The first half of Laurent's seventeenth year passed for Damen in a haze of wanting. Damen found less satisfaction in the others he took to his bed; he found himself behaving like a boy or an old man, staring at Laurent inappropriately in the bath, observing what he could not have from a distance.
In the second half of Laurent's seventeenth year, Damen felt that -- having already obviously lost the battle between his wits and his baser urges -- he somehow regained control of himself and remembered how much he enjoyed Laurent's company. Laurent was a challenge in the sparring ring and the best tafl player in the keep. Laurent was always ready with a sly remark that could make Damen laugh at the least convenient times. Damen enjoyed Laurent -- he enjoyed reading with him, he enjoyed eating with him, he enjoyed riding with him, he enjoyed conversing with him on his studies. And as he managed to obsess less with what he wanted to have with Laurent but did not, he found himself appreciating more and more what he did have with Laurent.
He and Laurent began to spend more and more time together, until they shared several hours together each day. So it was not unusual when the two of them broke their fast together one morning and Laurent struck up a conversation.
“You know next week is my birthday,” said Laurent.
Damen set down his fork and turned to face Laurent, who was sitting to his right at the small wooden table. “I know.”
Laurent said, “So – am I wrong in my impression that we might make plans for that day?”
Damen swallowed; his mouth felt dry. He wasn’t sure he had ever been so aroused at breakfast before. “I was hoping.”
Laurent was immaculately dressed for breakfast as usual, his hair tied back severely. “According to my mother, I was born in the early hours of the morning.”
“Were you?” said Damen. His thoughts were all a week ahead, picturing.
“There is one remaining question,” said Laurent.
Damen pushed his breakfast plate away, he was no longer hungry. “And that is?”
“Your room or mine?” said Laurent.
“Mine,” said Damen, before he had even given the matter any thought, but Laurent did not seem to object.
“All right,” said Laurent, and he nodded at Damen and excused himself from the breakfast table. Damen marveled at Laurent’s composure as he left the room, seeming like he weren’t affected by the topic of their discussion. Damen himself had to sit there long moments in front of his abandoned plate of food before he was able to get up.
Laurent did not bring up their plans again, as though it was not on his mind the way it was on Damen’s. Damen could think of nothing else.
The days seemed interminable, one following after another, until finally there were only hours left, and Damen paced his bedroom on the evening before Laurent’s birthday.
Laurent’s birthday was in the late spring, and the weather was fair, and Damen had his window shutters thrown open to the night air. It was still early evening. Damen felt uncertain. Not about Laurent – he had somehow never been as certain of anything as he was of his feelings for Laurent – but he was uncertain of how to approach them. Part of him felt that he ought to speak to Laurent of his intentions before taking him to bed, to ensure that Laurent knew of his feelings, that Damen did not undertake this lightly, and that he was serious and intended to propose marriage to Laurent. Perhaps he should just propose directly rather than edging around his intent.
And yet, Laurent was young. Damen himself was the one who had cautioned Laurent about the consequences of political entanglements. Perhaps it was unfair to place too much weight on a night that could be simply about enjoying each other in a new way. Laurent had not said anything that indicated he was thinking of more than physical pleasure. Laurent might have fantasies only of a short fling, not the entwined lives that Damen was picturing.
Perhaps Damen should let Laurent lead the direction of their encounter, take his cues from Laurent as to whether he wished to talk, and in what vein, or whether he was interested only in bed play. He was coming in the middle of the night, after all. He was hardly going to arrive in Damen’s room for serious discussion in the early hours of the morning.
Damen was listening to the fall of his own feet upon the tile as he paced when the door opened.
Laurent entered. The door fell shut behind Laurent with an echo. Laurent looked distressed; he was holding a paper in his right hand.
Damen said the first thing that came to his mind. “You’re early.”
Laurent’s brow creased. “What?”
“What’s that?” said Damen, gesturing to the paper Laurent was holding.
“A letter,” said Laurent, handing it to Damen. “From Auguste. My uncle is dead.”
“How?” said Damen, scanning the letter, which was in Veretian in the characteristically ornate script of one of Auguste’s favored scribes. It seemed that Laurent’s uncle – who was not an old man, and younger than Damen’s father – had died in a hunting accident.
“He’s calling me back,” said Laurent.
“For the funeral?” said Damen.
“No, permanently,” said Laurent. “He says that my education is complete and the threat of my uncle is gone and that there is no reason I cannot return to Arles.”
Damen looked up from the letter and in to Laurent’s face. Laurent’s appearance was composed, but his face displayed a degree of heightened emotion that Damen rarely observed in Laurent. Laurent was unflappable and had a tendency to retreat to himself to consider things, not approach someone else to run them through while he was still pondering.
Auguste’s points were valid, and it seemed strange, suddenly, that Damen had not foreseen Auguste’s letter even aside from Laurent’s uncle. Damen had been so preoccupied with Laurent and with his feelings for him that he had not thought about the other consequences of Laurent coming of age. In his head, he was already set on the path where he proposed to Laurent and they married, and things continued in the vein that they were, except that Damen was greatly anticipated the sexual element of their relationship.
But Laurent was fostered in Akielos, fostering did not last forever. Laurent’s coming of age was notable not only because it was the end of Damen’s restriction, but because it signaled that Laurent’s education had reached a point where he was ready to take on a man’s responsibilities, to lead in the field as a commander, to oversee a keep. Laurent would easily undertake the activities suitable to the younger son of a king; Damen had no reason to try to hold him longer in Akielos.
Damen sighed, and handed the letter back to Laurent. “I – I should have seen it coming.”
“I did see it coming,” said Laurent. “But I thought we would have more time. I told Auguste I needed more time—"
“More time?” said Damen.
Laurent broke off, and seemed to have realized what he was saying and regret it.
“What is it that you need more time for?” said Damen.
Laurent turned his head to the side, suddenly reticent. They were standing close enough to touch, and Damen did, reaching out a hand to tip Laurent’s face back towards him.
“For us,” Laurent said finally. “I told Auguste that I needed more time because I thought I could win you over and convince you to marry me, but that I needed more time.”
“You don’t need more time,” said Damen. He said it thinking of how he had just paced the last few hours contemplating how to propose to Laurent; but Laurent took it another way.
“You might not think of me that way yet,” said Laurent. “I know that in some ways you consider me to be a child. But I can show you that I am ready, and that we are well-matched, not only politically, but personally—"
Damen interrupted him. “I am sure that you could argue a man into a marriage proposal, given enough time, but it is not actually necessary. I was only hesitating because I was uncertain of your thoughts.”
Laurent blinked. “You have also thought of marriage?”
“Yes,” said Damen. “Will you marry me?”
“I had a plan,” said Laurent.
“I couldn’t decide on a plan,” said Damen. “I was torn between taking you to bed and speaking of marriage.”
“They are not mutually exclusive,” said Laurent.
It seemed to Damen suddenly ridiculous that this was how he was proposing to Laurent, with the letter from Laurent’s brother still in his hand and the both of them so reeling from the news that they could scarcely make sense of each other’s words.
Damen had spent several years denying his impulse to reach out to Laurent physically, it was almost strange to realize now that he could indulge. He stepped in closer to Laurent and pulled Laurent into an embrace. It wasn’t sexual, it was intended for comfort, and he felt Laurent stiffen, first, and then relax into his arms.
“Let us start the evening over,” said Damen. “I am sorry to hear that your uncle has passed.”
“I’m not,” said Laurent, and his voice was slightly muffled where he had his face pressed into Damen’s tunic. Laurent’s words were dismissive, but Damen could feel conflict in the tension of his body.
“I assume you’ll return to Vere for the funeral?” said Damen.
“I suppose I must,” said Laurent.
“Would you like me to accompany you?” said Damen.
Laurent took a step back. “As my foster-guardian?”
“As your fiancé,” said Damen, “If you accept my proposal, which you have not yet done.”
“You know,” said Laurent, setting the letter from his brother on to a side table. “We are actually already married.” He glanced up at Damen sidelong from where he stood next to the table.
Damen smiled, but he shook his head. “That farce in a brothel does not make us a married.”
Laurent was smiling also, and not arguing in earnest, but he did continue. “There was an officiant, and you said the vows.”
“I will say them again, in front of the entire city,” said Damen. “If you will actually say you accept my proposal.”
Laurent smiled, and then caught his lip in his teeth. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m in mourning now, entertaining proposals is not very seemly.”
Damen shook his head. “You enjoy taunting me.”
“I do enjoy taunting you,” said Laurent.
“I suppose you are abstaining from sex while you are in mourning as well,” said Damen.
“Oh no,” said Laurent, taking two steps closer to Damen again. “If you get any sort of ideas that we will refrain from sex until we are married or other nonsense, I am telling you now, I am going to start fucking every soldier in the yard, and I will ensure that you watch.”
“Accept my proposal,” said Damen. He rested each of his forearms on Laurent’s shoulders and interlaced his fingers behind Laurent’s head.
Laurent looked up at him, his eyes were clear and blue. “Yes,” he said. And Damen leaned in to kiss him. The kiss itself was not remarkable – neither of them could stop smiling – but the promise of it, the idea that Laurent had said yes and Damen could kiss him like this for the rest of their lives, that was remarkable.
“I love you,” said Damen helplessly, walking Laurent backwards towards his bed. Laurent hit the edge of it and sat down. Damen pushed him back to lie down and crawled on top of him on the bed.
Laurent swallowed. “There are still a few hours left.”
“You’ve taunted me enough,” said Damen. “You’ve worn me in. Also,” he smiled again, giddy as a boy, “we’re going to be married.” He sat on his heels and started unlacing Laurent’s jacket.
“I would have agreed to marry you last year,” said Laurent, “If I had known that was what it took.”
“I am not going to think of the past year,” said Damen. “Could you not have worn something easier to remove?” He had managed to tie a knot in the lacing of Laurent’s sleeve and could not manage to get it undone.
Laurent blushed, suddenly, and Damen was intrigued by this uncharacteristic display. Laurent untangled the knot of his lace and kept his face turned away towards his sleeve as he worked. “I was going to,” he said softly. “Before the letter came and my plan was disrupted.”
“You were?” said Damen, charmed by Laurent’s shy revelation.
Laurent managed to get the knot undone and looked up, still seeming hesitant, somehow. “You could let me go and we could start again.”
Damen bent over to kiss Laurent thoroughly. “No,” said Damen. “I am not letting you up from this bed for a least a day. And –" he let his tone be imbued with the sincerity of his feelings, “I am glad that I am the one you come to when something happens. I wish to be the one you turn to when life presents us with challenges. And – while I might like to see, someday, what you planned to wear – you know that you do not have to be anyone else with me. I want you as you are, even if your clothing takes a ridiculously long time to remove.”
“Take off your clothes,” said Laurent, still blushing slightly. Damen followed his instructions and shed his own clothing, more as a demonstration of how much more convenient Akielon fashions were than anything else, though Laurent seemed more keenly focused on what was revealed underneath the clothing than on this evidence of how practical it was to avoid a thousand lacings.
“You have seen me before,” said Damen.
“Everything is different now,” said Laurent, and Damen had to agree with him that this was true.
Damen managed to finish unlacing Laurent’s jacket, and he urged Laurent to sit up so that he could peel it off of him, and then he tugged Laurent’s linen shirt over his head as well.
In the months prior, Damen had given a great deal of thought to this night. Not all of the thought had been purely prurient. He had had enough first night celebrations with new slaves to have a sense of how all of the built up expectations could lead to disappointment. It was better when the play started as theirs had, with laughter over the ridiculousness of Laurent’s clothing, than with a mistaken perception that somehow everything would be elegant and without mishap.
When they were both undressed, Damen let his appreciation for Laurent show with his eyes, allowing himself to look freely. He pulled Laurent into his arms and kissed him softly until Laurent was squirming next to him with suppressed urgency, and then he spooned Laurent and placed his hand over Laurent’s.
“Show me how you pleasure yourself,” he said.
Laurent tipped his head back against Damen’s shoulder. His hair brushed Damen’s cheek. It seemed amazing to Damen that he might have this for the rest of his life. Laurent closed his eyes, and swallowed. “I—don’t, often.”
Damen had made it a point not to inquire too closely into Laurent’s social life the last few years, but remarks that Laurent and the rest of the court had made certainly gave the impression that the prince was either celibate or sneaking into Damen’s bed at night, which Damen himself knew to be untrue.
“I want to see how you like it,” said Damen. “So I can learn you until I know you better than I know myself.”
Laurent used a light touch on himself, almost teasing in nature, and Damen echoed it in his caresses of Laurent’s neck. He had wondered, as he anticipated earlier that day and in the weeks prior, how he could control his own desire to show proper appreciation to Laurent during his first time, but Damen found himself so enamored of Laurent that it was not difficult. He liked watching Laurent, he liked feeling the tremors in his body as he held him, and afterwards, he liked soothing him for a moment while he caught his breath.
Then Damen showed Laurent how he pleased himself. He guided Laurent’s hand and showed him how he touched himself, the grip and rhythm that he liked, and he fell in love again with the look of intent concentration on Laurent’s face until he gave up on rhythm and had to kiss Laurent again, and he ended up thrusting desperately against Laurent’s hip as he came, unwilling to give up on their kiss.
It was somehow not surprising that Laurent thought an appropriate time to make remarks was while Damen was recovering his breath. Laurent was eyeing the position of the moon outside the window. “So, I am still not eighteen yet.”
Damen groaned, and fought what he suspected was the first of probably a lifetime full of impulses to gag Laurent so he could sleep.
“No more sex until you’re eighteen,” Damen declared, feeling that this was a restriction that he could reasonably adhere to.
Laurent seemed to take it as a challenge, though, and propped himself on one elbow, looking down at Damen with an intent and interested expression, as well as a wicked smile. “Are you sure?”