When the door opened to reveal not only Julian but a shirtless Julian, Rory had the wind knocked out of her for at least the fourth time that day. She begged her body to stop shaking and crying but it of course did not obey, opting instead to tremble even harder as Julian pulled her inside and left an invisible burn in the shape of his handprint on her nearly blue wrist. The thick fabric of her shirt clung to every curve, chilling her to the bone in Julian’s air conditioned apartment. She kept her shoulders up by her ears, shaking wordlessly as she watched Julian bustle around his apartment to help her.
(OOC//literally no TW at all but this shit is long as hell so I would like to spare y’all)
TW/OOC: steaminess at the end but mostly this is just long so sparing everyone on the dash
Julian had never heard Rory talk this much before during their short, whirlwind romance. Usually he was the one spewing his thoughts like a babbling brook, words forming faster than he could process them. Now the tables had turned. He was the one sitting, watching, calm, cool, collected – as calm, cool, and collected as he could be in this strange situation, anyway.
He’d prepared himself for the worst: for Rory to tearfully confess that someone had attacked her out of an alleyway, that she’d been left out in the cold like a kicked puppy. It had occurred to him that she’d basically done that to him earlier today, but the largest part of his heart had told him that he’d deserved it. Now, listening to her express her feelings, he wasn’t so sure he’d been right in the first place.
For the first time in a long time, Julian allowed himself to feel. What hit him sent a fire blazing in his chest: anger and sadness and pain and guilt and fear, all at once, an inferno threatening to swallow him whole. It dawned upon him that he did have a right to be angry. Rory was the one who had left without explaining herself. Rory was the one who had told him in plain, simple English, that he wasn’t good enough – that she didn’t want him. He was the one who’d bent over backwards for her, covered her in his warmth and his love without asking for it in return.
He folded his arms over his chest, a thin line of almost untraceable anger settling on his lips. Julian hadn’t allowed himself to feel anger in what felt like centuries; it was a curious emotion, tapping at the corners of his brain that he never, ever visited. He knew he wouldn’t lash out, though. Not around Rory, who apologized for everything she did, the same way he did. Not around Rory, who blamed herself for things outside her control, the same way he did. Something in Julian told him that he and Rory were more alike than he’d initially thought, and for that reason, he stayed, rooted to the piano bench, simply watching her through peered eyes.
“I let you in because you’re my friend, Rory. Because I saw you and immediately thought someone had hurt you, and I couldn’t live knowing I didn’t help you in a time of need. I will always be there for my friends,” Julian interjected, quick to emphasize the word ‘friend’. No girl in front of it. No qualifiers. It was perhaps the meanest thing he’d said to her since they’d met, and he immediately wanted to take it back. Some small, resilient voice in him told him otherwise, and Danny’s voice echoed in his mind: You are allowed to feel, Julian. You’re allowed to be hurt.
Julian had never been good with handling his emotions, especially conflicting ones, and the strange brew of feelings circling his mind confused him now more than ever. Part of him wanted to kick Rory out, to stand up for himself and find a girl who wouldn’t toy with his heart the way she had. Part of him wanted to kiss her gently, tenderly, wipe every tear that fell from her beautiful green eyes and hold her close. Part of him wanted to confess the love that had bloomed within him seemingly overnight. And part of him couldn’t help but trace the curve of her hips under her shirt, the length of her legs in her shorts, the smudge of red on her lips.
You are so fucking gorgeous. Are you serious right now? Is that just how you hang out? Truly?
A strange surge of confidence coursed through his veins and Julian flashed Rory a cocky grin. “This is how I hang out, yes. I don’t like shirts. I run warm and they’re constricting. Why? Like what you see? Or is my body not good enough for you either?” he asked, immediately regretting his choice of words. Running his hand through his hair, Julian sighed and shook his head. “I’m sorry… that was mean of me. I didn’t mean that. I’m just… there are a lot of emotions happening right now.”
His tone and his face softened instantly as he listened to Rory continue. She really did feel terrible – he could feel it in her voice and her frantic pacing across his living room. As she explained her reasoning, Julian nodded slightly, unfolding his arms and absentmindedly twirling Kevin’s drumstick between his fingers. It gave him something to do, and it gave his hands a distraction. The more Rory talked, the more he wanted to hold her close, tell her that he understood and he forgave her and he wanted her just as bad as she wanted him.
And then her words hit him like a freight train: I think I might be in love with you. In that one sentence, Rory had encapsulated everything Julian had been feeling over the past two weeks. He hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself, that he was falling in love with this small southern sweetheart who had easily baked her way into his heart. But it explained why the heartbreak had felt so unbearable, why he’d gone so many sleepless nights thinking of her, why her whimpers and moans had been stuck on repeat in his brain.
Julian opened his mouth to speak, but Rory had already moved onto the next topic, rampaging through bullet points as frenetically as the storm raging outside. He absorbed everything she said like a sponge, the confidence in him growing slowly but surely as he made sense of her words. You’re good enough for me. You’re too good for me. Do you know how scary it is to know you were blind your entire life?
He’d never heard more beautiful words in his life. Julian had always downplayed his strengths, kicked away all the nice things he did for people, took compliments and shoved them under the rug. Doing so meant he was selfless, humble, good. But a small voice in his brain had always begged the question: What about me? Isn’t this more than enough? Aren’t I good enough? Wouldn’t most people kill for this kind of love? The majority of Julian had told himself that he was crazy to think that – that he was a monster, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, trying and failing to atone for his shortcomings. And yet, in one comment, Rory had proved to him that he was special, that he did do incredible things, that he was worthy of an extraordinary type of love.
The sliver of anger coursing through his veins dissipated with that comment, taking the confusion and sadness and pain along with it. Perhaps it was his naivete acting up again, painting Rory in all the beautiful colors she’d just mentioned and avoiding the red flags. He’d done it with Kelsey, and that had turned out horribly. But deep in his heart, in the caverns and ventricles that beat hardest for Rory, Julian knew she was nothing like Kelsey – that they were both survivors, gentle souls who needed to weather the storm together.
His rose-colored glasses turned darker, hungrier, a burning, sensual red as Julian watched Rory sink to her knees. Then her hands were on his knees, the pinpricks of her nails sending shivers up his spine. Every hair on his body stood on end as he tried to push his thoughts to the back of his mind. Not the time, Julian. Keep it in your pants.
And then she said those two magic words: Please, Julian.
Instantly every memory of their first night came flooding back – her hands in his hair, her lips on his neck, her hips rolling into his, teeth dragging along the soft skin of her thighs. Julian’s eyes fluttered shut, his heart racing as he heard Rory’s voice in his mind again, soft yet sensual, full of a yearning he’d never heard before. I hate to get rid of your favorite skirt, daddy.
He couldn’t help what he did next. Standing from the piano bench, Julian took Rory’s hands in his and pulled her up with him. In one movement, he pulled her in by the hips, his hands easily finding the delicate skin underneath her shirt. Pressing his forehead to hers, Julian closed his eyes again and exhaled. “I’m falling in love with you, Rory Graham. I’m pretty sure I fell for you the second I saw you,” he explained, his lips moving to her jaw before he could stop himself. “I… am a little angry with you. I don’t like admitting that. I don’t like feeling it. I want to forgive you, right here, right now. I do understand why you did what you did. But I’m just… confused and…”
He could practically taste the vanilla radiating off her skin. Pressing more kisses into her neck, Julian lowered his voice and whispered in her ear. “Part of me wants to kick you out before you hurt me again. Part of me wants to cuddle with you and keep you safe. And part of me wants to push you up against this wall and fuck you till you see stars. Over and over. I want to give you a reason to not leave. I want you to know exactly what you missed last time. I want to hear that gorgeous voice of yours begging for me.”
Lips moving to her shoulders, Julian’s hands found the small of Rory’s back and pushed her forward slightly forcefully. Her freezing cold shirt stuck to the warm skin of his chest and he peeled it up gently, his fingers trailing her sides. “I don’t know if I can forgive you fully yet,” he whispered, eyes hungry as he flashed Rory a smile. “I think… you need to prove to me that you’ll stay. Prove you’ll be a good girl for me. You’ve been so bad. My gorgeous girl. Such a little tease.”
In classic Julian fashion, he hoisted her into his arms and pushed her up against the closest wall in the living room. His body had taken over now, the confusion in his mind replaced with a desperate need to finish what they’d started weeks ago. Leaning into Rory’s ear again, Julian smiled. “You never did tell me exactly what about me drives you wild. Tell me, baby girl. Or I might have to punish you harder than I’m already about to.”
Rory wanted to stay in Julian’s arms forever, completely crushed by the weight of his love until she couldn’t breathe. His touch stole the chill from her arms, lighting a fire inside her that warmed her from head to toe. She buried her face in his collarbone, her tears soaking into his neck as clouds moved in over the city like an ominous warning. The clouds were familiar to her, signaling what was sure to be a violent storm uncharacteristic for California. In that moment, she would’ve stood in the eye of a hurricane if it meant she could stay with Julian without fear.
When he pulled back from her, she knew she looked a mess. Her windswept hair stuck to the tracks of tears on her face and her lips were split from being so chapped. Rory had never been good at internalizing her feelings, so, for the past two weeks, she’d been chewing on her bottom lip until it bled and scabbed over. She took both Belle’s leash and the pearlescent hot pink guitar pick he held out for her, turning it over in her fingers. It meant more to her than anything she’d ever received and all she wanted to do was press it back in his hand and walk away. Why did she feel that way?
She held Belle’s leash so tight her knuckles turned white. Tears continued to race down her face and she stood at the mercy of her heart like a wounded soldier going back to battle. Beaten and broken down, Rory just wanted to lay in bed, wrapped in the comforting leather of Julian’s jacket and never see the light of day again. She could find someone to take care of Pancake. That way, nobody would need her anymore and she could let the earth swallow her whole, popping a daisy up in her place.
Julian joked with her a bit, obviously trying to make her feel better, but she wasn’t able to muster a smile. He was making this so difficult. Everyone else had been able to let her go so easily—why was he holding on so tight? Why couldn’t he let her go?
“Julie…” she said softly, her chin trembling as she drew a shaky breath. He kept talking and put her hand to his chest where she could feel his hummingbird heartbeat. Their gaze met and the tears welled up again, pushing against the dam and threatening to break through. She touched his chest with her fingertips, pleading with the universe to stretch this moment like taffy and make it last forever.
But she knew it couldn’t. She knew she had to end it because Julian never would.
I need you to be brave. Please, baby. Please.
She took her hand back, curling into herself as she looked down at the ground. The sun had all but disappeared overhead as dark, stormy clouds took its place. How fitting. Of course it would start looking abysmal and sad just as she made the decision to shatter this sweet boy’s heart into a million pieces. Putting both hands on either side of his face, she pushed their foreheads together and stood there for a moment on her tiptoes. She connected their lips in a soft, small kiss that would hopefully tell him everything she couldn’t let herself say.
Pressing Belle’s leash back into his hand and closing his fingers overtop of it, Rory clenched his hand and softly lied, “I don’t want you. You’re not good enough.”
Rain started to fall softly around them and she took a shaky breath before shrugging out of his jacket and placing it on the bench behind them. She didn’t bother looking back at him as she walked away, tears welling up in her eyes like lava. They spilled over and she ducked into an alleyway, pressing her back up against the brick wall and trying to catch her breath as sobs wracked her body.
What she’d thought was the red grimace before had only been a yellow frown. This…this was the red grimace.
Three hours after she’d said goodbye to Julian, Rory realized what she’d done. She’d taken her beautifully broken boy and smashed him against the pavement until only dust remained. Her chest felt empty, like she’d ripped her own heart out and left it there with what remained of Julian’s.
The storm outside mirrored the inside of her head. The wind swirled through the streets violently, picking up scraps of paper and plastering them to dripping wet store windows. Howling and hammering, shutters opened and closed and balcony plants crashed to the street below. This storm would surely cause the city damage, but no more than Rory had caused on her thoughtless rampage earlier that day.
Noah was right. Of course he was right. She’d been given a beautiful gift in the form of a damaged, caring boy who wanted nothing more than to give her the world and crumpled him up in her destructive, blood-stained hands. If he was irreparably damaged, it would be her fault and she couldn’t let that happen.
Without grabbing a jacket, she left out extra food for Pancake and locked up her apartment. In only a t-shirt, shorts, and a pair of slip-on Vans, she let her legs take over and lead her to Julian’s place.
Every other person in the city was shuttered inside, doors locked, cars covered by hail blankets or safely in the garage. Rory walked against the wind, struggling up a hill as each raindrop hit her in the face like a hot oil splatter. Her t-shirt had soaked through in the first 30 seconds outside and, thanks to the sideways sheets of rain and pitch black streets, she got turned around more than a few times before reaching a familiar building.
Standing outside for a moment, she contemplated turning around, changing into pajamas, and snuggling into her own warm bed to wallow in her thoughts. Would going upstairs really help the situation, or would she only hurt him more than she already had? It was a classic Rory move—she always went back for more, even if it would only end up making the whole thing worse.
Before she could make up her mind, she was standing in front of his door with the guitar pick squeezed between her fingers for bravery. She shivered violently, dripping all over the hallway until she was standing in a puddle made of rainwater and tears. Bringing her shaking hand up to the door, she knocked as loud as her frozen knuckles would allow without breaking.
Please answer, Julian. Please.
Julian felt numb. That was the only word he could use to describe this feeling – the hollow, weeping emptiness within him that hadn’t seemed to leave for the past three hours. He’d given Rory everything he possibly could. He’d laid his soul out for her, bare and broken, in the bright San Francisco sun. He’d promised her he would fight for her, tooth and nail – whatever it took to keep her. And she’d still spoken the truth, then left without another word.
Heartbroken wasn’t a strong enough word for the pain Julian felt twisting within his chest. The past two weeks had been heartbreak. Today was pain, pure and raw, worse than the gruesome gash Dylan had inflicted on him in his childhood that had left a scar so big it could fill continents. Julian had stared at that scar in the mirror for a good ten minutes, tracing its valleys and peaks with the tip of his finger, trying to remind himself that he could always fix himself.
As he sat in his empty apartment, absentmindedly listening to the hail roll down in sheets outside, Julian wasn’t so sure this was a wound he could mend. This was After Rory. This was a depth of sadness he hadn’t known he could enter. This was aching, longing, despair, disappointment, all wrapped in a perfectly decorated sugar cookie bar and nestled in a wicker basket. This was Julian transforming back into the hollow shell of a boy he’d once been, the boy he thought he’d left behind in Santa Barbara.
Dissociation came easily to Julian in times of stress. Danny, always his protector, had nearly made his way to the apartments above Jukebox when he’d heard what had happened. “I don’t give a fuck how traumatized she is, Jules,” he’d told Julian. “Trauma doesn’t give you the right to be a heartless bitch.” Julian had protested, ever the defender of the unworthy, and had asked his roommates to give him space. It felt odd defending Rory, the woman who had lifted him to the heavens and sent him hurtling back toward the earth in the span of two sentences. But she was his Rory. His Rory, who he’d sworn to fight for, to care for, to always protect.
Only she wasn’t his. She never had been, really. Julian tried to remind himself of that fact as he absentmindedly played a few chords on the keyboard in his living room. He’d put on his sad acoustic playlist, Julien Baker’s strained vocals filling a bit of the void Rory had left in his heart. He tried, unsuccessfully, to finish the song he’d started about Rory two weeks ago. He’d wanted to interpolate her favorite song – Landslide by Fleetwood Mac – but his musical brain felt emptier than it ever had been before. Suddenly his fingers couldn’t remember basic chords. The notes came out disjointed, clashing in the minor keys he’d never once heard around Rory. That’s what this felt like, though – a constant barrage of minor chords, begging to be taken half a step upward but never quite reaching the perfect harmony.
His mind felt empty, hollow, as he stared blankly down at the keyboard. He couldn’t stop replaying the last words Rory had said to him: I don’t want you. You’re not good enough. Just like that, she’d spoken the eight words he’d always dreaded hearing, the eight words he’d always known to be true. Julian knew he wasn’t good enough for Rory, but he’d foolishly thought she’d see past his flaws and be willing to work with him till he was good enough for her.
You will never be good enough. You should stop looking. You will never find someone you’re good enough for because you don’t deserve to be loved.
The heartbreak hit him in waves, a dull pang in his chest that grew into a straining ache on his heart. Julian increased the volume on his speakers, hoping the music would drown out the deafening sound of his own self-doubts. He’d asked Danny to take Belle for the night and now he wished he hadn’t. He needed someone here to hold him together, someone to hold a mirror up to him and point to all the good parts he hid from himself. But the reality was and had always been that he was alone – painfully, completely alone.
Julian was half a second away from calling his mom when he heard a desperate knock at the door. Raising his head slightly, he stood without thinking, a marionette controlled by something outside his control. It was later than usual, but Julian was sure the person knocking was Rosie, his elderly neighbor from the duplex next door who always came over to borrow a cup of sugar. He always bought an extra package of it at the store for her, but she always came over anyway, and Julian knew she probably needed the company. They’d sit and talk about life, drinking tea and playing with her cat.
Usually Rosie came over during the day. It surprised Julian, then, that she’d be here this late. Still, he was too dazed to put a shirt on or even turn off the incredibly depressing music echoing from his speakers. The only muscle memory he had was to grab the bag of sugar he had in the pantry. Sugar in tow, Julian shuffled over to the door. “You alright, Rosie? Is Muffin okay? It’s late out…” he began, his words trailing off as he opened the door and his gaze shifted downward.
Well, this certainly wasn’t Rosie.
As quickly as he’d dissociated, Julian found himself hurtled back into reality, like a rubber band finally snapping back into place. His eyes widened, heat rising to his cheeks and tears welling up in his eyes at the sight of Rory in his hallway. Was this an apparition? Had his demons finally gotten the better of him, and were they making him hallucinate? Julian blinked once, twice, refusing to let the tears fall as he tried to decipher the reality of the situation. Julian Evans didn’t cry, and he wasn’t going to change that for the second time today.
He stood there at the door for a moment, the intoxicating scent of Rory’s perfume overwhelming his senses. Slowly, it all came into focus: his little lioness, trembling like a leaf in the wind, dripping like the condensation on the glass of water he’d given her two weeks ago. Mascara trailed down her cheeks, and Julian watched, brokenhearted, as she shivered and shook in front of him.
His mind immediately jumped to the worst possible scenario: she’d been out at night and someone had hurt her the way he thought he’d hurt her all those nights ago. He’d seen this before in Zoe, in his aunt, in so many of his female friends whose most intimate wishes hadn’t been respected. As much as it pained him to do so, Julian knew he had to respect Rory’s wishes. He wasn’t good enough for her romantically, and he would respect her opinion. But he wasn’t able to leave her out in the cold, especially when something terrible had probably happened to her. You never leave someone vulnerable out to dry, Juju, his mom’s voice whispered in his head. Always be kind, especially to those who are in pain.
Without a second thought, Julian took Rory’s hand and pulled her inside, into the warmth of his apartment, into the safety he knew he could provide her. Closing the door behind her, he immediately got to work, feverishly traveling to the bathroom and back to bring her one of his clean towels and one of his t-shirts. As gently as possible, he draped the towel around her and began pressing it against her skin, being extra careful not to press too hard in case she’d gotten hurt. When the first towel soaked up, he scurried back to the bathroom and retrieved another.
Still dabbing at the softness of her skin, Julian asked in a soft voice, “What happened, Rory? Did someone hurt you? Do you need me to take you down to the station?” He couldn’t look at her – it hurt too bad, and it hurt him even more knowing someone had probably violated her in some way. “It’s freezing outside. You’re shaking. Who did this to you? Do you know where they are? I’ll take care of them. Just tell me where. No one hurts you on my watch.”
Once he was done drying Rory off, Julian grabbed his leather jacket from the piano bench and slid it onto her, making sure he touched her as little as possible. “I know you probably hate this jacket by now, but it’s the one that gets you warm in the shortest amount of time. I’ll turn on the heating in a sec but I don’t want it to get too stuffy in here,” he stated blankly, still shoving his heartbreak to the back of his mind as he tended to her. After he got her into the jacket, Julian grabbed a blanket from the linen closet and draped it around her. “This is the softest blanket we have. From our a cappella days.”
After getting her a warm cup of tea and placing his stuffed elephant in her arms, Julian finally stopped moving and settled back on the piano bench. The pain seared straight through his heart now as he realized what had just happened. Rory had come back after shooting him down, and he’d have to ignore every instinct he had when it came to being with her. He was here to take care of her as a friend, not a lover.
I don’t want you. You’re not good enough.
Rory’s words echoed in his mind, a constant, tragic reminder that she’d come here for his care and nothing more. A few stray tears trickled down Julian’s cheeks and he quickly looked out at his garden on the balcony, not wanting Rory to see his pain so clearly just yet. “Are you okay? Do you need more blankets?” he asked softly, his voice hoarse and broken. “The weather is terrible tonight.”
I don’t want you. You’re not good enough. I don’t want you. You’re not good enough. I don’t want you. You’re not good enough.
TW: mentions (no descriptors) of assault and also this is long AF and i don’t want to frick up the dash sorry i have no self control
TW: mentions of abuse, brief mentions of suicide and descriptions of blood and also this is loooong
There it was. Another person leaving him in the dust. Another person punching the breath out of him and leaving him to gasp for air, alone. Another person leaving him to stitch himself back up, alone. Another person leaving him to clean the cuts, tend to the bruises, put one foot in front of the other. Another person leaving him alone.
(TW: suicide mention and description)
The more Julian listened to Rory, the more his heart broke into a thousand glass shards, ones that fell from his core and twinkled in the grass beneath him, right next to Belle’s paws. He couldn’t feel Belle with him there anymore, or the leash held in a death grip in his left hand, or the grass beneath his feet or any bone in his body. He was floating up, up, and away, back to the places he’d hid himself the last time he’d gotten hurt. Back to the space above his body where he watched Kelsey beat him nearly to death. Back to the bathroom where he’d watched the blood trickle out of his wrists, the bathwater stained a morbid, scarlet pink. Back to the living room wall that still had a dent in it from his teenaged body. (END TW)
Back, back, back he went, so far into the recesses of his mind that he could barely hear Rory’s words anymore. Julian couldn’t feel the sobs beginning to wrack his body, couldn’t feel the air leaving his lungs as he threw his arms around Rory’s small frame and pulled her into as tight of a hug as he could. He couldn’t hear himself whispering that all too familiar mantra into her hair, the one he’d whispered to so many people so many times over. “Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me. Please, Rory. I am begging you with everything I have. Please don’t leave me.”
He could barely hear her words, her sentences slurring together as time whirred around them in supersonic motions. He had no idea what she was saying, but one line struck him through the chaos: All I’m going to do is take your magic away. And then more, forming in little waves in front of him, clear as crystal: I’m not good for you. I don’t think I can give you anything. I’m only going to get you hurt.
He couldn’t work with the guilt that still crushed his lungs long after she’d forgiven him. But he could work with this – Rory’s own self-image, her own self-sabotage that was tearing them apart before they’d even held themselves together as a whole. It all shifted back into focus then – Rory, tiny and afraid, shivering in his arms. Rory – sweet, gentle, kind Rory – who had been lied to so badly she felt herself worthless to him. Rory Graham, his Rory Graham, lying to herself right in front of him.
If there was one thing Julian Evans could do, it was comfort people. His closest friends, his dearest family, little kids who skinned their knee after tripping on the street, strangers breaking down in the middle of the bread aisle at the grocery store – he somehow knew the way to get through to them. He knew it was his mom’s superpower, the one thing she’d passed down to him that had made it out of his dad’s clutches. She was a nurse and he had grown to become something adjacent to one, to the point that his friends had nicknamed him Nurse Julian.
Through the cacophony of thoughts and endless self-doubts screaming in his mind, Nurse Julian placed a gentle hand on regular Julian’s shoulder. Go sit down, Julian. I got this, the other voice told him. In one moment, Julian closed his eyes, calmed his shaking by breathing in deeply and out completely. He still held Rory like a mother protecting her young, terrified she’d slip out of his hands the same way she had last time if he let her go even for a second. He had promised her he would listen, and he couldn’t listen if he was having a breakdown and dissociating. So he did what he had always done best: he stopped, breathed, and listened.
He let Rory say her piece, and at one point, Julian had to stop himself from laughing. If it weren’t so debilitating, it would be hilarious, how terribly wrong Rory was about herself. After she finished, he wiped his tears, blinking into the sunlight like a newborn baby animal as he attempted to calm himself down fully. Julian knew he couldn’t give the liar in her brain any ammo to worsen its attack on her spirit, and he knew every tear that rolled down his cheeks would be used against her. In the back of his mind, Dylan’s deep, gruff voice spoke to him: Shut up, Julian. Stop crying. Not everything is about you. You’re always so selfish. Stop being such a fucking baby. Grow up.
Julian had always hated his dad, but the primal fear the older man had instilled in him meant that he’d always listened to and followed his orders. Without another word, he listened to his dad again. He shut up, he stopped crying, and he stopped being selfish. Keeping his hands on Rory’s trembling shoulders, he knelt down to her level and looked her deep in the eyes. He’d seen that look before – it was the same look he gave himself in the mirror, one full of so much disgust and self-hatred that he usually broke his own gaze after looking at his reflection for more than a second. But he wasn’t going to break Rory’s gaze, no matter how hard she tried to budge from him. Not today.
Nurse Julian handed Belle’s leash to Rory, his hands wrapping around hers again. “You hold Belle, okay? She’s very good at cheering people up. She doesn’t like mean people. And right now, she doesn’t like how mean you’re being to yourself. Look at her,” he explained, nodding down to Belle. The dog sat patiently by Rory’s side, her dark, wide eyes slightly teary as she rubbed the side of her head against the girl’s leg.
“She’s heartbroken. I know that look very well. She’s saying, ‘You’re hurting me, Rory. Please stop being mean to yourself. Please make me happy again by being nice to yourself.’” He took another breath, a hint of a smile cracking through his tear-stained face. “I hear you. And now I’m giving you my dog so if you try to run away again, I have something to track you down. I can report you for dog-napping. I have way too much experience with police reports. I’ll do it in a heartbeat. So don’t even think about it, sweetheart.”
Keeping his eyes level with her, Nurse Julian reached into his pocket and pulled out the small tin he always carried with him. His mom had one, too – they’d both started carrying them after Dylan’s abuse had started, and it always came in handy. Opening the tin, he fished past the stitches, gauze, and antiseptic wipes to pull out a hot pink guitar pick. “Here. This is for you. I want you to hold onto this, okay? And when you feel yourself starting to think those thoughts again, I want you to squeeze it. It’s something my mom taught me. It’ll help bring you back to what’s real. Not what the liar in your head is telling you. That’s all I want you to do right now. Hold Belle and this guitar pick for me.”
This was easier now that Nurse Julian was in charge. Somewhere deep in his mind, regular Julian thanked the version of Julian that was slowly, carefully putting the pieces back together. Now that he had a level head, Julian could see Rory’s arms trembling. San Francisco had never been particularly forgiving when it came to the wind, especially being so close to the water, and Julian immediately thanked himself for having brought his trusty leather jacket with him. Peeling it off slowly, he draped it over Rory’s shoulders, then pulled her arms through and adjusted it on her. “There. Better. It was starting to not smell like you, anyway. Figured we’d change that,” he said, kissing her closed hands gently. “Now I’ll be in for assault and you’ll be in for dog-napping and theft if you leave. We’re two of a kind.”
Julian took a deep breath and closed his eyes, his heart pulled in two separate directions. How much was he willing to reveal to Rory in this moment? So many of the words she’d spoken were words he’d said before to himself, words others had told him before hitting him or taking away the things he held dear. As he exhaled and his eyes fluttered open, he decided: he would tell her as much as he had to if it meant she stayed.
“Look at me, Aurora,” he said softly, tenderly, trying to outfit his voice with as much love as he possibly could. “I would love to believe you. I really would. But none of what you said is true, and I’m going to tell you why. Because it’s exactly what I say to myself, every single day. It’s a trauma response. After enough people tell you you’re worthless, you start to believe it. We’re the same. I know that because I know you, Rory. I see you. I see the patterns in you the same way I see them in myself. I see you, not this bullshit Rory the liar in your head makes you out to be. And I’m sorry for cursing. Really, I am. I don’t do it much outside of the bedroom. But everything you said is complete bullshit.”
“This is the real Rory. You are a baker, and a damn good one at that. You remember every customer’s order, even the mean ones. You cover shifts for people without a second of hesitation. You were going to make me tea when I ordered an oat milk latte, just because you knew that’s what I get, and because you knew I was nervous. You have a bunny named Pancake and you care for him with your whole heart. Everyone who knows you at Jukebox absolutely adores you. And I know that because I know everyone there. Literally everyone, even security. You are a ray of light to people, Rory. I saw it with my own two eyes.”
Julian ran both hands through her hair, cupping her small face in his hands and rubbing his thumb along her cheek. “You are brave, Rory. You’re my little lioness. You have to be with this gorgeous blonde hair of yours, don’t you?” he asked, running one hand through her hair before returning it to her cheek. “You moved across the country by yourself at 23. You found your own apartment and your own job and you’re living in the big city and you’re surviving against this monster in your head. You did that, Rory.”
“I don’t see how you could possibly ruin my magic, angel. Because you are magic. Everything about you. Your kind heart. Your selflessness. Your ability to put people at ease. Your baking. Your eyes. Your smile. God, Rory, your smile. The world could be ending around me and you could smile and everything would be okay for me,” he admitted, looking at her so lovingly he swore she could see the hearts forming in his eyes.
“You think you’re messy? I’m the king of messy. You don’t even know. I have so much emotional baggage that it doesn’t fit in the overhead bin and I have to check it at the gate. And that’s why I know you will eventually leave, but not like this. Because I feel this, Rory. This,” Julian explained, pointing to her heart and then pointing to his. “This connection between us. It’s undeniable. This connection doesn’t give one flying fuck about your baggage, and neither do I. Because I’m being selfish, and I want you, even though I will probably ruin you, too. I will fight for you, Rory. I don’t care how many obstacles I have to go through. I don’t care if it hurts. I don’t care who I have to go through. I want you, Aurora. You are all I want.”
Julian sighed slightly, still keeping his eyes focused on Rory. “I can’t tell you what to do. I can’t force you to date me, no matter how right I think we are for each other. I still need to take you on the perfect date around San Francisco. I have it all planned out in my head. And I will fight to take you on that date if I have to. I will fight against that liar in your head. I will fight against the people who’ve hurt you so bad that they’ve made you believe the words you say. I will fight to the death for you, Rory. Because you do this to me. You make my heart beat a million times a minute. No one has ever done this to me before. No one,” he said, taking her hand and putting it over his heart.
“If you really want to leave, I will let you leave, because I refuse to dictate your actions and take away your agency. But I need you to tell me it’s because you don’t want me. Because I’m not good enough. I need you to say those words to me, Rory. ‘You’re not good enough and I don’t want you.’ Because if you don’t, I’ll know you’re lying to yourself and letting your fear keep us apart. You will give me everything, Rory, because you are everything to me. I need you to be brave for me, my little lioness. One last time, I need you to be brave. Please, baby. Please.”
The two weeks following her meeting with Julian and subsequent leaving of his apartment felt like six lifetimes. Her days passed in black and white, disappointing and flavorless. San Francisco had lost its charm and become loud and dirty. The strangers on the street seemed to look at her with pity, knowing she’d just ruined what could’ve possibly turned her life into the fairytale she’d always dreamed of it being.
Getting home that day had been nearly impossible. The sun had set while she’d been in Julian’s apartment and by the time she got outside, flustered and tear-stained, dusk had fallen over the city like a weighted blanket. The sky hung heavy overhead, nearly crushing her as the wind whipped around her with its icy claws scratching down her bare arms and legs. After pulling her hair up into a ponytail, she realized she’d left her scrunchie back in Julian’s room, alone on the floor and lost forever.
Caught in an iron grip, her heart ached more than it ever had. After her last relationship, she didn’t think it possible but here it was, the pain doctors had warned her about as a child when asking her to rate her pain. They’d pointed at colorful charts with different faces ranging from a bright smile to a red grimace. When she was 7 years old and went to the doctor for a bad cold, she’d rated her cough a red grimace, ever the dramatic little girl. In reality, it was probably on the lower, chartreuse end of the spectrum where the mouth made a straight line. It meant uncomfortable, but not unbearable.
This was the feared red grimace and she was caught in the undertow, waves lapping over her head and forcing water into her lungs every few seconds. The sobs that wracked her body on the walk home from Julian’s nearly broke her in half. Her insides burned and churned and the wind chapped her face. There were a million times she nearly turned back, but a billion more that told her to keep walking. This was for Julian, for his own good. He didn’t know it yet, but she’d saved him.
For a few days, all she did was lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, only getting up to feed pancake and refill her water bottle. The silence in her apartment haunted her, but she couldn’t bring herself to listen to music or turn on the TV. Enjoying anything when she felt so guilty didn’t seem right.
Noah had been right. She ruined everything. She’d spent the last 2 years trying to convince herself he was wrong, that he was hateful and mean and abusive and only said those things to her because of his own issues. Tangled in her sheets and wearing the same t-shirt she’d taken from Julian for the fourth day in a row, all of her hard work had been undone. He was right. He’d always been right, even if he’d delivered the news in crushing blows and violent screams.
On the fourth day, Rory dragged herself out of bed, changed her clothes, and went back to work. She fumbled through her day, burning herself on the milk frother, scorching a hole in her apron, and nearly lighting a sandwich on fire. Everything hit her and painted the world gray, getting progressively darker each time the door opened and Julian wasn’t the person coming inside. He was avoiding her, respecting the space she’d all but begged him for, and as much as she appreciated it, she hated him for it. Everyday she prayed he would come in for an Earl Grey, sit at his spot by the window, and look over at her wistfully and everyday she was let down.
The display case of the cafe was filled to the brim with her stress baking, each creation more intricate. She’d learned how to make the perfect pie crust from scratch. Her creme brûlée had a caramelized top that let out a sickeningly sweet crack at the slight touch of a spoon. Braids, twists, savory, sweet—Rory had made it all in this time of distraction. Her apartment had become a revolving bakery door and although the Jukebox Cafe was profiting off her sadness, the hole in her heart that was usually filled by chocolate chips, buttercream frosting, and the perfect lavender white chocolate scone was starting to open back up with every passing day.
There were days she yearned to have his phone number so she could call him up and tell him how stupid and rash she’d acted, that she was a product of a traumatic past but if he was willing to look past it and help her heal, she would leave the door unlocked for him. However, she didn’t have his phone number and that made everything much easier and much harder at the same time. She wanted to hear his voice again, whether it be a whisper or a scream.
The Tuesday after their ill-fated meeting, she saw his name on a small marquee outside a bar while on an uncharacteristic nighttime walk. There was a line outside of excited looking girls and the bouncer was slowly letting people inside the already packed venue. Her heart fluttered thinking about seeing him again and without another thought, she got in line, paid the cover fee with whatever crumpled cash she had in her pocket, and ordered a double vodka tonic.
When the lights on the stage came up, illuminating his familiar face, she nearly broke into a million pieces. He looked exhausted, like he’d slept just as much as she had in the past few days. She met him in every dream she had, rendering her nights sleepless in a desperate attempt to stop running into him.
His voice rang over the microphone and plunged a dagger into her heart, twisting it with every syllable. She finished her drink, her brain TV static. She fought the urge to push past everyone and get to the front of the room so she could touch him, just one more time.
Three songs in, she ordered a shot of vodka. Five songs in, she ordered a shot of Fireball. Seven songs in, she asked for tequila. Every bit of alcohol running down her throat in a warm stream rendered her a bit more reckless. With a bit of liquid confidence pooling in the bottom of her stomach, she lined up to meet with him after the show behind a rather large crowd of people.
At the first sight of his smile, she turned and ran. He was happy without her around. Even drunk, she knew that much. She couldn’t ruin that for him, no matter how badly she wanted to take him in her arms and kiss him in between apologies.
She spent the next morning with her head in a trashcan, her stomach full of only regret and the desire to move past what she’d done to him.
Two weeks After Julian, she’d switched her leggings to a real pair of jeans. She fastened her favorite enamel pin to her apron strap. She made a latte without burning the milk and smiled as she dropped it off at the table. For the first time in 10 days, she felt a little bit more like herself. While her heart still felt like it was cast out of iron, heavy and unflinching, she could feel it starting to crack.
“Getting your usual today, Jim?” She asked the old man who came in every single morning promptly at 8:24AM for a single black coffee and a scone. Her baking excursion had made him very happy, though she was sure he would change his mind if he knew the reason it had started.
He nodded curtly and placed $3 in the tip jar. “Looking more like yourself today, Miss Rory. Glad to see you feeling better. Must’ve been a nasty flu bug!” He took his coffee to-go, crunching the scone bag in his wrinkled hands and walking out as if he hadn’t just made her entire day that much brighter.
Then, the gift basket had shown up that afternoon and the hole in her heart ripped back open like it had been blown open with a shotgun.
Her favorite flowers, her favorite food, her favorite scent…there was no doubt this had come from Julian. His attention to detail gripped her and squeezed the air from her lungs. Thank God it was the end of her shift, so she could pick the basket up and run upstairs with it, blinking back tears.
Everything was handmade and delicate. This basket looked like her insides spilled onto a plate, ripe for the taking. She turned everything over in her hands, tears making gray pathways down her face as she silently cursed herself for choosing today to start wearing makeup again. She wiped her tears and took everything out of the basket, finding an envelope with a note stuck to the front. Graphite came off on her fingers when she ran them over his messy letters and imagined him hunched over, painstakingly choosing each word to send to her. Her careful, considerate Julian.
(TW: ASSAULT) Inside the envelope, she found a police report filled out in the same scrawl as the note. It was all of Julian’s information, filled out and ready to turn in. Her eyes scanned the page for the reason and she saw it haphazardly at the bottom: SEXUAL ASSAULT.
A strangled gasp escaped her lips and her grip tightened on the piece of paper, crumpling it slightly. He thought he hurt her? Was that why he was avoiding her as carefully as he was? She nearly threw her heart up so she could throw it across the room, getting rid of it for good. All this time, she’d been making this about her when it had always been about Julian. (END TW)
Without bothering to change, she gave Pancake a quick pat on the head and promised him she’d be back later that night. She left the police report on her kitchen counter, ink smudged from her sweaty, nervous grip. She needed to find Julian and she needed to find him now.
Asking around a bit got her to a park near Jukebox that was near empty. The sun shone down on the electric green grass and Rory nearly found herself distracted by how nice it all seemed. She frequented Dolores Park, but this secluded, small oasis was right up Julian’s alley and perfect to Rory. Of course this is where he would be, somewhere beautiful and unassuming.
She searched for him in the faces of strangers, becoming more and more desperate to find him with every passing second. She needed to set the record straight, she needed him to know he had never and would never hurt her. This was all on her and always would be. _Look at the mess you’ve gotten yourself into now, Aurora. What a surprise, hurting those you claim to care about the most. _Noah’s voice echoed between her ears and she swatted him away like a mischievous fly—this was not about her insecurities, this was about Julian.
Before she could find him herself, she was nearly run over by a slate gray pitbull chasing after a ball with an excitement only legal for a dog. Rory jumped backwards to avoid the charging animal, following the dog with her eyes as she trotted back to her owner. To her _Julian. _
Even though she’d been looking for him for nearly half an hour, seeing him so close froze her to the spot. Her knees locked up and her feet refused to move towards him. She clenched and unclenched her fists at her side, squeezing her eyes tight. Come on, Rory. Just talk to him. Don’t be such a baby.
Half an eternity later, she found herself walking towards him with her head down. She tugged at the ends of her cropped t-shirt as if it would magically grow and cover her midriff and give her more of an appropriate “confrontation” outfit. Why hadn’t she grabbed a sweatshirt? Why hadn’t she thought this through? What was she doing here, in front of the boy who had turned her inside out for the world to see and poke fun at?
“Hi, Julian,” she said quietly, thinking that was the best place for her to start. Was there a good place to start a conversation like this? “Is this Belle?”
TW: descriptions of abuse/domestic violence
This was Julian’s new reality, the reality that he’d always known would come – the one where he ended up alone, sewing his broken heart back together with trembling hands. Julian knew he could do it – he was always calm under pressure, always able to take one more step forward, always able to survive. He’d learned how to sew his own stitches at age thirteen, after Dylan had left Claire unconscious and Julian hadn’t known how to get himself to the hospital. He’d found her first aid kit and kept his mouth shut while stifling screams. He’d haphazardly cleaned the gashes running along his chest that had torn him nearly in half. He hadn’t wanted the neighbors to hear. He hadn’t wanted to cause a scene.
Slowly, painfully, clumsily, he’d sewn himself back together, a limp, broken ragdoll of a boy just trying to survive one more day. He’d stitched up the garish gash above Claire’s eyebrow as she sat unconscious in front of him, swatting away his tears when his vision had started to blur. Julian knew he had to be strong for her. He couldn’t tell his aunts, he couldn’t tell his teachers, he couldn’t tell his mom’s coworkers. This was their little secret, their frightening nighttime ritual. He had to be there for her, and he had to be there for himself. And so he’d put his mom back together, the same way he’d put himself back together, bit by bit, stitch by stitch, tear by tear.
He still had the scar from that night, deep and traversing a large portion of his left side. When people asked about it, Julian told them he’d tripped and fallen while hiking. The lies slipped out easily, the same way they always did when he showed up to the ER with black eyes and bruises littering his neck. He hadn’t done the stitches properly, so the scar wasn’t pretty or cool or triumphant like some scars were on other people. It was a glaring, caustic memory from his past, but it was also a reminder that he could survive alone. He had himself, and that was all he had ever needed. That was all he’d ever deserved.
Julian was perfectly content, then, tossing the ball to Belle and petting her when she returned with it in tow. His heart ached, a dull, throbbing sort of pain that he knew wouldn’t go away anytime soon, but he was used to dealing with nagging injuries. He hadn’t been fully healthy since the age of six – there was always a bruise healing, always a cut scabbing over, always a cast on some part of his body. His back had never properly healed from the time Dylan had thrown him into the bathroom mirror and fractured one of his vertebrae. He hadn’t had full range of motion in his neck after Kelsey had hit him so hard he’d gotten a concussion. There was always pain lingering somewhere in Julian’s body, and he knew that at this point, it was par for the course.
He could handle this, too. He knew he could. Everything was fine and dandy, the sun shining and Belle panting while running, until it wasn’t. It took him half a second to notice the small blonde girl walking toward him, Belle galloping toward him without a care in the world. All of a sudden, Julian wasn’t so sure he could survive this wound. Sure, he’d gotten through pain before, but this – this was different.
This was real, this was raw, this was someone up above pulling him in two entirely different directions at once, the makeshift stitches he’d put together bursting at the seams. Part of him wanted to run to Rory this instant, pull her into his arms and hold her so tightly she wouldn’t run away again. But the logical part of his brain knew they couldn’t have that again – not after what he’d done. Now it was time for him to be smart, respectful, cautious – the Julian everyone knew.
His heart pumped so loudly he was sure the entire park could hear its deafening roar. Was he allowed to look at her, or would that trigger her even more? Had she seen him yet? Maybe he could grab his things and make a run for it before she noticed him. Thoughts screamed at him in every direction, a cacophony of yelling and whispers and anxiety so bad it made his hands shake. Through it all, one thought kept coming back to Julian: You have to protect her. You have to keep her safe. You can’t hurt her again. Don’t you dare.
Rory was walking toward him. Why was she walking toward him? Had she gotten his gift basket, and was she coming to throw his orange chicken back at him in his face? Suddenly Julian felt incredibly stupid, embarrassment prickling every nerve ending in his body. How patronizing was he to send the girl he’d just assaulted a gift basket of all things? Hey, I just traumatized you for life and you’ll have to spend thousands in therapy bills trying to get back to normal after I assaulted you. Have some orange chicken!
Then she was next to him, so close he could smell her vanilla perfume again, in yet another outfit that lit a fire within the quietest corners of his mind. Julian ran his hand through his hair, greeting her with a shaky breath. The memories all flooded back instantly: her gorgeous smile, the way she’d scrunched her nose when talking about Pancake, her hands in his hair, the words she’d said that had pushed him over the edge. A soft, quiet voice whispered in his ear: Julian, please.
“H… hi, Rory,” Julian stuttered, immediately cursing himself for his inability to speak properly in front of her. He wanted to look at her, but he didn’t want to scare her even more than he already had, so he kept his eyes focused on Belle and pet her as calmly as he could. “Oh, yeah, this… this is Belle. Belle, sweetie, this is Rory, our new… friend,” he murmured, a hint of a smile making his way to his lips as Belle turned to Rory and began nuzzling her leg. “Belle, shake,” Julian instructed, the nerves subsiding slightly as he watched Belle hold her paw up for Rory. “Good job, muffin. You’re so smart.”He made the mistake of standing up and finally looking at Rory. It took one second for his fears to come flooding back to him, a barrage of worry hitting him like a tsunami. The dark circles under her eyes matched his, and he could tell she’d tried to cover them with concealer, the same way he’d always covered his bruises with high coverage makeup. She looked like she’d been crying. Had he made her cry? Had she taken the police report in? Had something happened to her on the way back from his place that day? Why hadn’t he called her a ride home? How could he have been so foolish?
A million thoughts swirled in his mind as he searched desperately for the right words to say. Julian opened his mouth to speak, tears welling at the corners of his eyes as he read Rory’s body language. Her arms were folded over her midriff, the same protective stance he’d seen his mom take so many times. He took a slight step back from her, regret and disgust and pain and guilt wracking his chest like an almost-stifled sob. He had to give her space, even when he wanted nothing more than to wrap her in his arms and kiss her forehead. He had to make sure she felt safe. Safe from him. Safe from the monster he’d become, or perhaps the monster he’d always been.
“Rory, I… I’m so… so sorry,” Julian murmured, tears trickling down his cheeks before he could stop them from falling. “I… I…” Suddenly he was back in fourth grade, trying to read in front of the class, his debilitating stutter sending a searing blush through his cheeks. The impediment was a holdover from his dad’s abuse, one he’d worked tirelessly to suffocate at the root so people wouldn’t catch onto his past. But he couldn’t stop it, not now, not as the tears rolled down his cheeks and bounced onto Belle’s ears.
“I never… never meant to hurt you,” he explained softly, gently, clutching Belle’s leash so tightly his knuckles burned white. “I crossed… so many boundaries. I didn’t listen to you. I moved so fucking fast and I violated you and I hurt you so bad and I feel terrible about it, Rory. It’s been eating me up inside. I haven’t slept properly since we met. I just keep… w- wishing… wishing I could… go back and just… not… hurt you. And… and I know that sounds selfish, when you’re the one who was…”
He couldn’t spit the word out, the three syllables stuck in his throat. Assaulted. When you’re the one who was assaulted. Come on, Julian. Say it. You have to admit what you did if you ever want to be forgiven. “… assaulted,” he squeaked out, his voice breaking as tears began flooding his senses. Julian looked away from her, his gaze tunneling into the grass below him, as he tried to stay as calm as possible. “I… I’m not supposed to be that guy. I’m supposed to be a good friend and someone you can rely on and I just… I let my desire get the best of me. I showed you the monster I really am. And I will never, ever forgive myself for that. I don’t expect you to forgive me, either.”
“I just needed you to know that… I’ll do anything I have to do to make it up to you. I know you probably don’t ever want to see me again. I… I have a lot of female friends who’ve been…” Julian inhaled, his breaths shallow and ragged as he ran his hand through his hair nervously again. He couldn’t finish that sentence, and he hated himself for it. Here she was, brave, strong Rory, standing up to him after he’d violated her, and he couldn’t even admit what he’d done to her.
“I’ll… I’ll drive you to therapy if you need it. Or I’ll get you an Uber to take you there if you’re not comfortable around me. I’ll send Chinese delivery to your place. I’ll pay for your rent if you want to move so far away from here that you never have to remember me again. Anything I have to, Rory. I know it won’t be enough. But anything you can think of, I… I’ll do it. I’m just so… so sorry.”
Julian wasn’t sure why he was still talking, or why Rory still stood in front of him. Now that he had her attention, though, he had to admit what he’d wanted to tell her since that fateful night. It wasn’t easy, and he stumbled through his thoughts, drunk off all the words he’d been meaning to say. “No girl has ever made me feel needed. You know, really needed, like they miss me when I’m gone and they’d fall apart if I wasn’t there. And I know I’m nothing to write home about. I know you could date a thousand other guys on this block alone who are taller and more successful and not as dumb as me and just… better. But you made me feel… special. I’ve never felt special before. I’ve never felt wanted, and for a second I thought that… maybe you could want me. Like maybe I could be a person that someone desires. I know that’s selfish of me. I know it’s inconsiderate. But it’s true.”
He hated this and yet he couldn’t stop it. The words spewed out of him like a fire hydrant that had been cracked open, flooding the air between them. “I know you’re going to leave eventually, because no one ever stays. Not for someone like me. I know I probably need you more than you need me. But I want to be with you and I want to be there for you and I will move heaven and earth for you if you’ll let me, Rory. I’ll get better, I promise.”
Now came the time he hated the most, the time where he begged, pleaded through shaking breaths for someone to stay. “I’ll… I’ll listen, more, to your body language. I’ll really listen. The bath bombs won’t be so misshapen next time. I’ll make you the perfect veggie spring rolls and the meal will actually be complete next time. And maybe if I work hard enough, and if I just listen… right… and if you give me enough next times… one day I’ll be good enough for you to stay.”
Wiping the tears from his eyes furiously, Julian slung his guitar back over his shoulder and hoisted his backpack onto his other shoulder. Why was he even saying these things when she most probably never wanted to see him again anyway? “I… I should go. You probably h- hate my guts. I don’t want to t- trigger you again. If you need to get ahold of me, my number’s on the…” He couldn’t find the strength to mention the police report he’d filled out and left in the basket. “The r- report in the basket I gave to Finn,” he stuttered, plastering a fake half smile on as he looked down at Belle. “You ready to go, honey? We can go cuddle. Yeah, lots of cuddles.”
✗ closed starter || julian x jeremiah ( @jeremiahgrey )
Californians were spoiled. Julian had heard about this concept before, but it usually only extended to Angelenos and out-of-touch celebrities who paid $13 for a green juice every morning. But, as he stood, neck craning as far as it could to see the mountainous redwood trees crowded around him and Jeremiah, Julian knew that he was spoiled, along with the rest of the people who lived in San Francisco. They were a stone’s throw from the ocean and a car ride away from the most breathtaking trails he’d ever seen in his life. It was a miracle anyone got anything done with all the beauty surrounding them.
Julian had met Jeremiah a few years prior. He was a bit of an oddball, but Julian was pretty odd himself, so the two of them made the perfect team. Jeremiah was always the person he thought of when he wanted to go hiking, or when he, for whatever reason, wanted to torture himself by going on a run. The two hadn’t caught up in some time, and once Jeremiah had mentioned he hadn’t been to the Muir Woods, Julian knew it was time for another outing with his curious friend.
“I still… don’t understand how we live in the same world as these trees,” Julian murmured, awestruck by the power of the redwoods around him. “I also can’t believe you’ve never been here before. You’ve lived in SF how long? We’ll have to do the super long trails around here. It’s mindblowing.” Finally looking back down to Jeremiah, he flashed the other boy a bright smile and continued walking along the path. “How have things been with you?”
TW: continued mentions of domestic violence/abuse/assault
Julian knew the life cycle of a bruise intimately well. He’d nursed his fair share of them from inception to death, an unwitting father to hundreds of thousands who lived within the confines of his own body. There was the initial hit – deep red, burning scarlet, the accompanying taste of metal and the shallow gasping of breath. Then came the aftermath – dark purple, a bloody night sky streaked across the skin, pain to the touch. Eventually it faded, a yellow ring waltzing into frame, replacing the tender flesh with something closer to normalcy. And then things went back to normal, the skin healed, free of its markings, as if nothing had ever really transpired at all.
It had been two weeks since the day he’d met Aurora Graham. Knowing Julian, he’d have that date branded into his memory forever – the day he’d met Rory, the day he’d come crawling out of his self-imposed prison and seen the sunlight, the day he’d violated her trust and her body and her boundaries and had watched her leave with one last twirl of her skirt. Like Rory had mentioned that afternoon, his life had somehow split down the middle, the story of his life now composed entirely of a Before Rory and After Rory section. He’d expected After Rory to be full of bright lights and gentle hugs, skipping heartbeats and sugar cookies. And now After Rory had turned into anything but that utopic paradise.
When they’d first met, things seemed too good to be true. They clicked on another level – something cosmic, something visceral, something real beyond belief. There’d been the brush of fingertips, the earthen scent of an alleyway, smudged lipstick and the imprint of her lips against the lightly freckled skin of his shoulder. It had all happened so fast – too fast for someone like Julian, who usually needed weeks to even scratch the surface of another person.
He should’ve known better. That’s the one thought that kept creeping back into Julian’s mind night after night: You should have known better. He was better than this. He was not the boy who couldn’t control himself around a woman. He was not the boy who pushed her past her comfort zone, the one who acted first and asked for permission later. He was not the boy his female friends all talked about – the one who took things that weren’t his, the one who scarred them and left, the one who left wounds that couldn’t ever be fully healed. That was not, and never had been, him.
And yet it’s who he’d become. Julian had dreaded this reality more than anything, the one where the spectral hands of his dad finally coalesced around his neck and choked the last remaining bits of good out of him. He walked through life as a different person now – Julian Porter, son of Dylan. Julian Porter, temperamental, hard to deal with, brilliantly creative but at a cost. Julian Porter, abuser, assaulter, a machine filled to the brim with rage and anger nestled inside the body of someone who took it out on others.
He looked in the mirror and all he could see was his dad’s jaw line – strong, masculine, the jaw women went weak at the knees for. He saw the protruding veins threading up his arms, the same veins that ran up the canvas of his dad’s wrists, the ones that carried the unmistakable reality of his hellish heritage in his blood. He saw his dad’s nose, the one that was still slightly crooked after having been broken on three separate occasions. He saw his dad, fully and completely, blood splattered across his face, jaw clenched tightly. He had become his worst nightmare, and the transformation had happened at the expense of the girl he cared most about in the world.
It had all started out bright red – Rory scrambling out of his arms like a piece of prey trying to get out of the clutches of a predator. He could still see the heat in her cheeks, the tears clinging to the sides of her jade green eyes. He could hear her mumbling, babbling, throwing reasons into the air as she collected her things and left. Rory had left in such a hurry that Julian had found her baby pink hair tie on the ground next to his bed days later.
He’d tasted the blood again that night, felt the searing heat of the wound he’d somehow scratched into his own skin. He didn’t even have her phone number. That was something that had slapped the reality back into Julian – he’d just assaulted a woman he’d barely known for a few hours, a woman he couldn’t even properly apologize to. Rory hadn’t drawn blood as she removed herself from the prison of his arms, but she may as well have, because the aftermath felt exactly the same.
That night Julian had drawn the curtains and tended to the scarlet pain in his heart the only way he knew how. He thanked God for his roommates, who came back and respected his boundaries when he’d merely shaken his head at them and closed his door. At least some people in this house know how to respect boundaries, you fucking monster, he’d thought to himself. Night fell upon San Francisco, the sky dotted with muted stars. He looked up at the heavens, a swirling, dark purple, and felt it swallow him whole from his spot on the balcony.
He’d gone back in and felt the muted orchid bloom behind his irises as he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to take the past day back. He’d taken down every note that he’d previously taped up to his wall, all the little references his students and family members and friends had given Rory just hours prior. He wanted to apologize to all of them en masse for pulling the wool over their eyes, but it was too late, so he’d put the notes into an old shoebox and shoved them into the back of his closet, right past the black shirt Rory had almost worn to dinner.
The tiger lilies died slowly, agonizingly, their bright orange petals begging for attention that Julian just didn’t have anymore. He’d spent the next few days after that in a mulberry haze, red and purple and all the colors in between, healing as best as he could from the pain he’d inflicted on himself. He went to work, put more notes into the shoebox, let Belle tug along at the leash on walks, her dark, watery eyes looking into his as if saying, “Please step outside, dad. Please stop punishing yourself.”
He finally picked up his guitar a week after Rory had left. The songs had come to him in a flash, dark plum fading into something softer, more tender, a light lilac that only time could bring. Julian had heard the piano keys in his mind one morning and had ignored them, forcing the songs out onto the strings of his guitar instead. Piano was her instrument. He didn’t deserve the ivory anymore, not when he’d almost certainly taint it with splotches of red and black, the same way he’d tainted her. And so the music was scribbled onto lined sheets through an incongruous medium, one that sounded just slightly off for the subject matter. Over the last two weeks, Julian had learned to accept that everything from now on would feel slightly off, now that Rory was gone from his life.
Finally, after a week and a half, signs of life began to emerge from the cocoon Julian had wrapped himself in. He’d started throwing himself into his work, coming up with extra songs to teach the kids about subtraction, their subject of the week. He couldn’t go to Jukebox anymore, so songwriting was the next best thing, and the subject matter felt fitting, anyway. A piece of him was missing now, permanently gone, and he had to live with the guilt of that truth for the rest of his life.
It was time now for him to repent, to speak clearly about his sins and apologize as best as he could. Julian found himself looking for forgiveness everywhere he could – in the few churches he’d stepped into, in the major chords he strummed, in the notes he scribbled out and eventually threw in the trash because they’d never quite express just how sorry he was. He’d mulled the apology over in his mind, turning the words around in his consciousness over and over again, searching for the right thing to tell Rory, but nothing ever did his feelings justice.
After days upon days of serving penance for a crime everyone universally agreed he hadn’t committed, Julian had settled on the package he’d send to Rory. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but he knew he had to do something, anything, to let her know he understood her pain and would do anything to make things up to her. The project had taken the entire weekend, and it still didn’t feel right in his hands, even as he walked it to Jukebox and handed it to Finn, right in the alleyway where he’d kissed Rory a fortnight ago.
Over the weekend, Julian had learned why Zoe paid the employees at Lush $7.95 for a perfectly-made bath bomb. He’d always had a respect for people who made things by hand, but this weekend had imbued in him an undying gratitude for bath bomb creators. He’d probably inhaled more citric acid and cornstarch than he cared to admit, but after hours of tampering with the formula, Julian had three only slightly misshapen vanilla sugar bath bombs to add to his gift basket.
The next part of the gift had come much more easily to him. Chinese food had never been his forte, but Julian had promised himself he’d perfect the recipe for orange chicken and chow mein even if it killed him. Poor Danny, Kevin, and Zoe had eaten at least five different iterations of the recipe, especially since he couldn’t eat the chicken, and he’d made a mental note to make them their favorite foods as thanks for acting as lab rats. Finally, after much trial and error, he’d settled on the perfect recipes. He’d even went and gotten a fancy glass container to deliver the food in instead of his usual, spaghetti sauce splattered Tupperware. It all had to be perfect, or as close to perfect as it possibly could be.
The last part was the easiest of them all. Julian had always frequented the floral shop a few blocks down from his apartment, run by a tiny, old Chinese woman who told the white people of San Francisco that her name was Chloe when her Chinese name was Mei. He’d been paying Mei a visit every month for the past six years, to the point where she’d begun to add a few tiger lilies into his bouquet free of charge. It was an expensive habit to have, but tiger lilies had always reminded him of his mom, and he liked supporting local businesses. Occasionally he’d get other plants and flowers from her – succulents for Finn, roses for Zoe, sunflowers for Danny’s sister, Sarah.
They were good friends now, which meant Mei had immediately been able to pinpoint that something was wrong with Julian when he’d walked in. “No tiger lilies today, Xiao Liwu?” she’d asked, a paper-thin frown settling into her wrinkled skin. She’d given him the nickname – Little Gift in Chinese – after Julian had shown her a picture of the baby panda, Xiao Liwu, that he’d seen at the San Diego Zoo long ago. “You are a little gift to everyone, Julian. Don’t stop being who you are,” she had told him after sticking a free tiger lily in his bouquet all those years ago.
“No tiger lilies today, Mei,” he’d said, the dejection palpable in his tone. Julian wanted to ask her to give the nickname to someone else, someone better, someone who actually was a gift to the people around them. Someone like Rory. But he swallowed his doubts and gave her a hilariously simple run down of what he needed the lush bouquet of baby pink and white peonies for: “I really hurt someone and I need to make it up to them before I hurt them more.” Mei had smiled and given him the flowers free of charge, leaving him with a simple statement: “You couldn’t hurt a fly, Xiao Liwu, even if it flew onto your flowers and started eating them.”
The final touch, the warped, sharp-edged piece de resistance that struck him to his core, was the police report Julian had printed and filled out. Filling out his details came almost too naturally to him – cosmetically the report looked slightly different from Santa Barbara’s version of it, but the innards were all the same, and it took him a little less than a minute to get all his information down. This time, though, he’d put his information in a different set of boxes – the ones labeled “description of suspect”. Brown hair, brown eyes, crooked nose, the spitting image of Santa Barbara’s own Dylan Porter.
And so he’d done it – he’d met Finn in the alleyway and handed him the small wicker basket, complete with bath bombs, pristinely packaged Chinese food, peony bouquet, and the stupid police report Kevin had told him to leave out. He’d left Rory a tiny note, written in his cleanest handwriting, the paper still crumpled slightly at the edges from the tears he hadn’t been able to contain. “Hi, Rory. I’m so sorry. I don’t expect you to ever forgive me and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for hurting you. I promise I’ll be better in the future with the boundaries of other people, for you. I never, ever meant to hurt you, and I am infinitely sorry that I did. You really are something special. Please don’t ever stop smiling. X Julian.”
He knew Finn would get the gift to Rory. In fact, he’d probably found her right after going back to the café – this was the time she’d taken her lunch break two weeks ago, and Julian could only hope she’d be craving Chinese food the same way she had that day, if he hadn’t ruined the idea of it for her entirely. It broke his heart knowing he’d inadvertently created a new trigger for someone – that someone wouldn’t be able to enjoy their favorite food or wear their plaid skirt or see tiger lilies the same way anymore. But a part of him had accepted who he’d become. He felt a weight lift off his shoulders as he handed the gift over and led Belle back onto the sidewalk, guitar slung around his shoulders, dog treats and songwriting notebook in tow.
It was bright out, and for the first time in weeks, Julian welcomed the warmth that illuminated the path before him. The sunshine surrounded him, pale golden like the bruise that had finally started to heal, even if it was still tender to the touch. Today was a new day – a better day, he’d already decided. Perhaps he’d pick up a few more shifts at the animal shelter later today, or he’d make another lasagna to take to the soup kitchen. His momentum was trending upward, and he knew he needed to take advantage of it.
“Excited for play time, pumpkin?” Julian asked Belle, a genuine smile spreading onto his features as Belle looked up at him and woofed. They walked a few minutes past the record store to one of the parks less frequented by tourists and locals alike. It was smaller than the other parks in the area, less decorated and a bit unassuming, but Belle had always loved it more than any of the others. Perhaps she knew her dad needed the solitude.
He found a spot to himself easily and offered a few passersby a half-smile as he fished Belle’s favorite ball out of his backpack. “You ready, muffin? Go get it!” Julian exclaimed, excitement palpable in his voice as he set his things down and wiggled the ball in front of her eyes. Watching the joy creep into Belle always lifted his spirits, and he couldn’t help but beam brightly as he tossed the ball and watched her chase after it at lightning speed. The slightly portly pit bull came trotting back to him with the ball, excitement lighting up her entire face. “Good job, monkey. I’m so proud of you. I love you so much.”
TW: nsfw steaminess oops
Julian couldn’t remember the last time he’d moved this fast with a girl before. He’d always gotten attached to girls too quickly, doting on them and giving his all in a feeble attempt to win someone’s, anyone’s heart over. The physical always came later, though. He was chaotic at heart, sure, but he only let that part of himself bubble to the surface after getting to know someone deeply, intimately, over the span of multiple dates.
This encounter, then, felt completely out of left field for Julian. In fact, he was pretty sure he’d been thrown on the field of a different sport entirely. At first, he’d been awkward and bumbling, rambling and nervously ruffling up his hair like he always did. He’d spent hours trying to read Rory’s actions, responding half a second too late, never quite moving the chains the way he wanted. And then, all of a sudden, it had all clicked into place. She’d opened the playbook for him, let him read every X and O scrawled over her body. Every kiss elicited a small whimper or a louder moan. They were finally on the same team, speaking in a language only they could understand. They were calling the plays together. And it felt like serendipitous magic.
Girls never reacted this way around him. Perhaps it was because Julian had never been given the space to be his true self in an intimate setting – most of his previous girlfriends had been overly domineering and on a different page compared to him. And, for his entire life, he’d accepted that as what a normal, healthy relationship looked like. He’d always assumed that he’d have to sacrifice most, if not all, of his own desires to please the girl he was with – because that’s what love was, right?
Being with Rory tipped that assumption on its head and turned every belief he had upside down. Everything felt topsy-turvy, and it had taken Julian a second to get used to the fact that Rory seemed to enjoy him taking control of the situation. Now, it was all he could think about. All he wanted to hear was her voice, sweet and sultry, calling his name. He needed to hear the whimpers and moans his touch evoked. He needed her, endlessly.
He was perfectly content to go to dinner with her and push his thoughts down for the time being. Rory had given him more than he’d ever expected today, and he was more grateful for her vulnerability than she’d know. Girls as beautiful as Rory rarely gave Julian the time of day, and she’d done that and then some. He was lucky to have the opportunity to even talk to her in the first place, let alone kiss her and take her on dates.
Julian had calmed down, slightly, especially after seeing the way Rory looked at him. No one had ever looked at him so lovingly. He could practically see the animated hearts floating above her head. As he looked back at her, fluffed up hair and all, Julian felt his heart skip a beat. He wanted more than her body. He wanted to wrap his arms around her at night and hold her so close she felt the warmth of his skin keeping her safe. He wanted to wake up to her, the light filtering through his curtains, bits of dust glittering in the light that bathed her features. He wanted to hold her hand and braid her hair and wipe her tears and hear her laugh. He wanted all of her.
He’d almost forgotten about their little game – at least until Rory had crossed the room to stand next to him. It was then that it all hit him again. He was standing in his room, shirt off, the most breathtaking woman he’d ever seen leaving the imprint of her lips on his shoulder. The small gesture sent shivers up Julian’s spine, and he felt his eyes watching Rory like a hawk as she stepped toward his closet. They were less than a foot apart and Julian already missed her touch.
Rory held up one of his shirts to her body and Julian couldn’t help but let out the softest whimper. “You’re telling me I get to show you off and you want to wear my clothes? You’re killing me, Rory,” he stated genuinely. He thumbed through a few shirts halfheartedly, his body going completely rigid at Rory’s last statement. I hate to get rid of your favorite skirt, daddy.
That one word flipped a switch in him faster than he could comprehend. Dropping the shirt in his hand, Julian immediately took Rory’s hand and pulled her into his arms. Without explanation, he raked both hands through her hair and his lips collided with hers. This kiss was deeper, more passionate, rougher than any other kiss he’d given her. Every inch of his body burned bright red, his fingertips finding every millimeter of exposed skin. Unable to stop himself, his hand found its way underneath her skirt and he smacked her ass gently. “I knew you weren’t as innocent as you let on,” he whispered, his teeth finding her bottom lip easily.
In one fell swoop, Julian scooped Rory into his arms and pushed her onto his bed. “I’ll buy you an entire Chinese restaurant tonight. And I’ll stop the second you tell me you’re uncomfortable. You say the word and we go to dinner. I promise you that. I just want to tease you a bit,” he explained, brushing a tendril of hair out of her eyes and tucking it behind her ear as he climbed on top of her. “Right now… I’m only hungry for you. Every inch of you.”
Snaking one hand underneath her, Julian pushed her hips up into his and leaned into her to kiss her neck gently. “I want to have my way with you, princess,” he whispered, one of his hands traveling up her side at an agonizingly slow rate. “Just so you know, you call me daddy and I will give you as many orgasms as you can handle. That’s… probably the thing I enjoy most,” he admitted.
With that, Julian trailed gentle kisses down her neck and shoulders, his fingers just barely grazing the fabric of her shirt. “You remember how you said I could call you anything I want?” he asked, continuing to kiss his way down her side. “Mine. I want to call you all mine.” A few kisses later, he’d made his way to her midriff. Pressing hungry kisses into her hipbones, Julian tilted his head to the side and looked up at her. “You said I drive you wild?” he asked innocently, pushing her skirt up gently.
Then, because he knew he could, Julian locked eyes with Rory and hooked his teeth onto the top of her fishnets. His cockiness had gotten the better of him, but he knew within him that Rory enjoyed it. Still smirking, he pulled the tights off as slowly as he could with his teeth, making sure to keep his eyes on hers the whole time. After he finally pulled them off entirely, he ran a hand through his hair and grinned. “Tell me what exactly drives you wild, baby girl. I’m curious.”
closed starter || julian x east ( @eastonfish )
It was rare to find Julian anywhere other than the gym at 5 am on a Saturday morning. He’d never been an early bird by nature, but the gym was mostly empty the earlier he went, so he’d decided two years ago to start dragging himself in as soon as it opened. Since he’d started, boxing acted as a sort of therapy for him – all he had to do was focus on the task at hand instead of his continuously raging thoughts and emotions. It was easy enough to put one fist in front of the other for an hour.
There were a few days when Julian had the gym to himself, but more often than not he found himself in the company of one particularly tall and rather intimidating fellow gym rat. He’d seen the other boy at Jukebox before and hadn’t inherently clicked with him the way he did the other employees. “I’m security. I’m not here to make friends with the customers,” he’d said. Julian had taken that as hint enough that the stranger wasn’t interested in talking with him, and he’d left it at that.
Still, it was a bit odd that the two boys inhabited the gym on an almost daily basis and hadn’t properly met each other. Ordinarily, Julian would stay quiet and stick to his workout, but he’d noticed out of the corner of his eye that the all too familiar stranger was benching a particularly heavy set of weights without a spotter. For a moment, Julian contemplated staying at his place by the speedbag. He’d be perfectly content to hit it to his heart’s desire, counting out the repetitions in an absentminded daze. But the thought of the other boy potentially getting hurt was enough to push him away from his spot and toward the weights.
“Hey, man,” Julian greeted softly, offering the other boy a small head nod in lieu of a wave. “Need a spot? I know don’t look like I could bench much, but I’m usually good for more than you’d think.”
(TW: still slightly steamy?? idk i’m putting it all under a read-more bc of it starting out steamy sue me)
(TW: I don’t know what this is but. Steamy)
Rory’s nails were painted baby pink. Julian knew this intimately, easily, because she had him completely wrapped around her perfectly delicate finger. All it took was two words - Julian, please. All at once, that was all he could hear: Rory’s beautiful, full voice, breathing out his name on the precipice of a moan. He could feel her anticipation, her warm breath against his skin as she moved closer. His senses filled with vanilla and light pink and peonies and something darker, rawer, hungrier.
How long had he waited to hear those words in that exact tone, that exact timbre, that exact cadence? Julian had never had a type – he’d liked a number of different girls from a number of walks of life, and he’d always been a bit selective, because part of him never really knew what he wanted. Hearing Rory whimpering for him set every question aside in his head. He wanted her. He’d been waiting for her. He’d been waiting for her long blonde hair and the legs that looked like they’d been sculpted out of marble. He’d finally heard the song he’d been searching for all this time in two breathy, heady words. Julian, please.
Before he could even process his emotions, Rory had him back in his chair, her thighs straddling him and her hands raking through his hair. The spark between them ignited into something deeper and Julian pulled her hips into his, his eyes dark as he looked up at her. There she was, saying his name again, wrapping it in desire and finishing it off with their Cupid’s bows meeting in unison. “Rory,” he whimpered, his voice rougher, needier than before.
Then she was biting down on his lip, her pull gentle and yearning at the same time. He was a goner in that moment, his hands going weak around her as they ran up her back without him trying. Julian was one step away from pulling Rory into his arms when she pulled away abruptly, her breathing heavy. He gripped the arms of the chair tightly, his knuckles going white as he closed his eyes and attempted to breathe evenly. He clenched his jaw and exhaled shakily, his thoughts swimming and swirling in incoherent patterns. How had she taken control back from him so easily?
Julian had always been stubborn to a fault, and that fact hadn’t disappeared just because Rory had suddenly appeared in his room like something out of a vision. His heart fell slightly as she mentioned dinner, but he nodded anyway and rose to his feet. “Dinner. Yeah, of course. Sorry, angel. I just got… carried away. I’d love dinner,” he offered, hiding the disappointment in his voice as well as he could. “You still want Chinese? I had something else planned for our real first date, but now I kinda want to take you out somewhere nice. You know, show you off and everything. It’s not every day I get to go out with the most stunning girl in all of San Francisco.”
He’d always been a smooth talker once he was comfortable, and Julian planned on using that skill to his advantage. There was no way he was about to let this small firecracker of a girl win this little game they had going – not now, after he’d finally gotten the nerve to make a move. Crossing the distance between them, Julian flashed Rory his trademark cocky grin. “Hm. There’s just one problem here, miss Graham. I don’t think I gave you permission to stop kissing me.”
The starting gun had blown and suddenly he was off, hoisting her up into his arms and pushing her against the wall of his bedroom door, this time slightly more forcefully. This was a marathon, not a sprint, and Julian had a feeling Rory hadn’t anticipated the entirety of the race in front of them. As a hopeless romantic, Julian was accustomed to the chase. And he was ready for her – not just to chase her, but to win her over entirely.
At a certain point, Julian stopped thinking and let his body do the talking. Keeping her up against the wall with his hips, Julian gently pinned Rory’s wrists up above her head. Leaning into her ear, he cracked another smile and kissed her neck teasingly. “You get these back when you learn to be a good girl for me.” Instantly his chest pressed into hers, his free hand finding the supple skin of her legs. “I think I want dessert first. I need something a little sweeter,” Julian remarked, keeping his eyes locked on Rory’s as he gently dragged his fingertips against her inner thigh.
He tilted his head to the side, his eyes still focused on Rory as he watched her melt. “It’s kinda cute that you think you can tease me and get away with it, baby girl,” he remarked, just barely brushing his lips against hers as he continued. “Another thing you should know about me – I’m a bit of a dom in bed. And I’ll stop at nothing to please you. If this entire building doesn’t hear you saying my name, I’m not doing a good enough job.”
With one last wry smile, Julian pressed the most teasing kiss he could give to Rory’s lips and set her back down on her feet. Releasing her wrists gently, he pulled her hands to his lips and kissed them tenderly. “You didn’t know the rules yet, so you get a pass this time,” he remarked. An odd sense of calm had washed over him – seeing Rory so needy for him had inflated his confidence and had him standing just a bit taller than usual.
Stepping back slightly, Julian folded his arms over his chest and looked Rory up and down, taking her in obviously. “Dinner, then? I’m more than hungry,” he stated, smirking playfully. The finish line was in sight, but Julian still had one trick left up his sleeve. “I can’t possibly take you on a date looking like this. I think I need something a little more put together, don’t you think?”
Julian let go of Rory’s hands and stepped back toward his closet, his fingers undoing the buttons on his shirt as slowly as possible. “Danny tells me I look good in suits, but I can’t be wearing a suit to a hole in the wall Chinese place,” he said absentmindedly, finally peeling off his shirt and tossing it to Rory. With one final turn toward her, he flashed her a confident grin and ran his hand through his hair – with one slight bicep flex, just for good measure. “Come help me pick something out, princess?”