Elena knew it was risky. But for months - years - now she'd done what was expected of her. Tried to ignore the steady thrum in her body that called her on to anonymity, to the open road, to freedom.
She loved her father but his attempt to marry her off to the loathsome Prince Bethin was the last straw. She kissed him goodnight as usual, putting all her love and apologies into that final embrace, and then she retreated to her room and packed a bag. Her favourite horse Muirisc was waiting for her in the stables, faithfully quiet as Elena saddled her up and headed for the woods.
She rode all night and made camp near the border, then took a knife to her hair until it was cut short and ragged. Then she took a scarf and wound it round her breasts until they flattened against her body. Then she dressed herself in the tunic and breeches she had begged the seamstress' young daughter to make her.
The clothing was coarse and rough. Her hair felt scratchy and her breasts ached.
She was also perfectly happy.
Gwaine was propping up a tavern in Mardon when she saw him first. She didn't think much of him but after a few weeks of drinking and plying their wares together as men for hire, she warmed to him. He was never without a joke or a quip and he certainly seemed to be living the life of adventure Elena had always dreamed of. In turn he liked her rough and ready attitude, her willingness to drink as hard at night as she rode during the day.
"Nice to have a lad for company," he told her one night next to the fire they'd made. "Even a rogue such as you, Edward."
He winked at her.
"I don't know where you got that horse of yours but I know she's a damn sight more expensive than you and I could ever afford."
Elena looked across the fire at him, at the curl of his hair, the soft crinkle of his eyes.
"She deserves one who can truly ride her," she answered.
"Oh you can ride, boy, I'll give you that."
There was a twinkle of something more in his eyes, a hint of suggestion. She knew he did not discriminate in matters of the heart, or more accurately, matters of the bed. But to give into temptation would be to expose herself, to give up her hard won freedom. He would never ride with her once he knew.
"Night, Gwaine," she said and his answering smile was only slightly rueful.
They were nearing Camelot when it happened. Gwaine claimed to be banished for various reasons - all of them highly implausible and involving the prince himself and a very overly familiar manservant, Elena personally didn't believe a word of it - so they were tracking along the border instead. But they were beset by bandits and they proved more of a challenge than the bar brawls she'd fought alongside Gwaine before.
She dispatched two with her dagger and sword but a third caught her with a slash to the ribs before Gwaine ran him through. The wound wasn't deep but she found herself sagging all the same, exhausted from the fight and shocked by the sudden blow.
"Stay with me, Eddie," Gwaine said above her, alarmed, but her eyes were slipping shut and she could only grip loosely at him before unconsciousness claimed her.
When she woke it was dusk and there was a fresh bandage around her torso. A place that could only have been accessed if Gwaine removed her tunic.
She sat up slowly, wincing, and saw Gwaine sat a little way from her, fingers steepled under his chin.
"Hello Edward," he said, and his expression was inscrutable.
"Elena," she said because the jig was up and all of a sudden she was less worried about losing her freedom and more worried about what Gwaine would say next.
"I am a Gawant," she admitted and he sucked his teeth.
"The missing princess?"
There was a long silence.
"I don't want to go back," she said.
"You mean… you won't make me go? Or hand me in?"
"You clearly didn't want to be there. I would never make that decision for someone. I thought you knew me better."
And there it was, the hurt in his voice.
"I do know you," Elena said softly.
He turned away, poking the fire.
"You'll be fine by morning. I'll escort you wherever you want to go."
"What if I want to stay with you?" She said simply and he met her eyes for the first time.
She shook her head.
"Elena can't go with you. It wouldn't be allowed. But Eddie… Eddie is free."
She moved a little closer, ignoring the pain in her side.
"I'm sorry I didn't trust you."
"I wouldn't have minded," he said, voice gentle.
"Do you mind now?" She asked. "Is Eddie still welcome with you? Or will I always be Elena now?"
He smiled then, unexpectedly, and she knew he had forgiven her.
"Eddie. Elena. Either. Both. They're all you."
He reached for her hand and she flung herself towards him instead, forgetting the wound, forgetting everything except the need and want propelling her forward.
They kissed, rough and a little desperate, and she forced him not to hold back, to give her everything he had and more.
They ended up on the ground, running their hands all over each other, touching and holding and feeling until Elena felt like she might burst. She shucked down her breeches and sucked her finger, letting him watch as she guided it down between her legs and into her arse.
"Hell," he breathed and she let out a moan, relishing the feel of something inside her back there, a unexpected joy she'd discovered aged sixteen and had relished ever since.
"Do me like you wanted to do Eddie," she said and he groaned in arousal before flipped her over, pulling her to her hands and knees and pressing a long kiss to her neck.
"Go slow," she said in return and he did, pushing into her with care, letting her adjust. It felt fantastic, so much more filling and present than the toys she'd used before, and it was ten times better with Gwaine behind her, kissing the nape of her neck and sighing sweet things in her ear.
He sped up towards the end and she cried out with the pleasure, letting it crest like a wave around her until he spent and turned her over, working his fingers over her clit with practiced movements until she came with a sob.
Afterwards they lay entwined on one blanket, talking softly until they drifted into sleep. The next morning Gwaine made breakfast, picked berries for them and fed them to Elena, laughing when she insisted on sharing with Muirisc. Then they washed together in the steam and he bound up her breasts for her, to make ready for the day's ride.