“Did he mean a lot to you?”
Laurent looks up from his map and over at Damen. His breathing is still ragged, he still sees Nicaise’s severed head every time he closes his eyes. He needs to continue with what he’s doing but he doesn’t know what to do.
If it were someone else, Laurent would still be jarred. He’d still be upset. But, Gods, it was Nicaise. No matter how hard he tries to continue working, all he can think about are Nicaise’s last moments. Did he beg? Did he cry? Did he know his death was coming?
“That depends on who you asks,” Laurent answers finally, with a pained chuckle.
Laurent can still remember the first time he met Nicaise. It wasn’t long after his eighteenth birthday that Nicaise showed up. He was ten and glued to the Regent’s side. Laurent can still vividly remember Nicaise’s little hands balled in the Regent’s winter furs, eyes wide and afraid.
It was when Nicaise was comfortable enough to roam the palace on his own that they finally met. Laurent was in the garden while Nicaise picked flowers. When Laurent introduced himself, Nicaise just stuck out his tongue and skittered away.
“If you asked Nicaise, I’m sure he would swear to have nothing to do with me,” Laurent explains. “But… Truth be told, he was like a younger brother to me. I just wanted to look after him.”
“Why didn’t you just take him with us?” Damen asks. “I’m sure we could’ve found a safe place for him.”
Laurent gives Damen a bewildered look and he shakes his head. He smiles a tired smile then walks over to a nearby chair and sits down.
“Because he would have tracked him down,” Laurent says quietly. “He would’ve found Nicaise anyways and…” He stops and shakes his head.
When Nicaise finally introduced himself, it was on his way to the Regent’s chambers after dinner. Laurent introduced himself, causing Nicaise to turn on his heel and quite boldly say:
“My name is Nicaise and I don’t want to talk to you so fuck off.”
“Are you sure it’s even his head?” Damen asks. “For all we know, it could’ve been faked.”
“It was him,” Laurent murmurs. He closes his eyes and feels a wave of nausea rush over him. “I saw his eyes, I know it was him.”
Damen frowns, taking a few steps towards the chair that Laurent is sitting in. He doesn’t want to overstep boundaries, but he can see that the other man is hurting.
“Truth be told,” he smiles. “Nicaise and I didn’t even really click until halfway through his first year living there.”
“Really?” Damen asks.
Laurent nods. “I was heading to my chambers after a late night in the library and I caught him in the hall during a thunderstorm,” he says. “To this day, I’m not sure why he was out that late. But the storm was getting bad and he looked terrified.”
Laurent sighs and stands, walking back over to his table full of maps. He looked over them, trying to distract himself from the pain. It certainly wasn’t helping, dwelling on all of these memories.
“But he begged me not to send him back to my uncle’s chambers,” Laurent continues. “So I let him stay in my chambers. I gave him my bed and I slept in one of the chairs by the window. I woke him up early the next morning and delivered him back to my uncle so he wouldn’t get into any trouble.”
Laurent pauses, swallowing heavily. He feels a limp start to form in his throat. He doesn’t want to cry, but he can’t stop thinking about it all. It was much too soon in Nicaise’s life for him to die.
“I never wanted him to get into any trouble.” He says.
“I’m sure,” Damen says. “You cared for him.”
The night before Laurent left with his men, Nicaise crawled into Laurent’s bed and pressed against him. Laurent turned over and looked at him, asked him what he was doing there. Nicaise’s little back was shaking and he could tell he was crying, but Laurent never pointed it out.
“You have to come back,” Nicaise said, in a rare moment of vulnerability. “You can’t die out there and leave me alone with him.”
Laurent ruffled his hair and gave a sympathetic smile. He knew the feeling all too well.
“I’ll be back,” Laurent said. “And I’ll take the throne and you’ll be free to do whatever you please.”
Nicaise had fallen asleep in Laurent’s bed that night. He cried when Laurent got dressed to leave and cried even harder when he had to return to the Regent’s chambers.
This one pleaded for you.
The words keep echoing in Laurent’s head. Over and over until they don’t even feel like words anymore. He can still see the frozen fear in Nicaise’s lifeless face every time he closes his eyes. He wonders if Nicaise was scared or if he put on a brave face and faced his death.
“He’ll come back,” Nicaise had spat at the Regent. “And he’ll take the throne. The throne that is rightfully his.”
Then, in his final moments, breathed: “Long live Laurent de Vere.”
Laurent doesn’t even notice that he’s crying until Damen hands him a handkerchief. Laurent takes it and stares for a moment. He wipes at his eyes then hands it back to Damen.
He pushes away from the table then turns his back to him. He puts a hand over his mouth and lets out a shallow sob. Laurent hasn’t felt this type of pain in years. He hasn’t felt this type of pain since he lost Auguste.
“I was all he had,” Laurent murmurs through his tears. “I was all he had and I let him down. I couldn’t save him.”
Damen isn’t sure what to do. He’s positive that comforting him would be a breach of personal space. He doesn’t want to test Laurent right now. He doesn’t want to upset him anymore.
They stand in silence, Laurent’s choked sobs filling the room. He places a hand on a chair to steady himself, one hand still covering his mouth. He inhales shakily, wishing desperately that he could stop this ridiculousness. At his age, he shouldn’t be crying.
Bravely, Damen advances towards him. He places a hand on Laurent’s shoulder, causing the other man to jump slightly. Damen keeps his hand where it is and Laurent inhales slowly.
“I apologize,” Laurent says, still trying to pull himself together. “I just…”
“It’s hard for you, I understand.” Damen says. “You don’t need to apologize for your emotions.”
Laurent nods his head, inhaling again.
They stand there for a few minutes longer until Laurent dries his eyes. He turns to Damen, face blotchy, and Damen can’t help but feel bad. Mourning was a feeling that Damen knew all too well.
“I hate him,” Laurent says softly. “My uncle. I hope he rots. I hope he suffers for this.”
Damen gives a sympathetic nod, then slowly backs away from Laurent. It doesn’t look like he needs much comforting anymore and he certainly doesn’t want to push boundaries. Not when Laurent is in this emotional state.
“When Auguste died,” Laurent starts. “I swore to him every day that I would kill Prince Damianos for what he did.”
Damen suddenly feels hot. He swallows, maintaining eye contact with the blonde.
“And I swear that I am going to kill my uncle for this.” He continues. “I am not going to let him live for what he did to Nicaise.”
Damen nods his head. “Understandable.”
Laurent stares at Damen. “It’s funny,” he says. “Has anybody ever told you that you look a lot like Prince Damianos?”
“I can’t say that anyone has.” Damen says calmly.
Laurent stares at him for another moment before crossing back over to his maps, staring down at them. There’s a lot that needs to be done. It’s exhausting, but it must be done.
“I’m sure it’s not good for an upcoming king to have so much hatred but,” Laurent shrugs. “Can you blame me? I certainly can’t.”