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A Trap For Two

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Even as Damen swung onto his horse, Nikandros was grabbing onto the reins to try to hold him in place long enough to ostensibly talk some sense into him.

“This is a terrible idea,” Nikandros beseeched. “This country was fighting a civil war until two days ago, and most of its people would enjoy seeing you dead even without that incentive. You should at the very least take a contingent of our own soldiers for your protection.”

“The danger on the road and in the palace is minimal now, since almost all of the career fighters in the area were called away to Chastillon by my uncle,” Laurent countered as he directed his own mount alongside Damen's, providing a hopefully united front. “Besides, I'd be risking my people seeing me as an invader marching on the capital if I’m accompanied by a small army or a visible Akielon presence. That might have been an unavoidable necessity if Arles was still under my uncle's rule, but now it would just be a pointless invitation for fearmongering and trouble. Travelling with a smaller party is a fair price to avoid that.”

Nikandros’s expression was unimpressed. “Don’t you think the King has already made too many concessions in the name of making it a little easier for your people to trust and follow you?”

Laurent casually looked to Damen. “I don’t know. Have you?”

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Damen chose to go along with Laurent's request rather than heeding his closest friend’s advice. Nikandros had grown so used to that state of affairs by this point that he just rolled his eyes when Laurent directed a mock-innocent look at him.

So when they traversed the main road between Chastillon and Arles, it wasn’t with a royal entourage, or with anything like the kind of numbers that might usually accompany two soon-to-be-rulers for their safety and support on the road. Theirs was instead a small party designed more for quiet efficiency of movement than as a show of strength or regal entitlement.

Nikandros, under continuing protest, remained behind at Chastillon to regulate the Akielon portion of the army in case the relative peace currently being sustained both within and just outside Chastillon’s walls faltered in Laurent’s absence. Laurent instructed Enguerran to do the same, despite him voicing similar concerns about Laurent going to the palace without him. As Laurent explained to him to get him to agree, even the northern soldiers and the old Regent’s Guard seemed to recognise Enguerran’s authority as Laurent’s Captain and the former Captain of Ravenel. They respected and listened to him, especially since he was instrumental in ceasing the fighting as quickly as possible and sparing unnecessary Veretian bloodshed.

Uncle wouldn’t have really cared much either way about the fates of the fighters on either side, and it was clear that even those who’d fought for him were fairly aware of that. It was part of the reason they’d allowed Laurent to take over with relative ease once Uncle was out of the way. Ever since Damen had suggested it was possible and Laurent had started to see results that supported that, Laurent had been determined to become a very different kind of ruler; the kind that didn’t just lead his people through emotionless distance and intimidation alone. Those things inevitably had their place, but there were often better ways, as his victory at Chastillon seemed to prove. The human toll of that battle had turned out to be remarkably low, all things considered, which Damen noted was becoming something of a trademark for any kind of conflict that Laurent was involved in.

“Only when the men I’m fighting against aren’t really my enemies,” Laurent said.

“They were, though,” Damen said. “Right up until you convinced them otherwise.”

“Like you were?” Laurent asked pointedly. Despite everything, Damen had never really acted like his enemy, and of the two of them, it hadn’t been him who really needed convincing.

Damen said nothing, ceding the point.

The route took them past a series of small villages that Laurent knew were all so closely connected by trade that they were more or less protruding limbs from a larger commercial body. They were apparently equally linked by gossip, for it was clear that riders must have been sent ahead to spread the word that the Prince approached. The majority of the towns' people seemed to have abandoned their work for the morning to line the road, anticipating his arrival long before Laurent’s banner came into view.

This close to the capital, and to Uncle’s lingering influence, Laurent expected at the very least that some anonymous hisses of ‘traitor', or even perhaps some slur related to him being an omega, might rise from the crowds. He rode straight-backed, prepared to weather their hopefully temporary distrust and scorn, but no signs of those things ever came. Those who did anything more than just gawk chose to show obeisance rather than disdain or hatred. To Damen’s clear annoyance, a few alphas even looked as if they might have declared themselves to him right there, if only he weren’t their Prince as well as an omega.

Even Damen, who had taken no pains to conceal his identity, and who was as such a fairly recognisable figure even to these people who had never laid eyes on him before, received only a few hushed and fearful whispers of ‘prince-killer’. No one made any kind of threatening forward movement in his direction, as they might have under different circumstances. Not a single rock was thrown or insult hurled, at either of them.

It was clear to Laurent that it wasn’t the Akielon King himself holding the Veretian people back from rebelling against his presence in their lands. It was the way that Laurent rode comfortably next to Damen, giving off every impression that they unquestionably belonged side by side.

Uncle would have had Laurent believe that he could never hope to inspire the commoners to be willing to follow his lead, and Laurent would almost have bought into that, if Auguste hadn’t previously told him the exact opposite. Now here was the proof of which of them had been right all along, and it left Laurent feeling vindicated on his brother’s and his own behalf.

Once the outline of the palace rose in the distance, the neighbouring town just barely visible off to the right, Laurent saw some of the tension start to leave Damen’s squared shoulders. Even though he’d gone along with Laurent’s request to keep their group small and entirely free of Akielons other than himself, it was clear that he’d expected trouble. They weren’t quite home free even now. They still had to gain entry into Arles and convince the people inside to listen to Laurent.

That might not be the simplest thing, for the banners of the regency were still flying from the turrets of the palace, and there was no sign that the remaining occupants of Arles who were left behind when Uncle ran for safety, such as it was, were aware of the regime change. Apparently whatever message had been sent ahead through the towns hadn’t made it this far, for it was clear their arrival wasn’t anticipated.

And yet despite the uncertain welcome, riding towards the palace for the first time in many months with Damen now by his side strangely felt like coming home, despite everything that had happened there.

It was the first time in six years that Laurent had felt that way about Arles. And even before that, it was really wherever his brother was currently residing, not the palace itself, that he considered home. But Arles was truly his now, in a way it had never been even back before Uncle had taken it over, when Laurent’s every move had been under Father's servants' scrutiny, to be reported back to him when Father occasionally remembered to check that his youngest son wasn’t doing anything too embarrassing to the Crown.

Now Laurent’s every move would still be watched until he really proved to the populace that he could competently rule. But at least now he might rise or fall mainly on his actual merit, not simply at the behest of Father giving off the impression that Laurent was something to be overlooked, or due to Uncle underhandedly sowing distrust of Laurent’s abilities or his decisions. He would no longer be overruled with no more than an eye-roll or a sigh to indicate that the current ruler had decided Laurent was being childish or short-sighted again.

He was the one who gave the orders here now. Laurent started with the most obvious one.

“Have the servants replace the banners of the regency with my own,” Laurent commanded the small gathering of guards who met him at the gates of Arles. Few as they were, they might comprise the majority of the defence Uncle had left behind to drive off anyone who thought to takes Arles while it was weakened. It was a token show, not anywhere near enough to make a real difference. Laurent would have to allocate some of his own people to remedy that before he moved south back towards Akielos; towards Kastor, and Damen’s birthright.

“Only the King can give such an order,” one of the men claimed, though he sounded uncertain rather than outright hostile as he said it.

Laurent informed them, “The Regent who falsely declared himself King has been justly removed from his position by the Council at Chastillon. The new Regent will not, I think, begrudge having the starburst on display, as it should have been for years now.”

Put like that, these men who would have served Auguste without question seemed happy enough for Auguste’s sigil to finally take up it’s rightful place on the palace walls.

Laurent would accept such secondary loyalty for now. That was the way things had begun with many of his soldiers and Prince’s Guard, after all, and it had clearly developed beyond that for almost all of them. Laurent would win these people over more fully in time as well. He no longer doubted that he could.

One guard did step into their path to halt their entry, though, when his eyes slid past his Prince to Damen and widened in recognition. He made no sound, but Laurent saw his lips form the familiar moniker of ‘prince-killer’. His hand went instinctively for his weapon. Especially with Auguste so recently brought to mind, the sight of the man who’d taken him from his people could easily spur this soldier unthinkingly to violence, which likely wouldn’t end well for anyone concerned.

Laurent understood what that was like. Seeing Damen had done the same thing to him, initially. He hadn’t been able to stop himself from acting, even despite all logic. That felt like a lifetime ago, and yet also like it was just yesterday, just like Auguste’s death seemed both a distant dream and fresh enough that the wound of it still freely bled.

“The King of Akielos is here as an ally and guest of your Prince, and of Vere,” Laurent said firmly, a warning, by which he meant that since he had managed to overcome the desire for retribution against the man who’d taken his own brother’s life, so too would this soldier, and anyone else who thought to challenge Damen’s presence here now.

The soldier ultimately backed down, reluctantly. To Laurent’s left, Orlant slowly took his hand off the hilt of his sword.

Laurent’s breath was released slowly, a relief, though he didn’t think anyone but Damen was close enough to pick up on it.

“Prepare the main hall for our arrival,” Laurent instructed a servant who’d finally rushed out to greet them, presumably once word that the Prince had returned to Arles had made it further inside the walls than the defensive lines.

The occupants who’d remained in Arles, as well as some local commoners who’d followed Laurent’s group curiously into the castle, eagerly gathered in the hall. They arranged themselves before two identical if hastily-placed thrones, neither of which were the kind of over the top monstrosity Uncle preferred to sit atop when he was making a point. The spectators’ expressions were openly curious, though word of what Laurent had told the guards at the gates had surely travelled far enough that they must have some idea what he was going to say. Laurent knew all too well how quickly gossip moved throughout Arles.

Laurent was matter-of-fact about the happenings at Chastillon, and what that now meant for the country. His subjects tentatively asked for the occasional elaboration, and Laurent spoke authoritatively enough that they didn’t seem to further question his answers. It became quickly clear that, as Laurent had hoped, there was no particular love for the former Regent among those he’d left behind here, any more than there had been among the existing forces that he’d effectively exiled to Chastillon over the years. The courtiers might have bowed for Laurent now more because they saw how the tide had turned than out of genuine affection, but there was at least no sign that they did so resentfully.

Once Laurent was satisfied that he had the people mostly on board, or at least neutral enough that they wouldn’t actively oppose him, he ordered a small group of servants, “Have my Uncle’s recent acquisitions from Akielos sent here. I believe King Damianos is eager to check on the welfare of his countrymen.”

So was Laurent, for that matter, for he didn’t trust that they wouldn’t require immediate medical assistance. Paschal had ridden to Arles in the middle of their group for just that reason. Making sure their Akielon ‘guests' were well-cared for just as soon as Laurent was in the position to do so would be the first step in proving to both countries that this was more than just a military alliance of convenience, which surely would have been quick to fall apart now that the need for it had mostly passed, at least from the Veretians' point of view.

That, and Laurent did actually feel a genuine concern and pity for these slaves. Uncle’s disinterest in them would undoubtedly mean that they were treated unkindly by whoever felt like striking out at Akielos or just was bored and wanted something to do. Laurent wished that he could immediately free them now that they were in his power, but free them to where, and to what? These men and women were used to, as Damen would put it, giving themselves over utterly in return for having all of their needs attended to by their masters, and they didn’t speak the local language besides. They were hardly self-sufficient. Their options as freemen in Arles would be negligible, and would likely closely reflect Nicaise’s expectations of what his own fate might have been, had Laurent not interceded.

It pained Laurent to leave them in their chains, even if those thin gold links that hung from them were more decorative representations of their state of being than true restrictions on their movements. However, their fate couldn’t be Laurent’s to decide. Not this time. That responsibility would fall to another.

He’d already trusted Damen with far more than two dozen slaves, Laurent reminded himself. And Damen had yet to let him down.

Once they were led in, the slaves knelt before the two thrones in a single line, with their heads inclined and eyes lowered, abandoning themselves to Laurent’s judgement. There might almost have been something admirable in how uniformly they posed, not entirely unlike the way an army waited in a line of readiness for orders, if only their submission were actually by choice.

Laurent announced to the room, “These men and women will be returned to their rightful place in Akielos as a show of the new state of the friendship between our kingdoms. We require no such gifts to pretend at closeness when our countries have by our actions already more than proven our willingness to work alongside each other.”

Laurent meant to follow that with an announcement that, with this new unity, they would also answer Akielos’s generous loan of its army in kind, and would shortly march on Ios as one combined force against the pretender Kastor. However, he at that moment found himself thoroughly distracted.

One of the slaves stood distinct from the rest of the (at least to Laurent) more exotic-looking men and women who were kneeling. He had hair pale enough that it might as well have been blond, as well as far paler skin than was the norm among his peers. And he was more distinctive for his posture, which even among a group of fellow Akielon slaves was eye-catching in its unswerving submission. Worst of all, every visible sign suggested that he was clearly an omega, even if Laurent couldn't quite smell it from this distance.

Laurent couldn’t lay eyes on him, even just in passing, and not immediately recognise him for what he was.

He rose from his throne and walked down the dais steps. When he reached the line of slaves, he placed his fingers under the blond one’s chin, tilting his face up for Laurent’s surveillance. Unlike the slave girl at Makedon’s camp, this slave didn’t lapse by actually looking at Laurent. He was too well-trained for that. Of course he was.

“What’s your name?” Laurent asked.

“This slave is called Erasmus,” he replied, his voice clearly long since broken but still young and clear enough to have an almost musical quality to it.

"You belonged to Prince Damianos, didn't you?" Laurent asked the slave, his voice tight. Behind him, Laurent could practically feel Damen react. “I’m surprised that Kastor let you live at all given that, but I suppose he found it amusing that one of his brother’s favourites would be subjected to the not-so-tender mercies of a country that hates yours and has waited years to finally take it out on someone without consequence. You should know that you don’t need to fear such things anymore, at least. Your master will be far kinder to you now that you’re being returned to him.”

Laurent hadn’t been confronted with jealousy often, but he still recognised it well enough to know that wasn’t quite what he was feeling now. This was instead similar to the fear he’d experienced when he’d first stopped believing his own denials about what was developing between himself and Damen. It was that feeling of near helplessness at knowing that this was unlikely to end well, but that he might not be able to stop it before it got to that point.

Laurent had let himself forget, somewhere along the way, what Damen’s life had been like before he met Laurent. He’d foregone the use of slaves since then, yes, but things might be different once they arrived back in Akielos. Laurent gathered that Damen would be viewed as weaker if he didn’t own and use slaves, as was culturally expected of any Akielon of status, let alone the King himself. And even apart from that, in Akielos any high-ranked or wealthy alpha, let alone the King himself, could potentially have several women or omegas at his beck and call without fear of the bastards that would result. Kastor's upbringing and eventual rule, however temporary the latter had been, was proof of that.

It wouldn’t mean anything if Laurent received Damen’s full fidelity only because he jealously insisted on it. That wasn’t his decision to make. And yet Laurent also wasn’t the kind of man who would accept half-measures when it came to something like this.

“No,” the slave responded demurely, “this slave was merely in training for the Prince’s consideration... before.”

Damen came down to stand beside Laurent, perhaps to get closer to the slaves. From the corner of his eye, Laurent noted that Damen looked somewhat stricken, probably feeling responsible for this boy’s fate.

“He’s the King now,” corrected Laurent. “And whatever befell you here won’t matter to him.”

He was sure that the same thing that allowed Damen to want Laurent despite his past would also allow him to take on this slave without compunction. Laurent’s gut churned at the thought.

Erasmus prostrated himself lower, though Laurent couldn’t rightly have said whether that was due to being advised of his would-be master’s upward change in status or because of Laurent’s tone, which had taken on the kind of too-even pitch that a well-trained slave would surely identify as hiding potentially dangerous emotions.

"I expect that you'll take him back to Ios with you and put him back into your household where he belongs,” Laurent commented to Damen without looking at him, not a question. He sounded utterly calm, and felt anything but.

"They'll all be coming back to Ios with us," Damen agreed. "As long as that's what they wish. But this boy won’t be my slave. None of them will."

"Of course," Erasmus said quietly. "This slave is too ruined to even have the King look upon him." He tugged at the hem at the thigh of his slave’s tunic self-consciously and looked pained. “This slave is no longer fit to serve in Akielos at all,” he added, resigned.

Laurent felt something that didn’t quite amount to kinship, but was close enough for discomfort.

"No," Damen said gently. "You could never be considered ruined. You survived what was done to you.” He glanced meaningfully at Laurent, and Laurent swallowed heavily, for he realised that Damen wasn’t just talking about Erasmus. “You've not even had your first heat yet, have you? A late bloomer, but then you’re still young yet. You’ve got far too much of your life still to come to think that it’s in any way over.”

Erasmus was just like Laurent in many ways, but in others they couldn’t have been more different. This slave that looked like he was barely out of boyhood, though he was probably almost Laurent’s age really, still gave off an air of innocence despite everything, which Laurent couldn’t have managed. That was the kind of thing Damen seemed to have enjoyed in the past.

But when Damen looked at him, his expression was far from covetous. This, Laurent realised now, was how Damen really appeared when he felt pity, not the way he’d looked at Laurent the day he’d found out what his uncle had done. Damen said, "You’ll have a place in Ios, whether you wish to remain in service or not. But you must understand, either way you won’t be in my household. I don’t intend to keep any slaves from now on. And I already have the only omega – the only person – that I want.”

He caught Laurent's eyes in a way that he couldn’t ever do with a slave, for they wouldn’t even dare to glance at their King, where Laurent now refused to look away. "Assuming, of course, that he'll have me,” Damen added.

Laurent could feel his lips twitching slightly, giving his relief away. "Please. Like I could ever manage to get rid of you now."

In front of everyone, Laurent clasped their hands together, a promise for the future.

He didn’t let go for the remainder of the gathering. They remained joined at that point of contact, in fact, even after Laurent eventually guided Damen to the room Laurent had claimed as his own for the past twenty years.

It was different from having Damen invite himself into the rooms prepared for him in Ravenel or Fortaine, or from the makeshift accommodations of Laurent’s tent. This was the one place he’d had relative privacy to read his books as a boy, and where Auguste had curled up in Laurent’s bed when he'd been five and had gone through a phase of being scared of the dark, well before he’d learned that there actually were things, and people, who wanted to hurt him lurking in the shadows.

This was also the room where Laurent had killed an alpha for the first time, finding to his satisfaction that he was able to do so even with the disadvantage of his nearing heat. That was when he’d first felt some hope that maybe he might finally be ready to rise to the real challenge posed by Damianos. Even knowing how skilled Auguste had been, and therefore how versed with the sword his killer must also have been, Laurent had convinced himself that it might be possible.

And now here Damianos was in this room, and somehow he was squeezing Laurent’s hand comfortably instead of there being a pair of sharp swords extended between them.

“You thought I’d go back to owning slaves,” Damen commented.

Laurent shrugged as if the possibility didn’t bother him, though he was fairly certain that Damen saw through him. “You’ll have more options once you get back to Akielos.”

“I’ve told you before, I’ve never lacked for potential partners. I don’t want them now.”

“There will also more expectations on you, though,” Laurent reminded him. “I know what it is to have to work harder to prove myself because I don’t fit the mould forged by previous Kings. Yours could be an easier path than that, if you chose.”

“I’ve already chosen,” Damen assured him. “The easier path isn’t always the better one.”

Damen used their joint grip to pull Laurent closer, the space between their bodies disappearing without the slightest protest from Laurent. Laurent’s breaths quickly turned to involuntary sighs as Damen took advantage of their sudden closeness to seal his lips over the sensitive skin at the dip under Laurent's jaw, just barely above the high neck of his shirt. Damen tugged ineffectually at the shirt to try to give himself more room to explore the taste of Laurent’s skin.

Damen broke away to glare at Laurent’s laces like they were what was currently withholding his kingdom from him. “I can’t wait until we get back to Akielos. Your Veretian clothes are unnecessarily complicated.”

“You just want to see me in a chiton again,” Laurent accused. Which Laurent thought was ridiculous, honestly, since Damen had seen him fully naked multiple times by now, and so hardly had any desperate need for the sight of him in a short skirt. Ridiculous, but gratifying.

Damen agreed, “Yes. Though I also look forward to seeing you out of it again a few moments later.”

“You could see me out of these clothes right now,” Laurent pointed out.

“Half an hour away isn’t ‘right now’,” Damen complained.

“You know, your impatience isn’t one of your more attractive qualities.”

“I remember a slightly different reaction when I ripped your shirt off you.”

Laurent tried his best not to blush. He didn’t succeed. “That was during heat.”

Damen looked like he was seriously considering a repeat performance now to prove that heat wasn’t the only reason for Laurent’s response. Laurent’s quelling look apparently stopped him, though.

“I like this shirt,” Laurent warned.

Damen sighed, put upon, and started unlacing Laurent properly. Seeing him like this, in a position more traditionally expected of a servant, one might be forgiven for not recognising him as a King.

Personally, though, Laurent couldn’t look at him and see anything but royalty, even as he voluntarily went to his knees beside the bed so that Laurent could offer his boot for removal.

As if he were determined to prove that he could be patient after all, Damen didn’t just pounce on Laurent the moment his clothes were finally all removed and Damen’s chiton had fallen unceremoniously to the floor (Laurent had to admit there was something to be said for how comparatively quickly it had been dispensed of).

Every touch from that point was a whisper, barely heavier than the breath that fell from Damen’s lips against Laurent’s skin; the kind of tease that Laurent preferred at the start of such encounters far more than Damen did, though this time Damen seemed like he planned to draw it out even beyond what Laurent usually would seek.

Even when Damen’s lips met skin, Damen wasn’t focused on the more obvious targets. Laurent’s hardening cock went unacknowledged in favour of Damen exploring, of all things, the soft skin surrounding Laurent’s inner ankle bone. His ministrations were almost submissive, the way the slaves they’d left behind in the main audience hall might have showered attention on him if Laurent would ever have allowed it. Damen’s fingers caressed the arch of Laurent’s foot as he slowly sucked a trail further and further up Laurent’s leg, though he unfortunately didn’t even reach Laurent’s sensitive thighs, before he abandoned his course and moved on to Laurent’s arm instead.

Damen traced his lips slowly over the curve of Laurent’s bicep in what Laurent could only describe as worship. The muscle tensed and released reflexively under his mouth, and the rest of Laurent's body shivered at the attention. Still, Laurent let it go on for some time before he couldn’t take it in silence any longer and asked, “Are you quite done?”

“Done showing my undying admiration for every inch of your body? Never,” Damen claimed.

“That particular part of my body is nothing special,” Laurent pointed out. He shifted his body to try to draw Damen’s attention elsewhere. He would prefer a touch that was more obviously purposeful right now, if only so that he didn’t have to really consider the depth of feeling that would lead a man like Damen to treat him with such tenderness without even seeking anything for himself.

Damen pointedly ignored Laurent’s attempt to distract him. “No? Your flawless skin and perfectly sculpted muscles are definitely special as far as I'm concerned. The same can be said for the entirety of your body.” He shifted over Laurent’s body and licked demonstratively around the fine dips between the sleek muscles of Laurent’s abdomen, close enough to where Laurent would prefer his attention that Laurent’s hips unconsciously thrust upward slightly at the sensation, a request for more.

You like my muscles?” asked Laurent, disbelieving. Beside Damen, Laurent might as well have looked emaciated.

“They’re a sign of your unexpected strength, and that you can defend yourself,” Damen said proudly. “And you worked hard for them. Why shouldn’t I like them?”

Neither of them mentioned that whatever musculature Laurent had attained over recent years were the direct product of Laurent preparing to fight and hopefully kill Damen.

“Well I’m hardly built like you,” Laurent said dismissively.

“No. But that’s just as well, since you’d look strange with an Akielon wrestler’s physique. Your muscles are compact, proportional with the rest of you,” Damen commented.

“Proportional,” Laurent repeated, amused now. “Is that what they call flattery in Akielos?”

“If you’re looking for compliments, I can certainly oblige you. Would you like for me to write a whole ballad to your beauty, to be performed in full during the celebration on the day we take Ios, so that both our kingdoms are left in no doubt as to how enthralled I am by you?” Damen threatened with a mischievous smile. “That’d give Nikandros something to really complain about.”

“You know, that would almost make it tempting, if I wouldn’t have to also sit through it myself,” Laurent said.

“Then shall I just show you how much I appreciate you instead?” Damen asked.

“I suppose, if you must,” Laurent said, his tone noncommittal.

Damen trailed his mouth back down from Laurent’s chest all the way to the coarse patch of hair outlining Laurent’s erection. Damen hovered for a moment, saying, “You know, this too is very 'proportional'.”

“Feel free to stop talking now,” Laurent instructed, and Damen did, instead finding an eminently more welcome use for his mouth.

It didn’t take long before Laurent was bucking into the hot suction, his head thrown back and his teeth clenched in a probably vain attempt to keep some level of control over himself. He was on the edge after less than a minute, just as if it were the first time Damen had done this, even though then he’d at least had the excuse of his heat. Laurent didn't see how he could ever grow used to this sensation, no matter how many times Damen might do it.

He certainly looked forward to finding out for sure, though.

Laurent involuntarily clung to Damen's shoulders as he reached completion. He used that hold to pull Damen up against him while he was still gasping to catch his breath. A strange tension he hadn’t even really noticed until then drained from Laurent’s body once he was fully under Damen’s weight, inhaling the intense aroma of his alpha’s full-body arousal.

That rigidity came back, though, as Laurent considered the possibility of for once returning the favour. He forced himself to relax again, though, and shook his head at Damen’s suddenly concerned expression.

“I’m fine,” Laurent said as firmly as he could manage, and resolved to prove that to both of them.

The reversal of their positions was so gradual that Damen didn’t seem to really notice that Laurent had eventually settled on top of him instead, in the position that Damen himself usually preferred. Laurent admittedly usually preferred Damen to be on top as well, because it was so much easier to give in when Damen took physical control like that. But he had something different in mind just now. Damen could hardly miss it when Laurent moved purposefully down Damen’s body, reaching for his goal determinedly.

The first lick to the tip made Damen jerk so hard that he nearly fell off the bed, which would have taken Laurent sprawling to the ground with him. Laurent knew that reaction was more due to shock than sensation alone. It was surely unexpected that Laurent would voluntarily do this when everything he’d ever said or done suggested he wasn’t willing to do anything that could be considered as debasing himself.

“You don’t have to do this,” Damen assured him, but his voice was strained, as if he’d barely managed to make himself say those words.

“Don’t ask me whether I’m sure,” Laurent warned, because he really wasn’t at all. But he wanted to be.

It was very different from Laurent’s previous experience of this act. And it wasn’t just that there weren't hands viciously clenched in his hair, not letting him pull away. Every aspect of it was better. Laurent could see there potentially being some point in the future when he might not hesitate before doing this.

Damen came slowly apart under him, because of him, responding to each tiny change in rhythm or suction. This could apparently be a position of power rather than servitude, at least between them, because Damen would allow Laurent to have that if and when he wanted it.

Laurent looked up and met Damen’s eyes and was suddenly glad he’d already come just minutes earlier, because the sight of Damen’s face looking down at him with such open adoration would probably have otherwise had Laurent on the verge again.

Damen himself actually was right on the edge, grasping at the silky sheets underneath him and having difficulty getting a real grip. He made a frustrated noise, a plea. Laurent felt satisfaction at knowing that he’d managed to get Damen so close almost as quickly as he’d done for Laurent, even though Damen had so much more experience in receiving this.

Right when it looked like Damen would fall over the precipice, Laurent pulled off, earning himself a loud protest. But Damen knew what Laurent was like by this point. He should have been prepared for Laurent to suspend this at his own pleasure. Apparently he wasn’t prepared this time, though, nor was he willing and able to stand it.

“Laurent, I can't, please,” Damen begged, lapsing into Akielon. Damen reached for him then, but plaintively, not demandingly.

Laurent pressed a kiss to Damen’s hip instead, making him squirm for just a moment longer, before showing him some mercy and taking him all the way back into his mouth again. He held still for a long moment, just experiencing the solid weight on his tongue, to Damen’s consternation. He inhaled, drawing in the musky scent of alpha that made him shudder almost as pleasurably as Damen had been doing.

When Laurent finally gave a long suck and flicked his tongue just slightly into the tip, Damen cried out in surprised pleasure and salt hit Laurent’s tongue in a gush. Part of Laurent instinctively wanted to spit it out and wipe his tongue clean, the way he once would have. But he swallowed around Damen, drawing it out, and strangely didn’t mind the sensation all that much because of how demonstratively Damen seemed to be enjoying the other side of it.

“Laurent,” Damen breathed half-brokenly, but didn’t seem to have any intention of saying anything further, as if he’d simply wanted to taste Laurent’s name in his mouth the way Laurent was currently tasting Damen.

Laurent eventually let Damen’s softened cock fall free. He slid up alongside Damen, folding himself into Damen’s arms with his head resting against Damen’s chest. Damen’s fingers carded through Laurent’s hair, the sensation making Laurent’s eyes fall closed in contentment.

“That was...” and Damen couldn’t seem to find further words.

“I know,” Laurent said, making himself sound smug even though he didn’t entirely feel that way. It wasn't as though he’d never been told that he was good at this, but it was entirely different coming from Damen. Laurent was genuinely pleased that he’d affected Damen that much, if still a little disbelieving that Damen was so willing to show Laurent the full depth of his reaction to Laurent's efforts.

“Part of me never wants to move again after that,” Damen said. “And another part of me wants to do it again immediately.”

“You’re kidding yourself if you think your stamina is that good,” Laurent laughed softly, his happiness for once unrestrained. “And we can’t stay here forever either. We have to go win your kingdom back.”

“Our kingdom,” Damen amended. “We have to go win the rest of our kingdom.”

“Ours,” Laurent repeated in confirmation, which was the closest that Laurent could make himself get to acknowledging the sudden swelling sensation in his chest.

Laurent drifted off to sleep thinking that he really liked the idea of that.