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Big Teeth Small Kiss (Your Heart's a Mess)

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„I propose an ice breaker,” Shelby Goodkind says, folding her hands in front of her body and smiling at every girl on the plane. “I know it can be borin’ to introduce yourself to a whole group o’ new people, so why don’t we split up into pairs o’ two.” She explains the rest of the rules like they’re five-year-olds who have never participated in this particular kind of torture before, and Toni feels her face break out into a sneer.

She has no interest in being on this trip in the first place. The only reason she came along was to make sure no one picks on Marty, not to make friends with preppy white girls.

But really, it’s a little bit her own fault that she’s sitting in this oversized recliner in the middle of the ocean, hurtling through the air who knows how high up. Her senses have been going haywire ever since they took off, and the only thing keeping her somewhat contained is the sound of Marty’s steady heartbeat in her ears.

The plane smells off, too new and strangely antiseptic. And then there are the smells of all the other girls contained in such a small space, along with the noises their bodies and belongings make. Pages of books turning, music coming tinnily out of headphones. Hushed voices arguing further up ahead. It’s a nightmare.

“Okay, well, if you ain’t gonna be pairin’ up by yourselves,” Shelby says, stopping next to Toni and placing her hands at her waist. Her sudden pause has brought her scent along with her, a mixture of sweet perfume and clean sweat that has Toni sneering up at her even harder. Because she resents this girl already in all her fake happiness, and yet she feels her wolf respond eagerly to the scent. And maybe, just maybe, a part of her knows that she finds Shelby attractive on a purely physical level. She’s easy on the eyes, and her blonde hair seems to sparkle even in the bad lighting of the plane.

And then, Toni has to try very hard not to rip this girl’s hand off, when she takes a hold of her wrist.

“You’re comin’ with me,” Shelby says, tugging Toni out of her plane seat. Toni’s wolf is strong, and if she had resisted even a little bit, Shelby could have spent the whole day tugging without moving her. But thankfully, Toni’s body jumps into action as soon as Shelby’s cold hands touch her overheated flesh, and she finds herself on her feet against her will but unable to stop herself. Especially when Shelby lets go of her wrist only to slide around her and place both hands on her back.

Bristling internally but unwilling to cause a scene just yet, Toni allows herself to be pushed to the front of the plane where one of the two black girls is leaning into her seat, staring out through the window of the plane and trying her best not to acknowledge anything around her.

“You play nice now,” Shelby says for good measure, and when Toni glares up at her, she only seems to smile harder, which serves to piss Toni off even more.

To Toni’s great annoyance, Shelby walks back through the plane and sits herself down in Toni’s empty seat, smiling over at Marty, who smiles shyly back at her. Which means that all of this wasn’t just to get under Toni’s skin, but to get at Martha. And that is unacceptable.

Keeping one ear tuned to the back, where Marty and Shelby are discussing things, Toni turns towards the girl next to her and tries to strike up a conversation. It goes about as well as expected, given her temper, and the seemingly evenly matched anger of the other girl – Rachel.

And then, before Toni can wonder what she’s going to do about her seat smelling of Shelby after all of this is over, everything goes to shit.

 

###

 

When she wakes, it’s not with a start but with a memory.

Flashes of people putting her on a cot and carrying her around. The noise of shouts as she comes back to herself before the pinch of something sharp puts her back down again. Why did she have a weird dream about Martha and Shelby being carried off together on stretchers?

“She’s waking up! Gretchen!”

Who the fuck is Gretchen? Toni doesn’t know anybody by that name.

“That’s impossible! You saw how much of that cake she ate!”

Coughing up water, Toni curls further into herself, her right hand digging into the soft sand underneath her. Soft and wet and all too weird. Why is she out in the open? She can smell fish and saltwater, as well as the stench of goat as soon as the wind shifts above her, bringing new sounds and scents.

“Fuck,” she groans to herself as she opens her eyes, the flashes moving to the back of her mind as she pushes herself to her knees and looks around. “Marty?” Bringing a hand to her head, she shakes herself like a wet dog, her curly hair only saved from worse damage by the braid it’s been put in. There’s sand on her cheeks and clothes and she’s soaked. If it weren’t for her wolf, she’s sure she would be shivering.

As it stands, her blood is keeping her warm, and it also helps to shake loose the disorientation, though there’s something off about that, too. It takes a lot to knock out a werewolf, even one as young as herself, and this spout of unconsciousness tastes chemical. It leaves behind a sick feeling that she’s not at all used to, and as she slowly takes in the trees and shrubbery and the giant rocks off in the distance that join with the shore, she knows she’s in for a trip.

“Marty?” she calls again, trying to pick up on her best friend’s heartbeat but unable to due to the many new sensations, sounds, smells, and sights. Above her, seagulls caw and circle, like she’s about to turn into a package of fries that’s been abandoned by tourists.

“Shit.” She pushes herself to her feet, swaying from that unnatural feeling again.

“Martha!” she yells, straining her vocal cords as she places her hands on her knees to steady herself. Nausea overtakes her, and this is how she knows she’s been drugged, because she doesn’t do sick. Not anymore, not since she’s been turned.

And another second later, she’s vomiting, her body instinctively expelling what it knows to be bad for her. There’s bile mixed in with chocolate cake, and she steadies herself against a particularly large rock next to her as she spews the half-digested contents onto the sand. This close to the water, it will be washed away in no time.

As soon as she’s done, she feels her body righting itself, inside and out. Her back straightens up and she looks out towards the ocean, the waves crashing upon the shore, and she has the strangest desire to join them. Something here calls to her beast, even though the moon is nowhere near full. It would be easy, too. Just strip out of her clothes, get on all fours and shift.

But she knows that she can’t, because if she’s here, on this stretch of land, then that means that something happened to their plane, and that Marty is out there. Away from her. Possibly hurt, or worse, and Toni would never forgive herself if she lost her best friend just because she lost herself, first.

 

###

 

Marty is cold to the touch. It’s the first thing Toni notices when she barrels into her for a hug. She needs it, the contact, to reassure herself that her friend is alive. That’s she safe and that this is real and she’s not about to wake up in the same position again, only this time without a Marty that’s clinging to her back.

“Fuck, don’t ever ghost me like that again,” Toni breathes, sticking her nose into Martha’s neck to breathe in her all-too familiar scent. Even here, even like this, it smells like home, and the sound of Marty’s heartbeat soothes what’s left of her worry. The pack is safe, her wolf screams inside her head, adding a fresh layer of comfort to Toni’s burning chest. “I was so fucking worried about you.”

When Marty pulls back, she does so with a smile, though there’s a slight grimace as soon as she takes a step back from Toni. A quick glance down reveals a swollen ankle, wrapped in some sort of yellow cloth that’s quickly growing dirtier.

“It’s alright,” Marty says, squeezing and patting Toni’s shoulders. “I promise I’m okay. Shelby helped me a lot. She’s been amazing.” Her smile transfers to the girl next to her, and Toni takes note of the blonde for the first time since she first saw Marty walking towards her.

The first thing that sticks out is the fact that Shelby isn’t wearing a shirt – at least not one that’s closed. Her stomach and neck are exposed by a jean jacket that’s been left all the way open to reveal a flowery bikini top. The second is a piercing in her belly button, something that Toni would have thought to go against whatever religious cult Shelby has stepped out of.

And then there’s the awkward smile on Shelby’s lips, showing off her pearly white teeth as she sucks in her stomach and places her hands at her waist like she’s trying to make a good impression at a meet the parents sort of dinner.

“Really, it was nothin’,” Shelby says, her green eyes seeking Toni’s, before they flit back to Marty. “You’re a strong one, Martha. Anyone with eyes can see that.” Her hair is caked in sand, too, as is her throat, and a strange feeling settles in Toni’s stomach. For a second, she imagines washing the dirt from her and trailing her hands along that flat stomach. Around Shelby’s slim waist.

It makes her angry.

“The fuck are you wearing?” Toni bites out, right before Marty tugs her into another hug. She glares some more over Marty’s shoulder for good measure, which seems to do the trick, as it makes the smile on Shelby’s lips falter. It both feels like a victory and a failure, and that only serves to cause Toni’s insides to bristle with more rage. Especially because Shelby’s scent is in her fucking nose again and she’s not sure how to deal with it.

“Well, it’s not exactly Hawaii, but…” Shelby starts, looking down at herself, before taking hold of the two sides of the jean jacket and tugging it closed over her chest. Her brows furrow and she looks like she’s contemplating on whether she can get away with staying around Toni and Martha just a little bit longer. Toni can’t say that it’s an improvement. She can’t glare daggers any harder, and Shelby doesn’t seem to want to take the hint. “The flowers felt appropriate at the time.”

With a grunt, Toni turns her eyes away from Shelby and ignores her, hoping she will go away on her own.

She only does once there are yells and screams and a girl Toni doesn’t know appears to be dying right in front of them. The knowledge that Martha could have been in her place doesn’t make it any better.

 

###

 

The one thing Toni knows for sure is that Marty is too damn nice for her own good. She tries so hard not to judge people that she’s even managed to find something worth holding onto in Toni, who feels like a radioactive bomb just waiting to go off at any given second of her life. Even after Marty and her mom found out she’s a werewolf, they didn’t give her up, and Toni knows her best friend has never looked at her like she’s a monster. Not even on nights of the full moon when Toni can’t help herself from shifting and stalks around their basement like an oversized ball of snapping teeth and anger management issues.

It’s why she volunteers to join Shelby on her hunt for water. Because if there’s one thing Toni can already see, it’s that her best friend is growing attached to the weird Christian girl, and Toni isn’t about to let her walk into danger by herself. Not while wearing Marty’s sandals.

Even if that means being subjected to Shelby’s scent and her running mouth that doesn’t seem to know how to take a hint and fucking stop yapping.

“I appreciate you joinin’ me on this journey,” Shelby says as soon as they’re out of sight of the other girls. The jean jacket hangs loosely around her again, though she’s traded her white shorts for a pair of long blue pajama pants, which means that at least Toni isn’t subjected to the sight of her muscular calves anymore. Upsides. “Makes travelin’ around this place a little less terrifyin’.”

A grunt is Toni’s only reply as she looks around them, trying to sniff out any predators that might like to snack on them. But all she continues to smell is goat, and the occasional prey animal. Mice, mainly. A few rabbits here and there. And the damn gulls and their shit.

“And if I fall into any sinkholes, I’m sure you’ll be the right person to pull me out,” Shelby says, turning her head back so she can smile at Toni as they reach an incline in the ground that’s covered in large ferns. “Martha told me you used to play basketball for your school’s team. She said you were Captain there too, once upon a time. That must give you a lotta upper body strength. I’m more of a leg girl, myself. My daddy teaches spin class.”

A muscle twitches in Toni’s jaw as she tries to tune out Shelby’s insufferable babbling. Especially because their climb makes Shelby’s butt look fantastic even in the pajamas, and Toni has better things to do than to feel attracted to a girl whose personality literally couldn’t be worse even if she tried. Spin class has done her proud.

“Good for you,” Toni replies dryly, already regretting her decision to tag along. Although Shelby isn’t wrong, necessarily. Toni’s upper body strength is impressive, and not just because she’s a werewolf. Regan used to tell her so all the time back when they were together. Before it all went to shit.

To her right, she hears the cracking of a twig, and her head twists to the side, her eyes narrowing as she tries to find the source of the noise. Something is close, but she can’t tell what it is. She sniffs the air, trying to catch a scent, but all she can smell is that damn perfume.

Then, she flinches as a hand settles on her shoulder.

“Toni?” Shelby asks, concern plain as day on her face. “Are you okay?”

Shrugging her off, Toni takes a step away from her.

“I’m fine,” she snarls, momentarily distracted enough to find herself staring into those green eyes again. They scan her face, and Shelby’s hand hovers between them, like she’s thinking about reaching out again and trying to gage how likely it is that she’ll get slugged for it.

Very.

“Okay then,” Shelby acquiesces, dropping her hand and taking a step backwards, her arms crossing behind her back. “Just keep your ears peeled, alright? You’ll hear runnin’ water before you see it, and I don’t want you fallin’ into any streams.”

“Why?” Toni retorts, feeling her anger at having been taking by surprise mix with her general bad attitude. “Think I’ll contaminate it with my heathen body?” She closes the distance that Shelby has created between them, but Shelby doesn’t back down. Instead, she just lifts her hands in a placating gesture.

“Okay there, Rambo, calm down.” Shelby places her hands on Toni’s shoulders, seemingly unsurprised when she’s snarled at again. “I meant that our clothes have only just dried, and I don’t think you’ll appreciate it if they got drenched again. Simple as that. No need for all that—” She waves at Toni’s rigid, puffed up chest. “Posturin’.”

Baring her teeth, Toni allows Shelby to keep going on ahead, not fully convinced that this girl with her cross necklace isn’t secretly hoping for her demise, no matter how much she smiles or how nice she pretends to be.

“You know, we’re on a damn deserted island. With no roof and no walls. There’s no way we won’t get drenched again, probably in the very near future. You better get used to the thought,” Toni fires back, glancing to her right when she hears the scuttling of tiny rodent feet. If all else fails, she’ll have to hunt those. Her metabolism can’t survive on one diet coke for however long they’ll be stranded here.

Diet.

Of course an all-girl’s retreat wouldn’t have anything but diet.

“I’m not afraid of the elements, Toni,” Shelby says calmly as she stops next to a particularly large fern and lifts her hands to it. They’re long and perfectly manicured, and Toni wouldn’t be surprised if they were occasionally forced to play the piano to make Shelby’s one percenter parents happy. “I don’t know why you would assume I’m some sort of delicate indoor princess.” She runs a hand through her high ponytail and shows off a dazzling smile that must usually be reserved for beauty pageants. “I used to go huntin’ with my dad all the time.”

A thought springs to Toni’s mind at that. An image. Of herself in her wolf form, hunting. Though she’s not sure which scenario she likes best. Hunting on her own, hunting with Shelby, or hunting Shelby and her dad for sport. The last visual makes her smile, but only for a second. Martha doesn’t like the thought of Toni stalking human prey. Not because she thinks Toni will actually do anything, but she finds the thought of something big in the night following her vaguely terrifying. Which, Toni must admit, wouldn’t be nearly as fun as being the one to do the stalking.

“Hate to break it to you, Texas, but doing one hardcore thing doesn’t mean you’re not, though.” Toni grabs the fern that Shelby is holding onto and tugs it out of her gasp. They’re close again, and Toni can feel her adrenaline pumping in her veins at the anticipation of how Shelby will react to her insults. Because she’s seen girls like her before. All perfect and shiny until they’re challenged because no one else dares to step on their toes. And if she exposes her now, before Marty can have a chance to grow attached to this girl, then all the better. “Let me guess, you live in a big fucking mansion with your perfect little cishetero family behind some white picket fence that’s electrified so none of the low lives in the poor neighborhoods of your backwards-ass little town can climb inside to take what’s yours.”

There’s a flash in her eyes, and Toni sees it. The annoyance. It’s in the small furrow to her brows and the way the left side of her mouth twitches downwards. She revels in the reaction she’s caused. Somehow, it’s important to draw a boundary, to keep Shelby as far away from her as possible. And perhaps, by extension, away from Marty.

But again, Shelby doesn’t step back from Toni’s open hostility.

So whatever else can be said about her, she’s not in want of a backbone.

“God teaches us to be tools of love,” she says, looking down at Toni with something that’s starting to feel an awful lot like pity the more Toni thinks about it. Shelby’s eyes move along her, before coming to rest on Toni’s face again. “There is no hate in my heart. No matter how much you’re tryin’ to inspire it in me.”

And that smile is back, that holier than thou shtick that Toni has seen one too many times in her life.

“You’re a tool alright,” Toni retorts, which only gets her an eye roll this time. Seemingly good-natured, even, and Shelby has the audacity to place her hands on Toni’s shoulders again. The touch inspires yet more rage, and Toni clenches her fists at her sides to keep herself from snarling with more teeth than a human ought to have.

“You say the sweetest things,” Shelby drawls, before pushing a little on Toni’s shoulders. “Now, please, would you turn around? I have to pee, and I’m afraid I can’t do that while you’re watchin’.” She nudges again, her shy expression moving Toni more than her hands. Then, to her horror, before Toni has even fully turned, Shelby starts to tug down her pants and underwear, and Toni can’t get her face around fast enough.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she grumbles to herself and rubs at a piece of sand that’s still left on her neck. And then, to make it even worse, Shelby starts to sing to play over the sound of her peeing, and it’s some godawful Jesus song, and Toni wishes she were literally anywhere else in the world. Even on another deserted island if she has to be stranded somewhere. So long as Shelby Goodkind is as far away from her as humanly or inhumanly possible.

 

###

 

A few minutes later, Toni realizes she just should have gone looking for water by herself, even if that meant leaving Shelby around Marty. Because not only could she have shifted to speed up the process, and maybe hunted herself some food for good measure, but she also wouldn’t be feeling the anger so acutely. The feeling of betrayal at the universe for landing her in this situation with six people she has no interest in getting to know, one person she loves, and one girl she wishes she could strangle with one of these ferns.

“Lord, in your mercy,” Shelby mutters to herself, keeping her hands clasped in front of herself as they climb further up the hill. “Lord, open our senses, please, so that we may drink. Lord, in your mercy.” Her ponytail bobs up and down and even though they’ve all been in the ocean, the perfume still clings to her. Maybe it’s on her clothes, too. Those tend to give up scents much less readily than human skin.

Not that she smell of Shelby’s sweat isn’t laying heavy and thick on Toni’s tongue, too.

All-around, she’s having a shit time.

Maybe that’s why she keeps needling Shelby with derogatory comments about what she thinks Shelby’s life is like. If nothing else, it at least keeps her occupied and distracted. Her head is still reeling from the plane crash and the feeling of the drugs, and Toni knows that as soon as she slows down enough to think about the implications, she’s going to be freaking out of her damn head, and she doesn’t want that to happen until night has fallen and she’s safe to shift in the dark.

They’re almost out of the fern field by the time Toni hears broken twigs again as something moves alongside them. And this time, she stalks towards it, unheeding of what might await her on the other side. If there’s a predator anywhere close to her, she wants to know sooner rather than later.

“Toni?” Shelby calls after her, struggling to catch up with Toni’s determined strides. “Toni, where are you goin’? Did you hear somethin’? It wouldn’t happen to be water by any chance?” Her high-pitched voice, half hopeful and half aggravated at Toni’s sudden veer to the left, circles around Toni’s head, and then there’s a hand on the back of Toni’s tank top, and she yanks away too suddenly, too violently. Before Toni can take the time to think about her actions or the consequences thereof, she walks through a shrub and pushes the branch behind herself, whacking Shelby straight in the face with it.

It’s meant to get her to shut up while Toni continues to investigate, but instead it’s enough to knock the girl off balance and send her careening down the hill they just painstakingly trekked up. And Toni can hear with thundering clarity the sound of every grunt and thud as Shelby slips and slides and crashes through the underbrush and ferns.

“Shit,” Toni hisses out as she takes one last look back towards the direction of the cracking noises. It’s no contest, however. No matter how much Shelby may piss her off, she doesn’t deserve to be left in the dirt, hurting and alone, after Toni did this to her.

Quickly sliding down after her, Toni furrows her brows in annoyance, this time at herself. She merely wanted to get under Shelby’s skin with her words, not with her damn actions. But then again, this is the way it always goes, doesn’t it? She loses control of her faculties, and then someone gets hurt. This is just like Regan all over again.

“Fuck, Shelby,” Toni gasps out when the other girl finally comes to a stop. The smell of blood is on the air, and Toni clenches her jaw as she instinctively reaches out to her, to steady her, only to be shrugged off. “I didn’t mean to—”

Shelby doesn’t glare at her. If anything, she looks more shaken than angry, and a smear of blood gathers at her left temple.

“It’s alright,” Shelby breathes out, bringing her hand to the blood and looking down at the tips of her fingers like she’s never seen anything like it before. The sight stirs something not altogether foreign in Toni, something that’s usually reserved for Marty and Mrs. Blackburn these days.

The urge to protect.

Even though she’s the one that Shelby needs protection from.

“Shelby,” Toni tries again, pressing her jaws together as she lifts her hand to her almost-enemy’s bicep. Shelby tries to shrug her off again, but Toni isn’t as easily dissuaded this time. Her hand is strong and determined as she takes a hold of Shelby’s jean jacket. “Fucking let me help you up, you stubborn bitch.”

With a flinch, Shelby barely allows the help as she pushes herself to her feet.

“You should go on back,” she says, wincing when she touches the blood again. Her hair is a disheveled mess. There are twigs and leaves stuck in it, and her clothes are much dustier than they were a second ago, before Toni fucked everything up again. “I’ll follow in a second.”

With a frown, Toni grips the bottom of her tank top and pulls it up over her head.

“Right, and then everyone will say I fucking killed you when you pass out somewhere due to a concussion or blood loss or some shit. Think again, princess,” she says angrily, though without the prior malice. It’s mainly for appearance’s sake this time as she takes a step forward and tries to dab at Shelby’s temple.

“Really, I’m fine,” Shelby says as she moves out of the way of the tank, and Toni feels genuine anger rise in her again. “I’m not hurt that badly.” She avoids Toni’s gaze, and that is somehow worse than seeing the scrutiny and pity that was there before.

“Fuck off,” Toni growls out as she grabs Shelby’s jaw with her left hand so she can finally soak up some of the blood with the black top in her right. The stench of it, fresh and alive, makes saliva run like a river in Toni’s mouth, reminding her uncomfortably that whatever civilized version of herself she portrays to the humans around her, at heart she is truly nothing but a beast. A house-trained killing machine that is being held together by thumb tacks, strips of colorful masking tape, and Martha’s goodwill.

Closing her eyes, Shelby grabs a tight hold of Toni’s left wrist.

“Must you be so crass?” she asks quietly, green eyes opening to reveal the soft sting of tears. It must be the pain, and Toni endeavors to be gentler in her approach, even though her face stays hard. She may not like Shelby’s personality, but she doesn’t want her to fucking die out here. Even she doesn’t deserve that.

“It’s part of my fucking charm,” Toni replies with less heat than before, taking away the top to look at how badly Shelby’s been damaged. It’s nothing more than a nick, really, but she dabs at it anyway, hoping it will stop bleeding soon. They don’t have any bandages out here. It’s bad enough that Marty’s ankle is swollen; they don’t need Shelby Goodkind passing out on them. Somehow, Toni thinks the other girl would use the opportunity to hold a full sermon even while unconscious.

“So eloquent,” Shelby mutters to herself as her hand absentmindedly slides down Toni’s forearm. It’s not as soft as Toni previously suspected, so maybe that story about hunting with her father is true after all. Something sure has made the pads of Shelby’s hand calloused and rough, and she doesn’t think it’s from waving at beauty contests.

 

###

 

For the first couple of steps, Shelby is a little unsteady, but that doesn’t last for too long. It’s clearly the shock and adrenaline that’s making her waiver, and Toni’s hand on her elbow is keeping her straight and in line until she can make it on her own. She even hands back the tank top at that point, and Toni isn’t sure if she wants to put it back on or not.

“We should probably wash that as soon as possible,” Shelby says, still with that strange quiet from before, like she’s half-expecting Toni to punch her in the face on top of everything else. It’s an apprehension that Toni would usually welcome under different circumstances, but she knows that as soon as Shelby tattles on her, Marty will be angry. She might even be angry enough to stop talking to Toni for the rest of the day, and that doesn’t bode well for either of their sanities. “We don’t want to be attractin’ any predators.”

With a shrug, Toni unfurls her basketball top and looks down at it.

“All I can smell on this damn island are goats,” she says by way of conversation, her eyes keen enough to notice the dark splotches of blood even among the black fabric. Whether she ends up washing it or not, she will always remember the way Shelby Goodkind’s essence stained it on a fucking deserted island out in the middle of the ocean.

Furrowing her brows, Shelby lays her hand against the trunk of a tree they’re passing.

“Goats?” she asks, looking around them. “I haven’t seen any.”

Annoyed at herself, Toni tugs on the tank top, blood and all.

“Must just be you, then,” she retorts, and stalks further on ahead to avoid any further questions about how on Earth she could possibly know that there are farm animals in this place without having encountered one.

“Oh, ha ha,” Shelby says, her voice slowly returning to its normal volume. “Your wit knows no bounds.”

Toni only grunts.

 

###

 

Whatever Toni expects to happen, it’s not for Shelby Goodkind to pretend.

Pretend that Toni didn’t smack her straight in the face with a branch, resulting in a tumble that could have ended much worse. Pretend like she’s not angry about the whole situation, or that there is no animosity between them. Pretend like she’s the one who walked into a tree all by herself.

She even gives off a gentle self-deprecating laugh.

“Toni helped me with the bleedin’,” Shelby says, and Martha looks at Toni like she has hung the stars, and this is so much worse than her best friend’s righteous anger. Because knowing that Marty is proud of her for something she didn’t do out of the kindness of her heart, but because she felt guilty for causing it, that’s just about a million times worse. It’s some form of karmic punishment, and she hates that it’s Shelby who’s doling it out to her.

“Toni!” Martha gushes, tugging her into a hug. “Thank you for taking care of Shelby.”

Somehow, the look on Shelby’s face is less smug and more searching, and Toni feels desperately ready to ditch the group and run around the island by herself. In wolf form or not. At this point, all she wants is to get away from all the confusion and finally acquaint herself with her surroundings. Preferably without Shelby’s damn blood or perfume in her nostrils.

“Whatever,” Toni replies gruffly, patting Marty’s back and glaring at Shelby, reminiscent of a few hours ago when she and Martha first reunited after the crash. “If I left the beauty queen to fend for herself, you’d never let me hear the end of it.”

Shelby snorts at that and wanders off with a roll of her eyes.

“Ever the charmer,” she mutters to herself, though Toni hears it clear as day.

Martha, for her part, pulls back and squeezes Toni’s shoulder.

“Thank you for being kind to her, Toni. I really like her. I think she could be a good friend.” Her words are warm and happy, despite the fucked up situation they’re trapped in, and again to Toni it feels like she’s walking on hot coals. She hates being praised for something she didn’t do. But she also can’t tell Marty the truth about today – if she does, the disappointment will double, and then what will she do?

She’s saved from any more embarrassment by Rachel suddenly yelling about the phone turning back on.

And then, more shit happens than Toni knows how to live with.

 

###

 

Jeanette is dead.

They bury her.

They fucking sing a P!nk song to honor her.

It’s too fucked up for Toni, and as soon as she knows everyone else is asleep, she finds herself on her feet. Too much has happened in too little time. She needs to run; she needs to feel free, even if it’s only for a little while. Her wolf has been prowling and pushing against the inside of her chest for what feels like an eternity. Since before she noticed Jeanette’s crumpled body on the floor; since before she smelled Shelby’s fresh blood; since before she hugged Marty out on the shore.

Ever since she threw up that cake, she’s been meaning to change. Something tells her she won’t truly be healed until she’s transformed and sweated out the rest of the chemicals on her trek across the island. And who knows, she may even find water. And then, just to spite Shelby Goodkind, she may take a dip in it and get it full of fur.

But as soon as she reaches the edge of the forest, she knows she wouldn’t.

First off, it would be dumb to contaminate what might be their only source of water in this godforsaken place. Second, she’s been dwelling on the other girl so goddamn much that doing something just to spite her would sort of feel like making it a thing. Whatever’s brewing between them. And Toni doesn’t want it to be a thing. She wants it to be a nothing. A stay the hell away from me and I’ll stay the hell away from you kind of situation.

Tugging off her bloodstained tank top and basketball shorts, she hides herself behind a large rock so if anyone were to get up and look around, there would be no movement in the darkness just beyond their periphery. Her shoes, her socks and her underwear follow suit and she doesn’t bother folding any of it. Lastly, she tugs out her hair tie and stuffs it into the side pocket of her shorts so it won’t get lost. She can’t imagine staying on a deserted island without a hair tie.

Only once she’s fully nude does she sink to her knees and allow her wolf to come out to play. The shift always feels fast and slow all at once. First, the legs, then the torso, and finally her head and arms and anything else that’s left of her. As soon as she’s fully done, she takes a quick glance around the boulder. With her wolf eyes, she sees everything.

She sees the way Nora huddles close to her sister, even though Rachel is sleeping with her back to her. She sees the fresh streaks of tears on Leah’s cheeks, still not dry because she’s only just managed to drift off to sleep. She sees how close Martha and Shelby’s bodies are, and that Dot is clutching a stick to her chest as though it’s going to protect her from what else awaits them. In another life, she may share her anxiety, if she didn’t know she’s very likely to be the most dangerous predator on this island.

Taking another second to stare at Martha and Shelby, Toni digs her claws into the sand, wondering if either of them would appreciate the extra warmth of a hulking furry body. There’s no doubt that Marty would. There’s been one or two nights where Martha has even requested a furry companion rather than a prickly human one, especially after something terrible happened at school.

Shelby, though, she would probably freak the fuck out. She may even call her a demon. Toni is pretty sure that there’s no space in Shelby’s religion for a werewolf. Especially a gay one with glowing amber eyes and more teeth than any sane person would know what to do with.

Shaking this train of thought away, Toni turns away from their small group of misfits and takes off into the forest, her big paws crunching leaves and twigs underneath them. Now she is the predator. And whatever was stalking her and Shelby this afternoon, she’s either going to find it, or she’s going to reassure herself that there was never another predator to begin with. After all, it’s just as likely that it was her own mind playing tricks on her to distract her from this fucked up situation.

She doesn’t stop running until she can no longer smell or see anything but the island.

And she howls.

She howls towards a moon that is nowhere near full.

And she realizes, with a start, that she has no idea where her phone has ended up, which means that she has no clue how far along into the lunar cycle they actually are. Which, in all fairness, is not the worst realization she’s had that day.

Still.

Things could be better.

 

###

 

The next day, when Rachel suggests going to the top of the biggest mountain on the island, it takes a lot for Toni not to simply blurt out that the idea of going up there is a stupid one. Because she knows what they’re hoping to find: A sign that other humans have been on this island, and that those humans are capable and willing to help. Or, in a pinch, they’re hoping to catch sight of an abandoned shack or cabin or tepee. Anything that can be salvaged, that can give shelter.

But telling them that the idea is stupid would reveal that she already knows the truth.

There are no shacks, no humans. There is no one here to help them.

She’s already been to the top of the mountain. She’s already spent the night there. Prowling. Howling. Hunting small game.

And she can’t explain that without revealing her own truth.

So instead, she focuses on Marty and her ankle.

“I was really hoping it would feel better this morning,” Marty admits as Toni unwraps the strips of yellow cloth from around her best friend’s foot. They’re remnants of Shelby’s top, and they smell like her, and Toni can’t help that it sours her mood. Maybe that’s why she’s a little too rough and causes Marty to gasp out in pain.

“Shit, sorry,” Toni says quickly, furrowing her brows and letting go of Marty completely. “Didn’t mean to press that hard.” She scrutinizes the swelling and discoloration, unable to get the image of Jeanette’s bruised and purpling stomach out of her mind’s eye. Whatever happens, she will not let the same thing happen to Marty. If all else fails, she can always go for plan B, even though she knows it’s not something Marty would ever want. “I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to look like this.”

With a pout, Martha gestures at Toni’s face.

“Your expression is not making me feel any better!” she says, and of course this is the moment that Shelby wanders over. She’s finally put on a new shirt, covering up that distracting belly button piercing, and she’s wearing the blue pajama pants again. Her mere presence seems to calm Marty down, and Toni’s jaw clenches automatically without her say.

“Good mornin’, Martha, how are you feelin’ today?” Shelby asks, kneeling down close enough to Toni so that their shoulders brush. And if Martha weren’t smiling at her nemesis, Toni would be knocking that shoulder hard enough to make Shelby topple over and straight into the sand. Preferably face-first.

“I got this,” Toni snarls instead, putting her hand on Marty’s leg and glaring daggers at Shelby. She’s trying to stake a claim, but Shelby seems impervious to her hostility, because she just smiles harder and tells Martha something about a positive attitude and a splint. It’s infuriating, especially when she suggests that she and Toni should go find the proper stick for the job together.

Back squared, Toni puts down Marty’s leg and gets to her feet. Somewhere behind her, Rachel and Leah are talking to Dot about hiking and signals and it’s all so goddamn pointless it makes her want to jump out of her skin. If only she and Marty were by themselves, then Toni could try to convince her of plan B and get them off this hellhole.

Instead, she stalks ahead of Shelby and towards the woods until they’re out of earshot and out of sight. As soon as she knows none of the others can come running, she rounds on Shelby, who jumps at the speed with which Toni moves.

It would be satisfying if this whole thing didn’t make Toni’s stomach roil with mind-numbing rage.

Inside her chest, her wolf is equal parts annoyed and anticipatory, and the duality of her problem doesn’t do much to help. Physical attraction and emotional repulsion going hand in hand doesn’t tend to end well for Toni, or for the person her emotions are directed towards.

She’s had one too many hate fucks in her life – she doesn’t need one with a prissy, stuck-up Christian girl.

Not that Shelby would ever want that in the first place.

“I can go find a stick by myself. I don’t need you tagging along,” Toni says, clenching her fists at her sides. Her nighttime activities have healed her physically, but they’ve also left her emotions rubbed raw. They’re tender to the touch, and far too receptive to a pretty face and a kind smile. Or what Toni is sure Shelby intends to be kind.

“Don’t be foolish, Toni,” Shelby says, placing her left hand on her own waist. “None of us should be traversin’ this island by ourselves, and you know Martha would never get over it if somethin’ bad were to happen to you.” Her right hand finds her chest and covers her own heart. “Plus, I would never forgive myself.”

Turning back around, Toni keeps walking.

“Maybe I should just off myself, then. Make you really feel it,” she grinds out, taking a right and following the same path from the day before. Even though she still feels a little bad, she’s tempted to smack Shelby with another branch. Only this time she’ll catch her before she falls.

“That’s not funny,” Shelby replies, sounding genuinely disturbed by Toni’s suggestion.

“It’s fucking hilarious,” Toni shoots back over her shoulder, before actually holding a branch to the side so Shelby can pass her by. “Not that I would ever do that to Marty just to spite you. You’re not all that, no matter how much you may think so.”

If Shelby is surprised by Toni holding the branch, she doesn’t show it.

“You’re right,” Shelby says with a smirk, “I’m so much more.”

Rolling her eyes, Toni looks around her to see whether there’s any evidence that she was here last night as a wolf and tearing through the underbrush. But there’s nothing that would indicate anything dangerous in the area and it has her relaxing a little bit more.

“Hey, Shelby?” Toni asks, hoping she doesn’t sound friendly. “Maybe we should go looking for water again. The others might see some on their way to the top of the mountain, but it’s no guarantee. And while I may be okay with you starving out here to make up for all the shit you probably pulled in Texas, I don’t want that for Marty.”

It’s a little cheap, a little clumsy, but it does the trick.

“That is actually not a bad idea,” Shelby acquiesces with a shake of her head. “Though I will have you know that I think Martha would be very upset if you let me starve.” She scratches slightly at the scab on her left temple and Toni finds herself reaching out without meaning to, stopping Shelby’s painted nails from doing any more damage.

They’re both surprised, and Toni drops Shelby’s hand like she’s touching silver.

“Just fucking stop picking at it, or your rich-ass parents will have to pay a plastic surgeon to get rid of the scar. That money could be better spent paying off your maid Lupé when she tries to off herself, because she keeps having to take your fifty pillows off your bed and putting them on again.” It’s a bad cover and an even worse burn, but it draws Shelby’s eyes away from Toni’s awkward embarrassed face and that’s all that matters.

“You truly have a way with words,” Shelby says, continuing to walk in a direction that will eventually get them to the waterfall Toni discovered the previous night on her run. Swimming around in it had been fun. More fun than this. “Have you ever thought about becoming a stand-up comedian? Or perhaps…” She looks back at Toni with a smirk. “A clown?”

Drawing her mouth into a frown, Toni shoves at Shelby’s shoulder. Roughly, but not hard enough to push her over and cause another scene.

“Fuck off,” she says, and it’s a little bit too close to camaraderie to feel comfortable.

 

###

 

To her credit, Shelby doesn’t start praying again. If she had, Toni isn’t sure what she would have done to get her to shut the fuck up. Toni has been at the mercy of cross-waving bigots one too many times to ever feel comfortable around someone like Shelby again, especially once she realizes that Shelby’s necklace is probably made from silver and could be used to restrain her if need be. Another reason to be careful here. She can never be sure who’s aware of the supernatural and who isn’t. Maybe Shelby wasn’t just talking about hunting deer.

They make it further than the fern hill this time.

“So how come you don’t play basketball on your school’s team anymore?” Shelby asks apropos of nothing as she marks another tree to help them find their way back. Toni hasn’t bothered to tell her that she knows this way by heart already by the scent of the water alone. “Got bored of bein’ good at somethin’? Don’t like people cheerin’ you on? From what Martha told me, you used to be a bit of a prodigy.”

Scowling, Toni crosses her arms over her chest and looks in the opposite direction, listening for any noises. There’s a snake that’s somewhere to their right, but it’s far enough away that it won’t be a problem as long as they don’t linger here. And there are more mice and rabbits, even after Toni has eaten a couple of them last night. They steer clear of her for now, smelling death in her scent as she walks by.

“Just ‘cause Marty likes to overshare doesn’t mean I’m going to tell you shit about my life,” Toni says, following Shelby as she keeps walking. They’re close enough to the water that Toni can almost hear it now. Just a few more steps and they’ll be there, and then Toni can go back to the beach with the knowledge that she helped the others at least a little bit. And all without revealing anything about herself. “I’m not your fucking charity case. You can’t cleanse me of my sins and make a born-again Christian out of me. And if you try any crazy shit like that with Marty, I’ll personally see to it that you drown in your own fucking urine.”

Shelby finally stops and looks at her. Truly looks at her.

It’s the first time she looks offended at Toni’s words, and it’s satisfying on a level heretofore unbeknownst to Toni, who has been waiting to get under Shelby Goodkind’s skin ever since they stepped on that fucking plane yesterday.

“What is wrong with you?” Shelby asks, furrowing her brows and looking Toni up and down with something unreadable in her expression. “I have tried bein’ patient; I’ve tried bein’ lovin’. I just do not understand why you act like this all the time. Why you run so hot.”

Taking a step forward, Toni feels the angry energy of her wolf shifting under the skin of her forearms. Every muscle in her body feels tense as her mouth, nose and ears are filled with Shelby’s distress. But it’s like she has tunnel vision, and the water isn’t the only sound roaring in her head.

“Because I know girls like you. Girls who like to pretend they’re perfect little angels to hide the ugliness underneath. Girls who pretend to make friends with Marty or other girls on the res to make themselves feel better, only to drop them as soon as something more interesting comes along. You may have everybody else fooled, Shelby, but I see you. I fucking see you,” Toni growls, hoping her eyes aren’t flashing with the dark truth of what she herself is hiding.

Finally, Shelby shakes her head.

“I hope you work through whatever issues you have,” she says, turning away and making antics to go back to camp. She looks rattled by Toni’s little speech, only this time it’s less satisfying, because Shelby doesn’t look angry. She just looks… vaguely disappointed. “I will keep you in my prayers—”

Passing Shelby, Toni shoulder-checks her.

“Fuck you,” she says with as much venom as she can muster, rubbing at her eyes to get the golden glow out of them. It’s only day two and she’s already on the verge of ripping out of her skin in front of the first blonde girl that gets under her skin. The fact that she hasn’t long since been discovered in her life is a fucking miracle. “And get a fucking move on. We’re almost at the water.”

She doesn’t even notice the strange look on Shelby’s face at her last comment.

 

###

 

The girls go nuts when they return and Shelby announces – loudly and proudly – that they’ve discovered a literal oasis in a forest made of nightmares. Marty especially looks radiant in her relief and her appreciation of Shelby, and Toni goes to slink off and sulk on a piece of driftwood by herself as Shelby and Marty sit together and make plans for their first swim.

She feels exhausted, even though she should feel invigorated by her run from the night before. There’s something about Shelby that has crawled inside her, set up shop, and is slowly digging away at whatever’s left of her control.

Running a hand through her hair, Toni stares into the fire pit that Dot is tending to and wonders if she can get away with leaving to go for another run right this very second. It’s a dumbass idea, especially since Rachel, Leah and Nora haven’t returned yet. They could see her from the top of the mountain, and the last thing she needs is the girls deciding they need to hunt a giant black wolf prowling the forest.

“This is excellent fucking news,” Dot whispers to herself as she pokes the flames with a stick while Shelby splints Martha’s ankle. Jaw clenched, Toni feels the desire to hunt too acutely to properly ignore. Maybe she can get away with drinking one of the diet cokes. But when she reaches out to grab one, Dot smacks her with the smoldering stick.

“Ouch, dude, what the fuck,” Toni says, feeling a renewed surge of anger swell up inside her, simmering just below the surface. “That fucking burned. Shit.” She rubs the back of her hand and glares, but Dot seems unperturbed by her rancor. Unlike Marty, who sends Toni a reproachful look. And Shelby, who has that solemn expression again that means she’s thinking about something.

“I’m taking inventory right now. I don’t need you messing it up by taking some of our rations,” Dot says, poking Toni in the side with the cold end of the stick. “Didn’t mean to hurt you, though. That one’s on me. Sorry, dude.”

“Whatever,” Toni grumbles, looking down at the back of her hand. It’s unblemished, thankfully. If there had been a burn, she would have been hard pressed to explain its disappearance after her next shift. “I was just trying to celebrate my find.”

Marty frowns.

“Yours and Shelby’s find,” she corrects, and Toni gets to her feet.

“Yeah, sure,” she says, before stalking off. If she stays around any of them any longer, she’s going to say something really stupid and hurtful, and she’s done enough of that already. Even though she’s hard pressed to figure out why it matters that she may have hurt Shelby’s feelings.

 

###

 

By the time she gets back, it’s dark out, and Shelby has found a bag of medicine, because of fucking course she has. She and Marty are still sitting close together and whispering back and forth, occasionally bursting out into laughter, and Toni feels separated from Marty in a way she hasn’t in a very long time.

Back in Minnesota, it was them against the world.

Yet here, on a deserted fucking island where it’s almost literally just them against nature, Marty has decided to move on to some preppy blonde girl from Texas who doesn’t even have the decency to pretend like she isn’t obsessed with sucking Jesus’s—whatever.

Toni’s over it.

She’s fucking over it.

So she doesn’t make a fuss. She doesn’t call Shelby out for being a pillow princess when they play Never Have I Ever again, nor does she tease her for whatever else vanilla shit she and her boyfriend get up to instead of going at it like teenage rabbits. She doesn’t make any waves. Just stews in her own misery and sucks on a can of diet coke that Dot has graciously given to her by way of apology for earlier.

She’s half-proud of herself and half-exasperated at the situation. When Fatin tries to engage her in light conversation, she makes an effort, even though she feels akin to a ball made up entirely of spikes. She doesn’t snap a single time.

But as soon as it turns dark and the others are passed out, she’s off again. She doesn’t even linger long enough to disappear behind the rock this time. Just discards her clothes and runs off into the night to chase that feeling of freedom again.

It helps.

For a while.

 

###

 

After her fourth night out in the forest, Marty comes to sit next to her by the fire. The other girls are off doing some chore or another, and Shelby is nowhere in sight. It’s good because Toni tends to react less well to Marty when Shelby is close-by. Whatever buttons Toni has, Shelby knows how to push them. Even if it’s just by sitting around and smiling that dumb smile of hers.

“Hey,” Marty says, nudging Toni’s shoulder with her own. Her ankle is better, the makeshift splint has been removed, and she’s wearing the jean jacket that Shelby has been wearing for the last couple of days. It’s been washed, but Toni can still smell her sweat on it. No detergent on the island, of course. “You’ve been pretty quiet.” She nudges Toni again. “I kind of want to make a joke about how the wolf got your tongue, but…”

“You know it’d be lame,” Toni says, no malice to her words. Her arms are wrapped loosely around her knees and she’s wearing a dark blue jumper from the pilot’s carry-on luggage. It’s a little big on her, but it’s comfortable. Not that she needs it for warmth.

“Yeah,” Marty agrees, crossing her legs at her ankles. “I feel like we haven’t talked in a while.”

And whose fault is that, Marty?

The angry retort is right there, right at the tip of Toni’s tongue, but she keeps it inside. It’s not worth the further splintering of their relationship to get in a good jab. She opts for a shrug and tucks her knees a little closer to her chest.

“Not much to talk about on a deserted island,” she says, digging her bare toes into the sand. She’s still wearing her blue basketball shorts, but she’s given up on redoing her braid, so her hair is as untidy as ever, held together by the skin of her hair tie’s teeth. “Not with me, apparently.”

She can’t help herself, regretting it as soon as Marty’s face falls a little.

“Shelby is a really nice person, Toni… You should give her a chance,” she says, curling her hands under her thighs and scrutinizing Toni thoughtfully. “Have you been off running every night since we got here?” Concern colors her features, and Toni gives off another shrug.

“Not much else to do here, Marty.” Toni looks around them, but she can neither hear nor see any of the others. It’s as much a relief as it is a pain. She doesn’t know how to be around Martha right now without hurting her with her words somehow. “I know you don’t like to think about it, but if you want me to catch you a rabbit sometime, let me know, okay? I may even cook it for you.”

With a grimace, Marty shakes her head, but it’s not with the kind of disgust that Toni thinks she would see on another person’s face at the mention of her less than human tendencies. Granted, she only likes eating raw meat in her wolf form, but she’s long-since lost her squeamishness about the topic. At least she knows where the meat she consumes comes from.

“No thank you,” Martha says, wiggling her toes. “Shelby says there’s no way we won’t be rescued soon. She said her dad is probably at the White House right now, yelling at the president to get a search party going.” There’s a spark in her eyes that Toni almost can’t stand to see. It wasn’t long ago that she was the only one that could inspire that kind of happiness in her friend. If there’s someone else now, then where does that leave Toni?

“You just couldn’t wait to fucking bring her up,” Toni mutters hotly, taking a handful of sand and throwing it at the fire, making it crackle and sputter. She doesn’t want it to go out, but she wants to destroy something, even if it’s just a few sparks or pieces of wood in front of her. “You know what, Marty, why don’t you fucking see that she’s going to drop you the second we get off this fucking island. Get real.” She grinds her teeth together. “She’s not going to invite you down to Texas to meet her rich friends.”

Again, the regret is there, simmering hot under her skin when she sees Marty’s eyes fill with tears.

Seems that all Toni is good for recently is hurting her best friend.

“I’m sorry,” she says, clutching her own legs in a vicelike grip and rocking back and forth a little. “I’m just so fucking scared, Marty. I’m scared I can’t protect you and I’m fucking terrified she’ll hurt you.” She rubs at her own eyes, annoyed at her stress response. Her wolf howls in her chest, and she wants to run. Run more. Run away. It’s what she’s best at.

“I know that, Toni,” Marty replies with an unhappy expression. “I know that.”

They sit in miserable silence after that, and Toni knows this is not the right time to bring up her plan B, even though she’s not sure when the next moment will be where it’s just the two of them. Especially with Shelby always hovering around them like some sort of pink sweater that feels tighter and tighter the more Toni tugs at it.

Shaking her head, Toni gets to her feet.

“I’ll catch you later, Marty,” she says, before stalking off without waiting for a response.