Black Sun 017: Michael’s Birthday (Original Draft)

Black Sun 017: Michael’s Birthday (Original Draft)

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“Get OUT.”

Angela had no idea frumpy, stereotypical librarian’s could have that much body strength. She stumbled (more like was practically THROWN) on to the sidewalk, then spun around to try and enter back through the library doors. “You can’t BAN ME from a public library, woman!”

The woman (forget that, this lady was a gorilla in a dress) caught her by the FACE and shoved her back again. This time Angela hit the sidewalk with her ass. Super model heels weren’t made for physical violence. Her giant purse was now being invaded by the psycho’s poorly manicured claws.

“Until we find out who broke in to the Library’s Private Archives and have what was stolen returned, all suspicious persons are henceforth BANNED from the premises.” When nothing of value was found in Angela’s bag, it got tossed at her.

“You don’t even have evidence I had anything to do with that! You’re just pissed a fifteen year old little shit outbid you for The House of Mirth at a lameass Berkshire party!” Angela probably shouldn’t be bragging about that when her fate lie in the hands of this now VERY red-faced librarian. But it took two months of making pizzas in a greasy kitchen and selling her soul to Margrit to borrow the cash difference to win that auction.

It was so worth it.

“You’d do well to be very careful about who you make enemies with, Angela Mercy! I will-”

“Oh what’re you gonna do? Get together with your gang of book hags and call my Dad? Have me banned from every library in America? I still have twelve books checked out, you’re gonna have to let me back in sometime.”

That was the first time Angela ever got the finger from a librarian. Kudos to the crazy lady. Of course, she also vanished back in to the building and locked the doors behind her. She proceeded to stand there glaring through the glass doors at Angela, presumably waiting for the blond to leave.

“Pfuuh… Whatever lady! I’ll be back!”

This was a problem. The internet wasn’t great for research when you wanted to get hyper-specific about a tiny little town’s history. Sure, there was tons of old news stories and a few interesting blogs (and holy crap, why wasn’t Silent Pines on some sort of Bermuda Triangle list? People just vanished here all the time!) but there wasn’t much predating the 40s. And now that she was banned from the library (for NOW), she was going to have find new sources.

While she waited impatiently at a red light, she cast a frown at one of the tiny corner benches branded with BERKSHIRE in gold letters. There was THAT. If you wanted old town stuff, who better than the founding families? But ew. Asking Margrit for a favor always came with the most obnoxious of prices. Angela already knew every book in Julian’s house, so that would be a waste of time. There was no way in HELL she was going to the Whelans. Knucker Polk was in the same boat as her right now, he wouldn’t have anything.

Which left her with only one obvious choice.

A short drive later, Angela was pulling up on to the Hightower property. Her parking job was shit, but she didn’t notice. Her snatch and grab plan was already mapped out. Michael should be whisked away by Julian for her birthday-bonanza (Michael probably wouldn’t even appreciate it, the boring sack of perfectly pressed slacks) which meant all Angela had to do was charm the hell out of the mysterious human of the house.

And if he wasn’t there – she’d just break in. Easy!

Marching up the front steps, she starting pressing the doorbell. Endlessly. She needed to make sure someone was there (or not there).

Unfortunately for Angela, David Hightower wasn’t the one who answered the door.

Unfortunately for Michael, Julian wasn’t the girl standing on his doorstep.

“…Angela,” he greeted her, mustering up a tight-lipped smile. “This is a surprise.”

His fingers curled around the door frame as he gazed at her impassively, wondering what had brought her here. Was he about to be on the receiving end of another round of accusations and taunting? Was she here to reprimand him for some new imagined crime he’d committed against her friend?

He did have to give her credit on that score. Despite his disapproval of her behavior in general, she was protective of Julian in a way he could appreciate.

“Well fuck. You weren’t supposed to be here. I thought Julian would have whisked you away for a romantic birthday rendezvous already.” Her hands went to her hips and she tapped them impatiently, hints of blue ink were all over them. She wasn’t dressed as flashy as normal, but there was still the long sparkling earrings that should’ve been paired with an evening gown, not the tight jeans and red sweater with the words Feed Me and Tell Me I’m Pretty scrawled across the front.

Ugh, whatever, she needed to ‘bond’ with Michael anyway if Julian was determined to make him a part of their posse.

Thus, without being invited, she pushed her way right past him.

“I need BOOKS. I was going to try and seduce your brother-cousin-nephew guy out of a few. And seeing as you’re here, I guess stealing is out of the question too.” She poked her head through the first doorway she saw. No books.

“So where are they? You got a personal library? Office? Attic of old stuff? I know you do, Julian already told me. You might as well show me, otherwise I’m just going to come back when you’re NOT here, and who knows what I’ll get in to.” Angela turned around and grinned, a terrible, alarming, grin.

Michael pushed aside the annoyance that immediately bubbled to the surface, but he couldn’t entirely quell his grimace at her expressed desire to “seduce” David into lending her his books.

“I have a study, yes,” he replied, shutting the door and turning to pursue her before she invaded his house any further. “I’m not really in the habit of lending out my books, since they’re old and mostly irreplaceable. What exactly are you looking for?”

And had she considered checking a library, he kept himself from asking.

“Irreplaceable? Even better!” Angela crossed to the other side of the hall and pulled open a door. Nope. It was a closet. What a weird place for a closet.

Of course, now she was just taking her time at looking around for the sole purpose of being annoying. Watching the look on his face when her dirty little hands hovered over items she knew damn well she shouldn’t be touching was way too fun.

Angela considered carefully just how much she wanted to reveal. Now that the ‘secret’ was out, she probably didn’t need to hide the fact that she was knee-deep in supernatural lore. Anything she researched would be under the guise of helping Julian, and truthfully it was. It just wouldn’t be the kind of helping he liked.

“Honestly? It’s a for lot of things. I may have been banned from the library for the time being, which -I- think is because I got myself put on the Supernatural Silent Pine’s version of the NSA Watch List thanks to all the shit I’ve been looking up. You know, psychic lore for Julian. Vampire stuff for reference. Spooky stuff. Then I fell down the rabbit hole.”

She paused to look in through another door. This one looked like it used to be some sort of lady’s parlor right out of a Regency novel, poorly updated over the years for different purposes, but still. How cute.

“Anyway, no library means not only am I shit out of luck if I want to keep researching goodies – for Julian – I’m also not going to have anything fun to read while she’s busy with her boyfriend.”

“I bet you thought I couldn’t read.”

“Of course I knew you could read,” he replied smoothly, refusing to rise to her childish baits. “We go to school together.”

Sighing, he finally jerked his head and walked in the direction of the study. He didn’t check to see if she was following; he presumed she would, as eager as she was to rifle through his things in search of books. It wasn’t a long trip, but it somehow felt like it took longer with Angela in tow.

“I’d rather you did your reading here,” Michael told her. “Maybe I could help you find what you need.”

Not that he particularly wanted to spend more time with her, least of all in his own home, but he’d prefer keeping an eye on her around those sort of books. It wasn’t very surprising to Michael that she’d been kicked out of the public library.

“Ooooh, but I bet you thought it was all fashion and gossip magazines. Hot boys and cute shoes. Which, by the way, is the only thing magazines are good for these days. The articles are all trash.”

Angela was close at his heels, too close. Enough to be all up in his bubble. If she wasn’t afraid he might fling her ass across the room, she would have jumped on his back for a quick ride. Irritating someone was a delicate art form. You had to do just enough to get under their skin, but not so much they tried to kill you. That was especially tricky if the target probably WOULD kill you.

As soon as they reached the study, she was out of his space. Angela grabbed a small chair and hauled it over to the biggest and most interesting looking shelf. The ones with a little dust always had the best stuff. She and her spiky little heels stepped up on to the chair.

“No offense – but having you breathe down my neck while I’m trying to jot down notes sounds like a nightmare. BUT if you want to make this go faster – What do YOU like to read? Find me one I haven’t read and maybe I’ll consider hanging around here with the more valuable ones.”

This was not an auspicious beginning to Michael’s birthday.

“I think traditionally speaking, you’re supposed to give me something,” he reminded her as he went to fetch his stepladder from its resting place in the corner of the study. He propped it up alongside her chair, giving her a pointed glance as he did so, and clambered up to peruse the shelves.

Or rather, he made a show of doing so. He already knew very well that he wasn’t about to trust Angela Mercy with certain items in his collection, because Michael simply didn’t trust her.

“I like to read a lot of things,” he said. His fingertips trailed along the edge of the shelf. They lingered as he encountered a few old favorites, ones he’d not touched in years- but which might impress Angela. Reaching in front of her nose, he tapped a leather-bound spine.

“This is what I like to read. Shoes and cute boys are not really my cup of tea, I’m afraid.”

Gilded lettering was stamped into the rich brown leather. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, it read.

A peculiar expression came over her features. She looked a little annoyed, pursing her mouth, and fingers tapping on the shelf where she was holding on to keep her balance on the chair. Finally, she caved, giving him the point (that he didn’t deserve because CLEARLY this was an accident and he probably didn’t even think she could read it) and plucking the book off it’s place on the shelf.

“Hello precursor to modern astrophysics. Is this in the original Latin?” With a lot more care than appeared possible from her, she flipped it open to delicately turn a few pages. She was meticulous about keeping her fingerprints off the pages. Angela cursed herself for switching her language course to French this year. When am I going to need a dead language? She had thought. French is sexy and romantic! She was regretting it now with all her recent digging. Two years of High School study could only get you so far and apparently supernatural shit just HAD to be in Latin.

“At least it’s not Jane Austen. I’d hate to think my bestie was dating a pretentious fourteen year old girl.”

Dammit, I’m not here for ancient astronomy! Later, Copernicus.

Angela closed the book and carefully placed it back on the shelf. Then, blatantly ignoring his hint about the ladder, she took a step up on to a shelf so she could reached up even higher. She was grabbing for what looked like it might be a log book or some other personal diary. Handwritten tomes were always filled with useful tidbits.

“You’re right! This should be a tit for tat exchange.” That was just dripping with things that did not bode well for Michael, and was mirrored with what could only be described as a devil’s grin. “…Okay, for me to stay HERE to do my research, what are you going to give me? It better be good, or Copernicus and a few of his friends get to spend the week with me.”

Michael didn’t have long to enjoy Angela’s stunned expression- or to be grudgingly impressed in turn that she was actually familiar with the work beyond recognizing its obvious age and importance. This was because Angela Mercy had apparently decided that she had an overwhelming need to get footprints all over every piece of furniture that Michael owned.

“Jane Austen is brilliant, although I’m not as fond of fiction,” he said absently, frowning and folding his arms over his chest.

What to do, he mused, as Angela made her proposal (blackmail, more like). I can just refuse her, but somehow I don’t think she’ll give up. It’ll be less trouble in the long run if I can just get her to be reasonable now. But what should I trade for it?

“I’ll teach you Latin,” Michael told her. It was a guess, of course. For all he knew, perhaps she already spoke it… or wouldn’t care to. But he was fairly sure he’d seen a flash of disappointment when she’d put his Copernicus back.

It wasn’t until he looked at her again that he noticed what she was reaching for.

“Don’t.” His hand closed over hers, fingers tightening a little rougher than he meant to. Almost at once he let go again, but he couldn’t take the outburst back now.

“…That was my father’s,” explained Michael, as seconds seemed to stretch into minutes of silence. “Please. Don’t.”

Angela was about smugly explain that she didn’t need lessons in Latin and the fact he called Jane Austen brilliant meant he had the taste of a prepubescent twit, but then he freaked out. …At least the Michael version of freaking out, which was apparently him trying to bury whatever-the-fuck just happened so it didn’t show on his face followed by what most people would consider an awkward silence.

It wasn’t awkward for HER, but, well. She was stuck staring at him with her eyebrows raised up in surprise, trying to decide if this was a moment of weakness she could pounce on (literally, if she jumped to grab the book and RAN), or if this was one of those moments Julian would be giving her that Don’t you dare do it look.


“Alright, not that one.” she conceded, flexing her fingers as she retracted her hand away from the no-no book. “Of course, now that you’re going to be expanding my Latin, I’m going to be here asking all kinds of intimate questions about you and your family. Like why the mysterious Davie isn’t married yet. How many girlfriends have you actually had. What’s up with ancient Dad?” She slipped the last one in there. It wasn’t all that subtle, but Michael wasn’t expecting subtle from her. It’d probably be suspicious if she HADN’T asked.

“I’m not talking to you about my father,” Michael told her with determined calm. “And I don’t kiss and tell. As to David, he can speak for himself.”

He abandoned his perch on the stepladder and offered his hand, outstretched, to help her down as well.

“I don’t have time to indulge your curiosities today, I’m afraid.” He gave her a thin smile. “I have plans. You can stay and read what you like until Julian arrives, but then you’ll need to leave.”

He wanted her gone this instant, truth be told. But Michael had a great deal of practice with being patient.

“Oh Mikey.” Angela hung on to the shelf framing with one hand, still standing on one of the lower shelves, and leaned precariously with one foot dangling. “Why do you do the practice smiles instead of just admitting you can’t stand me? We could have SO much more fun.”

She took a look at the books again with a frown. If she burned this bridge before getting to read any of them that would suck more than getting banned from the library. Angela sighed, finally reaching to grab his hand. Before she hopped down, she used him to balance so she could kick off her heels to the floor. THEN it was a quick jump to solid ground. She was smart enough not to break her own neck.

“I’m serious too. We don’t have to pretend to tolerate each other just for Julian.” In an instant that devil look was back, and she was holding his hand with both of hers close to her chest. “We have to fall in like NATURALLY! A little fight here, a bit of attempted murder there, we’ll be the BEST of friends before you know it.”

Before he took that suggestion of attempted murder seriously, she released him.

“A book about the Founding Families. If you have one of those, I’ll scurry off to a creepy little corner and leave you alone until your girlfriend is here to save you.”

Her touch sent his skin crawling.

It was absurd. She was just a silly, vain child. Why did she repulse him on such a physical level?

Michael quashed the irrational urge to wipe his hand on his jeans. Instead, he withdrew a step, eyeing her up and down. Despite his scrutiny, Michael could discern nothing particularly provoking. Nothing to hint that she should be capable of provoking him.

“If you’re so intent on not pretending in front of Julian,” he began, pointedly, “I presume that means you’ve already told her how you feel about me?”

“I tell Julian everything.” the look she cast him suggested that he should have already KNOWN this. Then it shifted to a look of surprise when she realized, he didn’t seem to have a clue. “Oh wow. Uh, lemme explain how GIRL BESTIES work, or more specifically, how me and Julian work.” He was backing up and her natural instinct was to start stalking him and see if he’d try to run away. Angela suppressed it, choosing to make herself comfortable by sitting on top of a desk. She slid a little container of things slightly out of the way with a finger.

“I tell her everything I think, because why lie? She always understands. And yep, that includes about you. I’ve told her that I think you’re boring and condescending. Pretentious. Stuffy. I don’t think you’re all that great for her because you don’t dance, and you don’t talk about yourself, AND I don’t think you have any friends. Which is super creepy.”

Angela crossed her arms and have him a wary look. “It’s not ALL bad though. You’re good looking and actually smart, which I didn’t see coming. I thought you were faking it to impress her. Y’know pulling up old man memories just to sound smart. And even though I know you probably didn’t WANT to, you did save my ass from being a vampire dessert. I’m not gonna forget that just because you’re annoying.”

“If you’re worried that I’m going to color her perception – don’t. No one influences Julian. …She, on the other hand, does influence ME. She trusts you, so I’m going to trust you.” Angela gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. “For now. Until you give me a reason not to. I haven’t given you the whole Fuck her over and I’ll kill you speech yet. So we’ll just count this as it.”

“I only want to see her smile,” Michael told Angela, meeting her eyes without flinching. Of course he didn’t take her threats lightly, even if she was a mere human girl… but that didn’t mean he was particularly afraid of her, either. “Call it cliche or cheesy or whatever you want to believe, but that much is true. I want her happy, not hurt. But…”

He tilted his head to the side, considering his next words carefully and trying not to dwell on the unexpected compliments.

“With Leo, for example,” he continued, “I know she wants to be his friend- as do you- but when I worry for Julian’s safety, for her long-term happiness, I won’t hesitate to upset her in the short-term. I know I sound like a typical jealous boyfriend when I express concerns about the two of them, but don’t be mistaken. Leo is capable of terrible things, especially when it comes to things- or people- I care about. That’s where I stand when it comes to your best friend, Angela. You and I don’t need to be enemies.

“I don’t have many people left that I care about. You’re right about that.” His lips thinned. “But the ones that I do, I take care of. Rest assured.”

You’re so full of shit. Angela managed to repress the urge to say it out loud, though it probably still showed on her face. She rolled her eyes, shifting in her position on the desk.

“God. We might as well sit you up on a horse and give you a sword. Have you even gotten KNOW Julian yet, or are you guys still stuck in the whole kissyface bit? It’s sweet, I guess, that you want to be all protective. And I’m glad even, but you’re crazy if you think ‘upsetting her in the short-term“‘ she did the air quotes, casting him a bewildered look about the phrase, “is a good idea. Julian has decided Leo is her friend. You can tell her you’re worried about it, but don’t try to meddle in it. She’ll get pissed off.”

She shifted again, wrinkling up her nose and looking a bit disgusted with herself. “Like I told you, she knows how I feel about you. But I’m not trying to change her mind about it. I’m not gonna try to sabotage, or scare you away, or concoct a genius plan – even though I HAVE thought about it.” Angela flashed a big toothy grin.

“That’s my advice as your new frenemy. We’ll consider it your birthday present! Now are you going to get me a book, or are we gonna start swapping friendship rings now? I’ll let you have first pick.” Angela held out her hand, dangling her fingers to make the several rows of metal and gems glitter in the light.

“Your ten o’clock, Julian Hollinger is here.” a rotund woman announced, holding the door open for Julian to pass through. It closed with a soft click behind her.

“Hello, darling. I’m happy to see you remembered our appointment. …Though, you now seem to be forgetting about Ms. Abernathy.” Lucinda smiled, rising from her large antiquated desk in the corner. It was a strange piece of furniture in comparison to all of the sleek modern lines in the rest of the room.

Julian looked confused for a split second, before she realized Lucinda meant her home inspection. “Oh jesus…! I am so sorry! I kind of got wrapped up in a bunch of stuff and forgot to call her back.” She fretted with her hands, moving towards the couch where she normally sat for her session. But she paused before sitting down, tilting her head curiously at the room. It always did feel weird in there, but she always thought it was just the whole creepy therapist vibe. Now that didn’t quite feel right.

Lucinda made her way to a long table where an electric kettle was already steaming and the usual assortment of creamers, sugar, pouches of instant coffees and porcelain tea cups waited. She laughed softly, casting a smile over her shoulder. “That’s alright, dear. The life of a teenage girl is a busy one.”

“Yeah…” Julian mumbled.

The life of a teenage girl is a busy one.


“Oh jesus, I am so sorry!” Julian quickly knelt down to the side walk to help retrieve items she so carelessly jostled out of the poor woman’s hands. She felt like she was constantly saying sorry to people. But that tended to happen a lot when she was zoning out and not watching where she was walking. After school always seemed to be the most common for head-on collisions. Julian was still in her color guard uniform, and thank god she hadn’t been twirling around her baton or she’d be apologizing to someone about a broken nose. AGAIN.

“I imagine the life of a teenage girl is far too busy to waste watching her feet.” the woman smiled and laughed softly, kneeling down as well. Her hair was a bright red, braided neatly over one shoulder where a white shawl was starting slip as she placed things back in to the canvas tote she was carrying.

They were interesting things too. Julian couldn’t help but take a look at a few as she placed them carefully in they bag. Colorful jars, neat little boxes, a few unmarked books. The ball was weird. When Julian picked it up she realized it was made entirely of stone. Quartz crystal, maybe? It was heavy in her hands and when she looked in to it, it almost seemed like the patterns were starting to shift.

“The enchantress behind the veil…” Julian mumbled softly.

The woman paused, her eyes going wide with surprise. “What was that?”

“Huh? Oh! I was just thinking, this is really cool! The kind of thing an enchantress would use? A powerful sorceress or witch or something like that.” Julian held out the crystal and the woman took it, very carefully placing it back in to her tote. Now she was looking at Julian a completely different way. Curious and a little wary.

“What a clever girl you are. What is your name?”

“Julian Hollinger? There we go, that is the last of it.” she said, carefully putting the last two jars in the bag. “I AM really sorry for crashing in to you.”

“Julian Hollinger.” the woman repeated the name. “No harm done, darling. I like to believe there are no accidents in this world.”

Julian rocked slightly on her feet, pressing her fingers to her temple and rubbing. “When… when did we first meet?”

Lucinda glanced up, looking in to the mirror that hung on the wall in front of her and watching Julian’s reflection. “When I was assigned your therapist, of course. …Although, I suppose technically we may have met before that when I was giving lectures at your school for Wellness Week. I met quite a few students of Silent Pines then.”

“I suppose so…” Julian sounded unsure. She stuffed her hands in her pockets, wandering away from the grey couch and giving the room a more examining stare. She paused near a wall, near a corner by a sunken in book case. Some of the paint there looked a little discolored, like someone had set a cup on the wall somehow and left a water stain. …or was it a symbol? Julian reached up to touch it.

“Julian, why don’t you have a seat and tell me how things are going with Michael? You were helping him with something, weren’t you?” Lucinda watched as Julian’s hand snatched back away from the wall, and her hands got stuffed back in to her pockets again. The girl’s battle with her thoughts were plain to see across her face. Pain and confusion followed by the thoughtful consideration of what to say. Lucinda reached for small jar, one that was tucked neatly away behind several containers of prepackaged teas. She scooped out a spoonful of the herbs to place in a tea-ball, and dropped it delicately in to a porcelain cup. Steaming hot water followed.

“I wasn’t really able to help him the way he needed me to. Things kind of went in all kinds of weird directions.” Julian finally answered, she was wandering back towards the sofa again.

“Has it affected your relationship? Sometimes these things have a way of drawing out unexpected feelings.”

“That’s an understatement.” muttered Julian. “At first it was kind of rough, but I think we’re closer now. It’s just that-” Julian sighed, staring up at the ceiling. Talking to Lucinda about these things was so weird. But it was bound to come up at some point, especially if Tina dropped in while Leo was sleeping on her couch. “It’s changed things with his cousin too. Not like ALL the time, but just… sometimes. When I think too much.”

Once the tea was a good dark color, Lucinda added a couple spoonfuls of sugar and stirred. She circled around a chair and the coffee table to offer Julian the cup. Once the girl took it, she gave a knowing, sympathetic smile. “I think I understand. Affections do like to spring up at the most inconvenient moments. …Ah, but look at how much healthier you look.” she remarked, taking a moment to reach out and straighten some of the curls of hair over Julian’s shoulder. “I hate to admit an error in my assessments, but you were right Julian. Keeping you isolated was not the correct way to go. You need to be close to your friends and I can see that now. Drink up, before that gets cold.”

Julian was right? She looked pleased and vindicated by this, finally easing herself down on the couch and taking a big swallow of the tea. “I do feel a lot better now too. I still have dreams, but they don’t often wake me up like they used to. Um, like I am finally feeling like myself again? I feel stronger.”

“That you are, darling.” Lucinda stepped away, winding a loose strand of hair around her finger until it was a small circlet. She stopped at her desk, off and away behind the couch, to pick up a tiny piece of golden thread out of the drawer. It was wound around the circlet of hair, and with a flick of her pinkie she flipped up the dark green emerald on her middle finger to place it safely inside a hidden compartment. Once she snapped it shut, it flashed briefly with a green light.

This only took a fraction of a moment and Lucinda was already returning to the couch. As she passed by, she waved her hand over Julian’s head. The emerald flashed green again. Julian paused still right in the middle of shifting to set her empty cup on the table. Her eyes unfocused.

“My sweet, clever seer. You are learning too fast, too soon.” Lucinda gently pulled the cup from Julian’s hand to set aside. Then she took a seat on the coffee table in front of her. Her hand rose to cup the girl’s chin, examining her eyes. “What have you gotten yourself in to?”

And Julian explained. Every moment since her last appointment, from the mundane to the extraordinary. Lucinda said very little during the retelling. Only interjecting when a new name came in to play. The exchange with Caleb Whelan. Her re-connection with Owen DeWhitt. At some point while Julian was speaking, Lucinda rose to retrieve her clipboard. When the girl was done, Lucinda was just finishing up scribbling down a few notes. One name in particular was double underlined and circled.


Lucinda stopped behind the sofa, waving her ringed hand over Julian’s head, the ring flashing again. “You will only remember discussing your relationships and how you’re doing at school. I was not pleased to hear about your breaking in to the school, but encouraged you to spend more time with Leo Lanier to be a good influence on him. I advised you not to push yourself too hard. Get plenty of rest and enjoy time spent with your friends. Do not go anywhere alone, Julian. This is very important.”

On retracting her hand, Julian blinked and leaned back, giving the tea cup on the table a weary, confused look. “Uhm… Sorry, I think I was zoning out. What did you say?”

“I was asking you about your plans this week. Well, your readjusted plans now that you have to factor in detention.” Lucinda explained, taking a seat in her chair across from the table.

“Oh, right.”

Maybe I should finally learn to drive.

It wasn’t often she had that thought, but it also wasn’t a normal occurrence to go walking from her therapist’s office to her boyfriend’s giant castle. Not that the walk was any farther than her usual treks around town. There was just that headache and today it was trying to linger. Which she found pretty annoying, especially when she was finally starting to get enough sleep to feel perky again. The last thing she wanted was to be ill when it was someone special’s birthday.

The second she stepped on to the property, Julian fussed her fingers through her hair to smooth it out so it wouldn’t have the wind blown fluff going on. She paused in the middle of the driveway to make sure no fuzzies from her scarf were static clung to the dark purple sweater dress she picked out for the day. On stepping up the stairs, she swatted dust and dirt off her knee high black boots. And after ringing the doorbell, she clasped her hands behind her back to rock on her heels.

Julian loved birthdays, this would be fun!

Michael was still a bit on edge when he let Julian in.

He pulled her in for a kiss, his lips on hers before she was even inside, and felt instantly gratified at her reaction. He kept it brief, though; he didn’t want her getting the wrong idea about his plans for the evening.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he murmured against her lips instead, smiling and running his fingers through her hair. “I’ve just managed to escape Angela.”

Julian didn’t even have the chance to blurt out Happy Birthday, not that she was complaining. If her face wasn’t flushed from the walk over, it certainly was now. Grinning, she made sure the door was pushed closed behind her and then she took his hands. After a split second it registered that he mentioned Angela, which earned him a surprised blink.

“She was here? I hope she wasn’t trying to get her hands on David or doing something weird.” Julian wasn’t concerned about Angela doing anything particularly terrible, but that didn’t mean other people knew how to defend themselves from Angela’s special brand of friend-making.

It didn’t seem she was here NOW, so Michael clearly escaped unscathed, if maybe a little rattled. Julian tried not to look amused about it. Luckily, she was excited enough about her next statement.

“In any case, Happy Birthday!” she couldn’t contain the slight bounce on her feet. “There wasn’t enough time for me to plan a surprise party, or know who to invite other than Leo and Angela. SO. I give you me! Today you can ask me for anything and we’ll do anything you like! Except nothing. You’re not allowed to say nothing. Until midnight it’s you and me.”

“She was just… borrowing my books.” He’d made certain that none of them had actually followed her out the door, though. “It was harmless.”

Michael couldn’t dwell on Angela long in the face of Julian’s infectious enthusiasm, though. The gesture was so sweet- so typically Julian- that he felt his smile widen.

“Anything I like?” he teased her, tilting his head just so.

But then he sobered a bit, his expression turning contemplative. Normally, Michael didn’t truly celebrate his birthday. It had been a long time since anyone had cared enough to celebrate with him.

“I do have one tradition,” Michael said slowly, “but I’m not sure it’s what you had in mind.”

“Aaah, books.” That explained that. Getting her hands on people’s bookshelves was usually one of the first things Angela liked to do. Julian was just glad Angela didn’t break in to steal them. She would have returned them eventually, of course, but Julian doubted Michael would appreciate his stuff turning up missing. Most people didn’t.

“Anything. That’s MY birthday tradition. No exceptions!” she grinned, rising on her toes to give him a quick kiss. Then she paused, giving it a second thought. “Well, okay, maybe some exceptions. Lets not do anything that’s going to end with me in jail.” There was a fun story behind that, but Michael probably didn’t want to hear about Angela and Margrit’s really bad wishes of birthdays past.

“Alright,” Michael agreed. “But promise you’ll tell me if you aren’t up for it.”

At some point over the years, the Silent Pines Cemetery had run out of room. Instead of expanding, it had been abandoned for a better plot across town, but the old headstones and mausoleums still stood the test of time- a monument to times and names forgotten by most.

But not to Michael.

It wouldn’t be obvious to anyone walking in, but the graveyard was laid out like a six-pointed star; each of the founding families lay claim to one of the points, with the rest of the graves filling in the middle. The Hightower plot and mausoleum resided in the north-most point, and it was there that Michael led Julian.

He kept an eye on her as they made their way through the headstones, all too aware that she’d had a terrible ordeal the last time she’d set foot here. The ordeal of the Blood Moon and Tasha’s ghostly influence was still fresh, as well. Michael kept his fingers wound securely around hers, offering what comfort he could.

The farther they went, the more familiar the names became. He silently checked them off as they passed by: Mary, Peter, Roscoe, Caroline, Harvey, Luke…

“I come here every year,” he finally broke the silence as they came at last to stand by a certain pair of graves. “Even when I was far away… I always make the trip.”

In Memory of
Who Died October 19th, 1894
At the Age of 39 Years
A Dutiful Father and Leader In Our Community

Here Lies
Died October 19th, 1894
At the Side of Her Husband, Ever Faithful

He knew she would read the dates, make the connection. He would have to talk about this. Things that had been buried for years were rising to the surface… and Michael found that he was finally prepared to let them out into the light of day.

A graveyard was definitely not where Julian expected to end up, but at least she could understand the reasoning behind it. She clung to his hand, probably tighter than she meant to, suppressing whatever it was trying to provoke her senses. The last thing she wanted to do was find out if she really could summon up a ghost and spend the evening haunted by the founding families of Silent Pines.

So wrapped up in her own head, she nearly missed the dates on the headstones. The second she clued in, that uneasy feeling washed over her. The obvious questions popped in to her head immediately and Julian struggled with the best way to ask them without being blunt or insensitive. So they died on your birthday, that’s a bummer. and Was that your fault? was definitely not the way to go.

Standing there awkwardly silent was not going to work either.

“You’ve told me part of the story before. You could tell me the rest now?” He wanted to, she surmised. He trusted her enough to bring her here, knowing she would have to ask the questions or at the very least would realize things.

“I wish I knew the rest of it,” he confessed, closing his eyes. “The truth is, Julian, that I don’t know.

Squeezing her hand, Michael turned to face her. His eyes were dark, searching hers.

“I died. I know that much. I have no memory of what happened after my blood was drained from my body, not until the morning when I awoke and frightened the undertaker half to death. I awoke to learn my parents were dead… and that unlike me, they stayed that way.” Wetting his lips, he faltered. “I believe it was the vampire who turned me that killed him. But… I don’t know for certain.”

Would she still see him the same way, after this confession? Michael wasn’t sure. But he needed to know, needed to have some more definite idea of how much she could forgive. How much she would understand.

“No matter what… I know that if it weren’t for me, for what I did that night, they would have lived full lives. And every year I ask myself just how much I can claim responsibility for what happened.”

There was nothing worse than not knowing. Nothing. Julian knew this first hand. And because of that, her heart was breaking for him. Over a hundred years and never knowing the truth, and coming back here year after year to replay it. That was torture.

It shouldn’t be that way. …it didn’t have to be.

“I could find out.” she suddenly said, looking uncertain at first. But the more she thought about it, it seemed more and more like a very good idea. “I’ve seen the past before. Granted, I wasn’t trying to do it on purpose, but I can definitely try now. I could read you, or your house, or-” she cast a quick glance at the headstones. Maybe not that. “Or something.”

“I couldn’t help with Tasha, but I know I could do this.”

“Julian, that’s… I’m not sure.” He shook his head, slowly, his eyebrows knitting together as he tried to absorb what she was offering him. “I’m not sure that I want an answer.”

There was no way of knowing what she would see. No way of knowing what she would see of him.

“My relationship with my parents wasn’t easy,” Michael admitted. He glanced away, his thoughts turning to the past. “I was… a disappointment. You could say that bad tempers run in the family; we were similar in that, if nothing else. I wished him dead sometimes. I don’t know if I…”

“…If you killed him. You may have.” It would be stupid ignore that possibility. If Leo could kill Violet, a girl he had real affection for, then Michael who was admitting to a strained relationship could have easily killed his own father. The only trouble was that Julian seemed to consistently get things wrong when it concerned Michael. She couldn’t be sure of anything unless she dug really deep.

But she wouldn’t do that unless he wanted her to.

Julian reached up to tug gently at his sleeve. “If you knew, you could lay it to rest. You’d know if you should be feeling guilt or regret or just grieve. And you could work through it and let it go and finally move on? It’s better than that big void of nothing.”

Perhaps Julian was right.

Michael lifted her fingers to his lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles, releasing a deep breath. She wasn’t running away from him; she hadn’t called him a monster. He didn’t want her to be exposed to these things, but it was inevitable. He could trust that she wouldn’t be lost to him, no matter what she saw… and so…

“Alright,” he said, calling up memories of that night. “Alright. Do it.”

The moment that Julian tried, a switch flipped and the scenery turned upside down.

The vision wasn’t as clear as the one she’d seen of Leo and Violet. She recognized that she was standing in the foyer of Hightower Manor, but it was warped and skewed beyond what could be accounted for by a different era. Like she was viewing it through drunk goggles. It was dark. Shadows crept up the stairs, bending and twisting and clawing at the walls.

She could hear sounds from up above. Footsteps. A man’s voice, muffled.

“…not my son,” the man said, and Julian knew that voice. It was the same voice she’d heard in Michael’s bedroom, the night that Angela had a run-in with the bad vampire at the club.

You need to abandon these silly obsessions, Michael.

Whoa. That didn’t feel right.

Vision always came with a bit of vertigo, but this was a bit different. It made her feel a little queasy and she couldn’t be sure if it was the world that was tilting or her. Julian grabbed on to Michael to steady herself regardless.

“It’s okay, I’m fine.” she heard herself say in an automatic response. If he had said anything before or after, she didn’t hear it. Julian was taking a deep breath and trying to draw the memory in to focus. She could do this. At the very least, on recognizing the voice she knew she was headed in the right direction.

Trying to walk up the stairs was like trying to balance on a see-saw, almost as if the vision itself was trying to buck her straight out of it. It was closer to one of her dreams than one of her waking visions, really. The higher she climbed, though, the more things started to settle and flatten out into something resembling reality.

As her foot touched the upstairs hallway, things snapped into place.

Everything became a bit too real suddenly. The floor was covered in blood. It squelched under Julian’s shoe, as if she were actually there. More dark ichor was sprayed across the walls at head-level and staining in long drips down the green wallpaper in a twisted parody of Christmas colors.

She could hear the voice again. It was coming from Michael’s bedroom.

“You’re not my son,” Michael’s father- because of course it must have been- was saying. “What have you done with Michael?”

“I am your son,” a second voice replied. It was a rattling, breathy sort of voice. Hoarse. Pained. It didn’t sound like Michael at all.

Julian was starting to regret this.

When she dreamed she was aware of it being a dream, even when what was in it was very real. The dreams didn’t feel real, though. Not like this where she felt completely out of her body and in a totally different place. The blood made her cringe. She could almost even breathe it in, and no matter where she turned there was no avoiding it. Her instinct was to run. To pull away, squeeze her eyes shut and will it all gone.

But she didn’t.

Biting in to her cheek, Julian took in all the details and pushed forward.

“You did this,” the second voice was saying now, growing louder and more distinct as Julian went further down the hall. Its owner was making strange, wheezing noises in between words. “This is all your fault.”

“Get away from me, you disgusting creature.”

“Look what you’ve done,” the voice snarled and crackled. “You chose power, you chose this town over your own family. You killed us all. Look at what you’ve made of us.”

“I’ve done nothing but what is necessary to save my family. The boy-”

“Do you mean the boy you beat?” There was a gurgling, choking sound as Michael’s father fell silent. “Do you mean the boy you locked away until you could use him? Tell me, father, why do you think everyone around you is a monster? Perhaps they learned it by example?”

Julian was just outside the door now. It was slightly ajar and tilted oddly; one of the hinges had been torn free of the door frame. There was a smear of red on the knob. She could see just enough through the crack to make out the silhouette of a person, their back turned to her.

This is harsh. This hurts.

It was baffling that intense emotion would hurt more than shared feelings of stabbings or missing guts. Maybe it was because she felt overwhelmed and smothered by them. Julian couldn’t even be sure she was breathing anymore, the ache was so strong. Fear was also strong. Theirs or hers? She had to bury it. This was a memory. Everything that happened here was already done and it wasn’t going to hurt her. Michael needed this.

Gingerly, despite the care being unnecessary, she reached out to push the door open wider.

“Get back- What are you doing?” As the door swung inward onto the room, Julian got a clearer view of the figure standing in the center. The room was almost unrecognizable as the one that Michael now used as a bedroom; the furnishings were different, laid out with bits of feminine touches and a bed clearly built for two.

At the foot of the bed stood the second speaker. He was shirtless, thin and stained with blood, his wrists streaked with red. He was pinning a much larger man- William Hightower, Michael’s father- to one of the bedposts, fingers tightening around his throat.

“I’m doing what’s necessary to save my family,” he rasped.

His fingers tightened and wrenched. There was a horrible twisting noise, and then a burst of blood gushed across the room, far enough to spatter on Julian’s cheek.

With a shuddering sob, the vampire tossed aside William Hightower’s head. It rolled across the carpet, leaving a gory trail.

“Guh..!” Her voice caught before she could shriek. Nope. Nuuuupe. The line between recognizing this as a vision and not present life was starting to blur. Panic mode was trying to switch on.

His head is rolling across the floor.

Julian took a step backwards, nearly forgetting she wasn’t actually there. Her hands quickly rising to her cheeks to wipe away the wetness, but when she pulled them back it wasn’t streaks of blood. Just tears. She wanted out right now! This was enough, wasn’t it?

Not until I see his face. I have to.

As if reacting to her outburst, he turned around.

Julian recognized the dark eyes, the shape of the nose and mouth. She’d kissed lips shaped like that, ones that weren’t tinted red. His hair was matted down and damp, but there was a hint of the curls she’d expected.

But something wasn’t right.

There was something in those eyes she’d never seen in the young man she’d met. Pain, real pain, and something more. The way he held himself, too, was strange… as if he weren’t used to taking up so much space, like he thought he was smaller than he really was.

“…Michael,” he said, in that same gravelly croak. “You weren’t supposed to see this.”

In a flash he was next to her, touching her cheek with hesitant fingers. His face was inches from hers, and somehow their eyes were level even though he ought to have been looking down at Julian.

“Forget,” he whispered. “Forget my gift. Happy birthday.”

Julian felt something push. She was slammed back into the present, the blood and horror and emotions evaporating into thin air. The only constant in her surroundings were dark eyes staring into hers- now from the proper height.

“Julian,” Michael was saying, over and over. His hands were gripping her shoulders; it looked kind of like he was having an internal debate about whether or not to give her a good shake. “Julian, are you alright?”

No.” she choked out. Which was probably the worst possible thing to say to Michael right at that moment. Reality came back so sharply, she was stuck rigid and confused. Her hands rising up as if she were going to push him away, but instead moving to fabric of her own scarf. Julian was trying to piece it all together, but it was leaving her with even more gaps and more questions.

“Um, sorry, yes.” she quickly corrected, wiping the back of her hand against her cheek. Crying was going to give the wrong impression! “You didn’t- …but I don’t know-” She couldn’t seem to find the words, the struggle was clear on her face. Finally she was left with a tearful perplexed expression.

“He called him father. He made you forget.” That hardly even began to explain anything. The rest she was still trying to work out and now that vertigo was trying to kick in again.

“Julian, it’s alright. You’re safe, I promise,” Michael told her, her words barely penetrating in the face of his concern with her panic. His hands moved to her sides, but he didn’t quite wrap his arms around her. He was too wary of frightening her further.

He shouldn’t have allowed this.

“I’m sorry,” he tried to placate her. “Don’t cry. Whatever you saw, Julian, it’s over.”

Once it finally sank in what she was telling him, Michael blinked slowly. He lifted one hand to his temple as if it would keep more memories from spilling out onto the grass.

“He made me forget?” he murmured. “He… I don’t understand.”

“That makes two of us.” she muttered first. “…and I’m not crying!” Oh jesus, it was her idea to dig in to a memory, she should be stronger than this! It was a success, albeit a confusing one, and her freaking out was just making this harder for him.

Julian sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, soothing her frazzled nerves. Any traces of tears were quickly destroyed by the edge of her scarf. The she reached out to grasp his shirt, gently shaking it as if she were considering trying to shake him too.

“I meant to say, I’m not upset or scared. It’s-” she paused, chewing in to her cheek to find the right word, “empathy. I feel for you. For what happened.”

She explained the vision, leaving out the more gory details. All the while she watched his face, looking for the signs of recognition or just further confusion.

Nothing that Julian told him rang a bell.

Michael simply didn’t remember watching his father die.

Why? Why couldn’t he remember? Michael never forgot anything. And that sort of event should have been memorable. Instead it had been scrubbed from his brain, the traces so faint that even Julian’s vision had been a struggle. Imperfect. Confusing.

“I… don’t know what to think right now,” he confessed, sick with his own failure, with the sense that something had been taken from him. He sat down heavily on a nearby gravestone, tracing his fingers over an inscription dedicated to a stillborn Hightower infant. 1877-1877, Our Loved One. He rubbed his thumb over each letter as carefully as a blind man reading braille, but it didn’t help him find any answers.

“I didn’t kill him,” Michael said aloud, for the first time. “It wasn’t me.”

It made her heart ache, but it was worth it. There was at least one question answered for him, even if it did just open up an entirely new can of worms.

Julian stay silent for a few moments, both because he needed the time for it to sink in and because she was still trying to figure out where the pieces fit. This was more than what it seemed and now it was nagging at her from somewhere in the back of her head. What had his family been involved in?

She shifted until she was directly in front of him, resting her hands on his shoulders and leaning to place a gentle kiss to his forehead. “That is one less thing for you to carry around with you, at least? I wish I could give you more answers. I could, maybe, if I tried?”

Michael shook his head, finally allowing himself to pull her in close and hold her.

“No,” he told Julian. “No, I think I’m done with the past for today. I want to spend the rest of my birthday in the present. With you.”

He peered up at her, eyes questioning.

“Will you be alright coming back to the house?”

“Do you mean, am I only going to see blood and horrors everywhere I look in your house?” Her tension finally eased and the soft hint of a smile teased at the corner of her lips. Julian leaned down to brush a soft kiss over his mouth, then she shrugged her shoulders with a wry grin.

“I see crazy things everywhere these days, I’ll be fine. If not, I’ll have you. Besides, I promised you anything until midnight, and a Hollinger always keeps their promises.”

It was 26 minutes after midnight and tomorrow was a school night.

But who was going to complain? …Besides Julian herself in the morning. Not that it wasn’t all worth it. A day with Michael, even if it involved disturbing visions, was still a very good day. She got to give him something important besides the pleasure of her company, which counted as a birthday success.

She was tired though. It took her way too long to figure out what pocket her key was hiding in. Once she pushed though the door, Julian went through the usual motions. Taking off her jacket and scarf to hang up. And then leaning against the wall to tug off her boots and socks. Hoping on one foot and struggling with a boot, she was already counting off how many hours of sleep she could get before the alarm rang in the morning.

“Nice walk of shame there, Jules.”

Leo slid into view out of the living room, a smirk on his face. It looked like he’d been borrowing her shower very recently; his hair was still wet, and he hadn’t bothered putting on a shirt again.

“Sneaking in at this time of night. Tsk tsk. I thought Michael treated you like a virtuous young lady, but I guess I was wrong.”

It was funny. Despite the fact that he was now couch-crashing indefinitely at Julian’s house, she rarely got the chance to talk with him. Something always seemed to be going on, either on her end or on his. This might actually have been the first conversation he’d started since Julian landed in detention thanks to their little jaunt through the school.

Although it was maybe less conversation than it was Leo being a jerk.

“Even if I HAD been up to something you have to actually be ashamed for it to be a walk of shame.” she grumbled getting her second boot off and dropping it to the floor. When she finally looked up, she blinked and squinted at him. This is new.

Before those thoughts got any further, she grabbed a hair band out of her jacket so she could twist her hair up in a messy bun and took a turn towards the kitchen.

“It was his birthday today, and by Julian Hollinger Birthday Law, the Birthdayee gets to do whatever they like until midnight.” She explained, even though she didn’t owe him one. Julian paused to turn around and walk backwards, a perplexed look across her features. “…and you know, not once has anyone asked for something normal. Not even Michael. I’m starting to think this tradition is some kind of weird self inflicted curse.”

“What exactly did the birthday boy ask for?” he prompted as he followed after her. “Did he want to play dress-up on a life-sized doll for once, or what?”

Nothing had happened. Leo had known that, really, or he sure as hell wouldn’t have been here when she got home.

He shouldn’t have been here now.

One of these days, all of this was going to catch up to Leo in a bad, bad way.

She wrinkled up her nose, and he earned points for knowing how to making something sound as creepy as possible. Or lost points. Either way, Julian rolled her eyes when she stepped in to the kitchen, making a beeline for the cabinet to pull out a bowl and a box of cereal.

“Wrong kind of weird.” she corrected, stopping to lean against the counter and tap her fingers on the surface. Could she talk about it? Leo wasn’t exactly sympathetic to anything involving Michael. But she wanted to talk about it just because she still hadn’t quite worked out what the hell happened. Angela was probably already asleep.

“We went to the old graveyard to see his parents.” she tested the waters. “Not exactly my idea of birthday fun, but I understand why. And it was a little awkward and little strange and then of course -I- had to open my big mouth and make it stranger.” Now it was herself she was sighing at, turning around on her heels to fetch milk out of the fridge.

“…You went to see his parents’ graves,” Leo repeated, with clear disbelief in his tone. “He actually took you to see his dead parents?

What the fuck was Michael playing at? Leo took a mental step back, weighing the options in either of his palms.

Possibility one, Michael was fucking with Julian. Playing the sympathy card. Leo’s left fingers did a dismissive little wiggle. Waaah waaah, I’m an orphan. Mommy and Daddy were mean when they were alive. Comfort me.

Possibility two, Michael just wanted to gloat so badly that he risked Julian’s disapproval. If that was the case, Michael hadn’t been bluffing; Julian must have shown she was willing to forgive quite a bit coming from Michael. Which just…

Pissed Leo off. Yeah.

His right hand curled into a fist.

Julian wondered if he knew how much the air crackled when he was annoyed.

She didn’t respond at first, waiting for whatever it was to work through his head and for him to settle back to simmer. Cereal was poured in to her bowl along with the milk. A spoon was fetched, and Julian hopped up on to the counter to sit.

A few bites and a little subtle examining of his expression, she wiped the back of her hand against her mouth and spoke. “Are you going to be angry, or do you want to know what happened? And yes, that is where we went. I’m pretty sure he wanted to talk about it and was hoping I’d ask. I don’t think he expected me to offer psychic mojo, though…” She tapped her mouth with her spoon, replaying things in her head and a thoughtful look falling over her features.

“Did you know that he didn’t remember what happened with his parents?”

“Bullshit,” he said automatically. And then got a look at her expression. “…No. Seriously? He actually doesn’t remember?”

Did that make it better, or worse? Leo wasn’t sure.

He found himself pacing, going to lean against the fridge. Whatever, it didn’t matter. It didn’t change anything. And it’s not like Leo gave a shit, either way.

“So. Psychic mojo. You wanted to see for yourself, didn’t you.” Typical Jules. She’d probably managed to get a glimpse of the whole bloody mess. He eyed her, trying to glean clues from her face. How did she feel about whatever it was she’d seen?

“He didn’t know, and not knowing really really sucks. So I offered to find out for him. …kinda wish it wasn’t a literal kind of seeing, but yeah.” She glanced down at her half eaten bowl of cereal. At least she could eat. Cereal didn’t exactly resemble streaks of blood and rolling heads though. Going to bed was going to be the hard part.

“It was easy to do… but at the same time really difficult? Memory stuff is easiest for me to fall in to, is what I mean. I do it by accident half the time anyway just by thinking about someone or touching something. But this one was trying to push me out, like it was all buried and distorted. It was all prickly.” she stirred the milk around a bit. Okay, maybe eating was not so easy. But if she didn’t eat, she was going to have a shit morning. Julian forced a few more bites.

“He didn’t his kill father, that I know for sure.” she finally explained. But it was pretty clear by the way she shifted on the counter that there was a more do it than just that.

“How much do you know about the vampire that turned him?”

He didn’t kill his father.

Michael didn’t kill his father?

“No,” Leo protested, mostly for his own sake. “No fucking way.”

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe her. It was that he didn’t believe for a second that Michael wasn’t responsible for what had been done to his parents. He had to be. Nothing else made any fucking sense.

“”The vampire that turned him?” He let out a strangled laugh. “Never met him. He split town right after what happened. Michael tried to find him but had no luck. You’re saying that’s who killed my aunt and uncle.”

Julian found his response interesting, but she wasn’t really surprised. Even she thought Michael would’ve been the most the likely person. What was surprising was that in all of that time the two of them never spoke about the details. Did Michael not tell Leo he had no idea what happened? Or was it that Leo just didn’t believe him?

“Killed your uncle at the very least. It was the only part I got to see.”

She slid off the counter to cross over to the sink and rinse out her bowl. Julian chewed in to her cheek, debating how much more to share. Michael hadn’t wanted her to dig any farther. But that feeling was still there nagging at her. If she couldn’t figure things out, maybe Leo could.

“Are you ready for the ACTUAL crazy parts? He looked very much like Michael and he called William Hightower father. He killed him to protect his family, or so he said right before he killed him. Michael saw and he made him forget. Thralled him, I think, and that is why it was so hard to push through that memory. Which means we have a vampire who might be related to Michael who may have been the one to turn him, who definitely killed his father, and then made him forget and vanished.”

Julian leaned against the sink, peering at Leo as if she had no idea what to make of any of it. In truth, she really didn’t. This was crazy. “It feels strange. Like I’m missing pieces to a bigger picture and it won’t get out of my head. He didn’t want to know anymore, but he should. Shouldn’t he? I mean, it does seem like the sort of thing that has MORE to it, doesn’t it, even without the psychic mojo alarm driving me crazy?”

“Does it matter?” Leo heard himself ask. “It happened forever ago. We haven’t seen him since. Who gives a shit. And anyway, you think he’s, what, another Hightower? Michael didn’t have any brothers.”

He pushed away from the fridge.

“Maybe you’re wrong,” he pointed out. “You said the vision was hard to get into? Maybe what you saw was off. Maybe it got confused.”

“It matters.” she answered immediately. She didn’t know how she knew (okay, she knew how she knew, she just didn’t know the how it got there and whys), but it definitely mattered.

Julian shrugged her shoulders and frowned. “I could be wrong. The two of you are pretty good at twisting me around. For all I know, I could have been reading prepared thoughts, or getting thralled, or witchy business. I don’t know.” She figured that was probably what HE was hoping anyway. The two of them were so hellbent on painting the other as a villain, that she was really starting to find it frustrating.

Crossing her arms she gave him a bit of a challenging stare. “Or I could be right. And somewhere out there lurking is a vampire that can pull Michael’s strings. Wouldn’t that just be a huge pain in the ass for all of us.”

“You don’t have to be involved if you don’t want to. I’ll get Angela to help figure it out. She’s already weaseled her way in to his house somehow. She can do her weird genius puzzle thing, and I’ll… hmm. Just keep falling in to things by accident. That seems to work annoyingly well.”

The two of you are pretty good at twisting me around.

Wasn’t that the truth.

“I’m leaving,” he told her, voice flat. “It’s about time I got my car fixed.”

He almost made it out of there. He was already halfway to the kitchen doorway when he spun back to face her, his last thread of composure slipping.

“For the record,” Leo began, “I’m glad his parents are dead, and you can bet Michael’s glad too, so don’t fall for whatever sad act he’s pulling. I know he’s glad. And sure, your mystery vampire is super mysterious. But no, I don’t want to be involved, because unlike you I don’t give a shit about Michael. And you know what, neither does the vamp that bit him, because if he really gave a shit about Michael then HE WOULDN’T HAVE FUCKING LEFT HIM.”

Over the course of his tirade, Leo’s voice had gotten steadily louder and louder- until somehow he realized he was actually shouting. Yelling at Julian. Like it was her fault.

Fuck. Fuck.

Julian was so stunned to hear him shouting, she couldn’t even be properly angry about it. Sure, she had already yelled all kinds of things at him from cursing to insults, most of which he sincerely deserved, but watching him completely lose it was a different thing entirely. Especially when the words he spoke didn’t seem to match up with the tone.

She bit in to her lip and took a deep breath. Maybe it seemed like she was trying to get her temper under control, or that she was gearing up to start yelling too. Julian wasn’t sure herself and it took her a moment to find the words she was looking for.

Because he was too smart to just ignore this in favor of being pissy. He had to be.

“I know you think I’m just rolling with crush blinders on about everything that involves him, but YOU are just as bad with the hate-until-death-do-we-part. Your witchy friend was crazy and you didn’t see it, when I’m so sure that if it was ANY other circumstances you would have. I think if you stopped focusing on how much you hate him for like A DAY, maybe you would actually notice stuff you hadn’t before.”

“You don’t have to care about him and I wouldn’t ask you to. But I’d like to think, if I did you would be able to help me figure it out and actually use that stupid head of yours instead of stomping around hissing at everybody.”

Or you could be a huge asshole about it. she almost added. Instead she just twisted her mouth up and scowled at him. Silently daring him to try and walk about that door.

“I’m sorry, you’re right, I’m overreacting. He just killed me,” Leo reminded her, taking a step in her direction. “Did you forget? He. Killed. Me. He made me kill the girl I loved. He’s made me do all kinds of horrible things and you think I should just… just get over it? Are you kidding me? I don’t owe him anything and if his big bad vampire twin is going to come back and fuck him over, GOOD.”

He was breathing heavily, now, his temper spun well out of control. He wanted to stop, to stop flinging this shit in her face, but he couldn’t seem to find the off switch. Maybe he just didn’t want it bad enough. Maybe it was just that he’d gone too long not being able to tell anyone anything.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with me. Why the hell would I help?”

“YES! Get over it!” she shouted back. And immediately regretted it, because it’s not what she meant AT ALL.

“Hrrmmg.” Julian squeezed her eyes shut, her hands coming up to squeeze in to tight fists. She shook them, like she wanted to shake HIM. She was going to kill him. He HAD to understand, though. So Julian sucked in a deep breath, opened her eyes again and pointed a finger at him. She was still pretty rigid, but she was trying very hard to keep her tone level.

“At one time you cared about him.” she started slowly. “He was your family and your friend. And then he did shitty horrible things and he owes you, and I don’t want you to forget that. Because you shouldn’t! But you cared – you still care. If you didn’t care at all, then why do you get so fucking pissed off about him all the time! Why haven’t you broken free by now? Or killed him or something! Anything! You’ve had a hundred years worth of opportunities.”

“And if you SERIOUSLY still want to tell me you don’t give a shit, fine. Then you should help to protect yourself. Because when hasn’t Michael’s crazy stuff directly affected you? At some point it will be your problem.”

There was a long moment of silence as Leo stood there, shoulders heaving, staring at her with his mouth screwed shut.

“…The person I cared about is dead,” he said at last. “If he ever even existed in the first place.”

He padded forward to grab her wrists… and tug her closer, his forehead dropping to her shoulder.

“You know, you seriously suck,” he told her viciously, turning his face toward the curve of her neck. “And you have an issue with letting things go. You should mind your own business and stay out of this shit. One of these days, one of the three of us is going to get you killed.”

For a split second, Julian thought she had finally pissed him off enough that he was going to prove just how much he didn’t care by taking a bite out of her. Once she realized he was conceding to her point, all of the tension in her body melted away. The fact that she could feel his breath against her neck and the weirdness of the position was lost in the relief that maybe he would cooperate. Julian doubted she could do any of this without him.

“Me dying is pretty inevitable.” she murmured softly. He had no idea. “I bet you idiots would’ve thought twice about bringing me in to this if you knew I was a stubborn nightmare.” She wanted to hug him. He needed one, and she really, really wanted to. But he still had a hold of her, and she didn’t have the heart to make him let go.

She let out a heavy sigh. “If I ask for your help, will you?”

Leo laughed. It wasn’t really funny, but she had no idea.

“I won’t say no.”

He was aware that he was seriously toeing the line these days. There were going to be serious consequences if he made the wrong move, if he took it too far. Maybe that was part of it; Leo had always liked playing with fire.

“You’re pretty hard to resist,” he flirted anyway, because he was a fucking dumbass. And because he knew she’d believe he was just joking.

This pain in the ass was now trying to irk her.

Julian guessed it was payback for getting him all pissed off. Fair play, she supposed, since she just talked him in to helping the last person on the planet he wanted anything to do with. Truthfully she was glad to get pesky Leo. That meant, at least for now, that things were okay.

He wasn’t going to get away with it, though. Not this time.

And maybe, just maybe a teeny tiny part of her really liked it.

“Am I?” She turned her head to mutter softly in his ear. “You shouldn’t tell me those sorts of things. Next thing you know I’m getting ideas and taking advantage of you.”

His heart stuttered in his chest. That was… uh. Unexpected. Yeah.

“You’re the one who should be careful, Jules.” He forced his breathing to remain calm, steady, and otherwise not a clear sign that he was about three seconds from saying to hell with it. “You’re getting a bit too used to dealing with gentlemen. I’m the kind of guy who likes it when you’re just as naughty as I am.”

When she didn’t back off from his ear, though, he couldn’t entirely suppress a twitch. He tried to pass the motion off, straightening up and cracking his neck. His eyes flicked downward, then back up to her face.

“I have to go,” he told her, and if there was a note of reluctance in his tone, he’d just have to hope she didn’t notice. “I’ll be back. There’s just something I have to do.”

“I have to be in bed, anyway. I have school in the morning.” It took all of her willpower not to throw in a taunt about him running scared. The rest of her energy was put in to seeming as unruffled as possible. Because holy shit. Her flirt game might have been good, but she hadn’t thought of the consequences of Leo pushing back. Julian thanked the universe that he pulled away. She was a goddamned idiot, and way too willing to prove that he wasn’t the only one who could be wicked.

And that would get her in to so, so much trouble.

Julian made the escape first, brushing past him and only stopping to turn when she was in the doorway at a good safe distance. She held up her pointer fingers and thumbs in the shape of a heart. “If you want my adoration, you’ll make sure there’s coffee for me in the morning.”

“Just because I agreed to help with one thing doesn’t mean I’m going to do whatever you want.” He gave her one last look, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Night, Jules.”

When Michael entered his study, he knew at once that someone had been there.

His first instinct was to check his bookshelves for missing items, thinking that perhaps Angela had doubled back after he’d gone to the cemetery with Julian. But his library seemed intact, the rows of books undisturbed. Everything had been placed carefully back in Angela’s wake, down to the slimmest of volumes.

It might have been David, he supposed. It was, after all, David’s home as much as it was Michael’s. Perhaps the disturbance which Michael was sensing could be attributed to his cousin’s desire to tidy up. It might even have been meant as a birthday gift.

But something still didn’t seem right.

It was only when he sat down at his desk that he saw it. There was a bit of red ribbon dangling out of one of the drawers, the brightest bit of color in the whole room. It must have caught his eye, or perhaps it was the slight shifting of some of the items on top of the desk that had grabbed his notice. Either way, this was what he was looking for.

He gently slid open the drawer, peering inside.

What he saw left him blinking, uncomprehending.

It wasn’t particularly strange to find a journal in a desk drawer, of course. What was strange was that Michael recognized it, and that he’d thought it lost many years ago. He reached down to touch the leather cover and pull the ribbon loose from around it.

As he picked it up, a note fell out from between the pages and landed in his lap.

Fuck you, it read, in tell-tale scrawling letters. Happy birthday.

And for the first time in a long time, Michael began to feel a glimmering of something that he thought might be hope.

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