With the singing of the sea ringing in his ears, Nyx Ulric knows they’ll win the war. The kingdom of Insomnia is formidable, but so are Galahd’s own warriors. It’s less a comparison of might and more a weighing of ingenuity. He can feel a victory beat pulsing in time with his heart.
The time has come.
He hasn’t slept well since the start of the hostilities, but he feels almost too invigorated now that he knows their victory is assured. The Tidemother stands with them.
Hours later, on the battlefield, Nyx learns for the first time that the ocean can be wrong. The prince to the Insomnian crown forces the goddess to yield to him, eyes blazing in colors known to no man and weapons exploding into being around him. He takes their generals, their commanders, and the entirety of their mage unit down in two blows. He sets the earth aflame in his colors.
It takes Nyx a myriad of tries before he even manages to come close to grazing the prince. He’s nearly akin to a god in his might, but he’s prone to human mistakes. One of them is obvious, the way he guards his back is a dead giveaway to prior injury. It takes a directed effort to distract him before Nyx is darting in, kukris long since unsheathed finally tasting blood.
Insomnia’s prince seems to freeze in place before exploding into light. They don’t find him again.
Three weeks later and Nyx still can’t forget him. He was absolutely breathtaking, a weapon in human skin, and the buzz of magic surrounding him felt like a kick in the teeth when Nyx’s weapons finally connected with his body. The high of catching someone so formidable off guard is a heady rush from head to toe that doesn’t fade even after the adrenaline has worn off.
He’d really done it.
He’d stopped Insomnia’s next god-king.
(In all actuality, it had been him and twenty other people gunning for it, but he’d landed a blow first.)
When it comes through that the kingdom folds to them, it sends their embassy and general populace to chaos. They’d barely managed to avoid getting a good third of their entire godsdamned forces eradicated in one battle and Insomnia is surrendering? Unthinkable.
The answer to all their questions comes in the form of a formal audience between the King of Insomnia, His Royal Majesty Regis Lucis Caelum CXVIII, and the current governing officials of the Republic of Galahd, Erebus Nikephoros and Armeena Benitoite. By the time news gets around, all Nyx knows is that apparently the prince in on bedrest because of a prior injury and that the King can’t afford to send him back out at them like a juggernaut made of magic.
Nyx knows it stems from where he managed to hit the prince, but he didn’t think it would decide the whole war. The realization that he helped save his home from any further casualty comes slowly like the dawn, creeping up on him until he’s surrounded by euphoria. His family will be safe same as Crowe’s and Libertus’s. They won’t have to take up arms for a while after this, if it turns out right.
Two days later lets him know that no, things are not, in fact, turning out right.
He’s been promoted like hell because of his quick thinking and the holes in their ranks, but the new post of Brigadier General is an ill fit for sure. He’s not opposed to the higher pay grade. He’s opposed to the decorum. For a collection of the country’s best minds, they sure value castes a bit too much to be healthy.
With the promotion comes a new assignment: escort the Lucian heir to Galahd, as per agreed upon in the treaty papers. They “can’t risk leaving it to anyone else. He’s volatile like all other Lucians” to the point that it takes a whole entire war meeting to figure out arrangements. They can’t cancel out his magic the way Niflheim can, but they know he’s weak. It’s just a matter of ensuring he stays that way. Nyx is, of course, their first choice for a throwaway pawn. He just takes one look at the pay he’s promised and assents. He leaves for Insomnia at first light.
Noctis Lucis Caelum CXIV is having a bad day. Scratch that, he’s having a terrible day. He sleeps like the dead, usually, but he’s been tossing and turning all night for a week now. He knows it’s anxiety eating away at him, but he can’t help it.
He’s being traded away to the enemy to protect his people from massacre.
Thinking of Galahd’s demands from a logical standpoint, their want for him to stay within their borders is perfectly sound. It seals off the possibility of him inheriting the throne while also allowing for their full control of his political power (or lack thereof). It’s like house arrest, but ten times more dangerous and far more discomfiting.
If he’s not worrying about his new “home,” Noctis is stewing with anger. His father is weak from using the Ring of the Lucii for so many years to protect the people. They don’t have near enough military power to put Galahd on its back the way they had Niflheim, not even with a god-king in the making, and the blow of knocking both king and crown prince from operability forced Lucis to surrender. He hopes they’ll at least let his father live peacefully under their command.
His bags are packed and stacked in a corner by his closet. It’s nowhere near empty, but it feels that way. His whole room is like a vacuum determined to suck all life from him same as the Crystal. After taking comfort in the dark austerity of the Citadel’s black marble and gilding, it’s terrifying to feel it suffocating him the way it does outsiders.
He sits up and tosses his sheets off with a huff. There’s no way he’ll be able to catch a second’s more sleep with his mind in such a state. The floor of his room is freezing, prompting him to hurry towards the bathroom for a shower. He bypasses the mirror in an effort to ignore how terrible his eyebags have gotten along with his general health. It works well enough that once the shower is on and steam fogs the glass, he forgets he has to pretend at being human.
He tugs off his tee and kicks out of his pajama pants. They’re both old and worn to a near threadbare state, but they’re comforting for it. The black of the shirt has lightened and there’s a hole on the left side of the collar to match the one on the right sleeve. The pants are part of a matching set he and his father both have, too short to really fit him quite right in the length department and patterned with carbuncles. He knows it’s the last time he’ll be able to wear them.
Stepping into the shower stall feels more like stepping into a prison cell. The tile is warm against his feet, the water nearly scalding. Noctis wishes it was somehow fire. He wants to purge himself of this nightmare.
Soaping up on muscle memory alone, he tries to keep his mind from wandering. It doesn’t work in the least.
There are so many problems clamoring for his attention and making demands that he can’t fulfill. What sits heaviest on his shoulders is that his country needs a king. Regis is one hell of a man, but he’s not immortal. The thought of his father passing away makes Noctis’s stomach roil badly enough he decides to forgo breakfast. It is a normal reality, though, and he knows it.
He watches water sluice from his hair downward to the drain in a daze. He doesn’t stop until there’s a knock at his bedroom door.
Turning the knob to stop the flow makes him look at his hands. They’re calloused from training with Gladio and working on paper after paper with Ignis, but they’re not strong. He watches them tremble from somewhere far away.
There’s the knock again and then his door is opening. It’s Ignis, then. Nobody else enters his Citadel room without express permission save Ignis, Gladiolus, and his own father. Gladio never knocks twice. Noctis is lucky if he gets even one rap at the wood before it’s swinging open when his Shield is involved.
He steps out of the shower and onto the mat, dripping wet and uncomfortable. His back aches something fierce the way it always does, but there’s a newer scar among the mess of older ones. The spot itches like a rash, but he knows it’s just the want to get rid of it. He’d been careless enough to get crippled all over again. It’s only by the Crystal’s good graces that he’d even managed to warp out of the way safely. There’s no want for a repeat performance.
There’s a towel set by the open bathroom door. Noctis pulls it around his shoulders and cuts to his closet, trying his best to avoid what Ignis’s arrival means. He’s deliberating between black brocade and a cotton number when his advisor clears his throat.
“Noctis, I know this change has hit you hardest,” he begins in a soft voice, “but we do not have time to dally.” Ignis is tense in the way only he can manage, prim and proper without a hair out of place while he falls apart. “If you’ll permit me, I have a suggestion for this afternoon’s travel-wear.”
It’s like a breath of fresh air for Noctis to not have to use his brain for a moment. “Sure, Specs. What’cha got?” He tries to shove nonchalance into the words and relax his shoulders, but he’s a wreck as it is. He feels terribly vulnerable.
“How is your back feeling this morning?” Ignis strides over to the closet and pulls out a small collection of items, laying everything over his arm before setting them down on Noctis’s bed. His tone is sharp when he states, “I will not help you injure yourself out of stubbornness. We will be travelling for over a day, so speak now, or go without.”
Noctis zones in and out of space, half listening and half deaf to Ignis’s words. He feels absentmindedly at his back, one hand holding the towel in place. He can feel the scar tissue against his fingertips, but he can’t feel the touch itself. “Just the usual twinges.”
Ignis smoothes his hands over a shirt before answering, “Well then, the cream one should do the trick for today. Please, stop standing around in a towel and put some underwear on, Highness.” He turns to give his prince privacy, waiting until Noctis taps him on the shoulder before laying eyes on him again. It’s nothing he hasn’t seen before, but the sight never fails to push him to reverence.
Noctis is a collection of scars. There’s one on his jaw from when he tripped and smacked it on the garden’s table at age ten, three parallel on his upper arm from when he saved a feral cat that same year, multiples from training scattered nearly everywhere on his body. Then, there are the ones from battle. Those are deeper, angrier things. They sit on his skin like reminders of the lives he’s been forced to take.
Ignis wants to worship each and every one of them.
His hair is still dripping down onto his shoulders. Ignis grabs the towel and ruffles it dry carefully, enjoying Noctis’s natural hairstyle more than he does the straightened, gelled result of his prince’s hard work. Yes, the spiking is charming, but he likes the slight waves and softer angles. It makes him look more regal, in a way. It’s almost a reminder of King Regis when he was Noctis’s age.
Ignis busies himself with hanging up the towel to dry and checking through Noctis’s bags. Since the initial injury, Noctis had experimented with innumerable options for back support. He’d gone through braces of all different sorts, new medical inventions lauded for helping reduce strain and minimize pain in damaged areas, and at least fifty different types of kinesthetic tape. What he settled on were corsets.
The Line of Lucis is one of eccentricity. The first king, Somnus Lucis Caelum, had begun the tradition of gifting literal weapons to the next in line for the throne. Sounded like a great idea for a bit, the Just did a real good job with the given power, but then King Mors came around and everything fell into a moral grey area. Weapon-gifting aside, the previous kings all had their own ornate ways of styling themselves. It leaves Noctis, heir to the throne, with more freedom to dress than is probably safe to give a Very Important Public Figure. Nobody comments when he starts showing up at meetings with his back slightly too straight, shirt sliding in a way that suggest slick fabric underneath. His experimentation is nothing new.
Within a year, he’s amassed a small collection. There’s satin and brocade, raw silk and velvet, mesh and cotton, so many different fabrics and constructions Noctis is pretty sure he’ll never manage to try them all even in an entire lifetime. He likes the ones he’s commissioned from specialty shops the best. They fit perfectly every time, nearly like a familiar embrace once on and laced up. It’s a reminder to sit up and move with poise, to walk tall with the comfort of support at his back. He’s eternally thankful for Ignis’s understanding of his endeavors. The problem now is managing to wear them while abroad.
Galahdian clothing is flexible and near unisex in nature. The lack of structured fabrics a longstanding traditional style built heavily upon by their culture’s penchant for being near blindingly colorful. Lucian fashion is structured to fault, made for cutting an imposing figure rather than being comfortably affluent. He’s not sure how well things will go if he’s made to leave his things at the halfway point same as a full political marriage. Hell, for all Noctis knows, this may as well be one in the making. It’s not like he has any sort of governing figure with which to beat suitors off with (and he doubts dealing with unwanted advances with summoned weaponry would be viewed kindly in a permanent state of captivity).
Satisfied with what he finds, Ignis zips up the last of the luggage and sighs. He tries to project confidence, if not for his prince’s sake, then for his own. “My apologies.” He’s not sure what he’s trying to be sorry for, specifically speaking, but he knows he’d do absolutely anything to see that Noctis’s burdens are done away with.
Noctis huffs half a laugh and offers, “Wanna stay for a bit?”
Ignis attempts to refuse, “I have─”
“Nothing to do,” Noctis interjects, “and I know you’re already packed.” He lifts the corset from the bed and fits it into place, making sure each busk is closed properly before reaching back to adjust the lacing. Ignis finds himself smiling when Noctis finishes up and asks, “Can you tie it off for me?”
“Of course, Highness,” he replies easily. It’s not a common part of their routine, anymore. Ignis knows helping Noctis put on and properly lace up his corsets when he was still getting used to them was already intruding upon lines he was most likely never even supposed to toe.
If Ignis were a stronger man, he’d simply do his job as it is and never wonder about impossible dreams.
But here he is, one hand carefully evening out the lacing in a couple places while the other slides worshipfully along where the ends sit to check and make sure it’s sitting correctly. He finishes fastening the ends of the laces in a secure bow and steps back, brain set on burning the vision of Noctis in his underclothes in the space behind his eyelids. Ignis is fairly sure being so unknowingly handsome should be a crime.
Noctis smiles at him, but it’s a wisp of a gesture. He pulls his shirt on before his pants, leaving out his knee brace, and does up the neck tie in a loose not-quite-bow. Ignis catches his eye and raises a brow. It’s left loose after that, both of them laughing hysterically.
“This is gonna suck ass,” Noctis says at last, breaking their uneasy silence as he wrestles with the buckle on a particularly new belt that refuses to go through the notch.
Ignis snorts, a decidedly unprofessional gesture, and replies, “I’d normally scold you for that, but I do agree with your assessment.” He moves Noctis’s hands out of the way and finishes buckling the contraption. “That was not punched very well, was it?”
Noctis shrugs and grabs his boots, pulling them on over his pants, and takes a look in the mirror. “I hate wearing white.”
“I do understand, but it’s part of tradition,” Ignis reminds. The white of his shirt, billowy fabric tucked into the top of his pants at the waist, is an unwelcome, but no less striking change from the norm. “Are we ready to depart? The delegation should be here within the hour.”
“Yeah,” Noctis answers, signing his freedom away in a single sentence, “I think we are.”