I was dozing on the sweet-smelling straw, the quiet sounds of Juan's phone making my ears twitch occasionally. When it went quiet I opened my eyes a little to see why, the noises might have been a bit annoying but I knew what Juan was doing and that he'd stay in the chair.
I watched as he set his phone on his lap with a sigh, dark eyes soon finding me, noticing I was awake.
"I hope you get someone who understands you, Luci, I mean I try but I'm at a loss most of the time," he remarked in a quiet voice.
That would be nice, I thought, unlikely though. Juan's looked after me for quite a few years, he understood me more than most, and recognised cues, but our relationship was nothing more than keeper and animal.
I snorted softly, I could wish and hope all I wanted, but it wasn't me who decided what type of master I would get. I understood the mechanics of an auction enough to know the bidder with the most money wins. So if, if I created any interest when I walked out onto that stage my new owner will have deep pockets. Whether they'd spend any of that money on my care was another thing.
I treated humans how they treated me, act scared and I'll give you something to be scared of, act aggressive and I'll give a whole new meaning to the word, but if you're nice, I'm willing to be nice in return.
So in actuality, if I do get bid on and brought, it was up for my owner to decide how well we got along. If they gave a good first impression and were kind then I'd consider being a pet to them, eventually anyway. I was still a jaguar, you can take the cat out of the wild but you can't take the wild out of the cat.
A knock sounded at the door before it opened, revealing one of the well-dressed humans from before. "It's time," he announced and Juan swallowed thickly and looked over at me.
I took my time getting up, slowly rising to my paws and stretching both my front and back legs, yawning and shaking the lingering dregs of sleep from my limbs before padding over.
I scowled up at the fancy human when he back-peddled, the scent of fear wafting off of him.
I growled low in my chest, my ears pinning to my skull and my tail lashing behind me.
Juan stood from his chair and to my shock placed his hand lightly on my back. "Luci, it's okay," he assured, fingers lightly running down my coat. "I'll take him if that's alright," Juan told the fancy human, who happily scurried off with his tail between his legs.
I looked up at Juan and he removed his hand with a slightly grimaced smile. "Sorry, I know you don't like being touched, a force of habit I'm afraid." he apologised and I cocked my head.
Force of habit?
So he did that with the other shifters?
And it calmed them?
I took a moment to recount my feelings about him touching me. I'd been mostly surprised and pretty stunned he'd actually been bold enough to make contact. It wasn't an aggressive touch, or a seeking one like Vet Marshal did during health checks, it was just a light pet meant to ease my mind.
I found that I didn't mind such a touch, it was unfamiliar, which left me feeling a little uncomfortable, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant. I did trust Juan to an extent, he'd never done anything to warrant my distrust but I was naturally mistrustful. I didn't need to know someone to be wary of them, but I did know Juan, and he'd proven himself to be kind, he always had my best interests at heart, so I found I wasn't adverse to him touching me in that calming way, but that could just be the lingering tranquilisers talking, or the fact I was away from my territory.
I followed Juan out of the room, he slipped his phone into his back pocket as he walked and I found myself getting closer to that lingering hand, his thumb pressing down on the device even after it was safely in the pocket.
I sniffed his fingers, my scent now lingering on the digits. My nose pressed to his palm and I snorted softly, if he was going to smell like me then I'd own it. I sped up and playfully knocked my shoulder against his legs, glancing back at his shocked face, but it was a happy shocked face.
We continued down the hallway, the dull roar from before even louder, and the volume only kept going up. The boss's voice rose above it all, rapidly firing off numbers left and right, finishing with the sound of wood hitting wood, only to do it all over again.
I didn't really have a sense of money but the amounts sounded like a lot. How much would I sell for, if I sold at all? The Juan stopped at the end of the hall and I could hear the auction very well, it must be just through the doorway we were standing in front of. I looked through it and saw a long raised platform made of polished wood, the boss standing at the far end behind a podium with a small hammer and a pile of papers. The hallway ended where the platform began and it was lit up with even harsher lights than I was used to in my cage and I squinted through the glare, barely able to see seats filling the rest of the large room, lavishly dressed humans upfront, the further back I looked the plainer their clothes looked.
I'd never seen so many people before, and knowing I'd be out there on that stage in front of them all filled me with anxiety. How could I possibly shift in front of all of them?
Juan obviously sensed my growing panic, kneeling down at my side and resting a hand on my shoulder. "You can do this Luci, I believe in you. Don't look at them, look above them, find something to focus on the opposite wall and you'll be fine," he told me and I couldn't help but feel sceptical.
I looked over at him, his warm brown eyes almost level with mine and they were filled with concerned care, a small tense smile on his lips.
I gently pawed at his upper arm, being careful to make sure my claws didn't snag his clothing, practically begging with my eyes for him to come onto the stage with me.
"I'll come, I'll come." he promised with a slight chuckle, "but you must promise to shift Luci, you have a much higher chance of getting sold if you shift."
I puffed out an annoyed breath but nodded my head sharply, fine, I'll shift, at least I won't be alone.
I watched as the boss took bid after bid for a glossy haired dog shifter, its tall and slim frame noticeably trembling under the hot lights. A keeper held a coloured rope that looped around the dog's throat, keeping him seated but as soon as the hammer went down the dog was practically dragging the keeper to the other side of the stage and down the hallway on the other side.
"As I mentioned before, we have something incredibly special for you all tonight." the boss announced to the crowd, causing them to murmur and speculate. "Now this isn't a pet for the faint of heart and it certainly won't fit in your handbag." he joked with a chuckle and I rolled my eyes internally. "Nicknamed Blue-eyed Luci, Lot number 128666249," he announced with a swoop of his arm and that was Juan's cue to start walking and I nervously padded out alongside him, sitting by his feet when he'd reached the centre of the stage.
I looked past the blinding lights like Juan told me, eyes fixed on a lock mounted on the opposite wall, the loud murmur of the crowd making me want to bolt, my ears pulled back and my tail puffed up, the tip lashing against the polished wood.
Juan's hand gently rested on the back of my neck, his thumb gently soothing the tense muscles between my ears. "You're doing so good Luci, just a little longer," he whispered.
"Luci is male, seventeen years old and a cross shift if you'd believe it." the boss informed the crowd, only making them louder. "I won't lie, he's stubborn and doesn't take kindly to a firm hand. But as you can see." he gestured to me standing unrestrained next to Juan. "With the right care and attention, he'll bloom into a wonderful pet."
I could see the excitement building in the crowd, the volume continuing to rise as the boss gave them a moment. He'd definitely hyped them up, not for my benefit I'm sure, but for his wallet. I must have cost a lot when he first brought me and my food and board over the years would have added to that cost, he needed to get the highest price he could for me to even attempt to get that money back.
It did help me though, if I got bid on then I would be safe from an early death or the colosseum.
"Shift for me, Luci."
I looked at the boss at his request, here goes nothing, I hope I don't fall over. I let the shift take over my body and stood on slightly unsteady legs and fought to stay still and keep my hands at my sides, it felt very strange to stand on only two legs and I felt bare and naked without my fur. "Starting bid anyone?" The boss called out into the crowd and I shifted on my feet a little bit, wanting to shift back but he hadn't said so and I was still on the stage, I had to behave.
I watched through a daze as human after human lifted up a numbered card, the boss calling out higher and higher numbers. At first, he was calm, but the longer it went on the more excited he sounded and by the end he was practically screaming out the bids, reminding me of the keepers when they cheered at their radio's sometimes.
Then suddenly it all went quiet.
I glanced at Juan and he was smiling widely, but like the whole room, they seemed to be holding their breaths.
When it stayed quiet the boss slammed down the hammer and I didn't wait to be told, I shifted and was off that stage in an instant, Juan having to jog after me.
This hallway was much like the one on the other side of the stage, cages lined both walls, most of them full with laminated pieces of paper zip-tied to the metal grating on the doors with numbers written on the plastic-covered paper.
Juan locked one of the larger ones and for once I was eager for the confined space, curling up tightly right in the back of the cage. He closed it behind me and scribbled something on the laminated paper, squatting in front of the cage and tilting his head as he looked over at me, a sad smile now playing on his lips.
"This is goodbye for me Luci." his tone was soft and sad. He sniffed and rubbed at his eyes before straightening. "Give your owner a chance alright? I'll miss you." he croaked out before walking away quickly.
I lifted my head and stared at his quickly disappearing back, surprised by the sheer emotion he'd just expressed.
A shifter is a sub-human species that has both a human and animal side that they can shift between at will.
Shifters come in all shapes and sizes and can be found in every part of human life.
Luci is a melanistic jaguar shifter.
He's spent most of his young life locked in a cage but finally, he has the chance to see the world without metal bars obstructing his view.
Luci wasn't very trusting of humans, he's been hurt by them before, torn from his mother as soon as he'd weaned off her milk, never to see her again.
He's sold at auction as a pet, which is very uncommon for a big cat shifter. They are known as being notoriously hard to train, and incredibly dangerous. Luci himself had been deemed 'untrainable' by those who had tried to tame him before.
Will his master be any different?
Will somebody finally be able to train the 'untrainable' blue-eyed Luci?