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Only one place left I want to go

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The island isn’t as deserted as they originally thought. There is a small town, no cars and only the smallest of boats that will only travel far enough to get to the next almost deserted island. The locals are welcoming, offering free fish in exchange for stories. There isn’t internet or phone service so they don’t have to be worried about anyone finding out who they are or where they are supposed to be. There is only one emergency phone that they are told they can use anytime. None of them make a move for it.

It’s nice. The kind of place Kie always dreamed of visiting after high school. They make their own surfboards and spend most mornings out in the waves.

They all offer their help freely and without reservations. Switching effortlessly between cooking and fixing boat engines and fishing. There are only a few kids that all ask for stories of places they have never been. Sarah and Cleo have the most stories of far off places, but JJ and Kie are effortless in their story telling of their adventures.

JJ jokes that there are pogues everywhere if you know how to find them, Pope theorizes about how the lack of a non-predatory species (Kooks) alters the Pogues behavior here. Kie just is happy that she isn’t stuck somewhere in the middle.

 

-----

Kie gets into a routine without realizing. JJ is the only one that knows. She goes to the hut where the emergency phone is kept and paces with anxiously twiddling fingers. At first she thought she could call and just let her parents know she is safe, and every week since she has wondered what is stopping her.

“They won’t be able to track it.” JJ reminds her, and sometimes it still amazes her the lack of judgement in his tone. The way he can tamp down his own complicated relationship with parental figures to just be there for her.

She takes a final look towards the phone and walks away, back to the beach. JJ walks by her side, lets their shoulders brush despite the width of the path to the water.

“When I went to steal the truck keys-” Normally they sit in silence until one of the others finds them, but the water is hitting the waves just right and her entire body aches. It’s been 6 months of life on this island and she wishes for things she doesn’t know how to name. “They were having dinner.” She snorts, remembers the way her mom’s lips were curved into a carefree smile. It’s the same smile she herself has. JJ’s father saying she was her mother’s daughter not even an hour later. “It was like they didn’t even miss me.” She had looked at her empty seat and realized for the first time just how big the disconnect was between her and her parents. She wonders how much of it is her doing. The thing about island life is there is so much time to think. So much time to remember all the screaming fights. The way her parents had said her friend’s names and warned her away from them, the same friends who now went on long hikes to find her the perfect coconut when she was having a bad day. She thinks a part of her will always resent her mother for not seeing how much being at the Kook academy was killing her.

“They did.” JJ tells her, it's oddly sure and it makes her startle and look at him. “They aren’t perfect and I won’t defend them, but they do love you and they do miss you.”

“But what if they don’t?” She doesn’t realize she is crying until he is reaching out a hand to brush her tears away. “What if I call and they -” She chokes on a sob, and his hand flexes against her temple before gently guiding her closer to him so she can collapse against his side and cry into his neck. There are so many things she now realizes she has been thinking about and pushing away. The biggest of all is what if they don’t want her back? What if she has finally pushed them so far away she can’t come home? Her mother’s voice echoing the thoughts. JJ whispering they are bluffing the only counter argument.

“I can do it.” He finally tells her, after murmuring things she couldn’t comprehend against her temple. She wants to refuse the offer, on principle if nothing else. But his eyebrow is raised in a challenge and he just looks pleased to be able to help so she nods reluctantly.

--------

They sit pressed against each other as his fingers type at the numbers. JJ has almost all the important numbers memorized, on account of getting cheap phones and then accidently jumping in the water with them on multiple occasions.

“The Wreck. How can I help you?” It’s her father, his voice sounding both distant and so close. Just hearing it makes her feel like those nights she would wake up with nightmares as a young kid and he would be there with hot cocoa and a flashlight to check under the bed. “Hello?” JJ makes eye contact with her and she nods her permission.

“Hey Mr. Carerra.” JJ has the self defensive smirk he often adopts around her parents, but it’s softer somehow.

“JJ?” It says something that her father can recognize his voice, even with all the noise of the diners in the background. “JJ, is that you?”

“The one and only.” JJ jokes.

“Is Kiara there?” Kie pales at that, and JJ brushes his hand against hers only for her to flip their hands around so she can grasp his almost desperately. “Is she okay?”

“She’s safe.” JJ gives her a onceover that makes her blush which makes a smile take over his smirk.

“Can you tell her we love her?” Mike sounds broken, and Kie winces and ducks her head. Her mother’s disappointment always felt like it would come no matter what. Hurting her father was harder for them both. “Son -” JJ gives her a startled look and she has to press her lips together to hold back the smile and the sob and all her other emotions. “Tell her she can come home anytime. We won’t send her away or keep her from you, we just want her back.”

“I’ll tell her.” JJ promises, even though he’s pretty sure Mike knows that Kie is next to him, and that Kie can clearly hear every word her father says. “I’ll keep her safe.” He adds, and Kie glances up to the barely there scar on his forehead. Kie takes a deep breath then grabs for the phone and JJ hands it over like he was expecting her to take it. He’s always known her better than she knows herself.

“JJ needs someone to keep him safe too.” It probably isn’t the first thing she should be saying to her father after months of not speaking, a time when he probably didn’t even know if she was actually still alive. “JJ, John B, Sarah? They don’t have parents or a home to go back to.” JJ makes a noise in disagreement, and she rolls her eyes at his stubborn streak. She loves the Chateau, it’s always been one of her favorite places, but the risk of foster care or hiding from the cops is one she can’t ask them to take. And going or staying has always been an all or nothing decision. And JJ needs a parent, not his absent mother or his abusive father, but someone to check under the bed for monsters and nag him about homework. Even if he is almost too old to need either of those things.

“We can figure that out.” Her dad promises, and she lets herself breathe. “Whatever you need to come home.”

“I love you.” She whispers it, pushes her forehead against JJ’s shoulder in an effort of controlling her tears.

“I love you more sweetheart.” It’s the same thing he used to tell her when he dropped her off at school or kissed her temple as she was falling asleep. She lets herself listen to him breathe for another second before ending the call.

---------

“Would you go back?” JJ asks her later that night. Their friends are all asleep around their fire, little makeshift shelters over their heads. She watches the water instead of turning to watch his approach. Big John used to teach them about fire safety, about someone always staying up to watch the fire die out. It’s almost always been her and JJ if neither of them are passed out. There is always a stillness that comes over him at night, when it's just them and the fire.

“Not without you.” She means to say all of them, but she wonders if this isn’t more accurate. She turns to see if he realized what she said but he is watching the waves and the starlight is barely enough to make out his features.

“We could stay.” He tells her, ducks his head a little before he admits - “Make a little house and surf every morning?” She suddenly remembers the psych class she took during her year at the kook academy. The teacher had been talking about motivations and goals, and she had never realized the difference between her and everyone around her as starkly as she did in that hour long class. While her classmates wanted bigger houses and perfect spouses with 2.5 kids and nice successful sounding jobs she wanted to surf and travel and just be happy. Her teacher told her she would grow out of it, but if anything she has grown more firm in her decisions as she has gotten older. The Pogues are the only ones who have ever seemed to understand.

“I’m happy here.” Even with missing her parents, and the guilt of not being able to reach out until now, she has been happier the past few months than she can remember being in a long time.

“You are meant for more.” He reminds her, like it’s not the very thing she has spent most of her life running from.

“I don’t want more.” She reminds him, all the breakdowns after fights with her parents where she screamed at the world and the ocean and sometimes even JJ himself that she doesn’t want the life her parents want for her. “I don’t want college, or a marriage to some guy who doesn’t understand I feel more alive on my surfboard in the water then I ever have anywhere else. I don’t want to be so worried about tomorrow that I forget to watch the sunset. I want to watch Sarah and John B get married for real and have kids they can’t control, I want to be cheering in the crowd when Pope graduates. I want -” She cuts herself off, and looks over to see him already watching her.

“What about me?” He asks, like he doesn’t know she almost confessed something she isn’t sure they are ready for. Maybe he doesn’t realize he is asking for the last piece of her heart.

“I want everything for you.” She settles on, and he looks at her confused so she gathers herself with a decisive nod, “I want to go surfing with you even when the waves aren’t great, and I want to get into food fights on the beach or at The Wreck, I want to be there when you realize how amazing you are. I want to argue about engines and all the stupid stuff like dishes and making the bed and what to name the dog. I want everything with -” She doesn’t get the chance to cut herself off this time because his lips are pressed to hers. It’s the kind of kiss she didn’t think she would get, the kind she searched for with meaningless hookups at keggers. The kind she tried to pretend she had with Pope. When breathing gets hard he pulls away enough to leave a trail of open mouthed kisses across her jaw and down her neck.

--------

He’s the one to bring it up with the rest of the Pogues, a question about how the Chateau is doing and then they are reminiscing and Pope admits he misses his family and Kie tries not to cry as she tells them she called her dad. No decisions are made immediately, they need to make sure none of them will be arrested or put into foster care on the mainland before they even think about going back home for real, but everyone seems on board with the idea. Even Cleo, and Sarah teases her about meeting the parents and Pope shoots a worried look to Kie like she is suddenly going to be upset. JJ snorts beside her then holds up their intertwined hands and everyone is laughing and John B and Pope try to work through a shovel talk that is mostly Kie blushing and yelling at them to knock it off.

-----------

“Sarah died in front of me.” John B tells Kie one night. She had a nightmare and JJ didn’t wake up with her so she walked down to the water alone. Kie looks at him in surprise, and he just glances back to where the others are still sleeping. “When Rafe shot her.” He adds, and she winces. During her kook year she was so envious of Sarah with her siblings and her step mom who gave them glasses of wine during dinner. At least until Rafe noticed her.

“I would have drowned with him.” She admits, looks back to where JJ is still sleeping peacefully. She hasn’t talked about this part of it with him, that she had realized she would rather die with him then let him go by himself.

“He’s always deserved to have someone love him like that.” It’s funny how carefree and oblivious John B can be, then he can turn around and say something like that without any warning. She can feel the tears in her eyes, focuses back on the waves instead. “It’s okay to love him.” John B tells her, and she lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. She has been hesitant to curl into JJ in front of the others, still so afraid of picking favorites or whatever.

 

----

Kie and JJ are the last ones on the water, their make-do surfboards warm from the sun and their bodies. The rest of the group has either retreated for a nap or headed into town for something they are working on. Sarah had winked before dragging John B away. So it’s just the two of them and the water and it feels right in a way Kie doesn’t know how to explain. She already aches at the thought of leaving this place, wants to dig her heels in the sand and plead everyone to stay. Maybe she is destined to always be in the middle, wanting to stay and wanting to go in equal measures.

“I love you.” JJ tells her, uncharastically serious, when she glances over to him.

“I love you too.” She never knew if she would get this, but she always imagined she would feel nervous saying those words in a way she meant for the first time. There were nerves, but it’s JJ. And a month later it still feels like sitting around the bonfire after a night swim in the fall. Like if she lets it it could warm her up from the inside out.

“Sarah and JB are going to get married for real.” He says after they have lost themselves in kisses for a while. She feels her lips turn up into a smile, it’s nice to see the two of them so happy, especially after their family drama the past year.

“She’s probably going to pick some ridiculous maid of honor dress.” She jokes and JJ snorts, wraps an arm around her waist and practically drags her onto his surfboard.

“I’ll help you get out of it.” He teases back with a raised eyebrow and she can’t help the laugh. He kisses her, though it’s less heated and more them smiling. “Do you ever think about it?” He asks nervously, his eyes dropping to where their fingers are tangled and she startles when she realizes he is looking at her fingers.

“I want us forever.” It’s not really an answer, and she winces at the way he glances up at her suddenly a little less sure. She presses a kiss against his sun warmed shoulder, traces her eyes over the horizon then over the shape of his shoulder. “I’d marry you today, but I don’t ever want you to feel -” Trapped is the word she means to say, but he is pulling away to look at her and she wants to cry with the way her stomach is suddenly in knots. The one thing they have always had in common, more so than the rest of their friends, is the way they have spent their whole lives running from expectations. She is terrified of putting more expectations on either of them.

He slowly removes one of his rings, holds it in his hand a second like he is weighing it and memorizing it in his mind. It’s a tiny band, the one he always has around his pinky finger. She feels her breath catch when he looks back at her with his hand slightly extended, even though she was expecting it the second he took the ring off.

“When my mother left -” He glances back down to the ring and she wraps her hand around his and the ring. “She told me it was the only family heirloom she had, her great great something’s ring. I didn’t know -” That she would be gone. That this tiny ring would be the only thing left he had of her. In the end it was the only thing she had that she could leave him with, the only physical sign that she had cared. Not enough to take him, or to come back for him. But that she had loved him at all. “I’m not asking you to get married, but you should have it, know that I would marry you today.”

“Are you sure?” About the ring. About her. About everything?

“Sometimes it’s the only thing I’m sure about.”

Sarah catches sight of the ring as they are putting their surfboards up and her smile is blinding. Kie has to explain that it’s not an engagement, not yet, if only to keep Sarah from suggesting a double wedding. Plus they have their whole lives ahead of them.

--------

They catch a trip with one of the fishermen with the bigger boats to another island with a tiny airstrip. Kie’s parents offer to pay all the people involved, so they work out a complicated situation where their safe passage is paid for in goods, mostly medical supplies and emergency gear for the islanders. All the people they have met give them hugs, and one of the children Kie and Sarah have gotten close to ties bracelets around each of their wrists. JJ kneels so he is at eye level and Sarah nudges Kie when she notices the way she looks at that.

They are still young, surf trips and adventures to be had. But seeing him with kids now makes her breathe catch at the thought of a future with little Maybanks. Sarah often teases her about their future kids learning to surf side by side. It’s weird to be so young and see so much of a future she would love floating in front of her. Like if she just paddles out a little further and reaches she could have everything she could ever want.

-----

In the end it’s nice, Her parent’s and Pope’s pulling the group in for hugs at the airport. They don’t have any luggage. The girls and JJ had all spent the majority of the traveling braiding Kie’s hair so it looked less like she had spent the last few months on an almost deserted island. Sarah had hers cut to shoulder length months ago. Kie had debated following her footsteps, except for the way JJ would spend half the night combing his fingers and easing knots when either of them couldn’t sleep. Her mother runs her hand over the braids with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face.

Mike only lets go of Kie when her mother starts crying into her and JJ has stepped back from the crowd. He pulls him in and whispers thank yous against his temple. Big John was never a big hugger, so JJ tenses for a minute remembering his father, but lets himself relax.

They pile into cars then to The Wreck where Mike has food prepared. Pope’s mom keeps pulling him into hugs that he pretends to hate. Cleo is uncharacteristically nervous as she talks to the parents and John B makes fun of her for it. Kie tries to push the thought from her head, but she is angry that it hasn’t always been like this, her dad showing JJ around the kitchen and her mom smiling at them all. She remembers all the times her parents had acted like her friends were scum instead of pulling them into hugs and treating them like family. She tries to catch Pope’s eyes but he seems confused at her face and she sighs. His dad might not have been taking the other boys in before, but at least he gave JJ odd jobs when he could, and treated them all like people. And the Pogues are arguably more of a bad influence on Pope. Kie hates that part of her wishes she had run away or got stranded on a deserted island sooner.

The sight of her mom doting over her friends makes her want to cheer and cry so she retreats to the kitchen, an actual smile on her face at JJ’s serious face as her dad talks about some new recipe she can’t wait to taste test. She missed her father’s cooking.

“He doesn’t start work until Monday.” She teases, and JJ smirks at her. She lets her shoulder bump against his as she steals one of the fries from the bowl he was tossing them in.

“I was just showing him around.” Her dad jokes back, his hands held up in an innocent gesture.

“Pretty sure he knows his way around.” She says, because it’s true. JJ often snuck over to distract her on nights she was in charge of closing up. Following her around and pretending to be annoyed when she shoved a broom or mop in his direction. She always made sure to casually let him have some free food.

“It’s fine Kie.” JJ holds out the now finished plates of fries and she takes it. His smile is reassuring so she lets herself relax and enjoy all of them together again.

-------

Eventually they have to go their separate ways, the boys off to the Heyward’s, and the girls to the Careera’s. There was originally lots of discussion on who would live where, but the parents decided splitting by gender to start was the easiest, even if it left Mrs. Heyward to jokingly complain about pulling the short straw. There was also a work chart set up so all the kids could work at both the restaurant and for Heyward.

Kie ignores the ache that separating from the boys causes, finds her hand wrapped with Sarah’s. Even Cleo looks troubled, glancing back to Pope before she climbs in Kie’s mom’s car. JJ pulls Kie in under his arm, presses a kiss against her temple. John B and Sarah have to be practically dragged away from each other, and it would be ridiculous except for the fact that they have all watched each other almost die and then not left each other's sides for months now. It doesn’t help that none of them have phones yet, all of them destroyed or lost.

The girls pile into Kie’s bed, despite her house having guest rooms that are already set up for Sarah and Cleo. Thankfully they are too tired from traveling and being around other people to stay up much later and all collapse as soon as their head hits their pillows.

-------

Kie wakes in a panic, stumbling from the bed and away from Sarah’s soft voice and Cleo’s disgruntled grown. She sees her bedroom but she still feels the ocean pulling her, a new version of a nightmare that she has had countless nights since that day. A femine voice whispering to let JJ go and save herself, seaweed and hands pulling her under, pulling JJ from her grasp. She pushes her back against the corner of her room, tries to breath but just ends up gasping. It feels like water in her lungs, has her rocking forward onto her knees coughing at the memory.

Her dad tries to grab her, but she jerks away from the touch, grips her fingers into her too plush carpet. She wishes she could feel the warm sand, tugs at the carpet.

“We should call JJ.” Cleo tells her parents, and Anna makes a face but leaves the room with Cleo.

“Mr. Carerra, she doesn’t like to be touched until after.” Kie is still batting at his hands, now openly sobbing as she tries to push herself farther away. Sarah stands between father and daughter, and wipes the tears from her eyes at his heartbroken face. “She’s okay.” She says gently, before slowly and gently kneeling near Kie. “Kie you are safe.” She whispers, soft and sure like her heart isn’t breaking. “JJ is okay. You saved him.” She reminds her best friend, repeats it like a mantra. “JJ saved you, JJ is okay. You saved him.” She keeps repeating it even when her voice feels unsteady, even if it doesn’t seem to be helping significantly.

--------

“Sorry to be calling so late.” Anna says, and Cleo can’t help the scoff at the way Kie’s mom is just so polite. “Can you wake up JJ?” She asks, drops her head in relief at the answer on the other end of the line.

-------

The boys come tumbling in, JJ leading the pack up the stairs, John B right behind after a quick wave to Cleo and Anna. Pope and his dad find bench seats, Cleo leans against Pope and he gives her a sad look.

“How bad?” He asks into the silence, and Cleo winces. Anna gets to work making tea.

---

“Kie?” JJ asks, slightly out of breath. Sarah gets out of the way, lets out a relieved chuckle at the way Kie finally seems to be aware, how she holds out a hand to JJ before he has even fully reached her. “Hey, hey, shhh, I’m okay. You are okay.” His knees hit her floor hard as he throws himself in front of her.

“Can’t breathe.” She gasps out, and he grabs one of her hands, puts it against her own ribs.

“Nice and slow.” He reminds her, tangles the fingers of his other hand with the one she has resting against his chest. She curls her body into his.

“Hey, uh Mr. C?” Sarah says, gestures with her head to the doorway, lets out a relieved sigh when he follows her. John B wraps her in his arms in the hallway.

“He will get her calmed down.” Sarah tells Kie’s dad. They make their way to the kitchen on tired feet, John B lets his head rest against the cold countertop as Sarah rubs his shoulder.

“We should call her therapist.” Anna says, and Sarah lifts her head enough to glare at the breach in privacy, but it’s not like anyone is surprised or really cares at this point. “Is she always -” Anna cuts herself off and turns back to the tea.

“It’s not usually this bad.” Sarah answers, wraps her hands around the mug Anna puts in front of her. Even John B who hates tea is pulling his mug closer.

“Maybe the exhaustion.” Mike offers, and Anna nods thoughtfully next to him. Heyward gives them a sad look, then looks over to his own son who is half asleep and still so full of anxiety.

“We shouldn’t have separated them.” Pope blurts out, “JJ and Kie.” He explains to the parents who all three look shocked.

“Uh, when we were trying to escape.” Sarah starts, and John B picks up his head and shakes it at her but she gives him a look. She knows Kie doesn’t want her parents knowing everything, but she knows Kie needs JJ and maybe if she just explains. “Kie and JJ were trying to - anyway someone attacked them. They swung something at Kie and JJ got between them.” The hardest part of telling the story is that Kie and JJ only talked about it in fragments. Kie’s haunted whisper of still being able to hear the splash of JJ hitting the water. “He got knocked out and fell off the boat. Kie jumped in and kept him above water until we could get to them.” She doesn’t mention the way Kie had seemed exhausted, the way both of them had bobbed under the water before they could reach them. “It was really scary.” Sarah admits, and she hates herself for the way she wishes her father was there to wrap her in his arms. As much as she hates him, he was still the one to protect her growing up. She lets John B pull her in closer, tucks her head under his chin.

“They’ll be okay now, you all will.” Kie’s dad offers, his eyes still focused on the stairs.

They all eventually spread out, the parents at the dining room table and the kids stretched out and snuggled up on the couches. Eventually they hear noise on the stairs and all eyes turn to them expectantly.

Kie is tucked close under JJ’s arm, though she rushes into her father’s arms when he meets her at the bottom of the staircase. “I’m sorry.” She whispers, lets herself be soothed by his humming. “We are going to go watch the sunrise.” She tells him, smiles over to where JJ is joking with John B but watching her.

“Nothing goes better with sunrises than hot cocoa.” He tells her, and she finds herself laughing softly before pulling away.

“Thanks dad.”

 

They all venture out to her backyard, each with warm cups of hot cocoa in their hands. JJ carries Kie’s since her hands are still shaking. The stars are still out, so once they are all settled the Pogues take turns talking about the constellations they made up. JJ’s stories are usually the most elaborate, but he tells the simple story of a sailor who lost his way and traded the last of his possessions to give his girl back home a star she could always see and think of him.
John B’s stories sound like his dad’s, stories of mermaids calling out and reaching up to put diamonds in the night sky so sailors would find their way. Kie points to her favorite set of stars, traces the jumping dolphin with her finger and stumbles over a story of how a dolphin dreamed of visiting the stars and one day jumped so high he got stuck there. Pope always likes to talk about real constellations.

They all watch the sunrise together.

“I can’t remember the last time I just sat and watched this.” Heyward comments, and Anna and Mike agree. The Pogues all look at each other with bittersweet smiles. They had watched the sunrise and the sunset as a group almost every day on the island. It feels weird to think there might be a time when they just stop.

After the sunrise the parents get up. Anna comes back with a medicine bottle, puts one small pill in her daughter’s hand. Kie wraps her fist around it for a few seconds, finds herself looking back at JJ.

“I’m here.” He reminds her gently, and she nods before taking the pill. She’s sound asleep, half sitting up and leaning against JJ, not even a half hour later. Sarah and John B help readjust her so JJ can carry her back up to her room. He risks a glance at the door before crawling onto her bed next to her.

“I’ll make sure her parents are cool.” Sarah offers and JJ nods, but Sarah doesn’t leave. She seems to hesitate, looks between the two boys before refocusing on Kie. “It was really bad.” She says with a wobble in her voice. John B hugs her, while JJ blinks his tears away and brushes his finger across Kie’s forehead to brush the hair from her face.

------

The Pogues basically take over the Careera residence. JJ and Kie barely leave each other’s side for the first day after her nightmare and panic attack. When Kie wakes up from her drug induced nap it’s to Anna sitting in an armchair and JJ half wrapped around her. Her first instinct is to shove him off but she is too tired and Anna already has her hand wrapped around Kie’s forearm.

“I’m glad you are okay.” Anna tells her, voice barely above a whisper. Kie feels herself frowning, but Anna just reaches out and soothes the line in between her eyebrows. “You gave us quite the scare.” She murmurs, leans over enough to brush a kiss against her temple. “He’s a good kid.” She offers, and Kie gives up trying to understand how she ended up in this alternate universe and lets herself fall back asleep.

--

It’s not all sunshine and roses. But her parents accepting her friends changes everything. Some days she still hates them for the past, but it’s easier to forgive them when JJ isn’t eating moldy bread because it’s the only thing he has had close to food in days, or when John B isn’t surfing the surge because he doesn’t have anyone telling him not to.

Turns out boarding that ship gave her things she didn’t ever want to lose, a future full of surf trips with the boy she loves, and a home she always wants to come back to.