This thing is, you don't get your dragon form all it once. And which parts come first depends on the person. So Adrianne, she came to school one day with these wicked red spikes down her spine, and being Adrianne, she already had this awesome backless top to show them off in.
But Gen? Gen woke up this morning with a squirmy ouchy feeling just north of her butt. Gen’s not stupid, she’s read the puberty guidebooks, all of them, right down to the horror stories. So when she gingerly gets of bed and turns her back to the mirror, she already knows what she’s going to find.
Busted through the fabric of her favorite fuzzy sheep pajamas is a tail. A wriggly tail about a foot and a half long scaled in blue on top and beige on the soft underside. If her progress is anything like normal, by the end of the week it’ll be four feet long and the base half the width of her butt.
A tail without a dragon is bulky and graceless, prone to getting stepped on, never flattering. If a girl asks if her tail makes her butt look big, the answer is pretty much always yes. When it come to cars, you’re stuck riding in the back seat, turned sideways, until enough of your form comes in that you can shift completely in and out of your dragon state. Bathroom activities are... complicated. And sometimes messy.
No one else in the family presented with a tail. Gen doesn’t have a single cast-off to accommodate one. She gives her butt an experimental wiggle, puts on one of her least-constricting dresses, and goes to breakfast.
It’s not that there’s any shame in going tail-first, her father assures her. It’s not even that uncommon. Presumably that’s why he won’t let her to stay home sick today. As if shame were what Gen was worrying about.
She’s late, which means when she drops by Misha’s locker to wail about her misfortunes, he’s already gone. There’s none of his common sense to counter the titters she’s sure she hears behind her or the actual pointing fingers she’d swear she saw a couple of times.
In every one of her classes, the janitor has to bring in a free-standing desk and a backless bench with a hole carved into so she has something to sit on. By lunch, she’d rather stand outside the the outer door like some skeezy would-be smoker than face down one more stare. It’s only the promise of Misha that gets her to the cafeteria.
He’s sitting at their usual table. His familiar smirk of evil genius loses a little definition as she approaches; she must look pretty miserable. She gets up close, and he still looks puzzled, which she supposes means no one told him. Abruptly she turns to the side, so he can see her in profile.
His eyes get big, and then the grin comes back. “Homo Sapiens Draconis. Welcome to the species.” He thrusts out his hand, and Gen eyes it dubiously.
“Misha, it’s a tail.”
“Which is good, because if it were, like, a tree limb, you’d be a plant instead. That’d be a rude shock.”
Gen slumps onto a chair, sideways, obviously. That’s definitely going to be a theme in her near future. “I didn’t even get itchy or anything. I just woke up this morning, and there it was. I was supposed to get itchy first. I was supposed to get a warning!”
“Yeah, and that dress isn’t working for you at all.” Misha mouth is twisted in distaste.
Gen stares, too shocked to say anything. Even Misha’s mocking her? Misha?
He continues, “The print, it really clashes with the color of your scales.”
It takes Gen a moment. She snorts, and then she starts to giggle, and thirty seconds later she’s laughing so hard that she has tears streaming down her face. Better this way than the other, she figures.
It’s going to be okay.
And it is, more or less. She gets a dress that doesn’t clash, brand-new, even, and when Misha sees her in it the first time he gets this look in his eye she’s never seen there before. It makes her shiver. It was a good shiver, she decides later, which suggests a lot of things about Misha that she’s never thought about before.
And sooner or later her horns will come in, and her feet – at least tail-first is better than feet - and she’ll shift into a real-live dragon whenever she wants, like an adult.
So it’s fine. Mostly.
Except one morning, Misha’s not at his locker. Probably this means he’s working on the (totally non-explosive, he swears) project for physical science. Only Gen gets to the cafeteria, and Misha isn’t there.
Gen wracks her brain. Misha’s fanatical about school attendance, except when he’s not, and he always warns her before he goes on one of his periodic expeditions. Last time he hitchiked to Richmond three counties over and begged enough money in quarters to buy a coffee. That he was grounded for a month afterwards didn’t seem to dim his triumph in the least.
But he didn’t warn her, and he’s not in the cafeteria, and suddenly she just doesn’t care that much about stares and whispers anymore. Either he went larking – his word – and didn’t tell her, or something’s wrong. Gen isn’t sure which would be worse.
Gen gets through the rest of the day in a daze. Chad Lindberg says something stupid about chasing tail, which he clearly thinks is funny, and Gen can’t even work up enough care to grimace. She just ignores him outright.
As soon as the last bell rings, Gen books it over to Misha’s place, more grateful than ever that he lives so close. She knocks on the door. Mrs. Collins opens it before Gen’s half through knocking. “He’s in his room,” Mrs. Collins says. “You can only stay a little while.”
Gen doesn’t wait to find out why. She pushes past Misha’s bedroom door and finds... Misha. Misha plus.
“What happened?” Gen asks, because she can’t seriously believe what she’s seeing.
Awkwardly, Misha lifts a tentacle from where it was lying on the bed. It’s brilliantly green, like a new fern. He has another one half-coiled in his lap and at least two more sprawled behind him. “So, my form started coming in.”
Her mouth speaks without her. “Misha, you’re a kraken.”
“Looks like,” Misha agrees. The tip of one of his tentacles waves in the air like a tiny suckered flag and then drops.
“No, it’s not,” he says. His voice sounds a little funny. She wonders if the tentacles are affecting his breathing. She notices now that they’re sprouting from his sides, below his armpits – two on each side.
“We’ll never get to fly together,” Gen says.
“We could swim,” he offers.
Oh, God, Misha’s a kraken. Her best friend is a giant squid. This is so much worse than getting her tail. Her breath starts to hitch, and she can’t do a thing about it.
“Hey,” Misha says. “Falling over not allowed. Sit.” He pats next to him on the bed – with his hand, which Gen is guiltily grateful for - and unthinkingly she kneels on it, which her standard bed-sitting position these days.
“How are you a kraken?” Gen asks.
Misha shrugs. The motion moves his tentacles, too. “I have a great-grandfather who was.”
“You never told me.”
“Well, it wasn’t really likely, you know? And I knew it wouldn’t matter to you.” Misha says this with total confidence, as though she were a picture of someone to whom it didn’t matter. But the next moment, he says, “It doesn’t matter, does it?”
All Gen can do is look at him. He’s a little blurry.
His head drops in an totally un-Misha-like manner. Glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, he asks, “It’s not that awful, is it?”
Gen chokes a little. “You tell me. You’re the one with the tentacles.”
“On squid they’re called arms. It’s just semantics, though. I mean, they’re still hydrostatic muscles, just like any other tentacles.” The end of the one closest to her perks up, as if to demonstrate.
“But you won’t be able to fly, and you’ll have to shift underwater, and everyone at school—”
“Screw everyone at school. I don’t care about them.” Misha’s looking at her straight-on now, his blue eyes huge with uncertainty. It’s the wrongest expression Gen’s ever seen on his face. Finally she clues in to what he’s saying, and she wants to smack herself.
Before she loses her nerve, she reaches out and pats one of the tentacles. It twitches under her fingers, but she doesn’t recoil, although it’s a near thing. “They’re nice,” she says. “I mean, I don’t know anything about tentacles, but they look like good ones.” Now that she’s got her hand on it, it doesn’t feel so bad, either. Smooth, a little rubbery, but she’s read somewhere that they get like that, out of water.
Then suddenly her arms are full of Misha, who’s holding onto her like he’ll never let go. His nose is buried in her neck. It’s kind of cold. And now it’s his breath hitching. Gen is suddenly and absolutely certain that any kid who gives him a hard time about his tentacles, she’s going to knee in the balls.
She pats him on the back, feeling a little awkward – they’re besties, sure, but they haven’t been really physical with each other since that awful semester in 7th grade when they both hit puberty.
It occurs to her a moment later that he’s holding on tighter than before. With his... arms. Tentacles. Whatever. There are two wrapped around her waist, and another one draped over her right shoulder. It doesn’t feel smothering, though, like she’d have thought it would. Just... secure.
Eventually Misha’s breathing evens out, and everything loosens. He settles back on his share of the bed so he’s not half in her lap anymore. The tip of one of his tentacles flops over Gen’s thigh and into her hand. Rubbing her finger over the end of it, it occurs to her that once he gets better control, there are a lot of things he could do with them. A lot of... places he could put them. Her face floods with heat, and she really, really hopes he doesn’t have a telepathic moment.
He doesn’t seem to notice, though. He’s grinning, eyes red and suspiciously damp looking, but with none of that awful uncertainty.
And it is going to be okay, just like when she got her tail. She knows it is.