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rather that you'd stay

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It starts in a house, like most stories do. In an old house up near where April's grandparents used to live, on a hill she used to roll down and sled down and lay on, watching the streams below.

And Leo thinks it's ridiculous. That they're here, anyway, with flashlights and walkie talkies- in spite of having fully functional cell phones with pretty top notch service (thank you donnie)- because April's almost as extra as Leo can be. When it comes to these things, ghosts and shit.

“Of all the bad ideas you guys rope me into,” says April as they lug their baggage up the stairs, “I think I deserve to force y'all into sum’n crazy.”

She's not wrong, and completely merited in it, but Leo hates ghost, hates things that aren't real- unlike unicorns who, of course, were very much real and freaking amazing- and hates how on edge it makes him. But April's the closest thing to him outside of his brothers and Pops, and Leo does feel like he owes her a little adventure, sans his brothers.

With the way she smiles, bright and wildly excited, he can't exactly tell her no.

Besides, ghosts were so not real anyway.

Leo sticks to his guns about that, listening to April claim otherwise  anyway, mapping out their poltergeist hunting itinerary regardless, over Belgium waffles and tea.

Sometimes April reminds him of some really stable version of Donnie, and kinda wonders sometimes why she even wants to spend time with him and not his twin, who April gets in a really strange way- and could set straight with barely even a look.

He's...not Donnie. He doesn't get the lore of conspiracy and he's not exactly Mikey either, who revels in the thrill of being nearly possessed by a (totally unreal) spirit of some dead guy. He's Leo and he's scared as hell about a lot of things he never talks about.

And, he’s not like April; she has a bravado he can only wear for as long as things go well and- well, April's got experience at life's shittier parts, and maybe that’s one of the perks of being human and having to interact with other humans, Leo guesses, watching her scribble down more notes from Wikipedia with one hand and shoving waffles in her mouth with the other.

“The thing is-” she swallows, clicking her pen, “-there are three reports of unnatural, spooky shit happening just a couple'a miles from here. All in town. All this month. Coincidence?”

Kicking back in his chair, Leo takes a sip of his tea, lips curving upward around the rim, “I think the fuck not.”

“Correcto, very well said.”

“And so...we just gonna- what- get a little vid an’ dash on outta here or…?”

April rolls her eyes behind her glasses and goes back to jotting down...whatever it is she’s writing now, and Leo only feels partial guilt because of that.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she mumbles, but her lips curve up regardless, almost too quick for Leo to catch.

But he does, and sags in the kitchen chair, somehow extremely comfortable despite their odd circumstances. He’s with April, after all; she’s got his back and Leo, without forethought or a question and so, so unconditionally, will always have hers.

They’ve got whatever dead things Northampton has to throw at them.  They’re dorky pals for life, after all.

They stay up late, watching old movies but not really watching. Just sitting and talking and admiring how well they both were at word searches. And how quiet this place is. It’s nothing like the comfortingly chaoticness of home, this place’s got a kind of peace Leo’s not so accustomed to, but holds still something familiar in the way it feels simultaneously huge- detached, sorta- and close and warm.

And even though Leo’s somewhat more used to the presence of his brothers, where he feels completely right in himself and stabilized in an anarchic kind of way, being here, alone, with April-? It feels just as valid in a lot of ways, for a lot of reasons. Maybe she just had a lot of the things that Leo loves about his family, all in one really amazing person.

Part of Leo feels like he doesn’t deserve April because of that.

The static of the t.v is a low hum, that vibrates the room softly and makes Leo’s head buzz like it does when it’s quiet- as rare as that is. Talking comes easier than this, for him, but the older Leo gets the more he appreciates little moments like this in shared space, where he can still feel intertwined with someone without a word.

He remember to text his brothers, check if his family’s still sick, gets no texts back for, like, a half hour which means yeah they are, and goes back to vibing in silence with April and their word searches. Only, she’s not really looking in the book. She’s staring across at him like she does when she needs to release. And vent. And not that Leo’s not down for that but-

She looks sad- and it feels really wrong. Because April loves ghost hunting week and pretty much never stops talking about it all year .

And when April notices that he notices- she looks back down. So Leo nudges her leg with his foot over and over till she squirms because ew your feet are cold and sharp , get away, tossing her word search book at him.

“Only if you say what's up with you,” Leo says, making proper use of his anatomical advantages and gripping her ankle with his two toes, “This's a fun time, April- risking our totally un-possessed bodies. You should be, like, at least internally losing your shit.”

April doesn't really respond, just tries prying his toes open and letting herself fall back against the old rug, that smelt old and like loved things and good times and cookies, covering her face with her fro and mumbling into it.

Leo cups his ear, dragging her a little closer, “What- what was that? April? Sorry, I can't hear you past your hair so-” he moves her hands, and hair, revealing April and her glowering eyes.

“Aw there we go! There's my adorably, uncharacteristically moody friend!”

She flips him off, hands still pinned to the floor where Leo keeps them, smirking down at her even as he asks, genuinely, is she okay.

And that's about when she starts to crack. At least, in the way and fashion April usually did when something shitty was bugging her. Only Leo doesn't really know what- not until she huffs, relaxing against the floor and staring up blankly at the ceiling fan slowly spinning.

Leo joins her, easing down at her side, and watching the ceiling fan too.

“You know what sucks?” April asks, eventually, after silence passes.

Leo makes a noncommittal sound in his throat, eyes flicking over at her.

“My dad usually does Ghost Hunting Week with me,” she says, “And now he has to work- a lot. Which, is like the worst thing to be mad at him for it- which I am and ‘m not. ‘S...he's got a shitton of things to pay for so that makes sense. It just sucks!”

She tosses her hands up and lets them flop back against the carpet.

“That's, like, why I didn't wanna bug you of all people because you hate this stuff and probably think...I'm just  being a dork? Ugh…’s just...stupid, nevermind.”

It's way more than Leo thought it would be, but April was pretty could at making herself seem chill when she wasn't; a shared quality of friends, Leo guesses.

“Sidetrack,” he says, turning his eyes back to the ceiling, “Why did you ask me? Not. That I think this is dorky because I don't okay- it's ju-”

April groans, cuts him off as she rolls on her side away from him, her back to him.

“Shit, this is gonna sound hella depressing and...gross but. Leo? You're Forget all the times I say you're not, and you're still a dork , but is it dumb to say I kinda hoped you'd think this was, like, legit?”

That I was cool, she doesn't say, and it leaves Leo more than a little dumbfounded as hell because-


April curls even more inward, nodding in her ball of a kind of embarrassment Leo gets. Wholeheartedly.

“Okay, okay- yeah I'm...I'm pretty rad, but April, c'mon you're a boss, sister. Like...mega, freakin’ badass boss-”

“Please, Leo- you're making it worse…” April mumbles, rolling back over an sitting up, frowning down at him and oh my god there's tears, “No one says ‘rad’ anymore.”

Leo pauses, in mid-about-to-sit-up-too. And he looks at April, and she looks at him.

And they burst into laughter. Wet and sloppy and snorting unabashed.

In town, it’s different than New York. It moves slower, faces are fewer and eyes are a little kind in a homey sort of way, from what Leo can see slouched low in the passenger seat of April's van.

It's her first car, one her dad was able to get a bargain on, that fell apart every other week and maybe that was a good thing; April barely passed her driver's test anyway and, despite that miracle, she still can't drive.

At least not in the city.

Here, she cruises a little more- besides a few jerky stops- and seems less tense. It's a good look on her, though Leo wouldn't trade her intense fire for a thing in this world or any other one out there.

“Wiki says her name was Winona but the last name's dicey-”

April hits the brakes hard as they go over a pothole, and instinctively goes to hold Leo back against the seat.

“-my b, but yeah...says she’s been haunting Northampton since 1934. After the death of her partner I says she went nutso, killed the guy who killed her gf and died of a broken heart. But she's been sticking around.”

Leo nods, scrolling through his phone and pictures of this lady. He's still not sold on it, but he'd rather April feel validated and that's not something he's willing to give up. No matter how right he is.

“So badass lesbian ghost is hangin’ out in a shack and terrorizing, like, a ton of her neighbors?”

“Pretty much yeah.”

“Go off. I say, more power to her, that stuff is heavy- I mean like...yeah. I probably would haunt Manhattan- or at least a block okay- if someone got you.”

He doesn't realize it, not at first with his focus still on Winona the Badass Ghost Lesbian, but April's beaming at the road, and it gets a chuckle from Leo.

“Whaaat? What'd I say?”

And April. She just keeps smiling for a few seconds longer, till they reach a red light.

“You really mean that? Like forreal, forreal? Like if I got killed-”

Leo knocks on the dashboard, because it would have to suffice in place of wood, because that's never happening.

“Okay, okay- chill. It won't happen, but if it did, you would really haunt a block’a Manhattan for me?”

Leo considers it, not really that it needed much thought, and shrugs.

“Maybe like three.”

“Christ, I love you.”

It makes Leo smile, genuine and big, as he snaps Dee a picture of this ghost lady and his brother texts back something incoherent because- fever.

They always say i love you; it's just a common, natural thing. Hardly ever does it feel weird- only, really, for Donnie who'd rather show it in soft smiles and gentle pats on the head or threatening Leo's life a few dozen times a day. But for them, collectively, love and its declaration was normal. And still April saying it is like winning the lottery sometimes.

Because his brothers, though Leonardo knows without a single shred of doubt love him, they're still his brothers, and loving him isn't just a choice it's like...biology. For April though…

She doesn't have to. Do any of this.

She doesn't have to ask him, specifically, to join her on a ghost hunting trip just to spend time with him, and she doesn't have to stick around and be roped into their bullshit, but she does.

She doesn't have to love them, or...or Leo.

But she does.

And when he says i love you, too, back at her, as the lights change and they're speeding down a bumpy road to an abandoned shack, Leo means it with everything he's got.

It continues in a shack. There's an amulet in the shack.

The amulet of Winona’s long deceased lover and it sits in the room on a chair and never moves. Hasn't been touched. That's where the power comes from, flowing into the crevices of the very walls and floors and fabric, and giving Winona life and just enough life to steal souls and haunt and bring further decay, her pain less evident to others.

She's a monster to them, but Leo thinks he gets her entirely.

April sits before the amulet and says a few greetings and Leo holds up his camera to record, his left hand hovering where he can grab his swords.

Just in case.

Ghosts weren't real, of course, Leo reminds himself, but can't seem to let his body and reflexes believe that right now as he keeps on watching April carefully.

She whispers a few more things. Like a calming breath against a dandelion.

Only. The dandelion explodes.

Leo still doesn't know why April doesn't think she's legit, when the old abandoned shack just a few miles down the road feels like it has no air, a sophicating kind of energy pooling out dark green and inky black through the woodwork.

Because, on one knee and fighting it, Leo sees April standing her ground, bat in hand, screaming at the dark forces and the ghosts that Leo now knows are real, but doubts it somehow in fear.

Still can't believe that.

Even as his other knee gives out and April's still standing.

“I know you're alone, girl,” she yells, and grips her bat tight, voice lowering her voice as the pressure lessens, “I get how that feels . It hurts like hell- losin’ someone, feeling alone? Gets pretty scary and…’m so, so sorry about Gwendoline.”

Through blurred vision, Leo manages to yank his sword, praying he could make a portal, even just for April; she's got a big heart, and it's dangerous to trust that easy, he's learned (remembers what a 35 story drop feels like).

But then the pressure falls to nothing but a dull hum, as April keeps talking, and talking.

“-nd I mean who does that? Right? Point being, I've had a handful of really...bad people. But. The guys who got your boo are dead- the people livin’ here in Northampton? They're just...people.”

April's clutching the amulet now, and stoops low, letting it fall in the center of the carpet.

“Just. Breathe. Find some good ghost friends, chill a little bit. And only terrorize bad guys,” she says, like she's talking to a friend, and chuckles, “That's what I did...minus the ghost part. Add mutant. Same diff.”

She flashes a smile back at Leo as the room and the world rights itself.

Winona, wherever she is dispersed in the room, is silent and the amulet sways with a gentle rushing breeze in the room.

April simply stares, and Leo can tell she's had the most incredible experience of her life and soaking all that up right now as his eyes search the room for any traces of ghost.

Not that he'd find any, really.

But he does find his phone, the screen all cracked up and ruined.


He sighs, and scoops up a still-in-shock April (and the shattered remains of his phone) and drops them both back in the van.

The shock will hit him later, when his body feels it's safer, but for now, he waits for April to thaw in-

“Three...two,” Leo glances over at her from behind his Seventeen Magazine, in the passenger's seat, “One.”

A smile, rivaling the sun and stars and the galaxy that held them, spreads across April's face as she starts squealing, kicking at the dashboard.

And for Leo, god, that's just the best sound ever.