dedication: to emily, for everything.
notes: wow this is late. sorry about that i guess? life got complicated.
notes2: also i hate endings, so whatever, man.
title: the beginning after the end
summary: Alex, stumbling through the time-stream. — Alex/Jonas.
As for me, I'm—
[—.. .-. - / - -.- .- -.- .-.-.- / -.- . .- ... -..- / .. .-. - / - -.- .- -.- .-.-.-]
"Can I sit?"
"You really have to ask?"
"Don't wanna intrude."
"I don't even think that's possible, man," Alex says, mild, tipping her head back just enough to look up at him. There's something to be said for this, sitting out here on the dock with the rising sun streaming through the morning mists. Edwards Island is a ghostly pale imitation of itself—haha, ghostly, that would be funny if it weren't quite so sad—looming in the distance, the crumbling remains of the radio school buildings jutting into the sky like stumpy, broken-off teeth.
It's a good analogy, actually. Once upon a time, that island ate everything good inside of Alex, ate and ate and ate, and now there's nothing left. Buildings for teeth, the maw of the cavern for a mouth, the great hollow inside the cave for a stomach. Like being in the hard beating dark of the beast, swallowed, disappearing into nothing.
Yeah, it works.
He's weird and out of sorts, kind of hunching over. The leather of his jacket rumples when he shifts, a little, avoids touching her. And Alex gets it, she's not always been great at telling him god, you don't even know how much I need you, please don't leave me alone right now, but that's because the words all get stuck in her throat until it feels like she might as well be chewing on broken glass.
The ghosts made Alex unreal.
Becoming real again was difficult, and things are just… hard, sometimes. That's all.
"It's been a year," Jonas says, so casually. He's staring out at the horizon, mouth an expressionless line, eyes something fierce. He'd looked like that for a long time after the island, too, Alex thinks, like he was daring the world to come at him, to come at them.
He's right, though.
It's been a year.
"Yeah, I know," Alex says, because she does know.
"Do you think it's gonna…?"
"I dunno," she says. The word reset hangs heavy in the air between them, and Alex won't say it for fear that it'll happen. There have been nights and nights and nights that she's jumped at shadows, held her breath just a little too long, fingers shaking around the neck of a beer bottle because god, if they go back now, if they go back now there's going to be no coming back at all. "A lot happens in a year."
Jonas looks at her out of the corner of his eye. "You haven't turned twenty yet."
Alex's lips quirk. "You did, though."
For a second, they both sit there and think about that party, the slow hot roll of a house too full of people all drunk and laughing beneath the twinkle of fairy lights. Ostensibly it had been Jonas' birthday party, but Ren and Michael are such a ridiculous combination that they should never be allowed to plan anything together ever because it always ends with someone passed out on the floor covered in glitter. If Alex didn't love them both so much that sometimes she can't stand it, she'd question why she even puts up with their shenanigans.
(Alex remembers: God, Ren, another brownie? and then Ren throwing himself across the room to wrap his arms around Nona's waist to complain into her throat that they were being so mean to him, and Nona flushing because she'd still not been used to Ren's everything. Clarissa's mouth had been a fond red bow every time she glanced over at Michael, curling into a smirk when her gaze skittered over where Alex was tucked into Jonas' shadow. That had been the last time they'd all been together, and now it hurts to think about. God.)
"Yeah, let's never talk about that again," Jonas says, a little wry. The discomfort has bled out of him, left him lounging easy at her side. It could be any day at all, the pair of them out here like this.
"What, every single party we've ever gone to?" Alex says.
Jonas laughs, a little too hard, a little too sharp. It's only funny because it's true. After—after everything, some things just don't matter anymore. Parties, and bad days, and other people; they just don't… matter. "Yeah," he says, "that."
Alex grins, nudges her elbow in to his side. "It wasn't my idea, man, I had nothing to do with it. Blame Ren. The silly string was his contribution."
"You didn't discourage him."
"Where's the fun in that?" Alex says, and the grin quirks farther, pulling up into a real smile on the tipping point of turning into laughter. She nudges him again and he nudges her back and then they're squabbling good-naturedly, back and forth with elbows and knees and all the sharp points of each other, and it's so dumb and so totally normal that it just—it just—
It hurts and it doesn't, but no one else gets it like Jonas does.
She ends up sprawled halfway across him, knees thrown over his thighs, hair come down out of its ponytail to trail a messy teal wave across them both. It's getting long again, bleaching out slow until there's not much teal left at all. The colour went away like the sadness, so slowly that she'd not realized it had gone at all until one morning she looked up and not everything was grey.
Jonas tugs on the ends of her hair like he knows exactly what she's thinking about. "Need a dye job?"
"As much as you need to stop smoking," Alex tells him, even though they've had this conversation before a hundred times. She thinks about beer bottles and fairy lights, this place that they've been and never been and always will be. Parties and bad days and people, and everything else in-between.
"Ow," Jonas snorts. "My feeling."
"Only the one, because the smoking's killed the rest," Alex snips at him, pokes him between the ribs just to watch him squirm.
"Wow, since when are you mean?" Jonas raises his eyebrow at her. She has to squint to see him right, burning white in the sunlight. It's nice. "Is Clarissa rubbing off on you? Do we gotta stage another intervention?"
"That was once, and you're just mad that I took Nona to prom and you had to go stag with Ren—!"
Jonas makes like he's about to shove her off and into the water, and Alex shrieks and clings. It's June and the water's warm but it's not that warm. If she's going in, so is he—her arms lock and linger like an octopus, biting down on the laughter to keep from disturbing the neighbours. Jonas swears under his breath, nearly knocks them in trying to get her off.
Alex laughs and laughs and laughs, and doesn't let go.
When they finally stop, all their bones turned to jelly from the thrill of fighting over something that doesn't matter, they both kind of go lax. It takes them ten minutes to settle down, and when they're done, Alex finds Jonas bent a lot closer than she's used to.
"Hey," she says, blinking up at him.
"Hi," Jonas says, eyes turning soft. His hand tangles in her hair.
They haven't—they haven't touched each other, not really. Maybe it's just trepidation, or not wanting to upset things, or maybe even just a case of speak of the devil: they've avoided getting too close because god, if they get burned again, it's not going to be alright. Alex doesn't think she can survive another reset. She doesn't think she handle losing something else.
But there's Jonas and there's the sun, and the ghosts can't control her forever. Alex won't let them control her forever. The took up Maggie's whole life, and Anna's, and their own; she's not going to forget, because forgetting isn't something that's on the table anymore. They made sure of that, and a promise is a promise. She won't forget, and they won't drag her back. A trade-off.
Jonas smells like skin and soap, and Alex wants. God, she wants.
She winds her hand into the neckline of his t-shirt, drags him down. It feels like sinking through the ground, like being pulled down into the dark and the safe, always somewhere else. He's freckled all over, she's tracked them all spring and all summer, had them stuck in her head when nothing else stayed. Michael's going to run off after Clarissa because of course he's going to, Alex learned her lesson, she doesn't get to have them both. One brother, one—whatever Jonas is. That's the way it goes.
And maybe that's okay.
Maybe it's okay.
"Alex, are you sure?" he says, forehead creasing into worry beneath his fringe. She almost misses the stupid beanie. "What if—shit, what if—"
"Jonas," she cuts him off.
"Yeah?" he says, staring at her wide-eyed. She thinks: what are you doing, and watching as one by one the stars faded above them. Stars, starboys, boys with canvas for skin and rot for insides, the ghosts and the gambles and the games. God knows, they've lost enough. God knows, there's nothing else to lose. God knows, there's so much to lose.
"Please shut up," Alex says, not unkindly, and closes the inch of space between them.
Jonas' mouth tastes like cigarettes and mint toothpaste and time, if time has a taste. He tastes like the loops, cutting his teeth on the edge of a temporal shift, like campfire smoke and late nights and the fizzy pop! of carbonation. Alex makes a tiny sound at the back of her throat, bare knees scraping against the dock, silver and soft as she curls her body into his. They've always taken turns, and this is no different; Alex kisses Jonas, and they both should be bad at it but they aren't. It's not the first time, after all.
Alex doesn't know how long they kiss, mouths easing together, sharing the same air. It might be a minute, or an hour, or several sunlit days. It might be a year. It might be no time at all.
But here is what she will remember:
Morning sun on her shoulders, the slop of waves against wood, the scratch of stubble against her cheek. Blunt fingers digging into her waist, the curve of a collarbone, hair in her mouth as she tries to gulp down air. Dizzy. Shaky. Hungry. Aching all the way down to the core of her. Warm skin, rasp of denim against denim, close but not close enough, never close enough—
For a long time, they just sit there, pressed together.
But nothing—nothing happens.
Nothing happens at all.
(Her stomach doesn't drop out, her hands don't clench, the laughter doesn't start. There's nothing but the quiet and the sun burning away the morning mists. Here and now, Jonas under her hands and holding her down like an anchor. She doesn't know how long she's been waiting. She didn't think she was ever going to stop. But here it is: the denouement, the release, the end. The beginning after the end.)
"Als," Jonas says eventually, a gentle wash of concern in his voice. "Hey, you're crying."
Alex doesn't open her eyes, doesn't reach up to wipe away the tear tracks down her cheeks. She just stays where she is, tucked into the warm cave of Jonas' chest, face in his shoulder, golden morning sunshine dripping down her shoulders. Mouth tingling, relearning its own shape in the wake of learning Jonas'. And breathing. Not waiting for the other shoe to drop, the way they've both maybe secretly been because sometimes you can't help the waiting, but just—just breathing.
After everything, Alex and Jonas, just breathing.
"Yeah," she says, at last. "I am."
notes3: hey kids, thanks for sticking with me through this. i appreciate it. :)