Arthur immediately recognises what he has stumbled upon. He has heard rumours of the barbaric practice still occurring, but he hadn’t believed it could be happening on Camelot’s soil again. Omega Runs have been banned from this land for more than twenty years, but this couldn’t be anything else. He recognises the fevered look in the eyes of the man knelt before him.
“Sire,” says one of his newly knighted men. They are all gathered around, the youngest looking nervous and excited at the adventure of a first patrol. His battle-hardened knights furrow their brows, understanding what they’ve uncovered. “Scouts have spotted a dozen more men, armed with ropes and little else, sniffing their way through the forest.”
Gripping the back of his captive’s neck, Arthur forces him to his feet. “And what rules does your hunt abide by?”
The man whimpers, his face pinched as he stammers, “Atlov’s Standard.”
Arthur’s nose curls at the acrid scent of urine as the man loses control of himself, and Arthur tosses him to the ground in disgust.
“Tie him up,” he says to Leon, then louder, “We find the omega by nightfall or there will be nothing left of him by morning.”
Arthur pairs his knights before sending them off -- alphas with at least one beta to keep them under control should they catch the scent and succumb to the fever. He doubts any of his alphas have ever encountered an unmated omega, let alone one in heat.
Arthur trusts himself, though. And he waves off Leon’s look of concern when Arthur refuses to lead any of the groups. Arthur’s senses are keen; even for an alpha his tracking ability is considered extraordinary, and he does not need a beta slowing him down. He sets off at a run.
There is a reason he’s known as the best hunter in the kingdom and it’s not long before Arthur finds his quarry.
The omega’s clever; the entrance to the cave he has chosen is infested with blooming carrion flowers, and the air reeks of death, but buried beneath it is something far too sweet to belong to this forest.
The minute Arthur steps into the cave the previously faint scent of the omega consumes him. Scent has been a part of Arthur’s life since he was a boy, learning what it means to be an alpha. He uses it to hunt game, to check his food for poisons, to check his knights for fear or deceit. He uses it to find interested bedmates.
It has never before overwhelmed him or tainted his judgement, but in this moment he understands Leon’s concern -- Arthur’s never encountered anything like the boy huddled in a corner, trembling at the realisation he’s been found. Unmated omegas are not permitted within Camelot’s walls. They are disruptive. And a king tricked by the allure of an omega could put the entire kingdom at risk. Mates make a king vulnerable; his father had instilled that in him early.
“You’re safe now,” Arthur says, keeping his distance. Sweat already begins to prickle the back of his neck as he fights the impulse to touch, to claim. The draw of an omega in heat is more than he’s ever prepared for. “You are free to return home.”
“I can’t,” the boy gasps. “They fed me herbs.”
Arthur leans closer, letting the fading light from the cave entrance spill upon the boy’s face. He’s drenched with sweat, his short black hair spiking, his blue eyes bright with fever. It’s not fear that has him trembling. Arthur doesn’t need to look to know that the boy’s breaches would be sodden. He tries not to think of him like that, wet and ready.
Reaching forward, Arthur touches the boy’s forehead. “The herbs,” he whispers, “they did this to you?”
The boy curls himself tighter, his face flushing an even higher colour.
The genius of it horrifies Arthur -- Atlov’s Standard states that all omegas are slaughtered after the claiming. The herbs ensure that even if the omega escapes the Run, he’ll die from the heat fever if he isn’t claimed, taking the secret of the illegal Run with him either way.
Arthur kneels beside the boy. There’s little more than an arm’s length between them, though it feels like too much. “What’s your name?”
He startles, clearly not expecting even this much courtesy. “Merlin.”
“Merlin.” Arthur resists asking how old. He’s old enough to go into heat. “You understand what I have to do?”
He looks so young as he nods. “Do it.”
Arthur strips them both with quick, efficient hands, as he would a knight needing wounds tended too. With the boy laid out beneath him, the pretence of detachment is impossible to maintain. His hands shake as he guides Merlin to lay on his belly. His fingers find Merlin as slick and open as any filthy tale he’s heard told by a campfire. He grips Merlin’s hips with the need to thrust inside, to take and take, as is his due as an alpha.
A choked sob from Merlin steals Arthur from his daze, reminding him he is saving the boy’s life in doing this, not chasing his own desires.
“Shh,” he whispers, stroking Merlin’s back until the trembling eases. “I’ll take care of you.”
Nose pressed to Merlin’s cleft, Arthur licks at the wetness there. It’s sweet and heady. Arthur’s dizzy with it already. Merlin shoves against Arthur’s mouth, making a high-pitched whimper, and Arthur spears his tongue at the already loose, waiting hole.
Arthur does it again and again until his face is sloppy and Merlin’s begging turns into sobs.
How he’d ever resisted such pleasure is beyond comprehension. He feels the danger; he would give his kingdom for another taste of this. Only he knows, he knows this boy who melts so sweetly under his touch would not ask such a price.
When they can’t take the teasing any longer, he mounts Merlin like an animal, jerking his hips and pushing in gracelessly. They are both too desperate for gentle touches. He thrusts deep, letting the heat and omega-slick surround his cock like nothing else has. There’s a feeling in his belly, a warmth shimmering inside him that can only mean one thing, but he doesn’t stop. His cock plumps at the base: a knot he knew was possible but never once experienced starts to form.
This is what his father hid from him, what the laws of Camelot fought to protect him from.
His eyes fill with the wonder of it.
He clings to Merlin as they lock together, reaching around to fist Merlin’s cock like he never wants to let go. It’s glorious when Merlin finds his release, stretched wide around Arthur’s knot.
The warmth in Arthur’s chest settles to contentedness as they fall asleep, heartbeats in sync.
They wake to the sounds of Arthur’s men searching for them and Merlin’s eyes are already wide with panic. He can guess Merlin’s thoughts, that any promises Arthur had made for his safety have evaporated like the dew in the harsh morning light.
He hears Leon’s voice in the distance, calling out orders to the men combing the woods.
“Do you trust me?” Arthur says to Merlin and waits until he receives a nod -- though it looks like it’s given more out of desperation than trust.
It will be complicated and his father will be furious, but nothing has felt more honourable, more right, and Arthur’s too far gone on this boy already to turn back now. If he can get word to Gaius to meet them on their return path, the bonding ceremony could be done in the woods, with his most trusted knights for witnesses. They will be formally mated before his father will even hear word of this.
“What are you going to do with me?” Merlin asks.
Arthur kisses the furrow of Merlin’s brow and says, “How do you feel about living in a castle?”