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Vous et moi

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In the throne room

Nikandros is greeted to a sight he’s never cared for: his king on his knees.

He cares for it less when he sees why.

Damen is between legs clad in indigo blue, boots laced high and tight as the pale hand twists dark curls. An arm wrapped in just as dark cloth is perched, a pale hand’s back balancing an equally pale cheek; the recipient’s eyes half-lidded, almost bored. It’s too quiet to hide the wet suckling, too still to mask the salty musk of arousal. Even fully dressed, they’re far too close for propriety. Damianos Exalted’s head bobs up and down but Laurent of Vere’s mouth is closed, still save for the slightest movements of his lips.

They make eye contact and Laurent takes his time, barely raising his head up and straightening his back. Damianos makes no such movement, Laurent pushing Damen further down into his lap.

“The throne room; have you no shame?” He intended to sound more exasperated; it comes out more dumbfounded, with a note of good humor. This is just another day in the week.

“It is currently empty. Or rather, was, at this point.”

Nikandros does his best to bite his tongue, as much as he’d love to slap that nonchalant attitude out of Laurent’s entire being. But he also doesn’t care to start a war this early in the alliance.

Reminding himself of their situation has Nikandros certain that four of his hairs just greyed immediately.

“He kneels for me.”

Scarlet rushes to his cheeks, enthralled despite himself.

For a split second, he does not see Damianos Exalted on his knees, pleasuring the King of Vere, barely in the start of his thirties. He sees Damianos: prince and heir to the throne; the legitimate son of King Theomedes and Queen Egeria; and his close friend and brother in arms in the start of his teens. It’s a hot summer evening, and Nikandros still feels the rush of seeing a young man above his own station kneeling for him.

He blinks, leaving his reprieve and is eye to eye with the object of his discontent and a look that makes him uncomfortable. Damianos would have made some pointless comment about how utterly charming he was being, if his mouth weren’t presently occupied. Nikandros can hear the machinations of Laurent’s mind at work, the way the blues flicker up and down on him while his eyes squint as if parsing out the wording of a treaty. What took Damianos months of sharing close quarters takes Nikandros less, noting a slight twitch in Laurent’s mouth that doesn’t quite commit to a subtle smirk.

All with his legs spread, Damianos between them; one hand lazily finger-coming Damianos’ unruly locks and the other supporting his chin. He looks somewhere between a cat and a snake; both twitched their tails in curiosity, in any case.

He reminds himself they do the same thing in warning as well. Laurent manages to make nonchalance seem foreboding, even as he pets Damianos Exalted’s cheek like a pliant pet.

“And now he’s gone modest, how timely.” Nikandros controls himself enough to not let out a snort; Laurent almost sounded petulant then. Damen’s still at full-mast, but that wasn’t what he was implying.

Rather than offer an apology, Nikandros sees himself out, a blue-eyed stare boring itself into his memory.

---

Out in the yards

“So, you balk at the notion of public performances but not public spontaneity,” Laurent less asks and more states, the sort of convoluted mental gymnastics in these situations bizarre to him.

They are walking, an uneventful stroll towards the training yards in the middle of the morning. The day is young, with nary a cloud to blemish a stark blue sky. During their walk, Laurent had brought up the subject of the okton, namely the spectacle that was Damen and Pallas’ wrestling match. Damen is caught, defenseless. “It’s the excitement of getting caught; there is no excitement with a hundred on-lookers.”

“Ah, I wager a few pets would disagree with you on that.” Laurent implies whom in his tone. Damen’s transparency is a game he seldom grows bored of, watching the way his eyes widened before squinting and how his lips barely curl in distaste.

“That was you and you know it.”

“It made the idea more appealing, yes,” Laurent replies, side-stepping the accusation. “But you’re stalling. I believe you were getting into the details of your time as a soldier; specifically your time with Nikandros.”

Laurent had never trained as a soldier as a boy, not like Auguste or Damen or Nikandros. He had fought with troops against his uncle when he had to, when he needed strength for a bid that was his birthright. He didn’t have the sort of easy camaraderie that he heard soldiers talk about with all the casual air of old friends. Granted, he generally never has had a sense of easy camaraderie outside of battle either, but that was beside the point. Having Damen divulge his childhood gives him a sense of perspective.

“Nikandros was not the first man or boy I had slept with,” Damen starts. “But…we shared slaves first, before-“

“Before?” Laurent finds the whole thing not unlike courtship.

“It was…slow. I was on my knees first, I remember. Curious. Wanted to see what would happen.”

Laurent could imagine Nikandros all but freezing into an ice sculpture at his crown prince kneeling before him. He contains his satisfaction at that. “So you took him in his mouth first, like a curious boy. Then what?”

Damen pauses a little at Laurent’s wording. Laurent blinks at him owlishly, blue eyes staring at brown, waiting patiently for Damen to continue.

“It was an on and off sort of thing,” Damen says and Laurent hears something pained in his tone. It’s not unlike the tone he takes when he discusses Auguste. The past was a gentler place, to a certain point. “Patrols, campaigns. Things of that nature. We shared shifts, duties. In the dark, we shared everything, really.”

He says the last word with a little shrug of his shoulder.

Damen is honest with his feelings to a point. He then looks at where they are: inside the equipment room, the door opening out into the wrestling pits.

“So, you wanted – what?”

Laurent’s easy smile and gaze hide sharp teeth. “Show me the holds, the grapples.”

“You can maneuver you way out of a hold as surely as a snake – and you’ve enough bite to cement it.” Damen is incredulous, looking at Laurent’s swordsman’s body and trying to picture it – easier nude, but still difficult to imagine him wrestling. He’s one for distance and words, not physicality.

Laurent shrugs easier than his wry smile suggests. “Never hurts to learn something new.”

Damen doesn’t believe it for a moment. Laurent rolls his shoulders easily again, stretching his muscles. “You know it is traditional to wrestle nude.”

“And I am Veretian,” Laurent says evenly, blinking slowly. “Or did you forget this.”

Damen snorts and shakes his head, a fondness in his smile that reminds him of Auguste. Even his ghost sees through him, as much as Damianos does. He maintains his composure in spite of it, opting to let Damen come up behind him. He explains different stances and their points, demonstrating with posing Laurent. He follows easily, letting his body be pliant in the motions.

He still catches brown-honey eyes; pupils dilated just a hair when they hold eye contact. He refrains from smirking when he can hear a distinct muttering about shamelessness and dirty tactics.

“And who showed you these holds? Your father?”

“Hah; my father’s age was starting to show by then.”

“Kastor,” Laurent says the same with a hint of hesitancy. It’s a name that isn’t uttered often, for different reasons. Damen instead shakes his head; Laurent’s eyes trace the scar on his side, its history unsaid.

He brings the teasing back smoothly: “Nikandros?”

Damen laughs instead. “Tumbling and wrestling aren’t so different.” His smile is easy, not a hint of sarcasm in tone or expression.

“Makedon, then?” Laurent replies, as casual as commenting on a slight breeze. He looks to the side, Damen’s transparency being a favorite game of his. Damen’s face has paled and his eyes are two brown beads in widened eyes, and jaw slack open as if he had been slapped. Laurent can’t stop his mouth curling into a smile and actually laughing. He didn’t expect it to be true .

It takes nothing for Damen to be on top of him, thick arms pushing the Veretian into the dirt. “You snake!”

“Don’t be so obvious, you dolt!” Laurent says, trying to contain himself through his breathless shakes. It had been quite some time since he had seen Damen bright red and completely stupefied into embarrassment. Even as he lies on his back, Damen between his legs while attempting to push the Akielon off. “The fact you still stand is miraculous.”

“Continue to say things like that, and my guard will find a way to keep you out of here for good,” Damen attempts to threaten. It sounds far too fond to be serious. The words that come out of Laurent’s mouth were already in his head: “You would stop it, and if it came to pass, you’d still summon me here.”

It went without saying that Laurent would easily find a way in, right through the front door no less.

The next round starts and Laurent paces around Damen, a matador to a bull that outweighs him several kilos. He’s not too perturbed, and Damen’s lips cock into a more genial smirk than a true sneer. He relishes Damen watching him, eying the way the sunlight catches his musculature, the olive oil giving a slight golden sheen to Laurent’s otherwise porcelain skin. Each pace is calculated, every gaze measuring distance and probability.

Damen finds it unnecessarily cautious for a sport like wrestling. But it is one of his more charming points, he would contest – much to Nikandros's chagrin.

“Are you actually going to wrestle or are you going to keep evading me?” Damen challenges, words followed with a hearty laugh. He’s disbelieving, looking at the Veretian prince in anticipation.

Laurent knows Damen to be no fool; he wouldn’t blindly walk into a viper’s nest.

Not if he was certain he could grip the serpent without being bitten.

They crouch, prepared to grapple before falling back and mirroring one another’s feint. Their bodies collide into a solid wall, Laurent holding his own as Damen leans his full weight against Laurent. The Veretian feels his knees buckles, pressure on his hamstrings; Damen could contend with a yoke. He manages to get out of the hold, thanks to the slickness of the olive oil. He considers a small victory, taking a pace back with a breath. He has no weapon, nothing to keep distance between him and the sheer mass that’s Damen’s body; his only hope is to make Damen exhaust himself.

But he also has other machinations.

Damen collides into him again, catching Laurent unawares. He’s two seconds shy, his footing unsure and slips, taking Damen with him in a firm grip on his hips. They fall in a mass of limbs. Damen takes his chance, thighs on either side of Laurent’s legs and hands pressing down on his shoulders to keep his upper body pinned.

“Say it,” Damen growls into Laurent’s ear, a smirk hiding gleaming teeth.

Laurent bucks sharp into Damen’s stomach; his head knocks back into Damen’s chin in time. An elbow juts under the rib cage and Laurent sweeps his leg, following Damen’s backwards fall and pinning him down. Damen attempts to struggle, feeling two sharp kneecaps digging into his thighs and two hands firmly clasping his wrists as the grit scratches on his skin.

Damen coughs, before a helpless laugh bubbles out. “That was a dirty move.”

“And an assailant would care--?” Laurent has a cavalier air, a lazy smirk over a small victory.

“You utter menace.”

It takes nothing for Damen to plant his feet in the ground, bucking his hips and stomach upward. The motion destabilizes Laurent; Damen takes his chance and pushes his chest up and forward, knocking back the Veretian by sheer momentum. Laurent does his damnedest to worm his way out but Damen is faster, yanking him back by his ankle and down onto his back. There’s a grimace of pain across Laurent’s face, a second goes by, and Damen is blinded by a fistful of sand to the eyes.

“You coward—!“

He hears Laurent laugh, rich and from his stomach. Damen focuses, face wet with tears as they try to wash the sand from his eyes before opening them again. The little hellcat took his chance to pull himself from underneath, gaining a wide berth between them. He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head in a futile attempt to regain his sight. It takes a few experimental squeezes and blinks of his eyelids before Damen can somewhat see. If that was how the little brat wanted to play…

Damen launches himself forward, all but tackling Laurent down into the pit on top of his own arms. Laurent snarls at him, but there’s little sincerity in it as he wiggles under Damen.

He doesn’t let it show on his face when Damen falters a bit, chasing for friction again. “You enjoy the idea of mounting me like an animal in the open.”

Damen laughs, a huff in Laurent’s ear. “Sometimes, I question how you are both such a bitch and such a slut.”

“I can contain multitudes,” Laurent replies smoothly, a leveled look at the Akielon.

It’s all it takes for Damen to push Laurent’s legs up against his torso and ease in, all things considered. Whatever sense of propriety had died--

“Exalted.” Nikandros's tone is even in the way a fawn is on thin ice.

“Kyros.”

Nikandros chooses not to dignify Laurent’s presence with a comment. It is difficult when Damen’s – Damianos’ – cock is to the hilt in the smaller man. Laurent eyes Nikandros with all the mild boredom he’s mastered in Arles: as if he was little more than a paltry distraction from more important matters.

Laurent catches a split-second, brown and black darting before flicking back to his king.

There is one, two beats between the three men before Nikandros gathers every ounce of strength in him to spit out, “I…will be back later. Do take care to clean up after yourselves, won’t you,” Nikandros says, keeping his eyes glued to Damen’s. With a step backwards, he turns and stiffly walks away from the scene.

Laurent closes his eyes, exhales; Damen’s name is on his tongue, but he sees it.

Laurent thinks of that look for the foreseeable future.

---

In Damianos’ quarters

“You miss sharing a bed with him, don’t you.”

Longing hints at the back of Nikandros's throat, burning like sunlight on tanned hide. It’s bitter as griva but lacks its sting. He does not need the reminder.

He needs his station, focus on the taut lacing of his sandals; portraits and statues seem to give him sidelong glances as consternation as he walks forward to his king’s chambers. He has a reputation to uphold, as they all do. He cannot fall back on old dalliances in his age; rekindle a fire that he had extinguished as a youth. For a man who holds his late brother’s memory in high regard, he has no qualms in using the dead for barter.

Even when the dead is better off forgotten.

A heartbeat thunders in Nikandros's ear, throat dry and warm in the face. Laurent – King Laurent of Vere , he has to remind himself – lays back in the bed, Damianos Exalted astride his lap; Nikandros can’t bloody think, he’s losing himself.

Cut muscles taut in supporting his weight; Damianos kneels but his buttocks don’t rest on his heels. He strains, keeping himself still as a kindness to his friend and general as he looks at Nikandros. There’s – he stills himself from believing it. It’s viscous like sap and he feels like he wants to drown, be poured over and preserved in a moment. Damianos’ cheeks are as ruddy as his lips, slick with spit and sweat and warm with an undertone of blood. Nipples pert, arms roped from toned muscle and tendon; he’s that boy he’s always been fond of, aged splendidly.

“You could, you know,” he starts, smooth and weaving like gold thread. “If you wish to fuck him alone or with me, that can be arranged.” He looks up at Damianos and strokes his face, pleased with his easy acquiescence into the touch.

His gaze is still on his king as he murmurs, “I don’t believe he’d refuse—“

“Hold your tongue.” Nikandros's voice is a roll of thunder heralding a storm. He’s too enraged to care he has spoken out of turn towards a king, but he is defending his own. “With all due respect, you hold your tongue.”

Laurent has that look in his eyes that reminds Nikandros of a shark in a reef. He says nothing, but there are serrated fangs in that mouth; he knows they’re in there.

“Nik.”

Damen’s voice is strong and commanding as it had been in Marlas, as it had been in every battle and skirmish, before and after everything changed. It wraps around his heart and makes its home in his ribcage, in the way only a ghost can.

It takes everything in him to disentangle and leave, to the present and living.

---

In the council room

“You can throw a sword into a man several meters away and satisfy a lover for hours, but you can’t focus on a matter of statesmanship for more than half that,” Laurent murmurs, dry as the air as his hand wanders up Damen’s thigh easily.

“Pardon me for this conversation not being as…stimulating as your hands at the moment.”

“This is why you’re rubbish at puzzles,” he quips back before fisting Damen's cock under his chiton. The soft fabric begins to soil, cotton bunched in his grip. It’s not unlike the time Laurent used his riding gloves for a similar reason.  He holds the head between his two fingers, thumb circling the head agonizingly slow, reminiscent of handling the lion pin.

The court continues to talk in circles with proceedings moving predictably slow. It alters back and forth between taxations on grain, imports being finger-combed to ensure high quality product. Despite the alliance, there’s a taut rope between the two sides. Everything seems agonizingly slow, between the fist on his cock to the way Herod speaks the legal print of the treaty draft. It takes all of Damen’s will to not buck to the slow cadence of Herod’s speech, anything to make this work.

Nikandros had been sent to Delpha earlier in the week, or else he would have been present. Not even the memory of Nikandros's disapproving glare deters Damen.

“I say we adjourn this discussion for tomorrow. Perhaps mull over concessions and compromises,” Laurent states, looking at the Akielon side with a certain sharpness that reminds Damen of a dog trainer. He is ashamed his own men act predictably; hurt by how much Laurent’s tongue is like a whip. He makes a sharp nod, and the rest of the room rise, save for the kings.

As they file out one by one, Jord turns back to Laurent and Damianos and tilts his head. He seems ready to state something but instead chooses to excuse himself, bringing up the rear and closing the door. Laurent is rather grateful he kept him from the old guard. He’s a good man in the end.

And knows when to keep his nose out of matters that don’t concern him, Laurent notes to himself before looking back at Damen.

“Lay back on the table.” His words are as supple as his flesh, but there’s still the edge of command. It mimics the tightened grip around Damen’s cockhead. He faces him before going to his knees, pale hands on bronze thighs that all but crawl on his skin. The fabric drapes over his hands, their body heat wrapping around each other as Laurent’s hands find Damen, fingers curling around his shaft easily as if he were fiddling with some trinket. He pulls Damen’s skirt upwards, Damen obediently holding it up as Laurent slips his mouth down and over.

Damen huffs, easing into the grip now that there are no other eyes on him. He contains himself, restraining his hips – Laurent encourages him by pressing his free palm on his thigh. “Good boy,” he murmurs against his foreskin, rewarded with a tremor of muscle.

“Please.”

“Quiet, I am in no rush,” Laurent responds, lazy as a cat while his tongue slides down under the head and wraps the underside. Damen is heavy on his tongue, and he huffs in approval, easing down then up. He’s unhurried, drawing Damen’s frustration out with each slow stroke, unbothered lick. It’s as if he’s tasting him, looking for anything off or unusual about him. His hand finds Damen’s balls, holding them no more urgently than anything else and is rewarded with an impatient buck of his hips and grunt.

Laurent pulls off, blue eyes regarding Damen with amusement. Brown eyes meet him, softening; Damen wants to touch, but knows better. Laurent takes Damen’s cock out of his mouth with a pop, unlacing his trousers and pushed off with a quick shove, crawling on top with bent legs on either side of Damen’s hips. He presses forward, hands pushed into Damen’s chest and smirks when he feels his cock twitch against his ass.

“You like being on top in these situations, don’t you,” Damen all but purrs, hands tracing toned forearms, covered in dark, tightly laced clothing.

“Your form is something to be desired. If you want something more stimulating to take notes of,” Laurent bucks against him for emphasis, “Then observe.”

Damen’s eyes had widened then darkened before closing, pushing Laurent down harder onto him. “And your form is as lovely as when I first saw it.”

Laurent laughs. “When you were on your knees in Arles, or—“

“The hunt.”

Laurent can’t help his head falling back and letting out a laugh. “Gods above, you’re hopeless.”

It’s nothing to realign, slip back into creature comforts; they had fucked earlier in the morning. Laurent pushes forward, palms pressing down on Damen’s chest. He takes stock of what’s underneath; face neutral despite the warm flush blooming on his cheeks. But Damen can see the little uptick of his lips, the slight dilation of his pupil as he takes his time looking.

“We really should stop meeting like this, kyros” Laurent says with a wave of his hand. He wouldn’t deign to feign sheepishness at this point.

“And how do you propose we meet then, your Grace,” Nikandros retorts, lacking polite inflection along with proper titles.

Laurent looks at Nikandros, blinking slowly before beckoning him to come closer. He watches the kyros come closer, still using his fingers to urge him even closer. He hides his amusement as he leans higher up but still not letting Damen out of him, craning his head towards the juncture of his jawline and ear. He can feel Nikandros's heartbeat under his fingertips, a rabbit caught in a snare. He leans his mouth so closely against the kyros. He knows Nikandros can feel his body heat radiating like vapors from a pipe. “Our chambers, if it’s a more prudent choice.”

A whisper, less out of shame and more of intimacy.

And he slides back down, Damen being pushed further into him as he restrains every reaction he could have. To Nikandros, he possibly saw a widening of his eyes, if that, or a minor flush. He wouldn’t let him see anything else. Not yet.

Nikandros looks stunned and perhaps a little upset. It seemed to be Laurent wasn’t the only one with a tight grip on his emotions. His face shifts and pinches into indignation.

“How dare you.“

Laurent’s brows raise a hair, surprise barely coloring his face. “How dare I,” he repeats the words, casual and not at all like he’s perfectly aware he’s kicking a hornet’s nest. He shifts slowly against Damen, not allowing him a moment to go soft, even under Nikandros's withering glare.

“How dare you offer Damianos-Exalted,” Nikandros snarls, looking down at Laurent with restrained rage. Laurent huffs, a childish smile on his features.

“How dare I offer Damen?” he replies, tone cool. “How dare I offer him as, what? A common whore?”

Nikandros's face pinches again in distaste; goodness, it’s almost painfully easy. “You view our relationship so poorly that I’m offering him in a position no better than what? A slave?”

“Please. He kneels for me as easily as I kneel for him. I offer him in the same vein as a man offers another.”

Laurent restrains a snarl at the tight grip Nikandros has on his shoulder. It almost bruises.

“Continue that thought,” Nikandros says, losing himself in his offense. “Continue that thought.”

“Nik.”

There’s that look in Nikandros’ eyes as he observes Damen, almost pitifully helpless as he pushes his hand out for Damen to grab. They intertwine fingers, easy as a breeze as fingers fit between webbing. It’s like coming home.

Nikandros realizes how homesick he is as he pries his hand away, slipping through Damen’s lax grip as the sand is rocked by the wind outside on the shore.

---

In bed

It came not from a messenger, or even Laurent; Damianos had taken him aside.

“Would you consider,” Damianos asked in a way that pleads. He misses Nikandros.

Nikandros is better at obfuscating than Damen, but it hurts harder than he expects it to.

“With him?” Nikandros can barely restrain his contempt for the situation, dark eyes looking at one another. There is a plea in Damen’s and what follows surprises him.

“With you both.”

Does he—he can’t mean---

“If you don’t want—“

What can he say? Damianos, I want you. Damianos I wanted you alive. Damianos I’ve always wanted you. Damianos, I will share a bed with him because I cannot bear to lose you again. Every option seems to say so much and not enough, too much with room to grow.

“Damianos.”

Damianos has been blabbering like a sheepish boy, unguarded despite his station. He is a fool.

Nikandros is as much a fool as he is, he’s gathered.

Somewhere between where reason and logic should have, needed to, interfere, his hand is bundled in Damiano’s chiton, pulled closed to him and his mouth feels like himself.

It feels like a star, a boy, a man, a promise. He missed him so much.

It burns, everything feeling so close and so far; he’s here and they’re young again. Every meeting of lips, brushing, wet and solid as muscle; it takes nothing for Nikandros to be on his back for his king. He knows his place, even against Damianos’ perplexed expression.

“You don’t need to,” he starts, whispering in Nikandros's ear. “That wasn’t what I had in mind.”

Nikandros pauses, thinks it over. “Then what.”

“You, fucking me.”

Like old times.

Nikandros is both stunned and a little touched, something warm in his chest that makes the sunbeams icicles in comparison. Damianos pulls him down, lips against his own again and he’s easy, familiar. His mouth opens willingly for Nikandros's tongue, voice encouraging while Nikandros kisses and sucks down Damianos’ jawline and throat. It’s a trail, Damianos’ body molded into a man’s but still at the peak of youth. Nikandros is a little envious of that, but no matter; he makes up for it with growing exuberance.

He looks up at Damianos, who returns the look. “Yes, Nik?”

“Oil.”

“Ah, it’s—“

Nikandros is surprised. Did- “I want to.”

Damianos surprises him, taking his fingers into his mouth and licks them easily; he is clumsy, lacking the sensuality of a slave but he makes up for it with his enthusiasm as he always does. It amazes Nikandros how he still can possess that boyish self-consciousness that is more charming than uncomfortable. It’s enough to at least make him laugh, and makes preparation a little easier with the oil. He’s looser than he remembers, and it takes him a bit to reign himself in with each finger. The idea of the Veretian dominating him, using him—

“You take your time,” Laurent says with nonchalance that belies nervousness. Nikandros picks it up, the sound of his voice just slightly wavering, letting a wall down.

Nikandros looks the Veretian over, wearing a chiton. His body is highlighted in the simple attire; not lithe as a slave’s, any curves that could be mistaken for womanly curled into toned musculature. He could’ve had the physique of a soldier if he had been expected to fight, but it’s of a prince who commands with his sword and tongue. It reminds him of the marble statues at the kingsmeet: cut, firm, and artistic.

“And you interrupt like a spoilt brat.”

Laurent only smirks easily and looks back at Damianos Exalted with the fondness of a lover. Then he meets Nikandros's eyes, and murmurs, “Can you stomach me long enough to fuck him properly or will you only be good for preparations.”

Nikandros feels his face ignite, but he looks back at Damen and relaxes. He has to, and he looks back at Laurent. “I wasn’t his first, but neither is this for us.”

The Veretian is quiet for a moment. “I’m aware. He told me so. Lay back, it will be easier this way.”

He complies and Damianos looms over him, straddling him and he feels his cock sit perfectly inside the cleft of Damianos’ ass. It’s warm, pleasant as it stirs old memories in the pit of his stomach. He feels a hand on his cock, but he isn’t repulsed by who it is. Instead, he tries not to grin as he feels the Veretian’s hand guiding him instead. His head presses against the tight, puckered rim and it takes all his will not to thrust upwards.

He watches Laurent whisper something into Damianos’ ear. His king nods, exhaling and he feels him dip a little lower over. Nikandros closes his eyes and moans softly; Damen feels nostalgic and pleasant like a warm summer day of careless play. He feels more than sees Damen shudder at the sensation. Every inch is cautious, a slow descent that draws on; he’s seen honey move faster from a hive.

But they’re giving him this and Nikandros is not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

He inhales and exhales, holding himself from thrusting and is rewarded for his patience. “Always knew you could,” he hears the Veretian, the words floating.

“Fuck yourself for a while, lover.” Nikandros barely resists a pleased shudder of his own; there’s something erotic in the way Laurent can make a tease both cool yet enticing. But he finds himself more entranced with how the ruddy color of red mixes with Damen’s color, how his body heats up like a solar flare.

He closes his eyes and rolls, moving lazily into a heat like a fever dream.

Somewhere between the fourth and tenth thrust in, he finds himself being pushed, Damen becoming tighter and fuller, fingers sliding inside against his cock. He opens his eyes, Damianos whimpering, keening as Laurent’s name tumbles off his tongue, surprised but not opposed.

“Would you both have me,” Laurent less asks and more offers. Nikandros wants to oppose, but he can’t refuse Damianos at this state – or any state, to be frank.

If he thought Damianos was tighter with Laurent’s fingers, Nikandros learns that the Veretian is nothing to scoff at. He is as proportional as his king, a cock befitting his body; he’s as much a man as either of them. Damianos whimpers, and Nikandros reaches forward, stroking Damianos in an attempt to comfort.

“Stay still,” Laurent orders. “How much longer--?”

“Not much,” Damen spits out. It’s so much, Nikandros can feel him tighten, he swears he can feel the thrum of his heartbeat from his body. It’s so much, not enough, everything, nothing—

And then white, then black and Damianos is stilled, breathing. Laurent holds Damianos, no longer stretching him towards his limit.

“I thought you didn’t share,” Nikandros acknowledges Laurent.

“I can make concessions,” he offers with a small smile, kissing Damen’s shoulder.

---

In bed, with a different arrangement

“He misses you.”

The words hang around Nikandros like an unwanted guest, pushing out his more productive thoughts.

“I would like to. Preferably, the both of you.”

The weight of Damen’s request is heavier than usual. It lacks the desperation of a plea, instead a request tinged with wistfulness. He breathes in slowly, each exhale unraveling tension into want.

And his want urges him onwards.

---

Damianos Exalted’s quarters have only changed in the sense that it doesn’t only smell like him. There is a faint aroma of bergamot, or magnolia; clean, bright and entrancing. The Veretian has made himself at home, how the simplicity of the architecture seems to abide by the intricate lattice-work of Laurent’s clothes; the clean, white marble made even starker against the near-black indigo dye. Even his riding leathers are needlessly complicated in comparison to Damianos’ and his own, leather straps, drawstrings over several layers.

But the Veretian himself is painfully simple, no more a man than he and his king. He sits beside Damianos, looking at Nikandros expectantly.

It takes Nikandros a moment to take in the sight of Laurent in a chiton, the uncomplicated attire accenting his sharp features, the cotton closer to ivory in color in comparison to his pallor. He can see Jokatse in Laurent, a curled serpent in a basket as he watches Nikandros. It takes another moment for him to register Damianos Exalted beckoning him closer to the bed to take a better look at this peace offering.

Even in the prime of his twenties, Laurent maintains a physically unmarked androgynous beauty. A firm cut jawline unblemished by facial hair, smooth as a sunlight-ripe peach; blue eyes like ice water. His cheek fills Nikandros's hand while Laurent’s eyes look into his. He’s no longer a young man but the predator that Damen has described in the past: a tamed leopard that is relinquishing dominance for peace, its tail and gaze as steady as its breathing. Nikandros cannot deny the heady sensation of something so vicious yielding like a pet.

In this moment, he can’t imagine this is Laurent of Vere: previously disregarded spare heir of the throne, a disgrace to his family’s name and the last of his line. Still the last of his line, but the lover of his closest friend and King, a man who orchestrated the humiliation during Damianos’ time of servitude alongside his freedom and counterattack for his throne. There is trepidation in his body language as he keens slowly into his hand; he has seen him release a horse’s reins quicker than this.

“Good boy.”

The words are spoken softly and fall like a clattering wine decanter. There is a minute shudder in his hands and Laurent breathes, a knot of anxiety untangling itself in the air. He just now notices Damen’s hand on Laurent’s shoulder, a gentle stroking motion not unlike how he is with the horses. There is the soft rustling of Damen’s hand sliding down his back and up his shoulders and neck. It’s almost achingly sweet, a soft hushing sound that barely whistles through his teeth.

Laurent responds and swallows, as if breathing requires statesmanship amounts of focus. But it’s not the breathing; he’s retreating slowly into a role that he was molded for. A part of him wonders how much Damen knows this about Laurent, or if it is more likely that he never noticed or paid attention.

He has been hurt before. He’s allowing himself to trust that Nikandros won’t hurt him; if not by the fact he is an ally to his king then by the simple fact he shares a bed with him. Knowing Damen, he knows the water is deep, but unsure of how quickly it goes from shallow to drowning.

Nikandros looks at his king, expectation in the glance. The tension is so fragile, hairline even, but not pulled to its limit quite yet. Damen continues to rub Laurent’s back, whispers in his ear that he is safe and good, that nothing will harm him.

“Talk to him as I am.”

Nikandros can barely talk to Laurent outside of this bedroom. But his king has given him guidance. He gives Laurent a gentle squeeze of his cheek, watching the Veretian lean a little stronger into the grip as he closes his eyes. There is a cloud of doubt around him, miasmic and choking. He braves letting his hand wander lower to his long, pale throat pockmarked with love bites from earlier. The stark blue chiton makes the purples and reds more harsh and lascivious, the light hitting indentions where Damen’s teeth had sunk in.

Laurent tilts his head to the side, offering more of his neck to be appraised and touched, his fine hair moving slightly in the motion. His eyes open and Nikandros sees the faintest glimmer of subservience dulling over his usual sharp glare. It’s more intimate than Nikandros is used to, but pleased all the same.

“Aren’t you sweet,” he says, trailing off. The way Laurent curls and keens into the touch is less like a snake and like the curling smoke of a pipe, vaguely formed and ephemeral. It doesn’t register as real and yet it is.

“One attracts more flies with honey.”

It barely registers that Laurent’s miniscule nod is in response to Damen’s murmur. The words hit the air while Damen’s mouth is pressed into the juncture of his skull and neck, lips bowed in an ‘o’ as he gently kisses his nape. Nikandros traces along the firm cut of his jawline, thumb pressing into the hollow of his cheek where he feels tightness; was Laurent clenching his teeth in nerves earlier? He curls his fingers under his chin and tilts his head back.

Nikandros feels himself come back to as he says; “Look at me.”

And Laurent obeys; cobra to a lion. Gold eyelashes contrasting against sharp blue eyes, full lips relaxed with cheek muscles and gaze pulled taut. It reminds Nikandros of a hunt, of stalking prey in the prairies with nowhere to hide amongst tall grass with a spear. They are equals in the sense beast and man can only be, and it’s enough for the kyros.

“May I?” he says and watches the eyes behind Laurent. He speaks of him as if asking Damen for permission to bed his favorite slave or wield his sword.

There is a soft exhale and Damen nods.

It’s experimental and cautious, Nikandros's mouth covering Laurent’s. He yields to the soft heat on his lips and Nikandros gives himself permission to be daring, emboldened to let his tongue push past. Tension grips Laurent but yields as fast, coming undone by a gentle two-front assault.

There’s another soft shushing sound as Damen hushes into Laurent’s throat, thick fingers deftly undoing the skilled knot in Laurent’s chiton under the pin. He draws him out, a blade from its sheath, in awe of its craftsmanship, the make of it breathtaking. What Laurent lacks in the expected body of a waif is allure made tenfold by the pallor of his skin that reddens with arousal and exertion; the toned musculature of a young swordsman with abdominals rolling, taut in anticipation; a body that only a select few have intimate knowledge of.

Nikandros's hands touch and stroke Laurent in the way a curious child uses their hands to map out a marble statue. The Akielon sun, coupled with his blood, warms his flesh; the soft thrumming of his pulse vibrates off pulse points.

“He is very pretty,” Nikandros concedes. Laurent is a king but he is not his king. Damianos understands and cants his head. Nikandros has seen that look many times when he would report in their youth and Damianos, so comfortable with his position, would take to busying his idle hands on a waiting slave.

The intake of breath is almost imperceptible, Damen’s hand pushing the chiton down Laurent’s body and off; his thick finger dipping between Laurent’s cheeks as if it were an obstacle for the trajectory of his hand. He’s loosened. He wonders if Damianos asked for the Veretian to be prepared, or even prepared himself in wait for this. Laurent gasps just a little louder, surprised before breathing again as if he’s drowning.

It is so weak how he says, “Get on with it.” It isn’t unlike a candle trying to stay alight in the middle of a storm.

Nikandros lets it slip. “That isn’t how you beg.” His eyes bore into Laurent’s, and like ice, the last layer melts and dissipates.

“Please.” His eyes are squeezed shut, mouth slack as his thighs tighten around Nikandros. He tilts and presents his pockmarked neck.

Having a king yield to him is nothing short of erotic.

Nikandros thrusts into him with all the ease of a man used to dominating, biting down on Laurent’s neck all the while as he clenches, tightens and grips Nikandros as if he’s about to be thrown off. The kyros stables his hips, thumbs pressed into the dips as he squeezes again. Every shudder vibrates around Nikandros, a full pulsing feeling.

“That’s nice.”

Damen is breathless, attempting to be easy but almost overcome at the sight. His best friend atop his lover; Nikandros over Laurent, who is kneeling in front of Damen. Nikandros hears a soft shushing sound, looking up as his king pets Laurent’s face gingerly.

“How is he?”

The question is for both.

Nikandros runs a hand down Laurent’s ass, a subtle squeeze of his cheek. Each muscle is taut and firm, his statuesque form accented strongly in the position. Thighs spread open and he’s slow to melt, like rock into magma. His flush is striking against his stark white skin; he’s quite lovely, not unlike a slave.

“He’s tight.” Simple and to the point. “But accommodating.”

Damen smiles at his friend, and there’s that old, fond twinkle in his eyes.

Laurent trembles under him and Nikandros whispers in his ear. “You were asked a question.” No titles, no dignities; not a slave between them, but he could ignore a king was on his cock if he wasn’t his own. His breath clashes against Laurent’s bare shoulder, leaving an imprint of sweat and dissipating as heat vapors.

“Thick,” Laurent says and it lacks bite, venom; it’s not unlike a boy. “Heavy.”

Nikandros is flattered; looking at Damianos whose cock is at full-mast and bright with flush. “A little late for flattery.”

“You’ve been more than adequate, my friend; shyness is unbecoming.”

“Is it shyness if it’s the truth?”

Laurent whimpers beneath him. Damen has his hand on Laurent’s cheek and hold him. It’s not unlike the horses. He looks at Nik and gives a firm nod and the kyros pulls out slowly, head caught in the rim. There is a soft whimper as he holds himself still just enough for one tremor to course through.

And with a sharp push, Laurent chokes out a yelp.

“Again.”

Another sharp jerk of his hips; he all but strikes into Laurent, precise and unyielding like a knife. It’s deliberate and cruel in a way, wanting to watch the boy-turned-man come undone. He wants to savor his surprise, his fear like a bittersweet wine.

“Fuck him out.” Damen’s voice is soft and low, and Laurent’s expression mimics the sort of salacious, mindless desire of a slave effortlessly. “I’ve an idea.”

“Oh, we haven’t done that in a while.”

Watching the King of Vere be stripped slowly of his defense is sweetly rewarding. Nikandros enjoys the images in his head, of ruddy lips bitten and bruised, brows bunched in concentration as Laurent keeps himself steady on the bed. He is unsteady, doing his best to take what’s being given, and each moan comes out more unrestrained than the last. He chases each motion, stoicism melting into eagerness. Nikandros is more than happy to reward him after enjoying a few cheap, shallow thrusts that merely tease Laurent.

He thumbs at Laurent’s sensitive hole, nail brushing against his own cock; Laurent whimpers beneath him. He bucks back into him and Nikandros pushes forward, firm, hard thrusts that are rewards with more unsteady breathing. Laurent keens forward, ass even more presented and Nikandros can’t help but be amused at it.

“I know he’d enjoy it.”

Laurent is too blissed out, in that place where one is hard, soft and amorphous; completely without self as he lazily kisses Nikandros's mouth. Laurent is open and pliant and Nikandros slips his tongue in easily as his cock is inside him. He bucks up, hard enough to make Laurent clench down on both ends, sucking on Nikandros's tongue while his hole tightens wonderfully around him.

A completely pitiful whine comes into Nikandros's mouth and he lets go, looking down as Damen plays with a pert, rosy nipple. Laurent’s cock dribbles with pre-come, slick, barely translucent and rendering it almost dewy. He gives a little laugh and smacks Laurent’s ass.

“Weren’t you the one eager for this?” Nikandros asks, his attempts at being cordial are almost teasing, if not a hair condescending. “Why don’t you show me how much you want this?”

He plays with the other nipple and smirks when Laurent keens in a way that reminds him of a bitch in heat.

“That’s a good boy,” goes into, “I’ve seen you ride a horse more vigorously.”

“This’ll be much better than riding a horse,” Damen teases in Laurent’s ear, reminding Nikandros of his presence. “If you like, perhaps a saddle—”

“No, no…this is good,” Laurent says, the closest to lucid he’s been recently.

“Really,” Damen says, a sort of nonchalance in his tongue as he tilts up his chin. “The view is nice from here is quite nice.”

“Damen—“ Laurent’s voice sharpens, hikes in pitch and air.

Nikandros pulls Laurent down, bucking up into him and rewarded with Laurent’s jaw dropping open and no sound tumbles out. He’s caught between himself, trying to control, to contort the way he wants, holding on; Nikandros has seen it quite a few times.

Mercy, fondness for his king compels him. “Would you like to see him?”

Damianos is kissing and licking down the length of Laurent’s throat, Adam’s apple throbbing in time with bated breaths. He watches the kings whisper to each other, Laurent not quite looking much of anywhere but Damen’s words washing over him. He nods and Nikandros relaxes, lets himself up as Laurent pushes forward on his knees. They look at each other and slip in, Laurent rendered a vessel for their use. He’s still pleasant this way, but he is more interested the sight across from him.

That sort of fondness that he hasn’t seen in years and perhaps it’s painful, perhaps unwanted; but in the end, he can see Damianos as Laurent sees Damianos; as he’s seen him in the past, present, and possibly forever.

He loses track of who comes first, who tightens hardest, and in the end, it stills all the same.

Nikandros finds himself intruding, the way Damianos has Laurent of Vere in his arms, whispering words and touching him. Laurent is shaking as if terrified, but that isn’t it; it reminds him of the fall after aphrodisia, when the slaves stare into nothing while the tremors subside.

“You did so well,” Damianos whispers while pressing down each vertebra on Laurent’s back in a rhythmic pattern. “You did so well, you’re alright. You’re safe.” Laurent’s bright back, now crimson, hikes high with a deep intake of breath before exhaling again. He gulps air like water, nuzzling Damen’s back from the aftershocks.

Nikandros can only watch as this pliable snake begins to come to, curling around Damianos for support for a limbless body. It’s heart-achingly private but he can’t look away. Damen’s soft words are as much a balm as his hands, massaging and rubbing abused, bruised skin. Blue eyes lack their edge, half-closed as Laurent kisses against Damianos’ neck while he’s still under.

He is about to rise when he feels a hand wrap around his wrist. He looks down at the pale, rosy hand as it holds his hand before letting go. Nikandros looks into Laurent’s eyes, watches as he nods back towards the bed.

“Stay, won’t you, kyros,” he says, the minutest inflection of a request disappearing off his words.

Despite himself, Nikandros lowers himself back onto the bed, their weight dipping the mattress and settles alongside the Veretian. He looks across at Damianos, searching for something in his eyes. Would this tryst become permanent; would it be rendered into transgression, fracturing a delicate situation?

The steadiness of Damianos’ grip assures him of a more positive future, and Nikandros returns it with a cautious squeeze of his own.