Big family breakfast they said.
Out at a fancy restaurant they said.
It will be fun they said.
Rachel and Jake sat next to each other and had mirroring expressions of polite boredom with clear signs of fraying tempers underneath.
The best sign of those tempers is that they were eating with the hands away from each other. Her hand was locked on his wrist, and his was locked on her knee. Both had drawn blood with their nails. Neither of them felt anything but gratitude towards the other for keeping them in check. On each end of the table sat Rachel’s sisters.
And across from that sat Tom and Saddler.
Or, being honest, Temrash and David.
Temrash didn’t know that Saddler was David. Or, at least, they hadn’t told him and he hadn’t insinutated that he did. But David knew about Tom, and might have approached him.
They didn’t know.
What they did know is that their last nerves were being ground down with sandpaper.
“Dear Cousin Rachel, have I mentioned how pretty you look today?”
Jakes fingers dug in. Rachel managed not to throw something at “Saddler”’s head. “Several times, in fact. You can stop any damn time you want.”
“You’re not usually this modest, Rachel. Is something the matter?” Tom sounded amused.
“I can’t find it weird for Saddler to repeat the clear fact of my perfection ad nauseum?” She snapped and Jake’s nails were digging in quite deep at this point.
Silence took over the table. Jordan and Sarah seemed to sense the tense mood and didn’t seem to know how to handle it. Eventually, Jordan volunteered, “um. I’m glad you’re doing so much better now, Saddler.”
Both Rachel and Jake tightened their grip on each other as Saddler looked over at the girl and slowly let a smile unfurl on his stolen face.
“I am too. You know, it’s not even for myself that I’m so happy, sweet Cousin Jordan, but my parents. I don’t even know how they would have managed if… well, if the worst had happened. I’m glad I can still be here for them.” He made eye contact and Jake’s grip was so tight on Rachel’s knee that if it was possible for her to permanently scar, she’d carry the marks of his fingernails for the rest of her life.
If her sisters weren’t here, at the ‘kids table,’ if their parents weren’t at the next table, if they weren’t in public….
There would be a bear present and it would not be the slightest bit gentle.
David seemed perfectly aware of that fact, and amused by her lack of ability to do a thing to him.
“So. Sarah, Jordan. Have either of you considered joining the Sharing? It would be a great way for you to make friends when you’re making the transition to middle school, Sarah, and it’s just a great sort of group in general.”
Right, that was absolutely it.
Wrenching her hand off of Jake’s wrist, she slammed her palms on the table and got to her feet.
“The Sharing is for complete losers and tools, and anyone who wants to make friends who don’t suck hardcore would do a better job walking around the mall smashing their head into walls, because at least then someone decent might stop them.” She hissed, and the worst part was that this was her with her temper only escaping her a little bit, and both of the boys in front of her knew that she was still largely in control (because there was no bear destroying the restaurant) and had near-identical smirks of amusement at her loss of any control.
Her sisters were staring at her. Jake grabbed her arm and yanked her down.
“Rachel. Enough.” He said shortly and with every inch of his leaderliness.
Jake’s hand on her arm became noticeably tighter.
Rachel glared, clearly resenting his ordering her around, but didn’t try to get up again, instead picking up a napkin and cleaning her hands, trying to subtly get the traces of blood under her fingernails gone.
Saddler’s eyes flicked to her fingernails, and the look of unholy amusement was enough to make her throw the napkin down, claim that she wasn’t feeling well, and retreat to the restroom.
Rachel escaped the entire scene out the bathroom window. In the garden outside of the overly fancy restaurant, she found a place to sit, taking deep calming breaths to avoid the temptation to go back in there as a bear and wreck some shit.
David, she could handle.
Temrash, she could handle.
Both of them at once made the impulse to break some heads unbearable.
She knew she was lying to herself, of course. Temrash was one thing, but he was Jake’s demon. It was why she and him butted heads so often, she was trying to deflect aggression and contact away from Jake.
David was very much her demon and Jake wasn’t up to deflecting things away from her.
Well, that was fine. She didn’t need him to deflect anything away from her. And David didn’t bother her that much. Even if he’d pretty much killed the cousin she’d replaced. Even if he spoke to her in a way that made her skin crawl, and she longed to reach over and tear out his throat with her bare hands-
…Even if she made her inner darkness unbearably obvious in the worst of ways.
A red tail hawk swooped down, dropping a dead white rat on her lap before flapping his wings and finding a nearby perch to sit on.
She almost shrieked in laughter. It wasn’t the best joke, but it was a joke, and it was one she needed just then. “Unfortunately, you got the wrong one. The rat’s in there with the slug.” She picked the rat up off her leg, intending just to throw it to the ground behind her. She frowned down at the still-warm little body.
Yeah, it was gross, but that didn’t even register. Was she… willing to do this to the base form of the bastard inside the restaurant? The darkest part of her didn’t really hesitate much.
Tobias interrupted her own thoughts and she looked to him, finally tossing the rat back.
“It’s fine. That was sweet, Tobias.” She told him, shedding her cardigan and wrapping it around her arm, holding it out for him to perch on. His talons pierced it a bit, and hurt a little, but it was bearable.
She pressed a kiss to his beak, soft lips on hard keratin.
“Maybe after I ditch the fam, we can go flying?” She suggested in a soft voice, giggling when his murderous beak started to preen her long blond hair.
<That sounds like a good idea. It’ll help you de-stress.>
“And then maybe we can… hang out in the meadow-“
“OH MY GOD RACHEL WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?”
Rachel looked up, startled, and Tobias took off into the skies.
Tom. Looking completely grossed out.
“Were you just about to make out with a bird? Was having him demorph too long to wait? WHAT THE HELL?”
Rachel blinked, at a loss for what to say.
He stared at her, aghast. “…Humans are gross. Teenagers are gross. You’re gross. Ugh!” And stormed away.