Chapter 16


As Rabbit stopped on the street corner and began pulling off his goggles and hat, he was about ready to give up riding his motorcycle all together until the weather improved. Under normal circumstances, he had complete control over his bike despite the complaints he often heard about his driving, but with all the moisture in the air lately, he couldn't keep his goggles from fogging up and it was proving to be a dangerous nuisance. In the fog, he found himself judging the difference between pedestrians and inanimate object by whether or not they cursed at him as he passed by. If he didn't want to commit vehicular manslaughter his only other choice seemed to be finding a place to store the bike until the weather improved.

His phone beeped twice from his pocket, telling him he was late. That was fine. He moved his bike to a more convenient spot to leave it unattended and continued towards the restaurant on foot, pulling off his winter accessories as he went. By the time he entered the restaurant, only his coat and scarf were left, both hanging loosely from his shoulders.

"Welcome to Mariello's! How many in your party?" The cute hostess greeted him with an armful of menus and a wide smile framed by too much lipstick.

Rabbit didn't bother smiling back. It was too cold to smile. "I'm supposed to be meeting someone here. Probably under Vaughn."

She looked at a list on the podium to her side, chewing on her red painted bottom lip. It was amazing that the colordidn't come off on her teeth. "Let's see...I don't see a Vaughn. Party of two for Van, maybe? I don't know, I just started my shift," she explained apologetically.

"I'll find him myself. Thanks." Rabbit walked around her to the serving floor. It wasn't a large place and Julian wasn't one to blend in.

Despite what Alan had had to say on the subject, this meeting was not a date. They were doing this solely to determine whether or not Julian had any qualities that Rabbit didn't find irritating. They were meeting at a restaurant because it was neutral ground where they could get something out of the meeting even if they annoyed each other to the point of wanting to commit homicide. Rabbit didn't have high hopes for the outcome, other than that he might have one less person to deal with on an infrequent basis when this was over. It probably wasn't what Julian was looking forward to, but it seemed like the most likely outcome to Rabbit. And it certainly wasn't a date.

Sitting alone at his table though, Rabbit had to admit that Julian did look nice. His hair was unbound but brushed, his clothing comfortable and appropriate. It would probably have pleased him that he wasn't losing any points due to his appearance, though Rabbit wasn't going to tell him so. He'd gotten used to Alan slumming around in the clothes he slept in, but Alan was a special case and he tended to hold others to a higher standard.

Rabbit blew a stray piece of hair out of his face. He was not looking forward to the hell Alan would be giving him about this for the next few weeks.

Rabbit waved to Julian in what was more of a warning that he'd arrived than a greeting. Julian saw and smiled, sitting back in his seat away from the bowls of chips, salsa and cheese dip he'd been snacking on while he waited. Rabbit stripped his coat off, draping it over the back of his chair, and sat. So far so good. He was warm again, at least, and the cheese dip on the table was too. He helped himself, eager to enjoy some food before the conversation took away what little appetite he had.

"I was worried you hadn't been able to find the place."

Rabbit shrugged, savoring the texture of the melted cheese before swallowing it. "Nah, just weather issues. I know this part of town pretty well."

"I thought you might." Julian's voice carried a smile in it. "Does that mean you're a courier as well as a freelance detective and scholar?"

"I don't exactly get paid to deliver artifacts for Alan, if that's what you mean. I end up having to do it because Alan's lazy and claims that I owe him several favors." The answer was rehearsed. Rabbit had had nothing to think about on the ride over, so he'd gone over the possible conversation topics and prepared his responses so that he wouldn't be caught off guard. He'd especially gone over ways he could tell Julian something was none of his business without being a jerk about it.

"Who's Alan?"

Rabbit hid a smirk behind another chip. Right on target. "My friend, or brother, depending. We're not related but it's complicated. He owns an occult shop. I wouldn't recommend ever shopping there, though. He'll try to sell you things that are pretty much worthless."

"He doesn't have a demon gypsy son, does he?"

Rabbit paused. "Quinn? Yeah. You've been there then?"

"Yeah, once. Kind of a desperation thing when I was searching for Phineas. Quinn read my cards." Julian sipped his iced tea. "Quinn's not really a demon, is he?"

"At least part. I never really asked," he admitted without remorse. "He's a good kid. He'll decapitate you if you piss him off, I'm told, but honestly, just don't do shit to piss him off. Simple enough."

Julian nodded, quiet in a way that may Rabbit nervous. He was thinking and so far he'd already deviated once from the unwritten script Rabbit had carefully constructed.

"I guess that all makes sense. Alan made me pay in blood when I was there and wasn't at all surprised that I healed the wound over immediately. I guess he knows about the P of A's research into the goddesses and Shards," Julian said at length.

Rabbit felt he would have paled considerably if his blood flowed properly. He was going to have to kill Alan. First he was going to reprimand himself for being blind to the obvious, then he was going to kill Alan. "Alan's over a thousand years old--don't bother asking how--so yeah. Makes sense he'd know a thing or two about stuff like that." He was really, really going to have to kill that man. "So you found out you were a Shard through Alan?"

"No, he never said anything to that effect. The Protectors of Antiquity told me. I'm just sort of thinking retrospectively. He said he didn't know which once I was, I guess Alan was talking the Shards. Makes more sense than that he just wanted a vial of Maxwell blood. Do you think the chimichanga here is any good? I'm seeing a lot of people with fajitas, but I'm not really into building my own food if I'm paying them to do it for me."

Rabbit looked down at the menu; he'd almost forgotten where they were. "Oh...yeah, it's probably fine." He browsed for something vegetarian, pleased to find a nice platter of cheese enchiladas and rice, then folded his menu back up. "So, uh...you know about the Shards then? They tell you who the others are?"

"I figured you were in the know, since you work between them and Alan." Julian sighed, still browsing the menu with one hand supporting his head. "Well, I've met the Impulse, but I have no idea who the other five are. This probably isn't the best place to talk about that, though. Find something you like?"

Rabbit was getting pretty tired of answers coming only in short bursts. "Yeah, I'm set."

"Great, 'cause that one is ours."

Rabbit turned in the direction indicated to him, spying the heavy-set waitress walking their way. She had a much more pleasant face than the hostess, and her smile felt more genuine. "How are you two doing today? Can I interest you in any of our specials?"

Julian politely told her no and read off his order. Rabbit did the same. It was a quick and painless exchange; she collected their menus and left after promising to return with a refill for Julian and a soda for Rabbit. If the waitress remembered to bring a straw with that, she would guarantee herself a good tip.

"So, then. How's work? They letting you take on any new cases yet?"

"I'm not black-listed in their books, but there's nothing for me to do. I was behind on my research, anyway." Their interesting conversation had ended, it seemed. Rabbit sat back in his chair, trying not to seem too disappointed. It wasn't so bad going back to his scripted conversation, but he'd kind of enjoyed talking about things that mattered.

"Well, I wish I had more information on Greg for you, but there's nothing. I'm starting to think he's dead."

"Good."

From Julian's expression, he obviously disagreed. "I can see how that'd be a good thing, but where does that leave us? There's no body and it's not like Greg ate himself. It doesn't follow that he'd be the suicidal type, given what we know about him. So what happened to him?"

"I really don't care, Julian. Greg's your case, not mine."

"Yeah, I know." He sounded disappointed for a moment, but his voice was back to normal when he spoke again. "So, you ever find out what happened with your body?"

Rabbit nodded, though he felt tempted to return the favor and tell him it wasn't the place for it, but no one around them cared or was likely to believe him anyway. "I died and Alan rebuilt me. Wasn't much left of my body that was usable after the accident, so since he couldn't reanimate me, it's not exactly a resurrection. He just sort of used what was left of my corpse to make a golem. I'm mostly water with a few other odds and ends wrapped up in my old skin. I only exist because I believe I do." The concept was obviously over Julian's head. Rabbit thanked their waitress, who had appeared with their drinks during at the end of his speech, and sipped his soda, giving his companion time to process the information he'd been given. It was fun to watch the gears turn in other people's heads, especially when the concepts were abstract.

Julian seemed to reach enough of a conclusion to start asking questions. He leaned forward. "How can you eat then, or feel, or think? Why do you look normal to me?"

Rabbit had expected as much and had already begun pulling his cred card from his pocket. "You're over thinking it. It's really not that complicated. Take this cred card for instance." He held it up between them. "I tell you there's a hundred creds on it. Whether there is or there isn't, you can still believe it's true. It's the same with my body. The main difference between blind faith and necromancy is pretty much the strength of will to believe in something despite whatever proof there is to the contrary. I believe I'm alive regardless of my obvious demise. Because I believe that, it's true and all the functions I associate with life come naturally because I expect them to, whether my body goes through the processes or not."

"What if you stopped believing it?"

"I'd probably revert into the rotting, fleshy water balloon I actually am. That's not likely to happen, though. As Alan explained to me, being alive is too real to me for me to deny it, because I can still experience life. Kind of like how even though you know I'm dead, because I can talk to you and I seem alive, you're kept in a state of mind where you have no choice but to accept that I live."

"So if you decide to believe it, you could be immortal?"

Rabbit smirked. "Well, you've caught on to how Alan's as old as he is. I think he'd probably prefer I lived as long as he does, but that's certainly not on my agenda. All living things are supposed to die, and I'm no exception. I'm just borrowing time for a bit, I guess."

Julian nodded, taking it in better stride than Rabbit had predicted. "I'm surprised you can say all that so calmly. I'm not sure I'd take to finding out I'm practically a zombie nearly as well as you do."

"Maybe not. I've had a while to think about it, though, and I've more or less come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter." Rabbit nibbled on a chip. "I imagine it's the same with you. You just discovered you're part of some ancient goddess. That can alter more than just your perspective, if you let it. At least you don't appear to be getting a big head about it."

"Oh, it's probably just the hair. Long hair is really good at drawing attention away from the size of one's head," Julian said coyly.

If he weren't so infuriatingly amicable, it might have actually been kind of cute.

The food arrived shortly after that on hot plates and in portions that weren't going to be possible to eat at one sitting. It smelled wonderful, and the cheese was so hot that Rabbit had to fight with it to be able to eat it in bite-sized pieces, slicing and twisting it with his utensils. Julian's amusement at his ordeal only gave him more reason to frown. Julian had had the upper hand in the conversation for too long, continually catching Rabbit off guard. He wasn't about to let his enchilada ally itself with the other man without a fight.

"Maybe you should wait for it to cool down," Julian cautioned, hesitating over his own meal.

"No, I want to eat it now."

"It'll probably burn your tongue if you do."

"It's not that hot," Rabbit insisted as he stuffed his first bite into his mouth.

It was hot. Very hot. The look on Julian's face ruled out spitting it into his napkin, though, and he looked down at his plate to hide his face under his bangs. He wasn't going to let on to Julian that the bite hadn't been perfect in every way, just the way he liked it, and he didn't need to wait for it to cool down.

Julian watched him as though he knew the better. "Not too hot, then?"

Rabbit swallowed. It burned all the way down. "Just fine."

Julian's smirk sang more like a laugh as he cut into his own food and blew on it to cool it down. Rabbit moved his rice around on his plate while he waited inconspicuously for his entree to cool on it's own. Sometimes having to be right was a bitch. The alternative--conceding defeat to Julian's satisfied smirk--was never going to happen, though. Ever.

Not far into their meal, Julian's mobile phone rang. He arched slightly in his seat, reaching behind him for it. After eyeing the screen, he smiled apologetically to Rabbit as he stood. "I'll be right back. Sorry about this."

Rabbit nodded, fork hanging out of his mouth, as Julian walked away with the phone pressed to his ear. At least he wasn't rude enough as to carry on a conversation with someone else at the table. It gave Rabbita minute to think, at least, in light of everything they'd talked about.

The more he thought about it, the more Rabbit was beginning to realize there was no real hope of this being his last meeting with Julian. They were both Shards, whether Julian knew it or not, and so were more or less bound together as well as to the other five. He did have some good qualities, at least; Julian was persistent, vain and arrogant, but there was also consideration and a measure of discipline in the way he spoke and acted. Given his ancestry and the way he'd been raised, he certainly could have been much worse.

Defeated, Rabbit put his fork down on his plate, no longer interested in eating. Perhaps, if he was lucky, Julian would be too busy most days to bother him.

As though aware Rabbit's thoughts had lingered on him, Julian returned, sliding back into his seat. "Sorry. Friend of mine. He was just wondering where I was."

"Boyfriend?"

"Not really. Just a friend." Julian's smile made Rabbit wish he hadn't asked in the first place. "I remain optimistically single."

He made a face. "If you're hoping I'll be interested, you should know better by now."

"Oh, like you could get it up anyway." Julian stuck his tongue out. "For goodness' sake, I am capable of being friends with someone and not wanting to sleep with them, you know."

Pushing down the desire to tell him he could too get it up if he wanted, Rabbit scowled. "I didn't say you weren't capable. Like I said before, you were never very subtle about liking me."

"You're my type," Julian said. He shrugged a little, returning to his food. "It doesn't really matter, though. I'm not going to press the issue. No is no, and if you're not interested, there's no amount of seduction that'll change that. No reason we can't just be normal, platonic friends."

Rabbit nodded, even though it made him feel slightly ill. As strong as his advances had been, had Rabbit's state of decay killed Julian's desire for him or had it been the sight of him as a violated child? He pushed his plate further away and stood up. "I should get going. I've got...stuff to do."

"Oh, alright." Julian sat forward. "If you're in a hurry, I can take care of the bill. I don't mind."

"No, I need to pay for my half. If I don't, Alan will continue to insist this was a date and I need a receipt to shove in his face to shut him up."

Julian laughed lightly. "Guess asking for a ride home is out of the question if your friend's already harassing you over the meal."

"Want one?" Rabbit found himself asking.

"Are we friends?"

Rabbit nodded.

"If it's not too far out of your way, that'd be great."

"Hope you don't mind holding on for dear life. Just a warning, if you thought riding before was scary, I'm worse in this weather."

Julian smiled. "I trust you."

For some reason, Rabbit could tell that he did. They walked to the front of the restaurant, splitting the bill right down the middle, including the tip Rabbit had decided on, and headed out of the building to the motorcycle. The sun was a little warmer, but the air still had a wicked bite to it. As Rabbit put his gloves and goggles back on, he watched Julian braid his hair back and stuff it down his jacket.

"You know, Alan won't come near my bike," Rabbit said as he straddled his love and waited for Julian to slide on behind him. "He's terrified I'll kill him or something. Quinn won't ride because he's convinced his tail will get caught in the wheel or run over or squished somehow."

"I take it I'm encroaching on something sacred?"

"Not so much. Just sort of odd that you're so eager when everyone else would have to be at gun point." He felt Julian's arms wrap around him and his face rest against his shoulders.

"Well, what's the fun of living without a little fear of death?"

Rabbit gunned his engine, warming it up as he smirked. "Yeah, well, just remember that you were warned."

Without hesitation he tore off onto the street, jetting across lanes like lightning. The cold air kissed him while Julian's body kept his back warm through his coat. His driving was seemed directionless, and he and his passenger seemed incredibly fragile against a backdrop of steel giants. It was terrible enough that even a dead man could feel alive.

But it most certainly was not a date.