Jaci's ginger fur appeared to be a giant thistle, spiked in anticipation of what was to come. Her gaze held little emotion as she stared out into the darkening sky. A slight breeze stirred something inside of her, some deep emotion that she had only recently discovered; an emotion that she didn't seem to care for. Or at least didn't want to.
"Miss Jaci?" a rumbling voice came from behind her.
The young ginger she-cat instinctively turned at the sound of the servant's voice, not expecting him to be there. She would never would expect the large tom to be there, not behind her. Not talking to her on his own terms. At least, not with Maelstrom trailing not far behind.
"Miss Jaci?" the older cat repeated, his voice as stoic as ever.
The tom was as strong as his name implied, a large, sharp-featured cat of many moons. Hard-eyed and hard-pawed, his gray fur pricked slightly. It appeared to faintly glow silver, as the sun began to set.
"Is something wrong?" she asked, expecting bad news; the usual. If not, perhaps her older brother had given an order for her to come back. She started to doubt that theory, knowing her brother was most focused on matters other than her.
"I should be asking you that," the older tom rumbled, look down upon her with his stony eyes. "You seem to be distant lately." Shackle mewed, his voice held the slightest bit of concern. "Is something troubling you?"
"No," Jaci replied, far too quickly.
Shackle didn't respond, he simply looked upon her with a disappointed gleam in his gaze. She could tell that he knew she was keeping something from him.
Jaci felt a jabbing pain, a pain unlike any she had felt before. She had lost Jenner to Jessie because of her own vanity and stupidity, she wasn't as strong as Mackerel or Twister, and it was clear that she was a disappointment compared to her brother.
Despite all of these things, disappointing Shackle seemed to hurt the worst. He was one of the first cats she could call a friend, and he has since grown to be much more than that. Maybe it was because she looked up to the tom, and hated him seeing her at her worst.
Maybe it was because he was one of the few cats that was special to her.
"I'm sorry," Jaci murmured, gradually beginning to stare at her paws, feeling like a kit. "I just... haven't been as happy as used to be, lately." the ginger she-cat admitted, her ears quickly growing hot as she tried to explain how she felt.
She could see Shackle awkwardly shift, she wondered how he was reacting to this.
"It's okay," the dark gray tom soothed, clearly unsure on how to handle the situation. "You have six other cats here who care deeply for you, and wouldn't let anything bad happen to you."
Jaci smiled, rushing forward to press against the large tom. It was crazy how the servant always knew what to say to make her feel better, and how to say it. Perhaps he did have all the secrets to the universe after all.
"Thank you, Shackle. You big lump!" Jaci felt relieved, at least for the moment. It reminded her of the days when it was just her, Shackle and Maelstrom. It reminded her of the happy times she shared with Jenner and Mackerel. It was as if every happy memory she had came back to her at this single moment, only to shatter into pieces once the young tabby pulled away.
"You're welcome, Miss Jaci." Shackle mewed, still keeping his calm demeanor despite her sudden rush of happiness she had just inflicted upon him. "I'm glad I could make you feel better."
"Shackle, I just want you to know that you're my biggest best friend ever!" Jaci told him, stepping from out her façade of self-pity. The feisty, farcical nature that she once was known to have returning.
"I'm sure that you have other, much bigger friends," Shackle told her, his nose wrinkling in amusement. "You're very close to Jenner and Jessie."
"Oh, them." Jaci wasn't sure how to respond to that. Jenner and Jessie were her friends, but being near the two lovebirds only made her feel queasy on the inside. It almost made her feel like an expecting queen.
"They are my friends, and always will be." the ginger tabby finally continued, staring up at Shackle with wide green eyes. "But, you are my biggest friend, literally!" Jaci giggled.
Oh, Jaci, you still have it!
"You're also the only cat that really listens to me, and you always watch out for me and hang out with me and-" Jaci was out of breath as she continued to think of reasons why Shackle was her best friend.
"I mean, it's almost like you're my dad!"
Shackle's expression changed, his features almost looked confused. "But, I'm not your father, Jaci."
Jaci playfully rolled her eyes, batting him with her paw. "I know that, silly goose. You're not my real dad. He and my mom are just distant memories now, they just gave me up without a care, really." Jaci reminded him. "I've basically been raised by you guys, all of you. Each of you has taught me so much, especially you!"
"I mean, I love you guys!"
"Love?" Shackle was taken aback, he was unsure on how to interpret the word from the she-cat. Was she being equivocal or was she being serious? With Jaci, you could never be too sure.
"Of course! Why wouldn't I? I mean, without you guys I would probably be dead in some ditch somewhere. You all mean so much to me, even if I don't act like it." the ginger she-cat promised, truth echoing in her mew.
Shackle didn't answer, unsure of what to make of this, Though he did inwardly agree that the bubbly she-cat would be dead without them. Dead, or living a normal life back where she was born, with her parents and littermates. He hoped the latter.
"I'm not sure how I can get you to believe me," Jaci mewed, disappointed. "I guess whether you do, or you don't, I just want you to know that I really am grateful for you. You, and everyone else are my family, whether you guys like it or not!"
"Mackerel is like my mom, she's always looking out for me and the good of the group." Jaci said, thoughtfully raising her head. "Maelstrom is my brother, obviously. That would make Jessie and Twister my sisters! They're great friends and give me decent advise, I suppose."
"Jenner..." Jaci was stuck on the dusky brown tabby for awhile, unsure of what he would be considered. Shackle had offered 'Brother', but considering some things, that would just be a tad too weird.
"Let's just say he's a really distant cousin, really distant." Jaci emphasized, hoping that she made that clear. She also hoped she wasn't making it obvious that she still was awkward on the subject of Jenner. She knew she probably shouldn't be, considering he was mooning over Jessie now, but she couldn't help it.
"That leaves me," Shackle noted, looking down at the young she-cat. "Who am I to you?" He expected the she-cat to answer instantaneously, but the small she-cat seemed to do the exact opposite mulling it over for an uncharacteristically long time.
Shackle finally decided to speak, keeping his serious attitude throughout. "Your father, perhaps?"
Jaci grinned, almost hopping up-and-down in her excitement. "I thought you would never say so!" she bounced around the older tom happily, her fur fluffed out against the occasional cold breeze.
Shackle was unsure whether he should be amused by the excitement of the she-cat or annoyed, it appeared the was just another one of her little schemes that she had just to get him to admit to be her father. Was she really that happy about it? Did she really love him? Was he more than just a simple servant to her? The dark gray tom could almost say yes, but then he was reminded that the young tabby was naughty and quite possibly insane. Not a very good combination to trust.
Jaci blinked up at Shackle, her innocent gaze was a lit flame. "Do you believe me now?
"It's getting dark, we should head back soon." Shackle mewed, skipping over her question. He blinked down at her, as if telling her not to argue. He then began to realize, that despite everything, he cared for the innocent ginger tabby, no matter how annoying or daft she could be.
After all, he was like her father, whether he agreed to it or not.