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

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The thing that gets in the way of them going back straight away is the clothing situation.

Namely, that Toni is fucking naked from the waist down, save for the black pair of panties that Shelby was wearing before they started getting off. As a result, she can feel and smell the evidence of what they were getting up to, even though the others may not be able to. She sure as hell isn’t about to make Shelby walk into camp in her bralette and panties, so it’s a decent compromise, given that Toni is wearing her own jumper again. Although the thought of Shelby going commando and walking around the island not wearing any underwear brings a whole host of dirty thoughts with it.

There’s the issue of shoes to consider, too, but Toni cares less about that than about what the fuck she’s going to say once they get there.

“It’ll be fine,” Shelby tries to reassure her, holding on tightly to Toni’s hand. Before starting their walk back, they went down to the beach to clean themselves up, neither of them looking forward to going to the cave reeking of sex and lychee juice.

“Definitely not,” Toni bursts her bubble, annoyed at the way her naked feet sink into the sand. She needs to find her damn sneakers in the woods once she’s put on a new pair of pants. There’s no way she’s living out the rest of her days on this island barefoot.

Letting out a sigh, Shelby swings their hands back and forth in between their bodies. They’re still almost at the other end of the island, and it shows in the way she walks and talks. Like she doesn’t have a care in the world.

“You know,” she starts, bumping her shoulder against Toni’s, “you could just tell ‘em.”

And Toni doesn’t want to roll her eyes, but she can’t stop herself.

“Can’t see how that could backfire,” Toni sasses her, rubbing at her peeling forehead. “Hey guys, just wanted to let you know that I turn into a bloodthirsty monster every thirty days or so. Hope you’re okay with me sleeping next to you every night. Could shift at any minute.”

Her prickliness does little to quell Shelby’s optimism.

“We’ve been over this, Toni,” she says, running a hand through her freshly washed hair. “You’re not bloodthirsty.” Her green eyes sparkle with mirth in the morning sunlight. “If anythin’, you’re the biggest puppy I ever met.”

Scowling, Toni bumps her right back, a little too hard to be necessary, but it just makes Shelby chuckle.

“Case in point,” she says, sliding her free hand along Toni’s shoulder and kissing her cheek. “I called you a puppy and you didn’t even smack me in the face with a branch this time. We’re makin’ some great progress here.”

“Fuck off,” Toni says, half-charmed and half-annoyed. “Just because the wolf didn’t want to tear you specifically to pieces, doesn’t mean that it won’t do that to anyone else when I’m not in the driver’s seat.” She means to sound light-hearted and snappy, but it just comes out sounding depressing as fuck.

Embarrassed at her admission of self-doubt, Toni refuses to look at Shelby, even when they stop by the ocean and let the water lap at their feet. Clenching her jaw, she looks out towards the water, and contemplates just jumping in and swimming away again. Like she did when she first thought Shelby was a homophobic prick.

“Toni,” Shelby says, her voice gentle as she runs her thumb over the jumping muscle at the side of Toni’s face. “I know we were jokin’ around earlier, but… do you really think you could hurt one o’ the others? Even durin’ the full moon?”

Her teeth grinding away, Toni refuses to make eye contact as she answers. Honestly.

“I’ve hurt people before,” she says, her eyes stinging with memories of Regan. “Not on the full moon or anything. I always spend those in Marty’s basement. She likes to feed me sausages to keep me from breaking out.” The thought usually makes her laugh. Tiny Marty feeding a giant black wolf from a bag. “But… as me… I’ve hurt people as me.”

When she hears a soft sigh, she finally lifts her gaze back to Shelby.

“So have I,” Shelby reveals, enough pain in her expression to rival Toni’s. “And I don’t know about you, but I’m friggin’ terrified that I’ll hurt you. And I’m not even a supernatural sorta person, so what does that say about me?”

Worrying her bottom lip with her teeth, Toni finally unclenches her jaw and turns fully to the girl she likes. A part of her wishes she knew whether it was okay to call Shelby her girlfriend, even to herself, but she’s not about to open that can of worms on top of everything else.

“Shelby,” Toni says, holding on tighter to her hand so Shelby doesn’t pull away. “I’m not talking about breaking someone’s heart or hurting their feelings.” Concentrating, she shifts only her free, right hand, five deathly claws breathing forth from it. “Tell me the others won’t look at me doing this and think of me as a monster? Hell, you should probably think of me like that.”

To her great horror, Shelby takes Toni’s paw like she’s not millimeters away from cutting her own skin off.

“You can’t make me be scared o’ you, Toni. I ain’t,” she says fiercely, squeezing Toni’s furry paw and tugging Toni closer to herself. “And I ain’t talkin’ about just breakin’ someone’s heart, either. There are things… things you don’t know about me. Things I’ve said and did, that—if you knew them… I don’t think you’d want to be with me anymore.”

Jutting out her jaw, Toni glares up at Shelby.

“Try me,” she dares her, feeling furious on Shelby’s behalf.

What she’s not prepared for, what she couldn’t have been prepared for, is Becca.

And before Toni knows what’s happening, her claws have shifted back into her hand and she’s fully wrapped around Shelby, her hug too crushing to be interpreted as anything other than desperate. Even when Shelby tries to pull away, her eyes leaking tears left and right, Toni doesn’t let go of her. She’s not planning on letting go of her ever again.

 

###

 

Toni expects the camp to fall deathly quiet when they return.

Instead, she sees Fatin and Dot jumping to their feet, followed quickly by Marty and Rachel.

“Bitch!” Fatin yells out, before she’s running and barreling straight into Toni, who barely has time to catch her and prevent them both from crashing into the ground. “Don’t you ever fucking walk away like that again.” She squeezes Toni’s neck like she’s trying to rip it off, and Toni glances at Shelby out of the corner of her eyes, expecting her to look sympathetic or even jealous. Instead, she just looks… happy. Relieved.

“Dude, what the fuck,” Dot says next, whacking Toni’s leg with her stick. “Where the fuck are your pants?”

“Hey, stop ganging up on me,” Toni shoots back, awkwardly patting Fatin’s back as Leah comes out of the cave to join them. Toni anticipates her to look suspicious as hell, but instead her face relaxes, like she has been worried just as much as the rest of them.

“Shut the fuck up,” Fatin says as she pulls back, grabbing Toni’s sweater and shaking her a little. “And I swear, if you ever tell anyone that I gave you a dramatic hug after a night apart, I will shit all over your life.” Turning around, she points at the others, her playful attitude belying her serious point. “That counts for the rest of you bitches, too.”

As soon as she’s let go of Toni, Marty hugs her next.

“Are you okay?” she whispers so only Toni can hear, and when Toni nods, the anxiety falls off her shoulders. “Fatin’s right. Don’t walk away like that anymore, okay? I know you had to because of the—” She glances at Shelby. “Because of the situation. But please, next time, just take me with you, okay?”

“Okay,” Toni acquiesces, before glancing at the others around the fire. “I’m sorry, Marty. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

With a last squeeze to Toni’s arm, Shelby joins the others and sits down next to Nora, who’s scribbling away in her little notebook. Out of all of them, she looks the least bit disturbed, and Toni has never been gladder for someone being different.

“Seriously, though, the pants situation?” Dot asks again, waving her stick at Toni’s naked legs.

“Lost ‘em,” Toni says simply, casually walking around Dot and towards the mouth of the cave to get to her stuff. Shuffling to the side, Leah lets her pass without comment, giving her the smallest of smiles like she’s trying to apologize for accusing Toni and shaking her like a ragdoll. “And if I were you, I wouldn’t go searching for them, either. They’re definitely ruined.”

Looking more disgusted by the second at the mental image, Dot chucks a small rock after Toni, who shrugs.

“What can I say? Bad mussels are a bitch, man,” Toni says, hoping the others won’t ask too many questions about why Marty was acting so weird or why Toni kept staring at the moon like she fucking lost the plot the night before. “Maybe we didn’t cook it for long enough, but I swear, IBD has nothing on that shit.”

“I get your point,” Dot shoots at her back, and Toni doesn’t waste much time tugging on a pair of shorts she sees lying around on Marty’s straw cot that she wove a couple of days ago. They’re dark grey and a little too wide around the waist, so Toni grabs a belt, too. “Damn, Shelby. I can’t believe you stayed with her.”

“Can’t have been pretty,” Rachel adds, though her voice sounds a lot less convinced than Dot’s.

“What can I tell you. Shelby’s a real Christian,” Toni says, leaving the cave and sitting her ass down right next to Fatin, who tries ruffling her hair and gets punched in the shoulder for it, before crowing something about domestic abuse. Toni ignores her.

It’s a prime opportunity for Shelby to chime in about her time spent as some sort of girl scout or something, but she doesn’t. And when she just runs her hand through her shorter hair, the other girls finally take note of the fact that Toni’s not the only one who looks different.

“The hell happened to your hair?” Rachel asks, squinting at Shelby across the fire, where a few lone fish cook on the spit roast.

“Oh, um,” Shelby says, dropping her hand like the others will unsee that she looks different. “I guess I just—I needed a change.” She rubs at the back of her neck, pulls her knees to her chest, and wraps her arms around them. “Toni helped me cut it this mornin’.”

She pulls Dot’s knife from her back pocket and shows it to the others, as though to say look, nothin’ weird goin’ on here. I definitely didn’t cut my own hair usin’ Toni’s giant deadly wolf claws because I’m a bad bitch who ain’t scared o’ nothin’.

“Well shit,” Dot says, accepting the knife from Shelby’s hand, “that must have taken forever.”

“No wonder you only just got back,” Rachel says, looking less suspicious than a second ago but still not entirely convinced that Shelby and Toni aren’t blowing smoke up their asses. If only Toni could talk about what really happened about an hour ago, when Shelby got herself off by grinding against Toni’s thigh. The memory, like all the other times they’ve brought each other to climax, remains at the very forefront of Toni’s mind, even with the rest of the shit that’s happening.

 

###

 

Having narrowly escaped exposure, Toni volunteers to go looking for firewood. Unlike fishing, it’s a low-energy task and she hopes it will fool the others into thinking that she’s still not completely recovered from her supposed food poisoning. Never mind the fact that, if she really had been food poisoned, she probably wouldn’t be up and about for at least another two days.

Marty volunteers to go with her, as per the requirements of the buddy system, but Toni can guess that she’s mostly interested to hear about the night before. It must be obvious to Marty that Toni was close to shifting, and that it would have been impossible for Shelby to miss a giant black wolf if it materialized right in front of her.

Shelby offers to tag along too, and now it’s getting a little bit ridiculous. They don’t need three fucking people to look for firewood, but no one says anything about it. Which is how, eventually, Fatin declares that she’s too fucking bored to help Dot with her never-ending project of the cave entrance, and they end up traipsing off into the woods as a group of four.

Four.

Four fucking idiots on the hunt for firewood.

Rolling her eyes, Toni stuffs her hands into her new pair of shorts and borrows a pair of shoes from Fatin that are a bright, sparkly cyan and are covered in sequins to round out the whole, horrible picture. At least they don’t have heels.

“This is so stupid,” Toni mumbles to Marty as they enter the forest.

“I think Fatin’s worried about you,” Marty replies, linking their arms and tugging Toni a little further away from where Fatin and Shelby are talking about how best to keep their hair clean on the island. Somehow, Shelby seems to have overcome her aversion to washing, and Toni can’t say she minds. “I’m pretty sure she was on the verge of punching me in the face when I stopped her from going after you and Shelby.”

Looking back over her shoulder, Toni contemplates her best friend’s words.

“She’s going soft on us,” Toni finally settles on, leaning down and picking up the first stick she intends to take back.

“Speaking of,” Marty says, pulling Toni back into a standing position and fixing her with a meaningful stare. “You and Shelby?”

Blowing out a breath, Toni turns her ear back to the others, happy to hear them still deep in discussion. She doesn’t think they’ve picked up on the fact that Toni and Marty are talking about them. Stuffing the stick into her drawstring bag, Toni takes Marty by the elbow and drags her a little further away, still.

“Shelby knows,” she finally settles on, picking up another stick.

“Toni,” Marty replies, her face more than a little concerned.

“She’s fine,” Toni reassures her, hoping it will help Marty’s suddenly very loud heartbeat to calm down again. Back in Minnesota, the two of them were always trying to keep Toni’s otherness a secret. Together. “She’s not going to tell any of the others.”

Furrowing her brows, Marty nods and finally picks up a couple of twigs, too.

“I’m surprised your wolf didn’t try to maul her face off, considering some of the things she believes,” Marty says off-handedly, her voice sounding like she’s trying to make a joke. And Toni knows she doesn’t mean for it to come off as an admission that Toni is a monster with no self-control, but Toni can’t help but be reminded of her own doubts.

Clenching her jaw, Toni looks back at Shelby again, who is smiling tentatively at Fatin.

“Do you think I could?” Toni asks, her gaze returning to Marty. “Do you think I could kill someone?”

The humor drains from her friend’s face faster than Toni thought possible.

“No!” Marty says quickly, taking Toni’s hand. “Not on purpose!”

Swallowing thickly, Toni nods, her eyes falling to the ground. It’s so different to before, this moment, but it confirms what Toni herself was thinking earlier. That she may not want to hurt anyone on purpose, but that ultimately, she can’t really change the fact that she might. If the circumstances were bad enough.

“Yeah,” Toni agrees, keeping her focus on the task at hand.

Besides, it doesn’t do her any good to dwell on the things she cannot change.

 

###

 

They stumble upon a fallen tree trunk a little further up ahead, one that Toni thinks might be good for the entrance to their cave. She thinks Dot will be psyched to have it at any rate, so Toni asks Shelby and Fatin to go back to camp and wrangle up Dot’s pocketknife so they can cut off the longer branches at the top.

“Aye aye, Captain,” Fatin says sarcastically and with a mock-salute that has Toni rolling her eyes.

“We’ll be right back,” Shelby promises, looking between Toni and Marty with a smile, before she turns around and starts walking away, Fatin following along next to her. They’re almost out of view when Toni hears Fatin’s voice move through the air, too far away for anyone without wolf ears to pick up on.

“So,” she starts, and Toni is on the verge of putting her attention to something else, when she continues. “I couldn’t help but notice a certain something-something on your neck there.” Her voice sounds mischievous, but not accusatory, and Toni feels her whole body freeze in silent dread.

“What?” Shelby replies, and Toni can imagine her lifting her hand to cover the bite mark.

“Come on, Shelby,” Fatin says, her tone conversational. “You can’t spend all night away with Toni and show up with a new haircut and a hickey on your neck and not expect me to ask for the juicy details. As long as she bothered to wash her mouth after throwing up from the mussels.” She pauses. “You know what, even then, I’d like a blow-by-blow, if you know what I mean.”

Anxiety settles in Toni’s stomach, and she gets up from her crouching position, half-considering running after them and half-considering just jumping right into the ocean and drowning in a sea of her own embarrassment. She knew she shouldn’t have fucking bitten Shelby. Fuck.

“Toni?” Marty asks, waving her hand around in front of Toni’s face and drawing her attention away from the other conversation. “Did you hear something?” Marty looks in the direction where Toni and Fatin disappeared between the trees. “Are they talking about last night?”

Clearing her throat, Toni fixes the fallen log with a stare, hoping the sound of Shelby’s erratic heartbeat won’t stay lodged in her brain forever. It’s one thing to be having sex with a girl while no one else is aware you’re doing it. It’s another to be confronted by someone else about the fact that you might be gay.

“No,” Toni lies, moving towards the top of the log and starting to rip off the longer branches with her bare hands. “Nothing’s wrong, Marty. My senses are just a little more on edge because of the moon, that’s all.”

Eyes narrowing, Marty pulls at a few of the thinner ones, before giving up when they won’t budge.

“Honestly, what is going on between you and Shelby? She says she hates gay people, so she should be dead to you. But then, when Leah turns on her, you stand up for her? And now she knows you’re a werewolf and you’re not even freaking out about it?” Marty sits down on the log and pats the space next to herself, inviting Toni over for a chat about her feelings that Toni wants no fucking part in. Even if she weren’t keeping Shelby’s secrets.

“What do you want me to say, Marty?” Toni retorts, snapping another branch off and tossing it on the ground. “Yeah, it’s fucked up that she’s homophobic, but she’s working on it. Her family’s been indoctrinating her from birth. You don’t just get over that.”

Her words only seem to confuse Marty more.

“Okay,” she says, squinting over at Toni and turning her face to the side. It looks adorable, like Martha is more of a wolf than Toni. “Where is my best friend and what have you done to her? And why is this version so much more reasonable?”

With a snort, Toni throws one of the smaller branches at Marty, who bats it away with a giggle.

 

###

 

As expected, Dot is unreasonably excited about the log, and starts planning on how best to strip it of its parts and get it into the proper shape to use it for building with. It would be annoying and nerdy if it weren’t also very adorable, although when Fatin makes note of that, Dot threatens her with the small axe they’ve been working with.

Allowing herself a smile, Toni thinks about how best to pass the time now that she’s done something good for the collective. But before she can say anything, Shelby asks Toni if she wants to come with her to catch some more fish, and Toni can’t find a good reason to say no.

Emptying her bag of the firewood, Toni picks up one of the canteens around the fire.

“See you later, losers,” she says with a smirk, although it’s mostly directed at Dot, who gives her the finger.

 

###

 

They go looking for Toni’s sneakers first and find them right next to a bunch of trees that have seen better days. It looks suspiciously like a big animal has tried to knock them over or rip them clean from the ground, and Toni feels uncomfortably reminded of her conversation with Marty earlier.

Not on purpose, she said. Toni would never kill anyone on purpose.

“Too bad your socks didn’t make it,” Shelby says, poking at the scraps of off-white clothing with the tips of her sandals. Her tone is casual, light, like they’re not standing in the middle of what could have easily been a gritty crime scene.

Toni doesn’t remember almost ripping trees out of the ground, but Shelby must. She had a front row seat to the whole thing, and yet she’s standing here with Toni like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

“You didn’t mention that I almost broke down the whole forest,” Toni says, hoping against hope that it doesn’t sound accusatory. Fingers trembling, she touches the deep gouge marks in the trunk closest to her. In comparison, her human limbs feel tiny.

“I think you were full o’ energy that had to get out,” Shelby says, her eyes settled intently on Toni’s face. “I got the impression you were strugglin’ with keepin’ it all in for too long, that—when you finally changed, the wolf in you—I don’t know. Had to express itself.”

Looking up at the foliage above them, Toni lets out a sigh.

“We should go fishing,” she says, sitting down on the ground and changing the cyan shoes for her sneakers. “I’m paranoid that Rachel and Leah might get it into their heads to follow us.” Glancing up at Shelby, she catches the softness in her gaze, the understanding.

“Are you okay?” Shelby asks, curling her arms around her stomach like Toni has seen her do before whenever she’s unsure of herself. She’s wearing a new top, this one yellow and a little frilly. Underneath it, Toni can see the same pink bralette from that morning. Her shorter hair barely kisses the top of her shoulders and she looks like she stepped right out of one of Toni’s fantasies.

With another sigh, Toni gets to her feet and gestures at the trunk.

“I’m not sure I would call that expressing myself,” she says, her voice as defeated as she feels. “It looks more like I took my anger out on the trees, ‘cause I couldn’t take it out on you and there was no one else around.” Flexing her fingers, she imagines the rage she must have felt to do something like this. It’s been a hell of a long time since she’s had such a severe blackout during one of her shifts.

Brows furrowed, Shelby reaches out towards her, both hands enfolding Toni’s palm.

“Toni,” she says, lifting Toni’s fingers and kissing her knuckles. “Have you ever seen a dog or a cat goin’ up on its hind legs to hone its claws?” Her expression is serious, but Toni feels a quick blush rise into her own cheeks. “I’m sure if one o’ my friends’ house cats were as big as you, it would end up lookin’ much like this.”

Letting out a heavy breath, Toni drops her head.

“Fuck, that’s even worse!” she says, the feelings of self-loathing falling off her shoulders at the mental image of herself rubbing up against trunks and breaking them in the process. “I’m supposed to be fucking terrifying! I’m the apex fucking predator.”

With a gentle smile, Shelby wraps her arms around Toni’s shoulders and draws her into a kiss.

“You sure are an apex somethin’,” she drawls as her fingers drag along the back of Toni’s neck.

Smirking, Toni cups Shelby’s cheeks.

“An apex womanizer?” she asks, feeling a little offended when Shelby bursts into laughter. “Hey, come on! Give me a little credit!” Sliding her arms under Shelby’s thighs, she lifts her up, pleasantly surprised when Shelby wraps her legs around her in turn rather than trying to get back to her feet. Instead of answering, Shelby leans forward and pulls Toni back into a kiss, this one only mildly successful because of the smiles on their faces.

Crouching down just slightly, Toni picks up Fatin’s shoes, keeping a steady grip on Shelby with one hand. Breath hitching, Shelby’s nails dig into Toni’s shoulders at the display of strength, and the sweet smell of arousal that’s been clinging to her all day grows again in intensity.

“Hm?” Toni asks as she starts walking them towards the beach, taking care to avoid anything on the ground that might make her trip. “What was that about me being an apex something?” She keeps getting distracted by green eyes and dilated pupils.

Licking her bottom lip, Shelby draws Toni into another kiss, her enthusiasm enough to finally make Toni pause in her trek. As their mouths slide back and forth, her grip tightens on Shelby’s thigh and she drops the shoes so she can grab Shelby’s ass, too. She feels out of control again, but not like she usually does.

“Would it—would it be weird, if we—” Shelby says through kisses, her eyes shut and her warm breath cascading across Toni’s face. “Again? Even though we already did it this mornin’?” She drags one of her fingers down the front of Toni’s throat.

“Shelby,” Toni husks, walking over to a tree and leaning Shelby against it. “We can have as much sex as we want.” She keeps her voice low, even though none of the other girls are anywhere close to them. This moment, like all the others, belongs to them and no one else. “You’re gorgeous when you come, and I would love to see it again. I’ve been thinking about almost nothing else since we got back to camp.”

With a needy whimper, Shelby kisses her, sliding one of her hands into the back of the collar of Toni’s jumper to feel her skin, her nails leaving a trail of fire behind.

“You make me feel,” Shelby starts, her eyes half-lidded, the thumb of her left hand tracing a pattern only she knows along Toni’s cheekbone. Her heartbeat is too fast again, and Toni feels the butterflies in her own stomach fluttering harder and faster to keep pace. “You make me feel amazin’, Toni.” Her kiss feels like love, and Toni tries not to freak the fuck out. Her purr stutters in her chest, before coming back even harder. “Everythin’ about you.”

Dumbfounded, Toni swallows her fear and kisses her back, keeping it as slow and deliberate as Shelby, hoping that her kiss makes Shelby feel just as wanted. And when her fingers finally glide into Shelby’s pants, nothing about this feels like fucking. Just like before. Just like their morning under the lychee tree.

And that freaking terrifies her.

 

###

 

Making love against a tree is about the most romantic shit Toni has ever done, so her emotional vulnerability is tuned up to eleven. Which is why it’s really for the best that none of the other girls are around to see her. She thinks she’s getting better about her temper, but she’s not confident that she wouldn’t snap at some of them if they made a comment about a tender topic.

Because fuck, Shelby whispers her name when she comes. She arches into Toni like she’s trying to fuse their bodies together. Her lips are sweet and gentle as they wrap around Toni’s fingers and suck off her arousal. Her expression is shy as she asks Toni if she can touch her, too. Ever unsure if she’s allowed to want the things she wants.

When they finally get to the beach to fish, after Toni has spent the last twenty minutes leaning against a tree while Shelby knelt on the forest ground and ate her out, Toni thinks she might have left reality and ascended to a higher plane. The hand in hers is calloused and strong, and Toni feels like her chest is set to explode at any moment. With just one more sweet gesture or bat of an eyelash from Shelby.

With the sun set high in the sky above them, Toni closes her eyes and takes in the wind that whips around her. Breathes in the salty ocean air and listens to the now steadier heartbeat of the gorgeous girl beside her.

“Shelby?” Toni asks, keeping her eyes closed.

A hum is Shelby’s only response, and Toni steels herself.

“Do you want to be my girlfriend?” Toni concludes, unsure what she expects. In her worst nightmare, Shelby might pull away and tell her that she’s just an experiment, or something casual. Not something to throw her whole life away for. And in her fondest dream, she might get an armful of Shelby as she jumps on her to confirm their commitment.

As always, reality lands somewhere in the middle.

“Yeah,” Shelby says, like it’s the most casual conversation they’ve ever had. “If you’ll be mine.”

Opening her eyes, Toni watches the clouds drift by up ahead.

“Sure,” she says, turning her face to the side to catch a glimpse of Shelby’s mood. “Cool.”

There’s a soft smile on Shelby’s mouth, her green eyes already looking at Toni.

 

###

 

Two days later, they’re all gathered on the beach to soak up the good weather.

Even Dot has joined them, her shelter-enhancing exploits temporarily put on hold.

While Rachel is floating somewhere in the ocean, enjoying her newfound freedom from her diving-related issues that Toni only barely paid attention to, Shelby and Marty are laying on their backs in the sand, their eyes closed as they talk about food again. Next to them, Toni thinks about building a sandcastle, whereas Fatin and Leah are discussing some musical artist that Toni has never heard of in her entire life.

“I just can’t wait to go back to the Cheesecake Factory,” Shelby says with a sigh that reminds Toni a little too much of their sexual encounters. “I’ll get a virgin skinny Long Island iced tea and, of course, my favorite, a slice of key lime cheesecake with just a sprinkle of vanilla sauce.”

“Really, Shelby? Skinny?” Toni teases her, taking a handful of sand and letting it trickle back to the beach. “If you’re going to be eating a whole piece of cake, I don’t think the skinny iced tea will do much for you.”

Letting out an offended gasp, Shelby glares at her, though with no heat behind it.

“It’s my fantasy! I can have whatever I want in my fantasy,” she says haughtily, dragging her nails along her own stomach. Absentmindedly, like the visual isn’t slowly driving Toni insane with want. Now that she knows what Shelby looks like naked, things have gotten even worse.

“Don’t let her get under your skin,” Marty says, adjusting a pair of Fatin’s sunglasses on her face. “Toni’s just a hater ‘cause she doesn’t have to worry about gaining any weight.”

At her words, Nora looks up from her notebook.

“Why not?” she asks, fixing Toni with a stare that’s too penetrating to be considered friendly, and Toni furrows her brows at her. She can never quite tell what Nora thinks of her, or of any of the others. She’s perceptive, but not the best in social situations, and Toni thinks this could be one of those.

“Because I’m a fucking mutant,” Toni offers her, stretching out her legs and scratching at them.

“No,” Marty chimes in with a roll of her eyes, “because she has a crazy good metabolism. It’s really unfair. Toni can eat anything and not gain a single pound of weight.” She gives Toni a reproachful look for the mutant comment and Toni shrugs back at her.

“Or maybe it’s that, yeah,” Toni says, picking up another handful of sand. Her eyes wander to Shelby’s stomach again, and to her fingers that have stilled. And then, Shelby is sitting up and there’s a twig in her hair, and Toni can’t stop herself from reaching out and untangling it.

“Thanks,” Shelby says, perhaps a little too tenderly, and Toni shrugs again and pulls her knees to her chest.

It’s a moment, and Toni starts feeling paranoid when no one else says anything for several seconds. Shelby hasn’t given her any indication that she’s ready to come out, even now that they’ve decided to be girlfriends, and Toni doesn’t mind that so much. But it also makes her feel self-conscious around Shelby, like she’ll blow their cover with her sappy expressions of appreciation whenever she so much as glances at Shelby out of the corner of her eyes.

“Um,” Dot says, clearly picking up on the tension wafting off Toni and being a bro about it. “For what it’s worth, I’ve always hated the Cheesecake Factory, so whether you’re getting a skinny or a normal iced tea there, you’re going to lose either way.”

Another gasp follows from Shelby.

“If I’m not welcome here, why don’t you just say it to my face?” she says, her voice a little too indignant to be genuine, and Toni can’t stop herself from laughing when Shelby places her hands at her waist and gives them her best offended Christian look.

They’re all laughing by the time Leah and Fatin get up to walk along the beach, still talking about music. It’s sweet, and Toni is glad to see that Leah has gotten over whatever paranoia she felt around her and Shelby. Although at some point, Toni will really have to talk to someone about the fact that she thinks their plane crash wasn’t an accident.

“Really, though, I think I’d probably kill someone for a really big, juicy steak,” Dot offers after a moment, drawing in the sand with a stick she’s brought from the cave. “With just a hint of rosemary and still a touch bloody on the inside.” Her eyes roll into the back of her head and Toni giggles again.

“Should we leave you and the imaginary steak alone?” she asks, her chest feeling soft and unburdened. After a month, she can’t help but feel comfortable around these girls, even when she’s hiding huge parts of her life. They’re all friends, it turns out, and Toni thinks she should feel embarrassed to acknowledge it even to herself, but she can’t.

“Fuck you,” Dot shoots back, whacking Toni’s shoulder with the stick and sending them all into laughter again. Toni’s face is starting to hurt from it, and she lunges at Dot, wrestling with her until Dot’s stick whacks Toni across the face. “Shit, dude.”

“It’s fine,” Toni replies, landing on her back next to Dot and feeling at her nose. If she were human, she thinks she might bleed, but instead she just feels pleasantly warm in the sunlight. Her arms stretch out at her sides and she smiles.

“You sure?” Dot asks, sitting up and poking Toni’s side.

A quippy comeback is on the tip of Toni’s tongue, just waiting to be unleashed, when there’s a yell from further up the beach. It’s loud and splinters their normalcy into a million pieces, because Toni knows that kind of sound.

Fear.

 

###

 

Toni is on her feet before she can stop herself, her eyes seeking the origin of the scream.

She sees Fatin and Leah running towards the ocean, and her heart nearly stops when she notices what they’re running towards.

“Shark!” Nora yells, on her feet as well and running, too. Sprinting as fast as she can because Rachel is in the fucking water. In the fucking water with the motherfucking shark. “Rachel! Rachel! Shark!” She sounds frantic, and Toni doesn’t even take the luxury to think about the consequences of her actions as she starts ripping off clothes.

“What the fuck!” Dot murmurs when Toni throws her sweater and her borrowed bra to the side.

“Toni!” Marty calls out, her voice full of apprehension, but Toni doesn’t listen to her.

As soon as she’s naked, she jumps into action.

And then, before the others can really make sense of her, she’s a giant black shape crashing into the waves, knocking Fatin and Leah over in the process so they don’t get closer. She’s never swum so fast in her entire fucking life, her eyes laser-focused on Rachel’s prone form in the water.

Her roar is terrifying, and Rachel finally starts moving.

“What the—” she mutters herself, right as Toni barrels into her and pushes her aside.

The shark’s teeth are sharp, and they tear at Toni’s arm with gusto. It’s missed Rachel by mere inches, and Toni feels herself howl into the midday sunshine as she’s dragged underwater. She doesn’t even know what kind of shark she’s dealing with, just that it’s big and blue and terrifying.

Her wolf, growling and snapping even underwater, is the only thing keeping Toni from losing it.

 

###

 

Blood.

Blood in the water.

She can’t see much.

Pain lances through her left bicep with every movement.

Above her, rays of sunshine, crossing the surface of the water and breaking into sparkles.

Her fur, drifting around her.

 

###

 

Hands grasp at her. Human hands. Pull her along.

Several pairs.

Suddenly, her head is above the water, and her wolf gasps, sucking in the air through her massive teeth.

“Fucking shit, you’re heavy,” someone pants as she’s dragged ashore, the shark’s jaws still clamped around her arm. While its lifeless body flops onto the sand, Toni stares up at the sky, her golden eyes taking in the clouds again. Just like before. She feels numb.

“Toni?” someone asks, and fingers slide through the wet fur on her face. “Toni, can you hear me?”

The voice is familiar, but Toni can’t quite place it.

“Please, someone tell me I’m not losing my goddamn mind again,” another voice says, and Toni wants to tell them all to shut the fuck up. She’s got a fucking shark stuck in her arm, she’s losing blood, and she thinks she might be dying. Maybe. It’s hard to tell.

“Toni is a fucking werewolf; get with the program, babe,” the first voice says, and Toni thinks it must be Fatin. Especially when a pair of hands start pulling at her ears. “I wish you had these all the time. I would fucking lose my shit.”

Her chest rumbles with a growl, but Fatin only laughs.

“Toni, we need to get the shark out of your arm, okay?” the second voice asks, and Toni’s growl turns into a purr when a familiar scent hits her nose. Shelby. Lolling her head to the side, Toni’s eyes seek out green, and when she does, she sees tears there, and wishes she weren’t in too much pain to move. “Dot is trying to figure out the best way to do that.”

But Toni knows the best way.

Her body shrinks and shifts. Fur recedes, hair grows out.

Shark jaws stay put even when Toni’s bicep loses most of its mass, and with a squelch they pull the shark away from her as new blood soaks the sand underneath her body.

And then, she’s just Toni, shivering and naked on the beach.

“Ta-da,” she murmurs, before her eyes roll into the back of her head.

 

###

 

By the time she wakes, night has fallen, and she’s in the cave.

There’s a body wrapped around her, and her left arm is throbbing.

“Shit,” she murmurs, bringing her right hand to her forehead. A quick glance to the right reveals that it’s Shelby who’s wrapped around her, her face tucked into Toni’s neck and her arms curled around Toni’s torso, like she’s afraid Toni will float away if she doesn’t hold on.

“I’d say,” Dot replies, sitting not too far away from Toni. “I saw way more of you than I ever wanted to.”

Looking down at herself, Toni realizes to her great relief that someone has dressed her. She’s wearing the blue pajama pants that Shelby wore that first day, and her own basketball tank top. The scent of Shelby’s blood has long since worn off, replaced by other things.

“Sorry,” Toni replies, pushing herself into a sitting position while trying to disturb Shelby as little as possible. Thankfully, her girlfriend stays knocked out. There are flecks of blood under her fingernails, and Toni wonders how much of Toni’s blood ended up on her earlier. “Next time a shark shows up, I won’t shift.”

Outside, Toni can hear other people moving around. Rachel is sleeping not too far away from her, like she was keeping watch, too. Nora is next to her, her arm wrapped around Rachel’s middle. Toni would feel happier about the fact that their relationship has visibly improved, if her left arm didn’t feel fucking on fire.

“About that,” Dot says, her eyes boring into Toni with an intensity that Dot usually reserves for the entrance to their shelter. Like she’s something to be figured out. “Would have been cool to know you can do that. Maybe then I wouldn’t have nearly shit myself every time I heard a howl in the woods in the middle of the night.”

Her eyes drift away from Dot’s face and to her fucked up arm. She tries moving her fingers, and feels that she can, even though the reward for giving it a try is yet more pain. She tries not to show it, but Dot must be able to read her face after a month of staring at it, because she pulls a pill from the pilot’s medicine bag and hands it over.

“Something for the pain,” she says, and Toni stares at it.

“That’s not going to work on me,” she says, handing the pill back and resigning herself to her fate. “It’ll have to heal on its own. Don’t waste your meds on me. You guys need it more.” She glares at her arm again. “Getting hurt as the wolf is the fucking worst.”

At least the burn mark from Shelby’s cross is gone. Small mercies.

“Sucks,” Dot replies, putting the pill back in the bag. She nods to Shelby. “Just so you know, she totally freaked out when you turned back into—yourself, I guess.” Dot pokes the ground with her stick and grimaces a little. “It got pretty messy.”

“Idiot,” Toni says, exhaustion slowly taking a hold of her again. “Did she say something totally embarrassing that I can use to tease her?” Wincing at the pain, she lies back down, trying not to jostle her left arm too badly. She can’t imagine how long it will take to heal a fucking shark attack. Even shifting won’t help this time.

“Depends on what you consider embarrassing,” Dot says as she gets to her feet. “She called you baby a couple of times.”

Blushing, Toni rolls her eyes.

“What a nerd,” she says, playing it off.

“I know, right?” Dot agrees, before leaving the cave.

Turning her face to the side, Toni takes the opportunity for what it is, and presses a quick kiss to Shelby’s forehead.

 

###

 

“Toni?”

Turning her face towards the noise, Toni feels something knocking at her consciousness.

“Toni, you need to take a drink.”

Finally, Toni’s eyes flutter open and she’s greeted by the visual of Shelby Goodkind kneeling next to her, a canteen in her hands and her brows furrowed with concern. It would be a perfect way to wake up, if Toni couldn’t immediately tell that her arm is still fucked up.

“Shelby,” she murmurs, right hand moving across the ground and only stopping when it touches some part of her girlfriend. She thinks it’s her waist, or maybe her butt, but Toni is too sleepy to pay much attention to the appropriateness of the moment.

“Hey,” Shelby says, letting the fingers of her left hand smooth across Toni’s forehead. “How’re you feelin’?” Her heartbeat sounds a little erratic, like seeing Toni this incapacitated is stressing her out, and Toni feels a little bit stupid for even considering that Shelby would react any other way to her being injured.

“Fucking shit,” Toni says, voice scratchy, but with a smile.

Leaning forward, Shelby lays a gentle kiss against Toni’s forehead, before helping her sit up enough to drink something. Her hands are steady and supportive, and Toni looks past her shoulder as she drinks, only to spot Marty and Leah sitting at the mouth of the cave, watching them.

When Shelby is satisfied that Toni has had enough, she makes Toni lie back down again and takes her hand.

“Shelby,” Toni whispers, thinking of the fallout of this whole thing. “We’re not alone.” Her whole body freezing up, Shelby looks behind herself, but she doesn’t drop Toni’s hand. To their credit, Marty and Leah give Toni tentative smiles, before moving further outside.

“I don’t care,” Shelby says, swallowing thickly and bringing the back of Toni’s right hand to her lips. “Let ‘em see me takin’ care o’ you. I’m not—not ashamed of carin’ about you.” Her fingers squeeze Toni’s wrist.

Her words are sweet, but Toni can read the fear in her frame.

“Baby…” Toni says, because Shelby doesn’t get to be the only nerd in this relationship.

She means it to be reassuring, but it doesn’t quite get the reaction she thought. Instead of putting Shelby at ease and communicating that she’s fine if Shelby takes a step back from this, Shelby cups her cheek.

“You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she murmurs, right before leaning back in again for another kiss, this one against Toni’s lips. Her hair tickles Toni’s forehead, her fingers gentle and sure as she slides them along Toni’s throat.

And when she pulls back, her eyes are full of tender emotions that Toni refuses to name.

“Okay,” Toni says instead, chest full of hope.

“Whatever bein’ open about this means,” Shelby continues, going back to stroking Toni’s forehead and hair, “it’ll be worth it. All of it. We could be rescued tomorrow, and I wouldn’t care, as long as I get to stay with you.”

And Toni knows, without the shadow of a doubt, that Shelby means it.

Means all of it.

And no matter how scary the prospect of someone caring about her this much is now, she’s too happy to worry about it.