He wasn't hungry, something he had gotten quite used to, but his own lack of interest didn't keep Rabbit from stopping at a sandwich shop and picking up four foot-long sandwiches and three sodas. It would have been quite a feat to transport it all by bike, but he had chosen the shop more for the location than the food. It was a short walk from Alanís shop, and an even shorter bus-ride if he was that lazy or cold. It also happened to be a favorite among the other inhabitants of the themed street where the shop was located. Rabbit was familiar with most of them, but didnít want to have to converse with any of them. As far as he was concerned, they were all some degree of crazy; all of them believing they had special powers or wishing that they did.
While he walked back to Alan's, his thoughts remained with the other people living on 666th street. He supposed it wasn't impossible that one of them might actually be supernaturaly gifted, a Shard like himself, though it seem unlikely. Rabbit remembered the way it felt when Julian touched him, how just being in Greg's presence felt like touching a live wire, how Caine's serenity was truly tangible. He knew he'd have known it if he'd met another Shard. The encounters left too lasting an impression on him, burning faces into his mind so he could recognize them by sight as well as feel no matter when and where they met again. It was the feeling of being connected, of being a part of something, and it left Rabbit with a sense of unease.
There were two new faces etched into his memory, both unconnected to him except by the invisible something that told him they were. Two Shards, a man and a woman, one blonde and petite and the other skinny with blue streaks in his hair. Caine had said there were seven in all: the Oracle, Messenger, Witness, Impulse, Healer, Prodigy and Metamorph. Rabbit knew the identities of three of them with Greg dead; that left the two strangers as the new Witness, Messenger, Impulse or Prodigy. He recalled the day he and Julian had met for lunch--how the other man had mentioned meeting the Impulse and how on the night of Greg's death, the strange man had gone home with Julian. Chances were high that he had been the Impulse and with that conclusion, even more likely that Rabbit had just met the Surge in passing. He wasn't really sure how he felt about that.
Feelings aside, Rabbit was only lacking a few faces to complete the puzzle. Knowing all six of the others hadn't felt like a pressing concern in the beginning, but being so close made him anxious. He was closer than the others, he believed; closer than even Caine who seemed to foresee these things based on luck of the draw. But being so close only spurred on the desire to be the first to know. For whatever reason, he needed to know the other Shards.
Rabbit slid the bag with the sandwiches in it down his arm and used his free hand to let himself inside Alan's shop. The chime that played as he entered was as annoying as it was comforting. He was home. Sort of.
Quinn looked up from the register at him with a straight face but behind him, sneaking outside the human facade the demon had projected, his tail began to wag. "Roast Beef?"
Rabbit nodded, resting the drink carrier on the counter while he thumbed through the bag. "Yeah, or whatever the hell passes for it in these parts. Got you two, and the big drink is yours. Alan in the back?"
"Upstairs. Go on up." Quinn peeled the wrapper off of the first sandwich--a mountain of meat hardly trapped between the pieces of bread--and smiled predatorily, canine teeth exposed. "Thanks, Rabbit."
"Sure thing." Rabbit left Quinn's drink, but took the carrier with him and headed through the back room and up the stairs to the apartment. He could hear Alan grunting as he struggled with something and so he kicked the door open himself once he reached the top of the stairs. "If you're jacking off, I suggest you stop now or I'll turn around and give yours to Quinn."
"Oh ha ha. It's not Thursday, asshole." Alan walked around a shelf towards the back, wiping his hands off on a towel tucked into the top of his pants, and headed for the table where Rabbit began to set their food down. "Ooooh, nice. What's the occasion?"
Rabbit shrugged, plopping Alan's drink down on his side of the table by his sandwich. "Thought you could use something to eat. I take it that old heater of yours still isn't working?"
"No. It's all the moisture in the air. It deals with dry cold just fine but wet and cold is a different story." Alan's pout was hard to discern through the pleased, hungry look he was giving his food. "And no, I'm not getting someone to come look at it. Quinn and I can just pile on the blankets for a little while longer."
Rabbit hadnít been about to suggest it, given Alan's near paranoia when it came to strangers and his possessions. He shrugged as though his suggestion had been countered anyway and began poking around at the mix of vegetables and bread that was his lunch. "Yeah, you'll be fine. I'll take a look at it before I go, though. In case you'd forgotten, I'm pretty handy."
"How could I forget?" Alan took a large bite, strips of lettuce hanging from his lips as he chewed the larger than necessary mouthful. He washed it down with a sip from his cup and let out a satisfied sigh. "I'll take you up on that offer, though. I think Quinn's starting to get kind of annoyed. It's bad enough he's having nightmares again, now it's cold too. Seeing as we've got money enough to just buy a new one, I'm sure he'll be on my case about it soon enough."
"People don't stay rich by spending money," Rabbit quoted.
Alan raised an eyebrow at hearing his own words from Rabbit's mouth. "No. They don't. You're in a rather agreeable mood today."
"I think the word is pensive."
"Yeah, well, I was failing senior English, so how about we stick to words I don't have to look up?"
Rabbit smirked a bit, sliding a cucumber slice into his mouth. "I mean I've got a lot on my mind. Takes more energy than I feel like wasting to pick an argument with you if I intend to win. And I always do."
"You always win or you always intend to win? Because I'm pretty sure I've gotten to go the 'I told you so' route plenty of times."
"You know what I mean."
Alan smirked and stuffed his face again.
Rabbit picked at his food, dissecting it piece by piece. He swallowed a tomato and some of his cherry cola, watching Alan inhale is own meal. Time was short, then. "Hey, Alan? I told you that Ath'ran left the Protectors of Antiquity, right?"
"Mm? Oh, yeah, something about taking care of the wife and kids, right? Yeah, you told me. What about it?"
"I'd been thinking earlier, about what the Protectors are supposed to do and all with all the research theyíre doing. Seems like the main objective has a lot to do with finding out who the Shards are, but it doesn't seem like they've actually got the means to do it. Somehow, they've found four Shards anyway. Do you think that has a lot to do with the way Ath'ran ran the company or that something else is responsible for their success?" Rabbit almost felt silly for posing the question in that way. Any company that hired whoever they wanted and did whatever they wanted wasn't exactly a miracle-working machine that could summon up seven parts of a divinity at command. Whether Ath'ran was there or not, Rabbit wagered it made very little difference. But it was an opening--a way to inquire on certain things without letting Alan know where his interest really lay. Distracted by food as well, Alan was likely to be very talkative.
Rabbit wasn't disappointed. "Ath'ran? Not a chance. They just got lucky. You only need to find one Shard and all the others will start to surface. It's like a chain reaction. All those Protectors of Antiquity guys did was make themselves appear safe to approach and wait for someone to come. The hard part's done for them."
"You're probably right," he admitted, eating another tomato to hide his amusement. That made more sense than Alan probably realized. It was only after meeting Julian that Rabbit had met Caine and, shortly after that, Greg. There were no coincidences in life. Somehow, somewhere, someone had set off the chain reaction and bit-by-bit they were all being drawn into it. And the Protectors of Antiquity had made themselves into ground zero. "If that's true, though, then free will is gone. The future isn't what we make it if fate dictates that all shards meet. No matter what I do until that point, I will end up with the other six."
"I've been telling you that since we met," Alan retorted bitterly. "The big things are all predetermined. It's all in the details."
"So you're saying it was predetermined that you would be over a thousand years old? Don't you think that's a little presumptuous?"
"It would be if it had been. I'm pretty sure I'm just a detail." Alan leaned his elbows on the table, taking a break from his lunch. "I'm a vessel of knowledge. I know everything He knew and if I hadn't killed Him, He'd be here now and the knowledge would still be available. The big picture doesn't need me, just what I know. I mean, you think the gods gave any thought to who the Shards would be? I doubt any one of them sat down and said 'Nicholas Rabbit will be the Metamorph six-hundred-something years after the Cataclysm.' You're just a detail."
Rabbit regarded him in silence for a moment, and then shook his head. "That's all well and good, but I think you're pulling it out your ass. Caine said I'm supposed to be dead. That's not a detail if the fate of the world is on the line. Seeing as he's the Oracle, I think he probably knows this kind of stuff better than you do."
"Just how different do you think it is if one Shard dies or another one? Big Picture? Sure, maybe only six Shards should be here. Detail? Who cares if it's the Metamorph who kicks it or the Prodigy or the Healer or the Impulse?" Alan stabbed his finger at him. "Anyone who says you should be dead needs to come see me and I'll kick his ass. Because if the gods wanted you dead, if it was that big a deal, I wouldn't have been able to do it. Bottom line. So Caine can suck my balls."
Rabbit stared at Alan as the other man tore into his sandwich again, unofficially ending all comments on that particular subject. Rabbit wondered if it had been his taking Caine's side over Alanís that had wound him up or the fact that he might regret living.
It did bring to mind other thoughts, though. If Alan was right and it wasn't about him, that the death of any Shard was all that was called for, then the other six were in danger. Alan had essentially traded his life for one of theirs. He doubted the thought troubled Alan any, but having seen so many of the others, it did make Rabbit feel a bit uneasy. It was all theoretical, but that was Rabbit's strongest suit: dealing with the abstract, finding sense in the chaos of unknowns. There wasn't an equation that could solve for this variable though, no natural law to fall back on. It was all hearsay, one man's opinion weighed against another's, and almost nothing stood out as hard evidence.
Still, he'd hurt his brother's feelings and there was only one thing to do: rub salt in the wound. "You want Caine to suck you balls, you'll need to make an appointment with Billie. Got to say, though, didn't think you bent that way. In that case, I'd better not find you sleeping on my couch anymore."
"God damn it, Rabbit. You know what I meant." Alan threw some stray lettuce strands at him. They fell short and landed on the table between them.
Rabbit smirked in triumph. "Yeah, whatever. So you know, though, I'm still pissed at you for not talking to me about this whole Shard thing. And don't act like you didn't know, because we both know you did."
"Yeah, I knew, but what does it matter? You've got no real power. None of it really affects you. Has knowing done anything for you? No. I'd say you were better off before that Oracle opened his yap and told you. The hell would I bother you with something that has no meaning to you?"
"But it does have meaning to me." Even as he said it, he was questioning it. "Look, we agree on two things. One, that the Shards are drawing together and two, that the Protectors of Antiquity are a focal point for them. What I wanted to know, and what you've pretty much made clear, is what you think I should do. Julian and two others have joined up with the Protectors and I've been thinking that maybe, if I'm going to meet them all anyway, it wouldn't be a bad idea to go ahead and tell them what I am."
Alan shook his head. "What's the point in that? Honestly, you gain nothing while they gain everything. And that's only if they believe you. How do you test for the Metamorph? Hell, they don't even know what that means. They have no idea what to look for. You're just an ordinary man to them, Rabbit. Why risk looking like an idiot or calling attention to yourself? Whatever they know, you can learn through the connections you already have to them."
Sometimes, Rabbit really hated how right Alan could be about things. There was no way to prove it other than by involving the Oracle and if Caine felt like joining the party, he would on his own terms. Given what he had said, if the Oracle really was their leader, Rabbit would wait until he made the first move and join him there. "Yeah...you're right. Now's not the time."
"If there ever will be one." Alan rose, his chair squeaking against the floor. He took one last, long sip of his drink, the annoying dry slurp resounding in the empty cup, and then tossed it into his trashcan. "If you do go over there, though, mind getting on Du'shan's case for me? It's been long enough now for him to have transferred at least one of those books to digital."
Rabbit nodded, throwing away what was left his lunch as well. "Yeah, sure thing. I'll take a look at that heater first, though. If I can't fix it, you really should look into buying a new one. A pissed Quinn isn't exactly something I care to see."
"Nor I. So let's hope you're either really good with outdated machinery or that there's a sale right now on water-safe heaters."
Rabbit rolled his eyes at his miserly friend and headed back to the unit, rather eager to get his hands dirty and engage his mind in something concrete and physical. He couldn't afford to wait and worry about what his actions meant to the other Shards in the greater scheme of things. There wasn't anything he was willing to do about it now--not when it came to his life or death--so it was just another thing he'd have to deal with when the time came.
And it would. Of that much, he was certain.