Ciel shivered under the dripping edge of a cardboard box, watching the rain beat down upon the cold concrete sidewalk. The passing sssshissssh of a car occasionally deafened him, making him cringe. The flash of headlights, misty with the downpour, would wash over his hiding place briefly before moving on down the street. Thanks to the four thin walls Ciel's dark grey fur was damp now rather than wet, but his tail drooped and his ears were turned down as he coughed and shook; it was so cold. He shifted on his white paws to keep them from going numb, rubbing one against his small nose every now and again.
'And this is supposedly April!' He thought, sneezing.
He was glad the box had been left there on its side, if only to give him a few minutes respite from the harsh weather. It was always easier to find shelter in his feline-form. At fourteen, he was small in his human form as well, but as a cat he could find more roomy spots to spend the night. There were many places to hide here in the back alleys of London, but tonight he happened to find a box right on the street. It was not the best he could do, it was drafty and cold, but when he had been caught in the deluge he had settled for the first object he had seen that served as a roof.
'What a life.' Ciel thought to himself. 'Why do I have to be so proud? Why couldn't I just be a mindless pet with a comfy home? If only I'd been born stupid I'd be curled up warm in some humans' house right now. Too bad I can think for myself. Too bad I have to be my own boss.'
He often had these thoughts when the weather turned foul. His discomfort would make him question his decision to be a stray, to live his life on the run.
He was a Leonard, a being that could take the form of a human or a feline. There were many other names for what he was: Areli, Othniel, Haidar, Neko, Lavi, there were countless titles from many different areas of the world. According to folklore, he was magic, though he could never feel that he was anything more than extremely fortunate to be alive. For creatures that were apparently magical, it was unfortunate that they had to live the way that they did.
At some point in history humankind decided that Leonards were inferior creatures, as their animalistic instincts were very strong and could overrule their human intellect at times. Being so in tune with their feline-forms left little choice in the matter. It was simply a part of their nature. Even in human-form their ears and tails remained. It was impossible to remove the cat in them.
Ciel was certainly aware of that primal nature that flowed through his own veins. He could not control himself when it came to milk, he always purred when he was comfortable or pleased despite what form he took, and he sometimes felt a strong urge to bat at anything that floated tauntingly overhead. The hardest urge to deal with was the one that seized him when he glimpsed another of his kind; he would run to them and at once engage in a game of chase and play. Both he and the stranger would greet each other this way in their feline forms, unable to stop the instinctual joy in their meeting.
These tendencies in his kind had eventually left them under the rule of mankind when a new social system developed. For decades Leonards could not be granted citizenship in most countries unless they were owned by a human. Like common cats they were considered pets, and made to live as such. All their rights depended on their owners, as did their happiness. They were intelligent, they were still human, and yet were still considered subservient.
Young as he was, Ciel had never thought that one human owning another was right, and he was just as firm on the issue of a human owning a being with the same mental capacities.
Ciel had been left in the care of a Leonard Shelter when he was born. He had never really known why, but it was easy to assume that the reason was the same as it was for most of his fellow Leonards; his parents' owner had not wanted him.
One glitch in the system of Leonard ownership was the infants. A Leonard child grew at the same slow pace as a human one; however, at three years of age the child would begin to shift forms. While a kitten was easily cared for, it was a heavy task to raise one who would shift back into the form of a helpless baby whenever it pleased. It could actually be dangerous unless the parents were paying attention. Only Leonard parents had the innate talent to raise these younglings without fault. It was built into their bones. While there were kind-hearted owners who let their pets raise their own children, more often than naught they would send them to a Shelter.
The Shelter System had been slapped together when the problem of Leonard offspring became apparent. A Shelter was supposed to utilize the expertise to raise and educate Leonard children until they were old enough to be adopted. The humans who developed this system would not even offer the courtesy of calling these institutions orphanages. They were Shelters, indicating the 'pet' status of all the Leonard children who grew up in them.
The Shelter workers were supposed to be made up of both humans and Leonards, so that the children would receive the best upbringing, but for everything standard there is a low. There were many Shelters without the proper training or funding, leaving the children to suffer physically and emotionally. The teachers in the adjoining schools were underpaid and therefore hard to hire. These kinds of Shelters were where the lower classes could find themselves a pet at a more 'reasonable' price.
Ciel had been raised in such a Shelter. The humans had not necessarily been unkind, but he had always felt that they treated him like an object. The lack of interest in his person for any other reason than being a good pet was humiliating. He knew he was smart; school had been his favorite part of the day. He often read far ahead of the requirements, and would constantly ask the teachers questions.
Many times they would become impatient with him and remind him that his main role was to be a compliant pet to a human, and everything else he learned was for his owner's benefit. It confused him. One minute they were being taught that humans wanted a mindless pet that looked pretty and thought very little, and the next they were being made to solve math problems that addled his young brain because a different human might want a Leonard for help in the office.
Ciel wanted to hate humans. He wanted to whole-heartedly believe that they were all monsters, but…he couldn't believe that in his core. It was his idiotic instincts. There was something about humans that all felines enjoyed. Something about their fawning nature that made even a Leonard crave their attention and care. Ciel had gone to pieces numerous times when he was petted or scratched behind the ears.
At times he could clearly see why mankind had made the choice to own his kind. It was true; he would lose himself in pure feelings at times, and he could not control it. Even so, the idea of belonging to a human had disturbed him. He had heard enough horror stories from his schoolmates about Leonards that were abused. Even though he knew that most of them were older and just trying to frighten him he could not get the stories of beatings, collars, and occult sacrifices out of his head.
When he finally reached the age of ten, he had begun having adoption interviews. They were not all bad, but many of the humans thought he was too smart for the pet they had in mind. He felt helpless to control what was going to happen to him, and the more interviews he had, the more helpless, angry, and frightened he became. What right did they have to think they could own him?
Finally the last straw was drawn. A man came to interview him. A man who did not smile. He did not even seem to hear Ciel and his sharp eyes seemed to go right through him. He demanded to see both of Ciel's forms. Even as a cat Ciel did not like the way the man touched him. It felt wrong. When the man wanted to take him, he decided to run.
The adoption process was a long one, as the human wanting to adopt needed to pass background checks and inspections to ensure that the Leonard was going to a caring home. At least in that way the system acknowledged that it was a human pet that was being taken in. After that it was as simple as signing a few papers and replacing the thin identification band around his wrist with one bearing his new owner's name.
When he was told that the man was going to adopt him, he went to his room, cut off his I.D. band and then ran. His slender cat body was able to easily slip under the gate, and then he ran for his life. At eleven years old, he began his life as a stray.
It was easy enough to blend in with normal street cats as long as he didn't speak in his feline-form. When it came to feeding his human side, however, a hat was always required if he wanted to avoid the possibility of discovery. A Leonard on its own was not an uncommon sight, as long as they could flash their wrist and show their I.D. band they could go wherever they pleased with their owner's permission.
Without a thin band of identification around his wrist he was little better than an animal in the eyes of the law. No owner. No rights. No power. He would be dragged to the nearest shelter and dumped there before he could blink twice. It was much better for Ciel to charade as a human when he needed human food. It was easy enough to stuff his tail into his trousers, albeit not as comfortable as he would have liked. Part of the magic that came with shifting forms was the clothes that would appear on him when he did so.
As long as he acted confidant he was able to walk freely through the streets and into establishments, though it was still risky. He was still slave to his instincts and there were times when they took him over and nearly got him caught. He always managed to escape though, due to his cunning.
He was now fourteen and thievery was a way of life for him. It was easy to get food when you were a small cat with the brain of a human, but the difficulty was feeding both his feline and human forms separately. His feline form rarely suffered for food, but the small human boy often found his stomach aching with hunger. There had been desperate times when he had to take advantage of the human homeless kitchens in order to stay alive. The human workers in these kind places could have cared less what he was, as they served all. He found that he had to be grateful to them, but he still never risked revealing what he was.
Life was a constant struggle, but through it all the one assurance that kept him going, kept him strong, was that he was free. He was not under anyone's thumb. He may be cold and hungry, but he was his own person. That was what drove him onward.