Death was not absolute. The thought frightened Julian as he sat curled up in the corner of his couch, reflecting.
The world had always been very simple to explain: things were either alive or they weren’t. Buildings weren’t alive, animals were; plants were, textiles were not. It was a long list of living and non-living things, but it described the simple classification that separated things the well being of which one didn’t care about and those one did. If someone punched a wall, one was supposed to worry about the person’s hand more than the wall because the wall couldn’t feel pain. There was materialistic attachment to possessions, but no honest, compassionate concern.
But what about people who were no longer alive, but were not exactly dead either? As far as Julian could describe, Nicholas Rabbit was a zombie: flesh reanimated but not resuscitated. He looked like he had feelings--sometimes anyway--and he went through the motions of living just like anyone else. But he had no pulse. If he wasn’t alive but wasn’t exactly dead either, where did he fall in the continuum of Julian’s classification system? Was Rabbit the fist or the wall?
Earlier in the week, Julian had spent most of his time concentrating on his suspicions about Rabbit’s potential to be the Surge.. The Surge was rumored to be immortal, and being of the undead meant, presumably, Rabbit was capable of having led such as extensive existence. Rabbit’s face still haunted him, though; he could still see the disbelief clearly visible in the other man’s set jaw while his eyes went wide with understanding. He hadn’t known he was dead. Surely the Surge would have known, wouldn’t he?
And yet how many immortals could there be in Solace? Did coincidence lie? Such thoughts had passed from the forefront of his mind, however, with the phone call he had received earlier that morning.
It had been nearly five AM and Julian had not bothered to set an alarm. The screech of the phone woke him with a sudden start, his hand jutting under the pillow for his gun before the sound registered in his mind as safe and normal. It did not put him in a cheerful mood, however, as he held the receiver to his face, not bothering to glance at the blurred ID on the call box with his useless morning vision.
“Vaughn here,” he said, his voice much deeper than normal from the sleep heavy in his throat.
“Is our friend Rabbit there?” came the reply in a voice that dripped with superiority. James Maxwell.
Julian sat up in his bed, looking for a clock. “You have got to be fucking kidding me. Who do you think you are, calling me this early?”
“Temper temper. It’s not like you have a real job. You’ll just lie back down and sleep in past noon once I hang up, so you’ll be getting no pity from me. Answer the question.”
“No, he‘s not. What the hell would he be here for?”
“I’d rather not speculate.”
“Heh. Right. So what is this about? Daddy wants to screen my lovers now? Rabbit’s not good enough for me?” Julian had never been very good at keeping his calm in the face of his father’s condescension. Retaliation was his only resort, a move that seldom worked in his favor.
“On the contrary, I think he’s too good for the likes of you. That’s not going to keep you from killing him for me, though.”
Julian sat frozen for a moment, as though his stillness would help him process his father’s words. It didn‘t. “I’m not an assassin for hire. I’m not going to kill Rabbit. And you keep your lowlife thugs away from him! The hell has he done to you?”
“You know, Phineas is in a lot of trouble. And I’ve been thinking that it might work in my favor if I had a handicapped son. Think of the advantages at home as well. He’d have a hell of a time running off again.”
Julian seethed. “You’re an absolute monster, you know that?”
“Evil is in the eye of the beholder, Julian. I think you realize what I’m getting at. You have twelve hours to reply.” The line went dead.
True to Maxwell’s prediction, Julian had slept until nearly twelve thirty that afternoon, only to curl up on his couch to think over his options as the remaining time ticked by. Phineas or Rabbit? The fist or the wall? Even without stating it directly, it was easy to assume the price of his assistance: kill Rabbit or forfeit Phineas’s health by assisting Rabbit in evading Maxwell’s plot.
Phineas was the obvious choice. Whatever Julian did, he needed ensure his brother’s safety. The real question was whether he would obey Maxwell and trust him to uphold his end of the deal, or defy him and somehow whisk Phineas and Rabbit away to some imagined realm of safety outside of Maxwell’s reach. That latter was the sort of fairy tale ending he could hope for but was wholly unrealistic.
The problem was that even if Rabbit was technically already dead, Julian still liked him. It was true that he’d dropped a bit on the scale of attraction, but that was hardly his fault.
Could he kill Rabbit? He’d killed many times before, and some of the corpses had had faces he knew. That was in the past though, and he’d been a different man then; one who had desired his father’s approval no matter the cost. He hadn’t been that desperate in a long time, and he despised the teenager he had been for his weaknesses. He despised himself even more when he felt those foolish desires still present now, as an adult. Julian Vaughn was not one of James Maxwell’s pawns, or so he told himself frequently when his father’s called on him to perform some service.
Either way, there were only two choices in the matter, and neither of them allowed him the pleasure to remain uninvolved if he cared at all for either his brother or the enigmatic Nicholas Rabbit. There was only one choice.
Julian waited until 4:57 to phone his father back with his reply.