Black Sun 003: The Crypt (Original Draft)

Black Sun 003: The Crypt (Original Draft)

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It really didn’t.

Julian arrived at the school grounds, her face flushed from walking. The town was small enough to walk just about everywhere if you were energetic enough and it was Julian’s preferred method of transportation. There was always her parents car, but she didn’t have a license. At least, that was the excuse she gave to avoid getting in to the last object her parents were seen in. Call it dramatic, but just couldn’t bring herself to deal with it.

Angela was already there, sitting on a bench on the front lawn and chewing on one of those pancake sausage sticks as she flipped through one of her school books. Her house was practically on school grounds, something that Angela hated and constantly complained about. Living next door to the school made it impossible for her to ditch and come up with excuses for not making it there on time. When she spotted Julian she waved and popped up to her feet. The rest of her breakfast disappeared in a bite and she tossed the leftover stick out across the grass.

“Morning babe! Don’t you just look like a blossoming ray of sunshine today.” she smirked, falling in to step next to Julian. “Let me guess. No sleep, again.”

“Yeeeaah, I kind of had a late night visitor…” Julian worried her bottom lip. Last night was still a wad of confusion, and she wanted more than anything to tell Angela all about it. But would that be the right thing to do? “Leo climbed in my window to ask a favor.”

Angela was instantly interested! This was big news. “How Edward Cullens of him. Wait, I thought Mikey was your new boyfriend lover guy? The hell was Leo doing creeping in your window like a douche?”

Julian laughed loud. The irony, coincidence, whatever it was… it was funny. And somehow it lightened up her mood a bit, even if it did hit way too close to home. “Like I said, he just wanted a favor. Then I made him call Michael and then he came over and it pretty much got more awkward from there.” Half truths. While she was talking she realized she just couldn’t drop this bomb on Angela. Michael trusted her with his secret and he wasn’t ready to trust Angela yet. She would have to respect that.

“Uh huh.” Angela responded, pausing when they reached the school steps to eyeball Julian. It was the look. That Gonnagetyasecrets look. “I smell secrets. Or juicy romantic drama. Did Leo decide he’s in love you and try to pull that whole steal the girl thing? Cause he’d totally get hotness points for the classic window trope if y’know, you hadn’t just met him last week. I hope Michael punched him. Please tell me they fought over you!”

Julian was laughing again. They fought over her, but not in the way Angela was hoping! “It wasn’t like that! It’s just for a favor, for both of them actually but Michael didn’t want to ask me and Leo thought he’d skirt around it. Um, actually it’s a bit of a secret so I really can’t tell you the details…”

Both girls started walking again, up the stairs and through the doors. Students were milling about at their lockers and wandering down the hall. They wove their way through the crowd towards their own lockers.

“Secret huh?” Angela mulled it over. She gave Julian a worried examining glance, but didn’t see anything that would cause alarm. She shrugged. “Okay. As long as it’s not something freaking stupid, and you’re not being sold in to prostitution. No shady business, right? I don’t wanna worry about you making dumb life choices. That’s MY thing.” At their lockers, Angela fought to get hers open while Julian exchanged the books from her backpack. “Sooooo… did Mickey spend the night?”

“Noooo. He’s not even my boyfriend yet! Um, not that I was planning for that but, erm… Oh hell, he IS really sweet. He was so worried about me last night. And he doesn’t just talk about video games, or sneak flirting and sex in to conversations. He’s classy and charming. Like an old world prince.” At this point she was hugging her bag and sighing dreamily while she leaned against the lockers.

“I guess those fuck-me eyes of his does all the sex talk for him.” Angela smirked, which earned her a few swats from Julian. “I’m kidding! I’m just glad you’re mooning over guys again. Now if I could find someone super hot and dreamy-”

“Didn’t you already break enough hearts? Wait, I’m not talking to you! Hiiii Julian! Tell Angela she sucks and I’m still not talking to her.” A very petite stood before them, with raven black hair and snow white skin. She was trying her hardest to snub Angela and not look directly at her.

Julian looked between the two of them and rolled her eyes. “Silvia says you suck and she’s still not talking to you.”

Angela rest her hands on her hips. “Would you get over it already! I’m not even dating your dick brother any more!”

“You know it’s not about him!” she piped back, then realizing her mistake, spoke to Julian again. “Tell HER that she broke bestie code and should have told me first about the whole thing and I am never going to forgive her and I think her new scarf looks stupid.”

“Silvia says-”

“I heard her! Oh my god this is so middle school. We could be talking about Julian’s soon-to-be-boyfriend by now!”

“Oooohh, you have a new boyfriend? It isn’t Owen DeWhitt is it? Everyone says he has a harem going, but I dunno if they mean fanbase or if he has a lot of girls or a lot of boys, because I don’t see him hanging around anyone but Marg-”

“As interesting as that sounds, I need to get to class! You two make up, okay?” Julian blurted out quickly. School gossip was fun, but she had a few more pressing things on her mind. Plus, it was a good excuse to book it and pray that Silver and Angela worked out their feud.

Julian darted off down the hall with her books, leaving a glaring pair of girls in her wake.

From there on out, the day was a blur of mutual staring from across the classroom with Michael (as per the now-daily custom)… until lunch time.

When Julian stepped out into the school courtyard, there was a guy sitting at- well, more accurately, on– her usual table. And it was not Michael. No, it was his cousin, who was not a student of Silent Pines High the last time that Julian checked.

What’s more, Leo was chatting up Margrit Berkshire of all people, from the looks of it. His arms were folded over his chest and he was wearing shades that made it impossible to tell where he was actually looking, but the sly little grin on his face and Margrit’s reactions made it pretty clear what was going on.

Julian only had a few seconds to absorb this, however, before he was hopping down off the table and heading straight for her. His fingers twitched in a breezy, halfhearted wave.

She thought about turning around and heading right back in to the school. Julian was still pretty mad at him and wasn’t prepared for round two of whatever he had cooking up. Especially when Michael wasn’t around, which Julian was sure he was doing on purpose. Then she huffed at herself. She didn’t need to be hiding behind Michael, no matter how tempting and totally awesome it was to have someone that care that much. Angela’s daydream of a fist fight over Julian was now dancing through her head.

In her head she was smirking, but for Leo she crossed her arms and waited for him to approach. “I don’t really want to talk to you, and you shouldn’t be here.”

Margrit strolled up, twirling her fingers through a tendril of curled hair. “Aww, honey, is she all pissy at you? Am I not the only girl you’ve been naughty with? Hiiii Julian.”

Had he been flirting with Margrit? Julian cast Leo a disapproving glare and mumbled a simple hello. She wasn’t on bad terms with Margrit, in fact they could have been considered friends on those rare occasions the girl wasn’t bulldozing everyone over some scheme. It also didn’t help that Angela hated her, and Julian only had room for so many crazy girl fights.

“I was just telling Leo all about your position on Color Guard! I mean, it’s really just glorified flag dancing and not nearly as complicated and rewarding as cheerleading, but you know, I’m so sad you didn’t sign up this year! Who is going to hang out with me and plan the school dances?” Margrit pouted, mostly at Leo. In fact most of what she had to say was apparently for Leo’s benefit as she couldn’t keep her eyes off him. Julian thought it was funny and might’ve laughed if she wasn’t still mad.

“Silvia will probably enjoy helping. Um…! Do you mind…?” Julian pointed behind her, a subtle request for Margrit to exit. She didn’t want to say that she needed to talk to Leo, cause that wasn’t what she was after. But she did need Margrit to go.

“Ooooh, right.” Margrit said, thankfully getting the hint. Leo received an apologetic smile. “Another time?” On her way out she leaned to whisper in Julian’s ear. “You should eat something. You look like the walking dead. Nobody wants to date a dead girl.”

Julian frowned, waiting until Margrit left the courtyard before she turned back to Leo. Then she was stomping her foot on the ground and gesturing for him to leave too.

“Would you get out of here! I can’t babysit you, and I’m pretty sure Michael isn’t going to like you lurking around and flirting with my classmates. …You better not have been eyeballing her as a snack.” Was he? That would make more sense than flirting, but be a way bigger problem. Julian realized she hadn’t asked them how and who they fed on.

“So what if I was?” Leo asked, and the dramatic asshole let his shades drop just in time to punctuate that question. There was a frightening frankness in his casual smirk, like it was no big deal that maybe he’d been thinking about eating Julian’s upperclassman. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal to him.

Before she could really begin to contemplate the details of vampire snacking, Leo was talking again, his hands held up in a gesture of surrender. The sly grin was gone and they were back to that weirdly no-nonsense tone he’d been using in her bedroom last night, before Michael had shown up.

“Look, Hollinger, I’m not here to cause trouble. Believe it or not, I actually came to help you. I figured we could talk, get to know each other like proper soon-to-be in-laws. You can ask me as many questions about vampires and psychics and what Michael writes in his diary as you want. Meanwhile, you can think about whether you want to get off your scrawny little ass and help us find Colby and Tasha, and you’ll get a freebie practice session to hone your Miss Cleo. What do you say?”

“Forgive me if I don’t trust the guy stalks around like a creeper.” she responded with sarcasm. She was inclined to be difficult out of spite, but that wasn’t going to help anyone. Julian scratched the back of her head and let out a frustrated and surrendering sigh.

“I already said I was going to help, you know.” Julian glanced around the courtyard. Others were already filing out for their lunch period, and before long Angela was too. She worried her bottom lip a bit. Despite being irritated with Leo, she actually did want to learn more. It could wait until after school, but… Wouldn’t it be great to get through a site without having strange prophetic nightmares? To actually be able to shut it off or use it at will?

“We can’t talk here though. I didn’t tell Angela about your whole, thing” she made little fangs with her fingers “and I can’t lie to her. We always meet for lunch.”

“Well then, we’d better scram.” That was all he said. No arguing, no acknowledgement, just a simple statement like he was talking about the weather. Shoving his hands in his pockets, Leo started walking off in the direction of the gate to the parking lot. He obviously expected Julian to follow.

Especially since he was talking again a moment later, voice carrying.

“I don’t like it here anyway. I don’t know how Michael stands it. Oh yeah. Probably because he’s keeping himself busy giving you calf eyes. You two set a date yet? I hope you don’t have your heart set on an outdoor wedding in the June sunlight, or else you like your grooms extra crispy.”

He glanced over his shoulder, eyeing her impassively. “Speaking of extra crispy, you’re not a vegetarian or something awful like that, are you? I’m craving burgers and fries.”

Julian trailed after him, raising her hands like she was going to reach out and strangle him from behind. There was another huffy sigh as she caught up to fall in step next to him. She almost shoved her hands in to her pockets too, but just settled for crossing her arms again.

“What is with everybody jumping to sex and marriage? He’s a gentlemen and we’re not a couple. What happened to old fashioned romancing?” Not a couple yet. Julian was hoping! But she wasn’t going to jump to conclusions the way everyone else was. And she didn’t know why she was taking Leo’s bait. She went through this whole thing with Angela earlier!

“Can you actually eat normal food? You don’t, like, start throwing up your intestines or something when you swallow anything besides blood?” That was curious. “…you DO actually do the whole blood sucking, right? Where do you get it? Charm people off the streets? Blood donors?”

“I’d be a really shitty excuse for a vampire if I didn’t drink blood, wouldn’t I? Sort of the entire definition.” The look he gave Julian was downright scathing. “I get it wherever I want.”

He didn’t elaborate. At least, not on that.

“I’d really rather not talk about the gag-worthy spectacle that is you and Michael, especially since I’d hate to speak poorly of a gentleman. So I’ll move on to the actual intelligent question. Yeah, we can eat regular food, as long as we’ve got our favorite flavor of human juice in our system to keep everything working. We can do most things properly as long as we’re pumping a little red blood.”

His eyebrows wiggled on the words “most things”, and the smirk was back. “Oh, my bad. We were avoiding spoiling your delicate maiden ears. I forgot.”

“Yeah because a love of romance and a hatred for crass jerks totally makes me a prude.” He thought he was being cute. Julian was struggling not to smile and give him the satisfaction. Besides, she was way more interested in how the world of vampires worked.

“So because you don’t have working blood of your own, you gotta take others. Right? Your body eats up blood instead of food. …that’s really weird. I wonder how that works…” Julian supposed it was sort of like a blood disease. There was probably a science to to it, but that wasn’t exactly her excel point in school.

Her head tilted as she chewed on her bottom lip, pondering. “I doubt you go around getting it from anywhere you want. At least not from chomping on random people. Someone would notice bite marks eventually. Or do you have a work around for that too?”

“It’s called ‘thrall’, Jules.” She got a sidelong glance. “Ever see any of those old vampire movies where they can charm people, erase their memories? That’s one thing they got right. It works better if the human’s had a little of our blood to drink first. And of course, it’s less effective on those with certain mental abilities or witchy powers. Thus why neither of us have tried it on you yet. It comes in real handy if you don’t want to leave a trail of bodies, though. No need to kill; no fuss, no muss.”

Leo’s voice was very matter-of-fact. Bored, even.

“You’d also probably be surprised how many people are willing to let you chomp away, thrall or no. Some of them are just kinky like that. Some of them think they want to be vampires and are hoping for an upgrade.”

They’d reached the parking lot, now, and Leo was slowing to a halt next to a sleek, black, obviously classic car with a tiny silver horse decorating the fender. He popped open the passenger door before hopping into the driver’s seat, fishing keys out of his pocket.

“So you never did answer the question. Do you eat burgers?”

She was exempt from mind-whammies. Which was a comfort. Julian never even considered that she might’ve been enthralled by Lea or even Michael to force her in to helping whether she liked to or not. She wanted to, but it was good to know that there wouldn’t be any funny business.

He talked about the entire thing like it was the dullest conversation in the universe. Julian slipped in to the car, amused with the vehicle and how it seemed to fit the whole personality he was trying to portray. He kept doing things and saying things that were deliberately to freak her out, but contradicted the creeper persona with things like no need to kill.

But then, she might’ve just been looking for a reason to not be mad and why it was okay to skip school and leave with him.

She buckled her seat belt. “Yeeees, I like burgers. You can’t mind control me, cause I’m… whatever I am. Do I put off weird not-normal vibes or anything? A vampire wouldn’t look at me and know, would they?” she tried not to sound concerned about it. Truthfully, the thought that someone could pick her off the street and know she was a freak scared her a little bit.

For a moment, he hesitated, fingering the keys in the ignition and staring straight ahead over the steering wheel.

“…Not exactly.” Click. Vrrrrm. The car leaped to life, and Leo- very conspicuously not wearing his seatbelt- backed out of the parking space. “Nobody would know you’ve got a psychic hotline unless they knew it ran in your family.”

What happened next probably should have been expected. As soon as Leo had pointed the car towards the parking lot’s exit, his foot slammed down onto the gas pedal and took them rocketing at definitely illegal speed down the school road.

“What’s your favorite burger joint?” he halfway yelled over the rush of air being displaced by his speeding deathmobile. “Anywhere you want. Just so long as we can get it to go.”

Not exactly? SHE hadn’t even known about her family history. Julian supposed they would of had to dig pretty deep, or had an upper hand of being there in the past. More questions were popping to mind. Until he spun his car out with a clear disregard for her mortal life. How was flying down the street like a maniac supposed to be inconspicuous!

Her hands gripped tight in to her seat belt, but she didn’t complain about the speed. He’d probably call her baby or something else as stupid. “Just- The first place you see!” she blurted quickly. The sooner he wasn’t driving, the better.

Julian stopped looking at the street and focused her stare at him instead. “Tell me about my big family secret. I honestly didn’t know it was a family thing. What all is it supposed to be, this psychic stuff? Dreams and feelings?”

“Sorry, can’t hear you! Food first, interrogations later,” he shouted back in an obnoxiously cheery tone.

And turned on the radio at full blast.

Fortunately for Julian, the small town traffic guaranteed that Leo couldn’t keep up his demon speed for long, unless he wanted to actually drive right over the cars in front of him. Even so, he refused to respond to her with anything of substance until they were pulling into the drive-through of the town’s only Sonic. And even then…

“Hurry up and tell me what you want or I’m ordering for you.” Somewhere along the line he’d thrown one arm over the back of the seat behind Julian, and he didn’t seem in any rush to move it. Not that he was touching her or anything. He wasn’t even looking at her.

UUUUGH. Julian wanted to scream. He could hear her just fine. Or at least he could before he turned on the music, which she thought was incredibly ironic with the mad way he drove. She caved and shut up until he was rushing her to order and they hadn’t even been parked for two seconds.

She swatted at his shoulder, ignoring the fact his arm was resting around her seat. Julian had to take off her seat belt and half lean across him to see the menu, though she almost almost dared to let him do the picking for her. She grumbled out her order of a cheeseburger and fries. And since she had the luxury of being off campus for lunch, she snatched up the opportunity to order a strawberry shake too.

Finally she flopped back in her seat with her arms crossed again, staring him down and waiting for HIM to decide he wanted to talk. Just to see how long he was going to dodge all of her very important questions and the ACTUAL reason he had come to see her in the first place.


He smiled slowly, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as they waited at the window. “Huh. I was beginning to think my first impression of you was wrong, Jules, but here you go again being all ballsy.”

The drive-through lady brought out their order, then, and Leo ignored Julian for a moment more to grab their food. As they pulled forward, though (at a surprisingly normal number of miles per hour), he actually looked over at her. And serious-face Leo was back, his voice smooth and clinical.

“Psychics don’t always work quite the same way, I hate to tell you. Different psychics, different affinities and gifts. The Hollingers, their whole bag tended toward seeing the future. Those dreams you’re having are premonitions. Little glimpses of things that haven’t happened yet. Whether you can do anything else, well, I have no fucking clue. But we should be able to get you to the point of willing those premonitions to happen, if nothing else. Won’t that be handy?”

It was hard to tell what sort of stare he was giving Julian from behind those movie star shades, and the lines of his mouth betrayed nothing. “You do want that, don’t you?”

Julian didn’t know where he was getting ballsy from and chocked it up to more of his hassling her. She was taking a sip from her shake and digging around in the bag for her fries without bothering to see if he had any crazy rules about eating in his car. He drove like a lunatic, she wanted to eat while she was still alive.

“Want what, to know the future? Or just how to DO it at will?” she asked, more for her own benefit than his. It’s not like she hadn’t thought about it a million times before. But now she was being presented with opportunities to actually choose to control it. She popped a fry in her mouth, turning to frown thoughtfully at her window.

“I don’t like knowing what’s going to happen. It makes me feel like I don’t have a choice and everything is going to happen that way no matter what I do.” Like dying. Everyone knew they would die at some point. And she had a map to hers. What was the point of doing anything if it was all futile?

Julian went silent for a few moments. When it broke, it was with a heavy sigh.

“BUT I guess I haven’t really tried to change anything, so I guess it’s all worth learning. I can help you and help me, and it’s a win for everyone, right?”

“Goddamn, Jules, you need to lighten up a little.” Leo tore open a ketchup packet with his teeth, one hand still on the steering wheel, and proceeded to squirt ketchup liberally and directly into his cup of fries. “There are worse things in the world than knowing what’s coming. And I sure don’t believe in predestination, and I’ve seen just about every kind of weird shit you could imagine. I mean, not that you can’t be as much of a sad sap as you want, but it’s really tedious to listen to, you know?”

There was a pause as he sucked down the toxic-looking drink he’d ordered.

“But since you’re making my life- loosely speaking- easier and since I don’t really have much choice about dealing with you, I’ll give it to you straight. I’m not an expert in psychics, despite that bullshit Michael was feeding you. What I am is the closest thing we’ve got. I’ve got some experience in… let’s call it nudging. It’s not going to be rainbows and unicorns. If you’re going to whine and be a baby about it, I’m likely to forget my manners and snap your neck.”

Again, those shades made it hard to tell if he was kidding, but his delivery was deadpan.

Julian held back a huff as she popped the lid off her shake to dip her fries in. She didn’t need a vampire telling her to lighten up.

“As long as you’re not a dick about everything, I’m not going to have anything to complain about.” she retorted. How many different Leos was she going to meet? First Impression Leo was a funny, amusing guy. Last night’s Leo bordered on the frightening. And Today’s Leo she was having a hard time taking seriously with those stupid sunglasses and attacking his lunch. Normal non-vampire food. She had more questions about that, but decided not to bother.

“Anyway, you asked me the question and I answered it.” That fry was popped in to her mouth, and then she was casting him a wiiiide cheeky smile. “I bet you’d like to make me scream. You’re that kinda perv.” Now she couldn’t quit grinning. It seemed Leo was officially forgiven for the time being.

“Tell me what we’re going to do. Meditation or something like that? Witchcraft? If I’m skipping classes, we may as well try to cover as much of the basics as we can.”

Julian’s grin was apparently contagious, because Leo actually grinned right back. “Careful, Jules. Flirting with vampires is dangerous, you know. Then again, sure hasn’t stopped you yet.”

His teeth looked totally normal. No visible fangs. In fact, he had pretty good dental hygiene, from what Julian could tell.

“By the way, in case you’re wondering, Michael Dearest does know where you are. Not that I particularly care whether he’s worried, but it saves us the hassle of him coming barging in like I’ve whisked you off for a snack. He knows that I know you’re off the menu.” As he spoke, Leo made a turn down the road that led off toward the Whelan farm, off through the woods. There wasn’t much off that way other than, well, woods. And a graveyard…

“Meditation, yeah. Probably not what you’re thinking of, though. We’re not going to mess with witchcraft, not at your level and not when you’re not born with actual magic. You can’t just light a few candles and say the magic words. That’s… not how it works. Trust me, you don’t want to touch the stuff.”

Nerds bogarted her lunch table. That was cool, sometimes sitting under the tree was nice too. Angela fully expected Julian to be waiting there for her. But alas, that spot was devoid of her best friend. Smirking to herself, she realized that the lovebirds must have finally broken out of staring longingly from afar to actually sitting down and chatting with each other like normal human beings.

Thus began her quest.

No one had actually seen Julian since the last bell, but there was a sighting of Michael. Her was inside one of the hall lobbies near the library. Not in the lunchroom having lunch like a normal person. Just sitting by himself and looking a little bit… Well, she didn’t know or care. He really did have dreamy chocolate eyes.

Julian wasn’t with him though, so Angela plopped down on the seat next to him and opened up her bag to dig out her sandwich.

“Apparently Julian has not only ditched ME for lunch, but doesn’t even have the decency to be macking on her new boyfriend as the excuse? That’s cold. I feel for ya.” She took a big bite, chewing casually as she thought out loud. “I guess she could be in the nurses office, but she didn’t look all that sick this morning. Unless she’s having some sort of ‘He didn’t ask me out yet!’ meltdown in the bathroom. That’s not her style, though… Hmm.”

“Do you want a bite of my sandwich?”

Michael hadn’t anticipated the abrupt intrusion upon his person and privacy by Julian’s blonde friend.

For a moment he stared at her, blankly, before collecting himself and his manners. His lips curved into a smile, though he wasn’t certain that he managed to keep it entirely devoid of his frustration and annoyance. Hopefully, the Mercy girl wouldn’t think that it was directed at her.

“So she didn’t tell you,” he managed, albeit stiffly. How curious. Julian had insisted that she told her best friend everything, and yet here Angela Mercy was, unaware of Julian’s current whereabouts. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m not hungry. I already ate. Thanks.”

Taking a calming breath that carried with it the scent of books and Angela’s perfume, he relaxed his shoulders and sat back in the library chair. Michael liked libraries; they were quiet, peaceful, and full of beautiful or interesting things. It was one reason among many that he preferred to spend his lunch period here, much as he would have liked to join Julian at her table. Perhaps he should invite her to join him, instead.

Of course, present circumstances made that rather difficult, his inner voice reminded him in a waspish tone.

Angela’s bag rustled and out came a huge pickle. Today’s plan had been to eat as much phallic food as she could shove in to her face until Julian was hysterical and couldn’t talk about or to Michael with a straight face. Looked like that plan was out the window, and she was just going to have to get to know her bestie’s new beau all on her lonesome. Angela wasn’t one to waist a good opportunity, after all.

“Julian is pretty predictable, so it’s pretty weird she’s not here. But since it’s the first time in, like, FOREVER she’s been M I A, I guess I can hold off the panic switch.” If she was invading his personal space, she didn’t seem to care or be apologetic about it. In fact she was paying careful attention to how he responded. And his clothes. He dressed well. Flawlessly well. There wasn’t a crease or button out of place.

She leaned further in to his space, staring him in the eyes with a bitten pickle in one hand. “What ARE your intentions with my best friend, by the way? She told me about your little secret.” Okay, so Julian didn’t tell her THE secret, but Mikey didn’t know that. And it wasn’t snooping if you got the info directly from the source.

Michael prided himself on being quite good at reading people. As such, he didn’t immediately react at Angela’s claim, but peered at her warily. He did not think that she would be cornering him like this if she really knew. “What did she tell you, exactly? She did say that she might not be able to avoid breaking confidence where you’re concerned.”

It wouldn’t do to make a poor impression with Julian’s closest confidante.

“…I know where she is,” he went on, without waiting for a reply, and pushed the cell phone he’d been holding across the table to her. “I’m a little surprised that you don’t. This isn’t like her, is it?”

He’d read the offending text several times over. As he waited for Angela to take a look, the words resurfaced clearly in his mind’s eye.

taking your girlfriend for flying lessons. don’t worry, i won’t bite ;) turning my phone off now

Michael found that he personally couldn’t stand emoticons. They were childish and lacked imagination.

Drats. He knew what she was up to, which meant he was smart. Angela supposed that was a good thing. Nothing was worse than a stupid boyfriend. At the new revelation that he knew where Julian was, she frowned and snatched up the phone. The girl never skipped school and now she was off with Creeper Notacreeper on an adventure in truancy? WITHOUT her?

“Why didn’t you just tell me that in the first place instead of letting me blabber on like an idiot? Christ.” At least he didn’t look happy about Julian being missing either, so she didn’t take a point from him.

Angela resettled in her seat after returning his phone to the table, rotating between gnawing on her pickle and chewing her sandwich. Just because the mystery was solved didn’t mean he was getting off the hook from her third degree.

“Yeah, okay, she told me she couldn’t spill the details and I respect that. For now. Buuuut, seeing as you two have been off in your love bubble and not spending Angela time, I don’t have any reason to trust you yet. So we’re going to make a play date! Me, you and Julian. And I guess Leo too so he doesn’t have to party crash. We should do something fun.”

“Got any ideas, Mikey?”

For Julian’s sake, Michael swallowed his objections to the insipid nickname. For now.

“I’m not sure you should encourage Leo,” he hedged instead, frowning. “He’s my cousin, and I wouldn’t let him near Julian if I thought he would harm her. But he can be… irrational. You haven’t seen that side of him yet.

“And to be perfectly honest…” Michael sighed. “He detests me.”

The feeling wasn’t mutual, no matter what Leo might think. If only Michael could convince him of that, things would be so much simpler.

Angela’s eyebrow quirked up. Leo hated Michael? Was it in his head? Or for real? She found it kind of weird they were having some big Julian-involved secret if that were the case. Now not only was her interest piqued, her wheels were turning. Nothing was more delicious to work out than secrets. Especially when the one keeping them was so blastedly unreadable. It was like not a single emotion or thought was ever betrayed by his immaculate appearance. Angela wanted to ruffle him up real bad and press all his buttons just to see how much it took.

It was best to NOT give Julian’s boyfriend a hard time, though. Julian was finally doing things again instead of brooding at home.

“Fine, we won’t invite Leo. I’m still pissed about the whole break-in thing anyway. We still need something the three of us to do, though. Hmmm, maybe a good house party. Or we could do something boring like mini golf.”

“What would Julian like to do?” A hint of eagerness crept into his tone, and Michael leaned forward, propping his elbows on the table. As much time as he’d spent with Julian, he still knew so little about her. Angela was the obvious source of knowledge in that regard, and he was keen on taking this opportunity to learn. Her insight would be invaluable in finding how to make Julian happy. “I know that she likes to cook, but I don’t think that would work out very well as a group activity.”

Bing! Angela was a perceptive beast, or at least she liked to think she was. Michael’s sudden interest in Julian’s thrilled her. If Julian really liked this guy, and he really liked her, helping them connect was the ultimate duty of a best friend. Wingman’s code. Angela gave a high pitched squeal as she clapped her hands, and in two seconds flat they were splayed out on the table as she leaned forward. Meddler mode initiated.

“You’ve come to the right place, Mikey. No one knows Julian better than me.” She ignored the fact it was she that came to him. A hand rose to tap her chin thoughtfully. There was a ring on almost every finger and her bracelets jangled with the movement.

“Let’s see, where to start in Julian 101. She likes parties, but not the get drunk keggers. The ones where you dress up in fancy outfits or costumers. Thaaaat’s not going to be useful for a first time friend date, though. Aaahmm.” Angela pondered over her list of activities, throwing out the ones she knew Julian would complain about and putting some extra thought in to ones that could be romantic without being TOO romantic and making Angela want to barf. Unless she kidnapped someone for her own date.

She almost derailed herself thinking about the eligible boys of Silent Pines High.

“Oh! She loves dancing. LOVES. Like, professional level dancing from ballroom waltz to badass music video choreography. There’s this really cool club just outside of town that’ll let you in as long as you’re sixteen and have an I.D.” Perfect. Julian hadn’t wanted to go out and dance forever. What better way to lure her back to an old passion than with her newest one?

Angela’s exuberant response was more than Michael could have hoped for, and Michael couldn’t help but smile at the girl’s obvious dedication to her friend. Julian was well cared for, it seemed. A little bit of his worries now at ease, he found himself tentatively hopeful that Angela might become a newfound ally in his cause… which was, of course, seeing Julian Hollinger restored to the brightness that he could still see glimmering beneath the heavy weight of her troubles. It looked as though Julian had more than one champion.

“Dancing?” He hummed thoughtfully. The interests of young ladies hadn’t changed much over the years, had they? Michael had never quite understood the appeal, but of course he’d been given lessons, and had done his duty at social events… though that had been long, long ago now. Modern dance clubs weren’t exactly his choice of scenery, and ballroom dancing would be very out of place even if Michael cared to attempt it.

But surely he could simply watch and spend time with the girls without being expected to dance himself.

“That sounds… perfect.” Michael gave Angela a grateful smile. “When should we go?”

Let’s go NOW was what Angela wanted to say, but if too many students went playing hookie from school, that was bound to be noticed. She grinned wide, bouncing slightly in her seat as she dragged over her purse to pull out her planner.

“This weekend, oooo, Friday! Friday has a DJ playing, that’s always the best.” A few words were scribbled down and then it was snapped shut before disappearing in to the giant cavern that was her handbag. “Bring her a present, and bring me one too so I don’t feel left out.”

Angela popped out of her seat, slinging her bag over her shoulder as she wiggled her fingers at him in a wave. “I’ll tell her we have a date, unless you catch her first! And you can tell Leo my knee has a date with his nuts. Now I need to get to class before the bell rings. Buh-bye!”

“I wasn’t worried about Michael, but thanks for letting me know.” See, that stuff right there. If he was a big fat asshole deep down, then he wouldn’t keep offering those little don’t-feel-freaked tidbits here and there. All of her apprehensions were gone, and all that lingered was the twinging this is crazy feelings in her stomach. They kind of felt like butterflies, only instead of the blissful infatuation kind she’d get with a crush, these were a weird mix of fearful and excited. She was going to learn something actually useful.

“These woods belong to my friend’s family.” she commented with interest. As far as she knew Silvia wasn’t a vampire, but then he was probably aiming for a place out of the way where people weren’t likely to catch them. The Whelan properties were pretty huge.

She ate as quickly as she could, wiping ketchup off her face with her thumb and trying to make sure she paid attention to where they were headed. Julian didn’t want to end up lost in the Silent Pines woods when so many animal attacks had been reported lately.

Come to think of it, that could have been vampires chewing on people in the woods.

This is crazy.

“I’ll take your word for it about the magic. Being Pyschic Reader Julian is enough on my plate. Of course, now I have a million more questions about how many witches you actually know. Do vampires cast magic or is it all just bedroom eyes and nibbles?”

“You know the Whelans, huh? Do people around here still do those godawful founding family events? I hated those.”

As more and more trees lined the road and the car passed into the shade, Leo did away with his sunglasses, tossing them onto the dashboard. He leaned back in the driver’s seat, taking a voracious bite out of his burger, and put his foot down just a little harder on the gas pedal- though he still wasn’t hitting the breakneck speeds from before.

“We’re not going all the way up to the farm, but this is a nice secluded area for us to chill out without anyone to bother us. Should be safe, too. For you, anyway.” Clearly, Leo wasn’t one for explaining everything that came out of his mouth, because he changed track almost immediately. “…I’ve known a lot of witches. Tasha, for one. And no, vampires can’t do witchcraft, strictly speaking, but we can pick up a few tricks over time. Maybe if you’re a good little pupil I’ll show you.”

And yeah, Leo had turned down onto a small dirt road, and they were definitely headed for the graveyard.

Julian’s lunch was polished off and all that was left was the shake she spent more time stirring and licking off her straw than actually drinking. She made a face at good little pupil since it was conjuring up a lot of bad imagery, all probably put in to her head by Angela’s taste in raunchy novels.

Once she realized they were headed towards the graveyard, she was uneasy again. Julian didn’t utter a word about it, though. She didn’t want to be accused of whining, and she sure didn’t want to admit to herself that it irked her. For a place full of dead people, it sure felt alive to her.

“Tons of events. The Berkshires pretty much cram them down the throats of everyone in Silent Pines. I like most of them, at least.” There was a crinkling of bags as she shoved trashed in to them. Then she was eyeballing the sunglasses he tossed on to the dashboard.

“You’re sun sensitive. How ARE you and Michael going out in the sunlight? That wasn’t a myth was it?”

Leo parked the car right outside the graveyard gates. They were straight out of some old, hokey horror movie; wrought-iron, ornately twisted, and set into ancient-looking stone walls that bordered the whole perimeter of the graveyard. Few additions were made to the headstones these days, as far as Julian knew; there was a newer, more modernized field on the other side of town, and of course a lot of people got cremated now instead. Most of the graves here were old. No one really ever came up here except tourists or teenagers on a dare.

“It’s not a myth,” he informed Julian between bites of food. He’d done his best, but there was only so much you could do to eat one-handed while driving, so he was playing catchup now. “The sun is bad news. If I were new at this, I’d have gone up in flames the second I set foot outside. You can get out and about with age and practice, but even then there’s only so much direct sun you can take before you start getting the worst sunburn of your life.”

He swiveled in his seat to face her, the corner of his mouth quirking just a little and a glint in his eyes. “You know, you’re asking an awful lot of questions about vampires, but not the ones I’d expect.”

“I’m sorry, did you want me to ask if you sparkled and if I should fear for my virginity?” Because THOSE were surely important questions when face with supernatural creatures that could kill you in a snap. Julian laughed out loud, rolling her eyes as she popped open the door and climbed out of the car.

The place wasn’t kept up very well. Stones were missing or falling off the wall. The iron gate wasn’t locked or latched. Not that it matter, the bars were loose and wide enough that Julian could’ve squeezed through them if she really wanted to. Crossing through the overgrown grass, she grabbed on to the bars to poke her head between them and take a look around at the old graveyard. There wasn’t anything spectacular about it. A lot of the stones were so weathered you couldn’t read the names from a distance and many of the plots were buried under tall weeds. Only the really large structures or old family sections seemed to have any recent maintenance.

She turned her head to peer back at him. “Are we going in there, then? I guess this is where I’m supposed to ask if you sleep in a coffin or grave too, huh.”

“While I’m just thrilled to discover that you’re saving yourself for Mikey,” Leo replied breezily, stuffing the trash from his meal into a plastic bag- where that had come from, Julian hadn’t seen- “I’m actually more interested that you don’t seem to care that we’re blood-sucking monsters. The usual FAQs are in the general ballpark of morality and the metaphysical. ‘Are you evil?’ ‘Have you ever killed anyone?’ ‘Do you have souls?’ That kind of garbage.”

He strolled up behind her as he finished speaking and batted her hands away from the bars. Curling his fingers around a particularly sharp-looking curlicue, he swung one winged gate inward and leaned back to rest against the iron lattices, watching her expectantly. After a moment, one of his eyebrows quirked. “I sleep in a bed like everyone else. And if I were bringing a girl back to my place, it sure wouldn’t be the chick who writes ‘Mrs. Michael Hightower’ in her diary, so don’t worry your pretty little head.

“Yes, we’re going in. Something stopping you?” And then, bizarrely, he actually nudged her foot with the tip of his toes. Like he was her asshole big brother picking on her, or something. “Come on, Jules. You’re already hanging out with a dead guy, what’s a few more?”

Great. It didn’t matter if he knew by snooping or just made a lucky guess. Her face was already tinging red. Why should she be embarrassed about being a hearts and scribbles sort of girl? She supposed because he was god-knew-how-old, he thought she was a silly dumb kid.

“You’re not a monster, just a jackass.” With her arms straight at her sides, she stomped through the gates in to the graveyard. Ignoring the queasy feelings of fear and trying to focus on what she knew was real and tangible. Zombies weren’t going to raise from the ground. Ghosts didn’t haunt the place. There was just a snarky vampire and herself, the latent psychic. Just another average day in Silent Pines.

She turned around to walk backwards while she spoke. “And I answered most of those questions myself. I’m not being kidnapped, coerced, threatened, or whatever. So that throws evil out. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have a soul, since in theory even human mindless murder machines have one. So being soulless isn’t what makes you a vampire or behave the way you do.”

Julian stopped, just shy of tripping over a tilted gravestone, and rest her hands on her hips. Her expression went serious. “And I’m assuming you probably have killed someone and I’m not ready to deal with that yet.” By you she also meant Michael. They were vampires that needed blood to survive, and probably have been around a long time. She did consider it and wonder what they might have done in their lifetimes. Maybe her crush blinders were on pretty tight, but she wanted to believe they weren’t bad people.

“…anyway, if you want my help you’ll tell me your life is filled with unicorns and rainbows so I don’t feel like a dumbass for practicing mind powers with a vampire in an empty graveyard. Okay?”

Her would-be-psychic-tutor made his way through the graveyard with no trouble at all, hands in the pockets of his jeans. Leo always seemed to move with an easy, effortless sort of confidence. How much of that was him and how much was, well, being a vampire? Julian would probably never know, having no frame of reference for what he’d been like as a human.

“You’ve had a pretty easy life, haven’t you?” he asked casually, conversationally, tilting his head to one side and looking her up and down. “Yeah, I know, missing parents. Classically tragic teen heroine backstory. But you’ve never had anything really bad happen, Jules, have you. Nothing you couldn’t bounce back from. Small town girl, good family, old money. Close friends. Probably the same friends since cartoon characters were a mandatory part of your wardrobe, am I right?”

Stepping closer, he held out his hand to Julian and wiggled his fingers. “Life isn’t rainbows and unicorns, though. That’s the truth. If you don’t like that, don’t give me your hand. You can run along home and forget this whole thing now.

“So what’s it going to be? Do you trust me?”

His palm lay flat, supine and waiting.

There was an impulse to slap his hand away. The gesture coming from Leo was so different in comparison to Michael. More like a confirmation that she was an idiot and making a deal with the devil. “I know it’s not rainbows and unicorns. And I know once I go down this road there’s no going back. So wouldn’t it be nice if I could at least pretend I’m not opening Pandora’s box for a little while longer?”

He didn’t understand where she was coming from, and Julian wasn’t too eager to explain. Sure, some of it was because she had a crush on a cute boy, and like any girl she was infatuated with the idea of a dramatic romance she wanted to help. But it was more complicated than that. A dream of dying kind of complicated. A meet the grim reaper face to face, because apparently that sort of stuff was REAL kind of complicated. And she knew even if she turned back now, eventually she was going to have to deal with it.

At least this way she was doing by choice.

“Don’t make me regret trusting you.” she grumped, grabbing his hand and feeling incredibly awkward about it. And more so when there was a zing of feeling that came with it. First contact with Michael had been cold electricity and goosebumps. She had expected Leo to have the same chilly aura, minus the crush-at-first-site chemistry. It made sense that vampires would feel different than humans. Instead he was all heat and fire. It pretty much sealed her mental image of him being a devil.

She kept that tidbit to herself.

“Now what?”

Leo smiled broadly at Julian, his uncomfortably blue eyes locking with hers.

In retrospect, she probably should have known then.

There was a hand on her waist, and suddenly the ground was very definitely not under her feet. The world went first blurry and then almost entirely dark, and Julian was plummeting backward with nothing stopping her, the light overhead getting further away like the black was trying to swallow her up. Until she hit the dirt, literally, and came to an abrupt stop.

“Seriously?” Leo’s voice rang out overhead, faintly echoing. A shadow moved across the square of light above her. “How many times did you watch Aladdin as a kid, Jules? First part of the lesson: Don’t trust vampires.”

Now that everything wasn’t happening so fast, Julian had a chance to assess her surroundings. The lighting was abysmal, but despite the fact that she’d landed soundly atop what seemed like a truckload of loose dirt- it was slipping between her fingers- she could see a rectangle of grey stone flooring where the light filtered down. You know, the kind that mausoleum floors were made of.

“Lesson part two,” continued Leo, and maybe it was just the acoustics down there, but he sounded a lot closer this time. “Thinking on your feet. What now?

“Arrrrrghhh!” was her reply. Growled out in frustration as she rolled and scrambled to her feet. Furiously slapping loose dirt from her clothes and uttering out a few other choice words for his benefit. She should have known better, it was clearly his greatest joy to make her look and feel as stupid as humanly possible. Screw him, and his lessons, and his vampire problems, and his stupid fake moments of sincerity, and uuuuurrghhhhh!

When she was done having her mental tantrum, Julian took the time to look around. “Now, I’d punch you in your vampire teeth if I weren’t afraid you’d bite my hand off!” Asshole. She kicked a rock, well aware that it wasn’t going to do anything, but the moment of inflicting violence on something helped just a smidgen.

“I don’t know what now. You can’t just drop me places and expect me to figure it out.” she grumbled. Her arms as she squinted to see through the dim bits of light. It smelled earthy and like everything down there had been sealed up for a long time. If she stumbled over any corpses, this adventure was OVER.

Thinking on her feet or not, she just wanted to be aware of where he was, because he was now personal enemy number one. That was proving to be difficult when she was pissed off and could barely see. “I’m seriously starting to doubt you know what you’re doing anyway and was just looking for an opportunity to be a dick.”

Whatever tomb she’d landed in seemed fairly roomy, at least judging by the echoes of her voice and the clattering of the the rock she’d kicked- and the fact that she couldn’t see as far as the walls. What she could see when her eyes had finished adjusting were the large, blocky shapes a few feet in front of her. Two of them, side-by-side.

“I told you, what I know how to do is nudge,” the disembodied voice of her asshole mentor replied, a little ways to her right. Before she could take another step, however, he was speaking from the opposite side. Yeah, he was definitely down there with her. “Think. There’s no way you can get back up the way you came. You don’t have a light. I stole your cellphone, so don’t bother checking for it. How are you going to get out?”

A scraping noise behind her, and then: “Meanwhile, you’re stuck down here with me. You so sure I’m not going to hurt you? Maybe… I don’t really think you can find Tasha and Colby. Maybe I don’t care that Michael thinks you’re precious.”

Despite telling her not to, she was feeling her pockets for her phone and immediately hissing out a few more curse words.

“Stop it. You’re not going to hurt me and you’re not going to terrorize me in to some kind of psychic epiphany!”

There was that sliver of doubt, though. She had met a dozen different Leos and she didn’t know which one was the real one. The real Leo might actually be a sadistic bloodthirsty douchebag that she moronically left school with because her gut said he’s a nice guy! really! and she was naive enough to believe it. Why not die in the dark alone and screams unheard, with your mangled body thrown in to a stone tomb with some other dead person.

That was the panic kicking in. It was too dark, but fuck if she admitted to HIM that it freaked her out. It was her own fault for trusting him. She was never going to make THAT mistake again.

“There’s always ways out.” she muttered more for her own benefit than his. She supposed this was where she divined an escape and proved she was an amazing psychic and not a coward. Julian shuffled around, being careful where she stepped and using her hands to feel around. Her skin was crawling and any time her hand got tangled in to webbing and praying whatever spiders that lived there were already long gone.

All the while, she tried to figure out where Leo was lurking. In a room full of people it was easy to be aware of everyone’s presence. Down here in the dark she couldn’t focus. She WAS scared. He moved too fast. Her hands found one of the stone structures and she tried not to think about the bodies that were inevitably inside.

“So Michael thinks I’m precious?” her voice was shaky and she hated herself for it. Julian hefted herself up on to one of the blocks hoping that a little elevation would help her get a better look or feel for the place.

“Really? That’s what you’re thinking about right now? Michael?” Leo demanded, and there was undisguised irritation in his voice. “Yes, Hollinger, he thinks you’re precious. Fuck, I forgot what teenagers are like. Hormones are way more intense than your survival instincts.”

Another scraping noise, closer this time.

“Come on, Jules, focus. Forget about what’s going on out there, because right now, you’re in here. Stop trying to do things that make no sense under the circumstances. What’s getting on higher ground going to do for you if you can’t see?”

There was a distinct satisfaction in knowing she managed to irk him. It was a solitary triumph. “It’s going to give me a better chance to leap at you and strangle you to death, for one.” This time she sounded a lot less shaky. In fact, now she was down right pissed off. Teenage hormones? She supposed her acting like a normal person would under disturbing circumstances was just not couth to a vampire!

He was right, though and there was no seeing any better. Nor did she want to run around in circles while he chased her. Julian jumped down and scooped up a rock from the mausoleum floor. The urge to give in to panic nagged at her. If she stopped thinking about what was ‘out there’ she was going to get swallowed up by the dark and then there wouldn’t be any getting out.

But since he asked for it, she’d focus all right!

“Fine, focusing! On making your brain explode, or how about you bursting in to flames!” His aura was all sizzle and fire, who couldn’t find that in an empty cold crypt? Creeping around making scraping noises like some kind of serial killer… Julian grumbled under her breath again, and when she had a good idea of where he lurked she chucked the rock right at him.

She stooped to pick up another one. “How is this even supposed to be REMOTELY useful for psychic teaching, anyway!”

“Which part? Forcing you to use the senses you usually ignore? Or making you tap into all those emotions welling up in you right now?” he asked bluntly. “Good throw, by the way. You would probably have hit me if you weren’t so slow. You’re getting warmer. Come on, Jules. Hit me.”

Julian was reminded of the fact that coffins or sarcophagi or whatever the hell you called them were boxes when the lid that she was standing on rattled and slid around like a fun house floor under her shoes. The minute that she lost her balance, however, there was a light touch on her back just long enough to keep her upright, and then it was gone.

“Come on,” Leo taunted. “Don’t make me do the obvious ‘you throw like a girl’ joke. I don’t want to lower myself like that.”

“Right, because you could get any lower today!” she was down and scurrying off to a corner the minute the phrase was out of her mouth. Julian almost thought about hunting for a better weapon. Stake the vampire sounded like a good game. But all she could find were more rocks. All of which she threw the minute she found them and had a good sense of where he was still again. Trying to hit a vampire who could move faster than she could blink was an impossible, futile endeavor, but she was so wound up by now all she could ask was a good lucky shot and cracking him right in his smug face.

“Why couldn’t you just say, Hey Julian,” she stressed her full name while tossing, “what are some things you know you can do, how about we give those a shot!” Speaking of, she threw another one. “Instead of dumping me in a dark hole and chasing me around until I go BALLISTIC and start sobbing in a freaking corner! Cause that’s TOTALLY the way to go. Throw the baby in the lake and see if she figures out how to SWIM!” she threw that rock especially hard, hoping it would pop him right between the eyes.

Unfortunately, her missile went clattering off the walls like all the rest. She heard it distinctly in the brief moment where Leo wasn’t running his mouth.

“How many times do I have to go over this with you? I’m not nice. I’m not your friend. I don’t care if you’re happy about this.” He laughed, low but somehow penetrating, like the sound was rattling around and around in her bones. It was weird, because despite the coldness in his words, it was so warm. “But even if I did? You’re not sobbing. You’re yelling and doing your best to stone me to death. I’ve got to admit, I didn’t think you had it in you. What the hell happened to you? ‘Cause I gotta say, I’m having a hard time figuring out how you’re the same girl I met in that cafe.”

And then he was right behind her, his hand gripping her shoulder just tight enough to let her know he was there.

“Gotcha, Jules. Think fast.”

“I’m not any different!” It was some kind of miracle that she didn’t shriek or jump out of her skin. Julian did shirk out of his grip. Spinning around to back away quickly until her back hit one of the stone tombs. She wanted out of the dark, out of the stupid mausoleum, away from him, and back home where she belonged. The feeling washed over her so suddenly, Julian thought she was having a panic attack. Overwhelming dread and anger was blacking out her conscious thoughts.

“We ain’t friends, Jimmy.” It wasn’t Leo she was looking at. The man in suspenders was stacking jangling crates over in one of the corners. There wasn’t a hole in the ceiling, but the room was lit up with lanterns scattered around hanging on the walls or set on top of some of the tombs.

“The dame’s a gold digger. I’m tellin’ you, she’s gonna go straight to that dick about the hooch. Then Old Barry’s gonna take us for a ride.” The phrase came out of her mouth, but it wasn’t her voice. She was dressed in some snazzy little suit, but dust and dirt was all over her.

“Yeah? Well I got a message for ya from Old Barry.” The man strode over and there was a brief glint of silver before it the knife was thrust right in to her chest. “He knows it was you.” Laughing, he saluted and backed away. He heading out through a door way that was quickly growing dim.

Julian looked down, unable to grip the knife in her chest, but could clearly see the blood on her hands and staining her clothes. Her clothes. The pain piercing, constricting in her chest and making it impossible to breathe. Vision was mixed with reality, and as far as she was concerned she was dying. She made a strangled sort of sound as she tilted forward to collapse.

“Aw, shit,” a more familiar voice swore, and then very solid and very warm arms were shoved under hers, keeping Julian from taking a nosedive onto the floor. After a fleeting moment of silently standing there with her face smushed firmly against Leo’s- had to be Leo’s- chest, her rescuer slowly eased down until they were both kneeling. He pushed Julian back and held her there… and then the talking started again.

“You just had to go and be an overachiever, didn’t you? I’m not giving you extra credit,” he muttered. “Jules. You with me? It’s okay. Whatever you’re seeing or feeling, it’s not here, you hear me? Talk to me.”

It was the first time Leo had ever sounded remotely concerned about, well, anything. If Julian thought about it, it was pretty funny considering he’d just been telling her how much he didn’t give a damn.

Nothing was registering outside of that constricting, squeezing feeling in her chest. Julian could feel her blood draining out and leaving her body and the cold, icy chill it was leaving behind. Well, not completely icy. Instead of being planted against cool hard ground, her cheek was pressed against something warm and smelling faintly of cheeseburgers. She tried to wretched herself from those weird thoughts and sensations that didn’t belong to her. Vision clinging to the blurry face that was slowly coming back in to focus. Someone who hadn’t just stabbed her and looked bewilderingly alarmed.

“I know the way out now.” she mumbled, fixating hard on his face because she was too afraid to look down and see if she was still covered in blood and with a knife sticking out of her. Her entire body felt all prickly, as if she had cut off her blood circulation and everything was waking up. In her head she was freaking the fuck out, she probably looked like she was about to. The only thing stopping her was her inability to get control of her arms, and that lingering to spite him.

“…Come on, then,” Leo told her, his tone steady and even. “You can show me out, right? If you can stand up by yourself.”

It was still hard to see his face in the dark, but he was definitely watching her as he slowly relaxed his death grip and sat back. His hands didn’t quite retreat, hovering on standby as if he were certain she were just going to topple over again.

“Or you know, you could faint. Like a teenage girl. Oh, wait…” It was obviously a tease, but was he trying to calm her down or piss her off?

Fainting sounded like a good idea. A nice long sleep, and forgetting all about everything. It wasn’t like her dreams. At least when she was dreaming, she knew it wasn’t real. That she was just asleep. And even if it were a premonition, it hadn’t actually happened yet. It never felt as real or as strongly, as standing there wide awake and being stabbed.

“I’m not going to faint.” Julian let out a long hiss of breath, unaware that she had been holding it. She wavered for a moment, almost looking as if she were going to topple over. But seemed to get control enough to raise her hands, seemingly in preparation to shove him away if the cross expression on her face were any hint. Instead, she braced them against his shoulders and used him to push herself back up to her feet. Then they were quickly removed, finding a new task in plucking at her shirt and looking for signs of blood. Nothing was there.

“That was weird.” The phrase was an understatement and didn’t even begin to compared to the mess that was swimming in her head. Julian wanted to run to that door, keeping running, and maybe scream the whole time. She wanted to curse at Leo, maybe cry a little. All of this she was trying very hard to suppress as she turned slightly and started walking. Her arms were straight at her sides and fingers splayed, as if she were also trying to keep balance on ground that was moving under her feet. She couldn’t see where she was going, but knew she was there when she reached out to touch the wall.

“There should be a door here. A tunnel or hallway or something.” she cast a look over her shoulder, she still couldn’t decide if she felt smug, pissed, or just plain terrified. “I am really, really pissed off.” Julian settled for that. It was the easiest thing to deal with!

Leo followed her like a shadow. He was quiet like a shadow too, sometimes so much that she couldn’t be sure he was actually behind her. But when she turned around, there he was, all six feet of annoying vampire. At least he had the decency not to look smug right now, for once, but she could see something like a smile playing at the edge of his mouth. It wasn’t his normal little smirk, though; something about it was just… different.

“I figured as much.” He reached past her to push at a spot beside where she’d laid her hand, and what looked like solid stone gave way with a burst of icy air and an awful scraping sound. “I can live with that, and I’m sure you can too. Probably better to wait to yell until we’re topside, though, okay? Less chance of accidental cave-ins. No one’s used this tunnel in a while.”

There was sunlight filtering in from about fifteen feet ahead and slightly above them. The light was bright enough to sting Julian’s eyes after being stuck in the dim lighting of the crypt, but if she squinted, it was coming in through a wrought-iron door much like the ones that served as the cemetery gates.

“Come on.” Leo nudged the heel of his hand into the small of her back. “We’ll get out of here and I’ll take you home. I’m pretty sure that was way more than enough for today.”

Julian never wanted to do that again. She sure as hell wasn’t going to trust Leo ever again. Granted, he never actually lied to her. He said from the start that he wasn’t a nice guy, and he wasn’t her friend, and pretty much delighted in giving her the hardest time possible. And like an IDIOT she believed otherwise. Because why? It wasn’t because Michael trusted him. Michael didn’t seem to, not really. It was simply because she was stupid. Angela would’ve had some clever name for her. Damsel in This Mess. Foolie Julie.

But it worked, hadn’t it?

She was silent for the ride back. Rubbing her chest where it no longer hurt, but still clearly remembering how it felt. A wide awake vision. It might not have been on purpose, but it happened. Possibly the most frightening thing to have happened in her life. Worse than vampires and other creepy unknown things hiding in dark places. She could see and hear and feel things like no one ever should. And despite that scared little voice in her head screaming that she should stop now and forget all of it, there was a stronger one now. A more curious, questioning voice asking, what if she could use it. Michael seemed to think she could help finding his missing friends. What if that meant she could also find her parents? How many steps was it from accidental flashes of a mausoleum murder to calling up a vision on command about recent events?

They turned on to her street and she could see her house coming in to view. She turned slightly in her seat, regarding Leo with an indecisive stare. Finally she let out a long sigh and straightened in her seat.

“We’re going to do it again. But not around a bunch of dead bodies, and you’re not going to be a dick about it.”

“Sure. No dead bodies except my own, got it. And believe it or not, I’m not doing this just to get my kicks from picking on you. But I’m not going to treat you like a china doll, either.” He raised his eyebrows at her as he glanced over, then back at the road ahead. “Because you’re clearly not one, despite what the general consensus seems to be. If you can sass someone who’s implying they’re going to eat you, you sure as hell can-”

He stopped talking abruptly.

A muscle twitched in his jaw, and the halfway friendly expression he’d been wearing withered and died, replaced by the most sour face she’d ever seen on him. Like he’d just been reminded of something nasty. Then… it was like everything clammed up, right down to his grip on the steering wheel.

“You know what,” he finally continued in a clipped tone, “forget that. We’ll talk later. Get my number from your boyfriend if you want.”

He threw the car into park as they pulled up outside of Julian’s house, not looking at her.

When Leo’s Mustang rounded the corner, Michael nearly jumped up from his seat on the front steps of the ancestral Hollinger home.

While he knew that Leo would not- could not– harm Julian now, he couldn’t dispel the sense of unease which had pitted in his stomach since he’d received his unpredictable cousin’s text message. It had been his own suggestion for Leo to instruct Julian, but part of him was beginning to question the prudence of that decision. True, Leo was very good at getting results; however, the aftermath was… not always pleasant. Michael had never intended for the pair to be left unsupervised.

Of course, he would never have allowed this to happen at all had he thought there to be any real risk.

And yet, here he was, waiting anxiously on Julian’s porch all the same.

He made sure to catch Leo’s eye as they approached, leveling a gaze that left no room for him to doubt that Michael was less than pleased. They would be talking about this later, once Michael had ensured that Julian was safe and sound. Leo had known very well that he was disobeying Michael’s wishes, and Michael would not stand for that. Not this time. Not when it came to this girl.

But first, he needed to see Julian.

The car had scarcely stilled before he was at the passenger door, opening it for her. At least he could be thankful that Leo’s defiance did not extend to pettily refusing to unlock it.

“Julian? Are you alright?” He studied her face intently, unhappily noting what he found there. “I thought I’d wait here to see how everything went today.”

There were making almost congenial progress, then he went and clammed up. Once she spotted Michael waiting outside her house, she realized why. Julian was beginning to question her original assumption of it just being a friendly fight between the two. Something else had to be going on. But before she could ask the question, Michael was already there opening up her door. And with one look at his worried face and the sound of his concerned voice, it was momentarily forgotten. She was so glad the be home.

“Aside from him hurting my feelings and pride? I’m okay.” she smiled to make sure he knew she meant it and climbed out of the car. Her body was sore and a little stiff. Probably from throwing rocks at a vampire like a crazy lunatic and flailing around in the dark.

“I’m tired and it was… um. Frightening, mostly.” she chewed on her lip glancing back at the car. There was too much tension in the air, and she didn’t seem to have the energy to ignore it. “Leo helped though. So I hope you’re not angry with us for disappearing? I can tell you all about it, if we could set down.”

“Frightening?” It took a great deal of willpower for Michael to keep the displeasure out of his voice, but he managed for Julian’s sake. It wouldn’t do to exacerbate her nerves any further. Instead, he gave Leo another significant look, tight-lipped and unsmiling. “Yes, I think you should tell me.”

“Relax, Michael. She’s fine. An A-plus student, actually.” The other vampire avoided Michael’s eye, but Michael judged the answer to be genuine. “Aren’t you proud?”

Michael put his arm around Julian, drawing her slightly closer to his body.

“I’ll see you at home, Leo.” His tone brooked no argument. “You’ve done enough for today.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Leo reached over and yanked the passenger-side door shut. “I hope you’re happy.”

And what could Michael say to that, really? Sighing internally, he shook his head and focused on Julian rather than the… temperamental potshots of a man who was already speeding away. For a moment, Michael pitied David, who would be awaiting Leo’s tantrums back at the Hightower house. No one deserved to be a victim of one of his cousin’s moods.

“I’m sorry,” he told Julian, a touch wearily. “I hope you’re not vouching for him unnecessarily. If he hurt you-”

“He didn’t!” she immediately broke in. “I mean, he’s a jerk but he didn’t hurt me. He really didn’t do anything to me.” Huh. Julian was trying to rehash the day in her head so she could relay it back to Michael, and now that she thought about it what HAD Leo actually done to her? Be slightly irritating? She had gotten really pissed off at whole lot of nothing. Or maybe it just seemed a lot less threatening when Michael was there with his arm around her, and making her feel safe. And precious. Leo said Michael thought she was precious.

“We should go inside.” Her cheeks tinged red and she was a little flustered. Tugging gently at his coat, she led the way back to her porch and began fussing around in her pockets for her key. “He likes being a pain in the ass, I guess. I’m sure you already know. Um, and I’m not used to that? Er, well, there’s Angela, but she knows better than to drag me down in a dark hole with dead bodies. …But I handled it!” She was rambling, WHY? Why was she rambling! She had been doing so great hanging out with him and not acting like a crushing idiot.

“I’m talking too much. It’s all kind of a mess in my head still.”

His brows knitted together as Julian babbled and he attempted to string together what she was saying. It did seem true, at least, that she was more or less unscathed from the day’s experience. However, the mention of dead bodies was worrisome, until he realized…

“He took you to the old graveyard, didn’t he?” That made sense, he supposed. It was quiet, isolated. The atmosphere was also, doubtless, provoking to Julian and her latent abilities. And from the sound of it, the lesson had been fruitful. Grudgingly, Michael admitted that it made sense. He would even go so far as to say he approved… if he’d only been there to oversee them.

“You’re safe with me,” he stressed the point, taking the keys from her shaking hand and unlocking the front door. “And it’s alright if you’re rattled. It sounds like you’ve had quite the day.”

On the outside, he was smiling at Julian. Inside, however, he was balking at the comparison of the Mercy girl to Leo. It was undeniable that there was an uncanny likeness in their flippant attitudes; it had struck him upon their first meeting. But his talk with Angela earlier that day had led him to hope that it didn’t run too deep. Maybe only time would tell…

As soon as they set foot in the house, Michael took Julian by the hand and guided her to the very couch where they’d spoken the night prior. This time, he sat down beside her, keeping her hand gently in his.

“Tell me what happened,” Michael urged. “It’s been weighing on my mind for hours. This… wasn’t precisely how I intended for things to go.”

“It wasn’t what I was expecting either.” Julian laughed, rubbing the back of her free hand against her forehead and then blinking in surprise at the dirt there. She was probably covered head to toe in the stuff. It’s no wonder he seemed a little cross with Leo. He was holding her hand and she was safe with him. She could already feel all that pensiveness melting away.

“He bought me lunch first, which I am kinda surprised I didn’t throw up, not his fault mind you, but the scary parts.” she paused a moment, trying to think of the best way to explain it. “We went to the really old graveyard. The one no one uses anymore? And then down in this mausoleum. He told me to find the way out, and then irritated the crap out of me so I’d do it. Well. He was trying to scare me in to it, but I was more mad than scared. At him. I didn’t like the dark.”

Julian took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It sounded even more stupid now that she was explaining it all out loud. “I really don’t like the dark and I just wanted to get out and come home. The vision just happened all by itself. It… was too real. When I see things while I’m sleeping, I know I’m sleeping. It doesn’t feel like it’s actually happening.”

“He stabbed me right here.” she pointed at the spot in her chest, eyes going a bit unfocused as she relayed what she felt. “Not me, Jimmy. I felt the knife hit bone and my blood pooling out. He was afraid of the dark too and didn’t want to die down there.” It was still too fresh and she was trying to be very careful not to let all those feelings come rushing back. The last thing she wanted was to start seeing a knife sticking out of her again.

When she began to recount her vision and her pulse picked up, Michael squeezed her fingers to recapture her attention. When he was sure that she was looking at him and not past him, he smiled again, locking his eyes with hers.

“It’s alright, Julian. What you saw, what you felt… That can’t hurt you. It wasn’t a ghost, just an old memory.” He was fairly certain of that, at any rate, and it was what she needed to hear. “This man, Jimmy. What do you remember about him?”

He was curious, of course, but he also hoped to take her mind off of the horror of the experience. Michael didn’t know what he would have done had Leo’s recklessness scared her away permanently. And Leo’s behavior today had been oh, so very reckless. No, Leo couldn’t have known that Julian would have gleaned a premonition from an old murder, but Michael would have known, he was sure. He would never have let it happen.

He would have warned her, as Leo ought to have. Yes, he needed Julian to tap into her powers, but he needed her willing. He wanted her willing.

She wasn’t so sure about it not hurting. It hurt. It would be impossible to describe it without tapping in to it though, and he was trying so very hard to make her feel calm and reassure her. It was endearing and sweet, and exactly what she wanted.

“He wore a cheap suit. A brown one. He and the other guy worked for someone named Old Barry and they were hiding crates in the mausoleum. I didn’t really notice much else, though I think he might have been a detective or a cop, or something else. The guy said Old Barry ‘knew’ it was him. I’m a little curious.” she had to admit, even though it scared the hell out of her, now she wondered who they were and what they were doing down there. It could be a famous story of Silent Pines, or something no one had ever discovered.

Julian squeezed his hand, it was the best she would get. If she were Angela, she’d just throw her arms around him and demand he hold her, but Julian doubt Michael was the kind of guy that appreciated having girls thrown themselves at him in a literal sense.

“I do want to try again. I wasn’t ready this time, so next time would be easier, right?”

“Crates?” Admittedly, Michael’s interest was piqued, enough that he ceased fuming over Leo’s incompetence for the time being. “Smugglers, then. Maybe there’s something in the town records or the library archives… I don’t think I could have been here at the time. I don’t recall anyone named ‘Old Barry’.”

And Michael would have remembered. He had always made a point to know who was causing trouble in his town, smugglers or otherwise.

“…I’m sorry that I have to ask you to go through this,” Michael told her, lips pursing. “But yes, it should be easier with practice. And I will be there with you to ensure that Leo doesn’t… get carried away again. Not again this week, though.”

Julian needed to rest, and Michael needed time to address the issue with Leo. Yes, Tasha and Colby might be missing- and of course that concerned him, of course it did- but Michael could be fairly certain that they were not dead. Wherever they were, someone had good reason to keep them alive and well, and Michael had his suspicions as to why. What this meant, however, was that they could indeed afford to take their time and ease Julian into her gift.

And in the meantime…

“You know, I spoke with Angela at lunch. She mentioned a club and something about a DJ this weekend. Would you… like to go? The three of us,” he clarified, giving her a slightly sheepish grin. “I may have already agreed.”

“Really?” The change in her whole demeanor happened instantly. This was a date request! Well,not really, since Angela would be involved and apparently getting her sticky fingers in to things again, but Julian couldn’t even be mad about that. Not with Michael looking so absolutely cute about asking.

“I’d love to go! Angela’s really good about getting people to agree to stuff, so don’t feel bad. It would be really fun to go out and do something other than homework and crazy mind powers.” Granted, she didn’t intend take a break from the psychic stuff all week. But this was going to be a welcome distraction. Julian was already plotting about her phone call with Angela.

“I think it’s her plot to get me out and dancing again. Although I bet she didn’t bother to ask if you even liked dancing. But! Sitting and enjoying the music is great too.” This totally made up for the weirdness of the day. It was very hard to suppress her ridiculous grinning.

“It’s not my first choice of activity,” Michael confessed with some reluctance. He hated to disappoint her so soon after making her smile. It was a lovely smile, one of genuine pleasure: exactly what he’d seen lacking when he’d first met her. It seemed unfair that his victory had to be so fleeting. “I was raised to think of dancing as a social obligation more than a hobby. But I’ll dance with you if you want me to.”

Hopefully that sentiment would be enough.

He didn’t mention that the last time he’d set foot onto a dance floor had ended disastrously. It had been no fault of his own, of course, but the experience had left a bad taste in his mouth nonetheless. And Michael had to admit that his good opinion, once lost, was lost forever (in the immortal words of Austen).

“Friday,” he remembered to tell her at last. “You can tell Angela that I’ll pick both of you up here at whatever time would be convenient.”

Not his first choice, which meant he was only doing it because she wanted to. Julian wanted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss his cheek, but that urge was pushed back. She made do with grinning.

Julian held up a finger. “One dance, then. Something really easy, and if I need to, I could teach you. I used to dance all the time.” The whole bit about dancing being a social obligation had her thinking. With Michael, it was easy to forget that he was a vampire and been alive for so much longer. She knew plenty about classical styles of dancing, but him walking in to a dance club for the first time since who-knows-when, was going to be an experience. Hopefully not of the traumatizing type. She’d have to ask Angela not to do something wild.

“I’ll tell her. At 7? I have a lot to talk to her about, anyway.” Julian wanted to talk about her entire day, but that was going to be tricky without spilling the beans about the vampire-secret. But she’d find a way.

“Friday at seven o’clock it is.” Michael looked down at where he still held her hand captive, then back up with a smile, releasing her at last. “Are you sure that you’re alright? I really ought to get going and make sure the house is still standing.”

Much like Julian was eager to speak to Angela, so too was Michael feeling the urgency to discuss the day’s events with Leo. His cousin’s behavior today was unpardonable, that much he knew, and he wasn’t sure that he believed Julian’s insistence that it hadn’t been serious. Julian was too charitable, too inclined to see the good in everyone. No, Michael needed to hear the full story in Leo’s own words.

Leo was dear to him, truly. Michael wanted nothing more than for things to be as they once were between them, but sometimes he suspected that Leo was simply too far gone. The other boy was so impulsive, so taciturn, so determined to be destructive…

Michael feared that one day, Leo might force his hand, and there would be no going back.

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