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if we knew how strong we were

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Janis still hates Regina George.

And, okay, maybe she doesn’t want her sawn in half anymore (because seeing Regina get hit by a bus had scared her a lot more than she thought it would), but Janis still hasn’t forgiven her for what happened in eighth grade.

And why should she? Regina had not only outed her, but had stood by while people Janis had once called friends carved “space dyke” into her locker. Clearly the sharpie pen version hadn’t been clear enough. Regina’s the reason Janis got pulled out of school and sent to art therapy. She’s the reason that until this year Damian had been her only friend. All because Janis had been a lesbian, and Regina had had a problem with that.

So, Janis still hates Regina. Even tonight, with Cady breaking the Spring Fling Queen crown up into little pieces and giving one to Janis, apologizing for the way she’s treated her in a way that makes Janis’ heart soften, it’s still not enough. Even as she takes Cady to one side and delivers an apology of her own. Even as all of them dance together and she talks to Karen and Gretchen for the first time in years, and gets to know Aaron (who makes Cady smile and Janis likes him more now that Cady isn’t pretending to be stupid to get his attention). Even as Regina, spinal halo in place, shuffles over to them and tentatively returns Cady’s smile as she joins their group.

Janis catches Damian’s eye, and he subtly moves to be a barrier between her and Regina. It’s a nice night, and Janis doesn’t want to ruin it for everyone by having it out with Regina here.

*****

“You should probably talk to Regina,” Cady suggests carefully, when it’s just the two of them alone in the bathroom.

They’re taking a break from dancing, and Janis’ hand shakes so badly she nearly ruins her lipstick as she’s reapplying it.

“What’s there to talk about?” She replies sharply. “Caddy, she ruined my life.”

“I know,” Cady says quickly. “I know, and what she did was awful. But since the, um, bus incident, she’s been different.”

Janis snorts. “She’s high on pain meds.”

“Exactly,” Cady says. “It’s making her more truthful. If there was ever a time for an honest conversation with Regina about everything, it would be now.”

Janis considers this for a second.

There’s always been a part of her that wants to know why Regina had done what she did. Maybe she could find out. But even the thought of talking to Regina, one-on-one, makes her palms sweat.

“Maybe,” she concedes eventually, and Cady gives her that megawatt smile.

“Grool,” she says happily, and Janis rolls her eyes.

*****

Janis doesn’t mean to talk to Regina that night, but then she steps out of the gym into the hallway for some air. She’s out of breath and flushed, tired from jumping around with her friends (plural), and still on a little bit of a high when she sees her.

Regina is standing a few feet away from the entrance to the bathroom, trying in vain to pick up a tube of mascara that’s fallen out of her purse and onto the floor. Janis doesn’t want to feel bad for her, but there’s a part of her that does, and before she knows it her feet are carrying her over to Regina. She bends down to pick up the mascara, and Regina looks at her in surprise as Janis holds it out to her.

“Thanks,” she mutters, taking the tube from Janis’ hand, and Janis thinks she probably won’t get a better opportunity for that conversation Cady so desperately wants them to have.

“Why’d you do it?” Janis doesn’t bother with pleasantries, folding her arms protectively in front of her chest.

“Do what?”

“You know what,” Janis’ voice is soft and hard at the same time – quiet, but like she’s trying not to betray any emotion.

Regina looks at her for a long moment, eyes flicking between Janis’ own as she regards her closed-off body language.

“Because I was scared,” she admits finally, and Janis’ blood boils.

“Scared?” She repeats incredulously. “Scared of me? What, just because I’m a lesbian then I’m automatically a predator who’s going to spy on you getting chang—”

“It wasn’t you I was scared of,” Regina cuts her off, and normally Janis would be mad at being interrupted, but she hadn’t been expecting Regina to flip the script on her like this.

“Then what were you scared of?”

“I was scared of what other people would think,” Regina says. “Not about you, but about me.”

“Come again?” Janis is lost.

“You know I’m only telling you this because I’m physically incapable of deflecting right now,” Regina says.

“Seems like you’re deflecting pretty well,” Janis says impatiently. “Get to the point.”

“Gretchen said we were too close, that our friendship was very intense,” Regina tells her, and Janis shifts uncomfortably, remembering the way she’d looked at Regina back then. “She said you were probably a lesbian and that you were in love with me, and I didn’t know if it was true or not but what I did know was that it was me who made our friendship so intense.”

“You—”

“Liked you, yeah,” Regina says, and it feels to Janis like the rug’s been pulled out from under her feet.

She struggles to get her mind around it.

“So, you’re… I don’t know. Gay? Bisexual?”

“I don’t know,” Regina shrugs as best she can with the spinal halo. “Aaron was just someone to play. Shane was because I was bored.”

“And me?”

“I was twelve,” Regina says, slightly distressed. “I didn’t know what I was feeling. All I knew is that I wanted to be close to you, so when Gretchen told me we were too close I panicked.”

“You panicked,” Janis laughs humorlessly. “Well, that sure is unfortunate for you.”

“I’m sorry,” Regina’s voice cracks, and Janis finds herself blinking away her own tears. “Jan, I’m so sorry for what I did.”

It’s the use of her nickname, the one Janis hasn’t heard since eighth grade, that tips her over the edge. She storms past Regina, intent on finding the exit to this prison of a school as the tears stream down her face. She doesn’t stop running until she feels the cool spring air on her skin and she’s free.

Now that she’s outside, though, she doesn’t know what to do. Damian gave her a ride here on the Jazzy, and it’s not like she can steal it. She sends Damian a text, asking him to meet her outside. He’ll know what to say. He always does.

*****

“I’m speechless,” Damian says, and Janis rolls her eyes. “So it was internalized homophobia all along.”

“That’s not an excuse,” Janis snaps, and Damian wraps her up in a hug.

“Of course it’s not,” he reassures her. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know,” Janis sighs. “I’m just really overwhelmed.”

“I don’t blame you,” Damian soothes, and Janis relaxes into his embrace. “On the plus side, your crush wasn’t unrequited after all.”

Janis backhands him in the stomach, pulling back to look at the barely contained glee in his eyes.

“That’s your takeaway from this?” She asks.

Damian shrugs. “You weren’t going to point it out.”

“Whatever. Besides, it’s in the past,” Janis says. “She said she liked me, as in past tense. And I hate her guts, as in present tense.”

But no matter how decisively she says it, something in Janis taunts her that the guts-hating might be past tense, too.

*****

They make it to the end of the school year without any more disasters, then at long last it’s summer and Janis has a lot more free time. She mostly hangs out with Damian, Cady and Aaron (Cady and Aaron are very heterosexual but admittedly a cute couple), although sometimes the former Plastics join them at the mall.

Janis is surprised by how well she’s getting along with Gretchen and Karen. She sees Gretchen’s insecurities as clear as day, and can’t help but feel they’re somewhat even after everything. Karen’s never said anything awful to or about her (to Janis’ knowledge anyway) and being mean to her is like kicking a puppy. Karen is straightforward and honest in a way Janis appreciates, and actually capable of holding a conversation, as it turns out.

Things are weird with Regina.

Janis hates her a little less than she had done before Spring Fling. Once she’d had time to process their conversation, she can see why twelve-year-old Regina had reacted the way she had. It doesn’t mean Janis has forgiven her, not even close, but she is starting to understand Regina George more and more each day.

Regina, for her part, avoids eye contact with Janis and doesn’t talk to her. She almost seems embarrassed, which is so not in Regina’s book of emotions. Janis thinks it’s because Regina knows that she could turn the tables back on her and out her to everyone, but Janis isn’t going to do that. She wouldn’t, because she knows what that feels like.

And, yes, she’d technically told Damian, but that was it.

It’s not until they’re left alone together in the changing rooms of a store that they actually talk. All in all, it’s probably the worst time for a conversation, because Regina still needs help changing her clothes and everyone else has deserted them for a bit, leaving Janis sitting on a chair outside the cubicle. Regina’s been in there for a while, and she can hear the faint sounds of frustrated huffing.

Standing up, Janis raps her knuckles lightly on the door. “Are you okay in there?”

She hears Regina sigh. “Not really. My shirt fell on the floor and I can’t reach it.”

Hoping she doesn’t come to regret it, Janis speaks up again. “Do you… do you need help? Um, all the others have wandered off.”

“Fine,” Regina’s voice is small, and after a few seconds, the lock clicks open.

Janis takes a deep breath, and pushes open the door.

She locks eyes with Regina in the mirror, keeping her gaze away from all the exposed skin. Regina’s torso is covered only by her pink bra, and she points out her button-up blouse on the floor.

Janis bends down to get it, and helps Regina slide one arm and then the other into the garment. Regina just looks at her as Janis stands in front of her, and Janis’ breath hitches. She hates it.

Regina doesn’t look like she’s going to button her shirt anytime soon, so Janis starts doing it for her.

“I bet this was your worst nightmare in eighth grade,” she says, trying to break the tension.

“Not a nightmare,” Regina says, and Janis knows that her ears are going red. “I really am sorry.”

“I know,” Janis sighs heavily, focusing on buttoning the shirt and not looking at Regina.

“If you never want to speak to me again, I get it,” Regina continues, and Janis swallows. How many damn buttons does this shirt have?

“I don’t know what I want anymore,” Janis admits. “I thought I wanted you to suffer like I did, but that just ended up feeling empty, and then you got hit by a bus, so…”

“Did that make you feel better?” Regina asks. There’s no bite to it, only a genuine question.

“No,” Janis says. “It made me feel scared. Because I realized that I didn’t want you dead after all.”

“Gee, thanks,” Regina snorts, and Janis shakes her head as she does up the final button.

“I haven’t forgiven you for what you did,” she tells Regina.

“I know,” Regina says softly. “I understand.”

“But I don’t think I hate you with the fire of a thousand suns anymore,” Janis says quietly, and Regina looks her directly in the eye and smiles. Actually smiles.

“Baby steps,” she says, and Janis kind of agrees.

“You know, drugged up Regina isn’t half bad,” Janis says, stepping past Regina and walking towards the door. “Reminds me of this friend I had once. You might know her.”

*****

As summer progresses, Janis finds herself getting more comfortable around Regina. She’s not high on pain meds anymore, but she’s still kind of nice, and she really does seem to be trying to patch things up with Janis.

And Janis is kind of letting her.

Damian keeps a wary eye on them, because he knows Janis almost as well as Janis knows herself, and he still remembers nights that Janis had spent crying in his basement over the vile words that the general student population had thrown her way.

Cady, on the other hand, seems delighted that everyone is tentatively getting along.

“How are things with you and Regina?” She asks literally once a week.

And every week, Janis gives her the same answer.

“Getting better.”

*****

There’s a big party at Cady’s house at the end of summer vacation; one last blowout before Senior year starts, and also to celebrate the removal of Regina’s spinal halo. Cady’s parents are once again out of town, but this time Janis and Damian are invited, and although people still crash, it doesn’t turn into a disaster like the last time.

Until someone suggests spin the bottle.

Cady wants to play it, because she’s never played these party games before, and gleefully gathers everyone in a circle. Someone places an empty beer bottle in the middle of the circle, and although Janis isn’t sure she wants to play, she gives in to everyone’s pleas. Things are different now, she reminds herself. The people here aren’t scared of contracting lesbianism from her anymore.

So Janis pushes down her nerves, settles between Damian and Cady, and lets Cady spin first.

She lands on Aaron, and everyone boos good-naturedly as they kiss. Janis rolls her eyes fondly, because of course those two are the Disney prince and princess couple of the school. Aaron spins on Damian, and plants a kiss on him that has Damian pretending to faint, to the amusement of everyone in the room.

Damian, fanning himself, spins on Kevin, who spins on Gretchen, who spins on Karen, who spins on Aaron, who spins on Cady again. And then Cady spins the bottle, and it stops, pointing at Janis.

Cady laughs delightedly, and Janis doesn’t even have time to wonder what everyone else is thinking before her friend is kissing her. Cady tastes like the fruity cocktails Kevin’s been making all night, and it’s not unpleasant. Janis has never thought of Cady as anything more than a friend, but she admits that she’s a good kisser. And maybe Janis hasn’t been kissed in a very long time (or ever – the school’s homophobia and Janis’ self-imposed loner status had seen to that) but it’s nice, and Cady taps Janis’ nose with her finger as she pulls away.

Janis grins and shakes her head, turning her attention to the bottle. Beyond it, though, she spots Regina – jaw clenched – looking between her and Cady. It confuses Janis’ slightly-addled brain, and she spins the bottle to distract herself from the look. She doesn’t notice how hard she’d flicked her wrist as she’d spun, and the bottle careens around until it eventually rolls to a stop.

There’s a lone whoop from Kevin amongst uncomfortable silence, and Janis’ eyes follow up to see the bottle’s landed on Regina.

Because God forbid anything goes Janis’ way.

Regina’s mouth has fallen open (at least she’s not clenching her jaw anymore) as she looks between the bottle and Janis, and Janis is at a loss. Either she refuses to kiss her and then everyone will make a big deal out of it, or she kisses Regina and then who knows what will happen. Will Regina slip back into her old self when faced with the prospect of actually kissing a girl? Is Janis about to get slapped, or teased, or laughed at?

Before she can decide on a plan of action, Regina’s leaning forward determinedly (her movements are still a bit stiff despite the lack of spinal halo) and kissing her.

Janis’ eyes shut out of reflex, and it’s like all she’s aware of is Regina’s lips pressing against her own. Janis slowly starts to kiss her back, feeling Regina’s soft hand come up to cup her cheek. And she finally gets all the clichés about fireworks, because that’s what it feels like kissing Regina George.

Janis doesn’t want to stop, but then she remembers where she is, and who she’s kissing, and she pulls back sharply. Regina’s eyes are still closed, although they snap open a second later and she draws away until she’s sitting back in her place between Gretchen and Karen. Janis’ ears are ringing and she can feel the panic rising, so she doesn’t even wait for Regina to take her turn before she’s excusing herself to the bathroom.

She reaches the bathroom and sticks her head in a basin of hastily-run cold water, not even bothering to lock the door behind her.

Which she probably should have, because the next thing she knows, Regina’s following her into the room and standing with her arms crossed, regarding Janis cautiously. Janis’ head jerks up, and she spins around, looking at Regina with wide eyes.

“Didn’t think I kissed so bad that people wanted to drown themselves,” Regina comments, frowning at Janis’ water-soaked face.

“I wasn’t—I, uh, needed a drink,” Janis says lamely, and Regina raises an eyebrow.

“God, if I thought it would freak you out so badly, I wouldn’t have kissed you,” Regina says. “I thought you were meant to be, like, lesbian Jesus or something.”

“Title’s already taken,” Janis mumbles absently. “And I didn’t expect to—to…”

“To what?” Regina asks, taking a step closer.

“You know what,” Janis whispers, and it’s not at all like she’d said it at Spring Fling. It’s barely audible this time, and Regina keeps getting closer.

“Please talk to me,” Regina murmurs, and Janis can’t stop her eyes dropping to her lips. They’re full, and soft-looking (and now Janis knows how soft they actually are) and she doesn’t know why they’re all she can focus on right now.

“Fireworks,” Janis manages. “Didn’t see them coming.”

“Can I kiss you again?” Regina asks breathlessly, and with a lot more vulnerability than Janis had thought possible, and she finds herself nodding before she can really think it through.

Regina swipes her thumb over Janis’ lips, wiping away the excess water before she replaces her thumb with her mouth, fingers hooked under Janis’ chin. Janis kisses her back more confidently than before, now that they’re alone and this isn’t for a dumb game, and Regina presses her back against the sink as their kisses turn hungry.

Janis grabs Regina’s waist, forgetting for a second that she’s wearing a crop top until her hands land on bare skin. Regina’s free hand tangles in Janis’ hair, blunt nails scratching her scalp until Janis’ lips part and Regina takes the opportunity and slips her tongue into her mouth. Janis can’t hold back a soft moan, surprising herself, and Regina growls in approval. Janis clutches Regina’s waist tighter, getting as close as she can while her brain fogs up completely.

“Hi guys!”

Regina leaps back from Janis like she’s been burned, and Janis turns her head to see Karen in the doorway, grinning dopily at them. Damn unlocked door. And as Janis’ mind clears, she realizes that she and Regina still have a lot to work through, and that making out in Cady’s bathroom probably isn’t the best way to work through it.

“Janis, I’m so glad Regina finally told you,” Karen says happily, and Janis’ eyes snap to Regina, who’s studiously avoiding her gaze.

“Told me what?” She asks Regina, who looks the smallest Janis has ever seen her (and she’s seen Regina crumpled on the floor next to a big yellow school bus).

“That she likes you, duh,” Karen supplies helpfully, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

Regina stiffens, and Janis feels bad. She knows what it’s like to have others say things about you without permission.

“Karen, can you give us a moment?” Janis asks, and Karen nods, squealing and shutting the door on them.

Regina looks up at her. “I didn’t… I didn’t tell Karen anything, how did she…”

“The thing about Karen is that she’s strangely perceptive,” Janis says. “Is it true, though? Do you like me – present tense?”

Regina nods. “Yeah. I’m not sure I ever really stopped, to be honest.”

“Wow,” Janis says. That is… unexpected.

“What about you?” Regina asks, trying and failing to look disaffected. “Do you… y’know?”

“I think I like you too,” Janis says. “It feels like I do, anyway. But even though I’m getting there, I still can’t forgive you yet.”

Regina sets her jaw and looks down, nodding. “What can I do, Jan?”

“I don’t know,” Janis says truthfully. “Just, keep being a good person? It’s helping.”

“I can do that,” Regina manages a tiny smile. “Wow, is this what rejection feels like? It sucks.”

“Think of it as a temporary rejection,” Janis suggests. She’s not quite sure how the hell they got to this place, but she’s doing her best. “I want to do this right, and I can’t do that until I’ve found a way to forgive you.”

“I get it,” Regina sighs, finally looking up and wiping some lipstick from the corner of Janis’ mouth.

Janis shivers. “I, uh, I liked you. Back in eighth grade.”

Admitting that is hard, even after Regina’s own involuntary admission, but the way Regina looks at her makes it a bit easier.

“God, if I hadn’t been such a bitch…” Regina trails off in wonder.

“It’s in the past,” Janis says, and she means it. “Just give me a bit more time, okay?”

“Well, if you keep on kissing me the way you were,” Regina says. “I’ll be more than happy to wait.”

Janis laughs breathlessly. Is Regina flirting with her?

This was not how she’d expected tonight to go.

*****

They’ve been back at school for almost a month now, and Regina truly has changed. Janis hadn’t been sure it was possible, didn’t know if Regina would snap back to Queen Bee status, but she’d been true to her word, and Janis finds herself forgiving more and more each day.

She doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to forget what happened, and what she went through, but she also doesn’t think she wants to forget it either. Her experiences are a part of her, even ones as bad as that, and she’s stronger for it.

But the day that she looks at herself and finds that she’s managed to forgive Regina one hundred per cent, she takes her hand and leads her to the nearest empty classroom. Regina doesn’t question it, and she doesn’t flinch away when people stop and look at their joined hands, and Janis thinks that maybe Regina has been making progress in more ways than one.

When Janis kisses Regina, it’s with no hesitation. She knows Regina still feels the same way about her; she’s made that clear enough over the past month. Sure enough, Regina kisses her back, gripping Janis’ jacket in her hands as they both get lost in the kiss. Eventually, Janis pulls back.

“I have a confession,” she says breathlessly.

“What?” Regina asks, not entirely sure where this is going.

“I’m not actually a space alien,” Janis says, referencing their initial fallout back when they were kids. “And I don’t have four butts. Only one.”

“This one?” Regina asks with faux-innocence, reaching around to squeeze Janis’ ass, and they both laugh, a thrill shooting through Janis’ body.

“Yeah, that one.”

“I suppose I can let it go,” Regina hums, pressing another kiss to Janis’ lips. “If only because it’s a great butt.”

Janis knows they’ll have to tell their friends, and that Damian will probably give Regina the shovel talk before the day is through, but at least that’s something they can finally do together, on the same page at last.