The wedding happens quickly, before anyone who might conceivably make an objection has chance to forget just how poorly they have treated their king of late.
Herode is the only one who speaks of it at all. He does so the first time he and Damen find themselves alone.
“You are young yet, Exalted,” he says, not meeting Damen's eye. “The Prince...the King of Vere is younger still.”
“How old were my parents when they married?” Damen asks, rhetorically. “How old were you?”
“The people will be glad of peace. As am I.”
Now, Herode looks at him. “There is the matter of an heir, Exalted.”
As if they hadn't thought of that. “My father's grandson lives,” Damen says. “He will be raised in a manner befitting the next ruler of our joint kingdom.” Not raised by Laurent, Laurent made that very clear, but Damen can picture himself spending time with the boy some day in the future, when the child is older and the circumstances of his birth less fresh in Damen's memory. Perhaps he can teach the boy to fight. Perhaps both of them can.
The ceremony is quiet. Damen expects a Veretian wedding, with all the excessively modest clothing and excessively debauched customs it would no doubt entail. He would have given Laurent that, if he'd wanted it, but Laurent is happy to marry privately in Ios, wearing a blue chiton with a starburst brooch on the shoulder. Two officials, one from Akielos and the other from Vere, conduct the ceremony. Nikandros and Jord are the only witnesses.
The wedding feast afterwards, on the other hand, is more elaborate, and more public. A second celebration, scrupulously identical, will take place in Arles as soon as they can travel there. This is vitally important, as neither Damen nor Laurent are naive enough, or optimistic enough, to think their two cultures will be able to fuse seamlessly and without strife.
“The two of us certainly didn't,” Laurent comments impassively, when Damen mentions it. Nevertheless, Damen appreciates the efforts clearly being made on both sides. The Veretian guests at the Akielon court dine on traditional wedding delicacies, showing no open distaste. When Torveld's wedding gift, a troupe of well-known acrobats, take to the stage in gauzy, barely-there costumes, the tricks quickly becoming less acrobatic and more erotic, the Akielons react with similar restraint. When the performance finishes, the acrobats leave the stage to enthusiastic applause from all factions, and to gracious nods of appreciation from their two kings.
“Look over there.” Laurent pokes Damen, who had been about to call for more wine. Instead, he follows Laurent's gaze. Lazar and Pallas lounge in a shadowed corner, as close together as two people can get while still mostly clothed.
“We'll be going to another wedding soon enough.” Damen smiles. Good for them, he thinks, warm and benevolent. He would be happy to see all of his loyal men get even a taste of what he's found with Laurent.
“Maybe more than one.”
This time, Laurent is looking at his own friend. Jord is seated at the next table. Isander is leaning in close to him, but there is something less than servile about the way he is smiling. The way they're smiling at each other.
“He can't marry a slave.” It's not a judgement, merely a statement of fact.
Laurent shrugs. “It's a brave new world. And Jord did always idolize me.” Deliberately, Laurent clinks his cuff against Damen's. Damen laughs, loudly enough that it draws some indulgent looks from the guests, and pulls Laurent close enough to kiss.
It is the custom at both Akielon and Venetian weddings for the newlyweds to be the first to leave their banquet. Laurent seems to be enjoying himself, so Damen makes no attempt to spirit him away, no matter how much he would like to. Instead, he drinks, and talks, and watches his new husband with so much love in his heart, he isn't sure how it's not bursting. As the evening grows later and later still, Damen begins to notice some of the guests are growing tired of the festivities, yawning behind their hands, or in the case of Pallas and Lazar, shifting anxiously, as if they are eager to get away but feel bound by convention to stay. That's when Damen looks at Laurent and realizes he has gone from celebrating to stalling.
Damen can't say why. As soon as Paschal gave a knowing chuckle and pronounced Damen sufficiently healed to “resume moderate activity”, Laurent was the one who pushed Damen into the bedchamber and kicked the door shut behind them. Spending every night together, Damen has found it increasingly easy to get inside his beloved, both in the literal sense and the more metaphorical one. Laurent has spoken to him of things Damen is certain he's never shared with anyone else: stories of Auguste that make Damen laugh and sometimes tear up, stories of his uncle that make Damen want to drag the former Regent's body down from the gates and kill him all over again. Even when the words are clearly hard for Laurent to say, he says them to Damen, and that is a gift Damen treasures greatly.
So greatly that he leans in and murmurs, “We don't have to do anything.” Laurent's eyes snap up, bright and sharp and not the least bit dulled by drink or exhaustion. “We don't have to make love just because it's our wedding night," Damen goes on. He won't be disappointed just to crawl into bed with Laurent and fall asleep. How could he be? “If you're avoiding...”
Laurent turns abruptly away. At one time, Damen would have taken that personally, but now he knows that whatever goes on in Laurent's mind has nothing to do with anybody but Laurent himself.
When they do finally retire, to the bedchamber that can officially be theirs now they are married, it is clear the slaves have been busy. A brazier burns warmly in a corner of the room. It is a cool night by Akielon standards. Candles flicker on the tables, casting the room in a soft, romantic glow. On the bedside table, Damen's small phials of oil have been replaced by an earthenware jug of it. Smiling at both the slaves' thoughtfulness and their optimism, Damen turns to Laurent. Entirely of their own accord, his arms wrap around his shoulders, drawing him close. He presses a kiss to the top of Laurent's head, then to his cheek, and restrains himself from going any further.
“I mean it,” Damen assures him. “We can hit the hay, if that's what you want.”
“'Hit the hay'?” Laurent repeats the words as if he's never heard them before.
“Akielon expression, I guess. It means...”
“I know what it means. You don't want to fuck?”
“Of course I do.” Damen always wants to. He can't imagine that ever stopping. “But not if you don't feel like it. And,” he adds quickly, because he knows Laurent, “that's not a challenge. I honestly want to do whatever you want to.”
“Anything?” That word, in this situation, could be said in many ways. It could be daring or sweet, coquettish or demanding. Laurent says it in the most Laurent-like way possible: opaquely, his tone indecipherable.
“Yes,” Damen agrees, and finds himself with an armful of Laurent.
The kissing goes on for a long time. It's soft then it's hard, it's devouring then it's loving. Piece by piece, clothing is shucked off and tossed into the wilds of the room. Damen is breathless when Laurent rolls them over, his bare backside atop Damen's groin and his hands planted firmly on Damen's wide chest.
“Anything?” Laurent says. His mind fuzzy and his cock straining, it takes Damen a moment to notice that this time, he sounds considerably more anxious about the word.
“Anything,” Damen repeats. Then, “I promise,” in case that wasn't emphatic enough. Laurent breathes deeply. Damen can see it, his ribs expanding in the flickering light, then feel it, in the puff of air that comes over him.
“Turn over,” Laurent says. Damen rushes to obey, catching a glimpse of Laurent reaching for the jug of oil as he does so.
It's not a usual position for them, not at all. Still, Damen enjoys it, squirming against the sheets when Laurent straddles his hips again. “Stay still.” Laurent's voice is harsh, but his hands are gentle, descending on Damen's shoulders. Usually, Laurent is about as good at giving massages as a one-clawed crab. This time, however, he rubs his hands across Damen's shoulders and down his back, the oil he's apparently drenched them in giving a pleasurable slide to his grasp. Damen groans in appreciation, and Laurent moves his up again, his touch skirting over the scars Damen never thinks about anymore.
It goes on for a while, up and down. Despite the steadfast erection, Damen lets his eyes slide shut. He can feel himself beginning to drift when Laurent's hands stop, resting on Damen's shoulders. He speaks softly, but it's still loud enough to jolt Damen out of his semi-slumber.
“I said you would be my first,” Laurent says. They've only discussed it once. It hasn't even been mentioned since, but Damen knows exactly what he means.
“And you would be mine.”
“Do you.” Laurent stops abruptly. Damen can't see his face, but he can picture him clearly. He'll be scowling, turning red, closing himself off because he thinks it will protect him.
Damen reaches back, his hand landing on Laurent's thigh. “Please do it,” he says. “I want it.”
It's true. It's not something Damen ever seriously considered with other lovers, but he'd be lying if he said he's never been curious. The men he's been with seem to get so much pleasure out of it. And in any case, Laurent is special, in many ways, and it's their wedding night. If there was ever a time to do it, a person to do it with, it's here and now.
“Don't be nervous,” Damen adds, deliberately. He hides his smile in the pillow as he feels his new husband draw himself up, affronted.
“I'm not nervous. But some men can't take it.”
“I'll let you know if I'm one of them.”
Damen plans to do no such thing. He might not do it again, but he wants to give Laurent this at least once. He settles into the bed, his head pillowed on his arms and his cock pressing pleasantly but not urgently into the mattress, and listens to Laurent pouring out what must be half of the jug behind him.
Damen has played the other role enough times to know how this works best. Laurent seems to be using his prior knowledge, as well. After a bit of vague groping, Damen feels a long, elegant finger slide the length of his crack, stopping just short of his hole. It circles the target slowly, as if giving Damen the chance to change his mind. That's not going to happen. Just as he's about to say so, Laurent pushes his fingertip inside.
It feels like a massive intrusion, well out of proportion to what Damen logically knows it to be. Worse still, it reminds him of his early days as a slave, when they were preparing him to be publicly raped by Govart. That is the only other time anyone has touched him there.
Damen forces himself to lie still. It's uncomfortable and awkward, but it's far from unbearable, and it has to get better than this. If it didn't, no one would ever do it twice. He waits. After a moment, Laurent retracts his finger. It returns almost immediately, coated with even more oil.
“Are you planning on using that entire jug?” Damen asks.
“That's why it's here,” Laurent replies. “But by all means, if you would rather I use less...”
Damen's erection has flagged, but that's fine. He can feel Laurent's, pressing against the back of his thighs as he slides the finger out and back in again, this time accompanied by another.
The stretch is worse. Damen squirms, the sheets feeling suddenly rough against his cock. Then Laurent bends his fingers, and Damen knows why men have been doing this for millennia.
“Fuck!” Damen calls out. He couldn't have kept himself quiet, even if he'd tried.
“Are you all right?” The smugness in Laurent's tone would be aggravating, under any other circumstances. This time, he's earned it.
“Do it again.”
“What? This?” Another press, and Damen feels breathless. His cock springs up, trapped against the sheets. Damen lifts his hips to give it space, which pushes Laurent's fingers even deeper inside.
Stars in his eyes, Damen twists in Laurent's grasp, trying to lean back for a kiss. He more than half-expects Laurent to teasingly move away. Instead, he crushes his mouth against Damen's, his free hand grabbing Damen's hair to yank him even closer.
“Fuck me,” Damen gasps, when Laurent pulls away. “Now.”
Laurent's eyes grow wide. “You're still so tight. I should...”
“Now!” Damen repeats. He brings himself to his hands and knees, spreading his legs as wide as possible. Laurent doesn't reply, but the fingers disappear, to be replaced by something blunter.
Even these days, Laurent is mostly silent during sex. Mostly. This time, when he nudges his prick slowly into Damen, it's accompanied by an unexpected, lewd groan, quite unlike anything Damen has heard from him before. The sound goes straight to Damen's cock, which begins to leak onto the sheets. Damen reaches for it, only to have his hand rudely slapped away.
“Are you...” Laurent begins, his hand curling around Damen's stand in place of Damen's own.
“Move,” Damen tells him, and Laurent does.
It's not without pain, but every stroke is worth it when Laurent's brilliant cock bumps up against that place inside Damen, and when Laurent gives an answering tug on Damen's prick, jerking him with a speed that might, in other circumstances, be too fast. For now, it's just right. Damen is surrounded by Laurent. Damen is surrounding Laurent, and he can't get enough. Damen's never felt this close to anyone. He's never been this close to anyone. The thought has sentimental tears pricking at Damen's eyes as he cries out and comes, too soon and much harder than he can remember, wave after wave pulsing over Laurent's hand and onto the sheets beneath them. Laurent holds him through it, squeezing and pulling at him until it's too much and Damen has to push his hand away. At once, as if he deliberately waited for Damen to finish, Laurent is coming too, filling Damen with his essence. All mine, Damen thinks semi-coherently, as they collapse in a tangled heap of limbs. And I'm never letting you go.
As soon as Damen regains the ability to do anything, he turns his head to look at Laurent beside him. His hair, darkened by sweat, is plastered to his forehead, his face and chest flushed. Laurent has never looked more beautiful, and when he opens his eyes to look back, Damen can't help but kiss him yet again, long and slow.
“Are you sure you've never done that before?” He asks, when he pulls away.
Laurent laughs and shifts, resting his head on Damen's shoulder. “Are you sure you haven't?”
“Yes. Because if I knew how fucking good that feels, I'd have been begging you to do it since Ravenel.”
“Hm. But I love it just as much when you fuck me.”
“I guess we'll just have to work out some sort of a rota, then. Isn't that what marriage is about? Compromise?” Damen's smile is so wide, it's making his cheeks ache. His arse is starting to feel the same way, but he absolutely could not care less. “You're perfect,” he says.
Laurent is only receptive to talk like that when he's in a certain mood, but it seems like he's feeling it tonight. “Yes. Well, I feel sorry for you,” he says with a prod to Damen's side. His tone is as lighthearted as Damen has ever heard it. “I must be some sort of sexual genius, to be so good at that on my first try. You're probably ruined for other men, now.”
“Are you planning on bringing other men into our bed?” Damen's response is just as playful.
“I thought we might offer Lazar and Pallas some instructional premarital 'wrestling lessons'.”
An undignified squawk of laughter escapes Damen. Clearly satisfied with that response, Laurent rolls atop him, smiling smugly, and presses his lips to Damen's.
“Shut up,” Laurent says, soothing the words with another kiss as he moves to cuddle into Damen's side. “I'm tired, husband.” He sounds as thrilled with the novelty of the word as Damen is. Leaning over, Damen blows out the candles nearest to the bed, and shifts them both away from the wet spot on the sheets. The mess on his belly and thighs can wait, he decides, although he already knows he will regret his laziness come morning.
For now, Damen regrets nothing. Not a single event, not a single choice or action in his entire life. They have all, in their way, led him to where he is now.
“I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with you,” he murmurs. He doesn't expect Laurent to answer. He doesn't even know if Laurent is still awake but, after a long moment, when Damen stands at the very precipice of sleep, he hears a whispered, “Thank you,” and pulls his husband closer yet.