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The Bittersweet Fruit of Patience

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“You’re an idiot.”

Damen answered Laurent's sharp greeting with a low groan, cutting off the yawn that emerged almost as soon as Damen awakened. As far as Laurent was concerned, though, Damen had very little right to still be tired when he’d been sleeping almost non-stop for days, while Laurent had spent those same long hours restlessly worrying.

Damen shifted slightly so that he could look directly at his visitor for the first time since days ago, when he’d been staring up half-blindly and mouthing sweet words at Laurent, as if he thought it might be his last chance to say them.

Damen rasped, “I thought, after everything that’s happened recently, that you would have agreed that I should do whatever I could to minimise casualties.”

“Oh really?” Laurent asked sardonically. “Did you think that I was signalling my approval when I tried to yank your sword from your hand and told you that under no circumstances should you accept your brother’s challenge when you had everything to lose and he had everything to gain?”

Damen looked slightly sheepish. “It did work, though. I won, and there was no war because of it.”

“Barely,” Laurent reminded him. “It could easily have gone the other way. Too easily. Have you noticed that you keep almost getting yourself killed whenever you charge off on your own? I certainly have.”

Damen’s fingertips gingerly touched the tender spot on his left side just below his ribs, brushing over the top of the fresh bandage. “It wasn’t that bad,” he claimed, even as he winced even at that light pressure.

It had certainly been serious enough that Laurent hadn’t trusted those physicians who’d been stationed inside Ios during Kastor’s reign to save Damen unless Laurent had them under constant personal scrutiny. But then, even though they’d presumably just been willing to fight him on the battlefield, or at the very least let Kastor do so, the southern army of Akielons similarly wouldn’t agree to leave their new King’s life in the unsupervised hands of a Veretian physician either.

Paschal had therefore been allowed to act only as one of several healers assigned to Damen. There were so many of them, in fact, that they often could be found weaving around each other and Damen aimlessly, like scores of incensed bees protecting their hive. They had kept him alive through the worst of it, but it had seemed a near thing at times. Paschal now looked far more exhausted than any of the Akielon physicians, suggesting that he had been working far harder towards healing King Damianos than his own people had. Seeing that, Laurent trusted the others even less now than he had days ago. Ios would be employing an entirely new crop of physicians once its King was back on his feet. Laurent would make certain of it.

In the meantime, Laurent had been watching them all like a hawk almost the entire time, to make sure no stupid decisions or outright sabotage slipped past Paschal’s exhausted eyes unnoticed. Laurent couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually slept himself.

Laurent knew that this wasn’t the best time to already be deprived of rest, but he hadn’t been about to leave Damen alone while he was injured and vulnerable, at least not for longer than it took to occasionally give those that were absolutely necessary to keep Ios running without a King on its throne.

Damen's absence had nearly been a permanent state of affairs. There would be three scars scattered across Damen’s abdomen once this wound healed, each one inflicted at Kastor’s order or by his own hand. Damen had given Kastor three chances on his life. Three, but no more.

Damen had been seriously lucky, whatever Damen himself thought about it. A few inches difference in the location of Kastor’s stab, or even just a longer duration before Laurent had been able to summon Paschal to help staunch the bleeding, might have been all it would have taken.

Laurent himself was also luckier than he’d ever imagined he could be not to have lost Damen, and was well aware of it. He’d already thought that Damen had been taken from him once before. His chest had felt hollowed out when he’d thought it could happen for real this time, especially now, when he finally knew exactly what he’d be losing.

To bring that truth home to Damen as well, Laurent dumped onto Damen’s lap a blood-soaked piece of material that had started out white but had since been mostly stained the almost-blackened red of dried blood. He watched as Damen took in the mingled scents of the two of them emanating from the material and recognised that this was the chiton Laurent had been wearing three days ago when he’d pulled a freshly wounded Damen into his arms in front of the gathered armies of Akielos and Vere, and which he’d continued to wear for many of the long hours spent kneeling by Damen’s sickbed after that, right up until Paschal had finally been able to reassure Laurent truthfully that it appeared Damen would recover after all.

“That’s only as much of your spilled blood as seeped through my armour,” Laurent informed Damen. “And that’s also not counting what was absorbed by your own clothing, or how much of it wet the ground beneath you after you fell. Make no mistake, it was a grievous wound, not something to be just brushed off. And Kastor would have almost finished you entirely, if you hadn’t managed to get your sword back up at just the right moment and taken him by surprise.”

“Almost?” Damen prompted.

“Well obviously I would have put him down before he could strike you again,” said Laurent.

“It was single combat,” Damen reminded him, censuring. “We would both have been dishonoured if you’d interceded on my behalf.”

Laurent said, “The fight hadn’t even officially begun when he put his blade in you. He was the one who acted faithlessly, not either of us. Especially after you gave him every chance. Too much of a chance, as it turned out, and of course he took advantage. That was the kind of man he was. He was so different from you, brothers or not.” Laurent had warned Damen of that, but Damen had never really been willing to listen to anyone’s input about Kastor, even Laurent’s, whom he otherwise seemed to heed more than anyone else.

“But he was my brother,” Damen said. “I had to try.”

Of course he did. Just as he’d had to ride for Ios when his father’s illness became known, despite the obvious risks and the low possibility that in doing so he could have actually changed anything. Laurent understood what motivated Damen all too well, both then and now. But that still wouldn’t have made the consequences any easier for him to live with had things ended differently on either occasion.

For all that he knew him, though, Laurent couldn’t quite tell whether Damen’s current expression reflected sadness or not. It was unusual for Damen, who was open to a fault, to appear even slightly inscrutable, at least to Laurent’s discerning eyes.

Laurent supposed that a man might possibly have mixed emotions about saving his own life by having to kill the last remaining member of his family. Especially when he’d so desperately wanted to give that person the benefit of the doubt that he was willing to overlook the challenge to a duel to the death issued just moments ago in favour of letting him approach to supposedly ‘speak privately’.

Laurent wouldn’t really know about such things, personally. He had few enough fond memories of Uncle that all he’d felt upon killing him was relief and the tiniest bit of vindication. But he was hardly so blind that he couldn’t see how Damen seemed by contrast to really mourn Kastor, or at least the brother whom he’d thought he’d known.

“He was your brother,” Laurent acknowledged. “And yet I wouldn’t for a moment have regretted killing him under those circumstances, even if doing so had lost both of us the respect of our people. I care far more that you continue drawing breath than I do for my honour, or even for yours. I can’t imagine that you, of all people, have forgotten that my brother died because he acted honourably during single combat. I’d have done whatever it took to save him if I’d been by his side back then. I’d do no less for you now.”

Damen reached for Laurent’s hand, which he gave over willingly despite his lingering anger towards Damen for scaring Laurent for days on end.

Damen asked fondly, “How did I ever get someone like you to give me the time of day?”

“Persistence,” Laurent answered, even if that didn’t begin to describe those elements of Damen’s character that had really won Laurent over.

Damen drew Laurent’s hand closer to him and pressed a kiss to the palm. Then he inhaled sharply against Laurent’s wrist.

“You smell amazing,” Damen commented suspiciously.

“I would imagine that I do to you, yes,” Laurent agreed.

“You’re nearly...”

“Yes.”

There was a long beat of heavy silence, and then: “Your timing leaves a lot to be desired,” Damen remarked.

“Yes, silly me. I should have waited until it was more convenient for you. Next time I’ll be sure to show more consideration when it comes to going into heat.”

“How long do you have?”

“Maybe an hour until the worst of it starts,” admitted Laurent. “At most.”

Damen tried to sit up for a moment before Laurent hissed, “Lie back down and relax before I put you down. You’ll undo all of Paschal’s tireless work patching you up.”

Damen settled back in place with a sigh. “Alright,” he conceded. “I can still help you through it from this position, I suppose, but obviously you’ll have to do a lot of the work.”

“I fully anticipate having to do all of the work,” Laurent said, “because there’s no way I’m letting you risk injuring yourself even more. I’ve had more than enough experience for one lifetime of seeing your skin turn as pale as mine as I try fruitlessly to hold your blood inside your body.”

“Well I’m not about to leave you to suffer just because it might cause me a slight twinge,” Damen admonished, as if that was anywhere near the worst thing that could happen. “I know it’s more bearable when I’m with you.”

“Who said anything about you not being with me?” asked Laurent. “I thought I'd already made it very clear that you’re not going anywhere as long as you’re still hurt. As it happens, neither am I. Someone obviously has to watch you to make sure you don’t do anything else that might put your life at risk. And why should I leave, anyway, when I have a perfectly good palace with solid walls and plenty of security available for the duration, and when this room in particular is currently the most highly defended place in the whole country? Though, having said that, I would suggest that you should send away the Alphas that are stationed outside to protect you. We obviously don’t want a hormone-fuelled riot on our hands, but they showed no intention of abandoning their post just because I asked nicely. They’d need to hear that order from you, I think.”

Damen made a discontented sound at the mention of there being what the Alpha part of his brain undoubtedly saw as potential competition so close by, especially when Damen was in no fit state to help physically fight them off. Still, Damen hesitated to take steps to actually order them away; that would require calling at least one of them into the room to hear his instructions, which seemed a foolish prospect when Laurent was so close to giving off the difficult-to-resist perfume of full heat.

Damen looked to one of the palace physicians, who seemed to be busy doing something off in the corner of Damen’s sickroom, apparently utterly uncomprehending of the Veretian words spoken between the two of them, unless he was a far better actor than Laurent gave him credit for.

“Send a servant to fetch Nikandros,” Damen instructed in Akielon, as if the physician were a servant himself. The physician seemed to take the abruptness of the order into stride, though, and moved to comply without any sign of resistance.

Laurent said nothing to dispute that being a good idea. On the matter of ensuring their King’s safety, the Akielon royal guards would certainly listen to the newly-appointed Kyros of Ios more readily than they had to Laurent. And, Alpha or not, the thought of Nikandros in particular being around Laurent this close to heat didn’t alarm Laurent any more than it apparently did Damen. Laurent was still just as convinced as ever that Nikandros wouldn’t imagine touching Laurent even in the dead of heat, though now he thought it would be more to do with him having unenthusiastically accepted Laurent as his King’s Omega rather than purely because he still resented and mistrusted Laurent so much that he was seen as entirely unappealing.

When Nikandros entered the room, they didn’t even need to say anything to him. After the first inhale, Nikandros simply looked skyward, as if in an exasperated prayer for forbearance. “Exalted,” he said, sounding embarrassed, “forgive me, but I’m sure that your physicians would tell you that you’re not well enough yet for strenuous activity.”

“He definitely won’t be doing anything that could make his injury worse under my watch,” Laurent assured Nikandros, “even if I have to shackle him to the bed without an inch of slack to stop him.”

Nikandros looked as though his life would have been much happier all around had he never been gifted with that particular mental picture, but he wisely refrained from further comment.

“Besides,” Laurent added, “I’ve already informed my physician that he should check on King Damianos from time to time over the next few days to make sure that his injury continues to heal properly.”

“While you’re in the middle of heat?” Damen asked, sounding scandalised. Nikandros looked similarly discomfited at the thought of it, though probably for different reasons.

Laurent rolled his eyes. “He’s a physician, and a Beta. I’m certain that he’s seen worse, and he certainly isn’t interested in anything that might occur in here except insofar as it affects his patient’s well-being. Your Akielon physicians should steer clear for the duration, though. I don’t particularly want them near me outside of heat if I can help it, let alone during it.”

Damen, looking like he was stuck in a state of shock at the idea of anyone other than himself just strolling around the room while Laurent was potentially right in the middle of taking care of his heat, still nodded at Nikandros to confirm Laurent’s order.

Nikandros sighed, but merely said, “Of course. Is there anything else, Exalted?”

It felt for a moment almost like Nikandros might have actually been encompassing them both in that title of power and respect.

Laurent was probably just imagining it.

Damen said, sounding pleasingly dangerous to Laurent’s heated ears, “Yes, there is. If the Alphas that are currently outside this room aren’t somewhere well on the opposite side of the castle within ten minutes, no amount of chaining me to the bed or newly-opened bleeding wounds are going to stop me from tearing their heads from their shoulders. And inform them, and anyone else who might come into contact with us, that I’ll be severely displeased the next time I hear that King Laurent’s orders haven’t been followed as if they were my own.”

“I’ll send Betas to guard the halls close to you instead,” Nikandros consented. If he didn’t look overly impressed by Laurent having been given carte blanche over the Akielon military, then he knew better by now than to actually bother saying so.

“Some of those Betas should be King Laurent’s personal guards,” Damen added. “I trust them,” he continued when Nikandros looked sceptical. “So should you. I’m sure you’ll recall that it was Veretian soldiers who saved my life only months ago.”

“The presence of some of my own men would make everyone involved less prone to doing something stupid when word of precisely why most everyone is being sent from the King’s bedside inevitably spreads,” Laurent agreed. Once Nikandros bowed his head in acquiescence and retreated eagerly away from the room, Laurent added to Damen, “I know that you’re aware that it’s still ‘Prince Laurent' for now.”

“Not to me,” asserted Damen, “and not to anyone else here in Akielos either. You don’t have to be twenty-one for my country to recognise your right to rule. I assume, knowing you and seeing that the palace isn’t in chaos, that you’ve already been more or less ruling my people while I couldn’t anyway, however careful you might have been not to appear to be taking advantage of my incapacity. You’ve been acting like a king, and you’re certainly my equal. Ascension or not, you are the King of Vere in every way that matters. That should be reflected in your title.”

Laurent shifted in place slightly, partly due to the prickling of oncoming heat and partly in discomfort at how certain Damen sounded, as though he truly believed it was just an incontrovertible fact.

Damen added, “And besides, the people of Akielos should get used to thinking that way about you now, because I hope that you’ll be a King of this country as well as Vere soon enough.”

It wasn’t the first time recently that Damen had hinted at that, though Laurent’s reticence to respond to the sentiment in kind had apparently so far prevented him from pursuing the prospect more actively. It wasn’t that Laurent didn’t want that, dearly. He just didn’t want to tie Damen to a promise that he would stand by due to honour, even if Laurent still couldn’t help but wonder if it was really in Damen's best interests to follow through on it.

To distract them both from that, Laurent settled on the edge of Damen’s bed, allowing Damen to shift over just enough to make room for him to eventually lie alongside Damen before he chastised him to stop moving around and straining the injury.

Laurent reached for the ties of his clothes, suddenly feeling too hot for them. The heat was properly starting to set in now.

Damen could apparently sense that too, for Laurent had to slap his hands away when he reached eagerly for the laces of Laurent’s pants to help free him from his restrictions more quickly.

“I can help,” Damen protested.

“You’re helping just by being here,” claimed Laurent truthfully. Just the closeness of his Alpha’s scent and his warm body against him, and maybe a pair of strong arms around him, would do wonders for fooling Laurent’s body, at least temporarily, into thinking that it was getting what it wanted and needed.

This wasn’t quite how Laurent had hoped, in his most private dreams, to be able to spend his next heat. But it would still be better than the first few he’d spent entirely alone, or especially the one in Fortaine where Damen had been tantalisingly close but not enough to do more than tease at Laurent’s senses and make things even worse for him. This would be enough, Laurent told himself, even if Damen couldn’t actually touch him the way he wanted.

Once he was fully unclothed and had draped himself naked alongside Damen, to Damen’s visible appreciation, Laurent sucked on two fingers to wet them, for his slick had barely begun to flow, for all that he was already feeling the need to touch himself.

Damen watched, curling slightly against Laurent’s side, as Laurent raised his knees enough that his cock nestled against his belly, already leaking ever so slightly against the soft skin there. Laurent’s fingers found puckered skin and circled teasingly, taking it slow while he still could. His body was still preparing. He had time before there was any real need for haste.

Damen looked as though he would desperately have liked for those fingers to be his own, or perhaps instead to let Laurent keep touching himself there while Damen remedied the fact that Laurent’s hardness was currently being ignored. He would be allowed to do neither of those things, though. Bad enough that Laurent was letting him so close at all, just so that Laurent could take comfort from his nearness. Letting him be actively involved entailed too much risk that they’d forget themselves and get carried away. Laurent would rather battle through this alone than risk inadvertently doing Damen harm.

The full onset of heat made Laurent’s fingers automatically start delving deeper, no longer a mere shadow of what was to come. They pressed inside him, seeking release where before the sensation itself had been enough to tide him over. Damen watched Laurent touch himself eagerly, as if he were studying his habits as diligently as Laurent had once done when Damen gave him a show. Laurent didn’t think Damen really needed the help, though; he already seemed to know just what Laurent liked best.

Laurent pushed Damen firmly but gently back away from him as his movements started to grow more desperate, so that they were barely touching by the time Laurent’s hips bucked as he came.

Damen’s whole body seemed to vibrate with the tension of holding himself back. Laurent took pity on him – on both of them – by grasping Damen’s arm and pulling it carefully towards himself until the weight and heat of it over his waist calmed some of Laurent’s shivering.

“You should let me do more to help you,” Damen almost begged, even as Laurent let Damen pull their bodies a little closer.

“This is enough,” Laurent assured him. And it was. For now.

The third time he was made to remain perfectly still while Laurent worked steadily towards his own completion, Damen complained, "This is torture.”

"Really?" Laurent replied between panting breaths. "In that case, perhaps I should put away all of the whips and chains in Arles and take a more personal interest in questioning enemies of the kingdom."

Laurent felt the vibration of Damen's possessive growl against his back.

“You know what I mean,” Damen said through gritted teeth.

“What, that I might be punishing you a little for getting yourself into this situation when I told you not to agree to a duel, or to give Kastor the opportunity to sway you? Now why would you think that?”

Laurent’s hint of smugness was fairly short-lived, though. By the sixth time his cock hardened, he was entirely in agreement that this was torturous, and not just for Damen at this point. He was, to tell the truth, by then more interested in just sprawling in place and never moving again than in putting in the effort required of seeing to himself. Laurent’s body had other plans, though.

Hoping to just get it over with as quickly as possible in the hope that he’d be allowed some small respite before the next time, Laurent simply buried his fingers straight inside himself, taking advantage of the fact that he was already well-prepared. Even though that should have made it easy to pleasure himself, though, Laurent still felt uncoordinated, and he couldn’t quite correct it.

His hands were cramping too much, and his arm felt too heavy with tiredness, to allow him to really satisfy himself. He could barely even keep his eyes open. Unlike his last heat before this one, this was quickly turning into something more miserable than pleasurable. The only good part was that Damen was holding him just as close as Laurent would allow. That was nice, he admitted. The rest was hateful.

Laurent groaned, not sure how to make it any better. Really he just wanted to sleep until it passed. Right now Laurent couldn’t imagine how he was going to stay awake and aware throughout, even as he knew that the drives of heat wouldn’t allow him to rest.

And it was still only the first day, as far as he could tell. It would probably last two more yet. This would only get worse.

Damen seemed to know that as well, and to sense Laurent’s dilemma. He pressed a palm to Laurent’s chest just over his heart, holding Laurent in place against him, while his other hand knocked Laurent’s ineffectual fingers aside, replacing them with his own, which were larger and surer and almost what Laurent was craving right then.

Laurent mumbled tiredly, “I told you not to. You’ll hurt yourself.”

“It’s my side that’s injured, not my hand. And I’d rather take the slight risk that I’ll experience a little more pain than the certain knowledge that you’re hurting when I can do something about it. Surely you don’t think that your wish to see me whole and pain free isn’t reciprocated?”

“I’m not the one who’s in pain here,” Laurent lied.

“No?” Damen clearly didn’t believe a word of it. Laurent’s inability to fool him was probably the best indication there was that he was in a poor state. “I promise that I’ll be careful,” Damen tried to reassure him.

Laurent huffed. “You don’t know what it is to be careful.”

Except, that was, when it came to dealing with Laurent’s heart. Damen had always guarded that so closely; much better than Laurent had in turn looked after Damen’s at times. That tenderness had always been like a pleasant burn under Laurent’s ribcage, even before Laurent had been able to admit to himself that he had in fact given his heart away. Or that he even still really had one at all, for that matter. He regretted that he couldn’t always make Damen feel that same way because of how closed off he sometimes was.

Which was exactly why the least Laurent could do would be to stand his ground and keep Damen from risking himself now. But he reached for his resolve and found it lacking.

Really, Laurent should have known from the start that he wasn’t going to be able to resist Damen for long.

“Fine,” Laurent agreed. “But if you worsen your injury, even slightly, I’ll only wait long enough for you to heal before I make you regret not listening to me.”

Damen grinned like Laurent had just given him the greatest gift he could imagine, and Laurent was for a long moment brought up short by the sight of his open joy. Until, that was, Damen's hands thoroughly diverted his attention.

It was perhaps the most drawn out build-up Laurent had ever experienced, even on the rare occasion when he was left entirely to his own devices and he could take it as slowly as he preferred. Both of them were eminently careful not to jostle against each other. Laurent could feel Damen’s hardness against his back and forced himself not to press into it teasingly, the way he would have done at any other time when they’d been in this position over the last few months. Damen, for his part, gave no indication that he even noticed how being able to touch Laurent at last was affecting his own body, except to hold himself very still. The strain of that combined with his arousal meant that Damen’s breathing came in short puffs, almost matching Laurent’s.

Eventually Laurent couldn’t help himself anymore and began rolling his hips just slightly back into the thrusting of Damen’s fingers, seeking more. Damen’s chuckle was low, the dual warmth of it echoing in Laurent’s ears and dispersing against Laurent’s neck before lips pressed under his hairline, just for a moment. They were gone before Laurent could protest against the strain it must have taken for Damen to bend into him like that.

“Patience,” Damen cautioned. Laurent could hear his fond smile in his voice.

Normally Laurent would have had a retort at the ready, but right now Damen, even if he’d been half joking, happened to be right. They had to keep taking this slowly. Carefully. Even if every inch of Laurent’s body was currently striving towards a quick but satisfying resolution.

In an attempt to still the instinctive shifting of his hips, Laurent scuffled his hands against the sheets, grabbing for purchase to hold himself in place despite how his grip hurt his overworked fingers. Better that he experience this minor soreness than that Damen was subject to something far worse because they’d both been too incautious. It didn’t much help to keep Laurent motionless, however, especially when Damen’s own fingers hastened and brushed intentionally against that place inside that rarely failed to force a whine from Laurent’s throat, especially deep into his heat, when his control was already frayed.

“Easy,” Damen whispered. “I’ve got you.”

Laurent could tell that much. He felt thoroughly possessed, and it was so nice that he didn’t even think to snap at Damen when he felt the whole line of Damen’s chest and abdomen pressing against Laurent’s back, a wall of welcome warmth. His chin notched comfortably in the curve of Laurent’s neck for a moment, and Laurent heard him breathe in, long and slow.

Their bodies were too close to be safe for Damen. Yet they weren’t nearly close enough.

Laurent almost did protest when that warmth fell away from him, leaving him slightly bereft as Damen shifted himself clear across the other side of the mattress. But he knew why a moment later, when Damen’s fourth finger slid into him alongside the others, deeper, deeper, and then they all curled inside him.

Laurent’s whole body jolted wildly at the sensation, as close as he’d ever come to being knotted during heat the way his body wanted so intensely. Damen’s fingers gave one last twist, and Laurent’s cry was strangled by pleasure as he thrust his hips forward against the sheets and came into them, painting them as white as his vision went in that endless moment of abandon.

He reached for Damen and didn’t immediately find him there, which was just as well, because their was no thought of carefulness in his mind at that moment.

Only once the shuddering of Laurent’s body began to die away did Damen move back to press his body close to Laurent’s once more.

“That was stupid,” Laurent breathed. “I could easily have hurt you.”

“No,” said Damen, “I don’t think you ever could have.”

“You’re still too trusting,” Laurent warned, “even after everything. Do you really think I could have stopped myself even if I’d tried, with you doing that?”

“You didn’t have to, though,” Damen countered. “You don’t always have to rely only on yourself. I would never have allowed for you to have reason to regret trusting me.”

No, Laurent thought, he never had regretted that yet. He somehow doubted that he ever would. If anything, Damen might come to regret his faith in Laurent.

But not today, Laurent promised himself. Not yet.

Laurent relaxed ever so slightly back against Damen, his hips and cock both jerking slightly at the way Damen’s fingers shifted inside him, so close to simulating a real knot.

“If you’re not careful, I’ll be ready to go again in all of a minute,” Laurent said.

“Is that supposed to put me off?”

“Would it, if I told you I wasn’t going to let you touch me again this heat?” Laurent asked. “That I was determined to do it alone?”

“Absolutely. But I don’t think you are going to tell me that, are you?”

Laurent’s eyes narrowed at Damen’s conceit. “I can deal with it myself. If that’s what it takes to keep you safe, from yourself if necessary.”

“I know you can,” Damen said. “I’ve never really doubted your capabilities. But I still like it when you sometimes let me help you just a little.”

Laurent had to admit, in the privacy of his own mind, that sometimes he really did like that as well.

Since Damen wasn’t supposed to be moving around much, for all that Damen himself seemed determined to ignore that fact, Laurent twisted his own body around so that they were facing each other. In doing so, Damen’s hand was forced to fall away from him, for now. The tug of it registered low in Laurent’s belly, a spark of reawakening .

“Remember that,” Laurent said seriously, “before you run off and do something stupid on your own again. Because I prefer it when you let me help you as well. It seems that we do better when we’re together.”

“All right,” Damen agreed, sounding pleased. He looked between them pointedly, where Laurent’s body was starting to react to the siren call of heat again. “And for now?”

“Touch me,” Laurent demanded in answer, his glare conveying that he expected Damen to care for his own present needs as much as Laurent’s while he did so.

“Next time,” Damen breathed as he reached eagerly for Laurent, “I’ll be able to do so much more than just that.”

Despite himself, Laurent found he was already looking forward to that.