All the requisite author stuff:


Summary: Filling in the blanks from the photo montage of Spike, Julia and Vicious' past.

Rating: Overall, hard R, when we get on down the line, for sexual content.

A/N: This really didn't start out as a fanfic. It started as my attempt to outline, from the still photos we see in the episodes, what happened between Spike, Julia and Vicious to bring us up to the "present day" in the Cowboy Bebop universe.

But then the outline grew, and before I knew it I was pounding out pages of Bebop fanfic when I should have been working on my own stuff. All well and good; there's no cure for writer's block like playing with somebody else's toys.

Which brings me to the fact that we have Hajime Yadate, Shinichiro Watanabe and the rest of the Bebop creative team to blame for my most recent obsession. I've tried to play nicely with them – at least as nicely as y'all played with them yourselves. They belong to Bandai, and I, well, I belong to Spike in the AU of my mind.


I. If You Love Something, Set It Free

Vicious slammed the door and stood in silence for a good ten seconds before he turned on the light. She knew she was in for it somehow. She couldn't think of a sound she hated more than a door slamming at that moment, but she did her best to stand without trembling, her back to him as the light hummed on.

"Julia, I don't know what got into your head in there, but I never would have expected that of you." He spoke so quietly she had to strain to hear, though his tone conveyed enough disappointment that the words were merely salt. "You're lucky Spike has nine lives, or he'd be dead because of you."

She bit her lip, but couldn't hold back the retort. "I'd say it's lucky for him, Vicious. And lucky for you that I was watching your back."

"I don't need you to watch my back. I need you to do your job. You were supposed to cover the back door. You left your post." His voice came closer, though she still refused to look at him.

"You were in trouble, whether you admit it or not." Defiant, but faltering.

"Remember this above all else: I can take care of myself. The rest of you are supposed to take care of yourselves. Do your job and everything goes as we plan it. Move off course and something happens like what happened tonight."

She wheeled on him. "If I hadn't done what I did, you'd be dead for certain. You aren't invincible." Her eyes flashed, bright with tears.

He regarded her for too many long seconds, keeping his distance, his expression empty. Finally he moved, crossing the gap between them and taking her arm in what seemed to be a comforting gesture. He leaned in close to her ear, and she wrapped her arms around his waist as the knowledge that she could have lost him finally broke through. The first sob died in her throat, though.

"I chose you. I thought you were the best. I thought you were like me." It was more of a hiss than a whisper. "I don't want some high-maintenance Syndicate trophy wife –"her eyes widened at the word, one she had never considered – "I want a partner. Someone who can rise to the pinnacle with me. Not some baggage that's nothing more than leverage against me."

His fingers dug into her arm just above the elbow. She willed herself to remain still, not to cry out.

"If you can't be that for me – if you can't be my equal – then you should consider a different line of work."

He stepped back then, his grip looser. Looked into her eyes. She was used to the flat, empty expression he wore to prevent anyone guessing his thoughts, but she couldn't remember the last time he had trained it on her when they were alone.

"My best friend, my most powerful ally, is lying on a table in some back- alley chop shop getting bullets removed from parts of his body I am sure he would like to keep using. You're lucky all we lost was property tonight. Did you ever consider what impact his death would have on me, on us?"

She stared back, all emotion to his calm, and finally blurted out, "What kind of a best friend is he if you send him in ahead of you to a gunfight? What kind of friendships can any of us have when we all deal in murder?"

"The kind of best friend I can always count on to be where he belongs," Vicious sneered. "A firefight is a day behind a desk for all of us, you included – or have you gone soft on me?"

She shook her head. "If worrying whether you live or die is going soft, then I suppose I've gone it." He stood still as a monolith, and she turned away again, picking up a dirty coffee cup, a napkin, a piece of string, anything that needed correcting on her walk to the sink.

But he was right behind her again, though he'd made no sound. His hand landed heavy on her shoulder and she dropped the mug with a sickening crunch of clay. "Against my better judgment, and against what I want for myself, I think the time has come." The words smothered her like wet cloth – Vicious could check an execution off his list before breakfast time. She waited for the feel of a muzzle against her temple, but instead the familiar outline of his profile pressed into her cheek. "You must learn to separate our extracurricular activities from our business. This is your only chance to walk away without a marker. I am who I am, the same man you picked when you had your pick of us all. You, however, are no longer the woman I thought was my equal. If I see you tomorrow, you had best be her. If you cannot be, don't let me see your face again."

"Vicious..." the name came out equal parts question and lament. His hand tightened on her shoulder and with his other, he yanked her around hard to face him. She vaguely heard the sound of a button from her blouse skittering across the hardwood floor.

"And you will not use that pathetic, lovelorn tone around me again. Be a soldier if you want to share my bed."

He turned on his heel, a diagonal flash of silver hair and swaying overcoat, and strode across the room to the door he'd slammed to start the conversation. On exit, he didn't bother closing it behind him.


Spike glared at the buzzing comm., loathe to pick it up while his shoulder was being stitched together. My bad shoulder, he thought to himself; it had earned that appellation by seeming to take the brunt of everything from doors to bullets. He made a mental note to spend extra time training as soon as the stitches were removed, or the muscle would heal weakly and he'd be unable to count on his reflexes.

The call went to messaging, and a few seconds later the buzz began again. Archer – a sallow man dressed in a butcher's apron and wearing latex surgical gloves - snipped a thread, looked at Spike with barely-concealed irritation, and handed him the comm.

"What?" Spike growled at it, as Vicious' face formed in the pixels.

"We have a problem, Spike. Are you alone?"

"I'm still at Archer's, not dressed yet. As you can see."

"Get dressed and call me back when you can talk." Only his mouth moved when he was on comm.; it was as though without the actual presence of a human in the room, he was incapable of expending the effort on expressions or gestures.

"Give me ten minutes." Spike shrugged The Bad Shoulder into his shirt, cringing in spite of himself.

"Five would be better." The screen went dark.

"Fifty thousand Woolongs, Mr. Spiegel," Archer muttered at him. "A bargain in your condition, and one I don't give willingly."

Spike dug into his jacket pocket and came up with a wad of bills. "Here's seventy. I'm placing a bet I won't have to see you again, butcher." He grinned, but got none in return – Archer snatched the money out of his hand as though he feared he'd be shot in the act.

"Get out," he said, a little more boldly with the cash in his own pocket. And Spike complied.

Every time Spike set a boot down on the sidewalk, his head throbbed where some punk had broken a vase over it. The irritation at a raid gone bad did nothing to help matters. They'd gone in to collect on a debt past due from Henshai – planning to leave with both the Red-Eye he was selling them and the cash they'd brought for trade. But Henshai wasn't a fool, and worse, he wasn't tied to the Red Dragons in any substantial way beyond his debt. Taking advantage of gang rivalry in a way only an annoying civilian could, he tipped off the White Tigers regarding the deal, and invited them to come see if they could make off with the drugs and perhaps a few spare Dragon corpses. The Tigers had fared worse – two casualties to zero, by Spike's count – and Henshai might live a few days to regret what would certainly look to the rival Syndicate like a setup. But the fight had been nasty, and Julia leaving the back entrance open had made it possible for one of the Tigers to escape with the drugs. Now he and Vicious were left trying to make another buy in order to satisfy their prior obligations to the next rung down the ladder of suppliers – and while the street pusher overlords had no means of exacting any real revenge against the Dragons, few things made Spike angrier than doing the same work twice.

He leaned his way into the Hangman's Bar – a favorite hangout of lowlifes, thugs and unwitting tourists (did they think the name was a joke?) in Tharsis City. Waving to Elliot behind the bar, he headed for the back booth where no one else ever sat but him or Vicious, and flipped the comm. open.

Vicious' face appeared before the first buzz. "Spike, we have a problem with Julia," he said by way of social niceties. "She can't seem to keep her head in the game."

"You're telling me?" Spike nodded to the waitress who brought him a bottle of Chianti, but reduced her tip by a ten-Woolong note when she plunked down an Old Fashioned tumbler next to it. She gave him the stink-eye, pointing to the recently shot-up glass rack above the bar; he just shrugged and waited until she turned away to grimace at the fact that he'd used The Bad Shoulder to do so.

"I think she's going to make a run for it," Vicious continued when Spike's attention was back on the comm. "She was going on and on, some nonsense about how I was going to die and she had to save me. I told her she was going soft. I don't think she took it well."

Spike took a long draught of wine from the clunky glass before he replied. "That's not really a good situation, Vicious. She knows a lot of what we do."

"It's worse," Vicious replied, still betraying nothing by his expression. "I probably told her some things I shouldn't have."

Spike regarded the comm. with a mixture of irritation and disbelief. The last person he imagined would get talkative with a woman was his partner. "She must be awfully good."

Vicious raised one eyebrow slightly. "Well, she used to be awfully good at her job. Both of them. But tonight she almost cost me my best friend."

That was a strange one. Spike knew, through tacit agreement, that he and Vicious were partners and friends; they had grown up together, trained together, and were the most formidable weapon in Mao Yenrai's Red Dragon army. But sentiment sounded rotten coming out of Vicious' mouth, and Spike had wondered plenty of times why a man with so much ambition and disdain for emotion would bother to have a paramour at all.

"What do you want me to do about it, then? Can't you handle your woman?" Spike gave the comm. a lopsided grin before he took another drink.

"I can't tolerate another of her displays," Vicious replied. "She made me ... angry."

It was Spike's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Is she okay?"

"Better off than you, no thanks to her antics. She may yet come around. But I need to know she's not going to bolt, which is where you come in."

Spike raised the other eyebrow, just to level them out. "What do you want me to do, tie her down?"

Vicious shook his head slightly, a stray wisp of silver hair sweeping across one eye. "Go to her apartment. If she looks like she's packing up, kill her. If she looks like she's staying put, make up some reason why you went to see her."

Spike made certain his tone was even when he replied, "Some reason other than 'I was going to kill you if you had a suitcase out', I take it?" This was bizarre, even for Vicious. He may not have been a romantic, but he was fiercely possessive and protective of the things he considered his own, and Julia ranked only slightly below his katana on that list.

"I'm sure you will think of something. Or else you can just tell her 'BANG'." Vicious made his finger-pistol recoil before he turned to acknowledge someone off screen. When he turned back to Spike, any trace of joking was gone. "She's had an hour or so to either calm down or get started. You should probably get there soon." And once again, the screen faded to black without a salutation.