Title: Queen Rat
Fandom: Losing Christina – Caroline B. Cooney
Warnings: Femmeslash, sort of. Will make no sense at all to anyone who hasn't read Cooney's Losing Christina trilogy.
Summary: Dark AU – what if the Shevvingtons won?
Mist follows the boat in; slow, cold breath of the sea. It curls damply through the streets, fingers the hair of passers-by, swallows the old, abandoned hotel on the cliff top so that it looks like a ghost house, pale and somehow insubstantial. Get too close and it might disappear.
The boat ties up at the jetty and the passengers disembark, eyes straining to make out the harbour's edge. One, a girl of nineteen or perhaps twenty, doesn't walk off. She remains standing there, at the intersection of land and sea and sky, until the boat has vanished again into the white fog. She is striking but not pretty, with the full, undelicate features of a pre-Raphaelite portrait. But her clothes are shabby and ill-fitting, her long hair scraped back so tightly its three colours blend into one, and her expression unutterably distant.
She speaks to no-one, and no-one speaks to her.
Mist curls around Christina like a blanket; mist follows her through town. Stares and muttered words follow her, too, whispers drifting round corners like smoke. Wharf rat. Island girl. Always knew they were crazy. And… well, you know what else they say. Wharf rat. The words are everywhere, omnipresent as the smell of salt and the sound of the sea, but Christina has learned not to hear them. It's easy enough, in the fog; passers-by are no more than indistinct shapes, looming out of the whiteness like B-movie monsters and then moving on without acknowledgement.
On days like this, Christina feels disconnected. She drifts through the streets like a boat cut loose from its moorings, an island without foundation. She is sure that she had an anchor once – something stronger than steel – but she cannot remember what, and it does not seem to matter much.
The laundromat is as humid as the street outside, but at least it iswarm and damp instead of cold and damp. Its heat is comfortingly artificial. And at the counter is Anya, a black halo of damp hair around her head, a beatific smile on her face. The clothes she is folding are a child's, miniature pink confections for a girl to be cherished like a doll.
"Chrissie," she says, glassily, her smile never wavering. "You came back."
Christina takes her hand, deathly cold even in the dank heat. "Of course I did," she replies. "I went to see Mom and Dad. Out on the island. But the sea didn't get me."
Anya nods, pleased. "You'll always come back."
They cling together in the steam for a long moment, pale hands clutching at each other with the desperation of drowning souls.
In the night, huddled on the narrow bed she and Anya share, in the rented room with the peeling wallpaper she cannot quite bring herself to call home, Christina tells stories.
It is Monday tomorrow. In the morning she will have to return to the cannery, with its incessant clatter and clamour and its stink of rot and salt, a smell that stays in the nostrils and pervades the skin, never quite washing off no matter how hard she scrubs. An indelible brand, that smell, marking her out as property of the sea.
But that's tomorrow. Tonight they are island princesses, not yet marked out for sacrifice. Tonight they are straight-A students and beloved daughters and victorious heroines. Christina gestures with small hands, outlining glittering castles in the air. She tells of freedom and futures not yet lost, of a fire that claimed the Shevvingtons and sent the old, cold house on the cliff's edge crumbling to ash. There was evidence, she said, that proved their crimes, and our parents believed us at last, and we were whole and free and our lives spread out ahead of us like infinite summer.
Of course, she knows that that was not how it happened. But it's a beautiful dream, and they share it beneath their thin duvet, curled together for comfort or warmth. Tomorrow they will be wharf rats again, covered in the stigma of failure and madness. But tonight they are princesses, never to become queens.