There were some days, in Ardyn Izunia’s esteemed opinion, when it seemed as though the universe itself had it out for him.
One of those days was in the fall of his thirty-eighth year, when Ardyn, young and impetuous and believing himself immortal, walked into the den of a clutch of daemons with nothing more than his sword and a studded leather uniform.
It was not, Ardyn realized, as he lay gasping ponds of blood into the dirt, gripping the bite mark on his neck that burned with an internal fire, his best plan.
Another day came a good two hundred years later, when the daemonic ichor that infected Ardyn’s wound had long since done its job, and Ardyn was only just learning how to walk under the sun without doubling over in pain. It was easier if he let a piece of his daemonic form show, and he’d unthinkingly willed long, curling horns into existence just as a young exorcist walked out of the back door of a dining house.
Comparatively, this made running into a former one-night stand in his Magic Theory 150 course only somewhat awkward. Which it would have been, if it weren't for the nature of the young man currently taking a seat in Ardyn’s lecture hall, staring down at Ardyn as though he’d turned full daemon in broad daylight.
Noctis Lucis Caelum was the sort of mistake Ardyn made once in a century. As a daemon, Ardyn’s ability to hold a human form relied on, well, taking bits of humanity from others. He usually went for their memories, something banal and not easily missed, like the ability to find their car keys or the name of their high school sweetheart. Sometimes he took more: The color of their hair, their best year, a particular dream or passion they surely wouldn't miss a little ways down the road.
But every now and then, Ardyn ran into a man like Noctis, and feeding became terribly unimportant when faced with the overwhelming need to take them. And so Ardyn had allowed Noctis to lead him to the bathroom of his latest haunt, where Ardyn kissed him into the wall and pulled at his clothes until there was nothing between them, nothing but--
Ardyn looked up. The lecture hall was as full as it was ever going to be, expectant and still while the students waited for Ardyn to speak. Good, they’d been warned--Ardyn couldn't tolerate noise in his lectures, let alone now, with Noctis gazing down at him with a look of mingled horror and shock. He cleared his throat.
“Good afternoon,” he said. “My name is Ardyn Izunia. Doctor Izunia, if you must know, but I won't bite if you fail to address me properly, unlike some of my less agreeable colleagues. Now, you all are here to learn Magical Theory. Congratulations! Welcome to the dullest class you may ever take in your short, miserable lives. Has anyone read the syllabus?”
“Sir.” Gods, that was Noctis. He leaned over his laptop, dark hair swinging in his eyes, and Ardyn put on an expression of bland goodwill.
“This is a lecture,” Ardyn said. “Not a class discussion.”
“Yeah, okay,” Noctis said. “But I was looking at the syllabus, right? And you don't mention daemons at all.”
Ardyn raised a brow. “Are you in the correct class?” he asked. “Magical theory, not mythology?”
Someone laughed, and Noctis’ cheeks flushed. Ardyn shot him a brittle smile and moved on.
“This semester, you will write no more than five essays, because I am but one man and cannot in good faith bear to read more modern slang and half-finished bibliographies than I absolutely must. We will cover the Lucian Theorem to the teachings of Alderca--”
“Sir,” said the ghost of bad hookups past, failing to extend his hand properly like a man who was not, in fact, raised by wolves, “Verstael Besithia wrote a book last year saying that, like magic users, daemons were actually--”
“Besithia is a fool,” Ardyn said, and there was a smattering of embarrassed laughter. “I hate to burst what must be a particularly imaginative bubble, my boy, but daemons are not real. They were simply ordinary people gifted with the sort of magic you all see today, from ditch diggers to corporate lackeys. There must be a few registered users in the class--raise your hands, now.”
Half the class raised a hand, including Noctis.
“There we are,” Ardyn said. “Superstition and bigotry can be a terrible combination, my dears. To those of you who can use magic, you may be interested to hear--”
“But what about the remains?” asked Noctis. Ardyn wondered if he knew that he was shoving a finger in his mouth as he spoke, rubbing the gums of his incisors. “Like, skeletons with wings, horns made out of bone, that kind of thing?”
“Mr… Caelum,” Ardyn said, pretending to read off a seating chart that did not exist. “If you cannot keep your mind on the subject at hand, you will at least be silent.”
Noctis reeled back as though struck, jaw hanging open as his classmates looked away, trying to distance themselves from the blast radius of Ardyn’s displeasure. Noctis’ jaw worked, and he leaned forward as though to shout, but he closed his mouth at the last minute and settled back with a deep, worrying frown.
Ardyn ignored him.
He remained blessedly silent through the rest of the lecture, though he did level a number of truly impressive glares Ardyn’s way. Ardyn supposed he deserved it, a little. He had been rather careless at the bar, taking Noctis in a bathroom stall and leaving him to stagger home on his own. And yes, he’d bitten him once or twice, but they were shallow bites at best, nothing dangerous. Ardyn wasn't a fool. He supposed Noctis must have felt the sting of all one-night stands, and was being disruptive just to spite him.
Still, when class was done and his beloved students filed out to thrust their half-formed opinions on the unknowing masses, Ardyn was not surprised to find Noctis approaching his desk.
“Oh, very well,” Ardyn said, and raised his brows as Noctis shoved a piece of paper on the desk. Written in neat cursive script--quite nice, Ardyn had to admit, to see old practices still in use--were the words: The FUCK did you do to me?
“Pardon?” Ardyn asked. Noct jabbed his finger lower down the page.
I can't TALK.
“Oh.” Ardyn rolled his eyes. “Quaint.”
Noctis threw his hands in the air and opened his mouth, but no words came out. Just a frustrated exhalation, cut off before it grew louder than a whisper. Noctis made to slam his hand on Ardyn’s desk, and Ardyn stepped back, only to see Noctis’ hand stop abruptly an inch from the surface, as though blocked by an invisible cushion of air.
Ardyn looked down at the page, then up at Noctis. “You may… speak,” he said.
“The fuck is this?” Noctis cried. His hand collided with the desk, scattering papers over the cold tile floor. “The fuck was that?”
Ardyn stared at Noctis. He took in the pallor that pushed back against the flush of rage at his neck, the blown-out pupils, the way Noctis’ lips shifted over his teeth, tongue prodding his gums. His fingernails were cut to the quick, as though Noctis had torn at them recently, and there was a tint of grey under them that didn't look like dirt. Ardyn grabbed Noct’s hand and pulled him over the desk, drawing their faces close. Noctis didn't smell quite right, either. His scent was muted, faint, and Ardyn felt a stirring of dread tug at his belly.
“Open your mouth,” Ardyn said.
Noctis obeyed. Damn. He whined in protest when Ardyn gripped his chin, tilting his head to the side, but he didn't move away. Strangely docile, wasn't he, when he was out of the bars and no longer dragging strange men off by their belt loops…
Ardyn cursed. Noctis’ incisors were notably sharper than they had a right to be, extending just far enough to be noticeable if he smiled. Ardyn released him, and they both retreated a step, eyeing one another warily.
“Noctis,” Ardyn said, in a light voice that did little to hide the unease washing over him in a rising tide. “You didn't happen to have a… bite, after our little liaison? One that wouldn't go away?”
“Yeah,” Noctis said. His hand went to his hip, and Ardyn vaguely recalled sinking his teeth there, overcome by the sounds of Noctis’ muffled moans echoing in the stall. “Yeah, you can say that.” He pushed his pants down a little on the side, revealing a puffy, yellow bruise around a set of marks that could only have come from Ardyn. Black lines trailed from them, sinking into his skin, and Ardyn recalled the last time he’d seen such a mark, thousands of years before things like indoor plumbing and the bar scene even existed.
He touched the back of his neck, where the bite that had turned him into a daemon lay covered by waves of auburn hair.
“I'm a daemon,” Noctis said. He sat in Ardyn’s favorite armchair, a vintage piece from the early fifth century, and hunched over a cup of mint tea. “An actual daemon.”
“Not quite,” Ardyn said. “It takes about a month, from what I can recall. That gives you, oh, two weeks to adjust.”
Noctis made a sound that could very well have been a whimper if Ardyn were paying close enough attention. As it was, he was too busy handling a crisis of his own to mind the minor breakdown happening in his living room.
It wasn't uncommon for daemons to infect others, now and then. It was practice to have a collection of former humans and beasts to guard one’s territory and do menial tasks. They were unflaggingly loyal, Ardyn was told, but he wasn't certain how true that was. The daemon that turned him hadn't cared to add to Ardyn to her ranks, after all. She’d done it all for revenge, and had watched Ardyn stumble through his new life alone.
Noctis swiped a hand over his cheek. His tears were still clear, bless him. That would change. “Don't know what I’m gonna tell Dad,” he said.
“Tell him what you like,” Ardyn said. “Being a daemon certainly never hurt my social life.”
Which was a lie, of course.
“What’ll happen to me?” Noct asked. His teeth caught on his lower lip and tore at a fresh scar. The blood that welled there was still human, still red and dark and inviting, and Ardyn fixed his gaze on that spot as Noctis licked it clean.
“You won't be able to go outside for long,” Ardyn said. “I do remember that. And… I believe daemons that were turned couldn't live far from their sires at first. I tried, but it caused considerable pain.”
“Pins and needles is the closest measure,” Ardyn said, and Noct blanched.
“Fuck. That's why.” Noct ran his hand through his hair. “Do I have to move in?”
“Gods, I hope not,” Ardyn said. The thought of another person sharing his apartment, which he’d carefully furnished over the course of half a decade, was horrifying. “Not that I don't enjoy your charming company, of course.”
“Yeah,” Noct said, absently. “Yeah, okay. But like. What else?”
“The next new moon might be rather troublesome,” Ardyn said, and Noct went, if anything, paler still. It was an understatement to say the least. New daemons were practically feral when the moon went dark, and if one of the daemons from the other territories in the city learned that Ardyn had set a new daemon loose…
“The next new moon is in three weeks,” he said. “For that, at least, I fear you may have to stay the night.”
And he would be going somewhat feral before that, of course. If he were living in another daemon’s territory, he could well be killed before the new moon, which would lead the daemon to Ardyn, and would in turn lead to yet another awkward conversation about boundary lines and rules of daemonic civility.
Noctis hissed as he cut his lip again, and blood ran down his chin, trailing along the narrow line of his neck.
“Perhaps,” Ardyn said, as Noct attempted to mop up the mess with his bare hands. “It would be best if I kept an eye on you, after all.”
That night, Ardyn graciously lent Noctis his couch. Noctis curled up on one side like a wounded animal, grumbling to himself as his new fangs clipped his cheek or gums, and was dead to the world before Ardyn could make himself a cup of tea. Ardyn watched him sleep for a moment, running through an unfortunately long list of regrets, and retired to his own bed.
He woke to a weight at his side, and the creaking of bedsprings. Noctis was a shadow under the covers, insinuating his body along Ardyn’s side, making soft, urgent whimpers in the back of his throat as he settled closer. His lips pressed into Ardyn’s arm, and peeled back to reveal sharp teeth, which scraped a shallow cut in his skin.
“Oh, no,” Ardyn said, shoving Noctis away by the forehead. “No biting.”
Noctis whined loudly, struggling against Ardyn’s grip. Ardyn held him back, palm to his forehead, ignoring the way Noctis scrambled and tried to drag himself close.
“Noctis,” he said, in what he hoped was an authoritative voice. “Wake up.”
Noctis’ eyes opened. For a moment, his pupils were mere slits, narrow as a cat’s, but then they rounded out little by little, until Noctis was staring up at him with the wide blue eyes that had led to this mess in the first place.
“Need you,” he said, in a slurred, sleep-heavy voice. His nails dug into Ardyn’s side.
“Need me less painfully, thank you,” Ardyn said. The nails lifted, and Noctis tried to wrench Ardyn’s hand from his face.
“Can't sleep alone,” Noct said, and wriggled loose, pressing himself to Ardyn’s side once more. His mouth was nothing but a black pit, and he was sweating, overcome by the primal need that propelled him forward. He kissed Ardyn’s neck, and Ardyn gripped his hips in both hands, holding him still.
“Come on,” Noct whispered, breath hot on Ardyn’s shoulder. “You didn't exactly hesitate when you killed me.”
“You aren't dead,” Ardyn said. “Merely changed. Considerably, it seems.”
“Same thing,” Noctis said. “So do it. Just fucking--”
Ardyn flipped him onto his back with embarrassing ease, and leaned over him, waiting for his breath to slow and his hands to stop kneading the sheets. He ran a hand up Noct’s cheek, and Noct parted his lips, revealing the shiny, sharp incisors that had so far made a ruin of his mouth. When he reached Noct’s temple, his fingers brushed a lump, hard and rougher than skin, ridged like the lines of a shell. He parted Noctis’ hair and stared down at the barest nub of a horn, an iridescent black that gleamed like an oil spill on the pavement.
Noct’s eyelids fluttered at the touch, and he reached up to drag Ardyn into a kiss just as desperate as the one they’d shared at the bar.
“Do that again,” Noctis said, and Ardyn found a second horn on his other temple, rolling the pad of his thumb over the surface. Noctis choked on a whine. When they kissed again, Ardyn could taste blood, hot and intoxicating, and he pressed his weight onto Noct’s writhing body.
“Yes,” Noct said, and for just a moment, with his sharp fingernails scraping red lines down Ardyn’s back, his heels sliding against Ardyn’s legs as he squirmed beneath him, Ardyn could understand the appeal. “Yes. Gods. I’ve never been so fucking terrified in my life, but yes.”
“That,” Ardyn said, kissing Noctis’ right temple and relishing the full-body shiver that produced, “sums this all up quite nicely.”