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Gwaine was having a nice dream about apple pie when he woke up, annoyed because he was still tired. He did love a good Hunt, but having all their stuff stolen by bandits had left them fighting over the remaining blankets, and he had not been lucky enough to win one. His cape was warm enough, it was a nice summer’s day, after all.

The thing that woke him was the unmistakeable scent of an Omega in heat, strange, because they were in the middle of a forest. Still, Gwaine was never one to leave a stranded person in need, looked around and got his bearings.

Only to become very confused. The Knights around him, his brothers, if he was feeling emotional, were looking horrified. Arthur was pressed as close to the tree he was resting against as possible, each Alpha looking bloody terrified of what was, in Gwaine’s opinion, a normal thing. He knew Omegas were pretty rare, but he had experience with them, his half-sister was an Omega. He was quite happy to deal with them, if the Alphas feared their own reactions.

Until he realised that the delicious smell, rather like the apple pies he had been dreaming about, was indeed coming from the very panicky manservant in the centre of the clearing. Gwaine startled, realised with a sinking horror that Merlin was the one producing the sweet scent, that he looked moments away from turning and racing into the woods, never to be found again.

Well, with nobody else looking like they were going to do anything, Gwaine decided to take charge of this situation.

‘Merlin, deep breaths, you look ready to pass out.’ Despite the symptoms of the fever that was hitting, the Omega looked awfully like he was about to faint, eyes jittery and hands trembling. Gwaine looked around briefly, tried to understand if any of them had any clue what was going on. Upon finding a bunch of confused Knights, he looked back to Merlin.

‘We need to get you somewhere covered, alright? Leon, pass me that blanket. Carefully.’ He added, the Knight slowly stretching his hand out. Merlin tracked the movement, watched as Leon threw it to Gwaine, and the Knight picked it up.

How to approach him? Gwaine had experience of doing this with his sister, of getting her somewhere where she could try and nest, but he’d never stayed past that. His Mother was always responsible after that, and even with the vague idea of comfort and lots of water and ignoring everything that a fever-induced Omega could ask for, he was lost.

‘That’s it, we aren’t going to hurt you.’ He murmured, held his hands out like he was approaching a spooked horse. Merlin trembled, muscles tensing like he would flee, but he held still as Gwaine stepped closer. He was rather impressed, not only because Merlin had managed to keep this secret for so long, but he was fighting every urge in him that would tell him to flee. To get as far away from them as possible.

Omegas, unless bonded, usually only spent a heat with family members. Gwaine knew they were close, but they were nothing like family. Eventually, he was close enough that he could spread the blanket, slowly moved it around Merlin’s shoulders.

‘Princess, we could do with finding a shelter of some sort. A cave, a protected hollow, anything defendable.’ He didn’t take his eyes of Merlin, watching the battle of the fever, fear and the old sassiness that was trying to break through.

‘Shouldn’t we try and get back to Camelot?’ Leon questioned, while Arthur was finally standing up.

‘No time. If the heat’s started, he won’t make it back.’ Arthur muttered something about this being impossible, before the group agreed to split up and search for shelter.

‘Hang on,’ Gwaine called, turning back to Merlin, ‘You’re going to have to stay with one of us, while we look for a place to camp. Any preference on who?’ The Omega shuddered, looked between them, but didn’t try and speak. Lost, confused, and Gwaine figured his best chance was the gentlest of all of them.

‘Percy, watch Merlin.’ The Alpha nodded, Gwaine carefully backing away, and watching as Percival approached. He settled not too far away, and Merlin hesitantly dropped down by the fire, tightened the blanket around him.

**

‘Why didn’t he tell us?’ Arthur snapped, while Gwaine deemed the Cave suitable for the Omega to stay in.

‘Because we’re a group of Alphas.’ Leon pointed out, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Elyan finished clearing the nettles from their temporary-home, while Lancelot investigated the perimeter.

‘And he’s obviously been hiding it. He always smells like a Beta, until now.’ Gwaine added, before looking back at the group.

‘We should get him moved.’

On the walk back, it was agreed that two of them would head North and try and find the nearest village, to ask if they could borrow some items for comfort. They had some money between them, and would need to keep Merlin comfortable. Blankets, his own waterskin and bowl so that he could eat without their scent being everywhere.

Merlin was still wrapped up tightly, but he was obviously getting worse. He barely responded when they came crashing into the opening, Percival looking thankful for their arrival.

‘He said anything?’ Elyan asked softly, looking at Merlin with concern.

‘No.’ Still scared, then.

Gwaine crouched down, gaining two bright eyes staring at him. Unsure, the dark blown in them, yet trying to trust.

‘Think you can walk? Or d’you want one of us to carry you?’ He shook his head firmly at the last part, looked positively terrified of anyone touching him. He rose on unsteady feet, kept his shaky hands on the blanket that swamped him.

They had treated him like a Beta for so long, that nobody knew how to act. The kind of behaviour… it would be considered cruel to an Omega, yet Merlin had never said anything.

He walked behind them, trailing after and keeping a distance like he was still afraid. To be honest, Gwaine expected this to be a lot harder. A frightened Omega usually fled, or worse, would roll over and bare their neck in hope of saving themselves. Merlin did neither, which was proof that there was still a little piece of him behind the startled gaze.

‘Right, uh, here we are.’ Arthur announced, a pleading gaze sent in Gwaine’s direction. Right, it was his job to deal with the Omega. He walked into the cave, placed down the other two blankets they had, then exited the space.

Merlin waited until he’d backed away, before cautiously staring at the space. From the point of view of the group, it was a great place. Defendable, only one entrance, easy to keep Merlin protected. From the Omega’s perspective, it was a place where he could be trapped very easily. Lancelot had already expressed worry over how they were going to get him into the Cave, let alone keep him there, but they needn’t have worried.

The Omega walked over, plopped down onto the blankets and stared miserably at the wall of the Cave.

‘Percival and Leon, take our coins and find the nearest village. We’ll set up a fire and… think.’ The King finished lamely, looking slightly lost, but the group understood. Splitting up, it left them to light a fire, staying outside of the cave.

‘How’d you know so much?’ Elyan asked, nudging at the fire with his sword.

‘My half-sister is an Omega.’ Gwaine remarked, never usually offering information about his family, but it was an explanation.

‘So what do we do?’

‘Hope he doesn’t run. Keep him hydrated, and any other Alphas away. His Heat should only last for 3 to 5 days, we can last out here.’ They would sometimes stay hunting for longer, it wasn’t like they couldn’t manage. Arthur nodded, staring across at his manservant, then shifting uncomfortably.

‘He smells good.’ Lancelot admitted, looking slightly startled by the fact. That was the only other thing Gwaine was worried about, it was quite clear that they were all fond of Merlin. In fact, they treated him like one of them. With his now-exposed secondary gender, how would the relationships change?

‘Merlin? Do you want any water?’ Gwaine hoped that he was still in control enough to understand, watched as Merlin turned to look at them. His eyes showed fear, but he uncurled ever so slightly, and Gwaine reached for the one waterskin they had.

He made sure the lid was on, gently threw it half-way across the clearing, watched Merlin stare at it, then back to Gwaine.

The Knight turned back to the others, encouraged them to at least pretend like they weren’t watching him. A short while later, Gwaine heard Merlin begin to move, reach for the waterskin and drink.

He was more surprised when Merlin approached, carefully handing it back, scanning between them before his gaze settled on Gwaine.

‘Thanks.’ Whispered, like he was afraid of talking, but Gwaine just smiled.

‘Do you mind if I ask how long your heats usually last?’ He kept his tone calm, waited to see if Merlin would speak, or if he’d move back to the cave.

‘I… I don’t know. Only had one…’ He trailed off, and Gwaine’s stomach tightened.

‘This is your second heat?’ Lancelot muttered, shocked. Merlin flushed, ducked his head and returned to his cave.

‘That’s not good.’ Gwaine concluded.