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First Impressions

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It hadn't been long since Noctis Lucis Caelum, the youngest son of the pack leader for all of Lucis, had struck out on his own. It showed in how the bedroom he shared with his pack was always in a state of disarray, regardless how many times Ignis tried, with a slowly withering patience, to arrange the furniture in a way that pleased an omega pack leader who was still finding his feet. It showed in the garden, full of small green sprouts that Noct pointedly ignored, and furniture so new they all felt a little awkward breaking it in. But there was one part of Noct, Gladio, and Ignis' home that Noctis took to immediately, and that was the creek.

Noct had always wanted to live near the water. Back home, he had to run hours just to get somewhere with a decent place to fish, but here, all he had to do was wave off Gladio's curious look and walk five minutes into the woods, where the sound of water rushing over stone greeted him like an old friend.

The bushes at the border of Noctis' territory were heavy with small wooden bells, which clacked faintly when Noct pushed through them to get to the bend in the creek. A large tree sloped over the bank, and Noct eased his bare feet into the creek, gasping at the shock of cold water on his skin. Noct dipped his hand under the gnarled tree roots, and felt along the bottom. The fish that lay there were too lazy and secure to notice Noct's grasping fingers, and Noct smiled when he gripped the belly of a fish in both hands, and the water erupted in a frenzy of flailing fins.

Behind him, the bushes clattered and clicked, and the trout in Noct's hands went darting off down the creek. Noct cursed--he should have known that Gladio or Ignis would follow him--and turned to tell them off, only for the words to die on his tongue.

There was a wolf in the bushes, surrounded by rattling bells and thick, dark leaves. He crouched over the water, saliva dripping from his jaws, and stared up at Noct with wide, violet-blue eyes.

"Gladio!" Noct called. The wolf hunched at the sound, lips curling back. His fur was matted, brown with dirt and flecked with gold, and there were clumps of mud and leaves clinging to his fur, exposing sunken haunches and the ridge of his ribs. He smelled foul with fear, like a bundle of flowers left to rot, and Noct pushed away from the tree.

"Hey," he said. The wolf whined and inched back. "Hey, no, hold on."

There was a thundering, rumbling growl in the shadows, and Gladio burst from the underbrush with a snarl. The wolf cowered and tried to scrabble out of the way, but Gladio hit him head-on, and they collided with a sick crash of bone. Gladio raked his claws down the wolf's side, and Noct winced at the cry of pain that shivered in the air. The wolf let out a terrible series of high, desperate whines, and he tried to wriggle onto his back, exposing his belly to the alpha.

"Gladio!" Noct shouted, trudging through the creek towards them. "Gladio, back off!"

Gladio swung his head towards Noct, giving him a long, disbelieving look, but the wolf beneath him only whined again. The scent of distressed omega was thick enough to choke on, and Gladio's ears flattened in confusion as he looked down at the source, whining and whimpering under his paws.

The bells rang out again as Ignis appeared, shifting in midair as he threw his body between Noctis and Gladio. It was a move he’d used countless times, when arguments between Gladio and Noct devolved into snarling and posturing, but this time, there was an edge to the low rumble in his throat. He padded towards Gladio, keeping an eye on the desperate, whimpering omega, and Gladio took one step back. Ignis crouched over the omega and sat down, draping his paws over his chest, clearly staking a claim. He tilted his head at Gladio, with the same, cheeky gesture he used when he was at his most exasperated, and Gladio sat.

Gladio snapped at the air in warning when Noct got too close to the new wolf and Ignis, but Noct pushed down the urge to duck behind him and approached the wolf on the ground. It would be better, he knew, if he were in his wolf form for this, but he didn't feel much like taking the time to strip down and shift. He knelt next to Gladio, placing a hand on one of his paws, and let out the best calming whine that a human throat could muster.

The omega before him keened back, gaze fixed on Noct. Noct carefully lay his free hand on the other omega's filthy, mud-slick fur, and felt a tremor under his fingers.

"Shit," he said, in a soft voice. "What the hell happened to you?"

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It took nearly an hour for Noct and Ignis to coax the wolf out of the woods. Ignis had the best luck, using his influence as a beta to soothe the wolf’s frazzled nerves, stroking his matted fur and murmuring in his ear. Gladio stalked behind them, growling low in his throat, and Noct gave in and shifted at last, pushing his sleek bulk against the other omega in a weak attempt at comfort.

Then came the hard part.

“You know you can change back, right?” Noct asked. It had been over an hour, but the wolf had refused to shift, huddling at the back of their garden shed amid shelves of fertilizer and fishing tackle. Noct took a step closer, and Gladio let out a heavy sigh, gripping him by the collar to haul him back. “Hey!”

“No, Noct,” Gladio said, voice heavy with sarcasm as Noct struggled against his hold. “Walk right up to a feral Niff. Go ahead. You’ve lived a long life, I’m sure your dad won't mind if I tell him I let you get your head bitten off--”

“Ignis is right there!” Noct protested. Ignis looked up from where he was gently teasing the ends of a lump of tangled fur, and Gladio groaned.

“Self-preservation?” he asked. “What's that? Hell if I know, I’m just an alpha who wants his packmates to live through the week, don't mind me…

He backed off, dragging Noctis with him, and the two of them disappeared in a mess of pinwheeling arms and snarling omega.

Ignis watched them go, and jumped when the wolf nudged his arm, whining faintly. “Oh,” he said. “Do you want me to keep going?”

Another whine.

Ignis scratched the wolf behind the ears, smiling a little when he closed his eyes. “It’ll feel better once you’ve had a proper bath,” he said. “Come, now.”

The wolf followed him out, led by Ignis’ hands in his ruff, and Ignis sat him down by the garden hose.

“Are you afraid to shift back?” he asked, turning on the water. The wolf stared at him. “Can you shift back?”

This whine was faint, more of a grumble than anything, and Ignis forced himself to smile.

“I’m sure it can happen,” he said. He set the hose over the wolf’s shoulders and started kneading his fur, trying not to notice the blood that mixed with the mud pooling at their feet. “I’ve heard of cases where a werewolf can remain in one state for too long, making it hard to shift back. I knew an older woman, sweetest thing in gingham you’ll ever meet, couldn't be convinced to transform for love nor money. Hated the smell, I believe.”

He talked like that for another hour, brushing and massaging the muck out of the wolf’s fur. He spoke of how it felt to shift, of the first time Ignis had stayed as a wolf for too long, too mired in the misery of teenage drama to realize what was happening.

“It's terrifying,” he said. “You have to remember what makes you human. Think about what you’d like to do, in human form. You can talk to me, or Noctis, or…” He frowned. “Well. You can help me with the garden. It would be nice to have an extra pair of hands. Noctis can't be bothered with anything remotely healthy, you know. Can you say his name? Noctis. Noc-tis.”

The wolf hunched his shoulders, head hanging, and Ignis rubbed his ears.

“You have a beautiful coat,” he said. “Like gold. I bet your hair’s this color, isn't it? You’re lucky; I tried dying my hair, when I was thirteen, and I--”

“Oh my gods, will you lay off?” Noct shouted. Both Ignis and the wolf turned to look at Noct stomping towards the shed with a plate of the roast they’d made two days ago, Gladio trailing him like a puppy in a sulk. The wolf startled at the sight of Gladio and shrank back, and Ignis sighed.

“Stop there,” he said, and Noct froze. “Neither of you are allowed near him until you can get your emotions under control.” He strode up to Noct and kissed him lightly on the forehead, wrenching the plate from his resisting fingers. “The thought is appreciated, though.”

“Just be careful, Iggy,” Gladio said. “This could be a trap.”

Ignis barely resisted rolling his eyes, and Noct snorted. “Duly noted, Gladio.” He turned to the wolf, and was unsurprised to find all his attention locked on the roast. Gods alone knew when he ate last. Ignis set the plate down quickly, and when the wolf lunged, Gladio darted in to wrap his arms around Ignis’ chest.

“Good lord,” Ignis muttered, and wriggled free. He returned to the wolf, aware of both Noct and Gladio’s stares fixed on his back, and waited for him to finish.

The sun had nearly set by the time the wolf began to transform.

He did it by inches, painful and slow. He curled in on himself, hunching into Ignis’ hold, his body jerking and reshaping itself in a shift so gradual that Ignis could barely track it. He murmured to the wolf as he shook in his arms, nonsensical words of encouragement breathed in his fur, and smiled when he felt the first patch of skin form under his hands.

“Good,” he whispered. “You're doing so well.”

The wolf shuddered and shifted the rest of the way all at once, collapsing in the dirt with a gasp that was blessedly human. Ignis dropped to his knees with him, and leaned down to look into a narrow, freckled face, blue eyes dark with exhaustion. He smiled and pushed long blond bangs back with one hand.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hey.” The blonde’s voice was hoarse with disuse, but his smile was genuine. He dropped his head on Ignis’ shoulder, and Ignis tried not to dwell on how slight he was, or on the bones he could feel under the skin of his back.

“Do you have a name?” Ignis asked. The omega forced his head up, eyes narrowed.

“Right, sorry,” he said. “It's Prompto.” Ignis waited, and his cheeks flushed pink. “Just Prompto.”

“Well, just Prompto,” Ignis said, earning himself another shaky smile. “May I say that it’s a pleasure to meet you at last.”

“Yeah,” Prompto said, clutching Ignis’ arms with both hands. He looked down at himself, then back up at Ignis, grinning as though he’d just transformed for the first time. “Same here.”