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24. Team WarpFlight

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“Welcome back to the fifth annual edition of Insomnia’s Ninja Warrior!”

The crowd cheers, and Nyx and Gladio bounce on their toes, excited for the start of the race. Nyx does a showy, if sloppy, head-over-heels flip, and the crowd roars more. Gladio rips off his shirt (he’d been planning on doing it anyway, but it’s also a good chance to one-up his opponent) and flexes.

Nyx rolls steel-blue eyes toward him in that look, and Gladio gives him a shit-eating grin in response. Sure, they’re competitors, but they’re also something more, and that’s adding a little bit of a sexy edge to the day that Gladio finds himself fully enjoying.

They hop, adrenaline rushing, while the announcer plays the cheesy video of them training together. Sure, it had been a gimmick to get themselves onto the show - the t-shirts, the silly nicknames of Warp and Flight (the latter for Gladio’s giant eagle tattoo, of course) -  but it had seemed to work. The producers had also been excited about playing on Gladio’s role as someone close to the royal family, but he’d put the lid on that quickly, with backup from Clarus. The production team had chosen, instead, to focus on them training together, and Gladio watches a guffaw burst out of Nyx as he looks up to see a series of slickly-captured bloopers of the two of them spool itself out for maximum viewer amusement.

They watch themselves bigger than life on the large screen, giving each other burly handclasps and spotting each other and shouting in encouragement, and Gladio catches Nyx’s eye again. They hadn’t included any footage of the two of them making out or anything, but at least Gladio thinks it’s pretty clear that they’re something more than rivals and training partners. Who knows, he shrugs, people see what they want to see.

The video ends, and Iris starts screaming her head off from the sidelines. She’s decked out in a red Flight shirt, as are Clarus, Noct, Prom, and Ignis, and then the camera shows Libertus, Pelna, and Crowe, all wearing blue Warp shirts and hollering in excitement. Regis and Luna had staunchly refused to pick a side, but both are absolutely watching and grinning from the royal box above the bleachers. (Ravus, too, had insisted he didn’t care, but as the camera pans Gladio catches sight of the flash of a red Flight t-shirt under his jacket, and he laughs.).

Everyone’s playing it up for the cameras, but also the energy is infectious. This is the first head-to-head race they’ve had in this competition, and it’s exciting. Gladio and Nyx had scored nearly the same times on the qualifying courses, each trading narrow victories of fractions of seconds.

The countdown begins, and Nyx, not to be outdone, throws his shirt to the side. Gladio cackles again at the whoop from the crowd, and they take off at top speed as the buzzer goes off.

Not quite stride for stride but at even speed - Gladio does have several inches of leg length on Nyx, but he’s notoriously fast and scrambly - they launch themselves toward the first obstacle.  More like a fun zipline than a challenge, both sail through, unconcerned, and land safely on the mat beyond. Without hesitating, they both barrel forward to the series of spinning blocks. Nyx leaps across, darting from one to another without giving it a chance to spin and throw him into the water. He’s deft enough that it looks like magic, but that would be against the rules.

Gladio, on the other hand, nails the obstacle with brute force, gathering enough running speed to launch himself across the last three entirely - less risk that way.  He pauses before the next obstacle, and looks up at it.

The Jumping Spider. Nyx takes no prep time, and bounces off the trampoline and up instantly, grabbing hold with feet and hands like he does this all day. Gladio takes a breath and then up, squashing his massive bulk into a shape that can move him through.

It’s surprisingly easy once he’s in there though, and his chest and core strength launch him through faster than he thought, shaving a little off the tiny advantage Nyx had scored through his lack of hesitation.

They fling themselves over to a grip-strength obstacle, and Nyx lets out a wild laugh. Gladio enjoys this, sure, but Nyx loves it - the adoration from the crowd and the sheer physical, stops-pulled-out exertion are like drugs to him. Gladio’s responsive laugh is more doting, and he leaps onto the obstacle.

Grip strength is one of Gladio’s things - he hasn’t been swinging a sword since he was a kid for nothing. He can hang here all day, and so can Nyx. But the obstacle lurches and rocks, and uses Gladio’s own mass against him, as he’s got to hold on against the backlash of his own bodyweight swinging.

He’s also tall, and this obstacle dangles dangerously close to the water. Between getting slowed down by the extra pressure of hanging on and the need to curl himself up, Gladio’s losing even more time.

Nyx is crawling across the underside of the rope net at the end of the obstacle - a fast if untraditional method, and it gives Gladio an excellent view of his arms, chest, and abs flexing before Gladio launches himself up onto the platform for the last obstacle. Gladio bounces into and out of the net like a normal person instead of scrambling like a spider, and it takes him a moment to get unstuck but seems much less complicated.

Nyx hasn’t planned on this being a head-to-head race, and his own net lurches wildly as Gladio’s bounces. He very nearly loses it, and his ass dangles dangerously close to the disqualifying pool of water beneath. Gladio’s up and out and wiping his hands on his pants in anticipation of grabbing the edge of that giant sheer wall they’ve got to climb.

Predictably, Nyx launches himself up the wall a nanosecond faster than Gladio. They’re close enough to touch, and Nyx does. Rather than slam down his button, he reaches down and hauls Gladio up, and they finish together. A tie.

They’re gasping for breath, chests heaving, and the crowd is losing its collective shit.

“Why did you do that?” Gladio turns toward Nyx as he pulls their joined hands into the sky.

He gets one of those smiles in return. Not the crowd-smile, not the look-how-charming-I-am-smile. Not even the that-was-funny-smile. Nope, this one is special, and Gladio still remembers the first night he saw it, and the first time he knew this thing they had together was different.

“Just because.”

It is a tie, officially. Even though Nyx held back a little, they’re still counting it. The announcer is going on about it while confetti rains down, and Gladio grins. This way, the show will have to donate to both the Royal Animal Rescue and the Phoenix Down Medical Fund. But mostly, Gladio thinks, Nyx had wanted to do this together, and that was pretty great too.

He grabs a scruffy chin in big sweaty hands shaking with effort and adrenaline, and kisses Nyx long and deep, right there in front of Insomnia and the TV cameras and everyone. Just in case they didn’t get the subtext from the video.

Gladio pulls back and beams at him, and Nyx winds a hand up behind Gladio’s neck and kisses him again. Is that Regis hollering? People seem to be pretty okay with Team WarpFlight, and Gladio’s pretty happy about it, too.