Toby cringed, his shoulders slumping as he knocked on the large wooden door with the face of a lion carved into it. He wanted to be anywhere but here for any reason other than the one he had now. He was being unfair to Jericho and he knew it, but his master had left him few other options.
The door creaked open and Toby shifted uncomfortably staring down at his hole filled sneakers. "Tobias, what brings you to darken my door?" said a rich growly voice. "I believe I made my feelings clear the last time we spoke." Jericho's hair was it's usual wild mess of dark curls, an unpleasant scowl marring his soft, dark features.
"I, uh, know. I'm sorry." He pulled back the hood of his sweatshirt and ran fingers through his dirty hair with a trembling hand. "It's just that, well, uh, he wants me to get some things and I didn't know who else might have them."
"Oh I see," Jericho sneered and Toby half expected him to slam the door in his face. "So this is a business transaction then?"
"You look like shit," Jericho pointed out dryly. Toby just stared at him with his watery yellow eyes his fingers instinctively tracing over the purple bruise decorating one cheek. "A regular little ally cat you might find picking through your trash. I know kitties hate baths but still."
That hurt and Toby made a hissing noise, flashing slightly pointed canines in the process. "I need dragon's blood. Are you going to sell it to me or not?" he snapped.
Jericho started at this, his eyes widening in surprise for a moment before he could tuck his reaction back down behind a mask of disapproval. "For what?"
"I don't know," Toby admitted. "I just do."
"You know," Jericho crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "For a familiar you're awfully ignorant of your master's projects."
"That's none of your goddamn business," Toby snarled his cheeks flushing red. He shouldn't have come here. He knew it would be like this. It always was. But the consequences of returning home empty handed…
"That's true. I suppose nothing you do is my business anymore. It's expensive you know."
"I have payment."
"And exceptionally dangerous."
"Let me worry about that. Either sell it to me or stop wasting my time so that I can go somewhere else."
"Fine." Jericho turned retreating inside, leaving the door ajar. Toby followed him reluctantly. The air of the tiny shop smelled pungently of aromatic plants and candle wax, rows of glass jars and magical objects lining the shelves. Jericho was a formidable practitioner in his own right, having inherited a talent for magic on his mother's side, but his true gift was in the preparation of herbs and compounds. His tiny shop, nearly invisible from the street, was well known to those for whom such things mattered.
"It's been dried and ground into a fine particulate so be careful when you open this," he told Toby. "I'm measuring out one ounce. If you need more than that I want nothing to do with it." He pointed an accusing finger in Toby's direction. "I don't know why I'm even agreeing to sell it to you. I should have told you to fuck off the second I saw you. It's not like I owe you anything, Tobias."
"I know. I never said you did." He put his hands in the pockets of his jeans and watched Jericho weigh and seal the contents into a small brown envelope with quick efficient movements, labeling the flap in his distinctive script. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well, not as sorry as I am." He strode across the room shoving the parcel against his chest. Jericho was wearing a black smoking jacket with silver trim and a matching pair of pants. They'd look like pajamas if they weren't so elegantly tailored. The jewelry from his many piecings glinted in the warm light, giving the man the air of some fairytale jinn or foreign prince.
Toby could feel his face heating in humiliation again. "Thanks, Jer. I have this ring." He dug the enchanted object from his back pocket. "It has some kind of protection spell on it. Seems pretty solid. Is it enough?"
"Yeah sure, whatever." Jericho snatched the ring from his fingers. "You know you have a lot of nerve coming back around here asking me for stuff."
"Look," Toby said. Things were bad enough; he didn't need an extra helping of contempt from Jericho of all people. "You run a business don't you? It's not like I showed up with my hand out. I'm a customer. Deal with it."
"You're a mess is what you are. Just look at you." Jericho reached out and snatch Toby by the sweatshirt yanking him forward and making him stumble into him.
"The fuck…" Toby twisted in his grip, hand splaying across his broad chest, slipping on the sleek fabric as he tried to paw more space between them. Jericho's scent was distinctive and immediate—a tangy mixture of the dirt and herbs from his roof top garden and the exotic cologne he was so fond of. Flooded his brain with memories and made Toby's heart ache. "I don't have time for this. Stop touching me. You're being overly dramatic."
"Tell me why you left me." Jericho's tone could have frozen water.
Oh fuck not this again. "I told you last time, I had to. It's as simple as that."
Jericho's eyes flashed angry. He had a temper. You're an idiot if you forget it. "I deserve a real goddamn explanation, Toby. I was good to you. I took care of you. I thought you were happy here. Now you're dirty and skinny and bruised. You look like a stray." Like how Jericho had found him—abandoned and hungry. He doesn't say it, but they both knew that's what he's implying. His fingers curled against Toby's injured cheek, almost tenderly. "Tell me, was it worth it? He may be more powerful than me, but he's sure rough with his pets." There was no compassion in his words and it cut like a knife.
Toby knocked his hand away and hissed his displeasure. "Go to hell. I'm not your problem anymore remember?" He didn't say what he's really thinking: that he was never really Jericho's problem in the first place, because Jericho had never actually properly claimed him as his familiar. He was always free to leave. And wasn't that a kind of unspoken expectation?
That is what had hurt the most—he might have lived in the apartment above the shop with Jericho, he might have assisted Jericho with potions and errands, but there was always that daily nagging reminder that he wasn't quite good enough for a permanent home here. "I have to go," Toby whispered, pulling the other man's fingers from his sweatshirt. "My master is waiting."
Jericho poured a generous amount of whiskey into his tea with a frown. Seeing Toby again had bothered him more than he would like to admit—and looking so terrible to boot. It was just like that little shit to get in over his head. He should have bound him for his own bloody good when he had had the chance and just lived with the guilt of depriving another of his own free will.
It had happened anyway hadn't it?
Toby was the type to learn everything in the hardest way possible. Still, his time with Jericho had shown marked improvements. He had become less skittish around the customers and had been quick with instructions in both magic and horticulture. How many pleasant hours had they spent together tending and harvesting his extensive garden?
And if Jericho had once hoped for something more, some impossible dream that Toby would pull his act together some day, stop behaving like such a fuck-up of a kid and actually get his own feet under him—well that dream had been dashed to pieces the second Tobias had walked out the door and bound himself to another.
He rubbed at his temples and sighed. Some people just couldn't be saved.
"You're late." The way his master said it Toby was halfway tempted to shift into cat form and dash under the nearest piece of furniture.
"Yeah, well, sorry, it took awhile. I had to go to, like, four different places. I got it though."
"Fine. Fine. Put it on the table and then go chase the mice in the attic or something. I'll call you when you are needed again."
Toby made a disgusted face at the back of the old man's head.
"Mind yourself'," he said without looking up from the manuscript he was pouring over. "Oh and how is Jericho hmm? Still puttering away in that little convenience store of his?"
Toby flinched. He would never get used to how his master just knew things. It was unnerving. "Something like that," he said quietly. "You promised to leave him out of this."
"And did I go and fuss with that little mage of yours? Oh ho ho. I did not. I keep my word. Although, I can't imagine why you carry such a torch for a man that merely tolerated you once and cannot stand the sight of you now."
"I do not," Toby protested. "I feel nothing for him, but you and I still have an agreement, that's all."
"I know. Now you make me tired, get then." And if his master knew that a little back cat sometimes sat outside of Jericho's window late at night, yellow eyes glowing in the darkness, he said nothing about it as Toby slunk from the room.
A/N: So these guys are going to be in Haunted City and I wanted to write a little more of their back story first. Poor Toby is kind of a mistake machine. ) :