corilannam: (original)
[personal profile] corilannam
Title: The Pact
Author: Cori Lannam ([livejournal.com profile] corilannam)
Rating: NC-17
Pairings: Arthur/Merlin
Word Count: 17,700
Content/Warnings: modern royal AU,knotting, soul bonding, religion, magical genderbending, impregnation
Summary: The ancient Albion Pact demands that the Prince of Wales must take someone magic born as his soul-bonded consort by the time he is 30 or face death. Before he was a Detective Inspector Warlock, Merlin Emrys was young and in love and made a promise to Prince Arthur -- and now Arthur is calling it in.

Author's Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] vissy in the 2013 [livejournal.com profile] merlin_holidays fest. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] anna_zee for all the usual reasons.

You can read the story on AO3 or below:



"I want a burrito," Gwaine complained around midnight.

Merlin leaned forward over the steering wheel, squinting at the top story of the house across the road, lit only by the dim moon. He'd love to dangle a little mage light over the roof, just to spare his eyesight. The Met never shelled out for night vision specs, despite Merlin's constant protests that magical binoculars, or mag-nocs, didn't show anything non-magical and warlocks couldn't see in the dark any better than anyone else.

Gwaine had stopped trying. "It's just that the curry was a bit unsatisfying. So I'd quite like something else. Like a burrito."

"There are many things I'd like." Merlin tapped the windscreen, burning off the fog clouding what little view they had. "I probably have a better chance at most of them than you finding a Mexican place in this neighborhood."

"Hang on, I'll map it. I could swear we passed a Chipotle a few blocks over. Give me a boost, would you? My 4G's for shit. This place is a fucking dead zone for anyone but you."

Merlin spared a flare of magic for Gwaine's 4G signal because a burrito did sound rather nice. And even if he didn't get food out of it, Gwaine on a quest was still more entertaining than the dark house across the road that might or might not be harboring stolen magical artifacts. And he needed something to occupy the thoughts threatening to churn in his head.

"Bugger. They closed an hour ago."

Disappointment at the loss of their hypothetical snack struck Merlin harder than he would have expected. "Sure there's nowhere else?"

The hunt distracted them for several minutes, but in the end, Mexican food options in London were limited at the best of times, and at this hour, non-existent. When they agreed that another curry was not an acceptable substitute, Gwaine expanded his surfing to the celebrity gossip sites. Merlin resorted to the mag-nocs to keep up a continual magical scan of their target.

"Tch, that one's got to learn to keep her knickers on around the footballers," Gwaine tutted without slowing down the swipe of his finger of the screen. "Not that I would, either, mind you. Oh, look, it's your old mate."

"What mate?" Merlin lowered the mag-nocs to wipe the crystal lenses on the edge of his shirt and then lifted them again to continue scanning for any glimmer of magical presence around the house. Just enough for reasonable grounds, that's all they needed.

Gwaine turned his head until the incredulous slant of his eyebrows loomed in Merlin's peripheral vision. "Just how many of your friends end up in the news, anyway? I'm talking about your Prince of bloody Wales, of course."

And fuck, there it was: exactly what he'd been trying to not think about all night. Gwaine had dumped it right back into his gut, icy and squirming.

"Just because I skivvied for him in school doesn't make him my anything." He looked at his hand, which had risen in the air in front of him before he was aware of moving. It hovered, trembled, unsure whether to touch the phone in his pocket or the spot that twinged over his heart.

"He must be somebody's by now, or he's in real trouble. Listen to this: 'According to Palace insiders, the Prince has not begun the formal process of confirming a mate, despite his thirtieth birthday passing over six months ago. A source within Glastonbury Cathedral said that High Priestess Morgause has begun involving herself in the search for an acceptable mate for the Prince of Wales to prevent the imminent breaking of the Albion Pact.'"

She certainly had. Merlin himself, along with every other person of magic of childbearing age in Britain, had been summoned to Westminster Abbey a fortnight past to be tested for power and magical compatibility. To add just a bit more dignity to the process, the bored priest in charge of the testing had forced Merlin to shift into a female form to prove that he could bear the royal heirs, if necessary.

No one had bothered to notify him whether they’d determined he would be an acceptable brood mare. It didn’t matter. Merlin had known the answer to that almost half his life.

Gwaine elbowed him when he didn’t respond. "Come on, then. Who’s he got his eye on? There must be someone."

"There must be," Merlin agreed, and then lied, "But I don’t know who it is."

Right up until he’d found the voicemail on his mobile, Merlin had also thought there must be someone else. Arthur’s most important birthday had come and gone. Merlin, stuck on a sensitive investigation, had sent his regrets and a gift to the party. Arthur had rung to thank him, and they had chatted, casual, natural, with nothing hidden under Arthur’s tone.

Merlin should have asked. He knew he should have asked, but he hadn’t wanted to know the answer. So many pretty witches and warlocks flocked around Arthur in hopes of winning his attention, his soul, and a crown. Merlin didn’t need to know which one Arthur had chosen any sooner than necessary.

He should have asked, but when Arthur hadn’t said anything himself, he’d assumed that was enough of an answer.

"Do you think it’s true? That Arthur will really sicken and die if he doesn’t stick his knot in someone magic?"

"Yeah. I think it’s true." No one but Arthur had pushed the time limit of the Pact this far since the middle ages. Plenty of people thought the Pact nothing but ancient superstition and propaganda by the Church of the Old Religion of England. They praised Arthur for not taking it seriously. Merlin knew better on both counts.

"Speaking of – have you seen it?" Gwaine flashed him a lascivious grin and waggled his eyebrows. "His royal knot?"

"You have one yourself. Two if you count your head." Merlin rolled his eyes. "Stop trying to pretend you’re not nobility. You've all got the knots."

"Sure, but I’ve just always wanted to know: is his bigger than mine?"

"Yes," Merlin returned without hesitation.

Gwaine sputtered and took the mag-nocs away from him, declaring Merlin’s eyesight faulty. It left Merlin’s hand empty and wavering in the air again.

He took advantage of Gwaine’s distraction to rub his chest. The pinprick over his heart throbbed like it hadn’t in years. Arthur bore the fault for that yet again, him and that sodding voice message that weighed down the phone in Merlin’s pocket like a rock.

He could still hear it. He really wished he could stop hearing it.

Merlin. It’s me. You know why I’m calling.

***

Merlin stumbled into his flat around six the next morning after Lance and Griff had taken over the surveillance. If only they were allowed to install some magic filter lenses in the CCTV cameras, he and Griff had bitched to each other over the radio. Their non-magical partners ignored them and drove off mid-whinge.

"They don’t get it," Merlin continued to complain to his refrigerator as he dug through the crisper bin for his emergency apple stash. "Even with the mag-nocs, it’s bloody exhausting."

He flung himself down on the sofa and crunched into his apple. The skin was a bit wrinkled--contrary to popular legend, the Hesperides groves did have an off season--but the juice broke over his tongue, fresh with magic. As soon as he swallowed the first bite, his jangling anxiety leveled out and his exhaustion mellowed into the merely physical.

Merlin finished the rest of the apple and went to bin the core. On his way back from the kitchen, the blinking light of the answer machine caught his eyes. Odd. Usually his mum was the only person who called his landline. Everyone else texted or emailed if they couldn’t get through on his mobile, though he was pointedly not checking his texts right now.

Hunith Emrys was off on holiday in Blackpool with her boyfriend Matthew at the moment, so she shouldn’t be calling Merlin at all. He grinned as he tapped the play button. Maybe she’d won big and couldn’t wait until he was off work to tell him.

The message crackled for several seconds; he was about to dismiss it as a wrong number after all when he heard the familiar voice. "Merlin. This is Arthur again. I left a message on your mobile yesterday, but I know you get shit reception in that shit flat of yours, so I thought I’d try the other line."

Silence fell again, giving Merlin time to pull a breath into his tight lungs. He waited for Arthur to say something more, though he wasn’t sure what he wanted Arthur to say.

"Merlin. I know I can’t hold you to promises we made when we were boys. I don’t know if you even remember. But... could we talk, at least?"

Another moment of silence, and then the machine beeped once more with finality. Merlin let out a shaky breath that ended in a sharp laugh. He had his hand pressed over his chest again.

Of course he fucking remembered. What kind of cabbage head forgot almost soul bonding with his best friend?

As vividly as he remembered it, he might as well have still been there in Arthur’s tiny study. The air was close and stifling because they’d used up all the oxygen in their gasps in between kisses. Merlin had the wall at his back, Arthur against his front, and the biggest hard-on of his life in his trousers.

That hard-on was rubbing against Arthur’s sport-muscled thigh that had worked itself between Merlin’s legs. Every undulation of their hips made Merlin clutch at Arthur all over, half on his shirt, half on his skin. He moaned frantic kisses into Arthur’s mouth and felt the answering push of Arthur’s tongue.

He couldn’t believe it. His beautiful, exasperating prince was here in his arms, Merlin’s at last.

Lights swirled behind Merlin’s eyes as Arthur shoved against him with increasing urgency. His magic rose with his arousal. A hot, glorious trickle began in his chest, and it reached for Arthur to share the oncoming pleasure with him.

Merlin realized what it was seconds before it would have been too late.

Arthur looked confused and hurt when Merlin shoved him away as hard as he could. "Soul bond," Merlin managed to gasp, holding Arthur at arm’s length when he tried to pull Merlin back into his arms. "The magic... we’re too compatible."

"Shit," Arthur breathed and stumbled backward, looking wrecked and devastated.

When they got themselves under control, they found they could be around each other without risking permanent consequences, but sex would never be possible. Merlin could still feel the nascent soul bond pricking his chest, a raw itching pinprick over his heart. Giving into an orgasm with Arthur would seal it, and them, for life.

"I’m not ready for a bond yet," Arthur whispered miserably much later, clutching Merlin's hand across the table. Even fully clothed, this much intimacy felt dangerous. "Even though I know it has to happen someday."

"With someone." Merlin swallowed past the lump of helpless, hopeless, sixteen-year-old love in his throat. "But not me."

Arthur swallowed as well, looking stricken. "I'm to be the king. And you're going to be a brilliant Detective Inspector Warlock."

Merlin nodded stiffly. It had been his dream his whole life to follow his father, who had been the Assistant Commissioner of the Directorate of Magical Investigation before he'd been murdered. He couldn't do that if he were bound to be the royal consort before he even sat his A levels. "You'll find someone. Everyone loves you."

"Of course they do." Arthur stared over Merlin's shoulder, jaw working. "Dunno that I'll find anyone like you, though."

"Of course you will." The mere thought of Arthur sealing his soul to someone else nauseated Merlin; he grasped for anything to banish it. "But if you don't--I mean, at least we know I would work, yeah? Magically speaking."

Arthur's gaze zeroed back onto Merlin's face. "Yes," he said slowly. "If I don't. And if you don't."

Maybe he would. Maybe Merlin would find someone else with laughing blue eyes and a smile that made Merlin forget his name. "If we don't, then you'll always have me."

"Is that a promise, then?" Arthur's hand gripped his as though to seal an oath. "If there's no one else in the picture when we're thirty, we'll come back and finish this."

"It's not like I'd let you die," Merlin mumbled and retrieved his hand. Arthur laughed and leaned over the table to kiss the corner of Merlin’s mouth. Magic fluttered in his chest, delighted and then disappointed to be teased.

Of course, his moment of jealousy hadn't only been a symptom of their near miss. He realized it in words much later: Merlin had fallen very inconveniently in love with Arthur Pendragon, the Prince of Wales.

But school ended and they went to opposite sides of Oxbridge. Arthur had his military service after that, and then his investiture as Prince of Wales, which bound him life and soul to the Albion Pact. Merlin had a great deal of training and then a long slog up the ladder to become the next DIW Emrys.

They were still best friends, but they saw each other less as the years went by, and never spoke of their boyhood dalliance or the private pact they'd made between them. All better forgotten.

Except that Merlin had never forgotten, nor had he fallen out of love. The pinprick over his heart stayed as raw and open as on the day he last kissed Arthur. He had assumed himself alone.

But now he knew that Arthur remembered, and Arthur was so desperate to live and reign that he was being forced to call in one ancient promise to fulfill another. Good old Merlin, always saving the day.

He grimaced and glared at the answer machine. He only realized after a minute had passed that his hand remained pressed firmly over his heart.

***

"You had three orders at Nando's," Merlin protested. "Plus the hummus. How can you possibly still be hungry?"

"That was four hours ago. How can you possibly not be hungry?"

Merlin's stomach rumbled in betrayal, but he'd only had a double order of chicken and three pieces of garlic bread, so he felt justified. "I'm not saying I wouldn't take a burrito if you actually managed to find one."

"That's my lad," Gwaine crowed. "I was starting to worry about you. What's gotten in your knickers lately? You've been a bit of a git."

"Yeah. Sorry." Merlin tilted back against the headrest to avoid looking at his partner. "Lot on my mind. With the case and all."

The case provided only flimsy cover: it was not actually stressful so much as tedious. The artifacts they pursued were valued more for their history than their power, and they had a very good, if circumstantial, idea of who had stolen them. All they needed was the tiniest cause for a search and it would all be over.

Gwaine, as a good partner, knew when to let Merlin's lies lie. "Right. Well, no worries." He gave Merlin's arm an affectionate nudge. "Some guacamole will set you to rights."

"Don't disappoint me again. I could go mental at any moment."

"I understand that risk, which is why this time I looked up the hours." Gwaine tapped the side of his nose. "I shall return victorious if you let me out, I promise."

Merlin double-checked the glamour that concealed their car. "Go on, you're good."

A blast of cold air disrupted the warmth of the car as Gwaine made a break for it. Merlin waited until the door slammed shut before he abandoned the mag-nocs for his mobile. He stared down at the voicemail icon: he couldn't answer it, he couldn't delete it.

He jumped when the door opened again. "That was quick. What did you--?"

"Ah, so you do know where your phone is. I was starting to fear either you or it had met with some tragic end."

Merlin's body twisted in his seat in shock, his brain overwhelmed by the unexpected sight, sound, and scent of the Prince of Wales, who had settled himself in Gwaine's place behind the steering wheel. "What the fuck?" was the only thing Merlin could find to say.

Arthur smiled a slight, cautious smile. "Hello, Merlin."

It had been nearly a year since he had seen Arthur in person, Merlin realized. Arthur had spent a great deal of time touring abroad in celebration of his significant birthday.

"You look like hell," he blurted.

"Thank you, Merlin. You actually look well. Better than I was expecting, considering it was actual hell trying to get a hold of you."

"Sorry." Merlin studied Arthur's drawn face, pale even in the washed-out moonlight. He had looked fine on television a few days ago; they must have had him in make-up. But even waxy and pinched, Arthur was beautiful enough to hurt Merlin’s heart. "I knew times must be desperate if you were calling me, but--it really is bad, isn't it?"

Arthur turned his head to look away out the window. "I never wanted to have to ask this of you. Some part of me wished you'd go and get married so that I couldn't. I waited as long as I could, but I can't wait any longer."

The muddled pride and pain in Arthur's voice made Merlin's stomach hurt with shame for trying to avoid this conversation even for a day. He put his hand on his friend's knee and squeezed. "I'd do anything for you. You know that."

Arthur smiled, still without looking at him. "I know. That's exactly why I tried--I really tried to find someone else I could stomach the thought of binding my soul to."

"I guess I should be flattered that you can stomach the thought of me." Merlin had meant to soften his tone, but hearing the love of his fucking life expound on exactly how much of a last resort Merlin was cut too sharp to contain.

"Merlin--"

"Sorry. But you have to admit, it's not the most romantic proposal the world's ever seen."

Arthur let the side of his head thunk against the glass. "Yeah. You deserve better than any of this."

"And you deserve better than an arranged marriage." Merlin finally turned his head to give Arthur a rueful smile. "Even to me."

Arthur turned to meet his smile. "It’s too late for me. And I know I shouldn’t have waited so long, but you deserved to live the life you chose."

A life he was about to lose, but that seemed less important now. Maybe he could still find a way to work in law enforcement again someday, but first he would be crowned as Arthur’s consort, bear Arthur’s children, never to be far from Arthur’s side again. It was a small price, a very small price, for Arthur’s life. If he’d had Arthur’s love as well, it wouldn’t have been a sacrifice at all. "I won’t let you die."

"I won’t die. You do still have a choice, you know. Father and Morgause... well, they have their own plans, if it comes to that."

Merlin had no doubt about that. He’d met King Uther. "I’m just happy to have beaten out even one other candidate for the job."

Arthur started to smile a bit more. "It’s not just desperation, you know. I think we’d still be good together. Don’t you?"

"Yes," Merlin answered because he couldn’t lie about that. "We always have been."

Arthur’s smile grew into the grin that made Merlin’s stomach flutter—and then narrowed into the smirk that made Merlin want to punch him. "So it’s romance you want, is it?"

"What?" Then Merlin remembered his wry complaint. "No, that’s not the—"

"Now, now, Merlin." Arthur held up a silencing hand. "Romance I can do. I am quite the romantic deep down, you know."

"It must be very deep down," Merlin retorted before realizing that Arthur would take that as a challenge.

Arthur was still grinning as he leaned over to kiss Merlin’s cheek. His lips were plush and a little rough; their touch made Merlin flinch with the need to kiss Arthur properly, an urge he had managed to repress for a long time.

"We’ll talk again soon. See if this might work." Arthur said, not noticing that Merlin’s body had gone flustered from his proximity. "Answer the phone this time, would you?"

Merlin hadn’t moved a muscle between the time the door closed behind Arthur and when it opened again. Gwaine got in with two fragrant paper bags. "Who was that I saw getting out of the car?"

"Huh?" Merlin stared down at the bag Gwaine set on his lap. Right on top of the half-chub he hadn’t been able to get rid of, on account of not being able to stop thinking about Arthur’s lips touching his skin.

"I was turning the corner down the street and I saw someone. It looked like the bloody Prince of Wales."

"Don’t be ridiculous. You’re seeing things." Merlin got the magon counter out of the glove compartment and waved it at the house in what he hoped was a distracting, if futile gesture. They hadn't managed to get it to detect even a tiny speck of magic yet.

To his surprise, the little device gave off one soft but distinctive whine before falling silent again. They both stared at it.

"Was that--?" Gwaine started, pointing to it.

"Tachyon plasma," Merlin confirmed from the readout. "Just a trace."

He waved the magon counter again. It stayed silent.

"Doesn’t matter. That’s all we need." Gwaine grinned and grabbed for the door handle again, food and gossip forgotten in the face of action.

Merlin shrugged and opened his own door. "Let’s get to work."

***

"High profile." Gwaine tapped the newspaper spread open over Merlin’s knees. "Page two, above the fold. Lance and Percy can suck my dick."

Merlin smirked as Gwaine parked and they got out of the car. "I thought Percy already was."

It wasn’t often he (or anyone) could make Gwaine blush, but somehow it made everything feel normal again.

He grinned to see Lance and Percy loitering near the door to the Directorate, ostensibly fixing their tea by the hot water urn. He wondered how long Lance had been stirring the sugar into his cup.

"Well, look who bothered to grace the Yard by actually showing up." Percy, who had been stuck at his desk since his DIW partner Freya had gone on maternity leave, hid half of his smirk behind the delicate teacup that always looked ridiculous in his beefy hand.

Gwaine rose to the bait as he always did. "We were rather busy recovering over three million pounds of Lord Gedref’s ancestral crystals and assorted magical gizmos. Did I see you at the scene? Oh, no, I didn’t."

"Ah, I suppose you were expecting to be greeted by a shower of wine and roses." Lancelot took a sip of his tea before his eyes widened and he turned an innocent, but odd look on Merlin. "No, I’m sorry, that would be you, wouldn’t it, Merlin?"

Merlin stared at him blankly. He was usually only a spectator in the alpha male posturing that went on between the non-magical half of the Directorate; the magic users had their own ball-busting rituals. But suddenly both Lance and Percy looked as though they were going to burst into hysterics of some sort at any moment.

"All right," Gwaine said slowly, looking as confused as Merlin felt, which was discomfiting. "We’ll just be at our desks, when you lot have sobered up."

Merlin followed him into the main room of the Directorate, which seemed oddly empty for the hour. No, not empty – everyone was crowded down at the far end of the room, near where Merlin and Gwaine’s desks sat.

No, he realized as they drew closer. They were all crowded around Merlin’s actual desk, and even from halfway across the room, it was easy to see why.

Wine and roses indeed. The wine, at least, was confined to a single bottle in front of Merlin's keyboard. He couldn't read the label from this distance, but he could tell from the shape that it was more likely to have come from someone's ancestral wine cellar than Tesco.

The real problem were the roses, numbering at least in the hundreds, covering Merlin's desk, his computer, his filing cabinet, his chair. Most of them were a vivid scarlet, but many of them were gold. They were a rich, gilded gold that meant Arthur had got someone to enchant them.

Yes, Arthur. The Pendragon colors could not have said 'Arthur' more if the flowers had been arranged to spell out his name. Which Arthur probably would have done as well if he'd thought of it.

Gwaine stopped a step in front of him, turned to face him, and gave him a very pointed look.

"I can explain." Merlin ran a hand through his hair. "Er, or maybe not."

"Oh look, here’s our Queen to be now," called Gilli, who had also been tested by the priests of the Old Religion and bragged about his high scores. Merlin hadn’t called him out on the fact that he couldn’t possibly have known his score, or if there even were scores. Now he regretted being nice.

Not that Gilli was the only one taking the piss as Merlin approached his desk, torn between mortification and a pleasure that was sneaking up on him with each quickening thump of his heart. The roses were ostentatious and deeply embarrassing – and beautiful.

A card stood propped against the wine bottle, rich paper with Arthur’s personal crest emblazoned in red and gold to match the roses. The only thing it lacked was an envelope. Merlin had no doubt that everyone in his department had already read it.

They all faded out of his awareness as he picked up the card and opened it. Instantly he recognized Arthur’s own handwriting.

Love is begun by time
And time qualifies the spark and fire of it


Merlin had to close his eyes to shut out all the hubbub and steal a small moment of privacy to contemplate love. He had Arthur had always loved each other, of course. It may not have been the grand romance that either of their parents had enjoyed, but it was enough for a partnership. It was enough for a life together.

And apparently, Arthur didn't mind making the grand romantic gestures, however overblown they might seem in context.

When he opened his eyes, he found Lance at his shoulder, peering at the card and typing it word for word into his phone. "Sorry, but Gwen will kill me if I don't give her all the details. You know what a hopeless romantic she is."

Much less so than her husband, actually, but it gave Merlin a fuzzy feeling nonetheless. At least until he remembered that Lance's wife worked for the Guardian.

"Oh, you stuff it, you jealous hags," Gwaine was snarling at Gilli and his cronies. "Our Merlin's going to make a brilliant queen."

"I'm not going to be a bloody queen," Merlin snapped at the room at large.

Gwaine turned to look at him with surprise. "What, you're turning him down? I wouldn't have called that."

"I didn't say that." Merlin shut the card and tucked it under his arm for protection. The romance was whooshing out of the moment like a deflating balloon. "I--whoever marries Arthur will be his consort, not necessarily a queen."

Gwaine exchanged an amused look with Lance. "Sure. But when--all right, all right, if--if you marry him, you'll have to be in lady form, right?"

Merlin gritted his teeth, but Gwaine had a point. They all knew it, since the media had been discussing Arthur's predilections and the ramifications of them for years. The public wedding would not happen until some time after the sealing of the Pact, by which time Merlin would almost certainly be pregnant.

And even if that weren't enough to keep him in female form, tradition and law dictated it for the wedding itself. The law would allow completely equal same-sex marriages sooner rather than later, but not soon enough. To marry Arthur, he would have to be in female form at the time.

"Yes," he finally admitted.

Lance squeezed his shoulder. "I think you'll be a beautiful bride," he said with an absolute sincerity that finished off what was left of Merlin's masculinity.

"Bloody fuck, Lance, you're not helping." Merlin winced as Percy and Griff started hooting about the amount of lace it would take to hide Merlin's bony arse. Thank God none of them had ever actually seen him gender shift.

Gwaine gripped his other shoulder and drew him away from the mob. "Look, it's all in good fun, but if he's trying to bully you into something you don't want, just say the word. I'll take care of your prince problem for you."

Merlin laughed and relaxed a little at the reminder that whatever else in his life might change, at least one thing never would. "Oh, will you?"

"You've dated a lot of wankers, my friend." Gwaine gave him a look that managed to be both pitying and respectful at once. "I've had some fantastic places in mind to dump the bodies for years now. Just in case, you understand."

Though his goal was to keep his prince alive, he'd spent enough time with Arthur to find Gwaine's offer reassuring. "Well, now that I know that--"

"Pardon me, but is anyone in Scotland Yard interested in solving any actual crimes today?"

On autopilot, along with the rest of the department, they turned at the bark of their Assistant Commissioner. Gaius stood in the doorway of his office, managing to glare at every one of them personally as only he could.

"All the lot of you, back to work. Emrys, Greene, get that mess cleaned up."

"Yes, sir," they answered in unison. Merlin turned back to his mountain of roses, dismayed at the thought of disposing of them, embarrassing as they were. At least it sounded like Gwaine would know a discreet dump site.

"Oh, and one more thing, DI Emrys."

He turned back to look at Gaius. "Sir?"

"Please inform His Royal Highness that if he wishes to woo you, he may do it on his own time, not the City of London's."

"Yes, sir," Merlin replied and rather looked forward to passing along the message.

***

Merlin eyed the front of his building warily as Gwaine pulled up in front of the block of flats. He didn't see any reporters or curiosity seekers. Perhaps Lance's wife had kept the news to herself after all.

When he voiced the thought, Gwaine gave him a condescending look, made some incomprehensible remark about social media, and told him to make a run for it. He left Gwaine pointedly checking his tweety blogs while Merlin trudged at a deliberate pace up the steps, clutching the handful of roses he had managed to keep after his coworkers had nicked some for souvenirs and he and Gwaine had disposed of the remainder.

The scent of them had distracted him all day. Gwaine had done most of their paperwork, making it more of a disaster than usual; Merlin hadn't even bothered to look it over. With every thought of Arthur, and there were many, his normal life seemed further and further away.

He got to the top of the stairs, turned toward his flat, and stopped cold. A rather large man stood at something resembling military attention in the corridor, and he had chosen to take his stance directly in the way of Merlin's front door.

The man wore a suit and looked more like one of Merlin's brawny colleagues than a reporter, which meant Merlin could probably take him. "Mr. Emrys?" the man asked as Merlin strolled up.

"Nope," Merlin answered, pausing, but prepared to keep walking if he saw any glint of a camera.

"Mr. Emrys, my name is John Pellinor, and I work for His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales." The man reached into his jacket and pulled out a slim box tied with a red and gold ribbon. "His Royal Highness asked me to deliver this to you personally."

Merlin gave up his charade and took the box. Instantly, he felt the tingle of magic in his fingers, so strong that it went right up his arm. The magic felt rather like Arthur somehow, which was peculiar since Arthur had no hint of magical ability to speak of.

"Thanks," he said and pulled out his keys, eager to get inside and see what Arthur had sent him.

Pellinor moved a step to the left, enough to let Merlin get to the door handle. He made no other move to depart. When Merlin looked at him pointedly, he looked back with an intense lack of expression.

"Er, sorry," Merlin said after a moment. "Am I supposed to tip you or something?"

"No, sir," Pellinor said, though he still didn't move. "I'm not a delivery boy. I'm a bodyguard."

Merlin felt his eyebrows pop upwards. Now this was something he was going to have to put a stop on immediately. "I'm a grade 18 DIW with the Met, you know. I could well be the last person in London who needs a bodyguard."

"Not for you. For that." Pellinor nodded at the box in Merlin's hand. "I can't leave until I see you securely inside your abode with it."

"Right. Well, cheers, then." He kept eyeing Pellinor, trying to match the man's expressionless stare as he watched Merlin unlock his door, push it open, and sidle around it to get inside.

As soon as the door closed behind him, Merlin sighed. "Can't do anything like a normal person, can you?" he muttered at an invisible Arthur. He threw the bolts and waited until he heard Pellinor's footsteps on the stairs before taking his flowers and gift to the sofa.

Merlin had handled quite a few powerful and important magical artifacts in his career; none had given him this rush of anticipation. He had asked Arthur, however inadvertently, for romance, but what he’d actually wanted was significance. Whatever Arthur had sent, Merlin could feel the magical weight of it through the box.

He untied the ribbon and opened the box. A folded slip of paper rested on the top. Merlin plucked it out and started to open it until his finger brushed something metal beneath. The magical sense of Arthur flooded him, although it wasn’t precisely Arthur after all, now that he could feel it more directly. It was Arthur without the sharp edges, the sweetness of his smile without the grim steel of his frown.

Merlin picked up the medallion with reverence. He had learned the symbol on it in grade school Magical Education classes, but he would have known to whom this had belonged even without it.

Ygraine du Bois had been a powerful young sorceress, destined for the Church until Uther had fallen in love with her and bonded her to be his mate. Unlike most royal consorts, it had taken her quite some time to conceive after the bonding. That had caused some rumblings, but her death in childbirth had provoked an outright constitutional crisis. Nothing could have been a more powerful magical condemnation of Uther's sacred kingship.

Lady Nimueh, the High Priestess at the time, launched an investigation fueled by her icy fury. When she uncovered Uther's affair--and illegitimate daughter--she took her fury to Parliament and the public. Debate had raged for months over whether the Pact had been broken. Only the survival and radiant health of the tiny baby prince had saved Uther's crown.

Merlin cradled the medallion against his chest to better feel the heat of the magic. He opened the note with his other hand.

Merlin,

This was my mother's sigil. She wore it as a brooch on her Coronation Day. I had it reset for you.

I understand that it has powerful magic; I can feel it sometimes, the way I can feel you.

If you do me the honor of becoming my consort, you'll have your own sigil in time, of course. But I think my mother would still want you to have this, a token to welcome you to the family.

All my love,
Arthur
P.S. Did you like your flowers? Your precious blushing face is all over Twitter.


"Wankers," Merlin muttered, remembering all of his coworkers snapping pictures. He was just happy none of them had posted his home address onto a website somewhere. Yet.

His attention skittered back up to Arthur's signature. All his love. Arthur held nothing back from anything he did. If he chose to love Merlin, Merlin would never feel any lack as long as he didn't question it.

They always had loved each other. Maybe Merlin could earn the rest of what he wanted, in time.

He slipped the sigil over his head and let it fall under his shirt so he could feel it against his skin. Then he reached for the phone and dialed Arthur's number.

"Hi." Arthur's voice was soft when he answered. He must be alone, and expecting Merlin.

"Hi." He fell quiet, and so did Arthur. His hand spread over his chest, covering both the sigil and the familiar twinge of the bond that, after long dormancy, wanted completion. "Do you feel it?" he asked after a while. "I've always wondered."

Arthur laughed. "I may not be a warlock, but I'm not an idiot. Fifteen years with an unfinished soul bond, always aching for you? Of course I feel it."

Merlin felt a moment of elation, but guilt crushed it quickly. Perhaps Arthur never had a chance to find anyone else, even from the beginning. Of course, neither had Merlin. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Arthur's voice lightened with fondness. "For making me send you flowers like you're some bloody girl?"

"I liked my flowers." His roses streaked the coffee table with color. He brushed his fingers over the edges of the vibrant petals. "Is it such a bad thing to want to feel like you actually want me?"

"Like I want you?" This time Arthur's laugh rasped in his ear. "Bloody hell, you absolute idiot. Of course I want you. Don't you know what I think about every damn night?"

Merlin inhaled slowly, taking in the implication. "I think I'd like it a lot if you told me."

"You want to hear what a pathetic sod I am. About how I think about your body and what it felt like fifteen years ago? And more importantly, what it would feel like now?"

Merlin struggled to calm his voice as blood began to seep into his cock, stirring him. "I don't even believe you," he challenged.

"No? Good." Arthur's voice dropped. "Then I don't have to tell you about the way I play with my knot. Have you ever taken a nobleman to bed? Have you ever had a knot in you, Merlin?"

Merlin pressed his lips together in a grimace. He wouldn't give Arthur the satisfaction of hearing him groan. "No."

"Really? Not even that partner of yours? Yes, I know whose son he really is."

"No. Never him." Merlin shifted to slouch down on the couch, spreading his thighs to give himself more space.

"Good," Arthur said again. "I won't have you thinking of his knot when I'm putting mine in you."

Merlin's hips lifted a little from the couch; he could feel the pressure of the zip confining his cock now. "You think about that a lot? Putting your knot in me?"

"I circle my knot with my fingers and squeeze it tight to pretend it's the rim of your arse gripping me. That's the only way I can come. I think about fucking you, tying you, finally bonding you, and I come like a rocket."

Fuck. Merlin started to rub his hand over his bulging dick, but had barely lifted it before he dug his fingers back into the upholstery. One touch and he'd be done. "You better not go off like a rocket when you're fucking me." He wasn't trying to sound unaffected anymore, just trying not to come. "I'd expect a bit more from the Sacred King."

"My knot always ebbs so fast after, like it realizes I was lying to it. But it'll be different when I'm in you. I could feel it the minute I was next to you last night. I'll tie you until you forget how to move."

Merlin arched again as a wave of softer, warmer pleasure surged between his legs. For a moment he thought he had come, but his arousal didn't abate. He let out a strangled whimper before he could choke it off.

Arthur hummed, sounding pleased. "If your stupid notion about me not wanting you was your only hesitation, I hope I've disabused you of it. I want you to be mine, Merlin."

At some point, Merlin's eyes had squeezed shut. He kept them closed to enjoy the darkness with nothing but Arthur's voice in his ear and the slow throb between his legs. His own voice sounded strange in his ears when he answered. "I want you as much as I wanted you when we were boys. Nothing's changed."

Arthur's sigh of relief gusted like static over the phone line. "There's a number on the back of that note. When you're ready, call it. Someone will bring you to the Palace and Lady Morgause will meet with you."

"I have to go through another interview?" Merlin tipped his head back against the sofa and smiled.

"Just a formality, so she can confirm that our bonding will fulfill the Pact. I think we both know that won't be a problem." Arthur paused. "Good night, Merlin."

He didn't want to hang up, except that hanging up meant he could get his hand down his pants and make himself come. "Good night, Arthur," he said.

As he clicked off the phone, he realized that the next time he said those words, he would probably be in Arthur's bed. The thought made his arousal surge again, and he felt a gush of wetness between his legs.

It wasn't the usual wetness of precome from the tip of his cock. Slowly he lifted his head and looked down at himself, at the gentle curves at breast and hip that hadn't been there before. His magic had responded to Arthur's courting by shifting his body into female form, ready for mating.

He pushed himself to his feet on wobbly legs, overbalanced and almost fell back onto sofa before he adjusted to the shifted center of gravity. His whole body felt flushed with arousal. Although, like every other young witch or warlock with the ability, he'd gotten himself off in gender-switched form for the novelty of it, being female had never felt like this before.

The fabric of his shirt scraped against his nipples, which were more sensitive than he'd ever felt. He fumbled the buttons open and stripped it off, lurching toward his bedroom. His trousers, now tighter in the hips than the crotch, and his pants fell in a heap in the doorway, where he left them.

Naked except for the sigil, he closed his bedroom door and stepped in front of the mirror hung on the back of it. His mother had installed it when he moved in, with bright hopes that it might inspire him to pay attention to what he was wearing when he left the flat every morning.

It hadn't, but he was paying attention now to every detail of the feminine body reflected back at him. He watched himself lift his hands to cup his small but full breasts, for the first time enjoying the weight of them. One felt better than the other when he squeezed it; he left his hand there and moved the other down across the flat plane of his belly that would soon swell with Arthur's child.

Another throb between his legs answered that thought. He dug his fingers into the wet softness there. He had enough time to think that he should probably groom himself better for Arthur before his fingers found the spot he remembered from his teenage explorations. A few hard, quick rubs brought him into a shuddering climax that washed from his toes up to his cheeks.

The next time he blinked, he was himself again, sprawled on the floor, cock replete against his thigh.

***

Continued in Part 2
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Cori Lannam

September 2013

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