arson, part iii

Okay, I’m back. It wasn’t goodbye forever, as usual. I have not unalived myself, though the temptation is for sure there because I am so embarrassed.

On Wednesday I got overwhelmed by the true horribleness of my predicament and didn’t tell you what happened on Wednesday morning, after the horror show that was Tuesday night, so that’s where I’ll start this entry: the floor of the bathroom on Wednesday morning.

I woke up, freezing cold, in the bathtub with no shirt on. I had all the symptoms of the worst hangover of your life, except instead of the ominous black hole of doom in place of my memories I would usually get after a horrible, blackout night, I had the image of kissing Julian seared into my brain.

Neal was at the bathroom door, yowling through it like a cat:

“Please Shiloh let me in, I have to piss so bad and Julian won’t let me do it out the window, please let me in, please let me in, please let me in, please let me in, please let me in please —”

At which point I yanked open the door, scowling at him.

He made a valiant effort not to laugh, but listen, I was a mess: air tangled, makeup everywhere, eyes puffy from crying, red dent on my forehead from where I’d slept funny against the bathtub, no shirt just sports bra.

“Rough night?” he asked.

He had a black eye, a cracked lip and his own blood dried on the side of his neck, so he wasn’t exactly rocking himself.

“How’d you guess,” I said and he winced.

“Everything is so loud.”

I nodded. “So loud.”

“Good morning!” Julian said cheerfully, coming into the TRASHED hotel room looking fresh and cheerful in his sunglasses, with bags of takeout and fresh squeezed orange juice. “How are we feeling this morning?”

To be clear, I wasn’t the one to trash the hotel room like a bratty 70s rock star. That was all Neal.

We both just stared at him.

“Before you say anything, I have good news,” he said, taking a breakfast sandwich out of the bag and tossing one at me, then another at Neal. “I know what happened.”

We both stared at him, waiting. He took a serene sip of coffee.

“What happened?” Neal finally snapped.

“Just dust,” Julian said. “There’s an infestation at the restaurant.”

Obviously that meant nothing to me, but Neal took the step forward and fell face first onto the mattress.

I said, “Either explain what that means or let me go back to bed.”

“It’s magical asbestos from another world,” Neal said, muffled by pillows. “It gets you contact high.” Neal turned his head to look up at Julian from the mattress. “Hang on, how did you figure that out?”

“I got a call this morning from Knock and Daryl,” Julian began.

“Oh my god,” I said and sat down on the floor.

“Informing me that Rook had spent an hour on the phone with Shiloh in the middle of the night, and they just wanted to make sure everything was okay.”

“Oh my god.”

“I explained to them that we were all completely fine, but we were on a case and you two had gone out investigating and come back a little… altered. So they asked where we were, and I told them.” Here Julian took a long pause. “Turns out they caught Cara out here a few months ago. They weren’t able to pin down what she’d done, but she was definitely here on business, they were confidant that she’d made some pretty serious money in the venture. After that it was just one phone call. Cara told me everything I needed to know. Apparently she sold them their dust starter for several million dollars.”

Neal groaned and buried his face back in the mattress. “This is why they want to rift her.”

Which actually gives me a pretty good solution to all my problems: instead of death, I could just rift myself. Clean slate. And if that world is full of deadly fog, hey, you know what? At least if I’m a horrible fog-filled skin balloon I won’t have to remember the time I cried to Rook for an hour about how Julian wouldn’t make out with me.

“This is relatively harmless, comparatively,” Julian said. “Though I did look further into it and all the signs are there. They have a super fast staff turnover because you can’t keep staff around that lose all semblance of self control every night. A guest had an allergic reaction that no one could place a few weeks ago, nearly died. And obviously, that doesn’t even explain all the fighting and stealing that happens around the building. All the signs are there.” He put an orange juice in my hand. “Luckily, it’s an easy fix. We just have to burn the place to the ground.”

I tipped sideways to lay on the floor. Neal pulled the pillow over his head.

“We’ll do it tonight,” Julian said and Neal flipped him off.

We slept all day. Literally I stayed awake long enough to eat my breakfast sandwich, and then I was fucking out. Next time I woke up, Julian was reentering the room dragging an enormous duffle bag behind him.

“Good morning sleepy head,” he said. “Have a nice nap?”

He’d tidied up the entire hotel room. All the mess Neal had made was gone. Julian is literally too good for all of us.

“I brought supplies,” he said, and dropped the duffel with a thump on the floor between the beds.

Supplies turned out to mean fire-fighter suits. No idea how he got them, but my guess is, as always, thievery. Also in his bag were two fire extinguishers and what looked suspiciously like a flame thrower.

“The good thing about this town,” Julian said when he saw me looking, “is that there are any number of perfectly reasonable things I could be doing with a flame thrower.”

The problem of course is that there’s no official last call in this particular city. Our restaurant closed at like 3 am, which meant that it wasn’t actually empty until like 4 am, but the bar next door didn’t close at all, which put us in a bit of a tricky situation. Like, we couldn’t very well get caught destroying the building, and we certainly couldn’t do it while anyone was nearby to get hurt. We were sort of lucky because Kennedy’s was on the corner and surrounded by parking lot on both sides, so it didn’t have any direct neighbors, so we had at least some wiggle room, but a bad enough fire will jump and we really didn’t want this to get out of control. It’s not like any of us are fire experts.

So, we waited until the restaurant was dark. We waited a bit longer. We pointed lasers at the security cameras as we lugged all our gear across the street. We waited impatiently while Neal picked the lock on the back door. We slipped into the kitchen.

“You sure you’re good to come in?” Neal asked Julian. He gave us the thumb up from behind the firefighter helmet he had already donned. “If you feel ANYTHING,” Neal said. “I don’t care what you light on fire. Get out of here.”

So, apparently, the whole thing that this magic asbestos does is just amplify all your dumb idiot shit. Like, the impulses that you’re always trying to control, the stuff you’re always wrestling with, becomes impossible to hold back. It just comes bursting out of you. Which is why when Neal was exposed he turned into a hotel-room destroying, danger-flirting, raging bisexual who wants to fight, and I turned into an insecure, horny, weepy mess.

Great.

We can only imagine what Julian would turn into. Hence the helmets.

Inside, we put on the rest of our firefighter gear. Mine was much too big for me, and also potentially weighed the same amount lmfao. Julian hoisted the flame-thrower, Neal grabbed an ax, and I lugged the fire extinguisher.

“Ready?” Neal said.

“Let’s do it.”

And you know what, it actually was going pretty well. I mean except for being hot, sweaty, exhausting work, it couldn’t have been going better. Neal axed the walls, revealing a dusty-purple mold, which Julian blasted with his big ass blow torch until it was all gone, and then I sprayed it out with the fire extinguisher.

With just a little bit better luck, we might have gotten through the whole building like that.

Alas.

Around five AM a cop showed up. Actually it was even worse than that, because when they arrived Julian was using the flamethrower, and we didn’t hear him tell us to do anything until it was too late. So the cop — just one guy thank god — saw us with a flame thrower and started shooting. We were big ass targets too in our fucking firefighter gear, but Julian’s mask was the only thing to get hit.

Which was both lucky and unlucky at the same time.

“WHOA WHOA WHOA!” Neal shouted. “What the fuck man!”

“What the fuck are you doing?” The cop shouted back.

And Julian said, in a tight choked voice, “Neal —” which was all either of us needed to hear to know this was about to get Really Bad.

“Shiloh, get out of here,” Neal said.

“Nobody move!” the cop shouted. Fucking ACAB dude (though in his defense, we legit were committing arson)

“Sir,” Neal said, slow and calm, backing away from the now rigid Julian. “We’re um. We’re animal control. We were called in to get a bear out.”

“A bear?” the cop repeated.

“We got a report that a bear had broken in and we’re just here to figure that out. See, we’re in uniform.”

“You’re firemen?” The cop said.

Nice one, Neal.

“Uhh,” he said. “Yeah. The bear fucked up the gas stoves, there’s a gas leak. You need to get out of here.”

“I’m gonna need to see some identification,” the cop said.

“Yeah, we got that,” Neal said. “But right now —”

And Julian suddenly jerked forward onto his rapidly elongating hands and knees. The cop, probably in total terror took a shot at him, which barely grazed his shoulder, and the creature that is also Julian spun around to snarl at him, firefighter uniform shredded, helmet knocked askance.

“RUN,” Neal bellowed at the cop, who managed to back out and slam the door shut behind him. Julian crashed into it rattling the whole building, but that moment of confusion gave Neal and I time to get out the kitchen door, and slam it behind us, leaving Julian — who irl is so wonderful he hadn’t even teased me about kissing him — to prowl and snarl and tear up the restaurant inside.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck,” Neal said. “Okay. Okay. Here we go.”

The cop came around the back of the building.

“What the fuck is going on?” he said.

“I told you there was a bear,” Neal said. “And you pissed it off.”

“That was a bear?” the cop gasped.

“Yeah, and we’re here to handle it, but right now it’s in there with my partner.”

“Should I… call backup?” the cop asked, clearly panicking.

“Um,” Neal said, clearly also panicking. “Okay, here’s what I need from you. Go ahead and get on your radio, and tell whoever you need to tell what happened, okay? Then just stay in your car, and we’ll deal with it.”

The cop hesitated, weighing his options. “Can I see that ID?”

“Man, my partners in there with a bear that’s pissed because you shot it, can we handle the ID later?” Neal said and the cop actually responded pretty well to that. He went back to his car.

“What are we gonna do?” I asked.

“Good fucking question,” Neal replied. He pressed his eyeballs into his head with his fingers. “Okay, okay, okay. What do we do.” He took a big handful of his curls. “Alright. He’s only been exposed for like, a minute. We were in there for like two hours and we were high for what, like 8 hours? So if we just let him out right now he’d be high for like… I don’t know. A few minutes. Right?”

“Uh,” I said.

“Yeah,” Neal said. “Yeah, that seems right. Okay we have to do this right now. Go get the car.”

“Neal are you sure —”

“Do I look sure to you?”

No, he looked like an idiot in over-sized fire-fighter gear.

“Just go get the car, bring it over here, and then DON’T GET OUT, alright? DO NOT GET OUT OF THE CAR.”

And I deserve a damn medal because not only do exactly what I was told, I did it after driving the car across the street, while wearing gigantic firefighter gear and shaking like a damn chihuahua.

Meanwhile, Neal opened the back door of the restaurant, pulled it all the way open and stood behind it while he waited. I watched with the car off, as from out of the gloom Julian emerged. He came out into the night slowly. Blood was running down his front left shoulder, and he was limping slightly, but when he smelled fresh air, he lifted that pale owl face toward the sky to reveal the toothy part underneath. God he’s terrifying when he wants to be lmfao.

At first it looked like he was just gonna come out into the parking lot and sniff around a little bit. There was some music playing next door but apart from that it was quiet in the street. I can only imagine Neal behind that door, holding his breath, because I was fucking frozen in my seat, peeking out over the door so I could watch. But then, at the bar next door, someone called something and the Julian creature turned sharply and pricked its ears, and in one fluid motion, started towards the bar.

My heart sank and I really thought we were fucking done for. And then, from behind the door —

“Wait!” Neal let the door swing shut as he dashed after the Julian creature. It whirled on him and Neal froze. I couldn’t hear what Neal said after that through the window, but I could see his lips moving, and I’ve watched Neal sooth enough creatures by now to know that he was speaking very gently, in a low, soothing voice, saying nice little things.

The Julian creature lashed its significant spiky tail and Neal must have fucking unshittable pants or something because he didn’t even flinch. He took a slow step closer. Reached out one steady hand. The Julian creature tucked down the toothy part of it’s mouth again to get a better look at Neal through his owl face. He cocked his head. Very, very slowly, he took a step closer. Moving so slowly I could barely even see him moving, Neal reached and placed a hand on the soft pale space between those owly eyes, and then the creature that is Julian seemed to slump forward, and with a horrible, crinkling, twitching shudder, he became Julian again.

I literally collapsed against the car. I opened the door and just about puddled onto the pavement in relief.

I grabbed the poor naked bastard a pair of sweats and ran, stumblingly, across the parking lot to where Neal was hugging him limply in relief.

“Guys,” Julian said. “I don’t know what happened, so I don’t want to interrupt this moment you’re having. But are the cops on their way?”

The answer to that was likely yes, so the celebration couldn’t last long.

“What the fuck are we gonna do?” Julian said, gazing bleakly up at Kennedy’s.

Neal took a deep breath. “Only thing we can do,” he said. Then he went to the back of the car and got the extra three gallons of kerosene.

We burned that whole damn restaurant to the ground. Neal and I went in and splashed kerosene around while Julian waited by the rabbit. When the place was wet and stinky, Neal sent me out the back door, lit a matchbook, and tossed it in.

Went up like brand. We were so awed by it we stood there gazing for like almost a minute before we remembered we really had to get the fuck out of there.

We called the real fire department before we even got on the highway, and the good news is that they got that fire out within an hour, no one was hurt, and the building is burned all the way to the ground.

The bad news is that despite the fact that everything turned out, and the case is solved, I still kissed Julian on Tuesday night and somehow the earth has not opened to swallow me whole. How dare it not do that.

He hasn’t mentioned it. He literally has not changed the way he interacts with me at all because Julian is a saint.

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