Sitting around the dining table Louis has never regretted it so much. It's not the food why he feels repulsed because the chefs have done a magnificent job like they usually do. It's the words that come out of his parents' mouth in an agreement that he definitely doesn't have a say in.
The year is at an end, New Years a day away, and Louis has just turned the merry age of twenty two. He doesn't even get a chance to breathe before the idea of getting married to a fifty year old, bald headed alpha duke is decided.
The king and queen are more than worried for Louis' future as a royal. The position of king without a second thought had bypassed the prince and been given to Ernest. It's no secret that Louis is an embarrassment to the throne. He's an unwed omega without any heir and it's well past his time. Since he's no longer next in line for king, he's been waiting for the moment his parents sit him down and announce an arranged marriage. Louis doesn't have a place in the castle anymore. Now that it has come, the food on his plate doesn't look as appealing anymore.
Louis swallows down his food, putting down his cutlery. He looks between the king and queen and the looks on their faces are adamant. They aren't having a royal laugh at all.
His parents mimic his action and put down their knives and forks along with his younger sisters and Ernest. An awkward silence fills the royal dining room. His mother clears her throat.
"We have decided that you will be marrying the Duke of France, sweetheart."
The blue eyed omega gulps, looking down at his plate shamefully. He wouldn't be in this position if he had just found someone decent enough to marry already.
"We have been discussing this for a few weeks now," his father informs him. "Upon encountering the Duke of France at your cousin's birthday celebration last month, during your jaunt to Rome, we proposed to him."
Louis glances around the table and as expected, all eyes are on him. He purses his lips and purposely grabs his fork, stuffing his mouth with a large bite of food in attempt to avoid the conversation if he can. He receives disapproving looks from the king and queen. Lottie even gives a slap to his thigh under the table in which he mewls out in pain, clutching at his leg.
"Not around the dining table," his mother intervenes before urging the king to continue.
"Very soon we will host a ball whereby you will be introduced to the duke and expected to flatter him. We want you to be on a carriage to France within the next three months."
The omega's eyes grow wide and he finally looks his father in the eyes, lips parted and stomach winded.
Johannah sighs, resting a hand on Mark's shoulder, silently telling him to let her elaborate.
"Louis, we want you married to the Duke of France in order to maintain your title and your dignity. You will no longer be living in this castle."
"Mother," Lottie interrupts. "Perhaps discuss this where there is not pointy cutlery? I do not think our prince is taking this too well."
"Charlotte, please do stop with your unnecessary input. Violence is not in an omega's nature," Mark states, clearly growing irritated.
"Let your mother continue. Do not interrupt again or you will be dismissed."
Lottie slouches down in her chair, looking down in dishonor and missing the warning glance she receives from the queen telling her to fix her posture. Louis' stomach is twisting in knots, the air in the room increasing in tension and his fate becoming all the more real and undoable. He can only imagine the rubbish they'd receive to the family name if they told the Duke of France they had an unwed omega prince for the taking and didn't deliver.
"Louis, we did not want to do this to you but you gave us no choice," Johannah speaks softly, but it doesn't do much to loosen up the frown of despair on her son's face.
There is not much the blue eyed omega can do to oppose the king and queen without bringing more shame to the castle. He swallows down the awful lump in his throat, slowly pushing his chair back and standing up.
"I hope I will be excused from the dining table. I am no longer hungry."
He waits until he receives the stiff nod from the king before he turns his back on them and exits the room, leaving the discussion unfinished. He's heavyhearted as he walks through the castle and he avoids glancing at every mirror he passes. All the maids, chefs and guards all stop and stare sympathetically when he passes them with tears in his eyes.
The omega wants to scoff. Of course they already know. He's always the last to be told things in the castle, mainly because he isn't trusted. He carries the terrible feeling swimming in his chest right up to his bedroom. He swiftly changes into the white silk nightgown laid out on his bed, then cocoons himself in the equally smooth sheets spread out neatly. He hates the feeling of the material more than anything. It reminds him that he's a royal, that he has to get married and he has to oblige in order to save the family name. He'd rather be a peasant worrying about tomorrow's dinner then a prince torn over a marriage he doesn't want.
It's not that the duke is a sleazy old alpha, not that Louis has met him before - he's only caught sight of a painting of him in the French castle a while back. The omega just doesn't want to give up his freedom yet, and he knows marrying a fifty year old duke means that he'll be bred up and giving birth in no time. He isn't ready for that, so he sobs into his bed sheets, hopeless.
There's a soft knock on his door that he peaks his head out of his cocoon to see who the person is. Louis knows when the door cracks open without his permission that it's Liam, his personal guard, there to provide him the comfort he knew the omega would be in need of.
The alpha locks the door behind him, face pitiful when he sees Louis' red tear stained one. They meet each other halfway, Louis untangling himself from the sheets in a haste and leaping into Liam's arms the second his hands link around his neck. The alpha is quick to rub circles on the omega's back with a soothing hand.
"I wanted to tell you," Liam states, guilt in his voice. "I did not want to risk my position here in the castle though," he pulls back the slightest to look at the omega, combing his fingers through his hair.
"Liam," Louis speaks quietly, avoiding the alpha's caring eyes. "I want to run away."
Louis feels the alpha tense up, arms tightening around his middle. He's immensely hurt, which the omega feels when Liam's hold starts to loosen and he has to unwrap his legs from around the alpha's waist and plant his feet on the floor.
"You cannot. My prince, I refuse to let you."
The blue eyed prince scrunches his face up in irritation, taking a step back and dismissing the intense look in the alpha's eyes. Liam speaks again before he can get a word out.
"I will hold you down if need be."
Louis' heart sinks, immediately feeling betrayed by Liam. The king and queen were very cautious and skeptical about letting an alpha be his personal guard, but upon crashing into Liam in the royal garden during a visit from his cousins who had moved to Rome some time ago, Louis was more than happy to trade a quarter of his jewellery and gold for one of the best guards in Rome. It was another thoughtless act of his that the king and queen frowned upon, but they grew on Liam with time because he never let Louis down. However, standing here and listening to the alpha's words, Louis feels incredibly let down.
"You are meant to support me," the omega responds, ocean eyes wide.
"I refuse to let you run away, your highness! You can get taken! Rather, what happens if you go into heat out there in the wilderness?!"
"Please lower your voice," Louis clasps his hands behind his back, giving Liam a disapproving look. He decides to take advantage of his title. "If someone hears, I will send you back to Rome."
The alpha looks down at the ground, face consumed with worry and hurt. He clears his throat, linking his hands behind his back too as he lowers to his knees.
"I apologize, your royal highness. Please forgive me."
The omega prince pinches the bridge of his nose, stepping towards Liam and gripping the sides of his face, lifting his head up.
"Get off your knees, Liam. That is not how you and I work."
The alpha stays on his knees, aware of how messy this departure may just become and not wanting to seem superior against the prince or take advantage of their friendship.
"My prince, I am sorry but I cannot let you go," he draws his arms up, resting them around the omega's waist and pulling him close until his chin is against the smaller boy's stomach. "Not only would I be letting you put yourself in danger but I cannot do without you, my lovely friend, as selfish as that is of me to say."
Louis sighs, tugging Liam's arms off him and stepping away. He goes over to his dresser, pulling out the warmest clothes. It's snowing heavily outside and it's not a wild guess to say the weather is below zero.
"Help me pack a sack," the prince orders. "Would you happen to know if there is a tavern nearby? I rarely leave these castle walls."
"I will not help you pack nor answer your question - I do not agree with this," Liam continues to oppose the prince, gulping every time he expects the omega to turn around and threaten to send him back to Rome.
"Do not help then. It will not stop me from running away," Louis responds, back turned to the guard as he dumps his warmest clothes on the bed. "If you hold me down I will have no choice but to scream. I would not want to see how that ends."
The alpha gulps, raising up from the floor and ready to use his lungs to scream that the prince is trying to run away. He can't find it in himself to do that to Louis though, so conjures up an alternative answer.
"Why do not I come with you?"
Louis freezes halfway through pulling his nightgown off, thighs and middle exposed. He glares behind the material, tugging it over his head and looking the alpha straight in the eyes.
"No, absolutely not," he responds back harshly.
"When I am noted as missing and you are also nowhere to find, if my parents find us, you will be sent to the dungeons to rot and to let the rats feed on you or you will be executed in the execution chamber,” the omega can't help but raise his voice as he layers clothes onto himself, enraged that Liam would risk his life for him.
"But I cannot let you go, Louis!"
The guard forgets the fact that he's being informal with his words, addressing the prince by his name. He only ever does it when he's pleading Louis. Louis stops, turning to look Liam in the eyes again, upset and conflicted. He's torn, his loving omega nature wanting nothing more than to make the alpha happy.
"I need you to leave."
Louis tries to stomach the guilt he feels but only ends up turning his back on Liam again, hiding the fact he's about to well up in tears. He doesn't hear the alpha moving.
The alpha unwilling starts to step away, nearing the door whilst he watches the omega prince pack the lot of spare clothes on his bed and also pack some gold. He stops before his hand reaches the handle, turning back to face Louis.
"I do not blame you. I would not want to get married to a fifty year old duke either," Liam takes a deep breath. "Run. Run and do not stop until you are deep in the forest."
The omega nods his head, about to swing the sack of his stuff over his shoulder but he drops it to make his way over to Liam and give him a large hug.
"17Black," Liam speaks quietly, a hint of regret in his voice as he takes the necklace with a compass on it from around his neck, placing it in Louis' hand. "There is a tavern called the 17Black four miles north into the forest from here. I saw it on passing during our hunt around the north perimeter. Be careful though. I suspect a lot of rogue alphas hang out there. Do not stop, my prince."
Louis mumbles an okay against his chest before stepping back. He hurries quickly to get his sack and then approaches the window, opening it and stepping a foot over the edge. He's depending on the thick branches and vines down the castle wall to allow him to escape and his omega lightness to get him out quietly.
"Thank you, Liam," Louis offers him a soft smile that isn't returned.
"You are welcome, your royal highness."
The prince gives one last nod of his head, then he goes. He climbs down the branches and vines, struggling with the sack, but makes it down safely. He moves throughout the grounds of the castle silently, avoiding any of the night time guards standing outside. Once he's past the castle walls, he realizes that their guarding system is simply terrible and needs an upgrade, then listens to Liam and doesn't stop.
He checks the compass for which way is north, then he flees into the forest, nose tinted red from the cold and keeps his head down to avoid the snow getting into his eyes. It's dark and he isn't able to see where he's going so relies on sniffing out the scent of the wet wood and liquor of a tavern, along with a herd of alphas, and tracks it down.
The omega loses track of time in his head, and he's easily freaked out by the animal noises in the forest. He fears that he'll nose out a rogue alpha alone somewhere in the trees. Whilst his parents put him through years of defense training, lessons that only alpha's are meant to receive, it couldn't change the fact that he's an omega and that fighting isn't in his nature. He's at a major disadvantage, understands clearly why Liam acted the way he did.
He could think about all the terrible things that could go wrong outside of the castle's walls. Someone could realize who he is because swooping his hair to the front instead of having it neat and laid back doesn't change the fact that he's got the Tomlinson family's blue eyes. The omega is depending solely on the fact that no one outside of the royal families he has visited and a few stray wolfs along the royal road have seen him before. He hopes that the few painted and drawn pictures of him haven't ended up at a tavern.
He's so lost in the night and his thoughts that he doesn't realize he's come to an opening, and as Liam stated, the tavern 17Black stands, yellow light seen through the windows from the many candles lit inside. The strong scent of pack alphas hit Louis' nose and he immediately feels overwhelmed. He's never smelt any alphas other than the ones in the castle or the castles he has visited. He wanders if he should turn back, but getting jostled by drunk rogue alphas sounds a lot better than being hassled about marrying a fifty year old duke.
Louis takes a deep breath as he slowly approaches the tavern, then dares to push the door open, stepping inside. All eyes fall on him and it couldn't be more daunting than it was when his entire family's eyes were on him at the dining table. He nervously walks past the tables of rowdy men, unsure on where to go. He freezes in his spot when a pair of leather hunting boots come into view. When he snaps his head up, he's faced with piercing sage green eyes.
"I thought I smelled a stray omega."
The alpha that stands before him is intimidatingly tall. His hair tied back with a piece of string and he's got rips in his clothes that suggest he's recently been in a fight. Part of the omega wants to offer him the clothes in his sack, but the sensible part keeps his mouth shut. They probably wouldn't fit anyway.
"You look scared," the alpha speaks with an indecipherable smile on his face. The prince doesn't know what is so funny. "Don't be. I'm Harry, the owner of this tavern."
The alpha stares at him, waiting for the omega to speak, but not a word comes out of him. The green eyed wolf lets out a laugh.
"Haven't you been around an alpha before? I promise we don't bite, you know, unless we want to mate you for life," he smiles innocently. "Come and sit with me. The alphas at this tavern are very kind, you don't have to look so timid."
"Yes, I have been. Around alphas before, I mean. I am sorry," the prince apologizes, slowly bringing himself to look the alpha in the eyes. "I am just- I am Louis."
He instantly regrets saying his name, fearful that the alpha knows who he is but just needed something to trigger his memory, but Louis doesn't get the response he expects.
"Why do you speak so proper? You need some lager," the alpha nicks the nearest half full cup of alcohol from one of the alphas at one of the tables they pass by. "Drink up," he hands the wooden cup to him.
Louis takes the cup warily with his free hand, sniffing it's contents and grimacing. The alpha raises an eyebrow, snagging the cup from him and taking a sip.
"It's not poisoned, omega," he states, coming to sit down at an empty table with the blue eyed boy. He hands back the cup.
"It is not that," Louis follows after him, putting down his sack of belongings and taking a seat on the opposite side. "Just... do you not have something more expensive?"
The alpha gives him a weird look, resting his hands on the table.
"Definitely not something the cost of that shade of blue that are your eyes," he responds effortlessly.
Louis can't stop his cheeks from flushing a rosy pink. He looks down at the table, still feeling awfully intimidated. The alpha that sits before him is handsome without a doubt. The curve of his lips is inviting, with every movement of his mouth, his jawline stays prominent and he's got very nice hands, Louis notices, staring at them as he avoids the alpha's mesmerizing eyes.
Louis' sense of judgement is clouded. He wants to listen to Liam's words and be cautious of the fact that this alpha could be rogue, but upon looking up into his eyes again, it's clear that he's not. He seems too kind, too sweet and too normal to be, other than that lingering smirk that doesn't seem to go.
"Why is a male omega on his own out in the middle of the woods at this time of night?" Harry speaks, staring intensely at the prince, smirk lingering on his face. "Your kind is rather rare. You should be more careful. There are a lot of rogue alphas around that won't blink until they've knotted and bred you up."
The blue eyed omega swallows, shuffling in his seat awkwardly and looking anywhere but the alpha before him.
"I ran away from home," Louis admits, occupying himself by taking a sip of the lager instead of thinking about the fact that the alpha hasn't yet taken his eyes off him. "My parents want me to marry someone I do not want to marry, so I ran."
"I don't blame you," the alpha supports him. "However, do tell me, what's so bad about the person they want you to marry?"
"He is fifty years old," Louis states sheepishly, embarrassed.
"That is rather offensive," Harry grimaces. "Surely you can't be over eighteen. That is quite unfair to you."
"I am twenty two," the omega frowns.
"Now I understand why your parents want you to be married. As I said, male omegas are very rare. It's better to have your kind married and safe sooner than later," the green eyed alpha explains, taking the cup from the omega's hand and downing the rest of the liquid. "Anything can happen," he looks the blue eyed boy in the eyes, that signature smirk playing at his lips. "Don't you agree?"
"That is not why they want me to get married, they-" Louis cuts himself off, aware that he's about to reveal his identity. He looks behind him, searching for the nearest cup. "Could I maybe have some more of that lager?"
"How about you come with me. I want to introduce you to some of my pack," the alpha gets up, walking around the table and offering a hand.
He waits patiently for the omega to pick up his belongings and accept his gesture timidly. Harry leads him to the other side of the tavern, approaching a table of alphas and the one other omega that is in the room.
"Louis, this is Fionn, Zayn, Francis and Alex," Harry smiles, gesturing to each of them as he speaks. "Last but not least, Gemma, my lovely sister."
"I can't believe you're letting a royal into the 17Black," one of the less inviting faces speak - Alex, Louis thinks, if he's gotten the names Harry has just said in order. "You're rather pretty as they say. It's nice to finally meet the legendary male omega that everyone talks about but no one ever sees. What a lovely New Years gift."
The prince omega's eyes grow wide and he scrambles to get away from them knowing that they do in fact know who he is, but the green eyed alpha places a hand around his back, guiding him back to his spot before.
"You- You know w-who I am?"
"Of course we know who you are," Harry looks at him with the same strange smirk he's been wearing since Louis arrived at the 17Black. "Don't fret cub, we'll keep your little secret safe. Wouldn't want any rogue alphas envious of the royal family to put their claws in your hair, would we?"
The omega curls into himself, instantly feeling more intimidated knowing that the group of alphas know who he is. Even Gemma intimidates him. Something about her is familiar. Louis' mouth parts when he recognizes her face as one of the wolves he caught sight of alone whilst he was in his carriage on the royal road en route to Rome during his cousin's birthday. He's smart enough to make the connection that the alphas know it's him because she gave a very vivid and detailed profile description to them.
"It is very nice to meet you," Fionn smiles sweetly. "Although for different reasons than Alex," he gives the alpha the side eye. "He needs to pack it in. Gemma will get rid of Alex to make you more comfortable, won't you Gem?"
She avoids answering, gulping down her drink, but nevertheless pinches at Alex's ear and begins to remove him from the scene.
"Don't bring him to our district," she mutters to the green eyed alpha before leaving.
"Please do excuse the family," Harry gives a lopsided smirk. "No one's used to smelling a male omega, let alone a royal."
"Listen to your sister," Zayn speaks, getting up with a disapproving look on his face. "Don't bring him back. Catering a runaway prince can lead to the demise of our pack. Send him home," then he leaves the tavern and the omega deeply hurt.
The blue eyed boy looks down, feeling unwanted and out of place.
"I am going to continue on my journey," he tells the three remaining alphas quietly.
"It's the middle of the night," Harry looks him in the eyes. "Not on your own. I won't allow that. I'll come with you."
Louis looks up hopefully, chest swarmed with happiness and gratefulness.
"You will, alpha?"
"Yes, omega," Harry lightly pinches his cheek.
"Fionn, Francis, run the tav. I'll be back in the morning."