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you're always waking in the night

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i.
Damen arrived back at Karthas in the deepest part of the night, exhausted, with muscles sore from so long in the saddle. They weren’t meant to be back until later the following day, and guardsmen appeared surprised at their party’s early arrival, but hid it well as their king approached.

“He insisted on riding back through dusk, rather than making camp,” Nikandros said, voice heavy with something like amusement. Damen was sure that if it weren’t treason to roll your eyes at a king, Nikandros would be doing it.

Damen swung down off of his mount and handed off the reins to a squire. “I’m not to be disturbed until morning,” he said to Nikandros, affecting the serious tone of a king off to do important work. He didn’t turn to see the barely concealed laughter that he knew would be on Nikandros’ face.

“Of course,” Nikandros responded from behind him. It had been sixty days since he’d ridden from Karthas to Ios, sixty days away from his new home. He felt a pull towards the palace and what waited for him inside.

Damen dismissed his guard and made his way through the corridors of Karthas, softly lit by torches on the wall. He had to come to know them well in the past months since he and Laurent had decided to rule from the fort until their new palace could be completed, free from soured memories; a fresh start for the empire and for them. It was the centre, a symbol of an empire united, ruled by a single household no closer to Arles than it was to Ios. Perhaps more important was that it was free of any memory of the Regent.

There were two guards posted outside the doors of Damen’s bedchamber. Upon sight of him, the two guardsmen stood up straighter, puffed out their chests.

Damen nodded at them as one pulled open the door for him. “No one is to disturb us,” he repeated to them.

The soldiers did not respond, but Damen did not wait for them to. He strode into his bedchamber, the doors closing firmly behind him.

The fire that had been burning beneath Damen’s skin since the sun had risen that morning, since the morning of his departure from Ios, even, banked itself against his ribs. The flame he'd felt the whole time he’d been away to simply get back to this faded a bit upon sighting Laurent, settling into the content glow of burning embers; steady and warm, a constant and comfortable thrum. He was peacefully asleep in the center of their bed, moonlight streamed in through the window above their bed, making him look almost ethereal where he lay.

He was wearing a white bed shirt, thin and falling off of his scarred shoulder where Damen could see it above the sheets that were tangled at Laurent’s waist. His face was peaceful, his appearance always more youthful while he slept. He was beautiful as ever and Damen gave himself a long moment of just following the sharp lines of his body with his eyes.

Damen reached for his pin and tugged it free, allowing himself to be disrobed in one swift motion. He bent and removed his sandals efficiently, leaving everything in a pile by the door to be dealt with in the morning. He made his way to the bed slowly, quietly. His heart was pounding for a different reason as he approached the foot of the bed, his eyes still on the sleeping form within.

Gently, Damen lifted the blankets at the end of the bed, finally tearing his eyes from Laurent to slide beneath them. With careful fingers, Damen wrapped a hand around one of Laurent’s ankles, using it to spread his legs enough for Damen to settle between. Above the blankets, Laurent stirred a bit and Damen froze until Laurent seemed to drift back to sleep with a sigh.

Damen had been planning this reunion their whole journey; "If you're going to wake me upon your return," Laurent had pressed his lips close to Damen's ear to say on the day he was departing. "You had better make it worth my while." He had tapped his long forefinger against Damen's mouth and smirked, before retreating back into the fort.

Damen’s eyes fell to the pale stretch of Laurent’s thighs. If he had not been worried with waking Laurent before Damen got his mouth where he wanted it, he would have spent more time there, leaving his mark where no one would see it, but where it would be impossible for Laurent to ignore. Damen felt his breathing grow shallow at the thought.

Damen instead leaned up a bit further and took Laurent’s soft, limp length into his mouth. From above him, he heard Laurent make a small noise. Pleased, Damen continued his ministrations, feeling the way Laurent was slowly rousing under his tongue.

It was different like this, with Laurent asleep and unable to restrain his body as he did when he was awake. The noises came more freely. Damen placed his hands to Laurent’s hips, holding him steady as he drew closer to his release and his hips began to rock unconsciously.

Laurent woke with a gasp, at the same time spilling into Damen’s mouth.

Before Damen could react, the blanket was gone from where it had been tented over him, ripped away by a startled and tense Laurent. Damen didn’t move, watched as Laurent slowly came to himself, chest rising and falling rapidly as his eyes went sharp instead of sleep-filled.

“You woke me from my dream,” Laurent said finally, settling back on his elbows, as if unfazed by Damen between his thighs with the taste of Laurent’s release still on his tongue.

“Was it a pleasant one?” he asked hoarsely, licking his lips. Laurent’s eyes dropped to his mouth.

“It was,” Laurent dragged his eyes back up to meet Damen’s, the blue of them piercing even in the dark of their room, “adequate.”

“I missed you,” Damen admitted, overwhelmed by the feeling. He pressed his lips to Laurent’s hip, the jut of it sharp and strong beneath his lips. Again, in Veretian, “I missed you.”

“Your accent is stronger,” Laurent said, tilting his head to the side as he studied Damen. “Your time in Ios was successful, I trust?”

“We can talk of Ios in the morning,” Damen told him as he kissed his way slowly up Laurent’s chest and up to his neck, lower lip dragging gently along the edge of his jaw until they were breathing the same air.

Laurent dropped from his elbows to lie back on the bed, golden hair spread out on the pillows,, his eyes fluttering shut. "Hello, lover," he whispered fondly, the edge of a smile working at the corner of his mouth.

Damen felt it as the tension ribboned out of Laurent, as if for the first time in months he was fully letting his guard down. Damen braced himself fully atop Laurent's body, looking down at his face, his expression open, content, and free from tension.

Laurent opened his eyes and lifted them to Damen’s. Damen’s heart stuttered in his chest as they gazed at each other. It was impossible to believe that Laurent was here, beneath him in their bed, face gentle as he stared into Damen’s eyes.

“I missed your eyes most of all,” Damen said, seeking the silent huff of half-embarrassed laughter he knew it would inspire in Laurent.

“You will have plenty of time to look at them tomorrow,” Laurent said, one of his hands coming up to rest idly by his own head. “We have a council meeting quite early. We should sleep.”

“I’m sure the council will not mind if we are a bit late. We are their kings, after all,” Damen said, dipping down to run his lips up from Laurent’s collarbone to the edge of his jaw. Damen reveled in the shudder Larent only barely managed to repress.

“Lazar will talk,” Laurent said, sinking further into the bed so as to be outside of the reach of Damen’s mouth yet again. “He was quite -- crass, during the meeting we had following your departure.”

“He will not talk tomorrow,” Damen said, bringing a hand up to stroke against Laurent’s cheek. After so long away, he found it difficult to stop touching Laurent, his sharp, pale angles. “I brought Pallas back to him tonight. I trust he will more than understand any tiredness we have during the meeting.”

Laurent lifted a long-fingered hand and pressed it to Damen’s chest, pushing him back. Damen placed his hands on either side of Laurent’s chest on the bed to hold himself up. “I would like to go back to sleep,” he said, imperiously, only the slight upturn of the corner of his mouth giving away the game he was playing.

“You just had sixty days of rest,” Damen said, muscles straining with the effort of not lowering himself back into Laurent’s warmth. “Let me have you tonight, you can sleep all you like tomorrow night.”

The corners of Laurent’s mouth tipped up ever more slightly. “I thought we did not lie to each other.”

“I am not lying.”

“I know very well that I will not be sleeping tomorrow night,” Laurent said as his smile grew further still, mirth now filling his blue eyes. “I suspect neither of us will be sleeping for a week. You were away for quite a while, we will have to make up for all that time.”

“I thought of you every night while I was away,” Damen admitted, finally dropping his body to press Laurent into the mattress, rolling his hips slowly so he could feel where Damen was still roused. “I imagined our reunion many times.”

“What did you imagine?” Laurent asked, voice a bit strained as if he were trying to disguise genuine curiosity.

Damen leaned down to kiss him deeply. Laurent responded with enthusiasm, his tongue curling softly against Damen’s. After long heated moments of warm breath and dragging mouths, Damen pulled away and said huskily, “I imagined kissing you like that. I imagined taking you in my arms and making you come over and over until all you remembered was my name, my eyes, my cock inside of you.”

“Dawn is still a ways off,” Laurent said, his breathing gone shallow. His chest rose and fell more rapidly, his legs spreading almost unconsciously as Damen settled their hips together more firmly. Laurent’s cock was hard again where it was pressed to Damen’s stomach.“We have time.”

“There will never be enough time.”

“We will make there be,” Laurent responded with an honesty and simplicity that shocked Damen, though Laurent had been offering it to him more and more.

Damen surged to kiss Laurent again, deeper and more urgent than any of the kisses they had exchanged thus far. Laurent reacted to it, his neck stretched to better the angle, allowing Damen to control the kiss. He ran a hand down Laurent’s side, fingertips brushing against his ribs, soothing his hands along the tense muscles that he found there. His cock was heavy and aching where it hung between his legs.

Laurent sank further into the feathery Veretian mattress as Damen slowed their exchange, wanting to make up for their time apart, wanting to make this reunion count. He traced a finger along the crease between hip and thigh, then slid his hand lower to Laurent’s entrance. He pulled back abruptly at what he found there, searching Laurent’s face.

“I’m back early, how could you have known?”

“You’re predictable,” Laurent answered, voice clipped even as a flush began to appear in his cheeks and down his neck. “You’ve always been predictable.”

“What would have done if I hadn’t returned until tomorrow? Slept here, open and slick in our bed?”

The color in Laurent’s cheeks darkened and he turned his head, denying Damen his eyes. “I knew you would return tonight.”

“You could not have known.”

“I did,” Laurent argued, a muscle in his jaw working tightly. “It is what I would have done.”

Damen felt as if he’d been knocked off a horse by Laurent’s words, they were more honest, more affectionate, than anything he had said yet tonight. Damen’s heart was beating against his ribcage as though in the heat of battle, and heat was pooling low in his stomach. “I need to be inside you.”

Laurent turned his gaze back on Damen at that, his eyes burning. “Do it. I want you to.”

Damen needed nothing further. With one hand, he pulled Laurent’s leg up to wrap around his waist, while at the same time pressing in closer. He leaned down to kiss Laurent even as his other hand grasped his cock and placed it at Laurent’s entrance. Laurent’s hand came up to cup Damen’s cheek, softly, and Damen’s heart stuttered at the tenderness as they kissed gently.

Laurent let out the smallest of sounds when Damen entered him, so soft that if Damen had not known to listen for it, he would have missed it. He could not miss, however, the way Laurent’s thighs tightened around his waist as Damen bottomed out. Laurent broke the kiss, his head tipped back against the pillows, eyes closed and the start of a furrow between his brows. Damen waited, panting with the effort of holding himself back. After a moment, heavy and hot in the room as tension coiled through Damen, the wrinkle in Laurent’s forehead smoothed out and he sank further into the sheets.

“Have you been away so long you’ve forgotten how to do this?” Laurent teased between rapid breaths.

Damen said nothing in response, and chose instead to pull out and slowly press back in, hard and deep, making Laurent feel every inch drag slowly inside of him. Laurent bit his lip and his hands scrabbled on the sheets before he managed to gather some of the fabric into his fists.

“No,” Damen stopped, shifting his weight over to one arm so that he could reach up with the other and smooth his thumb over the crease Laurent’s teeth made in his full lip. “I want to hear you.”

Laurent studied Damen in silence for a long moment and then rolled his hips, making Damen groan loudly and bury his face into the side of Laurent’s neck. “You’ve yet to do anything worthy of noise.”

He said it as a challenge, smug in the knowledge that Damen would rise to the occasion. And rise he would, Damen decided, as his hips began a slow roll. He braced himself above Laurent yet again so that he could watch the moonlight play across his face as he moved within him.

“I dreamed of you,” Laurent panted out, eyes dark and wild. He lost his breath again when Damen pushed inside of him, Damen watching the rise and fall of his chest. “Every night while you were away, you were in my dreams.” Laurent reached for himself, hard again, his hand moving on his own cock in time with Damen’s thrusts.

“You are in my every thought,” Damen gasped, moving his hips quicker and quicker in small circles, watching the way the short, shallow thrusts made Laurent tense up in an effort to remain in control. “Waking and asleep.”

Laurent let out a small gasp and spilled himself between them, his eyes screwed shut. The tightening around Damen’s cock was all he needed to thrust once, twice, a third time -- and pulse his release inside of Laurent, eyes fluttering shut as he emptied himself with a low groan. After a long moment, Damen withdrew and collapsed down on top of him, content when Laurent’s arms came up to circle him.

“I thought,” Laurent said, lips pressed to Damen’s sweat dampened temple, words muffled and then stopped. Damen waited, happy to be patient if he were allowed to stay here atop Laurent. “I thought perhaps you would want to extend your stay in Ios. It had been so long since you’d been home last. I kept waiting for you to write and tell me you wished to stay.”

“I could not wait to leave,” Damen said honestly, pushing himself up enough that he could touch the fingertips of one hand to Laurent’s cheek. “I did not like being away from you for so long.”

Laurent slid out from beneath him long minutes later to fetch them both a towel and a cup of water for Damen, something that had become somewhat of a habit for him since their first night. After sipping from his own cup of water, Laurent returned to the bed, joining Damen beneath the covers. He propped himself up on an elbow, his long, slender fingers coming to trace circles on Damen’s chest, twirling idly in the hair there. Damen grinned up at Laurent even as he blinked heavily, sleep calling to him the way the fort had seemed to call to him as they rode.

As Damen drifted off to sleep he heard Laurent whisper, “I did not like being away from you for so long, either.”

 

ii.
Damen hadn’t meant to fall asleep so early in the evening. He and Laurent had said their long farewells to their bannermen and to the representatives of Vask, and retired to their bedchambers together as quickly as was acceptable. The feast had been held in celebration of the treaty between their new empire and the Vaskians, who would now recognize them as a single nation ruled by both Damen and Laurent. It had been a successful visit, and revelling in the jovial and unrestrained mood that the Vaskians brought, Damen may have had a bit more to drink than he should have. Upon entering their room, Damen had sprawled himself out on their bed without even removing his chiton-- unsteady on his feet from the drink, while Laurent huffed a small, fond laugh from behind him and went to bathe.

He wasn’t sure what woke him from his slumber, perhaps a log crackling too loudly in the fire or the sound of feast-goers leaving by way of the courtyard below their window. Without opening his eyes, he reached out for Laurent, wanting to pull him closer and steal some of the warmth that his lithe body always held while he slept. When his hand found only cool bedclothes, he opened his eyes, confused to find himself the only inhabitant of the bed.

The fire in the bedchambers had been seen to, the embers burning low and hot behind their grate, the extra warmth pleasant even in the mild Akielon winter. There was more light coming into the room from the antechamber, the promise of a larger fire and perhaps a few candles. Damen slid out of the bed and removed the tangled chiton from earlier that night, and padded, barefoot and naked, into the antechamber.

Laurent was sitting at the long oaken table in front of the fireplace, one leg tucked up under his chin while the other dangled, foot barely grazing the floor as it swung. He looked beautiful like this, young where the shadows of the fire played across the angles of his face. His lips were pressed thin as he looked down at the map that was spread out on the table in front of him.

Damen leaned against the doorframe and folded his arms on his chest, stifling a yawn. “What are you doing?” he asked softly, trying not to startle Laurent.

Laurent didn’t even look up. “I am trying to figure out how to rework the trade routes of Vask within Akielos, so it does not appear as though we favor Vere in regards to importing and exporting. I do not want your people to feel as if this relationship is anything less than very profitable for us all.”

“They're your people now, as well.”

Laurent looked up at that and said, “They do not know me the way they know you, they do not yet trust me. You spent time with the Veretian soldiers, and they have spread their stories of admiration for you throughout the whole country. Akielos knows me only as my father’s son, and brother of the dead prince. My uncle did me no favors with the Akielons.”

“They will learn to love you, I am sure. And they do trust you, because I trust you, and we are their kings.”

Laurent looked wholly unconvinced, eyebrows raised slightly as he turned his gaze back on the map. “Still, this must be done.”

“It can be left for morning,” Damen said, making his way across the room to where Laurent was sitting. He held out his hand. “Come to bed.”

“I am too restless,” Laurent admitted, reaching out to take Damen’s hand, but remaining firmly seated in front of the maps. “Everything has moved so quickly since my uncle’s execution, I feel as if I am always a step behind what needs to be done. Every time I accomplish one task, ten more appear.” His voice became strained on the last few words, his fear of failure showing through to Damen.

“You are not alone in this. There are people who will help you,” Damen said, dropping to his knees beside Laurent’s chair, his hand clasped firmly between Damen’s larger ones. “You have Jord, Nikandros, Pallas. Lazar, when he isn’t being useless. Even Makedon would offer up advice if you asked for it. You have me.”

“You are more distraction than anything else,” Laurent said, a teasing note slipping into his voice. “You’d prefer lying together day in and day out to establishing fair trade routes.”

Damen smiled at Laurent, saw the way that Laurent’s mouth tipped upwards in response. “I do not see why we cannot do both. I will map the trade routes out on your body with my tongue.”

Damianos,” Laurent said, clearly surprised at Damen’s language. “I fear you have been spending too much time with Lazar and the others, you have lost your sense of modesty.”

“And you have been spending too much time with Akielons, wearing chitons around the fort, as if you are asking to be distracted.”

“Perhaps I am.”

Damen studied Laurent’s face, the mix of serious and mischievous that coloured his features. He had often, in the beginning, underestimated Laurent, but it now seemed that that was a pattern he had yet to break free of.

“Allow me to distract you, then,” Damen said with a smile, and leaned in for a kiss.

 

iii.
Damen was woken by long, cool fingers tracing their way down his back, soft as a whisper.

“Good morning,” Damen mumbled, face still pressed into the pillows where he was lying on his stomach. He opened one eye to look up at Laurent, barely discernable in the pre-dawn light, propped up on one elbow, cheek resting in the palm of his hand, looking at where his fingertips were moving up and down Damen’s back.

“It isn’t morning just yet,” Laurent said, something unidentifiable in his voice. He withdrew his fingers and shifted his gaze from Damen to a distant point across the room, his eyes unfocused. “Go back to sleep.”

Damen, already heavy with the weight of sleep and already half-gone, needed no further convincing. He closed his eyes again and allowed himself to be gently lulled by the rhythm of Laurent’s slow breathing.

He woke again, only a short while later judging by the light in the room.

“Laurent?” he asked, voice still heavy with sleep upon finding the bed beside him empty and cool. There was no answer, the cool early morning light making the whole room appear grey and drained of its normal colours. Damen climbed from the bed, pinning yesterday’s chiton on himself clumsily as he made his way into the antechamber of their room. Laurent was not there either, the fire nothing but ashes.

Damen opened the door to the corridor. One of the soldiers stationed there pointed him in the direction where Laurent had gone.

“How long ago did he leave?” Damen asked, careful to keep his features indifferent as he asked rather than letting his concern show in front of these young men.

“About half an hour ago, Exalted,” the boy answered, voice sharp and chest puffed out with importance.

Damen gave both of them a nod before setting off down the corridor that the young soldier had indicated.

Damen was less familiar with the halls of Fortaine than he was of their other holdings. It had been Laurent’s idea to visit each of the forts at the centre in turn, to ensure that they were all up to standard for the new Empire’s capital region. They had been here at Fortaine for only a few days, most of which had been spent in a small room debating the defensive merits of the fort and speaking to the commander stationed there about the changes Laurent wanted to implement.

There was a door ajar at the end of the passage that Damen remembered leading out to the courtyard where they had set up the command pavilion -- the place where he and Laurent had first cemented their treaty all those months ago. He pushed through the door and made his way into the yard, wondering what it was that had drawn Laurent here in the middle of the night.

He was just about to round the corner and enter the main part of the yard when he heard voices. Cautious due to the unusual hour, Damen pressed himself to the wall and listened intently, wanting to know what he would be walking into if he revealed himself to whoever was speaking.

“You’re up early,” a voice said. It took a second, but Damen realized that it was Nikandros’ voice. “Or perhaps still awake from last night?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” came Laurent’s voice, and Damen found that he was less surprised that Laurent was the one that Nikandros was speaking to and more so with how honest Laurent was being.

“I imagine Damianos takes up most of the space in your bed,” Nikandros said, his tone hesitant in its joke, as if he were afraid the Laurent who ran their council meetings with an iron fist would return suddenly and flay him with his tongue for daring to speak of his relationship with Damen.

“He is rather large,” Laurent agreed, a distracted kind of amusement in his voice, as if he would have found the joke funnier if he had not been thinking of other things. “He often sleeps right in the center of the bed, on his stomach. He’s impossible to move.”

“Solid as a fort, in skin and stubbornness,” Nikandros said, a kind of question in his voice. It was obvious that Nikandros was still treading lightly, but at the same time was trying to fathom out Laurent’s strange behavior. “Impossible to break.”

“Not as impossible as you’d think,” Laurent said and Damen could imagine the way his brow must have furrowed, the corners of his mouth turned down as he crossed his arms. “I sleep with the proof of that beside me, on display each night.”

“Ah, so that’s what this is about,” Nikandros said. Damen peered around the corner just enough to see the way that Laurent’s shoulders were up, defensive in his honesty. Both men were looking off towards the horizon, an effort at privacy in this moment. The whipping posts that had been set up on the day Akielos and Vere had secured their alliance stood silhouetted against the sky. Damen was acutely aware of how rare this moment was; Laurent found it difficult to be this open with him most days, let alone someone with whom he was only beginning to develop a tentative friendship with, even then, only at Damen’s insistent request.

“Sometimes --,” Laurent paused, Damen watching the way his shoulder blades rose and fell beneath the fine white linen of his shirt as he forced himself to relax, releasing some of his outward tension. He seemed to gather himself and continued. “Sometimes I find it -- difficult -- to sleep beside him, knowing what I did to him. Seeing the evidence of it.”

“I would imagine so,” Nikandros said, voice light despite the heaviness of the topic. “Though you should know he has more than forgiven you for it.”

“His forgiveness is often more painful than his hatred would be,” Laurent admitted, his head tilting to the side a bit as if he were deeper in thought than he was letting on.

“If it eases your conscience,” Nikandros said, voice still calm and light. “I have not forgiven you for the whip.”

Laurent turned to face Nikandros, eyes sharp and dangerous as he looked at him. Nikandros did not look away from the sunrise. His voice cool and smooth, Laurent asked, “Do you think I have forgiven myself?”

There was a long pause then; Damen had just decided to reveal himself when Laurent spoke again, eyes back on the rays of sun just coming over the trees.

“At the time, I thought I was finally exacting vengeance on the man who killed my brother. I could not have imagined what he would -- what he would come to mean to me.”

Damen froze, his heart beating so loudly that he thought it would expose him. The morning seemed to warm in that moment, though the sun was still a while from fully rising.

“I would ask if he knows your feelings on this, but I think I know the answer,” Nikandros said. He was looking at Laurent now while Laurent refused to make eye contact. Damen saw the way a muscle in Laurent’s jaw tightened. “He would not want you to punish yourself like this.”

Laurent just nodded, clasping his hands behind his back, knuckles white. Nikandros took that as an indication to dismiss himself.

“If you -- ever need to -- talk further about this, I am always available,” Nikandros said awkwardly as he stepped away from Laurent’s side. His answer came in the form of another nod.

After Nikandros had disappeared from the courtyard, Damen stepped into the open.

“Nikandros is right,” Damen said, Laurent did not move in the slightest, as if he had fully expected for Damen to emerge from the shadows. “I do not want you to punish yourself.”

“Akielons are weak with kindness,” Laurent said, but there was no venom in his voice. Damen came to stand beside him, where Nikandros had just been. Unlike Nikandros, Damen did not avert his eyes to the sunrise, but instead kept them fixed on the side of Laurent’s face.

“There is a certain strength in being kind. I know you are aware of it, I see how you are with your people.”

“I do not deserve your kindness.”

“Perhaps you did not in the beginning, but I did not deserve yours then, either. We have come a long way since those days,” Damen said, reaching out for Laurent’s wrist. Laurent pulled away from him sharply, pulling his hand into his chest and turning his sharp eyes onto Damen. Damen murmured, “Please let me touch you.”

Laurent hesitated, eyes searching Damen’s as if he were missing something, and the answer could be found on Damen’s face. Slowly and without taking his eyes from Damen’s, he held out his hand, wordlessly granting permission.

Damen grasped the hand between both of his own, and gently undid the laces at Laurent’s wrist, pushing the fabric back to reveal the gold cuff on Laurent’s wrist -- the twin of the one he wore. “The day I put this on you, I forgave you for everything that had come before. Placing this on you made us equals, it made whatever we had been to each other before irrelevant, allowing for us to be as we are now. This makes you mine, just as the one I wear makes me yours.”

“These can be removed,” Laurent said, his voice troubled, as though he were thinking through a difficult problem. “What I did to you you will carry with you forever.”

“Then it is my burden to carry,” Damen said, sliding his grip from Laurent’s cuff to hold his hand instead, interlocking their fingers. They had only a few more moments before servants would flood the courtyard to begin their work for the day. “It is not as if I had done nothing to deserve it. The wound I inflicted upon you is immeasurably worse than anything you could have done to me. I do not want you to have to dwell on this further. Please. For me.”

Laurent did not say anything for a long while, he eyes focused on where his fingers were woven between Damen’s. Damen waited, watching as he absorbed what Damen had said and came to terms with it. The edge of dawn finally crept into the courtyard, casting the first shadows of the day. Finally, Laurent looked up, his blue eyes bright with the golden light of the sun as he said, “For you, anything.”

 

iv.
Damen awoke with soft sheets tangled around his leg, his body near freezing with cold sweat. His breathing came in shallow pants, his heart beating so hard inside of his chest that it almost hurt. Even with his eyes open, the images of his nightmare played out in his mind. The room felt too small, suddenly, he felt too trapped by the bedclothes, by the way he sunk into the overly stuffed Veretian mattress. He nearly threw himself out of bed, desperate for the feel of the immovable stone of the floor beneath his feet.

“Damianos?” Laurent asked, voice rough with sleep. Damen did not turn to look at him, afraid that the vision of his dream would emerge, projecting itself onto this Laurent, the one still lying in the bed they shared.

“Don’t call me that,” Damen spat unthinkingly in Akeilon; his stomach turned and he fought the urge to heave.

“Damen, what’s wrong?” Laurent’s voice came again, quiet and wary but with an edge of something that Damen could not quite identify around all of the noise in his head. He dimly registered that Laurent was speaking Akielon as well, as if to a spooked horse. Damen felt rather than heard him leave the bed and come to stand beside him.

“Nothing is wrong, go back to sleep,” Damen said, his voice still harsh despite his effort to keep it gentle enough to persuade Laurent back to the bed. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Damen knew that he was not succeeding in appearing calm, and that Laurent was too observant and knew him too well to let it go.

“Damen --” Laurent tried again, his hand coming out to touch Damen’s shoulder lightly.

“Don’t touch me!” Damen snarled, nearly tripping over himself to get away from Laurent’s touch. Upon seeing Laurent’s stricken face at his words, Damen schooled his tone to something softer, more pleading. In Veretian, he repeated, “Please don’t touch me.”

“I’ve never seen you like this,” Laurent said, still in Akielon, with something akin to fear in his voice. He held his hands up as if surrendering in battle. “Tell me what has happened.”

Laurent’s unmasked alarm at his behaviour allowed Damen to ground himself. He took a few slow breaths and turned, eyes on the floor, so that he would not have to look at Laurent’s face and the confusion that was there.

Still breathing a bit heavily, Damen managed to push out the words, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I didn’t think that you would,” Laurent answered, a question in his voice, as if the thought had not even crossed his mind, and he was surprised by the turn of subject. Damen searched his face for any sign that Laurent was lying, that Laurent truly believed that Damen would hurt him, even like this, and could find none. Still.

Bitten off and a bit desperate, Damen insisted, “I would never --”

“I know that,” Laurent interrupted, not out of impatience, but as if he could not bear for Damen to finish that sentence. “I am safe with you, I have never doubted that.”

There was a long moment of silence then, Laurent giving Damen the space to collect his thoughts.

“I dreamt of Marlas,” Damen said finally, the words seeming to cut at the inside of his throat. Still he did not look at Laurent. “I dreamt of Auguste, of…” Damen could not go on.

“You do not have to continue. We do not have to relive the past tonight,” Laurent soothed, voice level and quiet, barely filling the room.

“It wasn’t, it was --” Damen searched for the right word. “Different. I often dream of that day, but this time -- you were there.”

“Me?” Laurent asked, genuine surprise in his tone.

“I dreamt that I -- to Auguste, but then it -- changed. He wasn’t -- him. It was you. It was you falling to the ground -- you on the end of my sword,” Damen said, squeezing his eyes closed as he recounted the dream. It replayed in his mind’s eye, as grisly and horrific as it had been when Damen had first dreamt it. “You laid there, bleeding out in my arms, with me unable to save you. You kept saying -- You kept saying that you would never forgive me for what I had done. How I meant nothing to you.” He choked on the words, unable to say any more. The room was silent.

“May I touch you?” Laurent asked softly after a few moments.

“What?” Damen asked, looking up at Laurent sharply, his words a surprise.

“You said before not to touch you, but I -- would like to,” Laurent said, voice small.

“Yes, of course. I am sorry for earlier.”

Laurent moved closer, no hesitation in his steps. He reached out and took Damen’s hand in his, his fingers warm in the cool of the room. He traced his fingertips along the edge of the gold cuff on Damen’s wrist. “You told me once that this cuff meant that you had forgiven me for all that I had done to you before. I realize now that I never gave you the same assurance.

“I do not know,” Laurent continued, voice thoughtful and slow, as if working through something. “I do not know whether or not I will ever be able to forgive the fact of my brother’s death, but I have forgiven you for your role in it. You are not the man that I first believed you to be.”

Laurent’s grip tightened, his slender fingers going white as they completely circled the cuff on Damen’s wrist. “And do not ever think that you don’t mean everything to me.”

At the shock that Damen was sure was written plainly across his face, Laurent added, face growing flush even in the dim light of the room as he struggled with inexperienced vulnerability, “I am sorry if I have made you feel as if that could ever be anything but true.”

“I know we do not often speak on how we feel,” Damen started and then stopped, unsure of how to continue. He took a deep breath and went on, “But I want you to know that there is nothing in this world I desire more than you.”

“That, at least, is apparent,” Laurent said, a tentative smile gracing his mouth, as if unsure if a joke was welcome. “You are quite enthusiastic about your feelings when you are inside of me.”

Damen tipped his head back and laughed, even as he felt a flush make its way from his chest up to his neck. “You make it very difficult to deny you anything when I am inside of you. I would give you my kingdom.”

“You do not have a kingdom to give,” Laurent said, voice haughty with the lightening of Damen’s mood. “Everything that is yours is mine.”

“Gladly given,” Damen said, and twisted his wrist in Laurent’s grasp so that he could use Laurent’s own wrist to pull him closer. “It is all gladly given.” He bent down and kissed Laurent deeply, the sound of their cuffs brushing up against each other the only other sound in the room.

“Let us go back to sleep,” Laurent said, pulling away after some time. “I am too tired for you to mount me tonight.”

Damen laughed again as Laurent tugged him back towards the bed, his mood several shades lighter than it had been moments before, the dream shuffled away to the back of his mind. This Laurent was so different to the one he had met in Arles, quicker to smile and prone to moments of soft shyness. It was a side of him that Damen alone got to experience and he treasured that, treasured the trust that Laurent had in him to let his guard down.

“I am happy just to sleep beside you,” Damen said, knowing that it would make Laurent flush in its honesty, as if he had not bared himself to Damen only moments ago. His chest was so full of feeling that he was powerless to do anything other than allow Laurent to pull him back under of the sheets.

“Then sleep,” Laurent said, as they lay back down, Laurent’s head cushioned on Damen’s chest, his arm wrapped around Damen’s waist. “Sleep and dream only of happy things.”

 

v.
Laurent was asleep on his side of the bed when Damen awoke that morning. His back was to Damen, shoulders hunched up and head tucked deeply into the pillow. Damen slid closer to him beneath the covers, pressing a kiss to Laurent’s shoulder blade, his pale skin pulled tight across the bone. Laurent stirred slightly.

“I did not hear you come in last night,” Damen said, close enough this his lips dragged across the milky expanse of Laurent’s back.

“It was late,” Laurent answered, voice clipped in the cool of the morning. He curled into himself a bit, his back just out of reach of Damen’s mouth.

“You should have woken me,” Damen said, bringing a hand up to trace along Laurent’s spine instead. “I enjoy our reunions.”

“It was late,” Laurent repeated, sitting up and moving to the edge of the bed. “I was tired, the ride from Arles was long.”

“How did your visit go?” Damen asked, pushing himself up to sit as well. Laurent seemed tense, his answers short and body rigid. He had not missed the way Laurent kept moving away from his touch. “Have I done something to upset you?”

“I have a meeting this morning to discuss some of the changes I would like to implement in Vere,” Laurent said, standing up and crossing the room. He dressed himself stiffly, pulling his laces so sharply that Damen, still sprawled in their soft bed, flinched at the severity.

“Let me dress and I will join you,” Damen said, pulling the sheets from himself and making to leave the bed.

“No,” Laurent all but snapped, the harshness in his tone caused Damen to freeze. “It isn't a matter of state, it is a matter of dealing with those who question the strength of my leadership.” His voice was cool, calm and confident on the surface, but there was a thread of something Damen couldn't identify hovering just below; a contempt so strong even Laurent could not disguise it completely.

“Laurent,” Damen said, disbelief obvious in his voice as perched on the edge of the soft mattress. “What happened in Arles?”

“Nothing happened. Arles was exactly as I remembered it,” Laurent answered, shoulders somehow tensing even further. Damen briefly wondered how much it must hurt for Laurent to hold himself so rigidly.

It was then that the full implication of Laurent’s words hit Damen. The Arles that Laurent had left behind had been scheming, devious in ways Damen still did not understand. When Laurent had been at Arles before, he'd been at the center of the web, able to control how things played out. Now that he had been away, Arles must have been home to many who wanted the throne for themselves; a palace of people working to steal Laurent’s birthright from him.

“Laurent --”

“Your presence is not necessary. I shall return later,” Laurent interrupted briskly, straightening the laces on his wrist one last time before whirling and leaving the room, Damen sat on the bed behind him, his mind trying to catch up.

Damen got out of bed shortly after Laurent’s departure, body wound tight with a new kind of tension. He dressed and went in search of Jord, who had accompanied Laurent to Arles. Lazar had gone as well, but knew Laurent’s moods and intricacies far less than Jord, who had been by his side long before anyone else.

After asking a servant he passed in the hall, Damen managed to discover that Jord was on the training field, kicking up sawdust while he trained, even after the arduous ride home from Arles. Damen made his way down, determined to find out what had happened to upset Laurent so. Upon finding Jord in the training ring, Damen realized that Laurent was not the only one who had returned in a foul mood.

Damen called out for Jord, waiting for him to finish his exercises and stalk over, breathing heavily.

“Exalted,” Jord said, defaulting to the Akielon honorific. “I thought you would be in this morning’s meeting.”

“I was told my presence was not required,” Damen said, working hard to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “It seemed to be something Laurent wanted to handle himself.”

Jord nodded. “It is probably for the best that we are not there.” At Damen’s confused look, Jord asked, “He did not tell you?”

“He did not say much this morning,” Damen said, shrugging his shoulders helplessly and looking out over the training grounds where other soldiers were running through drills. “But it was clear that his trip to Arles did not go -- well.”

“Vere is -- a complicated place,” Jord said, his words coming out slow and heavy as though he was choosing each one with care. “I do not think I knew just how complicated until I came under His Majesty’s service a few years ago. Laurent, he is good -- great -- at revealing and unraveling plots against the throne. It is harder to do so from a distance, a fact that some are taking advantage of. It does not help that the Regent’s body hangs in Ios, far away and unseen by those who try to deny Laurent the throne. I believe he was -- unprepared -- for the doubt and unrest that he found in the capital.”

“And this morning’s meeting?”

“I believe he plans to implement better structure in Arles, place those he trusts in position to quell any vies for the throne. The reach of the Regent extended farther than I think even he could predict. It was -- disheartening to say the least.”

“I am sure he has already thought of a solution,” Damen said, mostly to hear Jord agree. It was -- difficult -- trying to imagine a situation in which Laurent had not thought through each possible outcome and devised a way to rectify each.

“He was quiet the whole ride back,” Jord said, in lieu of a real answer. It confirmed only what Damen had already guessed for himself -- that Laurent did have a solution; a solution he was unwilling or unable to share with the rest of them. It would take time, Damen knew, for him to trust them with affairs of state. Laurent had been fighting against his own court with no one by his side for so long; trust was something they were building along with the new empire.

“Thank you,” Damen said, nodding at Jord. Jord responded with a nod of his own. “I will speak with him after the meeting, see what we can do to assist him, even if we have to force our help on him. He is very used to doing things alone.”

Damen turned to go, but was stopped by Jord’s voice.

“It was -- frustrating -- to see him like that,” Jord said, voice distanced, as if he were back at Arles. “To see him beaten down by the mechanisms of his own game again. I think a part of him hoped that the death of the Regent would free him of deception from those he had trusted previously. He is smart enough to know that that will never be the case, but I think, perhaps, you sparked a sense of hope in him that things would be simpler now.”

“I doubt things will ever be simple,” Damen said, meeting Jord’s eye with a level gaze. “Especially where the court of Vere is concerned.”

Damen took his leave from Jord then, Jord returning to his exercises, though his swing was more purposeful and controlled than it had been. He went back to his chambers, mind turning with how he could help coax Laurent out of his mood.

Any outward attempt at cheering him up, Damen suspected, would be met with the same coldness from this morning. It was clear that Laurent was intent on punishing himself for hoping that the simplicity he’d found on the road and with Damen would have made it’s way to Vere’s capital. Laurent was not used to being offered help that did not ask for blood in return; he was inexperienced, at best, with asking for assistance. He was unused to things not going according to his meticulous planning; for Laurent, control was everything. A game, Damen realized, would be best; one that they both knew well.

Laurent returned from the meeting in much the same way that he left for it; he swept into the room, a barely contained frigid fury in his eyes, door slamming shut heavily beneath his hand. Damen followed Laurent’s gaze as it swept through the room, dimly lit only by golden streaks of afternoon light filtering through the half-closed curtains. There was a tub of water by the fire, the water brought by the servants kept warm by the flames, a selection of massage oils set on a table nearby. Damen himself was lounging on the luxurious cushions on the floor by the table where he and Laurent usually sat to dine or plan; he’d carefully rolled up their maps and put them aside, determined to get Laurent to relax and forget about the issues of state for a while at least.

Damen lowered his eyes and said, “Your Majesty.”

“What is this?” Laurent asked, though his eyes told Damen that he knew exactly what it was, he simply wanted to make Damen say it. It was a side of Laurent that Damen had not encountered since they had made Karthas their home.

“I was waiting for you,” Damen said instead. He had stripped to the waist, rubbing down the slave cuff he still wore on his wrist so that it would catch the light. “I thought you might like to soak for a bit.”

“I have things that need seeing to,” Laurent said, brushing past Damen on his way to the table. Damen reached out and caught him by the hand as he passed by, allowing his act to drop only for a second in the way his fingers tightened against Laurent’s palm.

“Let me do this for you,” Damen said, tone wavering between offer and plea. “Let me give you this.”

“You give me too much already,” Laurent near scoffed, though he did not pull himself from Damen’s grasp. “Everyone else, they take, but you. You are always so prepared to give.” His voice was not kind.

Damen remained silent, watching carefully as the muscle in Laurent’s jaw worked. He saw the moment that Laurent came to a decision, his blue eyes focusing in on Damen.

Laurent withdrew his hand from Damen’s hold and took a few steps back. He said simply, voice thin and controlled, “Attend me.”

Damen fell back into character with ease, gracefully rising from the cushions. He stood in front of Laurent, head and gaze lowered, hands coming up to diligently and efficiently work the laces at Laurent’s collar free. He was careful not to let his fingertips brush against Laurent’s throat, though they nearly tingled with the desire to touch. A slave to the King of Vere, Damen reminded himself, would not touch without permission, would find honor enough in simply undoing the numerous laces of Laurent’s jacket.

Damen took his time releasing the ties, patient in a way he normally was not when it came to the removal of Laurent’s clothing. He was better by far than the first time he had done this in Vere, but still fumbled more than Laurent himself did. Slowly and methodically, Damen peeled open the front of Laurent’s jacket and then moved to the ties at Laurent’s wrists. They were undone quickly and Laurent shrugged out of the jacket as soon as he was able. Damen bent to retrieve it from the floor, but stopped at Laurent’s sharp command to, “Leave it.”

Laurent’s eyes gave nothing away when Damen met them briefly upon straightening back up. Damen gathered the hem of Laurent’s shirt, fine linen soft and smooth to the touch, in his hands and lifted it up, guiding it over Laurent’s head before dropping it to the floor along with the jacket. Damen followed it down, falling to his knees in front of Laurent.

Sat back on his haunches, Damen asked, “May I?”

Laurent nodded tersely, gaze fixed fastidiously on the wall behind Damen, shoulders still carrying the weight of his day. Damen bent his head, back curving, as he pressed his lips to the top of Laurent’s boot. He felt the way Laurent’s surprise manifested itself in his body; heard the soft intake of breath.

“My King,” Damen murmured, mouth only a few inches from the leather of Laurent’s boot. He pressed his lips to it again, higher this time. He kissed his way up the material, lost in the musky scent of the boot, the warmth of Laurent’s skin through the material. He reached the top and used his teeth to undo the laces, tugging one of the strings free of its knot. He leaned back and undid the rest of the tie with his hands, fingers working deftly. Laurent’s hand came to rest on his shoulder only briefly as he balanced enough for Damen to remove his boot.

“And the other one,” Laurent prompted, but Damen could hear the trace of a question in his voice. It was unheard of for one king to play slave to another, it was an entirely different thing for Damen to kiss Laurent’s boot, an act of fealty usually reserved for those who had proven themselves disloyal. It was a display usually born of humiliation, that Damen was instead transforming into an act of assurance, a selfless offering of himself. In this moment, he felt every ounce of his kingship and he gifted it all to Laurent in the touch of his lips to his boot.

Damen bent once again, repeating his trail up the boot Laurent still wore. He was giving to Laurent everything he had been denied at Arles: loyalty, submission, adoration; he was giving to Laurent what he deserved to have had at Arles. He removed Laurent’s second boot with something akin to reverence. Laurent was left standing barefoot and barechested, left only in his stiff starched pants.

“May I?” Damen asked again, calling upon the mannerisms of slaves that he had had before. He had always bade them to rise, not one for the total submission of his partners anywhere but in bed, but there is something heady in being this for Laurent.

“Yes,” Laurent said, voice terse. Damen brought his hands up only for Laurent’s voice to stop him. “Do it without the use of your hands.”

Damen looked up to find Laurent gazing coolly back down at him. If they had not been playing this game, Damen might have smirked at the command and used it as an opportunity to tease Laurent with the heat of his mouth. They were playing, however, and it would not do for an Akielon slave to perform any other way than exactly as instructed.

The leather of the tie was soft between Damen’s teeth. The knot came free easily, leaving the ties only loosely looped in their eyelets, barely holding the fabric closed over where Damen could see Laurent’s hardness straining. Damen knew that Laurent’s arousal did not mean he was succeeding in his task; Laurent was explicitly talented at denying himself. Bringing his mouth even closer to the joining of Laurent’s pants, Damen used his teeth and tongue to pull the leather ties through their holes until Laurent’s pants were open at the waist.

“Rise,” Laurent commanded as he pushed his pants down off of his hips and stepped out of them. “Bathe me.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Damen responded easily, following Laurent over to where the tub stood, no longer steaming, but still pleasantly warm when Damen dipped his fingers in. Damen held out his hand for Laurent to take and assisted him in settling in the tub. “Would you like me to leave you to soak?”

Laurent didn’t answer for a long moment, eyes fixed on Damen as though thinking through a particularly challenging problem. Eventually he bent his knees and moved himself forward in the tub, turning his head away from Damen to say imperiously, “Get in.”

Damen hesitated only a moment before undoing the pin at his shoulders and letting his chiton unravel and drop to the floor. He climbed into the tub behind Laurent, legs pressed up against the wood; the tub was not made to accommodate someone of his size in addition to another person, the water nearly overflowing as Damen shifted and settled. Once he had fit himself comfortably, Laurent shifted back, the curve of his spine fitting against Damen’s chest. Damen kept his hands to himself, gripping the edge of the tub rather than wrapping them around Laurent’s chest the way he wanted, unsure of whether or not they were still playing their game. Laurent was reclined against him, fingers tracing patterns across the surface of the water, gaze fixed on his own hand.

“Lean forward,” Damen said, ducking his mouth closer to Laurent’s ear.

Laurent turned his head, their noses almost touching, and said, “A slave does not command his master. I will do as I please.”

“I thought perhaps you would enjoy a massage,” Damen said, fighting to keep his smile off of his face. Laurent was being purposefully contrary, Damen knew, taking advantage of the game Damen had created for him. “You seemed to like it last time.”

Laurent went stiff against him at the mention of the last time Damen gave him a massage, in a small tent in the mountains outside of Ravenel, before either of them had come to fully know the extent of their feelings. Touching Laurent then had felt like dancing with death, a stray fingertip surely would have led to icy retribution; Damen has touched the smooth skin of this back now more times than he can count, he knows every inch of the body in the tub before him.

“A massage would be -- amicable,” Laurent said, keeping his voice carefully neutral. He leaned forward, shoulders hunched and head bowing just a bit to give Damen access to the full expanse of his back.

Damen reached over and took one of the vials from oil from the table by the tub. He poured some out into his hands, the smell of orange blossoms filling the room as Damen stoppered the bottle and spread the oil on his hands, warming it. He placed his palms at Laurent’s shoulders, barely applying any pressure, and dragged them down until they disappeared beneath the waterline. He brought them back up and placed them once again at Laurent’s shoulders, letting his fingers dig in on this pass, working at Laurent’s tight muscles.

“It’s not going to work if you don’t relax,” Damen said, the slightest trace of laughter in his voice.

“I am -- trying,” Laurent said, voice whip-sharp. “Perhaps you are not as good at this as you think you are.”

Damen did not respond, but instead shifted his hands and dug the heel of his palm just beneath Laurent’s shoulder blade. Beneath his hand he felt the muscle give, Laurent’s spine curving further as the muscles in his back found a sense of release.

“There?”

“Yes, there,” Laurent said, voice carrying all of the tension that had just left his back.

Damen used his thumbs to press deep circles into the knots he found; smoothing out each one in turn, carefully cataloguing the way that Laurent sank further into the water. He made his way methodically down Laurent’s back, small victories found in the way Laurent let himself lean into Damen’s touch; he wrapped the fingers of one hand around Laurent’s hip in order to dig his thumbs harder still into Laurent’s lower back.

Damen had lost himself so much in the feel of Laurent’s back beneath his hands that he nearly missed the shaky breath Laurent let out as another muscle in his back went loose. The breath sounded as if it rattled through his ribs, a sign of surrender to this, to letting Damen help him. Damen, who had been half-hard just from touching Laurent’s warm, smooth skin, found himself startlingly, fully aroused at the sound.

“I thought the point of this was to relax,” Laurent said and Damen could hear the way the corners of his mouth had turned up in his voice.

“Being this close to you makes that -- a little difficult,” Damen admitted, lowering his head to place a chaste kiss to Laurent’s spine as his hands continued their work.

“You are more forward than other slaves,” Laurent said, pulling away from Damen’s hands and standing, the water splashing Damen in the face at Laurent’s abrupt rising.

Damen stayed in the heat of the water and watched as Laurent stepped out of the tub and began to towel himself down, not looking back at Damen once.

“I’ve been told I take liberties.”

“You certainly do.”

“Perhaps you would like me to take more?” Damen said, leaning over the side of the tub and looking up at Laurent from beneath his eyelashes. It was a look that Damen had seen many slaves use to seduce higher ranking nobles, convincing them to bed the slave with little more than a few slow blinks.

“Perhaps you should learn your place,” Laurent said off-handedly, still not turning to look at Damen.

“Perhaps you would like to put me in my place,” Damen said, meeting Laurent’s stare when his head snapped around to look at Damen once again. Beneath the surface of his skin, Damen felt aflame. He darted his tongue out to lick his lip, not breaking eye contact. Laurent looked away again, his features softening slightly as the character fell away.

“I am not -- myself, today,” Laurent said, tone both admission and apology. “At least not the version of myself that I’ve been as of late. You deserve -- the best version of me. I do not wish to hurt you.” Frustration crossed his features for the briefest of seconds.

“You will not hurt me,” Damen said, standing and stepping over the side of the tub. He took the towel from Laurent’s hands and continued to dry him, ignoring the way water dripped down his own body. “At least not any more than I want you to.”

“I will not take you when I am like this,” Laurent said, voice firm. He shrugged away from the towel when Damen moved to run it over his torso again. “First Nights are special in Akielos, I will not deny you that.”

Damen’s body felt as if it were glowing at the words; as if his desire was glowing through his skin, shining obviously on his face. Laurent could be infuriating at times, prone to bouts of selfishness and pride, as he had been that morning, but beneath that he was unexpectedly thoughtful, honest, and kind. He was a study in contradictions; he defeated each of his enemies systematically, eviscerating them efficiently and without hesitation, but also would sit for hours with the children of the fort, teaching them magic tricks and watching as they sounded out the words in the books from the library.

“There is more than one way to put a man in his place,” Damen said, careful to keep his voice steady even as heat worked its way through his entire body.

Laurent stilled and went quiet; Damen could almost see the way his mind was racing to decipher Damen’s meaning, to measure Damen’s words against what he knew of intimacy. After a long moment, Laurent lifted his chin, gaze going imperial as he assessed Damen. “Then allow me to put you in yours. Fetch me some clothes.”

“Clothes?” Damen asked, unable to keep his surprise out of his voice. The request caught him off guard, but Laurent was always a step or ten ahead with some scheme or another, and Damen knew better than to argue.

“The blue jacket with the gold trim should do nicely,” Laurent said, raising one of his eyebrows. “I’ll need a shirt and trousers as well.”

Damen nodded, more than willing to play along with whatever game Laurent had in mind. This was about giving Laurent what he needed and if that included dressing him, Damen was happy to do it.

He went to the armoire in the bedchamber, returning to the antechamber with the clothing Laurent had asked for. Damen stopped in the doorway, struck by the confidence Laurent had in his own body, admiring the way he held himself naked now as opposed to the first time they had been intimate.

“Well?” Laurent asked, voice teetering on the knife-edge of impatience. Damen moved across the room purposefully, dropping to his knees once he was in front of Laurent again. He guided the clean trousers up Laurent’s legs, fingers deft as they closed the laces in the front where the evidence of Laurent’s arousal was still obvious. He put Laurent into his shirt next, then slid the jacket over top, tying the laces with more efficiency and speed than he had undone them.

“Anything else, Your Majesty?” Damen asked, thinking perhaps that their game had come to an end now that Laurent was back in his armor, standing rigid in his formal Veretian clothing.

“Fetch me that chair and move it beside the bed,” Laurent said, already striding towards the bedroom without stopping to see if Damen was following his orders. Damen did as Laurent said, if only to fathom out the rules of this new game.

“Get on the bed,” Laurent commanded, seating himself on the chair regally. He stretched one leg out in front of him, the wrist with his cuff around it hanging delicately off the side of the chair where his forearm rested against it. He looked relaxed, unassuming; it was when he was his most dangerous, Damen knew, like a snake poised to strike. Damen spread himself out in the center of their bed, turning his head on the pillows to look at Laurent.

“Touch yourself,” Laurent said, voice casual, as if he were commanding his horse be brought to him. “Slowly. Press your thumb to the tip, the way you like.”

Damen’s breath caught, and he felt his lazy arousal become something much more urgent. He didn’t hesitate to give himself over completely, their game turned to Laurent reasserting control in the most primal of ways. It was a display not only of his control over his own body, but over Damen’s as well. Damen wrapped a hand around himself, the first few strokes causing him to hiss out a rough curse as he applied a bit of pressure to the crown as Laurent had instructed.

“A bit faster than that, I think,” said Laurent, tone considering. “Bring yourself close, and tell me when you are there.”

Damen’s world narrowed to the sound of Laurent’s voice and the feel of his own hand on his cock. He worked himself quickly, the callouses on his hands rough. Heat gathered behind his navel, his chest heaving as he thought about the picture he must make to Laurent, who was cool and composed in the chair beside the bed. He closed his eyes to escape Laurent’s gaze; sure that he would not last if Laurent insisted on looking at him that way.

“Close,” he gasped out after a few moments, hips snapping up off the bed.

“Stop.” The command came immediately and in a tone that brokered no room for disobedience. “Slowly again, and press your nail to the slit. Harder.”

Damen had not thought it possible to be this aroused by his own touch. A few more quick strokes and carefully constructed words from Laurent and Damen would have come.

“Would you beg for it?” asked Laurent thoughtfully, talking more to himself than to Damen. “What would you give for me to let you come?”

“Anything,” Damen said, breath hitching in his chest and breaking the word up. It hung in the air between them, Laurent seeming to consider it.

“I suppose that will do,” said Laurent, smirking. “Make yourself come.” He slouched further down in his chair, eyes fixed on Damen’s form on the bed.

Damen wasted no time, working his hand quickly over his cock once more, bringing himself to the edge. He forced himself to open his eyes and look at Laurent, waited for him to nod, and then came all over his hand and stomach, a loud groan escaping him.

“Again,” Laurent said, voice barely audible over the sound of Damen’s labored breathing.

“What?”

“Again,” Laurent said, enunciating the word as if speaking to a child. “Put your hand on your cock and make yourself hard.”

“I don’t know that -- I’ve never, so soon,” Damen protested, even as a spark of arousal caught at the bottom of his spine.

“You can,” Laurent said, voice sure. “You will.”

Damen looked up at the canopy of the bed, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath as Laurent’s words made their way to his cock. His hand followed, fingers brushing along his spent cock gingerly. He let out a hiss at the feel, a balance of pleasure and pain; his body struggling to get hard again, at war with the fire beneath his skin.

“Good,” Laurent said, his voice an octave lower than before, the first sign of affectation that he had given Damen this whole time. “Gently, take your time if you must, though I think you like the way it feels, the bit of pain from touching yourself so soon.”

“Yes,” Damen moaned, hand wrapping fully around his cock now. Laurent’s voice made the pain give over to pleasure, the two of them mingling and becoming one sensation. Damen’s cock swelled to fullness.

“You like my voice, you like me telling you what to do.”

Damen turned his head so he could look at Laurent when he said, firmly, “Yes.”

“Say it again,” said Laurent, standing from his chair and coming closer to the bed. “Before, when you were kissing my boot, say it again.”

Damen did not look away from Laurent, though he did slow his hand so that he could think back to what he had said. Another spike of arousal made its way through him when he remembered.

“My king,” he said, his voice husky around the words. “You are my king.”

“Again,” Laurent commanded, climbing onto the bed. He used his knees to spread Damen’s legs further so that he could fit between them. He batted Damen’s hand away from his cock, pushing Damen’s arms over his head and holding them pinned in place with one of his own. His body was a warm line where he held himself a hair away from Damen’s chest. He pressed his trouser-clad thigh up against Damen’s hardness; Damen let out a moan.

“My king, my king, my king,” Damen gasped, punctuating each utterance with a thrust of his hips, his cock dragging against the rough material of Laurent’s trousers.

“Come for your king,” Laurent said simply and Damen did, a quick lance of pain going through him before he lost himself to the pleasure of orgasm.

It took him a moment or two to come back to himself. By the time he blinked his eyes open again, Laurent had moved off of him and was instead reclined back beside him on the bed, mind far away in thought.

“Would you like me to -- ?” Damen offered, looking pointedly at Laurent’s arousal.

Laurent looked up, as if surprised to hear Damen’s voice. “No, not tonight.”

Damen rolled onto his side, propping his head up on one hand, his other one coming up to tangle loosely in the laces of Laurent’s jacket, resting gently on his chest. “I spoke with Jord. He said your trip to Arles was -- less than successful.”

“I knew I would face opposition,” said Laurent, bringing a hand up to rest his fingertips gently against the back of Damen’s hand. “Even before -- everything, there were those who wished to take the throne from my father and brother. It was naive of me to think those threats would have suddenly disappeared now that my uncle is gone.”

“It is not naive to hope.”

Laurent scoffed. “Perhaps not in Akielos, where everything is always so simple, where their king is not a frigid second choice.” Laurent stopped and took a deep breath, palm covering Damen’s hand completely. “I’ve taken care of it,” he said shortly.

“The meeting this morning.”

“Yes.” Laurent’s mouth turned down at the corners a bit. “I should have allowed you to come with me.”

“I would have liked to have been there. I would have liked to help,” said Damen easily.

“You have helped,” said Laurent, the words begrudging, as if Laurent was admitting to them before he had thought them all the way through. “I’d forgotten,” Laurent said, his brows furrowed as he worked through what he was trying to say.

“Forgotten?” Damen prompted.

“How -- easy this is. How -- simple.” Laurent flushed. “Nothing was simple in Arles. You have reminded me that not everything is a puzzle to be solved. I missed it, missed you.”

“I missed you as well,” said Damen. He bowed his head and pressed a kiss to Laurent’s forehead, grinning when he pulled back to find that Laurent was smiling as well.

“Quiet now,” Laurent said, voice equal parts haughty and good-humored. He turned onto his side, his back to Damen. “I returned late last night and had a very long meeting this morning, I wish to rest.”

“Rest then,” said Damen, curling up behind Laurent, holding him tightly, as they both drifted off to sleep. Just before giving in to the pull of sleep himself, Damen whispered, “My king.”

 

i.
The room was alive with music and dancing, the warmth from the wine he’d had earlier still flowing through Damen’s blood.

“The Patrans certainly know how to throw a party,” said Nikandros, looking out at the room as he leaned up against the wall beside Damen.

“Torgeir and his new wife are a good match,” Damen said in response, half-full goblet dangling from his fingers. It had been a long and carefree day, beginning with the marriage ceremony at high noon and then followed by a spectacular feast of the finest Patran delicacies. The feast had eventually lead the way to music and dancing, the food cleared away to make room for those celebrating. The wine flowed freely, as did the laughter in the room. It had been a splendid day throughout, Damen had enjoyed himself thoroughly.

Nikandros made a noise of agreement, but Damen was no longer paying attention and was instead scanning the room for golden hair. He and Laurent had been separated after the food had been cleared away, taken to opposite sides of the room talking to bannermen and nobles alike.
Laurent was standing beside Torveld, their heads bent close together as they spoke. Erasmus stood at Torveld’s side, Torveld glancing away from Laurent every so often to smile at Erasmus.

Damen noted with no small amount of satisfaction, that Erasmus was no longer wearing a gold collar or cuffs; he was dressed in Patran finery, colors complimentary to Torveld’s own clothing.

Once his gaze focused back on Laurent, however, Damen found it difficult to look away. Kingship agreed with Laurent, made him stand taller, his shoulders square, and the line of his neck strong. He looked older, regal.In the torchlight of the hall, his hair gleamed, soft where it fell into his face just a bit; Damen wanted to run his fingers through it.

“You shouldn’t stare,” Nikandros said, hiding his grin with his chalice when Damen looked over at him. “The courtiers will think you jealous.”

“I am jealous,” said Damen, having had just enough Patran wine to loosen his tongue. “I envy the floor beneath his feet.”

Nikandros laughed. “I think perhaps you’ve had enough wine for the night, Damen.”

“I think perhaps you are right,” Damen said, handing his chalice off to a passing attendant. Damen gave Nikandros a sly look and asked, “Would you like to do me a favor?”

“Kings asks for favors now?” Nikandros said, an eyebrow raised. At Damen’s glare, he sighed and said, “Yes, Exalted. What would you like?”

“I’d like you to introduce me to the King of Vere,” said Damen, voice wry as a plan began to form in his mind.

“You know the King of Vere, Damianos,” Nikandros said, sounding a bit long suffering. “Quite well, I would go as far to say.”

Damen gave Nikandros a look he hope contained all of his regality, the thunder of all the kings that came before him. He felt as though it probably appeared as more of a pout. Either way, it seemed to work because Nikandros simply let out yet another sigh and nodded for Damen to follow him as they crossed the room.

“Ah, Damen,” Laurent said when he and Nikandros came close. “We were just speaking of you.”
Nikandros hesitated, clearly unsure of how to proceed now that Laurent had greeted Damen by name in front of Torveld. Damen held Nikandros’ gaze until he was sure Nikandros caught his meaning.

“King Damianos would like to speak with you privately for a moment, Your Majesty,” Nikandros said to Laurent, somehow managing to keep his voice neutral, which Damen assumed was quite the challenge for him.

Laurent looked back at Damen, the slight tilt of his head the only indication that Damen had caught him by surprise. He turned to Torveld, “If you could excuse us?”

“Of course,” Torveld said, with a perfunctory bow. Erasmus looked up before following behind Torveld, catching Damen’s eye, blushing a bit with wide eyes. Damen gave him a nod and a small smile, which Erasmus returned, shyly.

Laurent faced Damen again, eyes alight with mischief as they looked him over. “What is it?”
“Your Majesty.” Nikandros’ voice was flat, his posture making it very clear that he did not wish to be doing this. “I would like to introduce to you Damianos, King of Akielos and sovereign ruler of the New Artesian Empire.”

Laurent’s eyes flicked over to Damen, sizing him up; Damen let the corner of his mouth twitch up just a bit to reveal a smirk. Nikandros excused himself, obviously eager to get away now that his part in Damen’s plan was completed. Damen fought to keep from laughing.

“You should treat your men nicer, Exalted,” Laurent observed, watching Nikandros’ retreating form.

“I think you’ll find that I’m very nice to men,” Damen said mostly to see the look on Laurent’s face. He was not disappointed, Laurent’s gaze snapping back to him and his eyes widening just enough to tell Damen he’d caught him off guard completely.

“Did you ask to be introduced to me just to make innuendo?”

“No, I asked to be introduced because you are the most beautiful person I have ever seen, and I needed to meet you,” Damen said, honestly.

“You are very forward,” Laurent said, taking a sip of his own drink. Damen wondered if he was actually drinking or just raising the goblet to his lips for show, as he often did at feasts. “Are all Akielons so confident or are you just used to getting your way?”

“I am confident about you,” Damen said, brazenly looking Laurent up and down. He glanced over his shoulder to where a few courtiers were pretending not to watch the two of them. “Perhaps you would like to accompany me out to the balcony? It’s quieter and I could use some air.”

“I will accompany you, but you should know that my men are very loyal -- should you do anything to harm me they will take no issue in striking you down,” said Laurent, nodding his head to the side. Damen turned to follow his line of sight and saw Jord pressed into a corner with a young Patran boy.

“Yes, he seems very concerned about my presence,” Damen said, tone mocking. Laurent turned to lead the way out to the balcony, but not before Damen saw a small smile on his lips.

The two made their way across the room, stopped by inebriated bannerman and foreign nobles every few steps, until they finally reached the balcony, where curtains were blowing gently in the summer breeze. Damen tugged them closed, muffling the sounds of the party even further. When he turned, Laurent was standing at the rail of the balcony, palms pressed flat as he looked out over the hillscape bathed in moonlight. Laurent seemed to fit in with the night, his face tipped up to the moon; Damen’s breath caught in his throat the way the light and shadow danced across Laurent’s face.

“In Akielos,” he said, walking slowly across the balcony to join Laurent. “We have stories of battles fought over beautiful people. I fear beauty like yours would incite a war.” There were small flower pots placed on the ledge where he and Laurent were standing. Damen reached out and plucked one from the dirt and presented it to Laurent.

Laurent took the flower, fingers brushing against Damen’s as he did so, a small blush crossing his features. “You are very -- forthcoming with your compliments.”

Damen shrugged. “I sense you are not an easy man to woo, and I wish to earn your affections.”
“I’ve had many suitors, Exalted, what makes you special?” asked Laurent, dismissively, once more looking out over the Patran landscape.

Damen paused, then reached out to brush one of Laurent’s stray hairs behind his ear, fingers whisper-soft against Laurent’s skin. “Because if you gave me your heart, I would treat it tenderly.”
Not even the light of the moon could washout the intensity of Laurent’s flush at Damen’s words; Damen admires the line of his jaw as he clenches his teeth. Laurent’s grip on the balcony tightened, knuckles going white.

“Be careful,” said Damen after long moments had passed. “You’ll crush the flower.”

“I’m afraid I’ve had too much wine,” Laurent said after a long moment in which he brought himself back under control, hands releasing the ledge all together. “I should retire.”

He moved to leave. Damen stopped him with a light grasp on his wrist, Laurent turning back to face him, expression unreadable.

“Good night, Your Majesty,” said Damen, bringing Laurent’s hand up to his lips. He pressed a chaste kiss there. “Sleep well.”

Laurent nodded curtly, pulling his hand away and disappearing back behind the curtains into the room. Damen gave him a few moments, then made his way through the door as well. There was no sign of Laurent’s golden head among the throngs of revelers. Damen had made a miscalculation, perhaps, said something that upset Laurent under the guise of courting him.

“Make my excuses,” Damen instructed in a low voice when Nikandros approached him, red cheeked and jovial with another full goblet of wine.

“Of course,” Nikandros said, lewd glint in his eye. “I’ll stay close to Jord and we can give yours and Laurent’s excuses at the same time.”

“Try not to drink the Patran’s entire supply of wine,” said Damen, ignoring Nikandros’ remark.

“Try not to wake the entire palace,” Nikandros said with a wink. Damen glared at him as he brushed past him, Nikandros letting out a loud laugh as he did.

Damen bid goodnight to the few that intercepted him on his way to the door. As it swung shut behind him, the hallway was immediately silent and dark, only muffled voices and sparsely placed torches replacing the peals of laughter and bright lanterns of the main hall. There were only occasional echoes from drunken guests making their way through the corridors as he headed to his rooms.

The soldiers stationed outside of the doors nodded as he opened the doors and entered. The fire was still low in the hearth, the windows open letting the moonlight in. It echoed as only a truly empty room could; Damen called out Laurent’s name just to be sure, but was unsurprised when he did not receive an answer. He had thought Laurent honest when he said he was retiring, had followed him in the hopes of apologizing and fixing whatever mistake he had made out on the balcony.

He readied himself for bed, washing his face with a bowl of water that had been left on the bedside table. He did not know where Laurent was, the castle at Patras too large and too unknown to explore at night, not to mention how it would appear, one of the emperors of the New Artesian Empire skulking around a border ally’s palace in the dark. Laurent would return to their rooms if and when he wanted to, Damen knew, and there was nothing to be done until he decided to reappear.

A knock on the door roused Damen from his thoughts. He crossed the room to pull open the door. It was Laurent on the other side, eyes a bit wild and the skin just below his collar flushed.
“King Damianos,” Laurent said, voice steady for all the rest of him appeared not to be. “I trust I am not intruding.”

“No,” said Damen, stepping back so that Laurent could enter the room. “I only just arrived.”

“I thought perhaps I would give you the chance to compliment me some more before the night was over,” said Laurent, leaning back against the table in the antechamber, palms spread out on the table behind him. Damen’s eyes traced the length of his body, still immaculately dressed from the day. “Allow you to persuade me into your bed.”

“Something tells me that it is impossible to persuade you to anything that you do not already wish to do,” Damen said, resisting the pull of Laurent’s body. He dropped the guise for a moment, asking, “I thought on the balcony -- I thought I had said something that upset you.”

Laurent remained in character, replying, “I don’t particularly enjoy being aroused in a room full of nobility.” He raised an eyebrow. “Though from the stories I hear, you do.”

Damen feels himself go warm with the memory, of Laurent leaning over during a Council meeting to whisper something filthy in his ear with a look of utmost innocence; of Damen turning red, his cock filling; of the way Lazar had lifted his eyebrows knowingly at them even while Damen attempted to stutter his way through inanities about taxes.

Laurent smirked, as if he could read Damen’s mind. “We could rejoin the party, if you’d like.”

“I think I prefer the privacy of your company here, instead,” Damen answered, struggling to regain his footing. He was often the one who initiated these games between the two of them, yet somehow it was always Laurent who ended up with the upper hand. “I am free to look at you as I would like.”

“That did not particularly seem to stop you while we were in the great room.”

“You are very hard to look away from,” Damen said, finally allowing himself to take a step towards Laurent. “But I am sure many other suitors have told you that.”

“Never a king,” Laurent said, eyes dark where they were locked onto Damen’s. He licked his lips, the only real physical manifestation of his arousal. If Damen truly had been a stranger to Laurent, he would think him completely unaffected; Damen had attuned himself to Laurent’s body over the months, aware of every change of breath, every slow movement that gave away Laurent’s feelings.

“An emperor,” corrected Damen, stepping even closer until he could place his hands beside the Laurent’s on the table, bodies only a hair’s breadth apart. “I have more to offer you than anyone else you have bedded.”

“My previous lover was quite -- proficient,” Laurent said, a small smile threatening to form on his lips. “I am very difficult to impress.”

“Allow me the privilege of trying,” Damen whispered, wrapping his fingers around Laurent’s wrist. He brought the palm of Laurent’s hand up to his lips, pressing a chaste kiss to the center of it. He used his other hands to fold Laurent’s fingers down, as if he were holding onto the kiss. “Let me make love to you, Your Majesty.”

“Please,” Laurent said, tone making it clear that this was an order not a request. “Call me by my given name.”

“Laurent,” Damen murmured, leaning in so that his lips brushed against Laurent’s neck softly.

Beneath the fingertips that still gripped Laurent’s wrist, Damen felt Laurent’s pulse quicken.

“Damianos,” Laurent responded, voice steady, revealing nothing of his state.

“Damen,” corrected Damen. “Damen is my familiar name.”

“Are we familiar?” Laurent asked.

Damen bent to brush his lips just behind Laurent’s ear, Laurent’s breathing hitching in his chest at the touch. “I hope to be.”

“Damen,” said Laurent on a breath. “Touch me.”

Tightening his grip ever so slightly on Laurent’s wrist, Damen pulled back to look him in the eyes when he answered, “I am touching you.”

“I won’t beg,” Laurent said, eyebrows raised in challenge. “If that’s what you’re expecting, I’m sure there is a courtier who will accommodate you.”

“I don’t want you to beg,” said Damen, voice soothing as he moved his thumb in slow circles against Laurent’s pulse. “I simply want you to enjoy yourself.”

“Then do something worth enjoying,” Laurent commanded.

Damen unwound his fingers from Laurent’s wrist, placing both of them on his waist instead, pulling Laurent to him until their hips slotted together. “Seems as if you’re enjoying yourself already, Your Majesty.”

“Stop calling me that,” Laurent said, hands trapped between their chests. He smoothed his palms over Damen’s chest with something akin to revenance. “I -- I enjoy having you say my name.”

Damen took a step back, cool air rushing between him and Laurent. He extended his hand out and said, “Come to bed with me.”

Laurent slipped his hand into Damen’s, eyes sparkling with mirth, “Take me.” A full smiled blossomed across Laurent’s face at the innuendo there.

“If you insist,” said Damen, tugging Laurent closer only to bend and pick him up, securing him over his shoulder.

“Put me down, Damen,” demanded Laurent, giggling unabashedly as he said it. “This is no way to treat a king.”

Damen’s heart leapt into his throat at the sound; so rarely did Laurent let himself express such childlike joy. It was easy to forget how young he was, sometimes. He struggled to keep the emotion out of his voice when he said, “How is it that I should treat a king?”

He lowered Laurent onto the bed, Laurent’s lower half hanging off the edge, a smile still on his flushed face. Damen worked Laurent’s laces open, discarding him of his jacket and shirt, his boots and trousers.

Laurent appraised Damen as he did this and then said, voice low, “You said if I trusted you with my heart, you would treat it tenderly.”

Damen swallowed around the lump in his throat at Laurent’s words, his own words echoed back at him, Laurent’s eyes soft in the candlelight of the room, no trace of character in his gaze. “Lie back.”

Laurent moved until he was propped up against the pillows, the soft Patran down giving under his weight. Damen removed his chiton and sandals, climbing onto the bed, his knees finding home on either side of Laurent’s thighs.

“I’m going to kiss you now,” said Damen, realizing that they have yet to do that tonight. He held Laurent’s gaze for a long moment, before letting his eyes close and his lips press against Laurent’s.

It was Laurent who deepened the kiss, parting his lips and granting access to Damen’s tongue, his hand coming up to clutch at Damen’s shoulder. It always surprised Damen how eager Laurent was for this, how well he hid his desire to be touched, held. Damen rested his weight more fully on Laurent, pinning him to the soft mattress so that he could cradle Laurent’s head between his hands.

“I’ll be gentle,” Damen said when they separated to take a breath.

“I won’t break,” said Laurent.

“I don’t think that you will,” responded Damen. “I simply wish to indulge and take my time with you.”

“That seems to be a pattern in my lovers.”

“Lover,” Damen rolled the word around in his mouth. “Is that what I am?”

“Is that not what you wish to be?”

Damen pressed a kiss to Laurent’s jaw, following the line of it to his ear, slowly, letting his lips drag over the thin skin there. “I am whatever you want me to be.”

Laurent’s fingers tightened on Damen’s shoulder, his nails digging in, sharp pinpricks of pleasure. Damen did not wait for Laurent to speak again, instead kissing down his neck, slowly and then slower still. He could feel the tension in Laurent, was acutely aware of the way Laurent was keeping his hips pressed to the bed so as not to roll them.

He recalled, vividly, their second time together, the way Laurent had nearly shaken out of his skin with how slowly Damen had claimed him. He wanted tonight to be as good for Laurent as that night had been -- better, now that he knew Laurent’s body as he did. They were playing at being strangers, but Damen knew Laurent, knew exactly how to touch him so that he would give himself over to pleasure.

He pressed his lips to Laurent’s collar, leaving them there for a long moment while his hand moved to sweep along Laurent’s side. Laurent’s body was wracked with a tremor as he breathed through Damen’s ministrations, body still taut.

Damen moved his mouth closer to Laurent’s ear, breathed, “Don’t think,” before bowing his chin and running a tongue over one of Laurent’s nipples.

Laurent gasped, loud in the quiet of the room, body bending itself to mould against Damen’s, the hand Laurent had on Damen’s shoulder moving to the back of his neck.

Again,” Laurent rasped.

Damen ignored Laurent’s request, choosing instead to circle around one pebbled nipple with his finger, never touching Laurent exactly where he wanted. He watched the subtle ways in which Laurent’s face changed as he struggled to let himself go. It was easier, these days, to get him to give in and relax into Damen’s touch, but on nights like tonight, where Laurent was wound tighter than usual, Damen did enjoy the challenge.

Laurent’s eyes fluttered open, blue sharp as Akielon steel when they met Damen’s gaze. “Again, Damianos.”

Unable to deny Laurent further, Damen bent once more to lavish attention to Laurent’s nipple, Laurent cutting off the sound of his whimper nearly before it started.

The sound of it nearly took Damen apart in the same way he was coaxing Laurent to pieces, Damen’s entire world narrowed and focused on helping Laurent achieve his pleasure. He leaned his weight on one hand, slid the other one down Laurent’s body to press against his hardness.

It was as if Laurent had been granted permission, his hips rocking up slowly into the pressure of Damen’s palm. Damen moved his attentions to Laurent’s other nipple, knowing exactly the effect the cool air would have on his body. He was reward by a sharp intake of breath, Laurent curling into himself beneath Damen.

Damen watched from beneath his eyebrows as Laurent’s tongue darted out to wet his lips, eyes shut tightly against the onslaught of sensation. Damen had never had a partner both as responsive and as withheld as Laurent, each fracture in his breathing washing over Damen like a reward.

“I wish to be inside of you,” Damen confessed, mouth by Laurent’s ribs. Laurent’s hips surged up, nearly dislodging Damen’s grip.

“There’s oil in my trunk,” said Laurent, forgetting for a second that they were pretending this was Damen’s room, not the one they shared.

Damen kissed Laurent deeply before leaving the bed and crossing to Laurent’s trunk. Beneath his riding jacket was a selection of oils. Damen chose one and returned to the bed, once again stretching himself out along the length of Laurent’s body.

Damen used the back of his hand to turn Laurent’s face, granting him access to the side of his neck that he inadvertently been ignoring up until this point. “Tell me if you want me to stop.”

Laurent did not respond verbally, but tilted his head to reveal more of his neck to Damen.

“Laurent,” said Damen. “Tell me know you know that I will stop if you ask.”

“I know,” Laurent said, turning his head to meet Damen’s eye briefly. “I know, Damen.”

“Good,” responded Damen even as Laurent faced away from him again, neck exposed.

Damen knelt up and poured some oil onto his hands, rubbing them together to warm them up. He lay back down, half-atop Laurent. Nosing along where jaw met neck, Damen waited for the falter in Laurent’s breathing before trailing his hand down, down, until the tip of his forefinger pressed up against Laurent. Slowly, Damen worked the first finger inside, alternating between soft kisses to Laurent’s neck and pulling away to watch his face, read the set of his shoulders to be sure he wasn't hurting him.

“The candlelight dances beautifully across your skin,” Damen said, voice rough in the near-silent room.

“I am not --” Laurent was cut off sharply by a thrust of Damen’s finger, a second one coming up to slide in alongside the first. “I am not some virgin who needs coddling.”

“Who says that I am coddling you?” said Damen, fingers picking up speed. “I am simply being honest.”

“Kings are never honest,” Laurent said, voice tight and thin as Damen added a third finger.

“Kings are rarely honest,” corrected Damen. “At times they can be brutally honest.” With the last word, Damen pulled his fingers free of Laurent’s tight heat. Laurent let out a moan, louder than Damen had ever heard him, a deep red flush running up his neck from his chest.

Rolling himself fully on top of Laurent, Damen smoothed his oiled hand along his cock and lined it up with Laurent’s entrance. At the same time, Damen captured Laurent’s mouth in a gentle kiss and pushed himself inside, slowly, allowing Laurent time to adjust to the size of him.

“Good?” asked Damen with his hips pressed tight to Laurent, fully inside of him.

“Could be better,” Laurent bit out, hands braced against the solid wood of their headboard, decorative pillows pushed the the side. “I told you I’m not some inexperienced virgin.”

“Perhaps I just like taking you slowly,” said Damen.

“All that strength and what do you use it for,” Laurent said, voice half exasperated, half thin with desperation.

“Holding you down while I make love to you.” Damen moved his hands to Laurent’s hips, pressing them into the mattress, feeling the way the soft bedding gave beneath Laurent’s slim frame.

“One day I’ll goad you into fucking me properly,” Laurent said, almost offhandedly. He bit his lip, the words taking a long moment to work their way out of him as Damen fucks into him tentatively.

“The way everyone already assumes you’ve fucked me.”

“You’re thinking in advance,” Damen said, hips speeding up as he found rhythm with Laurent’s body. It felt like lightening was running through Damen’s body, each part of him alive with the static of the earth before a storm. “We’ve only just met, after all.”

Laurent’s eyes were unfocused, his body slick with a thin sheen of sweat, blonde hair in disarray. Damen felt overwhelmed, felt in that moment that he would give anything to watch Laurent fall apart like this, his breaths coming quick and shallow as he thrust. Laurent closed his eyes, head tipping back as he let out the softest of sounds, game forgotten in his pleasure.

Damen gave chase to that sound, pressing his hips in close and moving them in small circles, the change in angle pushing more gasps out of Laurent, Damen singularly focused on his pleasure. Damen shifted to take Laurent in hand, stroking his slowly in time with the punch of his hips.

“Damen, I’m --” Laurent said, voice reed-thin. He barely got the words out before he was coming, body arching up as pleasure wracked through him. He clenched down on Damen tightly, the heat in Damen’s stomach bubbling up to rush through his whole body, Damen letting out a loud groan as he buried his face in Laurent’s neck and spilled inside of him.

Damen came back to himself to the feel of Laurent’s fingers working out the tangles in his curls, the rise and fall of Laurent’s chest still a bit unsteady beneath his cheek.

“Are we done with our game?” Laurent asked, amusement in his voice.

Damen snorted a laugh into Laurent’s skin, pushing himself up enough to pull out of Laurent, who didn’t even wince, before flopping back down on top of him, heedless of the smear on Laurent’s stomach. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, Your Highness, what game?” He pressed a kiss to the center of Laurent’s chest. He looked back up to catch Laurent’s gaze, couldn’t help the way he’s sure his expression went fond at the way Laurent was raising his eyebrow at him. “Was it good?”

“You know it was,” Laurent said after a moment. He tugged Damen’s head back down to rest on his chest so that he could wind his fingers back into Damen’s hair.

“We’ve spoken of -- what it would have been like in the past,” Damen said thoughtfully. “If we had simply been two men who saw each other in a room, what it would have been like for me to court you.”

“Your courtship tactics are very forward,” Laurent commented.

Damen shrugged, letting his eyes slip closed as he relaxed further beneath Laurent’s hands. “I may have fared better if I did not already know what you are like in bed. You have ruined me.”

There was a long pause, as there often was after Damen made statements like that. Damen had learned to wait Laurent out, to allow him space to think about what Damen had just said, to roll it over in his mind to see if he was walking into a trap. It was something Damen knew Laurent was trying to do less of with him, but that would take time.

“I think, perhaps -- you have ruined me, as well,” Laurent said finally. “Though I do not necessarily feel as though I have been ruined.”

Damen placed his hands to Laurent’s hips and squeezed gently, letting him know without words that he had heard him. He listened to Laurent’s heartbeat, steady and sure beneath his ear, even as his own raced when he said, “Maybe -- maybe it is time that the New Artesian Empire had a --celebration of their own.”

“Yes, I think you may be right," Laurent said after another long moment.

Damen looked up to see Laurent flushing, eyes fixed skyward. He pulled himself up until they were looking into each other’s eyes, then bowed his head and kissed Laurent, slowly, thoroughly, sweetly. When he pulled back, Laurent was smiling.

“Let’s get some sleep,” Laurent suggested. “Tomorrow we will head home and begin the preparations.”

They rearranged themselves on the bed, until Laurent was settled against Damen’s side with his head on Damen’s chest and an arm around his waist. Damen pressed a quick kiss to the crown of Laurent’s head.

“Good night.”