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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.

Chapter Text

The following night, shit goes from bad to worse faster than Toni can shift back and forth.

It starts the same way it always does.

They sit around the fire, chatting about trivial stuff from their lives off the island, before one after the other, the girls drift off to sleep. Nora is usually the first to go, followed quickly by Marty. Shelby tends to stick around for longer, sometimes sneaking glances at Toni’s frowning face. Once she’s asleep, Rachel and Leah go next, leaving Toni alone with Dot and Fatin, who like to talk about all sorts of different topics that Toni isn’t usually very interested in.

Around that time is when she herself goes to lie down to pretend to sleep. No longer next to Marty, but close enough to give aid if anything bad were to happen to her. Sometimes, she stares at the back of Shelby’s head, that stupid ponytail seemingly always perfect no matter how matted it gets with sand.

Fatin and Dot go to bed together without fail, but they’re never the last ones to fall asleep. That honor goes to Leah, who seems perennially unable to give up control until the last possible second. Only once Toni can’t hear anything but steady breathing and even steadier heartbeats does she get up to walk away.

This fifth night is no different at first, and she’s off on a run before one of the girls can even so much as turn in her sleep. Her paws and claws leave gentle noises as she makes her way further away from them and towards the heart of the island. She chases around a few goats, but never takes one down. Too messy and way too time-consuming to devour.

No, she sticks to rabbits and mice and other smaller creatures.

She even eats one of the snakes.

It doesn’t occur to her that the smell of rain is a bad omen and that she should return to camp as soon as possible before it’s too late. It’s pouring before she can make it back to the waterfall, so there’s no way she can get to her clothes without notice. The other girls will no doubt be awake and have likely noticed that she’s missing.

Growling to herself in annoyance, Toni scales one of the thicker trees and tries desperately to keep herself from howling. The urge isn’t very strong on nights further away from the full moon, but these are strange circumstances.

Instead of a howl, a pitiful whine leaves her throat.

Jumping back to the ground, she stalks the underbrush, closer and closer to camp. Then, she hears footsteps and calls, and she freezes, hidden behind a particularly thick bit of shrubbery. She recognizes the two voices instantly.

Marty is one of them.

The other… of course.

“Toni!” Shelby shouts, her hands cupped around her mouth as the rain continues to pelt down on her. She’s soaked to the bone, as is Marty, who’s shivering next to her as she walks, flinching every time thunder rumbles above them or a bolt of lightning streaks across the sky. “Toni! Where are you!”

Baring her teeth, Toni stalks around them, feeling her baser instincts overtake more and more of her brain. She can’t shift back now. How the fuck is she supposed to explain her nudity? Surely Shelby would tell the others and Toni would end up being seen as a crazy pariah who cracked up from being stranded here. The other girls already treat her like a ticking time bomb; she doesn’t need to add anything else on top of that.

“Maybe we should go back,” Marty tries to persuade Shelby, and Toni knows it’s for her sake. Obviously, Marty knows what Toni is doing. Marty knows that Toni is safe – likely safer than any of the others. She’s never attempted to test this, but Toni bets she’d be fine even if she got struck by lightning someday. “I’m sure she’s found shelter already. Toni isn’t stupid.”

The words appease Toni’s wolf, and she goes back to circling the two without her teeth out for the world to see. She’s the world’s most dangerous predator, yet when her best friend says something nice about her, she can’t help but melt a little.

“Well, she was stupid enough to leave camp in the middle o’ the night without tellin’ anyone! Clearly, she’s not thinkin’ straight,” Shelby replies, sounding a little bit too frantic for someone who’s supposed to dislike Toni. Her scent is chockful of distress, and Toni feels the same desire she did on the first day.

Protect, her wolf says inside her head.

Protect.

“But you’re right. This ain’t workin’,” Shelby acquiesces, turning towards Marty. They’re standing in a clearing, both huddled close together to keep the rain at least somewhat at bay. Both are shivering, but especially Marty. She’s always run cold as opposed to Toni. It’s one of the things that makes them work so well together. Looking around, Shelby takes Martha by the hand and pulls her along in the direction of a cave she and Toni discovered on their way to the waterfall.

Well, Toni already knew it was there from her exploratory run during the first night, but Shelby was very excited when they came upon it together. Toni follows them closely, taking care to hide her huge, hulking body behind trees. She keeps low to the ground, ensuring that Shelby and Marty make it safely to the cave.

“We should seek shelter ourselves. If she’s anywhere close-by, I’m sure she’ll find us there and then we can all go back together. I’ll keep an eye out for her, okay?” Shelby says, and Marty nods. When there is another particularly loud crack of thunder, she flinches and folds herself into Shelby’s side. As soon as they reach the cave, she curls up on Shelby’s lap, shivering violently.

“Toni’ll be okay,” Shelby whispers, and Toni’s ears twitch with the sound as she creeps ever closer, like she’s stalking her prey. “She’s strong and so hot-headed I’m sure the rain is just vaporizin’ right off her forehead.” She starts stroking Martha’s hair in a way that Mrs. Blackburn used to do for Toni sometimes when they were watching television together, waiting for Marty to come home from dance practice.

Pack, her mind screeches, and she shakes her head a little like a wet dog.

Martha is pack, Mrs. Blackburn is pack, but Shelby is nothing but a nuisance, she tries to tell herself. And yet, when Shelby shivers, too, she wants nothing more than to reveal herself so she can wrap her huge body around the two girls inside the cave. Digging her claws into the ground, Toni keeps herself rooted to the spot, choosing instead to watch out for other animals.

She’s stupid, but she’s not reckless. Not that much.

Laying down on her belly, she waits and watches.

 

###

 

Eventually, Marty drifts off into an uneasy sleep, leaving only Shelby desperately clinging to consciousness. The rain and thunder haven’t let up, making Toni wonder how the other girls on the beach are doing. It’s the middle of the night, and this weather isn’t terribly conducive to sleep, unless you’re Martha Blackburn and a nice Southern girl is petting your hair, apparently.

“Toni…” Shelby suddenly whispers, stilling her hand in Martha’s hair and instead lifting it up to her temple. The scab has mostly gone now, and she barely touches it. “Why are you such a gosh darn asshole.”

It’s not the first time that Toni has heard the other girl swear, but it is the first she’s heard her sound so very… tender. Sad. A mix of the two.

Pack, her wolf brain adds more forcefully. Protect your pack.

Then, against her better judgement, she gets to her feet. Slowly, she walks towards the mouth of the cave, her huge paws leaving almost no indentation in the ground below them. She’s huge, but she’s also lithe. Different than her human form in so many ways and yet similar in all the ones that matter. Though for once, the fact that she runs so hot is nothing but a benefit for Shelby and Martha, who look on the verge of hypothermia in their wet scraps of clothing.

Before she’s fully in sight, she lets out a whine. It’s meant to be a placating sound, something less scary than a howl, but it startles Shelby no matter how well-intentioned it was. Marty stays asleep, curling further into herself.

“Wh—Who—” Shelby whispers, looking out into the dark. With the next bolt of lightning, Toni knows her hulking wolf body has been exposed to Shelby’s ever-watchful green eyes, as the next thing she notes in the girl’s face is a terror she’s never seen before. Lips trembling, Shelby slowly leans forward, looking like she’s trying desperately not to make any sudden moves so as to avoid startling the deadly predator on her doorstep, but simultaneously seeking to shield Martha.

Taking another step forward, Toni lets out a second whine, low and gentle. She can’t speak like this; her vocal cords simply won’t allow it, but she’s mostly glad for it. Another bolt of lightning, another brief glimpse of herself reflected in Shelby’s eyes.

She’s a terrifying sight – she’s seen herself in a mirror before at the Blackburn home.

Shelby’s scent is all around Toni, invading her nostrils in a way they haven’t been able to before. Her werewolf senses are especially acute, and she feels saliva pool in her mouth. Her wolf would never allow harm to come to pack, but she can’t help the physical reaction. It’s distracting enough that it takes a few seconds for Shelby’s quiet murmurings to penetrate Toni’s haze.

“Lord, have mercy on my soul,” Shelby whispers to herself, her eyes now squeezed shut tight as she gently holds onto Martha, as though trying desperately not to wake her. Clearly, she’s concerned about an awakening Martha startling the huge-ass killing machine that’s in front of her. A more powerful surge of appreciation swirls around Toni’s base brain. “Please, forgive me for my sins. Forgive me for my unnatural desires. Take me instead o’ Martha. Take me, Lord. Take me instead o’ her.”

Throwing caution to the wind, Toni slowly, quietly, lays her snout against Shelby’s cheek and lets out a breath, washing Shelby’s mouth in a warm puff of air that can’t smell better than a trip to the sewer. And yet, when Toni licks the girl across her face, tasting her tears, some of the tension seems to evaporate from Shelby’s shoulders.

As Toni continues to nuzzle and nudge her face and neck, Shelby rights herself little by little. Once she’s back in her sitting position, Toni breathes on her again, warm and lingering, and it sends shivers along Shelby’s entire body.

“What are you?” Shelby asks, blinking away more tears, wiping at her wet cheek.

Giving no reply, Toni nudges at her hand until Shelby takes the hint and starts petting her gingerly. Her hand glides along the back of Toni’s nose and in between her eyes, which is likely the only thing Shelby can see in the dark, as they’re always glowing. Always golden. Her hand is tentative, like she expects any wrong move to end in her butchering, but Toni tucks her face further against her hand and allows her tail to thump a couple of times when Shelby’s fingers stroke along her ears.

“Is this what a miracle feels like?” Shelby asks with a gentle hiccup, and Toni can’t help but feel a little honored that something like her can fit into Shelby’s religion after all. She doesn’t believe in any gods other than the ones that make things like her, but she knows Shelby does. No matter what else Toni thinks about the other girl, she knows her connection to Christianity is genuine. “Are you an angel, sent here to save us from this cold and terrible night?”

It feels like a moment that human Toni would scoff and roll her eyes at, but as a wolf who feels nothing but pack and hunt and run, it feels almost like a compliment.

Pulling back her head from Shelby’s searching fingers, Toni circles them a couple of times, before laying down so that Shelby’s back is to her warm and furry stomach and her head is placed next to Marty’s fingers so she can breathe some warmth back into them. When they were younger, Marty sometimes slept out in the woods with her, and while this is different, it makes this whole situation feel a little less fucked up.

After the next lightning bolt, Shelby gingerly leans back into Toni, her left hand finding Marty’s hair again and her right coming to rest on Toni’s head.

Her breathing slows down little by little, second by second. The longer they rest together, the more in sync Toni starts to feel with the other girl’s heartbeat, and even the thunder seems to die down the more they stay connected.

Then, at some point, exhaustion takes over, and Toni knows Shelby has slipped off to sleep.

Instead of drifting off herself, Toni keeps her eyes and ears peeled, waiting.

Always waiting.

This time, she’s not sure for what.

 

###

 

The rain ceases sometime in the early morning, but Toni doesn’t move her body away from the other two girls. During the night, Marty rolled away from Shelby’s lap, allowing her to slide down from leaning against Toni’s side. Now, shortly before daybreak, Shelby is resting close to Toni’s chest, her fingers curled in the thick dark fur at her front.

She’s snoring a little, her heartbeat slow and steady, looking for all intents and purposes like she’s not planning on waking up anytime soon. It’s the deepest sleep Toni has seen on her, and she can’t help but feel a little pride at the fact that her warmth and her strength have something to do with that. Under her protection, nothing bad will happen to Martha and Shelby, and their fragile human bodies can sense it.

Indulging herself, she nuzzles at Shelby’s hair and forehead for a moment, before looking towards the sky.

She needs to go and fetch her clothes before the other girls discover them and take them away.

Again, Toni does not want to be discovered naked.

After one more nuzzle to Shelby’s cheek and a lick to Marty’s hand, Toni unfurls herself from around the two and pushes herself into a standing position, Shelby’s hands sliding out of and away from the fur of her stomach. Looking down, Toni tries to muster up the energy to think of her as annoying, but her sleeping face is anything but.

She’s only just taken two steps away from the mouth of the cave, when she hears Shelby’s heartrate suddenly increase.

“Wait,” a raspy voice with a thick Southern accent says into the cold morning air. “Wait.”

Hesitating, Toni looks back, one ear turned in the direction of the beach and the other on Shelby. Green eyes stare back at her, still mostly hazy from sleep. They widen when they see her giant form, like she wasn’t sure before if she hallucinated the whole thing. Dusk brings Toni’s form into starker focus, makes her undeniably tangible.

“Where are you goin’?” Shelby whispers, looking quickly down at Marty’s still snoozing form. At the sudden lack of warmth, she has turned towards Shelby’s body, her hands folded against her own chest in a bid to stay cozy. “Stay here.”

Tentatively, she holds out her hand like you would do to a stray dog, and Toni tilts her head a little to the side, before taking a step back again and allowing Shelby’s fingers to slide along the top of her nose like they did the previous night. Trembling, Shelby pushes herself up onto her knees, her purple track pants caked in mud and looking much worse for wear after the night they’ve endured.

“You are so beautiful,” Shelby says with quiet awe. “How are you so soft? And where have you been hidin’ for the last couple o’ days? I can’t believe none o’ us have run into you before. The island can’t possibly be that big.” Quickly, before Shelby can react, Toni licks across her face, nearly causing the other girl to lose balance and land on her butt from the surprise. “Especially with how playful you are.”

Snapping playfully at Shelby’s pink sweater, Toni allows herself another couple of minutes of petting, before the need to return to base grows too strong. Taking care not to startle Shelby with any sudden movements, she draws herself away, walking backwards slowly until she’s out of reach. And before Shelby can get to her feet, Toni bounds away into the forest.

“Come back!” Shelby calls after her, but Toni ignores her pleas.

 

###

 

Ultimately, sneaking her clothes away without notice isn’t difficult. The other girls are clearly exhausted, huddled together as they are below the leftover tarp of the plane’s emergency slide, and they’re all still passed out when Toni finds them. From her vantage point behind her favorite boulder, Toni spots two arms and a head covered in purple leopard print, which can only be Fatin, cuddled up between Dot and Leah, while Rachel and Nora stick out of the other side of the tarp. It’s kind of cute, and Toni is startled to find that she’s not annoyed with any of them for a change.

Quickly tugging her shorts and jumper over her underwear and slipping her hair into a ponytail, Toni stalks back into the forest in her human form. She doesn’t intend to resurface until more of the others are awake. She wants to be able to give a good excuse, and she can’t do that if they wake up and find her just hanging out. They probably expect her to be exhausted, too, but all she feels is invigorated.

The first four nights, she usually ended up sleeping somewhere in the forest in her wolf form, snoozing away the darkest hours of the night in a patch of especially soft grass or on a big rock that she then later used to hone her claws. But even though she didn’t sleep a wink while watching over Shelby and Marty, she feels like she could shift mountains.

 

###

 

Sitting high up in a tree, Toni waits and listens for the girls to come to.

It doesn’t take long for Shelby and Martha to reunite with them before most of the others are even awake. Toni can hear them before she sees them, long before they get in the vicinity of where Fatin is currently drawing lewd pictures into the wet sand with a big stick.

“I know Toni’s okay,” Martha says, sounding very confident in her assessment. Her sandals crunch loudly on the wet leaves and twigs. “She’s too stubborn for anything really bad to happen. She’ll be waiting for us at camp. You’ll see.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Shelby replies, though her voice is much less self-assured. “I’d say my worry meter is at a solid five at this point. I mean, what if there are bears on this island? Or any other large carnivores?” Her blonde hair comes into view first, and Toni is tempted to try and spit on her head when she walks past, just to see her reaction.

Marty laughs at her comment.

“Shelby, if we haven’t seen bears up to this point, I don’t think that’s about to change,” she says, bumping her shoulder against Shelby’s. Her eyes glow with appreciation, and Toni feels a stab of jealousy that’s not at all unfamiliar. Even after recent events. “It’s really sweet how much you care. I know Toni isn’t always the easiest to deal with.”

Shelby places her hand against her chest, her hair piled atop her head in a mix between an up-do and a rat’s nest. Or maybe that’s just Toni’s anger talking.

Why is it so much easier to be nice when she isn’t in human form?

“Martha, trust me, my daddy has taught me that compassion is something you have to work on. And I take that work very seriously.” She’s using that infuriating preacher’s daughter voice again that Toni can’t help but loathe, and it’s enough to make her wonder how her wolf could have ever considered this girl to be pack.

Silly mutt.

 

###

 

“Toni!” Marty calls out when Toni walks onto the beach once everyone has finally deigned to wake up. She runs towards Toni and throws herself into her arms in relief, and Toni catches her easily and spins her around a little, her ailing heart mending itself back together a little at the open display of affection. “We were all worried about you!”

Before coming back, Toni took care to make her clothes look a little bit more dirty than necessary, implying that she slept somewhere less than ideal, rather than staying in wolf form all night and guarding a mostly dry cave.

“Sorry,” she replies, holding Marty close to her as she surveys the others. She has their full attention, and she means to play off the whole thing, when suddenly Dot is on her feet and in her face before Toni can so much as pat Marty on the back.

“Where the fuck have you been,” she hisses, looking more furious than Toni has ever seen her. Furious and absolutely ready to throw down. “We woke up and your stupid ass was gone and then Shelby and Martha went looking for you and didn’t fucking come back.” She shoves Toni’s shoulder, and Toni extricates herself from Marty’s body so she doesn’t get caught in the crossfire. “You don’t just fucking leave in the middle of the night without telling anyone!”

Dot loves to swear. Out of all of them, she probably loves it as much as Toni and Fatin, but Toni hasn’t heard her talk like this before. By rights, it should make Toni furious to be spoken to like a child, but it only makes her feel guilty, because Dot smells of fear more than anything else.

“Dude, I went for a piss and got turned around by the weather,” Toni tries to defend herself, looking into the faces of the other girls and realizing, faintly, that they care about her. They see her and her fucked up life choices and they still fucking care. It’s been less than a week and yet they don’t want her to get hurt. They don’t want to lose her. “I didn’t mean to make you guys worry so much. I sat under a damn tree all night and waited for things to calm down again. And then it was too fucking dark to find my way back.”

At her words, Dot punches her in the shoulder this time. Harder, now that Marty is no longer clinging to her. But Toni barely feels it, because she’s met Shelby’s green eyes over Dot’s shoulder, and they look too watery to not make Toni feel awkward.

She feels seen. Known.

How embarrassing.

“Next time you decide to empty your damn bladder, you wake one of us up,” Dot says through gritted teeth, before glaring around at everybody else, too. “And I mean that for all of you assholes. This place is a big death trap and I do not want any of us stepping in it.” The next time she goes for a punch, Toni grabs her wrist and squeezes it with something akin to reassurance.

“Okay, mom,” Toni says, hoping to lighten up the mood a little. “I won’t go potty without your permission.”

The left side of Dot’s mouth twitches.

“Screw you,” she says, before shaking loose from Toni’s grasp and pulling her cap from her back pocket. “If I ever catch you thinking about doing stupid shit like that again, your ass is going straight in the ocean.”

With a snort, Toni looks away from Shelby and her curiously relieved expression, before sitting down next to Leah, who hesitantly reaches out to squeeze her arm. She looks tired, but there’s a small smile on her lips when Toni looks at her, while Dot stalks off into the direction of their supplies.

“It was pretty scary,” Leah whispers, and Toni watches out of the corner of her eyes as Shelby goes to talk to Dot, who has slung her drawstring bag on her back and is looking ready to go anywhere but here. “Shelby wouldn’t let us talk her out of going to look for you. Dot was super pissed.”

 Furrowing her brows, Toni follows Shelby’s every movement, before quickly looking away when the other girl looks back at her over her shoulder.

“Guess we’re all fucking stupid,” Toni replies, making eye contact with Leah, who nods gently.

“I’m happy you’re okay, too, for what it’s worth,” she says, holding her ex-boyfriend’s book loosely in her lap.

“Are you going to punch me over it, too?” Toni asks, bringing her knees to her chest and curling her arms around her.

Leah laughs and Toni hates that she enjoys the sound.

 

###

 

Everyone is hungry for something.

While Shelby, Fatin and Martha lie in a weird star-shape with their heads together dreaming about their favorite restaurants and snacks, Rachel, Leah and Nora hunger for something far more dangerous. It doesn’t take long for them to venture out to the water to try and salvage things from the bottom of the ocean where their plane has crashed.

Toni watches them go with some apprehension and guilt. In her wolf form, she could dive down there without a problem and probably drag the whole plane to shore if she wanted to. The idea is tempting, especially considering that those comfortable first-class chairs might be down there, too. Now that they’ve been here for six days, her butt is tired of sitting on pieces of driftwood and spiky rocks.

“We should be moving our stuff to the cave you guys found,” Dot grumbles as she watches the three girls and their makeshift raft paddle out and away from the shore. “Or shit, we should be foraging or something. Hunting. Fishing. Anything but that shit.”

Fatin looks towards her and stops talking about her favorite sushi bar.

“Lighten up, baby. Rachel is a fucking star athlete diver. If anyone is determined and dumb enough to find something useful at the bottom of the ocean, it’s her.” She sits up and stretches out her legs, while Shelby and Martha continue staring at the grey sky above.

Toni doesn’t comment on any of it, staring into the black smoke of their weak fire.

“If you want someone to go foragin’ while you prepare our things, I wouldn’t mind goin’,” Shelby offers, folding her hands on top of her stomach. Her pink hoodie has ridden up, exposing her bellybutton piercing again, and Toni tries not to stare at it too much. “Toni could come with.” Shelby turns her face to the side, smirking up at Toni when she sees her frown. “It’s not like you have anythin’ better to do, right?”

“Actually, I’m waiting for my ride,” Toni shoots back, looking at an imaginary watch on her wrist. “Should arrive any minute now. I’m sure they’ll get here as soon as you leave.” She tugs on the sleeves of her own jumper just to have something to do as she ignores Shelby rolling her eyes at her.

“I could go with you,” Martha offers sweetly, turning her head so she can look at Shelby.

But, to Toni’s great surprise, Shelby shakes her head.

“No, Martha, your ankle has only just gotten a little better. I don’t want you steppin’ on a root wrong and put you right back to where you started. It was already way too dangerous to have you out there last night. I would never forgive myself if you hurt yourself while on my watch.” She mimics Fatin and sits up, too. Thankfully, it causes her hoodie to shift enough to cover her piercing, and Toni lets out a relieved little sigh.

Inside her chest, her wolf is pushing against her ribcage again, wanting her to say yes. To go on a foraging trip with Shelby.

“Shut up,” Toni whispers to herself, too quiet for anyone but herself to hear.

With a nod, Dot gets to her feet and pushes her walking stick into Toni’s unwilling hands.

“Shelby’s right. The two of you should go and look for an alternate food source. Even if we do get rescued one of these days, we can’t just sit around on our asses and hope that the rations we salvaged from the plane are going to last us,” she says, tugging her pink cap a little higher up on her head and looking out towards the ocean again. “Fatin and Martha can help me pack.”

Before Toni can object, Shelby jumps to her feet.

“Great,” she says, placing her hands at her waist and kicking Toni’s calf. “Saddle up, partner. We’re going huntin’.”

Toni tries to whack her with the stick in return, but Marty’s reproachful look stops her before she can make contact.

 

###

 

They’re back in the field of ferns again, and Toni wonders why being a werewolf can’t suffice as a curse. Why she has to live through Shelby Goodkind and her uncomfortably probing attempts at making conversation.

At the moment, instead of asking Toni questions about her and Martha’s life on the res, she’s talking about her boyfriend. It’s a topic Toni literally couldn’t care less for, especially since she’s been struggling with keeping Shelby’s body out of her thoughts. Moreover, it’s another grim reminder that while Shelby may smell good to her, and while her wolf may find her alluring in a turn of events Toni has not seen coming, she’s still just a Christian straight girl from Texas. Who seemingly loves nothing more than gushing about her picture perfect life.

“He participates in BMX rides for charity, you know,” Shelby says proudly, pushing one of the ferns out of the way and looking back at Toni like she expects her to be impressed. When she finds only a scowl, she looks forward again, her up-do bobbing up and down with every step just like her stupid ponytail loves to do. “And he’s been with me on three of my seven habitats for humanity missions.”

It sounds like she’s trying to make it a competition, though Toni isn’t quite sure what she’s supposed to be competing with.

Stuffing her hands into her pockets, she kicks a stray pebble further into the forest as they leave the fern hill behind. The lingering traces of Shelby’s perfume have finally worn off, having been fully replaced by the natural scent of her body. Toni isn’t sure if it’s an improvement, or if it makes this whole thing actively worse.

Lashing out seems like a reasonable response.

“You know, if I remember correctly, Dot said something about him being a cheater,” Toni says, leaning against a tree trunk and looking straight at Shelby, who’s examining a mushroom at the roots of another. “I think the words dick deep were used to refer to him and another girl.” She regrets it the moment she sees Shelby flinch, but she can’t stop herself. “Wonder how that fits into your perfect fucking relationship. Unless you’re into being cuckolded, which—no judgement.”

Knuckles turning white, Shelby leans up from the mushrooms and gives Toni a look of disgust. It’s the exact opposite way to how she smiled tentatively at the wolf only a couple of hours before, and it pulls uncomfortably at Toni.

“Andrew is not cheatin’ on me,” she says, voice shaky. “People like spreadin’ rumors to tear others down. Especially if they’re jealous.”

Thing is, Toni was simply trying to get under skin. She doesn’t even really care if Shelby’s boyfriend is a cheater – not any more than on the basic level that she finds any amount of cheating distasteful, no matter who the cheated party is – but seeing Shelby’s face now, Toni can’t help but think that maybe, Dot was right to accuse him like that. She’s from the same town as Shelby; she must have heard things; the same things as Shelby, even.

And the sad truth is, Shelby believes them, too. Toni can see it all over her face.

Empathy creeps in along the edges.

The desire to connect.

To say I see you in a way that isn’t meant to cut like before.

Clenching her hands into fists, Toni looks at her feet, made uncomfortable by Shelby’s pained stare.

“My, um,” she says haltingly, her cheeks red hot with shame. “My—"

“Your what, Toni?” Shelby rounds on her, her arms now crossed over her chest in a protective gesture, shielding herself from any further attacks. She’s come closer in the two minutes Toni spent staring at the forest floor.

Looking up at Shelby, Toni juts out her jaw and glares at her.

“My first girlfriend cheated on me,” she says, spitting out the words like they’re poison. In a way, they are. She’s revealing things to Shelby Goodkind. Embarrassing things. “It took me months to realize that everybody knew but me. It fucking sucked.” She clenches her jaw a little harder, and a part of her thinks that Shelby’s eyes glance down to her lips once she’s done confessing. “So I’m sorry, okay? I’m fucking sorry I made fun of your dumb relationship.”

It’s yet another insult mixed in with an apology. Mrs. Blackburn would not be pleased with her. Before Toni and Martha got on this trip, Bernice was trying to help Toni keep calm in situations that make her uncomfortable. They didn’t get too far into it. Now, as she watches Shelby scoff and shake her head, Toni wishes she had.

They keep walking in silence. Shelby ahead, Toni following.

She keeps her senses open for any possible food sources that don’t involve raw meat she would have to hunt as a wolf. Maybe Shelby knows how to set up a snare. Toni could never be bothered to learn how. She didn’t think it would ever be necessary.

Smart decisions all around in Toni’s life.

Once they reach the waterfall, they’ve both cooled off. Toni can tell from the way Shelby’s shoulders have unclenched and how she looks at Toni when she sits down to take off her shoes. Setting them behind herself, she lets her bare feet sink into the water and makes a small nodding gesture, indicating that Toni should join her.

Apprehensive, Toni sinks down next to her and tugs off her sneakers and socks. There are flecks of blood on Toni’s feet. Leftovers from a rabbit? She hopes Shelby doesn’t ask her about it, and she isn’t disappointed. Instead, Toni almost loses her breath when Shelby tugs her hoodie over her head, revealing a pink tie-dye bra that goes overtop her ribs, too.

“What was her name?” Shelby asks, placing her hands in her lap and staring out over the water.

There are strands of blond hair loose around her face, and Toni wants to brush them aside. She wants to lean over and…

“What?” she asks, finally sticking her feet in the water and wiggling her toes back and forth. There are fish in the pond. She’s already eaten a couple. Maybe she should distract Shelby with some sort of fetch quest while she catches the others some fish for lunch.

“Your first… girlfriend,” Shelby says, drawing out the last word like it’s painful to say. “What was her name?”

Her wolf bristles at the memories. The pain. The humiliation.

If Toni had been a werewolf back then, she’s not sure what she would have done. At minimum, she would have scratched up her ex’s car. With her fucking razor claws and teeth. As it is, she only managed to turn her own knuckles bloody from punching a mirror. Being a fifteen-year old sucked the big one. Toni can’t imagine going back to feeling like that.

Licking her dry lips, Toni glances back at Shelby’s profile. She looks pensive. Not at all like the preppy Christian veneer she often wears. Somehow, this version is worse because Toni doesn’t want to think about Shelby’s interior life. She doesn’t want to care about her fears, her convictions, her strength, or her weaknesses.

Lord, have mercy on my soul. Please, forgive me for my sins. Forgive me for my unnatural desires.

At the time, Toni didn’t think anything of it. But now, she asks herself: What unnatural desires could Shelby Goodkind possibly be hiding?

“Beth,” Toni replies, the name sticking uncomfortably in her throat. “Her name was Beth.”

With a nod, Shelby nudges Toni’s foot in the water.

“That’s funny,” she says softly, pressing her shoulder against Toni’s. “That’s half of my momma’s name…”

Her fingers dig into the grass they’re sitting on.

She pulls back from Toni, who feels like if she makes one wrong move, this moment will shatter into a million pieces. She doesn’t want to open her mouth. If she does, she’s afraid she will shatter it, as she so often does. Or maybe she should. It’s hard to tell.

“She had her own car,” Toni offers without being prompted, her forearms flexing as she grips her knees. “She would pick me up for dates and buy me flowers.” Clenching her jaw, Toni tries to imagine if this terror is anything close to what Shelby felt when being confronted with a giant beast and its teeth. “I found her eating out another girl in the parking lot of our school. Kind of anti-climactic… in the end…”

Beth was blonde, too.

Blue-eyed, though. Not green.

Not like the pair of eyes currently watching her.

“I was raised to be lovin’,” Shelby says, and Toni’s shoulders stiffen of her own accord.

“I know,” she says, but before she can say more, a hand settles on her leg.

“But,” Shelby continues, as though Toni never so much as opened her mouth in the first place, “I wish you and I were in Minnesota right now, so that I could let her experience the wrath of God. At my hands.” Her face is dead-serious, and Toni thinks she’s misjudged Shelby. Not totally, but in many ways that matter.

It’s a sobering realization.

 

###

 

For once, hanging out with Shelby is not awkward.

As they sit by the waterfall with their feet paddling back and forth in the water, Toni feels her wolf slowly settling into her chest. She doesn’t snap and snarl, and Shelby doesn’t talk about her perfect life back in Texas that she just can’t wait to get back to.

They don’t say a word to each other for a while after that, just sit with their shoulders close together, brushing here and there when one of them shifts. Shelby’s hand has returned to her lap, but Toni can still feel the imprint on her leg.

As the sun shines through the foliage above, Toni thinks that there are worse places to be than here.

At least in this very instance.

The silence is only broken when Shelby tucks a strand of hair behind her own ear and looks at Toni. Not at her face, but at a place just beyond her shoulder. The sunburn is making her face look redder than it probably would under other circumstances, yet there is a heat radiating off her that Toni’s wolf can’t help but be drawn to.

“I think Dottie might be right,” Shelby confesses, her eyes darting briefly to Toni’s expression. She must find what she’s looking for because she doesn’t withdraw back into herself. “I think Andrew is cheatin’ on me… I think he has been for a long time.”

Blowing out a long breath, Toni tries to suppress her instinctive anger response. Not at Shelby, but at her boyfriend. This is not the moment for righteous indignation or expressions of triumph on behalf of Dot. Nothing about this is funny.

Unlike Shelby, Toni doesn’t dare reach out, lest her touch is misinterpreted – she’s still not fully convinced that Shelby isn’t secretly a gigantic homophobe just waiting to suggest conversion therapy to her. Instead, she blows out another breath, before tilting back her head and closing her eyes.

Her words are measured. Careful. Calm.

“Can’t say I’d bring down the wrath of God on him, seeing as he’s sort of… not real and shit,” she starts, curling her feet in an effort to stay as steady as possible, lest her wolf makes her snarl again. “But if I’m ever in Texas, I promise I’ll hunt him down and rip out his spine.” Opening the corner of her eye, she tries to gauge Shelby’s reaction.

Her words draw a smile, and she counts it as a win.

“I can see why Martha likes you,” Shelby reveals softly, scratching at her own arm in an unconscious gesture. “You’re this… fiery, passionate person. Havin’ you in her corner must give her a lot of comfort.” It’s a strange thing, to be assessed by Shelby and found worthy of praise, even after Toni has done everything in her power to push her away.

Staring up at the foliage again and the glittering rays of sunshine, Toni lets out a quiet growl.

“Yeah,” she says next, squeezing her own legs in an effort to keep herself calm. “I’m a great fucking friend. Never backfires at all to be close to me. Ten out of fucking ten.” Rolling her head to the side, she looks down at the water instead of at the trees, spotting her distorted reflection in the small waves their feet are producing.

A hum is Shelby’s only response, like she knows anything else would only get her in trouble with Toni’s anger again. And Toni can’t even blame her for it because it probably would. Then, because Toni’s feelings have not been fucked with enough, apparently, Shelby lets out a sigh and slides fully into the water.

“Hey,” Toni honest-to-god squeaks, trying not to stare at the way Shelby’ clothes immediately start clinging to her skin in uncomfortably tight ways. “We’re supposed to be foraging. Dot is going to kill us if we show up with nothing.”

But Shelby has already disappeared below the surface of the water, her skinny form drifting out to the middle of the lake.

“Fuck,” Toni whispers to herself, running one of her hands along the top of her head and scowling at Shelby, who resurfaces and starts drifting on the water like she doesn’t have a care in the world. Strands of hair float around her, and her eyes are turned towards the foliage now the same way Toni’s were just moments before. Green meeting green.

Tugging her feet back onto dry land, Toni pulls her knees to her chest and curls her arms around them, setting her chin on her knees and watching the other girl. Shelby’s heartbeat is calm, her breaths coming out steadily one after the other. It’s the same level of calm Toni felt that morning while Shelby was sleeping against her chest.

“Were you scared?” Shelby suddenly asks, her gaze still fixed high above her.

“What? When?” Toni replies, her voice sounding three times as loud as Shelby’s for some reason.

“Last night,” Shelby clarifies, paddling her feet a little so that she drifts closer to Toni. “When you came back to camp this mornin’, you said somethin’ about bein’ turned around on your way back before the thunderstorm. But you didn’t say anythin’ about bein’ terrified. Not of the dark, or of the storm. I guess that had me wonderin’ if… maybe…”

Heart slamming against her ribcage, Toni glares at her.

“What, Shelby?” She feels her shoulders tense and her toes digging into the ground below her. Her wolf is angry at Shelby too, for a change, though Toni’s not sure if that’s just a normal response to her fear. Because what is Shelby trying to get at, exactly? That Toni’s inhuman for not being afraid of a little rain? “Did you want me to come home piss-scared out of my mind? Did you want me to be crying when you found me? I bet that would have felt really good to your Christian ass, to be able to save the sad little crying girl from the res, right?”

Over the years, Toni’s defenses have become impenetrable. People have walls. Toni has minefields.

Her comment is designed to make Shelby retaliate; it’s one of Toni’s best-known tactics. She’s more like a hedgehog than a wolf in this way. Reach out too fast, and you get a handful of terrified spikes for your trouble.

But Shelby just keeps floating.

Her jaw is a little tighter than before, but other than that she looks normal. Were it not for Toni’s enhanced senses, she wouldn’t be able to tell that Shelby’s heart has picked up speed, or that her breaths are getting a little faster.

“I… I think I saw somethin’,” Shelby reveals, and this is when she turns her head to catch Toni’s eyes. “Last night. This mornin’. I guess I was wonderin’… if you’d seen it, too. If that was why you weren’t scared. If it helped you like it did me.”

Swallowing thickly, Toni loses her scowl. Because Shelby is talking about her without even realizing. Talking about her wolf. Trying to gage if someone else has had the same experience as her. Inside her chest, her wolf starts to preen.

Silly, Toni thinks, dropping her hands to her ankles and holding on tightly, as if I would do the same for the others.

Mouth dry, Toni tries to break eye contact with the vibrant green irises that are studying her, but she feels like she can’t. Because that might give it away, mightn’t it? Might be a way of admission that she knows more than she’s letting on?

Instead, her mind scrabbles for a distraction, a good jibe, but all she can come up with would be even worse than looking away.

No, I haven’t seen a giant wolf in the woods, why do you ask?

I wasn’t scared, because I’m three times your size when I’m on my period; sorry to break it to you like this.

A giant black wolf on my deserted island? It’s more likely than you think.

“What did you see?” she finally asks, hoping the giant frog made of anxiety lodged deep in her throat isn’t audible. Stretching out her legs again, she drops her feet back in the water. Shelby has drifted pretty close, but before her shoulder makes contact with Toni’s foot, she turns back on her front and grabs hold of the ground next to Toni’s thighs instead.

Apprehension is clear on her features, and Toni wants this whole thing to be over.

She should have never revealed herself.

“You have to promise me not to laugh,” Shelby says softly, looking truly vulnerable in a way she almost never does. Even when they were discussing Andrew and Beth, she didn’t look like this. Like whatever Toni says next could break her.

Licking her bottom lip, Toni looks down at the other girl, trying not to let on how truly terrified she is of this moment.

“Name a single time I’ve laughed at you,” she says, hoping it will break the weirdness that’s befallen them. But all it does is bring a gentle smile to Shelby’s lips, and that doesn’t help Toni’s situation in the slightest. Especially because her wolf is fully spellbound.

Green eyes turn back to the forest, and Toni holds her breath when Shelby opens her mouth to speak.

“Last night…” she starts, while Toni’s nails dig uncomfortably into the material of her shorts.

And then, before Shelby can say anything else, the sounds of footsteps reach them, and Toni reaches out instinctively to Shelby to get her to stop talking. Her hand lands on the other girl’s bare, wet shoulder, and she squeezes in a way that might be altogether too tender for someone who’s supposed to be Shelby’s enemy.

“Wait,” Toni rasps out, looking behind them, as the scents of two of the others waft towards her. “Fatin and Marty are coming.” If it were just Marty, then maybe Toni wouldn’t be freaking the fuck out about Shelby talking about her wolf, but if Fatin even so much as gets the sliver of a hint about anything weird going on in the forest, she won’t stop pulling at it until Toni’s whole life has unraveled.

“What?” Shelby asks, gazing at Toni with confusion. “I can’t hear anythin’.”

Strangely, she doesn’t pull away from Toni’s hold on her.

“Trust me,” Toni says, squeezing the soft skin of Shelby’s shoulder one more time before getting to her feet. “Whatever it is that you saw…” She glances down one more time, before tugging on her socks and shoes. “I don’t think you’ll want Fatin to hear about it. She might think you’re crazy if you start babbling about how Jesus saved your soul with his big, beefy Jesus-arms.”

It’s barely enough and way too much at the same time, but it gets Shelby to shut up, so Toni counts it as a win. Even if she can’t shake the feeling that she’s said too much, especially when it takes a good five minutes for the other two to show up at the clearing.

 

###

 

The bright spot about all this mess is that Dot is not impressed with Toni and Shelby slacking off at the waterfall and not actually scavenging for food. Maybe Toni can use this in the future to get out of having to do one-on-one activities with their resident Christian.

The bad part is that Shelby doesn’t stop staring at her. She’s trying to be sneaky about it, but Toni can feel her eyes from a mile away as she helps Dot pack their stuff into the suitcases that have washed up on the shore. Toni isn’t crazy enough to assume that Shelby thinks she’s a werewolf, especially not if Shelby is just a normal person from Texas who has no idea that supernatural creatures even exist. Which, judging from the way she’d seemed surprised at having seen a giant wolf, sounds more likely than Shelby being descended from monster hunters. But she thinks Shelby can tell that something not altogether regular is going on with Toni, and that doesn’t make it much better.

She stays out of Toni’s way, and she doesn’t try to engage her in conversation. In fact, Marty is the one who talks the most. With Fatin, with Dot, with Shelby, and even with Toni. It’s sweet, how open Martha is with everybody, and how unafraid she is to share herself with the world. Toni does her best not to snarl at her, even when Marty helps Shelby with folding their mostly clean clothes.

Where there was jealousy before – jealousy at having been replaced – is now curiosity.

In the forest, Toni has seen a glimpse of Shelby Goodkind she did not expect. A glimpse at something real, and it’s hard to go back to the way things were before. Making mean comments about her isn’t nearly as fun now that Toni knows Shelby has mental scars from her life that ring familiar to Toni’s own.

Her compassion extends even so far that she helps Shelby carry a particularly heavy suitcase when Shelby struggles to lift it off the ground.

“Let me,” Toni offers, grabbing the suitcase and lifting it easily into her arms. “Crazy upper body strength, remember? All that basketball?”

Surprise colors Shelby’s face, but she doesn’t protest. She doesn’t even reply, just follows Toni with her thoughtful eyes before going back to what she was doing before. It’s confusing. It’s strange. It makes Toni want to run again.

Run away far and wide.

Howl and whine at the moon.

Howl and whine at Shelby.

With a shake of her head, Toni tries to clear her head before she does or says something stupid again.

 

###

 

Leah, Rachel, and Nora return with the plane’s black box, and Toni sits with the others and listens intently to the recording of their pilot, talking about the crash. Her ears pick up on sounds in the background, and she wishes Leah would stop skipping and stopping to speed up the process. Memories niggle at the back of Toni’s mind. Voices.

“She’s waking up! Gretchen!”

Bringing a hand to her forehead, she allows Marty to pull her close by the shoulders, Shelby holding on tightly to Marty’s left arm. The three of them huddle together, and Toni doesn’t even startle when Shelby reaches across Marty’s back to lay her hand on Toni’s shoulder blade, like she needs some form of connection.

The flashes of Shelby and Marty being carried away on stretchers resurfaces starkly in Toni’s mind, and she presses her hands against her eyes, trying to hold onto the mental picture. There must be more to these memories, just as there must be more to that chemical feeling from the first day. Tranquilizer. Anesthetic. Roofies. Something.

“We should have died,” Leah says, and Toni lowers her hands to look at the faces of the girls around her. They all look solemn and scared, and a renewed surge of rage surfaces in Toni’s chest. Rage on behalf of these girls, on behalf of herself. None of them signed up for whatever fucked up shit is happening on this island.

“But we didn’t,” Dot replies, and Toni clenches her jaw as she looks up at whom she might even consider a friend. “So we need to get smart about this shit, if we want to survive until rescue comes for us. We need to get this damn beacon to work, and we should carry our shit to that cave as soon as possible. I do not want to be on this beach the next time mother nature decides she needs to throw a fucking tantrum.” Holding onto her walking stick, she pulls her soft pink cap up higher on her head again, her jaw jutting forward in grim defiance of reality.

While some of the others chime in with agreement, Toni keeps her mouth shut. She’s not like the others, so she doesn’t feel like she gets to participate in their camaraderie, their bravery. She could survive on this island just fine, no matter what other shit the elements try to pull. If she wanted to, she could probably start swimming and not stop until reaching a different shore.

It cheapens the moment for her, this secret. But she can’t bring herself to tell them. To reveal herself would be to risk retaliation. Fear. Terror. Pain. Or worse, they may decide to take it out on Marty, who would be unable to hide the fact that she knew all along.

“I guess you’re right,” Rachel says, even though she’s been yelling the loudest about not setting down roots on the island. Her face is peeling from sunburn, too, though not as much as her sister Nora’s, and Toni wonders if maybe Rachel would be the one to cast the first stone, so to speak, if Toni were to reveal her secret. She’s almost hot-headed enough to be a werewolf herself, were it not for the fact that she smells so utterly human.

Dwelling on it doesn’t help, though, because Toni has no intention of telling another soul.

 

###

 

They reach the cave relatively quickly and set up little encampments with everything they’ve collected the past several days. Predictably, Marty and Shelby set theirs up next to one another’s, and when Shelby tentatively suggests that Toni should take her other side, Toni doesn’t even spit in her face.

Rather, she just dumps her shit and sits down, watching the others take much more care with their spaces. Fatin puts up decorations and starts painting the walls with her make-up. Rachel takes one of the spots closest to the mouth of the cave, which puts her in stark competition with Dot, who looks like she’s thinking about how best to cover the entrance to keep out the winds. Nora moves as close to her sister as she dares. Leah builds a creepy little shrine for that damn book of hers, and Marty and Shelby discuss how they want to make this place feel homier for everybody else.

All Toni can think about is the night before.

Her hulking body curled around Marty and Shelby just a few feet away from where she’s now sitting. Shelby’s quiet whispers in the night as she tried to keep herself from falling asleep. Her calloused hands leaving the softest caresses and strokes in Toni’s thick fur.

Thank you, she whispered, causing Toni’s ears to twitch. Over and over again until she was too tired to keep going. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Whether it was Toni she was grateful for or her Christian God, Toni doesn’t know. She doesn’t dwell on it, either.

There’s no point to it.

The cave smells a little wet and briny, but Toni makes peace with it as they build a fire, and she leans forward to breathe in the scent of burning wood and leaves. Marty and Shelby have finished planning for the following day, Fatin has proposed another storytelling session, and Dot is watching the sunset with something odd in her gaze that Toni doesn’t have words for.

On the ceiling, she hears bats scrabbling around, annoyed at their presence, and she hopes this night won’t keep the others up for too long. Or maybe she should skip out on shifting, at least until the suspicion on Shelby’s face has gone away.

The others snack on their dwindling supply of nuts, but Toni turns Shelby down when she offers her the bag.

“Not hungry,” Toni mumbles, digging her hands into the dirt in between her crossed legs. The enclosed space is mixing their scents together, making her feel a little overwhelmed. She’s not used to so many people around her for such a long time. Even school isn’t this bad, mainly because she usually has something boring to focus on, like learning about algebra or US history.

Brows furrowing, Shelby keeps her voice low so as not to draw attention to their conversation.

“You should eat somethin’. I haven’t seen you eat a single thing since we crashed here. You need to keep your strength up,” she whispers, holding the bag of nuts loosely in her lap. Leaning forward, Marty glances around her, giving Toni a meaningful stare, like she’s trying to say stop acting like a damn werewolf and eat the stupid nut.

With a sneer, Toni takes the bag and picks out a macadamia, before handing the bag over to Leah, who glances up from her novel and gives her a grateful little smile. It punctures something in Toni’s heart, because she could be feeding these girls every day. She could hunt for them, fill their bellies with fresh meat and fish.

But she doesn’t.

Going back out to run it is, then.

Just as soon as everyone else is knocked out.

 

###

 

It seems like things are back to normal.

Like always, Nora drops off first, curled into a ball in a small nest of her own creation, followed closely by Marty, who lays her head on a folded up jumper that Shelby has given her. She’s soon joined by Shelby herself, who lays down facing Marty, and closes her eyes before Toni can so much as make a comment about their closeness.

Rachel, Leah, and Toni all lie down at the same time, and Fatin and Dot don’t stay much longer after that. The thunderstorm has them all still rattled, not to mention the move across the island to where they are now.

With her eyes shut, Toni lays on her back and waits for heartbeats to steady and breathing to even out.

One by one, unconsciousness claims the others, until only Shelby is left.

She’s close enough for Toni to feel the heat radiating off her, and when she turns over in Toni’s direction, her breath starts washing against Toni’s neck. Back and forth, like water on a shore, like they never left the damn beach.

“Toni?” Shelby whispers, her voice barely above a breath, though every letter of her name settles uncomfortably in Toni’s chest. “You awake?”

But Toni doesn’t so much as twitch. She keeps breathing slowly in and out, feigning sleep even when Shelby reaches out with hesitant fingers and lays them on her shoulder. It’s the ghost of a touch, yet it’s already too much.

Straight Christian girl, Toni tells herself as she keeps her eyes shut and waits for the moment to pass. Soon enough, Shelby will roll back over and go to sleep, and then Toni will be free to leave and roam the island in peace.

Only, when Toni doesn’t reply and Shelby removes her hand, it’s not because the other girl intends to settle down for the night. Rather, shuffling and the sound of movement indicates that she’s getting up, and when Toni chances opening one eye, she sees Shelby tugging on her sandals and straightening her jumper.

And then, before Toni can make a noise, Shelby is on her feet and out the mouth of the cave.

 

###

 

Is it a little hypocritical to be annoyed at Shelby’s vanishing act?

Maybe.

But Toni finds she doesn’t much care, especially when she discovers Shelby stumbling through the underbrush, guided only by the low light of the moon above. She keeps her hands on the trunks around her, her eyes adjusting to the dark as best they can as she tries to find something. What she’s looking for, Toni can’t say with absolute certainty, but when Shelby stops in the middle of a clearing and looks around herself, Toni wishes she hadn’t stopped a little ways away from the cave to crouch down and shift into her wolf.

Talking to Shelby would be so much easier than stalking her.

Crouching low to the ground, Toni watches as Shelby wraps her arms around her torso and looks up to the sky. She’s always been a little mad that she’s not the sort of werewolf she’s seen in movies. The kind whose clothes shift with them, no matter how unrealistic it seems to her. Then she wouldn’t be left exposed if she were to change back.

Shelby’s voice is soft and low when she looks back out into the darkness of the forest.

“Are you there?” she asks, her fingers gliding along a different trunk of a different tree. “Can you see me?” Her free hand is placed against her stomach, her brows furrowed as she searches for something that makes Toni nothing but confused.

When there is no reply – because, really, what the fuck is Shelby even doing – the other girl lets out a sigh. Her shoulders drop and she brings her hand from bark to forehead, her mouth turning down into a self-deprecating half-smile, half-frown.

“Shelby Goodkind,” she whispers to herself, and Toni slinks a little to the right, making not a single noise as she tries to catch another glimpse at Shelby’s face. “Why can’t you ever be anythin’ other than a fool?” Dropping both her hands, Shelby shakes out her shoulders and raises her head back up to the sky, her eyes looking suspiciously wet and shiny in the moonlight.

Human Toni might find it pathetic – at least if she were asked about it – but her wolf flexes its claws in response and peels back its lips, growling softly at the obvious display of self-loathing and desperation. It’s unacceptable for anything to make Shelby feel this way, and for once Toni doesn’t want to worry about the consequences as she rises up to her full height. Shelby must hear the rustle of leaves because she swings in Toni’s direction, her eyes narrowing and her mouth dropping open.

“Hello?” Shelby asks, her voice tremulous, and Toni wishes the other girl had a little more self-preservation. She knows that there aren’t any serious predators on this island, but the others must have heard her howling. How Shelby can be so calm in the darkness is a mystery to Toni, who takes her time in revealing herself.

As soon as her face comes into view, Shelby’s shoulders droop.

Relief.

“It is you,” she breathes, and takes a hesitant step towards Toni. “I thought maybe I lost my mind because of the storm or the hunger or—I don’t know. Somethin’.” She curls her arms around her lower stomach again, waiting for Toni to come to her. Still hesitant around a wild animal, even one that has shown itself to be kind and docile before.

Stepping fully into the clearing, Toni squares up her shoulders, hoping Shelby will realize the magnitude of her stupidity. But Shelby only smiles at her and lifts her hand up for Toni to sniff at it, unafraid in the face of something deadly.

“I went lookin’ for you earlier,” Shelby says, seemingly unperturbed when Toni gnaws at her fingers a little. Not enough to hurt, not enough to spook, but just enough to flash her ginormous teeth. She wishes she’d already snacked on a rabbit or something to make them nice and bloody, but alas she has to make do with what she has. “Do you have a den? I can’t believe none of the others have seen you before.” Pulling her fingers free, she strokes them gently across Toni’s cheek, before scritching under her chin and along her neck.

Plopping down her butt, Toni huffs out a stinky breath directly in Shelby’s face.

Nothing works.

Shelby just keeps talking, craning back her neck so she can look at Toni’s glowing golden eyes as she does so. She talks about the waterfall, and about the heart to heart she had with Toni about their cheating partners. It’s surreal.

“I was so worried about Toni when we realized she wasn’t there,” Shelby says, reaching up with both hands to pet Toni’s fluffy ears. “I thought maybe she’d seen you, too, but… I don’t know… Talkin’ to her is… difficult.” Chest rumbling in response, Toni lowers her shoulders just a little so Shelby doesn’t have to keep stretching so much. “I keep tryin’ with her, but no matter what I say, it always just seems to come out wrong. I don’t know.”

Closing her eyes, Toni wishes she didn’t have to remember every single word in the morning. Would it be too much to ask to be able to shut off her higher brain functioning in order to enjoy a good scritching?

She doesn’t need to feel any worse for pushing Shelby away more than she already does.

“It shouldn’t matter, right? It shouldn’t matter if she likes me. Martha likes me. The others think I’m stuck up, but Martha likes me,” Shelby murmurs, her right hand sliding along Toni’s chest and down to her left front leg. “Why can’t that be enough?”

I’m a fucking wolf, Toni wants to scream. Why are you expecting a reply from a fucking wolf, Shelby?

But she can’t.

So instead, she just continues to sit and listen until Shelby starts to yawn.

“I wish I could take you back to camp with me,” she says, taking a step back and admiring Toni’s huge form. “I can’t remember the last time I slept so soundly. You know… even back in Texas…” She lifts her fingers and lets Toni nip on them again. It makes her giggle, before her lips start to tremble and Toni realizes that there are tears in her eyes. “I have a lovin’ family who has always taken care o’ me. I have a strong daddy and a sweet momma and my siblings...” She wipes at her face, and Toni leans forward to lick at it without thinking about it, causing Shelby to laugh again. “So why did I feel safer in a cave on a deserted fucking island than I ever did in my own home?”

Her shoulders are shaking, and Toni moves forward, nudging her giant head into Shelby’s stomach. Tears slide from Shelby’s eyes and land on Toni’s fur as she lets out a breathy chuckle and wraps both of her hands around Toni.

“Mrs. Nesbitt was right; animals really are the smartest creatures on this planet.” She strokes the space between Toni’s big glowing eyes, and Toni blinks at her slowly to convey her empathy. “She was my first grade biology teacher; in case you were wonderin’.”

Then, because the universe hasn’t fucked with Toni enough, Shelby leans down and presses a kiss to the back of Toni’s nose, before laying her forehead against Toni’s in a manner that is far too intimate for her liking. Because Shelby doesn’t know that she isn’t just cuddling an especially big puppy. There’s a human heart beating in Toni’s chest, and it’s slowly slamming out of control, because the sensation of Shelby Goodkind’s lips on any part of her body is not a memory she ever wanted to have.

Still, she stays.

She stays until Shelby stops crying; stays until Shelby makes motion to return to camp; stays, watches, until she’s sure that Shelby is on the right track to getting back to camp. And then, because she’s a fool, she races her there, throws on her clothes, and goes to lie back down in the same spot she did before Shelby got up and left.

And then again, because Toni doesn’t know how to keep herself sane, she waits for Shelby to lie down, too, waits for her to get comfortable, before rolling towards her, pretending to be asleep. And when Toni wraps her arm around Shelby’s waist in an act of comfort, Shelby…

Doesn’t pull away.

 

###

 

Sleep is a luxury that night.

With Shelby’s body so close to her own, Toni can’t focus on anything else. The other girl’s heartbeat steadies little by little, and Toni is half-convinced that Shelby is on her way out, when suddenly she turns in Toni’s arms so they’re facing each other. It takes all the strength Toni has to pretend to still be asleep when she feels Shelby curl up against her front, the top of her head slotting itself perfectly into the space under Toni’s chin.

She’s a warm weight on Toni’s chest, and it’s not long after that Shelby really does fall asleep, her quiet breaths brushing over Toni’s neck with each exhale.

And Toni can’t even blame anyone but herself for the situation she’s in. She didn’t have to try and comfort Shelby without giving away that that’s what she was doing. She could have just stayed close until the girl was unconscious, before running back out into the night.

“Fuck,” she whispers, slinging her free hand around Shelby, too.

Might as well settle in, then.

Chapter Text

Several hours later, when Toni wakes again, the weight on her chest is gone, but there’s still a body sitting close by. So close, that Toni could reach out and curl both of her arms around its waist to pull it back in.

There are whispers, too, which is likely what woke her up in the first place.

Shelby and Martha.

Talking.

“This place is a little drafty, don’t you think?” Martha says quietly, because none of the other girls are up yet and it’s still mostly dark outside. Toni can hear the chill in her voice and feels a little bad that she didn’t offer Marty the same comfort she did Shelby. “I woke up like twenty times ‘cause it was so cold.”

Shelby hums in acknowledgement, her left hand landing somewhere next to Toni’s arm when she leans back.

“Can’t say I noticed,” she says, sounding a little off.

Marty chuckles.

“Duh, ‘cause you had space heater Toni all to yourself,” she says conspiratorially, her voice barely audible. “I’m never cold when I cuddle her, either. Sleepovers with her during winter are my favorite because it’s so cozy with her.”

Their conversation lags as Shelby doesn’t reply, and Toni opens one of her eyes to sneak a glance at her. She’s not sure if it’s just the sunburn again, but she thinks Shelby might be blushing. Her heartbeat has certainly increased, and Toni wonders if perhaps her earlier assessment has been wrong.

Christian? Check.

Straight? Jury’s out.

“It was very sweet o’ her to offer,” Shelby finally settles on, and Toni raises one eyebrow before she can stop herself. Offer seems like a bit of an overstatement. Especially the whole business of the full-body cuddling that Shelby initiated. Then, Shelby hesitates, her hand going up to her hair. “You won’t… tell any of the others about this, right?”

“About you and Toni cuddling? Why? It’s not like they’ll care,” Marty says, a sweet frown marring her features. “I cuddle Toni all the time. Or I used to, anyway…” Her mouth curves down, and Toni doesn’t want to be listening to this anymore.

“That’s fine. They all know you’re best friends an’ all, but…” Shelby trails off, her fingers digging into the dirt by Toni’s arm. “I just don’t want them to think that… That I…”

“That you’re what?” Marty looks crestfallen, and Toni can’t help but agree. Because here it is, isn’t it? Here is the big, glaring reason why Toni has tried to keep Shelby Goodkind as far away from herself as possible.

“Nothin’,” Shelby finally settles on, because she’s a coward, and because she’s probably been trained to hide her ugliness under pretty words and shit about love and Jesus. “Nothin’, Martha. I guess I’m just a little rattled from the situation still, is all.”

It’s a bad excuse, and Toni can tell that Marty has seen an aspect of her new friend that she has been trying not to notice.

To Toni’s great relief, Shelby suggests going to the waterfall to bring back water for the group, so Toni doesn’t have to pretend to be asleep for much longer. As soon as the two are gone, she gets to her feet and walks out the other end.

Rattled by the situation her fucking ass.

 

###

 

Her mood seriously sullied, Toni goes to sit by the beach on her own.

She listens to the sound of the waves and waits for herself to settle back down. She’s disappointed, even though she shouldn’t be. She hasn’t seriously considered that Shelby might be some version of queer, but she hoped that her first assessment of her was wrong. That she wasn’t the sort of crazy Christian that preaches against homosexuality.

But what did she expect?

She made the same mistake as always; lets someone new into her heart, only to discover that underneath it all, they consider her less than dirt. If not for her heritage, then for her sexuality. If not for her sexuality, then for the fact that she’s a foster kid. If not for the fact that she’s a foster kid, then for the fact that her father is a deadbeat and her mom is a drug addict who can’t seem to stay sober for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

Her wolf demands the shift, but her higher brain function tells her that that would be a dumbass idea for dumbasses who don’t know how to stay under the radar.

The girls are well and truly awake now; she can hear them wandering the island.

None of them have come looking for her so far, but it’s only a matter of time. The stupid buddy system is the reason she can only truly be herself at nighttime. But even then, now that Shelby knows, she doesn’t even have that.

Shelby.

Shelby.

I just don’t want them to think that… That I…

Pressing her palms to her forehead, she tries not to let the despair overwhelm her.

Betrayal swirls inside her as she shucks off her shoes and socks alongside her sweater, and trudges down to the waves. She may not be allowed to shift fully, but she can at least stab something with her claws to make herself feel better.

 

###

 

About an hour later, that’s how Marty finds her.

Knee deep in water, with a pile of dead fish on the sand.

The concern wafts off her in droves, and Toni does her best not to look like she overheard their whole conversation. But she’s a shit liar when it comes to Marty, so she just says nothing while Marty sets down the drawstring bag on her back and begins gathering up the fish.

“I’m sorry, Toni,” she says, sitting down as soon as she’s finished.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Toni shoots back, washing her shifted paws and claws in the water before closing her eyes and shifting them back into human hands again. The wind on the water blows her hair around her head and makes her feel half-convinced that she should just swim away and not look back.

If it weren’t for Marty.

“Sure,” Marty replies, patting the sand beside herself when Toni looks back at her over her shoulder. “You’re fishing because you’re bored.”

“Exactly,” Toni says, cupping her hands together so she can splash her own face.

When Marty sighs, Toni tries to stop sulking, she really does. And it’s definitely not out of self-pity when she walks back to the sand and sits down so hard next to Marty that water from her soaked shorts splashes on her friend.

Thankfully, Marty only laughs and wraps her up in a hug, leaning their temples together.

“I missed this,” she murmurs, and tightens her fingers when Toni shifts. But instead of pulling away, Toni lays her hand on Marty’s wrist and squeezes it. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, you know. And just because I have other friends doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

Clenching her jaw, Toni looks out towards the horizon and tries not to think of striking green eyes.

“I know that, Marty.” Toni pats her wrist and thinks of her plan B again. Looking around them and not spotting nor hearing any of the others, she nudges Marty a little with her shoulder until her friend pulls away enough to look at her. “I need to get us off this island.”

Marty smiles sadly.

“I know you’re strong, but you’re not that strong, Toni,” she says, stroking Toni’s collarbone in a placating gesture. “Rescue will come. I know it will.” She doesn’t bring up Shelby and her father at the White House again. “We just have to survive here until it does.” She pats the bag of fish. “You’re already doing everything you can to make sure that happens.”

The wind shifts, and Toni can smell Fatin walking along the beach. It doesn’t give Toni much time, but the idea isn’t terribly complicated.

“What if I bit you,” she says quickly and quietly.

Her every muscle freezing at the statement, Marty looks up at Toni like she’s never seen her before.

But before she can reply, Toni keeps going, her hands clasping both of Marty’s.

“Think about it. I could bite you and you could turn and then the two of us could get off this island together. We can just start swimming and never look back. And then, when we get to shore, we can send out a rescue party to help the others,” she rushes out, her heart beating faster and faster as she watches Marty process her word vomit.

She’s hopeful for all of five seconds, before Marty shakes her head.

“Toni, it—it’s a nice idea, but…” She looks heartbroken, and Toni knows exactly why. “I don’t want to be a werewolf. I’ve never wanted to be one. I think it’s awesome and crazy cool that you are, but…” Her bottom lip trembles, and Toni pulls her into a hug.

“Hey, whoa, don’t apologize,” she whispers, hugging Marty harder than she can ever remember hugging her before. “I’m not going to make you if you don’t want to. I just want to get you off this fucking island and back to your mom.”

“I know,” Marty says, pulling back from the embrace to place both hands on Toni’s shoulders. “But you don’t need to bite me to help me, okay? We can get through this together. Besides, it wouldn’t feel right, leaving the others here. We need to stick together.”

Fatin rounds the corner, then, still far enough away that she can’t hear them. Behind her are Shelby and Nora. All three are wet from a bath in the ocean and Toni tries not to notice how good Shelby looks in her white shorts and pink tie-dye bralette.

“Okay,” Toni says with a nod, letting go of Marty and getting to her feet. “I hear you.” She nudges her foot against the bag of fish. “Will you take these to camp for me?” Shelby is looking at her, and Toni does not have the fucking brain space to deal with this crap. “I’ll catch you later.”

“Toni,” Marty says, but before she can reach out to stop her, Toni is stalking off in the opposite direction.

 

###

 

A while later, after running around the island on nothing but her two human legs, Toni returns to the cave to find a makeshift spit roast overtop their fire, with most of the fish she caught that day cooking away and giving off the sweet smell of survival.

They’ve been gutted properly, and Toni sees that a bunch of mussels have also been contributed and are smoldering away underneath.

“This is starting to look like a feast,” she says to Dot, who is keeping watch and occasionally turning the spit roast. Shelby is off who knows where, but Marty and Leah are sitting inside the cave, talking quietly amongst themselves.

“Thanks to you and Rachel,” Dot replies, pointing with her thumb towards the other girl. “Not going to lie to you; I thought once those nasty nuts ran out, we were all going to starve out here, especially after you and Shelby went off to canoodle rather than scavenge.”

The words bring a new wave of sour disappointed, and Toni kicks at a pebble.

“Fuck you,” she says, with less venom than usual. It still garners her a weird look from Dot.

“Alright, touchy much?” she asks, watching as Toni passes her by to walk into the cave. Shelby’s things have spread out ever since Toni left that morning. Her pink hoodie is half lying on Toni’s makeshift pillow, and her collection of cans is sitting entirely too close to Toni’s. She has half a mind to kick them over so that Shelby will have to go and get new water for herself, but she’s not that mean after all. So instead, she just picks up her things and moves them further away.

Marty watches her with sad eyes, but doesn’t comment on it, and Leah barely raises an eyebrow.

As soon as that’s taken care of, Toni sits opposite Dot and watches the fish, wondering if she can get away with eating one before they’re fully cooked. Her fingers itch with the desire to reach out and dig in. She couldn’t hunt the night before because of Shelby, so her stomach is gnawing at her insides with hunger.

“Didn’t know you had such mad fishing knowledge,” Dot says apropos of nothing, poking at one of the fish with a stick to see if it’s done. When she sees that’s its still mostly raw on the inside, she sits back down. “No judgement or anything, but you could have shared that knowledge a little earlier.”

With a shrug, Toni looks out to the sky.

“Better late than never, right?” she says, annoyed when she spots a head of blonde hair through a smattering of trees. At least Dot seems amused and agrees with her, rather than asking any more questions about it.

“You hiding any more useful survival skills? ‘Cause I wouldn’t mind a door for this place,” she says, while Toni ignores Shelby as she walks past her and into the cave. Fatin, Rachel, and Nora follow behind her, so that they’re all huddled around the fire like always when they’re done with chores.

“Just because I’m a lesbian doesn’t mean I know how to woodwork,” Toni shoots back without any heat, watching out of the corner of her eyes as Shelby flinches at her words. “Why don’t you ask Miss Habitats for Humanity over there? Christians love making doors so they can slam them in your face when they find out you aren’t a stuck-up, self-hating hetero.”

Shelby, whose eyes are taking in the fact that Toni has moved her shit over by several feet, looks at Toni like she’s said something untrue and hurtful, but for once Toni doesn’t feel bad about a comment. Because she knows now. She knows it’s warranted.

“And when a door closes, a window opens somewhere else,” Shelby says diplomatically, sitting down next to Dot rather than next to Toni. Like she can’t stand to be close to her. It’s such a contrast to the night before, when Shelby’s hand had been on Toni’s shoulder and her mouth had been so close to Toni’s heart they may as well have been one person.

Before Toni can insult her some more, Rachel drops down next to her and nudges their shoulders together.

“Thanks for the fish,” she says, before holding out her fist for a bump, which Toni doesn’t deny her. It feels like friendship and Toni is thankful for the distraction, even though the scowl stays on her face through the whole thing. “We’ll be eating like kings today.”

“Yeah,” Toni replies, dropping her hands to her lap and avoiding looking at Shelby. “Go us.”

 

###

 

They start with the fish before eating the mussels as a grotesque form of dessert.

It’s good. It could use salt and pepper or some other form of seasoning, but Toni isn’t about to complain when she’s literally been living off mice and rabbits as a wolf. Aside from that macadamia nut from the night before, she hasn’t properly eaten anything as Toni in a little under a week.

And it’s fun, too, to eat the mussels.

She finds herself relaxing again, making a game out of it. Loves the positive attention as the others watch her pretend to give cunnilingus. It’s one of the few moments of fun that Toni remembers having ever since being stranded on this damn island.

At least until Shelby blows up at them.

“Stop!” she says, losing her countenance and glaring at Toni before looking away. “This is completely inappropriate.” She swallows harshly, pulling her knees close to her chest. “I’m a Christian, alright? I don’t enjoy that sort of thing.”

The muscles in her jaw twitching with every grind of her teeth, Toni sets down the mussel.

“What sort of thing, Shelby? What don’t you enjoy?” she asks outright, trying to catch Shelby’s striking green eyes to spot the disgust in them. She wants to see it. Wants to know it’s there so she can stop feeling this way. So she can stop thinking that maybe, maybe, she was wrong. Maybe Shelby was talking about something else this morning.

I just don’t want them to think that… That I…

Fat chance, that.

“Pornographic gestures.” She glances up, and there is pain in her eyes as much as there is disgust, but Toni only wants to focus on the second part. Because she doesn’t give a fuck if Shelby’s bigotry pains her. In fact, she hopes it fucking does. She hopes she chokes on it.

“That’s fucking bullshit and we both know it,” Toni replies, leaning back against the big rock behind herself and lingering on Marty’s sad face. She already knows what Shelby is really talking about, too. “You just can’t fucking stand the fact that I’m gay. But don’t worry about catching it from me, Shelby. You’re the last person I’d give it to.”

And then, she’s on her feet again, and the others watch her as she stalks off, but none of them try to call her back. They know her too well by now.

Behind herself, she hears Shelby trying to make excuses about how her upbringing has only ever taught her that being gay in a sin, and that she has no hate in her heart for anyone, even for those that sin and go against God. It feels like a text she’s repeating verbatim, and she’s glad when Rachel tells her to go fuck herself on Toni’s behalf.

And then, because she’s tired of this bullshit, she hides her clothes in a hollow tree, runs as far away from her group as she can, and jumps straight into the ocean to swim. Swim until she can’t see land. Swim until the only thing that surrounds her is water and the sea life brimming within.

Who knows, maybe she’ll even find something useful out there.

Maybe, she’ll even find herself.

 

###

 

The first night after the big blowout with Shelby, Toni doesn’t follow her when she goes out to the forest to see her wolf again. Instead, she curls into herself and ignores the sounds of Shelby disappearing into the underbrush. It takes about an hour for Shelby to return, and when she does, she’s breathing as though she’s just been crying.

Good, Toni thinks, without really meaning it.

She stays on her side, facing away from Shelby and waits for her hiccupping breaths to steady and quiet. Shelby doesn’t sleep right away. She shivers instead from the wind blowing through the cave, her teeth chattering in a comical display of reality imitating art.

And still, Toni lies turned away from her, keeping her warmth to herself.

Shelby doesn’t try to cover the distance between them.

 

###

 

Life on the island sucks.

Objectively.

Toni has nothing to do except to wolf out, and while the cave is a bit of a reprieve, the others are starting to complain about the draft, so they attempt to build some sort of wooden monstrosity to stop the wind from blowing their asses wide open every night.

The longer they stay, the more delirious Leah seems to get, and Toni can’t help but notice her suspicious stare when she tells the others she’s leaving to take a swim at the lake.

Before Toni can take so much as a single step from their encampment, she opens her mouth.

“Where are you always going in the middle of the night?” she asks, looking up at Toni from behind her stupid book. Her eyes move from Toni to Nora, to Shelby, to Marty. “The others have noticed it, too. You leave in the middle of the night and you don’t come back for hours. What do you do when you aren’t here?”

They’re all at the mouth of the cave, with Dot trying to work out how best to make two sticks stay together when they don’t have any rope, any saws, or any nails and hammers. Fatin is standing next to her, half-heartedly holding onto one of the sticks, while Shelby whittles away at another one with Dot’s pocketknife.

They all look up. Even Rachel, who up until a few seconds ago was doing push-ups a couple of steps away.

“You been watching me?” Toni asks, trying to look less guilty than she feels. She’s certain that no one saw her return from the trip to the ocean, where she found nothing more useful than a lone suitcase filled with more clothing that none of them have ever seen before. “I didn’t realize we had a narc on the team.”

“She’s not entirely wrong,” Dot says next, giving up on the branch she’s been working away at and letting Fatin handle the fallout. Both branches crash to the ground, and Fatin just leans against the side of the cave and moves her sunglasses a little further up her nose. Out of all of them, she looks the least suspicious, probably because she’s long-since decided that she’s the most interesting person on the island. “I know you said the first time that you just went for a leak, but your bladder can’t possible be that small. Unless you have IBD on top of that shit, in which case… I’m super sorry dude and please do not elaborate.”

Rachel snorts, but Leah doesn’t budge.

“I’m not a narc, and I’m not crazy,” she says, putting down her book and getting to her feet. She’s taller, but what Toni lacks in height, she makes up for in attitude. Knowing that she could turn into a giant monster if she wanted to at any second helps with her confidence, too. “I want to know what the fuck is going on on this damn island, and I want to know what you’re doing every fucking night.”

To everyone’s surprise, Shelby stands up. Closing Dot’s knife, she sets aside the branch she was working on and comes to stand next to Leah. She’s about as welcome in this situation as a raccoon would be in a five star restaurant.

“Leah, I really don’t think this is necessary,” she says, trying to place a calming hand on Leah’s shoulder. She’s immediately shrugged off, and Toni’s wolf howls at the display of aggression. Even though Shelby has let her down, the feeling of pack is hard to shake off. “What are you even implyin’? That Toni is some sort of secret agent or somethin’?”

“I don’t know what I’m implying, but I know something weird is going on,” Leah says, glaring at Toni like she’s not sure if she should maybe punch her, just to see what she’ll do. In a way, Toni kind of wants it. She hasn’t had a proper fight in so long. It might steady her.

“You know what’s weird? You looking at me like that,” Toni says, crossing her arms over her chest and sizing Leah up. “I didn’t realize there was a curfew in this place now. Or that you’re the one who’s enforcing it.”

Again, Shelby tries to touch Leah’s shoulder, only to be shrugged off, and something snaps inside of Toni at the sight. When Leah rounds on Shelby to tell her to back off once more, Toni tackles her out of the way, because she saw the way Leah’s hands were about to grab the front of Shelby’s shirt.

“Don’t touch her,” Toni growls, hoping her voice doesn’t sound any deeper than it already does. Her breathing is heavy from trying to control herself, and Shelby is looking at her like she’s never seen her before. “Has it ever occurred to you that I may just go out into the woods, because I can’t stand the sight of you anymore? Or the smell?”

“Toni,” Shelby says quietly, her green eyes filled with worry.

Leah, who has stumbled but not fallen, returns to Toni and grabs the front of her jumper instead.

“I don’t fucking believe you,” she snarls, and Toni feels herself being pulled onto her tiptoes. She wants to throw a punch, she really does, but if she’s learned anything from Regan, it’s that she shouldn’t start anything when a person she cares about is around. And, despite everything, Shelby is a person she cares about. No matter how much she doesn’t want it to be true. “Where do you fucking go?!”

“Leah,” Shelby tries again, curling both hands around Leah’s left arm. “Let her go.”

With a glare, Leah shakes Toni.

“Where do you go!”

And then, many things happen at once.

Rachel gets to her feet. Whether to intervene or to get a better look, Toni isn’t sure. Dot definitely rushes forward to stop Leah from shaking Toni’s brain out of her skull, while Fatin just starts snacking on some leftover fish from the day’s lunch like it’s popcorn.

But most importantly, Shelby pulls at Leah’s arm and is shoved away for her trouble. She loses her balance, and lands on her side, ripping open her leg in the process on the stick she was just working on. Her gasp of pain reverberates in Toni’s ears, and the scent of blood fills the air, thick and heavy.

In retrospect, Toni isn’t quite sure what happens after that.

Only that she sees red, and that Leah is on the floor the next time she checks, and she’s snarling at her with all the energy of a ferocious predator whose pack has been threatened. She’s still human, she thinks, but she’s pretty sure she’s yelling. And Leah, looking absolutely terrified, recognizes the danger in her. She must do, for her to lie so still.

And because the day can’t possibly get any worse, Shelby is at her side a moment later, and she is pulling her away from Leah. Her hands are around Toni’s stomach, warm and strong and determined, and the smell of blood is so strong Toni covers her nose with her hand and lets herself be dragged away. Dragged away until the others are out of sight and Shelby is the only one in her vicinity.

 

###

 

“You’re okay.”

They’re the first words Toni hears when she regains some semblance of control.

She’s been maneuvered onto a rock somewhere in the forest, and Shelby is kneeling in front of her, one hand on Toni’s knee as she looks up and into Toni’s eyes. Concerned green irises captivate Toni’s wolf, and she can’t help but glance down at Shelby’s leg.

The bleeding has stopped, but it needs to be cleaned.

“You’re okay, Toni,” Shelby says again, squeezing Toni’s knee like she can tell that Toni is receptive to words again instead of just gestures. Her blonde hair is in a ponytail, and she’s dressed in a grey top that wraps around her stomach in a way that somehow leaves her bellybutton piercing bare for anyone to see. “You’re okay.”

Frowning, Toni unclenches her fingers.

“You’re not,” she says, voice scratchy from yelling. She can’t remember what she screamed at Leah as she lay there. Standing over her with her fists raised, Toni could barely function. Her wolf is both pleased and concerned. “We need to clean that up.” She gestures at Shelby’s leg. “You know infection is the biggest obstacle to recovery.”

With a tentative smile, Shelby rises to her feet and looks down at her leg.

“It looks worse than it is,” she says, but she sits down next to Toni anyway. She’s wearing her drawstring bag, and from it she pulls a canteen. “A bit of water and TLC and I’ll be right as rain in no time. Besides, I have incredibly positive energy.”

No thoughts are spared to the consequences as Toni jumps to her feet, grabs the canteen from Shelby’s hands and falls to her knees in front of the other girl. Tugging on Shelby’s calf until her foot is cushioned on Toni’s legs, she gently examines the wound.

“You don’t have to do that,” Shelby says, sounding flustered, but she doesn’t push Toni’s hands away.

The cut isn’t terribly deep, but Toni still pours the water slowly and steadily and wipes with as much care as her hands will allow. Shelby’s legs are prickly with short hairs, as they’ve all mostly given up trying to keep up a clean shave of their legs. They’re saving Fatin’s razor blades for other purposes. Dot has claimed them for her inventory.

“You shouldn’t have gotten involved,” Toni says as she wipes at the blood, her nose twitching. The canine part of her brain wants her to lean down and just lick the blood until it’s all better, but the human side tells her that this would be gross, so she keeps her hands busy instead.

“She was attackin’ you,” Shelby replies, keeping her hands in her lap. Her fake pageant nails have finally given up, leaving her with short ones that have seen some recent updates with a soft mint coat from Fatin’s beauty supplies. They dig into her purple track pants as Toni keeps cleaning her. “I like Leah, but she can’t go around accusin’ people like that.”

“I could have handled it,” Toni says, sliding her thumb along a scar on Shelby’s shin that she hasn’t seen before. It’s long and a little bit jagged. When Shelby realizes what Toni is looking at, she pulls up her shoulders a little and looks away.

“Bikin’ accident,” she says, keeping her eyes somewhere above Toni’s left shoulder. “I tried ridin’ one of Andrew’s BMX bikes and I lost control on a particularly muddy spot o’ ground in the forest. It was… embarrassin’.” Her calf flexes of its own accord and Toni feels strong muscles, probably honed by who knows how many hours spent in high heels on runways. “We watched the sunset after, and I was so blown away by the beauty of it. You ever seen that moment right before the sun sets and the sky turns green for just a moment?”

With a grimace at the mention of Shelby’s boyfriend’s name, Toni screws the cap back onto the canteen and hands it over.

“Can’t say I have,” Toni says, glancing at the cut and wondering how many more times Shelby will get hurt because of her. First her temple, now this. And then there was Regan’s bloody lip. She has a lousy fucking track record with the girls she likes. “Not a lot of time spent staring at sunsets when you’re bouncing from foster home to foster home.”

She doesn’t mean it to be a dig or a plea for pity. It just is what it is. Even as a wolf, she’s never taken the time to look to the horizon and watch.

“You wouldn’t happen to have any antiseptic in your bag, would you?” she asks, keeping both hands on Shelby’s leg and unwilling to move them. She doesn’t want Shelby to think she’s coming on to her. They’ve got enough shit between them already without adding anything like that to the mix. “I don’t want you getting any dirt in this.”

She thinks about ripping a chunk of fabric out of the tank top she’s wearing underneath her sweater, but Shelby smiles and opens the bag on her back once more to reveal the smallest first aid kit that was in the pilot’s carry-on luggage. Her smile is dorky, and Toni doesn’t call her on it when she accepts the supplies she needs to properly bandage her up.

“Good as new,” Toni says when she’s finished. She’s reasonably happy with the results, and pats Shelby’s knee a little awkwardly. She’s not sure where they stand now. Sure, Shelby tried to defend her from Leah, but there’s still that whole homophobia thing simmering just below the surface. “Maybe you’ll get a proper matching scar. For symmetry reasons. Pageants are all about symmetry, right?”

It’s meaningless babble, but it gets the job done and makes Shelby smile some more, so Toni is satisfied. She’s almost on the verge of getting back up and dusting herself off, when Shelby places her hand overtop the one Toni still has on her knee.

“Thank you,” she says, her eyes on their hands. “You know, when I was younger, whenever I would get hurt, my daddy would pick me up and carry me away to put a band-aid on it or somethin’.” Her expression is wistful, her smile a little more wooden than it was before. “And then, without fail, he would kiss it, and he’d say that God would make sure it would be all better come mornin’.”

Her gaze lifts, and Toni isn’t sure what she’s supposed to be doing in this situation.

“Shelby, if you want me to kiss you, you need to stop talking about your preacher dad,” Toni says without tearing her eyes away. “It’s a real turn-off to imagine him lecturing me about sullying his beautiful delicate princess.”

She’s not sure what she expected, but it’s certainly not for Shelby Goodkind’s heartbeat to start beating so hard that the others can probably hear it all the way back at camp.

“That—That is not—” she starts, her face turning an unhealthy red color. “I do not—I do not want you to kiss me.”

It stings, but it’s not like Toni wasn’t waiting for that sort of response.

“Relax, Shelby, I was just making a joke.” She means to pull away her hand, but Shelby keeps hold of her, like she’s desperate for Toni not to break contact. Her brows are furrowed, and her mouth is pulled into a grimace.

She also looks like she might puke at any second, and Toni does not want to be right in front of her when she does.

“I don’t… I don’t hate you, Toni. You get that, right?” she asks, her voice small and tentative, like she’s waiting for Toni to blow up at her for even mentioning their underlying issues.

“If you even so much as think about saying I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin, I’m afraid I’ll have to drop you straight into the ocean,” Toni says, wishing she could retract her hand. She doesn’t want to be touching Shelby and thinking about her bigotry at the same time. All it does is sully the genuine feelings she has for this girl. This girl who doesn’t want her. Who wants to fix the part of Toni that she considers the most beautiful. “And then, for good measure, I’ll tell Leah that you’re out there to communicate with the people who dropped us off here. See how you fare, then.”

Her tone is light because she doesn’t want to yell again. She’s done that enough for one day.

But Shelby looks like she wants her to yell.

“I just don’t understand why you would choose this lifestyle,” she continues, and she’s making it really hard for Toni not to snap at her. She must see the danger start to rise because she squeezes Toni’s hand on her knee. “I don’t mean bein’—I know bein’ that way ain’t a choice.”

“Gay. Being gay. You can say it, you know. It’s not a dirty word,” Toni interjects, watching the way it makes Shelby flinch and wishing she could take some sort of enjoyment from this. She hates feeling this way. Hates it.

“I know that,” Shelby says, dropping her gaze to the way Toni’s left hand is still resting on her calf. But she doesn’t try to shy away from the touch. In fact, she’s the one who’s prolonging this moment like she doesn’t want it to end. “I guess I’m just wonderin’… if you’ve ever regretted livin’ like this, is all. Lovin’ women the way you do. I guess I was curious if it’s worth it. All the hate. All the pain. All the rejection. Just to…”

 Swallowing thickly, Toni finally pulls back her hand and sits back on her heels.

“Just to be happy? Just to be myself? I don’t know, Shelby. Seems pretty fucking worth it to me.” She’s not trying to be cruel, but she can’t stop wondering what the hell Shelby is playing at. “Maybe you can’t understand what it’s like not to be happy with the perfect hand you’ve been dealt, but I’m not about to deny myself something beautiful just because a handful of people are going to judge me for it.”

“My life ain’t perfect,” Shelby whispers, clutching onto her knees with both hands. “I know I am so lucky to live the life I have, but it’s not always easy. It’s like there’s a camera on me all the time, and I can’t take a step in the wrong direction for even a second without someone commentin’ on it and judgin’ me for it. I can’t even gain a single pound o’ weight without someone tearin’ me down.”

Annoyed, Toni sets Shelby’s foot back onto the forest floor, before finally getting to her feet and dusting off her thighs.

“You participate in fucking beauty pageants. The whole point is to be judged,” she says, looking around herself and wishing for this whole conversation to end so she can come up with a better excuse for leaving at nighttime other than you stink, Leah.

“I don’t just mean pageant stuff.” Shelby gets up then, too, her hands curled around her lower stomach in a move oddly reminiscent of that time she waited for Toni’s wolf out in the clearing. Right before everything went to shit between them. “There are things… Things in my life that you don’t know about. Things that—if I do them—I will lose everything. My parents, my friends, the very home I live in.”

Toni doesn’t quite know what they’re talking about anymore, or why Shelby thinks it’s so important to tell her these things. Intellectually, she has always realized that Shelby must have issues in her life, just like any other person. But to hear them laid out like this, she can’t help but think of them as… almost quaint.

But saying that would be cruel, and demeaning, and so she doesn’t.

Besides, her wolf is far too busy getting her to comfort for anything cruel to slip out at a time like this.

Pursing her lips, Toni turns back to Shelby and gives her a once-over.

“Shelby, I hate to break it to you, but all of that shit has already happened to you,” she says, trying to keep her voice as kind as possible. “You’re on a deserted fucking island. No one here is going to judge you for not wanting to participate in pageants or doing any of the other shit you want to do. Hell, Dot would probably bake you a cake made of fish heads and moldy macadamia nuts.”

“Yeah, but—” Shelby starts, fiddling with the drawstrings of her bag and looking anywhere but at Toni.

“But what?” Toni reaches out for her then to grab both of her arms and force eye contact between them. “If you want to dye your hair or stop going to fucking spin class, that’s your business. If you don’t want to put up with your dumbass cheater boyfriend anymore, no one can tell you to stop.”

She doesn’t shake Shelby or hold on too tightly, and she doesn’t even flinch when Shelby lifts her hands up to Toni’s jumper and grips her right back.

“And what if…”

Visibly swallowing, Shelby’s eyes flit to the side, her fingers trembling.

What if doesn’t matter, Shelby. Not in this place,” Toni says again, glaring at her with as much compassion as she can muster. “I don’t care if your family’s been telling you every day that you need to be a certain way, because they’re not fucking here, are they? They can’t see you; they can’t punish you for any of it. I fucking care if you’re happy.”

It’s too much.

She sees it the moment Shelby’s breath hitches and her eyes turn back to Toni’s, her expression open and vulnerable and so fucking scared. So Toni doesn’t stop talking, doesn’t allow herself to slow down for fear of Shelby seeing something in her that she’s been trying to keep secret to the best of her ability.

“So, just, be into whatever fucked up weird shit you want to be into, okay? And don’t let anyone tell you that just because it might not be ladylike or some shit that you can’t do it. You’re fucking free here, Shelby, and if you’re not taking advantage of that, then I don’t know what the fuck to—”

Toni wants to keep going.

Everything inside her keeps screaming that it’s not enough.

There need to be more words.

Only then, suddenly, there are none.

 

###

 

Nothing on this island could have prepared Toni for the feeling of Shelby Goodkind’s lips on hers. Or how it would feel to have Shelby’s left arm curled around the back of her neck while her right hand holds Toni’s face in place so she can’t move away. And when Toni wraps her own arms around Shelby in turn, Shelby steps closer so that their fronts are fully pressed together.

Inside her chest, her wolf howls its approval, while the only thought Toni seems to be able to come up with is fuck, I’m the weird shit she’s into.

Chapter Text

Eyes shut, Toni slants her mouth slowly back and forth, keeping pace with Shelby as she takes whatever she wants from Toni’s mouth, and it feels like molten lava is flowing throughout her veins. And she knows, deep down, that if she were to open her eyes right now, they would be glowing a bright gold.

Because Shelby is soft where Toni is hard, and she’s demanding where Toni is all too willing to give.

Her hands start on Shelby’s waist, keeping the two of them close together, before they start moving of their own accord. Shelby’s top rises up in front to leave her stomach bare, and Toni can’t help but stroke along her sides, slide up over Shelby’s ribs and back down again.

Shuddering, Shelby lets out the sweetest of noises, right against Toni’s mouth.

Despite the exposure to the elements, her lips are soft, like she’s been taking care to reapply lip balm even here, just in case Toni would be up for kissing her. The thought leaves Toni in a state of arousal she’s not proud of, but the thought of Shelby keeping herself ready—for Toni of all people—makes her hotter than her werewolf blood could manage on its own.

Even though Shelby is taller than her, she allows Toni to press forward and take charge, and for a blissful few minutes, the only thing that consumes Toni’s mind and body is Shelby Goodkind.

And then, just as quickly as it starts, it’s over, and Shelby takes a trembling step back.

Their lips make a sinful noise when they part, and Toni keeps her eyes closed and wills her wolf to calm itself back down again. She doesn’t want to let Shelby go, but she keeps her hands on the other girl’s waist only loosely, waiting for her to run and unwilling to force her to stay against her will.

Only, somehow, she doesn’t.

“Toni?” Shelby asks, her voice deeper than it’s ever been.

“Yeah?” Toni replies, licking her lips and coming away with the taste of Shelby’s mouth. It doesn’t help her wolf, whose senses are going haywire with too many things at once. Shelby’s skin, Shelby’s scent, the sound of her sharp intakes of breath.

She wants to pull her back in, kiss her some more, maybe move down to her neck. Lick a straight line from the back of Shelby’s ear, along her throat, in between her breasts and down her stomach until she’s between her legs. Because holy fucking shit, if it’s not arousal Toni’s smelling, she’s eating her own damn arm.

But now is not the time, especially not if Shelby’s freaked-out heartbeat is anything to go by.

“Toni, will you look at me?” Shelby asks, voice shaky.

It’s a bad idea.

It’s a bad fucking idea.

It’s trash.

But the fear in Shelby’s tone does her in, and when she opens her eyes, she knows she can’t take back what will inevitably happen next. Because her eyes must be glowing. They must be golden. They must look hungry and dangerous and predatory.

“Are you okay?” Toni husks, blinking a few times.

And Shelby is staring at her.

Staring.

Her cheeks are flushed, and her hands are holding on tightly to the front of Toni’s sweater.

And then, because even though Toni is apparently some weird-ass fucking shit that Shelby needs to talk herself into wanting, Shelby kisses her again. And it’s not like the first time. It’s not tentative. It’s hot and wet and messy and Toni is barely holding on.

A growl starts in her chest when Shelby rakes her nails through her hair, and it grows in volume when Shelby opens her mouth and practically invites Toni’s tongue inside with a neon fucking welcome sign. And fuck, if it isn’t a huge turn-on when Shelby moans into the kiss the first time their tongues meet.

“Shelby,” Toni says in between kisses, dying a little inside every time Shelby’s thumb strokes along her jawline. She doesn’t mean anything by it, says it just to decorate the air. Or to acknowledge that she, Toni Shalifoe, is making out with Shelby Goodkind on a hot summer’s day on a deserted fucking island.

She says it again.

“Shelby.”

And again.

“Shelby.”

And then, her back is against a nearby tree and Shelby’s thigh is between both of hers and there are teeth on Toni’s bottom lip. The growl has turned into more of a purr, and Toni is pretty sure she’s not the right kind of animal for that sort of thing, but she’s rolling with it. Because Shelby’s hands are sliding along her chest, and her voice is thick with her accent.

“That sounds so sexy.”

“You’re sexy,” Toni shoots back, finally tearing her mouth away from their kiss so she can nuzzle and nip at the skin of Shelby’s neck. Her teeth itch with the desire to leave a mark. Nothing permanent, but something that will remind Shelby of their time together the next time she wonders if she should follow her heart. Or other body parts that her parents frown upon.

At her words, Shelby laughs shakily, and leans harder against Toni, their stomachs brushing together in a manner far too intimate for a quick rut in the woods.

“Gosh, Toni, you’re trouble,” Shelby whispers, more to herself than anything else, and Toni finds she can’t help herself from biting a little too hard for it to be considered a nip. But when Shelby only lets out a sigh of pleasure, she doesn’t feel too bad for it. “Big trouble.”

“The biggest,” Toni agrees, sliding her nose along the skin behind Shelby’s ear.

 

###

 

If nothing else, Toni feels like she’s made for kissing Shelby.

She recognizes it in the way her wolf adapts and shifts to make the experience as good for Shelby as humanly and inhumanly possible. And she knows that Shelby feels the same in the way her body responds to each and every touch, no matter how innocent that touch may be.

Even when Shelby finally pulls away and tells her, quietly, that she needs time to think about this, Toni doesn’t freak out. Because whatever comes next, at least Shelby hasn’t run away. And yeah, fine, she might do so once she realizes she’s been grinding on a monster, but Toni is willing to take that chance.

Because fuck, her advice was solid.

They don’t have to worry about what ifs on the island.

Their plane has already crashed.

One of them has already died.

And Shelby has seen her glowing eyes and heard her rumbling chest and she still hasn’t bolted. Even now, as she picks up her drawstring bag, she doesn’t seem terribly in a hurry. Except that Toni can tell that she’s walking a little funny, and she hopes it’s because Shelby’s too turned on to move without feeling the wetness between her legs.

Toni can certainly smell it.

“I’ll go back to the cave,” Toni offers, still propped up against the tree they made out against only minutes prior. “See if Leah has calmed the fuck down or if I need to punch her in the face to get her to shut up. I wouldn’t do that if I were a secret agent, right?”

Shelby smiles at her, her expression surprisingly indulgent.

“You can’t just punch her, Toni,” she says, fiddling with the bottom of her grey top. Her bellybutton piercing glints every time she moves, and Toni wants it in her mouth. Wants to roll it around with her tongue. Wants to tug on it, before tugging on something else. “Punchin’ people just leads to more trouble down the road.”

“You speaking from experience?” Toni asks, pushing herself away from the trunk and lifting her hand to the back of her head to pull out her hair tie. “Didn’t realize fist fights were high up on your priority list back in Texas. Is that your special talent for the pageants?”

Rolling her eyes, Shelby puts her foot up on the rock they sat on earlier and picks out a twig that got stuck there when she took that first step into Toni’s personal space. A ray of sunlight illuminates her hair and almost makes it look like her eyes are sparkling.

And fuck if Toni’s heart isn’t a damn mess.

 

###

 

Even though she said she would go back to camp right away, Toni takes a detour to the lake, because she needs a moment to cool herself off first. Her body is too turned on to function, and she all but falls into the water as soon as she gets there, sweater and all.

As she slowly releases the air from her lungs, she drifts further and further down to the bottom, looking up at the lights flickering on the surface of the water and breaking there to reach towards her. There’s no doubt that her eyes are glowing again, and she spreads out her arms under the water as she thinks back to the kiss.

The first; the second; the third.

Kisses.

Touches.

Hands on skin.

Shelby’s fingers on her face, in her hair.

Her lungs are big and her desire to drown in the memories too strong, so she doesn’t surface for several minutes. And when she finally does, she sucks in the cleanest air she’s ever breathed, and wonders why she isn’t more freaked out about how Shelby was staring at her eyes.

 

###

 

Leah apologizes when Toni returns.

Maybe she’s been chewed out by one of the others, or maybe she’s just trying to fit in again and not stand out like a sore thumb, but Toni doesn’t quite believe her. There’s still that distrust around her mouth, and the furrow in her brows when Toni comes back soaking wet from her dip in the lake.

“Did you fall in?” Marty asks when Toni lets herself sink down on her back outside of the cave, mind still reeling from too much Shelby and not enough common sense.

“Yeah,” she says, and she must sound a little dreamy because Marty squints down at her with a mix between suspicion and curiosity. Her perceptiveness when it comes to Toni has been a curse and a blessing, depending on whether Toni is in the mood to share. And since she’s not about to divulge to her best friend that Shelby had her pinned to a tree while her wolf purred like a damn kitten, she flicks water at Marty’s face instead.

It makes her giggle, and Toni considers it a job well done.

 

###

 

Shelby returns around dinner time, and she’s carrying two pieces of luggage with her when she does.

One of them belongs to Marty, who’s ecstatic to be reunited with her slippers and her dinosaur onesie, and one to Jeanette, which sobers them all up. Especially when they open it only to discover a bottle of vodka and a baggie of edibles.

“Damn,” Fatin whispers as she holds the vodka up to her face for scrutiny. “Girl knew how to party.”

“She didn’t seem like the type,” Shelby offers, and Toni can’t stop staring at her. At the way her jaw moves when she talks, or the way her tongue wraps around her words. The way she’s purposefully not looking at Toni, like she’s afraid she won’t be able to avert her eyes. Although, admittedly, that last bit might just be wishful thinking on Toni’s part.

“I don’t care what kind of type she was,” Fatin says, cradling the bottle to her chest. “This is a fucking gift, and I think we should celebrate her for it. Fucking thank you, Jeanette, wherever the fuck your spirit is right now.”

Uncapping the bottle, Fatin takes the first swig, screwing up her face at the taste.

When she tries handing the bottle over to Toni, she turns her down with a smile and a shrug. Alcohol is pretty much wasted on her unless there’s an endless supply. Her metabolism works too fast for her to really feel it, and she doesn’t want to drink the whole bottle and leave nothing for the others.

At her restraint, Leah glares again, but Toni ignores her, because Shelby holds out her hand and accepts the bottle instead. She looks like she’s never had even a sip of alcohol before, but she swallows it like a champion, and Fatin cheers her on for it.

“Love me a prissy Christian bitch who isn’t afraid to get wasted,” she says, clapping Shelby on the back in encouragement, before shuffling the bottle over to Dot, who shrugs and takes a much bigger swallow than any of the others.

And Toni finds that she doesn’t mind being here so much, with these girls.

Not much at all.

 

###

 

That night, Toni doesn’t go out to run.

For once, her wolf is quiet and lets her rest without scrabbling at the inside of her ribcage. Whether it’s from her moment in the lake, from her make-out session with Shelby, or from the row with Leah, her wolf has seen enough excitement for one day, and Toni doesn’t mind at all.

Especially because she can tell that Leah isn’t asleep. She’s lying down and her eyes are closed, but she’s clearly waiting for Toni to leave again, perhaps even so she can follow this time. But Toni isn’t going to give her the satisfaction, even though not leaving might make her look equally as suspicious.

Still, Toni has more important things to focus on. Like the fact that Shelby is only a couple of feet away from her, snoozing with her back to Toni but obviously not fully asleep. She’s wrapped in one of Marty’s sweaters, but she still looks cold, and Toni has to fight the desire to scoot over and close the distance between them.

She’s already decided that she won’t do anything Shelby doesn’t ask for, so she stays exactly where she is, staring at the back of Shelby’s head. Her human eyes might not be as great as her wolf eyes, but she can still see her clearly. The rise and fall of her chest.

At some point, Toni falls asleep, and the last thing she hears is the sound of Shelby’s heartbeat, steady and healthy.

 

###

 

“Toni?”

It’s a whisper.

A breath.

“You awake?”

Brows furrowing, Toni turns towards the sound.

“Hrmpf?” she gurgles, her eyelids fluttering.

Someone is sitting next to her.

“Sorry,” they say, and Toni’s hand reaches out without permission to clasp a waist and pull the other person closer. Her nose slots against a thigh and she lets out a contented little sigh as she nuzzles a pair of purple track pants.

“Smell good,” she mumbles, before realizing that she’s not supposed to be doing shit like that where anyone could see. Like she’s been burned, she rolls away, frantically checking if anyone’s watching them.

“It’s alright,” Shelby whispers, placing her hand on Toni’s shoulder.

It’s the middle of the night, Toni suddenly realizes, and she rubs a little at her face to get rid of the last few vestiges of sleep.

“What’s up?” she asks, trying not to wake any of the others up. Even Leah’s asleep, and Toni hopes it stays that way. “Couldn’t sleep?” She keeps her hands to herself, when all she wants to do is to draw Shelby in close and soothe whatever ails her.

Mouth opening and closing, Shelby seems embarrassed, and Toni just continues sitting there, waiting. She’s not about to push Shelby on anything. It’s clear that her upbringing has done a number on her, and Toni isn’t about to add any stress on top of that.

Then, because words are evidently hard to come by, Shelby clasps Toni wrist and goes to lie back down.

And before Toni knows what’s happening, she’s wrapped around Shelby’s back.

Her nose settles against the back of Shelby’s neck, nuzzling a few stray hairs there, while her arm tugs Shelby closer and squeezes her. She expects Shelby’s hand to remove itself after that, but it doesn’t. Instead, it slides from Toni’s wrist along the back of her hand until Shelby can intertwine their fingers on her stomach.

She’s breathing a little quicker again and her heart is going a mile a minute, so Toni places the softest of kisses against her shoulder.

“It’s alright,” she whispers, slotting her legs against Shelby’s, so they’re pressed together from head to toe. “The others are all asleep.” Her mouth is on Shelby’s ear, and her voice is perhaps a little huskier than entirely necessary, but she can’t help herself.

“How can you be sure?” Shelby asks, her cold fingers gripping Toni’s hot ones just a little bit tighter in her anxiety.

“If they were awake, I would hear it,” Toni says, unheeding of how it sounds.

Somehow, it steadies Shelby’s heartbeat all the same, and she finally relaxes into the embrace.

Toni files the experience away in her brain under personal victory.

 

###

 

This time, it’s Toni who wakes up first, and it’s to the sweet smell of Shelby’s sweat.

Blinking lazily, she pushes herself up on her hands and looks down, unsurprised to see a sleeping Shelby. Somehow, during the night, their positions have shifted, leaving Shelby on her back and Toni sprawled across her.

Shaking her head at herself, Toni moves carefully away so as not to wake Shelby, and tiptoes over to her clothes. Shucking her sweater and her shorts, she picks up a pair of black track pants and a red tank top, before slowly making her way out of the cave.

The others are all still knocked out, so Toni takes care this time to poke Dot until she grunts and looks up at her with annoyance.

“What?” she asks, glaring at Toni like she’d want nothing more than to punch her, if that didn’t take too much effort.

“Before Leah freaks out again,” Toni starts, crouching down so only Dot can hear her. “I’m going down to the ocean to clean up a little. I’m not plotting you guys’ demise or anything.” She says it with a smirk and does it only to mess with Dot, who rolls her eyes and lies back down.

“Hope you get stung by a jellyfish,” Dot murmurs, and Toni laughs as she walks away.

The morning air is clean and crisp, and she stands by the ocean for a moment without moving, just breathing in the salt of the water and allowing the wind to caress her bare form. She’s only wearing a bra and a pair of Fatin’s underwear. Her shoes, socks, and other clothes have been stacked neatly by the shore, far enough away so as not to get wet.

Her hair flows around her, and she closes her eyes as she imagines Shelby’s kisses.

“Fuck me, I’m gay,” Toni says to mother nature, before finally taking the plunge and walking into the ocean.

 

###

 

Three nights pass.

Three nights of Toni staying inside the cave.

Three nights of Toni falling asleep by herself, only to be woken up by a shy Shelby.

Three nights of holding her close and snuggling into her neck as they both fall asleep together.

It’s as blissful as it is hell on Earth, because Shelby does her best not to acknowledge her presence during the day. She takes care to do chores with other people, ensuring that she and Toni are never alone together.

Whether it’s a ploy to get Toni riled up, or a self-preservation mechanism designed to keep Shelby from having to talk about things that scare her, Toni’s not sure, but it’s starting to tear at her heart. Especially because she can see that the whole thing is eating away at Shelby’s sanity, too.

She sees her sitting around more, staring off into space, and Toni feels unable to do anything about it, because Shelby is making it clear with her behavior that she’s not ready to talk about it. She’s not ready to explain or even consider having a normal conversation about the things that might make her happy.

So Toni can’t do anything but watch. Not officially. Unofficially, she asks Marty how Shelby is doing; she tells Dot to take over a canteen full of water to Shelby, because she doesn’t think it’ll be accepted if it comes from her. She even goes out into the forest again to forage for Shelby’s favorite berries. At least of the varieties they’ve discovered so far.

It’s all settling into a weird sort of routine that Toni isn’t sure she likes, but that she tries to make peace with. At least for the moment.

And then, on the fourth day after the kiss, Shelby starts wearing Toni’s sweater.

 

###

 

Toni does not make a big deal out of it.

It’s a particularly chilly day, so she accepts it for what it is, a desperate act to stay warm, but her wolf can’t help but preen. The girl she likes is wearing her clothes, wearing her scent. It’s a rush, to say the least, so Toni tries to look at Shelby as little as possible.

In the morning, they all sit around the fire. Toni in her tank top and the others all bundled up.

While Dot gnaws on a handful of berries, Fatin tells them a story about a hook-up she once had that involves a lot of lewd gestures with her fingers, and Toni can’t help sneaking glances at Shelby’s face as a result. She’s still uptight when it comes to anything related to sex, but Shelby isn’t even looking in Fatin’s direction the next time Toni’s eyes drift to her. Instead, Shelby’s focused on the fire, and she’s got the entire lower half of her face covered by the collar of Toni’s sweater. She’s sitting with her knees pulled close to her chest and her arms are wrapped around them. Her nose is snuffled into the collar, too, and it nearly causes a short-circuit in Toni’s mind.

Blushing and trying to hide it, Toni picks up the diet coke can at her feet that’s full of water and takes a quick gulp, nearly spitting it back up again when Marty leans over to Shelby and starts whispering to her.

“Why are you wearing Toni’s sweater?” Her words are too soft for anyone else to hear; Toni is even pretty sure that Shelby must have difficulty picking them up, because she pulls her face free from the collar and looks at Marty with a questioning look. But Marty just shrugs. “You don’t have to borrow her things, you know. I can give you some of mine. They’re cleaner, anyway.”

Maybe Marty is trying to prevent an argument. She must think that Toni is just waiting to go off on Shelby for taking her stuff and to call her a colonizer. Under different circumstances, she might not even be wrong. Certainly, if Toni had not tasted the inside of Shelby’s mouth, she might be feeling less charitable.

As it stands, the whole thing has Toni’s wolf on the verge of purring again.

“I didn’t even consider that,” Shelby says, and slips the sleeves of the sweater a little further over her hands so only the tips of her fingers are visible. Her blonde hair is undone and hangs a little unkempt over her shoulders. No doubt, Toni will find strands of it on her sweater for days to come after this. Even after a good scrub. It’s like Shelby is marking her territory, and that is a gesture Toni’s wolf takes all too seriously. “Thank you for the offer, Martha.”

“Anytime,” Marty says, clearly having warmed up to Shelby again despite the issues with her homophobia. Toni tackling Leah to get her away from Shelby must have helped, must have given her a sign that Toni sees something in Shelby that the others can’t yet understand. “Besides, I used to wash her dirty gym clothes, and this is a hundred times worse. I’m not even confident if this sweater has been washed a single time since we’ve been here.”

Toni half wants to be offended, but she’s also pretty sure that Marty can tell that she’s listening and is winding her up for her own amusement. She makes plans to get her back for that little jibe at some point later, when Shelby makes a thoughtful noise and picks at the collar again.

“I don’t know,” she says, returning her gaze to the fire. “I kind’a like it.”

And then, because Toni can’t catch a break, she sticks her nose back into the collar.

 

###

 

The next person to ask about the sweater is Fatin because she’s the only other girl on this island with any sort of gaydar. Whether that’s because she herself is some form of queer, or if she’s just perceptive, Toni doesn’t care to guess.

They’re in the forest, gathering more wood for Dot’s never-ending quest of building a wall with a door for the entrance to their cave.

Toni and Marty are further up ahead, sizing up a particularly large fallen branch, while Fatin and Shelby focus on a few thinner but longer ones. Other than Marty, Fatin doesn’t care to keep her voice down, but she’s far enough away that Marty doesn’t even turn her head, so she must not be able to hear.

“So, what’s with the wardrobe change?” Fatin asks outright, knocking two sticks together and causing several birds to take flight in the process. “Not that blue isn’t your color or anything, but I didn’t get the impression you were all that fond of our resident hothead.”

Shelby, who is already carrying several sticks under one arm, doesn’t flinch or tremble. Her green eyes shift to Toni, realize she’s watching her, and then turn back to Fatin. It’s difficult to know what she’s thinking, and Toni goes back to focusing on the big branch again.

Inside, she’s aching for Shelby to tell the truth.

“I like Toni just fine,” Shelby replies, halting in her slow traverse of the forest and giving Fatin her full attention. “And I was cold this mornin’. I don’t know why everyone’s makin’ such a big deal of me wearin’ her things.”

With a snigger, Fatin shrugs once, quickly.

“Probably because you said you hate gay people and wouldn’t want to be touching one. Or their stuff.” She tugs at one of the sleeves and gives Shelby a wink.

Distaste falls across Shelby’s face like rain on a hot surface, leaving behind angry red splotches on her cheeks and drawing down to her neck. Her heartbeat ticks up, and Toni feels half-inclined to throw caution to the wind and join in on the conversation. Her wolf is all too eager to get in between Shelby and the things that make her unhappy.

But Shelby is all too capable of defending herself.

“I don’t hate gay people,” she says, gripping the sticks in her arms more tightly. It’s a testament to how hard Shelby has been working at herself that she can say the word without fainting right on the spot. Even if it’s whispered more than it is spoken. “And I have no problem whatsoever with touchin’ Toni.”

Her righteous anger is the thing that does her in, and Toni winces on Shelby’s behalf when Fatin smirks.

“Really?” she asks, curling her arm around Shelby’s shoulders and squeezing her closer. “How do you want to be touching Toni?” She wiggles her eyebrows, and Shelby goes rigid in the half-embrace, half-hostage-taking. “Because, oh boy, do I know sexual tension when I see it.”

Heart beating a mile a minute, Toni wishes her hearing weren’t quite as enhanced, but she’s saved from any more embarrassment by Marty, who tries to lift the big branch all by herself and nearly slips and falls on the slippery forest floor.

When Fatin and Shelby finally join them, Shelby’s face is still red, but she looks somehow relieved, and Toni gives her a tentative smile that’s returned even more tentatively.

It’s a start.

 

###

 

There are a lot of chores on the island, lots of things that need to be done to ensure their survival. But there’s also a lot of downtime that they have to fill. When they’re too exhausted from working or scavenging or building things, they usually find themselves back on the beach again, or lounging around their cave.

That day, the whole group finds itself in the former location.

Even Dot has given up on constructing her wall for the moment and has instead decided to play UNO with Fatin and Marty, while Toni sits next to them and helps Fatin cheat by reading Marty’s expressions. She has a terrible poker face as it is, and she can’t hide anything from Toni, who has known her for most of her life.

A little further away, Leah sits with Shelby and Nora as they try to weave baskets for carrying stuff in. Shelby is still wearing the sweater, even though the temperature has long since increased and made it virtually unnecessary to keep it on. Even Marty, who’s notorious for feeling too cold, has taken off her onesie and is sitting on it instead.

“Toni!” Marty squawks when Toni whispers something else to Fatin, and Toni can’t help but let out a loud guffaw of laughter at the sight of her pout.

“Aw, Marty,” she says, leaning back on both hands. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

“Unbelievable,” Marty mutters when she’s forced to draw more cards.

Their little squabble draws the attention of Leah, who puts down her half-finished weaving project and furrows her brows. She has yet to accuse Toni of being a secret spy again, but she still stays up for longer than necessary every night, so it’s clear she has major trust issues.

It’s just that Toni has better things to do with her time than worry about her. Like cuddling Shelby, for example, and keeping her warm at night.

Still, she keeps an eye open when Leah leans towards Shelby and Nora.

“Do you think she’s telling the truth?” she asks, looking in between the others. “When she says she’s not doing anything weird at night?” Her fingers tap on the thin blades of leaves they’re using for their weaving, and the noises reverberate in Toni’s sensitive ears, distracting her enough that she misses Nora’s response.

Shelby’s voice would break through anything, however, and it’s like she’s sitting right next to Toni and whispering it into her ear.

“She’s not been sneakin’ out at all these last couple o’ nights,” she says, tugging on the sleeves of the sweater again like it’s become a nervous habit. Her gaze is focused intently on Leah’s expression, and she too has stopped her weaving.

Pursing her lips, Leah lays her forearms on her knees and scrutinizes her.

“How can you be sure?” she asks, her eyes narrowing like she’s on the verge of accusing Shelby, too. If she does, Toni isn’t sure she can be held responsible for her response. Leah was already involved in injuring Shelby once; Toni is not in the habit of letting others hurt the people she cares about.

“Because,” Shelby says, sounding hesitant. She swallows and wets her lips, her fingers tightening on the weaving. She glances towards Toni, who quickly looks away from her and back towards Fatin, who seems to be losing now that Toni isn’t whispering things to her anymore. “Because she’s been keepin’ me warm at night.”

Leah looks speechless for all of two seconds, but it’s enough time for Nora to chime in.

“Toni does run incredibly hot. I have never met a person whose skin was so warm to the touch. It must be very nice to be close to at night. I wish Rachel would share her body heat with me. It gets so windy in the cave sometimes.” Her voice is as monotone as it always it, but she smiles a little at Shelby, who returns it.

“It’s very comfy,” Shelby agrees, and Leah scoffs.

“I bet she’s just doing that to get an alibi or something,” she grumbles, then goes back to weaving, while Shelby and Nora share another look.

Instead of focusing on the game of UNO again, Toni lets herself fall back onto the sand and stares up at the sky, her wolf curled up in her chest into a little ball of joy.

 

###

 

That evening, Shelby is still wearing the sweater by the time Toni drifts off to sleep.

She doesn’t even entertain the thought that Shelby might not need her arms that night because she’s already warm enough, and she isn’t disappointed. Because like clockwork, a gentle hand slides on her shoulder and a voice whispers sweetly in her ear, asking her if she’s awake.

But instead of rolling over and pulling Toni along with her, Shelby stays seated on her knees, her expression a little unreadable.

“Will you…” She looks down at her own hand on Toni’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Toni says, unsure what Shelby is getting at but down for whatever it is.

Eyes unreadable in the dark, Shelby gets to her feet and waits for Toni to do the same, before she slowly tiptoes out of the cave, leaving Toni to trail behind her. She’s still wrapped in that damn sweater, and Toni can’t do anything but stare.

Night has well and truly fallen, and Toni wishes she had one of Fatin’s expensive-ass watches on her wrist so she could check what time it is. Instinct tells her that it’s well after midnight, and so Toni takes care to keep close to Shelby, who treks purposefully towards the forest.

She wants to ask where they’re going, but she also doesn’t want to spook Shelby and have them turn around, back to the daily silence and quiet nights just holding each other.

The cave grows smaller and smaller behind them, as do the sounds of the others’ breathing and their heartbeats. And when they finally reach that damn fern hill again from the first day, Shelby’s hand grazes the back of Toni’s.

“Do you ever just…” Shelby starts, her fingers trembling a little as she nudges Toni’s palm. “Do you ever wish you could change your life?” Her hand is a slightly sweaty when she finally takes ahold of Toni’s. “Like… if you could… would you be another person?”

Breathing in slowly and steadily, Toni looks up towards the sky and contemplates the moon. It won’t be too long now until the full moon, and Toni hasn’t given much thought to how she will survive it outside of Marty’s basement.

With Shelby’s eyes on her, she feels both seen and missed all at once.

“Shelby…” Toni says, taking a step forward so that their feet are touching.

“I don’t mean—like—I don’t mean, would you change your—” Shelby says, haltingly, her eyes flying across Toni’s face, drinking her in in the moonlight. “But, just… If you could pack up your life and go somewhere else, be someone else, would you?” Shaking softly, Shelby lifts her free, right hand to Toni’s face and slides her thumb along her jaw, reminiscent of the first time they kissed.

Leaning into the touch, Toni nudges Shelby’s knee with her own.

“I wouldn’t,” she says, lifting her own fingers to cover the one on her cheek. “Not anymore. But if you’d asked me a couple of years ago?” She lays a kiss against Shelby’s wrist. “In a fucking heartbeat. You wouldn’t have been able to see me, I would have run so fast… If I could have.”

A breathy exhale later, Shelby leans their foreheads together.

The connection is electrifying and soothing at the same time, and Toni shuffles even closer so that their thighs are almost perfectly aligned, and she lets go of Shelby’s hand so she can wrap her arm around Shelby’s back instead.

“What stopped you?” Shelby whispers, her own free hand landing on Toni’s shoulder and holding on tightly.

“I didn’t have Marty or Mrs. B, and the system isn’t set up to help kids like me. Gay kids with drug addict moms and deadbeat dads. Not to mention the fact that I’m—” Toni starts, voice trailing off abruptly before the word werewolf can cross her lips. “I’m hard to deal with.”

The intimacy of the moment is getting to her.

“I’ve never met anyone like you before,” Shelby says, her thumb drawing along Toni’s throat. She feels it when she swallows, and a part of her wishes Shelby would hold her tighter, would tilt up her head and draw her into a kiss. Instead, Shelby’s fingers leave goosebumps in their wake as she strokes Toni’s pulse point. “Can I ask you somethin’?”

Closing her eyes, Toni’s fingers tighten their grip on Shelby’s waist and wrist.

All she can do is nod.

“Have you…” Shelby starts, her exhales starting to drive Toni a little insane. “Have you seen a wolf?”

Furrowing her brows, Toni pulls back a little.

“What?” she asks, heart beating a mile a minute. They’re out here in the middle of the night… because of her wolf? “You want to talk about this now?”

“I just mean—” Shelby says, clearly backpedaling because of Toni’s response. “You’re so different, I figured if anyone else would’ve seen it…” She holds Toni closer, as though afraid she’ll pull away from her and walk away. “I feel like I’m goin’ crazy.”

Heart sinking, Toni contemplates what she should do next.

She could tell Shelby the truth and hope that she will find acceptance; she could simply show Shelby the transformation, all the while hoping that Shelby won’t freak out the second Toni starts getting undressed; she could lie and play it off and make Shelby think she really is crazy.

That last one nearly makes her nauseous.

There really is only one right answer.

“Shelby,” she says, trying to step away but unable to do so because Shelby won’t let her go. “You’re not crazy, okay?” She lifts both hands to cup Shelby’s cheeks and strokes along them with her thumbs. “You’re not crazy.”

Green eyes stare back at her as Toni allows her eyes to start glowing again.

“Toni,” Shelby says, her brows furrowing in question.

“You’re not,” Toni reassures her, blinking slowly to make her point. And Shelby is on the verge of saying something. Toni can tell that the cogs and wheels are spinning in her brain. “There’s something you should know—”

Heart beating fast, Toni opens her mouth again to say more, only to be interrupted by Shelby leaning in and capturing her lips in a kiss. Her eyes close instinctively as she slides her hands from Shelby’s cheeks to the back of her head, getting lost in the way the other girl’s arms curl around her and keep her close.

“Shelby,” Toni whispers between kisses, wondering how many more times in her life she will get to say the name. Just like before, Shelby’s lips are soft, and her taste hasn’t changed, but there’s a different feeling there, too. A feeling of purposefulness that Toni is enchanted by. It’s the way someone kisses who has spent a lot of time thinking about nothing else.

“Don’t ask me if I’m sure,” Shelby says, separating their lips just long enough to peer into Toni’s golden eyes again and to feel each and every vertebra as she drags her nails along Toni’s spine. “I’ve never been more sure o’ anythin’ in my life.”

With a nod, Toni cups Shelby’s chin and tilts it just right with her thumb, the same way she wanted Shelby to do to her, before going in for another kiss. It’s the first one she’s initiated, and with the knowledge that Shelby wants her, too, she kisses her like she really wants to for the first time. Like she’ll drown if she doesn’t; like Shelby is the very air she breathes; like she’s been shot with a silver bullet and Shelby is the only thing that can save her from the poison.

Again, the purr in her chest starts off slow, sounding more like a low growl than anything else. But the more Shelby melts into her, the more her hands squeeze and stroke Toni’s lower back where her tank top has ridden up from her ministrations, the more Toni loses herself. To the sensations of Shelby’s calloused hands on her skin; to the way Shelby’s lips move alongside hers, matching her pace perfectly; to the sounds Shelby makes whenever Toni moves her face just so to get a better angle.

“Gosh, Toni,” Shelby whispers when Toni kisses and sucks along her chin and jaw. “How are you so good at this?” Her left hand slides to the one that Toni has on her face, her nails digging almost painfully into Toni’s flesh.

In the moonlight, Shelby’s hair looks mostly white, and Toni moves her fingers into it without thinking about it. Shelby hasn’t taken care of it the way she did before, so it’s tangled and twisted in places and looks more like a rat’s nest than an actual head of hair. Still, to Toni, she’s more beautiful than she ever did on the plane that first day they met.

In a way, she finally looks free.

“I’ve had lots of practice,” Toni replies, unsurprised that her voice sounds even deeper than usual. She wonders how blown out her pupils must look, or how otherworldly with their golden glow. She also can’t believe Shelby hasn’t asked her about this feature, nor the way her chest still reverberates with her strange new purr. “Why, you complaining?”

Eyes half-lidded, Shelby draws her nails along Toni’s arm, the sensation sparking waves of heat to flow underneath Toni’s skin, setting her newly on fire. She feels almost the same way she does right before a shift, only without the pressure in her bones.

“That depends,” Shelby drawls, swallowing thickly as she licks her lips, like she wants to savor the moment. “Are you plannin’ on practicin’ some more?” Her right hand glides from Toni’s lower back to her shoulder, and Toni presses their foreheads together again.

“Only if I get to do it with you,” she murmurs, pleased when Shelby draws her into another kiss. This one is shorter. It’s barely a peck, but it says more than Toni has words for. And when it’s followed up by a nuzzle against her nose, she knows she doesn’t stand a chance against whatever’s brewing between them.

Even if she has to wait forever for Shelby to get her shit together enough to tell the others that they have feelings for one another. She’ll make do if she gets to keep kissing Shelby like this.

Chapter Text

They stay tangled up for a while, just leaning on each other as they kiss, and Toni has nary felt anything more intimate than this moment.

At some point, their kisses grow lazy and languid, and Toni is content just loosely holding Shelby’s waist and knocking their knees together from time to time as their mouths slow down. By the time they’re trading little nips back and forth, Toni feels giddy.

“Why did you put on my sweater?” she asks, eyes closed and nose sliding back and forth against Shelby’s like they don’t have a care in the world. And who knows, maybe they don’t anymore. Not if they’re here, and all they have to do is survive and spend time together. No school, no parents, no religion, no foster care.

Letting out a long breath through her nose, Shelby plays with the baby hairs at the back of Toni’s neck, her nails running back and forth on her skin from time to time, causing a spike in Toni’s purr-growl every time. Her smile is lazy, too, and Toni wishes she had a camera to capture the memory forever.

“I guess I finally just… felt ready,” Shelby says, softly nudging her temple against Toni’s and holding her tighter so that they’re hugging instead of kissing. It feels no less intimate. “But I wasn’t sure how to bring it up, I think. I wanted to be close to you, but I didn’t want any of the others to pick up on it.” She snuggles into Toni’s shoulder and bumps Toni’s sneaker with her sandal. “Plus, I like the way you smell.”

Clenching her jaw in the hopes it will make her hopscotching heart calm the fuck down, Toni draws circles with her thumbs into Shelby’s shoulder blades.

As always, she resorts to snark.

“I don’t know if I like what that’s implying,” she says, nuzzling into Shelby’s soft neck.

To her great relief, Shelby only laughs and draws back again for another kiss.

“You’re cute when you get testy,” she murmurs, before pressing their mouths together so that Toni can’t tell her to fuck off. “Has anyone ever told you that? How cute you look when that vein on your temple starts pumpin’ blood like crazy and you look like you’re about to jump straight out o’ your skin?” Her words grow huskier the longer she goes on, And Toni can’t help but take note of the fact that her nose is picking up on Shelby’s arousal again. The way Shelby is staring at her is not helping the matter, either. “And while I don’t approve o’ you shovin’ someone…” She bites her bottom lip, and it’s too much. It’s too fucking much. “I did think that you looked… so…” Her eyes stay focused on Toni’s mouth as she says it, and Toni feels her hands tighten more and more on Shelby’s waist. “So frickin’ sexy.”

Toni is not easily stunned. She prides herself on her scrappy attitude and quick thinking skills, even if they lead her into more trouble than it’s worth most of the time. But now, with Shelby Goodkind smirking at her like she’s more of a wolf than Toni is, she finds herself unable to form a single coherent idea in her big, dumb, lesbian brain.

So instead, she just does what any young, hot-blooded werewolf would do in a situation like this.

She grabs Shelby by the front of the jumper, pulls her back into a kiss, and doesn’t let her go until Shelby has forgotten how to say words.

 

###

 

They stay out between the ferns for way too long to be healthy, and Toni knows Shelby is going to be really fucking tired come morning. After a while, they go to sit down, lean against one another’s shoulders and look up at the stars and moon.

And still, they don’t discuss the fact that Toni’s eyes glow in the dark, or that her chest sounds like a motorboat whenever she and Shelby get too close. It’s unspoken between them, and Toni wonders whether Shelby has an inkling that her furry wolf friend and her prickly human friend are one and the same, and that the reason why she hasn’t seen the wolf in more than a few days is because Shelby has been spending all of her time with human Toni instead.

Under different circumstances, it might scare Toni to be found out, but since Shelby hasn’t made a run for it so far, she thinks she might get away with it. Be a werewolf, have a crush on someone, and when she brings the two together, not have it blow up on her.

“The moon sure is gorgeous tonight,” Shelby says, squeezing Toni’s arm a little tighter to her and laying her head on Toni’s shoulder. “I’ve never seen it so clearly before. Or the stars.” Her fingers draw lazy patterns, back and forth on the inside of Toni’s left forearm, like they’re dancing to a beat only Shelby can hear. “My grandparents owned a farm right outside o’ Dallas, but it never looked like this, even out in the fields.”

Blowing out a slow breath, Toni rests her cheek on top of Shelby’s hair and tries not to think of the gaining moon too hard. If she does, she won’t be able to stop focusing on the full moon until it’s there, and she doesn’t want to be in a trance for upwards of six days.

“I haven’t lived with my mom since I was seven,” Toni says, closing her eyes and clenching her jaw. “I got sent to a different school after that, while they were moving me from foster home to foster home in town. And there would be a trip to the planetarium every year…” Her memories are littered with school events she couldn’t go to, and she feels the rage at the injustice bubble just under the surface. “And I never got to go, because no one was around long enough to bother signing my permission slip.” Shelby’s fingers still on her arm. “But this? This is so much better.”

As the breeze of the night lays itself across them, Shelby turns her face to the side so she can brush a kiss to Toni’s neck.

“Would it be wrong of me to admit that—a part of me is glad we ended up here?” Shelby whispers, like so much as saying the words will get her struck down by God. “I know it cost Jeanette’s life and we’re barely scrapin’ by, but—I think I would have died, anyway. Out there. With my family bein’ the way it is. And with me bein’—”

“Yourself,” Toni offers when Shelby stumbles on the word.

“Yeah,” Shelby agrees. “Yeah, with me bein’ myself. Not bein’ what my daddy wants me to be.” Her hand slides down, her palm covering the back of Toni’s, stroking along her knuckles. “Just the thought o’ bein’ rescued—how awful is it that just the thought makes me want to throw up? I can’t imagine goin’ back and just—pretendin’ again. Pretendin’ that I want to hold Andrew’s hand or that I don’t want to eat sugary cereal from time to time. Or that I didn’t want to—” She trails off, and Toni doesn’t push her. It’s shaping up to take much longer than anticipated for anyone to find them, so they have time to dig away at their defenses.

“I think I probably would’ve died, too,” Toni admits, turning over her hand so that their palms are touching. Looking down, she studies the way their fingers fit together, and considers how much she doesn’t want them to part. “My last girlfriend, she actually broke up with me because I just couldn’t stop fighting.” She still feels guilty for ruining Regan’s grandmother’s car. “I think, if I hadn’t ended up here, I would have lost Marty, too. One way or another. Mrs. B probably would have kicked me out at some point, or I would have ended up in jail for fucking someone up who looked at me wrong. I don’t know. Maybe I would’ve been shot. All of that could still happen, I guess. If we ever get off this island.”

Squeezing Toni’s hand, Shelby breathes in shakily.

“I don’t know what I’ll do if they find us,” she says, squeezing Toni’s upper arm harder with the hand that isn’t holding Toni’s, seeking reassurance in her presence. Underneath it all, there’s a tremor in her voice that speaks of something Toni knows all too intimately.

“Did your dad ever…” Toni starts, trying to keep the sharp growl that starts in her chest firmly shut up.

“He never hit me,” Shelby is quick to reassure her, removing her head from Toni’s shoulder so they can look at each other. “He never hit any of us.” Regardless, her eyes are full of pain, and Toni knows that not all abuse is physical. “But—he did tell me that, if I were to live—” She swallows and looks to the side, ashamed. “If I were to live the homosexual lifestyle, then—I would no longer be welcome in his home.”

Letting out a shaky breath, Shelby brings her fingers from Toni’s arm to her own forehead, before rubbing at her cheek and letting out a quick breath and a self-deprecating laugh that pulls at Toni’s heartstrings.

“Ain’t I pathetic?” Shelby asks, rubbing at the skin under her eyes to rid herself of the tears. “I’m terrified that they’ll find me, but if they do, I’ll just be kicked out o’ their home anyway, so why does it even matter, right? Why does it even matter if they know?”

Anger surges through Toni’s veins like fire. Burning brighter than anything else she’s felt in a long time, and Toni can’t help herself from wrapping both arms around Shelby and pulling her into the tightest hug she can manage without breaking her ribs. Shelby’s nose settles against her shoulder right away and her own hands finds purchase on Toni’s back, her nails digging into the tank top and skin beneath.

“They’re your fucking parents, Shelby,” Toni rasps out, squeezing shut her own eyes as she tries to absorb Shelby’s pain into her own chest. “You’re not pathetic for caring about what they think. Fuck. I care what my mom thinks about me, and she’s an addict who goes in and out of rehab like it’s a fucking White Castle. If my dad showed up on the island tomorrow with a search party and told me he wanted to apologize for 17 years of fucking missed dinners and no child support, I’d probably slug him first and then give him a fucking hug.”

A couple of hiccups leave Shelby’s chest, and then she nods against Toni’s shoulder and lets out a heavy breath. Together, they sit like that, desperately holding on to one another like the whole island will break apart if they do, and Toni uses the opportunity to commit the way Shelby smells to memory, her nose settled tightly against her neck.

“And if your dad ever tries some shit, I’ll fucking tear him to pieces,” Toni adds quietly, more to herself than to Shelby. Just the thought of someone hurting Shelby for who she is sends fissures of rage through Toni. “And then you can come live with me and Marty and Mrs. B. You can sleep in Marty’s room and I’ll take the basement or something.”

At her words, Shelby pulls back just enough to cup Toni’s cheek and pull her into a kiss.

 

###

 

Later, Shelby starts to yawn more often, and Toni decides it’s probably best that they return to camp.

“You okay to walk back?” Toni asks, helping Shelby to her feet.

“Yeah,” Shelby says, though her eyes are half-lidded, and she looks about ready to drop. “Why on God’s green Earth did I make us walk all this way?” She looks around, before letting out another yawn. She isn’t quick enough to raise her hand and Toni can’t help smiling at how cute she looks.

“Guess you wanted to make sure you got me all to yourself,” Toni teases her, curling both arms around Shelby’s waist and nosing at her cheek. “But next time, you don’t have to lead us quite so far away.” Her voice low, Toni lays her lips against Shelby’s ear. “Haven’t you noticed me staring at you? I only have eyes for you.”

The moment lasts for all of two seconds, before Shelby lets out a quiet laugh and Toni joins in.

“I didn’t realize you were such an incorrigible flirt,” Shelby says, cupping Toni’s cheek.

With a shrug, Toni lays a kiss against Shelby’s wrist.

“Easy mistake,” she says, before turning around and lowering herself into a crouching position. “Now hop on so I can get us both back to base. I give a mean piggy-back ride and you look about ready to sleep for the next ten days.”

With some hesitation, Shelby takes a step forward.

“Are you sure? My bones are quite heavy, or so I’ve been told.” She fiddles with her hair and Toni looks back at her over her shoulder, only to find insecurity on Shelby’s face. It almost breaks Toni’s heart all over again because she knows that feeling all too well.

“I’m sure,” Toni says, wiggling her arms around a little to soothe Shelby’s worries. “Like you said that first day: Basketball legend. Great upper body strength. Made you want to take off your shirt right away.”

With an indulgent smile, Shelby steps up to Toni, wraps both hands around her shoulders and climbs on slowly and steadily so that Toni has the chance to grip her underneath her thighs, which are firm from countless hours spent in spin class. Maybe Toni should look into that once they’re off the island.

“I don’t remember it goin’ quite like that,” Shelby says, holding on tightly to Toni as she’s lifted into the air, her cheek settling against Toni’s head. She weighs about as much as a handful of grapes, which Toni guesses must occasionally be a whole meal for her if her dad won’t even fucking let her have cereal.

“I think it was implied,” Toni shoots back, starting her trek back to the cave.

 

###

 

They spend the night wrapped around one another, but unlike before Shelby leans in for a good night kiss this time before going to sleep, and Toni wonders what the morning will bring. Whether Shelby will feel as comfortable then as she so clearly does now.

Trying not to dwell on the thoughts, Toni hugs Shelby closer to her chest and closes her eyes, hoping that only good things will happen from here on out.

It’s a foolish wish.

For fucking fools.

But Toni is tired of being angry and resentful all the time.

 

###

 

The following three days are spent in relative ease.

There’s more foraging, more fishing, more crafting, and the cave is starting to look more like a home than an abandoned assortment of rocks. Fatin’s make-up art on the walls has been enhanced by leaves and moss in an attempt to liven the place up, and Toni finally takes pity on Dot on the second day and decides to go and fell a tree and cut it into neat little planks with her claws.

She takes Martha with her on the expedition, and together they walk far enough away from the others to make sure that they can’t see Toni wolfing out and ripping the tree right out of the ground. They spend almost the whole day there, while Toni tries to make the planks look jagged and kind of fucked up. When they return, dragging them along the ground, they pretend the tree has been struck by lightning and splintered just right to give them something to work with.

None of the other girls seem especially suspicious, aside from Leah, who has yet to stop watching Toni for any odd behavior. If she’s seen Toni and Shelby cuddling at night or sharing quiet pecks before falling asleep, she hasn’t made comment on it, and Toni is at least grateful to her for that. Shelby is working on her anxiety, and she’s even started sitting next to Toni around the fire, but she’s nowhere near ready to come out to everyone and Toni isn’t about to make her.

Dot is ecstatic when they return, and Toni even helps her work out how best to attach the planks to the shelter she’s already constructed. It feels good to be working with someone, to create something she can be proud of instead of tearing it down.

And then, four days after Shelby and Toni’s night in the woods, things start going to shit.

 

###

 

Toni doesn’t notice it at first.

The moon-sickness.

It starts slow, the way it always does, but usually Toni has her phone to keep track of the cycle. Here, she has nothing but her own instincts, and they’ve been going haywire ever since their arrival. Ever since she was drugged on the plane.

At first, Toni thinks the mussels she’s eaten were bad, but when none of the others show any symptoms of food poisoning, she tosses the thought aside and blames the strange warmth in the air, coupled with the intense winds she’s become used to.

“It’s like being blasted in the face with a hair dryer,” Dot says when Toni makes a comment about it as they drag one of the plane’s luxury seats further up the beach. The tide went especially high the night before and has washed the seat ashore, and Toni desperately wants it inside the cave so she can have something normal to sit on that isn’t a piece of fucking driftwood or a rock. She’s been sick of sitting on rocks for the last couple of weeks. “I can’t believe I’m still not fucking used to it.”

“I’m not sure I want to get used to it,” Toni offers, looking up ahead at the massive distance they still have to cover until the stupid chair is at the cave. It’s not heavy – not to her – but it’s unwieldly and Toni can’t just turn into her wolf and carry it that way. Wolfing out would make it so much easier. “I don’t want to give mother nature the fucking satisfaction.”

With a laugh, Dot keeps shoving the chair, her forehead beaded with sweat. Shelby and Marty trail after them, carrying a washed up suitcase in between their bodies. Toni can’t believe they’re still fucking finding those. Something seems fucked up about the coincidence.

“Don’t let the island hear that,” Dot replies, stopping for a second to catch her breath and sitting down on the chair, which Toni only realizes when Dot makes a surprised noise and stares at her wide-eyed. “Dude, what the fuck. How—” Her brow furrows as she stares at the ground, where Toni pulled her along several paces all on her own.

Panicking slightly, Toni rubs her hands along her shorts and looks at anything but Dot.

“Adrenaline? I don’t fucking know,” she says, looking over Dot’s shoulder and making eye contact with Shelby, who has seen and heard the exchange as well as Martha. “Now get off the damn chair and help me get this back.”

But Dot doesn’t move for several more seconds, prompting Shelby to set down her side of the suitcase and come closer. Her expression is one of friendly concern, but Toni can hear the way her heart beats just a little bit faster, like she panicked right alongside Toni at the odd display of strength.

“Hey, how ‘bout you help Martha with the suitcase, Dottie?” she asks, patting Dot’s shoulder and giving her a gentle push. “You’ve been workin’ so much to keep us all goin’. I think you deserve a break, don’t you? Why don’t the two o’ you go on ahead and me and Toni’ll catch up with you.” She gives Toni a meaningful look, and Toni feels herself freeze up.

“Um, yeah,” she says quickly, leaning against the chair like she’s out of breath. “Dude, I think that shot of adrenaline is wearing off.” She wipes at her forehead for good measure, though the sweat is more from the heat than from any sort of exhaustion. “Shelby and I will get this done, Dot.”

Still looking at Toni like she’s got something on her face, Dot joins Marty, who looks in between Toni and Shelby like she’s figured something out about them. But when she doesn’t say anything, Toni decides that she must approve of whatever is going on, because she quickly pulls Dot into a conversation about something or other to do with survival, and Dot gets lost in the topic just like she always does.

By the time they’re far enough away, Toni lets out a breath and looks up at Shelby.

“Thanks,” she says, unsure what exactly she’s thanking Shelby for. Because they still haven’t talked about the wolf again, or the fucking glowing-eyes-action in the woods, and Toni is quickly realizing that she has no idea what Shelby is thinking on that front.

Real concern furrows Shelby’s brows now, and she lays her hand atop the one Toni has on the backrest of the chair.

“You’re lookin’ awful pale today, Toni. Are you feelin’ okay?” she asks, softly stroking the back of Toni’s knuckles and taking a step closer to her. Most of the others are either at the cave or at the waterfall, so Shelby must feel confident in her affections, because she wipes a speck of dirt from Toni’s chin and then lingers on her jaw with her fingers. “You ain’t getting’ sick, are you?” Her eyes flit from Toni’s sunken eyes to her trembling hands.

“I don’t know,” Toni offers, running her hand along her hair. “I think I may have had a bad mussel this morning, but none of the others seem sick.” She looks out towards the ocean and wonders why she wants to jump in so badly. Being on this island isn’t good for her, she thinks. Even with Shelby here as an anchor, she’s growing more and more anxious the more she stays here, like she’s waiting for the other shoe to drop and it just—it won’t.

“Maybe you should go lay down?” Shelby says, taking Toni’s hand in both of hers and pulling it up to her lips to press a kiss against it. Her gentleness is causing Toni’s wolf to go into a state of bliss again, and Toni can’t stop herself from leaning forward.

She’s met halfway by Shelby, who gives her the sweetest of kisses.

“I mean it, Toni,” she says sliding a hand along Toni’s neck. “You need to rest. You look about ready to drop. I can get Rachel and Fatin to come down here and help me with carryin’ this thing. I don’t want you overdoin’ it if you’re feelin’ under the weather.”

Leaning back against the seat, Toni curls her hand around Shelby’s wrist and lifts it up to kiss it.

“I’m okay, Shelby. I promise. You don’t have to worry about me,” she says, looking around them to make absolutely sure no one is watching. Her senses feel like they’re on the fritz, alternately letting every sensation and sound into her mind before shutting everything out aside from her own heartbeat.

“Someone has to,” Shelby drawls, a gentle half-smile playing across her lips.

Blushing, Toni knocks her fist into Shelby’s shoulder to push her back a little, and it draws a laugh from her that sounds like music to Toni’s ears. She’s not surprised that Shelby keeps winning people over, whether that be during her pageants or in real life.

“Now who’s the incorrigible flirt?” Toni says with a shake of her head, only making Shelby giggle some more.

 

###

 

In the afternoon, and once the chair has fully been moved, Toni watches Fatin and Marty putting on some sort of play, while Shelby directs them, and she’s still feeling pretty fucked up physically, but mentally she thinks she might be turning a new leaf. Her senses have stabilized, though they’re still a little on edge.

Lounging around in the sand by the mouth of the cave, Toni alternately looks at her friends and at the sky, wondering about when she became so damn mellow. Even before she was turned into a werewolf, she was always a hothead, but it’s only grown increasingly worse the older she gets, no doubt fueled by her lupine tendencies.

Yet here she is, feeling strangely at peace, while Shelby directs Marty and tries to get her to perform with more pathos and Fatin laughs at both of them and calls them a bunch of nerds, but in a way that sounds more like a compliment than an insult. It’s nice. It’s comforting. And it’s how she falls asleep, feeling hot and cold from time to time but otherwise mostly unharmed.

Come nighttime, she wakes in a pool of her own sweat, with Shelby and Nora leaning over her.

 

###

 

“Toni!”

“Hm?” Toni mumbles back, her eyelids feeling too heavy to open.

“Toni, wake up!”

“What the fuck is wrong with her?” another voice says, sounding further away but familiar all the same. Toni thinks it might be Fatin, but it could just as easily be Leah or Rachel, considering how delirious she feels. “She looks like she’s about to puke or something.”

“Toni, can you hear me?” a sweet voice whispers to her, and then Toni feels hands on her cheeks and knows it’s Shelby from the way her fingers feel. She’s become familiar with the grooves and callouses of her, and she smiles and tries to open her eyes.

“Shelby…” Toni murmurs back, trying to open her eyes again but seeing only the moon behind her eyelids. It’s almost time, her mind seems to say. Almost time to join the night and become one with the beast. Almost time to feast. “Shelby…”

“Guess now we know what’s on her mind,” the other voice says again, and this time Toni’s sure it’s Fatin. She tries to turn her face away, but Shelby keeps a strong hold on her, her face so close that Toni can feel her breath.

“She said this mornin’ that the mussels she had might not have been too good for her,” Shelby explains, and Toni wants to laugh right in her face. A mussel can do many things, but it can’t do this. Not to someone like Toni. “Dottie, you still have that Halophen, right? To help her keep water down?”

Toni wants to shake her head and tell them not to waste their medicine, but then a cloud shifts in the sky, and Toni’s eyes finally open. Right above them, the moon glows in all its fullness, and Toni’s pupils dilate as she pushes herself into a sitting position, her head tilting back so she can keep staring at it.

“Shit,” Marty whispers, and Toni can’t help but agree.

“Martha?” Shelby asks, and then she’s being pulled away and Toni is grateful for it.

“We need to get away from her,” Marty says, her voice a little softer and little more scared than she usually would be on a night like this. She’s been around Toni too many times to count during her transformations, but there are more people here than Toni is used to, and there’s no telling how her wolf will react. “Everybody, you need to go into the cave. I’ll deal with this.”

“What?” Rachel asks, sounding confused, and Toni feels herself drifting away again.

“I’m not joking,” Marty says, and the others stare at her, before their gazes turn back to Toni, who slowly gets to her feet as more of the moonlight bathes her in its deadly glow. “You guys need to go!”

“I’m not leavin’ her like this,” Shelby protests, her voice growing less and less audible as Toni feels her brain being stuffed with sounds and sensations that her wolf is picking up on while it waits for its release into the night. Bringing a hand to her head, Toni tries to block it out as best she can as she takes a few more stumbling steps away from the group.

Shelby’s fingers curl around her arm, while Marty tries to get the others to move again.

“I’m not going inside while she’s doing some weird shit,” Leah protests, and Toni feels pain in her chest and brain like she’s being split in two. The more she resists the transformation, the worse it will get. Years ago, before she could truly accept her new life, she tried to stop it on more than one occasion, and someone’s back garden always paid the price.

“Leah, just shut the fuck up for a second,” Dot finally snaps, and Toni can hear the fear in her voice, can smell it on the air as another shudder wrecks Toni’s body and she nearly crumples to her knees. “I think there’s something seriously wrong with her and I don’t know if I have anything in that fucking medicine bag that can help her.”

“You guys don’t understand,” Martha says, and Toni tries to hold on to her familiar, calming scent as she tries to tug free of Shelby and stagger further into the woods. She doesn’t want the others to see her like this. She doesn’t want Shelby to see her like this.

“So fucking explain it to us,” Fatin says, sounding genuinely worried for maybe the first time since they’ve gotten stranded on the island. “’Cause it looks like our resident queer icon is about to drop dead from a disease that looks mighty serious.”

Toni wants to growl, wants to scream, wants to tear out of her skin and run.

“Shelby,” she rasps out, finally tugging herself free and looking back at Shelby with a pained expression. “Stay away from me. Please. I can’t—” Her lungs expand as she feels the desperate desire to howl. Howl at the moon. Howl at the stars. Be free. Be wild.

“Come on,” Shelby says, catching up to Toni and slinging her arm around her shoulders, helping Toni limp away from the rest of the group. “Come on.” She curls her other arm around Toni’s waist to keep her upright as they stumble along, and Toni feels both terror and elation as her human side and her wolf side battle in her chest and in her mind, warring for control.

Ultimately, she knows what will win.

“Shelby!” Marty calls out after them. “Fatin, no! You guys can’t follow them! It’s way too dangerous.”

“You make it sound like she’s some sort of monster,” Fatin shoots back, her voice way too on edge for someone who pretends not to give a fuck. But Toni doesn’t hear what else the others are talking about, because her lungs expand again and again, and every time she swallows another howl, she feels a little bit more of her sanity slip from her grasp.

And it won’t be long now.

It won’t be long.

 

###

 

They’re further away from others, but Toni can’t say by just how much.

“Shelby,” She gasps out again, pushing herself away from the other girl and falling onto all fours. “Shelby, fucking—get out of here.” She digs her nails into the ground, her eyes squeezing shut as she finally lets out a growl she’s been keeping in for far too long.

Every bone in her back seems to pop as she straightens it, her eyes starting to glow and her teeth buzzing with the desperate need to snap at something. Clenching her jaw, she pulls up her tank top with shaking fingers and tosses it onto the forest ground.

“Toni, what is happening to you?” Shelby asks, her fingers cool on Toni’s burning shoulders as she tries to establish eye contact between them. Her face swims around in front of Toni, faintly out of focus and strangely gorgeous even then. “Tell me how I can help.”

Raising both hands to her head, Toni lets out another growl, before pushing Shelby away as gently as she can.

“Don’t,” Toni roars, her voice even lower than usual as she rips and tears at her shorts.

But it’s too late now. She can’t save them. The one thing she manages before it all falls apart is to slide off her sneakers by desperately scrabbling at them with her feet, before she fully gives herself over to the wolf. Her bones snap painfully, because she’s been fighting the transformation, and she lets out the first howl into the darkness of the night as she feels her teeth elongate and poke out of her mouth like she’s the villain in a horror movie who’s about to eat the heroine.

Her hands grow larger and fur sprouts all over her body as she loses all sense of herself.

She’s not Toni Shalifoe; she’s something else.

And when the transformation is finally over, her eyes search the area, and the thing they focus on is a girl with blonde hair, green eyes, and an expression that’s fascinated and disturbed all at once. And the first thing Toni does—

Is lunge.

Chapter Text

There’s a scream and the sound of an oomph as the girl is pushed onto her back and a giant black wolf roars into her face. The roar is loud, and it shows more teeth than entirely necessary, and Toni isn’t sure what she’s doing. She’s not even sure she’s there at all. The moon is calling to her, calling to the wolf, telling it to rip apart what is hers to rip apart, but there is this girl.

And as the roar dies down, Toni realizes there are hands on her chest, knotted in her fur, and there are words that are being said to her. Words that sound foreign to her ears, but that she thinks she may have understood once upon a time. In a different life.

“Toni. Toni, it’s me. It’s Shelby.”

Growling, the wolf digs its claws into the ground and opens its mouth again, baring its teeth.

Predator, it says. Predator.

Predator.

“Toni, it’s okay. You’re safe here with me.”

Eyes as green as the forest. Hair as golden as the sun.

“You don’t have to fight anymore. Nothin’ here is gonna hurt you. I promise.”

A ripple rushes through the wolf, and it shakes its head. Shakes it like a wet dog, trying to get rid of something uncomfortable. Shakes it. Shakes. Shakes. Shakes. Looks at the moon and howls, a cry so loud it makes the girl cover her ears.

Trembling, Toni scrambles off her, claws coming up to cover a giant snout and teeth as the wolf chastises itself and whimpers. Curls into itself. Shakes its head again as the girl slowly sits up to look at it. Her expression is tender, and Toni remembers other things, too.

Warm hands and lips. So gentle.

“It’s okay,” the girl says again, shuffling forwards on her knees and reaching out towards the wolf. “I know you didn’t mean to scare me.” Her fingers stay hovering in the air between them, like she’s afraid to startle the wolf all over again, and Toni slowly lowers her claws. “There’s nothin’ to be afraid of. It’s just me.”

Sniffing the air, the wolf slowly moves closer again, its nose settling against her outstretched palm.

“There you go,” Shelby says, sliding her hands along the wolf’s face and in between its eyes, taking care not to make any sudden movements. Steadily, she brings their foreheads together, her eyes closing as she slides both hands into the fur on Toni’s neck. “I’ve got you now. I’ve got you, Toni.”

And even though the moon is bright above them, Toni finds a part of herself in the embrace. Finds a part of herself in this girl, in Shelby, that she doesn’t let go of. Even when the wolf grows restless, she clings to it. To the memory of Shelby’s laugh, of her smile, of her sassy comebacks to Toni’s attempts at needling.

“You’re safe.”

“You’re safe.”

The strangest thing about the whole thing, is that Toni believes her.

 

###

 

You’re so beautiful.

Has anyone ever told you that your fur is the softest thing they’ve ever touched?

I knew there was somethin’ different about you; I just couldn’t put my finger on what…

Toni feels herself entering wakefulness sometime in the early hours of the morning. The sun is only just rising above the surface of the ocean, and Toni stares at it with something close to awe as she tries to remember what took place the night before.

She’s completely naked, for one, and she’s wrapped around another person’s body.

Scent alone tells her that it’s Shelby, but Toni can’t remember having taken off her clothes or deciding that she wanted to spend the night under a damn lychee tree somewhere in the forest.

Furrowing her brows, she brings a hand to her head, feeling the ache there.

“Fuck,” she murmurs, rolling onto her back and away from Shelby’s warm side. “What the hell?” Looking down at the other girl, she sees that Shelby’s hair is now several inches shorter, and she can’t remember having seen a pair of scissors anywhere close to them the previous day.

Looking adorable in Toni’s sweater, Shelby whispers something in her sleep that is too jumbled to be understandable. She looks content, sleeping on the ground like this, while Toni is starting to feel just a little exposed. Where the fuck are her clothes?

“Toni…” Shelby says sleepily, turning to her other side and searching for Toni with her hand, stopping only when she touches Toni’s naked stomach. Eyes snapping open, Shelby sits up quicker than Toni knows what to do with. Her head twists around as she takes in her surroundings, before finally realizing that Toni is sitting next to her in her birthday suit and doing absolutely nothing to cover herself up. “Oh, cripes—” She looks away immediately, and Toni’s not sure if she should be offended or flattered that Shelby can’t make eye contact with her.

“So…” Toni starts, leaning back on her palms and glancing up at the lychees again. “Do you know why I’m buck ass naked in the middle of nowhere?”

 

###

 

Shelby refuses to talk to her until she’s covered up, so Toni accepts her own sweater as it’s hastily thrust into her outstretched hands. It doesn’t cover her ass, but she pulls her knees to her chest and sits half turned away so that Shelby can only see her legs and nothing else, before running a hand through her disheveled hair. She’s short a hair tie, and when she brings it up, Shelby pulls one off her own wrists and hands it over, her cheeks dusted a particularly adorable shade of pink.

“I don’t even know what happened to my pants,” Toni says, scratching at her thigh and only mildly concerned that she must have sat in a lychee, judging by the sticky patch on her leg. “Please tell me I didn’t fuck up my sneakers, too.”

Finally, Shelby glances at her, and she looks very pretty in nothing but her white shorts and her pink bralette.

“I think you managed to get ‘em off just in time,” she says, running a hand through her shorter hair and raking her gaze along Toni’s face. “You’re lookin’ much better this mornin’, but I guess that’s to be expected, right?” Reaching out, she ghosts the tips of her fingers along the side of Toni’s jaw. “I was real terrified yesterday.”

Grimacing, Toni looks away.

“Yeah, I can imagine,” she says, curling her hands around her legs and laying her chin on her knees. “I didn’t want you to find out like this. I didn’t want you to find out at all, but I haven’t been able to track the cycle of the moon and I didn’t realize it was already time again.” She closes her eyes and leans further into herself, pressing her forehead to her knees instead. “I was really fucking scared that I would hurt one of the others. Or you. I’m sorry.”

A strangled noise escapes Shelby, and then there are arms around Toni’s body.

“I wasn’t terrified o’ you,” she says quickly, her lips settling on Toni’s shoulder in a quick kiss. “I was frickin’ scared ‘cause you were so pale. I thought you were sick, and I didn’t know how to help you. I swear, if Martha hadn’t stepped in, I would have made you take that Halophen.”

With her embrace come fragments of memories from the night before.

“I almost shifted in front of everybody,” Toni whispers to herself, sliding up one of her hands so she can wrap it around Shelby’s arm. She barely remembers waking up after falling asleep during the local theater production of Rent or some shit. “Fuck, I could have killed someone.”

Instead of pulling away, Shelby only holds on more tightly.

“You wouldn’t have,” she says decisively, like there’s not a single doubt in her mind.

“You don’t know that,” Toni replies, lifting her head and pressing her hand against it.

“I know you,” Shelby retorts, cupping Toni’s cheek and tugging until Toni looks at her. “You’re many things, Toni, but you’re not a killer. Last night, you had me on my back; you were standin’ over me and yellin’ straight in my face, and I still knew you were never gonna hurt me.” She leans in to kiss Toni’s cheekbone. “I hate to break it to you, Toni, but you’re not the big bad wolf you think you are.” Her fingers settle on Toni’s neck as she leans her forehead against Toni’s temple, her lips sliding against Toni’s skin with every word. “You took me ridin’ on your back; you showed me the whole island. You held me so tight, and you were so gentle and sweet, it almost made me cry.”

Heart beating overtime, Toni squeezes shut her eyes and turns her face until her lips find Shelby’s.

“It was stupid to follow me away from camp,” Toni breathes, more frightened of what she could have done than Shelby seems to be. “Fuck, Shelby, you knew something weird was going on with me.” Even now, she feels the panic in her bones. “My eyes glow in the dark, for fuck’s sake.”

With half a shrug, Shelby pulls back a little and sits back down on her butt.

Her hands stay on Toni’s neck and shoulder, like she can’t bear to sever the connection.

“I’ve never been great at followin’ orders,” Shelby offers, rubbing her thumb along Toni’s jumping pulse point. She looks freer than Toni has ever seen her, like running around the island with a giant wolf is what she was made for. And who knows, maybe she was. Who is Toni to judge? “You should ask my daddy sometime. He never liked it when I questioned his teachin’s.”

Clasping Shelby’s fingers in her own, Toni shakes her head.

Mostly with fondness. A little in exasperation.

“I don’t know if I should kiss you or kick you,” she says, taking Shelby’s hand off her neck and leaning down to kiss the inside of her wrist.

“Seems like you do,” Shelby teases her, even as goosebumps appear on her skin where Toni has kissed her. Her eyes linger on Toni’s face, before drawing along her shoulders and down to her thighs, which flex with every slight movement of Toni’s torso. “To be honest, I was scared last night. At first. But I wasn’t scared of what you’d do to the others. I was more scared of what they would do to you. And I think Martha was, too.”

Another memory shakes loose in Toni’s brain, of Marty desperately trying to shoo the others back into the cave so Toni’s wolf wouldn’t have to face them. Fatin’s voice clings to her, too, as do her words.

You make it sound like she’s some sort of monster.

“They were worried about me,” Toni says mostly to herself, stunned anew at the realization that the women on this island give a shit about her. And not just Shelby or Marty, but Fatin, too. And Dot, if her facial expression from the night before is anything to go by. “Fuck, I don’t know how I’m going to explain any of this shit to them. I don’t even know how to explain it to you.”

Dropping Shelby’s arm, Toni wishes she could sprawl out onto the ground behind her without flashing Shelby her whole naked front bottom. Staying curled up like this is making her feel a little claustrophobic, even if it’s just her own body. After an intense shift like the one from the night before, she can never quite get used to being human again.

Mostly human.

“You don’t have to explain anythin’ to me if you don’t want to, but I feel like I already know most of what’s goin’ on. I mean… full moon, giant black wolf, glowing eyes, big friggin’ teeth. You’re a—a werewolf. Right?” she says it almost too casually, and Toni looks at her for what feels like an eternity before Shelby lifts one of her shoulders in a shrug. “I’m not wrong, am I?”

“No,” Toni finally allows, looking up at the lychees right above her and wondering how the fuck she got herself into this mess in the first place. She blames Marty and her stupid idea to go on this fucking trip. “No, you’re not wrong.” She digs her toes into the mossy ground beneath her and curls her arms around her knees again. “Before last night, what did you think I was…? Glowing eyes aren’t exactly a very human trait.”

Curling her legs in until she’s sitting cross-legged, Shelby furrows her brows and gives Toni a slightly embarrassed stare.

“At first, I thought the island had driven me insane,” she admits, gripping her own ankles and leaning forward so she’s closer to Toni once more. “I mean, I saw your wolf before I saw your eyes, and I didn’t put two and two together at all.” Her cheeks start getting redder again and Toni can hear the way her heart beats double-time, like revealing that she didn’t think a human could turn into a wolf would make her weird and not perfectly normal. “And then, I don’t know, when we kissed and you looked at me and—” Her gaze flits down to the ground. “Gosh, Toni, I don’t think you realize how gorgeous you are.”

Swallowing thickly, Toni rubs the back of her nose and tries to slow down her own quickening heartbeat.

“Flatterer,” Toni murmurs, but Shelby doesn’t seem to hear her at all.

Her eyes are just a little too dilated the next time they make eye contact, and Toni wishes she hadn’t put on the damn jumper. Or maybe she wishes she were wearing pants, instead. Why didn’t she ask for Shelby’s pants? Maybe she wouldn’t be feeling so very awkward about getting wet just from looking at Shelby looking at her like that.

“Honestly? The first time I saw your eyes glow like that, I thought you were an angel,” Shelby concludes, her drawl a little too pronounced to hide the fact that she’s getting worked up, too. “And your—” She glances down at Toni’s chest, but Toni doesn’t think it’s because she’s checking out her breasts. “Your purr is real—it’s real attractive.”

For half a second, Toni wants to call her a furry and laugh the whole thing off, because talking about this with Shelby is akin to watching pornography, and she doesn’t usually watch pornography unless she’s ready to get off. Only this is much worse, because Shelby is making it sound like Toni is the hottest person in the world and Toni isn’t sure if it will be well-received if she mounts Shelby right under this damn lychee tree.

“Sorry to disappoint,” she says instead, her voice rougher than she wants it to be. “You were shooting for an angel and you got a filthy animal instead.” She thinks Shelby might be moving towards her, but she’s not sure. “Maybe next time, the supernatural underbelly on this planet can spit you out something a little better—”

Toni feels herself rambling again, and she’s only interrupted by Shelby closing the distance between them and laying a kiss against her lips. She tastes like lychees, and Toni can guess why her wolf thought to bring her here the night before. Gently, she bites at Toni’s bottom lip, tugging on it until Toni lets out a whimper that’s most unbecoming of an apex predator.

Letting it go with a pop, Shelby’s green eyes bore into Toni’s, and the smell of her arousal starts to swirl around them in a way Toni isn’t ready for.

“And what if I—” Shelby starts, kissing along the side of Toni’s face until her mouth is right on Toni’s ear, her warm breaths causing shivers to run through Toni. “What if I like that you’re a filthy animal?” It feels like she’s smirking, and Toni can’t keep a hold of herself anymore after that.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Shelby is on her back and Toni is kneeling over her, her chest bursting into the loudest purr yet as she stares down at the girl who’s slowly driving her inside. And somehow, even though Toni is the one on top, she can’t help but feel like she’s spellbound by gorgeous eyes and would do anything that was asked of her, even if it meant never getting off herself.

“I’m sorry,” Toni breathes, keeping her hands at Shelby’s sides as her eyes rake across Shelby’s face. Her half-lidded stare, her panting mouth, her disheveled hair and pink cheeks. The night has left her rubbed raw, and she knows that if they’re doing this, whatever this is, she’s not going to last terribly long. She’s been craving Shelby’s touch for the better part of a month now and her wolf is hungry.

“Don’t be,” Shelby husks, her fingers reaching up to cup Toni’s cheeks and pull her back down into a kiss. And where she was somewhat shy before, she’s assertive now, taking Toni’s mouth like she owns it. And who knows, maybe she does. Toni’s wolf certainly seems to think so. “I told you, didn’t I? I’ve never been more sure o’ anythin’.”

 

###

 

They start off slow.

As their mouths continue to move, Toni lowers her body so that she’s sprawled out atop Shelby, keeping herself propped up on her left arm while she lets her right roam Shelby’s body. It settles on Shelby’s bare waist, and Shelby hisses when Toni’s hot skin makes contact with her comparatively cold one.

“I’m sorry,” Toni says again, taking the opportunity to bite at the sharply defined edge of Shelby’s gorgeous jaw. “My wolf blood makes me run hot.” Her fingers slide slowly along Shelby’s side, playing with the hem of her pink tie-dye bralette. “I think I’ll only get warmer from here.”

Cheeks flushing, Shelby’s hips twitch up at Toni’s thigh at the words, and Toni wonders if she’s thinking about how hot Toni’s fingers will feel inside her. It’s certainly what Toni’s imagining, if Shelby will let her get that far.

“I like it,” Shelby finally settles on, covering Toni’s fingers on her ribcage and moving them up and onto her breast. At the first contact, Shelby lets out a gentle gasp, before drawing Toni back into a kiss, this one just a little less coordinated than the last.

“Can I—” Toni asks, leaning her forehead against Shelby’s as she lets out an embarrassing mix between a growl and a whimper that she blames on her wolf. “Can I take it off?” She glances down at the pink fabric, where her thumb is rubbing circles around Shelby’s nipple. Its outline is visible through the material, but she wants to see Shelby’s skin. Wants to taste the sweat of her body.

Shelby’s nod is so fast that she almost knocks her head against Toni’s, and Toni is quick to sit up on her knees and watch as Shelby takes matters into her own hands and draws her bra up and over her head, before letting it drop somewhere next to them.

“Wow,” Toni murmurs as she’s confronted with Shelby’s chest for the first time. Saliva gathers in her mouth, and she’s not sure if her wolf’s desire to devour is entirely sexual or something altogether more primal than that.

Self-consciousness creeps into Shelby’s face, but she doesn’t cover herself up.

“You’re—” Toni starts, unsure how to convey the depth of her appreciation with words. The more the sentence hangs in the air, the more embarrassed she gets, and before things can get awkward, she leans in for another kiss and makes Shelby lie back down on the ground again. “Fuck, Shelby.”

To her great relief, Shelby seems to understand what she’s saying.

Finally, Toni’s hand slides back onto Shelby’s chest, and she drinks up every whimper greedily as her thumb starts to rub at her nipple again. The kiss is made sloppy by the distraction of so many other things, and Toni lets out another whine at the way Shelby’s arousal soaks into her brain, making her feel about a hundred times less intelligent.

“Shelby,” she murmurs, kissing the underside of Shelby’s jaw and licking at her skin there. “Shelby.”

Toni notices only belatedly that Shelby’s hands are on her waist before she’s dragged down so that her thigh is wedged in between both of Shelby’s. And when Shelby starts grinding against it, seeking her own pleasure as Toni continues to rub at her breast, she can’t help herself from taking the tendon that connects Shelby’s neck to her shoulder into her mouth and biting down a little bit harder than she intends to.

“Toni!” Shelby gasps out, tilting back her head to bare more of her neck to Toni’s hungry wolf.

“Fuck,” Toni murmurs as she pulls back and looks down at the red indents on Shelby’s skin. She hasn’t drawn blood, so at least there’s that, but she still feels out of control far more than she’s comfortable with. “I didn’t mean to—fucking maul you.”

Her deep voice has dropped even further, and Shelby’s pupils are dilated to a ridiculous degree, like she’s taken some sort of drug. And who knows, maybe Toni’s body is pumping out pheromones she’s heretofore been unaware of.

“Toni,” Shelby starts, her cheeks and chest flushed red with arousal. Her fingers cover Toni’s on her breast as she pushes herself half into a sitting position with the other. Ghosting her lips across Toni’s mouth and cheek, she whispers her next words, and Toni almost loses herself to the wolf all over again. “I liked it. I liked it a lot.”

With a mixture of a growl and a purr, Toni cups Shelby’s cheek and draws her into an open-mouthed, open-hearted kiss that shatters her whole fucking world. Because fuck, if it isn’t incredibly fucking sexy to hear Shelby confirm that she enjoys what Toni is doing to her.

Panting, she pulls back from the kiss and sits back on her heels, her fingers going to Shelby’s white shorts and playing with the button she finds there. Weirdly, Toni is still wearing the jumper, but she thinks it might be best to keep it on for the time being, so as not to overwhelm Shelby with too many new experiences at once.

Besides, she kind of enjoys the thought of getting Shelby fully naked while staying somewhat dressed herself. Ideally, they would be on a bed somewhere, or at least on a damn surface that isn’t covered in moss, but she’ll make do with what she has.

“I know you said not to ask you if you’re sure,” Toni says, dragging her nails along the skin under Shelby’s belly button and living for the way Shelby’s abdominal muscles quiver at her touch. She doesn’t touch the belly button piercing. Not yet. She’s saving that for later. “But I don’t want to assume either way.”

Something shines in Shelby’s eyes at the question, something that looks an awful lot like appreciation, and Toni tries not to let it get to her. If she starts thinking about why something as simple as asking for consent is making Shelby almost tear up, she won’t be able to quiet herself down again, and this really isn’t the moment for it.

“Yes, Toni,” Shelby finally says, covering Toni’s hands on the button of her pants and helping her undo it. She lifts her hips up next, and Toni slides down her shorts and drops them onto the pink bralette, leaving Shelby in nothing but a particularly flimsy piece of underwear that Toni is certain belongs to Fatin. It’s black, and Toni can tell that it’s soaked. Fuck. “I want to do this with you.” Shelby’s hands reach out and grab the front of Toni’s sweater, pulling her back down again and into a gentle embrace, even though now Toni’s thigh is placed squarely on Shelby’s wetness. The pair of panties do little to hide her arousal, and Toni finds herself whimpering into the kiss they share. “I want to do this with you. So much.”

It’s like Shelby has found a direct line straight to Toni’s baser instincts because she can’t keep herself from placing her own wetness on Shelby’s naked thigh and grinding down on it to show her that she’s not the only one who wants this. With a gentle gasp, Shelby’s hands go to Toni’s waist to aid her in her movements while her thigh tenses and flexes, going hard as rock against Toni’s clit.

“Shelby,” Toni murmurs, feeling like she’s covering Shelby’s whole leg with her essence. “I want to taste you.” Her fingers stroke the skin right above her underwear again, and Shelby bucks into her, giving off an adorable whimpering sound that Toni wishes she had any way of recording on this damn island.

“Please,” Shelby whispers her agreement, and Toni doesn’t ask twice before she starts moving down Shelby’s body. She takes care not to bite too much again, although she doesn’t think Shelby would mind. To herself, Toni makes a promise that she’ll spend time sucking on Shelby’s breasts later, because right now her mind is laser focused on another goal.

Fingers trembling, Toni grabs the elastic of Shelby’s underwear and starts sliding it down. Slowly, reverently, because she knows this is Shelby’s first time. Not just with another girl, but with another person in general, and she wants it to be as good as possible for her. Again, Shelby lifts her butt to make the whole process easier, and Toni is not prepared for the visual of a fully naked Shelby Goodkind. Nothing could have prepared her.

“How the fuck,” Toni whispers to herself, her eyes raking across Shelby’s body.

Breath hitching, Shelby’s thighs tremble with the effort not to close, out of what Toni presumes to be a sense of Christian guilt, and she’s quick to slide in between them. Hands settling on the insides of Shelby’s legs, she closes her eyes and breathes her in, the sounds coming from her chest and throat bordering inappropriate.

“I’ll go slow, okay?” Toni asks, taking care to make eye contact and wait for Shelby to nod before she leans in.

 

###

 

The first taste of her is akin to the sensation of coming home after a hard day’s work and indulging in a tall glass of water. And Toni thinks she’s ruined for anything else from this point forward, especially when Shelby lets out a surprised little noise, like she didn’t imagine that anything could feel as good as Toni Shalifoe going down on her.

And damn.

Damn.

If that doesn’t do it for Toni.

She starts by swirling her tongue around Shelby’s clit. Not quite touching it but paying special attention to get Shelby used to the idea. She wants her to anticipate the pleasure, and when Shelby starts trying to move her hips in tandem to her licks, Toni slides her left arm under Shelby’s leg and wraps it around her hips to hold her down. She intends to give Shelby everything she wants. Hell, she could probably spend hours here, building Shelby up to orgasm after orgasm until she’s twitching too much to walk, but she wants to do it on her own terms. Every fiber of her being wants this first time to be memorable for Shelby, and not just because they’re under a fucking lychee tree in the middle of desert-island-nowhere.

“Toni,” Shelby breathes out when Toni licks and teases at her entrance, which visibly clenches down on nothing in anticipation of what’s to come. It sounds like an encouragement, and Toni is all too happy to oblige her as she finally puts her mouth on Shelby’s clit.

Enveloping it in her mouth, she sucks hard – just once – and revels in the way Shelby’s hips try to twist closer to her face again, only to be held down. With a wolfish grin, Toni strokes along the inside of Shelby’s thigh at the same time as she lavishes her clit with twists and circles, sucking it into her mouth every so often. She’s always enjoyed going down on girls. The way they twitch and quiver when you kiss them just right; the way they taste; the way their whimpers go breathy and quick the more you wind them up.

Yet, at the same time, this is different. This is almost a month of back and forth. Of snappy insults and sassy comebacks. Of Shelby hiding herself away behind layers of Christian bigotry and hatred, only to reveal herself to be the very thing she claimed to hate.

“Shelby,” Toni says in between licks, “you taste so fucking good.”

She barely recognizes her own voice as she says it.

In retrospect, Toni thinks she should have seen it coming, especially when Shelby’s head tilts back further into the moss and her hands find purchase on Toni’s shoulders, her nails biting as she digs them in. But she’s still surprised when Shelby climaxes, like hearing Toni talking about her wetness is everything she needs to get off. It’s so fucking flattering that Toni thinks in future she can rub one out just to this memory in particular.

As Shelby’s muscles tense up and her hips try to arch off the ground, Toni takes care to lick and suck her through the orgasm, hoping this moment feels as special to Shelby as it does to her. The last time she felt this connected to another person she was with Regan, and it didn’t feel nearly as overwhelming as it does now.

“Toni,” Shelby says again, her trembling fingers stroking along Toni’s shoulders through her sweater. “I want—” She props herself up on one elbow, seeking Toni’s eyes with her own. Her green irises glint in the morning sunlight, and Toni finds herself utterly captivated. “Can you—” Swallowing, Shelby seems to be fighting against her upbringing again, trying to put into words what she would like Toni to do, but unable to.

Licking her lips, Toni strokes her thumb along Shelby’s inner thigh.

“Want me inside?” she asks, voice thick with her own arousal. If Shelby doesn’t want to touch her back after this, two quick flicks of her fingers will probably seal the deal on her own climax. Although she doubts that Shelby won’t reciprocate, she’s not going to make her. “Do you want my fingers, Shelby?” She doesn’t mean to sound as dirty as she does, but Shelby quickly blushes and nods as she looks away.

And fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Toni can’t believe she’s actually here.

 

###

 

Moving back up from between Shelby’s legs, Toni gasps when the first thing Shelby does is draw her into an open-mouthed kiss, moaning when she tastes herself on Toni’s tongue and lips. Her arms wrap around Toni as Shelby is flattened to the ground, and she lifts her leg to wrap it around the back of Toni’s thighs, opening herself up further in the process.

With the sun on her back, Toni starts by stroking Shelby’s cheek, before slowly drawing the tips of her fingers along her neck and along her sternum. She takes a detour at her breasts again, getting slightly lost in the sensation of Shelby’s nipple in her palm, only to be swept up in the feeling of Shelby rutting up against her leg, painting it with herself.

“I’ve thought about this a lot,” Shelby reveals as she pulls away from the kiss.

“Having sex with a girl?” Toni asks, her hand going lower again and circling Shelby’s belly button with the tips of her nails. “Is it everything you thought it would be?” Her voice is warm and kind, hoping to convey that she knows the gravitas of the moment.

“I meant, I’ve thought about you a lot,” Shelby says, a second before Toni dips her fingers lower and rubs her oversensitive clit. In response, Shelby’s eyes flutter shut, and she bites her bottom lip. It’s like having a front row seat to the most profound moment in the universe. “Havin’—Bein’ intimate with you.”

If Toni didn’t feel a fucking king before, she sure does now.

Afraid that she’ll say something stupid and sappy to ruin the moment, Toni kisses Shelby again. Less frantic this time, but with just as much passion. Keeping her eyes shut and giving herself over to the feeling of her, Toni places the tips of her fingers at Shelby’s entrance. Circling it, teasing it, but never quite dipping inside.

“I’m ready,” Shelby says, cupping Toni’s jaw. “I’m ready, Toni.”

Cognizant of the fact that Shelby might not be used to having something inside her, Toni starts off especially slow. The fact that she’s so turned on and has already come once sure helps, but Toni keeps to her middle finger for now, sliding inside centimeter by agonizing centimeter.

Breathing heavily, Shelby nudges their noses together as she gets used to the sensation, before rolling her hips in an unmistakable sign that she wants Toni to start moving. And when she finally does, curling her middle finger inwards and tugging, Shelby lets out a shuddery exhale that knows she will never forget.

“Ready for more?” Toni asks, grasping the moss next to Shelby’s head more tightly as she tries to curb her own enthusiasm. She’s making love to Shelby Goodkind in the wee hours of the morning while the sun is coming up behind them. She may as well be in heaven with how good this whole thing feels.

“Yeah,” Shelby confirms, rolling her hips into every thrust and only stilling when Toni makes motion to insert her ring finger next. She feels incredibly soft and wet and Toni thinks she may have been made to make Shelby come. She was bitten for the express purpose of impressing this girl, and when she next looks deeply into Shelby’s eyes, she knows her own are glowing again. Sees it in the way Shelby can’t stop staring as Toni moves inside her.

“You feel so good, Shelby,” Toni husks, trying to keep eye contact as best she can.

Body trembling anew with every thrust, Shelby cups both of Toni’s cheeks, and it’s the most intimate Toni has ever felt with another person. It’s also the most raw she’s ever been. The most unguarded. No girl she’s ever slept with has known that she’s a werewolf. No one has ever seen her quite as clearly as Shelby.

 

###

 

Shelby comes with three of Toni’s fingers inside her and with Toni’s palm rubbing at her clit.

As she does, Toni is pretty sure she hears a new interpretation of her name whispered into her ear, and she keeps their foreheads pressed together as she allows her body to collapse on top of Shelby, covering her from head to toe. Her wolf is pleased.

Breathing heavily, Shelby twitches with every gentle stroke of Toni’s fingers, and her nails absentmindedly scratch at the back of Toni’s neck and shoulder, like she’s desperate for the connection without paying much attention to it.

“Wow,” Shelby breathes, finally, after several minutes of recuperating and tender cuddling. “I—I ain’t ever imagined it would be like this.”

With a gentle hum, Toni moves her mouth to Shelby’s neck and kisses at the bite mark there. And when she finally pulls out her fingers from inside Shelby, she can’t help but marvel at the way Shelby’s whole body shudders before folding deeper into her. Her thigh tenses on Toni’s backside, and her lips find Toni’s ear.

“Thank you,” she says as one of her hands glides under Toni’s sweater and scratches along her back.

“Anytime,” Toni replies, feeling herself wind back down as she nibbles on Shelby’s skin, finally indulging in what her wolf picked up on the very first day on the plane: Shelby’s scent and taste. She can’t envision ever wanting another person as much as she wants Shelby.

Her one-word reply makes Shelby giggle, and then they’re both laughing.

“Fuck, if I’d known that wolfing out in front of you was going to help me get laid, I would have done it ages ago,” Toni jokes, pushing herself up on her hands and smirking down at Shelby. Shyly, she strokes her fingers through Shelby’s hair. “You never told me what happened here, by the way.” She tugs on a strand, though not hard enough to hurt, and basks in the casual way they’ve gone from boning to banter.

She still feels her own desire simmering just below the surface, but Shelby looks kind of spent and Toni needs a moment of normality to reassure herself that having sex isn’t going to screw everything up between them. After all, this is Shelby. She has about a hundred million more walls than Toni does, and Toni’s are already made of spikes and rat poison.

“I felt like I needed a change,” Shelby says vaguely, both of her hands settling on Toni’s waist. Her fingers are long and dexterous, and Toni is reminded once more of her thought that they look like the hands of a pianist. She also thinks that she wouldn’t mind having them inside her, but she files that away for later. “Did you know your wolf claws are real sharp?”

Squinting down at Shelby, Toni asks herself how she ever could have fallen for such a dork.

“How do you think I’ve been catching fish? Duh, of course I know,” she says, drawing her nails along Shelby’s flat stomach. Naked like this, she looks especially beautiful, but maybe that’s just Toni’s horny side talking. “I don’t think I’ve ever used them to cut hair before, though.” She leans down to give Shelby a quick peck on the lips. “You only kind of look like you went to a hair salon staffed by toddlers.”

Rolling her eyes, Shelby slaps Toni’s thigh.

“I can’t believe you’re insultin’ me just minutes after we had sex for the first time,” she says, her cheeks blushing the second she finishes saying the words, but Toni doesn’t feel like teasing her for it. There are so many other reasons to tease Shelby, it’s not even funny.

“This is the person you decided to be with, babe,” Toni shoots back with a shrug, feeling one of her patented insufferable smirks coming on, the kind that Regan would always punch her in the shoulder for. But instead of hitting her, Shelby just drinks in her face, her green eyes raking across it like she can’t quite fathom that Toni’s real.

“You’re right,” Shelby says, pushing herself into a sitting position and hugging Toni close to her.

And even though Shelby is the one who’s naked, Toni feels a hundred times more exposed under her gaze, so much so that she looks away. No one has ever looked at her quite like this before, like she’s the only other person in the world, and maybe it’s the circumstances they’re in or maybe it’s just because Shelby has never been with a woman before, but it feels… it feels fucking fantastic.

 

###

 

“I need to come up with some sort of explanation,” Toni says, staring up at the sky through the branches and leaves of the lychee tree. Her hands are crossed behind her head and Shelby is sitting next to her, running her fingers through her hair to work out the tangles that have crept in over the last several weeks, ever since she stopped taking care of it. “I can’t just come back in and pretend like last night didn’t happen.”

“Or this mornin’,” Shelby says to herself, still as naked as the day she was born. The only thing she’s still wearing is her silver necklace, the cross dangling in between her collarbones. How the fuck Toni managed to rail her twice without getting in touch with it is beyond her, but she’s glad for it. Nothing less sexy than being burned by a piece of jewelry while you’re trying to make your girl come.

“Or that,” Toni agrees, raking her eyes along Shelby’s naked back.

A few more seconds pass in silence, before Shelby sets her hand on Toni’s thigh. Toni still hasn’t gotten herself off, so the touch alone is enough to send electricity straight between her legs. In her mind’s eye, the way Shelby’s back arched and her teeth worried her bottom lip as she climaxed are set to repeat, and the fact that Toni is talking any sort of sense at all is due to the fact that she’s spent many a night sexually frustrated. Sleeping in Marty’s room has its upsides and downsides, just like anything else.

“Do you—I mean—” Shelby says, sounding unsure of herself again, and so different from the way she was just half an hour before when they were making love. “Will you—” She swallows and starts fiddling with her necklace, and Toni can guess what she’s trying to get at.

“Shelby, it’s cool,” Toni says, sitting up and stroking along Shelby’s shoulder blades. “I won’t tell them if you don’t want me to. Whatever story you want to go with on that front, I’m down.” She leans forward and places a kiss on Shelby’s shoulder, hoping it will convey that whatever happens next, Toni will never out her against her will.

Surprise colors Shelby’s expression when she looks over at her, and Toni feels newly scrutinized.

“I’m not ashamed or anythin’,” Shelby insists, cupping Toni’s cheek. “And I don’t regret what we—what you—” She glances down at Toni’s sweater. “Because I liked it. I liked it a lot. Obviously.” Her kiss is sweet, if a little solemn. “Although, I wish…”

Swallowing thickly, Toni nudges Shelby’s nose with her own.

“What?” she asks, bunching her hands into fists to keep herself from reaching out and rolling Shelby onto her back for round three. Now that she knows what it’s like to be with Shelby, she never wants to stop.

“I wish I’d—” Shelby looks frustrated at herself, at her inability to put her desires into words. “I wish I’d touched you, too. I loved what you did. I want to make you feel that way, too. I want to make you feel good the same way you did me.” She rushes through the words like saying them quickly will make them more acceptable, and Toni feels her heart shoot right back into her throat.

“Shelby,” Toni says, leaning back to grab the bottom of her sweater and finally tug it up and over her head. “You can do whatever the fuck you want.” She drops the sweater behind herself, before pulling Shelby on top of her and into another kiss. “If you want to touch me, touch me. If you want to kiss me, kiss me. Hell, if you want to fuck me, fuck me. I’m not going to stop you.”

At her words, Shelby presses harder into the kiss, the fingers of her right hand settling on Toni’s sternum.

“I want you to,” Toni adds, clasping the hand Shelby has on her chest and staring deeply into Shelby’s eyes in the hopes that she’ll realize the depths of Toni’s feelings without Toni having to say it. Because fuck, if Toni has to find words for what Shelby means to her, she just knows she’s going to fuck it up.

Biting her bottom lip, Shelby nods, and Toni relinquishes the hold on her hand so she can keep exploring. But instead of cupping her breast, Shelby draws circles and shapes on the space right above Toni’s heart.

“If I don’t do it right, you’ll tell me?” she asks, vulnerability creeping in along the edges.

Nodding shakily, Toni pulls Shelby’s knee in between her legs to grind against it.

“I could come just from doing this for a couple of minutes,” she reveals, her hands settling on Shelby’s ass. In fact, the thought of grinding herself off on Shelby’s thigh sounds pretty sexy, but she knows it’s not the kind of sex Shelby is looking for right now. She files it away for another day though. “If you touch me, I probably won’t last for more than a few seconds anyway. So you really don’t have to worry. There’s no right or wrong way to do this.”

A mix of relief and awe settle on Shelby’s face, like she can’t quite believe that she’s turning on Toni as much as Toni is evidently turning her on. It’s very sweet, and Toni tries not to flinch when Shelby leans down and drags her into another kiss. The silver necklace touches her for only a moment, but Shelby must realize her quick jerk of pain, because she pulls back straight away.

“Are you okay?” she asks, her fingers stilling on Toni’s chest.

“Yeah,” Toni reassures her, lifting herself up so she can keep kissing Shelby.

The necklace doesn’t swing forward again for a good few minutes, at which point Shelby’s fingers have made a slow but steady trek down Toni’s body. Shelby seems fascinated by Toni’s every reaction, and when her fingers finally dip down and into Toni’s wetness, her gasp is louder than Toni’s.

“Feel that?” Toni asks, reaching down with her own hand to guide Shelby. “All of that.” Her voice is quiet, intimate, and Shelby’s eyes seem glazed over, like she’s in a sex-induced haze. Toni can relate. “All of that is for you.”

And that’s when it happens.

Shelby leans in so quickly, Toni can hardly react, and her necklace swings forward with gusto.

“Fuck,” Toni hisses, a cross-shaped burn blooming on her chest.

“Toni?” Shelby asks, pulling away and staring down at the space where Toni’s skin has unexpectedly blistered.

“It’s alright,” Toni tries to reassure her, covering the spot with her hand and wishing desperately she could un-ruin the moment. Especially when she sees the pain cross Shelby’s face when she realizes what has happened. “I’m kind of allergic to silver. But it’s fine. It’s—”

She doesn’t even get to finish.

After less than a second of hesitation, Shelby’s fist has closed around her necklace, and with a violent tug, it snaps, dangling from Shelby’s hand like a marionette whose strings have been cut. And before Toni can convince her otherwise, Shelby throws it away, far enough that they won’t accidentally roll onto it, hidden somewhere in the bushes.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Toni says quickly, trying to catch a glimpse of it in the shrubbery. “I know how much it means to you.” She scratches at the blister, only for Shelby’s hand to catch her wrist and still the motion.

“If it hurts you, I don’t want it,” Shelby says, her voice more decisive than Toni has ever heard it. Her lips, warm and gentle, settle on the skin just below the cross-shape. “Please tell me this won’t scar?”

Shaking her head, Toni cups Shelby’s cheek and kisses her.

“It’ll be gone once I shift,” Toni reassures her, her throat tight with emotion.

If it hurts you, I don’t want it.

It’s a sentiment that feels almost foreign to Toni, who has only ever felt love from Marty and Mrs. B. Even Regan, as much as Toni thought she loved her, couldn’t stay with her in the end. And while Toni understands why their relationship had to end, that doesn’t make her feel any less shit about it, still.

“Thank God,” Shelby murmurs, her hands cupping Toni’s cheeks.

Their next kiss feels different. Softer. Kinder.

And Toni thinks, not for the first time, that she’s in some big fucking trouble.

 

###

 

Just like Toni predicted, she comes unreasonably quickly almost as soon as Shelby finally touches her again. Just feeling the pads of her fingers on her clit is too much. It doesn’t even matter that Shelby clearly has no fucking clue what she’s doing.

After the third time Shelby has made her come by rubbing her clit, Toni thinks she may have created a monster, because Shelby doesn’t seem willing to let her go. Even when Toni noses sweetly at her ear, she makes no move to get off her, and Toni thinks if this is how it’s going to be, she might as well teach Shelby another thing or two.

“Shelby?” Toni purrs, sliding her fingers over the back of Shelby’s hand.

“Yeah?” Shelby replies, pushing herself up on her left arm and looking down at Toni with something altogether too tender to be appropriate for what Toni is about to say to her.

She pushes through.

“How do you feel about,” Toni starts, moving Shelby’s fingers further down and circling her own opening. She’s embarrassingly wet, although maybe feeling self-conscious about it now is a little ridiculous. What she wants to ask is whether Shelby wants to fuck her with her fingers, but when she sees the naked reverence in her expression, she can’t bring herself to be so crass. So instead, she kisses the side of Shelby’s mouth. “How do you feel about making love to me with your fingers?”

It’s cringe.

It’s torture.

It’s humiliation.

And it’s, evidently, exactly what Shelby Goodkind needs to hear.

“Please,” Shelby replies, looking down in between their bodies as Toni guides her to the right spot. It’s a good thing she’s no longer wearing her fake fucking pageant nails, but Toni thinks she would have suffered through those, too, if it meant finally getting Shelby’s fingers into her.

Because fuck. Fuck, if it isn’t the most amazing feeling to have Shelby slowly pushing in while she’s staring at Toni like she’s a precious gem she’s discovered. Something so valuable and rare that she can’t believe to be touching it.

Or maybe that’s all in Toni’s head as she pulls back her hand and rolls her hips into Shelby’s slow, slightly uneven thrusts. She can already tell that it will take her longer to come from this, even when Shelby pushes in with a second finger and stretches her out a little.

Toni doesn’t mind, as long as it means she gets to keep looking into gorgeous green eyes as she’s being railed into the ground. If nothing else, Shelby is an incredibly dedicated student, and by the time she’s gotten the hang of this whole sex thing, Toni has long since decided that she doesn’t care what the others are going to say about the night before, so long as she gets to stay close to Shelby.

Is it a dumb and short-sighted thought? Possibly.

Will it get her fucking nowhere with the others? Absolutely.

But she doesn’t care.

All she cares about is the feeling of Shelby Goodkind inside of her, on top of her, taking up her whole field of vision.

Chapter Text

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.