Chapter 13


"No, I said a quickie! I get to leave now! It's in the rules!" Sasha shouted as he squirmed out of Julian's bed.

Julian watched him, a little amused by his flailing and apparent need to be loud and put on a show. The albino was, at the very least, a source of endless amusement. "If we're going by the rules, does that mean you're going to make me breakfast?" he asked, scooting to one side to get a better view of his friend getting dressed.

"It's four in the afternoon and those aren't the quickie rules. You only have to make breakfast when you wake up in the morning and know for damn sure the person next to you is gonna be pissed when they find out what happened when they were drunk. It's like a consolation prize," Sasha informed him, buttoning his pants. "The quickie rule states that, so long as I approach the situation by saying, 'Hey, got time for a quickie?' I get to run out of here afterwards guilt free and you're not allowed to be pissy about it."

"What you lack in pigmentation you make up for in being an asshole." Julian threw a pillow at him in exaggerated annoyance. "Go ahead and go, you're nothing but a distraction anyway."

Sasha smirked and leaned in for a kiss, which Julian gave without hesitation. "Still working on that creepy kid eating guy?"

"Waters? Yeah." Julian extracted himself from the comfort of the bed and sat up, stretching his arms over his head to pop his back.

"Careful. That stuff’ll warp your mind," Sasha cautioned, sitting down to pull on his socks and boots. "Oh, you think you'll have time to stop by the club tonight? We got rented out for a rave or something. Looks like it'll be awesome. It's invite only, but I can get you in if you want."

Julian shrugged. Raves often involved drug use and, not being all that fond of needles or the idiots that used them, they weren't really his scene. "Don't wait up for me, but if I need a break from this case, I'll keep the offer in mind."

"I'll add you to the guest list just in case, then. Just stop by the bar and say hi if you show. And on that note, I gotta run. My boss is going to have my testicles for stress balls if I'm late again, and not in a good way either."

Julian nodded dully, sitting up far enough to give Sasha's backside a good whack as he stood. "Yeah, whatever, run away Mr. Casanova. Your public awaits."

Sasha smiled and took another kiss before heading to the door. "See ya."

"Sure."

After some hurried steps across the apartment floor, the front door closed behind him. Julian flopped back down on the bed, not interested in the rest of the day now that he'd managed to find himself back where he'd started it. It seemed counter-productive to get up and pretend to go on living when so much of his day was gone and he was quite comfortable where he was.

There wasn't much to get up for, anyway. His case for the past two months required more patrolling and questioning than he really had the stomach for and the longer it took, the more certain Julian was that Greg Waters were dead. There had been no new string of disappearances, no bones found in the garbage, not a single trace of the highly publicized serial killer. It went against everything Julian felt he knew about the lunatic and pointed only to his demise. Why worry about and search for a dead criminal?

The answer was simple enough: for proof he was dead. Even if Rabbit wasn't speaking to Julian, he was still in danger if Waters was alive.

Rabbit. Now there was another issue, and one he was just as disinterested in dealing with at the moment. It presented a good point, though, and despite his disinterest in moving, Julian pulled himself out of bed and into the shower, deciding it would be best to be presentable should he find himself with something productive to do. If he did stop by Indigo Tonic--it seemed he might as well, since he had nothing else planned--he might as well look nice. Chances were high that one day he'd run into the other people Sasha was sleeping with and he was more inclined to inspire envy than disinterest, especially seeing as the others were women. At least, the others he knew about were.

Sasha was an interesting person and though Julian liked him relatively well, he wasn't the kind of person anyone settled down with or got serious about. He was at least honest with the fact he was too gregarious to be faithful to one person and hadn't tried to disguise the fact that he had not one but two women he went between regularly. Julian's residence happened to put him along the bus route Sasha took to work, making him an obvious choice for short-to-no-notice copulation. Julian got free drinks whenever he went clubbing, though, and they both got guiltless sex, so the partnership was mutually beneficial. Besides, the thought of competition was almost fun; having to try and out perform Sasha's other lovers was practically a tactical thrill. They were all three bidding for Sasha's attention and affections and while part of Julian was sickened at playing into that ego-inflating game, another was content to be petty and shallow as long as he got to enjoy it. It was a competition, after all, and a Maxwell never gave up, even if the prize wasn't really something he wanted. It was the principle of the thing and a fair bit of pride was at stake should he fail.

Washed and dressed, Julian padded into his kitchen to find the sandwiches that had been Sasha's pretense for coming by. Julian set the chair they'd knocked over back on its legs and scooted it under the table before picking up a sandwich and peeling off the wrapping. It was a day past its expiration date, he noted, and had probably been acquired for free. One day never hurt anybody, though, especially not Julian, who couldn't have gotten sick if he'd tried, and he took a large bite. Despite the bread being a little on the soggy side, it was pretty good and he popped open the top of a soda to wash it down.

In the background a slightly annoying beep began to interrupt the silence of his home at regular intervals. He recognized it as his answering machine, but frowned; he hadn't heard the phone ring at all. The ID said MAXWELL, warranting immediate deletion given the current status of his relationship with his father, but somehow he found himself hitting the play button instead, out of curiosity.

"Julian, this is Ashe," the familiar voice began, sounding as business-like as always. Julian imagined him walking through the halls, taking care of this and that with only a few scant seconds to spare for a quick call. It didn't happen often. "I have some information for you that you might find rather interesting but I must ask you not tell you father you know or that you heard this from me."

Julian swallowed his bite of sandwich and paused. Ashe did nothing without Maxwell's best interests in mind, but was given to certain deviations when it came to the welfare of his children. Julian found himself enthralled by the tone and words of his pseudo-father, and set his food down to focus his full attention on this unheard of breach of Maxwell's confidence.

"Through your brother's design and efforts, Mr. Maxwell has managed to catch the Surge. He is being held on floor thirteen. If you wish to see him, I have left you a keycard. You will find it in the emergency compartment of the seventh elevator, but I will remove it from there by ten this evening. You must come before then if you desire to meet with him. I hope all is well and that you are able to make this appointment." That was it.

Julian played it again and once more after that. After the third time, he deleted it and stood staring at the machine, dumbstruck. It sounded like some kind of cruel joke; had it been anyone but Ashe, he might have written it off as such. But Ashe was serious to a fault, with a calculating coldness underlying even his warmest thoughts and actions. He didn't make jokes and he certainly didn't orchestrate pranks.

Julian punched the wall above the machine, leaving an indentation on the image of his father's triumphant face he imagined there. It wasn't fair. Men like Maxwell were supposed to reach their apex and then plummet to immeasurable depths in the wake of their hubris. Maxwell only seemed to rise higher and higher, experiencing one success after another, each one grander in scale than the one before him, while Julian struggled with even the simplest conquests. He couldn't even get Rabbit to talk to him anymore, but in the span of those same few months, Maxwell had managed to pluck a god from heaven? It wasn't fair. Even if it had been Phineas who'd really accomplished it, it was still Maxwell who profited. It wasn't fucking fair.

Julian punched the wall again, and then went to get his coat and hat from the hall closet, abandoning his early supper without regret. He'd already wasted a whole hour since Sasha had left and, well aware of current traffic problems, he didn't want to lose another moment. Outside it was chilly, and his wet hair made it seem even colder. He tucked it all down the back of his coat and settled his woven cap on top to keep it from blowing free. He wasn't afraid of illness, but didn't want to be miserable as he jostled among other commuters on his way to the Core.

The trite babble of the people around, on their evening commute from school, work and other errands, was a welcome distraction from his own thoughts, which seemed so different from the everyday concerns of everyone else. It was amusing to know something so monumental as meeting the Surge was happening alongside dinner plans and family get-togethers, sharing the same space in time as birthdays and nights with nothing at all to do. When his stop came, he pushed his way towards the sliding doors, hoping as he left that his fellow commuters would enjoy the little things they were looking forward to and pretending that they wished him luck as he walked towards his father's building.

The idea that it might be a trap had crossed his mind several times, and if anyone but Ashe had been the messenger, he might have given it more thought. He'd certainly done enough to make his father angry and in most cases, an invitation to his secret floor meant torture and perhaps death. Ashe wouldn't have allowed that, though, so the invitation had to be sincere and he tried to push the sickening weight from his stomach as he approached the lobby doors.

There was Doug again, casting him his usual perplexed stare. He seemed even more confused when Julian bypassed the front desk and instead marched over to the seventh elevator in the long row. The doors parted for him immediately, as though they had been waiting for him to appear, and he stepped aboard. The emergency panel was just below the card reader, and it opened with hardly any effort. Taped to the inside of the door was the keycard Ashe had promised. Julian peeled it of, wiped any sticky residue from it with his thumb, and slid it into the reader, waiting for it to process the command. Without the need to press any buttons--there was none for this particular floor anyway--the elevator began to rise.

When he reached the correct floor, the doors opened to reveal not the usual white scene of clinical sterility, but a strangely darkened version of the halls he knew, lit with red light toward the interrogation chambers. Though the endless white had always been disturbing to Julian on some level, the change was unsettling. He walked carefully, quietly, unsure if he had somehow found himself sharing the dark floor with his father by some fluke of ill timing.

Maxwell's boisterous voice was absent, though, and Julian followed the signs of life towards the back halls and to one room in particular. Inside were a terminal, a transparent box, and the slight figure of a man inside who watched him enter with a blank, cold stare.

Though the lights painted the room in a gradient of reds, Julian could see plainly that the man leaning casually against the wall of his plastic prison had vibrant blue streaks in his golden blond hair. Had it not been for Ashe telling him who the man was, Julian would have sworn there had been some kind of mistake. That was the Surge? That scrawny thing was the vigilante antihero whose unconventional method of fighting against corruption was the only thing his father feared?

Approaching the cell, he could feel as much as see the prisoner watching him. He had a beautiful face, Julian recognized. Even with the bad lighting casting shadows against his imperfections, the Surge was still a gorgeous young man. Julian stood in front of him for a moment like a child at a museum, inspecting the specimen locked away from his reach, while the Surge looked back, somehow managing to look both fearful and still unafraid as he remained still and silent.

He was waiting, Julian realized.

"Hello," he said at length, eyes still fixed on the impossible man. All of the questions he'd intended to ask seemed to have disappeared at the sight of him.

The Surge did not respond immediately. He simply stared at him for a while, his eyes alive while his face remained impassive. "Am I to be interrogated by you too now?"

Julian shook his head. "I don't work for my father."

"Unless it suits you to." The Surge stood up straight, no longer slouched against the thick plastic wall. He wasn't taller than Julian, or if he was it wasn't by any noticeable amount. He was thin, though, with the same gaunt look to his face that Phineas had, making his brown eyes seem larger. He faced Julian, hands in his pockets, waiting.

"Well this time it doesn't. I'm here by my own accord."

Surge looked off to the left. If he doubted him, he didn't show it, nor did he seem too interested in whether it was the truth.

"They say the Surge is ageless, that he's existed for as long as Solace has been around. Is that true?" Julian asked, trying to find someplace to start in the labyrinth of his confusion and curiosity.

Surge closed his eyes.

"Can you really access all digital information everywhere?"

More silence from the man in the plastic cell.

Julian banged his fist against the thick, transparent wall. "That's not fair! You owe me!"

Surge looked back at him. "What for?"

"For never taking Maxwell down." He nearly spat, finding a sudden gush of anger stirring inside. "You and I both know he's not so good as to have gone under even your radar! You knew what he was doing and you left him alone. How long did you know what his operation entailed? How long were you aware of what he was capable of both legally and illegally? Why didn't you kill him or get him carted off to prison to rot?" His hands were shaking, he realized, but he kept them pressed to the clear wall between them. On some level, he supposed he did blame Surge almost as much as he blamed Maxwell; one was guilty of abuse, the other of neglect. The Surge was supposed to have saved him and his brother, but that day had never come.

The prisoner's stony expression cracked slightly. He held Julian's fierce gaze, though, not challenging his anger but accepting it. It was unexpected coming from a man of legend. The Surge watched him, his eyes always searching, his mind seeming to weigh his options carefully. When he spoke, his voice was softer, causing Julian to lean in closer and focus his attention on every detail of his words, which seemed to both roll out of his mouth of their own accord and come from a carefully constructed list of things he was allowed to say.

"More than anyone else in the history of Solace, I know you. I saw your first steps, heard your first words, watched as you took another man's life for the first time and witnessed every other milestone in your life because of your father's meticulous surveillance archive. I know everything you have done and everything done to you in your father's care. While I may see moments in time of everyone at some point, you are the most complete image I have of what it is to be someone else. And had you or your family been anyone else, I might have been able to do something.

"But you're not. People like you and me don't often meet and when we do, the rules between us are different. Man is a product of his environment and those of us who are chosen to be different are given circumstances to shape us." Surge had leaned in, perhaps not wanting to be heard or recorded by anything listening in out of his reach. "That's what you really wanted to know, isn't it? Whether there's a connection between our abilities. Yes, Julian, we are similar. We are what we are for the same reason. But I can't tell you what that is."

"Why not?" Julian looked at the Surge with reverence, the anger dissipated from his voice by the strangely intimate words.

Surge shook his head. "That kind of information doesn't exist where I can find it."

"Aren't you curious, though?"

Again, Surge shook his head.

Julian looked him over once more, no longer sure what to make of the skinny, punk-haired man. "So what happens now?"

"You set me free?" The Surge asked, sounding rather hopeful despite the sullen expression he wore.

Julian pursed his lips. "I want to. I can't right now, though. He'd know it was me. Can you protect me from him?"

"Realistically, no," the vigilante admitted. He sighed then paused, his body tense as though seized by a sudden chill. He looked sideways at Julian through the plastic wall then away again, jaw set. "There are some people who might be able to think of something, though. The Protectors of Antiquity. They're listed. Go talk to them. And...ask Nyr if he'd take care of Ash for me for a while."

"Who's Ash? Your girlfriend?"

"My cat." Surge ducked his head slightly. "He's really picky though, so make sure you tell Nyr to hold the food bowl while he eats or he'll end up tipping it all onto the floor and then he won't eat any of it. He shouldn't have any wet food because it makes cleaning the litter box hell and he likes fresh water and ice cubes in his water dish."

Julian smirked at this oddly human side of the legend. "Sounds more like you're the pet," he remarked, envisioning the thin man catering to a hefty cat's every desire.

Surge went rigid, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end as his eyes focused on nothing. The look of near panic faded into a scowl not long after it seized him and he turned a sour expression on Julian. "Just tell him."

"Alright." He wondered briefly if he should apologize, given the odd reaction, but decided not to mention it. He had enough to beg forgiveness for. "Um...sorry about what I said...about attacking Maxwell. I've kinda dreamed of meeting you, but this isn't how I pictured it."

"I'm as surprised as you are. Probably more so." Surge looked up at the lights, continuing to scowl. Beads of sweat slid down his temples. "Just so you know, though, I did try. Your father's assistant just happens to be very quick at fixing everything I touched."

Julian chuckled lightly. "Well, he is very good at his job."

"Good doesn't begin to cover it." Surge turned back towards him, any gentleness in his expression gone. "I'm done talking. You should go."

Abrupt as it was, he was probably right. Julian removed his hands from the transparent wall and took several steps back. "Okay. Can I ask you one more thing, though? Are there more like us?"

Surge looked as though he would leave the question unanswered in light of his dismissal, but relented, looking off to the side again like a bored child. "There are seven of us. The people I mentioned will tell you more." He pressed back against the cell wall and slid down it to the floor, resting his arms on his knees and letting his head hang down. He seemed exhausted and Julian wondered if maybe the lights bothered him in more ways than the obvious.

"I'll think of a way to get you out of here," he promised. Surge didn't move or make any sign he had heard or believed him. Perhaps it was for the better; Julian had no idea how he was going to do it only that he had to.

He resisted the urge to blow the Surge a kiss as he backed out of the red room. It would be awkward and put further strain on the atmosphere, but Julian wished to give him some sign that he cared. That he would be back and make good on his promise to the beautiful man would have to do.

As he walked back to the elevator, he chanced a quick glance inside Maxwell's surveillance room. Bumping into his father in the lobby would do no one any good after the care that had gone into getting him upstairs. Maxwell was at the dinner table, though; Phineas sat at the end of the table opposite him with plates full of food cramping in on his utensils and beverage. He looked happy.

Phineas was generally very good at putting up a pleasant front, but the slight sparkle in his eyes wasn't easily forged. If Julian pushed one of the buttons on the control panel, he could easily have heard their conversation but he dismissed the idea. He didn't care what they were saying--besides, he could imagine the dialogue just fine on his own. Phineas was being rewarded, praised, and he was basking in it. It bothered Julian he was just as pissed at Phineas being happy as he was at Phineas being hurt, so he looked away, heading back for his exit. He needed a drink and he knew where he could get one.

The elevator stopped once before reaching the lobby, somewhere between the many business floors. Julian stood to the side to make room. Only one person boarded, his loose black curls hanging limp against his face, the hood of his sweatshirt hanging out the back of his blazer. Ashe smiled at him slightly and pushed for the doors to close, ignoring the surprised look on Julian's face.

"I'm glad you were able to make the appointment." He held out his hand, palm up, as though expecting something.

Julian frowned. Ashe wanted the keycard back, of course. He dug in his pocket and handed it over grudgingly. "I'm coming back to get him out of there. You may as well let me keep that if you want me to do it the quiet way."

Ashe nodded, stashing the key in the pocket of his sweatshirt. "I agree. He shouldn't remain here. But if you want him out, you'll have to do that on your own. I merely wanted to give you the opportunity to see him for yourself." The older man pushed the button to open the doors again and stepped back out onto the floor he'd boarded from.

"Ashe, wait." Julian hit the button to keep the doors open. "What does Maxwell want with the Surge anyway?"

Ashe blew a curl out of his eyes with an expression lying somewhere between amusement and annoyance. "All men want what they think they can't have, Julian. Your father is just very good at challenging the odds and winning. I imagine he is as confused as to what do to next as you are. You will both have to think on that. I suggest you find your answer before he does."

The elevator doors slid closed silently between them.