So. It's been a while. Kinda. I could blame it on Dragon*Con. I could blame it on Nulli giving me a brain-eating plot bunny. I could blame it on lots of things. The truth? I hadn't realized it had been so long. So, here you go, the moment we've all been waiting for! (No, not that moment. Or that one. Nope, not even that one! Sheesh, people) It's time to make Nulli into a bobcat. Enjoy!
“I don’t want to change.”
A million responses raced through his head as he pulled her into his arms. His heart stuttered in dismay, sinking somewhere in the vicinity of his left knee. His breathing made up for its loss by racing as though he’d just run a marathon. Naked. Chased by ravenous wolves. He entertained a bout of crippling disappointment and hurt feelings for about five seconds. All of it fell to the side at the fear wafting off his mate. He peppered her soft curls with kisses as he traced soothing swirls on her back. He sought the right words.
“I’m sorry, kitten, but you don’t have much of a choice this time. I promise that it’s nothing to be scared of. It tingles, but it doesn’t hurt.” He leaned back to smooth her hair from her face. Tilting her head up for a kiss, he offered her a reassuring smile. “You won’t lose yourself to your cat. You’ll still be my smart, brave Nulli. That won’t change. You’ll be a bit shorter, a lot furrier, but just as beautiful.”
“Everything is happening all at once. I barely have enough time to get used to one thing before something else appears. Why can’t I change later?” She nuzzled her nose into his neck, inhaling deeply.
“No, sweetheart. If you wait too long, your cat will not ask. She’s desperate to explore, to sniff and run and hunt. Your instincts will take too much control, then. You’ll do something that will upset you. You need to lead the change, not let it lead you. Before you do that, though, you need to eat. A full stomach with plenty of protein will reduce your chances of hunting.”
“Okay. Let’s eat then. Maybe that will slow things down for a week or two.”
“We’ll discuss it over breakfast, lunch. Brunch?” He wrapped his arm around her waist and guided her to the kitchen. The fritatta was slightly overdone, but still edible. It took him just a short time to scramble a few eggs for himself. “Don’t give me that look, Nulli. Yes, it’s a lot of food. You need it.”
“Why? Am I going into battle for the next week?” She stared wide-eyed at the plate in front of her. Judging by the look on her face, she seemed uncertain if she should eat or run away.
“Yup. Against fire-breathing dragons, giant cockroaches, and pterodactyls. With lasers for eyes.” He set the juice and milk on the table then filled his plate. “Seriously, though. You, my sweet mate, have used a lot of energy lately. You’ve changed into a shifter. You’ve completed our mating. You’re fighting against the change.” He ticked off each item on his fingers. “And when you do change, this will keep you from hunting. I hope.”
Her gaze drifted to his eyes in slow motion. “You hope?”
“You’re a cat, sweetheart.” Brian pushed his plate aside and took her hands. “Cats like to chase, to hunt. I’ve asked around and this was the best anyone could come up with. Make sure you ate plenty of protein before your shift to minimize your desire to actually eat what you chase. Add that to your amazing self-control, and you should do well. I won’t promise you it’ll work perfectly, but I’m doing my best.”
Her eyes flashed amber before her lids slanted, her fangs appeared a moment later. “I’m going to be a walking death machine.” She gave her head a quick shake and her teeth returned to normal, but her eyes remained lighter. “I’m not going to eat all this. There’s no way.”
“Nulli. Mate.” He ran his hand over his face then through his hair. “You already were a walking death machine. How often have you told me you couldn’t punch the idiots who harassed you because of your martial arts training? That you’d go to jail because of it? Being a cat adds new instincts, yes, but we can minimize their effects.” His fangs rested on his bottom lip. “Now stop being stubborn and eat. You can eat it all and you will. Or have you given up on me already?”
“I’ll eat what I can. I’m not a bottomless pit, you wild man. That stuff works for you, but I won’t be able to do it all in one day.” She tucked into her meal, eyes glittering in the scant rays of morning light slicing through the blinds. “It’s probably not a good idea to challenge the death machine.” Her lips curled into a smirk, flashing her elongated teeth. A low growl resonated in her throat while she continued eating.
“I’ll happily let you kick my ass as long as you eat and regain your strength.” He grinned, showing off his pointed canines, and winked. “I like living on the edge.”
“You said something earlier about your vision. Is there something wrong with it? Blurry? Tunnel vision? Spots before your eyes?”
“Well, it changes focus. Sort of on its own. I can look at something and then my eyes adjust or do whatever they do, and I see it closer, then it goes back to the regular distance. It’s weirding me out.”
He sipped his milk, a frown wrinkling his brow. “Okay. First off, don’t you do yoga? Have you ever, I don’t know, practiced calming techniques like breathing or Tai Chi or something?”
“Yes... Are you about to tell me to breathe my sight back to normal?”
“In a way, yes. What’s happening is you’re alternating between your human eyes and your cat’s. When you see things ‘normal’, you’re seeing as a human. When the focus sharpens, you’re using your cat’s improved vision. If it bothers you, then, yes, breathe, find your center, realign your Feng Shui, or whatever you need to do to find your calm. I don’t want this to upset you, kitten.”
“This might be a problem then.” She sighed and rested her fork on the table.
“What do you mean?” Brian leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. He wanted to run. Needed to. He didn’t want her to see how badly his heart was breaking.
“I look at you, I can see you, but then I can really see you. I see your vessels pulse. I see the small changes in your skin. I can even see your pores dilate and contract. I saw the hairs on your arms go erect when you got goosebumps. I hear your heart racing like a locomotive right now. When all that happens, the only thought that calms me is grabbing you by that collar and pulling you into me like a crazy woman.” She took a deep breath and held it. “So you see, my dear kitty, this need to be with you all the time could be a problem. We have jobs.”
“We’ll work on it, Nulli. I’ll do all I can to help you adjust.” He picked up his fork, twirled it in his hand, then set it down again. His eyes focused on his plate. “I have to know. Do you regret it?”
“No, of course not.” She reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. “This is all unfamiliar, but everything about us has been unfamiliar, right? I’ve never been someone’s mate, you’ve never had a mate. I’ve never been in this kind of relationship with a shifter, you’ve never been in one like this with a human. We’re breaking new ground every time we move forward. The constant here is that we’re taking the journey together.”
He turned his hand over to hold hers, taking a deep, shuddering breath. “Yeah. I know. Of course I know. I’m worried about you, sweetheart. That’s all.” He looked up and offered her a small smile. “I just don’t want you to regret our mating. I don’t want you to think you’ve turned into some kind of monster. You haven’t. I swear you haven’t.”
“Is that what you thought I was feeling?” She stood from the table and paced a short circuit next to it. “I never thought you were a monster. I asked you me make me like you, like the kitty I love. How did you get monster out of that?”
“You’re so scared of what you’ve become. You don’t even want to change! I’m worried I may have rushed you. That the situation with the lab may have rushed you. That you’re not ready.” He leaned back in his chair, scrubbing his hand through his hair. “I have a feeling you’re going to tell me I’m being an ass again.”
“Yes. You’re being an ass.” She walked toward the doorway, but stopped. “News flash, Brian, I’ve never turned into a bobcat before. I think a little trepidation might be natural. What the hell do you want from me here?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never been around a newly turned shifter. I guess I didn’t expect it to affect you as much because you’ve always been so strong. I’m sorry. Please, finish your breakfast?”
“Always been so strong?” She narrowed her gaze but held her ground. “I am going to change forms. Do you want to know what the prospect of that is like for me? I have to grapple with the fact that I am going to shift into something else. This change is imminent and may be beyond my control. My entire body is about to become something else, and you’re telling me it should be okay because I have strength? Un-freaking-believable!” She threw her hands into the air and walked into the living room.
Burying his head in his hands, he groaned. How had things gone to hell so quickly? He just wanted her safe and happy, but he was screwing this up. He rose from the table and watched her pace the living room. The fear and uncertainty on her face broke his heart. He longed to go to her, take her in his arms, tell her it would be okay, but he didn’t want to upset her further.
“I’m trying, sweetheart. It may not look like it, but I am. I know this is difficult for you, but no matter how I try, I truly and honestly cannot comprehend just how much. I’ve never been in your situation.” His eyes followed her jerky movements. She shivered and rubbed her arms. “I grew up with shifters. None of my family are mated. None of my friends are other than Killian. I wasn’t around when Melody first turned. So, yes. I jumped to conclusions.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know what else I can say but I’m sorry.”
When she didn’t respond, he stepped into the room. Fuck this, she needs me right now. A frown marred her brow. A low growl rumbled from her throat as she pulled at her clothes. She was twitchy, uncomfortable. “Kitten?” He reached for her just as she clutched her stomach. “Dammit! Too late.” He eased her to the floor. Her rumbling growls told him he was out of time. “Come on, Nulli. Look at me. It’s time to let your cat out to play.” He stroked her hair and down her back. Soft touches. Gentle. Hopefully soothing. As she panted, he pulled her into his arms. He held her head near his neck, letting her smell him. “Relax as much as you can. Try not to fight it. It’ll be alright. I’m right here, sweetheart.”
“It’s burning!” She ground out the words between clenched teeth. Her entire body oozed tension, and she never let go of the death grip on her belly.
“I know. I’m sorry. You’ve got to stop fighting it, sweetheart. Remember those breathing techniques you were telling me about earlier? Time to try them out.” He slipped his hand under her shirt to rub her bare back. As a kid, it was the skin-to-skin contact that soothed him the most in the days leading up to his first shift. He hoped it would work here. “Breathe slowly, Nulli. Relax. I’m right here, sweetheart. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Her low growls rose in pitch and volume to end on a feline yowl of distress. As fur sprouted along her arms, Brian slipped the ring from her finger and tucked it into his pocket. “Nothing shifts but you, mate. You don’t want to lose this.” She growled menacingly, reaching for her ring only to double over with a fresh wave of pain. He cursed and sliced through her shirt with his sharp claws. “Nulli. Fuck! Come on, sweetheart. Deep breaths. Latch onto my scent.” He tossed the shredded top aside and tugged at her shorts. “I’m here, mate. It’ll be okay. I promise.” His claws ripped through the side seams of her chinos, and the ruined shorts joined the top. Her body shimmered. Her ears lengthened, furred, and traveled to the top of her head. Her human body melted away to reform into a sleek and a stunning bobcat.
Brian laid beside her on the floor and stroked her soft fur as she lay still, more than likely contemplating her first shift. She rested on her side, her chest rising and falling with reassuring regularity. Her golden eyes were shut, but the tip of a rough, pink tongue poked out between her lips. She rumbled, a cross between a soft growl and a purr. He checked every inch of her to make sure the change had gone smoothly. Her paws flexed to reveal sharp claws. Her tail twitched when he touched it. Her ears flicked when he tickled the soft fur within.
“You are an amazing bobcat, my sweet mate.” He spoke softly. Her hearing was more sensitive in this form. “You did wonderfully well. I’m so proud of you, Nulli. I love you so much.” He kissed her nose, smiling when her whiskers tickled him.
She raised her head and sniffed at his neck with a faint purr. He propped up on his elbow as she leaned closer. Her wet nose and whiskers danced along his chest. He ran his hand from her head to the base of her tail, chuckling when she arched into his touch.
“Silly kitten,” he murmured fondly. “You are more than I ever hoped for, Nulli. To see you here, a beautiful bobcat... I don’t know whether to cry or shout my happiness or build a fort and keep you locked within it. You’re my greatest treasure and I’m yours forever. How’s that for a contradiction, huh?” He chuckled when she butted her head against his chin. “I know. I’m crazy. Even your cat knows.”
He inched away from her and sat up. Crossing his legs, he leaned forward and tickled a paw. “Eventually, that floor will get uncomfortable, mate. Why don’t you stand up and walk over here? It takes a bit to get used to walking on four legs.”
Nulli tilted her head and watched him for several moments before averting her gaze to a window and resting her head on her forearms.
“Typical cat. Stubborn as the day is long.” Brian shook his head. “If I didn’t think you’d claw me into confetti, I’d offer you a treat if you came over here. Perhaps a tasty, cheesy goldfish?”
She didn’t move, and instead closed her eyes.
“Now you’re starting to worry me again, mate.” He scooted to sit beside her. When he touched her head, she jumped. She blinked up at him before returning her head to her paws. “Napping already?” He scooped her into his arms and carried her to the sofa. “Sleep then, sweetheart. We’ll work on this later.”
He curled his body around her, listening to her soft snores interspersed with faint purrs. Her coat was soft and shiny. Her whiskers were long with a cute curl at the ends. She truly was a beautiful bobcat. The sun rose further into the sky, casting long shadows into the room. It was almost noon when she began to dream. Her paws twitched as she slept. A growl built in her throat. Her ears flattened against her head. When she released her first roar, it jerked her awake. Only his hand prevented her from falling off the sofa.
“Nice roar, mate.” Brian chuckled as she looked around the room with a yawn. Nulli stretched, arching her back into his hand and digging her claws into his stomach. A soft purr vibrated her body as she snuggled closer. She inched along the sofa while her nose danced along his chest. He giggled and jerked away when she touched her nose to his side. “You really do need to try standing, sweetheart. Let me get you off this sofa. It’s time to get all of those paws beneath you.”
He lowered her to the floor and kept his hands around her until she rested all her weight on her paws. Some of this would be instinctual. Some would be trial and error. He prayed to anything and everything that he wouldn’t laugh if she fell. She sniffed her paws, then the air. Her purrs grew louder.
Her first steps were clumsy, uncoordinated. She shook her paws with a growl. Within a few more steps, she found her rhythm. Brian followed her to the kitchen, where she stood with her nose scenting the air near the table. He shook his head. “It’ll be cold, kitten, but I agree. You need to eat before you run.” Removing her fork, he sat the plate on the floor.
It took her a few tries before she managed to crouch by the plate. It took her even less time to clean the plate of the rest of the fritatta. After a final lick, she prowled the kitchen. She sniffed the corners. Brian chuckled when she nearly got stuck between the fridge and the wall, pulling her free and removing a stray bit of dust from her whiskers. She turned her nose to the air and sauntered from the kitchen.
“Aw, don’t sulk, kitten.” He followed her back into the living room. “You’re cute with dust bunnies on your whiskers.” She curled her lip in response. “Ready to explore?” Purring, she butted against his leg, then pawed at the door. “Excellent.”
Brian opened the door and joined her on the patio. As she sniffed the air, he removed his collar, tossed his shorts onto a chair and shifted into his cat.
The air was humid. A hint of late-season flowers floated on the breeze. A squirrel chattered at a bluejay to their left. Something rustled in the underbrush to their right. Nulli’s ears swivelled to catch the sounds as her nose scented the air. He sat on his haunches and watched her with a purr.
She turned to him, then, sniffing his neck and chewing his ears. He purred louder and butted his head against hers. He rubbed his body along hers, combining their scents into a heady mixture. When her purrs matched his, he licked her nose and nudged her towards the woods.
They stepped off the patio together. His paws landed with precision; hers with caution. She sniffed the grass, bit off a blade, then spit it out with a curl to her lips. She shook her paws as the green stalks tickled the sensitive pads. He nipped her ear and moved towards the trail. With a final growl at the tickling grass, she followed.
He stayed ahead of her, easing her into a run. When she sped up to catch him, he increased his speed. She stumbled a bit at first, but her instinct and natural agility soon had her running alongside him. A twig snapped to their right, and she darted off the trail and into the underbrush.
Brian’s heart pounded in his chest as he rushed to reach her. He wasn’t sure if she was strong enough yet to resist the urge to chase, to hunt, to kill. He leapt over gnarled roots and slipped under dead branches in an effort to reach his swift mate. They nearly crashed into each other when she abruptly changed course.
Shaking his head, he darted after her. She seemed to chase sounds more than things. Turning first towards a screeching bird, and then the muted shush of a snake slithering across the path. She jumped onto large boulders, wriggled under low roots, and rolled in the bed of wildflowers that meant so much to them. He chased her, then she chased him. She tackled him, bowling him over with a surprise pounce from beneath an oversized fern. He returned the favor later, leaping from behind a large rock. They ran until their sides heaved and his paws ached.
He guided her towards the house when she was too tired to chase a rabbit that darted across their path. Their first run together had been better than he had hoped.
Once at the house, he returned to his human form. As he opened the door to let her in, he grabbed his shorts from a chair. He dressed quickly, buckling his collar into place with a contented sigh. “How are you feeling, kitten? Ready to change back and talk to me?” She butted against his hand, then started pacing the room. He sat on the floor and leaned against the sofa. “I’ll talk you through it, sweetheart. Come sit by me?”
She made a final circuit of the room then sat beside him. Her golden eyes stared up at him. So beautiful. So much like his mate. He ran his hand along her back, petting her soft fur. “To change back, picture yourself as a human - feet, hands, body, head, that unruly mop of glorious curls, your beautiful face. Think of how you look as a human. Fix that image in your mind. Got it?” She tilted her head and nodded. “Good. Now, close your eyes. Find that picture of yourself. You’re not a cat, you’re a human. Reach for that image, step into it. Be it.”
Her body shimmered. The points of her ears rounded. Fur receded. Paws became hands and feet. “That’s it, sweetheart!” He sat on his hands to keep from reaching for her. If he broke her concentration, it would drain most of her energy. Recovery from a failed shift took much longer. “Just a bit more.” Her body morphed and grew, shifting from the smaller bobcat form into an adult human female. Panting, she collapsed into his arms. “Congratulations, mate.” He brushed hair from her face. “You’ve experienced your first shift.”
She encircled his neck with one arm and continued her heavy breathing. “This wouldn’t be a good time to start drinking would it?”
“Only if you mean water.” He chuckled, kissing her cheek. “Want about a gallon?”
“Make it two, and we can talk.”
“Absolutely.” He helped her onto the sofa, brushed his lips over hers, and moved into the kitchen. “You did great, sweetheart, and you’re super-fast!” He placed two glasses and a pitcher of iced water on a tray and brought it to her.
She downed the glass and then picked up the pitcher, draining it before emptying his cup. “God, I could swallow a lake!”
“So I see.” He chuckled and refilled the pitcher. “You’ve had some major changes, though. It’s understandable.” He refilled her glass. “How do you feel?”
She raised her eyebrows as she swallowed down glass number three. When she came up for air, she shrugged her shoulders and tilted her head from side to side. “Like I’m in a woman suit.” Shaking her head, she lifted the pitcher from the tray again and started drinking. “If I drink any more water, you’ll be able to build a pier on my butt.”
“Silly kitten. You’ll float away before I could build a pier.” He eased the pitcher from her grasp. He ran his fingers from her hands up to her shoulders, then down her spine. Nodding, he checked each leg, ankle, and foot. “Everything feels right. It doesn’t feel like anything’s been caught mid-shift. Do you burn, tingle, or hurt?”
“The tingle is still there, but it’s fading.” She looked him in the eye with a small smile on her lips. “Brian, mind giving me my ring back?”
“Oh! Yes, of course.” He pulled the ring from his pocket and took her hand. “I am still amazed that you accepted this, Nulli.” Sliding it onto her finger, he kissed below it. His lips lingered. “I’m sorry about not understanding, kitten. Your first shift should not have been involuntary.”
“Well, it’s over now. Maybe I can stop having the recurring nightmare where I’m stuck between human and bobcat.” She shuddered and stretched her arms over her head. “I really need another shower. I’m all sweaty.”
“You won’t be stuck, mate. I’ll always help you through the change.” He helped her from the sofa and guided her upstairs. “Though, you’d look adorable with cat ears poking through those curls.”
“So you’re into furries now?” She plastered on a shocked expression, but the shaking of her shoulders gave her away. “I’m going to call the ASPCA.”
“Not furries, you silly woman. Catgirls!” He tickled her, relieved that she seemed to have come through her first change okay. “If you’re going to assign me a fetish, at least get it right.”
She turned to face him as they reached the doorway of bathroom. A quick pull of his collar got his attention. “I think I’ve got your fetish right, kitty.” She winked and released the metal ring before moving further into the room.
“Hell yeah,” he muttered and followed her in. “Need a hand?”
The door closed behind him with a decisive click. The falling water drowned out all but the loudest purrs, the fiercest growls, and the most passionate moans. Cries of ecstasy faded into soft giggles and whispered endearments. He towelled them both dry, letting his hands roam after the damp terry cloth dropped to the floor. Kissing along her neck, he tucked her into bed and curled up behind her. Brian buried his nose in her mark and inhaled her new, intoxicating scent. Damn, I’m the luckiest shifter on the planet.