dedication: Sonya. Eleni.
notes: I feel like crying.

title: we were never here
summary: We could have had a love story for the ages.

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Jamie held a cup of cold tea between her hands that morning, two days after the world ended and wondered about ghosts. The too-sweet liquid melted down her throat like cotton candy and she made a face with her nose scrunched up. She sipped at it thoughtfully, gaze cast on perfectly suspended grey.

It was late autumn, November's cold biting at October's heels with sleet and icy winds. Winter threatened just outside the walls of her apartment and Jamie stood at the window to press her fingers against the glass and leave prints there, ridged lines of her essence immortalized for only a second. But it was proof of her existence, proof of her life, and that was all that she needed.

She watched the sky, humming gently to herself, tucked up on the windowsill with her knees to her chest.

The phone rang from far away. Jamie jerked, eyes wide. She set her tea down, careful not to spill amber drops of liquid, before she stood and crossed the room and reached for the receiver. "Hello?"

"Hey," his voice crackled through, a melody of static and familiarity—he was a ghost in his own right and maybe that was why she was wondering in the first place.

Jamie winced. "How are you, Ryan?"

"M'good. You?"

She thought that if that was all he had to say to her, why had he bothered to call at all? If that was all he had to say, they had a problem. It was the end of a friendship and she dragged the air into her lungs to reply.

"I'm okay, I guess. That's good—that you're good, I mean," she said. "That's, um, that's really good."

"Look, Jamie—" he started, but she cut him off.

"No, it's okay. Seriously. It's—it's okay."

"…You sure?"

"Yes," she murmured, biting her lip. "Why are you calling?"

"Can't a guy say hello?" he asked.

Jamie stared at the wall. She thought of crop circles and how no one could ever find a reason for them. How maybe there was no reason for anything. How living was getting harder and better and sadder.

"I guess."

There was a pause. And then:

"I'm in the lobby. Can I come up?" he asked.

She let him hang on the edge of the question for a long time. It probably didn't mean anything to him anyway.

But to Jamie, the hesitation was everything.

"Okay," she said. "Okay."

"Alright. I'll be right up."

The line clicked dead, and Jamie held the phone to her ear for only the barest minute. She twirled her fingers through the cord, wrapping it round and round her forefinger out of long-cemented habit. It was a calming ritual and the shaking died away; she hadn't even known she'd been shaking in the first place.

Jamie settled the phone back down in its cradle as gently as she could. She dipped herself in a sheen of silence, and went to fetch her tea. She sat on her bed with her legs crossed, dug her toes into the dirty duvet, cold and white.

The empty knock of knuckles against shoddy wood sounded.

"It's open!" Jamie called over her shoulder. She kept her eyes trained on the window, knuckles going white around the chipped grey mug.

The doorknob rattled and turned, and Ryan shoved the door open. He slid in, bringing with him a cold that sank into her bones that might have been shame.

They surveyed each other, bemused.

"You're missing your tie," Jamie told him.

"Oh," he paused, and looked down. "I left it at Melissa's."

For a minute, they looked at each other. Jamie would have laughed, because it was ridiculous. Melissa. Melissa. It was always something with him, always a girl or a game or a party. She clenched her jaw and smiled with her teeth for the world to see, except not because that would be weak. She wouldn't let him see the strain because it might hurt him and she never wanted that.

Jamie squinted at Ryan a little dubiously, face scrunching up around her eyes. "Seriously? Her? Not to be a downer or anything, but, um, lack of forethought, much?"

He shrugged a crow's shrug, one shoulder flopping up and down. "It was whatever," he said. "Just a thing."

Pale light filtered through the window, muted through the grey film across the sky and the clouds of gauze that were the curtains. It slipped through like an afterthought, a soft sigh that might have been a wisp of smoke for all it meant.

"…If dignity was money, you could maybe buy a soda," she told him, and tucked her curls behind her hair. "C'mere, dork."

He sat on her bed and she straightened his shirt, fingers tangling up in his hair because it was almost want, I almost want you, you are almost mine

But almost was never enough for either of them because the timing was all wrong, maybe would always be wrong, and she sighed into his shoulder.

"I'm here now," he said. He made a sound that felt like pain, grating across her eardrums in the quiet. Everything was muddled and impossible to dissect because they'd been in stasis for so long that neither of them was prepared to deal with the fallout.

Jamie smiled at him a little sadly. It bloomed across her face like the city after rain, real and wondrous and fresh. It was a forgiving smile, one that might have been beautiful save for its lack of happiness.

"I know you are."

"Hey, don't look so sad," Ryan told her. He grinned like the whole world was a beautiful place, a great fanfare of a thing and oh, what Jamie had given to trace the lines around his mouth, mapping out his skin to burn it onto her eyelids.

"I'm not sad," Jamie said.

She flopped back on her bed, dragging him with her and laughing in that gentle way that old friends have. She stretched up and traced patterns in the air, in the brown water damage on the ceiling, in the weak light like a child with innocence and immunity in her eyes. They whispered back and forth about crowds and weather and the way the Christmas lights hung along the walls made them both think of fireflies in the dark.

Ryan's fingers caught in tight smoky-brown curls and Jamie paused to look up at him.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing," he grinned. "Your hair's crazy."

Jamie rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, you're ridiculous. And your nose is fat. So there!"

He laughed. It was a full laugh, deep in his chest and Jamie was suddenly back in a high school classroom, dripping heat and early-September sunshine and trapped under the twin demons of calculus and physics. It was from when they were both shy and sweet, when they were both children, still. The memory hit hard and fast, and she thought about how it started, and about the longing, and how now—now it was different.

The problem was that she'd grown up since then.

She smiled in the present when he pulled on a loose strand of hair.

"Hey," he said.

"Yeah?"

He was very close to her face. "Pay attention to me."

Jamie grinned, lips quirking. "I am paying attention to you, dork."

"I'm not a dork," he muttered.

"You so are, I mean—"

But then she found her words cut off, brushed away by a pair of lips.

Everything froze.

It was the screaming in her head; all the things she had ever wanted and all the things she had ever thought she needed. It was supposed to be fireworks and rockets but all it amounted to was a crackle of fragile glass and Jamie wanted to cry because it wasn't right. It wasn't right and it wasn't fair. He was supposed to be her friend.

And it hurt.

"Jamie?" Ryan prodded after a moment. "You okay?"

No, she was not okay.

"Maybe you should leave," she said with her eyes down.

There was an intake of breath. Jamie knew that his jaw was tight from the grinding of his teeth. It took him a moment.

"Maybe I should," he said.

Jamie bit her lip and refused to look at him. She felt the bed shift under his weight and pressed her face into the pillow. His bare feet on the floor were a hollow cadence in the back of her mind.

"See you around."

Jamie closed her eyes and forced herself not to cry.

The door closed behind him.

Softly, like an apology.

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Fin.