“Keep up, pup!”
“Oh shove off with that shit,” Noctis growls, but the unmistakable upward-twinge of his lips says otherwise. He takes a few staggered steps forward and catches up to Gladio, who is very obviously jogging in place. As Noctis attempts to push him, he side steps and wraps him in a headlock.
“The high and mighty Alpha-to-Be, pinned by his servants. What's he to do now?”
“Gladio, I swear to the Gods— ”
Still wrangling Noctis, Gladio bends down, knuckles into his hair, and then drags his tongue over the length of Noctis’ cheek with a wicked grin. A noise of utter disgust breaks from Noctis’ mouth and he struggles until his head pops free and he can stumble away.
“Unbelievable.” Ignis steps down from a large rock and makes his way to the two of them. “At least save licking for the shift.”
“ Beast ,” Noctis mutters, glaring at Gladio as he wipes an impressive amount of saliva off his cheek. “ Ugh— Prompto, where's my backup when I need it?”
“Taking pictures, dude,” Prompto chirps, leaping off the same boulder as Ignis but with a measurable amount less grace. He swings his arms and holds up his camera with a small shake. “Gotta get em while the sun's up. Any idea how hard it is to shoot with paws?”
“Yeah, that's why most of them are of Noct's tail and the undersides of trees.”
“ L-listen— ”
Prompto opens his mouth to further protest, but Ignis raises a hand and speaks up instead. “Before we begin a lively debate of photography skills, we should decide where we'll make camp for the night. There's a haven just nearby, or another a mile east by the riverside. We've enough daylight to travel the distance, if we move quickly.”
“River camp, definitely,” Gladio says without hesitation.
“Yeah, river's good. I'm gonna need a bath to wash all his spit off my face,” Noctis agrees. Behind him, Gladio chuckles and Noctis turns to shove him again.
“Prompto?” Ignis asks.
“I'm good with river camp!”
“Then it's decided.”
They take for the spot, winding between trees and stumps at a purposeful pace. Gladio and Noctis chatter with one another, side by side, and Prompto snaps a few pictures every time they pass an interesting looking bird, but for the most part, they are on track while they attempt to beat the sun.
The rustle behind them draws Gladio's attention first, too light to be a member of their party but unnervingly close. He turns and steps smoothly in front of Noctis. By the time he's fully in guard position, Ignis has taken note and stepped perpendicular to them. Prompto moves quickly to the other side, watching in Gladio's direction for the source of their uneasiness.
“Somethin’ in the bushes,” Gladio murmurs. He's unblinking as he watches behind them, and Prompto can just make out the hard lines of concentration on his face from his position next to Noctis.
“Time for some fun then,” Noct says, summoning a weapon and charging past Gladio towards the underbush. His motion flushes out their enemy, which leaps forward with a snarl. Bristles erect and teeth bared, the voretooth lands and skids off to the side to circle around for its first attack. Behind it is the pack, twelve strong and just as eager to rush them.
“Keep your concentration, please,” Ignis calls as he sidesteps an opponent. He jabs behind him, following its movement, and slices deep into the flesh if it's hock. It collapses with a whimper before he turns to finish it off. “The last thing we need is to be pulling quills without hands to do so.”
Far less elegant, Prompto rolls out of the way of Gladio and the two beasts he's wrestling, pulling out his pistol to aim at the few still pouring into the small clearing. He pulls the trigger once, twice, firing off three shots before adjusting his pose again. One bullet goes high, but the other two dig into the shoulders of two different voretooths. Noctis slides forward to make quick work of them with his sword and then spins back to face another two.
For several moments, they are a near-chaotic scene of glistening weapons and beast-like wails. It all seems to blend together as they fight, until Prompto feels his blood run cold when the sound of Noct's half-restrained scream reaches his sensitive ears.
He whirls to see the final voretooth pinning Noctis against the ground, jaws snapping against the blade protecting the prince's throat. Prompto doesn't think as he lifts his gun, taking a deep breath only to aim and then fire. His shot sinks between the ribs of the beast, causing it to flinch long enough that Noctis can shoulder it off with a snarl and give a final stab as it hits the ground.
The clearing goes quiet.
“What was that earlier about having your back,” Prompto smirks, walking over and pulling Noctis up by the hand. He slaps his shoulder as he tucks away his gun.
Noctis is panting heavily, chest heaving, but he gives a thumbs up and looks at his Packmate, who stumbles back a bit in surprise. As Noctis smiles at him, Prompto notes sharp teeth and eyes far too dark and wild to be fully human. They look familiar, but offset on a human face.
“Uhh, Noct, you're goin’ wolfy on us.”
“Huh…?” Noctis’ voice is raspy.
“Like— uh—” Prompto holds his hands up to his mouth and grins wide, making little fangs with his fingers. “That.”
“Gladio, you've partially shifted as well,” Ignis interrupts, and Prompto turns to see Gladio with the same wild eyes and fangs. The long hair on the back of his neck seems to be sticking up, akin to hackles. “Perhaps some of us were a tad too aroused from the fight?”
“Don't use that word,” Gladio groans. He lets the shifts recede into his human form once more, body calming slowly now that the danger is gone.
“No big deal,” Noct mumbles past his panting. He closes his eyes to calm himself, draws a deep breath, and Prompto watches as his fangs sink away into his normal human canines. “What can I say, Gladio and I just take beasting it out a little too literally.”
“You know it,” Gladio says, bumping his fist against Noctis’ as he approaches.
Ignis sighs. “Aside from premature shifting— which I suppose we have the rising moon to thank as well— is anyone inured?”
“I think we're all good,” Prompto answers, relieved now that Noctis’ fully-human blue eyes are looking at him again.
“Then we should continue before it gets dark.”
The moon rises faster than expected, and they're not quite at the haven by the time the sun settles beneath the distant mountains. Prompto feels the tickles under his skin first and stops with a noise in the back of his throat. Noctis slows, followed by Ignis and then Gladio.
“Uh oh,” he says quietly, almost casually. Noctis moves to his side and gently taps him on the back, which sends a ripple down his spine.
“Yeah, I think we got slowed down by those Voretooths—Voreteeth…? Uh... my bad, guys; didn’t mean to shift early...”
“It's fine,” Noct says. “You good?”
“Yup. Just… Gonna sprout a tail real soon here, no biggie.” Prompto shivers again, a chill and a fever beneath his skin all at once.
“Might as well join you then,” Gladio shrugs, already far too quick to begin stripping off his clothes.
“Our items—” Ignis starts, but Gladio waves him off with a hand. He's down to his underwear at this point and Noctis has pulled his shirt over his head.
“We'll just tuck 'em under a tree and come back for ‘em later, Iggy. Nobody's gonna come looking for shit out here.”
Ignis looks as though he's about to protest, but instead lowers his head and moves his energy into silently undoing the buttons on his shirt.
“Prompto, how's it goin,” Noctis calls, but Prompto is busy stumbling out of his boots and pants on fully-formed canine legs. Behind him, his tail wags uncontrollably, whacking into bushes as he goes. Before his arms can shift, he wrestles himself out of his ill-fitted tank top, then stumbles behind a tree with a yelp as the rest of his changes kick in.
Off to the side, Gladio has shifted into his full, enormous canine form, sitting tall with his head tilted back to the moonlight that peaks around the trees overhead. Noctis, nearly as comfortable, stretches out his back through the last part of the shift, heaving a relieved sigh as it pops and he's left fully in form, eyes sharp in the moonlight and against his dark fur. Ignis, having folded his clothes and set them neatly on the ground beside a bush, allows the smooth glide of his transition to come forth, taking it all in one nearly-fluid step. By the time he lets his body lean forward to move to the ground, he's on paws and ready to run.
“Is everyone fully shifted?” Ignis asks, only the slightest hint of a rasp to his voice. The three wolves look to their Packmate, who has tripped his way back out from behind the foliage.
“I'm good,” Prompto yips, rolling quickly to right himself from his back onto his paws, blond fur already muddy. “All good!”
“Excellent. Shall we, Noct?”
The last of the sun sinks to the horizon, and the stretch of forest before them is barred by the shadows of trees before plunging into hazy twilight. Noctis looks to the sky, mapping the rising stars and the path of the moon before grinning with wolfy teeth and taking off East once more.
His lope is quick, smoothness broken by just the slightest hint of an old limp. None of them would admit it, but it's easy to keep the pace he sets, and they leap across boulders and fallen logs behind him. The forest melts beneath their feet as they run, a blur of greens and browns tinged blue by the falling night. As they pass trees and rocks, Prompto takes note of the scenery, breathing in fresh air as it pumps through his lungs while his paws pound the muddy ground. It's all lush and alive, but the biggest draw to his eye is the rise and fall of the slope of Noctis’ back as he runs ahead. Beside him, Gladio's powerful stride and Ignis’ smooth gait keep pace with the Pack.
“Keep up,” Noctis yells, voice just barely pitching upward with his excitement.
Across the invisible line that bonds them all, Prompto can feel the smallest spark of joy, as Noctis allows himself to broadcast to his Packmates as he runs. He pushes it back, reaching out with his own happiness to let Noctis know he's been heard. As he does, a warmth settles in his chest, giving him another burst of speed until he runs even with the wolf in front of him.
“Not gonna leave us behind are you, Noct?” Prompto teases, nipping playfully at the scruff of his neck. He hardly catches fur, and Noctis veers right and shoulders into him before continuing on their path.
“Maybe if you all stopped trying to commit treason !”
Prompto laughs, leaping a brush pile that borders the forest edge. As he lands, his paws scrabble against the rocky shore of the nearby river, fighting to keep pace with Noctis, who is headed straight for the water.
In three enormous bounds, Noctis is at the line of rock and water, no signs of slowing as he flies forward and plunges into the river with a splash. He disappears fully beneath the deep blue sheet before popping back up just a moment later, shaking droplets from his body. Prompto slows to a halt just as his paws dip against the water's bank, eyes focused only on Noctis in front of him. His deep slate fur glistens nearly iridescent under the light of the full moon, and in his eyes, Prompto watches the reflections that dance across the surface, rippling outward in silver waves. The breath in his chest is drawn out of him with the wind that rustles his fur, and he’s unable to prevent the swelling lump of emotion in his chest from sliding over the strings of their Bond.
His only saving grace is Gladio, who barrels past him and lands with an enormous splash next to Noctis. The surge of cool river water against his paws is enough to restart Prompto's thoughts once more, and he follows into the deeper parts of the river.
“How about that bath,” Gladio says, rearing up. His size is fully understood as his form, even shrunken under the weight of the water in his fur, rises as a massive silhouette against the moonlit sky. He crashes back down with a splash that covers Noctis entirely and catches Prompto as he approaches. Both the smaller wolves yip, stumbling against the force of the water, and then lunge back together.
Noctis heads for Gladio’s scruff, tackling with half his body thrown over the larger wolf’s broad withers. Meanwhile Prompto bites harmlessly at Gladio’s haunch. When the large wolf lifts his back leg with a growl, Noctis tugs downward, pulling the weight of his body into the water with Gladio as he rolls. It takes both of them below, water flying as paws thrash up above the surface.
Ignis slips into the scene from offshore, dipping his maw underwater and gripping Noctis by the scruff to haul him rightwise onto his paws once more. Breathless, Noctis still comes up with a grin on his face and laughter in his throat.
“Thanks, Iggy,” he gasps, rubbing his soaked face up along Ignis’ neck, slicking down the still-dry fur.
“You're gonna ruin his beautifully kept coat,” Prompto laughs. Water droplets roll down the side of Iggy's muzzle and drip back into the river. Behind him, Gladio finally rights himself and emerges from the water, shaking violently to clear the water from his pelt.
“It’s a sacrifice we make so Noct doesn't drown,” Ignis says, only the slightest hint of amusement in his voice.
“He couldn't ever drown. Pup's part fish,” Gladio smirks. He stalks forward a few steps to stand beside them, rubbing his own wet fur against Noct's.
“I guess you really are what you eat,” Prompto says with a laugh, lunging to nip once more at the base of Noctis’ long tail. The prince whirls on him and pounces, knocking him into the water with an ungraceful splash that puts his head underwater.
“Speaking of—” Ignis starts as Prompto disappears beneath the river, coming back up to hear just the end of something about dinner plans.
“I can catch fish,” Noctis offered, eyes gleaming. “Don't need a pole, just some time and maybe a partner. Gladio?”
“Great— you two—” Noctis nods at Ignis and Prompto. “Outta the water; you're gonna scare away the prey.”
“Fish dinner on the line and suddenly he's acting like an Alpha,” Gladio says.
“This is making the assumption the wrestling match with Gladio didn't already scare away all living animals within a half mile radius.”
“Get outta the river already!” Noctis shoos them away with a spray of water. Prompto splashes back with a laugh before turning, rubbing against Ignis’ shoulder as he does.
“Let's go, Iggy,” he says, voice oozing false pain. “He’s banishing us from the kingdom.”
“A crushing blow, indeed,” Ignis muses, following next to Prompto, shoulders bumping once more. They clamber onto the rocky bank and shake the water off their fur before Ignis sits, controlled and poised, on a nearby boulder to watch. Prompto, however, takes to the grass patch a few feet away and flops on his back to rub his torso and face against the dirt.
“You'll turn your pelt green like that.”
“Camouflage, Iggy. I'll be the ultimate hunter. Nobody'll ever see me coming,” Prompto says, snorting as he rolls in the dirt, belly to the dark sky above him.
“Perhaps not, but they'll hear you a mile away.”
“Dude… Don't crush my hopes and dreams like that.”
Prompto rights himself, shaking out his fur once again before trotting and sitting next to Ignis. He sticks a leg out to the side and thumps his tail on the cool surface of the boulder before looking at his Packmate.
Ignis’ eyes are trained on Noctis, watching him as he circles down the far side of the bank. Each step is delicate and carefully placed, mirrored to Gladio who is deeper in the water.
“You like sushi, Iggy?”
“Properly prepared, yes.”
“Does this count as properly prepared?” Prompto asks with a chuckle, watching as Gladio runs diagonal toward the shore, meeting up with Noctis who lunges underwater and comes up, face dripping and fish flopping in his jaws. Ignis’ gaze has still not left them. Noctis lets out a victory bark, muffled by the enormous catch.
“Not in the slightest,” he says and Prompto looks at him to see a small smile twitching against his muzzle.
“Still gonna eat with the Pack though, right?”
“Of course,” Ignis answers. He adjusts his paws, then wraps his tail around them neatly. “Partaking in traditional Pack activities is a crucial part of keeping our Bonds strong. It increases our teamwork and makes us more efficient and better equipped for protecting Noct.”
“Well, that ... and you just love us way too much to miss out, right?”
Across stream, Noctis has thrown another decently-sized catch up on the shore with the other. He readies himself in position once more and calls out to Gladio. Within another ten minutes, they've collected enough for the four of them and head back across the water to drop the catch in front of the other half of their group.
“Told ya I'd do it,” Noct grins.
“We had no doubts,” Ignis smiles softly as he rises from his place on the boulder. He stretches out his characteristically long limbs and hops down. “Take your first choice, then.”
Noctis, still beaming with the pride of his catch, takes (surprising none of them) the largest, thickest fish in the pile, dragging it away a few feet. Gladio takes next, then Ignis, and Prompto nabs the last fish and hunkers down with it.
They eat mostly in silence, before tossing scraps together in a pile off to the side for the morning birds. After a brief moment of grooming away any remaining pieces, Ignis straightens up next to Prompto and looks up at the sky. The moon has shifted, rising to its highest point in the night, and Ignis nods at the rest of them.
“Dinner’s finished… Now... You were the first to shift, Prompto. You get first howl,” Ignis says.
Prompto stops mid-lick of his muzzle, retracting his tongue into his mouth in an effort to seem more serious. “You mean it?” He glances over at his Packmate. “Noct?”
“Yeah, dude. That's how it always goes. Just cause me and Gladio usually jump into the shift fast doesn't mean you don't get to lead it now.”
“O-oh, okay!” Prompto feels his chest tighten suddenly with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. He shifts on his paws, tilting his head to paw subconsciously at his floppy ear. “You sure?”
“Dead sure, Prom. C'mon— we'll head a few paces off. You choose where you wanna be on the river to start it off.”
Ignis nods at him and moves down the length of the river with Noctis trailing. Gladio follows after them, but not before bumping roughly into Prompto's side.
“You got this, Pup. It's not a big deal.”
“T-thanks,” Prompto answers, watching them head off until they're small against the stretching river and tree-lined horizon. He pulls his eyes away and looks to the water in front of him, searching for his spot.
Prompto pads along the bank, paws dancing over the rough rocks under him. Water laps against the shore in gentle waves, pushed out by the lazy downstream current. Deep inside his chest, he feels the energy of the same moonlight that shines against his pale golden fur, and he draws a breath, letting the feeling wash over him as he closes his eyes and just listens. Beyond the river, there are small creatures scurrying under leaves on the treeline, and a bug calling song amongst the grass to his left. Somewhere on the opposite bank, a frog croaks before diving into the water with a splash.
With one more breath, he waits, holding it full in his chest until he a crackle like static tickles at his lungs. It grows, spreading to his ribs, making his whole body feel like it's ready to accept lightning from the sky above him. He takes one final moment of it all before he tilts his head back to the moon and breaks the silence with a sharp howl.
The first response that sounds off down the riverbank is unmistakably Noctis, long and nearly melancholy, with a note at the end that waivers slightly. Gladio sounds in with something deep and wild, a bark and a whine to the noise all at once, and shortly after, Ignis joins the choir with a note too clean and clear to be anyone else Prompto has ever known. Each of them continue, harmonizing with one another even as Prompto draws another breath, taking the pause to hear them fully. Eyes closed, he listens again, letting each call sink into his bones, written like a memory deep beneath his skin.
Once more, his chest swells, and he realizes that it's the three of them, pushing against the four-cornered bond they share, urging his next note. His breath catches only for a moment, too full with the weight of their affection, before he draws it deep within his lungs again and answers. His own call is higher, a series of elongated yips and a giveaway to his bloodlines, but for one night he lets the warmth being pushed through their Bonds smother his worries over like a blanket. He focuses only on the voices answering his own.
They sing together until Prompto's lungs burn and he tapers down to a whisper. On the horizon, his Packmates quiet down after him and he opens his eyes, looking off to the distance where they are rushing his position. He stands, running on shaky legs to meet them halfway, and is greeted by wagging tails and muzzles rubbed against his own. Each of them smells of fresh air and pine, and he rubs into fur, cherishing each individual scent before he pulls away, mouth open in a happy grin.
“Ready to run again?” he asks Noct, breathless with the charge of the energy surrounding him. Behind him, his tail hasn't stopped moving.
“Yeah,” Noctis says, giving him a final lick across the muzzle and Prompto feels as if he can run until the sun comes up again.