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"Tonight," Laurent hissed, his lips only a hair's breadth away from Damen's ear as they walked down a palace corridor on the way to a council meeting. "It happens tonight."

 

Warmth bloomed in Damen's chest. He had been waiting to hear those words for weeks now. Almost a month ago he had made the suggestion to Laurent, told him that he desired something he had never desired before Laurent but that now he could not stop himself from craving.

 

Laurent's face had blanched when Damen had told him, all those weeks ago, and Damen had feared that he had pushed too far, asked for too much too fast.

 

And so Damen had told Laurent as much, but Laurent, the proud distance already returning to his eyes, had shook his head, golden hair catching the late sunlight in a way that he knew Damen was eternally weak for, and refused.

 

"No," Laurent had said, and his words were as sharp as icicles. "I can do it. I'll...give me some time. I'll tell you when."

 

And Damen, suffused with fondness for this cold, brilliant, brave man, had thrown his arms around Laurent, crushing his lover to himself until Laurent lost all semblance of dignity and was kissing him, red-faced and joyous.

 

This is the night , Damen thought to himself as he stood alone in the royal baths, earlier than was his wont. He had dismissed the servants, leaving only a guard at the door. It had been easy to slip out of the meeting that Laurent was running perfectly well on his own anyway.

He removed his chiton, letting the fabric pool on the marble side of the baths, and dropped his sword on top of it. The water was hot and lightly perfumed with some fragrance imported from Vere. The delicately floral-scented baths at Arles had been one of the few things Laurent had missed from his former home, and despite his associations with the Veretian baths, Damen had had the perfumes brought to Ios.

 

The first few times they had bathed together in stilted silence, the baths cleared of servants and each attending to his own needs without a glance at the other. The first time Laurent had waded closer to him, the softly rippling water announcing his approach, Damen had frozen at the first hesitant touch of Laurent's hand to his shoulder.

 

Laurent had retreated, and neither of them had spoken as they finished their baths, but the next night, Laurent had tried again, and Damen had ducked a little to let Laurent wash his hair, and something previously taught had eased slightly between them.

 

Not erased, but overwritten, Damen thought. The baths at Ios, scented with Veretian perfumes, took on a new association in his mind, and perhaps that was another plot of Laurent's. It was the kind of thing he would do, Damen knew. Trying to make amends in a way that was deeper than words, in a way that would last longer than the breath it would take to speak the words. Trying to make amends in a way that would last as long as the memory of Damen’s scars.

 

He shook his head. This was how Laurent operated, and Damen loved him for it. He didn't want words, at least not words alone. He knew Laurent viewed it differently than he did, what had passed between them in the Veretian baths. Damen saw a path for healing the scars that were between them. Laurent, he knew, still carried the guilt and remorse that Damen wished he had long since laid down.

 

That was part of the reason he had come down here alone, while Laurent was still occupied with council meetings. He suspected that Laurent would seek him out, would want to help with this, and Damen desired a few moments alone with his thoughts.

 

Damen wanted this time to be entirely his own, to let himself contemplate what they were about to do in quiet and in silence.

 

He picked up the soap and began to wash.

 

It would be one of the hardest things they had ever undertaken. Damen had no illusions about this. They had done nothing like it before. Damen had waited almost a year after they had retaken their thrones to even ask for it; this was not something to ask for in times of war and stress. The border with Vask was quiet; the territory that they had conquered together around Marlas and Fontaine was peaceful. Walls of forts destroyed in their joint conquest had been rebuilt; walls along the former border between Akielos and Vere had been taken down, stone by stone.

 

There had been peace for most of a year, and Damen was beginning to feel as if a long-held breath was finally being released. Each passing day that war didn't break out was proof that they could rule together, that Akielos and Vere could be reunited into one kingdom.

 

They were comfortable, and Damen had finally had space to think about what he wanted.

 

He had never thought much about sex, before Laurent, before Kastor’s betrayal. As crown prince, Damianos had had whoever he wanted whenever he wanted them. Whoever he desired was brought to him already prepared. He fucked them and forgot about them almost as soon as he was done.

 

Laurent was different. Sex with Laurent meant something in a way that it never had with anyone else before.

 

He scrubbed his back, arms, legs. He wanted every part of himself to be clean and perfect for tonight; Laurent would be on edge, even more so than usual, and Damen wanted to make sure that every detail that was within his control was perfect.

 

There was a noise at the door, and instantly Damen was at the side of the bath, his sword in hand.

 

"Hello, lover." Laurent shut the door quietly behind himself, walking over to the steps down into the bath.

 

Damen met him at the top of the steps, warm water sluicing down his back and legs.

 

"Meetings done early?" Damen asked.

 

"Mm." Laurent leaned down for a kiss; from the top of the steps he was higher than Damen, who met his lips eagerly.

 

Damen drew Laurent closer, wrapping an arm around him, and deepening the kiss.

 

"Damen." When they broke apart, Damen could hear Laurent's desire in his voice.

 

"Care to join me?"

 

"You've already gotten water all over my clothes, so I might as well."

 

Damen chuckled at that. "Oh, come on. You knew I was here and you planned this."

 

Laurent shrugged. "Attend me?" It was a question, as it always was these days, and Damen rose from the bath to meet him at the top of the steps.

 

"Gladly." Veretian laces weren't a challenge for him anymore, and Damen smiled as he threaded the laces out of the eyes. Laurent leaned in close as Damen unlaced the side of his outer shirt and pressed feather-light kisses to his neck.

 

"I wanted to be close to you, before." Laurent's voice was quiet, and Damen knew that it had cost him something to say those words out loud.

 

"It was nice, being alone. Gave me time to think about tonight." Damen lifted the outer layer of Laurent's shirt over his head and set it aside.

 

"I didn't like the idea of you...preparing. Alone, here. It seemed too much like Vere."

 

"Oh, Laurent." Damen finished with the laces on Laurent’s pants, and offered Laurent a steadying hand as he stepped out of them.

 

As always, Laurent preferred to remove the last layer of clothing himself. When he was done, Damen offered a hand, and Laurent took it.

 

Together they descended to the baths.

 

"I had this idea that I would attend you in the bath, but I see you have already washed," Laurent said, and Damen could hear his regret.

 

"You could wash my back," Damen suggested.

 

"Damianos," Laurent breathed. The formal name was a prayer between them.

 

Damen ducked his head and turned. Laurent retrieved the soap from the side of the bath, slicked a sponge, and began to lave carefully over Damen's shoulders.

 

"Every time, it's always more than I remember," Laurent muttered, but his hand on Damen's back was steady.

 

"Laurent, you're--"

 

"A snake, if you believe the Council," Laurent cut in.

 

Damen let his hand rest on the golden cuff encircling Laurent's wrist. "My snake," he said, raising Laurent's palm so that he could kiss it.

 

"Only yours," Laurent swore.




They kissed until Damen lost track of how long they had been kissing for. He knew Laurent loved this, from the first chaste press of dry lips together to the deeper, more intimate kisses with Damen's tongue in his mouth or his own in Damen's. The heavy, slow kisses that Laurent would happily drown in.

 

Damen shifted, climbing across Laurent so that he could kneel astride his lap and lean in to kiss him.

 

Laurent reached a hand down between them. "Is--"

 

"Yes," Damen said. "Let's get some oil first, though."

 

Laurent leaned over and found the vial of oil under the bed, and after coating his fingers, he turned back to Damen. "Is this enough?"

 

"Yes," Damen said. His eyes were warm, fond.

 

Laurent flushed as he spread Damen's cheeks apart and circled around the edge of his hole.

 

"When you do this to me," Laurent began, brushing Damen's rim with slick, gentle fingers. "How do you know when to go in? How do I know you're ready?"

 

"Usually because you're saying something like stop fucking teasing me you Akielon asshole. " Damen laughed. "But I'll just tell you. Please, Laurent. Please prepare me for you."

 

"I--" Laurent stopped. "You say I have a dangerous mouth, but you're a thousand times worse."

 

Damen laughed, and Laurent gave his first tentative push in with a single oiled finger.

 

It burned, a little. Damen would not have admitted it to Laurent if he had asked, but it did. He was glad Laurent didn't ask, because he knew he would be even worse of a liar in bed than he usually was. Then the initial burn passed as Laurent moved slowly, carefully, and Damen felt himself start to relax.

 

When Laurent added a second and then a third finger, Damen was so aroused he barely felt the burn. Laurent, copying the motions that Damen had used to open him up only the night before, was staring at the place where his fingers disappeared inside Damen, his eyes wide with wonder and adoration.

"I'm ready. Do it," Damen said finally, but Laurent paused.

 

"What? No! That's only three fingers. My--I'm bigger than that. I have to do more or I'll hurt you."

 

"You really don't," Damen said. "I'm ready. Besides, I never do more than three for you."

 

"That's different," Laurent snapped. "I'm used to it."

 

"Laurent..."

 

"Give me one of your fingers," Laurent demanded. "One of yours and three of mine and then we'll see."

 

"You're going to kill me," Damen groaned, but reached his left arm down to where Laurent had most of his right hand buried in Damen's ass. He slipped his own first finger, thicker than Laurent's, in beside Laurent's fingers. "See? I'm ready."

 

Laurent muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "but I'm not," and something shattered inside Damen.

 

"Oh, Laurent," he breathed, pulling him closer, and letting their fingers slip free. "You don't have to be. We don't have to do this tonight. We don't have to do it ever."

 

"I can't hurt you like this," Laurent said, his voice barely a whisper. "You don't understand what the first time is like."

 

The broken, shattered glass in Damen's heart was suddenly boiling hot.

 

"You don't understand what the first time can be like," Damen said, in between kisses. "I promise, it's not going to be what you think."

 

"I hate that I want this," Laurent said. "I'm no different than--"

 

"No." Damen interrupted him. "You're very different. Please, Laurent, let me show you how good this can be."

 

For a moment Damen thought Laurent wouldn't agree. A few tense moments passed, and as Damen started to started to climb out of Laurent's lap with a stab of regret, Laurent spoke.

 

"Wait."

 

Damen froze.

 

"I'll--yes. Yes, I will, yes."

 

It was slow, at first, and awkward. Damen would have liked to go faster, but he sensed that Laurent would not be moved on this, at least. He lavished on Damen all the care and caution that he had long ago been denied, and when at last Damen had taken the entire length of Laurent inside him, he let out a careful breath, opened eyes he did not remember closing.

 

Laurent was crying.

 

"Hey, what's this?" Damen asked, touching Laurent's cheek gently.

 

"Shut up," Laurent said with unconvincing fierceness. "This is about you. How are you?"

 

"Can you move?" Damen asked, and Laurent, drawing in a shuddering breath, nodded.

 

He set a slow pace, and on instinct Damen shifted a little in his lap and then Laurent was hitting something inside Damen that made his eyes water and his cock twitch and Damen began to suspect that he might enjoy it if Laurent were to fuck into him a little more roughly, but he knew tonight was not the night to ask for that, so he let Laurent set the pace, keeping a firm grip on his hips and pressing his forehead to Laurent's.

 

"Laurent, please," Damen gasped.

 

"Yes," Laurent breathed, wrapping his hand around Damen.

 

The touch was too much, sending Damen over the edge. He spilled along Laurent's hand, and with a cry, Laurent gave a few uneven thrusts and then Damen could feel him coming, could feel the stripes of Laurent's pleasure inside him.

 

Suddenly exhausted, Damen collapsed backwards, falling onto the array of pillows on their bed.

 

Just as immediately, Laurent's concerned face hovered above him.

 

"Are you hurt? Damen, I'm so--"

 

"Shush," Damen said, pressing his less-sticky hand to Laurent's lips. "I would have you again right now if we weren't both so tired. I would have you like this every day. I want to wake up to you already inside me. It was perfect, Laurent."

 

"You're not just saying that, you really liked it?" Laurent's voice was quiet, uncertain.

 

"Come here, sweetheart," Damen said, slinging an arm across Laurent's shoulders and pulling him against his chest. "I'm tired. Your dick is a work of art. Let's just go to sleep now." His voice softened and slurred a bit at the end.

 

Laurent, pinned against Damen's come-streaked chest by the dead weight of his arm, shifted, letting his head rest on Damen's chest. The steady rise and fall as his breathing evened out eased the knot of worry in Laurent, the fear that continually bit at him that he had broken something fragile and perfect between them.

 

But Damen's expression in sleep was the same unworried, open mien that he always had, and Laurent's worry eased a little. He closed his eyes, not really intending to sleep; usually the stickiness would irritate him and keep him awake until he cleaned up.

 

Laurent's breath evened, falling into a rhythm matching the rise and fall of Damen's gentle breathing, and within minutes he was asleep.