Chapter 13: Paint it Black

I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and it has been painted black
Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts
It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black

Vicious had just gone on as if the whole thing hadn't happened, laying out the course of action for the following day. But there were other calculations going on behind his eyes, ones that no one could even guess. I did not take my eyes off of him once the entire time, and he barely took his off me. He seemed to be looking at me with an expression of pity. Cold if he only pitied the fate he himself was about to create for me. But still pity. He was the only one of the four of us speak at all for the rest of the night. Tomorrow, the Usual Suspects were going to launch a counter attack. "I want to make sure I have your full cooperation on this," he asked in such a hissing, sinister voice no one dared to argue. "Because I can promise you not all of us will be coming back this time."

His gaze shifted squarely at Spike, but Spike did not look away. They continued to stare at each other for a moment, both of their poker faces in full glory. No one in that room had the foggiest idea what either of them were really thinking in that moment but I knew, we all knew, that there was a secret conversation going on in those stares. Two fates were silently being sealed, and all anyone could do was watch.


The following day, Spike insisted that I not go along on the mission. "He's going to fucking kill you," I argued, trying to ignore the fact that I thought I might actually throw up from nervousness.

Spike went on as if he hadn't heard me. "I'll say Mao put you on assignment. Lin's pretty decent behind the wheel."

"And he'll believe you?"

"He's not gonna care, Jules. He'll "believe" whatever I say," he took a slight pause. "Look, it's only a set up if I don't know it's a set up. I can't refuse to go."

"Yes, God forbid we break gangster protocol," I muttered, though I knew I was being a huge hypocrite. I myself was pretty sure I received The Call only a few nights prior and I went. I went preparing to fight, but I went. There really was a certain amount of honor among thieves.

"Jules, I'll be fine. I know Vicious. I know how he operates. I'm coming back from this thing, I promise you." My face must not have looked too comforting because he added, "Don't you trust me?"

"With my life, absolutely. With your own, about half as far as I could throw you."

Spike screwed his face up momentarily as if he was trying to figure out exactly how big a measurement that was. "I'll take it," he shrugged.

"Spike..." I argued feebly.

"I go, you stay," he said in his best cave man voice. "No sense in both of us getting cacked."

"Ok, can you please say something else? I would hate the word "cacked" to be the last thing you ever say to me."

"How about...I love you."

"Better," I kissed him.

"Bellybutton," he replied. "What?" "My last word is now bellybutton. I want it on my tombstone. I'm counting on you to fulfill my dying wish."

Again. Not sure whether to laugh or to beat him senseless. I opted to just tell him I loved him and then he was off. And I was left to wait.


So of course, when the phone rang that evening I was more tempted to pick it up and chuck it across the room than to answer it. "Hello," I said in a small voice.

It was Shin. I didn't even listen to him. I knew what he was going to say. I just nodded and then hung up the phone. I didn't cry. I didn't wail. I didn't drop down to my knees in a fit of dramatic anguish. I simply stormed out of my house and hi jacked the next car to Vicious' office.


I practically kicked his door down. We stared at each from across the room, neither one knowing what to say. He was waiting for me to make the first move. He knew I had the right. That, and I don't think he really knew what I was going to do. I enjoyed that, and I took a moment to relish it. Leave him guessing, if only for a little while. But I also knew that this was not the time to play games. "Why?" I asked him. I didn't shout. I didn't thrash around like a maniac. I didn't ask like The Girl. I asked like someone doing business.

He smiled slightly, though I couldn't quite read what he meant by the smile. "I think you know."

"I know you," I snapped back. "And I know us. Spike and I had nothing to do with this. So what was it?"

Vicious leaned casually on his sword as if he was amused by all of this, but there was something else there too. Sadness, I think, and that threw me. "And why, Julia, do you find it so difficult to believe I was caught up in a jealous rage? We all want love, don't we? Even the most vile, contemptible human beings?"

I cocked my head at him, not entirely sure if he was being serious. "So you're saying we were in love now?"

"Love has nothing to do with it," he sighed. "Spike has not fallen out of my good graces because of the love of a woman. Even my woman, though I hardly ever considered you my property."

"How very liberal minded of you," I snarled. "So what is the real reason?"

"I never swore love to you, Julia. And you never to me. The issue is not that I would be willing to throw it all away over a woman, the issue is that Spike would. And that, Julia, is the betrayal."

I narrowed my eyes into angry slits. "Bullshit."

"Do tell," he smirked.

"He had the respect of your elders and the love of your men. They would follow him anywhere if he chose to lead them. With you it was only out of fear and a lack of other options. And to make it worse...he liked you. He was your worst rival and he didn't even have the courtesy to see you as an enemy. Separate the business from the man, Vicious. This wasn't a betrayal. This was an excuse."

He approached me slowly but in big, powerful steps. He stopped inches in front of me, as if he was trying to stare me down. I had to look up at him to stare back but I did not waver. "If it was, you provided me with it. So for that, I thank you, Julia," he unsheathed his weapon and placed the blade against my stomach. "So the only question that remains is for you. Do you join me and rule over what you have created? Or do you join your sweet prince?"

I thought he might have sliced me open then, but instead he just blew by me on a cloud of arrogance and black fabric. And then it hit me.

Spike was dead.

I sat numbly on the edge of the table. He was gone and with him all of these new ideals I suddenly advocated. If he was gone, what did it matter? One day would be just like the rest, whether in the ground or in the syndicate. I rubbed my eyes, wiping away the first and last tear I ever shed for him. Somehow, it seemed it was only worth feeling things if he was there to feel with me.


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