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it was a matter of time

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[1]

 

Fatin knows her type, and Leah Rilke does not fit it. Fatin doesn’t know Leah well, just knows of her. Walks past her at school. They’ve shared a few classes together over the years, have worked in groups together a couple times. Nothing huge. They’re just extremely different people with no reason to interact except when it’s required. Not a big deal.

 

And then they land on the island. Fatin is almost forced to see Leah for who she is, instead of who Fatin assumes she is. At first, it’s because Leah’s from home. Leah is Fatin’s one connection back to the only life she’s known. Sitting around a shoddily constructed fire on an unknown island makes Oregon sound one hundred times more attractive than before. Fatin only approaches Leah because she’s from home and because Leah manages to surprise her during Never Have I Ever. That’s it. Otherwise, Fatin would’ve taken her chances with getting to know more about Dot, who either grudgingly likes Fatin or seriously fucking hates her. Fatin hasn’t figured it out yet.

 

For now, Leah’s the safe option. Leah’s a complete stranger, but at least they’re tied together by their school. It’s better than nothing. It’s Fatin first chance to really look at Leah, to start to break down the assumptions she'd made about Leah without realizing it. Fatin owns up to it, too, to her impression of Leah as a weird art prude. It’s kinda funny. Leah cracks a smile, seems to pull a little further away from her initial shyness. Fatin’s good at talking to people, good at figuring out what’ll get them to open up, good at getting what she wants from them. She has a good feeling after her initial conversation with Leah, the feeling that Fatin will figure her out.

 

Maybe sitting with Dot was actually the safer option.

 

*

 

[3]

 

It’s the first – and totally not the last – time that Fatin checks Leah out, and the timing is inappropriate, but it’s kind of not Fatin’s fault. Besides, they’re going into their third day, and Fatin only has the option to stare at the same seven girls. It was bound to happen. Leah staggers out of the ocean, soaked, wearing only a bra and leggings, and what? Fatin’s not supposed to stare?

 

Well, Fatin’s brain reminds her that Rachel is also right there, wearing something similar, and yeah, Fatin looks, duh, but like not as long. Her eyes keep returning to Leah. Fatin brushes it aside. Why think about it? She checks people out constantly. Dot asked her if she was staring at her chest just a few hours ago, and obviously Fatin denied the shit out of that. She was, and Dot seemed to know it in spite of Fatin’s denial, but hey. Limited options and all. Besides, in spite of Dot’s cargo pants, she gives stronger hetero vibes the longer Fatin’s around her.

 

Leah leans forward, bracing her hands against her knees as she struggles to catch her breath, and Fatin’s jaw slackens. Fatin corrects that immediately, of course, and redirects her eyes away from Leah’s chest. It’s only polite. She spares another look at Rachel, then at Nora, but it’s just not the same. Even Shelby’s abs aren’t doing it for Fatin. Probably an entire minute passes before Fatin realizes they’ve succeeded in bringing the black box to shore. Well shit.

 

Fatin has no problem approaching Leah as Leah’s back finally straightens out, as she seems to regain some of her strength. Leah gathers her wet hair in her hands, wrings it out, and flips it over her shoulder, chest heaving. Fatin’s careful, once Leah’s eyes lock onto her, to keep her eyes safely on Leah’s face. Fatin doesn’t let herself look down, occasionally glances off toward the ocean.

 

“You okay?” Fatin asks, and she takes a chance. She doesn’t know how it’s gonna go, can’t take a guess at how Leah will react, but she grabs onto Leah’s bare shoulder, smiles widely. As if they’re friends. Friends who do the casual touching thing. Leah’s skin is still chilled from the ocean, and damp, and it’d be unpleasant if Leah wasn’t objectively hot. Leah’s eyes search Fatin’s face, darting around, and her eyebrows twitch inward in confusion.

 

“Yeah,” Leah says breathlessly. She simply doesn’t react to Fatin holding onto her shoulder. Her muscles don’t tense. She doesn’t knock Fatin’s hand away. She doesn’t seem bothered by the contact, but she doesn’t seem particularly interested in it, either.

 

“I’m impressed,” Fatin admits. She lets her hand slip down Leah’s arm until it falls to her side, and Fatin shrugs. “I wasn’t sure you guys would pull it off.”

 

Leah’s eyes narrow, and she just nods. Fatin gives her a pass. Leah can’t quite breathe yet. Now’s not the time to have a full-ass conversation. Fatin goes the extra mile and retrieves Leah’s cardigan for her, holds it out and flashes Leah a smile. Leah nods again and accepts her cardigan, and there’s nothing to think about. It’s a friendly gesture. Having friends out here may mean the difference between living and dying.

 

Watching Leah put the cardigan on has nothing to do with being friendly, but Fatin figures it’s her reward.

 

*

 

[6]

 

It’s a shallow thing, sure, but Fatin likes people who’re taller than her. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it’s nice. She notices it, when they face off during the competition. When she gets up in Leah’s face, and they both stand up straight and size each other up. And Leah’s taller than Fatin by like a solid two inches, probably. It’s a useless detail, but life out here forces everyone to notice details, forces them to pick out the ones that might provide for them or kill them.

 

Leah’s height is very much one of the useless details. Unless they’re building shelters. Then it’s a competitive advantage, but the shelter building grinds to a halt. Fatin can’t explain to herself what pushes her to be a bit of a bitch – okay, looking back, maybe she’s being a major bitch, but Leah does start it. Maybe she just wants to see what Leah will do. That’s admittedly Fatin’s miscalculation.

 

She also can’t explain what pushes her to smear her own blood across Leah’s face, and there’s something very weird about it. Very weird. Weirder than Leah’s reaction.

 

“That was kinda fucked up,” Rachel tells Fatin, later, when they get a handful of seconds alone. Fatin just scoffs, isn’t sure what to say even though she knows Rachel’s referring to Bloodgate, as Dot tastelessly jokes. It doesn’t stick, fortunately, and Toni’s team has a different set of issues that strain relations among the group, so Bloodgate fades into the background before long.

 

Still. It feels weird.

 

*

 

[7]

 

It’s the way Leah looks at her. No, it’s the way Leah’s voice cracks while saying her name, while she nearly falls in order to get to Fatin. No, it’s all of it combined, but maybe it’s mostly the way Leah’s eyes roam over Fatin’s body. Even as the others rip into Fatin for supposedly painting her nails, Leah’s expression doesn’t change.

 

It’s the way Leah looks at her. After Fatin marks the tree, after they all see the waterfall, while Leah’s in the water, while Leah cracks a joke about surrendering panties to the collective, after Fatin hugs her. The other girls look at Fatin, too, and they look impressed, and Fatin knows she’s changed the way that they all see her.

 

But it’s the way Leah looks at her that doesn’t sit right, somewhere deep in Fatin’s gut. Maybe it’s the way Leah looks at her that prompts Fatin to tell Leah she doesn’t know shit about love. Maybe she’s just known that her whole life, and she’s never been presented with the opportunity to say it out loud. It causes Leah’s expression to change, and relief floods through Fatin’s system.

 

At least Leah stops looking at her like that.

 

*

 

[12]

 

Getting knocked on her ass by island food poisoning leaves Fatin with a lot of time to stare. Maybe she should think of it as observing. She observes the way Leah empties the contents of her stomach into the ocean. Okay, saying it that way doesn’t make it sound any better. At least Fatin’s at a distance. Unlike her front row seat to Shelby’s homophobic outburst. Fatin lies in the sand, thinks back to how she observed the sour look that crossed Leah’s face. See? That sort of works.

 

Shelby clearly didn’t know how many people she personally offended with her Westboro Baptist moment – you know, that’s pretty funny. Fatin makes a mental note to say that later. Anyway, Fatin knows. Fatin knows it’s not just Toni feeling the sting of Shelby’s reveal. And she’s willing to bet it’s not just herself and Toni. Fatin’s eyes linger on Leah as she stumbles out of knee deep water, back to shore. She looks rough, but at least she can keep herself on her feet.

 

This is the first time, Fatin thinks, that she’s seen Leah wear her clothes rather than Leah’s usual cardigan and jeans. The bra and the jacket and the leggings on Leah’s body are all distinctly Fatin’s. As Leah’s eyes lock onto Fatin, as Leah hesitates, Fatin realizes she’s been staring.

 

No. She’s not staring. She’s simply…observing the way her clothes fit on Leah’s body. And it’s too late, anyway. She’s been caught. So Fatin keeps staring, and Leah stares at her, from across the beach. Fatin could be a dick. She could flip Leah off or make a sexual gesture, but considering they all feel like total shit, Fatin holds off. Maybe later. For now, she takes pride in the way Leah’s eyes stay on her, even as Fatin finally looks away, glancing over at Toni and Martha, huddled together.

 

Must be nice, having someone out here to hold onto for comfort.

 

*

 

[13]

 

That sentiment drags into the next day, so much so that Fatin whines for Dot to come keep her company.

 

“Dude, what’s your problem?” Dot says. She takes a seat in the sand next to where Fatin’s been lying all morning, groaning at a cramp or something, then smiles down at Fatin. “What? You need someone to pay attention to you this badly?”

 

Fatin’s eyes flicker toward Toni and Martha, who slept all up on each other and still haven’t detangled themselves, and it’d be so gay if they weren’t so obviously practically sisters. Fatin waves her arm in their direction while looking at Dot then raises her eyebrows.

 

“Do that with me,” Fatin says. She grins while Dot busts out laughing and pushes at Fatin’s shoulder, shaking her head.

 

“No,” Dot says bluntly. “I’m sorry, Fatin, but that’s a hard no from me.”

 

Fatin rolls her eyes, teases, “You’re just afraid you’ll like it.”

 

“No, I just know I won’t,” Dot replies. She holds her hand out, smirking. “I will hold your hand,” Dot offers.

 

“Not good enough, Dorothy.”

 

“Final offer.”

 

Fatin takes Dot’s hand. “Ew. You’re all sweaty,” Fatin complains.

 

“Is anything good enough for you, Fatin?” Dot laughs. “Explain to me how you could want me to hold you, but you can’t handle my hand being a little sweaty?”

 

“I didn’t think it through,” Fatin grumbles. She uses her free hand to swipe at the sweat beading on her forehead. “You feel okay?”

 

“Just peachy,” Dot says wryly. “You know, your hand is sweaty, too, but you don’t see me throwing a bitch fit.”

 

“That’s not what I did! I was just making an observation.”

 

Dot grins down at Fatin then motions to their right with her head. “We’ve got an audience,” Dot informs. While Fatin’s dying to whip her head toward where Dot’s looking, she resists, continues staring up at Dot.

 

“Who?” Fatin prompts. “The Jesus freak? You think she’s jealous?”

 

Dot huffs. “I don’t know what to think about Shelby, honestly, but no. Not her.”

 

Fatin’s eyes flick around camp. Toni and Martha. Rachel and Nora. If it’s not Shelby, then it has to be –

 

“Leah,” Fatin says. Now she looks. Leah’s doing inventory of the pilot’s bag, to make up for the pill incident yesterday, but Dot’s right. Every so often, Leah looks up and over at them, at the way Fatin’s clutching onto Dot’s hand, hovering over her chest. “Hmm,” Fatin says.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing,” Fatin says. “Just interesting.” She glances over at Dot, adds, “Orange is your color, you know.”

 

“Shut up, Fatin.”

 

“That was a genuine compliment, Dorothy,” Fatin retorts. She looks back over in Leah’s direction, watches Leah look away.

 

“You think Leah’s homophobic, too?” Dot guesses.

 

Fatin snorts. “Fuck, no.”

 

“Then why does she keep looking at us?” Dot asks.

 

“Beats me,” Fatin murmurs, but she has a few ideas. She’s not ready to bounce those ideas off another person yet. “You wanna do something funny?” Fatin asks.

 

“Does it involve holding any part of your body?”

 

“No.”

 

“Then let me hear it.”

 

“Go ask Leah if the reason she’s staring at us is because she wants to hold me like Toni’s holding Martha.”

 

Dot laughs hard, and in her peripheral vision, Fatin can see Leah lift her head, can feel Leah’s eyes on them. “Yeah, sorry, dude, but I’m not doing that,” Dot says, swiping a stray tear from her face. “Thanks for the laugh, though.”

 

“Come on,” Fatin protests. “It’d be so funny.”

 

“Yeah, for you, maybe,” Dot replies. “For me and Leah it’d just be awkward as fuck.”

 

“You’re no fun,” Fatin pouts. “I’m still sick. Make me feel better.”

 

“I’m holding your sweaty hand,” Dot says. “And I feel like shit, too. Why don’t you go ask Leah, so I can get a good laugh?”

 

“You just had one. It’s my turn.”

 

Dot’s eyes study Fatin’s face for a moment before she admits, “I don’t know if you’re trying to make Shelby uncomfortable or if you genuinely want Leah to hold you.”

 

Fatin scoffs. “Oh, come on. I’m obviously trying to fuck with Shelby.” Luckily, they’re in Shelby’s line of sight. Fatin doesn’t have to think beyond that, at all. “If you would’ve just agreed to hold me, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now.”

 

“It’s a hundred fucking degrees, and neither of us are dying,” Dot says flatly. “When you’re as sick as Martha, I’ll hold you, okay?”

 

“Ugh, stop, that made me wet,” Fatin says, and Dot erupts into laughter at the same time that she rips her hand free of Fatin’s.

 

Dude. Not cool,” Dot says, and Fatin shrugs, smirking. She knows Leah saw it happen, knows that Leah knows that Fatin would’ve had to say something provocative to invoke Dot’s reaction.

 

“Guess all it takes now is the promise of being held while I die,” Fatin jokes.

 

Dot rolls her eyes, fights a smile, and swipes her palm across the front of the orange track jacket. “She’s still staring at you.”

 

Fatin allows the change of subject, says, “Oh, I know.”

 

“Maybe she would hold you,” Dot muses. She leans down, smiling evilly, and says, “If you were brave enough to ask.”

 

“It’s got nothing to do with bravery, Dorothy. Don’t get this confused.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Dot says. She pushes herself to her feet to get herself a bottle of water. “I dare you to ask Shelby to hold you.”

 

“Kiss my ass,” Fatin calls, drawing Rachel and Nora’s eyes to her. Fatin smiles at them then pretends like she’s readjusting the way she’s lying down, just to have an excuse to glance off in Leah’s direction. There’s a certain sort of thrill that shoots through Fatin’s body as their eyes lock before Leah immediately tilts her head down, refocusing on the pilot’s bag, but Fatin can see it even from here, the way Leah’s face reddens.

 

But the feeling fades as Leah pointedly does not look back up, and Dot returns to Fatin’s side with water. Fatin exclaims, “Aw! I knew you couldn’t leave me,” and listens to Dot grumble her excuses about why she allows Fatin to lean up against her, and Fatin forgets about Leah.

 

*

 

[15]

 

She doesn’t give up on collecting all her shit that the fucking ocean steals from her until Leah grabs onto her arm and tells her to let it go. It’s still fucking dark, and Fatin can barely make out Leah’s face, inches from hers as Leah drags her closer to dry land – or, well, what used to be dry land and is now covered in ankle deep water. She has her toothbrush, at least, but she thinks more about how Leah falls to the ground with her, near the edge of the forest. She thinks more about how Leah continues to hold onto her arm, even though they’re out of danger for the time being.

 

It’s funny, then, how she doesn’t think later when she launches herself into Leah’s arms. Doesn’t think at all.

 

*

 

[16]

 

She doesn’t think while she’s high, either. Not in any important way. Thoughts come and go, pass through without Fatin having to analyze them. Fatin makes some smart observations, if she may say so herself. Shelby acts so fucking weird that something has to be up, and as the day wears on, Fatin thinks she cracks that mystery wide open. It’s not until Fatin struts past Shelby that she figures it out.

 

Shelby’s not homophobic. Well, she is, but she’s also into women, or else her eyes wouldn’t lock onto Fatin’s chest and linger on Fatin’s ass. Fatin feels so stupid, oh my God. She should’ve seen this coming. She’s high enough to almost make a crack about it, to almost call Shelby out, but something stops her. Fatin doesn’t know what; it’s a vague feeling, somewhere deep in her chest, and Fatin bites her tongue. Clearly Shelby has some issues to work through. If blatantly checking Fatin out will help her in any way, then she can be Fatin’s guest. It’s kind of nice, actually. Knowing Fatin has eyes on her again.

 

Then right after that, Fatin’s eyes land on Leah, sprawled out in the sand with Martha, while they both laugh at nothing, and Leah’s shirt is half unbuttoned, exposing the pale skin of her chest and her bra, and the smile on Leah’s face is relaxed, natural, and –

 

One more thing for Fatin not to think about. She brushes it aside with ease and seeks out Dot.

 

*

 

[22]

 

Something happens. Okay, well, no shit something happens, but something happens. Something else. Inside Fatin. Something gross. Fatin can’t even name the feeling, possibly because it’s too mixed up with the panic and paralyzing fear. But it’s there. It doesn’t get better, when Fatin pulls Leah into her arms. If anything, it gets worse, even though Leah is here, she’s alive.

 

Fatin recognizes the guilt that emerges, after Leah takes the pill. The guilt from not chasing after Leah, the guilt from watching Rachel haul her back in. But still, there’s something else. Something that feels scary. Fatin swallows hard, hoping to stave off that feeling as Leah looks into her eyes, as Fatin gets lost in Leah’s darkness when she looks back.

 

The feeling doesn’t go away, and Fatin doesn’t know what to attribute it to, but her mind flickers back to Leah’s admission, to Leah saying she wants her mom, and –

 

Wow, Fatin must really miss her mom or something.

 

Yeah. That’s a pretty hard sell. So it’s the or something. Fatin’s pretty sure this doesn’t have anything to do with her mom.

 

“Can you move?” Fatin asks quietly, after Leah takes the pill. “We won’t be able to lift you. We should get you closer to camp.”

 

Leah nods, and with Fatin's – and Dot’s – support, they walk to camp, to the fire, and they get Leah set up for the rest of the day, and for the night. Leah doesn’t ask Fatin to stay, but Fatin does anyway. That feeling won’t go away, even as the panic and the fear and the guilt all fade. That other feeling lingers, leaves a bad taste in Fatin’s mouth. Though she supposes that could also be their lack of food. No, it comes back stronger every time Fatin glances at an unconscious Leah.

 

“You okay?” Dot asks, and Fatin almost jumps out of her skin. She rejects the water Dot holds out, and Dot shrugs.

 

“Are you?” Fatin counters.

 

“Are any of us?” Dot questions, and they trade weak smiles.

 

“I don’t know,” Fatin sighs, rubbing at her nose. “I feel…weird.”

 

“That’s probably the hunger,” Dot says. She watches Fatin carefully for a moment. “Or it’s because Leah made a real fucking suicide run into the ocean, like, an hour ago.”

 

Fatin inhales sharply. “Yeah. Probably. Just, um, scared me, I guess.”

 

“All of us, man,” Dot replies. She turns to look over at Nora and Rachel, who haven’t let go of each other since Rachel reached the shore with Leah. Totally fair, if Fatin’s honest.

 

“So…Leah almost died,” Fatin says slowly. “Is that enough to get you to hold me?”

 

“Oh, fuck off,” Dot chuckles. Then takes a deep breath as she gazes into the fire. “Tomorrow,” she says. “If we don’t have food by tomorrow, I will hold you.”

 

Fatin blinks, stares at the side of Dot’s face and snaps her jaw shut when she realizes it’s been hanging open. “Well, fuck,” Fatin scoffs in disbelief. She doesn’t have to say it, knows that Dot knows exactly what she’s said and what it means. Dot doesn’t say anything else, just reaches over and gingerly picks Fatin’s hand up from the sand, and holds Fatin’s hand without complaining even though they’re both sweaty.

 

And as the sun sets, as Martha and Toni and Shelby don’t return, as Nora and Rachel join them near the fire for the night, Fatin reaches over and holds onto Leah’s arm, too. And she tries not to think about that feeling she has, simmering right under the surface.

 

*

 

[23]

 

She hopes against all odds that Leah is right. She hopes against all odds that Leah is going to lead her right to a giant hole in the ground, that Leah had to fight her way out of, and then Leah’s behavior will start to make sense. She hopes, for Leah’s sake, all the way up until Leah hits the dirt and claws at the leaves and soil, insisting the pit was there. And Fatin doesn’t know if Leah’s screaming or sobbing, or if somehow it’s both, but Fatin only knows one thing.

 

She doesn’t know what to do.

 

Part of Fatin, inexplicably, wants to hit the dirt beside Leah and make her stop, by any means necessary. Part of Fatin wants to hold Leah until the screaming and the crying stops, until Leah gets it the fuck together. Part of Fatin wants to hit the dirt beside Leah and scream with her.

 

Nora had said something – fuck, just last night, while Leah was unconscious – about Leah’s reliance on Fatin, about how Leah needs Fatin just to be able to, like, function. Or maybe that’s just the gist of what Nora was getting at. Maybe Nora said it differently. It’s hard to remember. Though Fatin blew the comment off, it made her feel…warm. And it was fucking scary.

 

No, even scarier was the thought that just briefly passed through Fatin’s mind after Nora walked away. The thought that she might need Leah, too. Even if Leah doesn’t know it.

 

Fatin doesn’t kneel beside Leah until Leah completely collapses to the dirt, forehead braced against her arms, sobbing silently.

 

“Leah,” Fatin says. She grasps onto Leah’s shoulder. “Hey. Leah.” She doesn’t know what else to say. Leah doesn’t sit up, doesn’t acknowledge Fatin’s presence. Leah keeps sobbing into her arms, occasionally taking gasping breaths that cause Fatin to wince. Fatin digs her fingertips into Leah’s bare skin, hopes the pressure will get Leah to do something, at least look at her. “Leah, please,” Fatin says quietly.

 

What can she do? She’s not going to force Leah to sit up or look at her or force her to do anything, really. So Fatin releases Leah’s shoulder, and she takes a seat. Cross-legged. Right next to Leah. And tentatively, she rests her palm on Leah’s upper back, and Fatin waits until Leah stops and tries to ignore how much it hurts.

 

*

 

[25]

 

It mostly just hurts. Emotionally. Which is weird. Well, not weird, but Fatin’s not really used to this kind of emotional pain. The only thing that comes close is when her parents decided to punish her for exposing her father, and even that – that isn’t this. It’s just the closest thing Fatin has as a reference to explain this kind of pain. It doesn’t really hit right away. Their twenty third day is such a mess that there’s no time to emotionally process much of anything, especially after Leah breaks down in the dirt.

 

They all kind of wander aimlessly on day twenty four. They get the chores done. They haven’t decided to lie down and die quite yet. But there’s no laughter. There are no moments of levity. They wake up, and they get shit done, and they all leave each other alone. Fatin leaves Leah alone, even though Leah paces along the water and plucks at her eyebrow. Fatin keeps her distance.

 

But day twenty five –

 

Twenty five is too much. The metaphorical dam holding all of the group’s feelings back breaks. For everyone except Leah. It happens for Rachel first, when she comes out of the benzo-induced haze, when she gets a look at her missing hand, when her eyes wander around camp and don’t spot the one person she wants to see, and no one expects to see Rachel sob herself to the point of exhaustion. Martha gathers Rachel in her arms, and Rachel holds onto Martha with her one hand, doesn’t resist her.

 

And, well, it’s just a matter of time before everyone else finds a moment to themselves and cries it out. Except Leah sits in the sand with a vacant look on her face, all day, like a fucking zombie. And Fatin fucking refuses to cry. Just won’t do it. Crying is gross, and even the shift in the group’s dynamic, created by Nora’s absence, isn’t going to –

 

Night falls. Fatin sits near the fire, digging her shoes into the sand in front of her. Dot squeezes Fatin’s shoulder as she intends to walk by and turn in for the night, but Dot hesitates, asks, “You alright?”

 

“Fine,” Fatin answers. “Totally fine.”

 

Dot stares at her like she doesn’t believe her, but it’s okay. Fatin knows Dot won’t push too hard. Dot nods, pats Fatin’s shoulder, and goes to bed. Martha still holds onto Rachel, though they’re both asleep by the fire. It’s kind of like how Toni had held Martha when she was sick, but it’s harder for Fatin to look at without feeling like she’s intruding on a private moment. Then Toni and Shelby –

 

Fatin’s the only one who knows, and she’d bet they’re dying to hold each other, but they settle for sleeping nearby. Close, but not so close that it’d raise suspicions. Leah’s out of sight. Probably fucking pacing somewhere. Fatin should care more, probably. Leah had a whole-ass meltdown two days ago over a nonexistent pit. Leah could do something stupid again, stupid like running into the ocean and prompting a feeling Fatin still hasn’t been able to name. Fatin glances around and can’t immediately spot Leah, looks around camp and ensures that everyone’s asleep. Dot was the last one up, but Fatin can see her face, can see how steadily Dot breathes, and Fatin knows she’s out, too.

 

She doesn’t mean for it to happen. Doesn’t want it to happen. Fatin doesn’t know what to make of Leah’s accusations that Nora trapped her in a pit that Leah now can’t locate and that probably never existed, but Leah did come back bloodied and with a crazy look in her eye, intent on getting Nora before –

 

Before Nora died. Fatin didn’t even know Nora existed literally a month ago, but now Nora is dead, and it’s not like they were the best of friends, but Nora is – was – one of them. She is – was – surprisingly funny, and more than once, she bailed them all out of tight spots, fills – filled – in gaps in Dot’s survival knowledge. Fatin was probably never going to be BFFs with Nora, especially since Dot somehow claimed that position, but they got along nicely, and Nora caused the least problems within the group, and more than one of Nora’s shockingly dirty jokes pops into Fatin’s head, and Fatin doesn’t even realize it. Doesn’t realize tears spill over until she tries to inhale and sobs instead.

 

Fatin clamps her hand over her mouth, but no one wakes. No one calls her out for breaking. Fatin gets to her feet, keeps her hand over her mouth until she staggers far enough away to not be heard, braces herself against a tree and cries, because she can’t stop. She wants to stop. She’s not even sure she’s crying for the right reasons. It’s about Nora, yes, but maybe it’s about almost losing Rachel, too. Maybe it’s about being trapped out here. Maybe it’s about being on the literal brink of death. Maybe it’s about missing her family. Maybe it’s all of it, finally forcing its way out of Fatin’s system.

 

She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t announce her presence, just grabs onto Fatin’s shoulder and pulls her away from the tree. And before Fatin can snap at Leah to leave her the fuck alone, to get out of here, to go do something fucking useful for once, Leah’s arms lock around Fatin, and she pulls Fatin into her. Fatin futilely tries to push Leah off of her, tries to break out of Leah’s grasp, but Leah’s too strong, and Fatin doesn’t really want Leah to let go, anyway.

 

Fatin doesn’t want to analyze why that is, especially not now. So she squeezes her eyes shut, and she lets her forehead drop onto Leah’s shoulder, and she holds two fistfuls of the back of Leah’s tank top, and she embarrasses the fuck out of herself by literally crying on Leah. At least it’s dark. At least Fatin doesn’t have to see Leah’s face. Leah doesn’t move, just holds onto Fatin – might be the only reason Fatin’s able to stay on her feet – until Fatin stops crying, until Fatin’s body stops shaking.

 

Whatever this feeling is, the feeling that Fatin gets once she pulls it the fuck together and lifts her head from Leah’s shoulder – Fatin fucking hates it. She grips onto Leah’s shoulders for support, only until she’s sure she can stand on her own, and inhales raggedly. Jesus, Fatin’s fucking exhausted. This is why she doesn’t cry.

 

“You okay?” Leah asks softly. Her face is too close to Fatin’s. Fatin doesn’t have to look to know. She can sense it, sense how close Leah’s cheek is to hers, and Fatin abruptly takes a step back, pushing herself away from Leah.

 

“Fine,” Fatin snaps, though she’s clearly not, and she’s afraid if she looks Leah in the eye that she’ll find proof that Leah doesn’t believe her. She’s afraid Leah will say it, will say you’re obviously not fine, but Leah just breathes. She doesn’t reach for Fatin, and it’s weird that Fatin catches herself almost wishing that Leah would, even if Fatin knows she’d push Leah away. Fatin would have no choice but to reject anything Leah could do to comfort her further.

 

After a few moments pass, while Fatin dabs at her face with the sleeve of her jacket, Leah whispers, “Fatin,” and Fatin’s eyes instinctively seek out Leah’s. Fatin doesn’t know, genuinely does not know what she finds in Leah’s eyes. All Fatin does know is that she doesn’t like the way Leah’s staring at her. It feels dangerous.

 

Fatin swallows hard, takes a few deep breaths until she’s confident that she can speak normally, and says, “This never happened. Got it?”

 

And Leah just nods.