Chapter 7: Something Good
I had a wicked childhood
Christmas Eve, 2066
The thing about half-dead bodies is that there is really no logical way to hold them while you are simultaneously trying not to become a half-dead body yourself. Julia barely knew how they even got into the safe house alive but they did. Well, 2/3 of them did. The last one was up in the air.
She and Spike dumped their fallen comrade on the floor of the house before tentatively peeking out the front window. So far, they had lost their enemies. That didn't really count for much. The only reason why the Tigers weren't already busting down their door is they were mistakenly under the impression that there would be a team of Dragons waiting for them at the house. There wasn't. It was just Julia, Spike and Tiny. Julia hated it when particularly large dogs or hit men or whatever, were named Tiny, because it just wasn't very funny and it somehow added to the irritation of lugging the man's 280-pound frame into house. "What would you nickname him, then?" Spike asked as he attempted to curb their partner's bleeding.
"Big Fat Mother Fucker?" Julia suggested as she broke some thread off in her teeth. Spike smirked as she began to hastily stitch up the wound. She hated stitches almost more than being shot. Both receiving and giving them.
"I'll bring it up at the next meeting," Spike replied and the two of them shared a sideways sort of smile. They had gotten into the habit of talking about bullshit on the job. Not in front of Vicious, as he wouldn't stand for such post-modern nonsense. But secretly, the two of them enjoyed their missions together. It was the only time they felt they could behave somewhat like normal human beings, despite the fact that their daily agenda was a far cry from normal. It was really the only time they let their guard down just enough to be themselves.
"Man," Spike grumbled, slumping against the wall in exhaustion when the bleeding was finally subdued. "What a night. Do you think Vicious and the boys did any better?"
"I hope so," Julia sighed. If they hadn't, there would be much ass reaming from Mao for sure.
"I think I've got some brains on my shirt," Spike suddenly noticed, obviously grossed out. "That just isn't right," he sighed as he tried to flick some sort of goo off his person without betraying his cool exterior.
"Merry Christmas," Julia suddenly blurted out, pulling a small package out of her jacket. Spike just looked at her like she had nine heads. "Sorry," she said sheepishly. "I meant to segue into that gracefully but the mention of gray matter officially killed all hope of that."
"What is it?" "It's a present," she said in a "duh" tone of voice. "It's what people traditionally do on Christmas." She was aware of the fact that said tradition didn't usually include hastily sewing up bleeding fat men with fishing wire in an abandoned shack, but you take what you can get.
"You didn't have to do that," Spike said almost cautiously, still staring at the package as if it would bite. It had been awhile since he had seen a present. And it was probably the first time in human history one was given in these exact circumstances.
"Of course I didn't have to," she said. "But you're my friend. And a pretty good one. I don't have too many of those," she said a little sadly, and then added with a sly sort of grin, "So I have to secure your loyalty with material things."
Spike chuckled lightly as he finally proceeded to open his present. Inside the box was a tiny picture frame. And mounted neatly in the center of it was a fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie. Spike scrunched his face up in curiosity before his eyes lit up with the realization of what he had. "Shit, is this from Huang's?" he asked. Julia nodded.
Spike shook his head in amazement. He used to squat in an empty apartment above Huang's Take Out. Old Huang knew about it but didn't have the heart to say anything. He even "threw out" some neatly wrapped egg rolls from time to time. They were the best egg rolls in the history of the universe. He had mentioned this discovery briefly to Julia and Vicious when they passed it one night coming back from the bars. He never mentioned it again. It floored him to think she remembered. "Thanks, Jules," he said, barely containing his amusement. It was such an odd, thoughtful gift, which was appropriate because he always thought of Julia as a little odd and a little thoughtful.
"I wasn't sure about the saying," she said, leaning over him to read it as if she had never seen her own gift before. "It was kind of cheesy but then I also thought it was very... well... you."
The fortune said, You will be hungry soon. Order take out now. Huang's number was printed neatly at the bottom. Spike shrugged. "We know it'll come true," he reasoned, and then he suddenly began rooting around in his jacket. "I got you something too," he said.
Julia didn't believe him for a second and Spike knew that, but it didn't stop him from trying. "I got you..." A button, a gum wrapper, a paper clip... what the hell was... oh yeah. A half eaten mint. A lighter? That was always a good gift but he would only borrow it from her anyway. There had to be something in his pocket of some use. She was getting suspicious. "I got you," he repeated as his fingers wrapped around a random object. "This coaster!" he announced as if he knew this all along. Hey, a coaster was functional.
Julia gasped. "Damn, I hate water rings!" she exclaimed with playful enthusiasm. "How did you know?"
"See, the beauty of this coaster," Spike explained as he handed it to her, continuing to play it off like this was all part of some grand plan. "Is that it not only protects your coffee table, but at some point in time, it might accrue sentimental value. Like, you could be 80 years old with nine thousand cats and you'll come across this coaster and say, ‘Hey. I remember this place. We had such good times at, uh,... where was that from again?"
"Sullivan's," Spike continued as if he hadn't missed a beat. "And you will think, 'Wow. That Spike was a real thoughtful guy.'"
Julia smiled in such a way that indicated she was both touched and amused by his effort and then sighed as she snapped open the suddenly ringing comm. She hated the comm more than she hated water rings, stitches and fat guys named Tiny combined. "What?"
It was Vicious. They did seem to have a slightly better night but he had news that if Spike and Julia didn't get out of there soon, their night was going to get a lot worse. She and Spike looked at each other with similar expressions of dread as they geared themselves up to lug Tiny back out to the car. And so Christmas was over not too long after it began.
It was probably the night Spike officially fell in love with Julia, if one wanted to pinpoint such things. He was infatuated with her from the very first time he saw her. But it was a giddy, stupid little crush that had more to do with her hair and her eyes. But that night he realized it wasn't really physical at all. It wasn't that she was a hot chick. It was that delirious momentary high he got when he could make her smile, and the fact that she could return the favor. It was the fact that she remembered stupid, useless things, simply because they were important to him. It was the fact that she would give him a fortune cookie tag in a picture frame. Who does that?
All of those things had nothing to do with her hair and her eyes, which he still enjoyed. But that wasn't what was making it increasingly more enjoyable to hang out with her, to go on jobs with her, to just be near her. It was just her. It was Julia. And he was positive after that night that life just wouldn't be as fun without her around. It would be months before he'd ever act on those feelings, and even longer before he expressed them out loud, but that was probably the night they first came into being.
And he always thought, at least a little, that maybe something was there for her too that night. But now, sitting in a dingy bar by himself in Tharsis City, he wasn't sure of anything anymore. Maybe it was all a lie. Maybe in the end, she was the businesswoman Vicious had always hoped she'd be. Maybe everyone was right. Maybe he was a complete and total jackass. He rotated the piece of cardboard in his fingers absently until something caught his eyes. He shifted his gaze down towards the coaster and realized something was written on the back:
Wow. That Spike was a real thoughtful guy.
He stared at that. Just stared at the words scrawled on the back until the edges glowed, burning into the back of his eyes like embers. He stared... and then he paid his tab and left the bar.