Trigger Warning: Rape and Sexual Assult
Casey did a lot of things she regretted to get food and money. Theft, obviously, and she wasn't great at not getting caught. She was just a ball of nerves, shaking and eyes darting around to make sure no one was watching, which only drew more attention to herself. She would still get away--far faster and stronger than your typical underfed young woman--but she would get yelled at and chased and grabbed at. You'd think after so many years she would have gotten better at it, but no. She hadn't.
Another was begging, which she rarely did. Talking to people was nerve wracking, asking them to be generous was even harder. Then there was digging food out of the dumpster. Though she had yet to get sick from it--shifter-enhanced immune system maybe?--she figured it was only a matter of time before that happened. And even if she didn't get sick, it made her feel awful. Like she was an animal, digging for scraps from the garbage. It was super great for her self-esteem when she already felt like a monster, an animal living in human skin, abandoned and unlovable.
However, the worst thing she did, was also the most dangerous. Selling herself, selling her body, being used for some man's pleasure then being discarded. Maybe not even sell herself really, but go to a bar, find a man, sleep with him, and rob him once he was done. She lost her virginity at 17 to a man who said he'd pay more if he would be the first to "make her bleed." She had done the deed, been paid rather well, but it made her sick with herself.
She could still remember the night vividly; he brought her to a hotel room, undressed her, made her shower before he would continue, set the money on the nightstand to taunt her, made her lay down on her stomach, put a condom on, "it's the numbing kind, you won't feel it, so you better be quiet," it didn't numb her, it hurt, but she was quiet, she didn't cry, she bit the sheets to keep quiet, he finished, laughed in a voice that would haunt her dreams, satisfied that he did what he wanted to do, threw her clothes at her and told her to take the money and leave, and she did. She made it just outside of the hotel before she vomited, before a sob was torn from her lungs and she cried. And she cried and she cried and a concerned woman ran up to her and asked what was wrong but she just cried and ran away and hid.
But she would do it again.
The second time was easier, the third was too. It got easier every time, and Casey started to put herself into a different headspace when it happened. Her face and body and voice would do what she was told, but her mind was elsewhere. She imagined herself laying in a meadow, picking at flower petals and listening to the birds sing. There were bugs pinching her skin, the ground was uncomfortable and moving, but that was nature. The beauty of the meadow came at the price of the pests inside it.
That's the only thing that got her through it, pretending she was somewhere else. She needed the money to get herself food, her shifter body burned more calories. And they liked it if they couldn't count her ribs. She thought that maybe...maybe this is what she should just...do. This'll be her job, this is how she'll make enough money to live on, to buy a car, to find a home. Maybe she could learn to enjoy it, maybe she could express what she wanted, be in control, at least a little bit.
But she wasn't going to be that lucky.
One night, when she was 20, she had lost count of how many times she had done this. What number she was on. If she gave them numbers, she would remember. No numbers, no way to know how many people there had been. But a man approached her, gave her cash up front, didn't make her clean, didn't even make her take all her clothes off. Because he did that for her. He grabbed her, hard. He pulled her hair, he ripped her shirt open, he bit her and he covered her mouth and she felt something sharp and cold against her neck. "So thin, light as a feather, you're so eas--" He didn't get to finish that sentence. Casey didn't know what he said next, but it was likely confused screaming.
Everything was a blur. She shifted, she thinks--must have. She was closer to the ground, on four legs, growling. She didn't know what she was, but a dark paw shot forward and swiped, claws tearing open the man's leg, and then he wouldn't stop screaming and she ran. Other people were screaming too, she heard it, but she didn't stop. Didn't look. Couldn't see anything but what was right in front of her. Away, she needed to get away, there were woods. She could smell them, a stream, she could hear it. Running water and shaking branches and falling leaves.
At some point, Casey must have passed out. She woke when it was sunny outside, but she felt so cold. Right, no clothes. Or money. Nothing. Looking down at herself, she was a fox once again. She must not have been one last night, though, her paws--hands--had been to big. And why was she so cold if she was a fox? She should be warm in nearly any weather with this fur coat. She was just...cold. And tired. And hungry.
That was the last time. She would never go down that road again. No matter how desperate, no matter how much she needed the money. No more prostituting herself for some quick cash. It wasn't worth it--no amount of money would bring that warmth back to her. Maybe time would. But for now, she only had her thoughts, only had her nightmares, only had the immediate reaction when a man touched her to hit them or run away. That last one would eventually fade the quickest, but her mind didn't want to let go. She tried returning to her meadow, but it smelled like him now, the air tasted bitter, it was always so dark.
And it was cold.