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**Chapter 1**

**Noctis**

Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum turned sixteen on August 30. He found the celebration excruciating to suffer through. Most people celebrated their sixteenth birthday with a party to acknowledge their coming of age, finally leaving the realm of youth behind and shouldering the mantle of adulthood, a thing both bittersweet and exciting. For Noctis it was something different, something more, because for a Caelum, aging involved something far more magical. A Caelum turned sixteen, and he began the process of fulfilling his family’s covenant with the Crystal that powered and protected all of Lucis.

A Caelum turned sixteen, and he began to die.

It was a process that started with establishing his own magical interdimensional weapons arsenal, but ended with giving up his health and life to sustain the Crystal. A father to his son, and then to his son, and to his son, and to his son.

To celebrate Noctis’s birthday, over a thousand people crowded the Citadel, all of them congratulating him on having made it far enough in life to finally start being useful. Here was the point at which Noctis finally began to earn the life of luxury and privilege he had been born into.

The throne room glittered with lights, thousands of real, burning candles hanging from the ceiling. Crystalline cups and punch bowls were scattered across mahogany tables that had been pulled out of some gods forsaken attic and polished until you could see your face mirrored on them if you so chose. The whole thing was very high-class, suits and elegant cocktail dresses, and basically everything Noctis hated in life. Of course, the extravagant candles and crystalline cups were pointless, as the eerie light of the Crystal hanging behind the throne outshone every other attempt at creating impressive, glittering scenery.

Noctis had parked himself next to one of those glossy tables and proceeded to avoid the gazes of everyone else around him, lest he be pulled into some pained conversation. So far he had been moderately successful. He swirled the ice in his punch and wondered idly how much hanging a thousand useless candles from the twenty-foot high throne room ceiling even cost.

The people milling next to him were discussing Lucis’s recent withdrawal from even more territory, including an important sea port to the south. They had as of yet made no attempt to include him in the conversation, and Noct did his best to support that decision with an air of unapproachability. Noctis’s opinion of the issue was marred by the fact that the strain of keeping the wall against that attack had left his father bed ridden for two weeks. Regis had finally emerged with hair even paler, knuckles swollen and gnarled, and eyes that could not hide the pain he was in.

“Well you’re just a ball of happy sunshine, aren’t you?”

Gladio sidled up to him, all prim and proper in his Crownsguard uniform, his brand new tattoos hidden underneath heavy black sleeves.

“That obvious, huh?” Noctis drawled. If it was obvious to Gladio, then it was probably obvious to others, including his father. He swirled his cup some more, wondering if he could persuade Gladio to slip him some of the good stuff. Probably not.

Gladio, he decided, did not look genuine in the borrowed, formal Crownsguard uniform. The formal uniform was made of stiff leather adorned with far too many ribbons and buttons, impractical for a group of people whose job description involved violence. It was also a size too small, barely stretching out over his bulging biceps.

“The biggest birthday celebration the Citadel’s ever seen, and you’re hiding behind the punch bowl.”

At that, Noctis raised his gaze from his punch and just looked at Gladio, his eyes open and lips a grim line. There were many things that Noctis was not very good at expressing, but he found that both Gladio and Ignis were masterful at reading what his verbal skills tended to leave lacking. Gladio met his gaze searchingly, and then heaved a long suffering sigh with a shake of his head. “Damn hopeless.”

Noctis had no response to that, so eventually he shrugged.

“Would it help,” Gladio asked, “if I snuck you some of the good stuff?”

Noctis blinked suspiciously. “Yes?”

“Yeah, well keep dreaming, princess.” Gladio’s laughter boomed loud and boisterous, and it caused several people to turn their heads with scandalous looks. Meanwhile, Noctis managed to catch his father staring directly at him from the steps of the throne. He deliberately pretended he hadn’t noticed, but then Gladiolus pushed him in the back with curled knuckles, whispering, “Don’t you dare. Go.”

Noctis gave him his most sullen look, pointless because unlike Ignis, Gladio was never the least bit intimidated by his moods. Still, he put his punch glass down and proceeded to make the gallows walk up to the throne steps.

Perhaps he was being overly dramatic, but his father had been increasingly brooding and short-tempered in the weeks leading up to Noctis’s birthday. Whether that was due to the growing dire political situation with Niflheim or the implication of Noct’s birthday itself, he had no idea. But Noctis had recently spent as little time in the presence of his father as possible.

Out of self-preservation, he had surreptitiously watched King Regis closely all evening, and while the King was outwardly his usual stoic and majestic self, Noctis could not help but notice he was on his fourth wine glass.

He came to a rest before his father and bowed with his hand over his heart, though he stopped infinitesimally above where was proper. A small defiance. Noctis could not refuse this sham, drawn-out birthday celebration, no more than he could refuse his duty to the crown. It was without a doubt a very childish action, but Noctis had few avenues of self-expression when it had anything to do with kingly business. He felt his father’s lips curl, but then perhaps the King should have listened to Noctis when he said he didn’t want any of this fanfare for his birthday. Perhaps he should not have pulled away from Noctis these last few weeks, leaving him to sort through his fears and apprehension alone.

Apparently having chosen the high road and ignoring Noct’s rebellion for now, King Regis raised his head, his gaze roving over the crowded throne room. Silence quickly followed, the throng of people as responsive as marionettes.

It was apparently time. They had finally gotten to the meat of the ceremony. Both relief and terror warred within Noctis as his father began an imperious speech, droning on and on about the momentousness of today, how Noctis was finally taking his place. As his father spoke, he struggled to tamp down the ratcheting anxiety, to condense it into tight ball and send it far away where it could not control him. It was one thing to subtly challenge his father through an unimportant protocol and another thing entirely to puke on his shoes.

Noctis closed his eyes, though only for a moment because any longer and he’d have to hear a speech about proper princely decorum from some self-important advisor, but it was long enough. There was a place inside of himself where he had learned to go in situations like these at an early age, a place where he was untouchable, empty of desires and fear and need, and that was the place he now sought and found.

Opening his eyes, he was finally able to allow the surface of his mind to settle into something still and undisturbed, as glassy as a frozen pond. The crowd was endless, their gazes’ infinite, but he floated above it. He felt stripped bare.

His father finally finished speaking, gesturing for Noctis come with him, and he numbly followed up the many steps of the throne, until they were standing just before it. The Crystal pulsed warmly. Noctis could feel it, like an itch under his skin, whispering in the back of his mind.

King Regis reached out and grasped Noctis’s hand, the black ring on his finger gleaming. Its illustriousness was a startling contrast to the King’s own gnarled skin. He spoke quietly, his head bowed toward Noctis. This at least was for them, and not anyone else. “Are you ready, Noct?”

Noctis was not ready. He would never be ready.

“Yes.”

The King smiled at that, an empty smile, as though he had heard the true answer underneath Noctis’s affirmation. He turned, and Cor handed him something long and silver. Stepping back, his father held out a gleaming sword to Noctis.

Noctis fought admirably to remain in his disaffected state. But then he allowed himself to truly look at the sword, and he could not help how his breath caught in his throat. It was beautiful. Absolutely exquisite. Thinner and more graceful than the hulking blades that Gladio preferred, yet obviously big enough and sharp enough to do the damage it needed to. There was some kind of mechanism on the hilt, although Noctis could not imagine what it was for. He reached for it almost without thinking, only managing to abort his movement at the last moment.

King Regis smiled indulgently as he laid the sword across Noct’s palm. Noctis coiled his fingers around it, pulling it close. Then a whirl of sparks exploded around the King, and his own sword appeared. He drew his blade above Noctis’s arm, his hands trembling from the strain.

Noctis did not need to be told how this part of the ceremony was supposed to go. He could not truly communicate with the Crystal until he took the Ring of the Lucii. But this ceremony was an introduction of sorts. An Awakening. With a swallow, he turned his free hand over so that it rested before his father, palm up.

Regis moved quickly and efficiently, restrained in an otherwise ostentatious ceremony. The sword slashed across Noctis’s palm. Noctis told himself he would not flinch, and he mostly managed, even though the cut was deeper than he had imagined. As he withdrew his hand from his father, the blood quickly welled up and ran in rivulets down his arm.

The King’s eyes flickered down to the freely flowing blood, dripping from his son’s arm. Noctis’s stomach twisted in on itself as he watched his father’s face carve itself into a terrible mask, his expression savage and pained. Even as he told himself it was baseless, he couldn’t help but fear that maybe his father was worried Noctis would somehow fail this test and doom the kingdom, shaming their family forever. But the King’s voice was steady and formal as he said, “You who carry the blood of the Kings of Lucis. Go forth and make the Covenant with the Crystal.”

With his father’s expression bearing down on him, there was nowhere to hide. His blood was ice in his veins. Noctis held his bleeding hand out, pressing his palm against the Crystal.

Immediately, the muscles in his hand clenched up. For a wild second he felt he would be pulled into the Crystal itself, swallowed and consumed while his father could only watch. He wrenched his hand back, only to find it was practically fused to the gleaming Crystal.

Noct’s heart thudded, and he tried to jerk his head around to implead his father. But the world around him swam and blurred until he was surrounded on all sides by murky smoke and colors, his father and the rest of the observers nowhere to be seen.

Then a figure stood before him, impossibly tall, its face hidden by armor.

“Who are you to call on the Kings of Lucis, protectors of the Crystal of Light?”

Noctis could not breath. Though he did not understand what was happening, there was no turning back now, and the answer to that question at least was easy, unescapable. “It is I, Noctis Lucis Caelum.”

The figure was silent so Noctis continued hesitantly, “I am son of Regis Caelum, son of Augustine Caelum....” Noctis trembled, but he managed to get through all the names of his ancestors, down to the one who had first made the covenant with the Gods. Ignis would be proud. He’d been drilling Noctis on it for three months now.

Though when they had practiced, they had imagined the ceremony to go quite differently. Noct was supposed to hold his hand on the Crystal and recite these lines to his father, not a strange being in a dream world. Was this what lived inside the Crystal? His father had not described anything like this dream world to him, and he didn’t understand why this was happening. Had they done something wrong, or was this supposed to be, and his father just hadn’t bothered to warn him?

He beheld the strange figure as he finished his recitation, taking in the intricate armor, the familiar crest on his breast.

The figure, the King, Noctis finally comprehended, took another long pause. Then he said flatly, “You are unfinished.”

It was the way he said, unfinished. It dripped from his lips so that it sounded more like unworthy. Noctis fought not to shrink into himself.

The figure snorted. “Still, blood calls to blood.” Noctis could not see the ancient King’s eyes, but they bored into him nonetheless. His voice tore into Noctis. “I name thee of the line Lucis Caelum, Protectors of the Crystal. The Chosen King of Kings, I name thee, and Bringer of the Dawn. It is done.”

The pain that followed was incredible. He was being stabbed with a thousand swords, gutted, organs ripped to shreds. His arm, blood still seeping, seized on itself, and every nerve burned white hot, as if hooks were being twisted into every part of him capable of sensation. His mouth was frozen, his scream of agony trapped in his throat.

And then it was done. Noctis blinked, and the throne room came into focus again.

King Regis spoke over the buzzing in Noctis’s ears, “It is done,” his words eerily echoing the ancient Luciian King.

Noctis could not remember most of what happened next. His father grasped his hand painfully tight. A blur of faces. The King spoke again, but Noctis found he could not focus enough to understand it. Another sharp blast of pain.

Every muscle and bone in his body ached. He closed his eyes, and the throbbing of his head seemed almost in time with the pulsing feeling of the Crystal behind him. It wasn’t just the pain either; exhaustion like he had never known pulled at him, sleep calling him demandingly into its warm embrace. He thought he might actually faint right here in next to the King.

But then someone had their arm under his shoulder, and they pulled him insistently. His feet struggled to keep him upright and walking. A familiar scent of leather and sweat wafted over him, and he slurred, “Gladio?” He wasn’t sure if was actually Gladio that answered, but Noctis murmured, his tongue thick and useless, “I’m so tired, Gladio.”

Noctis fell into a deep and dreamless oblivion.

***

**Ignis**

Ignis Scientia found Noctis’s sixteenth birthday party excruciating to live through. In the weeks leading up to it, Noctis had been increasingly moody and sullen, his bad temper only outdone by his father. Needless to say the Citadel was a tense place to be at the moment.

At the party itself, his young charge flatly refused to engage in any useful social behavior, thus leaving Ignis to pick up the slack. He wasn’t resentful per se, but it was certainly frustrating. Noctis seemed to think that because Ignis excelled at cozying up to dignitaries and remembering long lists of names and interests that he must enjoy it. Noctis was wrong in that regard, but there was no point in enlightening him otherwise.

So Ignis talked to a Duscaen Baron about the recent record flooding in that region and its impact on potato crops. He commented on the price of Altissian imports. He spoke to Gralian immigrant about Niflheim’s aggression and reassured him that the King was committed to protecting that border. That was a lie of course. Ignis happened to know that the council was just this morning planning how far inward to pull the border wall. The King had admitted to his closest advisors that at the current rate of bombardment, he would likely die within three years. Absolutely no one had any illusions that Noctis would be ready to hold the wall himself in three years. And so sacrifices had to be somewhere.

He knew that many of the council members despised that Regis had insisted on keeping the traditional age of the Ceremony of Awakening for his son, refusing to even hear of moving it up, of preparing Noctis earlier. Ignis wasn’t sure how he personally felt about it. On one hand, it was selfish to insist Noctis have his childhood while so many suffered. On the other, Regis was the only person in the world who had any idea how royal magic worked. If he said Noctis wasn’t ready until he was at least sixteen, then who were they, mere mortal in this tale of Gods and magic, to say anything to the contrary.

It wasn’t that Ignis ever forgot exactly what Noctis was. But the idea of serving a royal Lucii certainly lost its sparkle when one was in the middle of washing that royal’s underwear. That same person who couldn’t figure out how to fry an egg without melting his pan, would soon be wielding the most potent magic the world knew. No, Ignis had never truly forgotten, but there was something warm in the pit of his stomach, something suspiciously like pride and wonder, as he watched Noctis ascend the throne steps to stand beside the King.

That pit in his stomach tightened into unpleasantness when Noctis purposely fouled the bow to his father, though he doubted very many observers had caught that. Ignis pursed his lips. Noctis had a reputation for arrogance and aloofness, and one could certainly add stubbornness to that list of deficient character traits. Even now, he stood stony faced and blank eyed as his father gave his speech. But Ignis could see the tightness around his eyes, the stiffness in his shoulders, how his breathing was just slightly unsteady.

At some point in his life Noct had learned to use apathy as a defense mechanism against the things in his life he had no control over. That wasn’t the same thing at all as arrogance, even if the distinction was difficult to see sometimes.

His movement surprisingly assured, Noctis held his hand out, and the King slashed his sword across his palm. Every King of Lucis had his own weapon, given to him on the day he was fully bonded to the Crystal, and buried with him the day he died. The one that rested in Noctis’s non bleeding hand had been commissioned by King Regis months before, called the Engine Blade. It was exquisite work. Ignis could see that even from his vantage point at the base of the throne steps.

A hand suddenly grasped Ignis’s shoulder, jerking him back. But it was only Gladiolus, somehow able to approach him entirely silently even though he was the size of truck.

“Little man’s finally growing up,” he said, the gruffness in his voice doing little to disguise the tenderness.

Ignis hummed his assent as he turned back around to watch the ceremony. Noctis was reaching his bleeding hand out to the Crystal. The young advisor couldn’t help the way his breath caught in his throat and the way his heart stuttered as his charge firmly pressed his palm against the Crystal.

Ignis wasn’t sure what he expected to happen. He’d spent an embarrassingly large amount of his time over the last few weeks in the royal library, studying up on the royal magic. The accounts were rather unhelpful. He always found it to be a terrible day when answers could not be found in a book.

What did happen was that there was a flash of light. It sparkled around the prince, swirling around him in faster and faster circles like a whirlwind of rose petals, and it was so very much other that it hurt to think about. The magic churned and churned. Noctis was motionless, and since he was facing the Crystal, Ignis could not see his face. Eventually, the magical energy seemed to reach some kind of apex because it brightened impossibly further, and then it rushed the prince in one swoop. It flew into him, disappearing under his pale skin, leaving him gasping.

Ignis could feel Gladio start and tense next to him. Even though he understood why, he still held out his hand, aborting the Shield’s movement before it had begun. They had both heard in that gasp incredible agony, the kind that was not ignorable to the two men who had devoted their lives to this youth. But it had to be so, because this pain was expected, sought out even. Gladio snarled, though he did not fight Ignis. In this they must be impotent.

The King, his own weapon swirling around himself in tight circles, took the Engine Blade from Noctis’s limp grip and slammed it forcefully into the ground next to his son. He said thunderously, “I name thee of the line Lucis Caelum, Noctis Lucis Caelum, Protector of the Crystal.” As Noctis slowly and shakily withdrew his hand from the Crystal, the King proclaimed, “It is done.”
With that the King’s weapon disappeared in a flurry of glittering magic, and Noctis once again gasped loudly. Father and son both turned to face the crowd, and that seemed to be the signal to start applauding.

It was obvious to Ignis that the prince was barely standing. He once again wished desperately and uselessly that he knew more about how the royal magic worked. Was it truly so taxing, even from the beginning? How did Regis stand it?

He watched as they shuffled the prince, not down the steps, but towards the side entrance by the throne. Turning to Gladio, he asked, “Do you--?” Ignis wasn’t sure what he was asking, but Gladio answered immediately nevertheless.

“Yes.”

In unison, they pushed past crowds of people and slipped through a door on the side of the throne room with quiet nods to the Crownsguard standing watch. Another side corridor, and they came up the steps that led to back entrance next to the seat of the throne. There they found the Marshall struggling to keep Noctis upright. The prince’s eyes were half lidded and unfocused, like he was falling asleep standing up. His face was pale even for him, the sweat dried on his neck and forehead giving him a sickly sheen. Gladio immediately leveraged himself under the prince’s other shoulder and proceeded to help Cor half carry, half drag him down the hallway.

Noctis mumbled something that Ignis couldn’t hear, but Gladio grunted in response, and then Noct said slightly louder, voice strained and plaintive, “I’m so tired, Gladio.”

Gladio shifted so that he bore more of Noct’s weight, replying, “I know, kid. I know.” To that Noct didn’t respond at all, but his weight became fully boneless, and it was clear he had passed out. Gladio and Ignis exchanged a look, then they and Cor proceeded to carry the Prince to his quarters.

As they gently laid him on his plush bed, Ignis turned and demanded of Cor, “Should he be this tired? I thought today was just about introducing him to the Crystal, so to speak?”

Cor shrugged, his eyes unreadable, entirely too dismissive for Ignis’s taste, but it was the King’s voice that responded. “It is truly gratifying to see such devotion in my son’s retainers, but you worry needlessly.” The King’s stride was ponderous as he entered the prince’s room, his quivering hand leaning more on his cane than he was willing to in public.

Both Ignis and Gladio shifted immediately with low bows. “Your Majesty.”

The King sat down next to the head of Noctis’s bed in a bony chair that the Marshall had produced from somewhere. Meanwhile, Ignis and Gladio kept themselves at attention, unsure if they were wanted or if they were supposed to leave. It was clear that the King’s attention was entirely on his son.

“The Royal magic is taxing when one is not accustomed to it, and Noct has awakened his quite suddenly. He will recover in due time,” the King said, finally waving a hand at them to relax. He ran his hand over his son’s fringe, smiling sadly as Noctis shivered and twitched restlessly. “When he’s like this, he reminds me so much of his younger self,” he said softly. “He was such a sickly child.”

Ignis murmured, “I remember.”

The King nodded, still watching his son sleep. Noctis had shifted so that he was curled up on his side, hands tucked under his chin. The juxtaposition of the prince as a powerful magical creature and his present youthful vulnerability tore at Ignis as he beheld the scene. Somehow this child was supposed to become as regal and masterful as the man who had sired him.

King Regis’s thoughts must have traveled along a similar path. “I told myself that my burden would not become my son’s. I swore it on all the Gods,” the King said with a bitter laugh. “A father’s folly.”

Ignis swallowed, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Even though he had more interactions with the King than most people in the Citadel, the majority of it involved reports on Noctis. King Regis usually kept his thoughts close to his heart, even among his closest retainers, and that Ignis and Gladio, who belonged so clearly to Noct, were not. Why he was opening up to them now, Ignis had no idea.

“Duty comes for us all eventually, your majesty,” Ignis said quietly. Gladio remained silent behind him.

“For some of us too soon.”

That didn’t seem to require an answer. The King, ignoring them, brought his hand up to support his chin and bowed his head. The room settled into a potent silence again. Ignis’s discomfort grew astronomically as he realized that a fat tear was sliding down the King’s cheek. He looked at Gladio, but the bodyguard might as well have been a statue. No help on that front.

When the King spoke next, his voice had become roughened and thick. “Do you know what they called him?”

Ignis was bewildered. “They, your majesty?”

“Of course,” sighed the King. “That vision is my burden to bear as well, I suppose.”

Ignis felt like a failure, and he had no idea why.

“Bringer of Dawn, the Kings of Old named Noctis. Chosen King of Kings.”

Ignis still had no idea what King Regis was talking about, but he did his best. “Is that not a good thing, your majesty?”

Ignis felt he was not the best person to be having this conversation. His mind was nimble-footed enough, but comforting others wasn’t exactly his strong suit. There were so many layers to this ceremony, Noctis finally taking up the mantle of his family’s magic, the implication of its future drain on his life. But Ignis didn’t think this was what the King was mourning right now. That Noct would eventually bond with the Crystal and take his father’s place had been set in stone from the moment of his conception. Regis had had plenty of time to grow accustomed to that fact of life, as had they all.

The King did not answer. Instead, he turned back to the sleeping Noctis and asked, “Do you love my son, Ignis Scientia?”

Ignis did not need to think that answer through, though he wasn’t sure why the King would ask such a thing. Wasn’t it obvious? Hadn’t the King just commented on it?

“Of course. I’d die for Noctis.”

The King’s tone grew harsher, though his eyes remained on his son, and not on the man he was conversing with, as if he could not bear it. “It is your duty to die for my son if need be. That is not the same as love,” he said fiercely.

“To me it is.” Now when the King turned around, Ignis held his gaze.

“I see.”

This time it was Gladio who answered the unasked question. Ignis had almost forgotten he was still standing behind them. “No one could question your love for Noct, your majesty.” He paused and then added, “Or ours.”

They waited as the King stared unblinkingly at his son. He eventually spoke, all emotion gone from his voice, crisp and perfunctory. “Prince Noctis will be often tired and in pain over the next few weeks, as he grows accustomed to the Crystal’s magic. He will particularly vulnerable during that time. I expect you both to adjust accordingly.”

Both Gladio and Ignis bowed, and said in unison, “Of course, your majesty.”

With that the King left. Neither Gladio nor Ignis really felt like discussing what had just happened, at least not yet. Instead, they both exchanged a silent look and waited for Noct to wake up.

***

Chapter Text

**Chapter 2**

**Noctis**

Noctis Lucis Caelum had a long history of illness, beginning right from his birth, a difficult thirteen-hour affair which had produced one severely underweight baby and one dead mother. The Citadel doctors had warned his father not to become too attached, but of course that was like telling the wind not to blow or the sun not to rise in the East.

First was the chicken pox; that nearly killed him when he was just eight months old. Then it was several back to back bouts of the flu, his lungs weakening and failing like clockwork every few months. And so that underweight baby became a delicate boned, underweight child. His father, rather than learning from his mistakes, let each near death experience make his love for Noctis fiercer and more desperate.

When Noct’s sickness prevented him from leaving his room, his father would come read him. Fair game was the Cosmology, stories of the Gods and their exploits with early humans, ancient wars and battles. But Noct’s favorite stories were always those of young, swashbuckling heroes who must journey across perilous lands and fight terrible daemons to rescue their true loves.

Eventually Noctis gained some much needed strength, and bedtime stories became ball games in the courtyard. His father taught him how to fish on the cliff side that formed the eastern city border. In particular, Noctis loved going on afternoon car rides through the city or to new fishing spots. It was one of the only times they could be truly alone together, and something about the act of driving seemed to loosen Regis’s ever present tension. He would talk to Noctis then, man to man, an unstated expectation that even at age six Noctis was capable of adult ideas and conversations.

That changed at age eight, when the Marilith Daemon severed Noctis’s spine.

This was not the weakness of Noct’s own body threatening to take him away; it was sabotage. Not that anyone could prove it of course. But the attack once again left Noct bedridden, his legs as useless as nipples on battle armor. And this time it was worse, because now Noct knew what he was missing, knew what it was like to play outside, to explore, to live beyond the narrow walls of the Citadel.

At first it was the shock of the attack, the bloody memories of his nurse’s life seeping away, that kept Noctis quiet and withdrawn. The doctors called it PTSD. He would recover in due time they said, except that he didn’t. The dragging of days, the sense of death that could never quite leave him, bleached the world of its color. Noctis had never been the most social or active child, but something in him withered away, something that didn’t truly heal until he was much older.

Regis once again came at night to read him stories, though at that point Noctis was no longer the same bright-eyed child, and the stories felt less magical, if not less appreciated. Tensions with Niflheim were high, leaving Regis to constantly cancel even that much, as the needs of the Kingdom reluctantly drew him further and further away from his son.

A few months after the attack, Noctis, with the capricious logic of an eight-year-old, decided that the best course of action in response to hearing his father was too busy for him was to tantrum until he got his way. His nurses begged him to let them read to him. No it wouldn’t be the same, but it was the best they could offer. Did he perhaps want to play a game? Cards did not require working legs. In response, he screamed and threw his toys across the room, threatening to have them all fired, saying he didn’t want anything now, that he hated his father.

Then King Regis entered his room, face devoid of emotion. Noctis saw him and screeched again that he hated his father, that he should leave and never come back. Noct had at that point run out of things to throw. Impassive to the tantruming, Regis paused at the foot of the bed in which Noctis was trapped, and one word escaped his lips, barely audible under his child’s raging.

“Noct.”

Noctis stopped, and they stared at each other, both still as the grave. To young Noctis, Regis’s gaze had seemed vast and alien, and it was Noct that caved first, eyes falling in shame. The prince cried then, great heaving sobs, as he begged his father for forgiveness, told him he had not meant it, that he could never hate him.

Regis shushed him. “Noctis, my child,” he said, “Your words could never hurt me. They don’t have that power.”

Noctis took several heaving gulps, yet eventually the sobbing slowed.

When Noctis seemed sufficiently calmed, Regis added gravely, “But, you have mistreated your caretakers, Noctis.”

With his head hung, Noctis whispered, “I’m sorry.”

His father shook his head. “That’s not good enough,” King Regis replied. His eyes held Noctis. “You are a prince. You can never forget what you are. Your words are weapons, and all weapons can be deployed unwisely.”

He waited for Noctis to nod to show he understood, and then he continued, “Every single person in this country is bound by your commands. If you tell your subjects to do something they do not wish to, they must regardless. Even if you command something immoral, it must still be obeyed. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

Now his mouth curled, and his gaze bit into his son accusingly. “If you threaten to take away their livelihoods on a capricious whim, someday that too must be obeyed. Do you understand that?”

“Yes,” Noctis repeated, staring up at his father through his lashes.

“Good.” King Regis nodded. “Now apologize.”

And so the next night King Regis canceled after promising to visit and read to Noct in those terrible months after the daemon attack, the nurses quite wisely did not offer to read to Noct instead. Noct certainly didn’t ask them to. He was angry and sullen, but he had taken his father’s words to heart. Noctis did not have the liberty, even at eight, to show his displeasure in the consequence free way of other children. Instead, he was apathetic and withdrawn, refusing to engage with his caretakers, but also refusing to go to sleep on his own, until a young boy entered his room.

Ignis was new to the palace. Sent by his parents to study at the royal academy, he was supposed to be a certified genius. At twelve he had already graduated and was studying under various important council members. His parents, old money from the far outskirts of the kingdom, were hoping to land him a royal assignment. Hence, the acceptance of every fetch mission and minor job that brought him within the circle of influence of the prince. Ignis seemed to find this as distasteful as Noctis. Even now, delivering whatever it was he held under his arm, he appeared impatient and disinterested. Noctis found this refreshing.

“Here, it’s from your father, the King.” Ignis said curtly, holding out whatever was in his hand.

Noctis blinked at him. “I know who my father is.”

Ignis seemed taken aback. “What?”

It was strange to see such a young looking child standing so seriously, already constantly pushing up the rims of his glasses. Noctis did not take the thing from his hand. “You don’t have to announce him, you know. He’s just my father.”

Ignis stared at him for a long moment before replying, “I will take that under advisement.” He thrust his package out expectantly, and Noctis finally took it.

Unwrapping it, he discovered it was a glossy illustrated book. The covered featured a sword wielding youth battling a giant Daemon, the likes of which Noctis had never seen before. Frowning, Noctis opened the cover to discover that someone had written a note in thick pen-strokes on the inside cover. He recognized his father’s rolling cursive, but at eight still struggled to read it.

“Wait,” he called to the retreating Ignis. “Can you read it to me?”

There were two nurses assigned at all times to Noct’s bedroom, tasked with performing any and all responsibilities needed for his comfort, and one of them scuttled forward. “Master Scientia is supposed to be shadowing Councilman Amicitia, your highness. He doesn’t have time for that.”

Even though he had had no reason to, Noctis felt something inside of himself shrink at her hurried words. Turning his head away, Noctis listlessly held out the book. He wasn’t watching, so when it was a young man’s voice that began to quietly and competently read the note on the inside cover, Noctis was pleasantly startled.

My dearest son,

I know it is difficult now, but someday far too soon you will understand the choices I’ve made. Being a Caelum means that we do not have the same freedom that others so easily take for granted. But know this, in my heart there was never a choice other than you, and in my dreams every night I have all the opportunities to be the father to you that our lives do not allow. So sleep well, my dearest Noctis, and together we shall dream of the greatest adventures yet to be written.

Love,

Your father

“Would you like me to read the comic to you as well?” Ignis asked neutrally. Noctis swallowed and nodded. Without further comment, Ignis read the comic.

The reason that Noctis liked Ignis, even at age eight, wasn’t that Ignis didn’t pity him, though he didn’t; rather, it was that even when Noctis was wheelchair bound and useless, Ignis had still treated him exactly the same. That is to say as a real person, who should have real expectations placed upon him, and not a delicate object or a strange, foreign entity like so many of Noctis’s other nurses, bodyguards, and tutors. And Ignis was the most likely to notice Noctis’s actual needs and desires, unlike the others.

That started a long tradition of Ignis bringing Noct comic books and other trinkets when he was sick. It was a sort of truce. Ignis, especially after being assigned to be Noct’s tutor, normally hammered him to study harder, to try harder, but when he was sick, Ignis instead dropped all of that without making an embarrassingly big deal about it.

To outsiders it might seem strange or paradoxical, the way Ignis’s and Noct’s relationship often worked, but to them it made sense. And in Noctis’s humble opinion, the rest of the world could go screw itself.

***

For Noctis, at age sixteen, being a fully awakened and blooded heir to the throne turned out to be exactly like not being a fully awakened one, except that it involved more flu-like symptoms. His father had warned him that he would feel ill for a few days after the ceremony, but even though it was a chance to be temporarily lazy and ignore his responsibilities, Noct still managed to spend most of his time trapped in bed in an inescapably sour mood. It wasn’t because Noctis couldn’t stand being an invalid. He was actually very good at it, considering he had been practicing his entire life. He knew all the mental games and tricks to make the time go faster, knew how to exist in the space between dozing and awareness, but that didn’t help his swirling mind not endlessly think about his father, the Crystal, and all his other worries.

Sometime in the first night after the ceremony the crown prince awoke to the sound of soft snores. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw Gladio slumped in a chair that had been pulled up next to the head of the bed. Noct couldn’t help but smile at the sight of his tank of a bodyguard with his head drooped and drool pooling gently on his shirt collar.

He took a deep breath and winced. Even that ached. His entire body felt like Gladio had systematically wacked him with the flat of his blade until he was one giant bruise. Gritting his teeth, Noct gingerly curled up on himself, pulling his torso up into some semblance of sitting. After he managed that, he opened his eyes to see Gladio blinking at him, not having moved from the chair, but presumably woken by Noctis’s movement.

“How’ya feeling?” Gladio’s voice was thick with sleep.

Noctis scowled, but it was without any real malice. “Like fucking shit.”

“Language.” The admonition too, was without force.

“What are you, Iggy?”

Gladio stood and stretched, his eyes twinkling. “Oh the horror.”

Noct laughed, and the movement made him realize something else. “I gotta piss,” he whined as he contemplated the difficulty of making it across the room like this. Just sitting up had taken a gargantuan effort with his leaden limbs and cottony, aching head.

Gladio snorted, though he didn’t complain as he helped Noctis stumble to the bathroom. His limbs responded to him like his nerves signals were moving through heavy molasses. Noctis almost tipped over right into the toilet, but Gladio jerked him back at the last minute.

“This sucks.”

Gladio was not sympathetic. Noctis hadn’t really expected him to be. That wasn’t how they fit together. “If you need someone to hold your dick for you, I’m sure there’s some foxy maid I could recruit for the job,” he drawled. Noctis flipped him off. “Or a butler. No judgment.”

“Gladio.”

“Yep.”

“Shut up.”

Even though Gladio’s ribbing was unending, it was doing work to loosen the knot in Noctis’s stomach. It was gratifying in a strange way, that no matter what he did or became, Gladio would forever remain unimpressed by him.

“Where’s Ignis?” Noct asked as he came out of the bathroom. In the end, he had not required any help in holding his dick. Gladio grasped his forearm, leading him back to bed.

“Was here earlier. Your dad too. Wanted to wait on you to wake up, but there was an emergency council meeting or something.”

“Oh.” He wanted to protest being practically pushed back into bed, but Noctis could already feel sleep drawing him back in. His eyes fluttered closed of their own accord as he rolled over on his side.

“Sweet dreams, Noct.”

Noctis was once again out instantly.

***

On day two, sitting in his bed during one of his more wakeful spells, bored out of his mind, he tried to summon his magic, tried to feel it crawling across his skin like it had during the ceremony; however, nothing happened. He didn’t feel anything different at all, just tired and sick.

Ignis, having come to check up on him, was very practical about it. “Of course you would not feel this drained, if the magic were doing nothing, Noct. Have a bit more faith than that.”

“But it is doing nothing!” Noct waved his hands, trying in vain to make something happen. “This is literally nothing!”

Ignis quite impressively managed to roll his eyes without actually rolling his eyes. “I brought you a distraction,” he said primly, drawing a glossy magazine from under his jacket. He slid it across the bed to Noct.

“Is that--?”

“--The September issue of your favorite comic? Yes, actually.”

Noct grinned and snatched it up. “Thanks, Iggy!” Ignis did actually roll his eyes this time. Noct stuck out his tongue, but he eagerly thumbed the pages.

Ignis and Gladio both visited often, as did his father, though those visits were shorter and more awkward. He wished Prompto would as well, but dreaded it at the same time. Ignis and Gladio had their places, but Prompto had never visited Noctis at the Citadel; they kept that part of their lives separate. In fact, Noct had yet to see where Prompto lived, and Prompto had never shown any inclination towards inviting Noct. They always hung out at the arcade or Noct’s penthouse apartment.

Noctis wasn’t stupid. He could imagine Prompto’s apartment wasn’t as nice as his penthouse, and even though he didn’t care, it was obvious Prompto did. Plus, Noct would only be a hypocrite because something about his life of luxury at the Citadel embarrassed him when he thought of exposing it to Prompto. So Prompto knew that that Noct was holed up at the Citadel, not feeling well, but he did not offer to visit, and Noct did not invite him either. Instead, they texted back and forth, and made plans for when Noct was healed up.

In total, it took about three days for Noct to feel mostly normal. He slowly went from barely being able to stand without being overcome by a dizzy spell, to the level of having a minor cold. And so he was summoned before his father in the throne room to begin his magical training in earnest.

It had been such a long time since Noctis and his father had anything in common, since they had been able to reach across the boundaries of duty and the myriad other reasons they no longer fit together as father and son. Perhaps it was naïve, but somewhere Noctis believed this would be once again like when he was a child and his father had been seemingly flawless and so easy to worship.

It started a lot like the ceremony of Awakening. Noctis stood before the King and the Crystal. Various servants and guards milled about the large room. While his father gave another big speech about responsibility and the needs of the kingdom, Noctis found his attention drawn to the Crystal humming behind them. It was the first time he had been close to the Crystal since sealing his familial bond with it.

He had always been vaguely aware of the Crystal an important background to many of his childhood experiences. How many times before today had he stood beneath it, just like he was doing now? Was it different now? Could Noctis feel its power in a way he couldn’t before?

He wasn’t sure. He’d always been able to sense it was something more, had never questioned that it was as powerful as everyone said it was. Even so, he wished he had been able to ask his father about his vision of the Crystal and the ancient King, but whenever his father had visited him, there were always other people around, and Noctis had felt pulled to keep it private. And now it was too late, because here they stood before the Crystal again. Staring at it, he decided that it did feel different now. More alive. His skin prickled uncomfortably.

Noct was so distracted that it took him a moment to realize that Regis was stepping off the throne, lowering himself to the floor painfully.

“Dad, what are you doing?”

Regis motioned to his son. “Sit with me, Noct.” The prince narrowed his eyes, but he complied, dropping himself cross-legged in front of his father. What a strange pair they made, two royals sitting like school children.

“How am I supposed to learn warp magic by sitting on the floor?” Noctis asked when Regis did not immediately speak.

“The house that is built with a poor foundation is the first to fall to the storm,” Regis said. “You must first learn to consistently find and call your magic forth before you can successfully use it.” The King pointed a finger at Noctis’s chest. “Your magic has always been there, thrumming under your skin, even though you only recently gained the ability to feel it too. It’s waiting now, waiting on you to reach for it. So first you must meditate and find that well of power within.”

So that was why they were sitting on the floor. Noctis dutifully closed his eyes. The Crystal pulsed above the throne. Maybe that was on purpose. Maybe his father believed being close to their source of power would help jog something within Noctis. He could certainly feel that sense of sleeping power emanating from the Crystal, especially with his eyes closed to other stimulus, but he still wasn’t sure how it translated to finding his own magic.

He was not exactly sure what was supposed to happen. Still, he tried. He really, really tried. He closed his eyes and felt exactly the same as he has his entire young life, the same as he had in his bedroom talking to Ignis two days ago. It occurred to him that he was supposed to be finding essentially an entirely new sense. A deaf person trying to understand what it was to hear. Thoughtlessly, he had assumed that new sense would simply be there, assault him with sensations, but instead he seemed to be getting absolutely nothing.

When he thought of his magic, he thought of something like his Elemancy, something he had been capable of since he was a small child. Elemancy had not required any sort of seeking, nor did it really feel like something that was a part of him, like what his father was describing. Elemental energy was like static electricity that clung to him and built on his skin without any input from him until he let it all out into small glass magic flasks. Discharging that energy was as routine as clipping his toenails.

And since normally that powerful magical energy needed to be drawn from the environment with the use of slow, inefficient, and expensive machines, putting that energy into usable flasks was Noct’s one and only contribution to the war effort. He kept a couple of flasks on him at all times, filling them up slowly, and then Ignis came around and collected them once a week or so. They were then given to Kingsglaive members, supplementing their other borrowed powers.

Somehow the ability to throw a fireball did not translate to storing objects in other dimensions. Go figure.

Noctis squirmed. It was hard not to be distracted by the room around them. He heard someone shuffling and cracked an eye open. It wasn’t some stranger, but rather Gladio on watch duty rotation. But that was almost worse because Noctis could sense his boredom far easier than any of the other Crownsguard.

After twenty minutes of silence, Noctis huffed with frustration, “Nothing’s happening. I don’t think I’m getting it.”

“You will.”

Noctis thought his father’s faith in his meditative abilities was likely misplaced. They sat for nearly an hour, during which a cramp started in Noctis’s left leg, but not much else changed. At one point his father began describing the feeling of energy running through his veins, a well of it brimming at his core, waiting to be called on. Since that was basically the same description Noctis had already gotten, it wasn’t as helpful as King Regis seemed to think it was. Noctis did not feel any kind of energy underneath his skin other than the usual. His skin felt like his skin.

They finally had to stop when King Regis was called to a council meeting, but before he left, he told Noctis to let go of his frustration and to keep meditating whenever he could.

That night Noctis sat on the floor of his apartment, a knife laid flat across his lap. To be able to summon and warp a weapon, one must first be able to banish it to whatever realm those weapons went. Only then did the weapon obtain the quality needed for that magic. Of course, before even that much, Noctis needed to be able to activate his magic in the first place. Baby steps.

He tried to imagine the sparkles of light swirling around himself like he had seen the Kingsglaive and his father do so many times before. He pictured it in the air around himself and willed. Nothing happened. Focusing instead on his body, he searched for that elusive well of power that his father had spoken of. Starting from the top of his head, he put all of his energy into concentrating on his body part by part. Nothing. Staring at the knife, he willed it into nonexistence. Nothing.

Finally, with a moan of frustration he threw the stupid thing across the room, where it buried itself into kitchen doorjamb. Needless to say his body did not follow it in any sort of explosion of magic.

Elemancy had not been this hard. The harder part had been not doing it, learning to let the power back out safely and not in fiery balls of death.

Sighing, he retrieved the knife and proceeded to put it away. Maybe after some sleep he would have a moment of sudden comprehension. A person could dream.

***

The next day Prompto came over after school since Noct was now back in his own apartment rather than the Citadel. The first thing Prompto asked was if he could see what Noct had received from his father on his birthday. He didn’t mean the long thin scar now present on Noct’s left palm.

“It’s called the Engine Blade.” Noctis laid his present from his father on the kitchen table so that Prompto could get a closer look.

“What’s that stuff on the hilt?”

“It’s supposed to absorb elemental energy from the environment.”

“Like for your Elemancy magic?” Prompto had been hanging out with Noctis long enough now to notice his quiet habit of drawing off the excess magical energy into those tiny flasks.

“I guess.”

“Dude, that’s so cool,” Prompto exclaimed enthusiastically.

Noctis felt the heat creep up his neck, and he shrugged.

Prompto glanced at him, punching him lightly on the shoulder. “You’re such a dork sometimes,” he said happily. He raided Noctis’s fridge for a soda, and asked with a casual change of the subject, “Wanna play Zombie Death Battle?”

“That sounds great,” Noctis responded gratefully. That was why he loved Prompto. Ignis and Gladio were both capable of seeing Noct as a person rather than a prince, true enough. But they could never see past theirs and his duty. Whereas, Prompto had no duty to let go of in the first place.

Moving out of the kitchen, Prompto asked, “Uh, what happened to the door?”

Noctis had nearly forgotten that. “I was practicing my knife juggling,” he said deadpan.

“…Right”

They killed pixelated zombies for hours, until Prompto announced that he had to go now, or he would miss the last train. As he was leaving, Prompto leaned against the door and asked, “So your dad’s like giving you royal magic lessons now, right?”

Noctis stiffened. “Yeah.” His voice came out harsher than he intended. The embarrassment of his failure was still sitting heavily in his stomach, even though he knew there was no way Prompto could know about it unless Noct told him.

Prompto didn’t seem to notice, however. He cocked his head and said, “Well, call me if you need a break from all that, yeah?”

Noctis blinked at him. “Sure.”

Prompto nodded. “See ya then.” He held out his fist, and they bumped knuckles. Noctis watched him walk away until there was nothing to see, and then he walked back inside and climbed into his bed, not bothering to change.

***

One week into Noctis’s magic lessons, Ignis brought to his apartment a stack of reports and a vegetable stew monstrosity in which he had stealthily hidden the tomatoes with the use of a blender. Noctis knew that he had done this, and Ignis knew that he knew, but Noct ate it anyway. At least most of it. As a reward Ignis revealed the ingredients for a flat-pan cake recipe. He laughed at Noctis’s unguarded excitement and began the process of measuring flour and cracking eggs.

“I’ve been meaning to ask. How are the lessons going?”

Ignis would not ask about lessons with Gladio or other tutors. With hunched shoulders, he shrugged, not meeting Ignis’ eyes.

“That badly?”

Noctis did not reply to this. Instead he chose to focus on the progress of the cake. The cake was by far more interesting, as Ignis must surely know exactly how the lessons were progressing down to a minute by minute recap simply by virtue of being Ignis.

“Perhaps you should train with the Kingsglaive like Gladio does? They might have some tips on using warp magic.”

Ignis casually smacked the young prince’s hand away from the half-finished cake on the kitchen counter. Noctis frowned at him.

“No.”

The thought of standing there impotent as near strangers flaunted their use of his father’s power was almost more than he could bear; watching them succeed at a magic that supposedly was imprinted in Noctis’s very blood, as he tried to desperately to reach inside of himself and find something…anything was too much.

“It could help you overcome this block you’re having.”

“I said NO, Iggy.”

It was bad enough to see the badly hidden disappointment on his father’s face at the end of every magic lesson. They had sat on the floor of the throne room and various other places together in near silence several fruitless times this past week.

Plus, the thought of his father sharing his power in the first place squicked him out. Noctis tended to avoid going places where he had to see the Kingsglaive in action. Whereas Noctis had come by his powers naturally, the Kingsglaive and anyone not of the royal line had to be gifted their powers, had to form a covenant with the King, and he was reminded of the process every time he observed one of the Kingsglaive wielding that power. It was one of those open secrets that Noctis preferred to ignore for the sake of his own sanity.

He supposed he was being childish. He could tell Ignis thought so by the way the other man’s lip pursed, and how he heavily exhaled out his nose. Ignis rarely told him outright when he disapproved, but he had other ways of expressing himself that were as clear.

Still the thought of just how a king shared his hereditary power twisted around in Noctis’s mind, and he said, leaning his elbows on the counter, “I guess I’ll be expected to support the Kingsglaive the same way as my father, eventually.”

Noctis couldn’t really remember the first time he had realized what people meant by forming a covenant with the king, just like he couldn’t have pointed to specific moment when he had realized what death meant or what sex was. No one had ever sat him down and explained it to him, though the thought of someone like Ignis trying to explain the birds and the bees and how it related to royal magic was both mortifying and hilarious.

Noctis watched Ignis’s face carefully, but the older man was too clever to reveal his thoughts lightly.

Ignis said, “You should first worry about what’s in front of you.”

Noctis snorted. He wasn’t sure exactly what he had wanted Ignis to say, but it wasn’t that. “You’re not the one who’s supposed to fuck half your guard someday.”

Noct thought gloomily that perhaps he would be the first Luciian King in history who failed to master his hereditary arsenal and warp magic. Though in reality it was unlikely that his ancestors would choose to further lend him their power through the ring if he could not even master his own magic. After all, the ceremony of Awakening had only been the first step. A Luciian King must also face his ancestors though the ring to be considered legitimate, and so if he was not fully recognized by his ancestors, then he would not become a king at all.

At least then he wouldn’t have to worry about fucking anyone he didn’t want to.

He knew that many believed that Prince Noctis would never ascend to become King Noctis, mostly because of his sickly nature as a child. And then of course there had been that minor issue of the Marilith severing his spine.

There was no such thing as a Luciian King who could not fight for his people, who could not even lift himself out of his chair.

Apparently one council member at the time had been stupid enough to suggest to Noctis’s father, that in light of the dire circumstances of their country, it would be remit of Regis not remarry and produce a backup heir as quickly as possible. Regis had looked that council member in the eye and told him that he was lucky that he himself had two daughters because it was the only reason he still had his head, and that if he wanted it to remain that way, he would leave the Citadel and never return.

Of course, many months later Noctis had been healed in Tenebrae, and such talk had gone underground, but he still heard the whispers sometimes, still felt the anxiety of the people around him.

Maybe he really had lost something fundamental to himself during that fateful attack, and they were all just kidding themselves trying force him into the role future king.

“You’ll be fine. You know that, right?” Ignis did not look at him as he said this. Instead his entire attention was focused on rolling the dough back and forth.

“Of course I will,” Noctis replied, not bothering to reign in his irritation.

“Will you set the oven?”

Noctis set the oven.

“Hmn.” Ignis put his hand on his hips after carefully placing the pan in the oven. “Now we wait.

***

Two weeks into the lessons, they had decided that perhaps Noctis was a more active learner, and so he, his father, and several retainers stood in the Kingsglaive training hall. They were having him throw various weapons like the ones the Kingsglaive possessed in the hopes that this would be the thing that jogged his abilities. It wasn’t. And somehow it was worse than merely sitting and hoping for a miracle because every failed throw and move was right there in his face.

“Try feeling for the magic before you throw it, Noctis.” His father’s voice was kind and patient, and it made Noct want to punch someone. The King was finally spending more time with Noctis than he had in years, and Noctis somehow managed to dread and despise every second.

It had turned out that learning from the Kingsglaive was less than helpful. Their magic came from Noctis’s father, and so their abilities were based directly on him. They each possessed a weapon that came from the King, and when they threw it, they warped, plain and simple. Noctis was not bound to his father’s power, thank the Gods because that would be disgusting and traumatizing, and so he could not use weapons from his father’s arsenal. He had to find his magic on his own.

Noctis threw another knife. Nothing happened, other than the sound of someone tittering.

It was frankly too much. If he stayed any longer he was going to cry, and the only thing worse than failure was being caught crying about it. He’d never live that down, and he didn’t even want to think about how his father would look at him, pitying, but still demanding. He growled and began to stalk toward the door.

“Where are you going?” That was Drautus, on guard duty with the King.

Noctis whirled around. “I have homework,” he said crisply. His eyes met his father’s. Once upon time there had been no trick to reading his father’s eyes. It was always something like affection, love, maybe minor disappointment, but now Noctis could not say what his father was thinking. A long pause, and then King Regis nodded.

And so Noctis left. Another disappointing lesson.

***

The next afternoon was his free one. No combat lessons, magic lessons, or lectures on which fork to use first during a state dinner; his only responsibility was making it though the school day. Noctis took advantage to spend some much needed quality time with Prompto. Unfortunately, Prompto was observant enough to realize that Noctis had been struggling these past two weeks without having to be told.

“Well how did your dad learn?” Prompto asked Noctis as they crowded together in a café booth after school, both nursing a milkshake. At least that was what Noctis thought Prompto said. He spoke around the straw in his mouth so it was difficult to be sure.

“Do we have to talk about this? That’s all anyone wants to talk about lately,” Noctis complained. He glared down at his milkshake. It had a weird taste. Watermelon, maybe? Whatever it was left a chalky after taste in his mouth.

Prompto reached over and swapped their milkshakes without comment. Noctis raised his eyebrow wryly, but Prompto ignored him in favor of taking a sip of his newly acquired milkshake.

“I’m just saying, if I were having trouble doing something, I’d wanna know how the person who came before me learned, you know?” He made a face and then asked Noctis, “Why did you order watermelon?”

Noctis shrugged. “It was called ‘Summer Sunrise Surprise,’ not nasty-ass watermelon sludge.” With a sigh, he sipped on Prompto’s milkshake. “Apparently, he was standing in the throne room staring at the Crystal, thinking deep thoughts or meditating or whatever, and it just came to him.”

Prompto had been smarter than him. His shake seemed to be plain chocolate. Boring, but at least it was good.

Prompto frowned, “Just like that?”

“Just like that,” Noct confirmed with a shrug. “Here.” He pushed the shake back to Prompto.

“Well I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

Noctis wished he had that confidence. The worst part wasn't that he was failing, it was that he wasn't progressing at all. There was nothing to progress with. His father kept telling him that the magic was there, that he could feel it in Noctis. The Kingsglaive told him that it wasn't a matter of reaching out, of searching; the magic was just there. He'd asked several how they had learned after bonding with his father, and the answers had been vague and unhelpful. Hearing someone tell him that they simply felt for the same energy they had felt when his father had cum inside of them was a sentence he wanted to burn out of his memory, chisel out with a scalpel if possible . And still entirely useless for his purposes.

Noctis pushed his milkshake away in silence, and together they headed to the arcade.

***

Three weeks into the lessons, and Noctis had not only failed to master the magic, but he had yet to produce anything remotely magical at all. One late afternoon, Noctis met Gladio for his weapons practice. Gladio took one look at him and shook his head.

Thus, proceeded one of the most grueling practice bouts they’d ever had. Noctis’s form was terrible. He was practically a disgrace to swordsmanship, but Gladio made no move to correct him. He simply allowed Noctis to batter at him until something finally broke inside the young man, and he let out a primal scream, throwing his weapon across the grass of Gladio’s backyard.

“Why can’t I get it?” Noctis demanded with an anguished cry, sides heaving and hands trembling.

Gladio was silent.

Noctis growled and stalked over to pick his sword back up. “I know, okay. I know this is bigger than me. It’s not just about me and what I want.”

“I didn’t say that,” Gladio replied placidly.

Noctis did not acknowledge him. “It’s not just about me, the entire fucking country needs me to learn this, my father, and I—just—can’t.” At that, Noctis dropped down in the grass, drawing one of his knees up to support his chin.

Gladio sat beside him, crossed his legs, and laid his weapon across his knees. “You done?”

Noctis sighed. “Yeah.”

They both rested in silence for a moment and then Noct said, “And I know what people are saying. That I’m never going to—.”

“Well there’s your first problem,” Gladio interrupted. “Why are you listening to what the fuck anyone else has to say about it?” He nudged Noctis when he didn’t reply and continued, “I didn’t realize we had so many experts on royal magic running around the Citadel.” He gave Noctis a measured look.

“It’s not that easy to just ignore—,” Noctis protested.

“You’re right,” Gladio agreed. “It’s never that easy.”

“But—.”

“No.” Gladio growled. “Listen to me. You do you, and fuck what everyone else thinks. You want to become King, right?

Noctis had no desire to become the King. Becoming King meant his father was dead, and Noctis was truly alone. “I want to make my dad proud,” Noctis finally admitted instead.

Gladio did not acknowledge Noctis’s not so neat sidestep. “Then you’re going to do whatever it takes to make that happen. If that means learning warp magic, then that’s what you’ll do. It’s that simple.”

With Noctis and his father, it was never that simple, but he didn’t argue.

They rested together a bit longer and then Gladio said sternly, punching Noctis in the shoulder, “And don’t you ever throw your weapon away like that again, you hear?!”

***

Several days after Noct’s bout with Gladio, he and his father sat together once again in the throne room, though the King no longer bothered with the floor. They had decided that lack of noise and distraction had yet to have any sort of effect on Noctis’s performance one way or the other, so the King might as well get some work done while Noctis meditated, or threw knives, or whatever bright idea they had come up with that day to finally break though to him. The lessons were often canceled or ended early anyway. Noctis tried not to let it bother him. After all, the King did have more important things to do than inanely sitting on the throne room floor, waiting for Noctis to have an epiphany.

Today, Noctis sat cross-legged next to his father as he discussed some tax issue with one of his advisors. Noctis was bored. Bored. His father seemed entirely engrossed, and so after he felt he had sat for a reasonable amount of time, he stretched and began to leave. It was still early enough that he could meet Prompto at the apartment and hang out for a bit. Hanging with Prompto was only real escape he had, as his friend was the only person who lacked any expectations of him, beyond things like listen to me when I’m complaining about school, and play videogames with me.

“Sit.” His father didn’t actually look at him, though it was obvious who he was speaking to. Noctis scowled, but he declined to argue.

There was an unspoken agreement between his father and him, that they never truly quarrel in public, and not even Noctis could disobey such a direct order from his King. The undertone of disagreement was often there in their interactions, sure, such as the silent acts of rebellion on Noct’s part. But Noctis could count on one hand the amount of times he had been chastised by his father in front of more than their closest servants, and all but the rarest of Noctis’s bouts of teenage drama had so far happened behind closed doors.

“Focus, Noct.” There was more than a hint of exasperation in the King’s voice.

Noctis glared at the back of King Regis’s head, as the King has yet to actually look at him while he spoke. After not receiving any sort of acknowledgement, Noctis sighed, dutifully closed his eyes, and focused for the umpteenth time on finding something within himself that he had begun to doubt existed.

With his eyes closed, the noises around him were flung into prominence. Two servants behind him were immersed in a whispered conversation they undoubtedly had no idea he could hear.

“—Just sitting there. I heard the King is at his wits end. I mean, can you even imagine how disappointing it is?”

“What happens if he has to disinherit his own son? Can he even do that?”

“Well, it’s not like there’s anyone else to take up the mantle. They’re the last two of the line.”

“It makes you wonder who’s going to hold the wall when the King dies.”

Noctis cast his eyes open. It shouldn’t matter. It didn’t matter. He tried to employ Gladio’s sage advice, he really did. None of them had any clue about anything, but still, his emotions had been building up for three awful weeks with no outlet. Noctis’s vision swam, and somehow he was off the floor and several steps toward the door.

“Noctis!”

Noctis’s body stopped unwillingly at the commanding tone in his father’s voice.

He twisted himself around. “What?!”

He was aware in a sideways kind of way that his tone was all wrong. It was too challenging, too raw. It left very few paths of negotiation open, and he saw his father narrow his eyes, saw the struggle, the snapping of patience as it worked its way across his father’s face. Noctis’s pulse was thudding now, and some destructive part of him was excited by this turn of events, by the knowledge that this careful dance he and father were engaged in had come to a stuttering and potentially explosive halt.

The King’s tone was an attack. “Sometimes I think you’re not even trying, that you’re being stubborn on purpose.”

In some other place, at some other time, Noctis was composed enough to grasp that this was his father losing his battle with his frustration, that he didn’t mean it, but this was not that place or that time. Instead there was a buzzing in Noctis’s head, muzzling his ability to process critically.

“What?” Noctis was struggling to find that place inside of himself where everything washed over him in a faraway, detached kind of way. What he really wanted was to scream, to lash out, but he couldn’t. Even like this, his father was the one person whose disappointment had real power over him. As he had learned when he was eight, princes and kings did not lash out in a flash of anger. Except when they did.

Noctis’s voice was acid. “Maybe I can’t. Did you ever think of that?”

“You can and you will.”

Noctis was aware that what was spilling out of his mouth wasn’t exactly fair, but the buzz of poisonous rage had finally and fully overcome him.

“What, so I can die just like you?!”

At those words, the entire throne room came to a halt, save for Clarus, whose jaw clenched in way so reminiscent of Gladio it would have been funny in any other circumstance. For the one of the longest moments of Noctis’s life, King Regis did nothing. His expression was frozen, his grip on the arm rest of the throne a vice.

Now it was panic that caused Noctis’s adrenalin to spill out of control. There were just some things they did not speak of. Some things were just too cruel to expose in the open, to make real and painful. That the Crystal killed its protectors. That Regis had brought a child into this world knowing that child would someday sell his life force to the Crystal too. The implications of the best method for bonding non royals to the Crystal’s power. Things no one could change.

Noctis was a coward. The worst sort, because this was when he chose to run away.

Clarus descended the throne steps, eyes blazing, while the rest of the room was motionless with bated breath. As Noctis shifted away, Clarus lunged in an attempt to grab him. King Regis still had not moved. Something wrenched in Noctis’s gut, and he dodged to the side. He vaguely felt that he didn’t move fast enough, that his flight would be aborted before it had even begun, but miraculously Clarus’s hand slid past him. Picking up speed, he pushed blindly past several people and out the door.

***

What happened in the throne room joined a growing list of things that were not spoken of. Except apparently, when they were. Noctis slinked into the dining room at the appointed dinner time that night. Regis was already seated at the table, and the meal passed in strained, painful silence.

As he left, his father stopped him. “Noctis.”

Noct paused, tension thrumming under his skin. He faced the door, and found he could not turn back towards his father.

“Goodnight, Noctis.”

Noctis left, his stomach in a sick, twisted knot.

When he got home that night, Ignis was there, but he must have heard about what happened in the throne room because he refused to speak to Noctis. Rather than engage with him, Noctis chose instead to hide in his bedroom. It was not exactly princely behavior, but one, his behavior hadn’t been princely all day, and two, he didn’t have the energy to fight with Ignis too. Ignis performed the bare minimum of his tasks and left without saying goodbye.

Noctis was inordinately tired that night, and he slept until almost noon, missing school. No one called him out on that. Later, he didn’t show up for the next ‘magic lesson,’ and wasn’t reprimanded for that either. He tried to do the same to Gladio, but the sword master found him and dragged him back to his house. Noctis thought Gladio would have probably acted the same as Ignis if you could get through a sword lesson without speaking, but as it stood, Gladio kept the conversation entirely focused on the training.

Prompto was the only one not inundated in the Citadel gossip chain, but somehow that was worse. It was impossible to laugh and act like nothing was wrong when so much of his life was going to shit, and it was all his fault. He spent the entire time with Prompto short tempered and curt, and when Prompto made up some excuse to leave, Noctis practically threw him out the door.

What he needed to do was apologize to his dad, but that would mean acknowledging what he had said, and pathetic as that was, he couldn’t work up the balls to do so. Some noble and impressive future king he was. And of course, he still hadn’t figured out how to activate his magic. Thus, it was officially the shittiest week he had lived through since he was eight years old and crippled.

***

Chapter Text

**Chapter 3**

**Noctis**

When Noctis was fourteen, he and Gladio had a major fight, one of the worst they’d ever had. Afterwards they did not speak to each other for a month, and it was only thanks to the intervention of both Iris and Ignis that their relationship recovered at all.

Noctis was just entering high school, and he had decided that this was the year that he would finally venture forth from his shell and actually make some friends.

This devolved very quickly into getting plastered at a house party hosted by one of the more popular girls the Friday of the first week of school. He had known that he would never be allowed to attend such a thing, so he didn’t ask. This was before he had moved into the penthouse, and thus, it involved sneaking out of the Citadel, something he had perfected at twelve.

The first drink was shoved into his hand by the host at the door. Overpoweringly sweet, he drank it in big gulps, mostly to have something to do with his hands. He wandered from room to room, not really talking to anyone and regretting that he had come at all. But as the alcohol settled in his blood, he relaxed marginally, smiling instead of scowling at the people around him. The next drink was handed to him by a laughing girl who pranced merrily in a circle around him. She kissed him on the cheek and whispered something that he couldn’t hear over the pounding music.

Someone jumped up on the dining room table, and another person handed out glasses of something vulgarly astringent to those of them watching. He swallowed his down in one gulp. After that, the night blurred for Noctis into a haze of faces, the scent of sweat and booze, and bassy music assaulting his eardrums. Were he sober, he would have hated it. Drunk, he was more numb than anything else. At some point he blacked out.

He later learned that he had collapsed in corner of the trashed living room, that he had puked, that he might have been choking on it. He also learned that it was Prompto, still nearly a stranger at that point, who had found him, had grasped the severity of the situation, and had called an ambulance.

They had to pump Noctis’s stomach. At first, the hospital wasn’t clear on who exactly they were treating, though after a nurse finally recognized him, it was a race to see who would arrive first: the paparazzi or officials from the Citadel.

When he awoke it was only Gladio sitting with him, perched on a wooden chair that was far too tiny for his enormous body. He was entirely still, arms crossed, gaze fully on Noctis even though the prince was asleep. When Noctis blinked his eyes open, Gladio did not move for a long moment. He waited until Noctis seemed fully cognizant, and then he deliberately stood up. He walked the two steps towards Noctis’s bed. When he got there, he stopped, seemed to collect himself, and then he back-handed Noctis across the cheek.

As Noctis hissed and curled in on himself, Gladio asked, voice uncharacteristically quiet and slow, “How Dare You?

Noctis swung his head back around. “How dare you hit me?” he crowed, “You have no right to--,”

Gladio interrupted him with another powerful swing of the back of his hand. Noctis choked and then leaned over to puke on himself, though it was more dry heaving than anything else. This seemed to enrage Gladio further.

He raised his hand again, but before he could do anything else, he was grabbed by Ignis, who pulled him back away from Noctis’s bed. “That’s enough Gladiolus!”

“Get off me.” Gladio shoved the suddenly appeared Ignis away from himself. He jerked back towards Noctis, who had finished heaving and was glaring at him with wet, shining eyes. The future Shield shook his head and spat, “I knew you were a selfish brat, but this takes the cake, even for you.” With that he stalked out.

Noctis’s empty bed in the Citadel had been discovered by happenstance, but since he normally took Ignis or Gladio with him when he snuck out, the Citadel had been sent into a frenzy trying to find him. Gladio, in particular, had apparently been driven mad with worry, desperately trying to discover where he had gone and if he was safe.

However, in the days after Noctis was released from the hospital, every time they saw each other, it became an ugly, hateful screaming match until they refused to speak to one another at all.

After a month fraught with unbearable tenseness, Ignis sat Noctis down. Noct later learned that Ignis had done the same to Gladio, as had Iris, but at the time he was unaware.

“You will cease this pointless bickering,” Ignis said to him over dinner, looking down at Noct through his glasses.

Noctis snarled, “That asshole thinks he’s so much better than everyone--,”

“That’s enough!” Ignis interrupted him, “Frankly, I don’t care.” He held Noct’s gaze, “You know Gladio looked for you for hours. He didn’t say it, but he was terrified that something had happened to you, that you were in danger or lying hurt somewhere.”

Neither one mentioned that that was exactly what had happened, but Noctis looked away in discomfort. After a moment, Ignis sighed and asked, “Do you truly value your friendship so little, that you would end it over this?”

“We are not friends.”

Ignis did not react to that. “Is that so?” he asked, staring at his charge until Noctis looked ashamed at his own words.

“Shall I begin the search for another Shield of the King then? Because it certainly cannot continue this way,” he said. “Is that what you want? To remove Gladio from your life permanently?” When Noctis did not answer, he said, “It’s up to you Noctis, but what I shall no longer tolerate is this immature, back and forth retaliation thing you two have going on. I frankly cannot stand to be around it any longer. So choose, Prince Noctis. ---

***

**Noctis**

Two days after his fight with his father, Noctis slept at the Citadel, instead of his apartment. He sometimes did this when he had obligations there that kept him late or had him up in the early hours of the morning. It was easier, and he didn’t feel guilty about making some poor guard drive him around in the dead of night or the crack of dawn. As part of his royal duties, he was supposed to observe an early war meeting the next morning.

However, tonight he regretted his choice. After having slept excessively the night before, he found that he was constantly rolling over restlessly in his bed, skin prickling and feverish. He was sweaty and altogether uncomfortable. Finally, with a frustrated swear he gave in and sat up, blinking in the pale moonlight.

Noctis slid out of bed, his bare toes curling on the plush carpet. He wasn’t sure what he wanted other than to not be in his bed anymore. He padded softly out into the hallway, passing a drowsy guard at his door.

“Prince Noctis?”

“Hey, Jay,” Noctis whispered. “I just need to take a little walk.” At the guard’s skeptical look, he added, “It’s different now. There’s no point in sneaking out of a place I’m not forbidden from leaving.”

“Don’t get me in trouble, Prince Noctis.”

“I won’t. I’ll be back before you know it.”

The guard snorted. Noctis ignored it.

He wandered the empty halls aimlessly. It felt better to be moving than fruitlessly seeking sleep, even if he had no destination in mind. The Citadel could rarely be described as loud per se, but here in the dead hours of night, the silence took on a life of its own. Without shoes, his feet were noiseless on the polished floors, the silent portraits of his dead ancestors his only witnesses.

He wasn’t really paying attention, so when he found himself coming to a halt, he was puzzled more than anything. Somehow he had walked himself to the throne room. Of all the places to go, he had walked straight to the bane of his existence. He glared at the Crystal as it threw its pale light across the marble pillars and intricate woodwork.

At this point, he was used to the way goosebumps blossomed across his arms as he stood before it, the feeling that someone was whispering to him just outside of his reach. He stared at it, rooted to the ground, mind hazy with lack of sleep. How many of his ancestors had stood exactly where he was now, had felt the same things he was feeling now, an endless cycle? It was a strange thought. He shivered, but he didn’t move, just kept staring at the gently glowing Crystal.

It’s why I couldn’t sleep, some distant part of him realized. It was calling to him, interrupting his sleeping self as well his waking. The thought passed over him, distant and foreign.

What do you want?

There was something there, just beyond his consciousness, just behind his ability to understand, but he suddenly felt that if he stood here for long enough in this moment, if he were open enough, it would reveal itself to him.

The Crystal hummed as if in agreement.

“What are you doing?!”

With that, the strange hold over Noctis’s thoughts shattered. Like a dream, it faded away, until even the memories of what had just occurred dulled and broke apart.

Noctis whirled around. At the throne room entrance stood a man dressed in Kingsglaive garb. The man strode decisively towards Noctis, and as he came into view of the light of the Crystal, Noctis realized that he recognized him, although he didn’t know his name. The Kingsglaive member was new, and he sparred with Gladio sometimes. He was younger, strong boned, with thick black hair and the beginning of a scruff across his cheeks.

“Prince Noctis?”

Noctis nodded and shrugged his hands into his pajama pockets, trying to dismiss the niggling guilt at being caught standing barefoot and clearly purposeless in the throne room in the dead of night.

The man put one hand on his hip, his eyes narrowed and suspicious. “What are you doing, your highness? It’s two in the morning.”

Was it? Noctis frowned. “I couldn’t sleep,” he offered sheepishly.

“And so you just decided to take a midnight stroll halfway across the Citadel?”

Noctis shrugged. “Yes?”

The man stared at him searchingly, and then he seemed to deliberately relax, raising his gaze towards the Crystal. The movement bothered Noctis, until he realized that it was because the motion had been just shy of irreverent. They both stood at the head of the throne room, gazing at the Crystal in silence, though the Kingsglaive kept stealing glances towards Noctis, which Noct did his best to ignore. He knew this was probably his signal to go back to bed, but the inner restlessness had yet to leave him, and he didn’t fancy going back to staring at the ceiling. He had a feeling that if he left here and went anywhere other than back to bed, he would be followed.

The strange Kingsglaive was the first to break the silence. “I’m always so fascinated by it, you know? All this power we have comes from that, and it’s just sitting there.”

Noctis didn’t say anything. He couldn’t say he was fascinated by it, exactly, but the Kingsglaive was looking at him expectantly, and so he finally said, “I don’t know. I haven’t exactly been having a good experience with the Crystal lately.” He wasn’t sure how much the man knew about Noctis’s past month of failure, but it didn’t seem to take long for any juicy details to make their way through the Citadel gossip chain.

The Kingsglaive shrugged dismissively. “Can’t say I’m an expert myself. Name’s Nyx, by the way. Just got my blacks a month ago.”

“Noctis. Though I guess you already know that.” They shook hands. It was just Noctis’s luck that he would run into a Kingsglaive, even though guarding the Citadel was clearly within the prerogative of the Crownsguard.

Nyx gave him a sideways look, and then said a little too casually, “Even though I’m the last person to judge, I have to say it does baffle me that you’re struggling at all.” Seeing Noctis’s defensive frown, he quickly added, “I mean, you were born with magic powers, weren’t you?”

Noctis sighed. “Not exactly.” Even on a midnight stroll, he couldn’t get away from this topic. “Don’t you already know all this?”

With a shrug, Nyx replied, “Was raised outside Insomnia. We didn’t grow up listening to all these fairy tales about the Crystal the way you guys did.”

“But you’re in the Kingsglaive.”

“I’m in the Kingsglaive because I’m very good killing things and because I made a promise to myself. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. I just figured you’d be the person to ask.”

Noctis shot him a suspicious look, but Nyx’s face was bland. “I was born with the potential to wield the Crystal’s magic,” Noctis told him. “The Crystal doesn’t recognize the blood of every single person born to the Lucis Caelum bloodline. You have to, I guess, affirm the Covenant.”

“That’s what the Ceremony of Awakening was about.” Nyx offered when Noctis faltered.

“Yeah.”

“I suppose I never understood why it had to be your family in particular. Don’t get me wrong, your dad is an amazing man, but it seems strange to put so much on bloodline. One bad apple and we’re all fucked.”

Noctis blinked at him in astonishment. “You really didn’t grow up with the stories, did you?”

Nyx shrugged. “Told you.”

Noctis wasn’t sure why he was still talking to this Kingsglaive, except that there was something about his manner, something refreshingly unpretentious. Like Prompto if Prompto had an ounce of suave.

“Well, I guess I’m as good person to tell you the story as any.” He met Nyx’s eyes, and the Kingsglaive quirked his brow at him, giving him his full attention.

“Hmn, continue to guard an empty hallway, or listen to the prince of Lucis tell fairy tales. What a choice. By all means, educate me.” He laughed at Noct’s affronted look.

“Fine. It goes like this: Two thousand years ago the world was beset by a plague of daemons and darkness,” Noctis began. The words he spoke had the worn and rolling quality of a story he had obviously heard countless times before, unlike Nyx. As Noctis spoke, he felt a little pang. This ancient story always reminded him of Luna.

During that time a wise King lived in what would come to be called Insomnia. He saw the suffering of his people, and he decided that he was willing to do anything if it meant ending the scourge. He traveled to see a wise oracle, and she told him to pray to the Gods for six days and six nights, and at the end of that period his prayers would be answered.”

“Wait he did nothing but pray for six days? How is that possible? Or was he allowed to take, like, piss breaks?”

“I don’t know,” Noctis replied in exasperation. “Do you want to hear the story or not?”

The Kingsglaive rolled his eyes. “Sorry. Please, continue.”

With a huff, Noctis did just that. “Anyway, the King, seeing her wisdom, did as she instructed. And lo and behold, at the end of the six days, the magnificent God, Bahamut, appeared before him in all of his glory. ‘Oh wondrous one,’ said the King, ‘I beg you. Please grant me the power to save my people from the darkness.’ Hearing the sincerity in the King’s plea, the God, with his great mercy--,”

“If he were really merciful, he’d have stopped all that shit before it got that bad.”

“—Shut up. In his great mercy, Bahamut said, ‘You have been judged and found worthy. I will grant you this power. However,’ said Bahamut, ‘this power is not without cost. Are you willing to pay it?’ The King didn’t hesitate. He had long since made his decision. ‘Anything,’ he said. ‘Anything.’

The God nodded, and before him a Crystal, brimming with untold power, arose from the ground. ‘This Crystal has the power to vanquish the darkness. I charge you with its protection,’ he said. The King being the humble man that he was, replied despairingly, “Oh Great One, I am but a mere man. How shall I protect such a thing?” Hearing the truth in this, Bahamut held out his hand to the wise King. In his palm was a gleaming black ring. ‘This Ring will form the Covenant between you and the Crystal. In exchange for this power, I will take your life and in death your soul. You must protect the Crystal. Forever.’ The Magnanimous--

“How many epithets does he have?”

“The MAGNANIMOUS Bahamut said to the King, ‘As long as the Crystal continues to exist in the mortal realm, your seed will continue the Covenant, as we have spoken it.’ At that the King took pause. ‘You ask that my children make this same promise. And their children, and their children’s children?’ The exalted Bahamut was implacable. ‘The Crystal must always have a protector, the Ring always a chosen.’” Pausing, Noctis swallowed.

Nyx meanwhile, murmured, half to himself, “Thus born the line of Lucis Caelum, Protectors of the Crystal.”

With a nod, Noctis continued, “ The wise King knew he had promised anything and everything to the God. He very much loved his son, but if he refused this Covenant, then he knew that he doomed the world to darkness. And so, the King held out his hand and repeated, ‘Anything.’

With that the magnificent God stood tall. Countless swords lifted around him. One rose above the others and then fell across the outstretched hand of the King. The King slipped the Ring on his finger, and pressed his bleeding palm to the Crystal. With that he formed the Covenant of the line of Lucis. ‘It is done,’ said the God.

Noctis’s eyes met Nyx’s, and he said, “That’s it. That’s the story of how the Lucis Caelum’s became the protectors’ of the Crystal. The King died and his soul went into the ring, and then his son was the first to rule Lucis with the Crystal. So, we’re the only ones who can make the Covenant with the Crystal because my great, great, great something’th grandfather basically sold his soul to a God.”

Nyx had long since lost his jovial expression. “That’s really fucking heavy.”

“Yeah.” For Noctis, the story had been told so many times in so many ways, that it had lost all potential sting. He glanced at Nyx thoughtfully, still stuck on their earlier conversation. “They didn’t make sure you knew your basic royal history before you joined an organization that completely revolves around royal magic?”

Nyx shrugged again. “It isn’t like they have a line of people itching to join. None of the noble history of the Crownsguard, and all of the danger and shit pay of the military,” he replied. “Surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of people so desperate for magic powers that they’re willing take it up the ass, even from the King.” The Kingsglaive said it so matter of fact, but Noct still felt his face burn red at the crass remark. Some things only worked because no one acknowledged them out loud.

“Gods, this is why I hate talking to Kingsglaive,” he muttered, trying to hide his blush by jerking his head away from the other man.

Nyx snorted. “Don’t tell me the future King of Lucis is a prude,” he teased.

“It’s just,—It’s my dad—.”

“And one day it’ll be you.”

Noctis managed to force himself to meet Nyx’s eyes again, only to find the other man’s gaze far too intense. His eyes swept over Noctis just once, but it was enough to make Noctis wonder if the man was comparing him to his father.

“I’m going back to bed,” he announced snappishly.

This time there was no question that Nyx’s tone was far too impertinent. “After you, your highness,” he drawled.

Noctis was far to classy to glare at that.

Back in bed he struggled enormously to fall back asleep, and when he did, he was plagued by dreams. He dreamed his father stood bleeding before him, but the blood was black. It oozed from his mouth and eyes, and when he opened his maw, rows of razor sharp teeth glistened. He reached a hand towards Noctis, the one that held the Ring, but the young prince scrambled back. As Noctis twisted around, the vision changed. A Figure towered over him, its power radiating outwards, dozens of swords at its back.

“What will you give me?” the Being asked, voice inhumanly severe.

“Anything,” Noctis whispered. “Anything.”

The Figure spat, “Lies.” He reached forward, his fingers curling around Noctis’s neck and lifting him high in the air.

You are unfinished,” He said, and the words sank into Noctis’s bones, drowning him.

Noctis woke up, drenched in sweat. It was a long night.

***

**Gladio**

Gladio loved the Kingsglaive training hall in the morning. The clean smell of smoothly sanded wood mixing with sweat and blood, his heavy breathing echoing in the expansive silence, the occasional tinkling of the practice dummies hanging from the vaulted ceiling. At the ripe time of six in the morning he had the place to himself, and he preferred it that way. It might be clichéd as hell, but there was nothing that cleared his head better than an intense workout before the rest of the world had begun to stir.

Floor to ceiling mirrors lined the walls, and he stood before one as he adjusted his stance. Taking a deep breath, Gladio threw himself forward in a twisting, complicated move that one of the Kingsglaive had shown him last week. It had been Iggy’s suggestion originally to train with the Kingsglaive. After all, they had the same warping powers as Noctis, only theirs actually worked.

Gladio went through several more exercises until his arms trembled from the strain, and sweat dripped from his brow. After he finally decided he’d had enough, he walked over to the weapons rack, proceeded to wipe down his blade, and then slide it into place. He was already making plans for what he was going to do with Noct that afternoon. The kid needed to brush up on his leg work, he decided. Twenty minutes of horse stance would probably do Noctis some good.

“Gladiolus!”

Gladio recognized the sound of his father’s voice behind him instantly, though it was strange for him to be here and not at the King’s side at this time of day. He turned around, only to have to hastily drop himself into a bow.

“Your majesty!”

Of course his father was with the King, he chided himself, watching the King walk heavily and slowly towards him, his father a step behind. A traitorous thought flitted through Gladio’s mind that the King truly seemed like an old, weak man now. He squashed that thought with a quick mental shake.

“Training so early in the day?” the King asked pleasantly, as Clarus acknowledged Gladio with a brisk nod.

Gladio found it hard to believe that the King had any care at all about when he trained or did not train. This had to have something to do with Noctis, he just didn’t yet know what. He answered somewhat stiffly, still a little flustered, “I’ve been training with the Kingsglaive lately, your majesty. I like it in here. It’s peaceful.”

King Regis probably had better things to do than listen about how he preferred the quiet of the empty hall in the morning, or that he couldn’t train in the afternoons because that time was dedicated to Noctis. With what had happened, the King probably did not want to hear about anything that had to do with Noctis and training.

Noctis. Sometimes he wanted to wring his little neck.

“How long have you been training Noct now, Gladiolus?”

“Almost eight years, your majesty.”

The King nodded. “I would like you to be honest with me.” He waited for Gladio to nod, then asked, “How capable would you say Noct is of defending himself against an attack?”

Gladio blinked. It wasn’t quite where he had expected this unexpected conversation to go. After all the King had yet in these eight years deigned to question Gladio’s tutoring methods in any way, shape, or form.

It was a responsibility, the thought of which colored Gladio’s day from the time he awoke every morning, to when he collapsed in his bed at night. In his youth he’d been resentful, even angry at the thought his life had be chosen for him and given to that brat of child without his consent. But then he’d finally seen beyond the surface, seen the potential that the prince so carefully and infuriatingly hid behind his sulkiness.

Gladio understood the origin of the King’s question, how it stemmed from the primal fear that only a parent, or in his case someone who has had the privilege of watching a child slowly becoming a man, felt. No amount of petty or hurtful words could ever change that. Forever branded across the surface of his memory was the gash that started at the young prince’s hip and cut across to his shoulder. He could only imagine it was even worse for the man who had been powerless to keep it from happening in the first place.

The King wanted honest, so Gladio gave him honest. “Three years ago, I would have told you he was average at best,” he said bluntly.

The King didn’t blink. “And now?”

“Now,” Gladio shrugged. “I’d say his growth in skill was unnatural if I didn’t know who and what he was.”

Increasingly, Noct would pull moves and dodges out of his ass that amazed Gladio. Any idiot could be taught a movement if they were drilled enough, but Noct was finally growing beyond that. What was impossible to teach was raw physical talent, and surprisingly, that was what puberty had managed to bestow upon the wayward prince. It was part of what made watching him fail at this magic thing so frustrating. The kid had the ability; of that, Gladio truly had no doubt.

Gladio had seen the prince sitting for hours in front of the Crystal, and in his opinion it was more than pointless. Noctis had never been one who could be taught by words or theory. Gladio had learned the hard way that Noctis needed to throw himself at task in order come away with anything useful.

“Is that all?”

In his blunt manner, Gladio said, “Sometimes his reflexes are supernatural. When he finally stops thinking and just does it, Noct moves in ways that are almost physically impossible. When he’s like that I’d say it would take at least six or seven trained men to take him down. When he’s unfocused, three to four.”

King Regis turned back to Clarus. “Well?”

Gladio’s father pursed his lips. “I saw what I saw, your majesty. I had his arm, and then I didn’t.”

The King made an exasperated noise. “But we’ve tried simulating a fight. We’ve tried frustrating him and working up his emotions. None of that helped.”

“Noct doesn’t work well when he’s frustrated though,” Gladio interrupted thoughtlessly. Both the King and Clarus turned to give him their full attention. He swallowed. “He does best when he’s pissed off, but not so pissed off that he’s lost his head. When he’s desperate to win.”

Frustration definitely tended to shut Noctis down. Gladio had had plenty of times where Noctis had needed the delicate push towards anger, taunting and derision to get him to turn his overactive, useless brain off and just do, rather than letting him mire in his frustration. Of course, Ignis would probably have said the opposite, that Noctis needed a gentle guiding hand, and positive support. To each his own.

Clarus exchanged a look with King Regis. “He was certainly desperate to run away.”

They seemed to have a conversation with their eyebrows, and then Regis turned back to Gladio. “Thank you, Gladiolus. You’ve been very helpful.”

“Your majesty.”

Later that day, back in the Citadel after a shift of guard duty and after picking Iris up from school, Gladio shook the rain out of his hair and began setting up his training session with Noct. Hearing the thud of the training hall door, he turned, expecting to see Noctis even though there were still a few minutes to go, and Noct was never early.

For the second time that day, he was surprised by the presence of the King.

As he bowed to his King, he sensed that this visit was very different. The King smiled sadly at the young weapons master, leaning on his cane. “Unfortunately, I’m not finished with you, Gladiolus. And for what I am about to ask you to do, I am so, so very sorry.”

***

**Noctis**

The morning after his midnight adventure, Ignis had to drag Noctis out of bed, dress him, and shove him down the hallway to the conference chamber. Amazingly, during the war meeting Noctis discovered a new power. He might not be able to warp, but in that hour he perfected a far more useful skill, which was the ability to doze with his eyes open.

Ignis was not amused.

One scolding and seven hours of school later, Noctis and Prompto were sitting under a tree outside the school house, taking advantage of the late September weather. They sprawled out on their backs, watching the towering, puffy clouds, the kind that promised a storm later, but for now brought only a clean breeze and gentle warmth.

“I’m going to ask her out.” Prompto declared decisively.

“Okay.”

“I’m really going to do it.”

“Okay.” Noctis had at some point tuned out, distracted by his own thoughts, and had missed exactly who Prompto was talking about.

“Gods, she’s so hot,” Prompto groaned. “She’s got to be a C cup at least; don’t you think?”

“Uh, yeah, totally,” Noctis agreed. This was starting to get a tad dangerous. Any moment now, Prompto was going to realize Noctis was talking out of his ass.

Prompto rolled over to face Noctis. “What about you? You never talk about any girls.” He laughed. “You got a burning crush somewhere in that princely heart?”

Noctis frowned. “No,” he said.

“Oh come on.” Prompto sighed dramatically and flopped back over on his back. “You’re killing me, man. You could literally have any girl or guy you wanted, and yet you can’t even tell me one person you think is hot?”

Noctis shrugged.

Prompto narrowed his eyes. “You’re not, like, asexual are you?”

At that, Noctis snorted.

“Well okay then,” Prompto insisted, “Don’t hold out on me, man. You know every dirty thing about me.”

“Not by choice.”

“That’s cold,” Prompto pouted.

“Urg, fine,” Noctis scowled. “I really don’t know. The girls at this school are all annoying and giggly.”

Noctis really wasn’t asexual. At least, he didn’t think so. He was a horny sixteen-year-old guy just like any other. But his time was so consumed by duty and obligation, that the idea of having the time to date was laughable. He imagined the frivolous girls that hounded him at school, smiling and laughing at his every word like it was the cleverest or most profound thing they’d ever heard. It wasn’t sexy; it was just exhausting.

No, Noctis couldn’t imagine being with anyone that didn’t understand some aspect of the burden that he and those close to him shared. How could he?

“That’s just girls, I think,” Prompto was saying. Noctis struggled to reign his attention back in to his friend. “You really don’t know what you’re attracted to?” Noctis didn’t answer, which Prompto took as an answer enough. “Well, everyone’s attracted to someone,” he said thoughtfully. “What do you think about when you, you know?”

Noctis raised his eyebrows questioningly. Cheeks blooming a fantastic shade of red, Prompto spluttered, “You know?” He made a crude hand gesture, eyes glancing sideways to make sure no one was around to see. Noctis still didn’t answer, and Prompto finally spat out, “You, know, when you jerk off? What do you think about?”

Noctis blinked. “Are you supposed to ask friends that?”

A flash of embarrassment flew across Prompto’s face, and Noctis immediately felt like a shithead. Prompto hadn’t said anything about Noct’s antagonistic behavior the other day, which was more than he deserved. “Um, I don’t really think of any one person,” Noctis said quietly before Prompto could respond, vulnerability bleeding into his voice. His own cheeks burned. “I usually just think about the sensations more than anything,” he mumbled.

Noctis might not focus on any specific person, but his fantasies didn’t lack detail because of that. He was very good at imagining callused hands on his dick, picturing what it would be like to be enveloped in the wet heat of an eager mouth, or the weight of another’s body spread out over his.

Prompto looked contemplative, unaware that Noctis’s thoughts had parked themselves in the gutter. “Well, maybe you should try imagining someone next time, you know? You need to know what it you’re attracted to so I help you find a date. Gotta discover your deep sexual desires…” He wagged his eyebrows at Noct.

“Because you’re such a sex guru yourself.”

“Hey I’m just trying to help a friend,” Prompto replied. “You’re the one with the actual chance at something with all your princy-ness.”

Prompto’s face was still that cherry red, and he didn’t quite meet Noctis’s eyes. “Me, I just wanna lose my virginity before I graduate high school,” he muttered. “That’s not asking too much.”

Noctis didn’t have a lot to say to that. Assuming he managed to manifest his magic before he graduated, it was all but guaranteed that he would at least technically lose his virginity. Prompto didn’t know that though, and Noct had no idea how to tell his friend that he would soon be expected to complete a magical ritual with his retainers. Needless to say it was a bit hard to sympathize, even though that wasn’t Prompto’s fault.

He was about to change the topic when he felt the first fat raindrop fall on his nose. “Oh, shit.” Together they scrambled up from under the tree, running for cover as the sky opened up.

Only slightly damp and standing under the overhang of the school entrance way, Prompto pulled out his phone and said to Noctis, “It’s almost time for the photography club meeting anyway. Want me to meet you at your place afterwards?”

“Nah, I’ve got weapons training with Gladio. I can’t skip out today; he’s pissed enough as it is.”

“What did you do?”

Noctis shot him an affronted look. “Why is it automatically what I did?”

A teasing grin. “Because I know you.”

Noctis sighed and said, “Got in a fight with my dad.”

“What does that have to do with Gladio?”

With a shrug, Noctis answered, “Said some stuff that wasn’t okay, I guess.” Meeting Prompto’s gaze, he found his friend’s entire attention was suddenly and fully on him, the concern evident. “They don’t think I’m trying hard enough at this magic thing.”

“Are you?”

Noctis shrugged.

With a heavy sigh, Prompto said, “Ya’sure you don’t need to skip today? The photography club meeting isn’t mandatory.”

Noctis felt a wave gratitude for his friend. “No. He’d just come find me, and then it’d be that much worse. Besides, I don’t have to meet him until 4:00.”

“You do know it’s 3:55, right?”

Noctis’s heart stopped. “Wait, what?!”

***

Noctis ran most of the way to the Citadel, slugging through the rain with his backpack bouncing up and down. Panting, he waved to his mentor as he hastily dropped his damp bags on the ground by the entranceway of the Citadel training hall.

“You’re late.” Gladio’s voice was unusually cold, even considering their recent tension.

“I know,” Noctis snapped back at him, meeting Gladio’s eyes as he straightened himself back up. What he found there stopped him short. Gladio’s expression was savage, as if the very sight of Noctis disgusted him. Noctis had never seen such vitriol on his mentor’s face before, not even counting all the previous times Noctis had pushed him close to the breaking point. Yesterday he had seemed upset at Noct, probably understandably so, but not like this. So what had changed between now and then?

“Is my training beneath you, your highness?” Gladio asked, his voice deathly even.

Noctis was too dumbfounded to answer. He struggled to get his thoughts back on even footing, desperately going over the past few days in his head. If this was about the fight with his father, then wouldn’t Gladio have been just as angry yesterday? Unless it had taken him a while to stoke his rage. One of the best things about Gladio was that he was entirely predictable, but this left Noctis flabbergasted.

Gladio was still talking, his voice still that even tone, incongruent with his expression. “Because I can’t think of any other reason why you would waste my time like this.”

Noctis hated how his voice came out hesitant, defensive. “I lost track of time…”

“That’s not good enough,” Gladio thundered as Noctis flinched back from him. “When are you going to grow the fuck up, Noctis?!”

Noctis’s hesitation snapped, even as part of him realized that those words had been designed to set him off. Gladio wasn’t his father. He had no right to judge Noctis, and if Gladio did have something to say, then he should just come out and say it, rather than baiting a fight. Noct was done with being passively aggressively punished for things that weren’t any of Gladio’s and Ignis’s business.

“What the fuck is your problem?” Noctis roared back, advancing towards Gladio.

He finally entered the training hall proper, but before Gladio could answer him, he stopped dead, stiffening in shock. Of all the people to see, King Regis sat on a wooden bench at the far end of the room, having been hidden from Noctis before by the corner of the entranceway. Clarus stood next to him. Neither one acknowledged his arrival, except by the tightening around his father’s mouth.

Noctis wondered if this was a public enough situation that he was supposed to formally greet his father, but then he decided that that moment had passed long ago, probably around the same time Noctis had shouted the word ‘Fuck’. “What are they doing here?” he hissed at Gladio as he eyed his father sideways. Regis did not respond to his look.

“Don’t worry about them,” Gladio growled. “Worry about what I’m about to do to your late punk-ass.”

Noctis’s father had never once attended any training session of Noctis’s, and it was alarming that he did not know what had catalyzed this change. Was it because Noct had refused to show up to any more magic lessons? Had he finally decided to confront Noctis? But then, how did that relate to Gladio, and why would Gladio pick a fight in front of the King?

“He’s not watching us, is he?”

“I said, don’t worry about it, your highness.” Gladio tossed a sword at Noctis suddenly, and he barely caught it. It looked almost identical to the Engine Blade, except clearly dull. Noctis glared at Gladio, but the sword master just looked icily back.

Noctis was about to tell him that if he thought Noctis was willing to spar with him like this, then he was sorely mistaken. He was about to; however, Gladio did not give him that chance.

Without warning, Gladio smashed into him with the full weight of his practice weapon, a greatsword as tall as Noctis and seemingly nearly as heavy. Before he had time to react, Noctis was flung several feet. He rolled like a ragdoll, landing with his face plastered against the dusty wooden floor. The impact reverberated through Noctis’s very bones, and he struggled to take a breath afterwards.

“Gods dammit, Gladio,” Noctis hissed with a gasp. “The hell?”

“Get up.” Gladio’s voice was a snarl, tense but still controlled, and even though Noct’s lungs still burned, he struggled to his feet regardless. Gladio’s eyes pierced him pitilessly as he waggled his finger in a derisive, come-hither motion. Noctis glared at him. Then he let his gaze wander to his father. King Regis still had not stirred from his spot at the far end of the room. From what Noctis could tell, he hadn’t so much as blinked as Gladio had treated Noct’s ribs like the baseball to his bat. He shouldn’t feel betrayed by that. After all, it wasn’t like that hit would leave any permanent damage, as much as it had felt like it had splintered one of Noct’s bones. But still, Noctis’s stomach twisted unpleasantly. Was this how angry his father truly was at him, that he would enlist Gladio in some sort of fucked up physical punishment?

He tightened his grip on the replica Engine Blade and adjusted his stance into something vaguely battle worthy. There were several feet between them as Gladio adjusted his stance as well, left foot sliding back to widen his center of gravity.

It was clear that Gladio wasn’t going to let him get away with refusing to fight. At least not without a beating. Noctis kept his distance, not stupid enough to rush Gladio when he was in such a murderous mood. Unlike Noctis, Gladio became singularly focused and disciplined the more his wrath increased. So instead of attacking, Noctis elected to stay on the defensive, at least for now, keeping himself back and waiting for Gladio to make the first move.

Gladio seemed to find this decision pitiful. “You gonna fight back anytime this century, your highness?” he asked, his voice curling mockingly around the ‘your highness’ in a way he knew Noctis hated.

The swords master had yet to make any sort of further move either, so Noctis sneered. Gladio snorted and began to circle him. Noctis knew this trick though, to slowly move closer and closer into an opponent’s space without their realizing it, and he circled too, keeping them on even ground.

“You’re too hesitant, your highness. Wait for your opponent to attack, and you’ve already given up your first advantage.”

He was trying to get under Noctis’s skin, but Noct would not be so easily baited. “I know what you’re doing.” Noctis hissed. He couldn’t help but feel his father’s observing eyes boring into his back. What was he doing here?

“I ain’t exactly hiding it. I’m teaching you a lesson about the value of punctuality.”

In front of Noctis’s father? By beating him without any sort of warning? Noctis snarled under his breath, “Fuck you.”

Shifting his weapon, Gladio grinned humorlessly. “Well, alright then.” He lunged at Noctis. The movement was barely telegraphed, but Noctis knew Gladio well enough to predict that much. He dodged neatly and rolled himself out of Gladio’s range, then attempted to dart behind him. It was a useless attempt; Gladio was too good to let himself get flanked, especially against only one opponent.

They exchanged several more blows, none which Noctis gained any sort of advantage with. Gladio was extraordinarily fast for his size, and he had a huge reach advantage over Noctis. He was also going all out in a way Noctis had never before experienced. Within a few exchanges, Gladio managed with relative ease to knock the legs out from under him. It was humiliating.

“Again.”

“I wasn’t giving up,” Noctis spat as he struggled to get his aching muscles to obey him.

“Then get your ass off the floor.”

Noctis regarded Gladio again as he straightened up. Gladio was the better swordsman. Of that there was no question. Noctis already knew that were Gladio to ever attempt to annihilate him, see exhibit one, that there would be no contest. Noctis knew this, and Gladio knew that Noctis knew this. Gladio was supposed to be Noctis’s friend. He was a confidant, a mentor, and now it felt like he was using that closeness to twist a knife in Noctis’s gut.

Just one more thing for Noctis to be a failure at.

Noctis let his weapon fall down to his side. “What would you do,” he asked, his voice husky, “If I dropped this sword right now and walked away?”

“I’d call you a spineless coward and a disgrace to your father.” Gladio’s eyes glinted.

For a moment there was nothing but the pattering of the September rain on the roof. They stood across from each other in the same places they had been when they had begun this fight.

Noctis imagined what would happen if he were to leave now. He was closer to the door, but Gladio would never let him make a graceful retreat. He’d have to run, face the humiliation of being chased like an errant child. Gladio would rip him a new one, though he’d eventually let Noctis leave, and then tomorrow, he’d be right here waiting for the next lesson. It didn’t matter what Noctis did to him; even if Gladio despised him, he would work with Noctis for as long as he felt Noctis needed the lessons, always prepared to fulfill his duty with ceaseless determination. Noctis’s father would watch him leave silently. Unlike Gladio, his face would be unreadable, emotionless. And then the next time he saw Noct, he would act as if nothing had happened, as if that could somehow erase the problem.

His father’s words washed over him. Sometimes I think you’re not even trying.

Why try? So that I can die like you?

Gladio had asked him, what do you want, Noctis?

I want to make my father proud.

What will you give me?

Anything.

Lies.

Noctis swallowed. His fists clenched. The truth pounded at him like Gladio’s sword, and so he faced his mentor. “What exactly do you want from me, Gladio?” The question came out hollow and tired.

“I want you to act like you remember what you are.”

Noctis was a prince of Lucis. “I’ve never forgotten,” he said.

Gladio did not argue, but his gaze was challenging and dismissive. Sword loose and at the ready, he made it clear he was waiting on Noctis to come to a decision.

Time seemed to slow as Noct took a deep breath. His pulse thrummed, and his heartbeat echoed in his ears. Ba dum, Ba dum. He came to his decision. The truth was, Noctis was tired of running. He was tired of fighting his self-disgust and insecurity, tired of the frustration, tired of these feelings building up with no outlet or release. Maybe he would never find that magical well inside of himself. Maybe he was doomed to failure, doomed to face his father in shame.

But he’d be damned if he let Gladio drive him into the dust like he was still eight years old and helpless.

Gladio narrowed his eyes as Noctis twisted his blade around in his hands. However, Noctis ignored him in favor of expelling the air from his lungs, sliding his body sideways, and finding that precipice of perfect tenseness in his aching muscles. Only then did he fully meet Gladio’s gaze. Gladio was the better swordsman. And Noctis had already given up his greatest advantages, his agility and maneuverability, by wasting his energy and allowing Gladio to smash at his legs. Even now, his left knee ached, begging to be allowed to crumple, and his lungs burned as they tried and failed to restore his breath.

“You finally decided to stop being a pussy?”

Noctis said, “Don’t talk to me like that.”

Gladio’s voice was dangerously low. “Make. Me.”

Noctis wasn’t going to win this fight, but in that moment, it didn’t matter. He feinted, letting the greatsword follow him and clang against his smaller weapon. Had he then tried to counter with his own weapon, Gladio would have overpowered him. But Noctis had learned his lesson. Instead, he used the momentum of their clashing swords as a springboard and jumped, curling his body over the weapons and snapping a ringing kick at Gladio’s neck.

His hit connected with a painful crack. Gladio stumbled back, stunned. Noctis, however, didn’t fully have his balance after he landed, and he wasn’t able to press his advantage fast enough.

Gladio roared. He swung his sword in an overpowering motion. Noctis tried to roll under it, but Gladio managed to block his hit with his forearm brace, brushing it off.

Back and forth they went. However, for Noctis there was something different now. His limbs ached and shook, but his head was the clearest it had been in weeks. Everything was in hyper focus, the feeling of air rushing past him as he barely swerved out of the way, the sweat flying off of Gladio’s neck as he swung around, each breath in and out.

It still wasn’t enough. Every hit Gladio met. Every swing of Noctis’s sword he seemed to foresee.

In the end it was Noctis’s knee that betrayed him. It finally twisted in on itself, just as Gladio came in for full bodied hit of his greatsword. Noctis had time to think, I’m going to be hit, and then, I can’t be hit. Even though it was too late, his body still went through the motion of throwing himself out of the way.

The sword passed through him.

As Noctis moved, he felt almost like a muscle cramp in his stomach, a jerk of his heartbeat, like a flash of adrenalin, and then he was simply not there. It all happened too fast. His mind fizzled with the whiplash of it. One moment he was twisted, half crouched in front of Gladio’s incoming sword, and the next he was on the other side of his mentor. He vaguely saw Gladio come to a stop and rest his heavy blade across his back, but it was too much to process.

As Noctis’s heart thundered, he noticed with a sort of wild panic that blue-white flashes of energy were pulsing up and down his arms. They were the same crystalline texture as his father’s Armiger weapons and the Crystal that sat on the other side of the Citadel, and it was as overwhelming as having been deaf one’s entire life and then suddenly stepping into the middle of a symphony.

When he had imagined how the magic would feel, he had assumed it would be something like electricity, similar to the tingling sensation that told him his body was absorbing electrical elemental energy. This magic was nothing like the feeling of absorbing elements. It was rawer, more consuming, sinking into him and through him, lighting every nerve along the way. It was awareness, bleeding sharpness, and the stopping of time. It was pure power in its most ancient and incomprehensible form.

The strangest thing was how natural, how intrinsic the magic felt. It was as much a part of him as the blood in his veins or the thoughts in his head. He had been searching for an outside force working on him, had been seeking some sign of the Crystal’s alien power inside of himself, but it wasn’t like that at all. He had told Nyx that he had not been born with the magic, rather the potential for it, but in that too he was completely wrong. This magic was made for him, or maybe he had been made for the magic.

Noctis trembled. His magic was awake now, racing through him, and he had no idea what to do. Then from behind him, an arm grasped the young prince’s shoulder. Swinging around, he came face to face with his father, who must have some point moved from the bench. King Regis stood tall, without his cane. With one hand still on Noct’s shoulder, he cupped Noct’s chin, pulling the prince’s face up towards his own. The King’s grip was both firm and gentle, but his eyes trapped Noctis, boring into him, razing his defenses, and leaving him feeling flayed and vulnerable.

Noctis had spent so much time and energy hiding from his father. But now, standing here, encircled by his magic and held by his father’s pinning gaze, he found he could not hide. A heartbeat of silence and stillness, and then his father’s expression softened.

Once, when Noctis had been wheelchair bound, he had awoken in the middle of the night to discover his father leaning over him, brushing Noctis’s hair back from his eyes. Seeing that his son was awake, he had smiled. Neither had said a word, but Regis had held Noctis’s gaze. The emotions on his face had been too vast, too enormous, too powerful for the child to understand.

Eight years later, the look they shared was eerily similar.

“Throw the sword, Noct,” his father said as he released Noctis’s chin.

Noctis looked down and saw that whatever he had done to awaken his power had also sent magic careening through his weapon. The sword shimmered with light.

As he lifted his weapon, his every sense was suffused with magic, and somehow, he instinctively knew what to do. The magic caressed him, tickling the back of his mind. Hello, it seemed to whisper. Hello there. Are you awake now?

He threw the sword with all the force he possessed. That feeling, like an adrenaline rush but cleaner, overcame him. Every molecule squeezed together, his ears popped, the world twisted in on itself, and then he was across the room, dizzily gripping the sword, that, though dull, cleaved a practice dummy nearly in two.

Noctis beheld the sword in amazement. It had been that easy, and even now, as the magic faded from his skin, he could still feel the source deep inside himself, endless and ancient. He turned back around. His father stood next to Gladio. In a daze, Noct jerked the sword back out of the dummy and walked over to them.

“You did well, Noct,” his father said in a gentle tone as Noctis approached. With a quick nod to his father, Noctis challengingly met Gladio’s gaze.

“Bout time,” the larger man said gruffly after a moment of silent glaring. Noctis supposed he should be furious. No matter what he had been trying to accomplish, Gladio had been way out of line. Friends did not do that, pick at each other’s most vulnerable emotional spots. But frankly, Noctis was too overwhelmed to put the needed energy towards giving Gladio a piece of his mind. Besides, Gladio thrived off conflict. Being dismissed, ignored, was far more punishing.

“I believe that is enough for today,” the King said.

Noctis nodded. He recognized the state his body was quickly falling into now that he had released the magic. It was the same exhaustion that had kept him in bed for three days after the Ceremony of Awakening. His father seemed to recognize the signs of impending collapse in Noct, because he gripped his shoulder tightly, keeping Noct upright, and addressed Gladio, “See Noct to bed, if you would.” With that, he squeezed Noct’s shoulder and said, “Rest now, Noct. I know today was quite stressful, but you’ve really done well.”

Stressful was one way to put it. Noctis had no desire to spend the night in the Citadel again, but there was no arguing with such a direct command. He allowed Gladio to steer him away his father. Once they were in the hallway and away from prying ears, Gladio turned to Noctis, “Look, Noct, I--.”

“—I don’t want to talk about it.”

Gladio took a deep breath and visibly bit back his aggravation. “Well, I do, and--.”

“—I. Don’t. Want. To. Talk. About it.”

“Fine!”

“Fine.”

They walked to Noctis’s room silently, and Gladio helped him clamber into bed. “I’ve got to tell Ignis I won’t be home today,” Noctis mumbled sleepily.

“I’ll let him know.” Gladio sighed. “Goodnight Noct.”

Noctis didn’t reply.

***

**Gladio**

Afterwards, Gladio walked to Noct’s apartment. He could have easily driven or even called Ignis, but he wanted the time to process. As he let himself into the apartment, he heard Ignis’s voice, “Noctis, you’re back—early.” Ignis halted as he saw that it was Gladio and not Noctis at the door. He took one look at Gladio’s face and demanded, “What’s wrong?”

Gladio could only laugh. He strode past Ignis and plopped himself heavily down on the couch. Ignis did not ask again what was wrong. That wasn’t his way. Instead he crossed his arms over his chest, pursed his lips in a thin, grim line, and waited in front of Gladio.

Gladio leaned back and sighed. “He finally activated his magic today.”

To Ignis’s credit, he did not make a stupid remark of congratulations or excitement. He narrowed his eyes, obviously reading between the lines. “What did you do?”

Closing his eyes, Gladio said, “The King came to me today. Said he suspected that Noct had inadvertently used his phasing during their fight the other day.” Ignis made a noise in the back of his throat at the mention of that already infamous occurrence. Gladio continued, “Said that he thought the key to breaking through to Noct lay in actually breaking him. Asked if I could do that.”

“Oh, Gladio.”

Gladio did not want Ignis’s pity. “I’ve been by Noct’s side since the day he was born. Of course, I know how to push his buttons.”

“What did you do?”

Gladio answered him matter of factly. “Beat him into a pulp in front of his father. Did my best to make him look and feel like a fool. And when he’d finally had enough, I called him a disgrace and a coward.”

Ignis silently absorbed this and then said, “But it worked.”

“It worked,” Gladio confirmed.

“I suppose Noctis is angry with you.”

“Doesn’t matter.” It did matter. But they both knew what he had meant. Gladio would not and could not do anything other than the mission he had been born with. Noctis’s feelings had no bearing on that.

Gladio made a noise of frustration. “It isn’t that I wouldn’t have done exactly what I did. Sometimes Noct needs a good knock on the head, but that’s between the two of us—private. I never would have had that fight in front of his father.”

No, Gladio knew the difference between using hurt to an end, and hurting just to hurt. But he’d seen Noct run into the training hall, late of course, and had immediately known where it would have to go if he wanted King Regis’s results. Noctis had had that look that told Gladio he was in a turbulent, intractable mood, and Gladio had known in his guts that Noctis would not be coached today, that he would have to be driven to water, rather than led. Normally when Gladio sensed Noct was in one of his moods, he forwent actually teaching him anything that day and usually just did his best to at least wear the prince out.

Noctis had been thoughtless with desperation and frustration when he had phased through Clarus’s hand, and so he must be made that way again. To this end, the King’s regret and sorrow had been obvious as he told Gladio what he wanted him to do, yet he had commanded Gladio nevertheless. Duty and obligation over love. And Gladio was nothing if not obedient to his King.

When he had thrown Noctis across the room, he had prayed to all the Six that Noct would realize what he was trying to do. That being knocked on his ass in front of his father would drive him towards focus without Gladio having to take more drastic measures, but of course, it hadn’t. So Gladio had commenced with working Noctis into a rage as quickly and efficiently as he could.

“You two have had fights before. You’ll have them again,” Ignis said, “He’ll get over it.”

Gladio vividly remembered Noctis’s face as he had called him a disgrace to his father, how dead his expression had gone. What do you want from me, Gladio? he had asked.

I want you to not make me do this.

“I shouldn’t have done it,” Gladio said. It was one thing to be brutally honest with Noctis, and another to slam him with half-truths designed to crawl under his skin and tear him apart. What Gladio should have done was thank the King and politely asked him to do this the next day or the day after. He should have told him his knee was too injured or that he had a terribly important obligation, anything to buy himself some more time. And then he should have gone to have that argument with Noctis alone, before the King could bring them all together. Even though it had been his turbulent feelings for his father that had caused Noct’s condition in the throne room, and clearly Regis had believed that his presence would be needed to recreate the same situation, Gladio still felt it could have been done without that can of worms. Not everything had to be gained with pain.

“I should have tried harder to help him before it got to this.”

“Gladio, I doubt you could have done anything that the others hadn’t already tried, and we all have to obey our King. You didn’t have a choice.”

Gladio shook his head. “You’re wrong, Ignis,” he said, looking his friend gravely in the eyes, “There’s always a choice. Sometimes we make our most important choices when it doesn’t seem like there’s one at all. And I made mine. For better or worse.”

Ignis was silent to that. Gladio looked away. “You’re right about one thing though. He will get over it, eventually. We’ve been through too much shit together at this point.”

“True enough,” Ignis replied.

With that Gladio stretched up to look over Ignis’s shoulder towards the kitchen. “What’d you cook that ungrateful brat anyway?”

“I have prepared a rice pilaf and baked salmon for the prince tonight.” There was a pregnant pause, and then Ignis asked with an indulgent sigh, “Since he won’t be coming home tonight, would you like to share it with me?”

“Sure, if you insist,” Gladio said easily.

“Oh, I insist,” Ignis drawled.

***

---“So choose, Prince Noctis,” Ignis had said nearly two years ago.

Noctis had hesitated, saying finally, “I—I don’t know how to fix it.”

Ignis’s reaction had been gentle. “Then let me help you,” he’d replied.

Noctis had responded immediately and defensively, a child lashing out, “I don’t need you to solve my problems for me, Ignis.”

“Noct,” Ignis had said, “You don’t understand. That’s what friends do.”

***

Chapter Text

**Chapter 4**

***

**Ignis**

When Ignis was thirteen, about a year after he started working at the Citadel and spending more time with Noctis and those associated with him, a rather embarrassing chain of events took place.

At that time, he knew that there were two kinds of people working in the Citadel: those that had the Covenant with the King and those that did not. Those that did had certain privileges, an implicit trust given to them by the Crown that existed for no other group of people. Even without knowing what exactly the Covenant entailed, Ignis longed to belong to that group. Official retainers of the King were allowed unrestricted access to official documents and to the royal library. Their words were given more weight in the council, and their ranks were higher in the military.

Retainers shared the Kings power, able to draw weapons from his arsenal. Now that he was spending more and more time with Noctis, it was only right that Ignis have the abilities needed to protect the Prince. Not only could fully covenanted retainers draw on the King’s weapons magic, but it was said that they drew on his strength in other ways, that they were stronger and faster, with far keener reflexes that any normal man. Also, one could tell who was ‘in’ and who wasn’t simply by the way they acted around each other. There was a closeness there, a camaraderie that Ignis, still separated by most of the Citadel by his youth, desperately longed for.

So at thirteen, while in Clarus’s study with the King’s Shield, Ignis announced, “I want to seal the Covenant with the King.”

Clarus, who had been busily reading some report or another, jerked his head up with a choked laugh. “You want to what now?”

“I am aware that since last year you have been grooming me to become advisor to the prince,” Ignis said, making his case. “My future belongs to the Line of Lucis. I see no reason not to make it official.”

Clarus gave Ignis a long and hard look, which the young man fully returned. Finally, the Shield said, “It’s out of the question. Once you do something like that, there is no going back." He shook his head. "No, you will stay just the way you are, and when you are much older you will seal the Covenant with Prince Noctis, not the King.”

Ignis was not one to give in easily. “With all due respect sir, I do not see the problem. My service to the Crown is not something I would ever wish undone. I do not see why I could not form a Covenant with the King now, and then with His Highness later.” If Ignis was going to have to wait for Noctis to be King before making any kind of Covenant, then he would be waiting a long time indeed.

Clarus tried to intimidate him with the harshness of his eyebrows, but Ignis would not be so easily cowed, not now that he had decided his course of action. Clarus said, “You have no idea what you’re asking for. You are far too young, Ignis. The King will never seal the Covenant with a child, and that won’t change no matter how you pester me, so give up on this notion. That’s an order.” With that he deliberately turned back to his papers.

Ignis knew that had he any brain cells at all, he would drop this. But the comment had stung, wormed its way into Ignis’s head in a way most things were unable to. His youth was the one thing that he was still sensitive about, the one thing that people always commented on. Oh look at that, a twelve-year-old graduating from the academy, how strange, how quaint.

“So I am a child then? Too young to commit myself to the Line of Lucis,” Ignis snapped with predatory snark in his voice, “but not too young to sit on the council, not too young to take charge of the Prince’s education, not too young to commit myself in all the other ways I already have?”

Clarus did not even look up from his papers. “Yes.”

Ignis was not Noctis. He did not storm out or even allow himself to show any further anger. No, he had lost this battle, but there was still the war.

***

Ignis found his opportunity the next day, much sooner than he had expected. Clarus was not with the King because that morning, his son, Gladiolus, had managed to break his leg in a training accident. The Shield was now making inquiries into what had happened and who had exactly had been responsible. Therefore, the King held his daily council meeting without his closest advisor, and afterwards Ignis hesitated, waiting until everyone but the King and his current guard had left.

The King quirked his eyebrow at Ignis. “Did you need something, Master Scientia?”

Ignis bowed low, his heart pounding at his own boldness. “Your majesty, I did have a request,” he said. “I know I am young, but you have consistently shown that you trust my abilities and discretion as much as any fully grown adult. When you asked me to train, to prepare myself to eventually become Prince Noctis’s advisor, I understood fully what I was committing to.”

The King’s face didn’t change, remaining completely impassive. It was rather unnerving, but Ignis had committed to this too, so he soldiered on. “I have chosen to pledge myself to serving the Line of Lucis, and to this end I believe it would be beneficial were I to join the ranks of your fully bonded retainers.”

The King blinked. “You want to seal the Covenant of the line of Lucis with me?” The King’s tone had that same incredulous quality as Clarus’s when the Shield had asked Ignis nearly the same question yesterday. That wasn’t a good sign.

Ignis nodded, repeating firmly, “I want to become a fully bonded retainer to the Crown.” With that, Ignis laced his hands behind his back and waited. He had now gone behind Clarus’s back, had done everything he could to achieve his goal, and he could only wait to see if the King would grant his request.

“Oh, Ignis.”

Ignis jerked, startled at the sound of his given name coming from the King’s lips. He met the King’s eyes and saw something like kindness there, but even more of something like pity. King Regis said, “Your drive and ambition have always been two of your most impressive qualities, Ignis.”

Ignis narrowed his eyes at his King’s tone. “But you won’t grant my request,” he guessed, reading the signs.

“I won’t grant that request,” the King confirmed.

A heartbeat of silence. “May I ask why?” Ignis asked, strained, “Is there something unsatisfactory--?”

“Your performance is, as always, perfectly satisfactory, Master Scientia. However, when the time comes I expect you to pledge yourself to Noctis, not myself. To belong only to him.”

When the time came? What did that even mean? “I see. Thank you, your majesty.” Ignis did not see, nor did he understand. But he did see that there was nothing more to be gained here. With eyes averted, he excused himself.

***

Clarus was furious. The next day when Ignis reported to him, he found the Shield tight lipped and cold eyed. Before Ignis had a chance to speak, Clarus said, “I should have you flogged. How dare you go against a direct order?!” Ignis hung his head. He had no excuse. “Did you ever stop to think that I had good reasons for forbidding you from asking him for such a thing? Hmn?”

“No.”

“No what?”

“No, I did not think, Master Amicitia.” Ignis looked up to see the Shield had his hands over his eyes, obviously attempting to control his temper. Ignis swallowed. “Will you?”

“Will I what?” Clarus snapped.

“Have me flogged?”

Clarus lowered his arm and looked at him for a long moment, then said, “No, Ignis. I’m not going to have you flogged. Even though you deserve it. That would only upset the King even more, and he was in enough of a mood as it was after your little conversation.”

The King had been in a mood after their conversation? He had been upset? For the first time, Ignis fully understood that he had missed something. There was some aspect of this situation that he did not grasp, some puzzle piece he was missing. He had miscalculated. “I apologize, Master Amicitia. I did not stop to fully consider the ramifications of my actions. It was childish and unforgivable for someone in my position.”

Clarus sighed. “Just listen to me next time when I tell you not to do something, okay?”

Ignis nodded.

Later he went to the library, not the royal one, obviously, as only retainers and those with special permission were allowed in there. But even the normal library in the Citadel was expansive and therefore, a good place to start. He asked the librarian, “I want to know more about what exactly is entailed by forming a Covenant with the King.”

Her demeanor immediately changed from pleasant to clearly uncomfortable. “That is not the business of someone as young as you.”

Ignis’s eyes grew hard. “I am adviser to Prince Noctis, and non-voting member of the Crown Council.”

“I know who you are, Master Scientia.” She was looking at him consideringly. “But that sort of thing is not appropriate for one as young as you, no matter how mature you think you might be.”

Ignis’s rage was a quiet, cold thing. He was being deliberately kept from information that if not now, would obviously eventually be very pertinent to him. What they didn’t seem to realize was that as young as he was in body, his mind was sharper than almost any other person at the Citadel. He had assumed that forming a Covenant with the King involved some sort of magical ritual, but had not thought beyond that. That had obviously been an oversight, but one he would no longer allow to stand. He looked at the librarian calculatingly. “You think by refusing me this, you can keep me ignorant?”

Her stiff silence told him plenty. “Thank you,” he said to her as he left.

There was the option of simply asking one of the retainers themselves, but the Citadel’s strange reticence around the topic had made him wary. He also had no wish to alert Clarus that he was still focused on this dangerous issue, and all of the covenanted retainers were too close to one another to take the risk.

No, he would have to be cleverer than that. Part of him was rather excited. Ignis had not been challenged in any real way in quite a while.

Even though he doubted that he would find a clear answer in a book, with no other ideas for leads, the library was as good a place to start as any. Without the help of the librarians, it would be more difficult, but Ignis lived for challenge. Besides, it wasn’t like informing himself on the history of royal magic could hurt him. He was still afraid of disappointing Clarus, however, so he kept his inquiry discreet.

He did most of his reading in the library itself in order to avoid leaving a paper trail of borrowed books. He listened to old radio programs from when the Kingsglaive was first being created, hoping to hear some explanation of how exactly they were given magic. He went through reams and reams of council reports and other documents. When he was asked what he was doing, he told his acquaintances in the Citadel that he was working on a project for Noctis. Being well known for his incredible work ethic, it wasn’t like it was that much of a stretch.

He also secretly attended Kingsglaive training sessions, hoping to gain some more practical information about how the King’s power sharing actually worked. He didn’t gain much ground there, other than a renewed desire to improve himself physically as well as mentally.

Two weeks in, he found a couple of halfway decent references to something called the Ritual of the Covenant, which was either the same thing as the Ritual of Gifting Blood or something extremely similar. One spoke of seeding power and the other of planting it. He was in the process of making copies of the relevant pages at the library photocopier, when he heard a familiar voice.

“No, I’ve got it, thank you,” Gladiolus Amicitia was saying in a voice that could curdle milk. Ignis turned to see the Shield in training standing at the checkout desk awkwardly holding both his crutches and a stack of books. Even hunched over on crutches, his figure was something to behold. Being the same age as Ignis, he had that lanky, disproportional look of someone not fully grown, but at already over six feet tall and corded with muscles, it was hard to imagine how it was possible for him to fill out more.

Gladio swore, hobbling to an armchair as Ignis idly watched him. The youth had a small mountain of paperback books, and as he settled himself into the chair, he set his crutches aside, leaned back, and began to read. Ignis took note of how carefully and neatly Gladio had placed his crutches down.

He only realized he was staring a bit too intently when after a few moments, Gladio looked up from his reading, and growled, “See something interesting, Ignis?”

Ignis shook his head mutely, and turned back around to finish the last of his photocopying. He and Gladiolus knew each other out of necessity, being both promised in one way or the other to the future King, but they never really spent any time together outside of shared events. Actually, this might be one of the first times he had seen Gladio outside of the training hall or some mandatory function.

He was about to leave and think no more of it, when Gladio spoke to him again, surprisingly friendly, a hint of apology underlying his tone, “What are you studying?”

Ignis was too startled to think of a quick lie. “Hmn?”

“Well, you’re researching something right? Something about magic? I’ve seen you in here a couple of times this week.” Gladio’s eyes were curious and guileless, but Ignis still panicked. He certainly couldn’t remember seeing the large and very noticeable youth at any time this past week.

“It’s a project for Noctis,” Ignis said quickly, “What about you?”

A strange expression crossed over Gladio’s eyes, and it took him a long moment to answer. “Stuck on this bum leg for six weeks. Got nothing better to do.”

Ignis, still feeling uncomfortable, decided now was a good time to leave, but as he walked past, Gladio reached up and grasped his sleeve. “Do you think you could do me a favor before you go, Ignis?”

Ignis regarded him suspiciously. “What would that be?”

“That ass of a librarian. Told me I couldn’t carry all these books home.”

Ignis looked over the rather large stack of paperbacks, and considered telling him off for his crude language. “She’s right. You can’t,” Ignis told him.

“I know.”

Ignis thought for a moment. “You want me to help you?”

Gladio seized the opportunity without hesitation. There was something incongruent with how intense his eyes were compared to the easiness of his mouth. “I knew you would,” he exclaimed. “Thanks, Iggy.”

“My name is Ignis, and I didn’t say--” Ignis started, but Gladio was already struggling to stand with his crutches, completely ignoring him. Ignis sighed. He had the pages he needed so it wasn’t like walking Gladio back home would be that much of a detour. Besides, it turned out that Gladiolus, while young, was extraordinarily well read in a variety of topics, and the conversation flowed easily.

As Ignis dropped him off at his door, Gladio waved at him, “See you later, Iggy.”

Ignis shot him a look, but he said, “If you like.”

Gladio grinned, and it transformed his face. “Oh, I insist.” With that he gave Ignis a full-bodied bear hug that lasted entirely too long for Ignis’s taste. It wasn’t until Ignis got home that he realized he didn’t have his pages.

***

Ignis could have pretended he didn’t know where the copied pages had gone, but he didn’t see the point. Early the next morning, but after he knew Clarus would have left the house, he knocked on the Amicitia household door. Gladio answered. They regarded each other silently for a moment, and then Gladio, leaning lazily against his door frame, said, “I know what you’ve been researching.”

Ignis let himself into the house, shrugging past Gladio, until he came to the kitchen counter. Sitting down, he looked at Gladio and asked point blank, “What do you want?”

Gladio, having following him, shrugged. “At first I was just curious.” He rested his weight on the counter, keeping off his bum leg. “You seemed so intent. But then you said you were working on a project for Noctis, and I knew you were lying. Noctis doesn’t have any projects that have to do with royal magic. I thought, why the hell would someone lie about something like that?”

Ignis had underestimated Gladio greatly. He had seen what he wanted to see, he realized, a hulking brute, when in fact Gladio’s most impressive feature was rapidly becoming the mind hidden underneath. Gladio might have a blunt, easy going nature, but he was clearly capable of great cunning. By way of answer, Ignis said, “I asked the King to allow me to form the Covenant with him. He refused. I realized that they were hiding something fundamental from me about the process, and I was determined to discover the truth.” Ignis met his eyes then, waiting.

Gladio looked much older than his thirteen years as he watched Ignis. “They weren’t hiding it, not really.”

“You know what I don’t,” said Ignis after a moment’s hesitation. It wasn’t a question, but Gladio answered calmly anyway.

“I do.”

“Your family has been at the side of the Luccian Kings for centuries. You’ve always known, haven’t you?”

“I wouldn’t say that. But I’ve known for a while.”

Though Ignis raised his eyebrows, Gladio did not say anything further, not at first. Eventually Gladio asked, “Do you know why I stole your papers, Ignis?”

“I assume you were worried I was a threat to Noctis,” Ignis replied. “That I was researching a way to hurt or manipulate him.” He let a bit of bitterness creep into his voice, “My family’s estate is close to the border. It is likely that I have some sort of ties within the Empire.”

Gladio snorted. “You catch on quick. I like that about you. But if you think I judged you just because you’re not originally from Insomnia, then you don’t know me at all.”

Ignis had not been intelligent enough to see what Gladiolus was, so he didn’t comment on that. Meanwhile, Gladio rubbed his head and then looked away. “It’s not---it’s not like that. About bonding retainers, I mean. No one hides it, there’s no point. But sometimes it’s hard to talk about. You know that the ability to use the Crystal is passed down through the Luccian bloodline, right?”

Even if Ignis had not known before, the last two weeks of research had certainly informed him of at least that much. “Yes.”

“Well think about it.” Gladio was giving him that hard look again. “Bloodlines aren’t actually passed through blood.”

Ignis blinked in confusion, trying to follow where Gladio was leading. “Are you talking about genes? As in sperm and eggs, and chromosomes?” Sometimes Ignis struggled with people his age, struggled to remember that they weren’t all as informed as him. Did Gladio even know what chromosomes were? What did normal thirteen-year-olds in school learn?

Gladio, however, nodded at Ignis, thus suggesting that this was exactly what he had meant. “I’m saying that forming a Covenant is an act of creation,” Gladio replied. “People say the Crystal’s magic is in the blood of the Lucii, but what they mean is, it’s in their genetic makeup, in every cell, down to their damn toenails.” Gladio raised an eyebrow at Ignis. “And so the question is, what’s the best, the only, way to share genetic material, to create something where there was only potential before?”

Ignis was honestly dumbfounded. Of all the depraved things he had imagined, it had never in his mind turned—sexual. The books had referred to seeding power, planting it. What a sanitary way to reference something so fundamentally carnal. “Are you actually telling me that every single person in this Citadel who is a full, bonded retainer to the King has had--?”

“Sex.” Gladio spoke bluntly, almost painfully so. “With the King.”

“Gods.” Ignis could not help but turn all of his conversations with Clarus and the King over in his mind. Clarus had said that the King would never form the Covenant with a child. Ignis had assumed it was a trust thing, but Clarus had been so insistent, almost—disgusted. Of course. It was so simple. The only answer that made sense, really.

He looked back at Gladio. “Does that mean that you expect--?”

“To do the same?” Gladio appeared in no way ashamed or uncomfortable. “Yeah, eventually. But that’s a long way off. Like you said, every single person in my family had done it for the last six centuries or so. It can’t be that bad.”

Ignis thought about the absurdity of the whole thing. Here they were, two thirteen-year-olds talking about something so inherently vulgar. Ignis, having graduated from the Royal Academy at twelve, knew a lot about sex, both casually and academically. That’s what happened when you spent your days in a small building with a multitude of young adults. Ignis had already heard every form of dirty joke and swear word that existed. Still, beyond his experiments with himself, the idea of having sex with anyone let alone--,

“Noctis,” Ignis said suddenly.

Gladio blinked at him, and for the first time, he actually looked uncomfortable. “Urgh, please don’t remind me.”

Noctis had just turned nine, and Gladio was working with him nonstop to help the Prince recover from his near death experience. Ignis knew that the two fought like hateful siblings, that Gladio often bore the brunt of Noctis’s at times rather sullen attitude.

Gladio actually did look like he might gag, so Ignis let it drop. “Can we just pretend this conversation never happened,” Gladio asked.

“I’d like that,” Ignis admitted.

“Good.”

When Ignis got home that night, he sat on his bed and put his head in his hands. The Covenant that all retainers to the King sealed consisted of having ritualistic sex with the King. He turned it over and sideways in his mind, inspecting the thought. He compared it to every crude thing he had ever heard at the Academy and beyond. The King had said when the time comes, he would expect Ignis to bond with Noctis. Noctis, who was four years younger than Ignis, still a child. What a strange thought. Usually Ignis was the younger one in any given relationship, but when it came to Noct, he clearly led. It was like one of those stories where the protagonists were engaged as children, just as absurd.

Ignis was never going to be able to look the King in the eye again. He had basically propositioned him. Even here in the safety of his bedroom, Ignis’s face turned red just to think about it. Scrubbing his hands over his eyes, he took a deep breath.

Gladiolus, the strange Shield in training had the right way of thinking about it. Some things could not be changed, and there was no use dwelling on it. Ignis had made his decision a long time ago, and even this revelation could not upend that. From the snippets he had read, now put in context, he was pretty sure the act only had to happen once, and then they could go on with their lives. Ignis could do pretty much anything at least once, and he was not driven by emotion the way many people were. He could do this.

***

**Noctis**

Noctis and Gladio never did have a full conversation about what happened during their ill-fated training bout. The closest they came was when Noctis asked the Shield one day, “My father ordered you to do that, didn’t he? Say all that shit to me, I mean.”

Gladio’s face had been stone. “I make my own choices, Noctis. The King doesn’t force me to do anything.”

“That didn’t answer my question.”

“You already know the answer to that question. Don’t make me say it.”

They fought a silent battle of wills until Noctis finally jerked his head away, muttering caustically, “Whatever.”

And so several months passed. In that time, they established a basic routine. Noctis would train with Gladio to use his magic to the point of exhaustion, spend a few days being useless, and then repeat that. He still went to school and still lived in the apartment, but in deference to his being out of commission serval times a week, Ignis officially took over his spare bedroom. Noctis didn’t exactly approve. After all he had moved out to gain his independence, but there were a lot worse things than living with Ignis.

As he trained with Gladio, Noctis learned to visualize his well of power as fast flowing river or something like a deeply dangerous lake. The further he sank into it, the more magic he consumed, the wilder it flowed through his body, and the more he was drained by it. As he envisioned it, warping required a quick, but deep immersion into that lake. To conserve his energy, he needed to do it with the least amount of magic possible to still accomplish his goal. It was easy to throw himself into his magic, not so easy to do it with careful deliberation, especially in the middle of a battle.

Similarly, to be able to phase through attacks, he needed to have activated his magic, but the moment he did so his energy began to drain away. So instead, he had to hold himself on the precipice of drawing power, like standing just above the river with the tiniest toe in the water of his magic. Maintaining that balanced state required intense concentration, being both immersed and most definitely not. Thus, Noctis worked out a system of switching between the various states of magic: attack, defend, attack, and so on.

Gladio quickly began to incorporate that into their training. He would make Noctis draw a weapon, phase through Gladio’s wooden stick, warp away, switch weapons, phase, repeat over and over until Noctis could do nothing but collapse. And then the next day he would be expected to do the same but several repetitions longer. Over and over.

One afternoon, he and Gladio were back in the Kingsglaive training hall, making use of the wooden dummies hanging with chains from various parts of the vaulted ceiling. Ignis had shown up a few minutes ago, meaning that the training session had to be nearly over.

“Faster,” Gladio said after Noctis made it more or less gracefully back to the ground from where he had been hanging precariously from the ceiling. Noctis groaned, but he took a deep breath, concentrating. He closed his eyes and sank, letting magic burst through every muscle and vein. Then he threw his sword at the ceiling, his body following in a flurry of magical sparks.

He hadn’t quite thrown the sword hard enough to make it to the dummy he had been aiming for, but things like that had long since stopped bothering him. For half a second, he hung freely in the air before his stomach flew through his mouth, and he was falling. He curled in on himself and threw the sword again. This time he made it, stabbing the dummy in the torso.

Even though he knew his momentum stopped when he reappeared from a warp, it was still a lot harder to fling himself back towards the ground, the instinctual fear of going splat harder to overcome. But still, he did just that, pulling the sword out of the dummy, letting himself drop into a freefall. He once again twisted himself around in the air and threw. It wasn’t perfect. He managed to throw the sword too close to the ground, so that when he reappeared he did in fact slam into the floor with a painful thud.

“Faster doesn’t mean sloppy, Noct.”

Before Noctis could collect his breath and say something snarky, Ignis spoke from where he was leaning against the wall near the entranceway. “I have no idea how you can watch that display over and over, Gladio. My nerves are shot from the last five minutes alone.”

“You should have been here when we first started this,” Gladio replied with a shrug. “I’m surprised he’s not in a full body cast.”

“Ha, ha, very funny,” Noctis snarled as he clambered back to his feet.

Gladio crossed his arms and nodded at Noctis. “You haven’t forgotten what we’re doing tomorrow have you?”

Of course Noctis hadn’t forgotten. Someone only reminded him what felt like every five minutes or so. “Yes,” Noctis said, rolling his eyes.

“Good. We can’t afford to fuck this up. Half the Citadel is watching this exhibition fight. You gotta make sure your head’s in the game.”

“I know,” Noctis snapped, irritation creeping into his tone. “I promise I won’t embarrass you.”

It wasn’t like Noctis didn’t understand Gladio’s trepidation. As the heir to the Amicitia household, Gladio had a prominent future role in the Crownsguard. This exhibition fight was his first real test as Noctis’s weapons trainer, and it was against the Kingsglaive, the Crownsguard’s bitter rival for the King’s resources and attention.

“Glad to hear it,” Gladio said, completely unperturbed by Noctis’s mood. “Do five more, and you’re done.”

“But Ignis is already here to pick me up,” Noctis whined, “You’re not going to make him wait like that are you?”

From his perch, Ignis laughed and said with dry amusement, “Oh, I have nowhere else to be Noctis.”

Noctis gave his advisor his most betrayed look, to which Ignis seemed completely immune. “I’ll remember that, Iggy.”

Gladio gave Noctis a hard look. “You’re the one wasting time, Noct.”

The problem for Noctis at least with doing five more reps, wasn’t just that he was tired, though that was certainly a factor. It was that things kept happening to him when he strained himself with the magic, when he let it overflow through his body. And the way his head was buzzing, the way prickles of feral energy were licking up and down his arms told him he was close to that point.

The first time he had noticed it was a few months ago during a training with Gladio, a week after his very first success with the magic. At that point Noctis’s attempts at his magic had been even closer to the charging of a drunken bull as opposed to anything more elegant. Every time he had barreled into Gladio with explosive force, he had felt he was drowning in magic, so overwhelming it was disorienting. The magic had a tingly, almost burning effect on his nerves, brightening his senses until the world felt oversaturated. He had been aware of every minuscule signal his body was sending him, and he had felt so alive.

By the time Gladio had motioned him to stop, he had been panting, but not from exhaustion. The more he got used to the magic, the longer it took him to crash. No, he had been panting because the magic coursing through his body over and over had been making him feel flayed and raw. It had caused heat to pool in his stomach, airy adrenaline to squeeze his lungs. Mortifyingly, his dick had become painfully hard in his pants, and his attempts to discreetly hide that fact from Gladio had been futile.

After toweling the sweat off his face, Gladio had raised his eyebrows and glanced directly towards Noctis’s crotch so that Noct could not miss his meaning, drawling, “Locker room’s empty. Trust me, I have no interest in walking in on that.”

Noctis’s “Fuck you,” had been more habit that anything else, but Gladio still answered mercilessly, “Sorry, but I’m taken, sweetheart. You’ll have to deal with that little problem on your own.”

With no way to retain his dignity after that, Noctis had in fact taken care of that little problem on his own, and every time after that as well, his jerk off sessions becoming a shameful part of his after-training routine. Shameful because he knew that Gladio knew exactly what he was doing in the locker room every time it happened, since Noctis was still terrible at hiding his erections. Though Gladio had declined to say anything to him about it after that humiliating first time.

Noctis gathered his thoughts away from awkward memories, and with one last glare at Gladio and Ignis did his five reps. Like he had predicted, that was the push over the edge, magically speaking. His stomach was in a tight knot, heat coiling and nerves tingling as he finished and walked over to the showers. He hated this, hated how out of control it made him feel. Noctis wasn’t an animal. He could control his libido if he needed to.

But the truth was part of him didn’t want to. After that first time, after he had cum braced against the shower wall harder than he ever had in his entire life, he had wanted to experience it again. Part of him liked how the Crystal’s magic made him feel, and that was the most shameful aspect of the whole thing.

Noctis walked into the locker room. It was completely empty, not a shock since he and Gladio always had the hall at this time of day. The locker room was built with those shower stalls comprised of two layers. A curtain with a little bench to change on, and then another curtain separating that from the shower stall. Noctis went to the farthest one from the entrance, and slid the first curtain closed. He felt achingly empty, needy. The aftereffects of the magic had yet to fade, leaving his body burning and overstimulated. He knew from experience now that if he ignored it, the feeling would go away eventually, eventually being the operative word.

A moment. A precipice, and then he was walking forward, pulling his pants down, yanking on his underwear until he stood naked and alone in the shower. Squeezing his eyes shut, he let his forehead press against the cool shower tile. He shivered at the contrast it created with his feverish skin. It was too much.

He thought about turning the water on, hiding what he was doing under the noise of the spray, but something about the silence of the bathroom, the ability it gave him to focus entirely on the sensations was too compelling, and so instead, he reached down and took his cock in hand.

He couldn’t stop the whimper that escaped him as he gave himself an experimental tug. The acerbic brightness of the magic still had him over aware of every sense, so that the texture of his own hand was torturous, maddening. He needed this, and he surrendered to it, let himself build a slow but steady pace as he jerked himself off to the high of his magic.

Part of him wondered what he must look like now, braced against the shower wall, stark naked, slowly pumping his dick. Though he shivered at the thought, he decided it didn’t matter. He could no more stop now than he could stop breathing.

He slowly grew noisier and noisier, increasing his pace, pausing only to quickly spit in his hand, unable to control the pants and groans.

As his balls tightened in warning, as his grunts and whimpers rang out, as he tightened and quickened his grip mercilessly, he let himself fantasize that the hand on his cock belonged to some else, imagining the hand driving him toward completion in vivid detail. His lover’s hand would be firm and strong-gripped. He’d have to be someone powerful, so that the gentle way he held Noctis would be a gift, a surrender.

Noctis shuddered as his hand slid over his slit. He was so close.

Or maybe this lover wouldn’t be so gentle. Maybe he would make Noctis feel that contained power. Maybe he would hold Noct down as he jerked him off, make him take it.

It only took a few more strokes. A strangled gasp, and Noct was painting stripes across the tiled wall, cumming in that impossibly hard way that only the feeling of his magic allowed. A bright starburst of sensation that continued in waves as he pumped his cock until it was just shy of painful.

He let his spent dick fall from his hand, the tension leaking out of his muscles.

As he stood for a few moments in silence, he was already starting to regret it. It wasn’t just Gladio out there, already long used to waiting on him. Ignis was waiting too. Noctis groaned at the thought and finally turned on the showerhead, watching as the water washed away the evidence of Noctis’s activities.

After that, it didn’t take him long to finish up. Still standing where he had left them, Ignis and Gladio had their heads bent together when he finally came back out of the bathroom. He caught the tail end of their conversation.

“You know this is just an excuse to-,” Ignis was saying.

Gladio interrupted hotly, “I know exactly what this is an excuse for, Ignis. I’m not a fucking idiot.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Noctis asked as he bent to pick up his bags. They had been so deep in discussion that they hadn’t heard him approach.

“Nothing,” said Ignis, just as Gladio said, “Politics.”

“Unhuh.” Noctis raised an eyebrow. “So nothing.”

Neither Gladio nor Ignis responded to that. They obviously weren’t going to elaborate, but that was fine with Noctis. Whatever it was had thoroughly distracted them from himself.

As they were leaving, Ignis turned to Gladio and said, “I accidently made far too much for two people to eat. Why don’t you come with us?”

Noctis groaned in protest, but it was halfhearted at best. He really wanted to go home and rest, not hang out with them. However, Gladio exchanged a set of glances with Ignis that Noctis couldn’t read, and then he shrugged, “Sure.”

Noctis snorted. They could have at least pretended to ask his input on who was allowed over at his own house, but he didn't argue.

After that, they all left the training hall together and climbed into Ignis’s car. Prompto texted Noctis, asking if he was available. Since he couldn’t do what he wanted, which was to ignore everyone and sleep, Noctis figured he might as well get full, quality friendship time out of the situation. He leaned forward from where he was relegated to the back seat, “Hey, Prompto wants to come over. Is that okay?”

Ignis frowned. “You haven’t finished your math homework.”

Noctis resisted the urge to roll his eyes, knowing that wouldn’t get him anywhere. “I wasn’t going to do it anyway, you know that.” They stared at each other through the rearview mirror as Ignis waited on a red light. Noctis refused to give in, holding his advisor’s eyes.

Finally, the light turned green, and Ignis heaved a sigh. “Fine.” Next to him Gladio snorted derisively, though he didn’t comment. “But I won’t be speaking to your teacher on your behalf this time,” Ignis added sternly, perhaps in response to Gladio’s obvious opinion.

Leaning his head back against the head rest to catch what little sleep he could, Noctis didn’t bother to reply to that.

***

That night Ignis prepared a noodle soup for the four of them. Gladio was obviously a fan, as he somehow managed to eat five helpings. Though Noctis would have rather retreated to his room with Prompto afterwards, his friend instead began a lively argument with Ignis about the merits and skills involved with various card games. Soon the four of them were seated around the kitchen table, with Noctis somehow ending up across from Ignis.

Thus proceeded the most vicious and bloodthirsty game of Spades ever played: Ignis and Noctis vs. Gladio and Prompto. Ignis was clearly the best player out of the four, but as a partner Noctis made up for that by being entirely hopeless, barely able to follow the concept of a trick, let alone the finer points of the game. Prompto was surprisingly competitive; however, his bold style meshed terribly with Gladio’s more cautious, defensive one. Needless to say blood was nearly drawn several times that night.

“How the hell did you know Noct had the King and Ace of Spades? There’s no way,” Gladio complained after his team took all the bags for the third game in a row. Across from him, Prompto moaned as he leaned over to peek at the scorecard.

Ignis grinned smugly, obviously enjoying himself far too much. “Simple deduction. Noct never bids his midrange Spades even when he should, and since he led, he would have played out his lesser Aces if his tricks were coming from there. He did not, nor did he seem particularly stressed, meaning he had to be counting high Spades only. I had the Queen and Jack, thus, he had to have the two highest.” From across the table, Noctis blinked at that rather detailed breakdown of his card bidding habits.

“Bullshit gibberish,” Gladio snorted. “Tell the truth. It’s witchcraft.”

Ignis pushed up his glasses from the bridge of his nose. “Yes, I sacrificed a goat in a circle of blood last night, all so that I may humiliate you two in a card game today.”

“Sounds about right.”

Noctis snickered. “Or maybe you just suck.”

Gladio actually let out a full body laugh at that. “You can shut right on the hell up, Noct. Only people who actually contributed to the victory get to trash talk.”

“Ouch,” said Prompto.

Noctis made a rather rude hand gesture.

Eventually, Noctis began to crash from his magical strain earlier that day. His limbs trembled, and his muscled ached like he had the flu. The others had all grown used to the phenomenon by now, so Prompto stood up and announced without being asked that he was ready to go home. Noctis expected Gladio to follow promptly, but the larger man hesitated, obviously waiting for Noct to leave instead.

Remembering how cagily Ignis had invited Gladio to dinner, Noctis told the two of them with a sigh that he was going to bed. It didn’t take him long to decide what he was going to do. He brushed his teeth noisily and climbed into bed. Then came the hard part, letting his eyes close without surrendering to sweet call of sleep. He almost didn’t make it, but he heard his door squeak just a little. Keeping his eyes firmly shut and his breathing even, Noctis waited until he heard the door close again, and then he leapt out of bed, pressing his ear against the door.

Noctis’s usually heavy sleep served him well here. Ignis and Gladio had no reason to keep the volume down.

“Would you care for some coffee?” Ignis was saying.

“I’d take a beer if you got it.” Gladio chuckled.

“This apartment does belong to a sixteen-year-old.”

“Does it? I thought you officially moved in,” Gladio said. “Full-time nanny.”

Ignis’s voice was perfectly even. “Gladiolus.”

To Noctis’s surprise, Gladio’s response sounded chastised. “Sorry,” he grunted. “That was uncalled for.”

“It was,” came Ignis’s quiet reply, so quiet that Noctis barely made it out. He strained harder. Ignis was still talking. “—okay though. I know how worried you are about tomorrow, even if you don’t let on.”

Noctis didn’t hear Gladio reply so he must have shrugged or given some other response. There was the sound of the coffee maker, and then Gladio spoke again. “How could I not be? You know that smug bastard wants to take Noct away from me, put him in the care of some brainless Kingsglaive.”

“Your father would never let that happen.”

Gladio’s voice was surprisingly bitter. “Thanks, but I’d prefer to keep my job without the help of nepotism.”

Ignis startled Noctis with his next comment, with how commanding his tone was. There was the accompanying sound of something clanking, probably the coffee cup being forcefully dropped against the table. “What are you not telling me Gladio?”

A long pause and then, “I hate you sometimes,” Gladio said. “The issue is that Noctis is maturing with some aspects of his magic faster than I think he's actually ready for.”

“What do you mean?” Ignis asked.

Noctis too, was rather curious to know what exactly Gladio meant by that.

“The kid might still suck balls at warping, but that’s because he lacks control. Actually calling the magic up, calling up a lot of it, he has to down a freaking art form.” Gladio replied and then said bluntly, “And he’s been jerking off after training, just about every day.”

Noctis could hear Ignis choke. He could almost see Ignis spluttering on his coffee, and he shared the sentiment. He was actually going to die right here against this door, the mortification was too much to bear. It was one thing to know that Gladio knew, and another to be faced with it, even by eavesdropping. He clenched his fists in helpless horror.

Ignis’s voice was higher pitched when he replied. “He is sixteen. Gods, that’s what sixteen-year-old boys do, Gladio.”

“You saw him today, before he went into the showers,” Gladio insisted forcefully, “That wasn’t hormones, that was magic.”

There was another long silence during which Noctis strained and strained his hearing against the door until Ignis’s voice came again, back to his normal, crisp tone. “That’s why Drautos is moving now, insisting on this fight. He knows.”

“I assume so. Don’t know how, but he has to know.”

“Then you must be perfect tomorrow. Give them nothing to work with. Leave the King no room for doubt.”

Now Gladio’s snort was full of easy bravado. “Who do you think I am?”

The Shield left soon after that, and Noctis just barely managed to make it back to bed before Ignis was opening his door, checking on Noct one last time before he went to bed himself as per his nightly routine. Noctis heard him come stand beside the bed, and he held himself absolutely still.

“Oh, Noct.”

It felt like an eternity before Noctis heard the squeal of his door that told him it was safe to open his eyes. It took him a long time to fall asleep.

***

Chapter Text

**Chapter 5**

***

**Noctis**

Half the Citadel might be watching this exhibition fight, but not his father. Disappointingly, the King would not be attending the fight that he himself had commissioned. Noctis found this out about half an hour before the event from Cor, who had come to watch in Regis’s place.

Cor was unmoved by the dismay on Noct’s face. “The King had urgent matters to attend to,” he said.

""Like I care," muttered Noctis. Cor only looked bored.

Noctis would not let this affect him. He wouldn’t. He was better than that, and he had grown a lot in maturity since his childhood days of temper-tantruming. And anyway, he shouldn’t have expected anything else. Even if no one bothered to try to keep him informed, he had seen the uptick in military activity in the last few weeks with his own eyes. There were rumors of some new Niflheim plan of attack, and almost as if in preparation of that, the recent battering against the new wall had been particularly vicious.

This exhibition fight was as much a distraction as test of Noctis’s growing skills. A way to blow off steam by tapping into the rivalry between the various arms of the military: the Crownsguard, the ancient organization tasked with protecting the royal family and the Kingsglaive, the first line of defense against the Empire. While gambling was in general illegal in Lucis, absolutely no one had seen fit to do anything the stop the voracious betting that was occurring on this fight.

Noctis sighed and walked to the corner of the hall where Gladio was already preparing, doing some basic stretches. The fight was to take place in the Kingsglaive training hall, a familiar place to both parties. Bleachers had been brought in and set up all along the mirrored walls, contrasting garishly with the high class marble and engraved woodwork.

He scowled at Gladio, unable to hide his quickly worsening mood. Noctis hated these kinds of things, the fanfare, the showiness of it all.

Gladio narrowed his eyes. “Don’t you start with that shit now.”

“It’s just a stupid exhibition fight anyway. It doesn’t matter.”

Gladio’s tone was a warning. “Noctis.” Noctis wondered if this was where Gladio admitted what he and Ignis had been talking about yesterday.

“What?” he asked in needling tone, and he knew he was being deliberately provocative, pulling that awful, bratty teenager routine. Noctis did not want to be here, but no one had asked him his opinion on that. It was just one more thing he was being dragged into, one more duty to the Crown.

Even though Gladio wasn’t actually looking at him, Noctis could still feel Gladio gritting his teeth. “Noctis, when you act like this, you’re just letting them win.”

“Who’s them?”

“All those dumbasses that think because you’re skinny and moody that you’ll never live up to your dad.”

Noctis didn’t have a chance to respond to Gladio because that was when Ignis arrived. “Gladio, Noctis!” he greeted, coming to stand next to them. As Noctis returned the greeting, Ignis leaned over them, lowering his voice to nearly a whisper. “I just wanted to give you some advice before your fight.”

This confused Noctis, because Ignis usually had very little to do with his weapons training, but Gladio nodded like he had expected this. “I’ve learned who your opponents will be,” Ignis said. “Captain Drautos has chosen Glaive Ulrich and Glaive Altius.”

Noctis still didn’t see the relevance. It wasn’t like knowing who their opponents would be would change much ten minutes before the match. “They’re both pretty new,” Gladio observed.

“And I suspect that he hopes you will underestimate them because of that. However, they’re prodigies in their own rights, both fully covenanted. Ulrich is a natural with Crystal magic, and Altius is one of the few who is capable of absorbing and using her own elemental energy. You see, I’ve been watching the Kingsglaive train in my spare time.” Gladio chuckled at that, but Ignis ignored him, continuing with a piercing look at Noctis, “Ulrich relies heavily on his superior mobility. When fighting other warp users, he likes to draw them up in the air where he has the talent advantage. He’ll try to separate you and Gladio, distract you while Altius uses elemental magic. You need to avoid the temptation to follow Ulrich and instead focus on double teaming Altius. Elemental magic is slow to charge, so your best bet is to take her out early.”

“Yes, mother,” Gladio said with an eye roll, but his voice was warm and it was obvious he appreciated the gesture. He finished tying the straps on his arm guards and he stood up, leaning over to squeeze Noctis’s shoulder and whispering, “He forgets that I train with these people all the time. Come on, let’s do this.”

The bleachers they’d set up all down walls weren’t exactly full, but they weren’t empty either. For all that this fight had been anticipated for weeks, the actual event was rather informal. Gladio and Noctis stepped into the middle of the hall, and from the other side, Drautos and his two chosen broke away from the group of Kingsglaive and officials they had been waiting with.

Noctis took a deep breath as he realized that he knew Glaive Ulrich at least. He just hadn’t recognized his midnight story buddy by his last name. As they came to stand across from each other in the center of the hall, Nyx grinned that cheeky grin that somehow managed to make Noctis feel both unclean and somehow put him at ease. All around them, the background chatter began to dissipate as the audience ambled over to their seats.

“Captain Drautos.” Gladio nodded at the Kingsglaive Captain politely.

“Master Amicitia,” the Glaive returned just as politely. “Prince Noctis. I’ve chosen Nyx Ulrich and Crowe Altius to be your opponents. I hope you are amenable to this.”

“Of course.” Gladio’s voice was dangerously pleasant. “It doesn’t matter to us who you choose.”

“No, I suppose not.” Drautos paused for a moment, the tension between him and Gladio thick enough to choke on. The Kingsglaive Captain let his gaze drift towards the Prince. “Any of the Kingsglaive would be able to defeat you anyway,” he said, startling Noctis with his sudden aggression. “Do you want to know why?”

With Noctis bristling beside him, Gladio responded coolly, “I’m sure you’ll tell us.”

Behind Drautos, both Kingsglaive looked rather uncomfortable, but neither of them spoke. “It’s because you refuse to give all of yourself to the Crown. That is your downfall, this thinking that somehow keeping the boy from becoming a man will protect him. It is just a shame that the Prince must suffer the consequences of that mismanagement.”

This time it was Noct that responded in bewilderment, “What the hell are you talking about?”

He was honestly lost in this conversation. Did this have something to do with what he had overheard yesterday between Gladio and Ignis? That somehow his sexual habits were a cause for Captain Drautos to make a political move, one that his friends opposed? He wants to take Noctis away from you, Ignis had said. Well, no one was taking Noctis anywhere he didn’t want to go.

“Don’t worry about it, Noctis,” Gladio said dismissively. “Captain Drautos thinks he knows how to train magic better than the people who have been doing it for the last six hundred years. We're about to prove his arrogance wrong.” With that, Gladio withdrew his sword from where it hung across his broad back. They all had practice weapons, metal but dull. The closest thing to real they could get without being fully lethal, heavy enough to break bones and crack skulls if one weren’t careful. Noctis let his thoughts drift with a tendril of magic, as easy as breathing at this point, and his own training weapon shimmered in existence in his hand. The two Kingsglaive followed suit. Drautos smiled grimly, and then he retreated from where the four faced each other.

“Are you all prepared?” A chorus of affirmations followed. Nyx lost his easy grin, his face settling into quiet competence while the other Kingsglaive, Crowe, tightened her grip on her weapon, sliding into a ready stance. Gladio and Noctis exchanged a silent look and they both nodded. Drautos waited a moment longer, then said, “Go.”

Nyx moved first, his body disappearing in a flash of sparks. He reappeared in front of Gladio before Noctis even had time to think, ferociously driving his knife into Gladio’s chest. But Gladio was ready, and the knife clanged off his greatsword. Not giving him a chance to retaliate, Nyx disappeared just as quickly, rematerializing next to Crowe. The entire thing happened in the span of less than three seconds.

“Move, Noct!” Gladio roared, rushing forward. Shaking his head, Noctis warped behind the two Kingsglaive, or at least he tried to. Nyx had disappeared again in the time it took Noct to move. Crowe swung around, meeting Noct’s hit. Noct didn’t have time to fight for an advantage because he was immediately driven to side by Nyx, who had once again reappeared next to him.

Gladio rushed past Noctis as the prince gave ground, and the Shield engaged Nyx in an attempt to stop him from warping out again, each swing of his greatsword coming out faster and more savagely than before.

Noctis, meanwhile, slashed at Crowe. They exchanged several flurries. Remembering what Ignis had said about taking her out early, Noctis redoubled his efforts, taking bigger and bigger risks as Crowe somehow managed to block or phase through his every attack.

Eventually that risk paid off. Noctis rammed himself into her sword, coming so close to missing the phase, that he felt the solid presence of the weapon in his stomach, and then he was driving the dulled blade into her shoulder. It didn’t pierce her skin, but the solid metal was enough to push her to the floor with a scream. Noctis raised his sword to hit her again.

From somewhere far away Gladio shouted, and then without further warning, Nyx was once again attacking Noctis. Battling Noctis away from the other Kingsglaive, Nyx quickly twisted around and placed his hand on her injured shoulder. Noctis wasn’t sure how to describe what happened, but he felt a sudden pressure, like his own magic but not, and she was standing back up, looking for all the world as if she was completely recovered.

The two Kingsglaive didn’t hesitate, attacking Noctis together before he had a chance to understand what had just occurred. They were somehow in perfect sync as they battered as Noctis’s defenses. He desperately swelled his magic in response, letting it buffet and drown him. Sparks exploded around him. Though Crowe retreated at the sight of it, Nyx doubled down, striking at him from all angles. But Noctis was intangible, impervious, and it was almost as if his magic was controlling his limbs for him, driving his body this way and that without any input from himself.

Nyx could not hit him. Then Gladio finally reentered the fray, and the four of them were nearly on top of each other. The battle blurred for Noctis into a wash of limbs and flashes of metal. The two Kingsglaive had a way of moving that blended physical grace and magic, as in tune with each other as dance partners. It was taking all of the skill that Noct and Gladio possessed just to keep up. Ignis had warned them that it would be this way, but Noctis hadn’t understood, not really.

Noctis and Gladio were fighting two people whose job involved violence, whose lived depended on being the best in the world at this, and even all the sweat and blood and tears that Noctis had put into his lifelong training sessions could not compare to that.

Gladio was unable to phase through attacks like the other three, so every hit he took added up, straining his body even though he seemed unaffected. Noctis was doing better there, but his inexperience with the magic showed through. He was clearly more powerful than the two Kingsglaive, able to warp further distances, but unlike him, their every movement was smooth, deliberate, not an ounce more energy expended than what was required. They knew how to fight other magic users and were far better at predicting Noctis’s movement than he was at theirs.

Ignis had told them that their best chance at winning this fight lay in defeating the Kingsglaive quickly, but he wasn’t the only one who had seen that.

It came to an end when Noctis felt a prickle of icy energy race across his skin just as Nyx seemingly abandoned his partner, warping away to the other end of the hall. Noct’s thoughts felt sluggish, but he realized in a single moment of clarity that he too needed retreat, that it was too late to stop whatever magical blast Crowe had finally had enough time to cook up. Noctis wasn’t directly in the blast range, nor was he far enough away to be safe, but Gladio stood right in front of Crowe. He might be able to escape, but Gladio could not. Gladio was going to be hit.

The problem that Noctis grappled with was that, of the two of them, Noctis was clearly far better equipped to deal with the effects of a magical attack. He had the ability to absorb magical energy, and though he wasn’t able to absorb it fast enough to save him from a sudden, overwhelming explosion, it afforded him at least some protection. From his many accidents as a child, he knew that he also recovered from elemental damage far better than normal people. Normal people like Gladio.

“Back off!” Gladio was shouting at him, and Noctis actually had to fight the instinct to obey automatically, it was so ingrained into him to listen to Gladio without question on the battle field.

Everything happened in flashes. Noctis zeroed in on Gladio’s face, drenched in sweat, thunderously urgent and forceful, as if he could make Noctis act by willpower alone. Noctis sank deep into his magic, feeling it move through his body sluggishly, painfully. He had never before pushed himself so hard or for so long, and he knew instinctively that he was at the end of his reserves, that his magic would not respond to another call anytime soon.

Sparks surrounded him. He saw another flash of Gladio’s face, how his jaw clenched in relief. Gladio believed that Noctis was obeying his command. Meanwhile, the feeling of icy energy had become a solid pressure against him, building and building, almost ready to snap. The world squeezed around Noctis, his vision tunneling as he threw his sword.

The pressure snapped. Noctis landed, not on the other side of the hall, but nearly on top of Gladio, sideway and stumbling. There was a roaring in his ears, and then his skin was being blasted off. Noctis had felt the effects of ice energy gone awry before. He knew what was happening, what to expect, but that didn’t make it any more pleasant. The cold was so intense and so sudden that his nerves had no way of processing it. Strangely, it felt hot, like a burn. He could only stand there and take it, wait until torrent of frost had abated.

It drove him to the ground, pushed all thought and focus out of his head so that even his sword dematerialized from his hand.

Gladio was going to kill him for this.

They had lost.

***

**Ignis**

Ignis hated that he could only watch as his friends defended their honor and pride without him. Not many people knew that he was as capable of fighting as the others, and that secret was one more layer of defense for the Prince. Ignis understood that, but it didn’t make it easier to sit there, only able to pray.

As he watched the participants line up, Captain Drautos said something that turned Gladio visibly livid. He couldn’t hear the words from where he was, but he could guess. Don’t let him bait you, he wanted to shout at his friend.

Captain Drautos was an excellent soldier and a loyal citizen of Insomnia. Of that there was no question. But he was ambitious, having fought his way from nothing to becoming the much respected Captain of the Kingsglaive. He was the one who had really turned the Kingsglaive from something of a joke organization into the backbone of the fight against Niflheim. The man had a lot to be proud of. However, that didn’t mean he was right about everything, or that his ideas of how to train and protect Noctis had merit.

So Ignis could only watch, his heart stopping when the male Kingsglaive, Ulrich, nearly ended the fight three seconds in. As Gladio defended and the battle began in earnest, it quickly became clear to him that Noctis was a more skilled swordsperson than Altius, but that Ulrich was better than both Gladio and Noctis, a demon with a weapon. Still, combined the two groups’ skills should have been fairly even.

Ignis wanted to shout in triumph, and then immediately horror as the Prince finally landed a hit on Altius, coming so close to turning the tide of the battle. Gladio had been smart to drive Ulrich away from the mage, to trust Noctis to take care of her, but it didn’t matter because Ulrich seemed to sense the instant his partner went down, and then he was warping toward her without a second’s hesitation, leaving Gladio too far away to do anything about it.

That was the moment it turned, the moment the Shield and the Prince lost. The battle became a frantic mess, Ulrich controlling most of the action, herding Noctis and Gladio together. He’s buying time for Altius, Ignis wanted to shout. Watch out!

Ignis had been the victim of Noctis’s accidental magical outbursts enough to recognize the feeling of impending doom even without the obvious tell of Ulrich’s retreat from his partner. Gladio didn’t have time to move, but Noctis with his magic, did. You can retreat and take her out after the spell. She’ll be vulnerable for a few precious seconds!

Gladio shouted, and Ignis thought that Noctis would actually do the smart thing, but then he saw almost in slow motion, how Noctis cocked his elbow back to throw in the wrong direction.

Don’t! Ignis stood up from his seat, his limbs moving almost automatically, unthinkingly racing towards the battle. Don’t Noctis! An explosion of crystalline sparks, and Noctis was in front of Gladio, his smaller frame almost comically dwarfed as he outstretched his hands and took the hit intended for his Shield.

A blast of frozen air.

Noctis was okay. He had to be okay. Altius would not throw a spell with the power to permanently injure someone in a training bout, especially one involving the prince. A hush race over the audience as the prince collapsed, his front covered in a blue layer of frost. Altius fell to her knees, her energy obviously spent, and Gladio stood over Noctis, loudly swearing. He whipped his head around wildly. “Someone get me a goddamn potion and a remedy!”

Ignis pushed past several people who were rushing forward either to help or just to see what was happening. “Move!” He was already pulling out the needed items as he finally made it to where Noctis was half crouched on the ground.

“Gods, I’m fine,” Noct was complaining through chattering teeth, pushing Gladio’s hand away irritably. Ignis grabbed that same hand, shoving a tiny vile into his grip.

“Drink.”

“You idiot,” Gladio roared. “I’m supposed to jump in front of you, not the other way around!”

Glaive Altius spoke from beside them, interrupting Gladio’s rage, her voice timid, “Prince Noctis are you okay? I’m so sorry.”

Noctis was busy making a face at the taste of the potion. Ignis handed him the remedy for the lingering frost damage. “I don’t need that,” Noctis growled.

Your skin will be peeling off for a week if you don’t. You know that. Drink.”

Noct turned and smiled weakly at the Kingsglaive. “You pack a mean punch, I won’t lie, but I’ve had far worse. Don’t worry about it.” His words did nothing to abate her stricken look. Ignis glared at him, looking pointedly at the remedy. “Urg, fine.” Turning his head away, Noct finally downed the remedy, Adams apple bobbing. The magic in the remedy worked nearly instantly, the frost fading off his skin and the bubbled rashes melting away.

After that there was chaos in the hall, court healers fussing over what Ignis had already done, gossip and unrest in the crowd. Someone jerked on Ignis’s arm, and he turned back. Cor had him in a tight grip, Drautos right behind him. From the corner of his eye, Ignis saw Gladio’s eyes flicker up. “The King wants to speak to you and Captain Drautos, Master Scientia,” Cor said to Ignis.

"I thought he was busy," Noctis said from where he was still sitting on the floor, now surrounded by healers.

"He is," said Cor.

After glaring at Noct, Ignis nodded. “I am his to command.” He stood up, allowing himself only one last look at his friends. Gladio’s gaze was expressionless. He did not react to Ignis’s attempt at a reassuring look.

Trailing Cor and Drautos, Ignis gathered his wits as they took the long way through the Citadel towards the King’s chambers. Ignis hated this, hated the politicking, even though he was good at it. And he would be good at for both Noctis and Gladio’s sake. What had Drautos been really trying to prove back there? That the Kingsglaive were more experienced fighters than two teenage boys, one of whom who had just recently upended the entire way his body and movement worked?

Clearly Drautos wished to make a power move. He had trained all of the current Kingsglaive specifically to use the Crystal’s magic to its most violent end. Ignis knew that Drautos had tried at some point to convince the King to put him in charge of Noct’s training and had been rebuffed. Well, Drautos would never replace Gladio, not under Ignis's watch. Not when Gladio was one of the only people in Noct’s life that the prince trusted completely, one of the few people who understood how Noctis thought, who could both manipulate him into action, but also predict his needs.

Ignis sighed. It would have been better had Noct and Gladio managed to put on a better show, but that wasn’t was had transpired, and Ignis needed to react accordingly.

They walked in silence to the King’s private study. Cor left them at the door, and with a nod to the guard, they both entered, standing at attention in front of his desk. Ignis couldn’t help but notice a messy stack of papers, several showing detailed schematics of what looked like an Imperial dreadnaught. He frowned to himself. Why would the King be looking at schematics of Imperial warships?

“Captain Drautos, Ignis,” the King acknowledged, drawing Ignis’s attention back to the task at hand.

“I have tested Prince Noctis's magical abilities and battle skills, your majesty,” Drautos said after they both bowed.

“And? How did my son perform?”

This was where Drautos ragged on Gladio, told the King all sorts of horrible things that weren’t true or at least weren’t true in context. Standing silently, Ignis forced the tension out of his shoulders, forced himself to wait patiently.

“He performed admirably.”

It took Ignis a moment to process, he had been so prepared for the opposite comment to be uttered. He blinked, and couldn’t help but glance sideways at Drautos.

“His warping in particular still lacks finesse, but the boy has a natural talent for his magic, especially considering his rather lackluster start.”

It was exactly what Ignis would have said, and he couldn’t understand what Drautos gained by it, especially after he had made his contempt so clear earlier.

“Ignis?” The King turned towards the young advisor. “What are your impressions of Noct’s progress?”

“Drautos has of course far more experience with magic than myself,” Ignis said with a touch of scorn, “but from what I have observed Prince Noctis has indeed learned how to activate his magic almost frighteningly quickly. Gladiolus trains with him nearly every day, and that effort shows. He displays an instinctual grasp for Crystal magic that separates him from the Kingsglaive on a fundamental level.” The trick was to admit the things that Ignis couldn’t change, and to distinguish what he could, focus on the role that Gladio played in the Prince’s progress. Noctis was not like the Kingsglaive, no matter how much his abilities appeared identical on the surface.

“Yet he and Gladiolus were defeated by two fairly new Kingsglaive,” The King pointed out. Ignis did not bother to ask how the King could know this when it had happened less than half an hour ago.

“They lost because he lacks the necessary connection with his retainers. Gladiolus, while admirably driven, does not possess the necessary discretion or maturity to lead the Prince in this aspect of his magic.” Drautos said before Ignis could answer himself. “Your majesty, it is my recommendation that Prince Noctis begin the process of forming Covenants with qualified retainers immediately. Every day we wait, that is one less protection afforded to him and thus the Kingdom.”

It was one this to be told by Gladio that he suspected Drautos planned on making a power grab specifically through the Covenant of the Retainers and another to actually confront it. Ignis had thought he was prepared for this eventuality. He had learned what the Covenant entailed and accepted it when he was thirteen, this aspect of his duty to the Crown.

Even knowing all that, even though he had long since believed he could come at this from a clinical perspective, Ignis still managed to lose his composure. “Are you insane?” he burst out. “Noctis is sixteen. Sixteen! He’s been learning his magic for barely a few months.”

Prince Noctis,” Drautos said, cool and commanding, “is a fully blooded heir to Line Lucis. He is not a child.” Drautos’s eyes glinted, and he changed his tone into something softer. “I understand your concern, Mr. Scientia, I do. Fulfilling the Covenant has always been a delicate situation. But I have now led over sixty Kingsglaive members through that process. You’ve seen for yourself how the Covenant benefits all parties. Were you bound to your Prince, you would not have needed a potion, you would have been able to heal him through magic alone. We both want what is best for the Prince, and to that end, I have several Kingsglaive members in mind. These Kingsglaive already have experience with the current King. They possess the necessary qualities to make this as painless a learning process as possible.”

Of course Drautos had several Kingsglaive in mind. He clearly saw an opportunity to insert people closer to the prince from within his own ranks. It was truly clever to push to have the Prince’s first bonded and thus closest retainers come from Kingsglaive rather than the Crownsguard, usurping the Amicitia’s traditional role. The problem, besides the cynical politics of the whole thing, was that he clearly had no understanding of Noctis. Noctis was wary of the process enough as it was without asking him to make his first Covenant with one of his father’s castoffs.

“Prince Noctis is not ready for that,” Ignis insisted hotly. “Just because you have experience with magic does not mean you have any experience with him.”

“You are blind, Scientia. In your misguided attempts to protect the Prince, you would leave him ignorant and vulnerable. My sources tell me he has already begun experimenting with his magic sexually. What do you think will happen when he finds a girl at that school you insist on allowing him to attend? What do you think in his ignorance he will do? Shall we choose our Crownsguard and Kingsglaive from a pool of teenagers that the Prince found worthy to fuck?”

“Enough.” The King cut both of them off. He looked at them silently for a moment. “Captain Drautos, make a list of those candidates you think particularly suited to the task and bring them to me tomorrow morning.”

The Captain bowed, leaving without further argument. Ignis glared at his back and then turned to face the King alone. He took a deep breath. The Captain was wrong about the way to approach this with Noct, and Ignis would make the King see that if it killed him.

Regis took a deep breath himself, held Ignis’s eyes, and asked, “I have heard from my Kingsglaive Captain. Now I would hear from my son’s closest advisor. Who would you choose as an appropriate candidate to form my son’s first Covenant?”

Who would he trust to form Noctis’s first Covenant? Noctis was still to the best of Ignis’s knowledge, a virgin, and Drautos’s comment about Noct’s school activities betrayed his ignorance about that. Noctis was not the person to causally engage in any behavior that involved intimacy. No, not only would this be his first shared experience with the sexual aspect of his magic, but also his first shared sexual experience altogether. How did one delicately navigate something like that?

The correct answer might have been simply to ask Noctis. After all, agency was an important aspect of sex. But Ignis knew Noctis well enough to know the prince could never make a choice like what they were asking of him. He’d shut down faster than the city turnpike during rush hour. Besides, this wasn’t sex, not really. It was perhaps a mistake to even begin to think of it that way. This was about who was qualified to be bonded to Noctis, to have access to his power and magic.

Still, even with that thought, Ignis finally said, “I think he is too young for this. I think you risk damaging him if you force his first sexual experience to be yet another duty for the crown.”

He could hardly believe his own boldness, that he would dare suggest that the King was making an entirely wrong move. For a moment he thought the King would forgive it, that he would see the wisdom in Ignis’s statement, but then his expression twisted, lips curling, and he said acidly, “I did not ask for your opinion on Noctis’s maturity. I asked you who you felt would be a good candidate to become the first of Prince Noctis’s true bonded retainers. If you cannot answer me that then I will gladly defer to Drautos’s judgment.”

“Gladio,” Ignis said quickly. He didn’t give himself time to think as King narrowed his eyes. “If I had to choose, I would choose Gladiolus.”

“Why?”

Why? Because Gladio was Noct’s Shield. Like Ignis, his purpose in life was to help Noctis fulfill his duty. Because when Noctis had been healing from his spinal wound, thirteen-year-old Gladio had spent more time with the physical therapist than Noctis had, making sure that he knew every possible exercise that the prince needed to do to get better. By the time Noctis was fully healed, Gladio could have written a damn dissertation on physical therapy. Because to Ignis’s eternal consternation, those two fought like feral animals half the time and were strangely inseparable the other half, their dynamic more complicated than an Altissian knot. Because this might not be about sex, but it was certainly about trust.

Ignis couldn't help but think about how Noctis had leapt in front Gladio today. He wondered if the King had heard the particulars of how the two youths had lost their fight.

“Because contrary to how he often acts, Noctis trusts him.”

“Does he not trust you as well?” The implied true question of why Ignis had not suggested himself hung thickly in the air.

Of course Noctis trusted Ignis. He had never questioned that. Noctis wouldn’t know what to do without him. But Gladio was Noct’s Shield, not Ignis. Gladio had already led Noctis through various physical tasks, many of which were embarrassing and painful. They already had a way of relating through that, an understanding reached through blood and tears already spent. Also Gladio, through his family’s long history with the Crown, had more understanding of how the Covenant actually worked than Ignis, but Ignis didn’t want to make that argument because it invited the conclusion that that Drautos himself had the most experience out of anyone in the Citadel.

“He trusts Gladio differently than he trusts me, your majesty.”

Though perhaps if he were being honest with himself, the real reason Ignis had not suggested himself was because Ignis was rather afraid of the whole thing. No matter how he tried to force himself to see it as nothing more than another duty, meaningless, he couldn’t help but think, Noctis. This was Noctis. Sex with Noctis. Could he really close his eyes and think of Lucis when the time came?

The King said, “Do you remember, when you were child and you came to me about this very topic?”

Ignis wished to the Gods he didn’t. “I do,” he replied.

“Do you remember what I told you then?”

It wasn’t something Ignis was likely to ever forget, no matter how he tried to bury that particular humiliating rejection. “You told me that when the time came, you expected me belong only to Noctis, your majesty. To pledge myself only to Noctis.”

King Regis nodded. “I know how young my son is, Ignis. I do,” he said, the pain in his eyes so evident that Ignis wanted to avert his own. “But there are forces moving in this world that leave me with very few choices. Noctis must master his magic, and part of that involves forming bonds with his retainers.”

“He’s not ready,” Ignis whispered.

“I know,” the King replied simply, all defensiveness gone. “I know, and I am aware too, that Drautos believes the only consideration necessary for choosing Noct’s bonded retainers is potential battle skill.” He held Ignis’s gaze, obviously trying to impart some truth without actually saying it aloud.

After a moment, King Regis sighed. “Ignis, these are your choices: First, I will never replace Gladiolus as Noctis’s Shield. Don't worry about that."

He waited for Ignis to nod silently, and then he continued, "However, I do agree with Captain Drautos that Noct needs to be surrounded by people who not only have the necessary training, but who also have the advantage of a Covenant with him. You suggested Gladiolus should be his first. I'll trust your discretion there, but as you are the two people closest to him, who spend the most time with him, I expect the both of you to bond to Noct." His gaze was unyielding. "If you and Gladiolus do not feel up to this task, then I will phase out the majority of your responsibilities and give them to others until such a time that you do.”

Ignis was not stupid. A position like his was not something easily regained once lost. If he let it get to the point of being replaced, then he was pretty much done for as Noctis’s advisor. Gladio might be in a better position, but only because of his family’s influence.

“Dragging this out won't make it any easier. I'll give you two weeks to convince Noctis to complete the bond with both of you,” the King finally said. “If you three haven’t performed the ritual by then, then I will leave the task to Drautos to do as he sees fit. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, your majesty,” Ignis replied, his heart sinking to the floor. “I fully understand.”

***

Gladio took the news better than he expected. Ignis found him after he left the King’s study, hiding in the Rhododendron garden of all places. The Shield sat on a worn wooden bench, watching the dying Azaleas swaying in the breeze.

“Where is Noctis?” Ignis asked him as he approached.

Gladio replied, “Sulking.” He scooted over to allow Ignis a place on the bench next to him. Turning to face him, Gladio raised his eyebrows at Ignis, asking without asking, and so Ignis relayed the entire conversation. For a long time, Gladio was silent, obviously absorbing and contemplating. Ignis waited patiently.

“Well, we knew it was coming. Especially with Drautos pushing the way he was.” Gladio eventually said with a shrug. “If not this soon, then at some point.” He leaned his elbows on his knees, adding, “Though one thing bothers me.”

There was a lot more than one thing that bothered Ignis about this whole situation. “What’s that?” asked Ignis.

“Why the ultimatum? Is he really that afraid for Noct's safety? Why now? I mean, I’m pretty sure my father was around twenty when he bonded with the King, and I know he was his first.”

“Your father was the King’s first bonded retainer?”

“The King’s Shield usually is,” Gladio replied.

They both trailed off, both lost in thought. If the King's Shield was usually his first bonded retainer, then why would the King allow Drautos to even attempt to upend that tradition. Why get Ignis to suggest Gladio, if Gladio were the first choice anyway? “There is something going on below the surface,” Ignis said, pushing up on his glasses, “something we haven’t been told.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“And I don’t care how good a leader or soldier Captain Drautos is,” Ignis added firmly. “He sees this as a political strike against the Crownsguard, nothing more. I will not allow Noctis to be used that way.”

“You mean we won’t allow it,” Gladio said gruffly. He leaned his shoulder into Ignis’s and gave him a look.

Ignis nodded. “I suppose we can talk to Noct tomorrow after school. He needs some time to calm down from his loss today.”

Gladio’s expression hardened at the mention of the lost fight. Raising his brow, Ignis asked, “What?”

Gladio shook his head, “It’s just, we’re fighting so hard to keep Noctis out of the hands of strangers, but did you ever think maybe that would be better? Safer?”

“Is this because he jumped in front of you today?”

The outburst was abrupt and loud. “How am I supposed to protect him, if he’s too busy being a dumbass, trying to protect me!?”

Ignis was suddenly struck by the memory of his earlier conversation with the King. “Being the King’s Shield is more than battle skills,” he said, recalling the King’s words about Drautos. “Monsters and daemons are not the only threats he’ll face.”

Gladio bit his lips, but he nodded in agreement. “I suppose you’re right.”

Ignis smiled wryly, glad for a return to safer ground. “Do you even question that at this point?”

Gladio snorted, “Ha.”

***

Chapter Text

**Chapter 6**

***

**Noctis**

***

When Noctis was fourteen, a week before he started high school, he caught Gladio having sex.

Well, ‘caught’ might have been a strong word. Spied, accidentally saw, voyeured: those were perhaps more accurate descriptions. Either way, the event was one hundred percent one of those memories Noctis planned on keeping to himself all the way to the grave.

Gladio had recently acquired a new girlfriend, his third or fourth one in what would become a long line of flings. Honestly, the numbering was hard to keep up with. Personally, Noctis didn’t see the appeal. Gladio and his girlfriend (Amber, Audrey?) didn’t seem to do a lot of talking, or really anything at all that Noctis himself might have found alluring.

Noctis had a hard time understanding why Gladio would skiv off hanging out with Ignis and Noctis, something that had up until then become a more regular occurrence, to spend time with some chick who knew nothing about him.

After all, she didn’t know that Gladio still dealt with some stiffness in his right leg where he’d broken it when he was twelve. She didn’t know about his love of fast food or that he refused to eat anything with a ‘mushy’ texture. Unlike Noctis, she didn't know about how Gladio secretly devoured bodice ripper romance novels, or that his favorite activity besides training was a good hike outside the city. Frankly, there was just no reason for him to choose her over Noctis and Ignis.

At least, that was how Noctis saw it before the “incident.”

Amber (Noctis was pretty sure her name was Amber) showed up at Gladio’s house while he and Noct were training in the back yard. She was one of those girls who knew how to look like sex on legs with her ass wrapped tight in a mini skirt. A strange, anticipatory look came over Gladio’s face as Amber leaned against the back door, and he said rather distractedly to Noctis, “We’re done for the day. Why don’t you go clean up?”

Noctis raised his eyebrow since he knew for a fact that it was a full half an hour before they were scheduled to be done, but he didn’t complain. He took his shower and then came back down the hall, which was when he saw it.

The hallway curved around the stairwell so that Noctis was partially hidden by a corner. Gladio and his girlfriend were most definitely not.

Gladio stood braced against the wall of the hallway, right there in the open, as if the two of them had been incapable of lasting long enough to make it somewhere more private. Amber crouched on her knees in front of the Shield, her mouth wrapped around his cock.

She sucked him slowly, the drag of her lips confident and teasing. Gladio had one hand clenched by his hips, his soft sweatpants dragged below the swell of his ass. The other hand scrabbled uselessly against the wall as she did something wicked with her tongue. Every time her mouth slipped down over his head, it made an obscene pop, spit glistening in the dimly lit hallway.

Noctis was close enough to see how she hollowed out her cheeks and how her hands reached up to cup Gladio’s balls. He could see the curve of Gladio’s hips, the way firm lines came together in a thatch of neatly trimmed, black hair.

He could see all of this, but the two lovers did not see him. Amber faced Gladio, and Gladio’s eyes were squeezed shut as he panted. He swore at her, filthy words that came out hoarse and low. The sound of Gladio’s voice did something uncomfortable to Noctis’s stomach, and he swallowed dryly.

Noctis should leave. He needed to leave. This was not for him, and he absolutely did not want to know what Gladio would do to him if he were caught here, blatantly watching the older teen getting sucked off, barely eight feet away. He willed his feet to move, to back away. But he stood frozen, as if all higher brain function had ceased to exist in his shock.

Instead, Noctis watched with wide eyes as Amber finally picked up the pace. She laughed around the thick cock in her mouth as Gladio responded by jerking forward in short, uncontrolled movements. She bobbed her head, trying to meet him thrust for thrust. He swore again and let his head drop back against the wall, accidently exposing the lines of his neck and collarbone to Noctis, though his eyes remained closed. For a few moments, there was only the sound of Gladio gasping and the slide of Amber’s mouth. Noctis stared in fascinated horror as Gladio’s pants grew faster and faster.

Gladio reached forward, eyes opening, and Noctis panicked. But the Shield was far too focused on achieving his completion to pay attention to the rest of the hallway. He carded his fingers in Amber’s hair and then tightened his grip, holding her in place. She made an “Umph” noise, and then Gladio’s hips snapped forward. Once, twice, and he was groaning low and hard, his hips stuttering a couple more times as he released his seed in her mouth.

Noctis whirled back around the corner and out of sight just in time. His heart was racing, and he desperately focused on quieting his own breathing, lest he be caught now that the act was over.

“You better make that up to me later,” Noctis heard Amber say through the wall. He stilled himself even further. He needed to somehow make it back up the stairs without being seen or heard, and he wasn’t sure if that was possible.

Gladio laughed, sounding impossibly relaxed now. “What did you have in mind, baby?” His voice oozed sex. Noctis didn't hear her reply. She must have whispered it, but Gladio laughed again. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen tonight. I promised to do homework with Noctis so Iggy could go on a date. The kid left all his summer reading to the last minute. He’s probably done with the shower though. Gods forbid he find us like this.”

Too late for that one, Gladio, Noctis thought. There was no choice. He was just going to have to go for it and hope for the best. He prepared himself to dart back to the stairs.

“I can’t believe you’ve got to babysit him like he’s some bratty child.” She sounded extraordinarily put out. Obviously the news that Gladio had no plans to spend the night with her had killed her mood.

“He is occasionally a bratty child,” Gladio said easily, “But I promised to help him with his literature homework and then take him back to the Citadel.”

Noctis knew that Gladio didn’t mean the comment cruelly, that the older teen was practically incapable of showing affection in any normal way, but it stung all the same.

“It’s pathetic. He’s fourteen. He’ll be fine for a night by himself. Let him take the train like everyone else.” Something strangely ugly and aggressive had entered her tone, and it gave Noctis pause, despite his resolution to flee while he still had the chance.

Gladio’s response was quick and cold. “I already cut his weapons training short for you. Don’t ask me for what I can’t give you. Prince Noctis is always going to come first.”

“You cut it short for me. Hah. Only one of us got anything out of that.”

“I told you I would make it up to you later.” Gladio’s tone was clipped and curt, all of his earlier easiness gone.

Had Amber known Gladio better, she would have recognized the warning signs of his effort to control his unraveling temper. But she didn’t. “If he’s that important, then maybe you should date him,” she spat.

“Get out.”

The was the noise of someone shuffling and then, “Gladly.”

Noctis finally made a break for it, darting back up the stairs and to the relative safety of Gladio’s bedroom. Against all odds, he didn’t hear anyone call his name, so he was pretty sure he made it without being caught. Miracles did happen.

Noctis collapsed on Gladio’s bed, floored by both what he had seen and heard. I’ve seen Gladio’s O face, he thought with a touch of hysteria. There was no coming back from that. He was going to see that scene every time he walked though that hallway for the rest of his life. Every time he saw those sweat pants too. That was the most sexually explicit thing he had ever seen in his life.

The hottest too, if he were being honest with himself. Not that he had a lot to compare it to. He tried to imagine what it would be like to have someone like Amber wrapped around his dick, but it was too difficult to keep the picture in his mind. He kept getting side tracked by the memory Gladio’s hand in her hair, how firmly he had held her towards the end, thrusting mercilessly.

Noctis’s dick twitched.

That was unfortunately when Gladio chose to finally come upstairs. He appeared in the door, rubbing the back of his head. He was still wearing those damn sweatpants.

“Sorry about taking so long, Amber and I had a bit of a disagreement.” When he noticed that Noctis was just sitting aimlessly on his bed, he stopped and crossed his arms. “Why aren’t you working on your homework?” he demanded with an exasperated sigh. “I'm not sitting here all damn night, Noct.”

Still highly aware of what Gladio and his now ex-girlfriend had fought about, Noctis’s answer was far more subdued than usual. “I’m sorry,” he said, letting real regret enter his voice. “I guess I got a little sidetracked too.” Noctis hoped to the Gods his face wasn’t too red. He couldn’t stop seeing Gladio’s face scrunching up in apparent ecstasy, and it was extremely distracting.

Gladio’s response was as irreverent as ever. “Distracted with what? Your dick?” He walked past Noct and sprawled in his computer chair.

Well, that didn’t last long. “And your pillow,” Noctis shot back, getting himself back on even footing with the ribbing.

Gladio laughed at that far harder than he normally would, but it seemed to be working his nerves loose, because when he stopped, his grin was a lot more natural than before and a lot more like what Noctis was used to. Noctis wondered how upset he really was by what had happened with Amber, or if he hadn't really cared about her. It was hard to tell with Gladio sometimes.

“Well don’t let me hold you back from fifth century Lucian poetry. I know you’re just riveted by it.”

Noctis sighed, but he leaned over for his book bag and fetched his textbook. “Such big, fancy words.”

“Yeah, I’m fucking full of them. Like please commence pursuing the joys of erudition. Now.”

“Alright, alright.” Noct bent down and got to work, though when he looked up, he saw Gladio studying him with surprising intensity. “What?” he demanded.

“Nothing. You spelled complacency wrong.”

Noctis swore, “Shit.”

“And watch your goddamn language,” Gladio said, eyes glinting.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously. It’s an e after the c, not an a.”

Noctis rolled his eyes, his expression mostly tolerant. “You’re hilarious.”

***

That night, after Noctis had read more fifth century Lucian poetry than anyone could while maintaining their sanity, he sat in his bed, his head too full to easily fall asleep.

He wanted to jerk off, but he couldn’t get that scene from earlier out of his head. He couldn’t seem to separate Amber from Gladio enough to fantasize about getting amazing head, and he absolutely was not going to jerk off to any fantasy involving Gladio. Eww. After all, he wasn’t attracted to Gladio. That would just be weird and off-putting.

No, Noctis very much liked girls, not boys. Well, maybe both, but definitely girls more. It was just his luck that the only really hot, sexual thing he had ever experienced happened to so heavily feature his friend.

Finally, he decided it wasn’t so weird if it wasn’t exactly Gladio he was thinking about. Really, it could be any faceless person. A faceless person with the beginnings of a five a clock shadow and washboard abs that followed a trail of curling black hair down towards hips that you could cut yourself on.

Yes, he liked that. He let himself imagine his strong, very much faceless person reaching down and taking his cock in hand, just as he did the same to himself. With that solution in mind, he jerked himself off quickly and efficiently, seeking the relaxation that came afterward rather than any super drawn out fantasy. Noctis came hard and satisfyingly to vague thoughts of fast paced panting and fingers in his hair. Afterwards, he finally drifted off to sleep.

Eventually the “incident” with Gladio did indeed recede from the forefront of his mind. Within a month, Gladio tore those damn sweatpants by narrowly avoiding a sword swipe to the groin, and he ended up having to throw them away.

Truly devastating.

Of course, Noctis was not present for that glorious pants tearing because less than two weeks after the “incident,” Noctis decided he needed more friends, and he snuck out of the Citadel to go to that party the first week of high school. The fallout from that party started the infamous fight of freshman year, and then Noctis had a lot more distressing memories than Gladio’s O face to worry about, such as Gladio telling him that the Shield would not train him any longer until Noctis could truly commit to his duty. Noctis telling him to go to hell, to go suck a dick for all he cared. Gladio’s momentarily openly shocked face, before it was all shoved underneath rage. Gladio walking away from him.

That was the year Noctis met Prompto for the second time, and the year he learned that not everyone beyond Ignis and Gladio saw him as prince first and person second. Prompto took away the sting of Gladio’s rejection, at least a little bit, with his easy, unconditional love.

But without Gladio, there could be no Ignis, not really. They were all too tangled up in each other by then. So eventually, a month later, Noctis sat on the other side of the table from Gladio, Ignis beside him, watching the Shield’s face close off in a way it used to never do because of Noctis.

Seeing that, something in Noct’s chest twisted and squeezed painfully. He thought about Gladio standing in the doorway of his room, after having told his girlfriend that Noctis would always come first, and then somehow Noctis was profusely apologizing, nearly crying. Gladio kept jerking his head to the side, rubbing the back of his neck, but when it came down to it, he looked Noctis in the eye and nodded. Just like that, the Infamous fight of freshman year was over, never to be spoken of again.

***

**Noctis**

***

After the exhibition fight in which Noctis took a Blizzard spell to the face, he spent the next day sleeping, his entire body protesting the lengths he had driven it to.

Because Ignis and Cor had been in that meeting and Gladio had been distracted, Noctis was able to take the opportunity to bully a guard into taking him back to the apartment, knowing full well that his caretakers would have insisted he stay the night at the Citadel until he had recovered. At home, he fell asleep sprawled on the couch, only to wake up hours later, warm in his bed. Smelling the distinct scent of bacon and eggs, he made it long enough to stumble to the kitchen and eat with Ignis, then it was back to sleep.

Ignis looked at him strangely the entire time, like he wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure how. Noctis wondered if he was going to be given a lecture about how he was too important to throw himself into danger for others because of the thing with Gladio. Whatever it was, Ignis didn't spit it out, and Noctis was too exhausted to investigate.

Noctis dreamed that the sky was on fire, while a horned figure laughed cruelly. The figure grew and grew in size until it blocked out the flames, leaning over Noctis, smothering him. Noctis fell to his knees as he choked on smoke and ash and darkness. But then he was forcefully shoved to the side, rolling until he lay on his back. He craned his neck and saw that Gladio had replaced him.

Without looking back at Noctis, Gladio reached up and locked his forearms into a bar, bracing himself against the horned figure as it bore down on him. Noctis tried to stand back up, but he couldn’t. The flesh on Gladio’s arm burned away to ash, yet he refused to fall.

“No more,” begged Noctis silently, “Please.”

The figure laughed at him.

***

The next morning Noctis insisted on going to school, even though he felt like shit. He was starting to realize that the magic induced ache in his bones was a permanent addition to his body, and he refused to let it take over his life.

Prompto met him by the front gate. “You look like crap,” his friend greeted him.

“I feel like crap,” Noctis admitted with a wry shrug. There was no point in putting on false airs, not for Prompto. Noctis had a headache building in his temples to rival the worst migraines, and there was a strange, anxious pit in his stomach.

“Well history’s first, and you could totally nap through that if you need to.”

History was indeed something Noctis could nap through, having been instructed in that subject since he was old enough to remember being instructed. And in the 600th year of the line of Lucis, King Theopold did in fact drive the nation into a deep recession by his decision to tax the sale of imported sugar from the Vesperpool region. Though his penchant for having lavish sex parties might have also contributed. Maybe. It still made Noctis uncomfortable, however. It wasn’t like a teacher would normally let her student sleep through class day after day, but the Prince of Lucis was a special case.

“We’ll see,” was all Noctis said to that. Prompto shrugged.

Noctis did actually do his best not to fall asleep during history. The lecture about the invention of magic draining machina wasn’t exactly riveting, but Noctis managed to stay alert. In fact, that strange ball of nerves in his stomach had only grown worse since this morning. He couldn’t stop tapping his foot under his desk, even though his neighbor kept giving him pointed looks.

“--With the loss of the bay of Altissa, Lucis lost a valuable trade route, one we have yet to recover--.”

There was a buzzing in Noctis’s ear, and without meaning to he rose from his chair.

“Prince Noctis?” his teacher questioned as her lecture came to a stuttering halt. He ignored her.

He could feel something just out of reach, a sense of jarring wrongness, a bit like what had happened to him months ago when his magic had been trying to call out to him. His nerves thrummed, and his heart stuttered strangely. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes, and cast his senses towards his magic. His magic roiled and bubbled within him, agitated and unstable. The mild draw of the Crystal on his mind that had become a constant in his life, was a pounding shriek.

“Something’s wrong,” he said to no one in particular. A burst of whispers raced across the classroom as he ignored it all in favor of straining, reaching for something he had no real way of describing to anyone other than perhaps his father.

Eventually it was Prompto’s hand on his shoulder that pulled him back. Noctis turned to his friend, blinking in confusion. “What’s wrong, Noct?” Prompto asked, heedless of titles or propriety, his eyes roaming over Noctis’s face questioningly.

“I--?” Noctis wasn’t sure how to explain it, how to describe what was happening to him. He just knew that something was very, very wrong.

It turned out he did not have to, because that was when the sirens went off, high pitched and whining, and it became very clear what was happening. The droning sound was enough to drive Noctis out of his stupor, and he exchanged a wild glance with Prompto.

Air raid sirens were a common phenomenon outside of the city and beyond the protection of the new wall, but here in the heart of Insomnia they were a remote thing, an excuse to skip class for drills. It wasn’t real. Except that contrary to all common sense, it was very rapidly becoming so.

Students piled up over each other in a mad dash to reach the windows, though fortunately Noctis already happened to be sitting next to the long row of windows. He turned away from Prompto’s alarmed face, and slid open rusty catches, pushing the closest window pane up and craning his head out.

Fire danced above them, setting off a ripple of sparks across the top of the magical dome. The wailing of the siren was louder out here, demanding attention. Above them, as the explosion cleared, Noctis could see the glinting metal of imperial war ships. His breath caught in his throat. The dome was supposed to reach far into the heavens so close to its source, higher than any ship could fly. Yet here they were, at least three of them, very clearly directly above them, very clearly attacking the city itself.

He glanced back to his fellow students. The anxiety of the students around him was palpable, hurried, fearful whispers and quickly typed messages to parents and loved ones.

This time Noctis heard the boom even over the unending whine of the air raid sirens. The bombs could have been fireworks, for all they seemed as real. They fell across the dome, setting off another cascade of glittering, shimmering sparks as the magic of the Crystal absorbed the hit. For the longest moment, Noctis was frozen, unable to process that this could be happening here at home.

This time when he felt that sense of wrongness again, he recognized it for what it was, since it came over him just as the explosions filtered across the sky.

“Get back!” And there was the teacher, her face ghastly white. She ushered the students back to the center of the classroom. “We will follow air raid procedures just as we have practiced, in an orderly fashion,” she said firmly.

As they had practiced? That had been a once a year joke that none of the students took seriously. Still, everyone knew that they were supposed to head towards the basement boiler room that doubled as a shelter. Noctis heard several whispered conversations as students filed past him.

“But we’re safe, right? The wall won’t let anything through.”

“I heard the King is sick. They say we’re always more vulnerable right before a transition.” This comment caused several heads to turn towards Noctis.

“Is that why the Empire is attacking now?”

“But how did they get over the wall? Isn’t the dome too high for the war ships to cross?”

Noctis fished his cellphone out of his bag. He had a missed call from Gladio, two from Ignis, one from Cor, and one from his father. Gladio had left him a text message:

Stay where you are. I’m coming to get you. —Gladio.

There were also two voicemails, one from his father and one from Ignis. He didn’t bother to listen to them. He could guess what they said. Some variation of stay where you are and out of the way until we can deal with you.

“Prince Noctis!” Noct jerked his head. The teacher was waving at him to follow her. Everyone else had already filed out of the classroom except for him and Prompto.

Noctis hesitated. “Gladio, my—bodyguard is coming to pick me up. I’ll be alright.”

The teacher shook her head. “That may be, but until he gets here, I’m responsible for you. You’ll be safer in the shelter with everyone else. I must insist you follow me.”

Noctis’s thoughts were driven out of him by another wave of prickling wrongness. He shuddered, and Prompto reached out and grabbed his shoulder. “Noctis,” he said urgently.

Noctis was saved from having argue with either of them by the sound of Gladio’s voice. “There you are.” He whirled to see the Shield striding through the classroom door. Noctis might have never been more glad to see Gladio in his life. “We’re going,” Gladio said curtly. His face was expressionless, held so by sheer willpower.

“You two should get to shelter,” Gladio said to Prompto and their teacher as Noctis grabbed his bookbag, oblivious to the fact that this was exactly what they had been trying to do. He yanked on Noctis’s hand with the intent to drag him along, but Noctis planted his feet.

“Wait.” Noctis twisted around and grabbed Prompto’s hand again, stretching himself between his two friends. “Dammit, wait.” Letting go of the both of them, he reached into his pocket, drawing out a tiny glass flask. With a swallow, he screwed his eyes shut and focused entirely on the feeling of energy crawling over his skin, crackling, burning, freezing, ever passively being collected. Different than the magic that came from the Crystal and infinitely easier to control.

He condensed the magic into his hand, and in a way he had always been able to do and never been able to describe, he pushed it into the glass container, watching the flask brighten and glow with energy. He ignored his teacher’s gasp at the display. When he had nothing left to give, he inspected the flask briefly. It was a mess of different energies, volatile and unstably swirling around. Not his best work, but it would hold.

He took the flask and pressed into Prompto’s hand. “You know what this does, right?” Prompto’s eyes were bright and uncertain, but he nodded. Noctis clasped his friend’s hand tightly once more and said with a choke, “Be careful, Prompto.”

Gladio’s voice cut across them, “That ain’t a freaking toy.” He looked like he was going to demand Prompto give the magic flask back, but he seemed to think better of it. Instead, he grabbed Noctis by the back of the neck, steering him away. “You two get down to shelter,” he ordered and then firmly added, “All of this is just a precaution. The Empire’s not going to breach the wall, not today.”

Noctis caught one last look of Prompto’s pale face and then it was just him and Gladio pushing against the tide of students headed towards the basement.

Gladio had a black SUV waiting for them. He didn’t do anything as stupid as open the door for Noct, and Noct didn’t do anything as stupid as climb in the backseat. Gladio wasn’t his chauffeur. As soon as both front doors slammed shut, Gladio forcefully hit the gas, speeding them away from the school with squealing tires.

“Put your seatbelt on,” Gladio commanded, not taking his eyes off the road.

As Noctis complied, he demanded, “Where are we going? What’s my father doing? Is the wall actually in danger? Did my dad know this was coming?”

“We’re going to a safe house. Your dad is feeding the Crystal power to fuel the wall. The Kingsglaive has been mobilized, and I doubt the wall is falling to three war ships no matter how high they’re flying. And yes, the King knew something was up, if not exactly this.” Gladio swerved the car suddenly, and then they were pulling into the basement parking lot of Noctis’s apartment building.

“Wait, we’re not going to the Citadel?”

“It’s stupid to put everyone in the same place during an emergency situation,” said Gladio. “We planned for this. There’s a bunker underneath the apartment park house.”

Noctis rebelled at that. “I don’t care. I should be with my father.”

Gladio parked the car, and then finally turned to face Noctis. “Your father ordered us to take you somewhere safe, Noctis. That’s what we’re doing.”

“You just said the wall wouldn’t fall.” Noctis glared at him. “Take me to the Citadel.”

“No.”

They glowered at each other across the gear stick. Gladio’s mouth twisted, and then he said, “Please, Noct. Just for once do what I tell you.”

There was a lot underneath that, a lot neither one was saying. Noctis knew what it meant that Gladio had pleaded, but he wanted to push back so much. His father was at the Citadel, maybe killing himself, and Gladio was asking him to ignore that. To sit in some safe bunker, being useless. It pointless, but he couldn’t help but think back, searching for the last thing he had said to his father. Something stupid like ‘goodbye’ or ‘will do.’ Noctis scowled, and tore his head away, breaking eye contact.

Gladio said, “You know I’m yours. I’ll always be yours. But please don’t make me choose.”

Don’t make him choose. Noctis or his father’s orders. The current or future King. “You’ve chosen before,” Noctis said. He hated how a slightly petulant tone had crept into his voice.

“I know.” It wasn’t Gladio’s usual combative manner, and something about that finally drove the fight out of Noctis. He swore and climbed out of the car.

“Noctis! Gladio!” Slamming the door shut, Noctis turned to see Ignis approaching them. The advisor pushed his glasses up as he approached and said, “I was starting to worry.”

Gladio snorted, walking around the car. “Like I would let anything happen to him,” he said, his tone back to its normal bluster.

At Noctis’s questioning look, Ignis explained, “I was at the apartment when it started. You weren’t answering your phone, and this safe house is closer to your school than the Citadel. I knew Gladio would pick you up. So I waited for you.”

“Come on.” Gladio strode forward, leading them to the stairwell. A door next to it said ‘maintenance.’ Noctis could guess what was really behind it.

“You know, having a secret safe house doesn’t seem all that useful if the person it’s for doesn’t know it exists.”

“Now you do,” Gladio said brusquely as he opened the door. There actually was a pile of brooms, buckets, and things behind the door, but Gladio climbed over all that. He put his hand against the back wall and began to feel for something in the semi darkness that Noctis couldn’t see.

With a satisfied grunt, Gladio seemingly found what he was looking for, and the wall slid away to reveal the bunker behind. He fumbled for a moment and then flicked a light switch. It was stark, a bunk bed taking up most of the space, metal shelving with cans of food and water, and the most sophisticated thing in there, a military grade radio sitting on an aluminum table. Roomie enough, though obviously not intended for more than two people.

“Homey.”

“Get in there.” Gladio pushed Noctis and they all clambered in. With another button press, the wall slid closed again with a heavy thud. Noctis was not prepared for how suffocating it would feel to hear the slam of the door, to feel the weight of concrete all around them. He hadn’t realized how pervasive the sound of the sirens had become until it was completely deadened by layers of concrete. He shuddered and then sat on the bottom bunk, conscious of the fact that of the three of them, he was the only one able to sit fully straightened on the thing. The joys of being short.

Ignis immediately went to the radio. Within a moment he was swearing softly. “What is it?” Gladio went to stand next to him.

“The speaker cable has been chewed through, likely the work of mice. I can reconnect it easily enough, but it will take a few minutes.”

Gladio grunted. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. “Not like we’re in a rush.”

Noctis had a very different opinion on that. Without the radio, they were not only stuck down here, but they were trapped without information, without knowledge of how the King was faring with the Crystal. To him, that was very rush worthy.

A wave of that annoying, prickling sensation washed over him. The dreadnaughts must be bombing the wall again. Noctis leaned over and hung his head between his knees. Each time was somehow worse than the previous, and he was starting to feel sick to his stomach.

“Noctis?” Ignis’s voice was threaded with clear concern.

“He’s been doing that since I picked him up. I think it’s his magic.” Gladio’s voice was more closed off than Ignis’s, but Noctis saw through his calm facade easily enough.

“Noctis, are you--?”

“Fix the radio, Ignis,” Noctis interrupted with a little groan. “I’m fine.”

With only a touch of hesitation, Ignis nodded. He bent down, his clever fingers pulling on delicate wires with competence.

“Close your eyes, Noct. We’re gonna be here a while,” said Gladio.

Noctis scowled at Gladio, even as he complied, stretching himself out on the cot. His limbs and muscles still ached from yesterday’s over-extension of his magic. Excessive sleep and ibuprofen were the only things that seemed to have any effect on that, so he allowed himself to curl up and close his eyes, even though his heart was jack rabbiting with nerves. In the end, it didn't matter how stressed he was; his exhausted body would still eventually drive him towards sleep. Thankfully, the nausea was better lying down, though he could still feel the draw of the Crystal on his mind, ever incessant.

Noctis didn’t fully slip into oblivion, but as he rested, he managed to fitfully doze. At some point he heard the crackling of the radio and Cor’s voice. After confirming that his father was indeed fine for now, he rolled over and ignored them. Gladio and Ignis were talking in hushed voices, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Perhaps it was his worry and stress, but nightmares and images of terror clung to his mind, robbing him of real rest. He dreamed he stood in a featureless place, surrounded by murky smoke. Extending his hands, he saw that they were rough and gnarled, all veins and liver spots. The black ring on his finger seemed to be sucking away what little life he had left. Where it clung and tore at him, there was acute, stabbing pain.

“No more,” he whispered. “Please.” His voice came out far deeper than anything Noctis had produced in real life, the cadence identical to his father’s.

Noctis had nothing left to give, but the Crystal didn’t care. Its force rushed over him through the ring, washing away his sense of self as he drowned in the inhuman power of it. The Crystal wasn’t evil, nor was it strictly good. It was beyond human understanding or the limitations of morality, and it used him mercilessly, headless of anything but its own need.

Noctis woke with a start, though he didn’t open his eyes. Next to him, Gladio and Ignis were still talking.

“—treated like children,” Gladio was saying.

“Now you sound like Noctis,” replied Ignis with an irritated huff.

“You can’t tell me that it doesn’t chafe at you to be stuck down here while Gods know what is happening.”

“We have orders,” Ignis said simply, as if that was the end of the conversation. Listening to this, Noctis gained some bitter satisfaction that Gladio actually did feel the same way he did, even if the Shield refused to let him see it.

“It just grates me that this week couldn’t have gone more perfectly for Drautos if he had planned it.”

Ignis’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Yes, the most decorated Captain in history conspired with the enemy to attack Insomnia in a way most advantageous to showing off the prowess of the Kingsglaive, thus benefiting his political agenda with the King and Council.”

“You don’t have to be so snippy about it,” Gladio said, “I’m just saying, the bastard has timing. He wants to replace me as Noct’s trainer, so he demands a fight between us and two of the best the Kingsglaive he has. Noctis isn't old enough or mature enough to be fighting fully fledged Kingsglaive, and that has nothing to do with who’s training him.”

“You could have refused.”

Gladio’s voice was hard. “No, I couldn’t have. I have to be able to look my father in the eyes too, Ignis.”

“Hmn.”

“So we lose the fight, not really a surprise, but now Noct is vulnerable and tired. So when the city is attacked, they have us sit here in this fucking bunker to ‘protect’ him. Future leaders of the Kingdom and the Crownsguard sit in hiding, meanwhile the Kingsglaive saves the day.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the ultimatum were his idea in the first place, as well.” Ignis said.

“Yeah, and I doubt he thinks we can convince Noctis to go through with it, so we fail on that front too. In two weeks, Drautos takes all of this to the King and says, ‘See, look. I was right. I’m the only one who can protect your son.’”

There was a thumping sound. The sound of Gladio hitting the wall in frustration, Noctis realized. It was one of the longest and most open speeches Noctis had ever heard Gladio give, and he couldn’t help how part of him was jealous that the Shield was obviously so much more forthright and comfortable with Ignis than himself. It wasn’t like he didn't already know that Ignis and Gladio were as close to each other as they were to Noctis, without the barrier of status and servitude in the way.

“What ultimatum?” asked Noctis as he finally opened his eyes, blinking in the harsh florescent light.

His retainers jerked their heads up at the same time. Gladio had moved to the lone chair, and Ignis was the one now standing. Instead of answering the question, Ignis noted evenly, “You’re awake.”

“No. I’m babbling in my sleep,” Noctis snapped as he sat himself up with a groan of stiff, protesting muscles. He saw Ignis and Gladio exchange a significant look.

Ignis swallowed and seemed to steel himself. “Noctis,” he said in the same tone one would use to inform someone their aunt had just died. Noctis’s stomach squeezed in alarm, and he thought back to the strange way Ignis had been acting last yesterday. Ignis continued, “Sometimes as we get older, our responsibilities. . . change in ways that might make us uncomfortable. Sometimes these responsibilities can become rather . . . intimate.”

Ignis’s tortured explanation was quickly put out of its misery.

“Astrals help me,” Gladio interrupted harshly. “What Ignis is trying to say is that those far higher up the food chain than us have decided that you need to start forming covenants with your retainers. The sooner the better.”

It took Noctis a long time to understand what they were saying. He blinked. “What are you talking about?” he asked. “You don’t mean--?” He stopped speaking, the looks on both his retainers telling him the answer to the question he hadn’t fully yet asked. Some things were slotting into place in a horrifying way. Ignis and Gladio’s hushed conversation about his sexual habits the other night. Drautos’s comment about proper training.

“I’m supposed to start forming covenants? Like my dad? Those sorts of covenants?”

Ignis nodded. When Noctis didn’t respond immediately, Gladio said with a challenging look at Ignis, “See, that wasn’t so hard to spit out.”

Ignis looked pained.

As he stared at them in shock, Noctis was painfully aware of the concrete pressing in all around him, how he was practically trapped down here with the two of them. “But,” he said with a stutter, desperately trying to gather his wits, “I don’t understand. I’ve barely started learning my magic.” Ignis opened his mouth, but Noctis spoke over him, “And you still haven’t fully explained what you meant by ultimatum!”

“What kind of ultimatum do you think, Noctis?” Gladio demanded before Ignis could respond. Gladio sat full straightened in his chair, tension knotting his shoulders. He leaned forward aggressively and said, “You know how this works. You only have two retainers right now. Who the fuck do you think you’re expected to covenant with?”

This should not be flooring Noctis the way it was. It wasn’t like he hadn’t known what was expected of him. But it had been so abstract, so far away. Noctis had just now, finally become comfortable with his warp magic. It wasn’t fair. He stared at Gladio with wide eyes, then he hardened his expression.

“No,” he said.

***

**Ignis**

***

Personally, Ignis thought this conversation could have been handled a lot better.

Gladio was an excellent guardian, a true friend, but perhaps his biggest failing was that he was incapable of understanding how someone could not share his black and white view of duty. For Gladio this entire enterprise was simple. A thing must be done, so it would be done. A flaw because it clashed so terribly with Noctis, who was still incapable of separating his concept of duty from his tumultuous relationship with his father.

“No,” said Noctis. He didn't shout or even really emote at all, either of which would have been better. Instead, his expression was as impenetrable as the Lucian wall.

Ignis sighed.

From long years of experience, Ignis found that he could loosely categorize Noctis’s modes of expression into three forms. There was the Noctis that was shy, a bit insecure, but also earnest and sweet. That was the Noctis who played such a terrible hand of Spades, the one who chewed on his pencil as he did math problems. It was the Noctis who sat in the kitchen with Ignis in comfortable silence while the other man cooked. That was the best version of Noctis and the one that Prompto in particular was a master at bringing to the surface.

But there was also the Noctis who was confused and angry, the one that lashed out. That was the Noctis, who had quite shockingly told Gladio to go hell and suck a dick while he was down there during their infamous month long fight, the one that had smashed a six-hundred-year old vase when he was ten, the one who had screamed at his father in the throne room. It was a rare sight, this angry version of Noctis, and frankly one that Ignis was terrible at dealing with.

But even though Ignis flailed and blustered when confronted with Noctis’s more explosive feelings, it was still better than the third version of Noctis, the emotionless shell that the prince presented to the world as some sort of learned defense mechanism. That was the version of himself that Noctis retreated to when he felt he was being judged, when he was forced into the public’s eye, when he wanted to run but could not, the version that Ignis secretly despised.

It was that aloof shell of a person that faced Ignis and Gladio, his expression far too still considering the circumstances.

“What do you mean, no?” Gladio demanded incredulously. “You can’t say no. This is something you have to do, Noct.”

Noctis’s expression did not change. “No.”

Gladio actually growled in response to that, but before he could escalate it, Ignis held out his hand, a plea to pause. “Noctis, I know this is a very difficult subject to deal with.”

“You don’t know shit,” said Noctis. His tone was angry, combative, but his face was still strangely blank. So somewhere between rage and numbness then. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, turning his head as far away from them as he could within the confines of the bunker.

Gladio looked like he was going to shout, but Ignis once again stopped him. Patience. Focusing on the small of Noctis’s back and his hunched shoulders, Ignis counted the prince’s breaths. One, two, three, four, five. Finally, Noctis swung back around and demanded, “Do you really think you can force me to fuck someone against my will?”

Ignis continued to hold his hand against Gladio, silently begging him to remain quiet. Noctis still wasn’t ready to listen.

The prince scowled at their lack of response, clenching his fists. “What can anyone do me if I just refuse, huh? Disinherit me?” He snarled, his voice growing poisonously bitter, mocking, “Oh. Wait. I’m the only option for the Crystal’s bitch. Guess that settles that.” Glaring at them, he demanded, “Well?”

Ignis made Noctis wait a full second before he responded, making sure he had the prince’s full attention. “Oh, I had the impression you preferred ranting at us, as opposed to a civil conversation,” Ignis said, his voice sharp as a dagger. He needed to reign this back in before it devolved any further, so he rebuked Noctis with a scathing look. “Was I not correct in that?”

For half a second, Noctis looked like he might explode again, but thankfully the expression passed. “Converse away,” he spat out.

Ignis nodded, ignoring Noct’s hostility. “Of course, no one can physically force you do anything, Prince Noctis, at least not easily,” he said. “However, the King and the Council are concerned. As you grow older and the King weaker, you will become more and more of a target. He wishes you to be surrounded by people who have the most advantages possible, in order to protect you. You know how much power the Crystal gives, both to its chosen and their retainers. He has said that if Gladio and I do not possess that power soon, then we will be replaced by those that already do.”

Noctis absorbed that information silently. “How soon?” he finally asked.

“The King has given us thirteen days. Two weeks from yesterday.”

Ignis watched his prince warily as the teenager fell silent once again. It was ridiculous, but he felt like he was standing on a precipice, and one wrong move would push them all over the edge.

Can I do this thing?

Yes, he could. Unlike Noctis, Ignis wasn’t a virgin. People had sex for all kinds of reasons, not always pleasure or love. And this wasn’t even really sex. A magical ritual involving semen probably shouldn’t even be in the same category as true love making.

It doesn’t have to mean the things you’re afraid of it meaning, Noctis.

Noctis spoke before Ignis could articulate his scattered thoughts. His voice had that quiet, dead quality again that Ignis so hated. “So that’s how my dad is going to force me, huh? Fuck the only people I care about or have them taken away from me?”

Ignis exchanged a glance with Gladio. Bringing the King into this discussion was only going make it a thousand times more treacherous.

Noctis didn’t wait on a true answer. He snorted and declared, “I don’t believe it. My dad would never do this to me. He lo—he wouldn’t.”

Ignis thought about fire in the sky, dreadnaughts raining death from above. He thought about Regis’s shriveled hands, his cane, Regis hunched in a chair, brushing his sleeping son’s bangs out of his eyes.

“Do you love my son?” The King had asked.

I’d die for him.

Duty and love are not the same thing.

To me they are.

Why hadn’t the King been the one to talk to Noctis about this? Why would he leave his son adrift, when he was literally the only other person in the world who could possibly understand how Noctis was feeling. Because Noctis was right; such a demand of his son was not like the King at all.

“I don’t think he sees it that way,” Ignis said carefully. “I don’t think he sees it as a demand on you so much as on Gladio and I.”

Gladio finally decided he was allowed to contribute again. Ignis rather desperately wished he wouldn’t. “You’re blowing this way of proportion,” Gladio said. “For Gods sakes, I’ve heard you masturbating through the shower walls more times than I want to think about. It’s not a big fucking deal. We do this, and move on with our lives.”

Noctis glared at him hatefully, his cheeks burning red. “Fu—.”

“Noctis!” Ignis interrupted.

“This isn’t fair!”

Gladio snarled. “Life’s not fair. Suck it up.”

“Gladio!” Ignis twisted towards his college. “You are not helping.”

But it was too late. Noctis’s voice gained several degrees in volume and vehemence. “No, you’re right, Gladio. Since it’s not a big fucking deal, why don’t I bend you over that chair right now. Let’s just get it over with!”

Noctis had risen from his perch on the cot, sliding instinctively into an aggressive stance, feet apart and balanced. Ignis wanted to laugh hysterically at that clear influence of Gladio even as the two tried once again to tear each other apart.

Gladio did not back down from challenges. He too rose from his chair. “Sure!” he bellowed. “Let’s go! I’m not the one with the fucking problem Noct. I’m not the one running from my duty.”

“And that’s all this is to you, one more duty?”

“What the hell else would it be?” Gladio demanded, voice laced with exasperation.

Ignis was saved by the sound of static over the radio. At the sound, both Noctis and Gladio froze.

“Scientia do you read me? The Kingsglaive has removed the threat. We have the all clear. I repeat, we have the all clear.”

For a long moment the only sound to be heard was heavy breathing, then Noctis whirled around. He stalked over to the door.

Gladio swore, “You’ve got to be kidding me. They probably want all of us to report to the Citadel. We’re not done here.”

Noctis did not spare them a glance as he searched for the correct switch against the wall. “I’m going upstairs. Alone. I don’t care what you two do. If you really think I need a babysitter, then you’re welcome to send someone the King thinks is appropriately covenanted.”

With that he found the correct switch and the door slid open with a groan. True to his word, he clomped up the stairs alone.

“Well that could have gone better,” Gladio said after a moment, voice deceptively light.

Ignis groaned.

***

Chapter Text

***

**Noctis**

***

When Noctis was twelve, he asked his father why he couldn’t just stop? Tell all the Kingsglaive to go home? Make the Council build a brick wall instead of a magical one?

It took his father a long time to answer. When he finally did, it was in a language that Noctis didn't understand.

“What was that?” Noctis demanded.

“Lucian was a very different language thousands of years ago. That saying is attributed to an early King of Lucis, Izunia Lucis Caelum,” replied Regis.

“What does it mean?”

“Non nobis solum nati sumus,” the King enunciated clearly. Regis reached down and grasped his son firmly by the shoulder, his expression grave.

“Not for ourselves are we born.”

***

Noctis spent the next couple of days giving Ignis and Gladio the cold shoulder. It was childish, but since both Ignis and Gladio had done it to him so many months before, Noctis felt like fair was only fair. He got the impression that they were hoping some space would help him cool down and become more tractable.

So far, it hadn’t worked.

Three days after the attack on the Crown City, Noctis sighed as he tried to decide if he was going to do a workout by himself. Even as they improved on his magical stamina and blade work, Gladio had also been having Noctis push himself on cardio and strength training, except that by this point it had been days since Noctis had willingly been around the Shield.

Noctis often ran with Prompto after or before school, but it was always hard to be at school for any longer than necessary after some big event. The stares and whispering always became unbearable. Still, Noctis decided to text his friend.

N: Wanna meet me at the Cit? Run?

P: I can't today. I’ve got photography club.

Noctis considered his options, and then another text came through.

P: You okay?

Noctis thought about it. This was Prompto’s way of asking the prince if this was a crisis or simply an offer. Prompto was the kind of friend who would drop everything if Noct asked. But what he was going through right now, the ritual looming over his head, it was something he didn’t want Prompto to know anything about.

N: Nah, I’m good today. Have fun.

P: Tom morning?

N: Sure.

P: Ok. See you then.

And so, that afternoon, Noctis called up a driver from the Crownsguard and went to the Citadel training ground by himself. He waited until Gladio was supposed to pick his sister up from school to give himself the best chance of avoiding the Shield.

When he got there, the outdoor track was empty which suited Noctis just fine. After a couple of stretches, he took off down the track, letting himself settle into a mindless rhythm. The driving beat of his shoes against the asphalt was the perfect distraction from his swirling thoughts.

Unfortunately, his isolation was too good to last, and soon three or four Kingsglaive arrived, all wearing track suits and clearly intending the same as Noct. Swearing silently to himself, he decided to just ignore them, giving only a single begrudging wave of acknowledgment as he passed.

He ran and ran, longer than he ever would with Gladio or Prompto, long enough that his thighs burned white hot and his feet tingled with every step. Several of the Kingsglaive came and went, and still Noctis ran.

As he finally came to a stop, he saw that only one of the Kingsglaive was left, the male Glaive he had fought in the exhibition fight. They’d been pretty friendly ever since their late-night conversation months ago. The Kingsglaive slowed his own jog as he approached Noctis.

“Are you stalking me, Your Highness? Because I just keep running into you everywhere,” Nyx said in between gasping breaths, his eyes crinkling with laughter.

It took Noctis far too long to realize he was being teased. He huffed and shook his head. After grabbing two towels and bottles of water, Nyx handed one to Noct, then collapsed on the grass next to the asphalt. It hit Noct that he could barely stand he was so tired. How long had he been running?

Wiping the sweat off his brow, Noctis let himself slide down next to the Kingsglaive. They both sat in silence for a moment as they caught their breath.

Eventually, Nyx leaned back and stretched. He eyed Noctis sideways, looked away, and then eyed him again. “So what’s up with the merry boy band, your highness? he asked. “Why are you here with me instead of Gladiolus?”

Noctis dropped his towel. “What?”

“You and your retainers,” Nyx said. His easy grin was incongruent with the intensity of his stare. “I mean, you aren’t exactly subtle about how you’ve been avoiding each other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you guys fight like this before.”

“We’re not a boy band,” Noctis replied indignantly, shaking his head. “And you’ve been in the Kingsglaive like six months. You don’t know anything about us.”

Nyx shrugged. “Guess I don’t,” he said. “I apologize if I’ve offended you, Your Highness.” As much as he hated it, Noctis thought he probably deserved that slip back into formality.

The Kingsglaive stayed sitting next to Noctis, but now he was silent. As the seconds stretched, Noctis wondered how he was going to save this conversation. He wasn’t sure if he could take another relationship, even one as minor as this one, souring because of all the bullshit surrounding this ritual.

Nyx turned back to face Noctis suddenly. “I do know one thing though,” he said, “There’re a lot of rumors going around that you refuse to form the Covenant of Retainers with your Shield and Advisor. Captain Drautos is pretty convinced that teaching you how to form a Covenant would be a lot better handled by the Kingsglaive than them.”

The Kingsglaive’s tone wasn’t aggressive, even though his gaze was far too direct to be polite. But Noctis still bristled, clenching his fists helplessly. It was bad enough to be dealing with this pressure, let alone knowing that his troubles were apparently common knowledge among the Kingsglaive. This was between him and Ignis and Gladio, not anyone else. “And you completely agree with him, I suppose?”

“Actually,” Nyx said. “I think Captain Drautos missed the point. I think all of you have.”

Noctis blinked at the Glaive, still astounded at his boldness. Glaring at the grass, he muttered bitterly, “The point? There’s no point. No good one anyway.”

Nyx raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you really think that? That your dad doesn’t have a good reason?”

“I’m having a real hard time seeing the good reason,” Noctis retorted dismissively.

Nyx snorted. “Come on man, if your dad only cared about your safety,” he insisted, “you’d be completely in the hands of the Kingsglaive. But that’s not what he did. Instead he went to your best friends and told them they needed to take care of it.”

It was clear that Nyx was getting at something in particular that he wanted Noctis to understand, that he had likely started the conversation with that goal in mind, but Noctis was done. He had come here to have some goddamn peace and quiet, and the last thing he wanted to talk about was his dad. Thus, he said the worst thing he could possibly think of in the moment. Noctis suggested harshly, “Maybe he doesn’t want his son fucking his leftovers.”

Noct’s spitefulness worked. The Glaive’s eyes grew hard, and for the first time he sounded frustrated. He spat, “Gods, sometimes you’re such a brat. You’re so busy thinking about how you’re going to face each of your friends after you’ve fucked them, that you still haven’t considered the real consequences of your choices.”

“Which are?” Noctis asked coldly.

“Having to face either Ignis or Gladio after you’ve gotten the other killed. That’s what I’d be focused on.”

They held each other’s gaze for half a moment longer. Then Noctis tore himself away, flopping down until he was completely laying on his back.

He assumed Nyx would finally leave him be at that point, but the Glaive proved Noct wrong, seemingly content to just sit there in silence once again. Ignoring the other man, Noctis instead pondered his persistent dreams in which Gladio, Ignis, and even Prompto, burned for him and died for him, over and over. The Kingsglaive’s words had brought the worst of his recurring dreams to the forefront of his mind.

In the smallest voice possible, Noctis confessed to the overcast sky, “I feel like a rapist. Like the worst scum on the fucking planet.”

The Kingsglaive was unresponsive for so long that Noct thought he wasn’t going to reply. Maybe there wasn’t anything to say to a confession like that. But then Nyx changed the topic unexpectedly. Still sitting beside Noctis, he said, “Did you know that you broke Crowe’s collarbone?”

“Crowe?”

“Glaive Altius. During the exhibition fight.”

“Oh,” said Noctis. “You know; you really suck at making a person feel better.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel better. I’m trying to help you.”

“Well, you’re doing a shit job at that too.”

Nyx laughed at that, apparently having let go of his earlier frustration. If only it were so easy for Noctis. “What I’m trying to say,” said the Glaive, “is that every time I fight alongside other Kingsglaive or Crownsguard, we’re in total sync. I always know instinctively where the others are on the battlefield, what condition they’re in, how much magic they’ve got left. Together we can do amazing—impossible techniques.” His voice grew firmer. “So I know you broke her collarbone because I felt it when it happened.”

Noctis thought about that. “You warped immediately. Stopped me from finishing her off.”

“The King’s magic didn’t just make me more aware of her. It let me heal her too.”

Noctis didn’t have anything to say to that.

“And so I ask you again, Your Highness,” Nyx said, “What are you going to say to Ignis? Or Gladio? When it’s one of them lying in a pool of blood, and your magic could have saved them? Or helped them save themselves?” His gaze was hard and unforgiving. “Either way, I’ve said my piece,” he said with a snort, “done my civic duty to convince one of you get your heads out of your asses."

I hope you have a good evening, Your Highness,” he said as he stood up. Then he left.

***

**Ignis**

***

As part of the agreement that had allowed him to move out on his own, Noctis was supposed to have dinner with his father at the Citadel at least once a week. Noctis had perfected the art of appearing indifferent to those dinners, but Gods forbid you were anywhere near him if his father canceled on him.

Therefore, on Friday, three days after the attack and five days after the King issued his fourteen-day ultimatum, when Clarus told Ignis that the King was cancelling his weekly dinner with his son, Ignis was troubled. He frowned at Clarus and said, “The prince won’t like that.”

Though Clarus had to have understood what Ignis wasn’t saying with those words, the Shield of the King merely responded with a look that implied, do you think I care?

Fortunately for Ignis, he had never been afraid of Clarus’s displeasure. Clarus and Gladio were far too alike for that, both overtly blunt and simple, with surprisingly sharp depths. Ignis had long since learned how to navigate the famous Amicitia temper. He responded to Clarus’s disparaging look with one of equal fervor, until the man sighed and said far more softly, “Regis doesn’t want Noctis to see him like this. You can understand why, can’t you, Ignis?”

That Clarus had been willing to speak to Ignis without hiding behind titles was a testament to how much the older man respected the much younger advisor, but that didn’t change the fact that they were still fundamentally at odds over this. Clarus belonged wholeheartedly to the current king, and Ignis the future. Though it might be far easier for the king to avoid his son and the clear consequences of his family’s sacrifice to the Crystal, it was not, in Ignis’s opinion, the best thing for Noctis. And what was best for Noctis would always be Ignis’s’ top priority.

“I’ll do what I can,” Ignis said with a sigh.

“That’s all any of us are capable of,” replied Clarus.

***

So many people believed that because Noctis often chose to be quiet and unassuming, that he was oblivious to other people or incapable of reading them. But the prince walked through the door of their shared apartment that evening, his book bag slung over one shoulder, and he stopped dead as he saw Ignis’s face. Ignis should not have worried about how he was going to tell Noctis that his father had canceled their dinner; he should have worried about what he was going to say after, because apparently the advisor’s own face had given it away.

“Why is my father cancelling dinner?” Noctis demanded without preamble, not an ounce of affection is his voice.

“Noctis,” Ignis warned as he was starkly reminded that they had barely spoken over the past three days. Looking at Noctis’s stormy face, he was struck by the realization that he was tired of always being in the middle of whatever tug of war Noctis was currently engaged in, tired of always being the diffusor, the mediator. This was a conversation for Noctis’s father, and Ignis was never going to be a replacement for him.

“Tell me.”

Ignis grimaced, but he responded dutifully with the stock answer to these sorts of questions, “He had important matters to attend to.”

Noctis’s response was swift and brutal. “Liar.”

In this, Ignis was indeed a liar, but that had no bearing on the situation at all. They both knew why the king had canceled, and Ignis wasn’t going to insult Noctis’s intelligence by arguing to the contrary. Not if Noctis insisted on demanding that they drop the convenient lie that everyone who worked around the king had unspokenly agreed to. Ignis held Noct’s gaze and waited on the prince to come to a decision.

Noctis finally jerked his head to the side. Ignis still waited.

Noctis scuffled his feet against the floorboard. “I’m going to the Citadel,” he said. He didn’t phrase it as a question, but the question was inherent. Of the two of them, only Ignis could drive.

“I don’t think anything good will come out of it, Noct,” Ignis said softly, his heart breaking.

“If you don’t want to drive me, I’ll just take the bus,” Noctis stubbornly insisted.

It was rather telling that Noctis didn’t seem to know that there was no direct bus connection from his apartment to the Citadel. The subway was a far better avenue for that. Ignis resisted rolling his eyes. Mostly.

Instead, the advisor nodded in resignation, grabbed his keys, and together they left for the Citadel.

***

Twenty minutes later, they were stopped at the entrance to the royal apartments. Guarding the doorway were two Crownsguard. The closer one held up his hand as they approached. “Prince Noctis, what brings you here?” he asked politely.

Noctis cocked his head as if the question puzzled him. “I’m here to see my father, of course. It’s Friday.”

An uneasy expression crossed over both guards’ faces. Ignis didn’t miss how they exchanged a glance with each other before the same guard replied, “Master Amicitia has given orders that the king is not to be disturbed by anyone, Your Highness.” There was a brittle quality to the guard’s politeness now, the wariness of someone stuck in an impossible choice. Prince Noctis technically outranked all of them, including Clarus, but the Shield held far more political power, and it was potentially far more dangerous to disobey the leader of the Crownsguard than it was the errant prince.

“Prince Noctis!” Suddenly Clarus himself was there, striding down the corridor. Ignis wasn’t sure if he should be relieved or horrified. “I didn’t think you would be visiting the Citadel today.” Clarus spoke to the prince, but his glare was directed at Ignis, and it was venomous.

Ignis shrugged helplessly.

Noctis said, “Yes, I’ve been told that you’ve forbidden anyone from seeing my father today.”

Up until now Ignis had been totally focused on Clarus, but something in Noct’s voice stopped Ignis cold, and he turned to face his prince warily. Noctis spent most of his time acting hesitant and withdrawn, but he appeared to be neither of those things right now. Instead, his eyes were narrowed and dangerous. In this light, the blue of them shimmered almost purple in tone.

Clarus must not have been as good at reading Noctis as Ignis was, because the Shield didn’t seem to notice the danger. He spoke placatingly, “The king isn’t really feeling up to company today, Noctis. I’d be happy to tell him you stopped by though. I’m sure he will call for you as soon as—.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Noctis cut in suddenly. As quickly as he had interrupted Clarus, he dismissed the Shield again. Turning back to the guards, Noctis said, “I won’t ask you move for me. It’s not right to put you in that position.”

Neither guard looked like they were so much as breathing, the tension was that thick. “Noctis,” Clarus insisted commandingly. It was clear he had no idea what to do with this version of the prince either.

Noctis did not look back at the Shield. He seemed to be considering his next move.

Finally, the prince closed his eyes, and Ignis’s heart stopped. He could almost hear Gladio’s lecturing voice, as he’d say with a snap of his fingers, “You won’t have time to focus in a real fight, Noct. You’ve got to phase like that.” But that was a crutch Noctis had yet to lose. And so Noctis closed his eyes.

The tang and pressure of magic washed over Ignis like an explosion, as Noctis simply walked forward. For half a terrifying second, Ignis feared Noctis would try to fight the guards, but his fear was baseless. Noctis moved like a shimmering wave, like a trick of the mind, and suddenly he was on the other side of the guards, having simply phased through them.

It was almost too sudden for Ignis to understand, this brazen application of the royal magic. Who are you and what have you done with Noctis?

“Gods dammit,” Clarus swore beside him. They moved at the same time, following in Noctis’s wake. “Why does he always have to be so difficult?” the Shield muttered under his breath.

Ignis wanted to snarl at his old mentor. Maybe Noctis was “difficult” because he was sixteen years old, watching his father waste away before his eyes, and bearing the future of his entire country on his shoulders.

Ignis considered the last few weeks as they hurriedly followed after Noctis, who seemed oblivious that he had pursuers at all. He thought about the push to force Noctis to master his magic as quickly as possible, the recent debilitating attacks on the wall, how the king had gone from teaching his son magic nearly every day to a near complete withdrawal.

“What are you not telling us, Master Amicitia?” Ignis hissed at the King’s Shield.

Clarus glanced sideways at Ignis, but did not answer.

A few seconds later, and they were all standing in King Regis’s bed chamber. The king sat hunched over in his bed, hidden below the chest by a thick comforter. “Noctis!” he greeted them in surprise.

Ignis allowed himself a moment to absorb the sight of his ruler as King Regis struggled to sit in a more upright position. His face was skeletal, as if the Ring had begun to eat from his flesh after finding his energy insufficient. Brittle, unkempt hair framed his face, and his eyes were sunken in, the constant pain evident in their glassy quality.

Ignis heard Noctis take a deep breath, but when he looked over, the prince’s face was unreadable. “Father,” he said, his voice gentle. “I’m here for dinner.” For a long moment, father and son stared at each other in silence, and then the king nodded. Noctis smiled a small smile, clambering gingerly onto the foot of the king’s bed.

A servant provided two trays, and the two royal men proceeded to eat their weekly dinner, Noctis crossed legged at the foot of the bed, and Regis barely upright at the head. Neither one mentioned the sorry state of Regis’s body. Instead, the king asked banal questions about how Noct was doing in school, and Noctis answered as sullenly as possible. Ignis and Clarus stood at attention in the doorway.

Someone unversed in how Noctis and his father operated might have wondered how the prince could have been so driven to see his father on one hand, and seemingly barely able to tolerate speaking to him the next. But Ignis, who knew the prince the best, felt like his heart was breaking at how hard Noctis was trying to pretend like nothing was wrong.

As they finished and another servant took their trays away, Noctis hesitated and then said to his father, “Ignis and Gladio told me that you wanted to possibly install Kingsglaive as my bodyguards.” He didn’t elaborate and he didn’t look his father in the eye as he said it.

Ignis too found he couldn’t look his counterpart in the eye, choosing instead to ignore the burning feeling of Clarus’s eyes on the back of his head.

“Noctis,” the king sighed. “What I want--.” He hesitated. “I want to know that the people who stand behind you,” he said instead, “have every protection you are capable of giving them. I want us to be ready for the trials ahead.” His gaze grew particularly heavy. “I want no one’s sacrifice to be in vain.”

Noctis looked very small at the foot of the king’s bed. He squeezed his eyes shut, opened them, and then nodded at his father.

“I’ll let you rest now, dad. Ignis will take me home.”

***

When they got home, Noctis collapsed on the edge of his bed. Hunching his shoulders, he hung his head over his knees, tension running through every line of his body. Ignis wavered, and then he followed, perching himself next to his young charge. He wanted so badly to hold Noctis, to sooth him with a gentle hand on his back, to remind him that he wasn’t alone, but he couldn’t. It wasn’t Ignis’s place to sooth the prince like that.

Though sometimes he wondered if not him, then who?

“I wish—,” Noctis hesitated, startling Ignis from his rumination.

“You wish what?” asked Ignis.

Noctis only shook his head, refusing to meet his advisor's gaze.

“You wish for what?” Ignis repeated himself. “What do you need, Noct?”

Hesitantly, Ignis reached over and laid his hand over Noct’s arm. The prince swung his head back up from his knees. He stared at his advisor's hand, like he didn’t understand what was happening.

Ignis himself, had no idea what he was doing. He and Noctis were close, but they weren’t exactly touchy. Just earlier he’d been thinking about how exhausting it was to always have to be in emotional crisis mode around the prince. Yet right now he wanted nothing more than to gather Noctis up in his arms, to let the teen take from Ignis’s strength, to run his hands through Noct’s silky hair until there were no more thoughts about things no one could change.

As Ignis realized the dangerous path his thoughts had led him down, he fought the instinct to jerk his hand back, knowing that would only make things worse.

Noctis saved him from his indiscretion. The prince quietly drew Ignis’s hand away and asked, “What would you do, if you weren’t my advisor?”

“What do you mean, what would I do?” Ignis replied, as he scrambled to get his thoughts back in order. “For a job?”

“A job, your life, whatever. What would you do, Ignis, if you could do anything you wanted to?”

Ignis stared at the wall over Noctis’s head. “I’m already doing that,” he said. He added teasingly, “Lucky you.”

Ignis had intended to lighten the atmosphere a bit. To bring Noctis out of the brooding mood he was ensnared in, and hopefully also get himself back in the correct mindset. But Noctis’s mouth tightened, almost like Ignis had hurt his feelings. “I’m being serious, Iggy,” he demanded. “What would you do, if you weren’t my advisor. If you couldn’t be.”

“So am I. I’m being entirely serious.” Ignis sighed, sensing that this wasn’t something Noct would let go until he had the answer he wanted. “If I were forced away, what would I do?” It wasn’t something he had ever really thought about. “I suppose I would go back to the university. Study something that could help people.”

Noctis absorbed that, then leaned forward, avoiding Ignis’s eyes. “Then you should go,” he said tonelessly. “You should do what makes you happy.”

Ignis blinked at him in bafflement. How had they gotten to this? He couldn’t quite hide the note of irritation creeping into his voice as he replied, “I told you. I’m doing that already.”

“I don’t believe you,” Noctis ground out, further startling the advisor with his outburst and shaking the bed. “How can being my glorified babysitter be fulfilling for you?”

Ignis stared at Noctis in shock and then, his voice deliberately quiet, he asked, “Do you see me as your glorified babysitter?”

Ignis couldn’t help the niggling doubt that he had fucked something up somewhere. That perhaps the prospect of fulfilling the covenant with him had disgusted Noctis to the point of demanding Ignis’s resignation. Even though he knew better, knew that Noctis would never ask him to leave, he couldn’t help but think that while Noctis’s growing feelings concerning Gladio were often painfully obvious, his feelings about Ignis were far less so.

“Of course not,” Noctis replied, shaking his head. “But you’ve–you’ve given up so much for me. You can’t tell me you haven’t, and I’m finally beginning to realize how unfair that is—.”

“Noctis,” Ignis interrupted. He waited, and when the teen did not respond, he said more firmly, “Noctis. Look at me.”

Noctis jerked his head up at his advisor. His eyes were shining, though he wasn’t quite crying yet. “Noctis, I want you to listen to me very carefully,” Ignis said, holding the prince’s eyes.

Part of him felt sick that he had not managed to stem this anxiety in Noctis earlier. That he had never really noticed it before. Ignis had just assumed that it was obvious that at some point in their relationship his devotion to Noctis has become an eternal, soul consuming thing. Some people spent their entire lives without the fulfillment of knowing exactly what they were meant to do. But Ignis was not one of those people.

“As my prince and as my friend, you control many aspects of my life. That’s true. But—and this is very important that you understand this, Noctis. You have no right to decide for me what I find value in.” Ignis's gaze turned hard and unyielding as he spoke.

“When I was a child,” he explained, “I realized that I possessed gifts that few others do. And so I became your advisor because I knew it was something that I could both do a lot of good with and excel at. More importantly, I became your friend because I met a very lonely little boy who needed someone that cared for him because he was Noctis and not because he was Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum.”

Noctis looked away at that, but Ignis continued his speech regardless, “You have a lot of power, but you don’t get to decide for me what I need, Noctis.”

Ignis hesitated, and then he added firmly, “And you wound me when you belittle my choices like that.”

“Ignis,” Noctis jerked his head back around with a shocked expression. “I didn’t mean--.”

“I know what you meant, Noctis. I do. And I’m gratified that you care so much for my happiness. But when I tell you that what I’ve chosen to do with my life makes me happy, then I need you to believe me.”

They stared at each other, and then Noctis said softly, “I’m sorry, Iggy. Even when I’m trying to be selfless, I somehow fuck that up too.”

“I’m sorry I ever led you to believe that I would possibly be happier elsewhere.”

“You didn’t. I just--.”

Noctis kicked his feet against the edge of the bed as Ignis regarded him. “What is this really about, Noctis?”

Noctis’s expression was unreadable. Finally, he replied, “I talked to Ulrich yesterday. The Kingsglaive.”

“I know who he is. What about him?”

“We talked,” Noctis shrugged. “About the covenant I guess. He said it was selfish of me. To be so hesitant to fulfil the covenant with you and Gladio.”

Ignis had unhappily suspected that this was what Noctis was really upset about. The fast approaching deadline felt like it was pressing in on them on all sides. He knew they needed to talk about it, even though he was starting to dread almost as much as Noctis. Though it did surprise Ignis that Noctis had spoken about the covenant with a Kingsglaive of all people. “How is that selfish of you?”

“He said that it would give you guys power. The kind of power that could save your lives. And by holding back because of my own apprehension, I wasn’t doing our relationship justice.”

Here was where he should probably agree with Ulrich, push Noctis while he was vulnerable and more easily led. “I think it’s more complicated than that,” Ignis replied instead.

“Is it?” Noctis challenged. “Because I think it’s really not. If anything, it’s really fucking simple.” To demonstrate, the prince made a crude hand gesture involving his fist and his forefinger.

Ignis felt like his heart was breaking all over again. Indeed, his earlier desire to hold Noctis felt selfish and manipulative upon reflection. Months ago, Gladio had hurt Noctis on the command of the king, and at the time Ignis had told Gladio that there was no reason to feel guilty since he’d had no choice in the matter.

How stupid he had been.

Even though it placed his job and his future in jeopardy, it was becoming clearer and clearer that he didn’t have the stomach to lead Noctis towards something the teen so clearly dreaded with all of his being.

“Noctis,” Ignis said, “I won’t force you to do something you are uncomfortable with. Not like that, not ever.”

“No, you would never make me uncomfortable,” Noctis said sarcastically. “You’ll just bend over and let me rape you. But it’s okay because it was your choice.” He immediately backtracked with a wince. “Sorry. That was uncalled for.”

Ignis sighed heavily. “It’s fine.”

“But it’s not. It’s not fine. And I don’t know how to deal with it.”

That he didn’t know how to deal with this was quite clear. “We deal with it together,” said Ignis. “It’s not just your burden to bear, Noct. Like you said, if rather crudely, it’s ours as well.”

With a sigh, he pushed at Noctis, bullying him further into the bed. “Look, you should go to sleep. You’ve had a long, stressful couple of days.”

Noctis’s voice was very small as he allowed himself to be manhandled under the covers. “I don’t want to lose you.”

Ignis paused. “That will never happen. I promise you.”

***

**Noctis**

***

That night Noctis dreamed. It started out familiar enough. The smell of burning metal, blood, and something foul, something that screamed of death and wrongness. To describe the being before him as a snake with the head of a woman was an injustice. The Marilith had a pulsing presence, a force that defied description, but that would haunt Noctis until the day he died.

Normally when Noct dreamed of this memory, he was prostate and helpless on the ground, just like he had been in real life. Not truly in pain because the daemon had already severed his spine in half.

But tonight was different. Noctis stood young and powerful, his magic spilling out around him. Normally Noctis’s magic felt like an animal that he could barely control. It licked and pulled at him when he needed it to be steady, and failed him when he desperately needed one last push.

Tonight’s magic would not fail him. It was endless, truly endless, and it begged to be unleashed. Rage and fear had nearly overwhelmed him, but his magic had no patience for such human emotions. The ancient fury of the twelve Lucian Kings was his to command tonight.

A thought, and twelve weapons burst into existence around him. Each was controlled with a separate thread of consciousness, a difficult feat for any normal man, but he had been born to wield this power. All twelve weapons converged on the daemon. They slashed at her in a coordinated attack that moved so fast it was difficult to follow with the human eye.

The daemon screamed.

He speared her again and again, one Armiger weapon for each of her arms. Sparks of magic followed in their wake, and the daemon flinched back, the power of the crystal fundamentally at odds with her nature. Noctis reveled in her pain.

Suddenly, whimpering sounded out from somewhere near his feet. He looked down, and found himself looking into his own eyes. He lay at his own feet broken and bleeding. For a second there was a strange sense of duality, and then Noctis startled awake.

Sometimes Noctis hated his subconscious.

***

The next morning Noctis told Ignis he was ready to stop sulking and return to his trainings with Gladio. Ignis gave him a funny look, but Noctis met it as blandly as possible.

After getting dropped off, Noctis stared at the Amicitia household door in trepidation. With what he was about to propose, he could only hope that Gladio was the only person in the house right now. What he would do if Iris were home, he had no idea. He shook his head at himself and firmly rang the doorbell. It was too late to turn back now.

A heartbeat. Then two. Then Gladio was opening the door, his expression openly surprised as he saw that it was the prince at his door. “Noctis,” he greeted neutrally.

“Hey, Glad.”

Gladio raised his eyebrow when Noctis didn’t elaborate on his own, drawling, “Is there a reason you’re here? On your day off?” The unsaid, when you’ve been blowing me off for the past three days, hung thick in the air.

“I needed to talk to you.”

Gladio gave him a long, searching look that ended in a slight nod. “Alright.”

They walked together into the kitchen. Noctis sat at the counter while Gladio stood on the other side, leaning his weight against the granite. After fidgeting for a moment, Noctis looked up and said, “I’m ready. Let’s get this over with.”

He was watching Gladio’s face closely, so he saw how Gladio’s eyes widened almost imperceptivity before settling back into blank neutrality. He hadn’t expected that of Noctis.

“Are you talking about what I think you’re talking about?” Gladio asked.

“Yes.”

“Have you talked to Ignis too?”

Noctis thought about his conversation last night, about how Ignis had promised to let it be, to stop pushing Noctis. He thought about Ulrich saying, ‘When one of them is lying in a pool of blood. What will you say then?’ If Ignis knew what he was doing now, if he knew how far Noctis was pushing himself past his boundaries, the advisor would certainly object. But Ignis wasn’t here now. And he didn’t know.

“No. I came to you first.”

Noctis waited a long agonizing heartbeat. Then Gladio nodded. “Okay.” And that was that. Gladio didn’t say anything else. He didn’t make a comment about how long it had taken Noctis to come to the decision to fulfill his obligation to form a covenant. He didn't make one of his stupid, teasing jokes. His voice was deadly serious when he said, “How do you want to do this, Noctis? Do you want to go back to the Citadel and complete the ritual with the help of the Citadel doctors?”

Noctis blanched. His father, he knew, had a procedure. Made it as clinical as possible. The two participants prepped in separate rooms, helped by a medical professional, if that was necessary, and then they came back together to do the deed as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

“Maybe that would be easiest,” Noctis said quietly.

“Then let’s go.” Gladio straightened up, already moving back towards the front door.

Noctis’s heart thudded. “Wait, now?” he demanded.

Gladio stopped to look back at him. “It’s not going to get any easier if we wait.”

Noctis scowled. Everyone kept saying that, that it wouldn’t get any easier by waiting. Even if that were the case, it didn’t make the inverse true. It wasn’t any easier to rush into the ritual immediately either. On the one hand, doing it immediately would keep Ignis from interfering. On the other. . .

“You’re already nervous as hell, Noct,” Gladio said, interrupting Noct’s thoughts. “It’ll be a lot better once it’s over with, and it’s not some big unknown eating at you.”

Noctis bit his lip, but a deadened numbness was starting to seep into him. This was really happening.

He felt his limbs move almost automatically, pulling him off of the counter stool to follow Gladio. In a fog, he bent down to retie his shoes, slipping past the Shield and out the door. There was the thud of the lock clicking into place, and then Gladio was leading him to the car.

They both remained silent as Gladio drove them to the Citadel. He filled the space with some shitty pop station, his fingers drumming against the wheel. Tuning it out, Noctis watched the houses flying past them, becoming more and more elegant, until the familiar lattice work of the Citadel wall greeted them.

He assumed the silence would continue as Gladio parked the car, but after clicking the engine off, Gladio turned to Noct and said with sincerity, “I am sorry, you know. That you feel like this thing is stealing your virginity from you. I wish it could be different.”

Noctis closed his eyes. “I’m sorry too.” He tried to put what he actually meant in his inflection, but whether it came across or not, he had no idea.

Gladio pushed his door open. “Don’t be. I told you. It’s just a ritual. Doesn’t scare me.”

Gladio’s words sounded like a lie, but Noctis did not know how to call him out on it, so he simply opened his own door and followed the Shield into the Citadel.

***

Imperiously ignoring everyone around him, Gladio led the pair of them through the Citadel’s winding hallways and into the medical wing. As he trailed Gladio, Noctis wished he could possess his friend’s ease.

Actually, he was wishing for a lot of things right now. He wished that he could just go back to last year, when his biggest concern was beating Prompto’s score in Knights Tale and memorizing a list of a couple hundred of his ancestors. He wished that he didn’t feel like everyone they passed knew exactly what Gladio and Noct were about to do. He wished, strangely enough, that Ignis were here, though an hour ago he would have said that the only thing that could make this worse would be having to face both of his retainers at the same time. Now, he longed for Ignis’s steady presence.

Most of all, Noctis wished that someone would rescue him, run up to them in the hallway and shout that this had all been a big mistake, that there was no way that King Regis would demand this of his son. He could stop all of this and call Ignis right now. Ignis would know what to do, would make it better. But if Noct did that, then he would be right back where he started, with images of Ignis and Gladio, their bodies torn to shreds eating him alive.

No. He couldn’t turn back now.

Instead, Gladio led them into some waiting room. A lone Kingsglaive in a leg cast was sprawled in a plastic chair, and two nurses sat behind the counter. Noctis waited as Gladio had a whispered conversation. One of the nurses made a small noise of surprise, lifting her gaze to Noctis, who was several paces behind Gladio. Noctis gave her a withering look, and she quickly returned to her conversation with Gladio.

Standing there, Noctis started to feel a little light-headed. He realized with a jolt of surprise that his heart was racing, nearly beating out of his chest. Several deep breaths did not nothing to alleviate the problem, and so he decided to do his best to ignore it.

Then Gladio gestured to Noctis to follow him, and they were being led through white plastered hallways. The nurse was middle-aged and severe looking. She bowed with a polite, “Prince Noctis,” after giving him a once over. Noctis immediately disliked her.

“Please wait in here, Your Highness,” she said, stopping in front an unlabeled door. “Master Amicitia will be prepared in another room and will rejoin you shortly.” They both nodded at her, and then she led Gladio away. Noctis refused to watch them leave. Instead, he turned the knob and went inside.

So this was where he would lose his virginity. The room was pleasant enough. There was a bed, wide and soft, but with that metal rail at the base that betrayed it as nothing more than a dressed up medical cot. Soft, warm lights rather than florescent were flickering on the tiled ceiling. A little table with two water bottles and a tub of lubricant. Cabinets with white plastic labels.

Noctis wasn’t sure if the halfway-successful attempt to make the room look less like a doctor’s office was helpful or not. Somehow the warm lights and soft looking bedspread just made the places where the room lacked life all that more apparent.

As he walked over and perched on the edge of the bed, his thoughts felt numb and sluggish, a counterpoint to the rabbiting of his heartbeat. What was he supposed to do now? Should he try to pump himself up or just undress? He couldn’t imagine a less stimulating sexual situation.

His eyes fell down to the bed, and he tried to picture Gladio laid out on it, tried to imagine them together, but somehow the fantasy refused to hold in his mind. He couldn’t feel anything but the tug-of-war of white sharp anxiety and overwhelming emptiness.

Even though he was waiting for it, he was still startled when he heard a quiet knock at the door. He jerked his head up, but couldn’t bring himself to do anything more than that as Gladio let himself into the room.

“Hey,” Gladio said in a low voice, shutting the door softly behind himself.

“Hey,” responded Noctis dully.

Gladio wore plain gray sweatpants, slung low over his hips, and nothing else. At any other time, Noctis would have been drawn to the sight, would have had to force himself to look away. The soft light made the black of Gladio’s ever increasingly expansive tattoos glint on his forearms.

Noctis didn’t move from where he sat on the edge of the bed as Gladio slowly walked up to him, stopping right in front of Noctis’s knees. Their height difference had the unfortunate effect of putting Gladio’s groin right at eye level with Noctis’s face. That was perhaps the only thing that could have forced Noctis to lift his head up and meet Gladio’s gaze.

Gladio’s face was closed off, a fortress to whatever he was feeling. His eyes were . . . well, Noctis didn’t know how to describe the expression in his eyes, except to say that Noctis instantly hated it.

After a silent moment, Gladio reached down, laying his hand on Noctis’s shoulder.

Noctis flinched in response, and Gladio’s hand stilled, waiting, never breaking eye contact.

He must have been waiting on some signal that Noctis hadn’t realized he had given, because Gladio nodded at him after another moment, and then he gripped Noctis firmly with his other hand, drawing the teenager closer to the edge of the bed. It had the effect of making Noctis part his knees in order to avoid knocking into Gladio’s shins, and suddenly Gladio was standing in Noctis’s space, bracketed by his legs.

Noctis took a deep, gulping breath, though all he managed to do was inhale a lungful of Gladio’s distinct scent. The usual sandy wood and musky maleness was overlaid with something harshly astringent and medical.

“You’re not hard at all, are you?” asked Gladio, finally breaking the silence.

Afraid to speak, Noctis shook his head. He wanted to point out that Gladio seemed to be entirely unaroused as well, judging by the front of his sweatpants.

Without warning, Gladio’s hand shot towards Noctis’s trousers, making the prince yelp in undignified surprise.

“Can you please calm down?” Gladio snapped aggressively, and that was what finally clued Noctis in to how stressed Gladio actually was, how much this was actually affecting him.

Gladio chose to focus on what his hands were doing, as opposed to meeting Noctis’s eyes again, and so Noctis watched as well, holding himself entirely still as Gladio quickly and efficiently took apart buttons. Soon he was down to his boxer briefs. Gladio took a long pause again.

Noctis felt like he was viewing the entire thing from outside his own body, completely removed from the situation. He watched almost dispassionately as Gladio reached a bit too quickly to pull on Noctis’s boxers, as if Gladio also needed a push before he lost his courage. After yanking it down, the Shield paused again, his hand hovering over Noct’s limp cock.

It was then that it hit Noctis. From nearly two years ago, the memory of Gladio, head braced wildly against the wall, neck and shoulder’s stretched taunt as he panted overwhelmed Noctis’s thoughts. The current situation could not be more starkly different. The muscles in Gladio’s neck were taunt, but with an entirely different sort of tension. His mouth was pulled into a grim line. Noctis realized with a sickening lurch that there was not an ounce of joy on his friend’s face.

And there was the bitter truth, washing over Noctis. It was a truth that Noct had never admitted to himself, not in two years of masturbating or fantasizing. But with Gladio’s eyes inches from his own, with his hand finally about to touch Noctis, Noct could no longer deny it.

The truth was that he had never been able to isolate Amber from his fantasy about what he’s accidently seen because Noctis’s Shield had always been the singularly important part of that fantasy. Ever since that day, Noctis had secretly wondered what it would be like to have that sort of power over Gladio, to make him feel that good.

“Noctis.” Gladio’s voice was strangely hesitant, the kind of tone he reserved for Iris and skittish animals. The teen realized that Gladio’s hands had moved back up to his shoulders while he had been distracted. One hand reached out at Noctis’s face, and then Gladio was smearing his thumb under Noct’s eye. Noctis could feel the wet that trailed it.

Squeezing his own eyes shut, Gladio took several breaths. Then he said, “This was a mistake.”

Noctis blinked at him, struggling to comprehend as Gladio opened his eyes, reached down, not to grasp Noct’s prick, but to pull his briefs and then his pants back up.

“What are you doing?” Noctis made an abortive move to grasp Gladio’s hands, but the Shield was already backing away.

“I can't do this,” Gladio said roughly, shaking his head again. “I thought I could, but--.”

“You thought you could?” Noctis repeated incredulously. His face was starting to burn even brighter. Without Gladio pressed into his space, he felt more naked, more on display, even though technically he was wearing more clothes than before. “After you gave me so much shit, you can't do this? Are you shitting me?”

“Don’t curse,” snapped Gladio. They both glared at each other combatively.

“Gladio.” Noctis stood up, and the Shield jerked back a step. Noctis stopped. “So that’s it then?” Noct asked. “What about the—?”

“I don’t know! Okay? I don’t fucking have all the answers.” Gladio clenched his fists, then unclenched them. With a muttered swear, he flung the tube of lube and the water off the nightstand. Glass shattered across the headboard.

Noctis watched it all mutely. He let Gladio stand there breathing heavily for a few seconds, and then he muttered , “I thought you said it was just a ritual.”

“It is!” Gladio looked like he wanted to throw something else. “But, it’s—argh! You’re just fucking sitting there, Noct. Making me feel like a fucking rapist.”

“I’m making you feel like a rapist?!” Noctis’s voice was growing higher and higher pitched. Somehow he had gone from barely being able to form a coherent thought or emotion, to feeling like he was about to burst from it. “What the fuck do you want from me? Do you want me to pretend?” Noctis couldn’t help but see a flash of Gladio’s face, scrunched up in ecstasy. He did his best to push it away. “Would you like me to moan for you?” he snarled. “Then again, I’m the one fucking you, Gladio. Maybe you’re supposed to pretend for me--.”

“Stop it,” Gladio hissed.

But now that he’s started, Noctis had no idea how to stop. “Maybe you’re the one who’s supposed to beg for it, so I don’t have to think about what the fuck it is I’m actually doing. You can take one for the team.”

Stop it.

“Would that make you feel less like a rapist, Gladio? If you were the victim? If I was the one with my hands down your pants?”

“I said, shut the fuck up!” Gladio roared over Noctis.

Somehow they had ended up inches away from each other again, both heaving for breath. Noctis could feel the tears leaking down his cheeks. He did nothing to check them; there was no point.

But then something happened that stopped him short, something almost incomprehensible.

A single fat teardrop was forming in the corner of Gladio’s left eye. It seemed to catch the Shield by surprise as gravity did its job, the teardrop rolling down his cheek until it was caught by his scruff. He blinked rapidly, as his mouth fell into a confused frown.

Noctis had never seen Gladio cry before. Not once. Not when he’d broken his leg, not when he’d gotten his ass beat after mouthing off to a Kingsglaive member, not even when his mother had died.

“Gladio, are you--?”

“We’re done here,” Gladio said sharply. “I’ll call someone to send you home.”

Noctis shook his head slowly, unable to believe that this was how it was all ending. “Don’t bother. I’ll sleep at the citadel tonight.”

Gladio gave him one last look. It was clear he knew that Noctis was avoiding Ignis, but he didn’t exactly have a leg to stand on to chide Noct. With a sigh, Gladio said, “I’m going out of town for the weekend.”

Noctis nodded, and Gladio turned to leave. He made it as far as the doorknob. Then he swirled back around and added gruffly, “Just don’t do anything—stupid—while I’m gone. Okay?”

Noctis just stared at him, too emotionally exhausted to keep interacting with the Shield. With a small huff, Gladio finally left, slamming the door behind himself.

***

Chapter Text

***

*Nyx Ulrich*

***

When he slept, Nyx Ulrich dreamed of death. Lifeless, shocked faces reaching for him, grabbing at his pants legs and sleeves, trying to drag him down into the abyss. Tonight, the dead pulled on his shoulders, shaking him, shouting at him, their words garbled and indistinct.

“Get up!”

For a moment Nyx struggled between dreams and reality. Someone was grabbing at his shirt sleeves, but no dead person had ever sounded quite as put out as the person currently trying to force him out of bed.

“Come on you big lump. It’s a motherfucking emergency.” Nyx blinked his eyes open to see Libertus shucking his own armor on over his head. For what was supposedly an emergency, the other Glaive didn’t seem all that concerned.

“Urgh,” Nyx groaned, and rolled over, before finally admitting defeat and jumping out of bed. “The fuck, Lib?”

“Oh, you’re gonna love this, when you find out what they’re dragging us out of bed for. I swear to the Six, if I still have to show up for guard duty at the ass crack of dawn tomorrow.” The Glaive kept grumbling as Nyx joined him in suiting up. Two other Glaives were already more or less dressed. Nyx could hear further activity in the barrack hallways. Apparently they weren’t the only ones being woken for the “motherfucking emergency.”

“What exactly are they dragging us out of bed for?”

“Seems the prince has decided to throw a fucking temper tantrum. And now, of course, they’ve got to pull the rest of us into it.”

Libertus had finished with his own armor and was just waiting on Nyx. The Glaive rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and tried to move faster. “Temper tantrum?”

“Yeah, get this, him and that Chamberlain, Scentia or whatever, decided it would be a great idea to steal daddy’s car.”

Nyx blinked. “You mean Ignis? Ignis Scientia?”

Libertus nodded.

Nyx shook his head. “I know Ignis. He would never let the prince doing something like that. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Someone poked their head in the dorm and motioned to the remaining Glaives. “Come on, rise and shine, assholes.”

Nyx exchanged a glance with Libertus, and then they both hustled into the hallway.

They all paused in front of main door and got a speech from Glaive Lazarus. The prince and his advisor were missing. They were last seen speeding off in the Regalia, and no one had seen them since. The Kingsglaive’s task was to search the city in pairs and do their best to bring the two in. This was to be kept in the utmost secrecy.

Glaive Altius raised her hand. “What if they don’t cooperate, sir?”

Lazarus’s face was cold. “Don’t give them the option, Glaive Altius. Dismissed.”

Libertus and Nyx exchanged an uneasy glance, and then turned and followed the rest of the Kingsglaive into the city.

***

*Noctis*

*10 hours earlier*

***

After that disastrous attempt with Gladio, Noctis walked over from the medical ward to his chambers and locked himself in his room. Once he was alone, he realized that he had two missed calls from Prompto and a text asking if he had forgotten that they had planned on going running together that morning.

He swore to himself. Quickly calling Prompto, he lay on his bed and stared at the stars painted on his ceiling as he spoke. “Dude, Prom, I’m so sorry. I’m such an ass. I totally forgot we were meeting, and something came up—.”

“It’s fine,” Prompto’s voice was clear on the other end of the line. He did actually sound fine, but Noctis’s stomach still twisted in guilt.

Even though he felt flayed raw by what had happened earlier with Gladio, and all he wanted to do was hide in his bedroom for the rest of eternity, he bit the bullet and offered, “Do you want to meet me somewhere?” He checked the time and added, “We could go for lunch or something.”

The other teen’s response was unexpected. There was a bit of static and rustling, and then, “Noctis, is everything okay? You sound—.” Prompto trailed off, leaving the prince not quite sure what he sounded like.

The lie rose quickly to the tip of Noct’s tongue. He was used to spinning them for Prompto now. Of course he was fine. He was just tired, always tired, even though in reality he had not practiced his magic since the exhibition fight. Physically, he had more energy than he had possessed in months. It was just everything else that was making him want to crawl into bed and stay there forever. “I—.” Noctis curled up and buried his head under his forearm. “No,” he whispered hoarsely, “I’m really not okay.”

Prompto was silent on the other end, and then he asked, “What happened?”

Noctis laughed brokenly. “I can't tell you.”

There was nothing stopping Noctis from telling his friend. Nothing at all but his own shame. The Ritual of Retainers was no secret. It had existed for too long and involved too many people to successfully remain so. But being secret and being widely known were two different things. To those that worked in the Citadel, keeping the ritual out of the spotlight and private was a way of supporting the king and his many sacrifices. It was a thing of pride and cohesion. To be on the ‘in’ was to be trusted, and no one wanted to be the one who had broken that trust.

Prompto didn’t come from an old military family like Gladio. He didn’t work in the Citadel like Ignis. He had no reason to know, except that he had become friends with the three people who were at the epicenter of building the next generation of retainers. And so Noctis had said,I can't tell you, but what he meant was, I don’t want to. Please don’t make me make you a part of this too.

“This is about Iggy and Gladio, right?” asked Prompto.

Noctis swallowed and said, “Yes.”

His friend was silent to that for a long moment. Then he said, “I’m sorry, Noctis.”

“You’re sorry? What do you have to be sorry for?”

“I guess I’ve known for a little while now that something was going on between you three. And you weren’t telling me about it, and I just kinda told myself, well if he wanted me to know, then he would tell me. But now I’m thinking that maybe I should have said something. Like I wasn’t there for you.”

“Prompto,” Noctis said softly. He wanted to punch something in frustration. He imagined telling Prompto the truth, right here, right now. What would his friend even say? Well, that sucks. Yeah, it does.

“It’s complicated,” Noctis said instead.

He could almost hear Prompto quirking his eyebrows. “I got that part.”

Noctis snorted despite himself. Still, he figured he owed Prompto some sort of explanation, even if it wasn’t the full one. “My--.” The prince almost said, ‘My father,’ but then he changed gears. “Gladio, Ignis, and I have to do something, and it’s—.”

“Complicated?”

“Yeah.” Noctis trailed off, his facing burning in discomfort.

“Hmn,” said Prompto. “Look, I know I’m just a commoner, and I have no idea what kinda pressure you guys are under.”

“Prompto.”

Prompto ignored Noct’s interruption. “So, if I sound like a total ass, then just, I don’t know, punch me or something the next time you see me. I know its Gladio and Ignis’s job to take care of you, and you guys are kinda stuck together, but it’s way more than a job for them.” Prompto’s voice was intensely earnest as he spoke. “They both really freaking care about you. And I know that you feel the same way.”

Noctis knew that too. But sometimes it was one thing to know it, and another thing entirely to feel it. So, he merely shrugged, then realized Prompto couldn’t see that. “Yeah,” he added instead.

That Noct, Ignis, and Gladio cared about each other, well yes, of course that was true. That wasn’t the issue. No, whatever aspect of their relationship was on the line with this ritual, it was infinitely more fragile. But still, Noctis almost couldn’t help himself when he asked, “How do you know that?”

“What, that they care about you?”

Noctis made a small noise of affirmation.

“Are you kidding? I know because Iggy lets you play those Altissian pop stations whenever he drives us around. That takes real love.”

“Dude.”

“Seriously,” the blond teen replied. “Do you think he plays that shit when he gives me rides home? He bakes you cakes. Like at least three times a week. He doesn’t exactly have to do that to do his job.” There was a lot of noise on the end of the line, likely Prompto grabbing a drink or something. Then he continued, “And I think for Gladio, being a jackass is form of affection. There’s only two people outside his family I’ve ever seen him care enough about to fight with. And that’s you and Iggy.”

Noctis wasn’t sure he wanted to talk about the Shield. “Gladio was four when his dad told him that he would spend the rest of his life serving me,” he said bitterly. “At least Ignis mostly had a choice.”

It wasn’t like Noct had never thought about how his retainers had come to be his before now. It was one of those little fears that had slept in the bottom of his stomach for as long as he could remember. What did their friendship really mean, if they’d had no meaningful choice in the matter? What if Gladio weren’t the thirteenth-somethingth of his line to serve as Shield to the line of Lucis? What if Ignis didn’t feel beholden to the Crown for the opportunities he had been given and the benefits his rise in status gave his family?

I need you to believe me, when I tell you what I do makes me happy, Ignis had said. You don’t get to decide for me what I need, Noctis.

Prompto spoke suddenly, his words echoing the prince’s thoughts. “It’s like, you didn’t get to decide who your dad was, but that doesn’t make you care about him any less, right? It’s just like that.” When Noctis didn’t answer, he added, “Would you choose to be born into a different family, if you could?”

Noctis blinked. He leaned back and stared at the twinkling stars that had lulled him to sleep for most of his childhood. A different dad? A different family? It was nearly impossible to imagine. The very act of attempting to envision it felt traitorous and poisonous. He remembered the words of his ancient ancestor in the Crystal so many months ago, blood calls to blood.I name thee of the line Lucis Caelum, Protectors of the Crystal.

I name thee.

Noctis had once heard that there was a special sort of magic to names. In the old fairy tales, the hero would trick and defeat the bad guy by hiding his true name, only to reveal himself upon victory. Names were important. They had power, and Noctis was bound by his name as tightly as if it were a real physical chain. Noctis Lucis Caelum, Protector of the Crystal, Chosen King, and Bringer of the Dawn, whatever that meant.

Son of Regis Lucis Caelum, the one-hundred and thirteenth King of Lucis and Protector of the Crystal.

“No. I can't even imagine it,” Noctis said honestly.

“And yet, you didn’t choose it,” insisted Prompto. “Not really.”

“Not at all,” Noctis corrected.

“Even though you had no choice, you wouldn’t change it. You didn’t choose to be prince of Lucis, but that doesn’t change how you feel about your dad in the least bit,” Prompto repeated.

“It’s not the same.”

“Maybe not. I don’t really know what’s going on with you three. But I think you’re afraid of something. It’s in how you refuse to talk about it. And whatever that thing is, it isn’t some monster from a storybook.”

Noctis took a deep breath.

“I know you,” Prompto continued. “Not as well as Ignis or Gladio, maybe, but I’ve never seen you afraid of something dangerous before. You gave Gladio a lot of shit when he had you practically jumping off buildings, but you weren’t afraid. Which makes me wonder. What are you really afraid of, Noct?”

What was he afraid of? That it would hurt? Since he was supposed to be the pitcher in this scenario, it wasn’t likely to hurt him. At least that was what he had always heard about this sort of sex.

Was he afraid of hurting Gladio or Ignis? Neither of them were stupid. Or mute. Ignis was gay, and he’d had boyfriends before. He presumably knew how to make it work without one of them harming the other. Gladio probably had less experience with the mechanics of anal sex, but he was a well-known hedonist. He had to have experimented at some point in his long string of flings. Noctis had never even questioned that.

What then was he afraid of? That he would make a fool of himself? He made a fool of himself all the time in front of them. His learning how to warp had been more splat than success for the first few months.

He tried to imagine Ignis’s face once the deed was done. The Covenant of Retainers was an act of creation. That was the old adage. Noctis could almost see it in his advisor’s eyes; something new, something painful, where there had been nothing before. A secret, where before there had been none between them.

How did his father do it? How did he face his many retainers, day in and day out, knowing what each one looked like as he or she was getting fucked with a royal cock?

Did he compare them?

Did fucking them feel good? Was he allowed to feel good about something so fundamentally wrong? In some way, he had to. The whole point was to get to completion. At least his, anyway.

Would it feel good for them, and what if it didn’t? Could he even tell the difference? Would either one let him know? He pictured Gladio for perhaps the thousandth time, though it was one of the first times that he truly admitted to himself who he was picturing.

He envisioned his Shield panting underneath him, remembering how Gladio had sworn when he was he’d been about to cum so long ago. Would he swear Noctis’s name?

It was a shameful thing to want.

It was shameful to want Ignis to hold him and reassure him, when it was the advisor who should be embittered by this, not Noctis. A shameful thing to want Ignis to want him.

To want Gladio to. . . to beg for it, to be so turned on and needy, the way Noctis sometimes felt needy after being devoured by his magic, that the Shield just couldn’t help himself. To hear him whisper filthy things to Noctis. To have Gladio leaning over him, using his height to hold the prince in place because the Shield just couldn’t hold back anymore.

And Ignis. His feelings for his advisor were no less confused, even if he managed to dwell on it less. He remembered how bitter he had felt at even the possibility that Ignis felt like a ‘babysitter.’ The dynamic which that implied. Ignis had all the pieces of Noct’s heart in the palm of his hand. He possessed more of the prince’s vulnerability than any other person, and he had never, not once, betrayed Noctis’s trust with that access.

Would that remain true after they had fucked each other? Would that precious trust survive? Would the advisor hide behind a mask of coldness, barely present, or would he hold Noctis lovingly as they fucked? Which was worse?

“I’m afraid,” said Noctis, “that this is going to fuck up our friendship forever. All that shit you were just talking about, about how they feel, it’ll just—break.”

Prompto was silent, obviously thinking about his words very carefully. “Do you really think either Gladio or Ignis could hold something against you that apparently you’re all being forced to do, whatever that is?”

Not like that. Not ever.

Ignis would have him think not. But he remembered the look of utter revulsion on Gladio’s face as he had been about to touch Noctis, and his stomach churned. How many days had it been since Noctis had found out what was expected of him in the near future? Five days? It felt like an eternity.

“Noct,” Prompto said in the earnest way that only he was capable of, having apparently read between the lines of the prince’s silence. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I wish I could help you.”

“Thanks,” he replied, trying put the truth of his gratitude in his inflection.

His friend said, “Look I won’t try anymore to get you to tell me what’s really going on. I wouldn’t do that to you. But whatever you guys are trying to do right now, it obviously isn’t working.”

Noctis squeezed his eyes shut. “I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Did you talk to them about it?”

I won’t force you to do something you’re uncomfortable with. Not like that, not ever. “Prompto?” Noct asked.

“Yeah.”

“What would you do, if you—liked—someone you had known for a long time? Someone you were forced to spend a lot of time with. Would you tell them?”

When he answered, Prompto’s voice had a strange inflection. Noct had a hard time placing it. “Wow, umm, I guess I would ask myself what I could live with and what I couldn’t. Could I live with never telling that person? Is what I have with them enough, or if I told them and was rejected, could I survive it?”

“Could you? Survive it?”

Noctis thought he heard Prompto laugh, but he wasn’t sure. “No, I don’t think so,” Prompto replied quietly.

“I don’t think so either,” Noctis responded, just as quietly.

After that, the conversation became less serious, though no less strained. Later Noctis laid on his bed, his phone resting on his chest. His father, Gladio, Ignis, and even Prompto, they all swirled around in his head. Everything breaking apart.

Was it wrong, to let this thing affect him so badly? He thought about Nyx looking at him with hard eyes, saying, what will you do? When it’s one of them lying in a pool of blood?

Noctis was a coward. He had always been a coward. His comfort and happiness were nothing compared to the lives of the millions of people protected by the New Wall and the Kingsglaive. Not for himself had he been born; his fate had been sealed the moment he came into this world, too sickly to wail.

In the end, Gladio had been right. It wasn’t a big deal, this ritual. Just one more unpleasant duty in a long line of unpleasant duties. He was the one who had given it some great, terrible meaning, his warped feelings for his few friends blowing the act far out of proportion. His unnatural thoughts about his retainers were what was breaking them apart, not some outside force.

Though he was often accused of being a crybaby, Noctis did not actually cry very often. But just then, alone in a way he did not often find himself, the wayward prince curled in a ball and sobbed, great wracking cries that left his limbs shaking.

***

*Ignis*

***

Ignis was reading a very long and very dull report on tax reform proposals when Gladio let himself into Ignis’s and Noct’s shared penthouse that afternoon. The advisor lifted his head in surprise. “Gladio?”

The Shield poked his head sheepishly through the kitchen door. “Oh hey, I thought you’d be out.”

Ignis wasn’t sure what that meant, that Gladio had chosen to come to the apartment expecting the advisor to not be there. “I thought you’d be training with Noctis,” Ignis replied, raising his brow at his friend, and setting the report down on the counter.

“Training? Gladio asked in a distracted voice. “Is that what he—never mind. I’m just here to borrow Noct’s fishing rod and tackle box. Where did you put it?”

It took Ignis a moment to understand what Gladio was asking him. “You want his fishing rod? Why?”

Gladio was busy digging through the hall closet. His voice carried into the kitchen. “Because I’m going fishing, obviously. Gonna spend a few days up on the mountain. Clear my head, you know?” He came back in the kitchen empty handed with an expectant look at Ignis.

The advisor blinked at him. Gladio’s family owned a cabin just outside the city walls. Ignis had been there a few times. The retreat was situated next to a small lake, far from any popular trails, but not so far as to be dangerous. “You—you can't do that. We have barely nine days to either convince Noctis or find some other solution, and you just want to go out of town for a few days?”

Gladio’s expression grew hard and unpleasant. Exhaling loudly, he replied, “Look, I love you man, but you don’t get to be all high and mighty with me. Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t exactly pleasant to be the resident deflowerer, okay?”

Ignis pushed his glasses up. Where was this suddenly coming from, and what had Noctis and Gladio been doing in that training to put Gladio so out of sorts? “What are you talking about?” the advisor asked sharply.

“About being the resident deflower? I’m talking about how you told the king that I was the perfect man for the job to take his son’s virginity. You just laid all of that in my lap without so much as asking me. And yeah, I know exactly what you said,” he added at Ignis’s stricken looked. “The whole damn Citadel knows exactly what’s going on, thanks to the fucking Kingsglaive gossip chain.”

Ignis had informed Gladio of the King’s ultimatum right after he’d been given it. But he hadn’t told Gladio what he’d said to the King, that Gladio was the best person to handle Noctis’s virginity. He’d left that vague, assuming that he wouldn’t need to say it. As Shield, Gladio had always been going to end up in that position either way. “That’s not fair,” replied Ignis. “You’ve never given me any reason to believe any differently. You’re the one that said over and over than you didn’t find the prospect of the Covenant distressing.”

“I said it wasn’t a big deal when I thought we’d all be older.” Gladio retorted with evident frustration. He leaned his shoulder against the doorframe of the kitchen. “I never thought we’d be doing this when he was sixteen or that he’d be so fucking skittish about it.”

“Even after we found out about the ultimatum, you seemed fine with it,” Ignis insisted, shaking his head.

Gladio shrugged. “Yeah, well I figured it’d be like the magic training. He’d bitch about it, but when push came to shove, he’d get his shit together.”

“You thought he would just accept his fate on his own?” Ignis had a difficult time understanding how his friend and colleague had ever believed this enterprise would go that smoothly. Perhaps Gladio was a lot more optimistic than Ignis gave him credit for.

Dropping his gaze, Gladio hesitantly said, “No, not like that. Like I said, I thought—but then Noctis and I were in that room, and he was fucking looking at me, Iggy, just looking at me, and I—Urgh, not like that.”

Ignis felt his stomach drop out from under him at Gladio’s confused and halting words. “Why are you attacking me with what I said to the king now, Gladio? What room? What did you do?”

The Shield’s glare grew defensive and he shifted uneasily. “Nothing, goddammit!” he swore, his voice heating up. “I didn’t do a goddamn thing.”

‘I don’t understand.”

Gladio crossed his arms over his chest, his shoulders rounded. “He came to me, okay? He told me he was ready.”

Ignis froze, understanding finally coming to him. “And you believed him?!”

“Why the fuck not? This is something he has to do. You act like he can just go tell his father, the Council, and the rest of the country to fuck off if he wants. It doesn’t work that way.”

“But it went wrong, didn’t it?”

“It didn’t go anywhere, Ignis. I told you, nothing happened. We’re at the exact same goddamn place we started.”

They exchanged heated glares. Finally, Ignis shook his head. “Okay,” he said softly. He wasn’t sure there was anything else he could say. Ignis's own anger at the Shield was steadily leaking away the longer he watched the other man’s agonized face, and now he just felt tired. Gladio met his eyes briefly and nodded with a sigh.

“I’m not a complete idiot,” Gladio said. “I know Noct is just a teenager. He’s not always going to be the most rational or responsible person, and I don’t expect him to be. He isn’t perfect.”

Ignis attempted a small smile. “None of us are.”

“But I have to be. Because it’s my job to be perfect when he isn’t. To protect him. But it’s fucking hard, you know? Sometimes I don’t know what that looks like.” Gladio shook his head, all the lines of his body tensely coiled. “We’re so worried about his damned virginity and his feelings, but this thing isn’t about his feelings. It can't be.”

“But?” supplied Ignis.

Gladio’s eyes glittered brightly with emotion. The Shield had given up all pretense of being preoccupied with the fishing line. “But this morning, I had my hand about an inch from his dick, and his eyes were completely dead. The kid was about as mentally present as a rag doll.” He quirked his lip tiredly, “Very sexy, by the way. I really dig partners that are so terrified, they can't look me in the eye while we’re fucking. But anyway, I’m standing there, looking at his dick and telling myself, Gladio it’s fine. It’s not even really sex. Just get it over with .” The Shield swallowed deeply.

“He trusts me,” Gladio said, his voice breaking. His next words came out slightly mangled as he took a shuddering breath. “He trusts me to take care of him, and all I could think was, if I do this, then that’s going to be between us for the rest of our lives. That I’m the one that took that from him.”

His expression growing defiant, he added, “So yeah, I walked away. I know I pissed him off, and that we’re only putting off the inevitable. But Iggy, I’ve got to live with myself too.”

Ignis squeezed his eyes shut. Sometimes he felt like everything was breaking apart, piece by piece. “It’s in the guest room.”

“What?”

“The fishing rod and tackle box.” Ignis opened his eyes and leveled a steady look at Gladio. “It’s what you came here for, right?”

Gladio frowned. “I—Okay. Thanks.”

He left to grab the gear, and Ignis waited in the kitchen. As he came back through the apartment, Gladio paused in front of his friend. He rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. “I hate the thought that you’re mad at me, Iggy.”

“What makes you think I’m angry with you?”

Gladio just shot him a look. Ignis sighed. “I’m angry. And frustrated. But not at you. It’s just,” Ignis shrugged helplessly, “All of this.”

Gladio nodded, seeming to accept that. “I’ll be back Monday morning,” he said. “I promise you, nothing will change between now and then. We’re gonna be fine, but I just really need time to clear my fucking head.”

Ignis wanted to say to him, don’t you dare leave me alone with this mess, but what he actually said was, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

“Me too, Iggy. Me too.”

***

Noctis did not come home Saturday night. Ignis tried to remind himself that teenagers were often fickle and hard-headed, and this particular one was dealing with unspeakable stress. It didn’t mean anything. But the advisor had not heard from his charge since he’d dropped the teen off at Gladio’s house that morning.

Nothing happened, goddammit! I didn’t do a goddamn thing!

If Gladio said nothing had happened then Ignis trusted that nothing had truly happened, at least in Gladio’s head. But what counted as nothing for the Shield wasn’t usually the same as for anyone else. Ignis stared at his cellphone. No missed calls or texts.

Would Noctis call him if something were truly wrong?

Perhaps he should have gotten more information from Gladio about the details of what had transpired between the Shield and the prince, before letting Gladio run off to the woods for gods knew how long. But supposedly nothing had happened. At the same time, Gladio had also been talking about looking Noct’s dick and choosing not to touch him. So something had to have happened.

Ignis hesitated. Then he flipped his phone and opened the favorites, pressing Gladio’s name. It rang until the automated voicemail system kicked on. He hung up and stared at his phone. Perhaps he should call Noct instead?

No. He would let it be. Noctis was going through so much, and he deserved his space. If he wanted to spend the night at the Citadel, then that was his business.

Even though Noct never wanted to spend the night at the Citadel. Even though it was Saturday, which meant he should be wanting to hang out with Prompto, and Noctis never hung out with Prompto at the Citadel except to run some mornings. Was he avoiding Prompto too?

Ignis called Gladio again. It still went to voicemail. Then he finally called Noctis, but the prince’s phone was turned off.

He sat on the couch and told himself he should just let it go. Tonight, he could take the time for himself that he hadn’t been able to since he moved in with Noct. Hell, he could go out on the town if he wanted, or he could do literally anything else. No one was asking for his help.

He deserved a break from being the mediator-in-chief of their trifecta.

Ignis grabbed his car keys.

***

Chapter Text

***

**Ignis**

***

A little bit later that night, Ignis stood outside the door to the prince’s rooms. The heavy wood vibrated from the force of the noise coming from inside. A guard stationed at the end of the hall had a pained look on his face.

“How long has he been like this?” Ignis asked the guard.

“I’ve been here for three hours,” the man answered dryly.

Ignis took a deep breath. “Right.” It seemed he had been right to worry that something more had happened than what Gladio'd let on. Ignis was going to kill his friend.

The advisor didn’t bother to knock. The music would have swallowed it anyway, no matter how hard he rattled the door. As he swung the door open, noise blasted out, all screaming guitars and pounding, angry drum beats. The room was a certified disaster zone. It looked like Noctis had taken everything he owned and thrown it at the far wall as some sort of target practice. Glass littered the floor.

Noctis was lying down on top of the comforter of his plush bed. His eyes were closed, but he must have sensed his advisor’s presence because he rolled up onto his elbows as Ignis approached.

The prince didn’t bother to get up, but he watched as Ignis walked over to the stereo and paused the music.

The silence that followed was heavenly.

“Usually when people turn their phones off, it’s because they don’t want to be bothered. I don’t want to talk to you,” said Noctis bluntly.

Ignis was going to need a drastically different tactic. “Good,” he replied, as he turned back around to face the teen. “The last thing I want to do is talk to you.” A tiny, repressed part of him wanted to giggle at the way the prince’s eyes bugged out, but he managed to contain himself.

“Why are you here then?” Noctis asked with a hostile glare, quickly recovering himself.

Ignis blinked. He hadn’t actually thought that far ahead. Noctis clearly wasn’t in a mood to talk about his feelings. But Ignis had a suspicion that if he left the prince here tonight, then something even more destructive was bound to happen. There was a taste of it in the air that left the back of his neck prickling.

“Because I, ah, need someone to go out with me. Preferably to the Lone Crow or someplace similar,” the advisor replied, thinking fast. They had to get out of the Citadel. He asked pointedly “It is Saturday night. Were you planning on spending it sulking in here?”

The teen glared at him with suspicion. The obvious flaw in Ignis’s response was that if he had truly wanted someone to go out partying with, Gladio would have been a much better candidate, though Ignis wasn’t sure if Noct knew that the Shield was out of town.

Either way, Ignis had a strong feeling that Noct would be loath to start any conversation about the Shield. So the question was which did the prince want to avoid more, the prospect of Ignis dragging him out into the city, or talking about Gladio?

“You want to take a sixteen-year-old out partying?” Noct asked dubiously.

“Are you planning on asking permission?” replied Ignis, his voice a little needling. “I just thought we should do something a bit rebellious, that’s all.”

Noctis narrowed his eyes. He seemed to be calculating something. Then he looked at Ignis with a challenge in his eyes, and he said almost casually, “That sounds like a great idea. But just sneaking out is so tame. We should take the Regalia. If we’re going to rebel, then we might as well go all the way.”

Check and mate. So instead of trying to get out of the advisor’s proposition by bringing up Gladio, Noctis had instead twisted the proposition around into something that Ignis would never willingly do himself. Ignis wasn’t sure if he wanted to applaud Noct or slap him.

Sneaking into bars was one thing, but stealing his father’s car was close to treason. Ignis had often helped Noctis sneak out of the Citadel when they were younger. It was always surprising anyone who didn’t know them, that Ignis wasn’t such a stick in the mud as his first impression might have one believe. But this was the Regalia Noctis was suggesting. It wasn’t just some car.

Which was almost certainly why he had suggested it. “Are you insane, Noct?! Clarus would literally flay me alive.”

“Then that’s a good reason not to get caught,” Noctis replied, rolling off the bed. “Come on we’re wasting time.”

Ignis remained firm. “We are not stealing the Regalia.”

Noctis had the smug look of someone who had just won a great battle. “But I thought you wanted to do something rebellious? Isn’t that what you said? Were you not being serious, Iggy?”

It was Ignis’s turn to look flabbergasted.

“You want to do all the things that normal teenagers do right, Iggy? Well, let’s go joyriding.” Now Noctis was starting to look a bit vindictive. “The idea just keeps sounding better and better the more I think about it.”

All Ignis had wanted was to was get Noctis out of the Citadel and maybe loosen him up a bit so the prince would be more willing to talk about whatever was obviously going on. This spark of malevolence was not what he’d had in mind.

“You’ll be caught.” Perhaps that was Noct wanted. Perhaps this was some bout of self-destruction that Ignis had inadvertently set off.

“Not if you come with me.” Noctis paused and held his hand out expectantly.

Ignis needed to stop this. He’d tried to manipulate the teen and gotten badly burned for his trouble. Noctis had called his bluff, raising the ante to an untenable height, and Ignis should fold right here.

“Let’s just go out tonight, Noct,” Ignis pleaded, “We don’t need to be so destructive. Think about what your father will say once he realizes what you’ve done. Taking the Regalia won’t exactly be something we can hide.”

Bringing up Noct’s father was a fatal, tactical mistake. Ignis saw that immediately. “Yes,” Noctis replied coldly. “Gods forbid I make my father angry. Then he might have to actually talk to me for once.”

The prince turned away from Ignis and walked over towards his balcony. For the length of heartbeat, Ignis was frozen with indecision. Then he felt his heart settle in his stomach, and he bounced forward right on Noct’s heels. The prince looked back at his advisor.

“The Regalia?” Ignis asked again weakly.

“The Regalia,” Noct confirmed, grasping Ignis’s hand and pulling him forward. “Let’s go.”

***

About forty minutes later, Ignis and Noctis stood in a small office inside the royal carport underneath the Citadel, where keys to the Regalia hung in a locker on the back wall. There had been a guard at the elevator and there would be another at the carport exit, if they ever made it that far. Getting to the office had been difficult enough, the trip having involved two emergency staircases and the laurel tree underneath Noct’s balcony.

Ignis had lost his damn mind. It was the only explanation for why he was standing guard while Noctis used the sliver-thin knife he had produced from somewhere in his ever growing weapons’ arsenal to pry open the padlock of the car-key locker.

“Hurry up,” he hissed at the prince as the clinking of the metal knife on the lock echoed through the office and into the carport. They were making far too much noise.

“This isn’t exactly easy, Iggy,” Noctis whispered. “Do you have something thinner? Like a bobby pin?”

“Why would I have a bobby pin?” Ignis asked, exasperated. Noctis glanced up at Ignis’s decidedly far too short for bobby pins hair length and shrugged.

Finally, there was the clink of success, and they were staring at a locker full of keys. Noctis grinned triumphantly. He reached in and withdrew a silver key ring, wagging it in front of Ignis.

The Regalia. The crown jewel of the royal fleet. Ignis was not rash, not like Noctis and Gladio tended to be rash. He had no reason at all to be going along with this, except that he knew Noctis better than perhaps any other person. For reasons Ignis still had not managed to fully ascertain, though he had extremely strong suspicions thanks to Gladio, Noctis had been looking for something to burn tonight, whether the advisor was there or not. Ignis had only managed to provide the particular fuel the prince had used.

“Well Iggy,” Noctis said with a wicked glint in his eyes, “Let’s have some fun.”

The two had to move carefully as they snuck back through the carport so that the guard at the elevator didn’t catch them red-handed. They kept crouched, using the rows of parked cars for cover. Finally stopping in front of the object of their mischief, Noct exchanged a series of glances with Ignis and then handed the advisor the silver ring of keys. The prince left his friend crouched next to the Regalia, moving cautiously several cars away, then he jumped up with a clattering of noise.

The man posted at the elevator was older, with a hard, sun-weathered face and salt and pepper hair. His insignia revealed him as a member of the Crownsguard, which was better for the two mischief makers than the possibility of facing a Kingsglaive.

Both the Kingsglaive and the Crownsguard had augmented physical abilities from their connection with the king. They had nearly a supernatural ability to work together in battle, but they differed significantly in the specific royal magic they received. The Kingsglaive, the county’s front line troops, had the ability to warp from King Regis, a feat only possible through the use of the Ring of Lucis. Whereas, the Crownsguard could summon a much greater arsenal of weapons than the Kingsglaive, but they could not warp. Their job was to protect the king and the Citadel, and so fancy movement was not as much of a necessity as the ability to work together to guard the only thing that kept their country from ruin.

It was why Regis was so insistent that Noctis begin to bond with his own men. No protection could come close to the incredible bond between various members of the Kingsglaive, Crownsguard, and their king.

Since this guard was Crownsguard and not Kingsglaive, he would have a much harder time chasing after the two boys than someone who could warp, and they were counting on that. Noctis stood up suddenly, making as much noise as humanly possible.

“Who’s there?!” The guard straightened from his slouch against the elevator, a long spear appearing in his hand in a swirl of silver sparks.

Noctis raised his hands disarmingly with an awkward laugh. He began to move opposite of the direction of the Regalia. “Hey there, fancy seeing you here.”

Ignis resisted the urge to drop his head into a face palm, and began the work of unlocking the car door with as little noise as possible.

“Prince Noctis? Is that you? What are you doing?”

“Well, you see the thing is—I mean—umm—you can’t tell anyone I’m here,” stammered Noctis, sounding anything but innocent.

“Your Highness, what are you doing sneaking around the carport?” There was a pause and then, “Are you alone? I don’t understand.”

Because he had used the physical key and not the automatic, the car didn’t beep when Ignis opened it, but the door still made a loud clicking noise. The advisor knew he had to move fast at this point. He slid into the driver’s seat, keeping his head ducked. Though it was muffled by the car door, Ignis could still hear Noctis talking.

“I’m totally alone! Very alone. Because I’m uuhh, planning on meeting someone?”

Ignis winced. That statement had literally made no sense. He could see through the rearview mirror that Noctis was standing in front the guard from the opposite direction of the Regalia, doing his best to keep the man’s attention facing the other way.

“Meeting who?”

“—A girl?” Noctis sounded like he wasn’t even sure what a girl was. How someone could have as many years of training in diplomacy and subterfuge as Noct and still be that bad at lying under pressure was beyond Ignis.

“A girl?” the Crownsguard repeated skeptically.

Ignis turned the engine. The headlights blared to life, refracting blinding beams of white light across the walls of the carport.

“Hey!”

He’d had no chance to adjust the mirrors or seats, but they were close enough to what Ignis preferred. The car rumbled with untapped energy, eagerly purring as Ignis grasped the gearshift. It slid into reverse as smooth as butter, and he punched it backwards, twisting the wheel at the last second, and letting the car slide sideways towards where Noct and the Guard were standing.

Ignis pulled the Regalia around at what was probably a dangerous speed in such a narrow space. He hadn’t wanted to do this, but now that he had committed, his heart was racing with exhilaration. The car stopped about fifteen feet away from Noctis and the guard. Still holding his spear, the guard had yet to make a move, a look of utter bafflement plastered across his face.

The advisor and prince locked eyes from their respective positions. Noctis dove forward just as the guard started to grab at him. Ignis saw it almost in slow motion, how Noctis’s momentum sprang into action like a trained sprinter. Gladio’s influence probably. And then guard was grasping nothing but air, while Noctis produced a short knife identical to those of the Kingsglaive. He threw it towards the Regalia, disappearing in an explosive splash of magic sparks.

Ruining any impressiveness his actions might have had, the prince narrowly avoided spearing the car. He reappeared too close and barreled torso first into the passenger-side car door. Ignis felt the painful sounding thud shake the car, and he winced.

Noctis recovered quickly however, and then he slid into the passenger-side, waving frantically at Ignis to hit the gas. Hit the gas Ignis did, the tires squealing as the car exploded forward. The teenager barely had time to close his door.

They were on the second basement floor, which meant they had go up two floors to get to the entrance. Ignis took the turns at max speed, flinging Noctis into the door every few seconds. He didn’t seem to mind, however, his face bright red and laughing. As they came around the last turn, the prince rolled the window down, leaned out the side, and aimed for the levered wooden obstruction that blocked the carport entrance. A guard was sitting in a plastic chair next to the exit lane.

Ignis didn’t slow down as they headed straight for the exit. Noctis had said he could do it, and the advisor believed him. Ignis saw out of the corner of his eye how Noctis become still with focus as he hung out the window, and then the prince threw a sword at the joint connecting the lever and its base. He missed.

They were nearly on top of the levered obstruction now. Ignis did not let himself panic. The sword reappeared in Noctis’s hand, and he took another shot.

This time his weapon connected. There was the dull force of the joint being cleaved in half, and then the parking lever clattered to the ground.

Meanwhile, the guard was waving his hands at them, shouting something Ignis didn’t care to hear over the roar of the Regalia’s V8 engine. He drove straight over the broken parking lever, nearly jolting Noctis out of his seat. That couldn’t have good for the alignment. They swerved out into the open, with Noctis whooping and laughing as Ignis sped down the street.

They were free.

***

The two were not followed, at least not immediately. Not that Ignis had expected some high speed chase through the streets of Insomnia. They hadn’t exactly hidden who they were or what they were doing, and Noct was well known for his sporadically defiant antics, although it had been a while since a major incident.

Still, Ignis’s chest was heavy, his breathing slow and foreign feeling. His senses seemed to be working only in short flashes. The smell of leather and burnt dust. Condensation on the frosted windows. Heat on his hands as he held the gearshift. Noctis trailing his fingers across the radio and dashboard.

The teenager’s hands were so strangely delicate. Ignis wondered what it would taste like, to reach over and kiss the pad of his thumb.

With a choke, Ignis opened his window, letting the early March air blast some sense into him. “What do you want to do now, Noct?” he asked over the sound of the wind ripping through the open window.

Noctis was still playing with the dashboard. He looked up, his crystal blue eyes meeting Ignis’s. “I want to drive of course,” he demanded, “Move over, Iggy.”

Ignis snorted. He had gotten them out of the rich part of town, taking the turnpike for the pure pleasure of having the room to let the Regalia move. The advisor had been less than keen on the idea of joyriding, but even he had to appreciate the pure craftsmanshift of a car like the Regalia. Such creations were meant to be used, not waste away in a dusty garage. “Do you even know how to drive a manual shift?” he asked as he demonstrated his own skill, shifting up another gear and feeling the transmission respond beautifully.

Noctis made a face. “Gladio has been practicing with me. It’s totally fine.”

Ignis shot him a quick, dubious look. The prince met it as blandly as possible. Rolling his eyes, Ignis flicked the turn signal, moving them back into the right lane. “We’ll pull off by the munitions factory,” he said. “It’s the next exit.”

Noctis nodded and leaned back against the headrest.

In the wide-open, empty parking lot, they switched places. Ignis insisted that Noctis adjust the mirror and seats, much to the teen’s annoyance.

‘Happy now?” Noct snarled, though there was no real bite to his anger. The prince took a deep breath and moved his hand to the gear shift, his foot just beginning to release his press on the clutch.

“Parking break,” Ignis reminded him gently.

“Right,” came the sheepish answer. Noct adjusted accordingly, and tried again. Sadly, the second time wasn’t exactly a raving success, the car lurching forward and finally stalling out as Noct tried and failed to engage first gear.

“I’m beginning to think that Gladio and I have very different ideas of what constitutes practice,” Ignis said mildly.

Bright pink color crawled up the back of Noct’s neck as he muttered, “Well, we might have only practiced once.”

“Once?”

“For about twenty minutes.”

Ignis raised his eyebrows at the teen.

“With Gladio's two-door.”

In other words, Noctis had practiced with a car so far from the Regalia’s league that driving it might as well have been an entirely different activity.

Ignis glanced over at his charge. The teen was determinedly not looking back at him. Noct’s hair drifted wildly in every possible direction, like he’d stuck his hand in light socket. Probably what happened when the wind met his hair gel.

“Alright,” said Ignis. He leaned over so that he could see more clearly what Noctis’s foot was doing. “We’re going to try again. This time, try to release the clutch at the same time you press the gas. Together.” Noctis bit his lip as he complied. The car made a horrid screeching noise when he didn’t press the clutch down far enough, making Ignis cringe for the gears. Maybe the Regalia wasn’t the best car to be learning stick with. But even though the car complained, Noct did manage to get it moving forward.

“Excellent,” murmured Ignis, still leaning over Noct. The teen shivered, but he was too focused on his task to give Ignis his full attention. Ignis settled back into his seat and carefully watched his charge, a strange, heavy warmth in the pit of his stomach. For the next several minutes, they slowly worked their way up to second and then third gear, the Regalia zipping and zooming across the huge parking lot.

At one point, after successfully shifting up and down several times, Noctis turned to give Ignis a bright, triumphant grin. That grin transformed his face, made his eyes blaze with blue light and the tiniest crinkle of a dimple form on his cheeks. It was such a difference from his earlier sunken apathy and maliciousness that the advisor swallowed his breath to see it.

As he met that open smile, Ignis was seized with a sudden, intense desire to close the distance over the gear shift, to capture the teen’s mouth with his own, to devour that grin and transmute it into something violently passionate. Noctis had no idea what he was doing when he teased like that, no idea of his effect on others.

But Ignis could teach him. After all, was he not his teacher in all other aspects of life as well? Noctis had no idea of the true power that he possessed.

But Ignis could show him.

“Stop the car!”

Noctis jerked his head. “What?”

“Stop the car, Noct! Please.

Noctis’s downshift was not the most graceful thing to ever happen to the Regalia, but eventually he slid to a stop. Ignis barely waited for the wheels to stop rolling before he launched himself out the door. The freezing air was like a slap to his face, and Ignis welcomed it. What the hell was wrong with him?!

For some reason, his breathing had become fast and shallow. Mortifyingly, his dick was rock hard in his pants. He braced his hands against the roof of the car and closed his eyes.

When the hell had this snuck up on him? These feelings, they were practically predatory. Since when had he thought about Noctis like this? Since when had he looked at the sixteen-year-old and seen a thin, lithe body and raven, girlishly-soft hair? Since when had he noticed soul-piercingly blue eyes, fine cheekbones, and flush, petulant lips?

What it because of their looming task? Ignis was the only one of the three who had been treating it with any amount of sensibility. At least, he had thought so. Was he truly that delusional? And could such feelings be created in the span of five days, if there were nothing for them to blossom from? He was sickening. It wasn’t like he had never seen Noct in stages of undress before, or never been confronted with the teen’s sexuality before. He did his laundry for Gods’ sakes.

What kind of monster was he?

Ignis jerked his head up at the slam of the car door. He could barely make himself meet Noctis’s eyes as the teen moved around the hood of the car.

“Iggy, are you okay? What the hell happened?” Noctis’s voice was full of innocent concern.

“Don’t touch me,” Ignis snapped as Noctis reached over to place his hand on his advisor’s shoulder. Noct froze, and Ignis mentally swore at himself. Even now his thoughts were torn between self-disgust and the strange desire to push the prince up against the side of the car. I’ll show you what’s wrong with me.

Ignis choked and squeezed his eyes shut once again.

“Ignis?” Noct’s voice had grown even softer. He didn’t try to touch the advisor again.

Ignis wanted to tell the prince the truth of the strange feelings swirling around inside him. A large part of him wanted to talk to Gladio, to get his advice. The bigger part of him wanted to carve his libido out of his brain with a rusty scalpel. And the most secret part of him wanted to hear Noctis gasping and making those sweet little noises Ignis just knew the teen was capable of. To hear his ass slap against the hood of the Regalia.

It was like once woken up, there was a monster prowling inside Ignis, threatening to destroy everything he loved.

He did not have thoughts like these. He was proper and refined, and ever correct.

Ignis had lost is virginity to another page in the Citadel, fumbling around in the dark. The act had been quick and altogether uninspiring. At fifteen, he had been a year younger than Noctis now, but probably more mature. Even so, he wished he’d waited. He’d had other encounters in the years since, one lover from the Kingsglaive that he still saw occasionally, but nothing serious or frequent.

Unlike Ignis, Gladio’s lovers were all female, and he somehow seemed to take them both far more and far less seriously. For one, his lovers were treated with all the fanfare of actual girlfriends. They clung to his arm at public events, met his parents, and demanded trinkets and romantic dates. However, he also seemed to have a new one every month or so, his dry spells never lasting very long.

Other than his first encounter, which had been mutual, Ignis had never taken anyone’s virginity. That was more Gladio’s thing, or at least it had been. The Shield seemed to be changing his tune about sleeping with with anything that had legs. Still, Ignis preferred his lovers with a bit of maturity and discretion.

Maturity and discretion weren’t words one would normally use to describe Noctis Lucis Caelum.

The prince was still standing close enough to him, that Ignis felt it when he suddenly stiffened.

Ignis shot him a questioning look. Noctis frowned, his body suddenly gone tense, and he said barely audibly, “ Magic.”

All thoughts of libido and sex froze. “What sort of magic,” Ignis asked quickly, his mind settling into something cold and hard.

Noctis’s frown deepened. His expression grew confused. “My—father’s, I think.”

Ignis blinked, and then they both swirled around.

Nyx Ulrich stood there ten feet away from the car, wearing only about three-fourths of his uniform, seemingly nonchalant, his limbs relaxed. But his dark eyes betrayed him, their graveness promising violence. Ignis had a very bad feeling about this.

“Your Highness,” the Kingsglaive greeted politely.

From beside Ignis, Noctis’s tone was just as courteous. “Glaive Ulrich.”

“You do keep my nights exciting, Highness. But I’m going to have to insist that you give me those keys and return with me. You don’t have permission to access the Regalia.”

Ignis risked a sideways glance to see that Noctis was indeed holding the keys in his other hand. Noctis twirled the keyring around on his forefinger. Nyx glanced sideways at the spinning keys, and then he raised his eyebrows at the prince expectantly.

Noctis’s voice grew far harsher, all his earlier softness and concern vanishing. “Leave, Nyx.”

The Glaive cocked his head at the prince. “No can do, Noct. Orders are orders.”

Noctis’s mouth twitched at the Glaive’s informal address. “Leave, or I’ll make you.”

“You’re welcome to try,” Nyx responded, sounding almost bored.

“Noctis,” Ignis interrupted in warning.

The prince ignored him. The engine blade appeared in his hand with an eruption of sparks. No, Ignis realized almost immediately. The replica engine blade. The training weapon Gladio had commissioned right after Noctis’s birthday. Noctis moved away from Ignis and the car, closing the distance on the Kingsglaive by several feet.

“I thought we’d already had this discussion, Your Highness,” Nyx drawled. “I believe the result was rather unambiguous.”

“Maybe I want a rematch.”

In another interruption, Ignis asked, “Where is your partner, Glaive Ulrich? I wasn’t aware that they sent Kingsglaive out alone, these days.”

“He’s around.”

Ignis frowned.

Meanwhile, Nyx glanced down at the prince’s weapon. “Is it sharp?” he asked.

Noctis responded honestly, “No.”

The Kingsglaive nodded.

Feeling more and more frantic, Ignis pleaded to the back of Noctis’s head. “Your Highness, please, think this through. We’ve had our fun. Things will go a lot easier for us if we stop now. Don’t do something you can't take back.”

“This isn’t any of your business, Ignis. Stay out of it.” Noctis said.

Ignis ignored the painful ball of hurt that lodged itself in the back of his throat at his prince’s dismissive words. He didn’t mean it. He was prepared to keep entreating the prince, when Noct suddenly moved.

The force of their weapons colliding shook Ignis. For the first few seconds, he could barely see anything, as both combatants produced so many magical sparks from phasing and warping that they seemed more like a dust cloud than two fighting humans.

Ignis had seen Noctis spar countless times before, but he had never seen this level of pure violence and viciousness.

After the first few clashes didn’t produce an easy winner, the fight slowed down, and Ignis could finally make out a clear flow to the battle. Every slash of Noct’s that the Glaive didn’t manage to phase through hit with such force that Nyx was pushed back several steps. However, the Glaive was giving back as good as he got, forcing Noctis to dance around even with his much shorter knife, getting inside the prince’s guard more often than not.

Though Noctis had the reach advantage, Nyx had the far more important talent advantage. A fact that he demonstrated when he easily hooked a leg behind Noctis, tumbling them to the ground.

Ignis did not miss how this switch to grappling only occurred after Nyx had maneuvered the prince towards one of the grassy strips that marked the boundaries between parking sections.

They landed with Nyx on top, knees digging into Noctis’s armpits. Both weapons disappeared as the prince desperately bucked up and to the side, trying to get enough room to throw the Glaive off of himself. Unfortunately for Noctis, Nyx knew how to use his weight advantage, giving Noct a hard elbow to the face for the teen’s trouble and preventing him from equalizing their positions.

If the talent difference had been clear with swords, it was astronomical with this down and dirty form of combat.

Noctis is going to lose , Ignis realized. It was inevitable. Perhaps it had been inevitable from the moment the fight had begun, but it certainly was now. Logically, Noctis losing was the best outcome. The longer the night went on, the worse the consequences would be for the teen. Ulrich was accomplishing through force what Ignis had failed to do with negotiation.

But somehow, it felt like there was more at stake here than a simple rematch. Something more than a grounding or scolding. When Noctis lost here, it would be just one more aspect of his life where he had been stripped of control. One more erosion of agency in a long history of erosions. It made Ignis’s hands itch with the need to draw his own weapons, the two daggers strapped underneath the folds of his shirt.

Still, Noctis had ordered Ignis to stand down.

It ended when Nyx took control of the prince’s arm, twisting around with a smooth, practiced movement until the Glaive held him a classic armbar.

Ignis moved towards the two combatants.

Noctis swore and gasped. It had to be extraordinarily painful. The prince twisted and fought, but that increased the pressure on his elbow until his cries turned sharp with pain, and he was pounding his other arm against the Glaive in a clear sign of surrender.

Ignis threw the first dagger.

It buried itself with incredible precision in the Kingsglaive’s sleeve, trapping his hand against the ground like a tent stake.

As the armbar was forcibly released, Noctis took a gasping breath and scrambled away. Nyx was reaching over to release himself when Ignis threw his second dagger, trapping the man’s other arm in exactly the same way, spearing him to the ground.

Nyx struggled, but he was undone by the quality of his own uniform, heavy black sleeves meant to endure the rigors of combat. Finally, he stopped and met Ignis’s gaze directly, his eyes unreadable. A steady drip of blood was coming from his nose where Noctis must have gotten a lucky hit.

“I believe His Highness told you to stay out of it,” Ulrich said in an even tone.

Ignis leveled his own gaze back at the Kingsglaive. “He did,” the advisor agreed. There was a heavy weight in his chest as he spoke. “But I make my own choices.” The words had a feeling of finality to them. Like a declaration, a line in the sand, that once spoken could not be taken back.

Though he faced the Kingsglaive, Ignis could feel Noctis’s wide eyes boring into him.

I can give you my service and my devotion, and everything else from now until we’re both dead in the ground, Noctis, thought Ignis, But I can’t give away my soul.

Turning back to face the teen, he saw that the prince didn’t look much better than his opponent. A bright bruise was already beginning to form on Noct’s cheek where the Kingsglaive’s elbow had struck. Smears of dirt covered the sides of his black jacket and likely his back too, and both knees of his pants were torn to shreds. Blood dripped from a scrape on his knee and another on his forearm.

“What do you want to do now?” he quietly asked the teen.

Noctis shook his head.

Ignis sighed and proceeded to walk over and pick up the key ring where Noctis had dropped it upon launching his attack. The advisor was tired. He’d been tired for a while now, but this felt different. I don’t want to do this alone anymore, he thought. Looking back at the prince, he motioned for Noctis to follow him.

After only a slight hesitation, Noct complied. Ignis climbed in the driver’s seat, turning on the car as the teen gingerly slid in next to him. He glanced at the rearview mirror to see that Nyx had not yet moved from where the advisor had trapped him.

Ignis wasn’t sure if he believed that the Glaive really had no way to rescue himself. Even if Ulrich could not warp without the room to throw a weapon, he had to have other means of escape. After all, they had yet to see hide or hair of his mysterious partner.

The advisor didn’t know how the Kingsglaive had found them; if they had just been lucky, or if Ignis and Noct were in for a repeat scenario with more Kingsglaive the second they stopped the car. Frankly, he no longer had the energy to worry about it either way.

Both Ignis and Noct were silent for a long time as Ignis drove away. Neither one noticed as another figure in black approached the prostrate Nyx, freeing him just as the Regalia pulled away.

The silence in the car stretched and stretched until Noctis was fidgeting incessantly, glancing back and forth at Ignis. The advisor didn’t have the energy to coax Noctis’s words into the open, any more than he had the energy to worry about what may or may not happen with the Kingsglaive. Really, the only thing keeping him together was the mindless, predictable comfort that driving never failed to provide.

Finally, Noctis gathered the gumption to start a conversation on his own.

“Where are we going?” the prince demanded.

Ignis kept his eyes on the road as he spoke. “We’re going to where we need to be to end this once and for all.”

***

**Nyx Ulrich**

***

“You should have let me call for back up,” Libertus grumbled as he yanked one of Ignis's knives out from Nyx's sleeve. “If Captain Drautos finds out we basically let them go, he’ll kill us.”

Nyx’s thoughts were far away. He ignored his friend.

“Earth to Nyx?” Libertus waved his hand in front of the other’s face. “Hey asshole, are you listening to me?”

“He really wants to fuck him. Poor bastard.” Nyx said suddenly.

Libertus shook his head. “What?”

“The advisor, Ignis,” Nyx repeated. Libertus turned back to face the direction that the car had gone, and then he looked at his friend with a raised eyebrow. Nyx’s grin grew smug, adding, “Really, for someone who’s been so dramatic about the Covenant, he sure does seem to want to take some good old princely cock up the ass.”

Libertus rolled his eyes. “Gods, you’re disgusting.”

Unconcerned, Nyx shrugged. “Nah, just practical.”

“Sounds like you’d volunteer yourself,” Libertus muttered.

Nyx blinked at him, looking surprised. “What, and you wouldn’t do it again? Feel that again?”

Libertus didn’t answer.

Nyx snorted. “At least I’m honest.”

“You honestly lost on purpose,” Libertus snapped at him.

Narrowing his eyes, Nyx asked, “Did I now?”

Libertus looked unimpressed. Nyx once again let his gaze drift to where the Regalia had disappeared. “It isn’t my job send errant teenagers back to bed,” he said quietly, “That’s not what I was given this power for.”

“You’re supposed to obey orders.”

Nyx turned to face his friend, his grin teasing. He repeated the prince’s advisor’s words back to Libertus in a sing-songy voice, “But, I make my own choices.”

Libertus punched him in the shoulder and muttered, “Asshole.” The Glaives turned back the way they had come and started walking. “Come one, let’s go report to Lazarus. Astrals know what we’re actually going to say to him.”

“Aw, you’ll think of something.”

Libertus gave Nyx an incredulous look. “You mean, you’ll think of something.”

***

Chapter Text

***

**Gladiolus Amicitia**

***

Fishing, decided Gladio, was painfully boring. It was an activity for people who had not yet discovered the far superior outdoor hobbies of hiking and mountain climbing. His feelings had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he had not caught a single fish in the four hours he’d been doing this.

Nothing at all.

The Amicitia family owned a cabin in a popular retreat on a pristine mountain lake outside the city. Gladio could still remember how much he’d loved coming here as a child before things with the empire had gotten really bad. He even had a couple of youthful memories of Noctis being with them, and in fact, he was pretty sure Noctis had learned to swim in this very lake.

As dusk fell, he shook the fishing rod for the last time and sighed, finally deciding to call it a day. Time to reel in the line and consign himself to whatever was left in the cabinets from the last time someone had been here.

The cabin itself was pretty basic. It had everything you’d want in a family retreat: three bedrooms, a decently stocked kitchen, piles of board games, a wall covered in various weapons and hunting gear, and a deep freezer for the meaty spoils of that gear. Everything the Amicitia family needed to kick back and relax. Scrounging for dinner, Gladio found a can of beans and some frozen bread that he managed to resuscitate in the oven. It wasn’t glamourous, but the important thing was that someone had left a few cans of beer in the fridge.

Life’s small mercies.

The last bit of twilight had long since surrendered to full darkness by the time he cracked open a cold one and retired to the porch swing. The early March air was still crisp with the dying gasp of winter. With a sign of contentment, he let himself absorb the creak of his swinging and the sound of wind curling around trees that had yet to grow spring leaves. When was the last time he had stopped and taken the time just to be still? He couldn’t remember. It was always Noctis, or Iris, or training, or some crisis at the Citadel.

As he closed his eyes, his mind wandered, finally taking apart and processing the events of the past week.

It had all started with that damn exhibition fight. Noctis jumping in front of him. King Regis’s clear and stinging distrust of their ability to protect his son. The attack on the magical city wall.

The king thinks he’s dying. As the swing went up and down, Gladio examined the thought coldly, poking and prodding at it. He couldn’t imagine a life without King Regis, without his father always there, just behind Regis’s shoulder. Noctis and his retainers were the vanguard of the next generation, and they weren’t ready.

The king’s chosen method of preparing them for that future had exposed a fatal weakness in how he’d raised Noctis. On the one hand, Noctis had been groomed to turn his efforts towards being a sacrifice for his people, just like his father and his father before him. Yet on the other hand, King Regis had seen fit to try to give Noctis as normal a childhood as possible, given the circumstances. The prince had been allowed to play, to goof off, and to make mistakes, spending afternoons hanging out at the arcade with Prompto instead of attending council meetings.

That was where Noctis and Gladio were fundamentally different. Gladio too, had been told from a young age that his life was not his own to live. But he had always embraced that responsibility, even if he hadn’t always embraced Noctis himself. And while, even in his darkest moments of resentment, Gladio had never lost sight of his eventual purpose, Noctis seemed to have forgotten that he was always going to have to fuck his way through the entire Crownsguard and Kingsglaive.

Noctis was unwilling to give up the normalcy of being able to lose his virginity on his own terms, but his fleeting childhood reprieves from his responsibility had been just that, reprieves.

Reflecting on that, Gladio came to a realization about himself.

In the secret, repressed part of his subconscious, he resented Noctis for the prince’s belief that he would ever have that choice. Gladio, in contrast, had always given everything ever asked of him to the Crown. He had never complained, not once, but yet Noctis, who had been blessed with so much support, had not only been allowed to have those glimpses of freedom, but he had the audacity to demand even more. It wasn’t fair.

Gladio took a swig of his beer and pushed the porch swing as far back as it would go before releasing it. It wasn’t a nice feeling, this petty jealousy. Gladio wasn’t used to it. He spent most of his time being glad that he wasn’t Noctis, glad that he didn’t face the kind of pressures the younger teen did. But even though it was never pleasant to look inside and see ugliness, Gladio had never been the sort of person to willingly hide from himself either. Noctis hadn’t chosen his lot in life, any more than Gladio had. And Gladio shuddered to think of what a life of pure duty would have done to Noctis’s soul.

I love him too much to ever wish that on him.

Another swig of his beer and a second, powerful thought hit him.

He was ashamed of himself.

It seemed like he had yet to learn to balance the good of the Crown vs. the good of the prince. Even though he’d promised himself the last time he had been faced with these competing pressures, that he would choose differently, that he would choose Noctis. The truth was that the prince deserved to be angry about this. Nothing about it was fair.

Even if Gladio and Ignis refused to follow through with their own duty, Noctis would not lose the pressure to perform the ritual. The responsibility would just move from Gladio and Ignis to Captain Drautos, the leader of the Kingsglaive. Even though whoever Drautos chose from Kingsglaive wouldn’t be able to force Noctis to release his magic during sex any more than Gladio and Ignis could have, they wouldn’t have to go that far.

Noctis was easily manipulated if you were fucking heartless. He broke under guilt trips and harsh words, quickly shutting down and retreating into himself, becoming pliant. Then it became a simple thing to take a lack of a no as a yes. Gladio himself had come painfully close to something like that yesterday, much as it hurt to admit it to himself.

Unless Noctis had a complete change of heart about the ritual, he was facing something as close to rape as to make the difference immaterial.

But even if it were Gladio and Ignis, how could they force him to complete the Ritual without using the same pushy tactics? Gladio curled his fist in frustration, thinking about it. Noctis didn’t want to sleep with any one of them, and Gladio couldn’t change that by wishing. What it better to be coerced by two people who cared about you, rather than strangers? Or was that worse?

Gladio finished his first beer, and with a grunt, he leaned over and opened the second, taking such a long gulp that he swallowed a quarter of the beer in the first sip.

If only they could do it on their own terms . . . If only it wasn’t about magic and duty.

Before he could follow that thought further, Gladio was suddenly drawn out of his self-reflection by the sound of rolling tires on gravel. He frowned and rose from his slouch on the swing. From where he stood, all he could see were bright headlights. What was another car doing here?

His sword leaned against the door where he’d left it when he arrived. He hesitated a moment longer, and then he grabbed the weapon as the strange car slid to a stop next to his own. The headlights finally turned off as whoever was inside cut the engine, but it was still too dark to make out details.

“This is private property, asshole,” he called out as he hefted his sword. “You’re at the wrong house.”

The driver-side door opened, but still Gladio struggled to see who it was. “Gods, you’re so aggressive sometimes,” came a very familiar voice as the stranger climbed out of the car and slammed the door closed.

Gladio nearly dropped his sword. “Ignis?!”

***

**Nyx Ulrich**

***

Nyx had a very bad feeling about this. After giving their report, he and Libertus had been told to hang tight, that someone important wished to speak with them.

“I can't believe you dragged me into this,” Libertus muttered again. Nyx didn’t bother answering. There was nothing to do but wait and take their punishment like men.

A slick, black car finally rolled up to where they were standing. Both Glaives scrambled to straighten up and stand at attention as none other than the King of Lucis climbed out of the back.

Nyx heard Libertus groan under his breath next to him. “Astrals, we are so fucked.” Despite himself, Nyx was starting to agree with that assessment. Everyone knew how protective the king was over his son, and not only had they let the prince get away, Nyx had given him a heavy blow to the face for his trouble.

Perhaps they should have lied about that part.

“Glaive Ostium, Glaive Ulrich,” King Regis greeted respectfully. Both Kingsglaive bowed low. Other than a few official ceremonies, Nyx hadn’t been this close to the king since the night he received his powers. It was vaguely unnerving.

The king didn’t seem to notice any nerves on the Kingsglaive’s part, however. Instead, he asked them to repeat their story yet again. The Crownsguard leader, Clarus Amicitia, had exited the car and stood behind the king, glaring at them venomously. So, at least one person blamed them for losing the prince.

Well, he owed it to Libertus to take the fall for this one. With a dry swallow, Nyx did as he was bid, explaining how they had come to search the industrial sector.

“Everyone else seemed to think my son would choose to go where the night life was, Glaive Ulrich,” the king said mildly. “How is it, that you two came to search an empty factory parking lot instead?”

“With respect, Your Majesty, anyone could have guessed that. They stole a car that can go zero to sixty in four seconds,” Nyx responded. “Why would they take it cruising downtown where there’s so much traffic?” Also Noctis was a well-known introvert. Why anyone would think he’d want to go clubbing or somewhere similarly public was beyond Nyx. Especially with the bookish chamberlain in tow.

“I assumed they stole the Regalia solely because it’s mine,” replied the king, his voice still deceptively light. His gaze on Nyx had grown intense and searching.

Nyx swallowed again. “I can't say one way or the other, Your Majesty,” he replied diplomatically.

King Regis let Nyx’s lack of a true response slide. Instead, he asked, “If you had to guess, where would you say they were going next?”

Nyx had a couple of very good guesses based on what he had overheard before the two had driven off.

“I have no idea, Your Majesty,” he said. Libertus shook his head mutely.

The king leaned all of his weight on his cane and just looked at them. If Nyx didn’t know better, he would have sworn that mind reading was one of the Royal Lucian powers. Gods, he was starting to sweat, which was probably the point.

“Nyx Ulrich,” said the king. His tone startled Nyx. There was something . . . honest in his voice that hadn’t been before. “I just want to find my son,” Regis said quietly.

Nyx squeezed his eyes shut. He could feel Libertus’s humming tension next to him.

“Please,” asked the king.

Nyx did not want to be in the middle of this drama. Frankly, he wasn’t paid enough for it. But he couldn’t refuse a father the peace of mind of knowing his son was safe either. “I think your best bet is to ask your Shield,” said Nyx, pointing to Clarus.

King Regis narrowed his eyes and exchanged a glance with the Shield.

“Do you know where your son is right now, Master Amicitia?” continued Nyx. “Because wherever that is, I think that’s where you’ll find the prince and his chamberlain.”

“Why?” The king’s question was sharp and to the point. Clarus was still frowning at them.

“Because we both know why Noct is acting out. It ain’t because he’s having problems with his girlfriend.”

Clarus made an annoyed noise from behind the king. “That’s Prince Noctis—.”

King Regis cut Clarus off with a wave of his hand. “No,” he said slowly, “I don’t think it’s a girl.”

Nyx was once again caught in the king’s intense gaze. He wasn’t sure how to answer the question that was skimming the surface of their back and forth, but still, he tried for his king’s sake. He said hesitantly, “I don’t know your son or Ignis Scientia very well. But I do know people, and I saw how they looked at each other tonight. Whatever they’re going to choose to do about the Covenant, they’re going to choose it tonight. Thant’s why I think they’re with Gladiolus Amicitia. Because those three always do everything important together.”

A half second after it came out of his mouth, he realized the potential sexual implication of his last sentence, but it was too late to take it back. Still, he cringed to himself and felt Libertus do the same next to him.

Both King Regis and his Shield grimaced. Clarus looked at his king and offered, “Gladiolus decided to spend the weekend at the lake house, I believe.”

Nyx and Libertus were silent. The king glanced back and forth between them and Clarus. Then he said to Nyx, “My son—did he say anything to you? About why he did what he did, besides the obvious.” There was clear pain in the man’s eyes as he asked.

The Kingsglaive didn’t exactly want to tattle to the king about his earlier conversation with Noctis. That felt like something between the two of them. But he was already dangerously close to insubordination, and really this whole thing was getting ridiculous. King Regis didn’t need to ask Nyx what was going in his son’s head. Only one person was the expert on inner workings of the mind of Noctis Lucis Caelum, and that was Noctis Lucis Caelum.

But kings were human too. And clearly they could be just as cowardly as the rest of the mere mortals around them.

Maybe the king forgot what it felt like to use sex as an end, rather than a means after the fiftieth or so Kingsglaive recruit , thought Nyx uncharitably. He stopped beating around the bush and said without mercy, “He told me that he felt like a rapist, like the scum of the earth. Those were his words.”

King Regis clenched his hands over his cane tightly at Nyx’s abrasive words. He frowned and said, “I suppose you believe I’ve failed my son, Glaive Ulrich—no, don’t answer, I can see it plainly enough on your face,” he said before Nyx could deny it. “You won’t be the first or the last. I know my son. I know he hasn’t always embraced his duty the way those around us believe he should, and I’ve always done my best to give him the leeway to grow up at his own pace.”

Nyx really wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say to this. The king didn’t need to explain himself to a lowly Kingsglaive. He didn’t need to explain himself to anyone. And yet he was talking to Nyx and Libertus like they were all equals, or at least something close to that. Clarus’s expression had lost its annoyance and become completely unreadable, much to Nyx’s disappointment. He could use some direction on what was expected of him right now.

King Regis continued, “I need Noct to master his magic, but I’ve learned what effect my interference has on him from our initial efforts with the Crown’s magic. I thought giving him the space to discover this aspect of his magic on his own with the two people he trusts most would be less…traumatic than anything else I could devise. Apparently he doesn’t feel the same.”

The Kingsglaive shifted uncomfortably under the king’s stare. “I’d ask him, Your Majesty. I have no idea.”

“Of course you don’t,” the king said briskly, and just like that all earlier emotion was cleared away. He nodded at Clarus, who pulled out his phone. Then the king turned back to the two Kingsglaive and said, “Naturally, you’ll keep this conversation completely between the three of us?”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” they replied immediately. The king nodded in apparent satisfaction.

Meanwhile, Clarus was talking to someone on the phone, saying, “Are you sure?” There was the sound of some annoyed chatter, and then Clarus rolled his eyes resignedly and hung up. Afterwards, he turned to Regis and reported, “He says they aren’t there. And he’d appreciate if I’d learn the definition of a vacation.” Rolling his eyes again, he added, “Humph, I’d appreciate it if he remembered that I’m his father and that I can still beat his ass from here to kingdom come, if he deserves it.”

“Noctis and Ignis aren’t there?” asked Regis, his tone deceptively even.

Clarus shook his head. “My idiot son is lying his ass off,” he said grimly. “They’re there alright. I could hear the prince in the background.”

King Regis pursed his lips. He looked back at the two waiting Kingsglaive, then back again at his Shield, and then seemed to come to a decision. “If we know that he’s safe, then it isn’t a matter for the Kingsglaive anymore. Have Drautos call them off. I’ll deal with my son on my own terms.”

“As you wish, Majesty,” replied the Shield.

Nyx wondered if this meant he and Libertus were still on early morning guard duty. Knowing their luck, they absolutely were.

***

**Gladio**

***

Gladio didn’t understand what was going on. “Ignis?!” he called out. He could see now that there was another person in the passenger seat, who could only be Noctis. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s a long story,” replied Ignis, as he turned and waited for Noct to exit the car as well.

Something in the advisor’s tone sounded off to Gladio. It immediately put him on edge. He put his hand on his hip, trying to hide his unease. “Do I need to buy you a damn dictionary for your birthday, Iggy? Because you seem to have some major gaps in your understanding of words like ‘Alone’ and ‘Space.’”

Ignis didn't rise to the bait. He didn’t even turn around. “Come on, Noct,” he said instead, facing the car. Gladio too, put his attention towards the car Ignis had arrived in.

“Is that the—Regalia?” he asked dumbly. Before Ignis could answer, Noctis finally clambered out, and all thoughts about how the hell they’d ended up with the king’s car were driven out of Gladio by the sight of the prince.

He’s hurt. Noctis was bleeding.

Gladio didn’t even register himself dropping his sword. Noctis’s eyes rounded as the Shield raced up to him, and then Gladio grabbed his charge roughly, tugging him this way and that, spending a very long time lingering on the bruise on the prince’s cheek. Though he made a face, Noctis endured Gladio’s urgent examination, his complexion a bright red.

Finally, Gladio took a step back, and this time his voice had lost all semblance of playfulness. “What the hell happened?” he demanded. He could see from Noct’s injuries that the prince had been in some sort of altercation, likely a fist fight if the bruises and scrapes were any indication. Of course, the big question was, where the hell had Ignis been while this was happening?

“I told you,” said Ignis from behind him, “it’s a long story. One that would perhaps be best explained inside.”

The Shield looked at Noctis, but he averted his eyes and remained silent. “Fine,” snapped Gladio, trying and failing to hide his agitation. He grumbled under his breath as the three of them walked inside and sat around the kitchen table. Gladio took a moment to locate the first aid kit. He pulled out a potion, handing it to Noctis. Examining it suspiciously, the prince made a face and said petulantly, “Eww, this looks like it was bottled twenty years ago.”

“They don’t go bad,” Gladio replied brusquely. He didn’t have the patience right now for any of Noct’s bullshit. “Just fucking drink it.” Noctis made a face like Gladio had just insisted the prince kill his first born child, but he complied nevertheless. Gladio watched as the bruise turned a mottled green, then yellow, then finally fading away completely. Only then did let himself fully relax in his chair.

Ignis shook his head at the interaction. “Would you like to explain or should I?” he asked the teen. Noctis mumbled under his breath, making it clear they’d be waiting a long time if they were going to rely on him to give a retelling of the night’s events. “Right then,” said Ignis, launching into a succinct recap what had led to them arriving at the cabin with the Regalia.

When Ignis was done, Gladio took a bracing breath.

One heartbeat.

Then two.

Then he bellowed, “Have both of you lost your damn minds?! What the hell were you thinking?!”

Before Ignis could reply, Noctis said softly, “It’s not Ignis’s fault. I made him do it. Please don’t blame him.”

Gladio’s response was acerbic. With a dismissive eye roll, he spat, “Oh? I didn’t realize that mind control was on the list of royal powers nowadays.”

Noctis looked like he was going to say something smart in retaliation, but he was interrupted by Ignis, who warned, “Gladio...”

The Shield remained undeterred. “I leave for one day. One fucking day. And you two decide to steal a car.” His expression told them exactly what he thought about that. Noctis at least had the wherewithal to look ashamed. Ignis was harder to read. But then, he always was.

With a tsking noise, Gladio jerked his head to the side to give himself a moment to breathe, watching Noctis from the corner of his eye. The prince’s bruises might have healed, but he was still covered in dirt and blood from his fight with the Kingsglaive.

Speaking of which, nothing about that part of the story made sense. Ulrich was a much more experienced fighter than Noctis. Sure, the teen had the potential to outclass the Glaive, but he was far from that level at the moment. Even with Ignis’s help, Ulrich should have demolished them. What the fuck was that Kingsglaive playing at?

Gladio sighed heavily. “Look, you should at least take a shower, Noct. You’re fucking filthy.”

Noctis blinked at him suspiciously, so Gladio added, “We’ll take five, and talk about this when you get out, okay?”

Noctis continued to look at him searchingly, but eventually he nodded and left for the bathroom.

Ignis fidgeted uncomfortably while they waited; however, Gladio didn’t waste any time. He whirled on the advisor as soon as he heard the shower spray, starting accusingly, “You should have stopped him.”

Ignis didn’t answer. Watching his silent friend, Gladio snarled louder, “It was your duty to stop him.”

At that, Ignis finally made a scoffing noise. “What was I supposed to do?” he demanded, “lock him in his room?”

“Yes,” Gladio exclaimed, “That’s exactly what you were supposed to do, if you had to. It’s your job to keep him safe!”

Ignis just looked at him, his mouth a hard line.

“Don’t look at me like that,” grumbled Gladio, running his hand through his hair. Of course he knew it wasn’t as easy as telling Noctis what to do and expecting the prince to listen. But there had to be something better than stealing the damn car. Astrals.

“I don’t know what you want me to say. What’s done is done.”

There were several things Gladio wanted Ignis to say. He could start with something like, I’m sorry, or I know I really fucked up. “Gods, Iggy. Literally anything could have happened,” cried Gladio. “What if you’d crashed the car? This is different than when you two pulled stupid shit when you were kids. You’re in charge of his wellbeing now. You think they’re gonna let that shit slide? Your fucking job is at stake, and for what? A wild night out?”

“You weren’t there. You didn’t see his face. And my job is already in jeopardy, in case you’ve forgotten,” snapped Ignis.

Gladio had not forgotten. He snorted, “Dammit Iggy, it’s like all your higher brain functions to a trip to Altissia and left you with just your dick for brains.”

Ignis remained suspiciously silent to that jab. Frowning at his friend, Gladio asked, “Ignis?”

“What?” the advisor snapped. He looked up and then away again.

“Oh my God,” Gladio replied slowly as several pieces slid into place, “You actually were thinking with your dick.” The Shield had noticed Ignis looking at Noctis several times in the past few weeks. But Ignis was gay and Noctis was young and powerful and fit, and so Gladio had assumed there was no harm in the advisor noticing.

Ignis gave him a pained look. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Gladio stared at the advisor, his eyes widening. This was much, much worse than he had originally thought. Worse than Ignis’s lifelong inability to tell Noctis no, or the pent-up advisor’s paradoxical susceptibility to crazy stunts. It was one thing to know that Ignis sometimes seemed a little too familiar with Noct, and another to see this strange, burning desire in the advisor’s eyes.

But then again, maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised , Gladio thought with a little stabbing feeling in his chest. After all, sometimes he thought Ignis had to be the loneliest damn person in the Citadel. The advisor hadn’t always hung out with Gladio and Noctis. In fact, Gladio could still remember the moment he had realized that Ignis lived in a tiny, single room in the servant quarters of the Citadel, that he didn’t have family in the Crown City, the way Gladio and Noctis did. How alone he was when he wasn’t with Noctis.

It had seemed like such a good idea at first, to have Ignis and Noctis move in together. They’d be good for each other, and the advisor practically lived there already. But there was a difference between spending time with a person and living with them. It did something to your boundaries. And Gladio should have realized what would happen when someone like Ignis crossed his rigidly held boundaries. Gladio should have realized that Ignis could no more help falling in love with Noctis, than he could help breathing.

No , thought Gladio as his horror grew. Because the thing about Noctis was that he would never judge his advisor for being different than everyone else. Noctis understood intimately what it felt like to be Other, and Ignis could not have helped but fall in love with that.

But that didn’t change the fact that both of them had a job to do, and Ignis had supremely failed at his tonight.

“You know this can't go anywhere, right?” he said as gently as he was capable of.

“I have no idea what you mean,” Ignis snapped primly, still not admitting to what his face had given away.

At that, Gladio shook his head. He couldn’t do this indirect bullshit. “I’m not trying to upset you, Iggy. Please. But you’ve obviously got feelings for him. Romantic feelings.”

Ignis couldn’t have looked more stunned if Gladio had dropped a brick on his head. His mouth remained frozen for a long moment. “Excuse me?” he hissed, his voice suddenly gone dangerous, as he pushed his chair out with a loud squealing noise and slammed his fists on the table. He gave Gladio his most incredulous and condescending look, “I practically raised Noct. That’s insane and frankly hurtful. I’m like a parent to him!”

Gladio was not impressed. “You were a parent to him when he was twelve, Iggy. I think you’ve noticed he isn’t twelve anymore.”

He couldn’t believe that Ignis was that clueless about his own feelings. It just wasn’t possible. And indeed, a mix of emotions swirled on Ignis’s face. Shame, desperation, but also an unmistakable touch of guilt. He knew. Clearly feeling defensive, Ignis’s next words lashed out, “Just because I’m gay, does not mean I leer at young boys. I can't believe you would say something that intolerant to me.”

Gladio was not going to let the advisor get away with that either. Ignis might be able to pull that shit with other people, but never him. He leaned over the table so that he could look Ignis directly in the eyes. “Don’t be stupid, and don’t put words in my mouth,” he snapped back. “One, he’s not a young boy. Two, I don’t think you in love with him because you’re gay. I think you’re in love with him because he’s Noctis and you’re Ignis.”

Ignis was about to argue further, but Gladio cut him off. “If you had absolutely no feelings for him, then why would you be so afraid of this ritual? You’re almost worse that Noct, and he’s the virgin.”

Perhaps that had gone a tad too far.

Ignis spluttered, his face growing a violent shade of purple. “Oh, go to hell,” he hissed furiously. “You warn me of all people off from Noctis, meanwhile you ignore what’s been going on under your nose for years now.” The advisor shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

Now it was Gladio’s turn to look confused and wary. He couldn’t remember the last time Ignis had cursed at him. “What—?”

“Noct has had a crush on you for years, you imbecile. You can’t have possibly missed that. He isn’t exactly subtle. But rather that talk about it as mature adults, you find it much easier to ignore and pretend like you don’t lead him on constantly—.”

“The fuck are you talking about?” Gladio choked. “I’m trying to help you, asshole, and you’re just throwing crazy accusations around.”

“Oh that’s rich,” Ignis jammed his chair back completely and stood up.

“What are you doing?” demanded Gladio with growing alarm.

That was when Gladio heard the telltale sound of his phone going off. He also realized in that moment that the sound of the shower had stopped. “Don’t you dare go anywhere,” he hissed at Ignis. His bag with all his stuff was in the first bedroom. He strode down the hall, passing Noctis, who was just coming out of the bathroom, smelling of clean soap.

As he grabbed his phone, he saw that his father was calling him. “Shit,” he swore under his breath. With another muttered swear, he answered the phone. Noctis had come to stand in the doorway, watching him warily.

Clarus’s voice was clear and unmistakably pissed. “Gladiolus,” he greeted. It was never a good sign when his father used his full name.

“Dad,” acknowledged Gladio. He held Noctis’s gaze as he spoke. The prince mutely shook his head.

“You wouldn’t happen to know where Prince Noctis and Ignis Scientia are tonight, would you?”

Noctis’s eyes were desperate. “Gladio,” he begged. There was a smudge near his ear that he must have missed in the shower. Typical.

Gladio thought about Ignis’s revelation back in the kitchen, about how fucked up their little trifecta was fast becoming. Gods, this couldn’t get more complicated. And all he had wanted was to enjoy half a weekend to himself. He sighed and finally replied, “You people really need to learn the meaning of the word vacation. I. Am. Out. Of. Town. Okay? I have no idea what they’re up to. Probably at the penthouse.”

At those words, Noctis let out a relieved breath and murmured, “Thank you.” Gladio shushed him silently.

“Are you sure?” asked Clarus.

“Unless you think I misplaced them up my ass, then yeah I’m pretty sure. Are we done?” he growled. From the doorway, Noctis winced at the Shield’s tone.

“Watch yourself, son.”

“Yes sir,” replied Gladio. They exchanged a few more words, then he hung up. Gladio turned and met Noct’s gaze as he closed his phone.

Looking at the prince, he was suddenly hyper aware that the last time they had been alone in a room together, Gladio’d had his hands down the teen’s pants. The way his lips were pursed, Noctis was clearly thinking of the same thing. Gladio sighed and started to say something, then stopped. There was something in the way Noctis was watching him, something—uncomfortable. He tried to tell himself that it was just a product of the shittiness of the long day, but it felt like more. He kept remembering how frozen Noctis had been, like a trapped rabbit.

He’s had a crush on you for years, you imbecile!

Could it be true? Gladio had never really put a lot of thought into Noctis’s sexuality before this sudden ultimatum. But now that he thought about it, Noct had never spoken to him about a girl. Not once. What sixteen-year-old didn’t spend all of their time thinking about girls? Unless they were thinking about boys…

But then why was he so fucking skittish? If he truly had a crush on Gladio, then shouldn’t he have been eager, rather than hesitant? If he truly liked Gladio that way, why would he always be so hardheaded and contrarian to everything Gladio had ever tried to beat into his thick skull? Also it was a little weird to think of Noctis looking at him like that. Thinking those sorts of thoughts about him. Had he jerked off to fantasies about Gladio before?

Gods, Gladio couldn’t take this anymore. He was supposed to be on fucking vacation. He’d asked for two days. Two day for Noct and Iggy to take care of themselves. And instead of giving him that much, they decided to burn the metaphorical house and everything inside to the ground while he was gone.

“Gladio,” started Noctis, bringing the Shield back out of his thoughts. But then he was interrupted by the arrival of Ignis behind him in the hallway.

Poking his head over the much shorter Noctis, Ignis asked, “Was that your father? What did he want?”

Gladio raised his eyebrow at the advisor. Were they just dropping the argument they’d been having in the kitchen? Apparently they were, because Ignis didn’t react in any way to Gladio’s attempted eyebrow conversation. “Asked if I’d seen you. Said no.”

Ignis absorbed that, then he said, “We need to talk.”

“Thought we were doing that. You didn’t seem too keen on it,” Gladio replied challengingly. Noctis gave him a confused look, and Gladio shrugged at him. Let Ignis explain that one if he wanted.

Ignis shook his head, and pushed past Noctis and into the bedroom, coming to stand next to the sagging bed. “I mean the three of us need to talk. Seriously and honestly. This can't go on any further like it is.”

Gladio wasn’t in the mood anymore to have a deep discussion about his feelings. Not when he didn’t even know what they were. Ignis couldn’t just drop shit like that on his head, and then expect to have a productive, well thought-out conversation about it. He was about to say as much, but Noctis beat him to the punch.

“I don’t have anything I want to talk about,” the prince said stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest in the doorway.

Ignis let out a deep breath. “This isn’t only about you. The consequences of your choices here do not just affect you.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Noctis spat.

Gladio felt a prickle of danger crawl up his spine. That was Noctis’s patented, I’m about to either throw a tantrum or run away voice. From the way Ignis was gnashing his teeth, he obviously saw the threat too.

Ignis let a few seconds of silence pass, then he asked, “Were you lying to me yesterday then?”

“What?” started Noctis, but Ignis spoke over him.

“Because I’m trying to keep my promise to you, Noct. You have no idea how hard I’m trying. But I can't—I can't do that, if you don’t help me.” As he spoke, Ignis let himself collapse on the edge of the bed, his face in his hands. He sighed, then added, “If you won’t talk about the Covenant, then will you just talk to me? Honestly?”

Noctis had uncrossed his arms at some point in that speech, and now his expression was troubled and closed off. “Ignis,” he said, half swallowing the word.

Gladio couldn’t help but think honesty was easy to demand from others, when you weren’t willing to provide the same. After all, he was the only one who seemingly wasn’t hiding some deep seated romantic feelings for someone else in this room. “Honest about what?” he pointedly asked Ignis, his tone a lot more caustic than he intended.

“Everything,” Ignis replied, his hands falling away from his face. “Not just Noct. All of us. Maybe we can’t come to terms about the Covenant of Retainers or the deadline we’ve been given. But if we can't be honest right now, then what we have is doomed anyway.”

Gladio was starting to get pissed off. He bit his angry retort back with every ounce of self-discipline he had. It wasn’t his job to protect Ignis the way it was with Noctis, but that didn’t mean he didn’t feel responsible for the idiot. And Ignis was talking about discussing their fucking feelings as if that was going to solve their problems, when he was the one who had made their problems impossible to solve in the first place.

Because Gladio knew how this was going to go. He’d realized it while listening to Ignis explain how he and Noct had sneaked out of the Citadel. Ignis had, for good reasons or not, put the prince in danger during a time when the King was plainly having a paranoid meltdown about the prince’s safety.

He was finished. He’d signed his resignation the instant he’d climbed down the Laurel tree in front of Noct’s balcony. And neither of them seemed to fucking get it! It was unbearable.

Really, the only thing that Gladio could see saving them was if Ignis had something that no one else in the prince’s circle had. The qualities he did have that formed the foundation of his relationship with Noct were not obvious. They were in the small moments of understanding and quiet, in knowing when to push and when to let Noct just be. But he needed something indisputable, something concrete to put in front of the King when he had to face the mistake he’d made tonight.

That could have been the Covenant. If Ignis, and probably Gladio in this scenario, were the only ones who had a Covenant with Noct, it would go a long way toward protecting their position together. The King couldn’t just throw something like that away, not when he had so clearly stated how important it was for Noctis’s retainers to have a magical connection with him.

But that was about as likely as Noctis announcing he and Ignis were eloping to Niflheim together. And they were out of time; Ignis had seen to that.

Gladio‘s stomach squeezed into a tightly coiled ball of tension, thinking about how he could possibly protect the both of them, even as he fought the desire to snap at Ignis and take out all of his frustration right then. There were so many pieces to this. Noctis with his fears, Ignis with his damn, whatever he was feeling for the prince, and the precariousness of his job. None of it meshed.

Gods, this wasn’t about magic powers anymore. It wasn’t even about Ignis’s and Noctis’s apparent cross romantic feelings. It was about saving their friendship. And Gladio had only ever had one job in his life, one driving desire.

He would do anything to protect them.

***

**Noctis**

***

Noctis had not wanted to talk. He still didn’t really want to talk. But he saw where Ignis was coming from, how incredibly tiring this feeling of being in limbo with the other two was. If Ignis wanted to have a talk about their feelings, then he could participate as long as Ignis didn’t demand he start talking about the damn Covenant too.

Across from him, Gladio’s face was impassive, impossible to read. It disconcerted Noctis, as he relied on the fact that of the three of them, Gladio’s moods were the easiest to predict and understand. But Noctis did not understand the Shield right now. He seemed angry, but also indifferent to Ignis’s proposition. Gladio caught Noctis staring at him and raised an eyebrow, so Noctis furiously twisted away, his cheeks hot.

“We are going to talk, the three of us, about how we’re all feeling right now, and we aren’t leaving this bedroom until we’re good and done,” said Ignis, his tone leaving no room for argument. He slid himself further back onto the bed and then sat cross legged at the head. With a quirk of his lip, he looked at the other two expectantly. “Well?”

Noctis exchanged a glance with Gladio, who just shrugged. Swallowing down his own trepidation, Noctis clambered next to Ignis on the sagging mattress, feeling awkward and childish as he drew his legs underneath himself. Gladio of course, managed to make his plopping onto the foot of the bed seem elegantly purposeful in contrast.

Even though it was queen-sized, the bed didn’t give them enough room to be completely separate in their space, especially with Gladio’s rather large frame. With nothing to brace his back against and the rather precariously saggy crater in the center, Noctis was forced to lean into the others. There was something extremely intimate about having this conversation here, as opposed to around the kitchen table or in the living room. Knowing Ignis, it was entirely intentional.

Ignis smiled at Noctis and Gladio as they settled, the three of them in a tight, but lopsided circle. “Thank you,” he murmured as he looked them both in the eye in turn. “We’re going to lay a couple of ground rules to help facilitate this exercise before we start if you are amenable.”

Gladio snorted, his knee knocking into Noctis’s. “I didn’t realize I’d signed up for a therapy session when I decided to go on vacation.”

Ignis’s demeanor changed in an instant, his expression blazing thunderously. Even though it wasn’t directed at him, Noctis fought the urge to scramble backwards. “First rule,” barked Ignis, “If we’re going to do this, then we are going to take it seriously. If you’re not going to try, then you can leave, Gladio.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Ignis ignored him. “We’ve all done things to hurt one another, especially over the past week, and we need to talk about it. But that means that you have to be open. We are all going to carefully consider what the other is saying.” His gaze lasered in on Gladio. “This will never work otherwise.”

Gladio shifted uneasily, but after a tense second he nodded. “If that’s what you two really want to do right now, then I’ll try.” He sighed and said cryptically, “Though I don’t think this will solve our actual problem.”

“Even so, thank you,” Ignis repeated, and like that he was composed and focused again. “As I said, the first rule is that we are all going to listen to what the other is saying, even if it sounds unfair or wrong or hurtful. Can we agree to that?” This time Noctis joined in on the nodding. “Second rule,” stated Ignis, “is that this is a safe place. What is said here is not going to be repeated outside this room. Agreed?” Both Gladio and Noctis nodded once again. Ignis inclined his head slightly at their assent and then continued, “Third, is that we are going to be entirely honest here. I recognize that sometimes that’s easier said than done when discussing complex emotions.” His gaze hardened. “Here, there will be no lies. No hiding. The time for that is in the past.”

Noctis couldn’t help how his eyes slid to Gladio. Honest? Noctis wouldn’t mind finding out exactly what was going on below the layers of hyper masculinity, teasing, and aggressiveness. But could he give the same thing back? The truth of his crush swelled in his chest. There was no way he could admit that to Gladio, or even Ignis.

Gladio, meanwhile, was giving Ignis a strange look. They had a silent back and forth, then Gladio muttered, “Whatever, Iggy.”

Noctis twisted around to watch how Ignis was going to react to that less than enthusiastic consent. The advisor pursed his lips. “I’m only asking that you try as much as you can. That we all do that, including me,” he said, his voice sincere. “Please.”

Noctis wasn’t sure he could be completely honest with his retainers. But he could try, especially with Ignis looking at him so pleadingly. Besides, the prickly way that Gladio was reacting to the advisor was starting to bother him. It was like the Shield was secretly still punishing Ignis for what had happened with the Regalia, and Noctis figured he owed it to Ignis at least be more cooperative than what Gladio was offering.

“I agree,” Noctis said, his eyes on the advisor. “I’ll be as honest as I’m able.”

Ignis shot him a grateful look. “Thank you, Noct.” Then he turned back to Gladio.

“I’ll be as honest as you decide to be, Iggy. I can promise that much.” That wasn’t at all close to what Noctis had promised, but it was clear that it was the best they were getting out of Gladio.

“I can accept that,” replied Ignis.

Noctis let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. With how tense and defensive the three of them currently were, it had taken all of Ignis’s power of persuasion to get them to agree to talk in the first place. Noctis at least was trying to cooperate. But how the hell was Ignis going to get Gladio to open up when the Shield clearly intended to do anything but?

***

A few minutes later, they officially began their discussion. Ignis made them shake hands on the rules they had promised to follow. Then he said, “Okay. We’ll start with an exercise in honesty. First, we are each going to tell the others one thing that we appreciate about them, that we haven’t told them before. No commenting or interrupting. Can we do that?”

At that, Noctis felt a little lost. “I thought we were talking about our problems?” he asked.

“Just because Ignis won’t admit it, doesn’t mean this isn’t a therapy session, Noct,” Gladio said, his tone dismissive. “Don’t you know how these things work? You can't start with the jugular. You have to ease into it.”

Even though he said it to Noctis, Gladio had his attention on Ignis. The way he was looking at Ignis was an obvious challenge, and the advisor responded not with vitriol, but a far slyer counterattack.

“For example,” retorted Ignis, looking at the Shield from over the rims of his glasses, “I’ll start. Gladio, I truly admire your conviction. When you make a choice, you stick with it to the bitter end, no matter what. I wish I had the sort of determination to do even one thing, that you show with everything.”

Upon finishing, Ignis raise his eyebrow, the challenge clearly returned.

Gladio’s face made an interesting contortion as he listened to Ignis’s compliment. He spluttered, “The hell you talking about? You’ve baked the same cake three days a week for the past two years straight, and you say you don’t have conviction?”

Next to him, Noctis interjected, reminding the two of them that he was still here, “You aren’t allowed to comment or interrupt.” In retaliation, Gladio shot him a heated look, his knee pushing into Noctis’s rather uncomfortably.

“You’re quite right, Noct,” Ignis replied encouragingly, ignoring the tense undertone. “Gladio promised us that he would do his best to absorb what we have to say without judgment.” Nodding at the prince, he asked, “Would you like to go next?”

Noctis gulped. His mind went blank as soon as he was put on the spot. “Uh, does it have to be about Gladio?”

Ignis shook his head. “Either one.”

“Right.” Noctis was quickly starting to agree with Gladio about the merits of this therapy session. In that really it would be fine if they ended it right here. It probably wasn’t a good thing to tell Gladio that what he secretly appreciated about him was the work the Shield put into maintaining his six pack. This didn’t seem like the appropriate place for that.

They were both staring at him now. Ignis with his stupid encouraging smile, and Gladio with his armed crossed over his chest, mouth ticked sideways in annoyance. “Umm,” Noctis repeated. “What I like—what I really like about Gladio is….”

Gladio’s mouth twitched. Someone who didn't know the Shield probably wouldn’t have even picked up on it. But Noctis did know him. Gladio didn’t have very many nervous ticks, but that little, barely noticeable mouth twitch was one of them. Noctis suddenly felt guilty. If Gladio were making him wait that long on a simple compliment, he’d probably be feeling really shitty too.

“I appreciate that Gladio doesn’t treat me like I’m breakable. He never has, even when he’d being an overprotective ass.” Seeing Ignis’s grimace, Noctis added hastily, “What I mean is when I’m around Gladio, I actually feel like a human being.” He paused again as they both stared at him like he had just admitted to enjoying dancing naked in the moonlight. “And I guess, I appreciate that. About him.”

Relieved to be out of the spotlight, Noctis fiddled with a loose thread in the comforter as Ignis made a strange, thoughtful face. “Thank you for sharing that with us.” Noctis nodded at him. Ignis didn’t seem to be finished, however. The advisor frowned and asked, “Noctis, do you not normally feel human?”

That felt like a trick question. “I thought we weren’t supposed to make judgments about what the others were saying,” Noctis accused.

Ignis narrowed his eyes at having his words used against him. “Alright then, I accept that,” he replied, dropping it quickly. He turned to face the Shield. “Gladio, would you like to go next?”

Noctis had a hard time believing that Ignis had let him off the hook that easily, no matter what promises the advisor had made, but he decided not to question it. Instead, he also turned his attention to Gladio, who was busy looking at Noctis with a dazed expression. “Gladio?”

The Shield shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. It only took him a moment after that to collect himself, and then he inhaled a deep breath, looking Ignis directly in the eyes as he spoke. “Ignis, I like how you don’t let other people’s opinions get in the way of who you are. You cook and sew and all that shit, and you never seem to care that some people would call that girly or gay. I really like that about you.”

Noctis was stunned. He hadn’t expected Gladio to actually participate, not really. But then again, the Shield had promised to put in as much effort as Ignis did. Ignis, on the other hand, seemed completely unruffled. He smiled at Gladio warmly and said, “Thank you. That means a lot to me.”

Rubbing the back of his head, Gladio muttered under his breath and looked away.

Thus, they all three acknowledged something that they appreciated about one of the others. Gladio had implied it was just a feint by Ignis to get them to more difficult topics, but Noctis thought there had to be merit in shifting their thinking. Sometimes he took the good things about his retainers for granted, and if nothing else, being put on the spot had forced him to put words to his positive feelings.

“Okay, I’ll go again,” stated Ignis. “Hmn, Noctis.” The prince felt his heart jump. It was so stupid, but he couldn’t help but feel his nerves clench in anticipation of what Ignis would say to him. “I appreciate the trust that you show me. I know how difficult it is for you feel vulnerable, and the fact that you allow yourself to be so around me makes me feel privileged. I also appreciate how you never fail to cheer me up when I’ve been having a difficult day.”

That wasn’t at all what Noctis had expected Ignis to say. Something about one of his personality traits or something, sure. But this felt deeper somehow, and also patently not true. Noctis was well known for his apathy. It was practically his defining trait. Prompto was the one who spent his time trying to cheer other people up. He opened his mouth to argue, but Ignis cut him off. “Remember Noct. You promised to absorb without judgment. And I promised to tell you the truth.”

For some reason, Gladio snorted at that. Ignis ignored him. Swallowing his words back down, Noctis nodded at the advisor, accepting it for now. But that meant …

“Would you like to go next Noctis? Or would you like for Gladio to go first?”

“Hey, who said we could go out of order?” Gladio immediately demanded.

Pretending like the Shield hadn’t said anything, Noctis asked, “Yeah, can Gladio go first please?”

Ignis didn’t answer, and Gladio sighed heavily. “Fine. Noctis—,” he turned to the prince with a considering look, “I like the way you treat people who are weaker than you.” The Shield said it flatly. “They say if you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” Then with an uncomfortable shrug, Gladio added, “It makes me proud to call myself your Shield.”

After that, there was a long, tense moment of silence where all three seemed afraid to speak. Noctis couldn’t stop Gladio’s words from knocking around in his brain, over and over. He was proud to call himself Noctis’s Shield. Noctis swallowed. His eyes flickered up, only to see that Gladio was unabashedly staring at him. There was something there in his gaze, something vast and painful, and the longer Noct held his gaze, the harder it became to breath, until finally Gladio tore his eyes away.

“You win, Ignis,” Gladio said suddenly and aggressively. “I can't stand this anymore. Let’s just get it out in the fucking open.”

“What?” started Noctis, but Ignis seemed faster on the uptake.

“No lies.” Ignis’s gaze was just as intense as Gladio’s. “No lies and no hiding.”

“I got that. Astrals.” Gladio turned back to Noctis. His knees were still pressed hard against Noct’s. “No lies, huh. Fine.” Seeming to steel himself, his next words came out in a rush, and they were on the topic that Noctis wanted to talk about the least. “The truth is I don’t want your first Covenant to be with some fucktard Kingsglaive. None of them know shit about you. But at the same time, I can't fuck you knowing you’re terrified of me. So in the end, I just feel trapped, and it’s driving me insane.”

Noctis’s heart thundered in his chest at the suddenness of Gladio’s exclamation. Next to him, Ignis’s face was solemn. He said quietly, “Thank you, Gladio.”

“Fuck you,” Gladio snapped immediately, the words clearly more reflex than anything actually wrathful.

Sitting between them, Noctis felt like he was being emotionally bombarded on all sides. He had no idea what to think with Gladio and Ignis throwing these revelations at him, one by one. The idea that Gladio felt as trapped as him was a new thought. Gladio had always seemed so unbothered by it all. Even after he’d left Noct sitting on that damn cot in the Citadel, it had been difficult for Noctis to wrap his head around what exactly was going on in Gladio’s head.

It was apparent now that Ignis had always intended this conversation to end up at the Covenant. Noctis felt like he should be pissed that he’d been manipulated, but at the same time he hadn’t fought that hard against it. Both he and Gladio had allowed themselves to be led here, and now it seemed moot to complain.

“What makes you think I’m afraid of you?”

Gladio blinked, obviously thrown by the question. “What do you mean, what makes me think that? Literally everything you’ve done since you found out we had a timeline to get this done, Noct. You’re not exactly hard to read.”

Even though Gladio was insisting he was an open book, the Shield had not realized Noctis’s feelings for him, as far as the prince could tell. So he obviously wasn’t as observant as he thought. Noctis glared at him, and Gladio glared right back.

Ignis sighed and said, “If you want honesty, then I’m afraid too. I’m afraid I can't put sex, even for this purpose, in a box in my mind and keep it separate from everything else I feel about you.” Noctis stared at him, not quite understanding what Ignis was trying to tell him. What did he mean by everything else?

Suddenly, Gladio let out a loud breath and leaned back on the bed until he was flat on his back. Noctis had to scooch sideways, nearly into Ignis’s lap, to avoid being crushed. Meanwhile, the Shield said to the ceiling, “This is never going to work.”

Ignis shifted to give Noctis more room and then replied dryly, “Yes, you’ve made that opinion abundantly clear.”

“I mean it’s never going to work the way we’re thinking about it. We need to change the angle we’re approaching it from.”

Before Ignis could say something, Noctis asked, “What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m tired of talking about this constantly in terms of the fucking Ritual. That’s never what this has been about.”

“That’s literally the only thing it’s about,” replied Noctis. But Ignis was shaking his head. Noctis gave him a questioning look.

Ignis had a thoughtful expression. He said softly, “It’s about you, Noctis. It’s about how you want to lose your virginity. On your terms.”

Still on his back, Gladio nodded in assent on the other side of Noctis. One of Ignis’s hands drifted to rest on Noctis, drawing the prince’s attention back to him. He looked at Noct seriously. “I think I know the answer to my next question, but I want to hear it in your words anyway. So do me a favor, and don’t think about what you think we want or what you think you should want.”

“Okay?”

“How do you want to lose your virginity?”

Noctis felt his breath stop in his throat. “I—.” He couldn’t say it. Even though Ignis was asking, even though he was telling him it was okay, Noctis still couldn’t say it.

“Please,” said Ignis.

Noctis trembled. He looked down at his lap, but there was nothing enlightening or helpful there. “With someone I love,” he finally whispered brokenly, hot, embarrassed tears instantly beginning to collect in the corners of his eyes. “I can't stand the thought of it not meaning a damn thing.” Unwillingly, he began to cry in earnest, unable stop the torrent once it was released. “I want it to be like everyone says. Fireworks and everything else. Something I can remember. Is that so wrong?!” Noctis could barely get the words out in between his heaving breaths, but at the same time, he couldn’t stop himself either, speeding up until it was all coming out in a rush. “Oh Gods,” he sobbed, “It’s not fair!”

Noctis curled in on himself. He couldn’t see through his tears, but suddenly, he felt a warm weight drape around him. Blinking and hesitantly raising his head, he caught sight of a mop of dusty brown hair, and he realized that Ignis had embraced him and was holding him tightly. For half a second he stiffened, but the advisor refused to let go, and finally Noctis couldn’t help but relax into his grip.

It was like everything he had held inside for the past week was leaking away, like poison leaving his pores through Ignis’s warmth. No one said anything as Noctis reveled in the release that finally breaking down gave him. Ignis rubbed soothing circles in the back of Noct’s head until his breathing slowed down to something manageable and he was able to raise his head and meet the both of their gazes once more.

Gladio had sat back up in the interim and was biting his lip thoughtfully. As he rubbed the salt away from his own face, Noctis was startled by what he saw in the Shield’s expression. Gladio’s fists were clenched in his lap, his eyes fierce and determined.

“I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I’ve finally had a revelation,” declared Gladio. His words had an air of complete resolve. It reminded Noctis of Ignis’s earlier point about the Shield’s decisiveness. “The Covenant was always going to mean something, whether we wanted it to or not. And because of that, there was always going to be something between the three of us, no matter which one of us took Noct’s virginity. It was always going to fuck up our friendship, at least a little.”

Still half in the advisor’s lap, Noctis felt Ignis’s sigh tickle the back of his neck. He shivered slightly. The feeling of it made a strange, tight sensation curl up in his stomach. “What are you suggesting then?” asked Ignis, ignoring Noctis’s movement.

“I’m saying, you should have your first sexual experience with someone who knows what the fuck they’re doing, someone who’s going to listen to you, focus on your needs, and make you feel safe.” His eyes met Ignis’s over Noct’s head. “That’s how everyone should lose their virginity,” he added.

It was odd, to hear Gladio talking like that. He wasn’t normally the enlightened one, but then again, he’d always had a freer opinion on sex than anyone else Noct knew, except maybe some of the Kingsglaive.

Noctis raised his head so he could get a direct look at Gladio. “You’re saying, you--?”

“Want to make love to you,” Gladio replied earnestly, without any hint of hesitation or embarrassment. Noctis nearly choked on his breath. That was something he was never going to unhear. But Gladio wasn’t done. “All this talk about feelings and friendship has made me realize, we’re thinking about this all wrong. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. This can be something we do together, something that brings us closer together and builds trust. Or it can be some painful, duty driven thing. And I know which I’d prefer.”

Noctis couldn’t get his brain past the words, make love. Who talked like that? No one in real life, who didn’t belong in a cheesy romance movie referred to sex like that. “What do you mean, together?” squealed Noctis.

“Fucking together. You two were the ones going on and on about no secrets and no hiding and all that shit, right?”

“You’re talking about a threesome,” inserted Ignis, his voice flat and incredulous.

“I’m talking about how nothing that happens in this room leaves this room. Rule two wasn’t it?” Gladio said, raising his eyebrow at Ignis.

“I don’t think that’s what Ignis meant earlier,” protested Noctis.

“No, I definitely didn’t mean a three way, Astrals.” Ignis’s arms around Noctis had growing tenser and tenser the more Gladio pushed his idea. Noctis squirmed uncomfortably.

Gladio watched this and then said, “I’m so fucking tired of all this drama. If Noctis has to lose his v-card, then so be it. You want to have the fireworks and all that shit, then so fucking be it. We’ll give you the best orgasm a teenage virgin’s ever had. We’ll do it because you deserve to have at least that.”

He stopped and looked at them expectantly. When neither Noctis or Ignis had anything to say, Gladio swore, and just kept on talking in a barely coherent, rambling fashion.

“The threesome thing. Look, I’m not trying to be a kinky bastard. We tried it, just the two of us. It didn’t work. Maybe it’s my problem, but I don’t have the ability to—I don’t know—keep it all in separate boxes in my head either. I just can't. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to fit that in with what we have, our friendship. But then I thought, well that’s it. Friendship. Brotherhood. It’s not normal or usual, what we’re dealing with. Nothing about this is. So fuck the tiny boxes and the Citadel and whatever anyone else thinks. Fuck them all. We make it ours. It doesn’t have to be this shameful thing done in the dark that we all do our best to forget about and take to our graves. But it could be something more important. Us. Right here, affirming what we are to each other. That’s what we can make this Ritual.”

By the time he finally ran out of steam, Gladio was breathing heavily, and looking at them with pleading eyes. “This is about Noctis, sure. But it’s about the three of us too.” Still, neither Ignis nor Noctis answered. For himself, Noctis was simply too stunned.

He felt the heaviness of the moment all the way down to his bones.

“You’re really serious about this, Gladio? About doing it—together?” he asked, aware that Gladio wasn’t callous enough to say it unseriously. But sometimes Gladio didn’t realize he was being cruel. “You’re not just fucking with us to embarrass us or something?”

Gladio put his hand over his heart. “I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life. I don’t give a flying fuck what anyone else thinks about it.”

After he absorbed that, Noctis twisted out of Ignis’s arms and turned to look at him, asking without asking. Ignis didn’t answer right away. He stared at Gladio for a long moment, then at Noctis consideringly. “I can't bear the thought of hurting you, Noct.”

“That’s not an answer.”

Ignis’s eyes were bright. “I think Gladio is never allowed to tell anyone else off for having a crazy idea ever again. But I care more about what you want.”

“I want—I want to be able to make my own choices.”

“I understand that,’ said Ignis.

Noctis shook his head. “The thing is, you do get to make your own choices. You’ve always been able to. Isn’t that what you told Ulrich?” Ignis nodded with a frown, and Noct continued firmly, “You make your own choices, but I—I never will. Everything about my life belongs to someone else. So when Gladio says he wants to take this Ritual for himself, to make it mean what we choose it to mean, I get that. I mean, I don’t think I would have ever connected it to a threesome. That’s all Gladio, but I want a choice too.”

Ignis dipped his head in acquiescence. “Okay.”

“Okay,” repeated Noctis.

They all three just sat there for a moment. Then suddenly Noctis was giggling, unable to bear the tension any longer. Gladio let a long, relieved breath and collapsed back down, and even Ignis cracked a strained smile.

“This is completely insane,” spewed Noctis through his sharp gasps. “We’ve all lost our minds. I mean, we’re actually considering this! Like three guys. At the same time.”

Gladio shrugged. “You make it sound so bad. I never meant literally all at the same time. Just together.” He laughed. “We’re not planning on spit roasting anyone, Astrals.

Ignis choked as if he had swallowed something particularly sour. “You’re disgusting, Gladio,” he informed the Shield with a sniff. “No one needs that filth.”

Gladio raised his head, looking completely unrepentant. “Don’t be a prude. The world would be a better place if everyone were just willing to admit what they wanted.”

“It’s your language I have a problem with, not your sexual ideals.”

“Words only have the power we give them.”

Noctis snorted at that. “Does that mean you don’t care about my cursing anymore?”

“No,” snapped both Ignis and Gladio at the same time.

They glared, and Noctis shifted uncomfortably. “Are we really doing this?” he asked again. It still didn’t feel real.

“Are we?” asked Gladio significantly.

Noctis gulped. A precipice.

“Yes?” he said, aware that he didn’t sound very sure of himself.

Gladio didn’t seem to accept that as an answer. He commanded, “What are you afraid of Noct? Tell me that.”

Prompto had asked him the same thing. And Noctis had not told him. Not directly anyway.

What am I afraid of?

He could have gone through the same list he had yesterday. Hurting someone. Being embarrassed. But that didn’t really capture what he was feeling. He remembered looking Gladio in the eye as the Shield had his hands on Noct’s hip. How trapped he had felt. Afraid to feel. Afraid to not.

He remembered his thoughts from this morning. How will I look them in the eye after I know what they look like when they're being fucked?

“I can't,” he began. He stopped. Both Gladio and Ignis remained still. He took a deep breath. “I’m afraid of being seen—.” He almost said like that or in that position or even by you, but he ended up repeating himself. “I’m afraid of being seen.”

It wasn’t the only fear he had, not by a long shot. But it was perhaps the truest. The distilled essence of the torrent inside of himself, and the most honest thing he had said tonight.

“I already see you, Noct,” said Gladio, his voice strangely gruff. Noctis jerked his head up and found that his Shield was once again intensely focused entirely on him.

Noctis squeezed his eyes closed, unable to bear the other’s focus. “No you don’t.”

Gladio refused to relent. “Yes, I do.”

“I—.”

“Noctis.” Gladio forced Noctis to meet his eyes again through the power of his voice alone. “I see you.”

And then Noctis got it. He understood what Gladio was desperately trying to tell him, the only way he could. Noctis quivered from the knowledge of it. Gladio knew. How had he finally realized it? When? The Shield remained merciless, refusing to back down. “No more hiding.”

If Noctis never heard that damn phrase again, it would be too soon.

“You think we aren’t afraid of the same things you are?” interjected Ignis. His eyes shone with emotion.

“Of course, you aren’t,” replied Noctis, hardly believing that he was saying this out loud. He looked back at Gladio, “You don’t love me. Not like that.”

Noctis wasn’t even sure if he loved Gladio like that. His feelings were all mixed up and jumbled with his feelings for Ignis and all of his fears and insecurities.

With a quick, pitying glance at Ignis, Gladio quirked his lip tiredly. “No I don’t.” At that, Noctis felt his heart sink into his stomach. He knew it. But that didn’t make it easier to hear. “But I’d be lying if I said you were just a job. Or just a friend. That’s what I was trying to say earlier. We don’t need a fucking label. I said I wanted to make love to you, and I meant it. Not because your dad told me to, or because my job depends on it. I want to because I care about you, and I can give you that.”

Ignis covered his eyes. Gladio was impassive for a second, then he launched himself off the bed very suddenly. In his absence, Noctis nearly fell into the crater. Ignoring Noct’s yelp, the Shield rummaged in his bag, then retrieved a jar of something from within. He turned around, and very carefully placed it on the foot of the bed where he had been sitting.

It was lube.

Gladio steadily met Noctis’s gaze, something like a challenge in his eyes. “Let me take care of you, Noct,” he said, his voice curling around Noct’s name. “I want this.”

Noctis stared at the jar. The label was black and unassuming, but Noct knew what it was. With a lot more conviction than he actually felt, he said quietly, “Okay.”

His heart settled somewhere deep in his stomach. It was and was not like this morning. He was nervous, but it wasn’t the same trapped feeling as before. By bucking the expectations placed upon them, not through refusing, but by transforming the ritual, Noctis’s outlook on it had been transformed as well.

I chose this.

With a nod, Noctis said again, “Okay.” Ignis reached over and carefully squeezed his hand.

“Okay,” repeated Gladio with finality.

***

Chapter Text

***

**Ignis Scientia**

***

Before Gladio or Noctis could take it any further, Ignis announced he had to use the bathroom. The look Gladio gave Ignis told him that Gladio knew exactly why he was retreating, but he ignored the Shield.

In the bathroom, Ignis turned on the sink and cupped his hands to get a sip of water for his painfully dry mouth. Staring at himself in the mirror, he tried desperately to center himself.

His emotions swirled, making him feel uncomfortably out of control. There was the ever present confusion of his newly discovered desire for Noctis. He was also vaguely angry with Gladio, though he knew it was mostly a product of his own embarrassment and shame. Even so, Gladio had a lot of balls blaming him for the Regalia stealing incident. After all, if Gladio hadn’t traumatized Noctis earlier this morning, then the prince probably wouldn’t have wanted to pull a stupid stunt in the first place. He had no right to talk to Ignis like that, no right at all.

With a heavy breath, Ignis splashed himself with the running water, feeling the cool relief run down his face and hair.

No, Gladio was acting like Ignis was purposely being duplicitous by not announcing his confused and dangerous emotions to Noctis. But at the same time, the Shield insisted that Ignis could not allow himself to be ruled by those same feelings. There was no way to win there.

Ignis gave himself one last long look in the mirror and then with a sigh, walked back out in the hall to where he could hear the others talking from the open bedroom door. Ignis silently halted as he heard what Noctis was asking Gladio, “Have you ever does something like this before?”

Gladio’s respond was gruff and distracted. “Like what? Sex? A threesome?” Ignis couldn’t help himself. He didn’t much care what Gladio had or had not tried before. But Noctis’s interest—well that intrigued the advisor very much. So he stopped outside the room and listened avidly.

“No. I mean—with a guy.”

Ignis strained to hear Gladio’s response. It took him a moment, then the Shield responded, “No. I haven’t.”

“Oh.”

Gladio snorted. “But I have played around with that stuff with girls. Works pretty much the same way.”

Noctis shuffled, then replied, “Does it bother you to be doing it with two guys now?” Ignis wished desperately that he could see the prince’s face. But he figured his reappearance would halt the conversation right there.

“Gods, you need to listen. I told you I wanted to, didn’t I?”

“I guess.”

“Sex is sex, Noct. I like it.” Gladio laughed again smugly. “I’ve been told I’m good at it too.” Outside the door, Ignis rolled his eyes. With another loud breath, the Shield added, “Sex is about making each other feel good. It’s not rocket science, you know, no matter what parts you have. It’s supposed to be fun.”

This might have been the point when Ignis decided to finally enter the room, but then Noctis asked Gladio, “Do you think Iggy is actually okay with this?” The advisor froze.

“I think Ignis knows what he wants,” The Shield replied cryptically.

Ignis indeed knew what he wanted. It was just that what he wanted was awful and predatory. To control and propel the sexual awakening of Noctis Lucis Caelum. To show him what exactly it meant to want, to need. Gladio might have gotten the whole thing started, but Ignis wanted to be the one who took these first steps with Noctis.

With that, Ignis finally make a loud clattering noise and proceeded to take a few heavy steps, rounding the corner to the bedroom. Noctis looked up at him guiltily as he entered. “Hey.”

Ignis smiled, ignoring the obvious tension. “Hello.”

The prince stood by the dresser, and Gladio lounged on the bed. The teen must have been pacing back and forth while Ignis was in the bathroom. He could almost see the path worn in the carpet. With a slightly raised eyebrow, Ignis gestured to the bed, but Noct shook his head, remaining firmly where he was. Ignis shrugged.

He couldn’t help but stare at his charge. Noctis might have showered, but he hadn’t brought a change of clothes, and the clothes he wore were still filthy. Ignis hadn’t really noticed before, but now that he was contemplating tearing them off, it was suddenly apparent.

Suddenly Noctis yawned, rolling his shoulders around stiffly. The display reminded Ignis how late it must be, and he quickly glanced at his watch. 2:30 a.m. No wonder Noctis was yawning. Now that he looked closer, Ignis could see the dark rings forming under the prince’s eyes, and it wasn’t just the teen either. Ignis felt like he could sleep for an eternity as well. “Are you sure you don’t need a short rest, Noct?” he asked kindly.

The prince shook his head in response. “I’m not that tired actually.”

“You’re not tired?” teased Gladio. “I don’t believe it.”

“I’m not,” insisted Noctis. “I haven’t—I haven’t used my magic in like a week now.” Noctis looked a bit uncomfortable at the reminder that his magic took so much from him. “So I’m not tired. Not like that.”

Gladio seemed like he was going to say something, but then he visibly changed gears. “Well, good,” he said, “It’ll make this easier then.”

Noctis shrugged as Gladio sat up and looked at him intently. “You can feel it, can't you? Sometimes when you touch yourself. Your magic?”

The prince swallowed visibly. His eyes darted around, to Ignis and then back to Gladio. Then he nodded.

“Good. This’ll be really simple. Just let your magic guide you when you’re fucking us, and you’ll be fine.”

Noctis made a nearly inaudible gasp on the word ‘fucking,’ but he nodded once more.

Gladio continued, “Okay, how do we want to —?”

Ignis interrupted the Shield. “I will.”

He squared himself and faced Noctis. The words had come almost unbidden, but he couldn’t lie to himself about how little he wanted to take it back. Gladio might be the hedonist, the confident one, the easy choice, but Ignis wanted this.

Would Gladio argue with him? He hated how his stomach clenched with nerves, and he was struck again by the unfairness of it all. How in the hell did Gladio find it so easy? The Shield had just announced with all the aplomb of a new work-out routine that he wanted to make love to Noctis, only minutes after finding out Noct’s feelings for him. Ignis meanwhile, could barely hold himself together, had to watch the teen lust after his Shield while choking his own desires down. He had to look at Noct and know that the teen believed that Ignis was forcing himself to this task, that it was something akin to rape.

It wasn’t fair.

But Gladio surprised Ignis. He gave the advisor a look that was nearly unreadable in its complexity, and then the he nodded.

Noctis bit his lip, eyelashes fluttering. “I don’t know what to do.”

“No,” agreed Gladio, “But Iggy does. He says he’s got this, and I believe him.”

Ignis wasn’t sure that was true, but he was unwilling to give this away to Gladio’s hands, so he nodded silently. He didn’t trust himself to speak. He wondered if Noctis could see the painful desire that was tearing its way through every nerve of his body.

Gladio settled himself further on the bed and took a long, deep breath. “Show us then,” he commanded from his perch, his voice strangely cool and low. “Undress him.” At Gladio’s challenging words, Ignis felt something hot sink to the bottom of his stomach.

With clenched fists, Noctis captured Ignis’s gaze, refusing to look away or hide.

No secrets.

Ignis was nothing if not obedient. He and Noctis stood only a few feet apart, one by the dresser and the other the door. A voice in his head cawed over and over, this is real, this is really happening. Walking the few steps to his charge, Ignis slowly took the time to absorb the sight of the younger teenager, the warm flush of his cheeks and the shallow rise and fall of his chest. This was a moment Ignis would never experience again, and thus, he needed to absorb every sharp second of it.

He did not look away from Noct’s face as he slowly grasped the thin cotton of the teen’s shirt. The texture of the fabric made everything feel so much more real, something concrete to hold in his hand. As he exposed a strip of Noctis’s slim stomach, he wanted nothing more than to reach down and kiss the tiny belly button, but he held back. This was something that had to be handled delicately.

This was Noct.

Instead, he removed Noctis’s T-shirt jaw-achingly slowly. The prince held entirely still for him. When Noct stood bare-chested, Ignis again paused for a long time. Noct’s eyes were still wide, his pupils huge and dark. Goosebumps rose up across the teen’s collarbone as Ignis let himself look. Noctis’s chest was smooth, his nipples small and dusky. A smidgen of black hair started at his bellybutton and traveled south.

Ignis ached to get one of those peaks in his mouth. Swallowing dryly, he asked, “Is this okay?”

Noctis nodded. Ignis didn’t look away from Noct’s face as he reached over, resting his hands on the prince’s waist line. He let his expression ask the question for him, and he was rewarded with another nod.

Soon Noctis was standing in just his underwear, and Ignis himself was trembling. Now they were at the precipice, at a thing that couldn’t be taken back once it was done. Ignis wasn’t sure he could throw himself over that cliff. Not with the way Noctis was looking at him, the teen’s expression wary yet trusting. Afraid, but not of Ignis.

I can't do this, Ignis thought hysterically. He wasn’t good enough or brave enough to lead in changing the shape of their relationship like this. He wasn’t.

“Keep going,” came Gladio’s voice from behind him. He had almost forgotten the Shield was there. Gladio’s tone wasn’t commanding, but it was gruff, an octave too low.

Ignis didn’t dare take his eyes off Noctis long enough to look back, but the sound of arousal was unmistakable.

Noctis shivered in response, and his breathing immediately grew shallower. Ignis had to bite back the jealousy that laced through him at the clear effect the Shield had on the teenager. It didn’t matter, because Ignis would always have this; he would always be Noct’s first.

Tugging at the prince’s waistband, Ignis drove Noct’s attention back to himself. However, for the first time since Ignis had begun undressing him, Noct tensed up. His body completely froze, save for his hands. Noctis moved as if to stop Ignis, before the teen placed his arms stiffly back at his side.

That wasn’t at all what Ignis wanted. He cupped the prince’s cheek with a gentle touch. Noctis squeezed his eyes shut at the gesture, before meeting Ignis’s gaze again.

“No fear,” murmured Ignis. He didn’t phrase it as a question, but he waited on the answer regardless.

After a silent moment, Noctis mimicked Ignis, trailing his own fingers down the older man’s cheek. The feeling of Noct’s warmth sent a blast of hot electricity through Ignis that seemed to travel straight to his dick. He shivered violently. Noctis replied with a quiet smile, “No fear.”

In response, Ignis took a half a step back, waiting. Then Noctis reached down and climbed out of his own boxers of his own volition, finally standing before them entirely naked.

Ignis wanted. Oh how badly he wanted. It wasn’t a new sight, but he felt he was seeing with new eyes. Even in this moment, he could hardly believe that Noct could be so willing, so forward.

Noctis was only half hard. His dick was slim, but long, and it was entirely perfect.

The teen made a motion like he wanted to cover himself. However at the last second, he clenched his fists and forced himself to stand still, nearly vibrating with nerves. Ignis wanted to tell him how fucking gorgeous he was, but Noctis wouldn’t have responded well to such an outpouring. No, for now silence was best, even if it felt like it was killing him.

Noctis’s eyes were flickering between Gladio and Ignis. “I don’t,” he started, then stopped.

Gladio stood up suddenly. “Look at the two of you,” he said as he came to stand next to them. He met Ignis’s gaze very briefly, his eyes bright and mischievous. Ignis’s stomach did another drop, not sure if he wanted Gladio’s interruption. The Shield grinned and looked at Noctis, then back at Ignis.

“Just look at him,” murmured Gladio, his voice still that low drawl. “Not even hard, and he’s practically choking to get your cock in his mouth.”

Ignis swallowed hard. Gladio was once again talking in a way he never could. Though Ignis had never seen the Shield in an intimate setting before, it was fast becoming clear that Gladio liked to give a filthy running commentary while he was fucking. Still, no matter how much Gladio seemed to enjoy his dirty talk, Noctis was sixteen and nervous as hell. The Shield couldn’t just say things like that. Plus, Noctis didn’t look at all like he wanted anyone’s cock in his mouth. If anything, that was what Ignis was fantasizing about....

Ignis’s gaze shot to Gladio in sudden comprehension, and the Shield smirked even brighter. “Look, he finally gets it, Noct. Damn that’s adorable.”

Noctis was biting his lip, looking back and forth between them. “Don’t be stupid, Gladio,” he muttered. “You don’t—you don’t.”

“I don’t what?” challenged Gladio. “I don’t know what I’m talking about it?” He snorted. Ignis hated that he could be so collected, like it was any other argument they were having, like Noctis wasn’t naked before him. “No hiding. No lying.” Gladio cocked his head. “Isn’t that right, Iggy?”

When Ignis didn’t answer right away, Gladio repeated himself. “Iggy? You still with us?”

“Yes,” Ignis choked out at last. “Yes that’s right.” He was finally seeing it. Finally seeing what Gladio had been trying to accomplish. Noctis wasn’t trying to cover himself anymore, too distracted by Gladio’s ribbing. Ignis gave Gladio another level look.

Gladio blinked at him, then shook his head. “Gods, both of you are hopeless. You would have never been able to do this without me anyway.”

“Gladio,” Ignis said in warning.

The Shield ignored him. “Do you trust me?” Gladio asked abruptly, his eyes intensely focused on his two partners.

Ignis paused. His heartbeat felt like it was ratcheting out of his chest. He still wasn’t sure how he was going to handle actually touching Noctis, and from the look the teen was giving him, Noct was similarly struggling. “Yes,” replied Ignis.

Noctis’s voice was a lot less sure, but he repeated Ignis’s yes. Gladio gave then both another long look, then snorted and retreated back the bed. Without ceremony, he shucked his pants down, until he was down to boxers.

Ignis choked on his breath, but he didn’t say anything, choosing instead to watch as a brilliant shade of red blossomed across Noct’s cheeks. Noctis’s half hard cock gave a valiant little jump, although he didn’t seem to notice, eyes glued to the Shield.

Ignis resisted the urge to roll his eyes as Gladio situated himself on the bed. Meanwhile, the Shield looked at Ignis and said, “Safe word. I need something to tell me you’re uncomfortable. Both of you.”

“What?” stuttered Noctis.

“Just how kinky are we getting, Gladio?” Ignis asked, nearly in the same breath.

Gladio made an impatient noise. “You said you trusted me. Was that a lie or not? Safe word, gentlemen. Sometime this century, please.”

“Cinnamon,” Ignis replied quickly, narrowing his eyes.

“Noct?”

“I’ll use the same.”

Gladio nodded. “That’ll be our code for a full stop. If you’re uncomfortable, tell me and we’ll slow down. Use that and I’ll know you absolutely don’t want to do whatever we’re doing. Got it?” He settled back, clearly getting himself comfortable. After what did actually feel like a century, he finally stopped moving and put his attention back to Ignis and Noctis.

“Ignis,” he said suddenly. His voice was smooth and reassuring. “Look at Noctis.”

Ignis couldn’t help but obey. He didn’t usually like to play games in bed. Normally, he found it too difficult to let go, to put all of his trust in his partner. But this was Gladio, and somehow he found himself locking eyes with Noctis, then letting his gaze slowly drag down, taking another eyeful of the youth before him. Rather than making the situation more stressful and ridiculous, Gladio’s calm, commanding tone was putting him at ease, letting him focus on the here and now. Damn him.

“Kiss him.”

Ignis couldn’t stop the near full body shudder that rocked him at those words.

Gods, this was crazy, what they were doing. He’d never felt anything like this in his life. Was this how sex normally went for Gladio? No wonder he was such a degenerate.

Ignis closed what little distance there was left between him and Noctis, and then he cupped the youth’s face as gently as he could. Noctis’s eyes were bright and completely present. Still, Ignis had to be sure.

“Is this okay?” he murmured, his breath ghosting over Noct’s cheek.

Noctis didn’t answer. He swallowed, eyes darting in a clear resurgence of nerves. For half a second Ignis thought he had somehow ruined everything. But then Noctis’s lips were on his, the press as gentle as the wings of bird and gone nearly as quickly.

Ignis groaned, chasing the teen’s mouth instinctively as Noct pulled away. He managed to stop for half a second again, and then he let himself capture Noct’s lips.

Finally.

It was everything Ignis had never let himself dream about. Noctis was hesitant at first. It took a couple seconds of Ignis teasing his lips, before he finally let the older man in, gasping at the touch of tongue on his teeth, the roof of his mouth, everywhere at once.

Noct was a couple steps behind Ignis, learning as he went, and it was magical to be the one teaching him this dance. The teen let Ignis dominate the kiss for a few precious seconds, before he was pushing forward, eagerly trying on Ignis what the advisor was doing to him. Every swipe of his tongue was exploratory, no motion the same as the one before it.

Ignis groaned in Noct’s mouth as the teen’s fingers tightened in his hair, pulling and clenching in time with the movement of his tongue. Noct’s other hand slid boldly under Ignis’s vest, racking up and down. He chased Ignis as the advisor pulled away, but Ignis only meant to take off his shirt, and then they were both hungrily at it again.

But even the best things had to come to an end at some point. Ignis drew away for the final time, biting and pulling on Noct’s lips as he did so, enjoying the noises the action drew out of the youth. He worked his way down Noct’s neck, sucking and biting, until he couldn’t bear it anymore.

He paused, his breath coming in short gasps against the side of Noctis’s neck. The prince was trembling and breathing like he had just spent a couple rounds at the track.

I did that to him , Ignis couldn’t help but crow inwardly with immense satisfaction. He was finally feeding that monster deep inside of himself and it was insatiable.

“Wow, Ignis. Who knew you were such a wild animal underneath all that proper bullshit,” came Gladio’s voice from behind him. Ignis wanted to flip him a rude hand gesture, but he had much more important things to occupy his time. That was until he heard Gladio’s next words.

“I think Noctis and I both want to see what else you can do with that mouth, Iggy.”

Noctis froze, though Ignis could tell he was trying to hide it. Ignis, meanwhile, could barely control the thundering of his heart. Gladio wanted him to—to do….

Gladio’s voice grew even smoother, silkier. “I wonder what kind of noises you can wring from His Highness,” he said lazily from his perch on the bed. “You’ll have to be careful with him, of course. Yours is the first mouth to ever get a taste of that royal cock.” He paused, and Ignis thought he was mercifully done, but then he continued, “You remember your first blow job, right Iggy?”

Gods, Gladio needed a fucking gag. Ignis had always suspected that there was nothing but pure filth behind those overlarge muscles, and he was fast being proven right. But at the same time, there was something oddly soothing about the hum of Gladio’s voice, about how reliably crass he was at all times. Even now.

And yes, Ignis did remember his first blow job, not that Gladio knew anything about it. He remembered how hard it had been to keep himself from cumming in his partner’s mouth. But Gladio was worrying needlessly. That was a long time ago, and Ignis happened to be quite skilled with his mouth. Far too skilled to let Noctis cum until they were good and ready.

“I remember,” he said, and he was surprised at how hoarse his voice came out. He didn’t even sound like himself. He wet his lips and saw Noctis’s gaze dart to the motion, then back again.

Ignis couldn’t help but drag this out. He didn't drop straight down, though something sang inside of him at the thought of himself on his knees for Noctis. At the thought of Noctis just taking him.

Instead, he went back to sucking on Noctis’s neck, and then he slowly, oh so slowly worked his way down, doing his best to wring every noise possible from the teen. It didn’t matter that Gladio was watching, that he would know undeniably how much Ignis was loving this. Gladio already knew everything about him anyway. No, this obsession had stopped being deniable long ago.

And Noctis was making such beautiful noises. Not loud. His sounds were still choked off, still repressed. He trembled as Ignis worked him over, trembling that Ignis could tell mostly came from nerves. But he hadn’t asked them to stop yet, and Ignis trusted him to be honest about that. Even so, his tiny, barely audible whimpers and gasps felt like that much more of an achievement because the teen clearly didn’t intend to make them.

Finally, Ignis dropped gracefully down to his knees. Noctis moved as if to back away, but Ignis had anticipated that bit of shyness, and he grasped the back of the teen’s knee, keeping his face pressed against Noct’s hip and groin as he lowered himself down. Ignis held him there as he nosed Noct’s increasingly hardening cock.

Noctis had a clean, slightly musky smell. With a wicked grin and his grip on the back of Noct’s leg still tight, the advisor licked a sloppy strip up the half hardened cock. The teen let out a quivering, choked noise, but Ignis didn't stop. He had a firm goal now.

With confidence he hadn’t known he possessed, he mouthed the tip of Noct’s dick, peppering him with tiny, sucking kisses. Gods, he could almost taste blood rushing south, Noct’s arousal building like a lit fire. Ignis couldn’t see Noctis’s face from where he knelt, but he could read the teen easily in tiny, unsuppressed movements. Could feel it in the tremble of Noct’s legs, the restless motion of his hips, the goosebumps that flared in the wake of Ignis’s teasing breath.

As Noct finally, finally began to actually pant for Ignis, he took pity on the teenager, and let his entire mouth encircle Noctis’s cock. With a shallow breath through his nose, Ignis took Noctis as far as he could without gagging, then drew back down with a demanding swallow.

It was worth everything to hear Noct gasp, “Ignis!” his voice so fucking needy. The advisor was ready for the way Noct’s hips jerked forward. He let him, let the teen push his cock messily into Ignis’s mouth for a few shuddering thrusts, before the he gripped Noct’s hip firmly again and took control, slowing the pace, making Noctis endure the slow drag of his lips.

Ignis wanted to keep going as he worked Noctis up and down. He’d never wanted anything as badly in his life. But the reality of their task could not be forgotten for long. Squeezing his eyes shut in regret, he pulled off of Noctis in one smooth motion as the teen whined at the loss.

He rocked back on his heels and met Noctis’s gaze. The teen’s pupils were blown wide, his cheeks bright red, and his hair a tangled mess. With a heavy swallow, Ignis then turned his gaze back to Gladio.

It shouldn’t have been surprising, after all Gladio was the one who had said that sex was sex, but Ignis was still astounded to see that the Shield was sporting a clear tent in his boxers. Seeing Ignis was looking at him, Gladio palmed his bugle with an easy chuckle. “Gods, Iggy,” he breathed out, “I don’t even like men, and you almost made me blow my load just watching you suck cock.”

At that, Ignis gave him his best unimpressed look, but Gladio only snorted again and motioned for Ignis to come towards him. Warily, Ignis did just that, never losing his intense awareness of Noctis right behind him.

Ignis tried to stop in front of the Shield’s knees, but Gladio reached out and grasped Ignis’s forearm, pulling the other man down and onto his lap. Ignis probably could have stopped it, but frankly he was too overwhelmed and dazed. Instead, he let himself fall. His neglected dick pressed tantalizingly against Gladio’s in this position, and he couldn’t stop the shaky noise that escaped him.

Gladio laughed again, and then leaned into Ignis’s ear. He purred under his breath, “See, I told you, you two were freaking out for nothing. He’s fucking loving it.”

Ignis tried to give him a stern look. This was not the time to argue who had been right or wrong, but Gladio shook his head, adding, “You moved a little too fast for me there, Iggy. Didn’t expect you get so into it. Now Noct is just gonna have to hang tight n’ wait on us to prep you up.”

For a second Ignis was confused, but it was soon clear when Gladio lifted him up and tugged on his pants. Once again, Ignis could not see Noctis’s face, and he mourned that loss even as he stayed silent, letting Gladio maneuver him more comfortably on his lap as the Shield unscrewed the cap on the lube.

Gladio cocked his head and held out the tub, his question clear. Ignis shook his head slowly. He wasn’t sure he had the self-possession to prep himself. Gladio shrugged. “I haven’t really done this before to someone else, Iggy. So just tell me if I’m doing it wrong or something.”

His focus still half on Noctis, Ignis nodded faintly as he shifted in Gladio’s lap.

After working the lube onto his hand, Gladio breached him easily with one finger. Ignis sighed at the feeling. He had done this enough times now to know how to relax and take it for those first few vaguely painful minutes. Gladio worked Ignis open slowly at first, spending nearly as much time teasing him as actually stretching him before the Shield added the second finger.

The entire time, Gladio kept his eyes on Ignis’s face, watching for every minute expression, slowing down at the slightest wince, grinning when Ignis’s eyes would widen when he hit a pleasurable spot. As he worked, Gladio rolled his hips, keeping a slow, hazy pressure against Ignis’s trapped cock.

Gladio leaned in and whispered filthily, “He’s watching us, you know. Imagining my fingers are his cock. He’s thinking about how badly he wants to be the one disappearing in your ass.” Ignis groaned and broke eye contact as Gladio punctuated his words with a ferocious twist of his fingers. “I don’t know Iggy; you already seem so fucked out. Maybe I should take over. You know there’s no shame in—.”

Ignis cut the Shield off by grabbing the back of his hair viciously and jolting his head up to face the advisor. Ignis looked him deeply in the eyes, and then leaned down and caught Gladio’s lips, stopping his stream of words in its tracks. Ignis kissed him aggressively, leaving no room for argument, grinding hard against the Shield at the time, in a two pronged attack.

Gladio made a hmphing noise in the back of his throat as Ignis released him. Holding his wide eyes again, Ignis whispered, “Thank you.”

He knew Gladio would understand exactly what he meant. Gladio blinked at him, then nodded.

With that, Ignis climbed off of the Shield and turned back to face Noctis.

If Ignis looked like the essence of a good fucking, then there was nothing left fit to describe Noctis. The prince’s cock jutted out, painfully red and hard. In his rapturous attention on what Ignis and Gladio had been doing, he had seemingly forgotten about his own nakedness. He faced his advisor, his hungry anticipation evident.

Noctis’s eyes widened as he caught whatever was in Ignis’s expression. The speed of the prince’s breathing increased dramatically, almost as if he were having a panic attack. His mouth worked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t know how to make noise at the moment. It was almost like he had just had some intense revelation. Ignis hoped that it was about how much he wanted to push onwards.

“Move, Gladio,” Ignis commanded without looking back to see that he had been obeyed. He crooked his finger at Noctis and was rewarded as the teen followed him, almost in a daze.

Ignis maneuvered Noctis until he was lying on his back in the bed. Gladio had indeed moved to the base of the bed, where he stood watching them intently.

How was it that just hours earlier, Noctis could not so much as contemplate sex with his retainers, and yet now he lay there openly wanton? Ignis had no idea. It felt like everything was happening too fast, like Gladio had purposely given them no time to process. Oh, it wasn’t like Noctis wasn’t nervous. Ignis could still see that emotion tracked across his face, a distinct wariness. But it amazed Ignis over and over again that what he didn’t sense anywhere in Noct’s countenance was true fear.

No hiding.

This was still Noctis’s first time though, and Ignis would not fuck this up, no matter how eager he was. So he paused yet again, and asked, “Is this okay, Noct?”

Noctis replied, his voice low and husky, “Yeah.” He stayed still as Ignis climbed over him, settling over his hips, not quite touching.

Noctis was looking at Ignis again, his expression strange and thoughtful. It was almost as if the lust had faded away, even though his dick remained hard as before. Ignis hesitated.

“Ignis?”

Though it was patently killing him, Ignis held himself aloft and asked in a strangled voice, “Yes, Noct?”

Noctis shivered as Ignis spoke his name, but he held his advisor’s gaze. Oddly enough, Ignis felt more than saw Gladio tense up behind him. Noctis’s eyes flickered to the Shield and back again, and then he seemed to steel himself.

I see you too, Ignis,” he said softly, “I want you to know that before—before—.” He bit his lip as his entire frame curled in on itself shyly.

Without thinking, Ignis splayed his palm on Noct’s chest, keeping him from running away, holding him steady. His heart suddenly thundered in his chest for an utterly new reason. “You—You, what do you mean? Earlier you—.”

“I know. I know what I said earlier. But just now—I’m not blind, Iggy. And neither are you.”

Ignis couldn’t breathe. He didn’t dare look at Gladio behind him. “Are you—?” He wasn’t sure what to ask. Was Noct disgusted? Embarrassed? Did he want to stop?

Abruptly, Noctis arched up and pressed his lips against his advisor. He grabbed Ignis’s shoulder and slipped inside the advisor’s mouth without hesitation, continuing what they had stopped earlier. The prince tangled himself with Ignis, his mouth searing hot.

For a moment it was simply too much, and Ignis almost pushed Noctis away. But then he relaxed, feeling beads of salt building in the corner of his eyes, despite his best effort against it. He didn’t have the wherewithal to rub at his eyes. Instead, he pushed against Noctis, leading the teen back down against the bed.

Ignis felt between them, finding Noct’s cock.

No Fear.

He lined them up as Noctis watched him, eyes completely trusting. Then finally, he sank down.

It wasn’t perfect. But then, no one’s first time was.

Ignis had not let Gladio spend enough time stretching him open, and now he paid for it with a dull burn that radiated outward. But it was a pain that he welcomed, grounding him back in the moment. Thankfully, Noctis had enough sense not to surge against him, instead letting Ignis set his own pace as he speared himself on Noct’s cock.

Ignis rolled his hips as he sank further and further down, trying to adjust to the length inside of him. He couldn’t, not for an instant, let go of the fact that this was Noctis. This was Noctis’s pleasure he was doing his best to create and build.

Finally, Ignis bottomed out, and he stopped just to breathe. Noctis was shaking underneath him. Collecting himself, Ignis leaned forward, entangling his fingers tightly with Noct’s. He waited for Noct’s breathing to slow down alongside his own, and then he started to move up and down.

It took them a while to build any sort of rhythm. They jarred against each other, instead of moving in tandem. Noctis was tense, far too tense, and he struggled to get a feel for Ignis’s movements. But Ignis was infinitely patient. He was here to teach.

Ignis took Noctis’s hands and gently placed them on his hips and thighs. With his palm over his pupil’s, Ignis slowed his grinding, using the press of his grip to show Noctis how to lead his partner’s movements. When Noctis was finally guiding Ignis’s hips without help, Ignis let go and concentrated on his own rhythm.

It happened from one moment to the next. Something just clicked, and suddenly they were moving together. Noctis gasped with every intake of air. Meanwhile, Ignis leaned back and finally found that perfect angle. He let out an embarrassing noise, half groan and half moan, as pleasure lit up the nerves all the way up his spine.

This was what sex was. This was making love, learning each other, coming together. It couldn’t be more perfect in that moment.

So it was enormously annoying when Noctis just stopped. Ignis almost growled at him, but then he saw how intense Noct’s gaze was, how serious. “Ignis,” he said again, looking up at his advisor. Ignis waited.

Noctis still had not learned how to activate his magic without closing his eyes, much to Gladio’s chagrin. And so he closed his eyes.

Painfully, Ignis had almost forgotten the purpose of why they were here. He had almost forgotten that this was a task. But Noctis hadn’t. The advisor wasn’t sure exactly what he expected to happen when Noctis called on his magic. Noct’s royal magic had always been a mystery to someone like Ignis, who was far more versed in elemental magic.

Though they sometimes appeared similar to sparks of electricity, the blue sparks that exploded around them felt nothing like that. Ignis could feel the magic moving, entirely alien, sinking into him and through him.

It hurt like an attack, over-bright and sharp.

Ignis gasped as Noctis opened his eyes, only to reveal that his pupils glowed nearly purple with power, their soft blue consumed by the magic. Silver blue sparks swirled around them in an increasingly tight pattern. Ignis struggled to control his fear, his feeling of being trapped on top of Noct, his desire to shy away from the otherness of his prince. He would not be so cowardly.

It was like his nerves were being blasted open, like he could feel each one as a separate thing. Every place he was connected to Noctis, his legs bracketing the prince, their tangled hands, the cock deep inside of him, everywhere he burned white hot, somewhere on the precipice of pain and pleasure. It was overwhelming.

Noctis surged up, his thrust unexpectedly confident, almost violent. Where their hands connected, he suddenly tightened his grip, pulling Ignis down and close to him, forcing even more contact and the overly saturated sensations that followed.

“Ignis!” whined Noctis, and this time it was a question, desperate and begging.

The advisor understood what he was being asked. He hissed, “Yes.” Noctis did not need another grant of permission. He held onto Ignis’s arms like he was afraid the advisor would go flying off, and he set a punishing pace, pounding up over and over again. Noctis’s movement inside of Ignis was a new level of exquisiteness, something he had never come close to experiencing before. He could no longer control the noises he was making. His grunts and gasps interlaced luridly with the slap of his ass against Noctis.

Noctis was mindlessly chasing his own completion now, jerking Ignis up and down, heedless of anything else, but it didn’t matter. Ignis came with a strangled cry, painting a strip across Noct’s stomach. Pleasure traveled in a radiating wave, more intense that anything he had ever experienced before, the magic making every sensation that assaulted him twice as powerful.

Ignis had a moment of sweet comedown where everything was hazy, before he realized that Noctis was once again begging him. Desperately trying to get Ignis to participate in the rhythm again, he pulled on his advisor, crying out when Ignis’s muscles clenched around him. The teen was nearly mindless with need.

Ignis did start to move again, taking a second before he managed to get in tandem with Noctis. He hissed as Noctis pressed against his overly sensitive prostate, and realized with a faint sort of horror that the magic had not stopped simply because he had cum. Every sensation was still twice as strong, and so the feeling of Noctis’s cock against his nerves was almost unbearably powerful. He shuddered and whined, unable to help how he clenched around Noctis again, jerking their rhythm apart.

But Noctis had grabbed onto his hips and was dragging Ignis against himself, even as Ignis cried out at the sensations, scrabbling his fingers against the prince, more out of instinct than a true attempt to make the prince stop.

Even if he hadn’t felt it inside of himself, Ignis would have known the instant Noctis came because the magical sparks that had been swirling around and through them suddenly coalesced together, entering Ignis’s chest in one swoop. All the way to his bones, he felt Noctis cum like it was his own second orgasm.

For the briefest, but most unforgettable moment, Ignis’s awareness floated to a higher plane where he felt everything that connected him to Noctis brightening and singing with magic. Their bodies here in this moment, but also the years of companionship, whispered conversations held late at night, hours of comfortable silences; it all washed together in one bright arc and then flowed into Ignis.

He sensed his connection to Noctis and then all the connections that Noctis possessed, flowing out of the prince and into the earth. There was a strong thread to his father, a very different type of thread bound to Gladio, and even one that Ignis could tell connected him to Prompto. The others were weak, unpossessed of the magic that now suffused Ignis. He could even sense the source of it all, every bit leading back to the Crystal, humming against them with boundless power.

It was beautiful.

And then Ignis’s awareness of it washed away. He shuddered and screamed as more present sensations climaxed all around him, buffeting and drowning him in the feeling of Noctis’s soul as it encircled him. He heard a shout, and then Gladio was pushing him, holding him down. With that, came the realization that he had been bucking up and away from Noctis, attempting to flee the overwhelming force.

He clenched his thighs, making himself be still and accept this connection, only to groan and nearly lose himself again as Noctis shuddered. The prince’s cock pulsed, letting loose another spurt of cum inside of Ignis and the entire thing started again, a wave of incredible awareness of everything that connected him to Noctis, and everything that Noct’s magic touched, and finally drowning in Noctis himself.

With another shout, Ignis came for the second time, the force of Noct’s magic allowing nothing less. It tore through him like a rush of adrenaline. His cock jerked against Noct, and he squeezed the prince’s hand as tightly as he could.

When Ignis came back to the present, he found he was shivering uncontrollably. Gladio had climbed on the bed and was gently pulling him off of Noctis. Ignis protested weakly, highly concerned with how Noctis had faired with the ritual. He couldn’t go from that instant of perfect oneness to possessing these separate bodies. It just wasn’t possible.

Gladio seemed to sense this in him, however, because he didn’t fight as Ignis clambered up next to Noctis and wrapped his arms around the youth. Noctis was awake, and he smiled sleepily at Ignis as the advisor leaned over him.

“Hey, are you okay?” Noctis asked, his voice muffled.

Ignis shushed him. “I’m wonderful, Noct. You just rest now.”

Noctis laughed, sounding almost drunk. “Will do,” he giggled. “Don’t think I could stop that if I wanted.” Indeed, Noctis was nearly boneless, already starting to fall asleep in Ignis’s arms.

Belatedly, Ignis realized as he categorized the warm, pleasant ache that came from great sex, that he too, had another pain that seemed to radiate through his muscles and was only getting stronger by the moment. He groaned and clutched Noctis tighter. His mind too, seemed soft and muzzy. “Gladio,’ he said weakly, “I believe I’m not in a position to take care of the prince at the moment. It’s up to you now.”

He missed how Gladio settled himself snugly on Noct’s other side, barely making it work on the queen sized bed. Leaning over the passed out teenager, Gladio rolled his eyes and said, “What, and you don’t think I’ll take care of you too? You idiot. Go to sleep. Rest while you can.”

Ignis did just that, falling into a deep oblivion.

***

Chapter Text

***

**Gladiolus Amicitia**

***

When Gladio was twelve years old, a daemon severed Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum’s spine. He could still remember the overwhelming bustle in the prince’s quarters in the days afterward. X-ray after X-ray. Muttering doctors and soothsayers and King Regis’s pale, grim face. In those terrible weeks, Gladio only saw his own father in small glimpses and snatches.

At twelve, the young Amicitia was already an unbelievable height of five-foot-ten and corded with muscle. By that time, he had been deemed mature enough to begin limited guard duty with the Crownsguard. To have that duty was an incredible honor, especially for someone so young. And so Gladio was standing in the doorway of Noctis’s room, desperately trying not to fidget and risk being deemed unworthy of his new responsibility, when his father entered the room. Clarus ignored his son, instead walking over to check on the sleeping prince.

Noctis spent most of his time asleep in those days. The doctors blamed it on the trauma.

Clarus’s face was troubled. He stood deep in thought for a few minutes, before turning crisply around. To this day, Gladio had no idea why Clarus took the time to check in on Noctis when he had so many other seemingly more important responsibilities. Either way, the Shield turned around and met his son’s eyes.

Gladio kept himself at attention, not acknowledging his father’s interest. The older Shield frowned, and then he motioned Gladio over.

“Look at him,” commanded Clarus.

Gladio did as he had been bid. The prince’s hair was lank and matted. His face had an unhealthy sheen, and the grimace that shaped his lips suggested nightmares and restless sleep.

Gladio spoke hesitantly, “I’ve heard talk around the Citadel that Prince Noctis can no longer inherit the Ring. That he was always too sickly to follow in his father’s footsteps and that this is the final sign from the Gods. I’ve heard that the King will be forced to take a new wife.” Gladio wasn’t sure how he felt about these rumors. Sickly Noctis had never impressed him all that much, but the venom of some the circulating rumors disturbed him. What did it mean to him to be the future Shield to a cripple?

“The ‘people’ who believe that are fools,” replied Clarus, surprisingly vehement. “And you’re no fool.” Without taking his eyes off of the prince, he commanded, “Take another good look at the boy, son. Noctis is your King. He’s your purpose. More than a lover, more than your own children, he’s what you were born for, Gladiolus.” Clarus turned to look gravely at his son. “You’d best pray for his quick recovery because without him, you are nothing.”

Gladio never forgot that conversation. His father hadn’t meant to be cruel when he’d told his son that he was nothing without a king. Clarus had only been trying to get Gladio to understand the depth of what it meant to be Shield to the King. That there was no room for doubt, no room for self.

Sometimes Gladio felt he had not learned that lesson, despite his father’s effort. Gladio was meant to have nothing outside of his duty to Noctis, but that was like asking him not to have a soul. Gladio loved too hard, too fiercely to accomplish that feat. No, Gladio was not nothing without Noctis. He firmly believed that no person’s worth came from outside of himself. But at the same time, the person that Gladio was without Noctis, he didn’t like very much.

Noctis, despite his flaws, gave Gladio something better. Something to aspire to be.

***

**Ignis Scientia**

***

Ignis awoke to the sensation of having his chest crushed by what felt like a concrete block. He wheezed weakly, batting at the thing squeezing all of the air out of his lungs. Nothing happened, except that Gladio groaned, and so Ignis set about pulling himself out from underneath the almost naked Shield. Unfortunately, he had forgotten how small the bed was for three mostly grown men, and he slid ungracefully into a heap on the floor just as he managed to free himself.

Gladio cracked his eyes open. “Iggy, what the hell are you doing?” he mumbled, his sleepy voice sounding like he was gargling marbles.

“Trying to keep you from suffocating me, you oaf,” Ignis replied indignantly. He meant to get back up right away, but realized that his legs had all the strength of cotton. Huffing, he collapsed back into a sprawl. Gladio watched this, then with a grunt, leaned over Noctis and stretched out his hand.

The advisor grasped the outstretched palm without hesitation, and then Gladio pulled him back up on the bed. There was some awkward shuffling and less than gentle maneuvering of the oblivious Noctis, until they were more or less comfortable again. Gladio pulled the prince nearly on top of himself, and Ignis wedged his legs half underneath them.

Gladio blinked sleepily at Ignis over the top of Noct’s head. “How’ya feeling?”

Ignis took stock of himself. It still didn’t feel quite real, what they had done earlier. His mind kept replaying the images, skipping and halting and starting over. Physically he was exhausted, more than could be explained by simple sex. The magic stealing from his physical energy to power itself. He had heard that the Kingsglaive tended to recover from it quickly, more quickly than he had seen Noctis do the same. But then, none of them used even the fraction of the magic that flowed through Noctis at every moment of every day. Ignis had seen that himself in his strange moment of clarity.

“Tired,” he replied honestly.

Gladio nodded and curled around Noctis more tightly as Ignis watched. The prince still had that boneless look, head lolling crookedly across Gladio’s chest. Without thinking, Ignis reached over and propped him up, lest the teen wake up with a painful crick in his neck. When he noticed what Ignis was doing, Gladio helpfully shifted a bit until Noct was more secure in the crease of his elbow. The Shield grinned at Ignis.

Ignis swallowed heavily at the sight of the two of them. Noctis looked so soft, so vulnerable, his wild hair hanging over his eyes and his hands curled up and tucked over his breastbone. His face was relaxed, his sleep deep and easy. Ignis knew that Noctis often struggled with nightmares, though the prince had never admitted it. To see him so open and safe made something deep inside of Ignis clench and hurt.

Ignis looked at Gladio gravely and said what had been on his mind since Gladio told him to kiss the prince. “After all your talk about keeping back from Noctis, you pushed me to make this more than just the ritual,” he accused. “Why?”

“Because you wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” the Shield replied simply. His tone turned curious. “Do you regret it?”

Ignis could never regret loving Noctis. But he could fear the pain that love would cause him down the line. That he could fear very much. He shook his head. “So what?” he asked, “The threesome, the talking about making love, all of it was a ploy to get me to fulfil the ultimatum with Noctis and offset the damage caused by his stunt?”

Gladio did not answer right away.

“That’s rather cunning of you,” Ignis observed.

Narrowing his eyes, Gladio finally replied, “I won’t say I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t ask you to.”

Gladio kept talking however, “And it wasn’t a ploy. I wasn’t trying to hurt you. I didn’t, did I?”

Ignis looked at the sleeping Noctis. “No, you didn’t.”

“Good.”

For a while they were both silent. Ignis watched as warm light slowly filtered in through the window. If dawn was just beginning, they couldn’t have been asleep for very long. As the sunlight hit his eyes, Noctis shifted with a mumble, burying his head further in Gladio’s arm.

Ignis shook his head. “You’re straight. Self-professed rather loudly. Yet the threesome was your idea,” he accused softly. “You were practically salivating watching us.”

Gladio reached up and rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Gods Iggy, everyone’s got their thing, don’t they?”

“And yours is watching other people get off?” Ignis asked dryly.

‘Yeah, actually.”

“Oh.” A pause, then, “Really?”

Gladio shrugged. “Not in a creepy way. I’m not standing outside anybody’s window or anything.” Gladio’s voice grew hoarser with his next words. “But being allowed to watch another person lose themselves to pleasure, especially if it’s something new for them. There’s something—erotic about the trust that takes, don’t you think? To let you be a part of that?”

“I suppose.”

Gladio snorted. “You suppose,” he repeated snidely. “I’ve never really discriminated gender-wise when it comes to those sorts of kinks. It’s not about that, you know?”

Ignis absorbed that information. He had never really talked to Gladio about his sex life before, but he’d heard rumors. Gladio was known for his wildness in the sack, his willingness to experiment. Even though Ignis knew all the non-sexual reasons Gladio had suggested the threesome, there had to be something of this in there too. It explained how quickly he had jumped to sharing. It also explained how eagerly he had taken charge from the sidelines, commanding Ignis’s actions.

“I wish you had told me beforehand,” Ignis admitted.

“Why? It wasn’t exactly necessary to what we were doing.”

“I think Noctis would have been less confused, if you had given him a reason for your rather sudden sexual turnaround.”

“It wasn’t a turnaround,” Gladio exclaimed. “Since when have I been a prude or hesitant about any of this?”

“You know what I mean.”

“No actually, I don’t. What do you want, a fucking chart of all my sexual proclivities before we fuck again? Yes to power games and being tied up, no to golden showers?” Gladio glared hotly at the advisor over the top of Noctis’s sleeping form. The prince had not shifted during their loud conversation, let alone awoken.

With a sigh, Ignis replied, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Gladio deflated just as abruptly as he had exploded. “Nah,” he said, “I didn’t mean to get so defensive. There aren’t a lot of people that know that about me, you know? It’s not exactly glamourous future Shield material.” His tone grew derisive. “The King’s Shield is so tough that he would rather watch other people have sex than do it himself.”

Ignis shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. “If you only like men when you’re watching them, will it be hard to for you with Noctis?”

Gladio shook his head, seeming confused. “What? No, I wasn’t lying when I said I liked sex for its own sake. And Noctis is—well, he’s Noctis.”

Ignis could certainly relate to that sentiment. “Well, I’m glad you told me. I do appreciate that trust.”

After that, there were a few minutes of thoughtful silence. Watching the advisor contemplatively, Gladio eventually added softly, “I like the idea of you watching us though. Does that bother you?”

Ignis granted the Shield the gift of thinking about his answer seriously and completely. He took a moment to respond. “No. It doesn’t bother me. Especially after last night. I—liked it myself, to be honest. What we did.”

Gladio snorted. "Honestly, I think our sweet prince has a couple of kinks himself. He got all hot and bothered when I was telling you two what to do. Did you notice that?"

Of course Ignis had noticed. How could he not notice every tiny detail of Noctis's reactions to himself and Gladio? "I did," he said. Looking at Noct’s unchanged, sleeping face, he asked, “When do you think he’ll awaken?”

Gladio shrugged. “No idea.” He stretched, and with that, he slid out from underneath Noctis. Rummaging on the floor next to the bed, the Shield found his discarded pants. Turning back to look at Ignis, he said, “I’m no cook. Not like you, but I think there’s some pancake mix in one of the cabinets.”

Ignis nodded, and Gladio left the room. He could hear the Shield in the bathroom and then tromping though the kitchen. With a sigh, he rolled over to face Noctis. Really he should get up and face the start of the day, maybe help Gladio turn their breakfast into something more than pancake mix and tap water. But he was so warm and comfortable right where he was, it was hard to think about moving anywhere. Even the massive crater in the center of the old mattress felt like a shelter as opposed to the trial on his back that it normally would present.

His muscles were still stiff and achy in an almost feverish way, but the longer he remained awake, the more that feeling seemed to lessen. Whereas the ache in his ass was an entirely more pleasant reminder of what they had done, and something feral and possessive inside of Ignis rejoiced at the knowledge that the sensation would likely remain for several days. Less pleasant was the stickiness coated to the back of his thighs. That Ignis could do without.

Suddenly, Noctis stretched and rolled over, mumbling under his breath. Ignis watched silently as the teen rolled back over almost immediately and seemed to fight the draw of wakefulness, tossing and turning in an almost affronted manner. Finally, he blinked his eyes open and then focused on Ignis lying beside him.

“Hey.”

“Good morning,” Ignis replied much more calmly than he actually felt.

Noctis rubbed at the corners of his eyes. He blinked at his advisor, and Ignis was struck with sudden and overwhelming horror. This was what he had feared before they had begun this venture. This was the absolute worst outcome. Because right now, his only desire was to lean over the teen, kiss him awake, and feel his shoulder blades arch underneath Ignis’s clever fingers. Ignis forced himself to remain still, but that clearly wasn’t the right move either, because the longer he lay there silently, the more anxious Noct’s face became.

Ignis was better than this. He was stronger than this. He thought about Gladio’s serious face saying, because you wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

I see you too, Ignis.

“I hope that your experience last night was what you hoped it would be,” he said carefully.

Noctis’s answer what not what he expected. Instead of answering in an affirmative or negative, the teen turned the question back on Ignis. “Was it was you hoped it would be?” Noct inquired rather pointedly.

If Ignis were a stronger person, this was where he would begin to draw back. To put some semblance of distance back into their relationship. After all, Gladio had premised this decision on the belief that sex between the three of them could be an affirmation of their friendship, and not something either unattainably romantic or merely perfunctory. Ignis risked everything by continuing to acknowledge his true feelings.

Instead he replied, daring to look his prince in the eyes, “Yes it was.”

They held each other’s gaze, and then Noctis nodded, breaking away. “Me too,” he said softly.

Ignis’s heart clenched again, painfully and completely, and with that, he finally decided to sit up. However, he had forgotten that the both of them had fallen asleep naked. As the blanket fell away from him, Noctis’s eyes widened subtly.

That brought Ignis up short. He often caught Noctis looking at Gladio, but couldn’t really remember a time where he had noticed the same thing directed at himself. Yet Noctis was clearly enraptured by whatever he saw. Ignis almost had the urge to check behind him to make sure the Shield hadn’t snuck up on them in the interval.

“I’m going to take a shower,” he said to Noctis, shattering the strange moment. “Gladio volunteered to make breakfast. Do you think you’re up for that?”

Noctis made a face. “Depends on what it is. I’m not sure he won’t accidently poison us.”

With an indulgent smile, Ignis replied, “Pancakes, I believe. I meant more energy wise, however. How do you feel after the ritual?”

“Oh that. I’m fine. How about you?”

“I suppose I finally understand what you go through when your magic demands all of your energy.” At Noctis’s stricken look, he quickly added, “I’m also fine, Noctis. Truly. And I will be even better once I’m actually clean.” With that he finally climbed out of bed and headed down the hall. He was still a bit dizzy and sore, but it was manageable.

If only his turbulent emotions were so easy to deal with.

***

**Noctis Lucis Caelum**

***

After Ignis left, Noctis made himself take a deep breath and sit up in the bed, his legs curled up underneath him.

He was no longer a virgin. From the significance they had given the act, some part of Noctis had expected that he would feel differently afterwards, that some part of him would be inexorably changed. But he still felt like himself. The tiredness in his bones was nothing new. It was the same fatigue that plagued him every time he pushed himself with his magic.

Was he marked now? Truly different? He knew you couldn’t tell just by looking at person whether they were a virgin or not, that for the most part the idea of virginity was an indefinite concept anyway. But that didn’t stop his paranoid brain from helpfully informing him that everyone would be able to see what Ignis and he had done, stamped somewhere on his forehead.

There was the virginity part of it, but there was also the Ignis part of it, and that Noctis understood even less. The way Ignis had looked at him last night, reverent and awed. It had never occurred to Noctis before, that Ignis could see him as more than the child he had cared for all these years. What had Ignis said? You have a lot of power, but you don’t get to decide for me what I need, Noctis.

Noctis didn’t get to decide for him what he felt either. And Ignis clearly felt something. Something powerful and strange and adult. Last night, it had been easy to accept it, to let those unexposed feelings thread through their interaction, to tell Ignis that he saw him. But here, the morning after and in the light of day, it was so much harder. Now it felt like something dangerous to acknowledge and make real.

It was just so damn confusing.

With a shake of his head, he closed his eyes and sought his magic within himself. The power slumbered, heavy and slow, like a cat that had just recently fed to excess. If he concentrated and let his awareness hover, he could feel the deeper connections within himself. The flow between himself and the Crystal was sluggish but steady as his body tried to feed it the required energy it needed to sustain itself. He knew that no matter how hard he pushed himself, the flow of magic would never just stop or run out. It was bound to the blood in his veins, to his very soul.

And there. If he concentrated just right, he could feel it, faint and flickering, the barest thread. Ignis. The advisor was now a tiny draw on his magic, bound to Noctis in the same way that Noctis was bound to the Crystal. Noctis snapped his eyes open, the awareness of his magic fading into the constant background hum it normally occupied. The knowledge of the successful Covenant was heady and humbling.

It was his hunger that finally drove him out of the warm bed. He heard the shower finally turn on as he gingerly slid from the bed. The only clothes he had were the muddied and torn ones from last night, and he crinkled his nose in distaste as he dressed himself. With a stretch, he ambled through the hallway. He could smell the scent of cooking oil and butter, much to his ravenous excitement.

Noctis walked into the kitchen, and then he stopped dead, unable to help himself as he stood dumbfounded. Gladio had his back to him, bent over the stovetop. The Shield wore pants and nothing else. Black ink rippled across his broad shoulder blades. It gave Noctis the strange urge to taste, to suck kisses into the Shield’s skin. He could do it right now, walk up behind the Shield and loop his arms around Gladio’s back.

He swallowed heavily, and the noise drew Gladio around. The Shield twisted towards the prince, granting Noctis the sight of Gladio’s muscles curling with his motion.

“You’re awake.”

Noctis nodded. Gladio didn’t seem bothered by his lack of verbal answer. The older man cocked his head consideringly. “That Ignis in the shower then?” Noctis nodded again. “Hmn. You hungry?” he asked. “It ain’t gourmet or anything, but it’s what we’ve got. I wasn’t exactly planning on a party when I came up here.”

Noctis shrugged and sat at the kitchen table as answer. Gladio snorted and turned back to flip his pancakes. A few minutes later, he set two plates down, one for him and one for Noctis. They ate in silence. Noctis could faintly hear the shower spray from where they sat.

The silence should have been uncomfortable, hampered by the implications of what they had all three done last night. But it wasn’t. Gladio voraciously focused on his own pancakes. He only seemed bothered when Noctis pushed his plate away after finishing off barely half of his portion. The Shield scowled at Noctis, and then seemed to think better of it.

“How are you feeling?” Gladio asked, his gaze directed at something by his feet. Noctis understood that his answer here would determine whether they finished what they had begun last night. Gladio had given him that power with this one simple question.

He made himself look at his Shield. “I’m fine,” he said. Noctis’s answer felt like a huge weight between them, charging the air with tension and something strangely undefinable. He stared at his Shield as the sound of the shower finally stopped, and the slam of the bathroom door rang down the hallway.

When Ignis walked into the kitchen, he let out a long suffering sigh at the sight before him. “Gladio, where is your shirt? Must you carry on like that?”

“Don’t look if it bothers your delicate sensibilities.”

Ignis rolled his eyes, then looked from Gladio to Noctis. “What were you two talking about?” he asked, concern suddenly evident.

Gladio lifted his gaze. When he spoke, his voice was perfectly even. “Noct here, says he feels fine.”

“Meaning?”

“Oh, I think you know exactly what he meant.”

Ignis frowned. He stared at the prince. “I do,” he admitted. “But don’t forget our rather tenuous position. We can't stay here much longer. We will be found out, and the longer that takes the worse it will be.”

Gladio turned and raised his eyebrows at Noctis. “I think he just doesn’t want to share.”

“Gladio!”

The Shield ignored the advisor, speaking instead to Noctis. “I’d say he needs to chill out and get laid, but you know—.”

“You are just as concerned as me, if not more so. Don’t lie,” replied Ignis tightly.

Gladio gave Ignis a strange look, one Noctis had no way to interpret. After a moment, Ignis shook his head in response, giving a resigned sigh. “Okay,” he said.

“Okay,” repeated Gladio. They both turned to face Noctis.

“Uh—Okay?” he hedged. Gladio snorted.

“Shall we move this back to the bedroom?” Ignis asked pointedly.

Gladio waved to Noctis. “After you.”

***

Noctis sat on the edge of the bed he had lost his virginity in, his stomach in a tight knot. Ignis leaned his weight against the dresser, and Gladio stood at the edge of the bed, staring contemplatively at Noctis. The prince fought not to quail under that gaze. It didn’t help that Gladio was still wearing only his pants, his abs glistening in the growing daylight.

“Let’s have some fun,” Gladio exclaimed suddenly. “We said we were going to facilitate the sexual awakening of one Noctis Lucis Caelum, right? Well, we’re not going to accomplish that by sticking to the missionary position.”

“Excuse me.” Ignis looked at the Shield accusingly. He raised his eyebrow in the way that only he could. “It was the cowgirl, thank you very much.”

“Whatever.”

Noctis interrupted them, “What do you mean by fun?” Tension threaded his voice, despite his best efforts to seem calm and nonchalant. He wasn’t quite sure Gladio idea of fun would match his own.

Gladio just looked at him. “It’s not that complicated. Isn’t there something you want to try? Something you’ve fantasized about?”

Noctis didn’t know how to tell his Shield that it was enough of a fantasy to dream about Gladio willingly sleeping with him. That by itself had always seemed so unattainable. How to say, I just want you? That’s enough.

“Why do you care what he's into, Gladio?” asked Ignis pointedly. He was giving Gladio a dark look.

Noctis didn't really expect Gladio to provide a direct answer, but he surprised Noctis, casting Ignis an equally dark look in return, “Because it turns me on, asshole. Some of us like our sex lives a bit spicier than the cowgirl.”

For his part, Ignis didn’t seem at all offended by Gladio’s abrasive words. His gaze was serious as he said, “Perhaps this isn’t the situation where that sort of sexual experimentation is appropriate?”

“Maybe the best time to get into some sexual experimentation is when you’re fucking two people whose job is to keep you safe. Just saying,” replied Gladio, refusing to back down. “Also, maybe it’s Noctis’s business what sexual experimentation he does or does not want to get into.”

They both turned to look at Noctis then, making him fidget uncomfortably. Mercilessly, Gladio said, “You’ve thought about it before, haven’t you? Fucking me?” Noctis shook his head mutely, knowing they both recognized perfectly well that it was a lie.

Ignis’s demeanor had changed significantly at Gladio’s comment about Noctis deciding what he did or did not want to do in bed. His gaze grew thoughtful, and eventually, the advisor seemed to resign himself. “Of course, this is about what Noct wants.” Looking directly at the prince, he added, “I just want to be clear on what exactly it is you want.”

Noctis merely shrugged. Rolling his eyes, Gladio replied, “Well, if that’s that, I’d like to get back to fucking His Highness’s brains out, if you don’t mind.”

Ignis’s eyes glittered. “Not at all.”

Cutting across them both, Noctis grumbled, “Don’t call me that. Especially not here.” He glared at his Shield to make himself crystal clear, purposely ignoring the ‘brains fucking’ comment. Sometimes there just was no possible response. Plus, he was starting to think Gladio enjoying watching him squirm.

Ignoring the prince’s look, Gladio walked over and stood in front of Noctis. The position was eerily similar to the way they had stood against each other yesterday during their failed attempt at the ritual. It wasn’t a comfortable reminder. Noctis frowned at Gladio, but the Shield only cocked his head.

Suddenly, Gladio leaned down and pressed his lips over Noctis’s. Rather than seeking entrance into Noct’s mouth, he sucked and teased the teen’s lips gently. It wasn’t quite the hungry kiss that Ignis had given Noctis, but instead, it was a kiss that promised things to come. It smoldered with banked heat, all control and contained power. Fire kindled in the teen’s belly, and he reached up without thinking to clutch at Gladio’s shoulder.

“What you fantasize about?” asked Gladio again, pulling his lips away. He had one hand braced on the bed, and he leaned over Noctis, pressed into his space.

“Nothing,” protested Noctis, feeling heat climb his cheeks as he tried and failed to recover his breath. Part of him wished that Gladio would just shut up and go back to kissing. It was still so impossible to believe that this was happening at all. He felt like he hadn’t had enough time to process and absorb yesterday’s events, and yet they were beginning all over again in Gladio’s typical headstrong manner.

Gladio nipped at his lips playfully in response. The shock of it sent a wave of heat through Noctis’s nerves. “I don’t believe you,” pressed Gladio. “Tell me what you want.”

Noctis shook his head, and Gladio nipped him even harder, leaning up to suck on his ear. The Shield whispered in his ear afterwards, “What are you afraid of, Your Highness?” His voice lilted over the ‘Your Highness.’ “It’s just me and Iggy here. And I really want to know.”

Noctis felt dizzy. He heard Ignis add teasingly, “You should just tell him, Noct. I don’t think Gladio will let this go until you do.”

“Tell me,” urged Gladio.

Noctis was strangely breathless. “I want . . . I want.”

“Tell me,” Gladio repeated.

A peculiar thought went through Noct’s head. Gladio was his, not because the prince had forced him to be, but because Gladio made the choice every single day to belong to Noctis. The idea was oddly thrilling. Gladio would never purposely harm him, and there was something exhilarating, not about testing that resolve per se, but in affirming it, in relying on it. Several visions raced through his head.

Powerful hands holding him down, rough and demanding.

Flexing muscles consuming him.

A thousand fantasies, all centered around one thing.

“I want to feel your strength against me,” breathed Noctis, his cheeks burning. He could hardly believe the words were actually coming out of his mouth.

Gladio let himself wear a look of immense satisfaction for a moment before drawing back. “Finally got you to spit it out.” He raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying you want me to dominate you? Restrain you? You do know you’re supposed to top, right?”

Noctis looked away with a shrug, to which Gladio sighed heavily. “Well, I live to serve my prince.”

That wasn’t what Noctis wanted to hear. The idea of Gladio doing anything in bed simply because Noctis wanted it and not because the Shield also desired it was supremely unappealing. He was about to say as much, but when he met Gladio’s eyes again, he saw that the Shield’s gaze was considering rather than reluctant.

Noctis swallowed and waited.

Ignis was the one who spoke next. “You remember your word from yesterday, correct? If you want to play those sorts of games, you have to be clear on your boundaries.” At that, Gladio nodded in agreement.

“Cinnamon,” said Noctis. “It was cinnamon.”

“Are you sure about this?” asked Gladio.

Yeah,” Noctis replied, aware of how breathy his voice was becoming as anticipation kindled in his belly. Would Gladio really do it? Hold Noctis down? Force the teen to endure whatever he chose to do? Just how far would he go?

Gladio shook his head. “You have to promise to tell me if you become uncomfortable, okay?”

“I will.”

“I’m serious. You’re fucking hard to read sometimes. Especially when you’re all worked up.”

“Who says you can get me all worked up?”

Gladio’s voice was a warning. “Noctis.”

“I said I would,” Noctis protested. “What else do you want me to say?”

“Nothing.”

When Gladio decided to move, it was sudden and very much in character. He practically pounced on Noctis, using his superior weight to drive Noctis onto his back. The position of Gladio’s knees bracketing the prince was more reminiscent of Nyx’s grappling mount yesterday than Ignis’s more sexual one. His legs were pushed far too high into Noctis’s armpits to be purely erotic, but he leaned over the teen and grasped his wrists tightly, letting Noctis feel the power of his grip.

Noctis froze, waiting with bated breath, not quite sure how to react. Somehow, even though this could just be like any other training exercise, it wasn’t. Everywhere they touched felt electrified, the warmth of Gladio’s hands burning a line straight to his dick.

The Shield held his face above Noct’s, his wild hair falling around them. “It’s no fun if you don’t fight back, you know,” he whispered. Those words broke the spell over Noctis. The prince abruptly bucked up, pulling on his trapped wrists. Nothing happened, and Gladio goaded, “Come on. You know better than that. What’s your first step? You’re in one of the least powerful positions you could possibly be in a fight. What are you going to do about that?”

“Is this a lesson or is it sex?” snarled Noctis as he tried very unsuccessfully to shrimp and crab his way out from underneath his Shield. The harder it was to free himself, the faster Noct’s heart beat. He could do anything he wanted to me right now, Noctis thought frantically. He was entirely powerless, and though he had complained about it, his awareness of that fact was made all the stronger by the inclusion of real grappling techniques.

To an outsider, what they were doing might have seemed excessively violent. But it wasn’t. Gladio and Noctis had been training together intimately for the past eight years. Noctis had been held down like this by Gladio plenty of times before. He knew if Gladio chose, he could find about ten different ways to choke or twist Noctis into submission before the prince could even begin to counter. But just as clearly as Noctis knew he could, he also knew that Gladio would not. Instinctively, Noctis grasped that this was a mental game more than a physical one, and just as Noctis would lose by giving up, Gladio lost by resorting truly coercive means.

Gladio smirked, completely unaffected by Noctis’s hostile tone. “That depends entirely on how well you do, Your Highness.” To demonstrate, he dug his knees even further into Noctis’s armpits and leaned over to mouth at Noctis’s neck, still holding the prince’s wrists tightly as he did so. Noctis shivered at the feeling, his heart racing. Gladio smelled like the good kind of sweat and sweet shampoo.

“Don’t call me that!”

Gladio was busy sucking a bruise into Noctis’s neck. The prince, trapped as he was, remained unable to stop him. He was completely exposed, forced to just take it. “Make me,” baited the Shield.

Ignis interrupted them from his perch on the dresser. “If this is what you two call foreplay, I question a great number of your past interactions.”

Gladio lifted his head to glance back at Ignis, and that was all the opportunity that Noctis needed. He had finally wiggled out enough to get one leg mostly free. With a sudden thrust, he kicked one of Gladio’s knees out, while at the same time shrimping and bucking sideways.

The Shield had sacrificed some of his balance to hold Noctis’s wrists down, and he paid for it, collapsing with an ummphing noise. Noctis kicked at him again, and they wrestled violently for a moment, until Noctis managed to precariously climb on top. He wasn’t in the same position of power that Gladio had been, as the Shield’s legs were locked firmly around Noctis’s waist, his hips free. But it was enough for Noctis to be able to lean over and gloat in Gladio’s face.

“And here you were going to get me all worked up, Mister Shield,” he jeered.

Rather than fight him, Gladio used the much dirtier tactic of pressing his erection forcefully against Noctis. They both groaned at that, and then Noctis completely lost track of what exactly he had been trying to win. He chose instead to run his hands over the Shield’s torso. Gladio’s chest was just a firm as he had always imagined, and in a burst of uncharacteristic boldness, he pinched one of his nipples, enjoying the noises the action produced. After panting and swearing at Noctis for a few seconds, Gladio responded by leaning up and biting him firmly.

Noctis half snarled, half grinned at his Shield for the burst of pain in his hand. But Gladio was already working on getting back on top. He grabbed Noctis’s smarting arm and pulled it flush against himself, dragging Noctis’s head down with it. Taking the opportunity to reassert his dominance, Gladio bit Noctis’s ear a lot harder than before, almost painfully. It shouldn’t have been as arousing at it was, but Noctis shuddered and whined, unable to help himself.

With a smug chuckle that Noctis couldn’t bring himself to hate, Gladio did something complicated and flipped them, rolling Noctis onto his stomach and twisting the prince’s hands tightly behind his back. Noctis’s face was squashed into the mattress, leaving him slightly disoriented.

The Shield pressed himself down on Noctis, his cock digging into the swell of Noctis’s ass. His voice husky, he commanded, “Give in.”

Noctis wiggled underneath him, only the feel the hard press of the Shield’s erection even more deeply. He froze. The need to free himself battled with the desire to rut against his captor, leaving him unable to do either. Gladio didn’t seem bothered by it. His voice curled around Noctis. “Give in,” he repeated, his legs flexing with the words.

The teen’s breath was coming out in shaky pants. “You still haven’t made me.”

Gladio laughed, completely unconcerned. “So feisty. What do you think, Iggy?”

Noctis heard Ignis swallow. When the advisor spoke, Noctis sensed the arousal threaded through it, clear as day. “He is rather . . . uncooperative.”

Noctis wasn’t sure what he expected, but it wasn’t for Gladio to suddenly loosen his grip. It was so unexpected that Noctis didn’t have the wherewithal to take advantage of it. He twisted to meet Gladio’s eyes questioningly. The Shield’s face was deadly serious. “Are you okay if I bring Ignis into the game, Noctis?”

“Uh, sure?” Noctis replied, his confusion evident. His head buzzing with need made it a lot harder to think than it should have been. Gladio’s eyes held Noct’s searchingly a moment longer, then he nodded. Just as suddenly as he had let go, he grabbed the prince’s arms again.

“Come here, Iggy,” Gladio commanded. He didn’t look back as he spoke. The way his head was twisted, Noctis didn’t see Ignis approach, but he felt the advisor’s hands on him suddenly, a firm and cool counterpoint to Gladio’s heat. The bed dipped as Ignis climbed up behind Noctis. “Hold him for me?”

Ignis gripped Noctis’s wrists tightly. The prince could feel Ignis behind him, beyond the simple hands covering his own. The advisor’s presence was almost stronger than Gladio’s, or at least Noctis’s awareness of it was. It pulsed with a beat that seemed to ring, mine, mine! Noctis had no idea how to deal with these feelings racing through him. Intense excitement, anticipation, and arousal so powerful his balls ached.

“Ignis,” Noctis whined. The advisor’s movement paused sharply before he went back to helping Gladio flip the teen onto his back so that he was once again staring up into Gladio’s eyes. Noct’s head was half in Ignis’s lap, his arms trapped in Ignis’s grip. The teen’s legs dangled off the bed.

And—Astrals.

At some point while Noctis had been on his stomach, Gladio had lost his pants. His cock jutted out, proud and engorged and leaking precome. It was thicker than Ignis’s had been, though shorter, which only made sense with the Shield’s broader stature. A thousand incoherent thoughts raced through Noctis simultaneously.

Gladio’s gaze was hungry and possessive. He leaned back over Noctis, his dick hanging tantalizingly, but not touching. He pressed both hands into Ignis’s knees, completely encircling the teen in the process. “Give in,” he demanded in a low voice, his breath ghosting over Noctis.

Noctis had never been capable of giving Gladio what he wanted so easily. To give in to Gladio was unthinkable. That layer of antagonism had been a part of their relationship since day one. He shook his head as much as he could within the confines of Ignis’s lap. “No,” he rasped.

The Shield’s eyes on him darkened, but he didn’t say anything. He exchanged a series of glances with Ignis that Noctis couldn’t see, and then slid further away. For a second Noctis feared he was withdrawing completely, but the Shield had merely decided to finally undress his prince.

He unbuttoned Noctis’s pants. The prince lifted his hips and kicked at Gladio, but his legs might as well have been made of cotton for how much the Shield paid attention to it. After he had Noctis pants-less, he climbed back up onto the prince’s hips, completely ignoring Noctis’s now freed and leaking erection. He used his weight to hold Noctis down as Ignis expertly did the same to the torn and muddied shirt.

Gladio continued to ignore Noctis, much to the teen’s frustration. He lifted himself up on his knees, hovering over the teen. Noctis knew that he would be able to hover like that for as long as he deemed necessary. They would never see the Shield’s thighs so much as tremble. He leaned even further forward over Noctis, until his dick hung nearly in the prince’s face. Noctis had a moment of blind, automatic panic. Would Gladio try to force his cock into Noctis’s mouth?

It was one thing to fantasize about it, and another to suddenly be confronted with the possibility without any sort of control over how it happened. The teen pulled on his wrists with urgency he hadn’t felt earlier, but of course, Ignis was unrelenting. Noctis was just starting to feel horribly trapped, unable to breath, but then Gladio’s dick slid past his cheek. Instead, he heard Ignis make a muffled noise, and then he realized that they were making out above him, even as they kept Noctis imprisoned.

He groaned as his panic bled away. Of course Gladio would not go that far. The Shield knew his charge. He knew what Noctis was comfortable with, and he knew how to read the teen, even if he had earlier insisted otherwise. No. Instead, Gladio was planning on torturing Noctis, letting his cock hang as frustratingly close as possible.

Gladio moaned loudly and rocked his hips. His dick slid back and forth across Noct’s cheek and nose. Even as he resisted the urge to reach and lick, Noctis wondered what would happen if he bit him. The bastard deserved it. In his frustration, the teen growled threateningly against the velvety, veined skin of his retainer’s cock. Gladio’s only response was to laugh in Ignis’s mouth and snap his hips forward harder, letting Noctis know he had gotten the message and he didn’t give a fuck. Ignis’s grip against Noctis’s wrists tightened and clenched in response to something Gladio was doing to his mouth. Noctis could only growl and kick again.

It was like he was slowly being reduced to pure sensation and need. He had yet to verbally beg, but it was only a matter of time with the way his heart raced out of control. And indeed, the words slipped out, almost unbidden as he inhaled the deep musk of Gladio’s cock. “Please, Gladio. Stop teasing me!”

The older man ignored him completely.

“Please. I give in. Just please!”

Gladio froze above him. He rocked back onto his thighs so he could look Noctis in the face. “What was that?”

Noctis swallowed heavily. It was humiliating, but somehow not. Still, he couldn’t quite get his voice to the deferential tone he knew the Shield wanted. Instead, a hint of confrontation laced his words. “I said I give in. Surrender. Submit. Whatever you want to call it.”

The Shield’s tone was odd. “So, you’ll give me what I want?”

“As long as what you want involves my dick, sure!” Noctis snarled impatiently.

Gladio appeared to be mildly disappointed. He glanced up at Ignis and said calmly, “A bit defiant for someone who’s supposedly surrendered.”

Noctis suddenly perceived that Gladio truly would not relent until he had won this game, not now that they committed. He should have known that Gladio’s drive for excellence was unbeatable. Noctis had asked to play this game, and Gladio would to deliver. And indeed, the Shield was leaning back up to continue where he and Ignis had left off. “No! Wait,” gasped Noctis.

Gladio paused.

It was so hard to get the fucking words out. “I’m sorry. Please.”

Gladio refused to budge. “What will you give me, Noctis?”

An odd sense of deja’vu overcame Noct, and his heart stuttered. There was a heavy weight in his chest. He could almost hear the voices of the Crystal whispering in the back of his head, the constant murmur and hum.

What will you give me?

Anything.

His eyes locked onto Gladio.

“Anything,” said Noctis, and he finally, truly meant it. “Anything.”

With those words, with his true surrender, something loosened and came free inside of Noctis. It hit him like a wave, the tension leaking out of his muscles as he almost collapsed in Ignis’s lap. He felt strangely light, as if he were floating, like the aftermath of an orgasm.

Gladio bent over and kissed Noctis gently on the forehead, the cheek, the crease where his neck met his ear, his mouth. He peppered Noctis with kisses, the press of his lips more delicate than dandelion fluff, a strange counterpoint to their earlier aggressive play.

A breath of air tickled Noct’s back, and then he was being drawn up to sit more firmly in front of Ignis. Even as Gladio continued his delicate touching, the advisor ran his fingers down Noct’s back, tracing lines. After a distracted second, Noctis realized that Ignis was actually tracing the faint line that ran diagonal across his back, the old scar from his childhood injury.

Gladio spoke quietly. “I want you to work me open with your fingers, Noct.”

Noctis blanched. Panic began to bleed into his earlier sweet release, and he said, “But—but I can't. I don’t know how—.”

“Noctis.” Gladio interrupted him. His voice was still just as quiet. “You promised me anything. You said you would do anything for me, remember?”

Noctis remained frozen. But suddenly Ignis was moving behind him. He reached around, taking the prince’s hands in his own. “Sshh, Noct. I’ve got you.” Ignis leaned over Noctis’s shoulder, his breath caressing the teen’s neck as he guided their hands to the jar of lube that Gladio had produced from somewhere. Gladio himself scooched up, still on his knees and hovering as easily as if it were the most comfortable position in the world.

Ignis wrapped his hand around Noct’s again after they were both dripping. Lifting himself up, the Shield gave them easy access. Ignis pressed Noctis’s hand forward, and Noctis let him.

As he sought Gladio’s hole, Noctis was struck by just how intimate their positioning was. He was surrounded on all sides by his retainers, encircled by them, Ignis behind him and Gladio in front. Ignis couldn’t quite reach Gladio from his position, but he held Noctis’s arm steady. “Slowly now,” he murmured encouragingly.

Gladio burned like a brand on Noctis’s finger. He hissed as Noctis breached him, but Ignis kept the prince from retreating. “Try to relax,” Ignis instructed the Shield. “It’ll be a lot easier if you can.” He left one hand with Noctis, but he reached down with the other and took Gladio’s cock in hand, giving it a firm tug.

Gladio squeezed his eyes shut, only to jerk them back open as Ignis rubbed at the sensitive skin at the head of his cock. The Shield’s hip twitched in a tiny thrust, but that just pressed him back against Noctis’s finger, and he let out a shaky groan. Noctis could feel Ignis grinning against his shoulder. “Don’t close your eyes,” the advisor commanded. “I want you to look at us.”

Gladio’s own grin turned feral. “Thought I was the one in charge here.”

“Ha,” snorted Ignis. He twisted to whisper in Noctis’s ear. “Try to move your finger now, Noct. Gently though. Watch his face.”

Ignis kept up his hand job as Noctis experimented with his finger. Ignis didn’t have quite the angle to be anything more than teasing, but Gladio didn’t seem to mind. His eyes were far more focused on Noctis. The prince began to slide in and out, pressing at Gladio’s tight walls and reveling at the movement of his finger. It was lurid, the way Gladio’s ass almost seemed to suck him back in.

Noctis tried to watch the Shield’s face like Ignis had instructed, but it was hard. Gladio’s eyes were dark and glittering. A slight sheen of sweat had collected at the crown of his head and behind his ears. But it was the way he was watching Noctis back that captivated the prince, his gaze deep and piercing, never for an instant letting Noctis forget just what exactly this meant.

Gladio had told Noctis that he saw him, that he knew at least in some capacity about Noctis’s feelings, and yet he was still willing to do this. The Shield had still chosen to give sex with his charge meaning beyond his mere duty to the Crown. Overwhelmed by that thought, Noctis leaned forward, bracing himself against Gladio’s shoulder for stability. He felt Ignis scrabble for balance as his movement trapped the advisor’s hand between himself and Gladio, but he ignored it. Noctis looked his Shield in the eye and then kissed him deeply.

Gladio eagerly received the prince. He kissed differently than Ignis. The advisor had been all dynamic movement, teasing, and sucking, whereas Gladio’s kiss was more driving. Like everything else in his life, Gladio approached kissing head on and forcefully, and just like with everything else, it was a mistake to assume that this meant he was simple or uncreative. Noctis let Gladio control the kiss, the push of his tongue hot and insistent. The Shield’s stubble scraped the teen’s cheek, and his hands gripped and pulled on his hair.

“I think he’s ready for two fingers,” Ignis gently interrupted after a long moment. Noctis pulled away reluctantly, his heart racing again. His dick had renewed all the interest it might have lost in the intervening time he had been prepping Gladio. He’d been horny for so long at this point that he practically ached from it.

Gladio hissed again at the introduction of the second finger, visibly tensing up. Noctis didn’t need Ignis to tell him to pause, however. He gripped Gladio’s thigh with his free hand and stared at the Shield, waiting. The Shield swore under his breath, “Fuck, Fuck,” took a couple of deep breaths, and then nodded. “I forgot how shitty this part is,” he said ruefully. “Wish we could just skip to the good bit.”

Noctis made a face. “Not the best choice of words, Glad, considering where my fingers are.”

With a toothy grin, Gladio replied, “Please, I’m clean. Not a total newbie here.” Noctis shook his head at the Shield’s renewed sense of humor, and carefully began to move both fingers. He wouldn’t have admitted it to Gladio, but it was awe inspiring how easily the Shield’s hole stretched to accommodate Noctis, how natural this felt.

Ignis sighed his patented ‘I can't believe I’m friends with you two sigh’ and said, “If you could just relax, it would be a lot easier. I happen to like this part myself.” At those words, Noctis had a vision of their previous night’s positions, Ignis groaning in Gladio’s lap, glasses askew, hair wild and tussled. He shivered.

Gladio blew a raspberry and replied to Ignis with false, hearty belligerence, “Back off! You had your turn, Specs.”

Imperiously ignoring the Shield, Ignis instructed Noctis, “Try to change up your angle, see if you can find—.” Gladio’s next hiss was much louder and higher pitched. He jumped against Noctis, and then swore deeper.

Noctis couldn’t help his smug grin. “Like that?” he asked Ignis coyly. He couldn’t see Ignis’s face behind him, but he could almost feel the advisor’s warm expression.

“Like that,” Ignis repeated approvingly. Noctis sought the same angle again, and was rewarded with the change in Gladio’s noises. The Shield’s thighs finally began to tremble from the strain, and he started to pant as Noctis scissored his fingers and relentlessly pressed against that tight bundle of nerves.

After a few more minutes of that, Gladio reached up and batted their hands away. “Alright, alright. Astrals. You’re gonna make me cum before the party’s really even started.” He let himself collapse onto Noctis’s hips, and the prince exhaled shakily at the sudden, pleasant pressure against his own neglected dick.

Ignis kissed the back of Noctis’s neck before withdrawing. Without the advisor behind him, Noctis fell back against the bed, Gladio following close behind. The Shield pressed his hands against both Noctis’s wrists, pinning them above the prince’s head with his full weight. He took a moment to stare intently at Noctis. His heavy dick hung between them, but with his hands once again pinned, Noctis had no way to touch. He mourned that loss, and so he pulled against Gladio’s immobilizing grip.

Gladio did not so much as budge. His gaze hardened as he shook his head. “Shsh,” he said. “Don’t forget who’s in control here. I’ve got you.”

It wasn’t that Noctis had forgotten exactly, but the reminder brought all of those strange feelings of release back to the forefront of his mind. The knowledge of his powerlessness in this moment was sharp and vivid, the awareness of Gladio even stronger. He stopped struggling and waited, wary but not afraid, trembling in anticipation.

“Don’t move your hands,” Gladio commanded. Noctis nodded, and Gladio removed his hold on the prince. Noctis kept his arms pressed against the bed above his head as Gladio ran his broad hands down the prince’s torso. For the first time since they had begun this, Gladio wrapped his hands around Noctis’s cock. His hands were rougher than Ignis’s and significantly larger, his calluses scraping against sensitive skin. Noctis jumped at the contact and had to fight to remain obedient, keeping his arms where Gladio had commanded they remain.

Gladio gave the teen a couple of sharp tugs, before lining himself up.

The feeling of tight heat sinking onto his cock was something Noctis would never grow used to. Gladio kept up a litany of swearing, fists clenching the sheets by Noctis’s hips. It was clear he had less experience and was less comfortable with this than Ignis had been. Noctis wanted to reach for him, comfort him somehow, but Gladio had given the command, and so Noctis stayed as still as he could. Of course, he couldn’t quite keep himself from shaking underneath his Shield, his muscles rebelling against their enforced impotence.

When he bottomed out, Gladio shifted his focus back to Noctis’s face. He grinned ruefully, and reached for the prince’s cheek. “I know how hard this is, but you’re being so good for me.” The words were and yet were not spoken in Gladio’s usual coaching voice. His tone was soft and vulnerable, but it still carried enough of the shape of their normal mode of communication to twist something up inside of Noctis, to make him swallow heavily under the weight of the feelings coursing through him.

Gladio began to roll his hips, more testing himself, than truly seeking friction. It was difficult to just sit there and take it, but Noctis quickly realized that his enforced stillness also meant that he could focus intently on every minute sensation that he was experiencing. The tight drag of Gladio’s heat against his dick, every torturous shifting motion. Gladio was larger than Ignis, his frame towering over Noctis. He was also a lot more verbal. Ignis had been vocal in his own way, but it had been all grunts, gasps and eventually and very memorably—shouts. Gladio renewed his swearing, letting loose a guttural “fuck” as he built into his own easy rhythm.

“Gods, your dick, Noct. Fucking hell. . . And you just letting me use you. . . Gods, I could do whatever I wanted to you right now, and you would just take it. . . Fuck.” On and on like that it went. Gladio reached down and wrapped a fist around his own cock, jerking himself off as languidly as he was fucking himself on Noct’s cock.

Noctis whimpered. It was torture. Not enough to get him off, but Gladio had been teasing him so for long now, even this dragging rhythm was pushing him close, so fucking close.

Gladio slowed even more, barely moving. “Noctis,” he ordered. “Remember when you first started warping, and you blasted out magic wildly instead of precisely?” He pushed a hand against Noctis’s chest, keeping the prince from bucking up. Noctis hadn’t even realized he had been doing it. “Noctis?”

“I guess.”

Gladio nodded. “It’s the same with this. You overwhelmed yourself and Iggy yesterday. Now call up your magic. But remember this time, you control your magic. It doesn’t control you.” With a short laugh, he added, “That’s my job.”

Noctis remembered how it had happened last night with Ignis. As he had built closer and closer to his completion, a strange, separate, driving need had begun to coarse through him. He could no more have refused it, than stopped breathing.

He had felt the threads of connection building between him and Ignis, and he had been compelled to complete them. The magic had whispered in his ear, twined through every facet of his consciousness, until he had stopped fighting and set it free. At the time, he had sensed Ignis’s sudden fear, acrid in the back of his throat, but the magic was like a storm, a force of nature with no concept of human restraint, and Noctis had been unable to deny it, even if he had wanted to. Which he hadn’t.

“Don’t you dare close your eyes.”

Noctis snapped his eyes back open and glared at the Shield. He pressed his hips up in a churlish display of defiance. Gladio narrowed his eyes, and then leaned back over the prince, pushing his weight down and trapping the prince’s arms. “Don’t. Close. Your eyes.”

With Gladio’s face less than an inch away from his own, brown eyes nearly hidden by dilated pupils, Noctis sank into his magic. It responded eagerly, a wild animal set free from captivity. It raced through him like electricity, along nerves, and through muscles. Glittering sparks exploded all around them, nearly blinding.

Noctis’s senses expanded almost painfully, the smells of the room, Gladio’s distinct musk, Ignis’s clean hair, sweat, the sex from yesterday, all of it overwhelming him. Where he and Gladio touched, the hands trapping him burned white hot, and the pressure around his dick was indescribable.

Gladio swore at him. “Hold it in, Noct! You have to control it. Fuck—Gods help me!”

Noctis was over aware of Gladio above him. Threads of magic flowed across every place they touched, building and weaving together a tapestry of connection. But it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. He thrust up and felt the responding surge of magic race against Gladio. Yes, this was right. This was good.

But the Shield fought him, denying the connection even as it wove itself irreversibly through him. Gladio used both of his hands and all of his weight to hold Noctis down. He pressed his entire forearm against Noctis’s chest, ignoring the silver sparks of magic that swirled and coalesced around the contact, and the other hand wrapped around Noctis’s mouth and neck, trying to prevent him from thrashing. Noctis bit him, drawing blood. His overblown senses made the taste of copper and Gladio almost unbearable. The Shield swore, but did not relent.

“Calm down,” the Shield growled. “You surrendered to me, remember?” He pressed harder and Noctis thrashed harder.

Then Noctis stopped. He clawed his way back from the murky depths of his power, fighting for that balance, that precipice he had learned to stand on. You do not control me. Like emerging from underwater, Noctis blinked and nodded slowly. Gladio gave him another long look, then released him. The Shield was breathing heavily and shaking.

Without thinking, Noctis reached up, and cupped Gladio’s face. Gladio gave the prince a look like he was going to protest, but he held back, and instead closed his eyes wearily. The magic leapt, like it did with every other place they touched, yet it was different now, not tame, but not the nearly destructive joining it had begun as.

Noctis’s head still buzzed with power. He almost felt high, or what he imagined being high felt like. Bright and potent.

The prince tightened his grip on the Shield’s chin. Light twisted around them. Here was a worthy retainer. A man who had dared to command and restrain a full blooded Lucis Caelum. Like Ignis with his quiet competence, strength, and endless love, Gladio’s bravery and unyielding nature called out to Noctis in a primal way.

But still, Noctis Lucis Caelum was power. He was light incarnate. King of Kings and Bringer of the Dawn. He would not come into this Covenant subservient to another. He could not.

“The control you have over me,” Noctis said in a ringing voice, “it’s power I’ve freely given you.”

“I know.”

Noctis’s magic surged. “I take it back,” he said simply.

He had no idea if Gladio would have fought him, given the chance. He moved so suddenly that the Shield barely reacted, flipping them expertly and abruptly with a twist of his hip. Gladio landed on his back, Noctis snugly between his legs. The move caused Noct’s cock to slip from its sheath, but on their landing, he snapped forward roughly, rejoining their bodies back together.

The magic was swirling rapidly again, but this time, it and Noctis were in tandem. Together they battered at Gladio. He offered no resistance, grabbing the worn headboard for support with one hand. Driven by the need to reach even deeper inside Gladio, Noctis lifted the man’s hips up, instinctually supporting the Shield’s knees above his shoulders. Gladio was heavy, but Noctis took no notice, relishing in the fury of pounding hips and Gladio’s shouting curses.

Noctis drove deeply and relentlessly into his Shield. The sound of his balls slapping and the squelch of lube rang out in between Gladio’s muttered swears. Someone was repeating over and over, “You are mine. You are mine.” Noctis was too full of desire and magic to really comprehend.

“Fuck, Yes,” swore Gladio in between gasping breaths, “Always.”

The connection that had been building between them wove tighter and tighter. Noctis’s balls squeezed tightly, and then he was cumming. Intense pleasure suffused him, a wave of physical ecstasy, but this exhalation was more than any physical release could possibly be.

I see you.

And Noctis did. He saw, not Gladio’s thoughts, or his memories, or anything like that. But for one brief instant, he saw Gladio, the soul of a person that was Gladio, and he was beautiful.

Then it was gone, washed away as Noctis’s magic hooked itself deep inside of the Shield, a seed planted from the cum pulsing inside the older man, but also from every other way they fit together. The two of them laughing, a fist bump after Noctis had managed some complicated move, Gladio’s quiet demanding of more, always more. The Shield's gaze that said, I know you, and I know you are capable of incredible things.

Then it was done. Noctis collapsed on top of his Shield, suddenly overcome. The infant connection between him and Gladio pulsed gently, as alive as anything else. Gladio didn’t speak, but he wrapped an arm around the prince roughly, and a little too tight. Noctis tolerated it, too tired to complain. Instead he closed his eyes, seeking his two magical connections.

There they were. Bright and strong. Thin as a thread compared to the ocean of power than connected him to the Crystal, but unbreakable all the same. The two threads swirled around each other, wrapped and tangled so it was almost impossible to separate them apart. But that made sense. His father’s retainers could sense each other nearly as easily as they could the king.

Gods, Noctis ached. He ached all the way down to his bones. How he had demanded the fullness of his magic twice in so short of a time was not something he would ever take back, but it left him weaker than a kitten.

“This part I could do without,” he mumbled pitifully into Gladio’s chest. He was oddly sticky, but then he realized that it was Gladio's cum splattered on his chest.

The Shield rumbled, and then ruffled his hair. “Anyone else you feel like fucking before we rejoin society, Your Highness?” he teased.

“Noctis,” insisted the prince.

“Noctis,” relented the Shield with a little sigh.

“And, no. I don’t think there is.”

The bed dipped as Ignis seated himself on the edge. He leaned over and rested his palm on Noctis’s side. He didn’t say anything, just sat quietly as both Gladio and Noctis began to doze.

***

**Ignis Scientia**

***

Ignis had his eyes closed, letting himself meditate on the events of the past twenty-four hours. He had no idea what came next, what sort of shape his relationship with Noctis and even Gladio would take now. It had already been a few hours since Noctis had completed the Ritual with Gladio, and they were both still deeply asleep. Meanwhile, the morning light was slowly brightening into afternoon.

A strange rattling noise. Ignis jerked his eyes open. He looked down at the sleeping men. Neither one had stirred. From previous experience with Noct’s magically induced comas, he surmised they likely would not awaken for several more hours.

More rattling. Ignis stood abruptly. He pulled on his shirt and stalked into the front of the house. Now he could hear a motor and voices. The shades were drawn by the front window, but he drew the blinds slightly apart and peered through.

Men in black uniforms. A cane. Dread sank his stomach down to his toes. He couldn’t have been more afraid if it were a firing squad at his door.

He opened the front door before they could knock. Standing in the entrance way, Ignis bowed low, his heart clamoring.

“Your Majesty,” he said.

***

Chapter Text

***

**Ignis Scientia**

***

“Your Majesty,” greeted Ignis as he swung the front door open. The prince and his retainers had finally been caught, and it could not have come at a worse time. With both Noctis and Gladio passed out cold for the foreseeable future, Ignis was entirely on his own in facing the king.

“Master Scientia.” King Regis’s greeting gave no hint to his true feelings. Behind him stood his Shield and Gladio’s father, Clarus Amicitia. A Crownsguard member whose name Ignis didn’t know formed the rear. Ignis could see another Crownsguard in one of the two black cars they had arrived in.

Stepping aside, Ignis waved them in cabin with another deep bow, striving to control his breathing. The king walked ponderously, stopping at the kitchen table and sitting in one of the chairs rather than going further into the house like Ignis might have expected. Regis drew his fingers underneath his chin, and questioned, “Am I correct in assuming that my son and his Shield are also in this house somewhere?”

Ignis drew himself up stiffly. “Yes. But they’re both asleep right now.”

Standing behind to his king, Clarus was expressionless. He turned to the Crownsguard. “If you would fetch my son and the prince for me?”

“Sir.”

The silence expanded as they waited. Ignis wondered if the Crownsguard would even be able to wake the prince and his Shield. He wanted to say something, but he wasn’t sure how, so instead he stood impotent. Vague shouting noises echoed down the hall, then the distinct patter of regulation Crownsguard boots. The guard returned, expression drenched in distress. “Sir! They won’t wake up. Neither one!”

So that answered that question , thought Ignis.

“What?” demanded the Shield, but he was already moving down the hall.

The king lifted his head from where he had been resting on steepled fingers. Rather than follow his Shield, he steadily met Ignis’s gaze. Regis seemed to sense something in that gaze, because after a moment, he nodded and rested his head once more. “Master Scientia, I trust my Shield to discern the situation for himself, but I’m sure your reassurance would not be amiss.”

“Majesty.” It was odd. These two men’s children had just spent the morning fucking each other in the family vacation home. Was that not awkward for them, even under the admittedly unusual circumstances? Ignis had little desire to confront his old mentor, but he obligingly followed the Shield and Crownsguard into the bedroom.

Clarus stopped at the foot of the bed, his arms crossed over his chest. The guard next to him had an anxious expression, eyes darting back and forth between Clarus and the two sleeping men. For a moment, the only sound that could be heard was the snuffling of Gladio’s half snore lifting Noctis’s hair, and the heavy breathing of the young Shield’s father.

“Explain,” demanded Clarus tightly.

Ignis would not let himself be cowed. The Shield had to understand what the scene before him, the two naked men and their apparent unnatural exhaustion, meant. “We were given an ultimatum,” Ignis started, fighting to keep the accusation out of his voice. He didn’t think he was very successful. “They’ve fulfilled it.” He did not avert his eyes as Clarus swung around to meet him.

“You were given an ultimatum, and they’ve fulfilled it?” the Shield repeated incredulously.

“Yes,” insisted Ignis, remaining stubborn.

Clarus opened his mouth, then closed it. He took two deep breaths, looked at his son, and spoke, his temper clearly barely in check. “There is a place,” said the Shield slowly, “within the Citadel, specifically for the completion of the Ritual of Retainers. Everything there is designed to keep both participants safe and comfortable; magic replenishing potions for the prince, doctors to make sure they are both clean, and a place to rest afterwards. Why on Gods’ green earth would you completely throw all of that away and haphazardly attempt to perform a dangerous magical ritual outside of the protection of the city and away from anyone that could help if things went wrong?” When Ignis didn’t answer fast enough, he snapped, “Well?! Answer me!”

“It wasn’t planned that way,” admitted Ignis unwillingly.

“Not planned?” The Shield took another deep breath. “Astrals, help me! I am not stupid. Obviously this was never going to be an easy situation at the prince’s age, so why the hell would you make it even more complicated?! What were you thinking?”

Ignis snapped. “I was thinking that our prince deserved to choose for himself how he was going to lose his virginity.”

They glared at each other. Clarus sighed. “How long ago?”

“What?”

“How long ago did my son complete the Covenant with Prince Noctis? I assume they were successful?”

“I—yes they were. About three hours ago.”

“Right.” Clarus turned to his Crownsguard. “Stay here,” he commanded. Pointing at Ignis he said, “You, with me.” They walked back to where the king still waited.

As they approached and the king saw his Shield’s face, he said neutrally, “So, it’s done then.”

Clarus nodded tightly.

“And Noctis?” asked King Regis, looking at Ignis.

“Your Majesty?” questioned Ignis, not sure what he was being asked to tell his king.

“Is my son—well?”

Ignis swallowed. “He is,” he replied softly. “As well as one could expect.”

The king nodded, his face still that neutral expression. “Good. That’s good,” he said.

Clarus did not allow that moment to sit for very long. He rounded on Ignis once again. “You helped Prince Noctis steal a car last night, removing him from the safety of the Citadel. You damaged the gate of the royal garage and attacked a Kingsglaive. Because of yours and Prince Noctis’s actions, every Kingsglaive member and most of the Crownsguard were called from their usual duties to perform a massive and ultimately pointless manhunt.”

Even though Ignis had known it was coming, the disappointment in Clarus’s voice stung on a deep level. Clarus had mentored Ignis for years before declaring the advisor fit for his duties without supervision. To hear that pride in Ignis broken was almost impossible to bear. Ignis hung his head. At least he would not shame himself by making up excuses or refusing responsibility for his actions. That much he could still do. “It was all my idea,” he said steadily. “Not Noctis’s. I made a mistake.”

“I find it difficult to believe that stealing the Regalia was truly your idea, Master Scientia,” King Regis said with a twitch of his brow.

“I was upset,” lied Ignis. He willed with every ounce of self-control for his expression not to give him away. He didn’t expect them to believe him. But if he could prevent them from laying the blame solely on Noct, then maybe he could also keep the worst of the punishment from his prince. At the moment, that was best that he could think to do. “I drove to the Citadel to find Noctis. I told him that I wanted to do something rebellious. I was—upset at the pressure we’ve been feeling lately to form a Covenant together, and I wanted to let off some steam. Noctis was reluctant, but I manipulated him into following me.”

Both of the men that faced him wore identical expressions of skepticism. “Ignis,” began the Shield, “You don’t do Prince Noctis a favor by keeping him from the consequences of his actions. He’ll never learn better that way.”

Ignis had already considered that argument, but he wasn’t Noctis’s parent. And he didn’t believe that Noctis had chosen his destructive actions because of a character flaw or something that could be inherently corrected through harsh discipline. If anything, harsh discipline and punishment would make it worse. He looked at the king and insisted, “I did my best to force Noctis into it. If you would blame the events of last night on someone, then it must be me.”

“And you will not waver from that conviction, Master Scientia?” King Regis asked. “What if I demanded the truth out of you as your King?”

Ignis swallowed heavily. “I would respectfully remind you of your own words to me, Your Majesty, the day I asked to become your retainer.”

The king’s eyes glinted. “And which words were those?”

Ignis refused to look away. “You told me that when the time came, you expected me to belong to Noctis. Only to Noctis,” he said unwaveringly. “And so I do.”

The king held his gaze a bit longer, then snorted. He waved his hand. “I assume my son is conveniently passed out from his magic for the foreseeable future?”

Clarus spoke. “I’d say a couple more hours at least, from the look of them.”

With a nod, the King replied, “Well, that’s that. Please inform Drautos that his services in instructing my son seem to be no longer necessary. Then take Gladiolus and Noct back to the Citadel. We’ll give them an appropriately angry lecture after they wake up.”

“No,” Ignis interjected unthinkingly. Both men gave him some form of a shocked look. “I mean,” he began again, trying to regain his footing, “Please don’t. Let them go back to the penthouse. It’s bad enough that the entire Citadel knows Noctis was being pressured to perform the Ritual of Retainers. If they are both carried into the Citadel as they are, anyone worth their salt who knows anything at all about the Covenant will know what that means. Please don’t subject them to that.”

Ignis didn’t bother to hide the pleading in his eyes as he looked from Clarus to the king. Clarus was the one who was self-righteously angry, and thus the harder one to convince. And indeed he said dismissively, “If you had wanted to avoid the entire Citadel knowing what you were up to, perhaps you should not have incurred a manhunt that required the entire Citadel to be involved.”

Ignis remained silent, but turned his gaze on the king. Finally, King Regis gave a curt nod. “Take Gladiolus and Prince Noctis to the penthouse then. But have Guard Adrian remain with them until they both awaken. Then have them come to my chamber first thing tomorrow morning.” Clarus bobbed his head and went outside. Guard Adrian must have been the one in the car.

With that, the king slowly stood up. Ignis raced to hand him his cane, feeling useless. King Regis took the cane from him gratefully, then headed towards the bedroom. As they entered, the guard that had been left there bowed and straightened back up into attention.

“Leave us,” commanded King Regis. Ignis watched in confusion as the Crownsguard obeyed without hesitation. He was still trying to figure out what exactly was going on, when the king spoke again. “Young Gladiolus was not the first to form a Covenant with my son, was he, Ignis?” At Ignis’s shocked looked, he chuckled, though his mirth seemed rather forced. “I have been bound to the Crystal for longer than you’ve even been alive. To me, you practically stink of fresh Crystal magic.”

Ignis frowned. “Does that mean that all the Crownsguard and Kingsglaive know as well?”

The king shook his head. “My retainers are bound to me, not the Crystal. Just as you and Gladiolus are bound to Noctis. I sense all Crystal magic; you sense only his.”

Ignis remembered how Glaive Ulrich had interrupted his conversation with Noctis last night. How Noctis had frozen and whispered, “Magic.” The prince had been able to sense his father’s magic as clearly as the King could evidently sense his son’s.

“Have you tried to use your bond with the prince yet?” asked King Regis. The curiosity in his voice was clear. Ignis shook his head and the king added, “I assume you have some weapon of his that you know well? One that was a present from you, perhaps?”

Ignis did indeed have a weapon like that. A short knife, like those the Kingsglaive carried. He had given it to Noctis after the prince had first learned how to warp as congratulations for the teen’s efforts.

The king turned to the sleeping Noctis and spoke without facing Ignis. “Don’t think about what it looks like. That’s not important. Remember instead that moment of connection to Noctis that you felt when he first bound himself to you. You’ll have to learn how to call up that feeling instantaneously eventually, but for now just try. Then remember what the weapon feels like. It’s weight in your hand. The cold of the metal, perhaps.”

Ignis closed his eyes, aware of how many times Gladio had snapped at Noctis for doing the same when trying to call his magic. Oh well. It wasn’t hard to bring back the memory of that connection. It felt like it was soldered onto his brain, bright and painful in its power. The problem was in connecting that feeling, that memory, to a specific weapon. Ignis suddenly understood why it had taken Noctis so many months to grasp this concept. But then again, Noctis had not had someone to show him the way, whereas Ignis had this unforgettable memory to work from.

Ignis felt it, like a thread snapping into place. He felt the weight and the shape of the knife before he saw its glint. A few silver sparks crackled in his grip, and then he was holding the squat little knife. At the same time, Noctis took a gasping breath and jerked upright, upending the oblivious Gladio.

“Ignis?” wheezed the prince. He blinked stupidly for a few seconds, clearly trying to get his bearings.

For himself, Ignis could only stare at the weapon that now lay in his grip. It was real. Of course, he had always known that the weapons Noctis banished and retrieved from the void were real. But still, this was real. It had weight. There was a small nick in the handle from someone’s carelessness, probably Noctis.

“Ignis?” asked Noctis again as he rubbed his eyes. He finally seemed to focus, then shrieked. “DAD!” If it weren’t so horrifying, it would have been hilarious. Noctis fumbled into a better sitting position, scrabbling against the covers, limbs flailing. Only he was still naked, and his movement pulled the blanket away from his crotch. This started an entire new round of shrieking and a flailing jerk of the covers.

Frankly, Ignis thought it could have been worse. The teen could still be covered in dried cum, as he had been earlier before Ignis had cleaned him off.

After mostly recovering himself while the king watched impassively, Noctis repeated, “Dad! What are you doing here?”

The king’s mouth curled. “I’ve come for my car, Noctis.”

At that, Noctis’s face turned bright, cherry red. “I—I—,” repeated the teen. His eyes met Ignis’s and then the knife in the advisor’s hand. Eyes widening, he obviously recognized the weapon. “Ignis,” he repeated for the third time.

Letting the weapon disappear was as easy as a thought. With another ripple of silver sparks, it returned to the void. Ignis held his hand up, staring at the space left behind. The thought kept repeating like a mantra, it’s real, it’s real.

Ignis heard the king take a deep breath behind him. Then it all seemed to happen at once. Noctis’s face widened in horror, and Ignis heard a whooshing noise. Some instinct had him turn around to face the king.

King Regis was swinging a sword a him.

King Regis was swinging a sword at him, and Noctis was shouting, and Ignis was going to die. It didn’t make sense, but Ignis was still going to die, split in two by the man whose son’s virginity he had taken.

The ringing, clashing sound of metal on metal rang out. A splash of magical sparks blinded Ignis momentarily. Then everything cleared away.

Ignis held a polearm defensively across his body, and the king’s sword was buried in it. They both stood there silently panting, until Noctis broke the quiet. “What the hell are you doing, dad?!” The teen stood up shakily, heedless of his nakedness in his desperation to help his friend.

Something about that frantic thoughtlessness warmed Ignis. He glanced back from the prince to the polearm in his hands.

With a mighty heave, the king jerked his sword back, and it dissipated into a wave of sparks. Ignis didn’t dare drop his weapon or move it in anyway. He stood frozen as Noctis sidled up, panting in his post magic weakness.

The king spoke when Noctis finally stood beside his advisor. “I wanted you both to understand why I pushed this on you, why it was necessary. Do you see now?”

Noctis was angry in the way that Ignis could not be. “I see that you almost killed Ignis!”

“Did I?” The question was flung at them. Noctis glared and snarled at his father, his teeth bared almost wolf-like. The intimidating effect was only slightly marred by the fact that he stood before them as naked as the day he had been born.

Once again the weapon disappeared from Ignis’s hand. He lifted a palm to rest on Noct’s bare shoulder, hoping to calm the prince’s temper before he said or did something regretful. “I’m alright, Noct. Truly.”

The prince shook his head. “What if you had, what if—?” Noctis trailed off as the king stooped laboriously to pick up his discarded cane.

He straightened up and met Noctis’s gaze steadily, oblivious to his son’s nakedness. “The magic is easiest to teach when it is fresh in their minds. Which you would have known, had you chosen to do this within the Citadel.” His gaze swiveled to Ignis, though he still spoke to Noctis. “Even without teaching in the finer aspects of the magic of retainers, he is already faster and stronger. He calls a weapon to himself as naturally as you would have, for it is your skills he uses to do so. Do you understand?”

Ignis, at least, understood. He still wasn’t sure that forcing Regis’s son to give up his virginity for that magical power was worth the heartbreak, but he did understand it. This was the potential difference between life and death, as his still racing heartbeat helpfully informed him.

Noctis jerked his head to the side. Both Ignis and the king waited on him to make up his mind. Finally, he turned back to face his father and nodded stiffly. At that, King Regis let out a long breath.

Noctis, in that moment, seemed to finally notice his nakedness. He blushed again fiercely and stumbled away to search for his discarded clothes. As the prince rummaged on one side of the bed, Ignis called out gently, “Other side, Noct.” The look Noctis shot him was not particularly grateful, but he did follow Ignis’s direction, finally finding his torn clothing from the night before. Facing the wall, he yanked his clothes back on, the trembling of his hands obvious despite his attempt to hide it.

As Noct came back around, the king raised a brow at the state of his son’s clothing, but neither Noctis nor Ignis ventured an explanation. Though in Noctis’s case, Ignis thought his lack of response might have more to do with how pale and shaking he was, and how his eyes squeezed shut like he was fighting a wave of dizziness.

“Master Scientia has convinced me to allow you to return to your apartment, rather than the Citadel, Noctis,” said the king. At that, Noctis shot Ignis a look. “However, this does not mean that you will not face the consequences for your actions last night. You and Gladiolus will report to me first thing tomorrow morning. Do you understand me?”

Noctis’s answer was toneless. “Yes, sir.”

“One more thing.” Ignis jerked his head up. The king had ignored Noct’s less than enthusiastic assent, but still, his voice had grown grave and commanding. “I don’t believe that Master Amicitia or our Crownsguard friend have realized that this past night involved both Ignis and Gladiolus. For now, let us keep that information between the four of us.”

Ignis knew that Noctis did not grasp the depth of what the king was saying with that. It was highly doubtful that it was Clarus that King Regis did not trust. But maybe someone else in his guard? After all, somehow the entire Citadel had found out about the ultimatum in the first place. Someone had to be talking. He let his eyes met his king’s and nodded, allowing the weight of his inference to show in his gaze.

King Regis did not respond, but instead said, “I’ll give you a few minutes to gather yourselves, shall I? Perhaps dress Gladiolus if he still cannot be woken. Then I’ll send the Crownsguard to help him to the car.” With that, the king left, his lame leg dragging along.

Ignis waited until he had closed the door behind him, then went to shake Gladio. Of course, the Shield gave absolutely no response. If he still hadn’t been snoring, Ignis might have been worried about him. “Just sit down, Noct. I’ll take care of this.”

“Humph,” snorted the prince, but nevertheless he obeyed, collapsing back against the edge of the bed. Noctis watched as Ignis found Gladio’s pants and then brusquely dressed him, ignoring any potential embarrassment. After he finished that task, Ignis made to leave, but Noctis stopped him.

“Wait, Iggy. Ignis!” Noctis called out to his advisor.

“Noctis, we cannot stay here any longer—.”

Noctis cut off Ignis’s words. He stumbled to his feet and strode up to the advisor, far too close for comfort. Taking a moment to hold Ignis’s gaze, Noctis suddenly smiled, bright and warm, and then he reached up slowly. Ignis knew he should back away. He must back away. But he did not. He let the shorter teenager reach up with soft lips and press himself against Ignis.

Ignis drowned in the heady scent of his prince. He soaked in the heat of his mouth, the fullness of his lips. Noctis kissed him with a quiet assurance that was slow and content, rather than hungry. Even when the kiss turned open mouthed, tongues pushing and exploring, it stayed sweet.

Afterwards, Noctis hid his face in the crook of Ignis’s neck. “I’m glad it was you,” he whispered. “Thank you.”

Ignis’s heart stopped, and he started to pull his head back to look at Noctis aghast, but the teen was already walking past him. He could only stand dumbfounded as Noctis left the room without looking back.

In life, there are certain things that can never be taken back. Some words that remain between two people for the rest of their lives. For Ignis, I’m glad it was you, was one of those irreversibly life altering moments. He stood there, Gladio’s snoring the only noise around him, and he fought not to cry.

He was still standing there when the two Crownsguard came back to carry Gladio to the car. He stood as they heaved the Shield up, and he remained as they carried Gladio past him and down the hallway.

When he finally walked outside, Noctis was already in one of the cars with Gladio, the Shield’s head lolling against the window. Clarus waved to Ignis. “We can trust you to drive the Regalia back to the Citadel in one piece, I hope,” he said dryly.

“Ah, yes, sir.”

“Good. I’ve got Guard Adrian driving those two idiots back to the apartment. You’re to come with us to the Citadel after you drop off the car. The king wants to have a few more words with you.”

“I am his to command,” Ignis demurred.

Clarus wasn’t impressed. “Humph. Glad you remember that.”

Ignis watched as the car bearing Noctis drove away. The prince twisted around and stared at Ignis until the cloud of dust from the gravel road blurred everything away.

The young advisor took a deep breath.

I’m glad it was you. With just those few words, Noctis had the power to sweep over all of Ignis’s defenses, to lay his soul bare and bleeding. Ignis remembered what Noctis had said to Gladio, before the teen had turned the tables on him. The power you have over me, it’s power feely given. Ignis wasn’t sure that the power Noctis had over him was freely given, but it was too late now, and it couldn’t be taken back. Nor, if he were being honest with himself, did Ignis ever wish to.

If I had to fall, then I’m glad it was you, he thought.

With a sigh, Ignis climbed into the Regalia, and flicked the ignition. It was going to be a long drive back to the Citadel.

***

**The Spy**

***

Two men were in an office. The first man sat behind the desk, and it was clear that he was the powerful one in the room. His bright blue eyes and scarred face exuded security and competence. The second man hovered in front of the desk, pacing restlessly.

The pacing man spoke. “The king has been too secretive on this. He knows.” The last sentence he shot at the man behind the desk like an insult.

“The king is protecting his son. Of course he’s being secretive,” replied the man behind the desk placidly. “I’d be more concerned if he weren’t attempting to shield Noctis from the weight of the Citadel gossip chain.” He pursed his lips and added, “What we need to concern ourselves with is whether the prince has truly made a move with his retainers. The reports on that have been . . . unreliable.”

“He ran off with the chamberlain. Don’t you think that means he likely completed the ritual with him?”

The man behind the desk shook his head slowly. “You forget; I was there when the chamberlain spoke to the king. Ignis Scientia is a coward. He fears the ritual. It is unlikely that he will allow himself to be the first to complete it with the prince.”

“But we know something unexpected happened yesterday morning with the Amicitia heir. The prince refused to complete the ritual with him as well.”

“Regardless, the young Amicitia is the bigger threat. He’s been trained since he was a child in royal arms and magic, whether or not he actually possesses it yet. The king believes that it is the Amicitia’s birthright to lead the prince in his magic. He will not allow another to take his favorite retainer’s son’s place as long the boy is in anyway competent, despite my efforts.”

The pacing man asked nervously, “What will you do then?”

“Simple. I will show the king just how foolishly he places his trust. Gladiolus cannot protect the prince. No, the prince is easily manipulated and weak himself. What he sees in that boy I have no idea.”

“I just hope you know what you’re doing. You know he wants one of his own close to the prince.”

“And he’ll get it.” The man behind the desk waved his hand. “Now leave. I have work to do.”

***

*End of Part 1*