It was odd.
Jazz had spent the past week feeling like her father's death just... wasn't real. Like she would come down stairs and he would be there, at the dining table eating breakfast, or tinkering with a new device with a slice of Fenton Toast in his mouth. Him not being there, the empty space and the deafening silence, it didn't feel real.
And now he was at the dining table, wolfing down mac and cheese with enthusiastic gusto... and it still didn't feel real.
She wasn't sure if it was his altered appearance, or the fact that she had to change her entire mindset after only just starting to accept that he wasn't there anymore, that he was gone, truly gone.
Because now he wasn't gone. He was here, he was real and he was here.
But it didn't feel real.
As she sat her father down at the table, she fussed around him, preparing his plates and cutlery, keeping her hands on him at every opportunity. Just to make sure he didn't disappear again, just to make sure he was still there.
But while standing across the room, by the kitchen window, eyes glancing up and down the street for the large shape of the Fenton RV, she couldn't be certain he was really there. She knew he was, logically she knew, but there was something about ghosts that simply didn't leave an impression in the atmosphere that a human did. When she turned her back on a person, she still knew they were there, that the room was not empty, but as soon as her eyes left her father, she felt alone.
She hated it, as happy as she was to have her father back, she hated the reminder that he was still dead. He was here, but it wasn't the same as before, and it never would be the same.
She thought she would be happy, overjoyed even, to have him back, and a part of her certainly was, but another part of her was still upset, she... she felt robbed.
She spent an entire week in mourning, grieving for her dad who she thought she would never see again, and now he was here. It had all been for nothing, the pain, the emptiness, and the chaotic misery flooding her mind had all been for nothing. All the hurt was for nothing because he hadn't been gone after all.
Why did she have to go through that? It wasn't fair.
"This is great Jazzypants! I haven't had mac and cheese this good since, well, the last time you cooked mac and cheese!" Jack exclaimed with vigour. His voice put him firmly back in the room with her and eased the emptiness in the air for a moment.
Everything was so complicated, her feelings were so complicated. She would have to do some research, perhaps on people who had missing family members, thought to be dead, returned to them. That was probably similar enough to her experiences to be useful, there might be coping mechanisms for that she wasn't aware of.
She just wanted to sit at a table and have a normal meal with her normal father, but instead she was standing guard, making sure her mother wasn't on her way home yet.
She hadn't spied the large car coming up the empty street just yet, but she did see something else unusual.
"Hey, I'll be back in a minute dad, don't go anywhere." she said, making her way to the front door.
When she opened it, a punk boy with a spiked mohawk was standing outside, he backed up quickly, he hadn't quite made it to the door yet and seemed slightly embarassed to be caught loitering.
"Uh, hey... Jazz." said Spike, he lifted up a bunch of slightly limp looking flowers. "I was asking around about how you've been, but nobody said they've seen you. So I thought I'd just..."
He shifted awkwardly, and held out the flowers, arm stiff, anxiously tense.
"I got you these, you've probably gotten a bunch of them already but I thought it'd be weird if I didn't bring anything."
Jazz took the flowers, they were a random assortment, the stems all roughly snapped off at different lengths, he'd picked them himself, probably from a public garden somewhere. It was a surprising move for Spike, he wasn't usually the most sensitive guy, not outwardly at least.
"Thanks Spike, they're beautiful." she forced a small smile. She appreciated that he had come to check on her, but she mostly just wanted him to leave, normally she would consider this a big breakthrough in Spike's ability to empathise, but she really couldn't deal with putting on a mask for people right now.
"Yeah I mean," he shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground. "You really, like, you always cared. About me, I mean you care about everyone but, like you don't just say it. You know?"
Jazz stayed silent, not daring to interrupt. Spike had always been resistant to any of her advice, he was blunt and stubborn and often rude to other people. She knew his home life was rough, and a lot of his aggression was misplaced because he had no real outlet. She had been trying to teach him less destructive coping mechanisms, but he'd never given any indication that he was listening.
"You don't just tell people you're there, you see problems and you just DO somethin' about it. Even when you don't get any thanks." he lifted a foot to scratch at the back of his leg. "Like even though I was really shitty to you, you kept trying to help me... and I never really wanted to admit it but, some of the stuff you said did kinda help a bit... or a lot."
Jazz felt a flood of warmth fill her chest. She'd always felt helpless, trying to help Spike, it pained her to see him wallow in his self destructive tendencies, she had no idea that something had gotten through. She also couldn't help but notice he didn't carry his usual reek of cigarette smoke.
"So when I started asking people how you were doin', and nobody could tell me, I just thought that was super shitty you know? You like, put so much energy into people and nobody was giving it back so, I figured I was just as shitty for not doing it either. So..." he finally glanced toward her as he gave a little shrug. "I'm here. Do you wanna talk about it?"
She hadn't been prepared for this. Her eyes burned and she couldn't swallow the lump in her throat. She sat down on the step and tried to hold her sobs in. She hadn't been prepared for this at all, her mask had well and truly cracked under the pressure and it was all tumbling forth.
Spike didn't say anything, he just sat on the step beside her, and put a hand on her back, rubbing gently, though a little awkward and hesitant.
"It's just so hard." Jazz choked out. "There's just so much and it's so hard, and I'm trying to help them I'm trying but I can't-"
She gasped in uneven breaths as she tried to hold the tears back, she was a blubbering mess but at least she wasn't openly sobbing.
"You're not gonna help anyone much if you're a total mess." said Spike, his words were blunt, as usual, and could have been insulting, but she recognised what he was trying to tell her. She couldn't help anyone if she didn't help herself first, it was something she'd said so many times to so many others. He was just saying it in his own way.
"Yeah," she nodded. "Yeah I know, but right now I'm the only thing holding this place together. My mom is off taking out all of her anger on some poor unsuspecting poltergeists, and Danny is internalising everything so much he might actually explode. Did you know I had to do all of the funeral preparations?"
She stared at Spike, eyes still wet with tears.
"I had to do all of it. By myself."
"Damn." said Spike in a tight voice. "That's fucked up Jazz. You shouldn't have to deal with that."
"But I do have to deal with it." she stressed. "I don't have a choice, this is just how it is."
"Can't you like, I dunno, talk to your mom or something? Like I know she's going through some shit but you're all going through some shit. She's your mom, she should be there for you."
"She nearly hit me with a wrench this morning." Jazz was surprised to find the words falling from her mouth. "I mean it was an accident, she didn't know I was there but it scared the hell out of me, and then I didn't even have a chance to deal with it because I had to stand there and comfort her."
She dropped the flowers onto the step beside her and gripped at her head in frustration.
"And I can't even get mad about it because I turned around and did the exact same thing to Danny. I... I don't know what came over me, I just started shoving him and screaming in his face! I was just so frustrated that he could stay so calm while I was completely melting down inside." she ran a hand through her hair, unsticking it from the tears on her face. "Like it didn't even matter that I know he's hurting just as bad as me, I know he's just shoving it all down somewhere he doesn't have to deal with it, and I know that's unhealthy, but that just didn't matter because I was so angry and he was just there."
"Yeah, I know how that is." Spike took his hand from her back and instead began fiddling with one of the faux leather cuffs around his wrist. "You feel like you got all this, uh, like pressure building up in your chest, and you feel like the only way to make it go away is to scream or hit something, and you just don't have enough room left in you to care if you hurt someone doin' that."
Jazz stared at him. She knew he struggled to control his anger, but he'd never told her exactly how it felt. She was so angry at herself, that she thought Spike would have been angry at her too, but of course he wasn't. He was probably one of the only people she knew who could really understand. He wouldn't be mad at her, because she'd never been mad at him.
"But you always told me that you can't change stuff that's already happened, you just gotta deal with it. Like telling people you're sorry." he looked over at her. "I'm gonna bet you already did that, right?"
She nodded, glumly.
"Did he forgive you?"
"...I think so."
"Then that's it, you can't do anything else about it, so stop worrying about it."
"...You really have been listening to me, huh?" Jazz smiled and nudged him with an elbow. "You could be a therapist some day, if you dial back the asshole a little bit."
Spike laughed, he tried to hold it back, but she could hear him snorting as a smile threatened to stretch across his face.
"You can't call me an asshole, that's bad therapy." he nudged her back.
"Hey, today you're the therapist, remember." Jazz teased, she pulled her legs up in front of her and laid her cheek on her knees, fixing Spike with a soft look. "Thank you, I didn't realise how much I needed that."
"You shouldn't have had to wait this long." he averted his eyes again, his fists clenched. "You should have had plenty of people to talk to. So many people call themselves your 'friends', but they don't deserve you. Like how can they just, use you whenever they want and then just leave you a facebook message and think that's fair? Your fucking dad died they should be here for you."
Jazz had seen Spike worked up over a lot of things, difficult schoolwork, unfair treatment from teachers, other kids who'd try to goad him into fights. He was always rather intolerant of other people, but he didn't pick fights, he actually had a real problem with people who did.
He had a surprisingly strong hatred for injustice, for people getting away with being shitty to other people on purpose. Some of their most intensive conversations came from his frustration with the school system ignoring kids who needed help. He had more than once even ranted on behalf of Danny.
Now he believed she was the one who had been wronged, and she was feeling firsthand what it was like to have someone so passionately supportive of her.
"You're here for me." said Jazz, smiling softly.
Spike, once again, refused to make eye contact. His cheeks flushed a very gentle pink.
"Yeah." he said.
"I guess you can't argue that you aren't a good person now." she said, smiling gleefully. "C'mon, I wanna hear you say it."
She had tried to get him to say it so many times, just once she wanted him to admit it, just once. He huffed in exasperation, but for the first time ever, and with an unavoidable smile twitching at the corner of his mouth, he relented.
"I'm not a bad person." he sighed, sucking his lips in to hide the grin he couldn't hold back.
Jazz threw her arms around him, and shook him in an excited little wiggle.
"I'm so proud of you!!"
Spike kept his arms very firmly planted to his sides, and he tolerated the hug in the same way a particularly patient cat might, but he still couldn't quite put his smile away. Jazz's joy had always been rather infectious.
"Yeah yeah okay, you finally got me. Yay. I said the magic words. All my problems are cured now." Spike snarked, but there was no bite to it.
Jazz opened her mouth to say more, but with the screeching of tires, she saw the large shape of the Fenton RV turn into the street.
"Shit!" Jazz stood abruptly, grabbing the flowers. "I gotta go!"
She rushed up the steps and opened the front door, but before closing it behind her, she gave him one more smile.
"Thank you." she said. "I really mean it."
He waved, then shoved his hands in his pockets and quickly strode away.
Jazz closed the door, and her one brief moment of normalcy was over, as she began the arduous task of hiding the very large, glowing ghost man in her kitchen from the incredibly violent ghost hunter about to enter the house.
Just another day in the life of a Fenton.