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After Damen’s own official coronation in Ios, he journeyed with Laurent back to Arles so the Prince of Vere could become the King. The ceremony was opulent and no expense was spared, despite Laurent’s preference for austerity – the people needed a good celebration, and so the extravagant festivities commenced as soon as the delicate gold crown was placed upon his head. They continued for an entire week, a blur of dances, feasts, music, plays, and a decided lack of arena performances. By the end of it, Laurent could not remember ever being so tired yet happy in his life.

Damen stayed in Arles with him until the end of the week, and contributed a great deal to the happiness Laurent felt then. Although they had not made anything official, most everyone on the (new and improved) Council knew, and many of the guards and soldiers at least had an inkling – especially the unfortunate guards posted outside of the King’s apartments.

It was as if, now that the battles and deceptions were behind them, they simply could not get enough of each other. Damen took him, every night, in every way imaginable, and in some ways Laurent had never even known existed. There was something so intoxicating about being so close to him, gripping the bulging muscles of his arms hard enough to bruise, stroking his hands up the hard planes of Damen’s broad chest, kissing him until Laurent could feel his smile against his lips. And, of course, feeling Damen inside of him. Feeling utterly full, surrounded by Damen and nothing but Damen, slowly letting himself be taken apart by the thrust of his hips and the brush of his lips and Damen’s cock, heavy and thick and impossibly good.

But Damen had a country of his own to manage, so when the week ended and the festivities with it, Damen left with his retinue to sail back to Ios. He promised to return soon, but they both knew that “soon” was a very changeable word, and Laurent had to struggle to keep himself composed as he saw Damen off. He had tried to memorize the lines of Damen’s face, the gentle curve of his lips and the soft brown of his eyes, the stubborn curls of hair that fell over his brow. Laurent wished he could have kissed him there, on the steps of Arles, but forced himself to pull back, swallowing the lump in his throat.

“I expect letters,” Laurent told him coolly, eyebrow raised.

Damen smiled, so achingly sweet that Laurent’s heart stuttered. “Of course,” he murmured, reaching out, touching Laurent’s shoulder. That was the extent of the public contact they were allowed here – a fond goodbye between two kings as allies and friends. But anyone close enough to see their expressions and hear the tone of Damen’s voice would have known at once that they were so much more than that. He stepped a bit closer. “I will come back, you know. As soon as possible, I promise.”

“Oh, don’t rush the rebuilding of Akielos for little old me,” Laurent replied, though what he wanted to say was, Don’t go. Don’t you dare go. “Have fun with that, by the way. I hear not all of the kyroi are as pleased with the Veretian alliance as they should be.”

Damen shrugged lightly. “Not all of them have learned to appreciate Vere as I have.”

Laurent tried to suppress his flush and did not quite succeed. “Appreciate Vere? Or appreciate me?”

Damen’s mouth twitched. “Same difference, isn’t it?” He squeezed Laurent’s shoulder and stepped back. “Farewell, our brother of Vere,” he said, loud enough for the assembled crowd to hear. He inclined his head. “May we meet again soon.”

Soon. Laurent hated that word. “Farewell, Damianos,” he said, the familiar name causing a ripple of surprise in the crowd. Damen’s lips parted, hesitating beside his horse.

I will miss you, he mouthed.

Laurent, in reply, raised two fingers to his lips and extended them to Damen, a silent, subtle kiss. It was the most he could give him.

And then Damen was riding off, carried away by the snapping banners and glint of armor.

Laurent did not see him again for six months.

*

At first, it was manageable. Vere had plenty of issues of its own to solve, from weeding out the traitors who still lived to instating laws about the legal age of pets (eighteen) and detailing better pet contracts which left no room for cruel and unusual punishment of any sort. If Laurent could have, he would have outlawed pets altogether, but he was no fool. Even the Council loyal to him would not support that – even some pets would not support that. Grudgingly, he had to admit that some of them lived far better lives as pets than they would have without that choice.

So Laurent compromised, and was taken aback by the almost unanimous agreement from the Council and the court at large. A few were unhappy about it, but voicing their concerns basically exposed them as sadists and perverts, so they shut up soon enough. Laurent did not want there to be another Nicaise or Erasmus. And if the laws were broken…well. Laurent had several cruel and unusual punishments of his own in mind.

For much of the first month, Laurent simply did not have any time for dwelling on thoughts of Damen. He found himself working from dusk to dawn, often retiring late at night with a pounding headache. The bed was cold and felt too large without Damen in it, but Laurent was usually too exhausted to care too much. No wonder his father had started going gray so early – being King was a taxing job to say in the least.

But after the tangled and stressful start of his reign, the days became slightly less frenzied as the Council took on the more minor matters of business. Vannes actually insisted he go riding and take a week to rest for fear he was going to collapse at any moment. Reluctantly, Laurent agreed, if only because the violet circles under his eyes were growing more noticeable by the hour.

Laurent would have been grateful for the free time if it didn’t mean he now had time to think about Damen. The first night that he went to bed without being so tired that he fell asleep instantly was…difficult. He hadn’t had time to contemplate exactly how cold and large the bed felt without Damen, and as he lay there in the darkness, alone, his chest ached for his lover’s familiar warmth, for his voice, even for his snoring. Laurent knew he was in trouble when he started missing Damen’s snores.

Though this longing weighed on him, Laurent did not allow others to see it. As King, he could not show any weakness, especially not for the ruler of Akielos. But the second month dragged on, and Laurent found it more and more difficult to hide his pining. Damen’s letters, which arrived once every two weeks, did not help at all. The reunification of Akielos was a slow and arduous process, and though he was making progress, Damen hinted that “soon” might be longer than expected. Laurent had to grit his teeth to fold the letter neatly and place it in a drawer with the others instead of tossing it childishly into the fire like he wanted to.

He started sparring and going on rides more often. It exhausted him and cleared his mind while he was doing it – two birds with one stone. But always, some way or another, his thoughts would turn back to Damen. It was almost…it was almost like losing Auguste, in some ways. In other ways it was entirely different, but. There were echoes of familiarity in the way his heart hurt; the way Damen’s face would not leave his head no matter how hard he tried to banish it. But Damen was not dead. Damen would come back.

Soon.

On the fifteenth of the second month, Laurent was surprised for one of the few times in his life.

It was a late summer day, not as warm as Akielos but still hot enough to drive most people inside during the hazy afternoon. Laurent was sweating through his tightly laced clothes but valiantly making his way through an impressive stack of trade agreements from Patras when a horn blew at the palace gates. Scouring his mind for some visitor he might have missed and coming up short, Laurent peered warily out from between the curtains.

The main courtyard was still and empty, but as the gates opened, a crowd began to gather at the shaded fringes, staring shamelessly at the impressive procession which entered. Laurent found himself smiling, sagging against the window frame with something like relief – Halvik rode proudly across the courtyard on her black stallion, clad not in her usual furs but in a striking, sleeveless tunic more appropriate for the heat (but not for “Veretian sensibilities”).

She looked down imperiously at the gawking people, as did the rest of her clan, riding behind her in a rough diamond formation, most of them women as striking and powerful as she was. Laurent thought he could see Kashel riding close behind her, and wished for the umpteenth time that every little thing wouldn’t turn his thoughts back to Damen.

Control yourself, Laurent reprimanded sternly as he made his way down to the Vaskians.

*

Due to the somewhat unexpected nature of their visit, the feast was scheduled for that evening to allow the frazzled cooks more time to prepare it. It was only somewhat unexpected because Laurent had extended a tentative invitation to Vask several weeks previous, as an offering of goodwill and in an attempt to secure better trade routes and relations with the Empress. He hadn’t thought she would actually accept it.

“Empress likes you better than uncle,” Halvik explained as they strolled through the gardens, looking with interest at the colorful flowers around them. “You do not always need great size to be great,” she added, looking at him slyly.

Laurent chuckled. “Yes, yes. I have long eyelashes, like a cow. You flatter me, Halvik. However, I –”

“Yes, you lie with the large Akielon slave. I remember,” Halvik finished. She raised an eyebrow. “Where is he now?”

Laurent exhaled unsteadily. “He…isn’t a slave,” he said. “He is a king. Like me. The King of Akielos.”

Halvik did not seem too shocked by the news. She just paused, and then nodded sagely. “He bred many strong daughters.”

“Many?” Laurent repeated, hoping he did not sound as envious as he felt.

Halvik’s black eyes glittered. She inclined her head. “Where is your Akielon king?” she repeated.

Laurent sat down on the nearest bench, and sighed. “He left for Akielos a month and a half ago. He will return, but…I do not know when.”

Halvik made a thoughtful sound, and sat next to him. She patted his knee. “I understand. You miss his cock.”

Laurent, after a few seconds of shocked silence, cleared his throat. “Ah. Well. It’s a bit more than…I don’t just…I miss him.”

Halvik nodded. “You miss his cock. Do not worry. It is not uncommon.”

Laurent pursed his lips. “I am well aware of how men are viewed in Vask. However, Damen is –”

“Your lover. Yes.” Halvik, he swore, was silently laughing at him. “Strong man. Good man. Kind man. Large cock.”

Laurent’s ears were hot. “That is…a rather apt summary of him, I suppose.”

Halvik slapped his knee. “Good! Lucky for you, men are not rare. Easy to replicate.”

Laurent’s eyes narrowed. “If you are suggesting that I fuck another man –”

She waved a hand. “No, no man needed. Just the cock.” Halvik grinned. “You have them here, no? Wood, stone, glass – fake cocks. Until your Akielon king returns.”

Laurent opened his mouth, then closed it, his mind suddenly filled with very, very explicit visuals. “Glass? Is that…safe?”

Halvik snorted and stood up, retracing their steps. “Feast tonight. I will see you then.”

*

As it turned out, Halvik and most of the rest of her clan got roaring drunk at the feast and Laurent saw very little of the clan leader after all. As he slipped away from the party halfway through, he hoped the Vaskians somehow managed to not scandalize the noblemen too much with their very forward advances. The noblewomen, in the meantime, seemed to be having the time of their lives. Vannes was practically tangled with Kashel, last he’d seen her. Laurent briefly entertained the idea of Vannes living as a rustic clanswoman and almost giggled aloud at the sheer absurdity of the notion.

So perhaps he had had a few drinks of his own. Why not? It was a night of revelry, and Laurent tired of restraining himself all the time. As he made his way through the gardens he wove and walked a bit unsteadily, knees wobbly and senses dulled, and he only heard the couple when he had nearly stumbled upon them.

Low voices, both male, nestled in an alcove away from prying eyes. Laurent, curious despite himself, backtracked and stealthily made his way behind some nearby shrubbery, peering into the alcove. The air was heavy with the scent of blooming jasmine and magnolia, strong enough to make his head even hazier. Perhaps it had a similar effect on the couple, because they moved slowly, one tall and dark-haired, perhaps a guard judging by his discarded clothing. The other was a pet, fair-haired and freckled everywhere, even where the guard’s grip dug into his buttocks as he lifted him up to wrap his legs around the guard’s hips.

They were both smiling, laughing, even, like friends. They were close in age, hardly older than Damen himself, and clearly this was not their first time together – there was something familiar in the way they kissed, the pet’s bracelet-laden wrists draping around the guard’s shoulders, drawing him closer, the guard chuckling and brushing a flaxen curl behind the pet’s ear.

“I swear you get lovelier every time I see you,” the guard murmured, prompting the pet to blush deeply. “The nighttime, it suits you. Looks like you’re glowing.”

“Henri, please,” the pet said breathlessly. “I have been waiting all night, save your pretty words for after.”

Henri’s eyes widened, his hand dipping down to nudge between the pet’s cheeks. Laurent should not be watching this. He had resolved to leave immediately, and was about to do so when the light caught on something inside of the pet, something bright and unnatural. Laurent paused. Henri groaned, tugging on the object lightly. The pet shuddered.

“You really did it,” Henri whispered. “Julien…”

“’Course I did it,” Julien purred. “This one feels so good…it’s the expensive one you got me, from The Briar Rose…worth every coin.”

Henri did not move his hand. “Oh? You think it’s worth more than my cock?”

“No,” Julien hissed, squirming. “It’s not enough; take it out, please, need you inside me right now –”

The guard pulled the object out without further hesitation; it fell several feet away on the grass, small and glittering. Laurent, ignoring them as they continued to paw over each other, narrowed his eyes at it. It was made of glass and glistening with oil, a tapered conical plug. He drew in a sharp breath.

The Briar Rose. A high-end brothel in the city, not far from the palace gates.

It would be so easy to visit it right now, unnoticed amidst the darkness and the celebration. But when Laurent hurried away from the couple, his head spun and his vision wavered. Not tonight, then. Maybe not ever – maybe in the morning he would come to his senses.

*

But that was not at all what happened.

Laurent dreamed of Damen that night. And though this was not an uncommon occurrence, the dreams were never quite so…filthy. Laurent could not recall specifics, only that there had been fingers and kisses and a flash of glass and Damen’s cock, splitting him wide, feeling even larger than usual. Laurent awoke achingly hard and soaked in sweat, his white nightshirt plastered to his body as he lay there in astonished, aroused silence.

Absently, his hand drifted to palm his cock. He turned his head on the pillow, gaze falling upon the bottle of oil on the nightstand. Laurent swallowed, hesitating a moment before reaching out to pick it up. This was…new. He did not often pleasure himself, like this, alone. It usually felt too intimate and awkward for him to even enjoy it.

But his cock, leaking through his nightshirt, had no such misgivings at the moment, and as Laurent uncapped the bottle and poured some of the oil into his fingers, his usual trepidation was replaced by the blurry image of Damen sliding into him. Laurent’s lips parted, an unsteady exhalation as his thighs parted and his fingers dipped between them, pressing lightly against their target.

Laurent had never been able to relax quite enough in the past to make this work. Then again, he hadn’t had Damen to think about.

Two fingers slid in. Laurent bit his lip, the angle strange and a little uncomfortable but his hips were already rocking back against the digits, cock filling out against his stomach. There was a stretch, but not enough, not nearly enough. He shifted to get a pillow under himself, canting his hips up as his knees drew farther apart and he added another finger. A small sound slipped out and he bit his lip harder, well-aware his guards were only an antechamber away.

The three fingers still weren’t enough, yet Laurent was almost afraid to add another, fearing that he would lose all semblance of control if he did. Cautiously, he started moving the digits, pushing them deeper, gasping as his ring finger brushed against that spot inside of him that Damen would tease him with, barely brushing it on every thrust until Laurent was close, and then he would hit it on every thrust until Laurent came (which was usually a few seconds later).

Laurent twisted his fingers, brushing the spot again, and had to squeeze his eyes shut as his legs fell wide open, hips hitching up to meet his fingers. It still felt a bit awkward, but it also felt good – and when he scissored his fingers and closed his eyes he could almost imagine it was Damen doing it, kneeling between his legs and watching as Laurent shuddered and shattered slowly under him –

Laurent came with a jerk, clenching tight around his own fingers and striping his belly with white. It was almost a shock when he opened his eyes and saw the evidence of it, the evidence that maybe this was a good way to cope with Damen’s absence after all.

After Laurent had cleaned himself up and put the oil away, he lay again in bed, considering. “Briar Rose it is, then,” he murmured, lips curving in a slight smile.

*

The next night, it was much harder to sneak out.

Correction: it was much harder for the King to sneak out. It was quite easy for a pet to do so.

Laurent threw on an old velvet cloak, grabbed a satchel of coins, and, after a moment’s hesitation, put on Nicaise’s earring. And he already had the gold cuff on, which really sold the whole image. He bypassed the guards with help from Jord, who gave him a look and said, “Just don’t get yourself killed, or Damianos will kill me.”

Once past the royal wings, Laurent hurried down the hall and through a hidden pathway in the main garden which was empty, save a few gardeners who were far more focused on their flowers than on a stray pet. He reached the garden gate without incident and slipped out of the palace and into the city silently, counting the cobbles beneath his slippered feet as he made his way through the tangled streets.

The Briar Rose was an opulently decorated building less than a mile from the palace walls, and even from the street Laurent could hear the loud music and raucous laughter from inside. He touched the sapphire earring, steeled himself, and pushed the heavy oak door open.

Laurent had been inside few brothels, but this one looked just as he’d imagined it to – the space was sectioned off with heavy drapes on the lower floor and the staircase leading up to the private rooms was draped with various couples all in varying states of undress. The air was thick with a mix of incense and sweat, and as Laurent stepped over the threshold he was immediately accosted by a svelte woman with long black hair and pouting lips. There was a topaz in her ear, and when he pushed back his hood to reveal his own earring her lips curved up in a kind of secretive smile of understanding.

“I bet you’re here for one of Miss Fleur’s toys,” she murmured, hair swishing as she tugged him off to the left, past a bare-chested boy and two blonde ladies. “Am I right or am I right?”

Laurent bit his lip, letting his cheeks flush, playing at shy and inexperienced. It was not difficult. “I…I think so?” he stuttered. “My master was…a bit unclear.”

She seemed greatly amused by this. “Oh? Well, what did he tell you?”

Laurent exhaled slowly. “He told me to come here and buy something that would make me feel as full as his cock does.”

She giggled. “You’ve come to the right place. Miss Fleur is just through there. Hope you find what you and your master are looking for.” She winked and whirled away, disappearing into the crowd of debauchery and leaving Laurent standing uncertainly before a heavy blue curtain.

He thought of the pet in the garden. He thought of his fingers inside of himself. He thought of Damen, and the look on his face when he found out what Laurent had been up to in his absence.

This could be a game, Laurent thought. A very amusing game. Yes. It was easier to think of it that way, so Laurent reframed it as such as he slipped past the curtain.

The room beyond was smaller and quieter than he’d expected – he was the only customer, currently, and the woman lounging on an overstuffed sofa looked up with lazy surprise at his entrance. Laurent hardly noticed her. He was too busy staring at the glass cabinets on the walls, and what they contained.

“You’re new,” Miss Fleur said as she rose to her feet and sidled over. He didn’t know what he had expected – perhaps a strange old hag peddling these ‘toys’ like forbidden potions? But no, Miss Fleur was young and beautiful, with a curly mane of red hair, and regarded him with curious green eyes from where she leaned against the counter in the center of the room. The counter contained glass cases too, and she tapped one with a long-nailed finger.

“I know it’s impressive, dear, but I haven’t got all night. Did your master give you any instruction, or did he simply ask you to surprise him?”

Laurent tore his gaze away from the cases with difficulty. “He…wants me to surprise him.”

“Lovely.” Miss Fleur raised a thin eyebrow. “In that case, what would you prefer? Poor thing, you don’t have to look so terrified, I assure you I’ve never had any complaints.” She turned and opened one of the cabinets, perusing it casually before taking out three toys and setting them down on the counter. One was glass, one was wood, and one was metal. They were all very unambiguously shaped like cocks. “It might be easiest to choose which material you like first. The glass is our most popular.”

Laurent wrinkled his nose, and repeated his question to Halvik, “Glass? Is that safe?”

Miss Fleur huffed. “Perfectly, what, do you think I would sell you something that would ruin your arse and make your master furious with me? Don’t be ridiculous. It’s safe; the glass is tempered to withstand…pressure.”

“Ah,” Laurent said. He was not entirely convinced. “And the metal?”

“The metal is durable, heavy – some use it to exercise their muscles because of the weight. And very little friction, if you like that. With the glass and metal, you can change the temperature by putting it in cold or hot water – gives you a greater range of sensations.”

Laurent considered that – it was an interesting idea, and suddenly the glass one looked more appealing. But the one in the middle, the wooden one, still stood out to him. It looked…oddly beautiful, the dark wood shining in the low lamplight, polished to perfect smoothness. And…its coloring was not dissimilar from Damen’s. The thought made his ears hot.

“What about the wooden one?”

Fleur must have heard the interest in his voice, because she smiled and picked it up, handing it to him. Laurent took it gingerly. “Wood is an old material for these toys, but it lasts a very long time. And if you’re worried about splinters, don’t be. Just like a sword, as long as you keep it polished frequently, it will serve you well.”

Laurent turned the toy over in his hands. It was faintly warm to the touch, and unlike with the glass or the metal, he was not immediately repulsed by the thought of putting it inside his body. “Yes,” he said. “I would like…something like this. But maybe, bigger?” He looked up at her. “My, ah, master is…larger than this.”

Fleur blinked. The toy was not at all small, and her eyes widened a little. “Oh?” Her gaze raked over Laurent’s slender frame and her eyes widened a little more. He narrowed his eyes at her. She quickly turned back to the cabinets and opened one. “How…much larger?”

Laurent fought to hide his smirk. “At least three inches more.”

She rifled through the cabinet, and finally turned back with one that was definitely larger. Maybe even a little bigger than Damen, Laurent realized with a jolt. But it was not an unpleasant jolt. She set it down on the counter. “This is the same type of wood. Mutenye wood, very smooth, not too heavy. And it’s exotic; it comes from Akielos.”

“Does it,” Laurent said, and hoped his voice wasn’t too breathy. “I’ll take it. How much?”

By the time he left Miss Fleur’s his satchel was empty and he had replaced the coins with the wooden toy, a smaller glass toy, and a plug like the one he’d seen the pet wearing. They seemed to burn against his side as he snuck back into the palace – they were illicit, and new, and his.

He had never been so excited about pleasuring himself.

*

Laurent got his chance two nights later. There was a feast for the wedding of a new Councillor, and though Laurent was forced to stay for the first half of the revelries to keep up appearances, he managed to excuse himself discreetly after the wine began flowing. Laurent had no desire to partake in the drinking, but evidently his guards did – only one of them was at his post, and he only managed a lazy wave at Laurent before slumping against the wall and letting out a loud snore.

As long as nobody tried to murder him tonight, it was the perfect opportunity. Even if some assassin did sneak in, Laurent would bet they’d be too shocked by the scene before them to carry out the deed.

Still he locked his doors for good measure and drew the curtains tight, leaving a few candles lit in a warm circle of light with the bed at the center. Laurent went to the armoire, where he had hidden the toys in a secret compartment in one of the drawers which was probably meant for confidential documents, not fake cocks. Still, it got the job done. He brought them to the bed along with a new vial of oil, as he was unsure exactly how much he would need. Laurent was nervous, though he’d never admit it to himself. He did not have experience with these…toys.

It was almost laughable, really, how nervous he was – he had suffered far worse humiliation, and yet when he picked up the glass toy his throat went dry and his cheeks flamed red. Determined, Laurent shed his clothes with shaky fingers, laying down on his back against the pillows, feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable though he was alone. If Damen was here…if Damen was here, he would have tried to calm him with soft kisses, large hands rubbing comforting circles over his back and hips, stroking his hair lightly until Laurent responded and relaxed in his arms. He would probably keep asking if Laurent was sure, if he really wanted this, reassuring him all the while that it was perfectly alright if he did not.

And Laurent would say yes, you idiot, does it seem like I don’t want this, put it in me, and then – oh.

With more instinct than thought, Laurent had uncapped the bottle and slid two fingers inside himself. His fingers were slimmer than Damen’s and not quite as long, nor as calloused, but it was enough to make his spine arch, hips bearing down on his own hand as he added a third. And if he closed his eyes, he could let the illusion continue – it was Damen between his legs, preparing him with firm, twisting strokes, letting Laurent adjust to his fingers for far longer than necessary, until Laurent was on the verge of begging for it, cock fully hard against his stomach.

Laurent cracked his eyes open, pulling his fingers out and grasping clumsily for the glass toy. It was a bit larger than three fingers and a couple inches longer, with a slight curve to it. Despite the oil he trickled on it, it was cold when Laurent pressed it against his entrance, and he hissed slightly, trying to loosen his body uselessly as he pushed the toy in. At first he was so tense that it hurt a little, a sharp twinge with every press of it deeper inside, but as the minutes passed the toy began to warm up, matching his body temperature. Without the cold it was easier to relax, and with teeth digging into his lower lip Laurent started up a slow, halting rhythm, moving the toy with a glide much smoother than flesh against flesh.

He could feel the sculpted edges of the toy against his insides in high definition, the glass imitation of veins and a cockhead, which nudged every so often at the spot that made him so uncontrolled he had to stop for a few seconds. It did not feel like the real thing, but…it did not feel bad. It did not even, necessarily, feel foreign – it moved slickly within him, easily, and it filled him more than his fingers had.

But it did not fill him as much as Damen. Blearily, his gaze fell upon the wooden toy. The large one that reminded him of his far-off lover, made from an Akielon tree. It came from a living thing – unlike the glass, it was entirely natural, and Laurent picked it up eagerly, his cock leaking as he considered it. Ridiculously, he wasn’t sure if it would…fit. Of course, he knew that was silly – he had thought similarly of Damen’s cock at first, and clearly that worked out just fine in the end. Laurent had no complaints. But this was…bigger.

He removed the glass toy with a quiet gasp, lips parting at the obscene mess – the toy was shiny with oil, practically gleaming in the candlelight, dripping on the sheets. If Damen was here, he would say something about how it looked – about how Laurent looked, legs splayed wide and hole wet and loose, so ready for him, just for him. Laurent inhaled sharply, staring at the ceiling and mentally counting to ten. Then he uncapped the oil, poured it liberally over the wooden toy, and without further hesitation pressed it inside.

Or tried to. It wouldn’t, quite. The angle wasn’t ideal, and Laurent wriggled around in frustration, bending his knees, tilting his hips, and still the damned thing wouldn’t move past what little resistance his body offered. He needed something to stop that resistance altogether. More oil? More preparation? No. Gravity.

Slowly, Laurent sat up, kneeling on the bed and raising up on his knees over the toy, positioning it directly under him. He closed his eyes, but did not squeeze them tightly shut as if to block out the sensation – rather, he savored it as he sank down on the toy slowly, taking it inside of himself inch by inch. It entered his body with a dull ache that became a dull pleasure, a bitten-off sound escaping his lips as the wide tip split him open, his oiled insides clinging to the toy’s slick, softly carved curves, his hips rocking uncontrollably even when it was only halfway in.

He shifted a little, impatient, and the rest slid in almost too fast. Laurent moaned, surprised and dazed, shuffling his knees further apart and moaning against as the toy found that spot again. But because it was longer than the glass toy, it did not simply nudge that spot – it dragged against it, constantly, and Laurent could do nothing but squirm and moan as his hips worked against his own volition, pleasure blooming at the base of his spine and outwards, pooling in his cock and gut and gathering in his throat in helpless, overwhelmed sounds.

It was not Damen. But oh, it was so very close, and it was so, so good, and when Laurent threw his head back and wrapped a desperate hand around his throbbing cock he could see the illusion again, could see Damen in front of him, moaning with him, fisting his own cock at the sight of Laurent losing himself to pleasure. So beautiful, you’re so beautiful like this, no one else gets to see you like this, Laurent, please; please, let me see you –

Laurent gasped Damen’s name, grinding down hard on the toy and bottoming out on it, warm smoothness pressed hard against him as he cried out and came in a hot white streak across his belly and the sheets and the toy, still completely hard and full inside of him. Laurent slumped back against the pillows, whimpering softly at that realization – if he wanted to, he could lay here like this and continue fucking himself with the toy for as long as he wanted; he could make himself come twice in a row, he could let himself dissolve into a shaking, over-sensitized mess.

When he returned, Damen could do that to him. Laurent would let him. At this point, there were few things Laurent would not let Damen do to him. Laurent threw an arm over his face and shuddered uncontrollably. It was this separation; it was driving him mad. That was the only explanation.

*

In the four months that followed, Laurent concluded he must either be very mad indeed, or he had just made a very important discovery – that he very much liked using toys on himself. He spent long days pouring over paperwork and consulting with the Council and generally managing the mess that was Vere.

He spent long nights exploring the new game he had created for himself. He went through so many bottles of oil that he was sure someone had begun to suspect something, until he overheard servants discussing how poor King Laurent wasn’t getting enough sleep, burning those lamps so late into the night, writing treatises and laws and such. What a busy man.

Laurent was very busy, even without getting busy at night. So busy that he sometimes replied late to Damen’s letters, which were growing more infrequent anyway. Laurent was secretly worried about that, but when Vannes dared to broach the topic with him he simply raised an eyebrow and said, “I hardly expect his world to revolve around me. No doubt he has far better things to do anyway.”

So maybe he had let some of his anxiety show. But it had been two seasons since he’d seen Damen last, and Laurent could not help but let every worst-case scenario play through his head like a badly-written tragedy. What if Damen had simply grown bored of him? Laurent was not an easy person to be with, of that he was painfully aware, and if Damen had finally decided enough was enough…Laurent spent hours dreading that possibility, and regretting all the times he had treated Damen badly – there had been so many. Maybe, if he had been kinder, Damen would have returned.

Or maybe Damen had outright replaced him. That thought rankled Laurent even more – Damen had been with many, many lovers; that was no secret. He was unfairly attractive – also hardly a secret. And he was a king. Experienced, handsome, and powerful. It was foolish to think that no one was vying for King Damianos’s attentions. And of course he would have tried to resist them at first, but maybe they had been persistent, and maybe they had been beautiful; sweet and warm where Laurent was cold and distant. And maybe Damen had realized that being with Laurent was too complicated, too messy, too difficult to continue given the history between them, and had chosen the easier path. He did like it simple, after all.

The game with the toys distracted Laurent somewhat from those fears. With every passing day his anticipation for Damen’s reaction upon his return grew – he knew Damen would not expect this kind of game from him. He would expect intrigue and perhaps witty remarks and cool, casual affections – he would not expect Laurent to be aching and prepared for his cock. It was, Laurent thought, the kind of thing normal lovers might do. Surprising each other with mutual pleasure.

The wooden toy remained his favorite, though he often had to use the glass one first to fully prepare himself for it. Laurent also took to wearing the curious little plug occasionally – on boring days, it certainly added some…stimulation. It was also endlessly amusing to sit on his throne while wearing it, ruling Vere while struggling not to squirm or flush too obviously. He got very good at hiding his reactions, even when the plug pressed against his spot. It was a skill, truly, and one he hoped to exercise in front of Damen soon.

Soon was not coming fast enough.

But it did eventually come, along with the chill of winter and the first snowfall. Damen had evidently been planning a surprise of his own, because he did not warn Laurent in advance and his letters had ceased altogether a week before. Laurent was a little irritated. But mostly, he was relieved and excited and inwardly exultant when Vannes burst into his study to tell him that the King of Akielos had finally returned.

Laurent did not let any of his initial emotion show, thanking her calmly and dismissing her with a flick of his wrist. Once she had left, he returned to his bedroom, took a deep breath, and set the game into motion as he’d practiced so many times before.

*

Laurent did not go out to meet Damen as he and his entourage entered the main courtyard. For one thing, it was cold – the cobblestones were covered in an inch of snow and all the horses were lightly dusted in it, as were their shivering Akielon riders. And for another thing, Laurent could not appear eager to see him in the slightest. That was part of the game. Damen might hate him a little at first, but Laurent knew he would more than forgive him for it by the end of the night.

The palace was abuzz with activity – preparations for the feast that night had to be made, and rooms had to be readied, and the entire palace had to be as impressive as possible; fit for not only one king, but two. Laurent watched the proceedings from his study, gazing out the high tower window at the courtyard. Damen dismounted his horse, gathering his cloak tighter around himself and politely accepting greetings from several enthusiastic courtiers, all the while glancing around, clearly searching for Laurent. His gaze lifted towards the palace, and Laurent left the window hastily.

He resolved to stay in his study until the feast. If Damen wanted to see him, he would seek him out. So Laurent reluctantly went back to his paperwork, waiting hopefully for a knock on the door.

It came an hour later, and Laurent had scarcely opened his mouth to ask who was there when the door practically flew open, Damen in the doorway and two wide-eyed guards behind him. “Apologies, Your Highness,” one stammered. “We tried to tell him you were busy, but he said you would, ah, make time for him.”

“I am busy,” Laurent replied, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. “And I don’t appreciate such audacity. The King of Vere makes time for no one, especially not an Akielon.”

Hurt flashed in Damen’s eyes and he took a step forward. “The King of Vere is being rude,” he retorted. His voice softened. “Laurent. I am glad to see you. It has been months.”

“Has it?” Laurent studied his fingernails. “Perhaps time passes more slowly in Akielos.”

Damen’s brow lowered. He took another step closer. “Are…are you upset with me?”

Laurent gazed at him coolly. “Do I look upset?”

Damen sighed, shaking his head. “I missed you,” he said, his voice so raw and genuine that Laurent had to dig his nails into his own thigh to stop himself from going to him at once, winding his arms around Damen’s neck and kissing him soundly. Damen’s hair was longer than before, wavy and dark just above his shoulders, and Laurent ached to tangle his fingers in it. His body seemed somehow broader, muscles more defined after what must have been months of exertion, commanding the Akielon army and putting disobedient kyroi in their place.

But his eyes were the same, bright with affection and want, all of it focused solely on Laurent. Laurent didn’t know how he could have ever thought Damen would abandon him for another.

“I will see you at the feast tonight,” Laurent said, looking down and rifling through his papers.

Damen hesitated. The guards still stood in the doorway, uncertain.

Laurent glanced up, pointing at the door. “Do you need a map? You are dismissed, King Damianos.”

Damen exhaled unsteadily, and left.

*

The feast was a grand affair with more than ten courses and entertainment throughout, the hall strung with little colored lanterns and garlands of flowers whose fragrance lay heavy in the air, wafting out into the gardens through the wide windows. The great table was laden with every Veretian delicacy imaginable, crowned by a whole roast swan redressed in its feathers. Lords and ladies fed their pets little morsels of fruit and sweetmeats, and Laurent was struck by a rather ironic sense of déjà vu – ironic because Damianos sat beside him once more, not as a slave but as a king.

Laurent wondered what Damen might do if he offered him a sweetmeat. At this rate, he’d probably take it – his desperation was obvious from across the room. And he was not across the room. He was inches away, leaning closer every chance he got, trying to initiate conversation which Laurent promptly shot down.

“Surely something worth talking about must have happened while we were apart,” Damen pressed, his smile strained.

Vannes, who sat on the other side of Laurent, nudged him unsubtly. “Oh yes, His Highness has been working very hard. Rewriting trade routes, forming new alliances, changing laws.”

Damen raised an eyebrow. “What sort of laws, Laurent?”

Laurent sipped his wine delicately and did not make eye contact. “Laws regarding pets. Whoever wrote the original stipulations left much to be desired.”

Damen waited for him to elaborate. He did not. Vannes, rolling her eyes, came to Damen’s rescue. “He raised the legal age of pets to eighteen and made their treatment more humane. He isn’t entirely callous, when it suits him.” She nudged Laurent again, her eyes narrowed. Laurent ignored her.

“That’s very good, Laurent,” Damen tried, but Laurent just waved a hand and became very absorbed in his apple tart.

By the time the night’s main entertainment had begun, Vannes had given up and Damen was beginning to look like a kicked puppy. The lights dimmed and several decorated pets made their way to the center of the room, starting up a sensuous dance accompanied by a spirited group of musicians. Laurent watched it with little interest, more to distract himself from Damen’s pleading eyes, but a few minutes in, he lost any interest at all when Damen’s hand fell upon his thigh under the table.

Laurent froze, and felt Damen tense with him, hand lifting unsurely away, afraid he had crossed some unspoken boundary. But Laurent could only let him suffer for so long, and took Damen’s wrist, firmly pressing his hand back against the soft fabric. He did not turn his head to look, but could see in his peripherals the small, relieved smile on Damen’s face. The dance continued.

Damen’s thumb began to rub little circles against the curve of his hipbone in a way that was just as soothing as it was arousing. Laurent bit his lip, and shifted slightly in his chair. Inside of him, the plug shifted too, and he let out a sound – not quite a sigh and not quite a moan but a cut-off cross of the two that made Damen still in a very different way. Damen’s fingers dug in to his thigh. Laurent moved closer. The plug pressed insistently against the most sensitive part of him, and maybe his reactions had been easy to control before, but now, with Damen right there? Laurent didn’t know how much longer he could keep this up.

His cock clearly agreed, stirring eagerly in Laurent’s tight breeches, and Damen sucked in a sharp breath when he noticed. “Laurent,” he said roughly. The music covered their words. “Laurent, let me touch you.”

Laurent did turn to look at him then, gazing at him through his lashes and loving the way Damen’s eyes darkened, pupils blown in obvious desire. “Here?” he asked. “In front of everyone?”

“If that’s what you want,” Damen whispered.

Laurent’s hips shifted ever so slightly upwards. The plug pushed perfectly against his spot again. It was time to go. “I want,” he said as evenly as possible, “you to take me to bed right now, unless you’d really prefer to bend me over this table and fuck me in front of everyone.”

Damen stood up abruptly. He was impressively tenting the front of his chiton, and made no attempt to hide it. Laurent’s eyes widened. “Come,” Damen said, not in the soft, tender voice he used around Laurent so often but in the unyielding, commanding voice of a king. How could Laurent possibly disobey?

They managed to slip away as unnoticed as possible, given that they were seated on the dais at the front of the room. Laurent grasped his hand tightly, leading the way to his apartments and all the while painfully aware of Damen’s heat at his back, closer than he had been in six months. Laurent didn’t know how he’d survived. He didn’t know how he hadn’t made Damen fuck him on the damn table; that was how far gone he was by the time they reached his door.

The guards were off enjoying the revelries, so they were uninterrupted as Damen flung open the door and slammed Laurent up against the other side of it, immediately kissing him in a sweet, hot rush that made Laurent’s knees weak. “I thought,” Damen gasped against his lips, “that you hated me all over again.”

Laurent laughed, a choked sound. “No,” he chuckled, “hating you wasn’t nearly this much fun.”

Damen bit the soft spot under his jaw, laving it with sucking kisses that made Laurent clutch at him. “Six months,” he growled, nosing at Laurent’s hair, inhaling deeply. “And you made me wait even after I returned,” he added, quieter.

“I’m not making you wait now,” Laurent countered, putting his hands on Damen’s chest and shoving him away. Damen went easily, chest heaving. Laurent took in the sight of him standing there, illuminated by the golden lamplight behind him, curly hair haloed and eyes bright with flickering fire, skin painted in rich shining shades of bronze and copper, full lips parted in soundless want. Even slightly hunched over, he towered above Laurent, and yet Laurent knew that he would do whatever Laurent asked of him.

His order was not difficult for Damen to obey. “On the bed,” he said.

Damen blinked, backing up until his thighs hit the edge of it and he sat down on the mattress heavily, waiting for further command with a tilted head.

Laurent advanced slowly, unhurriedly, lifting his hands to unlace his jacket bit by bit. “Sit up against the pillows,” he continued, voice low and cool. Damen did, his gaze tracing the path of Laurent’s hands greedily, hands fisting in the sheets when Laurent tugged the laces free and let his jacket fall from his shoulders, leaving him in a sheer white undershirt; then unlaced his breeches, hearing the catch in Damen’s breath when he saw Laurent wasn’t wearing any underwear. Laurent reached the bed, and crawled up onto it on his hands and knees, feeling oddly predatory as he made his way between Damen’s parted legs. “Don’t touch me.”

Damen’s eyes flashed but he kept his hands away, exercising remarkable restraint even as Laurent straddled his lap, letting himself sink down slowly, until he could feel Damen’s arousal snug against his own, barely covered by the undershirt. Laurent cupped his face, suddenly tender, smoothing his thumb over Damen’s cheek and kissing the tip of his nose, the wrinkle on his brow, the soft curve of his lips. Damen kissed back cautiously, still conscious of the rule Laurent had given him, and Laurent smiled against his mouth.

He pulled back. Well, it was now or never. He took Damen’s wrist, and slowly guided his hand back, behind Laurent, between his legs, until his fingertip rested against the glass plug. Laurent watched his face carefully. Damen’s brow furrowed, confused, and then he circled his finger around it and looked at Laurent with wide eyes. “What,” he whispered, awed, and pressed it lightly. Laurent’s lashes fluttered. Damen stared at him.

Laurent shifted off of him. “I got lonely when you left,” he murmured. “I missed you. I also missed your cock.” As he said it, he touched that part of Damen, hand slipping casually under the chiton, curling loosely around where Damen was hard and wanting, feeling it fill out further in his grip. He retreated after several light strokes, shrugging off the undershirt, and turned on the bed, once more on his hands and knees, giving Damen a better look. Damen made an inhuman sound.

Laurent hummed, opening his legs, tilting his hips up, and said, “You can touch me now.”

Damen was on him in seconds, though his touch was slow and reverential, not the fast desperation Laurent had expected. His palms slid warmly over the curve of Laurent’s ass, thumbs spreading him open and groan spilling loudly from his lips as he saw what Laurent had done to himself. “You will be the death of me,” Damen told him, mouth on his hip, and Laurent shivered when he grasped the flared end of the plug, tugging experimentally. “Is it…can I…”

“Yes,” Laurent gasped into the mattress, “do it, take it out, I’ve been waiting so long –”

Damen’s breath feathered across his spine. “How long?”

Laurent closed his eyes. “Since you arrived,” he admitted, and Damen groaned again, his grip surer when he tugged the plug again, sharply, until it fell onto the sheets and left Laurent empty and slick and so, so done with waiting. Damen’s finger replaced it almost immediately and Laurent’s back bowed, his breath coming out in staccato ah’s, unable to control himself any longer.

“The whole time,” Damen said, reverting to Akielon, “you were ignoring me, dismissing me, making me think you hadn’t missed me at all – the whole time, you were waiting for my cock.”

“I was waiting for you,” Laurent said, looking up at him over his shoulder, face flushed. “Damen, I missed you.”

Damen leaned forward, pressing himself along the length of Laurent’s back, kissing every inch of skin he could reach. “So much,” he agreed. “Laurent, I need…”

“To be inside of me,” Laurent finished, tipping his head back, baring his throat to Damen’s hungry lips. “Yes. Please, now.” Damen’s finger crooked in him and he bit back a curse. “Now. I’m ready, just –”

For once, Damen did not need any further assurance. His finger was immediately replaced by his cock, hard and hot and full and Laurent knew that no matter what Halvik said, nothing could truly even begin to compare. Laurent had prepared himself well, and Damen slid in with one easy thrust, leaving Laurent trembling and Damen tense against him, trying to hold himself back long enough for Laurent adjust. Laurent almost snapped at him to hurry up, but then he realized Damen did not know about the other toys. He did not know how Laurent had been making certain he would be adjusted by the time Damen returned.

So Laurent told him.

“After you left,” he said, muffled but audible, “I would lay awake at night thinking of you.” Damen’s hips twitched, a half-thrust that made Laurent tighten around him as if trying to keep him there. “Not like that,” he chuckled. “Not at first. Just…ah…missing you, the sound of your voice, your stupid smile, your terrible sappiness.” Damen nuzzled the back of his neck, encouraging, starting to move slowly against him in steady, shallow rolling motions.

Laurent moved back into it. “Then my body started to miss you. I had…dreams, I touched myself and said your name – Damen.” Damen’s steady thrusts faltered. “I needed…I needed you, to be close to you, I felt like I was missing a part of myself, felt it like a constant ache and fingers weren’t enough, not even close –”

“Laurent,” Damen groaned, shuddering, driving into him harder, hands tight on his hips. He seemed incapable of saying anything else.

Laurent continued, breathier than before. “Then I found the toys…I saw a pet with a soldier in the gardens, and they reminded me of us, and the pet had a plug like the one I just used and...yes, yes, there,” Laurent hissed, hiding his face against the sheets, silk soft on his cheek. “So…so I bought toys of my own.”

“Toys?” Damen echoed. “Plural?”

Laurent lifted his head. “Three,” he said.

Laurent.

“The best one,” Laurent told him, “is under the pillows.”

Damen paused, brushing Laurent’s hair away from his face. He looked…eager. “Do you want me to get it?” he asked.

Laurent smirked at him. “I think you want to.”

He’d thought Damen would pull away, but Damen seemed unwilling to part with Laurent just yet, and dragged Laurent up into his lap as he bent back to rifle through the pillows, angling his cock in a very new and very good way. By the time he’d found the toy, Laurent was squirming and fully hard, which didn’t lessen one bit when Damen lifted up the wooden toy with an expression of blatant disbelief, cheeks coloring and eyes huge as he looked from it to Laurent and back again.

“This,” Damen said. “You put this inside of you.”

Laurent leaned back against his chest, circling his hips, bearing down on Damen’s cock as he had on the toy. “Mhm,” he said. “I fucked myself with it while pretending it was you.”

Damen had run out of words. He certainly did not use any when he shoved Laurent face-down on the bed again and drove into him like an unchained beast, teeth sharp on Laurent’s neck and sure to leave a canvas of bruises in their wake, just like his fingers clutching Laurent’s hips, holding them against his own as he moved faster, harder, with enough force to make Laurent cry out, vision blurring in unchecked pleasure. His cock, untouched, was dripping onto the sheets, smearing slickness against his stomach that hardly matched the slickness of Damen’s cock deep within him.

Laurent’s body was raw; red-hot steel bending and yielding with ease under the furnace’s flames, everything an open nerve that sparked with sensation everywhere Damen touched him. Perhaps it was the waiting, the longing, the need to be together after so long; but fucking had never felt like this, like there was nothing but the two of them in the entire world, nothing else that mattered.

“It wasn’t you,” Laurent said. “There is nothing, no one, like you.”

“Laurent,” Damen sighed, and came with his arms around him, holding him through it as Laurent felt him jerk and spill in a rush of warmth, felt Damen draw back after a moment, reaching at once for Laurent’s cock.

“No,” Laurent said, pushing himself up unsteadily, turning around and settling carefully in Damen’s lap again, this time face to face. Damen blinked at him, soft and questioning. “The toy,” Laurent said, and Damen’s gaze sharpened in realization. He did not break Laurent’s gaze as he picked up the wooden toy and placed it where his cock had been seconds earlier; he did not break it even when Laurent sank down on it with a helpless moan, wrapping his arms around Damen’s neck and smothering his sounds in the hollow of Damen’s throat as Damen fucked him with the toy, pumping Laurent’s cock with his other hand until Laurent let go, his whole body curling into Damen’s, finally spilling between them with a soft whimper.

For a time, Laurent was lost in a pleasant haze, snuggled against Damen, sated and spent. When he came back to himself, Damen had cleaned them both off and put the toys away, hopefully not under the pillows again. Damen pulled the sheets up around them, evidently just as exhausted as Laurent. Laurent kissed his collarbones, eyes fluttering open when Damen tipped his head up gently.

“I love you so much,” he whispered, stroking Laurent’s hair back.

Laurent’s defenses were down; his barriers had been stripped clean. He had no riposte. “Oh,” he said, small and startled.

Damen laughed, and Laurent felt it against his own chest. “Out of everything we just did, that is what shocks you.” He chuckled and pressed his lips to Laurent’s brow. “There is no one like you, either.”

Laurent let Damen draw him close, into the strong circle of his arms. “I…love you too,” he breathed hesitantly against the pound of Damen’s heart. The words sounded strange on his lips, but not bad. No, not bad at all. “I suppose you’re going to gallivant off to Ios in the morning,” he added, his tone mocking, though Laurent said it knowing Damen would hear the true plea behind his words.

Damen’s arms tightened around him. “Not without you.”

Laurent sighed. “I cannot leave my kingdom.”

Damen shook his head, smiling. “It was one kingdom, once,” he said.