As pointless as his visit with his family had seemed, Julian’s spirits rose as he made his way out of Core. On the tram to Rabbit’s and talking to Yoko as he rode, he finally watched the bars of sunlight filtering down through the buildings as he passed between them.
“It’s called a bonsai.”
Julian held his phone between his ear and his shoulder, grabbing with both hands at the pole beside him to steady himself as the tram slid to a stop. “And you said it’s a tree?”
“Yes. A small tree.” There was a soft snick in the background. “One cultivates it over a long period.”
Another snick and Julian realized Yoko must be pruning the thing while they talked. “Longer than you would have the patience for.”
“I’ve got plenty of patience.”
“Not for trees.”
No, Yoko was right; Julian’s patience didn’t extend to anything botanical. Plants were far too slow-paced. He smiled and slumped into a seat still warm from its previous occupant as the tram started moving again. The sound of the machine covered the softer sounds filtering across their connection so that all he could hear now was Yoko’s voice.
“I guess you need the company.”
There was silence. Julian wondered if that had been too nonchalant and started to speak again when Yoko interrupted in measured tones.
“For a time.” Another silence. This time Julian rode it out. “I have not been alone for a long while. I must grow used to it again.”
“At least until your shoulder heals. Then you can come out with me sometimes.”
“Perhaps.” Yoko’s tone was tinged with amusement. “Though it will not heal.”
Julian grimaced. Alan had no business selling things that did that kind of damage. “I could heal it for you. You should let me.”
“You should. Yoko, clinging to that kind of thing is--”
“Clinging is a human habit.” The implication was clear. Julian pursed his lips, but let Yoko continue, his voice softer. “It is not a memento. It is a reminder.”
“Aren’t those the same thing?”
“In Standard, yes. In the language I am thinking them in, a memento is cherished. A reminder is...”
It was the first time since they’d met that Yoko had been at a loss for words. Julian closed his eyes for a moment at the unveiled emotion in Yoko’s voice and felt the sense of impermanence that permeated it. It was melancholy, but it was also bitter, and it tasted bad in Julian’s mouth.
“It’s a connection?” he volunteered, wanting to soothe somehow.
The silence stretched as the tram glided to a stop. Groping for something to say, Julian rose and disembarked.
“You must come for tea.”
That Yoko, a pond with no ripples, was still capable of surprising him was almost exciting. Julian smiled again, dodging between pedestrians until he had left the station and was out in the sunlight on the skyway.
“Yeah. I will. Definitely.”
Their conversation ended a block later with Yoko’s lament that, now that he had extended an invitation, he would never be rid of Julian. Julian was happy to confirm this before hanging up.
It had been Rabbit who had invited him today, too, saying that he wanted to see him now that things were over. Julian was happy to comply.
The three blocks from the tram station went by fast, and Julian took the stairs two at a time up all six flights. His heart regulated itself as he climbed, his breathing easy even when he’d reached the top. Every cell in his body was just as it should be.
Things still felt out of place. Anticipating Rabbit’s acerbic tone and quick retorts, Julian leaned against his bell.
He wasn’t disappointed to be greeted by a yelled, “Good God, just open the damn door yourself!”
Julian entered the apartment laughing. He paused as the door slid shut behind him, surrounded by piles of bagged, shredded paper.
“Oh.” Rabbit was looking up from where he was sitting cross-legged on the floor, piles of paper surrounding him. There was an open file in his hand and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. “It’s you. I need a favor.”
“Sure. First, what’s all this stuff?” It looked like there were a few piled boxes hidden under the paper.
“My files.” Turning his attention back to the one in his hands, Rabbit scanned the documents it contained, then fed the whole fingers-width of material into an industrial shredder. Julian watched the thin multi-colored ribbons erupted from the other end, nonplussed.
“I don’t need them anymore,” Rabbit continued, picking up another file, only to repeat the process. “I quit my job with the university.”
“Why?” Julian had expected things would go back to normal just like Rabbit’s tattoos had after the power surge he’d absorbed on the ziggurat.
“I tried working on it, but I kept getting really frustrated. I’d go through everything over and over, and just stare at my terminal, doing shit.” Another file met its demise. “Then I realized, I already knew all the answers I had been looking for. So I quit. Someone else can look for them.”
“If you already know them, then why don’t you--”
Rabbit ashed his cigarette without looking at the tray. “No. I had to work my ass off for it before, so I’m not telling whatever sucker takes my job how to get the solution.”
Julian couldn’t help smirking. Omniscience with an attitude. He should have been expecting it. “So if you already know all the answers, why are you reading the files before you shred them?”
“I like to.”
“Wouldn’t it save time if--”
“Julian.” Rabbit was scowling and pointing at him with his cigarette for emphasis. “You know drinking’s going to end in a hangover the next day, but you don’t just bash your head against the wall to save yourself the time and effort of doing the drinking do you?”
“But drinking’s fun.”
“So is reading.”
“I don’t want to eat that apple, soon it’ll be a core!” Rabbit rolled his eyes and put his cigarette back between his teeth. “Since the outcome’s a given now, I have to enjoy the activity even more.”
“Fair enough.” Julian finally waded through the mess, shoved some files out of his way on the couch, and took a seat. “This place is starting to look like mine.”
“Just without the empty bottles.”
“Oh, come on!”
The corners of Rabbit’s mouth twitched. “So, what’d you want?”
“You invited me.”
Rabbit nodded. “Right. I know.”
“I was being facetious.”
“Are you always going to answer my questions before I can finish th--”
“I’m sad that I was ever attracted to you.”
Rabbit chuckled and scratched the side of his nose with one finger. “Me too.” He started to shove the new paper shreds into a waiting bag. “About that favor. I need you to look after some stuff for me.”
“Everything I’m leaving behind.”
Julian stared. “What? Where are you going?”
With a shrug, Rabbit tied off the bag and chucked it in the general direction of his front door. “Away.”
“I don’t have any work left to do here. But there’s a lot I can do outside.” At Julian’s bemused look, he said, “Outside the city,” and then, with a small, strangely content smile, “My Cataclysm is going to be calmer.”
Rabbit’s smile was a surprise that made Julian smile in turn. “But what about--”
“Alan’s coming. And Quinn. I mean, Quinn has to come to keep to Alan from running back here to guard his hoard like the paranoid asshole he is.” He rose and stretched, making a satisfied noise when several of his vertebrae popped. Watching him, Julian couldn’t help comparing him to Ashe and finding him an entirely different brand of god.
“I don’t know what Riyad’ll do,” Rabbit continued, though he clearly did. He shuffled through his papers toward the kitchen. From there, he yelled, “Alan’s at least half of his business. But I guess with his funding, he can keep himself running.”
“He’ll have a lot less work to do.”
Rabbit returned and handed Julian a can of beer. “Finding the new Witness and Impulse. Keeping track of the Shards who are left. Watching out for anything new. Maybe having a worthwhile relationship with someone instead of being a pathetic bachelor.”
“You’re a pathetic bachelor.”
“I’m a god.” The childish ‘so shut up’ was left unsaid, but was clearly present in the way Rabbit slouched onto the couch beside him. Even the hiss of his can as he opened it was sulky. “And I have other things to do with my time.”
“The Protectors of Antiquity will be fine,” Julian said, ignoring the invitation to tease Rabbit some more. “And so will the rest of us. When will you be back?”
“Someday. Before you die.”
“So you’re saying I’m for sure going to die some day.” It was actually a relief. “Will I still be young and good looking?”
“You said that out loud, Julian.”
Julian laughed and gulped his beer. He was going to miss this.