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Beyond The End of the Stars

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Relief flooded through Damen, overwhelming in its power. He had no idea how to rescue Nicaise, how to outsmart the Regent, but he would figure it out. What mattered was that Laurent would not be there, alone and in mortal danger.

His attention returned to the man in front of him, the captivating blue eyes, the breathtakingly pale skin. He thought about the slaves he had once enjoyed, their obeisance, and how he had loved their softness, their willingness to bend languidly beneath him. They were docile and pliant, wanting to satisfy Damen's every wish. Laurent was none of those things. He was stubborn, dangerous, with all the flexibility of a sword. He was frustrating and infuriating and impossible. His mind was sharp, his tongue even more so.

It would be so easy to cut himself on Laurent's sharp edges. And Damen found that he didn't particularly care.

With his worry for Laurent fading, his need for him seared again through his veins, immediate and hot. Restraining himself, he searched Laurent's face for any sign of hesitation. Despite Laurent's words, he needed to know that Laurent truly wanted this.

“I would have you, here and now, if that is what you desire,” he said, his voice low.

Laurent's reply was straightforward. “You have offered to take my place in Toulour. This is your reward. Take what pleasure you would from me.”

Damen's brow furrowed. “This is not a trade, Laurent. You are not negotiating with political rivals. You are not a prize, but a person. I would see you take your pleasure as well.” He held Laurent's gaze. “To see you undone, to see you let go, would give me more pleasure than all the slaves in Akielos.”

Laurent was looking at him with a strange expression on his face, as if he had never seen a creature like Damen before. “More pleasure than the women of the Vaskian coupling fire?” He almost succeeded in sounding unconcerned with the answer.

Damen put all the feeling he could into his response.“Infinitely.”

Damen felt the shiver of longing that went through Laurent at that word, then saw as Laurent forced it down.

“Then kiss me.”

Months ago, before he had come here, he would never have accepted an order like that. He would have been offended at the tone, at the firm, arrogant way it was said. He would have thought it an insult to his honor, and his pride would never have born it. Now the command, spoken without a doubt that it would be followed, sent a wave of fire through him. Damen didn't need to be told twice.

He had been containing himself before, afraid to scare Laurent away. Now he held nothing back, pouring everything he had into the embrace. It was every lingering look, every suggestive comment, every reverie that Damen had ever allowed himself, forged into a long, tender kiss that chased every other sensation from his mind. This was the moment that Damen had wanted so badly, that he had never allowed himself to imagine.

Laurent made a sweet, surprised noise against Damen's lips, his body inflexible beneath Damen's touch. Then he felt Laurent unlock, his spine curving in where Damen's hand was spread against it, his fingers curling into the fabric at Damen's chest. Muscle by muscle, Laurent pushed back the rigidity that his body defaulted to.

Damen broke the kiss, trying to tame his errant heartbeat back to a normal pace. Unwilling to give up the proximity, he leaned his forehead against Laurent's, lost in the glacial fire of his eyes. Without breaking skin contact, Damen skimmed his lips gently across Laurent's cheek, laid soft, lazy kisses along the sharp ridge of his jawline. Laurent leaned his head back, allowing Damen access to the long line of his throat. When Damen grazed his teeth lightly across the skin he found there, Laurent made a quiet, needy sound that Damen wanted to hear for the rest of his life.

Damen would have continued, had Laurent's jacket not been laced tight against his neck. He pulled away, his back still pressed against the tent pole, leveling an annoyed glance at the fabric keeping him away from Laurent. Soft laughter made him look back up at Laurent, his eyebrows raised in surprise at the sound of it.

“You look—I was just thinking of that grate that you tore out of the wall with your bare hands. It was the same look you just gave me,” Laurent said, suppressing his laughter but unable to stop the smile curling at the edge of his mouth.

“You told me that this was your favorite jacket,” Damen said, teasing. “I'd hate for you to have to find a new one.”

Laurent's smile was slowly replaced with an indecorous stare. “I have other jackets.”

With that, Laurent hooked his fingers into the front of Damen's chiton and dragged him away from the tent pole, his lips slightly open as he kissed Damen. Damen ran his fingers down Laurent's sides, still infuriatingly contained beneath laces and rich cloth. The kiss deepened, and Damen needed it like air, like water, like the blood that flowed through his veins. It was too much. It wasn't nearly enough.

Laurent drew back, and Damen's lungs heaved, trying to replace the breaths that Laurent had stolen from him. His eyes never leaving Damen's, Laurent reached up and began loosening the first tie at his throat. He drew the lace through slowly, the anticipation unbearable. The fabric came apart, the sight of pale skin at the base of Laurent's throat more seductive than all the writhing pets he had seen at court.

Suddenly Damen couldn't stand it. Laurent was here, in front of him, undressing for him. It seemed impossible that Laurent could know exactly who he was and still want this, and Damen felt a great weight between them, laden with desire and surrender and the ghosts of their pasts. He took one step, then another, closing the gap between them. Laurent looked up at him, and Damen felt the sear of his breath on his cheek.

“You told me once that one day, it would be just you and me. Now here we are. You know who I am,” Damen said, his voice low and private. “Say it.”

Laurent's voice was tight. “I know who you are.”

“Say my name.”

Laurent closed his eyes. “Damianos.”


“Damianos.” Laurent's eyes came open, and Damen was caught in the torrent of emotion that filled them. Damen held his gaze, sharing the burden of everything that had happened between them. They would weather this storm together, or not at all.

When Laurent said his name the third time, it was against Damen's lips, more of a sigh than a spoken word. Damen felt something crumble in him at the sound of it tangled around Laurent's uneven breaths. He had no defense against this. He felt like a man who had willingly laid down his sword in the middle of a battlefield, welcoming the sharp stab of steel to his chest.

His fingers wandered, finding the loose ends of the tie that Laurent had undone. He thought of the closeness that had hung between them whenever he had attended Laurent, danger thickening the air, making each touch illicit. “Turn around,” he said, the words coming out surprisingly clear and firm.

Laurent arched one imperious eyebrow at him, then slowly turned on his heel, facing away from Damen. His shoulders were rising and falling at a slightly quicker pace than normal, the only sign that he was affected at all. Damen took his time admiring the man in front of him, eyes scraping down Laurent's slim form, catching where sharp planes gave way to curves. Even fully clothed in restrictive, ridiculous Veretian clothes, Laurent was a study in beauty.

“Good to know you're just as slow as a King as you were as a slave,” Laurent drawled. “Enjoying the view?”

Damen smiled. “I always have.”

Choosing not to respond to that, Laurent turned his head, looking at Damen from the corner of his eye before turning back to face forward. “Anytime, Damen.”

Despite his earlier thoughts about ripping through the clothing, Damen found that he wanted to draw this out. Stepping forth, Damen leveraged all of his considerable height to make sure Laurent could feel him there, mere inches between their bodies. He brought his hands down to Laurent's hips, resting them there for a moment before beginning a lazy drag of fingertips up Laurent's sides. Laurent gave a tiny, involuntary shiver. Damen had to swallow down the wave of lust that coursed through him at the sight of it.

Achingly slow, Damen brought his hands up to the top of the back laces, brushing aside the locks of yellow hair that partially hid them. He allowed just the faintest of touches to graze against the back of Laurent's neck. He was beginning to understand that the softest sensations caused the most reaction, that Laurent liked it that way.

Leaning in to brush his lips behind Laurent's ear, he murmured, “The first time I did this, I thought you were going to make me fuck you in the baths.”

“Make you?” Laurent said, his voice somewhere between amused and disdained. “I don't think either of us are under the impression you wouldn't have enjoyed it. Not that I would have allowed it. As I remember, your hands strayed far enough as it was.”

Damen made a noncommittal noise in his throat as a response. He tangled his fingers in the first tie, dragging it out of its eyelets. “The second time I did this,” he said in the same low purr, “I knew that you had claws, and you weren't afraid to use them. I didn't want to breathe near you, let alone touch you.”

Laurent remained silent at that.

Moving down the laces, Damen parted the stiff fabric of Laurent's collar, revealing more and more pale skin.

“The fifth time I did this, I told myself I hated it. That I hated being your slave, hated the subjugation,” The muscles of Laurent's shoulders were taut. “But all I could think about was doing this.” Leaning down, Damen touched his lips against the base of Laurent's neck, where there was no longer fabric hiding Laurent from him. He felt Laurent jerk in surprise, not expecting the contact. Gratified, he slid more of the ties open, kissing down Laurent's spine until he was stopped by the fine white fabric of Laurent's undershirt, his practiced fingers never stopping.

Damen was halfway down Laurent's back now, making sure Laurent felt every tug and drag of the laces as he pulled them out. He let his hands trail down as he went, Laurent's flesh covered only by the thin fabric of the shirt.

Laurent pushed a breath out as Damen gave a little more force to the ties. “That feels—” Laurent swallowed hard, letting the sentence drop. “Keep going,” he finished simply. Damen smiled.

As Damen drew the last tie through the bottom of the jacket, he continued. “The last time I did this,” he said, running his hands all the way from the base of Laurent's spine to his shoulders, “the only thing that kept me from touching you as I am now was the fact that I was Damianos.” His hands slipped under the shoulders of the jacket, lingering more than necessary. He slid the jacket over Laurent's arms, discarding it to the side without care.

In the plain white shirt, Laurent felt younger. Less untouchable. Damen moved closer still, wrapping his arms around Laurent. He let one of his hands rest on Laurent's stomach, and brought the other around to trace his fingers over Laurent's neck, his chest now pressed to Laurent's back. When he leaned forward, he saw that Laurent's eyes were closed, his eyelashes fluttering slightly. Damen could feel his pulse under his fingertips, flighty as a bird in a gilded cage.

“I am Damianos,” he said, holding Laurent tight to him. “Will you have me as I am?”

The answer was shaky, but immediate. “Yes.”

Damen brought his lips to the underside of Laurent's jaw, just below his ear, his hand still possessively curled around Laurent's neck. He drew his other hand up the flat, muscular plane of Laurent's stomach, and watched over Laurent's shoulder with fascination as the white shirt was pulled up, revealing just a sliver of skin.

Laurent opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Damen. His gaze was heavy-lidded and dark. The golden fringe of his eyelashes was richer than all the wealth in Arles. “I can feel that you are as roused as you were that first time in the baths,” he said, his tone salacious. Indeed, Damen's body was stirring, reacting to the feel of himself against Laurent.

“I know what I like...sweetheart.” The taunt in Damen's voice was gentle.

Laurent's eyes flashed dangerously. “Yes, I remember what you like, too.”

With that, he turned in Damen's arms, pressing himself against Damen and wrapping his arms around his neck. He drew Damen down to him, their bodies aligned from shoulder to hip. This time the kiss was insistent. Laurent took no mercy on him, and Damen's will collapsed at the needy slide of Laurent's tongue against his.

He found himself being pushed back, Laurent's smaller stature steering him inexorably towards the corner that Damen knew held the silk-clad bed. The backs of his calves hit fabric, and then Laurent was crowding him into the sheets, his hands braced on either side of Damen's head.

Above him, Laurent pinned him with a look, his hair tumbling in a golden fall to frame his face. The warm, diffuse glow of the lantern cast rich pools of light across him, shadows highlighting the dips of his collarbones and the hollow of his throat where the loose shirt had fallen open. Damen longed to trace them with his tongue, to taste the skin there, but when he tried to lean up, Laurent pressed him back with the heel of his hand, one eyebrow raised lazily.

Laurent splayed his fingers on Damen's chest, running his hand across to the pin at Damen's shoulder.

“So barbaric, to wear a garment that can be undone with such little effort,” Laurent said.

Damen swallowed, then replied, “We don't like to waste an hour trying to get each other out of our clothes.”

Laurent smiled, slightly predatory. “It didn't take you an hour to get me out of mine. Apparently your motivation was strong.” Damen didn't mention that Laurent was still very much clothed above him, to Damen's extreme displeasure. Laurent continued. “But you're right, let's not waste time unnecessarily.”

Flicking open the close of the pin, Laurent drew it out, tossing it to the side. The chiton came apart easily beneath his hand as he slid his fingers lower, brushing against Damen's nipple, and Damen couldn't stop the hitch in his breath, nor the jolt in his pulse. Laurent's mouth curved into a small, satisfied smile, and he moved on, down to Damen's stomach. His touch was hot, and Damen felt as though he would wake in the morning with scorch marks wherever Laurent's hand had been. It was impossible not to be consumed by the feel of it, by the idle brush of skin on skin. Laurent's eyes never left Damen's.

Then Laurent's hand slid to Damen's hip, and the last piece of fabric fell away. Damen watched as Laurent's gaze raked slowly down his form, taking all of him in, nothing hidden. Laurent looked back up at him, apparently satisfied, before leaning down and capturing Damen's mouth in his for a long, insistent kiss that caused heat to pool deep in Damen's stomach.

Laurent had his hand on the back of Damen's neck, pulling Damen into him, distracting him from all else. So when Laurent reached down to wrap his hand around Damen, the feeling was so unexpected, so good, that his eyes snapped open as he gasped against Laurent's lips. Damen's back arched involuntarily into the touch, and Laurent broke the kiss, staring down at Damen with sharp interest.

Laurent curled his hand up from the base to the tip, his touch possessive and raw. His thumb pressed just below the head, and he drew it slowly up, tracing along the slit. Damen curled his fingers into the bedding, his brain trying to catch up to the fact that Laurent had his hand around Damen's cock.

Laurent was smiling as he said, “See? I do remember what you like. Ancel was very thorough.”

His breaths coming out in pants, Damen said, “Nonsense. It had nothing to do with Ancel. He was merely your tool. It might as well have been you.”

Laurent's gaze burned into Damen, and his hand slid tightly down Damen's length and back up. He twisted slightly over the head before releasing his grip to draw one finger unbearably along the underside of Damen's cock.

Damen jerked underneath him, the light touch electrifying. Damen couldn't look away from Laurent, whose chest was heaving slightly more than normal, but was otherwise cool and unassailable, only the trailing ties of his shirt open. Laurent wrapped his fingers around the base of Damen's cock and began to roll his hand up and down, the pace inflaming Damen's pleasure but the rhythm uneven, unpredictable. Damen's pulse would crest only for Laurent to slow down, so that Damen felt he was constantly on the precipice, being denied the final fall.

Though Damen ached for completion, he didn't want this to be over so soon, for Laurent to draw away behind his walls, his eyes shuttering into indifference. With a considerable amount of willpower and a groan of frustration, Damen took Laurent's hand and pulled it off of him, pushing himself up with his other hand, so that he was sitting with Laurent straddled in his lap. Damen leaned forward and rested his forehead against Laurent's shoulder, taking a few moments to get himself together.

When his breathing was a little more even, he looked back at Laurent, whose expression was slightly confused, as though he had never had this happen before and couldn't contemplate why Damen would stop him.

“Was my hand not adequate enough? I won't use my mouth,” Laurent said, matter-of-factly. “If that's what you're hoping for...”

Damen interrupted this with a deep kiss, taking advantage of Laurent's open mouth before pulling back. “It was...more than adequate. But I told you, what I really desire is to see you undone beneath me,” Damen said, his voice slightly raspy with want.

With that, Damen hooked his arms beneath Laurent's knees and then stood up, forcing Laurent to throw his arms around Damen's neck to keep from falling backward. Surprise—and, Damen was pleased to see, arousal—etched itself into his features.

“Do you always resort to brute strength?” Laurent's words were unsteady.

Damen smiled, and fastened his lips underneath Laurent's jaw, working a mark into the pale skin there. Murmuring into his ear, Damen replied, “Not always.”

He turned and knelt on the bed, laying Laurent down softly beneath him. Laurent let his arms slip from Damen's neck and fall to rest above his head, a seductive, enthralling sprawl that somehow still felt commanding, coming from Laurent. Damen released Laurent's knees to brace himself above him, allowing Laurent to stretch one leg out, his other still bent at Damen's side.

Damen couldn't believe that it was Laurent here with him, that the man who had used his words to wound, who had scored the skin from his back in hatred, was lying beneath him like a young, chaste lover. Damen sat back and brought his hands to the laces of Laurent's shirt, drawing them out and parting the thin fabric.

Then the laces were undone, and Damen slid his hands underneath, fitting them to Laurent's ribs, mapping the peaks and valleys of Laurent's body. He leaned forward, pushing the shirt up Laurent's arms, catching his lips in a soft kiss as he pulled it free and threw it to the side. Damen let his hands return to Laurent's waist, finally bare under his touch, and felt Laurent react, then contain it.

Wasting no time, Damen began a slow exploration with his mouth, moving down Laurent's throat, over his collarbone, further down to his chest. Laurent's breathing was slightly jagged, his sides moving beneath Damen's hands. Damen kissed across his skin, then flicked just the tip of his tongue across Laurent's nipple, causing Laurent to lurch slightly beneath him, a sharp intake of breath betraying him.

Although the reaction was not as strong as Damen had wanted, he was beginning to understand that he wasn't going to get the loud moans, the head tossing, the performances he was used to from his lovers. Instead, Laurent's responses came out in small movements, in soft, sweet noises that drove Damen crazy. He wanted to coax every little sound out of Laurent he could.

He moved down Laurent's body, kissing every bit of skin he encountered until he met fabric. Laurent's hips moved slightly beneath him, and Damen looked up and smiled. “Patience,” he said—it earned him an icy glare—and then he sat back on his heels, running his hands down Laurent's fully-clothed thighs. Reaching his boots, Damen dragged them off slowly, dropping them to the floor.

He slid his hands back up to where the last set of laces he hoped to encounter kept the rest of Laurent from him. Looping his fingers into them, he drew the ties through, until the last of them were parted. He hooked his fingers into the edge of the fabric and pulled, peeling the expensive cloth off Laurent until he was finally, beautifully, undone.

He sat for a moment, admiring the long, lean lines of Laurent's body. Laurent, still laid out in his indolent sprawl, looked back at him through heavily-lidded eyes. He was half roused, which both pleased and disgruntled Damen—no matter, he would take care of that soon. Damen himself was still achingly hard, his body disagreeing with his choice to halt himself on the edge.

Damen lifted one of Laurent's legs, light as alabaster, and rested it on his shoulder. With intentional care, he turned his head and kissed the inside of Laurent's ankle. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Laurent's eyes widened, genuine surprise hidden in the gesture.

Damen continued, moving to kiss up Laurent's calf. They both knew that, for a slave, it was extremely bold and extremely intimate to touch their master like this. Damen knew that Laurent understood what he was doing, what he was implying, and he saw with satisfaction that Laurent was stirred by it.

He took his time, careful to attend to each inch of skin on his way up. The further he went, the more he could feel the tension rise in Laurent, the muscles underneath him winding tight. But he also saw how much it was affecting Laurent, whose cock was now fully hard against his stomach.

Damen yearned to savor Laurent, to take him in his mouth and wring gasps and moans out of him. But he had seen enough by now to know that Laurent liked touches soft as whispers. He wanted to see just how much he could lure Laurent out of his shell. His own heart was beating hard against his ribs at the sight of Laurent like this, with him, choosing him. Overcome with devotion and desire, Damen leaned in and nuzzled against Laurent's cock, sighing a hot breath against him. The tension in Laurent crested, and Damen felt him push it down forcefully.

“Wait,” Laurent said breathlessly, having come up to brace himself on his elbows. “I...”

Damen noted the furrow in Laurent's brow and paused, concerned. “Do you not want this?”

Laurent did not immediately reply. Damen waited. “I...I don't know if I want it. I've never had it. I don't know what it feels like.”

The admission rolled through Damen on a wave of longing. He loved coaxing pleasure out of the inexperienced, watching as their hesitancies were replaced with passion and abandon. It was one of his favorite parts of lovemaking, seeing the other in rapture and knowing that he had caused it. His mind was overrun with the thought of Laurent arching beneath him, losing himself to Damen's mouth, of being the first to taste Laurent.

“Would you like to find out?”

Laurent's eyes were wide and dark, and that strange, taut energy still coursed through him. Such a contradiction, to see him so filled with desire as well as with dread. Damen didn't understand it, but he didn't need to. He only needed to know that Laurent wanted it. His breaths coming quickly, Laurent hesitated only a moment more, then nodded.

Humming with gratification, Damen leaned back down, pressing his lips across Laurent's stomach, his hips, and then, without further delay, he focused his attention to where he really wanted to be. Wrapping his hand around Laurent—and enjoying the slight jerk that produced—he brought his mouth down and tasted Laurent in a long, hot stripe from base to tip.

The reaction from Laurent was immediate and, in comparison to his usual restraint, intense. A gasp tore from his lips, and his stomach clenched involuntarily. It appeared that, despite his expert lesson given to Ancel, Laurent had no reference for this sensation. Pleased, Damen applied himself in earnest.

Damen remembered the easy commands Laurent had given Ancel, and a small, vindictive part of him wanted retaliation. Holding Laurent down at the hips, he used Laurent's own words against him, translating it back with his mouth. Lightly, he tongued his way across the head, then pressed it against the slit. Laurent's upright knee fell to the side, an unconscious opening as his hips moved under Damen's palms.

Satisfied by the reaction, Damen lingered, pressing his tongue flat against the underside of the head as he brought his mouth fully around Laurent's cock. Tiny tremors had begun under Damen's fingers, as Laurent forced himself into control. Damen was more than willing to test just how strong that control was.

After a generous amount of time focused on the tip, Damen pressed his thumbs into Laurent's hips and took all of him in one long slide. Laurent, unprepared for the feel of it, dropped back from where he had been half-propped on his elbows, watching Damen, to collapse against the sheets. Damen slid back up to the head, then pressed down again, building a steadily increasing rhythm.

Tuned to Laurent's body, every soft sound and spasm that he earned from Laurent went straight to Damen's cock. Looking up through his eyelashes, he saw that Laurent's every muscle was taut, his fingers fisted in the sheets, his head thrown to the side. The tension in Laurent's body was to the point of breaking, and yet he wouldn't let himself over the edge. Damen drew himself up with one last drag of his tongue from base to tip, and then shifted forward, sliding his body up to look at Laurent.

Cupping his cheek in one hand, Damen turned his face to look him in the eye. “Laurent. Relax.”

Laurent took a few deep breaths, then, with a ghost of a smile, said, “I—have a hard time with that.”

“Really? I hadn't noticed.”

Laurent closed his eyes, leaning his head into Damen's palm, a tender gesture that Damen cataloged to his memory. “I've never...I don't know how this is supposed to work.”

Damen tilted his head, unsure of what Laurent was telling him. “You've never bedded anyone before?”

Laurent opened his eyes, his face slightly troubled. In a strange voice, he replied, “No, I was just—different. You are different.”

Damen's chest was tight. His voice was low and intimate. “Whatever it was like before, it's just you and me now. Let me show you what it's supposed to feel like, when you allow yourself to take pleasure as well as give it.”

Laurent's cheeks were flushed, his eyes open and honest. “Yes.”

Damen didn't give him a chance to catch his breath. He pulled Laurent into a desperate, deep kiss, dragging his teeth gently across Laurent's bottom lip. He was content to stay like this, exploring Laurent's mouth with his tongue, feeling how much Laurent enjoyed it. For lazy, heavy minutes, they simply kissed, sharing breaths. Their bodies were pressed together from chest to hip, legs intertwined, Damen's fingers tangled in Laurent's hair.

As the kisses grew more heated, their bodies began to move together in instinct, turning kissing into something else. Damen was all too aware of Laurent, hard beneath him, and his own heavy need. A slight shift of Laurent's hips aligned them, their cocks sliding together between them. Their kiss broke as Laurent pressed his head back into the sheets, a low groan escaping his lips. Well enjoying the sight, Damen repeated the movement, his lips on Laurent's neck, until Laurent was panting and curving into him.

“Damen...” he breathed. The sound of his name said like that had Damen about to spill right then and there. With herculean effort, he contained himself, distracting himself along Laurent's jawline until he could continue.

“Damen, I want...” Laurent cut off with a sound deep in his throat as Damen pressed them together, a particularly slow drag.

“I love seeing you like this,” Damen said, drowning in the darkening blue of Laurent's gaze. “I love hearing you, feeling you. I would beg the sun to forget to rise, just once, to stay like this with you just a little bit longer.”

Damen's words had more of an effect on Laurent than anything else had so far, his breath falling out in a shatter as he arched against Damen. The perfect feel of him, silky and hot, had Damen burying a moan in Laurent's neck.

“Damen....Damen, please...”

“Tell me. Tell me what you want.”

“I want...everything you said before. I want it to be simple. I want you to make me forget. All of it, except this. Except you.” Laurent swallowed, honesty bringing out his youth.

Damen's thoughts were scattered fragments, yearning tearing through his chest like fire. He never hear those words from was overwhelming. Need and tenderness and protectiveness of this true Laurent washed over him. It was as though Damen's ribs had been pried apart, his heart raw and vulnerable, bared to the world.

“I need to have you,” Damen said around the constriction in his throat. “I can't....I need to be inside you.”

A shudder passed through Laurent, and he reached blindly to his side. Damen saw what he was searching for, and leaned over to what was left of the shattered oil lamp that he had placed on the bedside table. Though broken, there was still some oil in the chamber, and Damen clumsily gathered it in his fingers. His eyes never leaving Laurent's, he shifted down, bringing one of Laurent's knees up to his shoulder.

“Do it,” Laurent ordered through a tight breath.

The first press of Damen's finger was slow and gentle, surrounded by tight heat. Laurent's calf twitched against Damen's shoulder, drawing him closer, deeper. Damen was engulfed in the feel of it, in the small, helpless sounds and movements Laurent made beneath him. He could feel Laurent opening, slowly, and pressed a second finger in to join the first. Laurent gasped and jerked against him, the tension in his body not allowing the stretch.

“Relax. Let me in,” Damen said, running his fingertips along Laurent's calf. He felt the moment Laurent forced his muscles to loosen, and Damen shifted his body forward to wrap his other arm beneath Laurent. Damen's fingers had started to move, and Laurent was rocking slightly with the rhythm, his heel pressed into Damen's back.

Damen was suspended in disbelief, the reality of it crashing over him in waves, that this was happening. That Laurent was going to let him inside. Had already let him inside. Each movement of Damen's fingers stretched Laurent a bit more, and Damen was overcome with the thought of seating himself deep, of merging himself with Laurent in this tight heat, of watching Laurent come beneath him.

“Damen,” Laurent growled. “That's enough. Fuck me.”

Damen's cock throbbed, and he wanted nothing more than to obey. He slid his fingers out, leaning up to kiss Laurent, trying to convey everything he couldn't say out loud.

“Turn over.”

Damen leaned back, and with a hard push of breath, Laurent flipped to his stomach, presenting himself to Damen. Leaning over to coat himself in the last of the oil, Damen took a moment to look at Laurent, the soft curves where Damen had just been, where he would be again. Laurent had his head turned, his cheek resting on his forearms, looking at Damen. When Damen reached out to run his hand down Laurent's side, he closed his eyes and trembled.

Damen wanted to savor this, to draw it out, but his will was gone, the need to be inside Laurent unbearable. He leaned over Laurent, lining himself up. He felt Laurent tense at the feeling, at the anticipation, and Damen laid gentle kisses along his spine, whispering to him that he would never hurt him, that Laurent could let go, that he could stop thinking. With a shudder, Laurent eased, and then there was only heat as Damen pressed inside.

Laurent's cry tore through Damen, as time splintered, sensation overcoming them both. There was nothing but Laurent and Damen and the slow, long drive into Laurent's body, Damen's chest pressed against Laurent's back, the nape of Laurent's neck damp with sweat, tendrils of his hair darkened by it. Despite his past lovers, Damen had never felt this. It was exquisite and excruciating, it was impossible and devastating.

Desperation threatened to overwhelm Damen, as inch by inch he slid deeper. He ached to thrust all the way inside, for them to be as close as possible. But beneath him was Laurent, arched and panting, and he wanted to feel every second, every sweet give. And more than that—he wanted Laurent to feel it, to know the pleasure he could have, that no one had shown him before.

All Damen knew was heat, until finally he was fully buried in Laurent. He paused to give them both a chance to adjust to the feeling, pressing his forehead against Laurent's spine, murmuring to him unthinkingly in Akielon. His arm had wrapped around Laurent, his fingers curled gently around his neck.

“Damen,” Laurent said, his voice ragged, “I need you move...”

Damen drew his hips out, agonizingly slow, until just the head of his cock was inside, then pressed back in. Laurent made a vulnerable, drawn-out sound beneath him, and Damen surrendered to the feel of it, to the gleam of Laurent's skin in the lamplight, to the ache in his chest.

His every instinct screamed for him to be closer, deeper, to lose himself to Laurent. He began to move, Laurent's muscles moving with him, rocking back against him. Damen's shattered breaths stirred the hair at the back of Laurent's neck, Laurent's tiny, lovely cries echoing the rhythm of Damen's hips.

He had never thought, never dreamed, that he could be here, that he could feel like this. The armies outside, the plots and dangers that waited ahead of them, all of it was forgotten in the need that curled low in Damen's stomach, in the sound of Damen's name falling helplessly from Laurent's lips, in the sight of Laurent's fingers clutching the silk of the sheets.

“Laurent,” Damen said, and that was the only word he could say, the only word that mattered anymore. He buried himself deep, and it wasn't enough, couldn't ever be enough.

“Yes,” Laurent breathed, the Veretian word sharp and alluring on Laurent's tongue. He repeated it, and their bodies moved together to the sound of it. Damen's hand was solid on Laurent's throat, claiming Laurent as his, as much as the gold of the slave collar had claimed Damen as Laurent's.

He reached around with his other hand, relinquishing his full weight to Laurent, driving him deeper. He wrapped his hand around Laurent's cock, matching the pace to their hips, and Laurent's body responded, desperate cries tearing from his throat.

Through the haze of pleasure, Damen realized he was speaking, a stream of irrepressible words in Akielon, everything he had wanted to say and couldn't before.

“You feel so good, Laurent, I never want this to end...” Laurent had turned his head, looking back at Damen, and he could look nowhere else. “You look so good like this, I want to see you come beneath me...”

Laurent's hips stuttered against his own. “Damen.”

Searing heat pulsed through Damen at the fervor in Laurent's voice. He moved his hand from Laurent's throat to curl his fingers through Laurent's, brushing up against the slave cuff. “You wear my gold, and I wear yours, you're mine, I will keep you with me, I will protect you...”

Laurent arched, his fingers clutching tight in Damen's grip. “Damen, I need....please, I want to....”

“Yes,” Damen breathed, still lost in the devouring blue of Laurent's gaze. He drove himself hard into Laurent, as deep as he could.

Laurent cried out, and then he was coming beneath Damen, with a last shout of “Damianos,” as he shuddered under Damen's touch.

At the sound of his name spoken by Laurent, undone and unrestricted, Damen broke, the pieces of his heart rearranging themselves around it, around this moment. He lost himself to it, trying to grasp onto every sensation, to hold on, but it was too much. Obeying the low, Veretian commands from Laurent that he was only half aware of, he buried himself one last time, and let the bright, warm pleasure overcome him, carrying him over the edge of brilliant, shattering release, all-consuming and obliterating.