He woke up wedged fast between Noct and the chilly wall; Gladio was gone, and Prompto had spread out greedily, tangled up in the untucked edges of the sheets. Ignis maneuvered his way out of bed in the thin predawn light that filtered through the gaps in the curtains He found his glasses and slid them on, and grabbed a shirt from the floor to pull on haphazard. Out in the hall he guessed by size that it was Gladio's, but that was far better than nothing. He didn't want to be naked this morning.
He headed downstairs, honing in on the scent of excellent coffee brewing. They'd forgotten to eat dinner last night, too busy with things he shied from thinking about. He felt strange and overwhelmed, off-balance and unpleasantly vulnerable – probably, he told himself, due to hunger pangs and nothing more. He poured himself a cup in the kitchen from what appeared to be the coffee machine from Noct's apartment, and leaned against the counter while both hands warmed.
He heard a door open, which gave him enough time to compose himself before Gladio appeared, damp from the shower and wearing just a towel that strained around his hips.
"Yo," Gladio said, shoving hair back out of his face. "Pour me some? Thanks." He rolled his shoulders. "Those two will sleep until I kick them in the head."
Ignis poured another cup, asking if Gladio wanted sugar or cream, even though he wasn't sure if Prompto had either.
"Black's fine," Gladio said. He took his coffee with a a nod and thanks, and went to go sprawl on the sofa.
Which meant Ignis was stuck. Did he stay hiding in the kitchen? Or occupy the dining table, with a wide buffer of safe empty space between himself and Gladio?
"You not feeling up to sitting down?" Gladio asked, peering at him with concern. "I fuck you up?"
Ignis took a breath. He was, after all, excellent at acting as if he knew what he was doing. He crossed the room and settled next to Gladio – albeit a bit gingerly, because the aches he'd been ignoring apparently flourished with attention.
"Hardly," he said, and took a bracing sip of coffee.
Gladio snorted. "There anything you don't joke about?" Without waiting for an answer, he went on, "I'll help you stretch, you'll feel better. Consider it part of my apology for outing you. I didn't..." He pressed his lips together and shook his head. "I screwed up bad."
The coffee was doing a good job of sharpening Ignis' awareness. He was alert enough, at any rate, to put last night's scattered observations together: if Noct had been against asking him, someone must have been for his inclusion, and he doubted Prompto knew him well enough to care strongly either way. Gladio wasn't generally eloquent or effective at persuasion, and got angry when hobbled by his own incoherence. This made many of his disagreements with Noct actively painful to watch.
Still, Ignis liked the idea of Gladio incompetently but stubbornly fighting for him – even though he would, he decided, never say so.
"Yes, you did." Gladio nodded, and oh, the temptation to milk his repentance for all he could get was strong. "Don't do that again."
Gladio waited a moment, obviously trying to be patient, before caving. "That it?"
"I would hate to have to kill you."
"You'd miss this face, admit it." Gladio grinned, a terrible attempt at being cheesily winsome. Ignis hummed under his breath and didn't deign to give him the assurance he was fishing for. "Tell you something, though, I don't know how to talk with you about it, and that scares me."
"It," Ignis repeated, with the scorn that phrasing deserved, and Gladio raised an eyebrow, inviting correction. "Do you want to talk to the Archaeans?" On consideration, Ignis liked that idea.
"Sure." Gladio blew on his coffee suspiciously, and then took a gulp. "But they can't tell me about you. Like, we need to worry about contraception? We... didn't, sometimes, yesterday."
The words took a moment to register, and then Ignis' face burned. He managed a strangled, "No," which he knew was insufficient. He grabbed Gladio's hand and dragged it under his shirt, pressing his thumb over the short, faint ridge from a hysto incision.
"Gotcha." Gladio rubbed along the scar, and gave Ignis' stomach a pat before pulling his hand back. "Though in our line of work, I can't always figure out what scars mean. The zipper down my face isn't where my brain was removed, for example."
That was a magnificent opportunity, and Ignis rued that he was reluctant to take it. "Aren't I supposed to be kind the morning after? Is cruelty allowed?"
"There's no rule. Don't make me choose. You do both so well." Gladio tossed back the rest of his coffee and got up. "Let me just – "
He grabbed a pair of drawstring pants from the floor by the sofa, where Ignis assumed they'd been tossed pre-shower, and pulled them on. The towel hit the floor, giving Ignis a momentary eyeful of Gladio's dick. He suspected he ought to have glanced away, but Gladio didn't seem to mind being seen.
"You want to stick to the Basic routine?" Gladio asked, rolling his shoulders and rocking on the balls of his feet.
How insulting. "Do I look like I'm twelve," Ignis asked flatly. He got up, taking their cups into the kitchen to be rinsed and the towel, to be hung off the kitchen counter.
"It's your ass," Gladio said, with a shrug like he didn't care. When Ignis came back, still irked, he was given a predatory grin. "On the floor and spread 'em."
As Gladio talked and prodded Ignis through a slightly modified version of the Glaive's advanced exercises, necessary for the aerial acrobatics that accompanied warping, Ignis reflected on what a good trainer he was. He'd always thought so. Gladio didn't let his personal feelings color his professionalism – Ignis had never worried that he was getting either preferential or vindictive treatment, even when he was fairly certain that Gladio was hungover or irritated by his quote-unquote coddling of Noct again.
"I know you can do better than that," Gladio chided. "Hands to the sides and I want to see your chest on the floor."
Weirdly, Ignis found it easier to talk without overthinking when he was mostly concentrating on showing off for Gladio. "I've never spoken with anyone about being trans aside from my parents and clinicians. I assume most people know, and I don't care, so long as they say nothing in my hearing."
"You can't stab everyone in the head, Iggy." Gladio sounded amused. "Come up slowly and give me your left leg forward, ninety degrees."
"Even head-stabbing didn't work on you." Ignis was definitely feeling the results of last night's exertions now, and he concentrated on keeping his breathing even.
Gladio, of course, had a sixth sense for that kind of thing, and tapped his spine in warning. "You'll give me a complex about my face."
"I probably have a complex about my dick," Ignis admitted.
"I like your dick," Gladio said, serious. "Switch legs. Let me know if there's – I don't know. Anything."
"Last night," Ignis said, head down as he pulled himself forward, embracing the ache. "This isn't right – how do you expect for this not to blow up in our faces? Be honest," he added sharply. "I always know when you're lying to me."
"You know how dumb I can be, you want to clarify what's so wrong?"
"Noct," Ignis said, succinct and annoyed. He knew Gladio was as intelligent as he was, albeit with different – complementary – areas of expertise. He was better at understanding people and their motives than Ignis, for example. "He's still the prince. He's engaged to be married. You and I, and Prompto now, have a sworn duty – "
"On your feet," Gladio interrupted, and waited until Ignis had bent into the next pose before continuing, walking around so he was standing right behind Ignis, hands bracing his hips (even though Ignis had perfect balance, as always). Ignis' skin burned under the heat of the touch; he had a keen, breathtaking sensory memory of Gladio moving inside of him. "You want to tell me exactly when Prompto and I've derelicted our duties? You're observant as fuck. Enlighten me." He gave Ignis a slap on the ass – not too hard, barely a sting. "Right, that's time, raise up slow."
Gladio's arms slid around his waist as Ignis straightened to his full height, pulling him back against his chest. He bent slightly and pressed a trail of light kisses along Ignis' neck – the sensation was close enough to tickling that Ignis squirmed, and then froze, the weight of Gladio's half-hard cock pressed against his ass and his brain stuck trying to dredge up that example Gladio asked for. If this were a fight, he knew exactly how he'd break the hold (as well as Gladio's nose and fingers), but he was at a loss how to counter affection (or whether he truly wanted to).
"My mother," Gladio added, "died in combat. Dunno if you know that. If she'd lived, you bet your shiny rhinestone shoes she'd be on the front line with the Kingsglaive. Duty didn't stop her from loving my dad like crazy, and love didn't keep her from doing what she had to."
Ignis had a strong aversion to not knowing how to respond to a situation; Gladio was, annoyingly, right about that. He had no idea what to say, so he twisted his head to the side and caught Gladio's chin in his hand, pulling him in for a kiss that he hoped conveyed his apologies and regret, and that he understood what Gladio was saying. Even though the situations were completely different: Gladio's parents hadn't, he assumed (but could never ask), both been sleeping with the king.
Irritatingly, now that Gladio had shut Ignis up temporarily, he continued with both their stretching routine and the kissing and touching. He was just as critical of form as always, and Ignis strove to leave him no room for criticism – he was, after all, easily Gladio's equal in bloody-minded perfectionism.
They were nearly done – Gladio had irked Ignis into standing splits and made him hold the pose while he kissed his way from ankle to ankle – when there was a noise in the hall. "My house has been blessed," Prompto said a moment later, peering in from the doorway. "My pants have been blessed. What have I done to deserve this?"
Ignis turned his head sharply, even though Gladio huffed as if he'd have preferred ignoring the distraction.
Noct was trying to see past Prompto, muttering what, and Prompto breathed out an awed, "Iggy's hella flexible."
"I can do that," Noct said defensively, and then sharply: "Wait, are you and Gladio making out?"
Ignis took a breath to make a firm denial, but Gladio spoke first.
"So what if we are?"
There was a tense undercurrent in the air, as if the ghosts of arguments past had been summoned.
Noct rolled his eyes. "Then we want to watch."
Ignis focused on his breathing and brought his leg back down to the floor, ignoring Prompto and Gladio's twin noises of regret. He felt much better, new aches buried under familiar loose warmth and his mind more centered and calm, despite the presence of desire. Damn Gladio for knowing him so well.
"This still isn't right," Ignis said; quietly, because it was a beautiful dream, but not one that would last, and he needed to convince himself of that.
"Lots of things aren't right and still happen." Gladio shrugged. "Second or third time I joined these two, I freaked out. How the hell was I going to explain to my ancestors that I let my prince's boyfriend eat my ass out? What kind of Shield does that?"
"A kinky one?" Prompto said, shrugging. He didn't understand, Ignis thought.
Noct's reaction was predictable, though. He gave Gladio an accusatory look. "You never said that." Noct looked put out, and also guilty, as if he'd have done something (what?) had he known.
Gladio crossed his arms. "Not your problem. Anyway, I did a hundred penances at the tombs and got over it." He gave Ignis a pat on the shoulder that felt condescending, and he stepped aside, annoyed. "Ignis is freaking out because you're the prince and we swore oaths."
"Plus the matter of the royal wedding," Ignis snapped. Surely he couldn't be the only person in the room with a sense of propriety and perspective.
"I told Luna," Noct said, "about Prompto, because I was a stupid scared kid who thought I was ruining everything because I like liked someone. Everyone always said – even you, Specs – that I'd never get a choice about who I married. It'd be some stranger, and then we'd be expected to have kids and smile for the cameras like that wasn't my personal nightmare. Luna's the Oracle, she knows things, I thought she could help."
"Did she?" Prompto asked, leaning to the side to rest his head on Noct's shoulder.
"She said not to worry. That I was loved deeply and dearly, and I should return that love with a clear heart because love was never wrong." Noct's cheeks flushed as he spoke, and he took Prompto's hand, looking down to watch as he laced their fingers together. "She also offered to tell me about sex, but I said Iggy had me covered. Otherwise I'd be dead of embarrassment years ago."
"Dodged one, there," Gladio agreed. To Ignis' surprise, he sounded more sympathetic than amused. He threw an arm across Ignis' shoulders to pull him back to his side. "You going to argue with the Oracle? Or do you still think – what? C'mon, you know we'd all put our lives between Noct and harm."
"And," Noct snapped, the word escaping with enough force that he had to stare to the side to get under control, "you keep telling me the king doesn't have the right to stop people sacrificing themselves for his safety. But don't you expect me to accept that I can't love each and every one of you until... until. Don't ask me to do it alone. You have no idea," he added in a rush, anger bleeding into pleading, "how careful we are so no one finds out. Nothing online, never touching outside safe walls, alibis, plausible denial."
"Gladio's a total hardass about it," Prompto added; a careful sally, as if testing whether the mood could be lightened. He looked as if the conversation physically pained him.
And quite possibly it did, Ignis realized all at once. If he insisted on arguing that this arrangement – this relationship, not just with himself but with all of them – was untenable, if Noct gave in and gave up... he'd have destroyed something irreplaceable, just because –
"It's okay to be afraid," Gladio said, to Ignis' shame reading his mind effortlessly. "Everyone here is, cause we're not stupid. But it's good to have someone to hold you on days that really suck, you know?"
For some reason, that called to mind his uncle and Baebio. They'd quite literally saved him – he wouldn't be himself if he hadn't been rescued as a child – he might not have survived at all – and he certainly wouldn't be standing here, discussing love and loyalty with his future king. He supposed, looking back, that quite many things in his life had, as Gladio put it, sucked. He'd probably been scared as a child, though most of what he remembered of that time was a helpless, formless anger. But he was aware of how much of a difference love had made to his life.
"Yes," he said. "I do know." He looked over at Noct, making himself meet his eyes. "Please accept my apologies for...." He had to end the sentence with a vague gesture, unsure of how to say what he felt.
"It's cool," Noct said immediately. "I know we kind of overdid things yesterday."
"It was a lot to take in," Ignis agreed, and then before anyone could react to that, "Let me see to breakfast." Which wasn't a subtle way to break the tension, but it worked.
"I'll help," Prompto chirped, enthusiastically unaware that as host he oughtn't to let guests in his kitchen.
Or perhaps, Ignis thought, Prompto was making a point by not treating Ignis as a guest. There were leftovers from the night before (the boxed cakes, which Noct called dibs on, and some greasy takeout) but Ignis wanted actual food, and Prompto was quick to help – finding the salt, demonstrating how to light the stove – but otherwise acted as if Ignis was entitled to the run of his house.
He also kept startling Ignis with unexpected touches: fingers brushing against his arm, tucking loose hair behind his ear, patting his ass when he walked behind him. Ignis didn't flinch, but his reaction must have been noticeable because he caught Prompto starting to reach out and then pulling his hand back. He didn't want that; it was far preferable to confess to being ticklish, even though that usually had predictable fallout.
"You told me you grew out of that," Noct accused. He'd refused Gladio's offer of stretching (apparently, that was just a thing of Gladio's), and was slowly setting the table with an eccentric number of bowls and a lack of spoons. Gladio obviously noticed but thought it was funnier to say nothing.
"Of course I did." Ignis tested the firmness of the vegetables for the filled omelet, found them done, and slid them out of the pan into the mixing bowl. "It had the desired effect." Which had been to get people to stop touching him for... a good decade. He supposed he'd needed both the time and the space; he'd had days when he'd had trouble touching himself. He turned to Prompto and gave him an apologetic smile along with instructions for how to cook the eggs.
The omelet turned out, Prompto said, picture-perfect, and he made Ignis hold it for the camera as he snapped a shot of the two of them. Gladio set out the box of cakes Ignis had brought, and poured everyone fresh coffee. Noct picked the green stuff out of his eggs, of course, but gamely swallowed the mushrooms under Prompto's watchful eye, whining about how he was the prince and ought to be allowed to eat cake before vegetables. Gladio stuffed an entire cake in his mouth and Prompto made him go shake the crumbs in his beard out in the sink (not on the floor, gods, I can't take you anywhere).
"In case you were wondering," Prompto told Ignis while helping himself to seconds, "this is what it's usually like." He pitched his voice lower, as if trying not to be overheard. "The sex is amazing, but so is just being together, playing games or being bratty or looking out for each other."
"I'm bratty?" Noct asked. "Is that what you're saying?" He sounded surprisingly hurt by this.
"I am," Prompto said, and shot Noct with a finger gun. "Don't cut in on my territory, bro."
When the food was gone, Gladio appointed himself in charge of clean-up, and the kitchen was spotless in record time. He said if they were going to have another round of sex they should hurry up, because he had to be home by ten.
"I have work from nine," Prompto pointed out. "Tide and time clocks wait for no man."
The last lingering wisps of the dreamlike feeling Ignis had been clinging to evaporated as the weight of his life flooded back in, and he swore sharply. His hand shot to his hip even though he knew the gesture was futile; his phone would be in his own trousers pocket. He had a meeting that afternoon, and three reports due by mid-week, and –
"I didn't call home," Ignis said. Spoken out loud, his worry sounded ridiculous. After all, he wasn't a child, though he supposed compared to Prompto he was sheltered and undoubtedly spoiled. But he'd never stayed out overnight without notice; it was unthinkable. Yet here he was.
Prompto winced and gave him a sympathetic look, though. "Will your mom and dad be upset?"
"His uncle," Noct corrected around a mouthful of the last cake. He seemed determined to leave no leftovers, at least of the sweets. "Who's cool. Baebio's the one to worry about. Right, Gladio?"
"Ha, ha," Gladio said darkly. He ignored Noct's cheeky grin and gave Prompto a sideways jerk of his head, as if wryly acknowledging that he was probably screwed. "Baebio's retired Crownsguard, and Ignis' uncle's partner. Soon as I get dressed, I can drive you home."
Prompto's eyes darted to Ignis, as if gauging how upset he was to have Gladio and Noctis blithely doling out more of his life story.
"There goes my carefully cultivated aura of mystery," he said, both as warning and reassurance. He didn't, of course, want Prompto to feel left out for not having grown up in the close community of the Citadel, so he gave him a smile which he hoped looked neither threatening nor irritated. "You can ask me anything. Though I'm sorry to say probably most of what these two have told you is exaggeration at best."
"Hey," Noct protested, blind to the conversation's undertones but aware that he'd just been obliquely insulted.
Prompto was better at reading the atmosphere, and gamely dropped the subject of family altogether. "Is it true you can kick a dagger midair and break a man's neck with your thighs?" he asked, giving Ignis a bright hopeful look, like a puppy wanting to play. "And can you teach me?"
Ignis let himself in the front door with no real hope of avoiding being spotted, and wasn't surprised to find Baebio and his uncle on the sofa by the window. Baebio was stretched out, with his feet on the armrest and his head in Uncle Lena's lap, and he gave Ignis a wide grin as he set aside the book he'd been reading.
"Good morning," Ignis said, with a careful nod. He took his shoes off, setting them on the shelf and stepping into his slippers. His clothes didn't look unusually wrinkled, he supposed. Considering that this was the second day he was wearing them.
"That was Clarus' boy dropping you off?" Uncle Lena asked, mildly.
Ignis willed himself not to blush. "Yes. He does have a name, you know."
Both Baebio's eyebrows shot up, as if pretending to be surprised no more details were supplied. "So are you two – ?" He gave Ignis a sly look, which would typically earn an exasperated eyeroll; but Ignis hesitated over his response a moment too long. "Well, well, well, that is news. Are you happy? Is Gladiolus good to you?"
Ignis felt as transparent as glass, under their double scrutiny. "Yes." He was going to have to apologize to Gladio after this; he didn't look forward to it.
"Then okay." Baebio sat up, cracking stiffness from his neck, and stretched his arms along the back of the sofa. "That's all we want."
Uncle Lena coughed. "That and the courtesy of a text. Despite Clarus swearing Gladiolus must've dragged you to the prince's gaming night, it'd be nice to know you're not dead in a ditch."
"I won't forget next time," Ignis promised, and made his escape from their watchful eyes. Thank the Six he'd taken Gladio up on stretching, and he wasn't stiff or limping. That would have been mortifying.
He dressed in clean clothes, put his hair up, and reminded himself that no one had the power to look at him and envision anything close to the truth. He had bruises, including one that the collar of his shirt barely hid, but he always had bruises. Nothing was different, nothing had changed, and while he didn't know how he was going to look the King in the eye and behave normally, he would. He had to. Facing the mirror, he squared his shoulders and pulled himself together. He spent several minutes practicing not blushing at his own memories, and – having attained a reasonable degree of success – headed out to face a day where awareness of loving and being loved filled him with a warmth to rival the sun.