Partners in Crime
"Da-ah!" Roxanne tried hard not to scream too loud. After almost two weeks of hiding, she wanted more and more every passing day to go to the rooftops and sing her heart out, loud enough for the whole galaxy to hear. But, of course, she was always brought back to what was happening in reality before she could let herself actually do that. Right now, Spike was trying to take the stitches out while Roxanne was, in turn, trying to stay as still as possible without letting the shots of pain get to her. And, judging by the frown Spike then gave her, she was only barely succeeding. She smiled awkwardly, showing him her gritted teeth.
"Sorry," she spoke through them. "But can you watch where you put those things?"
She pointed at the small scissors in Spike's hand, but he continued to frown at her. "Can you quit being so frustrating and let me concentrate?"
Now she wanted to kick him in the face with her good leg. But Roxanne only closed her eyes and sighed, silently allowing Spike to continue. She gripped the edge of the mattress that had become her bed and clenched her teeth behind closed lips while he delivered pinch after pinch when cutting the stitches. Fortunately, he was kind enough – mostly – to distract her by talking to her.
"Believe it or not," he said, "pain is your friend. It lets you know something is wrong."
Roxanne raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Well, it's certainly doing it's job...!" she again spoke through her closed teeth. In an effort to further distract herself, she rolled her eyes, hoping Spike wouldn't notice and think she was doing it at him. But she kept enduring the little sparks of pain, until Spike's hands left her leg.
"All done," he said as he put the scissors down. "Now, tell me, was that so bad?"
She was annoyed at him for speaking to her like she was a little kid getting her first shot, and proudly showed it by replying, "Yes. Yes it was."
Spike only raised a skeptical eyebrow, and smiled in a way to match. For some reason, every day Roxanne found that look of his growing more and more on her, perhaps against her better judgment. She often tried to resist its affect on her. But it had been so long since she last laughed, even slightly, that she gave into it. She turned her head away from Spike while she let out a chuckle, but apparently he noticed.
"Ha, finally got a laugh outta you!" he said. "Maybe I should consider doing stand-up."
Roxanne would've kept her smile, if her eyes hadn't settled on the uncomfortable looking mark her injury had left on her leg. She'd known and expected something like this would happen, but it didn't make it any easier to behold. A disgusted sound unintentionally escaped her lips. Once again, Spike took notice.
"Hey, scars aren't all bad," he said. Was he trying to make her feel better? "I don't know if you want to hear me say this but, they're usually attractive to the opposite sex."
Roxanne's eyes widened slightly at those words. "Are you saying you find them attractive?"
Spike turned around to face her after washing and drying his hands, his smile having left, replaced with...what? Concern? But before Roxanne could decipher it and know for sure, he shrugged his shoulders in his casual way. "Depends on the lady herself, I guess."
Darn his cryptic words and manners. Was she the lady he was talking about, or someone else? In the two weeks she'd been hiding with him, Roxanne still hadn't been able to figure Spike out by much. Was he deliberately trying to throw her off so she wouldn't get too attached to him? Or was this just the way he naturally was so she would be attached enough to want to remain with him for the time being? Roxanne pressed her lips together and her head ached slightly. Maybe she was making this more complicated than it was. He was just one guy. But thinking that suddenly reminded her of the other guy that'd been forced into her life.
"If that's the case," she then said softly, "then I wish I had this scar when I met him. Maybe I would've been less perfect in his eyes."
Spike raised his eyebrows at her as though curious. "Oh yeah. What'd you say his name was?"
"Viper," Roxanne replied with some effort. Sometimes the mere thinking of his name sent chills down her spine.
"That's it," Spike nodded in satisfaction. "I've heard of him, actually. Not the nicest guy. Though, that's probably an understatement where you're concerned."
Roxanne returned the nod. "You guessed right. Sadist is actually the better term." She then let out a heavy sigh as she further explained what she reluctantly recalled. "He always found an excuse to 'punish' his cohorts for any wrong done to him. Big or small. Real or imagined, even. I didn't really like his men but... Man, the things he did to them. They were practically torture. Sometimes he even made me watch."
Spike widened his eyes, as if to silently ask, "Why?" Roxanne gave a ghost of a smile at his interest. "I was his just as much as his guys were. He never specifically told me why, and I never asked. I assume it was his way to tell me something like that could happen to me if I ever crossed him."
Spike then looked away, almost as if he were ashamed of what he then asked her. "Did he ever abuse you, other than...that time you mentioned?"
Strangely enough, Roxanne wasn't offended by the question. "Actually, he didn't. I was his pretty little pony, and my only job was to prance around and look good, making him look good too. I don't know if it was because I was a woman or because he thought it would reflect badly on him. But, I guess it doesn't matter now."
A short moment of silence that nonetheless felt long passed between them, until Spike spoke up again. "What do you think his men's plan of action for us is?"
Roxanne immediately turned back to him and gave him a look of surprise. "You mean you don't at least have an idea?"
"Well, considering how relatively easy things have been for us, I'm honestly not sure," he admitted. "Besides, you know him better than I do."
For another silent moment, Roxanne pondered what Spike had said. Although he was still going to the docks to do his job and get the pay they both needed – and had wrapped a scarf around his face under the pretense that he had a cold – no one had discovered their hiding place, nor had they been attacked when it was necessary to go out. It was all pretty suspicious, until Roxanne remembered a critical piece of information, which she quickly shared.
"Actually, there is a common strategy his men use," she said. "They call it the 'fishing' method. They don't know your name or have a picture of you. And if they've gone to the police, they must know by now that you haven't turned me in. With that information, the next logical step would be to have individual crafts searched before they leave the town or even the planet. And we haven't taken that route either. So, with all other bets off, they know we must be hiding somewhere in the city. But rather than search for us, they'll give us the illusion of safety, wait for us to walk into their trap."
"And you think they've been waiting this long for us to do that?" Spike asked, obviously skeptical.
"It's possible, is all I'm saying," Roxanne replied. "They'll wait much longer than this if it's part of their plan."
"But that means they could be anywhere. For all we know they could be out there right now waiting to get the jump on us."
"That's the point. They don't want it to look obvious they're watching us. Besides, they're likely still scouting the exits for the crafts in case we decide to go there after all."
"Oh, speaking of which," Spike said as he then reached for his suit coat and pulled it on, "I think I'm gonna go get some new parts for mine. If those guys are doing what you think they are, then we're gonna have to high-tail it outta here pretty quick. I want it to be in the best shape."
Roxanne, suddenly interested in the new topic of conversation, leaned back on her arms supporting her against the mattress. "I've never seen it, you know."
When Spike looked at her with questioning eyes, she decided to humor him by elaborating. "Your craft. You've told me about it. But you've never actually shown it to me."
"With good reason," Spike added for her. "I couldn't let you run away and steal it right out from under me, now could I?"
Roxanne gave him a look that said she felt insulted, but not in an offended way. "I thought we had a deal. I'd never just leave you like that."
Catching her humor tossed his way, Spike smirked. "Yeah, well, I'm gonna have to leave you, for now anyway." He then grabbed the scarf he'd been wearing at the docks and wrapped it around his face. And with a focused eye, he asked her, "You know the rules I set up for you, right?"
Roxanne smiled, as she'd long since memorized them for whenever she'd been left alone. "Don't unlock the door, not even for old ladies selling fruit. If it gets broken down, grab the gun, and run out of there. We'll meet up near the place you're going and leave together."
Spike returned her smile. "You passed the test, Miss Sadler. Alright, I'll be back quick as I can. You be good now, you hear?"
"Yes Sir." Once he closed the door, Roxanne got up and locked it behind him. She then listened as his footsteps crossed the hallway and then traveled up the short flight of stairs, until the sound vanished from her ears and she sank down to the floor. Just as she'd done so many times back at Heaven's Gate...
Roxanne immediately felt a wave of guilt hit her as she remembered her not exactly pleasant parting from Georgia and everyone at the club. More than once, or even a few times, over the past fourteen days, she wished she could go back and explain herself. Thank Georgia for all that she'd done for her. Roxanne wondered if Georgia would've treated her as she did had she known who Roxanne was. Who knew? Maybe she secretly did. But Roxanne had the feeling she'd never know now. Or at the very least, not any time soon. In either case, she'd never forget the beyond shocked expression Georgia wore on her face when Spike held Roxanne at gunpoint. For so long she believed Georgia would look at her like that if Roxanne revealed who she was. Now, it seemed only hell awaited her if she ever came across her former matron again.
Well, at least Roxanne found someone who was willing to help her, even if he was weird. And mysterious. And enigmatic. She knew there was a lot she didn't know about him, despite all she'd learned. So far, Spike had kept his word, never letting her far from his sight, even when he left her alone. Viper had done the same thing with her, and Roxanne hadn't wanted anyone treating her like that again. Yet, oddly enough, though Spike was doing so in a very similar way, it didn't feel threatening to Roxanne. Maybe it was because she knew immediately that he wasn't like Viper. After all, he'd kept her hidden at his own risk and even treated her leg. And...even now, he always called her Miss Sadler. Roxanne soon found herself wondering what it would sound like if he called her by name, her real name...
And she quickly shook her head to rid herself of the notion. Was she already getting this attached to him? Scandalous, if she were. She needed to do something to clear her head, and it soon became clear to her she wasn't gonna find it in this shabby room of a basement. But, could she? And should she? Roxanne had never gone out by herself before. And, like Spike said, danger could be waiting for her the moment she walked out the door.
Oh...! Throwing away all care, yet still taking precautions, Roxanne changed her clothes, grabbed a weapon and hid it, and left a note for Spike, knowing very well he might be angry when he came back and found her gone. She then stood before the door like she was facing a black hole. Taking a deep breath, and shoving down all potential fears, she made her way toward the door, and opened it.
About half an hour after he'd left, Spike whistled as he made his way down the short flight of stairs. He was glad he'd managed to haggle the clerk down to more reasonable prices for the parts he'd purchased. Some craft-parts store owners were getting a bit too greedy nowadays. Luckily he'd also inspected the parts before buying them, like a smart person would. He also had plans to finally show his baby to Miss Sadler once he got her, his Swordfish, suited up. Miss Sadler's eyes always seemed to light up in that rare way of hers whenever he talked about it. Spike liked that about her. What he didn't like was having to tell her what he'd seen on his way there, near Heaven's Gate. It wasn't a pretty sight, and it had caused him to take a different route on the way back. But it was now clear to him that they had to escape in the next two days.
He stopped in front of the door to pull out the spare key, and happily announced his entrance. "Hey! Daddy's ho–" Spike froze. She wasn't in here. At least, not in any part of it he could see. He hastily put down the parts before taking out his gun, ready to fire should he need to.
"Miss Sadler?" he called out. When he got no answer, Spike instantly feared the worst had finally happened. And it seemed all the more justified when he noticed a solitary piece of paper on her mattress. Without dropping his weapon, he rushed over and snatched it up.
Went to the warehouse.
Don't worry. Not a trap.
Spike's panic was quickly traded for confusion, then anger. The stupid girl! Why would she go out on her own when she knew her safety was at stake? That question was soon answered. It wouldn't be easy for anyone to basically be locked away for two weeks. But then, another alarming thought entered Spike's mind. Had she decided to steal his Swordfish after all?! It was in this same warehouse, the only one for miles. And he'd proudly described it to her. The sheer audacity of the girl. And the sheer stupidity of him! He should've known she'd try and pull a stunt like this. The only thing he could do now was to stop her. He wouldn't try. He would stop her.
His weapon still in hand, and his scarf still around his head, Spike hurried out into the hallway and then outside. He didn't stop as he followed the familiar path. One he and Miss Sadler had walked together only a few days ago. It led to the warehouse, and it was only a fifteen minute walk away. But since he was running, he expected to get there in half the time or less. As he did so, he began to wonder if, despite what the note said, it was a trap. Perhaps what he'd seen while he was out was a sign. One that should've caused him to race as fast as he could back to the apartment building. Miss Sadler was skilled, but she wouldn't really stand much of a chance against members of a notorious crime syndicate. The injury to her leg had already proven that.
Finally, the building came into view, and Spike skidded to a stop. He quickly looked around to make sure there was no one to oppose him outside. When he was certain there wasn't, he rushed toward the closest door, which was, thankfully, unlocked. Still, he was slow as he made his way inside, his back against the wall when the door closed. Moving along the wall like a snake, he pointed his gun out the moment he reached the corridor. No one fired at him. But he did hear grunts and footsteps from the main storage area nearby. His gun still in his hand, Spike held it close to him as he went a little faster than before down the hall.
And stopped when he actually looked at what was going on in the room. Miss Sadler was in there, but she appeared to be far from danger. Nor had she stolen his Swordfish. She was fighting, all by herself. And Spike immediately frowned as understanding dawned on him. Had she really come out here, risking her hide, just to practice? It seemed foolish at first to him. But despite his initial anger at her, he found himself intrigued as he watched Miss Sadler battle an imaginary foe. He had seen her fight the night he attempted to bring her in. But now he could watch without any distractions.
He wouldn't exactly call the way she moved graceful, but the energy she put into her punches and kicks almost made it look like a dance. Even with her scarred leg, Spike couldn't help but admire her passion. Clearly she wasn't about to let something as insignificant as a stab wound slow her down, even if there were instances of pained expression on her face. Whatever her guardian had drilled into her, it stayed strong with every move she made, until she finally stopped. He could now see the sweat that had broken out on her forehead, and she panted heavily as she regained her breath. When she pulled out her ponytail and shook her hair loose, Spike finally made his move and started to slowly clap as he walked in to greet her.
Her heart racing, and her face drenched in sweat, Roxanne took time to catch her breath before she loosed her hair from her ponytail. As good as practice felt, it was just as good to let the effort evaporate as she shook her hair. She'd been waiting to practice, really practice, for what felt like forever. But as the sun shown down on her through the wide windows, she knew the wait was worth it. Until she heard someone clap behind her.
"Not bad," said a voice she instantly recognized, and made her freeze. "Not bad at all. Guess you're not the slouch I thought you were."
Biting her lip like a child who'd been caught doing something naughty, Roxanne turned and saw Spike coming toward her. Despite what she knew he must be feeling toward her, his face showed interest. Had he been watching her? And if so, how long? Before she could look at him for much longer, Roxanne turned her own face away from him again, and could feel, to her great dismay, her cheeks redden more than they had before.
"Geez!" she said, when she was sure she could speak without panting, "Don't scare me like that."
"Like how you scared me?" When Roxanne reluctantly turned to face Spike again, he was frowning. She knew what he meant.
"I'm sorry," she sighed, though she knew it wouldn't be enough. "I just, got tired of being locked up, okay? Besides, if we're gonna leave this town or planet in one piece, I need to be in good shape." She'd hoped, somewhat, that Spike would smile even a little bit. But his face remained locked in his stern disappointment at her. She held up her hand at him. "But I know that's not an excuse. I should've waited until you got back."
"Yeah, you should have," Spike affirmed. Then, just as she wished, he let himself smile a bit. "But you looked great."
Hearing that bit of praise from someone like him made Roxanne smile back at him, a little more than she intended. "Thanks. When did you get here, by the way?"
"Just now," Spike replied with a nod of his head toward the entrance. "I was ready to fight tooth and nail but, it looks like you beat me to it."
Despite what happened before, Roxanne let her frown return. "I said I was sorry."
"Later," Spike held his hand up at her to stop. Roxanne raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Who did you say took you in and taught you?"
"Red Xylander." Feeling once again red in the face now that she knew he watched her, she looked slightly away.
"Ah, he taught you well. Do you know what he did before he became a bounty hunter, or do you know?"
Roxanne, feeling even more uncomfortable, nonetheless replied, "He was part of the ISSP. But, he never talked about it."
Now, Spike looked uncomfortable, maybe even more than she did. Had she now touched a nerve in him as he had done with her? Before Roxanne could figure out whether or not that was the case, Spike went on questioning her. "What did he teach you? Some of it looks familiar, actually."
This she could answer easily. "Mostly Tae Kwon Do, some boxing here and there, and even a little bit of Jeet Kune Do."
"Really?" Spike asked, his eyes suddenly as light as they had just now been dark. But just then, as if he knew he was treading on thin ice with what he intended to ask, he paused before he did so. "Exactly, how long have you been separated from him?"
Roxanne wanted to remind him that he was indeed on the verge of opening old wounds, until – seemingly out of nowhere – she heard a familiar voice in her mind tell her that sometimes wounds had to be reopened in order to heal. She knew the name that belonged to that voice, but she didn't want to remember it. She was reminded of too much already. Instead, she simply replied to Spike, "About two years. I've since then had to practice on my own, though you probably already figured that out."
Spike nodded. "Well, if that's the case, as enthusiastic as you are, your form is a little off." Then, before she knew it, Spike took both her wrists and raised her fisted hands up. And he didn't stop there. Before Roxanne could react, he placed his hand on the middle of her back and pushed forward a little bit, adjusting her posture. She opened her mouth to speak, but Spike stepped back and let her go, leaving her the way he'd placed her.
"Just like that," he nodded in satisfaction, "Perfectly straight. Could later mean the difference between staying on your feet and being tripped."
Her intended words suddenly lost to her, Roxanne focused her mind instead on absorbing the information Spike had just imparted to her as a teacher would to a student, and nodded as she broke her stance. "I'll keep that in mind. Thanks."
"And, did you say Xylander taught you a little bit of Jeet Kune Do?" Spike asked without missing a beat.
His eyes now light again like earlier, Roxanne found she could no longer ignore it. "Yeah, why?"
"Well, you happen to be looking at an aficionado of the martial-art," Spike smiled. "Been doing it for longer than you've been alive."
Suddenly curious, and once again being infected by his smile, Roxanne couldn't help but ask, "Are you saying you'd be willing to teach me?"
"If you're willing to learn," Spike shrugged his shoulders. "In fact, considering who we're going against, this might be our best offense and defense."
"What do you mean offense?" Roxanne asked, suddenly confused. "Correct me if I'm wrong but, I thought Jeet Kune Do was all about defense."
"Sometimes the best defense becomes an offense. And we could use some surprise on our side. I don't know what you've been taught, but the martial-art is all about turning your opponent's own tension against them. About letting yourself be calm and relaxed and use it to your advantage."
"I could use a technique like that," Roxanne returned his smile. "So, when do we start?"
Her smile fled even faster as Spike's then did. And she knew instantly he had something heavy he wanted to say to her. Something she wouldn't like. Still, she silently encouraged him with a raised brow and made herself listen with intent.
"That's the thing," he said with a calm but dark voice, "We might have to start now, because I actually saw a few of our old buddies hanging out near Heaven's Gate."
Roxanne's eyes widened like saucers, and her heart felt as though it were beating adrenaline rather than blood. She was about to demand they immediately start making a plan not just to escape them, but to help those who had helped her for so long. She couldn't let them be hurt because of her. She was about to blurt all that out, until an idea flashed into her mind. Was this actually her first lesson? To use this as something to remain calm against? Spike had to know how much she cared about Georgia and everyone else there. If this was a test, then she was going to pass it.
"I see. If that's the case, then while we're training we should also formulate a plan. Not just for our safety but the safety of the people there. It's the least I can do for them."
Spike nodded silently. And as Roxanne caught the slightest of smiles that could've been easily missed, she knew she'd done as he wished her to. He was now her teacher, she was now his student. And with that realization, a feeling of familiarity settled on her. But instead of bringing pain, it brought comfort. Brought her the assurance that she wasn't going to face the tricks these goons would use without having some of her own up her sleeve, and, more importantly, that she wouldn't have to do it alone.
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