A/N: Written for the wonderful Ellie [with the monsters] who understands me better than a lot of people could hope to and I love her more than words can say. Happy birthday, Ellie! Also, this is incest, so if that bothers you or makes you uncomfortable, then please don't read it!
one track vertigo
"We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it." –Tennessee Williams
There's constantly pressure coming at you from all sides. Do better and be better has been your personal mantra since the beginning of time itself, and there's never been a way to evade it. You are a machine, constantly evaluating and calculating and striving for perfection. All machines face trouble and get torn apart sometime, but there's no way of determining whether your time is now or later. There's not a seamless beginning or an end, but you do recall an era when things used to be less complex and now they're far from it. Maybe you're in the middle of whatever harsh story it is you're living through, or perhaps it hasn't properly begun.
Wren was a phase because first Ian was a phase and it'd be strange to not continue on with stealing your sister's boyfriends when they looked so good. Alex was a stupid phase. Toby was a stupider phase. Of course, they're real when you're going through them, not phases, but now you can't help but scoff at yourself and what you used to be.
Jason was continually suspicious – dangerous even. But once it was ruled out that he wasn't directly involved with the murder of Allison, Jason was almost disappeared – tucked away in the depths of your mind, a trick of a light, there only when it was relevant to think about him. Jason was nothing, until he wasn't. He was significant again when there was something you desperately needed to figure out about him, but now that you have, you really wish you hadn't.
It'd be brilliant to finally run away, to put your excellently hidden escaping mechanisms to work for once and for good – they've been kept concealed for so long because after all, Hastings don't run and hide, they stay and face their biggest fears even if it means losing the entire fight. But where do you run to when you've got nowhere to go? There's no one to see anywhere and everywhere except people who don't mean a goddamn thing. You aren't afraid, and yet you don't have a single place to find sanctuary in. Jason's arms don't count because they're not allowed to.
You still find yourself on his doorstep every so often, not having to knock because he's nearly always there to begin with, sitting on the porch. Waiting for you, maybe, but thinking too much about things, definitely. You two have a keen habit of doing that, for better or for worse. You won't get into why that similarity exists. It's trivial, you tell yourself, but it's obviously not, because it's there like a shadow that follows you during one hundred percent of the moments you spend with him, thinking about him, or think about spending with him. He's your brother and that will never change.
"Hey," you greet with a small smile, taking a seat across from him. "You're still awake?" It was late, you'd concluded when you'd last bothered to check the time, and the darkness of the sky above you affirms that.
"I don't sleep that regularly these days," he offers, looking glad to see you, but a trace of something else also graces his features before disappearing altogether. "You?"
You want to truly believe that he's worried, and although he likely is, you can't fool yourself into accepting it. "I don't know anymore," you laugh a little, but the smile doesn't reach your eyes. "Too tired to sleep, I guess." You don't feel the need to expand on either of the statements you make – everything you wish you could say remains unspoken but he receives the message anyways of how stressed you are. Everyone's unusual somehow so your abnormalities get awfully convenient to hide, but he can always tell the difference between a half–lie and a half–truth. They're not the same thing.
"We all have those days," he says slowly, "but you have to get through them one by one." Coming from anyone else, this would sound like condescending advice. But it's Jason and it's been clear for a while that he understands you – since you've started paying closer attention to him it appears that for once someone else has gone through an imaginable amount of twisted sorrow in a short period. Your trauma tends to pale in comparison to the way Jason is treated in the community – like a stranger who's committed some nonexistent crime, which makes no sense to you because he's the closest you've ever gotten to having a real family and all he's done wrong is care about the people around him.
"You don't have to tell me twice. Life is tough," you joke, but the sarcasm you're trying for is set aside for something that sounds nothing more than bittersweet. There's a sudden gust of wind, rushing through your hair and forcing you to push it behind your ear to keep it out of your face. It's a welcome distraction as you meet his eyes.
"Doesn't it hurt you to think about it?" he asks, and you can't help but allow a brief lapse in the conversation. You know what he's referring to but acknowledging it would make things more difficult, so you pretend to not understand, though he knows much better.
You shrug. "To think about what?"
"About life," he shoots back without skipping a beat, because of course he'd expected what you were going to say and had a response thought out for it. "Things are so fragile. We think we know where we stand one day but something could happen later to shatter those beliefs faster than we can imagine."
His words almost knock the breath out of your lungs. You know he's being abstract, not discussing anything in particular, but his thought process relates scarily to yours surrounding your relationship with him. "Everything's fragile, and it won't stop being the way it is if you over think it," you point out with a frown. You're being tough on him now, possibly even hypocritical. "You're just making things worse for yourself."
He glances over at you, then, the type of fixed gaze that for anyone else would be disconcerting to experience. You wait it out, knowing he's trying to analyze you like a book or at least place you and you know this because it's precisely what you would be doing in regards to him if your positions were reversed. The same blood runs through your veins. You can almost feel it when you focus – literally pumping through to your vital organs to keep you alive, when in reality it's pushing you down, further and further into the depths of things that shouldn't be contemplated, and leaving you with only numb, unbearable pain that is impossible to express.
Who has she become? he's definitely thinking. Maybe someone finally gets it, you can tell is running through his brain from the curious manner of the look he gives you. But Baby it's been a long time since I've seen you like this, perhaps we can let the clock tick on some more as we discuss it over some warm caffeinated drinks mixed with a whole lot of apathy when we accidentally misplace the cream and sugar probably doesn't cross his mind. It's only you that's demented, if you're being honest with yourself. Crooked around the edges, hopeless beyond repair, unable to match the appropriate words to the sense you get out of your thoughts other than wrong, wrong, wrong which are incorrect nonetheless because it seems like the exact type of right you've been looking for all your life.
"Fair enough," he looks away, the agreement not fully reaching his voice. "But if you don't think about it, how will you figure it out?"
"Life's not something that's there for you to figure out. There are other things you could be contemplating, but you won't," you snap, surprised at your own outburst as it rings throughout the open air, loud and clear, yet another piece of evidence pointing to all your mistakes.
"Why?" his voice is too soft. He's realized already what you're about to say.
You draw a blank on the concept of hesitation. "Because you're scared."
It's all harmless at first, but there comes a point when I'm going to see my brother turns into I'm going to see Jason and it's subtle enough that no one catches you. No one suspects a thing, which leaves you reeling in even more guilt when talks turn into touches and secrets take on a new form of shame.
You're lost they said, He's unstable, they said, The two of you are disgusting they said – or would have said, if anyone at all had known. No one knew, but if they had, they would've been wrong, because you found yourself and he regained stability and nothing about that should be judged by people who know you only by name and blood relations, not by story.
You can hazily bring back the memory of your first kiss with him when you try – illicit wouldn't come close to describing it; lips and skin and confusion and feelings you'd rather dismiss. You've been dying a little every day since then at the prospects of waking up in the morning to face it and spending sleepless nights scrutinizing it and all the uncertain in–betweens, such as driving home from school with the knowledge that he's still your next–door neighbor who happens to be your brother, in an attempt to forget. Apparently it's not that simple to disregard once it's taken place. There's not exactly a guidebook you can read titled Feeling Unusual Things for your Siblings: A Guide on Surviving Incest but your neurotic evening web searches have come dangerously close to just that, ending without a doubt in a fit of frustration, a hastily cleared internet history, and an extra layer of disgrace to add to your conscience.
Your bedroom should be a safe haven from interfering eyes – the interior of his house never fails to unnerve you slightly, so he agrees to come over to yours when you inform him that your parents are both out and Melissa is gone to Philadelphia for the weekend. His hands slip under your shirt naturally and you have no problem trailing kisses down his collarbone, unexplored territory that you haven't stopped thinking about for weeks on end. The distance between your bodies decreases, contact becoming as necessary as breathing. You've missed the bed by miles, instead being backed up against a wall by him, uttering zero objections along the journey you took to get there – mutual understanding, but also unexplainable awkwardness and a pointless argument, mostly consisting of tension and anticipation of the immorality sure to follow.
"Jason," you murmur breathlessly, your lips still lingering alarmingly close to his as you continue aimlessly, accomplishing nothing but going around in circles to give yourself the benefit of the doubt. "What's going on...? What are we doing?"
He doesn't move away, sensing the falseness of your apprehension and estimating just how 'worried' you really are by the typical signs – your arms around his neck, legs pressed up against his, eyes boring holes into the back of his skull to get your made up distress across. "You tell me," he says carelessly, leaning in to kiss you again.
There's no way you can resist it, especially not in the heat of the moment. Making excuses is proving to be futile. You cherish his proximity, discarding your sorry attempts at doing the right thing and continuing with all the wrong – because that's what it essentially is in its truest form, but it's too enjoyable when it's happening to occupy yourself with worry. Your anxiousness only becomes reality when you hear a sound that certainly doesn't include moans and whispered promises. Your eyes shift to the door of your room, opened without permission, revealing a petite figure, arms crossed and mouth gaping in shock. You instinctively jump away from your brother, the weight of the world you've built around your lies taking only the briefest second to crash all around you.
"Melissa?" you shriek, not too positive on whether it's a statement or question or something else entirely, but you can be sure that it's a mistake – so many mistakes – because your tone alone confirms your sister's suspicions.
Suddenly you feel like you're suffocating – your head is spinning and everything looks increasingly blurry – but even as you steal one last shameless glance at Jason, his expression betrays nothing you can hold onto. It's too late – your doubts came and went too late, and now neither of you can be saved. His gaze almost burns you to the core as you realize that there's nothing you could have done to stop this, and you look away, directing your attention to straightening out the wrinkles in your shirt from when it had ridden up your abdomen a few minutes prior.
"I should go," Jason manages, passing an uneasy look from you to his other half–sister, a sole indication of his reaction and the emotions underneath. Your eyes shoot up again, and you almost beg him to stay, but that would make things worse. He's got the right idea with the cautious look he gives you on his way out, but there's nothing you or he can say to be reassuring considering Melissa's piercing stare hasn't faltered, keeping careful watch of both of your movements and surpassing any range of insults she could have thrown in your direction upon walking in on what she had.
You take a deep breath and a step closer to your sister. She recoils away from you, looking disgusted but also amused. You feel sick to your stomach seeing her react in such a way.
"Just let me explain," you burst out, abandoning the well recited pleads on the tip of your tongue ranging from It wasn't what it looked like to complete bullshit which doesn't make any sense and believing Melissa will buy into it is just another one of your many delusions.
"Don't," she replies immediately, moving back until she's leaning right against the door frame. "Don't try to get out of this one. There's no way you can justify this. What if it hadn't been me that walked in? What if it had been someone else? Like mom or dad?"
Though the distaste and judgment is still present in her body language, you get a flood of misguided relief at her words until you put two and two together and quickly realize what she's on about. She would never defend or hide your actions if it came down to that. She'd happily let you take the fall in front of your parents, not regretting it for an instant – but it's society that she's worried about. It's the taunts of the community and the survival of the Hastings family reputation that is her main concern. You nearly feel cheated, thoughts shifting to the unwritten promise between you two to not follow in your parents' footsteps of holding such importance to what others think, but after all that Melissa's fought for and lost, it's crazy of you to think that she wouldn't have eventually fallen back on family values to keep her going.
You can't choke down the feeling of contempt for her then and there, a compilation of all the times you disapproved of her from afar but chose not to mention it, but there's no point in disagreeing with her. "I don't know, okay? I don't know! I didn't mean to," you resort to, your voice losing its usual firmness to make way for useless begging. "I really didn't – it was an accident, a stupid mistake. It all happened so fast, I couldn't stop it..." you trail off, biting your lip to keep yourself from screaming. This all isn't even a lie – you've gotten to a fork in the road where you can't begin to tell where Jason DiLaurentis ends and Spencer Hastings – the former Spencer Hastings, not the mess you've become now – begins.
She shakes her head, looking unaffected as ever. "Nothing you can say will convince me you didn't know what you were doing when it started – I don't want to think about how you've been going behind all our backs and doing this –" she's far too repulsed to even get the correct words out.
"Please, Melissa, you can't tell anyone," you add quickly. She's your sister and Jason's her brother, too – although surely that's a solid reason that she'd have no problem exposing your secret to everyone. No one would back you up. You'd be left on your own to survive in the midst of a war you never meant to start and no matter what consequences you faced, Jason would be the first one to get shot in the crossfire. You can't let that happen.
"That's the difference between you and me, Spence," she begins easily, with a smug look on her face that delivers the point of how she's been waiting for the perfect scenario to say these exact things to you for years. "I kissed him when I didn't know that he was my brother. You made out with him – and God knows what else – knowing that he was your brother. In fact, I'd say that's why you did it. You haven't grown up at all," she rolls her eyes, "you're still the same stubborn, messed up little bitch you were three years ago. I will always get things first, but you'll want the scraps afterwards. You can't change."
You shove yourself out of the labyrinth of anger you've dug yourself into at her ignorant jibes – is she really still making this about Ian and Wren? – finally making the connection that she's not even acknowledging your begging, let alone responding to it. "I'll do anything, Melissa," you retort stubbornly, disregarding the tears welling up in your eyes. "Anything. Just don't tell."
"Okay, then. Leave him."
Her words are abrupt, leading you to believe that they're a blunder – she wanted to ask for something else in return for keeping your secret and got sidetracked, maybe. But no, she's known what she's wanted all along, having that command of blackmail thought up from the second she spotted you in his arms, you see as you tilt your head to the side in pure disbelief and fight the urge to hit her. She knows that he's the only thing keeping you on a level of sanity that's acceptable in the perception of the public, as long as they don't discover how you're achieving that balance.
Despite your feigned act of determination, you can't form a response any longer – it's not worth it. You look away, an instinctive reaction as you bite your lip and force down the shouting that will ensue if you let Melissa become aware of your deepest fears. Could you do it? Could you let go of the one person in your entire life who has never lied to you, willingly or unwillingly, directly nor indirectly? Could you forget about the one person whose only true fault was that he happened to be your brother, your kin by day and something entirely different by night – blood like separated siblings, lust like secret lovers? You can cut him out like none of it has ever happened, like you normally do when things don't go your way – if at first you don't succeed, then lie, lie again. That's the way it's always been; always except for him.
You fight it all off until your memories of everything are gone completely. At some point, Melissa leaves. You're still shaking because she's right and it's impossible – even in the stages of contemplation – because when all is said and done, if either you or Jason uncharacteristically go into a rage and murder someone, at the end of the day you will still be brother and sister. That's the most troubling truth that you can't cover up with any multitude of lies, and you desperately wish you'd never known it at all – never wondered, never pried, never asked and received the confirmation from him all those months ago that now makes bile rise in the back of your throat in recollection of the memories you can't erase from your mind – the ones played on repeat at night of those less than perfect things that you did but won't admit. Then the tears start rolling, uninterrupted, and all you can will yourself to do is slam your bedroom door shut so no one will see or hear and that way it'll be like it never happened, because an emotional breakdown is only significant if someone is there to witness just how badly your emotions broke you down.
At first you feel so ugly, sitting and crying at nothing, until a single teardrop falls onto your bare hand and all other things in the universe at present are suddenly an anomaly compared to this one very tiny but very significant eruption of water and salt and seemingly unimportant molecules from your young but worn out eyes. This pains you because it's beautiful and your judgment of your own self is irreversibly broken in a single moment. It is the one tear you noticed that had the power to remind you that you are not in fact crying at nothing, but at everything, and ironically this makes you cry more because there are likely millions of others crying at the exact same time as you but for different reasons – you can't come up with any valid explanation as to why they would be crying about you and yet you continue to cry about them, simply because they exist just as you and Jason do but not quite in the same way and that in itself is tragic enough.
You are crying about everything terrible that has ever happened to anyone at any time and any place, including but not especially yourself because no one will find you worthy of remembrance no matter what you do. It's the others who make you cry, but it's the others that you will be left crying over forever likewise to this, all alone and confined to a claustrophobic space by the edge of your bed in the middle of what is, in actuality, a rather large area. The small space where you sit curled up into a ball of nothing is all you can see and accept as reality, and not a lot is absolute in the least from then on except for the single tear that made things so much more clear, because it's a cruel world and the small window of opportunity you had to figure it all out is quickly coming to a close. If you're destined to save someone's heart, it'd be about time to do it now.
You walk to his home with your newfound resolve, but once you see him pacing the length of his lawn, stopping when he sees you approaching and eyeing you as if it's the first time he's seen you in a long time, all golden hair, shared genes, and what would people say if they knew, everything goes to shambles again, starting from your mind and spreading to your heart. You can't do this, you really can't – there must be some alternative way to help yourself, but you're stuck in one track vertigo with no ability to get out. You need closure, but that requires the inevitable but unfavorable conclusion that you've been avoiding for such a while that you've convinced yourself there's no other way to spend your days and nights aside from speculating how to make it work. That's the thing – it can never work, not now or later or ever, but Jason isn't a phase so you don't have it in you to let him down like all the others.
He places a comforting hand on your shoulder, conscious of Melissa observing it all from her bedroom window that faces his yard, otherwise he would have pulled you in a for a real hug.
You step away reluctantly, finally appreciating what people mean when they talk about the hardest thing they've ever done. "I'm not ready," you state blankly, and those are the only three words that you can bear to say because you're not one of those who were meant to be brave.
He nods, turning around calmly, and you have enough rationality left to figure out that that's it. He hasn't used too many words to express himself in the past, and it hurts more that there's nothing about his gesture that can be classified as cold – he actually does understand you and your decision and your reasoning and all the little things about you that no one else could hope to fathom, and there won't come a time when he'll stop understanding, either, regardless of the choices and change you get thrown into after being victimized by your own mind.
You think of all the things that you could have been and still could be but won't be, because the lies are all you have left, and your memories are still there because you never really did forget. The blood going through your veins and the occasional heart palpitations you get upon encountering him after that are reminder enough that you and he are one and the same, but you aren't much better off than you were before – you love the way the wind rushes through your hair, but it's not quite the same as when it rushed through your hair when he happened to be there, too, always with you.
A/N: I'd be honored if you liked this enough to favorite it, but if you could leave a review as well that would truly make my day!