When Rabbit had finally called Billie, he’d gotten an earful about taking his sweet time to get back to her. This had petered out into half-teasing comments that she now knew exactly where she fell on his list of priorities. Finally, after a good five minutes, she told him that she had been having a small technical issue with one of her computers and that when she had failed to get a hold of him, she’d found one of her workers to help her and together they had figured out the problem and corrected it.
He was glad it hadn’t been an emergency, and had offered only a sketchy explanation of why he hadn’t been able to answer or call back more quickly. She asked no questions. She only said that he owed her, which he did not disagree with aloud, and assured him that everything was taken care of; no need for him to come now. He assured her he didn’t intend to.
So when he appeared in the reception area, Anne wasn’t expecting him. She looked up from her terminal and blinked in surprise before smiling.
“Hey Rabbit,” she drawled, leaning forward. “Billie didn’t mention you were coming by.”
“I’m not here to see her,” he replied, not looking at the cleavage she was flashing at him. “Is Caine busy?”
Surprised again, she quickly recovered and smirked slyly at him. “Caine, hm? I should have guessed you’d like the Lolita type.”
Rabbit bristled. “Is he busy or not?”
“No need to get defensive,” Anne said with a laugh. “No one’s going to judge your tastes here.”
She’d obviously been taking lessons in wit from Billie. “It’s not business,” he said through his teeth. “I just need to talk to him, if he’s available.”
“Oh, he’s probably curled up somewhere napping.” She rolled her eyes and straightened up. “Let me call up to his room and see if he’s there.”
Rabbit waited in silence while she made use of the convoluted intercom system to do so.
“Caine, sweetheart?” She waited a moment, one hand to her headset, then pursed her lips and sharpened her tone. “Caine. You there?”
There was another pause. Rabbit could barely hear that someone had answered her, and could not make out any words or even recognize the voice. Anne’s chuckle made him assume she’d gotten the right person, though.
“Well, there’s someone here to see you.” A pause. “Rabbit. You remember him? ...Yeah.... Yeah, I’ll tell him.”
She turned to Rabbit, smiling. “He’s up in his room. He says you can go on up, if you like. Number seven.”
“I’ll take the stairs up,” he said. She nodded and pushed a button to allow him entrance to the stairwell.
He went up to the second level of the brothel, but hesitated outside of Caine’s door when he found it. He was weighted down by the feeling that this was some sort of turning point; that things were about to change forever. Shaking himself, he steadied his breathing and knocked.
The door opened and Caine smiled at him with half-lidded, parti-colored eyes. Rabbit steeled himself for the strange sensation he’d felt last time he’d seen Caine, but it wasn’t the same. Instead of a prickling sensation, a slow warmth melted down his spine and spread through his limbs. He entered Caine’s room experiencing a sort of calm he hadn’t felt since he was a child.
Caine gestured him to sit in a desk chair and settled cross-legged on the bed. The room was unexpectedly normal, though Rabbit was surprised by the number of books the young man had stacked on every available surface. On the desk beside him, a terminal screen showed an open document the prostitute had been typing.
“I was working on a paper comparing eschatological views of various Old World cultures.” Rabbit looked over at Caine. The young man smiled. “I’m working on my masters,” he explained, and his smile broadened at the look on Rabbit’s face. “I chose this profession for a reason.”
“I guess it does pay well,” Rabbit conceded.
“You have no idea.” Caine set his elbow on his knee and cupped his chin in his hand. “But you aren’t here to help me pay my tuition.”
Caine waited patiently for him to continue, watching him with what Rabbit was sure was the most innocuous expression he had ever seen.
“I wanted to ask you about what you said last time I was here,” Rabbit said at length. He spoke with careful deliberateness.
Rabbit blinked at the candid tone the young man used to say something so bizarre. “Prophecy?”
Rabbit paused then shook his head; he didn’t feel like lingering on the prostitute’s peculiarities. “You said something about learning my true nature and the end and everything beginning.”
“‘When the Healer touches you, you’ll both learn your true nature. It will be the end for you, and the end will be where everything begins.’” Caine’s voice was soft, and without the strange droning tone Rabbit had heard the first time the words had been spoken. “That’s what I said.”
“What the hell does that mean, though?” Rabbit asked, leaning forward.
Caine blinked at the urgency in his guest’s voice. “It means just what it says.”
“But that doesn’t mean anything to me,” Rabbit insisted. “I don’t know who the healer or whatever is, and the last part about the end and the beginning is just a riddle.”
Caine smiled slowly. “Riddle or not, it is important to you.”
“Yes,” Rabbit said, “Because if it refers to what I think it does, there’s no way you could have known about it.”
“The nature of prophecy is precognitive,” Caine pointed out. “But I’m afraid that I don’t know much more than I told you.”
“Then how did you know to say it?”
“It’s my nature.”
Rabbit straightened, watching the younger man closely. “What do you mean?”
“I see the future,” Caine explained. “And the past.”
“It isn’t,” Caine insisted calmly. “There are many individuals in the world who are not what they seem. Who are more than human.”
“...So you’re claiming that you’re not human.”
The serenity with which his host spoke made Rabbit suspicious that he was not quite sane, but the comforting warmth in his nerves kept him calm.
“Neither are you,” Caine ventured when Rabbit said nothing. “You know you aren’t.”
Rabbit tensed. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I know those aren’t tattoos you’re wearing,” Caine began. Rabbit started to speak, but Caine cut him off with a smile. “And I know about Alan Keys and his son. And about your death.”
Rabbit clenched his teeth, and had to force himself to relax his jaw enough to speak. “How do you know about any of this?”
“I know about the tattoos because I know what you are. I know about the rest through my visions.” Caine sat forward as he spoke and his eyes opened wider. Though his face was carefully calm, something intense sparked in his parti-colored eyes, as though he was willing Rabbit to understand.
“And what am I?” Rabbit challenged.
“You’re a Shard, just like your friend Julian and I are. And you were supposed to die.”
He was interrupted by a soft but insistent beeping. The spark in his gaze guttered immediately as the mundane world edged in on him, and Rabbit watched him crawl across his bed to retrieve a small clock. He blinked dazedly at the numbers as he shut off the alarm, then turned and smiled sheepishly at Rabbit. “I’ve got an appointment in twenty minutes and I need to get ready for it.”
“...Right. This isn’t the end of this conversation, though.”
Caine’s smile softened. “Of course not, Rabbit. I still have a lot to tell you. Just try not to worry about it, if you can, and when we’ve both got some time, we’ll get everything straightened out.”
Rabbit nodded and left the young man alone.