Black Sun 007: A Real First Date (Original Draft)

Black Sun 007: A Real First Date (Original Draft)

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“Give me a day and I’m yours,” Julian had told him. Michael had gathered those words close to his heart, taking them out now and then to observe them briefly over the next few days while he laid his careful plans. Those plans were twofold. His less enjoyable machinations involved coordinating with Leo in their efforts to seek out Colby and Tasha following the unsettling message they’d received; truthfully, Michael much preferred those which brought him to Julian’s doorstep on that Friday evening with a parcel in one hand and a single flower in the other.

“Hello,” he greeted her with a small smile when she answered the door. “I hope you haven’t got any pressing engagements, because I’m taking you out tonight.”

Granted, that much was likely evident from his chosen outfit. Unlike when Michael had taken the girls to that club, tonight he was confident that he was dressed appropriately for the occasion. His gunmetal grey suit and burgundy tie were crisp but modern, and after all… this was a far more formal event.

“May I come in while you get ready, or will I have to wait on your porch all night?” he teased, taking her by hand and presenting her with the flower he’d brought. It was a white lily, still dewy from the flower shop’s spray. The stem was just long enough that she would be able to catch its perfume at that height. He hoped that the gift would please Julian. Michael knew that she’d rather violets or roses, but violets were hardly an appropriate flower for a date and roses were out of the question unless he wanted to be ill. The lily, though… it had made him think of her.

Michael had put a lot of thought into tonight.

Julian didn’t know if she had ever been struck dumb just by the look of someone before, but this definitely counted. Michael in a suit and tie just fit him. That clean, perfectly tailored, immaculate look with dark intense eyes. This kind of stuff didn’t happen in real life. She couldn’t help but smile wide. There was a bit of sass on the tip of her tongue to respond to his unorthodox way of asking her out, but that vanished with his teasing about the porch and in it stead came flush of red to her cheeks.

The single lily smelled divine and was such a simple, beautiful gesture. As she tapped the flower against her nose and moved to allow him inside, she grinned to herself. Lillies might just be her new favorite.

“I’m not sure I have something to wear for this surprise date.” she responded after closing the door. “But I bet I could find something if you give me a hint of where we’re going?”

“I’d thought of that,” admitted Michael. “It would be rude to expect you to find something on short notice, so… I have a present for you.”

He handed her the parcel, pulling at the string and letting the contents spill out.

The dress was pale grey satin and just Julian’s size. Ending just above the knee, it was nonetheless made a bit racy by the strapless neckline and high trimmed waist. Michael would never have presumed to buy something like it without Julian’s asking had it not come with a matching short-sleeved jacket.

She was going to look far too good in it, and for a moment Michael regretted buying it.

She wordlessly mouthed wow, brushing her fingers over the satin fabric. The style was probably more along the lines of something Margrit would pick out to wear than herself, but the bead-work along the wasteline was gorgeous and reminded her of the ballgowns her grandmother used to wear to upscale town events. Of course it was a coincidence that he could find the perfect dress to sparked a fond memory. But in the back of her head, Julian was humming the tune of destiny and was more than pleased.

“This is.. gorgeous, and… stunning, and… I’m going to go get dressed!” It took ALL of her will power not to bounce up and down, squealing to herself as she ascended the stairs. Julian paused for a moment, to look back, if ONLY to keep herself from running up the stairs like a lovestruck idiot. “Um, make yourself at home. I’ll only take a minute.” Then she was gone, zipping off to her room, holding her new prize above her head and spinning in a moment of small personal victory.

Angela HAD to know about this…! But Julian didn’t want to leave her date waiting for too long, and Angela was going to ask a million questions she just didn’t have the answer to yet. Changing her clothes was quick enough, but her hair proved to be impossible. A dress like this deserved the perfect up-do, with every hair smoothed in to place. Unfortunately unless she wanted to spend an hour fighting with hairspray, she just couldn’t get it to sit.

“Fine. If you’re going to slip, you’re going to slip.” she muttered at her reflection as she put on a tinted lip gloss, ignoring the few strands and tendrils that were already trying to wiggle their out. Perfect! …right? As long as he didn’t take one look at her and decide he made a really poor choice in dresses. And girlfriends.

Julian took a deep breath and put on a smile that she hoped was free of nerves, before she started her descent back down the stairs. “I almost put that lily in my hair, but decided in a glass by my bed was a better place to appreciate it.” she said, before stopping at the last two steps.

“What do you think?” she hoped that sounded breezy!

“You’re perfect,” Michael told her truthfully. He lifted his hand to cup her cheek with care, his eyes flickering over her face. “I’m going to be the envy of every man in Silent Pines.”

Then he was stepping away and offering his arm. He’d taken the time needed for Julian to prepare into account, but they were nonetheless going to be late if they didn’t leave soon. He would have all evening to admire her, after all.

“In case you were worried, our first stop is dinner.” Michael wasn’t so far out of touch with human needs as to neglect them, no matter what Leo might accuse him of. (More interesting in that conversation was Leo’s hypocrisy. Michael couldn’t recall the last time that Leo had shown any real concern for a human’s well-being.) “After that… It’s a surprise.”

Perfect! Julian smiled wider. It was taking a lot of effort to be poised, and not getting overly excited like a dumb teenage girl. Though she doubted Michael would shame her for being enthusiastic, bouncy and babbling was just NOT the kind of impression she wanted to give. Things with Michael were so much different than her last boyfriend. Back then she didn’t actually care if she was dressed just right, or if she sounded stupid when she talked. It was easy… but it was also totally lacking that electric chill that ran up her spine every time a little touching was involved.

Like now, when she was accepting Michael’s arm and still feeling that tingle under her skin where he brushed her cheek. Julian affectionately hugged his arm.

“I’m all yours.” she giggled.

The hour and a half spent at Glissando was time well spent. The restaurant was one of the few upscale dining choices in Silent Pines, and Michael found the atmosphere as enjoyable as the food: candle lighting, faux-stone walls, mahogany tables, and dark red accents perfectly suited the traditional Italian menu.

And Julian looked lovely in the candlelight.

He was more than happy to let Julian steer the conversation while he listened attentively and interjected with the occasional question. When she was happy, her whole face illuminated in a way that made him want to hold her close and never let go. Michael worried that she might feel uncomfortable in a formal restaurant, but she looked as at-home as the Queen in Buckingham Palace. And he made sure to offer her a supportive smile whenever she halted.

The food was also excellent. Michael didn’t have to eat, of course- and he didn’t often choose to. But it would have been a crime to waste the beautifully rare bistecca that he ordered.

Now, they were back in Michael’s DB5. It was a beautiful night for a drive; he might have rolled down the windows had he not been mindful of putting Julian’s hard work on her appearance to waste. Instead, he turned on the air conditioning and turned up his CD player. The car filled with the soft sound of the Vogues.

He glanced at the digital clock on the dashboard. It was still early yet; they had a full evening ahead of them.

“You’re friends with Margrit Berkshire, aren’t you?” he asked suddenly, giving Julian a guarded glance.

If the night had ended only with dinner, it still would have been the perfect evening. Yet there was more and Julian was beaming. As she fidgeted with the hem of her skirt, her feet tapping softly along to the music’s melody, Julian ran over the details in her head and how she would retell it all to Angela. About how romantic the candlelight was. On how Michael looked killer in a suit. How he pulled off the entire evening so smoothly, without a hint of sarcasm, awkwardness or hint of force.

In fact, there was a slight pang of jealously from Julian, that he could make everything look so effortless. She wondered if he had the same nervousness, or insecure doubts about pleasing her. If she turned his thoughts upside down the same way he did for hers.

His question about Margrit and the side-look he gave her answered that. Julian cast a reassuring smile as she nodded. “She is. Sometimes she can be… difficult, but it’s just because she’s a little neurotic. Especially with it being her senior year now and all the stress about college.” she paused, giving him a curious look. “Why do you ask?”

“I thought so,” Michael remarked, although a hint of relief crept into his tone. “I ask because she invited me to a party at the Berkshire Estate.”

It had been a long time since Michael had set foot inside that house, but he could picture it in his mind’s eye as easily as if it were only yesterday. How many times had he and Leo played in the corridors as children… and later, attended formal dinner parties like this one? He imagined Julian beside him, hanging off his arm in a ballgown of the era, and found himself barely suppressing a smile. Julian would have utterly stunned the town of Silent Pines, had she been there in those days.

They were nearing their destination now. Michael could see the top of the familiar manor house peeking up from behind the dark silhouetted trees as they turned onto Old Pine Road. More memories stirred, simmering to the surface of his thoughts.

“Father, why must I dance with Georgia Berkshire? She doesn’t care for dancing and nor do I.”

From behind the hardwood desk of his study, Michael’s father regarded him with a severe countenance. William Hightower cut an imposing figure at his full six feet and sixteen stone… but Michael knew it wasn’t merely his father’s size that made him so effective at intimidation. Many a time had he been the target of one of William’s notoriously quelling stares.

“My son,” his father told him then with quiet calm, “your keenness for scholarly pursuits is very well. However, there are other duties you must uphold as the firstborn and only scion of our line. And Miss Berkshire would do very well to learn that lesson alongside you.”

And so Michael had learned. Yet it had all come to nothing in the end…

Julian couldn’t remember the last time she had been to Magrit’s house. Well, actually, she did. It was a couple of weeks before her parents went missing, at the start of her sophomore year. Margrit wanted to have some sort of witch coven bonfire sleepover, but the rain kept them inside. That was probably one of the last few times she hung out with her friends like a normal person.

Now here she was, on the way to a Berkshire party in the company of her vampire boyfriend. Dangerous missions aside, this was the closest she’d been to normal in a long time. He couldn’t have picked a more perfect date.

All of this grinning was making her cheeks hurt enough that she was now trying not to smile. A more demure expression was way more appropriate anyway.

“Excellent choice, Mister Hightower. Although, now that you’ve accepted one of Margrit’s invitations she’s going to expect you to make an appearance to all of them. Are you ready to be our future Prom Queen’s favorite guest?” she teased, and despite her efforts she couldn’t keep the smile off her face.

“For you,” Michael answered with a smile of his own. It was incredibly satisfying to see Julian’s mounting excitement. Even without the tell-tale curve of her mouth, he could read it in her body language: a subtle straightening of her spine, a light shining in her eyes as she stole a glance at the manor, and her fingertips pressing into the car seat in preparation of exiting the vehicle. No detail escaped his notice.

It was just as easy for Michael to catalog the changes time had worked on the estate as they approached. The driveway was paved, of course- and the trees strung with fairy lights, although Michael couldn’t be sure if that was simply for the occasion or a regular fixture- and gone were the old English gardens that had once been Charlotte Berkshire’s pride. He could see a pool house flanking the far side of the house, likely to go hand-in-hand with a large outdoor swimming pool out back. The east wing had been converted into a garage. Much of the building’s exterior had been replaced, but it still retained the old charm under the veneer of a modern polish. Michael was glad for that.

They rolled up behind the line of cars already parked along the drive, wedging behind a Mercedes. Even before Michael got out of his car, he could already pick up the sound of music and voices filtering out the open front doors.

“We’re supporting a good cause this evening,” he informed Julian, opening the passenger-side door and taking her hand. “This party will help fund the restoration of the old train station.”

Margrit had told him about it at great length when she’d extended the invitation. Michael hadn’t had the heart to tell her that she needn’t have bothered trying to sell him on it; he would have donated even if he hadn’t made an appearance tonight.

Despite her problem with overthinking things, and her occasional (completely in her head) awkwardness, Julian fell in to the roll of classy dame with ease. She had plenty of practice thanks to being a part of a founding family, and being a dancer helped a lot in the grace department. Taking his hand, she rose out of the car and fell in to step beside him. Her hands curled around his arm as the headed towards the house. The re-telling was still being scripted in her head, with no detail needing to be embellished. The handsome way he’d smile at her with the perfect mix of confidence and shyness. The way he just knew exactly what she needed and what she would enjoy, as if HE were the psychic and not her.

The only difficult part was letting him lead, to keep herself in check and not take over the date. Michael was an old fashioned sort of person, who clearly got overwhelmed quickly by aggressive personalities. As was proven in his interactions with Angela and his frustration with Leo. Who knows how his conversation with Margrit Berkshire went. Julian was definitely not that caliber of dominating personality, but she found herself wanting to take his hand and tug him around Margrit Berkshire’s house like he was her prize and then in to the nearest closet for some totally inappropriate making out.

She absolutely did NOT want him to think less of her just because she couldn’t control her impulses.

“For all of her… interesting habits… I don’t think Margrit has ever once sponsored a shallow charity. I think it’s her way of making up for terrorizing Silent Pines.” She hugged his arm and laughed softly. “You always know just what I’ll like and please my friends at the same time. How do you do that?”

“I pay attention.” He started scanning the grand foyer the minute that they crossed the threshold, looking for Margrit’s distinctive red curls. He didn’t spot her in the crowd, although he did see a man whom he could guess must be her father from the resemblance. “And Margrit has her heart in the right place, I think, under her… eccentricities. This evening’s affair being a case in point.”

He bit back the question that had been weighing on his mind since he’d found out just how close Julian and Margrit had apparently once been. Why doesn’t she spend much time with Margrit anymore? Is it just because of the tension between Margrit and Angela?

Instead, he tried another tack.

“Besides, I’d like to know your friends better.” He leaned in to press a feather-light kiss on her cheek, mindful of their audience. “Especially now.”

Julian was very aware of how many people were present as they crossed the threshold and mixed in with the crowd. It was the usual sort of thing, being bombarded with dozes of different feelings and impressions. Usually she would just ignore it, the same way she tried to block it all out while she was at school. Tonight, though, she was feeling bold. Michael had gone out of his way to give her a beautiful night. So she intended to reward him with a little taste of what she had been practicing.

Unfortunately, one little kiss on the cheek and she was flying. Trying to tune in to the room was forgotten, and now she was focused right back on him.

“Especially now?” she asked, not being able to resist turning up the charm in her voice. Maybe she could flirt more than a peck on the cheek out of him. “I have a lot of friends to get reacquainted with. That might be several more dates…”

“Dates? I’m seethingly jealous.” Margrit Berkshire had wonderful timing. In fact, it was pretty obvious she knew she was interrupted simply by the smug look on her face. She looked stunning though, which left Julian feeling a bit envious herself. Her red hair was pulled back in to a tight bun, not a single stray hair fell out of place. She wore a satin gown of deep emerald green and the air of a foreign queen. Michael needed this kind of sophistication.

Julian realized this was the first time she had ever been jealous of Margrit. Her moment of stunned silence left the perfect opening for the other girl to continue talking.

“I’ve heard the rumors, but I didn’t actually think it was true. Julian Hollinger having a boyfriend? I was starting to think Angela finally seduced you in to some hedonistic lesbian cult. BUT, oh my god, this dress! You would fill it out better if you ate more, but I have never seen you so well dressed!” Beaming at Michael, Margrit gave him the once over too. “Of course any girl will look beautiful next to someone so handsomely dressed. Will I at least be able to steal you for a dance tonight, Michael? Julian always gets the fun.” she pouted prettily.

“I’m afraid I’m all Julian’s tonight,” Michael answered, amused at Margrit’s antics. “But maybe next time? I’ve been thinking that I should get involved in more community events, and it seems that you’re the source of quite a few.”

He reached into his coat pocket and retrieved a small tin, pressing it into Margrit’s hand. Michael may not have been familiar with Margrit Berkshire’s tastes, but he was fairly certain he’d selected something she’d appreciate.

“A gift for the hostess,” he explained. His eyes slid to Julian, and he slipped his arm around her. It wouldn’t do for her to feel neglected. His palm rested at the small of her back. “Thank you for the invitation. We’ve just been having dinner at Glissando and I may have left the rest of our plans a mystery to Julian until we arrived, but I think she’s not too angry with me.”

“I’ll hold you to that promise, Michael Hightower! And maybe you can convince Julian to help me plan an event again. We used to be a fantastic team, Julian, Silvia and I. …And I suppose Angela as well, when she wasn’t molesting the catering. Mercy isn’t one of the founding families, I know you’re aware, which probably accounts for her total lack of dedication to anything useful.” Margrit’s eyes lit up at the little tin box, of which she greedily plucked from his hand and opened up.

Julian found her voice again, bolstered by Michael’s arm around her. He was hers tonight. Getting insecure about it was crazy. She smiled wide, tugging gently on his sleeve. “I’ll forgive you this time. IF help you help me skirt around my promise of never asking you to dance again by asking me yourself?”

“I suspect that asking me to ask you to dance might count. But I’ll allow it.” Indulgent affection slipped into his voice as he teased Julian. He’d come here expecting to dance anyhow, and the music playing at this event- although still not his first choice- was at least more comfortable territory than the music at the club. Perhaps he’d even be able to make a request.

Meanwhile, Margrit had gotten into her hostess gift. It was nothing too presumptuous, of course, just an assortment of flavored cocoa powders. He’d hazarded a guess as to which varieties Margrit would favor, but there was a safely standard rich chocolate in there as well just in case.

“Is Silvia here tonight?” he asked, a bit hesitant. “Or any of the other Whelans?”

He might have asked about the Polks, had he not learned that the fifth surviving Founding Family had fallen out of societal favor over the years. George Polk was the local sheriff, which counted for something, but the position didn’t garner nearly the amount of respect as it once held.

And anyhow, the goings-on of that family weren’t a concern.

Margrit must have been pleased with her gift, as that smug look returned to her face. Anytime she was pleased, she was smug about it. As if she had something special no one else could have. …in Margrit’s case, that was probably true most of the time. “She couldn’t be here for some silly mysterious reason. We don’t see much of the Whelans. Silvia is the only one we ever see regularly, especially since her older brother left town so suddenly. Oh, how IS Angela handling that these days? I completely forgot to ask her!”

“You should probably keep forgetting to ask her.” Julian warned, but she was still smiling warmly. “She’s been chirping about a few of the boys in the dance class. Though she’s been texting Leo a lot lately, I think he’s her new favorite toy.”

“LEO? Ugh, of course. Leather jacket, naughty boy. She SO has a type.”

“…Naughty boy..? Weren’t you also fli-” Julian remarked, barely keeping the laughter out of her voice.

Margrit actually blushed and looked a bit flustered, but got it together like a pro hostess to interject. “Don’t you get any weird ideas, Julian. I was being friendly to a new face. After all, Owen DeWhitt and I are practically official.” Margrit held up her new prize, giving Michael a wink and an appreciative shrug of her shoulders. “In any case, thank you SO much for the gift. I LOVE hot cocoa. But I need to go charm the money out of some old men before they die. Enjoy the party!”

“Angela’s been texting Leo?” Michael’s pleasant mood was waning. “That’s… not good.”

His eloquence was waning as well, but Leo was simply a difficult subject to discuss. Particularly when it came to Leo’s involvement with women.

“I’ll have a word with her,” he went on shortly. He glanced over his shoulder, as if he could see all the way to the Mercy house from here and catch the communication in action. “And with Leo. I didn’t realize they were talking outside of the few times they’ve met.”

Julian watched Margrit schmooze her way back in to the crowd, turning back to Michael when he seemed a bit perturbed by Angela’s new interest in Leo. Honestly, Julian didn’t blame him at all. The two seemed to share a love for getting on someone’s nerves for sport, and Michael was just the sort of person that would make an excellent target. And that didn’t even take in to account that Leo was a vampire and Angela was a shameless rulebreaker.

She laughed softly and took his hands. “Don’t worry too much about that. I doubt they have much in common beyond being mutually frustrating, so one or both will probably get bored before either of them starts any trouble.” She squeezed and tugged his hands gently.

“You can let me take care of it? If I can spare the world from Margrit and Angela, I can definitely save it from Leo and Angela.”

Michael wished that he shared Julian’s confidence in that matter. He pursed his lips.

“Of course,” he told her. “I’m sure Angela will listen to you.”

Obviously, he didn’t really intend to leave it all to Julian. She was a sweet girl, but she failed to truly understand the situation, and Michael wasn’t about to worry her with the details. He would put an end to Leo and Angela, discreetly. Michael was the only one who could ever keep Leo’s dangerous inclinations in check.

“Let’s put that out of our minds for now.” He tilted his head at Julian, once again struck by how beautiful she looked, and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Will you dance with me, Julian Hollinger?”

“A dance invitation, how unexpected.” She giggled, tossing all plans to let him lead right out the window and stepping backwards to tug towards the dance floor. Julian didn’t have to look over her shoulder to avoid running in to people, not that it crossed her mind to be careful. At least she didn’t try to arrange his hands. Once he was effectively in the middle of the floor with her, too far away from the edge to change his mind without breaking the laws of gentlemanly behavior, the ball was back in his court. Sure it was a little devious, but Julian was sure he’d forgive her.

The music was modern but classy. How Margrit managed to find the perfect playlists that were trendy and not irritate the old suits she invited, Julian would never know. But she was glad that it set just the right tone for dancing with Michael – this time in a way he would actually be comfortable.

“I wanted to show you what I have been learning and this is a good spot for practice. It’s easier to do when I’m doing something else and not thinking directly about it. …It really isn’t much though.” she admitted, suddenly wondering if this was a bad idea. He needed to find his friends, her little tricks might not seem so impressive in the grand scheme of things.

“You’ve been practicing? By yourself?” Michael was torn between grateful surprise and a smidgen of concern. The last few times that Julian had tried honing her gift, things had turned out disastrous. On the other hand, she would truly be invaluable in locating Tasha and Colby if she could improve her focus.

He took her hand, tugging her closer, and started to gently lead her in a slow dance. It was almost like he’d imagined it. For a moment, the electric lights and contemporary music faded as Michael was transported back a hundred years in time.

“Show me,” he murmured, leaning in.

“It’s less like practicing and more like… listening?” Paying more attention might have been a better way to describe it. But with him leaning in closer and her tilting her head and debating how much trouble she’d be in if she kissed him and just said THAT was what she wanted to show him – her idea of distracting herself was working too well.

Focus! …er, focus on not focusing! She tried to remind herself. The smitten look was probably still all over her face, but at least her head was getting back in the game. “The more I think about “being psychic” the more impossible it is. And I’ve always thought about not thinking about it, because things get really uncomfortable when I get caught off guard. But the other day someone mentioned I have always just sort of blurted things out anyway, which I never realized I did. So I figured the best way to go about it is to just let it be. Don’t try to, don’t try not to, just… let it do whatever it’s doing.”

She took in a deep breath and let it out again. “…soooo I am practicing acceptance and listening. If that makes sense?” THAT’S what she was trying to get at, hoping all of that made sense to him. She wasn’t sure if it even made sense to her. It seemed more contradictory than helpful. Ignoring what was happening but also paying attention.

“I know Margrit is about to get red wine all over her dress-” Right on cue there was a shriek across the room and a few murmurs. “Someone dancing’s grandmother just died, they don’t know yet.” she continued glancing around with a frown to see if she could tell who but that wasn’t occurring to her. “That fell off the ceiling once in the middle of a party a long time ago.” She glanced up at the chandelier. “Way before I was born, because I definitely don’t remember that. Uhm-” Her step faltered, which was something that just never happened while she was dancing. Julian’s grip tightened on his jacket as if she thought she was about to tumble over and she was worrying the inside of her cheek. “Something else…”

Watching Julian work was fascinating. While Michael was familiar enough with the way witches worked, psychics were something else entirely. The Hollingers of his day had been incredibly powerful, and it was beginning to look as if that gift had not diluted as much as he’d previously assumed.

She’s picking up on more than she should, he realized, with a growing awe. She may not remember that chandelier falling, but I do. I was at that party.

And then, it occurred to him, Is she reading that from me?

Before that idea could trouble him any further, Julian stumbled. Michael clutched her elbows, snapping to attention.

“What’s wrong? Julian? What is it?”

If he hadn’t been so intent on her face, he might have noticed that they were being watched.

She went too far. When she had tried this at school, it hadn’t been quite so overwhelming. Maybe it was different here because the Berkshire Estate was so old and the guests were equally as ancient. There was too much going on coming in too fast, and the bad feeling was freaking her out. She didn’t want a repeat of the mausoleum or Michael would think this was too hard for her. She was going to need him and Leo if she wanted to learn.

“It- I think I just need to sit down.” she admitted, her features softening as she shook her head. “There’s just a lot of people here, I’m fine.”

“You need air,” Michael told her firmly. Spotting the nearest exit, he led her toward a pair of french glass doors, keeping her close to his side as they wove through the crowd.

The doors opened out onto a deck by the pool house. The area was deserted but for the lone Aqua Critter skimming its way across the swimming pool in laps, but the overhead motion sensor lights came on when they stepped outside. The light reflected on the water, casting strange shapes.

“Better?” he asked, helping Julian to sit on a wicker loveseat. He knelt down in front of her, clasping her hands. He might have kissed her, but first he had to ensure that she was recovered.

You are so handsome. Was her immediate thought. That silly, dumb girl thought was what finally had her breathing an audible sigh of relief. Julian hadn’t realized how much she had tensed up until now, with her limbs feeling like useless noodles. Getting away from the crowd helped. Having him kneeling in front of her like a concerned knight was even better.

She tried desperately not to smirk. Instead just nodding with a reassuring laugh. “Better. I guess I got a little too ambitious. It still kind of freaks me out a bit, especially when it’s…” Julian wasn’t sure how to explain it. And she definitely didn’t want to go poking around to figure it out for the night.

“I do feel better though.” she reaffirmed with a wide smile. The were stars, the moon, a quiet intimate seat by the pool and Michael being Michael. This was a million times easier to handle than a lesson with Leo.

“Good.” He flashed a relieved smile. “I appreciate what you’re doing for me, Julian, but please don’t push yourself too hard. I couldn’t bear it if you were hurt on my account.”

The lights flickered out again as they sat there, plunging them into near-darkness. Although Michael could see quite clearly even in the low lighting, it allowed him to focus on other things… like how Julian’s pulse was pounding, or that she smelled like shampoo and maybe a subtle perfume- but not the rose oil; she’d remembered. Underneath the synthetic odors were the faint traces of skin and everything else that made up Julian Hollinger. Everything that made her human.

Michael wondered if she thought about the fact that he was wired to drink human blood.

He wondered if she’d let him, if he ever tried… not that he would. That wasn’t who Michael was. Sighing, he closed the distance, his lips seeking hers in the dark.

He was brought up short as the deck was suddenly bathed in light once more.

“Well,” a hoarse male voice cut in. “Looks like I was right after all. Does he know you’re someone else’s leftovers, little witch? Normally his kind don’t like to share.”

“He WASN’T my boyfriend and I wasn’t his dinner!” Again, WHY was that the first thing to be blurted out of her mouth? Walter the murder witch had just ruined what could have been the most romantic kiss of her life.

Walter the murder witch.

The murder witch.

Julian made a squeaky sort of sound in the back of her throat. Had he stalking after her? Was it a coincidence? She had the distinct impression she was going to pass out from horror, so her mind went whirling over what possible weapons were at his disposal. She brought nothing. Her only hope was shoving him in the pool and praying the maniac couldn’t swim.

But there was Michael.

“Walter is the witch from the store.” she explained quickly, silently cursing that her voice shook a bit. She meant to stand too so she could grab Michael and run, but her noodle legs were being completely unresponsive.

It turned out that Julian didn’t need to stand up, because Michael was on his feet and shielding her with his body in an instant.

“Apologize at once,” he told Walter in a cold, flat voice. “You’ve mistreated Miss Hollinger twice now. I won’t forgive a third time.”

He sized Walter up dispassionately, noting the grey hair and the tiny bit of pudge that hung around his gut despite what looked like an otherwise athletic body underneath the suit. Not a physical threat, certainly. The suit… That indicated Walter might actually have been invited to this event. He was a resident of Silent Pines then. Possibly even a wealthy one, or at least well-connected. Older, connected, and a witch. And they’d encountered him at the Seventh Star…

“I don’t apologize to dead people. Or snacks.” Walter gave Julian a significant glare over Michael’s shoulder. “You should know better, girlie. He’s using you. I don’t like seeing a little sister being led astray.”

He thinks she’s a witch, Michael realized. And that matters to him.

“…Her gifts are none of your business.” He was careful with his phrasing. “Not every witch in this town is your jurisdiction.”

“Ah.” Walter smiled, stepping closer. “See, that’s where you’re wrong, you smug bastard. This town is my jurisdiction. And I don’t like seeing vampires in my town.”

Julian’s stomach churned and was sure she’d throw up if she opened her mouth. ESPECIALLY when she earned a glare. …but he was warning her rather than threatening. At least, the threats weren’t aimed at her. He thought she was a witch, thus someone to be protected from evil vampires, and that could be useful if she could think quickly. Anyone could walk out on this, and Julian didn’t want to see someone get murdered. And what if it was Margrit? Or Michael? Walter clearly wasn’t letting this vampire thing go.

She finally found the strength to rise, though she hadn’t shuffled out from behind Michael and her face was pale. Julian wasn’t meaning to hide behind him, but it was easier to subtly look around go a good witch-clonking weapon. There were a few good sized rocks, and the long-rodded net used for cleaning leaves out of the pool. Those might be options.

“You don’t have a problem killing people, though. But I do.” At least now she sounded a bit braver, even if she didn’t feel it. With one hand she clutched on the back edge of Michael’s jacket so he’d know exactly where she was (and telling herself it wasn’t for her own reassurance). “Someone could walk out here any moment.” she warned. “Add another name to you list and leave it alone for now?”

Julian doubted pleading reason was going to work any better this time than it did last time, but it was worth a try.

“Don’t push your luck.” Walter’s voice turned sharp as he stepped closer, slipping his hand into his coat. “I still think you’re better off dead if it means you’ll stay that way, kiddo. Or mercy-killed before they take your mind. Did you know they can do that?”

“You’re the one pushing your luck.” Michael was watching Walter’s hands. He could feel Julian tugging at his jacket, and he was overwhelmed with the desire to get her out of there and safe. “Julian is right. There are too many witnesses here. I know you had an… altercation with Leo. He’s rash, but I can handle him. I promise that you have nothing to worry about from either of us.”

The ending of that sentence was left unspoken, merely implied: Unless you make the first move.

Walter grinned. With his high cheekbones and blacked-out eyes, he bore a striking resemblance to a skeleton, as if he were the real walking dead here.

“I was talking with Margrit Berkshire,” he remarked, pulling a small knife out of his pocket and toying with it. “She told me your name is Michael Hightower. Is that right?”

There was a quick, angry intake of breath and Julian nearly stepped around Michael, pointed a finger and screamed Stay away from Margrit Berkshire! But that would probably get the brush off too. Julian was just not intimidating enough to a guy that looked like he rose up out of a fresh grave. Now he had a knife too, picking up one of those rocks was not going to work.

“Lovely! He’s Michael, I’m Jules, and you’re Walter.” she repeated the phrase HE had said the first time they met. “We’re not going to do this here.” she continued softly. Julian released the back of Michael’s jacket, only to grab his hand instead. Then she was slowly stepping backwards and gently tugging him to come with.

“That’s not your decision to make.”

Walter’s words were followed by a soft whirring noise. Suddenly, as if by magic, the knife was pressed to Julian’s throat.

And as it floated there on its own accord, bobbing slightly, it became clear that it had gotten there entirely by magic.

“Wrong move, Walter,” Michael hissed.

Too quick for Julian’s eye, Michael snatched the knife by the blade and hauled it away from her neck. He had to struggle with it, but his strength was a match for Walter’s magic, and all he had to do now was break the witch’s focus.

He lunged.

Walter started to chant something in Latin, but Michael got to him first. He slammed Walter into the wall of the pool house, pinning him like an insect. The knife jerked spasmodically in his hand, so Michael bashed Walter’s head against the siding. Unfortunately, the element of surprise wouldn’t last long, and there were the party guests to consider. His upper hand was going to be short-lived.

“Julian,” he pleaded with her, “Go get in the car and lock the door. I’ll be right behind you.”

That’s when Julian passed out. Or she for a split second she THOUGHT she did. There was a moment of terror, waiting for that feeling of steel to pierce through her neck. A feeling she still VERY much remembered from her strange mausoleum flash. Instead she was having a whole different kind of deja vu. Where a witch was getting crushed by an angry vampire.

“Walter doesn’t die today.” she mumbled, without really thinking about what she was saying. Michael’s words were still registering. Julian only hesitated for a minute, before she turned heel and ran back for the car.

She didn’t stop running until she was in the passenger’s seat with all of the doors locked. Her hands went to the top of her head as she grappled with the urge to cry, the motion finally toppling her hair out of it’s hasty bun. The worst part is that it wasn’t even the fear of being killed that upset her. It was the helplessness.

It wouldn’t happen like this the next time she met Walter. It wouldn’t.

“You’re not going to kill me,” rasped Walter, unknowingly echoing Julian’s prediction. His eyes flicked back to normal, the black swatches of his particular brand of magic fading to reveal unfocused pupils (Michael had smashed his head fairly hard). “You won’t want to explain the mess. And you’re wondering how much I know about you.”

“You know nothing,” Michael answered smoothly. “But you’re right. I’m not going to kill you today.”

When Michael joined Julian in the car, he didn’t speak at first. He took just long enough to strap Julian’s seat belt on for her and then he was burning rubber out of the Berkshire’s driveway so quickly that it might as well have been Leo driving.

“He won’t follow us,” he said at last, as they hit the main road. “He’s alive, but I made sure of that. Julian, I’m… I’m so sorry.”

She had been clenching her teeth so tightly her jaw now hurt, and twisting her hair in her hands from over her shoulder. She had meant to put it back up, but somewhere between trying to swallow a lump of tears and furiously plotting ways to conceal weapons she got lost in her thoughts. It wasn’t until Michael’s apology that she shook herself out of the trance, turning to stare at him like he was mad.

“I was going to apologize to you.” she stated, an embarrassed look of guilt across her features. Sighing, she finally stopped torturing her hair to clench her hands at her lap and stare out the window. “You have enough problems to worry about without my new nemesis making things even worse. I made that problem, I should-” Another sigh. This time she did tear up. “I should know what to do. You’d think I’d know exactly what to do…”

“Julian, no. This isn’t your fault. If Leo and I hadn’t come here, Walter would never have bothered you.” He took her white knuckles in his hand and squeezed gently. “You’ll be safe, I promise. Please don’t cry.”

This was precisely what he had tried to warn her about, that night outside the club. By becoming romantically involved with him, Julian was putting herself in the line of fire. He’d known that lesson would be learned one way or another, but he hadn’t thought it would be so soon.

“You’re coming home with me tonight,” he vowed. “Please don’t try to argue. I won’t be able to bear it if you aren’t within reach, and I… I can’t leave you alone now.”

And he could hardly ignore that Walter knew he was a Hightower. Michael had already texted Leo, instructing him to keep an eye out for the witch. Between the two of them, Julian and David both would be well-protected.

Julian didn’t have the energy to argue over whose fault it was, especially when he was being so sweet about it. She brushed the back of her hand against her eyes quickly, erasing any evidence that she might have been ready to cry and glad she hadn’t opted to wear any extravagant makeup or it would have been smeared all over her face.

“I would have asked you to stay with me.” she admitted with a soft, half-hearted laugh. “I don’t think I can sleep tonight. There’s no way I could even try at home alone.” Julian was going to spend all night worrying about what to do with Walter. And if she fell asleep, she’d just end up dreaming about all the horrible things Walter was probably now planning to do to HER.

Michael wished he knew a better way to comfort her. He squeezed Julian’s hand again. A moment later he frowned; he’d felt a dampness. Peering down, he saw a rivulet of dark blood trickling from under his palm. He recoiled in a hurry and grabbed for the glove compartment.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized again, fishing out a small towel. “I didn’t even notice- I must have cut my hand.”

Thankfully, it was only his blood. Not hers. He remembered snatching the knife by the blade and cursed himself for his carelessness. It should heal up within minutes, of course, but dripping all over Julian was hardly going to help reassure her.

Sonofabitch! Oh god. What. No, crap, don’t freak NOW. Blood didn’t make her queasy, thank gods for that, but it was a dark red reminder just how bad the situation was. There was a witch that wanted her dead rather than seeing her around vampires. Michael was a vampire. He grabbed a knife with his bare hands to protect her. This was so messed up. Why was she doing this.

And she couldn’t even leap across the seat to throw her arms around his neck because he was freaking driving. She could punch something. Or cry again! Damnit, she had just gotten that under control!

On the bright side, at least now she was angry instead of tearful. Julian took the towel from his hand and then grabbed his wrist to hold it still and clean up the blood for him. In the back of her head she was aware it was probably silly, vampires were supposed to heal quickly. But who knew if Walter’s witch blade was cursed or poisoned or not. And the simple act let her feel like she was doing something useful.

“You don’t have to worry so much about me. I have been well trained by brutal teenage girls. I could be vicious if I wanted to be.” she tried to tease and keep her tone light. “Next time we meet Walter maybe I will be protecting you.”

The next time we meet Walter, he’ll be the one who needs protection, thought Michael. But he didn’t voice the words in front of Julian.

When they reached the house, they found Leo lounging on the front steps. He stood up casually to greet them, strolling over to prop an elbow on the hood of the Aston Martin.

“I hear you kids had a real wild night at the sock hop,” he said. “How’s our good buddy Walter?”

“Incapacitated,” answered Michael. He stepped out of the car and plucked Leo’s arm away from the shining surface before it could leave any smudges.

“But not before he roughed you up some, huh?” Leo’s eyebrows rose. Michael followed his gaze down to where the towel was still wrapped around his hand.

“That’s nothing,” he corrected Leo’s assumption, circling around to open Julian’s door. “It’s already healed.”

Leo. She wasn’t sure if she annoyed to see him there, knowing he was going to be a pain about her staying the night, or if she was really glad to see him home and not out finding Walter and turning him in to a bloody Walter-kabob and solving their ‘problem’ in a way Julian really didn’t want to think about right now.

“Thank you.” she murmured softly to Michael as she climbed out of the car. Why the hell was she feeling embarrassed and weird? All of the adrenaline must have been wearing down and leaving her with emotional fallout. She was exhausted.

“I’ll make sure to send Walter your regards. I’m his new favorite witch.” If only she could have thought of something that clever to say to Walter. She tilted her head back and sighed. Why couldn’t she be more… anything!

Leo did a double-take at Julian. His lip curled in a patently false smile. Michael’s hackles rose; something about that look was definitely offensive, though he wasn’t yet entirely sure how.

“What the hell are you wearing, Jules? Was this a costume party? …Is that why Walter thinks you’re a witch now?”

“Has there been any trouble?” Michael cut in, a bit snappish.

“Nope. All clear. My night has been dull, dull, dull.” Leo side-eyed him, a queer expression creeping over his features. “You look like shit, Mike. How much did you bleed before that closed up?”

“Your concern is touching,” he muttered.

“Well, come on, what would I ever do without you? You know I can’t even tie my own shoes.”

Michael wasn’t looking in her direction so Leo got a dark, narrowed eye-glare. She liked this dress. She was itching to waltz right over there on her pretty silver heels and give him one good kick in the ass. To take out all of her frustration and anger and everything else out on him simply because she knew he’d say something else just as annoying and put up a good fight. He was obviously baiting Michael for one.

But she couldn’t do that to Michael. He had gone through so much trouble for her tonight and his reward was a pissy witch. She wasn’t going to make things worse by killing his cousin.

She forced herself to relax again, as much as she could anyway. “Getting some rest is the best idea. Maybe Leo the fashionista has a nightgown I can borrow.”

“I’m fine,” Michael insisted. Had everyone present forgotten that he was a vampire? A little cut on his hand was hardly going to kill him.

“Michael.” Leo’s voice had gone dead sober. “You’re still bleeding.”

“What? That’s impossible.” He held up his hand to prove it. But sure enough, spots of fresh red were blooming slowly across the towel. Blinking didn’t make them disappear, either. Michael’s head swam.

Leo caught him by the shoulders before he even realized he was staggering.

“Well shit,” his cousin swore, grimacing. “Yeah, sure, you’re totally fine. Not poisoned at all.”

Their eyes locked. For a moment, Michael wondered if this would be it. Was tonight going to be the night that Leo betrayed him? He could already see the conflict playing across Leo’s face. He must have seen the opportunity for what it was.

But then Leo was steering him toward the house and waving a hand at Julian.

“He’ll be fine as soon as he eats something. Make yourself at home, Jules.”

She knew it. She KNEW IT. Julian went deathly pale again, her first instinct was to throw her arms in the air ala-angela-style and offer herself as vampire first aid, which was stupid because Leo seemed to have that under control. Her second thought was to ask if Leo intended to feed poor David to Michael, which was also equally as stupid. Finally, she was awash with despair. There was her one opportunity to use her gift and save the day, and she missed it. Having passed it off as a random thought.

Julian trailed after them, hands clenched tight at her sides. If she squeezed any harder her nails would be digging in to her skin. “Are you sure he’s going to be fine?” she asked. This was her fault. How could she fix this. “I don’t- Hrm. …I could do something.”

No,” Michael and Leo snapped in unison, and then exchanged an annoyed glare.

“Julian,” Michael began, trying for diplomacy. “This isn’t your fault, and I would never ask that of you. And I… I don’t drink from live humans.”

“Yeah, he doesn’t bite. Unless you’re a kitten or a blood bag,” Leo supplied helpfully. “It’s all very healthy and normal.”

“Leo.” Michael was not in the mood for this nonsense right now. He saw Leo roll his eyes, but let it slide. Besides, he was too tired to argue. He did, however, push his cousin away long enough to sink onto the couch in his study by his own power.

Her cheeks went a bit crimson. She wasn’t going to offer. …maybe. But it was nice to see they both so quickly shot that option down, in unison no less. Julian might have teased about it if she weren’t still feeling responsible for the entire thing.

Julian very calmly unclenched her fists and held out her hands, looking like she was stuck between gesturing with them or wanting to strangle someone. She probably looked on the brink of having some sort of panic attack, and truthfully even she thought she was about to lose it.

“You have to let me do something.” she pleaded. Struggling to keep her tone soft and even, hoping she could stress how much she really, really needed to do anything instead of being completely useless – withOUT putting Michael under any more duress. “I could make tea?” she offered, grasping for anything.

Michael looked properly remorseful as soon as he saw that Julian was distraught. He’d tried so hard to give her a lovely evening, and this was how it would end? The least he could do was grant her request.

“Of course. Tea would be nice.” He gave her a weak smile. Truth be told, Michael did enjoy a good cup of tea even if it did nothing for him. What he needed right now was something less… traditional.

“You need directions to the kitchen?” Leo asked Julian without so much as glancing at her, his tone breezy. “Because I’ve got to grab your boyfriend a bite to eat, so I don’t have time to give you the tour.”

For Michael’s sake she looked relieved, but she didn’t feel it. “No. I can find it. You take care of Michael.” In her head she was saying some other snappy things. Things that weren’t fair to aim at Leo, because it really wasn’t him they were meant for.

Julian turned and left the room without hesitation. She wanted the kitchen, so she went to the kitchen. It didn’t matter that she had no idea which hall led where and what door was what. She was working on automatic, because if she didn’t she wasn’t going to be able to function at all.

Once she stepped in to the kitchen, it was all about the tea kettle. Julian didn’t take the time to admire how nice the kitchen was laid out. She acquired the kettle, moved to the sink and filled it with water. Then it was whisked over to the stove and put on the heat. Next she was taking out the tea cups and setting them on the counter.

Until the water boiled she was stuck. And being stuck meant thinking. And thinking would lead to freaking out. She placed her arms on the counter and then dropped her head on her arms, trying to take deep breaths.

He’s fine. I’m fine. It’s all fine.

As soon as Julian was out of the room, Leo was crouching in front of Michael with a grim smile.

“Well. Look how the tables have turned. I can’t believe you let a witch get the jump on you. Distracted by your date?”

“I didn’t smell roses,” Michael answered, diligent in his refusal to rise to the bait. “I doubt you’d have fared any better.”

“I could just let you die.” Leo propped his chin in his hand. “I should just let you die. Don’t you agree?”

“You won’t.”

They sat in silence for a minute or two, Leo bristling under Michael’s even, mournful stare.

“Fuck you,” he spat at last, and stalked out of the room. But Michael knew that he’d be back.

He closed his eyes.

“Excuse me,” a familiar voice chimed in from the kitchen doorway, just as Julian was taking the shrieking kettle off of the stove. “There seems to be a crazy girl making tea in my kitchen.”

Leo was all smiles, but something about his eyes suggested that he might be more tired than his usual self. He’d ditched his leather jacket and his shoes at some point, and the grey t-shirt and faded blue jeans and bare feet made him look… younger. Almost normal.

“You don’t need to worry about him,” he continued, coming over and leaning his hip against the counter. “I’ve put him down with a warm bottle of O Neg. He’ll be out for a while, but he’ll wake up feeling better than new. I’m sure he’ll be ready for a second date at the drive-ins in no time. Maybe give you that promise ring.”

“How much would it take to heal YOU if I grab this kettle and crack it against your head?” she asked simply. Good. Michael was okay. He was resting and fine.

…she didn’t feel any better.

The fight went out of her so she kept her hands busy by making a cup of tea for herself. At worst it would still the churning in her stomach. She poured the hot water over a teabag and then set a saucer over the top so it could steep.

Sugar. She needed sugar.

“I did nothing. I stood there like an idiot with no idea what to do. And now I can think of a MILLION things. Not that it’s going to make any difference if all I can do is predict wine accidents and dead old ladies, instead of recognizing OBVIOUS murder witch bad vibes or when I know exactly has happened but don’t KNOW I know.” Julian wrapped her hands around the sugar jar like she was about to strangle it.

“Jesus, Jules. Get a load of the ego on you. Psychic is not the same thing as omniscient.” Leo rescued the sugar jar from her grasp and retrieved a spoon from a drawer. He squinted at the cup. “Are you a one lump or two kinda girl? I’m thinking one is your regular dose, but tonight’s a binge. So, three. Am I right?”

Without waiting for her reply, he started portioning out the sugar, giving it a little swirl.

“Hindsight is always 20/20. Cliche saying, but it’s the truth. If you want to do better next time, take tonight and learn from it. Don’t sit here wailing about what you should have done. I don’t want to hear you feeling sorry for yourself. It’s annoying.”

He stole a look toward the door.

“Besides,” he went on, “you probably want to get it together before Angela shows up. She’s going to need an explanation.”

“I don’t need your stupid, logical advice, so you can take it and stick-” …she stopped mid-sentence a look of complete bewilderment washing over her face. He called Angela. Or texted. Either way, he told Angela and that was…

Her hands were out again, like she wanted to strangle him. But her mouth was twisted up while she chewed her bottom lip. Warring with the urge to grab his head and kiss him on the cheek. It was weird and she didn’t like it. How could she be so furious and so grateful at the same time.

“You’re going to wish you hadn’t done that.” she finally said, untensing and reaching for the cup of tea. Now she was leaning against the counter at the opposite side of him. “I’m probably going to start crying and she’s going to blame you because you’re the only one awake and because you let her in, she’ll never leave.”

There was almost a hint of a maybe tired smile behind her cup as she sipped her tea.

“Yeah, well. Michael’s not going to be thrilled about me inviting her without asking. I’m probably going to be grounded for a week anyway.” He shrugged, but it definitely looked like he was smiling a little wider. He turned to rifle through a cabinet and pulled down a bottle of whiskey. The cap fell off, clattering and rolling across the counter top as Leo shook it experimentally. “You want me to make that into a hot toddy for you? We can add underage drinking to our rap sheets. Yours, anyway. Technically I’m of age.”

That “technically” sounded like a loaded statement. Leo had never actually mentioned his age to Julian. Or many personal details at all, really.

Julian held her cup towards him. “Angela calls it a Hot Angie and uses spiced rum.” She waited patiently for him to pour, shaking her head until there was a more than generous portion topping her off and she nodded her approval.

“Do you EVER feel helpless and out of control, or do you always just go through life being the smuggest son of a bitch?” she asked after a nice, burning swallow. She didn’t know where her tension had gone, but she could breathe again. Angela would be there any moment and band-aid up what was left.

Leo took a swig straight from the bottle, skipping the niceties of teas and cups entirely. He leaned back against the counter, resting his elbows on the marble and taking a little too long to answer.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” He shook his head. “So let’s just agree that I’ve earned the right to be smug and leave it at that.”

It wasn’t a question, but he kept glancing over at her like he expected her to argue. His thumbs were drumming against the silverware drawer.

“Once Angela gets here, I’ll get out of your hair. I’m under strict orders not to leave you alone, so until then you’re stuck with me.”

“That was probably a wise decision. I tend to wander off and start chewing the furniture if I don’t have a sitter.” Julian repeated something he had said when she wasn’t there to hear it, and again she didn’t even know she did it.

She was staring down in to her cup with a perplexed expression, and going to say something else, but it was gone in a flash. “Hmm! Angela’s here!” Julian swallowed what was left in her cup in one gulp and dashed off to the front door.

The door was flung open before Angela even had a chance to knock and Julian pounced her in a hug. Now it was Angela looking perplexed, patting her friend on the back. “Ah honey…” she murmured softly.

“…what the hell are you wearing?” Angela finished.

Julian gave a half cry, half laugh, muffled at Angela’s shoulder. “It’s pretty!” she complained when she straightened and released her.

“Ya look like yer damn grandma!” Angela’s nose wrinkled up. “Why the hell are you still wearing these stupid shoes.” Once she stepped inside, she dropped a hefty looking purse on the floor and knelt down to take off Julian’s shoes. “LEO, did you forget how to MAN? You could have given her a t-shirt to wear. Whatever! I brought some pajamas.” She stood back up, retrieving her purse and turning Julian around with one swift motion.

“You smell like whiskey. Good. LEO. BRING MORE WHISKEY. …Where the hell is the living room in this stupid museum?” She really didn’t care if she woke the dead with all her shouting. Julian turned in the proper direction, and once Angela lay eyes on a couch she shoved Julian towards it. “Get the dress off and put these on. Tell me the bad stuff first. okay? Save the good stuff for after.”

“LEO. I’m not kidding about the whiskey, I want ALL of it!”

“I think you’re confusing me with someone who cares, Mercy.” Leo popped around the door frame with the bottle of whiskey in one hand and an unopened fifth of bourbon in the other. “Is this slumber party going to be taking place here or did you want somewhere with an actual bed? I ask only so I know which room to avoid.”

A hand slapped over Leo’s eyes long enough for Julian to finishing pulling on the pajamas Angela brought over. Then Angela was snatching both bottles from his hand, stepping behind him and shoving him towards a chair. “You CARE. Besides you’ll find this educational. And fun!”

“I don’t think him being here is a good idea.” remarked Julian, sliding to the floor in front of a coffee table.

Angela took up residence on the opposite side, giving Leo the evil eye just in case he had any ideas about escaping. The bottles were set down and the whiskey pushed towards Julian. “Nope, you’re wrong. Drink.”

Julian’s response was a grumble, but the took the obligatory drink straight from the bottle.

“What do you think you did?” Angela asked Julian keeping her eyes on her. Yet, somehow managed to point straight at Leo at the same time. She was serious about him staying put.

“I didn’t do ANYTHING, that’s the problem.” That pained look returned to her features, but at least she didn’t look like she was going to cry.

“Nope. Drink.”



Julian glared, but down went another swallow.

“How many people were wearing big stupid hats?”

“Stupid hats NEVER has an answer, Angela.”

“Wrong again, drink.”

A growl and a shot.

“What’s on page 63?”

“Ugh, something something Edward can suck something, ranty nonsense I can’t even read.”

“Ooh. Almost there, but not quite. Drink.”

A half-hearted huff and another swallow.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” Angela held up her hand and wiggled all five of them. Julian leaned forward squinting, and swaying just a bit.

“Um… all of them.”

“Perfect!” chirped Angela, she rest her arms on the table, reaching out with one hand to take the bottle of whiskey back. Now SHE finally had a drink and she passed it back to Leo. “Now, what do you think you did?”

Julian sighed and let out a breath. Squinting a bit at Angela, as if she were going to get the answer just by staring at her face. “Dancing was working just fine. And then it was just… this irking thing. Like the witchy store.”

“Exactly like the witchy store?”

“EXACTLY like the witchy store.” Julian paused, then as it dawned on her her mouth formed that O shape.

“Bingo, babe! What have we learned?”

“That’s Walter the Murder Witch. And the next time I feel that, I’m going to set him on fire. Having a lighter on me will be easy, I just have to find the perfect little spray container to pour some lighter fluid in for a pocket sized flame thrower.”

“Whoa, too much there honey. Here, bourbon time.” Angela opened up the bottle of bourbon and pushed that across the table. She waited for another drink before she continued. “What’s the part that upset you the most?”

Julian shook her head, scowling and gesturing towards Leo. She didn’t want to talk about this stuff in front of him, he was going to be a pain in the ass about it. Angela also wordlessly replied, pointing at the bottle for another drink. Julian wrinkled her nose and down it went. After another stare, she hissed. “I just say things and THINK things and they’re for real. He didn’t have to get hurt. I could have prevented the whole thing.”

Angela shook her head and pointed towards the bottle again. “Nope. Drink. You can’t predict everything and you’re still learning. You did good. Besides, it’s these assholes responsibility to see when you’re doing it. The rest of us have.”

“HE said that too. Sortof.” Julian mumbled, waving a hand at Leo.

“He’s smarter than he looks, isn’t he!” Angela finally turned around to face Leo. There was the cheshire cat grin. “Now it’s YOUR turn.”

“Really?! We can do Leo!” Oh Julian was definitely feeling that booze now. She was griiinning and planting her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. “Make him do double shots, he’s a vampire.”

“Told you that line too, did he. Leo, you’re so naughty! Double shots for you it is!”

“Yeah, okay. I have no idea what you just did,” Leo announced, looking back and forth between the girls, “but it’s fascinating. What exactly are the rules of this game?”

He traced his finger in a square as he talked, drawing an imaginary game board in the air between them, and leaned forward in his chair. Despite his claims that he intended to ditch them, he hadn’t made a move to leave yet. In fact, he was already holding his hand out to accept the bourbon with waggling fingers.

“You just get her drunk enough, she’ll answer anything you ask. Like ANYTHING. You gotta make sure there’s enough shots first, or she figures it out. Then she gets mad. And well, you heard what she’s gonna do Walter the Witch.” Angela smirked reaching out to retrieve the bourbon from Julian.

“I am NOT drunk.” she responded with offense, pulling the bottle away from Angela’s reaching hands. “I don’t drink, I don’t get drunk. I don’t even SLUR.”

Angela had to lean across the table to rescue the bourbon and that still required a tug-o-war to get it away from Julian. “This is WHY you don’t drink. Tell Leo what happened during my fifteenth birthday party.” Angela handed Leo the bourbon.

“I became the Truth or Dare Champion.”

“And HOW did you become the Truth or Dare Champion?”

“Margrit truthed me to tell everyone my first time story in great detail, but I didn’t have one, so I told hers.”

“I know! It was the greatest birthday present I’ve had!” Angela grinned over her shoulder at Leo. “See? Ask her anything. She’ll only remember the important stuff. …Probably.”

I remember everything.” whispered Julian. LOUDLY. “Wait, I thought we were asking Leo the questions now?”

“But he didn’t get his turn ask questions, sweetie. He’s gotta learn the rules first!”

“Oooooh. Right. Don’t ask me the hats question, I don’t like it.”

One of Leo’s eyebrows quirked. There was a definite smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth as he watched Julian.

“Is she always a chatty drunk? This is great.” It wasn’t his turn to be drinking yet, but he took a quick draught from the bottle anyway. His head tilted to one side. “Okay. I’ll bite. When we were down in the crypt, did you really think I was going to hurt you?”

Julian threw her head back and laughed. “Hahaaaa! No! I know you’re not gonna hurt me. I’m afraid of the dark. I always see things in the dark, it’s really creepy.” She leaned over the table reaching for the whiskey bottle, but Angela tugged it away.

“No, that’s not a drink. That one was true. And Yeeaaah, she is chatty. I mean, if you ask these things honestly when she’s NOT drunk she’ll probably answer most of them then too. But if it’s about the freaky stuff she gets all wound up.”

Julian slammed her hand on the table. “LIE! Drink.”

Angela stuck her tongue out and took the shot. “All right. Not wound up EVERY time. She didn’t used to at all. Right?”

“Yes. One time I got suspended because I said everything the teacher wanted to say before she said it, and it was FUN.”

The blond nodded. “See? But I can’t get her to tell me why she quit. It happened before-” she blocked her mouth from Julian’s line of sight and mouthed the parents thing, “So I am TOTES thrilled that you guys opened up that pandora’s box of giggles. All dangerous crazy shit aside.”

“I can’t tell you what I don’t know. And whispering is against the rules, Angela. DRINK.”

“Okay, I think I get it.” Leo held up his hands, his smile a bit wryer than it had been before Julian had startled cackling. “It’s like a bizarre, alcohol-soaked mashup of Truth or Dare, Never Have I Ever, and Bullshit. Anyone caught fibbing has to drink and we can ask anything we want. Yes? Are there any rules for pleading the Fifth? And which of you ladies has the honor of interrogating me first?”

“There’s the unspoken rule of not being an asshole about it. Because drunky over there gets nasty vengeful when she’s crossed. She’s all cuteness and giggles and sass most of the time, but I am pretty sure she’s got a secret satan.”

“Laaiii- Hmmm. That might be true.” Julian eyed Angela, but let is pass. “I GET TO ASK FIRST!” Julian stretched her arm out to point at Leo accusingly, and opened her mouth, but Angela clamped a hand over it.

“No. You ask hard questions. I gotta warm him up first.” Julian gave a muffled grunt behind Angela’s hand, and then plopped back in her spot, looking surly. “Good girl! Now Leo…” Angela smiiiiiiled. “What have you learned tonight?”

“Well let’s see. I’m going to assume you’re talking about tonight as in since Julian got back from her big date, so I’ll spare you the boring details from earlier on.” He started to count on his fingers. “I’ve learned that Julian doesn’t look good in silver, that Michael is an asshole- wait, no, I already knew that- that there’s a shocking amount of teenage alcohol abuse happening in this town, and that you like to get your best friend drunk to make her stop crying. Have I missed anything?”

“You sonofabitch, I look GREAT in silver!” A pillow went flying across the table with SHOCKING accuracy.

“Question evasion. You know better than that, Leo. That’s double shots for the vampire, am I correct, Captain?” Angela took a glance at Julian.

“You are correct, Commissioner. I’ll KNOW when you’re lying. I always know.” She pointed at her head, just in case he didn’t know she was psychic.

“Hmm-hmm. Next question. What-”

“Why do you piss me off?”

“Julian it’s not your-”

“You were at the Bayer Bridge hoping to find him lurking there.”

“Oh look, it’s Julian’s turn to ask the questions!” Angela scooted out of the way of any more potential flying projectiles and took a biiiiig swing of her bottle. “Sorry Leo.”

“WHY do you piss me off.” Julian repeated. There was that devilish look that Angela was warning him about.

Leo, already taking his second shot, spluttered a little at Julian’s question. His brow furrowed, and he directed an incredulous stare at Angela.

“Oh come on,” he protested. “How am I supposed to answer something like that? I’m not psychic. Although I’d hazard a guess that a large part of why I piss you off is because I try to. Because it’s fun.”

“Answer accepted.” Appeased, the devilish look was gone and Julian returned to smiling broadly with her chin in her hands.

Angela stared her down for a moment. “That’s it, Julian? Really?”


“Only that one. Not anything else.”

“Nothing else.”

“…I’ll bite. Why is that the only question you wanted to ask Leo?”

“Because I already know the answers to all the rest.” Julian made a little mind blown explosion fingers at the side of her head, and started giggling.

“Ah! She’s crossed the threshold in to too-drunk-land. You lucky bastard. Unless she’s serious and doing some mind reading voodoo, but I am pretty sure she can’t do that.” Angela narrowed her eyes at Julian, whose only response was holding a finger to her mouth, giggling some more and going ssshhh. “Drunk. She’s officially out.”

Angela leaned back against the table, now full focus was on Leo. “I want to know why that witch guy has made you guys enemy number one.”

At Angela’s inquiry, Leo’s eyebrow twitched and his lips pursed. His eyes weren’t on her, though; whatever his annoyance was directed at, it wasn’t in this room.

“Jules and I stumbled onto Walter when he was up to no good, is part of it.” He laced his fingers together, putting his feet up on the coffee table. “As for the rest… He’s got it in his head that Jules is a witch and that Michael and I are leading her down a path of debauchery. He’s not entirely wrong on either count, to his credit. Though I’m not sure giving credit to psychopaths is a good idea.”

There was a soft thump behind her and Angela turned around to find Julian passed out on the floor with an arm thrown over her face.

“Whoops. Was supposed to get on the couch before that happened.” She shrugged her shoulders, stretching her legs out to get comfortable and leaning her back against the coffee table. It was clear now though by the way she was taking a long drink from her bottle that the ‘game’ part of question time was over. All pretenses of wickedry and playfulness were gone. Leaving the girl who was normally all smirks looking incredibly tired and uncharacteristically serious.

“I am having the damndest time coming up with a question to ask that I know you can answer.” she gave him a pointed look. He probably had a good idea what those questions were. “So tell me what we’re going to do about this Walter the Witch problem. I don’t think she was kidding about that whole fire thing, and doubt that would lead anywhere good.”

“Walter is a problem.” He toyed with the neck of the bourbon bottle, then threw back another shot. “Not your usual high school problem either. I know you believe in the psychic stuff. Clearly. But psychics aren’t… Goddammit. Jules isn’t the only one functioning on a higher level than the average person, okay? And not all of them are dopey teenage girls who like to believe the best in everyone.

“But Michael and I can handle Walter,” he assured her. “After tonight, he’s not anyone’s favorite person.”

“She isn’t the only one, huh?” Obviously. Maybe she wasn’t allowed in on the secret club, but Angela was filing away every little tidbit they slipped out. Eventually she’d piece the picture together. One of these dummies was bound to crack and spill the beans at some point. Angela had her bets on Julian, but Leo did WANT to talk about it, even if he couldn’t. The guys definitely weren’t seers, so unless Leo really was a vampire, she’d have to-

Angela paused mid-drink.

Naw. That just couldn’t be-

She glanced over at Julian on the floor, her eyes narrowing a bit, before she looked back at Leo. She did say…


“As long as you’ve got it covered. I’m pretty much only good for booze and fun. It’s your turn now.” she grinned finally, taking her drink.

Sometimes it was better not to mention what you think you might know.

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