Chapter 10


The night air still bit with the stubborn chill of the receding winter. The metal and concrete of the city had already released all the heat they had absorbed during the day, and no longer offered a reprieve from the cold as dawn approached. Julian was grateful for the belled sleeves covering his arms, though his mesh top was more murder than mercy as his raised nipples pressed against the uneven weave. He shivered minutely, letting the goosebumps spread over his skin, and hugged himself for warmth. He felt ridiculous waiting for hours at a bus stop for an ex. At first, he’s passed time by standing and walking around, but had only found his seat on the bench beside Yoko cooler than he’d left it whenever he returned. Best to keep still, keep patient and let the minutes roll away like water down a windowpane. Like Yoko did.

If time, temperature, or discomfort registered for the smaller man, he didn’t bother to show it. Yoko was sturdy--almost stiff--as he sat on the bench, toes scraping the sidewalk, hands folded in his lap. Julian felt there was as much probability of Yoko becoming a statue as there was of Sasha not ever showing up. Maybe they would both turn to stone or ice here at the bus stop.

If he’d known he was going to be immortalized that way, he’d have worn something a little more conservative.

“I don’t know how you do it,” he said, letting his teeth chatter for effect more than because of necessity.

Yoko shrugged, eyes focused far away under the fringe of his bangs. “You can take your mind off of nearly anything with a bit of focus. Look.” He pointed a graceful finger towards a couple waiting on a bench for a bus going the opposite direction.

Julian followed his gaze, but saw nothing about the couple that proved they were accepting the cold better than he was. The girl was rubbing her bare arms in an attempt to warm herself, while the man rubbed her back with one hand. His other arm hung over the back of the bench as he peered down the road for the flash of headlights. She was pretty, but nothing substantially different from any other club going woman, and he was a bit on the plain side, if Julian were honest. Still, they seemed like an average pair.

“I see them. She’s cold too.”

“He’s got a coat on.”

Julian looked back at Yoko and shrugged. “He was smart enough to think ahead.”

“A good observation. He’s probably rather practical. Sturdy boots, comfortable denim, and a modest coat. Practical to the point of not really having gone out of his way to impress anyone.”

Julian cocked his head, taking in the man again. Sure enough, there were boots on his feet rather than sneakers: they were sturdy, black, and probably steel-toed by the look of them. The street lamp didn’t bounce off of any polish. These were work boots, intended to be worn down over years and years until they needed to be replaced. The bottoms of his jeans were gnarled from scraping across the sidewalk, but they looked clean and worn, just like the boots. The coat was mostly unremarkable--forest green with pockets, but no hood or decals.

“They’re brother and sister,” Yoko said, stretching his legs in front of him. “Perhaps cousins or childhood friends, but a close family relation is more likely.”

“How the hell do you get that from boots, jeans and a coat?”

Yoko shrugged. “If he had a romantic interest in her, he would have offered her his coat. If he’d gone to the club to meet someone, he would have worn his best clothes rather than something he’d wear to the store. His casual appearance suggests familiarity and, though he does show some concern for her comfort, he makes no personal sacrifice to appease her. Not to say siblings don’t look after each other, but often...often you let them suffer for their own good.”

Blinking, dumbfounded, Julian looked back at the couple on the bench. For an instant, he could see himself and Phineas in their place, Phineas playing the part of the coat-wearing man because he was the more practical of the brothers. In a slight chill, no matter how much he might fuss, Phineas would make Julian tough it out. Tough love was the kind of love only a few people could exact without being unkind. Julian watched the man rubbing the woman’s back, noticing now that it was the safest place to touch her if he wanted to avoid accidentally touching her breast while rubbing her arm while still helping a little. It was compassion without coddling.

“Yeah, I guess they probably are.” He turned a smile on Yoko. “Is this what you’ve been doing all this time? Just sitting here looking at people and dissecting them?”

Yoko nodded just slightly. “It’s an enjoyable activity that is very good for passing the hours.”

“Hours. God, Yoko, I’m really sorry about this.”

“No need. This is not any less enjoyable that sitting at home. Less productive, but that doesn’t bother me.”

Julian smiled just a little, reminded by his soft demeanor of the man’s father. Ashe’s serenity certainly hadn’t skipped a generation.

A whistle broke through the air and Julian jumped a little, turning his head to peer down the alley behind them. The albino approaching the bus stop would have nearly glowed even without the aid of the glow sticks snapped around his wrists and neck. His face soured at the sight of Yoko, and Julian rose quickly in case he chose to flee.

“Sasha--”

“You wanted to talk, so talk.” His voice was low and his jaw so tight it seemed to snap shut on the tail of his sentence. Julian worried his bottom lip as he stepped away from the bench and Yoko and towards Sasha. The neon florescence from the glow sticks painted his blank canvas of skin odd, sickly colors.

“You, uh...you look good.”

“You said it was Shard business. I didn’t come out here so you could chitchat about how good I look and all the other bullshit pleasantries. Just get to the point.”

Julian scowled. “You’re seriously still this pissed off over it? Sasha, it was unhealthy.”

Sasha shrugged, checking the inside of his wrist where the face of his watch gave the hour. “Come on, Julian. It’s late.”

“I know it’s late, thanks. We’ve been waiting out here for--god, forget it!” Julian threw his arms into the air, tired and fed up. “The Oracle said we’re meeting up. I need an address or phone number so we can get in touch with you and make the arrangements.”

“You know where I work. That isn’t enough?”

“I’m not calling here asking if the Witness is available.”

“Good. They wouldn’t know who the hell you were talking about anyway.”

“Sasha--”

“You going to grab your datapad to take this down in or is your memory that good?”

Julian blinked, but pulled his datapad from his back pocket and handed it over to Sasha to plug his information into. Sasha sighed as he tapped against the buttons and the screen.

“I work nights. Obviously.” Sasha handed the datapad back. His nails were painted like tiny checkerboards. “And I sleep during the day. So if it’s before noon, don’t expect me to show up on time.”

“I’ll tell them to shoot for early afternoon. Most of us seem to be self-employed or really flexible. Lucky us.”

Sasha shook his head. “Luck has nothing to do with it, Julian. Never has and never will. Not with Shards.”

Julian frowned a little, watching as near pupil-less eyes under painted black lashes scanned the air behind him, still plagued by phantoms and the voices of the ones who came before.

“Yeah. Guess not.” He slid the datapad back into his back pocket and slipped his hands into the ones in front. “I probably won’t be me who calls you, so just keep an eye out for any unfamiliar numbers.”

Sasha nodded, scraping his heals on the ground as he turned to walk away. “Doesn’t make a difference to me. Guess I’ll see you around. Bye.”

He didn’t bother to wait for a response before shoving off down the alley, whistling to himself to ensure that his was the final word.

Julian watched him walk a bit, unable to shake the scowl from his lips. Dealing with exes was one thing, but dealing with Sasha seemed to be something entirely different on some level.

“Got what you came for, then?”

Julian turned to find Yoko on his feet, waiting patiently just a few steps behind him.

“Yeah. Yeah, this is what the Oracle wanted. We can leave now.”

Yoko gave a curt nod, waiting for Julian to begin walking before joining him at the curb where the buses would see them. “At my place, we can warm ourselves with some tea if you’d like. You’re welcome to sleep on the couch if you don’t want to travel too much.”

“Not tired of me yet?”

“Not yet.” Yoko leaned out, checking down the road for headlights. “I’ll be making myself something warm to drink before bed, anyway. May as well make enough for two.”

Julian smiled a bit and relaxed against the signpost. “Ah, what’s another hour or two. May as well catch the sun rise while we’re at it.”

Yoko nodded, still looking out and away. “We’re agreed.”