Jasper Monroe has bad days.
That has always been a given, whether he is alive or dead or stuck in some halfway ghostly state, and he had thought that literally dying would help him get out of that, but it didn't. He still has days where he can do nothing but watch as his family devolves, where he can just feel his chest unspooling like a fraying shoestring that got stepped on one too many times, where everything feels too much and too little and infinite and suffocating all at once.
He has bad days, and for so long, he's had to have those bad days alone. Being a ghost, he couldn't have physical contact, and as much as he tried to convince himself that he was fine with that, he would be damned if he wasn't lonely and touch-starved and empty.
Some days, all that shit just catches up and there's nothing that he can do but curl up as tightly as his incorporeal form will allow, trying to feel like he is being held as he wraps his arms around his knees and knots his hands in his hair and sobs, a quiet, wracking shake of his shoulders that feels like a punch to the gut as he drowns in the world that has just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger.
He is tucked away somewhere, hovering an inch or two from the walls of the corner that he is holed up in because he can’t stand drifting through anything else, and he feels like he is falling apart. He is tiny, small and dead and insignificant, and with each breath the frayed strings that are holding him together pull tauter and tauter until they’re about to snap.
Then, of course, Ansel shows up. Ansel had become something of a constant presence after Jasper died, whether he was stealing the Monroes for his own family or lurking around like the hovering ghost that he was. Ansel seemed to have his own bad days, ones where he was falling apart so badly that he was sucking in breaths that he didn't even need anymore, but Jasper had done his best to steer clear of those.
He didn't want to ruin things with the only potential friend he had anymore, and trying to help and blowing up and running away would probably do that. It was weird to think of Ansel as a potential friend, but they were kind of all that either of them had. No one could see ghosts except other ghosts and so they had become stuck together whether they liked it or not, because after so long of no one acknowledging your existence, you would hang around with anyone who could. It didn’t mean that Jasper was equipped with helping Ansel though his own breakdowns, though.
Ansel didn't seem to have the same hang-ups, and he hovered awkwardly in the periphery of Jasper's vision. "Uh- Jasper, are you okay? I mean, it doesn't look like it, but you're- I mean, I’m supposed to ask, and-"
Jasper's voice was hollow. "Can't you see that I'm just fine." Not a question, his voice as empty as his chest as his head pressed harder against his knees.
"Yeah, I mean, you really don't look that great, what with the- uh, what with the crying and the rest, and I don't want to intrude but I don't exactly think that I should just leave you alone, and- but, well-" Jasper wasn't looking at Ansel, but he was pretty sure the other boy's nervous energy was literally tangible, spiking around them and lifting the other boy slightly higher in the air with his nerves.
(Jasper tried not to think about how he had grown to know Ansel’s mannerisms so well that he could picture the way his shoulders were probably tensed and his feet were pulled up away from the ground. Jasper didn’t like to think about how things were changing, how this was his life – well, afterlife, or something – and willful denial was usually his way of dealing with things. It hadn’t helped much when he was alive, but it wasn’t exactly like he was suddenly open to trying to heal. At least, not yet.)
"What are you trying to say," Jasper said, staying curled tightly, arms pressing in and holding him together and keeping him from flying apart until he was just a pile of ghostly yarn crumpled on the dusty floor.
"Do you- um, do you want a hug? I mean, I miss having people be able to, you know, actually touch me, and I know that it doesn't help everything, but I figure it might be a start? Don't feel pressured, though, I don't want…" Ansel trailed off, fingers tangling in his shirt hem, the words spluttering out of him like a leaky faucet.
For a very long time, Jasper was the kid who didn't do hugs. He sidestepped his mom when she tried to give him a hug good night (that never stopped her from trying). His dad was more likely to pat him on the back than anything, awkward when he wasn’t angry and distant when he wasn’t awkward. No one else – including his sister – seemed to be willing to get close enough to try, and he was fine with that.
It didn't mean that he didn't want to be held so tightly that he could finally feel something other than this late night TV static, it just meant that he had lost any chance of becoming a kid who was open to…well, open to any contact at all.
And he liked to say that he was fine with that. (Willful denial at work yet again, as it was in so many aspects of his life, after or otherwise.)
Jasper shrugged, voice still so hollow it seemed to echo within its own steel walls. "Knock yourself out, I guess." He was dead, and this was someone that he was going to be spending who knows how long with. Might as well get comfortable. (That didn't stop the way his shoulders tensed, though, and he wasn't sure whether it was from fear or hope or some other intangible emotion.)
Ansel scooted over so uncomfortably that Jasper started to wonder how big of a mistake he had made in accepting the offer. The other boy's hands hovered above him, one resting so close to the curve of his spine that he could practically feel it while the other was in front of him, held out as if Jasper was a wild animal that needed to be appeased before being approached.
Jasper sent Ansel a look from the corner of his eye before closing his lids altogether, deciding to let whatever happened happen. His breathing was erratic thanks to the hiccups and burning tears still boiled in his eyes, but he was just tired. He was tired of this loneliness, he was tired of being treated like he was invisible and dangerous and a disaster all at the same time, he was tired of all the bullshit that he had tried to escape from that had still managed to follow him into his afterlife.
Ansel's arms closed around him, feather-light at first and then tightly, and Jasper couldn't hold back the gasp that escaped him. The other boy's arms squeezed him in a vice grip, and without a conscious thought, Jasper found himself leaning in, choking sobs forcing his head to curl in further towards his knees. They both seemed vaguely uncomfortable with the whole situation (Ansel tried resting his chin on Jasper's head, and he kept shifting and then shifting back as he tried to figure out how to hold this collapsing void of a ghost that used to be just another dying boy) but for the first time in such a long time, Jasper felt like he could finally exhale.
He still felt frayed, something inside of him pulling a string on a ribbon until all that was left was threads, but the pressure of arms holding him tightly stalled that tugging for a while, letting his sobs even out and his entropy pause until finally, finally, he could let go of the breath that he hadn't realized he was holding.