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Tooth, Claw, Kiss

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Spino-ko will definitely confess to Tyra-mi by the end of the year.

One moment she’s pretending to check her phone while listening to Tyra-mi and Allo-e chat about club activities, the next it is a thrilling, petrifying certainty. One that makes her heart pound and claws dig nervously into the dirt. She will confess her true feelings!

Rapt-yo leaps onto her neck to look down at her phone. “It’s better to be honest,” Rapt-yo says at last, as though she knows exactly what Spino-ko is thinking.

It takes a moment, but Spino-ko finally remembers she is supposed to be paying attention to her phone rather than daydreaming about Tyra-mi’s laugh.

“What do you mean?” She scrolls through that morning’s batch of ignored love letters. Maybe Rapt-yo means the boys who send them. But being honest didn’t work at all for any of them, did it?

The idea is like a hard stone in Spino-ko’s throat at the thought of her own confession.

“I wish guys would be less honest,” says Spino-ko. “These love declarations are a hassle.”

“Oh come on, Spino-ko,” says Rapt-yo. It could be Spino-ko’s imagination, but it seems like they both look back at the other two girls with a similar emotion. “You can’t send a message like that on the phone. It has to be you!”

Regardless of what Rapt-yo means, her advice bolsters Spino-ko’s determination. The end of the school year is almost too long to wait. She could loser her nerve again by then. After so many years being Tyra-mi’s best friend, the state of not-confessing is almost habit by now. No, it needs to be sooner.

Imagining a sweet confession to Tyra-mi under the blossoming magnolia trees is so distracting that Rapt-yo has to tap her big talon against Spino-ko’s head before she snaps out of her daze.

The Maastrichtian High festival in the early spring it is, then.

 

How do you say I love you to the girl you’ve been friends with since the day you were hatched?

Falling for Tyra-mi hadn’t been the plan. It was completely unexpected. Spino-ko thinks she knows the moment—their class trip to the hot springs, resting together in the warm shade of the conifers. Spino-ko had woken from dozing to find Tyra-mi leaning against her, and the friendship had changed, like light shifting on the water. It struck Spino-ko without time to prepare herself.

Love’s an expert stealth hunter, and it grabbed Spino-ko by the throat until sometimes she can hardly breathe.

 

The months before the school festival are excruciating.

Tyra-mi’s feathers start developing, earlier than most of the girls. Though she gets through classes only a little antsy, she breaks down when they are walking home from school. “It’s awful!” she says to Spino-ko. “I’m hideous. Everything itches. How do I show my face at school again? Everyone was staring!”

Spino-ko thinks the downy patches are adorable. She wants to nuzzle them all along Tyra-mi’s arms and tail, wants to tickle her nose on them until Tyra-mi doesn’t fret about it anymore.  She’s going to be so lovely when the feathers truly emerge.

“I like you any way you are,” Spino-ko says finally and gives Tyra-mi a consoling nudge.

Is it only hope that makes her think Tyra-mi glances at her in a different way after that? Is the expression more open, something beyond thankfulness?

If only being honest was all it took.

 

The second thing that happens is Tyra-mi gets a date.

Not a date date. A week before the festival, Tyra-mi goes out after school with a carnivore from the all-boys school. Spino-ko catches a glimpse of him once. She isn’t impressed: big and athletic, the striping on his head and tail far more eye-catching than the patterns on Spino-ko’s sail, bright reds and whites.

Spino-ko salivates with jealousy.

Devouring two of Tyra-mi’s crushes in a row wouldn’t be the most subtle way of handling the situation. That herbivore was one thing, but this is completely different. And what if Tyra-mi is actually happy?

She wants Tyra-mi to be happy, but it sure makes Spino-ko feel awful inside.

On the big night she helps get Tyra-mi ready. She applies Tyra-mi’s lipstick—so carefully, telling her how the shade makes her scales look radiant, that it’s perfect on her and she looks ready for anything. Tyra-mi’s eyes are full of happiness and contentment, and Spino-ko almost thinks for a moment she’ll have the nerve to confess right there.

But in the end she doesn’t. She doesn’t walk Tyra-mi to her date. She goes home and sits on her bed and does not restlessly check her phone.

She does go over to Tyra-mi’s house when she gets the text that the date is over. Tyra-mi isn’t upset as much as she seems confused. “I panicked again,” Tyra-mi says. She hugs her stuffed toy to her chest and sighs. “He was pretty nice about me accidentally trying to bite through his neck though.”

“So it went okay?” Spino-ko asks, trying not to sound disappointed.

Tyra-mi sags against her bed. “Maybe? It was just.” She waves her arms a little, searching for the words. “I don’t know! It was mostly awkward. We didn’t have a lot to talk about and I didn’t have fun like I thought I would. Is it usually like that? I… I don’t think he liked my feathers.”

It’s late enough in the year that the down has started giving way to quills. Perhaps not the most graceful of looks, but Spino-ko snorts. “That guy. What an idiot.”

Tyra-mi turns to her. “Spino-ko?” she says.

“Well, obviously he has no idea what he’s doing. That’s obvious.” Even if she hoped selfishly, deep down, for it not to work out, Spino-ko doesn’t understand how anyone could not adore Tyra-mi. “Talk about awful first impressions. I—”

The words catch on her fangs before they can leave her mouth. I think you’re great. I would date you. I really like you, Tyra-mi.

Could she say that? What if Tyra-mi didn’t feel the same? What if the friendship ended right there, in the room with them? What if the excitement was too much for either of them and it ended with their teeth around each other’s necks in a skirmish to the death, trying to eat each other?

In the silence Tyra-mi blinks and waits, eyes wide, almost like she’s holding her breath.

Say something! Spino-ko thinks.

“I think we should do something fun, Tyra-mi. Forget that guy.” Spino-ko growls internally at herself for such an evasion.

Tyra-mi doesn’t say anything at first, then her eyes widen again, coming alive. “O-oh… yes!” she says. “Just the two of us. That does sound fun.”

Spino-ko has to wait a moment until her ankles stop feeling like wilted flowers before she can stand up.

 

They go out a lot together, sometimes with Rapt-yo and Allo-e, sometimes by themselves. It can be for anything. Sometimes they go out to eat, sometimes they just walk together, bumping shoulders and giggling, chatting about anything and everything. Spending time with Tyra-mi is really Spino-ko’s favorite thing to do.

This evening they wander more or less at random. While Tyra-mi talks, Spino-ko spots a wayward-facing baby feather on Tyra-mi’s neck and preens it back into place.

A shiver runs to the end of Tyra-mi’s tail. “Spino-ko!”

“You had a feather out of place!” Her sail practically turns crimson with embarrassment and once again she can’t even blame it on instinct. She saw the feather and just—had to touch it. Spino-ko tucks her arm against her side. “Don’t worry, I got it for you!”

“Oh!” Tyra-mi looks away. “Oh, I. Thanks, Spino-ko. Are there any more?” She waves her short arms toward the feathers until Spino-ko laughs and pets down a few more at random, though all of them are perfectly fine.

The truth feels close to them as they run through the night forest, both of them up past bedtime and not caring because they’re together. They catch a small meal and share it, chomping down one each at the head and legs. Their snouts touch in the middle, and they have to shake their heads to tear the carcass in two.

They stare at each other once they break apart, covered in flecks of blood and gristle. In a second they both burst out laughing. Spino-ko licks Tyra-mi on impulse, and she could roar with delight when Tyra-mi licks her back.

Tyra-mi’s date is forgotten, and Spino-ko imagines real honesty. And for the first time it isn’t worrying at all. It’s wonderful. She looks at Tyra-mi and feels happy. That’s all.

“I always have the best time when I’m with you,” Tyra-mi says, her sides heaving from running as they turn towards their homes. The magnolia trees have begun to bud above them, ready to burst into white blooms. Their tails cross as they walk. Spino-ko wonders the entire time whether it’s intentional, if Tyra-mi is helping it along or not. Does Tyra-mi…?

But then the worst happens. Out of nowhere—catastrophe.

“You know,” Tyra-mi says, “I think I might give that guy another try. Maybe it was just a bad first impression! Neither of us put our best claw forward. And he was kind of funny.”

Spino-ko is shocked into silence. Disaster! She goes to sleep that night with an uneasy heart. She sighs to thoughts of Tyra-mi’s excited growls, her strong leg muscles and long serrated teeth.

The school festival is in only a week. Spino-ko doesn’t know if she should say anything now.

She’s really starting to see why boys always send love letters rather than confessing face to face.  

 

Spino-ko takes one last look at the framed picture of her and Tyra-mi before she leaves for the school festival. Good or bad, tonight is the night. It’s been a week of finding ways to not see Tyra-mi, for fear Spino-ko will eat Tyra-mi’s date in the end anyway if she sees him.

And Spino-ko didn’t know if she can face the girl she loves, not when that girl is so happy with someone else. If Tyra-mi is happy with a boy, well then, Spino-ko thinks that’s fine. She wants Tyra-mi to be happy.

It hasn’t stopped aching inside yet, though.

She sees and meets with Allo-e and Rapt-yo when she arrives. The three of them don’t stay together long. “Look at all the booths! Look at all the food!” Rapt-yo says and clambers on top of Allo-e’s head by the teetering flower pot. “Let’s go over there! Allo-e, Spino-ko, hurry!”

Spino-ko finds herself holding back. She can’t help herself. Especially not when she catches scent of Tyra-mi on the other side of a group of older students. She lets Allo-e and Rapt-yo go on ahead and turns down a path by herself, snout in the air following the aroma to its source.

Tyra-mi is off by herself too, standing under a magnolia tree and craning her neck to look at the white-pink petals. The trees are in full bloom, and Spino-ko’s breath catches when she turns the corner and sees Tyra-mi standing there.

“Spino-ko! You’re here!” Tyra-mi looks around. Her feathers aren’t full in yet, but there is not a hint of down to be seen. She looks so graceful. “Hi, I’ve… missed you the past week. I thought maybe something was wrong. Were you really busy?”

Spino-ko’s words fail her. Tyra-mi missed her? Was worried?

Tyra-mi clears her throat. “Did you come to see the magnolia blossoms?”

“I like you,” Spino-ko says.

Tyra-mi’s jaws hang open, unsure. Spino-ko is too excited to do anything but keep talking. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I thought I would eat your boyfriend if I saw you together so I stayed away. I want you to be happy!” No! It had been so much better in her head, in the few minutes of preparation she had to put it together. It was going to be a real smooth seduction, but now Spino-ko has ruined it. If only all her admirers could see her now!

“Boyfriend?” Tyra-mi says.

That stops Spino-ko. “That boy who didn’t like your feathers,” she says. “You were going to go out with him again.”

“Only the once,” Tyra-mi says. She kicks her feet. “I ended up trying to eat him again. It didn’t work out at all. But I…I like you too, Spino-ko! I’m so glad you weren’t mad with me!”

“Of course I wasn’t mad at you,” Spino-ko says, distraught, then, “I’m not talking about just as friend, although you are my best friend. Tyra-mi—I like like you.”

A silence settles over them like the hush of wind through magnolia blossoms above them. Neither of them rushes in for an accidental overexcited killing bite, but neither of them says anything either.

“I like you too,” says Tyra-mi.

Spino-ko jumps. “What?”

“I like like you!”

On the inside Spino-ko wants to leap and stomp her clawed feet in disbelieving happiness. The same kind of like? She tilts her head to the side. “But you always panic and try to eat your crushes. How can you like me?”

Tyra-mi gives it a moment of thought. “I’ve just never felt like that around you, Spino-ko,” she says, holding her talons together in front of her, clicking them nervously. “Never felt nervous, I mean! Oh no, I think that came out wrong! I always feel nice around you, Spino-ko. You’ve always been different. That’s what I mean.”

A single magnolia blossom lands on Tyra-mi’s nose. “Oh, Tyra-mi,” says Spino-ko. She blows away the blossom and nuzzles close to slide her neck over Tyra-mi’s in an embrace.

It isn’t the sweet confession under the magnolias that she imagined, but Spino-ko couldn’t ask for it to be more perfect.