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Stray Dogs

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You see him sometimes with your left eye; his pale hair on the next pillow, the play of muscles on his back as he sharpens his katana at the tiny kitchen table. You blink and then the dream is over, but somehow the memory of his scent lingers. You smell him on the collar of your jacket, on your battered futon, in the cockpit of Swordfish II. He smells like blood and incense, and the musty feathers of birds.

You miss him, you guess. Miss him more than you thought you would when you tried to leave, although you didn't really think you'd miss him at all. You were young and dumb then, and maybe you thought being with Julia would fix everything that was wrong with you. Instead, you just made everything worse. Which isn't all that surprising according to everyone who's ever spent more than five minutes in your company.

But yeah, you kinda miss the asshole. First real friend you ever had. First friend you ever lost.

It's something you never mention to Jet or Faye, because they wouldn't understand; this is as personal as it gets and it's too ugly to share. Then again, you don't really understand it, either. So it's just easier not saying anything.

Yeah, you're pretty good at not saying anything.

Back-to-back like always, you lay down cover fire while Vicious reloads. When you hear the second clip snap into place, you turn and grin. He's right behind you and grinning back, his face white and sharp, mouth like a blade.

"Two o'clock," he says, and you're both moving instantly, firing at the faceless men who are stupid enough to think they can take you on and live. Together, the two of you are unbeatable. On the street, rumor is the two of you can't die.

Well, the rumors are half-right, anyway, and immortality is probably overrated.

Rain trickles down your face and the back of your collar, cordite biting at your nose. You know where Vicious will be just like you know all the ways your body can move, like you always know where your gun is, like the way that the first room you always find in any building is the kitchen.

First blood on your side comes from a ricochet, slivers of brick slicing your cheek. You don't even have time to feel the sting before Vicious fires back, the report of his gun echoing in the alley. There's a body at your feet, a body sprawled a meter away, bodies, bodies, everywhere. You step around the corner and reload, because it's suicide to walk around with an empty clip in your line of work. Vicious kicks a dead man out of his way, leans in close and licks your cheek. His tongue is slick and warm, fingers digging into your jaw as he holds you in place even though you aren't planning on moving anytime soon. He drags his tongue over your skin to the corner of your eye, and you shiver. Just a little. Just enough for him to feel it. His eyes gleam as he snaps the button on your pants, unzips you with one hand, still holding his gun.

"Kinky bastard," you say.

Vicious just arches an eyebrow, and you laugh because you know exactly what he's thinking. You laugh until he makes you stop with his mouth, with his lips and hard stabs of his tongue. It's overwhelming, the way he kisses you; it's like he's trying to tell you something, but you can never hear it over the sound of your own voice raised in appreciation. Hey, it's not your fault that he makes you horny.

Vicious shoves his hand down your pants and strokes your dick. Doesn't take much to make you hard; adrenaline still thrums in your veins from the fight. Vicious licks your cheek again, licks his palm, and then jacks you hard and rough. His mouth tastes tinny and a little sweet from your blood. Your eyes roll back in your head when he sucks at your neck, your fingers twisting in his white hair. Vicious rubs his thumb over the head of your dick and you grunt, trying not to come right there. He knows exactly how to play you, and you love that as much as you hate it.

Movement to the right, and you shoot before thinking, before whatever it is comes into focus. There's a hole in the forehead of the idiot who just woke up from a nap and reached for his weapon. Vicious hisses in your ear, strokes your nipple through your shirt with the nose of his gun. You come with your eyes open, breathing hard and sweating as Vicious licks his hand clean.

You know you must have a cocky grin on your face when you go down on your knees. His eyes are hooded as he looks down at you. His hair looks silver from the rain. Vicious never talks during sex; you make enough noise to wake the neighbors. It makes a weird kind of sense, but the two of you always do. He's Yin and you're Yang, although if Vicious ever hears you call him Yin, he'll probably kill you. Or he'll try, anyway, because at the end of the day, you're not sure who'll win that fight. Every spar ends in a draw.

You pull out his cock and suck it down like you're starving, like you do this every day, and really, you basically do. There's no sense in abstaining, and you like the way his dick stretches your mouth and makes your jaw ache. You like how Vicious breathes in sharply when you rub your tongue just right. You like the way he rests his gun hand on your shoulder, the way he clutches at your hair when he comes in your mouth. You like making him lose control, and you're pretty sure that you're the only one who can.

When you rise, your pants are wet with blood at the knees.

Vicious hates you because you tried to leave the syndicate, because you betrayed the cause, betrayed Mao Yenrai, who lifted both of you out of the muck and made you what you are. That's what you think, anyway. You think that for the longest time. Thing is, you forget that Vicious doesn't actually hate anybody. He classifies people as 'useful' or 'nothing', but otherwise he's pretty non-judgmental for a guy who goes around spying and assassinating people for a living. Even as a kid, he looked at everybody with that cold stare; it was his own kind of honesty. He looked at you like that at first, but hey, you're kind of an irresistible guy, so it didn't last long.

Vicious is a creature of ambition and thinks hatred is pointless, or at least, he used to when you could be in a room together and not try to kill each other. But you... you, he hates. With a passion as hot as the lick of blue flame on the bottom of your feet; you still have scars from that lesson.

Takes you a really long time to figure out why Vicious hates you. Almost takes you three years. Sometimes you're pretty stupid.

Maybe you never should have left. You didn't get anything you wanted when you tried, not even your freedom. Vicious will never let you go. You're pretty sure that you don't really want him to.

After all, it's not like you're letting go of him, either.

The city is doing rolling brownouts on the grid to conserve power, at least in the parts of the city without any rich people living there. God forbid if the rich people actually have to sweat or anything. It's so hot that nobody's outside, nobody's doing anything, so there's nobody who needs protecting, and therefore there's nothing for the two of you to do. You're both really bad at waiting. Phenomenally, astronomically, galactically bad, although Vicious hides it better than you do. But if you can't kill the enemies of the Red Dragon, there's always something else you can do that's almost as much fun.

Vicious likes to fuck you languid, loose-limbed and open, your eyelids sleepy with sex. Your hands slipping all over his skin, your fingers lingering over pressure points you could use to kill him while he comes. The sheets stick to your skin. The ceiling fan goes whuff-whuff-whuff overhead, slowing gradually when the power dies. You cross your legs behind his thighs and moan low in your throat, head back, neck bare.

Vicious likes to bite. He bites your shoulder, neck, the soft skin under your jaw; he bites your ear and licks it, and you laugh because it tickles. His breath catches as your body contracts around his dick.

"You gonna do me all day?" you ask, unconcerned, sweat slipping down your temple, under your arms, and the crease of your hip. The candle on the nightstand gutters and goes out.

"Until your bones are like water," Vicious says fiercely.

You try not to smirk. "Heh."

Vicious fucks you harder, and you rock with it. Your body knows how it's supposed to move for this guy; it has for years, since you were nineteen and reckless with hormones, and Vicious didn't hit you when you palmed his dick. Instead, his eyes flared with heat, and he growled before he touched you back. He never touched you like that before then, but afterward it was as if he never stopped, like maybe he couldn't stop himself. He doesn't touch you like you're precious and you're no fragile lotus blossom. No, he fucks you like he needs to, and his need makes you greedy. You always want more. In the dark, Vicious tells you that you should take what you have and guard it with your life, and never let anyone take it from you.

You stretch your arms over your head. "What, don't tell me you've never wanted something you can't have?"

Vicious doesn't answer. You can't see his face without the light. You scratch your grumbling stomach, and the moment passes before either of you say something you can't take back.

There's nothing gentle about either of you, not in body, face, or mind. You don't even know what the word means until after you're dead.

Vicious never says anything about it, not that he was ever a talkative guy. Hell, he talks less than you do, which is kinda creepy if you think about it, but it's not like you're gonna stop and chat in the middle of a firefight. But every time he sees you after you leave the syndicate (it's twice, you know it's only twice, but it feels like it should be more, you want it to be more and you never want to see him again), he looks at you like he wants to burn you alive and feast on your bones. He looked at you like that the first time you said Julia's name like it was a revelation.

He never thought much of her, had no trust in her, and you never asked him why. Knowing won't make things any easier between you. Nothing will until you kill each other, and that won't be long now that you've caught his scent again.

You wanted out. You wanted to get out and spend the rest of your life with Julia, doing silly stuff like shopping for groceries and holding hands in the park. It was nothing but a stupid pipe dream, you know that now. You're not cut out for happily ever after, and Julia isn't the girl next door. You knew that the first time you smelled her perfume on Vicious's skin. When you fucked him that night, you weren't sure who you were trying to punish. His eyes were flat and he didn't make a sound even when you made him come without touching his dick; you slept with your head resting between his shoulder blades wondering if he'd let you wake up again.

Years later, as you're chowing down on bell peppers with no beef on the Bebop, you'll realize that you were pissed off because you weren't there with them, between them, in them, and Jet will call after you worriedly as you walk away from the table with your plate half-full.

You wanted out and you didn't choose him.

You didn't choose him, and he'll never forgive you for that. You broke all of the rules.

Maybe if you'd played your cards right, you could've had them both. Now you'll never know.

The first time you meet, you bump arms in an open doorway, and when your eyes catch, a live wire shiver climbs up your spine. He bares his teeth and you narrow your eyes; you circle each other like dogs in that dark hallway, your hand on the butt of your gun and an inch of his blade bare. You think you can take him, but you don't get a chance to test the theory, because Mao Yenrai's hand lands on your shoulder.

"Spike, my boy," he says. "I see you've met Vicious."

"We didn't exactly exchange calling cards," you say, easing your stance.

Mao pats your shoulder and moves away. "Well, come along. We've got work to do."

Behind Mao's back, you aim your fingers at Vicious's forehead and mime the kick of your gun. "Bang."

Vicious sneers, and never takes his hand from the hilt of his sword.

The second time you meet, Vicious blows you a kiss from across a crowded room, and you lunge for his throat. The hulking black bird on his shoulder cries out and scores your face with its claws. It takes six syndicate bodyguards to pull you apart, and two more to keep you from going back for another round. When they hustle you out the door, you touch your cheek and your hand comes away damp with blood.

You're on a job the third time, and you keep your distance because something about the guy obviously makes you crazy. Bad crazy, like a maddening itch in your brain.

"Some people are like barbed hooks," your mother used to say. "Stray too close, and you get tangled up." She died so many years ago that sometimes you forget how to picture her face. You never knew your father, which is probably for the best, considering all the names your mother called him before she started coughing up blood.

The meet is at an abandoned warehouse on Rio Nagaoka Boulevard. It has too many dark corners and too much open space for comfort. The hair on your nape prickles. Up until a few years ago, you used to squat in this neighborhood, and so you know it's nothing but bad news.

You watch the shadows with your hand on your gun while Mao Yenrai and some guy in a fancy suit come to an agreement. They reach out to shake hands, and then the air explodes in flame.

"Get him to the car!" you shout, pushing bodyguards toward Mao. They grab his arms and carry him out like a wave. A guy jerks next to you and crumples, his head half-blown. You think his name is Hoshi.

Something flashes in your peripheral vision. Vicious slices a guy in half with his sword and then spins away from the spray of blood. Two more of your guys get nailed as you make your way across the warehouse, and then you and Vicious are the only Red Dragons left. You back up until you bump shoulders.

"Let's hunt them like beasts," he says.

Your smile is so wide that it hurts your face. "Bet you a million Woolongs that I kill more of 'em than you."

"You're dreaming," Vicious tells you. "Three million."


"Ten." Vicious glances over, and you're both smiling the same smile, wild and reckless. You're outnumbered eight to one, but you just don't care, because you know that you're going to win.

You duck and roll and come up firing, and Vicious is right there with you, the sheath of his katana pressing along your hip. It's like magic, like coming home, hell, it's like coming. You lose yourself in your body, in the sound and fury of the fight. The two of you slaughter them all.

When you wake up, his eyes gleam as he holds his bare blade to your throat. Your muscles tremble with adrenaline, your gun aiming at his heart. His pale skin is flushed; you've never seen him look so alive.

"You owe me ten million Woolongs," Vicious says. "I won't kill you yet."

You pull the trigger and the hammer clicks on an empty chamber. "Looks like it's your lucky day."