dedication: to Jupiter, like always.
notes: my headcanon clarissa is all about nicknames and being hot messy garbage i love her
notes2: this romanticises smoking a lot but honestly? shit is gross. don't do it.
title: ice for the fever
summary: Jonas, stumbling after Alex. — Alex/Jonas.
[but you were kinda spacin' out]
Jonas settles down on the couch in the basement, and waits for Alex to come back.
It's always cold down here. Cement walls cut the summer heat, hard-packed earth and no natural light. The TV flickers on mute, and maybe they'll watch a movie but probably not. Jonas has spent hours and hours down here when Alex's parents are home, because Alex's parents don't really approve.
Or at least her mother doesn't.
(Exactly the same way she doesn't really approve of Clarissa, come to think of it. Maybe there's something to it, after all.)
"Hey," Alex says, dropping down beside him, "Popcorn."
"The best kind, obviously," she says, and kind of—hesitantly fits herself into his side. Hummingbird-stable, the beat of her pulse so fast in her throat, and Jonas just lets her because what else does he ever do, when it comes to Alex? What is he ever going to do that isn't something to make her comfortable? Jesus, he knows that he spends all his life following her around, and he's not even mad about it.
Jonas drapes his arm over her shoulder. "This okay?"
"Yeah," Alex says, muffling the words into his side. "Okay."
He laughs, sort of, and leaves his arm where it is.
But here is something that Jonas doesn't tell anyone: he knows that Alex doesn't sleep anymore.
It's not exactly a secret. Kind of hard to be, when there are a lot of days that Alex straight-up looks like the walking dead. And maybe everyone that he cares about knows, too, but there's a level of—distance, somehow, that Alex holds between herself and everyone else except for Jonas himself. It's in the way she goes wandering like she's trying to catch mist, head always a little cocked to the side because she's still listening to things that no one else can hear. The ghosts might not have soaked into Alex the way they soaked the rest of them, or maybe they actually soaked into Alex and no one else, but still, the end result is the same: she's not all the way into the world the way everyone else is.
Jonas understands. In the end, the only thing a person has left is empty palms.
"Hey, let me up," Jonas murmurs, a long time later.
"I need a cigarette."
"Gross," Alex says, sleepy and slow, soft and fond. Her mouth pulls into a messy little smile, bleach-blonde-teal caught in her lips. "Don't come back smelling like smoke, I don't cuddle with death."
The universe hovers around her like a memory. Jonas thinks: I wish it were always this easy.
And maybe Alex doesn't cuddle with death, but she's pretty good at cuddling with ghosts and the past and the unreal things in the world. She's talked about the blast door, and what was behind it, and drowning, even, sometimes, but Jonas just—isn't like that. He's not like that at all. He gets up from the couch, and he's not shaking, he's not.
But it would be so simple to just let things go for a while. Let Alex sleep. Let everyone sleep, ghosts and dead kids and even his mom. God, he just wants his mom to rest. He hopes she's at rest.
Still, on his way upstairs, Jonas checks over his shoulder to make sure.
Alex is out like a light.
Reaches for his smokes.
There's no such thing as loneliness, and neither is there such a thing as alone.
(At least not here.)
The kitchen is dark and quiet. Alex's parents are out tonight, but it seems like they're always out when they aren't yelling at each other. Jonas shoves his feet into his shoes, and is quietly glad that it's too warm for a jacket. A nicotine habit is worse when it's cold enough out that you can't flick a lighter; there is a reason his favourite season is summer.
It's nice to know that if he goes outside right now, his dick isn't going to freeze.
He's headed for the front, thinking about maybe going to check on his truck. It's a nice neighbourhood, but weird shit happens in nice neighbourhoods. He's just turning, and he only catches sight out it out of the corner of his eye.
There's a shadow on the back porch.
For a minute, Jonas thinks he sees—
No, it's just Clarissa.
Tall and spindly, Michael's girlfriend is smoking out on the porch, arms folded together and shoulders loose. The acrid drift of cancerous smoke scents the air but ber cigarette's gone out, and she's chewing on the golden end with sharp teeth like a wild thing. Her nails leave crescents against her skin. She doesn't turn towards him, even when the door slides closed.
"Need a light?" Jonas asks her, even though she clearly doesn't. No one chews a cigarette like that if they want to smoke it.
"Buttfuck it," Clarissa says with a slow, curling smile. When Jonas raises his eyebrow at her, she just crooks one in return. "C'mon North Valley, don't tell me you've gone soft."
He wordlessly hands her his lighter. It's easier not to argue with Clarissa when she gets like this—she's in the mood for a fight. But held up for inspection, it's the same damn lighter he's had since before the world ended, clear green plastic over the slosh of lighter fluid. Jonas would say he's not sure why he keeps it, but he knows why he keeps it: everything in present-tense, and the lighter is still useful.
It's not that it's a reminder.
It's just that Jonas never learned to dwell on things, that's all.
Clarissa laughs a horrible hacking sound that somehow says everything her mouth doesn't. She's red all over. "Oh, wow, you have gone soft. What did Alex do to you?"
"Same thing Michael did to you," Jonas tells her mildly, without a trace of irony, because it's true. He remembers things, sometimes; the crackling old song his mother used to love, Alex in the pale blue twilight, the bright arterial flash of Clarissa's hair as she fell out a window. They're not good things, but they are something, and something is always better than nothing.
The lines of Clarissa's face all go painful soft and painful fond. "Being a stupid fucking idiot must be catching."
"Yeah," Jonas says. He offers her another cigarette. "Here."
"You know, I'm almost flattered," Clarissa says, and inhales over the spark of modern flint and tinder. Embers around the curl of her fingers, dying like stars, and Jonas thinks of Alex and her ghosts, the creepy-crawly nightmare things that slip inside a person and twist them all wrong. He thinks of Alex and her ghosts and the way she smiles, and Jesus, how does she still get up in the morning? How does she still—?
"—ey, earth to North Valley, come back here, please," she waves a hand in front of his face. "Wow, you were gone, weren't you. You want your lighter back, or no?"
"Ooh, someone's testy. Did Alex ditch you?"
Alex is still passed out on the couch in the basement. Jonas can still feel the heat of her cheek against his chest, the heavy weight of a body gone lax with sleep. Getting ditched is not even remotely the issue.
"Just give it back, Clarissa," Jonas says.
And she does.
Hands it over, just like that.
There used to be an edge of cruelty to her, and it's still there, sometimes, because Clarissa knows how to hurt. She says things without meaning them, but they're always exactly the right thing to take the breath out of a person's chest. Jonas watches the way she taps her nails against her cheek, the smoke dangling from her other hand. It's a tiny glow in the night. Cancer stick, killthroat, coffin nail. There are a lot of names for a cigarette's lung rot, but they all forget that at night, that little glow looks like salvation.
"Who's gone soft now?" Jonas snarks at her.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Clarissa waves him off. "You're as bad as Nona. It's not cute."
"How is the three-legged puppy?"
"Okay, no. One, I am the only person who gets to call her that, she's my three-legged puppy," Clarissa says, eyes gone narrow, and there's that mean edge to her. Jonas would snicker, because it's never really going to go away. Clarissa's got biting wit for days. "And two, she's—good. She'll be back next week. She misses Ren or something, though why anyone would miss Ren is beyond me."
"You're lucky he's not here to hear you say that."
"Why? He's like five-two, I'm not scared of him."
"He would write a song about you," Jonas says. The sudden, vivid memory of Ren yodeling drunkenly at Michael's birthday party is visceral in both their minds. There are some things that stay gold, but this isn't one of them. Ren yodeling is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone. "And then we'd all have to listen to it. He'd bring out his ukulele. He'd bring out Michael's ukulele."
"The horror," she says, deadpan. "Whatever am I going to do."
"Maybe not be terrible?"
"Oh, you're adorable, North Valley. You have so much to learn," Clarissa says, grinning with all of her teeth. "And you know what? I'm not in the mood to educate you, so we're done. Shoo, shoo."
"No, we're done," she cuts him off, flicking her fingers at him. It's a dismissal if Jonas has ever seen one, and he sort of blinks at her. Clarissa just shakes her head, red everywhere, and she's pretty the way a poisonous spider is, all long limbs, long fingers, long poison fangs in her mouth.
(Jonas is absolutely terrified of her.)
"What?" he asks again.
"You heard me. Go on, go find Alex, do something useful with your life," Clarissa says over her shoulder at him, elbows propped on the porch railing. The line of her shoulders has gone easy and loose again. In the evening air, everything about her has turned misty heather grey and eiderdown purple-soft, and when she kind of grins at him, there's no bite to it.
(He doesn't remember her falling. He doesn't remember the sound her bones make when they break. He doesn't remember her eyes lit up like lanterns during Chinese New Year. He doesn't remember anything at all.)
"Go easy on her, okay?" Clarissa says. She ashes her cigarette into the grass. "Alex drives me crazy, but she's still my boyfriend's little sister. I don't wanna have to kick your ass."
"You could try," Jonas tells her mildly, even though he has no idea what's going on.
"Don't test me," Clarissa says. "Oh, hey, you can tell Mike he can stop hovering at the door, I know he's there. He's useless at subtlety. If he wants to come and kiss me, he can."
"You heard her," Jonas calls, and the only reply is Michael's laughter, muted through the glass.
These people are crazy.
It is mind-boggling how much it feels like a family.
Jonas scrubs a hand through his hair, ducking out of Michael's way when he comes ambling outside. Alex's older brother—and Jesus, Jonas is never going to get away from it, from thinking about everyone in relation to who they are to Alex—kind of nods at him, and it's weird because if Jonas were Michael, he'd have probably punched himself by now.
Michael's a better person than most anyone else Jonas knows, though, so maybe not.
He curls his hand around his lighter, and slides the glass closed. Jonas knows, already, that he's going to go back downstairs, slip his arm beneath Alex's cheek, get uncomfortable so that she can get a few solid hours of sleep for once. He knows that he's going to wake up sometime tomorrow afternoon—because there's no light in the basement, never any light in the basement and what's a decent circadian rhythm without light—with a crick in his neck and an mouthful of Alex's hair, and a weird half-memory of his mother laughing sleep, who needs sleep, pssh, your mom needs sleep—
There's no time to dwell, Jonas tells himself. Not on the ghosts, not on North Valley, not on his mom. There is only here and now, and his knuckles are white around the basement doorknob.
He pulls it open.
And there she is, coming up the stairs.
(She's always meeting him in the middle.)
"Hey," Alex says. Her hands are stuffed in her pockets, and she's got Michael's jacket on. That can't mean good things—she only pulls it on when the dark cracks in the universe seep inside her soul—and Jonas just looks her over, quiet and careful and holding his voice like shattered glass in his mouth. Alex is prickly in the shoulders, head down, nails bitten to the quick. The darkness under her eyes smears into the roots, and Jesus, she looks haunted all over again. All he can think of is the shape of her mouth around the words I miss them, how fucked up is it that I miss them?
"Hey," Jonas says. "What's up?"
"Nothing. Are you busy?"
He could say do I look busy, or your parents are gonna have a shitfit if I keep you out past curfew again, or you know me, busy, busy, busy. He could tuck a smoke behind his ear, turn up his jacket collar, pull off some half-slick greaser-kid mojo; be the boy who broke a kid's face, be a warning sire, be what he is for other people, cautionary tale, pre-emptive arson, cigarette smoke on the breeze.
But this is Alex, and Jonas doesn't lie to Alex.
It's not like he's here for anyone but her, anyway.
So what Jonas says is, "Nah."
"…D'you wanna go for a walk?"