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Arthur adjusts the lower cannon of the vambrace on his armour, scowling down at it, at the thought of having to do this himself. He got rid of his servant George a few days back due to their incompatibility of character, and he’s still without a replacement. He tugs at the hem of his glove a bit too harshly as he puts it on and immediately feels the strain in his fingers, but he only clicks his jaw shut when he sends a long-suffering look at his unpolished sword.

He feels ill-at-ease today, his body itches, he's woken up in a bad mood, and he could swear there’s something odd in the air that keeps distracting him no matter how hard he tries to keep focused. Arthur doesn’t know what it is, but he doesn’t like it.

He tugs his other glove into place, and when he’s about to loosen up the collar of his chainmail there’s a knock on the door. Arthur swirls his head around to see his father strolling inside. He rights himself properly to receive him.

“Ah, Arthur, son,” Uther greets him, approaching and placing a hand on Arthur’s shoulder, squeezing firmly through the chainmail.

“Father,” he acknowledges him, holding his gaze briefly.

“I see you’re all set. Good.” His father drops his hand from Arthur’s shoulder to swipe his fingertips over the blade of the sword lying on the table. “Clever choice,” he comments casually before glancing up at Arthur's face. “I wanted to let you know that there’ll be a small banquet tonight to celebrate that I've—ah, acquired some new concubines after that peace agreement with Bayard.”

Arthur attempts to school his features, but he doubts he succeeds in hiding his frown, for his father’s lips turn up into a smirk. “I could send one of them your way, if you want. We all have our needs, Arthur, you don’t need to repress them.” But his father's read him completely wrong, however. His frown isn't one of envy, rather of a deep-seated sense of being put off by the concept he's laying forward.

He doesn’t share his father’s beliefs, and they hardly ever see eye to eye. “That won’t be necessary, father.”

“As you wish,” is his father's dull answer. “But you don’t have to be so squeamish about it.” He's squinting at him, as if trying to figure out why Arthur has not even once publicly took any servant, lady, or bedwarmer to his quarters for a night of good fun.

With a sigh, Arthur brushes past his father so he doesn’t have to bear the judging look he's giving him any longer. “If you’d excuse me, father, I'm expected at the trainning field. I’m already running late as it is without George here to assist me.”

“Indeed,” his father answers dismissively, not broadening the subject of his servant. Arthur wonders how long will it take for him to tire of his new concubines and find him a new one. “Go train,” he adds. “I found you slightly weakened the other week, you need to improve your defense and be more aggressive on your advances.”

Arthur presses his lips together, exhausted of hearing his father asking more of him day after day. He works hard to please him enough as it is; he trains five hours a day, three in the morning and two during the evening, and four days a week he also trains the youngest knights. He attends every council meeting, redacts the reports, and always sees to make the best decisions. He prepares the routes for the patrols and leads them himself every two days, goes downtown to the village to assess his citizens, making sure there are no conflicts and that every civilian is alright. And lately, he also has to put up with his father’s newly found habits of having his—toys, because Arthur can’t address his father’s concubines in any other way, rambling about every corner of the castle, seducing his knights and pestering his servants.

But there’s nothing he can do to avoid his responsibilities. And there's nothing he can say to his father that’s going to make him see reason. If his father tells him to train harder, he has to, and if his father asks him to come to the feast to welcome his new lovers, Arthur can’t avoid going. So he nods once, clenching his teeth at the prospect as he disappears through the door without another word.

*

At the banquet late that evening, after he has bathed and dressed up in his royal clothing, Arthur sits at his father’s right on the table, next to Leon, his most trusted friend and knight.

He jiggles his cup, asking for another refill, because there's definitely no way he's going to be able to endure the night if he's sober.

Sprawled on his father's lap sit two ladies, each on one of Uther’s knees, greedily eating the food he's feeding them with. Their laughters are boisterous, and their kisses sloppy, for they continue smashing their painted-red lips against Uther’s and staining his mouth, but his father acts completely nonchalant and enamoured.

Arthur couldn’t wish any harder to be anyplace else.

So he turns to his friend, pouring all his complaints into him. “Are the banquet and the spectacle are necessary? For god's sake, I don’t care if he wants to bed all these girls but a son shouldn't have to witness his father being ridiculed in this manner.”

Leon throws an amused look his way before stealing Uther a quick glance. Arthur doesn’t find it funny in the slightest. “As the King, he can do as he pleases. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t please us,” Leon replies in a low voice and Arthur growls a groan in response.

“Ah, it was about time,” his father says all of a sudden, and Arthur hesitates before peering over at him.

Uther’s addressing George, who's still serving his father but not him, while he approaches the table with a man. When Uther’s lips turn up in a mischievous smirk, Arthur realises he must be another one of them, and he just about manages not to roll his eyes in despair. Men or women, his father doesn’t mind. They all serve the same purpose, he always says, and that's one of the many issues they disagree on. As Arthur grew into adulthood he discovered the beauty of the male body and understood his preferences, however, if he’s glad for one thing, is for his father being open-minded about that, at least.

“Someone is a bit rebel, sneaking away,” his father says, dragging Arthur back to the present. “Such insolence calls for a punishment later.” One of his eyebrows goes up, his intentions obvious. Arthur blocks the rest of his father’s words for his own sanity and turns back to Leon, finding his friend hiding another quiet snicker behind the rim of his cup of wine.

Arthur sighs as he hears a chair being pulled up and his father murmuring some filth or other to the man. When Arthur next ventures them a glance, it’s to find the man looking as utterly disinterested as Arthur feels, and that gets his attention.

He’s probably the first boy-toy of his father’s Arthur hasn’t seen captivated by the king’s treatment. He’s sitting at Uther’s left, lips pressed together in discomfort and a farwary look on his face.

Arthur studies the man’s profile for an instant, knowing his father is too busy to notice him and call him out on it. His father can be very jealous of his possessions; he can go as far as to allow others to have a taste before he does, so that he’ll be envied later, but once he’s put a finger on them, no one else can so much as look at them.

The man has a fair profile, though, quite fair for someone that’s not regal, for a sexual servant which is what he’s going to become tonight. He has black hair that falls in messy tufts over his face, a sharp jaw and plump pink lips. He’s not too bad. His father certainly has taste when it comes to men.

“Merlin,” Uther addresses him, and both Arthur and the man snap their heads to him. “Don't act so impassive, this is a party in your honor. Eat, drink, or come closer if you want me to lend you a hand with that.”

Arthur openly stares at Merlin to assess his reaction. But Merlin only does one thing: he gives his father the hardest eye-roll.

Uther’s smile is tense when he slaps the ladies off his lap and sits forward on his chair so he comes closer to Merlin. He's not expecting his father to pull Merlin’s head backwards by the hair and sneer something in his ear, but as he watches Merlin's straining neck and his vice-like grip on the armrest of the chair Arthur feels, for the first time, not only aversion but disapproval at his father's actions. If looks could kill Uther would be dead a burried by the time his father lets Merlin go with a shove.

The itching comes back again, accompanied by an almost unbearable buzzing, and Arthur wonders if it's only him or Leon and everyone else in the room can feel it, too.

As if sensing Arthur’s gaze on him, Merlin’s eyes draw up to meet his. Arthur goes still, watching the way Merlin's eyes narrow, then widen and finally blink away. There's a scowl on his face and, after his reaction, Arthur's certain Merlin must be feeling exactly the same. For the first time since he's arrived, he looks like a deer caught in the headlights. Arthur has to resist the urge to stand up, approach him and inquire him about his change in demeanour.

His father calls for everyone’s attention, letting his gaze roam across the table, passing through Arthur’s briefly before setting on Merlin. “Gentlement, I've bought someone I want you to meet. See, Merlin here is something special. He’s a rare omega, so we can all guess where his reluctance to give over is coming from.” The smirk is clear in his voice, for even though Arthur, who's not looking at him, doesn't miss it. “No one likes to submit, but he doesn’t really have much of a choice, does he?” Uther continues, sweeping a finger down Merlin's chin and chuckling when Merlin jerks his face away. Arthur realises just then that there are a couple of guards at either side of Merlin’s chair, as if ready to hold him back in case Merlin were to attempt an escape.

An omega. He can hardly believe his father’s brought one of them to the castle. All his concubines are always betas because that’s safe, what it should be. As an alpha himself Arthur knows the risks fooling around with omegas entails, his father’s always made that clear, for he's always forbidden him from coming anywhere near them should Arthur ever encounter one. He doesn't know what his father’s playing at now. Half the court, half the knights, are alphas, and they aren’t allowed to bed omegas for a reason as per the king’s request. The revelation’s been thunderous enough to hush the table, to let every alpha in the room on edge—Arthur included, and Merlin completely exposed.

Be it power or authority what his father wants to show, Arthur doesn’t agree with this for multiple reasons.

“Father,” he starts to protest but Uther’s steel eyes turn on him, silencing him. Omegas can bear children and thus provide Uther a new heir, and consequently put Arthur in a distressing position when the last thing Arthur needs is competition; his father already disregards him enough. But that’s the least of his problems now as he sits in a room full of alphas, with all of them leering at the only present omega they have had this close for the first time; looking at him as if he were fresh meat they can’t wait to sink their teeth into. It's said that all omegas live in a den away from the alphas' knowledge since after the great purge. They cannot roam freely, and if they do so they do in fear of being hunted, for they were believed to be abominations that only served to cause chaos between alphas. There aren’t many of them now. So Merlin being here is quite the predicament.

Arthur ventures him a glance, to see him holding his breath. “As an alpha myself,” Uther continues, lifting his chin imperiously. “I hereby claim, before you all, Merlin as my omega, and whoever is weak or disrespectful enough to touch him in any way, will suffer the consequences of such imprudence as if they had defied me themselves.”

Arthur swallows thickly, unable to believe he plans on Merlin staying in the castle. He's already enough on edge as it is, he doesn't need his discomfort to be fueled. “But, father, you can't—” he tries again, and Uther cuts him off once more.

“I don’t want to have to show a demonstration with my own son right now, Arthur, do I?” he says, and his gaze is so harsh that Arthur clicks his mouth shut and grits his teeth. “That’s better,” he goes on, and Arthur closes his eyes for a moment, shame coursing through him. “Now that my son has stopped being impertinent, let's continue with the celebration.” In spite of his father broad and amicable smile, it takes everyone a moment to regain their good mood.

Arthur, for his part, spends the rest of the evening drinking, shooting Merlin and his father glances and fighting his hardest not to frown as he finds that, as time passes on, the itching grows stronger and stronger.

When two hours later Uther stands, ready to retire, and the guards grab Merlin by the arms to drag him away securely, only then Arthur rushes to his chambers as well, intending on forgetting about tonight for as long as his sleep will allow him to.

*

Arthur wakes at midnight, bathed in sweat. There’s that scent in the air again, that thickness on it that chokes him.

He pushes the covers off himself and stands to his feet, paces the room up and down for a moment, wishing the prickling in his body would go away. He pours himself a cup of water from the pitcher, finishes it and chugs another one. The windows are already wide open, but not even the slightest breeze shifts the thick, muggy air. Arthur trades his soaked nightshirt for a clean one and silently slips outside of his chamber. He troats down the stairs, with no direction in mind, when he catches sight of Merlin.

He’s sitting on the marble steps on the other side of the corridor, staring outside the small window facing the courtyard. His pose is relaxed, nothing to do with his clenched fists and jaw earlier, arms resting atop his knees and neck craned to the side in a peaceful posture. His shirt sleeves are rolled up and the laces of his shirt are messily untied, leaving the upper part of his chest uncovered.

Arthur feels another wave of heat course through him once more as he approaches. He licks his dry lips and says in a loud, even voice. “What are you doing here?” As his father’s new acquisition, Arthur would have expected Merlin to already be—pleasuring him, so Arthur’s surprised when Merlin barely flinches at his words and fixes him with a stare.

“I’m hiding. From your father,” he replies, untroubled.

Arthur's eyebrows rise, muddled at Merlin’s bold words. “When he notices you’re missing from his bed he’ll have every guard available searching for you, you know.”

"I trust you won't breathe a word," Merlin answers, eyes still intent on him. He's breaking a million rules regarding royal protocol and social etiquette, starting by holding Arthur's gaze for too long and not addressing him properly. And yet he seems completely unfazed.

But isn't only that, Arthur can't help but wonder where that blind trust is coming from exactly to make Merlin believe Arthur would put his interest above his father's, that Arthur won't give him away as soon as he has the chance.

But Arthur still senses Merlin's discomfort, even from afar, and although Arthur knows his father is not a vicious, wicked man, mercy is not one of his best qualities. If Merlin were found out, Uther would certainly believe some sort of act of retribution necessary. There's also the matter about Merlin being an omega. Arthur still can't wrap his head around it.

Overwhelmed and torn, Arthur takes too long to form a response, so Merlin pushes to his feet and attempts to brush past Arthur, perhaps taking Arthur's silence as a refusal to become his partner in crime.

“You should head back,” Arthur tells him nonetheless, considering that to be Merlin's best option, placing his hand on Merlin’s bicep to stop him from running away from him as well.

Merlin reels backwards, pulling his arm away as if burned. Truth is, his arm has felt on fire. “What are you doing? Don’t you know you can’t touch me?” There's an alarm in his voice that forces Arthur to take a step back. He feels so warm himself, so dizzy, and now more so than before.

“I know you’re my father’s property,” he replies, voice slightly husky.

“Not because of that,” Merlin looks actually offended.

Belatedly, Arthur understands. They shouldn't be here because of their status; an alpha and a omega. Arthur thinks it can get a little intoxicating, standing so close, feeling that pull and not being able to act on it. And just then, Arthur considers the possibility that there's nothing wrong with the air but with them. Maybe it’s them being in the same space what has been making Arthur so flustered. Merlin’s cheeks, his neck, seem a bit flushed now that Arthur allows himself a close inspection at his face.

“I don’t know who you think you are but just because you’re royalty that doesn't give you the right to buy me and treat me like an animal," Merlin spits, eyes narrowing as he looks Arthur up and down. Arthur wonders if Merlin's referring to him or his father. To someone else. He wonders where Merlin comes from, if this is the first time he's serving a king, if not, and what has he been through.

"It is in fact because we're royalty that we're entitled to have a right over other people," he finds himself answering, surprising them both. He doesn't really mean it. The extents of power and how it ought to be used on others is one of the many issues Arthur differs with his father over. But right now Merlin's presence is heady and is clouding his judgement and, perhaps not so much because he's royal but an alpha, Arthur can't help but flaunt his strength, having the physical need to be more powerful than Merlin in a stupidly primitive fashion.

Merlin's eyes widen a fraction, dark and wild, and Arthur's feet drag forward of their own will, because the closer he comes to stand before Merlin the quicker the buzzing in his skin dims and the deeper the pull becomes. And that's something Arthur cannot help but want more of. All the discomfort from before is transforming into some sort of form of pleasure Arthur has never experienced before in his life.

"That's disgusting," Merlin spits, looking fierce and coming just a little bit closer himself. "You're disgusting." The last bit he adds with slightly less bite.

"Too bad I don't believe you. Disgust isn't what you’re feeling about me right now," he replies. Because there are many sensations written all over Merlin's face, such as indignation, determination to prove Arthur wrong, and a strong sense of self-control. But disgust is most definitely not one of them.

Merlin's forehead creases and his gaze travels the length of Arthur's body once again before he gives a derisive snort. "You're so full of yourself. All royals are. I don't even know why I thought you'd be any different."

He attempts to push past Arthur for the second time, but to no avail, for after Merlin's words Arthur sees no option but to block his way. There's the lust-addled pull and connection he's feeling, and then there are those hints of hope and trust Merlin's words are filled with. Out of all the possible comebacks Arthur could have retorted, he chooses to bite his tongue and size Merlin up instead.

Arthur can see Merlin's chest heaving, be it with anger or frustration, and his half-lidded eyes are blinking with difficulty. But, try as he might, Arthur can't for the life of him figure him out.

They must have moved at some point in the midst of all the dodging and sidestepping one another, because Arthur realises he has Merlin almost cornered against the wall. “You feel it too, don’t you?” he breathes out, searching Merlin's eyes.

"No," Merlin says, lies. And his denial only serves as a confirmation.

His back hits the wall and Merlin lets out a gush of breath, shocked. His Adam's apple bobs as he swallows, and for a second, Arthur is almost certain he sees a ring of golden on Merlin's pupils, but it's gone too soon. Arthur should pause and think about the implications, should realise that Merlin doesn't only possess magic, which is both forbidden and punished, but is also using it against him, to keep Arthur at bay.

"Merlin," Arthur says, lunging for him and placing his hand on the wall, just right next to his exposed neck. Merlin slips far from his touch, shaking his head vigorously.

"I can't control this for much longer—" Merlin resists, his eyes now glowing a striking, hypnotising yellow. “You—you need to get away from me," he croaks, but his gaze strains towards Arthur's mouth, revealing the reluctance in his words.

"You know as well as I do that I can’t do that," Arthur replies, because it’s the truth. His father and Merlin's magic be damned. Arthur's got to a point when he physically aches and craves contact, craves Merlin. His alpha senses are flaring and everything has narrowed down to Merlin standing before him, the state he's in; with his high-colored skin and unbridled gaze. Nothing else matters.

"You don't understand, I'm going into heat," Merlin explains, and Arthur's lips part in wonder.

Without further ado Arthur pins Merlin against the wall with the weight of his own body, pressing his nose behind the shell of Merlin's ear and inhaling the scent seeping through his every pore. Merlin's body writhes against his helplessly and, even though he struggles at first, he ends up securing Arthur close by balling the front of Arthur's shirt in his trembling fists.

"Come to my chambers," Arthur proposes, tasting Merlin's salty skin, letting his hand travel down Merlin's arm and settle in his hip, underneath his thin shirt. “We can—I can help you.”

“I don’t even like you,” Merlin answers weakly as his body turns pliant in Arthur’s arms.

“I can make you like me,” Arthur replies, barely registering the words slipping past his mouth anymore.

*

They trip their way inside Arthur's chambers.

Merlin still behaves somewhat unwilling to give in, and then wanton at the same time, turning his face away when Arthur bites at his jaw only to scrape his nails against the small of Arthur's back next. It's terribly infuriating but that makes it all the more satisfying when Arthur finally accomplishes to lay Merlin down on his bed, bringing the fight to a stop.

As they quiet, all Arthur can think of is the trouble he's getting himself into for instigating and yielding to his desire with a man he knows nothing of and doesn't belong to him, but then he stares back into Merlin's wide, open eyes and sees the need in them, need for him, and Arthur decides that, even if it's wrong, it feels too right to put an end to it.

Jerking Merlin's shirt off is not too hard, Merlin lets him more easily than not, but as soon as Arthur's fingers brush the laces of his breeches, Merlin closes off again, breathing harshly and gripping Arthur's wrists with far more force that Arthur had assumed he would have. Still wondering about Merlin's past, Arthur wants to ask when his mind goes to dark places at the action, but Merlin unfastens the laces and, after a beat, drags his breeches and smalls down his thighs himself with a quick pull, lying completely nude before Arthur but avoiding his eyes.

Arthur had heard many kind of stories regarding omegas; about their docile behaviour, their sweet smells, their not very impressive size and how wet they tend to be. Merlin doesn't fit any of the standards. He's all but docile, that much has been obvious from the start, but neither does he smell sweet. His skin tastes just the opposite, it's as salty as the sea. And there's also the fact that Merlin is incredibly hard and he's nothing sort of big.

Unable not to, Arthur reaches out to touch him, letting his thumb caress Merlin's balls and trail below slowly, hearing Merlin sucking in a breath as soon as he does so. The tendons at his neck strain as he tosses his head back and his chest and stomach go taut. All pale and pink flesh and lithe limbs encased in Arthur's scarlet bedding; he’s simply a sight to behold.

Torn between teasing Merlin's hole endlessly and watching him tossing and gasping for air or lying atop him and breeding him at last, pulling the two of them out of their misery, Arthur chooses the former, but only for a moment longer. His fingers slip inside Merlin's crack with so much ease Arthur cannot stop jabbing them in and out. This time Merlin doesn't resist for longer, he only trashes, alternating between grasping the sheets so tightly he could rip them apart at any moment and pulling at himself with desperation.

At the sight of a wrecked Merlin and the burn inside him Arthur begins tearing at his own clothes, and he can't seem to undress himself quick enough. Merlin's eyes are practically closed but Arthur can sense his warm gaze on him, contemplating him all along. The knot has already begun forming at the base, which indicates he's more than ready to claim Merlin, the imperative need to mate too overwhelming to bear.

Now that Merlin's cooperating, too far gone to be disobliging, Arthur tells him to turn around. His hands find Merlin's hips, his arse and, after some minor adjustments, Arthur presses the tip of his cock against Merlin’s crack without preamble.

His face is now leveled with Merlin’s and he can see every reaction, so Arthur watches the emotions playing across Merlin's face all the time as he nudges his way in inch by inch and settles deep inside his body.

Merlin’s breathing is ragged and his face is an angry red, the tips of his hair matted with sweat. Arthur licks his lips, asks, “Are you—are you alright?” He knows this isn’t something Merlin particularly wanted, but it's unavoidable, they both know that. But if there's one thing Arthur can make sure of is that this feels the best possible for him, at least, for the both of them.

“I had never—” Merlin croaks. “It stings, I feel the stretch and it—fucking stings,” Merlin’s words are slow and puffed and Arthur’s hips want to rock into him without control nor care, but the little sense that’s left in him tells him to be reasonable.

“I don’t know what to do to make it hurt less,” he confesses, because he’s as much of a beginner in this as Merlin.

Merlin shakes his head. “Just go on. The pleasure will come soon.”

Merlin presses his face against the pillow, trying to muffle the soft, distressed noises he makes as Arthur starts thrusting relentlessly, making their bodies break on a sweat. His knot starts to grow thick and blunt as his hips lose their rhythm, and Merlin scrambles at the sheets, the muscles of his back contouring; tensing and loosening with his every move.

“Is it any good?” he asks, because it feels fantastic for him and knowing Merlin's finally experiencing pleasure would make it all the better. His fingers itch at the prospect that they could thread in Merlin's hair or wrap around his cock, but he doesn't dare touching, fearing that Merlin would want to draw back altogether.

But then Merlin uncurls his hand from the bedding and hesitantly but boldly reaches out for Arthur, putting his hand on Arthur's thigh and pushing backwards against him. “It is now,” Merlin responds, voice strange, eyes shut.

Arthur gasps involuntarily at the electricity of the contact, and prompted by it, he decides to reciprocate, groping Merlin in return and leaning his face down to nuzzle at the back of his ear to get his scent deep into his nostrils until he gets saturated with it. Merlin sighs, his nails digging against Arthur's skin. Arthur sighs, too, dick swelling and broadening as the top of his knot slides up. Merlin’s skin stretches to accommodate him and they both pant in unison, clutching at each other stronger when Arthur’s knot starts to slip in.

Arthur thinks that he could seriously get used to this; would like to get used to this. This closeness with someone, the feeling of someone else’s skin under his fingertips; this level of intimacy and pleasure. There's an undeniable need driving them to mate, but there's also a sense of curiosity for more, a trace of care. Arthur may have just met Merlin but he'll fight his father if he has to so as to keep Merlin safe.

He feels so attached, both physically and emotionally as a consequence that he has to press Merlin impossibly closer against him. Merlin’s hole seals closed around the fully formed knot and Arthur simply drapes over him, holding Merlin in his arms. A glow of gold flickers in the ring of Merlin eyes as he comes undone and Arthur watches him and holds him and feels him.

Arthur follows, the sight, the feelings, forcing him to orgasm. Merlin takes it all without complaint, only gasping at the first spurt of come spilling inside him, but then leting Arthur’s come wash hotly over him and claim him as Arthur relishes in every second of it.

Then silence descends upon them as the adrenaline leaves their bodies. Merlin’s breathing leisurely slows down to its normal pace and Arthur’s dick stops pulsating inside him. “For how long do we have to stay like this?” Merlin's voice is raspy.

Arthur shifts, holding Merlin tight against him as he rolls them to lie on their side. “I’ve heard it takes a while,” he answers, unsure of how to proceed now. His mind and senses are coming back to him and there's a chance the Merlin from before, stubborn, wary and distant, makes a reappearance as well.

“Alright,” it’s all Merlin replies, and for a moment there’s only silence, until he speaks again. “I'm almost completely sure you’re my true mate.”

Arthur's heart skips a beat, and he wishes he could see Merlin's face. All he can think of is how much sense it makes. While it's true Arthur has only been in the presence of an omega a couple of times before, he had not felt such pull towards them at all. But as soon as Merlin has arrived at the castle Arthur has felt his presence, even from afar, even when they were in different rooms. The itching, buzzing, the heat, it was all Merlin.

He wants to ask 'how do you feel about that?' or 'do you wish it weren't me?' but instead, all he says is, “How do you know?”

Merlin cranes his neck to the side slightly, as though to assess him better. “I’ve heard things. My magic, it hasn’t worked with you. But with others, it’s kept every other alpha at bay so far. But if my body hasn’t been able to resist you it must be for a reason.” He hesitates for a moment, sending Arthur a sideway glance before adding. “When there’s a bond between two people, it is said that there’s nothing greater than that, and that nothing can come between it, not even magic.”

Arthur takes a slow breath and his arm clutches at Merlin’s body just a little bit tighter. It feels good knowing that there’s someone out there meant for him and for him alone, and that he’s meant for the same someone. And if a bond is greater than anything, then there’s nothing in the world that can prevent Arthur from being happy.

This has been sudden, but not unwelcome. Arthur had been so apathetic, so worked up lately, Merlin's appearance is like a blessing. Although it's true that this will strain his relationship with his father even more and many people will be judgemental of Merlin, Arthur's not letting him go. Maybe they are still strangers, but if they are meant to be together Arthur is certain they can learn to care and love each other in time. He wishes so.

“What does this mean?” Arthur asks, and then as an afterthought, "For us." He wants to make Merlin see he’s no enemy, but he doesn't know where to start.

“Nothing,” Merlin's body's tense, curling in on himself a little. “You and I belong to different words, I’ll leave as soon as I can and you won’t have to see me again.”

“No,” he states, harsh. He may not know many things about Merlin yet, but he's almost certain Merlin's forehead is furrowed right now. Because if there's one trait Arthur has discovered about him is that he's somewhat a stubborn idiot. Arthur's never been good at showing affection, but Merlin makes him want to try.

Unsure, Arthur leans his forehead against the nape of Merlin’s neck. It’s sweaty and smells like glory, and that serves to soothe him. Merlin flinches slightly, probably not having expected the touch, but doesn’t pull back. “Look,” Arthur whispers to the back of Merlin’s ear. “I know this has been sudden and not exactly dreamy.”

“I’m not a girl, I don’t want flowers on the bed and for you to offer me the world,” Merlin interrupts him, sounding ridiculously tenacious again. It makes Arthur's lips twitch with something of a smile.

“I never said you were. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that this hasn’t been the best possible first meeting between two people that share what you say we share, but—" Here Arthur hesitates. Opening his heart means he's exposed to rejection. But he has to, at least, try. "I want more of this.” Merlin’s body goes so still that Arthur thinks he’s stopped breathing. He continues, deciding it's best to let it all out at once. “I know we're opposites, but that doesn't have to mean we should be apart. If you really are my mate I don’t want you to go someplace where I’m not, I don’t want to have to wonder where you are and who you are with. If you are my mate you belong here, with me.”

“You don't know what you're saying, ” Merlin tells him after a beat. Then, “And as I’ve told you before I’m not even sure I like you,”

“And you seem rather keen on making it hard for me to like you,” Arthur shoots back without bite, making Merlin’s body shake with an unexpected snort, then relax.

He blows out a sigh before turning his body towards Arthur as much as he can without hurting himself. The feeling of them still connected serves only to fuel Arthur’s yearning for a chance. ”Alright, so, what were you saying again?” His voice sounds gentler this time around, and his lips are turned upwards in the closest imitation of a smile Arthur's seen coming from him.

It takes Arthur a moment to answer, pondering that maybe Merlin's ready to make an effort and give them a chance as well. “I was saying that, if you stop being so impertinent, maybe we could get to know each other.”

Merlin shifts his head on the pillow. “Right now?” Merlin's voice shows surprise, but it has a teasing edge to it, too. Or so Arthur thinks.

“Yes?” he says, feeling unusually dubious before regaining his confidence. “Seems as good a moment as any to me.”

Merlin shifts a little. “I guess I can do that.” Slowly, Arthur listens to his voice become less hostile. Whether purposefully or not, slowly, Merlin also inches closer in his arms, not minding the back of his thighs fitting comfortable against Arthur's, his shoulder blades resting against Arthur's chest. Wanting a bit more, Arthur throws his arm over Merlin's ribs but with the palm of his hand planted on the mattress and not his skin. Little steps. Merlin follows the movement with his eyes, Arthur notices, but he doesn't call Arthur out on it. “Tell me what do you do for fun around here?” he asks.

Arthur’s slightly struck at Merlin’s question, having expected something very different, related to his duties as the prince, perhaps, but he, too, snuggles closer to Merlin now that he appears to be more calm. And then he recalls Merlin having addressed him properly zero times, and Arthur decides to remember Merlin who he is. “I don’t exactly have much time for fun, what with me being the prince and all. But I guess there’s the tavern.”

“You call drinking cheap ale and bragging with a bunch of sweaty knights fun?” Merlin replies, blatantly disregarding Arthur's remark. Strangely enough, it makes Arthur smile. “I’m soul-bonded with the most boring person of the five kingdoms.”

“Things are expected of me, you know. I’m occupied all day, to the point that sometimes I don’t remember what having fun is any longer.” His tone has turned serious and he regrets it immediately when he sees the smile has disappeared from Merlin’s face.

Merlin must sense everything Arthur’s feeling because he turns his body a little bit more towards Arthur. “It mustn’t be easy, I suppose. But I’d hate it, being royalty.” It's subtle, but Merlin makes a face and Arthur finds himself shaking with silent laughter, pressing his smile against Merlin's hair. “No offense, though,” Merlin adds, even though there's no way he's missed Arthur's laugh, nor his smile.

“I take it you're always this cheeky and irritating, then,” Arthur replies. There's something warm in his chest expanding with each passing moment they bond, with every small change in Merlin's posture and demeanour.

“I am the opposite of irritating,” Merlin says. “You really have a lot of getting to know me to do, Arthur.”

At Merlin’s words, at the mention of his name for the first time, Arthur tightens his grip on Merlin's body, using the hand that was on the bed to touch it to Merlin's chest. Merlin glances down at it, but doesn't do anything other than that.

Deciding that now's his turn for a question, Arthur thinks back about Merlin's glowing eyes and immediately realises he wants to know more about that. Magic is not a subject to discuss lightly, Arthur knows that much, but here in his bed, in the privacy of his room, Arthur feels like he can discuss everything openly. Here his father has no authority, no control, and right now there's only Merlin and him, and Arthur wants to make the most of the time they spend together. “So,” he starts. “your magic.” Merlin nods his head on the pillow, quietly urging him to go on when Arthur lets the words hang in the air for a beat. “What do you use if for?”

Merlin takes his time before answering. “I don’t do anything that’s not—ethical, if that’s what you’re thinking about. I mostly use it for survival or to make my life easier.”

“Have you ever hurt anyone with it?”

When Merlin goes quiet again Arthur thinks he’s gone too far. “Yeah, I have," he answers, and Arthur sucks in a silent breath. "Not deadly, but sometimes I've had to defend myself from people that wanted to hurt me or get things from me that I didn’t want to give, so I have used it against them.” Arthur thinks back about Merlin's reaction before when Arthur meant to unfasten his breeches and wonders. Even if Merlin's words are vague enough Arthur's almost certain Merlin's faced a situation in which an alpha has wanted to take advantage of him. Anger rattles inside him. Being an alpha doesn't entail power over an omega, but protection. Matting isn't only a sexual act, it's an act of love, of hope for a family. And now more than before he hopes to be able to prove that to Merlin, if he will have Arthur.

“Everyone would do the same in a situation like that,” Arthur tells him, wanting to say much more.

“I know, I don't regret it. I just wish I didn’t have to use my magic that way." When Merlin answers that, Arthur realises Merlin didn’t need reassurance. He’s not only headstrong, but also strong; definitely someone worth getting to know.

“Did you learn it?” Arthur asks, wanting more and more.

“No, it was there within me when I was born. I don’t think I’d have learned it otherwise. It’s probably more trouble than anything these days.” Merlin sounds angered, which seems understandable, considering Uther's distaste regarding magic, his laws. Arthur knows Merlin’s thinking about that. "Just by having it you’re considered to be someone dangerous, and that's unfair."

“I don’t agree with my father about magic,” he tells Merlin because it’s important he knows. “I know Camelot is not the safest place for you to stay, and if my father were ever to find out you’ll probably be hanged—”

Merlin’s lips turn up in a smile despite Arthur’s crude words. “What can I say, I do like to live on edge, though.”

Arthur snorts a laugh. “—but I'd like you to stay. Even if you’re far too cheeky for your own good.”

Merlin goes quiet. And then, after a moment, his fingers find Arthur's and they give a soft caress. “And you’re far too nosy, asking me all these questions.” He ignores Arthur's statement, but his fingers are laced with Arthur's, so maybe he's considering it, or maybe he likes the idea, but won't say it with words.

“Does it bother you?” Arthur prods, drawing his lips closer to Merlin’s ear. He lets his thumb rub across the skin of Merlin's wrist, still not letting go of their laced fingers, and relishes in the breath Merlin lets out. “Because I can stop, if that’s what you want.”

A shiver runs down Merlin’s back at the brush of Arthur’s lips against the lobe of his ear. Merlin cocks his head to the side and Arthur sees parted lips and dark eyes. “No,” he says in a whisper. “Don’t stop.”

“With what?” Arthur murmurs, sliding their joined hands up across Merlin’s stomach and chest to brush his nail over Merlin’s left nipple. Merlin's hips stutter, a sound between a sigh and a moan breaks past his lips. “The talking.” Arthur asks right against his ear. “Or the touching?” He moves his own hips experimentally now that the knot seems to have dwindled and his dick is growing hard again, now that they can finally switch positions.

Merlin springs into action before Arthur can, turning around and pinning Arthur against the mattress so he's on top. His eyes bore into Arthur’s. “Neither.”

His body is slender but firm above him, hard, and Arthur can’t help let his eyes roam down over every inch of it. He’s heard when an omega is going through his heat, he can’t stop mating the alpha, and Arthur feels the pull; the physical need to have Merlin again. “How do you feel?”

“Needy,” Merlin says simply. And Arthur likes how decided he looks. There's no doubt Merlin's libido is spurred by his heat. His need to be bred again must be flaring.

Arthur secures Merlin against him by grabbing two handfuls of his arse. “What do you want me to do about it?”

Merlin’s eyes sparkle golden for a fleeting instant before he lowers his head down until it’s levels with Arthur’s. “Fuck me again,” he says, so quietly, Arthur has to close his eyes and savour the roughness of his voice.

He complies at once, using his hold on Merlin’s arse to lay him down on the other side of the bed and then settles between his naked legs. Merlin’s gaze doesn’t divert from his as neither as Arthur finds the position in which they are both more comfortable, nor as Arthur makes his way inside him.

This time they do it face to face, so Arthur can watch Merlin's facial expressions all through it, so Merlin can wrap his endless legs around Arthur's hips, so it feels much less mechanical and slightly more intimate.

When the knot starts to slip inside Merlin Arthur turns his face to the side so their noses are pressed together and he can slot his lips over Merlin’s for the first time. Merlin's fingertips sink against the flesh on Arthur's back, then nips at Arthur’s lips when he comes. Arthur doesn’t need anything else other than that to follow suit.

Their arms are winded around each other through the afterglow as they lay side by side. Arthur doesn’t know how long after that he falls asleep, but what he does know is that he does it with a smile.

*

The next morning when Arthur blinks into consciousness Merlin’s already awake by his side. He’s got his head leaned into Arthur’s and he’s looking down at the place where their hands rest between them curled together with an expression on his face Arthur can’t decipher.

“Morning,” Arthur says in a rough voice.

Merlin’s eyes shoot up to meet his, all blue and untroubled. He takes in a deep breath before replying, “hello.”

Arthur shifts beneath the sheets without taking his eyes off him, unsure of what must be going through Merlin’s mind, if he has considered Arthur's proposition, if he wishes to stay or leave. “How are you feeling?” he asks.

Merlin eyes him up and down for a moment before he glances back up to meet Arthur’s eyes. “Exhausted but pleased.”

“So, have you—” he hesitates but decides that it’s now or never. They can’t stay in bed for much longer. Sooner or later his father’s meant to find out that Merlin’s sneaked away. “Have you thought about my proposal?” Merlin presses his lips together and averts his eyes. “Because the offer still stands. I want to get to know you. If you want to stay, I promise to give you a good life.”

“I don’t want your money,” Merlin says with that glint in his eye again. “Just because you're the prince and we’ve—”

“I didn’t mean my money, I meant me,” Arthur cuts him off. “I can't promise you it'll be easy, but I’ll respect you as an equal, give you freedom and well, love.” The last word he says it in a whisper, knowing it's too soon for that, but thinking that it may come to it, after some time.

“I—” Merlin replies after a beat, seeming overwhelmed. He swallows audibly, and before he can give Arthur an answer the door of Arthur’s quarters breaks open with a thud. They both turn their heads towards it and Arthur quickly stands, stepping inside his breeches and lacing them up messily as he dashes towards the other end of the room.

Midway he finds his father standing there, and Arthur freezes; his father knows. “Father,” Arthur acknowledges. “Let me explain.”

Uther’s face is murderous. “You,” he starts accusingly with a ice-cold voice as his grey eyes pierce into Arthur’s. “His scent is all over you. I could smell it from my room, you’ve mated him.”

Arthur puffs his chest and lifts his chin, forbidding himself from getting intimidated by his father. Uther shifts his gaze to Arthur’s bed where Merlin sits with the sheets pooled around his waist, gaze defiant.

“You’ve impregnated him,” His father continues and Merlin's face contours with shock as much as Arthur's. He knew there was a chance, but he wasn’t expecting it would happen the first time. Last night he completely forgot it was even a possibility. “After everything I’ve done for you and this is the way you repay me?”

There are a million excuses on the tip of Arthur's tongue, a million apologies, but then he looks across the room at Merlin’s fierce eyes. He remembers the way events developed between them last night and how right it's felt waking up next to him this morning. If Arthur has to stand up to his father for something, Arthur can’t find a better reason than Merlin.

He takes a step forward. “Merlin’s my true mate, father,” he says and even if his voice trembles just so he forces himself to go on. “And I’m not letting him go. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me my whole life, but I believe I’ve returned the favour in many ways through the years as well.” Uther’s face is like a mask as he listens, but when Arthur is done, his father's eyes fix on Merlin.

“And you—” he says, moving towards the bed, towards Merlin. Arthur grabs at his father’s shoulder strongly.

“Father, please,” he pleads with his gaze. “You told me yesterday that one day I shall find myself a mate,” Arthur glances at Merlin briefly and the back to his father. “Well, I have, and I hope you respect my choice. I don’t want to fight.”

Uther slaps Arthur's hand away. “This is a disgrace for me, and if I’m letting it go it’s because I know that I can’t break the bond. But this the last time you defy me like this, Athur,” he says through clenched teeth. “You’ll do well to remember that,” he adds, and after that and a last withering look in Merlin’s direction he takes his leave.

*

A couple of days later, Merlin accepts to settle into the castle.

They do get to know each other and, although Merlin is complicated and reticent at times, Arthur knows things will work out. Their bond is a strange thing. It keeps pulling them close and intensifies everything they feel about each other, be it the good or bad moments, and yet Arthur has never felt more whole. He’s finally getting the life he wanted. It may have been rushed, but he had hoped for a change in his life, for a family, and Merlin and the child growing inside him are a real glee.

Because old habits die hard, Uther organises a new celebration to welcome the newest of his acquisitions a couple of months later.

Merlin doesn’t want to go, Uther and his relationship being extremely strained. His father also hasn’t spoken with Arthur for things that aren’t strictly necessary, and it's because the situation is a tense one he believes they should find a way to normalise it, for their own benefit.

“Just for a couple of hours,” Arthur promises, slipping his long jacket on. “Just so he can rub it in our face that he’s found someone else to replace you and that he’s happier than us.”

Merlin snorts, throwing him a look. “Two hours, and then I’ll stand up and leave.”

Arthur hides a smirk, but nods solemnly. He approaches Merlin from behind as he finishes pulling his tunic over his head, and wraps his arms across his chest, planting a kiss on Merlin’s shoulder as he lets one of his hands roam low until it settles over his stomach. He’s still as lean as the day Arthur first saw him, but sometimes Arthur gets the urge to touch him just to feel and to relish in the thought of what’s beneath the palm of his hand. Merlin bats his hands away, slipping from his touch with a frown. “Stop that,” he says. “You know that embarrasses me.”

Arthur shrugs with a smile. “I can’t help doing it.”

Merlin's lips are smiling softly. Arthur knows he likes it more than he lets on “Come on,” he says. “Or we’ll be late.”

Merlin sighs. “Two hours,” he repeats as he walks towards the door.

“Two hours,” Arthur indulges as he drags Merlin out of the door and through the corridors.

*

According to his father his name is Mordred, and he looks curiously like Merlin. It's slightly creepy, but Mordred and Uther seem to be so utterly interested in each other that, with a shared look, Merlin and him agree that as long as Uther lets them be and they can be happy together, everything else happening around them doesn’t matter in the slightest.


~the end.