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Captivated

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Laurent had an air of indifference about him as he laid across the chaise lounge, seemingly so casual that one wouldn’t even guess that his muscles were coiled tight, ready to spring into action at any moment. Though, being part-cat, most would assume he spent most of his time lazing about anyway. That’s most certainly what the men and women ogling him at that very moment were thinking.

Every night was the same. Laurent’s uncle would call for him and Nicaise - a little fox chimera, still only a child - to come to the showroom for a few hours and have guests observe them like they were some freaks of nature. Chimeras weren’t common, no, but they weren’t so rare that they needed be shown off like bizarre creatures either. Laurent detested his uncle for the humiliation he put Laurent through each evening.

A couple of years ago, Laurent’s father and older brother were killed in a suspicious ‘accident’, and since Laurent was a minor at the time, his uncle was granted custody. A few months later, Uncle adopted Nicaise from a chimera foster centre, earning good favour by explaining that his chimera nephew had just lost his father and brother, and would like someone like himself to bond with. All of it was complete bullshit, of course. Two chimeras at the same time was far too convenient for Uncle, so he took hold of the unique opportunity and earned himself some sort of reputation as a chimera connoisseur. His chimeras were known as the finest of the fine, the lack in numbers made up for with their youth and beauty.

The guests, at least, treated them well. They knew only Nicaise liked to be petted, the boy lapping up the attention, having never received it from his own parents. He knew how to make his words sting, but with the guests, he was all smiles and charm. They respected Laurent’s boundaries; they could look but not touch, and they were not to expect any conversation. Sometimes he would humour them, but most took his stone cold demeanour to be from the cat side of him. Oftentimes, Laurent would wonder just how much of him was animal, and how much really was man.

Other than his uncle, the only other person Laurent truly detested was Aimeric. The boy had been kind at first, the son of Uncle’s friend who was curious about the business he had going, all wide-eyed and innocent. But soon enough he became a brat, doing anything Uncle asked of him in the hopes it’d get him some special favour. Laurent suspected his uncle might be doing things with the poor boy, corrupting him, but the thought made him feel ill, so he would push it to the back of his mind.

Usually Aimeric would help set up the room for the guests’ arrival, and stick around to help clean up after they were gone, but tonight he was spending time with his family. They allowed him to work for Laurent’s uncle, but they requested he stay home with them at least once a week. Aimeric detested going home, always moody and general pain in the ass the day before, but at least it gave Laurent an opportunity.

All he had to do was kick up a fuss. If he started some drama or made a scene, his uncle would send him away and claim that his ‘cat side’ had gotten the better of him. Then Nicaise would turn up his charisma and charm on all the guests to distract them from what happened, and obviously Laurent’s uncle would stick around to make sure none of them were having a bad experience. If any guests went away with bad gossip, then his entire reputation, and business, could be ruined.

Only then it would be the perfect time for Laurent to make his escape.

He glanced over to where Nicaise was sitting on a pile of soft and luxurious pillows made of silk while his admirers crowded around. Of course, calling them admirers was far too kind. The guests looked at Nicaise with barely controlled lust in their eyes, and being the child he was, that made them no better than paedophilic perverts, much like Laurent’s uncle himself.

“Yes, you can touch it,” Nicaise told one of his new patrons, who either ignored the pawing and groping from the others, or thought he needed permission. The man grinned widely and immediately reached out to stroke Nicaise’s fox tail.

Laurent turned back to his own guests with a blank stare, wondering how soon he should put his plan into motion. If he left it too late, then he might run into some of the guests if they decided to leave early. It’d have to be soon, then, but there had to be a catalyst.

The perfect moment presented itself almost immediately after these thoughts.

He almost didn’t see the hand reaching out to touch his tail, but once he did, Laurent’s own hand shot out to grab the other person’s wrist in a bone-crushing hold.

Laurent lazily glanced to the person, a middle-aged and balding man, then tilted his head to the side slightly, eyes wide with innocence. “I’m sorry, I must be mistaken, but I was sure you signed a contract in which you agreed you could look but not touch.”

“I did,” the man replied, frowning and a little unsure.

Laurent paused to look down at the man’s hand, still tight in his grasp. “And yet, you still reached for my tail.”

“I-I-I-” the man stammered, but couldn’t get his words out. As he tried to yank his arm back, Laurent tightened his grip. The man winced.

“What’s that? Cat got your tongue?” Laurent sneered and let go of the man just as he gave a particularly hard tug to escape, sending him reeling over. He scrambled up and fled the room, not once looking back. Pathetic.

All eyes were on Laurent now, something he was used to but not something he enjoyed. His uncle was already wondering over, just as he knew would happen. For once, Laurent was actually glad that one of his pathetic guests had attempted to pet him.

“Laurent, I would like to speak with you in private,” his uncle stated, voice low and calm, though Laurent knew better. His uncle was no less than furious in that moment, but he’d be damned if he let any of the guests know that.

Graceful as always, Laurent rose from lounge and followed his uncle out of the viewing room and into a hallway - one that wasn’t used by the guests.

“I think I’ve been far too lenient with you,” his uncle started, gazing at Laurent cooly. “The guests usually like the fact that you’re a stone-cold bitch, but this has gone too far. A verbal lashing here and there is enough as is, but physically harming your guests is completely inappropriate. They don’t touch you, and you don’t touch them. That was the deal.”

Laurent absently checked his nails, feigning disinterest. “I’m not sure if you noticed, but that man suddenly forgot that particular rule.”

“It’s not the first time a guest has attempted to touch you. And I know you would usually move out of reach and leave a scathing remark.”

“What’s done is done, uncle. Are you to punish me or send me back in?” Laurent looked his uncle in the eye and waited for a response, almost daring him to choose a punishment. Both of them knew there was nothing he could do.

“Just spend the rest of your evening in your room to think about what you’ve done.” Uncle turned his back on Laurent and started back towards the viewing room. “I think the guests have seen enough of you for tonight.”

When Laurent was alone, he smiled to himself, pleased. Tonight couldn’t have been more perfect for him. He rushed off to his room and rummaged through the oversized wardrobe for the travel bag he had stashed there. There was everything he needed for his escape: some basic belongings, food, and a large wad of cash. His plan was to travel south, to where chimeras like himself were no less uncommon, but treated far better. Where they were treated no differently than other humans.

Before he left, he needed just one more thing. Hidden right at the back of the wardrobe was a large hooded coat, thick enough to hide his ears and tail. His plan could only work in winter due to this, as in any other season the weather would be far too warm for the coat, and he’d stick out like a sore thumb. He refused to reveal his feline features to the public until he was far enough south that they wouldn’t bat an eyelid at him.

Laurent, finally ready, left his room for the last time and slinked silently down the halls of the large mansion. His plan was to travel by public transport during the day and stay at generic motels during the night. Nothing was to be too fancy or too run-down. It had to be perfectly normal. Nothing out of the ordinary for the average young man Laurent was pretending to be.

When his uncle found out about his disappearance, Laurent had no idea if he would go looking for him, or if he’d just let him go. No doubt he’d be furious at Laurent, solely because he lost one of his exotic attractions. His uncle would have to replace him somehow, most likely with another pretty chimera. Maybe he’d find one more like Nicaise, that humoured the guests. Laurent silently cursed him to have no such luck.

Only a minute later, Laurent was outside that damn mansion. He stopped for a moment, taking deep breath and savoring his first moment of freedom. It was snowing.

Chapter Text

When Damen arrived home, he kicked his shoes off, hung his jacket on the rack by the door, then headed towards the living room so he could collapse onto the couch. He wanted nothing more to relax for the rest of the night, cuddling up with Jokaste and watching a movie.

Speaking of Jokaste, he could hear her heading his way. Perking up, Damen was just about to call out hello when he realised she was on the phone.

“I’m meeting him again tonight, at the Ravenal Hotel,” she told whoever was on the other end, pausing as they replied. “That’s what I thought too. I want him to take me somewhere nicer, but at least it’s better than the cheap motels he’s taken me to those other times.”

Jokaste, unaware of her audience, continued past the living room and down towards their bedroom. Damen felt like the earth had just dropped from beneath his feet. His fiancé - the woman he’d proposed to just a few weeks earlier - was meeting with another man? Damen knew it wasn’t him. He and Jokaste never stayed at hotels unless they were on vacation, and even then he only had them stay in luxury.

Overwhelmed didn’t quite cover the exact emotion Damen was feeling. He was furious, for her to see another man behind his back, but also insecure, because why would she feel the need to do so? Feelings of inadequacy arose, before they were overtaken by resentment towards her. How dare she do such a thing? Damen jumped up from the couch, but before he stormed off to demand answers, he held himself back and took three slow, deep breaths.

Once a little calmer, he thought about it more. Jokaste had said she was meeting a man at the Ravenal hotel, but nothing else was given away. Was Damen jumping to conclusions? This man could have something to do with the wedding. They had yet to set a date, but Jokaste did like to take charge when organising events. And sure, it did seem a bit odd that she was seeing him so late, and at a hotel no less, but Damen wanted to give his fiancé the benefit of the doubt.

He had to figure out what was really going on, but he couldn’t deny how bad it looked. Damen, deep down, knew that she was cheating, though part of him still hoped that she’d prove him wrong. He didn’t want to outright ask Jokaste if she was seeing another man, as he knew she was an excellent liar. He’d often been the one to witness it, but now he wondered how often he’d been the one she was lying to.

Damen didn’t bother pretending to open and close the door like he’d just arrived home. If Jokaste hadn’t heard him the first time, why would she the second? Instead, he just headed towards their bedroom, knowing Jokaste would still be in there. He’d decided to talk to her, and pretend like he knew nothing, just to see what she’d say.

“Hey babe,” Jokaste said when she saw Damen, pausing to glance at him through the mirror and smile a greeting before continuing to put on her jewelry. “Did you just get home?”

Though she always asked him that, Damen couldn’t help but wonder if the underlying question was really, ‘Did you just overhear my conversation on the phone?’

“I did,” Damen confirmed, laying himself down on their bed. He rolled to his side and looked Jokaste up and down, left breathless from her beauty. All blonde curls and creamy skin. His weakness. Her red dress was simple but really accentuated her features, and for a moment, Damen forgot about the horrible truth he’d just learned. “You look gorgeous. Going somewhere?”

She turned around in her chair and grinned. He noticed she’d gone light on the makeup, just a delicate black line along each eyelid and some gloss on her lips. She was gorgeous enough without makeup, but she always did like playing around with it when she went out.

“Kyrina wants to get dinner.” Jokaste pulled out a pot of rouge and dabbed some on her cheeks, leaving her looking flushed. “She won’t tell me where we’re going, so I’ve no idea if I should dress up or down. I decided to go with something nice but not too dressy, what do you think?”

Damen thought the red dress would most certainly attract the man she was meeting, and any other men in the vicinity, while the makeup was light enough that it wouldn’t rub off when they inevitably fucked. He was sickened by the thought, and a fresh wave of resentment towards Jokaste almost made him demand answers then and there.

But Damen knew how to control himself. “I think you look amazing. Kyrina will no doubt be jealous.”

“Don’t say that.” Jokaste waved her hand, dismissing his comment, though Damen could see the pleasure on her face. He knew she was vain, but he loved her anyway. Or had loved her. He wasn’t quite sure anymore. He wasn’t sure about anything.

Damen decided he couldn’t stand to be in her presence much longer, and hopped off the bed. “Well, I won’t distract you. If you need anything before you go, I’ll be in the kitchen.”

He wandered over to Jokaste and, a little unwillingly, pressed a soft kiss to her jaw. She smiled up at him a little absently. As Damen left the room, he wondered if she’d always smiled like that at him, or perhaps he was just imagining it now that he was expecting it. Because really, had he been so blinded by love that he was only now noticing it? The double meaning in her words, the easy lies, the absent smiles… It was all too much.

Deciding that cooking himself dinner would be a good distraction, Damen set about finding the ingredients to make something nice, though the thought of actually eating was the last thing on his mind. As he chopped up some veggies, he thought about what, exactly, he was going to do. Did he just wait around for Jokaste to get home? No, Damen couldn’t just wait around for that while she did God knows what.

Instantly, Damen knew what he had to do. He didn’t exactly want to do it, though. In fact, the thought of doing it made him fill with dread, but he saw no other choice. And with his mind made up, he set about drizzling the chopped veggies with oil and popping them into the oven. He put all his focus into cooking, taking care to trim all the fat off some lamb cutlets, then patting a mix of herbs and pepper of them. Damen was just about to pop them on a tray when Jokaste appeared.

“I’ve got to go or I’ll be late,” she announced, blowing Damen a kiss. “See you later, love.”

“Have fun.” Damen’s grin felt strained to him, but Jokaste didn’t notice. “Tell Kyrina I said hi.”

“I will, bye!” And with that, Jokaste was out the door.

Not wasting a moment, Damen turned the oven off with the veggies still inside, then popped the lamb into the fridge. In record time he’d washed his hands, grabbed his coat, slipped his shoes on, and headed down to his car in the basement, hoping he’d arrive at the Ravenal Hotel in time to find out which room she was meeting the man in.

He parked down the street from the hotel, just as Jokaste was entering it. Damen casually made his way over, looking like he belonged there, and pulled out his phone as a prop as he tried to find some inconspicuous corner where he could hide from Jokaste without seeming shifty. Turns out there was no need. She passed the reception desk and headed straight for the elevator, where a man was already waiting. They didn’t appear to acknowledge each other, yet Damen still wondered if it was he she was meeting.

As Jokaste and the man entered the elevator once it arrived, Damen could just hear them speak.

“Oh, you’re on level four as well?” The man asked, obviously making small talk.

“I am,” Jokaste confirmed, tone polite. Damen knew he well enough to know she was bored, though. “Perhaps we’ll run into each other again.”

Relief flooded Damen, as he’d been worried he would have no idea where to find her. He’d expected her to check in at the front desk and to overhear her room number that way, and while he still didn’t have the exact number, at least he could narrow it down to one on the fourth floor.

Pocketing his phone, Damen took the next elevator, all the while praying that he’d find her, but not in the way he expected to. He wouldn’t back out - he had to know the truth - but he was desperate that he’d be mistaken.

The Ravenal was small, with only ten rooms occupying each floor. It was also old, so while the walls were mostly soundproof, the doors weren’t. He intended to start at the first room, when a very drunk man and woman exited it. They ignored him as they passed, heading for the elevator. He could cross their room off the list. When the elevator arrived for them, two got out, and headed for different rooms. Three down, seven to go.

Once the hall was quiet, he headed over to a door and listened. He could here the TV on inside, playing a sports game, along with some enthusiastic words of encouragement from the room’s occupant. Not them, so six more to go.

The couple in the next room were having an argument, and in the room after that were some chatty girls excitedly gossiping. As Damen narrowed the rooms down, he only grew more nervous. He pressed his ear to the next door, listening intently.

Jazz music played quietly in the background, and the sound of glasses clinking together.

“I’ve had enough to drink, my love. Now I just want you.”

Oh. Damen’s stomach dropped and he felt just a little lightheaded, because that was Jokaste all right. Jokaste calling whatever man she was with, ‘my love’. He had his evidence, her words were enough, but he still turned the handle anyway, unable to stopped himself. He expected it to be locked, in all honestly, so of course he was surprised when it swung open with no resistance.

He really did wish it had been locked, because Damen was confronted by the sight of his fiancé half naked on his brother . Her red dress was on the floor beside her heels, as was Kastor’s shirt and belt. They sprung apart a moment after the door opened, Jokaste’s eyes widening comically.

“Damen! What are you doing here?”

“I overheard your conversation with Kyrina earlier,” he explained. Damen tried his hardest to appear unaffected, as if what he’d witnessed hadn’t cut his heart in half, but he couldn’t stop from crossing his arms in a defensive stance and narrowing his eyes at them both. “Thought I’d come and see the man you were meeting. Nice to see you brother. But, I must say, it isn’t much of a surprise that you’ve completely embraced the fact you’re a bastard.”

Jokaste had gotten up and was slipping her dress back on. “Damen, please , I--”

“Save it, Jokaste. What would you even say? That it’s a mistake? Proposing to you was a mistake, not this.” Damen shook his head, done with it all. He turned to Kastor, feeling nothing but pure hatred for the man. “I hope you enjoy my used goods, brother. Jokaste, when you’re done, you can come collect your things. They’ll be sitting outside the apartment.”

God, Damen needed to get out of there and find something to distract him before he broke something, he was that hurt and angry. He needed to push what had happened to the back of his mind for a little while, just until the heartbreak and betrayal wasn’t so fresh and raw and he could deal with it properly.

Unable to stay any longer, lest his emotions finally get the better of him, Damen backed out of the room, slammed the door, and spun around blindly, immediately bumping into a shorter man and knocking him off his feet. Even in a bad mood, his first instinct was to apologize, and his second was to help him up, so it came as no surprise when Damen was half bent over and open-mouthed when he properly saw the appearance of the man and completely paused, save for his mouth, which somehow managed to drop wider than it already was.

The man on the ground had been wearing a hood, it appeared, but now his face and hair was completely visible for the world, and more importantly, for Damen to see. The cat ears were of no consequence - Damen would have been captivated either way. Golden blonde locks fell past his shoulders, and blue eyes were set in the loveliest face Damen had seen in years.

And it had been years, as Damen immediately recognised the man.

“Laurent?” He questioned, surprised but more than pleased. He held out a hand for Laurent to take, intent on helping him up, but Laurent just looked at Damen, his eyes narrowed with suspicion. “It’s me, Damianos. Do you remember me?”

Because Damen remembered Laurent all too well. How could he not, when Laurent had been his first crush? It had formed when they were kids, and despite Laurent’s apparent dislike of Damen, his crush hadn’t faded until he was an older teen and stopped seeing the other boy as much as he had before.

“Oh, I remember you.” Laurent ignored Damen’s hand and got himself up. He quickly slipped the hood back over his head and brushed some invisible dirt off the coat. “You’re that barbaric fool who thought it fun to pull on my tail.”

Damen grinned at the memory. “I was fond of that, wasn’t I? But it was less for my own enjoyment, and more to get your attention away from all those books you read.”

“I’m sure my anger wasn’t quite the attention you wanted, but that never stopped you.” Laurent raised his eyebrow, waiting, impatiently though. He seemed skittish, ready to run off at any moment.

“Any attention was fine by me.” Damen frowned at Laurent’s body language. It wasn’t Damen who unnerved him, but something else. “What’s wrong? You seem on edge.”

Laurent’s eyes flashed with something Damen couldn’t identify. “That’s none of your concern. I simply wish to leave this place before it gets any later.”

It certainly was an odd time to check out of a hotel, though Damen knew Laurent’s family, the deVere’s, and he wouldn’t put it past them to pay extra for something like that.

“Did you drive here?” Damen asked suddenly.

Laurent appeared wary of the seemingly random question, but answered nonetheless. “No, why?”

“I can drive you to your new hotel, if you’d like.” Damen shrugged, hands slipping into his pockets as he adopted a casual stance. In actuality, he was overjoyed at both a reunion with an old friend and a distraction that he’d been wishing for barely minutes ago. He couldn’t just go and participate in destructive behaviors due to the hurt while he was catching up with Laurent, now could he?

“I haven’t booked a new hotel room yet,” Laurent explained, shrugging right back. “I intended on staying at this one longer, but it’s not really to my standard. I'd hoped to find a better one nearby.”

A sudden idea came to Damen, and he knew he had go through with it. “Come stay at mine for the night. I have a spare room you can stay in, and we can catch up over dinner. How does that sound? It’s been awhile, I’m sure there’s a lot we’ve both missed.”

For a moment, Laurent contemplated the offer, and Damen was sure he was thinking of a way to say no. His face had been so comically revolted by the idea of staying with Damen, that he’d have been shocked if Laurent had said yes. Which is exactly what he did.

“I suppose you’re right,” Laurent said, though he looked like he wished he was doing literally anything else at that moment. “We should catch up.” That was a lie, and Damen knew it. “Being away from a hotel would be lovely, too.” Ah, there was some truth at last.

Damen intended on proving to Laurent that he was making the right decision. That whatever reasons he had for hating Damen in the past, they wouldn’t matter any more. “You won’t regret it.”

Only a tiny part of himself felt bad that he was using this opportunity as an excuse to not think about his ex and his brother in bed together.

Chapter Text

Jokaste was gone and Laurent had been living with him for almost a week instead. Damen had no idea what kind of alternate universe he’d fallen into, but he couldn’t deny his enjoyment. During dinner the night they bumped into each other, Damen had revealed what happened with Jokaste. Laurent had no condolences, but he did offer to help remove her things from the penthouse apartment, which was close enough.

No matter how many times Damen asked, Laurent wouldn’t explain why he was travelling. Damen was suspicious that he had no actual end destination in mind, and this was only confirmed in his mind when he offered for Laurent to stay another night, and Laurent agreed without putting up a fuss.

Two nights turned, into three, which turned into four, then five, then six. At first Damen felt silly, letting a man he hadn’t seen in years essentially live with him right after he kicked his ex out for cheating. There’d been no talk of how long Laurent would stay. Every morning Damen would simply ask him if he’d like to stay another night, and Laurent would say yes, he might as well. And while Laurent was cold, with a tongue sharp as a razor, Damen still enjoyed his company. After what Jokaste did, Damen found the bite to Laurent’s words more amusing than hurtful.

Laurent had taken over Jokaste’s old reading nook, and gave it far much more love. When his nose wasn’t buried in a book, or when he wasn’t napping in the afternoon sun that streamed right onto the lounge there, then he’d be intently staring at his laptop. Damen wanted to know what he was looking for, but Laurent just told him to mind his own business. Damen didn’t give up that easily though.

“You know, if you just tell me what you’re looking for, I might be able to help.” Damen popped himself on the floor beside the lounge Laurent was sitting on, laptop balanced on his knees.

Laurent narrowed his eyes at Damen, then let out a long, dramatic sigh. “I highly doubt you could help me, but to satiate some of your endless curiosity, what I’m looking for has to do with the reason I’m travelling.”

“That just makes me more curious,” Damen scoffed. “You live with your uncle, right?”

Lived .” Laurent’s entire body tensed, wound so tight Damen thought he’d surely explode. One of his cat ears twitched, but otherwise he didn’t move a muscle. “My uncle and I had our disagreements, so I decided it would be best if I left. What I’m researching and why I left are connected, yes, but I’d appreciate it if you would stop asking questions. It’s a deeply personal matter, and while you might be the kind of person to share your troubles with others, I am not. Does this satisfy you enough, now, or would you like to know whether I scrunch or fold my toilet paper when I wipe my ass as well?”

Damen raised his eyebrows, grinning slowly. “I can tell you’re a folder, just by looking at you.”

“You’re infuriating,” Laurent muttered, closing his laptop and replacing it for a book. He gave no acknowledgement to Damen’s existence, still sitting beside him as he was, signifying that the conversation was over and any attempt at more would be met with silence.

While this happened a lot when conversing with Laurent, Damen couldn’t deny that the old attraction to him was still there. It was long forgotten, and buried deep, but it started to reveal itself with every passing day. But unlike Laurent, these old feelings were completely unwelcome. Whenever Damen glanced at Laurent only to see the way his hair caught the sunlight, he would feel ill when his attraction grew. Jokaste’s betrayal was still too fresh. He wasn’t ready to move on then, if ever. And Laurent was interested anyway, he made that clear enough.

For his own sanity, Damen tried his hardest to ignore what he once felt.

 


 

 

A few short weeks later, that was all out the window.

Damen’s heart had been rapidly healing from the wounds Jokaste inflicted. There was certainly a small part of him would never get over it, but Damen was strong enough to put what happened behind him and move on with his life. If he let himself dwell on it all, then she won, and that was the last thing he wanted.

Laurent’s presence was a big help, of course. When Damen wasn’t working or reluctantly avoiding Nikandros, who knew something was going on, all his time and attention went to Laurent. Every morning he took the time to make breakfast, and every night he’d cook them dinner. Damen’s feelings for Laurent had grown over those weeks, so naturally as it was that he didn’t even realise it until he started fantasising about taking him out to dinner and dating him properly.

But he couldn’t take Laurent out to dinner, because he knew the cat-boy didn’t much like the public. Though chimeras were treated no differently to humans in the south, there were no guarantees that a northerner wasn’t visiting. Damen didn’t want to risk the chance that anyone stared at Laurent for what he was, nor did he want Laurent to hide it.

Damen wasn’t dumb, he knew Laurent wouldn’t leave his uncle’s care over some simple disagreement. The man was no longer the teenager he knew, but much of his personality was the same. So Damen had Googled Laurent for any information, only to find articles about the crash that killed his father and brother. So he changed tactics and searched for Laurents uncle instead… Which proved more fruitful.

Laurent’s uncle wasn’t too well known in the public eye, compared to his brother’s family at least, but it seems he had made a name for himself. Damen just couldn’t figure out why , until some further digging revealed that he’d been earning both money and a reputation by running what was essentially a chimera showroom, named Arles Parlor. Damen felt sick to his stomach as he learned that Laurent, along with another young chimera, had been exploited for the rich to view like some sort of exotic animals.

It wasn’t quite public information. His digging took him through many sites before he found a link to that one. And even then, it didn’t outright say what it was. The website claimed that Arles Parlor would provide a luxurious evening for those with peculiar tastes. Their ‘assets’ were described with adjectives such as exquisite and exceptional , with the guarantee that the guests would not find such lovely creatures anywhere else. The guests, too, were given special privileges for being regulars.

The horrid way the north treated chimeras was part of the reason why Damen’s father had stopped doing business up there, leading to Damen seeing Laurent less. And now that Damen knew why Laurent left, or most likely ran , he felt sick to his stomach. Was Laurent’s uncle looking for him? His business was technically legal, as long as no prostitution occurred, but it was still frowned upon, so would he have the police involved? Perhaps Laurent’s uncle skipped the police and hired a private investigator or two? Damen couldn’t know for sure.

First things first, though, he had to break it to Laurent that he knew why he left. It would’ve been easy enough, of course, if it weren’t for the fact Damen knew Laurent would be livid. Damen had gone prying into his private life after his questions went unanswered, and now he understood why. But he’d only wanted to know so he could help, something he still intended on doing.

He approached Laurent cautiously, where the cat-boy was languidly spread across the lounge, sun shining on him and not a book or laptop in sight.

“Laurent,” Damen called out softly, not wanting to startle him should he be sleeping. Laurent’s ears twitched, his tail curled, and his eyes popped open a slit to glare up at Damen. “I don’t know how to say this… First of all, I’m sorry. I know I shouldn't have pried into your personal life, but the curiosity got the better of me… I, uh--”

“You know my uncle is an asshole who liked to show me off to a room full of perverts every night,” Laurent stated calmly, cuddling further into the lounge.

Damen was taken aback. How had Laurent known? “Well, yes, but--”

“I figured it was only a matter of time.” He shrugged a shoulder, as if it didn’t bother him. Damen knew better than to think it didn’t, but if Laurent thought it inevitable that he find out in some way, then he’d have made himself prepared when it happened. “Let me guess, you also think you’ll be able to help. Is that correct?”

Of course Laurent knew. “Yes. I already have an idea, if you’d like to hear it.”

“I suppose I’m going to hear it anyway, so go on.”

“My best friend, Nikandros, has known a chimera almost his whole life. She works in a brothel with some other chimeras and Vaskian women. Now, I’m working with the assumption that your uncle would have to fill the spot that you left. How long has it been since you left, and do you think he’d have replaced you yet?”

“Chimeras are rare enough in the north, especially ones young and pretty enough for him. But I don’t doubt he’s managed to find one for himself.” Laurent’s words were dripping with distaste.

Damen nodded along at the information. “Do you think, given the opportunity, he’d take more?”

“Perhaps. It is possible, if they fit his tastes.” Laurent glanced at Damen sharply, dead serious. “If you’re implying what I believe you are, then they need to be more than special. My uncle prefers boys, but he wouldn’t turn down girls as they’d bring in more guests. They’d need to be teenagers, preferably around the age of fifteen or sixteen, though he might take girls in their early twenties if they have a particularly striking beauty.”

“Like you.”

“Yes, like me.” Laurent rolled his eyes, though they darkened barely a moment later. “And like Nicaise. He’s still just a boy, you know? Fifteen, the perfect age, though it sickens me. He likes the attention, of course, but I did notice that getting petted night after night would occasionally get to him, especially when the guests were particularly handsy.”

“Did they ever… touch you?” Damen questioned, hoping he wasn’t overstepping any boundaries. It sounded like it was all kept PG, so to speak, but he couldn’t be too sure.

“You want to know if they ever groped me? Or perhaps if they fucked me?” Laurent, surprisingly, gave Damen a wide Cheshire grin. “Unfortunately for them, all guests that wanted to see me had to sign a contract in which they agreed they could look but not touch. Some guests occasionally forgot that particular agreement and tried to pet my tail or ears, but it never ended well.”

Relief flooded through Damen. “And Nicaise? Did he have a similar contract?”

“Not quite. Nic’s contract stated they could pet him, but any groping or petting with less-than-honorable intent would not be tolerated and result in a permanent ban. My uncle, as horrible as he was, made sure we were never sexually assaulted. Though I do believe that had less to with our own wellbeing, and more to do with that fact that not only would it look bad for his business, but it would also make him incredibly jealous. He never touched us , but I know he liked the thought of owning us. Does that make you uncomfortable?” Laurent watched the way Damen blanched at the thought of owning another person.

“Yes,” he admitted with a grimace.

“Good.” Laurent smiled, and when he did, it actually reached his eyes. Damen was suddenly captivated by his beauty, something that occurred often, but this time he was even more captivating because he was truly happy. Happy that Damen had proven himself to not be a man like his uncle, and instead someone who respected chimeras.

But something Laurent said was bothering him. “When you said, ‘He never touched us ’, you placed a lot of emphasis on that word. Was there somebody else he touched?”

“It’s only speculation, but there is a boy only a few years younger than us, who acts like my uncle’s unofficial assistant, that may or may not be getting taken advantage of by him.” Laurent shook himself off a little, as if he was trying to shake the thoughts from his mind. “Back on topic. Do you think your friend can get us a chimera or two that fit my uncle’s standards?”

Damen shrugged. “I have no idea, I’d have to talk to him about it first. I will have to tell him all of this, you know that, right?”

“I do.” Laurent suddenly got up and went to fetch a book from the shelf, settling down again with no inclination to continue their conversation.

“We’ll bring your uncle down, Laurent,” Damen told him. “That’s a promise.”

 


 

 

Once Nikandros knew what was going on, he insisted on paying Laurent a visit.

They were seated inside Nik’s favorite gyros place, shielded from the outside cold. Damen had asked to meet his best friend there, knowing that he’d be less upset about what Damen had to say if he was eating something he loved. Nikandros knew about Damen’s old crush on Laurent, and the fact that Laurent didn’t reciprocate those feelings made Nikandros hate him, despite never having met him.

“Do you intend on replacing Jokaste with Laurent?” Nik asked as they got up to leave.

Damen groaned at his friend’s bluntness. “I don’t intend on replacing anybody. Whatever feelings I had for Laurent in the past are irrelevant. He’s an old friend that’s just escaped a really shitty situation and I want to help make sure nobody else gets drawn into said shitty situation. Are you going to help me or not?”

“I said I would, didn’t I?” Nik shrugged. “I just want to know if you still have feelings for him.”

“Those feelings faded when I was eighteen, you know this.” Damen grinned at the memories. “You were overjoyed when you realised. Practically wanted to celebrate.”

Nik laughed at that. “It was a worthy cause for celebration. But really, Damen, have those feelings not come back at all?” He stopped beside his car and waited.

Damen looked him right in the eye and lied. “Of course they haven’t come back, it’s been years and I’ve grown up. Now come on, you’re the one who wants to see Laurent so much.”

He sent a quick text to Laurent before they got to the penthouse, warning him that Nikandros had decided to visit. They arrived to find Laurent waiting for them near the entrance, ears upright and tail waving slowly behind him. He seemed pleased to see them, if the small smile was any indication, but Damen didn’t trust him at all.

“Will you help us?” He asked Nikandros, getting straight to the point. It appeared that he already knew the answer, and just wanted the satisfaction of hearing it aloud.

“He will,” Damen nodded. Only after the words left his mouth did he realise he should’ve let Nik answer for himself.

Nik sent him a sideways glance, before giving Laurent a wide smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I can only help as much as my friend Kashel does. She, after all, will be the one who actually decides.”

“How soon can you contact her?”

“I will as soon as I get home, but there’s no guaranteeing when I’ll actually hear from her. I’ll let you know when I do.”

Laurent seemed to think about this for a moment, nodded once, then walked off. Nikandros instantly rounded on Damen, crossing his arms in the process. He stared at him for a few moments, before shaking his head and sighing.

“I know you, Damen,” he said, placing a hand on Damen’s shoulder. “Enough to know that your standards haven’t changed all that much since you were a teenager. If your feelings for Laurent haven’t come back by now, then you’d be very much in denial.” He patted Damen’s shoulder and left.

Damen wasn’t in denial, of course. He could easily admit to himself that he had feelings for Laurent, and if Nikandros was convinced they were there, he might as well do something about it. But more important matters came first, like bringing Laurent’s uncle down.

Chapter Text

Nikandros called the next day with good news. Kashel had responded to his message immediately, wanting to meet with the three of them. Her boss Halvik was keen to meet them as well, and insisted they have the meeting at her brothel as soon as they could.

Laurent, it appeared, had waited long enough and somehow managed to get them a meeting that afternoon. When they arrived, after some travelling, they were greeted by an older woman with dark eyes and an unfriendly demeanour. The quote, “Well, mark me down as scared and horny,” came to Damen’s mind, and he had to hide a snicker behind a cough. He assumed this woman was Halvik, of course, and noted that when she smiled at them, her whole face brightened.

“Welcome, friends,” she greeted, holding the door open for them to enter. “Nikandros, it’s so nice to see you again. Please, make yourselves comfortable.”

They found themselves in what appeared to be a reception area, with long lounges, low lighting, and a bar stocked full. A young woman, closer to their age than Halvik, was seated on one of these couches, and sprung up when she saw them arrive.

“Nikki!” She threw herself at Nikandros, hugging him tightly. “It’s been too long. We really must catch up properly sometime.”

Damen had only met Kashel once, during high school. She’d been gangly and awkward back then, but was now quite an enticing woman. Her body was full with curves, enough to make any man weak at the knees, but her brown eyes were doe-like and innocent in contrast. And a doe she was, with the deer ears and tail she was born with. Nikandros had told them earlier that her nickname was Bambi.

Nikandros took the seat next to Kashel, grinning fondly at her. “I promise we will, darling.” If Damen didn’t know any better, he’d say there was something between them. But alas, he knew that they’d fucked once or twice during their teen years, but now they were simply good friends.

Laurent sat next to Damen, but he didn’t at all relax on the soft leather of the lounge. “Nikandros has told you of the situation, yes?”

“He has.” Halvik nodded and headed to the bar to pour herself a drink. “Usually I’d keep my nose out of someone else’s business, but I don’t think I can turn a blind eye to this. There’s no sexual activity, from what I was told, but the fact you were forced to work there against your will has made me furious. All services should be given voluntarily. Consent is important, especially in our line of work. We’ll help.”

Damen let out a sigh of relief, but Laurent continued to display no emotion.

“Thank you,” Laurent said, his tone and demeanour nothing but serious. “How soon can we initiate the plan? Nicaise, who was the chimera with me, is only fifteen and my uncle is his legal guardian. He likes the attention, but I know he would leave if he could.”

Halvik shrugged. “It depends. Would your uncle approve of Kashel? She isn’t the preferred age, but she’s the loveliest girl we’ve got.”

“Yes, my uncle would believe she’s perfect. He did mention there were requests for a young buck, but I’m sure a pretty doe would be a perfectly fine replacement.” Laurent assessed Kashel as he spoke, a certain fondness in his eyes. Damen supposed it was because she was a chimera like him, though that didn’t stop a little flash of jealousy.

“Perfect.” Halvik sipped at her drink and smiled slowly. “I’ll contact your uncle tonight, telling him I have a young chimera woman who’s finding sex work to not be as appealing as she believed it to be. I’ll tell him I heard of him through customers, that they said he treats his chimeras well, and that I believe Kashel to be perfect for him. Honestly, he’d be a fool not to take her. Kashel is exquisite.”

“Wonderful.” Laurent smiled back at Halvik, and finally relaxed back into the lounge.

“Are you okay with this?” Nikandros asked Kashel, eyebrows drawn together with concern. “It won’t be too much, will it?”

Kashel rolled her eyes. “I already told Halvik that I would happily go. I mean, honestly Nik, I fuck strangers for a living. Do you really think getting stared at would bother me?” She paused, suddenly, eyes widening. “Shit, sorry Laurent. I mean no offense.”

“None taken.” Laurent gave a her a genuine smile, still sitting relaxed beside Damen. “I’m well aware that to some, it’d be a dream job. All you have to do is sit there for a few hours each night and make some easy cash. But when you’re forced against your will, and not actually getting paid, it becomes a humiliating experience, to say the least.”

Halvik looked downright horrified. “You weren’t even getting paid?”

“No. It’s why I couldn’t leave until now.” Laurent’s lips curled in disgust. “I had an inheritance from my father when he died, but I couldn’t touch it until I was twenty-one, and even then my uncle is in charge of the funds getting released. I admit, I started getting an allowance after my twenty-first, but it's a measly amount. I saved every last cent and still only managed to survive a few weeks before my funds ran out. Luckily I ran into Damen just in time, or I’d have been living on the streets.”

Is that what'd been happening when Damen had run into him that night? Leaving the hotel at such an odd hour, without a car and with no destination in mind. Damen was seeing Laurent in a whole new light. Stuck-up, bitchy Laurent had been willing to live on the streets in the dead of winter rather than go back home to his uncle.

They chatted for a little while longer, finalizing their plans down to the last little detail so nothing would slip up. Laurent explained that he and Nicaise both had phones, and his uncle never cared about them because who would they call? Kashel would take her phone and contact Halvik to let her know how it was all going. She would live and work there for a week before the main part of the plan came into effect - she’d start acting a little odd, a little withdrawn. The guests, ever concerned, would ask if she’s okay, and she’d insist that she’s fine but let on that she’s not. This would go on for a few more days before revealing that Uncle was abusing her.

Despite the way northerners treated chimeras, they didn’t tolerate physical abuse. They wouldn’t bat an eyelid should they learn that Laurent’s uncle was fucking them, consensual or not, but when Kashel would tell them that he was hitting her to keep her in line, they would be livid. It would be enough for them boycott the establishment entirely and spread the word that Laurent's uncle was a dispicable man, tearing apart both his business and his reputation.

 


 

 

Laurent was silent and lost in thought on the way home, though Damen couldn’t understand why. He should be celebrating the fact that they were so close to bringing his uncle down. Unless he thought that it wouldn’t work? But if so, he would’ve voiced the opinion while they were still cementing their plans.

“Are you alright?” Damen asked once they were inside. Laurent had wandered over to the bookcase and was simply staring at it, so Damen went and sat on the lounge and waited.

“It’s those women, Kashel and Halvik. I can’t stop thinking about them.” Laurent pouted and traipsed over to the lounge, slumping onto it. He curled into a ball with his head in Damen’s lap, shocking the man, but Laurent’s thoughts were elsewhere. “I’m just so confused by why they would want to work where they do, and I don’t mean that unkindly. I honestly cannot comprehend it.”

“Some do it because they have to, for the money. They have families to feed and can’t find other work. And others, like Kashel, simply love having sex, and decided they might as well get paid to,” Damen explained, smiling down at Laurent, who peered up at him with a thoughtful expression.

Laurent didn’t return Damen’s smile, but instead looked up at him, serious as ever. “I have nothing but admiration and respect for those women, especially those who do it out of necessity.”

“Ah, me too.”

Damen decided he was going to enjoy the moment while he could, but no matter how much he wanted to stroke Laurent’s hair, he knew he couldn’t. Having Laurent’s head in his lap was the greatest sign of affection that Damen had ever gotten from him, and he’d be damned if he pushed it too far. So he just sat there, content, as Laurent’s mind drifted off and he fell into a peaceful sleep.

 


 

 

To their relief, Laurent’s uncle accepted Kashel’s offer to work for him, but not before he saw how the guests responded to her. Their response, to say the least, was great. In her messages, Kashel explained that the boy Nicaise was still there, and that there was another one who must’ve replaced Laurent. This new boy was a bunny chimera named Erasmus, and at nineteen, he had agreed to live with and work for Laurent’s uncle after he was promised protection from an abusive ex-boyfriend.

Erasmus, she said, was timid and shy but always tried to please his guests. Some of them scared him, she could see, but he did like those that were open and friendly. She was quite fond of both boys, apparently, especially liking Nicaise’s abrasive personality. And while she admitted that she enjoyed working there with them, Kashel did say she missed the brothel, to Halvik’s pleasure.

Everything was going perfectly, until the night she was going to tell her guests that Laurent’s uncle was hurting her.

She’d let them all know she would be doing it that night, and for them to prepare to come get her. Damen and Laurent headed to Laurent’s old home, Nikandros tagging along with them. If it weren’t for her brothel needing to be run, Halvik would’ve gone too.

They were almost there when Nikandros got a sudden phone call from Kashel. He answered it, concerned. They had agreed that she would only message them, not call, lest Laurent’s uncle overhear her talking to them. With all her updates and such, it would’ve been suspicious and immediately alarmed him.

Kashel, on the other end, was calm but nervous. Once the call was over, Nikandros explained that the guests believed her and left, vowing Laurent’s uncle would never live down such a disgrace, but that only made him angry. He actually did hit her, and locked her in her room. She wasn’t worried for her own wellbeing, but for Erasmus and Nicaise’s. They were young and she didn’t want anything to happen to them.

“Can we please hurry?” Nik asked, fists clenched and shaking from anger. He couldn't believe the bastard had really hit her.

“We’ll be there soon, just a few more blocks,” Laurent assured him, though it did nothing to ease the tension in Nik’s body. “My uncle must be livid. He’s always been cold and calculating, and when he thought Nicaise and I were out of line, his punishments were always well thought out and never physical. For him to hit her, the plan must have worked too well. I’m sorry this has happened to your friend.”

The shock of hearing Laurent apologise to him was enough to break through Nik’s anger, and somehow managed to make him speechless. Damen could understand that feeling entirely.

When they arrived at the gates of Laurent’s family mansion, they found it congested with traffic. They decided to park on the street and walk in, but that also came with it’s own disadvantages.

When they got close to the mansion’s entrance, some guests who hadn’t driven off yet recognised Laurent and immediately hurried over to him. It was a man and a woman, both dressed like they were heading to a fancy soiree, with big coats, glittering jewels, and shiny shoes.

“Laurent, darling!” The woman looked as if she were about to go for a hug, but seemed to remember not to touch, and pulled away last second. “I cannot believe the atrocities we just learned! You uncle, a horrible abuser. It’s no wonder you ran away.”

“Ran away?” Laurent questioned as if such a thing were absurd, though it was exactly what he’d done.

The man nodded. “Yes, well, your uncle claimed you had decided to move on to bigger and better things, but there were rumours as well. The most popular one was that you ran away, though none of us could imagine why. Not until poor Bambi came out with the truth.”

“That vile, vile man,” the woman shook her head and tutted.

Laurent looked around, noticing that all the guests had left. “Where is my uncle, anyway? And where’s Nicaise?”

“Your uncle dragged Kashel down the hall after he slapped her, and we haven’t seen him since. Most people have left, but security made the last of leave.” The woman held her head high and pouted. “So rude! We were just concerned.”

The man nodded along with her. “Some security guards took Nicaise and Erasmus away at the same time they told us to leave. We have no idea where they went.”

Laurent turned and headed inside without another word.

“Thank you, sorry, bye.” Damen smiled awkwardly at the guests before he and Nikandros rushed inside to catch up with Laurent. “Do you have any idea where they all are?”

“I know where my uncle will be. I’m going to have a little chat with him.” Laurent stopped once they got to a hall that went in each direction. “I want you two to find the others and get them out with no issues. Can you do that?”

“Of course.” Damen quickly grabbed Laurent’s arm before he stalked off. “But are you sure you don’t want me there?”

“This is personal, Damen, you know that.” Laurent looked down at the hand holding his arm but made no move to pull it away. “He humiliated me for years; it’s my turn to see it happen to him.”

“Okay, but meet us out the front in ten minutes.”

“Fifteen.” Laurent smirked. “You still have to find the others.”

Then he was off down the hall, disappearing around a corner. Damen and Nikandros split up, figuring they would cover more ground that way. They, too, agreed to meet out the front in fifteen minutes.

Damen tried every room he came across, but found most were empty. For the first ten minutes he came up empty handed, and started to worry. He sent a quick text to Nikandros to see if he found anyone yet, only for Nik to reply that yes, he had found Kashel swearing furiously at the locked door, which he picked the lock of, and had just found Nicaise as well, who he already couldn’t stand.

Kashel, helpfully, told Nik to tell Damen that while she didn’t know the exact location of Erasmus’s room, she did know it was near the library. Damen remembered the library, and backtracked to see if he’d missed any rooms. Turns out there was another hall he’d missed, thanks to the inconvenient placement of a large potted plant right on the corner.

He found Erasmus in no time, but the boy was scared out of his mind when Damen came barging in. Damen knew he was only a few years younger than himself, but his golden brown hair, wide hazel eyes, and creamy bunny ears made him seem so much younger.

“Sorry if I frightened you,” Damen apologized, holding his hands out and open to show he meant no harm. “I’m a friend of Kashel’s, and we’re getting you out of this horrible place. Do you have anywhere to go?”

Erasmus came forward, a little unsure. “I think I might, but I’d have to ask him first.” His expression turned hopeful, and it hit Damen that Erasmus was more than ready to leave this place.

“Who is it? Do you trust him?” Damen hope he wasn’t prying too much, but from this boy’s history, he figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

“His name is Torveld, and I trust him more than anyone.” Erasmus was earnest, desperately wanting Damen to believe him. “I met him once, a year ago, when I was still with my ex. He saw that Govart was hurting me and promised that I would always have a place to stay with him, but he lived so far away and I was too scared of what Govart would do if I left. I only left him once Mr. de Vere promised to protect me. But he said he only would if I worked for him too, and I figured this was better than Govart.”

“Are you still in contact with Torveld?”

“I am!” Erasmus nodded happily, then turned and grabbed his phone. “Should I message him now?”

Damen smiled but shook his head. “Grab all your things, then message him, alright? You can stay with Laurent and I until Torveld can take you in.”

“Laurent lives with you?” Erasmus’s eyes went wide with awe and wonder. “I’ve heard so much about him!”

“Good or bad?”

“Both!” Erasmus was grinning wide, and Damen felt a pang in his heart for the boy. How could anyone hurt someone so precious and pure? Erasmus seemed to remember the situation, and turned sheepish. “I should go gather my things, before I forget again.”

“Good idea.” Damen chuckled. Really, he’d happily let this boy stay with him as long as he wanted before Torveld came. While his heart belonged to Laurent, he was already quite fond of Erasmus, and felt almost protective of him.

Erasmus didn’t have many belongings with him, so he got everything packed into a duffel bag in no time, and they headed towards the front of the mansion. Along the way, they ran into Laurent, who was being confronted by an angry brunette boy, around Erasmus’s age, that Damen didn’t recognize.

“You’ve ruined everything !” The boy pointed an accusing finger at Laurent, going red in the face with anger. “My parents will never let me come here again and it’s all your fault, you fucking bitch!”

Laurent stood there calmly, unmoved by the scene. “Aimeric, tell me, did my uncle like you to warm his bed, or am I mistaken in thinking there was something between the two of you?”

Aimeric was appalled, face turning from red to white. “It wasn’t like that,” he insisted quickly. Far too quickly, in fact, though Damen didn’t think he was lying. Instead the got the impression Aimeric wished that was the case. “Your uncle promised I would inherit the business one day, but now that'll never happen because of you. If you hadn’t have been so selfish and run off, I would still get to run Arles Parlor one day.”

“If you truly believed he would hand over his business to you, then you’re even dumber than I thought.” Laurent scrutinized Aimeric, his face showing signs of distaste. “You were basically free labor. And if he did actually intend on following through with his promise, it most likely wouldn’t be until his deathbed. By that point you’d have wasted most of your life waiting for him to go through with it.”

“That’s not true!” Aimeric sputtered, but it was obvious Laurent’s words had gotten to him.

“Call your parents and go home, Aimeric.” Laurent turned and started walking off. “There’s nothing here left for you.”

Damen and Erasmus left with Laurent, leaving Aimeric standing there, shaking with mortification and anger.

Nikandros was waiting outside for them, with Nicaise and Kashel already in the car. “We’re not all going to fit in the car. Guess we didn’t think that through, but Kashel has planned for Nicaise to stay with her until she can find him a decent foster family, so I was thinking of driving them home first then coming and picking you three up. Is that fine?”

“Of course.” Damen looked to Laurent, who glared back at him. “Oh don’t give me that look, Kashel’s town is closer than ours.” He turned back to Nikandros. “Erasmus will be coming home with Laurent and I, until his friend can come get him.”

“Perfect!” Nik got in the car, then wound down the window. “I’ll be back before you know it!”

Kashel wound down her window as well, and popped her head out. “Bye Thumper, it was so nice to meet you. Hopefully we’ll meet again in the future? Until then, stay safe!”

“Thanks Bambi, you too.” Erasmus smiled bashfully, a blush coloring his cheeks.

When Nik drove off, Laurent rounded on Damen with a glare that sent chills down his spine. “Really? We have to wait out here, in the cold? And before you ask, I refuse to go back inside that wretched place.”

Damen shrugged. “Then find us somewhere warm and cosy to sit and wait.”

“You’re lucky I wore this coat,” Laurent grumbled, tugging the hood of his coat up to hide his ears. “Erasmus, I suggest you wear something that will cover your ears. The wind chill feels worse when they're exposed.”

“Thanks, Laurent.” Erasmus pulled a fluffy beanie out of his bag and pulled it over his head, flattening his long ears under it. The ends poked out, though, and when Damen helped Erasmus tuck them in, he saw Laurent intently watching them from the corner of his eye.

Was Laurent jealous? Damen didn’t want to entertain the thought, but he couldn’t help himself. It would be wonderful if Laurent envied the way Damen paid attention to Erasmus, as it meant he shared Damen’s feelings, whether or not he had even realized it. So Damen could be sure, he decided he would pay more attention to Erasmus and see how Laurent reacted.

As it turned out, Erasmus was more interested in finding out if Laurent lived up to his reputation. As Laurent led them over to a little alcove with a stone bench, Erasmus bombarded him with endless questions, but Laurent humored him and answered them all, patient and kind with Erasmus, saving his snark only for when he talk about others that bothered him. Apparently, Damen was still on that list, which only left him feeling flattered rather than dismayed.

The soft side that Laurent showed around other chimeras was making Damen fall for him even harder. He had to actively make himself pay more attention to Erasmus, and even put on a show of fussing over him when a gust of wind blew the chilly air at them. Erasmus was sitting between Damen and Laurent, so Damen slid over more and wrapped an arm around Erasmus to keep him warm.

“I hope this is fine,” Damen said, smiling down at him. “I just don’t want you getting sick from the cold. Your jacket’s not as thick as Laurent’s coat.”

Erasmus looked up at Damen, wide-eyed and cheeks blushing pink. “Oh, thank you. You’re too kind. I hope I’m not bothering you.”

“Of course not.” Damen glanced up to see Laurent narrowing his eyes at them before turning away, and he almost wanted to jump for joy. That look was all the proof he needed. Laurent was jealous, and when they got home, he planned to confront him about it.

Erasmus opened his mouth to say something - undoubtedly another question for Laurent - when his phone started ringing in his pocket. He pulled it out and they saw that Torveld was calling. Erasmus jumped up and away from them, suddenly buzzing with excited energy.

“I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go answer this! I’ll be back soon, I promise!” Then he rushed away, eager to speak to Torveld in private.

Both men watched him go, before Laurent turned to Damen with a straight face, not revealing any emotions. “You’re quite fond of him, aren’t you?”

“How couldn’t I be?” Damen grinned and scooted closer to Laurent. “I see that you are too.”

“I suppose I am.” Laurent smiled back at Damen, and held his gaze. They hadn’t really had any moments like this, just gazing at each other like they were. Damen felt drawn in, pulled to Laurent by some invisible force, and he was overcome by the sudden need to kiss him.

So he did.

He brought a hand up to cup Laurent’s cheek, and with no time wasted, leaned in and kissed him. He expected Laurent to kiss him back, of course, but instead he went immobile against Damen for a few seconds before roughly pushing him away. Laurent’s eyes were wide with shock, and Damen instantly felt dreadful.

“I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.” He got up, wanting to leave, but he needed an excuse. “I’m gonna go find Erasmus. Make sure he hasn’t wandered too far or anything.”

Damen scolded himself for being such an idiot. Laurent’s glances and narrowed eyes must’ve meant something else, but Damen’s brain was looking for anything to show that Laurent returned his feelings, and simply interpreted them the way he wanted. He was such a fool to think Laurent would see him as anything but an old friend.

Walking aimlessly, Damen found Erasmus just finishing his call with Torveld. After a handful of goodbyes, he finally hung up and skipped over to Damen, the widest grin on his face.

“Torveld said he can come get me in two days!”

“I’m so glad you have someone like Torveld to help you. From what you’ve told me, he sounds like an amazing man.” Damen started leading him back to Laurent. “You don’t mind staying with us those two days, do you?”

“Of course I don’t mind. I really like you and Laurent.” Erasmus surprised Damen with a quick hug.

There was no awkwardness between Laurent and Damen with Erasmus there to hold their attention, and even when Nikandros came to pick them up, Erasmus kept Laurent's attention occupied as they sat in the backseat. Nikandros, of course, knew something was up by Damen’s unusual silence. He didn’t say anything, but Damen knew Nik would want to talk to him about it soon.

The thought of that didn’t even bother him. Damen was far too worried that he’d permanently fucked things up between him and Laurent. He had no way to know for sure how bad it was, of course, but once they were alone, he was sure to find out.

Chapter Text

When they arrived home, Damen instantly went to make Erasmus a place to sleep. He might have lived in a penthouse, but it only had two proper bedrooms, and both were currently occupied. He did have a small office, though, that he was able to push the lounge into and set up with blankets and pillows.

“I hope this is enough,” Damen told Erasmus as he showed him to his temporary room. “I don’t actually have any more spare beds. And I mean, I could’ve just left the lounge where it was, but I figured you might like some privacy.”

Erasmus smiled up at Damen, grateful for all the thought he put into it. “It’s perfect, thank you.”

After Damen made them a quick dinner, Erasmus retired to bed. Damen was suddenly on edge, sure that Laurent would bring up the kiss now that they were alone. He almost wanted to go hide in his room, and pretend he was asleep, just to avoid any potential awkwardness.

But Laurent wasn’t thinking about the kiss.

“I’d like to stay,” he said instead, leaning over the table with his hand propping up his head. “If that’s okay with you.”

Damen was flabbergasted. Laurent wanted to stay, after what he’d done? He’d be a fool to say no and turn him away. “Of course. You can stay as long as you want.”

“It’s settled then.” Laurent gave Damen a small smile and made his way to the reading nook, curling up on the little lounge there. Laurent spent so much time there, that Damen thought he should’ve just given the spare room to Erasmus.

He wondered why Laurent would want to stay, and now that he knew that his feelings weren’t returned, the only reason Damen could come up with is because it was easy for him to stay. Damen wasn’t a bad roommate, especially now that he knew not to kiss Laurent. And really, house-hunting without stable funds wouldn’t be fun. Damen wondered what would happen to Laurent’s inheritance now that his uncle wasn’t controlling it, but decided those were thoughts for another day.

 


 

 

The two days that Erasmus stayed with them went by far too fast, and they were sad to see him go. Torveld, when they met him, seemed like a genuinely kind person though. It was nice for them to know that Erasmus was going to a good home.

During those couple of days, and even after, Laurent still didn’t bring up the kiss at all, and Damen didn’t either out of fear it would break the peace. But as time wore on, Damen was starting to think that maybe he didn’t fuck things up after all. That perhaps the kiss had shocked Laurent, but it hadn’t changed his opinion of him. There was a chance Laurent had known for a while that Damen was falling head over heels for him, and simply didn’t care.

Damen didn’t know whether to think that was a good or bad thing. But seeing as Laurent wanted to continue living with him, he was leaning towards the former.

Things went on just as they did before the kiss. As in, Laurent was physically comfortable around Damen. He never went out of his way to be close to Damen, but if he was sitting on the couch, Laurent would wander over with a book and rest his head on Damen’s lap as he read, just as head before. But this time Damen took a risk and started stroking Laurent’s hair.

He started light, at first, waiting for his hand to be slapped away. When it wasn’t, he relaxed into it. Damen loved watching the way the light reflected off Laurent’s hair, shining in shades of platinum and gold. Laurent himself still had his book open, but he’d stopped turning the pages. When Damen glanced away from the hair, he saw Laurent’s eyelids fluttering, trying to stay open and failing miserably.

“Go to sleep, Laurent,” Damen told him, keeping his voice low and soft. “I don’t mind.”

“Of course you don’t,” Laurent scoffed back tiredly, though he made no move to get up and eventually drifted off.

So, it seemed, Laurent still knew Damen’s feeling were just as strong as ever. But he also wasn’t fighting them. Damen had no idea how to feel about this, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to get his hopes up like last time.

 


 

 

Nikandros came over for dinner one evening, and Damen instantly noticed his scrutinizing gaze flashing between him and Laurent. He tried to play it cool, unloading some of the ingredients he’d brought over, but Damen could tell he was analyzing their every interaction.

Laurent could tell too, rolling his eyes at Damen when Nikandros wasn’t looking. He started heading down the hall when they began cooking, but Nik called him back.

“Where are you going?” He asked, chopping some onions, while Damen handled the meat. “It won’t take too long to cook, maybe thirty minutes.”

“I was just going to shower.” Laurent gave him a sarcastic smile. “Besides, I’m not much of a cook, as Damen can tell you. I’d just get in your way.”

Nik shrugged. “Fair enough.” He chopped my vegetables in silence, sneaking glances at Damen every so often.

Damen groaned. “Come on, out with it.”

“I’m a little surprised that you two haven’t banged yet.” He stopped chopping and looked up at Damen, raising his brows. “I figured after everything, you two would have a few romps here and there, before Laurent finally decided he’d had enough and moved on. But nope. Instead you two are tip-toeing around each other now more than ever.”

“What?” Damen was dumbfounded. Had Nik really thought that would happen? “Don’t you know anything about Laurent at all? He is definitely not the type to sleep around. And what do you mean we’re tip-toeing around each other?”

“Please don’t tell me you don’t know.” Nik started chopping again, avoiding Damen’s questioning gaze.

“Don’t know what ?”

Nikandros let out a groan of frustration, slapping the knife down. “That Laurent not only knows about your very obvious hard-on for him, but he also returns it. He is just as into you as you are to him, and yet you’re blind to see it. It’s infuriating.”

“You’ve been here for, what, twenty minutes? And yet you’ve somehow seen in such little time that Laurent has feelings for me. How? What on Earth could’ve possibly given you that idea?” Damen crossed his arms, waiting.

“Okay, fine.” Nikandros held up a finger. “One, when I got here, he was leaning his head on your shoulder. Two,” he held up a second finger, “he trailed behind you while we talked, sticking close to your side like he was being held there by some invisible force.”

“You realize all of that can be explained by the fact Laurent is part-cat, right?” Damen questioned his friend’s intelligence. When uncovered, it was hard to miss Laurent’s ears and tail. “In case you didn’t know, when a cat grows comfortable around someone, they start to be more affectionate. That, and they constantly invade your personal space. It’s like they think they own it.”

Nik shook his head and thrust his hand, now with a third finger, in Damen’s face. “Three, every time you turned away, Laurent would basically undress you with his eyes. Either he wasn’t aware, or he was doing it to piss me off, but either way, it’s not something he could fake. Besides, I think you forget that while Laurent is part-cat, yes, he is also mostly human. He isn’t controlled by this feline side of him, it’s just an aspect of his personality, not something that would just slip out.”

“Look,” Damen sighed, feeling defeated. He just wanted Nik to drop the subject already. “I did think Laurent was into me as well. I really did. And the night we brought his uncle down, while we waiting for you to come back and get us, I kissed him. But he pulled away looking all shocked, and that was that. We don’t speak of it. I think the only reason he even decided to stay is because it’s easy for him.”

“Maybe…” Nikandros narrowed his eyes, thinking. “You didn’t make any indication that you were going to kiss him, did you?”

Damen rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh, no. But I didn’t think I had to. Most people I’ve dated would always happily kiss back.”

“That’s because most of the people you dated were far more liberal in their sexual freedom,” Nik pointed out. “Laurent is very closed off, so while he may have shown signs of attraction towards you, it’s no surprise that he pulled away from the kiss. Don’t pounce it on him. Let him know the offer is there, and he’ll come to you when he’s ready. Honestly, I think the only thing holding him back is your verbal confirmation that you’re still down.”

“If you say so…” Damen let it drop, and just in time, as the door to the bathroom opened and out came Laurent in a swirl of steam. He never did have very long showers.

They stayed civil during dinner, Laurent keeping his snide remarks to a minimum, and in return, Nikandros kept his glare somewhat subtle. After what Nik had told him, Damen couldn’t help but be aware of Laurent’s every movie. He did notice the way Laurent shifted on his chair so he was slightly turned towards Damen, or the way their eyes would often meet.

Nik pulled a face at Damen, also aware of what was happening between the pair.

At that point, Damen wasn’t sure of what his next course of action should be. When Nik left, did he confront Laurent? Did he tell him straight up he knew about his feelings, and it was okay, they could take it slow if that’s what he needed? None of these ideas really appealed Damen.

He had never been so unsure of himself. Damen had always been upfront to those he was attracted to. He’d let them know his feelings and what was on offer, and they could take it or leave it. But that wasn’t an option with Laurent. His feelings ran deeper than that. If he initiated something with Laurent again, and Laurent again turned him down, it might ruin things permanently. Once was fine, but twice would be pushing it too far.

Yes, there was the chance that Laurent was attracted to Damen, but Damen really couldn’t risk it. He would rather live the way they were now than risk losing Laurent forever, and over misinformation from his kind of well-meaning best friend at that.

It was settled. Damen would continue living like he had, pushing all that Nikandros said to the back of his mind.

 


 

 

It was a cold, overcast day, and Damen was watching a movie in the main living area while Laurent fumbled around on the couch in his reading nook, trying to find a comfortable position. Damen had rarely seen him so restless, and ended up watching him instead of the movie.

Laurent was not amused.

Once he caught Damen staring, he narrowed his eyes and stalked over. He plopped himself down on the couch next to Damen, leaned in, and pouted his lips like a petulant child.

“What?” Damen asked, confused by Laurent’s behaviour. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I’m sick of this.” Laurent continued pouting, staring right at Damen.

Damen, of course, was more confused than before. “Sick of what?”

This .” Laurent gestured between the two of them, movements frantic.

“Oh.” Damen understood, then, that Laurent was sick of whatever was between the two of them. He was done with Damen’s affections and pining. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have been so forward. If you want to move out, I’ll understand.”

Laurent rolled his eyes and climbed onto Damen’s lap. “Oh, my God, you’re the biggest fool I’ve ever met.” Then he leaned down and kissed Damen with so much force that it sent him falling back into the soft couch cushions.

Damen was shocked, yes, but he wasn’t going to pull away like Laurent had. He kissed back just as fervently, losing himself to the softness of Laurent’s lips. God, he’d waited so long for this. He’d genuinely believed it would never happen, and that their chaste kiss from before would be all he had. But that kiss paled in comparison to this one.

Laurent had one hand cupping Damen’s face while the other clung onto his shoulder for dear life. Damen wrapped his arms around Laurent’s torso and pulled him closer. Happiness bloomed in his chest and he almost felt giddy with the feeling.

For once he wasn’t over-thinking anything. No questions of what would happen tomorrow, or the day after that. All that was important was the now .

 


 

 

Damen approached the lounge to find Laurent curled up on the pillows wearing nothing but Damen’s black sweatshirt, his tail curling side to side. The sun streamed in on him, highlighting his gold hair and sharp cheeks, and Damen, overwhelmed by love and adoration, crossed his arms over the back of the lounge and rested his head against them so he could watch Laurent.

A few minutes passed before Laurent’s tail slowed its movements and he peeked his eyes open, looking straight up at Damen. “Enjoying the view?”

“Mm-hmm, very much so.” Damen grinned, then reached down and pulled at the sleeve of the sweatshirt. “Is that my hoodie?”

“It’s mine now.”

Damen chuckled. “Looks better on you anyway.”

He came around and laid down next to Laurent, but there really wasn’t enough room for the both of them, so Damen pulled Laurent on top of him. They laid there, content, with not a worry in the world.