“Jacob.” The warning tone in the human’s voice startled them both. They flinched back and looked up to find the human staring darkly down at them.
Only a second later, he slammed a fist on the table barely two inches from where they stood, and Oscar cried out. They both fell back to a seat.
“Oliver here hasn’t been through any conditioning before, so I can understand his lapse, but you, Jacob? You know the rules,” the human said, as disappointed as a person could be. He took a seat at the table and clasped his hands in front of him. “Care to tell us which rule you just broke?”
Oscar’s eyes were wide and he trembled as the human leaned close. His face was set in a no-nonsense expression, and Oscar shied back from it. Jacob, on the other hand, set his expression in a wary mask.
“I … uh. Don’t speak unless spoken to?” Jacob offered. “But I thought that wouldn’t apply-”
The clasped hands moved too quickly for either of them. They each found an index finger shoving them onto their backs and pinning them down. Oscar squeaked in pain and Jacob grunted, and the human stared down at them dispassionately. “We have a reputation in this business, you know. High quality product. Y’think I got us here by selling you off with half-arsed training? Do better.”
The fingers lifted off of them and Oscar took a breath. He squeezed his eyes shut and rolled over onto his side while his back pulsed with pain. Beside him, he heard Jacob sigh and get to his feet wearily.
“Oliver. Get up.” The human’s words left no room for ambiguity. That was an order, and he expected it to be followed.
Oscar shuddered again and pushed himself back to a seat before scrubbing at the tears in his eyes. He grimaced as he rose the rest of the way to his feet, standing extra small next to Jacob, whose eyes were on his shoes.
“Very good,” the human praised. Oscar shuffled his feet and couldn’t bring himself to look up at the man. “Let’s get started.”
A hand reached out and snatched Oscar up. While the human began listing various rules and guidelines for how they were meant to act, the huge hands casually moved Oscar back and forth from one to the other, sometimes pinching around his waist and sometimes holding him in a fist. Once he even dangled upside down by his leg before being plopped down in a palm.
Handling. The human was simply trying to force him to get used to handling and being talked over.
“You shiver too much,” the human determined, partway through his explanation. “Customers don’t like that.”
He deposited Oscar on the table and grabbed Jacob instead before either of them could predict the movement. Oscar watched as Jacob was subjected to all the same handling, turned this way and that. It was like he was little more than an object to be fidgeted while the human held a conversation more with himself than with his tiny captives.
The worst part was seeing how Jacob hardly struggled at all. He winced at times, and Oscar just knew his burns stung him more than once. And yet, the kid tried his best not to fight what was happening to him.
They were both helpless.
It was hard to pass the time, but it felt like hours by the time the salesman carried Oscar and Jacob back towards the room with the cages. Oscar, despite the constant throbbing pain in his back, scrambled to the front of his own cage once the human deposited him on the floor.
He was just in time to see Jacob dropped into a different kind of cage, this one with no bars on the front and barely an opening at the top for air. It looked more like a safe than a cage, and its door was heavy when it closed up.
When the human had them both locked up, he smirked back at Oscar. “Don’t get attached, Ollie. They never buy pairs.”
And then he left them all alone in the room of cages once more.