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(Please Don't) Love Me Back

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It’s not until she wakes up in the morning that Leah realizes she spent the entire night in Fatin’s arms. (Or maybe it’s afternoon? The sun is up, but Leah can’t gauge how much time has passed since she was last fully conscious.) And Leah only knows because when her eyes open, Fatin’s arms are still locked around her. Leah grunts, not feeling quite right.

 

(It’s the pills. Whatever she’d taken – whatever Fatin had given to her – hasn’t completely cleared out of her system yet. Leah realizes she never bothered to ask what she was taking before swallowing the pill. She didn’t question Fatin, just trusted her.)

 

As Leah blinks rapidly, attempting to adjust her eyes to the semi-blinding sunlight, she realizes more of her body is resting on Fatin than on the sand. Maybe, under different circumstances, (shit, even just a week ago) Leah would be embarrassed. But now, she can’t find it in her to feel – well, to feel much of anything at all. It’s just like…a void. Nothingness. She presses her palm flat to the center of Fatin’s chest, just to feel the strong beating of her heart, and Leah reminds herself she’s not alone.

 

She doesn’t move away from Fatin, not even when Dot says from somewhere behind Leah, “Hey, you’re finally conscious again.”

 

Leah exhales. “Guess so.”

 

“Welcome back,” Dot replies. “Feeling any better?”

 

“Mm-hmm.”

 

(Is feeling nothing better than what she felt yesterday, when she launched herself into the ocean and nearly drowned in a failed attempt to escape the island? Probably.)

 

“I won’t blame you if you want to sleep it off a little more,” Dot continues. “We’ve got things under control for now.”

 

“How long have I been out?” Leah finally asks. Her voice is scratchy and breaks multiple times as she gets just that one question out. She knows Dot can’t give her a precise answer, but if it’s been more than a day, that’d be nice to know.

 

Dot hums. “Maybe sixteen hours?” she guesses. “Not an entire day,” Dot assures her. “But probably pretty close. You woke up a few other times, but you were still really out of it. You didn’t really speak coherently.”

 

“Great,” Leah mumbles. Beneath her palm, Fatin’s chest steadily rises and falls, telling Leah that Fatin hasn’t been woken yet. “Have I – have I been like this the entire time?”

 

She still can’t see Dot, but she hears Dot chuckle before she says, “Not the entire time. I don’t know. Fatin didn’t seem to want to leave you by yourself.”

 

A strange kind of warmth spreads through Leah’s chest. She swallows hard, shifts back just enough to lay eyes on Fatin’s face. Fatin looks more peaceful than when she’s awake, but it’s still like there’s something troubling her, like she can’t totally relax. (None of them can, thanks to the whole stranded-on-an-island ordeal. But Leah can’t help but to feel like she’s contributing to the group’s – mainly Fatin’s – increased stress levels.)

 

“Oh, and we have food again,” Dot informs.

 

“I think I need to get up,” Leah finally decides.

 

“Okay,” Dot agrees. “Just promise me no more running into the ocean, alright?”

 

Leah makes a sound that’s almost a laugh before she finally detangles herself from Fatin as carefully as she can without disturbing Fatin’s sleep. “Yeah,” Leah agrees, rubbing at her eyes. Her head still feels hazy, but it’s not necessarily a bad kind of haze – it’s a nice break from the millions of (paranoid) thoughts (and conspiracies) racing through her mind at almost all times. Leah pushes herself to her feet, legs unsteady from the lack of recent use. Leah spares one last glance down at Fatin, tries not to think about how she spent hours (hours!) wrapped around a girl she barely knew existed (a girl who definitely didn’t know Leah existed) three weeks ago.

 

And at the same time, Leah can’t imagine being on this island without Fatin.

 

*

 

Fatin doesn’t know what possesses her to make her smear her own blood across Leah’s face. The anger, the indignity – by the time Fatin thinks about what she’s doing and why, it’s already done. And as Leah strips off every last article of clothing, dropping them into the sand as she heads for the ocean, only one thought passes through Fatin’s mind: that crazy bitch.

 

Their school wasn’t huge by any measure, so it’s not like Fatin had no idea that Leah existed. But she only knew in, like, the vaguest of terms. Fatin probably couldn’t have told you Leah’s name before they boarded the plane and ended up on this fucking island. But her face was familiar enough. Fatin walked past Leah at least once a day, occasionally took notice of the quiet girl with startlingly blue eyes who was always with that one scrawny kid. But Fatin had never given her more than a few seconds of thought. Not before they shared this experience together. Why should she have? She just assumed Leah was one of the school’s many weird art prudes.

 

From a distance, Fatin watches Leah wash her blood from her face in the ocean, but once Leah’s done, she doesn’t emerge from the water. She stays out there for a while. She’s out there so long, the sun starts to set before Dot shouts for her to come back.

 

“Not yet,” Leah calls.

 

“Not yet?” Dot says in disbelief, mostly to herself. Only Fatin is within earshot, but Dot’s back is to her, at least until Dot twists around to ask Fatin directly, “What does she mean, not yet? The sun’s going down. She needs to get back here.”

 

Fatin waves her hand dismissively. “She’s not my problem,” Fatin snaps.

 

“We all have to look out for each other,” Dot replies, but her voice lacks her usual conviction. As if she knows Fatin’s mind isn’t going to change. Dot’s smart – maybe even the smartest of them all in some ways. She knows Fatin’s not about to swim out there herself and drag Leah Rilke back to shore. If she wants to drown out there – let her.

 

“Leah! Come on!” Dot yells. “It’s getting dark!”

 

“I’m not done!”

 

“Jesus,” Dot hisses. She looks back at Fatin for support, but Fatin has already moved on to preparing her place to sleep for the night. “I’m gonna have to go get her.”

 

“Then go get her,” Fatin says. “Or ask Rachel or Toni to do it.”

 

“Didn’t you two know each other before all this?” Dot questions.

 

Fatin’s entire body stiffens. “No,” she snaps, too quickly. Dot’s eyebrows raise.

 

“Really?”

 

“We went to the same school,” Fatin mutters. “We didn’t know each other.”

 

“You just spent every day in the same building together.”

 

“Like you and Shelby,” Fatin retorts. “And you two don’t seem like you’re the best of friends.”

 

Dot sighs. “If I can’t get her out in five minutes, send help.”

 

Fatin grunts. If Dot can’t get Leah out of the ocean in five minutes, Dot should come back and forget about her altogether. One less mouth to feed.

 

*

 

Ian refers to Fatin as “the true basic bitch,” and Leah couldn’t argue if she wanted to. She literally knows nothing about Fatin – except her name, and she could probably build a list of guys at school that want to sleep with her. (Wouldn’t be hard. Just compile a list of every guy that’s into girls at this school and bam. Done.) Ian tells her that Fatin is a cello virtuoso – exact words – and that she’s most likely headed for Juilliard.

 

Well, good for her. And that is the only moment Leah can recall where she gave Fatin Jadmani any real thought, except for any fleeting moments where they passed by each other and maybe happened to look in each other’s direction. And then it’s more than easy to forget Fatin’s existence when Jeff crashes into Leah’s life and rips everything to shreds.

 

(He doesn’t leave any part of her unscathed. She watches her entire life collapse around her, watches him help to tear it down – gives him enough power over her emotions and everything else so that he’s capable of tearing everything down.)

 

Leah recognizes Fatin when they board the plane, but why should they speak? They’ll be in Hawaii before long. Leah will coast through whatever this retreat is then return to the fucked up monotony of her regular life. Her parents so badly want this experience to fix her – whatever that means. But when they board that plane together, Leah already has an image of Fatin in her brain, in spite of not knowing her. She’s already accepted Ian’s determination that Fatin is the True Basic Bitch, that she’s shallow and uninteresting even if she’s some talented cellist.

 

Leah doesn’t know why Fatin seeks her out after dark on their first night on the island. Has no idea why Fatin cares enough to ask her who she fucked after Leah owned up to it during Never Have I Ever. Has no idea why she admits to Fatin that it’s Jeff, the guy on the back of the book that managed to survive the crash. (Leah has no idea why it pleases her so much to hear Fatin call her a bad bitch, even though Fatin definitely doesn’t know her.)

 

They talk a while longer, mostly about the (good) guys that Fatin’s fucked, bu Leah starts to skirt around questions about Jeff. Fatin seems to respect that. It isn’t until they turn in for the night that Leah considers the idea that maybe Fatin sought her out because they have a tentative connection (a weak one – same school, same town) that they don’t share with the others. (From what Leah can tell, they arrived in pairs, minus Jeannette. Her and Fatin. Shelby and Dot, also from the same school. Nora and Rachel, obviously. Toni and Martha.) It’s the first time that Leah thinks maybe she won’t be completely alone out here.

 

That sentiment doesn’t last very long. Between Fatin snooping through Leah’s shit – mainly the fucking book – and refusing to pull her weight, Leah’s patience runs out fast. And then she kind of writes Fatin off for a while. (Except on the day of the so-called “shelter building competition,” Fatin barely wears anything, and Leah hates that her eyes continue to be drawn to Fatin, over and over – at least until the “blood incident,” as Leah overhears Dot refer to it later. And looking back at it later, Leah knows she was sort of a dick to Fatin about not helping, and maybe Leah’s sudden uncertainty around Fatin – and about where they stand – contributes to Leah’s attitude issue that lands her with a face full of Fatin’s leg blood. And, Leah later quite grudgingly admits, Fatin did have a point about Jeff.)

 

And then Dot has to force Leah to get out of the ocean, buck-ass naked, after dark (which is Leah’s own fault), and then Fatin disappears into the wilderness and Leah does a 180, goes from not giving a shit to desperately needing to find Fatin, knowing it’s entirely her fault.

 

(And the guilt just eats away at her.)

 

*

 

She really loses it. Even Dot can’t stop her.

 

Leah sprints into the ocean in spite of the choppy water, conditions ripe for drowning, and all Fatin can do is stand at the shore with Dot and scream for Leah to come back. Fatin would go out there if she wasn’t positive she’d drown herself before she ever reached Leah.

 

It’s a stroke of luck that Rachel spots Leah and dives in, makes the dramatic rescue, drags Leah back to shore, thwarting her attempt at an impossible escape. And once Rachel gets close enough, Fatin and Dot rush into the waist-deep water and each grab one of Leah’s arms to haul her in the rest of the way while Nora helps an exhausted Rachel. They all collapse to the sand, breathless and still quite literally starving. If Fatin was running on empty before, she doesn’t know what to call this.

 

The brink of death, maybe, and that’s hardly an exaggeration.

 

“I’m going back out,” Leah stammers. “Don’t stop me.”

 

She can’t even catch her breath, but she tries to get back up until Dot pushes her down. Leah won’t stop, and when Dot tells Fatin to drug her – well, Fatin knows they don’t have much of a choice. But she isn’t going to force a pill down Leah’s throat. That would make things a thousand times worse. Maybe Fatin’s the only person here who cares enough about Leah and her well-being to see that. Dot’s already holding Leah down; Fatin knows Dot’s worried enough to force feed Leah a pill for all of their safety.

 

Leah’s still sprawled out on her back, gasping for air, and Fatin says, “Just let me run point.”

 

“Let me go back!” Leah yells, but Fatin drops to her knees, gets Leah’s attention. Their eyes lock, and Leah doesn’t yell again, just struggles to breathe.

 

Fatin shakes her head, stops herself from saying you can’t go back out there or you already almost drowned, give it up or pull it together, girl and ends up just saying, “No.”

 

For a long moment – so long, Fatin forgets Dot, Rachel, and Nora are only feet away – they just stare into each other’s eyes. And if Leah hadn’t just nearly tried to drown herself by swimming all the way back to civilization, Fatin would make a crack like all this staring is getting pretty gay, Rilke. But they’re starving, and Leah sort of did just try to die even if her intent was to escape, so Fatin’s in no joking mood.

 

And for another, scarier – but sort of exhilarating – long moment, Fatin thinks Leah might be about to kiss her, but like, for real.

 

“Leah,” Fatin breathes, but then the moment is over, gone as if it never happened, and Leah collapses back onto the sand.

 

*

 

She loses her voice because she can’t stop herself from screaming for Fatin as they trek through the woods, attempting to hunt her down.

 

(Because she ran off thanks to Leah. It’s always her goddamn fault, isn’t it? First Jeff, and then Ian. Now the fact that she’s stranded on an island is also her fault, because she couldn’t stop her parents from worrying about her so they shipped her off. And, on top of everything else, Fatin disappears because Leah kept being a bitch. Her fault. She deserves to feel guilty.)

 

Leah only barely restrains herself from flinging herself at Fatin when they find her. Maybe she would’ve if she wasn’t covered in drying sludge, while Fatin looks impeccable, as always. And it’s only after Leah stares in disbelief at Fatin (at how she’s okay, uninjured apart from what Leah had done to her) for a long few moments that Leah notices the waterfall behind her.

 

“God, Fatin, I could kiss you!” Dot exclaims. She doesn’t, though, just claps Fatin on the shoulder and rushes down to the water.

 

(Maybe, under different circumstances, Leah would crack the same joke. Or maybe it wouldn’t be a joke. Who knows? But right now, Leah can only stare at Fatin with her lips parted, unable to form any words. Fatin stares back for a bit, eyebrows pulling together in a questioning manner, but she doesn’t ask anything.)

 

“Come on,” Fatin says, waving Leah along. “Go clean off. No offense, but you’re looking a little rough. You all are. And what is this shit?” Fatin reaches out to touch her fingertips to a patch of dried muck on Leah’s neck. (It takes all of Leah’s willpower not to flinch, even though Fatin’s touch isn’t malicious.) “Please tell me it isn’t actual shit,” Fatin says, quickly ripping her hand away.

 

“Just mud, I think,” Leah says quietly, and that’s when she realizes her voice is shot.

 

“Seriously, go wash off,” Fatin instructs. When Leah doesn’t move, Fatin takes her by the arm and pulls her along, gently, until Leah starts walking on her own and splashes into the water with everyone else.

 

(While Fatin sits off to the side. This is her find and she doesn’t celebrate it with them.)

 

“Are we closer to even now?” Fatin asks after they’ve finished collecting water and are on their way back to camp.

 

“I’m pretty sure we’re more than even,” Dot answers before Leah has a chance to. Fatin smiles, nods, and picks up her pace, walking farther ahead of Leah, alongside Dot and Shelby.

 

“I think you said something about a kiss earlier, didn’t you?” Fatin jokes, shoving at Dot’s arm.

 

“You coming to collect?” Dot teases.

 

“Oh, you know it.”

 

(They don’t kiss, just make smoochy-faces at each other and bust out laughing at how uncomfortable it makes Shelby. It isn’t until Leah trips over a tree root sticking out of the dirt and nearly falls that she realizes her eyes haven’t left the back of Fatin’s head in at least a few minutes. Leah doesn’t like the feeling that’s stewing in her chest. It melts into something closer to fear once she equates the feeling with the one she’d get when Jeff’s eyes would linger a few moments too long on other women, or when he’d answer a text and quickly snap his phone shut afterwards. Like he had something to hide. It’s something like –

 

Jealousy.)

 

“Be serious, guys! Come on,” Shelby complains.

 

“Maybe you’re just jealous you’re not in on the action,” Toni quips while doing her best impression of Shelby’s accent, and that sends everyone but Leah and Shelby into a roaring fit of laughter. (It causes Shelby to fall back to walk with Leah as her face burns red. Leah’s expression sours at all the jeering and jokes about who would make out with who on the island, but no one should suspect anything. Leah’s expression normally looks pretty sour nowadays, after an entire week in this hellhole.)

 

*

 

Fatin isn’t sure what Leah’s deal is. Hasn’t been able to figure it out in any definite sense. Everyone can see something’s up with Leah, and even though Fatin might’ve said otherwise a few days ago, she doesn’t think Leah is literally crazy. She doesn’t think Leah’s theories – bordering on the type of actually batshit-insane conspiracy theories floating around the internet – are correct by any means. But she’s starting to think Leah might be onto something. Or someone.

 

Or maybe Leah’s completely wrong. Maybe she’s just overly paranoid, overly obsessed, with the idea of a conspiracy that doesn’t actually exist. But the more Fatin watches Leah, the more she notices how Leah cannot for the life of her pull herself out of her own head. She could sit in the same spot all day, digging at the sand or pulling out her eyebrows, just thinking about – well, about whatever it is that she spends all her time worrying over.

 

One night, Fatin finally brings herself to broach the subject with Leah, after everyone else has fallen asleep. Leah’s normally the last one up. That’s nothing new. All Fatin has to do is wait. Luckily, everyone else typically knocks out fast once they commit to going to bed.

 

“Hey,” Fatin whispers. No need to talk loudly. Leah’s only a few feet to her left. Within arm’s reach, even, if Fatin wanted to reach out.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“What’s going on?” Fatin questions. “Things haven’t been right with you since –” She cuts herself off. Since they found Jeanette’s body missing. Since Leah thought the tide sweeping the body away was a too-convenient story. “You know,” Fatin finishes lamely. “The tide, or whatever.”

 

“The island…” Leah starts, but she trails off. Fatin rolls onto her side, props her head up, but she struggles to clearly see Leah through the darkness. The dark is unlike any other kind of dark Fatin ever experienced. This is pitch blackness – or it would be, without the dying embers of the fire. Fatin promised to make sure it was completely put out before she fell asleep.

 

“What about it?” Fatin presses.

 

“It just – it feels off.”

 

Fatin hesitates. “Feels off how?”

 

Leah exhales softly. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”

 

“Are you okay?” Fatin blurts. “Like really. Or do I need to call someone?” she jokes. Leah huffs a small, short-lived laugh. They both know there’s no calling anyone. No phones. Fatin, for sure, is hyperaware of that.

 

“I’m fine,” Leah answers. “Don’t worry.”

 

Fatin scoffs. “I’m not worrying,” she says, but if she can hear the uncertainty in her own voice, she bets Leah picks up on it, too.

 

“It’s just – things get dark sometimes. In my mind. I don’t know. Forget it.”

 

“No, that makes sense,” Fatin says, even though no, it really doesn’t. Not in any concrete way. “Can I help?”

 

Leah seems to think it over for a minute. “I don’t think so,” Leah says.

 

“I can stay up,” Fatin offers. “Until you fall asleep. You know. If you want.” Fatin wants to cringe at herself. God, normally she never sounds so…unsure of herself. She hears Leah inhale shakily, and before Leah can shoot the offer down, Fatin blurts, “It’s not a big deal. Like, at all. I’m not even really tired.”

 

“Okay,” Leah breathes, and Fatin exhales in near-relief.

 

“Are you cold?” Fatin asks. “The fire hasn’t died yet. I could get it going again, put it out once you’re asleep. Or I could grab you another jacket –”

 

“You don’t have to do this,” Leah interrupts. “I’m not – I’m not fragile. You don’t have to treat me like I’m breaking.”

 

“I know,” Fatin says quickly. “I don’t think that you’re fragile.”

 

Quite the contrary. All things considered, Leah has mostly held it together, even though she has very obviously snapped. More than once. But so have the rest of them, so who are they to judge how Leah loses her shit?

 

“Thank you,” Leah says. “For saying that, at least. I know you don’t believe it.”

 

Fatin only hesitates half a second before she says, “Maybe you think he broke you, but you shouldn’t give him that much power over yourself.”

 

“I don’t remember asking for advice.”

 

“I’m giving it anyway. You’re stronger than you’re giving yourself credit for.”

 

There’s a long beat of silence before Leah whispers, “Thanks.”

 

“Yeah, anytime, girl,” Fatin replies. “Now get some sleep.”

 

“I can’t.”

 

Fatin groans. “How can you not? We worked our asses off all day. Doesn’t, like, your entire body ache?”

 

“I barely feel it anymore,” Leah says. “I can’t stop thinking.”

 

Fatin sighs. “Then I guess we’re gonna be up all night together.”

 

This time, she does reach out. Just enough to press her fingertips against the back of Leah’s hand. Throws the ball in Leah’s court, so to speak. She’s surprised at how fast Leah takes her hand.

 

*

 

“Well, I mean, okay,” Toni laughs, “you gotta admit, alright, the shape of these things –”

 

“Shape and texture,” Leah chimes in. (Maybe she’s pushing it by saying anything at all. She pays for it right away.)

 

Fatin sends her a funny look. “What would you know about shape and texture?” Fatin teases.

 

Leah, feeling her face redden, grins goofily then says, “Don’t worry about it.” Leah manages to send an exaggerated wink in Fatin’s direction before she devolves into giggles while everyone else (minus Shelby, but that’s nothing new) roars with laughter. Fatin included. (But there’s something else. Fatin looks sort of…impressed. Thinking about why that might be distracts Leah from most of the rest of the conversation, which takes a decidedly not-so-pleasant turn.)

 

Not only does that conversation go sour, but so do all their stomachs. (Leah, for once in her fucking life, gets incredibly lucky. It hits her all at once, but when it’s done, it’s mostly over. All she needs to do is glance Toni or Martha’s way to know that they didn’t all get quite so lucky.)

 

It’s later that night (when Toni’s doing ten times better than she was before and Martha is only just starting to spiral due to a lack of proper medication) that Leah first puts her suspicions into a coherent thought. (Shelby is the only one that didn’t eat the mussels. Almost like she knew they were bad. Sure, she can say she’s allergic, because she knows we’d never test something like that out here. What if –)

 

“Hey,” Fatin greets, taking a seat in the sand beside Leah. Leah’s sprawled out on her back, her head cushioned by one of Fatin’s jackets that Leah bundled up. “How are you feeling?” Fatin asks.

 

Leah grunts. “I’ve been worse. You?”

 

Fatin nods. “Yeah. Same.”

 

(Fatin looks rough. Not bad – Leah doesn’t think Fatin has ever truly looked bad. But it’s obvious that Fatin’s not feeling so hot herself.)

 

“Did Dot start to bore you or something?” Leah questions. “Is that why you came over here?” (Maybe Leah sounds a little more jealous than she intended.)

 

Fatin, though, laughs. “No, Dot went to sleep. Can’t say I blame her. You know, after spending half the day either puking my guts up or – I think you get what I’m saying.”

 

Leah cracks a weary smile. “Yeah.”

 

“You didn’t seem to get it too bad.”

 

“Not as bad as Toni or Martha,” Leah replies. “Made me a little fucking delirious though, which isn’t really saying much, I guess.”

 

Fatin busts out laughing, then groans, clutching at her stomach. “Don’t make me laugh so hard,” she complains. “Shit still hurts.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

“Can I be honest with you for a second?” Fatin asks.

 

Leah presses her lips together, scratching at her neck. “I mean, yeah? I thought that’s what we’ve been doing.”

 

“Okay,” Fatin says. She’s already sitting pretty close to Leah, but she scoots herself even closer anyway. Leah props herself up on her elbows, raises her eyebrows. “So I came over here because I have a question to ask you.”

 

“Okay?”

 

“I’m dying to know if what you said earlier – when we were eating the mussels instead of throwing them up – was actually a joke or not.”

 

“What did I say?” Leah asks.

 

“Don’t be a dick,” Fatin chuckles, shoving at Leah’s arm.

 

“I’m not,” Leah insists. “I seriously don’t remember what you’re talking about. Today feels endless. That might as well have happened eight years ago instead of, like, eight hours ago.”

 

Fatin sighs. “When I asked you what you would know about shape and texture –”

 

Leah’s eyes widen. “Oh. That.”

 

“That.”

 

“What do you think?” Leah prompts. She tilts her head to the side, studies Fatin’s face curiously.

 

Fatin shakes her head. “I’m not sure,” she admits. “You’re definitely not the prude I originally thought you were, but sleeping with women doesn’t quite strike me as your thing.”

 

“I mean, I did sleep with a woman once,” Leah admits. Fatin’s jaw drops open, and Leah laughs at the shocked look etched into Fatin’s face. “What?” Leah laughs. “You shouldn’t be allowed to be surprised when you didn’t know anything about me before we ended up in this hellhole.”

 

“I just thought maybe you would’ve said something to me sooner,” Fatin replies. She pushes at Leah’s arm again, softer this time. “You know. Since we’re, like, BFFs now.”

 

“We’re not BFFs,” Leah says. She sits up fully and jabs her thumb over where Dot’s passed out. “We both know you and Dot are best friends for life now.”

 

“You’re right,” Fatin snorts. “But you and I – we’re friends. I mean, I know about…well, let’s not bring it up. So I just figured you’d definitely tell me, like, other sex things, right?”

 

Leah exhales heavily and pushes a few stray locks of hair that have slipped free of her loose ponytail back from her forehead. “I mean, honestly I was, like, super drunk. I barely remember anything, so there isn’t much to tell. Sorry to disappoint.”

 

“That’s a little depressing, Rilke.”

 

Leah scoffs. “Yeah, tell me about it,” she mutters.

 

“No offense, but your life is a little depressing. But so is mine, so at least you aren’t alone.”

 

Leah’s lips part as her eyes lock with Fatin’s. (And there’s so many things she could say. Something about how it’s nice to finally not feel alone for the first time since he left. Leah doesn’t know where the sudden urge to tell Fatin how grateful she is for her presence came from, but if she says anything like that, she knows it’s gonna go straight to Fatin’s head, and she’ll never hear the end of it.) Leah settles for, “I’m glad you’re here. I mean, if I got to choose who to be stuck on Craphole Island with, I would never in a million years have chosen you, but still.”

 

“Aw,” Fatin says, leaning her shoulder into Leah’s. (Leah goes ahead and pushes her weight back against Fatin, so they’re both keeping each other upright.) “That was almost sweet.”

 

Leah wakes up the next morning with her forehead pressed against the back of Fatin’s neck, one arm flung haphazardly around Fatin’s waist. Fatin’s still out, snoring softly. Leah tries to roll back and realizes her leg is clamped between both of Fatin’s. (Leah doesn’t remember falling asleep like this, basically spooning Fatin. Doesn’t remember even deciding to go to bed.) The last time Leah slept this close to someone was with –

 

Leah bites her lip so hard, she draws blood, but it wards off the thought of him, helps her shove away the image of his face (which is getting blurrier and blurrier in her mind by the day). It also helps that Fatin starts to wake up moments later with a grumbled, “Oh, what the fuck?”

 

“Give me my leg back.”

 

Fatin lifts her leg enough for Leah to slip free. Fatin glances over her shoulder and asks, “Were you here this whole time?”

 

“I think so.”

 

Fatin snorts. “That’s real fucking gay, Rilke. The others are gonna start talking about us. And I’m going to like it.” Leah rolls her eyes as Fatin grins widely then announces that she has to use the bathroom. “Don’t miss me too much while I’m gone,” Fatin calls.

 

(Leah already misses the simple comfort of being pressed against another human being, of sharing warmth.

 

She’d never say that, though.)

 

*

 

Leah holds out a pair of Fatin’s bright pink panties, and Fatin only barely holds back the question of is it gay for you to touch another woman’s underwear? She thinks Leah would probably laugh, but they’re also on unsteady ground right now. It wasn’t all that long ago that Fatin was smearing blood on Leah’s face, and Leah was refusing to leave the ocean afterwards. And even though Fatin found a water source, they haven’t exactly settled their differences yet.

 

Leah tries to apologize first, but Fatin cuts her off. She knows how it’ll go. Leah will completely blame herself, but Fatin isn’t exactly blameless, and she needs to get that out first. Leah needs to hear it before she says her thing.

 

Fatin hadn’t exactly intended to end their little apology session by hugging Leah, which is the most physical contact they’ve had so far, excluding the whole blood incident. And the worst part is, the simple act of hugging another person makes Fatin tear up. Which is super embarrassing. As soon as her eyes get watery, she hurries to pull away. She cracks a joke to make up for it and helps Leah to her feet. They both smile, lingering in each other’s space for a moment, hands still clasped. Fatin waits until Leah slides her hands free then goes to get Leah water.

 

As she’s doing that, Leah offers up her damaged but intact enough to read, personally annotated Jeffrey Galanis book for the fire. Fatin can’t believe her eyes – and neither can Rachel, apparently, but Rachel accepts the book from Leah once Leah is clear that she’s sure about this then tosses it onto the fire. Fatin watches the book burn for a moment with everyone else then holds out a cup to Leah.

 

“You good?” Fatin asks.

 

Leah hums. “Great.”

 

*

 

“Maybe it was because I was starting to like her,” Fatin tells the two…what are they? Detectives? Whatever. The two dudes in the suits. The ones who interrogate her after they’re pulled from the island. They probably said their names, but Fatin doesn’t bother to remember. Doesn’t even try. “But yeah, I believed her.”

 

Both men stare at her for a long moment. She doesn’t elaborate. Doesn’t plan to unless they ask another question. And they’re going to. She can see it in their faces. The blonde guy clears his throat and finally asks, “You said, uh, you were starting to like her. Care to explain that one to us?”

 

Fatin smiles, without showing her teeth. “What’s there to explain?” Fatin asks.

 

The blonde guy clears his throat again, glances over at his partner. “We just mean – it’s no secret Toni and Shelby…” he pauses to search for the proper phrasing. “Got together?”

 

Fatin shrugs. “That’s not my business.”

 

“We’re just wondering –”

 

“What’s he’s trying to ask,” the other guy interjects, “is if you meant you started to like Leah romantically.”

 

Fatin’s smile is wider this time. Her eyebrows quirk up, and she leans back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest, sleeves pulled down over her hands. She shrugs. “Now why would I spoil a good will-they, won’t-they story for you? Guess you’ll just have to wait until next time to find out the ending.”

 

*

 

“You didn’t notice that Toni and Shelby had changed? That they suddenly didn’t…violently hate each other anymore?” Faber asks.

 

Leah shrugs. “I wasn’t really paying attention to them. I had my own shit, you know.”

 

“Right. Like…?” Faber prompts.

 

“Have you not listened to anything I’ve been telling you this whole time?” Leah questions.

 

“No! Of course we’re listening,” Faber says. “It just feels like maybe you’re leaving something out.”

 

“Something like what?” Leah asks. “I told you all about my crazy conspiracies, didn’t I?”

 

“What about Fatin?”

 

Leah freezes, and she knows Faber notices the way every muscle in her body suddenly tenses. “What about her?” Leah asks.

 

Her voice sounds strained to her own ears. Faber smiles gently, shrugs a little bit. “You two didn’t exactly start off on the right foot,” he says. “Sounds like that changed throughout your stay.”

 

“I mean…we all changed.”

 

“But Fatin was the most important person to you on that island,” Faber guesses.

 

“We sorta knew each other before the island,” Leah mumbles. (She knows that she’s already told Faber that they barely knew of each other’s existence. She won’t get away with attempting to change that detail now.) “It made sense that we’d…gravitate toward each other. We had some kind of connection before all that, at least.”

 

“Right. And she’s the only person there who really knew what happened between you and Jeff, isn’t she? I mean, the others knew something happened, but Fatin knew details. You trusted her with that.”

 

“Fatin’s the only person who didn’t think I was completely off my rocker.”

 

*

 

Jeanette’s bag washes up, and Fatin immediately takes hold of the massive bottle of vodka. “Well, my day just got a hell of a lot better,” Fatin says. “Let’s crack this bad boy open.”

 

Dot grabs her arm. “Not until we move camp.”

 

Fatin rolls her eyes but complies, waiting until later, after Nora and Rachel’s fight ends, after Dot’s speech about how they’re old news, to start drinking. And once she starts, it’s kind of hard to stop.

 

“Jeanette might’ve been the lucky one,” Dot announces, holding up the bottle of vodka. “The one who went out quick.”

 

And with that, the hopelessness of their situation sets in for real, and the bottle’s being passed around.

 

“Hey, don’t hog it,” Leah says, and Fatin happily hands the bottle over. Leah takes a swig and makes a face that Fatin can’t help but to laugh at. “This stuff is nasty,” Leah complains.

 

“But it gets the job done, honey,” Fatin replies. She takes the bottle back, throws Leah a wink. At least the alcohol will help her not feel anything. And she’s going to need it. Sitting in a circle while everyone is depressed as hell is…well, it’s depressing as hell.

 

But then the plane flies over, and they’re all on their feet and screaming, with rescue suddenly, finally imminent. The group’s heavy mood has immediately dissipated, and Fatin throws herself at Leah, locking her arms around Leah’s neck, because they are going home. Fatin will never take indoor plumbing for granted again.

 

Fatin pulls back from the embrace enough to take Leah’s face in her hands before she yells, “We’re going home!” up at the sky. Leah grins widely, and her blue eyes are clearer than they’ve been in days. Leah’s eyes are bright and shiny, totally lit up. Not a trace of darkness left. “God, I’m so fucking happy. I could kiss you,” Fatin says, and it’s mostly a joke. Mostly. And Leah takes it as one, laughing and rolling her eyes before prying Fatin’s hands off her face and shoving her away.

 

“You’re not funny,” Leah says.

 

“You laughed,” Fatin replies, smirking. “But, you know, if you want it to be a real offer, I might make an exception for you.”

 

“Oh, shut up,” Leah snorts. Fatin just shrugs, smirk still on her face.

 

*

 

The Twilight of Adam thing on the computer makes no fucking sense, even though the pieces start coming together. She wasn’t crazy at all. Leah knew something was up, and there’s the proof, right there on the desk in front of her. There’s a group of boys in the wilderness, monitored from multiple angles. And they’re the group of girls, then.

 

(Leah has no idea what this is, or why it’s happening. Even though she’s staring at evidence that she was right, even though Shelby risked slipping her a note that told her she’s right – there are still glaring gaps.)

 

The second Leah had laid eyes on Shelby standing in her doorway, she knew.

 

Fatin’s here, too. It’s just a matter of where exactly she is and how exactly Leah’s going to bust her out.

 

(And how they’re going to escape from wherever they are. Somewhere off the coast of Peru? That’s a long ways from California.)

 

One thing at a time. Find Fatin first.

 

*

 

She can’t take it, can’t just sit from a distance and watch Leah lay in the sand by herself and pull at her eyebrow. When Fatin’s initial joke about the over-tweezed brow not being a good look falls flat, she goes with blunt honesty. “You’re going dark on me again.”

 

“This is the worst it’s been,” Leah admits.

 

“What is?”

 

And Leah tries to explain it once more, her problem with the island, her inability to let go. Why she thinks she shouldn’t let go. And Fatin listens, grabs onto Leah’s wrist to stop her from plucking out her entire eyebrow. She doesn’t know what else to do, doesn’t know what else she can do except listen. If Fatin is honest with herself, Leah sounds like she’s really, truly losing her grasp on reality. And it’s hard to blame her. The island has fucked them all up pretty badly.

 

Leah presses the heels of her hands to her eyes, unable to keep the tears at bay anymore. Fatin nods, grasps onto Leah’s shoulder, and says exactly the wrong thing. There’s no need for Leah to tell her to fuck off – though she does – because Fatin’s already cursing herself for upsetting Leah even more, for letting Leah storm off.

 

When Dot asks if Leah’s okay, Fatin can only shake her head.

 

Leah spends the next hour or so on her feet, pacing, even when Dot tells her she needs to conserve energy. All Fatin can do is watch her. She’s too weak herself to think trying to force Leah to sit is a good idea. Fatin thinks back to when they’d thought (stupidly, perhaps) that rescue was only a few hours away, when they ate all their food. She thinks back to how clear Leah’s eyes were, to the smile that was either on her face or always close to the surface for the first few hours after spotting the plane. She wants that Leah back. This Leah –

 

Her eyes are still blue, but as far as Fatin’s concerned, they might as well be pitch black. She’s gone completely dark. Fatin’s just afraid there’s no pulling her out.

 

*

 

All eyes turn on Fatin after she claims she’s going to tell a news anchor she’s going to fuck a guy as soon as she fucking can, and she stares back at everyone like they’re the weird ones.

 

“What?” Fatin questions.

 

“I don’t think you can say that on live TV,” Leah snickers. They’re all still giddy about being rescued. It’s only been a couple hours since they saw the plane. And as much as Leah can’t fucking wait to get off this godforsaken island – it kind of stings to know all these girls are going to be out of her life again.

 

Mostly Fatin, though, if Leah is honest with herself. Everyone else is...well, they’re great on a good day and fucking terrible on a bad day. (On Leah’s bad days. On the days that everyone isn’t quite sure if she’s stable or if she’s totally fucking losing it.) But today, nothing could be better. They’re going to be rescued. (They’re going to have fun. They’re going to get the island vacation they were deprived of, thanks to the nosedive they took into the ocean, even if it’s just for a day.)

 

So when Martha finds edibles in Jeanette’s bag, Leah doesn’t think twice about taking them. (Everyone takes one, so why not? Well, everyone but Shelby, but Leah barely notices Shelby’s absence, especially once the edibles kick in.) And the next thing Leah knows, they’re talking about who’s gotten off on the island, and to everyone’s great surprise, Fatin has not. (Shelby reappears around this time, but Leah also barely notices her presence.)

 

Fatin saying she’s going to leave the Bay catches Leah off guard. So much so, she physically startles, drawing Fatin’s eyes down to her, since Leah’s propping herself up on Fatin’s leg. Leah’s kind of drifting in and out of focus as Fatin and Dot go back and forth. Once again, Dot’s making smooching noises in Fatin’s direction (just like when they’d found Fatin at the waterfall, and it had annoyed Leah then and kind of annoys her now). Leah expects the same from Fatin, but when she glances up, Fatin’s doing something with her tongue instead, and Leah quickly tears her eyes away as her face heats up.

 

(She’s never been so grateful for being totally fucking sunburned, knowing her flushed face can be blamed on her constant exposure to the elements.)

 

“But no, for real,” Fatin says, pointing at Dot. “We should totally fucking move in together. I’m not even kidding.”

 

“And I will totally be your live in muscle,” Dot replies.

 

“I’m dead serious,” Fatin says. “We’re going to plan this as soon as we’re off the island.”

 

“It’s a fucking deal, man.”

 

And from there, they end up in the water. And when Leah finally staggers back to shore, breathless and shivering and definitely still high, her eyes seek out Fatin. She’s off patting her skin dry with a T-shirt, looking up only when Dot draws her attention to her by shouting something Leah only hears half of. (It’s definitely something sexual, though. No doubt about that.) Fatin laughs, loudly, and throws a dry T-shirt in Dot’s direction, telling her to dry off.

 

And Leah’s so high that her brain (consciously) points out to her, fuck, maybe I am jealous.

 

“Leah!” Fatin yells. Leah jumps, a moment immediately followed by nervous laughter as Fatin waves her over urgently. “Come on! You’re gonna freeze.” When Leah gets closer, Fatin grins and adds, “Put some damn clothes on, girl.” Fatin shoves one of her shirts into Leah’s chest, and Leah manages to grab it before it falls, tries (and fails) not to think about Fatin’s hand pressing against her chest. Leah slides into the shirt but doesn’t bother to button it.

 

(“Don’t give that shirt back,” Fatin tells her later. “Looks better on you anyway.”)

 

*

 

Even though Dot, Nora, and Rachel are all witnesses, if anyone ever asks if Leah and Fatin cried together, Fatin’s going to flat out deny it. They did not have a moment or whatever – definitely did not have a moment where Fatin was, like, 85% sure that Leah was going to kiss her (then didn’t), and they 110% did not have a moment where Fatin held onto Leah for dear life and cried with her, and there’s no way in hell either of them admitted they wanted their mothers. Nope. Didn’t happen, no matter how damning the evidence. All Fatin will admit to is the fact that she’s the one that got Leah to willingly, under her own power, swallow that pill.

 

But Fatin can’t leave her. Even though Leah’s totally zonked out and would never know if Fatin’s here or not, Fatin won’t leave. Can’t leave. Something’s forcing her to stay by Leah’s side, to hold her through her drug induced slumber as much as possible. And no one says anything. Either they don’t have the balls or they understand in some weird way or don’t care.

 

Fatin isn’t sure why she cares what the group might be thinking about her and Leah. She manages to determine that Dot doesn’t give a shit. Dot sits close by them, occasionally carries a conversation with Fatin when she can muster up the energy. When Fatin slips free from under Leah to go take a piss, Dot watches her walk back over, reclaim her previous position with Leah’s head resting against her chest, her arms wrapped securely around Leah.

 

“What?” Fatin snaps.

 

Dot shrugs, eyebrows quirking upward. “Nothing,” she says. She’s drawing idle patterns in damp sand. “But if Toni were here right now, she’d probably make a gay joke.”

 

Fatin huffs, doesn’t have the energy for full-on laughter. “You don’t have one?”

 

“I’m too hungry to think of any decent jokes right now, gay or otherwise.”

 

A small smile flickers on Fatin’s face. “Hard fucking same.”

 

*

 

“It’s complicated.”

 

“How so?” Faber pushes. (He can never just fuck off. He never drops a line of questioning, not even when Leah sits in silence for ten minutes. He just calls for a fucking break, leaves her with some food, and returns after another ten minutes goes by.)

 

Leah rolls her eyes, slouching down in her chair. (Maybe it’s the way she sits during these interviews that’s fucking up her back, or maybe it’s the shitty ass mattress in the shitty ass pseudo-prison cell she’s kept in.) “We didn’t exactly have a lot of time to talk about it.”

 

“All you had was time,” Faber chuckles. “What else were you going to do?”

 

“Look for food,” Leah lists off. “Track the tide, especially after it swept off all our shit. Collect water and boil it. There was always something going on. And besides…I wasn’t in a good place half the time. Those conditions don’t really facilitate heartfelt conversations.”

 

*

 

“He really was just using me, wasn’t he?”

 

Fatin grunts and rolls over, squinting. The sun is only just starting to come up, but everyone else is still asleep. Except for Leah. Fatin struggles to sit up, yawning, and she yanks her hood off her head. “Girl, did you sleep at all?” she questions. Her eyes land on Leah’s face right as Leah’s teeth sink into her lower lip. Leah shakes her head. “That’s not good for you,” Fatin chastises.

 

“You didn’t answer my question.”

 

“Huh? What question?”

 

“He was just using me,” Leah says. “Wasn’t he?”

 

“Who?” Fatin says dumbly. It takes a second. “Oh. Jeff?” Fatin hesitates. “I mean, I wouldn’t know, right? What do I know about love anyway?”

 

Leah’s gaze is piercing, and Fatin actually winces. “Just say it,” Leah says flatly. “Just tell me he never loved me.”

 

“I wouldn’t know,” Fatin says softly. “I wasn’t there, remember? Didn’t even know you existed.”

 

Leah scoffs. “Right. I forgot.”

 

“You’re looking for my honest opinion?” Fatin asks.

 

“I asked, didn’t I?”

 

“I think he sounds like a fucking asshole. I think you’re better off without him. And I think, once we get off this motherfucking island, that you’ll be able to build a real life for yourself. Okay?”

 

Leah nods. “Okay.”

 

“Now get some goddamn sleep,” Fatin insists.

 

“I can’t.”

 

“I’m not taking no for an answer. Lie down. Close your eyes. Sleep.”

 

“Or what?” Leah says. At first, Fatin thinks she’s being challenged, but a weary smile flickers on Leah’s face, and there’s an unusual glint in Leah’s eyes. “You gonna make me?” Leah teases.

 

“I could.”

 

“I’d like to see you try.”

 

They both laugh tiredly, and Fatin crawls her way over. She grabs Leah by the arm, forces Leah to lie down in the sand beside her. Fatin doesn’t release her grasp on Leah’s bicep and instead links her arms through Leah’s.

 

“I’m serious,” Fatin murmurs, nose resting against Leah’s shoulder. “Go to sleep before the sun comes up and Dot wants us all to get our asses moving.”

 

*

 

“Hey, watch it!”

 

The girl barely looks at her, just keeps walking with her phone in her hand. It takes Leah a second, but she places the face with a name. Fatin. She’d almost knocked Leah off her feet when their shoulders banged together, and Fatin didn’t even stop, let alone apologize.

 

“Fucking bitch,” Leah mutters to herself. She adjusts her hold on her backpack strap, shaking her head. She walks to her next class, rubbing at her shoulder. If she remembers, she’ll bring it up to Ian later, see what he thinks.

 

*

 

“I’m not telling you jack shit until I can see her.”

 

“That isn’t how this works.”

 

Fatin slaps her hand on the table, but neither of the two men flinch. “I think you’ve got enough out of me,” Fatin growls. “I need to see her. Now.”

 

“Dot?” the black guy asks.

 

Fatin snarls, “Leah.”

 

The blonde guy raises his hand, indicating for Fatin to calm down, and she only just refrains from leaping across the table and ripping his throat out. They’ve been doing this for days, with no end in sight, and Fatin is fucking tired. Fatin searches both of the men’s faces for answers, but they’re as impassive as ever.

 

“Just – is she okay?” Fatin asks. “You know how she gets in her head.”

 

“She’s fine,” the blonde guy assures her. “I promise you that.”

 

“I need to see her.”

 

“Soon.”

 

*

 

Starting almost right after Leah and all her friends leave the water, Leah’s mind can’t stop fucking racing. (Maybe that’s thanks to the drugs. Maybe it’s just her thing.) They saw a plane. Rescue is coming. (Where is it? Where’s their fucking rescue? Did the pilot even report that he’d seen them? What if he didn’t? What if he left them here, stranded, forever? What if he flew off, returned to his life without –)

 

“You’re thinking too much again. I can see it.”

 

Leah jumps, and Fatin smiles softly. “Jesus,” Leah exclaims.

 

“Sorry.” Fatin’s smile slides when she sees Leah’s expression. “Hey,” Fatin says sharply. She takes a seat in the sand beside Leah and jabs Leah in the side with her elbow. Leah barely reacts. (She stares out at the setting sun, hand twitching at her side, itching to pull at her eyebrow.) “Don’t get dark on me again,” Fatin says. “We should still be celebrating.”

 

“The sun’s almost down, and no one’s here yet.”

 

“These things take time,” Fatin assures her. She grabs Leah’s hand from the sand, holds it in both of her own. “We’re going home soon. Someone is coming for us.”

 

Leah nods. “Yeah. But I can’t celebrate anymore. I think I’m hungover, but I might still be high. I don’t know, honestly.”

 

Fatin laughs. “Oh, I’m definitely still high,” she replies. She smirks, winks. “But just a little bit.”

 

Leah hesitates. “Where’s everyone else?”

 

“Toni’s trying to get Martha to sit still,” Fatin says. “Don’t know where Shelby went, but she’s been in a weird fucking mood, so maybe she just needs some space. Dot’s asleep, Nora’s writing in her journal, and last I saw, Rachel was exercising? Looked like some kind of weird exercise.”

 

Leah inhales sharply. (Now that she knows there’s a fairly small chance of being bothered by any of the others, she feels free to say what she’s thinking.) “I can’t do this anymore,” Leah whispers. She pulls her hand free of Fatin’s and starts to push herself up. “I can’t just keep sitting here doing nothing. I have to –”

 

(I have to go. She doesn’t know where she can go, but her eyes land on the ocean ahead of them, on the gentle waves. The waves that supposedly carried Jeanette out to sea, now serving as her eternal resting site. That’s the way out, right there. It’s right there –)

 

Fatin’s grasp on Leah’s arm is strong. In fact, Fatin’s strength startles Leah so much, her ass lands back in the sand before she’s even halfway to her feet.

 

“Fatin,” Leah pleads, voice breaking, but Fatin just gently shushes her, holding onto her arm. (Maybe the firm pressure of Fatin’s hand on Leah’s skin is the only thing currently rooting Leah in reality. Running into the ocean to swim to freedom is a completely insane idea, anyway.) “Fatin,” Leah breathes, lower lip trembling. One tear slips free, and Fatin catches it with the pad of her thumb before it can reach Leah’s jaw, and she swiftly swipes it away.

 

“You’re okay,” Fatin assures her. “It’s all going to be okay now.”

 

(Leah nods, but she doesn’t believe her.) And then Leah does what might be the stupidest thing she’s ever done. (That’s including starting a relationship with a man nearly twenty years older than her. That’s including lying to said man about her age. That’s including kissing her best friend then freaking out on him. That’s including accusing said best friend of slipping her birth certificate to the man she’s been obsessed with – until very recently. And Leah’s not even high enough to be able to blame her actions on the drugs.) Leah leans over (and Fatin doesn’t initially move away, so she must be assuming Leah’s just going to lay her head on her shoulder) and only stops when their faces are mere inches apart, when it’s more than obvious that Leah has stopped just short of bringing their lips together.

 

(Something inside Leah forces her to stop literally an inch away. They’re breathing each other’s air; if Leah just leaned a little bit more –)

 

She doesn’t have to, because Fatin closes the gap, cups Leah’s jaw with the hand that had swiped away the one lone tear. (And maybe Fatin only kisses Leah because she knows they’re away from the prying eyes of the others. Maybe Fatin only kisses Leah because she thinks this is what Leah needs. Maybe it means nothing to Fatin, and if it means nothing, then Leah’s headed straight back towards what she experienced with him, and she doesn’t think she can recover from that again –)

 

Fatin pulls back abruptly while simultaneously grabbing a fistful of Leah’s shirt. “Stop thinking,” Fatin commands (but her voice is quiet, maybe a little shaky). “Turn your brain off and just kiss me, okay?”

 

“Is this because you’re high or because you feel bad for me or –”

 

“No.”

 

*

 

There’s the familiar click before the door opens, and Fatin doesn’t even bother to roll over to see who enters. It’s always the same few people, and it’s never anyone she wants to see.

 

“What do you want now?” Fatin demands. “I thought I gave you more than enough today, and I’m exhausted, so please, kindly fuck off –”

 

“Fatin.”

 

Fatin nearly rolls off the fucking bed. She springs to her feet, jaw hanging open. Her eyes don’t quite believe what they’re looking at. “Lee – Leah?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Am I hallucinating?”

 

“No.” Leah pauses. “You’ve always been a lot more levelheaded than me, and your first instinct is that I’m a hallucination. Okay.”

 

“How did you get in here?”

 

Leah smirks. “I hacked the system or whatever. I’ll explain it later. Come on. We have to get the others.”

 

“Hang – hang on. I’m still not sure this is real.”

 

Leah crosses the room quickly but falters before she can hug Fatin, and Fatin watches Leah second-guess herself, watches the doubt flicker in her eyes.

 

“Well?” Fatin prompts. “Are you real or not? Is my hand gonna go through you if I –”

 

And that little push does the trick, gets Leah to kiss her, hard. It doesn’t last long, because they really probably should get to escaping now that Fatin is positive this isn’t her mind playing tricks on her. Because really, wouldn’t that be something else? (After she spends weeks watching after Leah, trying to ensure Leah’s own mind doesn’t sabotage her – and failing more than once at that – it would be just hilarious for Fatin’s mind to snap now that they’re off the island.)

 

“Okay,” Fatin breathes, clutching onto Leah’s arms. “Let’s go.”