A/N: Here we go, gang. Final chapter.
That night, in Alex's ancient twin bed, Piper is lying on her side, half draped over Alex, who's flat on her back, eyes turned toward the ceiling. Piper wonders vaguely if they're going to take down the old, barely glowing stars before they leave.
She can't stop thinking about this being the last night they'll spend in this room, in this apartment. Absurdly, it makes her dread falling asleep, like she doesn't want to miss any of it.
Alex hasn't given any indication that she's feeling the significance and finality of tonight, not whole time they've been getting ready for bed, moving silently around each other and a floor full of boxes and garbage bags.
But when the lights are out, Alex starts to talk.
"It really is crazy that we stayed here so long. Before here, nothing felt even close to permanent."
Piper nestles a little closer, pressing a kiss to her collarbone. "Yeah?"
"We got evicted a lot. Stayed with Beth a couple times...we were at her place for three weeks before we came here, actually."
Piper can feel Alex's chest humming as she speaks, but the words seem to be coming from somewhere above them, falling easily through the darkness.
"You know that thing my aunt said, about Mom living in a car with me?"
"Well, we did. Live in the car. I was only a few weeks old the first time...that's what my aunt was talking about. We only moved here because it was near where Clara went to school. Mom had to practically beg her to stay in her apartment for a week, but she at least got some money together to give..."
Alex keeps going, unrolling years and years of stories. Piper's never heard any of this; they met when they were nine, too young to bother swapping life histories. And after awhile, any time before they met had always seemed hazy and irrelevant.
But now, Alex is telling her everything: nine years worth of moments when it was just her and her mom, before it was also her and Piper.
Piper spends the next morning walking boxes down to the car so she doesn't have to watch Alex strip the band posters off her walls.
After the last trip to load, she's barely stepped back into the apartment before Alex is in front of her, thrusting garbage bags into her arms. "Can you take these to the dumpsters?"
Piper nods, not wanting to think about what's in them.
When she comes back, Alex's luggage is stacked in the otherwise empty living room.
"What are you going to do with your car?" Piper demands abruptly, a note of a challenge in her voice, as if she's hoping to remind Alex of some detail she forgot, make her snap her fingers and realize she can't possibly leave today.
No such luck. "I can leave it in the parking spot here through the end of the month. Beth's going to come get it soon."
Piper watches Alex for a moment; she's wearing Diane's black Led Zeppelin shirt and her eyes won't stay still. She's running on a pure panic fueled flight response, like leaving town, leaving the apartment, will get her away from the oppressive fact that her mom is gone.
"Hey," Piper says gently, waiting until Alex's eyes land on her. "What do you want to do today?"
Their last day. Piper's not sure what she's hoping for, but it's not what Alex comes up with.
"I have to go work out the storage unit thing. And drop some stuff at Goodwill. And I should..." Her voice falters the slightest bit, the speed of her voice slowing. "I should leave for the airport around four."
Piper's stomach sinks; that's sooner than she thought. "You know I want to take you, right?"
Alex looks at her. "You sure?"
"Yes." They're quiet for a moment. "I just." Piper swallows. "I have this awful feeling like..." A nervous, breathy laugh jumps out of her. "Like I'm never going to see you again."
She waits for Alex to jump in, tell her how absurd that is. But Alex just turns her head, her face tightening.
Fear winds up the length of Piper's spine. She can barely get to the words; her voice comes out weightless: "You aren't coming back, are you?"
"I don't know."
"You aren't - "
"Piper, I don't know. That's the whole fucking point." Her voice is angry and too loud. "I'm going to Germany tonight, and after that I have no idea what's going to happen. Ever."
The truth of that crashes between them. Fear runs across Alex's face, just for a second, and then she turns away.
"I gotta go rent a storage space," Alex mutters. "Did you want to come?"
"I..." Piper swallows. "Yes."
They take Diane's car, and Piper stays in the passenger seat while Alex takes care of the purchase. She reappears after about fifteen minutes, waving a key, and Piper dutifully gets out of the car and opens the trunk.
Piper ducks her head to hide an unexpected smile when she sees the garbage bag of cassettes sitting on top of the records, saved from the trash after all; her one small victory.
It takes them several trips to stack everything into the small space, about the size of a good walk in closet. They leave behind the three boxes of albums, the tapes, a stereo and record player, two boxes of books, and a large plastic carton Piper doesn't remember seeing that Alex must have gotten from the apartment building's basement storage space. It seems mostly full of papers. Alex catching her looking, seems to debate something with herself, and then finally says, "I was looking through this last night...look..."
She pulls off the plastic lid, and Piper can see a lot of colorful construction paper among the stacks of documents, probably crafts Alex made in elementary school. Her fingers itch to pick through it, see everything Diane held onto. Alex, though, reaches purposefully for a stack of envelopes that's right on top, handing them to Piper.
"See? She kept your letters, too," Alex says quietly, offering that like a gift.
"Mmm..." Piper can't manage anymore than that, her fingers shaking slightly as she flips through the stack, thicker than she would have guessed.
"Anyway," Alex moves away from her. "You can keep those, probably don't want me reading them." Without taking a breath, she adds, "Ready to go?"
Piper nods mutely, clutching the stack of envelopes. She's trying to remember what she wrote; trying to remember how much of it was about Alex, if she'd told Diane about the nightmares she had about the hospital, Alex's overdose, if they'd talked about the shared worst night of their life.
She tucks the envelopes in her back pocket and follows Alex back to the car, wishing she hadn't thought of that night today.
On the drive to Goodwill, panic starts to overtake Piper's good sense, and a litany of ridiculous, anxiety laced questions start spilling out, pushing Alex, searching for some sense of future.
"What will you do for Christmas?"
"I don't know."
"I mean, you've got to come back to get the car at some point right?"
"Don't know, hadn't thought about it."
"If you got a new place here, what do you think, like...New York?"
"I don't know."
"Because I know Fahri goes there a lot, so couldn't you - "
"I don't know," Alex spits the words out. "I told you already, Piper, I have no plan. And, you know what, I don't have to, because it's just me now. Back. Off."
Hurt and anger rush through Piper at the same time, hot tears stabbing her eyes like darts. She twists away, staring out the window for nearly a full minute until the words themselves free from her throat, "Do you even care?!"
Alex doesn't pretend to misunderstand. Her knuckles go white on the steering wheel, and very slowly, with frightening seriousness, she pulls the car over and brings it to a complete stop before answering.
"I can't even begin to explain to you...how hard this is..." Her voice trembles, her face pinches, and it's like a switch flips, turning Alex's sadness on full blast, so loud and overwhelming that Piper's sorry she said anything. "I don't know how to do this. How to leave you. But I fucked up last time, I'm the one who couldn't stay away - "
"I didn't want to, either - "
"But you did," Alex flings back in a strained voice. "I'm the one the who started calling. I'm the one who showed up with a goddamn plane ticket. And then I made you miserable. So. This time...I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to come looking for you, I won't pull you back in. I'll let you go." She goes quiet for a moment, like she has to gather up the words. "But it is breaking my fucking heart, Pipes." Her voice swells with tears. "And I can't believe I can never talk to my mom about this. Ever."
Tears are dripping endlessly off Piper's chin, and for a second she lowers her head and cries into her hands, cries like a little kid. It makes her feel useless, that she can't do anything but fall apart. She's out of ways to comfort Alex. There's no making this easier.
Eventually she feels the car start up again, and they start moving forward.
Sniffling, Piper lifts her head, and chokes out, "What do you think she'd say?"
Alex glances over, red eyed. "My mom?"
Alex is quiet for a long time. "I don't know," she mutters after awhile, but something in her voice makes Piper not quite believe her.
They drive to Goodwill, throw bags in the donation bins without speaking, and then Alex starts driving again, taking turns and choosing backroads seemingly at random. Piper doesn't question her; she can tell what's happening, that Alex is just trying to use up time, not wanting to go back to the empty apartment.
Diane's car is new enough that there's no tape deck, so they're stuck with the radio, keeping it turned down low. At some point, Alex asks if she's hungry, but Piper's stomach is in knots and she's felt nauseous all day, so she just shakes her head.
It's barely three in the afternoon when Alex finally seems to get sick of riding in circles. "We should head back. Get my stuff."
"Okay," Piper says dully. Part of her feels stuck in her own dread, wanting to put off the goodbye as long as possible, but another part just wants to get it over with; there's no comfort in the waiting, in still having Alex beside her. Even that hurts, now, and she can't take it much longer.
They pull Diane's car in her designated spot, outside the apartment, where it will stay until Beth comes to pick it up. Piper's car is parked in one of the guest spots; they'll take that to the airport.
Alex turns off the car but doesn't make any move to get out. After awhile, Piper prods softly, "Alex?"
"Can you, uh...would you go get my bags?" She shakes her head slightly, looking annoyed at herself. "I don't want to go back in there."
"Okay," Piper agrees. "I'll be right back."
"Toss down the key when you open the door, I need to drop it off with the landlord."
"Sure." They both get out of the car. Her whole body feels heavy as she walks up the stairs, glancing back at Alex, leaning against the car, waiting.
Piper unlocks the door, throws down the key, and steps inside.
She hasn't seen the bedroom emptied out, yet, but Piper can't help but take one last look. They'd left behind the bed and mattress, stripped of sheets, but Alex had pushed it to a corner of the room, out of the center. It doesn't look like Alex's room anymore. It could be anywhere.
Throat narrowing, Piper tips her head back, looking at the ceiling of stars, reminding herself where she is.
Piper turns away, back into the main room. Alex's luggage is the only thing there, stacked by the door; they'd dismantled the record shelf, thrown the metal pieces in a dumpster. The fridge stays with the apartment, the postcards gone from its door.
It's so hard to imagine Alex without Diane; Piper isn't even sure what that looks like.
Alex buys Diane a postcard every time they land at a new airport. Alex calls her mom every other day. Alex wanders shops and markets with an eye toward what she can buy and send Diane.
Piper keeps picturing Alex catching herself at those instincts - reaching for her phone because it's morning on the East Coast, or picking up a scarf that her mother would love - and then remembering.
She keeps picturing Alex remembering, over and over and over again, all on her own.
All at once, it slams into Piper, how much she's losing. This place. Diane. Alex.
Everything she's ever chosen to love.
She's so fucking sick of crying, every time it gets harder and harder to stop, but she still ends up on her knees, sobbing her heart out in the middle of the stripped down apartment.
Piper's not sure how long she's been there when strong arms slip around her and suddenly Alex is there, holding on, kissing her neck, her tattoo, and saying her name over and over, whispering Pipes and Piper and It's okay.
Then Piper fights her way out of the embrace to sit up and look at Alex, and in a rush she tells her, "I'm coming with you."
Alex's eyes widen. "Wait, what?"
"Yeah." Suddenly urgent, Piper thinks about every bored and frustrated feeling she had over the past year or so, and how none of it, even added all together, feels as bad as never seeing Alex again. "Yeah, I'm coming...I don't want you to let me go."
The very beginnings of a smile start to dance in Alex's eyes. "Really?"
"Yes. I love you. And this is so stupid, I'd just be...staying at my parents house, or crashing on Polly's couch with no job, alone, and you'll be alone in some foreign country..."
Alone in some foreign country with easy access to heroin. The thought shoots through her without warning, and only then does Piper realize what she's most afraid of: another long stretch of not seeing or hearing from Alex, a stretch that ends with another phone call, from God knows who this time, telling her the worst has happened.
Piper banishes the thought, continuing, "That's so fucking stupid, Alex. Why would we do that? No. I'm coming with you."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, of course I am."
Alex starts to grin at her, this old, familiar, that's-so-Piper smile. "What about your stuff?"
"My luggage is in my car, I never unpacked it."
"You car - "
"We'll take a cab to the airport, I'll call Cal to come get the car. He still has the spare key."
"What about your parents?"
"I don't know, I'll call them from Germany, it doesn't matter."
Alex's smile opens up completely. "You're ridiculous."
Piper leans forward, resting her forehead against Alex's. "Ready to go?"
Alex closes her eyes, her fingers tracing the curve of Piper's jaw, as she sighs out, "I am now."
After that, everything happens fast.
They take Alex's luggage downstairs and get Piper's out of her car. She calls Cal while Alex calls a cab.
Piper leans against Alex for the whole drive, thinking of the ride to the airport in Paris - only a week ago, unbelievably - the way Alex had barely seemed present. Now Alex is playing absently with a strand of Piper's hair, winding it around her finger, and it makes Piper feel weak with relief.
The rest of it feels familiar. It takes Alex awhile to sort things out with the tickets, giving up her first class seat and getting two in coach, so by the time they go through customs and security and get to the crowded gate, they end up having to sit on the floor, leaning back against the tall airport windows.
Piper closes her eyes and rests her head on Alex's shoulder, the looping announcements and distant roar of planes a familiar lull in the background. She hasn't gotten very far in her head, hasn't started to think about tomorrow or anything beyond that; she's just focused on what Alex said, about how she doesn't know anything that's going to happen. That can be true for both of them. Piper doesn't need to figure it all out right now.
Right now, all she knows is that she can't tell Alex goodbye.
The plane starts boarding, and they both start slightly at the first class call, instinctively used to it. But they settle back down to wait, holding tickets stamped with Zone 4.
Finally their boarding call crackles over the speaker, and Piper pulls herself to her feet, slinging her carry on bag over her shoulder.
She's taken three steps in the direction of the gate before she realizes Alex isn't beside her.
Piper turns around, tilting her head in confusion; Alex is still sitting on the floor, staring past Piper at the boarding lane, face twisted in indecision. Piper kicks the bottom of her shoe. "What are you doing, let's go."
Alex lifts her face to look at Piper. "You can't come with me."
Piper blinks down at her, then lets out a soft, scoffing sound. "Yeah, that's hilarious, Alex. Get up."
"I mean it, Pipes." Alex's expression is pained. "You're not coming."
Something is twisting unpleasantly in Piper's chest. She can't make sense of this. Above them, the loudspeaker repeats the invitation for Zone 4 to board. "What are you talking about? You begged me to come."
"I didn't beg."
God. As if that's what matters. Piper suppresses an eyeroll. "You said don't stay. And I'm not."
Alex grimaces, running her hands through her hair. "Fuck, Piper. You told me you were miserable. That you weren't happy." She gives her a beseeching look. "What kind of person would I be..." She shakes her head angrily.
"Alex..." Piper's heart is thundering in her chest, her blood running too fast. She drops down on her knees, kneeling in front of Alex to look her in the eye. "I am going. It may not be forever, but..I'm not sending you off alone right now."
Alex makes a combative face, standing up to break eye contact. "I'm fine - "
"You're not." Piper stands, too. "You're not anywhere close to okay yet, Alex, and you shouldn't be. Your mom died. A week ago. And I want to be with you right now."
Alex's eyes flare. "You keep saying that, right now...I don't want to just sit around and wait for you to leave again."
"We don't know what's going to happen," Piper throws back. "That's what you said, right?"
For a second, Alex's face threatens to collapse, and she closes her eyes, staying quiet as an announcement calls all remaining passengers to board the plane. She clenches out in a small, agonized voice, "I can't be the reason you're unhappy."
"I'll be unhappy without you," Piper tells her, honest and desperate. "And I'll definitely be unhappy when I'm constantly worrying how you are."
"It's not your job to worry about me."
Piper shrugs, feeling the sudden threat of tears. "Someone has to."
Alex's eyes fill up. Her face is caught between gratitude and frustration, but the latter seems to win out; a low, desperate growl curls out of her throat.
This is the final boarding call for Flight 723...
The announcement sits between them, a ticking clock, and Piper looks at Alex: a patient, waiting look.
"You can't," Alex says finally, definitively. When Piper just shrugs, the conviction fades a little, and Alex just looks tired. "Please. I don't want you to."
"Yes you do," Piper counters calmly. "I'm with you, Alex. You're welcome to walk on the plane by yourself, but I'll be right behind you."
Alex looks over her shoulder; the boarding lane is clearing out.
She turns back to Piper, and when she blinks it sends tears spilling over, coasting slowly down her cheeks, but her lips curve into a tiny, exasperated smile. "I told you you always do this. Make me make the choice."
A sob rises in Piper's throat, but she smirks around it. "I made a decision, Alex. You're the one fighting it."
This is the final boarding call...
Alex drops her carry on bag and sinks back into the floor, groaning softly. "Jesus Christ..."
Terrified, disbelieving hope erupts inside Piper. She puts her bag down and slowly lowers herself to sit beside Alex again, instinctively reaching over to brush away the tears on her face. Alex leans into the touch, sighing exhaustively.
When the flight attendant disappears down the jetway, locking the door, leaving the desk abandoned, Piper drops her head onto Alex's shoulder.
"Alex, is this even...okay?" Piper asks tentatively after awhile. "I mean...are you allowed to just not show up?" She doesn't dare say quit, not yet. She's still not sure what this means.
"Who the fuck knows?" Alex says, letting out a disbelieving, off the reservation sort of laugh. The sort of genuinely amused laugh of someone embracing absurdity. "Guess I'll find out."
They're quiet for another moment. Piper doesn't dare turn around to watch the plane taxi away from the terminal.
Without warning, Piper blurts out, "You know the apartment's completely empty, right?"
"I do know that," Alex replies calmly.
"Okay." Piper goes quiet again, but she can't seem to help herself, breaking the silence to point out, "And you know we checked a lot of bags..."
Alex tilts her head back and groans. "Stop talking, Pipes."
"Sorry." Piper hides a smile against the shoulder of Diane's jacket. Alex's jacket.
They stay where they are. Eventually, Piper hears a plane rushing toward takeoff. Maybe theirs.
Suddenly, she feels Alex starts to shake underneath her, and Piper lifts her eyes, expecting the worst.
Alex is laughing. Full scale, crinkled eyes, openmouthed laughing.
"We're so fucked," Alex says between breaths, sounding entirely certain but not altogether displeased by the fact.
Piper can barely get her reply out around the smile spreading across her face. "We really are."
Giddiness and disbelief and nerves collide madly in Piper's chest, bubbling out in a series of uncontrollable, delirious giggles, and soon she's falling inside this moment, inside the wonderful, familiar sound of her and Alex's laughter mixed together.
They calm down after awhile. Piper feels Alex take her hand.
She looks over, her eyes grabbing Alex's and holding on. "You want to go?"
Alex's eyebrows shoot up. "Go where?"
Piper realizes she has no idea.
At the same time, they both start laughing again.
Piper is twenty-four years old. Definitely unemployed and possibly homeless. She has no idea what's going to happen next.
But she knows she chose Alex, and that Alex chose her back.
So Piper kisses her, just because she wants to. Just because, at this moment at least, she still can.
The kiss feels like a free fall.
A/N: So that's a wrap on this one, y'all.
This fic was written to be the last one (of the main, chronological fics) in the Young Blood 'verse. That's not necessarily set in stone - I've got verrrrry early notions of what one more could look like, but it's vague and undeveloped enough that this could be it. I also have a thing for ambiguous but hopeful endings. If nothing else, though, this will be the last chronological fic for awhile.
Everyone's responses to this 'verse have been overwhelming to say the least. I've never had a series before, and I wasn't anticipating Young Blood turning into one, but I've adored writing it. I do have more planned for the verse...a Diane POV perspective on YB (likely a oneshot, vignette style) is in the works, as is a oneshot focusing on Middle School!Alex. And I'm always open to any excerpts and deleted scenes. So no worries, this door isn't closed. But for now, I'd loved to hear what you thought of this one.
Soundtracks and writing playlists and some other stuff (Halloween YB excerpts that I never posted here) are all on the "young blood" tag in my tumblr. Username alxvse. Thanks for reading! 3