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nothing will ever be enough (nothing but you)

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It’s supposed to be a happy moment.

And for most of them, it is.

Martha and Toni are crying softly. Tears of joy that Toni will pretend never happened when she’s teased about it later on.

Dot looks completely relieved. Not necessarily over the prospect of returning to a home she didn’t really have anymore, but because this hell is finally over and they made it. She didn’t have to worry about keeping everyone alive and sane anymore. They did it. They got rescued for real this time, and even though they still don’t know much about what happened to Nora, they know she’s alive, so Dot is going to count it as zero overall casualties, which is a goddamn feat if she does say so herself.

Rachel is still reeling pretty hard. She doesn’t know how to process everything at first. Over the last few weeks, the loss of her hand really started to hit her more than it did after it first happened. The loss of Nora was still as strong as ever too, but after learning her twin was alive, Rachel was mostly just confused. She didn’t know how to feel, didn’t know what she was supposed to feel. She was happy they were going home, that much she knew. So she just tried to focus on that part and let the others squeeze her shoulders and tackle her in bear hugs. The rest of her complicated emotions would come later, but for now, Rachel was alright.

Shelby decided a long time ago, back on the first island, that she didn’t really want to go home. But even she could feel a smile pull at her lips as the nightmare around them finally came to an end. Maybe it was Toni’s arms wrapping around her that brought her smile out. Maybe it was the words that left her girlfriend’s lips as they hugged.

“I can’t wait to actually be with you in real life,” Toni admitted.

Shelby’s eyes widened at the confession. It’s as if she didn’t realize until now that the words were an actual possibility.

In Shelby’s mind, the island ending would always equate to her and Toni ending.

Toni would return to Minnesota, Shelby to Texas. The blonde would be trapped once again under the heavy scrutiny of her father, and she would most likely fade into a distant, horrific, memory for Toni. Nothing more. Just a piece of the basketball player’s past that would occasionally resurface, but never truly return.

Shelby felt her own tears quietly fall as she hugged Toni closer.

“You really mean that?” She whispered.

“Hell yes,” Toni easily responds, “Don’t worry, okay? I’m not going anywhere. We’ll figure it all out.”

Shelby doesn’t know when Toni got to be so smart. When she became the rational one, the calm one, in their relationship.

Well, maybe she did.

Toni was always able to keep her steady, ever since that one fateful day they shared on the cliff. Mere hours away from the tragedy that would soon strike them. But in those moments, the air was calm and their hearts were full. Shelby became Toni’s grounding force, and Toni became hers.

So, yes, even Shelby is a little happy when rescue eventually comes.

And then there was Fatin. Fatin, who also had mixed feelings about returning home, but who ultimately decided the lure of indoor plumbing and actual food was enough to make her feel excited.

Fatin wouldn’t miss the woodsy ambiance or beachside waves that invaded their senses each and every night. She wouldn’t miss the bug bites or sunburns or patches of dirt that still clung to her skin no matter how many times she washed off. She definitely wouldn’t miss the hunger and thirst, the less than desirable sleeping arrangements, or total lack of any entertainment beyond games of MASH or impromptu (and pitchy) singalongs that the girls would break out into.

She wouldn’t miss any of that shit.

But she would miss the six girls who have become her family over the last couple of months.

She would miss them more than anything. She would miss them so much that Fatin almost thinks she would choose the bug bites and sunburns and patches of dirt if it meant she got to stay with them.

Fatin almost thinks she would choose to stay on the island if she was really given a choice, because as much as it was absolute hell, she wasn’t sure if she could live without her friends.

But only

Because Fatin wasn’t going to be totally alone. Going home didn’t mean being alone. There was one other person who Fatin would continue to be in close proximity to, only a ten minute drive away from in fact (something they realized about each other somewhere between day seven and fifteen).

Fatin allows herself to be happy about their rescue, because even though it means leaving five girls she loves more than anything, it doesn’t mean leaving Leah.

And that would be the only thing truly cruel enough to break Fatin.

She couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment Leah became so important to her. It might have been sometime after the taller girl ran into the ocean looking for an escape that would still take months to actually come. It might have been sitting around a campfire, singing cheesy indie songs and feeling Leah’s hands caress her face like it was the most delicate thing she’s ever touched. It might have been climbing a tree, desperate and yearning. Yearning for the possibility of offering Leah some form of relief, some form of reassurance that she wasn’t crazy. Fatin wanted to give her that more than anything.

It might have been in the bunker, after two weeks of separation. Two weeks of not knowing where the other was, or if they were okay, or when the hell they’d see each other again. Not knowing if they’d ever see each other again at all.

It might have been one of those moments, it might have been all of them.

Fatin didn’t know.

She didn’t know when exactly she fell in love with Leah. She only knew that it happened slowly and then all at once. It’s a cliche thing to think, and as much as Fatin cringes at herself for it, she thinks Leah would probably appreciate the sappy sentiment.

No, Fatin knows for sure that Leah would appreciate the sappy sentiment, and she smiles at the thought.

God, she never thought she’d become the hopeless romantic type. Leah really has rubbed off on her during all the time they spent out here together.

And that’s another reason Fatin’s more than pleased to be getting off this island for good.

Because it means Leah getting off this island, which surely, would only be a major plus for the other girl’s mental health.

They could finally begin to heal. It wouldn’t be easy. It wouldn’t be quick or painless. But it was a start. And that was enough.

-

It should have been enough.

Enough for Leah.

Escaping the island, and consequently escaping Gretchen’s clutches, should have been enough.

They won.

Leah won.

She got them off the island, she beat Gretchen at her own game, and she saved them.

It should have been enough.

But when Leah returned home, she couldn’t help but feel the furthest thing from happy. To be completely honest, she couldn’t feel much of anything at all. The closest she gets is when she’s with Fatin, but even then, it’s not quite enough.

She doesn’t really talk to anyone. Leah has no desire to exchange words with her parents. They apologized profusely to her for weeks. They claimed they didn’t know what exactly Gretchen’s retreat truly entailed, but they admitted they knew it was more than a simple weekend getaway to Hawaii, and that admission stung.

Had her parents known the truth, had they known the torture and truama that awaited Leah as she boarded that plane, she knows they wouldn’t have ever agreed to it. But it doesn’t really matter, and Leah doesn’t really care. Because it’s still easier to blame them.

It’s easier to look at them like their strangers, then it is to confront how she truly feels about the whole thing.

How broken and empty and angry and crazy she feels.

So she doesn’t really talk to them, and her parents leave her alone and let her do whatever she wants out of the guilt they feel.

Leah doesn’t talk to Ian either, despite him playing a pretty sizable role in saving them. When they see each other again for the first time, they hug. Leah thanks him, and Ian tells her not to sweat it.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Ian tells her.

Leah pushes her lips into a straight line, nods slowly.

Ian goes to say something else, but Leah cuts him off.

“Need time,” She says.

Ian’s shoulders soften.

“Take as much as you need.”

That’s the first and last conversation they have. Leah doesn’t make any effort to contact him, and Ian doesn’t push her.

It feels like how it did after her breakup with Jeff, and Leah doesn’t know how to feel about that. It’s kind of a full circle moment that makes her a little sick to her stomach, if she’s being honest.

Then again, it’s not entirely the same. Because this time, she has Fatin.

Fatin, who just earlier this year was a complete stranger to Leah. Someone she occasionally passed in the hallways, someone who she may have occasionally thought was pretty, but that was it.

Fatin was just some girl who Leah would never have anything in common with. Some girl who would probably never give Leah the time of day, and someone who Leah was completely fine never getting it from. Because three months ago, Fatin didn’t matter to Leah, but now, she was the only thing that mattered to her.

Leah still talks to Fatin.

She’s pretty much the only person Leah still talks to.

But when they do talk, they don’t talk about the things they probably should be talking about.

Leah doesn’t have it in her and Fatin doesn’t push.

(Sometimes Fatin even looks relieved).

Instead, they hold hands like they always did, they lean against each other’s bodies like they always did. They easily let the other one invade the space that so few others get to share these days, and they talk about everything and nothing.

They talk about school gossip, or Fatin’s 9-step plan to convince Dot to make a TikTok account, or some book Leah just read, or what colour Fatin wants to paint her car next.

They talk all night long, sometimes falling asleep in each other’s arms, and sometimes staying up until sunrise, which they watch through Leah’s bedroom curtains together.

But they don’t talk about how watching the sunrise reminds them of the island.

They don’t talk about how Rachel isn’t adjusting well, or how Gretchen’s picture appeared on Tv the other day, or how sometimes when they close their eyes, it feels like they’re back on that hellish island, and they can’t tell if the thought terrifies them or relieves them.

Sometimes, when they’re laying in Leah’s bed or sitting in Fatin’s car or walking along the harbor front late at night when one or both of them needed to get some air, they also kiss just like they always did.

(And they don’t talk about that either).

-

“You don’t say much in the group chat,” Fatin comments one day.

They’re at school. Sitting in the courtyard, just the two of them. School was hard to care about, it always was, but now especially. They go anyway, because it keeps their parents off their backs and at least they get to see each other.

Leah’s GPA never really recovered after the hit it took in the months following her heartbreak.

She’s smart, that point is pretty obvious considering it was her mind that ultimately defeated Gretchen and brought them home. But, she’s starting to feel like maybe she’s just selectively smart.

Smart with the things that consume her. Smart with the things that her mind fixates on and agonizingly analyzes over and over for hours on end.

She used to care a lot about school. English class, specifically. She used to be obsessed with literature. Obsessed with tortured authors and how beautiful words could be when they were arranged just right.

But then she got obsessed with Jeff. And writing took a backseat.

She got obsessed with the island after that. Fully consumed by her paranoia and desperate need to figure out what was wrong with that place. To know why it felt so fucking touched. And when she got her answers, she became obsessed with destroying Gretchen.

Somewhere in between all of that, she got pretty hooked on Fatin too.

But it was always a little different with Fatin.

Fatin was the first thing in a long time (maybe the only thing) that Leah has ever really, truly cared about without feeling obsessed. Leah loved her, and it felt like an easy thing to do. Leah didn’t know love could be easy, and maybe that’s why it took her so long to recognize what exactly it was she felt for Fatin.

After the island, Leah didn’t really have anything else to obsess over.

But without that one, all consuming thing to latch on to, Leah was having trouble feeling anything at all since the island.

“What are you talking about? I responded to Dot just last night,” Leah defends as she noncomitedly picks up a fry from the tray between her and Fatin.

Ultimately, Leah drops the fry back into the basket.

She doesn’t have much of an appetite these days. Fatin doesn’t either. She’s eaten even less of their shared fries than Leah has.

Fatin squints her eyes accusingly.

“Leah, typing ‘lol same’ does not count as a meaningful response,” Fatin tells her.

“As if you’re any better,” Leah mumbles, “Sending meme reaction pictures isn’t meaningful either.”

Fatin lifts a hand to her chest in mock offense, as if the words deeply hurt her.

“Um excuse me, at least my memes are funny. Martha sent a minions meme the other day! A minions meme, Leah! I love her, but I swear that girl is perpetually stuck in 2017, it’s tragic.”

Leah smiles, but only slightly.

Fatin looks pleased at herself for soliciting the expression anyway.

A moment goes by without any more words being exchanged between them. They could talk for hours at a time when they needed to, but they also knew how to just be in the quiet together.

Fatin’s foot knocks against Leah’s under the table.

“They miss you,” Fatin eventually says.

Leah folds into herself a little bit. There’s a sick feeling in the bottom of her stomach, and she can almost taste the bile that threatens to crawl up the back of her throat.

“It’s them,” Fatin continues, voice low, “You don’t have to feel weird. Not with them.”

“I don’t feel weird,” Leah lies.

“That’s a lie,” Fatin calls her out.

Leah internally groans. It was so impossibly hard to hide from Fatin. And Leah didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

She sighs.

“I talk to Rachel. Sometimes. I’m not really a…group chat person,” Leah speaks slowly.

Fatin hums, “Yeah, that’s abundantly clear, babe.”

It’s Leah’s turn to kick Fatin’s foot.

Fatin only grins.

“Love it when you get aggressive. Hey, remember that time you ripped my pants and went all Toni Shalifoe on my ass-”

Leah kicks her again. Harder.

Fatin laughs. Loud and carefree.

Leah watches her through foggy blue eyes, and slowly, she feels that sick feeling in her stomach melt away.

-

“You scare me sometimes,” Leah softly admits late one evening.

Her and Fatin are down by the harbor again. They’re sitting side by side on the dock. Leah’s legs are crossed but Fatin’s are out in front of her. She’s sitting far enough back that her shoes don’t touch the water that’s awaiting them over the edge of the pier. If Leah’s legs were stretched out, her feet would probably touch.

It’s a little ironic, but the water is a soothing presence to them both.

Most people probably wouldn’t understand. Most people would think that after all they’ve been through, neither girl would want to be anywhere within a 100 feet radius of a body of water.

And yet, the sight of the harbor always managed to calm them down.

Fatin’s brows furrow at Leah’s confession.

“What do you mean?”

Leah’s beginning to second guess whether or not she should have said anything.

They were having an okay night.

They drove around in Fatin’s car for a couple of hours listening to music. Fatin let Leah control the aux, but Leah scrolled through Fatin’s spotify to play some of her playlists too. Their music tastes were pretty different, but there was enough overlap to make it bearable. And besides, neither really cared what they listened to as long as the other was happy.

They got food after that, but again, neither ate all that much. At this point, they pretty much shared all of their meals. Whole portions were a little daunting, but splitting a meal in half made it easier. It’s how it was on the island. Sharing food. Making sure everyone had enough, never wanting to take too much in case they ran out.

It was a tougher habit to break than they realized.

The pair found themselves at the harbor at some point. Leah’s house was an option, the perks of her being an only child and the fact that her parents left them alone even more than Fatin’s did, but neither girl felt like being cooped up right now.

There was safety in having sturdy walls and an actual roof over their heads, one that they learned to go without on the island. But sometimes it felt a little suffocating.

The fresh air and the water…it felt like home.

Leah wrestled with herself, trying to decide if she should continue her original train of thought or just change the subject.

Fatin was looking at her though. A curious look in her brown eyes.

There was something else in her eyes too. Something that maybe looked a little bit like hurt.

It was enough to force Leah to continue, even if her chest tightened when she did.

“It scares me how well you hide it,” Leah quietly reveals.

And Fatin’s still looking at her like she doesn’t understand, but also like maybe she’s starting to piece it together, and Leah has to look down at her converse sneakers to get herself to keep talking.

“I know you’re not okay. None of us are. But you hide it so well, I don’t think I’d notice if it wasn’t for the fact that everything you feel, I feel it too. And it just makes me think…what if there’s other things you’re hiding, other things that I’m not able to see. And it scares me, because what if those other things are about me? What if you don’t really want to spend so much time with me, what if I’m making everything worse for you, what if-”

“Leah,” Fatin’s voice is firm, and one of her hands grips tightly onto Leah’s wrist.

Leah stops talking.

Her mouth just closes, and her eyes don’t lift from the scuffed soles of her shoes.

Fatin’s hand slides down Leah’s wrist, moves to fit perfectly into her hand, fingers entwining like it’s second nature to them both.

(Because it is).

“You make everything better,” Fatin says it like it’s simple, “You are the only thing making it better.”

Leah still doesn’t raise her head. Instead, she bites down on the inside of her cheek, and suddenly, she wants to cry.

“You scare me too, Leah,” Fatin softly admits, “You think I’m hard to read? I have no idea what you’re thinking anymore. I used to see it so clearly when…you know, before. But now, you don’t ever talk to me. I hide it because I thought that’s what you wanted. I thought you wanted me to just pretend everything’s normal.”

Leah finally lifts her head at that.

Her blue eyes are stormy and filled with unushered tears, but they gaze firmly into Fatin’s. Searching for something that she can’t name.

Fatin doesn’t move her gaze either, but she feels a little stupid as her own tears start to pool around her irises.

“I’m sorry,” Leah breathes out, not knowing what else to say.

Her brain still needs time to process what Fatin just said, and until then, she doesn’t know if she could conjure up a decent response. But Fatin deserved something. Some sort of acknowledgment. Some piece of Leah’s sudden and overwhelming sense of guilt.

“You don’t have to be,” Fatin says.

The words that escape Leah’s lips next are also said without the green light from her brain.

“I love you, Fatin.”

And that really wasn’t what she thought she was going to say when her mouth opened, but in a wildly rare occurrence, her heart managed to take the reins away from her head in that one small moment.

Fatin’s tears start to fall properly then.

She sobs, like, full on sobs. It’s the hardest Leah’s ever seen her cry before.

And then she throws herself at Leah. Engulfing her in a hug that feels all at once different from, but also the same as, all the other countless hugs they’ve shared.

Leah’s arms easily wrap around Fatin, and the blue eyed girl startles when Fatin’s voice bubbles to the surface, with her face buried into Leah’s t-shirt.

“I love you too, Leah.”

-

Leah talks to Rachel on the phone.

She’s the only one she talks to on the phone.

Leah texts the others, both individually and on the group chat. Though, her group chat responses are admittedly pretty dry, as Fatin likes to remind her.

She thinks eventually she’ll get better at responding. She hopes (and maybe knows) that the others will still want to hear from her whenever that time comes.

“How are you?” Leah asks, genuinely curious about the answer.

Rachel sighs. She sounds tired. She sounds almost as tired as Leah feels.

“I could be worse,” Rachel searches for that silver lining, “I could be getting attacked by a shark.”

Leah smiles, but Rachel can’t see it all the way from New York.

“Same,” She breathes, “I could be getting gaslit into thinking the fucked up experiment I’m in is all in my head.”

Rachel smiles, but Leah can’t see it all the way from California.

“It’s been difficult,” Rachel starts a little apprehensively, “Uhm, with, you know, her.”

“You can say her name, Rachel,” Leah tells her softly, and the words are out of her mouth before she’s really able to give them much thought.

Rachel doesn’t respond right away.

“To be honest,” She says after a few awkward moments of silence, “I’m surprised you even still talk to me. I’m surprised you don’t hate me by association, or whatever.”

“I could never hate you, Rachel,” Leah replies honestly, “...and, I don’t hate Nora either.”

It’s the first time Leah’s said her name since she said it sitting across from Gretchen Klein, interrogating the woman on how exactly her fucked up social experiement enriched their lives.

(The time before that one, she said it sitting across from Fatin at the waterfall. Worrying that attending Nora’s funeral would cause her to spiral. That was the day Fatin convinced Leah to stop worrying about Nora for good. And it worked, for a little while anyway.

If she’s keeping track, which Leah has no idea why she is, the time before that one was when she was screaming Nora’s name from the bottom of that pit. Desperate and panicked. Terrified that she was going to die there, terrified that maybe that’s what she wanted. She yelled Nora’s name over and over again, until her voice was hoarse and dry. She screamed Fatin’s name too, but nobody ever heard her. Leah still thinks about the pit from time to time. She hates how sick it makes her feel to think about, and she hates that saying Nora’s name now, reminds her so clearly of that day).

“You…don’t?” Rachel asks, sounding genuinely surprised.

Leah shrugs, then reminds herself that Rachel can’t see her.

“I…don’t know. I don’t think so,” Leah says, and she doesn’t elaborate any further than that.

They move away from the topic of Nora.

They talk about the other girls for a little bit.

Rachel tells her that Toni’s exclusively turned to her to complain about the long distance between her and Shelby.

“Yeah, apparently Martha kept calling her cute and it pissed her off enough that now she pours her heart and soul out to me instead.”

Leah chuckles softly at that.

But she can’t help but feel her heart ache for the couple. Leah doesn’t know what she would do if she were states away from Fatin.

They talk a little more about the island ‘it’ couple. Then they talk about Martha and Dot, too.

When Fatin comes up, Rachel’s tone shifts as she asks, “Are you guys good?”

At first, Leah freezes.

But then she relaxes.

She’s unsure about so much, but not about that.

“Yeah,” Leah affirms with a small smile, “She’s about the only good thing I’ve got going for me, actually.”

They talk for a little over three hours.

When they hang up, Leah notices that she has a missed call from Fatin. She dials the other girl’s number by heart, and waits.

“There you are. It’s about time,” Fatin says in place of a greeting, and then, “How’s Rachel?”

Leah feels calmer at the sound of her voice alone. “How’d you know I was talking to Rachel?” She asks.

“It’s the only time you don’t pick up my calls,” Fatin answers easily.

Leah rolls her eyes but a gentle smile spreads across her face at the same time.

“She’s okay.”

“Good,” Fatin sounds like she’s genuinely glad to hear the update. After Leah, Rachel was probably the next least likely to participate in the group chat. The others were happy that Leah and Rachel seemed to keep up regular contact with each other, though. They all needed to process in their own ways, and none of them held anything against each other for how they chose to do that. So long as no one was completely isolating themselves.

“You wanna go get ice cream?”

“Yes,” Leah responds, already bending down to collect her denim jacket from off her bedroom floor.

-

“I think my parents are getting a divorce,” Fatin announces from the driver’s seat of her car.

Leah’s sitting in the passenger seat. She was only partly paying attention to the drive-in movie playing out in front of them, and once Fatin spoke, Leah’s attention was fully on the girl beside her.

“How do you feel about it?” Leah asks.

Fatin’s brows are furrowed. She looks deep in thought, like she truly doesn’t have an answer to Leah’s question.

Eventually, she settles on, “I don’t know.”

“Before I got sent away, that’s literally all I wanted to hear. I was shocked when my mom told me she was actually staying with that fucking asshole, and then I was like, enraged when they told me not only were they staying together, but that I was the thing driving our family apart.”

“And now?” Leah presses, head tilted in Fatin’s direction with a patient expression.

Fatin shrugs her shoulders.

“Now…I guess it’s just weird to think about another thing changing. My relationship with my dad is still nonexistent, as you know, but things have been alright with my mom, and if I try really hard, things almost feel like how they did before I ever found those stupid pictures. It’s probably better this way, my mom will be better off, but it’s just going to be another thing I have to get used to all over again.”

Leah reaches over the center console, places her hand palm up on Fatin’s knee.

Fatin easily fits her hand into Leah’s.

“You did find the pictures, though. And deep down, you knew that things weren’t the same. At least like this, you can get used to a new normal that might actually stick around, you know? You won’t have to live in this like, weird in-between state where things are half normal and half not.”

Fatin meets Leah’s eyes with a look that Leah can’t really decipher.

“Fuck, you’re like, really good at that,” Fatin releases a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

Leah’s words always reassured in the way she needed them to. They were always…logical. Rational.

It was such a contrast to how Leah thought about her own problems.

When it came to the worries and insecurities in her own head, Leah dipped dangerously far from all things rational. But it was always different whenever Fatin vented to her about something. Leah managed to put things into perspective in a way that made Fatin feel silly for worrying about them in the first place.

The corners of Leah’s lips turn up, and her hand squeezes Fatin’s.

“I’m just so sick of feeling like everything is changing. Like, the rug could get pulled out from beneath me at any moment,” Fatin continues to complain with a small sigh.

“We’re not changing,” Leah offers.

And then, feeling a tiny surge of bravery, she continues, “I’m…I’m not changing…the way I feel about you.”

Fatin’s resolve completely relaxes at the small confession.

She breaks out into a huge grin as she reaches over and tugs Leah closer to her.

They kiss in Fatin’s car, the projector outside playing a movie that neither girl is watching, and in that moment they feel like maybe everything really is going to be okay.

-

“Talk to me,” Fatin begs, her voice is only a whisper in the dark of Leah’s bedroom, but the concern comes through loud and clear.

Leah had a nightmare.

A bad one.

They were frequent occurrences, but most of the time she could sleep through them. Her exhausted subconscious would simply let the horrific scenes play out as she slept. Leah would wake up feeling sick, and no more well rested than when she fell asleep to begin with, but at least she wouldn’t wake Fatin.

Leah’s shaking in Fatin’s arms.

She isn’t crying. She thinks she wants to. She thinks she doesn’t remember how to.

“Leah,” Fatin sighs, hugging the girl closer to herself and running her hand through her hair, “We’re home. We’re safe. I’ve got you.”

Leah clings to her tighter.

She can’t find her voice. She can’t even think properly as her mind runs wild with too many intrusive thoughts to keep track of. None of them are tangible enough for her to grab hold of, so Leah’s mind simply rages on like a bad storm, and she holds onto Fatin hoping that it will all go away soon enough.

She wishes she could stop feeling.

It’s a thought that reminds her of the island.

Fucking everything reminds her of the island.

“Let me help,” Fatin pleads, sounding way more desperate than she’d like, “Please.”

It isn’t the first time Leah’s woken up from a nightmare. It’s not the first time Leah’s gone dark on her since returning home, either. But something about this time is different. And Fatin’s scared.

You already are, Leah wants to tell her.

Fatin helps her in a million ways. Fatin simply being here was more help than Leah knew what to do with.

Fatin’s presence, her hands on Leah’s skin, real and tangible, something Leah could actually touch, something Leah knew was really here. Fatin’s voice. Low and sweet. Leah loved the sound of it. She could listen to it all night, even when Fatin was droning on about some reality show that Leah thought was dumb. Fatin’s eyes. So warm and brown. Beautiful pools of love and awe. Leah always felt grounded looking into those eyes.

Everything about Fatin drove Leah crazy just as much as it made her feel alive.

As much as it made her want to be alive. She craved life around Fatin. Ached for it. Wanted every moment, every breath. God, Fatin helped her so damn much.

But Fatin doesn’t know any of that, and Leah doesn’t tell her.

And in the morning, they act like nothing happened the night before.

Well, Leah acts. Fatin just sits in her anxiety, worrying that she’s going to ruin everything, worrying that she already has.

-

The first time they see the other girls after the island is during winter break.

They meet in California.

Fatin playfully jokes that she’s glad she won’t have to be the one to lift any fingers in order to get to them.

(In reality, Fatin may have pushed especially hard for her home state to be their meeting place because she didn’t know if Leah would come if it was anywhere else).

They stay in an Airbnb.

It’s a little expensive, both their temporary living arrangements and the plane tickets. But Fatin takes care of the Airbnb cost.

The settlement money hasn’t come in yet. The trial hadn’t even started yet, in fact. These things take time, or so they’ve been told.

But ever since it happened, all of their parents have been pretty giving.

Well, kind of.

Shelby’s parents’ version of “giving” was simply letting her come on this trip at all. It didn’t matter though, because she had recently turned eighteen, and she was planning to move out with Dot as soon as the two found a suitable enough place.

Dot, in the meantime, had been living with an aunt of hers. It was a fine enough set up, but she wanted out just as badly as the rest of them. She was just waiting for Shelby.

Martha’s parents didn’t have all that much, but they did what they could for their daughter and Toni. Including finding the money for the plane tickets.

Things with Rachel’s family have been tense, and when her parents found out Nora wasn’t joining her on the trip, they almost didn’t let her go at all. Nora convinced them otherwise though.

So that’s how they find themselves crammed into a house together, sharing a limited space together just like old times. They’re close enough to the beach that it feels like old times in more ways than one. Well, if ‘old times’ included A/C and indoor plumbing and enough snacks to feed a village.

“I finally started therapy,” Rachel reveals to Leah as the pair sit outside late one evening.

There’s a chill in the air, but it doesn’t bother Rachel. She’s used to East Coast winters, and this is truly nothing in comparison.

Leah looks up curiously at the news.

Another bonus to the crushing guilt that Leah’s parents walked around with, was that they didn’t force any sort of help onto her.

Leah knows that some of the others’ have dabbled with it though.

Even Fatin attended a couple of sessions.

“It wasn’t bad,” Fatin had told her, “I mean, no one is ever going to really get it. But, she actually told me some pretty useful things about managing trauma, or whatever. I might even make it a regular thing…”

There was a silent question attached to Fatin’s words. A follow-up that she wanted to make but didn’t know if she should.

Leah kissed Fatin’s cheek, rested her head on Fatin’s shoulder and whispered a quiet, “I’m proud of you.” But she didn’t say anything else. In fact, she didn’t talk much at all for the rest of the night.

And so, like many other times before, Fatin had let it go.

“And?” Leah asks, swallowing a little uncomfortably as she does.

Therapy was a difficult subject for her.

A lot of things were difficult subjects for her. That was probably a sign that therapy was exactly what she needed.

“It’s…it’s good,” Rachel breathes out, her tone of relief is a little foregin sounding to Leah’s ears.

“I know, I was skeptical at first too,” Rachel quickly continues, not even needing to meet Leah’s eyes to know what the other girl is thinking, “But that shit helps. Like, seriously, it took a couple of sessions before I could even talk about anything, but when I got there…it really helped me come to terms with some bullshit.”

Leah takes the words in. She lets them float around her mind, lets them cling to every surface of her brain. She lets them fester inside of her, filling her head with a million thoughts, but unable to get any of them past her lips.

And then she feels herself start to shake. She feels the tears start to fall down her cheeks.

And suddenly, everything is wrong.

She can’t breathe, and the world is spinning all around her. The night sky warps and twists, turning into something ugly. There are eyes watching her, and there are hands on her body, and everything is too much. Leah squeezes her eyes shut and can’t help but wonder if this is what dying feels like.

She doesn’t know when Rachel disappears. She doesn’t register the other girl getting up.

But Leah registers it when Fatin appears by her side.

She can feel it so clearly, when she’s pulled into Fatin’s arms, when Fatin’s voice whispers something in her ear. She doesn’t make out the words, only the sound.

Her senses are invaded completely by everything Fatin, and she can finally breathe again. Her breaths are jagged and uneven, but the air is entering her lungs. Leah wraps her arms around Fatin, knuckles turning white on the back of the other girl’s jacket. Fatin is still whispering in her ear, but Leah focuses on the feeling of her rather than what she’s saying.

For the rest of the girls’ visit, Leah never really comes back to herself. Not fully.

-

“I feel like you’re getting worse,” Fatin says to her on the car ride home from the airport. They had just dropped off the last of their friends, each of them on their way back to a state that wasn’t this one.

Fatin’s tone is hard for Leah to place.

If she really thinks hard about it, she thinks Fatin sounds worried.

But then there’s a different interpretation. One that sticks to the forefront of Leah’s mind no matter how hard she tries to shake it away.

One that tells her Fatin sounds annoyed.

Leah turns her head towards the window and doesn’t respond.

Fatin sighs, and Leah thinks she wouldn’t mind if they crashed on the freeway.

-

Landing herself in the psych ward wasn’t how Leah wanted to start the new year.

But, to be fair, she didn’t want to start the new year at all, and that’s exactly why she’s here.

It reminds her of the bunker. The nurses. The questions. The stiff mattresses and locked doors and long hallways.

Leah focuses on the handful of differences she can find between this place and the bunker. She repeats them over and over again in her head like a mantra. It’s the only thing that keeps her from spiraling.

White walls, big windows, the smell of bleach on the bathroom tiles.

White walls, big windows, the smell of bleach on the bathroom tiles.

White walls, big windows, the smell of bleach on the bathroom tiles.

If she wanted to keep it going, she could think about the phone on the wall next to the front desk that she had access to. She could think about calling the number she has memorized by heart, think about hearing her voice, think about giving in to the very thing her heart was screaming out for.

But she didn’t.

Leah was mad at Fatin.

It’s Fatin’s fault she’s in here to begin with.

It’s my own fault, Leah briefly thinks. But that doesn’t really help her. Because it reminds her that Fatin’s probably mad at her too. Leah remembers how angry Fatin was after her first overdose. On the island. Because everything always came back to the fucking island.

Fatin explained to her once that her anger came from a place of paralyzing fear. Of guilt. Of selfishness, because Fatin said she didn’t think she could live in a world without Leah in it.

But that also doesn’t help. It only makes Leah feel like shit.

And so she spends her time going back and forth between being mad at Fatin, and being afraid that Fatin is mad at her, and at no point does Leah pick up the phone.

She stays for 72 hours, on suicide watch.

And then she stays for another week after that.

When she’s released, she doesn’t really feel all that better. But she’s got a prescription and a psychologist named Diane, and that’s something, she guesses.

(Neither are the thing she really wants).

-

Leah’s phone has been blowing up non-stop. She muted the group chat weeks ago, and she knows it isn’t Fatin who’s contacting her.

(Fatin has her own ringtone).

Leah lets it ring. She lets it go for hours, hoping that the damn thing will just die eventually. She doesn’t have the energy to get up and turn it off.

Leah falls asleep at some point. Her phone goes silent for a few hours, and Leah briefly wonders if it did die, but at some point between 3am and 4am, it starts back up again.

She finally caves and lifts herself from her bed to retrieve the device. She hasn’t really been on it much since returning home. The phone would kind of just sit there, on Leah’s desk, taunting her. The same way that phone at the hospital would.

Leah checks her notifications and realizes that all thirty-five of her missed calls are from Dot.

She sighs heavily, clicks on Dot’s contact and brings the phone up to her ear.

“Leah!” Dot exclaims into the phone, “Fucking hell, finally.”

“What do you want, Dot?” Leah dully asks.

“I was just wondering if you’re done being an idiot?” Dot asks with a cheeky grin.

“Goodbye, Dot,” Leah continues to speak with very little emotion.

“Hold on! I’m sorry, alright? Please don’t hang up,” Dot says, her voice softer and her concern more evident than before.

Leah doesn’t hang up.

When Dot realizes she still has Leah on the line, but that she’s also not going to get any more words out of the girl, she speaks up again.

“Leah, you need to talk to her.”

Leah takes a deep breath.

“I don’t know what to say,” She admits softly.

“She’s fucking destroyed right now. She loves you so fucking much. You don’t have to know what to say, just talk to her.”

Leah feels her eyes start to sting.

“Please don’t say that,” She whispers, “You don’t know that.”

“Yeah, I do, actually. I’m her best friend, remember?”

Leah still doesn’t feel convinced.

“She’s mad at me-”

“She’s not,” Dot interrupts, “She thinks you’re mad at her. She doesn’t think it’s her place to contact you first, but the separation is killing her, trust me.”

Leah finds her bottom lip caught between her teeth.

“Dot…what I did…what I tried to do…” Leah trails, unable to find the right words.

“None of us are mad, by the way,” Dot reassures her, “Well, maybe we were a little mad you didn’t talk to anyone about how you were feeling, but Leah, we all love you. Like, a lot. So, would you please stop torturing yourself and just let us.”

“You all remind me of before,” Leah blurts out.

“Everything reminds you of before,” Dot counters, “And that will never change if you don’t let yourself build new memories to replace the old ones.”

Leah feels her shoulders slump as she lowers herself to sit on the edge of her bed.

“You sound like my psychologist,” Leah chuckles dryly.

Leah can hear Dot’s smile through the phone.

“Fuck yeah, does that mean you think I have a future in counselling? I hear they make pretty good cash, you know.”

Leah shakes her head with fondness.

She’s beyond grateful that Dot isn’t treating her any differently. Dot’s talking to her how she always does, blunt and honest but still full of her normal level of love and care.

Dot isn’t talking to her as if one wrong move will send Leah spiraling over the edge. And when Leah thinks about it, none of them have ever really treated her like that. Not even on the island, not even after both of her other attempts. Leah wonders if this is what love really looks like. The real kind. The good kind. The unconditional kind.

They talk for a little while longer, and before they hang up, Dot asks, “So, you’re gonna talk to her, right loser?”

Leah rolls her eyes.

“Sorry, going through a tunnel.”

“What the fu-” Dot mumbles in confusion.

Leah hangs up the phone with a smile before she can hear the rest.

-

When Leah does finally call Fatin, the first thing she says is “I’m outside.” Leah gets out of her car, stands a little awkwardly at the bottom of the Jadmani driveway, as Fatin appears from behind the front door.

Fatin doesn’t look like she’s been doing all that well and Leah can easily spot the evidence of her turmoil.

It makes her feel like crawling back into her car and never speaking to anyone ever again.

She did this to Fatin. She went dark on her, she tried to leave her, and then she avoided her, and for what?

Fatin meets her at the bottom of the driveway. And at first, she doesn’t say anything. Leah doesn’t know if Fatin is going to slap her or yell at her or turn right back around and lock the door behind her.

But she doesn’t do any of those things.

Fatin pulls Leah against herself and absolutely crushes her into the tightest hug Leah’s ever been a part of.

Leah returns the gesture, although it’s a bit weaker than the death grip Fatin has around her.

“I’m sorry,” Fatin breathes out, right next to Leah’s ear, and Leah didn’t realize that Fatin had started to cry until she heard her voice.

“I’m so fucking sorry. I didn’t know what else to do, please forgive me, Leah. Fuck, please, I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Leah responds, and her voice is surprisingly steady, all things considered.

“Yes I do,” Fatin pulls away, a pained expression across her face, “I’m sure that place brought back…memories. I fucking did that to you, I left you alone again, after I made a promise to you that I wouldn’t.”

Leah hums, “Yeah, well, I think you get some leeway on promises when someone tries to kill themselves.”

“Leah-” Fatin starts, still looking completely wrecked.

“Fatin,” Leah stops her, moving her hands down to grab both of Fatin’s.

“You did the right thing. I’m not mad at you and you don’t need to apologize. But if you need me to say I forgive you, then I forgive you, okay?”

Fatin looks a little more consoled than when she first came out here, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty swimming through her eyes.

“I’m the one who should be saying sorry,” Leah sighs, “I…I never meant to hurt you.”

“Only yourself,” Fatin says before she can stop herself.

Leah winces a little.

“Yeah, I…I guess so.”

“You know, for someone so smart you’re really dumb,” Fatin huffs.

Leah furrows her brows in confusion.

Fatin continues, “When are you going to realize that you hurting yourself is the same thing as you hurting me.”

The words startle Leah. That wasn’t what she was expecting Fatin to say.

“...I, um, I guess right now.”

Fatin tries to look all tough and serious for a little longer, but the corners of her mouth curl upwards despite her efforts.

“Jesus fucking Christ, I missed you,” Fatin pulls her back in for another hug, and Leah’s ribcage may be getting crushed right about now, but this is the easiest she’s breathed in weeks.

-

The medication helps. It helps a lot, actually. It’s not a cure, but it’s a little extra help that Leah ends up being pretty fucking grateful for.

The therapy isn’t too bad, either.

It’s a little awkward. It’s a little painful. It’s a whole lot of embarrassing, as Leah cycles through the events of her life with agonizing detail. But it gets to be bearable over time. And maybe it helps a little too.

There isn’t really anything that compares to Fatin, but Leah’s learning that she can’t rely entirely on another person to be her pillar of mental stability.

She needs to do that for herself, but Fatin’s allowed to support her through it. More than happy to, actually.

And so, bit by bit, things get a little better.

The darkness isn’t entirely gone, Leah isn’t sure if it ever will be, but how she feels right now, it might just be enough.

-

The topic of college comes up.

“Deadlines passed, but you can still make late admission,” Fatin comments.

The pair are in Fatin’s room for a change. Laying on her bed, Leah’s head resting on Fatin’s torso.

“What about you?” Leah hums softly.

“I don’t think I want to go right away,” Fatin admits, “I mean, what’s the rush anyway? Why do I have to have it all figured out at eighteen? Besides, I still have my dad’s watches. He never asked for them back. It’ll be enough to get us an apartment…if that’s something you’d want.”

Leah’s a little distracted by the feeling of Fatin’s hand absentmindedly running through her hair, but she manages to choke out a response.

“What about Juilliard?”

Fatin chuckles.

“Oh, fuck Juilliard.”

“You sure?” Leah checks.

“That’s never what I wanted. I did it because I was good at it. It felt good to be good at something, but the pressure always killed the passion I have for playing…I’ll go to school eventually. Maybe media studies, or music management, or something. Who says I have to be front and center, I’d be fucking incredible at running the industry behind the scenes, don’t you think?”

Leah smiles against Fatin’s shirt.

“You’re fucking incredible at anything you do.”

Fatin laughs, and it’s a full on laugh this time.

“Holy shit, I love you.”

Leah pulls herself off of the other girl, crawls up the bed until her lips are meeting Fatin’s. She falls on top of the other girl, hands dropping to Fatin’s waist as Fatin wraps her own arms around Leah’s middle. They can both feel each other’s grins against their lips as they kiss. Talk of college dies in the back of their throats.

-

The settlement money does come.

In the end, they’re not sure if the trial they had to get through was worth it, though.

There’s been so much time between the island and the trial, that by the time it finally does roll around, most of them are trying to move on and not get clawed back into all things tropical-horror.

It’s pretty hard to get through, but the people in charge are surprisingly understanding about that, and the case was fairly open and shut anyway.

And at least they get to see each other again. It’s the second time they’re all in the same room since the island.

Leah makes it through. In fact, she may even hold it together better than some of the others. After Martha’s turn to speak, Leah even gets to be the one to make her smile again. It’s a real honor, especially because when Martha leaves the stand, her face looks a little too similar to how it did when she went catatonic on them, and being the one to pull her back feels a lot like redemption to Leah.

Leah helps Fatin too, just as much as Fatin helps her. Leah sees the way the other girl tries to hide her tears when she leaves the stand. She knows how much Fatin hates to cry in front of others. Leah gently swipes her thumb over Fatin’s cheek once she has the girl back by her side. Fatin lifts her own hand to grab hold of Leah’s, clinging to it tightly as she bites back the urge to break down.

With her free hand, Leah reaches into her hoodie pocket and pulls a pair of sunglasses out. Fatin tilts her head in confusion at first.

“To protect your street cred,” Leah whispers with a small smile.

And then Fatin fucking melts.

“You’re such a dork,” Fatin teases her, but the look in her eyes shines with nothing but appreciation. She swipes the sunglasses and plants them firmly over her eyes, effectively hiding all traces of her tears.

“I love you too,” Leah chuckles softly.

When it’s Leah’s turn to talk, she finds that talking about the island doesn’t bother her as much as she thought it would. Maybe it’s because she’s already talked about all of this in therapy, and for the first time since it happened, Leah’s finally starting to feel like she’s healing.

The only part that does get under Leah’s skin, is the part when she has to see Gretchen’s face again.

Watching Gretchen walk into that room is one of the hardest things Leah’s ever done, but she gets through that part too. She gets through it because of the seven other girls sitting around her. The group of them acting as their own protective little bubble. Fatin is to her right, Shelby is to her left, and Leah feels safe and loved even when Gretchen makes direct eye-contact with her across the room.

Fatin holds her hand the whole time, and when it’s over, they celebrate their newfound riches by getting absolutely wasted.

Fatin does a lot more than hold her hand after that.

-

With money no longer being an issue, the gang all ends up in LA. Together.

They split themselves amongst two apartments, but they’re directly across the hall from each other. The whole thing is very Friends of them.

“We already lived through a fucking horror film, guess we can cross sitcom off the list too,” Toni snorts.

They’ve all never been happier.

When they got rescued off that island (the real time, not the fake time) they couldn’t help the bittersweet feeling that washed over them all. Because they were happy to be getting out of there, but they were also devastated to be leaving each other. And now, it finally looks like they are getting the best of both worlds.

They got to get off the island and still be near each other.

It’s everything they’ve ever could have asked for, and it feels like coming home all over again.

-

Leah and Fatin don’t know when exactly they became girlfriends.

They only know that’s what they are.

Leah goes to UCLA now, Fatin has an internship at a social media company and is planning to apply to school the following year. Every night they get to fall asleep together in a bed they share in a room they call theirs.

They see their friends all the time. They eat pizza and drink beer with them, they argue over what movies to watch with them, they play Twister in the living room with them, and they love every second of it.

The dark moments don’t disappear. Not for either one of them.

Fatin still thinks about her family more than she lets on. She cries after an especially long and emotional phone call with her mom, and Leah holds her extra tight that night.

Leah still gets way too caught up in her own head sometimes. Fatin knows when the other girl is particularly deep in her mind, because she’s always especially quiet on those days.

But they have each other, and the darkness isn’t so scary when they’re facing it together.

“Do you ever think about how we spent so many years right next to each other, but never actually spoke until getting stranded on a deserted island together?” Leah asks one afternoon.

She’s supposed to be studying, but the words on the page in front of her all kind of blur together, especially with Fatin sitting so close.

Fatin grins.

“Reminiscing, are we?”

Leah rolls her eyes at the girl.

“I just can’t believe I almost never knew you.”

“That never would have happened,” Fatin confidently interjects.

Leah tilts her head in a silent question.

“Island or no island, you and I were always going to be inevitable, babe. We would have found some other way.”

Leah smiles, and then she kisses Fatin, and Fatin melts into it, whines when Leah pulls away.

“You really believe that?” Leah asks her.

“Every word,” Fatin cups her hand over Leah’s cheek.

“You’ve gone soft on me, Jadmani,” Leah teases, but there’s love and admiration shining so clearly through her eyes.

Fatin could stare into them forever.

She could love Leah Rilke forever.

And she decides to tell her so.

“I’m going to love you forever,” Fatin sighs a little breathlessly.

Leah’s smile slowly grows.

“Okay, see, now you’re really turning sappy on me-”

“Oh, shut up,” Fatin laughs as she tackles the taller girl onto the bed.

Leah laughs too, and throws her head back as Fatin starts attacking her with kisses.

It’s a perfect moment, and the only thought running through Leah’s mind through it all is:

Yeah, I’m going to love you forever, too.