Black Sun 005: DJ Got Us Falling in Love (Original Draft)

Black Sun 005: DJ Got Us Falling in Love (Original Draft)

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The next evening, Julian’s bedroom was a den of nervous excitement. The majority of the excitement being all Angela’s, who was digging around in Julian’s jewelry box plucking out earrings and holding them up to her ear to test in front of the dresser mirror. Her haired was pulled up in a messy golden pony tail and she wore a glittery hot pink dress. One she affectionately called her 60s stripper dress.

“I can never find earrings to go with this dress. What am I supposed to drop in a guy’s car so I have an excuse to call him?” she grouched, trying another pair.

Julian walked by in a bathrobe, rubbing a towel furiously over her hair trying to dry it. Satisfied it was good enough, she tossed it over to the hamper and wandered over to her closet. The clothes on the hangers all received a very dissatisfied frown. “You could just say you liked him and wanted to call him. ….blergh! That reminds me, I left something in Leo’s car.”

Leo’s car…?” Angela asked, casting a sly look at her best friend’s back. “Have you switched boyfriends on me? After I landed you this totally awesome date?”

A scoff was the response. Julian tugged a few random things out of her closet and tossed them out on her bed to take a better look. “I ran in to him at the shop yesterday. He was conveniently there to grab a few things for me. I wonder where he’d get the idea from…?”

“Now I know that asshole can’t be trusted with keeping secrets. So? Did the store try to kill you?” Angela shook her head when Julian picked up a sunny yellow dress. That so wasn’t club material.

Julian tossed the dress down and tried another one, keeping her gaze away from Angela. Not telling her what was REALLY going on was starting to get harder and harder. Especially when she was so annoyingly on point when guessing things! Maybe Angela was a psychic too. “Eeeh. Not exactly, but I was right about the bad vibes. It wasn’t a good place to be. I’m kinda glad Leo was there… Which is the ONLY reason you are not in total trouble!”

Angela smirked wide, teeth and all. The second dress also got a shake of her head. “And you always doubt me. You got what you needed though, right? Time for us to do super cool witch stuff or whatever?”

“It’s not witch stuff and what makes you think I am doing anything like that.” Dresses weren’t working, so she stalked back to the closet to grab a few shirts and some pants. The pile went to the bed with the other outfits.

“Lets see. Weird dreams,” Angela started counting stuff off on her fingers, “you’re saying freaky things even more often that usual, ahm-”

“What? I don’t say freaky things.”

“YEAH you do. You always do, but we’re used to it, so it’s like whatever.” Angela gave up waiting for Julian to pick out the perfect club date outfit on her own. She nudge her out of the way, fussing around with the combos on the bed until she found the right combo of shirt and skinny jeans. They got pushed at Julian.

“Like what kind of things?” Julian asked, genuinely curious. She took the sacrificial clothing with her to the bathroom to change.

Angela groaned, returning to her search for the perfect earrings. “Seriously? You don’t even know? Okay! This summer you were going on about wolves, and now they’re talking about people staying out of the woods because of animal attacks. There was that time you told Margrit that her uncle asked you to congratulate her about her Homecoming crown, but the dude died a week before that. TODAY, you said Taylor Lautner wasn’t going to be on my Teen Squeeze magazine and I’ll admit that was a totally lucky guess, but my POINT is that – I don’t know. Your witchy filter is broken or something.”

Julian paused in the doorway, now fully dressed in a silver shirt and jeans, her hair pulled over one shoulder in a tidy little twist. Her face was pale and she almost looked ready to throw up. “I really do it all the time? Why didn’t anybody TELL me?”

The blond shrugged. “You didn’t talk about it or act like it was a big deal, so we didn’t either? I mean, it’s not like you were going around acting like one of those goth freaks and trying to curse people. Plus, you’re one of the few founding family peeps that people actually like, so no one cares if you’re weird. You’re probably the least weird out of them all.”

Julian bit in to her lip and leaned against the door frame. How could she not know what was coming out of her own mouth? Did she really pay that little attention to herself? What could she do if she DID start paying attention… “I’m a psychic, not a witch.” she finally muttered.

“Witch, psychic, whatever! I already figured that part out. So can I know what you and your new boyfriends are doing now? What’s the secret?”

That snapped Julian out of her eerie feeling, leaving her rolling her eyes and sighing deeply. “No one is my boyfriend yet. And No! I still can’t tell you. You can help me with psychic stuff though.”

“We’re going to solve that boyfriend problem TONIGHT!” chortled Angela.

Julian was in trouble. She just knew it.

It was a few minutes before 7:00 when Michael knocked on the front door of Julian Hollinger’s home.

He couldn’t deny that he was… not entirely confident, tonight. It had been a long time since he’d embarked on this sort of outing, and he wasn’t fully certain that his manners were up to date. For a brief moment of madness he’d even considered going to Leo for counsel, before he remembered that- at best- his cousin would have laughed him out of the room.

A cursory glance down at his attire reassured him that he was at least presentable. The silver-threaded grey button-down and and dark jeans were not his idea of dressy, but fashion was far more casual these days, and he was fairly sure that his choices were within reason. His hair was combed. He would be fine. It was only a silly little dance club. There was no reason to feel self-conscious.

With that in mind, he turned over the small box that he held in his hand and waited with a prepared smile for whichever girl would come to let him in.

“Speak of the devil.” Angela’s search for the perfect earrings was abandoned in favor for the mad rush to the bedroom door. She won by snagging an arm and spinning Julian back towards the bed in a flailing tumble of limbs. “I got it! Get your shoes!”

Her dash down the stairs slowed midway down to a flouncy runway catwalk as she smoothed out her dressed and took in a deep breath. To be the perfect wingman for your girl, you had to be the exact opposite of what the guy was in to so your bestie looked extra awesome in comparison. Thankfully, Mikey was totally boring so tonight was going to require little effort on her part.

Angela swung open the front door, a hand resting on her hip. She almost bit in to her lipstick. What was he wearing? His outfit almost perfectly matched Julian’s and that was so not intentional. It was almost cute in a gross nerdy, old people sort of way.

“Mikey! Are you ready for our hot date?”

“Hello, Angela.” That insipid nickname was beginning to wear on his nerves, but Michael let it pass. After all, Angela did not seem like the type to be easily discouraged from her eccentricities. It was fortunate that Michael had plenty of practice with such things. Instead of letting it ruffle him, he smiled patiently at Julian’s friend. “You look lovely. I hope I’m not too early?”

He knew very well that wasn’t, of course, but politesse must.

He also might not have been entirely sincere about Angela’s appearance. She was a lovely girl, and the way her hair was styled was very fetching, but that dress… The glitter was almost blinding. Michael caught himself staring and had to give himself a brisk mental shaking.

“Oh. This is for you,” he recalled aloud, glancing down at the box in his hands again before holding it out to Angela. “And for Julian. Is she detained?”

“A present! Where did you get the idea for such a sweet thing?” Smirking, she snatched the box right out of his hands. He got one point for bringing a gift like she asked, and minus that point for staring at her like he wanted to rip her dress off. Not even in the fun sexy way, either. He probably just hated lively colors.

“JUUUUUUULIIIIAAAAAAAAN. Tall, dark and handsome is here!” she turned to shout.

Julian rolled her eyes again, having just tugged on a pair of heels. Poor Michael! But if he could get through a night with Angela, then he was definitely boyfriend material. Grinning, she hopped to her feet and made a pit stop by the dresser. Her quartz was stashed in the pocket of the tiny jacket she shrugged on to her shoulders. She reached out towards the rose oil and paused… Trouble was going to follow her, this was something she knew now. She wanted to be prepared for any kind of it, no matter where she was.

Michael would be there, though. She retracted her hand, leaving the vial behind. She wouldn’t need it with him.

“Present! For both of us.” Angela stressed as she held out the box to Julian when she reached the bottom of the stairs.

She lit up, taking the box to open. Gifts were old fashion and really cute. “Hiii.” It was all she could get out. One little box and now she was stupidly crushing again.

Inside the little grey gift box, a pair of slim silver chains lay atop plush padding. The links were stylized like delicate little flowers, and each dangled with a matching letter charm: one J and one A.

“I hope you like them,” said Michael as he drew closer, watching Julian’s face as she opened the present. He’d been very careful in his selection of gifts, having finally settled on these friendship bracelets once he’d spotted them in the little jewelry store downtown, but there was always the chance that he’d misstepped. “Hello. You look beautiful.”

And this time, the compliment was entirely genuine. He didn’t conceal the smile that spread across his face when Julian had appeared at the top of the stairs. True, the ensemble was hardly elegant, but there was a certain class in its understatement. Michael did wonder if she had been too self-conscious to wear something more eye-catching, and decided at once that if that was true then it simply wouldn’t do. Now even more determined to bolster her confidence and see her eyes light up, he reached out and picked up the bracelet bearing her initial.

“Here,” he told her, taking a step forward to better fasten it around Julian’s slender wrist. “Let me.”

“Thank you.” Julian was mesmerized by the tiny charms. The gesture was completely unnecessary, and out of this world sweet. He really did listen to the random things she blabbered, because how else would he know something like this for her and Angela would be a special treasure for them both?

The compliment had Julian both flushing and struck silent. Leaving perfect opportunity for her friend to pluck the box out of her other hand. Angela took the second bracelet and had it latched around her wrist like a pro, holding her hand out to admire. Her thoughts leaned away from the romantic and more towards this guy is a smooth operator. He was serious about Julian in a big way. That would make her plots so much easier!

“Yeah, thank you! Hell, if Julian gets bored, I’ll go out with you.” she chimed. Their moment was cute, but if she was going to be the third wheel of the night, she wanted to be it in a place she could catch her own hottie. “Let’s get going!” Angela sashayed towards the door.

“Aren’t you going to take a coat?”

“Pff. I’ll let some cutie give me his coat. Boys like to feel chivalrous, don’t they, Mikey?”

On the one hand, Club Clarity was a far cry from what Michael remembered of nightlife. It was loud, with pounding bass and the sort of music that he personally found tasteless. The patrons were similarly loud and tasteless, clad in garish outfits, many of them bumping and grinding in ways that made him blink and avert his eyes. He suspected that this was actually all quite tame, but he had never shed the sensibilities with which he’d been raised- even in some of his wilder days.

On the other hand, he had to admit that things hadn’t really changed that much. It was still a gathering of people, packed closely into a room so that they might mingle and dance and exchange flirtations under an accepted pretext. Those above the legal limit imbibed drinks which were perhaps more creatively colored, but were simply new iterations of the same old indulgences. Although the lighting was dimmer, the cushioned armchairs and low tables were what his companions might consider “retro” throwbacks. Even the fashions were recycled.

Michael sipped at the tonic water that the bartender handed him and made his way back to the girls with their order. Once he had, well, persuaded the man guarding the door of the club that the piece of note card in his wallet was in fact legal identification, he’d finally regained some of his footing. Getting a feel for the environment further relaxed him. Now that he knew what to expect, he could simply enjoy the evening with Julian and Angela.

“Here.” He played server for a moment, dispensing respective drinks to the girls, and flashed them a smile. He had to raise his voice to be heard… which was new, but not unmanageable. “I haven’t been to a club in a long time. Have you been here before?”

Julian took a swallow of her drink and set the glass down on the small table in front of them. Their chosen spot was a nice little cubby with high backed seats covered in plush velvet. Which was good, because had they been sitting closer to the dance floor it would have been impossible to hear anything over the music.

Still, the volume gave Julian the perfect excuse to sit close to Michael and lean in so she didn’t have to shout. “It’s been awhile. I like the music loud, it drowns out everything else and I feel like a normal person.” By everything else, she meant all of those overwhelming feelings that tended to come with being in a large crowd. There was none of that subtle tenseness in her shoulders or irritating awareness of everyone in the room. In fact Julian attributed most of that to Michael. With him there, she didn’t have to be afraid and the music blocked remaining distractions.

Except Angela. It was impossible NOT to be distracted by Angela standing there dancing with her drink, out of rhythm with the beat. Those dance lessons were going to do Angela some good.

“I DIDN’T COME HERE TO SIT AND WHISPER!” The blond had no problem raising her voice. She also had no problem recognizing the perfect moment to back away and slip in to the crowd. Phase One of Operation Boyfriend. Angela waved her fingers at the two and vanished in to the crowd, off to get at least once dance in before the next phase.

Julian laughed, turning her grin to Michael and leaning close to speak again. “This really isn’t your kind of place, is it? I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Michael admonished her, but he was smiling back. “It was my idea. Well, maybe it was Angela’s, but I readily agreed. This isn’t my first choice of venue, no… I wanted to spend time with you, Julian. Your company makes up for the rest.”

His fingers toyed with the edge of his glass as he allowed himself to look at Julian, really look at her. Michael wasn’t blind, nor deaf, and certainly not stupid. Even if everyone- for the given definition of everyone as Leo and Angela- hadn’t been keeping up a running commentary on the attraction, it would have been quite obvious. It always had been, really, from the moment that they’d met. The little things, the stolen glances and the hammering of Julian’s pulse when he drew close, the way she glowed

“Julian…” Even though he’d been anticipating the necessary conversation for weeks, Michael still faltered with the words on his lips. How many years had it been since someone had looked at him that way? He couldn’t deny that he craved it. Nor could he deny that the idea was disastrous. He ought to tell her so.

Instead, he set down his tonic water and held out his supine hand.

“I believe I promised you a dance,” he said. “And I keep my promises.”

He did so much just for her sake. Because she would like it, because she was interested. And every time he smiled at her, she melted. Even his smiles felt like they were just for her benefit. It was empowering to believe she held that much charm, and it made her want to do almost anything to keep that feeling. Julian knew this was why they called them crushes, as it crushed every other sane thought out of her head and left nothing behind but the desire to run away with a boy.

Julian grinned wide and took his hand, squeezing it as she should. “Just the one, and I won’t ever ask again!”

She might have tugged him along to the dance floor to get lost in the music, but with knowing he didn’t like to dance, instead she let Michael do the leading. Julian wanted him to feel comfortable, and was maybe a little curious to see if he could dance at all or if he was going to need her to guide him.

At least he couldn’t be as bad as Angela. The girl stood out on the floor flailing her arms over her head and dancing like she did not give any fucks about what anyone thought of it. That’s probably why she earned herself a few dancing friends who were completely entertained by her and were happily joining along.

Once Michael’s mind was made up, he wasn’t one to tarry. His fingers twined with Julian’s, he guided her through the crowd of twisting bodies and onto the dance floor, choosing a spot not far from where Angela was gyrating in wild, heathen motions. The steady throbbing of the music only grew louder now that they were nearer the club’s sound system, and it was nearly overwhelming when combined with the strobe of the lights overhead and the noxious fumes of the smoke machine. All of Michael’s heightened senses were overstimulated, but it might as well have been white noise; he was transfixed upon the girl in front of him.

He placed a hand on Julian’s waist and drew her in.

Club dancing, as he’d said, was not an activity in which Michael often indulged. It was inelegant, often crude and shameless, and he had little desire to participate in that variety of nightlife. There had been occasions over the years, however, where he’d been forced to acquire a certain measure of skill. Even had that not been so, it remained that he had been tutored in formal dance as a boy. The steps may have differed, but the principles were the same: rhythm, fluidity of motion, and reading the body language of one’s partner.

Still, he suspected a little bit of that formal training and past experience might be slipping in there with an occasional waltzing sidestep or when he guided Julian into a quick little spin. The pace was faster than he would have liked, but Michael could be adaptable when he wanted to be.

When Angela spotted her mushy duo weave their way on to the floor, she threw a hand up in the face of the dude that was grinding too close in her space so she could get a much better view. Michael behaved like such an old man, she was expecting him to bust out some dated old man moves, but he managed to keep up with the beat. Of course, he was a little stiff and mechanical, but Julian apparently didn’t notice. Her friend seemed to be completely amused with her partner and hopelessly infatuated. Mimicking and mirroring the boy like any pro would. Angela was rather pleased with that, but Julian still wasn’t dancing dancing. Not the way Angela was hoping tonight’s date was going to inspire. When you put a dancer in a dance club with her man of the month, she was supposed to DANCE LIKE THE WORLD WAS ON FIRE.

Angela danced her way over. A sparkling pink pillar of shameless thrusting at strangers. She refrained from making such movements at Julian’s boyfriend, he’d probably have a nerdy heart attack.

“FUN RIGHT?!” she shouted over the music, bouncing up and down now more than actually dancing. “Now if you’re as good at kissing as you are at dancing, you MIGHT be worthy boyfriend material for Julian!”

Angela!” Julian complained, but did not appear to be offended. She laughed it off, swatting at Angela’s hands that were starting to make little kissing motions at each other.

“Juuuust sayin’! Now one of you dance with ME!” Her hands were making grabby motions now at the both of them. Leaning towards Michael with an almost creepy wiggle.

In reaction to Angela’s demand, Michael gauged Julian’s expression, uncertain whether she would prefer him to accept or decline. He suspected this was some manner of test.

Before he could finish analyzing, a pair of arms looped over his shoulders. His response was automatic, feet planting like lead weights against the floor and his hands flying up to grip his assailant’s elbows, before the well-worn leather texture under his fingers and the familiar, mocking laughter clued him in.

“Sorry! His dance card is filled!” Leo shouted- right beside Michael’s already deafened ear-drums, no less- and no doubt was grinning without repent at Angela Mercy over his shoulder. Michael didn’t bother to struggle, but nor did he allow himself to be manhandled into motion.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded instead, twisting his head around to glare at his cousin.

“I was bored,” Leo answered, and yes, that trademark smirk was in place. His eyes glinted with a malice which Michael knew wasn’t meant for Julian and Angela to see. “I never get invited to the fun parties.”

So it’s this game again, Michael sighed wearily. He should have suspected that Leo would be unable to resist an opportunity like this: one where he would be able to sabotage Michael in public, particularly in front of Julian Hollinger. Leo knew very well how Michael felt about the girl.

“LEO!” Angela squealed, arms in the air. Leo’s presence was going to make things a million times more fun.

Immediately, she realized this was going to be a problem.

“And you just happe-”

“I NEED TO PEE! C’mon Julian!” the blond cut off Julian before the sentence got out, grabbed her arm and was already dragging her through the crowd towards the bathrooms. She didn’t let go until she was through the doors and pushing in to one of the stalls.

“You didn’t need to bring me with you.” Julian complained, wandering over to the mirror to see if her hair still look okay. She fussed with it out of habit.

“Hot girls can’t go to the bathroom alone in a club. That’s like… when an injured antelope gets separated from the herd. The drunk hyenas POUNCE. ANYWAY sooooo, Leo’s here after I specifically planned with Mikey NOT to invite him…”

Julian glared over her shoulder at the stall door. “I didn’t invite him, if that’s what you’re getting at. I’m never going to get him to ask me out, let alone KISS me if Leo’s always lurking around sucking all the air out of a room and pissing people off.”

“Hey, here’s an idea. How about YOU ask Michael out and plant a big feisty kiss on him?” A flush followed the statement, along with some shuffling. But instead of walking out the door, Angela stood on the toilet and leaned over the top of the frame. “Unless you’re trying to make a boyfriend sammich, cause you’d get SO many high fives for that. I wonder if Michael would prefer being on top of the pile or on the bo-”

“Oh god! No! Stop! Stop talking!” Julian squeaked, covering her ears quickly while Angela started cackling out loud. Another stall door open and a very confused woman stepped out to wash her hands. Julian stood there silently and red-faced while the girl finished up. Angela still trying to temper her laughter. Once the bathroom was empty once again, Julian crossed her arms and huffed.

“I can’t just ask him out of kiss him, that’s not… He’s not really- He’s old fashioned. And you know what, I am too! This time around! It’s oldschool courting, and sweet, and charming. And Leo is being a total cockblock.”

Angela snickered. “Uh huh. Sweet, charming and taking forever to get to the hot sexy parts. Sounds like you’re enjoying yourself.”

“UuuhhnngIdokindawanttogettothekissing.” Julian blurted out in a groan, leaning against the bathroom wall to clonk her head against it. “I do really like him, though… I don’t want him to think I’m stupid, or a slut, or I don’t know.”

Angela finally hopped down from her toilet perch and popped out of the stall. She clucked her tongue while she washed her hands. “You make things way too complicated. He’s obviously willing to go through all these hoops to spend time with you. But seeing as you’re BOTH so stupidly falling over each other that you can’t make out like normal people, leave it to me! Angela Mercy, Romance Sexpert at your service. If there’s not a going-steady or a hot kiss by the end of tonight, I’ll punch him for you.”

“I don’t know how I feel about this.” Julian muttered with amusement. Angela WAS right and she was making this more complicated than it had to be. There was just a lot more to it than Angela knew. Angela meddling could be a total trainwreck. …but sometimes Angela meddling was amusing and gave fantastic results. The entire thing was a gamble. “…Okay. But you’re not allowed to embarrass me OR Michael. That means no weird scenes, no wacky plots, no crazy stuff.”

Angela flicked water at Julian. “Do you trust me? Of course you do. You go make a song request with the DJ and -I- will clean up the Michael-Leo problem. It’ll take two minutes!”

As soon as the girls had disappeared into the crowd, Leo ceased his ridiculous show of draping himself all over Michael. The two were left staring at each other from a safe distance, their expressions disparate; Leo’s mouth was still twisted in that angry smirk and Michael’s own face was like stone.

“Before you tell me to go home,” Leo spoke up, holding up his hands as if he thought it might placate his cousin. “You might want to consider a few things.”


“First,” he pressed on, ignoring Michael’s forbidding tone, “Rude. I have just as much right to be here as anyone. I even paid. And aren’t you going to look uncharitable if you kick me out! Not a good way to keep your new favorite pet from getting anxious and chewing the furniture.”

“Manipulation is not very becoming-”

Leo’s sharp bark of laughter cut him off.

“Really, Mike,” the other vampire drawled. “You should know better.”

The silence stretched between them for a long moment. Michael sighed inwardly, wondering again how they had come to this. He remembered a time- long, long ago now- when the silences between the two had been companionable rather than tense. But that… was no longer possible, clearly.

At length, Leo’s breezy dialogue recommenced, along with two fingers raised as a crude visual aid.

“Second, about that whole ‘new favorite pet’ thing. What the fuck are you actually doing, Michael? Because I’ll tell you what it looks like.”

“It’s not your business,” Michael answered firmly. He straightened the cuff of his shirtsleeve where Leo had managed to crease it during the unwanted hug.

“Uh, excuse me, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to affect everyone if you like it and you’re gonna put a ring on it.” Leo stared at him, snapping his fingers in front of Michael’s face. “Hello. You know exactly where this ends and it’s not-”

“Julian isn’t Sadie.”

The words actually made Leo take a step back, his face drawing closed and his eyes going flat and dark. Even so, Michael held his gaze as fast as he was holding to his point.

“I’ll kill you,” Leo breathed, low and tight and difficult even for Michael to hear over the pounding din of the club. “I’ll kill you one day.”

No, you won’t, Michael thought, regret showing in his eyes. Why did Leo never learn? These conversations always ended in ways that pained him, but still he pushed and shoved until they were both forced into a corner. This was why they couldn’t get past their differences. If only…

“Was there anything else?” he asked, when Leo didn’t continue of his own volition.

“…I got a message.”

“A message?”

“From Tasha.”

Angela was ready for phase two. Or was this fourteen? It didn’t matter. She stepped out of the bathroom with Julian, and pointed her in the direction of the DJ. “Pick a song, something cool. Oh! And maybe flirt with the guy a little bit. That’ll be even better.”

“I’m not flirting with the DJ!”

“C’moooon. Oh fine! Just give me a couple minutes. You’ll know when it’s safe.”

“Safe? Is this some sort of sting operat-”

“Just gooooooo.” Angela whined, shoving a chuckling Julian off on her way. The blond fluffed up her hair, tugged the hem of her ridiculously pink dress down her thighs to a more appropriate length, then weaved her way through the crowd.

Michael and Leo were easy to find, especially with Leo being stupidly tall. They also looked completely cross with each other. Whatever they had going on, it was more serious than Julian’s everyone-can-be-friends disposition could fix. Which meant subtly for boyfriend bagging was not going to work. She needed to speed this up.

“Leo! You’re going to be my date tonight! But not right now.” Angela popped up between them, deliberately ignoring the tension. Michael’s arm was captured as her hostage, while her other hand made shooing motions at Leo. “Go away. Request me a song from the DJ and then go get me a real drink from the bar. I know you have a fake I.D. on you. Don’t even try to deny it.” she smirked, then looked up at Michael.

“You and I are having a private chat!”

“Tension” was perhaps an understatement. Michael was pretty much glaring holes into Leo by the time Angela cut in on their little tête-à-tête on the edge of the dance floor where Michael had dragged his cousin into a sidebar. They were mid-argument even as she approached, though Michael stopped short when he saw her weaving her way toward them.

“…think you should have said something-”

Leo wiggled his eyebrows sarcastically- a feat which Michael had not previously known to be possible- and then the darkness lifted from his face all at once. In its place was a sunny grin, directed Angela’s way and accompanied by a smart little salute.

“You got it, Mercy. I like a lady who takes charge.” Without a second glance at Michael, he turned and slipped through the crowd, presumably headed off to follow Angela’s request- with a small detour. Michael watched a bit incredulously as Leo bumped into one of the dancers only to loop an arm around her waist and spin her around. The girl laughed and asked something, but Leo just shook his head and passed her off to a nearby friend, all smooth flirtation. Then he was gone.

Slipping his free hand into his pocket, Michael tore his eyes away from his cousin’s wake to measure up where Angela’s arm was tangled around his own. There had been an awful lot of encroaching on his personal space tonight, and it was wearing on his nerves just a tad… but he mustered up a polite smile for Angela’s sake.

“Sorry that you had to see that,” he told her shortly. “What is it that you wanted to talk about?”

Angela waved her hand to brush off the apology, after all it was none of her business. …and she’d get those answers from Leo. Michael needed to stay focused on more important things. She curled her arms tighter around his and leaned in so she could make herself heard nice and clear.

“You’re making Julian happy, which is great. She’s actually going out and doing things again. Buuuuut here’s the thing, this whole taking it slow thing is cute and all, but a girl isn’t going to wait around forever. Take mister DJ over there for example.” She pointed across the room, where Julian was chatting the guy up and NOT flirting like she asked her too. Luckily the guy was a reputed flirt and doing a good enough job for her.

“When she’s feeling one hundred percent again, is she gonna go for the guy that can’t even dig up the balls to kiss her and ask her out, or is she going to go for the guy that sweeps her off in to a hot and sexy backstage fantasy? Which by the way is pretty much every girl’s daydream.”

Now that he was sure to be hooked, she tugged his arm. “Okay, honestly she’s probably patient enough to wait FOREVER for you, but I’m NOT. I’m tired of watching you two dick around. So tonight you’re either going to ask her to be your stupid girlfriend or you’re going to drag her outside and make out in that ridiculously expensive super villain car you drove here in. I know you wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of being here if you didn’t think she was worth it. I’ll even keep Leo busy for you.”

Meanwhile Julian was trying not to laugh at the DJ. “I’m not going to kiss you for a song. Not unless you jump up there and sing it yourself.”

“Aw, baby, is that all it’ll take? I’ve got a microphone and an endless playlist. It better be one helluva good kiss, though.” he already had a mic in his hand as he leaned over his station and made fishy-pucker lips.

Not laughing was officially impossible. Julian grinned “Oh ho! A challenge? Y’know if your mom wasn’t behind the bar shooting death glares at you, I’d have you singing songs about strippers.”

“Fuck, I thought her shift was over.” he groaned as she straightened, looking over the crowd of people towards the bar where sure enough, there was a silvery haired woman mouthing don’t hit on the girls.

“This is why you’re supposed to go to college after graduation, not work at your mom’s club. Now play my song!” While he grumbly complied with her request, she took a quick look to see if it “was safe”. Angela still had Michael hostage and seemed to be engrossed in blabbering. Nope, not yet. Leo wasn’t there anymore, so that was at least one plus.

“I’m not-” Michael began, and then thought better of the words that had been coming out of his mouth. He shifted his weight, eyes flicking between Angela at his side and Julian across the room. “I haven’t… had a girlfriend in a long time.”

Far longer than Angela could have imagined, and there were many reasons for that. If Julian’s friend only knew, she might not be so keen on strong-arming Michael into courting her friend. Perhaps she deserved to know; perhaps Michael should inform her.

He didn’t.

Instead, he watched Julian respond to the attentions of the DJ with slightly narrowed eyes. Not that he blamed Julian, of course. Julian was simply being as she was with everyone, good-natured and open and sweet. The man flirting with her, on the other hand… Michael’s fingers twitched, and before he could help himself, he was mentally cataloging the quickest methods to get a body out of a club unnoticed.

While he collected his temper, he turned his back on the pair and peered at Angela with some apprehension.

“This is about Julian,” he chose his words with care, “and not you, Angela, although I know you mean well. I don’t want to push her.”

Julian may have spoken too soon.

“Fancy meeting you here.”

Leo slung an arm around Julian’s shoulders, crushing her against his side, and bestowed her with a grin that was just a bit ragged around the edges. He jerked his thumb back toward the other half of what was shaping up to be the world’s most unfortunate double date.

“I got kicked out of the super secret pow-wow back there. I’m pretty sure I don’t like my cousin conspiring with your best friend,” he remarked. “That just screams bad news for everyone. So what are you doing all the way over here? Hijacking my song request?”

Uuugghn. Julian’s head tilted back and it was clear by the look on her face that she was groaning inwardly, even if the sound didn’t come out of her mouth. She crossed her arms and nearly elbowed him in the side, but decided she was in far too good of a mood to let Leo be irksome.

Julian turned towards him, casting a wicked sort of smirk. “It is bad news. For you, most likely. Angela’s never liked threesomes, and you’ve just shown up like a steak on a platter.” She then straightened herself and shrugged her shoulders. “He went to our school, so he’ll play the songs we like for us. But I don’t really see you dancing in a club like this. You belong in a seedy bar with biker bitches, I think.”

Her jealously trap seemed to work like a charm. The guy pretty much oozed punch-someone, which made Angela feel a lot more confident about her pushing. “If it’s about Julian, it’s about me. Where am I going to be if my best friend is pining after a guy and refuses to leave her house because she’s waiting around for phone calls.”

She tilted to make sure Julian wasn’t headed their way yet, and nearly beamed with her well played hand. Leo took her bait too, which now that she thought about it, was pretty interesting all by itself.

“Look, she told me she doesn’t want to push you either. It’s super adorable they whole PG thing. Buuuut, doncha think it’s gonna be a real bummer if some other guy gets in the middle? The longer you drag out this flirty stuff, the easier it is for somebody to make you look like a chump.”

“Since she likes YOU so much, I figured I’d give you the fair shot. Buuuut, I won’t push it if you’re not really THAT interested. Just don’t get mad at me when I drag her out with me on a double-date, okay? She’s finally ready to do stuff again and I have SO many double dates to plan.”

“I’m interested,” Michael replied in a tone that brooked no argument, his mouth twisting into a frown. “It’s… complicated.”

He moved to lean against the nearby wall partition, pulling Angela with him, and combed his fingers through his hair. Complicated truly was the word for it, he thought, watching the closest couple on the dance floor. The young man was shuffling his feet along to the music- poorly, much to his partner’s amusement- while the young lady laughed and swooped in to kiss him full on the lips. Michael averted his eyes from the intimate moment, even as he envied them the simplicity of their romance.

“I’ll talk to her,” he finally acquiesced. “Soon. But I need to talk to her first. I’m not able to promise you anything. Will that satisfy you for now?”

The question was laced with a teasing note, although it was asked in earnest. Michael arched a brow at Angela as he awaited her reply.

It was only then that her final words caught up to him.

“When you say double date…”

“You don’t see me dancing, huh?” And oh boy, did the smile that Julian got just then spell trouble. “I can fix that. And since there aren’t any biker bitches at hand…”

Leo’s hands dropped to Julian’s waist, and he picked her clear up off the floor.

“Don’t get dizzy!” That was all the warning she received before he spun her- her feet still dangling over about a foot of air- in a full circle. And then a quarter turn more for good measure. By the time her heels were back on land, Leo had smoothly pulled her back onto the dance floor proper and was swaying to the beat. His hands were off of her now- but they hadn’t gone far, and he was giving her a look that clearly said, Are we doing this or what?

He wasn’t waiting for her, either way. Just like always, Leo was constantly in motion. Despite the fact that he was more or less staying right in front of her.

Angela hugged Michael’s arm and gave it a pat. She refrained from saying good boy out loud. “Then have the talk with her. Jesus, she was making a big complicated deal about this too.” She gave a long suffering sigh, as if this was a problem she had to deal with everyday. Trying to suppress her urge to laugh about the double date. He was smart to be worried about that if he really was interested.

“Double date. Me, Julian, and two super cute, super eligible guys. I’ve been waiting for-eh-ver for this opportunity. When Julian was single, I was dating somebody and then when I was single, she was dealing with her parents being gone. FINALLY after months and months of coaxing, she wants to have some fun… and then goes head over heels for the first brown-eyed hottie that she runs in to. Which, don’t get me wrong, I’m stoked about cause she’s all rainbows and giggles right now. But I wanted to have the whole fun girls-on-the-hunt adventure while all the boys are still cute and haven’t turned in desperate lonely old bastards.”

There was a huff and her sparkling enthusiasm deflated just a bit. “I miss my friend. You and Leo did something I couldn’t do and I just want to keep the good stuff going.”

The moment of startled confusion didn’t last long. Julian was just glad she didn’t squeak or something equally as stupid. Once it dawned on her that he was issuing a challenge, she didn’t miss a beat. The surprise wore off her face and the expression that replaced it was sinfully smug. Oh poor Leo, he had no idea. He might have had everything in hand in graveyards and with witches, but this was her territory.

She slipped in to motion naturally, thoughtlessly. Without any of the restraint she had to use with Michael. There was no need to worry about someone’s feelings, she could just dance. Freedom to move the way the rhythm demanded it kind of dancing. The way she love and missed. …and Leo could suck it!

“I’m sorry, I was wrong! I don’t think you belong on the dance floor at all!” Julian laughed, giving him her best toothy grin, and practically daring him to prove her wrong.

There was a sadness in Angela’s words that brought Michael up short. It made him look at her- really look at this girl as something more than simply an extension of Julian- for the first time. And what he found fraying at her edges, he decided, was not something he could abide on her any more than on her friend.

“You do her good,” he murmured, pitch still piercing the din enough to reach her ears. “Don’t doubt that. You’re a good friend, Angela Mercy. Julian is well cared for.”

He adjusted his arm within her grasp in order to take her hand and squeeze it once, briefly, before letting go. A simple touch, but one that he hoped would convey his appreciation and perhaps lift the girl’s spirits as well. Though he suspected that the boy Angela had mentioned might have something to do with her melancholy, he deigned not to broach that particular subject just yet. There would be time for plumbing that depth later.

For now…

“If a double date will make you both happy,” Michael told her, “then I will try to make sure that’s what you get.”

Contrary to Julian’s taunt, there was something very natural about Leo on the dance floor.

If she’d thought Leo looked fluid and at ease when he walked, it was nothing on how he looked when he was dancing. Unlike many guys whose dance repertoire included tapping their feet or bobbing their head, he danced unselfconsciously and with his whole body. Not in the exaggerated, over-the-top way that people tended to do when they couldn’t really dance so they just goofed around; no, Leo was confident in each and every motion, in tune with the bass and the drums and even with Julian. The fact that she was in her element didn’t seem to throw him after all. Far from it. He played off of her like a polarized magnet, pushing and pulling but never quite touching.

“Nice song choice,” he shouted, and for once there wasn’t a trace of sarcasm to be found. His eyes were wide, bright blue reflecting white in the flash of the strobe lights, and the grin on his face was that same grin she’d seen a few times now. The one he got when he wasn’t trying to be cool. “I’m not really an Usher fan, but you can’t go wrong with Pitbull.”

Suddenly and yet not- because even though it didn’t look like he’d planned it, it was a natural progression of his movements- his hand closed around Julian’s and he twirled her, laughing.

“Aww. There’s that sweetness Julian keeps insisting you have. I was wondering if that was real or if it was just her crush goggles on.” That even earned him a hug, which she gleefully gave without his permission and enjoyed even more because he very obviously didn’t want it. Her mission was now accomplished, which meant it was safe for Julian to wander back.

She finally released Michael, which was supposed to be her come-hither signal, but there was no Julian in immediate sight. Angela expected to find the girl lurking somewhere and watching them like a hawk, since admittedly she would have done something weird if her talk with Michael hadn’t gone where she wanted it. Instead Julian was dancing. With Leo and oooh. Angela tilted her head, trying to decipher that curve ball. This was HER Julian. No holds barred, living it up, Julian! She was ready to preen about a job well done, expect that she didn’t work up Michael’s courage just to have his dumb cousin blow in with the cockblocking business.

Plus Angela wanted to hang out with the fun one. Leo owed her an illegal drink.

“Now, like the wonderful angel that I am, I will whisk away Leo so you can make with the mushy talk. I won’t object if you send any boys my way.” she winked at him before skipping towards the dance floor.

Julian had to admit; he was good. Which made it so much more fun to push and challenge further. The last time she actually had a chance to dance like this had to of been a year prior before everything got grim.

“You’re crazy! You feeeeel Usher.” She slid up close to make her point, resting a hand on his shoulder to effectively lock synchronicity. “You can’t do this with Pitbull!” How he would move, she would mirror and vice versa. Julian didn’t have to watch his body to do it, her gaze never left his face. And she was just a little bit pleased and impressed that she didn’t have cheat. It really did come natural, and it was weird that this was what she had something in common with Leo!

“Seriously, is anyone going to dance with ME tonight?” Angela interjected, plucking Julian’s hand off Leo’s shoulder to dance with her in a wide circle, then gently nudged her in Michael’s direction. “THIS ONE is mine now. You’re clear for the sting operation!”

For a split second Julian looked disappointed, but quickly she remembered why they were there. She waggled her fingers at Leo and Angela with a smirk as she backed away. “Good luck, Leo.”

Once Julian was out of immediate sight, Angela shoved Leo’s shoulder. “Stop being awesome! You’re making it impossible for me to hate you. I was serious about you sneaking me a real drink. I think need it.”

Julian was still riding her dance high when she found Michael. Smiling wide enough her cheeks hurt a bit, and seeing Michael just made her all the more giddy. Enough that she wasn’t worried about what crazy things Angela might have said, for the moment they didn’t matter.

“I am SO glad you took us out tonight. You have no idea! I’m really, really glad.”

“You and me both,” Leo quipped, shaking his head at Julian’s retreating outline before side-eyeing Angela. “Sorry, all I head was ‘drink’ and ‘you think I’m awesome’. Why do you need a drink? I thought if anyone- other than Jules, obviously- was over the moon about the travesty in motion over there, it would be you.

“Don’t tell me ‘gentlemen’ aren’t your type?” He made a show of offering his arm and batting his eyelashes- eyelashes that were actually kind of long for a guy’s, once you looked at them. Somehow he managed to keep up a dry, lazy drawl even with that mock-innocent expression on his face. “You don’t want a big, strong man to sweep you off your feet and swaddle you in velvet and keep you in a tower forever?”

The other teen sighed before she could even answer, throwing his hands in the air. A split second later he was maneuvering his way towards the bar, casting a glance over his shoulder to make sure that Angela was following suit and gesturing the universal sign for come on.

When Julian came bobbing over to him, all glowing grin and flushed face, it seemed perfectly natural for Michael to step forward and take her in his arms. He held her close for a lingering moment with hands steadied against the fabric of her jacket, and breathed her in.

“I’m glad, too,” he told her, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear as he held her gaze. “It’s nice to see you smile.”

He could only be thankful that Leo had behaved himself. Relatively speaking. Unfortunately, dwelling on his cousin’s interruption of their outing only served to remind Michael of things that would need to be discussed before he got around to the topic which Angela had so keenly insisted that he broach. It was as if cards already stacked only piled higher and higher against them…

“Julian…” The word dangled in the air between them. “Let’s step outside. I want to talk to you, and this isn’t… ideal.”

Angela was officially the greatest friend on the planet. Some sort of boy-whisperer. The will power it took for Julian to not bury her face in to his shirt was strained. Doubly so at soft touches. She was suddenly wondering why it was so damned important that he made the first move, because he was asking to be kissed and dragged to a nice dark booth for a repeat performance of the kissing.

He wanted to step outside. Somewhere quiet and alone. Whatever Angela said to him had to be genius. “All right.” Her tone was soft and flirty, not one she had the courage to use on him until now. She stepped back to take his hand and let him lead the way. He was pensive and she could feel it, but she was so preoccupied with trying to picture how the discussion would go that she wasn’t thinking about why.

“My world doesn’t revolve around Julian’s love life!” Angela complained, following after Leo. At the bar she slid in to a seat, a look of realization dawning across her face. She groaned and rolled her eyes, then her forehead hit the bar counter. When she straightened, she seemed to accept the fact.

“Okay, right now it does. I’m kind of an asshole and she’s the buffer between me and our other friends, so no Julian means no social life for ME, which means I spend all summer studying and taking the SATs, WHICH BY THE WAY is the shittiest way to spend summer when you’re sixteen and super cute.”

Angela propped her elbow up on the bar, her chin in her hands as she stared down Leo and tried to figure him out. “And no, gentlemen AREN’T my type. I can’t figure out why she even likes him because she hasn’t given me any reasons besides cute and sweet. THAT’S gonna wear off in two months, tops. That shit only gets you so far, then you spend the next few months realizing he’s been keeping an assload of secrets and doesn’t love you enough to trust you.”

“So whatever. Now why are YOU all pissy? And don’t just say “Michael’s a dick”. You might as well tell why. We’re going to be in-law besties now.”

“Yeah, hey, two scotches. Neat. Thanks,” Leo was already putting in an order with the bartender, flashing his ID and leaning his hip against the bar. He cast a look Angela’s way when she sidled up next to him, drumming his fingers on the slick bar top surface. “You know, if you want to talk about your boyfriend issues, I promise I’ll only laugh at you if you deserve it.”

The way he was staring right back at Angela with eyebrows ever so slightly quirked, it said pretty clearly that he wasn’t the only one being dissected here. And he was a quick study. It didn’t take long for him to double back to the Michael conversation, though.

“Whatever your nameless ex did to you,” he told her flatly, “Julian would be better off in your shoes than her own right now. You have no fucking idea. That is the honest-to-God truth, but it’s no use saying anything because it’s too late now. Nothing anyone says or does is going to stop those two from… interacting. It’s going to be sickening.”

His hand waved sweepingly before returning to the edge of the bar top, and his knuckles turned white where he gripped it.

“Your friend’s loverboy ruined my life. Dick isn’t really the right word.”

The air outside the club was cool and refreshing. Smells of sweat and cologne and liquor faded away, replaced by traces of dead leaves, gasoline fumes, and recent rain- and from somewhere not too far away, wood smoke. Michael took a deep, cleansing breath and lifted his face toward the night sky. Even with the light pollution, he could make out a few dim stars between the wisps of remaining clouds. A club parking lot was perhaps not the most romantic of venues, but it had its highlights.

Still, he thought perhaps it would be better to have this conversation in his car. Fingers still twined with Julian’s, he led her over to the silver DB5, letting the silence stretch just a few minutes more while he mulled over which words to start with.

“Julian,” he finally settled on, “I want to speak with you about something else, but… the first thing that I need to tell you is that Leo was contacted by one of our missing friends tonight. That’s why he showed up here.”

“Oh great, that makes me feel real good. I just used my hookup powers for evil?” Their drinks were set down and she plucked hers up. Angela took a swing and swished it around in her mouth. The wrinkling of her nose suggested she wasn’t sure if she liked it or not, but the shrug she gave as she leaned back in her seat and took another drink indicated she didn’t care.

“On the bright side, if it does go horribly wrong, you’re just to much to blame as I am. For the dick that ruined your life, you hanging around him and helping him out doesn’t exactly give the right that guy is a douche signals.” Angela rest her arm on the back of her chair, eying Leo thoughtfully. He didn’t seem to be talking from the perspective of a jealous guy, which made her worry just a little bit.

“So I guess you are making nice because oooooooff. Hmm. Family loyalty? Obligation? Blackmail? Mutual necessity? You might as well tell me now, so I don’t have to start snooping. That way we can jump the fun parts of trash talking and juicy secrets.”

“Oh.” Julian nearly stopped walking. That wasn’t quite the conversation she was expecting and it kind of put a cold splash of reality back in to her daydreaming. The entire reason for their meeting and her adventures in psychic visions was still a thing. She almost forgot all about it when she decided to use it for finding her parents.

And him being cute. That was a pretty big distraction too. Cute and probably unobtainable, despite misleading signs!”

Julian buried her disappointed and focused on what was more important. Her crushing shouldn’t be trumping missing people. “That’s good news, though, isn’t it? They are okay and you have an idea of where they are?”

“You wouldn’t understand.” Snorting, Leo tipped back his drink and downed the whole thing in one go. If he felt the burn, he sure didn’t show it. “And even if you would, I can’t tell you. Let’s just say I can’t break my promises when Michael’s concerned.”

As if it had suddenly just dawned on him that she was there, he gave Angela an exasperated look and folded his arms over his chest. His head tilted to one side, his eyebrows furrowing.

“You know, I don’t remember when we became bosom buddies. I’m sure Michael’s told you plenty about me. And I’m equally sure it’s all true. Why would you take my word for anything? Are all the teenagers in this town allergic to common sense, or is it just you and Jules?”

The way that Julian’s heart sank was visible in her eyes, and Michael wished very much that he hadn’t needed to make it sink at all. In an attempt to soften the blow, he gently squeezed her hand and soothed her knuckles with the pad of his thumb. But he limited himself to that. Anything more and they would diverge into another topic, and he’d have caused the hurt for nothing.

“I’m glad to know that they’re alive,” he answered slowly, “but the way that she contacted him… They’re in trouble.”

It had been a spell, Leo had told him. (Michael wasn’t entirely sure yet whether that was a good sign or a bad one. If she were in true dire straits, Tasha would not have been able to work any kind of witchcraft; on the other hand, had she been safe, a text or call would have sufficed.) It was part of the code that Leo and Tasha had devised for situations where normal means of communication were not possible: colored pieces of paper would appear in Leo’s hand, each color bearing a different hidden message. So when Leo had pulled the yellow slip of paper from his pocket, he’d known right away what it meant.

“I’m in danger, and I can’t get away.”

“It’s as I feared,” murmured Michael. The car was a mere few feet away now, and he hastened to usher Julian inside, opening the door for her before he reluctantly released her hand. “Someone else is involved, someone who has them captive. Someone who can block magic. We’re not going to get them back without a fight.”

He tightened his hold on the car door, staring into Julian’s eyes. Michael couldn’t imagine what he would do if any harm came to her now.

“Julian, this is too dangerous.” His voice was barely more than a whisper. “I don’t think you should be involved anymore.”

“Sweetie, when have teenagers ever had common sense? All we think about is sex and breaking rules out of spite.” He talked about teenagers as if he wasn’t one, which she found hilarious. He had said you wouldn’t understand just like every other angsty teenage boy on the planet.

Angela grinned, shifting in her seat and casually sipping her drink. “I told you, we’re besties now. As it turns out, the only thing Michael said about you is that you hate him. Julian, on the other hand, has blabbered all kinds of fun things. You are now the number three topic of conversation. It’ll get better though, once all the crush stuff has run it’s course, and when you stop acting like a dick.”

“Iiiii’m already perfect, though.” she chirped, cast a big wide smirk. “Go ahead, test me! Give me something to help with or let me in on the secret. In exchange I’ll tell you anything you want to know about anything. If I don’t know the answer, I can find it. It’s my special power.”

Dammit. Now she really wanted to kiss him again. Julian didn’t know if she should be annoyed or amused. Instead she sighed, rolling her eyes to look at the sky.

“It’s too late, I’m already in it.” She rest a hand on the car door, just in case he got the idea to fuss her in to the car before she could finish. “I couldn’t just stand back and not do anything when someone is in trouble. Especially when there is a chance I can do something.”

Pausing, she let out a huff and chewed on the inside of her lip. Her opposite hand reached out to straighten and smooth out the collar of his shirt. True, she didn’t like the idea of things getting dangerous. Walter the witch was an all too real hint at what could happen if she kept going in this direction. But Michael’s friends weren’t the only thing at stake. It was selfish reasons she wanted to stay involved and learn what she could, but it important to her. As wonderful as Michael as being, he didn’t get to decide.

“I’ll be as careful as I can. So tell me what I could do. What do you need from me, and I will try my hardest to learn how to do it.”

“I’m not your friend,” argued Leo, but there wasn’t any heat in it. He still didn’t look happy, mind, but he wasn’t glaring at her or flipping her off or even just walking away.

His eyes flicked toward the door of the club and back to Angela. A moment later he was fishing his cell phone out of his pocket and thumbing out a text, leaning back on his elbows against the bar. Leo had a talent for radiating nonchalance when he wanted to, and apparently right now was one of those moments. He wasn’t even looking at her anymore.

But he was talking to her.

“I have to be careful what I say. But I’ll tell you one thing: Michael and I used to be close when we were kids. Honestly? The guy was practically my brother. You know how you were saying that your life revolves around Jules and her teen drama right now? Well, my life revolves around Michael and his shit. Has for a long time and I can’t get away from it. And he’s the one who made sure I couldn’t. Imagine if your best friend screwed you over. What do you think you would you do, Ms. Snappy Answer?”

“If you really want to help, you’ll need to know how to read people,” Michael told her with extreme reluctance, letting go of the car door to rest his hand at her waist. “Be able to tell whether they are lying, what they’re feeling… and recognize when they aren’t human, or if they’re a witch. Leo said that he thinks you can do that already- to a degree- but you’ll need to be very sure.”

He could feel her heartbeat through his palm, even with his point of contact so far from a pulse point. It was a fluttering, delicate rhythm that set his nerves on edge. His hand spanned so far around her slim waist that his thumb was practically brushing her navel. One of the streetlamps lining the parking lot was close enough to cast light on her face, shining off of her wide eyes and bringing her youthful features into stark clarity.

Michael wanted to put her somewhere safe and never let her out of his sight.

“I don’t like it,” he said in a soft voice. “Julian, you’re… You’re very important to me.”

“That bad, huh.” she sounded sincerely empathetic. Which was a far cry from Angela’s usual tone. She tried to think of a moment she was betrayed by a friend, and honestly even the crap that happened with her ex didn’t really invoke those kind of feelings, despite how pissed she was. Even Margrit and her one hundred and one ways to be a pain in the ass didn’t do the trick. Then there was Julian. That was just impossible.

“There’s the problem, I can’t imagine it. Not with Julian anyway. She’s just one of those weird nice people you can trust. Like, REAL omglifeordeath kind of trust. …Holy crap! Trying to think of how that would happen is breaking my brain!” Angela was trying to think of real situations and her imagination was spinning off in to weird territories of ghostly possession or vengeance. She was pretty sure she never did anything to Julian that would call for vengeance.

Unless Michael did end up being a super asshole. That might deserve some revenge.

Angela finished her drink and set the glass aside. Her expression was somber and a little bit annoyed. “You’re a real pain in the ass, no wonder you drive her nuts! You make people THINK about things. I think you just need a trust buddy. So bestie, Hi. I’m your new trust buddy. When you are in the Angela-bubble, you are safe and betrayal free!”

“Now lets talk about something that isn’t going to make me paranoid. If I go out there now screaming about STRANGER DANGER with nothing but your word for it, she’s not going to listen to me.”

Julian wanted to lean back, but that would have made for an incredibly ungraceful tumble in to the car. Here he was talking about how she needed to read people and feelings, but she was so painfully self-aware it was hard to think about anything else but her own. She nearly bit in to her cheek from nerves, and only just stopped herself from breaking skin at the mention of Leo and remembering how that might be a problem.

She wanted to tell him to shut and deal with it, to forget about everything and just kiss her. She wanted to agree with him, that it was all too much and that it was better if he handled things and kept her safe. There were too many things she wanted to say and do, that it was all just a muddled mess.

Except for that one thought. She was very important to him.

“Then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll read people. I know you won’t let anything happen to me.” she muttered with a wide, reassuring smile. “You don’t have to worry. If it gets too much for me I’ll tell you.”

“Sorry, I don’t trust anyone. Let alone people I’ve had, what, three conversations with. Thank you very much for making me laugh, though.” Jamming his phone back in his jacket, the other teen gave her a very clearly false smile. “I’m pretty sure I’ve failed to cockblock the PG romance novel scene that is almost definitely under way in the parking lot at this very moment, so yeah, let’s talk about something else. Please.”

“Promise me.”

Michael cupped Julian’s chin in his fingers, tilting her face up to better meet his gaze- and to better illuminate her in the street lamp’s glow. In the light was where Julian Hollinger ought to be. She was light, and sweetness, and all things that Michael was not and could never become. And yet here he was, dragging her into the darkness with him all the same.

If only taking it all back were as simple as arranging her beneath a street lamp.

“…Come here,” he coaxed, and angled her with ever such care until she was hemmed between Michael and the car. It was so easy to move her; she yielded in an instant. His thumb still pressed to her jawline, he ducked his head- slowly, very slowly- and brushed his lips across hers in a chaste kiss. Michael’s eyes stayed open all the while, not willing to miss even the most minute detail of her reaction to him. This moment had been building and building for weeks… and Michael wasn’t going to refuse this any longer.

“You deny it now, but later you’re going to be calling me up saying stuff like Angie, I need help punching my cousin in the dick! or my personal favorite, Help me! I’m bored and without something to do I wind up in jail! Yeah, you seem like a end up in jail type.” she mused out loud. Angela was pretty confident she’d win him over, since he hadn’t ditched her yet. Michael, she knew, was only making nice with her because of Julian. Leo didn’t have to.

“New topic, then. We’ll talk about me since that’s my favorite topic. I haven’t been fired from my current job yet, which is a shock even to me. I am obviously single and looking, thus open to suggestions if you want to be a bro and introduce me to someone that HASN’T ruined your life.” She eyed him up and down for a second. “But not any leather loving badboys. In fact, don’t send me after ANYONE brooding, I am so done with that.”

“Oh, I also enjoy conversations about astrophysics, but only with people I have no intentions of making out with. That’s a conflict of interest. You will now give me Leo-stats. I already know you can dance like it ain’t nobody’s business, that you like classic rock and classic cars, and you enjoy getting on people’s nerves.”

There were those chills again. Running right up her spine and cutting off circulation in her brain. She knew it was going to be a kiss, but it still didn’t prepare her for the dizzying feeling. Her eyes fell closed at some point and an inaudible sigh slipped out. Tentative fingers curled in to his shirt, almost as if she were afraid he was going to pull away if she moved.

When the kiss broke, her eyes still haven’t open, but her smile was daydreamy and wistful. “I promise.” she murmured soft. Julian might have promised him anything if he asked her right then.

“You never give up, do you?” Arching one eyebrow at her, Leo folded his arms over his chest and stared. “Well kudos for being persistent. You want some stats? Fine. I’ve only been to jail once, I like more music besides just rock, and I wouldn’t trust you around any friend of mine. Someone would get eaten alive.”

Suddenly, he grinned like someone had come along and flipped on the lights upstairs.

“Oh yeah,” he added in a sly drawl. “And I mean that literally. You know, since I’m a vampire.”

Their lips still only inches apart, Michael let out a soft sigh, his hand moving to cradle her cheek. Her skin was flushed and warm to his touch. He liked that he could do this to her, could make her turn rosy and shiver with such sleight contact. It was… heady.

And yet, there were things which needed to be said.

Taking her hands in his own, he twined their fingers together and held fast. Though he must put at least the illusion of distance between them for the moment, he was unwilling to break all contact. Perhaps he should have taken a step back… but he didn’t. He didn’t want to.

“Why?” he at last breathed aloud the question which had weighed so much on his mind these last few weeks. “I’m not… There are things that I cannot be for you. I’m not truly alive, Julian, not like you are. I can protect you, but I’m also putting you in danger. And I’m older than you. Much older.”

What a relief. Angela liked trouble-Leo way better than troubled-Leo. Seriousness was just not her cup of tea. She laughed out loud and swatted a hand at him.

“Yeah? You’re a vampire, and I’m a genius.” she smirked and giggled. “Neither of which belong in a dance club. We should be playing chess in one of those vampire dens. You know, one of those weird places where everything is covered in cheap velvet and people are dressed in their favorite trench coats and drinking grape juice from wine glasses.”

Angela went silent for a second, then looked completely disturbed. “Oh man, it’s sad that that actually sounds fun right now. We could dressup like virgins and see how many of those assholes try to thrall us with their crazy contact lenses. Goooooood, I need a social life!”

Michael asked legitimate, valid questions. Ones she had thought about… in passing. Julian knew what was smart and what was logical, but none of it seemed to hold up to what she wanted. The potential of danger didn’t compare to this. Standing in the moonlight, holding hands and being close to someone. Someone that actually worried about it would all affect her.

“Age, I forgot about that. I guess we should drop the entire thing.” she teased softly, her wistful smiling shifting to a grin. “I’m old enough to understand consequences. I know this isn’t… really the smartest of ideas. But… I feel how I feel? I could worry about all the terrible ways this can go wrong, or I could just be happy you’re here.”

Julian bit in to her lip as her smile faded and her expression turned more serious. “You can tell me no and I will understand. I’ll still help you.”

Her suggestion was met with a downright sinister laugh and a matching smirk. The way Leo was looking at her now suggested she’d just earned herself some major Leo points.

“No,” he argued, “It sounds fun because it’s a great idea. I’m holding you to that, so you’d better start picking out your best white dress or unicorn sweatshirt or whatever. We’re going goth-baiting. …But not right now.”

Pushing away from the bar, he held out his hand and wiggled his eyebrows.

“Come on, Angie,” Leo mocked. “I’m sick of hearing you complaining about lacking a dance partner. And we are- as you pointed out in a display of your massive, genius brain at work- in a dance club. So let’s dance.”

She was telling him the truth, Michael knew. Julian was simply that kind of person. She would hide away her heartbreak, would selflessly aid him in finding his friends despite the hurt. It would crush her, but she would do it. For him.

He didn’t want to put her through that. He’d known what he was doing when he’d brought her out here, and he’d known that he wouldn’t tell her no.

He wanted that smile back.

“That wasn’t a no,” he murmured, and once again he kissed her- and this time his lips lingered on hers for several seconds more, his thumbs brushing against the inside of her wrists. He gave her a small smile when he broke contact again, although his tone remained serious. “But I want to do this… properly. I want to take you out on a real date, just you and me.”

Angela’s arms went up in the air. “WOO! About damn time!” She jumped off her chair and landed safely on her heels, which belied her usual lack of gracefulness. His hand was grabbed and off she went, dragging him behind her to the dance floor, despite the dragging being unnecessary. She elbowed people out of the way mercilessly when they wouldn’t move as fast as she wanted.

The DJ was thrown a pair of thumbs-up, a gesture of a job well done in Angela’s scheme of the night. That resulted in the guy looking incredibly confused and Angela cackling. She threw herself in to dancing with delighted enthusiasm. There was no pretending that she was a dancer, or pretenses about it. She just enjoyed it.

“We’ll have to go after next week!” she chirped over the music. “My first dance class with Julian is Tuesday. I know just the place too, it’s the STUPIDEST damn cliche venue. You think I should try a southern accent? Oh nuh, mistah vampaiah, ah ain’t nevah been inna place like this! Please dun drink mah blud!” Accents were also on the list of things Angela was not good at.

Another kiss and Julian was reeling. Rocking gently on her feet and just a little bit breathless. Not a no and a Real Date. This was why she adored him so much, and why it was so easy to be so infatuated so fast. She was a sucker for classic romance, and Michael always knew exactly the right things to say and do.

If he knew she was thinking about skipping the entire thing in favor of dragging him in to his car, he’d probably be shocked and appalled. She giggled out loud at her own thoughts, but thankfully it could easily be seen as her being delighted. And she was! More than delighted, Julian was excited over the prospect of Michael’s idea of a real and proper date.

“I would love to go on a real date with you. Give me a day and I’m yours.”

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