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The Jacket

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There was no reason for Nicaise to be rifling through Laurent’s wardrobe, but Nicaise refused to let his behavior be governed by reason, and that was one of the things that Laurent liked about him. When questioned, Nicaise relied successfully on his position and raising an arched and disparaging eyebrow, and after several years comfortably established as the Regent’s favorite, there weren’t that many left who even dared to question him.

Laurent did, but he was unusual. “What are you doing?”

Nicaise didn’t answer. “Why do you never wear any of these?” he said, emerging from the carved mahogany of Laurent’s wardrobe with an armful of clothing embellished with velvet ties and lace cuffs.

“They don’t fit me,” said Laurent.

Nicaise -- who, after all, was in denial about what happened to boys and young men over the years -- did not seem to consider this a suitable reason.

“But they’re so much more beautiful than those plain things that you wear every day,” said Nicaise. He spread out one of Laurent’s old jackets on the bed. The collar was made of navy-colored fabric embroidered with gold thread, and below it tightly gathered gold chiffon led to the elaborate embroidery of what almost looked like a woman’s bodice, but cut for a boy’s figure. The sleeves were golden, puffed at the shoulders and cut with ribbons to reveal the navy fabric underneath, and then gathered at the upper arm into a formfitting sleeve with gold-threaded laces. The jacket ruffled at the waist, a protrusion of layers of brocade emerging from the laced portion.

Laurent reached out to touch the collar and feel the embroidery. The jacket was heavy with decoration, and he remembered the constricting feeling of wearing it, the way his hair had brushed against its collar, the sensation of not being able to take a full breath of air before his ribs were held in by the boning of the bodice.

“I grew,” said Laurent. He had grown taller, of course, and as he’d worked secretly with his guards on becoming the most proficient swordsman in the kingdom, he’d grown broader across the shoulders. His tailors had had to let out his jackets and redo the panels to fit his new frame, but some of the clothes were too ornate or no longer to his tastes and remained in the back of the wardrobe, overlooked by the servants.

“You should have better clothes,” said Nicaise, eyeing Laurent’s current clothing. He was wearing grey, and although the material was of high quality and his tailors had done their job with the fit, the outfit was not decorated or ornate in the same fashion as what Nicaise was wearing. Laurent was dressed for riding, though he had spent the morning in the library. Nicaise had evidently spent the morning sorting Laurent’s wardrobe, but he seemed dressed for a dinner party.

“Are you suggesting your tailor might make me something?” said Laurent. Nicaise was famously possessive of his favorite tailor and rumors that the man had been discovered by other nobles circulated periodically and caused much consternation for Nicaise -- at least until the inferiority of the impostors was clearly established.

Nicaise glared at Laurent, and Laurent laughed lightly.

Nicaise began unlacing the blue and gold jacket he had spread out over Laurent’s bed, then rapidly unlaced the green velvet jacket he was wearing himself. He undid the laces quickly and with only one hand: an impressive show of dexterity.

Once Nicaise had pulled on Laurent’s jacket, he had trouble attacking the laces behind his back. “Do it up,” he told Laurent, without the slightest bit of hesitation in commanding a prince to do a servant’s job.

Laurent admired that kind of gutsy determination, so he moved behind the boy and obligingly helped him to lace the back of the jacket.

Nicaise turned from one side to the other inspecting himself in the mirror. “The laces could be tighter,” he said.

Laurent frowned. “I think--” he said, trying to recall, and then opened one of the drawers of the dressing table. A series of elegant instruments were laid out on the black velvet that lined the wooden drawer, and Laurent scanned over them until he found what he was looking for. “Yes,” he said, and took out the corset hook.

Nicaise nodded approval, and he sucked in his ribs as Laurent tightened each set of laces in turn.

Once the procedure was finished, Nicaise inspected his figure again in the mirror set up in Laurent’s dressing room. Laurent set the corset hook on the table.

The jacket fit Nicaise well. The puff of the sleeve at the shoulder and the narrowed arm to his wrist made him seem delicate and doll-like, and the material was dark enough that it highlighted the pale luminescence of his skin. His waist was slim and the jacket highlighted his figure. His brown curls didn’t glow next to the gold embroidery the way Laurent remembered his own hair doing, but the colors were not unflattering on him.

Nicaise seemed to be finding his reflection satisfactory. “I am going to wear this,” he declared. “With the sapphire earrings.”

Laurent knew the pair that Nicaise meant; they would look well with the jacket. Laurent remembered wearing a pair of golden pearl drop earrings with it himself. They were probably still tucked somewhere in his jewelry chest; if he took them out Nicaise was likely to appropriate them as well. Laurent remembered wearing the ensemble to dinner at Chastillon; he’d selected a red velvet chair after dinner because he thought it contrasted nicely with his clothing.

“I don’t think that would be wise,” said Laurent. Laurent was standing behind Nicaise as he continued to inspect himself in the mirror, so Laurent spoke half to the top of the boy’s head and half to his reflection.

Nicaise made an expression at Laurent in the mirror, something between a pout and a glare.

“What would your tailor think?” said Laurent. “You wouldn’t want him to think you’d been…” he paused a moment for emphasis. “Unfaithful.”

Nicaise turned around to look at Laurent directly; his expression was still dissatisfied but had become more considering. “It’s not like you can wear it.”

“No,” Laurent agreed. He picked up Nicaise’s green velvet jacket from where the boy had laid it on the dressing chair. “You have your own things,” he said.

Nicaise frowned, his lips pressed together, and then he took the corset hook from the table and held it out to Laurent. “Unlace me.”

Laurent took the hook and carefully undid the laces along the back of the bodice of the jacket. Nicaise himself loosened the ones on the sleeves, seemingly as adept with his left hand at doing laces as he was with his right.

The dark blue and gold of the jacket peeled off to reveal Nicaise’s pale cream undershirt, and it reminded Laurent of when they were watching an entertainment, and the blue-starred banner representing night was pulled away and replaced with a light yellow one representing day. Nicaise let Laurent hand him back his own green jacket; he pulled it over his shoulders with a strange mix of petulance and grace, hints of natural boyishness mixed with his dancer’s training.

“I might have other things that you could have,” said Laurent, thinking of what else might be in his wardrobe or his jewelry chest.

Nicaise’s moue of distaste seemed now permanently affixed on his face. “No,” he said sharply. His face softened. “No,” he said, more gently. “I don’t want any of your things.”

Laurent nodded. “That’s probably wise.”

Nicaise nodded in response, and then he turned and left, his green jacket not completely laced. Laurent watched him leave the apartments. Some of his curls were caught under his collar rather than trailing delicately down his back as he liked, but Laurent said nothing.