“I would like someone to use very short and simple sentences to explain what just happened,” Merlin said into the silence that followed Sean leaving. His voice was low and his scent was high and everyone in the room bared their necks to him. “Percival, take a moment to reflect and then tell me how we’ve overstepped in the last few weeks.”
“I wouldn’t call it overstepped, per se, but -”
Merlin growled and Percival quieted. “Pause and reflect. Then list.”
“I’m the one who stole his chair and moved it here,” Eggsy blurted out. “I thought he’d be more comfortable with it here.” Everyone stared at him. “I just thought, maybe he wasn’t liking how little of him there was, so if he had the his chair in the family room, he’d feel like he belonged.”
“You are six months pregnant, how did you even move a couch?” Merlin asked.
“Mikey did most of the work, he looks frail but that guy is wiry.” Eggsy frowned and his scent had Merlin pulling him in and nuzzling him. “I wanted him to be comfy.”
“I think that may have been the thing that broke him,” Merlin said and soothed Eggsy when his mate whimpered a bit. “Percival?” Percival gave a very short run down of what had happened and Merlin didn’t say anything but the whole room grew tense and Merlin’s scent grew angry.
“Thank ye for the report, Percival,” Merlin said calmly. “Michelle, could ye do me a favour? I am sure that Tequila by now needs help with the kids.”
“I should stay?” Michelle said, sounding shattered.
“No, Michelle, I am going to be very very angry shortly and you don’t need what that might trigger for you. I promise we are going to fix this,” Merlin said. She was still hesitating. “Michelle,” Merlin put a little strength into his voice, not quite a growl but very serious. “Go.”
Michelle nodded and left.
Merlin eased Eggsy off his lap and stood up. He watched his mate, curl into a ball, and Percival reach for Harry. Tilde eased a little bit into and behind Roxy. Good they understood he was upset, but he had a feeling they didn’t quite grasp why. “I get it,” he said. For a moment they all perked up. “It’s what you’ve always done. For Roxy, for me, this is how we do relationships. We overwhelm, we obsess, we cling, because we’ve all fit together that way. I get it I do,” Merlin said.
“We were just trying to show him -” Tilde began and Merlin growled and she ducked behind Roxy. Roxy looked ready to snap at him.
“Is today the day you challenge me for the pack, pup?” Merlin asked Roxy. “Because today you come at me with anything less than a full challenge, I’ll send ye crying to your room.” Roxy, after a very tense moment, shook her head. “Do any of you have even a base understanding of why he was upset? Of why I’m upset?”
“It’s what they did to me, I handled it…mostly,” Eggsy said.
“The largest heart in existence,” Merlin said to his mate, “that you can see the love in the madness”. “Princess,” he pointed to Tilde, “Alpha-a,” to Roxy, “Secret BAMF,” he said to Percival, and “Harry mother fucking Hart, legend of MI-6”. Merlin leaned against the wall. “And he is Sean McKnight a neutral beta, raised by farmers and after a bout of fame, a butcher.”
“He’s incredible,” Tilde said.
“He is, I don’t disagree,” Merlin said. “But he’s normal.”
“I was normal,” Percival replied.
“No, baby, you weren’t,” Harry replied. Percival looked affronted. “You punched Chester for harassing you. You stood up to me with barely a flinch. You gave as good as you got. Tilde gave as good as she got. Eggsy tamed us and gave as good as she got. What I don’t understand is Sean was doing the same why did that change now?”
“He wasn’t!” Merlin roared and the whole room flinched. “He rolled with it, he accepted it, but he never gave as good as he got. Months and he still can never come about 4th in Mario Kart or Smash Brothers, and he doesn’t even like it, but he plays because that is what we do.”
“He survived shopping with me and did it again!”
“To impress Michelle, not for his own desires,” Merlin said. “Have ye even seen him wear the clothes you bought him? Has he driven the Jag you insisted on signing over to him?” Merlin hammered the questions at Harry. “And you interfere in the fragile relationship with his son. Harry what if that boy decided he didn’t want Sean in his life because you interfered too much?”
“Then he’s weak and pathetic and Sean doesn’t need him,” Harry replied. “He has us.”
Merlin’s growl was the lowest that it had ever been directed to Harry, as far as the rest of the pack knew, though Harry had heard that a time or two before. “Harrison, my pack mate, you are insane but never stupid and in that sentence you just disgusted me.” Merlin didn’t care about the look of horror on Harry’s face. “That is the man’s son! What if Hunter dinnae speak to you for fifteen years and just when he started to rebuild a relationship with you, some stranger came along and just started buying you clothes?”
Harry was quiet. He was terrified at the thought of not having contact like that with his beautiful boy.
“We want him to have the best, because he is the best, and for a long time no one saw that,” Roxy said softly.
Merlin shook his head. “To him, he had the best because he had Michelle and Daisy. That’s what you need to understand, what no one here is sincerely grasping, and I admit I have been struggling with. He doesn’t want the pack and all of you interfering like that is proving to him that he was right, that this life isn’t for him.” Everyone’s scent in the room went sad.
“Merlin what do you mean he don’t want us?” Eggsy asked.
“I mean, that is a man who doesn’t want me to offer him a pack bite,” Merlin said. “Have you not seen how he tries to avoid me? How he keeps distance how he tries so fucking hard not to bend his head?”
“But he calls us his pack, says you are a good alpha,” Tilde protested, “We hear him say these things. You are doing your imagining odd things again.”
Merlin shook his head. “He says them, and then is conflicted. He thinks I am a good pack alpha, to all of you, that doesn’t mean he wants to be included in it. Not really.” He looked at them. “I made the offer in Christmas, the formal words, and he has never once responded to them.” They were all quiet. “He’s older than me, has never been rich or titled, and has been on his own for so long, and here we all come like the hurricane we are. And he cannae figure out what he is okay with and what he isn’t and every time he finds the line, we move it.”
Percival was hugging Harry’s arm. “Oh,” he said softly, maybe understanding, “He can’t figure out what he does want from us, what he wants to be a part of, because every time he thinks he has us figured out, we do something new, something more.”
“And how do you draw a line in the sand with people who made your future partner realize her strength and awesomeness?” Eggsy said. “How does he say no to us and not feel like a jerk? How does a perfectly normal bloke say no to us spending 30k to improve his brother’s farm and not sound ungrateful.”
“Oh fuck,” Roxy groaned. “Oh fucking fuckity fuck, he is wondering how he can ever balance the scales, what does he bring to us, isn’t he? Not realizing all we want is him.”
“I don’t want to have broken his relationship with his son,” Harry said, distraught. Merlin went over and nuzzled the pack bite.
“Percival, Tilde, Eggsy, they all fell into the madness, embraced it,” Merlin said. “A madness that began with you and me Harry, born out of so much blood and heartache. Eggsy is our idiot tamer, but maybe we also need a bit more of an outside view, maybe we all need to change a bit, how we approach situations. We need to stop going into everything hot. Not everything needs the Harry Hart who makes decisions in an instant and then we all live with the consequences. Maybe in our fifties it is time that we both think things through beforehand, because not every choice is life or death.”
Harry leaned his forehead against Merlin, and held Percival’s hand. “Eggsy can fix this.” He had unlimited faith in the pack’s omega. “Eggsy can make him understand.”
“No,” Merlin said, “I’ll fix this.”
“Babe, are you sure? I mean technically I can relate to him more than you,” Eggsy said.
“You are too much Michelle’s,” Merlin replied. “You and he will need to have an important conversation, I think, but this one, this one is for me.”
“Will you go now?” Tilde asked.
“No, he needs a bit of space,” Merlin replied. “Eggsy, I am sure that your mother is freaking out now, go take care of her?”
“Yeah,” Eggsy agreed. “Yeah she’s going to be messed up.” He took a sec to get himself up and went to Merlin who kissed him. “I’ll say sorry and it will be okay right?”
Merlin licked his personal bite, just a little. “It will be, aye.” Eggsy nodded and left the room. “Now then, the rest of us will talk practical matters, which is our specific limits of how we interfere in Sean’s life from here on out.” Merlin’s smile was sharp. “Let’s talk about buying a publishing company, shall we?”
“It wasn’t just about him,” Roxy began hotly and then shrunk a little under Merlin’s gaze. “I mean, mostly, sorta kinda. It will be good for Kingsman, I’ve wanted the world to see Harry and Carol’s preliminary art for years.”
Merlin nodded. “Tell me.”
Sean went home at 7am, he had already texted Twitch and Mikey and knew that they’d take care of the shop that day, no way should he be around sharp implements. He had maybe 4 hours sleep, and felt like shit. When he saw Merlin’s car in front of his house, for a moment he hoped that it was a sleep deprived hallucination, but when he closed his eyes and opened them, the car was still there. He went inside and whimpered a little at the smell of fresh coffee. He went to his kitchen and Merlin was there drinking coffee and working on his laptop. “You know, this is kinda reinforcing my points from last night.”
“Do ye need breakfast?” Merlin asked quietly.
“The coffee, and a shower, then some eggs?” Sean replied.
Merlin poured him a cup of coffee. “Go take it to the shower, eggs will be ready when you come out.” Merlin didn’t crowd him.
“I always pretended to be okay with all of you just breaking into my house, I rolled with it,” Sean said. “But I rather dislike it.”
“I know, this will be the last time.”
“Until next time is the last time?” Sean gave him a look.
Merlin shook his head. “No, this is the last time. Go shower, then we’ll talk.”
Sean went and showered and took his time, because he was sure he was going out there and being told that Michelle and Daisy were done with him. One sob burst out at the thought of not getting to be Daisy’s peoples and he reined it back in. He broke and admitted that he was bothered, this was what he deserved. He could have been quiet and endured and had everything he wanted. He could have endured. Fuck. He realized the coffee was empty and got out of the shower. He put on his comfy at home clothes and went out. Merlin was sliding eggs onto a plate.
“May be a little overcooked,” Merlin warned. “Followed your directions, but…well,” he shrugged.
“They look good,” Sean said. He stared at the plate. “Can you just say it, and then leave?”
“I’m sorry,” Merlin said. His scent was more contrite than Sean thought an alpha that strong could go. “I’m so sorry.”
Sean stared at the eggs and used all his strength to not let the tears fall. “Tell Michelle, I understand, yeah?”
Merlin reached out and tilted his face up. “You don’t. I am not here to break up with you on behalf of Michelle. I’m here to offer the pack’s apologies.” Merlin took a breath. “My pack’s actions are mine, and I take their mistakes on my shoulders. I stand before you to apologize and make amends. I humble myself before you, because no true leader would allow their pack to hurt as mine did to you.” Sean had no spit left in his mouth when Merlin bared his neck to him. “Sean McKnight, I offer our sincere apologies and accept on behalf of everyone any punishment ye deem appropriate.”
“What the fuck?” Sean said and Merlin’s neck stayed bared. “I don’t…Has anyone used those words in the last fifty years?”
“Well, I just did,” Merlin said and didn’t move.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Merlin stop that, it’s freaking me out,” Sean said. He put the plate of eggs in front of Merlin. “Eat,” he said.
“I’m fine, I’m providing for you, as you are supposed to do with a formal apology, I googled it,” Merlin said. His stomach rumbled. “But I’m going to eat a little.” He moved the plate more centrally and handed Sean a fork. “Share?”
Sean stared at the eggs. He wondered what he was agreeing to if he shared the eggs.
“It is just food, it doesn’t mean anything beyond hunger,” Merlin promised. They drank coffee and ate the eggs and then Merlin cleaned up the plates. “Have ye ever been shot?”
“No,” Sean said. “God, why are you going to shoot me?”
“Harry has, a few times. A couple bullets I personally removed from him. I wasn’t in the field much, but enough that I’ve been stabbed and electrocuted. One time, the last time we worked, I rescued Harry from torture. I ripped the throat of a man out with my bare teeth and drank his blood for daring to harm my Harry, though I never would have called him that at the time. A bit later he and I were a pack.” Merlin decided to make more coffee. “I don’t think you can comprehend how broken we were, two alphas in a giant estate with pstd, and anxiety, and the belief that in any moment our former bosses would change their mind and sanction us.”
“Merlin,” Sean said and stopped. Merlin was talking of things that happened in movies, or to people he wasn't sure were real. Not men he saw several times a week, who had looney tunes dress socks. “Go on,” was all he said.
“We fought and we fucked each other, not out of passion but of comfort and solace, and the belief that we’d always be alone together. Harry wanted a mate, but figured he’d never deserve one, have one because anyone but me in his bed at night he woke up and tried to murder them.” Merlin watched the drops of coffee fall. “It was a mix of the healthiest and most unhealthiest relationship ever, but it kept us sane as we healed. And eventually he tried to find a mate and found Percival. He fell so hard and that blinding devotion we had for each other expanded to include Percival and Roxy, who had been forged by their tragedy of a lost mate and parent. We let up a bit, but not that much. It just shifted, instead of willing to kill for each other, we grew to have two others we would die for. Love made him stupid and healed him. And then came Tilde, and that was just a mess, because of how us three men made Roxy understand how love works. And then there was my Eggsy, my everything. And he and his mum needed healing too, a pack and we enveloped them into us and treated them like royalty because for too long they had been treated like trash.”
“They deserve to be treated like that,” Sean said.
“They did, and all three grew so much,” Merlin said. “My omega, Eggsy he stood toe to toe with them, because he was raised to fight, had been through enough to not take shit from them. He could play them like a fiddle. And Michelle is where he got that from.” Merlin looked at him. “Everyone else just accepted the dynamic that Harry and I created, they may have found it odd at the beginning but then just got absorbed into it. And ye were confused but then seemed to accept how we are. We had never had anyone love us before who also chafed at the way we are. I could see it on you and thought well he’s just taking longer to adapt. It is to my shame that I pushed ye aside, that I didn’t see maybe we were the ones who needed to adapt. And for that I do apologize.”
Sean looked at him. “I do love all of you idiots like family, but I love you like my family, not like yours. I don’t know that I could ever just walk into Harry’s bathroom while he’s showering because I had a thought that couldn’t wait five minutes. I don’t want all the money Percival wants to throw at me. I don’t…is there I way I can want all of you, but not all of you?” Sean felt helpless. “I don’t even know how that would work. Because all of you are a fucking force of nature, and I’m just not.”
Merlin reached into his pocket and pulled something out and put it on the table. “It starts with this. Months ago, I gave you a formal offer to become a pack member. I rescind that offer.”
Sean couldn’t stop the gasp that came out, the words hurt far more than he ever thought they could. Merlin nudged the item towards him and Sean picked it up. It was a leather cuff with the Mathe crest on it. Sean was confused.
“Sean McKnight, I instead offer you this. The protection and respect of the Mathe pack. I will not bite you and claim you. But I will stand beside you, offer you shelter and warmth and affection. You will not be judged as less than by any of the pack, but they will acknowledge your need for space. And if ever one day you wanted more from us, from me as pack alpha, it would be yours. The day after ye and Michelle bond, five years after, twenty after, or never. We both stand beside you and recognize your independence. If you like. Sorry this is a bit unprecedented in pack dynamics. Google was less than helpful, I had to make up formal sounding shit.”
Sean stared at the bracelet, and ran his finger over the words. “It was good formal sounding shit.”
“Thank you,” Merlin said. “Fuck I hate this emotional crap. I could be writing such beautiful code right now.”
Sean snorted. “Yeah people are the worst, why generally I like dealing with dead animal flesh.”
Merlin laughed. “Roxy is going to make you a superstar again, you know. You’ll get tons of offers. What will you do?”
“Maybe take an extra day off of the shop now and again,” Sean said. “Not going back to a kitchen full time. I like the shop and I like the blog. I don’t want more than that.” Sean looked Merlin. “I’m not…I don’t want to take her away from all of you.”
“I know,” Merlin replied. “And we don’t want to take you away from you.” He frowned. “Bugger, that made no sense.”
“It actually made more than you think.” Sean carefully put the bracelet down. “I am so scared of getting lost again, especially just after I was found. And see that right there is either a born again christian and those guys are nutters, or a country song.”
“I like country music,” Merlin said.
“Huh, would have thought…actually I have no idea what music I thought you would like,” Sean said. “I know you like Eggsy, fruit tarts, computers, and your child, soon to be children. And the pack.” Sean looked at him. “Merlin what else do you like?”
“I like the rain,” Merlin said. “And I like haunted castles, and I like swords. I like old musicals, and singing my mate to sleep. Peanut butter straight from the jar or on toast but nothing else. And Sean, I don’t think this has been said enough to ye. I like you.” Merlin looked at him. “You need to understand all of this, this is us saying we like you. We just say it in ways you couldn’t understand and would never be comfortable with. And we will work on that.”
“I like you too,” Sean said. “Ugh, there is so much that has to be sorted, and I’m shot.”
“Go have a nap,” Merlin suggested. “It can all be sorted in a little while.”
Sean nodded, a lie down did sound bloody fantastic. “You know, all jokes aside, you are a really brilliant pack alpha.”
Merlin gave a small smile. “All jokes aside, I know.”
Sean gave a squeeze to Merlin’s shoulder and went to have a nap. When he woke up two hours later, he had the house to himself and a stack of envelopes on his kitchen table. Formal apologies from the pack, everyone had written him one. He read them all and smiled a bit. He decided to have a second shower and then go find Michelle. On the way he picked up the bracelet Merlin had left and took it to his bedroom and put it in the drawer right next to the ring he had bought for Michelle. He rather hoped that one day they would go well together.