tw: dissociation, grief, implied transphobia, abuse/death briefly discussed, self-destructive flirting
Funnily enough, this was the first time I’d been in a closet since I was fifteen. It was a storage closet, not the closet—details. I don’t know why it occurred to me. (When was the last time you saw a ghost move on when was the last time you had to accept that the dead are dead—)
Will peered through the crack of the closet door out into the hospital hallway, then scoffed quietly at me. “You came out at fifteen?”
This time, her hearing it didn’t bother me. It wasn’t like I hid it, and besides, if she was only getting the top part— “Yeah. When did you?”
“Uh, sixteen, seventeen,” she said, somewhat distractedly. “It was kind of complicated.”
It was something to think about that wasn’t —well, anything else that was happening. Being dragged out of a morgue and then shoved into a closet at the sight of a security guard wasn’t stressing me out as much as it should be. Instead, I just felt kind of… floaty. I’d never dealt with so many ghosts at once. Thinking about Kiera made my head hurt. Thinking about anything made my head hurt, actually, and given that it was—I checked my phone—two in the morning, that wasn’t that strange.
So it was fall asleep in a storage closet, or talk about something else.
“Looks like we’re good for a bit, but we’d better stay here until they stop looking.” Will winced again, and I wondered if it was only luck keeping the guards from checking the closet. I forgot, sometimes, that Will could control people if she wanted to. It was weird to remember, and a little bit scary.
I blinked, looking up at Will. She’d turned her head back to me, and I realized again (how many times did I have to?) that I was way too spaced out. Right. “Uh, yeah. Sorry. Space cadet.” Fake smile. Almost managed it.
Something crossed her face, I wasn’t sure what. Then she inched back from the door, sitting against the back wall with the mop and broom handles between us. “Can I ask something kind of personal?” she asked.
“You get access to my brain. Can’t get more personal than that.”
“You know I don’t do that on purpose.”
I realized she was waiting for an actual answer, other than just my snarky reply. “…Sure,” I sighed.
“When I, um—when we were talking about elementals, the first time.” She pulled her knees to her chest, looking strangely vulnerable. “You got pretty upset when I talked about trauma.”
Oh. Oh, that’s where this was going. I felt myself getting pissed off again, but I was so tired, and so out of it—I pushed it down, fingernails digging into my palm. “I did. What’s your question?” I asked from behind gritted teeth.
“Did you start being able to see ghosts when Johara died?”
…And then it snapped into place. She’d mentioned a dead brother. She thought—“No, I could—I’ve always been able to. I guess I was three or four? That’s my earliest memory of it.” I shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe I’m different.” Maybe I’m not, my brain added, but I tried to ignore that. “You?”
“Oh.” Well, that wasn’t a coincidence. “I guess, uh, coming out didn’t go so well.”
Will stretched out her legs, the affected grace so practiced and yet so obvious that I noted it away. “Kind of that. Kind of my brother being a jackass.”
“The one who’s dead?”
“No—well, yes, actually, they’re both dead. But not the one I care about.”
I blinked. “…Uh, what happened to your family?”
“That story I’m leaving for another time. Which might well be never. But my powers showed up before they died. It was just part of the whole clusterfuck.”
I narrowed my eyes. This was starting to sound familiar. “…Was this two, three years ago?” It was probably a wild guess – but two dead brothers, a queer kid in the middle, and the cagey, overly-affected way that Will kept referring to it had me wondering.
“Aw, fuck.” Will rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Yes. Yes, it was,” she groaned. “Which means you know my deadname from the papers.”
“If it makes you any more comfortable, I’ve completely forgotten it.” I was telling the truth, too. The Angevin murders had been one of the biggest stories in Ottawa for – well, years. That didn’t mean I’d actually paid attention beyond the headlines.
“Good. It was an awful name and no child should ever have been saddled with it, trans or not.” She sighed again, bonking her head gently against one of the mop handles. “I keep forgetting it was all over the papers. Joys of being a public figure.”
“That was you?”
“I’ve done some remodeling. I suppose I should be thankful I had a ready-made excuse to change my name, but still.” The joke fell a little flat, mostly because I could see the tension in her wrists. She didn’t like talking about it. I couldn’t blame her. “I’m still shocked that Cass didn’t.”
“C—” I blinked, then it processed. “Wait, Cassandra? As in the Cassandra?”
“Oh god, don’t. Please. Her ego’s big enough as it is.”
“She’s your sister?”
“Twin sister, yes. All pretentious five foot six inches of her, yes.”
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. Then—“The one who calls herself Ophis?”
“How many Cassandras do you meet on a regular basis?” Will responded in some annoyance. “And for your information, it’s Greek.”
I couldn’t help it. I snorted. “Okay, I see why you call her pretentious.”
“Hey, watch it. I came up with that one,” she snickered. “I can dress like a gutter punk all I want, I still got raised by somebody who would’ve sucked Aristotle’s cock if she could manage it.”
I did laugh at that—but still. I rubbed my temples, trying to wrap my head around it. It was bad enough that my side gig intended to catch cheaters and threaten kneecaps had turned into catching a supernatural serial killer. Now I was finding out that the totally-not-secret-society included two of the Angevin kids. Sure, I hadn’t paid attention – but I knew Cassandra Angevin was still wanted on suspicion of at least half of the deaths.
I reminded myself to ask about that later. Definitely later. What did sink in, though, was that all of the Angevins except Will and Cass were dead. That was what was so horrible about the whole thing, and I hadn’t even known.
Will was just as alone as me.
“Stop that,” Will grumbled. “I can hear that stupid heart-wrenching noise from here.”
“I’m sorry about your broth—”
Right. I tried to refocus. “How old are you, then? I thought you were my age.” Stupid, stupid conversation topic, but it wasn’t about murder, so that was an upside.
“Oh god, not again. No, I’m twenty. You’re a baby in comparison.”
“Twenty? That’s not old.”
“You’re seventeen, shove it.”
I crossed my arms. “Says the one who’s been flirting with me since we met.”
Now that got a reaction. Will’s face went pink, and she avoided my eyes. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t mean to come off like that.”
“What, writing your number on my arm?” I was teasing, but underneath it, I really was flattered. I wasn’t used to people expressing interest in me—I’d dated two people in high school, and neither had lasted long. One of them I’d tanked all on my own, but both of them had been experimenting, which meant that when they found out how uninterested I was in sex, they moved on pretty quickly. I had every reason to expect Will would do the same thing, but in the meantime, I could have some fun poking at her.
“I don’t—” Will was well and truly flustered, which was a first. She flapped her hand at me, leaning her head back against the wall. “I default to flirting. I didn’t think about how old you were.”
“Oh please. I’m seventeen.”
“Which is a teenager.”
“An old one.” Then I relented. “I—see your point though. Sorry.” Embarrassment crept up on me. Of course Will hadn’t actually been flirting with me. It didn’t matter how much I acted like an adult.
(what’s wrong with you it’s not like you care when people like you anyway)
Will glanced at me, eyes sparkling a little. Her gaze unfocused for a moment, then she sighed. “Still security guards outside. We’ll be here a few hours still. I can call Avery in a few hours.”
“A few hours? Great. Just us and the ghosts around the corner.”
I did so, and she moved over to sit next to me. I managed to hide the blush, and belatedly threw up the brick wall—but the damage was done.
Will didn’t say anything immediately, though. She just pressed her shoulder to mine, the contact surprisingly grounding, and I found myself hyperaware of… everything. My boots braced against the linoleum floor. My back against the cold wall. The way my ears itched and the back of my neck prickled. The weight of my denim jacket on my shoulders and the soft, barely-audible clicking of the buttons on the cuff against each other.
“You’ve been dissociating since we got to the morgue,” she murmured, voice soft.
“Is that what this is?” I said, my lips feeling numb. Then—“How did you know? Did you… did you listen in?”
“My powers don’t work that way. No, I—just know what it’s like.”
“I don’t know what I did wrong.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re just usually a lot more… hm.” Will tapped her chin. “You’d, uh, usually rather throw me out of a window than start teasing me about flirting.”
“Oh god. Am I that predictable?”
“Nothing wrong with that. I’m guessing the ghosts freaked you out a lot.” She smiled softly, blue eyes fixed on mine, and I couldn’t shake the idea (locked safely behind the brick wall, or as safely as I could manage) that she could kiss me, if she wanted to. If I let her. If I stopped caring enough. If I cared more.
I shook my head, but it was no use. Will was right. Usually I just got pissy or anxious or angry. Today—It’d been a long time since I’d watched a ghost pass on. It’d been a long time since I’d thought about the fact that Johara could leave. That Johara, at the end of the day, was dead.
Tears started prickling at my eyes, and I covered my face in horror. “Jesus. No, no, no.”
(you don’t get to think about kissing people you’re alive and johara’s dead and nothing about that is fair)
“I won’t tell anybody. It’s fine. I’m an asshole, but I’m not—you’re fine.”
I still tried to stop it, but it was no use. I was going to cry in front of Will and there wasn’t anything I could do about it—what kind of Salt was I, if I cried over using my fucking powers—
“Is it okay if I touch you?”
What a strange question. I’d never been asked that before. I nodded, and when her arm wrapped around my shoulders, I lost the battle. I cried into her shirt, for my sister, for all of the unclaimed ghosts waiting alone in the morgue, for Elena, for Gurjas, for all the lonely dead who I couldn’t help. And I cried for myself, too. I was so tired of being alone.
Will didn’t say anything. I leaned into her, her warmth keeping me in touch with the world around me, but I had to wonder how long it would take before she left, too.