Black Sun 022: Ghosts and Festival (Original Draft)

Black Sun 022: Ghosts and Festival (Original Draft)

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She was walking down the hall at school, lockers were flung open on both sides leaving a flurry of papers, books, and browned autumn leaves all over the floors. Mist curled upwards from open doorways of classrooms, none of which looking like the rooms they were supposed to. Julian paused by one of the thresholds. A young woman with familiar blue eyes in a long yellow dress sat on a window bench, her hands linked together with a man who leaned in from the outside and sat on the sill. He was covered head to toe in dirt, but the girl paid it no mind. Julian couldn’t hear the words, yet she knew this was something intimate. A captured moment of sweetness. In a flash of red flame their bodies crumbled to ashes.

Footsteps could be heard behind her and she glanced over her shoulder. They were getting closer. Mist turned to charcoal plumes of smoke and she could feel the heat emanating from the walls. She ran.

At once everything shifted and she stumbled in to the hallway of her home, she was barely five years old and reaching out to grab on to her father’s leg.

“There’s a monster in my room.” she stated gravely. She wasn’t crying, but her eyes were wide with fear.

He knelt down in front of her, resting a hand gently on her head. “Most monsters are just people that had terrible things happen to them. They’re all twisted up inside and don’t remember who they were. You don’t ever have to be afraid of them, kid. You’ll know when it’s a real monster and when it’s just someone that needs your help. All you have to do is talk to them.”

“I’m too scared. Will you ask him?”

“I can’t, kiddo. It takes a very special kind of person to help a monster and he chose you. Ask him what he needs and listen carefully.”

Still unsure, but willing to try, she stepped in to her room. In the corner he stood, blackened and charred. Skin flaking off his body to reveal bits of reddened flesh. The white of his eyes almost glowed in contrast. She was herself again, sixteen, stepping to stand before him.

“What are you trying to tell me?” she asked. His arm rose, pointing behind her.

Julian spun, finding herself in a large open field somewhere in the middle of the Devil’s Wood. In the sky it was both night and day. Sun and moon at opposite ends of the sky slowly becoming eclipsed in shadow; a blackened sun and a bloody red moon. As she turned she could see lines scarred in to the earth, each connected and leading off in to the distance where a tree was lit up on fire. Six trees at six points.

Something screeched, high pitched and horrifying. She slapped her hands over her ears. The ground under her feet started to rumble and greyed, half rotten hands shot up from the ground. When she stumbled backwards, she fell against asphalt. Now she was in the middle of the road somewhere at the edge of town.

The footsteps were there again and she could see a figure standing out in the distance, nothing but a silhouette in the fog. Julian ran again, but it still ended the same way.

The crushing feeling. The lack of air. The pain. And the dark.

“Grrmgph!” Julian bolted upright in her bed, her jaw clenched so tight that instead of a scream or a cry it was a stifled groan. Her eyes immediately went to the corner where the burned man had been standing. She remembered that night. But back then it was a different figure. Some teenage boy covered in mud, glass, and blood. A ghost she mistook for a monster. Julian had ran out of the room to climb in her parents bed, and had that exact conversation with her dad. Her mother was so frustrated with having another night interrupted by a ghost, she banned them from the room. Dad curled up with her stuffed animals while she sat on the floor and talked with the boy. He was angry. Really, really angry. He didn’t want to go. He wanted to go back and make sure the person that hit him went too. Julian didn’t know what he meant at the time, but she listened and talked to him until the boy didn’t have anything left to say. In the end, he was still a little angry but mostly he was just sad. He was ready to leave.

How could she forget something like that? She hadn’t been so young that she’d not remember a dead teenager in her room and the way her dad so patiently waited through the whole thing. Occasionally reaching up from his husband-in-the-doghouse pile of plushies to pat her on the head whenever she got antsy. How could she?

A choked sob slipped out, when she was trying to hard to hold it in. Julian swallowed and rubbed her arm against her eyes. She snatched up the small blanket at the foot of her bed and slipped on to the floor. It was barely 2AM as she silently stepped down the hall to the last door. She hesitated before she grasped the knob and pushed her way inside. There was a small amount of dust everywhere. She hadn’t even stepped foot in there since last fall. Maybe Tina did once or twice, but nothing was really disturbed.

Leaving the door ajar, Julian climbed in to the bed. She didn’t even bother pulling her blanket up over her, she just grabbed a pillow to wrap her arms around and buried her face in to it. It still smelled like that detergent Mum loved because it smelled like flowers, but dad hated because… well. It smelled like flowers.

She would just try to sleep here.

They stood in the school parking lot.

It was daylight; the sun shone down on Leo’s face. He turned his face upward, wondering and blinking in the brightness of it. It had been a long time since he’d seen it so high in the sky.

“Leo,” he heard her whisper.

“Shh,” he answered. His hands stretched out so that he could watch sunlight filter between his fingers.

“Leo,” she said again, louder. “You’re going to burn up.”

“I know.” He tipped his head back and closed his eyes. “But I can’t help it.”

Her slim arms wrapped around his neck, pulling him in close. Too close. She was like a lead weight dragging him down, down out of the light. His feet started to sink into the pavement. It was a pool under his feet and it was ice cold. She was trying to put out the fire that was starting to ignite all along his arms, trying to pull him under the water. But he was only going to drown instead.

“Sadie, let go.”

“Leo,” she sobbed. “I’m losing you.”

“Sweetheart.” His burning hands settled to either side of her cheeks. The flame flickered along her chin and caught at her flesh. “I’m so sorry. But you’re dead.”

She stared at him in silence as she turned to ash, her face crumbling. Her eyes were the last to go.

Leo was almost fully submerged now. He tried to kick, to swim back to the surface. But it was like swimming through quicksand. Slowly, the water covered his head.

His feet hit something solid.

Stumbling, he toppled to the side, tearing through a thin curtain and coming out into the air. He put his hands out to brace his fall and came down hard on the hood of his car, banging his knees on the painted metal.

“Leeeo,” she sang. Her voice echoed through the trees. He whipped his head around, but he couldn’t catch so much as a glimpse of her. All he could see was green.

Pushing himself up off of the car, he rolled onto his back and dusted himself off. There were marks on his wrists. Hand prints.

“Leo, come oooon!” Her laughter spun him in circles, left him dizzy. “Come play with me!”

“I can’t.” He swallowed. “I’m too old for that, Pip.”

In answer, a wolf howled. A moment later, there was a flash of fur between patches of green and grey. Turning his back, Leo ran. He could hear noises behind him- sometimes footsteps and giggles, sometimes the beating of paws. Sometimes forlorn whispers of Why, why, why?

Leo kept running until he crossed over the treeline. He dropped down into a crouch, panting, watching as blood dripped down his fingers and into the grass.

He felt a hand on his shoulder.

It started to rain.

The rain washed away the blood and remnants of ash, leaving him clean. It somehow didn’t soak into his clothes, though. Those remained untouched.

“Leo!” she exclaimed. Her hand was warm, even through his leather jacket. “What’s wrong?”

“I couldn’t find you,” he sighed, leaning into her touch. “I got lost.”

She walked around in front of him; he felt it rather than saw it, closing his eyes as she trailed her fingers around the front of his collar.

“I’m right here,” she reminded him. “You’ll know if I’m gone.”

“You’re right.” Leo stood up slowly, his own hands settling on her waist and tracing their way up along her sides- almost. There was a centimeter of space between his fingertips and her body, as if he kept running into an invisible wall.

“Stop it!” She grabbed his hands, and for a moment the world went dark and foggy. But then she pulled his hands in to press them against her hips and his mouth went dry.

“You’d better hang onto me.” She gave him a flirty smile, and that was it. He was done.

He grabbed her hands and wove their fingers together, then slammed them hard against the wood of her front door. Finally; he had her against a vertical surface and he could actually do something about it. He brushed his lips against her cheek. She shivered, and he moved lower, licking her throat.

“Ohhh hell.” She sounded breathless.

“Just me,” he shot back through a grin that widened when she laughed. The sound turned into a gasp when he nipped.

“Leo…” she began, voice trembling.

“i won’t,” Leo promised her. “Not if you don’t want it.”

Her hands found his face, dragging him away from her skin. His heart plummeted… until she leaned up and into him and her lips found his.

Outside, someone was knocking on the door.

“Jules.” He sighed, pulling back. “We’ve got company.”

“Ignore it. He’ll go away.” Her fingers curled into his hair and tugged. At the same time she jumped, wrapping her legs around his waist.

“Fuck,” swore Leo. They practically fell onto the couch, her hands twisting in his shirt as she crawled on top of him. He leaned up to lick his way into her mouth.

I love you, he told her silently.

“I know,” she answered aloud, eyes sparkling with mischief.

“Did you just quote Star Wars at me?”

“Maaaybe…” Her hand teased lower, sliding down his stomach- only to stop short, palm pressing flat. Her head turned to the side, her hair slipping down to frame her face; she frowned. “Wait.”

“Why?” His pulse was so loud in his ears that he could no longer distinguish it from the frantic pounding on the door.

“Because I need you to wake up.”

“Mmph,” was the approximate sound that Leo made into the couch cushion as he jolted awake, covered in sweat and filled with a vague awareness that something was wrong.

“Shit.” He wiped at his face, rolling right off the couch and onto the floor. He sat there on his hands and knees, trying to get his breathing under control.

Everything’s fine, dumbass, he told himself. It was just a dream. Relax.

Still, he couldn’t quite shake his disquiet. Leo picked himself up off the floor and crept upstairs to the bathroom. A turn of the tap, and he stuck his head under the faucet to give the back of his neck a good solid drenching. It was fucking freezing, but he kept at it until it had the intended effect of cooling his jets down.

“You’re a moron,” he said to his reflection in the bathroom mirror, making a face. Drips of water were still sliding down from his hair and along his neck, but he didn’t bother grabbing a towel before he headed back into the hall.

An open door caught his eye.

Okay. It might have been the dream. Or it might have been the fact that Walter knew where Jules lived and had graduated to giving her a lift in his sketchy car. Or maybe, just maybe it’s because he knew Julian and he knew damn well that she never left that door open.

Maybe it was also that he just wanted an excuse to go talk to her.

Whatever the reason, Leo slipped over to the entrance of the room and gave a quiet knock on the door frame.

“Jules?” he prompted, barely above a whisper. “You alive in there?”

Julian must have fallen asleep again because when her eyes blinked opened, she tensed. Confused and a little alarmed. Her parents room. That’s right.

She brushed her whole arm over her face, hiding any evidence of tears, then she was back to squeezing her pillow. Why was he even up and lurking about? She almost growled at him and told him to go away.

He sounded worried though. If someone could sound worried when they were whispering.

“Nothing but the dead in here.” she said gravely. It was a dark, wicked joke. “If you’re finally going to sleep in a bed, this one is occupied.” she muttered after a moment.

“Too bad,” he shot back, on reflex. He took a quick look inside and saw that she was all curled up on the big bed, her eyes alarmingly puffy, and he felt something twist in his chest. His feet carried him across the room in an instant.

“Hey.” He flopped down next to her uninvited, stretching out his legs and taking up as much space as possible without actually touching her. He was very, very careful not to touch her. “Did you have one of those dreams again?”

Of course he was just going to jump in bed with her. Leo enjoyed being contrary.

Julian was either going to laugh or cry. So she buried her face in her pillow and took a few deep breaths until she got all those extreme urges under control. Once she knew she was steady again, she relaxed. Stretching her legs out to a less pitiful position.

She gently kicked at his leg with a foot.

“Aren’t you intuitive.” she sounded amused and a little exasperated with him when she sighed. “I always came in here when I had bad dreams. You like the giant bed? That was my fault. Not a lot of room for two adults and a fourteen year old girl otherwise.”

He hated when she touched him like that, because it only encouraged him.

He rolled onto his side, his arm sort of just- landing around her waist. He’d be lying if he claimed that picking up where his dream left off wasn’t on his mind, but all of the fuck-I-want-to-kiss-you was getting mixed up with I-want-to-make-you-feel-better. Which was cool; it was enough to remind him why he needed to be careful, to keep him from doing anything monumentally stupid.

“I’ll tell you about mine if you tell me about yours,” said Leo.

Well. It mostly kept him from doing anything stupid, anyway.

This time she did laugh softly.

“Poor Leo. Did you have a scary dream too?” The vision was just the normal sort of thing for her. It’s not as if it had anything more terrifying than usual. It just… dug up feelings.

And he was ever so slightly damp. Julian blinked in mild confusion for a moment, then she reached down to tug up the blanket she had dragged in the room with her. She used the corner to dab off the stray drops water sneaking it’s way down his neck.

“Just typical vision stuff. Fire, mist, dead people, crazy nonsense. …It had my Dad in it.” Her mouth twist to the side and she dug her teeth in to her bottom lip.

“You know, I’ve tried to look for them? But I guess I’m not that great of a psychic after all. You’d think if they were dead they’d at least talk to me. My Dad would have talked to me.”

That’s when the ache in her chest started. No, no, no she was going to cry again. Julian dragged her arm up over her head to hide her face and sucked in a deep breath.

He didn’t have a choice. Or maybe he did, but he didn’t want to be the man who didn’t scoop her up into a tight hug and let her bury her face in his chest.

“You’re right.” Maybe he would regret saying this; maybe he shouldn’t get her hopes up. But it actually made sense, especially given what he was learning about her powers. “So maybe that means they’re not dead. Either way, I’ll help you find them.”

Leo pressed his mouth against the top of her head, not quite kissing.

“I dream about Sadie.” She was close enough she had to be able to feel his pulse. To no avail, he tried to smooth it out into something steady. “And Violet.”

And you, these days, he added in his head.

It was all too natural to curl in to him, hiding her face somewhere between his neck and chest and clinking an arm around his waist to dig her nails in to his shirt. If he couldn’t SEE her cry, it would be okay. And even while she was trying to swallow and not start sobbing, she was wondering why this was so good. Genuinely comforting.

“That’s gotta suck.” she mumbled first, followed by a sniffle. “I could try psychic dream voodoo on you and give you better dreams. Angela told me it was a thing on her list. …’course at the rate I’m going you’ll prolly just get me and weird nightmares.”

Focusing on him was a good way to not have to think about herself. “I don’t even know what to look for anymore.” she ended up saying anyway. “I’m starting to wonder if they even existed at all. I could just be crazy.”

Don’t laugh, don’t laugh. He would have to give her some kind of explanation if he laughed, and he wasn’t ready to admit that “me and weird nightmares” wasn’t far off the mark already.

“I can’t remember what my parents sounded like,” he admitted instead. “But I’m pretty sure they still had voices. You’re crazy, Jules, but you aren’t that crazy.”

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and counted to ten.

“Anyway, you ended up finding Tasha without even really looking. And you’re getting better at this shit. Whatever you want to do, I’ll back you up. It’s a better use of my time than helping save Michael’s ass, so if I’m going to help with that then I might as well pitch in with this too.”

“Finding Tasha was an accident. We just stumbled over her in the middle of all the chaos.” He was warm, and this really was too comfortable. She could feel his heart beating, sometimes a little fast, and when he took deep breaths she found herself matching her own to his. The ache in her chest was fading as she relaxed. Her fingers uncurled from their death grip in the fabric at his back.

“I want… to take a really big stick and just start hitting everyone and everything for answers.” she laughed softly. “Or run away and let Walter have Silent Pines. Instead of a beach, it could be Canada. But we’d have to get your jacket back from wherever you buried it.” Daydreaming was good. It kept her from over-thinking everything else and getting upset all over again about things she couldn’t control.

“You can ask me anything you like.”

He meant it, too, which he was just a little bit alarmed to find out. Leo wasn’t exactly the open book type. This wasn’t like with Angela, where he’d made an offer to let her ask and reserved the right to refuse his answer; if Julian asked him, he would actually make an effort even if her question wasn’t comfortable or convenient.

“Or we could just run to Canada,” he went on, drily.

She giggled this time, soft and with that faint hint of something devious. “Aren’t you lucky I already know everything I need to know.”

Julian liked the idea of running to Canada a little too much. But now she had simmered down to that fuzzy, sleepy feeling and even her thoughts were fading.

“Leo, don’t harass me about it later, but I’m…” she murmured, her voice dropping to dozy whisper, “really glad you live here now.”

With that confession, she fell asleep.

The Silent Pines Town Square was pretty massive and green compared to most ‘downtown’ areas. Whomever designed the layout of old town really put a lot of thought in to the arrangement and placement of the buildings, the trees and shrubbery, the sidewalks, and the other features. Julian had always thought it was just for the aesthetics, but these days she was starting to recognize where there was a witchy influence.

It helped that Angela was currently rattling off how the square was actually a hexagon shape or maybe a star. That the placement of the trees, the fountain, the gazebo and other mini-park features all probably had some kind of significance. She had no idea of what, but she was pretty in to her theories.

Julian wasn’t quite listening anymore though, somewhere in Angela’s lecture something sparked a memory related to last night’s vision. But when she tried to focus on it and figure out where and how it fit, it wouldn’t quite come to her. She finally gave up. Choosing to squeeze Michael’s hand and shrug her shoulders in a silent apologetic way as she grinned up at him. Today was going to be a nice normal day. No witches, no visions, no crazy stuff.

The moment they arrived to their destination, it was immediately clear that this was not going to be a relaxing date day. Margrit had a massive clipboard and was already approaching. Being the day before the Harvest Festival, there was apparently a ton of things that needed to be done and setup. The tradition of making the teenagers of Silent Pines High School do all the grunt work was likely the reason why everyone at school hated generations worth of Berkshires.

“YOU! Handsome man with strong arms, stop right there.” Margrit held up a hand and pointed at Michael. “You’ve going to move those big barrels” she gestured towards several of them stacked on the sidewalk, “over to that little circle near the fountain. Angela, take these-” she tossed a ring of keys at Angela “and go back that truck up to the gazebo so we can unload the sound equipment!”

A look of pure wickedness fell across Angela’s face as she looked at the keys.

Julian blinked. “Um, I don’t think you should’ve given her th-”

“Julian, come with me!” Margrit interrupted, grabbing Julian’s hand and dragging her towards the gazebo. Julian cast a forlorn look over her shoulder at Michael, and then a worried look in Angela’s direction. The blond was already skipping over towards a big white truck and climbing up in to the driver’s seat.

“There is SO much to do today, Julian, so we have to focus on the plan of attack. You’re going to be in charge of the sound system and this general area-”

“Margrit I really need you to lis-”

“here around the gazebo. We’re going to have the CUTEST bobbing for apples station and we’re going to put together-”

“Margrit, please-”

“life-sized scarecrows, as we just can NOT have a Harvest Festival without the scarecrow army.”

There was the sound of a vehicle’s engine, followed by the screech of tires. Julian stopped suddenly and grabbed Margrit’s arms to pull her in a tight hug. “EYES CLOSED.”

A split second later there was a CRASH and Margrit’s SCREAM. The tail end of the white truck smashed in to the gazebo, causing the roof to collapse inward. The framed walls went outwards, one of which falling around Margrit and Julian in a ring of sparks due to the massive amount of decorative lights that had been wound around the columns. Bulbs blew out in a long chain all the way through the small park and somewhere down the line several connected festival stations were catching fire thanks to liberal applications of dry hay bales and autumn leaves.

Angela leaned out the truck door, looking incredibly concerned at first. But once she spotted everyone in one piece she grinned wide. “My bad! The gas peddle is hella sensitive.”


“That thing was a hundred years old, I only tapped it.”

Julian just sighed in relief, releasing Margrit in the process. That could have been worse!

“Julian, are you alright?” Michael had gotten over to Julian and Margrit quickly once things started falling down- though not as quickly as Julian knew he could, which she could chalk up to the numerous witnesses. No doubt that was the source of the frustration she could see tightening the corners of his eyes and mouth.

Without waiting for her answer, he gently took her by the elbow and gave her a cursory once-over. It wasn’t unusual for him to be concerned, but since she’d told him about getting a ride from Walter he’d been going a bit overboard with the hovering.

“…Angela, be careful,” he called over his shoulder, shooting a glance at the truck- and okay, maybe that look was annoyance and not frustration.

“There’s not a scratch.” Julian smiled wide, brushing it all off with a shrug of her shoulders and a laugh. “A few steps further and me and Margrit would probably be taking a fun ride in an ambulance right now, but it’s okay!”

Angela made a face at Michael, then jumped out of the truck to survey all the damages. Her hands went to her hips and her eyes grew wide. “Damn, I really did only tap the gas and bump the thing. It was probably already about to fall over.”

The now fuming Margrit was holding her clipboard over her head, about two steps away from beating the daylights out of Angela with it. “Are you TRYING to kill me?! That was a town monument! A historical artifact and the center piece to my Harvest Festival! AND NOW I HAVE TO LITERALLY PUT OUT FIRES.” She flung a hand to point where several people were already trying to snuff out the few bits of flames that popped up here and there.

Margrit started huffing and wheezing, and it might have even been completely fake to dramatize her speech, but Julian was falling for it and already reaching her hands out to soothe her. “Oh no! No no, it’s fine, Margrit! See, they’re already taking care of the fire and all we have to do is call in an electrician to fix the lights. We can even get the gazebo fixed before tomorrow morning if we send someone out to get supplies right away?”

“For real, calm your tits for two minutes. I’ll even call my Dad to come down here if we need him. He can fix electrical stuff.” Angela rolled her eyes, stepping towards the gazebo to lean down and kick at some of the falling beams.

“The last thing I need is a male version of YOU here to screw things up even worse. I’ll make the calls myself.” Margrit was already whipping out her phone and scrolling for numbers. “Julian can you just- Ugh.” She didn’t even finish the sentence, she just cast an annoyed glance over at Angela and stomped off.

“Well this is an exciting start to the morning.” Julian said once Margrit was out of ear shot. She was trying very hard not to burst in to laughter. Margrit wouldn’t appreciate it, and Michael still looked a little unnerved. Grinning, she rose up on her toes to give him kiss on the cheek.

“Don’t worry, I’m completely fi-” Julian paused suddenly, wavering on her feet. “fine…” That was a weird feeling. She got lost blinking at his shirt for a second.

At the same moment Angela stumbled, windmilling her arms until she caught her balance again. There was a very peculiar look on her face as she cast a glance around.

“You don’t look fine.” Michael’s fingers traced over her cheeks. In a lower tone, he asked, “Is it wearing you out? I know sometimes visions are taxing for you, and I saw you trying to tell Margrit before the gazebo fell.”

Julian tried to think of the best way to describe it without just saying I’m fine again. There just didn’t seem to be any proper words for all the little twinges and impressions she’d get at all hours of the day. Especially when it was something new. This was definitely new.

“I have an odd feeling. It isn’t anything bad, don’t worry. It’s like a draping,” she spoke with her hands and wiggling fingers, making a draping motion over her head “covering, misty… thing.” She made another movement of plucking something off her shoulders and flicking it away, as if that simple action somehow explained what she was trying to say.

Angela popped up next to them, placing a hand over Michael’s forearm and narrowing her eyes at him. She didn’t say anything though, which had Julian giving her a worried glance.

“Did you hit your head or anything? You’re okay?” she asked slowly.

“No.” Angela replied, letting go of Michael’s arms. She then looked at Julian, as if only just now realizing she was there and being glad to see her. But when she reached her hand towards her to grab her arm, she suddenly paused and snatched it back. “And yes. I am okay. I am going over there.” She pointed where there was a larger group of people before she started walking away.

Julian stared at her back with a bewildered expression. That was… weird. She took a hold of Michael’s hand and arm, pulling him with her as she trailed after Angela slowly.

“How fast does it take for a concussion to kick in?” she asked out of the corner of her mouth.

“I’m sure she’s fine. She didn’t hit it hard enough for her to have a serious injury.” Nevertheless, Michael too was frowning at the back of Angela’s head. “Maybe she feels… guilty.”

He didn’t sound convinced.

Off to their left, a boy ducked around a festival stall and came jogging in their direction. It was Owen; he had probably been here for hours helping set up, just like he did every year. The expression on his face might have looked like a scowl to a casual observer, but Julian could identify the furrowing brows as a sign of concern.

“Margrit just stormed through here,” he grunted, giving Michael a side-long glance before turning back to Julian. “She said to help you get the gazebo area cleared. You okay?”

“Hello friend.” Julian’s smile was instant and the tilt of her head ever so slightly mischievous. It was only because Owen was concerned and hid it under a veneer of stoic grumpiness, which she thought was a very sweet, very silly thing for him to do. Normally, this is where she would tease him gently until he started blushing, but Julian was a bit distracted casting a curious glance over his shoulder at Angela. The girl was walking very awkwardly across the grass and when she passed by someone, she’d reach out and touch their arm. Angela was a touchy person, but never so… randomly.

Julian shook her head quickly returning her attention to Owen. “Oh yeah, I’m okay! I think Margrit got a good scare though. The whole gazebo came down and I suppose we’ll have to move the pieces out and see what is salvageable. YOU are strong, you’ll be perfect.” When she said strong she tightened her fists in front of her and flexed her muscles with a little twist of her shoulder. He even got a wink. Owen was, after all, the one that taught her how to throw a punch.

“Between the three of us, I think we can mange. Right?” she glanced up at Michael.

Michael looked a little like he’d swallowed a bug.

“Right,” he agreed, giving Julian a strained smile and then glancing at Owen again. “Julian and I would appreciate the help. And I’m sure Margrit would feel better the sooner it’s taken care of, too.”

“Yeah,” said Owen. His mouth tightened. “I’ll go get my tools out of my truck.”

Without another word, he brushed past Michael and headed for the line of cars parked along the edge of the square- mostly ones belonging to volunteers and work crews.

“Relax!” she said first, giving Michael a curious look. “Everything’s okay, it wouldn’t be an event without something falling apart.” Julian almost wished she hadn’t told him about Walter. Ever since, Michael had been a little bit more tense than usual. Having a gazebo nearly fall on her probably didn’t help at all. He didn’t need to be so worried.

Not about her anyway. Julian was glancing around again to see where Angela wandered off to and hoping she wasn’t bleeding internally.

She gestured towards the truck. “I think she left the keys in the ignition. We’ll have to move it out of the way before we can do much. But… uuuhm.” There was… something. Julian hated when she had the feeling, but couldn’t pinpoint what it was. She did know that she didn’t feel comfortable letting Angela out of her sight though.

“I’m just gonna go get Angela back real quick. She broke the blasted thing, she should help us fix it. Move the truck!” Julian dashed away backwards, blowing him a kiss before she spun and weaved her way in to the crowd.

Angela wasn’t too far, but it seemed her present mission was getting grabby with some poor guy who looked more than a little freaked out. Julian rest her hands on her hips, watching the exchange. It’s not like her harassing someone to rile them up was uncommon. But she usually knew who she was pestering and something about this just felt off. Finally Julian intervened.

“Angela! I thought we talked about sexually harassing classmates?” she asked. Angela’s confusion was enough for the boy to escape. …but it baffled Julian. “Are you SURE you didn’t hit your head? Here, why don’t you come back with me and-”

Angela pulled back quickly before Julian could take her hand. “No. I have to find someone.”

“Find who…?” Something was definitely not right. Julian frowned and reached out to grab her again, but Angela swatted her away. “Angela I just want- Stop swatting at- Angela!” They scuffled until Julian finally got a firm hold of her shoulders. There was a sudden zing of feeling. That shroud… “You..! What are you doing in there?!”

There was a ghost. A GHOST in her best friend.

Angela – or Not-Angela – paused suddenly, eyes going wide. “You can see me.”

“I can and you need to get out of her right now!”

“No. I have to find him.” Not-Angela started struggled again, but Julian wasn’t letting go.

“You can’t just take over bodies like this, get out of her! We can talk after y-”

“NO.” she managed to break Julian’s hold and tried to bolt, but Julian grabbed her arm.

Then Julian slapped her.

“OW, what the fuck, Julian?! The hell was that for?! It was an ACCIDENT!” Angela shouted, causing quite a few people turn around to see what was going on. Julian watched, bewildered as body-shaped plume of misty stuff backed away from Angela and then zipped off to disappear around a stall.

“Oh jesus, I’m sorry!” she apologized, resting her hand against her glaring best friend’s now stinging cheek and glancing around warily. The ghost escaped and now it was loose in the square. “It was the only thing I could think of to get him out!”

“Get WHAT out? …how did- How did I get over here?” Angela blinked in surprised. Last thing she remembered was kicking at a fallen gazebo column.

Julian let her go to step around and see if she could spot which direction he went. “A ghost. He’s looking for someone and apparently getting really kissy about it. I need t-”


Oh no! Julian forgot Angela was a little less cool with this stuff than she liked to pretend! She spun back around to gran Angela by the arms gently, but tight just in case she had to shake her. “It’s okay! He’s not dangerous and he’s out now! Please don’t freak out!”

“OH GOD. Oh gooooood, he was in me, Julian what the fuuuuuck.”

Julian turned Angela around and started pushing her back towards the gazebo. Angela kept bemoaning about feeling violated the entire way, while Julian tried to stretch her senses. She needed to find him.

Once Michael was in sight, Angela squeaked. “I was molested by a ghost! What is with you people and trying to molest me?! This is not cool! This is NOT cool!”

Julian slapped a hand over Angela’s mouth before Owen got wind of the conversation. She gestured her head towards the gazebo. “I think she set someone free.”

It looked like Michael and Owen had started making some progress, at least. Michael had backed the truck away from the gazebo’s wreckage, and was pacing in a perimeter, surveying the snapped wires. Owen, meanwhile, was in the midst of the wreckage, inspecting a piece of the railing and rifling through his toolbox.

Of course, the moment that Angela and Julian arrived, Michael dropped what he was doing. He looked like he wanted to hover some more, until Julian’s pronouncement.

“Set free a ghost.”

Michael pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, it was to cast a brief glance over his shoulder towards the fallen gazebo.

“I can’t fight a ghost, Julian,” he reminded her quietly. “It’s not corporeal.”

“If you can’t fight the ghost, what WILL we do!” He looked so exasperated that Julian laughed out loud. At least that made their quiet conversation look a lot more innocent than it actually was, in case Owen started getting curious.

Angela glared at him, though. Julian thought he was funny, but she thought his statement was condescending as fuck. No one asked this fuckface to-

“I’m not asking you to fight a ghost.” Julian said at the same time Angela was thinking it.

The blond gave a smug smirk.

“You have a psychic to handle the ghost.” This time it was Michael who got the cheeky wink, as Julian pointed to herself. Then it was a slight tilt of her head towards Angela. “I actually need to you take care of someone else while I look for it.”

“Oh HELL no! You can’t leave me ALONE with just Michael! What if it comes back for me?”

“If he gets you, Michael can just hold you down and shout for me. Though I suppose since he can’t fight it, and he gets possessed himself you’ll just have to run away really fast won’t you?”


“You’ll be okay.” Julian grinned. This was actually kind of fun. Without the fear of witches and terrors, Julian could just… do her thing. And her thing was apparently merciless teasing as she tried to tap in to whatever it was that made her mojo work. “He’s not trying to hurt anyone, he’s just… confused, I think. But I really do need to hunt for him before he tries to jump in to someone else.”

Julian leaned, giving a quick, squinty-eyed glance in Owen’s direction. “I might have to take Owen. I know he’s looking for a boy, but he’s going to jump in people like-” she pointed at Angela. “…I feel bad thinking of Owen as bait, but…”

“You want to walk around without me, using Owen DeWhitt as ‘bait’ for a ghost that may or may not be dangerous and has already possessed one person.” Yeah, if Michael hadn’t looked happy before, he definitely didn’t now. “Julian, I really don’t think that’s a good idea. Do you even know anything about ghosts that you haven’t seen in a movie?”

He stiffened almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, bringing his hand up to rub at his lips as if it would wipe them away.

“…That came out wrong,” he continued slowly. “Julian, I just- don’t like this plan.”

Angela took a quick side-step away from Julian. Mostly because Julian’s hands went up and Angela wasn’t sure if the girl was going to gesture with her hands wildly like she always did when she got ranty, or if she was going to pounce across the grass and strangle her own boyfriend. Angela was really hoping for the strangling.

She wasn’t too far off the mark on either. Julian was struggling with the sudden surge of her temper. Each little thought being plain in her body language, from the slow flex of her fingers to the way she narrowed her eyes and bit in to her tongue. This was Michael, her boyfriend. She couldn’t yell at him the way she did to Leo. Julian understood he was worried about her, especially with everything going on. And she understood he didn’t handle not being in control very well. This required a little patience.

“I’m sorry. I’m pretty sure after dancing a verbal tango with your witch and her summoned army of pissy spirits with only a few movies as experience, I’m capable of sweet talking a single confused ghost.”


Julian took in a deep breath and sighed. Dropping her hands to her side to hook her fingers in the belt loops of her jeans and tilting her back to stare at the sky. That was definitely not patient!

“If you have better ideas, I’m open to suggestions. I don’t believe he’s dangerous though. Angela is the one trying to kill Margrit.”

“Hey! Accident, Julian. Accident.”

“Ghosts are… easily confused,” Michael tried to explain, his own hands raising in a placating gesture. “They’re unpredictable. You remember what Violet’s spirit was like, don’t you?”

He glanced over at Owen, who seemed to have finally noticed that the three of them were whispering together instead of actually helping. He raised an eyebrow at Michael in return, tapping a hammer against the heel of his palm. Michael stared at him for another minute or two before looking back to Julian.

“I just want to help.” He sighed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish Leo were here.”

Julian remembered clearly what Violet was like. She also remembered just how wrong everything felt. When she thought about it, it wasn’t really Violet that had everything confused, though. Her brow furrowed as she chewed in to her lip. Violet knew exactly who she was speaking to and it was-

“I think dragging Leo out here is a great idea.” Angela’s voice interrupted her thoughts. The blond was already pulling out her phone and thumbing something to Leo. Julian caught a glimpse of LAWLS and THIS ASSHOLE IS before Angela turned out of her line of sight.

“The longer we stand around arguing about it, the more likely he is to get in to someone else. I have to look for him. If you want to help, tug Angela around and use HER for bait t-”

“Uh, EXCUSE ME, but fuck you!” Angela shouted. If the whispering wasn’t suspicious, that pretty much cinched it.

“…or just make sure she doesn’t set anything else on fire.” Julian cast an exasperated look at Angela, who was now muttering something along the lines of just say no to ghosts.

Julian crossed the grass to stop next to Michael and take his hand. She leaned up on her toes to mumble in his ear. “You wanted me to learn how to do this stuff, and now I am. You’ve got to let me try.” Then she kissed his cheek.

“Of course, you don’t really get a say in the matter. I’m going to do it anyway.” she grinned.

“Evidently.” Michael’s eyebrows knitted together. “…It’s good to see you smiling, Julian. You seem happier lately.”

There was something funny about the way he said that.

“I’ll keep an eye on Angela,” he told her, ghosting a kiss across the curve of her jaw. “You do whatever you have to do.”

“I made friends with a murder witch, a ghost will be a piece of cake.” Julian grinned as she backed away, holding up two thumbs at him. “Don’t worry! I have an idea of what I’m doing!”

Julian actually didn’t, but Michael needed that reassurance. Still, he wasn’t wrong. She was considerably lighter than she had been in weeks prior, even despite that brief moment of getting irritated with him. Now she was going to have to prove she could handle a ghost without him needing to hold her hand the entire time.

“Owen!” she chimed, bouncing over to the gazebo wreckage and clasping her hands behind her back. “I need your help with something incredibly weird.”

By the look on her face it was pretty obvious that weird would be an understatement.

“You don’t listen to other people’s advice do you?” Angela asked once Julian was out of earshot. She snapped her fingers in front of Michael’s face and gave him a grim frown. …Not that she should CARE he was shooting himself in the foot with Julian. That would suit her just fine. Except for the whole devastated bestie thing, as that would kinda suck.

Angela had bigger problems at the moment, though.

“Whatever, bodyguard, this is how it’s gonna work! If a ghost comes any where near me I’m going to scream. And I don’t mean cute girl screaming, I mean unholy terrors from the bowels of hell screaming. And if it touches me, I’m going to hold you personally responsible and your punishment will be adding French to our language lessons. Won’t that be fun?”

“I’m not going to apologize for being concerned for her safety,” Michael told Angela, finding his patience fleeing with Julian’s retreating back. “Nor will I come near you without good reason, trust me. I’m not in the habit of invading a girl’s personal space without an invitation.”

Tearing his eyes away from Julian, he fished his phone out of his pocket.

“If you don’t want to be possessed again, though, you’ll stay close to me and listen,” he emphasized as he shot Leo a quick text.

ghost problms where r u

He didn’t immediately receive an answer, so he tried again:

julian is chasin ghosts come here now

A brief pause.


You text like a grandpa, you know that?

Michael scowled at his phone and started awkwardly thumbing a reply.

Michael was too busy looking at his phone to pay attention to what she was doing so Angela mocked him. Mimicked stay close to me and listen with a bob of her head and a movement of her hand. He couldn’t go ordering her to stay close two seconds after saying he wouldn’t dare come near her without an invitation.

A slow Cheshire smile spread across her face. They were in public and Julian was here. He couldn’t kill her.

This was going to be fun.

Two steps and a sliiiiiide and Angela was at his side, close enough her arm brushed against his. Angela tilted her head up and gave her very best of pouts, and the wide doe-eyes. The kind of expression that would have her dad begging her stop and offering her ice cream.

“Pleeeeease protect me, Michael, I’m scurred of the ghost.” she cracked by the end, that wicked grin playing at the corner of her mouth before she could even finish the sentence. But it was already too late. Angela swung her arms to squeeze him in a hug, and there was no using vampy-speed to get away from her. “Is this close enough? Am I supposed to give permission first? I forget how that goes since it’s not 1880.”

Angela’s facetious playacting gave Michael a hideous sense of deja vu.

Luckily, this was a behavior that he’d had a century or so of practice at handling. Shrugging one arm away from her, he pressed send and waited for Leo’s next text. In the meantime, he tilted his phone away from snooping teenage girl eyes.

He didn’t have to wait long.

Don’t pull that on me, Mikey. Your crap won’t work via text message.

Michael grimaced.


Michael counted to thirty in his head.


“Leo’s not coming,” he announced, tucking his phone away into his jacket and giving Angela a once-over with scathing eyes. “Did you have a fight? He doesn’t seem especially concerned that you’re in danger.”

Angela couldn’t help herself, she had to let go of him so she could laugh. She laughed so hard she nearly started coughing, and if he hadn’t put his phone in his jacket she would have tried to snatch it from him. Lucky for Michael she had no interest in molesting his pockets just to see. She had her own phone.

“Did you tell him I need a babysitter? Because the LAST time he was babysitting me I’m pretty sure I threw up on his shoes.” She stuffed her hand in to pocket to whip out her phone again. With a quick swipe she found her camera app. “Scowl for Angie!” Hopping in front of Michael, she painted on copy of her favorite scathing-Michael-frown, held up her phone at just the right angle to get him in the shot and then dashed out of the way before her phone got confiscated. She sent the picture text quick.

YOU SUCK. >:[ I want a COOL bodyguard.

“Besides, Julian’s taking care of it and you’re here so I’m not actually IN any danger.”

Angela paused glancing around warily as if she were going to spot the ghost flying at them.

“…Right? I mean, you can see it coming, and ghosts don’t like, do the whole Poltergeist thing and murder you from the inside out? Not that I’m ACTUALLY worried, but. I’d wanna know.”

For a moment, Michael considered lying to her. Just to get her to shut up for a moment. He could picture her face in his mind, with the same scared eyes from that night she’d gone to the club. He’d thought maybe she would have learned by now that vampires weren’t a joke, weren’t something she could toy with.

“…Ghosts turn violent easily, even if they aren’t looking to be,” he began. “But I think we can rule out that scenario, at least for now. And I won’t let anything happen to you.”

He looked over at the shattered remnants of the gazebo, a bitter smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“After all, that would make me ‘lose points’ with Julian, wouldn’t it?” he asked archly. “And you know how that’s all I care about.”

“Ha. ha, ha.” she responded stiffly. “Don’t start thinkin’ I forgot you can kill me if you really wanted to. I bet you have all kinds of innocent little scenarios thought up where there’s no way Julian can blame you. But you’re also smart enough to realize it’s too risky to try your luck with your psychic girlfriend.” Angela’s grin went smug as she clasped her hands behind her back and strolled her way backwards towards the fallen gazebo.

“I’ve actually told Leo this before too. You can’t keep stuff from Julian, she finds out. Believe me, I’ve TRIED. So don’t even THINK about pretending to tie your shoes while I get bodysnatched by a ghost, no matter how tempting it is.”

“Besides.” She flipped her hair and rest her hands on her hips, batting her eyelashes at him. “We’re book besties now, remember? It’s not my fault you’re a big prude and can’t handle a little teasing. Eventually, I’m going to win you over with my irresistible charm. Just as soon as I figure out what will make you NOT boring. Do you drink? Do you like playing pranks on evil little red heads? Are you willing to help me win prom queen with morally questionable tampering?”

Even Leo had never been this annoying.

It was pathetic, the way Michael reacted to a little girl’s needling. Revolting. Angela was right; if Michael wanted Angela dead, he could make her that way in an instant. And when she pushed and prodded like this…

Michael turned his back to her, his lips pressing thin until they went bone-white and his eyes narrowing to slits. Something was lurching in his chest, something he’d not felt in longer than he could even remember. Something wrong. It wanted to consume him, but he wouldn’t let it.

I am not an animal, he reminded himself, breathing through his nose until the crawling and scuttling sensation inside his ribcage ceased. I didn’t get where I am now only to crumble at the feet of a whining child.

When he faced her again, his expression had smoothed back into mild exasperation and reluctant tolerance. He pointed a long, elegant finger towards the shambles of wood leftover from her accident.

“Instead of discussing my supposed villainy and intent to betray my girlfriend, or the nonsense you want to goad me into helping you with, it might be more productive if we clean this up.” He marched back over to where he’d left off, reclaiming Owen’s toolbox. “It’s not as if we’re doing anything else.”

As he crouched down amongst the rubble, he flicked his eyes up just long enough to meet and hold hers, to prove that he could do so without any real effect.

“You don’t know who I am, Angela,” he told her calmly. “I’d appreciate if you stopped acting like you do.”

When Michael turned his back to her she backed up a step and prepared to bolt. He was taking those long deep breaths. The kind where somebody was about to lose it, and this case she figured that one button too many was pressed and now he was trying not to flip his vampire switch off and maim his girlfriend’s best friend. That could be considered a point for her, but she actually DIDN’T want to piss him off.

At least, not really. Not at the moment anyway.

“Has it occurred to you that this is my way of getting to know you better? Why does everything have to go from zero to sixty with you.” Angela stomped over to a fallen beam and reached down to try and lift it out of the way. It didn’t even move an inch. Snorting, she straightened and tried shoving at it with a foot. When that didn’t work, she gave up the heavy lifting and went to work picking up the stray lines of destroyed holiday lights.

“And for the record, I don’t know you but I know your type. You don’t have any friends because you don’t trust anybody, except a special precious few. And nobody new gets in unless they prove they’re worthy. So all you’ve got is poor stupid Leo because he’s your family and Julian who, lets face it, is the kind of person who befriends a murder witch just because he gave her candy and a ride home.”

“I just thought maybe you’d like a friend that’s actually as smart as you and prettier to look at than Leo. But fiiiiine. I’ll leave you alooooone.” The over exaggerated sigh of defeat followed. Then the pouting, even though she wasn’t even looking at him and was busy untangling wires from another fallen beam.

“Has it occurred to you that you’re projecting there, Angela?” Michael pointed out.

He lifted the very same beam she’d tried for with ease, hefting it over to the side and propping it up. He circled an elbow around it as he gazed at her, eyes thoughtful.

“I’ve never seen you particularly inclined to speak with anyone but Julian, Leo, or whatever boy you’ve most recently decided to make eyes at,” he observed. “When Julian and I first became friends, I had to push to get to know you beyond your matchmaking attempts. Julian’s other friends… you keep them at an arm’s length, don’t you? I think I speak more with Margrit and Silvia than you do.”

He tilted his head to one side.

“Margrit and I get along quite well, by the way. All of Julian’s other friends like me. It’s just you, Angela.” It was sort of sad, really. Michael suddenly felt a bit sorry for her. “I thought it was just your affection for Leo, but that’s not all of it, is it. It could be that I’m Julian’s first byfriend and you’re not used to sharing her… or maybe you’re just lonely. I can understand that feeling. Do you want to be my friend?”

Ugh, he was analyzing her. Not that she was surprised, she’d have thought a lot less of him if he didn’t. However, Angela didn’t like where he was going with it at all. She was not lonely. …at least not in the way HE was thinking, the condescending bastard.

“First of all, Margrit is a huge twat. All she cares about is looking good and taking over the world. When it comes to being perfect society robots you’re two of a kind. Totally NOT shocked that you and Margrit chitty-chat just fine.” Angela rolled her eyes, stomping another few faces to snatch up some more snapped wires. Somewhere along the way she had stopped paying attention to where she was draping and wrapping the things, so now she was trying to get her foot untangled from a twisted wad.

“Second, you’re not technically Julian’s first boyfriend. Not that it matters because you’re way off base. Her having a boyfriend is awesome. Or WOULD be if I thought you and Julian actually had something in common besides supernatural crazy shit. That’s my own fault though ’cause I didn’t screen you properly before using my super awesome matchmaker powers. I’m gonna kick myself FOREVER about it.”

Angela paused giving him and his stupid head tilting a grumpy scowl. “And fuck you! I DO want to be your friend. Not because I’m lonely, but because Julian wants you around. Leo was easy to like, he plays with me. You’re just Dude-Margrit. Your only saving grace is that you’re nice to look at. SO I guess there’s THAT.”

All of the pieces were clicking into place now, despite Angela’s protests and misdirections. Michael allowed a wry smile to spread across his face.

“If you wanted to be friends,” he told her, “all you had to do was try to spend time with me. I haven’t done a thing to you, Angela. In fact, I can name several occasions on which I have done things for you. All you do is insult and mock me at the slightest provocation.

“But I forgive you.” He set down the beam, stepping closer and ducking down to help disentangle her from her Christmas light snare. “Whatever you might think, I don’t need everyone to like me. But it’s in both of our interests to make an effort here. For Julian’s sake, if nothing else.”

“Oh my gaaaaaaaawd, you insufferable bastard. I swear to fuck that you only hear what’s convenient!” What the hell did he think she had been trying to do the past few weeks? Well. Spying and investigating someone’s intentions were pretty much the exact same thing as getting to know someone. It all lead to the same place as far as she was concerned.

Angela glared down at him and nearly hissed that she didn’t need his help getting untangled. But she kind of liked the fact he was down there at her feet and she entertained the idea of kicking him right in the face with her designer boots. She rest her hands on her hips and the look she cast him was imperious.

“You’re annoying.” That was pretty much her way of conceding the fight. She was genuinely irritated, and she had no idea how that happened. Point for Michael. Her expression changed to something more baffled. “How were you and Leo even friends. I get that annoying you is fun, but not even I can do that all the time. We’re right back to the start again where I was trying to ask you if you do anything interesting.”

“I used to be a different person,” said Michael, not entirely sure why he was bothering. She’d only find some way to put words in his mouth. “So did Leo, for that matter.”

He got to his feet, coiling the strand of lights in his hand. When it was tightly wound, he dropped it to the side without looking and folded his arms over his chest.

“But I like the person that I am now,” he told her. “Julian thinks I’m interesting. And I find plenty of interesting things to keep myself busy. I’m sorry that I don’t hold up to your standards, Angela, but we can’t all have the same hobbies. You’re not the party girl you pretend you are, either. I think we might have more interests in common than Julian and I do.”

Much as that thought left a bad taste in his mouth. He’d seen Angela’s aptitude for Latin; she was smarter than she looked.

Angela gestured her hands at him in that see! you’re doing it right now! way. Did he not hear himself talk and know when he was saying asshole things? At least Margrit knew when she was being an utter twat.

Plus, ugh. She hated when it intermingled with those rare moments he was actually right about something.

Rolling her eyes and throwing her head back like the drama queen she so enjoyed being, Angela drug her feet across the grass to attack the next bit of the gazebo she could actually manage. It ended up being just bits of fallen shingles.

“That’s because Julian lives on another planet. And I’m not pretending to be anything. …I might play down the whole smart thing, but that’s only ’cause people are super obnoxious about it. They quiz you, and challenge you, and don’t believe you, and then have expectations. It’s all just a huge pain in the ass.”

She paused to fan herself with one of the shingles, posed pretty and bat her eyes at him with a sugar sweet smile. “Plus boys don’t like smart girls, they like pretty girls that dance and get handsy.”

“What is this about?”

Owen had agreed readily enough to tag along with Julian on her ghost-hunting adventures, though he didn’t yet know that was what they were doing. When she’d asked for his help, he had simply stared at her for a long moment before giving a small nod and packing up his tools in the back of the truck.

Now they were walking around just a bit aimlessly with Julian taking the lead, trying to catch a hint of ghostly activity on her psychic radar, and he’d finally decided to ask questions. He had his hands in the pockets of his jeans, his shirt sleeves still rolled up from his short-lived efforts toward gazebo repair, and his face was settled into his neutral default mold of looking disgruntled at nothing in particular.

“Almost five whole minutes before you finally asked. Letting girls kidnap you like this is going to get you in to trouble one of these days.” Julian laughed, linking her arm around Owen’s as if they were just taking a casual walk through the park and avoiding hard labor. As far as anyone else was concerned that’s what they were doing. It’s not like she could tap people on the shoulder and ask them if they had a dead hitchhiker in their body.

Trying to feel her way through the festival setup for a ghost wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be, either. Everything was a great big clutter of everything, even worse than normal now that she was trying to open herself up on purpose. She couldn’t just focus on a ghost that wanted to kiss somebody, when every teenager in Silent Pines apparently ALSO wanted to kiss somebody.

“So this is going to sound crazy, but I am looking for someone that is super aggressive about trying to kiss people. Like… Angela-level aggressive. …and also by the way, you should probably stay an arm’s length away from her today unless you wanna get her before she gets you.” she flashed him a cheeky grin.

“Do I look like I want to kiss Angela?”

Owen didn’t look like he wanted to kiss anybody right now. And Julian would know. Although his I’m-going-to-kiss-you face wasn’t exactly what you’d expect, as she recalled; he would just get this really weird, really intense look that she hadn’t understood at all until he’d followed through the first time.

He did look a little put off by something, though. He didn’t pull away from her lockdown on his arm, but he went all stiff in the shoulders.

“I’m used to your crazy,” he reminded her, one of his eyebrows raising just a fraction.

“That’s what everyone says. Being used to my crazy, that is.” Julian patted his arm consolingly, wrinkling up her nose. “Although I’m starting to think it’s everybody else’s crazy. Then again, I’m trying to find a ghost, so.”

She shrugged, tilting her head to glance at him. Owen was probably one of the few people she could look at and just know. Julian didn’t have to examine him, stare him down, or pry. He said everything she needed to know just by the way he held his shoulders or swallowed.

“You know, the best way to get to know somebody is to get them away from other influences for a bit. Away from well meaning friends or really nosy cheerleaders. Then you can talk and it won’t be so weird anymore. I don’t recommend ghost hunting at a festival, but a jog or something. I liked running with you.”

Her eyes were scanning the people again. Some senior guy was leaning in close to a very annoyed looking girl for what Julian was pretty sure was a kiss. She let go of Owen just long enough to pounce and grab the guy’s hand.

“Ah HA-OH no. Nevermind. Not you. Resume cheating on your girlfriend.” Disappointed, she backed away with her fingers up, then turned to sigh and shrug at Owen. Behind her the not-ghost guy was now getting an ear full.

Owen didn’t comment, either on her ghost-hunting ambitions (although come to think of it, had she ever said anything to him about ghosts before?) or on her assault of the hapless philanderer. When Julian came bounding back over, though, he held out his hand.

“Is it weird for you?” he asked, glancing away and then back again.

He’d never exactly been Mr. Talkative, which was probably why she’d gotten so tuned in to his body language. They’d known each other basically their whole lives, so that might have helped too. Right now, he looked… uncertain. He was watching her face very carefully, as if she were the one who wasn’t known for volunteering information.

“It’s been a while,” he continued, fingers still outstretched. “But… you seem okay lately. I guess.”

Julian blinked at his hand, giving him a curious questioning look. Finally she just laughed and grabbed his hand, swinging their conjoined fingers as they started walking again.

“I just remembered why I like you so much. You’re a guardian. Um, something like that, anyway. You care about people and try to take care of them and they never really see, do they? But you always see stuff other people aren’t seeing.” She went silent for moment, twisting her mouth to one side and then other. Finally she sighed, bumping her forehead against his shoulder before she straightened and grimaced.

“I’m okay. I’m better than I was and I finally feel like myself again… but then stuff is kinda… complicated too. Scary complicated but at the same time I can handle it. I think. Then boys happened and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing anymore.”

Julian leaned towards him and whispered in earnest. “What am I supposed to do about boys. Because I am pretty much rotating between wanting to hit one or kiss one!”

“How should I know? Not my thing,” he muttered, squeezing her hand in his own. “And I can’t even get shit right with girls.”

Owen was sure giving her side-eyes real hard, though. He looked like he had a lot more he wanted to say on the subject, now she’d opened that can of worms.

“That guy,” he started, frowning. “He’s good to you?”

“Girls are a million times easier than boys.” she commented. “All you really have to do is tell us you like us and then we’re all giggly and happy.” At least that was enough for her.

Or it was.

And now Owen was giving her the look, which had her face turning crimson. Julian set her stare forward, downward, any direction but at him directly. After all, she WAS supposed to be searching for a ghost.

“If you’re talking about Michael, then of course he is. He’s been absolutely perfect.” she winced a bit, biting in to her lip before she gave a sheepish shrug of her shoulder. “Mostly perfect. Not that he’s done anything wrong! He really is nice and he makes me feel like I’m the most important thing in the world. …I do kinda get mad at him, but who doesn’t occasionally get mad and really it’s just all me cause I can’t keep my temper.”

She sighed, finally taking a look up at Owen again. “What do you think about him? I know he’s pretty intense…”

Owen’s frown twisted. Julian could tell right away that he didn’t really want to answer that question.

“I think he’s a douche,” he finally admitted, eyebrows furrowing. “But I’ve been called worse and you dated my ass.”

Rubbing the back of his neck, Owen looked over his shoulder. Like he was scanning the crowd for… someone? Something? Maybe it was just an excuse not to look at her.

“I don’t want to get back together,” he barked abruptly, turning back around. If Julian hadn’t known better, she’d have thought he was angry at her, but this was how Owen got sometimes. “So don’t start getting ideas. I just want to know why the hell we stopped talking.”

Julian was well used to her friends not liking each other, but coming from Owen it was a little bit different. Angela and Margrit never had anything nice to say about anyone unless they wanted something. Owen might not look or sound like he enjoyed anyone’s company, but at least he had reasons behind it. If he didn’t like Michael that was a problem.

Then he had to go and blurt out he didn’t want to get back together which nearly made her laugh right on the spot. THAT was the last thing she’d assume from him. Once the rest of his statement sank in, all amused was gone. Julian stopped walking, blinking dumbfoundedly.

“Owen. …Oh hell! I am so stupid!” She pounced, throwing her arms around his neck and squeezing tight. If he got embarrassed or rumors started to fly, she didn’t care. Julian was the worst friend on the planet.

“I don’t know.” she confessed, only loosening her arms enough to tilt her head back and look at him. “But I know it wasn’t you or because we broke up and I hope you don’t think that. My parents were gone, then there was that two weeks of being in foster hell, and my therapist not thinking people was good idea and… I don’t know. Just existing was hard. I wasn’t talking to anybody until Angela broke in the house and wouldn’t go away.”

“I didn’t mean to ignore you. I’m here NOW though. I won’t disappear on you again, I promise.”

He didn’t hug Julian back right away, but eventually his arms looped around her waist and just sort of stayed there. He’d gone a little red and he was scowling up a storm, so it was safe to say that she had embarrassed him for sure.

“I guess I just missed you, okay?” he grunted. “Who the fuck else am I supposed to talk to, Margrit?”

Owen might have been Mr. Popular, but Julian had never seen him make much of a connection with… anyone, really. He was never on the same level with his team, especially after he’d made captain. He’d never had a lasting relationship with a girl, not even Julian. He wasn’t exactly quiet, but…

“I’m fine. But… You’re not the only one whose life is a freakshow right now. And I’m not cut out for weird shit, Julian.”

Julian hugged him one last time, because if anyone needed it, it was Owen. When she finally let go and pulled back, she couldn’t help but pinch his cheeks. At least she held back the giggle, even if it was clear by the way she grinned that she wanted to. She loved Owen. They weren’t lucky enough to be romantic loves, but he had been a part of her life even longer than Angela. He was a brother. Julian realized just how much she missed him too.

“Then talk to me. Tell me all about your weird things! If you can hang out with the dumbest, most obnoxious girls in Silent Pines, I’m pretty sure you can handle weird. I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit.”

She paused and leaned backwards, taking a look around them again. “…besides, I think I lost my ghost for now, anyway. If Margrit catches us running around not working she’ll string us up as one of her scarecrows.”

Owen sighed, glanced around, and then let his forehead drop to her shoulder.

“You’re not the dumbest, most obnoxious girl in Silent Pines. That’d be Lexi Ryan,” he grumped in a muffled voice against her collarbone.

Before Julian could follow up on that incredibly leading statement, a familiar voice broke into the little bubble that Julian and Owen had retreated into.

“Hey, Jules, you are officially my favorite person we know. You know why? Because you are not blowing up my phone with texts.”

Lexi Ryan? Julian was starting to hear a lot about that girl lately.

But then Leo happened.

Apparently Michael and Angela succeeded in summoning him. Maybe if she hadn’t spent at least an hour last night clinging to him and crying like a baby she’d have been happy he was there to be useful. Instead, the most peculiar expression shot across her face as she took in a deep breath and tried to swallow whatever it was that was making her face burn. Once she managed that, she flashed Owen a sheepish smile and a shrug, then she finally turned around.

“Let me guess. Are you here to rescue Michael from Angela or Angela from Michael?” she leaned a bit to knocked her shoulder against Owen’s, turned her head towards him and whispered. “This is Leo. I’m his favorite person, it seems.”

“I think I’m here to murder them both, actually,” answered Leo. His eyes flicked up and down over Owen curiously, and he looked like he wanted to ask something- but all he did was stick out his hand and clasp Owen’s in a friendly shake.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Leo. Ever help hide a body?”

“…No,” said Owen, his brow furrowing so hard that it looked like it hurt. His hand was still on Julian’s waist, but he quickly moved it away. Leo didn’t even seem to notice.

“No worries. First time for everything.” He cracked a grin. “What was your name again?”

“Owen. DeWhitt.”

“DeWhitt? Huh. Old blood.” Leo tilted his head, rubbing the back of his neck. He glanced at Julian. “So I’m taking it that those two are being drama queens as per usual and the situation isn’t life or death?”

“Hmm, yeah. Michael isn’t keen on me chasing ghosts all by myself and Angela thinks she’s going to die if I leave her alone.” Julian bit in to her lip and glanced up at the sky. “I might have left them both on purpose, so there’s a slight chance they’ve killed each other already and you came down here for nothing.”

Julian tilted her head and crossed her arms, giving Owen a quick examining gaze. If he had weird stuff going on, she didn’t want to pile hers on top of it. But he’d get it and not think she was crazy, too and it was so much easier when she didn’t have to keep secrets. She’d just leave out the vampire stuff. That wasn’t hers to tell.

“It is just a ghost, though.” she muttered to Leo. “Angela backed a truck in to the gazebo and let something out. He hopped in to her, which is what she’s freaked out about. But I haven’t spotted it since so I’m not sure if it’s even still here anymore. …I guess I was distracted.”

She grinned wide at Owen. “Owen was just about to tell me something iiinteresting. I suppose it’ll have to wait until we’ve buried their bodies.”

“A haunted gazebo? Seriously?” Leo arched an eyebrow. “Well, okay then. But if we’re talking possession, that does explain why Michael is sweating buckets.”

He gave Owen a measuring look, then shrugged.

“Eh, what the hell. Not like it’s particularly secret anymore, and you don’t look very scrappy. Kid, vampires are real. Please hold your questions until the end of class.” Ignoring Owen’s open mouth, he forged on, “Vampires are like lightning rods for possession. Not really sure why, except it probably has something to do with the whole already-dead-once thing. Can’t fight it off as well as humans can, either.”

“You’re dating a vampire?” Owen demanded, whirling on Julian.

“Shocking, isn’t it?” Leo prompted helpfully. “I couldn’t believe it either.”

Leo!” she shouted, stepping forward just so she could give him a hard shove. “You didn’t have to just blurt it out like that!” So much for keeping it secret. Julian doubted Michael was going to appreciate that getting out. At least Owen was someone she’d have told eventually. She was just hoping for something a lot more subtle.

Julian gave Leo a pointed glare before she turned back to Owen and cast a sheepish smile. “I told you, me and boys are complicated right now. Leo isn’t helping.” she huffed, thinking about shoving him again. “That’s nothing to worry about though.”

Pausing, she blinked as her mouth turned downwards to a frown. “If body snatching ghosts like vampires, then you really shouldn’t be here right now. Neither should Michael for that matter. …why didn’t HE tell me that?” He made a huge deal about her not knowing about ghosts, and then he neglected to tell her the one thing she probably needed to know. Again.

She started pushing up her jacket sleeves and muttered under her breath. Somebody was about to get hit.

“Actually, it could be a really good thing to have us around,” Leo pointed out. He didn’t look at all remorseful for letting the fanged cat out of the bag; he had his hands in his pockets and a light in his eyes that Julian knew by now meant there were little wheels turning in his head. “If it goes after me or Michael, it’ll leave the dumb teenagers on Margrit’s victimteer committee alone, right?”

“So what, you’re volunteering as bait?” Owen, meanwhile, still was glaring at Julian in a way that made clear how very strongly he wanted to discuss the vampire thing at much greater length than was being allowed under present circumstances.

“That’s the basic idea,” agreed Leo. He hesitated for a moment. “…I’m betting Michael’s already thought of it. Probably why he let you go without a fuss, Jules.”

Weirdly, he sounded almost… apologetic.

“He still should have told me. How am I supposed to make any sort of intelligent go-to plan or emergency backup plan if he’s not telling me everything?” Some of the heat simmered out of her words, though. Especially since Owen was now glaring her down. She tilted her head at him and sighed, her expression saying it all for her. We can talk about it later.

“On the bright side, I haven’t heard Angela screaming yet, so they’re probably both alive and well for now. So it’s back to the gazebo, and a new plan.”

She pointed forward, leading the way with a few steps. Julian didn’t get far though before a different sort of scream filled the air.

“YAAAAAAAY! YOU’RE HERE!” A tiny blur of dark hair sprinted between Leo and Owen, leaping off the ground to land clinging to Julian. Slender arms slung around her neck and legs locked around her waist. Julian squeaked and stumble a few steps forward.

“Silvia! You’re way too big for this now!”

“I need your advice!”

Julian slowly took a few mores steps. “I got this- wait- nope!” She finally caved, first dropping to her knees and then flopping forward in to the grass with a resigned huff. Silvia giggled, not bothering to get up from her new perch sitting on Julian’s back. Instead she took full advantage of grabbing Julian’s arm to steal her bracelets and put them on herself.

“You have to promise not to tell Margrit or Caleb.” Silvia took off one of her rings to put on Julian’s finger in exchange for the stolen bracelets. It wasn’t even on of the rings she previously borrowed. This one was a silvery wolf. Silvia glanced over her shoulder at Leo and Owen, only just then realizing they were there too.

“You guys can’t tell them either. No Caleb.” she pointed at Leo. “And no Margrit.” she pointed at Owen.

“Tell her what?” Owen wanted to know. His eyes narrowed threateningly.

Leo, on the other hand, was unfazed. He strolled right on over to pluck Silvia up by her elbows, pulling her clear off of Julian’s back and dangling her a couple inches above the ground.

“I’m not exactly your brother’s favorite person, Pup,” he told her. “I’m not going to run off and tattle. Now let Jules spit out that mouthful of grass and maybe I’ll put you down so you can talk to her.”

Silvia started kicking and squirming. “Get off me, Leo! I don’t care if you are Julian’s other boyfriend, you’re still a dumb v-” she paused mid kick, eyeballing Owen, “vvvvv-vagrant! I’ll still bite you! Rrrrg.” The kicking started back up again.

Julian rolled on the grass until she was safe from Silvia’s flailing limbs and picked herself off the ground. She dusted bits of grass and dry leaves off her clothes, then paused to look at the new ring on her finger.

“Caleb and Margrit don’t exactly hang out together, what could possibly be important to the both of them.” she asked, giving Owen a curious glance as if he might have a small clue.

If Silvia were on her feet, she might’ve been bouncing excitedly, as it were she was instead grinning in the midst of giggles. “I like a boy. Well- I like TWO boys, but Margrit doesn’t know Dylan. Actually I guess don’t really LIKE like Dylan as much as I want to bite Dylan and he’s got a stupid girlfriend anyway. But I DO like somebody else but he doesn’t even notice me EITHER but that might be because I can’t hang out with him a lot or Margrit will find out because Margrit is the pack leader and she haaaaaates him.”

“Am I the only one who didn’t know about this vampire bullshit?” growled Owen. He clearly couldn’t care less about Silvia’s boy troubles, but he was still stuck on Michael and Leo being vampires. Go figure.

“I’m what.” Leo asked in a flat, disbelieving tone. At least, Julian had to assume he was asking, because he didn’t exactly vocalize the question mark. He was still holding Silvia suspended above the ground, but his eyes had zeroed in on Julian with the oddest expression.

“Margrit doesn’t?” Julian chimed hopefully, turning to give her strange toothy grin to Owen. There might have been the faintest hint of red in cheeks again. She rubbed the side of her face with the sleeve of her jacket.

“I don’t know what you’re so shocked about, seeing as you’re the one that told my social worker.” she muttered in Leo’s direction. She deliberately avoided looking at him. The supernatural world of Silent Pines already thought he was her boyfriend, what did it matter if everyone at her High School did too? “It’s Margrit’s favorite gossip right now, aside from lamenting the rise of Lexi Ryan.”

Speaking of Lexi Ryan. Julian stepped closer to Owen and leaned towards him, tugging the bottom edge of his shirt when her voice dropped. “I actually thought I was the last one to find out that everyone we know is a little strange.” she mumbled, trying not to sound too amused by it. “We should probably talk about Lexi-”

“We can’t tell Lexi either!” shouted Silvia, suddenly looking a little startled as she froze in her squirming. “…maybe I won’t tell you guys, you’re spilling all kinds of secrets. Caleb is going to be SO MAD.”

“That was different,” insisted Leo, over the headlock he had Silvia in. “I’m not your boyfriend-”

“I don’t have anything to say about Lexi,” barked Owen. His face was really red, and he was giving Julian the most utterly betrayed look she had ever seen.

“It’s just easier not correcting people.” she pointedly said at Leo. She TOLD him that was going to come back to haunt him. Julian didn’t have time to wag a finger at him and tease him about it, though. Owen was now priority number one.

Lexi Ryan was apparently a very big deal.

Anybody else would see that look on his face and take off. Owen was pretty good at looking intimidating. Julian just bit in to the side of her cheek as her brows furrowed. Suddenly she smiled and padded around in her jacket pockets until she felt the crackle of a plastic bag of stolen mints. Fishing one out, she grabbed Owen’s hand and dropped it in to his open palm.

“You’re right, I guess there isn’t much to say. Do you know what to do with a dumb, obnoxious girl? …besides put her in a headlock?” she cast a quick glance at Silvia and Leo. Silvia was now trying to gnaw on his arm, but not yet applying any real teeth pressure to it. “Take her running around in Devil’s Wood until she’s tired enough to shut up and listen to you talk.”

Silvia stopped chewing. “Does that work on boys too?”

“Not for you. Keep your boys out of the woods unless you want your brother to eat them.”

Owen didn’t look like he knew what to do with that suggestion. He crossed his arms over his chest and furrowed his eyebrow a little harder at Julian.

“You know what, screw this,” blurted Leo from behind her.

Silvia was deposited back on her feet; he’d dropped her, but not very hard. Before Julian could look at him again, he’d already turned his back and was running his fingers through his hair.

“I can’t take any more of this hormonal crap,” he said. “I’m sick of hearing about boys and girls and dating and just- Fuck! Fuck it. I’m out.”

“What-” Damnit, what was Leo mad about now! Even Margrit wasn’t having to put out this many fires.

Julian stomped her foot and if she had something to throw at him she would have. “It’s not my fault it’s the topic of the day! Even the ghost is all kiss crazy! If you can’t deal with me and kissing-” wait, that came out wrong “with me helping people and even ghost’s teen romance dramas, you can go find Michael and Angela and curse at THEM for blowing up your phone.”

During the shouting Silvia skittered her way over to Owen, and tugged at his arm. “Wait, there’s a ghost? I don’t want to meet anymore of those.”

“Any more of them?” echoed Owen. He put his arm around Silvia and held her against his side so she couldn’t wriggle out of reach again. “Give me one reason I shouldn’t haul you home to Caleb, you little shit.”

Leo, meanwhile, was having some sort of fit. His back was still turned, and by all appearances he was about to rip his hair out. He took a deep breath.

“Julian,” he said. Not Jules, not even Hollinger. “Shut up.”

Before that could really sink in, he was already walking away.

“You and Leo are messing up my hair!” Silvia fussed, now trying to shove Owen away. There was no way she could stand still anywhere, it didn’t matter if there were ghosts flying around or people trying to pick her up and haul her off. Being short was the worst. She finally stopped when she thought up a good answer.

“Because if there’s ghosts with Julian is the best place to be! Cause she’s a mega ultra alpha and a ghost whisperer. Last time she punched my brother and stopped my ancestor from killing Michael and Leo AND she threatened a witch with a WHOLE ENTIRE ghost army! I couldn’t SEE the ghosts, so I don’t know how many there were, but sounded like a lot. I got a SKULL!”

Silvia was still pretty proud of her involvement, despite the fact Caleb put a location tracking app on her cellphone because of it. Brothers were also the worst. Now she couldn’t sneak ANY where unless she left her phone at home. And who would do that?

“If you don’t stop her now, she’s going to flood you with a mountain of information and then not explain any of it. That’s what she did to me.” Julian muttered. “And that’s not exactly how all that happened.”

Julian. Why did that knock all the wind out of her. She folded her arms over her chest and scowled at Leo’s retreating back. It shouldn’t of any mattered to her anyway. He wasn’t supposed to be there and her name wasn’t even Jules. Who even DID want to listen to teenagers lament their romantic drama?

Oooooooh right! I mean psychic. NOT an alpha. Although she is still probably an alpha too. But so far only vampires are in her pack. And Angela. But Angela doesn’t count.”

Julian stopped listening somewhere in there, tapping her fingers against her elbows while she wrestled with that unsettled feeling. This was the stupidest thing for her to have a- She let out a breath.


She threw her arms in the air then sprinted forward, catching up with Leo before he got out of her sight. Julian practically crashed in to him when she stopped and latched on to his arm.

“Wait, stupid!”

“Why the hell should I?”

He jerked his arm out of her grasp immediately, but he did stop and slowly turn to face her. And that was the first good look she’d gotten at his face since… well, since before he even got mad, actually. He’d been looking at Owen more than at her ever since he’d shown up.

His face was hardened, his jaw clenched and muscles stretched tight. His eyes, though… those were wide. His pupils had funneled down to pinpricks in fields of blue.

“Gonna tell me what to do some more?” he asked, in a calm voice that didn’t match up with his expression. “Go on. Lay it on me.”

“You love it when I get all bossy.” Julian shot back. Her hands, were just as quick. The second he shook her off his arm, she was blocking his way and grabbing both of his wrists.

Julian squinted at him, examining his face with a tilt of her head and twist of her mouth. Her grip tightened.

“I just want to talk to you, that’s all.” she started carefully. “I think we already know you can talk to me, if you’ll just be still long enough.”

“Stop looking at me like that!” he snapped. This time, he stayed captive, but his eyes slid over to the side and down, boring holes into the cracked downtown sidewalk. “Jesus, what is it with you? You never know when to quit while you’re ahead. Are you a masochist? Fuck off.

Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. Julian wasn’t going to let go for anything. He’d have to pry her dead cold hands off!

She took in a deep breath and let it out slow, taking a small step and leaning to try and catch his eyes again. There wasn’t going to be any avoiding her.

“I am a masochist, wasn’t that obvious? I spend all my time with vampires and crazy people.” Julian flashed him a grin. She could feel his heart beating beneath her fingertips and she had to force herself not to squeeze again. “So talk to me. You could curse at me some more too, if you’d rather do that. But that won’t get me to let go.”

He’d fucked everything up by letting her catch him.

Probably because too much of him wanted to be caught.

“It’s nothing, okay? I’m fine,” he backpedaled. His pulse had to be giving him away though, the way it was racing. Why did she have to get all pushy with him now? Out of all the times he’d toed the line or had a snit, she couldn’t let this one go. “You, though- You’re not just a masochist, you have a death wish. You don’t grab an angry vampire, you idiot.”

He yanked his hands free and laid them on her shoulders. His thumbs pressed into the hollow just under her clavicle, digging in.

“You realize I could snap your neck like a twig,” he breathed. And then he did something really, colossally stupid: he looked up.

Kiss her, his inner dumb teenager insisted, in that painfully crisp moment of clarity.

Yes. Kiss her, a foreign voice supplied, from somewhere dark and quiet.

It was like Leo had suddenly been tossed into a glacial lake. His limbs froze up, his lungs and even his veins flooding with ice water. He tried to speak, to withdraw his fingers, but it didn’t work out quite the way he wanted.

“I waited,” he heard himself say. It was muffled, like he was on the opposite side of a door. He watched his hand lift up to touch Julian’s cheek, but it was like he’d gone numb- he couldn’t feel a thing. “Where were you?”

Well, fuck, thought Leo, before he went under. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse.

There we are.

For a moment, Julian was actually worried. That ghost shenanigans weren’t going on and she somehow accidentally hit one of those mysterious buttons that had him flipping his switch and avoiding her for days. This was better.

Well, it wasn’t better. Her heart was probably now beating harder than his was, and she had no freaking clue how she was going to pull this off. But ghost possession was a less scary problem than Leo taking off and leaving her.

Later she was going to have to figure out what the fuck that was supposed to mean.

“I can’t answer that question.” she said softly. “Not without a little time. And you’ve already been waiting for a really long time, haven’t you?” Julian held out her hands and offered them to him, palms up. “I can take you where you want to be. All you have to do tell me where and let this one go.”

“I was alone,” said Leo- or rather, said the ghost of the boy speaking through him. “It was cold and dark. You never came.”

He brushed his thumb against Julian’s cheek, staring at her with glassy eyes. Where before Leo’s pupils had been contracted into nearly nothing, now they were totally blown. There was just a thin ring of blue separating them from his sclera. His touch was careful, hesitant, like he wasn’t used to contact. Given the circumstances, he probably wasn’t.

“I love you,” he whispered. “I never stopped loving you.”

“You’re breaking my heart.” she breathed out almost in a squeak. A swirl of different kind of feelings were assaulting her. The disappointment and loneliness mixed with that wild, time created desperation. It all swished around with the fact that it was coming from Leo and pouring in to thoughts she really really shouldn’t be having right that moment.

If this were anyone else she would have grabbed him and kissed him just to see if that would do the trick and be enough. Sometimes simple solutions were the best ones.

But she couldn’t do that with Leo. Definitely not with Leo.

“The one you’ve been waiting for hasn’t been here for a long time. You’ve got to let go of this place. Now they might be waiting for you, but you can’t find them like this. Do you understand?” she asked, raising her hand to cover his. She probably shouldn’t have, she could already hear Leo making a scene about it.

“I don’t know,” he answered. He turned his fingers over to twine them with Julian’s, blinking. There was an odd, static hum in the air. “…You’re not Allen. Who are you?”

Something flashed across his face, like he was waking up from a dream. He clasped Julian’s hands tighter as the wind picked up, catching at both of their clothes.

“I remember,” he told her. She could practically see the pieces falling into place behind his eyes. In fact…

It was dark. That was part of the plan. But the rain, that had caught him by surprise. He was drenched to the bone, his hat lost to the wind and his hair plastered to his face. Shivering, he ducked his head and forged forward. Up ahead, he could see the dark silhouette of the park folly against the midnight sky.

He was late. He couldn’t keep Allen waiting.

As he dashed up the wooden steps and into the shelter of the folly, he slipped a hand into his coat pocket to be sure that nothing had slipped out in his haste. His billfold and his watch were still in place, along with two tickets bearing the letters PRR. He ran his thumb along the thick, rough paper.

Across the folly’s dark interior, he saw another figure leaning against the railing. He felt the familiar rush of his heart’s blood, amplified by his excitement. They were going to leave, they were going to get out of this place and finally be together-

He froze, fingers outstretched, when he realized it wasn’t Allen waiting in the shadows.

“I warned you to stay away from that boy,” the familiar growl broke his reverie. “I told you what would happen.”

“No,” he choked out. “You can’t be here. You can’t. Where’s Allen?”

The ruiner of his dreams stepped closer. The boards creaked under his booted feet. Frozen, he watched the shadow loom in front of him as he dripped rainwater and cast about for a sign of- something, anything other than this.

“He’s not coming for you, you little sodomite.” A large, heavy hand clapped down on his shoulder. “And you’ll never set eyes on him again, mark my words.”

Fury swelled inside his chest.

“What did you do?” he demanded, his voice low and shaking. “What did you do to him?”

“I didn’t do a thing. He came to me. He told me the truth of how you seduced him.”

“You’re lying!” He swallowed a lump in his throat. It was a lie. It had to be.

“Don’t be daft. How do you think I knew to find you here?” The grip on his shoulder grew painfully tight. “Now come along home. I’ll deal with you there.”

“No.” It was a lie. That much he knew. Allen loved him. He must have been forced to tell, must have been kept away. As soon as he got free, Allen would come find him. Assured of that fact, he knocked away his aggressor’s hand.

Once, he would have been afraid to make that move. But in that moment, love gave him the strength to face that fear.

“You disgraceful little snipe! You think you can raise a hand to me?!”

“Leave!” he told him, shaking- not because he was afraid, but because for the first time in his life, he was allowing himself to be well and truly angry. “Leave me alone! That’s all I ever asked for, it’s the least you can do for me and Allen!”

“I’ll show you the least I can do!”

It happened so fast. Normally he would have been able to duck away, but he couldn’t see- all he caught was a glimpse of something moving in the dark before he felt something solid collide with his jaw. Stumbling back with the force of the blow, he reached out to catch himself on the railing of the folly.

The rain-slick wood slipped through his fingers.

He heard more than felt the back of his head crack against a hard surface as he went down, keeling over in the brush behind the folly. His face pressed into the wet grass with a soft squelch. Mud rushed into his mouth; he spat it out, coughing.

“Get yourself together,” his father called down from above. “I’ll see you at home when you’ve decided to act like a man.”

He tried to sit up, even to crawl, but white-hot pain flashed along his back. He could barely lift his head out of the muck long enough to avoid another mouthful of rain and earth. He thought he could hear footsteps fading away.

Allen. He just needed to wait for Allen to come. He’d find him…

He closed his eyes, and waited.

“I died, didn’t I?” he asked Julian. Somewhere along the line, he’d leaned in close enough that their foreheads were touching. “No one came.”

“Yeah. You died.” Her voice cracked and she had to swallow the lump that lodged it’s way in to her throat. The entire thing made everyone’s present romantic drama seem like total nonsense. This was truly tragic and there wasn’t anything she could do to make it better. It was was already done.

“It was a long time ago.” she mumbled, finally managing to sound a little more put together. Julian squeezed his hand and tried not to think about Leo being in there somewhere. “Long enough I’m not sure if I can find him for you. I can try if you want me to, but you’ve been here so long already.”

She paused, biting in to her lip as she considered something else. “Do you believe he loved you? Really honestly believe without a doubt? Because I can promise if he did, he’s waiting to see you. And he’s not going to think to find you here in the park. This isn’t where you’re meant to be.”

“He would have come for me if he could. I know he would have,” he answered, straightening up and looking at her. Those blue eyes weren’t his, but Julian could see him in them, could see the way they were shining with something fierce.

“You know how I know?” he asked, with a soft smile that was totally out of place on Leo’s lips. He put a hand over his heart. “Because of this. My father couldn’t change what was in my heart, and he couldn’t change Allen’s either. Love is faith. Somewhere, he’s waiting.”

Briefly, his eyes lingered on Julian’s.

“You’re very lucky, you know.”

Instantly she smiled in response. This was progress and this was what he needed. Even better, it was warm fuzziness goodness that reminded her about all the really good things in the world when lately she was getting a lot of fucked up frightening things. Despite his death and getting lost, he still believed in his love. Julian wanted that.

For a morbid second she wondered if she would feel that way too when she died.

Her smile turned wry as she shrugged her shoulders and squeezed his hand. With her other she reached up to pinch his cheek in that same affectionate way she did to Owen. Leo would understand.

“I don’t know about lucky. But I’ll try to remember love is faith and make others remember too.”

“Thank you,” he breathed. “It was all fuzzy, but… somehow you made everything clear again. Thank you.”

Without warning, he ducked in and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. Just a quick, dry brush of his mouth on hers.


Leo awoke from his forced time on the bench just as his knees gave out. He caught himself on the way down, planting a hand against the sidewalk and sitting down the rest of the way rather than falling. His other hand clapped over his still-tingling lips.

He could have pretended he didn’t know what that meant. He couldn’t remember what had happened, or even how long he’d been down for the count… but Leo had always been too smart for his own good.

Holy shit, was all he could think. I kissed her and I missed it.

Warm fuzzies went to burning cinders real quick, and even though she knew it wasn’t Leo, it kinda still was Leo. Now that he seemed to be coming to his senses and looking completely bewildered, (because he knew, she could still feel it, he freaking knew), Julian mentally stamped out every last one of those stupid cinders.

Her face still tinged crimson, she stepped forward and turned around to take a slow almost demure seat next to him. Julian stretched out her legs and brushed her hands over her jeans. This didn’t have to be awkward. It was just a kiss by a ghost in the body of the guy she cried herself to sleep on and occasionally thought about kissing instead of her actual boyfriend.

Not awkward at all.

“So. I think the right thing to say is ‘Thanks, Jules. I think I WILL start making your coffee’.”

“I’m leaving town,” Leo told her.

He wanted to reach down and grab her hand, but he didn’t. He’d done enough damage. It was time for him to set things right, once and for all.

He looked around at the happy teens working on the festival setup, at the orange and red leaves littering the ground. It was like a picture out of some sappy fall advertisement. Only one thing was out of place here.

“Not right away,” he went on. “But you know, Michael told me I’m free to do what I want now. And apparently he’s turned over a new leaf, and… I guess if the psychic believes him, I have to. You’ve even got Walter on your side, seems like. Tasha’s gone. You’re a pro at ghostbusting. Nothing’s keeping me here.”

“What is ‘not right away’ supposed to mean?” she asked, amazed she actually sound normal when she did. Because she was pretty sure something just lurched in her chest. She knew she’d have to figure out why him leaving freaked her out, but she didn’t know it would have to be right fucking now.

“I’m not going to stop you if you want leave.” Julian turned and squinted at him. In her head she was somewhere midway between panic and being pissed off, and she didn’t know which one was worse.

“…but I don’t think you should. Mostly because I don’t want you to.” That wasn’t supposed to be said out loud, but now that it was out there she huffed and swung a hand to hit his shoulder and shove at him. “What makes you think it’s all going to be fine when you go? Do you really think I can do any of this without help? I just got used to you being around all the time, and I actually like seeing your stupid face every other day. Now you’re just going to leave m-”

Her breath caught, and just as quickly as it all pour out, she tried to take it all back again. “Never mind, it’s fine. You’re right. I’ve been alone this long and I’ve got it all under control now. …you’re just. Hrrrmph.” Growling under her breath she shifted to push herself off the sidewalk.

It didn’t matter. He needed to leave, so he could go. She didn’t have the right to tell him otherwise.

Julian’s nice normal day had turned out to be anything but. Not everything was terrible – she was glad she could help put a sad ghost to rest, and was relieved to have Owen as someone she could talk to about ALL of it now. After she escaped Leo as quickly as her feet could carry her, she almost sought out Owen just so she could try to deconstruct what the hell just happened. She could have just told him she liked having him around. Why did she have to get so damn mad about it?

When Owen wasn’t in immediate sight, she detoured to the public restroom so she could splash some cold water on her face. That helped, at least. After a few splashes and a quick run of her fingers through her hair she felt a little more sane again. Maybe she was just soaking in way too many things.

Once she did return to the gazebo she was surprised to see how much progress had been made in the time she was off chasing a ghost. All the snapped wiring was cleared out and it looked like Margrit managed to get someone to drop off some fresh wood and supplies to replace what was too broken to be reused.

…it also looked like Michael may have been stuck with doing the brunt of the work because Angela seemed to be nowhere in sight.

“The ghost is no longer an issue.” she announced with a weak smile, shoving her hands in to her back pockets when she stopped a few paces away. “Although I wish you would have told me they have a liking for vampires. I guess Angela found a way to avoid hard labor?”

“Margrit showed up a few minutes ago and asked for her help elsewhere,” replied Michael. (Asked was the polite way of putting it, perhaps. Margrit Berkshire never really asked for anything.) He set his hammer aside and stood, brushing a layer of plaster off of his nice jeans.

He could tell right away that something had happened. There were drops of water clinging to the skin behind Julian’s ears, and her smile didn’t reach her eyes. It did nothing to improve Michael’s already poor mood.

“…I take it Leo turned up?” he asked, attempting to parse her words- since she wasn’t being very forthcoming with details. “He told me he wasn’t going to.”

“He did. Which is how I found out vampires are ghost magnets. I’m not sure if I’m more frustrated with you for not telling me in the first place so we could handle things in a way that kept you safe, or at him for not cluing me in when he got body snatched and nearly walking away with it.” She was aware that maybe he couldn’t, or maybe he had reasons, but Julian didn’t want to get on the Leo train again.

“But that’s done!” she said cheerfully, rocking on her heels. “Our ghost is safely resting where ever ghosts go when they’re not here driving me crazy. This is looking nice so far.” she gestured her head towards his progress. “I’m sorry Owen and I weren’t here to be more useful.”

Ah, yes. There was that.

“It seems like everything worked out.” He pursed his lips. “Though it might have worked just as well if Leo had stayed away and you’d stayed here with me, sounds like.”

He didn’t mean to sound so… put out. But really, what was Michael supposed to think?

“Still.” Michael forced himself to smile, reaching out his hand for hers. “Everything did work out. That’s what matters. And you’re alright?”

He still seemed to be a little sore about the whole thing. Just a tiny bit. Julian gave a resigned sigh that she quickly hid with a shrug of her shoulders and return of his smile. She already exhausted her temper elsewhere, she could just let this one go.

“I’m probably not the one to be worried about today. But I think we-”


Oh hell! What now!

Julian paused midway of reaching out for Michael’s hand, right before Silvia nearly came crashing in to her. The girl looked wild, but not in the usual playful bouncy way. This was her looking startled and near at a loss for words. Though that might’ve been due to her trying to catch her breath.

“I need you!” gasped out first.

“I know we didn’t talk much earlier but could you just send a tex-”

“NO!” Silvia blurted. “Angela and Lexi are arguing.”

Julian sighed again, rubbing the back of her head. “That doesn’t sound like such a big-”

Caleb came up!”

“Still don’t think it-” Julian stopped. Caleb. Angela was talking about Caleb with Lexi Ryan. The same Lexi Ryan that everyone in school was talking about. The same Lexi Ryan that Owen was probably having girlwolf problems with. Girlwolf. Something chirped in the back of her mind and her eyes went wide.

“Shit. Shit shit shit!

Julian didn’t even try to explain. She just took off running. It was was Silvia who grabbed Michael’s hand to take him too.

She spotted the girls just as their fight had escalated from growled out words to Lexi tackling Angela. The senior straddling the junior as she snatched the collar of her shirt and slammed her down against the ground. Angela shrieked, flailing her arms and trying to keep Lexi from grabbing at her throat next.

“Lexi stop!” Julian shouted, rushing forward to grab her arm and try to lift her away from Angela. Lexi snarled and shook her off, and Julian could’ve sworn she saw a flash of teeth.

“Listen to me!” She tried again, grabbing a little more forcefully. This time she was met with a swift elbow to the jaw, stumbling backwards and nearly dropping to her knees in the grass. She could taste blood where her teeth bit in to her cheek.

Well that was just enough of THAT.

Julian launched herself at Lexi with enough force to knock her off Angela. Both of them rolled once or twice before Julian finally got a hold of her hair and one of her ears.

“Julian she-”

Shut up Angela!

Trying to keep a grip on Lexi was like… well, holding on to a pissed off wolf! Lexi was also furious beyond words. Julian wasn’t sure if the girl was even thinking anymore. “Lexi, stoppit. Lexi.” Julian hissed, twisting her hold on Lexi’s ear until the girl started yelping. There was a bit more thrashing about, but Julian was so focused on trying to subdue her, she wasn’t sure when or how she finally got to the point of pinning her to the ground. She had a knee pressed in to Lexi’s back. One hand was still lost in her hair at the back of her head with a tight grip, and the other kept her ear.

Get off me.” Lexi finally growled.

“You need to calm down, Lexi. You’re going to hurt someone!”

“I don’t care, get the fuck off me!” Lexi tried to squirm, but yelped when her ear got twisted again.

“Listen to me. If you don’t get it under control you’re going to hurt someone. You’re going to seriously hurt someone you care about. Do you understand?”

“Yes! Get OFF!”

Bit by bit Julian released. First Lexi’s hair. Then she slid off her back, and finally she let go of her ear. Both girls sprang quickly to their feet. Julian threw out her arms at her side, trying to block the way to Angela when Lexi took a few snarling steps forward.

“Alexa.” she warned, looking wide-eyed and wary.

Lexi stopped. She blinked, angry at first with her fists balled at her sides, but slowly her expression shifted. She glanced at the people now circling. Crestfallen shock crept across her features. “I-” she whispered, backing up two steps before she finally turned on a heel and ran.

Silvia wasn’t too far behind her.

“Holy shiiiiiit.” Julian finally let out once the danger was out of the way. She staggered a bit and pressed her hand to her cheek. It was probably a bit dramatic, but holy crap, that really hurt! “And don’t you even say a word!” she pointed at Angela.

The blond threw her hands up in apology and surrender. She was covered in dirt, grass stains, and leaves but she didn’t look hurt anywhere. More importantly, she didn’t look bitten. “I swear to god I didn’t start that Julian. She just snapped! I even tried to apologize!”

“…jesus, I know.” Julian acquiesced. This time it probably wasn’t Angela’s fault. But Angela was way too good at the wrong place at the wrong time. “Somehow I feel like this is karma’s revenge for punching a werewolf.” she muttered, pulling her hand back to see if there was any visible blood.

Julian,” Michael’s voice cut in.

He was standing at the edge of the crowd, his face drawn and eyes dark. He marched over and snatched up Julian’s fingers, turning them over in his hands. When he found no outward injuries, he grabbed her by the hand and pulled.

“I need to talk to you,” he said tightly. “Alone. Now.”

As he turned, he nearly barreled right into Owen. It was hard to say how long he’d been standing there, but one look at his face told Julian that he’d seen at least the tail end of that scuffle.

“Julian, are you okay?” he asked her- but he was looking at Michael, sizing him up like a fresh track recruit.

“Not your business,” replied Michael, his tone clipped, before Julian could even open her mouth. He tugged Julian along as he stepped around him. “Excuse us.”

“Talk to her!” she shouted over her shoulder at Owen, just barely having the time to get that out and give him an apologetic look. Because, apparently, when Michael said now he meant NOW.

With the adrenaline of tussling with a mad wolf, and her confusion with Michael’s sudden abruptness, it wasn’t until they were well out of sight before she finally realized he was practically dragging her across the park.

Julian dug her heels in to the ground to stop and tried to tug her hand back.

“Just wait a minute! What’s the matter with you?” she asked, nearly out of breath. “Nobody got hurt. It’s fine!”

“It’s not fine! You’re bleeding,” hissed Michael.

Even if he couldn’t see it, he could smell it. She’d bitten her tongue, or maybe scraped the inside of her cheek. He could practically taste it in the air when she talked.

It made Michael want to kiss her for all the wrong reasons. He shuddered in quiet disgust.

“She could have bitten you,” he told her, lowering his voice. “You wouldn’t turn- probably- but she could tear you apart. Your ghost from earlier could have gotten angry, become dangerous- especially if it decided to use Leo as a puppet. You don’t listen to me, Julian. But the truth is you’ve just been lucky so far. You got into a car with Walter, for god’s sake. You can’t just run around acting like you’re indestructible!”

Her hands instantly went up to her mouth and her eyes went wide.

“I’m sorry.” Julian apologized quickly, with a pained expression. She hadn’t even considered the blood. That was a big deal and she seriously should have realized that sooner.

But the rest sank in quickly and her look went from apologetic to confused to baffled. “How can I listen to you when you don’t even really talk to me?! I can speak to ghosts, I think it’s pretty natural that I do something about it. If you had told me the was a vampire complication in the first place, of course I would have stayed with you. I’m not an idiot.”

She was already called an idiot by one person today and she wasn’t keen on having a second.

Now she was sucking in a breath and annoyed all over again. “As for Lexi Ryan, if I didn’t jump in to the middle of that, she would have killed Angela. She’s going to end up killing someone and if I even have the slightest chance of helping prevent that, I’m going to!”

“What exactly did you expect me to do? I know I’m not indestructible, but I’m not going to sit back and do nothing.”

“You should let me handle it.” Michael put his hands on her waist, pulling her closer. “I’m the one who should be dealing with these situations, not you. You’re going to wind up hurt. I know you have a big heart, Julian, but you have to stop putting yourself in the line of fire for everyone you meet!”

He shook his head. He had to make her understand this, he had to.

“I don’t think you’re an idiot,” he told her, leaning in. “I don’t. I just- You don’t know how much I worry about you. It would be so easy, just one wrong move and then you’d be gone. I can’t let that happen. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you what I was planning, but you have to believe that I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a long time.”

Julian pressed a firm hand against his shoulder, she didn’t push him away but she did lean back a little.

“Let you handle it.” she repeated, her eyes narrowing just a bit. “Sit and wait while YOU handle MY friends and their crazy teenage drama. I guess I should be calling you on the phone when I’m on the other side of town and I stumble in to another Walter then just wait until you show up and make the choices for me? What about when I spend the afternoon chatting to a ghost and I don’t even know I’m talking to one.”

“Or I suppose it would just be easier if I were with you twenty four hours a day. But then you might actually have to fill the time by telling me all of that precious information you don’t think I need to know, because you are somehow more responsible for keeping me alive than I am. You are the ONLY one that knows what to do about anything.”

She examined his face and with each second that ticked she tensed a little more. That doubt was starting to creep it’s way in again. This wasn’t quite right. It shouldn’t be like this at all.

“I don’t know if this is working.” she whispered, confused and despondent. “I… pushed this too fast. You don’t know me, I don’t know you. Maybe this was a bad idea.”

“I don’t know you?” Michael blinked, and now he was the one drawing back to stare at her, stunned. “You don’t know me? Julian, you know things that I don’t even know about myself.”

She’d had a vision of the night his parents died, and she could say this to him now? Where had he gone wrong? He could feel her slipping away like sand through his fingers.

“Where is this coming from?” he wanted to know. His eyebrows drew together. “Is this… because of that boy? You spend one afternoon with him and then you- what- want to break up?! Julian, if you have feelings for someone else, just tell me. Or… is this because you do know me?”

He took a step back.

“I thought you wanted to know about my past, but you haven’t been the same since that night,” he said hoarsely. “It did change things for us, didn’t it.”

“This has nothing to do with Owen!” She might have laughed if this weren’t so painfully close to the edge of something bad.

“And it’s not because of that vision.” she stressed with certainty. “All that vision did was made me feel more for you.”

Julian squeezed her eyes shut, biting in to her lip and then having to force herself to stop because there was still that faint taste of blood. Instead she squeezed her hands in to tight fists, nails digging in to her skin. She shouldn’t have left the house today. No good ever came after a vision. No good came out of psychic anything.

“It’s just you and me.” she let out in a resigned breath. Julian uncurled her fists to gesture at her head with her hands. Her eyes still squeezed shut as she fumbled with the words. “There is so much up here and- I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s you, or fate or circumstance. Or if I’m just pulling from everyone else.”

“We did this so fast, and it’s what I wanted but sometimes I feel like this isn’t even what you had in mind with me at all.” she confessed, finally letting her hands drop. “I don’t think I’m the person you had in mind.”

“What do you want?” Michael asked her quietly, his hands dropping to his sides as he watched her, studying all the tiny cues in her body language. “Because whatever you want, that’s what I want.”

She was right, of course; he’d never planned for their relationship to turn out this way. All he’d wanted was to make her happy, to take care of her… and then she’d pushed.

And he’d let her have what she’d wanted.

“I promise you this, though. I won’t ever stop caring for you. So if you want me out of your life entirely… that’s the one thing I can’t agree to.”

“You always think a fight means I’m done with you.” she huffed, finally opening her eyes to glance at him. Julian shrugged her shoulders and crossed her arms, digging her fingers in to the fabric of her jacket.

“I want to know what you want.” Julian shifted, shuffling her feet. “You have your own thoughts and feelings, don’t you? You say I don’t listen to you, but I would if you just spoke to me and actually told me what you wanted from me. I’d listen if you explained to me what was going on, and I’d do as you asked if you gave me the real reasons why.”

She tilted her head back to squint at the sky, raising a hand to rub gently at her sore jaw. “…and I want to feel something other than just being tired and annoyed.” she muttered under her breath.

Michael sighed and dropped his face into his hands, rubbing at his eyes.

“We’re both tired,” he said after a moment’s pause. “And I… can’t act with a clear head right now. I’m going home, and I would feel better knowing you’ve done the same. We can talk about this more tomorrow.”

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