Title: More Than A Feeling [Part 3]
Character/s: Merlin, Jarl
Summary: Merlin gets caught sneaking back into the lounge
Warnings: abuse, animal/familiar abuse, mentions of forced prostitution,
Word Count: 1,300 (again, sorry)
Prompt: #324: entangle, courage, attic
Author's Notes: This will actually be Part 2 in the story, hence why I haven't updated AO3 yet with the last part.
Merlin slunk through the hallways on silent paws, ears perked for sounds of activity. The back of the lounge was silent, well as silent as they usually were in a place like this. Muted voices, overlaid by moans and cries or pain sounded from behind walls and closed doors. The market never truly closed, not for those who lived there.
Merlin focused on the narrow staircase to the attic on the far right end of the hall, pulling the tattered and patched remains of his ignorance around him like a comfort blanket. He just wanted to escape up to his nest and dive back into naive dreams of a brighter future. Or any future that didn’t include Jarl and this godforsaken hellhole.
A brief flash of anger sparked across his the bond with Jarl. It was the only warning Merlin had before pain lanced up his shoulders and his world shifted as he became weightless.
For the second time that day, Merlin was snatched up by the scruff of his neck and lifted up into the air. He gave a startled meow, struggling for a second before the hand in his scruff twisted him around and Jarl’s face came into view.
“I don’t remember giving you permission to leave, pet.”
Merlin stiffened for a moment in Jarl’s grip. How much had he seen? Had he seen through Merlin’s eyes as Merlin stalked Arthur in cat form? Had he felt his emotions as they talked? He had been so careful, not looking at Arthur until he shifted, keeping his emotions in check as they spoke. Talking about Freya had been trying, but Merlin had done his best.
Merlin let himself go limp. Jarl’s anger was stewing across their bond, fiery and strong, licking at Merlin’s mind like a promise. It would take nothing at all to tip him into a full blown rage. He knew it wasn’t a matter of if, more of a matter of when and Merlin wanted to delay it as much as possible.
“Where did you go?” Jarl asked. His tone was casual, nonchalant, at complete odds with the emotions burning into Merlin’s mind. But the question hinted at Jarl’s ignorance. Perhaps he hadn’t seen anything at all.
Merlin calmed himself, willing his racing heart to slow, wrestling his rising emotions back into submission. He couldn’t let anything bleed across the bond. He was just an innocent, naive, submissive familiar. Nothing more.
Jarl gave him a shake and his vision blurred as pain lanced up the scruff of his neck. “Answer me!”
Merlin’s heart sank. This was Jarl’s favorite game to play. Ask the impossible, set him up to lose, dole out the consequences. But there was nothing for it. If he kept quiet, he’d be punished, if he answered through the bond, he’d be punished. And with Jarl still firmly holding him by the scruff of his neck, he couldn’t shift without causing damage to himself.
There was no way to avoid the inevitable.
Jarl made no move to release Merlin so he bit the bullet, summoned his courage, and responded over the bond, “Just out for a walk.”
Jarl’s face hardened, blackness flooding across the bond into Merlin’s mind, sinister and threatening. Then he threw Merlin against the wall.
Merlin’s shoulder and side of his face slammed hard and painful into the solid concrete. Then he quickly shifted mid fall, landing on the concrete floor in a groaning heap of pale limbs. He was going to feel that tomorrow.
It was only when Jarl yelled in anger above him that Merlin realised what he had done.
Fuck, he was in a public space. Out of animal form.
Damn, meeting Arthur—his witch, his goddamn witch, a bit too fucking late—had really thrown Merlin off his game. He should have never followed him, should have never gone to him. Hell, he should have concocted some lie and had Arthur thrown out the second he felt his presence during the fight. To entangle himself with another witch, no matter what he thought he might be feeling, was suicide. He was bonded. That was it. End of story. Nothing to do about it. He would die bonded to Jarl or Jarl would die and drag Merlin down with him.
Looking back on the past two years he had been chained to this witch, the former would likely happen long before the latter.
“How dare you,” Jarl snarled, punctuating his words with a kick. Merlin scrambled back but Jarl’s boot caught him in the knee. He hissed as pain blossomed through the bone.
For a moment, Arthur’s face flashed before his eyes, soft and sincere. A bit of a prat but he cared. Everything Merlin had thought his witch would be. It was a taunting glimpse of what he could have had.
Anger roared through Merlin’s veins, bleeding out of him. All the pain, all the frustration, the abuse and neglect and heartache he had been through since his mother had been killed seemed to swell up in him at once. Jarl’s eyes hardened as the wave of Merlin’s emotion hit him.
“What do you expect me to do?” Merlin said, feeling exceptionally reckless as he glared up at Jarl. His survival instincts were clearly malfunctioning. Should definitely fix that. “You don’t give me a chance to—”
Jarl cut him off with a swift kick to side. Merlin grunted and tried to scramble back further. Jarl followed, fury washing over Merlin across the bond. His own anger fizzled out under the onslaught, fear overtaking him. Oh god, what had he done. He hadn’t felt such anger from Jarl in a long time, not since the day he had first tried to lend him out to a client. Merlin had been caged after refusing, so black and blue he couldn’t do more than twitch his tail for a week.
He really didn’t want a repeat. Especially since Will was no longer around to keep him alive this time.
Jarl kept coming, landing a blow here and a kick there until Merlin’s back hit the wall at the end of the hallway.
Between one breath and the next, he shifted and dodged Jarl’s next onslaught, darting between his witch’s legs and scampering through the small low doorway and up the stairs to the attic. Valiant’s king cobra familiar opened one eye from the far corner as Merlin dashed into the nesting room like his tail was on fire. Using several shelves and crates as a jumping point, Merlin leapt up to the high-set window and stood trembling amongst the old worn shirts and soft linens that made up his nest. His heart pounded something firece, adrenaline pumping.
Though the attic room was small and the ceilings low, Merlin knew Jarl wouldn’t be deterred. The lapping waves of searing anger and hatred coming from his witch indicated that tonight, he might not be above storming in to drag his familiar out by the tail. He’d proved that several times over the years.
And he knew Merlin had nowhere else to go. Wherever he went, Jarl would find him. Merlin cursed the bond. Then cursed Arthur and his mere existence for indirectly causing his current pain and for not showing his goddamn face two fucking years ago when he needed his witch the most.
Clearly, that witch was nothing but trouble for Merlin.
Throwing thoughts of Arthur aside, Merlin held his breath, ears perked for signs of pursuit. After a beat, then two, Merlin forced himself to relax. He pulled his hind leg forward, wincing and began licking the sore spot, the rest of his body pounding with forming bruises and aching bones.
God, what a sight he’d make come tomorrow.
Merlin lowered his leg to begin soothing the next wound and nearly jumped out of his fur when Jarl’s voice spoke across the bond, voice a deep menacing tone.
“You can’t run from me, pet.”