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Marconi Plays the Palace

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The Court Circular 31st August 2012

ST. JAMES’S PALACE: The Prince of Wales, Official Ambassador, and the Princess Morgana of York today visited the Paralympic Games.

The end of August signalled the last of the later admissions to Buckingham Palace; the first of September would see the gates close at 18.30 rather than 19.00. Half an hour might not mean much to the average visitor but to Arthur it was crucial; he couldn’t get his kit off until the paying public cleared the grounds. The conservatory was lined with Ionic columns and bullet-resistant windows, neither of which would keep out the tourists’ cameras. Fit though he was, Arthur was not convinced that the world needed to see him in his speedos.

Leon, his protection officer, normally waited in the corridor off the Belgian Suite ready to warn off any would-be swimmers; whilst the pool was open to all members of the household, unofficial protocol left the Prince of Wales to his evening swim in peace. Even with the King tucked away at Balmoral, there was little enough quiet to be had over the summer months. The staff had rather more affection for Arthur than for his father, and they protected Arthur’s privacy as best they could.

It wasn’t an ordinary evening, however: London lay beneath a blue moon. Arthur had spent the day cheering on Paralympics GB at Olympic Park but by mid-afternoon his attention was torn ragged. The fresh, overcast weather did little to stem the rising fractiousness of the crowd as the lunar effect took hold. Omegas squirmed in their seats and alphas scented the air; the pace at the velodrome grew urgent as both cyclists and records toppled. Even the betas who made up the bulk of the throng weren’t immune to so many pheromones en masse; the widespread uptake of heat suppressors might have done much to address the potential safety issues of mob reaction to the sexual receptivity of omegas but the basic allure, whilst muted, remained undeniable. Numerous squabbles broke out and many speculative eyes fell upon Prince Arthur, who sat beside his beautiful young omega cousin, HRH Princess Morgana of York while the plain-clothesmen nearby patted their sidearms and looked stern. The TV commentators chuckled uneasily, as they did every full moon, and the organising committee breathed a collective sigh of relief, congratulating themselves on having the forethought to move the opening ceremony back to Wednesday night. The possibilities really didn’t bear thinking of.

“That was fun,” Morgana said, when he dropped her back at Kensington Palace. Her mischievous eyes sparkled with just a hint of gold. “I think I’ll go out dancing later. Maybe Boujis.”

“You’re not old enough for Boujis,” said Arthur. Not that that would stop her, but hopefully her sister would. Morgause was terrifying.

“When did you grow so stodgy?” She pressed a kiss to his cheek, wreathing him in a sweet scent that, thank you, Westermarck effect, left him largely unmoved. “If you’re going home to watch EastEnders, I’ll cry. Leon, don’t let him watch it, you know how he gets.”

“No promises, Your Royal Highness,” said Leon, as her own protection officer, Aglain, handed her out of the Bentley.

So Arthur really wasn’t surprised to find BP in a state of subdued turmoil upon his return. The Master of the Household customarily scheduled the omega and alpha staffers off time around the moon, but the Palace had no such control over summer visitors to the State Rooms and there were always some tourists who wouldn’t let their time of the month keep them from making the most of their time in London. Arthur had a fair degree of sympathy with this viewpoint -- he was not only an alpha, but a royal one, and had accordingly led a somewhat circumscribed life -- but there was no denying the unsettling effect of so many free-floating hormones on the usually smooth functioning of the palace. In 2005 a lofty equerry presumed long past his prime had been jumped in the Throne Room by a teenaged girl from Malaysia, much to the chagrin of her parents, and just last year a newly tied couple was discovered by the Wardens stuck behind the ice cream tent near Hyde Park Corner.

It was a fine line between protection under the law and restriction, and alpha/omega freedoms were still routinely debated in the media and even in Parliament. Arthur often pondered what his world would be like had Christian IX of Denmark not seeded the royal family trees of Europe with quite so many alphas and omegas. An undeniable glamour was now firmly attached to a sex variance once viewed with suspicion, ignorance and outright hostility, and nowadays in the UK at least NHS-funded heat blockers blunted the full potency of the moon, giving both omegas and alphas vastly improved control over their lives.

But no medication could fully stem the moonstruck effect. Little wonder Leon was staying close. Today by all accounts even the palace wiring had somehow gone awry and Leon’s face was grim as he hovered poolside while Arthur churned through the water. If Leon had his way, Arthur would be bundled off to Windsor for the weekend, but Arthur was an official ambassador of the Games and he meant to attend as many events as possible. It was over a year since Nell died, and Arthur’s people needed to see him well and strong, a part of them once more.

Arthur was trying. Grief was a sick-making thing, confounding him time and again, but Arthur had his son and he had his duty to the kingdom, and somehow it would be enough. He was nothing if not stubborn.

9 laps. 10 laps. The water washed everything before it, cooling the longing of his skin. Chlorine burned his eyes and the blue and white tiles below him blurred into a dizzying array. 14. 15.

“Talk to me,” Arthur said finally, shortly, switching to backstroke so he could read Leon’s expression.

“I hope it’s nothing, sir,” said Leon, two fingers held to his earpiece as if he were tempted to shoot the unfortunate at the other end. “Apparently the security systems are all working normally now.”

“But?”

“But Elyan says the numbers are off. We’re down one.” Arthur didn’t need to ask what numbers Leon meant. The Palace was a royal rabbit warren, and if a tourist -- or a terrorist -- had slipped the ropes while the CCTV was bollocksed up and the Wardens’ heads were turned, then they might be anywhere by now. “Val reckons it’s nothing unusual, but I’d trust Elyan’s gut over his.”

“Agreed,” said Arthur. Valiant was an arsehole and an idiot. Arthur had long been inclined to have him shipped back out to his constabulary in Yorkshire where he might do as little harm as possible, but Uther was fond of him and Arthur was not going to go against his king.

“Building and grounds have been swept, and they’re double checking now,” said Leon. “Elyan’s up on the roof.”

“Capability?”

“He’s by the lake, checking for floaters.”

“Christ, that’s a bit of overkill,” muttered Arthur. Lancelot, ostensibly one of the Palace gardeners, was in fact a sergeant with Scotland Yard and had no doubt fished out more than his share of murder victims and suicides from various watery graves. Thank God Mordred had gone up north with Uther for the Braemar Games. The last thing his son needed to think about was a dead body, not when he was still having wretched nightmares over Nell.

“I shouldn’t worry on that count. It doesn’t seem likely. Percy’s coming down now,” said Leon, nodding towards the door. “I’m just going to have a quick word.”

“Right.” As Leon stepped out to talk to the other protection officer, Arthur pulled up at the end of the pool and rested his chin on his arms. It was hard to believe there could be anything truly amiss. The sun was nearly down now, breaking low through the cloud cover to cast a dappled golden haze over the gardens. He could still hear some activity to his left on the West Terrace, where the Garden Cafe was clearing up for the night, and there’d be a few workers yet at the gift shop across the main lawn, straightening the souvenir tea towels for tomorrow. Arthur could remember a time when the palace was off-limits to the public -- he knew Uther wished it were so still -- but Arthur had never minded what Uther felt as intrusion. Perhaps his opinion would change when he was king.

He braced his palms on the side of the pool, heaved himself out of the water and padded over to the windows. Leon would be upset -- probably about the brazen little red costume more than anything else -- but Arthur couldn’t resist the last of the sun. The days were growing shorter.

A rustling movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. There was an empty Warden’s booth just outside and then a lovely curved avenue of plump Indian chestnuts leading off to his right from the conservatory deeper into the garden. Something dropped suddenly from the leafy canopy onto the shaded path below, something rather larger than a conker or even a squirrel. Arthur’s breath caught as the figure straightened, brushed itself off in a haphazard manner and then stared right at him.

There’s our straggler, Arthur thought, strangely unafraid. There you are. I’ve been expecting you.

It wasn’t far from the shelter of the chestnuts to the foot of the stone stairway leading up to the conservatory. The figure darted quickly into the half-light and bounded up the steps, his long legs devouring the small distance between them. Arthur had only a brief moment to appreciate the almost fey-like features before the boy tripped over his own boots and stumbled face first against the glass.

Arthur crouched automatically, his protective instinct pricked; he reached forward as if he might catch the boy and bear him to safety, only to jam his own fingers into the window pane. Arthur shook his hands out with a self-conscious hiss and the boy gave him a sheepish grin while he rubbed at his bruised nose; his colour was too high for a simple blush and he’d left a greasy smear across the glass.

God, he’s just a kid, Arthur thought as he stared in dumb wonder, although when the boy slowly righted himself he proved as tall as Arthur. He wore a pair of skinny dark cords with a blue shirt and a brown 70s-style jacket that looked too big for him. Arthur didn’t need to see the red bandana around the boy’s neck to know he was an unmatched omega. Fever-softened cheeks, messy black hair, bitten fingernails. A baby really. And we’re both idiots. I never guessed it was like this. No one said.

He couldn’t tell what colour the boy’s eyes were -- they were already swallowed up by the moon fever and kindled brighter by the moment, glowing like the sunset itself -- but they watched Arthur with the same eerie seismic cognisance rolling through Arthur’s mind. I know you too, Arthur thought. I haven’t even got your scent yet, but I’ll know when I have it, when I have you. Merlin.

Arthur pressed his left hand flat to the glass, bearing the boy his wrist, the pale strip of skin no one saw. The mark appeared eighteen years ago, when Arthur was already turned twenty-one, a grown man. His father had sighed heavily and given him a Cartier watch, and Arthur covered the mark, knowing there was little more he could do. Countless busybodies had asked after it, yet few learned the truth. Nell was one of those few -- he’d had no secrets from her -- and she took the name to her grave in St George’s Chapel.

Now the boy knew it too, knew it for certain. His grubby fingertips read the truth as he traced the letters of his own name etched on Arthur’s skin. His almost bashful smile lifted, creasing his thin face into an exultant display of dimples and teeth. He scratched for Arthur’s hand, pressing his mouth to the glass, to Arthur’s wrist, and Arthur’s fingers clenched into a helpless fist.

Sweat poured down the boy’s thwarted face; he bit savagely at his bottom lip, his molten gaze pleading in silent need. He dragged his eyes from Arthur to scan the walls of the conservatory, searching for the way in, but the only entrance was through the grand rooms and long, labyrinthine corridors of the Palace. Arthur hated his very home for keeping them apart, for hurting Merlin like this.

“Arthur, what the hell--?”

It was Leon. Arthur hated him too. Suddenly Leon had him by one arm and Percival by the other and he hated them both for touching his skin when it belonged to Merlin. They dragged him back from the windows. His feet skidded on the wet tiles as he struggled in their grip. Their touch was horrible and wrong. They shouted his name, they yelled for back-up. Arthur twisted and lashed out, kicking Leon into the pool, but Percy wouldn’t let him go; he muscled Arthur into a relentless headlock and pulled him from Merlin’s shadow.

Merlin, silent until now, found his voice. “Arthur!” he screamed, his voice jagged with urgent fury. Cries of alarm rang out through the grounds and footsteps pounded across the terrace, but Merlin’s attention was all for Arthur. He drummed his fists upon the conservatory windows until his skin split and bled, and then he slapped his palms flat against the panes, making the shatter-proof glass shudder. Cracks appeared beneath Merlin’s fingertips and spread like cobwebs as the panes of the west wall fractured one by one.

Both inside the Palace and throughout the gardens, the clamour grew. Arthur, stilled and cowed by the sight of Merlin’s blood, now stiffened with even greater fear. The shouts of police warning were ignored by Merlin but not by Arthur, who knew precisely how armed and dangerous his men were. Please, God, please. No guns, not here, not now. Don’t let him be hurt.

“Merlin, I’m all right,” he said, with as much composure as he could muster, knowing Merlin would still hear him over the anxious row. “Stand down.”

Merlin stopped, unable to resist the direct order. He glowered at Arthur, who remained clamped in Percy’s grip, but his fingers curled childlike and then dropped from the glass. Frustrated tears streamed down his cheeks.

“Merlin, you must drop,” said Arthur. He hated for anyone to see it but him, but if Merlin didn’t hit the ground, then the guards would make him.

Merlin’s head drooped and he started to lower, but it was too late. Val stormed up behind him, a taser aimed squarely at Merlin’s back. The Royalty Protection officers rarely saw much action at BP; to Arthur Val’s face looked almost gloating as he fired his weapon.

The electroshot darts punched into Merlin, smacking him against the glass before he collapsed in a heap. Val stood over Merlin’s prone body, looking smug as his weapon chattered merrily. Arthur snarled against Percy’s arm, feeling every volt.

“Lance, where the hell are you?” called Percy on his radio, but Capability was already there behind Val, taking the volatile situation in hand with his customary knack. Lance's upraised hands and calm words quietened the onlookers; even Valiant stepped back from his prey and relinquished his taser to Lance. Arthur stared at Merlin’s still form, his jaw clenched. Most people recovered quickly from a taser blast, but a moonstruck omega was uniquely susceptible to neuromuscular shock. As the sun sank below the trees, Merlin was out cold.

The force of Arthur’s fury could have flattened the city, but Merlin needed him. Arthur shrugged off Percy’s slackened hold and stood tall. “Get him out of my house.”

“He won’t be doing any harm now, sir,“ said Leon as he came up beside Arthur, looking sodden and abashed. His wet earpiece dangled uselessly from his ear.

Arthur pulled his chilled gaze from Merlin’s helpless figure and glared at Leon. “I’m talking about Valiant. Get him out before I kill him.”

“But sir--!”

“Do as I say.” More people were gathered outside, gawking at Merlin now that the immediate crisis appeared over, but Capability was keeping them clear. “Percival, have Lancelot bring the boy to my quarters.”

Leon started to protest, but Percy was already on his radio to pass the order to Lance, who considered his prince through the cracked glass briefly before bowing his head in assent. He tucked two fingers beneath Merlin’s bandanna to check his pulse -- Arthur might have willingly torn those fingers off with his teeth had they belonged to anyone but Lance -- then gathered his lax body by the underarms and hauled him upright, hefting him over one shoulder. Arthur resisted the urge to scrabble uselessly for Merlin; instead he turned his back deliberately on the sight of him draped over another man and strived for calm.

“Your Royal Highness, I really do think--”

“Leon, that boy is mine,” said Arthur. The claiming words felt right, but he needed Merlin to hear them. Hell, he needed the BBC to know. Where was his Press Secretary when he wanted her? “He’s mine. Do you understand?”

“Sir, you know as well as I do, it’s just the moon talking,” said Leon in his placatory way.

“I know a good deal more than you,” Arthur said. He would not be pacified. The name on his wrist burned and he pressed his right palm over it, willing his frantic pulse to still. Merlin needed him. He held out his arms, waiting, and Percy draped his damp body in a red dressing-gown embroidered with the Prince of Wales’s feathers.

“Arthur, that boy has committed a criminal offence!” said Leon. “This Palace is a designated site under SOCPA. You cannot--”

“This is my home, and that boy is my guest,” said Arthur. He drew Leon’s reluctant eyes and held them sternly. “I ask very little, Leon, and I’m not asking now. I bear his mark. He is mine. The law has no jurisdiction in this matter.”

“Yes, sir,” Leon said, his face falling in defeated understanding. The law was one thing but a mark was akin to a miracle, and not one lightly ignored. That Arthur had hidden his for so long spoke painfully and profoundly of his sense of responsibility for the welfare of his people and the continuity of the crown. But the time for hiding was now over. “I’ll make certain everything’s sorted at the station.”

“Better change into dry clothes first,“ said Arthur, attempting a lightness he did not feel. He wouldn’t apologise for his actions -- no alpha could be reproached for an instinctive response to perceived harm to his omega -- but Leon had been Arthur’s man for many years and Arthur had no wish for tension between them. “They might take you more seriously.”

“I’ll borrow your towel then, with your blessing, sir?”

“You have it, Leon,” said Arthur. “Just make sure it is understood: there are to be no charges laid. Spin this however you have to, but he must not be taken into custody. None but mine.”

“It’s going to be long night,” said Leon, smiling wryly, “for us all.”

He bowed himself out, then Arthur turned to Percy. “Have the doctor brought to my rooms immediately.”

“Sir, Gaius is already on his way,” said Percy, tapping his earpiece meaningfully. “The Lord Chamberlain too, sounds like.”

“Better Geoffrey than my father.” Arthur sighed. Word always moved through BP at the speed of Usain Bolt. Arthur was acutely aware of the need to present a calm front when there was nothing he wanted more than to shake off the mantle of royal duty and bury himself inside his omega. His. “Lancelot is almost too efficient. All this and a flawless fireman’s carry. It’s a good thing he's a safely married man, or else I’d send him to the Tower.”

“I’m not certain you’re allowed to do that sort of thing anymore, sir. And Gwen wouldn’t like it,” said Percy. Morgana’s dresser was smaller than the lot of them, but she was fierce in defence of her husband and all too likely to call Arthur on his bullshit. “At least Lance didn’t have your father called.”

“Someone will,” said Arthur wearily. Little chance of seclusion when one was a member of the Firm, but hopefully the delights of the north would keep Uther at least away, even if the rest of the kingdom hoped to eavesdrop at Arthur’s door.

Arthur wasn’t surprised to find the ubiquitous Lord Chamberlain awaiting him in the corridor; Geoffrey was a stout, white-bearded and immensely dignified gentleman with more energy than anyone of Arthur’s acquaintance, his father included. If anyone could straighten out this mess, it was him. Nothing got past Geoffrey.

“Your Royal Highness,” said Lord Monmouth, with an impeccable bow. “I understand there has been an incident.”

Arthur could almost hear the capital I. “I trust it will be well within your powers to prevent matters from becoming so, Geoffrey. An omega in heat has been discovered on the Palace grounds in a state of high fever. Doubtless he was the cause of the security disturbances this afternoon.”

“Doubtless,” Lord Monmouth agreed, correctly reading Arthur’s disinclination for argument. If he had concerns yet regarding the possibility of thieves or terrorists, he kept them to himself. As for Arthur, after witnessing what Merlin did to bullet-resistant glass he knew that Merlin was their unwitting saboteur. A keyed up omega was capable of inexplicable feats, and Merlin was clearly more talented than most.

“This omega is mine,” said Arthur bluntly, and again the words filled him with an almost jubilant sense of rightness. He strode quickly through the Belgian Suite towards his private rooms, knowing Geoffrey and Percy would follow in his wake. “My marked match. You will need to liaise with both the household and my own staff to see that my schedule is adjusted to allow for an immediate period of confinement.”

“Sir, may I be the first to offer my congratulations,” said Lord Monmouth. He was one of the few household members privy to the nature of Arthur’s mark, both its unusually late appearance and its sex, so he was not caught completely by surprise to hear the Prince of Wales proposing marriage to an unknown male trespasser. Permission would have to be obtained from the sovereign, but that was a moot point; King Uther, as Defender of the Faith and an alpha himself, could not publicly oppose a mark no matter what his private opinion might be. “I will speak with both your private secretary and the King’s and see that a brief press statement is released until we have more details at hand.”

“Lance is bringing the bloke up now, so hopefully we can get some ID, my Lord,” Percy interjected. “And Leon’s gone to the station. Valiant discharged his taser, so an official report’s unavoidable at this stage.”

“Unfortunate,” said Lord Monmouth, although it was unclear whether he referred to the assault upon a moonstruck omega or the inevitable paperwork and publicity.

“Most,” said Arthur grimly. Flurried household members schooled their faces to soberness and stood aside as he passed them in the corridors, evincing no sign that they noticed his bare toes digging at the red carpet; BP might be subsisting on its summer skeleton crew, but a suspiciously large number of people seemed to be lurking in this particular wing despite the evening hour. Arthur didn’t bother lowering his voice; this was one of the rare occasions a royal might express his true opinion without fear of either private or public reproof. “Geoffrey, I want Valiant out. If he’s fool enough to taser an omega in heat, then he can damn well be removed from Royal Protection. If it were up to me, he’d be tossed out of the service entirely. The man’s a bigot and a thug.”

“Understood, sir,” said Geoffrey, then continued after a pregnant pause, “Perhaps we should be grateful that he used a taser and not his gun?”

“I’m not feeling precisely grateful at this moment,” said Arthur, “but I take your point, Geoffrey, believe me.”

A liveried footman, unmoved by the sight of the prince in his dressing-gown, waited expressionless outside his private suite. Gaius, the Palace’s physician, waited also, but he did raise a brow. “Good evening, Your Royal Highness, my Lord Monmouth.”

“Good evening, Gaius,” said Arthur. “Please go in. Geoffrey, I leave everything in your capable hands.”

“Sir,” Lord Monmouth responded. He bowed as Arthur entered the suite, then turned on his heel, prepared as always to smooth over each new development in the House of Pendragon’s ongoing soap opera.

“Percy, send Lance in the moment he arrives,” Arthur said. His nose told him that Merlin was not there.

“Shall do, sir,” Percy replied, giving Arthur a smart salute before taking up his position in the hall. The door closed, leaving Arthur alone with Gaius. Arthur stared about his private sitting room, trying to imagine it through Merlin’s eyes. After Nell’s death, Arthur couldn’t stand to live at Clarence House any longer, and he had moved himself and Mordred back into the Palace, much to Uther’s ill-expressed joy. Yet more than a year later, there was very little of Arthur in these rooms: no photographs or footie kit or horse paraphernalia, just walls littered with dull landscapes and portraits looking down upon the elegant and rather uncomfortable Bourbon furnishings that had lain there for years.

His valet George kept the apartment spotless whilst Arthur spent more time in his old rooms in the Royal Nursery, where Mordred now slept.

Arthur’s shoulders slumped. This was no proper place for Merlin -- no proper nest, his alpha instincts niggled -- but it would have to do. “I’ve found my match, Gaius. Or I should say, he’s found me.”

“So I’ve been led to understand, sir.” Gaius’ familiar lined face was kind, the most comforting aspect of the room by far. “Dropped from a tree like ripe fruit.”

“Ripe word travels fast,” said Arthur ruefully. He cocked his head, his attention caught. “Gaius, he’s coming.”

Gaius raised his eyebrow once more; he clearly heard nothing out of the ordinary but an alpha’s sense of hearing was acute, and Arthur’s more so than most. “Try to remain calm, sir.”

Arthur flared his nostrils, then froze; he could smell Merlin’s blood. Not much, just enough to enrage him. “I can’t think. Gaius, I can’t think.”

“I don’t believe you’re supposed to at a time like this,” said Gaius. He set his medical bag upon a dainty writing table, then went to Arthur, taking his face between his strong, warm hands and cutting deliberately across his line of scent. “Arthur, you must trust your instincts.”

Arthur stared at Gaius. There was a brisk knock at the door, and Arthur swallowed and nodded. Gaius dropped his hands. “Come in,” Arthur called, amazed at the steadiness of his voice.

Only years of public duty kept Arthur from staggering before the potent inrush of air as the door opened. Merlin’s heady scent rolled through the room like an immense ocean swell, daring Arthur to ride or founder forever. Even Gaius flinched back.

“Sergeant Lancelot Dulac, Your Royal Highness,” announced the footman in a bland tone, registering no unseemly notice of the young man slung over Lance’s shoulder.

The soles of Merlin’s boots were worn thin and there was a damp patch spreading at the upraised seat of his trousers, where his need for his alpha betrayed him. Doubtless there was drool down Lance’s back. The taser wires tangled about them like some mockery of a bridal veil as Merlin’s defencelessness was paraded through the Palace. Were it anyone but Lance, whom Arthur trusted implicitly, Arthur would be hard-pressed not to commit murder.

And for Merlin this was just the first of an endless series of open sores to be endured in the public eye. “Thank you, Morris,” Arthur said, nodding his footman out and wishing the whole world might disappear with him.

“Your Royal Highness,” said Lance as soon as the door closed behind him. He clicked his heels together with an impressive dedication to form given the burden about his ears. “I believe this one belongs to you?”

“Yes.” Arthur stepped forward, fighting through the dazed wonderment as Merlin’s scent enveloped him. Lance had his right arm hooked between Merlin’s thighs, Merlin’s right wrist caught in his grip. Arthur’s own wrist burned. No one, not even Lance, should be allowed to hold Merlin this way. “Give him to me. Now.”

“He’s heavier than he looks,” Lance warned as Arthur pried Lance’s hand from Merlin. Slowly, gingerly, Lance let Merlin slip from his shoulder into Arthur’s waiting arms.

“There you are,” Arthur whispered. Merlin was heavy, but the demand on his body was deeply satisfying. Arthur felt strong, almost invincible, even knowing that this person in his arms had the power to demolish what little control he had carved from a life devoted to the monarchy.

“Well,” said Lance, gusting out a relieved sigh as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead. “Well. Aren’t you a sight, Arthur? I take it I’m not arresting him.”

“Please don’t,” said Arthur, wondering what besotted idiocy his face revealed as he took in Merlin’s vulnerability. His kitten-licked dark hair hid several dead leaves and a set of ears that would rival those of Arthur’s gawkiest ancestors. His mouth was petal-soft and inviting.

“That’s what I thought.” Lance used his free hands to snap the taser wires short. “They don’t pay me the big bucks for nothing.”

“You’re a credit to the Met,” Arthur said dreamily. Merlin lolled his head, nuzzling the delicate tip of his nose into Arthur’s neck.

“There, he’s coming to already,” said Lance. “I see who’s his favourite packhorse now.”

There was a chaise near the window, and Arthur carried Merlin there. Lance and Gaius followed, and Arthur had to bite back a growl to warn them back.

He knelt by the chaise, lowering Merlin carefully and rolling him away onto his side. The taser’s darts had penetrated his clothing; one barb was attached below his right shoulder, the other near the small of his back. The sight incensed Arthur.

“With your leave, may I examine him, sir?” asked Gaius softly, snapping on a pair of gloves.

“Yes, please,” Arthur replied, although the resistance he felt to even Gaius’ professional touch was strong. Only concern for Merlin’s health let him allow Gaius’ approach.

“Perhaps if you’ll stand back, sir,” said Gaius pointedly, now that he’d gained royal permission. “Your presence will prove very stimulating for the young gentleman, and I’d like to get these darts removed before he’s awake enough to feel it. Any anaesthetic effect will have worn off by now, I’m afraid.”

Arthur couldn’t think of a sensible argument; he could barely collect any thoughts at all. He stepped back reluctantly, keeping himself between the chaise and Lance, even though Lance just shook his head in warm amusement.

Gaius popped a thermometer between Merlin’s lips and listening to his heart for a minute that for Arthur passed like a century. “He sounds fine to me, a touch fast, no irregularities,” said Gaius finally, although Arthur didn’t need Gaius’ stethoscope to agree with the diagnosis; he could hear Merlin’s heart with his own ears, as if it were the only one in the room, and it sounded perfect. “Temperature’s 102, just what I’d expect of a healthy omega in heat.”

Arthur didn’t want reminding. He watched as Gaius spread finger and thumb firmly against Merlin’s upper back, holding his clothing taut. Gaius took a few experimental tugs, then plucked the first barb free. “Ah, very neatly done, nothing left behind,” he said, examining the barb carefully. “They’re just like fish hooks, you know.”

“I know, Gaius,” said Lance, when Arthur couldn’t speak.

“I’ve done a great deal of fishing in my time,” said Gaius, yanking the second barb from Merlin’s back. “There are some hard fighting salmon on the Balmoral beat. Have you got the cartridge there, Lancelot? Ah, good, I’ll just slip them in. Be careful of the points, they’re considered a biohazard. Of course, an omega’s blood can prove rather more hazardous than most.”

A muscle flicked in Arthur’s cheek. Lance removed the taser cartridge from sight before Arthur could hurl it out the window.

“I’ll need to clean and dress these punctures now,” said Gaius, lifting Merlin’s shirt up with a thoughtful frown. “Let’s remove these garments, shall we?”

The suggestion was not lost on Arthur, who sprang forward to take over, hunching over Merlin protectively. He removed a wallet and an old Nokia from Merlin’s back pocket, and Merlin’s buttocks shifted beneath his touch. Arthur swallowed. “Stay still,” he said, pressing his hand down firmly upon Merlin’s arse and swallowing again when Merlin obeyed.

He tossed the goods to Lance, who was fidgeting with curiosity, and pulled Merlin’s jacket down his thin arms. The coat was made of worn brown suede, clearly an old favourite, and Arthur breathed it in and folded it with care, laying it over the back of the chaise.

“According to his driver’s licence this is Merlin Emrys, aged eighteen, of Lavernock in South Wales,” said Lance in triumph. He was scrolling unashamedly through Merlin’s contacts.

“Oh, Lavernock Point! That’s just outside Cardiff,” said Gaius. “I went camping there, oh, a long time ago now. Lovely little place. That’s where Marconi set up his wireless telegraphy experiment on the Bristol Channel back in 1897, you know. Now, if I recall correctly, the first message received over the open water was ARE YOU READY? Remarkable really...”

Eighteen, Arthur thought. He flicked the buttons open at Merlin’s collar. Despite the evening hour, Merlin bore only the faintest of shadows across his jaw. Undressing him felt disconcertingly similar to undressing his own son; there was much the same sense of overwhelming vulnerability and trust, except that he associated Mordred with Vicks VapoRub and endless bedtime stories of moomins, hobbits and Harry Potter. “He’s so young. Eighteen. I don’t know why I should feel surprised. After all, I’ve worn his name on my wrist for that long. But still, he’s so young.”

“He’s of age, sir,” said Gaius, working on Merlin’s cuffs in spite of Arthur’s scowl.

“And I’m middle aged,” Arthur said. He coaxed Merlin with difficulty out of the sweaty shirt. Apart from the taser burns there were no major bumps or abrasions to be seen, just miles of soft, sloping skin flushed with moon fever and a pair of long, lightly muscled arms that Arthur wanted around him. Gaius disinfected the two small punctures, making Merlin flinch from his fog, and Arthur’s fists clenched in frustration. “He deserves better than this.”

“You are not yet forty, if my memory serves, although you might be forgiven for assuming I’m senile given my advanced years,” said Gaius tartly. He applied a pair of round sticking plasters to Merlin’s back. “Speaking from the grand old doldrums of seventy-one, may I humbly suggest that you have your whole life ahead of you, to be shared with this intrepid young man?”

“I thought my life was over,” said Arthur. Merlin’s face twisted unhappily as it searched Arthur out; Arthur had no defence against him.

“You are really very young, sir,” said Gaius. Arthur propped himself on the chaise and gathered Merlin’s restless head upon his lap, while Gaius tutted and cleaned the cuts on Merlin’s hands. Merlin’s eyelashes fluttered, flashing gold. “To love is to grieve, as you have already learnt to your cost -- and knowing that changes nothing, I assure you. Love will stumble into one’s life regardless.”

“Or it applies for a job at Buckingham Palace,” said Lance. Now he was going through his own phone, which was snazzier than Merlin’s and chiming softly but incessantly with text messages. “I thought the name Emrys was familiar. According to Elyan, this fellow put in for work here, just this week. Came in person, and the Master’ll see everyone, of course. So his CV got passed to us for a routine security check.”

“And?” Arthur asked. Somehow his thumb was between Merlin’s plush lips as he cupped Merlin’s cheek; Merlin suckled gently as Gaius wrapped several fingers in plasters.

“And nothing.” Lance shrugged. “No security issues. No alarm bells. And no vacancies either. Let’s see, educated at Stanwell School in Penarth -- terrifying A-Level results, hell, he’ll be the brains of this outfit if we can just sort out this impulsive streak of his -- work experience at Lavernock Point Holiday Estate and Cosmeston Medieval Village, no criminal record, that’s good. His CV went into the files along with everyone else’s, case closed.”

“So then he buys an admission ticket to the State Rooms,” said Gaius, patting Merlin’s hands. “Oh, that is nice. Trying all the proper channels. How does one land a prince nowadays anyhow? I suppose your secretary fields hundreds of letters and emails from potential omegas every day. Really, he’s a very decent lad. I do like him.”

“He has been studying. There’s a ticket here from yesterday’s swimming,” said Lance, waving Merlin’s wallet. “You know, if you weren’t such an unapproachable rock star, a poor omega might actually get a look in.”

Arthur couldn’t feel too cross with Lance, not with the tip of Merlin’s nose tracing circles in his palm. “He must have known about me. About us. Is that normal, Gaius?”

“Normal?” Gaius scoffed. “There’s no such thing when it comes to alpha/omega relations, as you know better than I. And it’s not as if we’ve got any detailed statistical analysis to back up what vague suppositions we do entertain. Even today the medical literature really is maddeningly coy. For instance, we know that all alphas and omegas have a more or less functional vomeronasal organ--”

“We certainly do, “ Arthur interrupted, breathing in the biting tang of Merlin’s skin.

“--and that’s all well and good, it’s demonstrable fact. Your thumbsucking young man here possesses what science has proven to be a supernormal number of fungiform papillae which tell him you taste delectable. But enhanced olfactory and gustatory receptors are one thing. How does one even begin to explain spontaneous precognitive branding? I can’t. No one can. We call it God’s will, but we might as well name it magic.”

“You know, things might have gone a lot easier on your stalker here had you let security in on his name,” said Lance, breaking into Gaius’ lecture with a shorter one of his own.

“The King did not want it widely known,” said Arthur. He didn’t need to hear Lance’s reproachful tone to feel like kicking himself. Even destiny apparently needed a hand, particularly when it came to penetrating the bounds of the royal family.

Gaius humphed. “Probably hoped it would come to nothing.” Marks did fade, if an omega died. The King’s vanished the moment Arthur was born, and Uther had never been the same since.

“Well, there’s not much money left in this wallet, and I’m guessing this is his mum’s credit card,” said Lance. “I daresay with the moon rising he figured it was time to roll the dice. I’ll give her a ring and make sure she knows what’s what. She’s probably worried sick about him.”

“Try to break things gently,” said Arthur. “If she doesn’t know about me, I mean.”

“I’ll put in a good word, trust me,” said Lance.

“I always do. Thank you, Lance.”

“Let’s just hope she’s not a republican. For that matter, let’s hope young Merlin here is not an anarchist,” Gaius said. When a suspicious hiccup erupted from his patient, his eyes narrowed. “That would make life a trifle awkward.”

“Indeed. But I daresay if he’s come this far, then he has at least some idea of what he’s in for,” said Arthur, immeasurably comforted by the almost subaudible purr rumbling against his thigh. “Sorry, Gaius, but do you think you’re done?”

“Trying to get rid of me? Quite understandable, I’m entirely in the way.” Gaius rose to his feet with a creak and started gathering his gear. “You ought to get your father to show you his cup and saucer system of signals for getting rid of boring visitors. For a naturally vociferous man he’s developed an art of the utmost delicacy in these matters.”

“I shall bear that in mind,” said Arthur. A blunt set of teeth was now nipping at his thumb.

“Mind you, the real key to successful communication is perseverance,” mused Gaius. “Mr Marconi spent days of trial and error at Lavernock Point trying to get his message across the water and it was not until he took to the beach that he found success--”

“I did not know that, Gaius,” said Arthur, begging Lance silently for aid.

“Yes, we take wireless communication entirely for granted now but--”

“Statements can wait until tomorrow, then?” Lance cut in. He cocked his head and gave the pair on the couch a considering look. “Or perhaps even the day after. I take it we’re not on for the match on Sunday?”

“I suspect Arsenal may have to thump Liverpool without my support,” Arthur agreed ruefully. He hoped Merlin was a football fan.

“It must be love,” said Lance. “I’ll let Gwen know. We’ll miss you.”

“Lead on then, young Lancelot,” said Gaius, backing towards the door. “Sir, I shall do my best to intervene on your behalf should the King have enquiries. In the meantime, best turn off your mobile if you desire some peace.”

“Excellent advice, Gaius,” Arthur said. “Mind you, it will make life a bit dull for Mr Murdoch, but we shan’t concern ourselves on that front. Thank you so much for your assistance.”

“A pleasure, sir, as ever. Oh, and do inform me should you have any difficulties with your tie. Above all, do not attempt to dismount during the--oh!”

Morris, displaying the impeccable sense of timing that had raised him to the rank of fourth amongst the Palace’s footmen, managed to get the door slammed shut before Gaius could complete his sentence.

Once they were alone, Arthur swept the curls from Merlin’s furrowed brow. “You can stop playing possum now, you know. You’re not very good at it.”

“Stick your face in my crotch and see how violently you revive,” said Merlin in mellifluous Welsh that filled Arthur’s ears with desperate-to-fuck need. So much for feeling calmer now that he had Merlin safe within his grasp. “I thought they’d never leave.”

“Gaius is mistaken,” replied Arthur, his eyes hooded and heavy as he dredged up the language he’d let sleep when he lost his wife. “You’re no decent lad at all.”

“So you do speak Welsh,” Merlin crowed. He opened his glittering eyes and looked up at Arthur, his beguilingly plush mouth widening into the biggest grin Arthur had ever seen as he switched to English. “I thought it might have been some giant hoax got up for your investiture. Charm the locals, put off those mad Welsh anarchists and all that.”

“A hoax?” The playful, knowing smile buffeted queerly at Arthur’s heart, steeping him in something like sorrow for every moment he’d been kept from Merlin, even as it poked his dormant love of fun. He tugged at the ends of Merlin’s sweat-dampened bandanna, reminding him who was the omega here. “I’ll have you know I studied bloody hard for that ceremony.”

Half fainting with heat and nervousness, that’s what I read about you.” Merlin raised a limp hand to his forehead and fluttered his lashes like a Southern Welsh belle. “You did look splendid in your uniform.”

“Well, the only one who’s fainted today is you,” said Arthur, catching Merlin’s hand in his own. He wanted to tie it up, hold Merlin down until he couldn’t breathe to tease, but the plasters reminded him that Merlin was breakable, and not just in the pleasurable way. “Are you all right, really?”

“Of course I’m not all right,” Merlin choked out a little brokenly as his smile wobbled. His long legs coiled into a jerky helix of urgency, and he turned his head in Arthur’s lap, pressing Arthur’s brand beneath his hot cheek. “This is the first time I’ve gone off my heat meds since puberty and it’s been a really long, stressful day -- the best part of which I spent perched up a tree -- and turns out you’re even lovelier and stroppier than Hello lead me to believe. I feel uncomfortable, embarrassed and far too happy, and I’m getting your posh settee soggy with just how much I need you. If you must know.”

“Oh, treasure.” Arthur gathered Merlin upright into his lap, making Merlin wriggle and moan and Arthur harder than he’d been in his entire existence.

“You’re a clothead, but I’ve got to forgive you when you hold me like this,” said Merlin, his tone disgruntled. He tucked his fingers beneath the opening of Arthur’s dressing gown, splaying them possessively over Arthur’s heart. “I can’t believe you’re real. I’ve needed you so much. I waited so long.”

“It’s just the heat that makes it seem so.”

If the words rang false to Arthur’s ears, they ruffled Merlin. “You don’t understand. I’m not like other omegas, you know. I’ve always known about you, always. Your name was my very first word.” He mouthed at Arthur’s wrist, tracing the seared letters with the tip of his tongue. “And there’s never any peace from you. Your stupid face is all over the papers, on the telly. Smiling for everyone, shaking everyone’s hand but mine. I’ve memorised every last clip of you on Youtube, cut up a library’s worth of old magazines. I’ve waited my entire life for you. Why wouldn’t you wait for me?”

“I’m sorry, so, so sorry. I wanted to, more than you’ll ever know.” The admission was bare and cutting, a pitiful salve to Merlin’s pain, to Arthur’s. The mark didn’t come to all alphas, not even a tenth of them. It was a gift, and he’d thrown it back for the sake of the succession. Royalty ought to know better the power of a symbol. Eighteen years’ worth of held breath shuddered from Arthur. “My father comes from a time when members of the nobility were still obliged to make an advantageous marriage and produce a suitable heir, regardless of where their instincts might lead them. And should an inexpedient match prove unavoidable, then the unfortunate subsidiary alpha or omega in question was to remain discreetly on the side.”

“Like a great heap of slag,” said Merlin, his tone glum. “Well, nobody puts Merlin on the side.”

The mood waxed from exaltation to gloom to giddiness in the raw spaces between moments, just as all the alpha self-help books (that Arthur had certainly never perused, nor hidden in his sock drawer) suggested. Something profoundly awful loosened in his chest as they stared at one another, each daring the other to break first before Merlin shook all over with chortles, and Arthur threw back his head and laughed. “You’re winding me up. You’re diabolical.”

“Don’t be forgetting it,” said Merlin, tugging at Arthur’s chest hairs. “Look, I know all that rubbish, truly. And I would have stayed by your side in any capacity possible. It’s not like I have any pride, not when it comes to you.”

“Just for that, I’ll have my father create for you a special title,“ said Arthur, rubbing his nose against Merlin’s, then rising to his feet with Merlin cradled against him. “HRH Duke of Clotheads has a charming ring to it.”

“You’re carrying me?” Merlin asked, as Arthur strode towards the bedroom. “Erm, it’s very romantic, in a Gone with the Caveman sort of way, but I can walk, you know.”

“Merlin, you’ll shut up and do as I say.” Arthur wouldn’t quickly forget the sight of Merlin lying unconscious at his feet, with a wall between them, nor did he appreciate the fact that Lance gained the first threshold. Arthur needs to mark his territory.

Merlin just smiled and ducked his head beneath Arthur’s chin. “Show off. You know I was doing all right keeping body and soul together until I spotted you in your Greek temple, pouring out of the water like some lovechild of Tom Daley and Daniel Craig made just for me.”

“And then you fell out of your tree, thus revealing to me the true meaning of gravity,” said Arthur, placing Merlin carefully on the side of his bed. Theirs. “I feel it will be a fitting metaphor for our future relationship. I’m going to kiss you now.”

He cradled Merlin’s face between his hands. The hollows below Merlin’s ears felt fragile at Arthur’s fingertips, and there were circles beneath Merlin’s open fire eyes that spoke of weariness and worry. Arthur thumbed gently at those lines, across the rawboned cheeks, wanting to pour his breath inside Merlin, needing Merlin to give up his mouth, his entire body to him. He tipped Merlin’s face up to his own and covered his wet, pliant lips, coaxing them open with his tongue as he guided Merlin through his first kiss, and then his fifth, and then more and more as Merlin’s scrappy clumsiness gave way to a deft and imperative knowledge. He stroked inside Merlin, touching his tongue, his teeth, the hot wet walls of his mouth. He wheedled Merlin’s tongue inside his own mouth, suckling as one starved and coming alive.

It was hard to pull away, horrible, but Arthur did it, his sense of responsibility slaughtering him.

Merlin blinked owlishly up at Arthur before his gaze shifted, looking anywhere but at Arthur. “Heeey, four poster,” he slurred. He took in the sumptuous red drapes tied in their golden tassels, his curious fingers sliding over the bedclothes, which George had turned down, good man. “How lush is this? It’s nicer than the rest of your flat. Are these silken sheets? My mother would die.” Merlin’s cheeks grew rosier the longer he babbled.

“Don’t worry, the comfy flannel sheets come out at Balmoral and Tintagel,” Arthur assured him. His head as light as his groin was leaden, he knelt gingerly at Merlin’s feet and started fiddling with the knotty laces of his disreputable bovver boots. “And I don’t want to think about your mother right now, fine woman though I’m sure she is. I hope she never learns what her son considers appropriate dress to wear at Buckingham Palace.”

“I polished them afore I came, I did,” said Merlin, his mock pout not nearly enough to disguise his nerves, nor his need. He leant down, trying to help, but Arthur smacked his hand away. “Erm, I know your father’s not about. I checked to see the standard wasn’t flying, just in case. But where to is your son?”

“With my father at Balmoral,” said Arthur. He yanked the first boot off with a grunt. “The Gathering’s on tomorrow. Mordred is entered in the sack race.”

“Oh. That sounds like fun?”

“It is,” Arthur agreed with a grin. The second boot came free and Arthur resisted the urge to fling it like a caber; George would be displeased. “But I find I would much rather be here in my own sack with you.”

“Oh. Good. Me too,” said Merlin, sucking at his lower lip and trembling as Arthur peeled his socks off and buried his nose in them. “Oh, don’t do that, you tit. Betas laugh at us, you know. They think we’re daft getting loved up on stinky feet.”

“More fool them.” There was nothing about Merlin that didn’t smell delicious to him. He held Merlin’s feet in his hands. They were hot and vulnerable, banded with lines where the boots had bitten in. Arthur bent over them, pressing his lips to the fragile insteps and mouthing at the soles. “I want to feel your toes curling into my back.”

“Yes,” Merlin breathed, his fingers kneading at the side of the bed hard enough to tear holes.

“And these ankles,” Arthur said, clasping them between his hands like manacles and staring at Merlin sternly, “these excellent ankles will be flung about my shoulders where they belong while I fuck you.”

“Arthur!”

“As for your absurdly long legs,” Arthur continued, running his fingers up them with a proprietary air, “I consider it akin to treason that they should be wrapped in this appalling corduroy--”

“Found them at the PDSA shop in Barry--”

“--and I propose to remove your trousers at once, as is my right as your prince.”

“Oh!” Merlin gasped out as Arthur unbuttoned his flies. There was still yet a hint of baby fat about Merlin’s tender middle and Arthur nuzzled into it, feeling drunk as he carefully lowered Merlin’s trousers. Merlin squirmed about, his hips hitching and shimmying with more enthusiasm than grace against Arthur’s hands. The pants slid down too, drenched utterly in pre-come and slick -- Arthur souvenired them in his pocket -- and Merlin’s lovely long prick sprang out, its plump head projecting from its sheath and placed lusciously, perfectly for Arthur’s mouth. Merlin stared down at him, his wondering eyes a banked blaze as his mouth drooped in shock. “Oh. Well. Droit du seigneur and all that -- Arthur!”

There was some longing quality to the sound of his name in Merlin’s mouth, its ringing plea like a mirror to the demand upon his wrist, chasing him down the years. Arthur lapped at the wet head, coating his tongue with its peppery, inexhaustible drizzle as he thumbed at Merlin’s foreskin and milked his stiff prick with his hand. Merlin’s unmistakable omega odour grew stronger every moment; his whimpering cries of “Arthur, Arthur!” grew louder, more pressing. Arthur worked his tormenting hand down gradually, until his fingers splayed through Merlin’s humid thatch of pubic hair and Merlin’s prick nudged the back of his throat. His slavering mouth filled with Merlin’s molten amber taste as he sucked his prick down like an addict. Merlin sobbed and keened, and still Arthur needed to be closer. He slung an arm between Merlin’s damp thighs and cupped one clenching, frantic buttock, jogging Merlin deeper down his throat. Merlin’s arms crept about him, then crushed him closer, no more mindfulness of Arthur’s need for air than Arthur had himself. His fingers tightened in Arthur’s hair as he pushed and spirted helplessly like the teenager and the omega he was, and Arthur denied him nothing.

Merlin’s shaking was slow to subside. His prick leaked obstinately, impervious to the precursory orgasm, and Arthur licked at the mess, letting it smear across his face; Merlin would not soften until his alpha did. Finally Merlin brushed his fingers at Arthur’s mouth, ragged cuticles asking chapped, come-wet lips for quarter.

“I’ll only want more,” said Arthur roughly before he recalled Merlin’s youth, the blatant inexperience hidden beneath the pluck, and he might have kicked himself but for the way Merlin still held him, like something precious. He turned his face up to find Merlin’s -- not scared, but arrested -- and tried to convey with his inadequate smile all the tenderness he felt. “Too quick?”

“Am I?” Merlin asked. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“No one does,” said Arthur, then stopped himself from stating with obtuse triteness: you’ll learn that as you grow older. That was the sort of patronising rubbish his father always spouted, and Arthur had never liked hearing it at any age. “Just -- you never need to be unsure with me. There’s nothing you can do wrong.”

“You say that now,” Merlin warned, his smile wry, but a smile nonetheless. An elusive dimple below the left corner of his mouth darted out; Arthur was learning him. That dimple might signify happiness, but it marked ambivalence too.

“I’ll not say any different,” he said. He stood slowly and stroked his thumb across the heat of Merlin’s cheekbone. “I promised Gaius I’d get some water into you.”

“Don’t go,” Merlin said, one plaintive hand pulling at Arthur’s dressing gown.

“Stay put, I won’t be a second.” He escaped to the bathroom and poured a glass of water, then stopped momentarily as he absorbed his reflection in the mirror. His mouth look swollen, well-used and his thin, drawn features had somehow softened. He was taking on a glow to match Merlin’s. He untied his dressing gown and let it fall. His prick was a hard, insistent curve across his hip, thwarted in its need for Merlin by a cockblocking pair of speedos. He let them fall as well and stared at his nakedness. He didn’t leak as Merlin did; an alpha was built for inundation.

Merlin’s scent coiled after him, calling him back. Even this small distance between them was too far. He padded quickly back into the bedroom to discover Merlin on his hands and knees on the bed, presenting for him.

“Oh, you menace,” said Arthur, taking the sight and scent like a polo mallet to the skull. “You gorgeous fucking handful, Merlin, you know what you’re doing to me. I thought I told to you to stay put.”

“You also said I could do nothing wrong,” Merlin said. An artless golden gleam appeared over one shoulder. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”

“And you won’t, I’ll make sure of that.” Arthur approached with care, placing his glass on the bedside table before he shattered it. Merlin’s upraised arse was smeared with pungent wetness that traced down his thighs; Arthur could see small raw patches where Merlin’s skin had been chafed by his trousers, and he wanted to kiss and lick them all better, and then suck fresh marks of his own. Merlin’s bollocks hung lewdly between his legs, shiny with the slick stuff and just crying out to be smacked with Arthur’s own heavy, aching balls. Arthur’s voice pitched lower, a soothing menace. “I am going to pin you down and plug you so hard and full you won’t move for a week.”

Merlin drew in a shuddery breath. His buttocks clenched hard and then eased, releasing another heady rivulet of moisture. Arthur watched it trickle slowly down the perineum, one inch, two inches. He caught it as it reached Merlin’s balls, then carried it back up again, dragging two wet fingertips along the crease and pushing them inside Merlin. Merlin cried out and shied, stuttering forward on his hands and knees.

“Easy now. It’s all right, easy there,” Arthur crooned. He pressed his free hand to the small of Merlin’s back, stopping the involuntary retreat without removing his fingers from Merlin’s body. “You’re all right. You’re made for this, for me. Merlin.”

“Arthur,” Merlin whispered, panting. His tensed back relaxed slowly, slowly into a smile. Arthur drilled his fingers deeper, sliding them in and out as Merlin’s inner muscles touched them, tried them. Found them wanting.

“You know what you really need, don’t you,” said Arthur proudly. He took his sopping fingers out and rubbed them along his prick, greasing himself up for Merlin. The potent, salty scent filled Arthur’s nostrils and made his prick jump with anticipation. Merlin shivered all over but remained compliant and still as Arthur knelt behind him. Arthur shifted on his knees, making himself comfortable. He held up his eager prick ready for the mating and stretched one of Merlin’s buttocks to the side, thumbing the swollen, wet hole open again and pushing his prick inside.

Merlin let out a ragged whimper, trying to jib sideways, but Arthur took his hips and held him steady with a light hand, counting patiently to infinity while Merlin settled to the service. As the initial shock passed Merlin arched deeper, pushing back against Arthur in unmistakable invitation for more. Arthur sank inside Merlin’s supple, inviting heat and wondered if he would ever find the strength to part. He pressed, backed up, fucked in again and again, testing Merlin with the full length of his prick and finding him fervently accommodating. Arthur snapped his hips back and forth, giving himself over joyfully to the rut as he hammered balls-deep into Merlin’s cleft. Merlin’s body split for him, holding him tighter and longer, pleading for the promised tie.

A deep-rooted ache coiled in Arthur’s spine in response to Merlin’s demand. “Down,” he ordered Merlin gently, running a hand along the gorgeous curve of his back. He slipped his fingers beneath Merlin’s bandanna and squeezed the back of his neck like a vise, urging Merlin lower. Merlin whined and dropped to his elbows, but it wasn’t enough; Arthur forced his shoulders down into the mattress while Merlin’s ribs heaved in and out. “That’s it, Merlin, that’s perfect. Stay.”

His prick bucked painfully inside Merlin, and then its base began to fatten up like a fist, swelling to suit Merlin’s wants and then pushing at his snug walls just a bit more. Arthur hissed and then howled as the full force of Merlin’s heat clamped down upon his tight knot, pinning them together. No longer was Merlin’s body sweetly tractable but a primal and ungovernable snare, leaving upon Arthur an ineffaceable impression as their tie took hold and stamped their inviolable right to one another.

“Oh, you are mine.” Arthur tossed back his head as his chest expanded with exhilaration and his balls squeezed high.

“Arthur!” wailed Merlin, and Arthur felt it like a mule kick. He lurched forward, crouching low over Merlin as his knot throbbed with the first wet pulse of come and Merlin sighed out, “Please, please, yes.”

“Yes,” Arthur agreed. He lay his mouth at Merlin’s nape, nosing through the sweaty curls until he found a spot ripe for his teeth. Then he bit down with unbridled ferocity and his knot pulsed again, flooding Merlin with hot come. Arthur’s sight glazed and his back groaned, but he couldn’t stop spending himself, surging again and again as if he’d taken a vicious blow to the heart and was pumping his life’s blood directly into Merlin. He wound his fingers with Merlin’s and Merlin pulled the branded wrist to his mouth, so that Arthur could feel his smile.

Arthur didn’t know how long it lasted. Merlin milked at his knot and Arthur’s body complied. Come leaked out between them, too much for even Arthur’s knot to hold inside Merlin, and he scooped it up and fed it to Merlin, who nursed at his fingers like a baby as he convulsed with pleasure.

Gradually the wrenching pulses lessened as Merlin’s hold eased, his first rush of need sated for the moment by Arthur’s prick. Arthur felt wrung out completely, and this was only their first coupling. He pulled back a little, testing their tie, but they were still held fast, so he fumbled them up the bed and onto their sides with very little help from a giggling and gasping Merlin. Arthur couldn’t reach the bedclothes but at least their weary heads might rest on pillows like civilised people.

“What time’s moon set?” asked Merlin, once Arthur had him tucked into the curve of his body.

“7.20,” Arthur replied. The World Clock was his top bookmark.

“We’re going to die,” Merlin said, trembling all over.

“Merlin, we are not going to die,” said Arthur, although he wasn’t entirely certain. The silvery light of the full moon was only just gleaming at the window. Morning did seem a rather long way off. “We will simply have to pace ourselves and exercise a modicum of precaution.”

Merlin’s prick hiccuped in Arthur’s hand. “I love hearing you talk like a pompous twat. You probably can’t tell, but I’m completely cross-eyed with lust right now.”

“What colour are your eyes?”

“Oh, blue screen of total devastation, just like yours,” said Merlin, blushing and peeping merrily over his shoulder. “A bit darker maybe? Like my soul.”

“I want to see them,” said Arthur, pressing a kiss to the corner of Merlin’s eye.

“Well, you’ll just have to wait ‘til 7.20 at the earliest, won’t you?” Merlin laughed as Arthur started licking the salt from his face. “Oi, yuk, what are you doing? I’m ticklish. You’re like a mama lioness.”

“And you’re like one of those baby sloths on Youtube,” said Arthur, nuzzling at Merlin’s earlobe, “all gangly arms and adorable, sleepy grins.” He reached carefully behind him, ignoring Merlin’s grumbles at the pull on their tie, and picked up the forgotten glass of water. He took a big mouthful and then caught Merlin’s chin, tilting it up and feeding the water to Merlin with his own lips. Merlin swallowed it without question, then licked his mouth and asked silently for more. It satisfied something primitive in Arthur, and when the glass was empty he said, “Outside these walls I’m the servant of my subjects but in our own rooms, I’m yours. You’ll take all your food and drink from my hand.”

“Yes,” said Merlin dreamily. “Mind, I should warn you I’ve barely eaten today. I’m liable to get the munchies soon.” Omegas often went off their food as their heat flared, only for their appetite to return with a vengeance as the more urgent hunger was appeased.

“The kitchens are some distance from the private apartments, but luckily the housemaids keep a steady supply of crisps in my bedside drawer.”

“Mmm, what flavour?”

Arthur took the hint and reached back again, going rather cross-eyed himself as the pull on his knot provoked another haphazard spirt of come. He fished about blindly and came up with the goods, waving them in Merlin’s face. “Walkers Roast Chicken.”

“My favourite,” said Merlin. “I think this could be love.”

He opened his mouth pointedly so Arthur cracked open the packet, trying not to spill crisps all over the bed, as George would certainly not approve. He placed a crisp on Merlin’s tongue and Merlin promptly devoured it.

“Please, sir, I want some more,” said Merlin, gaping like a goldfish.

“You’re a monster,” said Arthur, feeding him another crisp. “How’s your back feeling?

“Pleasantly sore. Why?”

“Because you may or may not realise it, but you were tasered from behind by an idiot who wouldn’t know an omega bandanna from the Union Jack,” said Arthur.

“Is that what happened?” asked Merlin. He chewed meditatively. “I did wonder.”

“You’re impossible,” said Arthur. “What possessed you to take on Palace security for the sake of my heart? It might have ended so very badly.”

“I didn’t really mean to take on anyone,” Merlin said. “I had it all figured out. I’d find somewhere to hide out, wait ‘til nightfall, then climb a drainpipe and get in through a window. I figured I wouldn’t have any problem running you down once I was inside.”

“Climb a drainpipe?” said Arthur, feeling a headache simmering at his brow. “Are you completely mad?”

“I had to do something!” Merlin shook his head. “I came early since I wasn’t certain how busy things would get here, and I wanted to get my recce done without tripping over too many people. I tried tracking you at Olympic Park yesterday and it was a nightmare. I’ve never been anywhere bigger than Cardiff before in my life, you know. Anyhow, I was doing well today, all things considered. Your State Rooms are a bit intimidating, obviously, but that’s the point, isn’t it, dazzle outsiders with some shock and awful? I wasn’t going to fall for that. But then we got shunted into the exhibition room, have you seen it?”

Arthur had seen it, once. He'd avoided it since. Every summer the Palace threw together a new exhibit, and this year’s featured HRH Princess Helen of Wales, Britain’s tragic nightingale. Nell would have laughed her head off, but Arthur couldn’t see the humour yet. Maybe not ever.

“We’re all packed in like so many sardines while the PA plays Puccini and your gorgeous dead wife stares down at us from every direction with her gap-toothed grin. They’ve got Kleenex placed at strategic positions and no wonder. A sniffle here, a honk there, and suddenly the whole place is full of weeping tourists. Scary stuff,” said Merlin. His gaze had drifted but now he turned and leveled Arthur with a look. “I couldn’t hate her if I tried, and I have, you know, I’ve tried so hard. But you always looked happy beside her, and I couldn’t hate anyone for that. She brought out your real smile. When your father’s around, you just look constipated.”

“Nell was my best friend in the world,” said Arthur, through the lump in his throat. “I don’t get many choices in my life and when my father dies I’ll have none at all. But I did choose Helen, and I’ve never regretted it.”

“Well,” said Merlin, “you don’t get a choice about me, for which I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, treasure, don’t,” Arthur whispered. “I’m not, don’t ever think it.”

“I can’t sing for shit and I’ve never been on a horse in my life,” said Merlin, “but I’ve got my A-Levels in History, Geography, Politics & Government and French, and I’m a really friendly person, ask anyone back home. I’m ready to hobnob. I’ll visit schools and hospitals, open flower shows, press flesh. I mean to hold your hand and watch your back. Whatever it is you need from me, I’ll do.”

“I don’t need anything but for you to stay with me,” said Arthur, nestling Merlin closer.

“And apparently I can get a bit destructive and reckless when I’m in heat,” Merlin continued, gulping, as if he hadn’t heard Arthur, “which is why I’m prescribed the highest dose of meds, but I promise to go back on them once we’re tied, so you won’t be inconvenienced in any way.”

“I like your heat exactly the way it is,” Arthur assured him. “Merlin, listen to me.”

“I just want to be with you, all right?”

“More than,” said Arthur, stopping Merlin’s mouth with his fingers and grinding his knot down deeper. “What an unstoppable flow you have. To think I was wondering what we’d ever find to talk about. Clearly you’ve thought things through and I presume you’re amenable to becoming a stepfather at eighteen. But how do you feel about corgis? The King owns six, you know, and they all bite.”

“I love animals,” Merlin gasped out, as he suckled Arthur’s at fingers.

“Then you’ll love me,” said Arthur firmly. “Of graver importance, where do you stand on Arsenal?”

Merlin’s mouth popped from Arthur’s fingertips with a filthy slurp as he stole a mischievous glance over his shoulder. “Swansea ‘til I die.”

“Oh, it’s on.” What sort of Cardiff boy followed Swansea? Clearly one who loved punishment. Arthur set his teeth to Merlin’s shoulder, rolled him onto his belly and adored him as he deserved.

Press releases 2nd September 2012

THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT IS ISSUED BY THE PRESS SECRETARY TO THE KING The King is pleased to announce the tying of The Prince of Wales to Mr Merlin Emrys, son of Mrs Hunith Emrys and the late Mr Balinor Emrys.

“Bloody Agravaine,” said Elyan, peering over his sister’s shoulder at her iPhone as she checked the latest news at www.royal.gov.uk, “could he sound less enthused? What a giant twat.”

“That’s our uncle you’re maligning,” said Morgause mildly from her couch in front of the flat screen TV. As third in line to the throne and possessor of a seven months pregnant belly, she commandeered the best viewing position in Apartment 1-A at Kensington Palace.

“But he is a twat,” Cenred said, rubbing his wife’s feet where they rested in his lap.

“True,” said Morgana, reading her own phone. “Oh, the Daily Mail’s managed to track down a picture of Merlin in his scout uniform. He’s adorable! Does he really have freckles, Leon? Can we change the channel? I’d love to see this on the big screen.”

“No,” growled Percy, who had control of the remote and wouldn’t give up his Premier League for anything, not even the new Prince Consort’s fine complexion.

“I was not aware of any freckles, Your Royal Highness,” Leon said. “Perhaps he’s grown out of them.”

“Shame,” said Morgana, pouting as she settled herself on the floor near Morgause. “I can’t wait to meet him. Has there been any sign of life from BP yet?”

“No,” said Leon, checking his mobile for the umpteenth time. Gwaine, a weirdo who preferred eighties movies to footie, was on protection duty but had little to report apart from texting the occasional onomatopoeic love noises drifting from the royal suite. Leon rather wished Gwaine wouldn’t share quite so much. “But George’s food trays are coming out empty, so they must be still breathing.”

“Still at it?” said Elyan. He shook his head in wonder. “But the moon’s waning. That’s hardcore.”

“They’ve a while to go before they beat our record,” said Morgause, giving Cenred a tender look.

“TMI, darling,” said Morgana. Her phone warbled Carly Rae Jepsen and she stared at it in horror. “Fuck. It’s Uther again. Fuck. I think he’s going round the bend. Am I here? Should I answer? Fuck.”

“Language, darling,” said Morgause, petting Morgana’s hair.

“You’re right, I’m not here,” Morgana said firmly, turning her phone off.

“I can’t wait to hear the Christmas Broadcast this year,” said Gwen, sitting down beside Morgana in front of the couch. “Look, it says here on the website they’re doing it in 3D.”

“But I get 3D Uther for Christmas every year,” said Morgana, turning Gwen’s phone off too. “It’s not fair!”

“But you get a new cousin to torment too,” Lance pointed out, cuddling up next to Gwen.

“I suppose,” Morgana said. “But what if he gets my invite to The Hobbit premiere? I won’t get to meet Richard Armitage. Fuck.”

Percy hushed them all sternly as the action kicked off at Anfield.