Stepping back into his palace felt absolutely euphoric. Finally, Laurent can bathe in his bathing areas and sleep in his bed and share gentle affection in private. He feels Damen’s hand between his shoulder blades, rubbing slow circles.
“You should get cleaned up,” Damen says softly, pressing a gentle kiss to his temple. “You’re not looking to good.”
“I will,” Lauren says, tucking some hair behind his ear. “I just… Need a moment.”
“Understandable,” he answers. “I’ll go put some oils in your bath, how does that sound?”
Laurent nods and Damen heads down one of the many hallways. He watches the taller man go, feeling pleasantly exhausted. He’s never been more glad to be inside his palace walls. His palace, in his kingdom. No more threats of The Regent.
Laurent walks through the palace and out to the garden. He inhales the sweet smelling air, taking it all in. The garden has obviously been taken care of in his absence. It’s nice, coming back to see that everything is still fresh and beautiful.
He walks through the many trees of fruit. His feet hit the warm stone as he walks and, from where he is, he can clearly see the sun setting. He stands and watches for a moment, in quiet awe of the beauty of it all.
Laurent is abruptly pulled out of his thoughts when he hears rustling, then footsteps. Small footsteps, bare feet on stone. It’s not the steps a grown man would take. Laurent listens quietly then slowly follows the noise around the corner.
He reaches the end of the stone, looking over at one of the large bushes. He peers through it, only to see bright blue eyes staring back at him through the leaves.
“Laurent?” Comes a small voice.
“Yes,” he answers. “Might I ask why you’re hiding in a bush, Nicaise?”
The bush starts to rustle and Laurent takes a few steps back. Nicaise crawls out and looks up at him, eyes wide, mouth slightly open. Laurent stares back down at him, brows furrowed in mild confusion.
“What?” He asks. “What’s wrong?”
Nicaise takes a few steps forward and Laurent can see the tears building up in his eyes. His lip quivers and Laurent holds his arms out to him. He hears the brunette whimper as he throws his arms around him and presses his face into his neck.
Laurent carefully wraps his arms around the child, squeezing him close. Nicaise sniffles, clinging onto the older man. Laurent can feel his tears hitting his neck.
“You came back,” Nicaise whispers.
“I told you I would,” Laurent answers, petting his soft curls. “Did you not believe me?”
“Of course not,” Nicaise answers. “You’re a liar, I would never believe anything you say.”
Laurent smiles. Even in a tender moment like this, Nicaise still finds it within himself to be snarky. He squeezes him gently and shakes his head, feeling the warmth of tears starting to prick at his eyes.
“Your hair is long now.” Nicaise notes quietly. One of his hands reaches up and gently touches the tips of Laurent’s hair.
“Yeah,” he says. “There’s not much time to cut it when you’re out on the front lines.”
Laurent feels Nicaise cringe against him. Both of them are quiet, Nicaise’s face still pressed into his neck. Nicaise mindlessly grips to the tips of Laurent’s hair. He shouldn’t have mentioned it, but Laurent wasn’t thinking.
“Was it scary?” Nicaise whispers.
“Did you get hurt?”
Nicaise swallows and all but clings to the prince. He squeezes his eyes shut, a few tears still rolling out of them. He sniffles and wipes his face on Laurent’s chiton.
“Were you worried?” Laurent asks quietly.
“No,” Nicaise says, sniffling. “I was hoping you wouldn’t come back so I could take your quarters.”
“I’m sure.” Laurent smiles warmly.
They stay like that until the sun goes down, both of them holding onto each other while Nicaise cries. Laurent can imagine what the poor boy has been through in his absence. It’s all coming out now. Nicaise knows he’s safe now.
Once the sun is down and the breeze begins to blow, Laurent ushers Nicaise back inside. They go up to Laurent’s quarters and Damen gives them their privacy. There, Laurent pours Nicaise a glass of water as the boy wipes his face with a cloth.
“Are you alright?” Laurent asks seriously, kneeling down to look into his eyes. “They didn’t hurt you while I was gone? There’s nobody I need to have executed?”
Nicaise drinks down all of the water and Laurent pours him another glass. Nicaise watches him, shifting on his cushioned seat to pull his legs to himself. He rests his head on his knees and shrugs his shoulders. Laurent raises an eyebrow.
“Nicaise,” he says quietly. “What happened?”
Nicaise stares at Laurent for a long moment. He swallows hard then reaches behind himself, unbuttoning the cloth around his neck. Laurent slowly steps closer, as if he’s approaching a hurt animal. He feels his stomach drop as he examines Nicaise’s neck.
An ugly, healing scar drags across the side of Nicaise’s neck. It doesn’t look very properly taken care of, but Laurent decides not to press it that very moment. Nicaise has been through enough emotional turmoil. Laurent reaches out and gently touches the scar and Nicaise flinches.
“Does it still hurt?”
“Uh,” Nicaise shrugs. “It’s bearable.”
Laurent runs his fingers across the scar before slowly pulling them away. He takes one of Nicaise’s hands and squeezes it gently. Their blue eyes meet and Laurent’s expression is deadly serious.
“What happened?” He asks lowly.
“They…” Nicaise swallows and looks around, as if afraid of someone listening. “They tried to kill me.”
“And you got away?” Laurent asks, Nicaise nods.
“I hid in the garden. The guards couldn’t look for me for very long, they always had to go somewhere else.” Nicaise says quietly, looking down. “I was going to hide there until you come back, but… But then I got scared that you wouldn’t. And then he left and… I thought I was all alone again.”
Laurent swallows and pulls Nicaise to him again. Nicaise hugs him back, looking around his lavish room. His bed looks comfortable. What Nicaise wouldn’t give to sleep in a bed, a bed that didn’t have terrible connotations to it.
“Is he really dead?” Nicaise whispers.
“You promise? He’s dead, he’s never coming back?”
“I promise. He’s dead and rotting and he’s never going to hurt you again.”
Nicaise nods his head and squeezes Laurent harder.
“Does that mean I don’t have a contract anymore?”
“I suppose,” Laurent answers.
Nicaise nods his head and pulls away. He looks at the glass of water and Laurent can see his lower lip tremble.
“Does…” Nicaise inhales shakily. “Does that mean I have to leave?”
“Only if you want to,” he says gently. “I won’t make you go anywhere.”
Nicaise nods his head. He looks up at Laurent. He reaches over and gently touches the tips of his hair again. He can’t believe he’s back. He can’t believe that The Regent is dead. He can’t believe that Laurent is letting him stay.
“I’m tired.” Nicaise says suddenly.
“Alright,” Laurent says. “I’ll have a new room prepared for you.”
“Can… Can I stay in here tonight? Just tonight?” Nicaise asks. “I don’t want to be by myself again.”
Laurent nods and stands up. He walks over to his bed and pulls the silks back. He steps back then gestures to it. Nicaise smiles a little and rubs his teary eyes. He crawls into his bed and under the silks, letting Laurent tuck him in like a parent would. Nicaise watches him walk over to his window and sit down, looking at the stars. Nicaise watches him for a long time then finally drifts off, feeling safe for the first time since Laurent left.
By the time Damen enters again, Laurent is laying in bed as well. He sits up and holds a finger to his lips. Damen nods and walks quietly over to him. He presses a kiss to Laurent’s cheek then sends a curious look towards Nicaise.
“He didn’t want to be alone,” Laurent whispers. “He’s been alone since my uncle left.”
Damen nods his head. Carefully, he reaches behind Laurent and grabs some pillows from the bed. He lays them down on the ground and Laurent frowns.
“I don’t want to startle him,” Damen whispers up to him as he lowers himself onto his makeshift pallet by the bed. “He doesn’t need to wake up to a foreign man in his bed.”
Laurent smiles and reaches down, holding Damen’s hand as they both settle.
The breeze whips hard against the window, causing the leaves on the trees to rustle violently. Despite the strong breezes outside, all is peaceful, all is comfortable. Laurent is home and Nicaise is safe.
Nicaise is safe.