The shudder of his blade sinking into soft flesh erased the pain in his body in a flush of adrenaline. He pushed, and the golden prince of Vere exhaled his last breath and sank to his knees in the packed dirt as Damianos’ heart thrummed in his ears, suddenly deafening him to the crash of battle around him.
He had done it.
Around him, the cry struck up ’The Prince is dead! Vere is fallen! The Prince is dead!’
And then, from his own ranks ’Damianos! Damianos! Damianos!’
Grinning wide, he threw off his helm and dragged his sword free of the Veretian’s body. He thrust it in the air and let his voice bellow over the fields. “Akielos!”
At the edges of the battlefield, Veretians were breaking rank and running. Where to, Damianos knew not, nor did he much care. One of his men pushed through the crowds with his horse in tow, and Damianos swung up into the saddle, surveying the field. The Veretian lines were broken and scattered, falling under the thick columns of Akielon soldiers.
He spared one last glance at the prince beneath him, smeared in blood and dirt from the fight. A worthy opponent. The fight had been challenging, and the hum of victory sang in his veins. Damianos kicked his horse into motion and spun, facing the bulk of his men. “Tend to the injured,” Damianos said. “Gather our dead. Capture the captains.”
Riding through the ranks was not unlike being bolstered along the waves of an incoming tide. His men cheered for him as he rode past, and by the time he reached the encampment he was dizzy from elation. When he swung from his horse and his knees buckled, he realised it wasn’t just elation.
Damianos watched Nikandros push through the crowd towards him, his face melting from thrilled excitement to concern when he caught sight of Damianos gripping the saddle for support. Some victorious leader he was. Nikandros swept under one arm and took most of his weight. “You’re injured!”
“Nothing that a celebration will not cure,” Damianos said. He unashamedly leaned on Nikandros, savouring the warmth of his body, as they pushed through the field of tents towards the healers. He was dropped unceremoniously onto a cot, and Nikandros called for a doctor. “I am fine!”
“You are bleeding,” Nikandros said with a barely repressed laugh. Damianos lifted his arm as the man tugged at his armour, and realised he was, in fact, bleeding.
“Ouch,” he said. Nikandros unbuckled his breastplate and lifted it from his shoulders. The weight gone, Damianos felt himself relax.
“ ‘Ouch’.” Nikandros mocked him, carding a hand through Damianos’ sweat-damp hair. He tangled his fingers in it and forced Damianos’ head back. Damianos grinned stupidly up at him. “You are unbelievable. Two inches to the left and that would have been through your heart.”
“But it wasn’t,” Damianos pointed out. Nikandros stepped back and let the healers set to work, cleaning and bandaging the still-seeing wound.
“Your father wants to see you,” Nikandros said. He stood easily, one hand on the hilt of his sword. All the tension from the previous few days was gone now, washed away in the heady thrill of a victory, hard won. Damianos could only grin wider.
His father congratulated him, in front of the entire army, and declared a feast to be prepared that evening in celebration. Throughout the evening, Damianos was dragged from company to company, sharing the victory with his countrymen and brothers in arms. His victory was their victory, and he wanted to let them see it.
Occasionally, he caught Nikandros’ eye over the heads and shoulders of the men, and every time found himself the object of an intense gaze. The weight grew too heavy, and, finally, he slipped away from the revelry into the quiet shade of the tents. Firelight cast long shadows around him as he moved, swiftly and soundlessly, towards his tent.
He was two steps from the flaps to his tent when a body barrelled into him, knocking him the last bit of distance into the tent. Wrapping his arms around the figure, he exhaled heavily. “Nikandros.”
“I can’t believe you did it.” Nikandros sounded breathless. And far too close in the pressing heat of the tent. “I can’t believe you marched onto that field and dueled that Veretian bastard-”
“Why? Is that not something I would do?” Damianos was grinning again. He couldn’t help it. The heady press of Nikandros’ body against his was eliciting more than just a victory high. Damianos rode on the thrill that only a brush with death could cause, and he needed to dispel it. “You’ve made eyes at me all night. Do you intend to follow through or tease me to death?”
“Unbelievable.” Nikandros gave him a slight shove, sending him back a few steps. He followed, unclasping his cape and breastplate as he walked, and Damianos let himself be backed up to the pile of straw and fur that made his bed. “You think, that just because you took down another prince, that I will roll over for you to satisfy your craving?”
Even as he spoke, he stripped off his under armour and let it fall to the ground at his feet. Damianos raked his eyes over his friend’s body, intent clear in his gaze as he lowered himself onto his bed. “I am returned, victorious, from battle. Will you not welcome me home?”
Shaking his head, Nikandros stepped out of his Akielon battle skirt and stepped forward, straddling Damianos’ legs as he sank to the ground. Deft fingers set to work on Damianos’ armour and shirt. “You hold yourself in very high regard for someone who almost took a mortal wound on the field today.”
Damianos ran a hand up Nikandros’ back, making him arch with the touch with a surprised gasp. He then leaned close and took a dark nipple gently between his teeth. He pressed the flat of his tongue against the small bud and released it. “But I didn’t.”
“Fine. Fine. Carry on being reckless. See if I care.” Nikandros let himself be rolled, onto the sheets and under the solid bulk of Damianos’ body. He splayed out beneath Damianos, shifting sinuously as Damianos pressed a line of kisses down the centre of his chest.
“You talk too much.” Damianos shucked the remaining articles of his clothing and armour, and pressed the full length of his body against Nikandros. The man lifted his head with a grin that melted Damianos from the inside.
“You like it.”
“I do. Too much, I think.” Damianos silenced them both with the firm press of his lips to Nikandros’. He pressed Nikandros back against the sheets and furs, and reached back to draw one thigh up along his side. Arms were thrown over his shoulders, drawing him in, and Damianos followed. He felt the thundering of Nikandros’ heart between them, matching his own’s furious rhythm.
When they were spent, Damianos collapsed over Nikandros’ back, both panting as if they had gone five rounds on the sawdust. The press of Nikandros’ lungs filling beneath him would have renewed his hunger if the day had been ordinary. But, fresh off the field, having fought all day, Damianos was more than ready to sleep.
“You are too heavy.” Nikandros shoved at him with an elbow, but Damianos couldn’t be bothered to move. “Do not fall asleep like that.”
“Like what,” Damianos inquired, his breath stirring the fine hairs at the nape of Nikandros’ neck. “Attached at the arse?”
“Do you kiss Jokaste with that mouth?” Nikandros made another desperate bid for freedom, but was again born down by Damianos’ weight. “You will crush me and then who will you put your cock in?”
Damianos made a great show of withdrawing and sliding off Nikandros’ body, dropping into the mess of sheets beside him. On his back, he threw an arm above his head and rolled his head along the sheets to catch Nikandros’ eye. “I can think of a few who may be interested.”
Nikandros scoffed and pushed himself upright. Obtaining a cloth, he swiftly and efficiently wiped them both down, and then added the cloth to the pile of discarded clothes. When he reached for his trousers, Damianos grasped his wrist. “Stay.”
Nikandros rolled his eyes. “I can send one of the blonde slaves in, if that will ease your hunger.”
“I long for companionship,” Damianos said. “I do not want a slave tonight.”
With a shrug, Nikandros dropped his trousers back on the floor. “I do not need further convincing to spend the night in an actual bed with actual sheets and a warm body.”
“You like me for more than my body,” Damianos said, flushing with pleasure having gotten his way. Nikandros slid under his other arm and twisted their legs together.
“Do I? I might need some convincing,” Nikandros said.
“I can arrange that, I believe,” Damianos said. He curled his arm around Nikandros and kept him close as sleep washed over him.