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Love is the Anther

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Arthur woke up to the sound of a tractor nearby. He was still a bit dewy from the cooler night air but the rays of morning sunlight were rapidly drying him. Just then, he sensed two people coming down his row.

"What about this one, Merlin?" a voice said.

"No, that one's not quite there yet," the one called Merlin said. "Look for the ones with a bit of colour."

Arthur swelled with pride. There was a tinge of pale orange along the tips of his petals, though they were still bunched tight.

Merlin stopped next to him and Arthur felt warm fingers close over his stem and tilt him up away from the large green leaves of his plant.

"This flower looks like it'll be ready tomorrow, Morgana," Merlin said. "I'm going to put a twist tie on it to keep it closed."

"Why do you do that?" Morgana asked.

"It's to keep insects from getting in and contaminating the pollen." Merlin's fingers released him, leaving him slightly ruffled.

The clever fingers returned, then, and wrapped something around him. Every touch sent a thrill through Arthur's petals and made his stamen quiver. The pair of humans moved away, and Arthur was left with a hard band around him, constricting but not cutting into his fragile tissue.

"Now, let's see if we can find a female on this plant as well," Merlin said.

"How about this one?"

"That's perfect, Morgana. Can you tie it closed?"

Arthur had grown on this squash plant, it was his home, and he knew all the other buds and blossoms. One was a pretty flower named Guinevere, who was at just about the same stage of growth as Arthur. She also received a "twist tie." Arthur wondered what that meant.

Honestly, he felt great. Merlin's touch had awakened something in Arthur, or maybe it had already been starting. At first it felt like there was a gentle heat suffusing him, a kind of extra special awareness of all the humming, buzzing, growing smells and sounds in the field.

Gradually, throughout the day, it grew more intense, until Arthur felt as if he was going to burst, but the little piece of plastic cruelly kept him closed.

Many small creatures (insects?) landed on him and then flew off. One of them cheerfully introduced himself as Gwaine and kept bugging him to open his petals.

"Come on!" Gwaine begged, "I'm really hungry! I'll make it good for you too, babe."

"I can't," Arthur explained. "I'm tied shut."

"What? That's ridiculous!" Gwaine said, his antennae rotating mesmerizingly. "You should be able to open up and have fun with whomever you want."

"I know," Arthur said grumpily. "But I can't." Gwaine's legs rubbed up against the small hairs on his stalk and tickled as he wandered over Arthur's sepals.

"That female flower over there, what's-her-name?" Gwaine hummed. "She smells great, I'm going to check her out. Bye!"

Gwen did smell great, Arthur thought. She was waving in the breeze and the small, yellow ovary at her base gave him a strange feeling in his filaments. But her petals were tied shut just like his. Gwaine was going to be disappointed.

"Arthur," Gwen called over to him, ignoring Gwaine. "How are you doing?"

"I... I don't know." Arthur replied. "A little overwhelmed."

"Me too," Gwen said and Arthur wished he was a closer to her, so that their petals or stems could touch at least. He was right in the centre of the plant, near to the ground, however, while she was farther out.

And there were SO MANY other flowers all around them. Some were just yellow or orange blurs amid the forest of dark green leaves, but he longed to send his pollen out to them all...

It was a rough day, even with Gwen for company.

By the next morning, Arthur was exhausted, the tips of his frilly orange petals drooping just beyond where he was still bound. He felt helpless and frustrated. Yesterday should have been the best day of his life, but instead he was wasting away on his stalk, unfulfilled.

The sun was pounding down on them when the humans returned. Arthur had almost lost hope but he perked up when he heard Merlin's voice.

"Remember to make sure there aren't any bugs inside the blossom," the man was saying.

This time, Arthur was ready for Merlin's hands on him. He was so ready that a few of his pollen grains shook off and collected on the inside of his flower when Merlin's fingers closed around him. What he wasn't ready for was the feeling of his stalk being abruptly, rudely broken.

For the first time in his life Arthur was alone, disconnected from his plant, from his family, from the very source of his sustenance and life. He should have been terrified - he was terrified - but somehow in Merlin's hands, he felt safe.

And holy roots, he was still completely swollen, bright orange and ready to fertilize someone, anyone... Merlin was undoing the twist tie, freeing his limp petals. Arthur didn't even care about his ruined blossom though, now that he could feel the trickle of air flowing over his anthers, and Merlin's careful fingers peeling him open.

It all happened so quickly. The humans were talking but Arthur couldn't concentrate on that. Arthur was moving through the air and then, suddenly, there was Guinevere, her own petals rumpled but so beautiful, and then Arthur was pressed right up against her --

"Oh!" she gasped. "Arthur? This is so sudden!"

"Guinevere!" Arthur moaned as his stiff anther was forced between her petals.

"I love when you call me that," she fluttered around him.

Merlin had a firm grasp on his stem and base and Arthur shuddered as Merlin used it, used him, rubbing Arthur's stamen all over Gwen's stigma, coating her with his pollen. He was ecstatic, electrified by the contact. He had always secretly dreamed of his pollen being carried away to other flowers, but to actually be here, to know that it was happening, was indescribably pleasurable. He imagined his pollen gametophytes germinating on Gwen's stigma and growing tubes down into her ovule, to make a beautiful baby squash...

It was destiny.

He could only thank Merlin for selecting both of them, for seeing their potential and creating this perfect union.

Then it was over, and Arthur was withdrawn from the glowing orange walls of Gwen's flower. He was torn and crumpled; his anther still had smudges of pollen on it, but most of them had transferred to her stigma. He felt sated and content, clasped in Merlin's hand, wrecked.

"What do you do with the used males?" Morgana asked. She sounded fascinated.

"You can just throw them on the ground," Merlin said, but he didn't let go of Arthur. "Or, we could save them. Have you ever had fried squash blossoms?"

"No, I haven't," Morgana said, "That sounds delicious."