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Winter, Prompto thinks, looking out the window glumly, is not his favorite season. At all.

 

“Man,” he says, and sinks deeper into the couch, “Why is winter allowed to be a season?”

 

From his opposite side, Noct snorts. “Is that a rhetorical question?”

 

“It’s not a question. It’s a you, being the prince and sole heir to the Lucian throne, the most powerful seat in the country, should abolish winter and learn how to control the weather, type of statement.”

 

“You’re weird,” says Noct. He waves the controller in Prompto’s direction, one lazy flop of his wrist. “Your go.”

 

You’re weird,” says Prompto, in retaliation. But he leans over to accept the controller, nonetheless. The soft, muted glow from the television reflects in the glossy cushions. Prompto rights himself into its corner, sliding until he’s pretty much lying flat on his back. His shins are tangling with Noct’s. It’s been some time since he stopped finding the normalcy in that weird. Not that it stops the stupid clench of his stomach any, but at least he doesn’t jerk every time in surprise, which, the first few times, had made Noct tense up. His thighs and stomach had gone rigid, and he’d silently withdrawn his feet until they’d created a safe couple of centimeters of empty space between them.

 

Now, Noct fishes up his phone from his pocket, using both hands to cover it a few inches before his face. The arch of his left foot is absently stroking horizontally across Prompto’s closest ankle. He hums. “What’s your deal with winter, anyway.”

 

Prompto triggers R2 twice, and then rolls to his right, behind a crate. The answering salve of bullets smatter against the wood. Prompto’s character hovers on his knees, semi-automat hoisted onto his shoulder.

 

He shrugs, “It’s not as nice, you know. You can’t — do anything. Or as much, anyway. You gotta stay inside, ‘cause outside is cold and wet. We don’t even get snow, Noct,” he looks over at Noct pointedly, “What’s the point of winter without snow.”

 

“Your birthday’s in October,” Noct points out.

 

Prompto’s breath snags. It’s just a little. He doesn’t make it as noticeably anymore.

 

He doesn’t want to point out that his birthday doesn’t really matter. It’s a rough estimate of when he’d been born, anyway, a fact neither possible to confirm nor deny.

 

He clears his throat. “Still doesn’t make up for the fact that we get no snow.”

 

“We do get snow,” says Noct.

 

Prompto rolls-ducks to the next cover in a rush, when the enemy ahead throws two pieces of grenades towards him. “Asshole — no, we don’t. Three days of wet snow in December doesn’t count as getting snow. Shit, did you see him coming there?”

 

Noct gives a noncommittal noise. “Whatever,” he murmurs, “Maybe he’s a pro-snow activist, and thinks you deserve getting blown to pieces.”

 

Prompto huffs, though he’s having a difficult time keeping the growing of a grin from breaking in his mouth. “I’m no prince, I don’t have to say only good things about our country.”

 

He chances a glance over at Noct. Noct’s raised an eyebrow. His lips are wryly quirking. “Because that’s my reason,” he says.

 

“Well, don’t you?” says Prompto.

 

Noct laughs. “Nah, man, I promise. I’m not obligated to like everything about Lucis.”

 

“Sounds to me like someone forgot to put that in your royal protocol. How can you have a king who doesn’t even like his own country?”

 

“Hey, you’re the one who apparently hates the winter, I never said I did. Now give me that; you’re almost at the end of the mission.”

 

Outside, the sky splits with a grey sheen of light passing through the blanket of clouds. Noct hasn’t stopped stroking the ball of his foot against Prompto’s ankle, up and down his shin. Rubbing across the skin until it’s an almost feverish pink with the friction.

 

*

 

The commemoration of his mother’s death is in the dead of winter.

 

“Highness,” says Ignis, only a minute delay after Noctis has gotten out of the car. Noctis stops, obediently waiting for him to reach around the back of the car, and come up at his shoulder. A soft clasp and snap sounds, and suddenly, he’s shielded from the rain from beneath the arc of an umbrella.

 

Ignis’ smile is barely a smile; his eyes soften, and his mouth loses some of its perennial sharpness. They’re long past sympathy — Noctis doesn’t want it, and Ignis doesn’t like giving things away that he knows are unwanted.

 

“For the rather — unfortunate weather,” he offers.

 

“Thanks,” says Noctis.

 

The Church of Bahamut looms ahead of them, as they step up the graveled, maintained walkway that leads them to its front port. On each side of them, the graveyard sprawls. Gravestones, singular and naked, come alongside large family plots, ornaments rising out of the grass trim, candles left by extended family and friends winking in the wet afternoon. Usually, when he comes here — it’s not often, but it happens — it’s quiet. There is a sense of peace that settles over the land, not unlike being encased in a tomb.

 

But today, there’s the typically atypical flurry of press activity accompanying them through the courtyard.

 

Noctis is pretty used to the smatter of a camera shutter going off. Not just from Prompto, whenever he goes off one of his sprees — the press, as well, for good and for bad. He can, on most days, drown it out. But here — there’s a sharp sense of unease that begets the hoard of cameramen and journalists following them here. He realizes that asking for privacy during a public commemoration is like asking his father to cease being the King — it’s not happening, and it’s a moot point. But glancing aside and seeing a slew of photographers following them up from farther across the walkway — it doesn’t matter how old he gets, he thinks; it’s going to unsettle him until it’s him who lies buried here.

 

Pushing inside and into the dim glow of the church always makes him feel like, one way or another, he is coming home. He supposes it doesn’t matter whether it’s post-mortem, or if it’ll be when he is inaugurated. At some point in his life, this will become his home.

 

The church, as it is, is warm, and awash with both the light that cascades down from the stained glass windows, and from the candle light that paints swathes of shadow in the corners, across the white marble panels that stretch across parts of the floors. Noctis unshoulders his coat into Ignis’ familiar hands. He pulls a hand through his hair, matted and wet from the rain. He tries to pat it down into some semblance of order.

 

“If you would please stop wreaking havoc upon the poor Mrs. Lacek’s handiwork, Noct,” murmurs Ignis, quietly, from his side, before delicate slapping his hands aside.

 

Noctis allows himself to be manhandled without much in the ways of further complaint. He can’t see anything, anyway, and trusts Ignis’ careful combing, the slide of his fingers over the slick of his own fringe.

 

When Ignis is done, he nods once, perfunctory.

 

The aisle down the middle of the church is void of people; the masses have gathered in the pews, and spill out to crowd against the far walls. At the very front, he spots his father, dressed wholly in bespoke black. Clarus is at his side, but the remainder of the bench remains empty. A slew out of the Secret Service are gathered at the closest marble pillar, but do not intrude on the moment.

 

Noctis takes his seat next to his father without speaking. Clarus catches his gaze behind Regis’ back. He nods solemnly. Noctis returns it, slightly short. He feels odd, always, on this particular occasion: sad, shot through hollow, but always strange. Off kilter; as though he’s participating in someone else’s grief, able to feel the atmosphere innately but unable to master the personal connection he’s no doubt supposed to have with it.

 

There’s a quiet murmur spreading through the crowd. The front port closes and is opened several times, the resounding noise it makes as it scrapes in the gravel telling. Noctis glances at his watch; it’s five minutes until the ceremony is supposed to begin.

 

His phone vibrates twice against his thigh. He pulls at his pocket with as little visible movement as possible.

 

Prompto — just now
hey buddy, thinking of u today

@IJLive tweeted: Commemoration of late Queen Aulea Lucis Caelum underway from Church of Bahamut. The King’s speech televised later at ijli.ve/xR3lm7

 

*

 

There’s a makeshift dojo in the bottom of Noct’s apartment complex. It’s wide, spacious, and connects into a weight room, as well as a padded, soundproof room that Prompto knows is sometimes used for physical therapy. On this season, more often than not, it’s utilized for that very end.

 

Prompto’s no idiot; while he hasn’t been on the receiving end of any particularly egregious injuries himself, he’s aware of the capabilities, and the limitations, of muscle and tissue. He’s a runner, so wear and tear come to him pretty naturally. Also, really, the information that’s been continuously crammed into him with the start of his Crownsguard training. It covers the basics of medic aid, of the understanding of injuries — how they happen, how you deal with them, and how they heal.

 

Iggy’s told him about Noct, too. In case anything untoward happens, how vital it’ll be that he fully realizes the extent of the injury. There’s severe damage done to Noct’s right hand side; he has screws inserted in his lumbar spine, where two discs remain a source of necessary cyclical medicinal treatment. The Marilith had sliced half through his right kidney, and the muscles in lower back need constant exercise and to be maintained in shape. The scar that bisects high to low aches with the cold, and though Gladio puts Noct through his paces regardless of season, Prompto knows it’s not as harshly during this time of the year.

 

Gladio is pressing Noct down on a foam roller when Prompto gets out of the elevator. Noct’s face is pale, but slicked with sweat. His jaw is scored, bitten tight.

 

Gladio doesn’t glance up when he enters, but raises a hand, anyway. “Yo,” he says.

 

Prompto shrugs off his parkas, and folds it up on top of his gym bag. “’Sup,” he replies. He slumps down on the closest bench, toeing off his shoes in favor of tying on something less wet, more athletic.

 

“The usual,” says Gladio, nonchalant, before putting two fingers into the lower of Noct’s raised hips, “C’mon, princess, you’re rolling your hip, not the air. Lean into it.”

 

“The usual,” Noct parrots darkly, stretched out and supported by his far elbow and the foam roller cushioned beneath said hip, “Which means stretching me out on torture devices because he gets off on it.”

 

Gladio grins. He glances up at Prompto, “Cold’s making him a real bitch.”

 

“Screw you,” snaps Noct, and sinks deeper into his sideways plank.

 

“Sorry, sorry,” says Gladio, but without much sincere apology behind it. “Okie dokie, other side, c’mon,” he leans back from Noct, and says to Prompto, “Go do your stretches. I gotta soften him up a bit more before you can get on with it.”

 

“Fine line between softening up and breaking down,” says Noct tartly.

 

“For the record,” Prompto pipes in, “This still feels like a bad idea.”

 

Noct bites down on a groan. Prompto winces. Gladio snorts, “The reason you’re doing this is ‘cause otherwise, that back will start giving him trouble,” he looks up at Prompto, “He ain’t made of glass.”

 

Noct’s retaliating grunt is a pull between complying, and defiance. Gladio only slants a grin at Prompto. He points towards the far end of the room, where one of two small, basement-thin windows is streaming natural light onto the bare floor, softly white with daylight and wet precipitation.

 

*

 

The head spokeswoman of the Citadel, Erika Nedea, calls him just past seven thirty on an early December Wednesday morning.

 

“I apologize for calling this early, Your Highness,” she says, “But I’m afraid you will have to come in.”

 

Noctis scrubs a hand across his face. “Something happened?”

 

Erika won’t tell, and only says, “A team will be on hand to brief you.”

 

His personal phone doesn’t stand for a secure line, and her unwillingness to brief him herself tells him one of two things: that it’s delicate, possibly urgent, but not what it’s about.

 

He lays in his bed for a few more minutes, blinking fatigue out of his eyes. He texts Ignis, since usually, it’s him who relays any and all matters of urgency in regards to Citadel business to him. He thumbs away a text to Prompto, saying he won’t make their early morning philosophy class.

 

He counts to six, reconciling himself with the deep marrow-ache that permeates all of his lower back and pelvis, before heaving himself up to sitting.

 

There’s a car waiting for him outside, once he’s readied himself, half an hour later.

 

The roads are packed. The driver, someone new that he suspects they’ve borrowed from his father’s staff, is someone that he’s only vaguely familiar with. He takes the route through midtown, via Caelum boulevard, and they end up snaking forward in a throng of traffic vying for the exit to Lower East Side, caught up in the brunt of the mid-morning traffic. Noctis doesn’t mind; he exhales quietly, feeling the preheated seat eating its way into those of his muscles that are coiled the tightest.

 

The Citadel, as is usual given the early hour, is echoing and desolate, void of its usual post nine AM-population.

 

He’s met by Erika, Ignis’ uncle, as well as the royal physician, Dr. Nicholsen, just as him and a guard detail make it through the staff entrance.

 

“Your Highness,” says Dr. Nicholsen, without preamble, “If you wouldn’t mind walking with me.”

 

Noctis nods, and falls into step with him. Before the physician has the time to start on what he’s supposed to tell him, he says, “It’s my father, isn’t it?”

 

He’s known since a couple of weeks back, after the involuntary fight he’d had with Ignis; felt it crawling, approaching.

 

“I’m afraid so, Your Highness,” says Dr. Nicholsen, “It’s nothing immediately hazardous. A slight worsening of condition that most likely has to do with the current weather conditions, and season. Much like your own injury, the cold takes also its toll on His Majesty during temperature lows.”

 

The small, if expertly equipped, hospital wing, is in the western reaches of the Citadel. Noctis knows his dad’s spent a pretty significant amount of time there since a couple of weeks. Not enough to warrant this, though.

 

Noctis nods. He’s pretty sure he knows where this is going. “Not bad enough for a statement, but bad.”

 

“His Majesty prefers not to take risks when it concerns his health,” says Dr. Nicholsen, somewhat delicately.

 

“No, ‘course he wouldn’t,” murmurs Noctis. He glances back to Erika, who remains tight lipped.

 

Regis is standing by one of the tall windows at the far end of the room when they enter. He looks up, smiles crookedly when he spots Noctis. “Son,” he says.

 

“Dad,” replies Noctis. He tilts his head, “This your thing now, scare tactics to make me visit more often?”

 

“Would that it were just so,” says Regis. He leans more heavily onto his cane, “You needn’t worry, son. It’ll soon pass, this.”

 

Noctis raises an eyebrow. “Doesn’t seem to me like I ‘needn’t worry’.”

 

“My condition should be no cause for heightened concern, then,” says Regis.

 

“Okay,” says Noctis, “So what’s this all about, in that case?”

 

“It’s — Your Majesty, if I may,” says Erika, “It’s regarding the address at the midwinter solstice ball,” She turns to Noctis, “Dr. Nicholsen strongly advises against His Majesty holding it.”

 

“Well. It’s just an address,” Noctis frowns, “It’s not like he’s running the city marathon.”

 

“Metaphorically speaking, it might as well be, considering the medial attention it receives,” she replies, “We’d like to refrain from putting the spotlight on His Majesty when he is unwell. There will be speculating, of course, but overall, better than to risk an appearance going awry.”

 

Regis’ smile, which has since slipped into the range of fatigued, turns wry. “See it as — an early opportunity to practice your own addresses. There will come a time when you will have to make them for larger audiences yet, and with not much in the ways of support.”

 

Noctis understands what this is. It makes him cold all over; permeated by a chill that climbers in through his ribs to squeeze at his heart. It’s not that his dad’s bad right now. It’s that they’re counting on him to regress rapidly, pretty soon. He doesn’t look any worse for wear at the moment. But if the way Dr. Nicholsen is clutching at his medical charts, or the way Erika is talking around her subject. Well. Noctis isn’t stupid.

 

He bites down on the shuddering breath that doubles over on his tongue. “So, the winter ball, huh.”

 

*

 

When everyone least expects it, it hits.

 

It’s vague, and shapeless. A swipe of grey and the marrow deep chill of winter — of true winter. A snow storm and deep, deep frost, the kind that flakes solid across water surfaces and paralyzes entire cities, sweeps over the larger central regions of Cavaugh. It’s expected to stay on for days.

 

The Channel 3 weather calls it unprecedented. Meteorologists with expert degrees within the subject come on the air. They say we that haven’t seen anything remotely like this since the mid-500’s. The regional board for agriculture and preservation of sea life proclaims a ban on after hours-fishing, specifically with nets and cages, to prevent the harbor from becoming barren.

 

Prompto wakes up, bleary and slipping off of Noct’s couch after a full night of gaming, and finds that the wide berth of Noct’s balcony is brimming with fresh, powdery snow.

 

Nice dream, is his first thought.

 

His second course of action is to blink, and sit up straight. He rubs sleep grit out of his eyes. He thinks that when he stops, it’ll be gone.

 

It’s not.

 

He hits out towards the low coffee table, towards where his phone is fighting for a spot among candy colored wrappers, and empty aluminum cans, and a strew of game titles. Noct, he knows, vaguely, had gone out at some highly unholy hour that very morning, to attend to whatever it is he does on unholy hours of pre-dawn on weekends.

 

dude are u seeing this 2 or am i still dreaming there is SNOW, he manages, a mixture of poorly contained excitement and gummy fingers from still being at the very least half asleep.

 

Noct’s reply pings his phone thirty seconds later.

 

nerd, do you actually dream about snow

shut up dude i’m srs
100%

yr so weird
100%
on my way back btw

ok sys man

 

Prompto doesn’t give a damn; when Noct comes back, there will be outdoor activities.

 

*

 

It’s not often Prompto finds himself being lead through a side entrance of the Citadel, two guard posts at his sides and one at the front of their party. Nothing about today is ordinary, no matter what anyone says to Prompto. There’s a hoard of journalists pressed up against the gates that lead onto the Citadel grounds, IJTV vans and CCTV vans fighting for prime parking space in the midst of the roundabouts, and all morning they’ve talked on the radio about what they’ll be serving on some sort of intricate, royal menu tonight.

 

He doesn’t ask, but one of the men volunteers, anyway, “The Royal Court will be hosting a gala tonight. There’s — quite a spectacle at the public gates, already.”

 

“Oh,” says Prompto, and pretends to understand what that entails, entrees and champagne and the whole jazz. He doesn’t, really.

 

“His Highness would see that you don’t get held up by the press,” offers the same guard.

 

“… Oh,” says Prompto, again, and steps over a puddle of melted snow. He has no idea what to say to that. He chances a glance up towards the sky, and the spears of the Citadel construct: it spirals white into the grey sky. It’s snowed in bouts today, stopped for now, but will undoubtedly begin soon again. Not anything like they had two weeks ago, though. He sighs, involuntarily, and continues after his guard detail.

 

The lobby, tacked onto the original Citadel building, is a flurry of activity and caterers. Like in a parody, or a movie, there are men and women standing in the whorl of chaos with clipboards, in smart suits and cut skirts, directing the remainder of people one way and another. Prompto, who’s spent a very limited amount of time at the Citadel, and then mostly in the belly of it, in the gymnasium, or at the top of it, in Noct’s rooms — knows no one and nothing of all that is going on.

 

“Through here, sir,” the guard who leads him at the front says. They head towards the elevators. This part, at least, Prompto knows.

 

They shutter him into the closest. Through the thin strip in his helmet, the guard says, “The thirty fourth floor. His Highness should be in his rooms.”

 

As it turns out, he isn’t. As soon as the doors slide open before Prompto, Noct’s there.

 

Okay, so he’s reconciled with himself regarding his crush on his best friend since a long time back. It’s no big deal; Prompto’s a champ at pushing it back and stuff it beneath everything else that he feels for Noct. But seeing him like this takes his breath away, and it takes him a cough behind the knot of his hand to conceal it.

 

Noct’s half dressed in an honest to Six tuxedo. Slacks elongating his already long legs and cinching at his waist, shirt immaculately pressed and fitted over his back. There’s a snaking of a strip of velvet across his shoulders that Prompto guesses will lope into a bow tie, when the time comes. His hair is slicked back in an unfamiliar, formal lick that Prompto’s unused to see on him.

 

Noct looks up and sees him. A crack splits across his mouth then, a relieved smile. “Hey,” he says.

 

Prompto does a mock salute. “Yo.”

 

“You got in okay?” asks Noct.

 

“A breeze, man,” says Prompto. He smiles, “Nice to get the VIP treatment for once.”

 

One of Noct’s eyebrows rise, “Don’t you always?”

 

Prompto snorts. “Dude. I wish I did,” he studies Noct, “Hey, important night tonight. What’s up with you calling me over?”

 

Noct’s smile warps into a grimace. “Right, sorry about that.”

 

“Come on,” says Prompto, “Like I’d mind. Tell me what’s happening.”

 

Noct jerks his head in the direction of the corridor, and farther down it, his room. Prompto inclines his head, and falls into step. Noct says nothing; the line of his shoulders is tense, and his hands are shoved deep into his pockets. Prompto doesn’t try to start the conversation, only offers his silence.

 

The door to Noct’s room is ajar. They fit through it easily, and Noct closes it after them.

 

Prompto goes for the chair that’s half drawn out from the desk. It’s plush, the leather deep in patina, passed down and old. Noct remains standing.

 

Prompto tilts his head. He cracks a smile, if only for the sake of bleeding out the tension that’s threatening to overwhelm the room at the moment. “C’mon, buddy, talk to me.”

 

Noct jolts, like he’s been woken. He shakes his head. “Sorry,” he says, like a broken cassette. He looks at Prompto. “You, uh, doing anything tonight?”

 

Prompto thinks about the sprawling Citadel complex, the ceremonial stuff televised and commented on Channel 3. He also thinks about the desolate rooms at home, mom and his dad three weeks removed on a dig site on the main land of Accordo. They won’t be home for another three, at least.

 

“You know me,” he shrugs, “Always down to party.”

 

Noct snorts. “Good to know someone is.”

 

When Prompto says nothing, he takes a deep breath. “Sorry,” he says, “I just — “ he stops, and starts, “Dad’s getting worse. A lot.”

 

Prompto — knows. Or suspects. Knows, probably. It’s a poorly concealed secret to the entire city. The entire country.

 

“Noct — “ he begins, “Buddy — “

 

“No, it’s fine,” interrupts Noct. He swipes at something at waist level that’s not there, “I’m, it’s fine. I don’t have to talk about it. But this gala, stuff — “ he waves his fingers again, outlining something Prompto can’t see but which probably indicates whatever this party is supposed to be, “I’ve never done it alone. And I will. Tonight.”

 

“Well, you’re gonna kick this party’s ass,” says Prompto.

 

Noct actually shudders. It’s full bodied, easily spotted. “Yeah,” he murmurs, “Maybe. But it’ll suck. So I wanted to ask,” he looks up beneath a crowding of dark eyelashes that manages to snag Prompto’s breath every single time, “If you wanted to kick this party’s ass with me?”

 

*

 

“I’m still amazed that you guys — the government, even own my exact measurements,” says Prompto, at his side, out of the corner of his mouth.

 

Noctis replies, drily, “Prom, you’re with the Crownsguard. They had your measurements taken on your first day of boot camp, to sew up the variety of outfits that come with the job.”

 

“On the day I was born,” Prompto replies, his voice a stage whisper. Noctis rolls his eyes.

 

Incidentally, the measurements had been exact, and put to good use: Prompto’s incandescent at his side; there’s a flush on the tips of his cheeks from the heat, and he’s loosened the bow at his neck incrementally. The red swipe of his mouth and the cut of the tuxedo makes him look like two opposites of one coin brought together.

 

Noctis wants to whisker them back to the thirty fourth floor, back to his chambers, void of people, but knows that he has neither the right nor timing on his side.

 

“Anyway,” Prompto continues, voice still not above a low murmur, “You’re great, buddy. This is a piece of cake, right?”

 

Well. No, not in actuality, it isn’t.

 

There’s a coil of rope that’s tightening around his ribcage, pushing them into his lungs, with every breath. The breadth of his back aches with the cold mornings, and with the long nights he’s pulling. There are cram sessions for midterms, and late dawn phone calls with Iggy about the state briefings he’d missed the week prior. There are rehearsals for public statements, and then the actual public statements. He watches his dad go on the Channel 3 Morning Show one day, supported on the hilt of a cane, the black sheen of his hair completely overtaken by grey. He is partially obscured by the low hangings of a willow, but Noctis notices, keenly, his hunched posture. There’s the commemoration of his mom’s death. There are morning sermons, the chapel below the Citadel grounds quaking with the wounded hymns of the Six. There’s Prompto, drenched in the powdered snow just outside of Noctis’s apartment building, a half formed pack of it in the cup of his palm. He’s laughing, out of breath, and Noctis is hopelessly caught up in it, but unable to do anything but stand by, feel the snare at the base of his collar wind a little tighter, all the time.

 

In actuality, he hasn’t felt okay since before October, when the chill truly set in. Not really.

 

“Noct?”

 

He’s zoned out again. He looks over at Prompto. He’s holding a champagne flute close to his chest, and his other hand’s arched into the pocket of his slacks. He’s tilted his head at Noct, a knitted frown between his eyes. In the backdrop, one of the vaulted windows display the blue night, misted with rain. The snow had bled away on the week before, scurried by a bout of warmth and rain down into the streets, into the earth and the sea.

 

“Yeah,” he says, forcibly breaking the spell of his own thoughts, “Yeah. Piece of cake. Right.”

 

Prompto doesn’t look fooled, “You don’t look too hot, though.”

 

Noctis takes a breath, still too wide for his chest, and leans briefly into Prompto, to knock their shoulders together. “Slander.”

 

Prompto laughs. “I’d never. Scout’s honor,” he indicates the far end of the hall, “When d’you get to bounce?”

 

“When do we get to bounce,” Noctis corrects, “And way too late, really.”

 

Prompto considers it for a moment. “Huh,” he says. He raises his glass in a lazy arc, “And how much of this stuff do we get to drink?”

 

Noctis smiles.

 

*

 

Maybe they’ve just developed — cultivated, this, without even knowing. Maybe it’s not developed at all, and this is all just a ruse. Something that’ll wear off, though Prompto seriously doubts that. Not for him, anyway.

 

All Prompto really knows, is that in the one second, he’s pressed up against Noct’s side from hip to shoulder, playing co-op in a FPS set during the middle ages, and the next, he’s letting his controller off on the table, tangling his fingers with Noct’s as though they’re reading one another’s thoughts.

 

Before Iggy had left, he’d forced Noct into an oversized mohair sweater, and pressed a lavender-infused heating pad to his back, whilst making achingly polite threats about keeping both items on his person, or there will be consequences in the morning. Noct had gone with the heating pad for an hour, before discarding it in a fold across the armrest of the sofa. He’d retained the sweater, which is so large it spills over him, the neckline pooling halfway down one shoulder. Prompto’s been unable to not stare, and the farther into the game they’d come, the more they’ve ended up gravitating towards one another.

 

Prompto’s figured out that by nature, he’s a furnace, compared to how bloodlessly cold Noct can be. It’s not uncommon for them to end up jigsaw-fitted against one another, regardless of whether Prompto feels a need to transmit some of the body heat he obviously has in needless spades, or not.

 

But it’s a weird night, tonight.

 

Noct has spent most of the winter season looking hampered by the cold, with a myriad of thoughts and feelings bubbling just beneath his skin; in that singular space where Prompto can’t actually reach. His dad’s been getting progressively worse, and Prompto finds himself watching more of Noct on news transmissions than he does in the seat next to himself in school. And now, one of the nights they spend together just being, on which Noct has turned out quiet, his eyes bruised and his reflexes a little sluggish — Prompto feels his own stomach tie itself in knots over how much he wants. The myriad of wants which discern themselves in his body, and then come together to form a shapeless void of just want: to make everything better, to touch, to be there.

 

Somehow, what it boils down to, all of his wants, unwarranted or no, is that Noct knocks their hands together when they die. His pinky snags in Prompto. Prompto just kind of — let’s go of his controller, as if burnt, or as if his response is so purely Pavlovian, and grips Noct’s hand wholly.

 

He hears Noct’s breath hitch. He lets his controller off, too. Misjudging the distance to the table, he drops it on the floor. Prompto would probably have found it funny, if it weren’t for the fact that when he twists towards his best friend, he finds Noct’s jaw slack, his Adam’s apple bobbing on his throat as he swallows repeatedly.

 

“Prom,” Noct mutters, his voice a scrape.

 

Prompto shudders. He nods. His free hand hovers uncertainly over Noct’s left side. His heart will, soon, be beating its way out of his ribs.

 

“Can I,” says Noct, and hesitates. He clears his throat, “Do you — “

 

“I, yeah,” breathes Prompto, “Yeah. A hundred percent, do all that.”

 

Kissing Noct is like being shocked. Arousal hits him like a punch to the gut, the moment Noct leans over to fit their mouths together. Prompto actually keens, hand flying to Noct’s hip instinctively.

 

It’s somewhat clumsy; Noct parts his lips, and licks at the seam of Prompto’s mouth, a bit too wet. Prompto retaliates in equally messy fashion, but finds that when Noct licks into his mouth, across his tongue, he finds himself become boneless. His thumb digs into Noct’s hip harshly. Noct grasps widely across Prompto’s shoulder, and tugs and pushes them down into the couch in equal parts.

 

“Gods,” mutters Noct, when they pull apart for air, “Six, Prom.”

 

Prompto replies by burying his fingers in Noct’s hair, pressuring on the back of his skull until they’re falling together again, Noct’s mouth on his, Noct’s hips canting into the space between Prompto’s open legs. Prompto bucks up into Noct, not really sure of how to not do so. Noct groans, and arches his back. Prompto feels him through the fabric of his sweatpants, impossibly hot and hard. “That’s my line,” he mutters. He rakes his nails across the fabric of Noct’s sweater, over his shoulder blades.

 

Noct let’s out a breathy noise, half a strangled laugh, between them. “Right,” he says, “Sorry, didn’t realize.” There’s a crease, the lightest indication, between his eyes, and he says, “You uh, want to do this out here. Or.”

 

What he’s not saying is, do you want to do this, which, suddenly, Prompto can’t quite imagine denying himself ever. If he were to be given another shot at life, in an alternate dimension, he wouldn’t deny himself this. Ever. Especially given that: Noct’s rubbing himself, seated across Prompto’s hips, in small, deliberately tight circles. Whenever he rotates upwards, he rubs their cocks together, and Prompto has to desperately bite down on the noise that bubbles up in his throat.

 

“Uh,” he says, a little unintelligible, “If you ever want me to move into a bedroom for this particular reason? Don’t ask. Just tell me where to go.”

 

He’s rewarded with the minutiae of tension that had begun to creep into Noct’s shoulder leeching out. He raises an eyebrow. “You know where the bedroom is.”

 

Noct’s hips roll upwards again, and Prompto whimpers. He’s leaking in his underwear, pulsing with the friction. “Yeah well,” he says, between teeth, “When you’re bleeding my brain from out of my ears, it’s kind of hard to remember where anything is.”

 

Noct’s small smile widens. He looks suddenly pleased, and punctuates it by makes a larger circle of his hips. “Flattery will get you far,” he snarks.

 

“I’m game if it’ll get me laid,” says Prompto.

 

“Like I said,” says Noct, “Getting somewhere.”

 

He hoists himself precariously off Prompto, and offers his hand once he’s standing. Prompto’s knees are shivery, a little unstable with the moment. He’ll be damned if they give out before they reach Noct’s bed, though.

 

Noct’s bedroom is covered in dark wallpaper, and his sheets are equally dark. There’s no window, so unless he hits the light switch, there’ll only be the sluice of light that spears in-between the door, from the living room. It casts the deep hollows of Noct’s upper body into even more shadow: the dip in his collar, the stairs of his ribs. Prompto gulps down a forcible amount of air, stripping quickly, feeling the rising need to fit his hands to the curve from Noct’s stomach and downwards into his hips take over what he does.

 

“You okay with this?” Prompto murmurs, when Noct kind of voluntarily falls backwards onto the bed, needing no push and no incentive from him, apparently.

 

Noct tilts his head. “Meaning?”

 

“Your back,” says Prompto, climbing after Noct onto the sheets.

 

He should feel more self conscious than he does; both of them are naked bar underwear, and they might as well be there too, given how little that conceals anything from view. But mostly, he just feels that Noct’s been his best friend since they were fourteen, and right now Noct’s looking at him with a kind of dark eyed desperation, the curl of his shoulders inviting, his lips bitten red and spit slick, and the the baggage Prompto usually slings over his shoulder like an old companion’s sort of — taken a hike. Maybe only for the night. But right now? That works for him.

 

“Nah,” Noct breathes, and falls flatly onto his back, as if to prove his own point, “It’s fine.”

 

“You’re sure?” says Prompto, but following as if tugged on a leash. He swings one shaking leg over Noct’s waist, but braces himself just above, putting no actual weight on him.

 

Noct’s face, haloed by the spread of his dark hair, gets a particularly authoritative set then. He doesn’t show it often; the conscious decision to command someone’s attention, or will. Often, it makes Prompto wonder just how much of that side of himself he keeps tempered and in check, because his precarious nature takes precedence. Now, it makes him full body shiver.

 

As if to prove another point, Noct reaches up to Prompto’s hips, and tugs him downwards. “I’m fine,” he intones, and cups his palm across the curve of Prompto’s cock, pressuring.

 

Prompto thrusts forward, mostly involuntarily. Noct’s answering smirk is like a Cheshire cat’s that’s languidly stretching into a large sunspot.

 

“I’ve, uh, never done this before,” Prompto warns, before he can really stop himself.

 

Noct snorts, rather than berates him for it. “You think I have?”

 

Prompto does know that. It makes something warm crawl its way up his spine, in a way. “Right,” he says. “But uh, you know. Practice makes perfect.”

 

And Noct, because he’s Noct, whip quick and there to constantly challenge Prompto to stupid bets, quips, “Then start practicing.”

 

Prompto, of course, takes it as the challenge it is. He shoves at the lodging in his throat that is helpless affection, and pressurizes forth a smirk. He allows more of his weight to press Noct into the mattress, and leans down to crush his mouth against Noct’s, before his best friend can think of anything clever to say more. He cards his left hand’s fingers through Noct’s hair, and fits his right in between them, forcing Noct to retreat so that Prompto can wrestle into Noct’s boxers.

 

He grasps Noct’s cock, slick with precome at the head, and gives it two tentative pumps. Noct moans into the kiss, and sucks Prompto’s upper lip into his mouth. Prompto takes it for the encouragement that it probably is, and twists his wrist the same way again. Noct bucks up into the movement.

 

“There’s still way too much clothing for this kind of action to be happening,” he says.

 

Prompto actually agrees. He scoots off Noct, not without certain regret, to tug at the waistband of his underwear. “Let’s get off, then,” he says.

 

Noct hitches his hips upwards. “That’s awful,” he says.

 

Prompto grins, “Secretly, you’re laughing,” and lies down, to shimmy out of his own boxers.

 

Noct seems to take that as his cue to reverse their positions. He puts a decisive hand on Prompto’s chest before he has a chance to get off the mattress, and rolls over to tangle their legs together, to press himself up against Prompto on his side. His eyes are almost all pupil, the usual dark blue drowned out. He huffs small breaths over Prompto’s mouth, intermittently gnawing at his bottom lip.

 

Prompto takes them both in hand equally for the jolt of electric current that makes him stutter forward, and for watching Noct’s eyelids flutter shut in pleasure. For how his throat works when he swallows, and how he hums, rocking into Prompto’s hand when he begins to move.

 

He’s way too keyed up to be able to last long. He thinks Noct knows, thinks that, maybe, he isn’t much better. There’s some work in fitting his hand properly over both of them, in slicking his hand with the precome that blurts from his own cock. In finding a rhythm that gets to them both. But when he gets there, it doesn’t take much before Noct’s bowing his head into Prompto’s neck, sucking mindless, desperate kisses into the thin skin, and breathing quickly with each jerk of his wrist. Prompto bites his lip and tries not to let all of his desperate noises trip off his tongue. Noct is hot against him, heavy and wet, and he mutters variations of Prompto’s name against Prompto’s collarbone. There’s a slick of sweat down his stomach, and his hair is plastered against the side of his face.

 

Prompto is sure that he’s the mirror version of that particular look, but also that he’s not half as devastatingly attractive in it. He could become submerged in how Noct looks at him, drowsy and punch drunk with desire, and never come up for air again. Shiva, he’s fallen hard and fucking fast, but there’s nothing that he can, much less wants, to do about it.

 

“Prom, I — “ Noct says, vowels loose in his mouth, “Shiva, I — “

 

Prompto swallows the remainder of his words. Licks them out of Noct’s mouth. Noct saws his hips more urgently into Prompto’s hand, fits himself so tightly against him that there’s barely room for Prompto to move between them. He withdraws, bucks his hips forward to meet Noct, and puts a hand in the middle of Noct’s back. Noct cants his hips, and bucks forward. He rolls downwards, and hitches upwards. There’s an arrhythmic sort of rhythm to it, punishing, so good it makes Prompto lose his breath.

 

It’s sudden, a catalyst and a force of its own: he comes so hard his vision whites out, stuttering out Noct’s name broken up into bits and pieces, into Noct’s mouth. His entire body goes rigid, spine arching inwards, and there’s only the pounding of the syllables of Noct’s heart beating against his own chest that works him through it.

 

When he emerges from it, post-orgasm slamming into him like an unmerciful freight train, he comes face to face with Noct, who’s blinking heavily at him, his chest sticky and heaving with large breaths.

 

“So,” Prompto murmurs, “That happened, huh.”

 

Noct slants a smile, “Dunno. Did it? Didn’t notice.”

 

Prompto shoves at his farthest shoulder, but can’t manage to get much force in for the slackness in his upper body muscles. “Don’t be a jerk.”

 

“Oh,” says Noct, “But I just got je — “

 

“Nope,” interrupts Prompto, “Nope. That is my line, you are not supposed to steal my shitty jokes.”

 

Noct’s face splits with his genuine grin. Prompto prefers not to think about how much that affects him, time and time again. “There can’t be two people with shitty jokes in here?”

 

“You can’t steal my thunder every time, dude,” complains Prompto, “That’s unfair, y’know.”

 

Noct hums. “Okay,” he says, “In that case. I’ll trade you. That particular shitty joke — for this,” and leans in again. By the time he licks his way into Prompto’s mouth, filthy and languid, Prompto’s traded a million of his shitty jokes for a few more minutes of the very same action.

 

Sometime later, when Noct makes a noise of discontent, and slips out of bed on the hunt for a wet towel, and some water, Prompto sits up far enough to be able to watch him wander away. And to see, across the living room, the dark of evening spill across the threshold of the balcony door. The doorstep is slowly thickening with snow, and from the street, the yellow light of a street side lamp casts its glow onto the crust of the snow that’s already amassed.

 

Prompto allows himself to lean back into the pillows. He listens for Noct’s soft padding footsteps, for the sound of the tap running, for water sloshing into the confines of a glass tumbler. It doesn’t sound like winter. Not the winter he knows. Or has known before, anyway.

 

*