dedication: to getting this shit done before christmas. also to emily, but that's a given.
notes: hey kids, thanks for sticking around. it's been a wild six months.
notes2: scary love — the neighbourhood.
title: wanna believe everything you believe
summary: Jonas, stumbling after Alex. — Alex/Jonas.
[i promise darling i'll still love you then]
It's going to storm.
That's all Jonas can think, once he and Alex manage to climb out of the cave's mouth, mostly whole and in once piece. Alex wanted to go for a walk—and Jesus, it's not like Jonas is about to say no to something so easily granted, not tonight—but given how thick the sky is with clouds, he doesn't think they're going to get very far. There are no stars, and almost as little light as there was down in the dark of the cave.
If Jonas wasn't sure that Alex would have a panic attack, he'd suggest that maybe they ought to camp down under the cliff overhand for shelter.
The last thing he wants, tonight, is to get caught out in the rain.
"What did your mom say?" Alex's voice is very soft.
"When—y'know at the end, before the blast door, there were those—"
"Record decks," Jonas supplies, remembering.
"You don't gotta tell me," Alex says, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. She's a stubborn starlight thing, the only compass Jonas cares to know, and he glances at her to find her mouth pinched up with frustration. "God, why are words so hard, why can't I get this right—"
"Slow down, Als," Jonas says, easy as anything.
Alex exhales slowly through her nose. "I—told you, right? About Michael?"
About Michael, about Michael's room, about the attic and the dead boy and the drowning. Jonas looks down at the top of Alex's head, shadows and waves, teal and soft, and thinks that he'd be willing to do it all over again, if it made her smile. His ghost girl, always going back to the start.
"Yeah," Jonas says. "You told me."
"I didn't, though," she shakes her head. "Not everything."
"You're never gonna be able to tell me everything," Jonas says, and maybe that's exactly what she needed to hear, because her shoulders go down and all the knotted-up cords of her shoulders go loose. Alex leans her head against him, closes her eyes for a second longer than a standard blink.
"Okay, I'm trying this again. What did you talk about with your mom, before the blast door?" Alex finally gathers herself enough to ask.
"Does this have to do with Michael? Or the ghosts?"
"Both, I guess."
"It's… hard to explain," Jonas says. He's never been very good at words, either, and he understands her irritation with their limits. The only way he can tell her is with the right words, and he doesn't well know if he has them.
"Try, garbage snow."
"You know," Jonas says, mildly, "if I was someone else, I'd consider that really insulting. C'mon, can't you call me something… not that?"
"You are a garbage snowman, though," Alex says. "And I wouldn't call anyone else that, anyway. I only need one garbage snowman, and they wouldn't get it."
They wouldn't get a lot of things, Alex doesn't say, but Jonas knows that already.
He stuffs his hands in the pockets of his jacket, old worn leather squeaking beneath his fists. He kind of wishes he'd worn his beanie, but maybe that would have been too much like déjà vu. Jonas tips his head back to stare up at the sky, that endless cloud-thick dark, and decides to try.
"It was a… memory, I guess? We were in the hospital," he says, voice halting. The edges of it still sting. "She was sick for a long time, Als."
Alex looks up at him with wide brown eyes, dark-fringed lashes, freckles winking across her nose. God, she's the prettiest girl he's ever seen, and here in the mottled-bruise purple-black night, he loves her like a knife between the ribs, all of its sharp jagged edges, all of that vital bleeding pain. He loves her like a blunt object to the back of the head, like cigarette burn in the lungs, like flames and smoke. Like every single thing he's ever held dear.
Jonas dares to drape an arm around her shoulders. The night turns deep blue around them, and Alex shuffles in closer to his side.
"How long?" she asks.
"I was fourteen when the doctors found the tumours," Jonas says. Four years of illness blooms between them. Four long, painful years of watching the colour drain from his mother's cheeks, of weight and beautiful auburn curls falling away beneath chemotherapy, of his parents talking late into the night and knowing, always knowing, that the chances of her ever coming home were getting slimmer by the day. And the last days, when she was so thin and hurting so much that she wasn't even his mom anymore, just some worn-out wraith in the hospital bed with a tube in her nose because she couldn't hardly breathe—
(His mother's smile, slipping away like dry sand through an hourglass.)
And Jesus, then she'd died, and everything inside of Jonas had frozen over, cracked and shattered and finally breaking into his fist in some kid's face, blood on his knuckle, the way his dad hadn't been able to look at him. Still can't look at him, some days, because Jonas has her eyes and her bitter-herb dry humour, and there are some hurts that don't go away.
Jonas isn't prone to poetry, but this isn't about just anyone.
"I'm sorry," Alex says.
"Nah, don't be," Jonas murmurs, and he knows he's not apologizing because his mother is dead. He thinks about the record decks, spinning and spinning and he'd fallen into it like a whirlpool, sucked down and spit out dazed and dizzy into the memory.
It had been sunny, sitting in his mother's hospital room. The blinds had been thrown wide.
That's how Jonas had known that it had only been a dream.
His mom had looked healthy, and she'd been grinning the way she used to, all sharp edges around the white of a cigarette. They talked about things, they must have, but Jonas can't remember any of them, now. Maybe they weren't important in the first place; in that sunlight-ghost hospital room, his mother had looked like she was at peace, and that's all Jonas cares about, honestly.
And he's not going to lie to Alex about something like this. This isn't the hill he's going to die on.
"I don't really remember," he says, just as the faint sound of thunder begins roll overhead. "Not—it wasn't talking, exactly? Or, I dunno, maybe it was, but I don't remember it. We were just sitting together."
"Yeah. She looked—healthy. I never thought I'd see her like that again," Jonas exhales. It feels like breathing broken glass, all of the sharp edges cutting into his windpipe. "She was smiling, Als. I thought I'd forgotten what she looked like when she smiled."
"I guess they weren't always horrible?"
"Nah, they were pretty horrible," Jonas says, considering, and Alex laughs kind of weird and shaky, a thready sound made up of stops and starts. He thinks of her hands at that stupid party, the soft-focus dexterity, and the sharp hot want that had simmered beneath his skin. Jonas is pretty sure he shouldn't be thinking about that right now, but here he is, that's what's happening. "What's it gotta do with your brother?"
"Nothing," Alex says. "Everything. He should be dead and he's not. Like, the whole possession thing? Not awesome. But—Jesus, I can't believe I'm still talking about this. I should not still be talking about this! It's been like a year!"
"Why the hell do you like me so much?! I'm crazy, Jonas!"
"I just do! Why does it matter—" Jonas starts, but halfway into it, a crack of lightning snaps across the sky. Purple and white, bleaching them both out to unreality.
Jonas looks up.
A raindrop splats cold on his face.
"Aw, come on," Alex breathes. She's looking up, too. It's the pair of them with hands entwined, staring up at the black dome of the universe, united against the world. Jonas following Alex and Alex following Jonas, and even when they're fighting, they move like magnets. He'd known it was going to storm, could taste the ozone before thunder in the air, and now—
Now, the sky cracks open, and it suddenly begins to pour.
"Fuck this place," Jonas says, with feeling.
He drags Alex into the lee of one of the buildings on Main Street, out of the wind and the rain because it is raining, raining hard, and there's water dripping down his collar. Alex has got her hands wound into his shirt, tugging him out of the cracks and crevices into the fury of the storm.
"C'mere," she says, "c'mere, c'mere!"
"Alex," Jonas laughs, "Alex, what are you doing, we're already soaked."
"Shh, don't ruin this, we're having a moment," she says, and it's so close, so warm, and Jonas is snickering into Alex's hair because only Alex, honestly only Alex would be this interested in kissing in the rain on an unhaunted island where they'd died nearly a hundred times. She bites his lip, bruised and bloody, all the old forgotten horrors of the world slipping quiet away.
"We're gonna get sick," Jonas says into her mouth. The meagre flare of her hips is heady beneath his palms. "I swear to God, we're gonna get sick. Your mom is gonna yell—"
"I dreamed this," Alex says. She tips her face up to look at him with eyes swallowed up entire by pupil, mirror-black, and the hungry shadow-ghosts in them take Jonas' breath away. "Maybe I dreamed it all up."
"Dreamed what?" he asks absently, distracted by the way her fingers creep under the hem of his shirt. "Jesus, your fingers are like ice."
Alex laughs. "God, you really never change, do you?"
"No, not really," Jonas says. He pushes her dripping hair out of her face, and thinks that it's frightening, how much he needs her to be alright. It's frightening, what he thinks he might be willing to do to make sure that she stays alright. He curls his hands around her face. "You okay?"
Alex closes her eyes, shivering. "Yeah," she says, "yeah, I'm alright. I'm cool. We're cool."
Jonas doesn't ask her about the dreaming. She'll come to it in her own time, after the sun's come up and the rain clouds have all gone away, when they're both not soaked and cold to the bone. She'll get to it when she gets to it. When they're home and chilled out, when they're not on Edwards Island, when she's ready to talk about it. Jonas isn't worried; he's not about to force it.
This is Alex, after all.
She gets it.
"Okay, how fucking weird is this. We're getting back on the ferry?"
"Yeah? How else would we get home?"
"I dunno, man, I've never done this part before!"
False dawn streaks pale rose and silver along the horizon. Jonas and Alex wait on the ferry's deck, sharing his jacket like a blanket because leather absorbs less water than fabric does. He's comparatively dry, but with Alex weaseled around him the way she is, comparatively doesn't help much. Jesus, it's goddamn cold. Next time they do this, he's bringing a tent.
"What do you mean?" Jonas blinks down at her.
Alex props her chin against his chest, neck craned. "Usually when we do this, I wake up already on the boat? So like, actually boarding? It's a trip."
"Why did you have to make that pun. But Jesus, seriously?"
"Wow," Jonas says, because of all the things Alex has ever told him about the ghosts, this might be the weirdest because of how mundane it is. "I don't know what to say."
"Yeah," Alex says. She wrinkles her face up. "Why didn't anyone tell me how much waiting for the ferry sucked?"
"You complained about it last time, too," Jonas says, and he thinks that yeah, he might not change between the worlds, maybe he's rock-steady and solid, but Alex has her moments. She would complain about the waiting.
"Bug off, I did not!"
"You did, though," Jonas snickers into her hair. "Every single time."
"There is no way you remember that, don't front with me," Alex sniffs up at him. "There's like, absolutely no way, that's not a thing."
"It's a thing, Als," Jonas says.
"Worst," Alex pronounces. She burrows deeper into his jacket, and her voice comes muffled. "So are we, like, doing this? Ghost-hunting, or whatever? You actually wanna do this with me?"
The ferry's horn bellows out over the water, cutting any answer he might have had off. Captain Karen is a faint shadow behind the glass, but Jonas is pretty sure that's her way of saying no funny business on my ship.
So he doesn't answer, not right away.
Jonas shuffles Alex off the ferry, the pair of them stumbling with exhaustion. It takes a while, but eventually, he manages to pour Alex into his truck. He's freezing and wet and tired but he's gentle, careful, and the sunrise creeps along the horizon to bring the morning along. Edwards Island fades away behind them like it had never been there at all, and Alex smiles up at him from the passenger seat, half-loopy, her hair plastered down to her skull, so cold she's not shivering anymore. It's not cute, and it can't be healthy. She looks like a tweaked-out chipmunk.
"Jonas?" Alex says.
(What the hell, Jonas loves her.)
He kisses the top of her head.
"Yeah," Jonas says. "Yeah, Als, I think we are."