Take two

There was only so much cleaning Asha could do in the same house without scrubbing away everything down to rubble.

She had been looking up some stuff about drywall, but it would require her to go to a store with like. Actual people in it. And Asha did not at all trust herself with something like that alone. Not yet and maybe not ever. Okay, not not ever, but. Not yet for sure. Maybe if she brought company.

But the jaguar was relentlessly restless, pushing her to pacing endlessly inside, and there was only so much she could take of it before feeling insane, which of course was the cat's ultimate goal. So Asha compromised. Or tried to.

She was just going to go around the block. She wasn't. Gonna talk to anyone. Wary of herself and attempting to be firm, she grabbed her keys and made her way out the front door. And then started walking, eyes on the sidewalk.

Remember to breathe. And. Just. One step in front of the other. And don't fucking talk to anyone.



Now that Robbie was no longer reluctant to leave her house for fear of monsters and beasts, the first order of business was to get back into her old habit of visiting the Food Rally. There was a certain charm to food truck dining that she couldn't find anywhere else in Mountainside, especially not in the perpetual dreariness of Red Rock, and she didn't realize how much she had missed it until she bought a pack of walnuts roasted with brown sugar and cinnamon.


Still, the Food Rally was a bit busy for her liking at this time of day. Surely a stroll through the urban jungle would be safe in broad daylight; Robbie thought so. Not that the cozy little neighborhoods of Crestview struck her as a true urban jungle, either.

Then again, the tiger and hyena sightings had taken place here in Crestview.

For the sake of her good mood, the orange-haired punk brushed those thoughts aside as she strolled down the sidewalk, happily crunching away on her candied snack.

Her thoughts then turned to hair dying, which really was something she and Kat had to do soon. Robbie's natural blonde color was beginning to show, and it made a mess of her already faded orange. Hopefully the blue would look nice-

Such thoughts were quickly interrupted by the sight of a cute sweater at 12 o'clock, but then Robbie recognized the woman wearing it and grinned.

"Hey, you!" Robbie was half-tempted to rush Asha down in a tackle hug, but decided not to. It had been a while since they last saw each other.

It seemed to be going okay. Really. No one was talking to her; no one was even around frankly, so.

Well. Until someone was. Someone who knew her, and recognized her, and.

No. Her first thought was a gut wrenching dread.

Don't, Asha. Fucking don't. Breathe, calm. She paused, and turned around, eyes appropriately widened and thankfully not orange, and she looked and saw her friend and...

"Robbie??" she asked, gasping.

After having shifted twice, Asha's scratches were not as awful as they'd been, though they remained thinly scabby. Still, she... brought a hand to her face as if to really accentuate her surprise.

"What are you doing here??"

Robbie, what the fuck are you doing here.

"... Surprise?" Apparently Asha didn’t expect to see Robbie here, which she supposed was reasonable. Still, her borderline shock struck Robbie as strange to say the least.

She gestured to her pack of walnuts. "I came for the Food Rally. You?"

Once upon a time, Asha lived in an apartmart in Larkspur. What she was doing here in Crestview made Robbie wonder, even though she was far less surprised about it.

"I like your sweater. It’s what caught my eye."

Casual conversation, let’s give that a try.

The... food rally. Asha hadn't done much Crestview exploration, but maybe that sounded like some kind event or something.

She looked askance, never sure when the cat might flash orange into her eyes.

"I've, uh... been staying with Abraham for a bit," Asha said, because she thought that might have been obvious given their conversation the other night. "And thanks. I think I got it from... Ann Taylor?"

Haha light conversing. She smiled, trying not to think about how she killed the last human she talked to and ate everything but a foot of her spine.

The Food Rally was one of the few landmarks of the area that Robbie visited more than once. Without it, Crestview wouldn't have attracted her as much as it did.

So Asha was in fact staying with Abraham. "Oh. I didn't know he lived around here." Robbie never really knew where to find him besides his place of work and the nearest place that sold food.

A single nod was given when Asha responded to Robbie's comment regarding the sweater.

"Hm." Robbie crunched on another walnut. "It looks comfy." Comfortable clothing was the status quo when it came to her wardrobe.

"So... out for a walk? Mind if I tag along?"

While the orange-haired punk didn't want to intrude, she wasn't one to just leave a friend in the wind.

Crap. She didn't know where Abraham lived? How was that even possible? Asha thought they were friends with each other before she ever was a thing around him.


IT WOULD BE OKAY AS LONG AS SHE DIDN'T LIKE. INVITE ROBBIE INSIDE ANYWHERE, RIGHT?? This she screamed to every one of India's 330 million gods, including the vast majority she didn't know existed.

"Of course," she smiled, feeling the pounding of her own heart and unwillingly hearing Robbie's too. Stop it. Stop doing that. "Was just gonna walk aroubd aimlessly for a little bit."

Nodding in a direction that continued on her trek away from Abraham's house, though not as far away as she'd originally planned, Asha wondered how to be a normal monster who didn't kill people.

"Bored of Red Rock?"

Considering that Abraham didn't have Robbie's number until he texted her asking for weed, their friendship would probably be considered casual by most standards.

Nevertheless, Robbie visibly brightened when Asha accepted her company."I'm great at wandering around aimlessly." And about a hundred other things, according to Kat.

How did Kat always come up in Robbie's thoughts whenever she did anything?


"Yeah." "Bored of Red Rock" was a tragic understatement. "It gets dreary out there in the wintertime. Not much to do."

"What about you? Wanted a break from the Larkspur scene?"

A playful tease. Robbie remembered their recent texts and didn't need Wiccan magic to divine why Asha was staying with her boyfriend for the time being. Sex kept the world sane.

Walking together was a good excuse not to look at Robbie, if only because... it was good to look where you were going. So if her eyes went orange and she had no idea, as was pretty much always the case, Asha would be staring down gum on the sidewalk or something instead of her friend. Her actual innocent human as fuck friend who she wanted nothing more than to protect from this. Secret out or not.

Again, she felt like she was making a mistake. But she longed for company that wasn't Abraham, and she longed for just one shred of improvement in her life.

Thankful that she was walking with her fucked up face side facing away from Robbie, she nodded, trying to just get into the whole "words" thing.

Frankly, Red Rock seemed dreary all the fucking time. But anyway. "Actually been here for a while now," she admitted, before... deciding to just tie up a loose end before it became a thing.

Asha paused and turned her face so Robbie could see it. "This jackass slashed me up one night and I couldn't work for a while, so he offered to help me out for a bit."

Pronouns! They could be so tricky.

Robbie always longed for company, and being with Asha was a breath of fresh air, even though the dark-haired woman didn't have much to say initially. Munching on her snack as they walked, the orange-haired punk absently wondered if Asha wasn't feeling like herself. The Asha Robbie had lived with for well over a week hadn't been so gloomy.

"Ah." Robbie could understand that, nodding in response to Asha's explanation concerning how long she had been saying with Abraham.

Then she dropped a bombshell on Robbie, and a horrified expression settled on her brow.

"Christ." There wasn't much else to say about the scabby cuts across the woman's face at first. "What happened, Asha? When?" Her voice was riddled with concern. Not that she wanted to upset Asha at all, but those cuts were terrifying.

At least they seemed to be healing. Still, what kind of psycho went for someone's face like that?

Her nose quivered a little at Robbie's reaction, a threat of wanting to cry about it all over again even though it had been... what. Two weeks? A little less than that?

It looked older. Because it had healed faster.

"Night after the tiger thing. People were still going crazy and... some guy thought I had money, I guess."

Lies built on truths.

Of course it had happened during the chaos that damn tiger caused. Rather vindictively, Robbie hoped the tiger-man-thing was in a government lab somewhere being tested on for all the grief he'd caused.

Supernaturals. Nothing but trouble and tragedy seemed to follow them.

Pushing such dour thoughts from her mind, the orange-haired punk dared to lay a hand on Asha's shoulder in an effort to comfort her. "I'm so sorry... I'm glad you're okay, though." Relatively speaking.

She wasn't about to lie and say that the cuts didn't look bad, but Robbie wanted to say something.

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?" Not exactly what Robbie had planned on saying.

Still, it felt a little shitty that she was only just hearing about this now. They were friends, weren't they? Robbie would have visited Asha in the hospital. That Abraham hadn't said anything felt weird, too.

Something felt wrong.

The hand on the shoulder was... met with a guilty smile, for all the jaguar within her felt aloof from it. Please stay that way. Aloof. She's not for eating.

"I didn't wanna make anyone worry. I didn't, like. Didn't even tell my family. Had to tell my boss, though. And it happened close by, so... that's why he was involved. "

Mostly true.

"Don't be mad at me?"

Robbie reflected Asha's smile, no matter how small it was.

However, the reassuring gesture did little to change how fucked up the situation was. So Asha was slashed up, told her boss about it, and proceeded to hide at Abraham's place. She didn't even tell her family about it.

Just. What the fuck.

"I'm not." While it was well within Robbie's capabilities to be pissed over stupid things, she wasn't mad at Asha for this. How could she be?

Rubbing her friend's shoulder momentarily, the orange-haired punk hoped to cheer Asha up with something sweet. "Walnut? They're roasted with cinnamon and brown sugar." It was basically candy trying to fool people into thinking it was food.

Well. That was a relief. Asha probably got away with it because she was a foot shorter than Robbie. It was a very human conclusion for her to make.

"Sure," she said, cupping her hand out.

"So... you've been good with the... farming and stuff?"

Being shorter never hurt when it came to "please don't be mad at me" conversations.

With a smile and a nod, Robbie poured about half of her walnuts that were left into Asha's cupped hands. "Yeah, though there isn't much growing this time of year. I've been busy selling baked goods at my stall." When all else failed, cookies and brownies always still sold so long as they were fresh.

She wanted to mention that things had improved greatly since the tiger incident, but saying that to Asha would have been in poor taste.

"I guess it'll be back to the grindstone come spring."

Oh, the baked goods.

"I heard you make really good brownies. Even normal ones...." she trailed, glancing at Robbie for like. A second.

Except it was her jaguar who was looking at her that time, with a brief edge of jealousy behind Asha's curious tone. Just a second of orange.

Of course there were baked goods. Any stoner worth their weed had to know how to bake.

Not that Robbie really thought of herself as a stoner anymore; she hadn't blazed in days, which felt like a massive victory. Regardless, her baking skills remained. "I do. The normal ones honestly taste better." Cannabis wasn't exactly her favorite herb where flavor was concerned.

While she met Asha's fleeting glance with a smirk, the taller woman couldn't help but give a double take a moment later. There was something there. Maybe the sun had reflected oddly in Asha's rich brown eyes.

But for a split second, they didn't look brown.

She huffed. "That's the problem with weed. It's better for you than the other stuff but it tastes terrible. On the other hand, tequila..."

She saw Robbie's double take. Asha didn't exactly have a handle on what had caused it, but maybe she was inclined to look away anyway. Maybe it was her scratches.

But probably her eyes. She had no idea how often the jaguar was the one in charge, even for brief, split seconds of consciousness too short to actually shift. Asha was far too willing to exchange control for peace from the pain of it, and it left the jaguar with an edge even in situations where it wasn't demanding control of her body.

Asha... did what she could, and moved in for a side hug.

"I missed you. I'm glad you have a girlfriend and all but. I'm kinda sad we can't make out anymore."

Haha affection and jokes. Any shreds of humanity she could cling to ward off the jaguar.

It was nothing. Robbie was seeing things. It was nothing.

She knew those lines. They belonged to someone who was kidding themselves.

Asha's remark on weed, tequila, and other stuff barely registered, as though Robbie was straining to hear her from afar. The orange-haired punk gave a crooked half-smile, nodding somewhat in agreement with Asha. "Yeah."

What had she just seen?

It wasn't nothing.

An unexpected side hug pulled Robbie from her daze, and she blinked repeatedly before returning the gesture. A hint of rosy red blossomed in her cheeks at her friend's next comment. "I missed you too, and... yeah. You're a good kisser." Baseless flattery when all Robbie really remembered from that night was weed and polar bears. The memory of it still gave her pause.

She appreciated the closeness between them, even if it was only physical. That Asha had kept to herself after she was attacked told Robbie that their closeness didn't go any further than that.

"Doing anything for Christmas?" Right. Casual conversation.

Oh man. The Christmas question.

"Probably... not much. Maybe try to work again if my face isn't as fucked up by then. Otherwise probably just... stay here."

A shrug.

They weren't really celebrating it or anything. Maybe eating a lot, like Thanksgiving. But Asha didn't really see Abraham as the gift giving type, and... really, what could she actually get him that he'd need.

The Christmas question shouldn't have been that unexpected since it was December. Regardless, Asha's response was disheartening to say the least. Robbie had hoped that her friend would have parties or something equally exciting to go to.

"What a downer." She was only being half-serious. "I'll be spending it with Kat and her family."

Here Robbie was, talking about her girlfriend again; hopefully Asha wouldn't mind. Still, even the topic of Kat didn't keep Robbie's thoughts from straying off.

Lagging about a step and a half behind Asha, the taller woman crunched on her snack and contemplated something risky. To call it risky was an understatement. What Robbie had in mind was insane, but the idea gnawed at her to no end.

So long as she wasn't caught doing it, however, the orange-haired punk didn't see the harm.

Thus, Robbie took a breath, calling upon the powers that lurked within her, and exhaled softly; the taller woman's gaze flashed a fairy green in response. While the earth remained motionless underfoot, she noticed how washed-out her surroundings became as colors lost their vibrancy. The unfamiliar experience left Robbie feeling lightheaded, but it sated her curiosity in a way that no question ever could.

A peculiar aura outlined Asha's form as she walked ahead of Robbie, making her stand out in this world turned gray. The only other person Robbie knew of who had such an aura was Aiden.

What did it mean?

As fascinated as she was, however, Robbie didn't have much time to dote over it. The energy she had spent to achieve this effect quickly snapped like a rubber band stretched too far, and a startling pain flared just behind her eyes. "Shit."

Stumbling back, the taller woman flung a hand over her eyes with a pained wince, a familiar sensation tickling her nose before a drop of red hit the pavement.

Goddammit, nosebleed.

"Yeaaaah," she agreed, lacking the gumption to go ahead and fight her about it. Of course Robbie would be with her new girlfriend and her family for the holidays. That was the next step every happily infatuated new couple took. The gauntlet which determined whether they broke up immediately or... not really immediately.

Yeesh. She was so glad she wasn't a relationship person.

Robbie hung a little behind, which Asha noticed but, like, still heard her walking so all was well. Or so she thought.

Asha had no bearing of metaphysics. It made sense, since no one had ever made mention of it to her. But. The jaguar within her felt it. Felt a fur-raising awareness of something.

Asha slowed and turned on her heel, her eyes a bright orange. She did not remotely understand the tension seizing her chest.

"Is something-" she started, but. Well.

Blood. She could have sworn she heard the drop as she saw it.

Asha stared at Robbie. The jaguar stared at Robbie. One of them chose to extend a hand to her, but her expression was transfixed on the scent and the barest sight of blood.

In all fairness, Robbie had precious little knowledge of the metaphysical. She knew how to use her ability when tending to her plants, and that same ability made the ground tremble when she was upset. Beyond that most basic understanding, however, the orange-haired punk only had an inkling as to the energy she possessed.

Still, what better way to learn than through practice? Or so she thought, at least.

Whatever the aura surrounding her friend meant, it hinted a possibility that she was no more human than Robbie or Aiden. Was Asha one of them? What powers did she possess?

Regardless, Robbie's vision flickered as she rubbed her eyes to ease the pain behind them, and Asha's attempt at a question was met with a shrug. "This cold weather dries me out. Hurts my eyes, my nose." Lies built upon truths.

However, her eyes were still vividly green when Robbie lowered her hand to dab at her bleeding nose. Those pale, emerald eyes widened upon being met with a gaze as bright and orange as hellfire.

Robbie's nosebleed ceased to be her foremost concern.

Then Robbie's gaze shifted towards Asha's outstretched hand.

Robbie's words could have been as loud as thunder in her ears. It did not matter. All Asha saw was the blood. Her nose felt assaulted by the sweet coppery scent of it. Her ears were trained to the pulse of an easy prey.

Longing. Desire. Hunger. The jaguar remembered the taste of human, for all Asha only remembered the horror of waking up to it. She prowled gently forward in their shared consciousness. Eager. Tensing. All she needed to do was hurt the girl whose body housed her and the girl would give in so, so easily.

But she was too complacent in that knowledge, and she took too long to act on it.

Because no, no, no, not Robbie, Asha came throttling back, tearing her gaze away from her friend and withdrawing her hand sharply to clutch at her head. Displeasure erupted within her and her eyes scrunched shut for it.

"I- sorry- I have- to go," she forced herself to say, voice strained to a near whimper with the effort of disobeying the monster.

She would push her pace to a fast walk, and pray Robbie did not do anything stupid.

Obvious, now. She could not be trusted to go outside on her own. Someone the jaguar would long to prey on always found her.

The next few moments were tense. Unbearably so.

Whereas Robbie had been excited to discover that Aiden was like her, there was no such excitement in Robbie's heart as she watched Asha. Watched her as though she were a stranger who had ventured too close for Robbie's comfort.

Then Asha suddenly pulled away, reeling backwards as she whimpered a broken handful of words. Robbie could only watch, ever more unsettled by how Asha seemed in pain. Terrified.

"Asha-" Robbie began, but the dark-haired, orange-eyed woman was already on her way.

Part of Robbie knew that she should have just walked away. That would have been the wisest course of action, but something was wrong. She was concerned and frustrated in equal measure. "Asha!"

Why was she afraid? What did she have to hide?

Still, Robbie only stood there, rooted in place as she worried for her friend, hoping against hope that Asha wouldn't just walk away.

Asha heard her calling. The jaguar willed her to slow. Stop. Don't leave your friend behind, Asha.

Asha ran. Fast. So the jaguar broke her foot for it.

They hadn't walked all that far. Several blocks at the most. That helped her now as much as it hurt her. She'd been so stupid to say Abraham lived here. She'd been so stupid to go walking with Robbie. She'd been so stupid to make herself go outside at all.

She leaned against the house and fumbled with shaking hands as she unlocked the front door. Stumbling inside, she shut it tightly, managing to lock the door and draw the blinds as she kicked her shoes off. The monster pushed and snarled and shoved, raging. Prey. She could have eaten the tall woman so easily.

Asha found her way to the floor, struggling to take her clothes off, crying for the relief of safety as well as the hell she was in. The jaguar was unkind, unwilling to embrace her into oblivion as readily as before. She was forced into feeling more of it. The cracking of her bones and the pain.

But eventually a shift did not complete without the mental takeover, and the animal rose minutes later from a mess of a shredded shirt and pants torn past their seams in a panting recovery. Anger. Hunger.

She wanted to feed. She wanted living, writhing, killable prey.

She found the snake.

Robbie called Asha's name, and the woman bolted.


Taking a step forward, Robbie contemplated chasing after her, but she was gone in the blink of an eye.

Robbie had been too slow to react. Now Asha was gone.


Fear seized Robbie's heart. Fear for her friend. Something was wrong; of that, she was certain. However, there wasn't a thing Robbie could do about it, and powerlessness was never a feeling she was all that fond of. That fear turned into frustration, which in turn ignited into anger.

Throwing what was left of her bag of walnuts into a nearby trashcan, the orange-haired punk turned around and went back the way she came, using the sleeve of her sweater to stanch the blood dripping from her nose.

-fade thread!-

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