~ Cold Reason ~

By ZealPropht

Cold. Like the inside of a freezer. It was always so cold. It burned. Why? Why was it always so...damn...cold?

Silver hair caught the light and shone with a chromatic brilliance that was nearly blinding. Vicious turned to look at Spike. He sat on the couch, drinking coffee out of a bright yellow mug. It looked strange, what with his rumpled suit, loosened tie, and perpetually puffy hair. He felt eyes on him, and glanced over at his partner.

"What's on your mind?" he asked. That voice, so warm.

Words were catching in his throat. Vicious had never been one for much conversation, but he felt that something had to be said. Anything.

So cold...

He turned away without saying a word. The window in front of him showed him back his reflection. A figure of shadow, surrounded by a halo of light from the glint on his hair. An aging man, still handsome enough to catch a woman's eye. Deep lines ran down his face from the inside corners of his eyes, like knife slashes delivered by Father Time himself. Marks of cruelty. Vicious...

"Vicious?"

A hand touched his shoulder. Heat radiated from that point of contact. It hurt for an instant, like when stepping in front of a furnace on a cold day. Then the frost melts, leaving behind a tingle of blood expanding the vessels. That feeling spread, and for a moment, Vicious felt alive again. That simple human contact, fingers splayed on the blackness of the material, not in anger or fear, but in trust...FRIENDSHIP.

The tingle slowly died. The coldness encroached upon him again like a living thing. It sucked the warmth from Spike's hand until it had no more consistency than a flake of snow. Light, airy, almost nonexistent. Something resting on his shoulder, but nothing to be noticed outside of a passing glance.

"You brought me up here for a reason," Spike said, letting his hand drop away. Vicious barely felt it. "What's bothering you?"

********

So cold...

The night air on his sweat damp body raised goose-bumps all over his skin. The warmth of sex had faded with the sun. Now, moonlight kissed dappled patterns over the floor from the window. Silhouettes of darkness against a backdrop of light. Gold hair spread over white pillow cases.

Everything he owned was black. Black jacket, black tie...He even took his coffee black. But the sheets were so white. Pristine. Downy. Mounds of snow covering his body and hers as she lay beside him, breathing deeply in lethargic aftermath of lovemaking without the love.

He was freezing.

"Vicious?" Her voice, so sleepy, but warm. It caressed his senses and something moved inside his chest. "What's bothering you?" Her hand on his shoulder. Each finger was like a ray of the sun against his skin. Blessed heat. Her long, manicured nails looked etched in his shadow, like claws. She held his heart in that hand.

"Can you feel it?" he whispered, staring at the patchwork of light and shadow on the floor. "My blood running through your fingers with every pulse?" She was silent, not understanding what he meant. He reached up and took hold of her wrist. She gasped at his tight grip, but didn't struggle. His other hand cupped her cheek, digging into that soft, warm skin he so loved to touch. "Did you know you called his name?"

Her eyes widened. "What are you talking about?" She was on her guard now, thinking. Had she said his name? Oh god, had she? Actually, she hadn't. Vicious had just wanted to see her reaction, and to taste her fear on the air. The play of emotions, her body language...He could read her like a book. All her dirty little secrets were laid bare to his eyes as he carefully stripped away her defenses a layer at a time. Soon, she'd have no dark corners left to hide in, and she'd be his. All his. Only his.

Vicious let his hands fall away from her body. "Are you going to betray me?"

She looked at him with those sad, blue eyes of hers. Had they ever been happy? He thought they had, once. That's why he wanted her near. She had been so beautiful, so happy on his arm. So full of life. What had become of all that? When had emptiness set in? When had she started losing her warmth?

Her fingers stroked his arm. Five pinpricks on his frozen flesh, dragging downward from shoulder to elbow. He half expected to see bloody red furrows in their wake as his skin melted and left open sores. He looked at her from under long bangs with flat eyes.

Her eyes quivered, as if trying to find the moisture for tears, but they remained clear and dry. "I don't want to betray you." How easily the lie fell from those ruby-red lips. He wanted to believe her. He wanted her warm hand to always be there, cradling the organ of his life in her palm, defrosting it. He no longer had the power to do it on his own.

You don't want to betray me, but you will. Even knowing that I will never let you be his, you would leave me. And for what? A beast who has lost his taste for blood. If not a hunter, you are the hunted. Is that the life you want? You know I will kill to keep you, and kill you if you go.

Her head leaned into his shoulder, silken tresses so bright against the pallor of his skin. The last time she ever touched him willingly. "Are you going to betray me?" she whispered. Vicious imagined her breath steamed at being so near his chilled form. His arm went around her and settled them both back down under the sheets. He never gave her an answer. But then, his silence was all the answer she'd ever need.

********

Vicious blinked. He was back with Spike, who hovered behind him on his left, stirring impatiently while he waited for an answer. The silver-haired man stared out the window unseeing, trying to formulate something to say. When he reached a decision, he turned.

"How long have we been partners?"

"Let me think." Spike cocked his head as he tried to remember. He looked like one of those trained birds dealers sold on Mars, with his ruff of green-black hair and reddish eyes. Unique and unusual.

Is that what she sees in you?

Spike finally laughed, pulling a cigarette from the pack he kept in his hip pocket. "Shit, I can't even remember now. It's been so long. I can barely recall how we first met." He lit up and inhaled.

"I remember."

"You remember everything," his partner retorted, blowing smoke out with his words. He pulled another cigarette from his pocket and offered it. "Want one?" Vicious hesitated only a second before accepting it. Spike raised his eyebrows. "Something must be biting your ass hard today. I don't think I've ever seen you smoke." He held up his lighter, clicking the flame into life as his friend leaned close and burned the end of the cylinder clamped between his lips.

Vicious took a lung full, breathing out slowly. His breath mingled in the air with the residue of Spike's. Suddenly, the room seemed very confining. He jerked his head at the window, or more precisely, outside. Taking the cigarette between his index and middle finger, he pulled it from his mouth. "Let's take a walk."

"Uh, sure." Spike waited as Vicious grabbed his scarf and draped it around his neck before tugging on his own fleece-lined bomber jacket. They exited the room and went down the back stairs. Their footfalls echoed on the walls as they walked in silence, smoked in silence.

********

The bar was nearly deserted. When Red Dragon moved into an area, places tended to empty out pretty quick. The atmosphere was smoky, dim, with a faint yellow haze over everything. It felt like a summer afternoon under the shade of a large tree, somewhere between blazing hot and sweet cool, even though it was the middle of the night. Something jazzy was playing in the background, along with the hushed din of private conversations amongst the various men who were off work, but still sporting their red lapels.

The rack was set, the balls looking almost out of place on the green felt table top. Spike stood off to the side, leaning on his cue stick as he watched Vicious make the break. He could feel those red eyes boring into his back, not with ill intent, but in friendship. The pale-haired man almost wished it was the former. Malice he could understand and guard against.

"Six ball in the middle left pocket," he murmured. The tip of the stick made a dull thud as it connected with the unmarked cue ball and sent it rolling across the table. It struck the target with a loud "crack", almost like a gunshot going off, and dashed it into the woven leather well.

"Nice," Spike chuckled. "If you keep this up, I won't even get a turn."

"Maybe you should come over here and play with us," Lin called from the next pool table over. His younger brother, Shin, sat on a stool not too far away, poking ice in his drink with a toothpick. And he was conversing with...

"Julia, your turn."

The blonde woman turned, wavy hair bouncing a bit around her oval face. "Coming," she said.

"Miss Julia plays a superb game," Lin stated, coming to stand beside Spike, who offered him a smoke before lighting one of his own.

Julia smiled. "Not really. I learned all my moves from Vicious."

"Is that so?" Shin glanced over at the higher ranking clan member. "You must be a master at the game."

"Four ball in the corner pocket," was all Vicious replied with. In it went.

"Oh, jeeze." Spike leaned his back against the wall, talking around his cigarette. On his face was a half smirk. "Looks like I'm buying drinks again."

Julia made her shot and flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Don't feel bad. I've had to buy my share before. Vicious always plays to win."

Vicious watched from the corner of his eyes. He was bent low over the table, aiming up his next shot, but he still saw the look that passed between Spike and the lovely blonde. There was something in the way she had paused after her words and looked sad, something in the way that his partner suddenly straightened that sent a terrific shudder of rage through his frame. The cue stick hit the unmarked ball with such force that it flew right off the table.

The room grew dead silent, conversation dropping away until only the music was left. All eyes were on him. "Your shot," he whispered. He stepped back, walking to where he'd left his drink before knocking it back in two hard swallows. Cold liquid seeped down his throat, filled his guts and spread outward from there. Pleasant numbness took the edge off his anger for the moment. As Lin came back to make his play, the older man calmly pulled the cigarette from out of the younger's mouth.

"Children shouldn't smoke," he murmured, reversing the ends and taking a deep drag off it himself. Lin blinked in shock.

"Vicious..." Julia looked even sadder. "You don't-"

He gave a low growl. "What do you know?" He ground the half-smoked butt into an ashtray, imagining for a moment that it was her pretty, pretty face.

********

The air was more than crisp. It was biting. Frozen steel stabbing into the nostrils, clawing down the back of the throat to make lungs ache. Spike hissed and pulled his jacket closed. Vicious didn't feel a thing.

Behind the building was a parking lot. The majority of the spaces were empty. Only a few cars decorated the cement. A chain link fence was put up, not really as a means of protection, but as a symbol for "private property". Spike allowed Vicious to choose where he wanted to go, and it was just as well. He had never been one to follow another's orders.

He went around the edge of the fence, walking along the outside. Spike remained on the inside, keeping in step but also keeping a distance. Eventually, Vicious stopped and leaned back into the fence. He felt a slight shift of the metal as Spike placed his back against it too.

"This is bad luck, you know." Hot breath on the wind making gusts of silvery white. "There is an old story of two friends who were inseparable. They always walked side by side, never letting anything come between them. Until one day, they each walked on opposite sides of a fence." He paused.

"...And?"

"When the fence finally ended, and they were back at each other's side, they were enemies." There was a crunch of a shoe grinding something into the pavement, and Vicious knew it must have been his cigarette. Without thought, he did the same thing. "Are we enemies?"

There was a rustle of clothing. The wind blew silver hair against ashen cheeks, and with it came the smell of snow. "Are you seeing Julia behind my back?" The words dropped from his mouth like icicles. Sharp, cold, dangerous. Spike didn't say anything. He just stood there, like a statue, unmoving. "Stay away from her."

"...And if I don't?" There was a hint of anger and challenge in his partner's voice.

"Then I will kill you."

"Is that a threat?"

"It's a promise."

"We both know that she deserves better than this. She wants out, Vicious. She wants to be free."

"You're deluding yourself. You're the only one who wants to be free." More wind blew over his body, and he glanced up at the sky. It was grayish-blue, like the color of his eyes. Dark, frosty clouds were gathering. Foreboding.

"When I go, I'm taking her with me."

A soft grunt that was intended as a laugh rose from Vicious's throat. "Keep dreaming, Spike, because that plan is never becoming reality."

He left his partner standing there as he walked away. Spike made no move to stop him. The pavement shifted under his feet, and before he knew it, he was standing by a railing, looking out over a man-made body of water. A few zip crafts sped by overhead. There was a small speedboat cutting trails of white foam on the surface of the lake. The water was so blue, like a pair of sad eyes, and for a moment, he wanted to scream. For once, it would feel good to just let it all out. All this rage, and despair, and jealousy that he'd contained within, encased behind a wall of ice. But that wall would never melt, not without her.

"I thought it looked like you." A red convertible had pulled up behind him and he hadn't noticed. The tan top was raised, keeping out the chill. Julia stood by the driver's side, wearing a worried expression. "Why are you standing here all by yourself?" She closed the door, but left the engine running. The woman walked over to his side and touched his face with a warm palm. "You're freezing."

"Yes," he answered. "And I can't stop it." Soft white flakes began to drift down, one at a time. He caught one in his hand and watched as it stayed there. Perfect. Unchanging. Not melting. "Do you want to be free?" She just looked at him. He pressed the snowflake against her cheek and felt it change to liquid. It dripped down like a teardrop. He gave one of his rare smiles, but it was twisted.

"I don't want to hurt you," she said softly. "Believe me."

"Believe?" He stepped back. "There is nothing to believe in." He spread his arms wide, as if welcoming a rain of bullets. Snow collected on his silvery hair. "This is all just a dream." He turned from her, staring out across the sad blue expanse of water again. They were all trapped, damned, caught up in a world of false hope and illusion that they could never break out of, even if they tried. The irony was cutting, and his twisted smile widened.

But this is my dream too. Let me stay here at your side for as long as I can. I'll take your heat until you feel as cold as I do. And then, when the sunshine fades, and the roses wilt, I'll bury us so deep beneath the ice that no one will ever find us. And we'll be dead together in everlasting darkness. Frozen together. Forever.

Julia closed her eyes and sighed, going back to her car. Then a sound stopped her. She turned her golden head and stared. For the first time in his life, Vicious was laughing. And the sound of it was warm.

~The End~

Author's Notes: I haven't read the manga, so I don't know if any of this could even possibly take place. I'm just going by what the DVDs showed. I know that some people might think everyone was acting out of characters, but believe me, I did try to stay as close to the way they were shown in the anime as possible. Please don't hurt me.