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Laurent is eleven when he’s introduced by his brother to Prince Damianos. Auguste keeps a hand atop Laurent’s shoulder, as though presenting him to the council, and Damianos smiles at him as though he’s to be tolerated. Laurent despises him. He hates his gaudy foreign clothes, the way he has no shame about showing so much skin. But, nevertheless, he dips his head—a greeting befitting a prince—and blinks at him in disdain—also befitting a prince.

“A pleasure,” Damianos tells him in smooth Veretian.

“Likewise,” Laurent lies and he feels Auguste’s grip tighten on his shoulder.

His brother knows him too well.

“Go tell the stables to ready the horses,” Auguste says and Laurent shoots him a murderous look.

“Tell them yourself,” Laurent replies, “as you are so fond of them.”

Auguste has the audacity to laugh, to clap him on the back and send him forward one stumbling step.

“My brother jokes,” Auguste tells Damianos. “Come, let me show you the grounds.”

Laurent watches them go and is glad of it.

*

When Laurent is fifteen, Damianos returns. The prince is older now, his limbs longer and stretched with age, though not so much so that they are unfitting of his body. He’s lean and his chiton is still far too short to be comfortable. Over dinner, he eats with distinct mannerisms, not like the barbarian Laurent expects. Laurent stays beside Auguste and listens to them talking, their heads together, though voices still loud. They laugh often and Laurent prods at his food, lacking an appetite.

“Why do you humour him?” Laurent asks Auguste later, when it’s only them and a chessboard in between. “He is a buffoon, a great brute.”

Laurent takes Auguste’s rook.

“Why do you dislike him?” Auguste replies smoothly, before adding, “check mate.”

“You cheated,” Laurent tells him, a lie.

“Were you paying attention and not thinking solely of Prince Damianos, you would have noticed my moves.”

Laurent scoffs and orders, “Another,” his fingers already resetting the board. Auguste doesn’t argue.

*

Laurent has been eighteen for three seasons before King Theomedes visits Vere. He brings his bastard son and the prince, and Laurent spends most of his days in his rooms, avoiding the upheaval. On a surprisingly calm morning, Auguste takes him riding to the edge of the Great Northern Forests. It’s quiet and shaded from the last of the summer heat.

“They’re holding a tournament,” Auguste says, biting into a crisp apple.

He holds it out for Laurent, who waves it away, favouring instead the bunch of grapes that was slipped into the pack on his saddle by one of the grooms.

“The only thing the Akielon are interested in.”

“They are our allies, brother,” Auguste points out, which doesn’t work against Laurent.

“For now,” he agrees. “Until they need to sate their bloodlust. I don’t trust the son.”

“You’ve always had it against Damianos,” Auguste says with a crooked smile.

Laurent rolls his eyes and says, “Not Damianos. Kastor.”

“You dislike him for his parentage.”

“I dislike him for his serpent ways,” Laurent corrects. “He has been lingering where he shouldn’t.”

“And how would you know, brother?” Auguste asks. “You haven’t left your room since he arrived.”

“And yet here I am,” Laurent counters. “I don’t need to leave, not when I have eyes everywhere.”

“Stop,” Auguste requests. “They are our friends. We may need them one day.”

Laurent scoffs, but doesn’t continue arguing. Auguste feeds the core of his apple to his mare who is grazing idly beside them.

“Which events do you think they’ll lose,” Laurent says instead and Auguste snorts.

“The ones I’m competing in,” he retorts and Laurent hides a smile.

His brother may be soft, but not where it matters. He’ll wipe the ground with the Akielon competitors and Laurent will enjoy every second of it.

*

It seems Auguste has not been the only one training. Prince Damianos proves his worth tenfold during the games, his strength fair and his aim true. There are few that act as worthy opponents against him, but he is not smug and Laurent doesn’t understand it.

He finds his gaze lingering on him, watching the flex of his shoulders and the tight stretch of his thighs. He watches the soft smiles he shoots to Kastor, looking for approval, which Kastor doesn’t ever seem to give. It sits uncomfortably in his stomach, yet another reason why he can’t bring himself to trust the bastard.

But Kastor isn’t the only one Damianos looks at. Laurent sees the way the prince glances at the women of the court, the spectators that seem to appreciate him. It’s subtle, the stares barely lingering, but there all the same. He knows what goes on in Akielos, knows how men lie with women. He knows how they spill inside them instead of in the sheets as they should, with no cares about bastards.

It should be shameful, but when Damianos upends a wooden bucket of water over himself after a particularly long round of pankration, Laurent can’t help but notice the muscles, how Damianos has finally grown into himself, his body lean and pure. He can’t help but think about how his muscles might flex when coupling with someone, female or otherwise. How Damianos could hold them precisely where he wanted without breaking a sweat.

He has heard rumours of Akielon stamina. His mind races at the way Damiano’s chest heaves with breath, the way his hands curl with unspoken strength as he wipes the water from his face.

As though feeling Laurent’s gaze, Damianos glances in his direction. Laurent’s heart finds itself a new home in his throat, where it thuds uselessly against his skin like a trapped bird. Laurent knows his face remains impassive; he has long since schooled the emotion out of himself. A prince of Vere cannot afford such luxuries.

Damianos tilts his head ever so slighting in acknowledgement and then turns away, offering an unobstructed view of the width of his back.

Laurent thinks of it later, much later, when he has retired from the festivities, when he’s locked in the safety of his rooms, in the darkness under his sheets. He thinks about Damianos’ hands on his hips, on his thighs, on the small of his back. He thinks about how he would arch against him, how agreeable his fairness would look against the olive skin of Damianos.

He thinks about it as he shuts his eyes, as his breath stutters, as he spills into his own hand with a guilt that sits low inside him.

He thinks about how he should never have thought of Damianos at all.

*

“Teach me,” Laurent orders abruptly, interrupting Auguste mid-spar.

Auguste never misses a step, but looks away from his target—Jord—to glance over with an unmistakeable brightness in his eyes.

“You already know how to fight,” Auguste tells him, delivering a sharp blow to Jord’s parry.

Jord doesn’t flinch and returns it effortlessly, moving forward to force Auguste back. They make it look easy.

“I know basics,” Laurent argues. “I know enough to defend my own life.”

“And now?” Auguste questions, using a quick movement to completely disarm Jord and send his blade spinning across the training room floor. Jord curses loudly and Auguste sets his own weapon aside, already reaching out to clasp Jord’s shoulder in a genial manner. Jord is good, one of the best, but even he can be bested. That is what Laurent wants.

“I want to look a man in the eyes and know I can beat him.”

“Any man or just one in particular?” Auguste teases before quickly dismissing Jord with a tip of his head. When Jord takes his leave, Auguste continues. “You already know you can beat any man. Not with the sword in your hand, but the sword in your mouth.”

“My tongue can only get me so far,” Laurent explains.

“Should I worry?” Auguste asks. “Either you want to fight someone, or else you wish to impress someone and I’m not sure which would be worse for you.”

“It is nothing,” Laurent lies. “A prince must be well-rounded.”

“Of course,” Auguste replies. “Especially to find a suitor of equal measure. Only the best for my baby brother.”

Already tired of Auguste’s teasing, Laurent steps forward to pick up Jord’s discarded sword. It’s heavy in his hands, but he holds it up, his stance defensive. Auguste laughs only once before he sobers.

“Adjust your shoulders,” Auguste says, moving forwards to put his hands on Laurent. “Like this.”

*

The muscles come. It’s a slow process, but by the time he reaches his twentieth year, he’s lithe and almost as dangerous as Auguste himself.

Damianos returns to Vere for political interests. It shouldn’t be unexpected—Laurent saw the correspondence himself when it first arrived—but his presence sits heavy in the court when he finally arrives.

As with everything, Laurent plans. He plans the avoidance and he plans the inevitable meeting. He doesn’t plan the way his heart triples its beat when Damianos finds him in the training room, but he plans the way he pretends not to hear him, how he lets Damianos watch him practice for a few unheeded minutes before turning and pausing as though having only just noticed him.

“It is early,” Damianos says, a master of language as always.

“Yes,” says Laurent, giving him nothing.

“Forgive me if I have intruded.”

The prince is far too innocent for his own good. It will consume him one day; it will be his downfall.

“It is a common room,” Laurent replies. “There is no reason why you cannot visit.”

“You may still order me away,” Damianos says and Laurent nods.

“Yes,” he replies, but adds, “You came to spar.”

It is not a question.

“It is not my place,” Damianos tells him and Laurent tips his head towards the wall of training weapons.

“No,” Laurent agrees, “but it is mine. Pick one.”

Damianos does, though he is sharp-minded with his choice. He doesn’t pick the largest weapon—the weapon that would deal the greatest damage—instead, he picks the one that most resembles an Akielon sword. He gives it a few practice swings to adjust to the weight, and then he steps forward, closer to Laurent.

Laurent looks him in the eyes and knows he can beat him. But he also knows that he won’t, not this day. Beating him isn’t part of the plan.

He lets his form slip, stands just slightly off balance, and allows the force of Damianos’ blows and nudge him backwards. As expected, instead of continuing to force Laurent back, Damianos pauses—a move that would get him killed in any place other than the practice ring.

“Shorten your stance,” Damianos tells him as Laurent delivers a half-hearted strike that barely makes Damianos work for it.

Laurent does as told, but lets his shoulders droop, just enough for Damianos to notice.

“No,” the prince says, dropping his weapon completely to move around to Laurent’s side. “Like this.”

He reaches out for Laurent, his touch unsolicited, which would end in no less than missing limbs had Laurent not been expecting it—or wanting it. But he lets Damianos set his hands on his shoulders, lets him nudge just enough to put Laurent in the perfect posture, the one Laurent knows by heart now.

Damianos pauses, hands still on him, and Laurent knows his palms are feeling where what was once soft is now unforgiving muscle. He stares at Laurent as though the pieces of a puzzle are slotting into place.

“You have been training,” he says—a statement. Perhaps he’s not so dim witted after all. “Who has been teaching you?”

Laurent knows better than to lie about it now.

“Auguste.”

Damianos takes his hands off him as though burned, and steps backwards. He retrieves his sword from the ground, barely even bending for it, but he holds it out, a challenge in his eyes.

“Fight me,” Damianos orders and Laurent stares at him coolly.

“I thought I was.”

“Fight me like you mean it,” Damianos corrects. “Fight me like you’re not trying to hide what you know.”

“But that is my favourite tactic,” Laurent argues. “A man caught unawares is as good as dead.”

He strikes out suddenly, though Damianos is quick enough to block. He puts his strength into the attack and enjoys the surprise in Damianos’ eyes, the way his defense changes. Laurent moves smoothly, applying all that Auguste has taught him, giving Damianos a fair fight. But Damianos has the advantage of height and mass, and he counters everything as though it’s second nature.

It infuriates Laurent. He knows how far he’s come during his training, and he knows he’s been able to make Auguste yield to him once or twice before. They may have been from sheer luck, but they happened nonetheless. But Damianos doesn’t seem to tire and his eyes are bright and focussed and Laurent wants to prove himself.

Not that he needs to. He’s a prince; he has nothing to prove to anyone.

But he wants it. He’s seen the appreciation Damianos gives Auguste and he wants it for himself. He wants it all and there’s little he’ll not do to get it.

It’s his first mistake in hindsight. He loses his concentration, his mind too busy thinking about a victory. He redirects Damianos’ advance and strafes to one side, but he’s slow, the exertion beginning to get to him. Damianos’ blade should slip easily to the right, but Laurent’s balance shifts and his upper arm takes part of the blow.

Damianos notices immediately, his stance adjusting, his defenses falling as though he had none to begin with. The sword drops from his hands, clattering against the floor as he steps towards Laurent, his hand raised, hovering just above where the blood is welling under Laurent’s sleeve.

“Your highness,” Damianos says. “Laurent.”

Laurent stays calm; it’s not the only injury he’s ever received in training. Auguste had accidentally broken his nose a few months into the start of their routines and there’s still a slight ridge in the cartilage.

He moves away from Damianos, though only to set his sword aside, placing it in its rightful place with the others. His arm throbs, refusing to be ignored, and with gentle fingers, he peels the torn cotton away from his skin to reveal the wound below. It oozes blood freely, but isn’t deep enough to warrant true concern. Not that it seems to stop Prince Damianos.

“Please,” Damianos says, “let me see. This was my wrongdoing.”

Laurent doesn’t move, but he doesn’t fight Damianos when he steps towards him, and doesn’t try to shake off his grip when he lightly holds Laurent’s arm to see the damage. He turns it this way and that in the light, his face solemn as though knowing what to look for.

“Let me fetch the physician,” he requests and Laurent shakes his head.

“I can see to it later.”

“Infection is not the way for a prince to go,” Damianos argues. “If you will not call for Paschal, then let me treat it myself. It is only fair since I am the one to give you the mark.”

It is a tempting offer, one that Laurent cannot resist.

“If you insist,” Laurent offers, attempting to be blasé on the matter.

Damianos nods as though it is set in stone, and he cups Laurent’s elbow and presses his other hand to the small of his back, seeming to expect Laurent to need help. Laurent doesn’t, but he doesn’t push Damianos away. Instead, he savours the warmth of Damianos’ touch and the strength in his fingers.

They pass a handful of concerned gazes as they delve deeper into the palace, but Damianos’ stare seems to be enough to send people away before they can question them. It is not expected that Damianos leads Laurent to his own rooms, but he supposes, in the eyes of the court, it is more proper than expecting the prince to let him into his private quarters.

The guest room for Damianos is nothing but exquisite, the height of hospitality from the Veretian court, and Damianos lets the door swing shut behind them. That will be enough to supply Vere with gossip for weeks. But Damianos doesn’t seem to notice—or doesn’t care about—the implication.

He urges Laurent into a chair at his desk, a desk that is strewn with half-written letters to—as far as Laurent can tell—members of the Akielon court. He gives Laurent’s elbow a gentle squeeze before moving away, bustling about the room for a long moment before returning with a bowl of fresh water, a selection of towels, and a small box.

He sets everything on the table beside Laurent and takes a knee beside him. It should be unfitting for Damianos to kneel before him, but it is an act born of innocence as Damianos leans in and then seems to hesitate as he stares at Laurent’s sleeve. Laurent knows it would take too long for him to strip out of his shirt with all the lacing, and he’s not prepared to have Damianos’ eyes watching him bare himself.

Instead, he grabs his own sleeve by the rip and gives a sharp tug. With a tearing sound that seems to echo in the silent room, the material gives way and comes clean off in Laurent’s hand, leaving his entire arm bare. Damianos seems to want to say something, but Laurent pauses him by speaking first.

“The shirt does not concern me.”

“It seems neither does your arm,” Damianos mutters under his breath and Laurent meets his gaze, enjoying the look upon Damianos’ face and the lack of shame there.

The corner of Laurent’s mouth twitches, enough that Damianos would be able to tell if he were observant enough.

“I agreed to let you tend to it,” Laurent argues without heat. “Attend me.”

It should be out of line. Laurent has no business talking to the heir of Akielos in such a manner. Infuriatingly—though only because it makes Laurent’s stomach swoop like a lovesick child—Damianos takes it in stride, dips his head, and says,

“Of course, your highness.”

Laurent is thankful that Damianos cannot hear his pulse for the way it skips, for the way it betrays his outward neutrality.

But worse than that, Damianos’ hands are gentle on his arm and he is considerate in the way he wets a towel and wrings it out before gently dabbing at the drying blood along Laurent’s skin. He is not the great brute Laurent once thought him to be when he was younger; he has delicate hands and a precise touch that shouldn’t—but does—fizzle low in his belly. It’s hard to concentrate with all of Damianos’ attention on him and the thought of it focused on him in another manner—in the bedroom, perhaps—spreads goosebumps across his skin.

“Tell me if it hurts,” Damianos murmurs, gaze not moving from where he’s gently dabbing at the cut itself.

It does, but Laurent remains silent and lets Damianos clean the rest of it with a new towel. The bleeding has stopped now, a testament to how shallow the wound is, and Damianos dries it with singular focus.

“It is not so bad,” Damianos tells him and Laurent snorts.

“I could have told you that.”

Damianos looks up then, his attention snared by the words. After a moment of silence, Damianos huffs, seeing in the humour in Laurent’s tone.

“Insufferable,” Damianos mutters and Laurent quirks an eyebrow.

“Could have told you that, also.”

Damianos, clearly amused by the exchange, offers a smile and Laurent doesn’t know where all the air has gone but it’s certainly not in the room with them any longer. It’s a simple smile, but it reaches Damianos’ eyes and he appears so bright and youthful and Laurent has half a mind to touch his face, to see if his skin is as soft as it looks.

He doesn’t though. He keeps his hands to himself and Damianos’ gaze shifts to the small wooden box on the desk that he had set there previously.

When he opens it up, there’s a small collection of medicinal items inside, and he draws out a pot of salve, a length of cotton, and a small pin.

“My apologies,” Damianos says, “this may sting.”

It does, but more than anything, the salve itches when Damianos spreads it across his cut, making him want to scratch it. But before he can, Damianos carefully loops the length of cotton around his arm until it is snug, and then pins it in place to keep it from unraveling. Laurent glances down at the bandage, finding it almost as well tended as though placed by Paschal himself.

“Perhaps you are not suited to be king after all,” Laurent tells him, casting his gaze to Damianos’ face. “Perhaps you should become a physician instead.”

“And who would lead Akielos?” Damianos wonders aloud and Laurent sighs quietly.

“That is easy. You give the land to me. My brother would rule here, and I would rule there.”

“After our fathers have passed,” Damianos points out, but Laurent doesn’t wish to think of it.

“I would keep you in the court,” he promises. “My personal physician.”

“How thoughtful,” Damianos replies smoothly and Laurent cannot bear the space between them, not when Damianos speaks to him as though they’re intimate.

He reaches out and sets his hand atop Damianos’ bare shoulder, feeling the strength beneath his skin and his overwhelming warmth. Damianos pauses, the look in his eyes shifting to something that makes Laurent nervous—but not for bad reasons. More like anticipation.

Laurent swallows and Damianos tracks the movement with his gaze, which then shifts to Laurent’s mouth, and then back to his eyes. Laurent feels pinned in his seat, the bulk of Damianos blocking him, and Laurent wants it. He wants those oversized hands on him, wants the thickness of Damianos’ thighs against him, wants the weight of his body over him. He wants a lot of things he cannot have, but dreams for anyway.

Damianos is hesitant when he raises his hand, when he grazes the line of Laurent’s jaw with the pad of his thumb. Laurent’s breathing stutters to a halt.

“Your highness,” Damianos says quietly. “Laurent. Stop me before I do something we will regret.”

“You may regret it,” Laurent tells him, “but I will not.”

Damianos shifts then, and Laurent opens his thighs, letting the width of Damianos’ body fit between them as he moves nearer, as he sets his free palm against the arm of Laurent’s chair and presses closer. He feels Damianos’ breath against his chin, against his mouth, before their lips brush, a kiss that’s barely there at all. Laurent’s heart beats so fast it feels as though it might stop entirely.

He slides his hand from Damianos’ shoulder, to his throat—feeling that perhaps their heartbeats match in speed—to the silky hair behind Damianos’ ear. Damianos makes a noise, soft and wanting, and presses against him harder, with more intent. Damianos knows what he wants to take and Laurent knows what he wants to give.

Laurent has never been kissed like Damianos kisses him, like it’s the only kiss he needs, like it’s the only kind of kiss he deserves. He nips at Laurent’s bottom lip, makes it feel full and heavy with blood, similar to the weight between his legs where his body already responds. He’s unsure if Damianos notices, but either way he doesn’t break the kiss, only draws Laurent in tighter and licks between his lips.

It is a desperate kiss that Laurent thinks he could drown in for a hundred years. Damianos hooks a hand behind his head, pulls enough to make Laurent lean forward for it, and draws a quiet moan from him. It’s not a noise he expects to make and he finds his face heating. Damianos shifts back just enough to glance at Laurent’s face, to trace the backs of his knuckles along Laurent’s cheek.

“Your colouring is perfection,” Damianos tells him, which only serves to make the flush worse, and so Laurent pulls him back in for another kiss, distracting him from seeing it entirely.

It grows more intimate, makes Laurent feel as though he might pass into the afterlife should Damianos stop, but Damianos doesn’t, and so Laurent stays pinned in his chair, accepting what Damianos hands out.

The first knock registers as nothing more than background noise, fitting in with the sound of their mouths meeting, of their muffled breathing, hot pants of air between parted lips. The second, louder knock serves as a bucket of ice cold water would over the head.

Laurent pulls back immediately, gaze darting to the door. Damianos’ movements are more fluid, but he lets Laurent go, not even trying to press just one extra kiss to his mouth. Instead, he sits back on his heels and seems to collect himself for a moment before rising. Laurent looks away as Damianos adjusts himself beneath his chiton, apparently having been affected as much as Laurent, and tries to put his defences back into place.

Damianos makes his way across the room, but glances back at Laurent when he reaches the door. Laurent crosses his legs, keeping anything unsightly from view, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and cards his fingers through his hair. It’s not enough to hide the evidence, but it will serve enough for the moment.

“Your highness,” comes a familiar voice before a third knock rings out.

Damianos pulls open the door to reveal Auguste waiting on the other side.

“Brother Auguste,” Damianos greets him warmly and Laurent can see the way Auguste quickly takes in Damianos’ appearance.

“I heard talk that I might find you here,” Auguste says before casting his eyes knowingly over Damianos’ shoulder to meet Laurent’s gaze across the room. “And you also.”

Laurent knows his cheeks are still aflame and his mouth throbs from the attention of Damianos’ own. His brother will have words for him later. A lot of words.

“I am afraid I do not have good news for you, Damen,” Auguste says and steps into the room when Damianos quickly holds the door wider for him. In the privacy of the room, when the door shuts behind him, August continues, “You are needed at home. There has been a dispute between your father and your half-brother.”

Damianos looks surprised though Laurent thinks he shouldn’t be. He had predicted it all along.

“I must go at once,” Damianos replies, glancing around the room as though trying to catalog his belongings.

“Do not trouble yourself,” Auguste says. “We will send your effects along after you. I have called for your horses to be readied immediately.”

Damianos looks lost for words. He instead embraces Auguste with a firm grip.

“Thank you, brother,” Damianos says. “This will be remembered.”

He lets Auguste go and takes a small step backwards.

“Your advisor is waiting in the courtyard. You should go to him at once.”

Damianos nods and seems to collect himself.

“Thank you,” he repeats before turning towards Laurent and dipping his head. “Your highness.”

“Travel safe,” Laurent orders, not trusting himself to say anything else, his tongue threatening to stick to the roof of his mouth.

Damianos takes it for the dismissal it is and turns to leave, shooting the briefest glance over his shoulder as though he is loathe to leave him.

The loss of Damianos sits tight in Laurent’s chest. He will ignore it, as he must. It will not do for a prince to long for what he cannot have. There will be business to attend and politics to occupy his thoughts. He will not have time to miss Damianos.

*

Akielos slips into turmoil not long after. The dispute between the king and the bastard does not end well, and according to official letters they receive, Damianos must bury his half-brother. Or what is left of him after the king is through. Theomedes almost follows after him. Laurent doesn’t know how close to death the king gets, but it is enough for his father’s council to begin whispering.

Laurent writes to Damianos, or at least he tries to. He goes through a stack of parchment attempting to scratch his sympathies upon paper, but every piece ends up crumpled and tossed into the fire. He knows Auguste will send word from them anyway and he will be far more eloquent than Laurent could ever dream to be.

He lies awake at night thinking of Damianos. He thinks of the torment he must be suffering through and how dearly he had loved his brother, bastard traitor or not. He thinks about how much it must have hurt and all of the soft, vulnerable parts of Damianos that would have made it all the greater. He wishes he could comfort him, whether it be a hand on his shoulder, or a brief kiss to let him know that the grief is not born alone.

They do not see Damianos for many months after while the loyalties of their countrymen are tested. It seems there had been more than one viper in the royal court, and maybe in another life that would have pleased Laurent, but now he only wishes that Damianos did not have to go it alone.

Perhaps he is young and foolish for the thought, but it does not stop his mind from whirring. It does not stop his heart from aching.

*

“Damianos will be returning to us,” Auguste says one evening while Laurent is relaxing beside him in their private garden, nose-deep in a book.

Laurent doesn’t let himself flinch. Instead, he coolly turns the page and blinks.

“It is true then,” Auguste continues after a silent moment. “What happened with you and Damen.”

“I gave no response,” Laurent says, his traitorous heart skipping a beat.

“It was the lack of one that gave you away, brother.”

“There was nothing,” Laurent tells him, looking up to find Auguste staring at him, his eyebrow cocked. “You saw with your own eyes that night that nothing happened.”

“I saw two princes and all the signs of a recent embrace.”

Laurent refuses to let himself flush over the memory. He chooses to ignore Auguste instead.

“Why is he visiting?”

“He has been invited to your coming of age ceremony and celebrations.”

Laurent frowns and says, “That is two months from now.”

“I did not say he was visiting immediately. I thought you would appreciate the anticipation.”

He smiles at Laurent in the way that brothers do when they know they have have crawled under the skin of the other. Laurent very much wishes to strike him with the book in his hands. Instead, he marks his page, closes the tome, and stands.

“Then you shall appreciate the anticipation for when I seek revenge for this,” Laurent tells him.

A smile breaks out across Auguste’s face as though he does indeed look forward to it. Laurent leaves with a barely contained huff.

*

Prince Damianos arrives with the usual fanfare. Laurent isn’t there to welcome him into Vere, but he keeps an ear to the ground to track his comings and goings.

The first time he sees him again is when passing in one of the many hallways of the court. Damianos is flanked by advisors and countrymen alike. Laurent allows himself a quick look before pointedly staring ahead. He feels a heavy gaze on him, knowing it’s from Damianos, but he doesn’t reciprocate. Damianos seems too busy to halt his men to stop and talk anyway and Laurent lets him pass without a backward glance.

He doesn’t need another look to know how weathered Damianos appears. The weight of Akielos has rested heavily upon him over the past months, the lines of his face more prominent, his cheeks just a little sharper, as though not even the feasts of royalty could keep mass on him. But he still looks fierce, his thighs and shoulders still strong and Laurent remembers in a rush how much he wants them under him or over him—whichever Damianos will give him.

But by the time the thought enters his mind, he’s already around the corner, away from the prince. Without anyone around to see, Laurent allows himself a moment to collect himself, leaning against the cool stone wall for only a second before straightening again. He sets off once more, refusing to let his mind hold him captive, and needing a few minutes alone.

*

 

The summer sun is unforgiving. For almost the entire month leading up to Laurent’s coming of age, it has been unseasonably hot—more similar to an Akielon summer than a Veretian one. The air is heavy within the walls of the palace and Laurent’s room, which is usually cool and dark, is now humid, the air far too close to be comfortable. He cannot sit and read, he cannot even sit and think. He goes to bed perspiring and wakes up the same way.

On the morning of his twenty-first year, he stays in bed and stares at the ceiling, listening to light footsteps in the courtyard beyond his window, watching the silk curtains around his bed flutter in the faint breeze. But it’s not cooling in the slightest. It’s a warm wind already and he feels as though he cannot breathe.

His personal servant comes in only a few minutes later, his eyes averted to the floor, away from Laurent’s nearly-bare body.

“The crown prince wishes to see you,” he tells Laurent, who barely lifts his head to hear.

“Which crown prince?” he asks lazily. “We have more than one in the palace now.”

The servant flushes a deep red, mortified.

“Your brother, your majesty,” he explains. “Prince Auguste.”

Laurent sighs heavily and raises a hand to wave it at him.

“Tell him I will be there soon.”

Laurent has no plan to move quickly. He will not be rushed, but the servant dips his head and leaves the room without another word, leaving Laurent to himself. He yawns, stretches his arms over his head into the pillows, and lets his eyes drift shut. He will doze until the stuffy air becomes intolerable enough to force him out, but not a moment sooner.

*

It is almost noon by the time he finds Auguste in his own rooms down the hallway. He doesn’t seem surprised by Laurent’s belated entrance, though. They’ve grown up together and Laurent shouldn’t expect anything less from him.

“You finally rise,” Auguste says, holding up a neatly wrapped item. “For you.”

It takes only a moment for Laurent to open it, and inside is a book Laurent has been searching for for months. On the inside cover is a perfunctory message from Auguste with a neat signing of his name below. Laurent presses his palm to the front and savours it.

“Thank you,” he tells Auguste, who offers him a genuine smile—though Laurent doesn’t know when it’s anything less than that.

Auguste draws him into an embrace and kisses the side of his head.

“The horses are being readied for us,” Auguste tells him. “We should go to the stables.”

“It is too hot to ride,” Laurent argues, but Auguste still presses a hand between his shoulders and nudges him towards the door.

“Not if we go to Lake Quies.”

Auguste is right, as is usual with him. Lake Quies is between Arles and Chastillon and is a place they used to visit often in the summers when Laurent was just a boy. It has the shade of trees and a mildly sloping bank into cool, deep water, spanning perhaps half a mile in each direction. Goosebumps break out across Laurent’s skin at the thought alone and he gives in to Auguste’s insistence, letting him lead him outside.

Their horses are already tacked up, already pawing at the ground impatiently, ready to ride. There are satchels tucked behind the saddles that appear to be filled with food for their lunch—more than two people could possibly consume—and flasks of water. Auguste has clearly thought everything through.

It takes little effort for Laurent to swing himself onto his mare, feet finding the stirrups as his hands gather up the reins. She snorts, but holds steady, and he turns her around quickly to face Auguste’s own horse to watch him slip into the seat. What he finds is Auguste sitting upon his mount, face smooth but eyes dancing with delight as a third horse joins them. Atop the third horse—a handsome but fiery thoroughbred gelding—is none other than Damianos.

He offers a smile to Laurent, who turns his cold glare to his brother.

“The crown prince should join us,” Auguste says evenly. “We all wish to escape the heat.”

“I am used to it,” Damianos tells them. “But I have never visited Lake Quies. It is said to be beautiful.”

The worst part, Laurent thinks, is that Damianos says it while never once taking his eyes off of Laurent.

“Let us go,” Laurent says, turning his mare and giving her a sharp jab in the sides to move her forward. “The sooner we go, the sooner we will be back.”

*

The lake is perfection, even despite Damianos’ presence. It’s not that Laurent doesn’t want him there, it’s just not the circumstances under which he wanted them to be reunited. Nudity may not be an issue in Vere, but he cannot help but feel as though he’s dropping every inch of his guard with each layer of clothing he peels off. His brother is less hesitant and strips with ease before launching into the water.

Auguste laughs, tells them to hurry, and then disappears underwater.

“I’m sorry,” Damianos says quickly, the first chance they’ve had to talk alone. “I did not wish to intrude.”

He’s shirtless and his pants are open and there’s no moisture left in Laurent’s mouth.

“No matter,” Laurent says, tongue sticking. “It is done.”

Damianos appears to want to press the issue, but Auguste resurfaces, splashing loudly, and he looks away hurriedly.

Laurent tugs his pants off and his underclothes, and slowly makes his way to the edge of the water. It’s cool upon his toes, but it is a blessed sensation. He cannot remember the last time he was cold. He wades in quickly, losing his breath as it passes his groin and again when the waterline hits his chest. When it is up to his shoulders, he carefully plugs his nose and dips down, letting his head sink beneath the surface.

It is silent under the water and it cools his heated face and delicate skin. He will have to be careful not to burn. When he comes up for a breath, pushing his hair away from his face, he finds Damianos has joined them, already up to his waist in the water, his nipples peaked from the chill. Laurent glances away.

“It was a good idea of mine, was it not?” Auguste teases, swimming closer to him. Laurent can see the gleam in his eyes.

“Whatever you’re planning, stop,” Laurent orders, and Auguste only grins.

Laurent kicks out when a hand grabs his waist and it offers him enough time to wade closer to the shore where he finds a better footing, the water staying at his hips. Auguste follows with a laugh, his hands strong as they reach for Laurent again.

They grapple together, skin slippery from the water, purchase not easily found, but Auguste manages to send Laurent off balance with a smarting kick to the ankle. Laurent counters with a jab of his fist to Auguste’s ribs and Auguste lets out a rush of breath.

“Not bad,” he says, voice sickly sweet with condescension and Laurent doesn’t appreciate it in the slightest.

Auguste knows he is easily wound up and knows he will be more likely to make a mistake if he is angry. Laurent lets him believe it and makes a few rash attacks while Auguste gets his grip on Laurent’s waist. Laurent knows Auguste plans to upend him into the water, but before he can, he feigns out of the grip, gets a hand on Auguste’s thigh, and tugs sharply.

It’s just enough to swing him backwards and put him on his back in the shallows. Laurent cooly watches him choke on water—mostly from Auguste continuing to laugh.

Yield,” he orders and Auguste sneezes abruptly, his hair hanging lank around his shoulders, strands sticking to his face wetly.

“The practice has done you good,” Auguste tells him, before reaching out and patting Laurent soundly on the thigh. “I yield.”

Laurent lets him go and steps back, his chest heaving with breath, even as Auguste continues to laugh, still amused by the tousle. For just a second, he sees his brother’s eyes glance sideways in the direction of Damianos, but Laurent doesn’t allow himself to look. He knows what Auguste has done. He lowers his voice.

“Stop meddling in affairs you do not understand,” he hisses and Auguste’s mouth twitches.

“Then you agree that it is an affair?”

Laurent reaches out and pushes Auguste’s head underwater once more, ignoring his spluttering as he wades towards the shore.

“Do not be like that, brother,” Auguste calls out and Laurent shoots a glance over his shoulder.

“I am hungry,” he explains, collecting his shirt from the ground and tugging it on. It’s long enough to fall to his thighs and keep him covered, so he doesn’t bother with anything else. Instead, he heads for the grazing horses and collects their packs before using his pants as a cushion to sit upon, remaining carefully nestled in the shade of a few overhanging branches.

There are breads and cheeses inside the pack and he eats without finesse. When he glances towards the lake, Damianos is watching him, his body hidden beneath the water, revealing only his chin up. Laurent holds his gaze to be contrary and Damianos blinks and looks away. Laurent isn’t sorry in the slightest.

He stares out instead at the trees around them, listening idly to the splashing of his brother and the crown prince. He doesn’t realise anything is amiss until the noise fades and he’s left with the quiet sound of someone wading towards the shore. Looking at the lake once more, he finds his brother swimming strongly across the width of it, entirely out of range of speaking or even yelling. However, Damianos is closer, his body gleaming as it emerges from the water, walking towards where Laurent sits.

“Where is he going?” Laurent asks, speaking of his brother and Damianos tips his head.

“I bet him a gold coin that he could not reach the other side of the lake and return within two minutes.”

Laurent’s stomach flips. It is a smart move if Damianos is looking for privacy.

“He is easy to entice with bets.” Laurent states, eyes avoiding the space between Damianos’ thighs as he moves towards his clothes, pulling his chiton haphazardly around his waist to preserve his modesty—if he even has any.

He takes a seat beside Laurent and stares openly at him.

“I wanted a moment alone with you.”

Laurent swallows, but holds his gaze until his eyes begin to water from the sun, and then he blinks and looks away, out across the water, where he can see Auguste’s form retreating still.

“You said you would not regret what happened between us,” Damianos continues, and Laurent feels his cheeks heat at the memory.

“I don’t,” Laurent tells him, and it’s true—more than he’s willing to admit aloud.

“Then why are you avoiding me? Why are you acting as though you despise me?”

“This is not the time nor place for it,” Laurent argues and Damianos’ gaze shifts to where Auguste has reached the other side of the lake and is turning to come back.

“You believe Auguste would not agree with it?”

“No,” Laurent replies. “I think he is a brother who would take endless amusement in watching me squirm in discomfort while he teases me about it.”

“He would mean harm by it?”

No,” Laurent repeats. “But the torment would be endless. It already is.”

The laughing, Laurent does not expect, and he glances over in surprise. Damianos’ face is soft with amusement, his full lips pulled tight as he smiles.

“He loves you,” Damianos says as the splashing from Auguste gets closer.

“He is an ass,” Laurent counters, “and you will owe him a gold coin.”

“That is lucky then,” Damianos says, “for he owes me one in return.”

Laurent narrows his eyes and says, “Why is that?”

“This morning, he offered me a gold coin to appear on my horse by the stables just after noon.”

Something dangerous fizzles inside of Laurent.

“You did not know his plan either?” he asks and Damianos confirms it with a tip of his head.

Laurent shifts his gaze to Auguste, who has reached the shallows beside him, his face reddened from the exercise, his eyes bright.

“Excuse me,” Laurent says, pushing himself to his feet and moving towards the lake. “I have a brother to drown.”

*

Auguste survives the afternoon, though only because Damianos intervenes after Auguste begins struggling in earnest. It’s a quiet ride back to the palace when the sun begins sinking lower in the sky, and Laurent can feel the sting of a sunburn forming beneath his shirt. He will peel in the next few weeks and he does not look forward to it.

Dinner is exhausting as he accepts well wishing after well wishing for his coming of age, and he escapes as soon as possible, making his way upstairs to his rooms. He sighs in relief as he closes the door behind him, but he wishes his breath were not as warm as the air around him.

He unlaces his jacket, unwilling to wait for his servant later, and drops it to the floor. He’s beginning to work on his shirt when he spots the parcel on the foot of his bed and pauses. Its placement is precise, meaning to get his attention. It is another gift for him, and for a moment he thinks it is from his brother again, but when he steps closer, he finds it’s wrapped with a soft cloth most commonly used in Akielos.

Laurent runs his fingers across the width of it, trying to brush away the anticipation that’s forming. If it is from Damianos as he suspects, he wants to know what the prince could possibly deem fit to give him.

He unwraps it carefully, in case it is fragile, but it seems to be in vain, as there is only more soft cloth inside. But it is finer than the wrapping, and he finds it is a delicate silk that is smooth and flawless against his fingers. Pinned to the front is a note in gently looping handwriting that he recognises as Damianos’ own.

Dearest Laurent.

His stomach swoops. He rubs his thumb across the words, wishing to forever memorise how they appear, before carefully setting the note aside, not wanting to lose it.

With his thoughts racing, he pulls the gift free, though it doesn’t register until he holds it up in the light that it is a garment to be worn. It is not a shirt as Laurent would have first expected from the cut and shortness of it, instead, it is a chiton.

It is much the same as the ones Damianos wears himself, but this one is pale blue in colour, almost matching that of Laurent’s eyes. He will never wear it in public, in all honesty, but the thought that he has it, that Damianos has gifted it to him, makes it worthy of keeping. And who is to say that he will not wear it at all. Perhaps maybe one day Damianos may see him in it himself.

He rubs the silk against his cheek, enjoying the cool smoothness of it, and feels an insistent throb between his legs. He knows the meaning behind Damianos’ gift and he wonders what the prince is doing that very moment.

He hopes he is thinking of Laurent, because Laurent is certainly thinking of him, and will continue to when dealing with the urges from his body. He is not ashamed the way he once was.

*

The celebration of Laurent’s coming of age arrives with the birth of a new moon. It sits high in the sky and Laurent gazes upon it from a balcony away from the attendees, the taste of wine on his lips, the alcohol buzzing through his veins. He does not feel old enough to run a kingdom should the unthinkable happen. Yet he wears the coronet placed upon him by his father at the crowning ceremony and it makes his head feel heavier upon his shoulders.

With a final breath of the night air, Laurent turns away, heading back into the throng of festivities, where there’s laughing and gossiping and dancing. Laurent has been trying to avoid all three, but he suspects he may eventually be broken. He thinks it may be even sooner than expected when he sees Damianos move towards him with purpose.

It’s too late to turn away, their gazes have already met, and Laurent feels caught by it.

“I thought you had already excused yourself for the night,” Damianos admits when there are a few scant steps between them.

“No,” Laurent says, pointing out the obvious.

A silence falls between them and Laurent notices the looks Damianos keeps stealing, the ones that trace from the tips of Laurent’s boots, trail up his legs, over his chest, before settling on his face once more.

“You look—” Damianos begins, but Laurent already knows.

He lost count of the number of times he visited the court’s tailor for fittings. He knows exactly how long his legs appear in the dark blue material of his pants. He knows how delicate his wrists look, exposed with the shorter cut of his sleeves. He knows how sharp his jaw seems with the high collar of his jacket.

Damianos would have to be blind not to notice and Laurent knows for a fact that he isn’t.

“Let me have this dance,” Damianos says instead, his eyes heavy and insistent.

“The court will talk.”

“They will talk regardless of what we do,” Damianos points out and a smile almost reaches Laurent’s lips.

“Then let us give them something of substance,” Laurent says, offering his hand.

Damianos takes it in his own, but Laurent is the one to lead them to the space in front of the court musicians, slipping in amongst the other guests, blending with the subtly that comes with being royalty—that is to say without any at all. But it’s easy to ignore everything around them when Damianos sets one hand upon his waist. The size of it makes Laurent’s stomach flip, fills him with an anticipation that sends his heart racing.

They begin midway through the song, but Laurent moves through the dance with ease, his body mirroring Damianos’ without hesitation. Damianos himself is surprisingly light footed, though it explains his grace in the training ring. They turn about the floor in tight circles and Damianos’ gaze never strays from his face. Laurent knows this because his own gaze never strays either. He’s pulled in by the calmness in them, the dark intensity that sets his skin alight with goosebumps.

Damianos’ bare shoulder is warm and firm beneath his palm, his muscles shifting as they move. Laurent wants to let his hand wander over the curve of it and down Damianos’ back, but they’ve earned enough stares just from dancing together. He’ll give them something to talk about, but not everything.

“I found your gift,” Laurent says to break the silence and he sees the curve of Damianos’ lips.

“What was your opinion of it?”

“Do you think I should wear it to the next council meeting?”

“I think you would start wars,” Damianos tells him, hand tightening on Laurent’s waist.

“I’m offended that you don’t think I would do that anyway.”

Damianos’ pulls him tighter against his front, letting him feel the thickness of his thighs pressed to his own. Laurent leans into him, tilting his head just enough to put his mouth beside Damianos’ ear.

“I think you would start wars for me if I wore it for you.”

“I think I would do that for you anyway,” Damianos murmurs back, offering up Laurent’s own words.

Laurent draws back enough to meet Damianos’ eyes again and then lets his gaze drop to Damianos’ mouth, making his intentions clear. Damianos wets his lips and Laurent wishes they were anywhere but where they are in the crowd. He wants nothing more than to press Damianos against the nearest surface and kiss him senseless.

“What do you want?” Damianos asks, voice low, away from the prying ears of the court. “Tell me.”

“I thought it was obvious,” Laurent replies. “I have already made it clear that I don’t regret the last time.”

Damianos uses the hold on his waist to pull Laurent to a halt mid-step, ignoring the other dancers that have to quickly change course to avoid knocking into them. Right then, Laurent would send anyone who dared to interrupt them to the gaol under the palace.

“Let me take you away from here.”

“Where did you have in mind?” Laurent teases, thumb smoothing over the ridge of Damianos’ collarbone.

Laurent,” Damianos argues and Laurent enjoys the desperation in the word. He is glad he’s not alone in wanting it so much.

He breaks his gaze away from Damianos long enough to locate his father and brother, who both seem indisposed enough not to even notice them.

“Follow my lead,” Laurent tells him, pulling himself out of Damianos’ hold and casually crossing the room.

He makes idle conversation with a few guests, allowing them to regale him with compliments of the decor and fanciful foods, as he drops hints of a headache to one group and exhaustion to another. They smile sympathetically at him, yet continue talking, even as Laurent quietly slips away unnoticed. The hallway outside is less crowded, which is all the more dangerous. He keeps a hand to his forehead, moving slowly but efficiently as people move out of his way, not wanting to delay a sick prince.

By the time he reaches the upper floors, he has no need to continue the charade as there’s no one around to see. No one except for Damianos, who rounds the corner only a few moments after Laurent, and who stops the moment he sees Laurent leaning against the door to his room.

“That is not the first time you’ve done that,” Damianos says, putting a smirk on Laurent’s lips.

“The first I’ve done it with someone else.”

Damianos comes closer, steps into his space, his gaze never leaving Laurent’s face.

“Is that so?” he asks and Laurent nods, feeling every inch of the height difference between them as he lifts his chin. Damianos brings his hand up to Laurent’s face as though he can’t help himself. “Then we should make this memorable.”

Laurent is certain it will be. But they’re still in the hallway and he has far better ideas.

Without looking, he reaches back and opens the door, sliding backwards effortlessly with Damianos following, not needing to be told. Inside Laurent’s quarters, Damianos lets the door swing shut behind them with a clatter before hooking a hand around Laurent’s waist and reeling him in effortlessly.

His cock twitches with interest just at the thought of Damianos putting that strength to good use. But Damianos doesn’t kiss him as he should, as Laurent wants. Instead, he tucks his nose into the hinge of Laurent’s jaw and breathes slowly. Laurent knows he must still smell of the oils from his bath earlier, a mix of citrus and something sugary, and feels the warmth of Damianos’ breath as he exhales.

“Just as I imagined,” Damianos murmurs quietly as he draws his nose along Laurent’s cheek, heading towards his mouth.

“What else did you imagine?” Laurent asks and Damianos presses his smile to Laurent’s mouth.

It’s a soft, chaste kiss that Laurent deepens the first chance he gets, using a flick of his tongue that earns a soft noise from Damianos. Laurent wants to hear more. He hooks his hand behind Damianos’ head and kisses him deeply, finally getting what he’s been needing for so long. He feels desperate clutching at Damianos as though he’s the only thing he wants. And he wants so much.

Damianos gently breaks the kiss, peppering Laurent’s mouth with shorter ones, his lips plump and wet.

“There's no rush,” Damianos tells him, tucking a strand of Laurent’s hair behind his ear, being so gentle that Laurent wants to yell.

“There's no rush the second time,” Laurent corrects, lips throbbing as he moves in to kiss Damianos again.

Damianos doesn’t try to argue his point, in fact, he gets his hands on Laurent’s waist and lifts him bodily up as though he weighs nothing at all. This time, it’s Laurent’s turn to moan, pushing the noise right into Damianos’ mouth as he curls his legs around Damianos’ hips and keeps himself upright.

The kiss breaks when Damianos hoists him into a better position, hands huge and spread wide across Laurent’s ass. Laurent adjusts his legs to give himself enough purchase to grind against Damianos’ front and he feels the growing interest against his own hardness. He mouths at Damianos’ throat, teeth nipping enough to knowingly leave marks. Damianos doesn’t ask him to stop, so he doesn’t.

They jostle together for a moment and Laurent, upon opening his eyes, belatedly realises that Damianos has walked the few steps it takes to get to Laurent’s bed chamber. His bed is only a few metres away, but it’s never seemed so far before.

Laurent squeezes his legs around Damianos and says, “Take me there.”

“I’m not your horse,” Damianos replies, but moves nonetheless, nudging aside the thin silks around the bed with one hand as he leans down to deposit Laurent onto the mattress.

Laurent unwinds his limbs from around Damianos’ body and starts working at the laces of his own jacket, while Damianos tugs Laurent’s boots off. Laurent strips out of his shirt next, feeling bare compared to Damianos, who’s still in his chiton, though he’s removed his sandals, leaving only criss-cross marks up his calves in their stead.

Damianos pauses and stares openly at Laurent, his gaze dragging slowly down Laurent’s bared body.

“You look—” he says and Laurent can’t help but smile.

“You’ve said that once tonight already.”

“Only because it’s true,” Damianos replies, putting one knee on the edge of the mattress to get closer.

His hands reach out towards the laces of Laurent’s pants, but Laurent feels no hesitation, only want.

“Unfasten them,” he orders Damianos, who seems to have no qualms about following orders—something that Laurent will need to note for any future meetings between them.

His fingers are quick and efficient as they pull the laces free, and in no time, he’s tugging Laurent’s pants down over his hips, down his thighs, revealing that Laurent had not had enough space in them to wear undergarments. He sees the look in Damianos’ eyes, like he’s contemplating the idea that perhaps it was Laurent’s plan all along. It hadn’t been, but he won’t dash his hopes just yet.

Damianos pulls them off the rest of the way and lets them drop to the floor, before he sits back and takes in the view with admiration clear on his face. He runs a hand up the inside of Laurent’s leg, looking fascinated.

“So fair,” he mumbles under his breath and Laurent lets his knee drop to one side, opening his legs and letting Damianos look his fill.

“Enough for you?” he asks and Damianos swallows.

“And more.”

Laurent sits up, enjoying Damianos’ attentive gaze, before he slides his hand up Damianos’ arm, across to his shoulder where the brooch holding his chiton together rests. He grazes his fingers across it, watching for the minute nod of Damianos’ head to give him permission. He tugs it free and drops it over the edge of the bed, watching in fascination as the cloth around Damianos’ body slowly unwinds itself, pooling around his hips.

Laurent lets his gaze trail over the shadows of Damianos’ muscles, the low light of the candles in the room making them appear softer. He reaches out with one hand, dragging it along Damianos’ stomach to feel the the warmth of his skin, and Damianos’ breathing turns shallow.

“Enough for you?” Damianos mimics..

Laurent shakes his head and says, “No.”

He hooks his fingertips into the material around Damianos’ waist and tugs. Damianos doesn’t fight it and Laurent leaves it to drape over the end of the bed as he takes in his fill of Damianos’ appearance, staring at the fullness of his cock and the thick hair around it. He’s the perfect size and Laurent gets a hand on his hip and pulls Damianos down as he reclines back, letting himself be caged in by Damianos’ larger body.

Damianos kisses him then, his mouth, his jaw, the hollow of his throat, moving down his chest to lick at his nipples. Laurent never knew they could be so sensitive, but they’re already peaked from the cooler air of his room, and Damianos’ lips are insistent. Laurent arches against him, rubbing his interest into the dip of Damianos’ hip.

“Damianos,” Laurent murmurs, and Damianos lifts his head, staring at Laurent with dark eyes.

He takes a moment as though thinking, before saying, “Roll onto your stomach for me.”

Laurent hesitates for only a second, but Damianos notices and adds, “I do not plan to take you yet; I only wish to use my mouth on you.”

Unable to stop them, Laurent’s eyes widen in surprise.

“You need not if you are uncomfortable,” Damianos adds. “I only thought—”

Laurent doesn’t know what Damianos thought, but he isn’t going to deny him the chance to put his mouth wherever he wants. He pushes at Damianos’ chest with one palm, but Damianos looks disappointed, apparently thinking that Laurent wishes to deny him. He doesn’t see the shift in Damianos’ expression, but he hears the noise that escapes him, soft and genuine, when Laurent turns over, bearing his back to him.

Laurent props his head up upon folded arms and after a long pause, he feels Damianos’ hand graze his side as though enraptured by the sight, tentatively touching him.

“Is this what you wanted?” Laurent asks and he hears the shaky breath Damianos draws in.

“You are more than I bargained for,” he tells Laurent, who glances over his shoulder to meet his gaze. “You are perfect.”

Laurent sets his face back into the crook of his elbow, hiding the flush he feels spreading across his face, and Damianos leans over to press a kiss to his shoulder. Laurent expects him to be tentative with his wants, expects him to ask permission for every move he makes, but instead, Damianos’ hands are strong and steady when they slide up the backs of his thighs and squeeze his ass firmly.

Laurent grinds into the mattress, chasing the pleasure, and Damianos’ thumbs hook between his cheeks, revealing where he’s hot and tight. Laurent bites his tongue, holding in the noises he wants to make, his face flushing even hotter.

“Laurent,” Damianos whispers quietly, sounding entranced.

Laurent hitches his hips just enough that he knows Damianos will notice it against his hands, and the next thing Laurent feels is his hot breath in a place that no man has ever touched before.

Laurent almost bucks off the bed at the touch, letting out a gasping breath, his hands clenching at the sheets below.

Damen,” he hisses, the nickname slipping out before he can stop it.

Damianos lets out an answering moan and his tongue flicks against Laurent, drawing the air out of his lungs. The only thing Laurent can think to do is spread his legs, giving Damianos more space, his mouth moving wet and insistent against him. Laurent clenches his eyes shut and tries to remember how to breathe.

Never in his wildest dreams did he think he would ever have Damianos perform such an act on him. And Damianos even seems to enjoy it, if the noises he’s making are anything to go by, his grip unrelenting as he licks into Laurent until he feels half mad from it. There’s saliva dripping down between his legs, but he doesn’t have the strength to find it disgusting. He’s too busy concentrating on the hand Damianos gets on his hip, pulling with enough might that Laurent’s waist lifts off the bed and he finds himself automatically tucking his knees under himself, which seems to be Damianos’ plan all along because he makes a contented sound.

Laurent feels far more vulnerable with his ass in the air, but he stops caring the moment Damianos curls his hand further around his hip and grips his cock firmly. Laurent draws in a sharp breath and attempts to arch away.

“I should warn you,” Laurent grits out, his ability to sound calm long gone, “that I will not last with you doing that.”

Damianos draws his mouth away and breathlessly says, “That is the point.”

Laurent makes the mistake of looking over his shoulder, because instead of being able to glare at him, he’s only able to gawp at how red Damianos’ mouth is, how wet his chin is, how he’s never seen him look happier or more content.

“You are a menace,” Laurent tells him and Damianos smiles.

“Then we are a good match,” he says before dipping back down to finish what he’s started.

Laurent grips the pillows, his thighs trembling as he tries to hold himself up. If the swelling feeling sitting low in his stomach is anything to go by, he’s fairly close to release. He has heard of the stamina of the men of Akielos, and he suspects he will do Damianos a great dissatisfaction by coming so soon.

But as he nears his breaking point, as his toes being to curl, and he’s about to call out Damianos’ name, everything stops. There’s no longer a tongue playing with him and no hand wrapped around his cock. He’s left bare and shaking and gasping for breath.

Damianos smooths a hand along his back, a gesture that would be comforting in any other situation, but Laurent is on edge now, ready to snap.

“The only touch you should be giving right now,” Laurent hisses with venom in his voice, “is that which you were doing before you stopped.”

He hears Damianos’ quiet huff of amusement and can’t help but throw a glare over his shoulder at him. Damianos looks soft around the edges.

“Patience,” he tells Laurent. “Where are your oils?”

That piques Laurent’s interest.

“By the window,” he answers with a tilt of his head, and he misses Damianos’ warmth for the long moment it takes for him to slip out of bed, collect one of the phials, and move into position behind him once more.

“If you tease,” Laurent threatens, “I will have your fingers removed. One by one.”

“Of course,” Damianos answers as though it is a reasonable request, and a warmth fills Laurent’s chest.

Although Laurent’s not entirely sure if it’s due to the threat or just his preference, Damianos opens him with perfunctory movements, letting Laurent ease around one finger, only to add another. It’s perfect for what Laurent needs not to immediately come from the touch, but he’s still shaking by the end, his cock leaking and straining for attention.

Laurent has put his own fingers inside himself before, but it’s nothing compared to how Damianos’ own feel, but they leave him with the same wet, open sensation when they slip free. For a moment, Damianos seems to inspect his handiwork, ensuring Laurent is truly ready using gentle pressure from his thumbs.

“Would you prefer it on your back?” Damianos asks, slick fingers trailing along Laurent’s thigh as though he just can’t stop himself.

“No,” Laurent tells him and he feels Damianos pause behind him.

“Like this?” he asks instead and Laurent shakes his head.

“No.”

He hopes Damianos isn’t truly an unimaginative as his silence suggests, as there are more than two positions from which to take pleasure, this Laurent knows, has seen before.

Finding the strength, Laurent pushes himself up and turns to face Damianos, kneeling in front of him and almost losing his breath at the sight. Despite receiving no touches from him, Damianos looks as interested as Laurent feels, his cock hard and the tip blushing and wet from where it has slipped free from his foreskin. Laurent can think of no better place for it to be than inside him.

“On your back,” he tells Damianos who seems to have a revelation at the idea.

In fact, it seems to turn all his bones to liquid, as he flops back right where he is, his head almost slipping off the end of the mattress.

“Are you always so eager to obey?” Laurent asks. “You would make a very fine pet.”

“I am far too difficult to be a pet,” Damianos tells him and Laurent makes a thoughtful noise as he moves to straddle Damianos’ thick thighs.

“Far too big, too. You would scare all the other pets in Vere.” Laurent leans down slowly, pressing a kiss to the corner of Damianos’ mouth before adding, “And I do loathe sharing my belongings.”

“Then it is good you have me all for yourself,” Damianos tells him and Laurent has to kiss his mouth to keep either of them from saying anything more.

His heart feels too big for his chest.

He enjoys the act of kissing Damianos. He likes the feeling of his prickly, unshaven face against his own, and he likes the way Damianos throws himself into it, giving Laurent a little piece of himself with every meeting of their mouths.

He’s briefly distracting by the feeling of Damianos’ hand between them, but when he breaks the kiss and glances down, he finds Damianos slicking himself with more oil and all is forgiven.

Laurent sits up then, watching Damianos’ face as he reaches for his cock. The noise he makes when Laurent strokes him is one to be remembered later, and Laurent moves further up his hips, searching for the right angle to take him. He finds it easier with his other hand pressed to the middle of Damianos’ chest, propping himself up as he guides the fat head of Damianos’ cock to where he’s oiled and ready.

“This is all yours,” Laurent tells him before slowly beginning to sink down, and Damianos’ face crumples with pleasure and it is a beautiful sight that Laurent knows he will never tire of.

Damianos’ hands find his hips, but he never attempts to shove Laurent down, only clings to him as though afraid to let go for fear of losing him. Laurent has no plans to be anywhere except there with Damianos for as long as he can reasonably keep him in his bed—hopefully for the next day or two at least.

He takes Damianos slowly, allowing himself to stretch around him, but mostly letting Damianos feel every devastating centimetre slip inside. He moves his hands to Damianos’ shoulders, keeping him pinned to the bed with nowhere to go and nothing to do but to accept what Laurent gives.

Damianos’ jaw clenches and Laurent presses his smiling mouth to it.

“I should have had you long ago,” Laurent murmurs into his ear while he’s there, and Damianos’ fingers dig into his soft skin.

“You could have had me any time you wished,” Damianos tells him and Laurent takes the last of his cock into him and perches delicately on his hips.

“I would have been very young,” Laurent explains. “Perhaps too young for your tastes.”

Damianos stares at him openly.

“How long?” he asks and Laurent tilts his head thoughtfully.

“When did we first meet?”

Damianos’ eyes flutter shut and Laurent pauses, not moving, not speaking. When he opens them again, they are ablaze with passion and Laurent swallows, feeling overwhelmed.

“I have you now,” Damianos says, not a question, but Laurent still nods.

“As I have you now.”

Laurent moves then, drawing himself up and sliding back down in a tentative rhythm that quickly has Damianos breathing heavily. It’s a slow start as Laurent finds a comfortable angle to keep Damianos inside him, but he picks up the pace as he becomes accustomed to the feeling, and he finds himself panting from the exertion.

Laurent tips his head back and shuts his eyes, losing himself to the knowledge that he is the one making Damianos clutch at him, he’s the one drawing moans from Damianos as though made for it. It’s a power he’s never experienced before, but he knows it’s one he will quickly become addicted to.

He rolls his hips and grinds down onto Damianos’ cock with every trick he can possibly imagine, not only for his own benefit, but because he wants to see Damianos wild with pleasure. He thinks it will be a sight to behold.

At the thought of it, he glances back down at Damianos, who’s already watching him, and he takes himself in hand, lazily tugging at his cock, giving Damianos something to stare at. He’s already so close; he can feel it in his hips.

“What do you want?” Laurent asks softly and Damianos looks half-destroyed.

“You,” Damianos says with a strained voice. “Always.”

His hands are almost bruising on Laurent’s waist, but Laurent doesn’t care. He will take the bruises of passion and wear them proudly; he will keep them as a reminder of what they have shared.

He quickens his pace, speeding up his fist and his hips until everything he feels revolves around Damianos and it’s too much to take.

Damianos,” he exhales before he comes, dripping seed across Damianos’ chest as an artist might with paint across a canvas. It is beautiful and it is perfect and he feels lighter than air.

His rhythm begins to falter after, his body sagging with exhaustion, limbs sore and aching, but Damianos uses his strength to move him, to keep him rocking in his lap until Laurent is almost certain he can’t take another moment. But as he watches, Damianos bows to his own pleasure, his eyes never leaving Laurent’s face even as he tips his head back and shouts to the ceiling.

Any guards patrolling the area will certainly know who occupies Laurents rooms, but Laurent could not care in the slightest. He feels Damianos’ cock twitching inside him, where he knows he’s spilling into him and marking him as his own. One day, Laurent will do the same for Damianos and he will savour the moment.

Damianos moves him only a few thrusts more before letting him collapse against his chest in a boneless sprawl. Laurent tucks his face into Damianos’ throat and breathes heavily as he drops effortless kisses to his skin. He never wants to get up ever again. He wants to stay pressed to Damianos for the rest of his days.

Damianos smooths his hands up and down Laurent’s back for a long moment, before seeming to be unable to keep his palms away from his ass, his fingers nudging curiously at where they’re still joined. Laurent doesn’t know why he’d be interested. It’s a soft, wet place now, with nothing for Damianos to enjoy.

“Bear down,” Damianos murmurs and Laurent hesitates long enough to wonder why, before exhaustion wins out and he obeys Damianos’ instruction, if only because he’s never lead Laurent astray before.

As he does so, Damianos gently pulls out, leaving Laurent to wince and feel open and uncomfortable. There’s a rush of warmth that follows, which he suspects is Damianos’ release, and then two thick fingers fit back inside him. He thinks he should be too sore to even allow it, but it’s surprisingly comfortable and gives him something to tighten around.

Damianos kisses the side of his head and Laurent shuts his eyes and sighs in contentment.

“You are perfect,” Damianos tells him softly and Laurent tucks his face into Damianos’ throat.

“Stay,” Laurent tells him, voice muffled by skin.

“You would have a difficult time trying to make me move regardless.”

Laurent doesn’t try to correct him that he didn’t just mean for the night. He knows he can’t keep Damianos in Vere, but it won’t stop him from trying.

“Rest,” Damianos says, despite Laurent being halfway there already. “You’ll need your strength.”

Laurent lifts his head enough to stare down at Damianos.

“For what?” he asks and there’s a brightness in Damianos’ eyes that makes him want to smile.

“There’s no rush the second time, you said.”

Laurent laughs then, his body shaking against Damianos’ own, and Damianos kisses him.

Laurent never wants it to end.

*

The first time Laurent wakes, he's on his stomach with one of Damianos’ arms slung heavy and low across his back. The second time he wakes, Damianos is sprawled out, his bicep under Laurent's head. It's warm and comfortable and it's not light enough outside for Laurent to even dream of getting up.

The third time he wakes, it's to the sound of someone at his door. It can't be his personal servant, for he would have let himself in, so Laurent finds himself slipping out of bed and finding a robe to pull on to cover himself. Damianos doesn't even stir.

He shuts the door to his bedroom behind him to keep prying eyes away and steps through his quarters to the outer door. When he pulls it open, Auguste stands on the other side, bright eyed and clearly in a good mood. Laurent is immediately suspicious.

“The servants are in a flurry,” Auguste says, “for they cannot find Prince Damen. Apparently, he left the festivities just after you last night. Perhaps you know where he is?”

Laurent eyes him coolly.

“You know where he is, brother.”

Auguste grins and says, “That I do. But it's always better to hear it from the source.”

He tries to peer around Laurent, who takes pleasure in knowing he won't see anything.

“Shall I tell them to expect his presence soon?” August asks and Laurent stands his ground.

“No,” he replies. “I'm afraid he's going to be indisposed for most of the day.”

Auguste's smile, if at all possible, seems to grow wider.

“I am happy for you, Laurent,” he says. “You could do a lot worse than a man like Damen.”

“Go away,” Laurent orders and Auguste laughs.

“Send my regards to the man of the hour.”

Laurent replies by shutting the door in Auguste's face. He hears his laughter continue outside as he leaves, the sound slowly fading into silence. Laurent presses his forehead to the wood and lets out a quiet breath.

When he turns around, he finds Damianos lingering in the doorway to the bedroom.

“Your brother?” he asks and Laurent leans against the nearest wall and nods.

“It seems you caused quite a stir with your disappearing act.”

“I suppose you can be thanked for that.”

Laurent smiles slowly and says, “It was my pleasure.”

Damianos reacts with a grin of his own and then ducks his head as though the thought of Laurent’s pleasure is too much for him. Laurent is unfathomably endeared by it.

He moves towards him, taking in the length of his body and how unashamed he is at his own nudity. Laurent wants to take him back to bed.

“There’s no rush for us,” Laurent tells him. “They know where you are now.”

“The whole kingdom will know.”

“Gossip does spread like wildfire,” Laurent agrees and Damianos nods.

“And when I extend my stay here. They will all know then.”

Laurent blinks up at him. “Extend your stay?”

Damianos brings a hand up to Laurent’s face, his thumb rubbing soothingly.

“Unless you oppose the idea.”

Laurent curls his fingers into Damianos’ hair and pulls him down to his mouth. He doesn’t oppose the idea in the slightest.

*

When Laurent is twenty-six, he goes to Akielos. The people welcome him graciously, though none more so than Damen himself. As soon as Laurent dismounts from his horse, Damen is there with an arm around his waist, a hand on his neck, and his mouth against Laurent’s own.

“You have missed me,” Laurent says once Damen frees him from his grip, barely able to keep a smile off his face.

“It is a long ride,” Damen tells him. “I have been lonely.”

“That is what Auguste told me when I arrived.”

“You may visit him more often if you wish,” Damen says seriously. “I do not want to keep you on a short leash.”

Laurent grins slowly and steps closer.

“How else will you control your husband?”

Damen steals a quick grope of Laurent’s ass and leans down to his ear.

“I have my ways,” he says, and Laurent pulls him in for another kiss, his hand on Damen’s face, and the gold band on his finger shining gently in the sun.

“That you do,” Laurent agrees.