Actions

Work Header

The Life and Death(s) of Julie Barnes

Chapter Text

Chapter 1 Julia Estelle Barnes

Julie had always been a nice girl. When she was eight she could have been accurately described as a perfectly normal, nice girl who wanted to be a ballerina. By the time she was sixteen she could accurately be described as a perfectly nice girl, who wanted to be a ballerina. And now; a nice girl who hadn’t become a ballerina. The mundane changes in Julie’s life started small. Then they get bigger.

The fantastical changes too.

Julie always felt like somebody living in-between the lines. In between places anyways. Her young life did not have much stability outside of dance. Her parents moved states every few years for her father’s job. This meant ballet class was one of the few constants she had. Julie coped with the ever changing social life through her dedication to her sport and her infectious friendliness. She did have to move schools every few years and being especially nice helped her make friends.

It got harder as she got older. There’s a fine line between nice and being accommodating to your own detriment. When she was thirteen her parents divorced and her mother moved back to Canada to be with her family. Then Julie was pulled in even more directions. Her whole life had been a negotiation between her parents; when they’d move for her father’s work, what school she’d go to, when she’d visit her mom’s family in Canada. Even her name had been a negotiation. Her father wanted to name her Julia, after his late aunt. But Julia Barnes was more Anglophone than her mother’s Québécois pride could stand. So they compromised.

Her mother had told that story many times: how her parents had decided her name while vacationing at a resort in California. They has been sitting under the stars on the terrace of their suite when they finally found their daughter’s name. It had all sounded so romantic. Too bad it didn’t last.

“Only if we call her Julie. She’s got to have a name my relatives can pronounce” her mother had said to her father while he pressed his hands on his wife’s stomach.

“Julie Barnes,” Jim said out loud. “I like it, anything else?”

“If we are naming her after your aunt, I’d like her middle name to be Estelle, after my grandmother.”

And so Julia Estelle Barnes was born under the stars on the mountains of California two weeks earlier than expected, cutting her parent’s holiday short.

******

But this was different. Now Julie was being included in the compromise; where did she want to live? Or more truthfully, who did she want to live with? Choosing between her parents was the hardest thing she’d ever done. She wanted so desperately to make them both happy. Justine was as icy as her daughter was warm. And when Julie choose to stay in Wisconsin with her father, Justine’s ensuing cold shoulder was almost more than Julie could bear. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her mother, or Canada. But she’d spent more time in the states and she didn’t think her French was good enough to attend school in Montréal.

They compromised, and her mother did eventually forgive her. It wasn’t all that different. She’d been going to Quebec for vacations and family reunions since she was six. Now she’d spend the school year with her father and the summers with her mother. The first winter after her parent’s separation she took her first solo plane ride to Montréal to go to the Winter Carnival with her mother and cousins. And of course, Justine was sure to find her daughter the best summer training programs for aspiring ballerinas. It wasn’t always the most comfortable family dynamic but they coped.

Julie still felt spread too thin. Like she lived in too many places. And isolated like she didn’t quite belong in any of the places she did live. She was too American for all the Canadians she knew, and too Canadian for all the Americans she knew. Of course, neither of her countrymen actually said that. It was more people found her strange in little ways they couldn’t place. Only Julie recognized the way her disjointed life across two vast, culturally distinct countries made her into a slightly disjointed person. And she only noticed after she’d grown up and reflected on how she became a nice girl from nowhere.  

No. When she was fourteen she was mostly preoccupied with the fantastical ways she was a bit odd.

After her mother moved home and her father started to settle into their new routine Julie added a Saturday gymnastic class to her work out regiment. Jim tried not to compromise his daughter’s career ambitions with the learning curb of single parenting. He suggested Saturday so he could run errands around town while Julie was in class. On the drive they take turns picking music. Jim likes Bill Whithers and Curtis Mayfield. Julie has a soft spot for The Cure, and a bunch of French language music. She doesn’t play those since it might remind him of her mother.

Every Saturday Jim drove her to the gymnastic studio then did most of the grocery shopping. Sometimes he doubled back so they can finish the shopping together. Sometimes Julie waits in the studio and does her homework.

The purpose of gymnastics is flexibility and strength training to compliment Julie’s ballet skills. However she discovers she loves the feeling of flying in mid air. She’d done it before in dance during pirouettes and jumps. But there was something so exhilarating about moving through the air when on a trampoline or doing a flyaway. Julie adores it. It’s like soaring through the air even if it’s just for a moment. She keeps trying to jump higher and higher. It’s how she gets herself in trouble.

One day Julie is distracted. She’s worrying about her dance exams, and some conversation with her mother, and maybe something her father said about Christmas. She jumps too far forward on the trampoline. But she’s busy worrying about all those things and trying to focus on that feeling of flying. She doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

She hits the ground unprepared. Fumbles the landing and feels her left leg break under her. That part is memorable. Everything gets blurry after that. It must have been near the end of class because her father helps her limp to the car and drives her to the nearest hospital. Julie cries the whole way. They aren’t tears of pain thou. The brutality of dance has prepared her for that sensation. They are tears of fear; Julie fears she will never recover from this injury. That it will keep her from adequately preforming as a professional. Julie rubs her hands on her shin feeling the fracture. She knows it’s broken.

Julie doesn’t recall how long they wait. It feels like hours and it probably was. But then the doctor is chastising Jim; “You are wasting my time and your money, this is barely a sprained ankle, if anything.” Julie feels her shin. It doesn’t feel broken.

 

She wiggles her toes in the air later that night. She feels just fine. It’s not even a sprain. She was so sure it was broken.

At least she has an uncomplicated dance career ahead of her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 Nice Girls Like Me

Julie thinks about her not-broken leg for months before anything else weird happens. Julie and Jim become more comfortable living without Justine full time. Julie starts teaching a beginner ballet class before her own class one day a week. It’s partly for the money but especially for the practice. Her midterm exams are coming up and Julie knows she should start studying soon since she’s always so busy with dance. But as of late she’d been preoccupied with her friends. Being a teenager is hard for Julie. She doesn’t want to be a nice girl anymore. She wants to be a cool girl. But she definitely isn’t. And she isn’t exactly girly. But she isn’t tough either. She thinks black tank tops under plaid shirts and ripped jeans will make her look tough but it doesn’t. She wants people to like her but nice isn’t working anymore.

 Julie had always been drawn to liminal places. She liked the wooded areas of Wisconsin so when Ashley and Peter invite her out to bum around in the woods she’s excited to go. It’s not really the woods thou. It’s more like a junk yard beside some woods. They actually came here to shoot targets with bb guns. Julie doesn’t mind. It’s still nice to be included.

That’s where she meets Rory. He seems like a cool boy. He has his own car and he is there to sell Peter weed. Peter knows Rory from school but Julie has never met him. He isn’t exactly what she expected in a drug dealer. He’s a bit off putting in a way Julie can’t place, but he’s also very charming. He tells them he hangs out in an abandoned house not far from here so coming by was no trouble.

Peter and Ashley smoke. Julie declines the offer. They tease her about being a nice girl. But really Julie is worried about her lungs affecting her dancing. She doesn’t say that because it doesn’t sound cool. They take turns shooting Peter’s bb gun until Rory suggests they use a real gun.

“Ya sure, I’ll just grab the gun that I have.” Peter Jokes.

“You can use mine.” Rory returns confidently. He pulls a hand gun from his jacket while he smiles at Julie in particular. “We can set up some bottles.” So they do.

Julie knows her way around rifles but hand guns are new to her. Jim had always enjoyed hunting. Julie had no interest in killing things so they’d go to a shooting range together instead. Last summer at her uncle’s she and her cousins even got their youth rifle certification from the local Fish and Game Club. She was the best shot. Her cousins made some good-natured jokes about trigger happy Americans and her uncle commended her accuracy. She told her father all about it over the phone in the evenings. She liked doing things with her family and she liked doing things with her friends but this situation made her nervous.

Collecting bottles keeps Julie busy while the others take turns with the gun. Eventually Rory calls her over and hands her the gun. To buy time Julie adjusts the baseball cap she wears to keep the sun off her freckled face. It’s small and she doesn’t know what kind of gun it is. Rory is charming when he advises her: “Use both hands for the recoil.” The pistol is too unfamiliar for the advice to be helpful. Julie misses on purpose. Or rather, she doesn’t try that hard; aiming is too different from the rifle and she’s unsure of her accuracy. She shoots three more times than passes the gun off to Peter. 

Julie back away from the others and trips backwards over an old tire. She breaks her fall with her hands but it doesn’t help. Instead she feels a sharp pain in her right hand. Ashley helps her up and inspect her. There’s glass in her palm but otherwise she’s ok. Julie pulls the glass out and the bleeding gets worse. She doesn’t feel anymore glass in her hand but the cut extends from the bottom of her palm to the middle and its bleeding a lot. She wraps her hand in her shirt. Rory drives them to the pharmacy so Julie can get clean gauze and wrap her hand. By the time they get there she’s nearly stopped bleeding and it doesn’t look so bad. Rory drops them off at Peter’s house. Ashley and Julie walk back to their neighbourhood together.

 Before they leave for their own houses Ashley leans in and whispers to Julie “I think Rory likes you.”

Julie isn’t sure how she feels about this. Julie isn’t sure how she feels about being liked by anyone. There’s this tall girl in Julie’s pointe class with shiny blonde hair. Julie feels things whenever she looks at her through the mirror for too long in class. But Julie also feels things when Rory smiles at her. It’s confusing. She Laughs. “I don’t think cool guys like that like nice girls like me.”

That night Julie takes a shower. She unwraps the gauze on her hand so she can replace it afterwards. There isn’t a cut on her palm. Instead there is a heavy scar in its place. She doesn’t know what to make of that. She doesn’t think she can tell her father. In bed she rubs her fingers over the scar and wonders how it’s possible. It was only a few hours ago.

When she wakes up in the morning there is nothing on her hand at all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 Trusting Boys and Other Youthful Regrets

Julie keeps thinking about her not-broken leg and her not-cut hand. She’s starting to wonder if it happened at all. Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me she thinks in class. But she’s heard about people with ‘abilities’. People who can do amazing things like fly or shoot fire, or lift cars, apparently do exist. Julie has also heard about those people being ‘disappeared’ by the government or other clandestine organizations who’d benefit from ‘super people’. It isn’t a comforting thought. In any case Julie’s got to find out if it’s real.

Julie thinks about cutting herself to see what happens. Just to make sure. The problem is she doesn’t really know how and she doesn’t want to get caught either. Someone might get the wrong idea and Julie can’t exactly say it’s not depression she just thinks she might have superpowers. She doesn’t have any tools for it either so she breaks one of the razors for shaving her legs. She waits until Sunday morning since it’s the only day she doesn’t have a dance class. It’s just an experiment so she makes a single shallow cut high on her thigh. She’s a bit worried nothing will happen so she makes sure the cut will always be covered by her ballet skirt. The sharp pain is nothing like the kind of physical stress Julie is used to. It’s a lot harder to get through than she thought. But she needs to know if this is really happening so she pushes through it. She sets a timer and checks the band aid every few hours. By the time she is getting ready for bed it’s only a scar. When she wakes up in the morning there is nothing there.

This is really happening.

After that it becomes a strange part of her Sunday routine. Julie figures she needs to do this a little scientifically. At first it seems to take between 15 and 20 hours. It’s hard to be sure since she is usually asleep for some of it. After a while it’s gone before she goes to bed. Julie knows that scientifically she should push the experiment further; she should cut deeper, or break an arm, or cut off a finger or toe and see if it grows back. However the idea disgusts Julie and she’s too afraid of it not growing back. Especially her toes. Instead she decides its best to just ignore it and pretend she is entirely normal. She’s a bit terrified of being kidnapped by the government.

Julie distracts herself from this by focusing on school and her friends. She hangs out with Peter and Ashley at lunch, which means she hangs out with Rory too. Eventually Julie starts going with them to the abandoned house on Sundays. Julie doesn’t shoot bottles. There’s something she doesn’t quite like about hand guns. Shooting rifles had only ever been about spending time with her family. She enjoyed the game of hitting targets. Hand guns are only for killing people she thinks maybe that’s what it is.

Julie isn’t sure what to make of her feelings for Rory either. At first she likes him. Julie isn’t really used to people being this interested in her. But Rory is a little intense sometimes and his interests are a bit macabre. Even by Julie’s standards. After a while he tells them he also shoots birds for fun. That makes Julie uncomfortable. She loves birds. Rory gives her a hard time about it.

“Are you scared of dead things?” he teases. But that’s not it. Julie is actually pretty accustomed to dead things.

When Julie was very young Jim and Justine has been worried about the effect of moving on their daughter. They got Julie a grey cat named Matches so she’d have a constant companion. Matches was a living terror who killed everything he could get his paws on. He’d bring Julie disemboweled mice and birds as gifts. Sometimes he’d hide them in her room and Julie would have to go looking for them by smell. She became familiar with the process of decay. Morbid as he was, Julie loved that cat and when they had to put him down she was devastated. It was a bit much for a 9 year old but she went with them to the vet. Her parents helped her arrange a back yard funeral. She wrapped Matches herself and painted his cardboard box. A year later she found an injured crow in their garage. She’d tried to save it. Instead she watched it die in a blanketed shoebox. Her parents warned her about handling diseased animals but they helped her bury it anyway.

Those where only Julie’s earliest and most personal experiences with death. As she got older she’d explore the forests of Québec and the natural areas of whatever state she was living in. She’d seen the bodies of animals dehydrated by the Arizona sun, she’d found decaying deer skeletons in the damp forests of Oregon. She knew what defrosted rot smelled like after a heavy Québec winter. It wasn’t scary, it was just nature. Julie Barnes was not disturbed by dead things, she was disturbed by the idea of making things dead. But at 14 she couldn’t articulate the difference.

Eventually Julie doesn’t have as much time for her friends. Its dance recital season, her final exams are approaching and she needs to start planning for her summer with her mother. She still hangs out with Peter, Ashley and Rory at lunch. When she hears about Rory’s relationship with his father and his other troubles she feels guilty for thinking he’s too dark. She doesn’t have those problem so she shouldn’t judge. But she decided she only likes him as a friend.

Julie’s got exams on her actual birthday so her father takes her out a little early this year. Jim has been working later hours for a while now and Julie has gotten used to being alone most of the time. It’s nice to go out just the two of them. Jim gets the wait staff to sing happy birthday to Julie and orders two slices of cheese cake. When Julie is almost finished her cake Jim passes a small black box across the table.

“I have to be honest, your mother helped me pick it out.” He says it will a bit of embarrassment. “Justine said you two did your colors last year and you should be wearing gold…….. I have no idea what that means.”

Julie laughs before she opens the box. Its three thin gold rings. She takes them out of the box and inspects them.

“Apparently the idea is you can wear them all on one finger as one big ring or split them up.” Jim explains with a proud smile. “We wanted you to have something fancy of your own.”

“Thank you, they are lovely.” Julie beams as she puts all three rings on her right ring finger. She feels very sophisticated.

*********

Julie’s exams go pretty well. They could have gone better but she pays more attention to dance. Nobody has seen Rory since before exams started. Julie talks to Ashley about it on the phone while giving herself a manicure. Now that recitals are over she can paint her nails lilac purple. They are beginning to worry about Rory. Nearly a week later people still haven’t heard from him. Julie is mostly busy packing for the summer but she still finds time to worry about him. Nobody gets through this stuff alone she thinks she should go check up on him.

She’s leaving for Montréal in two days but she can at least go to the abandoned house to make sure he’s ok. It isn’t that far. So she goes. He’s there smoking pot. She tries to be empathetic and ask why he missed exams. Rory is evasive. He doesn’t want to talk about school or his family problems. But he does want to paw at Julie.

“Don’t be shy” he tells her when she pulls away from him. “Why else did you come here?”

“I was worried about you. That’s all.” She regrets coming all the way out here. Rory’s eyes get colder and Julie doesn’t understand why that makes him so angry. She just wanted to help. She just doesn’t think people should be alone. “Maybe I should go.” There’s something unsettling in Rory’s expression and Julie suddenly needs to leave. She turns away from him and continues towards the path in front of the decrepit house. In retrospect it was a mistake.

Julie isn’t sure how far down the path she gets before she feels the hot sensation on the back of her head. It doesn’t seem like it was too many steps. She’s not sure why she drops to her knees. She doesn’t understand why the warm feeling spreads over her eyes. She doesn’t know why everything is suddenly black.

But she thinks Rory might have something to do with it.

Then there is nothing.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 The First Time

There is nothing. And Julie feels nothing. Until she does. The blackness is something. Julie is lost in it. She wanders. There is a light in the distance and Julie moves towards it. As Julie gets closer it begins to look like a pillar of many lights. Eventually Julie can see the pillar of lights is a tall stone column full of holes. Some of the holes are filled with glowing candles while eclectic lanterns hang from the top. Julie thinks about touching the white marble but a voice interrupts her.

"W̫͓̺͖̩͕̹̗̬̰̥̹̯̪̳ͅh̟̳̼̘̻͍̼̼͖̖̩̞͉͔͕̱̻a͕͈̮͈̠̯̤̳̯t̗̘̦'̭̭̫̹͍͖̲̼̞͇̱̪̰ͅs̩̪̮͕͕̗̱̦͓̠ ̠̤̥̲͎̤̭y̫͖̭o̮͓̭͎̘̦͙̥͙̮̱̤͚̖̠̭̼u̺̭̣͙̼̣͖͕̣̹͕̳̭̜͖ͅͅr͕̜̳͙͉ ͔͈̻͔̹̠̪̫̻̯̜͓ͅn͎̳̩̖̤͚̙̥̼̝̠͚̜̭͉͓a̲̺͓͈̪͖̞̤̰̪m̥̙͓̫͚͎͔e̗̬̬͓͉̘̯͉͉ ̫̫̙̰͍̗̞ͅd͕̳̞̤͚̗̪̫̞̘̲e͙͉̞͍͖̖̖͙̩͚̹̳ͅa͇̮̹̩͉̠͚̟͔̱r͖̥͔̩̺͕̦̱̰̖̥̱͈͎̮̥͈̫̖?̘͚̺̥̭͔̘̰͖̝ͅ"͈͈̰̺̬͔̖̪

 

The voice is not quite right. Julie turns towards a strange women in a long black robe. Her hair is blue and she’s too pale, there’s a pearl choker peeking out of her collar. There’s something timeless and beautiful and unsettling about the women but Julie can’t figure out what. Then she repeats herself Julie realizes it’s not a pearl choker on her throat, it is a second mouth of jagged pearly teeth.

"W̫͓̺͖̩͕̹̗̬̰̥̹̯̪̳ͅh̟̳̼̘̻͍̼̼͖̖̩̞͉͔͕̱̻a͕͈̮͈̠̯̤̳̯t̗̘̦'̭̭̫̹͍͖̲̼̞͇̱̪̰ͅs̩̪̮͕͕̗̱̦͓̠ ̠̤̥̲͎̤̭y̫͖̭o̮͓̭͎̘̦͙̥͙̮̱̤͚̖̠̭̼u̺̭̣͙̼̣͖͕̣̹͕̳̭̜͖ͅͅr͕̜̳͙͉ ͔͈̻͔̹̠̪̫̻̯̜͓ͅn͎̳̩̖̤͚̙̥̼̝̠͚̜̭͉͓a̲̺͓͈̪͖̞̤̰̪m̥̙͓̫͚͎͔e̗̬̬͓͉̘̯͉͉ ̫̫̙̰͍̗̞ͅd͕̳̞̤͚̗̪̫̞̘̲e͙͉̞͍͖̖̖͙̩͚̹̳ͅa͇̮̹̩͉̠͚̟͔̱r͖̥͔̩̺͕̦̱̰̖̥̱͈͎̮̥͈̫̖?̘͚̺̥̭͔̘̰͖̝ͅ"͈͈̰̺̬͔̖̪     It sounds wrong.

 

Julie looks around into a sea of nothingness. It’s just her, and the pillar and the women with two mouths. “Julie Barnes.” She stutters. “I mean Julia Estelle Barnes, technically. But people only call me Julie.” The blue women is holding a leather bound book. It’s small but incredibly thick. She scans the pages. Julie peers down to get a look at the writing but it’s a sea of moving symbols Julie doesn’t recognize. After a few moments the women looks up.

“Julia with a J?” she asks. Julie nods and watches the women scan the page again for good measure. “Well Julie, I’m afraid you aren’t on the list.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.” Julie really doesn’t. “I have no idea what’s going on here.”

“I mean it’s not your time dear.” She says that with the mouth in her face.

“What does that mean??!”

“I think you know.” The blue women studies Julie for a moment. Her eyes are dark but she examines Julie with sympathy.

“Time like I’m dead?!!?” Julie says with panicked realization.

The women reaches forward with her white hand and places it on Julie’s shoulder. Julie feels her grip through her shirt. “Yes, but like you aren’t supposed to be dead.” She waves the book in her other hand. “Don’t worry.”

“That’s a thing? That can happen!?” Julie is confused. She’s not sure what she expected from death but this isn’t it.

“Sometimes.” The blue women replies. She doesn’t move her hand from Julie’s shoulder. “What’s the last thing you remember?

Julie doesn’t remember exactly, everything is a blur. She doesn’t even know how she got here. “I don’t know-” she starts.

The women’s inhumanly pale face softens as thou she feels bad for Julie. She rubs Julie’s shoulder. “Take your time, think back. And if it helps, focus on wiggling your toes and your fingers….or rather, focus on having toes and fingers.”

That last part doesn’t make sense to Julie but she thinks about it anyways. At first there’s nothing. Then Julie can feel her face twist with the sinking realization. “I was with a boy…I think he….” Julie pauses for a long time before she finishes. The blue women who Julie now recognizes is death waits patiently. “……I know he hurt me.”

There is no sound for a long time. The lady that is death studies Julie before she finally speaks softly “Oh, I see.” The women leans in close like she is about to tell Julie a secret. The only sensation Julie can feel is Death’s gentle grip on her shoulder. They are quiet for a long time before Death says:

“̝̭͉ͅT̹͎̝̩̗̻͚͕̱̥h͖̜̲͍̣̜̗̺̯̙ͅe͓̤̱̪ͅn̳̤̻̹͚͔͎̞̞͇ ̟̰̥̝̪̤̦̝̺̤͍̬̥̯̻̣͚̯g̼͈͙͈̟͚͚͉̬̼͉̲̞̩̣͖͍̹i̞̩͈͇̼̳̹v̝̣͔̤̠̮̟̥͇͙͍̣̯̖ͅe̜̭̦̩͍͈͉̻͈͕͙͕ ̩̗̙̱̫̜ͅ‘̘͔̺͔̩̠̼ͅe̦̼̭̼̼̼̹̜̖̮͈̗ͅm̺͍̜̥̭̳̘̮̮͓̤ ̲̤͔̖͓̣͇̥̹̣̠͈̩͔͓̭ͅh̗͖̣̹̦̥̠͚̲e͖̪̘̪̮̱͎l͖̰̖̹̗̠̱͈͔̦̞̝̠͈l͖̯̰̯̩̻̳̯̻͎̘̼͈͎̟͈,̩̳̻̘͖̰̪̭̫ ̘̲̜̘͙̙̰̲̞k̫̰̲͚͈̗͙̲͇̮͎̹̠̹̭͎̰͙̩i̪̬͎͓̭͙͚̝̥̞̖̫d̝̝͕͙̣̣̫̱̝̮̯ͅͅ.̘̬͚̹”͙͓̰̫̬̲͙̠̬̯̬̼̪̥̟̩̭ͅ

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 Give Em Hell, Kid.

The first thing Julie sees is the unfinished ceiling. It’s water damaged and musty. She doesn’t know what’s going on. In Julie’s mind there’s a women whose face she can’t remember. There’s a strange voice too. It doesn’t sound like a women’s voice. Julie tries to remember as the image fades away. The voice doesn’t. It’s not like any voice she’s ever heard before; it’s too loud and it hurts to hear. It isn’t a language Julie recognizes but she knows what it means:

Ģ͈I̘͎̖̟̘̮̙̘V҉̲̩͇̳̰̱͙E̴̴̗̹̭̙͢ ̨͖̖͞E̞̲͎̖͇͖̤̳M̝̰̹̩͕͙̞̙̕ ͏̢͍̬̦H̤̬͖̬͘E͡͏̪͕̥̦̱̳̲̮͞L̛͉̣͟L̩͞,̜̠̯̹̤̲ ̱̪̫̮͘K͏̸̷͈I̗̺D͏̻̻͟.̵̼̞̩͉̗̤̯͙̗͟͝ 

 

It’s just the ceiling and those words for a long time. Julie’s senses come back to her slowly. She sits up and stares at her bare feet. Eventually she notices her nail polish is missing from her left toes. Her perspective widens. She’s in the basement of a decrepit house. Thou she isn’t sure why. The room is only mostly empty. Scent dawns on her and she recognizes the smell of damp decay. She spots a bloody tire iron near her and the impossible voice rattles in her head:

Ẉ̶̵̺̱H̶̴̗͓͇̦̹̺͞Ḁ̸̴T͖̝̝̩̟̬'̧̩̝̠̮͈̙̺S҉̡͕͓̦̘̰͖ ̧̟͘͡T̢͇͉̩ͅH̴͏̗̪̰̙E̴҉̤̫͜ ̵̴͓͓̙̺̼̭͕͙ͅL̸̼̦̟͇̹̠͟͢A͢҉̻̪S͏̹̭̱̱͍̠̕͠T̵̯͎ ̷̬̟̩͘T̴̤͔̱H̨͇̖̲̞Ḭ̬̠͜Ņ͇͍̺G̭̖̤͎̳̱ ̘̟͝Y̻͉̮̱̦͖̩̕͡ͅO҉̜̳̫̗̙͔̼̩ͅŲ҉͖̣̜̰͕̝̖ ̸̮̞͇R̫̻̹̞̳͜E̸̙͓̙͓̙̠̯̝M̵̯̜͝E̷͟҉͈̹̫̩̪ͅͅM̵̻̦͚͓̣͢͝B̴̢̯̹̭̻͍͉̣͚Ė̬̰͇̓̐̍̃̿̈́̎͌͠R͙̯͇͙̆̄ͭͥͪ̂̓͜?̢̧̌͋͏͕̜̗̠̖͕

 

“Rory hurt me.” It’s the first thing Julie tries to say out loud. The words are interrupted by raspy gurgles from Julie’s throat. She reaches for her throat and feels a wire cut into her skin. Julie struggles with it; it’s wrapped around her neck, and caught in her hair, and matted with blood. She untangles herself and holds the messy wire in her hands. She knows Rory killed her. Even thou it sounds impossible. He struck her over the head, that much she believes. Maybe I survived Julie thinks, Normal people survive head wounds. So I definitely could. It’s more rational than coming back from the dead.

 Then there’s all that blood and the cuts on her throat. The room and Julie are awash in old blood. Julie thinks it has to be her blood. It seems like more blood than any one person could afford to lose. Even someone who could heal broken legs in hours. Julie finally notices the elastic tubing tired tightly above her right elbow. She pulls it off. Everything was becoming overwhelming.

Julie gets up and starts looking for her pants. She tries not to think about why she isn’t wearing them. Julie finds her pants and her shoes in a pile by some boxes. Julie fights the urge to vomit when she can’t find her socks or her underwear. She dresses anyways. The smell of decay is overwhelming. Her bloody feet are sticky in her shoes. This whole situation is overwhelming. Julie’s mind starts remembering the walk from the abandoned house to her father’s. For a moment her only ambition is to get home to her bed and pretend this never happened. Then she looks in the box. There’s a human foot sticking out of plastic sheets. The toes are painted a lilac purple. Julie freezes in disbelief. Her heart pounds. She looks down at her hands and notices she has no nail polish on her right hand and her ring is missing.

Julie is silent as she rummages through the box. She pulls the foot out. It has callouses on the toes. The kind from pointe shoes. Julie keeps looking. There’s an axe and more wire and elastic tubing in the box. She should be disgusted but she needs to know. There’s another limb wrapped in plastic. She unwraps it frantically. Julie is over taken by a tight quiet feeling she’s never experienced before. This must be real terror, Julie thinks. Terror turns to horror when she finally unwraps the plastic. It is unmistakably her right hand and arm up to the elbow; it’s wearing her nail polish and her rings.

Julie wants to cry but nothing happens. There’s a cold, quiet emptiness growing in her chest. She can’t feel anything. Under normal circumstances Julie would think it was shock. However going through a box of your own dismembered limbs didn’t feel like normal circumstances to Julie.

I came here to talk to Rory, he killed me and cut me into pieces in the basement. Julie don’t know how but that is what happened. She pulls the rings off her dead hand and place them back on. Julie isn’t sure how to respond to her own murder. I guess people normally can’t. All Julie can feel right now is betray. Rory stole her life from her. If it had been Peter or Ashely they’d still be in the box. Julie thinks only about the practical parts of this situation; I have to get my life back. I have to make this go away.

Julie picks the wire up and puts it in her pocket. She grabs the axe from the box and heads up the stairs to find Rory.

Being quiet is easy for Julie. Ballet has made her uncannily light-footed. She slides through the creaky house without a sound. It’s still light out thou the sun is fading. She finds Rory in the living room where the four of them used to smoke pot. He’s in the middle of hitting one of several bongs on the table in front of him. Julie gets all the way up to the end table before he notices her. Looking at Rory is strange for Julie. It makes her chest empty again. The sight of Julie stupefies Rory. He exhales in a panic.

“You’re dead!!!! I killed you.” He screams in disbelief as he gets up.

The words do something to Julie. Her chest isn’t empty anymore it’s filled with rage. All she can say is:

“I know.”

Julie seizes the largest glass bong and hurls it at Rory with all the strength in her left hand. When he ducks away from the glass Julie winds up with the axe. She swings at Rory with all of her might. The axe collides with his arm. Julie feels it crunch. Rory falls back into the couch. Julie pulls away for another swing at his head. Rory’s mouth is open like he is screaming. Julie can’t hear it. She can’t hear anything except the inhuman voice. It’s scratching in her ears, over and over again. Rory gets up and fights her for the axe. They struggle across the living room before Rory wrestles it from her. He swings wildly as Julie ducks. She knows he’s screaming awful things at her but there’s no sound other than the voice.

 

G̭̩̙̫̦͕̯ͅI̡͕̼̣̙̺̹͖͘ͅV̡̛̯̝͕͚̼̘̯̩E̼͚̗̥͖̬̬ ̪̦̙̠̙̯E͖̠̤͇̙̝̙̜M̝̞̮͉̠̼͟ ̡̲Ḫ͟͠Ę͉͇̮̟͔̺͜Ḻ͕͎̰͓͠ͅL̗̲͕̱͜͠,͓̮͕͎̟̲̣̹͢͡ ҉̧̺͓̯ͅK̸̨̥̙͈͔̣̦͙͠I̧͏̹͙͇D͔̣̟̲̙̜̞̙ͦͩ̑ͩ͐͊̐̕͟͝͠ͅ.̨̃̈́͋ͤ̍̈́҉҉̛̗͚̝͙̪̲̱͙̫

 

Julie dodges another swing and Rory buries the axe in the floor. His back is to her while he struggles to dislodge it. Julie pulls the wire from her pocket and wraps it around Rory’s neck. Using the strength of her body she pulls Rory straight down so hard the wire cuts into her hands. Julie doesn’t care. She crawls on top of him and pulls the wire tighter. The voice keeps repeating.

 

G̨̬̙I̡̤̯V̪̹̠̲̮͘ͅE̪̹͍͍͜ͅ ̷̷̛̹̣E̜͚͖̘M̶̴̰͕͔ ̫̭͓̬̣͓̜̰͝H̵̛̙̙̠̺͓̝͜E̹̣͎͔̘̻̫͙L̡̛̳͉̺͍͎̝̥̪̖L̵̨̗͔̝̺̠͝,̵͎̺̮ ̧͚̙̮K͏̷̠̦̲͈͉͖I̴͍̬̟̘̻͘͟D̶̶͎.̛̳͚͙̰

                        G̯̯̱̘̘̮͜͝I̷̢̗͍̟̼̼͞V̢͓̯͉̻͕͞E҉̸̷̩̜̜͙̱̭̖̫̭̜̹̖͈̖̗͔͠ ̧͔͔̼̣̩̤̫̦̖̜͉͎͞Ȩ̨̼̜̖̻͚̭͡͞M̷҉̶͖̫̟͙̠͢  ̴̛͗̈ͫ̽͑̔ͮ͠H̛̛́̋̽ͨ͒̒̄̒͊̒̕E͋̏͛́̇̎̋̃́̊̊̍̽̈́͊͐͘̕͜L̢ͣ̿̎ͩ̚̕͜͢͝L̒͐̔̊̎ͨ͢,̶̛̍̓ͭ̀͡͏ ̇ͫͫ̑̎̽́͋ͪ̔̓̋ͮͮ̒̃̇̚͜͞͝K̨̿́̅͆̍̓͂̓̎͒͐̉ͥ̋͑͘͠I̶͆̈̒́́̍̄̇͜D̸̑̑̐͂̐ͭͬ͂̽͆̒͑̃̅̇̓̀̚͝͠.̷̊̅ͨͫ͢͠

                                                         G̵̡̹͍̤̤̬̦̦̼̟̼͈͓̪̣͖͉ͫͤ̑̾̒̔ͬ͌̏ͦ̂ͧͪ̍̀ͭ͒̅̚Ī̢̛͍͙͍̺̈́̌̓ͩ̃ͥͅV̡̮͚͉͉͙͕͕̦̜͚̟̰̝̻͎͍ͤ̓̆̄ͨ͋̍̈́Ě̴̡̩͔̖͖ͫ̓̓ͤͥ̌̓̓̍ͪͪ͞͠ ̠̳̩̯̩͉̩͇ͥ͑̾̽́͑̊̈́ͤ͋͢͢E̛͙͕͖͚͍̳̫͒̎̔͑̊̎̒̓ͤ̓̓̐̓ͨ̚͘͜͝Ṃ̧͓̭̻̩̪̦͍̠͙͍̥͙͈̦͙ͧ́̏̍ͥͦ͋̍ͮ̾ͨ͐̆͂̏ͫ̆ ̵͈͚̠̙̟̱̝̗̤̘͉̦̜̪͎̐͑̚͟͞H̟̯̘̻̖͕̹͎̗̩̖̟͍͔͖͛͐̓̆ͣ̌ͦ̔̒̾̊͘͞ͅͅͅE̛̯̮͈͉̮̞͔͎̲̱̥͇̦̺͔̬̤͙͐ͫ̇̏̇͟͠L̢̙̗͇͚͍̼͈̱̳̼͈͔͈̩͔̪̬ͤ̒̔ͨ̍̈́ͨ̐̍ͩͧ̆̓ͣͫ̔͆̚̚͠L̹̯͕̖͓̭͙̣͕̠̭̠̊̔͒̇ͤ̀ͮ̽ͫ̑ͧ̀̉̓ͅ,̜̯̲̣͓͉̲͇͎͙̹̣̹͍̤̥ͬ̏̀̌ͫͤ̒͒ͦ̕͟͟͟ ̷̡͎̤͚͉̹̻̼͖͙̯̦̼̺̃̽̔̚͡͡͡ͅK̸̢͖̫̙͈̫̙͈̥̥͕̣̤̜̤͚̩̳͍̻͆̉̔̒́͌̄̐ͤͬỊ̴̴̡̬̲̩̜̉̑̽̄ͧ̔̿̆̉ͭ̀ͫ͟D͐̌̄̇͗̌͒̉̐̚҉̷̻̗̰͈̺̬̳̪̩.̡̢̗͈̻̲̞̺͕͈̺̙̙̜͍̠͉̠̹̼̓ͮ̽ͥ̒̎͋̓̿͂̋ͬͤ̾̚̚͘̕ͅ

 

So Julie does.

In this moment nothing else matters. Julie is focused and ruthless. She steps her foot down hard on Rory’s broken arm. She pulls the wire tighter and tighter. He struggles. She smashes his head against the floor. The voice keeps repeating and Julie keeps pulling. His eyes bulge.

Julie watches him die.

The voice stops. Julie’s hearing comes back. Then she cries. She sits there waiting for a little while to make sure he’s really dead. Once she’s convinced she gets up and retrieves the axe. She finds Rory’s matches and lighter on the table. There isn’t a lot of light left so she works quickly. Julie smash all the wooden furniture in the house. She’s never committed arson before. Thou she knows how fire works and how it spreads. Camp fires were her favorite part of camping with her father or visiting her uncle’s cabin. She leaves enough big pieces, and exposes the dry interior of the wood. She hacks up kindling and shreds anything dry for tinder.

She cuts holes in the couch cousins and builds a bundle of broken wood and cigarettes in them. She bring some of them to the basement. She positions them near her dead limbs. She breaks the basement window for ventilation. Julie starts thinking about accelerants. She goes back to the box of her limbs for the elastic tubing, grabs a remaining bong and heads to Rory’s car.

Jim loved telling his daughter about some of the more adventurous things he’d done in his youth. Thou he was always very selective about them. He was careful to only recount the lighthearted ones. Or the one’s that would never be applicable to her life. Jim never thought the one about stealing his neighbors gasoline with a hose would give her any ideas. Julie recounts every detail of that story in her head as she transferred the gasoline into the empty bong.

It’s getting dark now. Julie tries to move even faster. She should be tired but she isn’t. She makes wicks by dipping shredded upholstery in the gasoline and builds small bundles in strategic places in the house. She builds several around Rory’s body.

Light the basement first, then the hall, then the living room. That way you can have a clear path out the door.

Julie goes over the plan in her head once more before she starts lighting the first fire. She worries about the far reaching consequences of setting a whole house on fire. She knows this is how wild fires start. Who knows what the wind will do to a fire this size. But I can’t explain why I killed Rory. And I really can’t explain my extra limbs in the basement. Julie looks at Rory’s body while she lights the last fire. She remembers his dying face and the way he said “You’re dead, I killed you.”

Julie leaves without thinking about it anymore.

The walk back to her father’s house is dark. It doesn’t take as long as it should. And Julie should be tired but she isn’t. She should be exhausted but she doesn’t feel it. The only thing she feels is the desire to be home. Julie doesn’t know how she has the energy to scale the garage and crawl through her bedroom window. It doesn’t make sense. She hides under the hot water in the shower until Jim knocks on the bathroom door.

“Sorry, Ashley and I got lost at the creek and we went back to her house first.”

Lying to her father is easier than it should be. She’s only been gone for 28 hours and Jim only returned from work 3 hours ago. Jim is always tired and it’s not unreasonable to believe his daughter. Julie is a nice girl who never does anything bad.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: You Can Always Flee to Canada

Julie doesn’t sleep that night. She just lies in bed and thinks about the fire, and Rory’s dead face, and her own limbs in a box. She doesn’t eat in the morning either. She doesn’t sleep on the plane to Montréal. All she can do is think about Rory’s dead face. Her stomach is tense with the thought of being apprehended by the police in the airport; handcuffed by Mounties in front of her mother.

They probably wouldn’t be actual Mounties.

It doesn’t happen thou. After a few days Julie worries about being arrested on the front steps of the apartment Justine shares with her new boyfriend. That never happens either. When she looks for news on the house fire all it really says is that one person died and the fire “may have been intentionally lit”. The article doesn’t say “murder”, and there’s no mention of Julie’s extra limbs. It’s like she was never there. Julie can’t do anything else other than pour herself into the summer with her mother. She starts dance camp soon and they’ve got to schedule the trip to her uncle’s, and a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t seem like it matters anymore. Julie tries to enjoy it anyways. Her nights are a little more sleepless and her appetite is a little subdued. She’s a mess of nervous energy. Nothing else changes.

Still, she knows she can’t go back to Wisconsin. That’s definitely how you get arrested for murder, Julie thinks in bed at nights. So she does the teenage thing and lies to her parents. She tells them actually she’d like to stay in Montréal and get better at French. A second language looks good on college applications. Plus Julie would like to eventually audition at Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal, or maybe the National Ballet of Canada. Jim and Justine have always encouraged their daughter to pursue her dreams. It’s an easy sell. Justine adores the idea of Julie staying in the country. Jim is a little broken up. However he’s always wanted what’s best for his daughter and he feels guilty about the recent neglect.

“I didn’t really think about athletic injuries until we were at the hospital for your leg, so maybe living in Canada is a better idea.” He rationalizes over the phone in english. He’s a bit sadder than he lets on. “Plus school is cheaper up there right?”

“Ya.”

“I’m sure being a teenager in a city is way more fun than being one out here.” He tells her. “You’ll have an easier time going out with friends.”

Julie doesn’t go out with friends. Or do much of anything outside of dance and school. She’s still very nice to people, she’s friendly to all her classmates. She teaches more ballet classes. All her students love her colorful analogies and cheery attitude. But she doesn’t really make friends. She doesn’t trust anyone. Justine worries about her daughter’s social life. Julie says it’s because she isn’t confident enough with her French because she can’t say that she’s still traumatized from the time her friend killed her. Julie spends too much time wondering which one of her classmates might kill her.

None of them ever try.

Eventually Jim moves to Texas for work and visiting her father becomes an actual possibility and not just a lie Julie keeps telling him. Times goes on and Julie never gets arrested for murder. Dying in Wisconsin starts to feel like a life time ago. Like another life entirely. If not for the vivid nightmares and the newspaper articles Julie could start be believe it didn’t happen at all. There isn’t anything she can do about it now except act like a normal girl.

Julie wants to pursue her dance career straight out of high school. Justine is mostly supportive. She’s always telling Julie about her grandmother Estelle Travers who was a principle ballerina at Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal before Justine was born. “It’s in your blood” she’d tell her daughter. Julie loves that story, she has so few memories of her grandma. Nevertheless Justine had some conditions; Julie had to apply to college as well, and if she wasn’t accepted into a ballet school right away she would go to college instead.

Julie agrees because she can’t image it will happen. Though she makes a real earnest effort on her school applications. She strategically picks majors that will complement ballet and she intentionally applies to schools in cities with established dance companies. As always, her real attention is still on her dance career. She’s so confidant she’ll nail her auditions.

But she doesn’t. And now she’s agreed to get a bachelors in psychology and physical education. Like many middle class white kids Julie’s mostly pursuing high education because she promised her parents.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: College and Other Horror Stories

College is difficult for Julie. A double major was probably a bad idea. Julie didn’t expect to actually follow through on it. She tries thou. She changes Physical Education and Athletics to a minor to make things more manageable. However Julie still intends to become a dancer after she graduates. School is often overwhelming and Julie isn’t sure how to relax anymore. Other than doing ballet exercises at night in her room when she can’t sleep. Which is most nights. She tries to be brave and do more social things.

She tells herself: It will be fine. Most people aren’t killers.

Julie finds out she does like boys. She dates a boy with bright eyes who’s majoring in political science. She likes spending time with him. He never tries to kill her and he only hurts her feelings. Thou sometimes he doesn’t listen to Julie when she talks about ballet, and sometimes he doesn’t listen to her when they have sex. Julie reads about domestic abuse and intimate partner violence for class. She doesn’t think it’s like that, but she decides she won’t date for a while.

A few semesters later Julie finds out she likes girls too. Julie meets a girl in her kinesiology class who’s there on a cheerleading scholarship. She’s a real cool girl and she likes Julie a lot. There is a lot of overlap between cheerleading and ballet. It’s nice to spend time with someone who understands her dedication to her sport. They don’t say that their dating, but they don’t say they’re doing a lot of things. They are. Julie hasn’t felt this happy in a long time. Julie hasn’t felt much of anything in a long time. It doesn’t last thou. Girls hurt you too.

Julie is alone again. She doesn’t want to do anything anymore. She’s always tired and she doesn’t remember why things matter. Julie does her psych readings when it’s quiet at her front desk job at the student athletics center. She reads about anxiety and depression. Anxiety sounds familiar to Julie. The thing that happens to her whenever she thinks about the future. She learns to catch her breathe when it takes her. The empty feeling she has all the time sounds like depression. But Julie also thinks about Rory and the abandoned house in Wisconsin and dying. Julie hopes its normal, mundane depression.

Julie fears it isn’t.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a normal or fantastical feeling because it’s having mundane effects on Julie’s life. Her average is dangerously low; she’s close to having to graduate with a general degree instead of a major. If she can graduate at all. She’s gained some weight too. Julie knows she isn’t really fat. She doesn’t think she’s got any right to feel fat. But ballet ascribes to a highly particular, (highly unhealthy) ridged aesthetic. So Julie feels farther from her goals than she’s ever been. Julie is numb and tired and anxious all the time. At night she thinks about failure and Rory’s dead face. She looks it up online to remind herself it really happened. It turns out Rory’s father was found shot to death in his house. He is estimated to have died six days before the fire at the abandoned house. The authorities suspect Rory killed his father and then killed himself by setting the abandoned house on fire. There’s no mention of Julie. It’s like she was never there. Julie wonders if she made it all up. Maybe she was never there.

She hopes she was never there.

Julie cuts herself to make sure she was really there. It heals in barely two hours. She knows she was really there. Julie throws herself from the high bar in the student athletic center to make sure she really died in Wisconsin. The feeling of flying is the most exhilarating experience she’s had in a while. Julie doesn’t try to break her fall. It’s for science. People panic as Julie walks off feeling her broken wrist. She focuses on the pain and the broken bone. In a few hours it isn’t broken at all. Julie really did die that time in Wisconsin. Julie really did kill Rory with her hands. She wonders why she did it.

I could have just left the house, what could he have done? Kill me again in public?

Julie doesn’t know why she did that.

It made so much sense at the time.

It was the only thing that made sense.

Maybe I just feel guilty.

Julie thinks about that a lot. She thinks about dying a lot too. She thinks about seeing if it was just a fluke. Julie tells herself that it’s not really being suicidal. Real suicidal people don’t expect to come back. Julie expects to come back. A tiny scared part of her mind hopes she doesn’t. She thinks about it for a long time before she finds a suitably high, undertrafficked bridge to jump from. A guilty feeling overtakes her on the way. Julie worries about what will happen if she doesn’t come back; if nobody finds her and she disappears. Disappearing is hard on families. Jim used to talk about his great uncle James Barnes who disappeared in the Second World War. “It was the not knowing that killed you’re grandfather. It gave him ulcers; always wondering what happened to his brother Bucky.” Her father’s voice rang in her ears. Not knowing would be awful. But Julie couldn’t exactly kill herself in her bathtub. What if her roommates found her?! This was the most rational choice, she told herself when she got to the bridge.

Julie wishes she brought some alcohol or something for the nerves of jumping to her death. It was too late for that now. It’s not really suicide, In my case its suicidal ideations at best. Julie uses her readings vocabulary. Julie has been doing a lot of rationalizing lately. She tells herself this is a win-win situation; either she knows she’s immortal or she doesn’t have to think about any of her problems anymore, like how she still hasn’t become a real ballerina.

Or Rory.

She jumps.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: A Second Go

Julie is nothing. Julie isn’t. Until she is. Julie thinks about a pillar of lights and a women with dark blue hair, and the sea of nothingness. Julie floats through the darkness. Julie follows the lights.

There is a sound. It is like music in the distance. Julie can’t make it out. She follows it. She finds the blue women and the stone pillar. Julie is not afraid when she approaches the women. Julie is relieved. The women looks up. Julie notices she is a bit taller than the blue women. It’s an unusual perspective since Julie is a cool 5 feet and barely one inch. And that’s only first thing in the morning. Up this close the lady who is Death looks demure, petite, and decidedly unintimidating.

Her other mouth is still intimidating:

 

“̳͔̱̤O̯̺͎͖H̝̪̙͖̞͔,̯͍͍̥̟ ̜͕̰IT̲̤̤͎̮͈̝’̩̦S̠̫̞͉̖ ͎ ̯̗Ỷ͉̤͔̙̲̓̃̓ͥ̉O̅̆̾U͐̎ ̍̇̋͋̽A̗͔̳ͯ̔ͦ͐G̪̦̥̻͂A̜̞̗̓̓̍̋͊͒Ī̗̖͖͇̻ͨ̏̃͆N̻̩̣̘̙ͩͬ̒.͙”̩͊ͧ͑ ̠̦̼̜̫̮͊͆ͭ

 

Death sounds a little bit shocked before she turns down toward the book. Julie studies the specter while she scans the pages. Death’s robe is tied loosely and Julie can see more of her throaty teeth and the bright white tulle on her underdress. It seems to take the blue women an eternity to flip through the book. Julie scans the pages. The words still move. This time Julie can read all the names. She doesn’t know the language but they make sense to her. Julie doesn’t see her name.

“Alright, I admit, that’s curious.” Finally Death closes the book.

“My name isn’t in there is it?” Julie confirms.

 

“̦͖̖̞̱̹͎̿̃̾ͫͦN̞͚͎̭͉̒ͦo̥͎̯̯̥̖,̙̗̰̲͚̥̓̿ͥ͂ͥ́ͅ ̦̻̣̟̯͙͔i̩̱̻t ͙̜i͔̝͎͙͉s͈̣̲̹̬̤͚n̠̺’̪͍̬̗̝̯̮t̟̥͔͇̮”̰ͅ She speaks from the second mouth.

 

“Are you sure you remembered it right?!” Julie isn’t sure why that news is so distressing to her.

“Julia Estelle Barnes” Death says her name with indignation. “I assure you, I always remember the unusual cases, this job is dreadfully boring.”

“Job? This is a Job? You get paid?” That is definitely not what Julie expected from death.

“Well, in that regard it’s more like community service.” The blue women says that like its hilarious. “Don’t worry dear. You’re going back”

Those words make Julie cry.

“There must be a mistake. This can’t be possible” Julie sobs uncontrollably and the spectral women looks helpless and confused. It’s the most human Julie has ever seen her.

Death pats Julie on the shoulder and wipes her tears with a cold thumb. Her touch is soft and barely there.

“Trust me, this is not a mistake. And many things are possible. Though this is definitely unusual.” She smiles softly with the mouth in her face. “Don’t be so sad. You’ll be okay, you seem like a tough kid. I’m sorry though, you do look very tired.”

“I am very tired.” Julie admits. “Can, can you tell me why this is happening?”

“No, that’s not something I can tell you. And nothing I can tell you will matter since you won’t remember anything that happens here once you are alive.”

“If I won’t remember why can’t you tell me?!!?”Julie tries to hide her frustration. “Are you being evasive on purpose?”

Death pauses.

“No. Honestly, Julie I don’t really know how to explain this. I’ve never had to do this before.” The blue women raises a finger over the mouth in her face while she thinks.

“Alright, let’s start with this: you won’t remember anything that happens here, but forgetting something isn’t the same as unknowing it. You see, there are different kinds of knowledge, some of which are harmless, while others are not meant for the living.”

“Not meant for the living?” Julie asks.

“Yes, for example, I can tell you that your winning lottery numbers are 34 72 86 10 66 49 99. You won’t remember that, but it isn’t the kind of knowledge that will change you. You’ll forget and that will be the end of it. It won’t have had any esoteric changes on your perspective.”

“But telling me why this is happening would drive me mad with revelation?”

“In a way, yes.... Now, I don’t actually know why this is happening to you. I have a few theories. As I said, there are many possibilities, however unusual. But any answer I could give you would require me to explain some of the…..lets call them; the metaphysics of death. And that’s the kind of knowledge that would change you. You’ll forget all the words, which will certainly help your mind cope. However it will have already changed you. You will already be different for having ever know it at all.”

“Because forgetting isn’t the same as unknowing.” Julie repeats back to the blue women.

“Now you’re getting it.” Death nods at Julie. “You will be alive again, so while you won’t recall any of this, when it comes to these kinds of knowledge; things that are only for the dead; the less you know the better."

Julie doesn’t know how to respond to any of that. She wipes the remaining tears from her face but doesn’t say anything. Death speaks like she’s trying to fill the silence:

“I’m sorry darling, I know that isn’t a comforting explanation. This isn’t normally part of my job.”

“You keep saying that: job. This is your job? How do you do this? How is this not miserably sad all the time?” Julie is still a little stuck on the revelations that grim reaper is an actual job.

The blue women’s face is kind. She shrugs and pats Julie on the shoulder. She doesn’t let go.

“Not all the time.” Again, Death leans in close to Julie, friendly and sympathetic, like she’s going to tell Julie a secret. This time she does.

 

“͐̑̒D͐ͪͨ̒̈ͪ̌e̾̈́ǎͥͧtͫ̓ͬ̄hͫͦ̔ͧ̉͑ͫ̄ ͂̏í͊ͪͭ̓͂̾s̑ͪͫͩͤͫͭnͦ̾͋’̓̉ͬ̆̋͊ͥ̉̊tͦ ̒ͩ̊̑͋s͛̄͐͑̽ͯ̀̾a̓͂ͮ̐̀̈ͨ͗dͮ̃͗,̒͐́ͯ̔ͪ ́͊J͑ͤ͛̎͗uͪͥͣ̃̊ͭ̆ĺ̒ͪi̊ͤͦͪ͌̚̚eͬ̌̋̆̍̐ͣ̎ͪ.̏̊͐̏

D̯͔̝̩͎͍e̝̱̫̗̟̰a̰͖̰̯͇t͚̖̬h̺͔̹͕̗͙ ͇̩̰i̟̣̜͙̝̣s̥͚̞̦̖̥ ͙͕n̞̼͉̭̼ͅọt̞̘͉̗͈͔͙h̙̖̙ͅi̺̜͉̜̖̣n̘͙̠g̬.͕̹̼̟ͅ

                               T͙̩̰h̼͇̙͚̝̬̘̭e̩̝̥̹̝͚ ̫͎͈͈͔̝ ̃ͮͣ̅̓ă̿̄b̔̅ͨͥͯs̊̅è͆͗͌́ͨͯn̂͛̿̎͗̿̄ċͫ͆͂̈͗é͌̓ͥ̀ͭ̑̚.ͪͧ̾̊́͊ ͐̊̉̎͆́͛̓

                                                 D̯̟̦̮͗̓e̦̭͚̤̭͈ͫ͒͐̓àͧ̃tͮͩ̈̒h͂ ̀̽̊̚i͂ͥ̑̂ͬͬs͊ͩͧ̃͆̅ͪ̇ ̅͗̈͋̅̏sͥ̈̃̅̋̄͂͗è̓pͦ͐̑̄̈͆åͥrͣ̀a̎͆̿̚t̎̈́̌̃ͭìǒ̈ͫͧ̚n̈́̾̏ͨ̈́̋.̒͗ͣ͐ͫ͑̆

 

                          L̙̩̬̮̦̅ͨ̾̍̔̉͐ͫͦͭ͋ͧ̂̿͑ǒ̲̹̹̳̼̱̆͆͊̑̈́̾̌̇ͨ͊̆͗͛s̳͍̲̜̩͎̫͈͈̼̝̼̹͈͎͙̭͔̬ͣ̓͗̔̐̌ͮͯͫͨͨ͊ͫ̐̃̚s̼͈͔̞͍͙͈̩̻̲̭̜ͪ͂͑͂̾ͥͨ̊̃̄̃̚ ̳͍͙̬̮̼̫̬̠͕̄̽̆ͨͣ͑o̍̿̆̀f͓͎͎̩͕͖̝͌̓ͮ ̝̳͍͔̞̍l̮̣̝͇̟ͣͮ̏̏̓ͬ̈i͎̞̟̪͖͚̜̟͗͛f̲̻͓̯͇̹̼̰̆͑̐ͯͨ̇e͓͚̤̲ͦ̅ͭͦ̈́̾͐ͦ ̗̠̇̈́͊ͫͅi̱̯̞̖̅̈ͭ̋s̞̭̺̹̯̙͕ ̳̫ș͇̱͕͈̼̭̱a̼͓̪d̳͓̦̞̻.̬̝̼̰”̺̖̳̤ ̘̪̺͖͉̮

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Get Busy Living

The only thing Julie sees for a while are the stars. They aren’t as bright as the stars of rural Québec, but they are more vivid than the sky in the city.

Where am I?!?!? Julie’s mind is clouded.

Things come into focus slowly. She starts to feel the water at her feet and the rocks on her back.

Of course, I’m under the bridge. That happened. Julie gets up. The rocks are bloody.

That happened. I died.

I killed myself.

It’s a lot to take in for one night so Julie stares up at the stars for a while. She doesn't know for how long before she heads back to her apartment. Julie is acutely aware of the blood pounding through her veins as she walks home. The night air fills every bit of her senses. When she finally gets home she can’t sleep. She is a flurry of ceaseless energy. This time the women’s face doesn’t fade. Julie remembers it in haunting detail.

In the shower she wonders if anything else has happened to her. If dying does something to you. Strange familiar images float through Julie’s head like fading dreams; a women’s face, letters moving on a page, the series of numbers 34 72 86 10 66 49 99 dance through her mind. Julie can’t make sense of them. A frightening voice rings in her ears;

 

“͒Tͫ͐ͭͩ͡Hͫ̾̊̀ͨ̍ͨẾͮ̐͑ͤ ͛ͨͨLͩ̈͂͒ͤ̈E̸S̈́͛̅̓ͤ̍̕S̷ͥ̏̏̆ͦ͂ͬ ̉̓̃̓͞Ỳͤ̏ͬ̓͋Ő̶̎ͣ͆͒̍̅Uͯ͝ ̎͂K̷̂ͨN̛͋̇͆̏O̶W ͜T̂ͣ͆H̛͑̎̌̑E͒̈́̿̐ͦ̒͘ ͬ̃̈́ͥ͆͆B̨̈́̓EŤTͪ̋̔ͭ҉Eͧ̆̂͢R̡̎̽.͒̓͑”̊̌ͤ ̂͛̉ͯ̎̚

But Julie gets the feeling she does know; “́́ͨͣͭ̿D̈͗̀͛̃͛̿̚É̽̂̅ͥAͩ̋̈͛̾̔T͒ͣ̂̎̊̐ͦ̐H͑̾̈́̓ ͧ͒͊̃̈́̉̈I̾̔ͮ̉̃S̄ͤ̆N͌̊ͨ’̓̎͊ͯͯT̊͆̑͐  ̥̥͓̰͌̌̋ͨͧͤ͢S̨͔͇̞̼̊̈̏̒̄̏͡A̹̝͓̞̣͂͒͟D̑̚͏̴̱̼͠.͉̮͙̲͚̍ͬ̃͗͋͊̇͢͡  L͉̲̰̘͎̻̪̹̙̑̾̉̽ͬO̩̣̥̜͍͍̎ͮͫ̃͋͛̑ͯS̪͉͔̫̰ͭ̾̊͊̉̽ͅS̠̏̅́ͫͬͪ͋ O̹͖͈̤͎͍̰̞F̗̼̞̬̫̼͚̹͔͇̝̮͎͔ͅͅ ̼͍̗̩̞̟͕͕͇̯̣̘̺L͍̯͙̺̙͔̠͚̝͙̺͈̭͓̱I͔̩̼͇̞̩̭͙̰͚̘̤̦̣F̺̦̠̠̦̯͕̳̮͕̼͚͇̰̱͚͎̘̥E͈̳̺͎̱̫̫ I̬̼̱͕̬͎̜̩͓͕͎̝̅ͬ̓̇͂͌͂̈̈͒͐̑̆̚S̱̥̱̫̬̯̘̗̍̾͒̽͆ͮͮ ̿͌ͨ͆ͦ̆͗̊́ͪ̈̈̅ͩ̓̏Sͬ̒ͫ̅̓̎̐ͫA͋̈̆̌ͪ̈́̉ͩ̚̚Ď̔͂̽̔̈̆ͥͨ͌͗ͥ̀"

      “̶͕͈T̢̙͈̤̜͈͇̩̤̬͞ḩ̧̟͖̝͠e̶̡̖̞̤̻̜̗͙ ̗̗̹͍̭̮̟̝͝ͅA̦̱̦̬̝̺̱̦B̨̼̺S̱̰̟̫̭͇͇̮Ḛ̸͎͜͢Ṉ̡̱͔C̢̘Ẹ̺̝̖ͅ.̸̛̺͚̝̭̤̹͍͞ͅ”̺̥̫̤̜͚̮̳͇͡

                             “     

                                     “̇ͦ̿ͣ̈́ͥ̈́̒͂ͪ̌̀ͭ̚Sͯͦͬ́͑̽̏̉͆ͯ̋E͋̐͆̑ͩPͧ̍ͮ͗A̾͗̇̀ͪͨ͛̅ͪ͊R̋͌ͥ͊̆ͤ́̐͑̇̊̔̚Ä̀ͮͬ͗̎ͬ̐̽́̋ͣT̂̏͂ͭ͆͋ͦ̚I̒ͧ̈̽̆ͫ̎͒ͥͧ̌ͪ̍̚Ö̍̔̿̍͒͛̾N͊ͣ̌ͫ͗͂ͬ͒̊̒ͦͬ̒̄.ͮͨͨ̾̈́̍̌̆͛̄͆ͩ̋ͨ͋ͭ͋̃”̑̅̏̓͒̾ͬ̈́ͩͭ̇̾

Julie tries to quiet the voice. It finally fades away while she’s wiping the fog from her bathroom mirror. Julie stares at her reflection. At first she doesn’t see anything different in the mirror. Then, slowly a strange hazy cloud starts to appear in the mirror. It fills the empty space until there is a translucent darkness floating around her head. That’s different. It looks like black smoke drifting from her head into the air. There’s only a bit of it. Julie rubs her eyes and it’s gone. She’s pretty sure that wasn’t a hallucination so she waits in front of the mirror. Julie squints and thinks about the darkness around her head. Then she can see it again. It’s strange. Like a smoky black halo. She shakes her head. It doesn’t disappear. She leaves the bathroom.

Maybe dying does do something to you.

Julie spends the next few days thinking about her priorities. After calculating her GPA Julie discovers she’ll need to take an extra three semester if she wants to graduate at all. And she’ll need to retake a few classes and get a lot of As if she wants to keep her major. And she will need to pay for it. It’s a lot but she doesn’t have any other options. She organizes her schedule, does all of her course work and gets a second job working evenings at one of the student bars. Julie doesn’t sleep much anymore. After a while she notices she doesn’t sleep for more than 6 hours at a time, even when she tries.

It isn’t all bad thou. Working out in the empty athletic center at night becomes a favorite part of Julie’s routine. Being a real ballerina is so far away at this point Julie tries to indulge in aesthetic expressions outside of ballet’s acceptable regulations. Julie paints her nails dark colors. Julie cuts straight bangs into her dull red hair. It isn’t that rebellious. Really, she should cut off all her hair or dye it an unnatural colour like blue, but death hasn’t made her any braver.

Death has made Julie think about her family more. She tries to call her parents more often. Her father has moved to New York State. Jim talks about going into the city and seeing the sights. He suggests Julie come visit him after she graduates. They’ll go to the ballet and visit museums. Julie actually considers it. Working two jobs and doing all her homework doesn’t leave time for friends. Julie does see her marks improve. She gets better at her bartending job too. Julie figures out the effective amount of flirting for tips. She learns to spot troublesome customers before they get out of hand.

One night on her way home after a late shift at the bar Julie stops to grab a few things at a convenience store. While waiting in line she decides to buy a lottery ticket. Julie doesn’t normally care for lotteries. Tonight she’s drawn to one particular card under the plastic. After a few sleepless nights of yoga in her bed room Julie scratches the numbers 34 72 86 10 66 49 99 off the card. She wins. A lot. 2 million dollars. It should make Julie happy. Anyone else would see this as a good sign. As luck. But the win fills Julie with dread. It feels wrong somehow; like it shouldn’t have happened. Julie acts like it didn’t happen. She deposits the money, which is roughly half after taxes but doesn’t quit her jobs. She doesn’t tell anyone either. Though people find out when it’s printed in the paper. For some reason the ticket reminds Julie of that black haze she sees around her head whenever she looks in the mirror.

******

Retaking some of her classes isn’t so bad either. To her surprise Julie finds psychology pretty interesting when she actually does the work. Julie enjoys reading everything for her Child Development and Psychology class. She really likes Introduction to Social Work. Retaking Psychoanalysis and Criminal Profiling is a bit more complicated. Julie reads a lot more about domestic violence. Her course work mostly focuses on the correlation between men who commit violent crimes and also murder their spouses and their children. The frequency is unsettle. She seeks out everything her school has on domestic violence in general. Her real focus is the causes and the patterns but she pays close attention to the things that happen to women. What men do to women. Julie feels like she could so easily be one of them.

Maybe I’ll stick to cheerleaders, just to be safe. Julie snarks to herself while reading one night.

Julie also reads a lot about the real conditions people associate with criminality. Like most things the truth is more complicated. Her professor spend a lot of time discussing the negative cultural perception of psychotic disorders like Schizophrenia and its impact on people’s ability to seek treatment. He cautions his students against the false perceptions of ‘sociopathic killer criminals’. However, with only the textbook’s list of symptoms and the criminal examples in the case studies it is hard not to be a bit scared.

“The reality of the justice system is that going to prison is largely influenced by socioeconomic factors rather than a purely judicial ones. It isn’t that mentally ill people commit crimes more frequently, it is that mentally ill people are more likely to be sent to prison when they do commit crimes.” He lectures her class before final exams.

“Remember the distinction is important: there are serial killers with these diagnosis, but most serial killers are perfectly nero-typical people.”

The professor is good at his job and Julie believes him. Studying her course work still make her think about Rory. Even after she writes that exam Julie stays up at night researching stuff from her lectures. Julie reads everything she can find on suicide, depression, abuse and their prevention methods. She researches diagnosis like Antisocial Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder and their treatments. Julie doesn’t think Rory had one of those. With hindsight, she does recognizes a lot of the things he said about his father as abuse. Julie remembers the things Rory said about killing birds but she thinks he was probably one of those perfectly normative people who kill people.

What actually interests Julie is the way people recognize and treat these things. She doesn’t feel guilty for killing Rory anymore, not the way that it happened. Now she thinks more about the larger circumstances at work that allow these terrible things to happen. How they got there; how Rory’s life was terrible, how he killed his father before her killed Julie, how nobody was helping him. Those things all had to have something to do with each other. Julie blames Rory for killing her, and she blames everyone else for letting it get that far.

Maybe under different circumstances nobody would have died.

Julie manages to pull it off. She isn’t an honor student thou she graduates with her major and minor intact. Her parents attend her convocation. They are very proud of her. Julie is pretty proud of her hard work too. She is also in much better shape now. All her restless nights working out at the athletic center and doing yoga where terrible for her social life but excellent for her physical fitness. Being a real professional dancer seems within reach again. Jim and Justine get their daughter a subscription to the national ballet as a graduation gift.

For the first time in a long time Julie is hopeful about the future and her ambitions.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Helping People

Julie does go visit her father in New York. Crossing the border makes Julie nervous even though all the news articles she can find suggest Rory’s case is closed. There’s never been any mention of her in them.

Even if the authorities were looking there’s no way they would find you six states over. she reminds herself while browsing tourism options.

It’s an unlikely fear but Julie still worries most of the trip. She doesn’t get arrested. Instead she has a great time doing tourist things with her father. Like so many people before her Julie falls in love with the city. The Arts and Performance scene is boundless. Julie thinks its clique but she wants to try and make it in New York City.

Moving to Brooklyn is exciting. The neighbourhood’s character attracts Julie and it’s a better choice financially. Julie still tries to live like she didn’t win that lottery. She keeps the ticket tucked into one of her notebooks. Looking at it makes Julie feel wrong. Like she’s done something wrong. She tries not to think about it.

Jim finds some time to help his daughter set up her apartment. The two of them put up some shelves and coatracks to make the most of the small space. Julie makes her new home as cozy as possible. She puts a bird feeder out by her big living room window. It’s destroyed by pigeons in two days. Otherwise Julie’s transition to city life goes smoothly. Julie gets work with an indie performance trope. It’s not perfect and certainly not a career, but it’s a start.

Julie gets a job as a phone counsellors at the Brooklyn Suicide Prevention Center. It isn’t what Julie envisioned herself doing. She’s drawn to the job and hasn’t found full time work as a dancer. If nothing else, she’s using her psych degree. Working at the Call Center makes Julie think a lot about the bridge and the stars and the permanence of other people’s death. It doesn’t take long for Julie to notice patterns and similarities in the situations her callers describe. She researches them online and at public libraries in an effort to be better at her job.

Julie figures out how to sound just happy enough:

“Suicide prevention, this is Julie.”

She learns how to convey sympathy with her voice over the phone:

“Tell me, are you thinking of taking your own life right now?” 

The work exhausts Julie but she never lets on. She is patient and empathetic with every single one of them. Like they are the only thing that matters. Like this is their only chance. She knows it always could be.

It makes so much sense in Julie’s head but she can’t say the words out loud:

D͝͏̨͈̖̘̘͖͓͎̣͠͝ͅE̵̛̱̪͇͔̦͚̲͔̖͈̪͢͝ͅA̶̵̡͖͉̳̖̖͕͔̗̗͉̼̯͟ͅT҉̧̧̪̝̣̖̪̬̥̞̻̺̪̦̰͓̟̠͇ͅH̸̛͉̞̫̟̥̖̥̯̯̬̤͚̮͝ ҉̙̪͎͔̭͞͝I̧̡̗̹̱͎͈̜̟͉͉̩̘͓̠̖͎̦̖S̛̻͙͓͙̮͞N̨͕͍̰͓̺͜͢͠T͏̵̝̘̗̻͕̗͚̬͠   ̸̢̬͓͔S̸̘͕̲A̸̤̟̜̬̬̗͚̞͞͝D̸̦̤̖͉͞.̴͉̕

 

                         Lͧ͡O̒̿ͥ͋̾͊ͯ͏̸S̆ͮ̅̄̾̾̀͏S̑́ͬ̕ ̶ͩͯ̐̌ͣ͡O͐͗̂͌̾͐͗̄F̴ͯ̃̿͋̈́͞͝ ̶ͪ̈́̍̊̆̏͜͝ ̿̏̇̋ͬ̚L̫͕̼͇̓ͯ̎̓̎͐͐ͅĪ͎̠͕͇̪͙͚̂F̟̱͔̫͔̺̙ͯ̏̀̒̓́E̳̩̹̠ͫ̈̑͂ͧ ̜͙͍͓͚̹I̖͔̩̖̺̜S͈̣͋ͨͅ ̠̖̻͒̌̈́̍̊̾̏͊S̲͙̭̼͎̞̓ͥͅA͔͉̯͉̗̼̩̅D̜͉̭̭̰ͭ͌ͭ̓.̗̖̰̰͕͍̼̝͕̈́̃ͪͤͮͫ͗́̓

 

As draining as the work is Julie can’t bring herself to quit. She worries about what will happen if the people who call in don’t get help.

Then they will be dead. And they won’t come back.

Instead of quitting Julie spends more time indulging her hobbies and taking more classes. She takes a trampoline class and tries out kickboxing and judo. It’s not like she can’t afford it. Exploring the city helps off-set the sobriety of work too. Julie loves wandering through central park and looking for new shops and restaurants. She makes a game of trying to find the best chopped cheese, or chocolate babka, or the strangest ice cream flavor. She keeps a mental list of the most hipster coffee shops, the most charming bodegas and the most eclectic thrift stores.

To spend more time outside Julie takes up jogging. She finds routes that offer the most interesting perspective of the city. Running along FDR Drive is her favorite. Julie likes it best in the winter. Feeling the cold air off the East River against her face reminds Julie of Montréal.

Sometimes when Julie is out in the city she sees other people who have the same translucent smoke around their heads. It isn’t a common sight but New York is a big city and after a while Julie loses count of the number of them. She inspects every person as closely as she can. She doesn’t find a pattern between the kinds of people who have it. Some people only have a bit of a dark shadow around their heads like Julie, others have more in varying degrees. One of the other phone counselors at the centre has it too. Julie has never had the opportunity to be this close to someone else who has it. At work she’ll sneak glances at him to watch the darkness swirl around his head but she doesn’t treat him any differently. Julie wonders if maybe the dark cloud is the ‘specter of depression’. She thinks it could have something to do with dying.

There can’t possibly be this many people in New York City who’ve come back to life.

The promotion to shift manager happens pretty quickly. Julie shouldn’t be surprised as she is very good at her job. It’s a relief not to be on the phone with callers all the time. Julie notices the high turnover rate of counselors and the toll the work takes on her. At night Julie sits by her window drinking tea and reading about burnout and emotional labour. Julie tries to help the callers by helping the counsellors get through their shifts. She learns to present a serene image at work. Julie starts dressing for affect. Over the phone in French Justine gives her daughter advice on curating a wardrobe. Julie wears more cute dresses and brighter colours. She does her makeup in a natural palette to make herself look cheery and approachable. Julie adopts a management style with lots of positive encouragement. Using all of her ballet poise Julie glides through the call center giving warm smiles. She reads the counselors faces and encourages them softly:

“That was lovely.”

“You handled that great.”

“You’re doing amazing.”

Julie looks for other ways to improve moral. She uses fun colours on the schedules and white boards. She always acts enthusiastic about employee photo day. She is friendly with all the staff and remembers everyone’s preferred days for scheduling. Sometimes Julie will share a favorite recipe, or recommend a restaurant she actually goes to when making small talk. However she is careful to never break her cheerful work affect with too many details about her real life. Julie wants people to believe the serenity she projects is genuine. She tells herself it’s better for moral that way.

Julie instituted a Friday treat day. She keeps track of all the staff’s dietary restrictions to make sure Treat Fridays are always inclusive. When she can’t find a bakery that can accommodate she starts making things herself. It’s extra work but she treats it like a hobby. Baking reminds Julie of her late grandmother. With some practice Julie masters a vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, reduced-sugar chocolate cupcake recipe that goes over particularly well. She enjoys icing them according to the seasons. Julie always takes extra care decorating the Valentine’s Day cup cakes with hearts and sprinkles. February is an especially difficult time of year at the Center.

 It’s hard to measure Julie’s effect on employee retention or moral. Julie tries to consider the little victories; people seem happier, there’s always lots of small talk, nobody rushes from the Call Center after their shift, and nobody ever leaves a cupcake uneaten. Julie considers those things a win. She doesn’t love the work, thou she thinks it’s important. Still Julie is restless. She wants to keep pursuing her own dreams. She thinks she owes it to herself to keep trying. Julie enjoys her work with the indie theatre troupe but she wants to be able to dance as a full time career.

Julie keeps trying to improve her skills and land auditions.

She’ll make it eventually.

 

----->>>>> CHAPTER END

 

INTERLUDE: How it Starts

Dex pulls his headset off. He places it neatly in the corner of his cubicle the way he does at the end of every shift. His co-workers are packing up and heading for the door. Leaning back in his chair Dex has a clear line of sight to the main whiteboard and the table with the coffee machine. Securing this particular cubicle is the reason he always gets to work early. From here he can watch Julie start her end of shift duties.

Dex turns his attention to the cupcake on his desk. He rarely eats desserts.

Eating a lot of sugar isn’t recommended with his prescriptions. But that’s not a concern right now. Julie always considers everyone’s needs.

Dex thinks it’s sweet.

Or he thinks that’s what people mean when they describe other people as ‘sweet.’

Dex gently picks up the cupcake. The pastel pink icing is close to professional looking. The gold star sprinkles are a nice touch. It took him a little while to notice Julie made these ones herself.

As he peels the wrapper from the cake his eyes dart back toward Julie.

She is cleaning up the empty snack trays at the table. Pausing to smile at the other counselors on their way out.

Dex licks the frosting from his fingertips. He lets a sprinkle melt on his tongue while he watches her.

Across the room Julie brushes her long red hair behind her shoulder so she can lean over the table unencumbered. She’s always so graceful.

Dex watches the pink icing split as he pulls the chocolate cupcake in half. He savors the first bite wondering how long it takes her to make them. And why she makes them. She does it at least once a month. Every time, Dex takes a second cupcake back to his desk. It’s the perfect excuse to idle at the end of a shift and get a longer look at Julie.

The cupcakes are really good too.

Dex never mentioned his own dietary restrictions to her.

But he likes to pretend that he did.

Dex chews slowly watching Julie erase the boards. Relishing the taste a little too much.

Julie has to use a step ladder to reach the top of the whiteboard. Then Dex doesn’t need to lean back to see her. She starts updating the board for the next shift.

Dex looks Julie up and down as he finishes the dessert.

Today she is wearing a blue dress with a delicate red pattern. Dex has seen her wear it a few times before. It could be a favorite. His eyes are drawn to her toned legs. They’re impressively fit. The kind of fit that takes a lot of work. He runs his thumb over his lip and licks the last of the cake from it. He pulls his gaze away and gets up.

The Call Center is largely vacant now. Dex is always careful not to linger too long. That could be noticeable.

Grabbing his things, Dex heads for the exit furthest from the whiteboards.

The sweet taste lingers in his mouth. He lets his mind wonder how Julie got legs like that.

She never talks about herself.

It makes him curious.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11 Corps(e) De Ballet

Julie has finally made it. She’s nailed an audition and is accepted into a reputable dance company. After three years she can quit her job at the Brooklyn Suicide Prevention Center to be a dancer in a ballet company full time. She isn’t a principal dancer, she is in the corps de ballet but it’s everything she ever wanted. Julie could not be happier. She is now a ‘real’ ballerina in New York City. It is all very exciting. Julie devotes all her time to her work. She’s ecstatic at the opportunity. It’s been so long that Julie isn’t used to all the techniques of the company. She had gotten used to practicing by herself at odd hours it’s a transition to be around other dancers all the time.

Still Julie enjoyed the social elements. Some of her fellow corps de ballet members help Julie take profile photos for the company’s website. Each dancer’s photos are posed out somewhere on the streets of New York. It’s part of the company’s ‘look.’ Julie starts socializing with a few of the other dancers outside of work. They go to artsy events and get drinks together. It’s Julie’s personal policy never to date anyone from work. She’s tempted to break it a few times.

Julie doesn’t get used to practicing regularly with the company fast enough. Six month in she fumbles a landing and hears her right leg pop under her. She has in effect; suffered worse. But Julie isn’t stoic enough and she fails to hide the pain while other dancers fuss around her. It isn’t really a big deal for Julie. She will be fine in a few hours. At this moment the pain is excruciating. Before she can lie her way out of the situation it is known throughout her company that Julie has, at least partially, torn her ACL tendon.

Julie curses her fate. She is finally in a dance company and now must fake the recovery of a career threatening injury she doesn’t have the next day. It is a strange realization for her; she is effectively indestructible, yet no less vulnerable than anyone else. At least not if she wants to blend in. So Julie pretends to recover: she takes it easy, she says she’s going to physiotherapy, she wears a knee brace to practice. After a while Julie manages to convince the lead choreographer that she has recovered enough to perform. Julie’s father drives into the city to see her first show. A few months later Justine and her boyfriend fly down to spend the weekend and see Julie preform. Despite a few close calls Julie is now performing full time. She even gets promoted to soloist! Julie finally feels like she’s made it.

After the first accident Julie becomes incredibly caution. She realizes she can’t ever injure herself in front of another member of her company. Or if she does she has to hide it. A few months later Julie sprains her second and third toes on her left foot. Julie manages not to show it. She finishes practice and leaves without so much as a limp. It’s a little victory. Later she manages to walk off a twisted ankle without giving herself away. Julie starts to worry she doesn’t have enough resolve to hide anything serious. There doesn’t seem to be a way to raise her tolerance for pain.

Julie wonders if she should be trying to practice this. If she should smash her foot with a hammer and walk on it. But she doesn’t have the stomach to hurt herself that directly. She wonders if she should purposely get hit by a car and try to walk it off. But someone else could get hurt if the car swerves. No one in her kickboxing class is willing to punch her in the face. Julie never does injure herself to practice hiding them. Instead she remains vigilant and cautious whenever she’s dancing in public.

Soon Julie is made a principle dancer. Technically it’s because one of the other principle dancers left and Julie needed to take her place. Julie is overjoyed. She saves extra program pamphlets to send to her parents as mementos. Finally Julie’s life is starting to turn out like she’s always dreamed. Julie always thought that once she’d managed to make a real career out of her passion those restless anxious feelings she had would subside. They don’t. Julie still feels like she isn’t eating or sleeping enough too. She eats, just not nearly enough for someone that is as active as she is. Between dance and her personal work out routine Julie is very active. She feels the most alive when she’s dancing onstage or running along the east river. It never feels like enough. At the end of the night Julie will run through a basic port de bras and barre exercise. Then run through a yoga routine for relaxation on the floor of her living room. She thinks it helps.

If after all that, Julie still can’t sleep, and she frequently can’t, she will open the blinds and sit in front of her window. Opening the window a crack allows her to smell the night air and listen to the sounds of the city. Julie always turns off all the lights so she won’t be able to see her reflection in the window. So she won’t have to look at the hazy darkness floating around her head. Julie tugs at her pajamas thinking about her nervous energy and those two times she died, and that black smoke. She knows they’ve got something to do with each other.

Illuminated only by the lights on the street Julie sits by her window worrying about the ways death has changed her. The sight of dead things disturbs her now. The first time Julie found a dead mouse in her apartment she was paralyzed. It wasn’t like picking up after her cat when she was young. She couldn’t do anything except stare at it. Like being mesmerized. All the thoughts drained from her head. She lost fifteen minutes before she managed to look away. It took two more tries to wrap it in plastic and remove it from the apartment. Julie can’t figure out why she reacts like that now. She wonders if it is because she identifies with dead things now in a way she never could before.

Despite that nagging worry that there is something wrong with her Julie has become one of the fastest rising stars in her company. She is especially well known for her artistic expressions. Julie embodies the story of her routines more completely than anyone else. She has her sights set on the senior principal dancer position. Julie knows she can do it. She’s excellent. It’s what makes failure taste so bitter. One day Julie is practicing a pas de deux with her new partner. They aren’t really used to each other yet and their timing is off. It’s both of their fault but Julie is the one who has to jump. Julie should have seen it sooner. He doesn’t catch her properly and she doesn’t catch herself either. This time the popping sound is louder. They both tumble to the floor. Her fellow dancers are panicking around Julie again. Her partner is apologizing and shouting he heard it pop. Julie wants to scream at him to shut up. She worries she’ll start crying if she speaks.

Julie wishes she’d gotten around to hurting herself for practice. She thinks if she had she could get out of this situation. Julie gathers all of her resolve and tries to walk it off. To pretend she is fine. To her credit she manages not to cry. People tell her not to stand. Her partner insists he heard her tendon pop.

“No I’m fine.” She lies.

“See.”

Julie puts her weight evenly onto her right leg. Her eyes water. Julie manages to hide the pain when she pulls up en pointe. It doesn’t matter though, at the moment her tendon is torn and her knee buckles under her. She collapses. Julie stares at the floor while the paramedics pull her onto a stretcher. There’s no way she can convince her fellow company members she’s in any condition to continue with them. She blames herself for this.

Julie thinks it wouldn’t have happened if she’d been a tougher girl.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12 Disaffected Undead Millennial

Getting booted from the ballet company crushes Julie more than she’d ever admit. It seems like such a cruel joke. Julie is pretty certain the government isn’t paying attention to her. But she’s still afraid to draw too much attention to herself so she doesn’t try to convince the company she is fine. She reminds herself she can try again somewhere else. In the meantime Julie finds a teaching job with a small dance studio. Even though she doesn’t need the money Julie goes back to bartending. The emotional labour of serving drinks isn’t nearly as exhausting as the Suicide Prevention Center and Julie likes to be busy. It keeps her mind off her 6 hour nights and that empty feeling. When working at the bar Julie dresses for an “effortlessly cool” appearance. She straightens her long hair and wears lot of skinny jeans and fitted t-shirts. Julie usually wears her favorite coat a dark purple motorcycle jacket that flatters her hair. She thinks it makes her look more badass than she feels.

Tuesdays are Julie’s night to close the bar. It’s late but she doesn’t mind. She’s never as tired as anyone else. Rather than going home and sleeping Julie will lock up and head to her favorite late night pizza place. She found it a while ago on her quest for the best broccoli sausage pizza in Brooklyn. Julie always eats at the counter and chats with the owner. There’s rarely ever anyone else in the restaurant and Julie knows how isolating the night shift is. Their conversations are pretty light. The owner likes talking about his two kids and Julie likes listening. Julie is pretty sure he’s started making the broccoli sausage pizza with extra cheese later on Tuesday nights just for her. At the bar she volunteers to close two other nights a week.

Between dance classes in the afternoon and shifts at the bar Julie becomes somewhat nocturnal. It isn’t great for her social life. Julie doesn’t consider it a major lose since she can’t remember how long it’s been since she had one. She is still friendly. She’ll strike up conversations with most people she meets; cashiers, baristas, other joggers, homeless people, dog walkers in the park. There’s something about the mundanity of other people’s lives that’s engaging to Julie. They are important to her. She wonders if they feel as lonely as she does. She’s kind to all of them and enjoys brightening people’s days. But she doesn’t have any close friends. Julie brings herself to date a bit. The company makes her feel less alone at first. But every time things start to get intimate Julie gets cold feet and breaks things off. Julie finds that she likes people quite a bit, she just can’t bring herself to trust them.

Julie gets used to being alone again. She finds ways to enjoy herself on her semi-nocturnal schedule. Some nights she’ll practice in the empty dance studio. It helps with the restlessness. Unlike her tiny apartment the studio’s open space lets her practice glissades and grand jetés in long successions. The full length mirrors are helpful too. She likes to practice her pantomime and make funny faces in the mirrors. Julie has long since learned to ignore the dark cloud around her head when she looks at her reflection. In an empty studio she’s free to perform manèges to Edith Pilaf or whatever tacky pop music she’s embarrassed to be enjoying. The bottom half of the front window has a satin finish so Julie doesn’t worry much about being seen. Dancing circles through the empty studio quiets all the worries in Julie’s mind. It’s a sublime feeling.

Julie finds she misses the quiet liminal places of Arizona and rural Québec. She seeks out the equivalent places in New York; parks at dusk, diners at 4 am, train track crossroads at twilight, deserted intersections in residential areas. One morning, before the sun has come up Julie sits in the greasy diner with the best home fries and scrolls through missing persons reports. That’s another weird habit she can’t stop. Like studying other people with the black smoke. Sometimes Julie goes people watching just to find them.

Julie looks at her reflection in the darkened diner window watching the subtle smoking blackness around her head. At times Julie thinks she can see some kind of iridescent shimmer around her head underneath the moving smoke. She’s never seen anyone else with that. But she’s never been that close up.

Picking at her home fries Julie thinks about the countless other people she’s seen with it. Julie hasn’t quite found the pattern between them. She has seen it on people of all ages. Thou Julie has since noticed she’s never seen it on very young children. She now doubts the smoke is ‘the specter of depression’ since she’s sure she knows a few depressed people without it. Julie had previously noticed nobody ever has ‘less’ of the haze than she does; they always have the same or more. She’s seen a tall blond women on the street with about double the amount. The other counsellor at the center had a lot of it. It rose up haloing his head and spilled out around his neck and shoulders. She’s seen other people with similar amounts. However nobody comes close to the swirling cloud Julie sees around the man in the diner. Not this diner. Julie sees him at the diner with the best pecan pie and coffee. He is a broad man with an intense face who only sits in booths with a view of the whole room. The smoke around him is thick enough to partly obscure the light behind him. Its falls down around his back and twists up above his head in dense misty waves. Julie is always very careful not to stare too much.

*******

The late night athletics and exploring help with Julie’s restlessness and wanderlust. However they do nothing for her anger. And Julie is still angry at herself for not being tougher. She wonders if a better understanding of her abilities, and a higher resistance to pain would have enabled her to conceal her second ACL injury. Julie knows she’s been putting off testing her limits out of fear. She’s spent most of her life afraid of getting caught, of losing her career, and permanently maiming herself and, the pain in general. Julie thinks she hasn’t got a career to lose anymore and she’s fairly sure the government isn’t after her. It seems unlikely anyone will notice her in a city this size. She figures it’s probably time to lean into the restless feeling and do something risky.

It starts with parkour. Julie already knows how to extend through a jump and roll through a landing. Her love of flying mid-jump makes free running a natural choice. And it’s a free hobby as long as you don’t get caught. Even still Julie can afford the fines. One day she misjudges the distance on a jump, falls several stories breaking her right leg and quite likely her pelvis. It takes a while to even stand. She spends that time inspecting the injury and the pain and trying to understand it. Julie does manage to ‘walk it off.’ She uses a stop watch to time herself; a broken bone heals in barely 40 minutes now. She’s still bruised and sore. It takes another hour to be ‘completely free’ of any sign of the injury.

That’s faster than I remember, she thinks. After a while Julie can shrug off broken wrists like it’s no trouble at all. She’s pretty sure she’s had a few concussions too. It’s hard to tell.

Julie loves the adrenaline rush so much she incorporates the parkour into her existing workout routine. Soon it isn’t enough. Julie doesn’t want to do it too frequently. She is still trying not to get caught or recognized. So Julie starts looking for more ways to test her powers. She’s gotten pretty good at continuing while injured and managing the pain. Julie thinks about her probable concussions from jumping off roofs. She wonders if it’s the same as being punched in the face. She knows it’s not the same as fighting for your life. Julie is acutely aware she’s never been in a real fight. Except that one time in Wisconsin. Julie thinks that’s probably the kind of injury she needs to learn to shrug off. That’s the reason she goes looking for something more intense than her kickboxing class. But if Julie is completely honest, it’s also about the gnawing empty feeling that only goes away when she’s running or dancing.

***********

Finding an underground fight club is easier than it should be. It’s a strange converted lot with heavy flood lights surrounding a caged ring. Julie thought ‘cage fight’ was just an expression. People scream from the parking garage they use as the stands. Julie wonders if this is the dumbest thing she’s ever done. Even dumber than going to visit Rory at the abandoned house. It’s too late to turn back now. Julie approaches the ring. There’s a ring announcer wearing a bolo tie calling contestants for “the open round”. He laughs when he sees Julie approach the ring. That’s fair. Julie is just a tiny girl in a black track suit. She can’t even think of a fighter name when he asks. It isn’t a tough first impression.

Julie’s first fight is against a women in a white track suit. The announcer calls her “The Daughter of the Dragon” and the crowd cheers like they know her. She kicks Julie’s ass. It seems like she’s going easy on Julie too. Julie gets knocked to the floor in less than two minutes. This is exactly what Julie came for. She gets back up and continues trying to strike the other women. She only lands one hit the whole fight. She gets kicked to the ground five more times. Julie’s blood is all over the women’s white track suit when Julie finally taps out. The women helps Julie to her feet. It’s more sportsmanship than expected from illegal fight night. The announcer unlocks the cage and hands the Dragon a roll of bills.

“Nice try honey.” He says to Julie.

“Thank you. Do you have more than one open round a night?”

“What you haven’t had enough? You want to fight again? Wow kid, you’ve got balls, I’ll give you that. Not tonight but you can come back any time.” The announcer laughs at Julie again.

So Julie does.

She splits her risk taking adventures between parkour and illegal cage fights. Julie is careful selecting neighbourhoods for parkour and never goes to open round fights more than twice a month. She figures the infrequence will stop her from being recognized.

She hasn’t gotten that much braver though Julie thinks she’s finally getting tougher.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13 New Job, New Perspective

The rampant athletics helps that terrible empty feeling. Julie even sleeps better now. Not for longer than 6 hours. But she feels more rested and she doesn’t wake up nearly as much. Julie doesn’t have nightmares as often. And she doesn’t think about Rory as often either. It’s almost enough to make her feel normal. Julie still feels like a bit of a failure over her unsuccessful dance career. Like she got a bunch of second chances normal people never get and she still didn’t make it. Lots of people never make it and they go on to lead happy fulfilling lives. Julie is starting to think basing her whole sense of self on a career, especially an athletic one with a high risk of injury, wasn’t a healthy idea. Physically or emotionally. Julie wonders if she should start trying to live one of those ‘fulfilling lives’ outside of ballet.

She can still dance it just won’t be her career like she imagined it.

Julie considers her other career options and regrets she didn’t pay more attention in college. That she didn’t put more thought into a backup plan. She could be a pretty great social worker if she went to grad school. That’s a long term goal at best. Julie decides she should at least look into how to apply to a masters of social work with subpar grades. In the meantime Julie considers more immediate goals like how she can keep feeling normal. Sleeping better was a good start. A more diurnal schedule seems like an ideal next step. She thinks about quitting her job at the bar to teach dance full time. That way she’d be doing what she loved and she’d be awake during the day. It would be easier to meet people too. She could make some friends. She could even date someone again. She could almost feel normal. Except for the reckless parkour or the underground fights. Julie doesn’t need to tell any new friends about those hobbies.

The job offer from the Presidential Hotel comes at exactly the right time. It isn’t teaching dance but Julie won’t have to work past midnight nearly so often. And it pays really well. So well she’d be foolish to pass it up. Though Julie has never heard of a hotel manager seeking someone out for a restaurant wait staff position. The manager told Julie they have a staffing problem and need her to start immediately. Julie still thinks it’s odd. She figures there’s no point looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Maybe I’m just getting lucky for once.

Julie takes extra care getting ready for her first shift. Despite her own wealth Julie has never really been around people with money. At least she’s never been around the kind of wealthy people that would stay at a hotel like the Presidential. Julie dresses for sophistication. She pulls her hair back into a neat practiced bun. She does her make up with a bit of eyeliner and a red lip. She makes sure her uniform is clean and pressed. Julie even shines her shoes before she leaves: a pair of black dress shoes with a thick block heel. She rarely wears heels. They are bad for her Achilles tendons and knees. When she does wear them she favors medium high heels or sturdy ankle boots. As Julie puts her shoes on she tries not to think about how she’s made most of the decisions in her life around a ballet career that probably won’t happen. She pulls her dark purple coat on over her uniform, grabs her bag and heads out the door trying to be optimistic.

Julie only gets distracted by one missing person’s poster on her way to work. She stares at the photo until she memorizes the teenager’s face. The teen doesn’t look like Julie. She reminds Julie of how under different circumstances Julie would be a missing teenager on a poster too. A dismembered body in the backwoods of Wisconsin. In moments like this Julie allows herself to be angry at Rory. Angry at all the other men who make girls like Julie disappear. And angry at all the people who never look for them.

In the Presidential Hotel dining room Julie pushes her feelings of injustice over other missing women out of her head. She remains poised and professional with restaurant patrons while she tries to examine the layout of her new job. The dining room is all gold and textures with vaulted ceilings and antique lights in a mock baroque style. Julie would use the words “intentionally ostentatious” or “forced opulence” to describe the aesthetic. She spends her shift examining patterns among the guests and trying to spot the regulars. The end of a successful first shift is nearing when she spies a lone man in a grey suit sitting at the bar. He’s got a thick inky halo twisting around his head. Julie didn’t see him come in. She wonders how she missed his entrance. It doesn’t matter he’s in her section now.

Julie approaches the man. He’s got his elbows resting on the bar. He looks lost in thought. Up this close he looks a little familiar. She puts on her best customer service voice.

“Can I start you off with something to drink?” Julie smiles at him and examines his face. He’s handsome and slender, with a narrow, delicate face and a sculpted jaw. His dirty blond hair adds a boyish lightness to his features. She is certain she’s seen him before. She’s examined so many other people with the black smoke. He must have been one of them.

The man doesn’t say anything. He stares at Julie like she’s taken him by surprise. Julie lowers her eyes at the awkward tension. She continues with a soft smile:

“Looks like you need a little more time. I’ll grab you a water.” She tells the man before he turns away from her. Realization dawns on Julie. Of course he looks familiar; it’s the other phone counsellor form the Suicide Prevention Hotline. The one she’d sneak glances at to watch the smoky darkness around his head.

“This is gonna sound random, but did you used to work at the Brooklyn Suicide Hotline?” Julie asks as she leans on the bar. She wishes she could remember his name.

“Yeah. Yeah, I did. That…was a tough job.” When the man finally speaks his voice is quiet and he seems nervous.

“It was.” Julie is a little excited about running into a former coworkers. It’s not like she knows him but it’s nice to talk to someone familiar. It could be the start of a friend. Julie figures it’s worth a try. She continues:

“You probably don’t remember me. I’m Julie.” She adjust the menu in her hand and offers the man a handshake and another smile.

“Dex.” he tells her. Dex looks hesitant but accepts her handshake.

“Of course I remember you.”

“Small world, huh?” This is the last place Julie expected to see anyone she knows.

“I haven’t seen you in here before.” It’s a statement that’s really a question. Dex doesn’t make eye contact when he says it.

“It’s my first day actually. I got offered double the pay to leave my last job if I could start here immediately.” Julie thinks maybe that was a weird thing to say to a patron. She quickly adds:

 “Not that I’m complaining.” Clearly, she’s rustier at making friends than she thought and Dex doesn’t seem very talkative. Julie figures she’ll give this conversation one more try before she stops attempting to socialize on the clock.

“What about you? Are you staying at the hotel?” She asks.

“No. I live here. In New York, not in the hotel.” Dex stammers at his awkward delivery. They both laugh a bit to relieve the tension. Dex continues:

“The FBI has an office upstairs. We’re guarding Wilson Fisk.”

That explains the problem finding staff Julie thinks to herself.

“A G-man.” She smiles again. Julie isn’t actually attracted to the mystique of government agents. Now she’s flirting on purpose. Dex smiles in response. His face is still tight. Julie is starting to think she’s being too forward when a customer calls her from a four person table that looks ready for their bill.

“Miss, excuse me!”

“I need to go help that table so they don’t fire me on my first day.” Julie excuses herself. She leaves a little worried she jumped the gun flirting with Dex.

“What time do you get off?” Dex says the words a little too quickly and a little too loudly.

Julie has already started making her way to the table. She turns around.

“In about an hour.” She tries to conceal her excitement and sound casual.

“Do you wanna hang out after? Catch up?” Julie’s eyes linger on Dex as she speaks.

“Uh…yeah. That… That’d be great.” Dex still sounds nervous but interested.

Julie lets herself take one more quick glance over Dex before she heads for the table. He is much better looking than she remembers. She wonders if it’s got something to do with the suit.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14 Dinner Date

At the end of her shift Julie asks Dex to grab a table while she clocks out and collects her things.

Julie ditches her uniform collar and vest. In the bathroom she fixes her makeup and brushes out her long red hair. She’d rather not look like a waitress on this date. Flirting aside, Julie hadn’t exactly meant for it to be a date. She just wanted to have some kind of social life again. Julie thinks if Dex were a girl it wouldn’t automatically be a date. It could just be two former coworkers catching up. But Dex is a boy, so social convention makes it automatically a date.

Standing in front of the mirror Julie fuses with her bangs. He’d be the first boy in a while. Julie straightens her back and takes a few deep breathes. Julie is attracted to men. They just made her anxious. She’s certainly attracted to Dex. And she wants someone to talk to. So why shouldn’t it be a date? Why shouldn’t she want to go on a date? Julie reminds herself Not all boys are Rory. She checks her reflection one more time. Then undoes the first button on her blouse in an attempt to look more relaxed. She tries to exhale her tension before she heads back to the dining room.

Julie finds Dex at a table with a bread basket and two menus. His posture is stiff. She watches his eyes light up when he sees her. It’s a good sign.

“Hey, sorry for the wait.” She slides into the seat opposite him.

“I haven’t even looked at the menu.” Dex gives a nervous laugh. Julie joins him with her own nervous giggle as she fidgets with the menu. At least they already have an anxious disposition and the Suicide Hotline in common. Julie makes some small talk about the menu before they order. She thinks it’s a pallid excuse for date conversation. Thou Dex looks at Julie with such captive interest it makes her more confident. The two of them lighten up as the evening wears on. Dex talks a bit about his interest in baseball. He mentions serving in the military before the Call Center and the FBI. He’s still terribly aloof. But Julie notices how the edges of his mouth keep twitching up into a slight smile whenever she speaks. Like despite Dex’s reserved disposition, talking to Julie is such a delight he can’t contain his enjoyment. It’s a nice kind of attention.

Soon they’re mirroring each other’s body language. Still a little closed off. Both of them with one arm on the table, leaning in toward each other. It’s progress. Julie tries not to get distracted by the smoky haze wafting up around Dex’s head and falling down his neck and shoulders. She can’t recall if the shadow was that opaque at the call center. If Julie concentrates she can block it out. The darkness disappears from her vision in parts. As if peeling back the different layers of wispy tendrils. Doing so takes too much of Julie’s attention, making it harder to focus on what Dex is saying. Instead Julie ignores the wafting darkness and lets herself be distracted by Dex’s handsome face. It’s easy to get lost in his hazel eyes. Their reticence only intrigues Julie more.

Halfway through dinner Julie orders a glass of red wine. It’s an underhanded trick to prolong their date. Julie is having a good time. The two of them are starting to relax. Julie’s fears about other men are starting to feel uncalled for. Dex’s posture has loosed up. There’s no point in ending the night now. They find they have more in common: neither of them are from the city, they both live for their athletic pursues, and they basically have the same taste in jogging routes. Dex runs Julie’s favorite route on FDR Drive every day. She thinks it’s a wonder she’s never seen him there. The black cloud is hard to miss.

“Everyday? FDR Drive’s my favorite route, too. There’s nothing in the world like a winter run on the east river.” Julie gestures with her wine glass. She’s stopped trying to hide her excitement.

“Between your workout habits and new gig, its…it’s almost like you’re stalking me.” Dex’s upper lip pulls up into a tight smile again. As he speaks his eyes dart away then back to Julie like he thinks he’s being daring.

Julie lets out a short laugh.

“Damn. The secret’s out.” She smiles at him. It’s an awkward joke. Julie is just happy Dex is comfortable enough to try making jokes. Every time Dex smiles Julie watches the dimples on his face appear. It makes her heart flutter. She wants him to keep smiling.

“so…” Dex leans back in his chair and adjusts his posture.

“Why aren’t you in social work anymore?” He asks. Dex seems even more relaxed.

“Uh…” Julie pulls back a little bit. She grasps her fingers so she won’t fidget.

“Tried to pursue my dream as a dancer. It actually was going pretty well until I tore my ACL, again.” It’s still embarrassing to say out loud.

“I’m sorry. That must’ve been really hard. But you were brave to go for it in the first place.” Dex is saying all the right things. Julie didn’t realize how much she needed to hear that.

“I, um…I didn’t have a backup plan. My parents made the mistake of telling me I could be anything I wanted.” Julie regrets her statement the minute she says it. The date is going so well Julie would hate to ruin it by projecting her insecurities too much.

“Must’ve been nice to hear, even if it didn’t work out.” Dex’s voice sounds sincere. He pauses for a moment as if deciding whether or not to continue. He breaks eye contact as he speaks, looking down at his empty plate then away from the table:

“My parents were never really that involved.”

Julie follows Dex’s averted gaze back down to his plate. She watches him reflexively fidget with his fork before he drops his hand in his lap. Julie gets the impression mentioning his parents at all is difficult for Dex. She feels a little guilty for complaining about her supportive childhood. It seems like Dex is really putting himself out there. Julie wants him to feel good about it.

“Sounds like you didn’t need the message anyhow. You did great all on your own.” She means it. Julie is impressed with Dex’s accomplishments.

Dex is hard to read. His lip twitches like he’s resisting that reflexive smile. Julie watches his face run through a gamut of emotions. He looks down again, adjusts his shoulders and lets out a nervous breath. It’s as if he’s pressing back a flood of happiness that’s left him unexpectedly flustered. In contrast to his early aloofness Julie sees it as a strong reaction.

Julie gives a little laugh and looks away in an attempt to make Dex more comfortable. She figures the best way to keep the conversation going and avoid projecting, is to keep the focus on Dex.

“So, what’s it like working for Wilson Fisk?” Julie leans in as she speaks. She’s trying to play up how sensational she finds the idea of Dex’s job.

“I don’t work for him. I work for the federal government.” Dex misses a beat. He seems defensive.

Julie instantly knows she’s missed the mark. She worries she’s offended him. Ruining this date by misspeaking would be even worse than ruining it with her own projecting. She tries to recover with more veiled flattery to get Dex talking about himself.

“Must be scary to be up close and personal with someone so dangerous.” Julie is trying to imply she thinks Dex is brave. She can hear her own fears creep into her voice. Her mind starts wondering back to them. Julie lives in constant fear the people around her could be dangerous. She hopes Dex can’t hear it.

“It is what it is.” His voice is quiet and evasive.

Julie leans on the table and rests her chin on her knuckles. She’s fighting back the rush of her own anxious thoughts now; all her fears about other people and her guilt about Rory. She tries to focus on Dex before she loses this date entirely:

“Do you think a killer like that deserves a second chance?” Now she’s just projecting. After all, Julie is a killer. Technically. One who’s had exceptional second chances too.

“You worked at the hotline for three years. I think you of all people would believe everyone deserves a second chance.” He says it with a kind of conviction, like it’s something he has to believe.

Julie freezes. That statement disquiets her in so many ways she stops breathing entirely. His comparison of the two is unnerving, and somehow belays something worse. She can’t exactly tell him that in her very informed opinion, killing other people, and killing yourself had not been comparable experiences. But she can ask how he knew her work history.

“How did you know I worked there for three years?” She closes herself off.

“You were only there for one.” Julie remembers when Dex left the Call Center. She used to pay a lot of attention to the smoke around his head.

“You mentioned it earlier.” Dex looks down. He starts fidgeting with his plate again.

“You quit to do ballet.” He looks up to meet her eyes for a moment. Then averts his gaze as if he’s lost his nerve.

Julie never mentioned ballet by name. Dex shouldn’t know that. Julie only ever tells people she’s ‘pursuing a career as a professional dancer’. It sounds more mature than ‘ballerina’.

“Did I also mention ballet earlier?” Julie has found her nerves. She’s struck by the realization that the Federal Bureau of Investigation definitely investigates murders across state lines. It’s suddenly occurred to her Dex could know exactly what she did to Rory. Worse, Dex could know she survived what Rory did to her. Dex could be a government agent sent to kidnap her.

 “Specifically?” She asks. All of Julie’s worst fears about shadowy organizations disappear-ing super people flood her mind.

Dex fidgets with his plate again, before he hides his hands under the table. He reminds Julie of a child caught in a lie.

“I guess I…….I just assumed.” He pauses just long enough to make Julie panic.

Julie chuckles softly. She feels like a stupid girl. She did get this job under very mysterious circumstances. This could be a trap. For all she knows, Dex has been spying on her for the FBI since she worked at the Suicide Hotline Call Center. She needs to get out of here right now.

“Anyway um…..its late. I should get home.” She excuses herself.

“You’re ditching me?” Dex isn’t looking at her. He sounds angry.

“No, not at all.” Julie is already putting her coat back on.

“I…just have to go feed my dog.” She makes up a reason.

“You don’t have a dog.” He says it with irritated certainty. It’s almost petulant.

“How do you know that?” Julie’s face drops. Dex has to be spying on her. How else would he know this stuff?

Dex is silent. They both freeze. Staring at each other across the table. Motionless for what feels like an eternity. His silence only confirms all Julie’s fears.

Julie pulls her coat the rest of the way on and clutches her bag. She shoots up from the table. Dex mirrors her.

Dex stands in front of her, closing the distance with one step. Only now does Julie notice how tall he is. He’d been sitting at the bar for their first interaction. Standing before her now Dex is so much taller and broader than Julie first realized. Even in her heels, Dex is a full head taller than Julie. It makes her shrink back.

“Julie, you’re misreading this.” He clasps his hands in front of him.

“Let me pay for dinner. We’ll go for a walk in the park. I’ll explain.” His voice is low, as if trying to contain his panic.

His words fill Julie’s mind with images of being dragged into an FBI van in a secluded park. She clumsily fishes in her pockets for money.

“Dinner’s on me.” Julie’s hand shakes as she tosses a wad of illegal fight night cash on the table. She immediately turns her back to flee the dining room.

“Julie.” Dex says her name as she feels his grip tighten around her left arm above the elbow. He’s so strong he pulls her back in one fluid motion. Dex draws Julie in close and looks right at her as he continues:

“You’re very special to me.”

Julie can’t process the words. She’s too afraid. Dex’s relentless grip makes her feel powerless. Julie had believed all the fight night practice would make her tougher. That it would prepare her for the real thing. It didn’t work. The date turned on Julie so fast she froze. Suddenly, she is 15 and helpless, and about to be murdered by a boy she trusted. Again.

Again.

She fights the paralysis. Draws herself up and demands:

“Let go of me, Dex.”

 “Please.” The word comes out of Dex’s mouth in a desperate whisper. Like he is begging her.

“I said let go!” Julie screams louder. People in the restaurant turn towards them.

She pulls back and Dex releases her arm. She runs from the dining room as fast as her heels allow.

************

Julie flees the Presidential Hotel. She runs into the nearest cab and tells him to drive her home. She half expects the driver to be another FBI agent. He isn’t. When she gets to her apartment she half expects to be black bagged by a team in tactical gear.

It doesn’t happen.

She locks her door and hyperventilates on the floor of her dark apartment. Nothing happens. She makes sure her windows are locked.

Julie doesn’t sleep at all that night. She doesn’t do any of the things she likes to do at home at night. She doesn’t do yoga or ballet. She certainly doesn’t sit by her window. She keeps all the lights off and tries to find the best place to hide in her own house. She waits to be murdered. By the government. Or maybe just by Dex. She isn’t sure anymore.

Nothing happens.

Julie doesn’t sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 Aftermath

Julie’s home becomes her prison. She hides from the many possible dangers. The big window she loved becomes a terrible liability. She keeps the blinds drawn shut. Julie regrets ever night she spent musing in front of it. Someone could have been watching her. She hides in her bedroom with only the light of her laptop. Julie feels so stupid she didn’t get Dex’s name beyond Dex. How is she supposed to report him? If she even could. Her stomach twists with regret. She’d been so smitten with him. He fooled her. Really, Julie of all people should know better by now.

She’d have walked to her death if he’d asked.

Dex’s grip left bruises on Julie’s arm. Looking at the purple finger print marks make her keenly aware of how big Dex’s hands are. He’s so much stronger than Julie. He could overpower her all on his own, let alone with a team of trained government agents. Julie can barely hold her own against a single fight night opponent. She doesn’t stand a chance against a whole team of FBI personnel.  

The bruises fade away in barely an hour. The memory doesn’t.

Julie searches the internet for information on the fire in the abandoned house. There’s nothing to suggest the FBI would know about her. Everything recent she reads about the FBI in New York suggests they’ve got their hands full with this Wilson Fisk scandal. It seems unlikely they’d be diverting their attention for a decade old murder in Wisconsin.

Then again, if Dex has been following her since the Call Center the FBI could know about Julie’s powers. Dex, or some other agent could have watched her fall off a building. Dex could have been in the crowd at the underground cage fights. Why else would the FBI be following Julie around?

The sun is coming up. Julie peeks out her window scanning the street for possible FBI vans or other suspicious activities. She doesn’t see anything. Julie has another shift at the Presidential today. The thought of returning to the hotel restaurant makes Julie nauseous. Dex works there. She could see him again. She thinks about calling in sick. Although if the whole FBI is after her going to work won’t matter. They must already know where she lives.

Julie briefly considers fleeing the country all together. However she is sure the FBI would have grabbed her by now if that was the plan. Going back to work is a reckless idea. Thou she isn’t quite ready to leave her whole life. If she isn’t leaving the country the FBI could arrest her anywhere. She might as well cash a paycheck.

**********

Stepping foot back into the gaudy dining room is more harrowing than going to illegal fight night for the first time. Julie can hear her heart pounding in her ears the entire time. It doesn’t matter how many times she fixes her hair in the bathroom, Julie feels slightly disheveled and out of sorts. She’s always out of breath and easily distracted from guests. She’s constantly scanning the room for Dex. Or anyone who looks like they could be a fed. Every tall man in a suit makes Julie jump.

The paranoia gets so bad Julie drops an empty glass from the table she’s clearing when a different blonde slender man in a grey suit catches her eye. She cuts her right index finger cleaning up the broken pieces. Julie hides her hand in a napkin. More afraid of someone seeing her now than she’s ever been. Nobody is paying any attention to Julie. She still hyperventilates in the bathroom.

Julie takes her last break a little late. It isn’t on purpose, she lost track of the time. In the break room Julie nearly chokes on her water when she sees a washed out picture of Dex’s face taking up the front page of the New York Bulletin. Julie grasps the discarded paper as if she’s afraid it will bite her. For a moment Julie hopes she’s mistaken. She isn’t. The angle and lighting in the photo is unflattering and his eyes look darker. It is undeniably Dex’s face under the headline ‘FBI INVESTIGATES ONE OF THEIR OWN.’  She holds her breathe as she continues reading: ‘Anonymous tip triggers probe into shootout during Wilson Fisk transfer.’

The apple Julie brought as a snack sits forgotten as she reads the article over and over again. Combing it for any details that would explain her encounter with Dex last night. The article is mostly about the Albanian gang attack on Wilson Fisk’s transfer to the Presidential Hotel. However it does mention Dex a lot. Julie learn Dex’s legal name is Benjamin Poindexter. He was one of only two FBI agents not killed or hospitalized in the attack. The article asserts that the anonymous tip was about a discrepancy between Special Agent Poindexter’s reported conduct and the forensic evidence from the scene. The article all but implies Dex either caused the shootout with negligence or executed the Albanians himself.

At the end of her break Julie folds up the newspaper and puts it in her bag. She spends the rest of her shift terrified Special Agent Ben Poindexter, or some other FBI agent is going to walk into the dining room and arrest her. It doesn’t happen.

If her meeting with Dex was an FBI sting, Julie would have expected them to act on it by now. She doesn’t see anyone in the restaurant who looks like they could be a fed. Their absence is almost suspicious.

Julie runs through her date with Dex in the context of the article’s depiction of him as an unreliable agent. She remembers how nervous he’d been. How he fell silent when she pressed him. How he couldn’t meet her gaze and fidgeted like a child caught in a lie. How he begged her not to leave. It wasn’t the behaviour of an impartial Special Agent apprehending a government asset.

Julie remembers the coy way he joked: “its…it’s almost like you’re stalking me.” Like he was being daring.

The rest of her shift passes without incident. Her stomach is in knots the whole time.

*******

Julie hopes the anxious feeling will subside after she leaves the Presidential Hotel. It doesn’t. Julie takes a different route home. She is hypervigilant for any sign of someone tailing her. She doesn’t see anything. Even after Julie is safe at home she can’t release the knots in her stomach. Not even after she checks all the locks, searches the house, and doesn’t find anything out of place.

Julie doesn’t eat dinner. She isn’t hungry. She keeps checking her window as if she expects to see a surveillance van or a car with tinted windows.

The lack of FBI presence should come as a relief. Instead their absence and Dex’s behaviour at dinner suggests a different terrible possibility.

In retrospect, it seemed unlikely that the FBI would have assigned Dex to investigate her at the Hotline. It was so long ago. And surely if they’d been investigating her since then they’d have seen her suspicious injuries in the ballet, or her more recent parkour falls or her unnatural fight night endurance. If they’d been spending assets surveying Julie all this time they’d have arrested her or just grabbed her off the street by now.

And they’d definitely have apprehended her after the failed sting with Special Agent Poindexter.

If it had been an official FBI operation.

Maybe it wasn’t official.

Julie stares at Benjamin Poindexter’s photo on the Bulletin. It’s the same handsome face, only now it fills Julie with dread. She remembers how he whispered her name with desperation:

“Julie.”

Again, Julie peeks out her window at the empty street. The FBI is nowhere to be seen.

There wasn’t actually anything to suggest the FBI was following her. Or that they knew about Julie’s abilities. The only FBI presence was Special Agent Poindexter himself. It was much more likely it was only Dex stalking her.

She remembers the way he slipped up at dinner. His quiet voice haunts her:

“You worked at the hotline for three years. I think you of all people would believe everyone deserves a second chance.”

“You quit to do ballet.”

“You don’t have a dog.”

Julie’s eyes widen with realization. The things he knew about her; they were all personal.

Oh god, It’s just Dex stalking me. He could have been stalking me since we worked together.

Julie retreats into her bedroom locking the door.

Suddenly every solitary thing Julie ever did to enjoy herself morphs into a time she could have died. All her quiet nights become reckless, stupid ideas. Dex could have cornered her closing up the bar alone. Or on one of her long walks home. In an empty diner at 4 am. Or practicing alone in the dance studio at night. Or on her way to the illegal cage fights.

She could have been murdered so many times.

Julie crawls into her bed with her lap top. She searches ‘Benjamin Poindexter, FBI’. Other than today’s article reposted on the Bulletin’s website she doesn’t find anything. She runs over the date in her head again. When she thinks about the end of the date Julie rubs her hand over her arm where the bruises used to be.

The gravitas of Dex’s last words hadn’t hit Julie that night. She’d been consumed by her fears of being kidnapped by her government. They hit her now. She remembers the way he pleaded:

“You’re very special to me.”

Dex had struggled with the words. As thou it was a deeply personal admission.

Julie covers her mouth with her hand. How could she be “special to him”? They barely knew each other. He had to have been stalking her. His desperate whisper plays over and over again in Julie’s mind:

“You’re very special to me.”

She racks her brain for memories of her interactions with Dex at the Suicide Prevention Center. For some kind of explanation for why this was happening. Julie wonders if she could have done something to make this happen. Was she too nice to him? She was so careful not to treat him any differently. Julie recalls his scheduling requests being very consistent. She really doesn’t remember him beyond the black smoke.

Maybe he caught me staring at him…… I thought I was so careful.

Julie regrets her intentional friendliness as shift manager at the Hotline. She definitely regrets flirting with Dex at the Presidential Hotel.

“You’re very special to me.”

Every nice thing she said to Dex at dinner feels like a nail in her coffin.

Julie chokes back her tears. They turn into uncontrollable sobs. Julie is so sure she’s going to be murdered by another boy she trusted.

Oh god, it’s happening again!! Except Dex is so much worse than Rory.

Dex was a soldier.

Dex is a fucking special agent of the US government!!!!

Julie is right. Dex is so much worse than Rory. Rory was a sadistic teenager. An amateur, comparatively. Julie doesn’t believe for a minute the FBI would have a paper pusher guarding Wilson Fisk. Or that one would survive that shootout with Albanian gangsters.

No. Whatever Dex is, he’s a professional.

Julie doesn’t know how she’s going to out run this.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16 Run Julie Run

Julie does fall asleep eventually. Sometime in the early hours of the morning she collapses on her bed. Her laptop still open to her search on Special Agent Poindexter and the New York Humane Society’s adoption page.

Julie is considering actually getting a dog. A big dog.

The afternoon light is pushing through her blinds when Julie wakes from an unrestful sleep. She rubs her eyes. She has an evening shift tonight. Julie should really quit her job at the Presidential Hotel.

Before it kills her.

Then again if it’s just Dex after her, the more time she spends in public the better.

She hopes anyways.

Julie is fairly certain Poindexter is the only FBI agent she needs to concern herself with. At work she watches the dining room like a hawk, scanning for any sign of him. At least she’d see him coming with that wafting darkness looming around him. Julie wonders what exactly his job at the FBI is. What the different kinds of FBI agents do. There’s no trace of him in the restaurant. She takes a cab home just in case.

At least she doesn’t have to go back to the Presidential for the next two days.

********

The next day Julie only leaves the apartment to teach her dance class at the studio. She’s distracted by the big window the entire time. After class Julie purposely gets take-out from a restaurant she’s never been to before.

She spends the rest of the day shut up in her apartment trying to figure out what exactly Dex does for the government.

Julie never gets around to eating. Her stomach is too tense.

Relaxation yoga on her floor isn’t cutting it anymore. She shakes from the nerves.

The kettle boiling is the only sound in the apartment while Julie searches the difference between the ranks ‘Agent’ and ‘Special Agent’. It’s an attempt to gain some kind of insight or control over her situation. To get some kind of idea of Dex’s skill set. To get some idea of what she can expect from the man stalking her.

Knowing my luck he is probably a god damn surveillance specialist.

That would probably be the worst thing for Julie. She considers Dex’s military history and his assignment to Wilson Fisk and the motorcade. To her, the combination suggests some kind of tactical position. His physique certainly suggests a tactical-based position.

Oh god, the FBI has strike forces and SWAT teams don’t they? It would explain how he survived the shoot out…..

Could Special Agent Poindexter use his authority to have Julie SWAT’ed? Could he just SWAT her himself? She stares at the three locks on her door. They aren’t enough.

Julie spends the evening drinking tea in a darkened corner of her apartment. As if enough chamomile has ever helped her sleep before. The brandy in her tea won’t help her sleep either. The sleepless night wears on.

Julie is browsing the Bulletin’s own website when news of a massacre at their office breaks. By then Julie is just drinking brandy from a mug. She watches the video on her laptop. The vigilante know as Daredevil has resurfaced and attacked the Bulletin’s office, killing or hospitalizing their on duty staff.

Julie wants to be shocked the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen is alive and suddenly a mass murderer. After the week she’s had, Julie would believe anything.

******

The following morning Julie forces herself to leave her apartment. It’s frightening. But she is more frightened she’ll lose her mind entirely if she says cooped up in there.

Julie gathers her hair into a high pony tail as she gathers her nerves. A sense of routine will be good for her. Doing something she loves will be good for her.

She takes care braiding her hair and pushing back her bangs in a sweatband. It’s almost therapeutic.

Julie puts on all her favorite jogging clothes; a soft grey hoodie, navy athletic tights and her maroon down vest.

It takes her a while to muster up enough courage to walk outside. She watches her reflection in the mirror by her door as she tries to steady her breathing.

Going on her favorite run along FDR Drive makes her tense. She knows Dex knows she goes there. She knows Dex goes there every day. It’s a terrible idea. He can’t possibly be stalking her all the time, and Julie still doesn’t want to give her life up.

She probably should have just left town.

Running helps. Or it would if she weren’t constantly on the lookout for Special Agent Poindexter. She doesn’t see him. Julie’s anxieties start to subside. She smells the water in the air. She sinks into her jogging playlist.

“JULIE!”

She can hear Dex’s voice through her headphones. It’s unmistakable. It’s been burned into her mind.

Oh no.

His voice is coming from behind her.

Julie turns to see Dex sprinting towards her. Dex cuts an imposing, tall silhouette dressed in black. He out paces her in a moment.

“Dex, stay away from me!!!” Julie forces the words from her mouth. He blocks the way in front of her. She removes her earbuds to be more aware of the situation.

Dex stands a few feet away, gesturing with his black gloved hands as if that isn’t intimidating in itself.

“Please, just hear me out.” He’s begging again, and standing in her path.

“I’m doing this in public so you’ll feel safe. I’ll stay right here. I’m not coming any closer.” He says it like it will help. Like he’s trying. As if he just learned it. As if he just googled ‘how to avoid scaring your stalking victim.’

To his credit Dex doesn’t move.

Julie doesn’t move either.

“Okay. I am so, so sorry about how things ended the other night. I’m sorry for scaring you. I just wanted to explain myself.” Dex sounds sincere. He takes Julie’s petrified silence as permission to continue:

“When we worked together at the suicide hotline, I saw the way you were with other people. Patient, compassionate, and I….I.” Dex starts to struggle with the words, the way he did at dinner. He’s almost panting now:

 “…..I really need that right now.” The zipper on his black pull over is undone enough to expose his throat. It could make him look vulnerable if the dry fit didn’t draw attention to his frame. Julie doesn’t know how someone so big can look so scared.

“My life is out of control. I have no family, and I’m about to lose my job…Please.” Dex really is begging Julie again.

 “I just want to talk. Anywhere you choose. And……....” Dex trails off. He swallows a lump in his throat as thou he’s the one afraid. He tries to continue:

“….if you say no…” Dex breaks eye contact with Julie for a moment. As if he can’t bear the thought.

“I’ll understand…and I’ll never bother you again.” Dex meets Julie’s gaze again. His chest heaves. He looks at her with sad, pleading eyes.

Julie is still paralyzed. She wants to believe Dex. That she could just tell him to leave and this intimidating man would vanish from her life. That he wouldn’t get angry and grab her again. Or worse.

She doesn’t believe him.

Julie forces herself to exhale. There’s no way she can outrun him. Her mind races. She has to find a way out of this situation. Searching for the words Julie watches the misty darkness swirl around Dex. It’s thicker and darker than it was at dinner. She is sure of it. Julie struggles to speak. She forces her gaze away from Dex and the wafting smoke.

The long silence tortures them both.

“-In public.” Julie stares down at the black top when she speaks.

“I- I’ll talk to you in public.” She forces herself to look back up at Dex.

Dex’s chest and shoulders heave up and down as if he’s still struggling to breathe. Relief washes over his face.

The sight of it makes Julie furious.

Dex is relieved and Julie is still horrified.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17 Coffee and Stalking

Dex follows Julie like a lost puppy. It’s fitting. Julie keeps glancing at Dex like he’s a dog that might bite her.

Taking Dex to her favorite coffee shop is about as awful an idea as running on FDR Drive. Julie shouldn’t be giving him any more information about her routines.

It’s worth the risk thou. Its close by and always busy. Plus Julie is a regular there, the baristas recognize her. It feels safer.

And honestly, Julie no longer believes their ‘shared taste’ in jogging routes could possibly be a coincidence. Dex could already know about this coffee shop.

Maybe he is stalking me all the time.

In the coffee shop Dex doesn’t give any outward indication he’s familiar with the place. He drops a five on the counter and orders:

“A small decaf and whatever she’s having.” He manages to sound nonchalant.

“I’ve got mine. Thanks.” Julie tries not to sound panicked. She turns to the barista. For the briefest moment Julie considers ordering a black tea with sugar so she can throw the scalding water in Dex’s face and run for her life. But she can’t bring herself to disfigure another human being. Not even Dex.

“My regular, Richie.”

“All right.” Richie smiles at her. Julie regrets sounding so calm. Richie doesn’t notice anything is wrong.

Julie faces Dex while they wait for their coffee. She doesn’t want to turn her back to him. She made that mistake once at dinner.

“So, I don’t know how to say this without it sounding like an insult. I was never actually into you. Or…not the way you might have been thinking, anyway. I didn’t know how to talk to you.” Dex looks like he’s trying to be relaxed about the situation. To causally brush off the terrifying implications of his behaviour as not quite so terrifying.

“Okay.” Julie has no idea how to respond to that explanation. Given the circumstances its disquieting that Dex thinks Julie would find that insulting.

“I wasn’t……..I wasn’t stalking you.” Dex leans in, and whispers that part. It makes Julie want to scream: I KNOW YOU ARE FUCKING LYING TO ME BENJAMIN POINDEXTER!!!!

She is quiet as Dex continues:

“Although, I completely see how it could have come across that way. I just…..I wanted to be more like you.” He says that like the distinction matters.

Julie grabs their coffee cups from the counter. She can’t tell if she’s being too accommodating or trying to control something. Dex’s distinction of ‘never actually being into’ Julie does matter a bit to her. Or it would if she believed him. She wants to confront him about how that sounds like a lie given what he said to her at dinner. When he grabbed her. When he said she was ‘very special to him.’ The last thing she wants to do is escalate this situation so she asks him:

“Do you realize how creepy that still sounds?”

Dex looks almost taken aback. Almost like he really hadn’t realized that. He follows her to the table. Julie watches him pinch the bridge of his nose as if trying to suppress a headache. He’s struggling again. It makes Julie tense. Dex doesn’t answer Julie’s question. He sits down opposite her and rests his hands on the table. At least he’s stopped wearing the black murder gloves. He starts talking about Julie. He struggles to look at her when he speaks:

“You are so good…And kind. And…”

“-You save lives as your job.” Julie cuts him off. She raises her voice at the end like it’s a question. Which it is. She isn’t sure why Dex’s description of her ‘kindness’ is so unnerving. And she really doesn’t see what it has to do with any of this.

Dex pulls back from the table. Julie is grateful for the distance.

“The FBI, the army before that…they helped keep me on the straight and narrow path. But now, without that, it’s all…” Dex struggles with the words again. Julie watches the way his face fights the panic. He struggles to explain himself:

“I’m drowning in deep water, and I’ I don’t know whether I’m swimming for the surface or the bottom.” Dex breaks off again. Now he’s struggling just to breathe. He’s nearly shaking.

“Dex, you need air. Breathe.” Julie leans across the table, locks eyes with Dex and pantomimes a calming breath exercise. Dex matches her long inhales and exhales. It’s the same deep breathing exercise she used this morning to alleviate her anxious fears of the man in front of her. The irony is painful.

It works.

Dex touches the bridge of his noise again. He looks at Julie as thou she’s preformed a minor miracle. It doesn’t make Julie feel any better about the situation.

“See, that’s…..that’s what I’m talking about. You help people right themselves.” Dex leans across the table.  

“I’ve seen you do it a hundred times. All I’m asking, just treat me like…..someone on the other end of the line.” Dex is asking Julie for help again. She doesn’t know how to react.

Julie grabs her coffee cup from the table. Dex was terrorising her and he had the audacity to ask her to help him. He was starting to appear more like a volatile man in crisis than a calculating killer. Julie believes he could be both. She doesn’t see an immediate way out of this situation, at least she could learn more about what’s going on here.

“What happened at the FBI?” She adjusts her posture as she asks.

“The bureau needed a scapegoat.” He nods slightly as he speaks. There’s a pause before he makes an abrupt sound:

“BAAAHHHHHH” Dex is so loud Julie nearly jumps.

It takes her a moment before she realizes Dex is ‘bleating like a goat’. A scape-goat.

Oh god, that was a joke. He’s trying to be funny.

At first Julie forces a little laugh. When Dex realizes the joke didn’t land Julie’s laugh becomes genuine. Dex laughs too and hides his face in his hands. It’s hilarious to Julie, if only in the abstract; Dex is so bad at this and it looks like he’s trying so hard.

Dex groans with embarrassment. They are both laughing now. For an instant it’s almost like they were at dinner. Before Dex slipped up about the stalking. Julie wonders if there’s an alternate universe where Dex is just a painfully awkward dork that struggles with comedic timing, and not the newest source of Julie’s nightmares.

 “You know, what you really need is a good therapist.” Julie’s voice has lightened up. She’s relaxed enough to be that direct and take the first sip of her coffee.

Dex peers at Julie from behind his hands before he looks away. Julie remembers how endearing she found his shyness. It’s strange to see it now.

“I had one. She died.” He admits that like it’s deeply personal. He doesn’t make eye contact.

“Oh, I..I’m so sorry.” Julie is starting to believe Dex is entirely alone. She tries not to empathise with that familiar feeling.

Dex makes a sound like he’s going to speak but doesn’t. Julie clutches her coffee cup tightly with both hands. Agreeing to help Dex seems like an awful idea. Refusing him seems like a worse idea. Dex really does look like he needs help. It’s a terrible idea. An awful, reckless idea that will probably get Julie killed. Sure, not all boys are Rory. But Dex looks like he could be.

“Okay. I’ll help you, Dex.” As she speaks she puts her cup back on the table.

Dex inhales in disbelief. Relief floods his face again. Julie tries not to shrink back from the needy desperate way he looks at her.

Julie wants to say: “Just, please do not kill me.”

She wants to reach across the table and beg Dex not to murder her. Not to betray her trust. Beg him not to send her back to that empty, crushing sea of nothingness. Not to hurt her. To scream: I don’t want to die again. Julie knows she can’t say those things out loud. It would make her look like the crazy one. The word ‘regret’ feels so much safer.

“But, please, do not make me regret this.” She tries not to sound too afraid.

“I promise.” Dex leans in across the table.

“Promise I will not.” He sounds so sincere. Julie wants to believe him so badly.

The vibrating phone interrupts them.

“Excuse me.” Dex says as he looks down at the screen. It’s a surreal experience for Julie: Dex is polite enough to excuse himself, but rude enough to corner her on the street and beg her for help. She studies him. Julie is becoming curious about his decision making processes. Dex pockets his phone.

“So you got fired from the FBI because they needed to save face?” Julie tries to move the conversation forward.

“I’ve been suspended over an article printed in the New York Bulletin. I was told it was an optics thing. But I’m pretty sure they’re going to fire me.” Dex clasps his hands on the table.

“That text was my coworker asking me to come into headquarters tonight. I don’t think that’s a good sigh.” He puts his face in his hands again.

“You don’t know that’s happening. No point in panicking now. But if you are fired, it’s especially a problem for you because your job gives you structure? Or a straight narrow path?” Julie asks, repeating his words back to him.

“Ya.” Dex touches the bridge of his nose and shuts his eyes. He seems to be preparing himself to speak.

“my- my therapist, ….finding a disciplined vocation was one of the ways she taught me to manage myself. All of my jobs have always been for that.”

“Oh and the FBI provided some of my health insurance.” He adds.

“You haven’t been fired yet. Is there some way you can create your own structure for the mean time? It’s what I do sometimes. I know it’s not the same, but it’s something.” Julie keeps her voice calm.

Dex gives Julie a nod. Julie isn’t sure her advice is helpful.

“What other support networks or strategies do you have?” she asks.

“I keep my life very neat and orderly. I have a very strict routine.” He looks at his hands in his lap before he continues:

“I don’t really have anything- or, anyone, else.”

WOW, that explains why you are such a mess. Julie doesn’t say that out loud, even if she weren’t scared, it would still be too mean.

“Ok.” Julie releases the grip on her coffee cup. If she’s really doing this, she should see if she can take some control of this situation. If Dex will give her some control.

“Give me your phone.” She tells him.

Dex pauses. He stares at Julie so intensely she doesn’t think he’s going to do it. He pulls the phone from his pocket and slides it across the round table. He looks Julie in the eye the whole time. She picks up the phone.

“I’m going to help you. But I think we need to establish some boundaries.” Julie tries not to shake when she says it.

“I’m agreeing to talk to you. You can call me. But I don’t want to see you. Like I don’t want you to come to my work, or on FDR Drive, or, or anywhere.” She enters her number into his phone.

Julie forces herself to look up at Dex. He doesn’t look angry. His posture is tense and his face isn’t giving anything away.

“-And I want you to tell me about the stalking.” Julie chokes out those words.

“I wasn’t-” Dex looks away from Julie.

“I know you’re lying. You, -You knew things about me. How did you know those things?!!?” Julie hisses the words. She’s nearly in tears.

Dex inhales. He looks like a child caught in a lie again.

“Have you been following me since we worked together? When I’m running? Did you follow me to the Hotel!? Did you do that on purpose??!” Julie’s knuckles are white around Dex’s phone.

“No. No. I didn’t-” Dex starts to struggle. Julie regrets sounding so angry. He covers his face in his hands. He tries to compose himself. Lifting his head he tries to explain:

“I swear, I didn’t know you’d started working at the hotel. I didn’t plan anything. I was surprised--”

Dex clasps his hands together on the table. He leans forward closing the space between them.

“I wasn’t lying earlier. I meant what I said. It wasn’t personal and it didn’t start until long after I left the hotline. I… I did look you up…more than I should have….I was just trying-to understand.”

Dex is too close now. Julie regrets she didn’t pick a bigger table.

“I’- I’m not good with people-.” He continues.

“I’ve noticed.” Julie snaps. At this point she expects Dex to strangle her right there in the coffee shop. He just looks hurt.

“It wasn’t about being into you, I wasn’t going to hurt you, I just wanted to understand you. I-I started working at the Suicide Prevention Hotline so I could learn how to be better with people. You were always so good at it. You never needed a script. I was trying to be like you. That’s it. That’s all it was about. I swear.” Dex pulls away from Julie.

Julie closes her eyes. She brings herself to call her number on Dex’s phone so she’ll have his number too. She looks dex square in the eye.

“I appreciate that you weren’t going to hurt me.” Julie swallows the lump in her throat, she doesn’t break her gaze. She needs to say this part with conviction. Her words are slow and steady:

“But I don’t really care why you were stalking me. I care that you repeatedly violated my boundaries and my privacy for your own ends. And I want you to stop.” Julie slides Dex’s phone back across the table.

“I don’t want you to approach me any other way than over the phone.” She adds, forcing herself to keep looking at Dex. He’s so difficult to read.

Dex gently puts the phone back into his pocket.

“I promise.” He whispers it.

“And you really should get another therapist.- I mean, I’m not a real therapist. I can’t help you like that. I’m just one person and I barely have a psych major, I’m by definition, not qualified to help you.” Julie shakes her head as she speaks.

Dex is ridged and silence.

“You know that the way I behaved at work, that wasn’t really me. I mean it was, but I was doing things with intention. I said things that were the truth, but I said them to get a specific outcome. I was trying to help people by telling them the real thing they needed to hear. That’s what the script is for. You understand that right?” She’s trying to fill the silence, and hopefully get Dex to stop staring at her.

It doesn’t work.

He continues to stare like he doesn’t understand her.

“It was real, but it wasn’t effortless, I was doing things on purpose. It was a calculated version of me. One that was cheery enough to make people feel better.” Julie hopes the distinction means something to Dex.

“Like wearing a mask?” Dex’s voice is quiet again. Julie gets the impression the choice of words means something.

“Ya, like that. Like wearing a mask. I’m not like that all the time. Nobody could perform like that all the time.” Julie studied Dex’s face. She catches him react to her last statement. It’s the smallest flinch. It makes Julie wonder.

“Dex,….is that what you feel like? Like you’re wearing a mask all the time?” She’s genuinely curious now.

Dex’s eyes get just a little bigger, and a little softer. He licks his lips and gives Julie a tiny nod.

 “I’m sorry. That must be exhausting.” Julie instantly knows she hit the mark with that statement.

“Thank you.” His voice is shaky this time. Now Dex looks like the one close to tears. Julie really wishes he’d stop looking at her with those sad needy eyes.

“Ya, no problem.” Julie takes another sip of her coffee.

“Could I ask you to leave here first, I, -I mean when we’re done?” She expects the request to upset him.

“Do you want me to leave right now?” Dex doesn’t look like he wants to leave. Not right now, or ever.

Julie pauses. Her mind screams YES. She’s silent.

Dex doesn’t wait for her to answer. He looks pensive before he speaks:

“Thank you for everything.” He’s whispering again. That whisper is going to haunt Julie’s dreams for the rest of her life. When Dex stands up Julie’s worried he is going to try to touch her. He bends down towards her, his expression unreadable.

“I promise you won’t regret this.” Is the last thing he says before he leaves.

Julie already does.

She sits frozen in place as Dex exits the coffee shop. Julie waits until she’s sure he’s gone. Then she cries. Her hands are over her face. She isn’t trying to suppress the sound. She sobs louder. Julie makes a scene. She wants people to see her. To remember the tiny redhead and the tense man in black.

Julie even runs from the coffee shop at full speed. She wants to make sure Richie or one of the other regulars remembers her.

She wants to make it hard for her to disappear.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18 Boys Always Hurt You

Julie doesn’t go home right away. She sits in a very busy park and tries to decompress her second interaction with Benjamin Poindexter. Julie isn’t sure what she expected from her stalker but Dex wasn’t it. She tries to assess the situation impartially. It wasn’t as bad as she first expected; she basically has confirmation the FBI isn’t involved and doesn’t know about her powers. She should be relieved the full weight of the US government isn’t bearing down on her.

It’s just one FBI agent. One who appears to be an unstable, obsessive, man with a military background and a strange, if ‘impersonal’ fixation on Julie.

Julie wants to hide her face in her hands. She can’t stop scanning the park for any sign of Dex.

Talking to Dex had been nerve racking. However it had also been useful; Julie had learned things. Now she knew Dex had been suspended. It meant he no longer has access to FBI resources. That was at least something. And now, Dex really did seem like a mentally ill man begging Julie for help. It still made him dangerous. But he was hardly entire government organization come to harvest her organs.

Julie reflects on the way Dex acted at dinner and today. Now, it feels stupid she ever thought the whole FBI was after her. Julie remembers how she instigated most of that date. She can’t believe she asked him to catch up, that she dragged out their dinner so long. Julie wonders if she’d have noticed the real danger earlier had she not been so preoccupied with her own fears and guilt over Rory. She tries to shake off the useless blame.

Julie forces her mind back to the practical parts of her situation. The way Dex behaved also suggests he doesn’t know anything about Julie’s abilities either. Julie thinks about the way he described her; kind, good, compassionate, patient. He was so fixated on her. The thought makes her shiver. It seems like Dex regards Julie as a perfectly normal person. In fact, it’s starting to look like Dex considers Julie a ‘perfect example of a person.’ So perfect and so normal he’s trying to emulate her through stalking. And he seems to earnestly believe that makes it less transgressive.

Julie thinks about the Bulletin article and what Dex said about being suspended. That could be an opportunity for Julie. If he’s suspended and about to be fired, reporting him for stalking would probably finalize that decision. Then he couldn’t ever retaliate against her with FBI assets. It might work if Julie had any evidence to prove he was stalking her. If she keeps talking to Dex he could say something that she might be able to use against him. It’s the practical thing to do.

Or it would be if it weren’t far more likely to backfire spectacularly.

There isn’t much chance the legal system would react faster than Dex. He’d probably be even angrier since Julie said she’d help him. If he wasn’t planning on killing her now he certainly would then. And if Dex’s job really was the only support structure he had, and part of his health insurance, losing it could destroy him. It could send him over whatever edge he was so clearly at. Even if he didn’t kill Julie, he might hurt someone else. Or himself. Statistically, Dex is a lot more likely to hurt himself. Julie shouldn’t care about that.

But she kind of does.

Regardless of what is actually going on with Dex Julie believes his desperation is genuine. And she recognizes the kind of hopeless loneliness that comes from feeling different and afraid all the time. She knows Dex isn’t faking that. Whatever its cause. Julie really does believe everyone deserves help. She believes Dex deserves help. She just doesn’t believe he has any business asking her for it.

Julie knows Dex is lying about the extent of the stalking. She could hear it in the way he whispered “You’re very special to me”. That much hasn’t changed. But there’s no reason to believe he’s lying about his situation with the FBI. Julie generally finds the Bulletin’s reporting reputable though this article did read like a smear job. Its laser focus on Dex was suspicious even to Julie, who has no reason to sympathize with him. It’s very likely Dex is being unfairly discarded like a loose end. And if that happens he might just come apart entirely.

Julie turns the situation over in her mind. She knows she shouldn’t tear at the skin around her fingers. Peel her cuticles off with worry. She can’t help it now. They’ll grow back anyways. Julie regrets giving Dex her real number. And yet she is considering actually talking to him. Not just to gather evidence against him either. Just to further suss out the situation. To see if there’s anything Julie can do to fix this. There’s got to be a better option than trying to get a mentally ill man arrested.

A normal person would just get Dex arrested before he murders them. And they should. Julie knows she doesn’t owe her stalker anything. But Julie isn’t a normal person, and the consequences for taking this risk aren’t the same for her.

Julie hasn’t forgotten the last time she tried to help a boy, and how it ended for her. An odd memory of fathomless darkness rises in her mind. Her chest is tight.

What are you doing Julie?!? Boys always hurt you.

Dying was traumatic. It did things to Julie. She can feel it. But it wasn’t permanent for her. It’s permanent for everyone else. Julie can afford to take this risk in a way no one else can. She thinks if she does take it, no one else will have to.

In any case, if Julie is really doing this, and it looks like she’s going to, she should be the one to make the next move. Julie should call Dex tonight, and ask him how things went with his co-worker. She should keep things happening on her terms. Not Dex’s. Julie tries to remember what her professor said about the men that seek out high risk jobs like law enforcement and the military. It’s fuzzy at best. She needs to do some research. She needs to try and control this awful situation. Dex is far more dangerous than Rory ever was. But Dex doesn’t know what Julie can do. The way he spoke about her indicates he doesn’t know everything about her. Or at least he’s never stalked her at illegal fight night. Dex isn’t all wrong, Julie is kind and compassionate.

She just isn’t normal.

Lucky for Dex too.

And if she keeps that secret she might be able to keep the upper hand.

Maybe this time no one will die……

She summons her resolve and heads back to her apartment.

***

Julie spends the walk home looking over her shoulder and wondering what she’s going to say to Dex tonight. She’s kept a bunch of her old psychology textbooks. The plan is to re-read some of them before she calls him. It isn’t a great plan. Julie doesn’t think she’s remotely qualified to handle, whatever this situation is. She’s going to try anyways.

Julie creeps up the stairwell of her building. She isn’t sure what she’s cautious of anymore. She just is. She spies two maintenance men she doesn’t recognize in the hallway. It’s the strangest thing; they both have the black haze floating around their heads. It’s thicker than Julie’s and thinner than Dex’s. Julie has long since learned to mind her own business the way New Yorkers do. However she’s had a weird day and is a little paranoid about strangers in her building.

Julie steps through the doorway. The men are dressed in white overalls. They look like they’re getting ready to paint the hallway. There’s plastic sheeting covering the floor. A bald man is crouching over some paint cans in the corner. A younger looking man stands by a ladder adjusting a paint roller.

Julie approaches the younger man, watching the smoke dance around his head. As she gets closer she can taste something in her mouth. It’s tart and unidentifiable.

“Hey, did the landlord let you in?” Julie asks pushing past the rising bitterness.

There’s a rustling beside her. Followed by a cold feeling on the side of her head and a phantom touch on her waist.

Julie recognizes the taste is danger.

Then there is nothing.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19 Third Time’s The Charm

Julie is cold.

That’s different.

Julie shouldn’t be anything.

Julie is dead.

She remembers this part; the expansive nothingness, the lights, the woman.

They’re here somewhere. She looks for them.

It feels like Julie wanders for a long time.

Endlessly.

Julie is heavy. She feels cumbersome.

And numb.

Julie waits. She knows the blue woman is here. Julie can hear her music.

Julie finds the blue woman who is death. This time there is no pillar of lights. The reaper has discarded her black robe. She is a vision in white, lounging on a settee, an antique cigarette holder in one hand. Beautiful and unsettling. This time Julie can see all of the woman’s pearly teeth. Death looks very shocked when she sees Julie.

“Really, Julie? We must stop meeting like this. I’m starting to think you’re doing this on purpose?”

“I guess I just like to flirt with death.” Julie quips, she never could resist a pun.

The reaper grins with both of her mouths. She laughs with both of them too.

 “Alright, Julie. Why don’t you have a seat? We should talk.” The reaper motions to a chair Julie hadn’t seen before. Or that wasn’t there before.

Julie doesn’t move. She sees the leather book on a table along with a white tea set and a gramophone that look like they are from distinctly different times.

“Aren’t you going to check if my name is in there?” Julie points at the thick leather tome as she speaks.

“Oh, Julie. I’ve looked.” The blue woman puts her cigarette down on an equally anachronistic tray. She touches her fingers to her forehead and speaks with that pearly maw:

“̰͍͉ͅͅY̟̲̤͔͚O̫̪͙̱̥̙̻U̥̭̹̖̟̣R̗͍̹͇̳ͅ ̭N̜̦̰̩A̹̼̦̙ͅM͍͈͓͕͚͚͙Ẹ̲̯̲̪͈̣ ̪̩͕̦̝̤I̪̮̙S̟̲̗̩ͅN̮ͅ’̭̟̟T͖ ͚͍̺̘̯A̭̩̭N͕̣͔̞Y̪͖̖̭̲W̗̺̰̭̝̱̝̫H̫E̗̯R̖̻̱̪̰̙͖E̙͍̲̾̉.̼̰͖͓͚̏ͥ̉̾̒ͩ͐”̬͉̯͛͋̂̏ͧ͌̓̏

 

“What does that mean?!?!?” Julie almost shouts.

 “It means you should sit down.” She motions to the chair.

The blue woman is pouring a cup of tea.

“Banter aside, my earlier question was genuine, you aren’t doing this on purpose are you?” she asks.

“How would I do this on purpose? II..I didn’t kill myself this time.” The sound of her own defensiveness surprises Julie.

“That’s not what I meant. I mean you aren’t a witch or anything? You haven’t studied the mystic arts? You aren’t in a cult? You aren’t actively trying to come back from the dead? That kind of thing.” The reaper looks empathetic.

 “No.”

“Oh, I see. Please sit down Julie.” Death’s voice is quiet. When she places the white china cup on the table it doesn’t make a sound.

Julie sits down in the chair that hadn’t been there before. She waits for Death.

“This is the third time you’ve been dead. That’s officially a pattern Julie. Neither of us should put off sorting this out.” The blue woman pours more tea into her own cup.

“You do remember our last two conversation now that you’re here again, yes?” She asks Julie.

Julie nods. She stares at the cup in front of her. The strange voice and her odd memories make sense now.

“I remember everything now that I’m here. And when I’m alive, sometimes I remember things you said too. Just pieces, they didn’t make sense. Last time you told me my lottery number. And I won. Big money too. Oh and the-”

The blue woman inhales sharply from her second mouth. Julie stops talking and realizes it’s the first breath she’s ever seen the reaper take. Julie has never seen the reaper’s eyes that wide either.

“That’s not normal Julie. Not at all. You need to tell me everything you remember.” Her voice is severe.

“Well for the first little while I’d remember a bunch of stuff about you and this place. Then it would disappear. And then at weird times I’d just remember words you said. But I didn’t remember you. Like I didn’t remember you telling me the numbers. I don’t even know why I bought a lottery ticket. I just did, and I just remembered the numbers without any context. And I remember feelings. Or I have feelings. I don’t know what they are, but now that I’m here, I know they are about being here.” Julie gestures to the sea of nothing around them. 

The blue woman drinks from her cup and studies Julie. Julie doesn’t know for how long.

“Oh and I could read that book!” Julie adds pointing at the book.

“Not the first time. But last time, when you were looking through it, I could read all the names.-” Julie recalls.

 

“̳̪̉̇́ͫ̃̍͒͐͢ͅͅͅH̭̮̳ͯ̑́̒̐̈́̐͌A͓̗̹̪͓̿͊H̞͔͚͇̱͍̣͎ͥA̟̺͎͇̮̩͇̖̝̱̗̹ͅH͇͖͙̹̯̮͙͉̮̹̖̜͎Ǎ̩̭͖̆̉͊ͫͧͬ̋͛̒͊̓ͦ͂ͅH͙̖̳̘̭͓̙̠͚͚̙͍̆͐̓ͮA̟̲̭͚̥͖͖̱̺̳̼̗̩̫̮͉͘͡”̵̪̼̜̹̬͕͍͚̮̫̭̼̬͡͞͡ ͏̵̨̥͉̝̘͚̗͘ͅ  It’s a nervous laugh.

 

The blue woman pats her chest, trying to compose herself. She takes the second breath Julie has ever seen.

“That’s very unusual, Julie. But it helps. And if you aren’t doing this on purpose, it’s a natural, or innate phenomenon. That narrows it down even more.” The blue woman picks her cigarette holder up. It’s still lit. She takes a drag.

“Now,” The smoke wafts out of Death’s nose and throat as she speaks.

“Can I presume you aren’t an entirely normal human when you are alive? Are you Julie?” Death asks.

When the smoke reaches Julie there is no scent.

“Um no.” Julie waves the scentless smoke away from her.

“I, I have like, a super power. I heal injuries faster than normal humans do. I can heal broken bones and cuts in hours. I’ve healed from lots of head trauma too. Concussions and internal bleeding and stuff. And I guess I’ve come back from the dead twice now.” She explains.

And umm, the first time, I- my….” Julie pauses. Its hard to speak.

 “One of my arms and my ones of my legs had been- were cut off. And I grew knew ones. Like I saw them. The other ones, they had b……I had been…” Julie has never told anyone about what happened in the basement of that abandoned house.

“I believe the word is dismembered.” The blue woman takes pity on Julie finishing her sentence.

“Ya….that’s the word. That’s what happened.” Julie looks down at her hands.  

Julie brings her fingers up to her chin. She recalls tracking her injuries with a stop watch.

“I think its getting faster, it started before the first time I met you- I mean before the first time I died. I broke my leg and it took, -maybe a few hours to heal. And now, or like more recently, after the second time, I started timing it. Now it takes maybe one hour. Does that seem relevant?”

“Yes. Very. Actually, let’s talk about that specifically. Have you noticed anything different in-between the times you died?”

“Like if dying has changed me?” Julie clasps her fingers together so she won’t tear at her cuticles.

“Yes.” The reaper narrows her eyes.

“Well, after the second time I started having, like, hallucinations. Or I guess, one specific consistent hallucination. I um, always see this little arch of black mist, around my head.” As Julie tries to explain she gestures to the space around her head.

“I can make it go away if I concentrate, but it’s basically always there. I see it on other people too. Sometimes it’s the same, but mostly other people have more of it. It’s like, black smoke coming off of people. And some people have more or,- thicker smoke, if that makes sense?” Julie questions.

“Is that the only unusual thing you experience right now?” Death places her cigarette holder back on its tray.

“I think so.”

“What about other things. Have you noticed any other subtler changes?” The blue woman picks up her tea cup.

Julie doesn’t answer the reaper. She can’t help tearing at her cuticles now. Julie can’t feel her own skin. She keeps trying to feel her skin.

The blue woman is watching Julie.

“Julie, I’m sure this is very difficult for you. I know parsing this out from the normal trauma you’re experiencing is its own challenge. But I need you to tell me if your needs as a human have changed at all.”

“I’m not sure what that means?” Julie stops peeling at her fingers and looks up at the woman.

“I mean have you noticed any difference in the way you expend energy? Do you eat or sleep as much as you used to? How do you tire? That kind of thing.” The reaper eyes Julie curiously.

Julie puts her head in her hands. She has been experiencing that kind of thing.

“I don’t, I mean, I do. I do eat and sleep, and I can get tired.” Julie lifts her head.

“But not the way I should, not the way I used to.  And I guess I work out a lot too. And if I don’t I’m endlessly restless. I just thought it was normal exercise addiction. Like a normal coping mechanism. It isn’t normal is it?” Julie stares at the woman.

“No. No Julie it is not.” Death is looking down at her cup swirling it in little circles.

“I think I see what’s going on here. Do cheer up darling, it’s perfectly manageable.” She gives Julie a sympathetic grin.

“Though I’m afraid this is the part where I need to make your situation a little bit worse by telling you some of those metaphysics of death-”

“You mean the kinds of knowledge that will change me?” Julie asks.

“Yes. That is exactly what I mean. Those things not meant for the living. You see Julie, to die is to be torn apart.-”

“Right, because death is separation?” Julie repeats back to the blue woman.

The blue woman stares at Julie intensely.

“You know Julie, you are terribly creepy sometimes.” She puts one hand to her chest just under her collar bone.

“Me- ME?! I’m creepy?! I’m the creepy one??!!!!” Julie gestures rapidly towards the blue woman. She isn’t trying to be polite anymore.

The reaper closes her eyes for a moment.

“Forgive me Julie, I’m sure, from your perspective that is an absurd statement.” The blue woman presses a finger to her temple.

“But out of the two of us, you are the only anomalous creature. It is creepy the way you remember things you shouldn’t. How quickly you catch on to things you are not supposed to understand. Even before I explained anything, you were already using the right words, saying things like ‘when I am alive’, getting things almost exactly right the first time. You aren’t supposed to intuit these things.” Death shrugs.

“I don’t even want to think about how it is you always find me in particular.” Death shakes her head a bit.

“Oh after the first time, I just started trying to find you.” Julie explains.

 

“̫̞̾͋̑̓ͬͧͨ̚H̭͚̣̤̜̫͖͓ͨ̈̈ͭͯ̅͗̂a̤͓͚͙̪̹̾̑͛͗̏͆h̪̼͑ͮͫͨ̈ͨḁ̫̭̳̉͆ͫͫ̑̈̇̄.̝̠͚ͥ̽ͦ̎ͯ̓ͪͨ”̗̍ͬͭ Death covers that mouth with her hand.

“See Julie that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about.” She comments with the mouth in her face.

“Oh sorry.”

“Don’t be, it’s certainly a compelling argument that this is, well, what you are supposed to be doing.”

“You mean this is normal?” Julie asks. It sounds hard to believe.

“It’s clearly normal for you. As I was saying, to die is to be torn apart. When anything dies all of the pieces of it come apart. You know the physical elements of this separation as the process of decay.” The blue woman refills her tea cup. Her hands are as white as the china.

“All the asomatous pieces separate themselves as well. You may know them as whatever your particular epistemological understanding of the soul is.” The reaper waves her hand at Julie.

“All those immaterial pieces come here, I check them off and then they go wherever it is they are supposed to go.” The reaper makes a fluttering gesture with her free hand.

Julie’s gaze wanders back to the leather book on the anachronistic table.

“However, you darling Julie, you aren’t supposed to get past this point ever. It’s why your name isn’t anywhere at all.”

“So I’m dead right now, but I’m not supposed to stay dead ever?” Julie questions.

“And there you go, getting things almost entirely right.” Death smirks at Julie.

“It would seem that all the pieces of Julie put themselves back together, even after you’ve come entirely apart. The healing you experience is all the little physical pieces fixing themselves, and this-” the reaper gestures to the fathomless nothing around them. She continues:

“-is what happens when you’ve come apart faster than you could put yourself back together.”

“Do drink your tea, it will help.” The woman pauses and studies Julie.

Julie stares at the cup in front of her. She doesn’t have a body at all, yet she feels stiff and numb.

“It feels like I’ve been here for a long time. But is time even a thing here?” Julie reaches for the cup slowly.

“Time doesn’t exist here, No. However it is possible for you to be dead for a long time. Do you remember how you died this time? Sometimes people don’t remember if it’s too traumatic.” The woman’s voice is empathetic.

“I don’t remember how. But I think it happened instantly. Why would I be dead for a long time?” Julie rubs her eyes with one hand. All she can remember is the face of a man she doesn’t recognize and a cold feeling on the side of her head.

“Well that depends on how, well…how destroyed your body is.” The woman says it like she’s worried Julie will find the statement insensitive.

“Oh.”

“Dying is traumatic for anyone, no matter how peaceful. An especially grisly separation can be-” Death pauses.

“You are from after the 1980s yes? If I use a computer metaphor to avoid being indelicate, you’ll understand?” She asks Julie.

“Yes.”

“Oh good, you people all look the same to me with all your stretch fabrics or your denim. To put it politely; there is no point trying to upload the software if the hardware is still disassembled on the floor.”

“And if the hardware has been smashed to pieces, or dropped into a wood chipper?” Julie continues the reaper’s polite euphemism for her own violent death.

“If your body is particularly uninhabitable then you will be dead for longer. All the little soul pieces of Julie will be here, separate from the rest of you for longer. Which brings us to our next issue. As you have already figured out dying changes you.” Death puts her cup back on the table.

“Or more specifically, when you come back to life you come back together,” The woman takes both her hands and interlocks her fingers. She continues:

“and every time all the pieces of you come back together, there’s a chance that won’t happen quite right. To extend our metaphor think about something that’s been glued back together, but you can see all the glue, or it changes the weight or integrity of the construct. Of course in your case, the changes are a little more immaterial. You’ve already started to experience them. The black smoke being the most obvious.”

“I used to think it was the specter of depression or some kind of hallucination, or”

“No, Julie, what you have is death sight. Or more aptly death sense. A side effect of having experiences you aren’t supposed to. What you are seeing has to do with people’s souls.” The reaper shakes her head.

“Tell me Julie, after the first time we met, you killed that boy who hurt you?” Death gives Julie a sly smile.

“I- I….” Julie stutters at the reaper’s question. She’s never said that out loud.

“I’m not moralizing you Julie, I encouraged you.” Death runs her tongue over her teeth.

“What I mean to say is that what you are seeing around your head and around other peoples’ isn’t depression, it’s the stain of murder. Mental illness has no effect on one’s metaphysical state. Technically neither does homicide. Although it does leaves a readable mark. Well readable for some people. You in particular.” She points at Julie.

Julie’s eyes widen. She puts her hands over her mouth as she recounts all the people she’s seen.

“WHY ARE THERE SO MANY MURDERERS IN NEW YORK???!!!!” Julie almost shrieks.

“Well people, they’ll surprise you.” The reaper sounds like she’s trying to lighten the mood.

“In any case, that’s just the beginning, the more you die and come back together the more intense that kind of thing will become for you. Other parts of people’s souls may become more visible to you. For example you might be able to see ghosts. Should you keep coming entirely apart and back together, the lines between worlds will get increasingly blurred. And that will make being alive difficult. They won’t be hallucinations in the classical sense, but interacting with the living won’t be easy if the dead are bleeding through your perceptions constantly.” The blue woman raises her hands and wiggles her fingers.

A giggle rumbles from her second mouth, making a show of all her teeth. Black smoke rises from her throat as she continues speaking with the mouth in her face:

“Imagine trying to carry on a conversation when you can see creepy things like me on every street corner. Or trying not to react to a friend’s impending death because you can see it come off of them.”

“I think it’s already happening.” Julie grips the white china saucer in her hand. She can’t feel a thing.

“I didn’t see anything. But right before I died I could taste it. I thought it was danger. But I think I tasted by own impending death, it was bitter.” Julie stares down at the tea in her cup.

 “So you did. Once you are alive you should practice that. It’s best if you gain a better understanding of your extra senses as it will only get worse if you keep dying.” The reaper keeps speaking with a quiet empathetic tone:

“And there are other subtler changes as well. Your feelings might not be quite the same either. And of course, there’s the chance all the pieces of you don’t come back together exactly as they should. You might lose your memories, probably the earliest first. As I understand, most humans would consider their childhood a minimal trade for immortality. But there may come a time when you are a different person entirely. It’s best if you know the risks.”

“Your physical needs will change as well. My hypothesis is that the current trends will intensify. You won’t need to eat, or sleep as much and you’ll need to do more before you tire at all.”

“Am I going to like, turn into a vampire?” Julie hears her voice crack.

Death gives a little laugh before she speaks:

“Any blood drinking will be a choice on your part. However, you are certainly ‘undead’ in the sense of being something that is alive, but has been dead. And the more you pass from one state to the other, the more you will change. In effect, the more inhuman experiences you have the more estranged from the human experience you will become.”

“Ok that part is definitely already happening.” Julie can hear her own distress.

“Indeed, lucky for us you seem adept at remembering our conversations. I think its best you focus on remembering some guidelines.” The reaper holds up her one index finger:

“Try not to die. Or more aptly, should you be severely injured, try not to come entirely apart. Think of it as trying to ‘stay present’ in your body while it fixes itself.” Death pauses and looks at Julie sympathetically.

“Trying to be present through that kind of trauma will have its own side effects, but as long as you don’t come entirely apart, none of the metaphysical ones will intensify.”

“Is that the polite way of telling me I’m going to be regular traumatized by the things that don’t kill me?” Julie picks her cup up from the saucer with one hand.

“Precisely.” She nods at Julie.

“Now should that not work; should you find yourself dead again, try not to be dead for very long. The longer you are separated and the more you learn here the more likely you are to change.” The blue woman raises a second finger.

“Again it’s probably best to think of it as being present in your body. Think about having a body. Wiggle your toes. Try to remember your life and your experiences. That sort of thing.”

“Right, so try not to die, and try not to be dead. Got it.” Julie gestures with her cup and puts on a cartoonish voice:

“Ha. Keep yourself together Julie.” She jokes.

“Yes, keep yourself together Julie. That’s a fitting way to put it. You are a quick study. In fact if you don’t have any other pressing questions, we should focus on putting you back together right now. I suspect you’ve been dead for too long already.” The reaper sounds somber.

“Ok.” Julie finally takes a drink out of the weightless tea cup. It burns the inside of her mouth. She drops it in a panic. The sound of the cup hitting the floor is absent. But Julie can feel the liquid burn where it hits her lap.

“Its hot!!!” Julie screams from the pain.

Julie doesn’t see the blue woman stand up. She doesn’t see her move at all. The reaper is suddenly just there in front of her. Close enough to touch. Julie feels frost bitten where the blue woman grabs both of her wrists. Julie feels stiffer. She starts to shiver uncontrollably.

“No. Julie.” Death inspects Julie closely.

“You are cold. I’d say you’re frozen.” Death whispers.

“What’s happening?” Julie tries to hear the reaper over the sound of her own chattering teeth.

“Ok Julie focus on that feeling. You need to put yourself back together. You need to get back to your body.” Death instructs her.

“But, -but what if something has happened to me?” Julie can feel her lungs again and they are burning.

“What if I’m frozen at the bottom of the east river? What if I’m locked in a freezer? What if I’ve been dismembered again?” When Julie exhales she can see her breath.

“You can’t stay here Julie. You have to go back.” The blue woman’s voice is calm.

“I’m scared.” Julie starts to cry. She can feel her tears freezing on her face. She cries harder.

“I’m sorry Julie. You’ll be alright, you’re a tough kid if you made it this far.” She smiles at Julie.

“Remember what I said: T͎͎͕̗͚̠̬̪̘̠̗r̝̻̝̱͚y̤̱͖͎̭ ͚͓̗̙̤͈ṉ̼̺̻̳̰̞̪͍̣͕ͅͅo͚͓͚̩̱̖̗t̥̲͈̹͚̳͍̹̜̰͉̟͍̥͖ͅ ̩̪͇̜̻̣͇̬͕̹̤͓̮̼̹͓͎t͔̳̙̟͚̲͖o̜̟̝̻̦̫̠̜̖ ̖̮̝̦̠d̯͉͚̞͓̘̤̟͎͇̭̙͎̗i̤̹̖̖͚e͕̩̖̹͕͚͓̣̩̖̣.̘̫̳͕̜̠͎̗̬̥̭̻̙͖͈͔̼̩ͅ”͎̺͔̘͚

 

The blue woman’s face starts to blur. Her voice doesn’t.

 

“̘͚̠̗T̯̬̰͉̻̬͇̫͎r̠͍̘͔̟̼̳y͈̹̝̫ n͍̯͎o̼̯̝t̹͖̝̫̥  ̝̭̳̞̜͎̝̃͗̎̓̌̎ͅt̻̤̰̰̩ͤ̈́͗ͪͤ̎̓ͬo̻̫̦̪̥̖ͩͤ͒̇ ͇̭̮̯̀ͧ͐ ͈͓̳b̹̞͉̝͎͉̖e d͎̈e̤̰̩̦̦̬ͥͧ̌̿̚a̖̺̫̬̰̋̌̓d͚ͩ̾ͨ̓.̱̠̦͍ͥ̽͒ͧ̌ͨ͛̚”͔̣͋ͧ̄̆ͭ

 

Julie still can’t wiggle her toes. But she knows she has them.

Everything fades.

There is only the voice.

 

“͖̮̣͖ͅK̰̯̞̲̯̠̞͂ͫͭ̃e͗̐ͧͫẹ͉͎̳̟̗͍͕p͉̭̬ ̱͇͚y̩̻̟̲̤͖ő͊ͬ͌ͫ͗͌ǔͮ̽̇r͐͛̓s̀̋͋e̘̰̼̳͇̪̰͇̝̐ͫl̬̬̫̯͖ͥ̉̊ͦͮf̻̜̱̙͓̎̉ͭ̀ͅ ̩̬͗͂̔͋̋ͯ̓̒̈ tog̍͆ͨ̎ͮͅe̪͎̪͓̣̮͎̝̣ͭͣͩt͉̼̗̙ͫͯͮ̌ͨ̃͑h̦̬͍͉͎̜͇̤̓̽͋͂er̼͚̲͙̯̃͐ͥ̔ͥ.͔̦͇̂͌̄̆̄̌̒”͕̟̼̦̣̥͌͗̅

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 20 I Was Frozen Today

At first there is nothing. Except the lurching feeling in Julie’s stomach. Like from motion

Like Julie has a stomach.

Everything is clouded.

There’s a soft intermittent droning sound in the back ground. It’s distant and familiar to Julie. She focus on it. Trying to hone in on the soft whisper.

The rush of plastic, and carpeting fill Julie’s nose. The chemical scent of pine air freshener has never been so noxious.

It smells like Julie is in a car.

The familiar sounds is coming into focus. It’s low and almost soothing. Julie can feel her heart again. It skips a beat when she recognizes the sound is Dex’s voice. Whispering to her.

NO.

Julie’s panic is interrupted by the sound of a siren and another voice.

Her vision is still blurry. Dex’s voice gets crisper and clearer:

“That’s Agent Lim. He’s one of the good ones.”

Julie struggles with all of her might. Her limbs are ridged. She can’t move at all but she can feel her skin. She feels cold.

She can hear Dex threatening someone.

“-Do yourself a favor. Walk away.”

Dex’s voice gets further away. Julie can barely hear the other man’s voice. There’s a struggle.

Julie tries to will her vision to clear. Suddenly Dex is close again.

Dex is a blur of vivid red in front of her. He comes into a soft focus. Julie can feel Dex clasp her left hand. His grasp feels like fire against her stiff frozen fingers. Julie isn’t sure she should try to move anymore.

Julie’s vision gets clearer and she can see the vigilante Daredevil inches away from her face. Except he has Dex’s jaw and Dex’s voice.

“I’m so sorry I have to leave you here. You don’t want to see this part anyways.” Dex keeps talking to Julie in that low whisper.

Oh god, what’s going on?! Julie’s lungs attempt an involuntary inhale. She can’t expand her chest. Her lungs burn. It’s probably for the best she can’t move right now.

“I’ll make him pay for everything.” Dex gently adjusts Julie’s seat-belt.

WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING!!?!? Julie’s heart is pounding.

“Once I’ve killed Fisk and every low life on his pay roll no one will be able to separate us again.” Dex’s mouth curls up into a playful grin. Julie can’t see his eyes behind the glassy red eyes of the Daredevil mask. But she’d bet her entire fortune Dex’s eyes have the same daring glint they had at dinner when he joked about stalking.

Julie wishes she couldn’t feel Dex’s hand cup her chin. His touch burns.

“Don’t worry Julie, I’ll be back soon.” Dex’s whisper is so tender he might actually believe he is talking to Julie and not her frozen corpse.

With those haunting words Dex disappears from Julie’s line of vision.

Julie wills herself to move. She can see an underground parking lot stretched out through the van’s windshield. Panic floods her mind.

MOVE MOVE!!!!!

Julie feels the fingers in her left hand twitch.

I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE HE COMES BACK.

…Oh god what if he comes back?

The sound of the driver’s side door shutting startles Julie so badly it breaks her spiral of panicked thoughts. Her right leg flinches.

Julie tries to quiet her mind. To stop thinking about how her seemingly frozen body ended up in a car with Dex. To focus on moving and not the consequences for failing.

Her chest makes a grotesque cracking sound as Julie manages a first gasping breathe.

Julie wrenches her torso forward. The snapping sound of the seat-belt going taught is too loud in her ear. The belt holds Julie in place. Her arms are stiff. She fumbles for the belt clasp. It opens with a click as Julie struggles to free herself. Raspy shallow breathes escape Julie’s mouth. Her twitchy fingers open the passenger side door handle. Her legs are sluggish under her. She topples face first onto the concrete floor.

More rasping gasps escape Julie’s mouth as she drags her body forward. Julie’s balance is off when she manages to stand. Her right leg won’t bend. She swings it out in front of her in a clumsy attempt to walk. Julie scans the garage for an exit. She can’t tell what level she is on. At least she doesn’t see Dex anywhere. Julie doesn’t want to think about what Dex will do if he finds her like this.

Julie struggles to round the black SUV she was in moments ago. There’s a man in a black suit groaning on the floor. He screams when he sees Julie.

“JESUS-

JESUS CHRIST!!!!!!!” His eyes are wide and filled with fear. He tries to crawl away from Julie.

Julie doesn’t wait for him to get up. She uses all of her resolve to shamble forward. Each step gets a little bit easier. A little less ridged and clumsy. Julie is approaching a running pace when another man in a black suit gets in her way. He yells at Julie to stop. When the man tries to intercept Julie she pushes him so hard he flies backwards off his feet.

Julie doesn’t stop.

She’s running now. Taking long strides through the garage, searching the white walls for a way out. Julie follows the signs to the exit. She recognizes some of them. She’s in the Presidential Hotel’s parking lot! There are other men yelling at her now. She sprints toward the parking lot barrier gate. Julie extends through her jump vaulting the barrier with a practiced ease that surprises her.

The headlights of an oncoming car blind Julie. She doesn’t even break pace dodging it. She keeps running. The streets of Manhattan melt into a jumble of light and sound that overwhelm Julie’s senses. Her lungs heave, her chest burns. Everything hurts.

But Julie doesn’t want to stop running.

She forces herself to stop.

Julie looks up at the night sky.

People stare at Julie while she catches her breath. She tries to get her bearings. Julie reads the signs on the street; she’s run 14 blocks. She notices her reflection in a shop window. She looks dishevelled. Her head band is gone and her bangs are matted with something dark and dry. It looks like there’s a hole in the left side of Julie’s head. She gently touches her left temple. It feels like there is a hole in her head. Julie pulls her grey hood up over her head so people will stop staring.

More than anything else in the world right now Julie wants to be home. She searches her pockets. Her headphones and the little wallet Julie keeps cash in are there. Her phone and her keys are gone.

Julie immediately thinks Dex has them. If that’s true, going home is the last thing Julie should do. But she doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Julie turns her attention back to the street. Everything is too bright and too loud. She decides to go home anyway. There’s nothing else to do.

Julie flees Manhattan at a full sprint.

She doesn’t stop sprinting until she gets to the Williamsburg Bridge pedestrian walkway. Even then she doesn’t stop. She just slows to a jogging pace to catch her breath. The distance between the Presidential and Julie’s apartment is at least 8 miles. Julie should be tired. She isn’t. Her whole body buzzes with reckless energy. Once in Brooklyn she doesn’t stick to the streets. Julie climbs fences and scales buildings. She puts all her parkour skills to the test. She pushes herself harder and harder. It isn’t enough. Right now nothing is enough. She isn’t even tired once she gets to her apartment. Julie can taste blood in her mouth. Her hands shake. She can barely hear anything over her heart pounding in her ears.

But Julie really doesn’t want to stop.

Julie stares up at her building. She considers climbing up the four stories to her apartment, smashing her window and crawling inside. Right now, it feels like Julie could do it with ease. She kind of just wants to do it. Instead Julie follows another tenant inside. Julie heads toward the elevator wondering how she’s going to get into her apartment. She might have to scale her building after all. Julie is waiting in front of the elevator weighing her options when her building superintendent calls her name.

“Julie is that you? The movers said you left town already.” He says approaching Julie.

Julie pauses for too long in front of her super. She tries to process his words.

“The movers?” She says.

“Ya, the ones you hired after you said you wanted out of your lease for next month. Geez, are you alright? You don’t look so good.” He asks standing right beside Julie.

“I’ve had a difficult day. Um, there’s been a change in plans. I’m going to be in town until the end of the month.” She’s glad she kept her hood up.

“Ya, sure. Makes no difference to me.”

“And, the movers have been fired. Don’t let them or any others into the building.” Julie shouldn’t have sounded so scared.

“Ok.” The superintendent gives her an odd look.

“-And, and I lost my keys. Can you let me into my apartment?” Julie adds.

“Sure, sounds like a really bad day.”

“It was.”

******

Julie stands perfectly still in front of her apartment door with new keys clutched in her hand. She’s afraid to go inside. Julie slides her key into the lock and listens for any sound of movement inside. After a few minutes of silence Julie turns the key and opens her door. She flips on the lights and steps into her apartment. There’s no one inside. Half of Julie’s shelves are empty. There are boxes stacked neatly in her living room.

It looks like the ‘movers’ got half way through packing up Julie’s apartment.

It looks like someone got halfway through making Julie disappear.

Julie slams her door shut. Half expecting Dex or someone to come out of her bedroom.

Nothing happens.

She searches her house anyways. Her front closet is half bare, her kitchen has been packed into boxes, her bedroom and bathroom look untouched. Julie draws the chain lock on her door. She wedges a chair under the door handle so Dex or whoever has her keys can’t get inside. Julie sits down in front of the long mirror she uses to practice ballet in her living room. She pulls the grey hood off her head and inspects her reflection.

Julie doesn’t look right. Her skin is too pale and green hued. She looks clammy. Her light green eyes are blue and cloudy. Julie gently touches the bloody matted mess around her left temple. She turns her head right and left. There’s a smaller mess further back on the right side of her head too. Like an entry wound and an exit wound. She unzips her vest and carefully pulls the grey hoodie over her head. Discarding her dry fit shirt on the floor with her other clothes she heads to her bathroom sink.

Julie ignores the dark cloud around her head as she runs a wash cloth under warm water. Using a gentle hand she washes the left and right sides of her head. Blood and loose hair cover Julie’s sink after she rinses the cloth a few times. She tilts her clean left temple toward the mirror. The wound is small but Julie can see a bit of her brain exposed around open bone. She tilts her head to the right. Her skull has grown back entirely on that side of her head. She’s still missing a piece of her scalp. She touches the exposed bone.

It looks like someone blew Julie’s brain out of her head.

And it’s grown back.

Mostly.

Julie turns the tap off and heads back into her living room. She tries to assess the situation; her phone is gone, her home has been packed up, her superintendent thinks she’s leaving town. She stares at the boxes.

It looks like someone shot Julie in the head and tried to make her disappear.

It has to be Dex. Who else would have done this?

Although the half packed state of her apartment looks like the work of more than one person. Or one very efficient professional.

Julie tears into the neat stack of boxes with her hands. She starts to cry uncontrollably. Not only did someone try to make Julie disappear again, but it looks like they nearly succeeded.

Julie tries desperately to make it harder for her to disappear. She open all the boxes in a frantic daze. She turns them over and shakes the contents out on the floor. She starts unpacking them, trying not to think about how crazy she looks; a girl with a death pallor and an open head wound, dresses in a tights and a sports bra, frantically putting her china mugs back on a shelf.

Julie pulls her yellow coat out of a box and puts it back in her closet. She used to love it. Now it feels way too bright. Way too easy to be seen in. Now, thinking about how easy she is to spot on the street Julie regrets most of her wardrobe; a yellow sweater, a red sheath dress, a mint blouse, a blue dress, a mustard cardigan. They are all terribly conspicuous choices.

Why do I own so much god damn yellow?

Julie finds her lap top in one of the boxes. She finds her wallet and her tablet too. All of her valuables are here. Except her phone and her keys. She turns on the lap top. Her mouth goes dry as she reads the date. Julie has lost a whole week.

Julie has been dead for a whole week.

Julie remembers what the blue woman said about that. She remembers everything the blue woman said.

I’ve never been dead that long before.

Julie turns away from her computer to search her cupboard for tea. The blue woman’s voice rings in Julie’s ears so loud she grips the cupboard door.

-͔͕̦̞̼̣ͥ̎͑ͪ̆T̘̝͇̜̫͕̔ͨ̔̐̽͂͐O̦͇̫͔̤̒̐̈́͡ ͉̘͙̥̒̅̆̂͛D͍͍̥̺̦̜͆̕I̫ͬͧ̍̒̽́E̞̜͍͕̺̭̥͌͢ ̝͇̺̟͌͋̅I͢S̢̲̖͐̈ ̯̥̱̥͎͕͋̽̊̇̿ͨT̲̻͌O̦̟͈͈̟̹̎ͥ̈͋̃͊ ͇̜̖̞͇͐̆̑̏B̛̗̓̿E̥̮̳̥̝͔̫̋̐̋̂̅ ̠̣̺͙̓̓̕T͇̙͂̋O̿͊̾̓͒̍̈́R͚N̷͌̿ͭ̂ ̵̱̎͐͐A̪͖̱̘͙ͤ͝P̡͈͔͎̽ͪ̃́A̢̠͍̱͚͖͑̂ͬͧͅR̵̬̣̥̘̖̆ͦ̄̈͂̈T͉̰̱̜͇̥̑́̾̇͑̀͝  The door comes clean off its hinges under Julie’s grip. She stumbles backwards.

Julie shouldn’t be that strong.

Just like she shouldn’t be able to run eight miles without stopping or push a man off his feet.

Julie puts the door down on her kitchen counter. She crosses the room and pulls one of her notebooks from the pile on the floor. The blue woman’s voice rattles Julie’s mind as she writes down everything she said:

-Tͥͩ̎̓Ô̶̅͛͌͑̂ ̷ͭ̋́̄D̒̌ͨ͒ͯÍ͂͆ͮͭ̏E̅̒ͨ͝ ͯͭ͌̃ͬ̚I̓ͣͯͣS̋͑̍̃̄ ̶̽T̑̑̓ͨ̽̚͘O͗ͬ͌ͤ͟ ͥ̈́̒̚B̵ͦ͑͒̍E͗ͥ͛ͫ̈̈́͂ ̊T̈́Oͬ̀͋R̾͗͗͠Ñͯ͌̚ ͭͬ̚͢Ȃ̄͆͆ͧ͐͆P̽͑ͫA̸̔ͧͩͥ͂R̹͉̘T͖̰̮̤̜́͒̎ͤ

T̰͖̹͙̼̞͈̖r̟͔͖̙͓̫̥ỵ̝̥ ̯͎͎͚̹͚̘̳n̺̬̼̦͓̘ͅo͔͙̝t̖̪͚̦̘ ̲̮ṱ̱͉̼o͕̩͇̦͓͕̙̲͉ ͚̖̝̟͈d̘̠̟͍̺i̦̯̱̝̳e̠

                 T͚̪̙̝͔̞̙r̲̭̜y͚̖̗ ̘n͙͚͙̤̰̞o̩̱̰͈̣̝̙ṱ̝͉ ̫̜̬͈̟t̹͚͎̜o͔̝̤̭̞̝̪̖̝ ̮̫͕̯̲̍̇̓̔̔b̜͔̺̣̌ͣ͋͐̒͂ͪͮͅe̪͊ͮͩ̆̔̋̿ ̭͕͕̳ͪ̏̉̓̋̚d̜̭̋ͤẹ͍̳̗͙̔ͧ̄ͣͅͅa͍̥͉̒d̼͓̠̔̈́̍͂ͣ

                                                K̝̠͓͖ͬ̈̿̓͊e̲͉̫ͫ̋̒̿ͯ̉̓̊e̹̳͙͈͉͉̐̾̾ͤ̿̃̎̈́p̹̮͕̗͍ͮͪ̓̌̀ͪͫ͐ ͔͕̪̝̜̐̽̽y̫͉͍͉̝̯o̗̲͈̯u̻͍͖r̥̥̙̺̜s̏̂̈͗ͭȅ̐͐ͬͮ̿ͪ̀l̃̓ͭͫ̽̋f͐̋ͫ̓͌̏̓̐ t̲̩̰̹̬͈͍͙͔̲̱̻̏̅ͮ͋ͬ͛̈́̾̿ͮͨ̃̽͒ͅo͈̪͙͒́̈ͤ̎̄ͣͦ̈g̳̖̣͙͕̲̣̯̊̀̇̓̋͋́̾̋̇ͬ͒e̻̞̬͉͓͉̝̫̻̩̫͓̖̿̉̈́̌̽ͅt͉̱̺̰̦͓̭̓̓ͦͧ́̇͂͆̆ḣ̹̼̮̣ͫͫ̆͆͆̐̑ͩͮ͋e͍̮͕͇͚͔̭̮̒ͭ͊̔̋̔̒̏ͥ̎͒ͪ̂̍̉̌̊̚r̞̱̮͈̱͖̮̫̩͚̼͗̋ͪ̓

 

Once Julie is done she puts the notebook on her kitchen counter beside her computer. She checks her reflection in the mirror again. Her skull and most of her scalp has grown back on the left side of her head. She’s missing some hair on the right side. Julie sits down on the floor and watches the last pieces of her scalp knit back together. It takes ten minutes.

Julie returns to her laptop. She searches for news on The Presidential Hotel. It doesn’t take long to find breaking news. Wilson Fisk was getting married there last night. Julie finds a video that’s gone viral in the last few hours. She watches a man she’s never seen before on screen:

 “My name is Special Agent Ray Nadeem of the FBI, and under federal law, I swear that the testimony I’m about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and should be considered my dying declaration……”

Julie pulls the elastic from the end of her braid. It’s all she can do to keep from peeling her cuticles. As she listens to the agent her fingers diligently untangle her hair.

“I’m guilty of a number of criminal acts and I was in no way acting alone. Wilson Fisk coerced me and a number of fellow FBI agents into aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy to extort protection money from New York crime organizations.”

The agent’s words are outlandish, yet Julie doesn’t know what else to think. It’s the kind of dramatic criminal conspiracy she thought only existed in fiction.

Agent Nadeem’s words only raise more questions. Julie starts to zone out, preoccupied with how she could possibly have gotten to the hotel.

Julie’s attention is snapped back to Nadeem’s voice as he answers her questions:

“I personally drove Special Agent Ben Poindexter to the Clinton Church dressed in a fake Daredevil suit. I knew at this point that Poindexter was the killer who attacked the Bulletin, and I knew he was going to do something horrible at the church. But I let it happen anyway.”

Her hands freeze in her hair. Her eyes get wider.

“What the fuck?” She whispers to herself.

Julie sits perfectly still watching the video repeatedly. Her fingers are pressed against her lips. She loses count of how many times she re-watches it before she tears her attention away.

Julie opens her phone messager on her computer. Her intention is to see if she’s been fired for her week long disappearance.

She finds a message sent from her phone to the dance studio owner. It reads:

‘I am forced to quit my job with you as I must leave town unexpectedly to attend to some personal family matters.’

Julie doesn’t text like that, and she didn’t send that message.

It was sent after Julie had been dead for three days.

Julie starts going through her message history. She thinks Dex must have her phone. That he must have been covering his tracks.

Then she checks the message history for his number. There are several messages she doesn’t remember:

Dex: Can we talk?

Julie’s phone: I never want to see you again. Please leave me alone.

Dex: Please Julie

Then his number was blocked.

Julie doesn’t remember that. She didn’t write that. She checks the sent time on the message. It was sent in the evening after she had coffee with Dex. After her memory cuts off in the hallway of her building.

After she died.

It looks like Dex isn’t Julie’s only problem. Whoever sent that message could still be out there.

Pulling her hair out of the matted pony tail she gets into her shower. The water feels too hot on Julie’s skin. Even on the coldest setting. Julie tries to find a way to escape whatever this situation is.

Julie needs to hide.

She wants to change her face and her wardrobe and her hair. To become unrecognizable. To get away.

Julie cuts a few inches off her hair. Anything to make her silhouette different. She grabs the henna from her undisturbed washroom. Making her hair brighter feel counter intuitive. But Julie doesn’t have anything else and most dark hair dyes look obviously unnatural with her completion.

Julie unpacks the rest of her house while the henna sets in her hair. There’s no point in sleeping.

Even if she was tired the stress would keep her awake.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21 Questions for the Living

Julie doesn’t sleep at all. By sun up she isn’t strong enough to pull a cupboard door from its hinges. But she isn’t the least bit tired.

She puts her hair in a high ponytail and pins back her bangs because she hasn’t warn her hair like that in ages. She dresses in the most nondescript clothing she owns: black skinny jeans and an old denim jacket.

With her bag and rolls of cash stuffed into all her pockets, Julie leaves the house and buys a new, completely separate phone with a new number as soon as store hours being. She thinks its best not to touch the old one.

Julie idles in front of the private investigator’s office she found online. Or she’s pretty certain this is Alias Investigations. The address is right. It’s hard to be sure standing in front of the broken glass door. 

“Hello?” Julie approaches the door. There’s no response.

Julie reaches her hand through the broken door pane and unlocks it from the other side.

“Jessica Jones? I’m here to inquire about your services?” Julie calls out as she steps through the doorway.

Julie looks around the dingy apartment before she hears a groan from deeper inside.

Maybe I should have waited until the afternoon, Julie thinks as a lithe dark haired woman shuffles into the room at the end of the hall.

Julie stares at Jessica. She’s pale and statuesque. Julie’s eyes are drawn to the dark cloud of homicide floating around Jessica’s head. Julie isn’t surprised. She heard about Jessica killing some super criminal with her super strength. But this is the first time she’s ever known what she was looking at. And Julie is pretty sure it looks like Jessica has killed three people. Not one.

“Jessica Jones?” Julie asks again walking down the hall toward the assumed private investigator.

“Ya that’s me. You are?” She looks groggy, rubbing her eyes.

“Sorry to disturb you. I- I need to hire you-”

“Obviously. Who are you?” Jessica interrupts her.

“My name is Julie. I-um, I need you to investigate a murder that is somehow related to the FBI criminal conspiracy that broke on the news last night.”

“You mean that fight at the Presidential Hotel with Wilson Fisk and the fake Daredevil?” Jessica asks.

“Yes, actually.” Julie takes another step into the apartment. She examines the office Jessica has set up in what looks like the Livingroom.

“Look, that just happened. The investigation is still open. If you have information about a murder related to that you should be going to the cops. Not me.”

Tall badass looking woman fluster Julie at the best of times. She struggles to explain her situation to Jessica.

“No. I- I can’t go to the police. It’s my murder that I need you to-.” Julie starts.

“Excuse me?” Jessica interrupts.

“I think the fake daredevil murdered me last night. Or last week. I-”

“Ok. I see. You’re one of the crazy ones. I’m gonna need you to leave.” Jessica nods and gestures towards the open door.

“No. I’m not crazy. It- it happened.” Julie steps toward Jessica.

“You need to leave.” Jessica says as she grabs Julie. The way Jessica effortlessly pulls Julie by the arm reminds her how helpless she was under Dex’s grip.

Jessica is so much stronger.

“I have super powers- or abilities like you.” Julie tries to explain as Jessica pulls her down the front hall toward the apartment door.

“That’s- that’s why I came to you. I heard about what you could do. I-I didn’t think anyone else would believe me!” Julie can tell Jessica Jones isn’t the kind of person that handles crying strangers well. She can’t hold back her tears.

Jessica keeps dragging her through the door way. Julie flails. She reaches her free arm through the broken door pane and slices her forearm against the sharp glass.

“I can prove it.” She’s really crying now.

“CRAP!!!” Jessica exclaims grasping her hand over Julie’s wound.

“Please just, just give me like 20 minutes! This will be fine. Let’s go back inside. I’ll explain.” Julie pleads.

“You need to go to the hospital.” Jessica keeps pulling Julie down the hall.

“NO!!!” Julie screams louder. She digs her heels into the floor. It’s useless. Julie might as well be a Styrofoam mannequin to Jessica.

“I- I know you’ve killed three people!!” Julie screams desperately.

“What did you say?” Jessica stops and stares at Julie. Pulling her in closer. Now she really reminds Julie of Dex.

Julie swallows her terror.

“I, I can tell you’ve killed three people. Like I can see it. It’s one of the abilities I got after I died. I, I swear I’m not lying.” Julie watches Jessica’s face twist with confusion.

“I heal from things. Bu- But if it’s really bad sometimes I die from them. Somebody killed me again. And I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know if I’m safe. Please I need to know what happened!!!!! The last time someone killed me I never got any answers and- I can’t live like that again. I can’t-I” Julie grabs Jessica’s arm. She’s bleeding on both of them.

“PLEASE JESSICA JONES YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN HELP ME!!!!!!” Julie’s voice cracks. She breaks into uncontrollable sobs.

“Oh GEEZ, fine. Come inside.”

****

In the office Julie sits on the chair in front of Jessica’s desk pressing a towel against her bloody arm. She lifts the cloth. The wound has already turned into an ugly scab.

Jessica returns from the kitchen whiskey bottle in hand.

“See.” Julie says, stretching her arm out towards Jessica.

“Well shit. That’s way faster than me.” Jessica says unscrewing the bottle.

“No offense but you’ve made my morning a little unusual.” Jessica gestures with the bottle.

“That seems fair.” Julie folds the towel bloody side in, and rests it in her lap.

“So let me get this straight, you think the crazy guy in the fake daredevil costume killed you? What have you got to do with the FBI corruption?” She sits down opposite Julie.

“Um. With that? Nothing. I didn’t know anything about FBI collusion or vigilantes…….” Julie trails off.

“Last week, basically right before the massacre at the Bulletin, I met- I ran into the guy who did it. I mean, he wasn’t in the costume. He was doing FBI things at the Presidential. I was-” Julie stops and puts her head in her hands.

“Hey. It’s ok. Take your time.” Jessica sounds like she is using all of her bedside manner. Julie appreciates the effort.

“This is harder than I……Could I have some of that, please?”

Jessica slides the whiskey across the desk. Julie takes a swig.

“Ok. Last week I got a serving job at the Presidential Hotel. Under suspicious circumstances: The hotel manager asked me. Anyways I met the guy from the news Special Agent Ben Poindexter. We worked together a few years ago and I thought it was a coincidence. But it turns out he was stalking me.”

“Stalking you?” Jessica asks.

Julie takes a second drink before she passes the bottle back to Jessica.

“Ya. We were getting dinner together and he knew a bunch of stuff about me he shouldn’t have. And then he freaked out when I tried to leave. Ummmm, after that he cornered me on my jogging route and asked for my help.” Julie looks down at her arm in her lap.

“Your help?”

“Ya. He wanted me to talk to him about his problems, we used to work as suicide hotline counsellors.” Julie resists the urge to scratch her scab which is in the process of turning into a scar. It always gets itchy at this point.

“What a psycho.” Jessica says taking another drink.

“I don’t know that he killed me. But after that my memory drops off in my building. And then last night, I woke up in a car with him in the Hotel Parking garage. He was wearing the costume. It was right before he attacked the wedding party.” Julie turns one of the rings on her finger as she speaks.

“Ok. This will be my strangest case so far. But what the hell. I’ll take it.”

“Thank you Jessica.” Julie clasp her hands together.

“I think my standard contract will work for this situation. I charge hourly, plus expenses. After this I’ll be in touch for any additional detail.” Jessica takes another drink.

“Let’s be clear on the time line. You were dead for a week?” Jessica inquires.

“Yes. Which is a new record. I’ve never taken that long to come back. I think maybe it was because I was shot in the head and frozen.” Julie shrugs.

“Frozen?”

“Ya. Like my whole body. Like maybe I was in a freezer or something. I can’t really say. I don’t know what happens when I’m dead.” Julie tells her.

“Ok. Any other details?” Jessica asks.

“Well my phone is missing. And whoever had it texted my other job and my landlord and covered up my disappearance. And packed up my apartment.” Julie swallows. Somehow that’s still the scariest part.

“Packed up how?”

“Like put in boxes. What do you mean?” Julie fidgets with her rings again.

“I mean was it neat? Systemic? Frantic? What parts did they pack up? Was anything personal missing?” Jessica clarifies.

“Personal?”

Jessica hesitates.

“You know? Personal? Like if it was your stalker did he take any of your stuff? Pictures of you? Your perfume? Your underwear? You know stalker stuff.” Jessica shrugs.

“Oh god I didn’t even think of that.” Julie puts her hands over her mouth.

“I unpacked it last night. I shouldn’t have done that! It was like a crime scene!!!” Julie is filled with regret.

“It’s okay. Just check your stuff when you get home and let me know.” Jessica attempts a reassuring tone.

“Okay. I’ll check. My superintendent thought I hired some movers. So more than one person, maybe? It looked like they were just moving from room to room though. Very systemic, I think.” Julie nods.

*******

Julie gives Jessica Jones her new phone number and reluctantly heads back home.

Julie changes into clean clothes. She puts her black jeans in cold water. They can probably be saved. Her bloody denim jacket is finished. She sends Jessica photos of her old message history and the bulletin article about Dex. She knows she shouldn’t put off checking her stuff for Jessica. The idea of Dex rooting through her bedroom turns Julie’s stomach. First she searches for missing photos. They are all accounted for. Next, Julie examines everything she unpacked the previous night.

After that there’s no excuse not to check her bedroom for missing possessions.

Julie starts with her jewellery, moving through her bedroom to her dresser drawers, then her closet. Nothing is gone. She checks all her little hiding spots just in case. Even her stashes of fight night cash are undisturbed.

Julie reaches under her bed and grabs the old metal tackle box that holds all her most personal possessions. She doesn’t think anyone, not even a stalker, would take this but there’s no point in not being thorough. As a child the box held all the scientific equipment Julie used for exploring the landscape of her home. When she got older it became a repository for all of her private mementos; an ocular lens from her first toy microscope, ballet grade medals, her paternal grandmother’s thimble, the ribbons from her first pointe shoes, a silver matchbox her uncle gave her, a notebook filled with pressed plant specimens from all the places Julie lived, her childhood cat’s collar, her favourite plush bunny-rabbit, programs from her first professional performance, among other things. Junk to everyone else, irreplaceable pieces of Julie’s life.

The newest addition was a velvet drawstring bag filled with all the teeth Julie lost at fight night. It would be suspicious if Julie didn’t try to pick up her knocked out teeth.

Everything is accounted for.

Julie breathes a sigh of relief and texts Jessica nothing is missing.

There is nothing to do now but wait.

Julie locks her bedroom door. Pulling the plush bunny from the box Julie crawls into bed. She might as well try to sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22 Answers for the Dead

Julie’s sleep is nearly peaceful. In the afternoon she looks at her phone with astonishment. She hasn’t slept for fourteen full hours since before she died.

It’s the best thing that’s happened to Julie in years.

Julie finishes washing the blood from her skinny jeans. She kills time waiting for Jessica by exercising in her living room.

Julie pulls her suitcases from her closet. She doesn’t pack up her things yet. Although she goes through them, prioritising and preparing to pack. Just in case.

In the late afternoon Julie retrieves the silver matchbox from under her bed. Returning to her closet she tears the bottle of absinthe she bought on her last visit to her mother’s from the sealed duty free bag. It was for a special occasion.

Now is as good a time as any.

Julie leaves the bottle and her phone in the kitchen. She turns on her bathroom fan and shuts the door. She spent so much time around fire as a kid, she wonders why she never thought of this until now.

That’s not true. Julie knows exactly why.

Julie shakes the little silver box. The sound brings back memories of building campfires with her father and her uncle. When fire reminded Julie of her own nostalgia and not Rory and her adventure in arson.

She hasn’t been able to pick up an axe since.

 Leaning over the sink Julie lights the first match. She holds it between her right thumb and index finger.

She needs to do something to take her mind off waiting for Jessica.

“Ouch.” Julie drops the match in the sink the moment it burns down to her fingers.

She shakes them out and lights the next match. This time when it burns her fingers she manages to hold out a little longer.

She does it again. And again. Every time it gets a bit easier.

Campfire is Julie’s favourite smell in the world. It’s harder to come by in New York. If anything could make Julie feel safe now it would be the scent of burning cedar wood.

The smell of her burning skin isn’t so pleasant.

Julie’s fingers blister and burn. After several tries Julie crushes the burnt matches under her fingers instead of dropping them.

She stops once she’s emptied the silver box.

Julie’s blistered fingers don’t seem like much of a problem until her phone rings and she has to open the door and answer the phone with them. At least it isn’t permanent.

“Hello!? Jessica? How are things going!?”

“Great actually. This is turning into a quick case. I’m in the middle of collecting some evidence. I was going to call you tomorrow but I figured you’d want to know as soon as possible.”

“Yes. Thank you. Do you want me to come to your office?” Julie offers.

“If you’re cool with it, I’ll come to you.” Jessica responds.

“Yeah. That’d be great. Thank you for everything.”

*******

Luckily Julie’s fingers heal enough she can write Jessica her cheque.

Jessica gets to Julie’s apartment a few hours later. Julie jumps at the knock. She ushers the taller woman into her apartment.

“Thank you so much for coming here tonight. The waiting has been awful.” Julie says.

“No problem.” Jessica’s noise pinches. She smells the air.

“Did you burn chicken in here or something?” Jessica asks.

“yaaa…um, Please take a seat. Your cheque is on the counter.” Julie looks down at her healed fingers.

Jessica remains standing.

“So when I said this case was very quick, I mean I know Daredevil.” She starts going through her bag.

“The real daredevil?” Julie gasps. Jessica’s life sounds way more exciting than Julie’s.

“Yeah. The real one. So I basically just asked him what happened. I told him I was investigating the disappearance of Julie Barnes on behalf of her remaining family. I think he believed me. It’s hard to be sure, he can tell when people are lying.”

“Oh wow. That’s a useful power. How does the real daredevil know what happened to me?” Julie asks.

“You might want to sit down.” Jessica pulls a file folder from her bag.

Julie pauses.

“Wow. That bad? Do I want to sit down, or do I want a drink? I feel like I want a drink. Do you want a drink Jessica?” Julie asks in rapid succession as she heads towards her shelf.

“Um. Thanks for the hospitality. But this isn’t a social call.” Jessica places the file on the kitchen bar.

“I, I know that. I just mean, I feel like I own you a drink. I drank your whiskey yesterday. And it would be rude to drink in front of you.” Julie picks up two crystal glasses.

“I don’t want to impose.”

“You aren’t. Do you like absinthe? This is the real stuff. 70%. Tastes like black licorice and a kick to the teeth. It will get you drunker than you’ve been in years I’m sure.” Julie waits.

“I’ve been known to like the occasional kick to the teeth.” Jessica relents.

Jessica slides into a seat at the kitchen bar while Julie prepares their drinks.

“So, technically you were killed by Wilson Fisk. Well, not by Wilson Fisk himself. He had you killed. It was part of his bid to corrupt the FBI and seize control of the city’s underground.”

“Oohkay??” Confused, Julie slides Jessica’s drink across the bar.

“He had your murder arranged by a fixer, some British guy named Felix Manning. You may remember him being mentioned in Agent Nadeem’s dying declaration. He assigned these two hitmen to assassinate you.” Jessica pulls two photos from the file.

Julie stares at the photos. The dead frozen faces look different she still recognizes the painters from the hallway. Her hand graces the right side of her head. The memory rushes back in uncomfortable detail.

“You were right about being frozen. These photos are from this morning’s coroner’s report. Their bodies were found in the freezer of a closed restaurant. The same place your body was stored. I have the address here. The hitmen were killed and moved there sometime after you died. I assume that’s why they only packed up part of your house.” Jessica takes a first sip from her drink. Her face sours at the taste.

“Okay. But why did a crime boss I don’t know do that? Does this have anything to do with Special Agent Poindexter stalking me? He was stalking me right?” Julie asks.

“Right. Yes. He was.” Jessica pulls some photos of Dex in uniform out of the file.

“As the video suggested, Wilson Fisk has been using his wealth and connections to investigate people in strategic positions and target them for recruitment. That’s how he got all those FBI agents to work for him. Cancelling their insurance. Putting them in debt. Getting them into exploitable positions. Basic extortion. Create a problem and then offer the solution. Fisk wanted to flip Special Agent Poindexter because Ben was part of his security detail. And stalking you was Ben’s only hobby.” Jessica motions toward Julie with her glass before taking another drink.

“That’s-that’s hyperbolic.” Julie swallows.

“I’m really sorry, I wish it was. I couldn’t pin point how long he’d been stalking you. But long enough for it to be his major weakness. Fisk also wanted Poindexter to frame and then kill the real Daredevil for him. He was the only one fast enough and strong enough to do it. I looked into his background. He’s a very decorated sniper. His exact military history was hard to find. He’s listed as a clerk for the last part of his service which, for the uninitiated, is how you put black ops personal on the pay roll without drawing attention.”

“Of course.” Julie laughs nervously and takes a drink.

 “He’s been working as FBI SWAT for the last few years. I found several instances of him resolving hostage situations, bank robberies and other similar FBI situations with astounding accuracy.”

“Resolving?” Julie asks.

“As a sniper.” Jessica mimes a gun with her hand.

“Right. Killing people.” Julie closes her eyes.

“Fisk got you the job at the Presidential to disrupt your stalker’s routine. Guess he figured Ben would fuck it up. Speaking of which, if you had an employee record there it’s been scrubbed. Which is kind of a lucky break. It means the FBI won’t have any way to come looking for you.” Jessica looks like she’s using all of her optimism.

“Why would that get Poindexter to dress up as Daredevil and kill people for Wilson Fisk?” Julie wonders how her life can get more convoluted with every reveal.

“Fisk was trying to make him unstable. Ruin his life. Get him into a desperate enough position to believe joining a criminal conspiracy and committing a few massacres isn’t a bad idea. He didn’t have family, friends, a mortgage or other debt to exploit. No buttons to push other than his mental health and his job.” Jessica looks at Julie with hesitation.

“And you.” She finishes.

“What do you mean unstable?” Julie is pretty sure she already knows what Jessica means. The reluctant expression on the P.I’s face confirms it.

“I tried to find you some actual evidence of Fisk’s tampering and Poindexter’s problems. The FBI is on high alert right now so I couldn’t get much of his work record. And Poindexter’s apartment burned down last week. Using some creative detective work, I managed to get his records from the pharmacy that distributes his prescriptions.” Jessica passes her more papers.

“If you look at this you can see that starting three months ago his drug plan reduced all his prescriptions by 30% for no reason. Putting you in his way was probably the last push.” Jessica takes another drink.

Julie looks over the records. Dex had a variety of regular prescriptions.

“I-I recognize this one. That’s an antipsychotic. You can’t just go without those!”

“Ya about that. Turns out he was a real top shelf sociopath. Daredevil said Ben had these tapes of his childhood sessions with his therapist. In them he talked about killing animals with rocks and other baby serial killer behaviour.” Jessica continues as she shuffles through the file.

“I can’t confirm it’s him. They don’t name the minor, but I found this news article about a coach at the Lyndhurst Home for Boys who died when a baseball thrown by a student struck him in the head. The dates line up with Ben’s registration and education transcripts perfectly.” Jessica passes Julie the article and the records.

“He did say he liked baseball.” Julie finishes her drink.

“Antipsychotics are for the hallucinations caused by psychotic disorders, not murderous sadism.” She says as she retrieves a pitcher of water from the fridge and fills her empty glass. Julie drinks the whole glass before she speaks again.

“Ok I’m sorry but I’m not sure I understand this at all. I mean I get the part about my stalker being a seasoned sniper and a murdering sadist with the skills to kill a superhero. That’s pretty clear.” Julie shudders.

“What I don’t get is the cause and effect: Why would killing me ensure the absurdly specific outcome of Poindexter putting on a devil costume and murdering people? And he attacked the Bulletin before I was killed? Was all this entirely unrelated to why he was stalking me?” Julie asks, placing the pitcher on the bar.

“Right. So in Poindexter’s session tapes his therapist told him some metaphor about looking for a good person to act as a North Star for his questionable moral compass.” Jessica makes air quotes with her fingers.

“That’s terrible advice! I mean, maybe not terrible. A support network or community to ground you is effective. Or it’s certainly helpful. But it can’t be one person, and that’s probably too metaphoric for a child.” Julie interrupts like she’s a real therapist. She wobbles a bit. The absinthe taking effect.

“Clearly, he missed the point. That was the source of his fixation, and the reason he was stalking you. Guy was such a psychopath he stalked you as his personal role model for how to be less psycho. That was the why. It looks like the original plan was to remove stalking you as an outlet in his life.” Jessica says, looking down at her glass before she speaks again:

“Then Poindexter reached out to you right after he killed those people at the Bulletin. Fisk had you killed in response. With you dead Poindexter wouldn’t have any other influences. And Fisk could replace you as Ben’s precious North Star and convince him to do his bidding. Standard arch nemesis machinations.”

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” Julie puts her hand on her head.

“That’s why I tried to get you this other evidence. I know ‘my friend the vigilante said so’ isn’t super compelling. Speaking of which, I did track down his late therapist. Her name was Doctor Eileen Mercer. Her patient records still exist and I could get them for you. I’d need to go to New Hampshire to get them. I just figured that was best left as a second job. You know, if you wanted to know…more about Poindexter..…” Jessica trails off. Her face grows sterner.

“Sometimes learning why helps explain things. But it doesn’t make moving on easier. I just wanted to give you the option. ……To ya know ….do it in your own time.” Jessica finishes the last half of her glass.

Julie can feel how personal that statement was for Jessica. She switches to the calming tone of her counsellor voice:

“Thank you for that, I really appreciate it. I’ll think about it. You want another drink? I do.”

“Sure. Just don’t get any ideas, I’m not looking for new friends. Nothing personal.” Jessica says, sliding her glass toward Julie.

“I haven’t been so good at making friends lately anyways.” Julie laughs and prepares the absinthe.

“So why do you have absinthe anyways? You some kind of fancy French socialite?” Jessica asks in what Julie thinks passes for friendly.

“Um no. My mother is a fancy Montréal socialite. I mostly just like black licorice.” Julie hands Jessica her drink.

“I though, I was so sure Dex- I mean Poindexter, killed me.” She takes a sip of her drink.

“Wait. Wait. He had my body with him at the hotel. How did I get there?” Julie questions.

Jessica hesitates again.

“Jessica? Do I need to be sitting down again or something?” Julie starts.

“Daredevil got a hold of the fixer Manning and his phone. That’s how I know all this stuff. Daredevil sent Poindexter to the canal street restaurant to turn him against Fisk. Finding you in the freezer, and realizing his crime boss North Star didn’t have his best interests at heart gave Benjamin a real psychotic break down. He took your body with him after that.” Jessica explains.

Julie sits back down.

“Hold on a minute. That means Daredevil, the superhero used my corpse to further destabilize a crazy man and send him on a different murderous rampage against his own enemy……And then he just what? Waited around while Dex stole my body?!?! That- That is reprehensible!!” Julie clutches her drink.

“SHsuperheroes are assholes in real life!!!” She adds.

“I’ll drink to that.” Jessica gestures.

“What. The. Fuck.” Julie rests her elbow on the bar and places her head in her hand.

Jessica picks up the cheque in front of her and tucks it into her jacket. She looks across the counter at Julie.

“Ok. I’ve got to ask; what does it look like?” Jessica motions towards Julie with her glass.

“What does what look like?” Julie tilts her head in her hand.

“The murder vision or whatever. What do you see? Is it like a number?” Jessica leans in.

“Oh right. No it’s not a number. It’s like a black smoky cloud in an arch around peoples’ heads.” Julie stares at Jessica. She suppresses the misty waves around Jessica’s head like she did with Dex. She counts them. 

“The volume changes and I can sort of count or measure the mass. You’ve got the amount of three, if that makes sense. It’s more like I can read the volume or pull back the layers.” Julie adds. She neglects to tell Jessica that her metric for one murder is herself.

“Ben Poindexter had a lot of it. Like down to his shoulders.” Julie reaches her arms out over her head trying to give Jessica a sense of scale.

“At the time I didn’t know what it was. I wish I had. I could have saved myself a really awful date.” Julie looks down at her glass.

“You can’t think like that. It doesn’t help anything.” Jessica is speaking from personal experience again. Julie can tell.

“I know. This situation is just so much more absurd and complicated than I thought. Like I thought a man killed me because he thought of me as some kind of ‘thing that he needed’. And then I find out that I was killed by some men, who killed me for a man, who was working on behalf of a different man, who wanted to kill me as a ploy to manipulate the original man into getting revenge on a different man. And then, AND THEN, that same man used my corpse to manipulate the original man into killing the man who used me as a means to get to him.” Julie puts her hands on the sides of her head.

“I don’t even know how many levels of dehumanization that is. I might as well be a fucking prop to these people!! That was more objectification than all of my puberty years put together. Like fuck. Who do I even blame for this?” Julie throws her hands up in the air.

“Turns out super heroes and super villains can be similarly shitty.” Jessica raises her glass in a mock toast.

Jessica gives Julie a sympathetic look. Her face looks like she’s searching for something comforting to say.

“Look, I know this is a shitty situation and you’re angry. And you should be, fuck em. It does look like you are in the clear though. Poindexter, Fisk and Manning have all been arrested. And they all think you’re dead. I mean you might still want to move. But more for your own mental health. This is all gonna come out at Fisk’s trial. I think you are pretty safe.” Jessica finishes her drink.

“Give yourself some time. If you ever want to know more about Poindexter don’t hesitate to call.”