You should be used to this by now.
It’s far from your first rodeo, after all. You’ve been around the scene in Insomnia (just thinking about the place has a dull ache sprouting in your chest), and out here it’s not that different, except that it’s harder to meet like-minded people without as many specialty clubs. But you’ve found that hunters, a lot of them want to feel in control of something, and they won’t turn you down if you offer to be that something for a while.
All of which explains why you’re naked on your knees in a cheap motel room as your Dom for the night puts his clothes back on, but not why you can’t stop shaking. Not why the very idea of moving makes you want to cry.
It was a good night up to now, you think. It’s kind of hard to remember much of the last hour or two clearly, but that’s a good sign, mostly. But now your Dom is leaving, leaving you, and only the fact that you can’t seem to unclench your jaw keeps you from begging him to stay just a little longer. You’d let him do whatever he wanted, if he’d just make this feeling go away.
He leaves, the door swinging mostly to behind him. You’re alone.
You should get up. There’s – you have to go back. Get your clothes on. Get cleaned up. That stuff. You have to.
Thinking it doesn’t make it any easier.
Eventually (you’re not sure how long) you manage to convince your hand to reach for your phone where it’s lying on the chair. You fumble with it, fingers feeling like sausages, not entirely part of your body. You end up just hitting the redial button, all you can manage, and staring blankly at the screen as it rings.
“Gladio?” Ignis’s voice is such a relief you want to cry. You’re not completely alone.
That doesn’t make talking any easier. “Iggy, I…” You don’t know what you should say. What you want. You mostly just want to hear a voice.
His voice goes sharp. It cuts through you like a knife. “Are you in danger?”
That’s a question. You have to answer it.
“…No,” you manage. Fear shoots through you that Ignis will hang up now, that he’ll be mad at you for wasting his time. The thought spurs you into action. “Don’t…don’t hang up.”
“I won’t,” he says steadily. “I’m coming to you. Is that all right?”
“…Yeah.” It’s all you could ever want.
You space out a little again there, but Ignis keeps his word and doesn’t hang up the phone. You can hear his voice, even if you can’t be bothered to pick out the words.
After a few minutes, it occurs to you that you don’t just hear his voice through the speaker. You force your head up in time to see the door swing open again, Ignis framed in the doorway, in his pajamas, Noctis and Prompto behind him.
“He didn’t even shut the door,” Ignis says, giving the pronoun the kind of tone generally reserved for particularly goopy daemons. “Who does that?”
The other two are staring at you like they’ve never seen you before. To be fair, they haven’t seen you like this before, that’s for sure.
You force something like a smile. “Hey.”
You know you look a mess, come drying on your skin and bruises starting to rise. There should be a red handprint on your face. You think you remember that.
“Dude,” says Prompto, “you look awful.”
“Prompto, manners,” Ignis snaps.
“Well, he does!”
“Sorry,” you say, mostly to Noctis, who’s still staring at you with an expression you can’t read. Is he mad? You’ve always tried to keep this part of your life away from him. Not because you’re ashamed, but because what if he is? What if he’s ashamed of you now?
“No, I’m the one who’s sorry,” says Ignis. “These ill-mannered ruffians insisted on coming along.” He steps into the room. “Either close the door and gossip, or come in and help, you two,” he adds to Noctis and Prompto. They’re still hovering in the hallway.
“What’s wrong with him?” Noctis asks. You should probably be able to answer that, but you can’t. You’re too busy trying to get your face under control. You still want to cry. You think it’s showing.
You don’t even catch Ignis’s answer. It’s just words, going on over your head. You thought having someone there would make it better. Now you want…you don’t know what you want. Something. Something not this. To be less weak, maybe. Your breath shivers in your chest. There isn’t enough air in the room.
“Gladio?” From the tone of voice, Prompto’s been calling your name for a while. You look up. That’s the best you can do. He’s crouched down in front of you. “Hey, big guy, breathe with me, okay?” He draws in an exaggerated breath, holds it, lets it out. You try to do the same.
It’s easier than you thought it would be. You don’t have to think, don’t have to do anything. Just follow Prompto. Your breath evens out. Your head feels a little clearer.
“Yeah, you got it!” He goes in to pat you on the shoulder but pauses before he gets to you. “Touching okay?”
You nod, then practically melt when his hand makes contact. Touching is…really okay.
Whatever conversation Ignis and Noctis have been having over your head seems to be over. Ignis kneels down next to Prompto. “Let’s get you cleaned up, shall we?”
They don’t have to actually pull you up. When you get prompted – heh, Prompt-ed, you’ll have to remember that one – you find you can actually move your body, if you try. It’s the getting up the energy to try that’s so hard right now.
Noctis is the one who follows you into the shabby motel bathroom and turns on the shower. You don’t know what to expect. Is he mad? Or disappointed? But he just gives you his most Noct-like half-smile and says, “Water’s still warm, but I don’t know how long it’ll last.”
The water pressure isn’t much, but it feels good. You jerk in surprise when Noctis grabs a washcloth and starts rubbing you down. This is ridiculous. You’re a grown man. You don’t need to be washed like a child. But it feels good, and Noctis doesn’t seem ashamed to be here, with you. He’s blushing a little, though. Avoiding looking you in the eye.
“Like what you see?” Your voice almost sounds like yours again.
Noctis blushes, but flashes a smile up at you. “You know it.”
Is he kidding? Were you? You’re not sure.
When you emerge from the shower, Hurricane Ignis has struck again. He’s cleared the place of used condoms and other trash. There’s a granola bar and a bottle of water on the table. Your toys are neatly in a pile on the bed. Prompto is examining them with fascination.
“Don’t touch those before they’ve been cleaned,” Ignis is saying as you walk in.
“He lives!” Noctis announces to the room at large. “I think, anyway. Hey, Gladio, you with us?”
“Yeah.” You think, anyway. You feel like you just had a crying jag and another one isn’t off the table. But right now, the presence of your friends is holding you up just enough.
“Good.” Ignis looks tense still. Are you worrying him? He worries too much. You’re not fine, but you still don’t want to worry him. “We’re taking you back to our room.”
He doesn’t even give you a choice. That’s fine. You don’t actually want one. You certainly don’t want to stay here alone. “’Kay.”
“But that means pants.” Oh, right. You’re naked. You kind of thought that would be a bigger deal.
You manage to pull on your pants without help. You feel unreasonably proud about that. You bundle the rest of your clothes up with your pile of toys and carry the lot. They’ll all need cleaning in the morning anyway. The trek back to the room the other three rented feels longer than it should be. Ignis keeps a hand on the small of your back. It’s nice. Grounding.
By the time you get there, you’re more exhausted than anything else. It’s been a long day and a long night. So when Prompto peels back the covers on one of the beds, you’re asleep almost before your head hits the pillow.
You wake up to a warm, distinctly Noct-esque weight against your side, and for a moment, everything is fine. Then you remember. You remember dropping hard. You remember calling Ignis. You remember being a trembling wreck in front of the people who most need you to be strong.
Maybe you can smother yourself to death with a pillow without waking anyone. Noctis sleeps like the dead; he won’t notice.
Across the room, Ignis is already stirring. You watch him fumble for his glasses around the octopus that is Prompto. When he finally notices you watching him, he smiles, like he doesn’t notice you panicking and if he did wouldn’t have the faintest idea why. “Good morning, Gladio. Feeling better?”
“Yeah.” No matter how bad you feel, it’s not as bad as last night, that’s for sure. You can think straight now, even though that’s a mixed blessing.
“Good.” And that’s all he says. Like nothing ever happened.
You spend the rest of the morning waiting for the other shoe to drop, as Ignis sends you out to acquire breakfast. When you get back, Prompto is up, helping (or “helping”) Ignis with inventory, and even Noctis is starting to stir. It’s all too normal a morning.
So it’s actually kind of a relief when after breakfast Ignis sets down his can of Ebony with a click and says, “We need to talk about last night.”
Your veins feel like ice. You try not to let it show, try to stay relaxed. “Sorry I pulled you out of bed. Won’t happen again.” And you mean it. You’d rather never hook up with someone again than relive last night.
“Hey, no,” says Prompto, waving his hands. “That’s so not the issue.”
“Indeed. I’d far rather you call, at any hour, than remain in that state for fear of bothering us.”
You force a chuckle. “C’mon, guys, it wasn’t that big a deal.”
“Yes, it was.” Noctis is sitting backwards in the chair, but he looks serious. “You didn’t see yourself, Gladio.”
“Yeah, man, you were fucked up. And not in the good way!”
You consider explaining that that’s just something that happens sometimes, when the high wears off too soon, but you don’t think that’ll get you very far. “That doesn’t normally happen,” you lie. It happens more often than it used to, back in – back before. You don’t know why. Stress, maybe.
“Gladio.” Ignis’s voice cuts through your thoughts. “Your Dom abandoned you after a scene without even bothering to shut the door behind him.” His ungloved hands are clenched into fists on his lap. “That is unacceptable.”
“Then isn’t your problem with him, not me?” When he puts it that way, you have to admit it sounds kind of bad. “I just had shitty luck.” You’ve had shitty luck a lot lately, but that’s none of Ignis’s business.
“Oh, believe me, if you care to point him out I am willing to give him a thorough etiquette lesson, but that isn’t the issue at hand.”
“Okay, I’ll bite. What is the issue at hand?”
“You can’t keep doing this.” That’s Noctis, and you feel a sick twist in your gut. This is it, then. He’s disgusted by your weakness, or what he sees as your weakness. You always suspected he would be. Back in – in Insomnia he didn’t seem to care, but things change. The hell of it is, you know you’ll give it up if he truly demands it of you.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll make it easy on him. “You’re not actually the boss of my personal life, Highness.”
“No, I’m not,” he says, not calling your bluff. “But I could be.”
He can’t possibly mean what it sounds like he means. That’s just – it’s ridiculous. Impossible. Wishful thinking.
“What Noct’s trying to say,” says Prompto, and you’re grateful someone knows, “is that we could do that for you instead, you know, if you were okay with that.”
“What?” You can’t believe your ears. You look at Ignis. He wouldn’t participate in a joke like this. You can trust him to tell you the real truth.
He looks back at you steadily, and nods.
“So, like, you won’t have to pick up random assholes and let them leave you alone, or anything, anymore. It’s not like you have to, though, I mean, it was just an idea, because you really deserve a, a Dom you can really trust, and I, we, hope that that’s us, and –”
“Hush, Prompto,” says Ignis quietly, and he subsides, though his hands keep dancing nervously across his thighs.
“So you’re offering to, what, Dom for me? All three of you?”
“That would be the gist of it, yes.”
You’re skeptical. You ignore the fluttering beneath your ribs. “You know this is a sex thing, right?” That’s not completely true; some people enjoy it without getting off on it. You’ve just never been one of them. (But, Astrals, for these three you’d try to be.)
Noctis aggressively rolls his eyes at you. “You know you’re, like, crazy hot, right?”
“Do any of you actually know what you’re doing?” You know they weren’t part of the scene when you were. And while you appreciate the hell out of the offer, you don’t want them rushing into something they’re not ready for. That way lies the kind of mess none of you can afford right now.
“I’ve done some research,” says Ignis, because of course he has. “As I understand it, the principles don’t seem all that difficult. You simply tell us what you want, and we give it to you – or not, at our pleasure.” And he smiles like a cat.
Okay. Okay, that’s. You can work with that.
“Okay,” you say, trying to keep your voice even. “We can give it a try.”
“Yes!” Prompto punches the air. Noctis grins brighter than you’ve seen him in a while. Ignis just keeps smiling. Their faces do things to you, under your ribs where the fluttering lives.
“But if any of you get overwhelmed or want to stop, you have to say so, right? It’s a two-way street.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, group hugs time now!” Prompto flings himself from one bed to the other (in fairness, it’s not far to fling) and tackles you. With the sparkle of a warp-strike, Noctis joins him. You rock back. Over their heads, you and Ignis exchange the kids-will-be-kids smile that never fails to make you half sick with fondness.
And last night couldn’t be farther away.