Chapter 1: PROLOGUE
Mine is yours and yours is mine
There is no divide
In your honor I would die tonight.
Erik had not experienced much kindness in his life. Life as a commoner, a servant, was not easy, nor built for comfort, and Erik had struggled, and suffered and scraped his nails against the ever-present tide, and he had survived.
That survival had been thanks to his strength of spirit (his infernal stubbornness, Charles had told him once, fondly), those familiar friends fury and vengeance, and the grinding determination to get out from under the boot heels of those who had stepped on him since he was a boy.
But there had been some kindness in his life, and there was love, and that more than any anger or vengeance or resolve was what pushed him forward. His mother, before her body was used and broken and senselessly thrown away when he only a boy, had left lingering memories of warm hands and soft melodies in the morning light, had impressed affection into his young mind, and even now he could hear her voice whispering “All is good, Erik, all is good.”
There was his Lord Stephen, who had snatched him out of hard hands and harder whips, who had pulled him from mud and heartache, and had trained him in the sword, had taught him of horses and iron and steel and helped him grow strong. His Lord, who had taken him on as a Squire, and when he had found him sick with sorrow and desperation and loss two days previous, had touched his sword to his shoulders and made him a knight, had handed his own sword over hilt first and told Erik, fiercely, to fight for what was his.
And then there was Charles.
Charles who was everything.
Charles who he had found in the stables a week after he had arrived at Lord Stephen’s holdings, when he was able to venture out, no longer pure skin and bones, but still unable to speak, unable to be touched. Charles who had been hiding in the hay, afraid and devastated, his young round face streaked with tears and misery, having achieved his Awakening that very morning and realized his true nature, Omega.
Erik wouldn’t know until later everything that meant for Charles. He didn’t know then about the Tournament, or that Charles was a Prince who become the most sought after prize in generations. Or how his stepbrother had grabbed him, Charles, only twelve and scented for the first time, and had bit him sharply on the throat and told him he belonged to him. In that moment in the stable, Erik only knew that when the little boy reached out and grabbed his hand he didn’t feel afraid. He only felt comfort.
Charles had continued to be a source of comfort as they grew, as Erik came into his own Awakening late and stunted a year later at age fourteen. When he realized he was Alpha, and was afraid he might become like all the others who controlled and dominated, without feeling, all those beneath them, Charles took his hand and reminded him that he was no one but Erik, and that Erik was good.
Charles had taught him to read and write and find joy in these things and wonderment, while Erik in turn taught him how to run, how to defend himself, how to fight back. More than that, Erik gave Charles a place to run to.
They grew together, Erik getting taller and leaner, muscles lengthening and getting stronger with every day that passed. And though Charles remained small and lithe, body slim and compact from days passed chasing Erik through tall fields of waving wheat, down the grassy slopes of pasture that separating Lord Stephen’s lands from the walled country estate of Charles’ stepfather and King, Erik began to notice how he was filling out his broad shoulders, no longer knobby knees and elbows but grace, and elegant lines.
He began to notice things like the curve of Charles’ lower lip and the freckles across his nose, the way his eyes caught the light, bluer than the sea and sky, and how his hair curled across his forehead as they lay next to each other at night, looking up at the stars, Charles’ face tilted toward his own, spending more time studying the map of Erik’s expression than the constellations.
And one day when Charles chased him he allowed himself to be caught, and he turned in Charles’ arms and touched their lips together, tentatively, the way he’d seen others do. He felt Charles push forward into him, eager and wanting, as though he had been waiting for Erik to do this all along, felt the sharp sweet rush of joy rushing through his body and he thought that maybe this is what they talked about in the stories, tales of romance and myth: the True Match, the Bond. And he knew then that he had always loved Charles, knew it in the same moment Charles pulled back and breathed the words against his mouth.
If they had both been lowborn, Erik would have taken Charles then and there, in that field of sweet smelling wheat where they had traced their childhood days. They might have made love tenderly on top of their strewn clothes and Erik would have asked Charles to be his, and they could have spent the rest of their days together in bliss, as friends and lovers, arguing and driving each other mad and joining together every morning and every night, sharing sorrow and joy and delicious ecstasy.
But Charles was not lowborn. Charles was seventeen, and a Prince, and he belonged to the King, and in one month he would be worth more then gold or silver or land or power. He was an Omega and he was a Prize and he was the King’s to give away to the Victor of the Tournament. Both Erik and Charles knew this, and even as they kissed, the knowledge sat bitterly in their mouths until it was flavored with tears, Charles pushing him back and weeping mournfully, and running from him back to his home. Back to his prison.
Every day Erik waited for him in their field, in between his duties as squire, and stable boy and for seven days Charles refused to come. Erik felt the absence of him like a gaping wound until finally, he appeared on the seventh day as the sun began to set, heartbreakingly beautiful in the twilight. Erik took one look at his face and knew: this was the end.
Charles’ voice was hollow and dead when he explained that the cost of their kiss, that perfect kiss, was death, and that no one must know. He said that he loved Erik, that he would always love Erik, that he would think of him as the Victor took him, but that they could not see each other any more.
“I was a fool to let it get so far,” he said, and his expression was cracking open now, vulnerable, soaked in tears, “and I’m sorry for that Erik.” He stepped closer then, and in the fading light Erik saw his resolve, his strength, and he had always known Charles was stronger then him, and here he was, proving it again. His mind scattered like leaves in the wind, panicked and overflowing with panic, pleading, ‘Please, please,’ and then he could think of nothing but Charles as he gripped Erik by the jaw and pulled him close, as he whispered fiercely,
“But I do not regret anything.”
He kissed him then, and for Charles it was goodbye, and it was filled with all the desperate longing and grief and mourning that he couldn’t vocalize but Erik felt running him through anyways. And then Charles pulled back and pressed their foreheads together, and said, “I love you.”
And then he was gone.
It broke him, watching Charles walk away, and for days he was undone, almost mad with grief until his Lord found him and handed him his sword, and everything changed. Erik was a stable boy no longer. Erik was a knight. All his life he had fought to overcome the loss of his mother and his meager beginnings. He had fought for food, for survival, for blood and vengeance, for honor and respect. He had fought for the heart of one boy, and he had given away his own in return. He knew how to fight.
He was entered in the Tournament.
And he was going to win.
Chapter 2: THE INSPECTION
Special thanks for kageillusionz for the lightning quick beta and for listening to me complain and ramble about Tony, and his stubborn desire to appear in this fic...
The night before the Tournament was full of ceremony, the summer wind heavy under the weight of it. The Alphas would gather in the Omega Tent, the air thick and cloying with anticipation and rising pheromones. Together they waited for the presentation of the Prize Omega.
Slowly, insidiously, a wide blade of tension cut through the room as the Alphas laid eyes on each other for the first time. This was their first chance to see and be seen, to intimidate and confound, all of them watching and measuring out their competitors and enemies.
Some were outwardly brutish, throwing their weight around, while others were sly and sneering, or cunning and quiet. Some were completely unreadable. All of them were aware that there would only be one Victor and the fate of their situation sat heavy in the air like incense: that most of them would not live to see the end of the Tournament, unless they yielded, and to yield meant to kneel, and an Alpha who knelt was no Alpha at all.
Most of them knew each other. Indeed, Erik knew every single one of them, had sat with his Lord and dissected each one in exacting detail, sussing out their strengths and weaknesses, plotting in careful words and thorough strategy Erik’s possible plan of attack—that they were trying to keep Erik alive was unspoken, but understood.
Stephen had carefully avoided speaking about only one competitor, though he was a man both Stephen and Erik knew better than all the others. Erik looked across the room and felt his heart flare with anger as his eyes caught sight of him now, his body tensing in volatile reaction, palms itching for the weight of his sword.
Viscount Anthony Stark, wealthy and renowned throughout the world as a man of great intellect, crafting some of the greatest weapons of all time, was also a close friend to Lord Stephen—or he had been, until Stephen had discovered Anthony had entered his name into the Tournament. Erik glared at him, dark and handsome, and utterly familiar and he turned as though he could sense Erik’s glower on his neck. When he tried on a smile, tried to capture Erik’s gaze, Erik made sure to look resolutely away.
Stephen would be angry with him if he hurt his oldest ally and dearest friend outside of battle, but Erik wanted to hurt him, wanted to bring him to his knees and demand answers—why, why had he come here to win Charles when he knew what Charles meant to Erik? Had he not been there for all those years, watched them grow together, seen the love blossom between even when it was tentative and young and unsure? Surely he knew what stealing Charles from Erik would mean, how his presence here would change all of them forever.
Through his anger, he remembered with a pang of sadness the admiration and grudging love he had come to have for Anthony, and tried not to think about what it might be like if he had to meet the man in the Arena. But he knew that in the end, if it came to it, would do what he must, for Charles. Even if it meant killing an old friend.
If he did end up fighting Anthony, he knew the man had him at a disadvantage, having watched Erik fight time and time again in the walled in courtyard of Stephen’s estate. He was aware of his own strengths and weaknesses, and knew that his one advantage here at the beginning was that none of the other competitors knew him. He had never competed in a Tournament before, nor had he attended one. He had never fought in the lighter games of summer, where men tested their strength and skill against each other, but did not aim to kill or maim, and the only prize was gold.
Anthony left him alone, allowed him to remain still and inconspicuous, observing from the corner of the expansive blue silk tent, the walls brushing against his shoulder blades as they billowed in and out with the wind, alive and breathing.
There were no weapons allowed in the Omega Tent, but his arm was still folded low across his body, hand grasping for the pommel of his absent sword. He watched as the other men milled about, their fingers twitching for their own weapons, but there would be no bloodshed here tonight. Only empty words and hollow conversation, laughter that was too sharp and the ever-present hum that resided in them all. The call for blood. The call for dominance. The sweet siren song of the Omega so close, and yet so far out of their reach.
The Omega. Charles.
Erik could hear him coming now, the whisper of feet upon the ground and the murmur of the crowd outside. Charles was the first Omega to be born into the royal family in over one hundred years, and had been hidden away from the public eye for the majority of his life. People would have come from far and wide to see him even if he had been plain, but rumors of his surpassing beauty had spread over the past few years. Now the crowd swelled, pushed forward and back like the ebb of the sea, straining to catch a glimpse of him.
Erik took solace in the fact that they would never see him like Erik had seen him, bare-chested and leaping into murky waters of the pond behind the stables then re-surfacing with moss in his hair; or lying lazily in the shade, his fingers and chin stained with dripping berry juice; or feet and hands dirty with mud as he tried to capture his renegade horse--Charles free, Charles laughing loud and unbroken and indecorous.
But even Erik had to admit that tonight, Charles was something else altogether.
Outside the silk tent walls, he could see the flare of torchlight, could hear the hush of the crowd, aware as every Alpha in the area tensed in anticipation. Two Betas in green robes entered, pushing open the tent flaps and holding them wide so that Charles could enter, bare feet effortlessly graceful and silent on the ground.
He was scrubbed clean, his fair skin gleaming like moonlight in the golden glow within the tent, and his hair was neat and tidy for once, shining waves that curled about his ears and over his forehead. He was wearing trousers only, a rich material the same colour as his eyes that clung to every curve of him.
His eyes though, his miraculous eyes were covered with the traditional mask, this time gilded to match this auspicious and rare occasion, a mask that every Omega had to wear for the duration of the games, rendering him blind. His hand lay lightly across the arm of a yellow-haired Beta at his side, and it did not shake, and Erik was fiercely proud of him in that moment. His Charles, who was stronger than any man or woman in the room.
The Beta led him up to a small platform in the center of the tent, raised slightly off the floor, where his bed would be made up later. For now it was bare, and Charles stepped onto it easily, releasing the Beta who melted back against the wall to stand vigil. Erik watched as Charles settled himself, grounding his feet and taking a deep breath before straightening to his full height, head held high. Prepared to face the Inspection.
The Inspection was traditional, occurring at every Tournament the night before the games were to begin. It was a chance for the Alphas to look over the Omega, to draw his or her scent into their veins. Charles would be going into his first Mature Heat this very night, and already Erik could feel the change, the way Charles’ body seemed to pulse and cry out, the way his own body yearned for him, wanting to touch him, to hold him down, to take him on that very platform. It was biological and natural and necessary, and every Alpha in the room felt the same way, obvious in how the tension in the room ratcheted up, thickening to a heady fog.
As this was the first Royal Tournament in hundreds of years, practically all-eligible Alphas had cast their names in, hoping to be chosen to compete. Generally, depending on the desirability of the noble put up as a Prize, competitors numbered anywhere from twenty-five to fifty. This time, there were only sixteen. Only the best for the Prince, and for the Kingdom.
(Erik truly had no idea how he had managed to slip in, but he suspected Stephen had something to do with it, and he knew that if he survived he would spend the rest of his life paying the man back. He wasn’t worried about it. If he survived it would mean he had Charles, and Charles was worth more than any debt, or any amount of money).
Erik was then forced to stand by and watch as, one by one, the Alphas began to approach Charles, touching him, letting their hands linger on his bare skin as they turned his face this way and that, as they measured the breadth of his shoulders, the narrowness of his waist. At each point of contact, Erik wanted to cut each and every one of their fingers off. He understood then why they were not allowed weapons, and in an attempt to ignore the rising heat of his own bloodlust, he tried to focus on his careful study, his developing strategy instead.
For Erik, there were very obviously three frontrunners in the competition.
The first was Cain Marko.
Charles’ older stepbrother was a huge man, and somehow took up more space in the room with his voice than with his body. He looked like a mountain, and was deceptively graceful, the pull of his jacket across his shoulders revealing muscle and not fat.
Charles had told Erik stories of Cain, though Erik suspected he sanitized them somewhat to keep Erik from doing something crazy in his defense. Still, he had heard enough to know that Cain had wanted Charles since his father married Charles’ mother, the Queen. That he had tormented him from their first moment together, and only the law that protected Omegas from molestation (not for their comfort, but to keep them untainted for their eventual Alpha) kept him from an overt sexual overture.
But now, now it was his right to step into Charles’ space, dwarfing him in size even as he stood below the platform. Erik watched as Charles’ hands clenched into fists, as his body went rigid, though he probably hoped it was discrete. But Cain saw it, probably smelt it on him, and a smile spread across that flat, ugly face.
“Blindfold doesn’t stop you, does it Charlie.” He wound one massive hand into Charles’ hair, pushed his face close to Charles’ throat and inhaled deeply. Erik watched as Charles’ hands twisted tighter until his knuckles turned white under the strain. He was not allowed to touch the Alphas in return, not to lovingly caress, nor push away. Cain strained his resolve as he tightened his fingers and pulled on Charles’ hair, yanked his head back to bear his neck.
“You’d know my scent anywhere, wouldn’t you,” he growled, and he scraped the edge of his bottom teeth up the line of Charles’ throat, making him gasp and squirm, arms shaking as he tried to hold himself in check.
Erik himself was about to jump forward and rip the man apart when a voice cut through the air, cold, like a knife’s edge.
“I’d prefer him undamaged, Marko.”
Of all the women, maybe of all the Alphas in the Tournament, she was the strongest, not in brute strength, but in sheer cunning. She had proved herself in combat, yes, but what she was renowned for was pure military strategy, carving out swathes of land to the South in the name of her House, the Title she was due to inherit. With Charles, she would be a Queen, and the glimmer of the crown was already reflecting brightly in her eyes as she stepped up to the platform.
Marko moved back reluctantly, releasing Charles who took a deep breath, trying to calm his breathing. Emma took Marko’s place, towering over Charles in spiked boots, her blond hair haloed by the lamps hung overhead. She raised a gloved hand and smoothed down the ruffled hair at the back of his head, ran her thumb down his throat where Marko had left a scrape of red along the pale skin, her expression aloof, and calculating.
“There now,” she said, grasping his chin, tilting his face up, “that’s better.” She ran her thumb over his mouth, pulling his lower lip down slightly, and there was a ripple of low noise around the room as Charles’ visibly blushed, the colour blooming across his cheeks, and over his bare collarbones. Frost smiled, cold and sharp.
“Very pretty Charles,” she murmured, and for Erik, this was somehow worse than Marko’s rough possession.
Erik wasn’t sure how much more he could take, but somehow, he endured. He watched with a mask of apathy as more Alphas stepped up and one by one completed their role in the Inspection. Some of them there took to it clinically, as though Charles was chattel, poking and prodding, measuring the height and width of him, the fine quality of his hair and skin.
Others were already overcome with lust, drawn in by the beginning scent of Charles’ heat, that sweet, intoxicating, maddening smell, and their touches grew rough, groping. Some would haul him close, their fingertips bruising his hips, slipping beneath the waistband of his pants, their mouths open and panting hot air against his mouth, causing the Beta guards to step in and push them back when Charles would cry out in pain and discomfort, the sound of his voice physically hurting Erik.
But he remained rigidly apart, stopping himself from leaping up onto the platform and killing everyone whose hands came in contact with Charles, and comforted himself with the idea that starting tomorrow, one by one, these men and women would be removed from the competition.
Finally, finally it was his turn. But first he watched as one last man stepped forward, the man in silver gauntlets that glinted in the light, the man who smiled with jagged teeth and iron in his eyes, a thick pelt of a grey wolf draped over his back. Erik knew this man well, and had watched him throughout the night from his darkened corner, watched as all others avoided and were drawn to him in turn, like he was the eye of a great storm, mesmerizing and destructive.
Sebastian Shaw. He was a King in the north, ruling over a small empire, seated on his throne of ice, bloody and unjust. Erik remembered him with excruciating clarity, sneering at the dead body of one woman lying broken in the streets of his capitol city, turning away from Erik, her only son, as he soaked his knees in her blood and forced himself not to cry.
Erik hadn’t seen him in years, and yet he seemed to have not aged a single day, striding forward as though no one else in the room existed or mattered. Except Charles. If Cain wanted Charles for his body, and Frost for his crown, than Sebastian would want everything Charles was. Like a plague, he would invade Charles’ homelands, and his body, and when he was finished all that was left would be a barren husk.
As Erik stood and watched him approach Charles, a voice screamed in his head: Not Shaw. Anyone but Shaw.
Like a predator, Shaw completed a slow circle around Charles. Everyone in the room went quiet and still, realizing what Erik had known from the moment he saw Sebastian Shaw standing in the tent, his heart in his throat, choking him. This man was going to be the man to beat.
Charles, who had begun to wilt under the strain of the night, straightened, his head cocked to the side as though listening for each heavy footfall. Erik wondered what he was thinking in that large clever brain of his. He held his breath, willing himself to remain quiet when Shaw stopped in front of Charles, his large, well groomed hands landing on Charles’ shoulders.
“You’re trembling, my dear.” His voice was just how Erik remembered it, smooth and low, coiling like a serpent in the room. He ran his hands down Charles arms in a slow, heavy descent, meant to be calming, but aggressively possessive instead. He grasped Charles’ hands in his own and lifted them to his mouth, gently placing a kiss upon the knuckles of each. “I assure you, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Erik had moved closer by now, preparing for his own turn, and heard the words Shaw whispered as he bent in close, breathing them directly into Charles’ ear.
“I hope you quiver like this in bed. I hope your eyes are as lovely as they say, and I’ll get to see them wet with tears—I have ways to make you cry, my little Prince.”
Charles shuddered, tucked his chin to his chest and Shaw lowered his hands once more, turned to the assembled Alphas with a razor blade smile.
“Boy just needs a firm hand—am I right?” The tension broke with almost an audible snap, and the room burst into raucous noise, shouts of agreement, casks passed round, wine flowing freely again. The Alphas were ready to continue celebrating now that this King, vicious and charming had taken his turn. Shaw stepped off the platform, barreling past Erik who stood waiting, his shoulder bumping him abruptly, the plating across Shaw’s chest almost knocking Erik to the ground.
He tried to be angry, tried to fan the flame of his latent rage, but at the moment he could not. He could only stand and watch Charles who straightened in the wake of Shaw’s decent, his body upright, strong and unmoving. Clever Charles. Beautiful, and smart and smug and horrible clumsy--Charles was all these things, but a shrinking violet he was not. If Shaw thought he was a child to be dominated, than he had underestimated him.
That would be his first mistake. Erik would ensure it would not be his last.
As the merriment in the room spun on behind him, he stepped forward to take his turn in the Inspection, the whole world narrowing to just him and Charles. Close now, he noticed how his shoulders drooped slightly, how his jaw was clenched tight, his fingers curled slightly into the material along the outside of his thighs, little ways in which Charles was trying to ground himself. It made him want to reach out and grab him, hug him close and tight and protect him from a world in which something like this could happen to someone like Charles.
Instead he extended his hand and curled his fingers around Charles’ wrist, holding the fine bones lightly within his grip, trying to ignore the way Charles flinched as he touched him. He stepped in close to Charles, bodies aligning in a way that was painfully familiar, and leaned in close to him, murmuring in the same ear Shaw had spoken his poisonous words into,
“I’ve got you.”
It was something they had always done as children, and as young adults, playing games in the field, reaching out to each other in turn, snagging a floating hand in motion, shouting “I’ve got you! I’ve got you!” before spinning away in the opposite direction.
But the time for children’s games had passed, and Erik spoke the words with the gravity the moment demanded. It was a way he could tell Charles that this was a new game they were playing, and it would hurt, but they were in it together, and Erik didn’t intend on losing.
His way of saying, I won’t lose you.
Charles breath caught and stuttered in his chest, his entire body tightening in recognition, but he said nothing in return, did not speak Erik’s name, though Erik desperately wished he could. Instead he titled his head slightly to the side, soft strands of hair catching in the grain of stubble running along Erik’s cheek, a moment of tenderness, and comfort before Erik was forced to step back.
He squeezed Charles’ wrist before reluctantly letting it go, and then with great effort, turned away from him and stepped down off the platform. The celebration was in full swing, and very few people were paying attention to the young, unknown, untried knight who was walking away from the Omega Prince.
There was one set of eyes on him, however, sharp and knowing, and bottomless blue. Emma Frost stood across the room, one hand poised artfully against her mouth, her expression considering. Erik stopped and sketched a bow in her direction, and tried not to let show how very afraid he was in that moment, his entire body seized up with apprehension, waiting for the axe to fall.
But she did nothing but nod to him in recognition before turning away from him. Breathing out a slow sigh of relief, Erik took one last glance at Charles who remained illuminated and elevated on his pedestal, where he would remain until the Alphas were ushered out. They would be drinking for a while yet, but Erik took his leave.
As he wound through the crowd, he caught Anthony’s eyes on him again, but he ignored him. He did not want to feel anger or frustration, or the seeping betrayal that had lingered in his heart ever since the day Anthony announced his intention to enter the Tournament. He only wanted sleep--he needed all of his wits if he was going to survive the next day.
As he stepped out of the tent and into the cool night air, the celebration of city hit him with a wall of light and sound. For the people, drunk with sex and liquor, the Tournament was a cause for celebration—a break from the monotony of the everyday.
For Erik, the next day would mean life (and love and Charles) or death. He turned away from the firelight and music and spiced air and headed into the darkness where he hoped he might find some quiet before the dawn.
Chapter 3: DAY ONE
Just as an additional warning: this chapter contains the death of minor characters within xmen canon, but not a leading character within this particular story
Dawn of the first day crept over the horizon, golden yellow fingers reaching out to graze light over the sixteen competitors gathered in the arena. The ring was man made, packed earth and tall wooden walls, and above that rows and rows of benches for the spectators. It was larger and grander than any seen before, fitting for a royal tournament, and the seats were already packed, despite the early hour.
The crowd was quiet though, hushed and reverent as the ceremony began, the distant chatter of waking birds the only noise breaking through the still air. Erik closed his eyes and breathed, felt the wind trace a caress through his hair, felt the heavy dew of morning settle on his cheeks and resigned himself to the thought that this might be the last time he experienced these simple things.
A murmur in the crowd swelled and spread, and Erik opened his eyes and steeled himself. Charles was coming. Even without the noise from the spectators, he could smell him on the air. The Alphas to his left and right shifted, measured their weight on unsteady feet and tried to brace themselves for what was to come.
The arena was round and almost completely closed off at ground level on the inside, broken only at one end by a large heavy gate sealing off a tunnel that lead to the outside world. The gate groaned now and shuddered in a clash of metal as it was drawn upwards. From underneath the Omega procession made its way, creeping forward like an unfurling flower, slow and beautiful and fragrant.
They were all dressed in white, covered head to toe in flowing robes, and they moved gracefully, ceaselessly over the ground, climbing up the narrow stairs to the dais built in the center of the area. Two of them were carrying a large golden box, the box that would decide the fate of all the men and women lined in a single row in front of the platform. An important object worthy of reverence, but the Alphas only had eyes only for the Prize.
Though the Omegas were dressed alike, their bodies and faces concealed, only one of them had gone into his first full day of mature heat. Erik could smell him from where he was standing, the smell was heady and sweet, but also comforting, warm like a soft body wrapping its arms around him. It took everything in him not to press forward to better catch the edge of it.
Even without the smell, Erik could see Charles’ hands drifting over his body, running down his chest, lingering over his nipples, curving around his hips and over his ass, up again to his throat before repeating the cycle, the rhythm of it intoxicating, maddening. Charles had confessed to Erik once that he was afraid of this--of the way the heat would slowly make him lose control. Watching him now Erik was unable to deny that it was one of the most sensual things he had ever witnessed in his lifetime.
He could tell the others felt the same way, and the tension in the air became palpable, suffocating, the Alphas shifting more obviously, the creak of leather, the shuffle of boot heels in the dirt growing louder in the quiet morning air. The Omegas on the stage hurried forward, no doubt realizing the delicacy of the moment, and unlocked the golden box.
From within they drew crisp white sheets of paper, two at a time, matching Alpha to Alpha, the pairs that would fight the first day. By nightfall, sixteen will be cut down to eight. The next day would repeat this cycle until eight became four, and again on day three, when four would become two. By day four Charles’ heat would have reached its peak and the final two Alphas would fight until only one remained, and that one would complete the ritual, claiming the Omega as the sun fell beneath the horizon line, the moon on the rise.
The tournament was planned this way, coinciding with an Omega’s first mature heat cycle, because as each day passed, the urge to claim, to mate drove the Alphas further and further into delirium, making the fights more savage, and grotesquely, more entertaining. This was why Erik had never come to the games. He found the very idea of them sickening, but more than that, he was afraid he would feel the echo of lust in his own heart, and would finally understand the Alphas—their true nature (his true nature) and why they fought.
He certainly understood now, watching Charles touch himself above the gauzy material of his robes, tantalizing, erotic, almost missing when his name was called, announcing that he was to fight in the sixth battle of the day though who he was fighting, he had no idea.
When the last pairing was announced, the golden box was removed, and the Omegas grasped onto Charles, pulling him forward, prodding him up onto yet another platform in the center of the dais. With very little ceremony, he was disrobed, the white material peeled from his body with gloved hands. Charles cried out slightly when his bare skin was revealed to the slightly chilly morning air, naked and pale and gorgeous and unmarked, the only covering left to him the golden blindfold.
The Alphas surged forward, and suddenly there were green vested Beta soldiers standing before them, spears at the ready. Erik didn't know where they came from or when they got there, but he fell back, curbing the urge to clamber onto the stage and touch and taste and bite down just there, where the sweep of Charles’ collarbone reached his shoulder—
Calm. Calm. He tried to reach for it inside him, tried to gasp a breath of fresh air, but all he could taste was Charles and the others, the bloodlust in the air, the desire. It only ratcheted up when the Omegas brought forward the Stand.
The tall triangle of wood was worn and smooth from years of Tournament, and they held Charles tightly, ignored his groan of dissatisfaction when they kept his hands away from his body and tied them tightly together at the wrist with golden rope.
Once he was bound they drew his arms above his head and fastened them to the top point of the triangle, repeating the process with his ankles, one at each bottom corner, stretching his body out and displaying him for the entire crowd to see.
When the Omegas stepped back, there was an audible sigh at the sight he made, beautiful, writhing, cock hard and heavy between his legs, muscles long and taught in their stretch from fingertips to toes, the traditional golden lines of henna tracing over his hands and up his fore arms, curving over his feet and ankles under his bindings. He was the most exquisite Omega in more the one hundred years, and in that moment, every single person in the arena wanted him.
And Erik wanted him most of all.
There was a flurry of noise and movement as the King declared the Tournament open, and the Beta guards shuffled the Alphas out of the arena. Most of them strained for a look at Charles who remained behind, vulnerable, wanting. Waiting for his fate to be decided in bloody combat.
The Alphas were not allowed back into the area until their scheduled fight, but they could watch from behind the locked entrance gate, over the shoulders of the stoic guards. The air was cleaner in the tunnel, free from the pervasive pheromones floating through the ring, though Erik still wished he could step outside the arena all together, clear his head, think, prepare himself.
Instead he watched each fight closely, clocking the maneuvers of the other fighters, their strengths and weaknesses, their favored weapons. Stephen had made him promise he would do it, grasping Erik tight by the shoulders that morning before Erik had entered the arena, staring him down, explaining,
“You’re going to have to fight them later, when you make it through the first day.” He had said ‘when’ not ‘if’ and it made something clench tight in Erik's chest, something proud and brave, a swell of gratitude for this man who took him in, who saved him in more ways than one.
That had been, possibly, the last time he would see Stephen, his blue eyes sharp but full of affection, his hand squeezing Erik’s shoulder before he allowed him to step away. Erik had turned to look at him, standing tall and steady amidst the flow of spectators, before he forced himself to look towards the darkness of the tunnel before him instead, leading him underground and away from the warmth of the outside world.
The tournament matches were always brutal, but this time--for such a prestigious prize, the fighters the best and most accomplished--they were especially bloody, and spectacular in showmanship and fighting style. Erik would be unable to watch Shaw or Frost, their fights occurring in rounds seven and eight respectively, and by then Erik would either be dead or recovering from his own battle.
But he paid especial attention to Marko who fought second, his weapon of choice a massive broadsword that he used with dexterous ease. He was fighting the Lady Elizabeth Braddock who was lauded for her skills in archery and tumbling, but arrows didn’t phase Marko, who batted them away as if they were nothing but pestering flies, and her agility only helped her evade Marko for so long. For a huge man, he was quick on his feet, and when he managed to capture Braddock around the throat, his massive bicep pierced through with an arrow and still as strong as ever, he shook her and sneered cruelly in her face,
“Do you yield?” Erik had to admire the grace and dignity with which she lowered her scrabbling hands to her sides and raised her chin, and allowed himself the small mercy of shutting his eyes briefly as Marko snapped her neck.
When he opened them again Braddock’s body was a heap of black hair and black silk on the bloodied ground of the arena, and Cain was hollering victory, raising his sword to the roaring approval of the crown. Erik watched as he exchanged bows with his father the King, who was seated in the Royal marquee, their faces mirroring each other in a ugly sneer of approval, tried not to watch as Braddock’s body was unceremoniously placed on a stretcher and removed from the ring.
Erik’s turn came sooner than he wished, the guards gesturing him to the front, the gate creaking open in front of him. He forced his feet forward, one in front of the other, the sound of the crowd, the flickering colours and shapes high above him in the stands--starkly situated above the dull brown of the ring--like unearthed jewels, all of it surreal and dreamlike.
It wasn’t until he drew near the center dais, and that sweet smell hit him again, that he remembered where he was, and what he as here to do. Charles. He looked up, and saw him right where they had left him, still bound, still hard and aching.
From closer up he could see that the skin of his ankles and wrists were raw from where he had twisted against his bonds, and without his consent a pained sound was drawn from his own mouth. He started forward, wanting nothing more then to climb up the platform and free him from the ropes, layer kiss after kiss against the red marks, stroke his hair back, the heat dampening it with sweat so that it curled gently against his forehead.
He stopped in his tracks when the sound of the gate rattled through the arena again, and he remembered himself with a painful, jarring jolt. There he was, Erik’s first, and possibly last opponent, the Earl of Essex.
Erik recalled him abruptly as the same man who had forgotten himself the night before and had dropped to his knees, mouthing at Charles’ cock and roughly palming his ass before the guards had dragged him away. Now Essex smiled widely and waved to the crowd, as though this was a simple Fair Day and he was the guest of honor.
Erik felt rage rise up in his chest, but swallowed it down, remembered Stephen’s words in his head as though the man was standing just behind him, whispering them in his ear as he had so many times before.
“Steady Erik. Steady.”
If he was going to win this, he was going to have to be calm (and that thought brought with it painful memories of Charles, his Charles murmuring “calm you mind Erik” as he thrashed in the throws of a flashback, a waking nightmare of his past, Charles clutching him close--), he was going to have to use Essex’s weakness against him.
His mind ticked through possibilities, and he remembered the way the man had stumbled as the guards pulled him off of Charles the night before. He recalled how Essex had gone with his hands reaching out for one last touch, insensible and clumsy.
He decided in a quick second to stand his ground, allowed Essex to come to him. He adjusted his hands on his sword so that his grip was sure, widened his stance in the same way he had every day he had undergone brutal training with Stephen, beaten down over and over, and learning how to get back up again.
Essex, the pompous fool, had the audacity to flash that showman’s grin at him when he drew closer.
“I can't tell you how pleased I was when they drew our names together, my boy.” He said, his voice resonant and booming across the arena, easy to hear even with the sound of the crowd. “As I need to save my strength for the days to come, I’ll ask you before we even begin,” he tipped his sword in Erik’s direction, a thin rapier blade that looked flimsy, but was wielded like a needle in Essex’s hands, puncturing and dissecting and taking his opponents apart with the mere flick of his wrist,
“do you yield?”
Erik said nothing, only raised his sword defensively across his chest and waited in silence. Essex sighed as though Erik was being petulant, and burdensome, and raised his own sword, assuming an elegant stance. There was a pause, the high shifting tension that bloomed like a bubble in the air between them before it exploded, Essex lunging forward, Erik parrying easily, the two of them striking, testing each other’s blades, circling slowly.
And then Essex was right where he wanted him. Breathing out slowly, the world narrowing down to the slow exhalation, Erik steeled himself, and took a chance. Going on the offensive he moved forward, lunging and then slashing downwards in a high arch, making Essex stumble backwards, colliding painfully with the base of the center platform. The wood creaked and vibrated on impact, and Erik desperately tried to ignore how Charles moaned and shivered at the movement.
Essex could not. He turned his wondering, dilating eyes toward Charles for only a moment, but it was enough. Erik was on him, kicking his sword from his relaxed grip, bringing the sharp edge of his own sword across his throat, posed for a killing blow.
It happened so swiftly, only a matter of seconds, and for a moment afterwards Essex could only gape at him, his hand clenching reflexively for his lost weapon.
“I think the better question,” Erik said, his voice low and rasping, the adrenalin from the fight still rushing through him, “is do you yield?”
Essex stared at him, his expression still wide and incredulous,
“But how,” he sputters, “you’re nobody! You’re a child!” Erik tightened his grip on him, thumping him back hard against the platform, Charles crying out above them, his voice a sweet note above the rush of voices calling for death all around them.
“I’m older than him, and you had no second thoughts when it came to touching him last night.” Essex narrowed his eyes, bared his teeth, and Erik growled out, “Do. You. Yield?”
Essex laughed then and it was hard, cruel thing. “As if I could live after yielding to a little nothing like you, you common trash, you nobod—“
His words were cut short as Erik drew his sword across his throat in a swift movement, stepping back to avoid the spray of blood. He did not relish the kill, did not remember bowing to the King, or walking out of the arena.
He does remember arriving back at his room and vomiting into his washbasin as soon as the door snapped shut behind him. And later lying on the bed and thinking that he survived.
He had survived.
Chapter 4: DAY TWO
So, I didn't say this previously, and I'm going to go back and amend it now, but Tony is a Viscount in this universe...because I want him to be....also, "Anthony" does NOT suit him at all, but thems the rules when it comes to a medieval-esque narrative so just bare with me!!
The morning of the second day dawned just the same as the first, only now, everything was different.
Erik’s night had been full of fevered dreams of broken bodies and his hands covered in blood; the gaping wound of Essex’s neck transformed into a morbid smile and Charles taken by someone else, a faceless nameless shadow holding him down and tearing at the white skin of his throat.
He spent the long hours before sunrise trying to calm his mind and his racing heart, trying to remember all that Stephen had taught him, but a tiny dissenting voice buried deep in his brain murmured that Essex had been a fluke, a moment of luck, and that he was foolish to think he could ever win this Tournament.
The horrors of the night seemed to melt away as darkness did, and when he was summoned down to the arena, flanked on either side by Beta guards and in line with the remaining eight Alphas, he felt that he had found his calm center. And as he entered the ring, and caught sight of Stephen sitting in the stands, his expression serious and drawn, he was able to give his lord a short nod, proud of his restored control.
Charles was tied to the Stand again, given a night of reprieve from his bonds. He was restricted to the arena platform for the duration of the Tournament, and would have spent the night surrounded by a circle of candle lit Omegas who ensured no one touched him, and that he didn’t touch himself.
As a result of this bodily denile, he was even more out of control, writhing and senseless with lust, the smell of him thicker and sweeter on the air, until it was all Erik could do to simply breathe and remain still and steady, holding onto his established calm with a tight grip, his nails dug into his palms.
Any calm he felt, however, was utterly smashed when the golden box was brought forward again, and his name was read along side of the Viscount Anthony Stark.
Reflexively, his eyes went to Stephen, whose face had gone grey and sick, and Erik felt the resolve he had built up crumble and wither in his chest. It could have been anybody. He would have fought anybody, and he would have given it his all until death had taken him. Anybody but Anthony.
He had been with Stephen in the Palace courtyard when they had announced the names of the Alpha competitors, had felt the thrill of being chosen fade into horror as they read out Anthony’s name in ringing tones. He had seen his Lord’s face fall slack in disbelief, his eyes searching out and finding Anthony unerringly in the crowd and had watched as they stared at each other for a long moment full of unspoken words and a tumult of emotion, before Anthony had bowed slightly and walked away.
As Erik was ushered out of the ring in preparation for the first match, numb and dazed, he remembered a more recent night, Anthony in his Lord’s study, Erik watching and listening through a crack in the door. There had been so many nights like this one, the two men in front of fire, talking into the long hours of the night, the Viscount’s laughter as bright as the smile on Stephen’s face.
(The people of his Lord’s house, who loved Stephen, had told Erik that their master had not smiled for many years. Not since his Omega, fondly remembered as ‘Peggy’, had died suddenly, and tragically, when they were both quite young, as young as Erik and Charles were now. It had been the arrival of Anthony Stark in the household, as well as a wild, broken, almost feral child—Erik--that had brought Stephen out of his dark, pervasive melancholy).
That night, though, there had been no laughter, no smiles, only a fraught silence punctuated by a burst of raw words spoken in low, harsh tones.
“Why?” Stephen had asked. “Why are you doing this?” And Anthony, in a rare expression of raw emotion and vulnerability, his sarcastic mask of humor smashing on the floor, had rasped back,
“Because I want something I can’t have. I thought it would kill me, the not having it, but this is my chance. To do what is right.”
Stephen had asked him then, “What about Erik?” and when Anthony had responded that he was doing what was right for all of them, Stephen’s face had gone thunderous, his eyes darkening like storm clouds rolling in, and he had said,
The words had rung through the room, and Erik, who had seen his Lord fight men in battle, had seen him wield the sword with more skill than any opponent and look death straight in the eye, had never seen him so angry. But Anthony had only looked back at him levelly, his face closing off like a door being pulled shut, before turning and walking away.
They had not seen him since that night. Erik had pointedly ignored him since the beginning of Tournament, but he remembered now how Anthony had taken his turn like all the others at the Inspection. He had circled Charles with his arms folded across his chest, his body moving with the same distracting cat-like fluidity as always, before he reached out to tilt Charles’ chin up gently. He had murmured a few words into Charles’ ear and pressed a light kiss against his cheek, before hopping lightly down off the platform, avoiding Erik’s gaze as he stared daggers into Anthony’s back.
Erik couldn’t understand his game. The man had been unattached for years, despite his wealth and his estates, his prowess in battle and his unmatched intelligence. Families looking to make a good match had been sniffing around him since his first heat, and Anthony had never shown any sign of settling down, despite how often Stephen pestered him about it, fondly. And now, when he knew what Charles meant to Erik, now was when he decided it was time to take a mate?
But Charles was…Charles. And Erik remembered now how Charles had eagerly sat at Anthony’s knee and pestered him with questions about all aspects of the world, how they had conversed at a level that made Erik jealous to witness and Stephen bemused. He remembered how Anthony had teased them both as they grew from awkward adolescence to the beauty of late youth, how Stephen had affectionately scolded him to stop when Charles had blushed so vividly.
Really, how could Anthony not want Charles? In many ways, he was probably a better match for him. And Erik thought, not for the first time since the beginning of Tournament, that if it wasn’t going to be him, he hoped that Anthony would come out the Victor. It was a painful thought, and Erik did not relish it, but it was the best outcome he could think of. He just wished they didn’t have to fight each other to achieve it, and that Stephen didn’t have to watch. He had hoped they might never face each other. But maybe this moment was inevitable.
He barely had time to think, to muse on the past, to pull himself back together before the guards were calling him forward. He was to fight Anthony in the second battle of the day, and it came swiftly on the heels of another one of Shaw’s victories, the man sauntering smoothly past Erik as he waited just inside the gate, trailing blood in his footsteps.
Erik watched as they dragged the body of his opponent out on the stretcher, the Alpha challenger from a land so far away that Erik had never before met one of its people, her beauty grotesquely preserved even as her head lolled loosely back and forth, severed from her body. His stomach clenched and churned at the sight, at her vacant unseeing eyes, but he remembered how she had bragged at the Inspection, speaking loudly about the “proper” way Omegas were treated in her country, their feet tightly bound so they could barely walk, their bodies roped down and held open in bed for days at a time, to be mounted at will. He did not mourn her death.
Entering the ring, he couldn’t help but look for Stephen again, who was leaning forward against the railing, his hands clenched tight and white-knuckled around the wood, looking as though his whole world was about to be pulled apart at the seams. Erik tried to muster some courage for him, managed to meet his eyes with a steady gaze, but it was a difficult thing. Stephen nodded to him as he took his place in the center of the ring, his attention snapping to the gate as it swung open again, admitting the Viscount to the arena.
Anthony did not look at Stephen, did not look at Charles who gasped and shivered in a sudden drift of cool air, did not look at the crowd as he had the day before, laughing mockingly at the pomp before he calmly taken his opponent down with a smooth and merciful slash of his hand-crafted blade. He only had eyes for Erik as he made his way in a straight line towards him, sure and unwavering in his approach.
When he drew close, Erik raised his sword before him, protecting himself defensively, and finally Anthony faltered, his dark eyes flickering to the blade, his steps slowing down, but not stopping.
“I made that sword for him.” He said, and Erik knew this, had been there when Anthony had presented it to Stephen. The man had sputtered, at a loss for words, before drawing Anthony to him in a ferocious hug, Anthony’s expression surprised before melting into something warm, and he embraced him back.
He took another step close to Erik, who instinctively stepped back, though it went against all of his training, and the part of him that refused to back down in a fight. Anthony watched him reposition his feet, raise his sword higher, and stopped his progress.
“Are you going to cut me Erik? With my own sword?” Erik tightened his grip,
“You said it yourself—it’s his sword now.” Tony’s face tightened, and Erik had always found him hard to read, but now he was completely unfathomable, and he lowered his blade an inch.
“He wouldn’t want this,” Erik said, and his eyes shot over to where Stephen was standing now, tall and broad, the yellow of his hair standing out in a crowd that was getting more and more annoyed at the lack of activity in the ring, “he doesn’t want this.”
He had never begged for anything in his life, not since Stephen took him out of the slave camp and remade him, but for the man who had saved him, Erik was willing to try.
“Please Tony.” His voice sounded broken to his own ears, unbearably young as he spoke the old nickname he and Charles had used as children, ”I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Good, because I don’t want to hurt you either—I’m fairly certain your Lord and Master would murder me before these games were done.”
Anthony’s response so cool and flippant, it startled him into lowering his sword to his side. He was sure he was gaping, and when Anthony took another step forward, he brought his sword up again, in case this was a ploy, but he knew, he knew that Anthony was manipulative, but would never be so cruel.
“I’m sorry about this, Erik, truly. I had hoped we wouldn’t meet each other in battle until the very end, and I could spare you a more difficult opponent. But here we are.”
And then he knelt before him on one knee, his sword point dug down into the dirt, his hands clasped over one another on the pommel. The roar murmured with discontent, and the sound rose and escalated until it was pounded against Erik from all sides, but he could barely hear it above the pounding of his own heart in his ears.
“Ask me.” Anthony said, his voice calm and resigned, but not regretful, not defeated.
The smile on his face told of another victory all together.
“Anthony, no—“ Erik tried, his hand clenched dumbly around his own sword, half-raised as if he wanted Anthony to get up and fight, if only to prevent this. If they did this, the Viscount Anthony Stark would lose everything, his title, his lands, his honour as an Alpha, he would live the rest of his life in disgrace—
“Erik.” Anthony cut him off, and his smile was reassuring and resolute. “Ask me.”
“Do you yield?”
The words were quiet, almost a whisper, and he doubted anyone could hear them amongst the raucous clatter of the people in the stands, but there was no doubt as to what had happened when Anthony smiled widely as he placed his sword at Erik’s feet and rose gracefully upright and said brightly,
“Indeed I do!”
The audience exploded into furious noise, but Anthony was unfazed. He stepped forward, and clasped Erik tightly by the elbow and leaned in close to him,
“You can win this, understand?” He leaned back slightly so he could look Erik in the eyes, and the crowd was howling now, but Erik could still hear every word that passed through his bearded lips.
“You have an advantage they don’t.” His eyes flickered over to Charles, and then back again. “You love him.” He released Erik and backed away, shouting to him over the crowd as they roared their disapproval,
“And love makes you do crazy things!”
Erik stood and watched as he stalked jauntily through the ring, batting aside garbage and rotted fruit as it rained down upon him from the stands as though it was nothing but falling petals, or droplets of rain. He stopped only once, ignoring the squish of his boots in tomato and moldy bread, looking for all the world like the nobleman he was, and sketched an elegant and elaborate bow towards Stephen who had a hand over his mouth, laughing even as he cried.
And then he disappeared through the gates, leaving Erik alone in the arena. Day two was over. He leaned over and picked up Tony’s sword, straightening to catch Stephen’s eye. His Lord shrugged helplessly, laughing again, and for the first time since the beginning of the Tournament, he felt himself smile.
Chapter 5: DAY THREE
Thank you guys so much for all the kudos/comments/love and support!!! It's really pushing me to finish this thing, and hopefully I can maintain this one-chapter-update-a-day thing I've got going on :D:D
The brief joy of that second day lasted only as long as a flash of lightning, before reality could not be ignored any longer. Doubt and fear crippled him as night melted into the third day. He did not see the sun, nor feel the cool wet morning air through the open window of his bedroom, existing as he was in the dark, the insidious, clinging drip of dread and misgiving.
The triumph he had once felt faded quickly after Antony’s memorable exit. As the day wore on he watched from the sidelines as Emma Frost cut a man to pieces with her needle sharp knives, her face a mask of cold iron, unfeeling, unflinching, powerfully calm.
Her victory was second to only Cain Marko, though he succeeded with much less grace and precision. Erik found he couldn’t muster a drop of anger even when, after smashing his opponent’s head to pieces with an enormous hammer, blood and bones splattering the front of his massive breastplate, Marko had leapt onto the platform and roughly gripped Charles’ body with his massive hands. Erik watched as Marko almost pulled the Stand off its foundation, as he bit a ferocious kiss into Charles’ mouth, listened to Charles’ shouts of terror as he struggled to pull away, but as the Beta guards pulled Marko off and took him out of the arena, Erik felt no rage, no frustration, no hatred. He only felt the growing gloom of certain defeat.
That feeling, permeating and inescapable, was preyed upon later when Emma Frost, that huntress, sniffed him out in his room like she could smell the fear on him like fresh blood in the snow.
“You were lucky, Sir Erik,” her perfect mouth spoke the appellation as though it was a dirty word, her lips curled mockingly, “that Anthony Stark wished to live as an abomination. How fortunate for you that he cared so little for his own life.”
Erik said nothing, only hunched further over his dinner at the small wooden table tucked in the corner, the meat and cheese suddenly tasteless and cold in his mouth. Taking his silence as some kind of ascent, she straightened from her lounge against his doorframe and entered the room, her long legs eating up space until she reached his bed. She sat in a flare of coattails and soft white fur, and reclined backwards, crossing one leg over the other.
“Right now you are riding high on your victory—round three in a contest such as this is very impressive. But deep down, you know. You know what everyone else knows: it was a fluke. A happenstance. Your success thus far as been nothing more than a happy twist of fate.”
Her words cut into him, sliding poison into his veins through sharp incisions, and he clenched and hunched over his vital organs in useless defense.
“Get out,” he growled, looking up to spit the words at her. He wasn’t about to reveal that she had crawled under his skin, but when his eyes connected with hers, he saw that she knew anyway. She smiled at him, and raised her hands in a placating gesture before standing.
As she crossed the room, she paused when she passed behind him and bent in close, murmured into his ear,
“I think we both know your luck is about to run out my dear.”
He jerked away from her, from the words, from the hand she trailed caressingly over the back of his neck, and jumped to his feet knocking his chair over. She did not look cowed by his height, or his anger, only stepped smoothly back, that implacable smile still on her face and left the room with a swish of her cape.
He tried to eat, tried to calm himself, tried to find his center as Stephen had so often trained him to do, that calm center deep within him beneath all the anger and fear, He grasped helplessly for it, it wasn’t there. He wasn’t sure he had ever been able to find it, that intangible mystery called ‘peace.’ He wasn’t sure it even existed.
There was no peace for him that night, nor the following morning when he walked out to the stadium for the third time. Only a shadow of doom that followed closely in his plodding footsteps and whispered doubt into his ear in a voice that sounded in turn like Frost and Marko, and always Shaw.
Stephen was there again in the stands, the happiness of the previous day drained from his face. He nodded once to Erik, and the strength in his expression fortified him for a moment, and he took what power he could from it, allowed it to steady his legs, ground his stumbling feet.
He was numb as the golden box was box was brought forward and so he concentrated on Charles instead. Two days and two nights in the Stand had done nothing to diminish him. He was going into the third day of his heat and the sweat on his body made him shine in the light of day, his fair skin like silver, every muscle defined, his hair highlighted auburn from the sun. His head lolled back and forth insensibly, but he looked up for a moment, his head tilted toward Erik, and were it not for the blindfold, Erik would have thought he was looking directly at him.
He was so caught up in Charles that be barely registered the Alpha names being called. He was shaken back into himself when Shaw and Marko stepped forward, Shaw with a smile for the crowd, Marko roaring for their approval, which the people raucously gave. For a moment, his heart was uplifted. These men would fight each other and one would be killed, the stain of his existence wiped from the earth. This was one battle Erik would not have to fight.
But he would have to fight. And when he turned his head, Emma Frost was smiling at him.
It was decided that his fight with Frost would take place first, and the ring was cleared. As Erik waited in the sidelines, the world took on a surreal quality. Time and space seemed to quiet and stand still. Across the arena he watched as Emma Frost gazed back at him, silent, seemingly at ease, but Erik saw the steel in her, her body ready and prepared, strung tight like a bow.
He breathed, in, and out, and tried to remember what his Lord had taught him, tried to remember the words Stephen spoke as he sat down with Erik and dissected each of his possible opponents.
“She is heartless, and cruel, and kills without mercy.” The words rang in his ears, a hollow echo, and his mind raced, but he could not remember a weak point, a chink in her armor. He cast his eyes over to see the King give the signal of commencement, watched as Emma stepped forward without hesitation, and felt his feet move to meet her.
The crowd seemed full of monsters, demonic, twisted faces that spat and howled at him, and he turned away from them, turned toward Emma in time to see her twist and hurl a knife towards him.
He had barely enough time to move, and instead of striking him straight through the heart, the knife landed in his shoulder with a sickening crunch, the momentum propelling him down onto his back in the dirt. The world reeled and swam and than Emma was standing above him.
“Next one is through your eye, boy.” She smiled and placed a foot on his chest, drawing another dagger from her belt. The pain in his shoulder was immense, but it suddenly centered him, drew him back into the world which started to revolve in regular time. As she positioned the knife to plunge it into his head, he grabbed her ankle and twisted it to the side, dislodging her from his body and knocking her to the ground.
There was a moment of scrabbling in the dirt, and then they were both on their feet, facing off against each other. Gone was the surreal and strange movement of time, controlled by his panic and fear; now everything was sharpened, narrowed down to a point of focus. As he watched her face, blonde hair and white clothing mussed and dirt covered, he saw a crack in the calm façade. He saw real anger there, and he smiled.
She scowled at him, and lunged, forcing him backwards, swiping up and up with her knife, pulling another from her belt and throwing it at him, forcing him to duck, and then slicing downwards with the knife in her hand, catching him across the face. His cheek was cut, but shallowly, and he adjusted his grip on his sword, compensating for his right shoulder as it grew weak and numb from the blade still embedded in his flesh.
She came at him again, and he parried, the force of his sword knocking her dagger away with a loud crash of metal, and he swung at her again, attempting to move onto the offensive. But she was too quick, especially with his dominant arm weakened, and she slipped inside his guard, sliced at him with another knife pulled from seemingly nowhere. It caught him with enough force that he felt the tip of the blade gouge into his skin even through the armor on his chest.
He scrambled backwards, away from her assault, but she was too quick, darting forwards and then dropping out of his line of vision to swipe his feet out from underneath him. He was on his back before he could stop to think, the sky above clear and blue and spinning wildly, sickeningly. More on instinct than any form of defense, he sensed movement from the corner of his eye and he rolled, narrowly missing the knife that landed deep in the dirt, squarely where his face had been only moments before.
Frost followed him, cutting down and down into the ground with her knife, aiming for his head every time and screeching when he continued to scramble away, just barely out of her reach. He lost his sword in his haste, but managed to get far enough away that he could get up onto his knees and face her, and when he caught a glimpse of her, he saw how undone she was—more disheveled than he’d ever seen her before.
She wasn’t used to fighting for something, he realized with a sudden pure sense of clarity. She was used to fighting yes, and her skills had always ensured that she would win without expending much effort. But she had never fought for anything in her life, not really. And Erik, Erik had spent his entire life fighting, struggling against an inevitable tide that tried to take everything from him. Erik was used to fighting down in the mud, bruised and bloody and on the verge of losing. In this, Erik was as skilled as Emma was with her blades.
He knew then that Emma didn’t want Charles as much as he did, but if she thought it was going to be easy to take him from Erik, that she wouldn't have to fight and bleed to keep him, he had found her misstep, her fatal error.
She came at him again, but they were both low to the ground, and her footing wasn’t as secure as it should have been. What might have been a killing blow met only air as Erik dodged, then grabbed her wrist and twisted, forcing her to drop the knife. He punched her hard in the face with his other hand and she howled, blood flowing from her nose into her mouth staining her teeth red, and she looked savage, so far from the lady who had sneered at him the night before.
He could see her channel her movements now more than ever before, her graceful and frigid exterior shattered to pieces as rage took her over. Erik almost smiled again; rage was his familiar friend, and something he was well accustomed to dealing with, and had harnessed already as a useful tool. As she pulled a long, deadly blade from her boot he was able to catch her wrist before the blade touched his skin, and he threw himself down on top of her, slamming her hand into the ground, forcing her to drop the knife.
She snarled and bucked against him, trying to get free of his grip, but he held on, bringing his head down to smash against hers in a fit of desperation, stunning them both momentarily. Erik recovered first, and without thinking, allowing pure, animal instinct to take over, he reached up and wrenched the knife out of his own shoulder, and tightening his fingers around the bloody handle, plunged it down into her chest.
He felt it sink down into through leather, through flesh and bone and watched as her eyes fluttered open in shock, pale blue wide and watering and knowing, even as his hands pushed the blade in farther, that she was done. That he had killed her.
He watched her as she shook and sputtered, as the blood burbled up in her throat and spattered out onto the pale skin of her chin, as her eyes filmed over in death.
When she was gone he stumbled backwards and collapsed by her awkwardly splayed legs. Through the haze he could hear the crowd roaring, music and celebration at the end of another battle without any real care for the winner, or the loser, or that a woman had died mere moments before. Erik could only sit and whisper quietly to her lifeless body,
“I guess I have a bit of luck left, Lady Frost.”
Chapter 6: DAY THREE: INTERLUDE
soooo...this is done!! Edited and done!! So I'm just going to post the rest of it and be done with it!!
Thanks again to everyone who left me lovely comments, here and on the kink_meme--I have so much love for you guys, you don't even know!
Speaking of the kink_meme, I can't believe I haven't done this before, but here is the link to the original prompt I wrote this story for! Sorry for not including it before now!
Later that day, Erik watched Cain Marko die.
It was a good fight, the opponents well matched in skill set, and strength, and brutal, bloody disposition, but it seemed obvious to Erik that this Tournament was only ever going to end one way. That his entire life had been leading up to him and Shaw and a bloodstained field of battle and only one man left standing.
Erik hated Cain, but that did not mean it was easy to watch him die. In the end, it came down to the swiftness of Shaw’s feet, how he side-stepped, seemingly tireless and swiped down his sword in an elegant arc, cutting into the thickly roped muscle of Marko’s shoulder. Erik’s own shoulder, bound and stitched and still stinging from Emma Frost’s knife, ached in commiseration, and as the blow brought Marko to his knees, the ground seemed to shake with the impact of it.
Shaw pulled his sword out with a sickening squish of tissue, and held the bloody tip against the soft flesh of Marko’s throat. His voice when he asked, “Yield?” was as sweet as honey, and Erik felt an involuntary wash of second hand embarrassment for Marko. No man deserved ridicule in the last moments of his life.
Marko had looked up at Shaw and Erik, from his vantage point just outside the ring, saw for the first time genuine fear in his eyes. He swallowed, and called out,
The crowd moaned its disapproval, a hiss of dissent spreading through the stands until the entire arena sounded like a nest of vipers. Shaw, Erik and Cain all looked to the King who stood, thunderous expression darkening his face, watched as he drew a dagger from his belt, bejeweled and pompous and ceremonial, and without hesitation mimed dragging it across his own throat.
Death. Death for his own son.
Cain made a sound like a wounded animal, and scrambled back from Shaw’s sword, crawling along the ground like a low creature, an insect, and Erik had to look away. They had come here to fight, and to die if the tide turned against them, and Erik hoped that, were he in the same position, he might maintain some dignity. There was no honour in this death. No glorious songs would be written about Cain Marko, who had killed so many, and died so poorly in turn.
Erik did watch as Marko mounted the center dais, felt himself move to action only to be stopped by the metal gate separating the tunnel from the ring, unable to aid Charles as Cain gripped his unblemished skin with wide, dirty palms. As Cain breathed him in, Charles, on his third day of heat, so sweet and intoxicating, like fine wine, like soft petalled wildflowers and ground cinnamon. He watched, struggling and restrained as Charles became suddenly pliant, relaxing into those hands, tilting his face up and allowing Cain to steal one last kiss.
A gift for a dying man.
When Shaw struck his head from his shoulders, Marko’s body clung to Charles for a few horrifying moments before it collapsed in a pile of skin and flesh and bones at his feet. The spray of blood from the deathblow coated Charles from chest to feet, and Erik spared a moment to send thanks out into the universe for the blindfold that had prevented Charles from witnessing the act that marred his body in so much gore.
Shaw raised his sword in victory and allowed the beta guards to drag him away from Charles, but not before he trailed his fingers through the blood across Charles’ chest, heaving as he gasped for air, blind and wild with confusion. Shaw clutched his face, jerking it roughly up before dragging his fingers lingeringly down the pale skin of Charles’ cheek, leaving four red lines behind, marking him. Claiming him. Erik saw red and nearly killed the guards who were suddenly holding him, preventing him from tearing the gate down and ending Shaw in that horrible, maddening moment.
The last thing he remembered before the guards forcibly sedated him was the thought, ringing clear and true through his mind like the peal of a brass bell:
One night. Only one night before he could kill Sebastian Shaw.
Chapter 7: DAY FOUR
Erik didn’t return to his appointed rooms that night. When he awoke from his unwilling unconsciousness, he was in the healing tent, purple silk draped above him obscured in smoking incense, brightly lit lanterns strung here and there to provide the healers enough light to work by.
Not that they had any patients—nor would thy, not until the Tournament was through. The healers were forbidden from working their magic on any Alpha champion, to avoid unbalancing the playing field. Indeed, Erik felt all his wounds acutely as he woke up, his very bones aching, brittle and sore, his flesh cut and wounded and scabbing over, his body fighting exhaustion.
He wondered if he would see this tent again the next night, or whether his body would find its way here to be cleaned and wrapped and given over to his Lord Stephen for burning and burial, his soul scattered and alone and someplace where it would never again meet with Charles in the yellow fields connecting their homes…
There were guards posted by the open flaps of the tent, but Erik folded his broken body to the ground, crawled between the fluttering gap between the tent walls and the ground, escaped through the dark tunnels to the arena again.
He was shut out, separated by thick iron bars from the inner arena, and when he wrapped his fingers around the metal, he imagined he could mold it, bend it to his will, create a space in which he could squeeze through and reach Charles, and touch him again, hold him in his arms.
Instead he sank to the ground, the packed dirt soft and shifting beneath his knees. In the center of the ring, the Omegas had gathered around Charles, their candles lit, golden bowls of water in their laps. Charles was entering his fourth day of heat, the moon in the sky circling over, pulling him in its wake, insensible and writhing, and nearly incoherent with lust at its most basic—sheer want. Erik watched as the Omega’s wiped cool water over his bound limbs, cleansing his body of Marko’s filth and life blood with each passing, his skin returning to it’s impossible paleness, nearly translucent in the moonlight.
For the entire night he watched them, watched them clean Charles, watched them try and ease his pain, his frustration, listened to the sound of him breathing, the incomprehensible murmur of his voice echoing across the stands, reaching Erik where he crouched in the shadows, wanting Charles, yearning for him with everything that he was.
Watching him knowing this might be the last time.
The guards found him there at dawn, his fingers clenched so tight around the bars that they had to forcibly pry them away. He could not bring himself to regret the lost sleep, the advantage rest might have given him, not even when Shaw appeared next to him in the arena’s center, seemingly unharmed, fully awake, that perpetual smirk smeared across his face. If that had been his last night on this earth, than he spent it the best way he knew how. There would be no regret. Not even here, at the end.
He felt strangely calm. He thought he might be afraid if he managed to make it to the end of the tournament. He should be afraid, now that the King was lowering his hand to signal the beginning of the final day, the day of Champions, especially here, squared off against Sebastian Shaw as he raised his sword in a mocking salute. Shaw, who had laughed when Erik’s mother had died, who had walked through her spilled blood, callous and uncaring and wiped his boots off on her splayed skirts, nudging aside her cold, unmoving legs as he walked away.
He hated Shaw, hated him more than anything, and yet the rage was absent, the anger that had driven him his whole life. As he raised his sword, adjusted his grip, widened his stance, he only felt a sweeping sense of serenity. Distantly, he thought maybe he had finally achieved that center, the peace Stephen had always pushed him towards, but he did not think about it overly much, only breathed, in and out.
Felt his bones settle, felt the buzzing ache of his body fade into the background.
Allowed the smell of Charles, the sense of him close by in body, closer still to Erik’s heart, to his mind, permeate until Erik thought he could feel the beating of their hearts together, at the same time.
The world felt calm and still for one perfect moment, broken when Shaw brought his sword swinging down, and Erik parried, the clang of metal sharp and bright in the quiet of the morning light.
By the fourth day of Tournament, the heat of the Omega began to affect those even seated in the crowd, and gathered spectators screamed their approval at the start of combat, driven nearly to frenzy. Shaw fed off of it, driving forward on the attack, thrusting and slashing down in an impossibly quick series of movements, falling back when Erik stumbled slightly, turning to the crowd with his arms spread wide shouting for their adoration, their approval.
They gave it to him in a thunderous explosion of noise, and while they cheered, while Shaw turned in a circle, palms spread, imploring them for more, Erik found his footing again, settled into his feet, raised his sword again, angled across his body. The calm had not deserted him. He waited for Shaw to finish.
Glancing to the side, he saw Charles, remarkably still for someone nearing the point of heat-madness. The sun shone down on him, making the sweat of his skin glisten, reflecting off the gold gilding of his mask, making him bright, and ethereal. Erik was struck by him, unable to look away, and Charles seemed to be looking right back at him for all that he couldn’t see, his entire body angled towards him despite the bonds tied tight to his wrists, his ankles.
“Beautiful, isn’t he?” The words broke the lingering surrealism of the moment, and Erik was forced to look away from Charles to Shaw, who was standing completely at ease. The tip of his sword was planted into the dirt of the arena--meant to be disrespectful to Erik, as though fighting Erik was so paltry he did not need to have his sword at the ready.
And still, the calm didn’t desert Erik.
“He is.” He answered, because at least they could agree on that.
“When he’s mine,” Shaw said, stepping closer, swinging his sword loosely back and forth like a pendulum from his fingers, “I’m going to carve it out of him.” He stepped closer and closer, until the next words were breathed almost directly into Erik’s face.
“I’ll keep his face just as it is, so everyone will admire what’s mine. But his body I’ll take, and I’ll use until he cries,” he leaned back, taking in Erik’s expression and smiling, “I’m going to cut at that perfect white skin until it bleeds.”
Erik met his gaze levelly, though some part of him bucked and strained, twisted and sick at the thought of leaving Charles alone to deal with this man for the rest of his life. He strived for the calm, clutched to it with white knuckles, silently begging for it not to abandon him now.
Shaw watched him for another moment, and his smile grew and became twisted.
“You love him.”
Erik said nothing. There was nothing he could say. And his silence confirmed the all-consuming truth of Shaw’s statement.
Shaw, monster that he was, threw his head back and laughed. Laughed and laughed and fell back from Erik.
“You love him—Oh my that is precious.” He turned his back to Erik—another insult, and Erik could strike now, could leap forward and try to drive his sword through the other man’s body, but he knew that it would be a fool’s gamble. Shaw would have him skewered in a moment. So he held his ground and watched as the man ambled across the short distance to the Omega platform, as he hoisted himself up and turned back to look at Erik.
“You are young, and stupid---but there is always one in every Tournament. And I’ve always enjoyed killing them off, though one has never made it so far before.”
He strode casually towards Charles, as though he had all the time in the world. There would be no guards to stop him today, not on the final day of Tournament. When he reached Charles’ side, he turned back to Erik with a smile,
“But if you think that an Omega bitch in heat loves you, you are more of an idiot than you look.” The words stung Erik like a slap across his face, but Shaw only laughed,
“All he wants is cock—right my little Prince?” And when he reached out to grasp Charles’ chin, Charles moaned loudly, and even from Erik’s distance, he could smell the delicious heat of him as it rose up and rolled off him in waves. Shaw, standing much closer—too close--was struck dumb, his smug, cruel, expressive face frozen, his mouth hanging open.
For a moment, Erik couldn’t move, swept over and away by Charles, by everything that he was. He was rooted to the spot, and Charles, Charles was rushing over him, through him, and it took everything in him not to break apart, to fall on his knees and prostrate himself before him, to rip him down from the Stand and fuck him until neither of them could speak.
But a small part of him, the part of him that held onto the same calm as before, held onto his mind before it raced away, frenzied and heat-crazed, that part of him shouted no—look—and he saw that this, this was his moment.
Without thinking, without planned he leaped forward, dragged his resisting feet and climbed clumsily up onto the platform. Shaw remained dazed by Charles’ side, dropping his sword and lifting his other hand to grip Charles’ hair, ensnared, enraptured, crushing his mouth against Charles’ who bent and swayed against him, his cock heavy and red between his legs, pushing forward trying to get relief.
Erik tried to ignore the sharp pang of his heart cracking in two pieces, tried to swallow the tang of bile roiling in his throat as Shaw bit at Charles’ lip, making him moan again. He focused on his grip on his sword, felt the heavy weight of the blade, the sweaty leather beneath his palm, and when he was close enough, he lifted his arm, and allowed the sword to swing down, with no skill, no aim, only a resolve that manifested clumsily and awkward. There would be no victorious clever swordplay, only a distant prayer that his arm would swing true.
Shaw, for all that he was paralyzed by Charles at the peak of his heat, was still one of the greatest warriors in the known world. Whether is was the whistle of the blade, or the shadow of Erik’s body, or an innate sense of danger built in after countless fields of battle, Shaw jerked away from Charles, and twisted, contorted his body and escaped the promise of death at the edge of Erik’s blade.
But he did not escape injury. Erik’s sword missed his neck, but caught him along the shoulder, the would spurting blood even through the thick braded armor there, and Shaw staggered and fell off the platform, landing hard on his side on the dirt of the arena.
Erik pulled together what was left of his will power and wrenched himself away from Charles, leaping down to meet Shaw again, swiping downwards and missing as Shaw rolled and scrambled to his feet
Gone was the smug, satisfied, controlled man of the dawn. In his place was a wild thing, bleeding, frantic, dangerously unrestrained. He came at Erik then, lunged at him with his bare hands, his sword long forgotten at Charles’ bound feet. Erik was still reeling, tired to get his sword up in front of himself, but couldn’t move his arms fast enough, his muscles sluggish, his brain muddled and confused, and the two of them went down together in a tangle, inelegant, uncouth, kicking and scratching like animals.
They rolled in the dirt until they came up against the base of the platform, Erik’s injured shoulder striking it painfully hard, knocking the wind out of him for one long moment of agony. Enough time for Shaw to gain the upper hand, crawling on top of him, getting his hands around his throat, and gripping him tight, his thumbs pressing down so hard he thought they might crush the bones there into fragments and dust.
He made one horrible noise, before all sound and air was cut off. Shaw laughed manically, clutching on and refusing to let go, despite Erik’s flailing arms, the convulsive jerking and lurching of his body. Erik’s head spun, spots dancing in front of his eyes black and horrible, connecting together as the world began to fade at the edges. Shaw was muttering unintelligible words around his sharp scale of laughter, spitting and hacking phlegm, his wound leaking blood down the front of his armor, a long stream of saliva connecting his body to Erik’s, dangling and disgusting and inescapable.
“He’s mine,” Erik caught has the darkness closed in, and the words filled him with such devastating sorrow, he thought that would be the end of him, rather than Shaw’s hands at his throat. As if in answer to Shaw’s declaration, Erik could hear distantly, from above them, Charles’ voice moaning out Shaw’s name, pained and sensual and utterly gorgeous. It was like the death knell—Charles, calling for Shaw—the final stroke of the executioners axe.
For Shaw, it was like a stroke of lightning, and when Charles cried out, again, louder, “Sebastian!” Shaw forgot about the man beneath his hands, didn’t bother to hold on long enough to sever the last thread connecting Erik to life, and pushed to his feet.
He fell against the platform, fingernails scraping and tearing and breaking off as he tried to find purchase, all focus and control scattered, his mind consumed by that same desperate hunger all Alphas get when confronted with an Omega at the peak of his or her heat.
Erik could see his sword lying in the dirt, so close to his hand curled limply by his side. He could barely breathe, barely see, but he could hear Charles calling for Sebastian, could hear Shaw, heat crazed now, completely lost, shouting for his mate, and it was as though his mind narrowed to down to one perfect, clear thought:
His hand obeyed, taking up his sword again, his legs answering the siren call and gathered up beneath his body, pushing him upright until he was standing once more, ragged, and hunched over, but on his own two feet again. Shaw had pulled himself back on to the platform, crawling now, hand over hand, dragging his body towards Charles.
Erik’s mind was rattling inside his skull, senseless and confused and full of twisting emotions that called and called and received no answer, no comprehension, but he saw Shaw before him, at level with his chest, a wriggling worm of lust and depravity and obscenity. So low now, reduced to base instincts, both of them, beasts rutting in the mire, reaching for satisfaction—Shaw in a warm body, Erik in the warm spill of blood.
He raised his sword, vision red, the howling call of battle in his ears.
He brought it down with a strength of will he did not know he possessed, as though all the ancestors of his line had placed their hands upon his own, aimed his blade sure and true.
This time, he did not miss.
Shaw’s head landed on the ground to look up at his twitching corpse, to watch in those last moments of flickering life his body suffer the same fate as that which he had bestowed on so many others in his lifetime.
How fitting, Erik thought, before he collapsed on the ground, all strength draining from his bones in one almighty rush, his eyes catching the reeling sky, blue and clear of clouds before everything went dark, like a candle blowing out.
Chapter 8: THE BINDING
When Erik woke again, it was to the purple silk ceiling of the healing tent, just as he had the night before. For one horrifying moment, he thought maybe all that had happened with Shaw had been a dream. That the man still lived and was waiting for him in the ring, and this time, Erik would not emerge victorious.
He sat up with a sickening jolt, kicking frantically at the blankets tangled around his legs. A young healer suddenly appeared, his hands up in a sign of peace and surrender and with a low and gentle voice he said,
Erik bristled, violently opposed to being spoken to like a spooked horse, before he remembered that he and Shaw had truly regressed, had become wild beasts scratching and tearing at each other, and maybe it was for the best that this young man kept some distance in between them.
He reached out with one clumsy arm and grasped the healer around the wrist, hauled him forward and demanded in a broken voice,
“Shaw—is he? Did he…?” The healer twisted his wrist out of Erik’s grasp and smoothed his palms down Erik’s arms, calming him. Erik tried to breathe, tried to prevent himself from shaking this young man until his glasses tumbled to the floor, until his dark hair was mussed and he looked as panicked as Erik felt. He was a second away from doing it until the healer said,
“He’s dead—you killed him in the ring this morning.”
Pure relief flooded through his veins, cool and sweet and his body sagged backwards onto the low cot beneath him.
Dead. Shaw was dead, and Erik had been the one to kill him. He thought he might feel…happy, maybe, or triumphant, but all he felt was relief, and a weight lifted that he had once thought he’d never be free of, a dark creature perched on his chest that was withered and old and unrelenting, and so consistently present that Erik had gotten used to it. And now that creature was finally vanquished.
He spared a thought for his mother, thought of her for the first time in years not as a body in the streets, but a woman who’s cheeks had flushed with life, who had laughed and squeezed Erik tight before he ran out the door in the morning, a woman who had sung and danced, who loved and was loved, who had been alive. He thought of her, and finally felt some peace—at last. Peace.
He thought he might weep, and as he lay there fighting back the silly, stupid tears that pressed behind his eyes, the young healer pulled back the tangled blankets and carefully inspected every inch of Erik’s body.
Erik hadn’t even noticed, but all of his wounds had been healed. Even the gaping knife wound in his shoulder was closed and smooth, as though it had never existed. Such was the magic of the Tournament—the healers only allowed to practice their mysterious magic on tournament victors, enabling the Alpha winner to do his or her sacred duty the night of the final day.
The night of the Binding.
His thoughts turned then from his mother and Shaw to Charles.
He couldn’t believe it. It seemed utterly incomprehensible. He had won. Here he was at the very end, healed and whole and awaiting the Binding. And Charles. Soon Charles would belong to him, and he would belong to Charles, and they could be together—they would be together, only one more task to accomplish, one more moment of public ceremony, and then they could be together, and he could share some of his newfound peace with Charles.
And again he thought: this can only be a dream.
“You are very much awake, Sir Erik,” the healer’s voice broke him from his fugue. Erik came back to himself and noticed that his blankets had been folded neatly to the side, another healer standing by holding a gold silk robe in her hands.
“You’re healing is complete,” she said with a smile, “they’re waiting for you at the arena.”
A moment of anxiety washed over him, before his mind and body began to thrum with one thought, one repeating mantra, over and over again, his body waking up, his mind fogging over.
The way to the arena was open and clear, a pathway of lit candles illuminating the way. The Omegas led Erik onwards, their white robes brightening by moon and candlelight, their palms curled around golden lanterns held out before them, a trailing procession of light and shadow.
As Erik entered the arena, the smell of the heat rolled over him like a tidal wave and buckling his knees. Two beta guards stepped forward to clasp him under the arms, helping him stumble forward after the Omegas.
The stands were still full of spectators, but the heat had taken them already, as it did all people within the vicinity of an Omega on his or her fourth day of a heat cycle. In the darkness Erik could hear gentle sighs and moans of pleasure, the wood of the arena creaking with the rocking movements of many lost to lust and heat madness. All together it created a symphony of sensuality and Erik was swept away, barely able to place one foot in front of the other as the Beta guards, their faces covered in protective masks, gripped him tighter and led him on.
The Stand had been removed from the center of the ring, but the platform remained, surrounded with tall torches blazing colour into the night, and covered in miles of soft tapestry and silk sheets, large cushions. A decadent bed on display for all to see—this is where the Binding would take place.
Erik couldn’t see Charles, but he could feel him with every step he took closer to the set of stairs leading the way upwards, up to Charles. He remembered then with a sickening lurch of clarity how Charles had called out for Shaw in the end, how they had kissed, and Erik had been left to the side, desolate and alone.
He hoped with every piece of his being that Charles would accept him now, that Charles had meant what he said when he told Erik he loved him, the last day they were able to speak before this insanity had begun. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop himself from claiming Charles, already hard and wanting, his body and mind and very essence wanting Charles as his own, wanting to crawl inside of him and make them into one person.
The Omegas stopped before the platform, lined on either side of the pathway, a column of white cloth and soft light. The guards pushed him forward and he managed to walk the final steps on his own, climbing the stairs with stiff legs and numb feet.
Finally, he stood at the top of the platform with a sea of luxury laid before him, all eyes turned to him from all sides of the arena, spectators ceasing the lewd acts of night to watch the Victor claim his Prize.
And there he was, hands still bound above his head, mask still tight around his eyes, body arching, rolling back and forth, desperate for relief, feet sliding amidst the silk sheets, fingers curled tightly in a brocaded pillow.
It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful sight Erik had ever seen.
And it was completely wrong.
For a moment all he could do was stand there gaping, stunned at how the lust mixed in his gut with the perversity of the view—Charles blinded and bound, every bit the prisoner Kurt Marko had always wanted him to be, and Erik could not stop himself then from falling to his knees, and crawling towards him, the only thought in his mind to set Charles free.
Charles was panting, his skin slick with sweat, and as Erik landed ungracefully by his side, he realized that Charles’ face was covered with tears. There were streams of them seeping out from underneath the golden mask, dripping down the sides of his face, soaking into the hair curling over his ears and at the nape of his neck.
Erik, who had not seen Charles cry since they were children, was stunned for a moment before he reached out to clasp Charles’ face in his hands. Charles jerked away, gasping, sobbing harder, and Erik felt sick right down to his bones. Charles didn’t want him then after all.
“Charles…” he said, his voice as broken as his heart felt, and at the sound of his voice, Charles seemed to light up, choking on his own tears, turning towards Erik as much as he was able with his hands bound, with his eyesight taken away.
“Erik?” he said, voice thick and scratchy with disuse. “Erik?!” He said again, more panicked, and Erik could only answer,
“Yes?” And Charles sobbed again, swallowed around the sound of it and managed to speak, though his words were disjointed and garbled,
“I’m so sorry Erik, I’m so sorry—I thought it would help—you know that I did it to help, don’t you? Oh he touched me, and it hurt, Erik! I can’t see you—please—“
And Erik found himself murmuring intelligible words of his own, forgiveness and relief and in praise of Charles’ cleverness. He reached behind Charles’ head and finding the tie to the mask within Charles’ hair, unknotting it as quickly as he could and pulling it from Charles’ face.
He tossed it away as soon as it was free, and smoothed his fingers across the grooves it left in the soft skin of Charles’ cheeks, the smooth line of his forehead. Charles eyes were large and wet and just as beautiful as he remembered—more so, for having been taken away for so long. When Charles’ laid eyes on him, he cried harder for a moment, throwing his bound wrists over Erik’s neck and clinging to him, his tears soaking into the material of Erik’s robe at his neck.
Erik wrapped his arms around him in turn, smoothing his palms down his back, trying to be soothing, calming, all the while the feel of Charles’ heat flushed skin beneath his hands driving him out of his mind.
Eventually Charles quieted, his tears run dry, but he still clung to Erik, and slowly, slowly he began to grind his body up against him. His pace quickened and before Erik could even react, Charles had tucked one leg in between Erik’s and began rubbing his cock against him again and again, hot puffs of his breath panted out against the Erik’s neck.
“Charles—“ he sputtered, unsure whether he should push against Charles or pull away, his cock aching between his legs, and growing harder as Charles rutted against him, the firm skin of Charles’ thigh thrusting against him over and over, the friction delicious and maddening.
“Oh, Erik,” Charles moaned, his head falling backwards, his eyes squeezed shut, his gorgeous mouth open and wet and so red, and Erik couldn’t resist any longer, pulled Charles back in and pressed their lips together, thrusting his tongue alongside Charles’. He was unable to stop the desperate sound from spilling out from his chest when Charles rubbed their tongues together like he was rubbing their bodies together, uncoordinated and desperate and so, so good—so good Erik felt himself ignite and burn until he thought he might be reduced to nothing but ashes.
He pulled back and gasped,
“Charles—do you—can we—“ and though he couldn’t string the words together to make sense, Charles knew, and he nodded, pressed forward to kiss Erik again and again, begging him with pleas pressed against his lips, “please Erik,” and “want you” and again and again,
“I love you. I love you.”
He rolled Charles onto his back and scrambled to his knees, yanking his robe off with clumsy fingers, throwing it haphazardly away from them, all the while gazing down at Charles who was looking right back, his eyes nearly black with lust, his body trembling violently, hands twisting against his bonds.
Erik had nearly forgotten about his tied wrists and he tried to loosen them now, but it was impossible his unsteady fingers, and Charles restless shifting, Charles straining forward to press kiss after kiss against his chest, licking over one of Erik’s nipples and biting down, and when Erik protested,
“Charles—wait—“ Charles licked him again and said,
“Leave it. Do it later—Erik, I need you.”
And Erik was gone. Done for. He fell onto Charles then, gripping him close and devouring his mouth, the two of them writhing together, and when Erik got a hand between Charles’ legs and felt how wet his was there, slipped one finger inside him, Charles was coming with a long moan that lifted all the hair at the back of Erik’s neck, electrifying his entire body.
He slowly withdrew his finger, his vision blacking out with lust, his body shuddering in time with Charles’, but Charles shook his head, senseless, lost to the heat, muttering,
“More, more, Erik…”
So Erik gave him more, slipping his finger back inside him and then another, and another, and Charles thrust back against him as much as he was able, aiming sloppy kisses at whatever part of Erik that was close, finally wrapping his legs around Erik’s hips and begging him with broken sentences, begging Erik to please, please fuck him.
He had never heard Charles talk like this before, never seen him so desperate, but his mind with a hazy mess of pure want, of lust and desire and endless hunger, and when Charles came again on his fingers, and was still hard, still demanding more, Erik couldn’t deny him a moment longer.
Bracing himself on his hands he thrust his cock inside Charles, and when Charles cried out in pleasure, the entire assembled crowd echoed it, shouts of ecstasy rippling through the audience until the stands shook with it, driving Erik onwards, in and out in and out. He had never felt such unbelievable bliss before, and his hips stuttered in the wake of the feeling, his rhythm of kilter, Charles groaning on every up stroke, faster and faster until Erik clutched him close and buried his face in Charles’ neck, biting down and coming hard, shattering into one million pieces.
Charles’ body seemed to clench down and squeeze every last drop out of him until everything was bright and dizzy and Erik thought he might lose consciousness. When he came back to himself Charles was coming again, impossible and beautiful, gorgeous sounds spilling out of his mouth and into Erik’s ear.
All around them the arena was lit up with celebration, voices collected together in unified joy and ecstasy, and Erik hated them all, wished for one desperate moment that this could have been between him and Charles alone. Beneath him Charles murmured something soft and senseless, and when he drew back to look at him, Charles’ eyes were less hazy, the blue more pronounced, Charles looking at him like he used to, with clarity and joy, and love. Now he realized that it had been love, for all of those years, and the echo of it roared through him screaming and alive.
He noticed then that the Omegas were moving around the base of the platform, lifting tall poles draped in material. Erik watched in amazement as they tilted them together, created a kind of closed off sanctuary, hiding Charles and Erik from sight.
He looked to Charles who smiled at him, softly, and said,
“We’ve done our duty.” He held his hands up in front of Erik’s face, wiggled his fingers. “Think you can untie me now?”
Erik swallowed and nodded, wiping his sweaty hands on the sheets before easing the knots away, carefully unwinding the rope from his skin, layering kiss after kiss across the angry red marks left behind.
Charles pulled his wrists away from Erik’s mouth, used his hands to tilt Erik’s face toward him, reclaiming his lips with his own sweet mouth. Erik settled more comfortably against him, and broke apart with a sigh, arranging their bodies so their foreheads were touching, hands wound together, feet tangled; two sides of a never-ending circle.
“What’s next?” Erik asked, his voice quiet and low, able to speak softly now that the mob outside was muffled by the heavy drapes of cloth.
“Now or later?” Charles responded, and his voice was steady, and Erik took strength from it.
“I don’t know,” he said, after a short while, “either. Both.”
“Later, we will have to move to the palace, and Kurt will be awful, and try to control us, and Mother will pretend we’re not there, and all the nobles will try and win our favour.” He sounded exhausted already, and Erik clasped his hands tighter.
“No,” he replied, and Charles looked at him, surprised. “Later we will be together, and the rest of them can go to hell.” Charles gaped at him, and then laughed, really laughed, bright and alive and Erik couldn’t stop himself from dragging him close and squeezing him tight, breathing in the smell of his hair.
“I’ve got you, remember?” he said into Charles’ curls and felt Charles smile against his throat, felt him nod his head. They held each other for a time, and then Erik asked,
“And what about now?”
Charles pulled back from him, a wicked glint visible in his eye, even in the darkness of their sanctuary.
“Now I think I feel another wave of heat coming on,” and he leaned in and bit at Erik’s bottom lip, drawing back and dragging his teeth across the sensitive, kiss bruised skin, making Erik groan, “we’ve done our duty for king and country—I think it’s time we took something for ourselves…”
Later, after they had joined, closer than before, taking their time touching every inch of each other, finding all the secret hidden places that brought pleasure, that made the other gasp and writhe and moan, after they had been bound in every sense of the word, Erik’s cock swelling inside Charles making him come again and again until they were both finally sated, after all of that they lay together, tied in every way, heart and soul and body.
There would be time, later, to deal with poisoned tongues in court and political intrigue, with Charles’ brutish family, and the fallout of Anthony’s yielding. Later he would see Stephen again and begin a lifetime of repayment, to him and Tony both. Later he would discover what the world had in store for a boy who once had nothing, and had won the heart of a Prince.
Now though, now was the time for sleep, safe and isolated, bound together within their private cocoon. As Erik drifted off, Charles stroking soothing fingers through his hair, he heard Charles whisper “thank you, Erik,” almost too quiet to be heard. He wanted to protest, wanted to tell Charles that the tournament hadn’t been a choice, or an act of bravery. He wanted to make Charles understand that for Erik he was peace and life and love, and Erik would have been nothing without him--but he was standing on the precipice of sleep, and could not find the words.
Instead he drew Charles in impossibly close and held him tight, and promised him everything, promised him the world with the shape of his fingers on skin, offered him all that he was, simple and poor and scarred, a slave, a servant, a squire, a lord, and now, a Victor. He gave it to him with the seal of lips upon lips, skin pressed against skin, hearts beating in the same rhythm. He swore it with soundless thoughts and the yearning of his body until sleep took him, his mind, finally, at peace.