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The Campfire

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The mission they had set out to accomplish was nothing like the one they had struggled through on the border last year. It was a mild dispute, between one of the Patran forts on the border, and the joint kingdom of Akielos and Vere (which, to Damen’s frustration, they still had not been able to agree on a name for). It was not the type of mission that really required royal presence - and it especially did not require two royal presences - and yet, Damen and Laurent had ridden out with the cluster of soldiers anyway, in order to battle with the Patran fort over the dispute. Damen was sure that they would win, so whilst there was little tension or worry amongst them, it still meant a couple of months away from the comforting palaces of Arles and Ios, traded instead for nights sleeping on the uncomfortable bedspreads of the royal tent, and days spent enduring rigorous rides on horseback and eating unappealing fire-cooked food. It was far too soon after the fight with the Regent and Kastor to be trading luxuries for this again.

Unsurprisingly, for the first few weeks of their settlement in the camp with the soldiers, Laurent was distant and did not engage in the evenings spent huddled around the campfire, trading stories and Griva. Instead, he kept to his tent and only interacted with the soldiers to discuss strategy and ensure everything was running smoothly. No, it was Damen who indulged in the company of the soldiers and - even though they were a little thrown by the presence of the king amongst them - he fit in rather well. Laurent, with all his magnificent grace; his beautiful face and golden hair, stood out in counterpoint to the lively, rugged cluster of soldiers by the campfire. Damen knew that Laurent did not possess the easy mannerisms needed for soldierly camaraderie and he remembered Laurent’s last attempt to participate - a night of too much Griva, ending with him making friends with Makedon and promising him a hunting trip. His mouth quirked at the memory.

One night, when he retired to the tent after a night spent with Jord, Nikandros and the other soldiers, Laurent was watching him with a searching gaze. He was poised at the table, his leg brought up and tucked under his chin, dressed in only the finest white bed shirt and nothing else. His hair was falling around his face, and the soft light in the tent graced his elegant features with a vulnerability that Damen knew Laurent would have hidden in front of anyone but him.

“I thought you would never come to bed,” Laurent said lazily and - although there was a smirk on his lips - there was an air of something else in his voice. Damen had become an expert at picking up subtle signs of Laurent’s emotions that broke through his iron-clad self control.

“Did you miss me?” Damen asked, unlacing himself from his clothing and letting it fall to the floor. Laurent watched him with the same cool indifference that he watched anything else, but he could see the slight interest in his eyes as Damen pulled off his shirt to expose the skin underneath. Laurent didn’t reply, and so Damen sprawled into the seat opposite him. He was briefly reminded of nights spent at a table similar to this, discussing tactics and war, speaking in Akielon, on the verge of the biggest battle of Laurent’s life. The atmosphere this time around was much softer; the day-to-day interactions of lovers in their tent.

“You spend most of your nights with them,” Laurent said, as a reply to Damen’s question, and it was enough of an answer for Damen.

“I have often invited you to join us,” Damen noticed that Laurent was a little heavy-eyed - tired - and in front of him was an opened book, spun with gold, and a goblet of half-drunk water. He was winding down, ready for sleep.

“I can’t,” Laurent let out a breath of laughter. “I hardly think I have the right mannerisms to engage in soldierly campfire camaraderie. They… It is different.”

“You are their king - they would welcome your presence,” Damen argued, but he knew it was different. The soldiers, while they loved and respected Laurent, did not relate to him. They did not think he was right to join them - they had made passing comments about how Laurent was sure to ruin their fun with his presence - how he was hardly likely to indulge in alcohol and trade stories about sex - before shooting nervous glances at Damen and falling silent. If Laurent wanted to engage with them, he would have to prove himself to them, and Damen knew how much Laurent hated having to prove himself to people.

“Only because I am their king, and they would have no choice,” Laurent said, conversationally - he did not seem to care. “I am not like you. I -” He looked away, denying Damen his face, and whatever he was going to say, he decided against it. When he turned back, there was something different in his eyes. “I will not deny you the pleasure of getting to know our men, but I - I think I am happier in here.”

“You do miss me,” Damen said, an air of surprise in his voice, and a flush appeared on Laurent’s cheeks.

“I,” Laurent exhaled a breath of air. “It is getting late - I think I will retire to bed now that-” He cut himself off, but it was too late, Damen knew the end of the sentence. Now that you are here . He had been waiting up for Damen. His chest ached.

Laurent pushed himself out of his chair and walked the short distance to their bed. Damen finished ridding himself of his clothes, and followed in Laurent’s path, until only a handspan separated them. “Hey.” He reached out, softly, to touch Laurent, and it was a testament to how tired Laurent was that he simply melted into the touch. He pulled Laurent into his arms, and when the other man did not resist, he tightened his hold, curling his fingers into Laurent’s hair and around his back. Laurent did nothing but lean against him, his shuddering breaths brushing against Damen’s skin.

“I have been distracted,” Damen said softly, as means of an apology and Laurent huffed a laugh against his skin.

“I am not a child, desperate for your attention,” Laurent muttered indignantly, and Damen tilted his head up to bring their lips together. Laurent sighed against his lips, his fingers curling around Damen’s bicep, holding onto him, eyelids fluttering closed. Damen brought his hand to Laurent’s neck to deepen the kiss, and he could feel the thrum of Laurent’s pulse beneath his fingers - it had picked up already. When they pulled away, Laurent flushed. “You are insufferable. You did that to prove a point.”

Damen grinned. “I didn’t, but it is nice to know that I could have.”

Laurent’s flush deepened a little. “Let go of me.” He said, almost like a petulant child throwing a tantrum, and Damen grinned a little more. “Stop that.”

“Tomorrow, I will not spend the evening with them,” Damen told him. “I will spend it with you.”

“I,” Laurent looked frustrated, pulling himself out of Damen’s grip, but he could not argue - or else Damen might take back his offer.

“We are both exhausted by the time I retire to the tent, I -” Damen worried his lip between his teeth, trying to delicately pick his way around the subject without annoying Laurent. He knew that Laurent did not like to look dependant or vulnerable. “It has not left much time for us to -”

Laurent huffed a breath. “Maybe tomorrow, I will be too busy for you ,” He climbed into the bed, but there was a smirk on his lips and he did not pull away when Damen crawled beside him, and slipped his arms around Laurent, pulling him closer.

“Maybe.” He pressed their lips together again, and they said no more until he felt Laurent’s fluttering breath against his collarbone - the telltale signs that Laurent had fallen asleep - and Damen blew out the candle beside them, and fell asleep too.

****

Laurent had not been joking when he had said he would be too busy for Damen, it appeared.

He had spent the entire day working tirelessly with his soldiers, running them through formation after formation, until their faces were covered in a sheen of sweat under the relentless Akielon sun, and their muscles ached with the exertion of being on horseback all day. Of course, although the tension must have affected Laurent too, he looked as he always did - an unmovable golden presence, sitting straight-backed atop his white stallion, as if that was where he belonged. Laurent always looked particularly graceful on horseback.

By the time the sun was dipping below the skyline, painting the sky in a cascade of colours - pink, and orange, and blue that would eventually melt away to leave a canvas of inky black - Laurent had finally given his men leave, and they retired to the campfire to eat and drink. Damen had assumed - although it was late evening and the air was tinged with the smell of summer breeze and the buzz of fireflies around the candlelights - that Laurent would not be too exhausted to join Damen in their tent once he had finished handling the horses.

He had been right; Laurent showed no signs of exhaustion when he returned from the paddock, but he also showed no signs of wanting to join Damen in the tent.

The soldiers were circled around the campfire yet again, holding flagons of griva and laughing over some story that Nikandros was telling. Lazar was holding a guitar, and occasionally strummed a few notes on it, as if trying to prompt the cluster into engaging in another campfire rendition of Akielon or Vere folk songs, to no avail. Damen was sat by the entrance to the royal tent, sharpening one of his swords, waiting for Laurent, when he saw Laurent crossing the camp.

He had expected Laurent to approach him, but instead, Laurent shot him a smirk - a look of pure deviance that told Damen he was under the influence of another one of Laurent’s teasing games - and approached the soldiers.

“Men, you do not mind if I join you, do you?” Laurent said to them, casually, as if it was not completely out of character for him to grace them with his presence. He was dressed as he always was, in his tightly-laced, high-necked Veretian clothing, and it was a stark comparison to the soldiers in their loosely fitting shirts and heavy boots. He looked delicate and graceful, and completely out of place. Damen’s mouth fell open to match the expression of the soldiers.

It was Jord who spoke first, swallowing to dislodge the shock from his throat. “Uh. No, no, of course not, Your Highness. You are always welcome, I - Here -” He shuffled, and awkwardly, the men rearranged themselves to make room for Laurent to join them. Carefully, Laurent lowered himself to take a seat on one of the logs, sitting as gracefully as one could when sat on a log in front of a campfire. It was truly impressive that Laurent could make even that look as if he were sprawled on the lavish throne of the palace in Arles.

A silence settled over the men. Eventually, one of them swallowed and handed a full flagon towards Laurent. “Griva?” Then, hurriedly, panicked, he added, “Uh - Your Highness.”

“Thank you,” Laurent said casually, as if his presence had not caused the uncomfortable atmosphere that it had, and took the flagon, taking a long drink from it. Damen found he was very impressed that Laurent did not grimace - the alcohol tasted awful even to the men who drank often so to Laurent, who did not indulge himself in alcohol, it must have tasted diabolical. “Please, don’t let me interrupt you. What were you talking about?”

“Nothing.” Jord replied instantly and Laurent looked amused, curling both of his delicately boned hands around the flagon. It looked wrong in his hands - too harsh for Laurent’s refined and delicate appearance. The roughly carved wood did not fit in his hands, did not match his golden hair and fine features. He looked as if he ought to be holding carefully spun wine glasses instead. A breath of amusement left Laurent’s lips.

“Nothing,” He echoed and Jord had the decency to blush.

“Just - nothing that would interest you, Your Highness,” Jord corrected himself and Laurent took a sip of his griva, licking the wetness off his lips.

“Really? You would be surprised at the things that interest me, Jord,” Laurent crossed his legs and Jord blinked, unsure of how to reply.

“Sex,” One of the other soldiers interjected, as if to save Jord from the awkwardness, only to bring it onto himself instead. He seemed to regret it the instant that Laurent’s calculating blue gaze fell on him. “We - we were talking about sex.”

Laurent’s amused expression deepened and he chanced a glance over at Damen, who was watching all of this unfold with an expression of nothing more or less than pure, unrestricted shock. “I see. And you think that the conversation would not interest me?”

“Well - Well, it’s a little… crude for you, Your Highness.” The soldier - who Damen knew was called Ajax - tried to defend himself, but Laurent just raised one of his eyebrows.

“Really? And I suppose you think it is too crude for Damen then, also?” He asked, but the question was rhetorical. Damen had told Laurent before about the discussions that went on around the campfire. The silence was tense and Laurent sighed.

Makedon clapped his hands together and Damen was amused to see how many of the men jumped. “You know, I have drunk with the King once before,” he said with a grin, “he has more powerful will than any man I have ever drank with. We will have a shortage of Griva by the end of the night!”

That seemed to relax something in the soldiers, and they laughed, and even Laurent managed a smile - though Damen did not think it was genuine. Makedon’s comment had the effect that he was sure he intended it to, and it was only moments after that, that conversation reignited amongst the soldiers. Damen did nothing but sit by his tent and watch, still shocked that Laurent had done this, merely to prove a point, and - judging from the smirks and teasing glances he sent Damen’s way - to frustrate Damen, who had clearly set himself up for a night of lovemaking with Laurent. He had forgotten how much he missed taking Laurent, and Laurent was deliberately provoking him. He supposed it was inevitable - Laurent was hardly the type to pine over a man, and spread eagerly for him when he decided to return his attention to him.

“Damianos!” Nikandros called after a while. “Your presence here is missed!”

Damen heaved himself up from polishing his armour with a sigh and walked the short distance to the fire. There was little space on the logs for his rather large form, but the soldiers moved to make room for him anyway. He was the king, after all, and they would sit on the floor before letting him go without a place to sit. Laurent watched him approach with the same amused expression that he had worn all night, and Damen was half infuriated, and half-pleased to see Laurent in such high spirits. There was not room near Laurent, and so Damen sat himself on the other side of the circle, so that his view of Laurent was accompanied by the flickering flames between them, the sparks that drifted in the air, and the swirling ripple of the heat. Laurent met his gaze across the campfire, and his blue eyes were dark and indiscernible from the glare of the fire. Damen swallowed.

“So,” he broke his gaze away from Laurent’s, and cursed himself for the increase in his heartbeat. “Is there any Griva going spare?”

****

It was an odd situation for everyone, Damen thought. For him, it was strange to be engaging in soldierly camaraderie with none other than Laurent - the King of Vere - the man who had always appeared unmovable and fierce to anyone but Damen. He was often started, surprised, to glance around the circle as he shared some particularly crude story and notice Laurent sat across from him. For the soldiers, he knew they were unnerved by the presence of both of their kings, but the Griva was flowing, and their reservations were lessening with every drink they took. For Laurent, who did not often engage in social events like this - it was a new situation, and he was approaching it like he approached everything else; using his mind to calculate the best form of behaviour in order to navigate the situation correctly.

By now, the canvas of colours has dripped away, leaving a sheet of darkness in the sky, broken only by the scattering of stars and the ethereal glow of the moonlight. The smoke from the fire drifted into the air, the sparks from the flames bright and flickering against the inky-black sky. It was getting late, and the alcohol was doing nothing to ease the frustration burning through Damen’s veins. He had thought of nothing else all day, than ending the day by taking Laurent in their tent, and the heat under his skin was almost unbearable. He cursed himself for the nights he had spent out here instead of with Laurent - they had not fucked for a few weeks.

Laurent’s presence was also not helping. The griva was tinting his cheeks ever-so-slightly pink, and the evening breeze, alongside Laurent’s own hands, had tousled his golden hair into a state that reminded Damen, frustratingly, of Laurent’s post-coital look. I am never, ever spending an evening without fucking him, ever again, Damen decided.

Lazar was strumming absentmindedly on his guitar again, and Pallas was pressed into his side like a doting wife, emboldened by the griva in his veins. He traced his fingertips up Lazar’s arm, and his slurred request came like a whine; “play something.”

Laurent’s eyes flickered to Lazar and Pallas, and Damen briefly wondered what it would be like for Laurent to lower his inhibitions like that, and touch Damen so thoughtlessly in front of others. He paused, watching Lazar’s fingers work clumsily over the strings, and seemed to consider something. “I have not played in a very long time.” Laurent said suddenly, and although his voice was not loud, it was unmistakable enough to draw the attention of the other soldiers, who were trained to listen to the King on instinct.

A shock ran through Damen like lightning. He did not know that Laurent could play at all. He had heard rumours that Laurent was talented with the piano before Auguste’s death, but that he did not play much anymore, and he had never seen Laurent indulge in music firsthand. Lazar blinked at him, unsure of what Laurent was saying.

“Do you want to -?” he held out the guitar and the surprise was evident on many of the soldiers’ faces, just as it was on Damen’s. Then, too late, he added; “-Your Highness.”

Laurent hesitated, and then his gaze briefly moved to Damen, before he nodded and took the instrument from Lazar’s outstretched hand. “Thank you.”

Damen’s pulse thrummed in anticipation. Laurent strummed a few notes experimentally, as if to test himself. It was clear he had not played in a long time, and was trying to find the skill again. Damen was hit by the thought of it - he saw Laurent, young-faced and bright eyed, his young fingers gliding effortlessly over piano keys, strumming guitar strings, his voice angelic, soft, and unbroken - and a curl of something hard and bitter settled in Damen’s chest.

He imagined Laurent singing to Auguste - showing off his talents, just as Auguste would show him his own skills with the sword,- and he imagined the same young-faced (though considerably less bright-eyed) Laurent abandoning his instruments forever, letting them collect dust as he tried to steel himself for a life as Crown Prince, a life without his brother and father, a life with

Damen snapped his gaze away from Laurent’s hand on the guitar, his heart beating irregularly with an anguish he could not control. Damen was often haunted by spectres of Laurent as a child, though he had never told Laurent as much. He did not think Laurent would appreciate the knowledge.

“I think I remember how to play,” Laurent said, and his voice was a little shy. Damen had never seen him open himself to anyone other than Damen, and he knew that part of it was that Laurent was trying to prove himself to the other soldiers. He could not exchange crude stories or engage in sexual jokes and concepts, but he could give them this.

He strummed the first few notes of a song and shock hit Damen again like fire. He knew the song; it was an Akielon song, one that they often sung around campfires like this, and Damen would mark it down as one of his favourites. Damen did not know if Laurent knew that, but something told him that he did, just as he had known when he requested another song from Isander all those months ago. The same shock seemed to ripple through the soldiers of Akielon descent, and Damen briefly wondered if they would be insulted by the Veretian King playing their song, but they weren’t - instead they stared, open-mouthed with anticipation, as Laurent’s fingers worked over the strings with the same grace as they worked over everything.

His talent was almost faultless, and Damen could hardly believe that Laurent had not played for years. The gaps that his lack of practise created were almost unnoticeable, and Laurent smoothed over them effortlessly.

Then, impossibly, unbelievably, Laurent opened his mouth, and sang.

The silence that descended over the group - broken only by the crackling of the fire and Laurent’s voice - was tighter than a bow string, all of them staring at Laurent with reverent attention, the same wonder that they would gaze at a lover, and if Damen had not been so captivated, he would have been jealous.

Laurent’s voice - although slightly shaky from years of disuse - was beautiful and graceful. It matched Laurent’s appearance, his effortless grace. It came from his lips like spun gold, drifting across the campfire and entrancing everyone like the Siren’s Song, drawing unwilling men into its spell. Damen had never imagined Laurent like this - had never pictured Laurent would open himself up like this, offer this part of himself to a group of men, when he had never even granted Damen with this part of him. Although his voice bore telltale signs of a man, Damen could imagine the angelic quality that his voice would have held when he was a boy, before before everything.

Damen could not look away. The firelight flickered on Laurent’s ivory skin, created iridescent patterns and shadows across his elegant bone structure, across his lips as they formed notes of the song. His eyes were half-shut, his eyelashes fanning out to create shadows on his cheeks from the firelight, and his hair was falling into his face as he bowed his head to watch his own fingers move on the guitar. Damen felt as if he was seeing him for the first time, and wonder washed over him - disbelief that this man was his lover.

He looked younger in the warm amber glow of the fire, and the beautiful quality of his voice did nothing to help the image. He looked beautiful, and as the song reached its chorus, his eyes - the blue darkened by the light of the fire - fell on Damen as he sang, and Damen felt as if he was captured, bound by invisible ropes, fixed to the spot. He stared back at Laurent, and the intensity of Laurent’s gaze made every inch of his skin heat up. The firelight danced on his skin, the curling flames reflected in his dark blue eyes, and Damen could not look away even if he wanted to.

The moment felt too raw, too intimate, and Damen could not believe that they had company; it felt as if they were making love right there. His skin prickled at the thought, and desire thrummed in his veins. Laurent’s voice was a little rougher as it sang now, and he could tell that whatever illogical desire that had hit Damen like a wave when their eyes met, had been mirrored in Laurent. He felt it too - he could tell by the intensity of his gaze, the way his voice cracked ever so slightly around the song. He wondered if the other men could tell, if they felt uncomfortable playing witness to this staring contest between the two of them, and found that he did not care.

Then, frustratingly, insufferably - Laurent broke his gaze away and lowered his eyes back to the guitar, though his fingers were shaking a little as they moved over the strings, and his voice was rougher than before. He could not reclaim the unmovable image that he managed before their eyes had met.

As if wanting to break the different quality that the air had suddenly taken, Nikandros cleared his throat - and joined in. It was odd to hear someone interrupting Laurent’s rendition with their own voice, but it was tradition. If a man sang around the campfire - you did not let him sing alone, it was a group activity - the others were expected to join in. Sparked into life by Nikandros, the rest of the group broke into a hazy and clumsy rendition of Damen’s favourite song, but - since Laurent was leading the song - they left the particularly meaningful notes of the song to him, and merely accompanied him.

Damen did not join in.

He did not think he was capable of joining in.

His throat was thick and dry, and he was sure that if he opened his mouth, all he would be able to offer was an incoherent noise.

Finally, what must have been the longest four minutes of Damen’s life drew to a close, and Laurent cleared his throat, his fingers stilling on the guitar. Silence settled over the group, the crackle of the fire suddenly sounding far too loud, and Damen observed the rest of the circle to find that they were all staring at Laurent.

Most of them seemed purely shocked that their king had given them this, had indulged in campfire folk songs - had known a campfire folk song - but in some of them, Damen saw dark eyes, wonder-filled reverence and an expression that was unmistakably lust. He understood why; Laurent was always far more beautiful, elegant and graceful than many of the men that the soldiers took to their beds, and this did nothing to dissuade them from their fantasies of taking Laurent into their tents. Respect and loyalty to their king only stretched so far, and apparently, did not stretch far enough to stop their fantasies of fucking Laurent.

Damen wondered how much of this performance had been the Griva lowering his inhibitions, and how much of it had been an attempt to position himself within the ranks of his soldiers, and - maybe - how much of it had simply been to prove a point to Damen. That he could spend his evenings entertaining soldiers just as much as Damen could.

After a long stretch of silence, it was Makedon that acted first. He brought his heavy hands together and clapped, and then so did another soldier, and another and another, until the whole circle had erupted into applause, and Laurent could not help but blush, averting his gaze from the soldiers. He cleared his throat and held up a hand to stop them, and they stopped clapping instantly, but the praise did not stop. Many of them vocalised their praise, others offered Laurent more flagons of Griva.

“I - no, thank you, I think I have had enough for one night,” Laurent let out a breath of amusement and handed the guitar back to Lazar. “Play something else.”

Lazar looked as if Laurent had just asked him to publicly hang himself.

“I -” Lazar gaped, holding the guitar as if it were something repulsive. “I cannot - Not after that!”

Laurent’s mouth quirked in amusement. “These men are intoxicated. If you play, they will sing.”

Lazar reluctantly turned to the guitar, like a man impaling himself on a sword, and began to play. The soldiers were easily distracted, turning their attention to Lazar and his song - although his voice did not match up to Laurent’s, and soon the circle was singing again, tunelessly destroying what was probably a rather beautiful Veretian song.

Damen was still staring at Laurent.

Laurent reached a hand to the place where his own shoulder met his neck and rubbed it, clearly trying to rid his body of some tension, and Damen watched as Laurent tilted his head and closed his eyes, indulging himself in the pleasure of loosening his own muscles. Then, Laurent opened his eyes and looked at Damen with dark eyes, before standing up.

“Goodnight,” he said to the circle and they all called back various responses - “Goodnight, Your Highness.”, “You must drink with us tomorrow, Your Highness!”, “That was a fine performance - goodnight!”

Then, with another glance at Damen, he retreated to the royal tent, pulled back the fabric, and vanished inside. Damen could briefly see his silhouette moving inside, and watched for a moment, before he stood up too. “I think - I will, uh - Retire too.”

He knew how it must look, and he did not care. It was hardly as if it was untrue - it was public knowledge that Laurent was his lover, and after an evening like this, he was sure it was hardly surprising that he would want to follow Laurent into their tent. Amusement graced the expressions of many of the soldiers, and Nikandros merely rolled his eyes, before they all bid him goodnight.

****

“Did you like my song?” Laurent was leaning on the edge of the table when Damen entered, his golden hair framing his face, his elegant fingers spread out on the dark wood of the table - the same fingers that had just played the best rendition of Damen’s favourite campfire song that he had ever heard.

He had half-unlaced himself from his clothing, and it exposed the column of his throat and the edge of his collarbone. He pushed himself away from the table and walked to stand in front of Damen, although they were separated by a considerable few feet. Damen just stared.

“I have not played for a while, I hope it wasn’t obvious,” He spoke with ease, as if he was not aware of how he had affected Damen all evening, how he had played him just as he had played Lazar’s roughly carved guitar.

Damen closed the distance between them. It was inelegant and rough, the way his hands found the back of Laurent’s head, the way he dragged their lips together. Desire burned in him like the campfire outside, and he pushed Laurent up against the thick wooden support of the tent. The whole tent shuddered. Laurent gasped against his lips, his hands clutching the front of Damen’s clothing, holding on as Damen took his mouth, their lips moving messily. He pressed their bodies together.

When they broke apart, Laurent’s breathing was shaky, and his body was trembling beneath Damen’s. He stared up at Damen, eyes wide and dark. It was not often that Damen was heavy-handed and rough with Laurent when it came to sex - he knew how Laurent liked it slow, knew how sensitive and touch-starved he often was when it came to making love. And he could not help himself, could not help touching Laurent delicately, like a finely spun vase. Laurent had told him before: you do not need to be so gentle all the time; I’m not going to break .

“You - You are going to bring the entire tent down on us,” Laurent said shakily, a breath of laughter tickling Damen’s lips.

“I don’t care,” he murmured lowly, his lips finding Laurent’s again. Laurent let out a low and unrestricted noise against his lips, one of his hands moving up to curl through Damen’s hair, gripping a fistful of it tightly as Damen pinned him to the wooden post, every inch of their bodies pressed together, with only the layers of clothing to separate them.

When their lips separated, Damen’s mouth found the column of Laurent’s throat, pressing hot, open mouthed kisses there. Laurent was not able to stop the noise that escaped his lips, and Damen’s hands fumbled over the Veretian lacing of Laurent’s clothing, desperate to rid him of it. Laurent tilted his head, exposing his pale throat to Damen, and desire shot through Damen as he used it to his advantage. Laurent had wanted to play games with Damen tonight, had wanted to tease him and toy with him, but Damen knew the secrets of Laurent’s body that would give him the upper hand.

“Damen -” Laurent said helplessly.

Hearing his name on Laurent’s lips made Damen all the more desperate to get Laurent out of his layers of clothing, his impenetrable armour that always made lovemaking frustrating. He could not believe he had gone this long without taking Laurent - could not believe he had survived this long without it. He finally undid the laces on Laurent’s clothing and freed him of it, throwing it carelessly to the floor, as if it wasn’t the most expensive Veretian clothing in the Kingdom.

His hands moved inside the delicate white shirt that he found underneath, and his fingertips moved across the planes of Laurent’s chest. Laurent arched into the touch, letting out a breathless noise as Damen continued kissing along his throat. His fingers found Laurent’s nipple and Laurent jolted as if he had been shocked.

Laurent was trembling beneath him, and he moved upwards to claim Laurent’s mouth again, wanting to feel the helpless noises against his lips. He kissed him heatedly, fiercely, and Laurent returned it with a force that matched his. He had not expected Laurent to react so hungrily in response to Damen’s control, especially not since Laurent often thrived under gentle attentiveness instead.

They broke away, their breathing heavy and ragged, and Laurent fumbled with Damen’s clothing, his fingers shaking ever so slightly. The graceful movements of his hands when they had moved over the guitar strings were almost nonexistent now, traded for the hazy movements of heavy arousal. When he finally unlaced Damen’s trousers, he took him in his hand, his head falling back against the wooden post with a thud.

Damen groaned, pushing his hips into Laurent’s hand, his lips clumsily finding Laurent’s again. They gasped into one another’s mouths as Laurent’s thumb brushed across slit, smearing the liquid that had beaded there. Laurent was reacting as if it was his own pleasure that he was chasing, and Damen was reminded yet again how overwhelmed his lover was by every sexual act, how sensitive he was - like every act was too extreme for him.

He reached down to still Laurent’s hand, breathing heavily against his lips, and their eyes met. Laurent’s were dark, glazed with lust, and he shook his head. “I want -”

“I do not think my stamina will - hold out tonight,” Damen told him breathlessly, and Laurent swore, those words alone adding to his heightened arousal.

“Fuck me,” The words came broken and helpless from Laurent’s throat, and he groaned at his own words. “Fuck me - Damen -”

Laurent turned so that the length of his body was pressed against the wooden post, his arms curling around it to hold on, his back pressed against Damen’s chest. Damen did not have the self-control to resist; he grinded himself against Laurent, canting his hips in an unmistakable movement and Laurent returned it, pushing his hips backwards.

“I - Here?” Damen was surprised to hear how shaky his own voice was.

“Yes, here - fuck me -” Laurent was babbling a little, his forehead pressed against the wood, and he whined when the heat of Damen’s body vanished as he moved to grab the oil from beside their bed. When he returned, Laurent had efficiently rid himself of all his clothing. Damen, upon seeing this, rid himself of all his remaining clothing.

Damen’s fingers found Laurent’s hip and held it. His skin was hot beneath his touch, burning and damp with sweat. If it had not been obvious from his kisses earlier, it was obvious now - Damen was not the only one who had wanted this all evening. His fingers, oil-coated, worked Laurent open, despite Laurent’s protest of “leave that, just - just fuck me .” It had been a couple of weeks, and Laurent’s body was not pliant at the best of times, let alone now.

Eventually, the resistance in Laurent’s muscles waned and Damen pushed inside with one hot, swift stroke. It dragged a groan from both of their throats and Damen did not hesitate in moving; uncoordinated and messy thrusts into Laurent’s body, his hands roughly holding onto Laurent’s hips and waist. Laurent was meeting him thrust for thrust, his nails digging into the wooden post as Damen moved inside him. He did not think he had ever fucked Laurent so carelessly, so roughly and hard. Pleasure was sparking through his veins, and Laurent was sweat-slick and trembling beneath him, his forehead pressed against the wood, whines helplessly escaping his throat.

It did not take long for the waves of unmistakable tension to wash over Laurent and Laurent let out a desperate noise of frustration. Damen did not slow at first, trying to coax Laurent to the edge, but the tension in his shoulders was building, and the helpless frustrated noises were increasing. He slowed - although he had been close to climax too.

“I can’t -” Laurent managed, and his voice was broken and frustrated. “I-”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Damen panted, his almost-climax thrumming through his veins. He was not surprised by Laurent’s difficulties; it was hardly a new occurrence, and Damen had half-expected as much, considering they were fucking so intensely.

“I want - I want -” Laurent groaned and shifted his hips, forcing Damen deeper into him. It pulled a whine from Laurent’s throat, but the tension was still sharp in his body. Damen, reluctantly, withdrew from Laurent’s body, and Laurent shuddered. “No…”

“Laurent,” Damen gently put his hands on Laurent’s waist, turning him so that they were facing one another. Although he had not been surprised by Laurent’s resistance to orgasm, he was surprised to see the glossy look in his eyes, the wetness on his cheeks. Laurent flushed and looked away. “Laurent .”

“I want to come,” Laurent said pathetically, his breathing heavy and ragged. Damen tilted his chin up, thumb brushing over the wetness on Laurent’s cheeks, and pulled him in. He kissed him - not forcefully and hungrily like before - softly and delicately, his lips moving over Laurent’s slowly. Laurent made a soft noise and it was almost unbearable, to kiss so slowly when they were both so close - it was unimaginably self-denying.

Damen reached between them to take Laurent’s hand, lacing their fingers together, and he pulled him over to the bed. Laurent made a noise of frustration, and Damen knew he was annoyed - but he was sure it was not with Damen. Then, with a shock, Damen realised Laurent was frustrated with himself.

“I wish -” The honesty in his voice was raw; Laurent was forcing himself to speak. “I wish it did not have to be like this, I wish -”

“It’s okay,” Damen said, lowering them so that Laurent was sprawled against the cushions and bedspread, the luxurious fabric cool against their burning skin. He knelt over him, moving his knee to gently coax Laurent’s legs open. Laurent obeyed, spreading his legs to allow Damen entrance, though he turned his head to the side so that they could not look at one another. “Laurent…”

“Just do it,” Laurent grit out, and Damen stilled. He was not going to - not after everything.

“No, not like this,” Damen sighed, bringing up his hand to brush it across Laurent’s jaw. “Look at me. Laurent, look at me.”

Laurent reluctantly turned his head to meet Damen’s eyes, and the vulnerability of it ached in Damen’s chest. Laurent looked as if he was pained by something, and Damen brushed his finger over Laurent’s lips.

“Stop this,” Damen whispered and Laurent looked flushed slightly with shame. “No, I didn’t - I didn’t mean - I meant - you do not have to punish yourself for...”

“I wish it could be simple,” Laurent said after a moment, averting his eyes. “I wish I could be an easy lover for you. I -”

“No,” Damen cut him off. “I don’t want an easy lover, I want you - I want -”

“Shut up,” Laurent let out a pathetic laugh and he lifted his hand up to curl his fingers around Damen’s wrist, his trembling fingertips brushing against the cool gold of the cuff. “You wanted - tonight, you wanted -”

“Laurent,” Damen sighed, brushing Laurent’s jaw again.

“You wanted - The way you kissed me, held me against the - you wanted -” Laurent was struggling to force the words out. “You wanted to fuck me. And even - I wanted… I wish I-”

“Laurent, I am not unsatisfied by the way we fuck,” Damen said bluntly and Laurent gave him a searching gaze.

“But it is not how you would fuck - instinctively - if given free reign,” Laurent said, and although his voice was as calm and impenetrable as always, his eyes were full of doubt.

“Maybe not,” Damen sighed, “but it’s - Laurent, I do not want you to change what - not because of what you think I want. I have told you; I love you for the man you are, not -”

“You love me,” Laurent echoed, and it seemed to clear some of the doubt in his eyes. “I just wish I could give you… more than…”

“Stop it,” Damen’s chest was thumping irregularly, his heart beating out of sync, from the pain of it all. “Stop it.”

Laurent moved his other hand to pass it over his face, an uncharacteristic display of frustration on his usually impassive features. “I want to come,” he breathed and there was heat in his voice. “I want -”

“We don’t have to do this tonight,” Damen offered. He had been eager, but Laurent was his priority. Laurent was always his priority.

“I want to,” Laurent’s fingers tightened around Damen’s wrist, and he gave him a searching look. “Damen. I want to.”

“I -”

Laurent let out a breathless laugh and turned his head away in frustration. “I have made you doubt -” He swore. “I should not have - I wish -”

“No, I just -” He tilted Laurent’s face so that their eyes met again. “I do not want to hurt you, Laurent.”

“I want to - I want you,” Laurent breathed and parted his legs again to prove a point. His voice was much softer than earlier when he said; “Fuck me.”

“Are you-”

“Yes. Fuck me,” Laurent used his grip on Damen’s wrist to pull him down a little, and he leaned up to meet him halfway. Their lips met, gentler and slower than their hurried kisses earlier, and Damen relaxed into it. He felt Laurent melt into the kiss, sighing against Damen’s lips, and Damen shifted to settle between Laurent’s spread legs.

Damen mirrored his earlier actions, trading Laurent’s lips for his throat, except this time he kissed slowly and deliberately, his lips gently searching out the sensitive points of skin that would have Laurent trembling again. He had been happy to indulge in a rough and careless fuck if that was what Laurent had wanted, but there was nothing that could match this , feeling Laurent come apart beneath his touch, feeling him give himself over to every inch of pleasure, surrendering himself to Damen’s gentle affection.

He slid back into Laurent’s body with a slow and careful thrust, and they both shuddered. He kissed a trail up Laurent’s throat before pulling back to look at him, their eyes meeting. Laurent was open-mouthed, letting out gentle noises as Damen moved inside him, and his eyelashes were still wet and dark from earlier. He leaned in to kiss him, and let Laurent lead this time.

Laurent’s fingers were still wrapped around Damen’s wrist, and he moved his hand back to the bed, so that their fingers laced together atop the expensive cushions. The gold of their cuffs clinked against each other, and Damen squeezed his hand. Laurent returned the gesture.

As they kissed, the fire of his approaching climax rekindled, and his thrusts picked up their pace. Nevertheless, he was determined to make Laurent come apart before he gave himself over to climax. Laurent’s erection was trapped between their bodies as he thrusted, and so he used his free hand to caress across Laurent’s chest as his fucks picked up rhythm.

Yes ,” Laurent said helplessly, his grip on Damen’s hand tightening. “That feels - good - Damen .”

It rippled through him, the hot pleasure of hearing Laurent’s broken Veretian voice cry out his name and he dipped his head to Laurent’s neck again, half to rest it there as he approached climax, half to kiss Laurent’s neck again. Laurent’s skin was clammy and hot beneath his lips, his pulse rapid, flickering an unsteady beat against Damen’s kisses.

“I want to make you come,” Damen murmured, the words brushing Laurent’s ear, and Laurent let out a soft, broken breath.

“I want you - I want you to make me come,” Laurent was trembling again, and an echo of tension - the tension that always came with Laurent’s orgasms - bristled through his shoulders. “I - Make me come.”

Damen’s thrusts, then, were more deliberate, seeking out the position that he knew would have Laurent arching and jerking against him. He kissed him again, lips moving gently and clumsily, his hand covering every inch of Laurent’s bare skin with soft caresses.

“I’m -” Laurent gasped, tilting his head back against the cushions. The tension was building, but this time, Laurent did not let it get the better of him.

He did not know what prompted him to say it, but when their eyes met, and Laurent’s breathing shuddered on the brink of orgasm, he said - in broken Veretian - “I love - you. Laurent .”

Laurent’s body shuddered, his fingers tightening around Damen’s, and he let out a broken, helpless noise as he came, ropes of heat emptying between their bodies. There was a barely a fraction of a second between that and Damen’s own climax, his eyes fixed on Laurent’s as he came, emptying himself inside Laurent’s body.

They came down together, bodies trembling with aftershocks, and eventually Damen pulled out of Laurent, slowly and carefully, before shifting to lie beside him. It was only then that they let go of each other’s hands. He turned his head to regard Laurent, his chest rising and falling with ragged breathing, to find Laurent’s eyes on him. His gaze was wide with what looked like mild shock, or something akin to that, and his cheeks were stained with pink. Laurent did not have the escape of fetching a towel or water to compose himself, and he looked around the tent awkwardly, as if realising this.

There was a jug of water on the table.

“I,” Laurent shifted, readying himself to fetch it.

“No,” Damen’s fingers closed around Laurent’s wrist. “Stay.”

A moment’s hesitation, before; “Okay.”

Laurent settled beside him, only a handspan separating their bodies. It felt too far after what they had just done. Damen closed the distance, pulling Laurent into his arms. Laurent did not protest; he rested his head against Damen’s chest, his golden hair damp with exertion.

A comfortable silence came over them as they regained their breath, and then Damen smiled; “I didn’t know you could sing.” That earned a breath of amusement from Laurent.

“I - I used to be far better,” Laurent admitted. The candlelight flickered across his skin, creating shadows across his face. It made his expression even more unreadable than usual. “I have not practised for a long time.”

“Since -?” The question did not need finishing.  

“Auguste would take care of duties of the battlefield; he was the Crown Prince, I -” Laurent let out a breath. “I had time to indulge in other things; reading, music, art-”

“You can paint?”

Laurent swore. “No, I -” He could feel Laurent smiling. “I’m not painting you.”

“Does this mean you are going to spend more time with the soldiers now?” Damen asked after a pause.

“Only if you forget your place in my bed,” Laurent laughed, tilting his head up to meet Damen’s gaze. “Like I said, I - I don’t belong out there.”

Damen didn’t reply, just wordlessly caressed Laurent’s jaw. “Laurent, I - I didn’t hurt you, tonight?”

Laurent frowned. “No.” He grit his teeth and averted his gaze. “I wish it weren’t so difficult between us, if I wasn’t so -”

“It’s not your fault,” Damen said carefully. Laurent let out a strange breath.

A few weeks after the bells, they had talked about the Regent - it had been a painful conversation, tense and broken, and Damen had been devastated to find how much guilt lived inside Laurent for what had happened. If the Regent had not been executed, Damen would have found him and murdered him himself, as painfully and slowly as possible.

“You are far too patient with me,” Laurent said finally. “You let me get away with too much.”

“That’s not true,” Damen tightened his hold on Laurent, and watched the shadows of the candlelight flicker on the fabric of the tent above them. “I would never want to hurt you.”

A silence passed over them, and then; “thank you.”

“It is not a matter that needs thanking,” Damen said. “After - I would never -”

Laurent nodded. They did not need to say anymore. Damen would be as patient as Laurent needed him to be. Maybe one day, it would be easier. Until then - Damen was happy with this.

There was a burst of distant laughter echoing in the air from the campfire. Laurent curled against him, edging closer to sleep. Damen’s chest swelled. He, like Laurent, was happier in here than out there.

“When we get back… You will have to show me your talents on the piano,” Damen’s fingers absentmindedly found their way into Laurent’s hair, letting the strands of gold scatter through his fingers.

“Mm...Maybe.”