Rabbit got to the meeting late. He intended to use the fact that half the roads between his apartment and Protectors of Antiquity headquarters had rubble obscuring them as his excuse, but really it was because he hated this sort of meeting and had been dragging his feet all day in anticipation. With the possible exception of Caine, he wasn’t looking forward to seeing the other Shards, or to hearing exclamations over Surge’s return. If he arrived late enough, he could at least miss the latter, even if there was no way to avoid the former.
He assumed Surge would be there, anyway. Riyad had said over the phone that everyone but the Prodigy would be, and so Surge must have been located. Rabbit scowled as he yanked his goggles down around his neck and propped his bike up behind a cluster of garbage containers. It would have been better for everyone if Surge had just stayed in whatever hole he had crawled into.
He tapped the entry code into the panel at the door and listened as the lock disengaged. Nudging the door open with his shoulder, he sidled down the steps inside and cast about the room warily. There was only one person there, sitting at Jin’s workstation, and initially he thought that it was Jin. Then the chair swiveled toward him, and Rabbit’s eyes narrowed as he pushed the door closed behind him.
“What’re you doing here?” he demanded, staring down at Yoko as the smaller man faced him.
“Is there a reason I should not be?” Wide, blank eyes blinked at him like a doll. Rabbit hated that expression, and snarled. Anxiety that had been building up for days burst out in the form of anger, like pus out of a pimple.
“After what you did, how can you show your face?” It was a question he’d intended to put to Surge when he saw him, but Yoko was an even more appropriate target as long as he was there.
Yoko blinked again, brows furrowing in confusion.
Rabbit stared him down for a moment, and when he said nothing, he filled in the blank. “The buildings, you fucker.”
Yoko paled and rose, as though he thought he might need to defend himself. Or flee. “...How do you know about that?”
“Alan told me.” The specifics were unimportant to Rabbit; it had something to do with those bottles Quinn kept in the backroom, but he cared much more about the information than its source, and hadn’t asked more questions.
There was silence for a moment, as Yoko stared at him. Then his expression smoothed out in what was either acceptance or dismissal. “What do you want me to say?”
“Nothing you say’s going to make a difference,” Rabbit spat, tone venomous, as he moved closer. His tattoos seemed to throb in counterpoint to the fury pulsing through him. “You killed thousands of people, and you just show up here like nothing happened?!”
“I killed those creatures, too.”
It was a weak defense as far as Rabbit was concerned. He was closer to Yoko now than the smaller man seemed comfortable with, but he stood his ground, tilting his head back to meet Rabbit’s eyes. Balling his hands into fists, he considered punching some expression onto Yoko’s smooth, doll-like face. Or maybe cracking it. The thought thrilled him.
“How does that even begin to make up for it!” It wasn’t a question, and he didn’t expect an answer.
“You did not even know the people who died.”
“Someone did! Either way, it wasn’t your call!”
“...It was worth the cost.” Now even Yoko sounded like he knew it was a bad excuse, as though he had never thought to defend his actions even to himself, and had never thought he would be called on them. As though he had expected anyone sane to understand unnecessary killing. He averted his eyes.
“So you came here?” Rabbit jerked his head into the interior of the compound. “One of their friends died that night.”
“Not because of me.” His child-like appearance made it hard not to read petulance into his tone. His eyes met Rabbit’s again, and now meeting his gaze was like slamming face first into a steel wall. “I did the only thing I knew to do.” His eyes narrowed slightly, and Rabbit could have sworn he smirked just slightly. “At least I did not sit by and do nothing.”
Rabbit swung without thinking and was surprised that Yoko didn’t fall when his fist connected with that doll-like face. It seemed like such a tiny frame should crumple easily, and Rabbit was no stranger to making his hits count. But although his head face snapped to the side and he took half a step back to catch his balance, Yoko remained otherwise unwavering. Rabbit had a feeling that this had very little to do with the hand he had balled in Yoko’s shirt.
“What the hell, Rabbit?”
Rabbit’s gaze flickered to the side, taking in Riyad standing in the kitchen doorway from the corners of his eyes. He made no movements otherwise, and neither did Yoko, glaring up at him as blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
The two of them stood still for a moment before Rabbit released Yoko, pushing him away as he let go of his shirt. Yoko took an obliging step backward, and Rabbit turned toward Riyad, biting back the anger still boiling in his throat.
“Is everyone else here?”
Riyad nodded, looking between the two of them in irritated bewilderment. “Yeah, you’re the last one.”
“Construction,” he grunted and moved past Riyad into the kitchen. It was a moment before Riyad followed;Yoko came too, but stayed near the door.
Walking into the kitchen was like walking into the path of several high-powered hoses. Rabbit grimaced and glanced around, taking a moment to adjust to the mental reverberations in the room. Caine was seated at the table with a portable terminal in front of him and a child that had to be his son in his lap. Rabbit used his resonance as an anchoring point to help his mind settle, and to his surprise the anger still circling like a caged animal in his gut subsided too; hid under a rock and went to sleep. That was almost alarming, but Rabbit wouldn’t allow himself to be alarmed in front of this group.
Even without looking, he could tell who was standing where. Surge was the hardest to ignore, jack hammering against the edges of his mind in a way that made him want to stab himself in the face. Rabbit avoided looking at him, not wanting the anger Caine had put to sleep to spark up again. Sasha was also obnoxious, but in a different way than Surge: it wasn’t the pattern of his resonance but the way it seemed to expand and swallow things around them that bothered Rabbit.
Wanting to stay as far away from the two of them as possible, he dropped into a chair across the table from Caine and closed his eyes for a moment, trying to settle himself. Julian and the last of the group, a woman he assumed must be Caine’s fiancée, weren’t as disruptive to his thought processes, and Caine himself had a resonance that Rabbit felt his own fit into. If the Shards comprised a puzzle, Caine was the only one Rabbit’s piece fully locked into. He wondered if the others felt the same way, but then decided he didn’t care. He just wanted to get this over with.
“So what’re we doing?” he asked, opening his eyes again. Julian was, predictably, giving him sharp looks from where he had joined Yoko by the door. The blood on Yoko’s face was gone. Rabbit ignored them and focused on Caine, who blinked slowly at him in acknowledgement.
“We were going over what we know,” Caine said, bouncing his son on his knees. “Which isn’t really much, actually. Just that there’s going to be another Cataclysm and we should probably be trying to prevent it. Beyond that, I’m in the dark.” He smiled, the expression incongruous with the situation. Rabbit glanced at the giggling boy in his lap, and understood why.
“Yoko might be able to help us,” Riyad offered. He was sitting on a stool, leaning back with his elbows on his work counter. Jin sat on the surface to one side of him, and Nyr was standing to the other side, looking around at all of them as though he thought he should be feeding them. Rabbit was glad that at least none of the three of them resonated in his mind, and then grimaced when he looked down and noticed a plate of cookies in the middle of the table.
“He can,” Sasha confirmed from his place at the end of the table, as far from all the others as he could get without being outside the room. Or maybe he just wanted to be in a position where he could see everyone. “Stuff about his brothers and his dad.”
“That’s why you’re here, right?” Julian asked Yoko. Rabbit noticed Sasha’s eyebrow twitch, but then he tilted his head to the side, listening to a voice no one else heard, and smirked. At the same time, Cross shot him a disapproving look.
Rabbit didn’t want to know what it was she had gleaned from Sasha’s thoughts. He looked away from the two of them, pinching the bridge of his nose against the headache that was forming behind his eyes. The bright overhead lights reflecting off of the reflective surfaces and fixtures and with the vibrating at the edges of his mind were a painful combination. Of all the people in the world to be stuck in a room with, a clairvoyant and a telepath were not in his top ten. Then again, neither was his best friend.
In fact, he couldn’t think of a full group of ten people he would want to be stuck in a room with.
Yoko nodded, but didn’t move further into the room. “I have learned some things that...may be of interest to you.” Glancing around the room, he seemed to hesitate, then continued. “It was my brother who was behind the appearance of those creatures several weeks ago. He brought them over to force my father’s hand.”
Rabbit froze, staring at the tabletop becoming slick under his tattooed hands. Hiroki had caused the attacks. The overly familiar librarian who regularly wore orange and hot pink together and called him Nicholas. That was responsible for the destruction. That had cut out a sixth of the city’s population in a single night.
Rabbit’s eyes narrowed dangerously and his nails scraped across the fake wood grain of the table’s surface as he balled his hands into fists, gloves creaking. Ready to be angry with anyone, Rabbit had no trouble making the eerie blond the target of his wrath.
The rest of the room met Yoko’s revelation with a silence that grew and expanded until Jin burst out, “The autocatalysis bastard is your brother?”
Yoko blinked in surprise. “You understood the symbols?”
“With some help,” Riyad interjected, interrupting Jin before he could speak again. “Your brother made the symbols? And that brought them over?”
“Not the first one.” Yoko looked at Rabbit, and for a moment, he wanted to ignore the silent signal to corroborate his story. The others were now looking at him, too, though, and he sighed.
“The first one came through Quinn. Through his chest.” He snagged one of the cookies just to have something to do other than meet the gazes being leveled at him. It was still warm, but as soon as he took a bite he regretted it; even the part of his brain that normally filled in taste for him seemed too angry to function properly, and it was like chewing warm soil as the cookie crumbled in his mouth. He choked it down and continued, “Alan and me figured he was the first one to show up and he called the others.”
Yoko nodded, apparently not caring if not everyone in the room knew who Alan and Quinn were. “My brother provided the power for the gateways, but it was their kin on this side that pulled them through en masse.”
“I don’t get it.” Julian glanced at Rabbit, then back at Yoko. “How’d Hiroki know the first one would come through?”
“He talked to him, obviously.” Sasha’s tone was condescending and Julian threw a scowl at him. Rabbit had to agree with that look: Sasha was just a parrot, repeating things he didn’t know firsthand. He had no right to talk down to anyone. “It’s easy to talk to creatures like that cross-dimensionally. They look for psychic links to this world, and it was Tiny’s brother who put the idea of using the demon over here as a portal into the head demon’s mind.”
“A good guess,” Yoko said dryly, ignoring the slight against his stature, though Rabbit was smirking at it. “And that is the case. My brother flattered and bribed Malchior with promises concerning my father.”
“Tell them who your father is,” Surge prompted from his corner of the room.
His voice didn’t bring on the wince Rabbit had been anticipating, and it might have been because he was standing far away from everyone as though he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. It was the only appropriate thing for him to do after the chaos he’d caused, and Rabbit wasn’t sure if he was relieved or annoyed at how easily his anger at Surge had been diffused.
Yoko’s large eyes shifted to take in the other man and he remained quiet for a moment. “My father is the dark god Ashe-im-Torim. Several of you have met him.”
There was a moment of confused silence before Julian added, “He’s my dad’s assistant.”
Rabbit scowled at this disclosure. He’d dismissed the physical resemblance between the two men as a coincidence, and part of him wanted to resist the idea that this was the truth. After all the other ridiculous things he’d learned in the past half year, though, he couldn’t, and he found that anger building up in him again. If Ashe had that kind of power, he could have done so much to keep his employer from being the bastard he was. Rabbit’s tattoos throbbed, and he stared at his hands to be sure they weren’t glowing; he wouldn’t have been surprised if he could only unlock his power when he was pissed off. That was the story of his life.
“Wait.” Jin shrugged off Riyad’s attempts to get him to be quiet and listen. “Wait wait wait wait. Your dad is the dark god. And he works as a secretary?”
“My father does not discuss his choices with me.”
Jin made a face. “You’d just think he’d pick a better job. Like Supreme Dictator of Everything Ever.”
Yoko looked unamused and his tone was clipped. “He has his reasons, I am sure.”
“I’m just saying. That’s a crappy career choice for a god. He’s not exactly working up to his potential, you know?” Riyad silenced him by hitting him upside the head with an audible thwack that mussed his hair. He subsided, rubbing his head and giving Riyad a petulant look.
Yoko looked around at them in the following near silence, and shifted his weight in an odd display of nerves. Rabbit watched him and wondered for the first time if he even wanted to be there.
Caine had been thinking about all of this as his son stood in his lap and tugged on his hair. He blinked parti-colored eyes at Yoko, and murmured, “So your father is Ashe-im-Torim. This makes much more sense. Do you--” He paused, looking around, and then raised his voice. “Do any of you know how the universe ends?”
Yoko nodded, but it was Riyad who spoke, his words coming out as though he were reciting something he had heard many times. “G’nashvera appears and absorbs all matter and energy, erasing the slate. He then rewrites all form and time, and a new universe is born.”
“Yes.” Caine smiled slightly. “Like the god Brahma breathing in and out, creating the universe as he inhales and extinguishing it as he exhales, each breath an interminable length of time by our ability to judge.”
Rabbit stared at Caine. He recognized the story from his childhood, when his father was still alive to tell him stories. He hadn’t thought about such things since that time. Suddenly agitated, he dug in the pockets of his jacket for his cigarettes and lighter and didn’t bother to ask if it was okay for him to smoke. Cross watched him, and her brows drew together. Rabbit looked back at her steadily as he lit the cigarette, almost daring her to say anything.
Then she glanced at her son in Caine’s lap across the table from him. Rabbit followed her gaze, and then rose, stepping a bit further into the kitchen proper. He listened from there, leaning against the countertop, breathing in his own smoke. It stung in the back of his nose, but had no scent.
“Who the hell is G’nashvera?” Julian asked, looking at Yoko, who just shrugged.
“It’s Arcadian,” Caine explained, and Julian looked at him instead. “Or rather, it’s an Arcadian bastardization of a much, much older word. It means ‘God Who Becomes’, indicating that this god who will appear to destroy and then re-create the universe is actually a god who already exists.”
Yoko supplied the obvious answer. “My father.”
Julian looked from one of them to the other, then stared around the room incredulously. “Hiroki’s trying to force Ashe to destroy the universe?”
“It would seem that way,” Caine said, and his son nuzzled his shoulder in what seemed like a conciliatory gesture, mewing deafly. “And he’ll have to use us to do it.”