“I want to ask you to be my Retainer.”
Gladiolus nearly chokes on the water he was drinking. Noctis takes a sip out of his own water bottle nonchalantly, not even blinking when his sparring companion turns wide eyes towards the young prince. Gladiolus knows what a Retainer is, of course he does, but the fact that this kid, the prince, a boy, just asked him to be one makes him wonder if Noctis knows fully what that implies.
“I'm... I'm already your Shield, Noct. Besides, you're too young for a Retainer.”
“I'm going to be thirteen soon,” Noct counters, voice as calm and level as you like, speaking with the confidence of someone who has rehearsed the conversation and all possible ways it could go in the mirror for several hours at least, “the laws say I can choose to have Retainers any time after my birthday. If I don't choose my own, they'll be chosen for me when I get older, I don't want to be stuck with ones I don't like.”
That is true. What the royal counsellors consider appropriate for the Prince very often does not suit his tastes. Gladiolus himself had certainly not been to Noctis' tastes when it was decided he would become his Shield, and it was only through divine luck and happy coincidence that they have come to care for each other as strongly as they do. Gladiolus loves him like a brother, which is just one of the reasons that prevent him from accepting this new position.
“I'm flattered, Noct...” he says awkwardly, slowly, carefully, “But you know what that means right? Wouldn't you rather your Retainers be nice girls...?”
“I don't know any girls.” The Prince has clearly made up his mind. He turns his face away; that tells Gladiolus he's embarrassed, which can only mean that he really does understand. “I know you. You don't have to say yes, I just thought I would ask.”
Gladiolus is speechless. Being a Shield to the kid is one thing, being his Retainer, a role traditionally fulfilled by a woman, a role that required the fulfilment of many needs beyond what he was trained for, is another. His first instinct is to say no, but then he notices the way Noctis is sitting, knees curled to his chest, eyes cast downwards shyly, cheeks bright pink, hands nervously playing with the cap of his energy drink, and he finds himself faltering.
The kid is so lonely and has so few people to call his friend.
“...Let me think about it.”
Noctis informs his father and the royal counsel of Gladiolus' new role the day after his birthday, and a bit of a shitstorm ensues. The counsellors are furious, confused, and they privately question Noct and Gladiolus in separate rooms for hours. They accuse Gladiolus of doing all sorts of horrible things, seducing a young boy, manipulating him for a position of greater influence, and basically all the things that the Shield had never even come close to considering. It makes his blood boil, and he wants to overturn the table between him and the smarmy investigators and punch them in their stupid faces for even suggesting them, but he somehow manages to keep his cool and answer their questions.
He really regrets agreeing, but if he caved at this point, tried to back out, it would look like he was trying to escape scrutiny. He was doing it for Noct's protection, a gesture purely made of love and trust, and anyway, it wasn't like these counsellors would have made a fuss if Noct had chosen a woman of the same age. Hadn't King Regis' first Retainer been something like thirty-five? Gladiolus was only three years older than his charge. Hypocrites, If they were going to force the kid to grow up, at least let him do so on his own terms.
Eventually, Gladiolus is left alone. The inquisitors slither out the door, mumbling amongst themselves over the situation, and Gladiolus feels a stab of regret as he thinks of how news would have traveled by now, at least to other employees and family members of the castle. What was his father thinking? What did they tell his sister?
It's close to midnight when the nightmare ends. The door opens, and King Regis is standing there with his son. Gladiolus is never told what sort of interrogations Noctis was put through, but there are tears of stress staining his cheeks. The King doesn't exactly look thrilled, but he's not angry either, instead he seems confused, uncertain; clearly, he did not come to his decision easily.
Noct bolts across the room and launches himself in Gladiolus' arms, burying his face in his chest. Gladiolus is caught off guard, it's the first time Noct has ever embraced him like that, and he casts a nervous glance at the boy’s father. Regis' expression doesn't change.
“I'm sorry,” Noct mumbles, his voice cracking ever so slightly, “You must hate me.”
“...'Course not.” Gladiolus offers a weak smile and ruffles his hair affectionately. His heart sinks just a little bit, wondering if the apology meant that Noct's selection had been rejected, that the counsellors would be taking disciplinary actions of some kind, but then King Regis steps towards them and calmly clears his throat.
“It seems I will be welcoming you to the family for the next few years, Mr. Amicitia. My son has sung you such high praise, I'm glad he's chosen such an honourable companion.”
Gladiolus is speechless for a moment, gaping as his tired and overworked brain tries to process the information given to it before finally sputtering out an answer.
“Y-Yes, Highness. I won't let you or Noct-, I mean, Prince Noctis down.”
“See that you don't.” Regis' response is not said with a threatening tone, but it's a warning all the same. Like an overprotective father being introduced to his daughter's boyfriend on prom night. Considering the situation, Gladiolus can't exactly blame him for being wary.
Their relationship doesn't change much, to Gladiolus' relief. Gladiolus goes on being a Shield, Noctis goes on being his prince. He gets his own bedroom in the royal wing, however, that he's allowed to use whenever he wants, but save for late nights when he feels too tired to make the journey home, he doesn't use it much. It feels awkward. His father knows, but never brings his new position up. His sister appears to be none the wiser.
Noctis starts touching him more than he used to. He hugs him, leans against him, holds his hand. It's innocent, nice in a way, and every bit of contact makes Gladiolus' pulse race.
He's not gay. And Noct is just a kid, like a little brother, and although he agreed to take on the position out of love and duty, he's not exactly excited to be his retainer. Neither is the palace staff, going by the dirty looks he constantly gets shot. The kingdom is not a widely homophobic society, but if you were royalty it was a different story all together. A male prince openly taking on a male retainer has never been heard of before. It threatens the future of the royal line, the stability of the kingdom, and alliances with other nations, present and future. Gladiolus knows Noct would allow him to quit if he asked, but despite all the anxiety and confusion he had over the situation, he imagines Noct being assigned some stranger, who is prim and proper and everything Noct hates. He pictures the prince being forced to love someone like that, and he knows he has to stay.
“Noct?” Gladiolus says one day. They're sitting watching television. Noctis has his head laid in his Retainer's lap. The prince hums affirmatively to indicate he is listening. “I overheard something today.”
“Have the servants been making fun of us again?”
“What? No! I mean... Well, they just said something about previous retainers. Apparently a lot of royals say they want their friends to be retainers while growing up, but change their mind once they get interested in girls...”
Hushed whispers, gossip between two kitchen hands as they peeled potatoes. Regis swore he was going to marry his male cousin as a child, one had said. Noct would grow out of the phase he was going through, said another. He's probably a late bloomer, said them both.
Noctis sits up and looks at him with an unreadable expression. “Are you asking me if I still want you as my Retainer?”
“I... I just don't want you to feel like you're stuck with me if you become close with someone else.”
“Do you still want to be my retainer?” The prince tilts his head curiously, blinking those big blue eyes at his Shield in a way that would make glaciers melt.
“If you'll have me,” Gladiolus answers with less uncertainty than he did a year ago.
“Then I'll tell you when I stop wanting you to be.” Noctis smiles, and then for the first time, he kisses Gladiolus on the lips. Gladiolus freezes up and raises his hands to clutch Noctis' skinny shoulders in surprise, he's kissing a guy, he's kissing his brother, what the fuck, but he's his retainer, he knew what he was getting into, and so for the sake of his love for Noctis and his duty to the Kingdom he relaxes into the unexpected contact. Gladiolus starts mentally preparing himself for all the things this could lead to, but only a few seconds later Noctis pulls away and says he's going to get ready for bed. The Prince and his shield bid each other goodnight, then Gladiolus returns to his own room in the royal wing, heart racing, head swimming, unable to shake the feeling of being let down by an anti-climax.
Gladiolus can't ask Noctis if he's gay, and Noctis wouldn't be able to say if he was. Whatever a royal did while they were young, once they were engaged to be married they could just pass off their past as the stupidity of youth. Noctis confirming to anyone, even his male Retainer, that he had no interest in women would put his suitability as king into question. Could he produce an heir? Would he be faithful to his queen? If a prince came out as gay, friendly nations would be reluctant to offer their princesses in marriage, and rival nations would use his sexuality to question his suitability for rulership. It was an utter mess, and the shield in no way envied his little prince.
Noctis invites Gladiolus to spend the night in his room. The prince is fifteen, and showing no sign of wavering interest in the company of his Shield. It's too late to argue that he's a late bloomer, but for sanity's sake, the palace staff acts like he's going to turn straight any day now. Gladiolus had been kissed and touched by Noctis nearly constantly lately, two years later the situation has finally stopped feeling so surreal, but his stomach is full of butterflies when he knocks on the prince's door. He's never had sex with a guy before.
Noctis invites him in wearing plain pyjamas, nothing shocking or fancy. They spend several hours on his couch watching TV, chatting, playing a new game Noctis had recently bought, and then the Prince says he feels like going to bed. His bed is huge, especially for a boy his size, and Gladiolus could probably have more than half of it to himself without ever disturbing its owner, but as soon as the shield shuts off the light and gets into bed Noctis is huddled up close against his side, lips seeking out that of his retainer's in the dark.
As Gladiolus' eyes adjust to the dim he takes in the image of a slender teen draping himself over him, a boy with a delicate face, slender shoulders, pale skin the colour of moonlight. Soft lips connect with the rougher ones of the Shield, and then they're kissing with greater urgency and passion than Gladiolus can ever remember.
There's no clear end of the kissing and beginning of the sex, if it could be called sex. It's more like dry-humping. It's a blur of touch, scent, and excitement, and despite the fact that he's still pretty certain he's not gay, Gladiolus is hard. He likes women, oh so much, but holding this boy in his arms, kissing him, grinding against his slim body, feeling that smaller firmness in his bottoms prodding against his muscular thigh just feels so good, and then before they've even taken their clothes off, Gladiolus slides a hand under the covers and caresses Noctis' erection, giving it a squeeze through his pyjama bottoms.
Noctis shudders and makes a noise, and less than a second later Gladiolus feels a dampness spread against his palm. He'd come in his pants the moment he'd touched him.
“Dammit...” Noct swears breathlessly, covering his face with his hands in embarrassment. Gladiolus' brotherly instincts take over, and he's sitting up, soothing hand on Noctis' shoulder, words of reassurance ready on his lips, but then the prince is suddenly the one grabbing his cock, so big in the prince's delicate hands, and he's dragging it out of Gladiolus' boxers and sticking the thick head right in his mouth. He gags and spits it out almost instantly, completely taking his shield’s breath away.
“S-Slow down,” Gladiolus chokes out, cupping Noctis' pink cheek in his hand. Rookie mistake, the virgin trying to deep-throat right off the bat. “That's something you have to practice.”
He doesn't want to tell Noctis what to do, as a Retainer it was his job to do what the prince wanted in bed, but the kid is so inexperienced and eager that they're in danger of hurting each other if he doesn't bestow a little guidance. He moves Noctis' hands into a more favourable permission, tells him to stick to licking and stroking for now, and then helps the prince set a pace that was satisfying for both of them. Gladiolus watches the entire time, bewitched by the way his slender fingers move so gently, the way his biceps and pectorals heaved under his tunic with the effort, the way his eyes widened with something resembling awe as the cock in his hands grew and leaked in his hands until the man was fit to burst. Gladiolus tries to move when he feels the end near, but he's not fast enough, or maybe Noctis misunderstands the movement, because the prince keeps grasping his cock with the head pointed right at him, and a spurt of come shoots right into his royal face, followed by two more hitting his neck and the front of his sleep shirt.
Noctis blinks in surprise. Gladiolus swears much worse than the prince had earlier, then gets up and switches on the lights to look for something to clean up with.
Things are weirdly normal. Gladiolus feels like everyone is staring at him as he passes them, but that was all in his head as the palace had been assuming he and Noctis were already sleeping together. Noctis is his usual self. He whines when he's woken up, he tries to hide the vegetables when he's served breakfast, and he makes faces at his weekend tutor's back while she lectures him on royal behaviour.
Gladiolus isn't gay. Seeing a beautiful woman with a generous chest passing him in the halls causes him as much private enjoyment as it usually does. But the night before still happened, it had been hot, and his heart races when he sees his prince strip off his shirt to change before sword practice, revealing just how effective their sessions were being in the definition of his stomach.
Noct must feel his eyes on him, because he looks over then, and gives him a shy-but-meaningful smile, comforting him and flirting with him at the same time. A warmth settles in his stomach. Gladiolus coughs his throat clear.
“Right, continuing where we left off with the new stance I was showing you...”
Things were fucked up and confusing, but at least he could sure in his love for his prince.