my-princes

“I hated you,” Laurent says, tracing the scars with his fingertips.

Damen starts, then goes still under Laurent’s touch. “I know,” he says after a long moment, his voice slow and rough.

Damen tends to doze off after sex, in the interval between his climax and Laurent returning to their bed, molding himself against Damen’s warm pliant body. Maybe he’d already been asleep.

Maybe Laurent should’ve kept his mouth shut.

“I hated you so badly,” he says. “I’d been hating you so badly for so long. I couldn’t—”

Damen doesn’t move. He stays exactly where he is, curled up on his side with his back to Laurent. Head bent forward, resting on his hands. The curve of his neck looks both appealing and achingly vulnerable. Laurent wants to touch it, wants to kiss it. Wants to cover it with his mouth and his hands to shield it from the world.

“I fixated on you,” Laurent says. He doesn’t want to say these words. He needs to say these words. He’s been holding them inside for too long. They’ve been growing larger in the space between them, even if Damen hasn’t noticed. “People die in war, in battle. In honest combat. I must’ve known, on some level, that it was foolish to hold you—you personally—responsible, but I did. It was easier, blaming you.”

Damianos, prince-killer. The image of his face forever etched into Laurent’s memory. The whisper of his name. All those years Laurent had carried it with him, a maddening undercurrent to his pulse. Damianos, prince-killer. Damianos, who had slain the man Laurent loved more than anyone.

“And then they brought you in front of me,” Laurent says, “trapped, chained, forced down onto your knees, utterly unable to make sense of what was happening to you. Refusing to believe it.”

The way Laurent had felt, after Auguste’s death.

Damianos, prince-killer, who had unwittingly removed the last obstacle standing between Laurent and his uncle.

Damen is breathing hard, Laurent realizes. Curled up on his side, holding still, taking deep shuddering breaths that make his back tremble under Laurent’s hand.

Laurent should’ve kept his mouth shut, but it’s too late now.

“I hated you for so long,” Laurent says, as his fingertips find a thick, ragged line of scar tissue that runs diagonally down one of Damen’s shoulder blades. The lash must’ve cut especially deep here. Too deep for Paschal’s healing salves to assuage it. “If I hadn’t—”

I would never have been able to forgive you.

I would never have been able to forgive myself for forgiving you.

“I had to,” he says, “I’m sorry,” and he leans down to press his lips to the scar, feels Damen shudder under him.