Rather than take the ten-minute tram ride to the restaurant where he was meeting Julian, Surge opted to walk. It would take him forty-five minutes, thirty if he didn’t mind showing up a little sweaty, but it would give him time to get used to the idea of going on a date with his friend. Though he had no real interest in dating Julian, he liked the other man well enough and he didn’t want to spend the first half of their meal together in awkward anxiety. Surge had found himself nervous about the obvious interest he displayed in him, but he was equipped to rebuff that sort of interest. The long walk, he had reasoned, would give him a chance to address and file away all the misgivings that were scrolling through his mind.
It would also give him a chance to get comfortable in the clothes Cross had picked out for him to wear. When she had found out that he had accepted Julian’s invitation to dinner, she had managed to get him to tell her when he was going, and had shown up at his apartment several hours beforehand of her own accord to help him get ready. What she had chosen for him and then not let him change back out of before it was time for him to leave, though casual, were not things he would ever have chosen on his own. The pants were the product of a shopping trip Cross had once convinced him to go on with her; she had insisted he try them on and when she had seen that they fit him properly, she had bought them for him. The shirt she’d found for him was something that he had found in a dryer when he’d been doing his laundry and which he had intended but forgotten to take to the super in case its owner wanted it back.
Both items were more form-fitting than he was comfortable with--they struck him as more the sort of things Julian would wear than that he would wear--and though he knew he’d gained weight and was no longer as skeletal as he had been months before, he was still uncomfortable in clothes that clung to his body. He didn’t like the attention he attracted when wearing them. It always felt like people’s eyes were clawing at him, and it made his skin crawl. He couldn’t have explained this to Cross, even if he’d wanted to. He just didn’t have the words for it.
So he had worn the clothes and walked to the restaurant in order to get used to the feeling of eyes on him. The jacket he was wearing against the early winter chill helped him feel a bit more protected, but he knew it would be worse in the restaurant, when he had to take the jacket off.
Surge still wasn’t quite ready to face Julian when he reached the restaurant, so he stood a few steps from the entrance with his hands in his pockets, watching people filter in and out. He peered through the window to see if he could spot his date from where he was standing. That was assuming that Julian had arrived before him--he seemed like the sort of person to be eager enough to arrive early, but unconcerned at the fact that arriving early made him seem eager.
It was a small place that, apparently, Julian had chosen because it was more or less equidistant from both their homes, making it unnecessary for one of them to pick the other up at home. Surge appreciated that. Though Julian could have found out where he lived without much trouble, Surge liked to trust that he hadn’t and that his privacy was still intact. He knew it was a bit unfair, considering how much he knew about Julian and how little the other man knew about him, but it was one of the only things that made him feel secure on a regular basis.
When he felt that he was sufficiently centered, Surge stepped into the restaurant. The host, who was only just a little taller than the podium where he was stationed, greeted him and Surge had just begun to murmur that he was there to meet someone when he saw that someone waving to him from the other end of the room. He apologized to the host, who shrugged, and crossed the room to find Julian at a table with two glasses of wine, one full the other half-empty.
“I hope you don’t mind that I ordered a drink for you,” Julian said by way of greeting as Surge took his seat across from him.
“I don’t drink alcohol.” He slipped his jacket off with only a little reluctance and let is crumple behind him on the seat of his chair.
“Really?” Julian blinked at him, as though confused by the idea that there was anyone of legal age in existence who didn’t drink. Then he smiled. “Well, try it at least and if you don’t like it, I’ll be more than happy to drink it for you.”
He pushed the menu lying on the table in front of him across to Surge. “I already decided. Go ahead and take a look.”
Surge accepted the menu, feeling its tiny electronic signature hum in his hand in a way that wasn’t quite physical, and ran his fingers over the touch screen. Being in public meant slowing himself down, and he wondered at how slowly all the people around him took in information. He was certain he would go insane if he tried to function at this speed all the time.
“You look nice.” Julian’s voice broke into his thoughts and he looked up to find the other man looking at him appreciatively.
“Oh...Cross picked my clothes,” he admitted.
Julian smirked and Surge felt himself blush. He ducked his head to look at the menu again as Julian said, “Are you and she close?”
“I guess so. I babysit Sem a lot and we work together, so I guess we just see a lot of each other.”
“You seem like siblings to me.”
Surge couldn’t help smiling a little at the thought. He’d had a sister once, a long time ago, and she had been nothing like Cross, but he didn’t mind the thought that he was as close to Cross as he had been to her.
He ticked his meal choice off on the menu and clicked the button on the side that would alert the wait staff that their order was ready. He set the menu on the edge of the table and asked, “How are things?”
“Better. Tokoyo’s dead.”
“Yeah, I uh read the feed on that.” That wasn’t quite an accurate description, but it was good enough. “How’s Sasha?”
Julian pursed his lips and ran a hand through his hair. Though it had grown in the weeks since his disappearance, it was still a shock to see it so short. “Still a liar. Still co-dependent. Still complaining about the kitchen even though it’s fixed now and there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Sorry.” Maybe he shouldn’t have brought it up. It was too late now, though. “How’s that working out?”
“I’m not really sure,” Julian said. He paused to nod and smile to the waitress as she took the menu, before continuing. “And I’ll figure it out some other time.”
Surge hoped he didn’t look as relieved as he felt that the topic was being changed. He nodded and tried the wine on the table in front of him. It wasn’t that bad--more acerbic than he would normally drink, and he could feel the alcohol in it in his stomach already. He’d do his best to finish the glass, since it had been ordered for him. He had a feeling that at least the taste would become less noticeable the more he drank.
He must have been making a face at the taste of the wine, because Julian was smirking at him again. “You still talk to Maxwell?”
Surge’s mind accessed his last conversation with the man without him having to think about it. He supposed it was something he ought to share. “Yeah, sometimes.”
“I’m never going to understand that.”
“I guess you don’t have to.” Data scrolled unbidden out of storage in Surge’s mind, parading images of Julian’s interactions with his father. It made sense for him to be unable to fathom how anyone could get along with the man.
“Maybe not,” Julian said and took a sip of his wine. “But it’s still really weird.”
Surge didn’t bother to disagree. It was a strain of conversation that would go nowhere. “The last time I talked to him wasn’t that long ago. He asked me to keep an eye out for Phineas.”
“Phineas?” Julian perked up a little, setting his glass down. “What’s he up to?”
The surveillance footage of Julian beating Phineas came to mind, and Surge was glad to find he was still interested in his younger brother despite their falling out. “I don’t really know. He’s gone though.”
“Again?” Julian’s face twisted in a grimace. He took another drink. “He’s just...gone?” vSurge nodded. “James doesn’t seem too alarmed about it, though. More...resigned, I guess.”
Julian seemed disinterested in his father’s reaction. He sighed and swirled the wine in his glass. “No one tells me anything.”
“You’re not exactly on good terms with the people who know,” Surge pointed out.
“I’m on good terms with Ashe.”
“Ashe has a lot of things to do.”
It didn’t seem like that was going to keep Julian from sulking for several more moments. The food came before he was done, and Julian frowned slightly as he watched the waitress retreat. Surge was about to ask him if he’d gotten the wrong order when the other man’s eyes snapped to his face and Julian sat up straight.
“That’s where I know you from!”
The exclamation had not been anything Surge was expecting. “What?”
“I thought you looked familiar when I first met you at my dad’s,” Julian explained, leaning forward. “You were my waiter. When I was looking for Phineas.”
Surge nodded and began to eat his meal. Once again, the pertinent data filed out of its allotted storage space, and while he chewed he watched a day when he’d worked at a restaurant called Tulio’s, mentally fast-forwarding through Julian’s order and his inquiry about his brother. He’d kept his eyes open for Phineas after that and, when he’d found him, he’d anonymously left the necessary information with Julian. It was just another vignette of Julian’s life that he happened to have stored away in his mind.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Did it really matter?” Surge countered.
“Well...I guess not,” Julian said. “Still, I had the Surge serve me food and I didn’t even know it.”
“You weren’t supposed to.”
”Why do that kind of work, though? I mean, you don’t need to.”
Surge sighed a little, looking down at his plate. This restaurant’s food was a little bland. He said, “I had to have something to do with my time, and it had to be something that got me out of my apartment.”
“I guess so,” Julian said as he began to eat, and his tone made it clear that he understood. It was the same for him, even now knowing that Tokoyo was dead; nothing would ever get better if they stayed afraid their whole lives.
They ate in near silence broken only by a few comments about the food itself. Surge had a feeling that, like his own, Julian’s thoughts had taken a turn that weighed on him, but he wasn’t the sort of person who could fake levity in order to jumpstart a dead conversation. He was pushing the last few bites of his meal around on his plate with his fork when Julian finally did it for him.
He looked up to find Julian with his chin propped on one hand, his wine glass in the other, looking off to the side. Surge followed his gaze to a nearby table; he was watching a young couple chatting together. Their eyes never left the other’s face. He took them in and then looked back at Julian quizzically.
“What kind of person do you see yourself with in the future?” The other man was looking at him out of the corners of his eyes.
Surge set his fork down. He wouldn’t be finishing his supper. “I don’t see myself with anyone in the future.”
“No?” Julian set his glass down empty and turned his face to look at Surge more directly. His smile was teasing. “A cute guy like you?”
Surge felt himself blush again. He pushed his bangs back from his forehead and rubbed his eyes in an attempt to hide it. This was a line of questioning he had pursued with Cross before, but it wasn’t something he thought about on his own. To him, it was a non-issue. It was hard to get that across though.
“I don’t want that kind of relationship,” he said, “With anyone.”
“Have you ever been in one?”
“No,” Surge admitted.
“How will you know you really don’t want it if you never give it a try?”
“I’ve never been shot in the head either, but I really know I don’t want to be.” Julian’s expression told Surge it was a bad analogy. He sighed and took a moment to search for a better explanation. “I already know I have no physical attraction to other people. I never have. Plus, my abilities make it difficult. I live longer than other people, and I understand machines better than other humans. So it would just become complicated.”
Julian cocked his head, looking at him for a moment with an expression Surge couldn’t quite read. He was about to try rephrasing his explanation when Julian said, “How sad.”
Surge was startled. “Sad?”
“That must be lonely.”
Surge looked at Julian in silence as the waitress came back and then left with their plates. His mind cycled faster and though the room continued to move at normal speed around him, it seemed to slow down as he processed this. He was hardly aware as they paid their separate bills and said goodnight in front of the restaurant; he watched Julian walk away with his phone to his ear. He was probably calling Rabbit to talk him through his trip home.
Surge had never considered his life to be sad. Parts of it had been unfortunate, but he reasoned that everyone had their own misfortunes. He wondered if he needed to redefine what he thought it meant to be happy; his idea obviously differed from Julian’s. He was content with his few friends and his cat and his work. Julian obviously had aspirations greater than that. Did finding what made him happy and that thing turning out to be uncomplicated and easy to attain make Surge’s vision of happiness inferior to Julian’s?
That couldn’t be it. Julian was still much younger than Surge--he’d experienced more than his share of difficulty condensed into only two and a half decades of life. The need to find some gratification had to be like a fire inside him, moving him forward. As quickly as Surge’s mind could work, emotionally he moved more slowly.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and swung around to walk the short distance to the tram station. Julian would probably slow down someday. The thought made Surge smile just a little; Julian’s powers were likely to give him a longer than normal life as well. It would be nice to have a friend along for the ride.