“You’re not a smart man, Julian.”
Julian rolled his eyes, holding the phone with his shoulder so he could push the floor button on the elevator. “Guess I’d rather be nice than be a genius. By the way, how’s that working for you? Still living alone?”
“Still living with your booty call?” the caustic voice on the other side asked.
“I should have known better than to get into it with you.”
“Yeah, you really should. Which brings me back to my point: you are not a smart man.”
Julian leaned against the elevator wall, determined not to let Rabbit’s comments ruin his good mood. "What’s not smart about it? You were the one who gave me Yoko’s address in the first place.”
“Yeah, but that was nearly a month ago. You wouldn’t wait a month to thank someone for saving your life unless you’re self conscious and you don’t want to look weak and pathetic, and the only reason you would care what he thinks is because you want him to like you. You’re not fooling me--saying thank you is only part of why you’re going to see him.”
“You know why I waited.” Julian glared at his own reflection since Rabbit wasn’t there.
Rabbit sighed, either annoyed or deflated. “He’s been dead for a while Julian. I think you can probably stop calling one of us every time you leave the house. The chance of anything happening to you is the same as it is for anyone else now. Anyway, you know I’m at least a little bit right. If this were going to be a quick ‘thank you,’ you’d have just called him like I told you to do in the first place.”
“I’ll admit that I didn’t want Yoko to see me jumping at shadows if you admit that sometimes you’re glad I’m calling because it means you can have a conversation with a real human being.”
“Only if you take about a minute and think with your head for once and agree that you really shouldn’t be bothering the man.”
Julian shook his head, walking out of the elevator into the hallway where a long row of doors stretched out in either direction. He followed the numbers left, counting down towards room 4601. "How is thanking him going to bother him? It’ll probably make his day.”
“I really, honestly doubt that, Julian. He didn’t stick around at your dad’s when he dropped you off and he hasn’t tried to contact you. I’m the only one who’s actually met him, so you should probably be listening to me more than you are.” Rabbit’s voice was becoming more and more annoyed. “You ever think maybe he rescued you from Tokoyo for Tokoyo’s sake and not yours? They were brothers after all. And even if it was all about you--and please check your ego before you comment--if he wanted you to know it was him or wanted your gratitude, he would have contacted you. People do anonymous good deeds all the time.”
“There’s a difference between saving someone’s life and turning in a lost wallet. I don’t care what you think; I’ve got a feeling about this. It’s fine.”
“I thought I specified that you should think with your head.”
Julian was thinking with his head, though. It wasn’t hard to figure out that Rabbit was worried about Yoko’s reaction because he might be held responsible for Julian’s visit and not because it was actually something Julian needed to worry about. Yoko did business with Alan and Alan could make Rabbit’s life uncomfortable if he wanted to; it was a matter of self preservation combined with guilt, and Julian was sure he’d never get an address or phone number from Rabbit again.
“Rabbit, I promise I’ll leave if he seems put off by my presence.”
“Oh, forget it. I don’t care anymore. Look, I’m not going to be home all day, so you should probably call Surge for your walk home. Or, better yet, today might be a good day to go it alone.”
“Maybe. We’ll see.” Julian frowned, thinking of the handgun he’d left lying on the dresser at home. Visiting a stranger with a loaded weapon strapped to his chest had seemed socially unacceptable at the time, but he would still have preferred to have it with him. “I’m here, so I guess I should let you get back to rescuing the princess or whatever it was you were doing. ”
“I’m sitting in awe of the game’s attention to detail in regard to blood splatter patterns.”
“That sounds healthy.”
“Yeah, well, you try to sit and write a dissertation on the spin of quantum particles and how this matters on a macro scale.”
Julian laughed a little, imagining Rabbit glaring at his workload waiting on the terminal in his cluttered office. “Well, I certainly can’t fault you there. Good luck with the game then and I’ll probably see you later on in the week. I’ll call tomorrow or so and you can tell me when a good time would be. Maybe we can do lunch or something.”
“Maybe. I’ve still got a lot of research I need to do at the University, so don’t get your hopes up. This paper’s got to come first. We’ll see what happens, though; the occasional mindless distraction helps sometimes.”
“Mindless? I guess I’d better get going before you start insulting me on purpose. ”
“That was on purpose. ”
“Bye, Rabbit. Love you, too.” Julian hung up and smirked as the phone’s display went blank. He imagined the two of them probably sounded like a dysfunctional couple to anyone who only caught half of the conversation, but bickering and teasing were just a part of their relationship. He slipped his phone into his back pocket with a warm smile as he stared ahead at the door to room 4616 and knocked.
There was hardly any sound behind the door, but Julian got the distinct impression that Yoko was at home. He smoothed his shirt anxiously and ran his fingers through his short hair, wanting to look as though his life had been worth the effort of saving. He was calm, confident, in control--
--and hugging Yoko’s head to his chest as soon as the door was open.
It would have been less awkward if Yoko hadn’t been so small and rubbing his eye with the back of his hand. As it was, his hand was now caught between his cheek and Julian’s ribs, but he didn’t struggle, though he must have been caught off guard. Instead he stood very still until Julian to let him go and stepped back with an embarrassed laugh.
“Uh, sorry, I kind of got carried away.”
Yoko nodded, dropping his hand to his side and squinting out of his right eye. He tilted his head back to look up at Julian, and though his face was unreadable, his eyes seemed almost too expressive.
“It is good that you have recovered,” he said at length.
The words were well chosen. They released the tension in Julian’s shoulders, and his smile shifted from nervous to genuine. Yoko knew who he was, Yoko cared about his well-being and Yoko knew that he knew this. It made everything easier, somehow.
“Yeah...well, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the chance.” And there it was: from ‘hello’ to ‘thank you’ in only three lines of dialog. Two words remained and he could finish his task and go home. “Can I come in? ”
Those obviously weren’t the words, and he was glad Rabbit wasn’t there to rub it in. Yoko, on the other hand, nodded and stood aside to allow Julian to enter.
His apartment was spartan and clean; rugs covered the hard flooring and marked a path to a sitting area composed of mats and a shin-high table. Julian noticed the shoes lined up in the entryway and left his own boots behind as he took cautious steps into the delicate looking home. The small studio had a very open, airy feel. The vid screen showed a first floor view of a simple garden designed around an aesthetic Julian was unfamiliar with. It must have been lifted from an old video, because the loop quality was sub-standard for most computer-generated views. It was lovely, though, almost because of its flaws rather than in spite of them. The world had looked like that. It was a somber thought that fit with the bareness of the rest of the room.
Without a couch to sit on, Julian slipped his hands in his pockets and leaned back on his heels. “You have a nice home. Your name’s Yokoshima, right? A friend referred to you as Yoko, but I don’t want to offend you by using the shorter name if you mind. ”
Yoko shrugged as he moved towards the kitchen. “It is easier for people to remember. You would like some tea? ”
“Yeah, that sounds great. Thanks. Uh...my name’s Julian. In case you didn’t know. ”
“I knew.” Yoko motioned towards the table as he stepped into his kitchen area, using a step stool to reach a kettle sitting on the stove and to collect a tin from the cupboard. It seemed like a work of magic that a man of his stature had carried Julian to safety undetected; Julian wasn’t about to insult him by asking about it. Something about the way the muscles flexed under his shirt when he reached for the tea made Julian want to believe it was possible.
He took a seat on one of the mats, a little uncomfortable but not wanting to be rude. It reminded him a little of primary school, where all the furniture was made for small bodies. It probably wasn’t the best observation to share out loud, though, leaving Julian at a loss for what to talk about. The obvious topic was a little more depressing than he liked for a first meeting. Side stepping it wouldn’t do them any favors, though.
He still hadn’t come up with anything intelligent or witty to say when Yoko walked over with a tray laden with two brown bowls in his hands. He set the tray down and handed a bowl to Julian, who accepted it with both hands. It was warm against his palms and smelled better than the lab-grown tea he was used to. He took a tentative sip and felt goose bumps rise over the skin of his arms and neck. “This is really good. Import from Xifeng?”
Yoko’s smile was small over the rim of his bowl. “Something like that.” He closed his eyes as he breathed in the steam, eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks. He drank slowly, hands cupping the brown bowl with gentle reverence. He was an interesting man to watch.
Watching him, it occurred to Julian what he really wanted to say. “Who are you?”
Yoko opened his eyes, but did not look at him. His eyes rested on the bowl as his fingers caressed its contours. “I am Tokoyo’s brother.”
“I know. I mean...I found you while my friend and I were researching Tokoyo. They had you and another man listed as family. It’s sort of weird, I guess, that the man who wanted to kill me and the man who saved me are that closely related.” Julian looked down at his hands cupping his own bowl. “The file didn’t have an occupation listed for you. You didn’t work for Tokoyo, did you?”
“Can I ask how you knew what was happening?”
“I was told of the experiments by our brother.”
Julian nodded, assuming that he meant Hiroki; he didn’t want to get too involved in the dynamics of the brothers’ relationships. He put his bowl down on the table. “What made you go against your own brother to rescue me?”
Yoko’s eyes were on his at once, staring into him for a moment without blinking, eyes widening a little so that the white showed around the large gold rings. “Would you have not?” he asked.
Julian faltered. “I...I don’t know. Go against my family for a complete stranger? I mean...I haven’t in the past.”
And there it was. No better way to say ‘thank you’ than to prove that the effort was wasted on an asshole. Julian hung his head, annoyed that his hair no longer masked his face. As much as he wanted Yoko to think well of him, he wasn’t about to lie. When Maxwell had had Surge, he’d worried about himself first and Surge’s well-being second; the same has been true when Maxwell had coerced him into almost killing Rabbit. Family was forever, whether Julian liked it or not, and all other relationships were transitory. On his own, he could never go against Maxwell or, to a lesser extent, Phineas, because pissing off the people who knew him the best was not a wise way to move through life.
Yoko had done the right thing despite his relationship to the antagonist. Julian liked to think that that made him a rarity and an even more amazing a person, instead of making Julian dirt for not also being totally fearless. It was what Yoko thought that mattered, though, and Yoko didn’t say a word.
It wasn’t uncomfortable silence, but it was still silence. Julian cleared his throat and picked up his bowl for another sip of tea. “I really should repay you in some way. It couldn’t have been an easy thing to do and.... Well, saying thank you is never really going to be enough to show my gratitude.”
Yoko looked affronted. “There is no need.”
“Yoko, I can’t imagine it was in any way an easy task.”
“There is no need to imagine either. Repayment would be...awkward. It would bother me. I do not require it.”
“If you say so. I guess we’ll just leave it at me being eternally grateful then.” Julian gave him a warm smile. “Though, since I tracked you down like this, can I at least give you my address so we’re even?”
“I know where you live.”
“That’s my dad’s place, actually,” he said, shifting his weight on the mat.
“I know. That does not change the fact that I know where you live. I took you to your father’s because my--” Yoko paused, pursing his lips. He continued slowly, “My opinion of your roommate’s ability to care for you was low.”
Julian considered that for a moment. “You know Sasha?”
“I checked on him,” Yoko admitted.
“Oh...kind of creepy, but thanks. He’d have been a pretty bad candidate, yeah.”
Yoko’s raised his eyebrow. “More than you finding out my whereabouts and visiting me unsolicited?”
“Okay, that was a coincidence,” Julian reminded him, feeling flush. “I wouldn’t even have known it was you when we were looking at Tokoyo’s profile if dad hadn’t told me you looked like Ashe. So...yeah. Actually, I guess I should, you know, say I’m sorry about what happened to your brother.”
Julian blinked. He hadn’t expected that. “Well...he’s dead.”
“I do not imagine you liked him or miss him.”
“No. I was sort of planning to kill him myself, actually.”
Yoko gave a small, polite laugh at that, his smirk hidden behind his hand. It really wasn’t funny, but Julian was glad he wasn’t offended.
“Um, that aside though, he was your family. So...sorry.”
As though gauging his seriousness, Yoko paused and looked at him with quiet reserve. “Thank you,” he said at last. His voice was quiet and Julian felt like he’d finally said something right.
“Any clues about what happened?”
Yoko shook his head. “I am not entirely sure. It does not concern me at the moment. You mentioned Rabbit? I was not aware he knew me.”
Julian took the hint; Yoko was not interested in discussing Tokoyo’s death with him. That was fine. It wasn’t exactly a topic he felt like dwelling on himself. “He’s friends with Alan, the guy who owns the weird occult shop on 666 in south-seventeen. Actually, he mentioned something about you selling souls to him.”
“I could be said that way,” Yoko admitted, finishing off the last drops of his tea.
Julian swished the remains of his around the bottom of his bowl, eying the broken pieces of dried leaves as they swirled around. “How on earth do you manage to acquire souls?”
“I don’t. I consume the essence in a person. It is not technically the same thing as a soul.”
Julian blinked in confusion. “You eat.... What?”
Yoko placed a hand over his stomach; his face remained impassive, suggesting that the gesture was automatic. He nodded at the bowl in Julian’s hand. “If the body is the vessel, then the soul is the tea. The essence bridges the two, sealing them together as long as the body lives. It can retain basic emotion and memory. Without it, the soul cannot remain in the body--I can rip the essence from the body, thus separating the body and soul and killing the victim. Those I consume live as an echo inside me. It has been a comfort at times to hold an enemy’s misery within my own body, knowing that they continue to suffer.”
“So you...kill people and keep their essence as a trophy in your gut,” Julian restated, setting his bowl down for the last time, staring at Yoko in amazement. “You’re kind of hardcore.”
Yoko bowed his head slightly. "It is not worth bragging about, but you asked, so I have explained. One mellows with age and I no longer hold on to these...trophies, as you have called them. I no longer desire the company of restless echoes."
“So you sell all of them?”
“No, not all.” The hand against his stomach curled into a fist then dropped to his side. “But that...is not something I wish to discuss further.”
As much as unsolved mysteries annoyed him, Julian kept quiet and let the topic drop. Yoko was almost more enigmatic after their conversation than he had been when he was just a face on the terminal. Was a man who could consume a person’s essence a Shard, a god, or a devil? Or was he something else entirely?
Unfortunately, the tea was gone, and it felt like a cue. Yokoshima wasn’t going anywhere. There was enough time and plenty of reasons for them to meet again and talk more.
Julian stood, his left foot tingling a little from a slight loss of circulation. Yoko’s eyes followed him, though he didn’t tilt his head at all. It gave Julian the distinct impression that he was being unintentionally rude. He waited and watched as Yoko collected the empty bowls on the tray and stood as well, regarding Julian with an impassive stare.
“I hope my reluctance has not offended you,” Yoko said.
“Not at all. I did sort of drop in on you uninvited, though, so I should probably get going.”
“Under most circumstances, Julian, do not presume that you require an invitation.”
It was hard not to hug him goodbye. Small, adorable stature aside, in the hour that Julian had known him, Yoko was already at the top of the list of people who made him feel good about himself. It was an intimidating experience to stand in his presence, but it was also elevating.
Julian stuck out his hand, unable to keep himself from grinning “Same to you. We’ll have to do this again soon.”
Nodding, Yoko shook his hand.