There was something very wrong with Sara.
Nicki stayed with her instead of going off into the woods with the guys because she knew it. She knew Sara's moods, her expressions, the secrets she hid between her words. She babbled to hide the deeper truths, the things she was too afraid to share, and made up little songs she sang to herself, songs for everything from making margaritas, to studying, to painting her toenails. She knew when something was wrong, and something was very wrong indeed.
"You're missing out," Sara said, and grabbed a piece of bacon. "This meat is great."
"Yeah, enjoy it for me, okay?" Nicki forced a smile. "Just like you always do."
Sara crammed more food into her mouth. "I'm such a good friend, taking one for the team and all."
Nicki laughed, but she did not feel better. Sara sounded okay, she was saying all the right things, but there was still something off. Something different about her. Something new.
"You're staring." Sara tapped her fork against her plate and tilted her head.
"So really, how's your leg?" It was a good cover, as far as such things went. "The bite looked pretty bad last night."
"Fine." Sara shoved the last of the meat into her mouth, stood up, and stretched. "Let's swim," she said around the mouthful. "I'm hot."
Once, when Sara dove deep under the water, Nicki swore she felt fingers brush up her calf, up her thigh. She ducked below and opened her eyes, but Sara, if she had been there, was long gone.
When she surfaced, she found Sara on the dock, turning in a slow circle. She sat down at the end of it, curled up on her side, and tilted her head toward the sun.
"You look happy," Nicki said. "Daydreaming about John?"
"Something like that." She pressed her fingers to her mouth, to her nose, and breathed in. "I'm getting cold. Are you ready to go in?"
Nicki swam to the dock, put one hand on the surface, and reached for Sara with the other. Sara's hands were hot when she grabbed her, and she hauled her out of the water without any trouble.
Nicki, ready to do most of the work, was shocked by her strength.
An arrow to the leg fucking hurt, and Sara wouldn't stop staring at it, the wound, the hole in Nicki's leg, the raw flesh and blood. She helped patch her up, but her eyes were a little too wide, the pupils a little too dark, and Nicki was afraid.
After all, she knew something was wrong with Sara. Maybe it wasn't the rabies setting in, but there was something, something under her skin which didn't belong.
Sara offered her a drink, a bottle of cheap alcohol, and she took it, but when their fingers touched, Nicki got chills.
It was worse when Sara smiled at her, because first she sniffed the air, rolled her head as she breathed in around Nicki's body. It wasn't a nice smile, it wasn't a friendly smile - it made all the hairs on her arms stand on end, and Sara smiled wider.
Sara smiled hungry.
Sara smiled dangerous.
The storm woke Nicki. The storm, and the way the dogs howled outside, more like wolves than any domestic animal, and the pain from the wound in her leg. She rubbed her eyes, and glanced around at the others. The guys were asleep, in the corner, surrounded by junk. It was weird, the way they slept through the lightening and the thunder; it was weird that every night, a storm rolled in, though the days were sunny and clear. Everything about the island felt strange.
Sara was awake and standing at a window.
Nicki sat up.
"Sara?" she whispered, careful not to wake the others. "Are you okay?"
Sara said nothing, only pressed her forehead to the glass.
Nicki made her way across the room. The attic was full of stuff, and most of it was in her way, and her leg throbbed. It made for hard walking, but she wrapped a blanket tight around her shoulders and pushed on. Sara didn't look at her, but she held out her hand when Nicki was close.
"I'm worried about you."
"Me, too." Sara's voice was so quiet she could barely hear it. "I want to be out there, Nicki. They're singing to me, and I want to respond. I can hear them, hear what they want. They want you to leave. They don't want you here."
"You're starting to hallucinate." A chill traced down her spine. There were things so alien in Sara's voice, things she had never heard before. Fear, and something a little like defeat, but worse things, too.
"Oh no." Sara leaned her head onto Nicki's shoulder. "It's very, very real."
"They're not talking to you. They can't. They're dogs. Military trained or not, they don't speak."
Sara turned her head, and her entire body followed until she faced Nicki. She sniffed her neck, nosed up into her hair, then ran her hands up her arms until she could cup either side of her jaw and hold her still.
"Sara...." Nicki trailed off when teeth curved around the top of her ear. Her breath was hot and slightly damp, and her fingers dug into Nicki's skin.
Sara nipped at her ear, and then spoke directly into it, her voice rough, almost a growl beneath the words. "Remember when you kissed me?"
"Yes." She was breathless, her body tight from tension, and the word sounded strange to her ears. She sounded like a scared animal.
She really wanted to kiss Sara again.
"The only kiss I had ever had was from Matt, on that dare, and you said he must have done it wrong, because I shouldn't have cried."
Despite her fear, Nicki had to laugh. "I stand by that. Kissing shouldn't make you cry."
"Maybe." Sara ran her open mouth along her cheek. "Maybe it's not so bad when it hurts."
Nicki shuddered. This was her friend, they'd grown up together, they trusted each other with secrets, with dreams, with fears. Sara would never hurt her. She had never given her any reason to think she would.
Except Nicki couldn't help the frisson of fear she felt, trapped between Sara's hands.
Sara pressed her mouth against Nicki's and kissed her, all open lips and hot breath and tongue. She pushed Nicki against the wall, and the boards dug into her lower back, marking her.
Their first kiss, years ago, had been gentle and Sara had been so hesitant, so awed.
Now she was forceful, now she was rough, now she closed her teeth around Nicki's lower lip, but didn't bite. There was pressure, and a faint tremor in her jaw, but she didn't bite.
"Go away." She jerked back, pulled Nicki away from the window, and shoved her toward the guys. Nicki hopped a little, favoring her bad leg, and fought to keep her balance.
"There's something in the grass," Sara said, and then, her voice gentle, "I'll keep watch."
Nicki nodded and resettled the blanket over her shoulders. As she watched, Sara rested her forehead against the window and placed her hands, palm to glass, on either side of her head.
Her breath left steam and condensation and the mottled moonlight was bright on her skin.
"Goodnight, Nicki," she said and tilted her head so their eyes could meet. "Sleep now."
The hunger in her face was terrifying.
Nicki retreated to the corner, and curled up under the blanket, one leg extended to ease the pain, but couldn't sleep, not for a long time, not as long as Sara stood at the window, her head tipped into the moonlight.