Ashley took the food to the table, then crouched down on the balls of his feet before Shaun. "I do not take pets. Although I do have…unusual tendencies, I will not take a living creature as a pet without consent. Your place is at the table. I would be delighted if you would join me."
"But you have taken me as your pet." As far as Shaun was concerned, there was no other reason Ashley would have let him into his home. He was a were, nothing but a pet to humankind.
Ashley sighed and stood, pulling Shaun to his feet. "No, I have not. I brought you here because I could not bear to see you survive out there. I am a Master, Shaun, but not in the sense of owning a pet. Illian—my former lover—was my sub, my submissive lover. It was something we both consented to. I do not believe in owning a pet."
"You brought me to your home because you didn't want to leave me in the woods?"
"Call it a weakness if you will," Ashley said as he steered Shaun to the table. "Now eat. There is plenty here and if you are still hungry when this is gone, I will gladly fix something more for you." Ashley sat down in his own chair and looked at Shaun expectantly.
Bewildered, Shaun paused for a moment beside the chair before finally settling into it. Looking over at Ashley, he wasn't sure if he dare reach for the food or not. "I couldn't hunt in the park because people would have noticed."
Nodding to the plate full of food, Ashley said, "I imagine so. Now eat your fill. There is no reason to fear me, nor should you fear any repercussions for anything. Most people wouldn't allow even a family dog to sleep with them in their bed, yet I often requested Illian sleep however he wished, which was usually half or full-shifted."
Tilting his head, Shaun regarded Ashley with a good bit of curiosity. It was beyond unusual that any Master would give his pet such freedom. Returning his attention to the food set out before them, he carefully transferred one of the steaks and a couple pieces of shrimp to his plate. Unlike most pets, most of whom had been trained from a young age, he knew how to use such things as forks and knives.
"This Illian, he was like me. A cat?"
"No, no. Illian was a wolf in true form. Not a werewolf, who doesn't have a choice; but a shape shifter who chooses to shift back and forth. I rescued him from a pet hunter and fell in love immediately." Ashley's expression turned thoughtful for a moment before he continued. "Someone found out that I treated him as a lover and not a pet. I was reported and they came in while I was at work. I knew the moment it happened, like a stab to my heart. The scars on my back, and thus my back problems, came about as I tried to save him."
Shaun stopped in mid-bite to stare at Ashley in outright shock. When he found his voice, he asked in a whisper, "You risked your life to try to save a shifter?"
"I risked my life for what I believed in, for the one I loved more than life itself. And I would do it over again should the need ever arise."