I could see that. Haley always had been worried about her powers. The fact that she shapeshifted into a version of herself with fangs and claws probably didn’t help.
It wouldn’t be like discovering you could fly. It wasn’t a cool power. Fangs and claws just said monster.
The combination of that with strength and poison filled dewclaws that were still there even when she hadn’t shifted couldn’t have made her childhood easy.
Actually, I knew it hadn’t been.
She’d told me about it. She’d always been worried about hurting people, or transforming without thinking and being regarded as some kind of freak forever.
Taking a breath, she looked around the park, and said, “Why don’t we go over there?”
The park had a few trees, mostly evergreens, but others too. Haley pointed toward a clump of trees. I agreed, and we walked over there together, holding hands.
Her hand felt warm and soft. I could notice the hardness of the dewclaw under her skin if I wanted to, but it was the furthest thing from my mind then.
A park bench stood near the trees. If I knew less about how well she could see in the dark, I would have wondered how she noticed it. Set back from the ledge it barely stood out amid the bushes.
That was a good thing.
We walked over and sat down. I put my arm around her shoulder and she leaned into me. We talked a little more then, but my mind paid more attention to her hand on my leg.
After a while we kissed, and then we stopped talking at all. We’d talked about boundaries when we’d started dating. Even if we’d blown past a few of them in the past year or two, it wasn’t as if we were doing anything particularly crazy on the bench. We were kissing though, and touching each other–which meant it wasn’t that surprising when she shifted into her alternate form.
Her shoulders broadened, and she grew an inch, grunting as it happened. Her feet and hands turned grayish while her nails became a pale white.
“Hah,” she muttered as her shoes fell to the ground. Somehow she’d managed to kick her shoes off before her nails ripped through the leather. She’d told me that she’d lost a lot of shirts and shoes to unexpected changes. When I’d asked why she hadn’t lost pants, she’d snapped the elastic around her waist, and said, “Stretchy pants.”
The shifting didn’t stop us. Sure, it had the first time. Haley had been worried about hurting me. Since then we’d kept on going. You get used to people’s quirks over time.
Haley had gotten used to me getting distracted or going on tangents about how things worked. I’d gotten used to her growing fangs and claws during awkward moments, and to her worrying about shifting.
It evened out.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the boundaries we’d set, we kept at it for a while.
When we did stop, it wasn’t because we wanted to. I was lying on the bench, vaguely aware that it was little uncomfortable, and Haley was on top of me.
Haley pulled her head back, breaking off a kiss and froze. “Shit,” she muttered. “Someone’s coming.”
I’d noticed that she was a little more likely to swear after she shifted. I thought she might be a little more decisive too.
“Sit up!” She whispered, pushing herself off me–which did hurt a little, and not emotionally.
“Sorry,” she said as I winced. She’d shifted back, checking her shirt for rips while I pushed myself up into a sitting position.
Their voices carried. I heard them before I saw them.
First I heard the voice of a guy my own age. “I’ll be fine, Mom. I don’t need anybody to check in on me. Clacy and Gifford are both in the program, and even if I don’t want to talk to them, I’ll be in the middle of a compound in a program full of supers. I’m bound to find someone I enjoy hanging around with. I won’t be lonely. It will be fine.”
I recognized the voice of the woman who replied. I didn’t know who it belonged to, but I knew it. Even though they guy had called her “Mom,” the voice didn’t sound much older than we did.
“Hunter,” she began, and I recognized the sound of suppressed frustration I’d occasionally heard from my own mom.
“As I’ve told you before, this isn’t about meeting anybody. I didn’t tell you to come here to meet anybody. You’re here to meet contacts, network, and create lasting relationships with the kind of people who can help your career. I could have hired people to teach you to fight. I can’t hire these teachers, not all of them. I don’t have the resources to track down all the students, some of them from very important families.
“You’ve got them all here. Don’t waste this chance. Your future career rests on who you know, whether you stay a hero or not.”
“I understand, Mom. Let’s leave it at that.”
That’s when they came into view. She appeared to be in her twenties. Between her full lips, dark eyes, and high cheekbones, she looked like a movie star.
And she was one. I recognized her. She’d been a superhero, and still went by her codename “Diva.” I knew that she had powers, and that they were impressive, but I didn’t know what they were–aside from the obvious resistance to aging.
She’d transitioned out of being a superhero before I was born.
Her son Hunter had her dark hair and eyes, and a similar face.
He noticed us, and asked Haley, “Did you lose your shoes?”