Sunlight came into the room, gently easing my eyes open, and then I was staring up at the ceiling. She lay beside me with nothing covering her but the thin white sheet around her, like a slender insect inside the chrysalis that wouldn`t completely shed. She was still in a deep sleep, turned away from me with her hair blanketing the pillow. I got out of bed, threw on some lounge pants, and smoked a cigarette by the window, listening to her breathe. By the time I had put a shirt on and thrown a tie around my neck, she was starting to wake up.

She stirred quietly and I lay next to her, leaned in and kissed her back in between her shoulder blades. It surprised her and she reached back, grabbing a hold of my tie, and pulled my head beside hers. She smiled and kissed me, and then rolled over to face me and laid on her side with her forehead against my chest. I put my arm over her, bringing her close, and stroked her back with one finger. As we lay like this everything in the world seemed to pause and go quiet, peaceful and unchanging. After a while she shivered and curled against me like a little girl, and I felt her breathing become even and relaxed, as if she was asleep again.

I don`t know what it was about right then, in that room. But that moment felt so much larger than me. It was almost like I was being taken care of. Nothing bad was going to happen.

Then I surprised myself by saying it, but not as much as I did by actually feeling it.

"I love you, Julia."

She was silent. For a second I thought I saw her eyes glimmer and become gray, but then she just rolled away and sat up and was quiet.

"I want to get out of here," I told her. I was practically begging her. "Will you leave this place? Leave the Red Dragon? Will you come with me?"

Her head hung sadly. "It`s not that simple, Spike. Maybe the rules are slightly different for me...But you can`t just leave. Once you`re in the Red Dragon, you stay in it. Everybody knows that."

"But we could plan how to do it." She didn`t look convinced, so I went on. "I can do things like that. I planned for two months how to run away from my foster home and fly to Ganymede when I was just twelve years old. No one can keep me someplace I don`t want to be."

"That`s different, Spike. Listen, if there was any way that I could just pack what I have and leave now, with you, I would do it." She looked over her shoulder at me. "I`d do it."

I returned the same serious stare. "We can find a way."

There was a change in her eyes. She was possibly starting to believe it, the more talked, but she wasn`t going to get her hopes up for anything that wasn`t going to happen.

She lay back down and I got up from the bed, buttoning up my shirt that had been hanging open and sloppily knotting my tie. I looked out the window, getting a thought. Since she wasn`t looking my way for the next few minutes she was surprised when she saw that I`d changed my pants and put my jacket on. I said to her, "I`ll be back in an hour," and opened the door to leave. She said nothing but I knew she would stay there.

I was going to see Vicious. I didn`t know why. Maybe I felt the need to clear up any suspicions he was getting. Or maybe it was just an old habit coming back to nag me. After all, not long ago it would have been perfectly natural for me to stop by his place during the day.

As could always be expected, I was let in my a member of the syndicate and not by Vicious himself. This guy was about sixteen or seventeen; the age I was when I joined. It made me uneasy for some reason. I was led into the dim, windowless room where Vicious was tending to his swords in a self-contained fashion. He looked up and saw me. "Spike. How`s it going."

"It goes," I answered casually.

"Isn`t that always the way," he said, putting the sword he had away into his tall closet of glimmering weaponry. "So what have you been up to?" Before I could reply he added unseriously, "Or do I want to know?"

I just laughed in response, hiding that it had actually been a perfectly unsettling thing for him to say.

Vicious nodded in the direction of a table where there was a glass decanter of scotch. "Drink?"

"Naw, it`s too early for that." Actually I had no idea what time it was. I was standing there cluelessly in the middle of the room with my hands in my pockets. But he seemed almost amused by the fact that I obviously didn`t know why I`d come here.

"So. Spike," he said with a new tone of voice that somehow made me uncomfortable. "We`ve known eachother for quite some time, right?"

"Something of a handful of years," I answered, not liking where he was going with this.

"Hm. Never mind..."

"What?" I asked. After all, on a normal day I would have asked.

He looked down at the floor as he walked a few paces closer to me. "You see much of Julia?"

I couldn`t hesitate so I said the first thing that came out. "Every once in a while."

"And does she talk to you?"

"Not enough for me to have anything to tell you," I said. Yes, that was a safe answer. "Nothing of interest to you, I mean."

He shrugged. "Too bad. You know, you sound almost protective of her."

"...Do I?"

"Yes. There wouldn`t be something she doesn`t want me to know, would there?"

"Of course not," I said. It was almost impossible to hide how I shuddered inside. His swords gleamed at me sharply from where they hung behind him. "I mean, I wouldn`t know. I just try to be friendly so I talk to her. Look, what`s eating you? I mean, besides the fact that you two maybe had kind of a bad break-up. Which I sincerely regret...But what is it you want to know?"

He took in that outspill of brutal honesties and I wondered if I should have just kept my mouth shut. Then he just said, "Oh, it`s nothing. I was just wondering when she`s going to get everything straightened out. You know. And come back."

He was smirking like I should be amused along with him. But I didn`t smile.

"Is that how you think it is?" I asked.

He frowned but at the same time looked unaffected. He turned to the side so that we were no longer facing eachother.

"If you want some kind of advice from me, Vicious," I began. "I think you should just let it go. You`re not in control of this. You can be possessive of other things, but not of a woman. Not that woman. Not like this. Just let her go and leave her the hell alone."

About two seconds passed that let me realize I`d made a big mistake. He stood silently and I could hear his anger in all the words he didn`t say. Then just like that he turned, swinging his fist at me before I could realize what was happening. Then I was on the floor and he was looking down at me with that smirk.

"Careful, Spiegel. I`d think you would know better. You wouldn`t want to find yourself at the end of my sword."

I wiped blood from my lip and said, giving him an angry glare, "Of course not, Vicious."

"Pity," he said. "I thought we were something of friends, Spike Spiegel."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Not much of a loss, is it?"

"No, not really." He put his hands behind his back and turned away as I got back up on my feet. "What an embarassment. She`ll come back to me unchanged, and won`t you look like a fool then?"

"Yeah. You`re probably right, Vicious." I said the words darkly, uncaring. Then I got out of there. I left his cave and went back out into the sunlight that couldn`t warm the overwhelming coldness now growing inside me.

And I went back. Back to Julia, my woman now, as strange as that still felt and especially after seeing Vicious. She was still there when I went up the stairs and came into the room through the creaking door.

She had just emerged from the shower but was no more dressed than before, sitting on the bed with my black bathrobe hugged around her hips and her bare back facing me staringly like a sad, grimacing face. She was hunched over slightly and the only movement, it seemed, was the smoke billowing softly from the tip of the cigarette at the end of her long, thin fingers. It was as if she knew already that something was wrong, that something had changed. She smoked that cigarette with all the crushed hope and silent dismay that I felt.

She turned her head just enough to see my figure behind. "You talked to Vicious," she concluded right away.

With my head down I took my jacket off and tossed it into a chair. "It`s over. Me and him...I`m finished with him."

She put the cigarette to her mouth for a moment. Then she said, "He knows."

The fact that she sensed it without even having seen him should have been a giveaway. But just to not frighten her, I answered, "No. He couldn`t."

"He`ll find out."

"It doesn`t matter if he does."

I knew that she was afraid of Vicious, and that in a way she always had been, far before she ever got mixed up with me. His obsession with her and his jealousy were like chains around her binding her to him. They made her afraid of loving anyone else. I shuddered with contained anger. That was exactly how he wanted it to be.

She pulled my robe up over her, threading her arms through the big sleeves, and just like that the grimacing face was shielded. She tied it around herself and stood up, staring off away from me. It was almost like she was talking to my shadow on the opposite wall.

"This can`t last, Spike," she said quietly. "People like us aren`t given these kinds of lives. Not forever." She looked at me and her face was drained, tired, like her eyes were too weak to sustain any expression. "I want to be brave. But now, because of you, I can`t be." Her eyes flickered to the floor. "...I don`t want you to get hurt."

We were both the same, I realized. Both prisoners of our feelings, locked inside tiny cages that were our own hearts.

"I`m not going to get hurt."

"Vicious is dangerous," she said gravely. "You know that just as much as I do. You`ve seen the things he`ll do. If he was after you, then I`d...dammit, I don`t know."

"Come on. He`s only so much of a match for me."

"Shut up," she snapped back. "Talking like that isn`t going to change anything. It doesn`t matter how strong you are if you`ve got the whole syndicate up against you. Don`t you see what could happen to us?"

I was struck silent. For a moment there was no sound but cars outside, and she wiped her eyes defeatedly.

It was so strange how just that morning she had been lying in my arms, and in that moment I`d truly believed that nothing could happen to us. That everything, eventually, would be fine. And now, only an hour later, a dark cloud had passed over us that seemed inconquerable, and I felt like an idiot for believing that it could last. How naive I had become ever since I started dreaming. Loving. Loving was making me soft, letting everything walk all over me and reduce me to something small and worthless.

"This was never the fate I would have chosen, Julia," I told her, turning to stare out the window. "Before I met you I didn`t need anything. Just air to breathe and a pack of cigarettes. But now air isn`t enough. Life isn`t enough. I`m empty without you. Do you know how pathetic that is? It`s not even fair. Why do I have to love you at all? Why does it have to be like this?"

"Because everyone needs to belong to someone else, whether they like it or not," she said back, surprising me, and sounding as angry as I was. "Whether they even want it or not. I know you`d like to just go back to being the tough fighter who doesn`t need anyone, and that`s all very nice, but that`s not what you`re here for. Nobody can live like that. If that was all you were you would be nothing. Practically dead. Like Vicious."

I realized that that was the difference between me and him. Vicious was dead. He didn`t feel anything, not really. But I felt both love and pain now, and I hadn`t even known that I could. For a small glimmering moment, I understood for once why she cared about me.

We didn`t say much more to eachother. We`d said almost too much already, and were too exhausted to keep talking. Julia went into the bathroom and got dressed in silence, and I just kept looking out the window. I felt like a ghost watching that city, or like someone about to die. It was not my world. This was not my home. I didn`t remember how I had gotten here. Where did I belong?

I didn`t hear her come out again, but I felt her bury her face into my back, and felt her warm breath against my shirt as she whispered, "What do you want me to do?"

I turned around and brought her to me, wrapping my arms tightly around her. Feeling her against my heart again somehow made everything look a little better. "Come again tonight. Here."

"Are you sure?" she asked me.

"Yes. And then you`ll never have to again." She looked up at me questioningly and I explained, "I`m coming up with a plan. I`ll tell you about it then." I kissed her forehead covered with hair and without another word she left, the heels of her boots clicking delicately down the steps.

For the rest of the day, I planned our escape. The more details I formed in my head and the more precise the plan got, the more I was disturbed by it, and the more cigarettes I smoked as I paced nervously around my room watching the sky change outside.

It wasn`t that I didn`t know if she would be willing to go through with it. She was so desperate to get away from Vicious that she would do anything to be able to leave. It was the kind of measures we would be taking that worried me. Getting out would mean erasing ourselves from every place we`d been familiar with in the past few years and everyone who knew our names. Once we got out we would have no connections, no allies, and nowhere to go. But we would have eachother.

Of course, that was what this was all about. We both knew this wasn`t just about Vicious, or even escaping from the dangerous ways of living we`d both gotten ourselves trapped in long ago. Inside, we knew this was the only way for us to be together.

I waited and the hours flew and before I knew it, it was evening. When she came to meet me she always was there about the time it got completely dark. Maybe this time out of caution she would wait until it was dark before leaving, but I knew she would come straight here.

I waited.

And she didn`t come.

For the first hour I could at least tell myself reasons I shouldn`t be worried, even if I really was. After all, a million things could have happened to tie her up for another couple hours. I told myself that. And I waited.

In the time I sat on my bed in the dark, a child could have been born. But it seemed more like time enough for a child to be born, grow up, live through hundreds of heartbreaks and broken arms and new cars, and die somewhere in a hospital. Every second somebody dies somewhere. You cannot possibly imagine the horror of that until you`ve waited that long and discovered how long a minute can be, how long an hour can be, like me in that dark room smoking to distract myself with my back turned hatefully towards the ticking clock.

I smashed my cigarette butt into an ashtray. That was my last one. It had been dark for at least six hours now.

A wave of panging reality swept over me. My mind was screaming torturedly with confusion. I knew, somehow, that she wasn`t coming. It just wasn`t possible. It was too late. I knew something was wrong. I knew she could very easily be in trouble right then. But what could I do?

So I stayed there. That was all there was for me to do.

It must have been at least another hour that went by. Maybe more. I don`t know.

I was standing and staring out the window when I heard footsteps running up the stairs.

I turned quickly just as the door on the opposite side of the room swung open. She was breathing heavily, like she`d run all the way here. We stood looking at eachother for a few seconds. Then I said, "Julia..." I stared in disbelief. She looked so different. Her hair was windblown and tangled and any trace of hope was gone from her eyes. "What is it?"

"I..." She looked like she didn`t know what to say. I noticed she had a bag over her shoulder that was full of something, but I couldn`t tell what. "I`m leaving."

I stared, shaking my head slowly. "No...What do you mean?"

"I`m leaving, tonight. I`m sorry...I can never see you again. I just came to warn you."

"Julia, what are you talking about?"

"I`m sorry, Spike. This was all a lie. It...Vicious needed someone that could get information out of you, someone to get you to trust them and then find out whatever he needed."

I kept shaking my head. "What? You`re not telling me this was..."

"Yes...it was a set-up." She could hardly spit it out. "Listen, I didn`t have any choice in the matter."

"No. No...Vicious wouldn`t have any reason to do that. Julia- "

"I don`t even know what it was about. That wasn`t my business, I was just supposed to go along with it and tell them whatever you told me. And now they know you`re trying to leave. I just came to tell you that."

I kept watching her face. But it was so hard to see if she was pretending.

"Julia, why are you doing this? What happened? Please..." I came closer to her, but then stepped back in surprise when she yanked a gun out of her bag and pointed it at me.

"No! Don`t do this!" she begged. "Don`t touch me! I`m sorry, I know I never should have lied to you....but it was me or you, and I have to stay alive. No, I never loved you, but it`s not like I wanted you dead. Please, I hope you can understand. I just don`t want you in trouble now because of me..."

She was shaking like the way glass trembles at the sound of a high-pitched note, wanting to shatter into hundreds of pieces. That was how close she was to breaking out into tears. I could see it. But at the same time, she looked like such a different person, holding a gun at me, telling me these things that were all living nightmares that wouldn`t register in my head. Her words came out strong, but she looked about to cave in. She couldn`t mean what she was saying...could she?

"Julia," I said quietly. "...Stop it."

I saw a flash of deep sadness flicker in her rainy, washed blue eyes, and then her head just sunk and she looked down at the floor, keeping the gun pointed straight at me. She held that gun steady out of pure fear. But it was not fear of me. She was afraid that I would see through her. She was lying.

"Julia. Don`t be afraid. We still have options. We`re in control of our lives." I paused, watching her. She didn`t refute my words. "Don`t let Vicious make you think otherwise. He`s only in control if you let him be. But he doesn`t matter." I kept my expression strong to make her believe me, and said it again. "Julia, he doesn`t matter."

Her strength failed then. Seeing the tears well up in her eyes scalded my heart as if they were each hot water burning me, and merely seeing her like that made me want to crush Vicious`s skull.

She dropped the gun. Her hand holding it had started shaking so much she may not even have dropped it on purpose. Then her eyes raised to rest on me, and she slowly walked forward, wiping her tears.

Then she kissed me. It was like being slowly and painfully stabbed. I felt everything that she felt, in that last moment that I held her. She was a part of me, and right then I couldn`t even begin to comprehend why that wasn`t enough to save us. Right then I was just a child again, needing to be inside her, to be kept.

When she broke away, stepping backwards, I almost collapsed as if I`d been punched. She breathed in and out heavingly, the tears now coming uncontrollably. He had frightened her and manipulated her until her whole exterior fell away, dropping in pieces of armor. I wanted to touch her, to beg her. Tell her it didn`t have to end like this, we could still survive.

She just looked up at me and whispered with a cracked voice, "Get away."

Then she was gone.

A cool wind blew in through the window. The first cold air of autumn. I shut the window and then the breeze was stifled, the soft club music killed. I just sat there in the scarred little room, in the darkness, in the silence.

This was what loving had made me.

It wasn`t going to take a few years for me to look back and start regretting things. I did right there in that room, with the scent of her still fresh in my memory. Some gold strands of her hair left in my bed. I couldn`t believe that I had told her I never would have chosen a fate with her. What I wouldn`t have given then just to have that fate - that life. It was just as I had said. I was empty without her.

How pathetic.

I wanted to kill Vicious then. Or maybe I just wanted him to kill me. All I knew was that wherever I ran away to in the galaxy, it would still be too close to him. There was not enough room in the universe for us both to go on still living, to co-exist in any sense.

And then in the end, I heard her voice, and it nearly soothed my anger. She had told me to get away. Run away. I don`t know how Vicious had found out about Julia and me, but all it would have taken is a syndicate member to walk by my window and see us. Maybe he had found out that day. Or maybe he had already known when I came to see him that morning. But somehow he had gotten to Julia, most likely threatened her somehow, and delayed her in meeting me. And she`d still come, risking her life, to get to me and somehow warn me. She`d risked her life to say goodbye.

I went to the bridge that night and fell asleep there. With the syndicate now my enemy it was dangerous to stay home, or stay almost anywhere. But not here. This place was concealed, hidden. It was neither in the present or in the past. Those without love in their hearts walked past it unseeing. There was no way they could find me as long as I was there.

The next day I died.

Everyone knew the only way to get out of the Red Dragon was to die. So I planned my own death, faked my death, just as I would have for both me and Julia if things had gone the right way. I knew from the beginning I wouldn`t be fooling Vicious. It would have worked before, but now that he was out to get me it was too obvious. But that didn`t matter. I would return to him still. Some day. I was just buying myself time.

In my head I didn`t think of it as moving on. I just left aside my emotions to be rested for a while. Someday I would face Vicious again. But now I had to do what Julia had wanted me to.

As time went by, I started to recollect an identity, acquire some new familiar faces, even if I didn`t call all of them my friends. I became a bounty hunter because it is an identity neither dignified or undignified, and I didn`t think I could handle being either with what I know felt inside.

I wanted to forget that love could do this to a person, and especially a person like me. Nothing should be able to do that, and not something as miniscule as love. Imagine. Love, a little girl`s dream, a medium for songs and poetry, a thing believed by some to be only in the wishful thinker`s imagination. Yet with a stupid and childish grin it had gotten the best of Spike Spiegel and run off laughing...Or had it been the worst of me that it got?

I would tell myself that I didn`t need her, but then only hear her saying those words I would never be able to forget. "Everybody needs to belong to someone, whether they like it or not." I would try to get the words out of my head but then her voice would wince like a broken record, playing the words over and over again in my mind.

Every time I thought of her, I lit a cigarette. It got to the point where I did it to forget, to distract myself and think of something else, until cigarette by cigarette, I was burning my past away. I was burning her away.

And now, today, I am numb to the world. I track down criminals to earn a living but I don`t believe in justice. I get injured but I don`t feel pain. I`ll be about to be killed but I won`t be afraid. I don`t care what happens anymore, and at the same time I`m miserable, restless. And it`s because I know Vicious is still out there. It is some awkward combination of my attachment to him as an old friend and the deep hatred we both share for eachother now that draws me to him. I know I`ll kill him someday. Sometimes, though, I fear that even doing that will bring no relief and I will be exactly the same.

I think these thoughts avoiding the real truth. After all, Julia is still out there, too. A thorn in my heart still stinging. Maybe it`s our fate to be together, or maybe fate doesn`t give a damn what happens to people like me. But she`s out there somewhere out of my reach, and it seems like it should be so easy to find where. But I will probably never see her again. I know this and at the same time I know the only way I can ever be relieved is by finding her again.

So with some kind of third eye, maybe, or with my instinct, or my heart, I search for her. Humans have colonized across space and advanced to a self-corruptive level beyond imagination. And yet I`m human, and I`m still nothing but an animal driven by instinct, driven by what I need. One side of my head searches and the other side knows that the object will never be found. I can only wonder which side of my head will keep me alive longer.

No one around me knows what happened to me, and because of that I will always be alone. The only two people who know the story are out there, one probably hunting me, and the other gone from me. I guess we are a restless triangle, always pulling ends, taunted by eachother`s existence. We were always a triangle in one way or another. It`s frightening how things can change.

Maybe I will be pushing memories out of my head for the rest of my life. Maybe I will never wake up and be relieved from this endless dream. Maybe I will keep wishing away my past until I have wished myself away.

But secretly I know I will never stop looking for her.