Title: Suspension of Disbelief

Author: Tote

Genre: ANGST. Huge, enormous, never-before-read angst that will freak, you, out.

Rating: well, PG but with warning.

WARNING: this story contains disturbing themes: there is reference to suicide and insanity and some mild violence. Characters we love do things that will disturb you.

A/N: Watch out. If you're looking for something to cheer you up, don't read this. This is an unorthodox story for me to write. I tend to write things within the general realm of possibilities: the characters act like themselves and nothing freakish (i.e. amnesia, incest, extreme violence, etc.) happens. I stay away from futurefic and especially kidfic as much as I can. But here is a story set in a dark, frightening future, in which Joan has an extreme failure of imagination and Adam still only believes that she believes. Read, review, even if you hate it.

Shadows play across his face where he sits back in the chair, eyes closed as if he can't bear to open them. Dimly, I hear music playing somewhere in the back of the house but it's hard to make it out. He drums his fingers absently against the armrest, off-beat. That's how I find him and it makes me ridiculously happy.

We're so deep in despair, that even quiet moments like this, sad moments, seem good. I like being able to watch him while he can't see me, I like his face, his familiar face that still strikes me now—beautiful, wonderful him, my Adam. It's hard to believe he's capable of hurting me, but I know he is: it's written on my insides, tattooed on my retinas, it's invisible, unspoken truth.

He hurts me. I hurt him.

The seconds stretch by and he stops drumming his fingers. He leans his head back and the familiar chain around his neck glints in the half-darkness. I don't want to hurt him, so I stick my hands into my coat's pockets and steal into the room—in this little apartment, the door opens straight into the living room: I have to go past him to get to the bathroom, to take a shower and clean away the bad stuff, to hide.

He doesn't move as I approach and I carefully avoid the parts of the floor that creak, the wood that groans: the rug softens the sound of my feet and I'm glad I kicked my boots off at the door. I move soundlessly: I'm not even breathing.

Adam breathes in and out softly and I wonder if he's drifting off to sleep but just as I go past him, he reaches out and grabs me by the wrist—his eyes open and he looks at me with eyes that look much darker tonight and somehow reflect the light that pours in from the hall behind me. He knew I was there the whole time.

His eyes ask a question, though he doesn't speak and I clear my throat—the noise is too loud, too loud in this peaceful quiet—and murmur: "I'm late, I know. I got stuck in traffic. There was a…" I pause, frightened, when my sleeve threatens to roll up in his grip, "… an accident. On the road."

Saying nothing to this, he gently loosens his grip on my wrist, sliding his hand down to my hand: our fingers tangle and he presses his thumb against the inside of my hand—it feels good, but I wasn't supposed to feel anything tonight. I casually remove my hand from his and step back, hiding my hands back in my pockets.

He leans forward, staring up at me. "Jane…you're scared of me." There is such incredible sadness in his eyes, in his gentle, watchful gaze, that my automatic excuse gets stuck in my throat.

"No," I whisper. "Of course not." But I don't sound very convincing. Tears are prickling in my eyes, the hand he held trembles in my pocket and I'm more in love with him, more deeply and more intensely, than I've ever been, but yeah, I'm scared. I'm terrified.

I knew when I said it he wouldn't believe me because he always knows when I lie, but he leans back in his chair, looking like he might let it pass. He knows I'll tell him sometime. Suddenly, his eyes meet mine sharply. "Why don't you take your coat off?"

It's an innocent enough question but neither of us is innocent. "I'm cold."

He stands up and I blink hard, fighting against that pressure behind my eyes, that hot desperate sorrow. With two steps, he's in front of me, so close that our noses almost touch, that I can see myself reflected in his eyes. Without breaking from my gaze our changing his dark, expressionlessly angry face, he rips my coat open: in precise, calm movements.

I gasp as the first button goes flying, but I don't cry.

He gets past the buttons and when I turn my face away, something in him breaks or cuts loose, loses patience with me completely and he rips off my coat, dragging the sleeves off my arms angrily, breathing hard.

I sob quietly and instantly he stops, looking at me from a world of pain. A tear rolls down my cheek and his arm comes around me, holding me against him, close. I taste his breath against my face and closing my eyes, I breathe with him: I'm inhale, he's exhale—Adam, Adam, Adam: I suddenly wish he'd kiss me, make love to me on the floor. My lips tremble with wishing it.

But I feel him wipe away that stray tear and his free hand holding the back of my head and instead, he leans his forehead to mine and makes a quiet, gasping noise like he's trying not to cry. He thinks I don't hear him crying at night: he waits till he thinks I'm asleep, but I hear him, I always hear him.

I feel pain hit me so fully, I need something to heal me: I try to close the distance between our lips, to feel his mouth on mine. He pulls away, kissing the tip of my nose.

Falling back on the chair, he mutters: "Joan…"

"Don't call me that." I hug myself.

He puts his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees. We're the oldest nineteen-year-olds in the world. He slides his hands down, uncovering his eyes, watching me with such longing and love and soft promise that when he reaches his arm out to me, I don't hesitate. "Come here, Jane."

In front of him, I stand between his legs and run my fingers through his hair: he moans softly, pressing his face into my chest. His breath is hot against me, even through the fabric of my sweater. I feel him kiss me, there in the space between and just under my breasts, like an apology or a promise.

Leaning slightly backward, he comes away from me and when I draw my hands back, he grabs my hands again. I swallow, hard. He bites his lip and his shoulders heave: I can see him suppressing a sob even as a tear rolls down his cheek. He rolls up the sleeve on my hand—the left one, and when I try to pull away, in a panic, he tightens his hold on my right one.

Five thick, ugly bangles cover my wrist, and he pushes those up too: revealing my white bandage. I gasp, fighting against his hold on me but he looks at me so—so tenderly, so painfully, so hurt that I drop to my knees in front of him, begging him: "Adam, it's nothing, it isn't, please don't," but he glares at me in response and now he starts to unwind the bandage.

"Please…" I lift my right hand, now free, to touch his cheek: "Please, don't."

But he does, he keeps winding it round and round and off, until my bare skin is exposed: and the sewn-up cut that runs down. I didn't do it like his mother on purpose: I perversely thought it would be easier this way, as if it would keep him from being reminded.

"Jane!" He lowers his head to my wrist, I feel his tears falling down to my skin and slipping down my wrist. "Oh God, why did you—" he sobs, openly, kissing my wrist, holding his lips against it in a kiss that sends chills down my spine. "Jane…"

"I keep hurting you." My throat hurts from crying, I sound hoarse: my desperation leaks into my words.

"No, Jane, no you don't," he lies desperately and I smile at the attempt, running my hand through his hair.

"I can't forgive you," I say, my words weighed down by my heart, "You can't forgive me. I can't stop hurting you, I can't stand it—I had to make it stop, Adam, do you understand?"

"God!" he throws me off him, standing up and throwing his arms up in the air: "God, how can you say that? Do you know how much it would hurt me if you were gone? Don't you—don't you…" he gasped, grabbed me and pulled me to him, "After my mom? After everything we've…"

"I had to make it stop." I feel his arms coming around me, his head buried in my hair. "I had to."

"I love you, Jane," he gasps, "I love you so much, why won't you believe me?" He pulls away, taking my face in his hands, "why won't you believe me?"

"I can't!" I sob, "I can't, now, not after…" I shake my head. "You told them I was crazy."

"No!" Adam takes my chin, forces me to see him, to see the truth: "I didn't, I didn't say that. You were taken away at the hospital and everyone knew about Ryan. I didn't…"

"They put me in a mental hospital!" I shake him, hard: filled with those bleak, white rooms, those people. "I was defending myself!"

Adam nods earnestly, but he doesn't believe me. "I know, I know you were. I got you out; I'm taking care of you—"

"You watch me!" I gasp the words, holding his shoulders too tightly: "You watch me, every second. You think I'm crazy."

"Jane, you tried to kill yourself!" he shouts the words, then releases me and runs his fingers through his hair. "Oh God, Jane, help me. I can't keep doing this. Just tell me—" he takes my hands, looks into my eyes, "tell me what I can do, to make. This. Stop."

"Believe me," I whisper. "Believe me, Adam."

And this where we always get stuck—we embrace and he holds me, kisses the side of my face quickly and desperately, as if he's afraid I'm disappearing—but he doesn't believe. "Promise you won't do it again. Promise, Jane."

I don't speak. He'd hate if I promised and he could hear the lie in my voice. I'd hate to promise and see disbelief in his eyes.

Slowly, he pulls back, looking into my eyes. "Why did you do it?"

And I know he doesn't mean my wrist. He means Ryan. "It was the only way. You all believed him. He was hurting so many people. He hurt me, too—in ways, you—you couldn't see, so everyone thought I was lying and then…he had me backed into a corner, he was saying disgusting things, making me think he was going to…rape me. I panicked; I hurt him with the scissors on the table behind me. But that was what he wanted. He was counting on that."

I sob.

"He wanted everyone to stop believing me."

Adam stares at me and something happens in his eyes—something shifts. For a moment, he believes. He believes, at least for now. "Promise you won't hurt yourself, Jane." He leans his forehead to mine again and we both sigh, our bodies giving out against each other. "Swear to me."

"I promise," I promise and I do.

For this second, this moment, we both believe.