Chapter 27


The walk towards Julian’s apartment was quiet; Julian and Surge both caught in a moment of contemplation. Julian wasn't sure what was on the other man's mind, but a fair bit was on his own, pressing his interest and attention away from his beloved icon at such an opportune moment. Rabbit had seemed all right when they left him at Protectors of Antiquity headquarters, not even shaken in light of what had happened. He hadn't said, though, what had happened, at least not before Julian and Surge left. All Julian knew was that Greg had had him and Jin had killed Greg and saved him. It was easy to imagine the absolute worst--Rabbit raped, tortured, poised on the verge of being dismembered--but Rabbit’s visible injuries had been almost negligible, and he seemed to have shaken off any shock or unsteadiness, so perhaps it had not been so bad as he imagined. He’d certainly been feeling alert enough to warn Surge against going home with him as though he were the one most in danger of getting raped. Asshole.

With his cat perched on his shoulder, flattened out and laying like a small gray scarf beside his neck, Surge walked alongside Julian at an even pace. The cat's tail periodically swished behind him, popping up over his shoulder while its purr was loud enough for Julian to hear.

"Your cat's really important to you, hm?" he asked, trying to find a way into conversation after the lapse into silence.

Surge shrugged without upsetting the cat. "I guess. He's mine."

"How long have you had him?"

"Almost a year. He sort of came with my apartment."

Julian smiled, brushing his hand against the bristled, shocked hairs on the cat's head. "Love at first sight?"

"No. Actually, I was really annoyed by him." He cast Julian a sidelong glance but kept walking. "When I tried to sleep, he kept climbing all over me and mewing. I had to watch my feet so I wouldn't step on him, and he kept sleeping in my shoes."

"Why didn't you get rid of him then?"

Surge shrugged again. "He was there first."

Julian shook his head, failing at his attempt not to laugh. Surge kept walking as though he had no idea how adorable his idiosyncrasies were. Julian most certainly liked him better without the plastic cell between them and the stress of that environment.

"So, you don't remember me, do you?" Surge asked as they passed another deserted shopping center.

Julian cocked his head, his hair tumbling over his right shoulder, as he looked harder at Surge's face. It didn't seem likely he'd have very easily forgotten someone as attractive or unique as Surge. There was something vaguely familiar about him, though, especially in the blue spikes of hair. "Sorry, I don't think so. I feel like I should, though."

Surge nodded as Ash rubbed his face against his neck. "You were at one of the restaurants I work at not too long ago. Showed me a picture of Phineas and asked if I'd seen him."

"That's right!" Julian snapped his fingers. "You were the pretty waiter!"

Surge raised his scarred eyebrow. "Pretty waiter?"

"Well, strikingly attractive waiter." Julian ducked his head to hide his blush. So, he had inadvertently asked for the Surge's help in person during his search for Phineas. There was something almost poetic about that--lives crossing paths in different ways that eventually brought people together. The romantic in him was certainly eating it up with a side order of swooning. Still, wherever he had been thinking he remembered Surge from, it hadn't been a restaurant. There was a different feeling behind it, something informal and upsetting. He knew as soon as he figured it out, he'd feel like an idiot for forgetting, but Surge didn't seem to remember a time outside the Italian bistro either. That made it all the more curious and many times more infuriating that he could not recall. "You said one of the restaurants you work at. You work at more than one?"

"I did. Not sure I still have those jobs anymore, though."

"Oh, right. Sorry. Guess it's a bit much to expect them to be understanding of a long, unexplained absence."

Surge shrugged.

Julian stepped closer to him, more intrigued now. His hand gently brushed against Surge's. "Why do you work, anyway? I don't imagine there are a lot of financial concerns for someone with your kind of power."

Surge shrugged again. "It's nice to be Teyen, sometimes," he said as he stepped sideways, away from Julian. He seemed to have a very definite attachment to personal space with the way he maintained his comfortable distance. It almost made Julian wonder if he had chosen to walk on his left so that he could keep the cat between them, like a gargoyle poised to protect.

Perhaps aware he was being thought of, Ash began mewing softly, his tail slapping against Surge's back harder as he became louder. Surge pulled him off of his shoulder and held him up at face level, looking at him with disappointment while his cat pressed his paws against his chin. "What?"

"Mew!"

"We're almost there."

"Mew!"

"What did I just say?"

"Mew!"

"I don't think he understands you," Julian managed before choking on his laughter.

Surge frowned harder and pulled Ash against his chest. "Even if he could, he'd probably pretend he couldn't."

"And to think you were worried about him."

Surge nodded, scratching between Ash's ears. At least he had been right: they were almost there. Julian put his hand in his pocket to feel for his key as they entered his complex. There were only the couch and the bed inside for sleeping on and though he'd have enjoyed the idea of sharing his bed with Surge, there was no way he was going to be a less gracious host than his father. It was bad enough that the two were on amicable terms--the last thing he needed to do was give Surge a reason to compare him to Maxwell. Though it was in no way comparable to the estate, Julian could still make his humble abode comfortable and inviting. Sasha had been coming over a fair bit, so clean linens were a must and the trash bins needed to be emptied in the kitchen and bathroom which were full of empty beer and liquor bottles. There was laundry on the bathroom floor and dishes in the sink. The more Julian thought about it, actually, the more hopeless it seemed that he would not come across as some kind of sex-addicted, alcoholic bum.

As he pressed the button for his floor on the elevator, Julian gave Surge an uncertain smile and rocked on his heels. "Um, unless you're interested in sex tonight, think you could give me a second or two to tidy up a bit? My apartment kind of shouts bachelor right now and I'd just as soon not make this any more awkward than I probably just did."

The look Surge gave him said it all; he was really going to have to work on that impulse control problem someday.

"I'm joking, Surge," Julian explained. At that point, it didn't seem like either of them really cared if he had been or not as long as he retracted the offer in some way. "Well, not about the needing to clean up a bit. If you'll just sit at the couch or help yourself to something to eat, I can get the bedroom ready for you."

Surge continued to look at him oddly for a minute before shrugging and looking away. "I don't mind sleeping on the couch. I prefer it, actually. You don't need to do anything."

"So long as that's true and you're not just saying that because Rabbit’s a bitch and you think that I'm going to rape you in your sleep unless you've got your back against something solid."

Surge nodded. "I told you before, I know you."

"All right. The couch it is then." Julian stopped rocking for a minute and looked at Surge in the reflection on the elevator doors. "Wait, so back when we spoke at Maxwell's, were you serious about having seen everything I did growing up?"

Surge nodded.

"Everything?"

Blushing, he nodded again.

Julian looked at the ceiling. "You know, I'm not sure how this could be any more awkward than it is now."

"Agreed."

Julian paused and then started laughing. It was either laugh or cry, really, but in the presence of the Surge, who was blushing and looking guilty, laughter was the more preferable choice. It broke the tension at least; even Surge smiled politely. Things were at a point where he couldn't dig a deeper hole for himself if he tried, but Surge was still in the elevator with him, ready to spend the night. It felt good not to have to worry about the next move. It felt good to laugh.

When the elevator doors opened, Julian stepped out first to lead Surge to his apartment, but found that it wasn't necessary. He could have just pointed and said, "The one behind the scared albino," and Surge would have known exactly which one.

"Sasha?" Julian walked over to him. The look in his face was frightening. "Sasha, what are you doing here?"

The pale man was shaking, his eyes wide and wild. Surge kept his distance.

"Sasha?"

"Why is Cherry here?" he asked, defensive and confused. "Julian? You can't do this to me right now. Not right now. I need...gah!" He clutched at his head, his shaking uncontrollable now. "Go away! Just shut up! I need to talk to Julian!"

"What did you call him?" Julian looked over his shoulder at Surge. The color had drained from his face. Julian moved closer to Sasha, putting his hands on his bare shoulders to demand his attention. He searched his body, looking for the substance he had taken to make him so paranoid and delusional. There was nothing. Sasha was more or less sober. "Sasha, what's going on?"

Sasha shook his head, breathing hard and irregularly. "They’re everywhere. They’re even inside my head! I didn't take anything, I swear! Please, make them stop."

"I know you didn't, but you have to tell me what's wrong."

"They just...appeared. I don't want to know the things they say." He clutched at Julian as though his life depended on it and thrust his head against his chest to be cradled and protected. "Please, make them go away. I don't know what a Witness is and I don't want to know. Just make them go away."

Julian held him tight.