Whatever Paschal had given him to take away the pain must also have made him sleep, because the first thing Damen became properly aware of as consciousness beckoned was that his eyelids felt impossibly heavy. It was an act of pure will to get them to so much as flutter, and when he finally managed to open them properly he discovered that there wasn't much point: the room was dark, lit only by a single lamp. He took in his surroundings: the wide, low bed, bracketed by tables; the white walls, unadorned but perfectly made; the darker shadows of tables and low benches set against them. He sighed softly, disturbing the silence, and turned his head towards the open window. There at last he found the lamp and, radiant in its warm light, sat Laurent, bare feet drawn up under him as he read from a book balanced on the sill. Or rather, he had been: now his gaze was fixed on Damen.
"Hello," Damen smiled.
"I'm awake," Damen confirmed. "And you're all the way over there," he added, lifting his hand to gesture at the distance between them, which seemed vast.
The corner of Laurent's mouth twitched subtly. "What would you have me do?"
"Come here, for a start." He swallowed in an effort to bring some moisture to his mouth, which felt very dry. "Or I'll come to you. If you like."
"I don't think that would be wise," Laurent said, not unkindly. In fact he spoke gently, warm and relaxed in a way that made Damen feel utterly content. He watched as Laurent, lamp in hand, made his way to Damen's bedside and perched delicately on the edge. "How do you feel?"
"Heavy," Damen said honestly.
"None. Not yet, at least." He reached out again. Now he could touch Laurent's hip, which he did, lightly. "How long will that last, do you think?"
"Not long enough for what you have in mind," Laurent teased. He set the lamp on the low table by the bed and held out a finely-turned cup. "Have some water."
"I'd rather have you."
"Have me give you some water."
That seemed agreeable enough. Damen forced strength into his sleep-clumsy limbs and, with Laurent's help, sat up against the pillows. He felt a twinge in his middle at the movement; the site of his wound felt tender, protesting under the firm bandages, but for now its sharpness was dulled. He remembered starkly how acute it had been down in the slave baths and decided that he didn't at all relish the possibility of its return.
"All right," he conceded, "You were right."
Laurent swept a hand over Damen's hair and down his cheek, where it lingered. Although there had been no distinct change in his expression, his eyes were serious as he gave Damen a long, searching look.
He's worried, Damen thought. And trying to hide it, but that was no surprise. He turned his head to kiss Laurent's palm and said, "I'm not in pain."
Laurent nodded. "Good," he said, and held the cup to Damen's lips. Damen took the cup and reminded himself to drink slowly, but at the first touch of cool, fresh water to his tongue his body rebelled, and soon he was gulping - and soon after that, coughing, which turned the twinge into much more than just a twinge.
Laurent took the cup from his loose grasp. "That was stupid," he said levelly, swiping a drop of water from Damen's jaw. Damen groaned his agreement, a miserable sound that he was instantly ashamed of. If he'd intended to assuage Laurent's concern, he thought, he wasn't doing a very good job.
Once the coughing had passed and Damen was once again relaxed, Laurent brought the cup back to his lips. This time Damen didn't try to take it; he submitted gladly to the small, slow sips that Laurent gave him.
"It's going to be this for days, isn't it," Damen said once the cup was drained and Laurent had replaced it on the table. "Just this. Bedridden and bored and not allowed even to drink on my own."
"Well, if you prove to me that you can drink responsibly," Laurent said, sly, "I will petition Paschal to have that privilege restored to you. The rest, though - yes."
"I'll go mad."
"I'll sit by the window and tell you about all the things I see," Laurent said. "Although I did that this evening and it was as dull as anything. 'Oh, the tide'," he said, affecting a sing-song, lilting kind of tone. "'Oh, a cart'. Maybe I'll make things up for you instead."
Damen smiled. "I'd be able to tell."
"I can be very convincing."
Damen recalled - a thousand things, small and large, in the blink of an eye: Laurent feigning recklessness, feigning restraint, feigning devotion and ruthlessness and even womanhood - and laughed. "Yes, you can."
"I'll make up a sea monster," Laurent said. He was sitting closer now, so that Damen could rest his head against his shoulder and feel the warmth of Laurent's skin through his undershirt against his cheek.
There was much yet left to do. Damen's entire life stretched out before him, full of things to do. But he took a moment to marvel at the fact that, at last, they had time. He could sit here and heal for as long as he needed and although he hoped fervently that it wouldn't be long -- the knowledge of what his immediate future held already had him itching to be out of bed -- the fact was that he could linger. With Laurent. For as long as it took.
The swell of emotion made his chest feel full and his throat strangely tight.
"Just sit with me," he said, taking Laurent's hand in both of his own. "That would be enough. I'd be happy with that."
"Are you sure? It was going to be good," Laurent coaxed, playful. He began combing the fingers of his free hand through Damen's hair, nimbly easing through the tangles it had accumulated in sleep. "I'd already started planning it out. It was going to have everything you like. Big monsters, epic battles, marble statues, wrists and ankles as far as the eye can see."
"I do like wrists and ankles," Damen agreed, amused. "I like yours best."
Laurent kissed his hair, and then shifted to allow Damen to kiss his lips. "I'll make a note of it." he said, when Damen had settled back against his shoulder.
"Do more than that," Damen said, turning his face so that the words brushed lightly against the pale column of Laurent's neck. "In fact - forget the monster. Tell me about your ankles."
"You've seen my ankles." Laurent's breath shuddered with laughter even as he ducked his head, letting Damen press a soft, lingering kiss under his ear. "You have to rest."
"I have rested. Now I want to make myself tired again."
Laurent sighed and withdrew from him to repose against the pillows a little away; not out of reach of Damen's hands, which immediately sought Laurent's own, but decidedly out of reach of his mouth. Damen took heart in the fact that at least Laurent was smiling as he did it.
"You're going to be trouble, aren't you," Laurent said, hands curled loose and relaxed under Damen's.
"I'll try not to be."
"Try harder. But don't," Laurent added, humour draining quickly out of his voice, "Be stoic. If it hurts, tell me. Immediately."
"I will," Damen promised. Laurent was looking at him too imploringly to do anything but be sincere. "I'll complain as loudly and as often as it pleases you. But I have nothing to complain about now."
"Nothing?" Laurent asked doubtfully.
"Nothing. A little ache, a little hunger - I'm sick of the walls already and our clothes aren't strewn across the floor," he added with a smile, feeling distinctly that Laurent would be reassured if he was in good humour, "But that really is all."
Laurent nodded, satisfied, then pushed himself up gracefully to stand. "I'll bring you some food."
"Am I allowed to feed myself?" Damen asked as he watched Laurent walk back to the table by the window. There were platters and bowls there, from which Laurent picked an assortment of foods and placed them on a plate.
"If you don't choke yourself, yes," he said over his shoulder. He handed the plate to Damen before resuming his seat by his side, and Damen had been too hazy to notice it before, but now he did notice: the slow way Laurent eased his weight back on to the bed, how he watched Damen like a raptor searching for the whisker of a mouse in a field of wheat, how every movement was calculated so as not to jostle him even the smallest amount. He was being so careful.
"Please kiss me," Damen said in a rush.
Laurent leaned in further, just as slowly, angling himself so that all Damen had to do was tilt his head in order to bring their lips together in a soft brush of contact that, after a moment, Damen pursued, setting his plate in his lap and bringing his free hand up to rest lightly against Laurent's neck. Laurent held himself taut and still - not out of uncertainty, Damen realised. He wasn't holding anything back; there was no internal thing against which Laurent had to struggle. He was only being still for Damen.
And Laurent was indulgent: even as he pulled back he let Damen follow him a little, drawing a few last, soft kisses from his lips before lifting a hand to Damen's chest.
"Now eat," he said, and settled down to rest his head against Damen's shoulder.
Damen ate. The salad leaves had wilted a little and the honey had thinned in the handful of hours since the meal had been brought, but there was more than enough for Damen to sate himself. And he'd eaten badly enough on the roads, contenting himself with a monotony of rations, that even a slightly shriveled olive was an explosion of nostalgia-tinged decadence on his tongue.
At his side, Laurent made a soft noise and turned his face into Damen's neck.
Damen looked down and took in the loose curl of Laurent's fingers around his arm, the rumple of his undershirt where it had come untucked, the gentle rise and fall of his back as he breathed, deep and slow with sleep.
He was home. Plate cleared and fingertips cleaned of oil, breathing in the salt-tinged breeze wafting gently from the open window, Damen closed his eyes and let himself feel it.