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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.

Chapter Text

[26]

 

She stares at Leah all day, waiting for Leah to decide to bring up her pathetic display of emotion last night. Either to Fatin herself or to any of the other girls. It doesn’t happen, of course, and maybe it’s just the excuse Fatin gives herself when she catches herself spending all day following Leah with her eyes.

 

Besides, Fatin obviously went through it last night; Fatin knows she’s not fooling anyone. She wakes up later than usual, trudges to the ocean to splash water on her face, and gulps down an entire bottle of water. Rachel definitely notices. Dot probably does, too, and only spares Fatin because Dot knows Fatin won’t want to talk about, like, legit feelings. At least not around the other girls and not so soon after…everything.

 

So Fatin watches Leah pace, and she waits for Leah to sell her out.

 

“Dude,” Dot says, and Fatin jumps as Dot takes a seat beside her. They’re within earshot of Rachel and Martha, though they seem to be having their own hushed conversation as Martha tenderly tends to Rachel’s bandaging. “You’ve been staring at Leah all day. What gives?” Dot asks.

 

Fatin tears her eyes away from Rachel and Martha and scoffs. “Maybe my type is tall and unhinged?”

 

Dot rolls her eyes. Fatin’s mouth goes dry as she thinks through the words that actually just left her mouth. It sounded like a joke. It is a joke. Just not one that Dot laughs at, because Nora is dead and Rachel doesn’t have a hand – she has a wound that Dot cauterized that could literally still become infected – and everything is so fucked up, and no one knows how to function anymore.

 

“No, seriously,” Dot presses. “What’s up? Did she do something?”

 

“Did – what?” Fatin says. “No. No! Leah didn’t do anything.”

 

Dot blinks. “Then what’s with all the staring?” Dot pauses, seems to have a revelation, and Fatin freezes. “You think she’s gonna make a run for it,” Dot muses, knocking the back of her hand into Fatin’s knee. “You think she’ll make another run into the ocean, and Rachel won’t be able to save her.”

 

Fatin suppresses the urge to sigh in relief – though relief from what, Fatin isn’t quite sure. “Yeah,” Fatin agrees. “I mean, she’s been pacing all day, and…if someone has to chase her down, it’s probably gonna have to be me, right?”

 

Dot cracks her knuckles and makes a show of cracking her neck, too, ignoring the disgusted look Fatin shoots her. “I mean, I’d help you,” Dot says. “I’d love to tackle Leah and pretend like I’m a linebacker.”

 

Fatin’s jaw hangs open for a moment, and her eyes narrow. “Was that a football reference? Oh, fuck, of course you’d watch football, you total fucking lesbian.”

 

“Fuck off,” Dot laughs, shaking her head. “I watched it with my dad, okay? I’m not a lesbian.”

 

“You just like storage and watch football and survival reality TV,” Fatin says. “Sounds like a real lesbian to me.”

 

“Fatin, have you even met a real lesbian?” Dot asks. “Toni doesn’t count.”

 

“I know lots of lesbians, thank you very much,” Fatin replies. “And they all happen to vaguely remind me of you, so.”

 

They laugh together, because it’s easy with Dot. There’s no thinking involved. They just fire off the jokes and laugh and go back to normal, even if feeling normal doesn’t last long. Fatin’s eyes drift back over to Leah, still pacing along the ocean, picking at her lip.

 

“Why would you know lots of lesbians?” Dot asks, a doubtful look crossing her face.

 

“Because I was fucking them, obviously,” Fatin answers. Doesn’t even think about it. Doesn’t occur to her that she’s pretty much coming out to Dot, like, for real.

 

It occurs to Dot, though, and Dot huffs at first but trains her eyes on Fatin’s face, and slowly, Dot’s smile fades. “Holy shit. You’re serious.”

 

“What?” Fatin says, tearing her eyes away from Leah. “Oh, about fucking lesbians? Yeah. Dead ass.”

 

“Okay, sorry, but I did not see this coming,” Dot laughs in disbelief.

 

“Come on. It’s not that surprising,” Fatin dismisses.

 

“I mean, given how much you talk about dicks, it kinda is,” Dot points out. “I mean, no judgment, obviously, but…”

 

“Don’t get weird on me now,” Fatin teases, but internally, she’s rolling her eyes. Dot must really be straight if she couldn’t tell Fatin’s not.

 

“It’s not weird, it’s just – I would’ve thought you’d say something,” Dot replies.

 

“I would’ve thought you’d notice,” Fatin says. “Guess you really are straight.”

 

Dot ignores her. “So…why haven’t you been talking about jumping on a dick and –”

 

“Eating pussy?”

 

“Exactly.”

 

Fatin shrugs. Refuses to let her eyes shift over in Leah’s direction. She’s probably close enough to hear Fatin’s conversation with Dot, but Fatin can’t be sure. Isn’t sure she even cares if Leah hears or not.

 

“Because I don’t usually, like, do girls, you know?”

 

“No. I don’t.”

 

Fatin sighs, waves her hand around while she tries to come up with a way to explain it. “They’re just so…difficult. And needy. You can’t just fuck and leave, you have to, like, talk about your feelings and shit. And some girls get so into their head, and – sometimes I just want to have a fucking orgasm.”

 

Dot nods as if she understands, but she’s lost. It’s all over her face. Fatin pats Dot’s shoulder sympathetically. Fatin’s just fucking glad Toni’s nowhere to be found, otherwise this shit would be all over camp. Even though if Martha and Rachel overheard, and if Leah overheard – which, Fatin doesn’t know if any of them did – it’ll already be everywhere.

 

“Hey, speaking of lesbians, where’d Toni go?” Fatin asks.

 

Dot shrugs, inspecting a scrape on the back of her hand, and says, “I don’t know. She headed into the woods with Shelby a little while ago.”

 

Fatin perks up. She barely stops herself from saying it, but she does think it quite loudly. So Shoni is boning in the woods, and I couldn’t even sniff that out. “Hmm,” is all Fatin says.

 

“What?” Dot says.

 

“Nothing. Leave it to them to disappear and let us handle shit by ourselves.”

 

*

 

[27]

 

No one else catches onto Shoni, as far as Fatin’s aware, and Fatin doesn’t really care. Not her business. Except when it interferes with her ability to do shit she wants to do, because the rest of them find themselves covering for Shelby and Toni while they’re disappearing into the woods together. Their constant disappearing act is totally suspicious, but only Fatin seems to notice it.

 

Sitting with Rachel is easily the best job on their new chore list. Fatin pushes Martha out of that spot finally, and the first thing Fatin says when she sits is, “I’m not holding you the way Martha’s been holding you.”

 

And Rachel says, “Fuck off, Fatin.”

 

And Fatin smiles and takes pride in the way Rachel turns her head to the side so Fatin can’t see the way she smiles, too. “No shame,” Fatin adds. “I’ve been trying to get Dorothy to hold me like that, and she won’t.”

 

“You’re barking up the wrong tree,” Rachel replies.

 

“Huh?”

 

Rachel starts to lift her right arm off her chest then stops herself, wincing. “Don’t,” Rachel snaps, before Fatin can react, and Rachel gently rests her arm back where it was and lifts her left arm to motion toward Leah. And Fatin chooses to do as Rachel says, and she doesn’t make it A Thing, choosing to focus on the point Rachel makes.

 

“Are you telling me to bark at Leah?” Fatin questions. It’s a lame attempt to get Rachel to smile, and it doesn’t work, so Fatin averts her eyes. She watches Leah lift the axe and take a swing at a log, watches Leah split that shit in half, and Fatin almost gasps.

 

“You should see your face,” Rachel says.

 

“Shut up, Rachel. I’m currently in the middle of the longest dry spell of my life,” Fatin retorts. “Sue me if I –” She cuts herself off, watches Leah’s arms as she takes another swing. “Oh, fuck me,” just…slips out, and Rachel laughs loudly enough to draw Leah’s attention over to them. Before Fatin can freak out – about Leah looking at them, or about what the fuck she just said out loud to Rachel – she realizes Rachel’s laughing for the first time since, well, everything. No wonder Leah looks. Dot and Martha do, too.

 

“Leave it to Fatin to get Rachel to laugh first,” Dot grumbles.

 

“Do not,” Fatin threatens, but it sounds weak to her own ears, “tell anyone why you laughed.”

 

“Secret’s safe with me, man,” Rachel promises. “I’m not sure I wanted to know you’re thirsting after Leah, anyway.”

 

“I am – that is not what’s happening,” Fatin argues. “The same thing would’ve happened if that was Shelby.” Oops. “Or Dorothy,” Fatin says, fumbling over her words, and Rachel rolls her eyes.

 

“If you’re just gonna sit here and be horny –”

 

“I’ll keep it in my pants,” Fatin cuts in. She’s not losing the best job in the rotation because of this. No way. “Starting now.”

 

Leah wipes sweat from her forehead with the bottom of her shirt, and if Fatin hadn’t acknowledged to herself that Leah’s objectively hot back on, like, the third day, it’d be a little weird. Well, no, it’s weird now, because Leah’s not basically a stranger anymore. Leah is…Leah. Fatin knows her beyond what she looks like and whatever stupid assumptions Fatin held on the first day. All Fatin knows right now is someone should take that axe away from Leah.

 

“This is so embarrassing, even for you,” Rachel says, and Fatin snaps back into reality.

 

“What is?”

 

Rachel smirks and shakes her head. “Nothing, man. Nothing.”

 

Fatin should just be happy she’s gotten Rachel to smile and laugh when no one else could, but she can’t walk away letting Rachel think she has a thing for Leah. It’s totally untrue. “I’m glad you got a good laugh out of this,” Fatin says, “and clearly you needed it, but just so you know, there’s nothing…there.” Fatin waves her hand around, flicks her wrist toward Leah.

 

“Jesus, Fatin. Relax,” Rachel replies. “I think I have bigger things to worry about than the hard on you have for Leah.”

 

Fatin’s eyes widen, and Rachel laughs again, and Fatin forces herself to fucking relax. She’s only going to make this worse if she doesn’t fucking chill out. “You’re…a dick,” Fatin says.

 

“Is that the best insult you’ve got?” Rachel challenges.

 

“It’s the only one that doesn’t feel mean-spirited.”

 

Before Rachel can reply, Leah grunts and splits another piece of wood in one swing, and Fatin’s just glad she keeps her jaw shut. Rachel, on the other hand –

 

“Alright, that was hot,” Rachel says. “I will give you that one.”

 

Fatin smiles smugly as soon as Rachel looks at her, but it fades when Leah gathers up the wood and drops it near them, mumbles something about how all their firewood is chopped up, but Fatin doesn’t hear a word, just stares at the sweat glistening on Leah’s neck and chest, and –

 

“Fatin. Did you hear what I said?” Leah asks.

 

“What? You said something?”

 

Leah rolls her eyes and drops the axe at Fatin’s feet. “Forget it,” Leah mutters.

 

As she walks off, Rachel says, “You missed your chance to fuck Leah in the woods,” and if Rachel wasn’t injured and also down a sister, Fatin would’ve at least hit her.

 

*

 

[29]

 

Rachel does okay, all things considered. It’s scary, actually, how okay she seems to be. There’s no way she screamed all of her feelings out on day twenty five, but she doesn’t do it again. Hey, everyone grieves their own way, Fatin supposes. Fatin probably wouldn’t be crying, either. Losing a hand would mean losing the cello and her parents’ love for the rest of her life, but –

 

Fatin doesn’t let herself chase that train of thought too far. Point is…well, Fatin forgot what the point was. But she watches Rachel forget that her arm is held in place by a sling because she doesn’t have a hand for – Fatin’s not sure how many times this has happened. It’s at least the fifth or sixth time that she’s personally witnessed, and this time, Martha’s there to help before Rachel’s frustration boils over, and Fatin can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like, to lose a sibling and a hand at the same time, to have to adjust to two completely life-altering ordeals in their own right. So maybe Rachel’s just handling it one at a time, after her initial and totally justified freak out, and maybe the Nora thing will reemerge later. It’s definitely a possibility.

 

As Shelby and Toni step out from the woods in time for dinner, as everyone gathers around the fire for a meal, Fatin tries to deny why she’s been watching Rachel so closely. She cares about Rachel’s well-being, obviously. Cares about all of the girls. But maybe it’s easier to watch Rachel than it is to watch Leah. At least Fatin can do something to help Rachel, like bring water or replace bandages or tie her fucking shoes. Rachel has ups and downs, the first week, but Leah just…spirals. And never pulls herself out of it.

 

Fatin knows she’s still searching for that fucking pit. Fatin’s waiting for Leah to snap, and maybe that’s why it’s harder to watch Leah. If Fatin’s the only one noticing how Shelby and Toni slip off together, then she’s definitely the only person noticing Leah’s disappearances. She’s the only person noticing that vacant look on Leah’s face during dinner. It leaves Fatin with an unsettling feeling, deep in her chest. And it’s not because Leah switched back to the blue T-shirt she’d worn their first day out here, though maybe there’s something ominous about that, too.

 

Fatin isn’t sure why. It’s just a feeling, and not one she cares to analyze. There are lots of feelings she doesn’t care to analyze. It’s easier to focus on the more pressing issues, like Rachel’s recovery and Shoni sneaking off to bone in the woods every two hours. There’s no reason to fixate on the way her eyes lock with Leah’s from across the fire as dinner comes to an end, no reason to fixate on the smile that flickers on Leah’s face, the closest Leah’s gotten to smiling in…well, Fatin can’t remember.

 

That swelling feeling in Fatin’s chest is pride, obviously. First she’s the first person to make Rachel laugh, and now she’s getting Leah to smile again. Fatin can do it all. She’s basically a miracle worker.

 

*

 

[30]

 

She’s also weirdly right, about Leah being on the verge of snapping. It’s another one of those weird feelings that Fatin gets after she says or thinks something and it comes true. It should be the worst thing that happens – Leah snapping – but actually, Fatin letting the words I miss you slip out, spoken directly to Leah, is worse. It ends up being okay, though, because Fatin transitions into how Leah’s searching for the pit, and Leah obviously didn’t think anyone noticed that, and the I miss you oversight recedes from memory.

 

Oh, it recedes from memory really fast.

 

Fatin should know it’s coming. She should see it coming from a mile away. Leah’s obsession with the pit, added onto Rachel’s tanking mood – which, honestly, valid. It was getting spooky, how Rachel was mostly doing okay, but Fatin starts to think maybe Rachel’s grief got pushed aside in favor of coming to terms with her hand first. Just for a while, because now Rachel’s sitting by herself, staring at the water, and Dot, Martha, and Fatin can’t determine what their best course of action might be – and Toni and Shelby aren’t around to give their two cents, and Leah disappears again, and –

 

Fatin should see it coming.

 

It is funny, actually, because it happens the one time Fatin doesn’t have eyes on Leah. She’s distracted with Martha, and mentally beating herself up for letting Shoni and their activities slip because Fatin stupidly assumed Martha already knew, so now Fatin’s gonna have to talk to Shelby ASAP, if she can even fucking find Shelby – hopefully not in the middle of getting in an orgasm, because Fatin doesn’t need that kind of FOMO. Anyway, Fatin’s not paying attention to Leah, for once, Jesus fucking Christ. The fact that Fatin even has to acknowledge that she’s been watching Leah too closely to be considered normal –

 

It’s probably also why Fatin misses Rachel’s descent into a deeper depression. Well, she doesn’t miss the fact that it happens; Fatin just fails to recognize how quickly it happens and how serious it is, until Leah’s on Rachel, harassing her about Nora. Because of that fucking pit that doesn’t exist. Rachel’s on her feet, yelling, and Toni gets to Leah first, shoves her away first, and Fatin’s head is still busy spinning, even when she gets Leah’s wrist in her hand and yanks. She leaves Martha and Dot to comfort Rachel, because someone has to rein Leah in. And no one else can do it.

 

Fatin doesn’t even know where she’s taking Leah. Just…away. Away from Rachel, away from everyone. Leah doesn’t resist her, and Fatin despises the thought that passes through her mind in the moments before she shoves Leah into the rocks.

 

You missed your chance to fuck Leah in the woods.

 

It would be Rachel’s words that run through Fatin’s brain as Leah’s breath hitches, as Fatin seizes Leah by the front of the shirt and pushes her back into the rocks. Maybe Rachel was wrong. Maybe Rachel doesn’t have bigger things to worry about than the hard on Fatin has for Leah, because maybe that hard on could’ve prevented what just happened between Rachel and Leah if Fatin would’ve acted on it – Fatin’s mind is making no fucking sense. There’s just a lingering feeling that Fatin could’ve stopped this if she’d paid closer attention to Leah.

 

So the anger comes first. The anger is easy. The anger lets Fatin get in Leah’s face without thinking about it, and it lets Fatin file away the way Leah’s eyes flick down to her lips for later, instead of totally fucking freezing Fatin where she stands, with her arm braced against Leah’s neck.

 

The anger starts to dissipate after Fatin makes her threat. A threat she has no right to make, at that, but Fatin’s never been the best with words or with communicating feelings properly. She makes her baseless threat and she shoves herself away from Leah, before Fatin has the chance to do something utterly stupid. Like wonder why Leah would break eye contact to look at her lips. Or like doing something about that. Fatin storms off, but her hands tremble, even as she stops to grasp onto Rachel’s shoulder, because she has no words, and she doesn’t know what else she can do except let Martha handle it.

 

Fatin handled Leah. Leah will stay away from Rachel, will leave her the hell alone. It’ll be fine, and Fatin doesn’t have to dwell on how badly the whole situation rattles her. It’s over. Martha helps Rachel. Dot talks to Rachel. Fucking Shoni stays on the beach with everyone else for once. Leah keeps her distance. It’s fine.

 

Fatin can’t believe she let herself be so fucking delusional.

 

Fatin’s so caught up in moving off the beach and settling into a new place and adjusting to how fucking dark it gets when the sun goes down that she doesn’t notice. She doesn’t notice that Leah isn’t there. It’s the second time just today that Fatin fails to notice Leah in an insanely important moment, after spending the last week watching her. To be fair, other things happen. Shelby comes out to the group, awkwardly, and after Dot crushes Shelby in her arms, Fatin steps up to pat Shelby on the shoulder and apologizes for letting it slip to Martha, but Shelby waves the apology off, face burning red in the dim firelight, says everything worked out.

 

Then Martha drags out Marcus and nearly drops him in the fire, and Fatin gets mood whiplash as they go from laughing to hoping aloud that they’re all going to be okay. It’s Shelby that sits up and points out that the headcount is off, that having Marcus makes seven, when he should make eight. Fatin counts three times, and – fuck. Fatin’s the first person on her feet, but everyone else follows, even Rachel.

 

“Maybe you should hang back,” Dot suggests. “One of us can stay –”

 

“I’m going,” Rachel insists, and that’s that. Dot tells them to spread the search out but warns them to be careful, don’t go too far, don’t get lost. Fatin doesn’t even hear Dot. She’s going to fucking find Leah if it kills her. But she isn’t the one that finds her. Fatin isn’t far, is actually the only person close enough to immediately rush to Toni’s side.

 

Toni holds up the empty pill bottle, expression solemn as she says, “She’s not conscious. I don’t know if she’s breathing.”

 

And Fatin barely remembers what she does, honestly. It’s a blur, and her brain only stores flashes of memories. Toni holding the pill bottle. Screaming that only stops when Rachel and Dot come crashing through the foliage. Rachel shoving Toni out of the way, because Rachel’s the one that saves Leah’s life, and Fatin’s just there to hold Leah’s hair back and rub Leah’s arm until she stops coughing. Rachel falls back beside Toni, exhaling shakily, and as Shelby and Martha join them, they collectively sit with the discomfort. Fatin might be the only one sitting with paralyzing terror, but one look at Rachel tells her that no, she’s not alone, actually.

 

“Fatin,” Dot says quietly, touching her fingertips to Fatin’s shoulder, and Fatin snaps back into reality, briefly, until Dot stops touching her. “Help me with her.”

 

Fatin goes through the motions as if her brain has been switched onto autopilot. Dot gets one of Leah’s arms around her neck, leaving Fatin to do the same with Leah’s other arm, and together, they haul Leah back to camp, slowly. Step by step, with the other girls nearby to ensure no one falls. Leah is dead weight, threatening to bring Fatin and Dot to their knees with one wrong step. As Fatin’s about to ask if they’re even heading in the right direction, their camp comes into view, and she almost cries in relief. Or maybe it’s not relief.

 

They lower Leah to one of the beds they’d constructed, and Leah is literally zero help, forcing Fatin to grab Leah’s legs and lift them up onto the bed so Leah can actually lie down. The bitch is practically catatonic, and Fatin gapes down at her, at the blank look on Leah’s face. She almost wants to hit her, just to see if it’ll force Leah to react.

 

“Fatin,” Dot says warily. Okay, Fatin wasn’t actually going to hit a bitch who just literally tried to die, but the intensity of her anger surprises Fatin, and she tears her eyes away from Leah and looks to Dot. “Maybe you should sit down,” Dot suggests gently, but she firmly guides Fatin away from Leah. “Shelby, can you sit with her first?” Dot asks.

 

“Of course, Dottie,” Shelby says. “So we’re putting her on watch?”

 

“Twenty four hours,” Dot confirms. Fatin takes a seat beside the fire, between Rachel and Martha. “Rachel, you don’t have to –”

 

“I can do it, too,” Rachel cuts in. “There’s no reason to act like I can’t sit and stare at Leah.”

 

“You shouldn’t have to, after what she did to you, I think is Dorothy’s point,” Fatin mumbles.

 

“I can handle it,” Rachel insists. Then nods like she’s convincing herself. And who’s Fatin to argue? Rachel can take that up with Dot. Dot doesn’t argue, though, just sets up a rotation. Shelby, Toni, Dot, Fatin, Martha, Rachel. By the time Rachel’s watch rolls around, the sun will be up. Everyone agrees to the schedule, and everyone at least pretends to go to bed. Except Fatin. She sits in front of the fire, trying to let her body relax, because she knows her mind won’t. As the fear ebbs away – fear of what, first of all? Losing Leah? Or is it about losing Leah shortly after Fatin threatened to kill her? Either way, the fear melts into anger which melts into guilt which ultimately goes back to anger.

 

Fatin learns that anger is the easiest to feel, of the three.

 

*

 

[31]

 

Fatin’s shift begins at four in the morning, while it’s still dark. She switches off with Dot, who tells her that Leah won’t sleep, and Fatin shrugs.

 

“Well, she tried to stop existing just a few hours ago, so if I was in her place, I wouldn’t want to sleep, either,” Fatin quips.

 

Dot shoots her a look, like a serious one, but she doesn’t say anything except, “Make sure she doesn’t hurt herself.”

 

Fatin rolls her eyes. “She hasn’t fucking moved. I’m sure I can handle it.”

 

She’s afraid Dot can see right through her, but Dot just sighs and goes to bed. Fatin hesitates but chooses not to sit on the end of the bed the way Shelby, Toni, and Dot all had. She sits on the ground beside the bed, facing Leah, of course, because Fatin kind of doesn’t have a choice there. Leah’s eyes are open, but she doesn’t move. Barely even blinks. It’s kind of fucking creepy. No, actually, it’s fucking terrifying, but Fatin doesn’t allow her mind to linger on the fear of losing Leah so soon after losing Nora. What would Fatin even do?

 

Better to move forward than dwell on the what ifs. What if Leah had died? There are simply too many fucking ways to answer that question, and Fatin refuses to consider the possibilities. So she sits in silence, with her knees pulled to her chest, and she stares at the dead look in Leah’s eyes and wrangles her emotions back under control. It’s horrible, actually, how Leah was the one to comfort Fatin when she finally broke down over Nora and everything, because if Fatin did the same thing right now…Leah wouldn’t even react. At least, Fatin waves her hand in front of Leah’s face, and Leah does nothing. Fatin jabs her index finger into Leah’s shin, and Leah does nothing.

 

Fatin can’t wait to wake Martha to take over.

 

*

 

[32]

 

It gets worse. Fatin’s jumbled emotions surrounding Leah. She just cycles through them, the fucking fear and guilt and anger and, soon, intense sorrow. Her emotions rotate, kind of like how all of the girls are rotating through watching Leah constantly, and it’s fucking awful, and Leah won’t do anything. Won’t look at any of them. Won’t speak or even make any fucking sound. Won’t move. Won’t sleep. Literally does the definition of nothing. And that makes it easy for Fatin to be angry.

 

“When should we worry?” Shelby questions, quietly, after the sun sets. They’re gathered around the fire, save for Martha as she sits with Leah. “Like, when should we worry for real about Leah doing nothing?”

 

“Well, what are we gonna do about it?” Fatin snaps, and Shelby startles. “Worrying isn’t going to make her get off her ass and –”

 

“Fatin,” Dot cuts in, sharply. “I know, we’re all a little…on edge.”

 

“On edge?” Fatin scoffs. “No, I’m fucking pissed, actually. How dare she –?”

 

“Fatin,” Dot interrupts, again, and Fatin stands, crosses over to where Martha’s seated with Leah, in the same spot.

 

“She might as well be dead,” Fatin says. “That’s how she’s fucking acting.” She can sense the rest of the girls’ assholes collectively clenching in anticipation of whatever Fatin might do, but Fatin just crouches directly in front of Leah’s face, in Leah’s line of sight, so Leah can’t see past her, and Fatin tilts her head to the side. “Do you even know I’m here?” Fatin asks. She might as well go speak to a tree, that’s how much of a response she gets. “Are you in there, or were we too late to prevent serious brain damage?”

 

“Fatin!” Dot exclaims, and she seizes Fatin by the arm, pulls her to her feet. “Leave her alone.”

 

“She’s not even –”

 

“You’re acting like a real asshole, Fatin,” Dot chastises. “Look, we’re all freaked out, too, but we aren’t taking it out on Leah.”

 

“You don’t get it,” Fatin hisses. Her eyes flicker toward the fire, toward where Rachel and Toni and Shelby are watching them warily.

 

“You’re right,” Dot concedes. “I don’t get whatever the fuck you two have going on, but whatever’s going on in there,” Dot jabs her index finger into the center of Fatin’s chest, “you need to lock it down. You can be angry and upset. I think we all are, but you need to hold it together. And if you need to talk –”

 

“I don’t need to talk,” Fatin says. Her jaw clenches. “I need Leah to fucking do something.”

 

Dot inhales deeply. “Give it time. Let’s just try to keep our cool.”

 

*

 

[34]

 

Fatin focuses on how frustrating Leah’s lack of action is instead of on how scary it is. Leah doesn’t move for four days, whatever, but she doesn’t sleep for four days – and when faced with that fact in front of Toni and Dot, well, Fatin might as well lean into how angry she still is, because otherwise she has to be afraid, and she refuses. Maybe saying that she’s done with Leah out loud will make it true.

 

Fatin doesn’t expect Toni to call her on it. And the way Toni looks at Fatin – no. Not going there. Dot offers to take Fatin’s shift, and Fatin’s ready to hightail it out of there, until Rachel gets up and approaches Leah, and says two fucking simple words.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

And Leah fucking listens. Rachel holds her hand out, and Leah takes it – Leah moves – and Rachel hauls Leah’s ass up. Fatin clenches her jaw so it won’t hang open as the two of them take off together. Rachel, who Leah harassed about her dead sister shortly before Fatin shut it down and possibly caused Leah to try to die. Rachel is the one to get Leah to fucking do something for the first time in four days. Fatin’s not entirely sure why, but it stings, like, a lot. Fatin swallows down a new, unpleasant feeling as Dot looks away from Rachel and Leah and fixes her gaze on Fatin.

 

“Are we, uh…are we feeling optimistic about that?” Dot asks.

 

Fatin scoffs. “Absolutely fucking not.”

 

“At least someone got Leah to fucking do something,” Toni points out. She gets to her feet. “Hopefully that won’t blow up,” she snorts.

 

They’re gone most of the day. Fatin hates that her mind keeps turning toward whatever Leah might be off doing with Rachel, and even lounging around with Dot and convincing Dot to read aloud from Martha’s trashy erotic novel isn’t enough to fully distract Fatin. Fatin tried multiple times to pull Leah out of her creepy fucking trance, and nothing worked, but Rachel says let’s go and holds her hand out, and Leah goes? What in the fuck? Leah and Rachel –

 

Fatin remembers watching Leah chop wood, remembers Rachel saying alright, that was hot, and – Leah and Rachel? There can’t be anything there. Fatin would know. Fatin would’ve noticed.

 

The same way she noticed Leah sneak off to try to kill herself. Right.

 

“You look like you’re thinking really hard about something, Fatin,” Dot teases, lowering the book. “Is this really doing it for you?”

 

Fatin rolls her eyes, pushes at Dot’s arm as Dot snickers. “Yeah, that is exactly what gets me going. How’d you know?”

 

And Fatin tries to forget, tries not to let her mind dwell on Leah. Tries not to feel, like, fucking betrayed that Leah got up for the first time just to immediately run off with Rachel instead of going to Fatin and –

 

Fatin pauses, analyzes that train of thought while Dot continues reading one of the juicier sections of the novel. Why is it bothering Fatin so much? Maybe Fatin would bring it up, would bounce ideas off of Dot, if Toni wasn’t twenty feet away. This is getting ridiculous. The amount of space Leah occupies in Fatin’s mind – it’s ridiculous. Fatin should just be fucking grateful that Leah’s even alive, after how Fatin pushed her, and Fatin should be grateful that Leah’s finally fucking doing something, even if it’s with Rachel instead of her.

 

But fuck, it stings when Rachel and Leah return, yelling triumphantly and carrying a plastic storage bucket between them. It’s weird, not only seeing a real smile on Rachel’s face, but seeing a smile on both of their faces, together. They’re not standing closer together than usual, right? Fatin’s just seeing shit that’s not there. Jesus, she’s turning into Leah, and that’s just fucking unacceptable.

 

Fatin tries to focus on how Rachel and Leah both smiling is a good sign, at least. Fatin should probably feel a little pervy for checking Leah out so soon after she came out of her fucking stupor, but Leah could also close her fucking cardigan, and since she hasn’t, Fatin looks. Briefly. Before hearing Leah’s voice for the first time in four days sends a weird sort of feeling of relief flooding through Fatin’s system. And it’s good, because Fatin bounces back, feels more like herself than she has in days and joins in on celebrating Leah and Rachel’s find.

 

But Fatin keeps an eye on them, on Leah and Rachel, and she keeps an eye on that feeling that emerges when they get too close.

Chapter Text

[35]

 

“Do you have a minute?”

 

Fatin lets her arm fall from where it’s slung over her eyes, takes a peek at the person standing beside her bed. It’s a brutally humid day, and it’s the hottest day they’ve had so far, maybe. Fatin shed her jacket hours ago in favor of lounging in shorts and her gold bra. Shit, Fatin even tied her hair back up for the first time in at least a week, but there’s still beads of sweat rolling down her face, forming along her stomach and chest and arms. It’s disgusting. Fatin knows it’s bad, because Dot unzips her cargo pants into cargo shorts and strips down to her tank top, ties her hair up, too.

 

Fatin lays eyes on Leah, and she’s got the same sort of idea. Hair up. Shorts. Bra. As Fatin’s eyes fall on Leah, Leah crosses her arms over her chest, grimaces. Like maybe she’s regretting coming over here. Fatin overtly checks Leah out on purpose, just to see if Leah will squirm – and she does, but Leah doesn’t say anything else.

 

“For you?” Fatin finally says. “I’m sure I can find a minute.”

 

Leah holds her arm out, and after Fatin stares at Leah’s outstretched palm for a long moment, she slaps her hand into Leah’s. Leah pulls her up off the bed with a grunt, and Fatin takes her hand back quickly, clears her throat.

 

“Can we walk?” Leah asks.

 

“Lead the way.”

 

They don’t really go anywhere. Just wander away from camp, out of earshot of anyone else. Fatin doesn’t have any idea what the fuck Leah might want, so she keeps her mouth shut until Leah figures out a way to start something.

 

“You know, we, uh, didn’t really get a chance to talk yesterday,” Leah says. She stops walking, crosses her arms over her chest, won’t look Fatin in the eye yet.

 

“We didn’t,” Fatin agrees. “Talk about what, though?”

 

Your little excursion with Rachel? Shit, Fatin barely holds that in. She can only imagine how that’d sound, coming from her. Can only imagine how Leah would take that.

 

“Come on,” Leah scoffs. She rubs at her jaw, stares down at the ground.

 

“Leah, it’s too hot to play games, so either spit it out or –”

 

“I tried to kill myself.”

 

Fatin’s eyebrows raise. “Oh, yeah. That,” Fatin says. “Right.”

 

The silence that falls between them is unbearably awkward. Fatin doesn’t know how Leah stands it without fidgeting, because even Fatin finds herself swiping at the thin sheen of sweat on her chest, just to have something to do. And as the silence stretches on, the guilt sets back in, and Fatin and Leah speak at the same time.

 

“I’m sorry –”

 

And they both stop, both look to each other in confusion.

 

“You go,” Fatin says quickly.

 

“No, what are you apologizing for?” Leah questions. “I’m the one who – what could you possibly –?”

 

“Forget it,” Fatin cuts in. “And don’t apologize. You lived. You’re up and mostly…stable. Just don’t do that shit again.”

 

Leah nods. “I swear, I had like a whole speech ready to go, but then we got here, and I can’t remember any of it.”

 

Fatin cracks a smile. “Yeah, well, same. But I am sorry, you know. For threatening to kill you. I felt like that might’ve had something to do with – yeah. Anyway. I’m sorry.”

 

Leah’s eyebrows pull together as if that’s the last thing she expects Fatin to apologize for. “Don’t apologize,” Leah says, and her lips twist into a short lived smirk. “Besides, I shouldn’t have gone off on Rachel like that. But that wasn’t – you didn’t have anything to do with…what I did.”

 

Fatin nods, studies Leah’s expression warily. “So what’s on your agenda for today?” Fatin asks, though she’s unsure of why she’s asking. It is hotter than fuck, though, so if Leah doesn’t have anything planned, a trip to the waterfall could be –

 

“Rachel’s got something lined up,” Leah informs.

 

“Ah.” That awkward silence comes back. “I am glad you’re alive, obviously,” Fatin says, out of nowhere, and she cringes at herself. “If you didn’t know.”

 

“I am, too,” Leah admits.

 

“Okay, I can see we’re about to have, like, a moment,” Fatin says, waving her hand between them, “and I don’t want to seem like a total insensitive bitch, but don’t try to hug me right now. It’s too fucking hot.”

 

Leah rolls her eyes. “God forbid we have a moment that might prove we actually care about each other. The world will end.”

 

Fatin huffs at Leah’s sarcasm, but Leah smiles, for real, and Fatin’s stomach feels like it twists itself into a knot. “The world might actually end, yes,” Fatin says.

 

“I almost died, and you’re not even going to hug me because it’s a little hot?” Leah teases.

 

“You almost died by choice, Leah.”

 

Leah holds her arms out. “Even more reason to bring it in, right?”

 

Fatin can’t tell if Leah’s serious.

 

“Girl, no. Isn’t Rachel waiting for you?”

 

“Hey, you brought it up,” Leah reminds. And Fatin can’t even deny to herself that she said that shit in hopes that this exact thing would happen. She makes a show of it, of course, of taking the few steps forward and reluctantly raising her arms and wrapping them around Leah’s waist. She pats Leah’s back a few times while Leah locks her arms around Fatin’s neck, chuckling.

 

“This is so gross,” Fatin complains, peeling her arms away from Leah’s back. “You’re so sweaty.”

 

“I wouldn’t think a little sweat would bother you,” Leah jokes, but she starts to pull back, and even though it is way too hot to linger in any sort of embrace, Fatin already misses the contact.

 

“Yeah, well, I don’t normally hug other women when we’re wearing, like, almost nothing and sweating our asses off unless I’m planning on fucking them,” Fatin says, without even thinking. Her eyes widen after, when she realizes she sort of just came out straight to Leah’s face, offhandedly at that.

 

“Jesus, Fatin,” Leah laughs, and Fatin forces herself to relax. Of course Leah’s going to think she’s joking. Fatin says sexual shit all the time. It’s sort of her thing, the role she fills within the group. Always has a good innuendo or sex joke ready to fire off. “You had to go there,” Leah says, shaking her head. She keeps smiling, though.

 

“Well, duh,” Fatin replies. “Like I told Rachel last week, I’m in the middle of the longest dry spell of my life. I’m gonna go there, every time.”

 

“Speaking of,” Leah says, and Fatin’s eyebrows raise, but she just says, “I bet Rachel wouldn’t mind if you wanted to come with us.”

 

“What? Oh, no,” Fatin dismisses. “I’m planning to lie my ass back down and try not to die of heatstroke, but you two have fun doing…whatever you’ve been doing. Fucking in the woods, or whatever.”

 

Leah busts out laughing, and Fatin smiles involuntarily while she considers the idea that she might be scraping way too close to her true insecurities. “Shelby and Toni are fucking in the woods,” Leah replies. “Rachel and I are being productive.”

 

“Yeah, hard pass on productivity. But you have fun.” Fatin pauses, eyes flick from Leah’s face to her bare stomach then back up. “And I’m glad we had this moment, or whatever the fuck this was.”

 

Leah inhales sharply, catches Fatin’s wrist before she can walk off. “So we’re okay, right?” Leah asks. “I mean, I know we’re joking around and – I just want to make sure we’re okay.”

 

Fatin gently pulls her wrist free. “Yeah. We’re cool. As long as you don’t pull some shit like that again.”

 

“I know I didn’t really do anything for, like, days, but I could tell that…I mean, I freaked you out, and I’m sorry about that, too,” Leah says.

 

Fatin sighs heavily, pinches the bridge of her nose between her index finger and thumb, and manages to mutter, “And I acted like an asshole to you while you were busy being fucking unresponsive, so I’m sorry, too.”

 

“Can we just start fresh?” Leah asks. She chews on her lower lip, her fucking blue eyes studying Fatin’s expression as Fatin drops her hand from her face.

 

“Yeah. Sure,” Fatin agrees.

 

Leah smiles, then hesitates. “I’d try to hug you again, but I guess we both know you wouldn’t be into that. Or maybe you’d be way too into it?”

 

“Oh, get out of here,” Fatin laughs, shoving at Leah’s shoulder as Leah snickers. “Don’t rub my dry spell in my face. Go find Rachel.”

 

The last thing Fatin wants to do is send Leah after Rachel, but she says it and beats herself up for it as she trudges back to camp to do what she said she was gonna do. It’s so stupid, actually. It’s not like she has a monopoly on Leah’s time. More like she wants Leah to want to stick with her instead of running off with someone else. That’s so gross. Grosser than her and Leah rubbing their sweaty bodies together –

 

Fatin shouldn’t think of it like that, at all. That’s Leah, Fatin’s friend, who isn’t even completely mentally stable but is probably completely straight. And Fatin’s mind is lingering on one nasty hug and an acknowledged moment between the two of them, and on Leah failing to recognize Fatin basically coming out, and Fatin got way too close to implying she’d fuck Leah –

 

Holy fuck, this is bad.

 

“What’s with that face you just made?” Dot asks, and Fatin startles, rushes to sit upright on her bed.

 

“Nothing,” Fatin stutters, scoffing to cover it up. “Just – it’s way too fucking hot out here. I think the heat is, like, frying my brain or something.”

 

“Yeah, you and me both,” Dot agrees. “I’ve had to read the same page five fucking times, and I’m still not getting it.”

 

“Not getting what?”

 

“How the hell I’m supposed to visualize these two people having sex. The description doesn’t make any sense.”

 

Fatin leans over and snatches the book out of Dot’s hand to see for herself. This is a problem she can solve, and at the very least, this is guaranteed to be a distraction.

 

*

 

[36]

 

There’s no way Leah’s mentally stable, and Rachel’s probably losing it, too. They show up at camp after dark with a pan flute and a tambourine, and they play so badly, but it gets everyone to sing together, gets Rachel and Martha to dance and laugh, and Leah rushes over and takes Fatin’s face in her hand, and then they’re dancing in the most ridiculous way possible, and –

 

It’s probably the best night they’ve had since they moved off the beach. Everyone gets at least a few moments of actual happiness, and it shines on all of their faces, especially Leah’s. Of course Fatin’s eyes keep returning to Leah. Shit, Leah’s the only reason Fatin accepts the pan flute and gives playing a shot, even though Fatin knows she’s gonna be shit at it.

 

“There’s a reason I don’t play instruments with my mouth, okay?” Fatin defends, and the group roars with laughter. Fatin shoves the pan flute into Toni’s chest, grinning so hard it hurts, and she looks to Leah again, watches Leah spin Rachel in a circle and start up with a goofy slow dance. And for the first time, consciously, Fatin names the feeling that swirls in her chest.

 

Jealousy.

 

And it’s so unlike her, no wonder it’s a struggle to identify it. She never gives enough of a fuck about anyone to get jealous. Fatin’s grin starts to fade as she works that out, and she drops back down next to Dot.

 

“Tired already?” Dot teases.

 

“I think my ears are bleeding,” Fatin jokes weakly, touching her fingertips to her ear to make a show of checking. Dot rolls her eyes and loops her arm through Fatin’s, and Fatin inhales deeply, tries to ward off the feeling of jealousy as she continues to watch Leah and Rachel, as she watches Rachel swap to dance with Martha while Leah drags Shelby up and forces her to participate. Though force is a strong word, because after some groaning and a roll of her eyes, Shelby’s the one being spun by Leah, and Toni doesn’t even intervene to save her girl, Toni just…plays the pan flute that Fatin handed to her.

 

“Shall we dance to the sounds that are making your ears bleed?” Dot says, and she turns her palm up, and Fatin realizes Dot’s being serious. And fuck her, Fatin’s not even thinking about having a good time with her best friend – even though that’s what they do, once Fatin allows Dot to pull her up and twirl her around, and Dot even takes Fatin’s you’d make such a great girlfriend comment in stride. No, Fatin’s thinking about Dot switching to dance with Shelby, and Fatin coincidentally ending up with Leah, and –

 

The fact that that’s what Fatin’s hoping for? Fucking dancing? Oh, Jesus Christ, Fatin could accept wanting to fuck Leah and being done with it, but this?

 

Dot doesn’t call Fatin out for staring, but her eyes shine with amusement when Fatin looks back at her and snaps, “What?”

 

“Nothing, man,” Dot says. She spins Fatin around without warning and grabs onto Shelby’s wrist, effortlessly leaving Fatin in front of Leah. And as badly as Fatin wants to yell oh, fuck you at Dot, she can’t, because Leah’s hand lands at her waist, and Fatin instinctively brings her hand up to meet Leah’s, and they’re doing the same stupid waltzing thing Leah had done with Rachel, except it’s not stupid. It’s stupidly fun and carefree and easy, and Leah’s smile is as bright as her eyes and Fatin laughs until she can’t breathe, and it doesn’t feel weird, having her hand clasped in Leah’s, or even when Fatin drops her chin to Leah’s shoulder in an attempt to catch her breath while they’re still swaying together.

 

And it’s okay, because Rachel and Martha are falling all over each other and laughing, and Dot lifts Shelby straight off her feet and Shelby yelps, and Toni keeps changing up how she plays the pan flute, and no one’s paying any special attention to Fatin and Leah. And when they turn in for the night, and Fatin’s sprawled out on her back in bed, her heart continues to pound wildly, to the point where Fatin lays her palm over the center of her chest as she tries to calm herself.

 

Fuck, she can’t do this.

 

*

 

[37]

 

Leah spends most of the day with Rachel again, and yeah, that’s definitely jealousy burning hot in Fatin’s stomach.

 

*

 

[39]

 

Fatin shouldn’t get so much satisfaction out of Leah choosing to sit on Fatin’s bed with her instead of with Rachel, but there’s no denying that Fatin does take quite a bit of satisfaction from it. Especially when Leah leans back and stretches her legs out, dropping them into Fatin’s lap. Fatin glances over at Rachel, but Rachel doesn’t even fucking notice, because Rachel doesn’t care. Doesn’t give one single fuck, because Rachel isn’t the one with a giant, embarrassing fucking crush on Leah.

 

It’s gross just to think about, and Fatin shoves it aside.

 

*

 

[42]

 

It starts small. The thing with the journal. And Leah’s been doing well recently – better than she’s done in a while, so Fatin sets it aside and focuses on Dot’s motherfucking birthday. Shelby handing Fatin and Leah Dot distraction duty is a blessing – and a curse. Not because Leah can’t fucking lie to save her life, apparently, but because Fatin finds it painfully endearing. Leah blows the surprise, for sure, but all Fatin can think about is how adorably awkward Leah is, all while they’re pretending to snare some birds.

 

Fatin doesn’t even remember the journal later. It slips her mind sometime between watching Leah fret over her terrible cover story and leading Dot to her surprise party on the beach. Fatin gets to popping champagne, and then they’re all tipsy and singing happy birthday and lighting the sparklers on Dot’s sand cake, so Fatin forgets. She’s too busy feeling bad for continually losing focus, which should be on the birthday girl, because her eyes keep drifting toward Leah. There’s no reason for them to. Leah’s fine. More than fine. Happy, even. It’s just hard for Fatin to keep her mind in the right place.

 

Once Fatin has enough champagne, it gets easier. She goes the lowest during limbo, though everyone else bitches about how she cheated, but there’s no way to cheat. They’re just jealous she wins herself the remaining champagne. They dance without any sort of music, and Fatin makes a show of dancing with Marcus, and the journal? Gone. Out of sight, out of mind.

 

The night wears down and gets depressing, as they usually do, and while Fatin makes herself comfortable, lying across Dot’s lap, she stares at Leah. Dot glances down at Fatin, more than once, almost certainly catches Fatin staring. Fatin can’t even bring herself to care. She’s too busy wondering how Leah doesn’t know. Because there’s no way Leah knows. Fatin barely knows it herself, finally. Like, Fatin has real, legit feelings for Leah, beyond just wanting to fuck her. And Leah doesn’t know. And Fatin doesn’t think she can tell her.

 

“You good?” Dot asks, jabbing Fatin in the ribs.

 

“Huh? Fine,” Fatin says, looking up at Dot. “How about you, birthday girl? Are you good?”

 

“God, don’t call me that,” Dot chuckles. “I am…great, actually.”

 

“Good. If anyone deserves to have a good day out here, it’s you,” Fatin says.

 

Dot hums and slings her arm across Fatin’s stomach, asks, “This counts as holding you, right? Because I think this is as close as we’re ever gonna get.”

 

Fatin laughs, hard, and says, “I love you, bitch.” It takes Fatin a moment, to realize she’s never said that before – to Dot or to any friends or maybe even to anyone who isn’t family. “Not to make it gay or anything,” Fatin adds, and Dot snorts.

 

“No, honestly, that’s probably the best birthday present I could’ve gotten.”

 

Fatin groans. “Shut up. We’re not gonna have a moment.”

 

“Definitely not,” Dot agrees. “Love you too.”

 

*

 

[45]

 

Leah scares the fuck out of Fatin before Fatin can make sense of the numbers on the inside of Nora’s hoodie. Fatin looks over, expecting to see Rachel or Dot accompanying Leah, but she’s alone. It’s just the two of them, sitting by the waterfall. Obviously about to have A Moment. And they do, sort of. Fatin tries for the hundredth time to get Leah to let go of her fucking old-ass boyfriend, and Fatin doesn’t even realize when she tells Leah to dream different that she’s hoping for something. Something impossible, but once the words are out of her mouth, once she’s waiting for Leah’s response, Fatin eagerly waits to hear Leah bring her up, even just in jest.

 

Just something like oh, are you referring to yourself, Fatin? And Fatin will laugh and roll her eyes and make a crack about her dry spell, and is Leah offering to end it, and Leah will get all red and –

 

Yeah. Impossible. There’s no point in even imagining it in the moments before Leah fucking says Ben Folds, and Fatin’s brain stalls. He’s a musician, supposedly – and Fatin files that away for later. In case she ever makes a desperate pitch to Leah with all the reasons Leah should like her back. Musician. It’s Leah’s type, apparently, if Fatin ignores Jeff’s existence. Fatin’s totally just seeing what she wants to see. Leah goes on and on about this Ben Folds guy, but Fatin smiles and nods and does her best to be outwardly supportive, at the very least. Leah smiles while she talks about this fuckhead – a potentially harsh judgment about a man Fatin knows nothing about – and Fatin should just be happy to see Leah loosen up a bit, to see Leah let go of some of her obsessions about the island and Jeff.

 

Fatin should be happy to see Leah stand and pull her shirt over her head, but instead Fatin’s mouth goes dry and her stomach feels like it drops out of her ass, and she has to avert her eyes for a second, because it feels wrong, to look in this moment. Fatin isn’t sure if it’s because she has grudgingly acknowledged what she feels, but it doesn’t matter, because Leah launches herself into the water seconds later, and Fatin grins and tells herself to fucking relax. To enjoy Leah wanting to spend time alone with her, but Ben fucking Folds hangs over Fatin’s head, as a giant reminder that she’s never going to have anything more than friendship with Leah.

 

“Oh, fuck me! It’s so cold,” Leah gasps, and Fatin laughs and shakes her head and hurries to think of something she’d say before she was aware of her stupid fucking feelings. She glances over at Leah, watches Leah pull her bra strap back up onto her shoulder, and Fatin comes up empty. Has nothing to say whatsoever. No sex joke. Nothing.

 

“Come on,” Fatin calls, carefully getting to her feet so she doesn’t take an unintentional swim in ice cold water. Fatin snags one of their drying towels from a nearby branch and holds it out. “Get your ass out of there before you freeze.”

 

Leah rolls her eyes but swims to shore, wrings her hair out as she stands in ankle deep water then walks closer to Fatin, allows Fatin to drape the towel around her shoulders. Fatin’s careful not to let herself touch Leah’s bare skin, though she thinks back to their third day, to Leah emerging from the ocean with Rachel and Nora, when Fatin grabbed onto her shoulder. They weren’t even friends, were practically strangers, and now Fatin finds herself avoiding actual contact at all costs, even though Leah comes across as more than relaxed, perfectly content.

 

Fatin needs to forget it.

 

She goes back to the journal when they get to camp, and it all falls apart from there.

 

*

 

[46]

 

Fatin hurries to piece together clues from Nora’s journal, and running her thoughts past Leah is an objectively bad idea, especially after the advice Fatin herself handed out, but, well, who else could Fatin take this to?

 

She approaches it the wrong way, does a dorky fucking rewind motion, and causes Leah to storm off by digging up old shit. So Fatin almost burns it. The fucking journal. Nearly tosses that shit into the fire, because it’s starting to make her crazy, and if she burns it now, Fatin can make it stop. But something stops her, and she keeps a closer eye on it than ever, like it’s going to magically disappear.

 

Leah disappears. Okay, no, not really, but she’s more absent than usual after Fatin dredges up conspiracy shit, and she doesn’t resurface until everyone separates to search for Martha. Until Leah’s the first one to find Martha, silently, after the rest of them run around screaming. Martha, and the knife, and the bunnies, and everyone except Toni hangs back and doesn’t know what to do.

 

Fatin wants to reach for Leah. She doesn’t, only because she knows she’d be doing it for her own benefit, doing it to comfort herself, and Leah doesn’t need that from Fatin. As they realize Martha won’t move on her own, as they realize they’ll have to find a way to get her back to camp, Fatin thinks Leah seems more spacey than usual. Not fully there. But Martha takes precedence. Whatever shit Leah has going on, Leah better be able to handle it for now.

 

Fatin can’t help but wonder if Leah’s shit is her fault, though, and she keeps Nora’s journal safely out of sight.

 

*

 

[47]

 

Leah won’t leave camp. Sits in the same spot. Something deep inside Fatin aches, desperate to just ask Leah what the fuck is wrong, but Fatin can’t bring herself to. It feels like her fault, and Martha’s basically pulling the same shit Leah had after she tried to kill herself, and the group’s morale plummets and –

 

There’s nothing Fatin can do.

 

*

 

[49]

 

It’s a fuck it kind of moment. Something spooked Leah – most likely Martha’s condition, which hasn’t improved, but it could also be Fatin’s sudden dive into all things Nora and island conspiracy, as much as Fatin tries to conceal it. Or maybe it’s something else. Something Jeff related, as much as Fatin hopes it’s not. But Fatin might be the only person who notices that Leah’s going through some shit, because Martha’s going through worse and more noticeable shit, and Toni’s going through it with her.

 

Actually, maybe it’s just a serious moment of weakness that compels Fatin to take a seat in the dirt beside Leah, close enough that their arms press together, and when Leah slowly turns her head toward Fatin, Fatin plasters a huge, goofy-ass grin on her face. And Leah says nothing. Just blinks.

 

“Come on. Give me something to work with here,” Fatin says, knocking their shoulders together. Leah doesn’t budge. “What’s your deal?” Fatin blurts, when really she wants to ask what’s got you so locked up in your own mind again?

 

“What’s yours?” Leah retorts, and Fatin suppresses a sigh of relief, because at least Leah spoke. Then Fatin winces, because she can’t exactly tell Leah that she’s had a whole bunch of disgusting feelings directed toward her for the last…Fatin’s not sure how long it’s been now, isn’t sure when exactly it started. Maybe it didn’t start. Maybe it just…developed out of nowhere, and now Fatin’s stuck with these feelings that she can’t control and can’t do anything about.

 

“How much time you got?” Fatin jokes weakly, and Leah rolls her eyes.

 

“Can you just go?” Leah mumbles.

 

Fatin hesitates. “Do you really mean that?” she asks. “You really want me to leave?”

 

Leah’s quiet for a long time. So long, Fatin’s eyes flicker out toward the rest of camp, toward Toni holding onto Martha, toward Rachel and Shelby sitting on Rachel’s bed, toward Dot staring blankly off at the trees.

 

“No,” Leah whispers.

 

Fatin swallows hard, nods. Takes a fucking chance. She gingerly takes Leah’s hand off of Leah’s knee and knots their fingers together. Leah lets her, doesn’t even react to it, doesn’t squeeze Fatin’s hand, but it’s okay. They can just sit here, like this, and Fatin can breathe shallowly and act as if her heart isn’t pounding hard enough to hurt.

 

Leah really has no fucking clue. No fucking clue at all.

Chapter Text

[50]

 

LEAH IS SUSPI is the final straw, and Fatin closes up the journal and takes off from the hot spring. She finds Shelby by accident, and her drastic haircut – well, it derails Fatin’s original plan, which wasn’t really much of a plan anyway. And as Fatin awkwardly hugs Shelby and tries to reassure her, Fatin struggles to remember the last time she got an actual minute alone with Shelby. Shelby’s spent so much time attached to Toni’s hip, or they’ve been at camp surrounded by everyone else, that Fatin really doesn’t remember.

 

God, and now Fatin’s totally gonna have A Moment with Shelby, and she’s kind of getting tired of having Important Moments with other women, especially since she started actively suffering with her feelings for Leah, but Fatin sighs and puts that sentiment aside. Shelby needs her more than Fatin needs to avoid A Moment. The initial awkwardness passes quickly, at least. And the rest happens fast. Fatin’s telling Shelby about the craziness within Nora’s journal before Fatin really thinks it through.

 

But Shelby believes it, and then Fatin’s leading them to the pit – or, not the pit, but where Leah swears the pit was, and Shelby notices the difference in the dirt, and…Fatin feels crazy. Fatin knows it’s a fraction of how Leah must’ve felt this entire time, especially because Shelby’s at Fatin’s side, assuring her that she sees it, too. Shelby’s the one that cracks the map, and then Fatin’s following Shelby, then Fatin is praying, which is – well, it feels weird at first, particularly having Shelby’s eyes on her, and she’s pretty rusty, but it’s familiar and almost comforting, and if Fatin didn’t know any better, she’d believe that it’s the reason they find it.

 

And fuck, Fatin misses Leah, wherever the fuck Leah went, and Fatin feels so fucking guilty for not trusting Leah’s instincts. Shelby spots it first, and Fatin’s too dumbfounded to stop Shelby from attempting to scale the tree, and everything is happening way too quickly for Fatin to keep up, let alone fully process any of it. Until Shelby falls, but Shelby won’t stop, for a very simple reason that resonates far too much with Fatin.

 

“It’s for her,” Shelby says, eyes locked straight onto Fatin’s, “because I never won’t love her. Never.”

 

There’s probably a less awkward way to say that, but Fatin keeps all potential smartass comments at bay and just nods at first. The smartass comment would be the easy way to go. Shelby’s so vulnerable and emotionally raw, and Fatin’s usual go-to would be something funny to ease the tension. But something stops her; something about the timing feels right, and it’s Shelby, for fuck’s sake. As if Shelby has any room to judge Fatin.

 

“Ditto, bitch,” Fatin says. She watches the confusion flicker in Shelby’s eyes, realizes as soon as the words leave her mouth that Shelby’s totally going to think Fatin’s coming onto Toni. “Different her. Same sort of idea.”

 

Shelby relaxes, and some weird, silent understanding passes between them in the moments before Fatin looks up at the electronic device lodged in a branch. Fatin sheds her bag and gets to her feet, before Shelby can try to drag this moment out any further. Fatin’s really gonna climb a tree, all for a fucking girl. Jesus Christ, she’s already so whipped and Leah doesn’t have the first clue about what Fatin feels. It’s disgusting.

 

Fatin waits for herself to inevitably slip and fall and probably land right on top of Shelby so they can both break some bones together. Solidarity, right? But Fatin doesn’t fall. She takes her time, pauses when she needs to, breathes, and she tells herself she’s doing this to prove Leah right. Shelby’s doing it for Toni, for reasons Fatin doesn’t know but can understand regardless. Fatin’s doing it for Leah.

 

With a final, frustrated shout, Fatin dislodges the fucking device, whatever it is, and manages to hold on. To the device and to the tree. She hears Shelby exhale in relief but doesn’t glance down. Doesn’t want to see how high up she is before she starts descending. Fatin tucks the device safely into her waistband, takes careful steps back down until she’s close enough to hit the ground without hurting herself. And as she lies down on her back in the leaves, as Shelby starts crawling over, Fatin raises both her arms into the air and yells triumphantly until she runs out of air, until her body reminds her of how much energy she exerted.

 

“You fucking did it,” Shelby breathes, grasping onto Fatin’s arm. Fatin pulls the device free from the front of her waistband and hands it over to Shelby. Fatin starts to sit up, but Shelby gently nudges her back down, says, “Take a minute.” Shelby lowers herself to the ground next to Fatin, wincing, and as Fatin catches her breath, Shelby inspects the device, turning it over, squinting at it. “No offense,” Shelby says, “but I kind of can’t believe you, of all people, pulled that off.”

 

Fatin huffs, rolls her eyes. “I did it for her.”

 

Shelby smiles, reaches over to hold onto Fatin’s wrist, and Fatin lets her. At least they’re both having ridiculous, gross feelings together, Fatin supposes. “Do you want to talk about it?” Shelby asks quietly.

 

“No,” Fatin says, firmly. “Just – not now.”

 

Shelby waits until Fatin looks over at her then mimes zipping her lips shut. “Maybe I’ll do a better job at keeping your shit quiet than you did with mine,” Shelby teases.

 

“Oh my God, I said I’m sorry, like, five times,” Fatin replies, and Shelby laughs breathlessly, and Fatin feels some of the weight lift off her chest. “You and Toni were not subtle.”

 

“You’re the reason Martha’s been calling us Shoni,” Shelby says.

 

“Oh, come on. That was funny.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Shelby says.

 

Fatin scoffs. “For what? Is it because you’re holding onto my wrist and it’s making you feel like you’re cheating on your girl?”

 

“No!” Shelby exclaims, and Fatin grins at the slight blush on Shelby’s cheeks as she pointedly lets go of Fatin’s wrist. “I’m sorry for not noticing, you know, what you’ve been going through. I know I’ve been pretty wrapped up in my own…”

 

“Shit?” Fatin supplies.

 

“Shit,” Shelby agrees. “Problems. Relationship. All of it. So I’m sorry, you know, if you needed someone to talk to, and I wasn’t around.”

 

“You’re totally fine,” Fatin replies, waving her hand dismissively. “It took me forever to just, like, admit that shit to myself, so. It’s not like I’ve been dying to talk about it, anyway.”

 

“It makes sense,” Shelby says. “If you don’t mind me saying that.”

 

“Yeah, well, she doesn’t fucking know,” Fatin mutters. She pushes herself upright, takes a moment to sit and breathe while Shelby stares up at the side of her face.

 

“Doesn’t know what?” Shelby asks softly.

 

“How I feel. And I bet it doesn’t even matter, because she’s so – I’m not what she needs, right now.”

 

Shelby sits up, too, albeit with a bit of a struggle as she tries not to jostle her leg around. “Maybe you’re exactly what she needs right now,” Shelby says.

 

“Don’t go putting that shit in my head,” Fatin warns, but she softens her words with a smile and shakes her head. “Besides, that bitch is probably fucking straight,” Fatin adds, then gets to her feet with a grunt, brushes dirt off her ass. She turns back to assist Shelby in getting up, and Shelby grasps onto Fatin’s shoulders, leaning her weight between her good leg and onto Fatin.

 

“We are talking about the same person here, right?” Shelby questions. Fatin hesitates at the idea that Shelby might think she’s talking about someone who isn’t Leah, until Shelby says, “Leah?”

 

“Yeah,” Fatin says. She leans her head back a little, to get her face out of Shelby’s, and as the discomfort of truly confirming that Fatin has feelings for Leah, to Shelby, sets in, Fatin quips, “Don’t put your face so close to mine. I know I just told you I’m into girls, but I’m not trying to kiss you.”

 

Shelby rolls her eyes. “Don’t try to deflect, Fatin. And I know it’s…uncomfortable for you to talk about feelings, but I’m not judging you.” Shelby pauses. “Also, you’re the one with your hands on my waist, so maybe you shouldn’t be accusing me of trying to kiss you –”

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Fatin laughs. “Give me your arm.”

 

Shelby slings her arm around Fatin’s neck, still holding tightly onto the device, and they start moving. “For what it’s worth,” Shelby starts to say, but Fatin cuts her off with a groan.

 

“I thought we were done with talking about my feelings.”

 

“Not yet,” Shelby says. She hisses as her leg bumps against a rock, and she ignores Fatin’s apology. “I just – I wanted to say, don’t count yourself out, okay? I know I’m relatively new to the whole, you know, liking girls thing, but I’ve seen the way Leah looks at you when you’re not looking. So I’m no expert, but I think you could stand a chance.”

 

Fatin rolls her eyes, mutters, “Sure, Shelby. And I think you’re just trying to use your relentless optimism to make me feel better about being a loser with a horribly timed crush on one of the closest friends I’ve got.”

 

Shelby stays quiet as she hobbles along with Fatin’s assistance, stays quiet for so long that Fatin thinks she’s finally put this conversation to rest. “That’s not your fault,” Shelby whispers. Fatin can feel Shelby starting to slip out of her grasp and hurries to redirect Shelby toward a boulder, so she can sit down, but Shelby shakes her head, tightens her arm around Fatin’s neck. Fatin glances over at Shelby, to see her sudden distress written into her face, but Fatin waits. If Shelby wants to talk about it, she will, and if she doesn’t – well, Fatin supposes she isn’t entitled to know everything about Shelby.

 

“Yeah, sure,” Fatin finally says. “It’s not my fault, it’s just – it’s not something I would’ve chosen for myself. Given the circumstances and all.”

 

Shelby hums, and that conversation, thank fuck, does come to an end. They end up stopping anyway, so they can agree that they aren’t going to just drop this bombshell into the laps of the other girls, mostly out of concern for Rachel. And Fatin needs a chance to recover if she’s going to haul Shelby’s ass back to the hot spring.

 

“This stays between us, for now,” Fatin says. “All of it. Deal?”

 

She holds her hand out toward Shelby, and Shelby looks down at it then back up at Fatin. Shelby raises her eyebrows, takes Fatin’s hand, and says, “This is awfully dorky for you, Fatin. A handshake?”

 

“You…are a motherfucker,” Fatin says, and while Shelby busts out laughing, Fatin pulls Shelby back to her feet. Shelby yelps in surprise, rushing to get her arms locked around Fatin’s neck before she can fall and hurt herself again, and Fatin seizes the opportunity to gently hug Shelby back, since it’s sort of what Shelby’s doing to Fatin already, anyway. Fatin pats Shelby on the back a few times then eases out of it, gets Shelby’s arm around her neck again so they can keep moving.

 

“You know, you still surprise me sometimes,” Shelby admits.

 

“Yeah, well, I felt like you needed that way more than I did, so. Don’t get any ideas,” Fatin says.

 

They make it to the hot spring, with Toni, Martha, Rachel, and Dot, and moments after Fatin points out that there’s an absence – Leah, and of course that’s why Fatin notices – she arrives. Fucking drenched, like she’s been swimming in the waterfall or the fucking ocean. But Leah doesn’t want to talk about it, and Fatin obliges. She’s surprised, when Leah not only sits as Fatin suggests, but sits so close.

 

Fatin can’t help but wonder if Shelby’s right. If Leah feels something, too. Leah can call Fatin out for staring at her all she wants, but the way Leah stares right back – maybe Fatin should have a little hope. Because Fatin doesn’t make a joke about the way she looks at Leah. This time, at least. This time, she’s as fucking honest as she can bring herself to be, without blowing up the deal she just made with Shelby. Though it’s so tempting. Of course it is, to just tell Leah you were right, but Fatin has to settle for telling Leah how strong she is, and Leah looks at Fatin like that, with those fucking blue eyes, and –

 

If they were alone, if the rest of the girls weren’t feet away, Fatin would take a chance and try to kiss Leah. That realization, that overwhelming feeling of desperately wanting to lean in, dissipates quickly, because Leah leans forward, and Fatin stops breathing, just until Leah’s head lands against Fatin’s chest. And Fatin smiles to herself, brings her arm around Leah’s back, and –

 

One of those bitches lets a loud fucking fart rip, and Leah pulls back as Fatin’s jaw falls open.

 

“My bad,” Toni says, and it’s, like, their first real moment of levity as a group since Martha became unresponsive, and it’s a relief to hear the others laugh. It’s a relief when Fatin’s eyes land on Leah to see a genuine fucking smile on her face, and Fatin thinks Leah’s eyes might linger on her after she looks away, but Fatin looks away because she hears it. An unmistakable sound, different from the last time but painfully familiar. The group’s laughter dies, and Fatin instinctively looks to Leah, watches the smile slowly fade from her face as they both turn to look, as it sinks in.

 

It’s a helicopter.

 

They get to their feet, and Fatin thinks they’re all too in shock to say anything, and it’s been far too long out here, and too much bad shit has happened for them to scream and jump around. But Leah does reach over and slip her hand into Fatin’s like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Fatin squeezes Leah’s hand, turns her head to see the amazed look on Leah’s face, though Fatin’s sure it’s reflected in her own face, too. It’s almost impossible to believe, actually getting out of this hellhole.

 

They go quietly. No cheering. Even the excitement of seeing another human being that isn’t one of the same people that Fatin has seen every single day for fifty days straight isn’t enough to break through Fatin’s emotional walls. It doesn’t feel real. The only thing keeping Fatin rooted in reality is Leah’s hand in hers, and Fatin doesn’t let go, even as they’re guided into the helicopter, even as they’re getting strapped into their seats. Their hands stay clasped between them.

 

Across from Fatin and Leah, Shelby swipes at her tears, turns to smile at Dot before looping their arms together. Rachel sits on the other side of Leah, lets her head fall back against the seat and closes her eyes. The pilots load Martha in on a stretcher, as Toni sticks by her side. And no one says anything, even as they take off. Fatin and Shelby exchange a look because only they truly know this might not be over yet.

 

Fatin just hopes to fucking God that Leah follows her instincts.

 

*

 

[51]

 

They know. They know that Fatin knows, even before Fatin lets the but yeah, I believed her line slip. Her eyes flick between them – Faber and Young – and she smiles slightly. They’re pretty good at this.

 

Fatin is just arrogant enough to believe she can be better.

 

*

 

[53]

 

It’s a real fucking nightmare. It’s hard not to wonder if the island is better or worse than solitary confinement. After a few days, the island starts to look like the better option. Fucking crazy, coming from Fatin, now that she has access to indoor plumbing again.

 

She only hears it once. Fatin doesn’t take this to mean that it only happens once. She takes it to mean that there’s only one time that a door, somewhere nearby, is left open. It’s the only explanation for why she can hear Leah screaming. Just one time.

 

At least Fatin wasn’t totally fucking useless on the island. At least there was that. There weren’t any locked doors separating her from the other seven – and then six – women that she needed to survive. At least Fatin could’ve done something besides sit and braid her hair, over and over and over, until she gets it just right. At least Fatin could’ve done something besides replaying that screaming in her mind until it’s burned into it.

 

*

 

[57]

 

An envelope slips under the door, bearing Fatin’s name. An invitation. To the grand finale, it claims, but that seems too easy.

 

Fatin has a feeling, as the doors start to unlock, that something is wrong. The invitation says she’s supposed to be retrieved, not by her door – and the rest of them, it sounds like – deciding to set her free. And, well, Fatin’s not about to wait around and let whatever shit is going on discover her first. She gets her ass off the bed, flinging the invitation aside, and she steps out into the hallway. The hallway, lit only by candles, creating a path. And if this wasn’t fucking creepy before –

 

“Fatin!”

 

Fatin turns just in time to be engulfed in Leah’s arms, and Fatin wishes she could linger in this moment, you know, really savor tucking herself against Leah, with Leah’s hand protectively holding onto the back of Fatin’s head, but Fatin knows it can’t go like this. Not now. Because as she admits she doesn’t know what’s going on, as she gets as close to saying you were right out loud as she can, she spots movement out of the corner of her eye, and she resists the urge to grasp onto Leah. To protect her, or to be protected by her, Fatin’s not quite sure, but she is positive that she’s staring at two teenage boys.

 

Leah doesn’t notice until Fatin tips her off, asks who they are. The guy on the right is tall, taller than Leah, possibly six foot three and has the build of an athlete. If they’re hostile – this isn’t a fight Fatin and Leah could win. But the boys seem just as confused, just as cautious, as Fatin feels. They don’t get too close to Fatin and Leah, but they stick close together. Fatin takes hold of Leah’s sleeve, just in case she gets the idea of trying to actually approach these guys, but Leah doesn’t stray.

 

The other guy is shorter, wears glasses, allows for the tall guy to take the lead. Leah only looks at them for a moment before she turns back to Fatin with her answer. Kirin and Henry. Leah acts as if she isn’t confident in her assessment, but the tall guy proves her right seconds later. There’s no time to get acquainted. The music starts, and Leah takes off, and fuck those guys. Fatin follows.

 

She’s aware that Kirin and Henry follow them, too. Let them. This is probably exactly where they’re supposed to be going, the four of them, and fuck knows who else. The room they walk into makes no sense, but Dot and Shelby arrive, Dot with her hair braided and Shelby with, well, a shaved fucking head. It’s a relief to see them both, though their reunion is reserved. Fatin hugs Dot, then Shelby, all while keeping her eyes trained on the group of boys slowly forming at the other end of the room. They don’t seem to have any interest in making their way over, yet. Not while the music plays and the light shines blue and the glass podium remains empty.

 

Martha arrives with her arms around Toni and Rachel’s necks, and the final three boys arrive, too. The music cuts abruptly, spotlights aimed on the podium, and Leah warns them not to trust whatever she says, but no she steps out. A woman talks, though, through the speakers. Tells them to look around at their remarkable partners. Nothing the voice says makes any sense, and Fatin’s eyes seek out Leah, while Leah looks to one of the boys. Shorter than Leah, possibly shorter than Fatin, too. Dark hair. Kind of mousy demeanor.

 

That feeling of completely irrational jealousy is back, but Fatin swallows it down, because no one steps out onto the stage. The podium remains empty, and Leah asks where the hell she is, and while Leah clearly knows of someone specific, Fatin just wants to know what the fuck is going on.

 

“We have to find her,” Leah insists. “Now. Right fucking now.”

 

And she heads out the way they came in, and Fatin’s not about to stay here, looks to Dot and says, “Where she goes, we go.”

 

The girls follow without question, and Fatin can hear the boys argue over whether they should go, but she doesn’t give a fuck. She needs to catch up to Leah, needs to ask her what she thinks is happening, needs to tell her she’s right, tell her to trust herself, because she’s known all along what Fatin only figured out in their last week on the island.

 

And, well, as Fatin stares up at the sky, as they overlook another island, she can’t blame Leah for screaming.

 

*

 

[57]

 

It takes time. It takes time to start figuring out who everyone is, mostly because after they see their surroundings, they bolt back into the facility and start searching for evidence. Or Leah does, starts trying to piece it together, and Fatin can only desperately follow and try to keep Leah relatively calm. And it fucking hurts to see Leah like this, so dealing with the boys becomes a distant thought, a problem to be handled later.

 

Fatin feels guilty, knows she’s pushing that responsibility onto someone else – most likely Dot, who steps up over and over and over again without being asked, who they let step up and shoulder all the burden. And as Leah’s driving herself crazy, digging through overturned desks and so many fucking files, Fatin eventually grabs a fistful of Leah’s hoodie and tries to force her to stop.

 

“Leah. Leah, please,” Fatin says, but Leah keeps ripping out files from the drawer, and Fatin shoves her body between Leah and the desk, takes Leah’s face in her hands, and Leah’s eyes finally lock onto Fatin. Leah inhales raggedly, and she’s got that look in her eye. The dangerous one. The one that could mean she’s willing to run into the ocean or swallow a bottle’s worth of benzos. Fatin falters when she realizes they’re so close, and they’re alone in this office, and – that isn’t where Fatin’s mind should be. She shouldn’t be thinking about the way Leah leans into her touch, or how Leah practically has Fatin pinned back against this desk. Not at all.

 

“Fatin,” Leah breathes.

 

“Tell me what’s going on,” Fatin says.

 

“You won’t –”

 

“I believe you.”

 

Leah stares at Fatin, and Fatin refuses to waver under Leah’s gaze. Fatin lets her hands fall from Leah’s face to Leah’s shoulders, considers this to be safer territory, frankly. Leah exhales, shakes her head, looks away as her eyes well with tears.

 

“Leah, who are they?” Fatin prompts. “Why are we in here with seven boys? And who were you expecting to speak to us?”

 

And then it comes tumbling out. Two experiments. Two islands. Two faked plane crashes. Two groups of teenagers. All run by Gretchen Klein, a girlboss in a white suit – at least, that’s how Leah makes her sound. Fatin just listens, lets the information wash over her, but the more Leah talks, the weaker Fatin’s legs feel, and suddenly, she’s not holding onto Leah’s shoulders for Leah’s benefit. It’s to keep herself upright, and Leah seems to catch onto that, takes hold of Fatin’s arms.

 

“Let’s sit down,” Leah suggests.

 

Fatin scoffs. “When did you become the levelheaded one?”

 

A smile flickers on Leah’s face, and she shrugs before she leads Fatin to an armchair. “It’s a lot to take in. I know,” Leah says. Fatin’s ass hits the chair, and her arms slip from Leah’s hands. Fatin exhales, presses her fingertips against her temples. Leah stays next to the chair, her fist resting on the armrest.

 

“What are we gonna do?” Fatin asks.

 

She looks up at Leah, and Leah shakes her head. “I don’t know.”

 

*

 

[57]

 

Kirin’s the tall one. Henry’s the short one with the glasses. Raf is the one spending too much time staring at Leah. The rest of the boys hardly matter, in Fatin’s mind. She remembers the names but not the face they belong to. Not yet. She doesn’t think anyone in here has accepted that they’re going to be stuck together going forward. There’s no feeling that they need to get to know each other. Not yet. There’s not even a feeling that they need to continue to occupy the same space, as a group of the boys – led by Kirin, followed by the guy in the white sweatshirt and the big guy and his shorter friend – takes off to explore, without any input from the girls.

 

Raf hangs back, with Henry and with the tall, obviously gay one. Fatin doesn’t have to ask around for his name, because Toni asks for it outright, again, and the guy rolls his eyes and says Ivan. So they’re stuck with the kid who has obvious – and embarrassing – heart eyes for Leah, the emo one who deferred to Douchebag McGee when they first encountered Fatin and Leah, and the gay one that keeps rolling his eyes. Cool. Yeah. Exactly who Fatin wants to be stuck with here.

 

“Can you tell us what’s going on?” Dot asks, looking straight at Leah, and as Leah starts to give them the same explanation she gave Fatin, Fatin looks to Shelby.

 

It’s so fucking weird, seeing Shelby with a shaved head, but the way Shelby looks at Fatin is even weirder. Like maybe Shelby’s observing her. Like maybe Shelby knows exactly why Fatin’s eyes keep returning to Raf, and it’s not because he’s anything close to Fatin’s usual type. Fatin makes a mental note that she needs to speak with Shelby later, if they can ever find a fucking moment alone.

 

*

 

[57]

 

She doesn’t get Shelby alone, but she finally gets Dot alone as night falls over them, and Fatin ensures that they have a proper reunion, if Fatin may say so herself.

 

“Get the fuck over here,” Fatin says, and she holds her arms out. Dot doesn’t even pretend like she doesn’t want to be crushed in Fatin’s arms. Fatin allows a few moments of silence between them first, as Dot’s face presses into Fatin’s chest, then Fatin pats Dot’s back, says, “I’m loving the hair, by the way. As you can see, we had similar ideas.” Fatin lifts her own braid as Dot pulls back and rolls her eyes, and Fatin pretends like she doesn’t see the dampness on Dot’s face. Fatin grins, waggles her eyebrows at Dot. “I knew you missed me, bitch,” Fatin says, and Dot busts out laughing.

 

“Yeah, Fatin, I did,” Dot confirms. Dot smirks. “Not as much as you missed Leah, though.”

 

“Oh, shut up,” Fatin scoffs. Then hesitates. “What gave it away? Did I do something?”

 

Dot startles, laughs in surprise, and sends Fatin a funny look. “Dude, I was kidding.” Dot pauses, inhaling sharply, then motions toward the bed – Fatin’s bed, or what’s been Fatin’s bed for the last week. “We should sit,” Dot suggests.

 

Fatin doesn’t want to sit, but she humors Dot, since Fatin already shot herself in the foot. Might as well come clean. Fatin sits on the edge of the bed, folding her hands together in her lap, and she stares off at the bathroom while Dot sits beside her, sighing.

 

“Dorothy, I –”

 

Dot’s hand lands on Fatin’s knee, and Fatin falls silent. “I should go first,” Dot says. “Look, I didn’t say anything, because I figured if you wanted to talk about it that you’d come to me, but I could tell – I could tell that something was up, with you and Leah. Or with you about Leah.”

 

“So you know,” Fatin says quietly. “You’ve known.”

 

“I’ve had an idea,” Dot says. “But I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to – I’m sorry, if I should’ve –”

 

“No,” Fatin cuts in. “God, no, don’t apologize. I didn’t even – it took me so long to – Jesus, what am I trying to say?” Fatin exhales, thinks for a moment, and Dot doesn’t rush her. Just holds onto Fatin’s knee reassuringly. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” Fatin confesses. “You’ve done literally nothing wrong. I’m just…stupid, and my feelings for Leah are stupid, and by the time I figured it out for myself, it was too late to – I’m just so lucky I have you, okay?”

 

“That was a lot of emotion coming from you, Fatin,” Dot says softly, and Fatin rolls her eyes, doesn’t realize she’s crying until it’s already happening, and Dot groans. “Not you, too. I swear, I thought we had a silent agreement not to have, like, a legit serious moment.”

 

“That was before Leah was proven right about the island, and before I fell for that bitch.”

 

Dot’s eyebrows raise, but she doesn’t make a comment, just lifts her hand from Fatin’s knee and puts her arm around Fatin’s shoulders instead, as Fatin’s body starts to shake, as she fails to contain an utterly embarrassing wave of emotion. Dot lets Fatin fall into her, just holds on until Fatin gets it together a couple minutes later.

 

“Guess I was wrong,” Dot says gruffly as Fatin sits back upright and wipes at her eyes with her sleeve. “I mean, I really didn’t think I would ever hold you for real, but I guess this counts.”

 

“Ugh, it’s so gross,” Fatin whispers.

 

“Yeah, you’re telling me. Not as gross as admitting that we’re best friends,” Dot teases. She reaches over and swipes her fingers through the last tear that trails down Fatin’s cheek, and Fatin rolls her eyes.

 

“Shut up.”

 

Dot grins, and Fatin fights off a smile as Dot says, “I’m just as lucky to have you, so. I think that fills our serious quota for the year, okay?”

 

“Sorry for having, like, actual feelings in front of you,” Fatin jokes. “And for crying on your shirt. I know how much you like this one.”

 

Dot laughs and grasps onto Fatin’s shoulder. “It’s gonna be okay, man. In case you need to hear it,” Dot says. “You’re gonna figure it out.”

 

“Holy shit, I’ve never had a problem making a move before,” Fatin moans. “I don’t know why I can’t just – do something about it.”

 

“Well, I have an idea,” Dot says.

 

“Which is?”

 

“You actually care about her?” Dot muses. “You’re not just thinking about what you want. You’re worried about Leah.”

 

“I hate when you’re right,” Fatin grumbles. “I’d, uh, ask you to stay the night, but I think I need to go find Leah.”

 

“Of course. But…be careful.”

 

Fatin’s eyebrows raise. “Why?”

 

Dot hesitates. “I don’t know if we can trust these boys. I know Leah seems to sorta trust one of them, and she knows some of what happened out on their island…but better safe than sorry, if you ask me.”

 

Fatin nods. “Then you be careful, too.”

 

“I know the we’re all in this together spirit is strong right now, and maybe that’s good? But there’s so much we don’t know, about them and about this Gretchen fucker. I think we need to stay alert.”

 

“You’re right, as always,” Fatin says. “C’mon, I’ll walk you to your room before I find Leah.”

Chapter Text

[58]

 

It’s after midnight before Fatin finds her, sitting on the stage by herself. No music blaring. The lights have been dimmed. The balloons are starting to descend from the ceiling. It’s eerie, the atmosphere, but also the way Leah sits with her knees pulled to her chest, with her back leaning against the podium as Leah stares blankly ahead of her. She doesn’t react as Fatin enters the room, doesn’t move until Fatin’s already taking a seat beside her.

 

“It’s a lot,” Fatin says. She hesitates, doesn’t think she should try to touch Leah yet. “It’s okay if you’re – if it takes time to adjust.”

 

“That’s not it,” Leah whispers.

 

“Then what is?”

 

Leah rolls her eyes, huffs. “I was stupid enough to think I’d won.”

 

“You’re not even close to being stupid,” Fatin replies. “You had it figured out while the rest of us were living in a delusional island fantasy.” Fatin pauses, inhales shakily. “I figured it out. That you were right. Just during, like, the last week. When I asked you about the first night. I proved it, but I couldn’t tell you because of Rachel – and Nora. But I’m sorry. For not believing you sooner. And for not being there for you.”

 

Leah’s eyebrows pull together. “But you were. You were there. You did everything you could.”

 

“I could’ve been better.”

 

“I wasn’t your responsibility,” Leah says softly. “And it doesn’t really matter. This is all Gretchen’s fault, anyway.”

 

Fatin stares out at the room, at what was obviously supposed to be some kind of fucked up celebration, then asks, “The boys – do you trust them?”

 

Leah stays silent long enough to be concerning before she lets go of her legs, stretches them out ahead of her and says, “No.”

 

First Dot, now Leah – that settles it. Fatin’s mind is made up.

 

Fatin gets to her feet and holds her hands out. Leah stares at Fatin’s hands warily, but she takes them without question, allows Fatin to pull her up.

 

“We should sleep,” Fatin says, mustering up a smile. “Or at least lie down.”

 

“Fatin.”

 

“Hmm?” Fatin stops walking, turns back. It seems like Leah didn’t expect Fatin to come to a complete stop, and Leah’s forced to stop abruptly, too close. Like within Fatin’s personal space. Like almost as close as they’d been in that office, just not actually touching this time. Fatin breathes shallowly, because now it’s hard. It’s hard to be this close now that she’s fully aware, now that she’s sat with acknowledged feelings for Leah, for a week, in what has essentially been solitary confinement. It’s even harder, because Fatin doesn’t honestly believe that Leah feels the same way. She doesn’t have enough evidence, regardless of what Shelby thinks.

 

It takes Leah a second, but she murmurs, “I missed you.”

 

Fatin manages not to react in any way that would sell her out, just smiles, admits, “I missed you, too.”

 

The stupid part of Fatin’s brain hopes Leah will try to hold her hand or hug her or something. But Fatin doesn’t make the move, and Leah just nods and leads the way back to their rooms. And Fatin doesn’t want to have to be the one to ask Leah to stay. Fuck, she wants Leah to want to stay, and not because Fatin makes herself look pathetic by asking. She wants Leah to pause outside of Fatin’s room and bite down on her lip and ask Fatin if she’ll spend the night.

 

Leah says, “Fatin,” and Fatin stops reaching for her door.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I know this is, like, super pathetic,” Leah says. She bites down on her lip, and Fatin’s hopes soar way too fucking high, “but do you think you could stay with me?”

 

Fatin’s celebration will have to be entirely mental. She’s quick to say, “Yeah, of course,” but hesitates. She should take a chance, right? Go out on a limb. Drop some hints, at the very least, in case there’s an extremely small chance that Leah might like her back? “I’m glad you asked,” Fatin manages to say, “because I wanted to, but I never would’ve.”

 

A smile flickers on Leah’s face. “Since when are you shy about going after what you want?”

 

Since now. Since Fatin’s feelings are fucking real, and they’re fucking strong, and Leah is obviously fucking oblivious. Fatin rolls her eyes instead of justifying Leah’s question with an answer. Leah’s just fucking with her, anyway.

 

“Do you want me to stay with you or not?” Fatin says flatly.

 

“Not if you’re gonna make it weird.”

 

It’s gonna be weird no matter what, but Fatin makes a show of heaving a sigh and saying, “Fine, I guess I won’t make it weird. On purpose.”

 

It’s weird, like, immediately. Or it’s weird for Fatin. Leah seems totally normal, doesn’t think twice about shedding her hoodie, or swapping her sweats for shorts before throwing herself down onto the bed and scooting over. She pats the space beside her, and Fatin locks the door and kills the lights first, then steels herself before settling on her back in the space left for her. Weirdly. It feels weird. Fatin’s probably projecting weirdness, and Leah’s probably about to call her ass out and figure out Fatin’s stupid feelings for her.

 

“What’re you thinking about?” Leah asks quietly.

 

Well, Fatin can’t tell her she’s thinking about how hard it is to lie here with their arms pressed together while Fatin’s aware of the ridiculous crush she has on Leah, so Fatin says, “How fucking dark it is in here.”

 

“Okay, so what are you really thinking about?”

 

Fatin scoffs. “Bold of you to assume that’s not what I’m thinking about, Leah.”

 

“A lot happened.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” Fatin says. “And I’m kind of tired of thinking about everything that happened, so sue me for thinking about something easy.”

 

“No, something’s wrong.”

 

Fuck. “Everything’s wrong,” Fatin corrects, and she swallows down her nerves. Leah doesn’t know. If she knew, Fatin would know. “I don’t think you need me to list examples.”

 

She hears Leah exhale. “No. I don’t,” Leah agrees. Leah shifts, and the next thing Fatin feels is Leah’s palm covering the back of her hand, and after a moment of tense silence, Fatin flips her hand over, and Leah links their fingers together. “I don’t know what to do,” Leah confesses.

 

“I don’t think any of us do.”

 

“He expects me to know.”

 

Fatin’s eyebrows pull together, and she turns her head before she thinks that through, forgetting how close they are, though it’s out of necessity due to the fucking twin sized mattress. But now Fatin has put her face, like, right there, and when Leah turns her head, too, they’re practically sharing the same air. Fatin simultaneously wants to be closer and wants to bolt, and she does neither. She has to remind herself to keep breathing, though, even as Leah’s eyes search her face, as Fatin’s eyes finally fucking adjust to the darkness.

 

“What’re you talking about?” Fatin whispers.

 

“Raf. He looks at me like he expects me to know what to do. I think I might’ve led him to believe that, you know, I know more than I do.”

 

“Fuck him,” Fatin says. “You sure as hell don’t owe that kid anything.”

 

“I wasn’t expecting so much hostility from you,” Leah says, almost teasing, and she squeezes Fatin’s hand. “I would’ve thought being stuck with a bunch of boys would be your dream.”

 

“Not teenage boys,” Fatin replies. “You said yourself, you don’t trust them, and neither does Dot.”

 

“You don’t have to trust them to think they’re hot,” Leah counters.

 

Fatin exhales, rolls her eyes, then turns her head back so she can stare safely up at the ceiling. “Yeah, well, they’re not.”

 

“Lies.”

 

“I’m not lying,” Fatin gasps. She smiles when Leah giggles then adds, “You should hear how I refer to them in my head.”

 

“Do I even want to know?”

 

“No.”

 

Mostly because Fatin realizes she can’t tell Leah how she refers to Raf in her head without selling herself out, so. Fatin will have to hold back.

 

“They haven’t done anything wrong yet,” Leah points out.

 

“I just want to get out of here, and I never want to think about any of this again,” Fatin says before she bothers to assess the truth behind that statement.

 

“I’m gonna get us home,” Leah promises.

 

Fatin immediately says, “No. We are going to get us home. This isn’t just you. I don’t care what that Gretchen bitch or Raf thinks. This isn’t just you.” Fatin must say the right thing, because Leah rolls toward her, leans her forehead against Fatin’s shoulder. “Make yourself comfortable,” Fatin quips, and it’s the first time since she reunited with Leah that she says something that makes her feel like her usual self.

 

Leah chuckles. “You said you wouldn’t make it weird.”

 

“I’m not making anything weird.”

 

“You don’t have some sex joke ready to fire off?”

 

“Nope,” Fatin says. “Not a single one.”

 

“Now I know you’re lying for sure.”

 

They laugh together, wearily, and Fatin concedes, “Fine, not one I’m going to actually say. Wouldn’t want to make things too gay for you.”

 

“Are you forgetting how long we lived with Toni and Shelby?”

 

“Yeah, well, they wouldn’t be able to handle me,” Fatin replies. Fatin feels Leah’s laughter, jostling the bed, and smiles to herself before she releases Leah’s hand. Fatin carefully lifts her arm, sighs as if it pains her, and says, “Get in here, I guess.”

 

“Right after saying Toni and Shelby couldn’t handle you? Should I be worried?” Leah jokes.

 

“Shut up before I sleep on the floor.”

 

She won’t, obviously, but it gets Leah to groan and slide closer, and as long as Leah doesn’t put her head on Fatin’s chest, Fatin will be fine. Leah doesn’t, thank fucking God. Leah keeps her head near Fatin’s shoulder but haphazardly flings her arm across Fatin’s stomach. Fatin has to force herself to keep breathing normally as Leah settles in, and Fatin drops her arm against Leah’s back.

 

“I feel like there’s, um, a lot we haven’t talked about,” Leah mumbles into Fatin’s shirt.

 

Fatin makes a noncommittal sound in the back of her throat, says, “We can worry about that in the morning.”

 

Or hopefully Leah will forget in the morning.

 

*

 

[58]

 

They wake up way more entangled together than when they fell asleep, and it takes Fatin a moment to figure out where she is and why there’s a body on her. She’s in Leah’s room, because the sheets smell like Leah – or maybe it’s just Leah, because Fatin has to check to prove to herself that it is, in fact, Leah in her arms. It feels like a dream, but a bittersweet one. Because she doesn’t have Leah, and she’s too afraid – for herself, for Leah – to find out if she even could have Leah.

 

Fatin refuses to be the one to end the moment, so she lies awake until Leah stirs, until Leah pulls back and leaves Fatin feeling empty. Even though she literally just moves to the other side of the bed, groaning and stretching. Fatin tries not to think about how that was the best sleep she’s gotten since literally before the island.

 

“You okay?” Leah says.

 

“Yeah. Great,” Fatin answers. “I just, um – I’m gonna go shower, and we should probably regroup with the girls. Figure out a plan?”

 

Leah nods, rubbing at her face as she yawns. “Good idea.”

 

Yeah, it’s a good fucking idea. So good. The best. If Fatin had good ideas, she’d know a way to stall to keep herself here longer than necessary, but she’s already getting up. At least Leah doesn’t act fucking weird. Nope. Fatin’s got that completely covered all by herself.

 

“Fatin,” Leah says, right as Fatin’s trying to step out of the room. “Thanks for staying.”

 

Fatin pauses, presses her lips together into a thin smile, and nods. Fatin points at her shirt, says, “Thanks for drooling on me,” and leaves before Leah can complain.

 

*

 

[58]

 

She lies awake that night, after they spent a whole day planning out their next moves, staring at her own ceiling, wishing Leah would cross the hall and retrieve her. Or at least join her. Fatin doesn’t let herself think about the possibility that Leah went to visit someone else instead – Rachel, or fucking Raf, or one of the other boys. Raf’s the only one Fatin has really seen Leah speak with, and though Leah seems totally normal with him, Raf gets all googly-eyed. It’s gross.

 

The feelings that Fatin can’t bring herself to admit to Leah are grosser, but at least Fatin actually knows Leah. They spent fifty fucking days on an island together. Raf has spent a couple hours with Leah and clearly just thinks she’s hot and hopes she’s desperate enough to chase him. Fatin calls herself out on her own jealousy, mentally, but it’s a hard feeling to shake. It was so much simpler when Fatin was ninety eight percent sure she was the only person within a few hundred mile radius who was into Leah. Now she has potential competition? Fatin can barely tell herself what she feels; how is she supposed to tell Leah and beat some stupid boy to it, too?

 

He’s probably a nice kid. Fatin’s just being irrational, and it’s driving her fucking crazy. She doesn’t do this. She doesn’t care this much about anyone. She chases them, and if she gets rejected, she moves on. Why does this have to be so fucking difficult?

 

Fatin answers her own question. It’s because, this time, Fatin has a lot to lose if shit goes wrong.

 

*

 

[59]

 

Leah doesn’t show up overnight, and Fatin barely sleeps before someone’s pounding on her door and telling her to get her ass moving. Toni. That fucker. Sent by Dot, undoubtedly, so it’s not really Toni’s fault, but she doesn’t go away until Fatin proves that she’s up.

 

“You look rough,” Toni comments.

 

“You look…mean,” Fatin says lamely.

 

Toni scoffs. “Trouble in paradise?”

 

Fatin’s eyes narrow. “Maybe worry about your shit, and I’ll worry about mine?”

 

Toni shrugs, nods down the hall. “Dot wants to get going.”

 

“I assumed.” Fatin pauses while she follows Toni down the hall, to wherever Dot has decided to congregate. “The boys?”

 

“So fucking unorganized,” Toni laughs. “Like, shit, I thought we were bad. Dot has a whole list of shit for us to accomplish, and the boys are basically running around with their heads cut off. I don’t think they even have someone to pretend to lead them.”

 

“Great,” Fatin mutters. “Just what we needed.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Seven fucking people to babysit.”

 

“I mean, some of them seem chill,” Toni says. “I think mostly they’re just…lost. And they don’t trust us.”

 

“Well, we don’t trust them, either,” Fatin replies. “Why would we? Gretchen was obviously pitting us against each other.”

 

“Bitch is crazy,” Toni comments. “Like, I thought Leah was the worst it could get, but I was so wrong.”

 

Fatin grits her teeth but decides against defending Leah’s honor or whatever. Not really her place. And it’ll totally raise unwanted questions from Toni. Luckily, the other girls come into view, and Fatin’s the last one to show up. No wonder Dot sent Toni to get her. They’re all here, ready to go.

 

“You look like you just woke up,” Dot says.

 

“I did,” Fatin confirms. “Good morning to you, too.”

 

“It’s afternoon,” Dot informs. “And we have a lot to do.”

 

*

 

[59]

 

Fatin has no fucking idea how she ends up in the group outside of the facility, but the only reason she doesn’t bitch about it is because Leah’s with her. And Dot. They’re just trying to find a backup source of water, if shit hits the fan. More like if the facility completely shuts down, somehow. Leave it to Dot to be crazy prepared for worst case scenarios. She even has backpacks of supplies prepped for their trip today, including materials to mark a trail.

 

The boys send three people to go with them. Kirin, Raf, and Josh. It’s not long before Dot suggests they split up to cover more ground, and the six of them all look at each other awkwardly. Fatin tries not to read too far into Leah grabbing onto Fatin’s sleeve, but Fatin instinctively looks to Leah, and Dot sighs heavily, waves her arm around.

 

“Leah, Fatin, you go one way,” Dot says. “Kirin, Josh, go another. I’ll take Raf, and we’ll regroup back here in three hours, max. Sound okay?”

 

No one complains. Dot doesn’t seem overly concerned about heading off into the wilderness with Raf, so Fatin doesn’t say anything. Just shoots her a look, but Dot rolls her eyes. Clearly Dot doesn’t see Raf as a genuine threat.

 

“Let’s go, J,” Kirin says, clapping Josh on the back, and Fatin’s kind of surprised at Douchebag McGee’s willingness to take orders from Dot without question. She watches Kirin mess around with Josh as they’re heading off, and Fatin wonders for the first time if she’s reading these boys incorrectly. Raf definitely has a thing for Leah, but maybe Fatin needs to rethink her nickname for Kirin. Maybe Douche Bro would work better.

 

“Thank God,” Leah breathes once everyone else is out of sight.

 

“What?” Fatin prompts.

 

“I thought I was gonna get stuck with one of the boys.”

 

Fatin laughs, and Leah smiles shyly, like she’s afraid to admit she doesn’t want to be trapped searching for water with a total stranger. “Leave it to Dot to take one for the team,” Fatin says. “Besides, we all know I have a strange ability to locate fresh water sources. We’ve got this one in the bag.”

 

Leah rolls her eyes. “You got lucky.”

 

“I am lucky. There’s a difference.”

 

The way Leah grins at her makes Fatin feel lightheaded, but Leah motions for Fatin to lead the way, so Fatin leads the charge into the wilderness. She tries to focus on their surroundings rather than on how Leah walks closely behind her. Their new environment is awfully similar to their last one, but only vaguely. The details are all wrong. Fatin would be worried about getting lost, if they couldn’t easily see the roof of the facility at a distance.

 

“How many islands do you think they have?” Leah asks, scaring the fuck out of Fatin. She smiles apologetically when Fatin looks back.

 

“At least two,” Fatin says. “Three, if this isn’t the island the boys were on.”

 

“Where’d Gretchen get all the money to fund this?” Leah questions.

 

“Leah, I don’t even want to think about it,” Fatin mutters. She tries not to make the connection back to her parents. She tries not to wonder too much if they had a hand in all of this. If they knew what they were doing. And she’s not about to talk through it with Leah.

 

“Sorry.”

 

“No, it’s – the whole thing just gives me the fucking creeps,” Fatin says. Her eyes wander around the trees, and there’s a nagging feeling in the back of her mind, like maybe they’re still being watched. This is almost certainly another test, but no one seems to agree on what Gretchen is trying to prove. Why wouldn’t she have a whole surveillance network out here, too?

 

Fatin ties her hair up, just to have something to do, and because she can already feel sweat beading on her neck. Leah follows after Fatin without question, makes whatever turn Fatin decides to take, and she doesn’t bring up anything related to Gretchen or experiments or their parents. They talk about relatively safer topics. Martha’s recovery. Shelby’s haircut. Their impressions of the boys so far. Then Leah goes off about how one of the plants they encounter reminds her of a plant her mother keeps in their kitchen, and Fatin laughs too hard to keep walking, and they’re forced to take a seat in the dirt near the supposedly familiar plant.

 

“You still confident you’ll be the one to find water first?” Leah asks. She tears open one of the protein bars from the backpack that Dot packed for them then hands Fatin their water bottle.

 

Fatin takes a careful sip then shrugs. “Not confident. Positive. Once we get off our asses because you noticed a fucking plant.”

 

“It's very distinct, okay?”

 

Fatin could use the break anyway. Gives them a chance to eat and rehydrate and sit with Leah’s plant. And by the third joke Fatin makes about the plant, Leah’s rolling her eyes and telling her to shut up about the stupid plant, and she offers Fatin the last of the chips in the bag. Fatin takes them, of course. It’s the only actually good food Dot gave them, and if Fatin’s gonna find water first, she’s gonna need the energy. And she’s trying not to dwell on the feeling she’s left with when Leah hands her the bag, after Fatin spent the last twenty minutes teasing Leah about a plant and laughing with her. Because this is what Fatin stands to lose if she fucks up, if she makes a wrong move. She’ll lose everything.

 

Leah gets up first and holds her arms out, and Fatin takes her hands without thinking, without realizing how close it’ll bring them once Fatin’s upright. Leah doesn’t seem to think anything of the way she pulls Fatin into her personal space, doesn’t seem anything except relaxed. It’s surprising, actually, given how things have developed the last couple days. Fatin doesn’t want to jump to conclusions and believe Leah’s doing okay because she has Fatin around, but, well, the connection seems to be there.

 

“Are you okay?” Fatin asks, abruptly, while their hands are still clasped between them. She fights to keep her eyes locked with Leah’s, refuses to risk Leah catching Fatin looking at her lips.

 

“You tell me,” Leah replies, and Fatin pauses, takes a moment to really study Leah’s eyes.

 

“Okay, then…how?” Fatin questions. “I mean, it’s not like I’m not happy that you’re good, but I don’t get it.”

 

Leah shrugs, smiles sheepishly. “I don’t know,” she admits. “Maybe just knowing I was right has helped?”

 

Right. Yeah. Of course. Nothing to do with Fatin.

 

“I think if anyone should rub it in all of our faces, it’s you,” Fatin says.

 

“You figured it out,” Leah says. “Without me. You figured it out, too.”

 

Fatin rolls her eyes. “Yeah, whatever. It didn’t really do anything.” Fatin finally lets go of Leah’s hands, clears her throat, is about to suggest that they get moving again – they’re burning daylight, after all. But Leah’s eyes haven’t left Fatin’s face, and Leah doesn’t try to put some much needed distance between them, and Fatin hears herself faintly ask, “Why are you looking at me like that?”

 

Leah smirks. “Isn’t that my line?”

 

Fatin falters. She should take a step back. Jesus, where has Fatin’s confidence gone? Fatin swears Leah looks amused, and Fatin feels like she’s being taunted.

 

“Come on,” Fatin finally says. “We need to find water before the Douche Bros do.”

 

*

 

[59]

 

It’s a waterfall. Fatin drops the backpack to the ground and throws her arms into the air, grinning as Leah mutters, “I’ll be damned.”

 

Hell yeah, baby,” Fatin shouts, sort of at the sky and sort of at Leah. Fatin crouches beside the lake, cups her hands to splash some of the cool water on her sweaty face. “I knew we’d get it first,” Fatin boasts.

 

“We have to mark a trail back,” Leah reminds.

                     

“Later,” Fatin dismisses. “Let’s just celebrate this shit for a minute.”

 

“Celebrate how?” Leah questions, but Fatin’s already flinging her shirt toward the backpack. She kicks off her shoes, strips out of her pants. The high of finding water – and finding it first, again – overrides any stupid insecurities that Fatin holds that pertain to Leah. And once Fatin’s standing in front of Leah in her underwear, she jumps into the water. Fucking ice cold, but totally worth it after sweating her ass off for the last two hours. Leah laughs when Fatin surfaces, gasping, and she flips her hair out of her eyes.

 

“This was a stupid idea,” Fatin says. She has Leah’s attention. Leah smiles before her teeth sink into her lower lip, like she’s thinking about something, but before Fatin can ask what her deal is, Leah pulls her shirt over her head. Fatin only has seconds to process what’s about to happen before it’s happening, and Leah launches herself into the water, landing not far from Fatin and splashing her in the process. “Bitch,” Fatin whines once Leah surfaces, and Leah laughs.

 

“What? You said we should celebrate,” Leah says. She raises her arms out of the water. “I’m celebrating with you.”

 

It’s like Leah knows. It’s like Leah knows she’s causing Fatin’s brain to short circuit, and that’s why she stays so close. Maybe Leah does know. Maybe she knows, and she feels the same way, and that’s why she makes it so there’s less than a foot between them, and that’s why she smiles so widely, and that’s why –

 

Leah splashes Fatin, no warning, giving Fatin no time to react before cold water whips her in the face. Fatin’s jaw falls open, and she gasps dramatically as Leah dissolves into giggles.

 

“How dare you,” Fatin exclaims. She immediately splashes Leah back, laughing when Leah yelps in surprise. Fatin splashes her a second time, for good measure – and to prevent Leah from being able to splash her again. Leah laughs until she can’t breathe, and Fatin’s grin hurts the muscles in her face, until Leah grabs ahold of Fatin’s arms and stops her. Leah just happens to pull herself in, to put her face way too close to Fatin’s, and Fatin’s breath hitches in her throat.

 

Fatin’s eyes flick down to Leah’s lips, and Leah totally notices, but Fatin thinks she’s reading this right. For once. Leah’s been, like, way too fucking mysterious, but Fatin’s got this. Almost feels like who she was before she landed on an island with seven other girls, regains that sense of self-confidence she was known for, just long enough to part her lips and lean forward. She just goes for it. She would’ve gone for it, like, a month ago, if she’d been presented with a good opportunity, if she would’ve felt like it was wanted. And she thinks it is, now. The moment’s right.

 

Leah’s hand presses against the center of Fatin’s chest, her skin warm against Fatin’s in spite of the cold water. “Fatin,” Leah breathes, and Fatin’s close enough to feel it against her face, “what are you doing?”

 

Making a giant fucking mistake, apparently. Fatin doesn’t have an answer, just lets her jaw hang open as she fails to process being completely fucking wrong about the signals she thought Leah was sending. Fatin’s afraid to open her eyes, afraid to see however Leah’s looking at her. Fatin reaches between them and removes Leah’s hand from her chest. Right as Fatin commits to saying something – what, she’s still not sure – she hears the unmistakable sound of someone walking through the woods, and her eyes pop open. Leah’s still too close, but Fatin has an excuse to shift back, to turn to look behind her as Dot and Raf step into view.

 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Dot groans. “You would be the one to find water first, Fatin.”

 

Fatin swallows hard, forces a smile. “What can I say? I’m just that great,” Fatin says. She feels anything but great. She’s been spared from discussing this moment with Leah for the time being, but now Fatin has something to dread. “Hey, pretty boy!” Fatin shouts, waiting until Raf’s eyes lock onto her. “Turn around. I’m not gonna have you drooling over me.”

 

Raf stutters wordlessly but obliges and turns his back while Fatin hauls her ass out of the water. Dot rolls her eyes, and Leah is quick to follow Fatin.

 

“You’re acting like you were in there naked,” Dot quips.

 

“I’d just rather not be stared at,” Fatin replies, and Dot scoffs. Yeah. Fatin knows it’s hard to believe. Fatin fights her way back into her clothes and hands her backpack to Dot. “Help me mark a trail?”

 

And that’s that.

Chapter Text

[60]

 

Fatin lies awake past midnight, and she wonders if this is what it’s like to be Leah. Just staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, thinking way too fucking much. She never got another moment alone with Leah since they discovered the waterfall, so they haven’t talked about what almost happened between them. Fatin wouldn’t know how to explain herself anyway, hence why she’s lying awake.

 

Fatin gets up when she’s had enough. Figures if she takes a walk, she might be able to shake enough of this feeling off so she can scrape together a few hours of sleep. She doesn’t know where she’s going, but she lets her legs aimlessly carry her through the facility. She walks past an office with a lamp on, glances in to see Ivan sitting at a desk, writing furiously in a notebook. He looks up, and their eyes lock, but they both pretend like they aren’t staring straight at each other, and Fatin keeps walking.

 

She’s surprised to find someone in the small cafeteria, even more surprised to see that it’s Shelby. It’s still weird, seeing Shelby without hair, but Shelby smiles at Fatin, and Fatin invites herself to sit across the table. She expects Shelby to say something, but Shelby’s eyes just follow her until she’s seated.

 

“What’re you doing up so late?” Fatin asks.

 

“I could ask you the same thing.”

 

Fatin rolls her eyes, huffs, waves her hand around because she doesn’t know what to say yet. She settles on, “So I did something stupid today.”

 

“Oh?” Shelby says, eyebrows raising.

 

“Yeah, and you were fucking wrong. Leah doesn’t – she’s not –” Fatin heaves a frustrated sigh, shakes her head. She stares off at the wall as she admits, “I tried to kiss her, and she didn’t –”

 

Shelby reaches across the table, grabs onto Fatin’s wrist, and Fatin stops stuttering. “Give her time,” Shelby advises.

 

Fatin stares down at Shelby’s hand, says, “No offense, but I’m not totally sure I should be taking advice from you. You know, with the whole…” Fatin trails off and motions toward Shelby’s head. Shelby stares at Fatin for a long moment before Fatin says, “Sorry. Low blow.”

 

Shelby shakes her head but just says, “She might just not be ready. Have you talked to her about it?”

 

“Fuck, no,” Fatin scoffs. “I think I got my answer.”

 

“Isn’t it worth trying?”

 

“I did try.”

 

“I mean, again.”

 

“I don’t know,” Fatin says quietly. She rubs at her temples, feels a headache beginning to form. “Maybe I should be putting my effort into trying to move the fuck on.”

 

Shelby shrugs. “Some of the boys are kinda cute, I guess.”

 

“None of these boys are worth my energy,” Fatin says.

 

“But Leah is.”

 

Fatin exhales. Yeah. Leah is. “Fuck, I hate when you’re right,” Fatin groans. Shelby’s lips curl into a gentle smile, and Fatin stands, makes her way to the other side of the table. She loosely loops her arms around Shelby’s neck from behind, and Shelby leans back into the awkward embrace.

 

“Are you hugging me just because you wanted an excuse to touch my hair?” Shelby asks.

 

“Yes,” Fatin says bluntly. She feels Shelby’s gentle laughter and smiles to herself. “But thanks, I guess. I’m lucky you were up, otherwise I might’ve been a total fucking bitch in the morning.”

 

“Well, you’ve helped me before,” Shelby says. She sighs. “Just go ahead and touch it, will you?”

 

Fatin grins, pulls back from the strange hug to run her hand over the top of Shelby’s head. “No offense, but that’s so weird,” Fatin laughs.

 

“It’s an adjustment.”

 

“Give it a couple weeks,” Fatin says. “You’re gonna rock the shit out of the short hair look.” Fatin hesitates. She’d feel bad making a run for it after Shelby helped her without at least attempting to offer Shelby the same thing. “Hey, if you need to talk about anything –”

 

“I know where to find you,” Shelby finishes for her. “You should go get your girl.”

 

*

 

[60]

 

She stands outside of Leah’s door for an embarrassing amount of time before she brings herself to raise her fist and knock. Leah’s probably asleep, anyway. Probably won’t hear it. Fatin doesn’t even know why she’s trying. She should give Leah some fucking space and talk to her later, after they’ve both had some time to process –

 

The door swings open. Leah looks alert, not at all like she’s just been woken up, and the first thing out of Fatin’s mouth is, “Were you awake?”

 

“Yeah,” Leah says. She looks Fatin over, eyebrows suddenly pulling together. “Is everything okay? Did something –?”

 

“Everything’s fine,” Fatin cuts in. She forces a smile. “I was just…hoping we could talk.”

 

“Oh. Um.” Leah’s teeth sink into her lower lip, and before Fatin can make herself look like a fool by trying to backtrack, Leah steps aside and motions for Fatin to come in. Fatin pulls the door shut behind her, lets her eyes wander around Leah’s dimly lit room. What was Leah even doing? Sitting awake, thinking? Fatin turns back to look at Leah, since she hasn’t moved, and Fatin instinctively reaches for Leah’s face. Leah flinches, slightly, but doesn’t stop Fatin from grazing her fingertips along her eyebrow.

 

“Did I do this?” Fatin whispers.

 

Leah pauses too long, and Fatin takes her hand back. “It’s not you,” Leah says, but her words feel hollow.

 

“I came to apologize,” Fatin says, and while it’s not true, now it has to be. Because Leah has clearly been plucking at her eyebrow again, and it’s Fatin’s fault.

 

“No, you don’t –”

 

“Let me go first,” Fatin says.

 

“No,” Leah replies, and Fatin startles. “I don’t want you to apologize.”

 

Fatin’s eyebrows pull together. Her eyes search Leah’s face for an explanation, but Leah’s expression is worryingly blank. “Why not?” Fatin questions. “Clearly I was out of line, and you didn’t –”

 

“I want to go first,” Leah interrupts, gently. A smile flickers on her face when Fatin exhales dramatically and rolls her eyes, but Fatin waves for Leah to continue. “You caught me off guard,” Leah says. “At the waterfall. And I didn’t – I never let myself truly believe that you might, you know…want me too.”

 

“Too?” Fatin echoes.

 

Leah smiles, for real this time, and confirms, “Too.”

 

“So why the fuck would you tell me you were gonna focus on Ben fucking Folds?” Fatin blurts. “I mean, shit, you could’ve at least dropped me a hint.”

 

Leah blinks. “He’s a musician.”

 

“You could’ve chosen a woman,” Fatin points out. “The musician thing – that wasn’t clear enough to be a real hint. It could’ve just been a coincidence.”

 

“You really couldn’t tell?” Leah asks.

 

“Obviously not,” Fatin scoffs. “Today was the first time that I – that I thought I’d stand a chance, and you fucking rejected me, so thanks for that.”

 

Leah winces. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t…prepared.”

 

Fatin sighs, rubs at her jaw. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have just acted. I should’ve said something.”

 

“Said something like what?” Leah asks softly.

 

Fatin rolls her eyes, says, “You would want to hear me say some really sappy shit and make myself look majorly uncool.”

 

“Yeah, I would.”

 

“Fine,” Fatin says, as if it pains her. Really she’s unbearably fucking nervous, even though Leah has all but admitted she feels the same way, and Fatin figures she at least owes Leah this. Leah loves grand romantic gestures and poetic shit; it’s just too bad Fatin isn’t really great at either of those things. “This is going to be a really sucky speech,” Fatin warns.

 

“I don’t need a speech, Fatin,” Leah chuckles. “Just tell me what you think you should’ve said.”

 

Fatin swallows, nods mostly to herself. She can do this. She’s been feeling all this shit for definitely over a month now. “I should’ve said I’ve had this huge, gross, really embarrassing crush on you since, like, I don’t even know when. And I should’ve said I wanted you to think about me instead of Ben Folds. And I should’ve said that I’ve needed you as much as I know you’ve needed me.” Fatin pauses to take a deep breath before she grudgingly confesses, “And while we were in the water today, I should’ve said that I wanted to kiss you.”

 

Leah’s smile widens. “What do you want right now?”

 

“Don’t play with my feelings.”

 

“I’m serious,” Leah insists.

 

“I want to fucking kiss you.”

 

“Then do it.”

 

So maybe all this shit Fatin’s been feeling has been worth it. She could cry in relief, if she wasn’t so fucking desperate to kiss Leah. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, the fact that Leah’s right here with her, that Leah feels what Fatin feels. And before Leah can taunt her about being frozen in place, Fatin closes the gap between them, cradles Leah’s face in her hands, and kisses her the way she’s been dying to for what feels like forever. At least since their last day on their island.

 

Leah’s hands grasp onto Fatin’s hips, fingers twisting into the material of Fatin’s hoodie, and Fatin was expecting tentative and slow, but Leah is insistent, backs Fatin up against the wall. Fatin slips her hand into Leah’s hair, and when Leah parts her lips and moans, Fatin’s knees nearly give out. Fatin inhales sharply, grabs onto Leah’s shoulder with her other hand to ensure she stays upright, and shit, this is so embarrassing for her. And Leah knows it, too, when she smiles against Fatin’s lips.

 

Leah shifts back, though she doesn’t go far, lets their noses rest together as she murmurs, “Not gonna lie, I thought you’d be a little more…composed?”

 

“Fuck you,” Fatin says breathlessly.

 

“Maybe you should.”

 

“Ugh, stop, that made me so wet,” Fatin groans, but she smirks when she sees how Leah’s face flushes. Leah doesn’t have a response, and Fatin quips, “Who’s not composed now?”

 

“Shut up,” Leah laughs as Fatin touches her fingertips to Leah’s burning cheek.

 

“Were you serious?” Fatin asks, stroking her thumb along Leah’s jaw.

 

“About?”

 

Fatin grins. “Wanting me to fuck you.”

 

Leah’s face heats up again, beneath Fatin’s hand, and Leah rolls her eyes but says, “Yeah. Aren’t you dying to end your dry spell?”

 

“Fuck, I literally thought you would never ask,” Fatin says, and they laugh together before Leah’s hand slips beneath Fatin’s hoodie. Her hand presses against Fatin’s stomach as Fatin starts to lean back in, and Fatin pauses.

 

“I’m glad you came to talk to me,” Leah says.

 

“You should thank Shelby,” Fatin admits. “She convinced me to try.”

 

“I’m not gonna thank Shelby for paving the way for us to, like, have sex,” Leah says.

 

“Yeah, that’d be pretty weird,” Fatin agrees. She pushes herself off the wall, catching Leah off guard, and guides Leah straight back to the twin mattress they’d shared just the other night, albeit under slightly different circumstances. Fatin pulls her hoodie over her head herself, lets it hit the floor, revels in the way Leah’s eyes rake down her body. Totally inappropriate time to have this thought, but Fatin’s kind of glad she didn’t work her shit out with Leah on the other island. Toni and Shelby were stuck fucking in the woods, but Fatin at least gets to shower regularly again and gets to fuck Leah in a bed, so who’s really winning?

 

Totally inappropriate, but Fatin sets that thought aside for later.

 

*

 

[60]

 

Fatin wakes up beneath a warm – completely naked – body. It takes Fatin a second to realize she’s also not wearing a damn thing; it’s all just bare skin and sheets around her, and Fatin sighs contentedly, doesn’t have to open her eyes to prove she’s with Leah. Even if the sheets didn’t smell like Leah, Fatin just knows.

 

“You up?” Leah mumbles against Fatin’s skin, speaking into Fatin’s chest.

 

Fatin hums, slides her hand up Leah’s back. “Not really.”

 

“Did you leave hickeys all over my neck so you can prove to Dot that you got me in bed? Are you gonna high five her?” Leah teases. She traces along Fatin’s ribs with her fingertips, and Fatin refuses to squirm.

 

“I’m not gonna high five Dot like I’m some douchey frat bro,” Fatin scoffs. “At least, I’m not gonna high five her in front of you.” Fatin pauses. “Maybe I wanted to leave a mark to let that Raf kid know you’re taken.”

 

Leah huffs. “That’s awfully possessive of you.”

 

“Well, sue me. I waited a long time for this.”

 

“I did, too,” Leah admits.

 

“We’re idiots,” Fatin laughs, and she feels Leah smile against her chest. “But we could’ve been worse,” Fatin says, and she shouldn’t hit Leah with this, especially not so early the morning after, but she can’t help herself, and she brings up how Shelby and Toni were stuck with fucking in the woods. Leah’s body shakes against Fatin’s with silent laughter, and Leah eventually reaches up and clamps her hand down over Fatin’s mouth to shut her up.

 

“I can’t say I didn’t want to fuck you in the woods,” Leah confesses. Fatin pulls Leah’s hand off her mouth, relocates Leah’s hand straight to her tit, because duh. Leah doesn’t complain.

 

“Well, I have some standards,” Fatin replies.

 

“You’re gonna say if I’d told you to fuck me against the rocks that you wouldn’t have?” Leah challenges.

 

Fatin pauses. “No, I totally would’ve, but tongue only.”

 

Leah’s laughter is giddy in a way Fatin’s not sure she’s ever heard before, but she wants to hear it again. Wants to make Leah laugh like this again.

 

“Do me – do me one favor,” Leah says when she gets it together. She lifts her head off Fatin’s chest, shifts so she can look Fatin in the eye, and shit, Leah looks better than Fatin thinks she’s ever seen. No hint of darkness in Leah’s eyes. Leah smiles easily at Fatin. Fatin tells herself it’s obviously because the sex was so good. And Leah’s just ridiculously hot.

 

“What?” Fatin says warily.

 

“Don’t bring that up with Shelby or Toni.”

 

Fine,” Fatin concedes. “But when they get back together – and they will – it’s fair game.”

 

Leah rolls her eyes, but she doesn’t fight Fatin on that one. Fatin leans up to kiss Leah quickly, just because she fucking can, just because it makes Leah smile and bite down on her lip, and she has the nerve to act shy, as if she’s not currently holding Fatin’s tit again.

 

“I don’t want to get up,” Leah says.

 

“Then don’t.”

 

Leah inhales deeply, stops holding Fatin’s tit in favor of tracing a fingertip along Fatin’s jaw, all while Leah’s eyes study Fatin’s face. When Fatin’s lips part, as she intends to ask Leah what the fuck she’s thinking about, Leah presses her finger against Fatin’s lips, and Fatin lets her voice die in her throat.

 

“You meant it,” Leah says quietly. “What you said yesterday?”

 

“Which part?” Fatin says against Leah’s finger.

 

“I need to know that this wasn’t just sex for you. I need to hear it.”

 

Fatin pulls Leah’s hand away from her face, links their fingers together. “It’s not just sex,” Fatin says, all while looking straight into Leah’s eyes, and it doesn’t even make Fatin feel gross. It just feels right.

 

“I’m sorry to be like – like this, literally right after we –”

 

“Stop,” Fatin cuts in, gently. “I know I’m not…great at feelings. Mostly at talking about, like, real feelings. It’s fucking scary. But I don’t want to have sex with you one time and be done, okay?”

 

“You want to have sex a lot of times,” Leah says, and it takes a second before Fatin realizes Leah’s making a joke.

 

“Well, yeah,” Fatin says, rolling her eyes. “I came so fucking hard, it’s not even funny.” Leah grins, blushes, and Fatin lifts her free hand to brush Leah’s hair behind her ear. “What I mean is, I think I might – look, I don’t want to put pressure on you or scare you off or anything, but I’ve had the time to think –”

 

“I might be in love with you,” Leah says.

 

“Yeah,” Fatin exhales. “You stole my thunder.”

 

Leah dodges Fatin’s attempt to kiss her, and before Fatin can get too indignant, Leah says, “Can I be honest?”

 

“Only if I’m gonna like what you’re gonna say,” Fatin jokes.

 

“I wasn’t thinking about Ben Folds,” Leah admits. “Well, I mean, I kind of hallucinated him at one point or something – we can talk about that later – but I was definitely thinking about you.”

 

“I would hope so,” Fatin says, “and we’re definitely going to talk about hallucinating Ben Folds later. With a therapist. If we ever get out of this new hellhole.”

 

Leah smiles. “That’s the thing,” she says. “There are people working on that. We just have to hold out long enough for them to find us.”

 

“That made me wet.”

 

“Fatin,” Leah laughs, and she drops her forehead against Fatin’s shoulder, and Fatin laughs with her.

 

“Find out for yourself,” Fatin says, but she’s not mad when Leah kisses her instead. Fatin nudges Leah back, just to say, “I know we jumped straight to I think I love you, and maybe that’s because of the island or whatever, but…”

 

Leah cocks an eyebrow at Fatin. “But?”

 

“Can I please fucking tell people that you’re mine?”

 

Leah grins. “Is that your way of asking me to be your girlfriend?”

 

“Yeah, sure, whatever.”

 

“Does the idea of being able to say I’m yours make you wet?” Leah teases.

 

“Babe, I’m already wet. You’re gonna have to take care of it for me.”

 

“Yes,” Leah says. “I’ll be your girlfriend. And I’ll take care of it.”

 

“Ugh, you’re already the best girlfriend ever.”

 

*

 

[60]

 

Dot stares at Fatin all through lunch. That bitch knows, and Fatin just smirks at her. Dot is polite enough to not call Fatin’s ass out in front of literally everyone, but Dot does stare. Dot waits until the cafeteria clears out to grab Fatin’s shoulder and hold her back.

 

“Did you talk, or did you fuck?” Dot asks bluntly.

 

“Excuse me, I did both, thank you very much.”

 

Dot’s eyebrows raise in surprise. “You did both?”

 

“Leah’s my girlfriend now, and my dry spell is officially over,” Fatin confirms. “Hopefully forever.”

 

“Forever is –”

 

“I just mean, I’ll be having regular orgasms again,” Fatin cuts in, smiling. “And as my best friend, you’re obligated to hear about it.”

 

Dot sighs heavily, but Fatin sees right through her. “Well, I was gonna collect back up water from the waterfall today, if you want to come with me and tell me all about it.”

 

“You know I do.”

 

Dot pauses, and after a moment, she raises her palm, says, “Nice job.”

 

And Fatin high fives Dot hard enough to sting.

 

*

 

[67]

 

They don’t know it’s their last meal in the cafeteria as a group. All fourteen of them. Turns out, Fatin judged the boys a little too harshly. No one makes a fuss about how Fatin and Leah finally worked their shit out, except for Toni when she loses her bet with Rachel.

 

“I thought for sure Leah was gonna make the first move,” Toni complains. “She always looked ready to drop her panties whenever Fatin was around.”

 

“Dude, I told you,” Rachel replies. “I told you she wouldn’t.”

 

“And she didn’t,” Fatin chimes in. “That was all me. Thank you, Rachel, for having absolutely no faith in Leah. You were right.”

 

Leah jabs Fatin in the ribs with her finger, but Leah cracks and smiles when Fatin laughs. The only guy that seems to give a shit is Ivan, who swears he could sense gay vibes between Fatin and Leah from the moment they met. No one has the heart to tell him that Shelby and Toni were a couple on the island, and he has no clue. Actually, Fatin’s pretty sure that someone does tell him, later. While they’re on the boat.

 

Their rescue is unceremonious. None of them see it coming. One minute, they’re sharing a meal they don’t know is their last on the island, and the next, they’re on a boat, headed back to California. It’s mostly a blur. The only thing Fatin can really focus on is the feeling of Leah’s hand, locked in her own, as questions are thrown her way. The agents – actual agents from the actual government this time – go easy, mostly looking to gather personal information so they can get everyone into contact with their families as soon as possible. It’s hard to believe that this might actually be the beginning of the end of their collective nightmare.

 

They all – well, thirteen of them – bristle when Agent Young steps out, but Leah’s as relaxed as ever, and Fatin looks to her in surprise. Leah smiles, and before Fatin can ask what the fuck is going on, Young holds his arms out, smiling back at Leah.

 

“Did I make it happen or what?” Young asks.

 

“I don’t know,” Leah says, tilting her head to the side. “Did they get her?”

 

Young chuckles. “The FBI has Gretchen in custody, yes. Your friend – Ian, is it? Helped quite a bit once he got in contact with Gretchen’s son.” Leah blinks, and Young waves his hand dismissively, says, “You’ll get all the details later, I promise. For now, just – we’re all glad you’re out of there.”

 

Fatin squeezes Leah’s hand, leans closer to whisper, “So you weren’t kidding when you said he was on our side.”

 

“You have no faith in me,” Leah teases. Leah leans her head onto Fatin’s shoulder, and Fatin smiles and leans her cheek against Leah’s head, and they go home.

 

*

 

[After]

 

It’s weird. It’ll probably always be weird. There’s a clear division in Fatin’s life now – in all of their lives, she’s sure. There’s their life before and their life after, and none of them are quite sure what that life after is supposed to look like. But it moves fast. Faster than Fatin would’ve ever anticipated.

 

Senior year blows by, and being back at school isn’t quite the torture it used to feel like. Even if Fatin wasn’t showing up every day hand in hand with Leah, the island sort of puts high school into a new perspective. So what if math is boring, and who cares if the boys around them aren’t hot? Fatin will take ninety minutes being bored to death in an air conditioned classroom over ninety seconds back on a deserted island.

 

The staring intensifies. They’re practically D-list celebrities now, all sixteen of them. Yeah. Sixteen. Nora’s alive, and there was an eighth boy that’s facing criminal charges, and it’s all so fucked up how the media latches onto their story and turns them all into pseudo-celebs. As if they needed a spotlight shining directly onto their trauma, but whatever. If the world is gonna watch, the least Fatin can do is make sure she looks good.

 

Fatin goes home with Leah after school literally almost every day, mostly because her parents can’t – or simply won’t – stop her. And the parents – they knew, and they didn’t know, and when the eight girls hop on a video chat to discuss it, they all come to realize Gretchen sold all of their parents on something different. A therapeutic nature retreat for Leah. Summer camp for Rachel and Nora. And on and on. All their parents knew they’d be gone for the summer, didn’t know their children would be struggling to survive on an island as part of a crazy woman’s pointless experiment. It’s a small consolation.

 

Fatin doesn’t go home with Leah on their last day of school, though she doesn’t decide that until they’re literally standing beside Leah’s car.

 

“Can you do something with me?” Fatin asks, and Leah doesn’t hesitate to say of course.

 

So they end up waiting in the parking lot of Fatin’s brothers’ school, like creepers except they’re teenage girls with a legitimate reason to be there, albeit an hour early. They don’t listen to the radio or check their phones, knowing more and more comes out about Gretchen – and by extension, about all sixteen teenagers – daily. They just talk and spitball ideas for shit they can do over the summer, including taking a road trip to Texas and flying out to New York to connect with Rachel – and Nora, who spends most of her time during their video calls explaining how things worked from Gretchen’s side of the experiment – and visit their respective university campuses.

 

When school lets out, Fatin rushes to catch her brothers before they can head to the bus, and she doesn’t even need to introduce them to Leah as if she’s a stranger, because the Unsinkable Eight is kind of everywhere, and it’s not like it’s some giant secret that they’re dating, anyway.

 

“Why are you picking us up?” Kemar asks. “Mom said we had to take the bus –”

 

“Stop harassing me before I change my mind and don’t take you for ice cream,” Fatin cuts in, and both the boys gasp loudly while Leah shakes her head.

 

“Be nice,” Leah says.

 

“I’m gonna buy the brats ice cream,” Fatin says defensively. “How much nicer can I get?”

 

“You’re the brat,” Ahmad pipes up from the back seat, and Leah stifles her laughter into her hand.

 

“You’re pushing it,” Fatin warns, but a smile threatens to shine through her tough façade.

 

Fatin doesn’t even buy them ice cream. Leah beats her to it, slaps her credit card down before Fatin even reaches for her bag, and it’s too late for Fatin to protest. Leah paying prevents Fatin from complaining when Leah grabs her wrist and licks Fatin’s cone in the most suggestive way possible, while Fatin’s brothers are occupied.

 

Then Leah hums to herself and says, “We should take your brothers to the aquarium some time,” like nothing happened, and Fatin knows she’s in love.

 

They end up at Fatin’s place, and though Leah’s only been here a couple times, she’s relaxed enough when they walk into the house, when Fatin’s brothers zoom past them and fling themselves onto the couch.

 

“Maybe we shouldn’t have given them sugar,” Fatin muses, and Leah just smiles and shakes Fatin’s mother’s hand when she comes around the corner to greet them. Fatin keeps trying to tell Leah that she doesn’t have to be so formal, but it always seems to pleasantly surprise Fatin’s mom, so Fatin can put up with it.

 

It’s weird – the whole house’s vibe – without her dad around. He stops by on weekends to get the boys, and occasionally Fatin talks to him, but she hasn’t decided if she wants to work on repairing the damage yet. If it can be repaired. That’s something for Fatin to figure out somewhere down the line.

 

“Is Leah staying for dinner?” her mom asks, and Fatin looks over at Leah.

 

Leah’s busy gazing out at the backyard, and when Fatin calls her name, she looks back and says, “What? Oh, I mean, I don’t have to –”

 

“Stay,” Fatin’s mom encourages, and Leah agrees without question.

 

And it seems dangerous to Fatin, to feel like everything’s going to be okay and work out for all of them. Leah says they should lay out by the pool and swears she won’t even try to push Fatin in, and Leah is totally fucking lying and doesn’t even try to conceal it. Fatin grins and agrees, because she’s totally pushing Leah in first, and –

 

There’s no reason to think everything won’t be okay. They have each other. They have the other girls, and the boys can understand, too. Gretchen is behind bars, and after the trial concludes, Gretchen will be behind bars permanently. They can handle the attention from the media. Something bigger will come along eventually and the rest of the world will forget about the island, so they’ll all stand a chance at building a mostly regular life for themselves. It’s gonna work out for them. Fatin can feel it in her bones or some shit.

 

Fatin pushes Leah first, but Leah gets a fistful of Fatin’s shirt and pulls Fatin into the pool with her, and Fatin really should’ve seen that coming. She really doesn’t see getting whacked in the head with a pool noodle coming, shortly before Kemar tells her to stop kissing her girlfriend in the family’s pool. Fatin doesn’t realize that when she pulls Kemar in fully clothed that Ahmad is gonna jump in after him, and Fatin’s gonna get yelled at by her mother.

 

For now, though, Fatin laughs with Leah and dodges the pool noodle fight her brothers start up, and Fatin thinks that whatever this after part of her life is gonna be, she’s gonna enjoy it.