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I always felt I must look better in the rearview

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Fatin’s pretty sure she can’t do this anymore. Or like, she shouldn’t. Be able to. Or something. See, it’s 11pm on a Wednesday night three weeks after graduation, she has plans with Dot to get their first legal tattoos tomorrow, and Leah Rilke is asleep on her chest. (Leah Rilke happens to be Fatin’s girlfriend, her very sweet, very smart, very interesting girlfriend, but that’s beside the point right now.)

The point is, she just graduated. Three weeks ago she walked on and off a stage, flipped a tassel, and her whole family clapped. She stood tall, back straight, chin high, smile with teeth, just like her mom taught, and it felt good. (Dot whistled, Rachel cheered louder than anyone else, and Fatin’s still so stupid in love that she couldn’t stop scanning until she found Leah’s face beaming up at her from the rows of other people dressed exactly the same.) (They’re all getting good at graduations, after spending a weekend with Toni and Martha after theirs, and hours spent watching Nora rehearse her valedictorian speech.)

And now, Fatin is lying in bed, in her room with the pink rug she’s had since third grade across the floor and pictures of her friends scattered across the walls – Martha grinning up at the camera, Shelby sticking out her tongue, Dot with a face full of freckles, and Rachel concentrating on something in the distance. Fatin’s lying in bed, with Leah Rilke her girlfriend sort-of-drooling on Fatin’s shoulder, and she should be falling asleep too, or enjoying the stars she can see out the window, but all she can do is scan for the itch.

It’s been all too easy for Fatin to forget recently, between basically getting kidnapped, said kidnapping leading to a bunch of weirdly wonderful new friends, and then getting back after the kidnapping, all the reorganizing and rebuilding, putting their whole lives back together plus a metric ton of therapy, it’s a lot! It’s a lot. But here they all are, finally on the otherish side of the weirdo assclown hell this past year has been, and all Fatin’s been able to think about for the past week – between coordinating road trip plans, splash fights with her brothers (their mom always wins, joining at the last second to douse them all), and watching Shelby stack gum wrappers on a napping Toni’s forehead until she wakes up, Martha quietly cheering her on and Nora calculating the probability of their success – is that the itch is coming.

Or really, it should be here already, should have made an appearance months ago. But it hasn’t. Not when Leah kissed her by the fire, or in the bunker, or on the plane home. Not when Leah poked her shoulder one night, so I was wondering if you wanted to do something with Ian tomorrow? And me, obviously, but I think you guys might really get along and-. Not when Leah’s mom asked if they could all have dinner together (different than the way they ate after the island, all the girls descending on an unsuspecting kitchen in a swarm, chattering and clanging and making enough food for a small army) so that they could really get to know Fatin, because she’s important to you. Not during any of the countless times Leah has clasped her arms around Fatin’s waist and pressed a kiss to the back of her head, or when she pulls up outside of Fatin’s house with cookies for her little brothers and a plan with seventeen things to that day (Dot needs a new hairbrush, right? I was thinking we could surprise her with one, and then take Rachel and Shelby to the beach? If they’re actually gonna learn how to surf more practice is probably a good idea).

Fatin knows the itch, knows it the way she knows the sounds of her brothers’ footsteps in the hallway, and she welcomes it, welcomes the tingle when she’s thinking about spending the night with one of her college boys instead of going home (this would also be a violation of curfew, but it’s the itch that gets her home by 11, not the pressure of her mother’s disappointed face) or when she thinks about kissing a boy from last weekend’s party at this one. The itch is good. It keeps her safe. Keeps her from getting attached, keeps her from focusing on something other than her family and her cello, it lets her know when she’s getting too close to something that won’t matter in a year or when her own edges start to blur.

It lets her have enough fun to feel like she’s living, and still leaves room for her parents to be proud once in a while. Leah kissed her for the first time on the island and it didn’t come and, makes sense, this place is weird. So she let Leah kiss her again, and again, and again. And then when she saw Leah in the bunker for the first time it still didn’t make an appearance but she was too busy wrapping herself in Leah’s familiar smell, feeling the rumble in her chest as she laughed, and anyway this is even weirder than before so.

But now everything is like, normal again, and Fatin doesn’t feel it anywhere. Not threading between her toes, or humming under her calluses, or stinging beneath her ribs. She doesn’t feel a pull from any muscle, a desperate twitch buried deep, in fact there’s nothing in her that wants to run. All she can think about is the way Leah’s eyes burn when her face hovers over Fatin’s, and how her skin shivers when Leah’s fingers brush against it, and how sometimes when Leah smiles she still feels shaky, like she can’t hold herself all the way up. Fatin’s never felt like that before and secretly, it’s kinda fun.

Leah claps whenever Fatin finishes a piece, even when she’s just practicing, and yesterday she came down to breakfast and was met by the sight of her mom and Leah working on a puzzle (??) together. The itch should be here, should be trying to rip through her skin and tear her away from how terrifyingly good this is, but it hasn’t. Not even a whisper.

A few weeks ago Fatin mentioned the itch to Dot, forgetting for a moment that Dot fully commits to everything she does and therefore really would not relate, but Dot had spun around with the show-me-everything-you-have-I’m-making-an-inventory-so-we-can-fucking-survive look in her eye and Fatin knows to respect her intensity, so before she knows what’s happening she’s crying in the front seat of her car while Dot rubs her shoulders.

No one who knows me very well likes me, if you haven’t noticed.

We all love you, if YOU hadn’t noticed. Fatin. You deserve to be known. Trust me on this. Life’s too short to run away from everyone the whole time.

Leah shifts in her sleep, pulling Fatin even closer, and Fatin is yanked out of her itch-scanning by the smell of her girlfriend’s shampoo, the rhythm of her quiet breath. (Since the island, Fatin doesn’t know how to sleep without the sound of other people breathing in the room, which should be filed under “disgustingly codependent” but just feels good. And no one’s breath feels familiar the way Leah’s does, like the only thing that kept her from screaming some nights on the island.) She leans back and shuts her eyes, matching her inhales to Leah’s and tries to relax. Without the itch, she falls asleep fast, lulled by the gentle weight of Leah's head and the homeness of it all.