"I know you're there. Who are you?"
The rustling leaves sounded loud to Shaun as he tried to hide further in the bushes. Holding his breath, he flattened himself as close to the ground as possible. When the man who had spoken moved slightly, Shaun scrambled backward. Unable to stop the sound, a low, warning pulse erupted from his throat and he stilled completely.
The man, who had been lying on his back, rolled slowly onto his stomach and peered into the brush. "You are a were. I won't hurt you. My name is Ashley." He got up and held out his hand. When Shaun didn't respond, the man named Ashley straightened his back. "Come," he said, using the authoritative inflection of a Master; although in his case, apparently one without a pet to control.
An enraged snarl filled the air but was quickly bitten back as the command almost shocked Shaun into obedience. Crawling forward, he slowly left his hiding place.
"I thought so." For a moment, Ashley stilled, looking Shaun over.
Muscular and sleek, Shaun knew he was a rare find even when only half-shifted, especially with his black-and-white striped fur.
"What is your name? If you know the command, then I know you can speak."
"Shaun." Clad only in a black loincloth, very little of him was covered. With fluid motion, he moved to his hands and knees in front of Ashley.
"You don't belong out here."
Ashley reached out and hummed softly. It was a technique used by Masters to calm their pets. He traced the outline of the tattoo etched into Shaun's skin, just at the nape of his neck. It was a procedure done when a were was captured. Once a Master took possession, the star would take on the form of the Master's initial, signifying ownership. Shaun's tattoo was still that of a perfect star, showing that he was unclaimed. The soft trill brought a visible relaxation to Shaun's tense body, though he tried to fight against the effect. Biting at his lip, his head lowered, allowing Ashley to touch him.
"I won't hurt you," Ashley murmured. "How long have you been free?"
The words might have been meant as some form of comfort, but Shaun didn't take them that way. Lifting his head and raising his chin higher in a defiant manner, he said, "For more than two months. I've lived out here on my own."
"You need proper bedding and a bath," Ashley said matter-of-factly. He picked up a cigarette butt from the grass beside him and stood slowly, pushing the butt into one of his jeans pockets. "Come."
Because he was given no choice in the matter, Shaun hissed angrily; but, nonetheless, he followed slowly behind the man. It would do no good to beg to be left out here. He already knew what a prize he'd be viewed as.
Home was no more than a few minutes away. Ashley was grateful that he'd found a place so far outside of the city, but close enough for work. Five minutes later, he held his front door open, standing to the side to let Shaun go in first. Shaun seemed apprehensive as he stepped past him. Once inside, Ashley watched as Shaun took several deep breaths. Apprehension, it seemed, gave way to curiosity, and Shaun slowly prowled around the perimeter of the room, poking into everything.
Closing the front door and locking it, Ashley smiled. He'd had chances in the past to take in a pet, but he'd never found the right one to replace the emptiness within him. Then this beauty had practically fallen into his life. Ashley wasn't surprised that a part of him was already working out the possibility of keeping Shaun with him, of claiming him.
"Would you like something to drink?" He went into the small kitchen, watching Shaun over the bar.
Pausing as he tried to pry open one of the small jars he'd picked up, Shaun looked over at him with a touch of suspicion. "Water."
"Water it is." Ashley took out two glasses and filled them both with ice cold water from the pitcher in the refrigerator. Then he went into the living room and held out one of the glasses to Shaun. "Drink. I will get your bath ready." With that, Ashley walked out, heading down the short hallway to the bathroom.
As Ashley walked away, Shaun shook his head in confusion, staring at the glass in his hand. Aware he needed a bath, he set the jar down and padded silently behind Ashley as he drank.
Setting his glass on the sink counter, Ashley got down on his knees and started the bathwater. Watching from his position, Shaun hadn't expected Ashley to join him. Chiding himself, he should have realized it, though. A Master expected nothing more than a well-behaved pet at his heel, to show off to his contemporaries, and to be a warm body in his bed. If Shaun had any form of luck, cruelty wouldn't be the order of the day. That's about all he could hope for. After finishing the water, he set the glass on the sink.
When the water was deep enough, Ashley turned it off and stood. As he turned around, he looked surprised to see Shaun in the doorway. "I was going to come tell you that your bath is ready. If you don't mind, I'd like to sit and talk while you bathe. If you wish for me to, I'd be happy to wash your hair." Sitting down on the toilet lid, he made no move to take off his clothes.
Just as a well-trained pet would, Shaun took off the small loin cloth and laid it on the edge of the sink. Stepping into the tub, he sank down into the water. The heat felt damn good as he leaned back against the porcelain edge.
"Why?" Shaking his head, Shaun frowned, repeating his question more fully. "Why would you want to wash my hair?"
Ashley just shrugged. "Why not? It would take a fool to not see that you're beautiful. If you don't wish me to, then I won't."
Even though it was part of his nature to adore being touched and petted, Shaun wasn't sure he wanted this stranger to touch him. Yet controlling his own natural instincts while being petted was an impossible task. Leaning slightly towards Ashley, he drew in a slow breath. The earthy scent reached him, a mixture of sunshine and grass underneath the faint smell of tobacco.
"I don't like strong scents," Ashley said with a smile, "and I hate cologne. The best smells in the world are chocolate, nature, and a man's arousal."
"You don't stink." Small favors to be grateful for. As he looked over Ashley, curiosity began to get the better of Shaun. He actually liked the smell, but the man was too far away to do anything more than catch his scent from the air.
"I should hope not," Ashley chuckled. "I took a shower this morning." He slid off the toilet lid and to the floor, kneeling close to the bathtub. "Is that better?"
As Shaun leaned over slightly and turned his head, Ashley was no more than a few inches away from his face. A small chuffing sound came from him before his nostrils flared with the deep breath he took. Inching slowly forward, he got a bit closer. "Yes, you like chocolate." The scent itself came from the direction of Ashley's hands and made Shaun lower his head as he leaned as far over the edge of the tub as he could. "Sweet."