The Jade Rabbit


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Scene Title The Jade Rabbit
Synopsis The living is a passing traveler;
The dead, a man come home.
One brief journey betwixt heaven and earth,
Then, alas! we are the same old dust of ten thousand ages.
The rabbit in the moon pounds the medicine in vain;
Fu-sang, the tree of immortality, has crumbled to kindling wood.
Man dies, his white bones are dumb without a word
When the green pines feel the coming of the spring.
Looking back, I sigh; looking before, I sigh again.
What is there to prize in life's vaporous glory?
- Old Dust, Li Po
Date February 12, 2020

Laudani-Epstein Townhome, Sheepshead Bay

It isn’t an ungodly hour of the morning, but the sun has not been up all that long when Emily gets a knock on the front door. The man standing at the door does not look much like he’d looked when she’d seen him last, at the Christmas Party. Rory looks as if he’s not been sleeping well, he’s dressed much more casually, and he isn’t as well-groomed. His hair is longer and rougher, not tamed as it had been, and the light hint of stubble has evolved into facial hair with a slight hint of goldish brown.

He holds in his arms a box, taped closed, a decent-sized package, but not seeming to be heavy.

And odds were, it wasn’t a late Christmas present.

The sound of footsteps coming to the door are soft, but they can be heard from the porch of the townhome. They stop, and there’s an extended pause before the door opens, but the person on the other side opts to not abandon Rory to the chilly morning and its gray, misty presence. Emily undoes the chain, twists the lock, and pulls open the door enough that it can immediately be seen she’s not doing much better. She looks like she’s been crying, whites of her eyes in stark contrast against the red rimming them.

“Come in before the cat gets out,” she says, pushing the door open farther and getting out of the way before pulling it shut quietly. In place of any actual greeting, she turns the lock and then turns to look down the hall. To the left, a living room space is visible in the pale morning light that streams in. Further down the hall to the right, a darkened open room that’s likely a dining room or study, and the kitchen at the far end of the hall is illuminated. He likely caught her in the middle of her morning routine.

True to her word, a youthful black cat is paused midstep down the stairs a few meters down and on the left side of the hall. He takes in Rory’s scruff with a baleful blink of an eye, dark nose twitching as he considers this person that is not Teo, whose bedroom he’s slipped out of to greet their visitor.

Emily looks away from the cat and rubs the back of her neck for a moment, her arms otherwise crossed tightly across her chest. “You doing okay?” she asks, gaze flitting back in Rory’s direction before she reluctantly turns her head toward him more fully. It feels odd that he’s here, and it feels odd to her that she doesn’t have more to say than what she has, but…


She can’t look at him long. Emily gestures down to the kitchen with a tip of her shoulder and elbow, avoiding immediately acknowledging the box Rory brought with him. “You like any coffee?”

“No,” is the simplest and most truthful of answers. Anything else, Rory felt would come out with qualifiers. So he just leaves it at that, stepping inside and closing the door before that cat decides to go out. He can’t help but grimace a little at the sight of it, too. He and Nathalie had talked about getting a cat a few times, but they’d never found the time between her work and his. He imagined if it had happened they would have found a dying cat somewhere and she would have healed it and then they would have had a cat suddenly.

That wouldn’t be happening now.

“…Nat had some things at my place. I didn’t know what to do with it— “ It was difficult to talk about, and he’s not saying that he kept a lot more than what’s in the box. He couldn’t bring himself to give away any of the statues he’d made for her. Nor could he part with one of her jackets. It couldn’t fit him, but for now, it still smelled like her.

He also kept her soap, but most people probably wouldn’t want to have used soap anyway, so he didn’t think that was too weird. Though he wondered if it would sound weird if people knew he never planned to use it and just wanted to smell it every so often when the jacket stops smelling like her.

“But coffee would be great.” He didn’t bother to add that he’s not been sleeping well. She may not have always slept at his place, but she did it enough that her absence is jarring. As is the constant mental reminder that she isn’t just at her place.

Emily only nods. The absence someone leaves behind is bigger than just the physical space they take. Her eyes go to the box for just a moment, and she takes in a breath to acknowledge it—

"I already had a pot working," she says as her feet carry her away, barely enough time for her to turn to follow the direction they take her. "My roommate's still asleep, it won't make any difference to him if the coffee he reheats later comes from the first or the second pot." The young woman swallows hard, getting rid of the last of the unwanted words, whatever those had happened to be. She ignores the kitten as he leaps to the railing side of the stairs, trying to bat at her through the banisters, waving him off with one hand as she walks back into the kitchen.

An abandoned bowl of cereal still sits on the counter, one she only notices upon re-entering. Her brow knits together, mouth firming into a line before she pushes it out of the way, pulling down one of the coffee mugs. "Milk in the fridge. Sugar's over here. Or you can just…" She pauses in her speech while she pours, like there's only one thing at a time she's capable of at the moment. "Take it black, if that suits you." The mug is pushed away from her on the countertop, indicating that it's his now.

Her eyes go to the box only after, though not for long. It might as well be a sun it's difficult to stare directly at. "You can set it down on the dining room table." Emily murmurs, gesturing with a tip of her head to the entrance just behind him out of the kitchen doorway.

“I’m usually a tea person, but coffee is growing on me,” Rory admits quietly, his british accent showing even more for the moment, even if sometimes he attempts to hide it. He’s not got the energy to watch how he pronounces syllables right now. They at least speak the same language. With a small nod, he goes and puts the box down before he moves to help himself with to the coffee, picking out a clean cup— hopefully not the roommate’s— and puts a little sugar in it and some milk, cause black was just a little much.

For a while, he’s silent, the soft tink of metal against ceramic as he stirs the mixture together. For a moment it seems like he’s almost waiting for her to say something, before he adds on, “I’m going to be moving. I don’t even think you knew which trailer we were in, but— I’m taking up a friend’s offer to stay at their apartment until I can get my own.”

He didn’t mind the trailer park at all. It was small, it had everything that he needed.

It was just…

He somehow doubts he has to explain, so he doesn’t.

The lilt in his voice is something Emily hadn't noticed before, something that brings a flicker of life to her eyes as she looks him back over a bit more intently. She regrets instantly not picking up on that before, on not asking about it before, either of him or of Nathalie. It made it feel as though they were perfect strangers who just happened to be grieving the same person, and she didn't know if she'd have the nerve to fix that.

For all she knows, maybe he wants to keep it that way.

"I did," she clarifies quietly. "I did know which one you were in. Nat invited us over for dinner once. She, um…" Emily's gaze falls, hesitating for just a moment before she pulls back the sleeve on her left forearm, revealing a tattoo of an opened box of chinese food, red chopsticks sticking from the rice and noodles. Her brow furrows. "She tried to get us together for a family dinner. It went about as well as anyone could have guessed, but after Avi left…"

She pulls the sleeve back down, shaking her head. "We talked for a long time. There was a shit ton of boxes of food left." Clearing her throat, her voice lightens without meaning to, strain in it. "I don't think she knew what either of us liked. I think she'd ordered one of every fucking thing on the menu." Emily closes her eyes hard, shaking her head before any tears gather at the corner of her eyes again. Despite that, she wipes at them with the corner of her sleeve anyway before moving on to fix her a cup of coffee for herself, irritation with herself present in her movements.

"Did she ever talk about us?" It feels selfish to ask, but if she doesn't now, then maybe she never will. If all she was going to have left of her sister were memories, then she wanted to gather as many of them as possible, she's abruptly decided. "I-I'd met her before I even knew that we might be related. When she told me it was possible, I told her in return that if I had to have a surprise sister, it'd not be the end of the world as long as it was her. I was mad, mad at him, but… never her. Nat never asked for any of that, to be saddled with a shitty dad and shitty circumstances. I figured the least I could do was try to not be a shitty sister to her."

But there go the tears again, building up in the corner of her eye without her realizing it yet.

In a lot of ways, they were perfect strangers. They’d really only met at the Christmas Party, and Rory had regretted that they’d not spent more time together. As he looks at the tattoo, he nods slowly, understanding. He’d made a few statues in the last few days that had nothing to do with animals like he normally did. A tattoo was a different kind of memorial. He wore his around his neck, hidden under his rumpled shirts. Most the times he’d talked at the Christmas party, he’d kept his accent to a minimum, cause it often led to questions and he hadn’t wanted to go into that there at the party.

Cause the politics. It wasn’t a subject he liked. He’d rather talk about the handmade presents he’d made everyone. Emily had gotten a tiny squirrel made out of tiger’s eye, wrapped in a simple faux leather bag. Everyone had gotten something.

“Actually I think I remember hearing about that.” He shakes his head. Had he been working that night? He did remember the leftover food, though. “She did talk about you. When she told me everything that was going on with her— a lot of stuff was… overwhelming. But I think finding you made things better. It was a good thing that you two met. She’d spent so long not even knowing exactly who she was, hiding it… you helped her become Nathalie again.” His voice is calm and controlled, but there are still small wavers to it. And he seems to have completely forgotten about drinking his coffee for the moment.

Emily's jaw trembles, and she notes the tears all too late. They're already spilling down her cheek, and her gaze falls, unfocused. "I just wanted her to be her," comes from her without her even realizing it. "She helped me become me." Her voice strains, the sound in it trying to close off. She takes in a breath to try and buy herself more time, to ironically create a gap in order to prevent a longer pause. "She healed me. A mutual acquaintance asked her to, for me. I wasn't missing anything before that, but she gave me something I'd never have had otherwise, and it…"

The breath that comes from her is sharp, pained, because she is in pain. She shakes her head in a single jerk, looking back to the coffee she'd half-prepared. With that same frustration with herself as before, she pulls closer a jar of sugar, opens a drawer to palm a spoon from it.

"She deserved better," Emily supplies unprompted, unable to stop herself.

She clears her throat, focusing harder to finishing preparing that cup of coffee. Baby steps. One foot in front of the other. "How did you two meet?" she asks, a distraction as much as the next logical phase in the ritual of memory-gathering.

It seems that Rory decides this is a good time to sit down. Perhaps because he’s trying his best not to start crying in front of the young woman. If he starts to cry she might start to cry and then this could just become… that kind of situation. He would just try not to let that happen. “We met at Red Hook Market. I have a booth there sometimes, sell rock art. She stopped to look, we talked for a little bit. She liked rabbits.” He put the untouched coffee down and started to fiddle with something under his shirt. “I hoped she’d come back, so I started making all kinds of rabbits. Even read up on rabbit myths. There’s a lot of mythological rabbits with horns.” He shakes his head.

He’s actually smiling a little as he remembers. “We went on a date. It was a concert that went a little crazy— as things seem to do around here. Random people started picking fights. She beat the crap out of this guy who tried to hit me.” Yeah, he’s definitely smiling a little now. “She was always so— Back then she was still going by Berlin. And I knew she was in Wolfhound. But I didn’t know a lot about what she did, not until later… She needed a place to hide out. And I guess at the time she didn't have a lot of places to go. So she stayed with me for a while.”

People had been after her, things had seemed dangerous. She’d been worried about things. They hadn’t even really been together at that point, either, but… “She wouldn’t let me give her the bedroom, so she slept on the fold out couch at first. It wasn’t until she came home after losing control one night that…” he trails off. That part perhaps was too personal, and he just leaves it there.

After a moment he goes off on an old topic again. “I made her a Jade Rabbit for Christmas. In mythology it’s a rabbit that lives on the moon. Some Native Americans, the Aztecs, and Asian cultures all see a rabbit on the moon. There are a bunch of stories about how it got there.”

For a moment it seems like he wants to stop, but he continues, moisture in his eyes betraying him as much as the soft lift to his voice that makes his accent more pronounced, “In one tale, a Buddhist one, four animals made a pact to do something special on the full moon. They came across a starving man who wanted food. The monkey went and gathered fruits, the otter got some fish and the jackal stole some food from another person. The rabbit didn’t know how to gather anything but grass, so it offered itself instead.”

It's that last bit that breaks Emily. Knowing what she does, of what her father told her how Nathalie had lost her life, the unintentional similarity to the rabbit from the myth shatters whatever tenuous state of togetherness she had. She knows it from the moment she breathes in a little too sharply, a pounding heat flaring in her chest. Her hand comes to muffle the sob that follows, eyes closing and cheeks burning against her palm as tears start streaming.

She'd apologize, if she had anything to apologize for her. The beginnings of another sob keen at the back of her throat and she swallows it back enough to qualify the entire episode with: "It's just not fair."

Because it's not. She'd just found her family, just found herself. She had a bright future, even if she didn't know the shape it would take. Emily refuses to believe that somehow this was something that was meant to happen.

A wracking, stuttered breath slowly pushes her upright fully again, her hand coming down from her mouth. She shakes her head, a stubborn sign she'll be fine, hand folding in on itself to rest against her chest. "I, um…" The back of her hand lifts just as abruptly, wiping her cheeks. Then she realizes she does have something to apologize for after all. "Sorry— she'd probably not want me to turn into a wreck." Her eyes flutter closed, hard, for a brief moment. Emily forces a smile when they open again. "I'm glad… I'm glad she found you, Rory. I'm glad she had you. You seem like a great guy."

“Sorry,” Rory apologizes as well, knowing how sad the realization had made him, but at the same time wanting to share it. “Nathalie did deserve so much better.” He knew this, and he was glad that he wasn’t the only one who did. Emily and Lucille, he knew both felt this way, and he’s sure others among Wolfhound and others did as well. It helped to share in the emotion, even if it didn’t actually make what happened any better. “She struggled a lot with the two sides of herself, not knowing which one would win over.” She’d shared the terrible things she’d done with him, the dark things. But he also knew that she was more than that.

With a slow inhale, he finally takes a moment to sip on his coffee, which has had plenty of time to cool. He doesn’t bother trying to wipe the tear that rolls down his cheek to disappear in his dusting of stubble, though. “The rest of the story goes that the old man was actually a God. He honored the rabbit’s sacrifice by putting it on the moon and giving it the knowledge to make medicine. That’s what they see up there. A rabbit grinding up medicine.”

Quietly, he looks back down into his coffee mug. “I wish she were here. I wish… I could have done something to protect her. I should have been there with her.”

He’d said he would be there for her, and he wasn’t.

And now she is gone.

“I guess now I’ll see her on the moon instead.”

Emily tries to smile at that, because it's really a nice sentiment to look forward to, but she can't quite force it now. Words fail to be enough in this situation, and she finds herself parting from the countertop to make her way over to him, smearing her tears off her cheek again before she wraps her arms around Rory's shoulder in a tight hug.

"Yeah," comes from her as a small, strained note, said into his shoulder. Yeah, she understands. Yeah, she hopes he sees her again, too. All that and more. She squeezes the hug tighter just a tad before letting go and giving him his space, especially since she'd invaded it without asking or warning.

"Thanks for stopping by, Rory." Emily murmurs.

“I’m glad I did,” Rory whispers back, eyes closed as he leans into the hug. After a moment, though, he reaches up and rubs his eyes dry, pushing back and out of the seat. “I should get going. I need to meet up with those guys from work to get moved out. But once I get settled in my own place, I’ll let you know where it is. In case you need anything.” He felt weirdly protective of this young lady, perhaps because she was Nat’s sister, because she had been healed by Nat, because he knows that Nat would have wanted to protect her, so maybe he would have to offer that in her stead.

Even if the closest he knew to actual fighting had been what the Wolfhound officer had taught him. Not that he’d been any good at it. All his muscles were from rock climbing and physical labor, not fighting.

“Maybe I can come over and we can talk and have tea— or coffee. I can tell you about the Almiraj next time.” He really did learn a lot about mythical rabbits all to make presents for Nathalie.

There's some comfort in that, in knowing that this won't be the end. Emily gives him a tight nod, stepping back toward the counter to give him space enough to maneuver out. She turns to the side to see that the lanky black cat has finally nosed his way into the kitchen despite the few face in the house. She pats her chest. "C'mere, Ket," she murmurs, and the kit rumbles a mrow before jumping right up into her arms, curling against her chest.

Emily's mouth ticks in a small smile. No matter how bad anything else got in the greater world, Kettle's world still consisted of just her and he seemed determined to make her happy. For reasons selfish or not.

"I'd like that, Rory," she relates softly. "I'll look forward to it. Keep a pot ready for you until next time." The cat in her arms turns around for just a moment to regard Rory, gold eyes narrowed before he turns back into Emily's shoulder, butting it with the ridge of his forehead.

The sight of the small creature brings a sad smile to Rory’s face and maybe on the next visit he will explain that. But for now, he touches the small jade figure around his neck (hidden under his shirt) and backs away. “Good. I’ll see you later, Emily.” After a second he adds, “And you too, Ket.” Maybe in a few visits the kitten will want a pet or rub foreheads against him, but for now, he doesn’t even attempt to pet it. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t say hi to the cat too.

With that said, he sees himself out, leaving behind the half finished coffee cup and the box packed with some of Nathalie’s things, clothes and a couple books, mostly, waiting to be gone through.

When he's gone, she lets the cat hop onto the counter, deciding the circumstances will allow for it for once. Emily only observes the box from afar, lifting a hand before letting it fall back to her side and turning away from the dining room table. She can't go through it. Not yet.

For today, this would have to be enough.

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