The Shifter woke to the sound of horrible coughing and twitched an ear in the direction of the bed. She was not allowed on the bed and so was forced to sleep on the floor, much to her discomfort. But the coughing and moaning and crying hadn’t stopped in over an hour and she thought she should see what was going on with her new master.
Well, he wasn’t hers… not yet anyway.
She got up and crawled over to the bed and peeked over to the mattress. Jake was tossing and turning, shivering as he coughed horrifically. The shifter could smell blood and even though it was forbidden, she got up on the bed. She straddled Jake and put her hands on his chest, trying to get him to stop thrashing.
Instead, Jake (half awake) yelled in his sleep and the door burst open. The shifter almost fell off the bed to try and keep her position from being compromised but smelled that it was only the driver of the carriage- Dark or something- and decided that for now he wasn’t a threat.
“What’s going on?” he asked, looking straight at her.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “He is screaming.”
“I know that…” he growled, lighting the lantern next to Jake’s bed.
He knelt over Jake and put his hand on his head.
“He’s running a fever… Stay here and don’t touch him.”
She nodded and watched over Jake as he moaned, trying to debate throwing the covers off or keeping them on. She could see the sweat on his face and touched him like Shade did, just wanting to see how he could tell Jake had a fever.
She pulled her hand back quickly, feeling the strange heat coming from his forehead like there was a simmering fire under his skin. She felt her own forehead, feeling nothing like his and turned her head in confusion.
Shade came back in carrying a cup of water and something in his other hand. He sat on the edge of the bed and tapped Jake’s face a little to wake him up.
“Master Jake… Master Jake, wake up.”
Jake opened his eyes and adjusted them to the dim light that was beside him. When he saw Shade, he knew he was probably making noises in his sleep.
“Did I wake you?” he croaked.
“You’re fine… Here, take your medicine and you’ll be able to sleep.”
Jake sat up a little so that he could swallow the water after he took the pill. Shade popped it into his mouth and he drank the water down. After a few minutes, he settled down, that burning sensation leaving his chest.
“Thank you… I’m sorry I woke you up.”
“I’ll be fine. Just get some sleep. We have a long way ahead of us.”
Jake nodded and Shade left the room.
The medicine was relaxing him until he felt that cold stare again. He turned and saw the shifter looking at him.
“What? I wish you wouldn’t stare…”
“Your head is hot and mine is not.”
“It’s a fever… It happens a lot in humans. I forget you Shifters don’t have sickness and stuff.”
“No… Why does it do that?”
“It’s trying to fight off infection… Don’t worry about it.”
“How can I not when you are waking me up?”
Jake glared at her but she gave him that icy stare that he would never be able to match and he decided to just go to sleep. At least I can’t see that funny glow that she gets behind her eyes. he thought to himself.
Shade woke up Jake sometime in the late morning and Jake yawned, feeling a little better than he did the day before.
“How’s your chest?”
“It’s fine… I feel a little heavy but it’s kind of a constant…”
Jake threw his feet out from under the covers and got up only to be fully awakened by a screech and a growl. He looked down and found the Shifter clutching her tail angrily.
“Oh! I’m sorry…”
“Watch your big foot.” She snapped, looking at her tail.
“You can’t talk to me like that.” He grumbled, Shade after him to put his clothes on.
“He can.” She said.
Shade and Jake looked at her as she looked at them. She then nodded her head at Shade.
“He can, why can’t I?”
“Because…” Jake said, shrugging his shirt on. “Because I said so.”
She made a face and stood up, giving her binds a look of disgust.
Shade helped Jake get the rest of his apparel on and he headed out to pay the innkeeper. Shade turned to her and narrowed his golden eyes at hers.
“You need to learn your place, little one. Humans don’t like a test in authority.”
The Shifter set her jaw but locked eyes with Shade.
“You challenge him.”
“I am not a Shifter.”
“You are lying.” He blinked at her and she nodded. “I smell you. You are not all human.”
Shade gave a grin to her and pat her daintily on the head.
“You’re pretty observant, kid. Maybe when you get settled, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself. As for now, we need to get going.”
She walked in front of him to leave.
Jake was already in the carriage when they got out there and the Shifter climbed into the open transport. He looked a little better than he did yesterday, not as pale and drained, and seemed to be stronger than he was the day before. The carriage began to move and head toward Gregory.
Jake occupied his time with a book he had grabbed from home and the Shifter took to either staring at the book or looking out the window. Silence was buzzing in the transport and the shifter wondered if this boy was always this quiet.
Not that she minded the peace and quiet but most of the young men she’d seen come in and the few she had been with before she was given to the Shifter house were boisterous. They were usually talking about where they were from, the people they hated and distrusted, their family, the other Shifters they may know. Jake’s lack of conversation unnerved her a little.
“Um…” she started but faltered when even her small voice seemed to explode with sound in the graveyard silent quarters.
Jake looked up, a little startled at the sound of her tiny voice from his own voice reading to himself in his head.
“Uh… You are too quiet.” She said, not really knowing what she could say.
Jake blinked his own blue eyes at her and looked at his book.
“I’m sorry…” he said, sounding more curt than he meant to.
She ducked her head down in a submissive manner, thinking that she had stepped out of bounds.
“What would you like to talk about?” he asked, closing his book and looking at her. “I am sorry that I bore you.”
“U-usually humans never shut up about their life… I was confused…” she said softly.
Jake smiled a little and ran his fingers through his hair.
“Most humans have a pretty good life to go on about.”
“You do not have a good life?”
“It’s more complicated than others.” He looked at the hills as they rolled like waves of the sea. “Being sick like I am makes me undesirable to women and unworthy to men. I am weak.”
“So am I.” Jake looked at her as she studied his features. “I am weak too.”
“No you’re not. You’re a shapeshifter; how could you ever be weak?”
“There are strong ones that are weak. Being a Shifter doesn’t make me very strong.”
“You’re pretty smart though. You make a lot of sense.”
“Simple beings usually do.” She said with a sigh, looking out the window and thinking it was a bad idea to make Jake talk.
“Anyway, if you want to know, I have two sisters at home and a father. He’s a duke so we have a pretty big house. My sisters each has Shifters of their own but I don’t have one.”
“Who am I for?”
The Shifter nodded slowly. “I see…”
“I don’t get my own because I’m sick all the time. Technically, Shade is my servant.”
They grew silent again and so Jake picked up his book to read.
The Shifter never asked for Jake to speak again as they neared Gregory. The town began to emerge from the forest that surrounded it and Jake began to cough again. He coughed into his hand and made a face at the speckles of blood that was there. He hated seeing that, making him feel like he was dying when he had so much life left in him.
The carriage stopped and he sighed, coughing again as the door opened. He climbed out and then helped the Shifter out after him and turned to her.
“Listen carefully, I got you for my father so just be polite and cute. Don’t do anything to provoke him… he gets a little angry.”
The Shifter frowned at the last bit but followed Jake into the homely mansion. It was very big, almost as big as the Shifter house she had been in. It looked about three stories tall and was a bright white. It had been repainted, for she could smell the remnant of fresh paint.
As she walked into the house, she smelled the scent of other Shifters that were present in the house but not seen. She didn’t expect to see many of them until she was given a room or whatever they did here.
A young girl around Jake’s age or a little older walked by and then stopped to look at who had come in.
“Jake! You’re home!” she said with a bright smile. She looked at the Shifter. “She’s pretty.”
“Do you think Father will like her?”
The girl turned her head and put her hand under her chin.
“She’s kind of small…”
“I don’t think it will matter to Father, as long as she’s polite and obedient. My name is Camilla, by the way.” She said, looking at the Shifter.
She nodded and Jake smirked.
“She refuses to tell me her name.”
“Well, maybe she’s smart enough to know it will be changed.”
“That’s what she said.”
Camilla smiled, her bright blue eyes sparkling with kindness and she held out her hand for the Shifter. The Shifter turned her head at her and looked at her.
“I hope not to offend but I just want to let you know I was no harm to you.”
“I am a feline, not a canine…” the Shifter said, sounding a little confused.
Camilla grinned and pat her on the head softly.
“So you are, love… Shade is getting Father as we speak so, good luck!”
She skipped off and Jake smiled after her.
The two turned to the stairs when they heard boots trudging down the wooden stairwell. A big man with a white stripe through his dirty blonde hair gave an air of importance. Included with this big man was a glare that almost made the Shifter scuttle for safety and a pipe bent out of his mouth, smoke coming out from the end as well as his mustache covered mouth. He was also stocky in build but his stature was tall, making him seem like a body guard more than the lord of the mansion.
“Jacob, my boy, you have returned.” He said, taking the pipe from his mouth. “I see you’ve gotten when I asked for.”
“I hope she is to your liking, Father.” Jake said, giving a bow to him.
“Hrrmph.” Responded Oslo Nicosia as he took a step closer to his son.
He scrutinized the Shifter, looking her over. He had to admit that his son did have a good taste in women, though she was a little thing… He could overlook that.
“What kind is she?”
“A jaguar, sir.”
“Hmm… where are her markings?”
“She’s a melanistic jaguar; it means she black.”
“Rarity… How much did she cost? Where’s my change?”
“Um…” Jake said, pulling change from his pocket. “She was $500,000.”
“Only $500,00?” Oslo harrumphed, grabbing his money. “Why so cheap? Are you sure she’s quality?”
“Well… Um… I got her in the most elite section of the kennel. She was set apart from the rest in a beautifully elaborate room…”
“I see. Is she obedient?”
“The caretaker said she is very obedient. She’s used to it.”
“What does that mean?” Oslo said, glaring at Jake.
“Well, she’s a runt, sir.”
“A runt? You got me a runt?!”
“I didn’t think it would matter!” Jake said, ducking for an in-case affair.
Oslo grumbled but grabbed hold of the Shifter’s chin to look her over. He turned her head this way and that to look at her and pushed some of her hair back. He went to reach for the left side of her face when she hissed and growled, almost biting him. Oslo growled back, smacking her across the face.
“FATHER!” Jake yelled, running to the Shifter’s side.
“I thought you said she was obedient? She just tried to bite me!”
“I’m sure there’s a logical-“
“You couldn’t even do this one thing right! What an ungrateful son! Can’t even get me damned Shifter worth anything.”
“Father, she’s a good listener and will do as you ask, I promise you-“ Jake tried.
Oslo jabbed his son in the chest with his finger hard enough that the thumps could be heard a little.
“You’re a worthless piece of shit, Jacob. I’ll get my own Shifter… You can have that thing… Wish I had had another son…” he heard his father grumbled as he walked away.
Jake glared after his father and then at the Shifter. She was looking away with her hand on her cheek. He grabbed her arm.
“Come on.” He snapped.
When he got to his room, he threw her on the floor. She cried out because it was hard to catch herself with her hands bond.
“What the hell?! This was my last chance! Why did you do that?!”
He started coughing, losing control of himself and sat down on the bed to bridle the cacophony. He gripped the sheets to have ground and finally calmed himself down. The Shifter had her back to him and he slipped onto the floor to go to her.
“I’m sorry… It was my last chance to impress him and… What happened?”
“He touched my face! I’m sorry!”
Jake sighed and moved her to look at him. He saw that she was crying and he wiped her tears away.
“Why is that bad? Tell me.”
“I am deformed!” she wailed sadly. “I am small and deformed and undesirable!”
“You look perfect to me… Are you hiding something? May I see?”
“No…” she said, turning from him. “No.”
“You have to let me understand. You’ve seen me at my weakest point, I think you can trust me enough…”
The Shifter looked at him as he looked at her kindly and she sniffled closing her eyes.
Jake slowly and carefully moved her hair and saw that she was burned on the left side of her face, close to her ear. He smiled, wanting to stop her fear.
“That’s all? I think you’ve kept it hidden well. Look, apparently you’re mine now so I don’t care about any of that stuff. So you are small? So you are burnt? So you have a tiny voice? If I am your master now, then you must have noticed that I am effected by a debilitating disease that eats away my lungs. I am weak and I am also, in a way, deformed. If you’ll have me, I’ll take you.”
The Shifter sniffled as she moved her hair back into place.
“You want me?”
“Might as well keep you. I bought you because you were pretty.”
She smiled and he pulled out the key to her shackles. He unlocked them and they fell to the ground.
“Can you tell me your name now?”
“Call me what you want.”
“I want to call you by your name.”
“Timber… My name is Timber.”