Title: Crossing the Border
Character/s: (In this section) Merlin, Arthur, Gwaine, Leon, Gaius
Summary: Banished from Camelot by Agravaine's treachery, Arthur and his small loyal band head east.
Warnings: Omegaverse, knotting
Word Count: Um... 3,502 Oh God, I'm going to get kicked off here, aren't I? My excuse is that in order to get to the 'reconciliation' part of this one which is... well, a bit over the limit as well... I had to write a bridging piece for the series. Sorry.
Prompt: 92 Reconciliation
Author's Notes: Thanks to the lovely fififolle for the super-fast last minute beta. This is the next part of 'His' and 'The Cold Light of Morning'
Crossing the Border
The waiting was the worst part.
It had been easy enough to get out of Camelot, to grab a few essential belongings, take their horses and go. Gaius had been surprisingly fast, grabbing a sack of belongings that were stashed in a cupboard. It was almost as if he had expected to need to make a run for it one day. Gwaine wished that he and Leon had made the same provision.
As it was, they'd left with the clothes on their backs, a few weapons from the armoury and a small amount of food that Gwaine had managed to blag from the kitchen whilst Leon was sorting out the horses. It wasn't going to last them long, but then that might not matter. If Arthur and Merlin escaped they would probably have half of Camelot on their heels and no matter how good they all were at fighting they didn't stand much of a chance.
It had been slow progress by necessity, getting the old physician out of the palace. They'd come up with a story about escorting him whilst he took much-needed plague supplies to a village on the outskirts of the kingdom. Nobody had questioned it whilst they saddled up the horses and packed quickly, but they had all been aware that at any moment the shout could go up that Merlin had escaped and all hell would break loose. But if they had moved too fast it would have aroused suspicion. Nobody expected to see Gaius move in too much of a hurry these days.
They had ridden out as far as the forest then waited there, far enough away that they could still just about see the castle in the distance. Any further and they would never find Arthur and Merlin when they finally emerged. If they finally emerged.
"What if they go the other way?" Leon wondered more than once.
"This is the way to Ealdor. They have nowhere to go, they'll probably head for Merlin's home first," Gaius assured him. "And if not then we'll go there anyway."
"Assuming they get away," Leon replied a little morosely. "What if they didn't get away? There was smoke."
They had all seen it, the ominous plume of grey that had risen over the castle as they left. It could only be the pyre that Merlin had been threatened with. It had faded quickly, but that didn't mean that the burning hadn't happened.
"We just have to wait," Gaius assured him. "Merlin would have found a way, I'm sure of it."
Gwaine wished he shared that confidence. Merlin didn't seem to be overly powerful, and he was an omega. What could an omega do? He knew Leon was probably wondering the same thing. But they waited, trying not to think about what could have happened.
It wasn't a competition, but Gwaine spotted them first. Two figures on horseback, riding away from Camelot, though Gwaine had expected to see them moving far faster than they were. The pair were heading towards the forest, not yet noticing the trio waiting in the shelter of the trees. Merlin, Gwaine noticed as they drew a little closer, had to be injured as he was slumped forward in the saddle and Arthur was leading his horse. Arthur didn't look particularly healthy either.
"Arthur!" Leon didn't wait any longer, mounting up and urging his horse out into the sunlight. As he galloped towards the pair, Gwaine and Gaius followed at a more sedate pace.
Gwaine could see Arthur slow his horse briefly, hesitant until he saw who it was hailing him. Then he rode towards them.
"Leon, thank the gods! Gwaine, Gaius... Merlin's exhausted, I pushed him too hard. We barely got out of there in time."
Gwaine looked past them, at the lack of pursuers. He had half-expected them to arrive with half of Camelot on their heels. "You're not being followed?"
"I have until nightfall to leave the kingdom."
"You're banished?" Leon exclaimed. "But you're Uther's heir!"
"Not any more. I'll explain later. My father will have put a bounty on Merlin's head by now, we need to keep going, get over the border into Cendred's lands."
"Cendred is no friend to Camelot," Leon warned.
"And apparently neither are we," Arthur retorted. "Essetir is the closest border."
"We can go to Ealdor," Merlin put in. He was swaying slightly in the saddle, Gwaine noticed. He didn't look up to a long ride. Neither did Arthur, battered and bruised as he was, though at least he was upright in the saddle. "My mother will take us in for a few nights."
"That's the first place they'll look," Gaius told him. "Once word gets out it won't be safe for you or Hunith."
Arthur frowned. They all knew it was true. "You've got a better suggestion?"
"Actually, yes I have,” replied Gaius. “We go to Mercia. Lord Bayard is a more honourable man than Cendred, more likely to leave us in peace if we quietly take refuge in his kingdom for a while. There's a village north of Tamworth where we can stay. I have friends there who will take us in. They aren't known to your father."
"Sounds good, let's go." Gwaine wheeled his horse around, ready to leave. He still expected a small army to surge out of the castle in pursuit of them.
Arthur looked back at the distant towers of his home. "I'm not hiding for long," he promised. "I'm not abandoning Morgana. My father means to make her heir and marry her off to someone of his choosing, just as he was going to with me. And I'll expose Agravaine for exactly what he is. He used my mother's hair in a charm to bewitch my father, Gaius. However badly my father has behaved, he loved her and he doesn't deserve that kind of betrayal."
Gaius nodded reassuringly. "That's for another day, Arthur."
They rode on, though Gwaine noticed Arthur looking back over his shoulder many times, until there was nothing left to see.
Even then he still looked back.
It took two days to reach Mercia, going through Essetir rather than risking staying within the borders of Camelot, and then another day after that to reach the settlement Gaius was leading them to.
By then they were all tired. Finding safe places to rest had been difficult, and none of them had slept much.
Merlin recovered fairly quickly. Riding was tiring but with Arthur insisting on leading his horse on the first day all Merlin had to do was to stay on. He would have liked to go and curl up in a corner somewhere and sleep for a week, but that wasn't possible. But his exhaustion was, he found, mostly mental. He'd never expended that amount of magic before and hadn't known how much it would tire him. By the second day he was more alert and able to guide them.
Arthur wasn't so fortunate. When they stopped on the first evening, he finally revealed the extent of his injuries. They were mostly self-inflicted, the entirety of his right side was a mass of multi-coloured bruises from where he'd tried to break free from the room where he'd been imprisoned. There were also cuts and nicks from the fight he'd had with his guards, but as they'd been afraid to harm him those weren't too deep. Once or twice Merlin saw Arthur touch his face and wince slightly, as if it were a little tender. That would be where his father had slapped him, Merlin thought, which probably hurt more due to its cause than from the physical pain.
Gaius had brought a collection of remedies with him, and had given Merlin a salve to apply to the bruises. Apparently there was little else he could do, and Arthur would just have to wait for the bruising to go down. It meant that the next day Arthur was aching and uncomfortable, and Merlin was elected to ride with him. With the mood he was in, nobody else wanted to.
Merlin didn't mind. He rode quietly alongside his alpha, knowing what this man had given up to be with him, letting the others ride along behind them. He could hear Gwaine's endless chatter starting to get on Leon's nerves, and wondered how long it would be before there was an argument. Leon had lost almost as much as Arthur over this, and wasn't even getting a mate out of the deal. Merlin had caught the tall knight staring at him a few times, as if he were pondering something. Merlin hoped it wasn't that he was considering taking the bounty for himself. But he'd been very wrong about Leon and Gwaine's intentions towards him before, and he wasn't going to make that mistake again, not when they'd both stood by Arthur in this.
On the evening of the third day they reached a small village in Southern Mercia. It was much larger than Ealdor, and would have been considered a town if it was in Essetir. It even had an inn, and it was there that Gaius guided them, greeting the innkeeper, Edmund, as an old friend.
Merlin had already known that Gaius had helped people escape from Uther's purge on sorcerers years before, although it had come as a surprise to Arthur and the two knights when he had explained this on their journey. Leon had grown increasingly quiet at the news and Merlin had noticed those considering looks being directed his way yet again.
Edmund didn't have magic, but his wife Elaine did, along with two of their four children. The eldest child had been just a baby when they'd escaped Camelot, and was an adult, Arthur's age, now.
"How long will we stay here?" Leon asked as they were shown to their rooms. It was the first thing he'd said in a while. He and Gwaine had been put in a room adjacent to the younger magic-using child and Merlin could see him giving the young boy the same sort of look he'd been giving Merlin earlier. And that told Merlin all he needed to know about why Leon didn't seem very happy.
"A few days," Arthur told them. "Time to rest, plan what we'll do next."
"Time for other things too, eh?" Gwaine put in, bumping shoulders with Merlin and giving him a little grin, waggling his eyebrows. Unlike Leon, Gwaine didn't seem particularly bothered by the magic. But then he hadn't grown up in Camelot, he came from Caerleon and magic wasn't banned there.
Merlin felt his face redden, which made Gwaine laugh as he followed a rather morose Leon into their room and closed the door.
"Take no notice of Gwaine," Arthur advised. "If you start blushing like that he'll never stop teasing you."
Edmund led them up to their room. It wasn't anything like Arthur's chambers at Camelot, but it was clean and comfortable and far better than anything Merlin had ever stayed in. He'd had a pile of straw as a mattress in his mother's hovel growing up, and the bed in Gaius' chambers was lumpy and uncomfortable.
"It's not what you're used to, Sire," Edmund apologised as he showed them inside. "We aren't equipped to host royalty, I'm afraid."
"It will do very well, thank you. And I'm no longer considered royal."
Edmund gave a little bow. "Your father will see reason in time."
"He didn't with you."
"I'm not his only son. Now, shall I have the boys draw you a bath before dinner?"
The bath had been a godsend to Arthur, easing many of his aches and pains. Merlin had heated the water with magic and they'd both taken turns soaking in the small tub until the serving girls arrived with dinner.
It was a wonder that Merlin was so skinny because he could put food away faster than anyone Arthur had ever met. He grinned happily at Arthur as he used a hunk of bread to mop up the remnants of the thick, meaty bowl of stew he had been devouring, and suddenly Arthur really wasn't that hungry any more. Not for food anyway.
"I think we've had enough," he decided, and picked up the two mostly empty dishes.
Merlin made some sort of protest that might have been something like "I'm still eating," but it was so muffled around the large mouthful of bread he was chewing that it was impossible to tell. Arthur put the dishes outside then locked the door. There were going to be no more disturbances that night.
Merlin stared at him, chewing slowly, his eyes wide. Arthur wondered how he could make looking so guileless seem so very, very desirable. He watched as Merlin gulped the bread down, swallowed it, never taking his eyes off Arthur as he walked over to the bed.
Merlin tilted his head just a little defiantly. "Make me."
And that was when Arthur realised that sometimes, when they were alone, perhaps he was going to find that Merlin liked to play the submissive little omega. Because there was certainly never going to be any other time that his cheeky and wilful ex-manservant was going to be subservient to him.
So, if he liked the alpha command voice sometimes, if that was how he wanted to play it: "Come here."
Doubtless that had carried at least to the adjoining rooms, Arthur thought ruefully, but he didn't care. All that mattered was his beautiful, willing omega who was coming towards him, smiling a little shyly.
"Finally," Arthur breathed, drawing Merlin close and burying his face in the shock of dark hair. He didn't think he'd ever get tired of the scent of his omega. Even without the draw of his heat Merlin was impossible to resist. "I've waited far too long for this."
"I thought you were going to reject me," Merlin breathed, as Arthur's hands started to roam under his tunic, lifting it up. "Just for a little while, when the king told you I had magic and you let the guards take me. I thought you wouldn't want me."
"I'm sorry. Believe that I'll always want you." Arthur pulled up the unnecessary clothing and flung it to one side, reaching for the ties on Merlin's breeches and fumbling to undo them. He was distracted by the possessive mark he had made, days ago, on Merlin's neck. It had faded only a little. Arthur covered it with his mouth, sucking at it, loving the moan of need that the action brought forth from his mate. Merlin started to pull at Arthur's shirt in return then paused, leaned back and then with a confident smirk on his face he spoke just one word.
Arthur couldn't understand that word, but it didn't matter. Merlin's eyes gave a brief flash of gold, and their remaining clothes fell in a heap at their feet. There was something about the use of magic that still disturbed Arthur, but it was quieting, lessening. He knew that soon enough all the prejudice he had ever learned about it would be gone forever. If it was a part of Merlin then it had to be right.
"Merlin," he murmured, pulling him close again, kissing him and tangling his fingers in his lover's hair as he pulled him down onto the bed. "That's a useful trick."
Merlin laughed against his mouth. Arthur could feel the huff of breath warm and sweet on his face and leaned in to kiss him again. There was just something about that mouth, he couldn't stop tasting it, kissing it bruisingly deep before he pulled Merlin up, helping him turn over and get up onto his knees. Arthur shifted so that he was behind his lover. Merlin moved back at that point, his arse brushing against Arthur's already hard cock, and any restraint Arthur might have thought himself capable of went straight out of the window.
He intending making some sort of attempt to prepare his lover. But omegas had natural lubricant, Merlin was already wet and ready for him as if reacting to some silent command. Arthur leaned down and licked a stripe across the open and dripping omega hole, feeling Merlin clench and sigh beneath him at the sensation.
"Arthur..." he breathed. "Please..." It was a heady sound, almost as enticing as their heat had been.
Arthur knelt up and grabbed hold of Merlin's hip with one hand, guiding his cock to the sweet wetness he'd already tasted, then carefully pushed his way inside.
"Did I hurt you?" he whispered, leaning close. "The first time, with your heat, I couldn't be careful with you. Did I hurt you?"
"No... I don't think so. I can't remember... I don't care! Arthur, just... Oh Gods, I can feel your knot!"
Arthur gasped as his knot bumped against Merlin's rim and thrust again. Merlin arched back and pushed against him with a pleading sob. "I need it in me, Arthur... Please... I want it."
Merlin pushed back again and Arthur had to bite back a whine of need as Merlin's rim stretched around him, trying to accommodate the swollen aching knot that was pressing against it. He felt Merlin undulate his hips beneath him, and started to drive into him harder.
Merlin had taken himself in hand and was pumping in time with Arthur's thrusts, still pushing back, trying to take all of Arthur inside him.
Their first mating back at Camelot was just a blur of heat and passion. Arthur could barely remember the details, just how very, very good it was. And before that there was nothing to draw from because he'd never been allowed near an omega that there was any risk of mating. A few tumbles with betas was hardly the same thing and they always shied away from taking a knot. Omegas were weak, submissive, they couldn't say no to an alpha. Merlin felt so good beneath him, but there was still that fear.
"It's too big, I'll hurt you."
He could have sworn he heard Merlin mutter "boaster" under his breath.
"I'm made for this, Arthur. Made for you. You won't hurt me. Come on, do it!"
Arthur sat back, pulling out a little as he did so. Merlin started to complain, but Arthur grabbed him and pulled him back so that he was more or less sitting on Arthur's cock. As Merlin shifted, the knot pressed harder into him, stretching his hole, starting to push past the rim.
Arthur held him tighter, one hand reaching round to stroke Merlin's cock, hard, firm strokes relaxing him. He could feel the muscle ring blocking his knot start to loosen as he worked Merlin.
"Ready?" he whispered.
Merlin nodded, biting his lip and Arthur thought that despite his claims otherwise it probably did hurt a little.
He gave a careful thrust upwards, twice, and then Merlin's body finally opened to his knot, clenching around it as soon as Arthur was inside him, tying them immediately.
Arthur gasped at the overwhelming sensation, and for a moment he didn't move, just marvelling at the feel of the pressure and warmth of Merlin around his hard, fully swollen knot. Then Merlin pulled away a little and Arthur thought perhaps he might die from how good that felt. He pushed Merlin forwards, back onto his knees, then had him grip the bedstead to brace himself. Then Arthur started grinding into him, one hand in a firm, steadying grasp on his omega's hip, the other reaching round to bring Merlin off in long, firm strokes. There was hot, thick come spilling over Arthur's hand but he barely noticed as he came and he started to pump his seed inside his mate, over and over.
Trembling with the intensity of the orgasm, it took a little while before they could carefully lower themselves back down onto the bed, Arthur curling protectively around his mate. He could feel his knot still joining them, holding them together.
Merlin wriggled slightly, and Arthur groaned as another orgasm hit him, more seed spilling into his omega's willing channel.
"You'll kill me," Arthur warned.
Merlin just smirked. "You'll die happy."
It was true. Right then, nothing else mattered except the warm body pressed against his own. He could be content spending the rest of his life in that bed, curled against that man. He could feel the bond stronger than ever.
"I love you," he whispered against Merlin's neck, and felt his mate tense against him for a moment.
"But the magic..."
"It's mine. Everything about you is mine. And Merlin?" He watched those blue eyes raised questioningly towards him. "Everything of me is yours. Always. No more secrets. Whatever this bond is, it's meant to be."
"It's you," Merlin whispered. "You're destined to be the greatest king Camelot has ever known. I'm supposed to stand with you. It's a prophecy. Kilgharrah told me."
"I... We... Who's Kilgharrah?"
"Um... yes. About those secrets..."