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Mating Call

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“Halt. We make camp here for the night,” said Arthur as he swung himself out of the saddle.

Merlin groaned. He was convinced Arthur had some sixth sense for awful timing. Why else would he have gone hunting today of all days? It was not like Merlin had advised him against it, no, the prat just had to have his way. When Merlin had suggested to at least take some of the knights, Arthur had almost bitten his head off. “I know you’re a bit limited, but what is there not to understand about the concept of stealth, Merlin? I can’t have that band of ruffians prancing about when I’m trying to attract game. You'll see your precious Gwaine and Lancelot again soon enough.”

Yes. It was just his usual luck that they were here now, alone in the middle of the forest, when Merlin’s magic had been sluggish and unresponsive all day. “I have a bad feeling about this,” he said as he bound the reins of his mount to a tree and unloaded their supplies from the saddlebags.

“Don’t be such a girl.” He could practically hear Arthur rolling his eyes. “We’re far off from any trade routes frequented by bandits. What are you, afraid of being jumped in your sleep by a feral squirrel?”

Merlin opened his mouth to retort, but Arthur cut him off, an infuriating grin on his lips. “You needn’t worry about that with me here. I’ll protect your virtue from the woodland creatures.”

“Why, you have my eternal gratitude, Sire.”

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you,” Arthur said, making himself comfortable against a tree trunk. “Now, don’t you have work to do? I expect the horses fed, my gear cleaned, and a fire with our dinner roasting over it in half an hour. Chop, chop.” He accompanied his words by two claps of his hands.

Merlin sighed deeply, but complied.

A little while later, and they had both settled in front of a crackling fire, feasting on one of the rabbits Arthur had shot earlier that day.

Merlin had tried his best to ignore the bad feeling creeping up inside him. It was no use. He kept checking over his shoulder, scanning for threats, any possible movement in the undergrowth. He wasn’t able to see far; the moon had hidden behind the clouds tonight, leaving him to rely on only the shine of the fire as a light source.

Yet, despite the night remaining quiet for now, he knew something was out there tonight. Watching. Lying in wait. He could feel it in his very bones.

“What’s with that frown?”

The sudden voice made him almost jump out of his skin, and he whirled around to receive a raised eyebrow.

“Come on, I thought we were done with this.” Arthur shook his head in exasperation. ”Don’t tell me you’re still scared. You’re not usually such a chicken-heart.”

Merlin bit his lip, twirling a picked rabbit bone in his fingers. If only he could tell Arthur, if only he could could make him understand. He looked up with a imploring gaze. “Can we at least keep watch tonight?”

Arthur shrugged. “If that’s what it takes to make you stop twitching, fine. I’ll take first round.”

“I would rather—”

“I take first round, Merlin,” he insisted, his tone booking no room for argument. “You go clean up and then get some sleep. And for the love of the everything, stop it with the godawful jumpiness. You’re driving me crazy.”

“Alright, Sire.” Merlin conceded with great reluctance. He just hoped his magic would be running less haywire after he’d gotten some rest, and that nothing would attack them in the meantime. Please let my bad feeling be wrong this once. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

Under Arthur’s watchful gaze he cleaned up their dishes, and then wrapped himself into his sleeping bag next to the fire. He spared one last glance at his companion, who had seated himself against a tree trunk, sword in hand and bathed in the orange glow of the firelight. The moon remained hidden above them, dousing the thicket beyond their small clearing in darkness.

Heaving a shuddering breath, Merlin closed his eyes.

Next thing he was aware of, he was awoken by a sudden feeling of dread.

*

Merlin’s eyes snapped open.

The fire had gone out while he was asleep, leaving behind only a smouldering pile of soot. Somewhere behind him the horses neighed frantically, and he could feel beads of cold sweat forming on his forehead. He pushed himself up from his position on the ground, the slightest tremor in his arms.

This was not good. There was something evil out there; he was sure of it now. Like a storm current his magic thrummed underneath his skin, still unreachable.

The clouds parted, and a sinister red hue crept across the camp site.

Merlin looked up.

The moon hung large and heavy in the sky, almost threatening in his size. His entire disk shone in the crimson color of blood.

“What’s… what’s happening?”

Arthur gave him a pointed hush. He was sitting in a crouched position, hand slowly reaching for his sword hilt while his eyes fixed into the darkness between the tree trunks.

Merlin followed his gaze. His hands flew to his mouth to stifle a gasp.

A pair of glowing, red eyes was staring back at them, and a low growl resonated throughout the clearing.

For a few seconds, no one moved a muscle.

After that, everything happened very quickly.

The beast crashed out of the bushes, hurtling towards Arthur. It moved with such speed that Merlin could barely make out anything, except for a giant mass of dark fur and sharp claws and teeth. It was only at the last second that Arthur managed to dodge, making his attacker strike the tree trunk where he’d stood. Its paw smashed into a tree-stump, leaving behind a deep gouge. A hiss of smoke rose from it as the beast turned around, it’s large form looming over them.

Arthur drew his sword.

Merlin could barely blink before it shot forward once more, swiping its paws wildy. It missed Arthur by a hair’s breadth as he arched backward, looking up at sharp claws passing over his face. He jumped up again, swinging his weapon for the beast’s neck.

It grabbed the blade and snapped it in two like a branch.

“To hell with this!” Arthur cursed, dropping the broken hilt to the ground. He looked around the clearing, eyes landing on their supplies bag next to the fire. In a mad dash, he plunged toward it, the beast hot on his heels.

I have to do something, Merlin realized. He clenched his trembling hand into a fist in front of his chest. Don’t fail me now, magic.

A hoarse cry broke his focus. “Run!” Arthur pulled a hunting knife out of their bag and plunged it deep into the beast’s eyes. It drew back, howling in anger and pain as it clawed its own bloodied face, and finally Merlin could get a good look at it. The creature appeared almost of human shape, barring its mass in size almost twice that of a man, and the fact that its head resembled a wolf.

He decided then and there that he had never seen something quite as terrifying as this almost-human. His legs were frozen, even when the beast plummeted forward, lashing out wildly in its blindness and pain.

“Are you deaf?” He could hear Arthur’s yell. “I said run!”

Merlin shook his head, could not will his body to move. He continued to stare in horror while the beast came closer and closer. The red moon was waning, he noticed, and his magic slowly returning. He exhaled, trying to grasp at it, form any spell on his tongue. But it remained yet elusive, slipping out of his control like water.

It would be too late for him, he realized and screwed his eyes shut, readying himself for the impact. At least this way he would die protecting Arthur. If he could escape unscathed due to Merlin’s sacrifice—

Something crashed into him, and he was thrown to the ground violently, knocking the breath out of him. For a few seconds he gasped for air, like a fish out of water.

“You idiot!” Merlin looked up into Arthur’s face, angry and contorted with pain. The prince was hunched over, hovering over him in a protective position while he supported himself with his elbow. The other hand grasped at his shoulder, covered in blood. “Do you ever do as you’re told?”

Before Merlin could answer, Arthur’s face went slack, eyes rolling inward as he promptly passed out on top of him.

It was at that very moment that the moonlight finally turned silver again, and Merlin’s magic came crashing back into him with force. He shot up, spell ready on his lips as he reached out with his arm.

Confused, he looked around the clearing.

The beast was gone.

*

Merlin let out a breath he’d been holding, and his shoulders sagged in relief. Then he remembered Arthur. “No!”

He heaved the unconscious form off of him, kneeling next to the prince on the ground to take a look at his injured shoulder. He wasn’t able to see much in the pale moonlight, but from what he could make out of it things were not looking good. The gashes were deep, too deep, and Arthur was losing a lot of blood fast.

Merlin bit his lip. He ripped a long strip of cloth off the hem of his shirt and wrapped it around the wound. Hopefully that would stem the bleeding for the meantime. With trembling fingers, he held his hand over it and mumbled, “Þurhhæle.”

He paused, waiting for the spell to take effect.

Nothing.

Merlin grit his teeth, digging his fingers into Arthur’s shirt. “Ge hailige!” he tried again, this time more urgency in his voice.

Arthur groaned softly, but gave no other indication of consciousness.

The magic had not been able to take hold.

Merlin shook his head. This wasn’t working. He needed to get Arthur back to Camelot, to Gaius. He looked around for their horses, still bound to the tree where he had left them earlier, unharmed.

He thanked his rotten luck for the small favor.

With great effort he heaved the prince’s limp form over his own horse (“Gods, the prat has really been enjoying his second helpings...”), and then bound the other horse’s reins to the saddle rear. He climbed onto the first one behind Arthur and clicked his tongue. “Hurry!”

The horses startled, falling into a quick pace. They rode all night without pause, until at dawn they finally passed through the castle gates.

“The prince is wounded,” he told the nearest pair of guards, his voice cracking, sounding distraught even to himself. “He needs medical attention, quick!”

The men nodded, rushing forward to assist him in lifting Arthur off the horse. “We will bring him to the physician,” one of them said before they made off with him, hurrying up the citadel stairs and into the tower.

After handing the exhausted horses to a stable boy, Merlin followed as fast as his feet would carry him.

When he burst through the chamber doors, Gaius was already in the process of sewing up the wound. He did not look up from his work, brows furrowed in concentration. “The wound has gotten infected.”

It was true. A yellow froth had appeared at the gash’s fringes, the flesh around it swollen red and purple.

Merlin put his hands to his mouth in horror. How had it worsened so much, so fast?

After he finished with the stitches, Gaius applied thick green paste over the inflamed area and finally looked up at him. “This is all I can do right now. He’s...”

“We were attacked,” said Merlin. “By a magical beast. I-I was powerless to stop it.”

“We’ll find a way.” Gaius stood up and rested a hand on his shoulder. “Can you tell me what it looked like?”

As best as he could, Merlin reported on what he remembered.

Gaius nodded carefully. “I’ll go look through my books. You stay here and watch. Try to rest a bit, Merlin.” He gave his protege a stern look, then stood up and walked through the door. It fell shut with a soft click, leaving Merlin alone with Arthur.

He sank down on the bench next to the sickbed, burying his face in his hands. All that was left for him now was to hope.

Merlin stayed with Arthur all day, not leaving his bedside except to relieve himself, and even those few unsupervised minutes had him anxious. Around noon Arthur broke into fever, his breaths growing labored, and his heart rate so slow Merlin could barely feel it. Gaius didn’t seem to be making progress in his research either, and his frown grew deeper each time he came to check up on them.

Merlin was scared, so scared that Arthur would to slip away in front of him. By the time night fell, he’d long given up on trying to quell his tears.

All of this was his fault, he thought. None of this would’ve happened if he’d convinced Arthur not to go. If only he’d been faster. If he’d gotten his magic to work just a bit sooner. “You giant arse,” he sniffled into the bedsheets, “why did you have to jump in front of me?”

Of course, he received no answer.

At some point Merlin must’ve passed out from sheer exhaustion. When he next came to, the moon stood high in the sky already, and his limbs ached from the awkward position he’d slept in.

His head shot up with a jerk, intent on checking on his patient’s condition. But Arthur was gone.

*

The first thing Arthur came aware of, he was running.

Almost entirely on their own accord his feet thundered across the forest floor, making him jump over tree trunks and dash through the thicket, meanwhile he barely took note of the branches whipping in his face.

Arthur didn’t know why, or even where to he was going, only that he had to move. He had to get out of the place made of stone, unbearably stifling, full to the brim of smells and noises. He had to hunt, to sate the hunger tearing him apart from inside. The moon had chosen to awaken him, was calling to him like he called to the tide; a pull impossible to resist.

But Arthur did not want to resist anyway.

His feet came to a skidding halt as he reached a ravine, overlooking a wide stretch of treetops. He could see the stone place in the distance, tall and pale and imposing. It drew all attention even from here.

He heard a howl ringing through the air, and it took him a few moments to realize that it was himself who had made the noise. It was himself, shouting his debut into the night, a mating call so raw that his lungs burned with the strain. He didn’t care. He knew his awakening had not been without purpose. There was someone out there, someone he needed to meet with.

But an answer failed to come. He remained alone.

For now.

Arthur held out there for a while, unmoving as he felt his silver guide waning, making way for the daybreak.

Slowly he felt that strange drive leaving his body, and his senses simmered down into their normal calm, like water after a storm. What was he doing here again? He looked at his hands, which were covered in blood. Well, damn. He should get back to the citadel, but it was for the better if he didn’t show up there looking like this.

Arthur walked over to the ledge of the ravine. There was a small stream down there, if he remembered correctly from his frequent hunting trips in this area. Carefully he climbed down the slope, and then crouched down in front of the river bank to wash his hands.

When he caught sight of his reflection in the water, a pair of glowing red eyes met his own. He drew back in shock. “What the…?!”

Had those been his eyes?

No. That was impossible. He must’ve been mistaken, or maybe his mind had been playing a trick on him. He bent over the smooth surface again to make sure, assert to himself that he was not going crazy. But the red eyes were still there, staring right back at him from his own face. What was happening? Was he losing his mind?

He leaned in closer to inspect himself. Everything seemed intact. Except for his mouth, he noticed. His mouth was smeared with blood like his hands.

Arthur grit his teeth, punching through his mirror image. He had to get a grip on himself. Abruptly, he stood up, and started walking in direction of the castle.

By the time he came through the gates, bare feet and torn clothes and bloody, he was met with a large group of knights seemingly just about to ride out. They cried in relief when they saw him, jumping down from their horses. “Sire! You’re—”

Arthur held up his hand, making them fall silent. “I am whole and well, as you can see. There is no reason to gather a search party.”

“B-but Sire, Gaius was looking for you. He said you were—”

“I’ll see what he wants, thank you,” he cut off the knight, and then walked past the men without another word. Seeing Gaius, that was a good idea. Maybe the physician could tell what was wrong with him.

When he reached the doors to the physician’s chambers, Arthur paused, his hand hovering over the knob. There was an odd warmth pooling in his belly, a tingling sensation, and he was getting the disquieting feeling of an urge crying to be sated, something he needed that was suddenly close within his reach.

He shook his head; he didn’t have time for weird gut feelings. Decidedly, he wrapped his hand around the wooden handle of the door and pushed it open.

A familiar face looked at him in surprise, but it was not the face of Gaius.

He was hit with the sensation like a lightning strike.

Before Arthur knew it, his body was moving forward, and at a speed that he had not known himself capable of. There was a loud crash as he pinned the other man against the wall, moving his knee in between his thighs and holding his shoulders in an iron grip. He buried his nose deeply in that pale neck, inhaling the heavenly scent.

Mine.

*

Merlin had no time to react when Arthur tackled him. Suddenly, the prince had been all up in his space, clinging, rubbing against him, and his nose sniffing along the side of Merlin’s neck. There was a cold, wet feeling on his skin. Oh gods, was that his tongue?.

“A-arthur, what…” Merlin said shakily. “What are you doing?”

Arthur ignored him, moving down Merlin’s neck and collarbone with his mouth.

It tickled, making Merlin squirm and shiver, and he felt heat pool low in his belly at the sensation. He bit his lip, attempting to close his legs, but Arthur’s knee wasn’t budging from in between them. Not good. Shifting in Arthur’s hold, Merlin turned his head away and pushed at his shoulders.

A low growl, and his chin was snatched in a steely grip.

“Get off,” Merlin mumbled, his cheeks squished in between Arthur’s fingers. “Are you listening? You’re hurting me!”

That, at last, caused Arthur to pause.

“Mer-lin?”

He drew his head back, looking at him. For a moment, they were both lost, drifting in each other’s gaze like a rowing boat in the fog.

Then, Arthur seemed to snap out of his strange mood. He jumped back as if he’d been stung.

“Merlin. Gaius. What was I-I mean—”

“Please, Sire,” Gaius held up his hands, approaching slowly as if he were talking to a spooked animal. “You’ve been wounded. Feverish. You’re probably still feeling out of sorts, so I must advise you to rest.”

Arthur furrowed his brows. “I feel fine.”

“Might I take a look at your shoulder, Sire?”

Hesitant, Arthur’s gaze flitted over to Merlin, who was still standing pressed against the wall, not trusting his legs to move. Arthur’s nostrils flared visibly, but he pulled his gaze away with a jerk. “Very well.” He cleared his throat and plopped down on Gaius’ workbench. “Just get it over with.”

Gaius gave a brief nod and pulled Arthur’s ripped shirt over his head to carefully unwrap the bandage. What he saw underneath made his eyes go wide with shock. “It’s all gone.”

“You mean…?” said Merlin.

“The wound has healed without leaving a trace. There’s not even a scar.”

“Then where did all the blood come from?” Merlin moved forward, intending to take a look for himself. It simply wasn’t possible that Arthur was already healed; he’d been on his deathbed. Merlin knew, he’d wept for him.

He extended his hand, reaching for Arthur’s shoulder.

Before their skin was able to touch, Arthur gave a violent jerk. “Alright, that’s it.” He jumped up from his seat and grabbed for his tunic, pulling it over his chest again.

“As you’ve seen, I am unharmed. Maybe the wound just wasn’t as bad as you thought? In any case, I’ve got things to do, so you’ll have to excuse me.” He inclined his head at Gaius and then marched over to the door, taking a wide berth around Merlin. Ripping at the handle, he left the chambers.

The door slammed shut behind him.

Merlin looked over to Gaius. “Is it true? Did we make a mistake?”

His mentor gave him the eyebrow. “You saw for yourself. Tell me, do you think you made a mistake?”

“...No.” Merlin shook his head. “I know what I saw. Arthur was dying, and neither of us was able to do anything. The only way he could’ve survived such a wound is…” He looked up in surprise, his eyes widening at the realization. “Magic.”

“So it seems,” agreed Gaius. “Whatever it was, it worked in our favour this time. I’ve not managed to find anything on the creature that attacked you yet, but I suspect this incident might be connected, so I’ll continue my studies. In the meantime, I ask that you keep an eye on him, look out for any signs of enchantment. If I find anything, I’ll tell you right away.”

“Al-alright.” Merlin sighed. There really could never pass a normal day in Camelot, could there? One completely regular one, with no strange, life-threatening occurrences.

“Well then,” said Gaius, rousing him from his thoughts. “If you’ve got time, I’ve got quite the list of chores for you to do. We were both busy the last two days so they’ve unfortunately piled up a bit. You better get going!”

Merlin groaned, letting his head fall back. “On to it in a minute.”

*

In the course of the following weeks, Merlin almost completely forgot about the incident. At first, he did his best to keep an eye on Arthur like Gaius had instructed, but Arthur did not make it easy on him. He’d taken to avoiding Merlin, barely even looking him in the eyes when he instructed him with chores, and he shied back from Merlin’s touch whenever he dressed him in the mornings and evenings.

He wasn’t the only one who had noticed. The knights always seemed to observe them closely these days, strangely solemn during training hours, and their eyes were full of concern every time they watched Arthur thrust Merlin aside callously. Gwen had even gone so far as to address the issue. “Has something happened between you?” Of course, Merlin hadn’t been able to give her an answer. He himself had no idea why Arthur was behaving like this.

He’d suspected it might’ve been heartache, what with Lancelot having started to court Gwen in earnest after his knighting. But Arthur seemed completely normal around the both of them. It was only with Merlin that he was cold.

Their estrangement was disheartening, to say the least. Merlin almost wished the usual insults back.

One unsuspecting morning, about four weeks after the night of the red moon, Arthur woke up in an exceptionally bad mood.

He was still avoiding interaction with Merlin, brushing him off as he go dressed and doing his best to ignore his servant’s presence during breakfast. Instead of the guarded indifference of the last weeks, though, Arthur barked his orders in a sharp tone, and he snapped at Merlin every time he so much as dared to breathe during the pre-noon council session.

At one point, when Merlin moved forward to refill his goblet, Arthur’s eyes suddenly snapped up at him for what felt like the first time in weeks, and then he honest-to-god growled at him. Merlin froze like a startled deer. There was a glint in Arthur’s eyes that made shivers run down his spine, and it was that glint that had him wordlessly slinking back into the shadows behind again, settling for watching the remainder of the session from there. Hoping that the prince’s strange mood would improve in the course of the day.

It didn’t get better. In the afternoon they headed outside for a training session, and Arthur looked anything but happy when Gwaine stormed up to the two of them, taking some of the armor Merlin was carrying and slinging an arm around the servant’s shoulders. “Easy there, friend. The princess working you hard, huh?”

Arthur shot him a glare. “If you have time for gallivanting with my servant, Sir Gwaine,” he said in a low voice, “I suppose you’ve already done your warm-ups. Take up your sword, you’ll face me first.”

“Bring it on, Sire,” came Gwaine’s determined answer, not at all intimidated by the prince’s hostile demeanor.

Arthur proceeded to beat the shit out of the knight in the following practice match. Merlin watched the entire thing from the sidelines, his concerned frown growing deeper with each clang of steel.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into him,” he mused after the end of training, back in the armory, applying salve onto a wincing Gwaine’s chest. “He’s been an exceptional prat today. Earlier he yelled at Gwen when I stopped by her for a literal thirty-seconds chat. Gwen.”

“Sounds like the princess has been getting jealous.”

“Jealous?” Merlin frowned. “I’d thought he was already over her. I mean, he didn’t seem heartbroken lately.”

Gwaine craned his neck to give him a dodgy grin. “Don’t worry your pretty little head over it. Say, how about you and me hit the tavern this evening?”

Merlin opened his mouth, intending to decline. His list of chores had grown to astronomical proportions, and he would probably need to work late into the night if he wanted to get everything done today. But before he could say anything, another voice interrupted him.

“Merlin isn’t going anywhere. Least of all with the likes of you.”

They turned around in surprise to see Arthur standing in the doorway, arms crossed in front of his chest. He was shooting Gwaine a glare so foul that it probably would’ve made a less brave man soil his pants on the spot. “Now, what do the two of you think you’re doing here?”

Merlin frowned at the accusatory tone. “What do you mean, Sire? I’m dressing Gwaine’s wounds that you so generously inflicted on him during training.”

“So that’s what they’re calling it now.” Arthur’s voice dropped so low that Merlin’s stomach did a strange somersault that had nothing to do with annoyance. “You must think me blind. You expect me not to notice my own manservant throwing himself at my knights like a common tavern wench?”

Merlin shook his head. “That’s not at all what—”

“I forbid this affair!” Arthur thundered, slamming his fist into the doorframe. “If I catch you at it again, it’ll be the stocks for both of you.”

“The stocks?” Merlin repeated incredulously. “Seriously? There’s nothing going on between me and Gwaine, not that it would be any of your business if there were!”

“Well, I wouldn’t be averse to a little tumble, if it came to it,” Gwaine piped up.

Neither Merlin nor Arthur paid him any attention.

“As your lord and sovereign, Merlin,” Arthur said in a deceptively calm tone, “you will find that I have every right to decide who you spend your nights with.”

“I just dare you to try, Sire.”

Locked into a staring match, the two glared at each other, completely lost for everything but themselves. There was that strange pull in Merlin’s stomach again. Almost by themselves, his feet started moving.

“Halt!” Arthur called, breaking the spell. Nostrils flaring, he raised his hand in front of his chest. “Not a single step closer!”

Merlin blinked at him in confusion. “What? Why—”

“Stay away if you know what’s good for you!”

He froze in his step, startled at the sudden outburst. “Arthur…”

“Shut up! I cannot bear to remain in your presence any longer. You’re dismissed, Merlin.”

“But I—”

“I said dismissed,” barked Arthur. “If I see so much as a single more hair of yours today, I’ll forget myself. Leave, now, and don’t even think of going to the tavern before you’ve finished every single one of your chores!”

“Fine! Wouldn’t want to subject his lordship to my unbearable presence, would I?” Merlin turned on the spot and marched out of the armory. “See you later, Gwaine.”

“‘See you later’? I thought I told I forbid this—”

“Okay! Until then, Merls—”

Merlin slammed the door shut behind him.

It was late at night when he returned to the physician’s chambers. Upon entering, he walked straight over to the wooden bench next to the work table and let himself flop onto it with a groan.

“Long day?” Gaius asked, handing him a cup of water.

Merlin took it gratefully, emptying it in quick gulps and wiping his mouth. A sigh escaped his lips, and he leaned back in his seat to massage his aching back. He’d not been able to get Arthur’s hurtful words out of his mind.

“I just don’t know what’s gotten into him, Gaius,” he said at last. “He’s been a right prat all day, much more than usual, that is. It’s as if he’s a completely different person!”

Gaius tutted at him. “Now, Merlin, whining doesn’t suit you. Are you sure this is not just your annoyance at your workload speaking?”

“He growled at me, Gaius,” Merlin insisted. “Can you say you’ve ever heard him growl before? And he got all huffy about me going to the tavern with Gwaine!”

“Why, that doesn’t sound unusual to me at all.”

Merlin sighed. “It’s just… I have a bad feeling about this. I don’t know why, or what, but it really seems to me like there’s something different about him.”

“Maybe he’s overworked,” suggested his mentor. “It wouldn’t be the first time he let his frustration out on you.”

“I really hope that’s all there is to it.”

Gaius stood up and walked over towards his bookshelves. “If it eases your worries, I can try and consult my books regarding Arthur’s mood, but I doubt it’s anything serious. Just continue keeping an eye on him, will you?”

“I’ll try,” said Merlin drily. Although how he was supposed to do that when Arthur seemed to be repulsed at his mere presence, he really didn’t know.

Just at that moment there was a knock on the door, and a guard stepped in. “I’m looking for the prince’s manservant,” he said, and then, turning towards Merlin, “His Highness is summoning you. You are to report to his chambers immediately.”

*

After he’d sent off the guard to retrieve Merlin, Arthur was on edge. Mind restless and senses alert, he paced his chambers like a trapped animal.

He was well aware that he’d been conducting himself discourteously, calling Merlin’s honor into question and abusing the power he held over him as his lord. As soon as Merlin had left the armory earlier, reason had returned to Arthur, and shame at his own actions and words had hit him in the chest like an iron warhammer.

Arthur knew he had to make amends for how he had treated Merlin—but of course not because his servant’s opinion of him was important to him or anything like that. It was because he was prince regent now, so any injustice he inflicted upon his household staff would represent Camelot as a whole. Nothing to do with wanting Merlin to like him, he told himself. Absolutely, definitely not!

Arthur looked up in surprise when he felt pain welling up in his knuckles.

Damn this, he’d punched the bedpost again. Maybe he was losing his mind. It would certainly explain the odd thoughts he’d been having in the past weeks, though since this morning they had grown drastically in intensity.

The effect Merlin had on him these days, it was almost frightening. Every time he was around him, Arthur was overcome with powerful urges. He couldn’t help it; it was like a spell had been cast on him. Merlin’s smell was tantalizing to the point where his mere presence could induce an intense desire in him, a desire to pin him down, mark him, take him then and there.

Admittedly, Arthur had always thought him an attractive lad, but it had never been like this before. He prided himself on his self control. He was not only a knight, but also a prince, for god’s sake, and Merlin was an idiot. And anyway, he could not be seen dallying with his servant.

But it was becoming harder and harder to resist the urge.

All of a sudden, footsteps could be heard from the corridor outside, and Arthur perked up. He could smell Merlin before he opened the door, and all of a sudden a wave of raw hunger overwhelmed him. It was there, barely contained beneath his skin, the blinding need for Merlin’s soft neck beneath his teeth as he claimed him as his. He felt himself growl, grasping at his chest as he hunched forward.

When he came to again, Merlin stood in directly in front of him, giving him an apprehensive look. “You called for me?”

Arthur grit his teeth. He had to focus. “Merlin.”

“Sire?” The way Merlin said it, all formal and stiff instead of the usual teasing tone had Arthur look up in surprise. His servant’s face was closed off, and his brows were knit together, holding onto his emotions tightly.

More guilt started welling up inside Arthur. His words from earlier had left an impact, that was clear. There was no way around it, he needed to set this right. Clearing his throat, he struggled for the right words to form on his tongue. “I… I apologize for how I’ve been treating you.”

Merlin’s mouth fell open. “What?”

A spiteful lump formed in Arthur’s throat. He pushed back his annoyance, gritting out in a tight voice, “I believe you heard me the first time.”

“Wait.” Merlin paused, looking at him as if he’d suddenly grown two heads. “You’re actually apologizing to me?”

He scowled. “And what’s so shocking about that? You think I’ve no sense of common courtesy?”

“Well, if you ask me like that…”

“Ha, ha, very funny.” Arthur huffed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I’ll have you know, I enjoyed the finest education in court etiquette since I was five years old. It just so happens I’ve never been in a situation where I had to apologize to the likes of you before.”

“Oh, haven’t you.”

“Shut up and listen for once, will you,” Arthur said, ignoring the insolent tone of his servant. “I’ve conducted myself... discourteously in your presence. I take the blame upon myself for this. There are things that have been troubling me as of late, which had me admittedly short-tempered, but I should not have taken it out on you. For this, I am sorry.”

Merlin’s expression was frozen, half full of wonder. “Arthur, you’re…” he trailed off in a whisper, and a small smile crept onto his face. “Thank you.”

Damn it, Arthur thought, averting his gaze. He was simply too cute. He felt the redness rise to his cheeks and put his hand to his mouth, coughing awkwardly. “Don’t go making such a big deal out of it. Of course I wouldn’t want to stay on bad terms with my own staff.”

“Of course, Sire.” His servant nodded emphatically, but there was a glint in his eyes that let Arthur know he wasn’t buying a word of it. “Shall I dress you for bed, then?”

Are we back to normal, was the unspoken question.

Arthur froze. He couldn’t very well dismiss him again, now that they had just made peace. If he did, Merlin would get all the more suspicious, and realize there was more to it than just a case of bad mood. But would Arthur be able to withstand Merlin’s touch, skin on skin?

He had no other choice. “V-very well,” he conceded. “You may proceed as usual.”

Merlin nodded, and before Arthur realized it he was already in front of him, grasping the hem of his tunic.

Arthur had no time to prepare for the sensations—Merlin’s warm hands directly over his collarbone, the soft huff he made when he tugged at the cloth, and oh, his sweet smell, desperately mouthwatering. Feeling the hairs on his back rise, Arthur could do nothing but stand there, mesmerized, while he tensed his muscles to try and stay in control of his thoughts.

A slight cough roused his attention, and he raised his eyes to find Merlin giving him an expectant look. “Your... arms, Sire.”

“Right.”

Arthur lifted his arms as prompted and let Merlin pull the shirt over his head, glad for the momentary distraction. He needed to get a grip, or he would end up doing something he was going to regret.

Merlin moved on to his shoes, kneeling down to undo the leather buckles.

Arthur clenched his fists tightly, barely daring to breathe. The sight of Merlin, sweet and tempting with his lashes slanted downward, the pale nape of his neck primely viewable from above, and his head hovering dangerously close to Arthur’s crotch area, plushy lips pursed in concentration… See? He is ripe for the picking, a voice piped up at the back of his head, hoarse and hungry and primal. What better chance will you get? Make him yours.

No! Arthur bit his lips with so much force that he could feel the taste of blood on his tongue. When had his teeth grown so sharp? I cannot, will not use him in this way. I have a responsibility… He is my… He deserves better, I want—

Merlin let out a quiet sigh as he pulled the boots off, air ghosting ever so slightly over Arthur’s clothed groin.

For a second Arthur’s vision went white, a violent shudder wracking his body. His breeches felt way too tight all of a sudden, constricting him as the blood rushed straight to his cock.

“Arthur?” Merlin’s voice reached him as barely more than a whisper. “Are you alright?”

He was standing up again, hands hovering hesitantly over the seam of Arthur’s breeches. Had he noticed? He had to have noticed. There was no way he could not be aware of the bulge forming beneath the cloth. Oh god, what was he going to think? Arthur felt shame cloud his cheeks, shame at not being able to control his urges. He looked up. “I… yes.”

Merlin nodded. “Let me just, um, finish this up. Sire.” His hand wandered towards the belt, until only a finger’s breadth remained between his skin and the front of Arthur’s breeches. So, so close to Arthur’s crotch.

Hearing the blood rush in his ears, his own heart pounding heavily against his ribcage, Arthur let out a low, rumbling breath.

It was as if time slowed down.

“You’re sure you’re alright? You’re awfully tense. I—”

Before Merlin's fingers could close around the cord of fabric, Arthur’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.

Merlin looked up in surprise, eyes wide and blue and trusting. Too trusting. His lips were drawn slightly apart, and the voice at the back of Arthur’s head was chanting lowly, mine, mine, all mine.

“Arthur? What—”

“Enough.” It came out as barely more than a growl.

He grabbed Merlin’s neck, manhandling him around so Merlin’s back was turned towards him, earning him a squawk.

Arthur ignored the noise, drawing Merlin close by the waist. With his other hand, he let go of Merlin’s neck to to pull him back by his dark locks, baring a pale throat. He let his nose run over it, inhaling the scent deeply.

“A-arthur.” Barely, he registered the skin under him vibrating, Merlin’s voice choked off and hoarse. “You’re…”

He shifted in Arthur’s hold, arse rubbing against his painful erection.

Arthur could hold himself together no longer. With a jerk, he shoved Merlin face down onto his bed and pulled down his breeches, paying no mind to Merlin’s startled yelp. Holding open his thighs, Arthur crawled over him, burying his nose in the soft cleft between his cheeks.

Yes, growled the voice at the back of his head. It’s him, he is the one.

Mate.

*

Arthur had to take a few moments to orient himself at the raw onslaught of smells, so hot and tight and Merlin, coming from the dark pink furl in between his cheeks. It was all bared in front of him, waiting for him. Only him. He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply, letting the sweet musk wash over him. His breath ghosted over pale thighs.

A distant part of him felt Merlin shivering, goosebumps forming all over his skin. Arthur’s nose took hint of a sudden spike in arousal. Not his arousal.

Merlin’s.

“W-wait, Arthur,” Merlin said, trying to twist his neck to look back at him. “Are you…”

Arthur gave him no time to finish his sentence before he pushed his tongue in, making the other man trail off into a soft sigh. “Ah…”

He relished in the weighty smell that emanated from inside the tight hole, fully aroused and ready now, ready to take him in. His alone. But he did not prod further yet, despite the need low inside his stomach that was urging him to. Taking his sweet time, he explored with his tongue, teasing along the rim until Merlin was twitching and trembling in his grasp, and his hips jerking upward uncontrollably.

With a low growl—he was not even bothering to suppress the noise anymore—Arthur grabbed Merlin’s thighs and dug his fingers into soft flesh, slamming them down onto the mattress again.

Merlin made a questioning noise, attempting to squirm, but Arthur only tightened his grip and plunged his tongue in deeper, poking at a spot deep inside that had Merlin go limp with a quiet cry. His scent of arousal grew so sharp that it almost took Arthur’s breath away. He continued to tease a quivering Merlin, the smell of tears and sweat and desperation intermingling with it, until he could hear a small, breathless, “Please. I need—”

Arthur withdrew at once, barely taking the time to open the front of his breeches before he pulled out his own cock, painfully hard and already leaking precome. Without further ado he pushed inside Merlin, groaning at the resistance of the tight walls meeting him.

The wave of pleasure almost made his legs give out underneath him. Never before had he felt so good, so right, as in this moment. An euphoria overtook him like a storm raging inside, starting from the lowest of his stomach and then spreading all throughout his body, until he could think nothing but his single-minded goal.

Mate.

At the back of his mind he registered a muffled groan, pained, coming from the boy, but the thought was gone almost as soon as it came. His head felt light as a cloud, and the voice appeared far away. A burning hunger took control of his body, and his hands drew forward, grasping at sharp hip-bones. Desperation like fire in his loins, he began moving his own hips to meet the body beneath him in rough, erratic thrusts.

The boy’s whimpers evolved into moans of pleasure as Arthur burrowed his cock deep inside of him, hitting that spot once again. It only took a few tries until his hole tightened around him, and the boy spent himself all over the silken sheets. The smell of his come hit Arthur’s senses like a waking call.

A gasp left his lips as he felt the base of his cock swelling, growing even heavier than before. His movements came to a stuttering halt, unsure of what was happening.

Mate. Mark him. Take what’s yours.

He leaned forward, muscles moving almost on their own accord, until his lips were only a hair’s breadth above that pale neck. That was when Merlin finally turned his head, glazed eyes staring straight at him, piercing through the veil around his mind like an arrow.

Clarity slammed back into Arthur’s mind with a force that had his eyes white out. “M-merlin?” The voice sounded so small and unsure that he barely recognized it as his own. No, no. Rising horror dawned upon him.

Arthur jumped up, wincing at the squelching sound of his wilting erection slipping out of Merlin. With one hand, he grabbed his manservant by the arm, and the other gathered together the tattered remains of his clothes. He marched them both over to the entrance of his chambers, ripping at the handle and throwing a befuddled Merlin outside unceremoniously. “No words of this to anyone!” With these words, he slammed the door shut between them, just as Merlin was about to open his mouth.

Arthur waited for a few seconds, listening if Merlin wasn’t making a ruckus outside or trying to get back in. When nothing happened, he sank onto the floor with his head in his hands.

What had he been about to do? Just what had he done?

Chapter Text

For a while, Merlin just stood unmoving in the dim torchlight, breathing ragged, and his heart hammering against his ribcage at a frantic pace.

He swallowed, trying to regain a clear thought.

With sudden clarity, he grew aware that he was standing in the middle of the corridor, with nothing to himself but a stain of cum on his belly, the burn inside his still overstretched hole, and the bundle of clothes clutched to his chest. He was still not sure if all of this had really just happened.

It had seemed like a scenario straight out of his wet dreams, a fantasy to indulge in during quiet hours, come to life in the most wonderful and simultaneously terrifying way. Arthur had touched him, had… had wanted him. Even if he’d been a bit rough. Even if his touch had been a bit more bruising than Merlin would have expected. For a precious few minutes inside those chambers, Merlin had allowed himself to live the fantasy, to have Arthur take him in the way he knew could never become a reality.

Except that it had. And then, Arthur had caught up with that fact as well, and thrown him out without even giving him the time to dress himself.

Merlin felt the anger bubbling up inside him. He knew he should be marching right back in there and demand an explanation, but the thought of actually facing Arthur after what they did filled him with rising dread.

It wasn’t like Merlin had resisted his advances; on the contrary, he had even begged for more. What if Arthur finally realized the full extent of Merlin’s feelings for him? What if it had just been fun and games, a quick opportunity for Arthur to sate his urges, up until he’d witnessed Merlin getting pleasure from it? (He ignored the voice at the back of his head piping up in protest, “Arthur would never do something like that!”)

What if he was disgusted with Merlin now, horrified by his adoration?

No, Merlin could not go back in there. With shaking hands, he pulled what remained of his pants back on, ignoring the way his body ached at every movement. He made the slow trek back towards his and Gaius’ chambers, staggering with each step, and once inside, he closed the door behind himself wordlessly.

“I’ll… I’ll just be off to bed.” He mumbled, ignoring his mentor’s inquiring gaze.

*

Merlin didn’t get a single wink of sleep that night. Instead, he stared restlessly out of his window for hours, watching the almost full moon wander across the sky. When the first rays of dawn broke, he finally gave up, realizing rest was a futile endeavor. With a heavy sigh he got up from his cot, muscles and bones protesting. He dragged his sore body over towards the washbasin in the far corner of his room and stripped out of his ruined clothes. Hopefully, he’d be able to mend these. It wasn’t like he had many spares.

Dipping a washcloth into the water, Merlin ran it over himself with quick movements, trying not to look too closely at his hips and inner thighs, which were littered with dark purple bruises. He opened his wardrobe to pull out his second pair of breeches and a different shirt, fabric settling over his skin with a finality that felt like trepidation.

At last, Merlin walked over towards the door, fingertips hovering over the wooden handle for a few moments.

He shook his head. There was no use denying the inevitable. He would face Arthur. He would assure him that he was not going to let his feelings get in the way of his service—no matter if saying it would make his heart break into tiny shards—and he would let everything return to normal, to how it was before all this ever happened. Arthur had to want that too, right? Why else would he have apologised to him the day before? Decidedly, Merlin pushed the door open and walked down the stairs into the main chambers.

Gaius was already up and awake, bent low over his workbench. When he heard him coming, he looked up from his book, settling the reading glass onto the table. “Merlin, I need discuss with you a few things about Arthur’s condition. Have you—”

He did not get to finish his sentence, as in that moment the door to their quarters swung open. A guardsman stepped inside. “I’m looking for Merlin.” He turned around to face the young man.

“His Highness is sending me. I am to let you know that, from this day onward, you are relieved from your position as manservant indefinitely.”

Merlin’s mouth fell open.

Forgotten were all doubts and anxious thoughts about his feelings; and a slow simmering anger took their place. Only yesterday Arthur had apologized, and now he was sacking him? He clenched his hands into tight fists. If the prat really thought he could get rid of him after the way he had jumped him last night, he’d thought wrong.

“Merlin… Merlin, wait!”

Ignoring Gaius’ calls, he pushed past the guard and marched out of the door.

When he arrived at the prince’s chambers, he found two guards already positioned there, crossing their lances in front of his face when he made to walk past them. “Halt!”

Merlin frowned, taking a step backwards. “I need to speak with Arthur.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” one of the men sneered. “His Highness has given strict orders that you are not to be permitted entry.”

“Just-just me?”

“Indeed.”

Merlin’s brows drew into a scowl. Did Arthur really think he could avoid him like this indefinitely? Was he going to barricade himself inside his chambers forever? “Alright then,” Merlin said, turning his shoulders at the guards.

With a determined frown on his face, he walked away again. This wasn’t over yet.

He spent the whole day trying to get a moment to talk to Arthur. Frames for opportunities were slim, as the prince regent always stayed either locked up behind doors where Merlin was denied entry, or, when passing through the castle hallways, surrounded himself from all sides by at least a dozen of guards. It made Merlin feel dirty, as if he’d committed a horrible crime. A threat, was that what he was to Arthur, now that he’d figured out what Merlin felt for him? Was he a disgrace?

At some point, the knights and Gwen had gotten wind of his dismissal, each of them reassuring him that they would go and try to make Arthur see reason. None successfully.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into him,” Gwaine muttered angrily, in a splitting mirroring of their conversation the previous day. “When I said your name, he looked like he was going to deck me. ‘Don’t busy yourself with matters which do not concern you, Sir Gwaine, or I’ll make sure you won’t have the free time to do so in the future.’”

Merlin could only sigh and attempt to dissuade his friend’s mutterings of how he was going to “go right up to that royal wanker and give him an idea of how it concerned him”. There was no point in getting Gwaine in trouble with Arthur as well, after all.

He got his opening around late afternoon at last, during the scheduled council session, when the servants that usually roamed the halls were busy preparing dinner and could thus not serve as witnesses for the mysterious slumber that befell the guards. Making sure no one had seen him cast the spell, Merlin walked past their peacefully snoring forms.

Half a dozen faces looked up at him in surprise when he slammed the doors open. Upon finally having Arthur’s eyes on him for the first time that day, Merlin froze completely, his mind blanking at any words he’d previously prepared.

Merlin.” Arthur’s voice drew him from his momentous state of shock. “What are you doing here?”

“I…” Suddenly self-consciousness hit him like a warhammer in the chest. “It’s just… I wanted to…”

The prince’s face darkened. “I thought I had given clear instructions that he was not to be let into my sight. Where are the guards?” He motioned for another set of men posted behind his back. “Seize him!”

The men nodded.

Merlin was struck dumb when they marched over to him, roughly grabbing his upper arms. “No! Wait!” he called, struggling futilely in their grip. “I need to talk to you, Arthur. Please, I just—”

But Arthur shook his head, cutting Merlin off before he could finish his sentence. “I don’t know how much more clear I’ll have to get with you. If you’re having that much trouble following one simple instruction, then maybe it’s better for you to leave Camelot. In any case, let me put it into words even you will understand: I don’t want to see you anymore.” He turned towards the guards once more. “And now get him out of my sight.”

If Merlin ceased his struggles as the men dragged him away, it was only because he was too busy not collapsing as his world came crashing down around him. Once back in the physician’s chambers, he locked himself inside his room and cried for hours.

*

It was almost midnight, and Arthur was pacing inside his chambers again, hand on his chin, mouth pressed together, and his brows pulled into a deep frown.

There was no use in trying to sleep. Since the council session earlier, the look of Merlin’s devastated expression had been etched into his mind like a battle scar, and his pleas were playing over and over in Arthur’s ear. The guilt was eating him up; he didn’t dare fathom what Merlin must be thinking. That Arthur hated him now, probably. But it was the exact opposite. Truth was, he desired Merlin so much that his chest hurt, so hard that it was almost impossible to form any kind of reasonable thought.

It was true that his urges were caused by the strange mood that had possessed him the last few days. But the feelings they stemmed from, those had been buried inside him for a long time, just waiting for an opportunity to rise for the surface. That was why he hadn’t had a choice but to dismiss Merlin, despite having regretted it before he’d spoken the words. This was for Merlin’s sake, even if that idiot couldn’t seem to understand it yet. Arthur was still not sure why Merlin would want to remain his presence, after what he’d done. He was disgusted with himself for it, the way he’d forced himself on his defenceless servant, had almost bitten him, for Camelot’s sake. He couldn’t stand to look at himself in the mirror, that was for sure.

“This is getting me nowhere!” he snarled, clenching his hands into fists in favor of knocking them against the wall again out of frustration. The sky was cloudy tonight, but he could still feel the pull, the silent calling that had been getting louder and louder in the last hours, much like that night a month ago. Who or what it was that was calling him, he had not yet been able to figure out.

Maybe he needed some fresh air, he finally thought. Yes, fresh air was probably the solution. Maybe if he could just walk free under the forest for a single night, revel in its smells and secret sounds and shadows, he would cease feeling so trapped.

Hunt, a low voice at the back of his mind supplied, and a deep, primal part of him could not help but agree.

Arthur walked over to his wardrobe and pulled out the heavy blue cloak from where it was hidden, underneath a set of truly atrocious boots that he never wore, which had been a gift from Morgana once.

He threw the fabric over his shoulder, and then he was gone.

*

Merlin did not emerge from his room again that evening, even when Gaius came to knock on his door, asking to speak to him about his research regarding Arthur’s condition. He was not in the mood to talk about Arthur, and besides, the prince had seemed more than fine earlier, so he doubted it was anything urgent.

He did not open his door either when Gwen gently prompted him to come out for a small bite of food, at least. He’d been able to hear them talking in hushed voices downstairs, Gwaine and Lancelot and even Leon having dropped by. They had all sounded worried and sympathetic, but Merlin didn’t feel like facing their worry or sympathy. He could not think of anything worse to happen than what had happened to him today—not even Arthur finding out about his magic. He just wanted to be left alone, for now.

After Gaius and the others had given up on coaxing him out of his room, retiring for the night, Merlin fell into an uneasy sleep. When his eyes next snapped open, a strange, fluttering feeling inside his stomach, the sky had grown dark already.

He instantly knew that something was up. Something was happening to Arthur—and if he’d learned one thing in his years serving him, it was to always trust his Arthur-is-in-danger instinct. Merlin jumped out of his bed and hurried over to the door without even bothering to change out of his nightshirt. Heartbroken or no, there was no way he was going to let anything happen to him.

Carefully he crept past a snoring Gaius in the main chambers, and then stormed down the hallway towards the main stairs, leading towards the entrance of the citadel. The pull under his skin, it was coming from outside Camelot.

And so Merlin too disappeared into the night with none the wiser.

*

Merlin found Arthur in the middle of a clearing, not half an hour from the outskirts of the lower town. He was hunched over, clutching his stomach and chest and panting heavily, with low grunts coming from his mouth that Merlin wasn’t sure were of pain or, or something else.

Frowning, Merlin took a step forward. The quiet snap of a twig beneath his feet had Arthur’s head jerked up, meeting his gaze with piercing blue eyes.

For a moment, they just stared at each other, stunned.

It was Arthur who broke the silence. “M-merlin...”

It was little more than a growl, and yet the way his name rolled off Arthur’s tongue, like a spicy piece of meat, send shivers down Merlin’s spine. “Arthur.” He swallowed heavily, taking another hesitant step. “Are you alri—”

Stay away from me!”

The sudden force in Arthur’s voice had Merlin jump. “But-but you’re…”

“For once in your life would you just do as you’re told?” Arthur barked, looking at him with wide eyes, almost panicked. He looked as if he was about to say more, but then pain bloomed across his face. He cried out, doubling over as he erupted in another fit of heavy panting. “...If you… if you know what’s good for you, you won’t come a single step closer.”

“Alright,” Merlin relented. “I’m right here. Not coming closer, see?” He raised his hands in an appeasing gesture. “Now, will you finally tell me what’s wrong?” If his voice sounded pleading, he couldn’t bring himself to care. He just wanted to talk, to finally get behind all this. Arthur had to be enchanted, else he would have never sent Merlin away. Right?

“Ngh,” Arthur grunted, face drawing into a grimace, “there’s nothing wrong. Go back to the citade—Aaaaah!”

The clouds parted above them revealing the full moon casting it’s eerie glow upon the clearing.

Arthur’s head snapped back, and from his lips came a blood-curdling howl.

“Arthur!” Ignoring the prince’s orders, Merlin dashed forward, grabbing him by the shoulders. “You’re, you’re…” His breath hitched when he looked into Arthur’s face. “Y-your eyes!”

A set of red orbs met his. “M-merlin. I… I told you to stay awa—” Arthur did not get to finish his sentence. Another groan, hoarse from agony, erupted from his throat, and all at once his features began to twist, nose and mouth elongating almost like his very bones were being reshaped.

Letting go of him in shock, Merlin took a step back. Arthur fell down onto all fours, back arching, growing bigger and wider with muscles bulging all over his body, making the seams of his clothes burst before the fabric ripped entirely, revealing vast expanses of a pale back. But only for a moment, before thick golden fur began to burst all out over from beneath his skin; his torso, his shoulders and neck, his limbs. His face. Arthur growled, long canines growing in his mouth—muzzle—and claws forming out of his fingernails that dug themselves into the earth beneath him. A long, swishing tail sprouted from his tailbone, and then it seemed like it was over, and a stifled silence settled in the air as if every living being within the forest was holding its breath.

Where Arthur had been just moments ago, a large, wolf-like being now crouched on the floor, not unlike the one that had attacked them during that fateful night one moon ago. It was still rolled into itself, muscles spasming from the aftershocks of its transformation, and a slow trail of drool seeped out in between impossibly sharp teeth.

Horror-stricken, Merlin put a hand in front of his mouth. His heart thumped so wildly in his chest that it could probably be heard all over the clearing.

The creature’s eyes snapped up at him. It started drawing itself up, a shadow falling over Merlin as it became taller and taller, looming over him at twice the size of his head and more until it blocked out the moon completely. Narrowed, glowing, crimson eyes regarded him with something almost like curiosity.

For a few moments, they just stood there, sizing each other up.

Stay calm, Merlin tried to reassure himself, giving a trembling exhale, you’ve got your magic this time. He took a small step backwards and raised his hand protectively in front of his chest.

Ba-dump.

Before he could even think of a spell, the beast was already on him, grabbing him by the neck and tackling him to the ground with a force that knocked the air out of his lungs. Dark spots appeared in front of his eyes as he struggled weakly against the large forepaws holding him down.

There was a low ruff, a warning noise, making Merlin’s limbs grow still all on their own accord. Hot breath ghosted over his neck, sniffing him.

Shit, shit, shit, thought Merlin, clenching his eyes shut in a last attempt at concentration and willing his body, his magic to finally move. Without success. His limbs remained unmoving, his magic sluggish to respond to his call. He was trapped helplessly beneath the beast.

I’m going to be dog food. Merlin could do nothing but accept the seemingly inevitable. I’m sorry, Arthur.

*

Arthur wrinkled his snout. The stench of fear, the boy’s fear, permeated the air heavy like a winter blanket. This would not do.

From the depth of his throat he made a soothing noise, gently licking the pale neck under him until the boy’s trembling subsided, and his body was instead racked with pleased little shudders.

“No fear,” he growled, and although the boy could probably not understand his beast tongue he craned his neck, looking back at him with wide blue eyes. He opened his soft pink lips to utter a word, familiar and yet unintelligible, and Arthur knew he was calling to him, calling his name even when his outward appearance had changed.

“Still me,” he reassured, licking alongside the boy’s cheek and ear and making soft curls of the dark fur on his head stick up. The boy squirmed in his hold, lips pulling upward as small spasms escaped from his chest. Laughter. Halfheartedly, he tried to push Arthur’s snout away with his hands, muttering something. Arthur wasn’t sure what he was saying, but the smell of fear was slowly dissolving from his skin and that was enough for him, enough to proceed with his claiming without falter.

He brought up one of his forepaws and carefully ripped through the loose fur-skin that covered the boy, causing him to squawk protest. Once more he started struggling, his mouth making reproachful sounds when Arthur peeled him out of the wrappings and tossed them in a pile on the floor.

Arthur frowned in confusion. Was it that the boy was cold? His fur was thin underneath the wrappings, skin covered in only the slightest dusting of dark hair.

“Sorry. Keep you warm,” he huffed apologetically, lowering himself across the pale expanse of back, blanketing him. The skin-fur had been in the way of their coupling, so he’d had no choice but to remove it, but he had no intention of causing discomfort.

The boy did not cease his struggles, wriggling in his hold with his backside pressing against Arthur’s groin. Arthur gave a slight groan at the friction, blood rushing into his lower body. Shaking his snout, he caught control of himself before the hunger could start taking over. With a slight growl he leaned down to give a warning bite to the the scruff of the boy’s neck, causing him to fall limp.

Arthur would set the pace carefully; It would not do for him to grow impatient now, let himself get lost in the sensation of that tantalizing scent as his human half had the day before. The man was a fool, denying himself what he clearly was meant to have. He’d set himself up for failure from the start, but Arthur knew better now. His human half had warned the boy, had told him to stay away, to try and deny their bond. But the boy had not heeded it. He had not obeyed the foolish command, and he never would, because he was loyal and faithful and good. The best qualities for a mate.

Then and there, Arthur caught another whiff of his scent, so ripe and full and sweet, brimming with the unspilled magic he knew rested inside him—and in his mind he could hear his human half yelling in shock at the realization. He ignored it, relishing in the mixing of their smells, entwining and fitting together like he knew they were meant to be.

Slowly, he rolled his hips forward, guiding his pulsing cock against soft cheeks, eliciting a quiet moan as the boy spread his legs to give him better access. He was ready, finally ready to be claimed.

Without hesitation, Arthur shoved his cock into the boy’s waiting hole, already feeling his knot expand against the small, tight walls. The boy gave a pained whimper, squirming helplessly against the intruding length as Arthur continued to grasp his neck in between his teeth.

Arthur’s hips gave a jerk, and, losing his focus only for a moment, he could not stifle a blissful groan as the heat engulfed him. No sensation he had ever experienced before could compare to this rightness, the way the boy drew him in, as if they were created solely for the purpose of locking together. Gathering his senses together, he thrust deeper, relishing in the muffled gasps, the shivers it drew from the boy as he hit that special spot inside him. Arthur could feel the pressure building up in his heavy balls and came quickly, making sure to fill the boy to the brim with his seed so that everyone knew who he belonged to.

The boy dug his hands into the soft earth and let himself be bred without resistance, soft little gasps escaping from his lips with each spurt of come. Arthur continued thrusting while he emptied his knot inside him, emptied himself until the boy’s little hole was so full that white spilled over his rim.

Carefully, he ran a possessive paw over sharp, fluttering shoulder blades and grabbed at dark tufts of hair, pressing the boy’s face into the dirt to expose his neck. The boy trembled as Arthur sniffed him once again, his scent thick with arousal.

Awkwardly he twisted his head in Arthur’s grip, baring his throat for easier access. It sent a fresh wave of want down Arthur’s spine. There he was, his boy, presenting himself so freely for him to mark. For him, and him only to claim. Yes. This one was his mate, he’d known from the start, even with his human half waging fierce war against himself. He knew it was to be, and the boy knew it as well. His submission was proof of it.

Finally, finally, Arthur leaned down again, taking his time to inhale the sweet musk in the crook of his boy’s neck as he searched for the right place alongside pale skin. When he found it, he bit down, carefully but firmly digging his teeth into tender flesh. The boy cried out, not able to handle the combined sensations of pain and pleasure any longer, and spurted white streaks of his own come onto the dark forest floor. Arthur held him in large claws as he quivered and shook, and made a low, rumbling noise inside his throat, calming him. Once he was sure that his mate was marked to his satisfaction, he let up, gently licking the small wound to ease the pain.

He drew his hips back slowly, grunting as his still tingling, overstimulated length slipped out of his mate’s puffy hole. It was truly a sight to behold, pink and stretched and leaking copious amounts of come that trickled down the inside of his thighs. It made for a satisfying picture, seeing him all covered in Arthur’s spent.

Arthur extended his tongue to lap up some of the substance, trailing up from his mate’s legs all the way to the soft curve of his cheeks. Carefully, he licked around the sensitive furl of his hole, enjoying the small tremors that went through the boy at his ministrations.

Already Arthur could feel himself hardening again, thirsting to unite with his mate once more. But he would take his time. Now that the claiming was over and done with, they had no reason to hurry, and he could smell that the boy needed a few more moments to come down from his high. The first coupling was always the most painful, but Arthur knew that his mate could take him. He was made for it, the both of them were; the moon had told him so in his silver whispers. And even before he’d been able to hear the moon, some part deep inside him had always known it to be so.

He continued to clean his mate with his tongue, chancing a few teasing prods into his hole as he did. The boy jumped every time, clearly torn between reprieve for his chafed insides and pushing back against Arthur for more. Arthur ignored him, knowing he would not try to run at this point. He moved further upwards, counting each sharp knob of the boy’s spine with his snout.

He tasted his mate entirely until his tongue had every inch memorized, his nose every note of his scent imprinted inside his scent glands. His boy moaned sweetly, relishing in the attention Arthur was lavishing on him. At last, Arthur arrived at the delicate scruff of his neck once more, inspecting the fresh bite. It was still pulsing angry red, a print of two rows of sharp canines against rosy skin, but it was closing up well, with no sign of infection or excessive bleeding. Arthur was satisfied; the bitemark would be well visible once it had healed. A proof of his ownership.

It did not take long until his mate was rubbing up against him once more, sweetly pushing his cheeks against Arthur’s length, an open invitation. Arthur did not intend on passing it up, shoving his cock into the wet hole again. He slipped in smoothly, passage eased by the amounts of come inside, and yet his mate’s walls were still so incredibly small, so tight around him.

But his mate was strong, much stronger than he appeared. Arthur knew he could handle his knot. He grabbed at sharp hips with both paws, and forcefully slammed inside him once more.

His boy keened as he was impaled on Arthur’s large cock, that same familiar word as before falling from his lips, calling for him, his alpha, his mate just as he was Arthur’s. He curled his fingers in pleasure, raising his hips in accord to meet with the fierce thrusts.

Arthur almost saw stars when he hit that secret spot again and his mate started clenching around him, rings of muscle engulfing him from all sides even as his knot swelled to an impossible size. His mate was dripping pearls of sweat, barely even able to keep himself up by his shaky arms, full lips open wide as as he gasped for breath, just as overwhelmed from the sensations as Arthur. The boy’s eyes were scrunched shut, but anyhow water started spilling from them with exertion.

Arthur gave another vigorous thrust, the force of it almost folding his boy in half. He caught him by the hips, supporting his lithe weight where his own shaking limbs could barely hold the himself anymore. Arthur snaked one arm around his boy’s waist, enclosing his cock with a large paw, and massaged it from tip to base until his boy started jerking his hips erratically, overwhelmed with need. Soft little grunts fell from his lips as sweat continued dripping down the curve of his neck. Arthur licked it all up, tasted the saltiness of his mate on his tongue that mingled so deliciously with the sweetness of his skin. He continued licking upwards as he burrowed into him, caressing the boy’s wet cheeks and the corners of his eyes that were still leaking salty droplets.

Again his mate called for him, legs finally giving out beneath him when the stimulation became to much. Arthur caught him, held his hips in place with one forepaw and, the other one still around his mate’s cock, gave one final heavy thrust that had his mate yelling out. He pushed deeper inside him than he had all previous times, his knot pulsing, almost bursting inside his boy’s hole, locking them both together once more as was their purpose.

Arthur’s mind was soaring, his heart thumping as if trying to break out of his ribcage. His cock was so heavy and full inside his mate that he felt like they might melt together, become one single being both in body and mind, united past every possible barrier that still could have stood between them. Then and there it was like he could feel his mate’s every emotion, hear his every thought. Their very essences, naked and raw and golden as power itself, were knitting together like they had always belonged that way.

And this sensation, this union, locking them together for life and all beyond was what finally brought Arthur over the edge. He came inside his mate almost violently, let him massage every last drop of come out of his cock until his little hole was overflowing again, even more come spilling out than before. Arthur pulled out his cock, spurting the last splatters all over his boy’s pert cheeks and his lower back. Then, he leaned back to inspect his work. It made for a glorious sight, the soft curve of his boy’s arse covered all in Arthur’s essence.

Satisfied, he reached around his mate’s waist again and clenched his paw around the boy’s cock. His mate threw his head up, crying out and spasming and spilling himself over Arthur’s claws. His eyes flew open at last, lighting up golden. The entire clearing sung around them.

Arthur had to catch his breath after that second coupling, so much more intense than their first. With every touch of skin, every friction of their bodies his desire for his mate was only growing stronger, made him thirst for more, like a parched man attempting to drink from a well when the water always slipped out of his grasp before it could reach his mouth. How he could ever have thought to live without his mate, he didn’t even dare fathom—he was his air to breathe, his meal to feast on, his honeypot to allure him with the sweetest temptation, his, his, his. The moon had promised him thus in his calling, and so it had been done.

Arthur took his mate two more times that night, until his mate’s cries grew absolutely incoherent with bliss, until Arthur had spilled so much of his essence inside of him, on him and all around him that no one walking upon that clearing would ever be able to deny the evidence of their union. There were no doubts remaining, it was there for all of the forest to smell.

After Arthur had finished for the last time, he encircled his little mate in his arms, limp and pliant and tame, and laid himself down sideways onto the cool earth. Pulling his boy close to his chest, knot still remaining inside him, the both of them soon fell into an exhausted, but deeply sated sleep.

*

When Merlin came to, it was with the rays of the fresh morning sun poking in between his eyelids. He scrunched them in annoyance; had he forgotten to close the curtains? Letting out a small yawn, he smacked his lips together, and then frowned as he tasted crumbs of dirt on his tongue. He was bent in quite an awkward position, his muscles aching as if a herd of horses had trampled him over, and there was a dull burn in his lower back and along his hips. What had he been up to last night? Had Gwaine talked him into visiting the tavern again?

Merlin moved his legs a bit, intending to get up and resume his duties, but then froze abruptly as a set of arms tightened around his midsection. His thighs felt sticky rubbing together as did his belly and, oh gods, was that a, a cock inside his arsehole?

Suddenly, he felt hot breath ghost over the base of his neck as he was sniffed from behind, and then the nose was replaced with a coarse wetness. An involuntary shiver ran across Merlin’s spine at the feeling of the wolf’s—Arthur’s—tongue against his skin. Finally, last night’s memories came crashing back into him, his eyes snapping open with surprise as his face heated up all the way to his ears.

He attempted to shift in Arthur’s arms and extract himself from his hold, but his efforts were met with a growl, Arthur not letting up from his iron grip.

Merlin bit his lip. “Arthur, you’re…”

At the sound of his voice, Arthur jumped, slipping out of him and withdrawing himself quickly as if he’d been stung. “M-merlin! What are you—did we… did we…”

Merlin turned around to see him leaning backwards, shoulders hunched together and face pale as he met his gaze with wildness in his eyes, all in his naked glory. Merlin couldn’t help but stare for a moment, remembering the things they had done last night, the way Arthur had taken him, so rough but yet so gentle, as if Merlin meant the entire world to him.

A small smile made the corners of his lips quirk upwards, at least until he realized Arthur was retreating further, getting up from his position on the floor and making a step backwards. “Merlin. You-I-I don’t—”

“No, wait!” Merlin reached out for his wrist, looking up at Arthur’s stricken face. “Please. Don’t go again.”

Arthur hesitated, searching Merlin’s face for something. He must have been able to find it, because his shoulders sagged, and he let himself plop down onto the ground next to Merlin again with a deep sigh.

For a little while, there was silence between them, and only the noises of the waking forest could be heard as the sun sent her dawn rays over the treetops.

At last, Arthur spoke up. “Merlin, I… I must ask your forgiveness.”

Merlin’s mouth dropped open. Arthur apologizing? For the second time in less than two days, mind him. He almost thought his ears might be falling off.

At his flabbergasted look Arthur rolled his eyes. “Don’t stare with your mouth open. It’s unbecoming.”

Merlin closed his mouth, blinking owlishly. “Why must you ask my forgiveness?”

Face growing serious, Arthur turned away. “Lets not do this now.”

“‘Lets not’—” Merlin cut himself off, scowling. “Yes, we are going to do this now! This is the perfect time to talk about it!”

He shook his head. “We can’t keep going on like this, you can’t keep doing this to me, Arthur. First you draw me in, make me think there’s a thing between us and then you push me away again and again. I can’t-I can’t be your guilty pleasure. If you’re so disgusted by my feelings then just tell me once and for all, and leave me be.”

His mouth fell shut, chest heaving after his passionate rant. Apprehensively, he chanced a look at Arthur’s face, gauging his reaction.

He was met with wide blue eyes, and a gaze that was almost marvelling. Arthur opened his mouth, only to promptly close it again. Opened it once more. At last he seemed to find his words. “Your… feelings?”

Merlin stiffened, realizing what he had just admitted to.

“You mean you… feel the same?”

Several things happened at once then. Merlin drew back in shock just at the same time Arthur leaned forward, unable to process what had just been said, to fit the words together with his perception of reality. Arthur extended his hand cautiously, almost reverently, hovering over the right of Merlin’s cheek.

Then, the floodgates finally broke inside Merlin’s mind and he understood. He wrapped his arms around Arthur, drawing him in, and smashed their lips together for a long-awaited, passionate kiss.

*

When they drew apart again, Merlin’s mind still buzzing from his realization, he vaguely noticed a pained expression flitting across Arthur’s face. “What’s wrong?”

Arthur closed his eyes, mouth pulling into a frown. “It’s just… the way I’ve treated you, these last few days. I can hardly—” His eyes snapped open, lips pressing together tightly, and he met Merlin’s gaze with a fierce, watery look. “I want you so much it makes my chest ache. How can you stand to look at me, when I took you without consideration like that? I’m an animal.”

He didn’t wait for Merlin to answer, pulling his hand back into himself. “With this pull between us, this-this beast that I’ve become. I am… I am afraid, Merlin. I’m so afraid that I will hurt you.”

Merlin’s heart crumbled. Before he even knew it, he was barreling into Arthur’s arms, enclosing him in a tight hug. “You won’t hurt me. I trust you.”

“Not enough to tell me about your magic, apparently.”

Merlin froze.

“Don’t worry. That’s a topic that we will discuss later. And you will tell me everything.”

“O-okay.” Merlin’s shoulders relaxed, and he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “Gaius has been looking into your condition. I think he may have found something, but I’ve not… I’ve not had the head to listen to it last night.”

He felt Arthur swallow. “Ah. Yes, I suppose I reacted a bit abruptly with your dismissal. You can consider yourself rehired. If you want to, that is.”

“Of course I want to. Dollophead.” A small snort bubbled from Merlin’s lips.

“What’s so funny?”

“You can talk about me being bad with secrets, but lets not forget it took you buggering me senseless on the forest floor to admit you liked me.”

“I can’t recall you complaining about it last night,” Arthur muttered indignantly.

“Eh.” Merlin shrugged, his voice a teasing note. “Could’ve been better. You could stand to fine-hone your technique some more.”

“Is that so?” Before he knew it, he was flat on his back on the floor again, with Arthur leaning over him until his mouth hovered a hair’s breadth over Merlin’s ear. “As my servant,” he murmured, breath tickling Merlin’s skin, “it is your duty of course to assist me in all of my studies.”

A sly smirk spread across Merlin’s face. “Why, I’d gladly assist. Sire.”

As the sun rose above the leafy canopy they went for an enthusiastic round five, and would have gone for round six as well if there hadn’t been the pressing concern of getting back to the castle. This matter proved to be more complicated than they had expected it to be.

“I can’t believe you completely ruined another set of my clothes!” Merlin despaired, gathering up the shredded remains of his shirt. “Not all of us have a wardrobe full of spares, you know.”

“Don’t get your smallclothes in a twist,” Arthur waved him off, “I’ll just lend you some of mine until you’ve finished mending them.”

“‘Until I’ve’—” Merlin cut himself off, scowling. “My clothes aren’t the only ones that are ruined. Look at your sleep shirt! How are we supposed to get back to the castle, were you thinking of just waltzing back in there naked?” He huffed. “And by the way, I can’t get my smallclothes in a twist because someone tore them up!”

“Alright. Okay,” Arthur held up his hands placatingly. “I may have been a bit enthusiastic, I admit. I’ll get the castle seamstress to mend your things. And for how we get back…” He bent down to pick up a bundle of blue fabric, then threw it at Merlin’s face. “Put on my cloak, it’s still whole. At least one of us will be covered.”

“But what will you—”

“Put it on, Merlin. No way will I have you walking through town with everyone and their mother ogling you when you go to fetch me fresh clothes. I’ll hide and wait in the forest.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Possessive prat,” he muttered under his breath.

“What was that?”

“I said I think I saw a cat.”

Arthur’s nostrils flared slightly, muscles tensing, and his eyes flitted around as if scouring the clearing for prey. When he realized there was none, he threw Merlin a dirty look. “Very funny, Merlin. Now, I suggest you do some less thinking and more walking, because I’ve not got all day.”

Merlin grinned at him as he threw the cloak over his shoulders. “Right away, Sire.”

Merlin made his way back through the forest the same way as he came last night, with Arthur following behind closely.

They didn’t even reach the end of the treeline before they stumbled upon a surprised patrol of Sirs Leon, Gwaine, and Percival. “S-sire!” Leon exclaimed, face heating up while he pointedly looked no further down than Arthur’s chin, doing his best to pretend that his prince regent wasn’t standing before them completely starkers. “I… I didn’t expect to be met with you here.”

Gwaine sent Merlin a disbelieving look. When Merlin just shrugged, a smirk spread over his face, and he sent him a congratulatory eyebrow waggle.

“We were... ambushed,” Arthur said with a stony face. “By bandits. No less than a dozen of them. I fought them off, of course, but they managed to take our clothes in the heat of the battle.”

“That’s-that’s very unfortunate, Sire,” said Leon, but Merlin could see in his face that he wasn’t buying a single word of it. “How about I lend you my cloak and we, um, accompany you both back to Camelot safely.”

“That would be much appreciated.”

“Merlin can ride with me,” Gwaine suggested, still smirking. “I’ll make sure his cloak doesn’t ride up… too far.”

“Absolutely not!” Arthur barked, throwing him a look as if he’d just offended his mother. “You’ll share with Sir Percival and I will take your horse. And Merlin.”

Merlin suppressed a deep sigh, not sure if that was still the wolf talking or if Arthur was not just being a clotpole like usual. For this once, he’d let it go, allowing Arthur to pull him up onto the horse in front of him, and okay, maybe he leaned back into his chest the tiniest bit when Arthur circled his arms around his waist to grab the reins.

“You know, my arse still hurts, so please try and not ride at your usual breakneck speed,” Merlin said in a hushed voice, turning his head back slightly.

“You do remember who gives the orders here, don’t you, Merlin?” came the grumbled answer, and yet, as the knights started moving ahead of them, Arthur let the horse fall into a gentle trot.

Slowly, they made their way back to Camelot, taking a less used route so there wouldn’t be that many spectators along the way to see their prince and his manservant, each wearing nothing but a cloak, as they rode in a tight embrace back into the citadel.

If Merlin thought he saw the other knights handing Gwaine a ten coins each when Arthur wasn’t looking, he didn’t remark upon it.