Title: More Than A Feeling
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Kanen
Summary: They say there is a truebond familiar for every witch. But as a PI for the magical community, Arthur always assumed he'd be a solitary witch until his dying days. Perhaps he was wrong after all...
Warnings: abuse, forced fights, mentions of human auctions and slavery, black market dealings
Word Count: 1,500
Prompt: #320: Eavesdrop
Author's Notes: It's long, I know. And this wasn't where I planned to start it either. I actually have about 3k written right now for this, with about 1k more at the beginning and more that I'm still adding onto the end. I just couldn't stop. I'll post the full chapter on AO3 on Wednesday
A large rottweiler stood in the center of the sunken arena, its body littered with claw and bite marks, one ear dripping blood onto the hard packed dirt floor. It was growling, snarling and snapping at the opponent across from it, a small cat, black as midnight with a few scratches of its own along its back. Despite its stature, it faced the rottweiler as though it wasn’t half its size, crouched on all fours, hackles raised as it hissed and spit.
An animal fight.
No, not animals, Arthur realized with horror. Familiars. They both were.
For humans, it was near impossible to distinguish a familiar in animal form from a true animal. Witches could usually recognize familiars just by the eyes. The greater intelligence behind them was telling.
A strong surge of emotion welled up in Arthur as he gazed down at the familiars. He wanted nothing more than to leap down there and pull them out, to shut this whole operation down and send these vile men who dared call themselves witches off to prison where they could rot. It was people like this that gave witches their bad name.
As though he could hear his thoughts, the cat looked his way, his eyes locking with Arthur’s.
A muted pang of emotion hit Arthur’s senses and he froze on the spot, eyes locked with the cat’s. The echo of emotion was muted, dull and clouded as though deep underwater and gone before he could decipher it.
But there was no mistaking it.
He had heard the tales. Had listened to Percival talk about how he had sensed Gwaine at the bar before he even met him, how Morgana had known Gwen was her familiar the second she walked into the room. It was said truebond witches and familiars could feel each other before they bonded. It was how they found each other. A witch’s magic called out to their true familiar, the one that would best compliment them, strengthen them, and protect them.
But no, it couldn’t be. Not here, not now. This was the last place his familiar would be, he was sure of it. He was just feeling an override of his own emotions, the urge to do something, the overwhelming empathy for these familiars and he was mistaking it for a calling. Arthur had always been more sensitive to others. Intuitive, Morgana called it.
But another pang shot through him then, still subtle and muted, as the rottweiler took advantage of the cat’s distraction and pounced. The roars from the men around the arena escalated and the cat tried to evade but the rottweiler was bigger and stronger. In the blink of an eye, the rottweiler had the cat pinned beneath its front paws, nails digging into the soft shoulders of the cat. A pained meow escaped the cat as he swiped and hissed and fought with a fury to get out from under his opponent, but his movements only managed to dig the rottweiler’s claw further into his flesh.
Finally, with a relenting meow from the cat, the fight was over.
The men on the sides of the arena let out cheers and groans, money exchanged hands, and some men filtered off to other areas of the lounge. But Arthur paid them no mind. All he had eyes for was the cat, limping to the far side of the arena.
He could feel him. Not the flicker of emotion from before, nor a thought or a desire of any sort. Just feel him. His presence was like a dim beacon in the back of his mind, constantly drawing his attention. It was barely there, and he could only sense it now that he was focusing on the familiar below, but there was no way he could deny it any longer.
His familiar. He had found him.
With a pleading meow, the familiar was lifted out of the arena by the scruff of his neck, eliciting another, more pained meow from him, before he was dropped unceremoniously on the lounge carpet. The second his paws hit the floor, the familiar was scampering off through a darkened doorway at the back of the lounge. Arthur was following before he could even think twice about it, thoughts of finding Freya pushed to the back burner for the moment.
He couldn’t let him slip away, not after he had just found him. In all his twenty-eight years, Arthur had never thought he’d actually find his familiar. He always thought he’d just be a solitary witch for the rest of his life, relying on his mediocre spells and illusion trickery to get by. On the side of the devil, his father had said. Though he knew he could find any willing unbonded familiar and bond with them, but that path had never appealed to him. Bonding with what could be another witch’s truebond familiar just so he could be not so alone anymore, it wasn’t right.
Now he had finally found his own truebond.
Arthur weaved in and out of the spectators, giving the metal cages being towed in for the next fight a cursory glance. No black jaguars. Not Freya.
He slipped through the doorway after the familiar.
A darkened hallway spread out before him with several rooms branching off. Muted moans of pleasure echoed along the walls but Arthur ignored them, slowing his pace to a crawl and listening and searching for signs of the cat.
There. A soft whining meow coming from the far room.
Arthur sped up to the open door, dim light from in the room spilling into the hallway. He was about to enter the room when the sound of a door slamming shut reverberated from inside. He pulled back, sliding up alongside the edge of the doorframe just out of view. But close enough to hear.
“You worthless piece of shit!” A soft pained meow sounded from in the room and there was no mistaking the subtle flash of emotion Arthur felt then. It took every ounce of his self control to not rush in there and pull his familiar out. Only his instincts and learnings from infiltrating seedy businesses kept him rooted to the spot. Barely.
“Shift! Now! Unless you want me to treat you like the dumb animal you are.”
Another pained meow sounds from within the room but quickly bleeds into a very human groan.
If Arthur had thought he was angry before, he was livid now. For a familiar to shift into human form when they were hurt or injured was one of the worst pains. It was like making them receive their injures all over again, magnified on a larger more sensitive scale. Only in the most dire of situations would a familiar shift whilst injured. This was just cruel.
“You already do,” the familiar replied then, his tone soft but sharp.
The sharp slap of flesh on flesh echoed out of the room and down the hallway. “What have I said about talking back!” The silence that followed was telling enough. “I’m adding $20,000 to your debt for that loss. You lose another match and I’ll skin you alive. Got that?!”
“Yes,” the familiar responded. His words were quickly followed by another harsh slap and a yelp. “Yes, master,” came the gritted correction.
“Now make yourself presentable and get back to work. Mr. Larrow needs some persuading.”
Heavy footsteps retreated before a door slammed again on the other side of the room. Arthur stayed where he was, holding his breath, waiting until he was sure the man had left. Light muffled footsteps crossed the room followed by the creak of a faucet and splash of running water.
Just as he made to move from his hiding spot, the water cut off and the familiar spoke up from inside the room. “Didn’t your parents ever teach you it’s rude to eavesdrop?”
A shiver ran down Arthur’s spine and he knew the familiar was talking to him. With a sigh, he peeled himself off the wall and stepped into the doorway. “I’m an exception.”
He didn’t know what he had expected. Never in his life had he imagined what his familiar would look like. Their animal form was said to be a reflection of their witches own soul and Arthur couldn’t argue with the cliche mundane black cat that was his familiar. He was nothing special, barely able to conjure a simple flame to light the fireplace. So of course his familiar would take the most common folklore form. A witch and a black cat. Classic and boring.
The shirtless man by the sink on the far side of the room however….well no he was nothing much to blab about either. Dark hair, sharp features, and a lithe lean body that complimented his cat form. Arthur guess some would say he was attractive with those starling dark blue eyes. But with his hair falling across his forehead in unkempt dirty clusters and the near tattered trousers, he wasn’t much to look at.
Then again, this place didn’t cater toward familiars. He was probably lucky to have made it out of that fight alive. The various bleeding scratches and punctures along his shoulders and back definitely agreed with that statement.
“Is that right?” The familiar said, raising an eyebrow at Arthur, a wet washcloth in hand. He turned then, giving Arthur a full view of his scratched and scarred back as he grabbed a wooden stool by the far door and dragged it further into the room. “Being a client doesn’t give you a right to be an ass.”
Arthur crossed his arms and leaned against the inside of the doorframe. “I’m not a client.”
“Right.” The familiar dragged the word out, disbelieving as he looked up and met Arthur’s eyes. “Just an arrogant hedgewitch”
“I’m not a hedgewitch either,” Arthur corrected, meeting the familiar’s eyes in challenge. “I’m your witch.”