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Alpha Nicaise AU

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Laurent has always had a bit of a bond with Nicaise. Nicaise liked to deny it, and hated whenever Laurent was gentle with him, but after everything with the regent…

Laurent never parent-bonded to Nicaise; Nicaise never wanted to see Laurent that way. Laurent is his annoying older brother as far as Nicaise is concerned.

Nicaise still doesn’t like Damen, but he understands that Laurent does.

Laurent is six months pregnant, glowing, and a lot heavier with child than expected. Nicaise glares at Damen about that every time he sees Laurent struggle to get off the throne or out of a chair in their rooms.

Damen finds Nicaise’s annoyance funny, at first.

But it all comes to a head when Nicaise’s scent starts to change.

Damen bites harder when they have sex, walks through their rooms with a restlessness, rubbing his wrists on curtains or couches to mark his scent.

Nicaise wrinkles his nose every time he walks in.

He and Damen butt heads more often. Damen makes sure he always has a hand somewhere on Laurent whenever Nicaise is in the room. Nicaise complains about Damen whenever they’re alone.

“You know what’s happening don’t you?” Laurent asks one night while Damen kisses his belly and has a lull in talking to the baby.

Damen looks up from between Laurent’s legs. “What? With the baby?”

Laurent smiles. “No, love. With Nicaise.”

Damen frowns. “What?” His tone doesn’t imply confusion, but a challenge.

Laurent has to bite back a laugh. “He’s an alpha. His scent is changing.”

Damen bolts upright at that. “He can’t be!”

“Have you taken a sniff? Used that nose of yours to check?” Laurent asks. “He’s a low level, but it’s there.”

Damen frowns deeper, now full on grumpy. “He can’t be alone with you.”

That does make Laurent laugh. Incredulously. “First of all, you may be my alpha, but you best remember I’m my own person and will do as I please. You don’t care when I’m alone with Nikandros, another unbonded alpha. Second, Nicaise is not interested in me in the way you are. He just doesn’t like you.”

Damen pouts his lip, wraps his arms around Laurent’s belly, and pulls him close. He leans over Laurent until their noses are almost touching, the air between them shifting. Damen licks his lips. “Mine.”

Chapter Text

Laurent is doing the useless breathing exercises, but they don’t help. Nothing helps. If he weren’t in so much pain, he may have spared a thought for Nicaise’s hand.

“Relax, Laurent,” Nicaise says through gritted teeth. He’s fully come into his alpha scent, even if he isn’t used to being one.

They’d believed for a long time that he’d be an omega like Laurent, and briefly entertained that he may be beta.

He has discovered he likes to growl at people of lower level that he doesn’t like.

The first time he’d tried it on Laurent when he was angry had resulted in Damen growling back and forcing Nicaise to his knees, to bare his neck and apologize.

Laurent had actually been a little scared.

The closer Laurent came to the due date, the more on edge Damen became. Where Laurent was feeling weaker, more fatigued and sore, Damen was quicker to anger, and the punishments he doled out had to be softened by Nikandros.

Laurent was forced to bed rest at his eighth month, and it only made Damen worse. Without being able to watch Laurent at all times, he became antsy and unfocused. As the kyros of Ios, Nikandros took over many of the duties Laurent couldn’t currently fulfill, which helped Damen get things done, if barely.

Now, with the baby coming and Damen missing, Laurent is the one on edge and angry. And in pain. A lot of pain.

“Ahhh!” Laurent screams through a contraction, crushing Nicaise’s hand and trying to remember to breathe. “Bloody, stupid alpha,” he groans under his breath.

“You’re doing good, my King.” Paschal is trying to work around nurses walking burned incense through the room, clouding up the space and making it hard to see, hard to breathe. They’re supposed to relieve the pain; Laurent is convinced they don’t work.

Laurent is going to kill Damianos when they find him.

“The baby is ready,” Paschal says, his fingers touching something inside Laurent. Apparently the baby. “I need you to push.”

“Wait,” he says, feeling desperate now that the time has come. “Wait. We need Damianos. He isn’t here yet.”

“The baby isn’t going to wait, my King. It’s now or never.”

Paschal has never been one to soften a serious blow. Laurent pushes, high on pain and fear.

Damen burst through the door, Nikandros hot on his heels. They’re shushed by the nurses still in the room.

Paschal walks up, cleaned and tired.

“My King,” he bows. “Laurent and the baby are fine; they’re sleeping right now. You’ve had a son.” He smiles. “Congratulations.”

Damen and Nikandros walk farther into the room and find Laurent sleeping on a bed, their baby curled up on his chest. Nicaise is sitting, watching to keep them safe.

Maybe Damen shouldn’t be so hard on the boy. He was here when Damen couldn’t be after all.

He glares at Damen when he walks in. “You’re a terrible alpha.”

Never mind. Nicaise is a brat.

Chapter Text

The birth of an heir has both countries in an uproar. Celebrations and parades and feasts are had, and Laurent is exhausted by it all.

Nicaise isn’t required, nor is he allowed, to join them for the public outings. And Laurent keeps Jord and Orlant on him to make sure he stays in the palace.

Laurent is too tired to watch out for him. The birth was only a week ago and Laurent has had to carry Theo and ride out by Damianos’ side every day since so the people can see their prince and their kings.

Nicaise hadn’t liked that at all. He’d yelled and growled and thrown things. The only reason Damen hadn’t put him on his knees once more is that he hadn’t done any of those things in Laurent’s presence.

Laurent will have to have someone talk to Nicaise about the growling. He’s abusing his caste, and it’s going to get him in trouble.

He’ll probably have Nikandros do it. Nicaise likes him more than Damen.

Laurent is only able to finally sit down and rest when Damen tells the council their prince has had too much excitement in his young life. Laurent is thankful for it. He would have seemed weak to request it himself.

So the next week is spent mostly in their rooms with nursemaids running about, helping to take care of Theo and trying to avoid Nicaise.

“Nikandros, I’m so glad you could make it,” Laurent says. He’s leaning over Theo’s crib and petting the dark downy hairs on his little head. He’s had the rooms cleared out for this meeting.

“I couldn’t outright refuse your call.”

“Oh but I’m sure you’d have found a way,” Laurent contradicts. He straightens and turns to face the man. “Especially if you knew what I was about to ask you.”

Nikandros raises a brow, waiting.

Laurent is still weak and fatigued, but this is Nikandros, so Laurent sees no harm in holding his Kingly mask less firmly, nor in sitting at the edge of his bed.

“I have a special task for you.”

“I gathered as much.”

“I need you to take over Nicaise’s training.”

Nikandros doesn’t show what he’s feeling, so Laurent waits patiently for the initial refusal.

“How long?”

It’s Laurent’s turn to raise a brow, but he smiles nonetheless. “A year, perhaps? I would like him to learn to be a responsible alpha, and while I know many, you are the only one he likes.”

Nikandros leaves with a request to think on it, and Laurent lets him. Nikandros is a kyroi, not a babysitter. He knows his duties best, and if he believes he can squeeze Nicaise into that time, then he will.

If not, then Laurent will have to find someone else.

Regardless, Nicaise will be less than pleased with the news.

Chapter Text

Laurent wants to say things calmed down after Nikandros took Nicaise under his wing, but that would be a lie.

Because Nicaise now spends most his time with Nikandros, every free second he has is spent with Theo, and since Theo never leaves Laurent’s side, Nicaise is generally also around Damen.

And anytime those two end up together, arguing ensues.

Nicaise is a young alpha trying to find his place within the hierarchy of the palace, whether he realizes or not, and he’s doing so by challenging the pack leader the only way he’s able, verbally.

But Damen isn’t just the pack leader, he’s the king, and challenging him in any way is foolish, let alone in public. But Nicaise is hell-bent.

Laurent doesn’t like watching Nicaise get put on his knees so a point can be made, but the point needs made.

He sits on the throne, Theo tucked in his arms, away from his anxious scent, and watches Damen order Nicaise to his knees before the court.

Damen had asked if he could do this, said he wouldn’t dare if it would upset Laurent. And it does, but Nicaise is pushing too much because he thinks he can get away with it. He wants to learn his place, and showing him in private hadn’t done the trick.

Nicaise is stubborn and headstrong and Laurent hates that this feels like the only way.

Damen is standing at the edge of the dais, radiating angry alpha, glaring down at Nicaise. “You will kneel and show fealty to the crown.”

Nicaise glares, shoots a glance to Laurent. Whether he’s looking for support or betrayal, he will find nothing. Laurent is resolute in his stance, even if it isn’t one he likes. Sometimes the hard decisions have to be made, and if a bruised ego will keep Nicaise from picking the wrong fights at the wrong times, then so be it.

Nicaise bares his teeth at Damen, a growl working in his throat. His fists clench. But he slowly goes to one knee, then the other.

“Show me your neck.”

Nicaise has his chin tucked down and seems content to keep it there. Alphas don’t like to submit. Some fight it with their lives, others shake like it goes against every instinct they have. Nicaise is no different.

Damen doesn’t ask twice, and that’s smart. It would show the court he thinks Nicaise won’t do it. Instead, it’s a waiting game.

Theo shifts, his chubby face scrunching at too much strange alpha scent. Laurent would tuck him closer, but his daddy smelling upset will just make him cry.

Nicaise eventually gets his chin up a little, then a little more. Damen has put up with Nicaise fighting him about everything from his treatment of Laurent, to how he rules the countries, to how he holds Theo, and he wants all of Nicaise’s neck bared.

It takes nearly an hour in the throne room for Nicaise to show his neck and swear his fealty, but once he does, the room is cleared of all but them, Nicaise, and Nikandros.

Damen sits back on his throne and Nicaise gets to his feet like the floor has burned him. He glares at the floor with his chin tucked to his chest.

“I’m sorry it’s come to this, but I will not have an alpha pup disrespect me before my whole court and think they can get away with it. I don’t care how close you are to Laurent.” Which isn’t true, or Damen wouldn’t have asked Laurent first. But Nicaise doesn’t need to know that right now.

Nicaise says nothing, and eventually Damen dismisses him and Nikandros.

Laurent rests his head on Damen’s shoulder once they leave and lets out a heavy sigh. Theo gives a whine, the first of the evening, and Laurent passes him to Damen.

Chapter Text

Nicaise isn’t happy with them after that. He still comes to their rooms to be with Theo, but he doesn’t speak to either of them. He doesn’t even look at them.

Laurent is still recovering from the birth when his next heat hits, and he’s barred away in another room, heavily guarded by betas, and Damen is left to deal with Theo and Nicaise alone.

Laurent had to be kept in a separate part of the palace, one Damen isn’t allowed access to, for fear he will hear Laurent’s pleas for his alpha, and end up hurting him on accident.

He feels a pained longing every time he sees the guards blocking him off, and has to clench his fists, take a breath, and force himself to walk away.

“It’s just four days, you’ll live.”

Damen looks down at Nicaise, walking between him and Nikandros. “The first words you say to me in a month, and those are the ones you choose?” Damen raises a brow, then turns forward. “Besides, what would you know about it? You’re a pup alpha, have never had an omega, and don’t know what it feels like to be bonded.”

Nicaise just raises his nose and says nothing more. Nikandros has done well with him, all things considered. Nicaise still likes him for one. But he’s also gotten Nicaise to understand the power his growl holds, especially over omegas.

He still growls at other alphas or at betas, but he’s more conscious of any omegas around him. Probably because of Laurent.

They attend a feast, another one in honor of the little prince, one of many more to come, and Nicaise sticks to not saying a word to Damen, which is fine as far as Damen is concerned. He holds Theo, and feeds him mashed up fruits and veggies, and deals with the spit up afterwards.

Theo likes parties, even if the mixed, unknown scents can overwhelm him. Having people ooh and aah over him keeps him happy. Laurent not being here tonight has him more fussy though.

Laurent left a shirt with his scent on it for Theo to sleep with while he’s locked away, but it isn’t any use right now.

Nicaise shoots him glances throughout the night, every time a whine or a cry leaves Theo’s lips. He hasn’t said anything or made any obvious faces, but he’s annoying Damen all the same.

Damen forces himself to calm down, because smelling angry will only make Theo cry.

It’s a long night.

When Theo finally fusses himself to exhaustion, Damen rises, tired, hungry, biting back annoyance, and heads for bed, bidding his court a farewell.

Nicaise joins him soon after, with nary a word or sound. He takes Theo from Damen’s arms and rocks him to sleep the way Laurent does, humming one of Laurent’s song.

“Is that a Veretian song?”

He doesn’t expect a reply, but he gets one. “It’s Kemptian. Late Queen Hennike would sing it to Laurent and Auguste when they were little.”

Damen blinks. “How do you know that?”

Nicaise looks over his shoulder at Damen, but Damen can’t read his expression. “Laurent told me.”

Chapter Text

When Paschal finally allows Damen to see Laurent, he races across the palace to be with him. No guards stand in his way.

He finds Laurent curled up in the bed, naked and drenched in sweat and slick and tears. He climbs onto the bed and pets Laurent’s tangled hair from his face with careful fingers.

Laurent’s eyes blink open, and roll up to see Damen. He gives a weak smile. He’s thinner and pale. No alpha to give him food and water, to make sure he slept in the bed rather than on the floor.

He’d nested, but only by adding extra blankets and pillows to the bed. Laurent doesn’t like this room for his heats. He never has. He prefers their rooms. He’ll drag their mattress to the floor, push their chaise in front of the door, rip the curtains from their hangings. A general mess of the room, but it makes him happy.

“How’s Theo?” Laurent's voice is raspy. He lays his head down on Damen’s thigh and closes his eyes.

Damen smiles and continues working the kinks from his hair. “He misses you, and he makes sure everyone knows it.”

“And Nicaise?”

“He’s talking to me again. Sort of.”

Laurent hums. Damen thinks he may fall asleep like that, but it won’t be good for his neck.

“Here,” Damen says, adjusting Laurent. He wraps him in a sheet not crusty with dry slick. “Let me take you to our rooms.”

Laurent doesn’t fight him, too weak and tired to try. Damen picks him up and sneaks them through the servant passages back to their rooms. Even if Laurent were fine with being seen in this state, Damen isn’t. Only he should see his omega this vulnerable, this sweet and docile.

Nicaise hasn’t arrived yet, so Damen makes use of the time and helps Laurent into the bath, reheated by the servants while Damen was gone.

When he’s sure Laurent won’t slip under and drown, he heads out to their bedroom and picks up Theo, still deep in slumber.

Laurent sniffs when he walks in, and peeks an eye open. He seems more alert the moment he sees Theo. He holds his arms out, and Damen passes him over for Laurent to hold.

He tucks Theo by the gland in his neck, so he knows his daddy is back and he can rest easy. Theo gives a little whine then settles back down.

Damen kneels by the tub and watches his omega and pup, feeling warm and proud.

This is his. His family. His beautiful and powerful omega, and his sweet, loving baby sleeping in his arms.

Laurent looks at Damen, the morning light streaming in and making his features softer. “Aren’t you going to join us?”

Damen chuckles and kisses Laurent’s head before standing to disrobe, then steps into the water behind him. The tub is just big enough for them all. Damen wraps his arms around Laurent and pulls him back against his chest.

When Nicaise walks in, the room looks deserted. He peeks into the bedroom, but finds it empty. The nursemaids usually milling about are nowhere to be seen.

He hears a coo from the bathroom, one Theo usually makes, and heads that way.

He peeks in, and sees Damianos, Laurent, and Theo all in the bath together, sleepy and happy.

A perfect family.

He doesn’t linger.

Chapter Text

Laurent has had three heats since then, with Damen’s help, and Theo is now eight months old.

Damen offered to take Theo for a walk out in the gardens, and Laurent has a moment to relax. He settles on the couch with a book in his hands, and hopes to spend the day reading, though with the clouds blocking the sun he sees little chance in that.

The doors to his rooms open, and Nicaise pokes his head in. “Laurent?”

Laurent sets the book in his lap. “Yes?”

Nicaise shuffles in, the guards closing the door behind him. Nicaise takes a seat on the couch with Laurent, on the far end by his feet.

He has his shoulders shrugged together and looks small, his face pouty.

“What’s bothering you?”

Nicaise stares at the floor. He swings his feet. “I want a family.”

Laurent purses his lips. “Aren’t you a little young to be thinking like that?”

Nicaise sends him a glare. “I want to be part of a family.”

“But,” Laurent pauses, feeling a little unsure as he says, “You’re part of this family.”

Nicaise stands with a growl, angry. “No, no I’m not! You have Damen and the baby, and you had Auguste and your mom! But I’m not part of any of that! I’ve never had any of that!”

Laurent straightens in his seat. Nicaise paces the floor. “Nicaise, you never wanted to be bonded to me,” he says, keeping his voice gentle.

“I don’t.” Nicaise has his back to Laurent. “But it’s not the same anymore. Before, it was just you and me. We weren’t a pack but we had each other. Now Damen’s here, and you have a baby. I like Theo, but I’m nothing to him.”

Laurent rises. “You’re his uncle, just as much as Nikandros is.”

Nicaise scoffs.

Laurent hears a roll of thunder, then Damen comes striding back into the room, Theo crying in his arms.

He gives a dimpled smile. “Just beat the rain.”

He kisses Laurent’s head as he passes, taking Theo into their bedroom. Nicaise still has his back to Laurent, his arms folded. Rain starts to pour outside.

“Nicaise,” Laurent starts, taking a step closer. “You’re right. It isn’t the same. It isn’t just you and me anymore. Damen is here to stay, but there’s Theo too, and he loves you. I love you.”

Nicaise pulls his shoulders in, ducks his head down.

“And when you find an omega, or even a beta or an alpha, things will change then too. There will be even more people in our pack. It’s been growing so much and it’s going to keep growing.”

Nicaise turns around then, his brows furrowed. He takes a sniff at the air.

“…Are you pregnant?”

Laurent offers him a smile, placing a finger to his lips. “Don’t tell, I want to see how long it takes Damen to notice my scent has changed.”

Nicaise looks down at Laurent’s flat belly. Just a couple months ago he’d been given the go ahead to be active again, had barely started to gain back the muscle he’d lost during his first pregnancy.

Nicaise grins. “Bet you start showing before he notices.”

“Nikandros bet someone else would point it out to him.”

Nicaise laughs. Laurent doesn’t believe for a second Nicaise will just pretend everything is better.

He feels like he isn’t part of the pack.

But it’s Damen’s job as pack leader to make him feel welcome. Laurent can’t do that for them.

Chapter Text

It takes Laurent missing his next heat for Damen to notice. No one says anything, and a betting pool is settled between the Veretians and a few Akielons.

Damen is sitting on the throne with Laurent, listening to a hearing, when he lifts his head off his knuckles and stares at Laurent.

Laurent looks over and raises a brow. Damen looks confused, his brows drawn.

Laurent smiles.

Damen’s brows furrow further.

Then they widen, and he looks down at Laurent’s stomach. Laurent still isn’t showing, odd, considering Theo was showing by this point, but Damen mouths, ‘Are you?’

Laurent tilts his head in a single nod.

Damen’s face breaks out in a grin.

Damen spends the rest of the afternoon latched around Laurent’s waist and nuzzling into his stomach. Theo sits by them and giggles at his daddy being silly.

Laurent runs his fingers through Damen’s hair, staring up at the curtain of their canopy. “Damainos.”

Damen stops placing kisses under Laurent’s belly button to lift his head. “I don’t like when you say my name like that. It means I did something wrong.”

Laurent smiles, tugging a curl. “You need to talk to Nicaise.”

“What did he do?”

Laurent hums and lifts his head to look at Damen. “Not him.”

Damen frowns. “Me?”

“There you go.”

Damen gets to his knees and kneels over Laurent. Theo giggles again, laying down by Laurent’s side to look up at his daddy. “What did I do?”

“He doesn’t feel like part of the pack. If he keeps feeling this way, he’ll leave.”

Damen purses his lips. He has two choices at this point as pack leader. Make an effort for Nicaise, or let him go. It isn’t unusual in Vere to be packless. In Akielos it’s odd, and you’ll see people always walking in a minimum of threes.

But Laurent likes Nicaise, practically raised him once he came to Arles. Damen isn’t going to just let him go, and the decision isn’t much of a decision at all.

Damen kisses Laurent’s cheek, then Theo when he grabs Damen by his curls for a kiss of his own.

“I’ll talk to him.”

Laurent smiles.

Chapter Text

Damen walks to Nikandros’ rooms. Laurent is laid up in bed. The morning sickness he hadn’t had with Theo has come with a vengeance this pregnancy. He’s dehydrated and on bedrest with nurses taking care of him and nursemaids watching Theo.

Damen hasn’t slept much more than Laurent, holding Laurent’s hair back as he pukes his guts out, trying to keep him hydrated on Paschal’s orders, getting Theo for him when they both start to cry…It’s been a long few weeks, and Paschal fretting over Laurent’s condition has Damen fretting over Laurent’s condition.

Paschal hasn’t outright said it, and certainly not around Laurent lest he not be able to bear the stress…but he’s worried they may lose the baby.

Damen drags a hand down his face, hoping to wake up a little, and knocks on Nikandros’ door.

The guards open it after that, this is Damen’s palace after all, and Damen walks in.

Nikandros is sitting at his desk working, with Nicaise reading by his side. They both look up when he enters.

“How’s Laurent?”

Damen sighs. “He’s not good.”

Nikandros frowns and sets down his quill. “Is there anything I can do?”

Damen shakes his head. He gestures to the door. “I need to speak with Nicaise.”

Nicaise stands and follows Damen out. Damen leads them out to the gardens. He’s barely had a moment’s pause between seeing to his kingdoms and seeing to his mate, but this can’t be put on the backburner forever.

“Sit,” Damen tells Nicaise.

Nicaise sits on the bench Damen led him to, right under a statue of Auguste, looking wary. “…Laurent isn’t dying, is he?”

Damen presses his face into his hands, pained by the ache in his chest at the mere thought of it. “I pray not…”

“Then why am I out here?”

“Because,” Damen says as he drags his hands away. He must look a sight, unshaven, sleep deprived, and utterly wretched. “We are long overdue for a heart to heart.”

Nicaise stares, his nose scrunching. “Laurent put you up to this.”

“No, he only informed me of the rift I was creating within my own pack.” Damen takes a seat by his side, leaning his head back against the statue’s base. “I’ve been informed, since you’ve presented, I haven’t been very welcoming.”

Nicaise scoffs and says nothing more, kicking his feet against the grass.

“I need to mend that,” Damen sighs. “Laurent loves you, Theo loves you, Nikandros likes you well enough, I shouldn’t be any different.”

“So, you hate me then?”

Damen thinks about that for a moment, his brows drawing, then shakes his head. “No. I don’t know what to make of you…”

Damen hadn’t thought too far ahead about this conversation. You rarely can where Veretians are concerned.

“I suppose…I see you as competition? I know Laurent doesn’t want to be your mate anymore you than you want to be his, but you have a connection between you…I struggle to see passed instinct, telling me you’re trying to steal my mate and my pups.”

“You don’t act like that with Nikandros,” he mumbles staring at his feet.

“I know where I stand with Nikandros. You challenge me at every turn.”

Nicaise doesn’t reply, and for a moment, Damen doesn’t think he’s listening at all. Damen sits up, ready to return to Laurent’s side.

“I’ll do better,” Nicaise says. He nods. “I want to be part of this pack, I like having this family, being part of it. I don’t want to lose it.”

Damen smiles and cuffs Nicaise’s neck, pulling him in. He gives a rough rub of their cheeks, sparking the bond between them to life. Pack.

Nicaise shudders under his touch, pressing his head to Damen’s shoulder.

Chapter Text

Nicaise is learning his part as third pack alpha. Nikandros sets a good example as second.

Laurent has been moved from their rooms to the infirmary where Paschal can keep a more sufficient eye on him. Theo cries all the time, going red in the face and tearing his throat to pieces. He misses his daddy, is worried sick about him, and wants the whole palace to know it.

Damen can’t make him happy, playing with his favorite toys doesn’t work, going for a walk through his favorite garden doesn’t work, giving him his favorite sweetmeats doesn’t work. The only thing that calms him is sitting him in the bed with Laurent. He still cries, clutching at Laurent, but he only sniffles and hiccups. No more wailing.

Laurent can barely move and light hurts his eyes. He keeps Theo close, and they cry quiet tears together, and Damen feels like he may pull all his hair out from the stress.

Nikandros and Nicaise step in when those times come, taking Damen away from Laurent so they can watch him and Theo, so Damen can bathe, eat, and sleep.

He knows he needs to, but he hates them for separating him from his mate and pups.

He works on some papers while he eats, placing his seal and signature where needed; getting some of his kingly duties taken care of.

He tries not to think about Laurent getting worse, or the gloom that hangs over all of Ios. He fights back the thought that this may have been how his own father felt when Egeria was pregnant with Damen.

A knock comes to the door, and Damen calls whoever in, turning in his seat. Paschal steps in.

Damen wishes it was anyone but him. He can only be here to bring bad news. His throat grows tight when the guards don’t shut the door behind him.

“My King,” he says with a bow. He never calls Damen Exalted. “Laurent is going through bond withdrawal. He needs a bite or his condition will only worsen.”

After seeing Laurent in as much pain and agony as he has recently, Damen hadn’t even thought of biting him. That requires arousal, for his saliva to be charged with hormones, and with the current state of their lives, Damen hasn’t been in the mental space to even think of sex.

But Laurent will only get worse without a bite, so he stands and follows after Paschal.

The room is cleared on his orders, Theo throwing a fuss the whole way out. He doesn’t want witnesses for their bite. It’s more private and intimate then when they share Laurent’s heat.

“Damen?” Laurent croaks, his eyes barely opening. Curtains block all natural light from the room, leaving only a few lanterns with light enough to see.

Damen tries to give Laurent a smile, coming to lay by him on the bed. His stomach is starting to show, barely. Damen presses his hand there, a gentle caress. “Hi, sweetheart.”

Laurent clenches under his touch, whining high in his throat. From this close he looks even worse off. Both eyes nearly circled in black, skin holding a green tint, shaking and sweating.

Damen has never once truly thought of Laurent as fragile, breakable, weak, until now. He tucks a wild strand of hair behind Laurent’s ear. “I need to bite you.”

Laurent nods. His cheeks are more hollow than ever, his cheekbones jutting out from under his eyes. His lips are chapped. “Paschal said as much.” His voice is like talking through sand.

Damen’s heart clenches, for a moment he can’t get a breath, can’t move a muscle. Laurent looks a step away from death.

The flickering flames cast shadows through the room, and Damen feels them closing in on Laurent, ready to collect his soul, the soul of their unborn pup, and take them to the other side.

“I’m probably not much of a turn on right now,” Laurent tries to joke, giving a crooked smile.

Damen chokes out a laugh, wet, like the water coming to his eyes. He brushes more hair from Laurent’s face, cups his cheek. “Your beautiful. You always have been. That’ll never change.”

Laurent leans into his touch. His scent is the same. He still smells like Laurent, the barest touch of Damen’s scent under that, pregnancy sweetening it all around.

Damen kisses Laurent. There’s mint on his breath. Damen kisses him again and again, trying not to tell himself he’s worried it may be their last. His tears roll down his cheeks, fall on Laurent’s, and Laurent wipes them from Damen’s face.

He offers another smile, guiding Damen to his neck.

Damen closes his eyes and breathes in the familiar scent, pressing his nose to Laurent’s omega gland.

Laurent makes a noise, soft, but it encourages Damen to try harder. There’s no alpha hormone in his saliva yet, so nipping and licking doesn’t draw out Laurent’s own omega hormones, but the little sighs and moans from Laurent’s lips goad him on.

Eventually Damen can feel his cock stirring, Laurent rocking into him, and he can finally take a much needed bite.

Laurent gasps, and Damen groans at the flood of hormones that hit his tongue.

Chapter Text

It’s like walking waist deep through the ocean, except he's walking deeper, then his head is under the water too. And he’s drowning.

Nikandros and Nicaise won’t meet his eyes when he makes it to Laurent’s door. Paschal told him the odds, but he and Laurent had always beaten the odds.

Except this time.

He steps into the room, dark save for one lantern by Laurent’s bedside. His stomach is mostly flat now, since…

Damen cannot bring himself to think of it, or to look at the blood still staining the sheets.

He sits beside Laurent on the bed, then lays his body out along his side when he’s met with no protest.

Laurent’s cheeks are shallow, and the dark circles under his eyes are worse than the dark of the room. His skin has a worrying grey tone, and his eyes are red rimmed when they meet Damen’s.

“They couldn’t–” he cuts himself off, turning his eyes back to the ceiling, his fingers twining with Damen’s. His grip is so weak. “There was nothing they could do.”

Damen’s throat tightens, burns, his eyes grow wet. “I know, sweetheart.”

Laurent closes his eyes, takes a shaky breath. “They don’t think–”

“Please,” Damen begs, voice cracking. “Please don’t say it.”

And Laurent is merciful enough not to. Damen couldn’t hear it from Paschal; he can’t bear to hear it now either.

He turns to face Laurent, and tucks a strand of hair behind his ear. His fingers trail down his cheek, thumb grazing his sharp cheekbone. Then down farther, to the bond mark over Laurent’s omega gland. It’s hard to see in this lighting, faint pink and shiny.

They’ve been together so long.

It wasn’t long enough.

He kisses Laurent’s chapped lips, softly. Tells him he loves him.

Laurent returns the kiss and the sentiment.

Damen stays with Laurent through the night, with Laurent curled up in his arms. He only dares to let a tear slip once Laurent takes his last breath.

The bells toll late in the morning.

Chapter Text

Damen gets all the benefits that come from being on the bite; his hair is shinier, his skin cleaner, he’s in a better mood, all around he’s clearly high on omega hormones.

Laurent smiles when Damen comes to see him that night, Theo in his arms, sleepy and reaching for Laurent. He has the same dark, curly hair as Damen, but his skin is lighter, and will probably never get as dark as the other Akielons around him. His eyes though, they’re green.

They’d been blue when he was born. Damen had hoped they’d stay that way. Laurent expects they’ll turn brown over the next few years.

Laurent was able to keep down some food today. Dry bread and broth. Paschal had been tentative with it, and had only positive things to say when Laurent kept it down. That’d been at breakfast. Now, with dinner passed and Laurent having had a little more bread, they have high hopes for his recovery.

Laurent still feels sick, is pale and shaky, his vision blurred at times, and he still has waves of nausea when certain smells reach his nose, but progress is progress, no matter how small.

Theo curls into his side, thumb in his mouth and already dozing before Damen has even joined them.

Damen presses a kiss to Laurent’s lips, cups his cheek. “How did you feel today?”

“Better,” Laurent tells him. He leans into his hand and closes his eyes. “Paschal suspects withdrawal was making my sickness worse.”

When Damen doesn’t respond, Laurent blinks his eyes open. He can see his face draw tight, and the guilt growing in his eyes. “So…”

“No,” Laurent hurries to say. “No, sweetheart. Neither of us thought of it. I was sick and you were worried. It didn’t occur to us.”

Damen doesn’t like his answer. “Our bond was weakening, and I didn’t notice.”

“I didn’t either,” Laurent tries to tell him, tries to get through to him.

He presses his forehead to Laurent’s. “I’ll never let this happen again.”

Laurent frowns, placing a shaking hand to Damen’s cheek. “You did nothing wrong.”

“I did everything wrong.”

Damen won’t hear his words, won’t step back from whatever brink he’s standing over.

“I will never blame you for this,” Laurent promises. “I will be fine, our baby will be fine, our family, our pack, our bond will be fine. This will pass, our pup will be born, and we’ll all be happy and healthy.”

Damen doesn’t say anything. He takes Laurent’s hand in his own and places a kiss to each knuckle. “Sleep, love. You need to regain your strength.”

Laurent won’t get through to him tonight, so with a sigh, he nods, and lays his head down. Theo cuddles closer. Damen is sure to stay up long after they’ve fallen asleep, watching, thinking too much.

“Goodnight, sweetheart,” he whispers.

Chapter Text

Laurent’s recovery is slow but noticeable. Nicaise is filled with relief when he visits one afternoon and sees Laurent standing at the window for some fresh air.

His belly is bigger now than it was when he’d first fallen ill, still too small, Laurent himself still too frail. But he’s better, and Nicaise feels almost heady knowing he’s safe. Nikandros says that’s part of being a pack alpha.

He sits with Laurent in the evenings, after Nikandros is done with him but before Damianos gets back from his mandatory rest period.

And every time, without fail, they walk in together and Nikandros stops in the doorway while Damianos ventures closer. “Come Nicaise,” Nikandros will beckon.

And he will rise, and Damianos will take his place, sometimes with Theo in his arms, other times, like now, he will be alone.

And Nicaise leaves with Nikandros. Nicaise isn’t stupid, but he’s apparently too young to discuss what’s happening on the nights Damianos comes without Theo. They’re sharing a bite.

It’s an intimate and private thing, he knows, but they don’t have to do him the disservice of thinking him oblivious.

Nikandros takes Nicaise out to the training grounds and to the weapons racks.

He looks them over, his hands on his hips, and glances down at Nicaise. Alpha or not, he will never match Damianos and Nikandros in size or mass. “Pick one.”

Nicaise’s lips pull down. “What do you mean ‘pick one’?”

His eyes turn back to the weapons. “I mean pick one.”

“…Is this a test?” He finally asks.

“I don’t know, Nicaise.” He looks back down, his eyes revealing nothing. “Is it?”

His glare does nothing to Nikandros.

Laurent can see Nicaise from his window. He trains on the grounds with Nikandros three times a week, four if the weather permits. Nicaise has a good form, but his swings are weak.

He and everyone else around him thought he’d present an omega, so naturally he hadn’t done a lick of laborious work in his life. Now, as an alpha, part of a pack with two kings, he’ll be expected to be twice the alpha as anyone else.

Laurent chuckles when Nicaise is knocked to his back again, shouting his frustration. Despite his anger, he has improved in the month he’s been down there with Nikandros.

A quiet knock, and the door to his room is opened. Damen pokes his head in, then flashes him a smile. Theo toddles through the slit in the door, arms out and a smile as wide as his father’s.

He’s positively glowing as he races to Laurent’s side. “Daddy!”

Damen rushes in after him, worry etched in his features. He scoops Theo up before he can slam into Laurent’s legs. “Slow down, little prince! You don’t want to hurt Daddy. He’s still recovering.”

Laurent rolls his eyes and takes his pouting boy from Damen’s arms, much to Theo’s delight. “You worry too much. I’ll be back in our rooms by tonight.”

Damen tries to smile again, but it’s tense, stretched too tight at the edges, eyes creased too much to be at ease. “Of course.”

Laurent eyes him, swaying Theo in his arms. “I’ll be fine, really. And you’ll feel better for having me back in your constant supervision,” he teases.

It relaxes Damen, to an extent. Laurent knows he worries. He knows they all do. Nikandros is the only level-headed one of the bunch though, and has taken it upon himself to distract Nicaise with every lesson he can find, every new skill he can teach.

Damen is harder to distract, and more so where Laurent in involved.

Laurent lays Theo on his bed and turns to Damen. “You should be in a meeting now.”

“It ended early.”

Meaning he dismissed everyone sooner than he was meant to so he could be here. Laurent merely hums in reply, turning back to Theo.

Damen comes up behind him and wraps his arms around Laurent’s waist, his hands careful as they touch his belly. “Don’t send me away.”

Laurent smiles, leaning into his alpha’s hold. “Never.”

Chapter Text

By the time Laurent is well enough to join court again, he’s back on best rest with the baby due any day.

And with that, Damianos is in a new state of exhaust and anxiety. Nikandros is working tirelessly to keep him from burning out, and Nicaise has been tasked with making sure Laurent is comfortable. His day entails little more than getting Laurent water when a servant isn’t around to do it and helping him out of bed so he can waddle to the bathroom.

Laurent is very low maintenance.

He asks after how Damianos fares during the days when he’s extra frazzled.

He also asks after Nicaise and Nikandros. He smiles when Nicaise berates Nikandros’ teaching style in the way he used to berate Laurent.

“I’m glad you’re bonding.”

Nicaise had scoffed.

“It’s important to spend time with the pack, Nicaise, or your bond will wear thin.”

Nicaise doesn’t scoff this time, but he doesn’t respond either.

Laurent speaks softer now. “That includes spending time with the pack leader. And it’s best to do that before a new pup joins the pack.”

Nicaise knows what Laurent means, he just doesn’t like it. He glares at the floor, bottom lip pouted. “I don’t know how to spend time with him.”

Laurent smiles, his fingers caressing his belly. “You’re a smart kid. You’ll figure it out.”

He doesn’t get the chance to figure it out because Laurent goes into labor that night. Late that night.

Damianos is at least in the room this time, coaxing his mate through the pains and pushing.

Nicaise and Nikandros stand outside the door, with Nicaise making runs down the hall to check on Theo. He’s been screaming his throat raw and crying himself to dehydration since Laurent’s first contraction, and had to be moved farther down the apartments so he couldn’t hear Laurent’s cries or stress Laurent with his sobbing.

Nikandros is guarding the door, and he doesn’t let anyone but nurses enter, ones who have been previously approved by the kings themselves.

Nikandros had memorized their faces, and had Nicaise do the same.

This birth is much more procedural than the last had been, but that is probably because they almost lost Laurent and the baby, and they don’t want to leave anything to chance.

It’s hours later, morning well and truly here, when they hear little wails instead of screams.

Chapter Text

When Laurent’s cleared by Paschal to walk the palace, he turns to Damen the following morning and kisses his shoulder. “Morning, sweetheart.”

Damen hums, a smile coming to his lips. He wraps his arms around Laurent’s waist and pulls him close. Skin to skin from head to toe. “Good morning, sweetheart.”

He kisses Laurent’s nose.

Auguste whines in his bassinet, and Laurent chuckles. “Someone’s going to be hungry soon.”

He leaves Damen’s arms, even as Damen gives a whine of his own and tries to hold on to Laurent. “Can’t I have a taste after him?”

Laurent gives a look over his shoulder that has Damen flopping back over on the bed with a defeated sigh.

Auguste squirms, his hands in little fists. He blinks up at Laurent when he wakes, then proceeds to wail. Laurent can’t help smiling as he lifts his pup into his arms. His calming scent quells the tears to a whimper as he rocks Auguste back and forth.

Auguste was born with blue eyes as Theo had been, but his skin and hair are lighter. He may even keep the blue eyes as he grows older. Laurent brings Auguste to his chest so he can eat, and turns to Damen.

Damen has shifted onto his stomach, with his head tucked in his folded arms. All dark, muscled skin against soft, white sheets. Laurent bites his lip. His husband looks very appealing in that position.

“Damianos, I was thinking,” Laurent starts, taking a seat on the bed.

Damen doesn’t bother turning his head, so his voice is muffled as he says, “You’re always thinking, sweetheart.”

Laurent gives a half-amused hum, then continues. “Why don’t we take the pack out to the gardens for lunch today? No court. No council. No onlookers. Just us.”

Damen does turn his head then, his eyes soft. He smiles, reaching out so Auguste will wrap a tiny hand around his massive finger. “I think Nikandros and Nicaise would like that. I know Theo would.”

Laurent smiles, then looks down at Auguste. He’s nearly two months old now. He’s small; smaller than is healthy. Being born a few weeks early will do that to a babe.

Damen rolls out of bed and walks to the door. “I’ll ask a servant to inform the kitchens.”

Laurent hums, his focus shifted to his pup.

Nicaise is almost surprised when Nikandros tells him they’ll be having lunch in the gardens. His brows furrow. “Why? We never do that.”

Nikandros doesn’t slow his stride. “Damen called it a ‘pack picnic,’ but he was holding Auguste; I don’t think he was paying attention to his words.”

Nicaise snorts.

They step out to the garden, and find a large blanket laid out. Laurent and Damianos are already sitting on it, Theo running after a butterfly, and Auguste tucked in Damianos’ arms.

Laurent is too weak to hold Auguste for long periods of time, especially as he gets heavier.

Nicaise walks up and sits across from Damianos, busy cooing at the pup like Nikandros said, while Nikandros grabs Theo and swings him up in the air.

“Hello, Nicaise,” Laurent says, smiling. He’s still shallow cheeked and slight of form from all the weight and muscle mass he lost. It makes Nicaise’s stomach turn to think of how much worse it could have been.

It hurts to look at him for too long.

“Hello,” he says, eyes shifting to Auguste. The pup is staring intense eyes at his sire, like he’s hanging on to his every word. And Nicaise doesn’t feel quite right about asking to hold him right now.

Nikandros takes a seat with them, sitting a laughing Theo in his lap. “Daddy!” he giggles.

Damianos and Laurent both smile at him.

Two servants step out onto the lawn, carrying with them two trays each, then setting them carefully down on the blanket. They bow and depart without a word.

Laurent holds his arms out. “Let me take him. You feed Theo.” And as simple as that, the alpha of an empire obeys his omega with only a smile on his face and love in his eyes.

As they eat, Laurent is fed bits and pieces by Damianos, mostly fruit, and hardly any at that.

Nicaise wants to ask, but he figures Laurent’s stomach is sensitive right now. He drinks plenty though, and staying hydrated had been a major concern as well.

Nikandros seems to pick up on this too. Though with two pups between them, Damianos and Laurent themselves are oblivious.

Nikandros picks up on the signs before anyone else, but by then it’s too late. Laurent is tugging at his shirt and covered in a thin sheen of sweat. His pupils are dilating. “Laurent,” his voice low and cautious. “When is your heat due?”

Damianos goes very still beside them.

“Heat?” Laurent asks, brows furrowed.

Then the smell comes, and it’s very sweet and titillating, and Nicaise can feel his mouth filling with saliva.

Damianos hands Theo to Nikandros quickly, and then Auguste, now wailing, to Nicaise.

“We need to leave, Nicaise. Now,” Nikandros commands. Nicaise nods, his stomach tingling and mouth full. He rises and follows as Damianos tries to get Laurent to his nest.

Laurent smells…really good.

Damen paces anxiously outside the door. The guards have been dismissed, but Laurent remains locked inside anyway.

The handle rattles once more, growing weaker as the days pass. “Alpha! Please!” he cries on the other side.

Damen is hard, his mouth is drooling, and he desperately wants to throw open the door and give Laurent the care he needs.

But he’d be doing more harm than good in Laurent’s state. He sneaks in while Laurent sleeps to make sure he’s safe, rubs his wrists on every available surface so his own scent litters the room, then retreats again when Laurent stirs.

He only trusts himself to enter while Laurent’s awake when he’s more in touch with himself, for a few brief minutes. He has Laurent drink water, eat fruit, and go to the bathroom. When his heat haze starts to settle in again, he helps Laurent to the bed, then leaves.

“Alpha,” Laurent sobs, lying on the floor now, blocking all light from under the door. Normally sheets would be stuffed on this side to keep his scent trapped in the room with him, but Damen is the only one here, and Laurent is his mate.

Laurent will only feel better if he has alpha hormones to counter all the omega hormone overwhelming his system. Even if Damen were in there, kissing and bringing him to orgasm would not be enough. It would only make Laurent more insistent on his knot.

And Damen can admit to himself that he is weak to Laurent’s heat and begging after being together so long.

He presses his forehead to the cool wood of the door, grits his teeth.

“It’s a normal reaction, Nicaise,” Nikandros tells him.

They’re watching the pups while their pack leaders are tending to Laurent’s heat.

Nicaise scowls, his lips peeling back to show his disgust. “I didn’t see you choking on saliva,” he hisses.

Nikandros sighs, laying Auguste in his bassinet. “I wasn’t as close to Laurent, nor on the ground with him as long as you. You were hit with a higher dose.”

Nicaise glares at the floor. His fists curl. “I don’t think of Laurent that way,” he mutters.

Nikandros shrugs, closing the door to Theo’s room. “I didn’t like him at all when we first met. Didn’t stop my cock from showing interest at the first whiff of heat.”

That doesn’t help, not really, but Nicaise is glad he at least isn’t alone. “Laurent is bonded to Damianos. Why are we still affected by his scent?”

“It takes years of being bonded for a heat scent to shift that way, Nicaise. They haven’t been together long enough yet.” Nikandros sits heavily onto the couch, his arms thrown over the back and head tipped forward, covering his throat. He makes a waving gesture with his hand. “Give it another year or so and we won’t feel it.”

Nicaise sits on a chair across from him. “At all?”

Nikandros looks at him, then raises his head. “Laurent’s scent will adjust to Damen’s hormones, specifically. His body will try to appeal itself to its alpha, and only its alpha.”

Nicaise nods, feeling somewhat relieved. Laurent smelt amazing, but…he’s Laurent.

If he’d bonded to him as a child, Laurent would smell like a parent, would feel like a parent. His heat wouldn’t affect Nicaise at all.

He’d never wanted that before, until now.

Chapter Text

When Laurent wakes up, he’s in Damen’s arms and sleeping on his chest. The sheets under them are fresh and his body has been wiped clean. The room still smells a little of his heat, like a slice of pound cake sat out too long, old and stale, but still a touch of sweet to its scent. You wouldn’t want to eat it though.

Damen is asleep under him, their legs tangled together. He must have taken care of Laurent while he was sleeping then passed out himself, after settling Laurent on top of him. Laurent smiles and lays his head back down, nosing at his neck.

A gentle, cautious knock comes to the door, followed by a hesitant, “Your Majesty? Exalted?”

“Come in,” he beckons, just loud enough to be heard. Damen stirs under him anyway.

Pallas stops outside the doorway, not looking in. Damen will be happy about that, since they are both very naked and Laurent is rather exposed in this position. Pallas clears his throat. “Your Majesty, Crown Prince Theo is asking for you.”

Laurent smiles. Then chuckles. “Please inform his Highness his fathers will join him shortly.”

“Right away, Majesty.”

Once the door closes behind Pallas, Damen groans. “Why must you do that?”

Laurent kisses his neck. “Because you like it.”

Damen’s arms tighten around him, more possessive than aroused, and Laurent laughs. “I don’t like people seeing you like that, Laurent,” he argues.

“No,” Laurent agrees. “You like people seeing us together so they know I’m yours.”

Laurent feels Damen stir under him, a little lower this time, and he laughs again.

Nicaise is sitting by Theo, holding Auguste. Nikandros had to go see to the council, and he left Nicaise in charge of the pups. Auguste is easy enough. After his wet nurse left, he’d fallen asleep in Nicaise’s arms.

Theo is pouting, his arms crossed, and waiting for Pallas to return from his errand.

When he’d asked for them, he’d enunciated very clearly and slowly, “Crown Prince Theo requests their presents.”

Nicaise had been so proud until he got the last word wrong, but he was close and the order was clear. They’d work on it more later.

Theo huffs and throws himself across the couch in a very dramatic way, similar to how Nicaise might do it. It makes him beam with pride. “Where are they?”

“Pallas has not yet returned, Theo.”


Nicaise chuckles and lets him pout.

By the time Pallas returns, Theo has shifted to the floor to continue his pouting.

Pallas bows upon his entry. “Your Highness, his Majesty and Exalted will be here shortly.”

Theo groans in annoyance. He’s loud enough to wake up Auguste.

Auguste blinks up at Nicaise, now pouting like his brother, and Theo thuds his bare feet over to his parents’ bed and pouts on there-–after struggling to pull himself onto it.

When Laurent and Damianos walk in, Theo is still pouting on their bed, but now he’s removed his chiton and diaper.

Nicaise thought it was funny and hadn’t stopped him.

“His Highness was asking for us?” Laurent asks Nicaise.

Nicaise points them to their bedchamber and Damianos comes over to take Auguste from his arms. He passes his cheek over Auguste’s, cooing at him.

His eyes catch Nicaise’s, then he leans down and scruffs his cheek too.

Damianos gives him a smile, then follows after Laurent, still cooing at Auguste.

Nicaise puts a hand to his cheek.

Damen sits against the headboard with Laurent in his arms, Auguste in Laurent’s arms, and Theo lying on his back at the end of the bed, telling them about his week in his disjointed sentences; they encourage his trying and ask a lot of questions. Nicaise left an hour ago to help Nikandros.

After lunch, he and Laurent will have to take over for them. Nikandros is overdue for a break.

Damen reaches for the pitcher of water at the side table and refills Laurent’s glass, then presses it to Laurent’s lips.

The angle is awkward, but they are practiced.

Theo finally turns over and stares at them, back to his pouting. “Where do you go?”

“Should we tell him?” Laurent asks in Veretian.

Theo–and likely Auguste–is learning Akielon first, since they are staying in Ios while their castle in Delpha is finished being built.

Damen hooks his chin over Laurent’s shoulder. “He isn’t going to remember at his age so I suppose. As long as you aren’t vulgar.”

“I’m never vulgar, Damianos.”

Damen scoffs, then presses a kiss to his cheek.

Theo is glaring at them now, mad that he can’t understand.

Laurent relaxes further into Damen’s arms. Damen places his arms under Laurent’s so he has to use less strength holding up Auguste.

“Theo,” Laurent starts. Green eyes turn to him. “You know I’m an omega?”

Theo nods, still glaring.

“Every two months, omegas go through a heat. It’s so they can have babies like you and Auguste.”

He looks at his brother now, no longer glaring. “For puppies?”

Damen presses his mouth to Laurent’s shoulder so he doesn’t laugh.

“Essentially.” Theo surely doesn’t know that word, but Laurent nods along as he says it, which gets the message across.

Chapter Text

Nikandros sits with Damianos late into the night in his main chamber. Laurent is asleep with the pups in his bed, and Nicaise had gone to Nikandros’ room after dinner to sleep. But he and Damianos had a bottle of wine between them they were intent on drinking.

“Laurent feels bad about ruining the picnic.” Damianos is sprawled back on the couch, goblet barely held between his fingers.

Nikandros is in a similar position. “Two pups and still recovering from a birth and serious illness. No one faults you two for it slipping your minds.”

Damianos makes a noise like agreement. “Laurent still feels bad. He’s wanted us to be out bonding for a while now. It’s always on his mind.” Damianos takes another sip, then reaches forward to fill his cup again. His eyes linger on the red liquid inside. “He hasn’t had a pack in a long time…”

Nikandros nods. “I don’t think Nicaise has ever had one.” His brows furrow, eyes on the ceiling. “He got really worried when Laurent’s heat affected him.”

Damianos eyes trail up to catch his, and they're glazed with drink, but his mouth is flat.

Nikandros scoffs. “He’s a high level and his scent is still shifting. It would have affected me if I hadn’t gotten away in time. That doesn’t mean either of us wants to sleep with him.”

Damianos is still frowning, more so now, but his eyes are back on his drink. “Mine.”

“Yes, yours, and no one would want it any other way.” Nikandros rolls his eyes, then reaches to top off his own drink. “My point is that Nicaise got very freaked out about it. I think this may be the first time he’s ever had…interest stirred by someone. Worse off for it being someone he views as a brother.”

Damianos nods, then drinks. And drinks, and drinks, and drinks.

Nikandros stumbles into his rooms, takes a glance to see that Nicaise has fallen asleep in his bed, and then falls into his own.

Their next few days are quiet, with Damianos and Laurent back at court and the pups with their nurses. Nikandros was told to take it easy, that he should rest after all the work he’s done. Damianos had scruffed his cheek and hugged him, thanking him for his help.

Nikandros had returned that hug and told him he’d happily do it again.

So, he and Nicaise are in the field, and Nicaise is working on horse riding. He’s apparently only ridden pillion before now, and they’d need to rectify that quickly.

Before they would see a breeder, Nicaise was going to learn how to ride on his own in at least a trot. And before his pony was born, he’d learn canter. He’ll be as good as all the other adults in the pack by the time his horse is old enough to ride.

Nicaise thought it was taking too long to learn.

“I learned the sword faster than this,” he grumbles. He’s steering the horse through the round pin. He’s hit a growth spurt and outgrown his sandals, and his chitons have become too short to not upset Veretian sensibilities. Not his own; Nicaise had taken to the Akielon fashion as readily as Laurent had, with mildly ulterior motives behind each.

The horse under him is still larger than he’d ever use outside of this, but Laurent’s horse is the only one fitted to his size, and she doesn’t like anyone but Laurent to ride her, aside from Laurent’s pups, who walk around with Laurent’s scent on their heads.

Nicaise is having trouble guiding the horse, as he’s still far too small to handle the large animal with the authority needed.

“You’re still training with the sword, and you will everyday your arms are working, no matter how good you get. If you don’t train, you grow rusty. Same with riding a horse.”

Nicaise doesn’t like his answer, as evident by the pout on his lips. But he doesn’t complain anymore, because his complaints rarely effect Nikandros’ decisions.

He’ll be a fine swordsman one day, and a fine rider too. Nicaise holds a level of potential he cannot yet see. But Nikandros has seen it, in small moments where a spark comes alive in his blue eyes. He’ll be ready one day.

He’ll see it one day.