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221. broken reflection

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The wig itches. It always itches, when Sarah wears a wig, but this one is coarse and brushes her shoulders and fills her entire field of vision and it itches. She can’t sit still. Alison is frowning at her, smearing lip gloss around her eyes – they’d all agreed the eyeshadow wasn’t strong enough – and Sarah can’t even look at her. Her eyes keep jumping from place to place to place.

“Really,” Alison says, “you’re acting just like her.”

Sarah lets out a grunt and doesn’t answer. This is probably something Alison would say is in-character, like this is all some stage production and Sarah is their star. It’s not a character. Helena isn’t a character. Alison and Krystal and Rachel and Cosima and Katja and – Beth – could be characters, maybe, because they were the sort of people Sarah could pull apart and live inside. But it’s too late for her to say to Alison it’s just that she’s fifty different people and I don’t know how to even be one of them.

“Done!” Alison says, capping the lip gloss. Now Sarah’s face itches. She shifts in her seat, thinks about running, doesn’t. Alison’s hand hovers above her shoulder before she gives her an awkward double-pat, one-two, like she isn’t sure if her hand should linger. Sarah isn’t sure if her hand should linger. She thinks: just be her. She doesn’t.

Alison walks through the door and then the other door opens and Helena comes through it, slowly. The two of them blink at each other. This would be easier if Sarah would just be her, slip into Helena’s thoughts like walking into a lake and drowning. It isn’t like she hasn’t done it before. But she doesn’t want to.

Here is the secret: she’s frightened.

Helena reaches over and pulls on one of the corkscrew curls, watches it bounce back into place. It isn’t perfect, but none of the wigs are; there is only so much Alison’s theatre friends and Felix’s…other friends can do on short notice. Sarah has Goldilocks hair with coffee at the roots. Sarah has lip gloss on her eyelids. Sarah is frightened, and she likes to think Helena won’t know.

“You will be fine,” Helena says. “They don’t know me. They only knew Maggie, and Maggie knew me. Photographs maybe. Nothing else.”

Sarah grunts again. Something sharp and disappointed flashes across Helena’s face, and then it’s gone.

“Can’t get the voice,” Sarah rasps.

“Can’t get the voice,” Helena says back, voice deep in a way that makes Sarah think she’s trying to imitate her. Sarah just snorts and Helena laughs that wheezy car-backfire laugh.

“Definitely can’t get that,” Sarah says. “That’s all you.”

“It’s okay,” Helena says quietly. “I do not think you will be laughing much. Anyway.”

She leans her shoulder against Sarah’s. Sarah leans back. She could be her, she should be her, but she can’t quite bring herself to. It feels like cheating. It feels like drowning. It feels like theft, reaching into Helena’s chest and pulling out the heart where the bullet should be. Swallowing it whole.

Then again, that seems like a Helena thing to do. Wanting someone so desperately that you eat their heart.

Sarah’s leg starts hopping and Helena’s hand lands on it, flat and calm. “No,” she says, and her voice is just the same as her hand. “No hopping. Stay still. Hand fidgets and eye fidgets. Anything more will get you hit.”

“Hit,” Sarah says, and they both startle – the word is an exact copy, sad and rasping. Helena’s hand jumps from Sarah’s knee to the horrible obvious pregnant swell of her own belly; her fingers knead.

“Yes,” she says. Sarah’s legs shiver and her hands twitch, electrocuted spiders, frightened bones. Her hands jerk. Her eyes dart all over Helena’s body. She is Helena’s body, and the water holds her. She’d forgotten that wombs were water too. A different sort of drowning.

Sestra,” she says, the word something like holy on her tongue.

Helena just looks at her, fond and aching. “Ya tebe lyublyu,” she says.

Ya tebe lyublyu.” She doesn’t know what it means, but the mimicry is perfect. Helena’s face goes sad like lightning flashing, and then it’s gone again. “There,” she says. “See? All okay.”

“Yes.” She cracks her neck, rolls her shoulders. Movement settles easy in her limbs, not tight, no, a little looser now, slingshot walk. “Much okay,” she says.

“Much, much okay,” Helena sighs. She looks sad, so – Sarah reaches out. She takes her sister’s hands.