For the first time, Rabbit wished that coffee shops were busier. Before the attacks, there were only a few hours a day when most weren’t packed, lines out the door, clamor making him swear under his breath while he waited for an over-priced drink that almost always disappointed him. He hated it, and avoided coffee shops whenever possible. It wasn’t until he’d met Caine that he’d started frequenting them in order to meet with the Oracle.
Now people had other things to do and better ways to spend their creds, so he had a drink in hand and had found a seat only five minutes after entering the shop, both unheard of occurrences. Chronically early, he had been enjoying the relative quiet while he waited for his friend to show up, drinking his scalding tea in gulps.
That is, he had been enjoying it until a familiar brunette had walked into the shop. Without the normal clamor of voices and drink-making, and the normal screen of bodies to blend into, there was nothing to shield him from the Healer’s gaze. Rabbit froze, trying to decide if it would be effective to slide down in his seat and hide under the table. He was still deciding when Julian caught sight of him, smiled, and made his way over to join him.
Resigned, Rabbit set his cup down on the table with a thud.
“Hey! What happened to being a hermit?” was Julian’s greeting as he slid down into the chair Rabbit had mentally been reserving for Caine.
Rabbit grimaced. “This is just a phase, I promise. I’ll grow out of it soon.”
“Not too soon, I hope.” Julian leaned forward with his elbows on the table, smiling. His clothes were too tight and too red, Rabbit noted. “If you keep this up, I’ll have to drag you to a club with me or something.”
“No.” Rabbit’s voice was flat, expression disapproving.
Julian was undeterred. “So why’re you here? Just needed to get out of your hole for awhile?”
“I’m meeting a friend,” Rabbit admitted. “I came early to make sure we got a seat.”
“No need to worry about that,” Julian said with a light laugh and a glance around at the nearly deserted shop. He paused mid-glance, though, and turned back to Rabbit with such a shocked expression that the response had to have been planned. “Wait. Did you say you’re meeting a friend?”
“That’s what I said.”
Julian regarded him with shrewd eyes. “What friend?”
“I have friends, Julian,” he said. The words sounded more indignant than he had intended.
“Alan and Quinn don’t count.”
“Alan and Quinn wouldn’t come meet me in a coffee shop.” Alan didn’t leave his house if not absolutely necessary and Quinn didn’t drink anything the shop had to offer. Both of them expected Rabbit to come to them and to bring appropriate offerings when he did.
“Who then?” Julian paused meaningfully and turned his head to give Rabbit a coy look out of the corners of his eyes. “Could you possibly have met someone?”
The way he said “met”, coupled with the way his eyes twinkled, was enough to make Rabbit’s hackles rise. “I’m not you.”
“Too bad for you.” Julian sat back in his seat, brushing a few strands of hair out of his face. The smug look on his face told the other man he’d gotten exactly what he wanted out of that exchange. “You’d have a lot more fun if you were.”
“I have friends,” Rabbit repeated stubbornly. “And I’m meeting one of them here.”
“Not this time, actually.”
Both of them turned toward the new voice to find Caine standing next to the table, a sugary, syrupy-looking blended drink in one hand. He smiled with his perpetual bed-head cocked to one side.
Julian blinked in silence. For an instant, his expression became more guarded, but then melted into an easy and practiced smile that would have done his father proud. Caine continued to match his smile as he set his drink down on the table and hooked a chair with one ankle, dragging it over and straddling it, with his arms folded across the back.
“My name is Caine,” he said, extending one hand toward Julian. He was so unsurprised by Julian’s presence that Rabbit wondered if he hadn’t foreseen this.
“Julian,” the other man said, taking his hand. He seemed to relax just a bit more as they made contact.
Rabbit picked up his tea, enjoying the smell more than the taste, and thought that the two must resonate well. With a grimace, he mused that Julian probably would have resonated well even with Greg; it would make sense for the Healer to be psychically in harmony with the other Shards.
“The Healer,” Caine said as they broke their handshake.
Julian sat up straighter, regarding Caine curiously. “Yes. You are?”
“The Oracle.” Caine leaned forward over the back of his chair and drank through a long straw, not bothering to pick his drink up.
Julian was silent for a moment, his gaze roaming over Caine. It went on so long that Rabbit was on the verge of informing the other man that the Oracle was engaged, when Julian’s gaze suddenly flickered over to him instead and a knowing smile curled his lips.
“So are you two...?”
Caine blinked up at him curiously from his bent over position, but Rabbit bristled again. “No! No we aren’t! Unlike you, I can be friends with someone without wanting to sleep with them.”
Julian opened his mouth to retort, but was interrupted when Caine laughed so suddenly that his drink came out of his nose. He clapped a hand over his face and fumbled for a napkin, trying to control his laughter.
“I’m sorry,” he gasped finally, looking between Rabbit and Julian, who were both staring at him in mingled surprise and amusement. Wiping his face with the napkin, he tried to school his expression but his mouth still twitched in amusement. “I’m sorry. No, I’m engaged. To a woman,” he added, smiling at Julian. “To Cross, the Messenger.”
“Oh, I remember her,” Julian said, returning Caine’s smile. “She went to help get Surge back from Maxwell.”
Maxwell still wasn’t “dad”, Rabbit noticed. He swallowed the last of his tea and set the cup back down with more care than necessary. Looking between the two men, he was content to listen in on their conversation for now; he increasingly had the feeling he had just been an excuse for Caine to finally meet Julian. Somehow, the thought didn’t bother him that much.
“That’s right.” Caine nodded. “She’s with Sem right now--he’s been sick all week and he’s just now getting over it. She’s been trying to track down the Impulse as well.”
Julian sat up straighter, his eyes widening in interest. “Any luck?”
“None so far.” The Oracle chuckled. “He really knows how to be elusive when he doesn’t want to be found.”
Julian nodded, looking a bit disappointed as he picked at the tabletop with one fingernail. Caine rested his chin on his folded arms, regarding the other man in silence for several moments.
“I had been wondering...” he said finally, eyes still on Julian.
“What?” the Healer asked, looking up again.
“I need you to find the Witness.”
“Sasha?” Julian grimaced. “I have no idea where he is.”
“You could find him.”
The assurance in Caine’s voice seemed to irritate Julian somewhat. He frowned at the other man and crossed his arms over his chest. “You think so, huh?”
“I do.” Caine smiled, his disheveled hair and easy openness making him seem boy-like. “It’s important that you find him soon.”
“And why is that?”
“Because something’s coming.”
Rabbit recognized the half-lidded, weary look on Caine’s face. Although he was still smiling slightly, there was nothing amused in his expression and his eyes flickered away from the two of them in an almost sheepish gesture.
Unlike most people, Caine worked under the assumption that the future was unchangeable; no matter what anyone did, everything had been laid out for them. He wondered if Caine was able to deviate at all from the future he saw. Were his attempts to organize the Shards now part of what was laid out for them, or was he fighting something that only he knew was inevitable?
Rabbit shook his head and looked across at Julian, who was on the verge of sulking. Rubbing his aching hand in annoyance, the Metamorph said, “Just do it, Julian.”
Julian slumped in his chair and blew his bangs out of his eyes. “He’s not going to want to talk to me.”
“Too damn bad.”
The two of them glared at each other across the table for several moments. Julian was the first to waver; his eyes flickered to Caine, and then he sighed and rose.
“Fine,” he said, shoving his chair back toward to the table with his hip. “I’ll do my best.”
Caine sat up straight in his seat and smiled again, the resigned look of the Oracle disappearing. “Thank you. Here, wait”—he fished in his pocket and pulled out a business card—“take this. You can contact me after you find him, or if you ever have any questions.”
Julian accepted the card, though the look he shot Caine clearly said that he had plenty of questions, and that the other man probably wouldn’t enjoy being interrogated by him. All he said out loud, though, was “Sure thing.”
Rabbit watched Julian leave the shop without buying anything, and wondered for a moment if he had ever intended to. Then his gaze shifted to Caine, who was once again leaning down over the back of his chair to drink through his straw. He looked cheerfully content, and for a moment, Rabbit couldn’t help thinking of Hiroki. With a frown, he sat forward and rested his elbows on the table, leaning closer to the other Shard.
“You really know how to get what you want, don’t you?”
Caine looked up at him through his bangs, though it was another few seconds before he stopped drinking and sat up. “I guess you could say that.”
“You knew he’d be here, so you invited me to have an excuse to meet him. And you knew he wouldn’t respond well to a stranger telling him what to do, so you needed me here to back you up.”
The other man offered him a rueful smile. “Most of us tend to resonate the same way across multiple lifetimes. The Healer and the Metamorph are wildcards, though, since you don’t always reincarnate as the same people. I got lucky this time.”
“How long d’you think your luck will last?”
“As long as it’s supposed to.”
Somehow, Rabbit wasn’t satisfied with that answer.