Okay, so this fic is the most ridiculously late birthday fic ever. But maybe now the lovely clea2011 might stop harassing me for kittens. :-)
Sadly, I cannot find a h/c bingo square that it will fit! Waaaaah!!!!! Edit: I've decided to use a second wild card prompt, so this fic fills the hc_bingo 'Unwanted Transformation' square on my hurt/comfort bingo card. \o/
Title: Cats in the Cradle
Pairing/characters: Arthur, Merlin, Percival, Gwaine, Leon, Elyan, Lancelot (Merlin/Arthur if you squint sideways at it)
Warnings: Mild peril and fluff. Lots and lots of fluff. Literally!
Disclaimer: Not mine. BBC and Shine own them.
Word count: approx 2744
Summary: This, Arthur decided, was also going on the list of things they would not speak of later.
AN: Very, very, very, embarrassingly late birthday fic for clea2011. For last year’s birthday. On the plus side, it’s squeaked in before *this* year’s birthday. Just.
AN2: Follows on from Everybody Wants to be a Cat. It probably helps if you’ve read that one first, but essentially Arthur and some of his knights have been turned into kittens by a witch with a sense of humour.
Cats in the Cradle on AO3
The attack came out of nowhere.
One minute, Arthur was curled up asleep, enjoying the warmth of Merlin’s leg (he was absolutely not snuggling, and would deny it to everyone just as soon as he could speak again), the next minute their camp was full of armed men, shouting and running and waving swords.
“Bandits!” Arthur yelled. Except, he didn’t. That’s what he was trying to yell, but what came out was a loud meow.
A bandit advanced towards him and Arthur leapt to his feet and arched his back and hissed. Beside him, Merlin began to stir, but Arthur realised he wouldn’t wake quickly enough. Lazy sod.
Arthur meowed loudly again, hoping that might encourage Merlin to wake up, but all it achieved was attracting the bandit’s attention towards him. The bandit sneered and lashed out with his boot. He caught Arthur in the face and he was thrown backwards. Arthur hit the ground hard and his head spun for what felt like far too long. When he did manage to look up he saw Merlin sit up and reach his hand out towards the bandit, as if to ward him off. The bandit swung his sword and knocked Merlin’s arm aside, and before Merlin could react the bandit smacked him over the head with the hilt of his sword. Merlin slumped, and stopped moving.
Arthur roared a war cry (okay, made a particularly loud and angry sounding mewing noise), and launched himself at the bandit. He landed on the bandit’s boot, and then scrambled halfway up his leg, using his claws to dig into the man’s trousers until he could get past the thick leather boots. As soon as he could feel flesh beneath the fabric, Arthur sank his teeth into the man’s leg.
No one kicked a crown prince and attacked Merlin and got away with it!
The bandit yelled and swatted at Arthur with his sword, but it seemed he couldn’t get a decent swing with his sword for fear of injuring himself. Arthur would have grinned if his mouth hadn’t been busy biting, and he clung on with his claws, sinking them even deeper into the man’s leg.
Where was Percival? Or Lancelot? Someone who was both conscious and not a kitten would have been quite incredibly useful right at that moment. Clearly he was surrounded by useless people, and as usual it was down to Arthur to save the day.
Suddenly a large hand came down and grabbed Arthur around the neck, and he was dragged off the bandit’s leg, hissing and spitting and flailing with his claws. The bandit yelled something mostly incomprehensible, and probably quite uncomplimentary, and then hurled Arthur to the floor. Arthur tried to twist in the air, and almost managed to land on his feet. Before he could fully recover his balance, though, the bandit kicked him again, and this time Arthur felt himself flying through the air much further than before. He spun wildly, and landed in the undergrowth somewhere outside the campsite, winded and gasping for breath. When he did finally manage to breathe, he became painfully aware of just how much his ribs hurt.
For several moments it was all he could to simply breathe. He heard a small pitiful mewling sound, and it took a moment to realise he was the one making it.
Beyond the bushes, he could hear the sounds of shouting but very little fighting. Did that mean they had overpowered Percival as well? Or worse? And what about Leon, Elyan and Gwaine, who was also stuck as kittens? But somehow his mind kept coming back to Merlin.
If that bastard had done anything serious to Merlin, Arthur was going to... well, he wasn’t entirely sure. But it was probably going to start with clawing the bandit’s face off, and he could improvise from there.
Why the hell couldn’t Merlin have turned them back into humans already? If they hadn’t been kittens, he and his knights could have beaten these bandits easily. Oh, of course, Arthur understood that Merlin needed to be discreet, they all had to maintain the pretence that he wasn’t a sorcerer, and that nobody, especially not Arthur, knew about it (did Merlin really still believe that Arthur didn’t know? Really? Did he think Arthur was that oblivious? If Arthur hadn’t understood the necessity for playing dumb, he thought he would have been quite offended). But really, right then Arthur would have preferred a little more practicality and a little less discretion.
He slowly crawled through the undergrowth back to the clearing. At the edge of the campsite Arthur paused under the cover of the bushes. He was just in time to see the bandits drag Merlin and Percival’s limp, unmoving bodies to the far side of the camp and dump them together. The bandits then started going through their bags, and helping themselves to the food.
Arthur fought down the urge to race into the middle of the campsite and tear their faces off with his claws. Just. He had to do something, though. He might be a tiny fluffy kitten right now, but damn it, he was Prince Arthur Pendragon, and these bastards had hurt his friends.
Speaking of which, he couldn’t see any of the other kitten knights. Where were they all?
No sooner had the thought entered his head he saw movement low to the ground across the clearing, and caught a flash of ginger heading behind a tree. Leon!
Arthur meowed as loudly as he dared. One of the bandits glanced in his direction, but it was dark and Arthur was hunkered low in the grass. After a moment the bandit resumed munching his way through the food he had stolen. Arthur meowed again, and this time he saw something small coming towards him from the opposite direction, skirting around the edge of the clearing. Elyan appeared out of the darkness, his tiny black kitten body camouflaged so well by the night that Arthur heard him long before he saw him.
“Are you okay?” Arthur asked.
Elyan meowed quietly.
Ah. That was going to be a problem if they couldn’t communicate properly. Stupid bloody witch, none of this would have happened if she hadn’t tuned them into kittens!
He was still trying to work out how to tell them his brilliant plan when Leon arrived. He stood stiffly, no doubt attempting the kitten equivalent of standing to attention. Or possibly he was just pissed off at being a kitten. It was difficult to tell.
A scrabbling of claws announced Gwaine’s arrival as he skittered down a tree trunk, limbs splayed and claws digging into the tree bark to control his descent. He hit a low tree branch and the impact jolted his grip. He let go and fell the rest of the way to the ground, but somehow managed to twist in the air and land on his paws. He then sauntered casually over and sat down and licked his long silky fur back into place as if no one had just seen him fall out of a tree.
“Everyone okay?” Arthur asked.
There was a small chorus of meows that he took to mean yes. No one looked obviously hurt, at least. Arthur decided not to mention his ribs, and continued to breathe shallowly.
“Right, we need to check on Merlin and Percival. If we can get them moving again we stand a chance. If we knew where Lancelot was it would help, but we don’t so we’ll have to do this without him.”
Gwaine glanced up and cocked his head to one side. He mewed in a tone of voice that very clearly said, “What?”
Arthur swore quietly. Judging by the look on their faces, they understood that all right.
“Okay. Me and Gwaine,” he paused and lifted a paw and indicated himself and the unfeasibly fluffy kitten. “Are going to go and help Merlin and Percival.” He pointed across the campsite at their friends.
The other kitten knights nodded.
“You two,” Arthur indicated Leon and Elyan. “Are going to cause a distraction and make sure the bandits don’t interfere until we’ve got them free.” He paused. That was slightly more difficult to explain with mime. He pointed at the bandits. Then he stopped and tried to think of a way to explain ‘distraction’.
Gwaine cocked his head to one side again, and then mimed a particularly vicious clawing. Leon nodded, slightly too enthusiastically, Arthur thought. Apparently he really was just pissed off at being a kitten and wanted to take it out on someone. Arthur could sympathise with that.
But it wasn’t exactly what he had intended.
Arthur shook his head. This was going to look ridiculous, but what the hell. He rocked back onto his back legs and waved both front paws in the air madly until gravity reasserted itself and he dropped back down onto all fours. He bit back the mew of pain at what that did to his injured ribs, and hoped no one had noticed.
Leon looked confused for another few seconds. Then he suddenly meowed, scraped a scatter of leaves aside and began to write in the dirt with his claws. D I S T R
Arthur was nodding enthusiastically before Leon had even finished. Later, he was going to pretend that he had thought of writing in the dirt himself, and no one was going to mention the miming at all. At least, not unless they wanted to spend the rest of the week on latrine cleaning duty.
Once he was sure everyone knew what they were doing, Arthur and Gwaine began to make their way around the edge of the clearing to where their friends lay. The closer they got, the more Arthur had to concentrate to quell the images of Merlin hurt, bleeding, or worse. He needed Merlin to be okay, and not just because he was the only one who could reverse this stupid kitten spell. Not that he was ever going to say that out loud, of course.
It seemed to take forever on their tiny little legs, but eventually they reached the place where Merlin and Percival had been dumped. They both appeared to be unconscious, and their hands were tied behind them. With a quick glance towards the bandits to make sure they weren’t looking this way (they weren’t, the bastards we too busy eating and drinking their way through all of the knights’ supplies) Arthur crept over to Merlin. He meowed very softly right in front of his face. Merlin didn’t even twitch. One advantage to this kitten business seemed to be far better night vision and sense of smell than normal, and it was that which alerted him to the blood trickling out from Merlin’s hair and down the side of his face.
“Merlin,” he hissed, slightly louder. He poked Merlin’s face with his paw, softly at first, and then harder. Suddenly gripped with an intense fear, he edged closer until his twitching kitten nose was barely touching Merlin’s mouth. After a moment he felt a faint gust of breath, and would probably have punched the air in celebration of he wasn’t a) trying to be stealthy, and b) a kitten.
Gwaine had gone over to Percival, but already seemed to have given up trying to wake their large friend, and instead had dropped down behind him. Arthur couldn’t see what he was doing until Gwaine popped back up with frayed strands of rope hanging from his teeth.
How very uncouth! It was, however, another good idea. Arthur gave Merlin one more poke in the face, and then gave up. Much as he hated the idea of stooping to chewing through the ropes, they didn’t have a lot of option. He clambered across Merlin’s prone body and eyed the ropes for a second before he began to nibble.
He immediately hated the tough fibres and harsh scratchiness of the rope against his teeth, but tried to ignore it and just concentrate on getting Merlin free.
This, Arthur decided, was also going on the list of things they would not speak of later.
It was already a fairly extensive list. In fact, once it was all over, he would be quite happy if nobody ever mentioned this mission again.
He was almost through Merlin’s ropes when he heard an angry shout from around the campfire. Arthur looked up to see one of the bandits stand up and point in their direction.
Two bandits stood up holding swords, which, quite frankly, Arthur considered was overkill for a couple of kittens. That was until Team Distraction launched into action with two exceedingly loud yowls of anger.
The bandits leapt up trying to look everywhere at once for the source of the attack. One screamed, and when he spun round Arthur saw that Leon has leapt up and clamped his claws into the man and seemed to be busy trying to rip his face off. Another got Elyan on his head, and the campsite erupted into complete chaos.
Gwaine meowed loudly behind him. Arthur looked round and saw that Gwaine had cut through the rope and was now jumping up and down on Percival’s head. Arthur assumed it was an attempt to wake their large friend up, because even Gwaine wasn’t stupid enough to piss about in the middle of a fight. Usually.
Surprisingly, it worked, because Percival groaned and mumbled something that probably wasn’t fit for polite company. He opened his eyes, took in the scene and met Arthur’s gaze with a question already forming.
“Go get the bastards!” Arthur meowed.
Percival, to his credit, figured it out remarkably quickly. The loud fight going on just yards away from them probably gave him a big clue, though. Percival staggered to his feet, wiped blood from his arm and forehead, and then he hurled himself at the bandits and started beating the crap out of them with his bare hands.
Gwaine glanced at Arthur, pointed his gaze and Merlin, and then meowed.
“I’ve got him. Go!”
Arthur pointed at the fight just be clear. He could have sworn Gwaine grinned as he followed Percival into the fray.
Arthur turned his attention back to Merlin. He was almost through the ropes, but the fact that Merlin still hadn’t moved or responded was beginning to concern him.
“Wake up you lazy bugger!” he ordered in between chewing.
To Arthur’s surprise, that actually worked, because Merlin’s fingers twitched and he gave a low moan of what sounded like pain.
Arthur snapped the last of the strands and tugged the rope from Merlin’s wrists. Then he pounced up onto his shoulder and meowed loudly into his ear.
“Wake up! And get a bloody move on turning up back into people, or I’ll have you cleaning out the stables for the rest of the month!”
Merlin opened his eyes and squinted at Arthur.
Arthur grinned and meowed again.
Something charged past them and dived into the battle, sword swinging, and Arthur looked up to see Lancelot had finally arrived. About bloody time, too!
“Merlin, deal with the kitten thing. Now!”
Satisfied Merlin was properly on the way to waking up, Arthur turned and raced into the fight as well. He didn’t want to miss this opportunity for a bit of payback.
The bandits were in utter disarray, unable to swordfight against the tiny kittens that were harassing them, and outmatched by both Percival and Lancelot. Arthur dived in and started biting and scratching anyone he could get his claws into, injured ribs be damned. One by one the bandits gave up and began to flee, until abruptly they abandoned the fight en-masse and ran in any direction they could to escape.
“What happened? Is everyone all right?” Lancelot asked.
Arthur was about to reply when he noticed that suddenly he seemed to have become a lot colder. And taller.
He looked around and saw that Merlin was sitting up and holding his hand palm outwards towards the centre of the clearing. Gwaine, Leon and Elyan were back to their normal human selves. Leon glanced down and made a sound of acute distress before covering himself with his hands. He was naked. So were Gwaine and Elyan.
Arthur suddenly had a very, very bad feeling that something else was about to be added to the list of things they would not mention later.
He looked down at himself.