This is, John decides, one of the dumbest things he’s ever done.
“This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done,” Myron tells him, buckling John’s vambrace tightly. “Easily in the top ten.”
“Oh yeah?” John laughs and tries to lace his tunic one-handed. A serving maid rushes round them, carrying away empty pitchers and cups. “You said that the last time, old friend.”
“The last time you were driving your horse through the market square after those art thieves,” Bohin chimes in, slapping John’s knife into his hand. Outside the crowd cheers, restless and ready.
“Got them though, didn’t I?” John grins, unrepentant.
“After causing thousands of denhars in damages and nearly killing an old woman!”
“Semantics.” John waves the hand Myron was trying to buckle. “I was given an award.”
“And your father made you clean the entire lower market and took your household expenditures away for an entire month.” Myron frowns, takes him by the shoulders. “John, please be serious. This is the rest of your life. Are you sure about what you’re doing?”
“Of course,” John says, squeezing Myron’s forearms in return. “Of course I am. We’ve talked about this.”
“No, you talked about this, and mostly at us,” Bohin says tightly. “It isn’t too late.”
“It was too late a long time ago,” John replies. “You know that as well as I.”
Both men, his closest and most trusted friends, share a look of anguish. John claps them tightly on the shoulders. “My mind is made up. Better it be I than Heriathin. When she is queen, there will be no danger of my father’s politics. She can marry who she likes.”
Myron swallows convulsively. “You haven’t thought this through. We could… kidnap her, take her far away from here.”
“And what, hope to outrun the Wood Lord’s magic?” John shakes his head lightly. “She’s shown her worth. You’ve watched her fail, time and again, and watched her get back up, time and again. She will do us all proud.”
“My lord,” Bohin says, eyes shiny. Both men bow to him in reverence, and John allows precisely three seconds of that nonsense before flicking them both on the forehead. “Alright, that’s enough. Let’s go lose miserably,” he says cheerfully, swinging up his sword and sweeping out of the tent.
The loss is, in fact, spectacular.
John gives it a good show, for this, the final test in a centuries-old tradition. A mighty elk had been released into the black wood the very first day the challenges began, nearly a year before, and today it would be up to the two of them to catch it. Whoever did took the throne of the Horse Lords.
In the end it is his sister’s arrow from his quiver that takes down the beast. He watches her from a safe distance as she drops to her knees before the elk, weeping, and thinks of what a fine sight it will be to watch her emerge from the wood with it over her mare, triumphant.
He gives her a five minute head start, and when he comes out of the woods, holding his shoulder dramatically, it is to the glory of Heriathin, Queen of the Horse Lords.
His father does him the honor of not yelling until they’re alone.
“What were you thinking?” he bellows, the sound echoing across the grand hall. John’s mother is on her throne, weeping, but Father is far too furious to console her.
“You weren’t going to do anything about it,” John snaps, furious, “so I did.”
“Not do – have you taken leave of your senses?” John’s never actually seen someone’s face get that red before – it can’t possibly be healthy. “I’ll have to talk to the counsel tomorrow. We’ll call a special session; get this, this catastrophe sorted.”
“You can try, but it won’t do any good,” John replies, furious. “It’s written clearly in our laws, Father. The child who takes the elk takes the throne.”
“You have no idea what you’ve done,” his father snarls, pointing a finger at him. “No idea at all. You are a foolish idiot of a boy, and you have no concept of the consequences not only to yourself, but to this entire kingdom.”
“You were going to sell her!” John bellows. “You were going to auction her off to that animal Lord James, the man who buried the two wives who couldn’t give him sons, as if she were property.”
“She is property!” his father roars. “She is mine to do with as I see fit, just as you are, just as this entire realm is! I am your king, boy,” and for the first time in a long time, John feels a shiver of dread, “and you have made a grave mistake in taking the choices of the throne into your own hands.”
His mother shouts his father’s name, but he silences her, cutting a hand through the air. When he looks at John, it is as if they are strangers. “This is what you wished, Jounhin. On your head be it.”
Father turns and stalks away, and his mother follows, looking back at John as if she’s never seen him before. Or perhaps as if she’ll never see him again.
The changes are immediate and damn Bohin and Myron for the truth of it.
His father doesn’t request a special council, for which John is relieved – rather instead, the priests of the Ten Realms come together as they do when the Children of the Realm are of a marriageable age. They arrive expecting to marry alpha sons to the omega princess of the Horse Lords. That it is an omega prince instead seems to matter not at all, and John can only stand ten minutes of them bidding on him as if he is a prized stallion. He leaves before a decision can be made.
There is a shift, minute but clear, in everyone he knows. He hadn’t expected it, this feeling of becoming less, but it is there, and it is real. He is forbidden from his usual sword training, from horseback riding, from leaving the castle. There is a touch of embarrassment in everyone he speaks to, and a well of dread begins to open up in his stomach.
“I tried to tell you,” Myron says, sprawled out on the grass. “You wouldn’t listen, but that’s about on par with you, royal idiot.”
“Hey,” John says, without feeling. His pup huffs softly near his elbow, drooling into the crook of it, and overhead birds sing their joy at a new day. He sighs, rubs his face. “I’ve lost their respect.”
“Not quite,” Bohin tells him. “It’s just… you’re not really a bloke anymore, are you?”
“What?” John asks, panicked, as Myron punches Bohin in the shoulder. He squeaks with pain, but John waves a hand quickly, silences whatever argument they are about to have. “What did you say?”
“You know you’re our prince, always will be,” Bohin says, trying to appease him. “It’s just that, now you’re not to be king, you’re to be… well.”
“This will pass,” John says, hands to his face. “A few weeks and it will all blow over. My father won’t stay mad at me forever, and he’ll stop inviting all of our cousins to bully me into apologizing. It’s just this bit that’s infuriating.”
“Yeah,” Myron says, and doesn’t sound at all like he believes it.
Three nights later, John is summoned to his father’s rooms.
He doesn’t think this is a social call, and he’s right – his father is at his desk, as he tends to do when he wants to appear royal, unfeeling. He often succeeds. John stops before him in the resting position he had taught his knights, in repayment for the slight. “You wished to see me, Sire?”
His father sets his quill down, regards him silently for a few moments. “I’ve succeeded in attaining an offer for your hand in marriage.”
John’s heart kicks up, startling him with the jolt of panic. “What?”
“Your hand in marriage,” his father repeats, studying his face carefully as he says it. “To the son of the Lord of the Seven Moons.”
John stays standing only through sheer willpower. There is a roaring in his ears, a pinch in his chest. He can’t breathe well. “What?”
His father sighs then, a gusty sound. “Jounhin,” he says, weary. “You can’t have expected your little stunt to have gone off unnoticed. Two of the realms have only beta children to offer, and as you well know, the Realm of the Forest Valley wished for a female omega to fulfill a long-ago held promise to their king passed on. Our cousins to the south refused you outright, claiming you would attempt to rule through their daughter. This is the only offer I could reasonably accept.”
“Accept! You didn’t have to accept any,” John says, voice rising. “You don’t have to accept any at all!”
“Of course I do. I have an omega child of marriageable age, and the only way to expand my kingdom, solidify its roots, is to marry that child to a realm I see fit.” His father stands. “You have put yourself on this road, John. The Lord of the Seven Moons has a son, of proper age and dignity, in need of a mate. The Lord requested brood rights, and I accepted. You are to be bound in chastity in the morning, and we leave for the northern territories two days hence.”
The bottom of John’s world falls out from under him.
He barely waits until dark before he steals out of the palace under the cloak of the waning moon. He rides hard all night, and nearly makes it to the southern border before his father’s men catch up to him. He’s brought back fighting like a wild thing, and no amount of his mother’s platitudes, his father’s shouting, will make him stop. His father’s priests come and bind him in chastity, metal and leather against his most private place, uncomfortable bordering on pain. It is just inside him, the chastity piece, closing him where nothing and no one had ever breached him, and the panic becomes fear, makes him fight with such fierceness that it takes six of his own men to hold him down, shouting his name. They chain him, a set of dainty, light cuffs that are nevertheless as hard as iron, and bind him to the post of his bed. That it’s called a Virgin’s Hold is insult atop injury.
“This was the fate coming to you,” his father tells him as John fights violently, struggling against the cuffs and his own terror, “when you sacrificed your place to your sister.”
The morning of their journey to the realm of the Seven Moons, his father’s physicians come and force a potion on him that leaves him loose and pliant. He swims in a fog, barely aware of the priestesses who dress him in fine silks, darkening his eyes and reddening his lips. They paint symbols all over his body with ink that will only fade by an alpha’s touch – no matter how much John rubs at it, it won’t come off.
His sister cries on his shoulder, as they are to be separated for the first time in their lives. He holds her and thinks this disgrace is worth it, unable to imagine her enduring this without some part of her fracturing and splintering away forever. She is safe, here, from the Wood Lord’s eye.
“Come now,” his father says, that afternoon in the caravan. He drinks from the golden wedding cup, full of spiced wine he’s brought by the case as part of John’s dowry. That and the two hundred thoroughbreds that follow them, are the very embodiment of his sister’s – and now his – worth. “Jounhin, it is not so bad as all that.”
John does not answer.
His father sighs, long suffering, and takes another sip. “Your sister has proven herself, by your very hand, worthy to inherit the throne. Now you must fulfill this role as generations of lords and ladies before you have. Your mother came to me in just such a marriage, and we’ve been happy all these long years. I only wish for that same happiness for you.”
“This is happiness?” John asks, utterly heartsick, holding up his wrists and rattling the chains. “You’ve sold me for six gold mines and protection along the northern border.”
His father’s face hardens. “This marriage will ensure the survival of our people. We need the protection of our northern allies, and nothing could be so binding as a marriage between our two Realms. One day you will understand the sacrifices we must all make.” He pauses, thoughtful. “You need not be frightened. He’s a good boy with a keen mind, and the match will, in time, foster good will between you.”
“I’m sure it will,” John spits, furious, “once I fulfill my duties as broodmare.”
His father is quiet for a long while. When he speaks again his voice sounds different, as if he’s speaking to a skittish horse, a frightened child. John has never heard his father speak in such a tone, and never to him. “Don’t fight him, Jounhin. When he comes to you tonight, open to him with your entire heart and there will be no pain.”
A well of terror comes up and renders John mute. They say nothing more for the rest of the journey.
The Realm of the Seven Moons, when they pass through the Valley of the Arching Hands, is as beautiful as John remembers from a trip he once with his father. He remembers the palace rearing up out of the cliffs, the sparkling blue pools beneath it reflecting like a perfect, unbroken mirror. Now, in the gleam of the midday sun, it shines like a sparkling white beacon out of the dark mountain wood.
The village below is magnificent, and decorated for a celebration. John wonders what’s happening until it dawns on him with sickening suddenness – him, they’re celebrating his arrival, the wedding of their young prince. The caravan is met by soldiers on white horses, and John only gets a glimpse of the dark red flowers that grow in his homeland woven into their manes before the priests come.
The very last thing he sees before he is blindfolded is his father’s expressionless face.
He listens very carefully – there are voices in a tongue very similar to John’s, and the sound of horse hooves on cobblestone, and the cry of thousands of peasants cheering. John has never been so glad for the thick cloth of a blindfold, for the richly decorated curtains of his caravan car. They travel further up a steep hill, and then winding, winding, winding. It seems to go on forever, and John has only just begun to give in to the sick panic squirming in his guts when the caravan comes to a stop.
Trumpets call, the curtains are drawn back with a gust of fresh air, and John’s heart does it’s very best to beat out of his chest.
There are hands at each side, on each elbow and knee helping him unfold, climb down, stand. The ground is freezing beneath his feet, some sort of smooth, polished stone. Voices, hushed voices all around him, are whispering, and John thinks his knees are going to give out on him any moment.
The priests lead him forward and he can do nothing but follow, trusting their guidance. His chains are very loud against the stone under his feet. There are more voices, voices all around him in the dark behind his blindfold, hundreds of people witnessing this disgrace. John’s now certain his heart isn’t going to come out of his chest; it’s going to crawl right out of his mouth.
He should have tried harder to run away. He should have tried again, he should have found some way to break the Virgins Hold. His muscles tense and the priests squeeze his elbows; warning or comfort he doesn’t know.
It’s too late now. It’s far, far too late.
None of it seems real. John’s father is speaking, saying something – John hears nothing but a roaring in his ears, the people singing. The priests are there, unchaining him to be presented properly, and the Lord of the Seven Moons makes a speech, his voice deep and cultured like John remembers. There is chanting, and the crowd rises and falls once, twice, in accordance to tradition, and somewhere along the way John gets married to someone he’s never even seen before, who he knows only be the cold touch of his hand where it’s joined with his.
When the blindfold is removed the light dazzles him, makes his eyes water so badly that they overflow – the ritual weeping. Paint runs down his face in black streaks, as he has seen so many times at so many marriages in Temple.
John looks on his mate for the first time, dark hair and pale skin, and watches him close his eyes in pain.
The ceremony ends quickly, and rather than the celebration as is customary in John’s homeland, he and his new mate are separated at once and led in opposite directions – the man with his father, John with a woman who can only be the Priestess of the Moon. He is taken in a carriage from the temple to the palace across an enormous bridge, with a sheer drop so far down John can’t see the bottom. The walkway on either side is lined with peasants and townsfolk waving and cheering as he passes.
The palace itself seems to leap out from the cliffs, and gives John the impression of a white dove about to take flight. The turrets soar up into the sky, lined at the top with the red flags of the Horse Lords, a gesture of welcome. The guardsmen at the top must have seen the wedding procession coming for miles. The stone the palace is made with is at once achingly beautiful and completely unnatural, and John is reminded of the magic at work in this realm, very likely done by the Lord of the Seven Moons himself.
He is led by the Priestess of the Moon into the palace, where the hallways are filled with those hoping to catch a glimpse of their new prince. John stares straight ahead without blinking. The Priestess keeps hold of his arm, leading him gently. “Do not be frightened,” she says, and John wonders just how awful he looks. Two servants open an enormous set of double doors to a suite that’s filled with at least two dozen people.
It swiftly becomes obvious that the trials he must endure are long from being over. He’s ritually cleansed by the priestesses, who wash away the face paint and perfume of his homeland and replace it with something warm, almost spicy, that leaves his lips tingling. They dress him in silk so fine that nothing is left to the imagination, and satin slippers for his boot-roughened feet. The physicians are after, affirming that the chastity piece has done its job and he is a virgin, and are seemingly uncaring of the embarrassment of their new prince, of his discomfort that they should have their hands all over him. They prick his finger, smearing the well of blood onto a parchment, and mutter to one another for an eternity. The priestesses hum and chant, and there John is, standing nearly naked in front of what must be thirty people, done up like a harlot.
He can’t help himself; he bursts out laughing.
The sound alarms everyone in the room. The priestesses leave at once, their attendants behind them, and the physicians press a vial of something on him. He tries to refuse but they insist, vocally at first and then with more force. It tastes like apples, and burns going down.
And then, quite suddenly, John is alone, left kneeling like a gift in the center of the massive bed with only the lightest of gossamer robes to cover his modesty.
He breathes. Once, twice, a long, slow pull of air into starving lungs. His heart is racing.
Before he can decide what he’s going to do (images of creating a rope out of the bed sheets, sneaking out of the bathing room window, and running across that massive bridge go through this head), he realizes he can smell everything -- the men who’d just left the room and his own fear and the soap they’ve washed the sheets with. Horror narrows the world down to a thin point, lodged deep inside his belly. He presses a fist there, clenches his eyes shut as an ugly, familiar burn builds inside.
The door again opens and John’s matewalks in.
It’s as old and primal as time itself, the recognition of an alpha’s immediate interest in a fertile omega. It would be funny if it wasn’t so awful, the way he freezes, nostrils flaring and face flushing into a brilliant, mortified red, when he sees John. John can’t exactly blame him, since he’s followed by the Lord of the Seven Moons and John’s father.
As a boy, when he’d first begun his knight’s training, he’d had an old billy goat of a task master, Sir Fletcher. He’d been mean right from the beginning, never giving him any slack, and though it took him a long time to realize it John had learned to be grateful he was treated the same as all the other knights in training. Sir Fletcher had trained them to be hard, and strong, and fearless, had taught them how to fight, but perhaps more importantly he had taught them how to yield without loss of self – to a mate, to an elder, to an enemy. He’d hated the practice at the time, swallowing his pride over and over again until Sir Fletcher had been satisfied, but he had come to rely on those skills more than once.
Never had they been most needed, most valued, as in that moment, nearly nude before two men he didn’t know, and his father, who wanted to see him brought to his knees.
He is there. He is on his knees, but his very soul is pulled in close, sheltered and protected under the shield of his own indifference. They are the enemy, and they will not have him.
The Lord of the Seven Moons does a single pass around the room, inspecting that everything has been done to his specifications. When the Lord reaches the bed he gives John a nearly unreadable look, though if John were the sort he’d have thought there was something almost kind in the man’s eyes. “Prince Jounhin,” he says, voice so deep it nearly rattles into John’s chest. John goes wet, a hot, mortifying gush that makes him want to sob. He’s a knight, cowed by no man, but here, now, as vulnerable as he has ever been in his entire life, he can’t stop himself from ducking his head low, baring his neck in deference to this alpha, this man who could hurt him should he so choose. “I hope that I will not be disappointed.”
“No, Sire,” he mumbles, numb. “I will try to please you.”
The Lord of the Seven Moons nods, thoughtful, and turns away to his son. “The lords and ladies in waiting will be in the hall, if you require anything. The priests will come to ascertain consummation. Do not allow him to bathe until then.”
The son’s eyes are alight with such anger that they glow almost red. He works his jaw tightly, the muscle bunching. “Yes, Father.”
The Lord then turns to John’s father, dips his head. Father nods in return and comes to him, to where John has not moved, cowering like a terrified dog, and takes his hand, kisses his forehead. The touch is cold, and burns like ice on John’s skin. “Remember what I told you,” he says, low. “I will remain in residence for the next day if you need anything, anything at all.”
“Yes, Father,” John says, staring at his knees.
There is a pause as if his father wishes to say more, but finally, with one last squeeze of his hand he lets go, and John is left alone with the man he belongs to for the first time.
There’s silence for so long that John twitches under the weight of it, turning his gaze to his mate. He’s grown from the gangly boy John once met into a handsome man, tall like his father with fine, noble features. His hair is no longer too short and windblown; his riot of dark curls fall over his brow, caught in a thong at the nape of his neck. He has grown into his nose, large and regal on his face, and his hands, long-fingered and slender, but his eyes are the same, so light they’re almost gray, the color of dew on a cold morning. They do not want to meet John’s. “I’m sorry,” he begins, with a voice as deep as his father’s. “I tried to – This entire situation is utterly barbaric, but there was no talking my father out of it once he got it in his head.”
John swallows, hard. He wants to arch his back, touch his throat. He wants, with a steady growing pressure he will soon be unable to ignore. “I knew you only as the younger son, last I visited your kingdom.”
The man closes his eyes again, pained. He hasn’t moved from his position by the door, but John can see the heat of him, the hardening length in his trousers. John’s body contracts and a pulse of slick slips from his hole. It’s all he can do not to squirm. “Sherlock. My name is Sherlock.”
“Jounhin,” he replies, and swallows again. “But I hate that, reminds me of a stuffy old uncle, so you can call me John.”
“John, then.” Sherlock glances up at him under the fringe of his hair. Even in the shadow of the room, where the light from the fire doesn’t reach, his eyes seem to glow, unearthly, like an animal’s. John wonders if he has magic too. “The particulars of what is to occur here tonight have been explained to me,” he says, voice thick with disgust, “as I’m sure they have been to you.”
John turns his gaze away. “No.”
“What do you m—Of course not,” Sherlock snaps, furious. “The entire situation is ridiculous, and when I am king my sons will not endure the—”
He stops, as if catching himself, as if realizing – realizing –
Unsteady on his feet, he sits, hard, on the desk in the corner of the room. “What have you been told, John?”
“To shut up and do as I’m told.” The words come out sharper than he intends. “I’m sure my father told you I tried to run.”
“Yes,” Sherlock replies, carefully neutral. “He may have said something to that effect. There are guards on watch for you.”
“No doubt.” He looks up at the man. “I don’t know these lands. It’s cold, and my home – that is, the Realm of the Horse Lords, is much warmer than it is here.”
He stands immediately. “Are you cold now?”
“I can honestly say that I’m not,” John replies, and watches Sherlock’s cheeks get dark. The smell of him, of his beginning rut, is musky on the nose. “Though, if you don’t mind, I’d rather not sit here like some sort of concubine.”
There’s an enormous wardrobe against one wall of the room. Sherlock rummages in it for barely a minute before emerging with a nightshirt made of some sort of thin cloth. When he nears, offering it, John can smell him, his clothing, his hair, the blood pumping down between his legs. Sherlock turns his face away, offering the illusion of privacy as John shucks the gauze-laden mess and pulls the nightshirt over his head.
It’s cool on his skin, and smells of rich, potent alpha. John makes a noise in his throat, and Sherlock turns away to unbutton his jacket, his shirt. The panic that John had been keeping at bay explodes again and he fights to keep his breathing normal, knowing it must sound very loud. John grinds his teeth against the whimpering caught in his throat, so wet now he’s filling the air with his scent. Sherlock twitches, and John flushes under the burn of his own humiliation. “Did they give you the key?”
“Key?” Sherlock asks, and John can’t say the words, he physically can’t say them, so he shows him instead, metal around his cock and between his legs. Sherlock’s eyes clench closed when he sees John’s shame, then open again and meet his. “Yes.”
He goes to his clothing to fetch it and John watches, silent, heart pounding fiercely now, and with it a thick, glorious stirring at the strong flex of Sherlock’s shoulders, the muscles in his back as he bends down. John lies back, laughing, covering his eyes with his arm. “Your physicians drugged me.”
Sherlock’s hand fists around a leather thong with a key. “I know. They drugged me too.”
“Is that part of the ritual?”
“Yes.” Sherlock rounds the bed and sits next to him – John pulls up the nightshirt dutifully so Sherlock can get at the lock near his thigh. He’s very careful not to touch John’s skin. “You’ll be surprised to know that arranged marriages can sometimes get off to a rocky start.”
“You don’t say,” John says with a snort, peeking out from under his arm. The sound draws Sherlock’s eye, makes his lips quirk up once more. John has no idea what kind of master he is, what would happen if he invited his anger – and he has a temper, proof positive by his reaction to his father. John knows it won’t be long before he finds out, but he doesn’t want to, not here, not when he still has to get through—
This close, John can see the flecks of silver in his eyes, the pale skin that speaks of a summer spent indoors. The firelight dances and John watches Sherlock work the little key into the tinier lock, struggling to get it open, to get the chastity piece off. “Sherlock,” he says, a rush of need through his body that centers down in his loins, where the man curses bitterly, fighting with the lock. John presses the back of his head into the pillow, staring up at the ceiling.
He’s shuddering when Sherlock finally gets the lock open, when cool air hits damp skin. His head swims, and Sherlock says, “Fucking priests,” and John scrambles backwards to press his burning back against the cold wood of the headboard. The nightshirt is large enough that he can pull his knees up and the cloth down, not that it does anything to mask the scent, heavy and sweet, of an omega in heat.
Sherlock looks down at the chastity device with disgust, stands to put it atop the dresser beside the bed. John wonders if he’s that sort of man, if he’ll keep it, if it will become a tool of punishment. “You should have let your sister come to this.”
John wishes he could say it was like a douse of cold water. Instead, he fights with all his might not to press his fingers to the wet-tight-want, the place between his legs that aches with a need to be full. “What?”
“Your sister,” Sherlock says. His voice, if possible, has gone deeper. “I’m not a kind man, John. The ideal situation would have been for all of us to continue along with our lives without interference, but if this was to be, a woman would have found this life easier to bear. You weren’t raised to be the submissive partner, the broodmare to the prince of a foreign court. How did you see this playing out?”
John feels his face get hot under the flush of his heat. “Fuck you. How do you know about Heriathin?”
“You’re a knight,” Sherlock continues, while he finishes unbuttoning his shirt. “Calluses on your thumbs from the grip of your sword, calves muscular with repeated exercises. You favor your right side, the effects of an old war wound – the Battle for the Lower Valley, two years ago now. You have a weak spot along your left flank that you have fought to master, because though your left is your predominant hand you use the right for your weaponry. You didn’t answer my question.”
It makes John’s head swim, badly. “What? How can you—what?”
He tries to ignore the skin being bared, pale and long and flawless, muscles moving underneath, until he can’t ignore it anymore, until Sherlock comes to the side of the bed wearing only a simple robe, naked and vulgar and big. The base of his manhood is thickening, the knot beginning to form. When he pushes into John he’ll engorge, tie them together, and – “You would have ruled comfortably as king, with whichever alpha you wished at your side. Your pregnancies would have been at your choosing, and with high honor on your children for being the babes of a king’s womb. You would have enjoyed the power of the throne, John, and used it well, yet here you are and there your sister is, thrust into a position she was not raised to understand. You’re a tactician, reasonably intelligent with the foresight afforded to you by campaign, and yet you chose this path with the full understanding of what was to come. Why? Why are you protecting her?”
It’s a knife, directly to John’s heart. He turns his face away, swallows hard. “Does it matter?”
“Not anymore. Though it makes me question what sort of counsel you took before deciding on this fate.” Sherlock sits again at his side. “I’m not a kind man, but I’m not a monster,” he says. “A woman would have found comfort in new friends, sewing, homemaking and children. Your sister would have come to find peace here.”
John digs his fingers into his calves. He’s starting to tremble, and he rubs his forehead against his knees, sweat burning in his eyes. “I couldn’t let her get hurt.”
“Your father had plans for her,” Sherlock says, and brushes his fingers through John’s hair. It’s like a fire bolt through John’s body, and he arches his back, keens sweet and high like the omega he has fought his entire life not to be. Sherlock’s thumb brushes his cheek and John mewls, hates himself for every moment of it even if he can’t help himself. “My father saw something in you, enough to join our kingdoms together in marriage. I want to make very clear that this was not my decision anymore than it was yours, and outside of these necessary, and likely drugged, encounters, I do not expect you to warm my bed anymore than you should expect me to warm yours.”
Sherlock’s fingers knot at the nape of John’s hair, pulling back just enough to get John’s throat to arch, bare, waiting. He keens, and Sherlock’s face is a study of shaken need, feverish in its intensity. “I won’t hurt you. Do you understand?”
Saliva pools in John’s mouth, a heavy lurch down low in his stomach. He’s losing control, and with an alpha nearing his rut so close it’s like a fire has been lit in his body. “I hurt now.”
Sherlock’s head tips, studying him. His fingers ease in John’s hair, but that makes the want worse. “Tell me what you’ve done with other men.”
“Kissed,” John says, staring at him. “Nothing more. My heats were well-timed, and I had--” He flushes with mortification and shame, because he’s hard, he’s so hard he’s twitching under the nightshirt, where Sherlock can see. “I took care of them.”
“Good. That’s good.” Sherlock presses his thumb gently to the curve of it, near his ear. “Don’t be afraid.”
“What’s to be afraid of?” He bites his lip until he tastes iron, until he can control the shudder in his jaw.
For a moment, just a moment, Sherlock clenches his eyes shut, bows his head. When he lifts his chin once more, his eyes are clear and his mouth set in a thin, tense line. “May I touch you?”
“Yes,” John says, and hates himself for the tremble in his voice. He presses further back against the headboard, humiliated when Sherlock brushes his palm down under the nightshift and between his cheeks, traces a finger gently around his hole, already swollen open. Mid-heat, when he reached the crest, would see him so wet it would drip down his legs, pool in the hollow of his knees as he presented, shameless, for a knot. He fights to keep his thighs from clamping closed again. “You don’t need -- I’ve been wet for ten minutes.”
“I see,” Sherlock says, so calm, so fucking calm while John feels like he’s coming apart at the seams. He wants to be angry but all he can feel is relief, that of the two of them at least one can keep his head.
Sherlock’s fingers leave, only to come back. They’re cold, uncomfortable on his skin, wrong. “If something hurts, you have to tell me,” Sherlock says, shifting himself closer, more intimate. “I won’t make it awful for you. I’ll try to bring you pleasure.”
John lets out a shaking breath, waits for the first push. “Do it,” he says, and presses a hand over his eyes. “I can’t stand it.”
Sherlock listens. One fingertip only and it feels so good, like an itch being scratched that he can’t quite reach. It presses in and then out, slowly; Sherlock is careful, patient, and finally it’s slid all the way in. It isn’t painful but for the barest twinges, but he must soon yield to something far larger than a single finger.
He keeps his hand over his eyes, breathes in and out as Sherlock touches him. Sherlock isn’t ugly, for all that, even a bit handsome in a strange sort of way. Nothing like the people of John’s realm, who were for the most part fair of hair and eye, and short-statured. The people here seem to tower, and even here in this bed Sherlock looms over him, enormous by John’s standards.
He is protected. He is safe. He thanks Sir Fletcher a thousand times for drilling this into his head, for teaching him to yield to humiliation, to pain, without losing himself. He is whole, deep inside where nothing could ever hope to penetrate.
“You’ve gone quiet,” Sherlock says, startling John out of his thoughts. He opens his eyes, feels them wet and gritty. He scrubs his wrist across them. “Am I hurting you?”
“No,” John says, with a small laugh. “No more than I’m hurting you.”
Sherlock’s pupils are blown, eyes dark with an answering arousal to the scent pouring from John’s body. Any other alpha would have already taken what was his due, fucked John open the moment he scented him, fertile and ready to be bred. He doesn’t understand this, what Sherlock is waiting for, what he’s even doing, but when Sherlock murmurs, “Lie back,” John shakes his head, clenches his eyes shut and fights with himself until his greedy hole pulses again, then once more. He’s moving before he can stop himself, letting Sherlock pull him until he’s flat on the bed, knees up and legs splayed, wanton, a creature for sex.
“Please,” John says, spreading his knees further. There is no longer any need for modesty, and the very thought of it makes his ears fill with the rush of his own disgrace. “I want—I—please.”
Sherlock settles in close between his legs and presses in two fingers, fingertips first, and then deep, deeper. It’s a bigger stretch, and John’s discomfort increases, edging now into the tension of pain, but so good.
It seems to take a long time for Sherlock to work both of his fingers inside, and John doesn’t understand, he doesn’t understand. “Please,” he begs, fingers clenched in the blankets, in his own hair. “Please, I need—”
“Tell me,” Sherlock murmurs, like he isn’t kneeling between John’s thighs, his cock huge and hard and dark with the pulse of his blood.
“Why are you doing this?” John asks on what is very nearly a sob. He turns his face away, rubs his hips down into the blankets, into Sherlock’s fingers inside of him.
“You’re a virgin,” Sherlock says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, like he isn’t an alpha about to fall head-long into a rut, like he doesn’t have an omega on a fucking platter before him. “And my consort. Mine,” he snaps, and oh, there it is, there is the alpha, the flashing dark eyes and deep-throated growl, the voice that makes John pulse, and tighten, and come.
Lights go off behind John’s eyes and he bites into the wail coming out of him, strangles it even as his body shudders through aftershocks. His cock is still hard, so hard, but inside the pleasure burns so sweet, orgasm slipping into something else, ratcheting up the ache until he’s mindless, grinding down into Sherlock’s fingers.
Sherlock meets his begging eyes, face pulled taut, and presses so gently on the glands around John’s entrance. They flood, and slick drips from him, a low, heady rush between his legs connected directly to his cock. He swallows convulsively, but Sherlock presses his two fingers in once more, out and then in, and on his fourth try he touches his omega’s knot deep within. Sherlock pauses, rubbing gently, and John feels himself gush, a wet slide thicker than his slick, that makes Sherlock utter a low noise of surprise. John laughs, shaky and weak, even as his back arches all on its own, even as he tries to present. “You – it’s my—”
“Yes,” Sherlock murmurs, and curls his fingers gently against the sensitive vaginal opening. John nearly levitates, and oh, saints above, it’s only the first few hours of heat but already he can feel himself losing control, already the pain is beginning to build inside, the need for something in.
Sherlock is so gentle, careful to touch that same spot over and over on every return push, and John almost doesn’t notice when he comes back with three fingers, not until he pushes them to the second knuckle and John burns. He shudders, jolting, and Sherlock nods, pulling them free and shifting up between John’s legs.
It is a position John never imagined he’d find himself in, looking up at a huge man between his thighs, a man ready to pierce him to the quick. He panics, gulping for air, and Sherlock hushes him with a care that he is at once grateful for and furious about.
It’s too late. Sherlock lifts John’s knees so his feet are flat on the mattress. With one large hand he tilts John’s hips and then he is there, leading himself in. “Relax,” he says, when John tries to tighten. It’s no use, Sherlock has prepared him too well. He’s never done this but his body knows what to do, housing a wellspring of sharp, awful need that pinches in his chest, tugs at his heart. He wants to scream, to fight, but it’s too late, it’s all far too late for any of that.
Sherlock presses in, so deep, and then deeper still, as if it will never end. He rocks and moves and after a small eternity he’s finally in, hips nestled against the curve of John’s arse, stretching him beyond what he’s ever known. He can feel the knot, just there at the base, which will grow and swell and stretch him wide open, plug him deep for Sherlock’s seed. In a few hours it will be all he wants. He’ll beg for it, shameless. “It’s done,” Sherlock says, near to breathless. “We’ll wait as long as you need.”
“I-- I’m a warrior in my land,” John says, trembling, staring at the ceiling as his body fights the intrusion, as his body welcomes it with open arms. He grips hard at Sherlock’s shoulders, at the rippling muscle kept so carefully in check.
“I know.” He turns his head and kisses John’s knee, a small brush of his lips, and John realizes it’s their first kiss. “Does it hurt?”
“Yes,” John says, concentrating on his breathing and trying to ignore the well of tears he can feel burning in his throat. “A different pain.” His body fights again and he shudders, clenching his eyes closed. “It’s too much.”
“I know,” Sherlock says, his eyes glowing in the dark. It isn’t a trick of the light at all, but magic, fierce and beautiful and chaotic in all its wonder. John had suspected as much, and can’t untangle his feelings about a sorcerer bedding him from the actual bedding itself, or how much it aches. “You’re relaxing even now. In a moment I’ll move, and little by little it won’t hurt so much.”
“I need you to move now,” John says, ashamed his voice is almost a sob.
“Not yet,” Sherlock tells him. “Your body knows what it wants, but it’s new to this.” He reaches down then, palm flat over John’s chest, and apparently satisfied with what he feels, slowly stretches down over John’s body, propped up on his elbows so he won’t crush the air out of him. It’s different, immediate, and Sherlock feels huge above him, around him, inside of him. It’s better this way but also somehow worse, and John shudders, smothered and grounded and scared out of his wits.
Sherlock shifts above him, and John moans, squeezing his eyes shut when Sherlock pulls back and then pushes back in. It’s a slow, rocking movement, driving John’s hips up with the force of it, sending his knees skidding along Sherlock’s sides. The feeling is different and uncomfortable and slowly spilling over into something else. Sherlock moves with careful thrusts, and John’s attention is brought to the way his skin feels as it brushes across John’s thighs on his every movement, the way his shoulders look as he holds himself up over John’s body. He’s careful, he’s been so careful, and the more John relaxes the easier it is.
The pleasure is there, potent, and as Sherlock works him he slowly begins to fall into the throes of his heat. “Yes,” Sherlock murmurs, moving with more force now, more intent. His hips move and John’s do too, lifting to meet him if only to have that feeling again. He cries out when Sherlock’s pounds into him again, and then again, and John’s legs tighten and his thighs clench and he wants more of it, but this, like this, it isn’t right. He keens, lost, and Sherlock must know, he must understand his plea, because he pulls free for only a moment, long enough for John to slide into position, by instinct, on elbows and knees. He tilts his arse up high, presents himself for his alpha, terrified by his own role, by how easy it has come. He’s wet, dripping, and he doesn’t care that he is revealing far too much of himself. He is protected where it counts the most and Sherlock is bringing him pleasure he didn’t know he could experience, that he didn’t know existed.
Sherlock presses in once more, and the angle is perfect. John bites a scream into his fist when Sherlock slips that much deeper, into the place that made him omega, deep where their child will form. He hears himself begging, and when Sherlock touches John’s cock, hard and wet, John jolts, a sound like a sob spilling out of him. “No, please, I—”
“Yes,” Sherlock says, squeezing John’s cock, milking it firmly in his hand. He lifts up, rears back over John’s body to work his cock in short, quick bursts. “Take your pleasure, John.”
He does, he does, clenching his own fingers in his hair, his mouth, as he jerks and spills all over his belly, the hem of the night shirt, Sherlock’s fingers. The contractions of pleasure prolong his coming until he wants to scream, to curl up in himself, to make it stop and make it go on forever, until he’s left shaking and spent.
Sherlock drops down, takes what’s his. His thrusts are fast, sharp, almost brutal, working hard towards his own bliss with determination. It hurts, the pain lending a sharp edge to John’s pleasure, and he moans, broken and high, when Sherlock’s knot begins to press in. It hurts, a lancing pain, and he struggles now as countless before him have, speared to the quick on a knot. Sherlock growls, mean and beautiful and deep, and sets his teeth into John’s neck until the smell of them is compounded by the iron-bright tang of blood. He screams and Sherlock is in, stretching him so wide he feels as if his body will split in two, and jerks and shudders huge over John as he fills him with his seed.
He collapses with slow, cautious increments, careful even now not to crush John underneath him, and rolls them to their sides. They breathe, panting together, boneless and exhausted. Sherlock is wracked with shivers every few moments, hips moving slowly, relentlessly, as orgasm takes him again and again, filling John full. John closes his eyes, whimpering like a kicked dog, and Sherlock’s palm cups his face, turning it towards him. “Alright?”
John doesn’t know what will happen if he speaks. He settles for shaking his head, because no, he will never be alright again. After searching his face for a long moment Sherlock pulls him closer and lays his head back down to the back of John’s shoulder, tired and spent.
He pulls the blankets up over them, drawing John’s night shirt down warmly over his side before he does so. It is the last thing John remembers as he allows himself to finally fall into an exhausted sleep.
The heat is on him for three days. It grows so bad that when he crests all he can do is mewl, knees spread and arse arched up high, for a cock. Sherlock is no better, caught in the throes of a rut so strong he can scarcely leave John’s body, let alone the bed. The priests come, and Sherlock growls like he’ll tear their throats out if they try to get close. Four men hold him down while the priests lift the blankets and inspect John, who shakes so hard and from a place so deep that they don’t dare touch him.
When they’re gone, Sherlock licks the cold sweat from his face and burrows ever-deeper, until the rhythmic movement of fucking, of the knot, is as close to home as John thinks he’ll ever get again.