The first gunshot seemed to echo forever. Julian’s eyes darted to where Rabbit stood, shot after shot ringing in his ears in painful succession. He leapt across the bed to Rabbit’s side, ignoring the linens that caught at his feet, and grabbed Rabbit’s arm to stop him before he bothered to look at what was being shot at.
“Rabbit! Rabbit, people will hear!”
It didn’t make a difference. Rabbit continued until the clip was empty. Then the gun went slack in his grip and Julian took it from him, stuffing it into his pants for the time being. With a sickening heaviness in his gut, he turned to face the spot on the floor that had sustained the blows.
Julian sank to the filth-stained carpet, unable to speak. His fingers reached out to pet the blood-splattered face of what remained of William. “Oh my god....”
Someone had to have heard all that noise. Julian looked around the room, at last pulling the discolored sheets from the bed to wrap the body in.
Rabbit shook his head, stepping around the bed towards the door. “Leave it.”
“No.” Julian finished what he was doing and gently began to wrap up the shattered remains. The body was silent in a way only Julian could feel--a cold, deafening quiet in place of an endless cacophony. He wrapped the sheet around William as gently as he could, wishing to show some kindness in death to contrast what must have been a hellish existence.
Rabbit remained distant, his eyes hollow as he looked out of the room. “You want to take care of the body, fine. But I’m not waiting.”
“You can’t abandon me here.”
“I’m not transporting the body. Call the fucking police; that’s what they’re there for.”
“Then what are you here for?” Julian stood up, holding the remains close, feeling warmth as blood began to soak through his shirt to his skin.
Since the moment he had pulled the trigger, something had changed in Rabbit that frightened Julian more than he wanted to admit. He watched his partner’s retreating back, his quick, heavy footsteps demonstrating the same unmoving, forceful will that his words had. He was down the hall and running back down to the stairwell before Julian had even left the apartment.
“Rabbit!” Julian had to sprint with his awkward bundle to catch up with him.
“I did my job. I was supposed to find him and I did.”
“So that's it? Find the boy, kill him, and leave him behind, is that all you’re in this for? This is your case!”
“You wanted to help so badly, why don’t you do something that's actually useful!” The dark-skinned man slammed the door open at the bottom of the stairs, choosing the one that exited the building altogether rather than the one that led into the lobby, and stalked over to his bike, hands clenching at his sides. He was going home and he was not going to compromise on how or when.
“You black hearted son of a bitch.” Julian joined him in the alley, glaring at him with all his might. “You’d leave his body behind for that mad man to desecrate further? Your job was to rescue him, not just find him! And instead you murder him and then walk away?”
Rabbit straddled his motorcycle, his face hard. “He’d been dead for weeks, Julian. You saw him, don’t even pretend that what was left was alive. Breathing isn’t the same as alive,” he added to forestall any arguments. He gunned the engine. “Think what you’re holding is going to of be any consolation to his mother? Leave it or I’m leaving you here with it.”
Julian hugged the swaddled corpse closer to his chest. “Will you tell the SPD where I’ve left him if I do?”
Rabbit looked at him for a second then pulled out his mobile.
Quietly, Julian walked over to the trash canisters and laid the boy down amongst them with a slight cringe, hiding him from sight. At least the SPD would be around in half an hour at most to take him where he needed to go. For now William was safe from Greg, which was what really mattered. He raced back over to Rabbit who was already off the phone and waiting. He slid onto the motorcycle behind him and held on tight as they ripped away from the scene.
The ride seemed longer than it actually was. Julian’s hold on Rabbit was like an embrace; one arm was snaked around Rabbit’s waist, the other wrapped around his chest as Julian’s mind raced with the demons he imagined were singing in Rabbit’s ears. What was going on in his head, the imagery or memories that hardened him so quickly and completely, were a mystery to Julian. Though part of him was curious to a fault, another part was too scared to even want to know.
Rabbit pulled up in front of Julian’s apartment complex, idling as he waited for his passenger to disembark. Slowly, Julian unwrapped himself from Rabbit and slid off. Somehow he hadn’t expected to arrive back home after the day’s events. Had they arrived at SPD headquarters, a bar or Rabbit’s home, it would have seemed logical. Instead, he was being dropped back at home, jettisoned from Rabbit’s life with as much grace and compassion as he had used to dispatch William. He’d expected to work beside Rabbit for days, get to know him, find out the truth behind his assumptions and perhaps indulge in a little harmless seduction along the way. Instead, it took him under five hours to meet the man and find himself back home with the case solved. Five hours hadn’t been near enough to focus on his real motives and his excuse was no longer legitimate.
Julian fished through his mind, grasping for something to forestall the goodbyes. “So...you want to come upstairs for a bit?”
Rabbit shook his head, looking straight ahead with eyes that saw nothing.
“I have a fully stocked liquor cabinet,” he added.
Rabbit gunned the engine, punctuating his annoyance. “You’ll want to get upstairs before someone asks about the blood.”
Feeling at the red stain on his chest, Julian took a step away from the curb. “Right. Well...I’ll see you, then.”
Rabbit gave a curt nod then blasted off down the street in a blur that exploded past the intersection. Julian watched for a minute, waiting to be sure he didn’t wreck within his line of sight, then hurried inside and into the elevator to ride up to his apartment. Catching his reflection on the elevator door, Julian grimaced and looked away. His hair was a mess. In addition to the large red stain blooming across his shirt, there were speckles of blood strewn across his face and torso. He looked as though he had experienced the worst day in his life, and truthfully it hadn’t been all that bad. Tragic and frightening, but in the scope of his life, relatively calm. All he’d done was read a lot, stare into several terminal screens, and ride on a motorcycle a couple times. If anyone had had an unnecessarily rough day, it was Rabbit.
Shoulders slouched to better hide his stained shirt, Julian ran across the hallway to his apartment and let himself in without catching anyone’s attention. He hurried straight to the bathroom and set the water to scalding, ready to burn away everything his senses had taken in--physical and otherwise--under the hot cascade of water.
Death was always hard to shake off and he came into physical contact with it as little as possible. It wasn’t because of the uneasy queasiness he got in his stomach, which was his normal reaction to the sight or thought of anything particularly disgusting; the image of William Speight’s remains would haunt his dreams for weeks, but he would eventually shake it off and never think about it again.
The touch of death, however, was always something much more tangible than the corpse. Bodies were not made to be silent; every cell, nerve and organ was supposed to be alive with a murmur of purpose or impatient request to some other part of the body. It was incessant, and Julian registered it simply as background noise unless he had a need for it to be otherwise. It never stopped as long as the body lived, because it was the sound of life. It was only in death that the sounds were gone and could not begin again. The song of mortality was silence and despite the scalding water, Julian felt goosebumps rise on his skin at the thought of it.
He felt a twinge of remorse for the poor officer who would have to search through the trash to retrieve William. Not making his parents identify his body would be a mercy, and he hoped verifying the boy’s DNA would be enough. Had that been the reason Rabbit had wanted to abandon it, he wondered? The thought of further desecration made bile rise in Julian’s throat, but if it meant that there was nothing to identify physically and they could spare the parents, it would almost be worth it. No parent deserved to see their child like that. The story they would hear was bad enough; they didn’t need to look at the remains and really see with their own eyes the kind of life their eleven-year-old son had been forced to live. Greg Waters would get death for his crimes. That was certain, but it probably wouldn’t be much of a consolation.
Still, knowing the disgusting man’s fate made Julian feel cleaner than the water and soap did. What he and Rabbit had done would save people from the psychopath even if they had not been able to save his most recent victim. William would be the last to suffer the way he had, and Rabbit had seen to his quick, merciful death. Nothing had gone according to plan for either of them, it seemed. Julian no longer had a reason to hover around his handsome Surge suspect and Rabbit‘s victory was void of anything celebratory.
Everything was over and done with, at least. The SPD should have arrived at the scene almost an hour ago. While Julian washed his hair, the police were probably combing the vile apartment for more evidence to stack against Greg. Justice at work, set in motion by himself and the still-mysterious Nicholas Rabbit.
Julian turned the shower off, his skin a rosy pink, and wrung his hair out before stepping onto the bath mat and drying his body. His reflection was uncertain in the fog on the mirror, and he cast only a cursory glance at it as he went into his bedroom. A pair of red pajama bottoms and an undershirt later, he took a seat on his couch, hairbrush in hand. This was a task that was likely to take a good hour, thanks to the windy ride and the shower, and he made himself comfortable, turning the terminal on his coffee table to a news feed to give his mind something other than the day’s events to concentrate on.
The young news reporter’s sparkling pink blouse was almost an eyesore. The marquee at the bottom of the screen gave a quick overview of the day’s headlines, most of which were mundane: scientists had manufactured a new foodstuff with a greater nutritional value that was sure to taste like rusted metal, a prominent actress was being detained for public indecency, and stocks were behaving as they always did. A slow news day.
“When asked for a statement, Mrs. Lambert gave no comment. Her new movie is set to open next month.” The angle changed and the reporter’s wide, white smile faded as she turned a solemn frown towards the new camera. “And now for coverage on our top story tonight, we go to Steve Chris, who’s coming to us live on location location. Steve?”
“Thank you, Linda. Behind me you can see what was once the home of a man experts are calling the most heinous serial murderer in Solace’s history. Firefighters have managed to put out the flames and have discovered what appears to be disassembled human remains and at least one intact body. These remains are being taken to the SPD labs to be analyzed. If you are worried or have a missing loved one, the SPD would like you to contact them on a special hotline. The number should be appearing on the screen right now.”
Julian sat frozen, still holding the brush to his head.
“As many of our viewers will recall, police were first notified of the fire less than an hour ago. It was started and contained inside the suspect’s apartment. Police believe the suspect was attempting to destroy incriminating evidence and has yet to be heard from or seen. The apartment in question was rented to a Mr. Gregory Waters”--the screen split so that it showed the reporter and the picture from Greg’s civilian file scowling at the viewers--“who is considered armed and dangerous. Should anyone see or come into contact with the suspect, they are urged to call the SPD immediately.”
Linda replaced Greg on one side of the screen; her frowning face mirrored the seriousness of the story. “Now, Steve, how long does the SPD believe this man has been committing these crimes? And why did no one catch on before this fire incident?”
“Well, Linda, as we understand it, the attacks were so varied and so widely dispersed that no one believed there to be a connection between them. The suspect had no regard for age, gender, race or social status. Due to the sensitive and disturbing nature of the case, the SPD hasn’t released information to the press concerning how they know this, but they assure us that this is the first time in over a hundred years that they have seen a case of such magnitude. We advise all of our viewers to take extra precautions when traveling alone and to lock their doors at night. For more tips on safety, we take you back to the studio with Jeff Collins.”
Julian closed the feed and sat unmoving, staring at the blank screen. Gears turned, thoughts bounced, and haunting ideas began to float back to the surface. He dropped his hairbrush on the coffee table, slipped on his boots, and ran out the door, forgetting about his wet, tangled mass of hair or the casual state of his dress.
On the street, the bus was waiting for him, as though it knew he was in a hurry; he bounded onto it, and didn’t bother to look for a seat. He held on to the overhead bar, glancing out the window as they traveled, willing the bus to go faster or for the familiar blur of a motorcyclist to scream past them. Neither happened. When at last the bus pulled up to the stop on Rabbit’s corner, Julian hurried down the short stairs, through the building’s entrance and into the elevator, only to burst out again when the doors opened onto the correct floor. He jabbed his finger into the buzzer at Rabbit’s door, trying to convey his urgency with the sound it was making inside.
With a tired swish, the door slid open, and Rabbit looked out at him with a clear mixture of curiosity and surprise across his pierced face. He was shirtless and wore only a pair of pajama pants, similar to Julian’s, but black. His torso and arms were covered in tattoos, some tribal and nonsensical and others of a less abstract nature. More prominent than any of them, however, was the large, pink scar that snaked around his body. It began over his right clavicle, disappeared behind his back and reappeared to join the tattoos along his left hip, breaking up the design with it’s raw discoloration.
There was something wrong about the scar. Just the look of it made Julian feel uneasy.
Rabbit stood in front of him, waiting for an excuse to shut the door on his face or let him in. He seemed unfazed by Julian’s stare, apparently content to stare back at him. Remembering his own appearance, Julian ducked his head a bit and tore his eyes from the dark man’s body.
“Have you heard?”
Julian stepped closer to the door, wrapping a hand around the frame to keep Rabbit from closing it. “Greg Waters set fire to his apartment, burned up a lot of the evidence, and then disappeared.”
Whatever reaction he had expected it hadn’t been total disinterest. “Is that all?”
“Is that all? Rabbit, don’t you get it? You’re in danger.”
Still unfazed and uninterested, Rabbit walked away from the open door and returned to his couch. The controller for his game console was on the seat beside him.
Julian took it as a sign to come in, and closed the door behind himself. “You called the SPD when I was hiding William’s body and we saw Greg leave before we even went inside the room. The apartment fire was out and on the news less than an hour after we left. Don’t you see what that means? I think Greg Waters must have been in the area when we left. He saw us--”
“Or he came home, couldn’t find his toy, and put the pieces together,” Rabbit interjected, saving his game; Julian’s presence made the likelihood of continuing seem small.
“Even if that is the case, he saw us in the hallway outside his door. Those are the pieces I’d think you’d be worried about him connecting.” Julian took a seat on the couch. “Even if you’re right and he thought I was a woman after seeing us like that in the hall, you’re kind of an individual as far as looks go.”
“And here I thought the bad boy look had been done before. Guess I’m more original than I thought.”
“Are you even listening to me?”
“Yes, but I’m pointedly ignoring your conclusion.” Rabbit lit another cigarette. The ashtray already held four extinguished butts.
Julian watched him for a minute, gauging his response. “Fine, if you don’t want to believe that psycho might come after you for revenge, be my guest. But how are we going to track him down again? He knows all the ins and outs of the transportation systems, so he can travel anywhere and be practically invisible. All he’d need to do is procure a pre-paid cred card to transfer anonymous funds to and he’d be completely under the radar.”
“Not my problem.”
“Not your...” Julian leaned forward. “What do you mean it’s not your problem? You were inside his apartment, you saw the same things I did. How can you believe for one minute that it is not our duty to stop him from continuing? People like him don’t stop because they’re afraid to get caught, they just move to a place where the fear is less pronounced!”
Rabbit tapped the ashes off of his cigarette, eyes still oddly vacant. “My job was to find William Speight, not Greg Waters. I don’t deal in adult cases.”
“I’ll hire you to help me on the case, then.”
“I’m not a mercenary.”
Julian shook his head in disbelief. “You’re really just going to turn your back on this case? What if he strikes again and it’s another kid? Don’t you believe in preventative measures?”
“You want to know what I believe?” His green eyes were haunting. Julian stared into them, feeling a shiver travel down his spine at the cold, dead expression on the dark man’s face. He gave a slow, uncertain nod, waiting for Rabbit to continue. “I believe the police have a name and a face, which is more than we ever had to go by and we found him just fine. The SPD is capable enough to track him down on their own, and I’ve better things to do than waste my time and energy doing their work for them and being constantly reminded of the kind of monsters we share the world with.”
Julian held his stare even after he finished speaking, lost in the silence and trapped inside the emptiness of his eyes. They were mesmerizing and on some level wrong. They made him feel the same way the scar did. They were just wrong. Eyes were supposed to be the window to the soul, but it seemed the drapes were pulled closed on Rabbit’s.
“How did you get that scar?” he asked, breaking the silence and the unnatural heaviness hanging over their heads.
The change of subject bothered neither of them. Rabbit extinguished what was left of his cigarette and leaned back against the arm of his couch. “Motorcycle accident. Surprised?”
“Not really. That you survived is a bigger surprise.”
Rabbit nodded. “I was in a coma for a while. They handed me over to my friend to take care of once I was patched up, to free up a hospital bed or something I’m sure. Nicer coming to in a familiar place than a hospital, though. Alan may be an asshole, but he’s a softy when it comes to my well-being. I don’t have any memories of the accident though--just coming to with this lovely scar and minor muscle atrophy.”
Julian continued to stare at the scar. “You must have broken several bones to have been sliced up like that. You’re lucky you didn’t sever your spine.”
“I know. It doesn’t matter, though. It’s in the past. Maybe now that you know what it’s from, you could stop staring at it.” His voice carried a command as he spoke, finally annoyed with Julian’s lingering eyes.
The long-haired man did not comply. “Sorry. It’s just that I realized why your scar seems so out of place.”
Rabbit cocked his head. “Out of place how?”
Julian extended his hand towards his tattooed chest, fingers reaching to brush against the once broken skin. Rabbit watched his hand, wary of it, and leaned back against the arm of the couch to keep away from it.
“The skin didn’t grow back together--it was melted. Cauterized and melted. The color’s all wrong too, though, like there’s no blood at all in it.”
“What, are you a doctor, too?” Rabbit still pressed himself against the couch, though the hand had stopped moving and hovered inches from him.
Julian shook his head, his hair shifting across his shoulders. “No. Not really. I just have a rather intimate knowledge of the body.”
“That had better not be a pickup line.”
“It’s not. Can I touch it?”
Rabbit remained unsure, aware that he’d somehow lost the high ground. He felt slightly panicked, his legs suddenly restless. Refusing to relinquish control of the situation, he sat up a little taller, and wrapped one hand around Julian’s extended wrist to pull it forward. “You want to touch my scar? Fine. I don’t exactly have any feeling in it. Like you said, it’s dead. That’s what happens when you get nearly cut in two.”
Julian’s mind reeled. Silence. The same deafening, cold silence he’d already felt once that day. There was also a strange vibration--a trembling too deep to label--that was uncomfortable and new. He yanked his hand back, away from Rabbit’s chest, his own chest beginning to heave in unsteady, frightened breaths.
Rabbit stared at him, as confused by his reaction as he had been by the request. “What?”
Julian’s lips trembled slightly as the words passed through them, unsure how to reconcile what his senses were telling him with what he knew to be true. “You’re dead.”
Though Rabbit’s presence contradicted it, there was no question or doubt in Julian’s mind. There was no explanation, no rationalization, but the truth was irrefutable: Nicholas Rabbit was dead.