Starling Hills Nacho fries
Grace never went to the Taco Bell in Rice Bluff. At least not anymore. The same shitty fast food place could be so much nicer a mere twenty minutes away, where wealthier people would get upset if they had to repeatedly go to the counter to ask for their food.

Craving cheap bullshit burritos, Grace had slithered over to Starling Hills on the way back from an odd cleaning job she'd taken. Ordering a modest combo meal, she waited at a booth, watching as the weather got uglier outside. Couldn't do drive through without a car, and while she'd intended to take this shit home when she first arrived, she had little desire to watch her bag soak through in the rain. Got it for-here, decided she could load up on Baja Blast in a water cup.

When her order came up, it was clear something was wrong immediately. One: it was a to-go order. This wasn't a problem. But it was three very large to-go bags, and she'd ordered three items.

But who was Grace to reject a blessing? She said not a word (save for "thanks!") as she grappled the three bags in her fists, then casually walked around to a series of booths that would be out of sight of the front counter. And fuck, it was like a family's worth of food. Two families, maybe? Combo boxes, stray tacos, nacho fries, all sorts of specialty items hidden in mystery, promising paper.

Definitely couldn't eat it all. She could fit some of it in her backpack, for sure, but carrying the rest through the rain would be a joke. Deciding she, too, would be a generous god today, Grace waited for the appropriate person to come through the rain and door. Not some old white guy, but. Cute little pixie chick?

"Psssst," Grace greeted, poking her head around the little divider that hid her row of booths from the counter. "Pssssssst."

WHY was it fucking RAINING in MAY?

Sure it was spring and the plants needed water and precipitation was important and blah blah blah but Tabby was dressed up in a cute outfit she'd made herself and had her hair exactly how she liked it, and the sky had the audacity to cloud over and piss on her effort to be sunny. She knew she was just grumpy because Jackie was taking her cat nap and that creature dictated just so much of her mood when it was sleepy or antsy, so even though the rain was a real mood sapper for both her and animal she made the decision as she continued on her food retrieval mission in the drizzle without a jacket - she was going to be the sunshine in the rain, damnit.

Drenched as she pushed her way into the Taco Bell, she was quietly grateful at the sheer amount of calorific crap she could get for cheap in a place like this, and that was pretty much the only reason she had to go to Taco Bell over literally any other similar food stop. Not that it was bad or anything but it wasn't the most amazing food she'd ever had in her life. Honestly it was kind of bland for her tastes but at least you could add something to it.

She hadn't even decided what she might want before her attention was caught, a little fish on a hook. Eyes wide, she turned in the direction of the hissing stranger, took stock of the gremlin suspicious head poking out from a booth, then looked around for accomplices.

She didn't see anyone in here who looked like they might be with her. Both of them kind of stuck out in here now she was looking.

"Wh... me?" She pointed helpfully at her tit with her thumb.
Grace always wanted a reason to summon someone with sketchy "psst, psssst" sounds, and boy did she have it today. Chick looked like she was having a bad day if the rain had anything to say about it, and that felt awfully promising.

"C'mere," she said, an indirect confirmation of yes, you. Did a flappy folded hand wave to really seal the deal. Grace paused for both approach and for the sound of anyone at the counter. Heard mostly drive thru squawking. Every asshole with a car would use that instead of walking here.

"They gave me someone else's order and it's like twenny pounds of food. You want some?"

She spread her arms theatrically at three bags of food, hoping this stranger wasn't about to sell her out. A peace offering from Grace to the world. What the fuck more could she require.
In just a few moments standing in the warmer than necessary "restaurant", heat pumped up in response to the rain, Tabby was already starting to feel clammy and uncomfortable. She felt like a cloud of damp, cocooned in moisture. She wondered if she smelled even faintly of wet dog.

A wonder she stowed away into the back of her mind as the strange head grew a hand and beckoned her forth, which seemed like an invitation she shouldn't take but one she did regardless, stepping closer, frowning softly.

So the place had made a pretty major mistake and handed this chick a bunch of bags that weren't hers. She felt kind of conflicted about that. Screw the company, sure, but she wasn't sure it was worth losing some random teenage cashier a paycheck. Then again, in this neighbourhood...

And she already had the bags; the damage was done.

And they were hungry, she and the snoozy jackal.

"Yeah okay," she decided.
Grace saw the consideration, and it gave her time to also doubt her own choices. Should have binged and run with the rest. Gonna get busted. She was ready to try to teleport all of this to her apartment if she had to.

But eventually, rando gave in, and Grace grinned crooked teeth as she slid the warm-damp bag bottoms along the table to clear a view across to see each other, if the stranger sat down. It wasn't a resounding, cheerful acceptance, but whatever. Couldn't make everyone happy.

"They didn't give me a second drink, but bet you could get a water cup," she said, the pinnacle of consideration. "Whatchu in the market for. Tacos? Burritos? Quesadilla?"

Pronounced dilla, with the L's, to be a shit. She tiled one of the bags toward her to fish out a small pile of what appeared to be wrapped tacos. Smelled like beef!
So maybe she flickered a glance around the store before taking a seat, noting the eye of the storm creating tension at the counter. Kinda ballsy or maybe stupid to take your technical-thievery into the corner of the place you took it from, even if it was some little out of the way alcove. Only so many places one could hide in a fast food place.

And her nose crinkled gently at the butchery of the Spanish language but she said absolutely nothing, picking out a taco and inspecting it. Not that she was fussy but you never know with random free food, right?

"Thanks," she said first with a soft little smile and then, "I think whoever ordered this shit is about three seconds away from throwing a tantrum up at the counter." The question of 'should we stay here?' remained unasked. It seemed just as likely that this mildly chaotic stranger wanted to stay and watch the thunderstorm roll in.
Mild mannered. Grace could have used bigger energy here, but givers couldn't be choosers or however the fuck that went. Rando went with a taco, and Grace pulled a soft, floppy quesadilla onto the table.

Ripping back the plastic, she laughed.

"We might hear 'em yelling through the drive thru," she said, heheh'd after. No regrets. She was poor and Taco Bell was rich. Unshakable logic. "If they roll up in here, you able to keep a poker face?"

Sorry not sorry, stranger, you'd been pulled into Misbehavior.
For someone vaguely concerned for the kids on the counter she didn't feel any kind of remorse as she but into her taco, the supposedly hard shell already kind of soggy, the texture of stale cornflakes. Eh, what could she really expect from stolen goods?

"I can," she murmured after swallowing the first illicit bite, swiping a pinkie finger down a corner of her mouth. "I got a serious case of RBF. Can you though?" Spoken like a challenge. Shit was almost certainly flying towards the fan. There was going to be a commotion, she felt it in the air like the warning atmosphere before lightning.
Oooh, fucking spicy for a chick rolling up here for free Taco Bell. Grace rolled up a slice of her quesadilla, bit through it with crooked teeth, enjoying the sensation of slicing through so many layers.

"I'll just say you came in and gave me a bunch of free food," she grinned, playing no poker face, obviously pleased with herself. But it was playful, and she thunked an elbow onto the table, then flopped her fist forward for a bump.

"I'm Grace."

Having neglected to aura check this chick, she missed that there was any danger in the silver ring she wore on her middle finger.
Tension rose in the air around them. She was already hearing raised voices as she took a second bite and considered her new companion's declaration with a poorly dampened grin that failed to hide herb and taco shell remnants in her teeth.

A fist was offered to her in greeting. She didn't even think to question the jewellery. Dabbed her face again and balled her own hand up.

"Tabby," she said freely, then bumped her hand against Grace's.

And immediately recoiled, because that shit burned. She swore loudly, covering her knuckles reflexively. Fucking silver! How did this chick have genuine silver in that edgy shape??
She heard the noise, dared someone to actually swing out of the drive thru and cause a fuss. Grace could teleport them all out of here in a second. "Tabby" was such a cute-ass name, and she was about to say as much before the moment exploded into visible pain.

This was baffling at first, but not for long. Realization hit her in the face. Shifter silver fist bump. By now she had every ability to suss animal people out, but it took a deliberate check into that world rather than any automatic sense. Grace was no fan of shifters as a whole, but she was even less a fan of causing needless pain.

"Awh fuck, dude, I didn't realize," she said, hand recoiled back as if she might risk accidentally grazing Tabby again. "You want me to get you ice or some shit?"
How was it still burning?? It was a dumb question to ask herself and she might have known that if she was thinking even halfway rationally but she really wasn't because... she'd just been burned!

As if it was the result of touching a hot stove or an uncovered candle she tried shaking her hand against the pain and it kind of helped a little bit in a way she couldn't really explain, but the cooling effect of waving her arm like that probably had much to do with it. She wasn't really thinking about that. Just about the burning and the likelihood that it was going to leave a scar. Braving a look, she thought of that shape permanently stuck on her finger and was not into it.

And sure enough, there was a blood-drop outline slightly diagonally placed on her finger, angry-looking, clearly visible.

It wasn't Grace's fault, but Tabby still found herself kinda glaring her way.

"What the hell??" was all that came out, though she shook her head in response to the question, examining her skin closer.
Ye-fucking-ouch. Potent ring, Rika. Grace was without regret for having worn it, but she would have skipped the first bump had she realized she was wielding it.

There was more distant noise from the drive thru window, but her focus was locked in on Tabby. Get ice? Don't get ice? Eat quesadilla?

Definitely eat quesadilla. Mournfully eat quesadilla, or something. There eventually came the head shake, and Grace was officially SOL as far as help tactics went.

"I wear this ring every day," she said with a broad shrug that did not make a great apology. "I can ask if they got a first aid kit?"

She didn't expect a positive response.
She said it like it explained everything, like Tabby was supposed to have already known that Grace wore this edgy silver ring all day every day, and honestly she wouldn't have hated it if it hadn't just burned what looked to be a permanent droplet shape into her hand. But since it had? Oh yeah, he hated that thing.

Too early to know if she hated Grace.

It was still stinging, too. For some reason she took a too-large bite of taco to stall, shell scattering across the table like grit on a road in winter.

"'S fine; 'm goo'." she mumbled through mush, voices raising nearer the drive-thru window.
Smothering sorrows with tacos was a Grace level coping strategy and she was here for it. An apology might have been someone else's flavor, but it wasn't hers. The burn hadn't been intentional, and if it had, apologizing would have been even dumber.

But she was at least glad she was here sharing free food. A peace offering for an apparent shifter. Wait.

Shifter. Tabby. Tabby the shifter. She crammed another fat bite of quesadilla into her mouth, weak jalapeño sauce building up a polite warmth on her tongue. This would occupy her just long enough to adjust her tone from a panicked, delighted screech to a stage whisper.

"Are you like Tabby... a cat?"
The taco, to its credit, was doing a great deal to distract her. It wasn't mindblowingly tasty or anything but it was scratching the itch of hunger and giving her mouth something to do that wasn't screaming obscenities and maybe drawing attention to her burning finger.

The sudden excited stage whisper was an even better distraction but like. Offensive in a minor way.

"Wh... no!" Well. She could understand where it came from but still! "I'm a jackal." She couldn't be any more out; might as well just be honest.
Shoving the last of her quesadilla in her mouth, she wasn't disappointed in Tabby's answer. It would be some YA fiction shit to be named Tabby and then get turned into a cat person, and the other option of deciding to call herself Tabby after being turned into a cat person was a choice.

A jackal, though. Grace tried to think of literally any jackal facts. It was definitely a dog. Right? Yeah. Dog-like. And wasn't it Egyptian or some shit?

"That's cool," she said after she'd swallowed her sad empty tortilla ends and began to dig through for whatever she could get her hand on next. Which turned out to be a taco. "You been one a long time? I'm a psychic, if we're being real."
As the stinging began to subside she reached into a bag and found fries, which wasn't really what she was going for but she'd munch them regardless, putting them between herself and Grace, the psychic.

Sure, people had been a lot more on edge about supernatural shit of late but it made a weird amount of sense that a psychic would take that kind of step with silver jewellery.

She wondered what kind of powers she had. Would be pretty cool to have real powers instead of having to share your life with a wild animal.

"Nearly four years," she said freely, a fry hanging from her mouth. "I'm pretty used to it now, I think."
Sharing was caring, and Tabby appeared to care. Grace reached for a fry with her non-silver hand, not intending a romantic hand bump but knowing better than to risk casually burning a friendly enough stranger again.

Fry was a weird combo of crunchy soggy, but she was down for that. Continued unwrapping her taco.

"You like it?" she asked. Hadn't known many people where the answer appeared to be "yes," so it was likely a loaded question, but whatever. Tabby could tell her to drop it if she wanted to.
At first she misunderstood the question and frowned, because she wouldn't have said the fries were the height of haute cuisine or whatever but they were fine, if a little damp with the seasoning clumped in places.

Before the assessment got to her mouth, though, it clicked. Did she like being a shifter?

She shrugged, a quick jerky movement.

"It was tough to start. Not like I went out looking for it." Another fry was shoved into her mouth as the commotion up at the counter reached a crescendo, the yelling almost an aggressive refrain accompanied by the drumming rain. "But it's fine, I guess. She's a bitch but maybe I'd miss her if she suddenly just disappeared." A great thing to take out of context.
Didn't go out looking for it. Seemed like no one did. Vampires became vampires by choice at least some of the time, but every single shifter got attacked in an alleyway or some shit.

What a resentful life. Grace supposed no one asked for a psychic power, either, but the pros outweighed the cons by a significant margin. The answer that followed inspired a laugh. Limp lettuce slithered off the taco as she took a first bite and crunched away. Took a glance toward the counter as if she could see through the divider, but of course not.

Fucking whoops. They'd deal, though.

Her gaze fell back to Tabby, whose name was fucking Tabby and she was a dog-person. It was good in a different way now.

"You got, uh. Other friends like you?"
Something in her decided it wanted more meat, probably the jackal. Or not. It was hard to tell sometimes which impulses were her own, the only times that were really one hundred percent clear being the canine urge to dig in the trash.


But was random extra food from Taco Bell much different from digging in the trash? There was a question.

Not the question she was asked, but one she would probably rather answer.

"No jackals, but I've got a sister and I've met a few people around town. You? You got a psychic network or something?" She meant it in a playful spooky kind of way but it wouldn't surprise her to know there was some secret society with edgy rings of silver and a free anti vampire stake for anyone who joined.
A sister. That was an unexpectedly softer answer than Grace expected. She'd pictured more like a jackal pack (a packal, said Drew, but not Grace because Grace didn't understand wordplay), but she found this answer more intriguing.

Human sister? She wondered, but even Grace knew better than to ask. She crunched away, heard the shouting die down in the back, but now some pointed footsteps. Hopefully going toward the door? She'd pretend she couldn't hear it.

"Yeah, actually," she said, trying to waggle her eyebrows but mostly just crinkling and smoothing her forehead. "I'm not BFFs with everyone, but I keep busy. You ever hear about pacts?"
Tabby heard those footsteps too, coming in their direction in a way that made the jackal perk up her ears and grumble at the thought of confrontation. Stuffing a soft taco into her mouth she focused on Grace and tried to look a little surprised at the confirmation of a psychic network.

And talk of pacts.

Wasn't there something in the news lately?

"I mean. I know the word," she said with a shrug. Psychic was never her thing so she expected she wasn't meant to know. "Anything to do with blood?"
For half a second, it felt like Grace had been busted on something. Blood! Like the blood she was looking at selling.

But no, bitch, she meant like, blood pact. Grace was thankful it didn't take that kind of bond, though she'd swap that in any day if it meant they could skip the actual pacting process. A little fluid swapping was way easier.

"Sometimes," she said, sincere but being a shit. Heard the door open and a rustling of bags and realized some poor fuck was definitely going out into the rain to deliver the same food they were devouring now.

Whoops. But she didn't feel all that bad. Looked back toward Tabby.

"It's a lot of work, but. We do some ritual shit and it bonds a couple of us together. Sometimes we can, uh. Undo turnings before they get all the way infected or whatever. If you ever know anyone."
There was something startlingly interesting about the stark change in scent when the door was opened, fresh rain and wet earth flooding into the north where they sat and how it faded almost as soon as the worker zoomed outside, restoring the weirdly humid atmosphere, the oily spice smell mixed with sweat hanging in the air.

Acute senses were a curse sometimes.

It distracted her from the answer of "sometimes". Before the door opening and closing she wanted to ask what was meant by that and it dissolved away after.

Ritual, though, that kind of answered her unspoken question.

"How does that work?" There was the new question. Wasn't this whole thing like a virus or something? How did you stop that with magic?

... magically, she supposed.
That was a question Grace didn't have an exact answer to. She understood on some level, obviously, because she knew how to do it. But what the fuck she was actually causing within someone's body? Pssssht. Not a fucking chance.

"Good-ass question," she said after a gap made longer by her taking a final "crunchy" (the shell had already softened) bite of her taco. She swept what felt like cheese out of her teeth with her tongue and considered.

"It sounds dumb as shit, but we legit all sit around the person, like. Fucking holding hands and focusing. Had a fifty-fifty success rate so far. Don't know why it works, or doesn't."
So. It could be a correlation versus causation kind of thing? We happened to be there and it kinda stopped, but like one time out of two so far.

She popped a soggy nugget of fry clump into her mouth as she mulled it over. " What do you focus on? Like... the person? The animal?"
Whoa. Deep question. Grace considered, reaching for another fry to chew through her thoughts with.

"Neither," she said, but it was more thinky than corrective. "It's like whatever the fuck happens knows what to do even though I don't. It's a shitty process. We all got all fever-y, like the chick who'd been bit."

Rosemarie was too old to be a chick, but whatever. Tabby didn't know her.

"So I focused on keeping real steady, and like. Making sure none of us were somehow getting turned in the process."
Neither, just focus on... not dying or something, she guessed. It was weird that things just knew how to happen. She wasn't totally doubting it either; how many people could tell you with complete detail how their own bodies worked? Tabby didn't fully know how Jackie worked! It was just something that happened and now she had to deal with. Only being able to bring people back from the brink of changing seemed like a bullshit OP deal.

She couldn't do anything like that. She could become a jackal. And. That was it.

Maybe it was all she needed, though.

She suddenly felt gratitude for the volume of pilfered food, grabbing a burrito from the bottom of one of the bags. Score!

"You think that could happen? Getting turned just by like. Sitting there with them, trying to fix them?" Maybe it made sense but from what Tabby knew about how new shifters were made...
Another question Grace had little answer to. She shrugged, deciding to peek in the bag nearest her to scope out her next victim. Some kind of taco shaped thing that looked fatter than a normal taco. Went with that, finding it was a chalupa upon unwrapping.

"So it went like. She was all fever-y and hot and feeling bad or whatever," she said. "And then when we started working on it, we felt the same. So I thought like, oh fuck, what if we're just transferring this shit to us instead."

Grace was not that generous.

"Don't know if it's possible still. I sure as fuck hope not."
Now she didn't think at all that this girl was becoming a shifter or anything but nan she sure was matching a jackal's place of stuffing her face. Which was a vibe. She wasn't judging, more impressed.

The burrito she'd picked out was chicken and kind of dry, so she dig through the bag it came from for sauce to add to it.

"I think you're probably safe unless your rescue efforts involve some kinda orgy."
Grace laughed, a fragment of chalupa shell spattering out onto the paper before her.

"Someone, somewhere, but sure as fuck not me," she said. There was a blast of warm, wet air as a freshly dampened Taco Bell employee reemerged into the building. Grace did not look their way

"You wanna take a bag and I take a bag? When we leave."
Mhm. Something something people who protest the loudest something something. She was sorely in need of a drink. She had a bottle of water somewhere in her bag and she guessed that would do. Weird to worry about getting into trouble bringing in water when they had basically appropriated someone else's food.

"You sure?" she asked regarding the proposition. Things that sounded to good to be true often were, after all.
Grace was not a known generous person. Sharing this had been her trade off for fast food theft. To be questioned even politely made her doubt the choice. You were right, Tabby, this food was better off Grace's.

But whatever. She nodded.

"If you don't want it, though, I won't offer again," she said, teasing but meaning it at the same time. "Figured it's my karma boost for stealing."
Jackal wanted it. Tabby was less sure but it still had her looking in the bags a little more closely. She could take any of it really but another burrito would be good right about now.

" I'll take some off your hands then," she said as if it was a chore, playful-like. " Balance out your karma a little "
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