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Drive Me Faster

Chapter Text

"I can't take this child any more," Mama said, and scrubbed at the angry tears on her splotchy red cheeks. "I can't, Lena. Look – look! Finally old enough to send off to school, and this is what she did to the uniform."

Ignis, perched on the end of the sofa, didn't look, not wanting to see how disappointed Uncle Lena was.

After a long, thoughtful moment studying the wreckage, Uncle Lena said, "Well," and coughed. "I dare say I'd have been just as unhappy if you'd tried to stuff me into a checked pinafore dress." He reached over and tapped one long finger against the top of Ignis' head. "We don't destroy things, Ignis."

Ignis nodded, miserable.

His voice went low and cold. "But neither do we hit children," and his hand tilted Ignis' face up, thumb running under the hot swelling of the bruise.

"I didn't mean to," Mama said, and dropped her hands from her face to her round belly. "It was simply the very – last – straw. None of the others gives me half the trouble as this one." She took a deep breath, lower lip trembling. "And I called you because I was wrong and I'm sorry but I don't know what to do."

Uncle Lena's hands slapped his knees to the tune of Bander-over-under-snatch, the way he did when he was thinking. "Pop her things in a bag and she can come stay with me until the baby's born," he said, hands hitting left-right-left-and-snap."That'll work, won't it?"

"What about school?" Mama asked. "What'll I tell Tacitis?"

Uncle Lena waved his hand lightly through the air. "How you keep up appearances is your problem, Nin."

Mama huffed as if she was angry again, but she pushed up off the end of the divan and headed upstairs, holding her long skirts in the hand not clutching the railing.

Ignis had never been to Uncle Lena's house before. Mama had said he lived alone, but actually he had a housekeeper mornings and a cook who came in the evening and a friend named Baebio who was over all the time. Baebio was the one who saw how miserable Ignis was with the clothes Mama had packed and planned a trip to the shops, saying whatever Ignis wanted was fine.

Ignis, dazzled by the attention, tugged him down to whisper, "I want to be Uncle Lena."

"It was so adorable," Baebio said defensively when they returned, trying to explain the trousers, waistcoats, bowties, and sturdy brown leather shoes with rubber soles.

"You are too much," Uncle Lena said, shaking his head, and Ignis looked up warily from trying to figure out how to attach the braces to a pair of the new trousers. When Mama said that, it meant she was furious. But Uncle Lena just caught Baebio around the waist, waltzed him behind the sofa, and booped him on the nose before letting him go. "We have to dress for an appointment with Regis tomorrow."

"Well," Baebio said, sliding over the back of the sofa to sprawl across all the pillows, "have fun."

Ignis worried that meant that whatever was happening the next day was going to be boring and possibly bad, but instead it was just a tea party like Mama had with her friends. Uncle Lena and Regis – the King, Uncle Lena whispered – sat at a fancy round table and talked about grown-up things, while Ignis went in the corner and played with Noctis.

He was a prince, but he wasn't much different from Ignis' brothers, who were also three. He had a nice set of blocks and wooden train rails, so they built a city, and then a behemoth (Noctis) attacked. Then they made a house where the trains lived, and then Noctis got bored so Ignis read him a story from his illustrated Cosmogony. After that they were invited to the table to have cake, and Ignis helped Noctis with his fork and with basic things like saying excuse me and thank you and may I please be excused, sir?

Uncle Lena bowed low to King Regis with his hand over his heart as he said goodbye, and Ignis copied the gesture.

On the way out, Uncle Lena stopped on the fifth floor to introduce Ignis to a gray-haired woman who he said supervised the lessons here, and then then made another detour, to a training gym where men and women were running, doing flips in the air, and practicing with swords. Ignis grabbed onto Uncle Lena's hand and stared.

After a few minutes Ignis realized that one of the men spinning through the air with a sword almost his same height was Baebio.

"I want to be you, too," Ignis told him over dinner that night, keeping a fanatic grip on the breadknife.

"Just try and keep up, kiddo," he said, trying to sound tough, but the look he gave Uncle Lena was gleeful.

The next day after breakfast Uncle Lena announced that it was time to go to work, and all three of them went together in the car, with identical boxed lunches. The gray-haired teacher had seven students – eight, if Prince Noctis counted; Ignis wasn't sure, he didn't really study – who all worked on different projects and assignments, with a midmorning break for music and games. After lunch, they went to a smaller training room for sport and gymnastics (Prince Noctis fell asleep on one of the mats), and then visited a practice kitchen to make fruit and yogurt bowls for a snack. When Uncle Lena came it was already dark and Ignis was half-asleep, sitting in the library corner of the classroom with a history of Accordo.

"Sorry to be late," Uncle Lena said, swinging Ignis up to carry on his hip.

Ignis yawned, bleary-eyed and hungry. "I want to come back tomorrow. Can I?"

Half a year passed like that, and then the new baby was born. Uncle Lena drove Ignis to go see Mama, and Cato and Venny and Allo and Auro. None of them really knew what to say to each other now, though. Mama sat up in bed, haloed by pillows and holding baby Cælestis, who was bald but wore a pink cap with ribbons, and pink pajamas with white booties. Ignis gave Cælestis a map of Lucis during the reign of King Mors that had taken two weeks to copy out and color, and Mama said it was pretty but set it on the side table. Mama didn't like the way Ignis was dressed, but Uncle Lena talked about lessons with Prince Noctis and Lord Flovios' grandchildren as if their names and titles were... high-value cards, and he was trying to make a winning move.

Ignis supposed it worked, because Mama said well, if you really don't mind, and he said no, not at all, and then they got in the car and drove home again.

"If you ever miss your family and want to move back with them, you can tell me," Uncle Lena said abruptly, when they were just outside the ring road. "I'll always be your uncle and I'll always love you, no matter where you live."

For weeks afterward, Ignis thought about love, and whether it was possible to love something you didn't understand.

Baebio took them all out to see a meteor shower for Uncle Lena's birthday. Ignis overflowed with questions – what the names of the stars and constellations were, and who had named them and why, and did the Astrals really live there, and were there other worlds, and what were meteors, and could airships travel up to where they were. So many of their answers were I don't know that Ignis got frustrated, face pinching into a scowl.

"Wanting to know is maybe even more important than knowing," Baebio said, looking up at the expanse of night sky. "In the Crownsguard, some people's jobs are just knowing who to ask what questions, to get information to protect the king and make plans. I can do my job well because of their intel." He reached over and ruffled Ignis' hair, cut just like his now. "Maybe you'll be an Astraloger when you grow up."

"I'll be in the Crownsguard," Ignis corrected. That was what Ignis wanted most of all, to work with Baebio and Uncle Lena. Maybe it was good enough to want something – love or the Crownsguard – whether or not you understood it completely. Ignis had never been able to be what Mama wanted, but King Regis had said Ignis was already serving the Crown by taking good care of Prince Noctis.

And when Ignis was a little bit older, then he'd learn how to fight with swords.

"It's imperative Ignis see the Archaeans," Uncle Lena said to Baebio in the kitchen one night when Ignis was eleven going on twelve, while he was doing his homework at the dining table. He didn't mean to listen; he was trying to write a geometry proof. "Sooner rather than later."

Ignis heard the sounds of wine glasses and a cork being popped out, and stared at Angle AC. The mouth-watering smell of dinner cooking was a distraction; he'd upped his training program and was refusing to let hunger best him, but his concentration was flagging.

"Get custody first," Baebio said. "But don't tell your sister why." If Ignis leaned just a bit to the left, he could see them standing against the counter, Baebio's arm around Uncle Lena's shoulders. "So you guys talked it out? We making a man out of our boy?"

"How do people resist your charms," Uncle Lena said, voice flat and unimpressed. The glint of his glasses suggested that maybe he could see Ignis, leaning to the left. Ignis shifted back. "I wish I could make this easy for him."

"Our kid, who thrives on challenge?" Uncle Lena made a dismissive noise. "Or you mean our kid, who tied himself up in knots because he was scared to tell you he wasn't your niece after all, and you just went, very good then, I believe you, thanks for trusting me." Baebio said the last part in an exaggerated imitation of Uncle Lena's accent. "He doesn't need easy. And what he does need, he has."

"Our kid, who's decided to stave off puberty the old fashioned way," Uncle Lena said, and then he raised his voice so it carried clearly. "He needs to work on stealth, though, if he's going into the King's service." Ignis could hear his smile, but his ears still burned.

Ignis had never cared much for cosmogony or the astrals, but he knew Titan was the god of the physical body, opposing Bahamut, who ruled the soul's realm. The Archaeans at the clinic Uncle Lena took him to were cheerful and wore sand-colored tunics, and they made it clear that if Ignis was truthful with them, they would treat him with the same honesty.

In truth... he told them he just hadn't fit the way other people seemed to. He'd liked when people knew he was a boy, and because most people judged by appearances, he learned to cultivate his carefully. He'd figured out years ago that Uncle Lena and Baebio were queer, and the reason his mother had given him away was because everyone thought he was, too. He said stiffly, because he'd never had to put his feelings into words, that his awareness of who, exactly, he was had grown slowly. He'd been hampered by not knowing that people like him could exist, whose bodies mismatched their selves more with every passing year.

"We do," the woman clinician said, with an encouraging nod. "And we can help you."

She pointed out, with cheery ruthfulness, that wishful thinking and prayer didn't get anyone anywhere, and that included evading the physical changes of puberty. Titan was also god of agriculture; she used lots of metaphors about hard work and weeding and fruitful crops. But what it came down to was that if Ignis wished for the Astral's help to transition, he'd have to undergo training: monthly meetings with the Archaeans, homework assignments, and a regimen of potions. He might, she mentioned gently, decide this was not what he wanted after all – if he desired children, for example. He would have to tell Titan his decision in five years.

He didn't waver in his resolution. Gladio and his other friends in the Crownsguard teased him when he turned sixteen and the new potions regimen altered his body in the ways he'd been waiting and preparing for. They didn't know about the changes he'd worked so hard to suppress, and – he vowed – they never would. It was bad enough that Uncle Lena had witnessed him brought to enraged tears more than once.

When he was eighteen, he was formally accepted into the Crownsguard; even though he'd retired the previous year, Baebio was invited to present Ignis with his insignia and witness his oath. Ignis had become more-or-less comfortable with being taller than Uncle Lena, but there in the throne room he realized with a shock that he didn't need to look up into Baebio's eyes any more.

"We're proud of you," Baebio told him after the ceremony, clapping him on the back as Uncle Lena made his way over. "The political situation's crap and only getting worse, and Cor's got a mess on his hands with the 'glaive, but you'll keep us from being totally fucked. But first, commemorative pictures – " he reached out and pulled Lena in, grinning – "and remember to smile this time."

Ignis smiled for the second picture, but he was rolling his eyes in the first.

Chapter Text

Noct and Prompto started secretly dating – and sleeping together – in high school. Ignis had taken the sex education classes taught by the Citadel's infirmary staff, and had found them lacking. He gritted his teeth and went to Baebio for information on sex between men, in particular what he would have wanted to know as a teenager.

Baebio gave him a few books to read, with bits of paper marking pages with relevant information, and some anecdotes that embarrassed both of them. He kept eyeing Ignis, and finally sighed and asked, "Is this about you? And-slash-or the Amicitia boy?"

Ignis tried to keep his shock from showing. Everyone admired Gladio, he reminded himself, just like everyone crushed on Cor the Immortal. "My apologies. I can't divulge that information."

"Do I need to dust off the lecture about love, respect, and responsibility?"

"Please don't." Ignis had heard multiple remixes of the lecture over the years. Though perhaps Noct could do with hearing it from Ignis, this time.

He ended up speaking separately to both Noct and Prompto, and made it clear to his Prince that while he didn't mind buying condoms and lube and the Six knew what else, there would be dire consequences if he was ever, ever made to clean up the aftermath.

Noct finally learned how to use a washing machine. Ignis was, he supposed, grateful.

Gladio began sleeping with Noct and Prompto around the time Prompto started Crownsguard training. Ignis found out accidentally, and dealt with a maelstrom of conflicted anger and betrayal that he knew he wasn't entitled to – but it was hard to force himself not to feel. He resented how easily Gladio fit into their relationship, and how casual they were about Ignis finding out. He could ruin everything for all of them simply by speaking with Noct and Gladio's fathers, and how dare they assume he was so tame that he wouldn't.

Even though he didn't, of course.

He took refuge in work and bad temper until he felt nothing but a burn of resigned annoyance when he caught them together (never during, praise the Six, but definitely before and after, and on several occasions the morning after). He was sure Noct remained oblivious to the real reason for his shortness – after all, there were so many sources of friction between them lately, to Ignis' regret. Gladio, however, was nearly as good at reading people as Ignis was, and Ignis was careful around him. He didn't want anyone to guess how he felt.

He suspected the most fitting word was jealous. Like it or not, his closest friends had chosen to share intimacy with each other but not with him, and then put him in the position of observer. Wouldn't most people be annoyed by that? Wouldn't most want to know what made them different and unwantable? He had to wonder whether any of them knew he was trans – despite the care he'd taken to ensure that his business was his alone – and if that was considered an insurmountable barrier. Or perhaps it was simply... his personality? His looks?

He was uncertain whether he was bothered additionally because he envied what they had – whether he just wanted his friends back, or whether he wanted more. He experimented precisely once with masturbating while thinking of the three of them together, and had to stop in the middle to go shower, feeling dirty and ashamed. For the first time in months he went to go talk to his Archaean clinician, even though he didn't need his potions adjusted and wasn't considering further surgery. She nodded a lot and kept his teacup filled, while he paced and tried to parse attraction and sexual attraction, and their intersection with friendship. He concluded that he didn't have time for any of this, and she gave him a hug and said she was sure denial wouldn't work.

At his disbelieving look – by now, she should know that he could make anything work – she grinned and corrected herself: she didn't think he should want denial to work.

He didn't think she understood just how busy he could let his job could get. He assumed more responsibilities for the Crownsguard and the Council and started drinking coffee to replace sleep. The Marshal tapped both him and Gladio for advanced survival training, which might have been awkward if not for the curriculum. "Living off the land" meant learning how to kill and field dress wild game, birds, and fish, and how to tell edible wild plants from deadly ones (a separate unit on making use of those poisons proved fascinating). "Extreme conditions" dealt with heat, cold, damp, and wind, and learning rock climbing and how to build rope bridges and how not die in a hundred different gruesome ways. Ignis hadn't had so much fun in ages.

The exam for the course was a two-week simulated mission where they needed to get from an unspecified island in the Eastern Archipelago to a radio outpost on the far side of the West Island, and then back to the city. Academically, Ignis knew that the islands around Insomnia were unpopulated because of harsh conditions; after two days attempting to traverse the first, he completely understood. He'd never been so hungry, tired, and dirty in his life. He was keeping up with Gladio, but he couldn't bring himself to imagine twelve more days of the same.

By the time they made their way to the third island and Insomnia's walls were visible through the fog, his weaknesses had burned off and he felt a nearly giddy thrill of power in all that he could accomplish once he'd pushed through his own limits. He suspected he ought to be cautious, but he felt peak confidence in his abilities, heady like a drug. He doubted there was anything he couldn't accomplish.

"Go slow tomorrow," Gladio said in the tent that night. They'd been soaked in a rainstorm that hadn't lasted more than ten minutes, and the air was thick with the smell of drying clothes. "We can't keep this pace up forever. Tired people make mistakes."

Ignis knew that, but – "The Prince's Shield and his adviser were assigned this training for a specific reason," he pointed out, from where he was curled up under his blanket, trying to hoard warmth. "Likely a response to new intelligence."

"Everyone hopes it won't come to that," Gladio said after a moment. Ignis really should press him to divulge what he knew – share information. "But yeah. And if we do end up smuggling the kid out of a city under siege, we sure as hell won't be traveling at either of our top speeds. We'll need brains as well as strength." In the dim lantern light, Ignis saw his teeth flash in a grin. "You're a smart guy."

"And immune to flattery," Ignis retorted.

Gladio shrugged. "Just saying. You know that pushing yourself until you break means we both fail."

Ignis wanted to argue that of course he'd never break, but he could recognize that Gladio was probably right. He was annoyed about that, and shut his eyes, pulling the blanket tighter.

When they'd made their way around the outside of the wall – careful to avoid being spotted – they had to swim the channel to the cliffs of the West Island. Once on the shore, they affirmed that they were tired but still capable of making the climb; Ignis relished the challenge of practical experience, and Gladio was a perpetual motion machine. They were unstoppable, or nearly: Gladio slipped a mere two meters from the clifftop and would have certainly been injured badly in the fall if not for Ignis catching him. That this meant Ignis had to finish scaling the cliffs with a dislocated shoulder was, he told himself, a minor inconvenience.

Gladio sat Ignis down on a rock at the top, stripped his shirt off, and gave him a leather strap to bite while he popped the bone back into the socket. He made Ignis take anti-inflammatory pills from their limited medical supplies and strapped his arm to his chest, and then settled in behind him, with his legs on either side of Ignis' and his arms around his waist, tugging insistently until Ignis leaned back against him.

"I'm freaking out," Gladio said. Ignis could feel the low rumble of his voice against his back. "Sorry. Give me a minute."

Ignis, who'd never broken a bone in his life, was trying not to sob with the pain as the adrenaline wore off; he was fine letting Gladio have all the time he needed.

When they finally reported to the gate four days later, sobered and made cautious by the brush with danger, the Marshal was waiting for them with a car. Their first stop was the infirmary, and then debriefing. Gladio hadn't bothered shaving and Ignis had given up himself after the first week; in the field it had seemed a ridiculous thing to worry about. Now, he felt every pair of eyes on him like a judgment.

"You passed," Cor said at the end, like an afterthought. "We'll discuss the ways you jeopardized the mission next week. Go home."

Uncle Lena drove Ignis home, having taken the rest of the day off, and helped him bathe, shave, and dress – it was much harder to do even simple things with his arm in a sling, Ignis found. He supposed he'd be embarrassed tomorrow, but in the moment he didn't care. His shoulder throbbed, he had scrapes and bruises, and he'd been fantasizing about his mattress rather obsessively.

Noct texted the next day, inviting him over for lunch, which he said he'd make himself. Ignis accepted, telling himself he was impelled by curiosity about Noct's culinary skills. He hadn't liked – and would never admit – how withdrawal from contact with Noct had bothered him nearly as insistently as the lack of coffee. While he knew he was in no way irreplaceable, he hadn't been able to shake the worry that Noct might need him while he was gone.

He was touched to find out that Noct had worried about him, to the point of preparing soup with an actual vegetable and sandwiches cut into triangles.

"'Cause they're easier to eat like that," Noct explained, sitting down across the table and nudging the platter unsubtly towards Ignis. "And you're – " He gestured vaguely. "You look different. Older, or skinnier, or something."

Ignis raised an eyebrow. "Silver-tongued as always."

Noct stuck his tongue out. "You know what I mean. Like you stared death in the eye and survived."

"Survived Gladio's cooking, you mean."

Noct leaned forward, eyes glittering. "Did you really break your arm saving his life?"

Ah. Well, Ignis supposed Noct had already spoken with Gladio – that made sense, considering they were sleeping together. "I'm sure that's classified information," he said primly, waiting for Noct to scowl before adding, "Almost. I merely dislocated my shoulder."

"Gladio said you were badass," Noct countered, and started slurping his soup down.

Ignis warmed at his words, if not his manners. "Surely you knew that already."

Noct kicked his ankle under the table – not very hard, just a nudge. "The specs never fooled me for a minute." Another kick. "Part of the magic I'm learning is making healing potions, but they're only good right after the injury. Plus the worse you're hurt the faster you have to take the potion."

"Gladio took very good care of me," Ignis assured him. He'd learned that about the potions when Gladio got his face slashed protecting Noctis; neither of them had shirked on training in traditional first aid, with that scar as a vivid reminder of its value. "The infirmary healer said he'd treated me as well as she could have."

Noctis took a breath and gulped down a lump of broccoli whole, bravely repressing most of a shudder. "I'll help you with your rehab exercises."

Ignis opened his mouth to demur – Baebio had volunteered to oversee what he called the torture sessions – but then remembered doing the same for Noct when he'd returned from Tenebrae still in a wheelchair. He'd startled Uncle Lena by begging for a smartphone, entirely out of the blue, and smuggled it in to use games as rewards until Noct was back on his feet and running around. By then, of course, it was too late. If Noctis had an addiction to gaming now, Ignis might – possibly – be somewhat responsible.

"Thank you," he said. Noctis beamed.

Noct took the news of his impending marriage suspiciously well; which was to say, he was sullen and irritated by having the decision forced on him, but not actively opposed. Ignis wondered if he'd told Luna about his relationship with Prompto, and if they'd reached an agreement he'd not been privy to. Not that he had a right to Noctis' private life, of course. Still, he worried.

So he felt relieved when Noct cornered him between meetings and asked if Ignis could come over to Prompto's parents' house that evening.

"They won't be home," Noctis added, with a significant nod, his eyes flicking away to the side.

Ignis accepted. On reflection, he approved of the location – where they would be less likely to be observed or overheard – and of Noct's decision-making skills. There was a pressing issue to address, and Noct wasn't avoiding it. His father would have been proud, perhaps.

As the day wore on, Ignis' mind insisted on inventing worries about Noct and his relationships that had, as far as he knew, no foundation in reality. By the time he arrived on Prompto's doorstep, warmed by a brisk walk from the subway station, he was already half-anticipating a crisis. His mood wasn't improved by Gladio opening the door, or Prompto blithely assuring him that his parents were off doing a work thing and wouldn't return for days. Ignis had chosen a box of teacakes from a traditional Lestallian bakery as a visiting gift, and Prompto took the bag with a smile and thanks, but then abandoned it on the kitchen counter.

Ignis had forgotten that Prompto usually refused to eat sweets – something they had in common. He should have brought curry instead.

Gladio dragged another chair from the dining table over to face the sofa and gestured for Ignis to make himself at home as he straddled his own chair, arms crossed over the back. Noct was sitting on the sofa backrest, with his bare feet on the seat. When Prompto sat, Noct's arm settled naturally on his shoulders as he leaned forward.

Ignis took his seat and tried to look casual, even though the serious looks on everyone's faces just fed his anxieties. Perhaps one or all of them had an STD, or ill-considered tattoos of each others' names. Bahamat forfend they'd found a cleric willing to perform a marriage, and all the discussions and plans for the royal wedding to Lunafreya would come to nothing but diplomatic disaster. But Gladio was in on this as well, and Ignis doubted he'd approve of such selfishness.

He crossed his legs and rested his hands on his knees, and waited.

"We've been talking," Noct said, and scrunched up his face as if to show how very much he wished not to be talking right now. "We – I – " He swallowed and then dropped his face into Prompto's hair. "Gladio."

"Ten years of elocution lessons for that," Gladio scoffed. He shook his head at Noctis' whine of protest. Then he leaned forward and stared at Ignis so intently that Ignis had to brace himself to keep from recoiling. "Look, Iggy – "

"Please tell me no one's done anything illegal." Worries about murder, vehicular manslaughter, and other worst-case scenarios suddenly seemed less irrational.

Gladio squinted at him as if not sure whether he was joking, and then smirked. "Yeah, no. Us three've been talking a while about asking you to join us – for dating, fucking, whatever's cool with you." Noct's grip on Prompto tightened. "With the trip coming up, now seemed like a good time to put it to you."

Ignis didn't feel any relief at not being involved in a scandalous cover-up. Instead, his mind went completely blank. He literally could not think for a span of long moments; when he came back to himself, he found that he was staring, fixedly, at Noct's toes. He wanted – the Astrals knew full well how much – but he needed to be rational. Logically, he could see their reasoning: they'd be sharing hotel rooms (or a tent if Gladio got his way), and it was only polite to make sure he didn't feel left out. However –

"While I appreciate the courtesy," he said, the words coming out far sharper than intended, "I assure you – "

"We like you," Prompto interrupted. "That's where you start, big guy." He gave Ignis a conspiratorial look, as if inviting him to share in his annoyance. "Even before I ever really talked to you, I heard all the Iggy stories from these guys. They adore you. It's always felt like you were here."

"Except you aren't," Gladio said. "But you should be." His voice dipped low, and being treated like any of the dozens of people Gladio flirted with daily felt like ice water poured down Ignis' spine.

"I do beg your pardon," Ignis said sharply, holding himself perfectly still. "As the one who's been excluded for years, am I not allowed reservations?"

"I knew we'd screw this up," Noct said, still hiding his face. "I told you he'd say no." He sounded miserable, as if he'd been pressured into doing something he disliked intensely.

"It's not your fault," Ignis said, the reassurance automatic and sincere. "The idea is simply... untenable."

"Or you're just scared," Gladio suggested. (Prompto grabbed a sofa pillow and whipped it at his head, but Gladio just knocked it to the side, to bounce off the curtains.) "This have anything to do with the fact you were born a girl?"

The air in the room seemed to crystallize, the light sharpening harshly, every movement and sound clear. Ignis felt very calm, in that sudden intense focus, as if he were entering battle.

He stood; no one moved to stop him. He heard Prompto say, "Wait, Ignis is a – " but he didn't let himself hear the word that followed or acknowledge the way Prompto's gaze dragged down his body. He'd have warped if he were able, but he had long legs and knew how to move fast. He was through the front door in no time, grabbing his shoes, and took advantage of their loud distraction by recriminations and accusations to vault from the fence to the porch roof, and from there pull up to the roof and cross the ridge to settle in the shadows. He turned his phone off and tied his shoes on, and lay back against the tiles feeling like an absolute idiot.

He couldn't have stayed, but he shouldn't have run – he'd made the situation needlessly dramatic, and he'd be forced to smooth everyone's feelings, now, while tamping his own down. The prospect was both irritating and wearying. He wished Gladio had kept his mouth closed, though he supposed now he could plead personal difference as his excuse for refusing them. The very thought made him feel ill.

He heard the front door open, and Prompto tell the other two which direction to head. It just figured that they'd worry precisely when he wished they wouldn't. He waited for their footsteps to fade away and then turned his phone on just long enough to send Gladio a quick text, saying he was fine and would see him tomorrow, and that he hoped Noct and Gladio and Prompto continued with their planned tryst, so there wouldn't be lingering tensions tomorrow.

If he came between them there'd be a painful awkwardness that he knew he'd feel resentful about needing to assuage. He disliked feeling resentment, but it was an unusually difficult emotion to uproot.

He had to assume Gladio got his location from the text, so he slipped back down to the road and then made his way up side streets to the embankment. The park below was dimly lit, and he'd be able to take the riverside trail north to the next subway station, while avoiding shopping arcades and the like. He could, in fact, follow the river to the other side of town, where he'd only be a few kilometers from home. Easily done in under four hours, he supposed, and started walking.

He hadn't been gone more than half an hour when he heard the rattling hum of a poorly-maintained bicycle on the path along the top of the embankment. He'd startled at the first few bicycles – students in laughing groups and parents with children strapped into seats on the back – but realized he was safe where he was, in the shadows and away from two-wheeled disaster.

Or so he thought, but the bicycle jerked to a halt with a shriek from the brakes, and the rider dismounted.

"Not the best hideout if you're avoiding a local, just saying," Prompto called down. He waved with the hand that wasn't clutching at the handlebars; in the next moment, the bike was abandoned as Prompto skidded down the steep grassy slope to land with a triumphant flailing of limbs on the path right in front of Ignis. "What if you got mugged?"

Ignis swallowed down a sigh. Ask for a moment's peace, and what did he get? "You know very well what would happen."

"Yep." Prompto straightened, pulling his shirt up to wipe sweat from his neck. "What happens to people fuck up and say the wrong thing and hurt someone they care about?" His hands curled around his elbows. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."

"There's nothing to be sorry for," Ignis said.

"Dude." Prompto cocked his head like a chocobo on a nature documentary, and then his eyes widened as if he'd been literally hit by a thought. "You're giving up on this – on us. Wow. When I fuck up, I fuck up big."

"It was an inadvisable proposition from the start," Ignis countered. He could feel a headache coming on, and pushed his glasses up, as if that ever helped. "I admit to being curious – "

"I'd have felt left out, myself," Prompto interrupted. He crossed the space between them, a hint of aggression to the roll of his hips, as if he was primed for a fight. "Could just be me." His tone suggested he didn't buy that for a minute.

"I don't mind that the three of you are involved," Ignis went on, feeling a touch of desperation. He looked ahead to where the path disappeared in darkness and wanted to be home. "I never have."

"You ever wonder why I wear this?" Prompto asked, raising his right wrist and pointing at the band there with his left hand, to make his meaning perfectly clear. "Or, like, why I never take it off?"

The question was so unexpected Ignis immediately started wondering what the connection was. "I assumed you'd suffered a bad break," he answered slowly. "Support braces aren't uncommon in either the Crownsguard or the Kingsglaive, especially when using weapons."

Prompto nodded three times, like he was counting beats. "Before my parents adopted me, someone tattooed their mark on my arm. Before I could even walk. Who does that?"

Ignis had never heard of such a thing, but he'd read enough about organized crime and war crimes to make some stomach-turning guesses. "Human traffickers?" He purposefully didn't say slavers, but he was sure Prompto must have considered the possibility. Slavery was illegal in Lucis, of course, but the law couldn't reach everywhere. And all places outside of modern, atrophied Lucis were in the shadow of Niflheim's multitude of human rights abuses, as exemplified by its cannon-fodder army.

Prompto shrugged a bit wildly. "Maybe. I... kind of hate knowing it's there. Makes my skin crawl." He covered the band with his hand. "Only my parents and my doctor have seen it."

"Understandable." And then the import of the words sank in. "Not even Noct?"

"Especially not Noct – he gets all the reports of bad stuff going on, probably could tap into a spy network, if we have one. Odds of him finding out who did it are scary good. Which would be bad."

There was a glaring flaw in that logic. "You are aware that I generally read those reports first."

Prompto's chin came up fast, his eyes meeting Ignis' and locking with a stare. "Yeah." His posture wasn't defensive; this wasn't a test. This was – a gift, then? One closely guarded secret for another, wrapped up in trust and...

Prompto took one step closer and reached up to place his right hand on Ignis' cheek, like he was doing a poor test for fever – or more likely, checking to see if he'd get pushed away, considering his next move was to go up on his toes and kiss him.

Ignis should push him away, he thought dimly. He'd look like a liar, saying he wasn't interested, saying he didn't want this, but melting at the touch of Prompto's lips. Prompto was a very good kisser – like a force of nature, an avalanche or a cyclone: deadly, beautiful and unstoppable.

Ignis didn't want him to stop. He was a liar, and Prompto knew it, somehow. His hands had settled, without conscious thought, on Prompto's waist, and Prompto's fingers had slid into his hair to better tilt his head and and take him to pieces. Prompto's tongue slid across his lips and Ignis opened his mouth on a sharp intake of breath. Their tongues met and Ignis thought, with the small part of his brain not overwhelmed by sensation, Ah. Yes. This was a thing that people did.

Knowledge and experience were... utterly, dizzyingly different.

"Let's go home," Prompto said, pulling back and leaving Ignis breathless with desire. His hand stayed at the back of Ignis' neck, warm and gentle. "I'll give you a lift."

Ignis was certain what Prompto was offering was illegal. "On that deathtrap."

Prompto's teeth flashed in a wide grin. "Just let me call the search off." He pulled his phone out of his vest pocket – everything about its sleek expensive lines suggested it had been a present from Noct – and dashed off a message. By the time they'd climbed up to the embankment path, Prompto had a reply. "They're gonna get stuff for dinner and meet us back at the house." He hauled the bike upright, mounted, and made a sweeping gesture. "Hop on."

There was a rack over the back wheel which looked remarkably uncomfortable, but the rear axle had extensions which were easy enough to stand on, with one hand on Prompto's shoulder for stability as they took off, wobbly and gaining speed.

"You confused me," Prompto said, and Ignis fought back the impulse to dismount. "Noct told me all these wild things you two did, breaking out of the Citadel in the middle of the night, climbing trees, destroying priceless antiques. And I was like, Liar, Ignis wears suits for fun and owns sock suspenders. He laughed at me," he added.

"Good." Ignis watched the streetlights flash past, and how they made a halo of Prompto's hair.

"So the Assassin's Creed LARP in the Citadel totally happened?"

"The Marshall vowed we'd get tossed into the dungeons if he caught us on the roofs. What do you think?"

"I think you didn't get caught." Prompto sounded gleeful, and he raised one hand in a fist for Ignis to bump. As he did so, he wondered if a time would come when kissing – amongst other gestures of affection – came as easily as the camaraderie of friendship.

"I'd hardly be a suitable adviser to the future king if I advertised myself as an assassin," Ignis pointed out, and then took the conversational plunge. "I enjoy having confidence in my abilities and strength. I like how I look and who I am. I was raised to not feel that my differences made me deficient or flawed." He took a breath and pushed his shoulders back, letting the cold wind steal the heat from his face. "However, I also avoid situations where I'd be exposed to judgment."

"Why ask for pain?" Prompto sounded as if he approved, though Ignis had been admitting to a weakness. "Speaking of... stuff, you should probably know that getting Noct to agree to ask you was the hard part." Ignis tried to hide the shock of hurt, and swallowed to ease the way for a seemingly disinterested statement – I see or ah – but Prompto reached up and patted Ignis' hand on his shoulder companionably. "That came out weird. What I mean is – he's in love with me, which is still, like, whoa. But he's loved you literally as long as he can remember, and I think honestly it would kill something in him to lose you. He was so scared when you found out about us. I think if you'd told him you were disappointed and he had to give me up, he would have. For you. Instead, you were so chill." Prompto sounded a little awed; Ignis was irked that he'd expected.... what?

"If the two of you assumed I harbor prejudices, I'll be insulted," Ignis said. He was certain Noct at least knew Uncle Lena.

"I'm pretty sure," Prompto dragged the qualifier out, "even in this enlightened age, princes aren't supposed to end up with commoners. Especially the really common ones. Don't think I haven't noticed I'm the only person in this group without a title and a pile of money."

Ignis knew just what choice words the tabloids would use to describe that kind of liaison. They'd imply Prompto was a gold-digger at best and a whore at worst; his career with the Crownsguard would likely end in forced resignation. And while scandals could be weathered and survived – for various values of survival – of course Prompto would be keenly aware of his vulnerability and that of his relationships.

"Anyway," Prompto said, like he was satisfied he'd won. "You should hunker down here, we're going to be taking some turns."

He didn't check whether Ignis complied before swerving to the right and swooping down a narrow pathway to the road below. It felt like flying, and under Ignis' feet the rear wheel wobbled ominously, as if it was coming loose. Somehow the danger made Ignis feel even more alive.

The tight turns through suburban streets ended with a shrill scream from the brakes, and he realized with a start that they were back at the house already. Prompto left the bike unlocked in the drive – "Who's gonna steal that?" – and pulled the front door open. As soon as they were in the front hall, Prompto grabbed Ignis into another kiss, this time dragging him forward until Prompto's back hit the wall and Ignis was – well – somehow pinning him there and continuing to kiss him. Prompto seemed pleased. His hands were wrapped around Ignis' waist and his head was tilted back, and it was so, so good.

"Figures," Gladio rumbled from halfway down the stairs. That explained the creaking Ignis had heard and ignored. "Not like we're waiting for you or anything."

Prompto pulled away to grin unrepentantly up at Gladio, catching Ignis' hand in his own. Ignis held on tightly, and was annoyed at himself for being so desperate for that reassurance.

"Like you didn't start without us," Prompto said cheerfully. Ignis' gaze snapped to Gladio, looking for signs of... whatever he'd been doing, and then he glanced away, not wanting to get caught. Gladio looked normal to him – he was often half-naked and barefoot, after all.

His mouth might have been redder than usual, but that could be the lighting and not due to kissing. Ignis wondered if he looked like he'd been kissing. His cheeks felt hot, and his hair probably needed fixing after the bike ride. He felt... surreal.

He let Prompto lead him upstairs. His bedroom door was still decorated with faded stickers, but uncomfortable thoughts about Prompto as a child were banished once they were in his room. The far end was filled wall-to-wall with a huge bed. There was barely room left to stand; Noct was seated in the center of the bed, legs crossed and looking fussy. Gladio threw himself down next to him, rubbing a hand over Noct's thigh.

The room was lit by strands of gold and sliver fairy lights that crisscrossed the ceiling over the bed, and Ignis felt as if he'd walked into cheap amateur porn. At least the sheets looked clean.

"When I got the bed – " Prompto made air quotes for effect – "my parents were all, something you want to tell us, Prompto?" Ignis let himself be nudged over to sit on the edge of the mattress. "And I was like, boyfriend." Prompto held up two fingers in a V-for-Victory, and then dropped the pose with a crooked smile. "They want to meet him. It's awk-ward. But hey, at least they're never home."

Ignis was curious about Prompto's absent parents, but this hardly seemed the time or place to make inquiries.

He was saved from not knowing what to do or say, or where to look, by Gladio, who curled up like he was doing crunches but reached for Ignis instead of counting off. Ignis let himself be pulled into a hug – his hands landing awkwardly on the warm bare skin of Gladio's back – and Gladio nuzzled at his neck, which turned into small relentless kisses as Gladio pulled Ignis down to sprawl over him.

While he was less eager and assuming than Prompto, it was impossible to forget how strong he was – one of the few people Ignis knew who could probably best him in a fair fight. The thought that Gladio was restraining himself from being rough made Ignis want – perversely – to push until he found his boundaries.

"You have to let us know what you want," Gladio said, between kisses that fell across Ignis' cheeks now. His beard was softer than Ignis would have assumed, but still scratchy, and Ignis repressed a squirm. His knees had ended up bracing Gladio's hips, and it was a very intimate position.

"I'll only say this once," he said, closing his eyes because Noct was watching, and Prompto was holding Noct from behind. "I've never done any of this before. I haven't the slightest idea of what to do."

"This is your first time?" Prompto sounded appalled. "And it's the three of us?"

Noct was more accusative. "You gave me the sex talk. And answered all my questions. And that whole lecture about love, responsibility, and whatsit."

"Respect," Ignis reminded him, opening his eyes and glancing over because he had to see how badly Noct was taking this. Noct's expression was between confused and distressed. "I asked my stepfather, for the most part. He didn't know why I was asking," he added. "He's suspected Gladio and I were involved for years."

Gladio made a noise like he'd been sucker-punched. "Well, fuck. That why Baebio never went easy on my ass?"

"Nobody goes easy on your ass," Ignis pointed out. He was Noctis' Shield and 198 cm of muscle and tattoos, what did he expect?

Prompto snorted – "oh Six" – and tried to hold back laughter. "Gladio's ass."

Gladio reached over and jabbed him with a finger. "I like having my ass fucked," he said. "Problem?"

Feeling a bit numb, Ignis said, "I can't do that," and immediately wished he hadn't. First missing obvious wordplay, then bringing up a subject he was avoiding – he was off-balance, he supposed. He didn't like it.

"Fingers work just fine," Gladio said. "Or your mouth." He leaned up and kissed Ignis on the mouth this time, sliding his tongue between his lips suggestively and making Ignis shudder. Gladio's hand at the back of his head tightened in his hair, and Ignis couldn't help thinking about the sex acts he'd just mentioned. Whether he could do that, whether he wanted to, what it felt like. "Everyone's got rules. Prompto keeps his lucky bracelets on. We don't use rank or titles in bed because it messes with my head. And no one but Prompto fucks Noct."

"Some of us don't want to get dicked to death," Noct said. "So sue me."

"I don't want to be accommodated because I'm different," Ignis said, perhaps too sharply. "But I suppose I haven't a choice."

Under him, Gladio shrugged. "Nope. You want to bitch more or tell me to suck your dick?"

Ignis' mouth went dry, and he licked his lips even though he was trying to will himself into coherence. "The latter," he said, his voice distant to his own ears. "Please."

Gladio pulled him forward, and at this rate Ignis was going to be an old hand at kissing well before breakfast. Already the strangeness of having another mouth on his own, another tongue in his mouth or vice versa, was burning off, and a preoccupation with optimizing the experience was taking over. Gladio's free hand dragged down his back to settle on one hip, large enough that his fingers spread over a good portion of Ignis' ass as Gladio pushed his thigh up between Ignis' legs. The kissing made it much harder to ignore the urge to rut against Gladio shamelessly.

"Loosen up," Gladio said, biting along Ignis' jawline and then giving his earlobe a teasing suck. "What's wrong?"

"This is embarrassing," Ignis breathed out, not particularly wanting to be heard.

Gladio relented, for a moment, instead pulling Ignis' shirt and undershirt loose and sliding his hand up, hot as Ifrit on the bared skin of his waist. "Yep. Sex is ridiculous. But it's fun and it feels good." He kissed Ignis again, this time licking his lips for him. "Take this off for me. I hate buttons."

"And here I thought you eschewed shirts because you wanted to display your physique."

Gladio grinned, and Ignis knelt up and began flicking buttons open, top to bottom.

"That, too," Gladio said, self-satisfied. "Can you toss your clothes on the floor so they wrinkle? It's kind of a fantasy of mine. Messing you up." He did another curl up so he could slip Ignis' shirt off his shoulders as he was undoing the last of the buttons, easing it down his arms and then, when Ignis raised a skeptical eyebrow of assent, dropped it onto the growing pile of clothes on the floor, to keep company with Noct and Prompto's trousers and various shirts and jackets.

"I still think you're a weirdo, but yeah, that's hot," Prompto told Gladio, leaving off making out with Noct to peer over the edge of the bed. "Can I take a picture?"

"No," Noct and Ignis said in chorus. Noct met Ignis' eyes and grinned, and then he reached over to tug at the shoulder of Ignis' undershirt. Noct was bare-chested, and even though Ignis wasn't intentionally looking, he could see where Prompto had been biting and sucking. Not quite bruises – not yet –

Ignis pulled the shirt off, balled it up, and tossed it. Gladio whistled in cheesy appreciation.

"Bare you to take it all off," he said, with a wolfish grin and a terrible waggle of his eyebrows.

Ignis was startled into laughing – such a terrible line, like he'd fallen into cheap amateur stripper porn – and then couldn't stop. This was the man who was, literally, trying to get into his pants (though frustrated by his belt buckle)?

"Hey," Noct said, half-smiling and half looking like Ignis had lost his mind. "It's just us."

"Just," Ignis repeated, finding every fault with the word. "Just – "

Noct shut him up with a kiss, darting in to press their mouths together fast and hard, and then pulling back like he worried he'd got it wrong.

"You call that a kiss," Ignis said, as if he knew any better. His voice had gone hoarse, breathless and overwhelmed by the clash of desire and training and devotion in his head, and determined not to show it.

Noct's eyes sparked at the challenge – he was easily motivated like that – and then he kissed Ignis so thoroughly that he barely noticed Gladio removing his pants or Prompto's glee at his sock suspenders (called it) and futile attempt to get Gladio to leave them on.

Noct's hands roamed with possessive intent, and Ignis thought fleetingly of how hard he'd worked to not want this. His worries shimmered like a mirage, sometimes seeming so close, other times elusively distant. He let himself become gradually aware that he could feel Gladio's dick – he was, after all, nearly sitting on it. He wondered if everyone was staying partially clothed on his behalf, and wasn't sure if he was irritated or relieved.

Prompto broke off from making another faint mark on Noct's shoulder and bounced his way off the bed and out the door, with nothing more than a quick Gimme a sec.

"Is he alright?" Ignis asked. No one seemed worried, but still.

"He's an idiot," Noct said. He reached out to grab Gladio's hair, and pulled him up. The roughness of the gesture was startling – Ignis certainly had never before thought of Noct as someone who might drag a bed-partner around by the hair – but Gladio went willingly.

"You know what they say about chocobos of a feather flocking together." Gladio licked a stripe up Noct's neck and then mouthed his way down again. "You should tell your boyfriend I'm not actually your sex toy." He sounded amused, but there was an undertone Ignis couldn't place.

"You like frustration," Noct said, as if that explained everything. "So it's your fault, kind of. Stop hogging Ignis."

Ignis blinked in surprise.

"Come and get him," Gladio challenged – knowing as well as Ignis did how to light a fire under Noct – and what could only be described as a tussle ensued.

Ignis had his own opinion about anyone coming to "get" him, and Gladio gave him a sincere grimace of apology – so very sincere that Ignis distrusted it entirely.

Gladio slid down and mouthed Ignis over the thin fabric of his boxer briefs. The shock of it made Ignis' knees try to jerk up reflexively, but Gladio was holding him down. When Ignis stilled, chest heaving as he sucked in air, Gladio's hands slid around to stroke up the insides of his thighs.

Ignis would have snapped that he wasn't susceptible to being gentled like a nervous animal, except he didn't seem to have the breath for it.

"Just us," Noct said again, face buried in Ignis' neck, one hand curled on his chest like he was protecting a nipple – the left, specifically, where the scarring was slight and easily overlooked – from Gladio.

Noct had noticed, though, judging by the way his fingers traced the scar, which meant Noct must understand its significance. Likewise, Gladio surely knew by now what Ignis had between his legs, and –

Just us didn't signify a lack of care, did it? Certainly the reverse – acceptance, he supposed. Noct and Gladio as men and not a prince and his Shield; Prompto as an equal despite socio-economic disparity. And Ignis –

"Let me taste you," Gladio said, catching the elastic of Ignis' underwear in his teeth and letting it snap. "Take these off."

Feeling like he was walking off a cliff, Ignis gave a terse nod in reply. "Alright."

Eyes open, he thought, but it turned out he had no fucking clue. Gladio's tongue was nothing like his own fingers; his awareness was so consumed by sensation that he didn't notice Prompto returning until Noct tossed him onto the mattress and swallowed Prompto's cock down. Prompto whimpered and shoved the side of one hand into his mouth, the other thrusting into Noct's hair and holding him down.

Ignis didn't know what to do with his own hands, or whether he should touch Gladio – how much movement was appropriate, what was excessive and what would fail to demonstrate the proper appreciation. He wouldn't want that – he was shaking apart under the onslaught of sensation, he very much appreciated... everything.

He could feel tension building, like a spring being inexorably compressed tighter, and he found himself babbling at Gladio through gritted teeth like he was trying to give a report: more and there and don't stop and a desperate please, please, please. His hips were off the mattress, every muscle down to his toes tensed in anticipation; chest heaving as he fast approached the point where stimulation alchemized into frustration. He shoved his hands against the wall for leverage and ground into Gladio's mouth, wanting.

Orgasm hit like being crushed by the hand of a god, such an intense pressure of pleasure that his vision went white. In the wake of that first breathtaking ecstasy, each successive wave made him feel lighter, emptied out, shaky and new, caught somewhere up in the stars over the bed.

He came back to his senses slowly and reluctantly. Gladio was saying something that he barely caught; in lieu of a reply, he dragged one hand off the bed and reached down to pet Gladio's hair clumsily.

"I think I killed Iggy," Gladio said, turning to nuzzle against his palm. "Help."

"You and your lethal tongue." That was Prompto, who curled over Gladio with a grin that turned into a voracious kiss.

Gladio had to taste like come, Ignis thought as Prompto pulled back, licking his lips. He didn't have it in him to be embarrassed, or even muster up annoyance when Gladio and Prompto's combined weight was crushing. Right now he didn't want to be in a place where he had to be annoyed, or worried, or maintain an appearance. Like a dream, he felt blissful and terribly fragile.

"Hey," Noct said, shifting over and propping himself up on his hands, the dark blur of his hair blocking out the stars.

Ignis reached for him, fingers proving that this was real.

Noct dipped his head to lick at Ignis' nipples, one and then the other, and Ignis belatedly wondered if Noct liked to be touched in the same way. He'd have to learn, he supposed, in the same way he'd learned all of Noct's other preferences. Trial and so very many errors, hobbled by lack of experience. He very purposefully chose not to consider his nipples sexual at all, for example, and avoided touching them while masturbating. So he didn't know they had this way of sending electric sparks through him, even though he just came.

Then Noct used his teeth, a sharp series of nips that made Ignis squirm, balanced on the edge between aroused and ticklish.

"You like that," Noct said, sounding pleased with himself, and shifted up for a kiss. Ignis could feel the hot length of his dick pressed to the side of his abdomen, and the way Noct rocked against him, seeking release. Ignis' hands were on the relative safety of Noct's back, but it would be easy enough to –

– though whether he should –

Fuck it, he thought, and reached around to slide his hand between them. His fingers found Noct's erection and curled loose around it, mapping. Here the head, under his thumb, silky-soft and damp, and here the shaft, surprising not so much for its girth but for its firm, solid weight. Noct panted against his mouth, eyes gone glassy, and his hips stuttered forward as if he could barely restrain himself from... from fucking into Ignis' hand.

The power of it was heady and dizzying. Ignis found himself kissing Noct all over his face, his cheeks and forehead and the corners of his eyes, until Noct dragged in a rough breath and kissed him back with a breathy laugh.

"I like your hands," Noct said, like a confession. "I've thought about – sometimes, when I touch myself, I pretend it's you."

"This is my first time touching the real thing." He felt less awkward admitting that now, as it didn't seem to matter in any appreciable way.

That earned him a frown from Noct, though. "Don't." Typical for him, he got stuck trying to express what he meant, but pushed through anyway. "I just saw you come all over Gladio's face. That's real."

Oh, Ignis thought, but was saved from trying to reply by Gladio cutting in with, "Real hot." His face was twisted as if pained by his increasingly limited vocabulary, and his hands were tight on Prompto's hips, keeping him from pulling off – or perhaps pushing onto – his cock. "What'd you stretch yourself with, kid?"

"Stop talking," Prompto grit out. He looked like he was going to cry.

Ignis yanked his gaze back to Noct. He didn't want to make him look like that; he wanted him to feel good.

Noct grabbed the lube and slicked his fingers, sliding his hand between Ignis' legs before Ignis grasped that was his intent. He only asked is this okay when his slick fingers were already there.

Ignis' body replied for him, his hips jerking forward and a strangled sound escaping his throat. His hand tightened around the shaft of Noct's dick, and Noct grinned fiercely.

"Yeah. Like that."

Ignis closed his eyes, not able to watch, but that turned out to be worse, because then he was overly conscious of how their hands mirrored each other. Ignis kept making involuntary noises, which made Noct repeat what he'd just done, and it was like being efficiently torn to pieces. He couldn't keep still, and fucked himself into Noct's grip with near-ferocity.

Noct's other hand was in his hair, fingers twisting and pulling, and Ignis was so single-mindedly focused on pursuit of his own pleasure that he nearly missed the import of Noct saying his name urgently, and then: "Fuck."

Ignis snapped his eyes open to stare greedily at Noct as orgasm hit. In his hand, Noct's cock throbbed and bucked, and Ignis knew the warm slickness over his fingers was come. Noct's face tensed, his hair damp with sweat: his hand tightening convulsively was all it took for Ignis to follow him, pleasure burning through him like a wave of magic. He knew he shouted only because his throat hurt, after.

Noct dragged Ignis up to kiss him with dazed ineptitude, while tugging his hand off his cock – sensitive, Ignis assumed, in the wake of orgasm (because I just made him come, such an intoxicating thought his mind shied from it). He knew he should feel guilt, but the closest word to describe his roiling emotions was awe. He wanted to do that again, and again.

He gradually became aware of Gladio and Prompto. They were both laughing, Prompto swearing intermittently, and definitely not having the kind of vigorous penetrative sex Ignis had seen in porn. Noct seemed to come to the same realization, and he twisted over Ignis to squint at Prompto.

"Again?" he asked, accusative and fond.

Prompto pouted. "Not my fault."

"Told you not to watch them," Gladio countered. Prompto was... riding him, Ignis supposed, though he wasn't well-versed in sexual positions. Except Gladio's stiff dick was pressed up against the crack of Prompto's ass, condom stripped off, and there was a spill of come over his stomach. Gladio's hands were half stroking Prompto's chest and half propping him up.

"Hair trigger," Noct said, as if by way of explanation.

"Some day it'll work," Prompto said, giving his dick a mournful look. He let himself sag sideways to drop onto the mattress next to Ignis, and Noct reached over to pet Prompto like a cat.

Ignis met Gladio's eyes, dark with lust. Gladio gave him a wry look; he was working his dick slowly, but the tautness of his muscles and the slick sheen of sweat suggested his willpower was just barely winning over desperation.

"I could do that for you," Ignis said. To his own ears his voice sounded raw; judging by how Gladio's eyes widened, he heard the change as well. Ignis coughed.

"Saw you getting some practice there." Gladio rolled his hips, fucking up into the tight circle of his fingers. "It was hot. You're hot." He ran his tongue over his upper lip. "I can still taste you."

There was nothing dignified about Ignis' scramble over Prompto to get to Gladio. He was aware of being naked, sweaty, sticky, and likely bruised, but none of that mattered half as much as covering Gladio with his body and kissing him. Without clothes to get in the way, Gladio's cock pressed right up against Ignis'. The size comparison was ridiculous, so Ignis decided he wouldn't care. The slide of hardness against hardness as Gladio thrust up felt good, and... it was just Gladio, after all.

He rolled his hips and was nearly unseated as Gladio thrust up.

"Sorry," Gladio said. The apology came out curt, because of how harshly he was controlling his breathing.

"You should fuck me," Ignis said. He wanted that, or he thought he did.

Gladio's hands tightened on Ignis' ass, pulling him down and holding him there so he could rut up against him. "Wouldn't fit," he said, teeth nipping at Ignis' neck. "It's cool."

"Not – " Ignis needed better words for talking about this – "the front."

Gladio snorted. "Sacrificing your virgin ass?"

Now there was a phrase that fully earned his disdain. "Not if you put it like that."

"You ever have anything up there before?"

"Yes." Ignis had no plan to elaborate. He wasn't sure if being a twenty-two year old virgin was more or less pathetic if he admitted to owning a sex toy.

"Ramuh's balls."

Noct groped in the sheets, finding the lube and shoving it at Gladio with a salacious grin.

"You've got to tell me if I hurt you," Gladio said. "It has to feel good, if we're doing this, and probably it won't."

"Your dick is an awesome dick," Prompto said, with punch-drunk enthusiasm. "I'd fight for its honor."

"Everyone's dicks are awesome," Noct agreed on a yawn. "Yay, dicks."

"Falling asleep already?" Gladio asked. He sounded so much like himself that Ignis startled when he slipped a lube-slick finger down the crack of his ass, and then inside.

By now, all the tension Ignis habitually carried had been fucked out; he'd never been drunk – someone in your position can't afford to lose control, he'd been told, and took to heart – but he assumed this was how it felt, his body loose and pliable, his spirit amenable. He let Gladio flip him onto the mattress and spread his legs as directed, raising his hips and feeling the stretch around Gladio's fingers until Prompto snorted in amusement and asked if Gladio was going to stick his whole hand in – On the first date? Prompto asked, voice quavering in exaggerated shock.

"Shut up," Gladio growled. Ignis must have missed something in his tone, because Prompto disentangled himself from Noct and sat up, shoving his hair back out of his face. He kissed Gladio, firm and no-nonsense, as he rolled on a condom Noct had thoughtfully fished out of the box. He tugged Gladio's hand free (whoa, got enough lube, dude?, and this, Ignis supposed, must be why he had to replenish their lubricant supply so often) and guided Gladio's cockhead in with a soft gleeful whisper of goal.

"I – " Gladio said, holding himself still there, sweat dripping from his hairline. "Oh fuck. You have to tell me."

Ignis felt a flash of molten heat up his spine and a concurrent insight, a glow of fondness that shouldn't go so well with being impaled on a cock that felt – if he were honest – bigger than he could take. "As if you'd ever hurt me," he said, but Gladio frowned at that, unsatisfied. "I'll tell you everything," Ignis promised. "You wish to know how I feel?"

"Yeah," Gladio bit out. "Keep talking." His arms, framing Ignis' head, were taut, shaking with the effort to stay in control; his words, then, were less an order than a plea, and Ignis... rather enjoyed being begged. He was confident he could pull Gladio in with words as well as with his body.

"Go slowly," Ignis started, "but don't stop unless I tell you to." He admired how well Gladio obeyed, and praised him for that, stroking his hands down over hard muscles. Gladio could overpower him, most likely, but chose not to, and that was gorgeous.

He told Gladio so, breathless from the inexorable pressure of his body making room for Gladio's cock, which he also tried to explain, but most likely badly. He didn't know if Gladio had ever been on the receiving end, and it was strange, though perhaps moreso because Ignis had already come. Their conversation was one-sided – Gladio incapable of anything more than grunts through clenched teeth even when Ignis asked point-blank Are you listening to me? – but Ignis found the experience intoxicating nonetheless. Vicarious pleasure was still pleasure, after all.

When Gladio bottomed out, Ignis asked him to still for a moment, and looked over at Noct and Prompto for advice.

Noct just gave him a lazy thumbs up, but Prompto recommended bracing his hands. "At least, that's what I plan to do, if we ever get that far."

Ignis' hands had settled on Gladio's ass, in appreciation of his tight control, but he raised his arms experimentally, setting his palms to the wall, and Gladio groaned, a shudder going through him like an earthquake.

"Go ahead," Ignis instructed. He had to suck in a shocked breath as Gladio pulled back, leaving him almost empty, and his hips raised in welcome as Gladio filled him again. He didn't want Gladio to be unable to do as he asked, considering how much he set store by obedience, so once he had a grasp on the mechanics he told Gladio he needn't restrain himself. "I want to see you come," he said, irked at sounding staged, like porn, despite his genuine desire.

The next snap of Gladio's hips would have put Ignis through the wall if he hadn't been ready for it. But he was, and he shrugged off Gladio's consternation irritably with a reminder that he wasn't delicate. That time Gladio had ripped his shoulder out of the socket was an exception.

Gladio leaned forward, pressing Ignis' thighs down until his knees were practically in his ears. This was not particularly comfortable, but bearable for the way Gladio kissed him, sloppy with desperation even as his thrusts became a relentless pistoning that forced Ignis' breath out, making him pant against Gladio's mouth, speech a near impossibility.

"You – fuck," Gladio bit out, the words ending in a primal groan and one last deep thrust. Every muscle had tensed, and Ignis felt – or imagined he did – the very peculiar sensation of Gladio's cock throbbing inside him, hot and hard and steady. Gladio's head lowered slowly to Ignis' chest, and Ignis pulled his hands away from the wall to stroke along sweat-damp skin as Gladio's breathing slowed back to normal, and he muttered a woozy, "Sorry."

Someone reached over and gave Gladio a good hard shove, and he untangled from Ignis to slide over to the side. The sensation of his cock slipping out made Ignis shiver, his body trying to clench down but failing, the involuntary movement making evident aches and bruises he'd ignored in pursuit of sex.

"You good?" Prompto asked, face suddenly blocking Ignis' vision. "I don't think the behemoth got you off, you want me to – ?"

Ignis shook his head, and wondered where all his words had fled, all of a sudden. He turned his head and couldn't help but snort to see Gladio sound asleep, breathing deeply and likely as unmovable as a felled giant.

"Alley-oop, then." Prompto grabbed Ignis' hand and pulled him up and out of bed ruthlessly. "The sheets are gross, and I'll show you where the shower is." He grabbed a set of linens from the wardrobe and tossed them to Noct, who was sitting on the edge of the bed and barely managed to not get smacked in the face.

Noct yawned and grumbled about being asked to do the impossible.

"Deal," Prompto said cheerfully, and grabbed Ignis' hand to lead him downstairs. He pointed out the toilet and bath, gave Ignis a toothbrush, joined him in the shower (saving water, he said, and volunteered to wash Ignis' hair), and handed over a towel and a pair of track bottoms to change into. Ignis was sleepwalking, and let the attention wash over him, dazzled by the overhead lights and an alien thirst for comfort.

Noct stomped in for his shower while Prompto was drying Ignis' hair, and when the three of them went upstairs they found Gladio in almost the exact same position, except he was now hugging one of the pillows to his chest. The fresh sheet had been shoved as far under him as possible – best I could do, Noct said with a shrug, pulling up the blanket Gladio'd shrugged off. Prompto snapped a picture.

Ignis claimed the side of the bed opposite Gladio, folding his glasses and setting them on the windowsill, and Prompto and Noct filled the middle in a tangle of limbs and sharp elbows and sleepy good-nights. He was asleep before they'd even turned the lights out.

Chapter Text

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.