For a moment, he tiger stood very still, taking in the gathered leaders of St. Louis. Then he swallowed audibly, Adam’s apple bobbing dangerously. To his credit, he did not drop to his knees and start crawling. Instead he visibly straightened and turned to nod at every alpha or master in turn, saving Jean-Claude for last. It wasn’t protocol but he covered it up nicely by sketching a miniscule bow and offering a quiet, “Master of the City.”
Then he fell silent again, waiting for someone else to start talking.
“Do you know why we’ve asked you here?” Micah asked finally. The tiger raised one sceptical eyebrow at ‘asked’ but didn’t comment.
“No. For once I actually don’t,” he admitted instead. Richard suppressed a growl. He was less than happy with the whole situation. Damn Anita and Jean-Claude and damn the whole politics bullshit. All he’d wanted was to help one student.
“Do you, by chance, know one Elisabeth Summers, mon chat?” Jean-Claude demanded after a few moments’ silence, during which Jay refused to fidget, unfortunately. This would have been over much faster if he’d caved and spilled at once.
Something shifted behind the weretiger’s eyes. He growled. “I am not your cat and yes, I do.”
The vampire raised one sharp eyebrow at the defiant tone but didn’t call the mortal on it.
“Then, tiger, tell us something about this friend of yours.” Not a demand but an order now.
Jay didn’t even flinch. It made Richard wonder. Sure, the boy was alpha, but there were worlds between alpha and alpha. Especially in St. Louis, where power just seemed to accumulate among shifters. Rafael, the rat king, was the most powerful of his kind in the surrounding five states. Narcissus, the leader of the hyenas ruled the second largest group in he States, even after Chimera had decimated his numbers. And while Micah’s pard was weak and small, he himself was extremely powerful. And Richard was Ulfric of the biggest and most influential pack of wolves in the USA.
Jay, compared to that, was nothing. He was one of many that were strong but would never be more than muscle because they were not strong enough. And yet, something gave the young shifter the self assurance to stand before them all and say, “No.”
Jean-Claude flowed to his feet in one smooth move as Anita shifted forward in her seat and Asher and Damien slipped out of the shadows.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said, no.”
Anger rippled over the Master’s features like water, ripping at the human mask he wore at all times and his fangs glistened. He opened his mouth, undoubtedly to demand obedience, but Richard was, just this once, faster.
“Why?” He asked, as evenly as he could manage.
Jay’s gaze flickered to meet his own only for a second before settling back on the more pressing danger. Then he answered. “My alpha forbade it.”
Ah, so that was why he stood so proud. He was protected by someone else. The question was-
“I am not allowed to tell you that either.”
Jean-Claude reigned himself in with visible effort before sitting back down. “Am I right in the assumption that this alpha is not one of my people?”
A nod. “Yes.”
“I want to see them. Tonight. Or I will have to keep you with me, little tiger.”
For a moment it looked like Jay wanted to rebel, to protest but then he admitted defeat. He stood no chance against the people in the room and he knew it. And a rogue alpha’s protection only meant so much. He dug into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a cell phone.
“Can I go outside to talk?” He waved the phone in the air.
They all watched as he flipped it open and speed dialed a number. After a couple of seconds someone answered the call. Their voice was, unfortunately, too low for Richard to hear.
“I know,” Jay said suddenly. “At the Circus of the Damned.”
He flinched as a loud, “What?!” Sounded out of the phone.
“The Master of the City is asking about Elisabeth. I told him I’m not allowed to tell. He demands to see you.….Yes. How would I know? No….Probably….I know. Sorry….Alright. Yeah….See you.”
He snapped the phone shut and offered, “Twenty minutes. Can I go for a smoke please?”
“Jesus,” he hissed, his anxiety and fear finally showing, “Do you people have any fun around here?”
“Jay…,” Richard started, intent on calming the other shifter down. This was helping no-one.
He got cut off before he could even start, “Don’t you start. She trusted you! She said you were different! I told her she was insane thinking any of you lot could ever be different but no, she had to be stubborn. And this is the result. Thank you very fucking much!”
Richard did a pretty good impression of fish on land as Jay finally caught his breath and realized just who he was yelling at. Micah, bless his calm little heart, interfered before things could get ugly.
“Different in what way?”
The tiger snapped around to stare at the other cat. “Different by giving a damn about more than his own group, like you all do. You have the cats, he has the wolves. You’re all powerful. And you all take care of your nearest and dearest. You don’t give a flying fuck about the rest of us.”
“…Is more concerned with policing the outsiders than helping them!”
With a final snarl, he turned on his heel and stalked toward the door. He leaned against the wall next to it and slowly slid down until he sat on the rough stone floor. Then he hid his face in his knees and proceeded to ignore everyone.