husk waiting for grandkids who wouldn’t call, they still couldn’t hope to play at knowing what it was like to wake up one day and realize that you’d lost fifty four years of living. While some simpering sentimentalist might have shed some tears about the crushing isolation of such an existence, Faye had no time for such whiny sentiments and the suckers who clung to them.

No, the isolation wasn’t crushing, it was freeing. When people couldn’t pretend to relate to you, they couldn’t wear you down day after day with fake sympathy and loyalty until you honestly believed they cared, just in time for them to stab you in the back and leave you with the hospital bill. She might have learned that lesson the hard way, but it had been a lesson worth learning. It had saved her all those times when that stupid little girl’s voice had started to tell her that maybe these people were different, maybe this time she had met someone who would come looking for her if she went missing. Someone who would cry if she died.

No, just about the only nice thing she could say about those two lunkheads she’d gotten in the habit of hanging around with purely because she couldn’t fit a hot shower on the Red Tail was that they weren’t the sort to shed fake tears. The only one of that lot who might miss her was Edward, and the little hacker prodigy existed so far off in space Faye wasn’t sure she even understood the concept of death.

No, alone was what she was, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides, who could she possibly meet as interesting and amazing as herself?

That was what she told herself on those rare nights when she just could not sleep, staring up at a roof that seemed to fade further and further into the dark distance. It made the ache a little better. In a way knowing she was alone was the only stable fact of her existence, and that was why she should have known it wouldn’t last.

Everything had started simple enough. Some big interstellar cooperation had put out a pretty hefty bounty on a small time wannabe detective under the claim he’d engaged in industrial espionage, though the truth was more likely he’d just stumbled onto just enough knowledge to be an annoyance to someone important. Not that Faye cared much for the truth, and since the part she did care about, namely the paycheck, had been good, she’d been more than happy to wrap up a nice easy bounty.

Finding the job, however, proved to be the only easy part. For some reason, despite the fact that the guy was apparently as subtle as the Bebop was graceful, the small time detective had managed to lead her on a merry little chase all across Io. No matter how solid her information, no matter how great her head start, no matter how many traffic laws she left laying broken and weeping in her wake, her bounty was always just a step ahead of her. After the fourth time she just missed him the chase had stopped even being about the bounty for Faye, and all about how much her target was pissing her off. Didn’t he know that she wasn’t ever supposed to chase men? They were supposed to be lining up to come to her dammit!

Finally, though, and about damn time too, she managed to corner the sneaky bastard in a little hole in the wall called McAnally’s. Making sure to park the Red Tail right in front of the guy’s ship, an ancient clunker that made Spike’s Swordfish look cutting edge, Faye blew a frazzled strand of hair from her eyes and bit down on the urge to turn her ride’s cannons on the bar and put it and its inhabitants out of her misery. That might show the smug bastard who he was dealing with, but it also would have lost her the bounty, and after today she had earned every cent.

Getting into her act was a little harder than usual, and maybe her usual saucy smile was a bit too tense to spark watching minds to ponder what else she could do with those soft lips of hers, but the strut and smile routine was second nature by now, and part of her burned to make this asshole see just what he’d been missing.

Halfway between a fantasy and a hurricane, she swept down the steps and through the front door to the little pub like she owned the place and everyone in it, and in a truly just world she would have. Plenty of eyes swept up to greet her as she strutted inside, and more than enough lingered after that first look to make her smug smile a little more genuine. Honestly, men were so easy.

The place itself wasn’t all that impressive, its low roof supported by thirteen columns with thirteen tables and ceiling fans interspersed between them. Even the scrawny man with thick black-rimmed glasses standing behind the bar looked exceptionally average and unremarkable. Just about the only notable thing about the whole place was the designs carved into the columns, a virtual tableau of scenes right out of some brat’s fairy tale. Now that she’d actually pinned her slippery bounty down, it only took a second for her to find him amidst all the rabble that had sought out solace from their sad lives in the bottom of the house brew.

The fact that he was a good head taller than everyone else in the place, herself included, helped.

Having already drawn considerable attention to herself with her little entrance, she figured there was no point being coy about things, but that didn’t mean she was going to be stupid about them either. One hand pointedly on her gun, she kept her mark in clear sight even as she weaved through the tables and columns. For his part, the focus of her attention just lifted an amused eyebrow as the armed and slightly put out bounty hunter came ever closer, his only other reaction a slight wave of his hand that a momentary glance told Faye was a signal to the bartender to return to what he was doing. Well, that, or to pretend to return to what he was doing so he could shoot her in the back. Either way, she would just have to make sure to keep some nice cover between herself and any would be saviors while she had a little chat with her new friend.

Finally getting her first good look at her bounty, Faye had to admit that he was not exactly what she had expected. While he had somehow managed to avoid being photographed, the sort of people who were after him made her think that he was some kid who had found his first anarchist video on the Net and decided to go on a crusade against injustice or some other idealistic idiocy. The man before her, however, was definitely not young, even if he had aged with the sort of grace that usually came from good genes or a lot of expensive surgery. Towering over everyone else in the room, his face was free of wrinkles save for deeply drawn lines around his eyes and mouth, and his hair had somehow managed to stay all there despite being completely gray. The very faint scars on his face suggested a life spent in the underbelly of the universe, but he was in far too good a condition to have been at it for very long.

His eyes, though, were what really caught her attention. They were exceptionally sharp for someone his age, and while they didn’t quite meet her eyes, that wasn’t because they were glued to her chest either. He looked, of course, she would have been insulted if he hadn’t, but it was part of one smooth assessment of her as a whole rather than open mouthed gawking or repeated peeks he thought she wouldn’t notice. Once his eyes returned to her, though, it was easy to see the intelligence and humor lurking there, as if he were privy to some private joke only he knew. They were exactly the sort of eyes that should have pissed her off just by seeing them, only…

Only under the humor and wit, there lurked a sorrow that was somehow painfully familiar.

“Well, I have to say I’ve never gotten a Valentine that was so insistent about being delivered.”

Okay, scratch that, she was pissed off. Now the only question was, did she shoot him for knowing too much, or shoot him for that unforgivably bad line.

Seemingly seeing the way her eyebrow and trigger finger were now twitching despite the increasingly strained smile that was plastered across her face, her mark’s grin only widened, and he raised up a hand to gesture apologetically. “Sorry, sorry, I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to make some kind of bad joke, and I figured it was best to get it out of the way. Please, have a seat.”

Trying not to grind her teeth, Faye pointedly did not take a seat, but instead fixed her bounty with a piercing stare. “You know, I’m really not used to men giving me the run around Mr. Dresden. I have to say, giving a girl a line like that after making her chase you around, it’s no wonder you’re single at your age.”

Something very faint flashed in the man’s eyes, a hint of sadness that said she’d hit on a very personal pain, but then it was gone, and he simply continued to smile that increasingly obnoxious smile. “Most people are at my age. Though if I thought you were here for a drink, and not to drag me in front of a board of directors for a private execution, I’d have avoided giving you the runaround.”

“Is that so,” Faye replied, her velvety voice becoming more frayed by the moment, “So why the change of heart?”

“I figured I’d take a chance and see if I could just convince you it wasn’t worth the chase.” He shrugged, one faintly scarred hand bearing a series of silver, gold, and copper banded rings tapping the well-worn table. “After the third trip through the fish market,” Faye nearly shot him right then and there, remembering how after three trips passed a mile of open air fish market had left her clothes so caked with the scent of rotting meat she’d had to throw her favorite outfit into the nearest incinerator just to get away from the stench, “I pretty much had to accept that you weren’t going to move on to greener pastures. So, the next best solution was to try and talk things out.”

One artfully plucked eyebrow lifted over an increasingly furrowed brow. “So you took a woman you know is being paid even if she kills you, sent her on a wild goose chase that you knew was going to piss her off, and then decided to meet her face to face when she still has a gun?” Exasperation finally broke Faye’s mask, and she openly gaped at the still smiling man. “You cannot be series. Who could possibly be that stupid and still survive past forty?”

“I dare to beat the odds,” he admitted with a relaxed shrug. “After all, intelligence has limits, but stupid? That has infinite growth potential. Now, I promise I’m not going anywhere, and given how good a shot you reportedly are, and how crowded this place is, I’m not going to make a run for it. I’d even offer you a drink if I though you’d accept. Besides,” he leaned forward now, and some of the humor slipped out as he did. “I happen to have another ulterior motive for wanting to meet you.”

Snorting, Faye’s gun was in her hand and leveled at his head before he’d even managed to finish leaning forward, and for a second she had the satisfaction of seeing surprise on the bastard’s smug face, before that grin that made him look twenty years younger was back. He didn’t look so much afraid, just impressed. Oh well, she could live with impressed. “Sorry,” she said, punctuating that with a gun click that made the crowd around them go silent, “I don’t date bounties.”

“Much as I’d like it to be otherwise, that’s not what I was talking about.” His own voice was dry and amused, and once more Faye felt herself getting pissed off. He then made a little face, adding, “Besides, I’m old enough to be your father.”

’That’s unlikely.’ The thought drifted through her head and almost escaped her lips before she could bite down on it. No one in the bar needed to know that her father, whoever he was, was probably long since dust, that the only people who might have even been her age had all gone senile. That her life had been over before he’d even been out of diapers.

Yet, despite that she knew she hadn’t said anything, wouldn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything, for a moment when Faye’s eyes met his, she had the most insane fear that he could somehow peel back all the walls and protections she had thrown up around herself, and peer into her most hidden thoughts.

“More likely than you would think, Ms. Yong.”

Faye almost shot him right then and there, but something in his voice, in the way his eyes became so much older and sharper and deeper as he stared at her, that even his using a name she had never even heard off was not enough to offset the shiver of fear that ran up her spine in that moment as his eyes seemed to convey the kind of power no human could possibly posses.

Just what was this Harry Dresden?

“You know, calling out another woman’s name on the first date is about as bad an impression as you can make.” Her voice sounded shaky, even to herself.

“True, but then again, only if she knows her own name.” Then, very slowly and deliberately he lifted his hand and moved it towards his coat. Terror, real honest terror of the sort she had only ever felt in the presence of monsters like Vicious, made her pupils dilate and her heart explode into a frantic pounding beat, and just like that she knew that whatever was in his coat, she did not want to see it. “Hey!” she snapped, sweaty palms wrapped tightly around the familiar ridges of her Glock’s handle, “Hands flat!”

Why did she sound so terrified?

When Dresden looked back at her this time, the sadness and guilt on his face was not hidden, nor did it vanish as his sight lingered on a spot between her eyes. Suddenly he looked very, very old, even as he ignored the gun leveled square at his forehead. Faye was amazed the Glock wasn’t trembling, the rest of her certainly was.

“Sorry, but I’ve never been good at taking orders,” he admitted with more than a hint of genuine sorrow. “And this is something you need to see. That especially you need to see. Especially after what we did to you.”

“I said hands on the table you bastard! Either you put them there now and start making sense, or I’m going to take the cut to my pay from having to lug your oversized corpse in myself!”

There was genuine fury in her voice now, the sort earned through a life were crying was a luxury you couldn’t afford. Chairs scrapped as practically everyone in the bar either made for the door or darted for what cover they could find, Faye’s rage, and her gun, driving them from their frozen shock. Everyone, save the man the gun was pointed at. He just looked at her like somehow just doing it broke his heart, and then the fingers of his free hand gave a little wiggle, and her gun was flying across the room to smack up against the wooded wall with a dull thud.

Shock at the impossibility of what he’d done froze Faye for just a second, and then her hand was around Dresden’s beer bottle, warm liquid pouring over her hand as she raised it to bring it down on his head.

Instead of trying to block her attack, though, he simply finished pulling out whatever it was in his jacket, and dropped it on the table. Just the sight of it was enough to freeze her in place as if he’d grabbed her. Probably better than if he’d grabbed her, she was a lot stronger than she looked.

She wasn’t thinking about that now, however, nor about anything else other than the ragged and crumbling envelope her bounty had just placed before her, or rather, to the name written across its wrinkled surface in a neat, flowing handwriting. A name she could never remember having heard even once, and yet that she somehow knew as instinctively as she knew her own.

Written on the worn yellow paper, were the words, ’To: Faye Yong. From: Mother and Papa’.

“Faye, please,” She could barely hear the voice talking to her, hardly notice the actual honestly pleading in its tone, and yet even as it spoke she found herself doing what it asked. “Just read the letter. Then you can ask whatever you want, go get your gun and shoot me, or take me to the highest bidder. But first, read the letter.”

The best part about waking up in the wrong century, was that there wasn’t anyone who could pretend to understand you. Right up until you found someone who didn’t have to pretend.

Because once you did, you couldn’t pretend not to care.
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