The first time Julia saw Vicious he had been waltzing, katana singing and eyes blazing, through a cloud of gun smoke and steam. He had slipped into the syndicate owned car Julia had been instructed to drive, and the smell of blood had crept from him, overcome only by the scent of exhaust as she jammed on the gas and flew from the carnage. Death was in the air, but that night had tasted alive to Julia, and Vicious had felt wildly, undeniably real beneath her arms.

As Julia saw Vicious waiting for her at the kitchen desk, fingering a discarded rose, she barely recognized the man she had met that long ago night. Recognized him even less when he spoke, growling out her name in what could have been a greeting had it not contained the ferocity on the corners. Only began to see the traces of who she knew in the confident, professional, steps he took, as he stalked across the room to her.

His fingers wrapped around her wrist, exerting just enough just enough pressure to leave butterfly shaped imprints along the pale skin. Julia almost pulled away from his touch, which felt like acidic betrayal along her skin, but the glint his eyes was as cold as the steel of his blade before a feast of death. She had seen the grim, fatal, promise in his eyes before, but never directed at her. Uncertainty required prudence, so she merely waited.

His eyes gave nothing away, but the slight twitching in the tendon of his inner arm which wrapped against hers, and the curved edge of his finger nails as they dug into her skin, told her as plainly as anything else. This was about Spike.

They stayed suspended in that moment. Vicious was still talking. The words all mixed into one in the jumbled mess in Julia's head.

"Caution, danger, losses, Spike...Spike".

She didn't flinch when Vicious spoke his name. It couldn't have been a question because he didn't ask it and she didn't answer it, but the name still hovered between them, waiting in a silence that would have been uncomfortable if Julia had been able to hear it over the pounding of blood in her ears.

He seemed to come to some conclusion, and what it was, Julia could not discern. Vicious leaned over and whispered "I've missed you." The words were warm, but the tone was artic and dead with the barest hint of emotion or amusement, or some other thing on the outskirts which Julia could not identify, but disliked nonetheless. And as he twisted her wrists, he bent her back towards the bed, his eyes challenging, preying, waiting, blood rushed straight through her heart, completely ignoring her head in the process

His body was descending over hers and the time for choices was almost over. Her gun was on the kitchen table, and the door was even further, and she wouldn't have chosen either option, but she would like to remind herself in the future that it had been a possibility, that their had been the choice.

That was the dream. The reality was harder to accept.

But Julia did accept it. In that moment Julia understood everything. Understood that this was all a game, one that she had entered voluntarily, and that at the moment it was one he meant to win. Understood in exquisite detail what he wanted from her, understood that he meant to have if whether it was offered or taken.

And she didn't want to have anything more taken from her, and, more to the point, couldn't afford any more losses. So disentangling herself from his grip, Julia tore off her shirt before he could, and attacked his mouth to avoid answering the questions they both knew the answer to. She even dared to go so far as to grab his wrists, violently wrenching her body on top of his.

In truth she had half expected, or possibly wanted, him to push her off, or attempt to regain control of the situation, but he merely waited stoically underneath her as she kissed and caressed, and lied to him with every flick of her tongue and gasp of pleasure.

She was colder than she could remember being in a long time as she laid next to him afterwards. No matter how far she tried to burrow underneath the sheets she couldn't find even a trace of heat, and even though Vicious was warm next to her, the sheets thrown off him, a few traces of sweat still on his face in testament to their previous activities, she knew she would never be able to bring herself to be so close to him again.

Despite her best efforts to the contrary, her thoughts fell back to Spike. They had met the morning before. It had been so cold, the icy chill bit at Julia's flesh despite the layers of insulating fabric, but it hadn't mattered once she was in Spike's arms. Pieces of conversation floated around her.

"I trust you."

"That's a dangerous thing."

"Why do you do this to yourself?"

"I'm trying to save your own stupid ass, despite your best efforts to the contrary."

"I don't need to be saved, Julia."

Then Vicious hissed in her ears, "You were trying to save yourself."

It took Julia several moments to realize that last part had not been a memory. Vicious, for his part, gave no indication of having said it, and said nothing further as he made his departure. Just a kiss on the forehead, a Judas kiss to mark her betrayal, and he breezed out of the room with a smirk on his face. Julia knew that she had just reinforced some opinion of his, understood that she had just lived up to her reputation, and had just proved true the hissed whispers and less than discreet rumors.

Strangely enough, it mattered to her.

Spike came later. Julia hadn't been expecting him. It was a fairly indiscreet move. There was a stealth needed for these types of things. Julia had lived the majority of her years in the syndicate calculating the risk involved in every movement, existing in a carefully controlled, regulated simulation of life. It was too dangerous to act otherwise. Thoughts to the contrary were what caused people to turn up in shallow alley graves, bullet through their heads, and a fistful of dreams spilling out of their hearts.

Somehow in that moment, Julia could no longer bring herself to care.

Spike drifted next to her like a distant dream, offering her a cigarette, and a cocky grin, and his arm against her shoulder. She almost didn't believe he was real until he was so close it was no longer possible to deny because she felt the achingly familiar brush of his skin on her neck, smelled the alive, twisting tendrils of cigarette smoke against her face. She breathed them both in, and then Spike was all over her, warm and comforting, but Vicious was still burning inside of her, while her own weakness thundered in her head, and in that moment something deep inside of Julia broke.

She wouldn't be able to tell him later why she started crying, but it wouldn't matter because he would already know. Not the details, but he knew. She was crying because the dice had just been cast, because she knew things were going to fall apart, because she knew that she was going to be the one to get them killed, and for a thousand other reasons accumulating over a lifetime of sorrow.

She would not fall apart later. Her hand would remain steady and sure as she tore up the addresses and tossed her chance for the happy ending in shreds out the window. Her eyes wouldn't flinch as she ran away that fateful night, and her steps wouldn't halt as she boarded the runaway shuttle to Mars.

She would remain strong. Even as she sat in the runaway shuttle straining out of the corner of her vision, and noted as Mars grew smaller and smaller in the distance, and eventually disappeared completely. Even as she sat in the rundown corner of some rundown hotel, utterly alone, the syndicate, and Spike pressing against her from all sides until the dream and the reality became inseparable. Even as she heard an unmistakable, lilting melody in the wind, and spun around, only to discover, that once again it was the memory and not a man.

And her eyes would remain alert and calm all the way to that meeting in the graveyard when they would peer over him from behind her gun, three years and a lifetime too late.

But that was all in the future, in the moments where the choices had already been made, and Julia merely followed them to their logical conclusion. However, at the moment there were still technically options, and Julia couldn't stand the choices she was making. So she cried like she never had, or would again in her lifetime Cried as if her tears were tearing themselves away from her, as if her whole life was a nightmare, and the pieces of her that were broken were falling out of her, lost forever.

Spike didn't say anything at either her utter lack of control, or the pathetic way anything remaining of her dignity was crumbling around her. Once she was able to breathe again, and the great waves of pain had settled down to manageable ripples, she tried to explain, to confess to him, to warn him, something. She didn't apologize because they both knew there was no point, and Spike didn't comment because even he understood the futility of it all, but his eyes narrowed with an almost animalistic protection, and his lips locked slightly with faint distrust. Julia didn't have to ask to know that Vicious had gotten to him as well.

Spike was still next to her though. If it was possible, she would have fallen a little more in love with him for that fact. However, blind surrender to unfettered emotion was what led to this situation in the first place, and so she restrained herself, and he just kept his gaze steady on the distance, watching a horizon that had never seemed more far away.

In the far off times, over drinks shared with ghosts, and nights lost in conversation with her own mind, Julia would remember that moment as one of the most honest in their relationship.

Spike had broken them away from the moment, as always, with a dream. He draped himself around her like a second skin, not seeming to mind the fact that traces Vicious were still all over her, not seeming to mind at all that she was shaking when she held him back. Then he spoke to her, and the words fell like poisoned honey from his lips.

His tongue was always skilled in bringing into existence whatever it was he chose to believe, and if Julia had just concentrated on that, they might have been saved. His breath and his throat and his words filled the spaces between them with everything she wanted to believe. Then she saw the hard lines in his jaw when he paused, and the tight balled up clench of his fist as he crushed out glowing tip of his cigarette, and she knew that all their choices had been made a long time ago.

He didn't tremble when he held her, though, and that meant something.