Black Sun 010: Margrit’s Little Helpers (Original Draft)

Black Sun 010: Margrit’s Little Helpers (Original Draft)

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“How is your foot? We could call your very VERY hot boyfriend to give me a hand.” Margrit Berkshire was carrying a bag full of tablecloths in her arms and casting a curious side glance over to Julian. The brunette had a much larger, much heavier box, which she didn’t seem to have a problem carrying. It was the question that made her frown.

“It doesn’t even hurt. I’m just a little out of practice. How much further is the hotel?” Julian asked, turning just slightly to the side so she could see down the sidewalk. It wasn’t too much father, but the box was getting heavier by the second.

They were just leaving a shop after picking up Magrit’s shipment, after barely making it there before closing time. Their dance class ran a little late because Julian (as Margrit described it) had a TERRIBLE ACCIDENT. Really, all she did was take a tumble during a particularly tricky step. That sort of thing happened all the time, and Margrit was acting like Julian was on the verge of dying.

But not enough, though, to prevent her from asking for a favor. All of her volunteers quit on her last minute and she needed help getting some of the decor up for her next event. Julian was happy enough to volunteer if it meant Margrit would stop behaving like her limbs were going to drop off. Angela, on the other hand, made a very quick excuse about having to do some homework and booked it before she got talked in to it too.

“You just can’t DO the hard steps any more, I don’t know why you try. On the bright side, you’ve finally starting gaining a normal weight back. I’m sure after a year or so you’ll catch up to me-OH! He’ll do! LEO LANIER!” Margrit stopped in mid sentence and dashed forward down the sidewalk, shoving her bag in one arm and waving a hand in the air to catch his attention.

Wait, not him!” Julian hissed out to Margrit but the girl was already gone. Julian’s head tilted back as she mouthed at the sky, Why. WHY. Say no, Leo. Say No., and prayed her giant box was enough to hide her identity. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see Leo, she actually really did. But Julian still wasn’t sure how she was going to repair their last encounter.

“Leo! You have big strong arms and I so desperately need them.” Margrit practically purred, using her BEST of girl-power charm. For Margrit, it never failed. “I would be ever so appreciative if you could do some lifting for me? I have been left in a lurch without helpers to set up my charity auction. I have Julian, but she almost DIED today so SHE’S not moving any heavy tables.”

Margrit. Why.

“Well, I definitely haven’t almost died,” Julian heard him answer. Was that jerk making a vampire joke?

When Julian peeked, Leo was smiling at Margrit from behind his shades. He’d actually foregone his signature jacket today, possibly because they’d gotten a bit of a temperature spike despite continued grey skies. Instead he was dressed simply in an AC/DC t-shirt and faded blue jeans.

He also wasn’t even looking at Julian.

“I guess I don’t have anything better to do,” Leo told Margrit. He ran a hand through his hair. “I accept all manner of bribes though, let it be known.”

Great. Just great. This isn’t going to be awkward at ALL. Thankfully Julian’s sigh couldn’t possibly be heard over Margrit’s flirty laughter.

“Oh, I bet I have PLENTY of things I can bribe you with.” Margrit handed Leo her bag and took his arm to lead the way down the sidewalk.

Julian trailed several paces behind them, refusing to try and look around the box to see where she was going. She was busy glaring at the box, deliberating on the best way to fix this. Apologize AGAIN? She couldn’t just keep telling him she was sorry. Especially if wouldn’t talk to her.

“Julian, don’t lag behind!” Margrit called.

After a few moments, they walked through the columned threshold of the hotel. One of the older businesses in Silent Pines, it was quite the elegant establishment and built back when hotels were supposed to be art forms in architecture. Margrit brought them to the ballroom she rented and absolutely NOTHING was done. All the tables and chairs were still lined up along the edges of the room. There were already some supplies dropped off earlier in the day scattered about in no particular order.

Julian set her box down on a table with a thump.

“Oh no, hun, take it up there to the podium.” corrected Margrit. Julian had to try very hard not to cast a quick curious glance in Leo’s direction, as she huffed and dragged her box where directed.

“Leo, you are going to move all of these tables out and set up the chairs as directed in my floor plan.” She pointed to a dry erase board standing not too far away. “EXACTLY. Not a single table out of place. I’m going to be measuring later. Julian!”

Julian dropped her box again, just in time for Margrit to be at her side and cutting the thing open with a boxcutter. “You’re going to get everything up on the walls. These lanterns have battery lights, make sure they work before you hang them. The banners need to be set ABOVE the lights. Maintenance has the ladder sitting over there. …Julian.”

Julian wasn’t paying attention. She was chewing on the inside of her cheek again, stealing a look at Leo from over Margrit’s shoulder. When Margrit pushed at her, she nearly jumped. “I’m sorry, I know. The banners go above the lights. I’ll get the ladder.”

“GOOD. Okay! Work my little bees! I need to iron out all of these tablecloths. No DISTRACTIONS.” Margrit pointedly said in Julian’s direction.

Amazingly, Leo stayed pretty quiet throughout setup. He went right to work dragging out the tables, pushing them into place in the middle of the floor. Margrit ducked in and out, but when she was in the room, he made a token effort at conversation.

“What did you say this was for, again?” he asked, flattening out the last of the longer banquet tables. “Some kind of charity thing?”

Julian couldn’t see if he was actually sweating, but he pulled off his shades and tucked them into the neck of his t-shirt, wiping the back of his hand across his forehead. Were there bags under his eyes?

Julian was making pretty quick work of checking the lanterns and hanging them up on the walls. The action was nice and repetitive. Check battery. Hang. Push ladder. Push box. Repeat. Unfortunately it was NO help in her silent battle with Leo. When he didn’t acknowledge her, she decided she wouldn’t acknowledge him. That lasted about ten minutes. When she got frustrated enough, she hopped down from her ladder, held out her hands in that what are we doing! way and stared him down. Giving him perfect opportunity to say something. Anything. He didn’t even look at her. Which left Julian scowling and resuming her check, hang, push, push, repeat. SHE could have said something, but the last time SHE said things was what caused this mess in the first place.

Now she was working with her hair tied up in a messy pony tail, too tired to be angry about it any more, but too anxious to resolve the problem by doing the SANE thing and saying something first.

When did she become the dumbest girl on the planet?

Margrit seemed to have zero problems conversing with Leo, in fact she absolutely LOVED that she was getting to chit chat with him without Julian saying a word. She worried just a fraction that perhaps Julian was ill, but honestly, it was better that she didn’t partake in the convo. Margrit enjoyed having Julian around for many things, but the girl was a nightmare when it came to casual conversations.

“A Charity Auction. It’s going to be this glorious black tie affair auctioning off the Single Dads-” There was a snorting choke across the room that sounded suspiciously like a snicker. Margrit cast a glare in Julian’s direction. The silly girl was conveniently busy climbing up the ladder again. “Excuse me, I meant to say Single Eligible Bachelors of Silent Pines to help support struggling single-parent families.” Margrit reached out to pinch his cheek. “It’s too bad you can’t be in the auction! I’m sure you would raise at least two grand.”

Julian had nearly made it all the way up the ladder when that comment had her miss-stepping. With the wrong foot. She caught herself awkwardly on the top rungs and readjusted her footing, making the ladder give a soft thudthump as it teetered. Thankfully she had enough balance to keep it from wobbling any farther.

Holy fffff! Now her foot really DID hurt. A good jolt of pain was making her mouth several unpleasant curse words. She finally grit her teeth and resumed up the steps, trying to get one end of an annoyingly difficult banner hung up on the wall.

“You know, you are doing such a great job with these tables I should have you come and help me set up for our school’s Winter Saturnalia. I might even let you be one of my dates.” Margrit was still talking, giving Leo a wink over her shoulder. If she noticed Julian’s stumble, she didn’t say anything. She WAS nice enough to ignore the occasional embarrassing moment and not point it out. “Get some more of those chairs for me. I need to see if they have more in one of the other dining rooms.”

Margrit bustled out again, leaving the room to it’s awkward silence. Julian managed to get one side of the banner stuck where it belonged. Sort of. It was crooked and with an annoyed sigh, she leaned back to see where she needed to fix it. At this point the ladder didn’t care for being so top heavy and started jostling again. Which caused Julian to panic and over compensate to still it, which cause another jolt of pain, which led to her FALLING.

That little voice in her head screamed goddammit.

Instead of hardwood floor, Julian landed against something with a little more give.

One strong arm was looped around her shoulders; the other supported her upper thighs. She was partially squished up against a black-and-white cloth print of Brian Johnson screaming into a microphone. Leo had been halfway across the room last she’d checked, but that torso definitely belonged to him. Somehow he’d managed to catch her before she cracked her skull open.

“You look like shit,” he told her, and when she looked up, it was to find that he was grimacing at her like she was the most frustrating thing on the entire planet. “You haven’t been sleeping, have you? You’re not going to be any help like this.”

He still hadn’t put her down. And up close, he wasn’t looking so hot either: those were definite circles under his eyes, and he was sweating a little.

Jesus christ. “You don’t look so pretty yourself.” She wanted to scream THANK GOD. And the feeling she had was the oddest freaking thing. Just the strangest unrecognizable – Wait. She was just so tired and so relieved he actually spoke a word at her she was clearly a step away from hysterical.

The confusion continued when she lift her hand to brush the back of it against his temple. He really was sweating. All he did was move around a bunch of tables today. He hadn’t even broken out a sweat when he was chasing her around the crypt with all his vampire spookiness. This couldn’t be normal.

“Are you okay?” she asked immediately. Neglecting the fact it was HER stupid ass that had just fallen off a ladder.

From the way his eyebrows shot up in disbelief, he hadn’t forgotten about her tumble. After all, it hadn’t even been thirty seconds.

“Are you even real?” demanded Leo. “You are the nosiest, dumbest, most annoying girl I know.”

Rolling his eyes, Leo adjusted his hold- still not putting her down- and started heading for the double doors.

“I’ve been up all night,” he informed her, “and it’s hot. And I’m stuck babysitting a certain someone who seems intent on getting herself killed because she doesn’t know her own limits. You should be worrying about yourself, not me. And avoiding ladders for a while. You are banned from ladders.”

“You can’t just ban me from ladders.” It was nice to see they were going to drop right back in their usual habit of him being completely insulting, and her irrational concern over his well being. Julian scowled. “You dropped off the planet and then show up looking like hell. I think have totally legit cause for being concerned about your stupid face. And since when have you been baby-”

That’s when Margrit nearly ran in to the pair of them as she was crossing through the double doors. She stared for a moment then rolled her eyes with an exaggerated sigh. “Did you fall off the ladder? Julian, you are completely useless today.” Margrit pulled out her smartphone and started swiping on the screen. “Whatever, I’ll just bribe the football team with free beer. Make sure she gets home. If she breaks her legs I’m not going to have any competition in class.” The little red-head walked around them and stalked back to what she was doing.

babysitting me.” Julian finished with a soft hiss. Then pausing to blink at him and then down at the floor where she wasn’t standing on her feet. Why didn’t-

“I can get home myself.”

“You’re right. I can’t ban you from anything. Unfortunately.”

The interruption from Margrit didn’t faze Leo in the slightest, but he did finally ease Julian down onto her toes as soon as they were alone again. The moment that his hands left her waist, though, he plastered his palms against her cheeks instead.

And then he squeezed her face.

“Shut up. I’m helping.” Leo scowled at her. His hair was sticking to his forehead, which somehow just made him look surlier. “I’ll be fine, okay? It’s not a big deal. You’re the one who’s exhausted. Take your own damn suggestion and let me be your friend here, Jules.”

Urrrrg! she made a squeaky sort of sound, first wondering if he was going to squeeze her head off or if he just enjoyed the sight of her making a fishy face. Then some other wilder thoughts crossed her mind which she promptly said NOPE to and buried them in a deep dark place hoping never to hear from them again.

Julian grabbed his hands and pulled them away from her face, looking ready to bristle and put up a fight. There was no hiding the battle in her expression, from glare, to examining squint, and finally the sigh of reluctant surrender.

“Fine. You can help. …but I’m still leery about your brand of helping.” she mused, finally letting go of his hands. She wasn’t sure which was more satisfying, the vexed look on his face or the fact he said friend.

“Can you make it home without breaking all your bones, or am I going to have to carry you the whole way?” He gave her a once-over, his eyes traveling from the top of her head down to the tips of her toes and then back up to her face again. “If you can at least hold out until we get to my car, I’ll drive.”

“I’m not even close to breaking anything.” she insisted, but she rocked back and forth on her feet to give it a test. Her foot still hurt a lot, but she was pretty sure there wasn’t a sprain or anything serious. Just a rotten day and some bad luck.

For a quick second she held up her hand to block his eyes, and mumbled with a much more amused tone, “I’m not going to pass out either, so you can stop that.” Probably. She pulled her hand away to turned to lead the way. There was no limping but she was definitely not placing her full weight down. As long as she didn’t trip in the street or something she’d be fine. And if THAT happened, she hoped she DID pass out, hopefully to never wake again.

Either way, the trek to Leo’s Mustang was a short one. It was also largely a silent one, something that carried over into the drive back to Julian’s house. It would almost have been a repeat of that last strained trip back from the mall, except that Leo wasn’t all tense and broody this time. He had the top down on the Mustang, and he had the radio on at normal-people volume for once. He even obeyed the speed limit (mostly, except when it looked like the light was about to change on him).

“Is it cool if I chill here for a bit?” he finally spoke up as he killed the engine and parked in Julian’s driveway. “I don’t have any pressing appointments.”

There was a good joke in there somewhere, but Julian was tired and nothing clever wanted to come to mind. Had she not promised she wasn’t going to pass out, she might’ve fallen asleep in his car. Especially since for the first time ever he didn’t speed down the street like a demon and weave around other vehicles like they were just ‘suggestion’ traffic cones.

She turned her head to glance at him. “Yeah, but you’ll probably be more comfortable inside.” Nevermind, perfect. Julian gave him a wide and toothy, all too proud of herself grin. Then she was climbing her way out of the Mustang. Some bone or joint cracked in protest, making her grimace, but thankfully that wasn’t so unusual for a dance class night.

Julian cast the front steps of the house a slight frown before she forced her way up them. A single key attached to a very bent out of shape heart keychain was plucked out of her back pocket to unlock the door and she leaned against it while waiting for Leo to cross by.

“Why didn’t YOU sleep?” she asked curiously.

“Hanging out with humans is messing up my schedule,” he said flippantly, following her up the front steps. He shouldered his way inside and made a beeline for the couch. “It’s not normal for me to sleep at night in the first place. I’m correcting my biorhythms or whatever.”

When he’d sprawled out on the cushions, she got what seemed like a more honest answer:

“…I haven’t really gone back to the house much since the other day.” He narrowed his eyes at Julian’s living room ceiling. “It pisses me off to be there. Even my car isn’t comfortable for more than one night in a row.”

Julian shut the door and locked it, stopping to brace a hand against the wall as she fussed with getting her shoes and socks off. Food crossed her mind for a split second, but instead it was a shambling zombie walk to the couch where Leo had already claimed her favorite crashing place. He received a frown followed by her plopping on the couch anyway, regardless of whether or not he got his limbs out of her way. Julian had no problem with a footstool.

“You can stay here when you want to.” she offered. She suspected problems with Michael happened more often than not. And knowing what she knew now… He probably needed somewhere out of reach ever so often. “There’s extra rooms and I’m not here most of the day.”

“Of course, you’d have to use the front door to get in and not the window…”

He didn’t bother trying to get out of the way, so Julian ended up sitting halfway across his legs. Unperturbed, Leo folded his arms behind his head and raised an eyebrow at her.

“Are you giving me a key?” he asked, with a weird sort of strained smile. Like he was trying not to pick on her for once. Or maybe was slightly uncomfortable?

“…He said something to you, didn’t he.” Leo pursed his lips. “You feel sorry for me.”

“Shut up, I’m helping.” she shot back, adjusting her arrangement on the couch since he was determined not to share. That left her with leaving her legs over his and resting her feet on the coffee table. She settled back and clasped her hands together over her stomach. It was nice to finally sit down and not be doing something.

Julian tilted her head to give him a weary look. “I don’t feel sorry for you. You’ve lived long enough without a nosy annoying girl fussing about you. I’m offering because maybe you’d like to sleep somewhere other than your car.”

“Fine,” he told her, though he was still side-eyeing her pretty hard. “Whatever you say, Jules. Just remember this was your idea.”

Whatever that meant.

“So. Why aren’t you sleeping?” he asked, his eyelids falling to a close. “Normally you’re all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. What happened?”

How ominous. Unless he planned on storing PEOPLE in the fridge, Julian doubted his occasional drop in was going to be any more frequent or annoying than usual. Her expression said as much the same. She shrugged her shoulders, shifting to pull the black rubber band out of her hair and shake it loose. After a few comb throughs with her fingers she worked on braiding it over her shoulder.

“I always have problems sleeping. It’s just been more… well more lately. Running around in all-too-real dreams, premonitions about useless things, …other stuff.” The ‘other stuff’ was a more complicated subject. A dream about dying. Sometimes little things would change. Like the place, or the time. But it always ended the same. With a cranky wake up. That was not something she wanted to share, though.

“Then I get up and drink waaaay too much coffee.” she lightened her tone.

“You need to learn how to filter.” His fingers found the edge of her shirt and gave a swift, sharp tug. “Especially now that you’re putting yourself up to this stuff on purpose. You’re like an open window and all the rain is getting in, not just the sunshine and fresh air you wanted.”

He paused.

“…Okay, that metaphor sucked, but you get my point. You’ve got to be able to switch off, at least partway.” Leo sighed, shifting his weight deeper into the couch cushions. “Otherwise… you’ll never get any sleep. And I’ll have to peel you off the pavement.”

“Easy to say, not so easy to do. At least not while sleeping.” How would someone even go about controlling something like that? It’s not like you knew when you were asleep and what was dreaming and what wasn’t. Julian mused. “I’ll figure it out or die trying. I suppose in my will I’ll leave Angela to you. I can’t really send her to Margrit…” She tapped her chin softly, finding a lot of amusement in that thought. If he thought she was a pain, he really hadn’t spend enough time with Angela yet.

This was getting far too comfortable. If she didn’t get up now, she wasn’t GOING to and she was already too far gone to bother with dinner. Julian reached behind her to grab the old crocheted throw that usually had it’s home on the back of the couch. The thing was made by some Hollinger of yesteryear, one that didn’t have a lick of talent, so it was full of big gaping holes, frayed edges and loose bits of yarn. It never kept ANYONE warm, but Julian doubted that would be a problem for Leo who was pretty much burning a room to cinders just with his presence alone.

“The spare key is in the bird feeder outside.” The blanket got tossed over his face and torso while she fumbled with trying to get up without jostling him around. She had not thought this seating arrangement through.

“Do you still have that rose otto from the shop?” Leo mumbled from under the blanket. “You should start wearing it. Now. If… Michael doesn’t like it, tell him I know how to get into your house and he’ll change his tune.”

He wriggled to clear a path for Julian to get up, but not before catching her by the wrist.

“You’re stupid and weird,” he told her, his thumb brushing against her palm. “I don’t get you.”

And that was the last halfway sensible response she got out of him before he passed out on her couch.

Her mouth twist to the side and she might have stood there staring at him in confusion longer than she needed to. She didn’t get him either. Sighing to herself she grabbed a cushion off a nearby chair to drop on his chest should he need it later, then she made her way upstairs.

On entering her room, Julian stopped by her dresser, plucking up the small bottle of rose oil and eyeing it carefully. Michael nearly cringed that day she had it in her pocket, and that was a sealed bottle. How was it going to affect him if she wore it? And what of Leo? Wouldn’t he also be affected? If he was willing to risk that, there would have to be a good reason. …Maybe.

She crossed over to her desk and pushed around a few tiny containers of perfume until she found one that was mostly empty. The cap came screwing off with ease and very carefully she poured the oil in to the new bottle before twisting the spray nozzle back on. After a few shakes in the air she gave it a test spritz. The perfume overpowered the rose scent as much as she could tell, but she doubted that would fool one of them.

But. It was now in a nice handy pocket-sized weapon form should she need to spritz someone.

Forgoing pajamas and just climbing in to bed, Julian plopped down on her back and frowned at the ceiling. When he wasn’t harassing her, he was sweet. Cute even. She almost even kind of-

“Oh god.” she groaned, throwing her arm over her face.

I’m in trouble.

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