Actions

Work Header

Mad Girl's Love Song

Chapter Text

Day 34

 

“Question.” 

“I swear to fucking God, Fatin, if you ask one more time if those cargo pants make you look more gay than me, you are sleeping outside.” Dot muttered from her place in front of the fireplace.

Leah barely resisted the urge to curl her lips upwards in amusement as Fatin let out an affronted scoff next to her on the beaten-up couch, knowing it would only earn her a narrowed gaze and five-minute cold shoulder. 

“I wasn’t.” Fatin pouted, though less than a beat passed before she was unable to stop herself from waving an accusatory finger around the room and exclaiming, “Though, I still want a proper vote on that question, by the way. Stop avoiding eye contact Martha - I know you abstained last time.”

All the girls dotted around the cabin let out an aggrieved groan; Martha noticeably ducking behind Shelby’s back.

“Fatin, I will put you in timeout.” Dot threatened, letting out a beleaguered sigh that showed equal parts frustration and fondness, summing up their friendship perfectly.

“You and I both know I would like that.” Fatin shot back immediately, head tilting forwards and lips puckering in seductive fashion. “Punish m-”

“Fatin!” Shelby cut in, wide-eyed and blushing, “Seriously?”

“What? Don’t kink shame me.” Fatin huffed, slumping back against the couch and turning her head to flash Leah a soft smile and teasing wink as if to remind Leah that it was all show, to give her a glimpse of the real interest that ran parallel and subterranean to the banter she shared in the full light of day with Dot. 

“I wasn’t kink shaming…” Shelby mumbled, sparking a debate between Rachel, Martha and Dot if it was or not. Toni remained quiet on the other side of the room as she always did whenever the topic of sex in any relation to Shelby came up - which, thanks to Fatin’s shameless sex positive confidence and ability to draw all of the girls - even at their most reclusive - into conversation, happened far more often that not.

“Hey.” Fatin whispered; Leah turned her head away from the ping-pong discussion playing out across the room to find Fatin fully facing her, knees drawn tight to her chest, feet only a small slither of distance away from making contact and pressing against Leah’s thigh. Brown eyes glinting with that soft concern that always illuminated them whenever they focused on Leah. 

“Hey.” Leah whispered back, the rest of the room falling quiet as Fatin captured her full attention. 

“You doing okay?” Fatin checked, rocking ever so slightly forward.

Leah tracked the motion, licking her lips slowly as she considered the question. “Today’s a good day.” 

Fatin brightened up immediately, eyebrow arching in gentle surprise.

“Well, a good day for my thoughts, you know? It’s not…” Leah blew out a breath lifting a loose lock of hair up for a moment, before it swung back down on the inevitable inhale that followed, trying to slip into her mouth. “I can’t say all of this,” Leah gestured with a shoulder roll to their environment, “makes a good day… but I’m learning to have a new frame of reference. And in that new frame of reference…”

“Today’s a good day.” Fatin finished for her softly, blinking at her with so much understanding it made Leah’s teeth hurt.

“What was your question, by the way?” Leah asked, swallowing thickly as she changed the subject - she didn’t allow herself to indulge in these moments with Fatin for too long, it took away her sharpness, made the world hazy and indistinct. “The one you were going to ask before Shelby kink-shamed you.”

“Excuse you, there is no final decision yet on if it counted as kink-shaming!” Shelby called out, bringing the noise and clamour of the rest of the room back into Leah’s auditory awareness.

“Are you girls still on that?” Fatin laughed.

“Don’t act like that wasn’t your intention in the first place, you hijack conversations more effectively than DB Cooper does planes.” Rachel admonished from the armchair near Dot and the fireplace. 

“DB Cooper?” Leah repeated, surprised by the reference.

“What? I listened to Nora every now and again,” Rachel replied, expression turning downcast and conflicted, as she added quietly, “maybe should have listened more.”

Leah bit her tongue harshly, keeping her words and revelations to herself. Today’s a good day, she reminded herself, keep it that way. Don’t spiral.

There was a sudden lull, a heaviness seeping in that made Leah’s skin prickle and the shadows seemingly lengthen. 

Fatin stepped in then, hijacking or saving the conversation depending on your opinion - Leah tended to always view it as the latter.

“Question.” Fatin announced, raising a hand like a petulant schoolgirl.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Fatin!” Dot shouted, collapsing backwards in dramatic defeat. “Yes, the pants make you look gay. They make everyone look gay.”

“Yes, but do they make me look more gay than you? Do they clash with the femme aestethic or enhance it? These are serious questions, Dorothy.” Fatin chided. “But again, not the question I was going to ask.”

“What’s the question?” Martha chimed in, earning her a dazzling smile from Fatin and an amused chuckle from Leah.

“Thank you, Martha.” Fatin cleared her throat dramatically, Toni and Rachel rolled their eyes but it was obvious they were intrigued now. “What day is it?”

“Huh?” Toni squinted over at Fatin, brow furrowing in confusion, from the isolated corner she had retreated to - throwing longing glances at Shelby and Martha. 

“What day is it?” Fatin repeated like it was a completely understandable question.

“I want to say Tuesday.” Rachel offered up, with a thoughtful gaze.

“Nah, it's a Wednesday.” Dot countered.

“Y’all actually been keeping track?” Shelby asked in surprise.

“Vaguely, but no promises.” Dot shrugged. 

“Feels more like a Thursday to me.” Toni chimed in.

“That’s great, guys, I’m so glad we can feel out the ‘soul of the day’.” Fatin interrupted. “But that wasn’t what I was asking.”

“Then what were you asking?” Leah prompted curiously.

Fatin hesitated, side-eyeing Leah carefully as if to assess if she could handle what was about to come, Leah nodded to her once reminding her today was a good day. “How are we counting the days now?”

Leah jolted at the question and all the girls fell silent in response.

Fatin pursed her lips, “Do we count from the plane crash? Are we on day one hundred and twenty three? Or do we start from scratch? From the day we arrived here?”

One hundred and twenty three days was a stomach churning number that seemed so large yet still so small for how much trauma and sheer life had been packed into it.

A plane crash.

Surviving an island and building a family.

A bunker, interrogation after interrogation leading up and into psychological warfare.

Truth and vindication only to be followed by the cruellest of defeats.

A new start, the square peg of their family shoved into a triangle made up of unknown quantities. 

And then - 

Leah swallowed the wave of nausea that rose up alongside the butterfly wings in her stomach. It didn’t matter what came after that ( it mattered more than anything ). It inevitably brought her here.

The Wilds exchanged for The Wilderness. 

Capitalised and extended. 

A new punishment, a new challenge.

A new hell .

“Day thirty-four.” Leah muttered, gaze dropping to the floor whilst the hand that had been twisting the, slightly too large, watch on her wrist round and round lifted up to her eyebrow. She didn’t pick at the hairs, didn’t tug and pluck, instead she tapped her finger lightly against the side of her head - an adjusted coping mechanism. “Re-start the count.”

“You sure?” Fatin checked, watching her like this was a fundamentally important question. Like it was a confession.

Leah shifted to look out the window of the cabin, peering into the dark, impenetrable forest that surrounded them, the fire in the hearth the only light source for what must have been hundreds of miles.

A single beacon in an abyss.

“I’m sure. Re-start the count.”



Day 129

 

“Get up.” Rachel ordered.

Leah squeezed her eyes closed even tighter.

“Leah, get up.”

“Please, I… I need a little longer.” Leah begged, pulling the blankets tighter around herself, teeth slightly chattering and head throbbing.

“No, you need to get up and get moving.”

“I… I can’t.” Leah cried. “It hurts, Rachel.”

She could hear Rachel exhale slowly above her, she imagined her best friend’s teeth grinding, jaw clenching and nostrils flaring.

“Rachel, maybe you should let her rest.” Fatin pleaded, voice quiet as if she was attempting to lull Leah back to sleep. Fatin was close by, she always was, but Leah couldn’t work out where exactly she was in the room.

“Maybe you need to stop fucking coddling her.” Rachel snapped back.

“I’m not-” 

“You are. And she doesn’t need that. She needs to get the fuck up .”

Leah whimpered but managed to blink her eyes open and peer upwards to see Rachel looming above her.

“That’s the first step, Leah. Next is moving. Come on now.” Rachel said, tone hard but guiding; a challenge set and fully expected to be met. 

“I can’t-”

“You can.” Rachel declared. “You can, Leah. I know you can.”

Leah blinked away tears, Rachel’s belief in her warming her muscles enough to loosen them up, she gingerly pushed back the blanket - the cold air rushing in like water seeking to overwhelm the pin drop drain. She gasped at the sharp cold, and how it made her feel stripped bare and naked. Aching arms pushed her up, leaving the most daunting of steps for next.

“It’s going to hurt.” Leah whispered despondently.

“Yeah, it is.” Rachel acknowledged sympathetically. “But it’s going to hurt a little less than it did yesterday.”

“Promise?” Leah wiped away the snot dripping from her nose with the back of her hand, jaw shifting from side to side, stretching the muscles there to take her mind off what was coming next.

“I promise.” Rachel murmured gently, smiling at her sad yet earnest. 

“Okay.” Leah breathed and then swung her left leg off the couch to the ground. “FUCK!”

The muscles clenched up and the wound marking her thigh, that was more a burrow drilling through flesh and bone, screamed at her to make it stop . She curled forward, making her body smaller as if surface area was directly proportional to the level of agony. 

She trembled for a minute, wishing Fatin would press a reassuring touch to the nape of her neck and a kiss to her forehead. 

“Good work, Leah. Good.” Rachel soothed once Leah had stopped shaking. “It hurts a little less than yesterday, right?”

“Fractionally.” Leah half-sobbed, half-laughed.

“War of attrition, remember?” Rachel hummed.

“War of attrition.” Leah repeated solemnly.

“Ready to stand?” Rachel asked.

Leah swallowed thickly, slowly uncurling. “Ready.”

Rachel nodded at her once, firm and proud. 

Leah took a deep breath, checking that her good leg was planted firmly on the wooden floor, hands grabbing the edge of the worn cushions to push her full strength against, and then-

The world turned red as her pain increased so fundamentally that her vision became crimson at the edges. 

“That’s it! Stay standing, you’re there!” Rachel cheered, before reminding her, “It’s always easier once you’re up, keep the weight off that leg as much as possible.”

“I wasn’t… going to… fucking tap dance on it.” Leah panted out.

“Good, because you can’t dance for shit and I can’t imagine this injury would have helped that fact.” Rachel snarked, earning a sharp bark of laughter from Leah, one of the firsts since that night. 

“Dance fucking better than you.” Leah shot back.

“Only when Fatin is helping you.” Rachel rebuked which… fair. Leah merely flipped her a slightly trembling bird. “Come on, you’ve done the hard part. Next bit is easy.”

“Walking is easy?” Leah scoffed derisively.

“Never said anything about walking, you’re hopping, bunny rabbit.”

Rachel stepped backwards towards the front door that Fatin was leaning beside, brown eyes dark and guarded, her expression blank as she watched Leah pitifully hop after her best friend. Leah gritted her teeth but managed to make progress, eventually reaching the door and the long, hooked stick that she could use as a crutch. 

“Quick hop to the lake to get water then back to bed, alright?” Rachel said, pretending it was a question, though Leah knew no other option was on the table.

“Right, let’s do it.” Leah replied, lifting her chin up determinedly as she tried to position the crutch just under her armpit. It was a little too short, causing her to stoop and leaving her unbalanced but it helped far more than it hindered. It was a lucky find just when she needed it the most and, therefore, she couldn’t bring herself to complain about its deficiencies.

The door swung open revealing the murky, mushy white of winter - snow half melted and mixed with mud. Rachel moved on ahead, setting the next challenge for her to accomplish, the next acceptable break point.

“Be careful.” Fatin murmured, tone heavy and almost pleading.

“I’ll try.” Leah assured, attempting to send an accompanying smile with her words but only pulling off a pained grimace. 

Fatin’s lips turned downwards, gaze lowered. She wanted something more definitive but Leah couldn’t give that. Couldn’t lie.

She would try. She would never stop trying and she hoped the trying (even without succeeding) would be enough for Fatin.

Leah gingerly lowered herself down the single step leading upto the cabin, following after Rachel and each challenge marker set whilst Fatin trailed behind her, an eternal safety net.



Day 106

 

“Do you think we have enough?” Leah inquired, grabbing the bird that had lost the energy to keep thrashing against its restraints. She dispatched it quickly before tucking it away in the sack on her back.

“You would know better than me, you do inventory with Dot every night.” Martha replied from where she was kneeling by a bush inspecting the berries to determine if they were okay to eat. Martha advised on laying the traps, positioning them and directing their construction but Leah made sure the other girl’s back was turned or her attention elsewhere before killing whatever they had caught. Martha’s knowledge may have been vital for survival but her direct involvement wasn’t. She’d taught Leah what to do and Leah gladly bloodied her own hands to keep Martha’s unstained.

“With food preservation and careful rationing, alongside the cabin’s pantry we haven’t dug into too much… we should make it through winter.” Leah murmured after thoughtful reflection, nibbling her bottom lip.

“Good, because I don’t think we will be trapping much more for the foreseeable future.” Martha revealed, frowning as she studied how empty the sack on Leah’s back was. Only a handful of weeks ago it was bulging, the Wilderness a bounty in comparison to the far limited resources of the islands. With the approach of winter and prey starting to grow wary of the area they regularly hunted, their haul had been on the decline, though this was the sharpest decrease yet. 

Leah grimaced, nodding in agreement as she squinted up at the steadily dimming sky. 

“Should head back before it gets dark.” Martha suggested, expression taut with worry. 

They avoided being out after dark, wolf howls heard only a couple of days earlier leaving Leah on edge since her near miss not long ago, and the girls insistent on the buddy system to compensate.

Leah checked her watch, assessing how much time they had left, before nodding in agreement.

“Yeah, let me just reset this trap and we can head back.” Leah replaced the trap back to its previous location, setting it up and carefully backing away. “Thanks for coming with me by the way.” Leah said shyly as they began the walk back to the isolated cabin. “I know this isn’t… like… your favourite of tasks.”

“It’s cool.” Martha shrugged, gaze locked on the ground.

“It’s not.” Leah replied sharply earning her a curious look from the other girl. “I just…” Leah huffed, unable to order the words in her head before they spilled out. “I know it’s not… it’s not fair to bring you out here.”

“You need help.” Martha said simply as if that fully explained her presence.

“You said it yourself, you’ve taught me everything you know.” Leah mumbled; on the second island Martha had taught a handful of the girls and boys her hunting skills - sharing the burden of responsibility and ensuring she wouldn’t be forced to put herself through such an emotionally traumatising experience ever again.

But here in The Wilderness, whenever Leah had to hunt, it was Martha that accompanied her. Maybe it was because Martha knew the hardships of such a task, understood the rock and a hard place of loving animals and the uncompromising stakes of survival.

Martha knew more about Leah's pet history than Fatin. Had listened to story after story of her suicidal fish. Had asked Leah to describe every last spot on the Dalmatian she’d had when she was a child. Knew Roxy’s - her current golden retriever - favourite treat and toy.

Martha, unlike any of the other girls, did not rejoice in the kills, the sacrifices that prolonged their survival. She maintained compassion and gratitude; and Leah needed that. Needed that reminder when her trousers were muddied and fingernails crusted with so much blood no amount of scrubbing washed it away.

Leah needed that and Martha - selfless and considerate to a fault - gave it to her without hesitation. Leah would grab the bag with dark stains that revealed its ominous purpose and made to leave the cabin only for Martha to always be one step behind her as if her presence was never in question.

“Maybe not everything.” Martha suggested, smiling warmly at her. “Maybe there’s things you still want to learn.”

“Maybe.” Leah agreed, thinking about empathy and compassion. How her time on the first island would have been a little smoother not just for herself but for everyone if she had emulated Martha’s thoughtful consideration. 

“Though, I don’t think you give yourself enough credit.” Martha hummed.

Leah frowned at that, unconvinced.

“You’re not responsible for every bad thing that’s happened to us.” Martha said gently, coming to a stop so that she could tilt her head up at Leah and assess the impact of her declaration.

“I-” The words clogged in her throat, grabbing tight to the fleshy walls and digging in - refusing to budge. 

“It’s okay, I know you don’t believe it. But can you, at least, believe that the rest of us don’t hold you responsible?” Martha inquired, brown eyes so caring that it made Leah squirm, shifting anxiously from foot to foot.

Flashes upon flashes of bitter failure overwhelmed her mind, yanking her away from this moment and sending her spiralling down, down, down…

Fatin, lower lip curled upwards into a contemptuous snarl, leg and hands bloody, brown eyes coals of fury, ‘Don’t ever touch me again’.

Shelby pushed and pushed and pushed until ripped open and exposed, forced to share something deep and personal after half-crazed accusations. 

The girls starving, more holes than substance, offering up their meagre life-forces to pull Leah back from the waves only for her to throw that gift back in their faces only days later.

Rachel grief-stricken and hollowed out, prodded and poked until her open wound was cut wider for all to marvel at.

Fatin, protective and far kinder than she allowed herself to believe, taken past breaking point, teeth bared and infinite patience shattered. 

Toni, without a tether, confronted by someone who can’t step outside of her own head for even a moment to see the suffering of others.

Her family and the newcomers, abandoned in darkness when Leah practically dared the monsters to turn out the lights.

Fatin again; because Leah seemingly couldn’t stop herself from hurting those who deserved it the least, who she loved the most. Fatin, brown eyes wet with tears, lips trembling with fear and hands gripping-

“Stop it, Leah. Don’t go there.” Martha’s voice, sharper than Leah had ever heard it before, pierced the darkness.

“I’ve hurt so many… I’ve let you all down.” Leah whispered, voice cracking on the precipice of sobs.

“Leah, that’s not true.” Martha insisted. “You know that’s not true.”

Leah laughed at that, the sobs stuck in her throat making her laugh sound bubbly and high-pitched. Teenage crazy, rather than manic for once.

“Do I?”

Martha pressed her lips tightly together and said nothing.



Day 51

 

“Shalifoe, you are an open book, it’s obvious.” Fatin accompanied her declaration with a dismissive flick of hair over her shoulder. 

“Fuck off, Jadmani.” Toni shot back, though it lacked any real bite, especially as she stroked her fingers through Martha’s hair, who was resting her head in Toni’s lap. “You may be able to sniff out an orgasm from a mile away but that doesn’t make you the romance guru - you may need some actual experience of a relationship for that title.”

A flash of hurt crossed Fatin’s features so fast that no one else would have noticed except for Leah who always kept Fatin in her field of view. 

“You don’t need relationship experience to understand romance , Shalifoe.” Fatin replied, tone light and teasing despite the slight strain around her eyes. “If you do the romance right, an orgasm stands a good chance of following.”

Leah wanted to reach out and squeeze her knee, provide comfort; she instead tucked her hands under her thighs, preventing her from indulging the urge.

The girls were grouped in a rough circle near the fire following a meal of rabbit and berries - if you squint you could almost convince yourself it was haute cuisine, an observation which had spun off into a debate regarding what a suitable price tag for a first date dinner would be (massive discrepancy across the answers, unsurprisingly - Shelby, Rachel and Fatin claiming the high end, Leah and Martha in the middle, whilst Toni and Dot were practically satisfied with the dollar menu). That then shifted into what would be people’s ideal dates, which Shelby inevitably turned into a game and had everyone guessing.

“Whatever.” Toni grunted. “Tell me your wrong answer, then.”

Fatin’s eyes glinted, lip curling into a victorious smirk before she’d even spoken a word. “Stargazing in the back of a pick-up truck, blankets all around and indie music playing from the radio.”

Toni’s jaw dropped and Martha let out a snort of laughter, “Wow, she nailed you.”

“You told her.” Toni accused, looking between Martha and Leah.

Leah frowned; Toni had told her in passing on the second island that she would have liked to take Shelby on such a date if they were back home, only to stomp off in frustration when Leah had tried to point out as lightly as possible that if she and Shelby were still together she could probably do something similar right now - steal blankets from the bunker whilst music blasted out from the control room. Toni hadn’t spoken to her for the rest of the day, though Leah never shared that with Fatin despite her picking up on the tension.

“No.”

“Nope.”

Leah and Martha replied in-sync.

“Face it, Shalifoe, you epitomise the lesbian stereotype.” Fatin sing-songed at her.

Toni’s face scrunched up and Leah could tell something cutting was about to slip out - Toni did not take teasing regarding any form of romance well since her relationship with Shelby remained the dictionary definition of ‘It’s Complicated’. 

“Mine’s a picnic, nothing too fancy, of course.” Shelby interrupted, ruining the whole point of her game with the revelation but effectively making Toni’s mouth snap shut and her eyes go soft and sad in that way that made Leah’s heart flare with sympathy. None of them had to say it, but they were all thinking how a picnic was probably the closest description for whatever Shelby and Toni did for dates when it came to their island romance.

The two of them were now stuck in this halfway house, a tug this way and that way, with no hope of resolution.

“Maybe some ice cream or strawberries just to add that extra spark, you know?” Shelby mused, blue eyes twinkling as they reflected the light of the fire.

“Chocolate dipped strawberries. Name a sexier dessert, I dare you.” Dot groaned appreciatively.

“Whipped cream, no follow-up.” Toni replied, eyebrows waggling.

“Would not recommend.” Fatin grimaced. “The clean up is definitely not worth it.”

Leah gulped, cheeks flaring a luminescent red at the images that provoked. She pulled her legs up to her chest, attempting to hide her reaction behind her knees, though Fatin obviously saw, eyebrow arching curiously and head tilting to the side in an evaluating manner.

“What about you, Dot?” Shelby inquired, steering the conversation away from the inevitable Fatin sex-capade tale that would have followed.

“Take me to see Iron Maiden and I will literally strip down for you in the car on the way home.” Dot drawled.

“Don’t tempt me.” Fatin flirted, blowing a kiss at the texan.

“Rachel?” Shelby prompted, shifting the focus to the girl sat beside Leah who had remained rather quiet for the whole conversation.

“I dunno know, man.” Rachel shrugged, hand drawing random patterns on the rug. “Never really had time to think about that sort of stuff before.” 

“That’s okay.” Leah reassured, rocking to the side so that she almost made contact with the other girl, giving her closeness without pushing too much - knowing sometimes Rachel just needed a reminder of support but not actual presence. “It’s also okay if you don’t want to think about that sort of stuff, too.” 

“If you say so.” Rachel hummed, though she sent Leah a wan, yet grateful, smile.

“How about you, Leah? Any romantic daydreams to share?” Shelby asked and whilst Leah appreciated that Shelby turned the spotlight away from Rachel, it didn’t mean she wanted it on herself.

Leah frowned, eyes dropping to the floor to prevent them straying over to brown eyes that she knew would be watching her with unmatched intensity.

Leah bit her lip, mind churning as she struggled to come up with an answer. It wasn’t that she was romantically voided, it was just pre-island and for a decent chunk of the first island - her idea of romance encompassed Jeff and a hotel room that now made her stomach churn and her head buzz like the memories wanted to forcibly eject from the rest of her brain.

New romantic fantasies had sprung up to replace them, though there was no definitive one among the thousands of different scenarios. She imagined music concerts, flowers gripped tight in sweaty hands, and heart racing as the first string vibrated. She imagined bookstores, sharing her favourites whilst a soft, indulgent smile was sent her way. She imagined reclaiming the beach, with ridiculous cocktails and never before-seen bikinis. She imagined cheesy cinema dates, an hour spent arguing over what to go see in the lobby - eventually agreeing to see two, one after another. She imagined long road trips, singing along out of tune as she was teased relentlessly for her music taste.

She imagined-

She imagined-

She imagined-

“Uh… no, not really.” Leah lied.

“Boo.” Dot heckled, “Come on, give us something.”

Leah glanced upwards, eyes drawn like a moth to the flame to deep brown. She took a deep breath, pulling forth the remnants of bravery she had left. “A concert sounds pretty cool.”

“Ben Folds?” Fatin suggested quietly.

Leah shook her head, burying the lower half of her face behind her knees, blue eyes peeking over the top as she whispered, “I was thinking of something… different. Maybe something more… classical.”

And she knows that the cello doesn’t hold the same place in Fatin’s heart as it once did but it was a part of her life - a large part and Leah wants to see it, wants to share in it. 

And Fatin simply beams at her in response and yeah, that… that warms her far more than the fire at her back.



Day 195

 

Leah pressed her back against the tree, ignoring the coldness of the ground sapping the warmth from her legs. There was no snow lining the edges, and the sky no longer seemed heavy with the threat of more. Tiny buds of green were starting to peek out from the hard earth, the trees even seemed less stark despite the lack of leaves - as if the mere potential for rebirth added vibrancy back to scraggly branches. 

“Not long now.” Leah murmured, breaking the heavy quiet as she sleepily blinked up at the pale blue sky. It was midday and Leah felt in need of a nap after completing the laundry that morning, scrubbing the handful of clothes in the nearby lake’s ebb, hands chafed to a painful, raw pink from the icy chill. 

“Looks like it.” Fatin agreed; she was sitting against the tree too, placing her just in Leah’s peripheral vision. 

“Tell me this is the right thing to do.” Leah begged, once it became clear Fatin wasn’t going to fill in the silence with her soothing stream of conversation.

Fatin sighed, “I can’t do that.”

“Please, Fatin, I know it’s not-” Leah broke off, nibbling her bottom lip as if to eat the words before they spilled. “I just need you to tell me this isn’t stupid, that I’m not… that this isn’t like that time I…” Fidgeting fingers curled into a fist. She rapped a knucle against the side of her head not trusting loose fingers to not tug and pull.

The wind howled, a loud and mournful lament that wasn’t broken up by leaves and bushes as it would normally be.

“The time you ran into the ocean to escape.” Fatin supplied, tone empty of emotion. 

“Yeah…” Leah breathed, chest tight, tight, tight and Fatin so far away.

“I don’t know, Leah.” Fatin admitted after a pause.

“It’s not the same.” Leah declared, though her voice wavered. “I don’t… Back then I didn’t care if I… but I care now . I want to live. But I want to be free too.”

“Okay.” Fatin whispered acceptingly.

“I want to be free. I need to be free.”

“I know. Just don’t forget… I need you to live just as much.” Fatin confessed

Leah closed her eyes, swallowing back the lump in her throat, “I won’t die out there.” 

“Okay.” Fatin repeated because what more could she say.

They both knew how dangerous what was coming would be. Leah’s limp kept her slow, making walking long distances a test of prolonged agony; and there would be no shelter, and food would eventually need to be scavenged. There was so much luck involved and Leah had started to consider herself an unlucky penny that always came up heads when tails was the default bet. 

“Fatin, I need you to believe in me. Believe that I can do this.” Leah hated how desperate she sounded. 

“Of course, I believe in you.” Fatin replied instantly, like it was a certainty.

Of course, Fatin believed in her. 

Sometimes she doesn’t believe her. 

But she’s always believed in her.

Leah tries to parse out the distinction, teeth grinding together against the wave of memories from the first island - Fatin gently coaxing, then lightly suggesting, followed by firmer words and finally her disappointment. Then there was the second island, her role as Leah’s firmest supporter - always soft and guiding when Leah veered too dark - a squeezed hand, a tender kiss to the forehead and constant murmurs of trust and affection.

“I’ve always believed in you.” Fatin reiterated firmer and louder this time. “That doesn’t mean I can’t doubt. That I don’t get scared or worried or…”

Leah glanced over to the other girl, who was wrapping her arms tight around her own middle in a semblance of a hug.

“I need you to survive more than I need you to be right.” Fatin finally says, and the words ring in Leah’s ears with the familiarity and the earnestness that comes with them. “ You’re what matters. Not what you achieve.”



Day 83

 

Leah hadn’t left the cabin in two days, the fire had gone out a couple of hours ago and that was still not enough incentive to make her step outside. 

The boys had told them about the Jaguar; Kirin and Josh had boasted about it, even Ivan had looked smug over their triumph - the single thing their fractured society could claim when trying to one-up the girls. It was Bo that made Leah realise the Jaguar wasn’t solely a moment of sheer glory. Bo was already quiet, but the way he tightened up, eyes shifting from side to side to check the shadows revealed the true horror of going up against something born to hunt. Something that saw a meal and nothing else, something that was designed to kill. 

Leah had sent up a silent prayer of gratitude that the girls hadn’t faced anything like that. They may have had a shark encounter but it was there and gone. The entire island serving as a safe haven that the carnivorous fish couldn’t invade.

The jaguar, however, was always there, lurking, a constant threat hanging over the boys until dealt with. (They retreated to a fucking cliff edge for sanctuary.)

Leah had understood in the same way everyone understands when someone shares their trauma - she sympathised and empathised. But it wasn’t until she had faced down the snarl of something beyond the realms of the civilised, until she faced something that could and would kill her without hesitation that she got it .

There are wolves in the woods. 

She’d been walking back from the lake with Dot, bottles clinking on her back and bucket of water in hand, when she’d seen a glint, a grey that jarred with the brown leaves and dark undergrowth.

The two of them came to a dead-stop, listening… listening… listening…

SNAP!

Leah swallowed, Dot whispered not to make any sudden moves, to look with her peripheral vision as much as possible.

Amber eyes stared her down through a nearby thicket, red mouth and yellow teeth flickering in and out of visibility.

Another twig snapped, this time behind them and Leah’s heart plummeted.

They were being surrounded.

The realisation of what was happening came and went, she didn’t feel it settle or lodge. The equivalent of ‘it's going to rain today’ before continuing on your way. 

She breathed in, she breathed out, she breathed in-

“Now.” Dot commanded, single word barely audible despite how it deafened Leah.

Leah sprinted, the bucket of water dropped and abandoned so swiftly the ensuing splash didn’t have a chance to make contact before she was gone. 

She ran and ran and ran. Arms pumping, legs screaming, lungs burning.

Dot was by her side, urging her onward, “Go, go, go!”

The cabin wasn’t far but neither were the wolves, she could hear them tracking her, following through the trees. 

“Go, Leah!” Dot shouted, pushing Leah to exert that little bit extra she always forgot she had, the extra that made her dive for a mirror, that made her hold her breath that little bit longer and that made her claw that little bit fiercer out of a pit. She shoulder barged the door open and threw her back against it to close it.

The enraged howl of the wolves outside shook the entire cabin.

Leah had collapsed onto the floor, rocking backwards and forwards, covering her eyes with her hands to avoid peering out the windows and enticing the wolves to attempt a breach.

“Well done, Leah. Well done.” Dot complimented panting nearby. “Fucking long-legged sprinter.”

It had been two days since then.

Leah had moved the couch to underneath the window, and pressed an eye just above the ledge to look out. Her eyes turned bloodshot and strained, nails bitten down to the wick and lips bloody. Fatin had done her best to distract her, to entice her away from the window and rest but she only managed an hour or so before Leah gravitated right back to her previous place.

Dot fell onto the other end of the couch, letting out a heavy sigh.

“Dude, you’ve gone full ‘Rear Window’, but you know… like… boring .”

“Do you think they’re still out there?” Leah asked, not even bothering to look away from the window pane.

“Don’t know. Probably. Probably not.” Dot shrugged.

“You’re being seriously apathetic.” Leah noted drily.

“Look,” Dot said slowly, waiting until Leah did just that - dragging her eyes away from the window to see the other girl frowning fondly at her (an incredible talent Dot had developed through repeated interactions with Fatin). “I don’t know if they’re still out there, neither do you. What I do know is if you don’t sleep, you’ll die. If you don’t go outside and get food and water, you’ll die. If you don’t keep the fire going, you’ll die. Those are certainties.”

Leah rubbed her eyes with balled up fists, flashes of colour fireworking behind her eyelids.

“Leah,” Dot murmured softly, “you are smart and brilliant and I’m always going to want you on my team. But sometimes… sometimes… you need to think about the immediate problem, not the long-term strategy.”

“That your way of saying: get out of your own head?” Leah chuckled darkly, hands dropping away from her face.

“No.” Dot refuted, expression serious. “I’m saying prioritise. Keep thinking, keep theorising but don’t only do that. You need both, Leah. And I know you can do both.” 

Leah exhaled slowly, the fast paced ticking of her mind slowing down under Dot’s sincerity.

“You know if Fatin heard that she would make a bi joke.”

“Of course she fucking would.” Dot grumbled affectionately.

“Thanks, Dot. It means a lot, what you said, coming from you.” Leah mumbled, suddenly shy.

“Coming from me?”

“You’re kind of the leader, the one that keeps us going and… it just means a lot to know that you find me… useful .” 

“Leah…” Dot started, face pained and tight.

Leah shrugged helplessly before taking a final glance out the window and-

“Shit.” Leah whispered, breath fogging up the glass.

It wasn’t wolves. 

Out there on the edge of the clearing that surrounded the cabin, almost invisible in camouflage gear, was a man.

“He was in the helicopter that dropped us here. He’s one of Gretchen’s.”



Day 1

 

Murdoch, that’s what Gretchen had called the man in camouflage. He was in his forties, possibly older, grey hair cut short and military-esque, with a full moustache. His eyes were hidden by reflective aviators, but his mouth was curled into a sneer and Leah knew if she could see his eyes they would be cold.

Leah got the impression that Murdoch was Gretchen’s wilderness survival expert, a new addition to the team for the new location of this particular phase, and a not quite seamless fit into the jigsaw puzzle. He didn’t mesh with what Leah knew of the other members of Gretchen’s team; Faber and Young may have been manipulative but they had a somewhat protective interest in the experiment’s subjects - whether that was prompted by their morals or a simple understanding that the girls were more valuable alive and in-top form to benefit their results than anything else. When Murdoch looked at Leah, however, she could feel him weighing up her value and finding her wanting. 

He sat in the back of the helicopter staring Leah down for the entire journey despite her wearing a blindfold to prevent the identification of any landmarks. He kept a hand curled around the pistol strapped to his thigh, index finger tap-tap-tapping it to keep Leah on edge - the only audible stimulus beyond the thwacking-thrum of the rotor blades.

Leah watched the helicopter leave, meagre supplies and pieces of equipment strapped to her back. Fatin smiled encouragingly at her from her side. They were on the shore of the lake, the cabin just visible through the trees and up a nearby hill. 

“At least we won’t need to do anything dramatic to find water this time.” Fatin pointed out.

“We?” Dot scoffed. “Do we need a memory refresher?”

“Do we need another stick up our ass, Dorothy?” Fatin shot back, sticking out her tongue.

“Don’t act like you wouldn’t enjoy putting it up there.” 

“Oh, you know I would.” Fatin winked back salaciously.

“Aaaand, it’s like we never left the first island.” Rachel remarked with an exaggerated eye-roll.

“At least, we’re free of the boys.” Shelby sighed gratefully, rubbing the back of her neck as she looked round, taking in their new environment.

“Hey, not all of them were bad.” Martha chipped in, “Bo was sweet.”

“You’re right, Martha.” Toni agreed, wrapping a comforting arm around Martha’s shoulders.

“Yeah, some of them were alright, I guess. Cardboard cutout, on the other hand…” Fatin grumbled.

Shelby arched an accusatory eyebrow. “Any particular reason why Raf gets a particular shout out there, Fatin?”

Fatin folded her arms over her chest defensively, chin lifting in challenge even as her eyes darted guiltily over to Leah. “Just the first one that came to mind, which is probably the first time that has ever happened for the poor, old cookie-cutter.”

“Fatin.” Leah said softly, twisting the watch on her wrist round and round to avoid giving into the urge to pick at her eyebrow whilst watching how that single word from her made the tension leak out of Fatin in an instant.

“We should probably move to the cabin, assess the set-up.” Dot declared, stretching out her back to ready her muscles for the walk.

The girls muttered their agreement and started making tracks. 

The cabin was about ten minutes away, a single storey log building decades old, maybe even two centuries, any paths that had once led to it reclaimed by nature. Leah frowned, mind racing to create a narrative for its existence. 

Hunters exploring the new frontier and finding little hope, abandoning this location and retreating to more settled places far, far away.

There was one large room consisting of: a dusty couch, an even more rickety armchair, rusting pots and pans, a basin without a tap, a decent fireplace, creepy taxidermy, yellow-page journals and books relating to hunting expeditions. The pantry was the only place that had been touched in the last handful of decades, it was stocked with cans and an array of non-perishable foods (cereal, nuts and dried fruits). The quantity was nowhere near what they had been left with in the bunker but from a quick glance, Leah reckoned with careful rationing it would last a good few weeks. 

“Decent haul.” Rachel commented, peering through the doorway into the pantry. “Kind of generous, isn’t it?” She murmured, gaze turning sharp and suspicious.

“Not really.” Leah sighed, earning her raised eyebrows from her friend. “They’re trying to match experiment controls.” Leah explained, lifting a can up to find it outside of its expiration date. “We had some food and drink from the plane crash, remember? And the boys had that bunker of Fiji water and peanut butter. It’s not generous, it’s just another fucking control parameter.” 

Leah shoved the can back onto the shelf and headed back into the main room.

“We’ll do a proper inventory tomorrow.” Dot announced, “We need a fire first and foremost, though. I saw an axe against the cabin wall, we can start getting a stockpile going. After everything, let’s just get a good night’s sleep.”

“I’ll start on the wood.” Leah said, rolling her shoulders and heading towards the door to fetch the axe.

Leah chopped a few young trees that had clearly been growing in replacement of the larger ones that had occupied the cabin’s location. With a decent stock, a fire was started using the precious lighter that had been supplied in the rucksack - another parameter controlled to keep them aligned to the starting set-up of the previous experiments.

“So…” Fatin drawled, as the surrounding area began to darken, leaving the crackling fire the only point of illumination. “Do these cargo pants make me look gay?” 

Leah shook her head, unable to stop a chuckle from escaping. They were all dressed in the same dark cargo pants and black waterproof, though they all were wearing slightly different t-shirts - Leah deep blue, Fatin burgundy, Dot forest green, Shelby royal purple, Rachel light blue, Martha warm yellow and Toni burnt orange. 

“Actually let me rephrase, do I look gayer than Dorothy?” Fatin pressed, fingertips on both hands pressed tight together to highlight how seriously invested in this she was. “I think we should vote.”

All the girls let out a loud groan, except for Leah who couldn’t help but smile.

They were in the shittiest of shit situations but they were together and Leah knew that with the girls by her side, they would conquer this challenge just like all the others.



Day 101

 

“We need to do something.” Toni announced as she knelt down opposite Leah, who was playing solitaire with a deck of cards that had been conveniently stashed in the bottom of the equipment rucksack they’d started with.

“Like what?” Leah inquired, not bothering to look up from the cards laid out before her.

“I don’t know, you’re the… ‘strategist’.”

Toni had the amazing ability to verbally put air quotes around words - Leah knew Fatin was insanely jealous and mentally took notes in order to one day emulate the achievement.

“Strategist? What do you expect me to do? Come up with a battle-plan?” Leah laughed, looking up expecting Toni to roll her eyes or laugh harshly along with her, but Toni’s expression was eerily blank. “Oh my god… you… you want me to come up with a battle-plan.” Leah breathed out, utterly shocked.

“It’s not a stupid idea.” Toni said defensively, bottom lip pushed outwards and shoulders tense.

Leah blinked, “I didn’t say it was… I just don’t know if it’s… the right idea.”

“Tell me what’s the alternative.” Toni demanded, leaning forward, hands kneading at the floor, unable to pick at grass or stroke through sand. 

Leah opened her mouth before closing it quickly, “We’ve been… we’re surviving . They’ll end the experiment soon. They’ve got to.”

“Why?” Toni pressed. “Because if they really cared about matching the first go like you keep saying, we would have been out of here fifty-one days ago. They’ve changed the rules, Leah. You know it, I know it.”

“They’re clearly missing some data or-” Leah tried to rationalise, collecting all the cards up and trying to shuffle them with shaky hands.

“Or this is it . There is no end.”

“No-”

“Over a hundred days, Leah! That’s more than the first and second island combined .” Toni yelled, fist thumping the ground and making Leah flinch, gaze dropping away. “Look at me!”

Leah shrivelled up, yet managed to force herself to meet Toni’s fierce eyes.

“Tell me they will let us go. Once they have what they need. Tell me they will just let us go. It’s gone on too long, you know too much. There is no happy ending here.”

“You don’t know that.” Leah whispered, swallowing thickly.

I don’t need to, because you already do. You’ve figured it out, haven’t you?” Toni accused, getting to her feet, allowing her room to wildly gesticulate. “Fucking hell, Leah! When did you stop fighting? When did you become just like the rest of us? You see the big picture, you push for more and now you’ve just fucking stopped . You’re happily playing their game now.”

“I tried to beat them and I lost, remember?!” Leah shouted, jumping to her own feet, the cards cascading down around her; her inner rage and fire finally stoked from the dormant coals they had been since arriving in the wilderness.

“You lost once. Fucking once! And that’s it? You just throw in the fucking towel?” Toni scoffed derisively.

“Why does it have to be me? Huh?! Why me?” Leah asked, voice high-pitched and squealing in that way she’s always hated when she got stressed.

Toni jerked back at that.

“Why do I have to always fight ? Why is it me! ?” Leah dropped to her knees, hands curling around her head and nails digging into her scalp. “I’m so tired, Toni. I’m so tired.”

Toni said nothing for a long while, just giving Leah the time to indulge and cry for herself. Eventually, the other girl knelt down next to her, and her low voice was soft and affectionate - the tone only gifted to Shelby and Martha. “I know, I know you are. But you're a fighter, Leah, and you’ve forgotten that. You’re the best kind of fighter. You fight for truth and friendship and love.”

“I don’t have anything left to give.” Leah confessed brokenly. “I’m not strong like you.”

“That’s bullshit.” Toni huffed dismissively.

“I’m not… you… you have this fire that just never goes out despite all the crap life has thrown at you and I’m… I’m not that .”

“Yeah, you are.” Toni said firmly. “You just get lost in your head and forget every now and again. But that’s why you have friends, Leah. To remind you.” Toni revealed. “That fire you see in me? The only reason it’s still burning is because of Martha. She gives me something to fight for. You just need to remember what it is you’re fighting for.”

Leah gulped, thinking back to floating on an ocean wanting to vanish out into the nothingness yet unable to fade as her friends called out for her - as Fatin called out for her. 

“It’s hard sometimes.” Leah admitted.

“I know, that’s why I’m here.” Toni joked.

“The experiment should have ended by now.” Leah acknowledged with an empathetic sniff.

“Yeah.” Toni agreed.

“We need to end it ourselves.”

“Hell yeah, we do.” Toni grinned roguishly. “Any idea on how we might do that?”

Leah pursed her lips, mind finally given permission to unravel now that it had a purpose to spiral around. She thought of the camouflaged figure - Murdoch - appearing amongst the trees to investigate, to check in, after days of hiding. She thought of ambushes and traps and seizing advantages.

She thought of escape and home. 

She thought of the girls.

She thought of Fatin.

“Maybe.” Leah said, a small devilish smile flickering onto her face

“I’ll take a maybe.” Toni smiled, eyes glinting with mischief.

 

 

Day 179

 

The girls sat in a quiet ring on the floor, all of them locked away in their own heads - except for Leah who was watching all of their faces, trying to work out which way they would all go.

“We should vote.” Rachel said after a minute.

“Is this something we can put to a vote?” Shelby questioned.

“What else can we do?” Dot asked genuinely.

Shelby inhaled but no response came forth on the exhale.

Dot waited, no other counter was offered. “Alright…” Dot started slowly, “Spring is a couple of weeks away. We are fairly confident of the drones schedule. This is potentially our best chance of making an escape. Raise your hand if you think-”

“Leah’s leg is barely functional.” Fatin cut in harshly, lips pressed tight and nostrils flaring. “The distances you are asking for her to potentially traverse-”

“It’s her vote, not yours.” Rachel reminded her sharply.

Fatin shot Rachel a dark look, “Why do we have to go in spring? Can’t we wait until Summer? It will be easier and there will be more food along the way to forage.”

“Because they would expect that.” Leah murmured, unable to meet Fatin’s eye. “Because the game will have changed by Summer. And to be honest, I don’t fancy my chances if we reach the end of the experiment.”

“Leah-”  Fatin began.

“You would vote to leave. Under any other circumstances you would vote to leave.” Leah declared defiantly, blue eyes blazing.

Fatin lifted her chin, “Most likely. But you need me to vote not to.”

Leah blinked at her in surprise, head fuzzy and thoughts not quite catching.

“Alright, those in favour of going?” Dot questioned.

Toni, Shelby and Rachel raised their hands.

“Those against?”

Fatin, Dot and Martha raised their hands.

“Leah? Deciding vote is yours. Which will it be?”

Leah gnawed on the skin surrounding her already bitten thumbnail, heart pounding in her chest as all the girls looked her way. 

Leah glanced over at Fatin, who was arching an eyebrow at her, smiling soft and proud. ‘You got this’, she mouthed at Leah.

Leah’s heart steadied, the sound of blood rushing in her ears fading. She breathed in, letting her lungs fill, “Go. It’s time to go.”

Chapter Text

Day 210

 

“Just over the next hill, okay?” Shelby encouraged, voice lilting and light. “There will be something just over the next hill.”

Leah dragged her feet forward another step, biting down on her bottom lip as her left leg ached so deeply it reverberated into her soul. “No, there fucking isn’t it… there’s nothing … there’s always nothing.”

“You don’t know that until you look.” Shelby argued, still so soft and gentle, falling into walk alongside her, if you could call the hobble that Leah was performing a walk.

“I can barely… my leg… everything…” Leah crumpled, coming to a halt, swaying as she flirted with collapsing and lying there until she was mere bones. 

She was so hungry, the scraps along the way insignificant compared to the calories she was expending. 

“I know, I know…” Shelby soothed, “So let’s just check over one more hill, yeah? One more.”

Leah let out a broken whine, visibly trembling.

“One more, Leah, okay?” Shelby urged, moving to stand in front of her, head ducked to meet her lowered gaze and caved over posture, “There will be something over the next hill.”

“You don’t… you don’t know that…”

“You don’t know there won’t be anything.” Shelby replied with that positive smile that rarely faltered.

“There’s never anything.” Leah said bitterly.

“Doesn’t mean there won’t be something the next time. Have a little hope.”

Leah tried to laugh, but only a clicking noise - a giggle failing to catch - escaped. “I don’t have any left.”

Shelby frowned, expression suddenly serious. “Then I will have enough for the both of us.” Shelby declared, straightening up to her full height, hands on hips in superhero pose. “So now, you just need to trust me. Can you do that instead?”

Leah lifted her wary head, blue eyes unfocused for a long time before they honed in on the blonde. Shelby, who came from a bleak home to an even bleaker escape yet still found a firefly of hope and faith to cherish. A firefly that she willingly shared the light of with anyone that came within her vicinity. Shelby, who sacrificed her chance to see Toni to give Leah vindication and support she so crucially needed.  

“I can do that.” Leah whispered hoarsely.

“Alright,” Shelby beamed at her, and Leah had no idea where she summoned the mental fortitude to do such a thing, “then trust me when I say there will be something over the next hill.”

Leah nodded, “Okay… okay…”

“One foot in front of the other.”

Leah’s jaw clenched but she shuffled forward a step and then another and then another.

They climbed the next hill, and found more trees and more nothing.

“There’ll be something over the next hill.” Shelby promised, motivating her to keep moving forward.

There was nothing over the next hill.

“The next one. I can feel it.” 

Nothing.

“One more, Leah. Just one more.”

Nothing.

“The next hill is so close, we might as well go check it out.”

Nothing.

“Now, that one. That one definitely has something hiding behind it.”

Nothing.



Day 167

 

“Alright, I’ve got one.” Rachel announced, sitting up from where she’d been lounging on the floor next to Martha.

Leah was lying on the couch, her injured leg making the other girls always defer the furniture to her without complaint. Fatin was leaning back against the couch, within touching distance, Shelby sat opposite - the two of them playing cards. Toni had claimed the armchair and Dot was sitting back against it, giving Rachel and Martha full usage of the rug in front of the fire - the prime spot over winter.

“Hand?” Toni guessed, earning her a thwack from Dot. “What?! Are we not laughing about it yet?”

“Lose a limb then you can laugh.” Rachel replied with an amused eyeroll.

“Does that mean Leah can laugh or not?” Toni inquired, wincing almost immediately without needing Dot’s follow-up slap to admonish her. “Sorry, Leah.” Toni grimaced, apologising earnestly.

Leah swallowed thickly, curling back into the armrest, hand sneaking under the blanket to lightly touch her left thigh - misshapen and damaged almost beyond recognition. 

She hated how Toni had asked the question that had been plaguing her since she realised that her leg had not healed right - whole. It was still there so it wasn’t fair to compare it to Rachel, right? Her gait was never going to be the same that was without question; putting her full weight on it felt like resting a tonne of bricks on a solo matchstick. 

“Hey,” Fatin breathed, having shuffled along the edge of the couch so that she was directly next to Leah. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Leah murmured; in the background, Toni was stuttering an apology to Rachel for the earlier joke only for Rachel to tell her it was kind of funny.

“You sure?” Fatin prompted, head tilting to the side so it was overtly obvious that she was glancing at Leah’s hand hidden under the blanket. Of course, Fatin had tracked the movement - she had an in-built Leah radar, never missing anything.

“Just… thinking about…” Leah trailed off, hand slipping back out from under the blanket to gesture generally down at her leg. “It’s never going to be the same again, is it?”

“No.” Fatin answered honestly.

Leah winced, eyes stinging with poorly repressed tears.

“You’re allowed to grieve that, Leah.” Fatin whispered.

“I should just be grateful that I’m alive.” Leah replied, biting the inside of her cheek, straining to keep the tears contained.

“You can do both.” Fatin revealed.

Leah shrugged unconvinced.

“Don’t keep it all bottled up.” Fatin advised.

“Yeah, because letting my emotions out has worked so well in the past.” Leah snapped back causing Fatin to flinch at the sudden venom. “Shit, I-”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about.” Fatin said slowly. 

“I’m sor-” Leah rushed to apologise, exacerbating the urge to cry.

“Leah, it’s fine. It’s fine.”

“But-”

“Leah! Fatin! Stop pining and join the discussion!” Toni shouted from the couch, rounding up the girls’ attention on behalf of Rachel. Toni may be impulsive, but Leah always appreciated how hard she would work to make up for any missteps.

Fatin smiled at her, brown eyes warm and forgiving, before she turned back to the rest of the girls.

Leah’s fingers flexed, wanting to reach out and thread through Fatin’s hair, stroke through it like she would easily have done on the islands. Instead, she returned to tracing the scar tissue on her leg and giving Rachel her full attention.

“Rachel, the floor’s all yours.” Toni declared, nodding her head to hand over control.

Rachel rolled her eyes but grinned gratefully at the smaller girl. 

“My suggested discussion of the evening is…” Rachel started to reveal; Dot and Toni instantly starting a drum roll, slapping their hands against their thighs, to build tension. “Which survival location was the best? And also the worst?”

They’d started the tradition of having an evening discussion, taking turns for someone to pick the topic. The discussion, who’s the best Kardashian had gone on for nearly a week - Fatin seemed to have an almost endless supply of information about each member which kept making people change their votes. 

“Is the worst really up for discussion?” Martha asked with a grimace. “I mean isn’t it obvious?”

“This place fucking sucks .” Fatin groaned.

“Amen.” Shelby agreed.

“It came with shelter, which gives it an edge over the first island.” Dot pointed out.

Leah couldn’t see Fatin’s face as she was turned away from her, however, she could see Fatin stiffen, readying for a fight. “Dorothy, you know I love you but we’ve been here for over triple the amount of time we spent on the first island. Not to mention what happened to Leah.”

Dot nodded, expression conciliatory as she met Fatin’s eye. “Fair point.”

“Everyone in favour that this place sucks the most?” Rachel asked, putting it to a vote.

“Aye.” All the girls called out.

“Island one and island two go into the thunderdome, only one can be crowned the ultimate: ‘Least crappy survival location’.” Dot announced, putting on the voice of a dramatic reality television presenter.

“Island two had the bunker, so decent shelter.” Martha said, kicking off the conversation and earning her an approving nod from Dot.

“I don’t know, I’ve kinda got a soft spot for the first island.” Shelby admitted, cheeks flushing a light pink and eyes resolutely not looking over to Toni.

“Yeah, it had its charm, for sure.” Toni gruffly agreed. 

“Not to like, bring the tone down but you know…” Rachel muttered drolly, “I lost a hand and a sister on the first island so…” 

“Yeah, but the second island had the boys.” Toni replied. “Not to mention specifically, psycho Seth.”

“True…” Rachel nodded, frowning as she tried to weigh up Toni’s arguments against a lost hand and sibling.

“Not all the boys were bad.” Shelby reminded. Fatin must have opened her mouth because Shelby shot Fatin a reproachful look and said sternly, “Yes, Fatin, we know you didn’t like Raf and if you bring it up one more time, I’m going to force you to explain why beyond your generic bitchy comments.”

Fatin deflated immediately.

“I liked the second island.” Leah said quietly, finally throwing her two cents in.

All the girls looked over to her curiously, Fatin even turning to face her, falling silent to encourage her to explain. Leah didn’t speak much during these discussions, preferring to simply listen to all their voices as they lulled her to sleep.

“I mean, the first island gave me all of you. Gave me a family.” Leah acknowledged, fingers kneading into the sore muscle of her leg to distract from how all the girls were watching her. “But I didn’t… I wasn’t much use there. I didn’t… I was just the crazy girl there. On the second island, I got to be useful and… I didn’t… I wasn’t just deadweight .”

“Leah, you know you weren’t just the crazy girl on the first island, right?” Shelby interrupted incredulously.

Leah shrugged, not meeting anyone’s eye.

“Leah-” Shelby began.

“Don’t. Please, don’t.” Leah begged. 

Shelby acquiesced, though an awkward silence pervaded the room.

“I think I’m done for the night.” Leah muttered, shifting downwards and pulling the blanket up to her neck before rolling over, her back to the rest of the room. 

She was tense, shoulders practically upto her ears. She didn’t hear the girls anymore when-

“That’s not the only reason is it?” Fatin’s voice was right next to her ear, Leah could almost feel the other girl’s breath on her skin. 

“What’s not the only reason?” Leah whispered back in return, not even bothering to pretend to be asleep - Fatin would know, she always did.

“Why the second island was your favourite. It wasn’t just because you were useful, was it?” 

Leah held her breath, a wave of heat cascading down from her head to her toes, she licked her lips before confirming, “No.”

“What was the other reason? The real reason?” Fatin pushed, voice low and seductive.

“I…” Leah bunched the blanket into two tight fists, “You already know.”

Fatin chuckled, “Then what does it hurt to say it out loud?”

Leah’s jaw clenched, the heat of a moment ago evaporating, “It would make everything that came after it real. It’s intrinsically linked. You know that.”

Fatin sighed sadly, “Yeah, I know. Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

“I don’t blame you for anything.” Leah reassured fervently.

“I know. You blame yourself too much for anyone else to have a chance at being responsible.” Fatin murmured quietly as she moved away leaving Leah to her cocoon.



Day 171

 

“It should be any minute now.” Rachel said.

Leah hummed an acknowledgement, continuing to chop the stack of wood up into decent logs for burning whilst showing no outward sign of hearing the other girl.

She swung the axe after pausing to ensure she was well balanced and lined up to effectively split it. 

Thwack!

Leah hobbled to grab and set another log.

Thwack!

She set another one.

Thwack!

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzt…

Leah pushed past the desire to hesitate or react; she reached for another log, placing it on the stump, hefting the axe up to her shoulder as she took a deep, restorative breath. Blue eyes furtively assessed the sky, seeing a flash of silver above before it vanished.

Thwack!

She chopped a couple more logs before setting the axe down and taking a seat on the ground, quickly joined by Rachel who’d been hovering nearby.

“You were right.” Rachel declared with a huge, proud smile lighting up her face. “They come every two days at the same time.”

Leah nodded, glancing down at the blue-faced golden watch on her wrist - her most prized possession - noting the time: eleven o’clock in the morning or, at least, relatively close to it. “Seems so.”

“That means you definitely got them all, right?” Rachel checked.

Leah again nodded, this time more hesitantly. At the fifty day mark she had searched the cabin and surrounding area as thoroughly as possible for cameras and microphones, snipping the cables and turning Gretchen’s eyes and ears dark. The drones were the replacements, Leah hadn’t caught them for a long time (they were barely visible on a clear day) and it took awhile to work out the pattern, a matter of luck allowing glimpses between chores, which she slowly chronicled. 

Murdoch checking in was the third level; Leah triggering his appearance for the first time following the wolves when she failed to venture out - making no discernible sign of life to the drone’s watchful gazes. 

“I hope so.” Leah murmured.

“Come on, take the victory for once.” Rachel encouraged. “We can finally make plans. Escape might be an actual option now.”

“Hard to feel any sense of accomplishment out here, especially for something I should have figured out like a hundred fucking days ago.” Leah laughed bitterly.

“To quote Fatin, ‘you’re going dark again’.” Rachel said quietly, tone bleeding with concern.

“Rachel, I’ve been dark the entire time we’ve been here.”



Day 22

 

“Are you still going to move to LA with Dot?” Leah asked, feet splashing in the slight ebb of the lake - enjoying the soothing coolness in the random heat of the autumn day.

“I don’t see why not.” Fatin remarked, sunbathing next to her, feet also dipped into the water.

“You have no reason to… I don’t know… maybe stick around?” Leah inquired, hating that she could hear the pathetic whine to her own voice.

“Not really.” Fatin shrugged coldly. 

Leah frowned, not liking when Fatin was like this, guarded to the extreme, more like the early days on the first island than the warm-hearted woman that had let down her walls in the days that followed finding the waterfall. 

“Right…” Leah clucked her tongue, shifting closer to the water’s edge allowing it to reach up past her knees.

“What about you? What’s your plan?” Fatin asked, throwing the question back at her.

“Don’t have one.” Leah admitted; she’d stopped thinking about her own long-term ambitions before the island - life too focused on a man that wanted her in his bed and little else. She felt so stupid about it now, so much of her precious carefree youth wasted. Her hopes and dreams tainted and tarnished beyond recognition.

“Then make one.” Fatin ordered.

Leah threw Fatin an incredulous look over her shoulder.

“What? You don’t have to commit to it. Dream a new life. Dream something absurd. Dream something impossible. Just dream, Leah.” Fatin smiled, and it was like she’d suddenly shifted forward in time, her expression returned to that softness that Leah longed for whenever it was directed towards her.

“That sounds familiar.” Leah chuckled.

“You have a thick head, repeated lessons are sometimes needed to penetrate it.”

“I can already hear the follow-up sex joke.” Leah replied with a roll of her eyes.

“So dirty, Rilke.” Fatin goaded, eyebrows inevitably waggling.

“Fatin.” Leah sighed fondly.

“Leah.” Fatin responded seriously. “You can’t expect me to stick around in the bay when you have no idea if you’re staying either.”

Leah swallowed thickly, the water suddenly too cold against her bare legs. “I know.”

“What do you want , Leah? Don’t think about anyone else. What do you want?”

Leah sat up properly, no longer leaning back on the palms of her hands, allowing her to tap the surface of the water with a probing index finger and watch the ripple effect.

What did she want?

She wanted to go home, tell her parents she loved them, re-start the family games night that she had insisted they stop when she was a sophomore claiming it was too childish. She wanted her Mom to finally teach her the family apple pie recipe and her Dad to talk to her endlessly about fixing up old cars. 

She wanted to hug Ian and thank him for listening and acting without hesitation. She wanted to binge watch all the shows he’d stored up for them to watch on Netflix and listen to him proclaim that graphic novels should be considered an equal literary medium to novels (Leah would finally take him up on his offer to read some of his favourites). 

She wanted a big family Christmas, all her cousins and grandparents around, slowly driving her insane - her Mom and Dad gifting her a new book when she reached breaking point to hide away with. 

She wanted to visit all of the girls, see their homes and the different worlds that had made her favourite people. She wanted to see Martha dance, Shelby sing and Toni play basketball. She wanted to spend time with Rachel, helping her find new interests. She wanted to attend loud concerts with Dot. 

She wanted to take Fatin to her favourite bookshop, wanted to meet her brothers, wanted to kick her Dad’s ass, wanted to hold her hand and kiss her on the doorstep of her house. 

“I want to be a kid again.” Leah breathed, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. “I want to go home.”



Day 2

 

“Expiry dates are more advisory than anything else.” Dot proclaimed as Leah grimaced at a can of beans that was nearly five years past its expiry.

“Hey, I’m not going to be picky. The memories of nearly starving are still fresh.” Leah mumbled before grimacing, “As are the memories of food poisoning.”

Dot fake gagged reliving the oyster debacle. “Maybe we save the expired cans for when we get really desperate.”

“Or we could mix it with something else to ‘dilute’ it down.” Leah suggested.

“Not a bad shout.” Dot agreed, as Leah finished up the tally of the pantry stocks. “Not a bad haul overall, though we should avoid digging into it as much as possible.”

“Why?” Leah asked, raising an eyebrow, slowly restacking the various cans and non-perishables back on the shelves.

“For the same reason you put money aside for a rainy day.” Dot explained. “It’s nearly autumn, we should haul in as much food as we can from our surroundings. We don’t want to face winter without a decent stock.”

“You think we’ll still be here in winter?” Leah inquired, pausing what she was doing to scrutinise Dot closely.

Dot shrugged, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

“The experiment on the first island only lasted fifty days.” Leah reminded. “Island two was only thirty-nine.”

“Twenty-five if you discount interrogation fun times.” Dot corrected. “Which just further proves the inconsistency.”

“Or it could show a trend. This might be the shortest one yet.” Leah argued hopefully.

“Sure, anything’s possible.” Dot acknowledged with a shrug. “Though, you and I both know that the second island didn’t run how they intended.”

Leah faltered, returning to stack the last few cans and avoid meeting Dot’s gaze, “I know.”

“Hey,” Dot said softly, lips pressed tight into a forced smile, “What do I know? I’m sure we’ll be home by Christmas.”

“Yeah,” Leah croaked, “Definitely.”



Day 115

 

Leah sobbed into the pillow - her leg reduced to nothing more than a burning incandescent torment. The bandage around it needed changing but Leah was so tired and so cold; she hadn’t slept since it happened. Passing out and falling unconscious didn’t count as it only left her even more exhausted.

“Leah, you need to take some of the pain meds.” Toni declared; Leah’s responding sobs were unaccompanied by tears (having run dry hours ago) whilst her body convulsed with dry-heaves from the agony.

“No…” Leah wailed, “I can’t.”

The equipment bag they had been provided came complete with a variety of medication and bandages, emulating the pilot’s bag they had started the first island with. Leah had cracked into it for the bandages, scissors, tweezers and disinfectant - attempting to pull out the shards of debris buried deep - she still didn’t know if she got it all or not.

“You are not sleeping, you need to take the pills.” Dot reiterated, from next to Toni; Fatin sat nearby, head buried behind her knees rocking back and forth, she’d cried nearly as much as Leah. Rachel was sitting in the armchair, asleep, she’d been with Leah the most after Fatin, exhausting herself to the point that she had managed the impossible task of slumbering. Shelby and Martha were watching from the corner, eyes bloodshot, unable to sleep through Leah’s muffled cries.

“No!” Leah roared, she wondered if just cutting off the bloody pulsing mess that was her leg would ease her suffering. Cutting away the damage in one fell swoop.

“Leah, you should-”

“She said no!” Fatin yelled, jerking upwards from her place on the floor.

Toni straightened up whilst Dot deflated, her expression melancholy. 

“She needs-”

“I don’t trust myself.” Leah whimpered, biting down on her bottom lip so hard, a coppery tang filling her mouth. “I don’t- Fatin, I don’t trust myself with them.”

“Fatin, she needs this.” Dot whispered urgently. 

Fatin looked between Dot and Leah, shaking under the pressure. 

Only Fatin could convince Leah, only Fatin could make it safe.

Fatin blinked up at the ceiling, hands pressed to her own back and jaw working to form words before letting out a loud, “Fuck!”

“Fatin…” Leah cried, she needed Fatin to tell her everything would be okay, to hug her tight and kiss her forehead. To make her laugh as her hands traced distracting patterns on Leah’s skin. 

Fatin shook her head, finally moving to kneel beside the couch, making no move to stroke the sweat-damped hair off of Leah’s face. “Leah, you can take the pills without-”

“I want it to stop. I want it all to stop. I want to go home.” Leah pleaded as if all those impossible demands were within Fatin’s power to grant.

“I know you do, baby.” Fatin soothed, providing a rare term of endearment. “The pills will help, take two. In a few hours you can take some more. Look at the watch.”

Leah shook her head but did as she was bid, lifting a shaky arm to stare down at the watch face - the numbers swimming for a long moment before becoming comprehensible.

Leah scrabbled for the medicine bag tucked under the couch, pulling it up and taking out the heavy duty pain medication

“I know it hurts, I know you’re tempted but please… please, don’t leave me.” Fatin whispered, expression broken. “Don’t leave me.”

Leah blinked over to her, considering the request as her fingers played with the foil. “I won’t leave you. Not again.” Leah promised, because she knew now what it was like to be on the other side. To believe all hope was lost and she couldn’t put Fatin through that.

Fatin choked back a cry, brow and chin a wobbly-lined mess, “Two tablets now.” 

“Okay, okay…” Leah exhaled, two tablets in the palm of her hand. She swallowed them quickly and dumped the medicine bag on the floor to avoid further temptation.



Day 198

 

Leah tightened the straps of her backpack, shifting its weight marginally to optimise its position.

She’d been out chopping wood only a few minutes earlier ensuring the drone that flew past overhead got a good shot. The second its buzzing receded into silence, Leah had returned to the cabin to complete a final sweep - making sure everything needed for the trek had been packed up. 

She limped to the door, grabbing the stick that she had cut to serve as a supporting cane before turning back once more to appreciate everything the cabin had provided. She eyed the couch she had bled and cried and screamed on; frowning once before leaving, shutting the door definitively behind herself.

“Ready?” Dot asked, as Leah approached the girls waiting nearby. 

“As I’ll ever be.” Leah replied, trying to put some confidence into her answer.

“You’ve got this.” Rachel cheered, giving her a proud nod that made Leah stand that little bit taller. 

“Which way are we heading?” Martha inquired curiously.

“That way.” Shelby answered, pointing off to the left and away from the lake. “We know East and West from the sun so it would be best to head South as much as possible.”

“Makes sense.” Toni agreed, sharing a soft look with the blonde.

“How long until they know we’ve gone?” Martha asked, looking nervously around the small clearing as if they were on the precipice of being caught right that second.

“If luck’s on our side, four days.” Leah replied, moving to shift the stacks of wood arranged outside of the cabin into different piles to how they were currently arranged. “Hopefully, when the next drone comes in two days, they will see enough differences in the picture taken from today and presume we’re still here.”

“Clever.” Martha beamed.

“That’s my girl.” Fatin winked, from her spot closest to the route they would be taking to escape.

Leah blushed, “Anyway, it will be the second drone’s photos that will raise the alarm.”

“You never know they may wait until the third drone to confirm.” Rachel mused.

“Possibly.” Leah admitted, sharing a soft smile with Dot before adding, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

“Well, shall we get this show on the road?” Shelby cheered, clapping her hands excitedly together.

“Sure, let's go starve out in the wilderness.” Dot groaned, dragging her feet and kick-starting their march. 

“Not quite the positive attitude I was hoping for!” Shelby admonished cheerily, falling into step with Dot, the two of them leading the way. 

Toni and Martha fell in behind, reminiscing about past island hikes and ranking them. 

Rachel gave Leah a thumbs up and bright smile before jogging to catch up with the other girls.

“Last chance, are you sure about this?” Fatin checked, tilting her head to the side expectantly as Leah inhaled a deep breath.

“No, but I need to do this.” Leah exhaled, looking over at Fatin, taking the time to memorise the softness of her features and that special smile (lips pressed tight together but entire face lit up as if she couldn’t hold back the smile despite her best efforts) that was only for Leah. “You’ll be there, right? The whole time?”

“Every step of the way.” Fatin promised.

“Okay. Let’s go.”



Day 112

 

Leah pressed herself harder against the ground, ignoring how the cold wetness of the freshly fallen snow seeped into her clothing as she peered out through the bush and held her breath. 

Murdoch stalked quietly through the trees, approaching the cabin, he was dressed in his standard camouflage, gun holstered to his leg and a small rucksack on his back. 

Leah watched Gretchen’s subordinate creep up to the cabin and peer in through the window, shaking his head slightly when he saw no one inside. 

He abandoned the window and tiptoed towards the door, she watched him enter the premise, obviously searching for signs of life.

Leah waited, her every exhale creating a small white cloud. 

She could do this. She was done with waiting to be rescued. Done with playing Gretchen’s game. It was time to fight back.

The waiting was the hardest part, the way it tore her nerves to shreds and sawed at the already frayed threads of her mind. It wasn’t hard to figure out that hiding away would eventually prompt Murdoch’s appearance to confirm her status. Once she’d crafted a suitable plan and put the various elements in place, it became a waiting game. 

Finally Murdoch had appeared after four days and Leah had scrambled to get into position without being noticed. Now the time was upon her and the dread had fully settled in.

It was too late to turn back now, not that Leah would allow fear to stop her.

Leah counted to five before setting her plan into motion.

The rock in the palm of her hand was sent flying, colliding loudly against the side of the cabin. She was on her feet and in motion whilst the rock was still airborne. She couldn’t afford to look back, to acknowledge that someone might be following after her.

She remembered the determined stride that Nora had employed, how she hadn’t looked back, how she kept Leah close but not too close as to make her suspect. She channelled everything she could from that moment, ducking around trees and holding back branches. Her ears twitching as she listened for those nearly imperceptible audio cues that revealed she was being chased - desperately trying to keep her pace so that she was just out of sight. 

A thick green bush blocked her path and she shoved her way through it, letting it fall quickly back into place before dropping down sharply and scurrying to her right to hide behind a tree.

More waiting. This time it was excruciating. 

1 second…

2 seconds…

3 seconds…

4 sec-

The bush burst open as a large figure shoved their way through, striding confidently forwards only to-

Murdoch disappeared into the ground, falling away as the leaf-strewn mirage collapsed under his feet. 

Leah lurched upwards, heart in her throat as she slowly approached the edge of the pit she had dug over the last ten days. 

“You little bitch .” Murdoch spat as he pushed himself up from the dirt he’d fallen face first into at the bottom of the hole.

“Throw up your phone.” Leah ordered, trying to instil an authoritative confidence into her voice - emulating Gretchen without really thinking about it.

“Or what?” Murdoch snarled, lifting up to reveal blazing eyes, filled with loathing, as his hand moved to draw the gun holstered on his thigh.

Leah stepped back from the edge and out of view immediately, knowing without a doubt that he wouldn’t hesitate to fire after experiencing the humiliation of being trapped. 

“You must have heard enough about me, do you really think I wouldn’t have something else planned?” Leah called out suggestively - hinting at an unknown threat not visible in the darkness of the evening. 

She imagined Murdoch instantly lifting his head to squint up at the overhanging dark trees in an attempt to identify whatever she was referring to. 

“I’ll give you ten seconds.” Leah smirked.

Murdoch made no reply, the air heavy with his seething fury.

“Ten… nine…” Leah began counting, heart hammering with the ferocity of a jackhammer in her chest. “Eight… seven… six…”

“You don’t expect me to believe that you would kill me?” Murdoch laughed from the darkness.

“Then don’t believe it.” Leah goaded, “Five… four… three…”

Leah crossed her fingers, this was her hail mary, everything including her own life rested on these next few seconds. 

“Two… O-”

“Fine! Here!” Something flew up from the pit, landing with a clunk close to the edge.

Leah ran for it immediately, scooping up the satellite phone with desperate, trembling hands. She backed away from the pit, blinking in surprise when the illuminated screen of the phone irritated her retinas, unexposed to such light in months.

There was only one number she knew definitively by heart and her fingers refused to blindly call it without trying at least one other option.

Her parents’ home number was hazy in her memory. She couldn’t remember the last time she had handed it over or even dialled it - her parents’ mobiles were saved in her phone’s memory and not in her own. 

She knew the area code and first four digits. Was confident of that much, at least. The last three numbers, however, swam in her head. 

Was it seven-two-eight?

Eight-two-seven?

Two-seven-eight?

This wasn’t like the other times on the first island. The battery so close to death that there had been no time to experiment. This time the battery was practically overflowing with charge; time was finally on her side. 

She plugged in the numbers she knew followed by her first guess.

The number you have dialled is not valid.

Leah grit her teeth, pacing further into the trees as she tried again.

The number you have dialled is not valid.

Leah pushed back against the panic, mind already fearing having to give in and call the one number she promised herself she would never use again. 

The number you have dialled is not valid.

“No, please come on.” Leah pleaded, banging a fist against the side of her head as if to knock her memory into gear. “Mom put it down on so many school forms, come on.”

Leah paused, eyes closing as she tried to envision the school trip form her mom had filled in not long before the first island - she’d watched her mom’s pen scratch out the details, watched it curl around the shape of an eight, followed by the sharp zag of a seven and then finally an amalgam of motions to make the two.

“Eight-seven-two.” Leah murmured, as if uttering them aloud would make it true. Keeping her eyes closed as if in prayer or making a birthday wish, Leah pressed the three digits into the phone.

She held her breath.

Pause. 

(God, she was so sick of waiting.)

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP

Leah gasped at the sound of connection, only to let out a distraught whine when it was followed by, “ The number you’ve called is currently busy.

Leah pressed the phone tighter against her ear, listening to the repetitive beeping followed by the informative message.

She could wait, she could wait, she could wait - Leah repeated to herself endlessly, hope buoying in her chest to such a degree that she felt she could fly.

It may have been seconds. It may have been hours when the beep stopped and suddenly there was an audible inhale on the other side of the phone.

“Hel-”

Something hard collided with the side of her head, sending her flying into the trunk of a nearby tree, the phone clattering out of her hand, and skidding off into the darkness. 

There was a strange ringing sensation in Leah’s ears and her head felt that fuzziness you get after waking up from a nap. Her right eye hurt, and she could feel something warm and wet sliding down the side of her face. 

Leah blinked trying to bring the world back into focus only to see Murdoch striding past her, clothes and hands blackened with dirt from presumably climbing out of the pit. 

He was going after the phone, Leah realised - the thought distant and disconnected before she repeated it, locking it into her head. She staggered upright and lunged forwards, ducking around Murdoch and diving for the phone.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” Murdoch hissed, lunging after her, his fist making a glancing blow with Leah’s ribs and sending her spiralling off to one side. The phone, however, was back in her grasp and whilst the punch hurt - breathing in now produced a sharp pain - it had pushed her away from him and gave her some momentum. 

She righted herself and started to run.

She spared a beat to glance down, the phone screen dim and displaying that the call had been disconnected.

“Come back here, bitch!” Murdoch screamed after her, in hot pursuit.

Leah sprinted as fast as she could, but her head felt woozy and it was making her nauseous. She zigged-zagged through the forest, trying to lose Murdoch-

BANG!

The bark of a tree nearby exploded causing Leah to falter for less than a heartbeat, ears ringing from the deafening sound that had preceded it. 

BANG!

She didn’t notice immediately, not until she went to place her weight on her leg mid-stride and suddenly she was on the ground screaming. Her leg was on fire. Acid must have been poured directly onto all her nerve endings - it was the only thing that explained the torture she was currently experiencing alongside the smell of burning flesh. 

“You really shouldn’t have fucking done that.” Murdoch muttered, his boots appearing in Leah’s periphery before he stomped down hard on the wrist of the hand that was still tightly holding the phone.

Leah let it go immediately, letting out a high pitched scream.

Murdoch grabbed the phone, pressing his boot down harder - Leah felt the bones of her wrist creak under the weight, though the pain was nothing in comparison to whatever had happened to her leg.

She couldn’t bear to even look at it.

Murdoch released her wrist and stepped back.

Leah reached down with tentative fingers to press against her leg injury - her entire hand coming away crimson. She rolled onto her back and lifted her head seeing the dark hole shredding through her left thigh that was leaking blood, turning the white canvas of snow a mushy pink. 

“It was a trap… A failed one at that.”

Leah barely comprehended what Murdoch was saying as she pressed down on her bullet wound in an attempt to stem the bleeding. 

“She’s hurt… leg wound… what do you want me to do?”

What would Dot tell her to do? Stop the bleeding, clean it… cauterise it? Where’s the bullet? Does she need to dig it out? Did it go through? 

Fucking hell, it hurts. 

“Camera?… Can you see now?” 

Murdoch walked closer to her and Leah instinctively flinched away as a torch light was directed towards her, making her leg wound all the sharper - as if seeing all the horrifying details escalated the pain.

“She’s not going to last long… Do we extract?”

Leah refused to beg, refused to ask her attacker to save her, with what little strength she had she turned her head and spat at the man looming above her, taking a slither of pleasure in watching her bloody spittle land on his trouser leg.

“Little fucking- Yeah, she’s still got some fight in her.”

Leah ripped off her jacket, ignoring the chill in the air, wrapping it around her leg as tightly as she could even as it made her howl and her tears fall faster than ever.

“It’s no shark but it will definitely give you comparable data, don’t you think? The wolves didn’t stick around and you said she needed a crucible - if anything you should be pleased with my proactive work.”

Murdoch fell silent, listening intently to whatever was being said on the other side of the call.

“Alright, heading back now.”

Leah curled forward, protectively shielding her leg as if Murdoch might intend to inflict further damage.

“Good fucking luck.” Murdoch whispered, kneeling down next to her, his breath wrank with stale cigarettes. “Though Gretchen thinks otherwise, I personally doubt you’ll make it to morning. I still don’t know what she fucking sees in you. You’re nothing special. Fucking crazy, weak-willed bitch.”

Leah bit down on her lip, she wouldn’t allow another pained whimper to escape, wouldn’t give him even a milligram more satisfaction. 

“I’ll be back to bury your body.” Murdoch announced getting to his feet, peering down at her with dead eyes. “Then again,” he shrugged, “maybe, I’ll just leave you to the wolves.”

And with that he departed, leaving Leah to bleed out in the snow.



Day 113

 

“Leah, baby, please wake up.” 

Leah groaned, bleary eyes opening as she shivered. She didn’t know how long she’d been out for but it had started to snow, the flakes dancing in the night sky.

“Baby, come on, you need to get back to the cabin.” 

Leah looked up to find Fatin above her, tears streaming down her face.

“Please, Leah.”

“I just need to rest a little longer.” Leah breathed, everything felt numb, her entire body aching and her leg feeling like the embodiment of an abyss.

“You can’t, baby. You need to get up. You need to get up right now! Please!” Fatin begged, hands wringing incessantly as she fell to her knees, fingers reaching out as if to cup Leah’s wet cheek.

“This isn’t working.” 

Fatin and Leah looked over as Rachel appeared out of the swirling snowstorm, dropping down next to Leah’s crumpled form.

“Get moving, Leah.” Rachel ordered sharply.

“But-” Leah stammered weakly.

“Leah, you need to move. I don’t care how. Move!” Rachel demanded, chin lifting in determination, fully expecting Leah to acquiesce.

Leah looked between Fatin and Rachel, the two people who believed the most in her despite everything that had happened. The two people who she’d leant on innumerous times and had borne her weight without complaint.

She couldn’t let them down.

She wouldn’t let them down.

“Okay… okay…” Leah swallowed thickly, lifting her body up with her forearms and dragging herself forward. Her leg roared at the movement, a twisting, tortuous mess that made Leah scream.

“Keep going!” Rachel commanded.

“Leah, you’re doing so well, so well.” Fatin praised, voice hard-edged and wobbly as she held back her own pain at seeing Leah struggle.

Leah dragged herself forward another foot, Rachel pushing her whilst Fatin cheered.

“It’s a war of attrition, Leah.” Rachel explained, “Even the smallest of distances matter.”

Leah pulled herself forward, leaving behind a red trail in the snow, fingers numb and head still filled with cotton wool. “War of attrition.” Leah murmured to herself drowsily.

“You got this, baby. You’re so strong.” Fatin repeated endlessly, voice right next to Leah’s ear keeping her going, fueling her when the sheer stubbornness Rachel inspired wasn’t enough.



Day 3

 

Leah watched as Fatin waded out into the lake, the water up to her waist, the setting sun turning the water a pretty pink.

She bit her lip, trembling on the shore, “Will you miss me?”

Fatin paused, turning back to look at her, expression blank and inscrutable. “Do you want me to?”

“Yes.” Leah confessed.

Fatin merely hummed before ducking underneath the surface of the water, leaving Leah alone on the shore.



Day 213

 

Leah crested the rise and stared down at the sight before her.

It couldn’t be real.

It couldn’t .

She staggered forward, nearly falling down the hill in the sudden rush of adrenaline that propelled her empty shell of a body. 

“Careful, baby.” Fatin admonished teasingly, keeping pace with Leah’s lurching, almost drunken steps.

“Is it real?” Leah demanded.

The wooden house was lit up and a cacophony of voices carried on the light breeze. A man dressed in a warm jacket stepped out of the back door, taking a sip of a beer and breathing in the spring air with an appreciative smile.

“It’s real, you did it.” Fatin murmured as Leah stumbled against a tree coming to a heavy stop. “Go, Leah. You’re nearly there.”

“Will you be there?” Leah questioned, looking at the woman who had been by her side for over two hundred days, keeping her going, keeping her alive.

“Of course I will. Where you go, I go.” Fatin promised, brown eyes twinkling with affection. “Now go.”

Leah nodded to herself, limping across the open space towards the house.

The man took another sip of his drink, making to turn and go back inside when he saw her. He stopped, eyes wide and shocked. 

Leah kept moving forward, eyes locked on him. He shouted something, summoning a wave of new and curious voices from inside the house. 

A few metres away, Leah’s leg gave out and she collapsed onto hands and knees, sweat streaming down her face. 

“Hey, isn’t that the missing girl?” A woman called out. 

“Are you okay?” The man from the back door asked, appearing in Leah’s line of sight, hand reaching out very carefully to touch her shoulder.

Leah flinched hard at the contact; no one had touched her without intending violence in months.

The man’s hand retreated immediately, his palms facing upwards and towards her to show he meant no harm.

“Are you on your own? Is there anyone with you?” He questioned gently, green eyes so, so, so kind.

She glanced back over her shoulder to the forest bereft of life, searching for her friends, only to find long and empty shadows.

“It’s just me.” Leah whispered brokenly. “It’s just me.”

Chapter Text

1st September 2020

 

Fatin leant against the doorway, quietly observing the other girl sitting crossed leg on the floor surrounded by poorly patched together shredded documents. Her brow was furrowed and she was gnawing the end of a pen, saving eyebrows and fingernails from destruction.

“You really should be resting.” Fatin commented after a while.

Leah’s head jerked upwards, startlingly blue eyes focusing in on Fatin and softening immediately (a reaction that made Fatin’s insides disgustingly goo-like and her stomach buzz like she was hovering over the plummet on a rollercoaster).

“I’m sitting down.” Leah indicated with a wave of her hand, blinking innocently up at her as if not being constantly on the move was more than sufficient.

Fatin sighed, shaking her head in equal parts exasperation and fondness. “Whilst trying to solve all our problems.”

Leah frowned, glancing down at the documents and scrawled notes laid out in front of her.

“This isn’t quite what we meant when we said you should rest.” Fatin said, shifting from foot to foot, wanting to move closer, to settle down next to Leah, to reach out and touch, to kiss-

(She wasn’t sure if she could keep the bubbling emotions locked up any longer, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to.)

But this was important. Leah was working herself to the bone; any chore that needed doing, Leah had already started. Leah was learning to hunt, single handedly getting firewood, working with the boys to discuss ways of handling the Seth problem, tidying, cleaning and when she wasn’t physically active, she was mentally exhausting herself by trying to decode the remaining mysteries.

The girls, spearheaded by Fatin and Rachel, agreed that an intervention was needed.

They’d encouraged Leah to get some rest, take some time for herself; Fatin, however, knew it was a lost cause the moment Leah had shuffled back to her room, head down and hands fidgety.

“I know.” Leah acknowledged with a wince before looking up at her with big, sad blue eyes. “What are you doing all the way over there?”

“Waiting for you to invite me in?” Fatin replied, though it lacked her usual self-assuredness.

“Since when do you need an invite?” Leah’s forehead understandably crinkled in confusion.

This was very much Leah and Fatin’s room. Since their reunion, Fatin had slept in the same bed as Leah every single night, Leah’s arms wrapped around her and Leah’s lips pressed to her forehead as Fatin stroked the pale forearm securing her, voice low, lulling Leah to sleep - distracting her from the incessant thoughts in her head.

“Since you’ve turned our room into your office.” Fatin shot back, covering tentativeness with snark. “I was merely trying to respect your insane working hours.”

Leah rolled her eyes, getting to her feet and moving to the bed, patting the spot next to herself in invitation.

“Our room, huh?” Leah’s smile was veering towards a smirk, making Fatin’s heart perform a weird pitter-patter rhythm that she would immediately be arranging for a cardiologist to examine when they returned home.

“What would you call it?” Fatin queried, settling on the bed and leaning back on the palm of her hands.

“Exactly that.”

Fatin faltered, “Leah-”

Leah shook her head, gesturing with a hand that Fatin need not say more, giving her an out from the conversation.

Fatin hated that she accepted it so easily, allowing them to fall into silence that, whilst not uncomfortable, didn’t settle as well as it normally did between them.

“I’m sorry.” Leah murmured, ducking her head forward, hair falling like a curtain to shield her expression from view.

Fatin straightened up, “What are you apologising for?”

“I don’t- I don’t really know.”

Fatin pursed her lips before deciding to bite the bullet, “We need to talk about how much you’ve been doing.”

“Is it not enough?” Leah muttered quietly, sounding so small and uncertain.

“No, Leah, it’s too much .” Fatin explained, reaching out to brush Leah’s hair behind her ear before gently cupping her cheek with one hand, thumb tracing her cheekbone and the edge of the dark circles that lined her favourite pair of eyes. “You’re working far more than you need to. Even Rachel can’t keep up.” Fatin teased, though it was more than true - Rachel was the one that first raised concerns about Leah’s overworking. “Is this… is this to keep your mind occupied?”

“Kinda.” Leah admitted, biting her lip, eyes still lowered and unable to meet Fatin’s gaze.

Fatin exhaled a shaky breath, hand shifting and thumb lowering to gently coax the over-stressed bottom lip free from white teeth. “You know if you’re struggling, you can talk to me right? Or any of us. We’re all here for you.”

Leah looked at her, eyes wide and vulnerable in complete contrast to the empty neutrality of her answer. “I know.”

Fatin’s hand fell away from warm skin, head tilting in concern, “You don’t sound happy about that.”

“I don’t know what you need from me.”

“Need from you?” Fatin repeated dumbly, unable to comprehend what was happening. She was here to support Leah, to help her. 

She didn’t need anything from her other than Leah to be happy and healthy.

Leah pushed herself up to her feet and Fatin’s stomach clenched at the sudden distance, usually when Leah was spiralling she liked Fatin to touch her, to ground her, to give her something to focus on that was undoubtedly real in comparison to the spiralling thoughts inside her head.

“Yeah,” Leah snapped, pacing back and forth in front of the bed (Fatin pretending that it didn’t remind her of Leah pacing in front of crashing waves). “I know I didn’t pull my weight on the first island and I know I fucked us over in the bunker. I know that’s on me.”

Fatin flinched, horrified by this interpretation of events far more than she ever was by the concept that the plane crash was staged.

“But I’ve been trying so hard , I’ve been useful, right?” Leah spun to face her, expression desperate and hands wringing the bottom of her sweater. “If it’s not enough or there’s something else I should be doing, just tell me and I’ll do it.”

“Leah-” Fatin finally managed to gasp out, and… 

God , her heart was cleaving in two at watching Leah believe - for even a second - that Fatin’s care for her could be so conditional . So easily lost. Even when Fatin was trying to hate her, she couldn’t, even when she was trying to rip her heart out of Leah’s grasp, she couldn’t.

“I can be useful. I can help. I just want to help-”

“Leah, baby, please stop.” Fatin begged, on her feet without conscious thought, both hands cupping Leah’s face and the term of endearment slipping out like it had been on the tip of her tongue for weeks ( it had ). 

“You don’t- is that what you’ve been doing? Trying to prove yourself? To make up for…” Fatin swallowed back the words, the sheer absurdity of Leah being responsible for their current entrapment by trying to save them whilst everyone else sat back and did nothing was not worth voicing. She took a slow steadying breath, “Leah, you don’t need to be useful. You don’t need to do anything more than just be yourself.”

“Yeah, right.” Leah scoffed, arms folding and jaw noticeably clenching under Fatin’s trembling palms. “Aren’t you sick of looking after me? I mean you don't actually want to be here, trapped with me every night in our room, do you?” 

Fatin’s eyes began to water at how she had abysmally failed to convey her true feelings. At how Leah had seen Fatin’s need to be close to her as a duty Fatin had been stuck with rather than the honour she viewed it as. At how Leah didn’t know, didn’t even guess at how Fatin truly felt.

The girl that could see through lies and deceptions better than any of them, couldn’t see the love plain on Fatin’s face? 

Was Fatin just that shit at love?

Was she so incapable of love that the girl she cherished so deeply couldn’t pick up on even a hint of Fatin’s devotion?

“Checking in on the crazy girl that can’t be left alone.” Leah continued, blue eyes leaking tears which blinded her to the distraught expression on Fatin’s face. “How do you not hate me? How can you stand to-”

Fatin kissed her with salty lips and wet cheeks.

It was chaste. Probably the single most chaste kiss Fatin had ever experienced.

A kiss that emulated the timid first kiss teenagers in cheesy disney movies act out. The one that's shy, sweet and filled with so much promise.

Fatin’s real first kiss had gotten heavy immediately, the boy going for a messy, uncoordinated tongue that Fatin had recoiled at. 

There had been nothing innocent or tender about that kiss, unlike this one.

Fatin fleetingly wondered if you could pick your first kiss - could point to one and say that's the one I’m counting, that’s the first one that mattered

Because she would pick this one with Leah, the girl with stormy eyes and lopsided smiles, in a bunker far from home. She would pick this slightly off-angled kiss, lips pressed gently against one another that had Leah curling towards her almost immediately, hands sliding onto her hips and squeezing comfortingly. She would pick this one that was so short Fatin would barely fucking register it at a party. She would pick this one that had them leaning back to share sheepish smiles. She would pick this one that made her bare her heart in a way she couldn’t fathom ever doing before she hugged this girl on a beach. 

She would pick this one that she whispered with a broken voice, “I love you, Leah.”, afterwards like it was the easiest fucking thing in the world.



7th September 2020

 

Fatin groaned, the sunlight, barely filtered by the cheap vertical blinds of the hospital room, making eyes screw up tight. She blinked herself to awareness, adjusting to the brightness as she slowly became conscious. 

The room was as bland as ever, unsurprising decor for the American military base they were being cared for in until deemed stable enough to travel home. Fatin’s mother, alongside all the others, had arrived the day after they were rescued from the island in a swarm of frenetic parental care. Fatin didn’t remember much of it, still groggy and disoriented from the surgery she had been rushed into upon landing. 

Her mother was there when she came round properly, face a puffy mess, make-up non-existent and clothes clearly thrown on in haphazard fashion. It was her mother’s total dishelvement and how she appeared to not care in the slightest what the doctors and investigators saw that eased something in Fatin she didn’t know was broken until that moment. 

Knowing her mother cared more for her than appearances .

Neither she nor her mother brought up her father’s absence beyond a throwaway statement that he was watching the boy’s at his place, revealing the state of their relationship more than a long-winded explanation ever could.

The day after surgery, it was just her and her mother - Fatin asked after the girls immediately, after Leah specifically with every other question, only for her mother to dodge and obfuscate behind requests of resting.

The next day, the investigators - FBI agents with the actual badges and her mother’s promise that they were legitimate - appeared. They didn’t push too hard. Only asked for broad strokes of the whole ordeal, clearly not wanting to stress her especially when Fatin’s mother was channelling her entire boss bitch persona into protective mother mode.

Fatin demanded to know about the others. About Leah .

That’s when the awkward silence had settled. 

That’s when her mother reached for her hand and pressed an apologetic kiss to her forehead.

That’s when she was reassured repeatedly that all the boys and girls were safe and being treated at the hospital, most of them already reunited with their families. 

Except…

Except…

Except Leah .

Leah, who wasn’t among those rescued. Leah, who had vanished from the island without a trace. Leah, who they were still searching for and had reason to believe was alive. 

The curse words, threats and accusations of failure and incompetence that poured unrelentingly from Fatin’s mouth in response made even the hardier agents shrink. She tried to stand, the stitches on her stomach pulled taut, she shoved away nurses as they attempted to push her back to bed, she seethed, she screamed, she begged-

A rush of people held her down as a sedative was fed into her drip, pulling her back into a quiet, peaceful dream where she kissed Leah so delicately in their room in the bunker.

She didn’t speak to anyone when she next awoke other than to ask when she could see the other girls. They promised her tomorrow and the day couldn’t come fucking soon enough.

“Dorothy?” Fatin murmured slowly, lifting herself up against the pillows, finally cognizant of the figure sat in the chair by her bed. Her best friend was caved forwards, head in hands, rocking back and forth. “Dorothy? Doroooothyyyy? If you don’t respond to me, I’m going to drag myself out of this bed and poke you until you do. I should warn you, the nurses got pretty pissy at me last time I did that and I won’t hesitate to throw you under the bus.”

Dorothy forced out a wet chuckle.

“And she’s alive!” Fatin cheered, even as her heart squeezed painfully at her friend’s obvious suffering. “Call TMZ, we have positive confirmation of life. And in even more breaking news, the sexiest cargo pants imaginable are no more. Please, may we have a minute of silence to mourn a lesbian icon.”

“You bitch.” Dorothy hiccuped affectionately, wiping the snot and tears away with the back of her hand before looking up at Fatin with blood shot eyes. 

“That’s more like the Dorothy I know and love.” Fatin breathed in relief.

Dorothy’s face screwed up, tears reappearing almost immediately, “How can you say that? When I-”

“It was an accident , Dorothy.” Fatin stressed, shifting to the edge of the bed, arm reaching out for the other girl only to meet empty air as Dorothy leaned back. 

“You nearly died.” Dororthy argued, arms crossed and chin jutted out - taking full responsibility.

“I’m fucking unkillable and you know it.” Fatin scoffed. 

“Like MRSA.” Dorothy muttered with an exaggerated eye roll.

“Is that a K-Pop band?” 

“Don’t play dumb.”

“Then don’t play the villain.” Fatin shot back with a challenging eyebrow raise.

Dorothy’s gaze dropped, “It’s my fault you were hurt.”

“It. Was. An. Accident.” Fatin repeated, emphasising each word.

Dorothy sighed, “We made something lethal-”

“Finally, we !” Fatin cheered, “You’re acknowledging you were not the only one involved, that’s a first step, at least. Give the boys their due, Henry and Kirin were really proud of that trigger mechanism.”

Dorothy shot her a dark glare. “Just because we could-”

“You’re fucking teenagers, Dorothy.” Fatin huffed in exasperation. “You’re allowed to act like it. You’re allowed to be silly and do stupid shit. Like make a sick crossbow trap out of random shit.”

“A trap that nearly killed you!” Dorothy yelled, fist banging down hard on her own leg.

“BY ACCIDENT!” Fatin shouted back. “You said it yourself, you were never even going to use it on Seth. You and the boys were just having fun, you were bored and found something cool to make.”

“We shouldn’t have done it in the first place.” Dorothy snapped. “We should have had better safety systems in place.”

“Dorothy, you told everyone what you were doing. Told us exactly what to do to avoid getting hurt.” Fatin reminded her softly, Dorothy’s warning echoing in her ears from that particular morning.

She had been so distracted, so deliriously drunk on Leah’s kisses that she hadn’t registered what she was being told. She’d fetched water and gotten bored and antsy upon finding out Leah had left to go for a walk with Rachel. 

She’d decided to pay a visit to her own best friend, to steal her away from her daily survivalist pissing contest she held with Henry for a much-needed gossip/heart-to-heart sesh. And she had walked in without a care in the world at just the wrong time and at just the wrong entrance - Dorothy screaming at her in terror and sprinting towards her with arms outstretched. 

“Am I to blame for forgetting and wandering in?” Fatin asked quietly.

“No.” Dorothy answered gruffly.

“Not even a little?”

“Maybe a little.”

“Harsh considering my gut played pin cushion to your experimental bloodlust.” Fatin grumbled.

“You just-” Dorothy exclaimed, earning her an approving wink that had her trailing off.

“And if you and I are taking responsibility, it’s only fair that we give some to the boys, don’t you think? Equality and all that. Kirin and Henry can take fifty percent and we’ll take the other half.”

“That seems reasonable.” Dorothy admitted after a long and thoughtful pause.

“Great, now dial the guilt back by seventy-five percent.” Fatin ordered. “Then come and give me a hug.”

Dorothy groaned but obediently got to her feet.

“And whilst you’re up, an orgasm would be really appreciated.” Fatin requested with a bright grin, arms thrown wide to surround her best friend once she was close enough. Dorothy leaned forward accepting and returning the embrace, though not before gently whacking Fatin’s shoulder in retribution. “What?! It’s practically in-built pain relief.” Fatin whined, even as she rested her head on Dorothy’s supportive shoulder, soaking up the warmth and comfort it provided.

“Why did I ever feel guilty about nearly killing you?” Dorothy sighed.

“You love me and you know it.” Fatin replied, tone lacking her usual edge of humour; the vulnerability she’d managed to hide in front of her mother surging upwards.

“Yeah,” Dorothy confessed, “it’s gross but I kinda do.”

Dorothy’s hold on her grew tighter, and Fatin could feel her friend’s body shake in her arms as she so clearly resisted the urge to sob.

“I’m fine, Dorothy,” Fatin soothed, even though they both knew it was a lie, “I promise.”

Dorothy pulled back, leaning against the edge of the bed, eyes studying Fatin far too knowingly. “You’re not fine.”

“I’m physically fine.” Fatin amended, because whilst she was in a hospital bed with stitches that would inevitably leave a scar, ruining her perfect bikini body, she was healing. On the mend. The crossbow bolt had been safely removed without ripping up her intestines, leaving the damage to muscles and skin. Practically cosmetic. 

That wasn’t the true damage.

The true damage was the littered wasteland where her heart should be.

The true damage was the withdrawal symptoms from blue eyes and a far too clever mind. 

The true damage was-

“Leah.” Dorothy muttered disconsolately, never one for beating around the bush.

Fatin nodded, aware that her voice and entire demeanour was cracking, “Do you know anything? All the agents told me is that she wasn’t on the island.”

“When… when you got hurt… Leah… lost it.” Dorothy explained slowly.

Fatin recoiled, mind plunged back to cold waves and then to dark forests.

“I don’t mean in a ‘run into the ocean’ kind of way.” Dorothy corrected, instantly recognising the path Fatin’s brain had gone down. “I mean it was like… I wonder if that’s what she was like in the bunker when she took on the doctor bitch and her team.” Dorothy’s gaze turned distant and there was almost a sense of awe in her tone as she shared the memories that were too hazy for Fatin, who had been weaving in and out of consciousness more than her grandma’s cross-stitching. “I’ve never seen her so sharp and cold like that. Like she would take down anything that got in her way.”

Fatin frowned, unsure how to feel about this side of Leah, a part of her hoping it was as sexy as it sounded whilst another more (and definitely larger) sentimental side wished Leah never had to activate that side of herself ever again. 

“What did she do?” Fatin prompted.

“I don’t know the full details, I stayed with you. Leah made me promise to stay with you.” Dorothy tacked on with an annoyed huff. “Like I was going to fucking leave you after nearly killing you. Her, Raf, Kirin and Toni went to hunt down Seth and see if he could call for help.”

“Did they find him?”

“They did and he called. He’s a fucking psychopath, but he’s got some sense of self-preservation.”

Fatin’s brow furrowed.

“Bitch, trust me when I say, I don’t think there’s a line Leah wouldn’t cross for you. She would have killed Seth and he knew it.”

“Leah, wouldn’t-”

“You didn’t see her, Fatin.” Dorothy cut in, shaking her head. “I know we would all die for each other. I don’t doubt that, but Leah… she would kill for you. She would.”

Fatin pursed her lips, staying silent, not quite ready to mentally disarm that bombshell.

“Seth called up those fuckers in charge and they point blank refused to do anything… they were going to-”

“Let me die.” Fatin voiced, putting those words out there. Acknowledging for a fleeting moment her own mortality before locking that shit up tight in her growing pandora’s box of trauma. “Leah-”

“Leah made a deal.” Dororthy murmured. “I don’t know what she agreed,” Dorothy raised her palms up to fend off the quick-fire questions Fatin had been on the precipice of unleashing, “I don’t think the others know either. They all came back and Leah didn’t. All of us, except for Leah, were rescued four hours later.”

“She traded herself.” Fatin whispered.

“Looks like it.”

“Why would Gretchen go for that?” Fatin demanded, hands clenching and unclenching the thin blanket, even as Dorothy reached out and squeezed the hand closest to her. “Why would she trade fifteen for one that she already had?”

“Don’t know.” Dorothy admitted before adding quietly, “But there’s someone who might be able to tell us.”

Fatin tensed, “Who?”

Dorothy met her gaze with an inscrutable expression, “Nora. She’s here too.”



1st September 2020

 

Fatin inhaled a shaky breath, Leah’s lips pressing lightly to the corner of her mouth, leaving tender kisses, before descending in a trail to Fatin’s jaw then the slope of her neck.

“Fuck…” Fatin gasped, as Leah switched from barely there butterfly kisses to something demanding, skin sucked in to leave a mark over her thundering heart-rate. Fatin rose onto her tiptoes instinctively, eager to throw her whole body closer to Leah’s talented mouth, whilst her hand slipped into dark locks, fisting it and forcing Leah’s head tighter against her neck.

Leah chuckled against her heated skin in response, the cold puffs of air making Fatin shiver, before she ran her nose gently against the curvature, head lifting back so Fatin could look into blue eyes brighter than the ocean.

“I love you, too.” Leah whispered, mouth quirking up on one side as eyes crinkled with sincerity at the edges. 

Fatin swallowed thickly, hand easing its grip to instead comb through dark hair. “Yeah?” Fatin’s voice was quieter and more vulnerable than she expected it to be - she would have been embarrassed by it if she didn’t feel so safe in Leah’s arms. 

“Yeah.” Leah promised, leaning forward to press a kiss to the side of Fatin’s head, “How could I not?”



8th September 2020

 

“How are the girls?” Fatin asked, after finishing breakfast, the food was nice but she lacked the enthusiasm she thought she would have for it. Her appetite wasn’t quite back to what it was. Her gut feeling like a writhing mass, a constant buzz present reflecting her emotional restlessness.

“They’re… coping.” Dorothy replied tactfully, she’d arrived early, switching out with Fatin’s mother who only seemed to leave Fatin’s side for short bursts. 

Fatin had asked her mother for some space so that she and the girls would have the room to themselves. Rana had acquiesced, hovering nearby trying to decide whether a hug would be welcome, she’d settled on squeezing Fatin’s hand before departing. 

(Fatin would have preferred a hug).

She raised an eyebrow, detecting something hidden beneath Dorothy’s tone, “Anything I should know? Just so I don’t step on any toes when they get here.”

“Yeah, there is.” Dot hesitated before leaning forward, elbows resting on the side of the bed.

“What’s happened?” Fatin questioned, sensing the serious shift; a dull pang of hurt that came with feeling out of the loop. The girls were bunking in pairs, spending their days all together or with their families, whilst Fatin was stuck in this hospital room. 

After so many days living on top of one another and now granted unwelcome space, all whilst her heart ached with Leah’s absence… Fatin was lonely.

(If she was being honest, she’d been lonely a lot longer than she cared to admit - way before the island.)

“Okay, Shelby’s parents arrived a couple of days ago.” Dorothy began, pursing her lips and taking a deep breath. 

“And?” Fatin prompted.

“Shitshow would be putting it mildly.” Dorothy chuckled mirthlessly. “They came into our room, swarming all over Shelby and you want to know what the very first thing they said to her was? Their daughter, who has clearly been through hell?”

Fatin bit her lip, heartbreaking for her friend.

“They asked what happened to her hair.” Dorothy revealed darkly. “Didn’t say they missed her, didn’t say they loved her, didn’t ask how she was… they asked about her hair.”

“Oh, Shelby.” Fatin sighed sympathetically.

“And I think… I think that broke something in Shelby. Whatever was holding her back, you know?”

“She told them.” Fatin guessed.

“Oh, did she ever!” Dorothy grinned, her entire expression lighting up with pride. “She stood up to her full height and did a full on fuck you, I’m gay speech and there is nothing wrong with me.”

“Kick-ass.” Fatin cheered.

“I mean,” Dorothy shrugged, “she said it far more eloquently than that but I was too busy fucking applauding to memorise it.” 

“I would have been right there with you.” Fatin replied; smile slowly drooping at the edges back to a frown, “I’m guessing they didn’t take it well.”

Dorothy’s face fell even as her jaw clenched with rage, “Some people just shouldn’t be parents.”

Fatin swallowed thickly, her father’s face flashing before her eyes before she blocked him from her mind.

“They disowned her right there and then. Her mother just stood quietly, she wouldn’t even look at Shelby whilst her Dad… called her an abomination, and everything his twisted view of religion told him to believe. And then… then…” Dorothy grit her teeth, “he pretty much said she wished she had died.”

“That motherfucker.” Fatin spat, making as if to get up and out of bed. 

No one came after her girls. 

No one

“I’ll fuck that son of a bitch up.”

“Woah, there slugger.” Dorothy gently pushed Fatin back against the pillows. “They’ve already left and don’t worry, someone else got there first.”

Fatin huffed out a breath, wincing slightly at the exertion of her stomach muscles. “Let me guess, Toni?”

Dorothy grimaced, the hesitation from earlier returning, “No, not Toni.”

“Dorothy, what’s going on?” Fatin asked sharply, gaze narrowed.

“Leah’s parents are here.” Dorothy answered simply.

“Oh.” Fatin breathed, heart clenching painfully in her chest. “I don’t… why are they here?”

“They - the FBI - called all the parents. They’d all been in contact since Ian raised the alarm that we were actually missing. They didn’t know that… They got on the plane before they knew Leah wasn't…”

“Right.” Fatin felt the tell-tale pinprick of tears that wanted to fall.

“They’re sticking around in case the agents find anything.” Dorothy explained tentatively. “They… they want to see you. Meet you.”

Fatin ducked her head, childish fantasies of ‘meeting the parents’ blown to pieces in the space of a heartbeat. 

She’d never admit it to anyone, or even truly acknowledge it to herself, but she’d imagined meeting the Rilkes. Imagined wearing smart clothes, not quite cello recital level - something with her own flair of personality - but close. She imagined Leah, smiling shyly, blue eyes hopeful and nervous by her side, hand pressed to the small of Fatin’s back, thumb rubbing gently up and down to soothe her. She imagined shaking hands, being polite, utilising all those social skills her mother and father had taught her from a young age. She imagined praising Leah, making cheeks turn a pretty pink, lip caught between teeth. She imagined making Leah’s parents laugh, charming them and earning their approval, their blessing with how obvious it was that her only goal was to make Leah happy.

Childish fantasies to be replaced with one where she stood alone - or more likely sat in a hospital bed - unable to meet grieving eyes. Unable to make them laugh, unable to prove that she was worthy of their daughter that had sacrificed herself for Fatin. 

“They know from what the rest of us have told them how important you were - are -” Dorothy hastily corrected when Fatin flinched, “to Leah. They’re nice, they’re not… looking to blame or anything. They just miss her.”

“Yeah. I get that.” Fatin replied, voice notably cracking with emotion. 

She did get it. Even now, despite the trepidation, she wanted to meet them, and wanted them to tell her all about Leah from before. Wanted to hear all about her childhood, all the years Fatin had missed. Wanted to know if the Leah she knew, (funny, passionate and brilliant) was always there. Wanted to know everything, even the bad because it meant she was close to her even when apart. As long as there was still more to learn, Leah was still here , still present.

“No pressure. They won’t like… spring themselves on you, they’re waiting for you to give them the nod.” Dorothy revealed.

“I’ll think about it.” Fatin said honestly.

Dorothy nodded, accepting the answer without any attempt to push her towards a decision making Fatin love her all the more.

“So… Shelby?” Fatin prompted after a beat.

“Right.” Dorothy jolted, having clearly forgotten what they were originally talking about. “Leah’s Dad - Kurt - suckerpunched Shelby’s Dad.”

“Fuck off! Really?” Fatin gasped, jaw dropping.

“Oh yeah, it was beyond satisfying. Shelby’s Dad went down hard . Like, you are so fucking lucky that Leah didn’t actually fight you on the island because even after being on the other side of your jab, I would seriously put money on Leah. That family has a fighting spirit.”

“Leah’s always been a fighter.” Fatin asserted, protective and proud.

“Yeah, I know.” Dorothy murmured, expression softening. “Anyway, Leah’s parents had come by to check in on me,” Dorothy blushed then, shoulders hunching up to her ears, making Fatin’s eyebrows raise curiously. “I don’t have anyone to… No one is coming to see me and they’ve been… yeah.”

Fatin merely reached over and took Dorothy’s hand, squeezing it tightly.

“They saw the Goodkind fallout and when Shelby’s Dad said that…” Dorothy grimaced, “Let’s just say, I think the Rilke’s had a massive fucking problem with that especially considering Leah’s unknown whereabouts.”

“Unsurprising.” Fatin muttered.

“Mmhmm.” Dorothy hummed, squeezing Fatin’s hand back in appreciation.

“What does all this mean for Shelby? And you, I guess? Unless they’re letting you go out on your own.” Which is something Fatin would not allow to happen, she didn’t care if she had to kick and scream but there was no way Dorothy would be left tetherless. Not after everything.

“Shelby and I are sticking together.” Dorothy reassured, immediately sensing the protective fire in Fatin’s eyes. “The parents and agents are discussing what to do. The two options on the table are a safe house or…”

“Or?” Fatin pushed.

“Leah’s parents offered to take us. They have a guest room and it would mean we’re close to you.” Dorothy whispered, face twisted with something that almost looked like guilt.

“Don’t do that.” Fatin admonished, reaching out with her free hand to tap Dorothy’s nose affectionately - making the other girl scrunch it up and lean away. 

“Do what?” 

“Blame yourself.” Fatin replied succinctly.

“Like you’re not doing the same thing?” Dorothy accused.

“That’s different.”

“It’s really not.”

“Agree to disagree.”

“Fatin-” Dorothy exhaled in exasperation.

“Dorothy.” Fatin cut back. “You want to say yes to the Rilke’s, I see it. It would mean you were close to me, and you already know they would look after Shelby too.”

“I just…” Dorothy winced, “Is it really fair to put that on grieving parents? ‘Sorry your daughter is AWOL but here: take two fucked up girls in replacement’.”

“They’re not grieving .” Fatin snapped.

Dorothy ran her free hand through her hair. “I didn’t mean it like that and you know it. They’re going through a lot.”

“Sorry, and you’re right.” Fatin apologised. “But from the sounds of it, I don’t think they would offer unless they wanted to and could handle it. From what Leah told me of them, they’ve always been grounded. She told me once that she thinks that’s why her mind would spiral so easily. That she’s the kite and her parents are the string, they always kept her from flying away.”

“Kind of like you.” Dorothy pointed out gently.

“Me?” Fatin blinked at her in confusion.

“You’re Leah’s string too.” 

Fatin’s smile in return epitomised melancholy. “Just think about it. It would be nice to have you nearby and I think… I think you should get to be a regular teenager whilst you still can. And they can give you that more than a random safe house.”

“I’ll talk to Shelby.” Dorothy promised.

Fatin nodded, letting the subject drop just in time for a knock at the door, Shelby’s head peeking through the gap. “Are we alright to gate-crash?”

“Fucking atrocious timing, Dorothy was this close ,” Fatin held index finger and thumb up practically touching, “to finally giving in and ravishing me.”

“Sure, sweetie. You keep believing that.” Shelby tutted, pushing inside followed by the rest of the girls.

“Bitch, get over here and give me a hug.” Fatin ordered, arms flung wide. 

Shelby moved forward, hugging her tight and whispering a sincere, thank God, you’re okay . Martha and Toni appeared next, sandwiching her between them, both their eyes watery though Toni tried to hide it with a scoff and an eye-roll.

Rachel came last, approaching with a downward gaze - Fatin reached for her first, pulling her in and whispering ‘ she’ll be okay, she will ’, the two bonded just that little more tightly together with Leah’s absence. She fucking better be , Rachel had threatened seriously.

The girls settled around the room, leaning against walls, Fatin the centre point of their semi-circle facing directly opposite the last person to walk into the room.

Nora. 

She looked okay - healthy at least. She wasn’t meeting anyone’s eyes, long-sleeved grey henley pulled down over her hands. Rachel stood closest to her, arms folded, expression blank. The other girls were all watching Nora warily; though Toni’s glare was more akin to open hostility - Fatin knew her face more closely emulated Toni’s than the attempt at understanding that Shelby’s held.

“Fatin.” Nora greeted shyly.

Fatin merely nodded, her restraint held back by a taut, near snapping, leash.

“Nora, why don’t you start from the beginning?” Shelby suggested kindly.

Fatin’s jaw clenched instantly, nostrils flaring; her vague attempt at control out of the window after only a couple of seconds. “Who gives a shit about the fucking beginning? Where the fuck is Leah, you fucking bitch?” Fatin demanded, lips curled into a snarl.

“Fatin-” Dorothy began, attempting to intervene, even as Rachel rolled onto her toes, face twisted with indecision - loyalty torn absolutely in two.

“I don’t know.” Nora answered immediately, gaze jittering from Fatin to Rachel.

“Bullshit!” Fatin yelled. “You were in on it! If anyone knows-”

“It wasn’t like that.” Nora replied, arms wrapping protectively around her middle. “I was kept on the fringes after I was pulled out-”

“You must know something!”

“I have- I have theories.” Nora offered weakly. 

“What the fuck good is that?!”

“If you’d just let me explain-”

“What so you can try and play the ‘woe is fucking me’ card?” Fatin scoffed. “Fuck off, you traitorous, manipulative c-” 

“FATIN!” Shelby shouted, stepping into the middle of the room and staring Fatin down. “This is getting you nothing.”

“Trust me, it's getting me something.” Fatin shot back, even as she fell tiredly back against the pillows. 

“No one is asking you to forgive Nora-”

“Good, because I’m not going to.” Fatin muttered petulantly.

Shelby shook her head, fatigue making her shoulders drop, “But she has answers. Maybe not all of them, but she has some I know you want to hear. That I know Leah was desperate to hear.”

Fatin deflated at that. 

“We’ve waited to hear it until we could all hear it together.” Shelby revealed, and Fatin’s heart twisted at that, at her friends denying themselves something so that she wouldn’t feel excluded. So that they could move forward together, like they had with everything.

“Okay.” Fatin replied.

Shelby smiled at her, knowing it was a promise to listen.

“Nora.” Shelby inclined her head to the other girl; her smile slipping from her face but gaze still gentle as she gestured for Nora to take the floor.

“Thank you.” Nora murmured, furtively wiping away tears that had slipped down her cheeks. “I guess, it all began with Quinn.”

Fatin bit her tongue and listened.

Listened to a tale of the sweetest of loves, candy-apple and marshmallows on hot cocoa sweet. Listened to a grieving girl find solace and understanding in what appeared to be an equally grieving mother. Listened to a sister’s adoration and unfaltering loyalty. Listened to how the experiment was an attempt to save and better the life of a loved one. Listened to the story of a woman named Linh, who became Jeanette, dying by accident and changing every dynamic that followed. Listened to Nora confess her sins.

Dorothy and Martha stood on either side of Fatin, grabbing a hand each, squeezing the one under their control when Fatin started to cry - listening to how Leah was trapped in a pit, left and abandoned. (How she screamed for them - for Fatin - to save her before climbing out ready to rip apart everything Nora had tried so hard to preserve.)

Listened to how they were watched and should have been supported - care and aid nearby if events became extreme. Listened to the maelstrom of bad luck; of the shark appearing just when they were prepping the boy’s island. Listened to a girl yanked away and put in what was practically a prison cell, her only window to the outside world, a camera feed of the island. Listened to a sister's breakdown, watching as her twin (the other half to her soul), mourned and shattered and rebuilt. 

Listened to the panic rising on the other side of the two way glass as Leah repeatedly punched through, cracking the surface. Listened to a girl get side-lined, watching in abject horror as events spiralled, as her mentor grew frustrated with unknown externals. Listened as a new opportunity was presented and seized. Listened as the lost girl realised she was utterly superfluous, realised her sister was being set free. Listened to an escape aided by an unlikely friend called Alex, who grabbed the chance the chaos of change inspired. 

“What was it all for? The experiment?” Martha inquired as Nora’s voice finally trailed off, opening the room upto questions. 

The majority of the girls were silent, processing the information overload they had just received; Martha the first to recover.

“It was to highlight the potential of women in leadership and the benefits of a female-led society.” Nora explained.

“So like, are women better than men?” Rachel frowned.

“No, not that.” Nora answered, cringing a second later, clearly uncomfortable saying no to the sister she was so desperate to re-earn. Rachel merely arched an eyebrow, inviting further clarification. Nora took a deep breath, “Everything about the world and the society we live in has been more or less designed by men or, at least, they are the dominant influencing factor. Women’s impact has always been diluted and as such is an unknown quantity. Gretchen’s whole experiment was to quantify that. To try and highlight how the world would be if women were given the same influencing factor as men. It was designed to show women’s potential. Not at the expense of men, but merely to contrast.”

“How did we do?” Martha questioned curiously.

“The girls formed a cohesive society far earlier than the boys.” Nora revealed. “You moved from physical survival needs to emotional ones. You supported one another and cared for each other. The boys may have matched you on survival, but they never moved past basic needs.”

“In other words, we whooped them.” Toni declared, looking rather pleased with herself.

“Whooped them, really?” Dorothy murmured, earning a stuck out tongue from the short girl.

“And the second island? Mixed with the boys?” Shelby queried, cheeks a light red and back pressed against the wall furthest from Toni.

“Mixing back to see if you retained those positive dynamics that you’d created in solo society or lost it once re-exposed to the familiar male influence that defines the majority of the world.” Nora rationalised, seeming to settle as the questions stayed free from charged emotions. 

“In other words did we fall back to bad habits.” Rachel drawled.

“Exactly.” Nora beamed with pride at her sister; Rachel looked away, but the action didn’t seem harsh, more shy. “And you didn’t, Dot and Leah took up leadership of the overall group. You brought the boys into your society and shared resources and learnings. The boys also accepted your leadership and the society model you had created - minor scuffles notwithstanding.”

The early couple of days of the second island had seen repeated clashes between the boys and girls, and also amongst the boys themselves. The girls gradually connected with the different boys. Fatin in particular had grown to appreciate Ivan’s company, not just because of their similar tastes/interests, but for their shared desire to grow and develop, learning to let people in when they were previously kept at arm’s length. 

Kindred spirits on similar journeys.

Leah was the major bridge; she’d earned Raf’s trust which gave her an in with the boys. Her knowledge of the bunker and the events of both islands gave her an edge in getting the boys onside. She knew them, knew how to win them over and she used that to great effect. Leah took point on trying to find an escape, on figuring out the remaining mysteries, whilst Dot reclaimed the position as informal leader with regards to survival chores, benefitting from the additional knowledge that Henry brought with him.

“You make it sound like we did everything they wanted. Proved everything they wanted.” Shelby said slowly, mind clearly whirring away.

“Then why did they need Leah?” Fatin finally asked, voice quieter and more subdued after everything.

No one tried to reign in the question this time. 

Nora seemingly shrinked, nervous again when confronted with Fatin’s dark gaze.

“I just- I just need-” Nora stammered.

“I’m not going to bite your head off,” Fatin sighed, trying to keep her tone light and neutral. “Just talk as best you can. You’ve proven you’re being honest, at least.” Fatin acknowledged, because Nora hadn’t hidden away when describing how she’d betrayed them, she’d gone into detail about each act and she hadn’t hesitated to explain how she had manipulated Leah despite the seething fury it so clearly generated in Fatin. 

She wasn’t lying anymore, Fatin was sure of that.

Nora swallowed thickly, brown eyes wide and grateful before she took a deep breath. “I don’t know the full details. As I said I was being kept on the sidelines, I could pick up on things like how it was generally progressing on the second island but not much more than that. Though, there were murmurs here and there that Gretchen’s investors weren’t convinced by the results.”

“Questioning the validity of such a fucked up exercise, about fucking time.” Toni grumbled.

“Not quite…” Nora muttered apologetically, suddenly looking very apprehensive, “The problem was Leah.”

“Well, duh.” Rachel chuckled. “She had their fucking number.”

“No, Gretchen liked that.” Nora confessed. “It was good for the experiment.”

Fatin’s brow furrowed, “How is Leah foiling their plans, good for the experiment?”

“She did something no one else did. She reached a higher level.” Nora explained. “Not one of the boys thought anything was off on the island. Only Leah made connections, questioned things and then acted on it.”

“Fatin and I-” Shelby began.

“Only once Leah had made that initial link.” Nora interrupted knowing exactly what Shleby was going to say. Nora looked at Fatin then, tilting her head to the side, “Would you have questioned anything in my notebook if Leah hadn’t raised her suspicions previously?”

Fatin considered the question, remembered her brain catching on the numbers and Leah’s voice echoing in her head. Would she have thought any more of it? Or would she assume it was Nora writing her parent’s phone number down to ensure she was remembered and found?

“No, I wouldn’t.” Fatin admitted easily.

“Leah achieved something no one else did and then became a genuine threat.” Nora continued. “That was fantastic for Gretchen. Leah was her favourite out of all of us.”

Fatin recoiled at that, at this twisted woman claiming and cooing over Leah - over any of them.

“But… investors questioned if Leah’s results were reliable. She…” Nora’s gaze dropped then, and her voice was quieter, “She tried to kill herself twice . They questioned if the positive uptick to her results was invalid because she was lucky to have made it that far. Whilst she achieved a higher level, she didn’t conquer the basics. The argument being she’s an incredibly high scorer on one variable but a…” Nora winced, “a failure at everything else.”

“Fuck them. I hope they die and suffer and-” Fatin whispered, tone ice-cold, breaking off when Martha and Dorothy squeezed her hands again.

“Leah is Gretchen’s golden child, the one she holds up as the ultimate proof that a woman-led society could flourish, that women have untapped potential being smothered by dominating male influence. Leah being vulnerable to attack made Gretchen’s experiment vulnerable.” Nora summarised.

“You think they're repeating the experiment.” Shelby murmured, utterly horror-struck, causing Fatin to flinch.

Nora bit her lip and nodded.

“Wait, wait, wait. Time out.” Toni requested, hands raised to form a ‘T’. “Repeat the experiment?”

“I think…” Nora said cautiously, “And again this is just my theory, that Gretchen needs to prove that Leah’s survival wasn’t luck. That it’s repeatable .”

“You think, they took her so that they could put her on another fucking island?” Rachel asked incredulously. “Have they grabbed another seven girls as well?”

“No, I… I think she’s on her own.” Nora admitted.

And that… that shattered Fatin.

The potential that Leah - the one always fighting for escape, for freedom - was continuously trading one prison cell for another was like a sledgehammer to the heart but this… Alone . That was a fucking nuclear bomb in her chest. Her breathing became quicker, the air not quite gaining enough traction in her lungs.

“Fatin, you’re okay.” Dorothy muttered, her voice low and close.

Leah, alone by a campfire, nails bloody and eyebrow plucked clean.

“Fatin, you’re having a panic attack.” Dorothy said, tone even and objective. 

Leah, staring out into the darkness, eyes lacking the familiar brightness and warmth that Fatin basked in, no one there to give her a hug, a nudge to the side, a gentle touch…

“Back up, guys! Give her room.” Dorothy ordered sharply, voice distant and directed away.

Leah alone, alone, alone

“Breathe in… Two… Three… Four…”

Fatin followed the direction, hands squeezed tightly to match the length of time. 

“Breathe out… Two… Three… Four…”

The grip on her hands loosened matching the flow out of air.

“Better?” Dorothy asked after a few repetitions. 

“Better.” Fatin confirmed, lungs not as tight even as her heart bled from multiple wounds. All the girls were hovering nearby, leaning forward but keeping a somewhat respectul distance, expressions all deeply concerned - almost frightened

They’d never seen Fatin break .

Fatin had argued and raged on the island but she’d never emotionally snapped like that. Not like the others had. She’d never needed them to pull her back from the brink and all of them were left scrabbling in alarm when confronted with this role-change. 

Fatin pursed her lips, turning back to face Nora, “Why do you think she’s alone?”

“Maybe, we should do this another day.” Shelby suggested diplomatically.

“I’m fine, but I definitely won’t be if we stop now.” Fatin declared sternly.

Shelby ducked her head, backing down.

“The less variables present, the more certain you can be of Leah’s impact.” Nora answered. “With other girls, you introduce unknowns which might mask Leah’s results.”

Fatin swallowed thickly, “Okay… let’s say she’s on another island and has to survive… how long will they keep her there?”

Nora grimaced, “I don’t know. Until they have enough evidence? Then again, they might just…”

“Might just what?” Rachel prompted.

“Leave her there.” Fatin guessed, jaw clenching.

“Yeah.” Nora breathed, before shaking her head. “Then again, Gretchen’s not a killer, at least from what I saw. She may not have cared if anyone was hurt but she doesn’t actively want to kill people.”

“Yeah, but before Leah offered herself up on the second island, the good doctor would have happily let Fatin die.” Dorothy pointed out dryly.

“I don’t think so…” Nora replied, “I think… I think she would have extracted Fatin - not like alerted the FBI to your location to save you. More like lock you up and treat you somewhere else. I think Gretchen knew that Fatin hurt… was her best chance to manipulate Leah.”

“What a bitch .” Toni groaned.

“Are you suggesting Leah sacrificed herself for nothing?” Fatin snapped, throat rough like sandpaper.

“Fatin, you know that’s not true.” Martha murmured tenderly, stepping back to Fatin’s side. “And Nora’s only guessing. You don’t know. She doesn’t know. None of us do. Leah made her choice with what she knew.”

 Fatin deflated.

“I don’t know.” Nora agreed readily. “And the only reason I know anything about the deal is because Alex told me. He knew there was going to be a change of location and that they were bringing in a new survival specialist for it. Gretchen thought Alex was too soft. She was probably right, considering he wouldn’t leave me behind when he left.”

Silence settled between the group.

“Any other questions?” Nora offered timidly.

They still had so many questions, but the answers were already so heavy and the ones Fatin really wanted, Nora couldn’t give her. 

The girls shook their heads, all of them looking emotionally wrought out.

Nora looked around, inhaling deeply, “Can I take this time to say… I am so, so sorry. I know that doesn’t even begin to make up for everything that happened and the part I played in it… But, I am so sorry. And I hope that you might… one day… be able to forgive me.”

“Nora, it’s… it’s not okay… but I think-” Martha started to reply, compassion and sympathy warming her tone.

“No.” Fatin whispered harshly, the single word cutting through the entire room. “No.” Fatin repeated when everyone slowly looked at her with uncertain expressions.

“Fatin,” Dorothy murmured.

“Fuck me, guys! A half-assed apology and we should welcome her back with open arms?!”

“No one is saying that.” Rachel declared, moving forward ever so slightly as if to form a protective shield in front of Nora.

“Good, because I’m with Fatin.” Toni asserted, arms folding over her chest. “Nora let us suffer. Me and Marty nearly died from food poisoning and Nora said nothing .”

“She was being manipulated, Toni.” Martha reminded; eyes wide and imploring of her best friend.

“Yeah, just like she manipulated us , Martha.” Fatin shot back, before snarling at Nora, rage re-fuelled. “You put Leah in a pit, Nora. She had nearly died the day before and you put her in a fucking pit. She was losing her mind and you shoved her over the edge and watched her fall with fucking popcorn in hand.”

“Fatin, take it down a notch.” Rachel suggested.

“Take it down a fucking notch?” Fatin scoffed. “Easy for you to say when Nora would have ended the entire experiment to save you but would gladly have watched Leah destroy herself.” Fatin quickly amended her statement, “All of us destroy ourselves.”

Rachel flinched, but didn’t deny it.

Nora’s redeeming trait - her uncompromising love for her sister- was also her downfall.

The girls would lay down their lives for each other without hesitation whilst Nora was willing to sacrifice the girls for Rachel. It made it equal parts easier and harder for Rachel to forgive.

And maybe Fatin could forgive Nora for the damage she had wrought solely on Fatin. But Fatin loved too deeply, whether she admitted it or not, and any hurt dealt to her loved ones was a trespass without absolution in her eyes. She may never have gotten on with her mother, may have clashed and sometimes even despised her but Fatin loved her, regardless. And the hurt her father had repeatedly doled out to her mother was beyond redemption in Fatin’s eyes.

Fatin could forgive Nora for herself, but she couldn’t forgive her for everything the other girls had suffered through.

“I’m sorry.” Nora breathed out in between stifled sobs - not wanting to appear like she was trying to gain sympathy with her tears.

“Yeah, well… you can apologise again when Leah is back. Safe and sound. Then we can talk.” Fatin declared, laying out her terms, chin raised determinedly.



1st September 2020

 

“Don’t you fucking dare tell any of the other girls that I cried.” Fatin ordered, the sternness of her tone heavily undercut by how she snuggled into Leah’s chest.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Leah assured, chest reverberating underneath Fatin’s cheek with a bubble of laughter.

They were lying down on their bed, retreating to its sanctuary and comfort after sharing even more soft kisses that would have made Fatin roll her eyes pre-island; though, it was more fair to say that Leah was lying on the bed and Fatin was lying on top of Leah - legs tangled together, arms wrapped around Leah’s waist, lifting up every now and again to steal a sweet kiss. 

“I’m serious.” Fatin huffed threateningly.

“I know, I’m very scared, short ass.” Leah shot back.

“I’m not short.” Fatin scoffed, shifting to manoeuvre herself up onto elbows, locking Leah in below her. “You’re unnaturally tall. I’m going to get fucking neck strain kissing you. You should come with an ergonomic risk assessment.”

“You’re going to get neck strain?” Leah asked, eyebrow raised in disbelief, “I’m pretty sure whenever we hug, you drag me down to your level. I’m going to get a hunchback within a year.”

Fatin opened her mouth to deny this but snapped it shut when their hugs flashed before her eyes - her arms wrapping around Leah’s neck and tugging her downwards, she always liked Leah burying her face into Fatin’s neck which… yeah… may have explained why Leah so quickly figured out where her particularly sensitive spots were located. 

“Well, we’ll just have to levelise.” Fatin shrugged, zipping forward to press a kiss to Leah’s nose, jerking backwards before Leah had a chance to react. 

“Levelise?” Leah repeated dumbly, blinking up at her.

“Mmhmm.” Fatin hummed, lowering herself down so they were pressed together and Fatin’s face was directly in line with Leah’s.

Leah let out a strangled sound, hands moving to grip Fatin’s hips inadvertently prompting them to roll ever so slightly against Leah’s abdomen. “You have such good fucking ideas.”

“I know.” Fatin murmured smugly, ducking down to nip at reddening lips.



10th September 2020

 

“Can I get you anything else?” Rana asked, hands smoothing out Fatin’s duvet to keep herself occupied and to give her a reason not to fully look at her daughter.

“No, thank you.” Fatin murmured, pulling her laptop close but making no move to open it. “When are Ahmad and Kemar getting back?” 

Rana straightened up, hands settling on hips, “Couple of hours. Your father is dropping them off after lunch. They’re really excited to see you.”

Fatin smiled at that, feeling something light and pure flutter in her chest for the first time since leaving the island. “I’m really excited too. I might even be tempted to watch that Star Wars show they keep going on about.”

“They would never leave your side.” Rana chuckled lightly, eyes shining.

“I think I’d like that.” Fatin admitted quietly, the bed and her entire room feeling too big and empty after being surrounded by so much life. 

Rana hesitated for a beat, before stepping forward, bending down and pressing a light kiss to Fatin’s forehead. “I missed you. The house was far too quiet without you.” Rana confessed, tone shaky and cracking.

“I missed you too, Mom.” Fatin replied, swallowing to hold back a grateful sob.

Rana sighed, moving back, hands smoothing down the front of her pressed trousers - she’d showered and gussied up since they’d arrived back at the house whilst Fatin slept, exhausted by being on edge throughout the flight. Fatin didn’t know what to make of her mother redressing in her sharp armour, knowing they were now exiting the eye of the storm where the damage to their relationship had been put to one side in the face of everything that had happened. 

Rana didn’t say it, Fatin didn’t need her to, but she had dressed up to appear strong in front of Fatin’s father, so Fatin kept her feelings of loss to herself. 

“Do you…” Rana pursed her lips, breathing sharply through her nose, clearly readying herself for an unpleasant task. “Your father would like to see you when he drops your brothers off.”

“I don’t want to see him.” Fatin said immediately.

“He…” Rana’s jaw clenched, “He missed you, too. When we found out what had happened… it hit him hard.”

“I don’t care.”

“Fatin.” Rana said tersely.

“He made his choice.” Fatin sneered. “He chose random skanks over our family and he was more than happy to ship me far, far, far away in retribution. So I call bullshit .”

“Don’t use that language with me.” Rana admonished sharply, tensing immediately as she always did when her husband’s indiscretions were highlighted. It was embarrassment and shame; Fatin knew that, but all she ever heard was her being punished whilst her father continued to be indulged.

Rana choosing her husband over her daughter.

“Fuck me! You’d think surviving an entire fucked up experiment would give me some leeway on my fucking language.” Fatin yelled.

“That’s enough.” Rana ordered, gaze narrowed and nostrils flaring. “Your father will stop by and see you when he arrives-”

Fatin scoffed.

“I’m serious, Fatin.” Rana declared.

“When are you not?” Fatin grumbled, turning on her side, back to her mother.

Rana stayed quiet, eventually Fatin listened to her mother’s retreating footsteps, hearing her bedroom door being pulled to, leaving Fatin alone with her heartbreak and loneliness.

She waited until she was certain her mother had gone downstairs, before shifting to sit up and pull her laptop towards her. She hadn’t been given a replacement phone yet, her mother promising to get her a new one tomorrow. 

Fatin logged on, opening the browser and navigating to her social media. Her inbox was bulging, filled with frat boys that had been trying to make contact for a quick lay over the summer and the socially unempathetic who were messaging to try and find out all the gory details of her island experience. She didn’t bother reading any of them, performing a mass purge. 

She then searched for the other girls, finding each of their pages - Shelby’s a pageant extravaganza, Toni’s filled with short videos of her basketball accomplishments, Martha’s wallpapered with pictures of her bunny rabbit and motivational quotes, Rachael’s an ode to diving (Fatin winced at that one) and Dot’s almost blank except for the odd photo. She sent them each friend requests.

With that task done, Fatin took a deep breath and searched for Leah.

They weren’t friends, despite their shared high school, thankfully Leah’s account was public. Fatin clicked on the profile picture - Leah smiling up at the camera, blue eyes practically twinkling, hands lost in the golden fur of Roxy, her retriever who was asleep on her chest. 

Fatin’s eyes traced the lines of her face, memorising the rings on her fingers, the crookedness to her smile that revealed the genuine joy. 

She clicked to the next one, Leah reading, brow furrowed in concentration as she sat atop a brick wall - Fatin thought it must have been taken at school, recognising some graffiti at the edge of the picture.

The one before that was Leah in a summer dress, knees up to her chest, and chin on knees. She looked soft and relaxed - Fatin wondered where the photo was taken, wondered if she could ask Leah to take her there when she got back.

She flicked through picture after picture, memorising each one. 

She doesn’t know when she started crying, but she knows that by the time her brothers ran up the stairs to see her that her cheeks were puffy, her sweatshirt damp around the collar and her chest aching from heaving sobs. 

Her brothers hesitated at her door, nervous and uncertain until Fatin threw her arms wide and called them to her. They leaped onto the bed burrowing into her and offering her all their favourite things in the world in the hopes it would stop her crying - which only made Fatin cry all the harder.

She settled eventually, a brother under each arm, intermittently pressing kisses to the tops of their heads, her laptop in front of them playing a seemingly endless number of Star Wars: The Clone Wars episodes.

It wasn’t until it was night, Rana having brought them takeaway to eat in Fatin’s bed - something that would never have been allowed previously, that Fatin realised her father never bothered to come and see her. 

She pretended that it didn’t hurt the small piece of herself that still loved him.



1st September 2020

 

Fatin wanted to rip Leah’s clothes off, wanted to devour her and thrive in the chaos.

Fatin wanted to carefully guide Leah out of her clothes, wanted to trace every contour, nurture each sweet spot and be mesmerised by what they could make. 

Leah’s hands slipped up underneath the back of Fatin’s shirt, fingertips hopscotching up the notches of Fatin’s spine until she reached her bra. 

“You can take it off.” Fatin offered, words breathed into the slither of space between their panting mouths. 

“I…” Leah stammered, eyes suddenly going wide and unsure.

“Hey, hey…” Fatin soothed, brushing a rogue strand of hair behind Leah’s ear before stroking against a blushing cheek. “Nothing more needs to happen, okay? This …” Fatin gestured between herself and Leah, “This is everything.”

Leah’s tongue darted out, wetting red lips; Fatin’s eyes darkened at the sight, already missing the feel of it slipping into her mouth.  “ I want more.” Leah admitted shyly. “I want more of you. Of us. Is that… Is that ok-”

“God, yes…” Fatin gasped, dropping back down to capture Leah’s bottom lip.



18th September 2020

 

Dorothy and Shelby seemed to be settling in well to their new home; the Rilkes obviously taking good care of them whilst also allowing them their freedom - recognising their age and need to not feel constrained. The two were sharing the guest bedroom which had been redecorated, and Fatin couldn’t help but be jealous that they had someone so close by to share their nightmares with. 

(Fatin didn’t sleep well, her mother assumed it was lasting discomfort from her stomach wound, though, it was more to do with Leah, or any of the girls, not being there). 

The Rilkes still wanted to meet her, Fatin had heard as much from Rana who had grown close with Maryann, Leah’s mother, during their search for the girls. She wasn’t quite ready yet to answer their questions, share her story and face the crushing guilt she carried with her that she wouldn’t be able to hide when faced with features that resembled Leah. 

Dorothy and Shelby visited her everyday, which she appreciated, and she checked that they were doing alright, though she never inquired too much about the dynamics in their household. Dorothy was an instant hit with Fatin's brothers who immediately idolised her no-nonsense manner, taking any stalwart advice she shared as if what was a secret of the universe. Shelby, on the other hand, kept her distance despite enjoying their company. They obviously reminded Shelby of her own younger siblings so Fatin never pressed the matter.

Fatin’s father had stopped by a couple of days earlier, to pick-up the boys to stay at his place. He’d sauntered over to Fatin with his usual charming air and warm smile that used to make Fatin feel so special and valued compared to her mother’s increasing demands of excellence. Now it just made her uncomfortable, imagining her father using that exact same charm on women half his age (Fatin acknowledged that time spent falling for Leah had made her even more excruciatingly uncomfortable about this fact). He’d asked how she was, like it was any other day, like she had just got back from cello practice. Like it was before she’d realised her hero wasn’t as perfect as he seemed. Like it was before a plane crash. Like it was before months of hard-fought survival. 

Fatin had snarled and snapped, but it lacked bite. She couldn’t cover up the hurt, the way she wished her father cared that little more. 

Rana had babbled endless apologies and declarations of love in Fatin’s ear, had held her hand when Fatin’s pain got too great, had told her over and over again how strong and brave she was.

Her father merely rolled his eyes, muttering something along the lines of how she still hadn’t grown up before clapping his hands and shouting for his sons to hurry up. 

Fatin wanted to call him back, scream at how much she had been forced to grow up. How she knew how to cauterise wounds and skin rabbits. How she knew what it felt like for her stomach to self-digest, to mentally calculate how long the fat and muscle on her bones would last before she starved. How she knew what it felt like for her heart to shatter; a limp body in her arms and so much guilt clogging her throat she thought she would never speak again. How she knew what indescribable loss and the most uplifting of loves truly felt like.

How she had grown up too, too, too fast.

How she needed her Dad to be the grown up for once and not her ex-best friend.

How she needed to not be the grown up.

Shelby and Dorothy had come over and distracted her; they let her vent and fume and roar. And then once she was emptied out, they cracked open Fatin’s excessive make-up kit and messed around with painting each other’s faces, taking photos of each terrible one and sending them to the newly created girls’ group chat for them to comment on. 

Fatin was beyond grateful that she wasn’t alone, but she couldn’t help spending the entire day wondering what Leah would say and do if she was there. What dry and witty comment she would fling out unexpectedly, making Fatin snort and shake her head. What terrible make-up would she inflict on Fatin whilst holding her chin with a light touch, luminescent blue eyes staring deep into brown as she stroked the brush against her cheek. 

Would she steal a kiss in between giggles?

Would she phone Rachel and argue lovingly with her over the phone as her best friend ripped into Leah’s efforts far more than anyone else’s?

Would she sit behind Fatin, arms wrapped around her waist, humming drowsily into Fatin’s ear as Shelby gave Dorothy the full pageant experience?

The girls slept over and the next morning, Fatin told them that she wanted to meet Leah’s parents.

And now here she was, outside the suburban residence on the doorstep trying to build up the courage to knock.

“Hello, I don’t want to rush you or anything but it looks like it's going to rain; would you like to come inside or, at least, take an umbrella?” 

Fatin’s jaw dropped open, no sound coming out - the front door had opened quietly and Leah’s mother was now standing before her with a soft, reassuring, almost apologetic smile on her face. 

“Uh… I’ll… um… come inside.” Fatin agreed, upon finding her voice. 

Maryann stepped back, letting Fatin slip inside before shutting the door - the rumble of thunder from behind the closed door revealing the accuracy of the woman’s concern. 

Leah’s mother was shorter than Fatin expected, hair auburn and eyes a dark blue. Kurt was hovering in the doorway of the kitchen nearby, shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot and it was in him that Fatin more easily recognised familiar traits: his height, dark hair and lightness to his eyes were easy physical identifiers. There was a deeper and more stark resemblance, however, in his anxious fidgeting and warm, lopsided smile.

Fatin took a moment to quickly take in the inside of Leah’s home, everything was painted a light colour, the walls covered by photos of the family and on the closest side-table was a picture of a young Leah, toothy grin on full display, and paint covering her cheeks and hair. Fatin inhaled a shaky breath, drawn to the image immediately, and she picked it up with trembling hands.

“We were re-decorating her bedroom and she insisted on helping.” Maryann revealed, smiling brightly over at Fatin even as her eyes turned shiny. “She kept dripping paint all over the floor and Kurt flicked his brush at her and…” Maryann sighed, rolling her eyes with fond affection, “and all hell broke loose. There’s still paint droplets all over the floor in her room, she has a rug but she never… never covered them.”

“It was my birthday whilst we were…” Fatin said slowly, putting the picture frame carefully back, “Whilst we were on the second island and Leah… planned this whole thing for me. We didn’t have decorations or anything but there was loads of paper left behind by the… by the researchers . So, Leah hid away for the entire day before and created the most over-the-top paper decorations imaginable, she completely covered an entire room so much that Dorothy called it a fire-hazard. Leah’s hands were covered in papercuts and she was finding tiny pieces of paper in her hair for days after. But when she showed me… she was smiling like this… ” Fatin glanced back at the picture, (thumb stroking an immortal paint-splattered cheek), at the uninhibited joy and pride on young Leah’s face, “And I will be honest whilst I loved everything she and all the girls tried to do for me… that smile was the best part of my day.”

She trailed off into silence, ducking her head, not ready to meet the teary gazes of Leah’s family after exposing her feelings for Leah in such a blatant way. She didn’t want to see disgust or confusion or grief.

She felt a light touch to her shoulder, and glanced up to find Maryann with a smile as bright as before. “Do you want to see her room?”

Fatin blinked in surprise at the offer, she’d expected to be sat down on the sofa and if not interrogated, gently prodded for information. 

“Yes, please.” Fatin replied eagerly.

Maryann squeezed her shoulder before letting go and leading her up the stairs.

Leah’s room was at the corner of the house, giving it two walls with windows, a small desk was underneath one and laden with a dusty laptop, half-used notebooks and post-it notes dotted around in chaotic order. Whatever wall space was left available was taken up by bookshelves bursting with texts - some shelves two books deep. The closet door was slightly ajar revealing a plethora of clothes that Fatin immediately tried to imagine Leah in - so used to her in a mishmash of other people’s styles. There were pictures of Leah with Roxy - Shelby and Dorothy had taken the retriever for a long walk to give Fatin and the Rilkes some space - and Leah with Ian. 

Maryann gestured for Fatin to go in and the second she stepped inside-

There it was.

That light scent of vanilla that Fatin would always associate with Leah. 

Fatin choked back a sob as she ran her hand across the spines of the books lining the nearest bookshelf - wishing Leah was there to gush about each one, to point to her favourites and pull out the ones she thought Fatin would like. Fatin’s heart was lead-weight with Leah’s presence so close yet so far, despite that it was also the most peaceful and safe Fatin had felt since coming home - surrounded by everything Leah.

“That one was her favourite when she was a child.” Maryann commented as Fatin’s finger brushed past a slim book. Fatin retreated back to it and gently pulled it free from its confines. 

“A wrinkle in time?” Fatin said, reading out the title - she’d heard of it and it wasn’t what she was expecting.

“It’s her guilty pleasure. Science fiction and fantasy.” Maryann shared a conspiratorial wink. “I think it's the escapist factor, helps her get outside her head.”

“That makes sense.” Fatin hummed, thumb rubbing over the bent spine and dog-eared pages that highlighted how well-loved it was.

“You can borrow it, if you like?” Maryann offered.

“Oh, I couldn’t-” Fatin began to refuse even as she pulled the book towards her chest, the connection it had to Leah far too precious.

“She would want you to. You two can talk all about it when she gets back.”

And that convinced Fatin, “Yeah, okay. Thank you.”

“Fatin, can I ask you something?”

Fatin finally managed to tear her gaze away from the details hidden around the room that she was committing to memory to look over at Leah’s Mom who was watching her with tilted head and far too sharp eyes and-

Yeah, that’s where the rest of Leah came from, that’s where her intense focus found its inspiration.

“Yes.” Fatin replied, straightening up - stomach muscles aching with the stretch.

“Are you in love with my daughter?”

“With my whole damn heart.”

Chapter Text

1st September 2020

 

“You’ve done that before, haven’t you?” Fatin murmured, muscles liquid and skin sweat-slicked.

Leah chuckled against her bare thigh before nuzzling into the crease below her hip prompting Fatin to jerk slightly, a reminder of her current sensitivity. 

“Once or twice.” Leah admitted, causing Fatin’s stomach to tighten and roil with a roar of jealousy.

“Right.” Fatin muttered, trying to sound nonchalant. 

Leah kissed her way up Fatin’s body, going off-piste every now and again to revisit her favourite spots. “You’re the first I was sober for.” Leah confessed once she reached Fatin’s neck, hand gently palming at Fatin’s hip. “You’re the first it mattered for.”

“Yeah?” Fatin inhaled, kneading at the expanse of Leah’s back.

“Fatin,” Leah mumbled, head lifting up to reveal a soft, loving gaze. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Fatin affirmed immediately; it surprised her how easy it was to say those words. They weren’t something she’d had much experience with. She knew her current ease had a lot to do with this private bubble they had created for themselves, that she would struggle to say the words in front of others - the scrutiny of an audience making her uncomfortable. She was free with her sexuality and pleasure, but this was different. 

This was an intimacy that she wasn’t familiar with. 

It made her shy and nervous. 

Fatin put all of that to one-side. Right now, it was just her and Leah. It was easy and she was going to make the most of it whilst she could. 

“Can I?” Fatin requested, hand slipping off Leah’s back, down her side and around her hip. She went no further, aware how Leah tensed up, gaze turning dark not with arousal but something distant. “Baby?”

Leah bit her bottom lip, blue eyes searching for something deep in Fatin’s.

Fatin met her gaze without hesitation, pulling down every single wall she had and jackhammering their remains into dust so that there was nothing blocking Leah from seeing what she needed.

“Slow.” Leah pleaded, head dropping and burying into the sanctity that the crook of Fatin’s shoulder and neck provided. “Please.”

“So slow, baby.” Fatin reassured, fingers tracing light patterns, “Love you, love you so much.”



25th September 2020

 

It had been twenty-two days. 

Twenty-two days since she’d seen Leah.

Twenty-two days since Leah agreed to whatever fucked-up deal Gretchen had offered.

Twenty-two days and nothing .

The news was slowly quieting down, Leah no longer appearing in the headlines, shifted to B-roll. Next week, she might not even make it to the ticker-tape at the bottom of the screen. 

Fatin hated it.

Hated everything and everyone that was slowly forgetting her.

The FBI hadn’t sent an update in the last couple of days, not that it would have mattered; their responses after a week always followed the same script, ‘chasing leads’.

Whatever the fuck that meant.

Dorothy and Shelby had started school a couple of days ago - they were attending the same high school as Fatin, the school merely supplying a standard curriculum rather than a specific track. Rana and the Rilkes had made a case for the school to take the two girls, and the school accepted them for the good press that came with going the extra mile for the traumatised teens.

Fatin was meant to re-start next week when she was given the all clear from the doctor at her next appointment. 

She was set to spend the day alone. A day where all Fatin could think about was Leah running into the water without anyone there to pull her back out this time. 

 She made herself a blanket safe haven in the living room, ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ playing quietly in the background as she re-read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’. Leah had left little notes, highlighted certain passages that clearly resonated and Fatin liked how reading those messages made her feel close to Leah. 

Knock, knock, knock.

“Fatin, you in?” Shelby’s voice rang out from the other side of the front door. 

Fatin lifted her head from the sofa arm, wiping away the tears before getting unsteadily to her feet. She opened the door to find Dorothy and Shelby waiting for her, shopping bags brimming with unhealthy snacks and drinks in hand.

“What are you two doing here?” Fatin asked curiously even as she stepped back. “I mean Dorothy, I kind of get skipping school after two days of interacting with pretentious art students, but Shelby?”

“We have permission.” Shelby replied with an eye-roll, taking the bags out of Dorothy’s hands so Dorothy was free to hug Fatin in greeting on their behalf. “I’m dumping this in your living room nest.” Shelby hollered, moving brusquely inside like she owned the place.

“We can count, Fatin.” Dorothy murmured, pulling Fatin into a hug. “We know what today is.”

“I miss her.” Fatin whispered, resting her head on Dorothy’s always supportive shoulder.

“Yeah, me too.”

Fatin pulled back, allowing Dorothy to finally take in the sweatshirt Fatin was wearing.

“Maryann told me I could borrow it.” Fatin said, answering the question Dorothy had kindly not voiced. She was wearing a jumper obviously a size too large, a small image of paper and quill over the left breast and the name of a writing summer camp stencilled on the back. 

It still had a hint of vanilla to it.

“She told us to bring you another book, it’s in one of the bags.” Dorothy revealed.

“Tell her thank you.”

“Will do.” Dorothy hummed, before nudging her side. “Come on, before Shelby goes full hostess mode.”

“I mean is that so terrible?” Fatin asked curiously.

“Dude, she takes hovering to a whole new level. She puts the Stepford wives to shame.”

“Fine.” Fatin grumbled.

They watched sitcoms. They tried an action film but a fight scene on a plane left them all tense and the suggested rom-com had the heroine being saved from near drowning in a public pool. They took it in turns picking out their favourite episodes from random shows - all picking ones that they knew were innocuous and light.

They didn’t talk about Leah; Fatin wasn’t sure if she preferred that or not.

“Have you heard much from the other girls?” Fatin inquired as the last episode came to an end; Shelby navigating to a different app for her pick.

Dorothy frowned at her, “Dude, the group chat frequently makes my phone vibrate off the bedside table.”

“That’s different.” Fatin muttered, sinking into the cushions. “It’s ninety percent pictures of Martha’s rabbits. Which I’m not complaining about by the way. Those bunnies are like model bunnies. Like hot A-F bunnies.”

Shelby grimaced, “Please stop. Please.”

Dorothy shook her head, “You really need to get laid. You’re sexualising bunny rabbits.”

“Martha would be horrified.” Shelby agreed readily.

“I wasn’t sexualising them.” Fatin scoffed. “Merely rating their aesthetic.”

“Sure.” Dorothy mumbled unconvinced.

Fatin sighed, she missed the other girls. Not that she didn’t appreciate Dorothy and Shelby, they were her rocks. But she missed Rachel’s steadfast determination, Martha’s optimism and Toni’s fierceness. She missed hearing their voices, missed fussing over them and taking the time to hear about their days.

She talked to Martha, checking in on the other girl pretty regularly. Martha always ended their calls with the assurance that ‘everything would be okay’ and her sincerity almost made Fatin believe it.

“I talk to Rachel.” Dorothy offered after a beat.

“You do?” Fatin asked, mildly surprised by the connection.

“Hmm…”

“She doing okay?” Fatin checked. 

She hadn’t reached out to Rachel despite wanting to. Despite knowing Rachel would understand the ache in Fatin’s chest more than the others who weren’t as close to Leah. Her last interaction with Nora, however, made Fatin shy and she didn’t want to complicate things for Rachel.

“Are any of us?” Dorothy chuckled darkly. “She’s… it’s difficult,” Dorothy admitted with a heavy sigh, “Nora wants to fix things but Rachel needs space. But the thing she would normally bury herself in isn’t… available .” 

Fatin winced, but she got it. Her cello sat gathering dust but she at least had the two girls to fill the time that the instrument and parties would typically take up.

“She needs an outlet.” Dorothy finished.

“Maybe I should reach out to her?” Fatin mumbled, more to herself than the room.

“She’d like that.” Dorothy said instantly. “I think she… with Nora… she wasn’t sure.”

“I get it.”

“I talk to Toni.” Shelby announced, cringing slightly as she did so. “Sometimes. Not that often, really. Just… you know… general check-ins…”

Fatin and Dorothy exchanged a look, a whole conversation shared in a singular moment. 

Fatin cleared her throat, attempting subtlety but falling majorly short. “And, how’s that going?”

Shelby’s face glowed red, voice high and strangled, “It’s… nice… I mean we’re… friends .”

“Right.” Fatin said cheerily, shooting her a double thumbs up before leaning forward and asking, “Is that… um… it ?”

“Well, obviously , I don’t want it to be but… she broke up with me…” Shelby shook her head, legs pulled tight to her chest and expression heartbroken, “and I can’t just like… ask her to take me back. Especially not with how we’re so far apart now.”

“I think if you want something, you owe it to yourself to try for it.” Fatin said quietly, thinking back to the softest press of lips to her own.

“Maybe.” Shelby mumbled unconvinced.

They watched a few more episodes, the sun shifting to early afternoon before Fatin decided to go rummage up a proper lunch for them all. She made decent sandwiches, pausing for a long time after making them to appreciate how easy it had been. Food readily available, mere minutes to prep a meal more substantive than anything they could ever dream to have on the island.

She wondered what Leah would be eating. If she was eating…

“How are you doing?” 

Fatin jolted, finding Shelby lingering in the doorway watching her with that careful, knowing gaze Shelby had taken to wearing throughout their time on the second island whenever she caught Fatin staring longingly after Leah. 

They’d never talked about Fatin’s declaration; Shelby hinted at it, teased her about her obvious jealousy and offered sly suggestions when it was clear Fatin’s feelings were bubbling up and begging to be let loose.

“Surviving.” Fatin shrugged helplessly.

Shelby came closer, hand reaching out to squeeze Fatin’s shoulder, “She’ll be okay.”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t…” Shelby readily admitted, “but I believe in her. Like I know you do.”

Fatin smiled at that, remembering how Leah would glance back at her after making a decision, not for approval but for reassurance. Fatin would grant it easily, brown eyes twinkling with pride. She believed in Leah, now more than ever.

 “Fatin?” Shelby murmured, voice uncertain enough to pull Fatin out of her reverie. Fatin raised an eyebrow at the blonde, whose hair now delicately curled around her ears, styled to a supermodel finish. “Did you ever tell Leah how-”

“Guys, hurry up, I’m not rewinding it for your slow asses.” Dorothy’s voice blasted through the house like an airhorn.

“I have a stab wound!” Fatin yelled back, even as she picked up the sandwich she had made for her needy best friend.

“It was barely a fucking scratch!” Dorothy hollered back with an audible scoff. “Stop milking it!”



2nd September 2020

 

“Oh my God.” Leah breathed out, rousing Fatin from her blissed out post-orgasm nap. 

“You called?” Fatin drawled, turning round in Leah’s arms, lifting her head and shooting the brunette a seductive smirk. “Ready for another round? Because I most definit-”

“You’re the jealous-type.” Leah declared, blue eyes gleeful.

Fatin frowned, slightly put-out, “No, I’m not.”

“You are!” Leah laughed, rolling onto her back and staring up at the ceiling, mind clearly whirring. “How did I not notice? I mean I figured out a fucking fake plane crash but didn’t see-”

“Because there’s nothing to see, I’m not the jealous-type.” Fatin huffed, poking Leah’s side causing the other girl to jerk away from her and shoot her an amused glance.

“Sure.” Leah muttered unconvinced.

“When have I ever-”

“Literally,” Leah grabbed Fatin’s heavy gold, blue-faced watch from the bedside table and studied the time displayed, “three hours ago when you found out you weren’t the first girl I went down on.”

“I wasn’t jealous , I was… surprised ?” Fatin defended, crossing her arms over her chest.

Leah pouted as Fatin’s breasts disappeared from view. “What about when you were grumpy with Rachel for like a week?”

“I was PMS-ing, I didn’t want to talk to anyone.” 

“Fatin, we all know each other’s cycles; in fact, you were the one keeping track in the notebook…” Leah grimaced, “You took to springing on us like we were pre-teens and you were our mom excited to see us… ugh… flowering .”

“If you ever say anything like that again,” Fatin said slowly, “I will tape your mouth shut.”

Leah smirked, a flash of confidence appearing that made Fatin nearly whimper, “You like my mouth too much to do that.”

Fatin shrugged a shoulder, refusing to confirm it anymore than that. 

Leah fell silent, single eyebrow raised and waiting, utterly patient - knowing Fatin would inevitably crack.

“I would make a really hot carpenter.” Fatin finally admitted, bottom lip petulantly pushed out.

“The hottest .” Leah agreed readily, thumb and forefinger lightly gripping Fatin’s chin and turning her head so that she could easily lean forward to bite Fatin’s puckered bottom lip.

Fatin loved Leah.

Loved this playful side that she had seen in flashes on the first island.

Loved this seductive side that knew exactly how to make Fatin crave and want .

Loved this sweet side that was always there thrumming under the surface; the sweet side that meant Leah never said ‘I told you so’ not once on the second island and not now in bed together either.

“Okay…” Fatin breathed as Leah leaned back, eyes half-lidded and unfocused. “Maybe… just maybe… I’m a little bit of the jealous-type.”

“I like it.” Leah confessed, suddenly shy.

“You do?” Fatin asked, brow furrowing in genuine surprise.

Leah ducked her head, not quite able to meet Fatin’s eyes, “I like knowing you want me. That I matter to you. I’ve never… I’ve never had that before. Not in the… safe way you do it.”

Fatin frowned, shifting to cuddle into Leah’s side, “I’m jealous in a safe way?”

Leah hummed, “You never… make me feel like I’m doing something wrong. You never ask me to do anything different.”

“Did-” Fatin stopped herself from asking about him . She wouldn’t allow him into their bed. Especially not tonight. This night that was theirs . “What about me being grumpy ?”

“It’s so adorable no one could ever take it seriously.” Leah revealed before pausing, “Except for Raf. I think he is genuinely scared of you.”

“Good. He should be.” Fatin growled. “Following you round like a lost puppy all the goddamn time .”

“Fatin?” Leah said slowly, her hand creeping over to trace patterns on Fatin’s stomach, whilst Fatin let out a long exhale - releasing her frustrations. 

“Yeah?”

Leah smiled at her, “All I see is you.”



28th September 2020

 

Fuck high school.

Who needs island experiments and fucked up survival situations to study behaviour?

High schools were fucking petri-dishes covering the entire spectrum of human emotion.

Fatin had never hated high school. It was a retreat in some ways, providing respite from the cello, and allowing her to indulge in more typical teenage behaviour. It also helped that she’d always felt so untouchable from the social cliques that came their own heap of trauma.

She was used to being the centre-point of gossip, it rolled off her like she was teflon; she had no deep connections through which the back-chat could reverberate and damage. She was destined for Julliard, destined for greatness and whispers of slut were not going to change that.

Now, though…

Now, though, things were different.

Now, Fatin drove in with two other girls.

Now, Fatin didn’t lug around a cello - the instrument serving as little more than an ornament back in her bedroom - instead she carried a book with annotations that helped her understand a beautifully complicated mind just that little bit more.

Now, Fatin seethed whenever she heard a whisper that commented on Dorothy’s comfy style or Shelby’s shyness.

Now, Fatin went up to the Football Captain, who she’d slept with a couple of times last year, and told him in a deadly whisper that if he ever referred to Leah as the crazy dead girl ever again Fatin would rip his balls off and shove them-

Now, Fatin had friends who pulled her away and helped her calm down.

Lunchtimes used to be for cello practice, now she was outside looking to claim a picnic bench for herself, Dorothy and Shelby. She saw Ian first, though; he was sitting on the grass nearby looking lost and lonely.

Fatin wondered if that was where Leah and him would always sit, and she regretted that she didn’t know. That her memories of Leah pre-island treated her like she was a background extra rather than the headline she was always meant to be.

She knew the other girls had spoken to Ian frequently, wanting to hear about his involvement and thank him for acting on Leah’s request for help without hesitation. She was also aware that Dorothy and Shelby had bonded with him during their first few days at school, and Fatin couldn’t bear the idea of this important connection to Leah being left listless in the wind.

“Ian, right?” Fatin checked needlessly, as she lowered herself to the ground next to the young man, hiding the wince of pain from muscles still recovering from being ripped apart. The skin was healed but there was still work needed to repair the muscle damage.

“Fatin Jadmani.” Ian replied, before shaking his head in confusion, “I don’t really know why I said your full name like that.”

“I have that effect on people.” Fatin acknowledged, flicking her hair over her shoulder. 

Ian nodded in agreement, side-eyeing her with an assessing expression.

“You hear anything?” Fatin asked quietly.

“Nope. You?”

“No.” Fatin grimaced.

Ian sighed, leaning back on his hands, face moving upwards towards the sun. “It’s not fair, you know? I know it’s callous and Leah would whack me round the back of the head for saying it, but it's true... She deserved to escape more than anyone. The only reason any of you got out is because of her. It’s not fair.”

Fatin chuckled, copying Ian’s position and enjoying the sunbeams on her skin, eyes falling shut. “Absolutely fucking agree.”

“I… Wait, what?”

She didn’t need to see Ian to know he’d done a double-take.

“It’s not fair, and if I could swap places with her…” Fatin swallowed thickly, eyes scrunching up even tighter to suppress the wave of emotion. “Believe me, I would in a heartbeat.”

There was a long pause, Fatin opened one eye and looked over to Ian who was now crossed legged and sat directly facing her, expression inscrutable. 

“I believe you.” Ian breathed out, shaking his head ruefully. “Fuck if I know why, but I believe you.”

“She beat them once,” Fatin declared, sitting up straight, hands slapping her thighs in emphasis, “she’ll do it again.”

“You think so?”

“I do, but it's nice to hear it from someone else every now and again.” Fatin answered and shot Ian an understanding smile.

“Yeah, it is.” Ian nodded, running a hand through messy hair before exhaling a long, slow breath. “When we were like ten, Leah got super obsessed with DB Cooper.”

Fatin’s brow furrowed, “Who?”

“He hijacked a plane and escaped with the ransom,” Ian explained, “no one ever found out what happened to him or the money.”

“Okay…”, Fatin pursed her lips, not quite following what brought this topic change on but always happy to listen to a Leah story. 

“Leah spent months reading books about him, studying maps and listening to podcasts. It was all she talked about.”

“Been there.”

“Anyway, Leah eventually claimed she had figured it all out. That she knew exactly where the money was buried. She did full on presentations to anyone that came within range, even called the local news.”

“Aww, Leah.” Fatin pressed a hand over her mouth to hide the endeared smile from onlookers.

“She slowly moved on,” Ian revealed, “she eventually got really into this singer called Ben Folds. Ever heard of him?”

“Yeah, oddly enough I have.” Fatin snorted, before tilting her head curiously to the side, “Does this story have a point?”

Ian nodded, leaning forward as his voice dropped to an almost inaudible conspiratorial whisper, “The point is we should find her research and go dig up the damn spot.”

Fatin laughed louder than she had in weeks; Ian grinned at her, chuckling along.

“I’ll drive, if you dig.” Fatin offered, holding out a hand for Ian to shake.

“Deal.” Ian declared, grasping her hand firmly and sealing their friendship - retethering themselves to each other until Leah returned to claim them. “She’ll be okay.” Ian promised as their humour steadily faded.

“Yeah, she will.” Fatin agreed.

“It’s still nice to hear it from someone else, though, right?” Ian guessed.

And yeah, it was.



2nd September 2020

 

“They shouldn’t have done that to you.” Leah murmured, jaw clenched tight and arm wrapped even tighter around Fatin’s waist, pressing kisses to Fatin’s forehead.

“I mean I was being a dramatic bitch. I don’t regret leaking the photos, I do regret how my Mom was caught in the cross-fire.” Fatin swallowed, “I didn’t think how it would hurt her.”

“Fatin?” Leah said softly.

“Yeah?”

“We’re teenagers. We’re practically kids.” Leah reminded her. “We’re going to make mistakes. Adults are meant to teach us to be better. Help us learn from our mistakes… not… destroy us for them.”

“Baby…” Fatin soothed, recognising that Leah wasn’t just referring to Fatin’s parents anymore.

“You’re nothing like him, Fatin. Nothing.” Leah promised, stroking Fatin’s cheek with her thumb. “And your parents are fucking idiots for wanting to send you away. Because, I… I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

“Don’t say that.” Fatin pleaded, turning her head so that she could kiss Leah’s palm.

“It’s true.”

“But I… I pushed you to… I should never have yelled at you-”

“Fatin, no.” Leah breathed, eyes wide and horrified. “No, that had nothing to do with you. You didn’t push me to do anything. I did that , okay?”

“I nearly lost you and my last words would have been-”

“I’m okay, I’m okay.” Leah suddenly smiled bright and brilliant. “I’m more than okay. I’m really fucking happy, Fatin. And you have a lot to do with that.”

“I do?” Fatin checked, a small smirk appearing even as her heart ached with the memories of a limp pale body in the forest.

“Yeah. So, I repeat, your parents are fucking idiots because my life would be so much emptier without you in it.”



10th October 2020

 

“Shelby.” 

“Fatin, everything okay?” Shelby asked, tone tinged with concern at the early hour of Fatin’s call and the neutrality of her voice.

“I’m about to do something pretty fucking drastic and I think…” Fatin exhaled out sharply, pressing a clenched fist to her forehead. “I think I could do with…”

“A friend?” Shelby guessed when Fatin trailed off.

“Yeah.” Fatin replied with a relieved sigh.

“Do you want me to get Dottie?” Shelby checked.

“No.” Fatin answered, “I… I think you would understand without me needing to… you know…”

“Okay, text me where are you and I’ll come meet you.”

“Thanks, Shelbs.”

“Anytime.”

Fatin hung up and quickly sent her the address of the hair salon she was parked outside of before slumping back in her car seat. Shelby arrived fifteen minutes later, parking up down the road - her and Dorothy were using Leah’s car for the time being. Shelby slipped into the passenger seat next to Fatin less than a minute later, turning to face her directly as Fatin stared out the front window. 

“How drastic are we talking?” Shelby inquired, “Because I would not recommend the bald look, I mean, I know I rocked it but I think I might be the exception.”

“I’m the exception to every rule, bitch. I would set a whole new trend of female baldness.”

“My deepest apologies,” Shelby responded with exaggerated faux-remorse, “then please, for the benefit of other women, consider the impact of your decision.”

“What a burden…” Fatin tutted, before letting out a heavy sigh, “I was thinking…”

She held a hand up at just above shoulder height.

Shelby hummed, considering the suggestion, “I think that would be pretty badass.”

“Yeah?”

“Absolutely. Though, as said… you can rock any style.” Shelby nudged her side playfully, “Even cargo pants but don’t tell Dottie I said that.”

“I would so rock cargo pants.” Fatin declared, voice catching revealing how she had spent the last hour sobbing.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Shelby offered gently.

“Just the usual shit. My Dad’s an asshole.” Fatin shrugged.

“I know that feeling.” Shelby replied, shooting her a commiserating smile. “He was picking up your brothers for the weekend, right?”

“Yeah.” 

Fatin continued to stare out the window, watching a family walk by - a young couple, their small child swinging between their hands. 

“I’m nothing like him.”

“I know that, sweetie.” Shelby said earnestly. “I know that.”

Fatin swallowed back a sob, “Why can’t I believe that?”

“Because he’s your Dad, and you love him.” Shelby answered, face full of understanding. “Because he made you feel safe when you were small and the world was big and scary. Because he laughs the same way you do. Because he likes the same food. Because making him proud was something you wanted more than anything in the whole damn world. Because he’s your Dad, he’s a part of you… But he’s not all of you.”

Fatin wiped away the tears that fell during Shelby’s speech and how it echoed inside the cavern where her broken heart was housed. 

“Are you still up for that haircut?” Shelby checked, reaching out and squeezing Fatin’s hand. 

Fatin nodded, channelling her usual confidence, “Hell yeah, bitch.”

“You sure you want a professional? I’m pretty skilled with a pair of scissors.”

“You and scissors,” Fatin announced, “are never allowed anywhere near my hair or anyone else’s ever again. Including your own.”

Shelby merely flashed Fatin a wink before getting out of the car. 

Fatin watched each lock of hair get snipped; each fallen strand separating her from her former self. It had felt wrong looking in the mirror since coming back from the island. She’d changed so much inside and to find her appearance identical to what she was pre-island was jarring. The damage from exposure had completely vanished, her skin had returned to its healthy hue and her hair was as shiny as ever. There was a faint scar on her stomach and even fainter scar on her leg but they were barely visible. 

It made her doubt that anything had happened.

And she couldn’t bear that anymore. She needed something to cut through those two times, the two versions of herself.

Pre island Fatin versus post island Fatin.

Pre-unsinkable eight Fatin versus post-found family Fatin.

Pre-Leah Fatin versus post-Leah Fatin.

“You look… wow, Fatin.” Shelby complimented as the stylist stepped back.

Fatin ran her hands through her shorter hair, letting out a breath she had been holding since returning home. 

There she was .



2nd September 2020

 

“When did you know?” Leah asked, fingertips brushing up and down Fatin’s bare side, as Fatin snuggled into the crook of Leah’s neck.

“Know?” Fatin prompted.

“About… us? Me? That you… uh…” Leah cleared her throat nervously, and Fatin glanced up to see bright red cheeks, “ liked me…”

Fatin pressed a teasing kiss to the hinge of Leah’s jaw, extending the red flush down Leah’s neck and to the top of her chest. “I mean, I’ve low-key found you extremely climbable from the first day.”

“The first day… on the island.” Leah repeated slowly, expression twisting with something that Fatin couldn’t quite understand. 

“Yeah, surprised?” Fatin asked uncertainly.

“I… I don’t know.” Leah replied with a frown, brows pulled together and the soothing stroking motion on Fatin’s skin juddering out of rhythm.

“How about you?” Fatin prompted, turning the question around.

“I…” Leah’s jaw clenched, and she seemed to shift uncomfortably which made a low buzz of worry build in Fatin’s stomach. She didn’t know what had happened but the mood they had created with declarations of love and soft touches was evaporating, slipping through Fatin’s fingers and she was desperate to hold tight to it.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” Fatin murmured, lifting up and peering down into Leah’s troubled face, combing loose brown hair with her fingers whilst intermittently lightly scratching Leah’s scalp. 

“It’s embarrassing.” Leah admitted.

“So?” Fatin encouraged, “You’ve seen me literally suffer from food poisoning and all the disgusting symptoms that went with that. Like, I am still shocked that you so willingly went down on me with that memory.”

Leah rolled her eyes, but the frown eased, mouth softening into a precursor of a smile. 

“We’ve seen each other at our literal worst, baby. There’s nothing you could tell me that will change how I feel.” Fatin promised.

“I had a crush on you before the plane crash.” Leah confessed in a single rushed breath.

“Holy fuck!” Fatin exclaimed, bolting upright, hands clapping together as she bounced excitedly up and down on the bed, prompting Leah to grab the sides of the mattress to prevent being rolled off. “You had a crush on me? That’s so embarrassing!”

“You literally just fingered me.”

“Still, baby.” Fatin chuckled, straddling pale hips, hands moving to rest on Leah’s ribs just below her breasts. “Tell me, was it my bad bitch attitude? Did you hear the rumours of how good in bed I was? Was it the cello? Girls fucking love seeing my dexterity in action.” Fatin underlined her point by allowing her fingers to explore; Leah unable to prevent a pleased gasp from escaping, skin pebbling in Fatin’s wake. “Tell me more, please. I promise to make it worth your while.”

“I knew it would go to your head.” Leah grumbled even as she grabbed Fatin’s hips and encouraged her to grind.

“Literary superstar pining after the slutty school pariah… Fuck, the rom com potential. It practically writes itself.”

“I wasn’t a literary superstar, I was a nerdy loner with one friend.” Leah muttered, sitting up so that their torsos were pressed together. “And you weren’t the slutty school pariah - you were the girl everyone wanted, you captivated whilst I… faded into the background.”

“Not to me.” Fatin replied, freezing in place despite the tug from Leah for her to continue her rolling motion. “I would remember you if we’d interacted. I would definitely have remembered you.”

Fatin would, she was absolutely certain of it. 

She remembered Leah in the chaos after the plane crash so vividly. Leah collapsing on the shore, having carried a girl she barely knew to safety. She remembered meeting blue eyes over a fire as they drank and played, mind instantly snapshotting the moment.

Leah’s eyes dimmed momentarily, “If you say so.”

Fatin frowned, “Leah-”

Whatever Fatin was about to say next was lost as Leah pressed their lips together and turned them round, lowering Fatin to the mattress and settling above her. 

“Remember this, please.” Leah begged, breath hot against Fatin’s ear as long fingers teased at her entrance.



31st October 2020

 

“Who the fuck are you?” Fatin asked, nose scrunching up as she examined Dorothy’s costume.

“Dude, you can no longer ever claim I’m uncultured.” Dorothy replied with an eyeroll. “I’m the bride of Frankenstein.”

“Frankenstein ain’t locking that nun outfit down. Come on, show a bit of ass or tit.” Fatin teased, slapping Dorothy’s ass as she passed by to get into Fatin’s car.

“It’s film-accurate!”

“It’s fucking orgasm-repellent!” Fatin hollered back, before turning to take in Shelby’s outfit. “Now that’s more like it.” Fatin whistled.

“It’s not too much? Or should I say too little?” Shelby asked, giving a twirl to show off the short white dress accompanied by feathery wings. 

“It’s perfect; we are so getting you some action tonight.” Fatin declared, adjusting the devil horns on her own head.

“You’re missing out, Dorothy. Think of all the great costumes we could have done as a threesome .” Fatin teased as she slipped into the driver’s seat, Dorothy in the passenger seat and Shelby in the back. 

“That’s exactly what I was thinking about when I said no.” Dorothy huffed.

“Are we meeting Ian there or picking him up?” Shelby asked, smiling shyly down at her phone.

“Picking him up.” Fatin answered, starting the car and pulling away. “Anything interesting to report there, Shelbs?”

Shelby jerked upwards, tucking her phone away in a small bag, cheeks blushing pink. “Oh, uh… Toni likes my costume.”

“Unsurprising.” Fatin mumbled, sharing a loaded look with Dorothy before returning to focus on the road.

Dorothy and Martha were keeping Fatin up-to-date with the Shoni drama. It was obvious that Toni wanted to get back together, but was too stubborn or too scared to ask, and Shelby was still vulnerable from their break-up. Fatin hoped the time apart would help put things in perspective for the two of them; make them brave enough to risk trying again. The girls were already planning to visit the bay - staying with Fatin - for New Year, and the hope was that they could work some matchmaking magic to get Shelby and Toni back together.

Ian was already waiting on the curb, dressed simply as a zombie with fairly decent make-up. The party was at Colby’s house and was already in full-swing when they arrived. Fatin parked a couple of streets away; they planned to get an uber back to the Rilke’s afterwards so they could all drink. Their entrance drew eyes and not simply for their costumes, Fatin marched them through the crowd into the kitchen, getting them all drinks and distracting her friends from the whispers. 

“Looking good, Fatin.” 

Fatin rolled her eyes as a muscly arm curled around her waist, a hand settling posessively on her hip. 

“Hands off, dickhead.” Dorothy growled, “She didn’t give you permission to touch, did she?” 

“Fatin, never minded my touch. Did you babe?” 

Fatin gagged, shoving the dudebro’s hand off her body, “Kevin, was it?”

The blonde-haired jock that only looked vaguely familiar, frowned at her, “Joel.”

“Doesn’t ring a bell.” Fatin ran a hand through her short locks as she sneered up at him, “which tells me you should really reign in that confidence.”

“Don’t remember any complaints when you were riding my dick.” Joel shot back, leering over her and prompting Dorothy, Shelby and Ian to take a protective step closer.

“That’s because I was doing all the fucking work.” Fatin smiled, before turning her back to him and topping-up her drink.

“Was the experiment’s aim to make you a bitch? Because it succeeded.” Joel grumbled as he left.

“Fucking asshole.” Dorothy declared, glaring after him.

“You okay?” Ian asked as Fatin downed her re-filled drink.

This was her first party of the year, most weekends spent with her friends or her brothers. Parties and the easy lays that came with them used to be her way to feel intimacy without the long term effort, and blow off the steam that inevitably built up from having to be perfect the rest of the week.

Her Mom was desperate for her to start playing cello again, the Juilliard dream dimming every week she allowed her hands to soften and muscle memory to fade. Her Mom wasn’t pushing it though, which Fatin appreciated far more than Rana’s attempts to find something for them to bond over. 

Fatin was in counselling which helped but left her exhausted.

She had other ways of relaxing now, without the need of alcohol or the company of strangers.

Playing soccer with her brothers - she was terrible at it but her brothers loved scoring goals against her. Playing video games with Ahmad and Shelby - she was actually pretty good but Shelby was something else. Taking Kemar to the bookstore and buying him new comics and books, listening to him explain each story and his favourite characters in great detail. Introducing Dorothy to reality television (not Survivor) and listening to her dry commentary. Listening to stories of young Leah from Kurt and Maryann. Bickering with Ian over the true crime podcasts he had suggested she listened to. Facetiming with all the other girls whenever they were free.

Fatin’s life was so full and the need for intimacy was filled in a thousand and one different ways that would have made the desire to go to parties superfluous even if the idea of being touched by anyone that wasn’t Leah didn’t make her want to strip her skin off. 

“I’m good.” Fatin reassured, “It’s weird being here.”

Ian raised a curious eyebrow.

“Like trying on old clothes that still fit but no longer… look quite right.” Fatin attempted to explain.

Ian nodded, but it was clear he didn’t quite understand. 

Fatin shook the interaction off, grabbing Dorothy’s hand as she charged out of the kitchen, “Come on bitches, let’s get our dance on.”

“Oh, fuck no.” Dorothy groaned. 

“Move that sweet ass, Dorothy.” Fatin ordered guiding her best friend into the cleared space in the living room which was filled with other dancing bodies. Shelby and Ian followed along in the wake, the four of them forming a ring to prevent intruders.

Dorothy bitched the entire time but she danced along with them and joined in when Fatin taught her and Shelby how to slut drop. They danced through songs that were still new to them - hits over the summer they had missed out on. After a while, Shelby caught the eye of a tattooed hipster girl making flirty glances.

“Are you going to ask her to dance?” Fatin asked, nudging Shelby’s side suggestively.

“I mean… should I?” Shelby bit her lip.

“She’s hot, you’re hot, go for it.” Fatin encouraged.

Shelby swallowed, “What about…”

Fatin arched an eyebrow.

“Nevermind.” Shelby sighed, shoulders rolling back and chin lifting in determination, “I can do this.”

“Yeah, you can!” Fatin cheered, gently shoving her forwards, the blonde stumbled across the floor, the hipster girl perking up with interest immediately. 

“Was that the right thing to do?” Fatin whispered to Dorothy as they all subtly watched Shelby and the other girl start to dance.

“She looks happy so… yeah.” Dorothy replied, nose scrunched up as she thought it through. “Her and Toni will work things out eventually, but Shelby deserves to have fun and live her life until then.”

“Another drink?” Fatin suggested.

Ian and Dorothy agreed readily enough, giving Shelby some privacy whilst staying in the vicinity. 

They snatched another round of drinks and retreated to a rare empty sofa.

“Shelby’s got moves.” Ian whistled, Shelby and the girl were already swapping saliva in the corner of the room, hands roaming.

“That’s our girl” Dorothy yelled, raising her beer in a proud salute. “Disproving the useless lesbian trope. You break stereotypes, girl!”

“I always thought it was useless bisexual,” Ian hummed, “though that’s mostly due to Leah.”

“Leah not got game?” Dorothy inquired curiously, utterly oblivious to how Fatin immediately stiffened.

“Not with girls.” Ian revealed, “She had this massive crush on Amanda Stein, remember her Fatin?”

Fatin bit the inside of her cheek, as she nodded, nostrils flaring with jealousy, “Short girl with curly red hair, she transferred after freshman year?”

“Yep, Amanda waved at Leah one lunch whilst she was drinking water and I swear to God… she nearly drowned.” Ian grimaced, “She spat all the water out over the seniors at the table over. There’s a reason why Leah and I took to eating anywhere but in the cafeteria.”

“That girl is a walking disaster.” Dorothy chuckled fondly, eyes crinkling in equal parts amusement and melancholy whilst Fatin merely slumped against the couch cushions taking regular swigs of her drink.

“You think that’s bad, Fatin should tell you about the first time they met.” Ian remarked, nodding his head for Fatin to take over.

Fatin’s brow furrowed immediately in confusion, “Huh?”

“You know in the bathroom?” Ian prompted eagerly, words slurring together as the alcohol hit his system.

“Leah and I never spoke before the island.” Fatin muttered, hand clenching into a tight fist under her thigh.

“Sure, you did.” Ian continued excitedly, blind to the growing darkness in Fatin’s eyes - Dorothy watching her warily. “Leah wouldn’t shut up about it for like a full month! Come on, she made that stupid joke when you asked to borrow a tampon? She made me re-enact that moment over and over again to work out if she’d said it wrong. I had to give her a ‘Fatin-warning’ for weeks as she was so embarrassed about running into you again.”

“I don’t…” Fatin shook her head, voice noticeably cracking, “I don’t remember that.”

“Oh.” Ian deflated, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “Well, it was barely an interaction.”

“Uh huh…” Fatin mumbled, getting to her feet jerkily, head buzzing and heart turning to stone. 

“Fatin?” Dorothy called out after her.

“I’m just getting another drink.” Fatin replied, waving her hand dismissively back over her shoulder to discourage being followed.

She had one drink and then another and then another and then-

She was tugged onto the dance floor, hands sliding over her hips, Leah’s breath warm against her ear. She leant back against the tall body behind her; it didn’t feel quite right but it had been a while.

Maybe she’d forgotten? 

Leah’s hands slipped lower, trailing down her sides to flirt with the end of her short red dress.

Fatin pressed further backwards, recoiling slightly at the waft of aftershave.

Vanilla, Leah always had that slight smell of vanilla, didn’t she?

Fingertips, far too rough, pressed against her thigh.

Fatin opened her eyes and glanced back over her shoulder, hoping to see blue and finding hazel.

“Get off of me!” Fatin shouted, pushing away from the guy so fiercely that she fell forwards landing heavily on her hands and knees. The guy leaned down to help and apologise but she batted his hands away, “Get off! Don’t touch me!”

He backed away immediately, hands up and eyes wide, as Fatin scrambled away.

“Fatin? Are you okay?”

Dorothy was suddenly there, helping her up and guiding her out of the crowd.

Shelby and Ian were nearby, ready to rush forward if further help was required.

Once clear of the people, Fatin shoved Dorothy away, staggering towards the front door, needing the cool evening air.

“Fatin?”

Fatin gulped down the fresh air, wiping away the tears that were rolling down her cheeks with the back of her hand, she stumbled towards the road, Dorothy jogging after her, ready to pull her back but Fatin merely collapsed, sitting on the edge of the pavement.

“Fatin, what happened?” Dorothy asked, slowly moving to sit next to her, keeping a respectful distance.

Fatin wrapped her arms tight around herself, looking up at the night sky - the stars that had become so familiar on the island barely visible here. “I didn’t want him touching me.”

“You seemed fine with it at first.” Dorothy murmured, gently probing.

“That's because…” Fatin laughed harshly, shaking her head. “I thought it was Leah, I pretended it was Leah.” Fatin admitted, “And then realised it wasn’t and that she’s… she’s not here and I miss her so much and what if I forget her?”

The tears came thick and fast then because she now knew she had forgotten Leah before, and the idea of doing it again, of going back to not knowing what it was like to love Leah, scared the everlasting shit out of her.

“Hey, we all miss her.” Dorothy soothed. “But having a good time doesn’t mean you stop missing her. And one party or one guy isn’t going to erase Leah.”

“You don’t get it.”

Dorothy frowned, expression twisting with hurt at the dismissal, “I get that you have feelings for Leah. I’m not blind, Fatin, but no one expects you to put your life on pause, no one expects you to-”

“I want her to expect it!” Fatin yelled, turning to face her best friend, letting her see the full emotion she'd been holding inside over the last couple of months. “I want her to assume I’ll wait. I want her to believe me when I said I loved her. Just her.”

Dorothy’s jaw dropped, realisation dawning, the missing piece of the puzzle slotting into place, “Fatin, you-... When?”

“The night before…” Fatin’s hands moved to cover her stomach which was aching like a bitch after the excitement of earlier.

“Fuck,” Dorothy breathed, expression crumpling, “why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was going to.” Fatin confessed, licking her lips before swallowing thickly “That’s why I was… That’s why I was coming to see you that day. To tell you. It’s why I wasn’t paying attention, I was thinking about Leah.”

A comforting arm settled around her shoulders, pulling Fatin into Dorothy’s warmth. “Dude. It’s not your fault .” Dorothy emphasised, cutting to the heart of the matter in an instant. “What’s it going to take for you to believe that?”

“For Leah to tell me it.” Fatin revealed, head dropping to rest on Dorothy’s shoulder. “I want her to expect more from me. I want to expect more from me.”



2nd September 2020

 

“I didn’t know it could be like this…” Fatin breathed, feeling warm and cared for with Leah draped against her back and lips pressed to the skin below her ear.

“Like what?” Leah questioned, voice so husky that Fatin couldn’t help but curl back slightly further into Leah’s body.

“More.” Fatin confessed.

The arm around Fatin’s waist tensed, “Fatin, you don’t need to like…” Leah let out a tired sigh, “I know I don’t match up.”

Fatin scowled immediately, head snapping round to look over her shoulder, meeting gentle blue. “Match up?”

Leah shrugged, side of her mouth downturning on one side, “I’m not exactly… high skill level…”

Fatin’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times as she tried to comprehend the sheer stupidity of what Leah was saying, “Did you leave the room when I came? Did you not hear me screaming your name?”

Leah blushed instantly, coughing out a strangled, “I… heard .”

Fatin twisted round so they were fully facing each other, hand reaching out to cup Leah’s face. “You don’t match up; you don’t need to.” Fatin murmured, “It’s not the same thing. You and them.”

“It’s not?” Leah raised a curious eyebrow.

“Of course not.” Fatin scoffed, before cringing, “Fuck, I’m going to have to say the fucking mushiest shit I’ve ever said in my entire life.” Fatin took a deep breath, centering herself, “It was fucking with them, Leah. Whereas this… ugh… god, I’m gonna hurl… was making love .”

Leah laughed, expression lighting up with affection.

Fatin rolled her eyes, grinning in return even as her hand slipped from Leah’s cheek to cover the other girl’s face playfully. “Stop laughing.”

“I’m sorry, you just look like someone is about to give you a root canal.” Leah chuckled lightly.

“It’s fucking cheesy. I’ve become the girl I fucking mock.” Fatin groaned, flopping onto her back.

“I like cheesy.” Leah commented. “I especially like it when you’re cheesy.”

“You do?” Fatin checked.

“Mmhmm,” Leah murmured, dropping kisses to Fatin’s warm cheeks, “It makes me feel special. Loved.”

“Good,” Fatin declared, “because you are.”



29th November 2020

 

“I’ve started swimming again.”

“You have?” Fatin asked, perking up against her pillows, as she peered into the screen of her phone; Rachel shrugged, a poor attempt at nonchalance on the other side. “How’s that… uh… going?”

“It’s…” Rachel hesitated, choosing her words carefully. “Good. It’s good. It’s just a few laps in a pool in the morning but it helps clear my head. I only go whenever I want , as soon I start to feel like I’m doing it for others I stop. Or if I feel like I’m doing it to hide from things. I’m trying to… recapture how I felt at the start, you know? Before it became… everything .”

“Yeah, I get that.” Fatin chuckled, glancing over at her cello in the corner. 

“You playing?” Rachel asked, immediately picking up on exactly where Fatin’s mind had gone.

“A little. For school and just to like… get back in shape.” Fatin replied. 

She’d picked it a couple of weeks ago, fingertips blistering after a single session, joints aching from the stretch. Her mother had brought it up quietly one afternoon. She didn’t demand or order Fatin to play but reminded her instead of the opportunities the cello could provide. 

Fatin got decent grades at school, nothing scholarship worthy, and she had no particular future in mind so one Saturday morning she’d picked it up and played. Her mind emptied whilst doing it, muscle memory surging to take over and letting Fatin drift away - it was soothing, yet oddly hollow.

She played to regain skill and confidence but there was nothing more to it. 

(There was no soul-crushing pressure from her mother anymore either, which was also nice.)

It wasn’t like when she was a child, enthused to learn, and consuming new pieces with pride and excitement. Putting on shows for her parents every time she learned something new.

When had she lost that?

When had it become such a chore?

When her mother started to value her skills more than her? 

When it became her defining descriptor?

Fatin Jadmani: cellist .

“Yeah, but…”

“It doesn’t make you happy.” Rachel guessed.

“It used to.” Fatin muttered. “How do you… how do you just go back to that? Reclaim it?”

“What was it you liked about it before?”

“I… I don’t know.” Fatin admitted, memories fuzzy or written over by the hours of forced playing.

“That’s the question you need to answer.” Rachel explained. 

“What was it for you? Why did you love it first? Before it became about…”

“Making my parents notice me?” Rachel smiled unashamed; she’d settled over the last few weeks, therapy going well and her parents working hard to make her feel valued. Nora was on house arrest, her involvement in the experiment requiring oversight. She’d made a deal by sharing everything she knew; her young age and how obviously she had been manipulated meaning she got considerable community service and a mark in her record but no jail time. 

Rachel and Nora were working to repair their fractured relationship, but it was a slow process.

“Yeah.” Fatin winced.

“I liked the weightlessness.” Rachel confessed, “The floating, it always made me feel… free. Freedom, that’s why I liked it.”

“That’s a pretty good reason.”

“The second it becomes a cage… I stop.” Rachel announced, nodding her head firmly, the rule absolute. “Fatin, don’t trap yourself again, we went through too much only for us to spend time doing shit we don’t like. And if that’s not enough… Leah wouldn’t want that for you.”

Fatin tilted her head to the side, studying Rachel’s blank face. “You know, don’t you?”

“Know what?”

“About Leah and me.” Fatin murmured.

“Yeah… she told me. The morning we were rescued.” Rachel shook her head, face falling. “She was really fucking happy.”

“She was?” Fatin swallowed thickly, biting her bottom lip as a wave of emotion swelled up in her chest.

“Practically insufferable.” Rachel grunted. “She wouldn’t want you to be miserable, Fatin.”

Fatin nodded, but said nothing else, not trusting herself to maintain her facade of composure.

“Talk soon?” Rachel checked.

“Obvi.” Fatin replied, flashing the other girl a wide (fraudulent) grin.

The call ended and Fatin slumped back against the pillows eyeing her cello in the corner. 

What had she loved about it?

She pushed herself off her bed, and wandered over to it, sitting in the nearby chair before positioning it between her legs. She let the bow arc over the strings, a pure note echoing around her room before falling silent.

She’d loved creating something beautiful. The sense of achievement had been overwhelming.

She didn’t think she could recreate that anymore.

Anything she played could be beautiful, fingers too skilled and ear tuned to perfection. There was no challenge, mitigating the satisfying victory that inevitably followed. 

So what else?

Leah’s face popped into her head then, like it tended to whenever she allowed her thoughts to wander. She remembered Leah’s fingers skittering over her back, and she plucked the strings in time to the rhythm.

She remembered Leah’s laugh, high and chaotic; the bow flying sharply over the strings, jarring yet joyful.

She remembered Dorothy lying back, indulging in reading and leisure after a life of hard work; soft, long notes resounding around her room.

She remembered the thrill of figuring out the island, the truth, vindication and justice for Leah within reach; the notes, layering and swelling, building and building.

She remembered laying back on a bed, blue eyes blinking up a her between her legs, her chest feeling expansive like there was a whole galaxy inside of her heart; the notes crescendoed,crashing together in ecstatic release and-

There it is. 

Her reason for playing. The reason she’d fallen in love with the cello all those years ago.

The emotion it could express that she struggled to sometimes, the feelings she could release in a safe way when her mother looked at her too assessingly or her dad gave those hints - that she hadn’t understood at the time - which revealed he’d rather be somewhere else.

Fatin exhaled slowly, pulling out her phone and looking up sheet music for Ben Folds.



2nd September 2020

 

“What time is it?” 

Fatin reached over and grabbed her watch, yawning as she read the time, “A little after three.”

“We’re going to be wrecked tomorrow.” Leah commented.

“Fucking worth it.” Fatin grinned, pulling the blanket up over their bodies, before replacing her watch back on the table.

“Definitely.” Leah agreed readily, taking Fatin’s hand and interlacing their fingers. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Pretty sure you can ask me anything at this stage.” Fatin admitted, surprising herself with her own honesty. She had nothing to hide from Leah, and she wouldn’t want to even if she did.

“Do we tell the others? About us?” Leah queried, expression simply curious, no hint of worry in her blue eyes. “It’s okay if you want to keep it between us.”

Fatin’s lips pressed together uncertainly; did she want to tell the girls? 

She wanted to tell Dorothy, and possibly Shelby. She wanted Dorothy to roll her eyes and call her a sap, and be there to put her right if she ever got her head stuck up her own ass. She knew Leah probably wanted to tell Rachel for the exact same reasons.

She didn’t even mind the girls knowing as individuals. It was the group dynamic she was afraid of fucking up. She’d finally found her people, those she just fit with, and there was a small pool of fear that this - her and Leah together - could potentially compromise that. 

Shelby and Toni were civil but there was a slight awkwardness whenever they interacted, like an orchestra with a single instrument out of tune - the main sound carried, but occasionally you’d hear the wrong note and the whole thing would seem so fragile .

“Fatin?” Leah prompted gently when Fatin had stayed silent for a long time.

“I don’t know.” Fatin confessed, tensing up immediately, knowing it was probably not the answer Leah wanted to hear.

“That’s okay.” Leah reassured, pressing a quick kiss to Fatin’s forehead, easing away the furrows that had appeared.

“What if it changes things?” Fatin asked shyly.

“It most definitely will change things.” Leah replied simply.

“You know what I mean.” Fatin sighed, rolling her eyes. “What if-”

“You know, Dot and I went for a walk last week, to check the security of the bunker.” Leah revealed thoughtfully.

Fatin blinked at the interruption and sudden subject change. “Uhh… yeah, I remember…”

“Well, I kept pointing out all these random flaws. Like the doors could be taken down with a battering ram, the electricity could be cut, our water supply could be poisoned, the vents all went through one central point so we could easily be gassed and on and on and on.”

“Leah,” Fatin began, voice as tender as she could make it.

“I know what you’re going to say and Dot already beat you to it.” Leah reassured, squeezing their joined hands. “She told me that my imagination blew her away, and that she would always want me on her team.” Leah smiled shyly to herself, clearly touched by this statement which endeared Fatin greatly, “However, I used my superpowers to only ever see the bleakest of futures. And, maybe, I shouldn’t just plan for the worst, but hope for the best too.” Leah shuffled closer to Fatin, pressing their lips together in a slow, languorous kiss. “I want to hope for the best with you.”

“I want to hope for the best with you, too.” Fatin breathed. “We can tell the girls tomorrow at dinner?”

“Rachel will be pissed if I don’t tell her first.”

“You can tell Rachel beforehand, if I can tell Dorothy.”

“Deal.” Leah agreed, sealing it with another kiss.



24th December 2020

 

“How are you all doing?” Fatin asked Dorothy once everyone had started to settle after eating their body weight in food.

Dorothy sipped her drink, ducking her head so her hair fell to hide her face, “As well as can be expected. We’re all missing people and this day… reminds of you that more than most.”

Fatin wrapped an arm around her best friend’s shoulders and pulled her tight into her side. 

Fatin, her mother and brothers were over at the Rilkes for the evening. Whilst her family didn’t celebrate Christmas, they recognised the cultural significance and wanted to be there for those they cared for. Rana was talking amicably with Maryann over a bottle of wine in the kitchen, whilst Shelby and the boys, including Kurt, were playing Mario Kart. 

“Maryann and Shelby spent all day cooking and baking.” Dorothy said; and Fatin couldn’t help pulling a face, the dining room table still loaded to buckling point even after they all attacked the feast with gusto. “Kurt took me to work in the garage. We kept busy.” Dorothy shrugged, “Not quite happy-happy Christmas but not… not bad all things considered.”

Fatin hummed in response, wondering what Christmas normally looked like in the Rilke household when Leah was here. 

“What would you and your Dad do?” Fatin asked, trying to push away thoughts of Leah for the time being - if she thought about Leah alone on Christmas she would be of no use to anyone and Dorothy needed her tonight.

Dorothy said nothing and Fatin presumed that she wasn’t going to respond when-

“He watched cheesy Christmas films. And I mean cheesy . Like hallmark-level cheese.” Dorothy revealed, voice becoming scratchy. “I fucking hated them but Dad would always make me watch at least one. Then, he would put on Christmas classics, chorus pieces and hum along to each one under his breath as we talked into the night.”

“Not very heavy metal…” Fatin commented lightly, wrapping both arms around Dorothy as silent tears slipped down the other girl’s cheeks.

“I know, right?” Dorothy chuckled wetly. “I really fucking miss him.” 

Fatin didn’t bother saying ‘I know’ because whilst she’d lost her Dad in one way, she had no concept of that endless grief which resided in her best friend. (She refused to think of Leah as lost forever). So instead, Fatin said something she knew was true without a shadow of doubt. “He’d be so proud of you.”

“I know he would. He was great like that.” Dorothy hiccuped. 

Fatin brushed away the tears with her thumb and then pressed a kiss to Dorothy’s forehead.

“He would have really liked you.”

Fatin smiled at that, “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Dorothy affirmed with a sniff. “I’m going to go clean this mess up.” Dorothy gestured to her tear-stained cheeks.

“You want company?” Fatin offered.

“Nah. I’ll be quick.” Dorothy mumbled, getting to her feet, patting Shelby’s shoulder reassuingly when the blonde noticed her puffy cheeks, “Sub me in once I’m back.” Dorothy requested, gesturing to the controller. 

“Of course, Dottie.” Shelby promised.

Fatin let out a heavy sigh, watching her brothers compete for first place on the screen. The phone rang in the hallway, and Kurt got up to answer it at the same time Rana and Maryann wandered in from the kitchen.

“It’s my Mom.” Kurt replied when Maryann raised a curious eyebrow at him.

Maryann pulled a sympathetic face before her and Rana took the empty spaces on the sofa next to Fatin.

“Kurt’s going to be a while, his mother goes through at least fifty tangents when telling any story.” Maryann said when the race finished and the boys looked around to hand-over the controllers; Dorothy arrived just in time to play in Kurt’s place.

They watched Dorothy and Shelby juke it out, Fatin’s brothers cheering for Dorothy despite knowing full well she stood no chance against the reigning champ. A couple of laps in, Maryann complimented Fatin yet again on her performance at the winter showcase - her and Kurt had attended and even bought her flowers. Fatin was preparing for her Juilliard audition that was set to occur early next year, Maryann listened attentively, Rana chipping in every now and again to share a story from Fatin’s childhood. 

Maryann and Kurt had gotten them all presents, a new game for the boys, perfume for Rana and a small silver locket for Fatin, when she opened it, she found a picture of Leah inside - she’d put it on immediately and intended to never take it off until she had the real thing to look at. The Rilke’s had then been generous to Dorothy and Shelby, getting them a pile of presents each to open on Christmas morning tomorrow.

Fatin had given the girls their presents already, Shelby a nice makeup kit and her own handheld gaming console whilst Dorothy got tickets to two different concerts that Fatin knew she was desperate to see.

“Alright, Mom, love you. Yes, we’re taking good care of each other, I promise.” Kurt finally said, attempting to wrap up the seemingly never-ending conversation.

Fatin glanced over to him, watching him pace in the hallway, her attention drawn for some unknown reason. 

 “I’ll call you tomorrow, I’ve got a go, there’s a call waiting. Bye, Mom.” Kurt let out a heavy sigh that had the women chuckling in commiseration. “Hello? Hello? Anyone there?”

“Who is it?” Maryann asked, perking up on the sofa.

“Don’t know, the call dropped.” Kurt shrugged, putting the phone back in its holder and returning to his spot next to the boys. 

“Probably my sister, I love her to pieces but she is technology illiterate. She’ll phone back tomorrow.” Maryann sighed in exasperation, before turning back to Fatin, “Do you want to borrow another book?”

“Yes please.” Fatin agreed instantly, ignoring how sharp the feeling of loss was at that moment.

Chapter Text

2nd September 2020

 

“How did you do it?” Fatin asked quietly, the two of them facing each other on their sides, eyes blinking long and slow - their exhaustion catching up with them, sleep now captured behind fleetingly closed lids only to snap open to steal another glance. “How did you keep going, keep fighting even when… even when you were on your own? Even when no one - when I - didn’t believe you?”

Leah’s lips pressed into a thin line, gaze turning distant and Fatin couldn’t resist reaching out to tuck loose hair behind an ear before stroking the side of Leah’s face with her fingertips.

“I didn’t for a long time in the middle there.” Leah replied wryly, softening the bleakness of the revelation by turning into Fatin’s touch, lips pressing against the inside of her wrist in a way that felt like absolution.

“Leah-” 

“Don’t.” Leah whispered the plea, blue eyes wide and so light. “Don’t apologise anymore, please. It’s not your fault, none of it was. What’s it going to take for you to believe me?” 

Fatin inhaled a shaky breath, “Keep telling me.”

“I can do that.” Leah assured, pressing another kiss to Fatin’s wrist. “Every morning when I woke up in the bunker I told myself I wasn’t crazy.” Leah confessed, prompting an almost indiscernible flinch from Fatin. “That it wasn’t all in my head and I had to fight. I told myself over and over again until I believed it. It meant they couldn’t get to me in the interviews. It meant that they could twist everything they liked, could come after every open wound but they couldn’t… they couldn’t touch that. I made it the thing I was more sure of than the sun-rising. My absolute truth and nothing they ever did could touch that. That’s how I kept going. I made myself believe.”

“You’re incredible, did you know that?” Fatin breathed in awe.

Leah grinned, “Are you sure I’m not just stubborn?”

“Aw, baby, I’m the stubborn one in this relationship and don’t you forget it.” Fatin replied, before capturing Leah’s lips with her own.



31st December 2020

 

The girls had arrived a few days earlier; Fatin swept up into crushing hug after crushing hug (she wouldn’t have been surprised to find she’d cracked a rib). They were all crashing at Fatin’s, her brothers, staying with her Dad, had kindly offered up their bedrooms to be used. Toni and Martha shared one room, Dorothy and Shelby another, whilst Rachel bunked with Fatin. Rana kept out of their way, other than to make sure the house was fully stocked. 

They spent most of their time catching up on each other’s lives. Fatin, Shelby and Dorothy showed them round the Bay, they even took a day trip into San Francisco, cycling across the golden gate bridge and exploring the pier. 

Martha was dancing again, and put on a performance for them after much begging. She was planning on attending the local college, wanting to stay close to home and family next year, with an interest in studying social care or conservation. 

Toni was playing basketball again, her ban lifted after a recommendation from her counsellor who said it would be good for her recovery with the assurances that her anger seemed more controlled than before. She was hoping for a scholarship but keeping surprisingly quiet on where she would like to attend - though it was obvious from the long looks she cast towards Shelby that her answer was subject to change depending on the blonde’s own plans.

Rachel had started volunteering, working with children and teaching swimming. It was a suggestion from Nora, who had crossed paths with a few different organisations through her community service and thought it would suit her. Rachel was planning to take a break before college, maybe skipping it all together, dedicating more time to one of the groups she was working with. 

Nora wasn’t with them; Fatin hadn’t extended an invitation and Rachel hadn’t asked her to. She felt guilty about it, thinking of Nora at home alone but then she thought of Leah on a beach or in a cave completely isolated and any regret she felt washed away pretty quickly. 

They decided to keep New Year's Eve to themselves despite an invitation to one of Colby’s biggest parties to date. They all got dressed up; Rana turning a blind eye on her way out the door to the alcohol Fatin and Dorothy had managed to swindle for the evening.

Rana was attending a work-organised New Year’s Eve party; Fatin’s desire to have the house to herself provided Rana the much-needed motivation to start going out without her social husband on her arm.

“Listen up, bitches. Booze is on ice, please help yourselves - that means you, Martha, I’m expecting full on wild Martha waking up on the roof spooning a mannequin.” Fatin ordered, giving Martha a quick side-hug as she swooped by, moving to push open the patio doors providing them free-movement from the living room to the garden and pool outside.

“I miss Marcus.” Martha sighed despondently.

“I can give you a far more satisfying plastic companion to ease the loneliness,” Fatin offered, eyebrows wiggling suggestively even as she accepted a cup of vodka and mixer from Dorothy who was serving everyone with the help of Shelby, “available in a range of colours and sizes.”

Martha frowned in confusion, “Why do you have that many mannequins?”

“Oh, sweetie, I meant-”

“Stop corrupting Marty.” Toni interrupted, rushing over to her best friend’s side, hands coming up to cover her ears, “Don’t listen to her.”

“But-” Martha began.

“Drinking games!” Shelby called out, arms raised, lifting two red cups up high, “I have learnt so many new ones.”

Toni’s brow furrowed immediately, hands slipping away from Martha to plant on her own hips, “You have? From who?”

Shelby blushed, voice strangled, “Oh… uh… just some friends. A friend. Friends.”

Fatin bit her lip to keep from laughing, remembering how many nights Shelby had spent with Ashleigh and her theatre clique over the last couple of months since halloween. 

Toni’s jaw worked painfully, before she let out a tense, “Cool…”

Shelby cleared her throat, shoving one of her cups into Rachel’s hand, blue eyes wide and pleading, “Ring of fire, everyone?”

They smashed their way through Ring of Fire, before setting up a mini tournament of Beer Pong by the pool. Rachel and Martha proving to be the deadliest combo, running rings around Fatin and Shelby, and Toni and Dorothy. No one mentioned how Martha’s obviously superior hand-eye coordination was probably a translation over from her hunting abilities. 

Next came the obvious Never Have I Ever - the girls already knew nearly all of each other’s secrets but there was still something gleeful about stumbling upon new ones that had been created during their time apart or making each other blush with personally directed ones. 

Admittedly, some enjoyed the game more than others - Toni stormed off upon seeing Shelby sip after ‘never have I ever had sex in the backseat of a car’. They switched to truth or dare next, which helped bring everyone back together especially when Dorothy was dared to skinny deep (surprisingly not a challenge set by Fatin) and immediately did so without hesitation even managing to convince Rachel to jump in with her.

“Can I ask something?” Martha asked once they were all back in a group sitting on the edge of the pool, feet dipped into the water; Dorothy and Rachel swaddled in towels, a minor reprieve from the drinking settling over them as they simply appreciated being reunited under the stars.

“Sure, sweetie.” Fatin said, rocking to the side to affectionately nudge her. 

Martha bit her lip, gaze sweeping the faces of the other girls as she asked quietly, “How come we don’t talk about Leah?” 

Fatin tensed immediately, the water suddenly icy around her ankles as the images she’d managed to repress swept forward - Leah alone on a beach with a small fire counting down to the new year, wiping away tears with a fist as she wondered why no one had found her yet.

“I mean I know she’s…” Martha slumped, eyes downcast, “I know we don’t know what’s happening to her but… she’s family and we don’t talk about her. And… I kind of hate it.”

“It’s just hard, Marty.” Toni murmured, immediately catching Fatin’s scrutinising gaze and wincing.

The closest Fatin had ever come to falling out with any of the girls since returning home had been a month ago. She’d been catching up with Toni, who was feeling bitter and frustrated about her Shelby situation, aware - because Shelby talked to Martha and Martha talked to Toni - that Fatin had encouraged Shelby to have fun with other people. 

Fatin should have picked up on her friend’s mood, gently disengaged and called back at another time but she was aching in all the wrong ways. Missing Leah and drowning in guilt which made her prickly and raring for a fight. When Toni sniped and snarked - her heart obviously breaking -, accusing Fatin of meddling and fucking up her and Shelby’s relationship - Fatin had given it back tenfold.  

Fatin unleashed her inner bitch that she only let out on fuckboys at school who refused to give her space or the uppity cows who dared to make bitchy comments about her friends. She’d called Toni out on her failings with Shelby and her cowardice to fix it.

Toni had snarled and… 

Fatin wasn’t sure how Leah came into it. The girls all knew in their own way that Leah was Fatin’s soft underbelly, her unprotected vulnerable spot, and Toni stabbed for it in a desire to make Fatin hurt in the same way she was.

So Toni - filter ripped to pieces and heart bleeding on the phone - said the one thing all the girls thought but not one of them would ever dare say, ‘we all know she’s dead by now which means she’s at least missed the second fucking coming of your raging bitchiness.’

The silence that followed was putrid and Toni’s sharp breath inward revealed how instantaneous the regret following those words had been.

Fatin hung up immediately and screamed into her pillow for so long and for so loud that her Mother pushed her way into Fatin’s room and held her whilst she cried, brothers peering in through the doorway with fearful expressions.

Toni sent so many text apologies that Fatin’s phone died from the notification overload. She also sent a hand-written letter, filled with curse words but undeniably sweet and sincere. Fatin accepted her apology but they had been tense since, on edge, which made it all the easier for Toni to realise that there had been more to Fatin’s and Leah’s relationship than met the eye. It’s why Toni had kindly steered the revealing drinking games earlier that night away from Fatin and her relationship history whenever possible, even when it meant confronting Shelby’s recent dalliances in exchange.

“We miss her,” Toni confessed, holding eye contact with Fatin the entire time, “and we’re… scared that something bad might have happened to her, you know?”

Fatin smiled gratefully at Toni, who she knew from the letter she kept alongside all of the infinitely precious keepsakes she had of the other girls that Toni still held herself responsible for not stopping Leah from making the deal with Gretchen on the second island.

“I know, I get that…” Martha nodded, “but it’s important. She’s important and she shouldn’t be just… ignored.”

A heavy hush fell over them, the distant sounds of other people celebrating the new year in the houses nearby drifting on the breeze.

“You’re right.” Dorothy declared after a thoughtful pause, straightening up and drawing the gaze of all the other girls to her. “She’s right.” Dorothy affirmed looking between all of them until they nodded in agreement.

Rachel cleared her throat and everyone looked over to her immediately.

“Leah and I tried out loads of other songs before we settled on Home.” Rachel said, feet kicking gently back and forth in the water. “We would practise and get halfway through one before we realised we couldn’t remember the rest of the words.” Rachel let out a snort of fond amusement, “Leah claims to be this indie music obsessed hipster, but do you know what songs she knew all the words to? And could actually repeat fluently without any prompt?”

“Uh… Taylor Swift?” Shelby guessed.

“Pink?” Toni suggested.

“Eminem.” Rachel revealed earning gasps of shock and disbelief. “Fucking kid you not. Dude, could fucking recite ‘Lose Yourself’ perfectly.”

“Fuck me, really?” Fatin laughed, heart swelling inside her chest with affection even as it ached with loss.

“And The Real Slim Shady.” Rachel added.

“Why the fuck didn’t you sing that instead!?” Toni demanded, utterly outraged.

“Didn’t think it would be the right tone.”

“We are so making her perform that when she’s back, right?” Toni checked, looking desperately around as if she had the intention to make them vote then and there on it. 

“Definitely.” Fatin agreed rapidly, imagining her lanky-limbed love (maybe she’d drank more than she thought) bobbing up and down out of rhythm as she somehow managed to rap flawlessly.

“What do you think she’s doing?” Martha asked innocently, “I mean right now?”

It was obviously asked with the best of intentions but regardless, it caused a noticeable chill to descend - all of their thoughts turning to the darkness they knew Leah must have been battling, a battle she had lost twice in the past.

“Knowing Leah,” Dorothy said slowly, each word measured and certain, “she’s probably fucked the experiment for Gretchen so much the old bitch has gone prematurely bald from stress.”

And that was exactly what Fatin needed to hear. 

“Bet she’s fucking ripped.” Rachel mused, “Girl was getting amazing abs on the island, imagine the muscle she’ll pack on now. She’ll come back and have like an entire flock of lesbians drooling over her.” 

“You noticed her abs?” Fatin inquired, tone sharp and eyebrow raised.

“And jealous Jadmani makes her first appearance!” Rachel cheered, all the other girls joining in with hollers of their own. 

“We missed that grumpy face.” Dorothy cooed, reaching out to pinch Fatin’s heated cheeks.

“Fuck off.” Fatin grumbled, swatting at Dorothy’s hand.

“I bet she’s written an entire novel in the sand,” Shelby said, “a full-on best seller and when they find her, she’ll make them take photos of it before getting out of there.”

“I bet she’ll have learned an awesome new skill,” Martha declared, bouncing up and down excitedly, “can you imagine if they gave her a deck of uno cards and she comes back having taught herself magic tricks?”

“That one!” Toni cackled, “She’ll come back with lame ass magic tricks that she’ll show off to anyone in her vicinity. Full on cringe level shit!”

“It would be adorable!” Martha defended.

“Only you and Fatin would think that.” Rachel drawled.

“Hey!” Fatin spluttered indignantly.

Rachel shook her head at her, “Don’t even bother trying to defend yourself, you’re the biggest simp I’ve ever seen.”

Fatin’s jaw dropped as she looked between her so-called friends who were all laughing, “What’s with the ganging up on me, bitches?”

“It’s not ganging up,” Dorothy explained, patting her heartily on the back, “it’s called teasing with love.”

“Teasing usually has a fun climax.” Fatin shot back, puckering her lips in the direction of her best friend, “Hope you’re planning on delivering that, Dorothy.”

“In your dreams, Jadmani.”

“You always are.”

“Fucking liar.”

“I’m getting us more drinks.” Shelby announced, getting to her feet and effectively disrupting the banter that could have gone on for another ten minutes.

“I’ll give you a hand.” Toni offered, practically shooting up as well, lacking any and all chill - Fatin couldn’t believe that she was supposedly the biggest simp of the group when Shalifoe was doing her best impersonation of a puppy.

Shelby smiled shyly as Toni walked around to join her, both of their cheeks blushing pink as they headed inside, hands brushing against one another.

Fatin waited a beat until the two of them were out of earshot, “Alright, taking bets. How long until they’re banging on the kitchen table?”

“Five minutes max.” Rachel answered.

It was ten minutes and thankfully they retreated upstairs.

The newly reacquainted couple rejoined them an hour later, the girls had started playing a drinking-game version of uno - the rules changing each round as their hazy memories failed to keep track of their newly created rules. Shelby burst into the game with an orgasm-fuelled exuberance that made Fatin consider disappearing for fifteen minutes with the vibrator she had bought herself upon returning home. The blonde Texan turned up the music - flirting with the edge of a noise complaint - before pulling all the girls to their feet and getting them dancing. 

Fatin joined in easily, stealing the show and getting the girls involved - waltzing with Martha around the living room and spinning Rachel under her arm. She laughed, even as her chest felt tight watching Shelby and Toni press against one another, smiles wide as they stole kisses between twirls. After an hour, and at least two renditions of them attempting to match the choreography of the Carly Rae Jepson song Kirin had seized minor internet acclaim for (Ivan had shared it with them as soon as they all got home), Fatin excused herself claiming the need for some rehydration.

“You disappeared on us, Jadmani.”

Fatin winced, looking up to find Rachel taking a seat next to her. Fatin had retreated back outside, feet playing in the pool as she sat on the edge sipping vodka and coke. She needed some time away, which is not something she often felt around the girls, but usually the girls included Leah who was touching her in some way - playing with her fingers, head against her leg - grounding Fatin when she didn’t even know she needed it.

“Not to like boost your already insane ego, but you kind of are the life of the party.” Rachel revealed with a grimace, clearly pained by her own honesty on this particular matter.

“Don’t I know it.” Fatin replied dryly, lacking the usual playful edge to her voice.

“I may not be sober enough for this but…” Rachel said slowly; Fatin could feel the other girl’s eyes intensely studying her profile, “Are you okay? Seriously?”

“I thought she would be back by now.” Fatin admitted in a single exhale.

Rachel nodded, “Me too.”

Fatin finished her drink, slapping it down on the side before her hands curled around the edge of the pool turning white knuckled, “It’s been a long time .” Fatin muttered, jaw clenching and unclenching. “Longer than anything we experienced. What if she’s-“

“She’s tough. Tougher than the rest of us ever gave her credit for.” Rachel cut in and Fatin had never been so grateful to be interrupted, to be spoken over. The alcohol had loosened her tongue and the sight of Shelby and Toni reunited had hit a sore spot she didn’t know she had  - a form of envy that she didn’t think she was capable of.

“Do you know what I tell myself every morning when I wake up?” Fatin whispered, swallowing back a lump in her throat as she peered into the clear water, pretending it was the edge of a waterfall and that if she just waited long enough, Leah would eventually break the surface and grin up at her. “I tell myself: today’s the day. Today’s the day they find her. Today’s the day she comes home. Today’s the day I get to see her again.”

“Fatin.” Rachel murmured sympathetically.

The water remained still and unbearably calm.

Fatin blinked, turning away from the lies she fed herself for a fleeting moment to meet Rachel’s own watery eyes. 

“I have to make myself believe that every morning because otherwise…” Fatin wiped away the tears that were rolling down her cheeks without permission. “Because otherwise, I don’t think I’d be able to get up.”



2nd September 2020

 

“You didn’t have to tell me that.” Fatin murmured, brow furrowed as she peered down at Leah, whose head was turned away.

“I wanted you to know.” Leah shrugged, lips a harsh flat line, and body tense. “You’ve already seen me at my worst so many times… what’s the harm in one more?”

“Leah-” Fatin began to soothe.

Finally, Leah’s head moved back round, eyes clearer than freshwater meeting concerned brown, whilst a pale hand captured and squeezed the hand resting on her sternum. 

“Don’t try and make it better.” Leah whispered earnestly. “I love you and you always try to make it better… make me better. But sometimes I need to just know I fucked up so I can do better next time.”

“And you did. You called Ian.” Fatin reminded her gently, before inhaling shakily, “Did you… did you want to call him ?”

“No.”

Fatin blinked, momentarily taken aback by the immediate and simple answer. “That was very certain.”

Leah smiled softly up at her, “A little while ago, someone gave me some great advice and I’ve been working hard to take it.”

“Let me guess Dorothy? She does have her inspired moments, I suppose.” Fatin mused. “Don’t tell the bitch I said that, she’ll get all sentimental.”

“Don’t be obtuse.” Leah sighed fondly.

“Baby,” Fatin whined, leaning down to steal a quick kiss, “don’t use fancy words when I’m in orgasm recovery and way overdue a nap.”

Leah grinned, blue eyes turning bright and joyous - Fatin’s favourite version of them. “Dream bigger, better…” Leah slowly rolled them so it was Fatin on her back and Leah peering down, noses rubbing tenderly against one another as she breathed out, “Different.”

“Ben Folds, sexiest man alive, am I right?” Fatin chuckled, even as her stomach performed a gymnastic routine.

“Agreed.” Leah nodded seriously, before tilting her head to the side thoughtfully. “Not the sexiest person alive though.”

“Oh?” Fatin hummed, eyebrow arching with interest.

“Yeah… I mean…” Leah dipped forward to press a kiss behind Fatin’s ear prompting a shudder, before murmuring huskily in her ear, “Have you seen Lana Del Rey?”

Fatin pouted immediately, letting out an aggrieved huff as she shimmied to the edge of the bed, “I still have a perfectly good bed back in my room. I might go and use it.”

“Grumpy.” Leah chuckled, arm wrapping round Fatin’s waist and tugging her back into bed and against a comfortingly warm body. “You’re beautiful. Breathtaking, even.” Leah whispered, tone suddenly serious as she kissed the side of Fatin’s head, hand splayed against Fatin’s stomach, maximising everywhere they could touch.

Fatin swallowed thickly, curling back into Leah in response.

She’d been called hot, attractive, sometimes even pretty but beautiful ? That wasn’t a word that she got gifted with very often; and never by someone who said it like Leah - like she meant it, like she wouldn’t attribute it to just anything.

Fatin pushed the swell of emotion down, aiming for levity, “And sexy?”

“That too.” Leah agreed, nuzzling into Fatin’s neck, “I know how it should really feel now.”

“How what should really feel?”

“Love.” Leah confessed, fingers so soft as they stroked Fatin’s skin - like she was something precious. “What I feel for you. It makes everything that came before… a shadow in comparison.”

“Ditto.”

“That’s what I get in return?” Leah laughed, “A big heartfelt statement and I get ‘ditto’ in return? Maybe I’ll go and use your bed.”

The threat was completely fraudulent, Leah’s arms that were wrapped around Fatin’s middle not loosening even slightly. Despite that, Fatin rushed to interlace their fingers, keeping Leah close.

“You love me and you’re not allowed to leave me ever again.” Fatin announced defiantly.

“I’m okay with that.” Leah admitted, and Fatin could feel how wide Leah’s smile was pressed against her shoulder.



22nd February 2021

 

“Is there anywhere you’d like to visit?” Rana inquired, sipping her coffee as Fatin finished eating her breakfast - her plate a random selection from the continental breakfast.

They’d arrived in New York late yesterday evening, grabbing a quick dinner in the hotel restaurant before crashing in their rooms. Her Juilliard audition was set for tomorrow morning, and today was her chance to settle and simply be a tourist. 

“I don’t mind.” Fatin shrugged despondently. 

“If you get in, this will be your home, aren’t you curious about what it has to offer?” Rana prodded gently.

If I get in.” Fatin repeated back, unable to build up the enthusiasm her mother and friends so desperately wished to see. 

Dorothy and Shelby had spent the last couple of weeks reading out loud from the Juilliard prospectus. Ian got involved by finding the funniest Juilliard reviews and spamming them to her (they made her laugh but didn’t ignite the excitement he wished to create). The Rilkes had even sent good luck messages and her brothers had already started to plan their New York visits for next year.

Fatin didn’t have it in her to explain how the thought of leaving the Bay Area whilst Leah was still missing made her physically sick and had induced at least two separate panic attacks.

“Fatin,” Rana began with a weary sigh, fingers rubbing her forehead to ease the tight lines.

“The Met.” Fatin offered up weakly, because her mother was truly trying and Fatin had learnt to appreciate people when they made an effort. “The Met would be cool, I guess.”

“Then we shall go there.” Rana nodded, flashing Fatin a smile that she returned half-heartedly.

The Met was impressive, and Fatin found herself resonating with the artwork far more than she anticipated. She’d picked it assuming she could snap photos and send ridiculous captions to the girls in the group chat whilst also knowing her mother would enjoy it. 

She hadn’t expected to like it, much less be moved by it.

It had to do with the island, the girls and Leah.

Different pieces drawing out swirls of emotion and memories. Violent reds and swirls of orange, was Rachel stumbling out of the bloody water - sun setting behind her. Pinks and purples were the girls swaddled in their eclectic clothing laughing by the fire. Black, blue and grey were Leah, stormy and captivating, backdropped by the waterfall. Green was home, a forest, life and growth - the girls solidifying into a family. 

It was draining as much as it was cathartic, and she couldn’t help but make an excuse to leave - offering to get coffee from a nearby Starbucks. Rana, on the precipice of reminding her that there was a perfectly good cafe in the gallery, recognised her daughter’s twitchiness and fatigue as signs she needed space and time and let her go without comment.

The Starbucks was heaving and the cacophony of noise and people lightly pushing to move the queue forward grated on Fatin’s already raw nerves. She distracted herself by messaging the girls - all of them quick to reply, knowing how important the next few days were for her. She was halfway to the counter, and finally turning a corner which allowed her to people-watch those already seated when she saw him. 

A banged up laptop that could almost be considered vintage, and an open black notebook to one side. His hair was longer than the black and white author photo in his book had been, more unkempt - clearly going for a windswept, rugged look. Fatin thought it just looked like a fucking a bird’s nest. He was dressed in nothing special, all unbranded and casual - leaning so heavily into trying to be hipster that he just looked like he didn’t fucking care about his appearance.

The snarl on Fatin’s face was immediate as was the blinding white hot rage that eclipsed her mind beyond anything she’d ever experienced before.

“You.” Fatin spat, shoving at the table causing Jeff to jerk back - eyes wide and hands raised in surrender before he realised it was a teenage girl, gaze turning scrutinising in a way that made Fatin want to punch him.

“Do I-” He began before cutting off, recognition blooming in his eyes. “You’re one of the girls from the island…” He muttered in surprise, his entire expression lighting up, “Have you heard anything about Le-”

“Don’t you fucking dare say her name.” Fatin whispered coldly, fingers curled into fists so tightly that even her short nails bit deep.

Jeff frowned, as if confused by her reaction, “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.” Fatin seethed. “Don’t ever say her name again.”

“Ah…” Jeff mumbled, looking over his shoulder to see if their were any onlookers before leaning forward into Fatin’s space, eyes plaintive and expression a disgusting facsimile of sympathetic, “Look, she lied about her age. She chased after me -”

“Fuck you.” Fatin interrupted sharply, jaw clenched tight and hands aching with the desire to strike, to hurt - she wouldn’t have cared for the legal consequences if it didn’t mean she would be separated from her phone, the one thing that would tell her the instant Leah was found. 

Her phone was her lifeline even more than it had been before the island - Maryann had promised if they heard any news that Fatin would be their very first call and Fatin dreaded missing that call. She kept a battery pack for her phone in her bag at all times just in case and would check her phone incessantly before bed.

“You knew she was in high school.” Fatin said slowly, teeth bared, “And what the fuck is the difference of a couple of months? If you’d known her age, I bet you would have just counted down the clock. I bet you would have fucking booked an hotel room the minute she turned eighteen.”

Fatin swallowed down the bile at her own words, at the images it provoked.

Jeff said nothing for a long moment, eyes sharp and assessing as he weighed up the best way to wriggle out of this situation. He sighed, and rubbed his neck, smiling forgivingly at Fatin like her actions were wild and illogical.

“You’re clearly going through something right now,” Jeff murmured gently - God, Fatin hated him - getting to his feet and collecting his laptop and notepad, “so I think it's best if I remove myself from this situation.”

“I think so too. But just so we’re absolutely fucking clear…” Fatin whispered hatefully, “when Leah gets back, don’t even think about reaching out. If you so much as breathe in her direction, I will hunt you down and I will destroy everything you hold dear.”

Jeff’s jaw clenched, nostrils flaring, “I think that will be for Leah to decide.”

Fatin grinned shark-like and victorious, “Leah’s already decided, and I will spend every day of the rest of my life making sure she never regrets that decision.”



2nd September 2020

 

“Would you play for me?” Leah requested shyly. “When we’re home?”

“You want to hear me play cello?” Fatin queried; it wasn’t exactly the sexiest of instruments and she had made her disdain for it overt by this stage.

“Yeah.” Leah nodded, expression earnest.

Fatin’s brow furrowed, something bristling in her chest - a part of her that tied her value to an inanimate object. “Why?” Fatin asked, wincing a second later at the sharpness lacing that singular word.

Leah didn’t flinch away from the harshness, head merely tilting to the side curiously, “Because it was a part of you. Because you loved it once. And I want to know all of you. Love all of you.”

Fatin exhaled slowly, the small child that hid away inside her with blistering fingertips and pleading eyes finally smiling bright and brilliant, suddenly eager to pick up and play. “I’m probably out of practice by now, I’ll sound terrible.”

“I highly doubt that.” Leah smiled, eyes crinkling with affection. “But you could sound like screeching cats in a washing machine for all I care. It’s not about if you’re good or not.”

“I’m fucking excellent and don’t you forget it.”

“I won’t.” Leah promised with a chuckle. “I mean it though.” She reached out, lifting up Fatin’s hand, lips touching fingertips that were steadily losing all traces of practice-hardened skin. “You could be fucking awful and I would still want to hear you play.”

“You just want to admire my finger dexterity.” Fatin huffed, though she knew her expression was undeniably fond.

“Obvi.” Leah replied, tone higher-pitched in a poor attempt at mimicry.

“God, you’re such a dork.” Fatin groaned.

“It takes one to know one.”

“Leah, seriously, that was the weakest comeback ever .” Fatin admonished. “My brothers have higher standards than that.”

“That’s not fair,” Leah pouted, “they’re Jadmanis.”

“Fucking right they are.” Fatin grinned, bursting with pride, and feeling settled in a way she had never experienced before.



23rd February 2021

 

Fatin finished packing away her cello and took a long deep breath before exiting the building. Her mother was waiting outside, pacing as she sipped from a coffee cup and fielded phone calls, the second she saw Fatin, though, Rana quickly said goodbye and hung up.

Her mother had been watching her closely since Fatin had returned to her in the Met with coffee from the gallery cafe, silent and brooding in a way she’d never been before.

Attempts at conversation had failed and Fatin had even stopped replying to the girls messages - head too loud and heart too heavy.

“How did it go?” Rana asked, reaching out tentatively to squeeze Fatin’s shoulder.

Her mother was getting better at that. The comforting physical contact. 

For years, her mother would only ever reach out to adjust her clothing or her hair, or to guide by the shoulder or tug her in different directions. Now, she reached out as if merely to confirm that Fatin was really there. Hugs were still infrequent but Fatin was slowly learning that her mother was waiting for her to ask - didn’t know where the line was in their relationship so sometimes Fatin needed to speak up and point it out to her. 

She’d had practice with Leah, in a way, had been on the other side. Had learned to ask, to check, to confirm because Leah was skittish after Jeff and, for a long time after Leah’s second attempt on her life, assumed her own touches weren’t welcome by Fatin. 

“Good. I think I got in.” Fatin replied, and for once her tone lacked all cockiness - it was merely assured, practically factual. She had finished her piece, mind playing out scene after scene of the island (of her family, of Leah) choreographed to the music her cello unleashed, and met the eyes of the assessors. She saw the wonder, the astonishment and knew without a doubt that she would be getting an offer.

“That’s fantastic, I’m so proud of you.” Rana smiled, fingers twitching on Fatin’s shoulder whilst her other arm jerked slightly with the obvious desire to hug.

Fatin didn’t hesitate to wrap her arms around her mother’s middle and rest her cheek on her shoulder. And maybe it was because of how tightly her mother squeezed her in return once granted permission to do so, maybe it was because she had achieved the ultimate goal set, maybe it was because the idea of heading towards a future without Leah at her side made her reckless, maybe it was because she was just feeling brave that day… but Fatin asked the one question that she had never truly wanted to know the answer to, the one question she’d always needed to know the answer to. 

“Would you still love me if I never played cello again?”

Rana stiffened, her empty to-go-coffee cup falling to the concrete with a light clatter; Fatin’s eyes closed immediately, breath shaky as she felt the oncoming pin-prickle of tears.

Slowly, with almost robotic precision, Rana pushed Fatin back - hands on her shoulders - stopping her from moving too far away.

Rana’s lips were pursed tight and brow furrowed as she studied Fatin’s face - and Fatin had never felt so young before. She remembered Leah in her arms asking for her mom and saying ‘me too’ and that was what this felt like. On the edge of something terrible and needing her mom to wrap her up tight and tell her everything would be okay.

“My darling Fatin,” Rana murmured, hands moving to cup Fatin’s face, thumbs stroking away traitorous tears that had escaped, “you could burn that cello tomorrow and never play a single note ever again, and I will love you just as much as I do today.”

Fatin gasped, legs shaky and a sob riptiding up her throat to freedom.

“I’m so sorry that I ever let you believe the opposite.” Rana breathed, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to Fatin’s forehead before wrapping her up tight in a hug.

“Mom,” Fatin choked out, burying her face in her mother’s designer coat, tears and snot marking the pristine condition.

“I am so proud of you, my darling child.” Rana repeated into her ear over and over again as Fatin trembled in her arms on the street, uncaring of the looks of passing by New Yorkers.

 

2nd September 2020

 

“Just think about it.” Fatin begged, fluttering her eyelashes at Leah as she rested her chin on the other girl’s sternum.

Leah rolled her eyes, not even remotely swayed by Fatin’s attempts at seductive manipulation. “I’m not third wheeling in yours and Dot’s apartment.”

“It’s less third wheeling and more like…” Fatin’s hand twirled in the air as she grappled for the right term, “we’re one really hot wheel together.”

“You’re really killing this metaphor.” Leah drawled, “And also, are you seriously trying to U-Haul after only one night? Who are you and what have you done with Fatin?”

Fatin scoffed, even as her cheeks heated up self-consciously, “Forgive me for wanting my orgasms on tap.”

Leah smirked - yet again a flash of confidence hitting Fatin far deeper than she anticipated, “Are you planning to chain me to your headboard?”

Fatin bit her bottom lip, “Would you be opposed?”

Leah hummed thoughtfully, “More like I would rather flip our positions in that scenario.”

Fatin’s mouth instantly dropped open, and a strangled sound of desire bubbled up her throat before she pushed it back into submission, “Me and you are going to have so much fun in the apartment we share with Dorothy.”

“Fatin.” Leah groaned, dramatically flinging her arm up to cover her face, “I kind of want to go to college before I become your live in orgasm dispenser.”

“You would be so much more than that, baby.” Fatin reassured, reaching out to tug Leah’s arm aside and pressing sweet kisses to blushing cheeks as they were revealed. “I’m an emotionally developed woman now, I require regular cuddling.”

“I can do that.” Leah agreed faux-gruffly.

“Yes, you can.” Fatin murmured, cuddling back into Leah’s arms and resting her cheek on Leah’s shoulder to underline her point. “What college? Do you want to go to that is?” Fatin inquired curiously, her mind silently ticking away in the background - adjusting and reorienting plans without question.

Leah hesitated, before admitting. “I always had my heart set on Berkeley.”

Fatin hummed in understanding, unsurprised by the answer even as it ran opposed to all the loose threads she’d imagined for her own future. “To study writing?”

“Hmm.”  Leah replied, before clearing her throat shyly. “Though… Columbia has always been on my radar.”

Fatin couldn’t help perking up at that, at the timid vulnerability Leah was displaying with such carefully chosen words that hid their true depth under a light tone.

“I mean,” Leah shrugged - the movement jerky and not quite natural, “don’t all writers want to spend some of their life in New York?”

“The majority do, at least.” Fatin said slowly, wanting each paving stone they laid towards their future to be placed with infinite care. “There’s a pretty famous music college in New York from what I hear.”

“Is there? Interesting.” Leah murmured, and Fatin could feel the exhale of relief that accompanied her reply. “UCLA is also pretty good.”

Fatin grinned, hiding her wide smile by rubbing it against Leah’s clavicle, “Now whose U-Hauling?”

“Just following the orgasms.” 

“Pfft.” Fatin laughed, lips pursing to leave a trail of grateful kisses on skin. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Leah reciprocated, fingers picking up their newly acquired favourite habit of pitter-pattering up Fatin’s spine. “And we’ve got time to choose and decide.”

“More like bicker and argue.”

“Most likely. I’m looking forward to it, though. Planning the future.”

Fatin’s eyes prickled at that, about someone wanting her for more than a night - for more than a single experience or activity. Someone wanting her for a future. “Ditto.” Fatin muttered, voice cracking slightly. “But we’ve got to get off this island first.”

“We will.” Leah said confidently, kissing the top of Fatin’s head before requesting, “Talk me to sleep?”

“Should I be concerned that my voice puts you to sleep?” Fatin questioned, even though she already knew that wasn’t the case. Nearly every night in the bunker and a number of nights on the island, Fatin would talk endlessly about random subjects (the history of the Kardashians, her favourite cello pieces, her brother's interests, her religion, her pet peeves) filling the sometimes unbearable quiet with her voice and lulling Leah to sleep.

“Your voice makes me feel safe.” Leah revealed, and Fatin….

Fatin had never felt prouder of herself than she did in that moment.



21st March 2021

 

“Dude!” Dorothy called out as she stomped into Fatin’s room early Sunday morning, face still carrying remnants of the make-up she’d worn the night before. “You totally bailed on us and I got dressed up and everything. Like my boobs were out there,” Dorothy gestured to her chest which was now covered by a concert tee, “and I had mentally prepared myself to deal with your wolf whistles all night.”

Fatin resisted the urge to slump down further in her bed, the most recent borrowed book from Maryann (The Song of Achilles), gently placed on the bedside table before she forced a salacious grin onto her face. “I just couldn’t contain myself around you.” Fatin replied with a woe-is-me tone, “It was for your own safety, Dorothy, trust me.”

Dorothy’s gaze narrowed and for a single beat, Fatin thought she’d gotten away with it. That Dorothy would indulge in their light-hearted banter and they would forget all about how Fatin had disappeared after only five minutes of being at prom despite spending hours helping Dorothy, Shelby and Ian get ready and booking a limo to take them. 

She’d forgotten, though, how much Dorothy cared about her (about all of them but her especially). How Dorothy would let her hide only so much before tugging her back out of the shadows when she needed it most.

“Dude, seriously.” Dorothy said quietly, settling on the edge of Fatin’s bed and reaching out to squeeze her hand beseechingly. “Talk to me.”

Fatin pulled her hand away, arms crossing defensively as she looked out the window - the sun streaming through the window. “It didn’t feel right.”

“Without Leah?” Dorothy asked needlessly.

“Yeah.”

Of course it didn’t fucking feel right. Fatin had never been a prom girl - had barely given it a second thought throughout high school unlike so many girls. The only time she ever thought about it was when she considered if her parents would let her rent a hotel room without raising a fuss. Realistically, her only expectation if she went, was to go with a guy that she could bail with after half-an-hour and spend the rest of time having sex in his car. 

But this year… this year that she had spent in love with a girl that had carried her heart far away, this year that she had spent with her two closest friends that were secretly hopeless romantics, had ignited new hopes and dreams within her. She had day-dreamed of prom in a way that so many others had. She imagined buying the perfect corsage, posing for photos as the Rilkes demanded a seemingly endless number of them. She imagined slow-dancing in the hall feeling like her and Leah were the only two people in the world. She imagined trading sweet kisses and sneaking away at the very end to kiss under the stars. 

So going - even though it was with those she loved most - had felt wrong. Like a splinter under the skin. That’s what it was like being without Leah, a constant sharpness that never let you forget that something absolutely critical was missing.

“You got into Julliard.” Dorothy said when it was clear Fatin wasn’t going to offer anything else.

Fatin blinked at her best friend in surprise. The letter had arrived a couple of weeks ago and Fatin had shoved it in a drawer and not told a single soul about it.

“How did you…” Fatin began before stopping herself, Dorothy merely raised an eyebrow as if to say ‘ I know you better than you think ’. 

“You accepted?” Dorothy asked.

Fatin pursed her lips, spreading her hands on the bedspread as if in deep contemplation, “I’m considering my options.”

“Fatin-” Dorothy sighed.

“So did you get some action last night?” Fatin inquired playfully, nudging Dorothy’s knee with a knuckle, “Or did Mateo at least send you some pics to make the night worthwhile?”

Dorothy frowned at her, not remotely bemused. Fatin fleetingly regretted picking such a stubborn best friend. “Fatin, we’re talking about it. We need to talk about it.”

“Talk about what?” Fatin groaned, playing dumb.

“What comes next. You can’t keep burying your head in the sand and letting life pass you by.”

“I’m not doing that.” Fatin lied, rolling her eyes dismissively - the splinter under her skin thickening, shredding callously through sinew.

“Then why haven’t you accepted Juilliard?” Dorothy demanded bluntly.

Fatin’s body and soul ached, and all she wanted was to bury herself in her bed and let the world pass her by but Dorothy just kept… pushing

“How about you, huh?” Fatin snarled, teeth gnashing uncaringly at the person that was prodding at her wounds in the aim of understanding it to help it heal. “What’s your fucking plan? Because it looks like you’re fucking treading water, at least I have fucking options.”

Dorothy didn’t outwardly react to Fatin’s rage, instead she simply shook her head wearily. “I’m going to let that go.” 

Instant regret swept through Fatin, dousing her fury and leaving her cold and shaking. She opened her mouth to apologise but Dorothy raised a hand requesting silence - Fatin complied without argument, owing Dorothy that much.

“In answer to your question,” Dorothy revealed, “I plan to go travelling. The Rilkes helped me sell the house and I want to use the money to see the world, all the things Dad always wanted to show me. And then once I’ve done that…” Dorothy shrugged, “I’ll figure out what I want long term. But I get to do what I want now without worrying about what happens next.”

Fatin shrinked in on herself, whispering a hurt, “You didn’t tell me any of that.”

Dorothy smiled sadly at her - hand re-reaching out for Fatin’s in apology and Fatin didn’t turn away from the touch this time, grabbing Dorothy’s hand and holding it tight. “I didn’t want you to think that I was… abandoning her.” Dorothy admitted, expression pained.

“I wouldn’t think that, Dorothy.” Fatin rushed to reassure, heart squeezing tight, tight, tight in her chest. “You, more than anyone, deserve to live your life.”

Dorothy ducked her head, hair with red streaks falling forward to hide her expression. “I guess I felt guilty leaving… living it up whilst she’s… still out there. It feels wrong. We’re all moving forward and she’s…”

“Yeah, I understand that.” Fatin murmured, swallowing thickly to push back the sandpaper feeling in her throat which pre-warned of tears to follow.

“You could come with me.” Dorothy offered quietly.

Fatin froze, mind whirring to a stop. “I…”

“Not for all of it.” Dorothy amended gently, “Maybe just over summer before you head to New York.”

“I’ll think about it.” Fatin said, though they both knew it was a lie. 

Dorohty lifted her head back, mouth down-turned and gaze filled with compassion. “How long are you going to wait? How long do you keep your life on pause?”

“I don’t know. But I’m not ready yet.” Fatin admitted.

“Okay.” Dorothy accepted, knowing not to fight battles that stood no chance of victory. “I’m here for you, you know that right?”

Fatin shuffled forward and pulled Dorothy into a hug before replying, “I’ve never doubted it.”



2nd September 2020

 

“Rise and shine! Chores wait for no bitch!” Dorothy’s sing-song voice thundered through the bedroom door.

Fatin let out a loud groan as she was rudely torn away from the best sleep she’d had in months . The warm mattress underneath her shifted unexpectedly, and Fatin’s hand quickly moved to steady herself only to find soft flesh instead of bedding. Fatin’s eyes snapped open, head whipping up to find bleary blue eyes blinking up at her. 

“You and Dot spend too much time together,” Leah mumbled around a sleepy yawn, “she’s starting to sound like you.”

It was real. That all happened .

The thought flashed through Fatin’s mind, the comforting dream solidifying into reality, provoking a beaming smile, instantly wide awake despite snatching only a couple of hours of blissful sleep between dawn and their Dorothy shaped alarm clock.

“Don’t see the downside to that.” Fatin replied honestly.

“You wouldn’t.” Leah grumbled, her moody morning frown gradually fading to be replaced by a soft smile, pale fingers reaching up to trace the edges of Fatin’s wide smile. 

Fatin had never felt so connected to someone as she did in that moment, an entire conversation carried out silently between them as they stared into each other's eyes.

Did you mean it? 

All of it. Every last word.

I love you.

I love you, too.

Fatin dipped her head down and captured Leah’s lips in a kiss, closed mouth and tender. 

“Seriously, stop fucking about-” Dorothy hollered, the only warning before their bedroom door swung open.

Fatin and Leah jerked immediately, arms and legs flailing, burying them both under the blankets and obscuring them from sight - their only saving grace was Leah insisting they both put on t-shirts as they tended to run cold when sleeping.

“Jeez, have you two been at it all night?” Dorothy exclaimed, gaze sweeping over the room; Fatin and Leah’s heads appearing above the blankets, wide-eyed and flustered.

“Uh…”

“Um…”

“You look fucking wrecked, Fatin.” Dorothy commented, nose wrinkled up in disgust.

Fatin let out an outraged squawk, “Excuse you, I’m glowing .”

“Sure…” Dorothy drawled, tongue clicking as she nudged the mess of papers laid out on the floor from Leah’s aborted investigation efforts last night, “did you at least figure anything out?”

“Huh?” Leah’s brow furrowed before her eyes lit up in understanding. “Oh, you mean-“

Fatin jabbed her in the ribs. “Nothing.” Fatin cut in seamlessly, “Worked all night and came up with a whole lot of fucking nothing.”

“Damn.” Dorothy muttered in sympathetic disappointment before shrugging, “Leah, you’re on rest day. Fatin, you got water duty.”

Leah frowned immediately, “Rest day? But I-”

Fatin grabbed Leah’s hand under the covers and squeezed it tightly, grabbing Leah’s attention, “Remember what we talked about, Leah?”

Leah blinked at her dumbly “I will be honest I really don’t remember much before… uh…” Cheeks blushed a bright red. “Before I… got back to my room exhausted?”

“Exactly.” Fatin replied, forcing a cheery smile, before whispering so only Leah could hear, “ Smooth .”

“Guys,” Dorothy clapped her hands, drawing two pairs of eyes to her, “listen up, this is important. Henry and I have been working on something.”

Fatin listened.

Well, she tried to, at least… but… Leah’s hand slipped out of her own, moving stealthily under the covers to rest on Fatin’s bare thigh, stroking the skin with her fingertips, inching higher and higher with every upstroke. 

Fatin’s gaze inevitably drifted away from Dorothy, studying Leah’s profile - who was seemingly giving Dorothy her full focus - honing in on how Leah’s lips were redder and slightly swollen after their night together. She memorised the twinkling in blue eyes that revealed her joy, and noted the bruises on her neck that were hidden by wild, loose hair and the collar of her t-shirt.

“You got that?” Dorothy asked, jarring Fatin free of her trance.

“Of fucking course, Dorothy.” Fatin replied decisively, flicking her hair over her shoulder. “Loud and clear. Now, shoo .”

Dorothy’s face became pinched, “Shoo? Did you just shoo me?”

“She definitely did.” Leah mumbled, nodding her head.

Fatin shot Leah a dirty look, “Whose side are you on?”

Leah shrugged, eyebrow cocking mischievously just as her hand slipped through the wet mess at the apex of Fatin’s thighs.

Fatin inhaled sharply, playing it off as her being dramatic. “Betrayal already.” Fatin turned to face her best friend, and whilst she loved Dorothy dearly… she really needed her to vacate the room immediately. “Dorothy, I’m naked under here, and whilst I would take great pleasure in showing you everything you’re missing out on, I fear your heart might not survive it.”

Dorothy froze for a moment, eyes squinting to assess Fatin’s veracity.

Fatin smiled at her innocently even as Leah’s head whipped between the two of them, mouth agape.

Dorothy snorted disbelievingly, waving a dismissive hand as she turned to go, “Sure, Fatin, whatever the fuck you say. Leah, massive kudos to you - I have no idea how you put up with her horny, bratty ass.”

“HEY!” Fatin shouted. 

“See you later.” Dorothy called out as she strolled out of the room, the door swinging shut behind her.

“DOROTHY, GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE NOW!”

“Fatin.” Leah sighed, hands moving to Fatin’s shoulder and gently guiding her onto her back - Leah hovering over her with an amused smile.

“Did you hear that? Can you believe-”

“How much she’s starting to sound like you?” Leah smirked.

“You’re not as cute as you think you are.”

“I’m not cute. I’m sexy when I’m right and you know it.”

Fatin considered this, arms lifting to wrap around Leah’s neck and rest across her shoulders. “Hmm… true.” Fatin accepted easily.

Leah grinned, ducking down and sucking new marks onto her neck, prompting Fatin to let out a long, low moan. 

“I should really go do my chores.” Fatin whined, hating how she had become a responsible person.

“Five more minutes.” Leah murmured, not even bothering to separate her mouth from Fatin’s skin, tongue tracing the demand against her collarbones.

“That’s not going to work, I can’t ration you.” Fatin huffed petulantly. “If I give you five minutes, I will definitely never leave.”

“Then don’t leave. I’ll get Raf to do your chores.”

“That… is the nicest thing you have ever said to me.” Fatin declared, gently pushing Leah back with hands on her shoulders.

Leah pouted, eyes still hazy with desire, “What about ‘I love you’?”

“Top five.”

“Don’t go.” Leah begged, settling back on her knees, devastating blue eyes employing their full puppy-dog potential. “Stay with me.”

Fatin’s heart twisted painfully in her chest; unable to deny Leah anything. She cupped Leah’s face, thumbs stroking back and forth. 

“I’ll be back in a flash.” Fatin promised sincerely.

“How long is a flash?” Leah asked, head turning from side to side to press a kiss to Fatin’s palms.

Fatin hummed thoughtfully before being struck by inspiration, leaning to one side and fumbling to grab the blue-faced watch on the bedside table. “Here, take this.” Fatin ordered, pulling Leah’s wrist towards her and carefully clasping the heavy watch around it. “You can time me.”

Leah lifted her newly decorated wrist up, studying the watch and observing each tick of the second hand. “Like your shift supervisor?”

“Oooh, kinky. Roleplay, already?” Fatin teased, eyebrows wiggling suggestively.

Leah bit her bottom lip, head ducked down as she admitted, “I’m not… opposed.”

A thousand and one thoughts… ideas… plans … swept through Fatin’s head in that singular moment; she refused to let them settle, knowing if she did, there was no chance she would be leaving this room for the next twenty-four hours at a bare minimum. “Noted.” Fatin said, voice noticeably strained.

Leah shuffled backwards, fully alleviating herself off Fatin and giving her room to get up. Fatin stretched once standing, grabbing her discarded clothes and pulling them on with no small amount of regret.

Once dressed, Fatin sat on the edge of the bed, Leah was slumped down against the headboard, watching her with a wistful smile, fingers tracing over the watch she’d been entrusted with.

“Love you.” Fatin breathed, leaning down to rest her forehead against Leah’s.

“Love you, too.” Leah replied, just as quietly, a secret that was just theirs. “Come back soon.”

Fatin kissed her, quick and earnest, before pulling away and winking at her. “Baby, you won’t even have time to miss me.”



4th April 2021

 

“Fatin! Stop!” Ahmad squeaked as Fatin tickled his sides, allowing Dorothy to claim her first ever Mario Kart victory. “Not fair! You cheated!”

“What? Me ?” Fatin replied, utterly aghast, pressing her hand to her chest in faux-shock. 

“I saw that young lady.” Rana tsked as she strolled into the room, carrying a tray of snacks and drinks that she set down on the coffee table for the four of them. 

“Oooh, you’re in trouble…” Kemar and Shelby sang in-sync from their place on the sofa behind them. 

“Mother, it was an act of great charity. I was merely being a good friend.” Fatin pouted, leaning into the theatrics as it made her brothers giggle. “Dorothy, just couldn’t survive another defeat. She was losing all hope. I mean best case scenario, I saved a life by intervening. Worst case, I saved my friend’s dignity.”

“Uh huh.” Rana muttered unimpressed. “Darling, I don’t think your future is in politics or acting.”

Fatin gasped in outrage, even as her mother reached out to squeeze her shoulder, eyes brimming with pride at how she interacted with her brothers. 

“Please leave my life and dignity out of it.” Dorothy requested with a grimace.

“Dorothy-” Fatin began, rounding on her best friend when-

“Girls! Fatin!” 

All of them in the living room startled at hearing the front door open and Maryann’s desperate yelling.

“We’re in here, Maryann.” Rana called back in confusion as Maryann sprinted into view - eyes wild, sweating and trembling, Kurt close behind, a supportive hand pressed to his wife’s back though he looked just as frenzied as she did. “Are you-” 

“They found her.” 

Everything went impossibly still at those three words.

It was as if Fatin had been at the bottom of the ocean this entire time and suddenly she was breaking through the surface, ears popping and water steadily dripping away from her body, sensation slowly returning.

“They found her.” Maryann repeated, gaze solely on Fatin even as Dorothy and Shelby jumped to their feet, voices raised and excited. 

“Is she…” Fatin began, voice thick and sounding nothing like her own - she wouldn’t realise until later that it sounded so strangled because she was sobbing.

“She’s alive. She’s okay.” Maryann reassured, tears running down her cheeks.

Fatin felt an arm wrap around her waist on either side - Dorothy and Shelby helping her to her feet. 

“We’re flying out as soon as possible.” Kurt explained.

“The girls can stay here.” Rana offered immediately, capturing Fatin’s attention.

“Can I… please can I come with you?” Fatin begged, lurching forwards with heavy steps - Shelby and Dorothy keeping up with her to ensure she was supported. 

The Rilkes glanced fleetingly over to Rana - before Fatin even had a chance to demand, to plead or beg, a credit card was being pressed into her hand. “Can you two help Fatin pack a bag?” Rana requested looking between the two girls that were the only reason Fatin’s legs hadn’t given out from beneath her. “Maryann, Kurt, let me get you something to eat whilst we find the next flight. You’ll need the energy, trust me.”

“Mom.” Fatin choked out, so much gratitude and love in that single word.

Rana quickly cupped her face and pressed a kiss to her forehead, “Pack a bag, I’ll sort everything else. You’ll see Leah soon.”

Fatin had never heard such beautiful words.

Chapter Text

Day 214

 

“This is a definite upgrade. You got a window this time and everything.” Fatin mused as she ambled around the space.

Leah watched her covertly from the corner of the room, she liked the comfort of knowing she couldn’t be snuck up on, of having the window to her right and the door to her left. Her only regret before sinking down to the ground was that she hadn’t snatched a pillow off the bed to soften the hard surfaces. 

She kept her fingers wrapped tight around the drip stand that fed fluid into her too thin arms, knuckles whitening repetitiously as she flexed the strength of her grip whilst her watch slipped constantly up and down, the band too loose. 

Seeing her reflection in the mirror when they brought her in had been harrowing, even though she’d refused to look until after she’d spent an hour in the shower. The water turning a murky brown, veering towards black as it sluiced the dirt from her skin and hair. She’d only left the shower when the nurses had threatened to break in - concerned with how weak Leah’s body was that she wouldn’t be safe when exposed to prolonged humidity.

Her hair despite repeated washes was tangled and straw-like, hacked and uneven from when Leah had cut it in a bid to remove the blood-stained tips after her interaction with Murdoch. 

She was thin. Unhealthily thin. 

Her body was sinewy, where it had once turned strong and muscular, mastering the Wilderness. Ribs and bones far too close to the surface - the result of her fortnight hike with little food and water, pushing her already strained body past breaking point. 

Scars littered her skin. Some small, pale lines barely visible unless studied closely, picked up through her repeated hunting activities and daily survival tasks - collateral of everyday life out there. 

Others were deeper, a vicious red that would remain stark and apparent for the rest of her life. 

There was a straight line that ran across the back of her left hand, cutting through the fleshy skin between her thumb and index finger - the result of a poorly timed swing of her axe when she was still gaining competence. 

There was the jagged scar around her ankle - a result of sheer stupidity from forgetting where she had laid a trap. 

And then there was the curling red scar around her slightly deformed right eye - something she hadn’t even been aware of until she’d seen it for the first time in the mirror. She’d been so focused on her leg and wrist, she had barely registered the damage Murdoch’s fist had caused to her eye socket.

She no longer looked the same. Her face, forever marked. 

She could hide the other scars, but she couldn’t hide that one.

Her blue eyes drew people in, she knew that. It was one of her most attractive features, and now it came with a fucking asterisk.

Who would call her pretty now?

None of that, however, even began to cover the mess that was her leg. She’d never really examined it under the cold light of day - too afraid to see the real damage. It was like someone had taken a peeler to her leg and carved out a chunk of flesh with little skill; or a targeted meteor strike leaving behind a crater filled with volcanic lines. 

It was disgusting, 

Leah knew that without having to witness the reaction of the doctor that checked her over - who blanched at the sight of it. 

“Come on, enjoy the view of this… uh…” Fatin grimaced from her spot peering through the slightly grubby window, “car park... God, it's all volvos out there. You’d think there would be at least one dickhead doctor with a sports car to fawn over.”

Leah suppressed the twitch that wanted to uplift her mouth into a smile.

“You know, you can still smile at me, right? It is allowed. I am pretty fucking charming.” Fatin teased, turning round and leaning against the window, eyes watching Leah closely.

Leah refused to meet her gaze, the knee of her good leg bending upwards so that she could hide the bottom half of her face behind it. 

“Your parents will be here soon.” Fatin reminded her gently, pushing off the windowsill and traipsing over to her, sliding down the wall to sit by her side. “You sure you didn’t want to speak with them on the phone?”

Leah pressed her lips tight together and shook her head infinitesimally left and right.

“Like I get it.” Fatin followed up immediately, coaxing her long, flawless hair over her shoulder so that she could start braiding it - Leah couldn’t help tracking the movement of her fingers, the repetitive actions soothing to her raw mind. “They faked a plane crash, had three separate islands under their control - fully loaded with cameras and microphones, I might add - without even bringing in flying and dumping you into the fucking Canadian wilderness.” Fatin paused thoughtfully then, “Or is it Alaskan wilderness? Have we seen a fucking map yet?”

Leah sighed, rubbing her temple with her free hand.

“Beside the point…” Fatin continued with a click of her tongue, “If they could pull off all that, who's to say they can’t fake a phone call? I mean voice modulators are fucking freakily good nowadays.” 

Leah hummed in agreement before wincing sharply, knowing better than to indulge.

“Are you ever going to let me change out of these cargo pants, by the way? Or is this like some kink for you now?” Fatin inquired, and Leah didn’t need to look at her to know she was smirking. “Not that I’m not keen to be ravaged in cargo pants… I mean… just think of all the hidden secrets I might have tucked away with those extra storage spaces…”

Leah shook her head, tips of her ears turning a bright red.

“Leah…” Fatin murmured, voice suddenly unbearably soft - Leah couldn’t help but sneak a sideways glance at the other girl, “They’ll be here soon. And not just your parents.”

Leah swallowed thickly, voice barely audible as she whispered brokenly, “You don’t know that. It’s been too long.”

“No such thing, baby.” Fatin replied with a wink.

Leah turned away sharply, eyes prickling with tears. “I’m scared.”

“You’ll be home soon, I promise.”

“I know… that’s what I’m scared of.” Leah confessed, “You’re going to leave me, aren’t you?”

Fatin inhaled slowly, considering the question. “Yeah, I am.”

And that hurt , the loneliness she had been keeping at bay for over two hundred days threatened to overwhelm her right then and there.

“You need me to. You need room for her . For the real me.” Fatin explained. “I am prone to fits of jealousy after all, she won’t want to share. And you shouldn’t have to settle. I can’t give you half of what she did. It’s why you put such restrictions on me… why you wouldn’t acknowledge everything between us. Because you and I both know that even your wildest imaginings could never live up to the real thing.”

“You don’t know she’ll be there.” Leah mumbled.

“You don’t know she won’t.” Fatin shot back. “Didn’t you say something about hoping for the best when it came to her? To the two of you?”

“That was a very long time ago…” Leah whispered heartbrokenly.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Fatin shrugged, before getting to her feet and moving to stand directly in front of Leah. “It’s time I said goodbye, baby.”

The tears started to fall in earnest then, trickling down her cheeks. “Please, don’t leave me.”

“I’m not leaving.” Fatin assured, brown eyes twinkling. “Just making room.”

And then she was gone, and before Leah had a chance to call out for her - for any of her friends - the door to her room swung open.



Day 227

 

“You’re Leah.” 

Leah looked up from her nest in the corner of her bedroom to see a small boy’s face peering round the edge of her door. He couldn’t have been more than ten, with large framed glasses slipping down his nose and magnifying familiar brown eyes. 

Leah placed the book she’d been reading down to one side and nodded.

The boy - Kemar, if Leah was to guess - blinked at her, before tiptoeing quietly into the room, a large tub of lego precariously held under one arm. Fatin’s brothers were round Leah’s house for the day, Rana having dropped them off before going out to do a house-showing. They were meant to be downstairs, being entertained by Dot and Shelby. Leah got the impression that Fatin would normally watch them at home and the other girls would go over and visit but with Fatin spending nearly every waking (and not waking) moment - not including school time - in Leah’s room, changes to routine were being made.

Leah failed to push back the wave of guilt that came with disrupting everyone’s lives yet again, for failing to be what they needed or wanted. 

She’d barely spoken - broken words and sentences here and there when she pushed herself.

She wasn’t used to it. Using her voice. Responding to conversations about the real world. Talking about the mundane without the heightened edge that she could starve tomorrow or be ambushed by wolves.

Over two-hundred days of near silence had made her voice sound jarring - like nails on a chalkboard - to her own ears. 

They all wanted to know what had happened. (She’d managed to tell the investigators - in short, broken sentences when she had first been found, before her parents and Fatin arrived, but then it was like her throat slowly closed up afterwards, preventing anything else from spilling).

She knew it hurt them all, could see how hard they all worked to get her to respond, to make her feel comfortable but it was like she was still in that goddamn forest, trying desperately to keep the madness at bay. Fatin bared the brunt of it without blinking an eye - infinitely patient. 

She didn’t cry quietly like her Mom did or retreat into a parallel silence like her Dad. She didn’t flap around like Shelby, eager to assist and nudge her along. She didn’t put on a stoic front like Dot either.

Fatin just was.

She talked in Leah’s ear just like she used to do when she lulled Leah to sleep on the islands. 

She leaned into Leah’s every touch - lit up with joy as if each brush of fingertips was special, even though Leah was constantly reaching for her, needing that physical evidence that this Fatin - this beautiful, beyond imagination girl - was real .

Kemar froze a foot into her room, as if struck by a sudden thought, “Can I come in? Fatin says I have to check first before coming into people’s bedrooms because they might want alone time.”

Leah smiled at that, suspecting exactly what Fatin had been alluding to with ‘ alone time ’. She nodded her head again, though she wasn’t sure why. 

Maybe it was because Fatin had merely gone to get them some food and drink and would be back soon enough. Maybe it was because Kemar looked so earnest and excited to see her - there was curiosity but no sympathy in his gaze, she was his sister’s friend, not some broken being. Maybe it was because he used the word alone and that was the last thing Leah wanted to be. Maybe, she just felt safe on that day in a way she hadn’t in months.

Regardless, she nodded and gestured for Kemar to sit on one of the cushions Fatin had helped her arrange in the corner of the room so that Leah could feel protected and comfortable.

“Ahmad and Shelby are playing Smash Bros again. I don’t really like that game. They’re much better at it than me.” Kemar explained with a frown.

Leah smiled in understanding, no matter how fun it is to play with loved ones it still sucked to be the worst at it.

“I’d much rather play lego or read. But it's too loud to read down there, and I prefer to play lego with Ahmad. Fatin says you love books.” Kemar rambled, the last part aborted from being a question to a statement as his gaze swept around the full bookshelves that lined the walls. “Have you got a favourite?”

Leah grinned and nodded, surprising even herself by how she eagerly got to her feet, leaning heavily on the cane she kept close to hand, and searched through her shelves to pull out a couple of books she’d adored when she was his age that she thought he would appreciate: the first Percy Jackson, A Wrinkle in Time (which looked surprisingly un-dusty) and Artemis Fowl. She returned to her seat and handed the books over to the boy who quickly grabbed them and read the backs of each one with giddy interest.

“These look awesome.” Kemar declared with a toothy grin, moving to hand them back after finishing his assessment.

Leah, however, shook her head and pushed them back towards him.

Kemar’s brow furrowed in surprise, “You want me to have them?”

Leah nodded immediately, something warm and filled with pride blossoming in her chest when Kemar beamed - she’d done something right, at last.

“Thank you!” Kemar cheered, carefully placing each book in an immaculately stacked pile by his side. “Any chance you want to play Legos? Me and Ahmad pick something and we have to make our own thing of that thing or something to do with that thing.” Kemar frowned, “I said ‘thing’ a lot, didn’t I?”

“It’s okay, I understand.” Leah replied without thinking about it. 

Kemar merely nodded, unaware of the immensity of what he had just achieved. “You pick the first thing.” Kemar ordered, turning his bucket filled with Lego upside down, colourful pieces of brick water-falling into the space between them.

“Rocketship.” Leah said immediately, thinking she could argue whatever mess she made was merely an alien spaceship and simply required imagination to appreciate its amazingness.

“Great choice!” Kemar replied, hands darting to snatch up blocks and start building before Leah even had a chance to think of a starting design.

Leah shook her head, throwing caution to the wind and diving right in; before long her tongue was sticking out as she clicked various bricks together in the hopes of forming a rocket-ship-esque shape.

“That looks cool.” Kemar complimented.

“I like the shape of the wings,” Leah returned, admiring the work in progress in Kemar’s hand, “they’ll be great for flying in the atmosphere… at least, I think that’s how that works…”

“Here, take this one, it matches better.” Kemar offered, handing over a red brick to replace the yellow one that she was in the process of placing.

“Thanks. I think I’m going for a colour-scheme more than practicality.” Leah admitted.

“My sister says as long as you look good doing it, no one will notice if you’re not doing it very well.”

“That sounds just like her.” Leah smiled fondly. “So… what do you think?” Leah asked, holding up her monstrosity.

Kemar winced, “I like the colours?”

“I’ll take it.” Leah nodded gratefully, “Yours, though… could get you a job at NASA.”

“That would be cool.” Kemar beamed, rocketship bobbing through the air with accompanying ‘whoosh’-ing sounds. 

Leah tracked the movement, which made her finally notice Fatin in the doorway, watery-eyed and smiling brightly. 

“Hey there,” Fatin greeted, quickly rubbing her eyes to prevent tears from falling with the hand not balancing a tray of food and drink, putting on a wide grin before Kemar spun round to see her.

Leah reached for her immediately, and Fatin didn’t hesitate to settle between Leah’s legs, back pressing against Leah’s front. 

“Love the colour scheme.” Fatin complimented, snatching Leah’s amalgam of Lego from her hand to admire it. 

“Told you.” Kemar murmured, sharing a conspiratorial smile with Leah.

“Can I join in?” Fatin requested.

“Yeah!” Kemar replied giddily, bouncing in place with excitement. “It’s my turn to pick, though.”

“Of course.” Fatin reassured immediately.

“Hey.” Leah whispered into Fatin’s ear as Kemar pondered their next building challenge.

“Hey.” Fatin breathed out, voice noticeably cracking with emotion. “You look happy.”

Leah wrapped her arms tighter around Fatin’s waist, and before she had a chance to second guess herself she pressed a kiss to the side of Fatin’s forehead prompting the girl to inhale sharply, entire body trembling. 

“I think I might be.” Leah whispered.



Day 244

 

“Ugh, I’m so bored .” Fatin groaned, flopping back on Leah’s bed with an exaggerated pout.

“I thought you liked differential equations?” Leah murmured, from her place on the bed’s edge, staring out the window.

“That is a gross exaggeration.” Fatin shuffled closer, reaching out to squeeze Leah’s hand - drawing her attention away from the window.

Leah did that nowadays. Stare out the window at the world she was too afraid to explore.

Television was too loud, too bright, too over the top and she struggled to read for longer than an hour - migraines setting in and her mind and body itching for activity, so used to keeping busy, to responding to the smallest of stimuli that the world now felt like it had been turned up to an eleven.

“I merely like it more than I like Shakespeare.” 

Leah smiled wanly at her before returning to stare out the window. 

“Talk to me, please.” Fatin pleaded.

Fatin rarely asked for anything for herself, usually her requests were solely for Leah’s benefit. 

I’m famished, can you please finish my slice of pie? I really don’t want to disappoint your mom by not eating it all.

Can we sit outside today? I’m solar powered and need to re-charge.

Will you keep me company at the salon? If I go alone, I will complete no less than fifteen cosmo quizzes and read everyone’s horoscope. And you know… Dorothy will slap me if I try to warn her about another impending fickle romance.

That last one had been the first time Leah had left the house of her own volition, hand held tight in Fatin’s. They’d arrived at the salon, and Fatin - shorter hair already styled to perfection - had asked if Leah would like a haircut, since she was there anyway. Had paid for the whole thing. Had held her hand as the stylist worked tirelessly to make Leah actually recognise herself in the mirror. Had babbled throughout, providing Leah much needed white noise to keep her frantic thoughts calm. Had stuttered nervously, head dipped down shyly, as she called Leah beautiful at the end of it, all whilst tucking a loose lock of hair behind an ear, ensuring her scar and slightly misshapen eye-socket wasn’t hidden away.

And it wasn’t until they were in the car home that Leah realised that Fatin never got her own haircut.

“What about?” Leah inquired, head tilting to the side curiously.

“Anything. I just… I miss your voice.” Fatin confessed.

Leah had gotten better at speaking, engaging more frequently with others, but she still didn’t start conversations. Didn’t always offer up the necessary pieces to keep it going. 

(She didn’t say it but she was used to all the girls speaking, jumping in, and carrying it on without her input).

“I had a pet squirrel for a little while.” Leah offered up tentatively.

“Uh… what? Really?” Fatin squealed, bouncing up onto her knees, eyebrows raised with interest. “When was this? Your parents never mentioned that.”

Leah shook her head, playing with the rings on Fatin’s fingers absentmindedly. “Not here. Out there.”

“Oh.” Fatin breathed out, suddenly very still.

“He would come right up to me and take food from my hand. I fed him everyday for like two weeks.” Leah revealed softly. “By the end he would sit right next to me and eat.”

Leah could hear Fatin swallow, choosing her words so carefully - this was the first time Leah had proffered anything to do with the Wilderness willingly. “Did you name him?”

“Maybe.” Leah shrugged, cheeks turning pink.

“Tell me, please.” Fatin prompted, trying to make her voice light.

“Marco.” Leah admitted. “Marcus’ next evolution.”

“I love it.” Fatin chuckled, hand flexing in Leah’s, squeezing tight as she rested her head on Leah’s shoulder. “Thank you for telling me that.”

“It wasn’t…” Leah inhaled shakily, “it wasn’t always horrific there. I mean it wasn’t… good . But it wasn’t all bad.” Leah turned her head to the side, breathing in Fatin’s scent which she would forever associate with home.

God, she wanted to kiss her. 

Leah from two hundred days ago wouldn’t have hesitated, it would have been the very first thing she did the second Fatin appeared in view.

But that was a long time ago, and it wasn’t fair to assume nothing had changed when everything had changed.

Leah wasn’t the same, she didn’t expect Fatin to feel the same way about her as she did back then. 

Fatin, who was destined for Juilliard.

Fatin, who was the best big sister imaginable.

Fatin, who had a group of friends who looked to her for support and would do just about anything for her. 

Beautiful, funny, charming.

Primed to conquer the world.

And Leah could barely stutter out a fucking sentence without exhausting herself.

Not that it really mattered, Fatin had probably claimed and broken a litany of hearts whilst Leah was away but was far too kind and noble to fully shatter Leah’s now that she was back. 

So, yeah, Leah wanted to kiss her, to ask if she still loved her, ask her to call her baby again and pick up exactly where they had left off. 

But that was over two hundred days ago. And Leah flirted with crazy on a regular basis, but she wasn’t naive - not anymore. Not after Jeff, Faber and Murdoch had worked together to disabuse her of her last shred of hopeful innocence.

“Fatin, I…” Leah muttered.

“You?” Fatin prompted, head tilting ever so slightly to the side, their faces so painfully close that Leah’s heart ached acutely over the tiny slither of distance between them.

Leah shielded her heart as best she could, hardened it as she prepared to swing a sledgehammer against it. “You don’t have to be here all the time.”

Fatin, who’s gaze was trained lower than Leah’s eyes, jerked backwards, brow furrowing in confusion. “What?”

“I don’t want you to feel… trapped .” Leah explained haltingly. “I’ve been there. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Especially not you.”

“I don’t feel trapped, Leah.” Fatin said slowly, expression twisted and pained. “I want to be here.”

“You haven’t been to a single party since I got back.”

Fatin’s eyebrows drew together and her nose wrinkled, “So?”

“You love parties.” Leah reminded her.

“Not like I used to. Not with strangers.”

“Fatin, you haven’t done a single thing you want to do for weeks.” Leah sighed, jaw clenching tight with self-loathing.

“I’m right where I want to be.”

“Fatin, just stop-” Leah cut off immediately, she could feel her tightly controlled emotions straining against their leash. Her head jerked round, facing away from Fatin as she spun the watch on her wrist round and round and round. “Everyone’s walking on fucking eggshells around me and I hate it.”

Fatin’s voice when she replied was quiet and sad, “We’re just trying to make you comfortable.”

“Well, I’m fucking not. I’m not fucking comfortable.” Leah snapped, hand clamping round her own wrist, nails biting into flesh. “My life has fucking imploded, do you get that? It’s a fucking ruin and I have to pick up all the fucking pieces whilst everyone watches on with pity in their eyes saying how fucking brave I am. And everyone is being so fucking nice all the goddamn time and giving up so much to make me comfortable , and all I want to do is be angry. And I can’t do that without feeling like the world’s biggest cunt.”

Leah ground her teeth together, body rocking backwards and forwards, throat straining at the explosion of words and the emotion behind them.

Fatin’s hand slipped over hers, gently prying Leah’s claw-like grip away from her own wrist, thumb soothing over the indentures with such care that Leah felt her eyes sting with tears in response. 

“Leah, I know things aren’t easy right now but they’ll get better.” Fatin soothed.

And Leah wanted to lean into it, lean into her … but how long was Fatin actually going to stick around for this shitshow? For this fucked up mess she had become? 

“Right now? Right now ?” Leah repeated shrilly, “That’s the biggest fucking understatement. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me right now? How hard it’s going to stay for me?”

“No,” Fatin answered honestly, voice hoarse. “I can’t even begin to understand. Especially if you don’t tell any of us.”

“I lost an entire year of my life, Fatin.” Leah cried. “An entire fucking year! And not just any year, my senior year. And I know it's pathetic and whiny, but that’s an important fucking year. I don’t get to graduate with the rest of you. I have to go through all of it alone. ” 

Leah felt a wave nausea at that fucking word. 

“Alone again .” Leah corrected causing Fatin to flinch. “Whilst you were all recovering and growing and getting better, I was getting fucking worse .” Leah swallowed thickly, face snotty and tear-stained, and so unworthy of facing Fatin in that moment. “You’ve become this well-rounded person and you all get to move towards the future without missing a fucking step whilst I have to stand there and watch . I didn’t get to go to prom. I didn’t celebrate my eighteenth birthday. I missed out on my last chance to just be a kid . And now, whenever I look in the mirror all I see is that fucking horror show, all I see is Mur-”

No, don’t go there. 

DON’T GO THERE!

The silence was so abrupt it gave them both whiplash.

Leah’s breathing was quick and harsh, mind hurling back to slushy snow turning crimson, a looming figure, her wrist crushed and her life on a knife’s edge.

“Leah?” Fatin whispered, and Leah could hear the worry, far sharper than it had been when Leah had been venting.

“I… I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Leah gasped, stumbling to her feet, foregoing her cane to limp round the edge of the bed, hands scrabbling forward. “I need to… I need to…”

“Leah!” Fatin shouted after her, vaulting off the bed and reaching Leah just in time to catch her before she collapsed.

Leah’s last thought was how long will Fatin be there to catch me?



Day 216

 

They’d cleared it so they would go straight through, avoiding the crowds. They were now waiting at the gate until they could board in advance of the other passengers slowly arriving.

Leah was in a wheel-chair, she could walk with a cane pretty comfortably after months of limping with only a roughly-hewn stick, but from the moment she realised she was safe (the direct consequence of meeting brown eyes and being wrapped up in a hug she’d wished would never end), all the exhaustion she had been holding back hit her in one large tsunami wave. She was exhausted after taking only a few steps and napped frequently. You wouldn’t think she had hiked through the wilderness only a few days prior - her body feeling like it now belonged to an elderly woman.

Leah’s parents and Fatin fussed constantly, checking in every chance despite Leah’s responses being a nod or a simple hum and infrequent replies of ‘okay’, ‘yes’ or ‘fine’.

“The first time I got on a plane after… the island… I barfed in one of those paper bags they put in the little pocket in front of your seat.” Fatin murmured, leaning close enough that her warm breath tickled the edge of Leah’s jaw, her elbow resting on the arm of the wheelchair as they watched harried passengers stride by looking for their own gate. 

Leah’s parents were sitting across from them, furtively watching them whilst, simultaneously, exuding potent protective energy that implied they would tackle anyone that wandered too close to their girls. 

“I never thought I would be the girl that threw up in one of those things.” Fatin grimaced, “I ridicule the people that do that. I use those people as bargaining chips to convince my Mom we should only ever fly first class.”

Leah reached out for Fatin’s hand, pulling it into her lap and clasping it tight between both of hers for a beat before starting the slow and soothing process of tracing each crease and tapping each callous - committing every detail to memory.

Fatin inhaled a stuttering breath by her side at the action, her hand remaining limp and pliant in Leah’s.

“Dorothy was just as bad, worse even…” Fatin continued, grounding Leah with every word. “I fucking kid you not… She overfilled the bag. Ugh, god, I’m dry-heaving just thinking about it. Shelby did like a full on dive across my lap to try and catch it in her own unused bag. We looked like a scene from one of those gross-out teen comedies from the noughts. My Mom was horrified but I think she was prepared to sacrifice her prada bag to give us more capacity and if that’s not real love, I don’t-”

Fatin broke off suddenly, hand jerking under Leah’s careful ministrations. Leah looked up to find Fatin’s head ducked down, the visible edge of her lips pulled back in a wince. 

“I didn’t mean to bring up… uh... nevermind.” Fatin shook her head, before stammering, “What I’m trying to say is… if flying is hard… I get it.”

Leah hummed in understanding, even as she pushed down the yearning swell in her chest that rose up whenever Fatin swerved to avoid anything that could remind them of their pre-wilderness relationship. She cleared her throat, mentally readying herself to speak. 

“Our plane never crashed.”

Fatin faltered - Leah was unsure if it was because she had spoken or what she had said.

“Yeah…” Fatin frowned. “I knew that logically but, I guess, I hadn’t accepted that. Does that make sense?”

Leah nodded and Fatin beamed in response. 

“Can I…” Fatin bit her lip, obviously building up to something. Leah tilted her head to the side expectantly. “Would it be okay if I take a photo of you?”

Leah blinked in surprise at the request.

“It’s… it’s for the girls.” Fatin explained with a soft smile. “They’re desperate to see that you’re okay. I know you’re going to see Shelby and Dorothy soon but Rachel will kick my ass if she has to be fourth to hear from you. She’s playing the best friend card.”

Leah’s jaw dropped open slightly at that. 

Obviously, Rachel was important to Leah, was someone she valued as a friend dearly but their friendship was built in the space of only a handful of months and Leah had been away for so much longer than that. She was aware the girls would be interested in her welfare when she got back. However, she’d assumed that it would be fleeting. Her return serving as the final missing piece before they could officially lay their island trauma to rest and move on. 

So to hear Rachel assert their friendship of being high enough value to be granted ‘best’, cracked through Leah’s shell with incredible ferocity.

“She is?” Leah whispered, tongue thick in her mouth.

Fatin’s expression shifted from nervous to unbearably soft in an instant. “Yeah. And if I didn’t think she could genuinely beat me to a pulp, I would be heavily challenging for that title.”

Leah blushed at that, even as her heart wished Fatin would challenge for a different title. 

(One that she would be utterly uncontested for.)

“So… is that a yes? To the photo?” Fatin checked, phone raised up in her free hand hesitantly.

Leah pursed her lips, heart pounding in her chest, but she nodded nonetheless.

“Great.” Fatin breathed out in relief, regretfully reclaiming her hand from Leah’s fidgeting so she could bring up the camera on her phone and point it carefully at Leah.

Leah quickly rushed to make sure loose hair covered her right eye and the smile she tried to put on was undoubtedly strained. 

The camera lowered an instant later.

Fatin was frowning harshly, brows pulled together so tightly that there were deep furrows dividing her forehead.

The shaky smile slid off Leah’s face, hands wringing anxiously in her lap before she started fiddling with the comforting weight of the watch.

“You don’t need to do that.” Fatin whispered seriously, voice notably cracking as she tried to keep it as even toned as possible.

Leah stared at her blankly, unsure what Fatin was referring to.

With trembling fingers, Fatin reached out, her fingertips brushing Leah’s cheek and leaving a blazing path as she hooked strands of dark hair and guided them behind an ear and off Leah’s face, leaving Leah’s right eye uncovered.

Leah’s jaw clenched immediately and she shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“Leah, look at me please.” Fatin requested, fingers moving back to stroke Leah’s embarrassed pink cheek.

Leah acquiesced, glancing over to meet Fatin’s affectionate brown eyes as Fatin’s fingers traced higher until they followed the red scar curling around Leah’s eye - her touch purifying as much as it was scalding. 

“You don’t need to hide any part of yourself from me or the girls. Nothing will change how we feel about you. Nothing. ” Fatin promised.

Leah bit her lip, eyes moistening with unshed tears. 

“Do you believe me?” Fatin asked quietly.

Leah didn’t answer, instead she took Fatin’s phone from her and brought up the camera, changing it to front facing before holding it out at arm’s length, angling until both her and Fatin were in frame. She didn’t smile, but she leaned her head onto Fatin’s shoulder and resisted the urge to turn her face to hide her eye. Fatin’s smile was tremulous but her eyes were brighter than Leah ever remembered them being when Leah pressed the button to snap a photo.



Day 254

 

Leah hesitated in the doorway to the kitchen where her mom was wiping down the countertops whilst humming along to the radio; her Dad reading the news on his tablet as he sipped a coffee. It was a rare morning where it was just the Rilkes in attendance at the house. Fatin had taken her brothers to their martial arts class, Dot had spent the last week more or less out of the house, spending time with Mateo who had travelled up to see her, Shelby, meanwhile, had gotten into running and had taken Roxy for a jog around the neighbourhood.

“Mom?” Leah called out as she wandered into the room.

Maryann’s attention snapped to her instantly, gaze sweeping and attentive. “Yes?”

Leah’s relationship with her parents was still re-growing, slowly working out how they fit together as a family considering all that had occurred and how they - Leah - had changed. Dot and Shelby provided a good buffer, ensuring the silences didn’t become awkward and helping smooth over the rough edges. 

They had restarted games night last week, the entire household filling up the living room as they battled it out over Trivial Pursuit (Kurt and Dot were one team, Shelby and Maryann another, and Fatin and Leah as the last pair). The game had been pretty close but Kurt and Dot snatched victory with a god-sent question on Survivor which had set Fatin fuming for the rest of the night.

She regretted that she hadn't spent much one-on-one time with them, and she mentally promised herself that she would remedy that over the next couple of weeks, especially with how the house would soon contain just the three of them.

“I… I need help with something.” Leah murmured, fiddling with the metal clasp of her watch.

“Anything.” Maryann replied instantly.

Leah straightened up, chin rising with determination, “I want to get the girls graduation presents.”

Maryann blinked at her before smiling brightly, dish cloth thrown haphazardly into the sink. “Well… let me grab my coat.”

Leah watched her mom rush around, picking up what she needed; Leah was already dressed, cane in hand and bag on her shoulder. 

“Can I come too?”

Leah turned to find her Dad looking at her with so much hope and pride; he was hunched over as if to make his tall form more compact, his fingers tapping the side of his tablet even though the screen was dim and locked.

“That would be great, because I have no idea what to get Dot.” Leah sighed in relief.

“I have a few ideas.” Kurt beamed.

They were in the car in a matter of minutes, her parents practically giddy - her mom constantly asking if she liked the radio station whilst her Dad kept up a running commentary of the other cars, cooing over any vintage models he spotted. It made her feel young again, and she found herself rolling her eyes and smiling at her parents in the rearview mirror like any other beleaguered teenager. 

The mall wasn’t overly crowded, which was more or less a miracle for a Sunday, but there were enough people that Leah felt self-conscious and uncomfortable. Her previous ventures out of the house (to the hospital, to the salon, to Fatin’s house and occasionally the park with Roxy) required very little interaction or path-crossing with others. 

Her mom stuck close to her side, guiding them on the most direct route to the stores they wished to visit - any other time she would have liked to adopt a slower, more window shopping pace with her daughter but appreciated that Leah’s comfort came first. Her Dad, meanwhile, used his height to create a buffer zone, ensuring no one got close enough to intrude on her personal space. 

They bought Shelby a charm bracelet. Leah bought her a tiny train charm to go on it; her parents had given her a curious look but Leah merely said ‘inside island joke’ and they’d wisely not pushed for a further explanation. Her parents bought a little house charm as well, to make it clear to Shelby that she would always have a home to return to in the future.

For Dot, Kurt had the brilliant idea of buying her a high-quality swiss-army knife that would serve her well whilst travelling. Her parents bought the swiss-army knife, and Leah bought a high-quality leather case for it engraved with Dot’s name. 

“I want to buy Fatin’s by myself… if that’s okay?” Leah asked shyly as she picked up the two items that made up Fatin’s gift. 

“Of course.” Maryann agreed readily. “Kurt and I have an idea of our own that we would like to give her.”

Leah nodded, unable to help the sad smile as she stared down at the presents tucked under her arm.

“She’ll love it.” Kurt promised, squeezing Leah’s shoulder comfortingly.

“Yeah?”

“It’s from you.” Kurt reasoned like it was obvious. “That girl would love anything you gave her.”

“Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mom. For… for everything.” Leah hesitated as she turned to head over to the tills. 

She took a deep breath before turning back, depositing the presents on the side momentarily before reaching out to pull both her parents into a hug. 

Their arms instantly wrapped around Leah on either side in return, holding her tightly. Leah attempted to blink back the building tears but her battle was lost the second she could feel her Dad shake, unable to repress his own.

“I love you, my little girl.” Kurt whispered in her ear.

“Not so little anymore, Dad.” Leah hiccuped round a sob.

“You’ll always be our little girl, Leah.” Maryann cut in pressing a kiss to the side of Leah’s head. “No matter how old you get. No matter what happens.”



Day 218

 

“It’s going to need surgery.”

Leah blanked out after that, her parents looked pale and broken as they listened to the doctor, gazes intermittently flickering to the fucked up mess that was Leah’s rarely exposed leg.

Her Dad looked like he was going to be sick.

Her Mom’s jaw was clenched so tightly that Leah wondered if they would need to stop by the dentist on the way back from the hospital.

The doctors that had first looked Leah over had said much of the same before referring her to a consultant at a hospital in the Bay Area for when she got home. Her parents didn’t know how the injury had happened and Leah had requested that they leave the room when she told the doctor. 

Only the investigators and the medical personnel knew - Leah could detach herself when telling strangers that only cared in a professional capacity. She told herself that she simply didn’t want to deal with exposure to pity-filled gazes, but the truth was… some illogical part of her brain believed if no one else knew she could pretend it hadn’t happened. 

“There’s some… debris that needs to be removed.” The doctor explained, eyeing her warily as she answered her parents' inquisition.

Leah’s hands curled into fists in her lap. 

Imaginary Dot would be so disappointed with her for not getting all of the bullet out.  

“Additionally, the healing of the wound was…” The doctor paused trying to find a more diplomatic term besides ‘fucking shoddy’.

You try cauterising a bullet wound with your non-dominant hand after losing so much blood , Leah thought snidely, her lip twitching with the desire to pull back into a snarl.

Her injury needed to be re-opened and as much of the damage undone as possible. Leah agreed to the surgery, because it was made clear to her that her leg would deteriorate over time and this was her best chance to get back key functionality. 

The surgery would be in the summer, booked in for about eight to ten weeks from now. It would allow Leah to get herself mentally ready and recover from her ordeal somewhat before throwing her back in the wringer. Her Mom and Dad would also be able to arrange cover so that they could work from home to support her recovery. 

Fatin, Shelby and Dot were waiting for them when they returned from the hospital; Fatin looking like she had been pacing non-stop since they’d left. 

Leah didn’t really have it in her to explain so she left her Mom the task whilst her Dad helped her to the sofa. Leah zoned out from the conversation, hand kneading unconsciously at her aching leg, thinking back to how much of a struggle it had been to survive, to keep going, to push herself when she’d been hurt.

She didn’t know if she was strong enough to go through anything like that again. 

“Leah?”

Leah glanced up to find everyone looking at her expectantly.

Maryann moved to sit on the coffee table in front of her whilst Fatin slipped into the space by her side - Leah not hesitating to take Fatin’s hand in hers.

“Is there anything you want? Before the surgery or after?” Maryann inquired gently, “Anything that might help?”

Leah considered the question; they were potentially referring to any number of things. Willing to offer her the world to try and help her through another bout of pain coming her way. 

They probably expected requests for some books or a subscription to a new streaming service or even a weekend getaway to the lake house they used to go to in the summers when she was a kid.

“Rachel.” Leah answered simply. 

Rachel was who had gotten her through nearly every horrific moment in her life. 

Rachel burned the book. Rachel carried her out of the sea. Rachel gave her purpose and made her feel valued when she wanted nothing more than to cease existing. Rachel became her lifeline and best friend. 

Even in the wilderness, it was Rachel that got her up, that saved her life yet again. 

She could feel Fatin’s hand jolt in hers and she knew everyone was looking at her in surprise.

But they had asked and Leah had given the only honest answer available to her.

“After the surgery, I’ll need Rachel.” Leah explained and then she said nothing more for the rest of the day.



Day 232

 

Bitch , I know you didn’t eat the last tater tot after I called dibs.”

Leah’s jaw clenched and she tried to breathe slowly through her nose. 

“Dude, you snooze, you lose.” Dot shrugged.

“You snooze, you… fuck me, bitch , that’s your defense?” Fatin shot back, leaning forward to narrow a faux-hard glare at her best friend. Leah slipped her hand away from Fatin’s; her heart racing in her chest whilst a sharp metallic taste filled her mouth. 

“That was the greatest comeback that ‘ The Dorothy Campbell ’ could come up with?” Fatin scoffed. 

Leah pressed herself back into the sofa cushions, trying to shove down the overwhelming nausea that was building within her. 

They were having a movie night, just the four of them. Her parents had retreated upstairs early for the night leaving the girls with takeaway and free-reign of the living room. 

Leah was doing fine , at least fine for her post-wilderness self, until it happened.

They’d let Leah have final say on every film without complaint - she chose ‘Emma’ at Shelby’s suggestion followed by a harmless comedy from the nineties that Dot had seemed keen on.  

The second film was halfway through when Fatin had said it, voice warm and affectionate but the singular word like a gunshot that ripped through Leah and left her bleeding out. And then she’d kept firing and firing unaware how she was tearing Leah to shreds, making it snow inside the living room.

Bitch , you’re going to have to step up your game if you want to hang with the cool kids.” Fatin grinned, flashing a wink over her shoulder at Leah before rounding back on Dot.

“The cool kids? You’re a fucking cellist and Shelby’s a theatre geek. If anyone’s the cool kid in this-” Dot cut off immediately, eyes suddenly wide. “Leah, you alright?”

Leah was shaking, her whole body trembling - the cold seeping into her bones, the shadows in the corners of the room so long that Murdoch was easily hiding in every single one. 

“Leah, baby.” Fatin murmured, expression horrified as she reached out to retake Leah’s hand, to make grounding contact.

Leah, however, scrambled away - the idea of contact when she expected violence a terrifying prospect - causing her to collapse heavily on the floor and that was…

That was so much fucking worse…

Because she was now lying in the snow and Murdoch was leaning over her, calling her that word relentlessly and Leah’s leg was ripped to pieces and she was so scared and so alone and everything hurt and-

She was screaming and thrashing, hands trying to restrain her so she wouldn’t catch her head on the corner of the coffee table. The overhead light was on casting away the shadows revealing the lack of trees.

 Fatin was holding her from behind, tears streaming down her face whilst Shelby and Dot were on either side of her looking terrified and out of their depth. Her parents were in the doorway, looking apprehensive and heartbroken having clearly sprinted down the stairs.

Leah’s expression must have pre-warned of what was about to happen next and thankfully, Dot recognised all the warning signs because suddenly there was the black bag they had thrown their takeaway rubbish into as the night progressed held open in front of her - catching the heaving mess her body expunged in the nick of time.

Fatin rubbed her back through it all, whispering reassurances into her ear and twisting her hair up and out of the way. 

Her mom and dad stepped in then, taking over her care and eventually helping her upstairs to bed, leaving the girls shaken behind her.

“Leah?” 

Leah turned over in bed to see the door open the tiniest of slithers, Fatin’s eye visible through the gap. 

“Fatin.” Leah replied, patting the side of the bed that had more or less become Fatin’s side. 

There was a beat as Fatin decided whether to seize the invitation or not - Leah merely tapped the side once more and Fatin was there in a flash, slipping underneath the covers, hand hovering in the small space between their bodies. Leah grabbed it immediately and squeezed it until she heard Fatin release the breath she’d been holding for who knows how long.

“Are you…” Fatin aborted the question with a wince. The answer obvious considering the state Leah was in only an hour ago.

“Better.” Leah replied simply.

Fatin nodded, brown eyes shiny with barely suppressed tears. “Leah, what… what caused that?”

Leah flinched at the question, retreating backwards and away, biting down on her own lip.

Fatin lifted their intertwined fingers bringing them closer so she could press a soothing kiss to each of Leah’s knuckles. “Leah,” Fatin murmured, voice so gentle but so serious. “I never want you to go through anything like that again, okay? So if there is ever anything I can do to prevent it, I want to know.”

Leah pressed her lips tight together, not trusting her own voice.

“Was it something in the film?” Fatin guessed, pressing another kiss to each of Leah’s curled fingers, “I can’t tell you how many tv shows I’ve had to stop watching when they trigger some pretty fucking bleak memories. Was it the food?” Fatin’s nose nuzzled into the back of Leah’s hand; Leah’s heart flying up and catching in her throat at the sensation and sight. “I can’t eat oysters anymore. I fucking loved them but now just like the look or smell and… ugh. Was it something-”

“Bitch.”

Fatin froze at the whispered response.

“It was… that word.” Leah hated herself in that moment, hated how she could see the understanding dawn with how Fatin’s heart visibly broke - shattered - in front of her. “You didn’t know, Fatin. I didn’t either.” Leah rushed to reassure as Fatin tried to tug her hand free from Leah’s, the shame and self-loathing distinct in how Fatin’s entire demeanour crumpled.

“I should have-” Fatin choked out.

“No.” Leah declared, gripping Fatin’s hand all the tighter, tugging the other girl forward and into a full body-embrace. “No, you didn’t know. I didn’t know. Okay? You did nothing wrong. It wasn’t your fault.”

Leah’s reassurances didn’t stop Fatin from sobbing, face pressed against Leah’s collarbone, but she didn’t pull away either so Leah took it as a victory. She let go of Fatin’s hand so that she could curl it through Fatin’s shoulder length hair instead, fingers combing through it in a reassuring rhythm, whilst her other hand instinctively pitter-pattered up and down Fatin’s curved spine.

“It’s not your fault, Fatin.” Leah repeated endlessly, directly into Fatin’s ear, intermittently pressing a kiss to Fatin’s forehead.

She kept repeating the statement over and over again until Fatin’s tears stopped falling, until her breathing evened out, until the other girl was peacefully asleep on Leah’s chest. 

Leah fell quiet, voice rough and worn-out - the most she’d spoken in months, and utterly convinced it was the most important thing she’d ever said. 



Day 216

 

Leah looked through the window at the house she hadn’t quite believed she would ever see again. Fatin was sitting next to her, in the middle seat in the back, sleeping against Leah’s shoulder since the start of the car journey, holding Leah’s hand tight in between both of her own as if Leah might disappear without warning. Leah had remained stock-still, not wanting to disrupt Fatin’s sleep, aware that the other girl had barely slept in the last couple of days, gaze constantly alert and vigilant, brimming with familiar protective energy like the early days on the second island. 

Leah watched as the front door opened, Dot and Shelby appearing in the doorway, equal parts eager and anxious.

She didn’t quite know how to feel about the two of them in her house. 

A small, dark twisted part of herself that she loathed - the part that she had stuffed all her pain and rage into during her time in the Wilderness - wanted to scream and shout how unfair it was that she had suffered whilst they got to live out their lives in Leah’s home with her parents cooing over them and Fatin’s constant companionship. That small part of herself asked why she had to suffer whilst they got to be happy…

She silenced that part with how Dot had led them, bringing out the best in everyone she interacted with - saw the best in everyone. Leah couldn’t even begin to articulate her gratitude for Dot making Leah starkly aware of how she had misjudged Fatin. For seeing the diamond in the rough, that Leah could have missed… 

How much emptier would Leah’s life have been without that knowledge?

She also knew how much Dot had sacrificed before the island - Dot sharing about her Dad in whispers as she watched over Leah in her comatose form post-suicide attempt - and how much she had then continued to sacrifice on the islands. Taking more than her fair share of responsibility. 

If anyone deserved to relax and be a teenager it was Dot, and even the dark twisted part of herself couldn’t begrudge that.

Then there was Shelby.

Shelby, who understood self-destruction and facades and trying to be something you’re not. Shelby, who bolstered others spirits despite how low hers was. Shelby, who made Leah feel like she wasn’t the only one battling something inside herself, and didn’t judge her for falling short of victory.

Shelby, who had been thrown away by a family that did not deserve her, left to sink or swim.

How could Leah be upset that Shelby was granted a safe-haven when she needed it most? Especially when she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Shelby would always grant her one no matter what happened in the future.

So Leah swallowed the envy, the regret and the loss and smiled up at the two girls who came to open her car door. 

“Hey, there sweetie.” Shelby greeted, voice soft so as not to wake Fatin.

Leah attempted to smile back in return, it wasn’t a flawless effort but Shelby positively beamed in return so Leah figured she’d done an okay job.

“Leah,” Dot mumbled, expression proud and warm, “I’ve got to tell you that you have fully ruined Survivor for me now. I mean, I’m going to watch all those contestants and think these guys are shit in comparison to the badass Leah Rilke. Like you’ve completely blasted them out of the water.”

Leah ducked her head, cheeks burning a glowing pink - that was the first time anyone had turned everything she’d been through into an accomplishment and not just a trauma she had bravely survived. There was something oddly satisfying about that, made all the more meaningful by it coming from Dot.

Her Dad appeared then, having finally retrieved the bags from the trunk.

“Do you want me to carry you inside?” Her dad offered. 

Leah shook her head, she didn’t want to be carried into her home, sad and broken rather than triumphant. She turned back to look at Fatin regretfully, she’d always imagined walking inside with Fatin’s hand in hers.

“How about I help you?” Dot offered, taking a small step forward. “You can lean on me.”

“And I’ll follow with Fatin; girl looks like she needs some support as well.” Shelby added.

Leah blinked, an image reforming in her head. Leaning on Dot - not quite a confident walk but there was something strong and comforting about it regardless.

She nodded and Dot was there an instant later, helping her get free of her seatbelt and gently manoeuvring Fatin over to the other side where Shelby now was - having come through the other side car door to catch the girl. Dot guided her through the steps with expertise, and eventually helped Leah to her feet, moving so that her bad leg had little weight on it. Her mom and dad hovered nearby; they didn’t rush to intervene clearly recognising that this was an important moment for the girls.

Dot helped her inside without too much issue, pausing at the bottom of the stairs.

“Want to tackle that now or later?” Dot asked, head jerking towards the steps.

Leah took a deep breath, met Dot’s eyes and nodded - now .

They made it upstairs and into Leah’s room with only a few teetering close calls. 

Her room was exactly how she left it, though her bedding was clearly fresh - she assumed that was Shelby’s thoughtfulness.

“You’re way lighter than I remember…” Dot huffed as she helped lower Leah onto the bed.

Leah grimaced at that, acutely aware from watching her body fade with each day of hiking how light she now was.

“Fuck, that was a pretty fucking stupid thing for me to say, wasn’t it?” Dot frowned, settling on the edge of the bed as she studied Leah closely. Leah squirmed under the gaze, hair falling to hide her scar as she pulled a nearby blanket to drape over her legs. “Leah, I just…” Dot nodded to herself, chin raised determinedly, “I’m really fucking glad you’re back. I really missed you.”

Leah’s surprise at the declaration was quickly overridden by the greater surprise that followed when Dot reached out and pulled her into a tight hug.

“No more sacrificial bullshit, you hear? Get better and be happy, they’re the only two things you need ever do.” Dot murmured into her ear.

Leah blinked back tears, hands awkwardly clasping around Dot’s back as she sunk into the familiar security that Dot always offered.

“I call dibs on the next hug.” Shelby announced.

Dot pulled away and Leah’s heart twinged painfully at the sight of tears running down Dot’s face. Shelby was in the doorway, arm around a slightly swaying, heavily drowsy Fatin who was smiling almost deliriously at Leah.

“She’s all yours.” Dot replied, getting to her feet, “She’s out of practice though so we’re going to have to fix that.” 

“Sounds good.” Shelby grinned as she supported Fatin over to the other side. Fatin immediately sinking into the bed - Leah extended out a hand for her, encouraging Fatin to snuggle into her side, fingers slipping into short dark hair.

“Got enough energy for a hug with a trainwreck?” Shelby inquired, expression hopeful but also understanding.

Leah nodded, free arm opening wide to give Shelby a side-hug, slightly less awkward than the one before with Dot - already noticeably improving. 

“You were never a trainwreck.” Leah whispered.

Shelby jolted in surprise at her words but didn’t pull away. 

“Neither were you.” She returned kindly before leaning back, her smile shaky but sincere. “Get some rest, sweetie. I think Fatin will sleep much better if you lay down with her.”

Fatin hummed a sleepy agreement, hand fisting in Leah’s sweatshirt, tugging weakly to prompt Leah to shuffle down.

“We’re here if you need us.” Dot promised as her and Shelby closed the door behind them.

And Leah didn’t doubt that for even a second.



Day 234

 

Leah scooted closer, head tilted and cheek resting on the top of her knee as she stared adoringly up at Fatin, cello between her legs, hands confident in every movement even as shy eyes flitted to Leah’s and then away again on repeat.

The last note echoed mournfully around Fatin’s bedroom, Leah’s only sanctuary outside of her own home, a place that Fatin had taken to bringing Leah when she needed to not feel trapped or when Dot, Shelby or Leah’s parents were being a little too attentive.

The bow in Fatin’s hand fell away from the strings, and the musician shifted slightly on her chair, body tight with anxiety. 

Brown eyes darkened by overthinking met Leah’s clear ones.

Leah smiled gently up at her, reaching out with tentative fingers to encircle Fatin’s ankle, the closest accessible part of her.

It still amazed Leah even after all these days how simple contact with Fatin grounded her, kept her buzzing thoughts low and kept the troubling memories at bay. How the lightest of brushes of skin made Leah’s chest feel less tight and her heart calmer after becoming knotted and seemingly tangled. 

Leah’s fingers traced around and over the malleoli, kneading the soft skin around it - her action prompting a cascading wave of comfort up Fatin’s body, which settled and lost the strain it was under. Leah even thought for a fleeting second that she heard Fatin inhale sharply in pleasure, but quickly convinced herself that it was her mind translating the remnants of the final musical note into a dream.

Beautiful .” Leah whispered into the stillness of the room, head ducking forward as she studied the contrast in skin tone between herself and Fatin.

Leah then froze for a second, but went pliant almost immediately, upon feeling fingertips brush through her hair and lightly massage her scalp.

“As good as Ben Folds?” Fatin inquired, voice light and teasing.

Leah grinned, shaking her head ruefully before blinking up at Fatin who was haloed by the midday sun streaming through the window behind her. 

“Better.” Leah confessed.

Fatin’s fingers stuttered for a second, the word resonating, “High praise.”

Leah shrugged a shoulder, “Honest praise.”

Fatin turned away for a second, hiding a familiar wobbly smile that Leah hadn’t seen since their night together so long ago - a smile of undeniable affection and joy. The joy had been missing since she’d returned, limited by the constant thrum of concern and fear that Leah knew Fatin was desperately trying to restrain.

Leah encircled Fatin’s ankle once again with her hand and gently squeezed, recapturing Fatin’s full attention.

“Play again?” Leah requested plaintively. “Please?”

Fatin’s mouth opened and closed, her hand falling away from Leah’s hair.

“Well, since you asked so nicely…” Fatin agreed bashfully, body straightening up and hands snapping back into position.

Leah slumped comfortably, keeping that small contact between them as music filled the room once again, this time elated and exuberant.



Day 219

 

The blood was leaking through her fingers and the word was dark, dark, dark. 

She blinked away the tears and the snowflakes that misted her eyes; she tried to call out for help but no matter how hard she strained no sound escaped. The trees were so tall she couldn’t see their tops and in between their trunks were glowing amber eyes, watching… 

Waiting… waiting… waiting…

She curled forward, body heaving with sobs when suddenly she felt a hand wrap around her neck from behind and yank her back so that she was staring up into cold eyes and a twisted smirk.

“NO!”

The word wrenched forth from her, and everything was dark again, her body was entangled and trapped. She jerked, trying to free herself, arms and legs thrashing wildly until she was falling. 

It wasn’t a great distance but it jolted her, the pain making her think of ripped skin, and hard knocks to the head. She scrambled back finally free from her chains until her back was pressed against the corner of the room.

“Leah, you’re okay.” Fatin soothed.

Leah closed her eyes tight, trembling. Imaginary Fatin couldn’t protect her, couldn’t keep her safe from Murdoch, from the wolves, from all the hundreds of dangers out there.

“Baby, just breathe.” Fatin continued, voice close and calming even with that shudder of panic that underlaced it.

“Don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me.” Leah begged of whoever/whatever could hear her. 

“I’m not going to hurt you.” Fatin whispered, the heartbreak in those words palpable. “I would never hurt you.”

And then Leah felt the softest of touches to the side of her face, silky and tender. 

She blinked open her eyes to find Fatin - hair messy and cheeks streaked with silent tears, expression filled with so much love and care that Leah knew, even without the physical touch, that she was real because she could never imagine anyone looking at her like that.

Leah inhaled a shaky breath, trembling fingers moving to grab Fatin’s hand and press it tighter against her cheek. Fatin shuffled closer, moving to kneel between Leah’s legs as her other hand tidied the sweat slicked locks of hair from Leah’s forehead.

“Everything okay?” Leah’s dad called out from the doorway to her bedroom, allowing a harsh beam of artificial light into the room.

Leah flinched, folding in on herself in shame, the entire household roused and peering in on her moment of weakness.

“She alright?” Shelby asked, her and Dot tentatively stepping inside but keeping a distance.

Fatin shifted to block everyone’s view of Leah, providing her some privacy.

“Fatin?” Dot murmured, concern evident.

“Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me.” Leah whispered under her breath, unable to shake the claws of the nightmare. She assumed no one would hear… but Fatin did. 

She always did.

“Leah, Leah, shh… you’re okay, baby.” Fatin repeated, slipping closer and embracing Leah in the loosest hug imaginable. “You’re okay.”

“Please… please…”

“I’m here, I’m right here.”

And it was so good , it was everything she’d ever wished for. And maybe it was that, the realisation she felt so safe that made her question it. Question the authenticity of the experience.

Maybe she had finally cracked beyond repair.

“No, you’re not.” Leah muttered despondently, burying her face into the welcoming crook of Fatin’s neck. “You’re not. I’ve finally gone mad. You’re not here. I’m all alone.”

“Leah. I’m real. You’re not alone. Can you feel me?” The arms around her grew tight and then there was more pressure, she felt more arms wrapping around her on either side. “Open your eyes.” Fatin begged, and Leah had never been able to refuse her anything. 

“You got us.” Shelby murmured, smiling gently from one side, hand stroking comfortingly up and down Leah’s back.

“We’re right here too, Leah.” Dot promised, squeezing her forearm and nudging her side. “See?”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Leah apologised, the guilt swarming up then as she looked around at her dearest friends striving so hard to pull her back from the abyss.

“No apologies, baby.” Fatin said, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”

The four of them stayed like that, nestled in the corner until Leah’s heart rate had returned to something normal, until their knees ached and Shelby started to doze on her shoulder.

Maryann and Kurt brought them hot cocoa, blankets and pillows, and checked that they were all okay. Shelby and Dot, with a small chocolate moustache, eventually slumped down, falling asleep in the corner on either side of Leah and Fatin.

“Do you think you can sleep?” Fatin asked, hand combing through Leah’s hair as Leah rested her head on Fatin’s collarbone.

Leah shrugged.

“That’s okay, I don’t mind staying up late with a pretty girl.” Fatin teased, kissing the side of Leah’s head. “You know I mean it, right? We don’t mind. I definitely don’t mind. I’d much rather be kept awake by you than you not be here.”

“I just want to be better.” Leah admitted quietly.

“And you’ll get there in time.” Fatin reassured, prompting a scoff of amusement and disbelief from Leah. “What?” Fatin inquired, and Leah could practically hear her frown.

“Time doesn’t work like that for me.” Leah confessed, pursing her lips tight together. “The days get all jumbled in my head.”

“What do you mean?” Fatin asked, confusion apparent.

Leah laughed quietly to herself, eyes falling closed as she cuddled up closer to Fatin’s side, “It doesn’t matter.”



Day 240

 

Fatin was excellent at motivating Leah to do different things, mostly because she made Leah feel safe enough to try. She was the one that got Leah to go out for walks to the park with Roxy, just the two of them. She was the one that got Leah to come with her to take her brothers to martial arts practice, the two of them bickering over music like normal teenagers. She was the one that got her and Kemar to go for trips to the local bookstore and cafe. 

She knew when to push and when to retreat.

She knew when Leah needed to do something but didn't feel comfortable enough to leave the house, which is why they’d gotten into baking together on the weekends. Leah’s mom had given them a couple of lessons, teaching them how to make the family apple pie recipe and the triple chocolate brownies her mom only made for her birthday. 

Fatin had taught Leah to make samosas and then her brothers’ favourite cookie recipe.

That particular weekend they were making muffins for Ahmad and Kemar to share at their martial arts club the next day. Leah’s parents accompanied by Dot and Shelby had gone food shopping and to buy some more clothes for the girls, ready for the summer.

The muffins had just gone into the oven when Leah felt Fatin take her hand and tug her into the middle of the kitchen. Fatin beamed at her, placing Leah’s hands on her shoulders so she was supported without the help of her cane, leaning nearby.

“Dance with me.” Fatin requested simply, the music playing through a speaker connected to Fatin’s phone. 

“I’m a terrible dancer.” Leah admitted with a wince.

“I don’t care. I’ll be good enough for the both of us.” Fatin replied with a teasing wink that made Leah’s heart sing.

“Okay, but no judging.”

“None, whatsoever.” Fatin promised with a solemn nod which blossomed into a breathtaking grin, hands slipping down to Leah’s hips and guiding them to move to the rhythm of the random pop song Leah didn’t recognise.

It was in moments like this that Leah could convince herself that none of it happened. That she had returned home at the same time as the other girls, had flown back with them all, recovered together. That her and Fatin had returned to school together, had struggled and triumphed side by side regaining some semblance of normality. That she had not lost a single second.

Had gone on cheesy dates, and professed ‘I Love You’s’ every day without any doubt creeping in.

It was at this moment that Leah could convince herself that maybe, just maybe, whilst she had lost so much… maybe she hadn’t lost her chance with Fatin.

“Can I ask you something?” Fatin questioned, head tilting to the side as they swayed in place.

Leah hummed happily in reply.

“You said…” Fatin swallowed thickly, choosing her words carefully, “A while ago, you said the days get jumbled, what did you mean?”

Leah frowned in surprise, less at the question and more at how Fatin had remembered such an innocuous statement. “My thoughts jump sometimes and I lose track and I…” Leah ducked her head in embarrassment, “Sometimes I forget what order things happened in. But I learnt how to cope.”

Their swaying came to a gradual stop and Leah felt a finger curl fleetingly under her chin, encouraging her to look up. “How did you cope?” Fatin inquired softly.

Leah bit her lip, unwilling to pull her hands away from Fatin so she could fiddle with her watch. “I counted.” Leah shrugged helplessly, cheeks turning pink. “I guess I’m still counting…”

“What are you counting?”

“The days.” Leah answered simply.

Fatin’s brow furrowed, “From when you arrived in the wilderness?”

Leah’s heart stuttered then; she considered lying but knew she would never forgive herself for doing so to Fatin. “Yes and no.”

“Then what-”

“Since you.” Leah said in a single exhale, blood rushing in her ears as she stared into brown eyes. She licked her lips, and straightened up to her full height, hands moving from Fatin’s shoulders to cup her cheeks, thumbs stroking back and forth. “I’ve been counting the days since I last kissed you.”

Fatin’s wondrous brown eyes went wide and she inhaled sharply, fingers digging hard into Leah’s hips. “Leah…”

Leah rocked forward, until their foreheads and noses were just barely touching, breathing the same perfect air, “Fatin, I-”

“We’re home!” Shelby’s voice rang out in greeting, the front door swinging loudly open and a raucous of voices following in the wake.

Leah jerked backwards, only saved from falling by Fatin’s timely assistance with steadying her. Leah grabbed the nearby kitchen counter, face a hot and blazing red, as Fatin let her go and quickly turned around, busying herself with the washing up.

Shelby and Dot swarmed in, chattering loud and happy, intent on showing off their various purchases. Fatin hooked an arm through Dot’s and the two of them headed upstairs as Leah helped pack away all the food items, intermittently cooing over Shelby’s new clothes. The oven dinged and Leah retrieved the muffins, her Dad burning his fingertips as he immediately tried to steal one. Shelby’s phone rang and the bright grin that illuminated her face meant it could only be one person - she pressed a quick kiss to Leah’s cheek before ducking away.

Leah rolled her eyes, slightly overwhelmed by all the noise and activity but heart full with love for those that caused it. 

With the muffins safely cooling, she went in search of Fatin; hope buoying her footsteps in a way that she hadn’t felt in months - still riding the high of the maybe that had crystallised in the kitchen.

“Not long left now.” Dot’s voice carried, reaching Leah as she limped with the use of her cane up the hallway. “Graduation is right around the corner. Juilliard not long after that.”

Leah came to an abrupt halt, the reminder that Fatin’s constant presence would soon be a scarcity, a harsh crack in the fragile fantasy she had started to lull herself into believing.

“What’s your point, Dorothy?” Fatin questioned, tone weary and heavy, so unlike her over the last month.

“I fly out a couple of weeks after graduation.” Dorothy reminded calmly, “My only question is… are you still coming with?”

Leah’s heart instantly froze in her chest, a terrible ringing in her ears as the crack in her fantasy splintered under the onslaught of reality. 

She stumbled away, retreating with shaky legs to her bedroom, collapsing onto her bed and her watch immediately sent spinning round and round her wrist.

Of course, Fatin was leaving.  

Leah bit down hard on the inside of her cheek, trying to keep the bitter ‘ she’s leaving me, she’s leaving me, she’s leaving me ’ from escaping. 

She replaced those selfish thoughts with joyful ones (that shattered her far worse than the cruel, biting words): Fatin was going off to explore and grow and be happy. 

Fatin, who had sacrificed to help her regain some semblance of herself. 

Fatin, who was so kind, so attentive and so beautiful.

Fatin, who deserved to live her life and see the world and then conquer it.

Fatin, who deserved so much better than being anchored by the wreck that was Leah Rilke. 

And with those realisations, Leah extinguished whatever little hope she had left.



Day 260

 

“Does it look okay?” Leah checked, smoothing down the shirt and blazer she was wearing as her mom finished curling her hair. 

“Perfect.” Maryann replied, smiling at her in the mirror.

She would have liked to wear a dress but the idea of her leg potentially being exposed made her want to curl up in the corner and never leave, and today was important, she had to be there. Besides, the linen trousers were loose and smart, and she knew she wore the baby blue blazer well - even if it did make the stark red scar around her eye standout.

Dot and Shelby had left earlier, picked up by Fatin and on their way to collect Ian; Leah and her parents left not long after to ensure they could get good seats for the ceremony and avoid the prying eyes of the crowd. 

They arrived to find Rana, Ahmad and Kemar hovering nearby, clearly waiting for them so they could sit together. They chose seats near the front thereby avoiding the curious gazes of those that would inevitably and overtly turn in their seats to get a glimpse of the wilderness survivor. Ahmad and Kemar sat on either side of Leah, chests puffed up protectively and glaring at anyone who stared for a little too long - looking so much like Fatin that Leah’s heart swelled in appreciation.

The ceremony was simple but a little long-winded. 

The valedictorian, a girl named Jenny Powell - destined to study theatre at Tisch - did a decent speech until she reached a section where she went on about students being lost and found which was a thinly veiled nod to Leah. 

She tensed immediately at the reference, jaw clenching tight and hand moving to fiddle with her watch as she hunched over - hating how she was being used for points by a girl that hadn’t fucking known her name the previous year. Two small hands slipped into hers and she glanced round uncertainly to find Fatin’s brothers smiling innocently at her, revealing without a single word how Fatin had so obviously primed them to watch over her.

(She imagined Fatin sitting them down and making the request like it was a serious mission which both boys saluted at the end of).

She blanked out the rest of the speech, her appreciation for it vanishing after all that. Then the names were called out, and Leah nodded along, lightly clapping for the class she should have been a part of. 

Dot came first - Fatin’s deafening wolf-whistle echoing around the space and nearly covering up the cheers that came from Leah and Fatin’s families. Shelby came next, and Leah made sure to take a video that she could send to Toni. Leah’s dad was taking plenty of pictures, though, with his high-quality camera to capture the event.

Then it was Fatin’s turn and Leah, pushed down her nervousness to stand, lifting Kemar up so that Fatin could easily spot them in the crowd if their cheers weren’t enough. Fatin grinned at them as she crossed the stage, looking absolutely stunning and blowing an exaggerated kiss in Leah’s direction as she accepted her diploma. 

Leah shook her head in amusement, for once uncaring of the gaking faces that took the opportunity to watch her - some even snapping photos to sell.

Ian came last of their little group. Leah had spoken to him a little bit, mostly over the phone and via text, he had dropped by to lend her some graphic novels to read at one point - and she preferred them to literary novels so much more. They strained her mind less and were easier to follow. She intended to spend more time with him over the summer, especially since it would just be the two of them before he started at Berkeley, and before Rachel arrived - Shelby going to spend time with Toni and Martha in Minnesota.

She cheered for him and flashed him a proud smile when he bowed his head towards her. 

The event wrapped up, Leah and the others waiting with bright proud smiles (though Leah’s smile was extra large in an attempt to hide the longing for an alternate reality where she’d crossed the stage with her friends). 

She spotted the three of them through the crowd and less than a minute later she was being swept up into a group hug, feet leaving the ground. 

“We’ve graduated!” Shelby shouted.

“No more fucking high school!” Dot declared. 

Leah laughed wildly, swept away by their enthusiasm.

“Congratulations! Now put me the fuck down!” Leah ordered; her dearest friends in the whole world lowering her gently back down. 

Shelby and Dot broke away first, shuffling over to bask in the glow of Leah’s parents' compliments.

“I am loving the jacket.” Fatin whispered in her ear, the tips of Leah’s ears turning red as Fatin leaned back, hands smoothing down the lapels of the jacket in question, lip caught between her teeth as her gaze swept up and down appreciatively.

“You do?” Leah choked out, tongue thick in her mouth.

“Mmhmm…” Fatin hummed, swallowing thickly before shaking her head regretfully. “I shouldn’t have said that, should I?”

Leah’s stomach plummeted, grateful that Fatin wasn’t looking at her face to see the disappointment. 

“I picked it for you.” She mumbled in reply, limping back a step, leg suddenly aching as she leant on her cane.

Fatin’s head shot up immediately, eyes wide with surprise and mouth dropping open when suddenly Ahmad and Kemar knocked into her with loud and excited yells. Leah took the opportunity to move away and shower her own praise on Shelby and Dot.

They didn’t linger for long, the swell and press of the crowd stifling. They all headed to the Jadmanis where Rana had organised a chef to lay on a dinner for them all to celebrate. 

No one mentioned how Fatin’s father hadn’t attended the ceremony - he’d gone out of town for a business trip. Fatin hid it well but it was obvious that regardless of how damaged her relationship with her father was, it hurt that he hadn’t prioritised attending such an important milestone in her life.

Despite all that, dinner was joyful and filled with laughter. 

Shelby gushed endlessly about everything she wanted to do when she started at UCLA with Toni in the Fall and all the plans she had for the summer when she went to stay with Martha and Toni. Dot, once nudged, shared where she planned to visit over the next year. 

Fatin was unusually quiet, but she wasn’t silent - encouraging conversations whenever they stalled with ease and motivating her brothers to show off their martial art skills after dessert much to everyone’s amusement and Rana’s mild apprehension. 

Once all the food was cleared away, out came the presents. 

Shelby and Dot both teared up over their gifts, hugging Leah and her parents for an extended time. Rana had bought Shelby and Dot open plane tickets for whenever they wanted to return home to the Bay. 

Rana had already given Fatin her gift that morning but Fatin was remaining secretive about what it was. 

Leah’s parents, however, stole the show with the gift they gave to Fatin. It was a watch - an old one that Leah immediately recognised as the one that her Dad always used to wear, one he’d received from his father. It was practically a Rilke family heirloom. 

Fatin repeatedly asked if they were sure, expression awestruck even as Leah’s Dad helped clasp the red leather band, attached to a silver and gold faced watch into place. The watch immediately suited Fatin, the style timeless and classic.

With the gifts shared, barring the one Leah had tucked into a corner, the group dispersed - the parents splitting a bottle of champagne in the kitchen, whilst the girls and Fatin’s brothers retreated to the lounge to play whatever game Shelby and Ahmad were currently obsessed with that week. Leah stuck it out for at least fifteen minutes, watching Shelby and Ahmad attempt to recreate the eiffel tower in Minecraft with Dot and Kemar serving as backseat architects.

She squeezed Fatin’s hand that was in hers and jerked her head towards the stairs, Fatin understanding and nodding instantly. Leah retrieved her gift and the two of them retreated to Fatin’s bedroom.

“How are you doing?” Fatin asked the instant they were alone, settling on the edge of the bed and patting the space next to her for Leah to occupy.

“Shouldn’t I be asking you that? You’re officially no longer the main character in a CW drama.” Leah teased.

“I can play young, I have one of those faces.” Fatin assured her with an emphatic wink. “Seriously, though… how are you?”

“Proud of you.” Leah answered simply, prompting Fatin’s entire expression to soften with fondness.

“Yeah?”

“Well, I always am. Today it's just… extra potent, I guess.” Leah shrugged.

Fatin nudged her side, “Leah-”

“I got you something.” Leah interrupted, lifting the gift bag and holding it out to Fatin, who took it curiously.

“You didn’t need to get me anything.” 

“I wasn’t not going to get you anything.”

Fatin let out an exaggerated sigh of aggrievement even as she surreptitiously peeked into the opening of the bag. 

“Go on, rip into it. I know you want to.” Leah grinned, her heart pounding in her chest.

“Well, if you say so.” Fatin smirked, tugging the bag further open and throwing the tissue paper hiding the presents aside like confetti. 

Fatin hesitated upon pulling out a polaroid camera and lavish blue photo album.

Leah spun her own watch round and round her wrist, swallowing thickly, “I just thought… that maybe it could be something you take with you.” 

“Take with me…?” Fatin repeated dumbly, brow furrowing.

“When…” Leah bit her lip, “When you go travelling with Dot.”

Cloudy brown eyes began to clear with the dawn of understanding.

“I overheard you a couple of weeks ago talking to Dot.” Leah explained, good leg jiggling up and down. By now, Fatin would be touching her, trying to calm her with grounding contact but Fatin was remaining absolutely still. “It’s just that,with this …” Leah nodded at the camera in Fatin’s hands, “Even if your phone runs out of charge or… something happens, you have… you can have the memories no matter what. I always regretted that… I didn’t have a picture. Of you.”

There was a long, heavy pause filled with everything neither of them had the courage to say.

“I want you to be happy, Fatin.” Leah whispered, eyes prickling, and voice hoarse with the rough precipitation of oncoming tears. “I get obsessive about things… about people. And I know I can smother and destroy them with just… with just being too much. And I don’t ever want to do that with you. You matter too much for me to… to hurt you like that. So I want you to know that I… I will be cheering for you, no matter where you go, and I…” Leah reached out and placed a hand on top of the album, “I can’t wait to see what pictures you’ve taken on your adventures. I’ll be here when you get back. Just like you were here for me.”

Fatin wasn’t looking at her, she was staring straight ahead, off into the middle distance. 

Leah deflated, hand slipping away from the blue cover before she leant forward to press a kiss that felt far too much like goodbye to the side of Fatin’s head. 



Day 214

 

The door opened.

“Leah?” 

Leah gasped because there was her Mom and Dad standing just inside the room, perfectly encapsulating joy and loss with a single look. Leah opened her mouth but no words came forth, she pressed back further into the corner, hands turning white-knuckled as she failed to understand whether she wanted to sprint away from them or to them.

Her parents slowly blinked out of their shock, making slow and unsteady progress across the room, stopping when they saw Leah flinch at their approach. Maryann and Kurt exchanged a single look, an entire silent conversation shared revealing the full-depth of their relationship. Kurt nodded once and then disappeared hurriedly back out the door, whilst Maryann gradually sank down to her knees, shuffling infinitesimally closer - watching constantly to check that Leah was comfortable.

“My little girl, it’s okay.” Maryann soothed, fingers twitching with the desire to reach out and make contact. “Look at you.” 

Look at you . The words repeated in Leah’s head accompanied by the unspoken, Look at what they’ve done to you .

Leah turned her head away, hiding the physical damage, eyes falling shut to keep back the tears. She begged and pleaded for Fatin to be there; wished for her to come back when she needed her the most. 

Why did she leave? 

Why did she leave when I still needed her?

Why did she leave when I’m still so alone?

“Leah.”

Leah’s eyes snapped open and-

That wasn’t right… 

Where were the cargo pants!?

“Fatin?” Leah breathed, the single word causing the other three occupants in the room to inhale sharply.

Fatin’s hair was wonderfully short, brown eyes teary and a fragile smile breaking over her face, lighting it up far more than the golden beams of sunlight streaming through the window could ever dream of doing. Kurt was standing behind her, supportive hand on her shoulder lightly pushing her forward. 

She was wearing jeans. Dark jeans that fitted so well .

Not cargo pants.

(Not that Fatin, especially this Fatin, couldn’t rock cargo pants as well as fitted jeans).

And wait… was that… Leah’s writing camp jumper?

And… oh… now Fatin was kneeling in front of her… so close… so, so, so impossibly close…

Leah’s mouth went dry, because then… then Fatin was reaching out with shaky hands and that…

That’s impossible. 

Fatin couldn’t touch her. 

But…

But…

“I’m about to try something and I can’t promise it’s going to go well.” Fatin murmured, and Leah had only a second to register what was about to happen before arms were gently encompassing her and… and…

Oh, this was real. 

She was real.

She was here.

She came.

Leah sunk into the embrace, entire body shaking with sobs because suddenly she knew, knew without a shadow of a doubt, that everything would be okay.



Day 261

 

Leah rolled over onto her side, hand curling through Roxy’s fur as she stared out the window, watching the morning sun crest over the roof of the house opposite. She’d gotten used to Fatin sleeping next to her again far too quickly. The other girl slept pressed against her side, head on her chest and hand tightly fisted into Leah’s sleep shirt as if afraid Leah might vanish in the middle of the night.

Roxy had tried to make up for the loss last night by sleeping peacefully alongside her on the bed like she used to do pre-island. Since she’d gotten back, Roxy had taken to sleeping outside her bedroom door, a comforting sentinel keeping her safe.

After giving Fatin her present, Leah had returned downstairs, face solemn and mood mournful. Her parents had picked up on her withdrawn state and made the requisite farewells before driving Leah home - the girls planning on hitting up Colby’s graduation party and then crashing at Fatin’s that night anyway. 

She’d watched a film with her parents, straining herself to keep focused for the short animated feature her mother had selected, aware that the lightness and length would suit her daughter’s shortened attention span.

Leah sighed, acknowledging that the forthcoming year wouldn’t be bad .

She would have her parents, and she had missed them desperately whilst away, it would be nice to spend more time with them. Ian wouldn't be too far away either and Rachel had even offered to extend her stay beyond Leah’s planned surgery recovery if she wanted company. 

She needed to start focusing on the positives, Leah rationalised, knowing full well in less than an hour she would be crying into her pillow yet again. 

Leah pushed herself upright, settling back against the headboard and contemplating getting up and making breakfast when her bedroom door was flung open to reveal a glowering Fatin.

“We need to talk.” Fatin declared, spinning round and making to slam the door shut before realising the potential impact the loud bang could have on Leah and panickingly throwing an arm out to prevent its sudden closure. 

“Uh… good morning to you, too?” Leah called out uncertainly, Roxy’s tail wagging excitedly at the sight of the dark-haired girl who always snuck him treats at dinner. “Is everything okay?”

“No, it most definitely is not.” Fatin snapped, tugging the door back open and gesturing for Roxy to leave - the dog obeying instantly in fear of jeopardising her treat supply. Fatin sighed, regaining composure before attempting to shut the door a second time far more carefully.

“What’s happened?” Leah asked, studying Fatin’s tense body language closely. “Are you okay?”

Fatin was dressed in a red and black animal print skirt so short that Leah had to forcibly drag her gaze up and away from flawless skin, not that Fatin’s top half eased the coil of arousal building in Leah. She was wearing a strappy black top that plunged low in the front and back.

Soft, cosy Fatin of the last couple of months had warmed Leah’s heart and reminded her of every reason for why she had fallen so in love with Fatin in the first place.

But this Fatin, who embodied the high school HBIC who had occupied Leah’s every waking thought for a month after a single encounter, definitely worked for Leah too. Especially when it was combined with the cocky, self-assuredness that had been smoothed slightly by the companionship and care of the unsinkables.

“No, of course I’m not fucking okay.” Fatin answered, hands on her hips and hip cocked forward as blazing brown eyes stared deep into Leah’s own. “I fell in love with a stupidly noble and self-sacrificing idiot.”

Leah’s brain performed the mental equivalent of a record scratch then, “Wha-”

Fatin held up a hand, demanding silence. “I’m talking now. Sit down.”

Leah’s brow furrowed, “I hadn’t gotten up?”

Fatin’s nostrils flared at the reply, “I was up all night planning this speech with Dorothy and Shelby’s help, we made certain assumptions about how it would happen with regards to positioning!”

“Sorry?”

“Don’t apologise, you long-limbed giraffe!” Fatin exclaimed, stamping her foot.

“Aren’t giraffe’s known for their long necks?”

“You have that too! Stop side-tracking me!”

“Right, shutting up.” Leah promised, zipping her mouth shut and then throwing away the key, hands splaying flat in her lap; heart fluttering half-excited and half-nervous in her chest.

Fatin closed her eyes, hands moving in slow up and down motions as if to centre herself.

Leah waited patiently, watching Fatin’s face steadily scrunch up in frustration.

“It’s too late, I’ve lost it…” Fatin groaned, causing Leah to wince sympathetically, “I was meant to start… something… something… found love in a hopeless place… no that was the lyrics of the song playing on the way over. Fuck!”

“Fatin, Fatin…” Leah held out a hand, expression hopeful and encouraging, “Come here, please.” 

Fatin’s mouth downturned at the sides in obvious disappointment, but she shuffled forward without hesitation taking Leah’s hand and sitting on the edge of the bed.

“I’m listening,” Leah soothed, squeezing their joined hands, “I promise.”

“Okay, alright, okay…” Fatin mumbled to herself, bouncing up and down slightly, “this is what it comes down to.” Fatin took a deep breath, straightening up, “I’m not a good person.”

Leah frowned immediately, a thousand and one arguments rising to the tip of her tongue, “Fatin-”

“I’m not a good person,” Fatin repeated, shifting closer, free hand moving to settle on the other side of Leah’s legs, practically trapping Leah in place - not that Leah minded, “Not like you. Because I’m selfish.” 

Fatin shrugged helplessly in a ‘ what can you do? ’ kind of way.

“I could never do what you did.” Fatin confessed with a smile that made Leah’s heart feel like melted chocolate. “I could never let you go because I fundamentally don’t want to. I am so unapologetically selfish especially when it comes to you and I wish…” Fatin bit her lip, brown eyes glossy. “I wish that you were selfish too. You’ve done your big sacrificial moment, Leah, and you deserve to be selfish. And I… I… I want you to be selfish with me.”

Leah swallowed, “That’s a really dangerous thing to say.”

Fatin shook her head, and declared simply, “ I don’t care .”

“You’re leaving.” Leah reminded her, because… because she couldn’t do it again. 

She couldn’t have one perfect moment only to have to starve again. She couldn’t live off imaginary morsels when she knew what ambrosia and nectar truly tasted like.

Fatin shuffled closer, head bowing forward until it was resting against Leah’s. “Not without you.” Fatin breathed. “I’m not going travelling with Dorothy.” 

Leah inhaled sharply, hope and joy warring with soul-shattering guilt. However, before Leah had a chance to try and voice her dichotomous reaction, Fatin pulled away and dropped yet another bomb.

“I’ve also deferred Juilliard for a year…”  

Leah’s jaw dropped and a strangled sound of alarm tried to escape her locked up throat.

Fatin winced apologetically, “Sorry, that came up way earlier in the original speech.”

“You did what?! Fatin-” Leah bellowed.

Fatin merely giggled, rolling her shoulders in yet another shrug as she replied simply, “Selfish, remember?”

Leah’s head felt like it was going to explode, “But-”

“Leah, baby .” Fatin cooed.

Leah’s jaw snapped shut, her entire body turning pliant like some innate pavlovian response. 

Fatin’s eyebrow shot up in interest, a smile blossoming on her face as she finally saw the impact of her term of endearment. “Oh, that really works for you, doesn’t it?”

“No comment.” Leah mumbled, shaking her head to try and recover her outrage from before. “Fatin, you can’t-”

“I can do anything I want,” Fatin said, brown eyes twinkling as if she had just cracked the secret of the universe, “and I want you by my side whilst I do it all. Face it, baby, you’re stuck with me. You’ve been stuck with me since the second you kissed me.”

“Like the world’s most potent gonorrhoea.” Leah grumbled, even as every single atom in her body screamed at her to accept this beautiful daydream playing out in front of her for reality.

Fatin’s gaze narrowed, “Don’t try to be funny whilst I’m being romantic as fuck.”

“Sorry.” Leah murmured causing Fatin to roll her eyes fondly, “But Fatin-”

Calloused palms tenderly cupped Leah’s cheeks causing every single word primed on her tongue to fade away.

“I love you.” Fatin whispered into the stillness, the whole world seemingly going quiet just for them. “I’m so ridiculously, disgustingly, ass over tit in love with you. And if you think, after waiting over two hundred days to be reunited with you that I would just walk away… then you have forgotten just how fucking stubborn I am.”

And then Fatin was leaning in, her nose brushing against Leah’s before sliding past it.

“What… what are you doing?” Leah asked shakily, even as her own ever hopeful hands moved to Fatin’s hips tugging her closer and closer until their chests were practically pressed together.

Fatin merely smirked and whispered, “Re-starting the count.”

And then Fatin’s lips were pressing against Leah’s, slotting into place like no time had passed at all. 



Day 261

Day 0

Chapter Text

THERAPY HOMEWORK #6: 

 

  1. Breaking my arm when I was eleven on the high ropes at a girl’s birthday party. Never really liked heights after that. (Also, the cast was this ugly ass pink colour and Jordan in my class drew a dick and balls on it immediately.) Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me do any sports that might jeopardise my cello playing abilities after that.
  2. Tom breaking up with me. This ridiculous, floppy haired boy who bagged groceries at the local supermarket. For like three weeks he was my whole fucking world. He dumped me for a girl closer to his age and a rack that would make even a monk’s eyes wander. (Still, what a fucking prick.)
  3. Winter recital sophomore year. I got a standing ovation. That was the first time my teachers said I was a shoo-in for Juilliard. I cried in my room all night. I can’t remember why.
  4. My parents telling me that I was a danger to the family and that they were sending me away.
  5. Plane crash, and maybe a little bit before that, but who’s counting? (Oh, wait! I am, because you’re making me. Doc, you better have a bowl of M&Ms for our next session.)
  6. Leah ran into the ocean and we were starving and we thought we were going to be rescued only for hope to be snatched away. It was a fucking bleak experience, okay? I was allowed to cry. It should be fucking encouraged!
  7. Leah. I’m not going into this one, okay? We talked about this in session. I’m not writing it down.
  8. The night we were all reunited in the bunker. The night we realised it wasn’t over.
  9. First kiss. You don’t get the details of that. That’s mine and no one else’s.
  10. Crossbow bolt. Thinking I might die. I was also really happy just before it, and then to think it was all going to be lost. Also, it hurt like a fucking bi-, it hurt a fuck-ton okay?
  11. Missing Leah - Look, I didn’t keep track at this point. I cried a lot over the last year.
  12. Realising my Mom actually loved me. Not the version of me she always wished I would be.
  13. Leah had a panic attack because of something I said. (She told me it wasn’t my fault, I think that made me cry more than anything else).
  14. Second first kiss. Again, that’s mine, no one else’s.



22nd May 2021

 

“Do you like it?” Fatin whispered knowingly into Leah’s reddening ear, gently biting down on the other girl’s earlobe.

Leah let out a strangled whine of affirmation as her hands stroked up and down Fatin’s bare thighs, thumbs pressing intermittently hard against the soft inner skin, fingertips creeping under the ridiculously short skirt she had worn in the hope of this exact reaction.

“That good, huh?” Fatin hummed, head dropping lower to suck possessive marks down the length of Leah’s neck.

Fatin could feel Leah’s throat bob under her lips as Leah swallowed thickly, nails suddenly digging exquisitely into Fatin’s thighs.

She wanted to grind down or, better yet, grab the teasing hand and shove it up her skirt, providing her the relief she so desperately needed. But she resisted. She was straddling Leah’s lap, holding herself up - straining core muscles she didn’t know she had - to ensure she didn’t rest any weight on Leah’s bad leg. 

They may have moved very quickly the first time around but it was obvious in how Leah faltered and tensed up when Fatin had suggestively plucked at the edge of her sleepshirt that it wouldn’t be the same this time. Fatin didn’t mind, just being able to kiss the girl she was in love with was more than enough - being able to fluster her and feel her touch was an added bonus.

“Definitely beats cargo pants.” Leah mumbled.

Fatin pulled away from steadily marked skin, “Huh?”

Blue eyes went wide and darted around the room, “Umm… nothing.”

Fatin would have pushed for further clarification if Leah’s sudden nervousness hadn’t meant she started retracting her hands from Fatin’s thighs. Fatin’s own hands immediately dropped from the safe position of Leah’s shoulders, landing atop them and preventing them from leaving.

“I picked the skirt for you.” Fatin confessed, provoking a sharp intake of breath. “I want you to enjoy it, okay?”

Leah nodded falteringly, Fatin squeezed Leah’s hands once before tracing back up Leah’s arms, delighting in the goosebumps that arose in her wake. It made her feel powerful and confident in her own body to know she could have this effect on Leah. All the boys and men that could fall and had fallen at her feet with a well-timed smirk and innuendo had nothing on this.

Nothing on her.

Leah’s hands began to knead and trace patterns and Fatin didn’t hesitate to reclaim Leah’s mouth, teasing with her tongue where her hands could not.

“I told the girls that my legs were your favourite part of me.” Fatin revealed between kisses, “Dorothy said tits and Shelby said ass.”

Leah gulped, eyes blown wide and mouth a pretty red. “Out of those three, yeah, I like your legs best.”

“Knew it.” Fatin grinned, planning the ‘I told you so’ speech; sharing this moment in graphic detail, knowing it would make Shelby blush and Dorothy roll her eyes. “Wait.” Fatin paused, stopping a couple of centimetres short of recommencing their long overdue make-out session. “Out of those three?”

Leah let out a sad ‘mrrph’ noise at being delayed more kisses; Fatin apologised with a quick peck to the tip of her nose. 

“I love your legs. Like really, really, really…” Leah’s hands slipped round the back of Fatin’s tense thighs, digging in and massaging the muscles, prompting an uncontrollable moan of pleasure to escape from Fatin, “love your legs. But they’re not my favourite part of you.”

“No?”

“No.” Leah repeated, nuzzling into Fatin’s heated cheek. “It’s your eyes, they’re my favourite part of you. Physically that is, I mean-”

“Says little Miss darling-blue-eyes.” Fatin interrupted with a dry, almost dismissive chuckle, saving Leah from unnecessarily declaring that she liked Fatin for more than just her body. 

(Fatin already knew that, it's one of many reasons why Fatin loved her so much).

Leah frowned at the reply, lips pulled taut with something that resembled outrage. 

“I love your eyes, Fatin.” Leah declared seriously. “They’re the kindest part of you. I know the saying ‘eyes are the window to the soul’ is as cliche as they come, but… they’re cliches for a reason, you know? I look into your eyes and I see a capacity for love that’s far greater than anyone else I have ever met. I look into your eyes and I see how much you care for me. My eyes may look pretty, but your eyes?” Leah lifted a hand up to cup the side of Fatin’s face, “Your eyes inspire songs and poems and declarations of love and war. Your eyes are what make me feel loved.”

Fatin automatically leaned into Leah’s warm palm. 

Baby,” Fatin murmured, voice raspy from forming words around the lump in her throat, “you can’t say shit like that when I’m trying to be sexy as fuck. Makes me totes emotional.”

“Sorry.” Leah grinned, utterly unapologetic.

Fatin rolled her eyes, slipping to the side and off Leah’s lap before tugging them both down so that they were laying down facing each other. “Don’t be sorry,” Fatin whispered, shuffling closer until their noses touched, “just kiss me and make it all better.”

Thankfully, Leah acquiesced enthusiastically.

They exchanged sweet kisses and light giggles for an hour before Fatin was breaking away to yawn, the effect of staying up all night in a romantic angst frenzy catching up with her. Leah opened her arms and Fatin snuggled into her side instantly, dozing through the rest of the morning, Leah’s lips pressing intermittently to the top of her head whilst the taller girl flicked lazily through the graphic novel Ian had dropped off for her earlier that week.

Fatin heard the door open at one point followed by soft voices - probably Dorothy and Shelby checking to see how things had gone - but she slumbered on, safe and sound in Leah’s embrace.

“Fatin?” Leah called out gently as Fatin shifted, finally beginning to rouse.

“Hmm?”

The backs of Leah’s fingers grazed her cheek, her breath warm against Fatin’s temple as she whispered, “I love you, too. I realised I hadn’t said it and I… I wasn’t sure if that was clear or not?” 

Fatin lifted her head up and rested her chin on Leah’s collarbone, “It was,” she hummed, “but I like hearing it, regardless.”

“I like saying it.” Leah smiled, soft and small, more glorious than the first ray of dawn in Fatin’s opinion. Leah’s gaze flickered over Fatin’s face, and Fatin could tell she was being memorised, making her heart ache in a beautifully painful way. “Did you miss me?” Leah asked shyly, lip slipping between teeth as she spoke, “Whilst I was… away ?”

Fatin flinched at the question, jarred out of her post-nap bliss, at the sheer absurdity of it. Breathing carefully through her nose she pushed herself up into a half-risen state (not wanting to drift too far from Leah’s comforting form). 

“Did I…” Fatin trailed off upon hearing the sharpness to her tone. She took a moment to centre herself before peering into uncertain blue eyes. “You know how teachers say there’s no such thing as a stupid question?”

“Yeah?” Leah answered tentatively.

“That question would make every fucking teacher, in every possible capacity, change their mind.”

Leah blinked at her dumbly, “So that’s a yes… then?”

Fatin’s nostrils flared, “Yes, it’s a fucking yes!”

Leah winced sheepishly.

“God, Leah, I missed you so fucking much I thought a piece of me was fucking missing !” Fatin exclaimed, the words pouring out of her. 

She had spent the last two months reining her emotions in, telling herself repeatedly - commanding it when needed - to focus on Leah’s recovery. To be there when she needed her, not the other way around. She had spent the last two months denying every single urge to press Leah against the nearest wall and kiss her until neither remembered their own names, only each others. She’d spent the last two months overthinking, afraid that she was pushing too hard, asking too much of the traumatised love of her life. 

And now it couldn’t be held back; not after finding out her restraint was what kept Leah guessing. What made her hesitate. What made her think Fatin could leave her so easily. What made her consider for even a second that Fatin wasn’t utterly broken and distraught, missing her every single day, hour, minute.

“I couldn’t sleep unless I had something that smelled like you.” Fatin continued, hands reaching out and fisting the front of Leah’s t-shirt, eyes stinging with the tears of relief, joy and despair that she had been ping-ponging between relentlessly for two months. “I was fucking terrified as Maryann was running out of your clothes that still smelled like you to give me.”

“Fatin…” Leah croaked, her own hands reaching out to tenderly cradle Fatin, one hand on the small of her back, the other threading through her hair.

“I read so many of your books.” Fatin continued with a whine, “I read more books in the last year than I have in my entire fucking life.”

Leah’s combing through her hair faltered momentarily, “You read my books?”

“Yes!” Fatin groaned, “And please go back to reading sci-fi and fantasy,” She demanded, “you clearly loved it from your annotations and if I have to read another depressing great literary novel to learn more about your beautifully complicated big brain I might burn your bookshelves down.”

“But why wou-”

“I’ve also burnt through so many batteries with Lil Leah that my brothers think I’m really into RC cars and I’m just excluding them.”

“Lil Leah?” Leah repeated, before inhaling sharply as realisation dawned. “Fatin, please don’t tell me you named your-”

“Vibrator after you?” Fatin finished. “I could say no, but I don’t want to restart our relationship with a lie. Also,” Fatin pouted, “Lil Leah is very important to me, baby. She’s gotten me through a lot of rough patches and needy moments - you wiggle in your sleep, by the way, which is just… phenomenal , except for when we are in an undefined relationship status.” Fatin sucked in her own bottom lip, thinking back to the last couple of months pressed close to Leah, waking to find herself brought to the brink and having to roll away to cool off. Leah now looked equal parts guilty and proud. “She goes pretty much everywhere with me now.”

“Everywhere?!”

“What? Don’t slut-shame me.” Fatin replied, hands curling out of their tight fists to press against Leah’s abdomen. “I think about you a lot and quite a lot of those thoughts turn rather… graphic …”

Leah gulped, “I- I don’t know what to say…”

Fatin preened at that, bolstered by rendering a pretty girl speechless.

“But weren’t you like…” A deep furrow creased Leah’s brow, “with other people, though?”

And then Fatin came crashing back down. It shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did, but in that moment Fatin would gladly have taken another crossbow bolt to the gut over the crack in her heart.

“Is that what you think? There was no one else, Leah. Only you. ” Fatin whispered, moving to lean out of the safety of Leah’s arms, only for Leah to tighten her hold.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Leah soothed, dotting kisses to Fatin’s face, lips catching tears that Fatin didn’t even know were falling. “I just didn’t… didn’t want to assume… I didn’t want to have unfair expectations.”

“Yeah… I… get that.” Fatin mumbled, “You stupid self-sacrificing idiot.”

Leah huffed a laugh against Fatin’s forehead.

“I want you to expect more from me.” Fatin confessed, closing her eyes before amending, “I need you to expect more from me.” 

Leah pulled away and waited until Fatin’s eyes reopened, so that she could see the earnestness and commitment when she said simply, “Okay.”

“I mean it.” Fatin emphasised.

“I know.” Leah gently cupped her face with both hands, “Fatin, I think you’re the best person in the whole fucking world.”

“Better than-”

“Way fucking better than Ben Folds.”

“Good.” Fatin hummed self-satisfied, lowering herself back down and curling around Leah’s body, emotionally fatigued but also feeling like her vulnerable spots had been lovingly tended to. It was this feeling of ease and comfort that made Fatin volley back the question that had started it all. 

“Did you miss me?”

There was a long and weighty silence where Fatin’s words and the memories they probably triggered caught up with her.

“Fuck, baby, don’t answer that.” Fatin muttered apologetically. She held her breath, waiting for Leah’s reaction, hoping it would all be okay.

“Kind of.” Leah answered, tone neutral and empty.

Fatin might have been hurt by the response if she wasn’t so confused by it, “Kind of?”

“It was hard… I…” Leah trailed off, and when Fatin peeked a glance at her she saw that Leah was staring blankly up at the ceiling.

“Baby, it’s okay, I shouldn’t have asked.” Fatin consoled, “I didn’t mean to- I know you were alone and missing everything and everyone, and I shouldn’t-”

“I wasn’t, though.”

Fatin lifted her head, suddenly tense, “Wasn’t what?”

“Alone.”

“There were other people there? There were other captives?”

“No!” Leah rushed to reassure, nails digging into Fatin’s back, blue eyes dark and panicky. “I-”

“Breathe, baby. Just breathe. Take your time.”

Leah did as ordered, breathing slow and steady, eyes returning to their usual bright blue over time.

“I didn’t miss you the same way you missed me because…” Leah explained, voice stuttering and halting like it had been when they had first reunited, “Because you were there . I imagined that you were there. You and the other girls. I made it so I wasn’t alone.”

“Leah…” Fatin gasped, heart plummeting and shattering all over the floor.

“I think I went mad out there, Fatin.” Leah confessed. “I think I chose to go mad, because… because I would rather be mad and have you than be alone.” 



IF I HAD A TIME MACHINE

 

  1. Would not have gone back a second time to Harry. He looks like he has a good dick game but he didn’t make me come the first time, and he sure as shit didn’t make me come the second time. Was not worth the fucking fuel to drive to his place.
  2. Jenny Powell asked me whether I thought she could rock a pixie cut. (We weren’t friends but people trusted my opinion on these things and she was desperate to get laid). I told her the truth that a pixie cut would make her look like one of those toy trolls and suggested a cute style instead. After that graduation speech, I would fucking drive her to the stylist myself and suggest they dye it fucking blue for the full troll effect. (What a cunt.)
  3. Would have asked the cute girl that lended me a tampon in the school bathroom out on a date.
  4. Kick Jeffrey Galanis in the balls when he visited school. :)
  5. Wouldn’t have sent Dad’s dick pics to everyone. Mom didn’t deserve that. I still would have told her, just in a better way than that. Maybe if she hadn’t felt so alone in the fallout she wouldn’t have deferred back to Dad so easily.
  6. Be like five percent less of a cunt on the island those first few days.
  7. Believed Leah from the start.
  8. Held her close instead of pushing her away after nearly losing her.
  9. Fucking listened to Dorothy when she says this is important since it might reduce the likelihood of becoming a human pincushion. (Maybe just always listen to Dorothy, she’s nearly always right anyway).



24th May 2021

 

It was something her therapist taught her to do. Dr Bianchi was a rather large, takes-no-bullshit italian woman who met Fatin’s blunt attitude with an even blunter one of her own. Unsurprisingly, they got on like a house on fire. 

Making lists was something Fatin had started doing on the island in the notebook filled with cryptic answers. She recorded the girls’ menstruation cycles so she could give them a morale boost when needed. Listed their birthdays and came up with realistic and unrealistic birthday gifts. She made predictions regarding her brothers: what sports they would start next year, what school lessons they would like, what grades they would get. She recorded how often the girls left camp, keeping an accurate timesheet about Leah specifically, trying to work out if a departure length was veering towards atypical and required a check-in.

Her lists changed in the bunker, focusing on theories, making connections. An archive of different possibilities that she then gave to Leah to work through tirelessly, crossing each one out with her incredible mind.

She stopped the lists when she arrived home.

Her coping strategies fractured by the complete change in scenery and circumstance.

She restarted at Dr Bianchi’s suggestion when Leah returned. She had all this… excessive concern and worry … and she had nowhere to put it. She found herself watching the clock relentlessly whenever Leah was out of sight, mind unravelling with a thousand-and-one horrific scenarios that could have befallen the other girl when she wasn’t within Fatin’s view. 

(She wondered if this was what Leah’s mind was like constantly. If it was, it merely backed up Fatin’s iron-clad belief that Leah Rilke was the strongest fucking person in the whole damn world.)

Her brothers had gifted her a beautiful leather-bound journal for her graduation present to write her lists in, to note down any inspiration for music composition and doodle in whenever the urge took her.

The lists helped keep her grounded, keep her focused on the real world, and keep her in a constructive mindset. Some lists were requested specifically by her therapist for them to talk about in sessions: when she remembered crying, what she liked about herself, what she thought others liked about her etc.

Then there were the lists she made just for herself: how many times Leah smiled that day; what food Leah would eat more of without prompting; how many times she caught Dorothy checking E!News, despite her repeated claims she wasn’t being suckered into reality tv; activities Shelby did with her family that Fatin swore to do with her so she didn’t lose something else; how many times Leah reached for her in a single hour.

The urge to list quietened down when Leah’s lips were pressed against her own and in the immediate aftermath Fatin’s lists shifted towards hopeful and speculative rather than a mere counting exercise. When Leah fell asleep before her she had listed all the places she intended to kiss Leah, all the dates she planned to take her on, all the places she wanted them to see together.

The lists were nearly always ticking away in the back of her mind, especially without Leah there to ground her. (It was whenever Leah was out of sight, out of reach, that the deafening fear started to seep in.)

“You’re back.” Rana remarked, perking up in mild surprise, as Fatin wandered into the kitchen, dropping her depleted overnight bag by the staircase ready to take upstairs and change dirty clothes for clean.

“Yeah, Leah’s meeting Ian for coffee,” Fatin explained, padding over to the cupboards and extracting a glass to fill, “Dorothy sleeps in until like early afternoon now that schools out and Shelby’s gone out, probably to have phone sex in the back of her car.”

Rana’s nose wrinkled at the information; she was set-up with her laptop, notepad and a small pile of documents on the kitchen counter, working from home that morning, viewings booked in for the afternoon. 

“Fatin,” Rana said slowly, “I greatly appreciate that we have reached a level of honesty between us where you feel like you can comfortably share with me, but there are definitely some things I don’t need to know.”

“Fair.” Fatin shrugged, turning up the collar of the blue blazer she’d stolen from Leah to hide the marks on her neck. She sipped her filled glass of water, moving to lean against the counter, settling opposite her Mom. “Dad pick up the boys?”

“Yes.”

“Did he…” Fatin ducked her gaze, watching a drop of condensation run down the side of her glass, “Did he ask about me? About my graduation?”

Rana immediately reached across the counter to squeeze Fatin’s hand, “I sent him the photos from the day and your brothers couldn’t wait to tell him all about it, they’re both very proud of you.”

Fatin pulled away from the touch, shoulders hunching upwards as she read between the lines. “So, he didn’t ask.” Fatin’s jaw clenched, hating how it still hurt to be so callously cast aside. “I’ll be in my room.”

“Wait,” Rana requested quickly; Fatin paused mid-turn, arching an eyebrow expectantly. “I need to talk to you.”

“What’s up?” Fatin prompted.

Rana carefully folded her hands in front of her, lips pressed tight together as she put on her most neutral of tones. “I haven’t pushed back about Juilliard-“

Fatin snorted in disbelief, “You definitely have.”

Rana grimaced before amending, “I haven’t pushed as much as I could have.”

Fatin deposited her glass back on the side so she could fold her arms defensively, “Good, because it’s my decision, not yours.”

Rana’s face fell ever so slightly at the aggression, “Fatin, please.”

Fatin exhaled slowly, releasing some of her tension before murmuring a softer, “Fine.”

“I understand your reasons for deferring and I know pushing back - more - would damage our relationship.” Rana explained, “But if you are staying here for a year, I have certain expectations of you.”

Fatin rolled her eyes, letting out a loud groan, “Come on-”

“Let me finish.” Rana demanded, holding a hand up in request for silence. “One, you keep your cello skills honed. You don’t want to start Juilliard next year and find yourself out of your depth. There’s a number of local orchestras in the area that are running auditions over the summer. I've made a list, I think it would be good for you to join one of them. You won’t have school and… Dorothy and Shelby won’t be here, I don’t want you to feel lonely.”

Fatin blinked in surprise at Rana’s reasoning, at how her mother’s expression had turned soft with concern. She couldn’t argue that without the regimented practice and guidance provided by high school she had the potential to lose her edge which would make starting in a year’s time a daunting experience. Additionally, even though she would have Leah next year that would be it when it came to social options, and Fatin recognised that may not be the healthiest of situations.

“Okay,” Fatin accepted with a nod, flashing her mom a smile, “I’ll have a look at your list.”

Rana nodded approvingly before straightening up, chin raised with determination which was the only pre-warn given that this next one would be unpleasant.

“Two, you will get a job.”

Fatin’s jaw dropped, “What? Seriously!?”

“You’re not going to spend the entire year doing nothing.” Rana declared firmly, tone invoking a steeliness that only came out when Ahmad tried to sneak ice-cream before dinner. “You convinced me that deferring would help you grow and recover even more after everything that has happened. This year is for that. Not just to make out with your girlfriend.”

Fatin froze, eyes wide and mouth moving up and down without sound.

Rana merely smirked in response.

Fatin’s jaw snapped shut, and murmured, “You know.”

“Of course, I know.” Rana replied gently, “And I’m looking forward to getting to know Leah more in the future, once you stop hogging her.” Fatin blushed at that, unable to deny it. “Bring her here more often, please.” Rana requested. “Kemar already adores her. And the boys… and me… miss having you around.”

Fatin swallowed thickly, touched by the sentiment and how easily Rana accepted Fatin and her love. It wasn’t like Fatin had been subtle about her feelings for Leah but she’d never openly stated them, had never explicitly told Rana that she should expect Leah to become her daughter-in-law down the line. She’d forgotten how close she’d grown to her Mom over the last year, how her Mom now knew how to read her. She sometimes still assumed her mother was blind to her like she’d been before the island.

“I… yeah, okay.” Fatin nodded quickly, feeling young and awkward like a pre-teen telling her parents that she now had her first girlfriend (which she was except for the pre-teen part). “And I’ll look into the job, I guess.”

“You can wait until after summer, I’m not a monster.” Rana teased, glancing back down to her laptop screen and giving Fatin the all-clear.

“I know. Thanks, Mom.” Fatin acknowledged, picking up her glass and moving round the counter to kiss the side of her mom’s head. Rana gave her a side-hug in return which allowed Fatin a glimpse of the documents next to Rana’s computer. “Are those-”

“Divorce papers, mmhmm.” Rana completed for her, unable to meet Fatin’s proud gaze. “It’s time.”

“I love you, Mom.” Fatin declared.

“Love you, too.” Rana replied instantly, before hesitating - Fatin waited, hovering nearby, “Fatin?”

“Yeah?”

Rana turned to meet her gaze, expression serious, “Be careful who you entrust your heart to.”

Fatin frowned, shoulders back, declaring confidently, “It’s safe with her.”

Rana hummed, sounding somewhat unconvinced, attention shifting back to her work, “If you say so.”



DATE IDEAS:

 

  1. Bookshop??? How would that work? Do I just follow her around, carrying her books and watching her read??? ---- Okay, I’ve thought about this some more, I might actually enjoy this. She gets that adorable crinkle when she’s reading, and she sticks out her tongue ever so slightly when she’s memorising a section. This could work. (Also making out between the stacks, books already get Leah hot, how hot would she get when making out in book nirvana?)
  2. Spa day. Couples massages, lounging by a pool and hot tubs. (Leah is not comfortable with her leg on display - no bikinis :( - but I saw some cute boarder shorts that she would rock which might make it work).
  3. Theme park. Ahmad and Kemar have been begging me to take them to a theme park over summer. Would Leah mind a date with my two brothers in tow??? 
  4. Laser Tag. (Toni’s suggestion). Maybe not a 1:1 date, but might work for the next unsinkables get together?
  5. Go-karting. (Shelby’s suggestion). I think Leah would secretly be a speed demon if given half a chance. Also her taking off a helmet and shaking her hair out like one of those ridiculous hair commercials would really do it for me.
  6. Cat cafe. (Martha’s suggestion). Had to google this. This could really work. Gold star for Martha.
  7. Cinema. Bit plain and they really frown on people who get handsy - would much rather have movie night in my bedroom.



27th May 2021

 

“This is stupid isn’t it?” Leah grimaced, hand starting to pull away from Fatin’s as they reached their designated bowling lane.

“What? Of course not.” Fatin reassured, holding tight to Leah’s hand.

“It’s super fucking cheesy.” Leah pointed out; her assessment helpfully underlined by the arcade off to the side, loud and over-the-top, and the sticky floors beneath their feet.

It was mid-morning so there was barely anyone else there, and the bored balding man behind the counter had only spared them a mildly curious look when Leah - who had insisted on paying - purchased two games, before returning to watching the reruns of jeopardy playing on the small television on the wall. There were only two other lanes in use by guys that looked like professional bowlers.

“I like cheesy.” Fatin declared.

Leah side-eyed her as she tugged her hand free to start typing their names into the electronic scoreboard, “You hate cheesy.”

“But I love you and you’re cheesy.” Fatin blinked up at her innocently, smile widening all the further when her words made a pink tinge appear on Leah’s cheeks.

Leah shook her head and sighed, “It’s just…”

Fatin waited patiently but Leah remained silent.

“It’s just?” Fatin prompted, eyebrow arching.

Leah ducked her head, and mumbled darkly, “This is technically our first date and I’ve taken you to the crappiest bowling alley in town.”

Fatin frowned, reaching out and turning Leah round so that she could wrap her arms around Leah’s neck, pressing their bodies close. 

“Did you know I am fucking awful at bowling?” Fatin asked, pressing a kiss to Leah’s cheek in encouragement when Leah placed the hand not on her cane on Fatin’s hip. 

“I didn’t, but I’m not surprised.” Leah admitted. 

Leah had told her on the way over how she used to go bowling with her Dad when she was younger, even winning a few tournaments here and there. Fatin listened intently despite already knowing this; she’d seen the trophies in Leah’s room and Kurt had eagerly regaled her with a play-by-play of each tournament with very little prompting.

Leah had asked if they could go bowling after Fatin had stayed over the night previously - they’d done another family games night; this time, however, whenever Leah answered a question or won them a point Fatin didn’t resist the urge to lean over and kiss her cheek. (They lost again but Fatin didn’t care because Leah’s hand was on her thigh the whole night and she went to sleep in Leah’s arms and with kisses pressed to her neck). 

Fatin had said yes giddily, seeing it for the long overdue date it could be and excited that Leah had suggested a place to visit for the first time since returning home. A place that meant something to her and that she wished to share with Fatin.

“Not surprised?” Fatin repeated accusingly.

Leah winced, “I just mean… it doesn’t seem like your thing?”

Fatin tilted her head coyly, “What part of sticking my fingers into holes did you think I wouldn’t enjoy, baby?”

“You are awful.”

“You love it.” Fatin winked.

“Yeah… yeah, I kinda do.” Leah murmured softly. “Have you ever been on a date to a bowling alley before?”

Fatin hesitated, considering lying but fearing that if it came back and bit her on the ass it would ruin something incredibly precious. 

“Yes, I have.” Fatin answered honestly.

“Oh.” Leah deflated.

“I went on a weird group date with this guy in the year above us, there were like eight of us and I could not name a single one of them if my life depended on it. I didn’t even fucking bowl, I just sat on the side and scrolled through my phone the entire time.” Fatin explained, fingers trailing up the back of Leah’s neck and combing through the short baby hairs hidden underneath the longer locks. “And then this other guy - again can’t remember his name - took me, and he got so angry at how shit I was. I walked out halfway through the game and left him to it, pretty sure I went to a party and slept with a friend of his. Awkward but well-deserved.”

Leah’s brow furrowed in concentration as she listened to the stories; the hand on Fatin’s hip tightening protectively at the second one.

“So…” Fatin drawled, leaning forward to press kisses along Leah’s jaw, “I may have been on a date to a bowling alley before, but I’ve never really been bowling - at least not properly… and I could do with a proficient teacher, who doesn’t mind getting hands-on…” Fatin nipped at Leah’s earlobe before pulling back to find Leah breathing faster and her blue eyes noticeably darker. “Think you could help?” 

“Ummm… yeah… I can… I can do that…” Leah stammered.

“Perfect.” Fatin beamed, heart settling more comfortably in her chest after fearing she might have ruined this for them with so many firsts wasted on guys who meant so little to her. 

(The only firsts that Fatin wanted to count, wanted to believe mattered, were those she experienced with Leah.)

It quickly became apparent, however, that Fatin was terrible at bowling. 

Not just terrible. But shit.

And maybe if Fatin had been with the other unsinkables, her inner competitive bitch would have reared its ugly head which meant that rather than face repeated defeats, she would have feigned disinterest, claiming concern for her nails and ducking out of all her subsequent turns. 

But she was with Leah and only Leah.

(Leah who made her feel safe, even if the other girl didn’t realise it.)

And Leah laughed so brightly when Fatin pouted petulantly about her instant gutterball that Fatin would happily have sunk every ball after it without hesitation. Leah, though, immediately limped over to Fatin - cane willingly abandoned - to direct her through the motions: one hand on Fatin’s hip, the other curling round her wrist guiding back and forth, their cheeks pressed together and Leah’s breath warm on her skin.

Fatin, unsurprisingly, didn’t really care about the score after that.

Though, that didn’t stop Fatin from making an impassioned speech that Leah should have a handicap considering how much more experienced she was - Leah had pointed to her bad leg and asked jokingly if that was sufficient, Fatin had replied no and on her next turn Fatin ordered her to bowl backwards through her legs. It was the first time Leah joked about her leg, or even brought it up without a snarl or a flinch, which ensured their date would be a success far more than anything else.

It wasn’t until they were halfway through their first game, Fatin’s ribs aching and tears in the corner of her eyes from laughter that she realised how young Leah looked. Leah who was trying to bowl in the most ridiculous positions possible - hopping on one leg, ball raised up high in parody of the classic karate kid pose - as dictated by Fatin. 

She just looked like a teenager on a stupid, over-the-top date. 

And it was with a jolt that Fatin realised she probably looked exactly the same. It was this thought that prompted Fatin to retrieve the camera Leah had gifted her from her handbag, and pull Leah close as she did a truly terrible victory dance. Fatin kissed the side of her head, arm holding the camera away and snapped a photo.

The photo captured their youth and their sheer happiness. (Fatin knew she would treasure that image for the rest of her life).

They finished their first game, and Leah excitedly started the next after they had gone to get drinks. Fatin continued to be guided through each go until Leah realised she was now feigning being terrible to keep Leah close. To incentivise her to actually try, Leah promised her a kiss for each pin she knocked down.

Fatin’s score in the second game subsequently skyrocketed. 

“Hey Leah?”

“Fatin, I promise the pins are not jumping out of the way of your bowling ball.” Leah chuckled, leaning back in her seat, hand seeking out and settling comfortably on Fatin’s thigh - a recent habit since their renewed declarations of love that Fatin was living for.

Fatin frowned, “You don’t know that for definite though.”

“Fatin,” Leah murmured with an amused shake of her head, “I readily believe what is already an unhealthy number of conspiracy theories but even I think the bowling alley working against you is a little too far.”

Fatin inhaled sharply in faux-offence. 

“Bit-” Fatin cut the word off that had risen instinctively to her tongue, before awkwardly transitioning to an uncertain, “Whore?” 

Fatin and Leah both winced; Leah’s hand fluttering for a moment as if thinking of pulling away but managing to stay in place.

“I need to work on my insults.” Fatin grumbled.

“I’m sorry.” Leah sighed, head ducking down and body deflating.

Fatin pursed her lips, ordering sternly, “Don’t you ever apologise for that. Not ever.”

Watery blue eyes met fierce brown, “If-”

“Baby, no .” Fatin soothed, cupping Leah’s cheek before leaning in to press a comforting kiss to the corner of Leah’s mouth. 

She held the pose, pressing light kisses over and over again until she felt Leah detense and turn her head so that they could share a short, sweet kiss.

“Anyway,” Fatin breathed, leaning back, “I wasn’t going to bring up how obviously the pins are being moved by magnets-”

“For what purpose?” Leah inquired, brow furrowing even as her expression eased back to the lightness that had marked their day so far. “Why would they be deterring their customers?”

“Not all their customers. Just me.” Fatin corrected haughtily.

“Why?”

“My potent sexuality, obvi.”

Leah blinked at her, utterly dumbfounded, “Yeah… I’m going to need you to talk me through this one.”

Fatin took a deep breath before sweeping her arm around the area as if all the evidence she needed was laid out in front of them. 

“Look around, look how seriously they’re bowling. This is their gym, their sanctuary, their arena! They want people who appreciate how important bowling is. They want serious bowlers.” Fatin emphasised, relaxing into her speech as Leah’s amusement grew more and more apparent with each ridiculous declaration. “And I am not a serious bowler, but if I realised I wasn’t bad, hmm? What if I came back just for fun? Their sanctuary would be invaded by someone so hot ,” Leah kindly nodded in agreement with this, that I would totes attract a crowd of other non-serious bowlers. And then… and then … their bowling haven would be unrecognisable from what it once was. It would have been invaded and taken over. So… magnets… To make me think I’m terrible and never want to come back. Though…” Fatin murmured, wrapping a possessive arm around Leah’s shoulders, “they failed to consider that the worse I am, the more you touch me and the more I really, really want to come back.”

Leah giggled, rolling her eyes, “What happened to you whilst I was away?”

“I spent a lot of time with Ian,” Fatin shrugged, “and he may or may not have gotten me into like fifty different true crime podcasts. And no,” Fatin declared, holding up an index finger in warning, “you can’t listen to any of them. You’ve gone down the rabbit hole far too many times, Alice.”

“Fair enough,” Leah accepted easily, blue eyes flickering over Fatin’s face, so obviously taking in every detail, “I’m kind of liking reality at the moment so I'm happy to stick around.” 

Fatin couldn’t help the beaming smile that lit up her face.

Leah tilted her head thoughtfully to the side, “What were you going to say… before we went down the bowling conspiracy rabbit hole?”

“Oh.” Fatin muttered, brain jolted back to near functional. 

She paused before answering, slightly concerned her original question might change the atmosphere, but Leah was already looking at her expectantly, face steadily shifting towards seriousness the longer Fatin delayed. 

“You said technically earlier.” Fatin said, “ Technically our first date .”

Leah’s brow furrowed as the memory resurrected itself before she nodded.

Fatin bit the inside of her cheek before asking, “Do you want it to be?”

“I’m happy to count it, it’s just…” Leah said slowly before trailing off.

“Don’t break off after ‘it’s just’ again.” Fatin whined. “It gives me heart palpitations.”

“Sorry.” Leah smiled ruefully, “I was just thinking, remembering.” Leah straightened up, turning so that she was facing Fatin directly, expression quizzical and eyes misting over with too many thoughts. “Does the night we spent together count? Or are we starting afresh? Which one do we count?”

Fatin knew she should be on alert at the hint that Leah may be starting an emotional nose-dive, but it was hard to worry when the questions she wanted answers to were so starkly familiar.

 “What? Why are you smiling at me like that?” Leah inquired, making Fatin aware that she was smiling in the first place.

“I was thinking earlier how I’ve shared parts of myself and my life with people who didn’t really deserve it and how I wished I could’ve shared them with you first.” Fatin answered honestly, causing the growing fog in Leah’s eyes to retract, bringing back Fatin’s favourite blue. “But that’s ridiculous. The first one doesn’t matter.” Fatin proclaimed decisively. “The one that matters is the one that you say matters. The one that makes your heart race, the one that makes it special just because it's with them. The one that makes you say ‘I don’t want to share this with anyone else’.”

Leah exhaled shakily, “When did you become so romantic?”

“Around about the time I fell in love with you. I will admit, it was quite a shift, a lot to get used to. Worth it, though.” Fatin winked, running an appreciative hand down Leah’s bicep producing a rosy hue on pale cheeks. “So… when do you want our first date to be? Which one matters?”

Leah bit her bottom lip, and considered the question.

“The waterfall.” Leah finally replied; Fatin’s eyebrows rose in surprise - it wasn’t the answer she had expected even if it was the one she wanted to hear. “I know it wasn’t…” Leah stammered, suddenly shy. “I know we weren’t together. But we were. I was yours, I was just too afraid to say it at that point.”

“Now who’s romantic?” Fatin murmured accusingly, voice scratchy with held back emotion. “I was yours, too.”

The waterfall was where Fatin had practically begged Leah to see her, ‘bigger, better, different’, but was too afraid to actually say the words - feelings still a confused mess even if her heart would gallop whenever Leah came within touching distance. Leah had dived into the water, so vibrant with life that Fatin’s heart had sung loudly in her chest, so much so she didn’t mind when Leah tugged her into the cold water - the two of them splashing about. 

They had dried off on the rocks, lying next to one another, Fatin telling her all about her brothers as Leah listened eagerly to all of it, asking questions and telling her that she was a good sister. They’d walked back to camp, hands brushing every now and again - and Fatin had almost worked up the courage to take Leah’s hand in hers the next time they touched when they ran into Martha heading in the same direction.

“I hoped so.” Leah admitted; she kissed Fatin deeply then, tongue coaxing a moan from Fatin and encouraging her to shuffle forwards only for Leah to pull away and grin cheekily before asking, “Another game?”

Fatin bit back the groan of disappointment, her libido held tightly in check by promises of extended Lil Leah time later.

“Sure,” Fatin agreed, not ready for their date to end, “Pay close attention this time, though - we’re evidence gathering. Magnets, baby, magnets!”



SUGGESTED TRAVEL DESTINATIONS FOR DOROTHY

 

  1. London: take in a show, see a castle, all those boring things I’m sure you’ll love.
  2. Edinburgh: more castles for you to fawn over.
  3. Paris: think of the pastries, all those delicious, delicious pastries. Also, where else for an eiffel tower, hmm? 
  4. Rome: pizza, rich pasta, lasagne and ice cream (or is it gelato?). Italian men are also hot af - you know if things with Mateo don’t last.
  5. New Delhi: the curry will be incredible. (I think the island may have made me far more food-oriented than I used to be. Nothing like starving to develop a food obsession.) 
  6. Australia: eww, spiders. I’m sure you can do a survivor victory lap quite easily there.
  7. New Zealand: Leah’s request, could you get some photos of middle-earth (????) which I assume is some sort of nerdy reference?
  8. Peru: supposedly hiking to Machu Picchu is pretty cool, but considering how much hiking we’ve already done, just get the train. (I expect photos of you with alpacas).
  9. Hawaii: you deserve it, woman of leisure remember?



3rd June 2021

 

Fatin watched the windscreen wipers move back and forth, pitifully attempting to fight the seemingly torrential rain. She slumped back down, aware of people sprinting to the shelter of the airport terminal, bags splashing through puddles as they were dragged behind them.

“I’m so not fucking ready for this.” Fatin mumbled, swiping away the traitorous tear that rolled down her cheek with the too long sleeves of Leah’s hoodie she had snatched before leaving, knowing the smell would provide much needed comfort.

“Fatin.” Dorothy sighed, from the passenger seat, watching her with a soft expression. “You know we’ll still talk like every other day. And I promised the Rilkes I’d come back for Christmas.”

“You know I never had a friend before you.” Fatin confessed, finally turning her head to meet Dorothy’s gaze. “I never realised how… how lonely I was until you came along.” 

“Same.” Dorothy muttered in agreement. “I love my Dad… loved my Dad.” Dorothy corrected softly. “But he kind of became my whole world, which I don’t regret or anything, but I missed out on a lot of stuff. And you… you made up for that. Getting to know you, becoming your friend… made up for that.” 

Fatin swallowed back the lump in her throat, not that it reduced the quantity of tears, “I know it’s fucked up to say it… but I don’t regret the island. I can’t… not when it gave me you, Leah… the girls.”

“I think,” Dorothy said slowly, “I think that’s one of the least fucked up things you’ve ever said, need I remind you of that day you said you were going to whittle a dildo for yourself?”

“I wouldn’t have actually used it.” Fatin defended. “I’m not a fucking idiot, can you imagine the damage a stray splinter could cause?”

“I really don’t want to, but the image is there now. Ugh…” Dorothy gagged, “Vagina splinter.”

Fatin’s eyes lit up immediately, “We should so start a band called ‘Vagina Splinter’.”

“Fuck no.”

“Fuck yes.”

“I can’t even play a fucking instrument.”

“You can learn.” Fatin shrugged. “Oooh, you would be so hot on drums, think of all the banging jokes I could make.” Fatin wriggled her eyebrows suggestively.

“That’s exactly what I’m thinking about.” Dorothy grumbled, rolling her eyes.

The conversation and the easy banter that could last hours hit a quiet lull and suddenly all Fatin could hear was the continued squeak of the windscreen wipers again, and all she could focus on was the sight of a plane disappearing in the distant clouds.

“I need to head in soon.” Dorothy said, the reminder like a kick to the gut.

“You’re sure you don’t want me to come in with you?” Fatin asked.

“Nah, you’ll hover and I feel like a kid heading off to their first day of school. It will be awkward.” 

Fatin nodded in understanding.

Leah, Shelby and the Rilkes had said goodbye to Dorothy at the house; the Rilkes had offered to drive, to do a big send-off at the airport, but Dorothy wanted something quieter so it was just her and Fatin that made the trip. Shelby had cried and Leah had frowned, but they’d hugged Dorothy incredibly tight, all demanding regular texts, calls and photos.

(Leah had stepped up to Fatin’s side, kissed the side of her head and said she would be there for her when she got back from the airport - even offering to go for a long walk with her, despite it being obvious that Leah’s leg was paining her terribly that morning).

Shelby was set to leave in a couple of days time, flying to be with Toni and Martha, and it was clear the Rilkes were going to miss having a full house.

“Don’t forget to ask for extra sick bags, Shelby won’t be there to catch your vom this time.” Fatin said, earning her a light shove which merely made the feelings of loss rattle in her chest, ping-ponging around the space.

She’d never done this before: say goodbye to a friend. She’d missed that critical development milestone, superglued to her cello and forming attachments with the known life expectancy of a Mayfly. 

How do you say goodbye to someone who had impacted her so much?

How do you say goodbye to someone who’s everyday presence was as comforting as the knowledge that the sun would rise?

How do you say goodbye to a friend like Dorothy?

“God,” Fatin sobbed, “you really fucked me up, you bit- whore.”

“Dude, you really need to work on your insults.” Dorothy chuckled, even as her own voice cracked, turning into a sob.

“I know.” Fatin lamented. 

“Here, this might help.” Dorothy opened up the backpack stowed at her feet and pulled out a book, dropping it in Fatin’s lap.

“A book of insults, really?” Fatin grumbled, blinking her vision clear through the tears, nose wrinkling as she flicked through the pages. 

“Without the ‘b’ word in your repertoire, you’ve been off your game. It’s pretty fucking depressing, like watching an illterarate kid forced to do the spelling bee.”

“Ugh, you…” Fatin opened the book at a random page, “Blunderbuss.”

They both grimaced simultaneously.

“At least it might help your vocabulary,” Dorothy remarked, “you’ve got a literary genius for a girlfriend now; you might need more than two syllable words to keep up.”

“I take it all back,” Fatin said, “you can fuck off and I won’t miss you.”

“Fucking liar.” Dorothy laughed.

“Yeah, yeah I am.” Fatin admitted far too readily, reaching out to hold Dorothy’s hand tightly.

“You’re not losing me.” Dorothy murmured seriously.

“Then why does it feel like I am?” Fatin asked.

“Because you never fucking developed object permanence.” 

Fatin returned the shove from earlier. 

“Because we’ve lost a lot already.” Dorothy answered honestly once the wise-crack was out of the way. “And our hearts don’t deserve to lose anymore.”

“I’ve barely lost anything.” Fatin frowned.

“Just because Leah came back doesn’t mean you aren’t marked by the loss.” Dorothy said gently. “We all lost stuff on the island and some things - some people - before it.”

Fatin tried not to think about how, in a way, they had both lost their fathers, it was one of the few things they didn’t talk much about. Fatin felt guilty - even though responsibility lied more on the adult party - for how broken her relationship with her father had become when Dorothy would give anything for five more minutes with her own Dad.

“Yeah…” Fatin exhaled.

“Fatin?”

“Dorothy?”

“I need to go now.” Dorothy said solemnly.

Fatin squeezed their linked hands all the tighter for a heartbeat before easing her grip, “Yeah…”

Fatin straightened up and stared right at her best friend, raising her chin high.

“Listen,” Fatin demanded, “I want you to see so many fucking wonderful places. I want you to meet amazing people - not as amazing as me, obvi.”

“Obvi.” Dorothy repeated dryly.

“I want you to be safe. I want you to be brave. I want you to be happy. And most importantly, I want you to call me every day and tell me all about your adventures.”

“We agreed every other day, Fatin.” Dorothy grumbled, even as her expression glowed with fondness.

“I’m a pushy-” Fatin glanced down at the book again, “sauce-box, who never stops negotiating.”

“Still don’t know how Leah puts up with you.” 

“Orgasms.” Fatin replied with the instant go-to answer.

“We both know it's not that.” Dorothy said softly before letting out a heavy sigh, “I’ll try to phone every day-” Fatin let out a squeak of excitement, “but no promises.”

“I’ll take it.” Fatin agreed.

“So, are we hugging this out?” Dorothy inquired.

“Fuck yeah we are.” Fatin nodded, before stretching across the centre console and wrapping her arms tight around her best friend who did the exact same.

“You’re getting snot on my jacket.” Dorothy grumbled.

“Marking my territory.”

“If you even think about pissing on me-”

“Not quite my kink, you’ll have to ask Mateo for that one.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you, too.” Fatin whispered, fully aware that what they were really saying was ‘love you’ and ‘love you, too’.



POTENTIAL PSYCHIATRISTS FOR LEAH:

 

  1. Dr. Clark: Specialist in trauma, very intelligent if we’re using scholarly papers and college transcripts as a barometer. Outcome: DOA - Looked way too much like Faber, Leah was practically clawing at the walls to get out of there. Note: check their photo first.
  2. Dr. Jackson: Friendly, came recommended by someone at the support group Maryann and Kurt attended. Said he helped their daughter and has a very kind demeanour. Outcome: Fucking hell, Leah ripped through him in one session. Note: need someone with a fucking spine.
  3. Dr. Zola: Classic therapist, no bells and whistles, not a push-over, smart but not ‘I need to dissect your brain or put you in a deeply traumatising experiment to create a revolutionary theory’-type. Outcome: Leah made it two sessions and then broke down. Turns out Faber hid his manipulation under some very classical CBT methods and Leah gets triggered by similar approaches. (When I get my hands on that ginger motherfucker there won’t be anything left by a cracked pair of glasses.) Note: I don’t even fucking know anymore, but she needs help.
  4. Dr. Ivanov: credited as being ‘out of the box’. Anything is worth a go at this point.



8th June 2021

 

Leah wasn’t all there.

Fatin didn’t mean that in the sense that there was something missing within Leah ; instead, it was like Leah went missing - her mind or soul escaping her body to seek refuge elsewhere.

There were beautiful moments - flashes - where Leah was present and real, and Fatin could convince herself that her worries were groundless. Moments like their second first kiss, their first date, playing Lego with Kemar, helping Shelby learn lines for the end of year school play, helping Kurt fix up a car in the garage, baking for Dorothy to earn her critique and gardening with Maryann.

But then Fatin would leave for a couple of minutes - to the bathroom, to check in on Dorothy, to catch up with Rana - and she would come back and Leah’s gaze was dark, dark, dark and her eyes would move around as if she was reacting to something, but when Fatin looked all she saw was shadows.

Leah would come back with a touch - always a touch; sound didn’t work. In response to a call of her name or a question, Leah’s brow would merely furrow and her head would tilt to the side as if puzzling over a musical note that didn’t fit in the composition.

(Fatin would touch her and Leah would blink and the darkness would vanish but the unsettling feeling remained like a spectre.)

Fatin wasn’t sure if it had gotten worse or if simply the chaotic white noise surrounding Leah’s return was starting to fade, allowing them to finally see the long-term damage without the short-term turmoil to overshadow it.

Fatin remembered walking into the kitchen the day after Dorothy had left - Leah was up early (she slept for short, limited bursts that meant it was rare for Fatin to be awake any time before or after the brunette), and was making breakfast for the house. Fatin frowned when Leah laid out six plates, jokingly reminding her that Dorothy wasn’t there to steal all the bacon that morning.

Leah had frozen, shoulders tense and eyes landing on a spot across the room.

“My bad, working on auto-pilot.” Leah laughed, but the sound was faltering and forced rather than high and uncontrolled.

Fatin nodded, glancing at the empty chair Leah had been staring at, and continued on.

It became a recurring thing, catching Leah speaking as if Dorothy and Shelby (who left a day later) were still around, as if they had merely stepped out of the room. 

It was as if, without them there, Leah’s mind worked to fill the gap.

Fatin found herself thinking about what Leah had revealed far more than she cared to admit. Leah had created company in the form of the girls, and there was something sweet and complimentary in that, but all Fatin could think was how Leah was so alone in the first place, so scared and without comfort she had created her own support system.

Fatin wondered when she wasn’t there if the alternate version of herself stepped in.

She wondered if the alternate version of her knew how to soothe Leah better than her.

She wondered if the alternate version of her knew how the scars that littered Leah’s body and mind were formed.

She wondered if the alternate version of her was kinder, funnier and prettier.

She wondered who Leah preferred and then realised that she never wanted to know the answer. 

It wasn’t just shadows that Leah would lose herself to.

It was also time.

In this regard, Leah had gotten better. 

In those first couple of months it was like Leah had developed alzheimers, she would lose track of what she was doing, would forget things that had happened only the day prior or even that morning, but would - strangely - have perfect recall of what happened a week previously - only for that memory to vanish the next day. Kurt and Maryann had been working on some grounding techniques, lightly reminding her of the events of the day before at the start of each morning and then recapping the day at night.

It seemed to be working, Leah’s memory seemed more robust but she would still occasionally falter and she would repeat any prompt that Fatin had given her under her breath until it seemed to stick.

She also seemed blind to her own darkness - not the panic attacks or nightmares, but the quiet darkness. Whenever Fatin had hinted at Leah talking to ‘alternates’ since returning, she would merely stare blankly back, either not understanding or firmly believing it wasn’t the case. But when pressed, she would find the memory slot - poking at it like a gap between teeth with her tongue - only to find nothing there. 

It would all be forgotten not long after.

A protective memory eraser that worked on the small moments, keeping Leah’s inner mental sanctum safely shielded.

The problem was Fatin and Leah’s family - and Leah, herself - had no idea how to combat these issues, what actions they could take that would help. Nor did they know what was triggering all of it - at least, Leah wasn’t sharing that information if she did know. 

And the one group of professionals that could potentially help Leah in an effective way had been corrupted in Leah’s mind by Faber. All the therapists had fallen to the wayside, unable to overcome the cliff face of trauma that stood in Leah’s way of help.

Which is what brought them to Dr. Ivanov and what could only be described as her murder manor.

“This place looks like Hollywood’s fucking dream location for a psychological thriller.” Fatin grimaced, holding Leah’s hand all the tighter as they looked up at the brooding, stone building set in the Grimm’s tale woods. 

Kurt and Maryann had headed inside to let the doctor know they were here, giving Fatin some time to check in on Leah before her next attempt at therapy.

“Aren’t you meant to be like…” Leah’s nose wrinkled in consideration, “encouraging me to get on in there? Not telling me that I’m being set-up as a victim in a slasher movie.”

“Baby, you’re no victim. You’re a final girl. Your survival is, like, guaranteed.” Fatin reassured her.

“How is that helping?”

“I’m meant to be helping?” Fatin inquired innocently.

Leah raised an eyebrow at her when suddenly her gaze narrowed in sharp understanding. “You’re distracting me. Keeping me out of my own head.”

Fatin pouted, “I don’t need words for that. I wore my shortest skirt for a reason, Leah.”

Leah blushed instantly, “I noticed.”

“I know you did, baby.” Fatin teased, remembering how Leah’s gaze had wandered throughout the car journey, hand shifting in Fatin’s gentle grasp with the obvious urge to reach out and explore.

Leah rolled her eyes, smiling shyly at her, “Thank you for coming with me.”

“Always.” Fatin promised firmly.

Leah cleared her throat, “And thank you for wearing the skirt.”

Fatin winked, “You can reward me for that later.”

Leah arched an eyebrow, gaze flickering over Fatin’s body assessingly, “Oh, I will.” Leah asserted, voice a husky whisper which made Fatin shiver, suddenly assailed with a host of images by her over-excited libido.

“We should probably head in.” Leah said, pulling back and leaving Fatin with a sudden sense of whiplash and loss of control that only Leah was ever capable of producing.

“No need.” A rough, accented voice called out.

Fatin and Leah both looked up to see an older woman, hair silver and features pinched approaching with a staccato gait. She was dressed in walking trousers and a comfortable jacket; hands clasped behind her back and smile that was all sharp teeth and harsh lines.

“We shall have session out here.” The woman declared, coming to a juddering stop in front of the two girls. “We go for walk.”

“Uh… hello?” Fatin greeted uncertainly.

The woman - Dr. Ivanov, presumably - ignored her, gaze honing in to instead meet wary blue eyes.

“You are Leah, correct?” Ivanov inquired.

Leah frowned, “Yes.”

“Hmm…” Ivanov hummed, jerking her chin pointedly at Leah’s bad leg, “can you keep up with that cane?”

Fatin bristled at the aggressive, almost demanding tone of the doctor, moving to step forward and shield Leah. “Hey, maybe-”

“Are you bringing yours?” Leah inquired in return, voice cold and cutting, as she grabbed Fatin’s hand and kept her in place by her side.

Ivanov’s smile widened and all Fatin could think of was the wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood story.

“Astute, with a sharp edge.” Ivanov remarked, leaning back and tapping her chin appreciatively with an index finger. “I heard you tore through Jackson. Lovely man but soft like wet cardboard. You need some steel.” 

“I’ve been told I’m rather fragile.” Leah smiled darkly at the doctor.

If Fatin didn’t love her so much, she would have been intimidated by the glimmering darkness in blue eyes that reminded her far too much of Leah’s more vengeful scheming in the bunker.

Ivanov chuckled - a rasp like sandpaper over dry wood. “No, not fragile. Brittle.” Ivanov corrected excitedly. “Still strong metal, but forged in a certain fire. You no longer know how to adapt to anything other than pain, stress or torment.”

Leah’s lips pressed together into a thin line and her grip on Fatin’s hand tightened infinitesimally, “And you can fix me?”

“No.”

Leah’s top lip curled back into something approaching a snarl, “Then why fucking bother?”

“No fix. Nothing broken.” Ivanov explained, head tilting thoughtfully to the side, “Maybe… maybe… make a bit better, hmm? Make your head a little quieter, unpick the mess and start to… lay to rest the demons .”

Fatin watched the tension of a second ago drain away from Leah’s features to be replaced by interest overlaid with only a thin layer of suspicion.

“Are you going to make me talk about it?” Leah questioned, “The wilderness?”

“Right now,” Ivanov began, leaning forward to whisper, “I want to talk about birds.”

“Birds?” Fatin repeated, unable to stop herself.

“There are many pretty ones here and I like to show them off.” Ivanov revealed, clapping her hands together as if all their plans were now settled and they could proceed. “I shall get cane, then we walk, hmm?”

Ivanov then turned and abruptly walked away, Fatin now able to see the stiff movements to the older woman’s legs that revealed the need for some support.

“What the actual fuck?” Fatin said slowly, shaking her head once the doctor was out of ear-shot. “Leah, I don’t know if-”

Leah squeezed her hand again, turning and ducking forward to kiss Fatin, stopping the concerned words from escaping. 

“I’ll see you in an hour, right?” Leah asked upon pulling back, letting go of Fatin’s hand to lightly rub her thumb under Fatin’s bottom lip, removing smudged lipstick and making Fatin inhale shakily.

“Baby, are you sure-”

“Come now, little Raven,” Ivanov yelled as she exited the door of the manor house, lifting her own cane up and waving it through the air, “let us hobble down the forest path!”

Fatin grimaced, a thousand and one reasons for why this seemed like a truly terrible idea running through her head.

“I’ll see you in an hour.” Leah repeated, kissing the side of Fatin’s head and whispering into her ear. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Fatin replied instantly; stomach in knots as Leah smiled encouragingly at her before moving to meet Dr. Ivanov for their walk. 



POST-ISLAND HABITS ALL THE GIRLS HAVE

 

  1. Stockpiling useful items (as Dorothy calls it, I think of it more as fucking hoarding). I’ve put aside so much random crap since coming home. Why do I think I need a soup can lid??? My brain just went, ‘it's sharp and would make a good replacement tool’. A replacement tool for what, huh? When we and all the stores in the fucking bay run out of knives? 
  2. Food portioning. We all do it. Putting food to one side on our plate as if to save it for later. To save it for when we inevitably run out. I keep going to the fridge late at night and just staring at all the food, mentally working out how long it would last, how it could be rationed. I wonder if that will ever go away? The fear of starving.
  3. White noise. I sleep better with the sounds of someone else nearby, just breathing or light murmuring - since Leah’s returned, I’ve slept better than I have in a year. Dorothy, Martha and Rachel prefer sounds of the ocean, whilst Shelby and Toni need forest sounds. Odd how that place was the stuff of nightmares, but we can only sleep soundly once reconnected to it.
  4. Claustrophobia. I don’t think any of us handle the idea of being trapped or contained very well. The Rilkes bathroom door jammed when Shelby was in there once, she nearly broke her hand trying to smash through it. (All the parents have removed locks where possible).
  5. Clinginess. I don’t think any of us can go more than four hours without contacting one another.
  6. Emergency kits. We all have one, contents vary slightly. We take them everywhere. I have a first aid kit, a spare pair of underwear, flashlight, some rations and a toothbrush always kept in my bag.



12th June 2021

 

Leah’s session with Ivanov seemed to have helped, she was quieter on the journey back but far more present; she was booked in for weekly sessions and she didn’t seem uncomfortable at the prospect of returning.

Fatin and Leah spent the next couple of days helping Rana prepare the house for Ahmad’s tenth birthday party, a summer barbeque with his friends and the extended family.

The party rolled round and Fatin found herself tugged between cousins, helping her mother and keeping a weathered eye on the pool that the kids were diving in and out of with abandon. 

The Rilkes arrived and Fatin’s brothers swarmed them before Fatin even had a chance to cross the yard. She greeted Leah with a soft kiss which her brothers made exaggerated vomiting sounds at, only scurrying away once Leah handed over Ahmad’s present. Fatin stuck by Leah’s side as much as she could, the Rilkes going over to help Rana and talk with the other parents, and gradually introducing Leah to the rest of her family who were accepting of their relationship - mostly because it finally gave them something to tease Fatin about which actually made her blush.

Fatin left Leah in the safe company of her grandma, who seemed to instinctively know to look out for Leah, promising to get them all some drinks. As she was making her way inside, she noticed that her father had arrived, accompanied by a young, leggy blonde who couldn’t have been more than a few years older than Fatin, both dressed up like they were at a Hamptons summer party rather than a ten year old boy’s birthday.

“Mom-” Fatin began urgently, striding up to Rana’s side in the hopes of pre-warning her.

“I know, Fatin.” Rana replied, casting Fatin a small, sad smile as she directed the two of them to a quiet corner.

Fatin paused, eyebrow arching, and hands clenching and unclenching at her sides as she glanced pointedly over at Samad. “You know?”

Rana nodded, “He called and told me he was bringing his girlfriend this morning.”

“Told? Not asked?” Fatin checked, nostrils flaring.

“I can’t turn him away from his own son’s birthday.” Rana said quietly, reaching out to squeeze Fatin’s shoulder, voice dropping low to avoid being overheard. “At least he gave me some warning.”

“Fuck him.” Fatin snarled.

Rana sighed, “Fatin-”

“Mom, he’s a fucking asshole.” 

Rana’s smile ticked upwards for a fleeting second into something more genuine, maybe even proud. “Agreed. Still language.”

Fatin rolled her eyes at the admonishment.

“You deserve better.” Fatin muttered earnestly, “You always did.”

Rana’s brown eyes twinkled, and she grabbed Fatin’s hand, squeezing it tightly. “I think I’m doing pretty well, thank you.” 

Fatin shrugged, cheeks warming under her mother’s affection.

“Is Leah doing okay?” Rana inquired, aware that Fatin had been concerned about how Leah would feel around such a large group of people.

“Yeah, she’s good, Grandma has pretty much adopted her.” Fatin revealed, thoughts of Leah calming the bubbling rage inside. “I left to get them both a drink.”

Rana nodded approvingly, “Can you let the caterers know they can start serving when you go in?”

“Of course.” 

Rana reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind Fatin’s ear before taking a deep breath and declaring, “I’m so proud of you and the wonderful woman you are becoming.”

Fatin swallowed thickly, eyes stinging at the praise, “Mom…”

Rana merely waved a hand, telling her no response was necessary, “Alright, enough being mushy. Go on back to your girlfriend.”

Fatin quickly leaned forward, hugging her mother tightly before turning to do as she was bid. She retrieved a few cans of soda, tucking them under her arm and stopping to speak with the head caterer, who immediately had the servers spring into action with trays of food. As she was leaving, intent on returning to Leah’s side, she collided with another body, she stepped back to apologise only for the words to die on her tongue.

“Fatin.” Samad greeted with a strained smile.

“Father.” Fatin shot back coldly. She peered around upon seeing that he was alone, “Where’s your girlfriend?” She asked innocently, “I didn’t think she would be due her afternoon nap for a little while longer.”

Samad’s smile died to be replaced by a harsh line, “Kelly is taking a business call.”

“A business call?” Fatin snorted in disbelief.

“She’s a personal trainer.”

Fatin rolled her eyes, muttering, “Of course she fucking is.”

“Fatin,” Samad sighed, sounding weary and fatigued, like he was the hero of the film pushed to his limit. “I’m getting pretty tired of your snide remarks and snarky attitude.”

“How can you be tired of it?” Fatin scoffed. “This is the most we’ve spoken in a year.”

“I had hoped the time apart would allow you to reflect.” Samad continued belligerently, ignoring her comment.

“Reflect? Reflect on how shit a father you are? Yeah… I didn’t need any extended time to come to that conclusion.”

Samad’s jaw clenched and he noticeably straightened up, “I was a great father and a great husband.”

“Fuck off.” Fatin dismissed instantly.

“I put my own wants and desires to one side for years. For years!” Samad repeated, tone harsh, and gaze boring into Fatin’s accusingly. “For your happiness and your mothers. I denied who I am for this family. Something you could never understand. I never made you hide away, I never criticised how you spent your nights.” Samad reminded, as if knowingly letting your daughter go out every weekend to have sex with random strangers was winning him a father of the year award. “You could never do what I did. You’re too selfish.” Samad’s voice had dropped down to a low whisper that made Fatin flinch, striking at the vulnerable parts of her soul. “ You always have been . The only person that you ever cared about was yourself. We both know you would rather chew your own arm off than be tied down to someone.”

“You’re wrong.” Fatin chuckled victoriously, head held high, “I’m not like that.”

Samad merely smiled at her, like she was little more than a naive child. “You may spit on me and disparage my choices but we both know that you were always more my daughter than your mother’s. And you would do the exact same thing in my shoes.”

“Fuck y-”

“Fatin?” Leah’s familiar voice filled her ears as an arm curled comfortingly around Fatin’s waist, lightly guiding her towards the comforting scent of vanilla. Fatin’s rage and hurt lashed inside of herself, twisting in circles, even as Leah’s voice and touch soothed the raw edges enough that the red haze cleared in her mind. 

“Leah, is everything okay?” Fatin checked, eyes snapping away from her father to scrutinise her girlfriend for any sign of distress. “Are you alright?”

Leah smiled brightly at her in return, shrugging helplessly. “Yeah, I just missed you.”

The furious tempest inside of her settled in an instant at that; calm, lulling waves replacing crashing white tsunamis. Fatin felt the tension eek out of her, and she immediately curled closer into Leah’s side.

“Also,” Leah grinned, holding up a beautifully decorated cupcake in her other hand. “I managed to steal you the last red velvet cupcake, I nearly lost a hand to your Auntie,” Leah’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “she was fully prepared to tackle me to the ground for it, I had to beat her back with my cane. I’ve been trying to hide it but Kemar is like a sniffer dog trying to find more of them and you know how susceptible I am to the Jadmani puppy dog eyes so…”

“My hero.” Fatin breathed, accepting the cupcake and pressing a quick kiss to Leah’s pink cheek.

Leah merely smiled back at her; they both heard a cough, an attempt to gain their attention and pull them out of the little bubble they had created for themselves. Fatin watched Leah’s smile turn steely and her blue eyes darken as she turned to meet Samad’s gaze; the hand on Fatin’s waist tightening.

“Mr Jadmani.” Leah greeted politely.

Samad grinned, suddenly looking like the charming man that Fatin had always idolised - it made Fatin’s skin crawl that he could switch that easily.

“Leah, right?”

“Yes, sir.” Leah said, answer short and simple in comparison to the babbling of a moment ago.

“You definitely don’t need to call him, sir.” Fatin murmured to her girlfriend, who inclined her head slightly to show she’d heard but didn’t turn to look at her - gaze firmly fixed on Fatin’s father.

Samad’s smile slowly started to slip away under the scrutiny of cool blue eyes. “I was glad to hear you got home safe and sound.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Samad nodded, hands moving to clasp behind his back before he jerked his chin at Leah’s arm, hanging loose by her side.

“Very nice watch,” Samad complimented, causing Fatin to tense up, “I own one just like it.”

Leah merely hummed in reply, not bothering to give him a verbal answer. 

“Leah,” Fatin rushed to intervene, wanting to get Leah as far away from her father as possible at that moment. “Why don’t we go find somewhere quiet where I can eat this without my Auntie staring daggers at me?”

“Sounds good.” Leah agreed cheerily before dipping her head towards Samad and saying a curt farewell, “Mr Jadmani.”

Fatin led Leah away, letting her subtly lean on Fatin for support, until they were back in the corner where Leah had deposited her cane. Fatin’s grandma was nearby talking to Fatin’s aunt and uncle, she shot them a quick look of worry that Fatin sent a smile back to quell.

“Thank you for the rescue.” Fatin said sincerely as Leah steadied herself back on to her own two feet.

“No thanks necessary.” Leah promised, expression soft, making Fatin’s heart feel sickeningly squishy.

Fatin reached out, arms wrapping around Leah’s shoulders and noses brushing teasingly together. 

“Not even a heavy makeout session and boob grope later?” Fatin offered, biting her bottom lip.

Leah considered this, swallowing thickly, “Maybe some thanks are necessary.”

Fatin threaded a hand through dark hair, and tugged Leah forward over the slither of distance, kissing her languorously, only pulling away when the urge to let her hands wander almost became too tempting to resist. 

Leah was flushed and beautiful, and Fatin didn’t need anyone to tell her that everything her father said was wrong. She would never - could never - do what he did, especially to Leah, because hurting her in any way was incomprehensible. And she was so happy that she couldn’t fathom being with Leah as a trap or a prison in the way Samad made it seem like their family was to him.

The rest of the party passed without fuss, Fatin’s dad and his girlfriend slinking out not much later. The kids started to depart and Fatin left Leah’s side to go say goodbye to her cousins as they made their own exit. She closed the front door behind them as they all shuffled out towards the old beat-up car that her uncle refused to replace, too stubborn to buy something new when the car ran mostly without issue despite back-firing every hundred metres or so. 

She headed back out to the much quieter yard, running into her mom struggling with two rubbish bags; Fatin quickly took the second one and helped her take them out to the trash.

“I’m so glad Kemar wants a quiet trip to a museum for his birthday.” Rana muttered, hand resting on her lower back to obviously ease some of the strain she’d been under as they stood on the patio watching Ahmad and Kemar, along with the remaining children, sprint around the open space playing tag. “I don’t think I have the energy for another party like this.”

Fatin chuckled, patting her mother’s shoulder in commiseration. “We’re nearly free.”

Rana hummed gratefully, “Did you say goodbye to your cousins?”

“Yeah, I caught them on the way out.” Fatin reassured before rolling her eyes. “Auntie Aaliyah is still pissed about not getting her third cupcake.”

“She might be pissed but her doctor will send you a note of thanks.”

“Savage.” Fatin whistled appreciatively, “I love it.”

Rana smirked, “You take after me more than you think.”

Fatin felt a swell of warmth in her chest at that, smiling shyly, “I’m okay with that.”

Rana blinked in surprise, obviously having expected some rejection at the claim - something that would have been immediate and cutting only a year ago. 

Rana took a deep breath before declaring, “Once more into the breach.”

“Good luck!” Fatin cheered as Rana put on her best hostess smile and headed back to check on their remaining guests.

Fatin took a moment, eyes closed, head turned towards the sun, absorbing the heated rays-

BANG!

Fatin blinked her eyes open, glancing in the direction of the driveway where her uncle’s car had inevitably backfired when-

Something slammed into Fatin at full speed, knocking her to the ground hard. Her head slammed back onto the hard patio slabs and everything went dark for a flash and then there were stars and her mind was spinning. 

“Fuck… ow… that hurts…” Fatin exhaled sharply with the pain that started to crescendo behind her eyes.

It took her a beat to register that there was a body on top of her, pinning her down and covering her as much as possible.

The fear and panic started to grow before she became aware of the scent of vanilla and the familiar curves and lines that made up Leah’s body

Distantly she heard yells, “Fatin!” 

“Get off of her!”

Fatin squinted up, to find wide, horrified blue eyes peering down at her.

“Leah…” She breathed, trying to sound gentle but her voice came out as a dazed croak.

Suddenly, Leah was off her, scrambling away with a twisted broken expression, “I- I-... I’m sorry. I-”

Fatin attempted to rise up, to reach out for her girlfriend, “Leah… wait… no…” She winced, the stars blinding causing her to fall back down with a sharp wince, “Ah… fuck …”

Her hazy vision was then filled with the sight of her mom looking frantic, hands reaching out to calm her jerky movements. “Fatin, you’re okay, stay still.” Rana ordered calmly in opposition to the worried lines marking her expression.

“No, I need…” Fatin groaned, “I need Leah.”

Rana pursed her lips, carefully helping Fatin manoeuvre to a sitting up position; the few remaining guests milling nearby watching on overtly.

“We need to get you checked out first.” Rana said.

“No, Leah first…” Fatin begged, jaw clenched tight against the waves of dizziness.

“Fatin,” Rana breathed, “she’s already gone.”

Chapter Text

LEAH’S HABITS SINCE RETURNING

 

  1. Can’t sleep for more than four hours - I thought she just wasn’t used to being home, to having company again. But Dorothy figured out it was to do with the fire. On the island we would take it in shifts, sharing the responsibility. Leah in the wilderness would have done it alone. Four hours is when the fire would start to die and she would most likely wake up cold and needing to feed it more fuel. She only sleeps for four hours because that’s what she’s trained herself to do so as not to freeze.
  2. Touching - She’ll make it subtle, just a light nudge or press of the fingertips. I thought it was a comfort thing, Leah loves physical affection even if she’s not fully aware of it. But now I know she’s checking, isn’t she? She’s checking I’m real.
  3. No animal films - Leah seems to have a particular detest for them, which I know from convos with her Mom that she used to love them before the island. UPDATE: It’s not all animals. It’s wolves. It’s the sound of wolves or anything to do with them. Shelby put on Zootopia one night, and it got to that scene where the wolves howl at the moon, Leah went to the kitchen and when she didn’t come back, I went after her. She’d barricaded herself into one of the kitchen cupboards. It took hours to get her to come out.
  4. Keeps her back to corners and eyes on doors. We rearranged Leah’s bedroom so her bed was pushed into the corner of the room so that she could sleep facing towards the door. (What happened out there?)
  5. Fidgeting with the watch. She fiddles with it whenever she’s nervous, spinning it round and round her wrist, fingers tapping against the watchface. (At least, she’s no longer picking at her eyebrow, I love the girl but very few people pull off the no brow look.)



13th June 2021

 

“I’m fine, Mom, really.” Fatin huffed, undercutting her assertion with how she sank into bed. 

Rana merely raised a pointed eyebrow at her. 

“I’m just tired from sitting in the ER waiting room for hours only to be told by the doctor that I’m fine .” Fatin whined, slumping down against the pillows, heart panging at how empty her bed felt when she was the only occupant. 

“Do you still have a headache?”

“Barely.” Fatin mumbled before looking pleadingly at her mother, “Can you please take me to see Leah?”

Rana sighed, moving to sit on the edge of Fatin’s bed, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“It was an accident. You know she would never hurt me like that.” 

“But she did.” Rana replied simply.

“The noise scared her and she just reacted.”

“Fatin-”

“Mom, please…” She begged, inhaling shakily as she admitted. “I love her, okay?”

Rana’s expression softened, but her gaze remained melancholy.

“I know you don’t trust Leah. But Leah isn’t Dad.” Fatin continued on desperately, needing her mother to see Leah the way she did. The kindness, the loyalty, the brilliance; all the wonderful things she had so nearly missed and would never allow herself to miss again. “I would be dead if it wasn’t for her.”

Rana flinched at the reminder, eyes dropping to Fatin’s middle as if the damage was bare for her to see.

 “All this pain and trauma she’s gone through… she went through it to save me . I need to be there for her.” Fatin’s voice broke, the emotion and honesty surrounding it cracking her open.

Arms swept around her, her face gently tucked into the crook of her mother’s neck and a comforting hand stroking up and down her spine.

“And I need to be here for you.” Rana murmured, head turning to place a kiss to the side of Fatin’s forehead.

“I don’t need-” Fatin choked out, trying to hold strong.

“Yes, you do, Fatin.” Rana insisted gently, and Fatin crumpled into her mother’s embrace with the permission her mother’s words granted. “Leah has plenty of people fighting for her, taking care of her, worrying over her. But you are my daughter and I love you. I’m going to put you first. You need to rest and sleep.”

Rana leaned back, hand coming up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind Fatin’s ear, before cupping her cheek.

“You can see Leah tomorrow.” Rana said.

Fatin blinked in surprise, sniffing to stop her nose from running, “Wait, I can?”

Rana tilted her head to the side curiously, “Did you really think I would stop you?”

“I… don’t know…” Fatin admitted, “I guess I worried you would hold what happened against her.”

“Fatin, I like Leah.” Rana emphasised, hands retreating to rest in her lap. “I especially like her with you . She makes you happy; happier than I’ve ever seen you be before. I’m not blind. My only reticence was about if she was caring for you as much as you were so obviously caring for her.”

“She does, I swear!” Fatin rushed to reassure, hands flapping. “It’s not fair to judge her for-”

“Let me finish.” Rana requested, holding up a hand. “Today - yesterday -” She corrected with a frown at her watch, “I saw the absolute fear on Leah’s face… she thought something truly terrible was about to happen or had happened and the very first thing she did? She sprinted towards you, she sprinted on her damaged leg without a single care for herself. She was trying to protect you, I know that, I saw it . That girl adores you. She would jump into fire for you, and you deserve nothing less .” 

“Then-” Fatin began, eager to seize the thread of approval.

“Answer me this: if you turned up on the Rilke’s doorstep looking dead on your feet would that make Leah feel more or less guilty?”

Fatin winced, “I see your point.”

“Good.” Rana said, getting to her feet and staring down at Fatin with a stern expression “I’m your mother, I’m going to take care of you whether you like it or not. And right now that means telling you to go to sleep.”

Fatin sighed, shuffling down in the bed, heart aching and warm with the swirl of hurt and care. “Thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me for caring for you.”

“No, I…” Fatin mumbled, “Thank you for not… like, being dramatic af about what happened. Thank you for… seeing the real Leah.”

Rana smiled, moving to turn off the lamp by the side of the bed. “All a parent can ask for is that their child finds someone who loves them the way they deserve to be loved. Also,” Rana paused, eyes glinting with mischief, “She intimidates Samad, I like that.”

“And there it is.” Fatin chuckled.

“Sleep, Fatin.” Rana ordered before turning out the light.

 


 

Rana drove Fatin to the Rilkes the next morning after forcing her to eat and take some pain medication, refusing to let Fatin drive herself. Fatin’s headache was nearly completely gone but she knew better than to argue with her mother especially when she was getting exactly what she wanted. Her mother wished her luck and made her promise to call and check in later, Fatin agreed before hurrying from the car and knocking on the front door.

The door swung open after only a short wait to reveal an exhausted looking Maryann, dressed down and revealing that last night must have been a bad one for nightmares, Leah’s cries often waking the entire household.

“Maryann, is Leah-”

“Fatin, are you okay?” Maryann rushed forward, hands on Fatin’s shoulders, gaze sweeping up and down with concern as she scrutinised Fatin for any signs of damage. “Your mother sent us updates but-”

“I’m good, all rested up.” Fatin reassured, putting on a smile even as her stomach twisted itself into tighter and tighter knots. “I just got a little dazed, I swear.”

“Thank god for that.” Maryann exhaled heavily, worry slowly draining away as she stepped away and ushered Fatin inside. “I’m so glad you’re alright. And I know Leah would never forgive herself if…” She trailed off, glancing up the stairs in the direction of Leah’s room.

“Where is she?” Fatin asked softly, “Can I see her?”

“She’s barricaded herself in her bedroom since yesterday.” Maryann revealed, expression crumpling. “She won’t respond to me or Kurt.”

Fatin swallowed the lump in her throat, “May I?”

Maryann nodded, and Fatin could barely restrain herself from running up the stairs. Leah’s bedroom door was closed. She knocked against it with a knuckle, ear pressed to the wood, listening for any signs of life. She thought she heard the sound of a floorboard creaking and fabric lightly rustling but it could all have been imagined.

She knocked again.

There were no sounds this time - imagined or otherwise.

“Leah? It’s me, baby.” Fatin called through the door, heart pounding as she waited for a response. “Will you let me in, please? I really want to see you.”

Still no reply came; she bit her lip and grabbed the door handle, pushing it downwards. The handle moved but the door did not.

Fatin’s anxiety shifted up a gear into alarm.

Leah had never locked Fatin out before.

“I need to see you.” Fatin said, trying to keep her voice calm and light, though she could hear the strain sneaking in. “I’m okay, I promise. Rachel always said I was incredibly dense so… I think the concrete was more likely to take damage than my thick skull.” She laughed, the sound discordant and unwelcome. “Leah? Please, baby. I need you. I need to know you’re okay. Leah, please… please …”

Fatin pleaded for a further fifteen minutes, voice ranging from soft to desperate, to absolutely no avail. She retreated downstairs to find Kurt and Maryann in the kitchen with coffees, perking up with false hope with Fatin’s arrival.

“Anything?” Maryann inquired.

Fatin shook her head dismally, “No.”

Kurt rubbed his forehead, forefinger sliding perilously close to his eyebrow and making Fatin’s heart twinge at the familiarity of the gesture. “Do we just wait for her to come out on her own?”

“She’ll stay in there forever.” Fatin answered, approaching the countertop and accepting the cup of coffee that Maryann slid towards her with a grateful nod. “She’s almost as stubborn as me.”

“I really don’t want to break down her door.” Kurt grimaced, face worn in a way it hadn’t been since Leah’s return.

Fatin cleared her throat, “I may have an idea.” 

Kurt and Maryann looked at her expectantly.

“Leah, really isn’t going to like it, though.” 

Maryann snorted, “That probably means it will work.”

 


 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Fatin frowned and rapped her knuckles again, this time even louder.

TAP! TAP! TAP!

TAP! TAP! TAP!

The curtains snapped back and Fatin’s entire view was taken up by a glowering Leah, blue eyes dark and stormy, and lips flattened into an unforgiving line.

The window was shoved up unceremoniously and-

“What the fuck are you doing?! Are you fucking crazy?!” Leah demanded, arms reaching out for Fatin and curling protectively around her waist. “Do you have any idea how stupid-”

Stubborn , remember?” Fatin beamed, even as her knees felt ever so slightly weak under Leah’s stern gaze. 

“My parents are going to kill you, then me and then you again.” Leah huffed.

“I doubt that.” Fatin hummed knowingly.

Leah’s scowl deepened, brow furrowing and then she was leaning ever so slightly past Fatin to glance down. Fatin giggled knowing exactly what sight was awaiting her.

“MOM! DAD! How could you-” Leah cut off, jaw clenched tight and nostrils flaring as her parents inevitably waved up at her from the ground, the two of them keeping the ladder that Fatin was standing on steady.

“Are you going to let me in?” Fatin inquired, sensing victory.

Leah jerked back, though her hold on Fatin remained utterly steady. “It doesn’t seem like I have much of a choice.”

“Not really.” Fatin grinned. “I’m non-refundable, baby.”

The severe line that was Leah’s mouth twitched ever so slightly at the edge and Fatin knew then and there that they could solve whatever had happened. That she could burrow through the broken rubble that made up Leah’s exterior and reach the girl underneath it all - the girl she loved. 

“Come on,” Leah sighed, grip becoming firmer as she helped guide Fatin inside; voice suddenly soft, almost pleading as she requested, “be careful.” 

Fatin bit her tongue, resisting the urge to make a joke about liking it rough, choosing instead to nod and lean into the support Leah provided. Once she was safely inside, Leah’s grip on her vanished and she was retreating into the corner of the room, head hanging low and expression despondent.

Fatin breathed through her nose, counting to ten in her head, giving Leah a chance to re-stabilise. She used the mental countdown to inspect Leah’s room. Her desk had been moved against the door, keeping it sealed shut. The bed was made and looked unslept in, blankets and spare pillows were gathered in Leah’s protective corner. Leah looked wrecked, eyes puffy from tears and no sleep, nails bitten down to the quick and hair bedraggled from where she had run her hands through it. She had changed clothes at the least, dressed in grey sweats and a light blue v-neck t-shirt.

“Baby-” Fatin began, taking a careful step towards her girlfriend.

“No, Fatin.” Leah cut in, gaze averted as she slid down, knees pulled tight to her chest and head resting against the wall. “Don’t… Don’t make it all better.”

Fatin pursed her lips, walking over and kneeling, not quite in Leah’s personal space but close enough that if Leah reached out they would touch easily.

“I hurt you.” Leah whispered, her entire face scrunching up with agony at the memory that was so obviously tormenting her. “I hurt you, Fatin, and I promised… I promised after… that I would never…”

Leah’s voice broke, breath turning into hiccups.

“Baby, please…” Fatin’s eyes stung with unshed tears; she shuffled closer only for Leah to curl away from her approach.

“I hurt you!” Leah cried, her own arms wrapping tight around herself to self-soothe.

“You were trying to protect me, I know that.” Fatin murmured gently. “Everyone knows that. I-”

“You should go.” Leah declared, jaw clenching tight.

Fatin shook her head, barely resisting the urge to roll her eyes, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’m a fucking mess, Fatin!”

“So?!” Fatin shot back, “So fucking what? I’m a fuck-up, too. And you still love me!”

“You don’t dole out concussions when a car fucking backfires.” Leah argued, eyes shifting from dark to fiery and Fatin could deal with that, because fire meant life, meant she could reach Leah.

“Would you love me any less if I did?” Fatin questioned sharply.

Leah’s jaw worked but no sound came out.

“Baby, it was an accident. They happen.” Fatin reminded her.

“They happen a lot more around me than anyone else.” Leah said bitterly.

“Martha broke Toni’s nose.” Fatin revealed and Leah’s brow instantly furrowed in confusion. “It was a month after we got back, Martha had a nightmare and Toni tried to wake her up. Martha panicked, didn’t know where she was and lashed out. Toni went to homecoming with like… bandages all around her nose…”

“I… I didn’t know that…” 

Leah was in all the group chats, though she was relatively silent, enjoying simply being included. She’d taken to messaging the girls separately, Rachel, unsurprisingly the person she spoke with most, but it was Martha that took second place. She knew how to keep Leah light and positive with her kind humour and guide Leah away from the darkness when the conversation veered towards potentially triggering topics.

“Martha was so ashamed that she took to sneaking out of bed and sleeping in her mom’s car. She didn’t want to hurt Toni again.” Fatin continued.

“I see what you’re doing.” Leah acknowledged, though the hunch to her shoulders had eased ever so slightly.

“I’m not exactly renowned for subtlety.”

“This is different.”

“How?” Fatin asked, genuinely curious.

Leah finally met her gaze, “Because I don’t know if I’ll get better.”

“Leah-” Fatin exhaled, expression pained.

“I know I’m doing better in some ways… but this…” Leah licked her lips, “I don’t think this will ever go away.”

“What’s this ?” Fatin probed.

“The fear.” Leah confessed. “I’m scared, Fatin. Terrified. Constantly .”

Fatin’s heart sank into the deepest trenches of the ocean as cruel clarity dawned. The darkness in Leah’s eyes, the swirling thoughts, the sharpness to her mind they were all symptoms, indicators, of the ever-present terror that Leah was eternally at war with. 

Fear of insanity.

Fear of the unknown.

Fear of whatever the fuck had happened in the wilderness.

“I don’t want you to live with it, too.” Leah added disconsolately. “I still think about it, you know?” 

Fatin blinked at her in confusion, mind still reeling from the last revelation and how to overcome it. 

“Pushing you.” Leah clarified, her hand uncurling for a second, fingers reaching thoughtlessly towards the tiny white scar on Fatin’s thigh, bared by her denim shorts, only to jerk away. “When I realised you were missing the next day, I promised… I promised I would never cause you harm ever again and yet…”

Leah slumped further into her corner, head turning away and defeat so obviously weighing her down.

“Okay…” Fatin breathed out shakily, patience worn thin, as she pinched the bridge of her nose. 

She’d spent nearly a year waiting for Leah, and she was almost ready to admit she’d actually been waiting a whole lot fucking longer than that. 

“We’re going to speedrun this, because I’m bored now.” Fatin declared, straightening up.

“I’m sorry if my guilt and trauma is boring you.” Leah mumbled.

“That’s okay, you can make it up to me later with a boob grope.”

Leah’s lips pursed into a thin line and her head snapped back round, blue eyes wide with shock and disbelief. “Fatin, what-”

“Sorry, baby. It’s my turn now and I climbed a ladder for you and there is no sexy way to crawl through a window no matter what misleading teen movies try to tell girls, so I’ve earnt this.” Fatin grinned, pushing down the tempest of emotions playing below the surface as she clasped her hands in her lap. “I’m going to ask you three questions. And I need you to only answer yes or no. Understand?”

“Does this count as one of the questions?” Leah replied drolly.

Fatin’s nostrils flared and she held up her index finger in warning. “I’m adding an ass-grab to your debt for being a smart-ass. Question one-”

“Fatin, seriously-”

“Question one.” Fatin repeated loudly, “Do you love me?”

Leah spluttered, the brooding mask cracking in an instant, “What kind of-”

Fatin inched forward until their faces were near-touching, “Baby, honey, sweetie, love-bug… yes or no?”

Leah’s jaw snapped shut, “Yes, though that might change if you ever call me love-bug again.”

“Yes or no will suffice.” Fatin trilled with a smirk. “Am I a strong, independent, free-thinking woman who can make her own choices?”

“How orgasm deprived are you in this scenario?” Leah grumbled, earning her a flick on the ear, “Ow, yes, obviously.”

Fatin inhaled deeply, and asked the final question, shoving down the flicker of doubt that built as the words formed on the tip of her tongue. “Do you want to be in a relationship with me?”

Leah bit her lip, “It’s not that simple, I-”

“Baby, please.” Fatin begged, humour vanishing as she allowed her vulnerability to leak out into view.

“Yes.” Leah whispered immediately, hand moving to spin the watch Fatin had gifted her round and round on her wrist. 

“Okay,” Fatin nodded, smiling gently, “if any of the answers to those questions change, that’s when we need to reassess but not a second before.”

“Fatin-” Leah said slowly.

“What more is there? Seriously, Leah… what more is there?” Fatin demanded, trembling hands finally reaching out to settle over Leah’s, tangling their fingers together. “We love each other, we want to be together and we trust each other to say when either of those two things change.”

“I hurt you.” Leah repeated, voice small and tremulous.

“And I haven’t hurt you?” Fatin inquired, swallowing the lump in her throat. “I still think about it too…” She confessed quietly, “pressing you against that cliff wall, telling you that I would…” She shook her head, trying to shake the memory away. “And then I ask myself those questions, and I promise myself that as long as you want me around, as long as we make each other happy… nothing else fucking matters.”

Fatin closed her eyes and waited.

Waited for Leah to argue, to come up with another obstacle, to find another hardship for them to overcome. 

Haven’t they both suffered enough?

Fatin knew there would be problems, she wasn’t expecting easy , but she didn’t want them to fall down at the first hurdle. Not after everything they had been through.

Fatin felt Leah shift, moving closer until her forehead was pressed against Fatin’s.

“I’m sorry.” Leah breathed into the slither of space between them.

“Please don’t push me away.” Fatin begged, and she would be ashamed of the plea if she didn’t want it so badly, and didn't love Leah so much. “Nothing hurts worse than that.”

“Okay, okay…” Leah murmured softly. “But if I… I mean if you… If you’re not happy. If I don’t make you happy anymore, then promise you’ll go?”

Fatin’s lips pressed into such a thin line it was like someone had stitched them shut. She didn’t want to contemplate a reality like the one Leah was suggesting ever coming to pass.

“I won’t push you away,” Leah explained, “if you make me believe that you will leave if you ever truly want to…”

And Fatin got that. It was what she had been asking for with her questions, for Leah to trust that they would talk and be unafraid to fall apart if it was healthier for them. But it felt like tempting fate by putting it out there in the universe; to say she could end things if needed was the equivalent of daring the world - that had been so cruel to them already - to find the one thing that could do just that.

“Fatin?” Leah prompted after a beat.

Fatin cleared her throat, “Okay, I promise.”

Fatin could feel the air expelled by Leah’s sigh of relief, could feel the hands in hers de-tense and become pliant in her grasp. 

“Can I kiss you now?” Fatin requested, blinking her eyes open to find Leah’s sky blue and without a cloud in sight.

“Yes.” Leah’s tender mouth ticked up into a smile at the edges and Fatin pressed forward to taste it: the honeyed sweetness of new beginnings and the gentle give and take of a relationship that had arrived on solid ground after their first storm.

 


 

“There’s my clean and sexy girlfriend.” Fatin cheered, locking her phone and putting it to one side, as Leah emerged from the bathroom, dressed in pyjamas and drying her hair with a towel.

Leah’s nose wrinkled as she wandered over “Yeah, I did have like… depression musk…”

“Eh, I would still do you.” Fatin admitted shamelessly, making grabby hands for her girlfriend to come closer.

“And if that ain’t love…” Leah chuckled, throwing her towel over her desk chair before settling on the edge of the bed. Leah reached out and tucked a loose lock of hair behind Fatin’s ear, fingertips tracing her cheek as she studied her closely. “How is your head?”

“I’ve had no complaints.” Fatin quipped.

“RuPaul?”

“Me and Dorothy got really into it over Christmas,” Fatin revealed, “mostly because when we watched baking shows, I went up a dress size.”

Leah rolled her eyes but her expression was undeniably fond, “Seriously, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Fatin reassured, turning her head to press a kiss to Leah’s palm. “I had a bit of a headache and there’s a tiny bump but it will disappear.” Fatin lightly grabbed Leah’s wrist and guided her hand to the back of her head, “Here, feel.”

Leah’s fingers tentatively explored, caressing the minor lump that would be gone by the next day. 

“I really love you.” Leah murmured, fingers combing through Fatin’s hair.

“I know, baby.” Fatin hummed, luxuriating under Leah’s touch, before leaning forward to kiss her.

They traded soft, sweet kisses back and forth. The kind of kisses Fatin hadn’t had any experience of until Leah; kisses that she could no longer go a day without. Kisses that served no other purpose than affection; than making each other known and felt. 

They’d kissed like that for hours before, kissed like that until Fatin’s lips buzzed for a whole day afterwards in anticipation of further contact. 

Fatin assumed after everything it would go that way again, that Leah’s hand would settle on her thigh and her thumb would rub torturously slow circles that made Fatin flashback to a similar touch elsewhere from their night in the bunker.

She assumed they would follow the routine they had constructed.

She assumed right up until Leah’s grip on her hair tightened, head yanked carefully back exposing the length of her neck for Leah to nip at, leaving Fatin panting and desperate for more. 

Fatin’s own hands scrambled at Leah’s back, looking to hold on as her girlfriend took charge; arm curling round Fatin’s waist and tugging her to lie fully down, bracketing her in and surrounding her in a haze of vanilla shampoo.

Leah continued to kiss down her neck, tongue poking out to trace Fatin’s collarbone, prompting an embarrassingly needy whine to escape. 

Pale hands instantly retreated from Fatin’s hair and from underneath her back, leaving Fatin suddenly bereft and unmoored. Leah pulled away allowing Fatin to glimpse assessing blue eyes, and a small frown of determination. 

Fatin swallowed, shifting nervously under her girlfriend’s stare. 

“We can slow down.” She offered shyly, reaching out for Leah’s hands only for Leah to reject her touch as she instead chose to grab Fatin’s hips, thumbs sneaking under the edge of her t-shirt, exploring the warm skin underneath.

Leah quirked an eyebrow at her, the frown growing into an amused smirk, “I thought I owed you a boob grope?”

“And an ass-grab,” Fatin replied teasingly before staring directly into Leah’s eyes and emphasising, “ but I can wait .”

Her favourite blue eyes softened immediately, Leah’s whole expression turning tender. 

“And if I can’t?” Leah hummed thoughtfully, hands inching a little bit higher - index fingers now slipping under Fatin’s shirt, causing her to inhale shakily. “I want to touch you. I need to.”

Fatin swallowed, distinctly aware that she was trembling and Leah was barely even touching her yet. 

“Yeah… okay… just… if you need to stop…” She murmured weakly, as Leah grinned devilishly down at her before ducking forward and capturing her mouth in a searing kiss, hands fully slipping under Fatin’s t-shirt and sliding up her sides, palms cupping the underside of her breasts.

Leah requested permission for more with a filthy tangle of tongues and clamp of her teeth on Fatin’s bottom lip. Fatin granted it by grabbing Leah’s wrist and pushing it higher, encouraging her to pluck and play - to treat Fatin like the musical instrument she was when in Leah’s hands.

“Fuck…” Fatin groaned, fingers digging into Leah’s back trying to gain purchase as her hips jolted, trying to find something to rub against.

Leah licked the shell of her ear, breath cool on the dampened skin as she chuckled, “Sounds good to me.”

“Leah, baby, I…” Fatin trailed off, she wanted to ask for more - beg for it, really - but she’d promised herself that Leah would set the pace. Leah would be the one in control, after months of being deprived of her own autonomy, Fatin wanted to give her that much. 

Control of how, when and where. 

Leah’s brow furrowed as she examined Fatin’s restrained expression, “I want to make you feel good, like you make me feel. Please, princess.”

Fatin’s eyebrows shot up even as she felt an answering throb at the term of endearment. “Princess?”

Leah’s entire expression cringed upon hearing the term said back to her. “No?”

“Eh,” Fatin shrugged, trying not to sound too eager, “I can work with it…”

“Can you take this off?” Leah murmured, tugging at the edge of Fatin’s t-shirt.

Fatin lifted herself up on her elbows, arching an eyebrow and nodding at Leah - consent and a dare wrapped into one. Leah’s eyes brightened at the challenge, gripping the t-shirt with both hands, Fatin sitting upright to aid in the removal. The t-shirt was discarded in a corner somewhere to be long forgotten. 

Fatin held her breath as she lay back down, eyes half-lidded as she watched Leah study her.

Leah’s throat bobbed, voice little more than a husky whisper, “You’re so beautiful , Fatin.”

“Yeah?” Fatin bit the inside of her cheek in a bid to resist the emotional ache in her chest.

She’d longed for this for so long. To be back under Leah’s blue eyes, exposed and vulnerable yet feeling so exquisitely sheltered and appreciated.

“A work of art.” Leah breathed, fingertips following the curve of her ribs, pitter-pattering up each one like she did with the knobs of Fatin’s spine. The featherlight touch stopped dead-centre for a beat before stroking the edge of a silvery, dented mark. “Is this…”

Fatin licked her lips, forcing a smile even as her breath caught whilst Leah probed the healed over scar tissue. 

“Barely visible, surprised you even saw it.”

“I memorised you that night. Every little detail…” Leah confessed, looking away from the tapestry of Fatin’s torso to meet Fatin’s curious gaze. “Of course, I noticed.”

“Does it ruin the art?” Fatin chuckled, though it came off weak and uncertain. “Should I be suing for damages?”

Leah scowled, bending forward until their faces were close, one of her hands flat-palmed against Fatin’s abdomen, covering the scar and feeling her thrumming heartbeat. 

“Don’t joke about this.” Leah ordered, the seriousness of her tone softened by the sweet kisses she rained down on Fatin’s features. “Not about your worth. Not about your beauty.” Leah pulled back, “Fatin… I…” She broke off suddenly, before nodding to herself, and then-

Fatin gasped loud and unrestrained as Leah laved her tongue down Fatin’s sternum, pressing lips against pebbling skin before taking up residence at the tiny scar, seeking to map every single detail of it. 

“Fuck, baby…” Fatin whimpered, Leah’s hands and mouth were suddenly everywhere and yet nowhere that granted relief. It felt like absolution and punishment all rolled into one. “So good…”

“Pretty.” Leah complimented, after Fatin let out a desperate whine, fingertips curling around the pyjama shorts Fatin was wearing, she tugged questioningly at the fabric. “Can these come off?”

“Yes…” Fatin nodded frantically, her own hands moving to cover Leah’s and push the shorts down, kicking them away with a flick of her ankle - casting them into the same unknown as her shirt.

Leah’s slightly cold hands instantly came to rest on the inside of Fatin’s thighs making her shiver and instinctively open her legs further.

“I’ve been thinking about this for…” Leah said slowly, eyes glazed over as she bit her bottom lip, “two hundred and eighty three days.”

“Wow…” Fatin whistled, chest warm and confidence soaring, “Good to know my vagina left an impression.”

“Seared into the memory.” Leah smirked, thumbs drifting upwards and pressing into the crease of skin.

“Did you imagine this?”

“Yes,” Leah answered, looking away from Fatin’s bare body so that Fatin could easily see the sincerity on her face, “but not with… you know… Only you .”

Fatin felt something break free inside her chest, some piece of shrapnel that had been embedded with the revelation that another version of herself had occupied the space she coveted, finally loosened and was lost, releasing a well of emotion. The relief that Leah kept them separate, saved pieces of herself even at her worst for the real Fatin was a balm she would never admit to needing. 

It was selfish and insecure: wanting to be the sole possessor of Leah Rilke’s heart that she didn’t wish to share it with even a comforting fantasy but Fatin never made claims of sainthood. Her only virtue was that she would never have told Leah the damage inflicted, the loss experienced, and the dark thoughts created. 

Fatin swallowed back a sob, tears escaping from the corner of her eyes and trickling down, mixing into her dark hair. Leah was there an instant later, wiping the tears away with delicate lips that whispered ‘only you’ and ‘love you’ and ‘beautiful’ and ‘so pretty’ over and over again. Fatin curled into her girlfriend’s warm body, accepting the hand that intertwined with her own and barely holding back the appreciative moan as Leah’s other hand teased at the dampness at the top of her thighs.

“Wait, wait…” Fatin requested breathlessly, squeezing Leah’s hand tight when the other girl made to retreat. “Can you… can you take off your clothes too?”

Leah froze above her, body taut with tension.

“I want… I want to touch you too.” Fatin explained, nuzzling into the side of Leah’s head. “When I thought about this… it’s together. I want us to do this together.”

“I…” 

“Leah?” Fatin prompted; Leah pulled away from her, jaw clenched tight and hands curling into fists on top of her covered thighs.

“It’s really fucking ugly, Fatin.” Leah muttered bitterly. 

Fatin’s heart instantly sank as she bared witness to Leah’s self-loathing, watching the muscles at the corner of Leah’s jaw clench and unclench, her mouth curling into a scowl that stood so opposed to the softness of only a moment ago.

“Baby-” Fatin soothed, sitting up and reaching for her girlfriend, arms wrapping around her middle.

“It’s not…” Leah began before shaking her head and speaking slowly, each word weighed and measured before vocalisation. “It doesn’t blend in. I don’t want the first thing you think about when you think about me to be… that .”

“You think the first thing I think about when I think about you now is your leg ?” Fatin muttered in amusement. “Or your rocking bod?”

“Bod, really?” Leah snorted.

Fatin quickly covered Leah’s mouth with a hand, giving her a faux-glare, “No talking back when I’m being romantic, learn the lesson already.”

“Sorry.” Leah said, voice muffled.

“I think about how brave and strong you are.” Fatin explained honestly, “I think about how you can’t lie to your friends to save your life. I think about how you make me smile by being a complete and total dork.”

Leah jerked back at that, eyebrow raised as she accused, “I’m the dork in this relationship?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Leah lifted her arms up and performed a small robotic gesture that seemed oddly reminiscent. “Rewind…”

“My level of cool takes a knock when I’m around smart girls that I have a crush on, okay?” Fatin pouted defensively before waving a dismissive hand. “What I’m saying is, I know I make a big deal about looks but… they’re never going to be the first thing I think about when I think of you.”

Leah’s mouth opened and closed; Fatin waited as Leah clearly worked through a plethora of thoughts and emotions. Fatin wanted to whisper in her ear that Leah was safe with her, that her love was not vain, but she didn’t want to pressure Leah with anything that could trigger guilt or a sense of obligation.

So she waited and hoped. 

Hoped that every gentle kiss she had placed on the scar around Leah’s eye was enough. Hoped that every proud boast she freely offered about her incredible girlfriend to all that came within earshot was enough. Hoped that every declaration of love and stability was enough.

Enough for Leah to believe that whatever damage was done to her body would not impact Fatin’s view of her.

“Help me with this?” Leah requested with a shy smile, lifting up her pyjama shirt.

“Always, baby.” Fatin replied, rushing forward, hands moving to assist. The shirt and sweatpants were discarded one after another in quick succession. Fatin kept her eyes locked with Leah’s throughout, awaiting permission to look.

Leah shuffled back to rest against the pillows, hands holding tight to Fatin’s as if they were her only link to solid ground. 

“Try not to freak out.” Leah pleaded, before closing her eyes and nodding.

“I won’t.” Fatin promised, quickly pressing a kiss to Leah’s cheek - grateful for Leah’s bravery - before inhaling deeply, readying herself and then taking in the harm wrought on the woman she loves.

It was ugly.

There was no denying that.

Where there was once pristine porcelain, there was now a violent red. There was no symmetry to it. No pattern or sense. It rippled across the entire space, fracturing and cracking. 

It was the physical embodiment of everything that Leah had suffered. A distorted mirror to reflect the mental suffering that others would overlook. 

The scar was the bright bullseye that kept everyone’s focus but there were so many other markers of pain and suffering. Leah’s ribs were too close to the surface, even after a couple of months eating well. There was the scar around Leah’s eye that made Leah duck her head and hide Fatin’s favourite shade of blue. There was the scar on the back of Leah’s hand, the one on her ankle and the dozens of pale white lines that littered the entire canvas of her body. 

Fatin loathed them all, but she hated the one on her leg the most.

Physical remnants that the world had been unjust to someone who didn’t deserve it. Fatin wanted to peel off each mark and throw it back at the earth tenfold. Leave it, and all those involved, tattooed with the abuse they had doled out.

“Well?” Leah muttered anxiously after Fatin had stayed quiet far too long, expression pensive to hide the dark thoughts roaming free.

Fatin hated every scar, but she loved the woman that endured them.

Knew each scar was a sign of survival. Of Leah fighting to live and keep moving forward. 

She hated every scar, but Leah needed her to accept them, to grow fond of them.

And Fatin could do that. She could bury the hate. She could love the damage because the damage was part of Leah.

Instead of outwardly stating that convoluted mess of thoughts, Fatin bent down and pressed her lips to the edge of the healed red scar tissue, wanting to give back the same tenderness that Leah had shown her body.

“Fatin, you don’t need to…” Leah spluttered, fingers curling through Fatin’s hair but making no move to pull her away.

“Love you.” Fatin muttered, studying the way Leah’s thigh muscle twitched under her lips with each brushing contact. “So strong, baby. So proud of you.”

“Fatin.” Leah whined, breath audibly catching in her throat and making Fatin’s chest puff up with pride.

“Does it hurt?” Fatin inquired, blinking curiously up at her girlfriend as she nuzzled into the scarred skin.

“No.” Leah admitted, swallowing thickly. “It usually hurts from overexertion; not like… touching or pressure.”

Fatin smirked, an idea taking root as sat back on her knees, “I can make that work.”

Leah frowned, hands reaching out for Fatin’s hips as Fatin crawled closer.

“Make what-” Leah began before breaking off as Fatin straddled her scarred leg.

“This okay?” Fatin asked gently, wrapping her arms around Leah’s shoulders, and pressing their foreheads against one another.

Leah exhaled shakily, “Yeah, yeah, that’s… yeah…”

“Baby?” Fatin whispered, pressing kisses to Leah’s jaw as she started a deliciously slow grind. “Calling in my ass grab.”

Leah laughed and the tight, building tension eased and suddenly it was just them again. 

The two of them reunited as if no time had passed since their night in the bunker. They were a little bit older, a little bit more roughed up but just as stupidly in love. That was their constant. 

“I love you so much.” Leah declared, blue eyes twinkling, as her palms smoothed down Fatin’s back acquiescing to her demand without complaint.

“I love you too.” Fatin beamed before capturing Leah’s mouth in an all-consuming kiss.

 

FORGIVING NORA

 

PROS:

 

  1. I guess being the bigger person? I can claim the moral high-ground which is nice to rub into people’s faces.
  2. It would make Rachel happy even if she never says so.
  3. Something about being good for the inner toxicity I carry around? I thrive on toxicity so I call bullshit (don’t ever tell Dr Bianchi that, she will put me in like therapy timeout).
  4. I miss her sometimes. She was funny.

 

CONS:

 

  1. I’d have to see her face, hear her voice and not slap her which is a level of restraint I don’t know if I am capable of.



16th June 2021

 

“I mean she’s a big girl, I think she’s more than capable of getting an uber.”

“Fatin!” Leah admonished, shooting her a reproachful glare.

“I’m respecting her growth and independence, jeez.” Fatin pouted, crossing her arms over her chest as they watched the slow trickle of people making their way through the arrivals gateway.

“You can survive without an orgasm for a few hours.” Leah murmured, voice low, so as not to be overheard.

“I beg the fucking differ.”

“It might even be good for you.” Leah said lightly.

“How the fuck do you figure?” Fatin frowned.

Leah leaned close, breath warm on the shell of Fatin’s ear. “Because you’re walking differently and currently, you wince everytime you sit down.”

Fatin’s cheeks flushed at the blatantly obvious symptoms of three days spent in their beds making up for lost time. Three days that she would cherish dearly and slightly hate Rachel for bringing to a premature end, utterly convinced she could have kept Leah in a state of orgasmic bliss for at least another two days before the world came a-knocking.

“I have absolutely no complaints.” Fatin grinned, turning her head to press a kiss to Leah’s cheek, before nuzzling into her neck, Leah’s arms wrapping around her less than a heartbeat later.

“Ew, gross.” Exclaimed a familiarly gruff voice. “If I wanted to be exposed to excessive PDA I would have gone to Minnesota and at least had Martha for company.” 

The arms around Fatin dropped in an instant, and by the time she turned her head to glower at the older Reid twin, Leah was already sweeping Rachel up into a tight hug.

Fatin’s annoyance faded immediately, and she watched as Rachel hugged Leah back just as tightly, even going so far as to pull out her phone and snap some discreet photos that she would send to the two of them later. 

“Did you get taller whilst I was away?” Leah questioned, chin on Rachel’s shoulder.

“Nah,” Rachel snorted, Fatin could see the watery sheen to her eyes as she tried to keep her voice light, “your fucked up leg just gives me an adavantage.”

Fatin winced, ready to run in and deal with the fallout of the leg comment, only to hear the still relatively rare sound of Leah laughing.

“You’re not meant to bring up the leg.” Leah said, pulling back and allowing Fatin to see the broad grin that lit up her features. “You’re meant to just stare at it forlornly and tell me how strong I am.”

“I know the protocol.” Rachel drawled holding up her prosthetic hand, though her other hand remained splayed on Leah’s back, keeping her close as if afraid she might vanish at a moment’s notice (Fatin knew the feeling all too well). “At least your body part is still there. Do you have any idea how awkward it is meeting new people who go for a handshake?” 

The two best friends shared mirror grimaces that made Fatin’s heart warm. 

“Cringe.” Leah agreed, with an adorably wrinkled nose.

Rachel shrugged in agreement, before jerking her chin down at Leah’s injury and the cane in her free hand. “I’ll call you strong when you actually do something impressive on that leg, right now you’re just as clumsy as you were before.”

“Fair.” Leah’s eyes crinkled at the edges, “I really missed you.”

“Yeah, well…” Rachel rolled her eyes. “I missed you, too.”

The two hugged again, arms holding far tighter this time - now confident of the other’s ability to withstand the full force of their unbridled affection.

“You would think you aren’t on the phone for like two hours everyday.” Fatin commented when the two finally parted. 

“Not everyday, Jadmani.” Rachel rebuked even as she walked over to hug Fatin in greeting as well. “Leah went surprisingly AWOL the last couple of days and I can’t help but wonder if it has anything to do with the vampire attack she’s clearly suffered recently.”

Fatin smirked whilst Leah blushed, adjusting the collar of the polo shirt she was wearing to try and hide the plethora of hickeys.

“Mmhmm…” Rachel hummed knowingly.

The three of them headed out of the airport, loading up Fatin’s parked car with Rachel’s luggage. The plan was for Rachel to stay for the summer, providing Leah support and company during and after her surgery. The drive back was dominated by the two best friends chatting away, the music turned down low. 

Fatin listened to the conversation, simply appreciating how lively and actually talkative Leah was for once as her and Rachel spoke at their usual rapid fire pace that discouraged other participants.

“And… uh…” The break in speed and pause between words was the only warning Fatin received. “How’s Nora?”

There was a beat; Fatin kept her gaze on the road, knuckles flashing white as her grip on the steering wheel increased, shoulders hunching up to her ears as she awaited the reply.

“She’s… she’s doing good.” Rachel said softly, the hopeful pride and slight nervousness apparent in those few words.

“Yeah?” Leah encouraged, tone gentle - a promise of a safe space.

“Yeah.” Rachel replied, more confidently now. “She’s taking a few classes at a community college; she wanted to try for somewhere a bit more prestigious but after...” Rachel trailed off, and the atmosphere in the car turned heavy. “She’s trying.” Rachel tacked on awkwardly after another pause that felt like an eternity.

Fatin could see Leah nod her head slowly in her peripheral vision.

“And the two of you?” Leah prompted, somewhat tactfully.

“We’re doing better. She’s learning to let go, give me space. And I’m learning…” Rachel sighed, “I didn’t realise how… little I knew her. I don't mean the whole… confederate thing.” 

Fatin winced at the term; the clinicalness of it. It was probably the word that Nora had used and continued to use when explaining her involvement. 

Fatin had always felt the term traitor was far more accurate and simple to understand. 

“Just little things,” Rachel continued, “like she hates cereal, she loves autobiographies… and like I knew she liked reading but I didn’t know what she liked reading. And I guess it’s been nice getting to know her. It’s been nice being sisters again. Is that…” Fatin imagined Rachel swallowing thickly, not quite meeting Leah’s scrutinising gaze before she murmured, “Is that okay?”

The question served as a catch-all for a thousand and one variants.

Is it okay that I forgive her? 

Is it okay that I want her to be important to me again?

Is it okay for me to trust her?

Is it okay that I let her back in even though she hurt you and everyone else?

“She’s your sister, Rachel.” Leah replied simply.

“I know,” Rachel said, “but you kind of are too.”

Fatin could hear Leah’s breath catch at that, and she couldn't help but look away from the crawling traffic, wanting to catch a glimpse of her reaction, knowing how much those few words would mean to her girlfriend.

Fatin felt like an interloper, the chauffeur that serves as silent witness to their passengers’ far more interesting social lives, but she couldn’t muster up any indignation at being placed on the sideline when she saw how Leah was biting the inside of her cheek to keep the building tears at bay. Or how Leah looked over to her the instant she felt Fatin’s eyes on her and smiled so brightly, as if to say ‘ can you believe this ’, ‘ is this real’ ?

Fatin merely smiled back and inclined her head before turning back to the road. 

“Would it be okay if…” Leah asked, voice warbly with emotion, “can I have her phone number?”

“You want Nora’s phone number?” Fatin gasped, unable to stop herself or the disapproving tone that coloured it.

Leah turned away from the backseat, studying Fatin’s profile. Fatin attempted to keep her eyes resolutely on the road in an attempt to give her expression some semblance of neutrality.

“Yes. I think it would be good for me… and her.” Leah said slowly, the words for both Fatin and Rachel. “I don’t hate her for what happened, but I still need to hear it from her.”

“Leah-” Fatin inhaled sharply, before snapping her mouth closed, reminding herself that this was Leah’s choice and Leah had been deprived of far too many of them in the past.

Leah waited to see if Fatin would break her vow of silence before turning back to face Rachel.

“So, would that be okay?” Leah inquired, flipping the question back round and giving it its own hidden depth. 

Is it okay for the most important people in your life to meet and potentially detonate?

Is it okay for us to fray and bristle, whilst still clinging tightly to you?

“Yeah, that would…” The sound of fumbling and then audible tapping followed, “I’ve messaged you her number.”

“Thanks.” Leah said, and Fatin felt the fury swell in her chest, the high note transcending the cacophony.

Fury that wasn’t directed at Leah, Rachel or even Nora. 

Fury at the entire fucked up situation Gretchen had put them in. Fury at having to learn how to forgive and move forward to keep their found family healthy and comfortable. Fury that Leah had to be the bigger person when she should get to burn the world down without consequence - Fatin happily supplying the gasoline and matches. Fury that there was always another emotional challenge to overcome, another emotionally straining conversation to have. Fury that Leah was yet again offering up a pound of flesh for someone to carve and hack into.

Fatin’s fury withered, however, as Leah reached out to lay a comforting hand on her thigh, the contact grounding and familiar. The assurance that no matter what life threw at them, they would gravitate together and provide shelter from whatever storms they encountered.



PLACES TO KISS LEAH

 

  1. High School bathroom where we first met (should have gone for it at the first glimpse of those blue eyes).
  2. Behind the stage after my first performance at Julliard. (Leah will bring flowers, obvi. And the display of my finger dexterity will ensure I get at least one orgasm before we leave).
  3. Central Park in winter (Leah wearing that red scarf her mom knitted and whipped cream from her hot chocolate on the tip of her nose).
  4. Somewhere pretty when its raining because Martha tells me you need a fucking cringe-ass kissing in the rain moment.
  5. Top of the eiffel tower. No particular reason. Would be cute for insta.
  6. On a beach. Any beach.
  7. Under the starry sky.
  8. In the backseat of my car.
  9. Anywhere.
  10. Everywhere.



23rd June 2021

 

“Up and at them, sunshine.” 

Fatin clenched her teeth in irritation as Rachel held out a hand to pull Leah up and away from their little cocoon of blankets on the sofa. Leah sighed but accepted it immediately, rising up onto one leg and taking the crutches Rachel handed over to her. 

Having Rachel around was proving to be an adjustment.

Watching Leah come out of her shell, regaining confidence with every challenge Rachel set her had been a delight at the beginning. 

The day after Rachel had arrived, Fatin had done a double-take upon seeing Leah come down the stairs in shorts whilst the two best friends tried to find the most apt description for her scar, volleying suggestions back and forth like it was nothing: ‘like a tomato squashed by a steam roller’, ‘like steak blended with razors’ and ‘like non-waterproof clown make-up on a rainy day’. 

Rachel even got Leah to take Roxy for a walk on her own, to go back to bed when she woke up early, to share how she got the scar on her ankle and hand with a roll of her eyes and a wry smile - poking fun at her errors and the trauma she went through like it wasn’t a big deal.

And that was great… it was good… it was fine

But Fatin could see the fatigue underneath it all, could see the way Leah squared up her shoulders ever so slightly as if readying herself for pain whenever she faced another goal set by Rachel. 

Leah’s surgery went well, the debris removed and the tissue cleaned up to aid its long-term healing. Fatin and Rachel had paced the waiting room during the operation; the two performing endless loops around the area - one following after another as Leah’s parents watched on.

They had both stayed in Leah’s room after the surgery, keeping the girl company. However, that was when Fatin felt the repeated flair of annoyance at having to share her girlfriend’s attention; at realising that Leah looked to Rachel almost as much as she looked to Fatin.

And then when they got home, Rachel quickly took over Leah’s recovery, organising her medication, jumping in front of Fatin to physically support Leah when needed, being the one to take her to physical therapy and helping her through the exercises she was required to do at home.

Fatin was left windmilling in the background, trying to give Leah shelter to recuperate from Rachel’s constant drive for endless activity.

“Quick walk around the block.” Rachel ordered.

“Will it actually be a quick walk around the block or are you going to take her for another fucking hike?” Fatin inquired drolly, trying and failing to keep her tone jokey.

Rachel raised an eyebrow at her whilst Leah’s brow scrunched up in concern.

“Fatin, I’ll be fine, promise.” Leah reassured, ducking down to press a kiss to Fatin’s cheek before limping away to grab a jacket and shoes.

Fatin and Rachel both watched her disappear through the living room doorway before they turned to face one another.

“She was fine last time.” Rachel said once Leah was out of earshot.

“She’s meant to be resting .” Fatin emphasised, arms crossing defensively, and mask falling away to reveal the growing anger and concern.

“She is resting.” Rachel replied flippantly. “She spends pretty much all day trapped inside, sitting on her ass watching shit on tv with you. A few minutes' walk is good for her.”

“It’s not a few minutes, you push her too fucking hard and you know she can’t say no to you.” Fatin snarled, getting to her feet and matching Rachel’s looming height. “Do I really need to fucking remind you that she only had surgery five days ago?”

“So?” Rachel scoffed, rolling her eyes. “My point still stands. You know what Leah gets like if she feels trapped somewhere. She starts to get lost in her own head.”

“She’s doing fine.” Fatin lied.

Rachel’s gaze darkened immediately, “Really? Because I could have sworn when we came back from picking up her meds that she was talking to Shelby as if she was in the fucking room.”

Fatin looked away, unable to meet Rachel’s eyes.

“Fuck… that’s not a new occurrence is it?” Rachel exhaled in disbelief. “How long?”

Fatin said nothing.

“How long, Fatin?” Rachel repeated, stepping into Fatin’s personal space, making her bristle in response.

“It’s a coping mechanism from the wilderness.” Fatin answered tersely.

“And you didn’t feel like sharing that with the rest of the class?” Rachel demanded.

“It’s no one’s business but Leah’s; her therapist knows and they’re working on it.” Fatin defended. “I’m not spilling her secrets.”

“Fuck me, Fatin, it’s not her secret if she doesn’t even realise she’s doing it.” Rachel seethed and Fatin couldn’t help but wince remembering the blank expression Leah had given Rachel when asked who she’d been talking to. “You need to stop doing this.”

“Doing what?” Fatin frowned.

“Trying to save her on your own to make up for failing her on the island.” Rachel said simply, the assessment cutting through Fatin like tissue paper and leaving her reeling. “It’s not good for her and it sure as shit isn’t good for you.”

“I-” Fatin inhaled, hands curling into fists at her side.

“Ready to go!” 

Fatin and Rachel stepped back from each other immediately as Leah limped into the room, cheeks flushed with colour and her smile wide with pride.

“Shoelaces are a nightmare with this leg.” Leah declared, her smile fading as she looked between the two of them, picking up on the residual tension in the air. “Everything okay?”

Fatin and Rachel exchanged a look; reaching a non-verbal agreement to keep Leah in a good mood in an instant.

“Oh, yeah.” Fatin answered, grinning at her girlfriend and waving a hand in Rachel’s direction. “I’m just pissed Rachel decided that the best time to go for a walk is when there’s five minutes left of the episode. Who fucking does that?”

“Delayed gratification might be good for you.” Rachel shot back with a smirk.

“Never been big into teasing.” Fatin replied with a wink that was heavily undermined by the snort of disbelief from her girlfriend.

“Leah seems to disagree.” Rachel chuckled.

Fatin shot Leah a look of deepest betrayal which made Leah grimace apologetically.

“Uh…” Leah mumbled, eyeing the exit, “So, walk now?”

“Yeah,” Fatin taunted, “you better run.”

Leah limped over to her, settling right into her space and pressing a tender kiss to Fatin’s forehead, whispering against her skin, “Love you.”

“Love you, too.” Fatin replied effortlessly, “Stay safe.”

“Will do.” Leah assured before nodding at Rachel. The two left, voices carrying as they departed, leaving Fatin on her own in the living room. Fatin settled on the sofa, pulling out her phone and calling Dorothy; knowing if she sat there and waited without occupation, she would drive herself mad.



THINGS RACHEL HAS GOTTEN LEAH TO DO:

 

  1. Wear fucking shorts.
  2. Regular walks and going to the gym.
  3. Watch a fucking animal documentary - WITH WOLVES!
  4. Tell her about hunting for food in the wilderness and the lake that she would sit by on a good day.
  5. Tell her about the cabin she lived in, describing each detail of the place, down to the tartan blanket on the couch.
  6. Tell her the story behind the scar on her hand and ankle.
  7. A three way call between Leah, Rachel and Nora that they were laughing all the way through.
  8. Eat mussels again.



15th July 2021

 

Fatin ended the call with Dorothy, slouching down in her seat and staring out the front window of her car. 

She was already running late; Leah and Rachel were expecting her ten minutes ago. 

She’d finished practice with the new orchestra she’d joined, a relatively young and selective group which challenged themselves with newer arrangements and classical takes on contemporary songs. She was enjoying it; able to flex her musician muscles, already proven to be the best out of them and earning the whispered request to do a solo at their showcase at the end of the summer. The people were nice as well and she’d hung out with them after practice a couple of times at Dorothy and Leah’s urging. 

After practice she’d driven without a goal, only parking up on Leah’s road to call Dorothy and check in to see how her travels were going when she ran out of new roads to turn down. 

Now, however, she had absolutely no reason not to head inside, to seek out the girl she loves and press kisses to Leah’s cheeks and subtly squeeze her ass when Rachel wasn’t looking.

But she dawdled and delayed.

Leah was doing better. So much better.

She was already off the crutches and didn’t have to use her cane nearly as much as everyone thought she would. The doctor’s optimism of her recovery was increasing with each check up; it was looking more and more likely that she might be able to manage with only using her cane on rare occasions. She was also nearly back to a healthy weight, cheeks fuller and ribs no longer pressed tight to the surface of her skin.

Not only was she physically better, her mental health had substantially improved. She was sleeping for longer than four hour increments, usually around six hours and had even managed eight after a particularly intense night of sex beforehand. Leah was able to go out on her own, not far but she took Roxy for a walk first thing most mornings before coming back for breakfast. She was quick with a joke or a comment, no longer staying silent in the beat between conversations. She was reading again, a couple of chapters everyday and her attention span was improved, able to stick with activities for longer than half-an-hour. She was talking to herself less, looking into shadows less and jumping at sudden noises less.

And Fatin knew nearly all of that was down to Rachel. 

Rachel had managed to help Leah achieve more in a month than Fatin had in triple that. 

Rachel had been the one tending to Leah’s physical recovery, guiding her through the exercises and pushing her through any mental barriers encountered. She challenged Leah to do more, to believe in herself and most importantly… Leah listened to her

Reacted to Rachel’s methods like a flower growing towards sunlight.

And Fatin?

Fatin was there too, realising how epically she must have failed Leah in all the prior months. How she would inevitably keep failing until Leah realised how much better off she would be without the anchor that was Fatin Jadmani tying her down…

Fatin bent forward resting her forehead on the steering wheel, biting back the tears that prickled for freedom. 

KNOCK! KNOCK!

Fatin jolted, thwacking her head on the steering wheel in her rush to find the source of the noise. Rachel was looking at her through the passenger window, eyebrow raised and expression inscrutable as she opened the door and dropped into the seat next to Fatin.

“You scared the fucking shit out of me!” Fatin scowled, rubbing her forehead.

“And you’re scaring the shit out of the woman that lives in the house opposite. The curtains have twitched four times and she looks a minute away from calling the police on your lurking ass.” Rachel replied.

Fatin scoffed, pulling down the sunvisor to check her appearance in the mirror. “Everyone on this street knows who I am.”

“And there’s the arrogant Fatin we all know and tolerate.” Rachel laughed; Fatin could feel her friend’s gaze scrutinising her as she snapped the visor back up and out of the way. “What are you doing anyway? You’re not the brooding type. You should leave that to your girlfriend.”

“Yeah…” Fatin sighed despondently, reminded of how Leah might not be her girlfriend much longer.

Rachel’s brow furrowed immediately, “Seriously, Jadmani, perk the fuck up.”

“I mean this from a place of love,” Fatin said dryly, “don’t go into motivational speaking.”

“Fuck you, I would earn big bucks telling people to do better,” Rachel remarked, “they would love the losing a hand to a shark thing and living through a fucked up experiment spiel. Eat that shit up like an all you can eat buffet. Who needs college? I’d be rolling in it by the time I’m twenty.”

Fatin opened her mouth to argue and then found she had no counter, “I mean… yeah, fair.”

Rachel grinned victoriously, twisting in her seat so her back was against the door, fully facing Fatin, expression slowly turning serious. “You want to talk about it?”

“Talk about what?”

“Playing dumb won’t work for you anymore.” Rachel tsked. “We all know there’s a fucking brain rattling round in there now.”

“I’m fine,” Fatin shrugged nonchalantly, “just wanted to call Dorothy, you know?”

Rachel shook her head, “You finished talking to Dot half-an-hour ago. She’s been messaging me.”

Fatin swore internally, even as she flicked her wrist dismissively, “Scrolling through insta, then.”

“Bullshit. There’s no way you would sit in your car when Leah is waiting for you.” Rachel leant forward, voice dropping to a quiet murmur, “She’s pacing so much she’s wearing a track on the carpet.”

“Fuck, I didn’t think she would notice.” Fatin admitted, cringing as she was hit with a wave of shame and embarrassment.

“Fatin,” Rachel drawled slowly, “that's the stupidest thing you’ve ever said and I remember when you said you were going to whittle a dildo.”

“Vagina splinters, yes, I know!” She groaned, flinging her head back.

“You’re the most important person in the world to Leah,” Rachel murmured, reaching out to take Fatin’s hand with her own, and Fatin barely resisted the urge to pull back, feeling unworthy of Rachel’s kindness, “she notices everything about you . She… just… doesn’t always work out the why.” Rachel shrugged, “Her own obliviousness coming into play, I guess.”

Fatin pressed her lips together in confusion, “What-”

“She’s noticed you pulling away.” Rachel said bluntly, and Fatin took it like a body blow, lungs collapsing under the weight of hurting Leah. “She just hasn’t worked out that it's because you’re jealous.”

“I’m… what?” Fatin laughed in disbelief.

“Come on, Fatin.” Rachel sighed, “I’m not stupid, I may not be the smartest in the group but I’m not stupid.”

Fatin immediately squeezed Rachel’s hand tight in comfort, “Rach-”

Rachel ducked her head, “It is what it is.”

“No one thinks you’re stupid. No one.” Fatin asserted, waiting until Rachel nodded her head and re-met her gaze. “I’m not jealous like that … I know Leah isn’t interested in you romantically and I know you’re not interested in her.”

“I don’t know, have you seen those biceps?” Rachel whistled appreciatively; Fatin’s jaw immediately clenched and her nostrils flared in warning. “ Joking . Jesus Christ, if looks could kill-”

“You give her things I can’t.” Fatin snapped, unable to hold it in any longer.

Rachel blinked at her, “Yeah, so?”

“So?!”

“Does Leah give you everything?” Rachel inquired, arching an eyebrow. “Because I’m pretty sure Dot would argue with that.”

“Yeah, I get that but…”

“But?” Rachel prompted.

“What if I’m not relationship material?” Fatin asked quickly, the words scorching and painful, like hot coals in her mouth that she couldn’t bear any longer. “What if I’m not good enough? I know I would never be like my Dad but… I’ve never done the other stuff. You know, being the emotional support, being romantic and all that crap.”

Rachel’s brow became so creased with incredulity, Fatin was tempted to drop her off at the laundromat for assistance in removing them. “You were the head of the Leah Rilke emotional support group on the island,” Rachel said, emphasising every word, “you were practically the Mom of the group, and Leah has gushed non-stop about how fucking cheesy you are. A bookshop date, really? Can’t believe I thought you were cool once.”

“You got her to wear shorts!” Fatin snapped.

“Okay? So?” Rachel repeated belligerently.

“I spent months trying to make her comfortable with her scars and you swan in and less than a day later she’s in shorts, not giving a shit. I didn’t… I didn’t make her feel secure enough-” Fatin’s mouth snapped shut, “Why are you laughing?!”

Rachel, wrapped her free arm around her middle as if to support the laughs that were rocking her whole body. 

“Rachel!”

You were how I convinced Leah to wear shorts in the first place.” Rachel crooned, as her laughs subsided into chuckles. “Fatin, you’re right, I can kick Leah to do things you can’t. I can push her outside her comfort zone. The only reason I’m able to do that is because she knows that you’re there to catch her. She knows because of all your emotional support, romantic crap that it doesn’t matter if she fails because you’ll still love her anyway. I got her to wear shorts by telling her: who gives a fuck what strangers think of her leg when her girlfriend still thinks she’s hot.”

Fatin pursed her lips, “Oh…”

“Yeah, oh …” Rachel muttered, rolling her eyes fondly, “You can’t be everything, Fatin. It’s not good for either of you. Take that from someone who watched their own sister destroy themselves - and others - trying to solve all of my problems.”

“I don’t think I’m at the ‘an island experiment sounds like a good idea for our mental health’ stage.” Fatin grumbled.

Rachel clucked her tongue, “Coming from the person that thought whittling a dildo was a good idea…”

“Fuck off, I didn’t go through with it.”

“Mmhmm…” Rachel hummed unconvinced, which Fatin would normally argue further with but this entire conversation seems to be providing plenty of evidence that she might not be the most rational of human beings.

“I keep looking for it.” Fatin confessed shyly.

“Looking for what?”

Fatin inhaled, held it and then let it out in a single exhale, “The thing that’s going to break Leah and I up.”

“That’s probably not healthy.” Rachel remarked.

“You sound like my therapist.”

“Well, duh. It’s kind of obvious.” Rachel pointed out, “If you spend all your time looking for the thing that will ruin your relationship, chances are, you’ll find it.”

Fatin bit the inside of her cheek, wiping away the tears that escaped the corner of her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’m really happy. We’re really happy.”

“Then why the fuck are you hiding in your car?” Rachel asked softly.

“Because the last time I was this happy, I lost her.” 

“Oh…” Rachel breathed, sympathy and shared heartache colouring the single word. “Fatin-”

“It took a while for my therapist to work it out.” Fatin explained as she looked out the window, reliving all the sessions she’d had over the last few months. “She gave me all these coping tools to deal with trauma related to the crossbow. To handle the whole ‘nearly dying’ thing. And I never got any nightmares about it. Not a single fucking one. I didn't get any psychosomatic pain, didn’t get triggered by violence in films… nothing .”

“Great…” Rachel muttered, “I mean I can’t watch fucking Jaws without throwing up so… struggling to relate…”

“I have nightmares about waking up in the hospital and finding out Leah isn’t there.” Fatin revealed, “I have nightmares that start with us together, being all gross and sappy and shit and then… Faber and Young are there and they drag her away from me … and no matter how hard I fight, no matter how hard I run… I can’t stop them. And when it's not them taking her away, it's watching her disappear beneath the waves or finding her against that tree but I’m too late and…”

Fatin’s voice cut out, strangled by the lump in her throat which made her take gasping breaths.

“Fuck… okay… maybe hating Jaws isn’t so bad anymore.” Rachel acknowledged, letting go of Fatin’s hand so she could sling her arm around Fatin’s shoulders, pulling her into her side across the central console. “I’m guessing Leah doesn’t know about any of this?”

“No. I mean, I’ve hinted but… no, she doesn’t know.” Fatin choked out between sobs. “It’s not exactly an easy convo, is it? Hey, girlfriend, I know you’re dealing with your own incredible amount of trauma but btw all my trauma is like concentrated on you. Like everyone has shit from the island, but my fucked up brain has poured every single bit of it into the all-consuming trauma of losing you rather than dealing with everything else. LOL, right? So pizza for dinner tonight?”

Rachel indulged her with a pity laugh which told Fatin just how bad a state she must be in.

“She would want to know.” Rachel said simply once Fatin’s tears had eased.

“I know.” 

“Fatin.” Rachel pressed, looking for an actual commitment.

Fatin nodded, “I’ll talk to her.”

“Good,” Rachel declared, arm tightening for a moment before releasing and retreating back to her side of the car, “because I said I would pick up the takeaway. She’s waiting for you inside and she’s going to send out a search party any minute now.”

“You want me to talk to her now ?” Fatin questioned, gesturing to her tear-stained face.

“Yes, Fatin.” Rachel replied curtly. “I already did my fair share of watching you two pine and I refuse to do it again. Do you have any fucking idea how ridiculous it is to pine for your own girlfriend when she’s actually in front of you?”

“Fuck you.” Fatin shot back, straightening up in her seat.

Rachel beamed, “Leah would kill me and I doubt you could get it up for anyone but her.”

“True.”

“Come on,” Rachel ordered, opening the passenger door and getting out, “otherwise I will text Dot and she’ll yell at you until you do.”

“Ugh… fine.” Fatin whined, getting out of the car, after hastily wiping away as much evidence of her crying as possible. Rachel rounded the car and grabbed her forearm, clearly intent to drag her to the front door if necessary.

“I’ll take my time but please for the love of god,” Rachel pleaded as they marched towards Leah’s house, “resist the urge to have sex once you’ve finished emotionally masturbating over one another.”

“No promises. If I’m spilling my guts out, I’ll need an orgasm to feel better.” 

Rachel huffed out an annoyed breath but didn’t argue, which proved how good a friend she really was. They reached the front door and Fatin dug out her purse, extracting a twenty dollar note and handing it to Rachel. “Here, go buy dessert.”

“Fine,” Rachel replied, shoving the note into her back pocket, before knocking on the door and sealing Fatin’s fate as she turned to walk away, “but I expect a fucking ridiculously expensive christmas present.”

“I’ll get you Jaws on Blu-Ray.” Fatin called after her retreating back.

“Fuck you!” Rachel yelled in return.

“Why was Rachel yelling fuck you?” 

Fatin looked round to find Leah in the doorway, expression quizzical. She was dressed in shorts - the scar on her leg now a red crooked line rather than a crater - and one of Fatin’s t-shirts that she had left behind a couple of nights ago. Fatin’s heart swelled with adoration at the sight and she immediately stepped forward, hands seeking out and settling on Leah’s hips.

“Don’t know, probs just being dramatic, you know how she is.” Fatin teased, before greeting Leah with a soft kiss.

Leah’s warm palms immediately cupped Fatin’s face, thumbs stroking underneath her slightly red, puffy eyes. “Are you okay? Did something happen? I thought you were getting here earlier…”

“Yeah, sorry about that.” Fatin apologised, resting her forehead against Leah’s and simply absorbing their closeness and soft touches. “I… kind of… I need to tell you something…”

Leah went still, face shuttering away all emotion.

“Has one of your answers changed?” Leah tentatively asked.

Fatin leaned back, arching an eyebrow, “My answers?”

Leah bit her lip, hands dropping away from Fatin’s face so she could spin the watch round and round. “To the three questions.”

“Oh god no. Never, baby.” Fatin rushed to reassure, grabbing Leah’s hands and squeezing tight.

Leah exhaled in relief, and Fatin could now see the damage that pulling away had caused. The way Leah shifted from foot to foot uncertainly and how she had so obviously been readying herself for the answer to be yes.

Fatin fortified her resolve, “Though, it's kind of about that?”

Leah blinked at her, “About what?”

Fatin licked her lips, looking down at their joined hands, “Losing you. Please just listen.”

“Okay.”

They retreated up to Leah’s room, settling against the pillows, hands clasped tight. They were silent for a long moment as Fatin struggled to find the words, but the sight of their two watches - Leah’s gaudy rich one, damaged over time and activity, shining as it lightly knocked against the cherished family one that was on Fatin’s wrist - gave her the strength to start talking.

And once she started, it just poured out of her.

She told Leah about the nightmares and the panic attacks she’d hidden. How losing sight of Leah made it hard to breathe and sent her back to cold waves, dark woods or a lonely hospital bed. How she wrote endless lists to keep her thoughts under control and prevent spiralling.

How it wasn’t Leah’s fault. 

(Leah immediately insisted it wasn’t Fatin’s either).

How Fatin had kept herself together on the island by wrapping herself around Leah like ivy on a tree, clinging to its frame, unaware of all the other damage buffeting her. How the loss of Leah was like her legs being cut out from underneath her and how that singular loss had subsumed all other trauma, leaving her with one large wound compared to the array of smaller words that everyone else had.

Leah listened to it all, quiet for the majority, offering tender touches and kisses to the side of Fatin’s head whenever she struggled. She didn’t grow dark or despondent like Fatin feared she would, she didn’t cave-in with guilt or pull away either. 

She stayed and stayed and stayed, just like Fatin should have known she would all along.

“Fatin…” Leah murmured once Fatin’s voice had finally faded, all her words offered up.

“Yeah?” Fatin muttered, shifting closer until she was snuggled under Leah’s chin, arms wrapped tight around her middle.

“You can lean on me too, you know?” Leah reminded, even as Fatin did exactly that. “I know it's always been kind of one-sided… and I don’t want it to be. Especially not now that we’re together. I want you to feel like I will be here for you too. That I will protect you too.”

“It’s not one-sided, baby.” Fatin reassured, nuzzling into the crook of Leah’s neck when Leah huffed lightly in disagreement. “I’m serious. And I’m not just talking about you sacrificing yourself to save us on the island. I know you were protecting us in the bunker, and even before all of that I know you were the one to push everyone to find me when I went missing.”

“That’s not the everyday kind of stuff.” Leah pointed out, “I want to be there for you in the quiet moments like you are for me.”

“You are, baby.” Fatin chuckled, pressing a kiss underneath Leah’s jaw. “You listen to me rant without complaint. You make me laugh when you know I’m getting worked up about something small. You hold me and kiss me in a way no one ever has before. You spend time with my brothers because you know they’re important to me. You watched hours of The Kardashians with me when Dorothy left, and I know you hate it. You are there for me, I promise.”

“If there’s anything more you need-”

“I’ll tell you.” Fatin said, because it wasn’t fair for her to ask Leah to trust her with her damage and not share her own in return. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Leah whispered, leaning back to peer into brown eyes with her wonderfully bright blue ones. “I’m so proud of you for telling me.”

Fatin ducked her head shyly, “Yeah, well…”

“Fatin,” Leah said slowly, reaching out and combing her fingers through Fatin’s hair. “What can I do? How can I help you with this?”

“Dr. Bianchi gave me some like stupid thought processing exercises.” Fatin explained. “They’re useful but it would help if you read them and worked through them with me when my fucked up brain decides that the sky is falling.”

“I can do that.” Leah nodded, nails scratching pleasantly against Fatin’s scalp, prompting her to nearly purr in contentment. “Anything else?”

“No.” Fatin answered, “Dr Bianchi thinks once I’ve got a handle on all that, the other island stuff might start to like, appear so be warned I might become like a whack-a-mole of triggers.”

“Okay.” Leah accepted easily, unintimidated by the potential challenge as she continued to smile softly down at her. “How long till Rachel is back?”

“I sent her for dessert so we probably have another twenty minutes.”

“Awesome.” Leah grinned, hands slipping out of Fatin’s hair to trace down her sides before curling around her hips. Fatin raised a curious eyebrow as Leah tugged her fully into her lap before explaining with a devastating smirk, “You’ve more than earnt an ass-grab.”

“And a boob-grope?” Fatin bargained, perking up immediately as Leah mouthed at her neck, teeth lightly nipping at her skin, making her shift restlessly.

“Sure.” Leah chuckled, before wrapping her arms tight around Fatin - sealing their torsos together and making it so their cheeks were pressed against one another. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Leaning on me. Trusting me.”